It’s not from too much drinking. At a certain point, usually toward the beginning of the week, someone will inevitably ask, “How was your weekend?” Small talk, mostly. Polite. Cubicle speak. Maybe they really want to know. Maybe they have their own fun kernel to share and are asking simply to give us a chance to get a word in edgewise. Or it’s a conversation starter, something to make work more tolerable. I’ve noticed, though, that lately my response is a faded, “I don’t remember.”
My days smear together without an office job. Every day feels like the weekend without the ramped up excitement of its approach. TGIF? What’s that anyway? There are no more meetings called at 5:45pm. But along with that tragic loss, there are not nearly as many plans being made. I used to have a calendar. You know, with stuff on it. Events. Openings. Meeting this one for sushi. Those girls for drinks at Angelo’s & Maxie’s. A wine tasting. A knife-skills class. A photography lesson. Watercolor class. Figure drawing. It got to the point where I’d have to decline things, certain to carve out a bit of down time. You know your days of the week when you live that life, a life without television.
And it wasn’t a case of too busy to notice. Too busy being busy. Ignoring your issues or life, filling time. Passing time. Piling on the plans to avoid something deeper. Frightened of what you might hear if you sit in silence, doing nothing. It was a creative busy. I’d go by myself to watch an open-mic night, see a friend perform. Go to a free reading at a bookstore. I never complained of being too tired.
It was hard to wake up. But my job was accommodating, and I somehow got away with rolling into the office at 11:20 am each day. David, Gary, and I would then make a Fourbucks run. I’d get two fried eggs and a buttered bialy. Gary would be hungover from Patron shots. “Steph,” he’d say shaking his head, and I’d wait for what came next. “Not good,” he’d eventually say, still shaking his head. Dave would laugh. I loved it. I miss it, the companionship, the company, the office. Sometimes I wish I could live it again, but I’m careful with my wishes and really don’t wish I were back to punching someone else’s clock.
Some of my co-workers spoke of their lives in television shows. They had to get home to watch 24. How could I not watch it? They wondered. I was too busy for TV. I was photographing red carpet events (then scurrying home to label and color-correct the images), writing, and most certainly, dating. Trying new restaurants, attending performances, and almost always there was a birthday party, where, undoubtedly, I’d need something new to wear which meant shopping after work. There wasn’t time for romance with a regularly scheduled program.
And now I find that regularly scheduled programs are the only way I know what day it is. It’s become my evening activity. Mondays were The Bachelor. Tuesdays Gilmore Girls (I still cannot believe it’s over. Not just the season but the series, that I’ve watched for all these years, and they end it with Rory working at some zine? Just kill me now! Why? Why end it with that? What crap. And Luke and Lorelei kiss, and we’re supposed to believe she doesn’t sabotage it this time? Come on). And then, there’s idle time spent watching American Idol. Wednesdays used to be Studio 60 on The Sunset Strip, which just upped and left without saying so. Or Top Design. Or Top Chef. That top hair show, Shear Genius, did nothing for me. And then we’d see who was offed Idol. Thursday was the powerhouse of my week. I tolerate Ugly Betty because I like her, not the show. And it set the tone for Grey’s, the absolute jewel in my week. And then life pretty much stopped. Friday became the day of the week I knew nothing was on. Friday we’d get a babysitter.
Let me just say this: the season finale of Grey’s left me distraught. I mean I seriously had to be talked down. “Phil, I just can’t take it! Please help me through this!” What is wrong with me? We imagined ideal endings to assuage the blow. “But why did they have to make everything so bad?” Now there’s Meredith’s half-sister, the one Derek flirted with at the bar, stepping in. So they could kill off Meredith now and still call it Grey’s Anatomy. And it’s upsetting. Again, what is wrong with me? Why am I so invested in a television show? I’ve become devoted and am rooting for Meredith and Derek to work out, but I’m frustrated with the writers. One week they show Derek blowing off Meredith because she poses a threat to his career as chief. The next week, she’s busy being Miss Communicative in an over-the-top-go-away-now kind of way. And then tragedy strikes her and she seeks comfort in her friends, and he turns things around and tells her he wants more. But just two weeks ago, you wanted space. You weren’t returning phone calls. Meredith got in your way. It’s not steady. And I’ve gone on far too long about it. But why? Why did they have to make that finale filled with only bad things? It left a bad taste in my mouth. It made me angry, right there on the border of yelling at the television screen. What has become of me?
