Picture this scene: two friends are lounging on a couch watching TV. Another walks into the room. Instead of occupying the empty seat on the couch, the newcomer pulls up a chair, flips it opposite the couch, and sits with his back to the TV.
For one month, that weird-ass newcomer was me.
In September, I couldn’t watch TV and movies. This month was at the core of the Alex Gives Up experiment—shedding bad habits in the search for new ones. TV offers cheap laughs, vicarious thrills, and mind-numbing distraction—not much beyond entertainment. Lucky for me, I had practiced low levels of television for years.
When I was a kid, my parents established a strict no TV, movies, and videogames on weeknights policy. To use a Biblical allusion from last month, TV was the forbidden fruit, my parents were God, I was Eve, and Rugrats on Tuesday nights was the snake. There were no morning cartoons before school. No Nick at Nite after homework was done. No late-night softcore porn on Cinemax (internet to the rescue!). Although I hated it at the time, the rule was a shrewd move by the ‘rents, and I did well scholastically partly because of it.
So when September 1st arrived, I was ready to revert back to that 5th grade mentality
The first day of September fell on a Saturday. I groggily pulled myself out of bed to smells of a sausage, onion, and spinach omelet wafting from the kitchen and a high-frequency buzz emanating from the living room. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted my roommate planted on the couch watching pixelated images from my new rectangular nemesis.
I walked into the living room with my head down like a guilty kid about to be scolded by his parents. Keeping the TV firmly out of view, I walked past the couch and sat in a chair opposite our coffee table.
And this would become my life for the next month.
I initially thought that taking a break from TV would be a breeze. But I underestimated TV’s value as a social activity. When friends are hanging out with nothing to do, TV provides a solid backdrop. It could be high school buddies enjoying a beer over The Game. It could be girls giddily gossiping over the newest steaming pile of shit that network execs have cleverly disguised as reality television. Whatever it is, TV is the social glue for Americans everywhere.
When you look at the numbers, the average American spends 34 hours a week watching TV. That’s insane. That’s like watching half of an NFL team’s regular season in a week or, if you’re a particularly delusional girl with terrible taste in men, the first four seasons of The Bachelor. It’s as close to a national malady as they come, right up there with NASCAR and will.i.am.
So whenever I hung out at a friend’s house, the de facto activity was watching TV. If I wasn’t already a social outcast, my backwards seat embossed that scarlet letter. It was annoying as shit. While my friends chuckled along with the newest episode of Workaholics, I sat there and dicked around on my phone. Or stared at the wall. Or as one friend put it, “awkwardly watched everyone else.”
Abstaining from movies was slightly easier. I had to turn down a few invites to see September releases, namely Looper, End of Watch, and The Master, but I didn’t consider any to be must-sees. This was partly by design. I picked September because it’s generally a movie no-mans-land—the piece of bologna sandwiched between summer blockbusters and Oscar-bait indies.
But TV is omnipresent. It’s impossible to avoid. It’s at bars, in restaurants, in store windows, and in so many other places I’d never noticed until I actively attempted to avoid it.
So slip-ups were imminent. At bars, my eyes would flicker and I’d catch a second of television. On one occasion, I crawled onto the couch after a particularly unforgiving workday and accidentally watched 7 seconds of ESPN. I immediately scolded myself and resumed my post at the backwards chair.
But for the most part, I stuck to the resolution. My post-work routine changed dramatically. Instead of wasting those nighttime hours with SportsCenter or a fifth re-watch of 50/50, I read. I played piano. I went to the gym. My nights were peaceful, more productive, and that TV-induced malaise at the end of the day was gone.
However, falling asleep took some getting used to.
For the majority of my teenage years, I had mild insomnia. I would lie in bed for hours, my mind running like a Kenyan from child rebel soldiers. After college, I started watching a TV show—usually It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—before bed. It was like the grown-up version of a bedtime story, and it worked. Before long, my eyelids would droop in tune with the show’s opening theme song (fittingly, it was also the first time I noticed the effect new habits have on my well-being).
So with no TV, I turned to music videos before bed. It technically wasn’t television, and it wasn’t a movie, so my internal referee gave motioned “play on.” And before long, that worked too—I had no trouble falling asleep.
One of the funnier aspects of a television-poor diet was the pop culture ignorance. In particular, I missed every single bad call in the replacement refs era in the NFL, including the infamous Packers-Seahawks game (which had such a legendarily bad call to end the game that it has its own Wikipedia page). Listening to incredulous commentators with just my imagination and the ceiling as visual clues was hilarious—mainly because I had no clue what everyone was so upset about. Some things just have to be seen.
When September came to a close, I was proud of the effort I put forth. I lost a few battles to twitching eyes, but it was one of my most successful months to date and provided a clear benefit—I really was more productive. But I was still happy to have my old friends back.
I also invested in a new pair of running shoes. They would see a lot of use. Because I would spend the entire month of October without transportation.