Now that the season is over, I’ll need to start fresh with new TV relationships to carve out my nights. Or, I can just give it up. Not out of principle, not as a stand against poor writing or programming or the violence, the misogyny, but as an attempt to be far more productive. To read instead of zone out. To engage new things. For more art. To enrich my life and my relationships. To spend my life as a participant not an observer. But it’s like dieting. It’s hard to diet without a supportive family who stock the cupboards with fattening, sugar-laden, favorites. For it to really work, the house needs to be, not completely free, but certainly tv-limited, and Phil won’t agree to it, not even for a week. And I understand, absolutely, the need to unwind. There is a difference though between spending a couple hours thumbing through a magazine and watching a game on TV and making a night, almost every night, about what’s on.
I want to lead by example. I do not think TV is evil, but I do know that I have allowed it to take up too much room in my life. I’ve walked away from the dinner table to watch TV or check email, to entertain myself. I want to be an active family who does things together, while we can, before soccer, gymnastics, and guitar (way cooler than violin) schedules take over our lives. Of course they’re still too young, but when is it too early to begin to adopt new habits?
The first thing I do when I come home should not be “check email.” We’re too accessible, to everyone but ourselves. I don’t want to use the television as a babysitter to keep our children busy and entertained. I want us to do more things interacting as a family and less time in our zones, at our laptops. I’d like TV to be on occasion, with some popcorn, as much of an activity as anything else we do. Not the background to everything we do. I want a rich life, a creative life, filled with variety, with new experiences. An active life. I’ve made a list of alternatives, things I’d like to do in lieu of the internet and television. Mostly, I scoured the internet (oh the irony) for goings on about town, specifically what’s repetitively available to us locally. Though I also made an effort to include things that wouldn’t require us to go out. The list was meant to motivate us to do more active things together as a family. Here is what I emailed Phil:
Going to see the bats at the South Congress bridge and then picnic dinner outside
Have friends over for a pot luck dinner, where everyone brings something to eat, hence the whole mention of "pot luck."
Try dancing lessons, maybe at a time when someone watches the kids, and we can practice at night at home
Play some board games. You know, other than upwords, where you know I'll kick your ass.
Spend the night creating our own children's story or children's book for Lucas and Abigail, where we come up with stories, and then do some easy drawings to illustrate it.
Spend the night reading aloud, as a family. Perhaps I read one chapter aloud, you read the next, etc. Though I'm not sure there's much more to that etc.
See a movie outside, on a lawn, at an event spot. "Movies in the Park" at Republic Square Park.
Have a picnic in Zilker Park
Go for a walk around town lake in the late afternoon, after work, then come home and cook together.
Learn new card games and play them
Bake something together
Create a piece of artwork, together, to be displayed somewhere in our house
Make a fire, make s'mores, listen to music and give backrubs (or head massages since you don't like massages)
Spend the night taking photos of the kids, then sorting through them and figuring out which photos to print and frame.
Creating a video with our camera, then cutting and editing it together with software to create an online video to share with our families.
Do a big cook one night, making foods we can freeze for future use, like big batches of fresh summer tomato sauce, tray of lasagna, etc.
Put together a scrapbook together, writing things to our children, including photos and letters from mom and dad.
Shoot hoops outside, making it a fun game where you only get a chance to shoot if you answer some trivia question correctly or something like that… but not trivia cause I'll never get a chance to shoot. But something like that.
Wash our cars by hand outside, including vacuuming
Do a photography project together, where we do an assignment, whether it's shooting white objects on a white background, or walking around photographing shadows… we'd pick an assignment that interests us both and then do it!
When it's hot out, have a water fight, with actual water guns and water balloons. Then dry each other off and make love not war.
Listen to a book on cd-rom
Playing tennis, one watches and gives pointers as the other hits with ball machine.
Attend any of the free concert series in Zilker park
Carlos'N Charlie's on Lake Travis, free family-friendly movie nights and a place we should definitely check out. Also, closer to us, "Splash Party Movie Nights" at Deep Eddy pool, where there's swimming and a movie.
Go to the people's gallery at city hall to see local artwork from over 100 local artists, and maybe find one we like and get a piece for above fireplace
Take a free walking tour with a baby strapped onto each of us
Thursday nights there's unplugged at the grove. Performances are acoustic and outside on the patio so we could bring the kids.
Trapeze classes are offered on Wednesday afternoons and Aaturday evenings. One could watch the kids while the other goes up, and vice versa (and bring video camera!)
Wimberly Market Day (the first Sat of the month) over 450 booths line paths winding over 16 acres.
BEST IN TEXAS FESTIVAL (may 25-may 28) we should go. Texas music, arts, cook offs, carnival rides, etc.
Austin Wine Festival at Republic Square Park on May 26 – May 28 (sat-mon) It's outdoors, so we can bring the kids.
Austin Symphony Concerts in the Park, each Sunday (starting June 3). We'll make a picnic and bring our cameras. It's on Red River St.
Blues on the Green, alternate Wednesdays, free music on outdoor stage
Teach me to play guitar