What did I learn from Homeland and The Wire?


The months were long. The nights cold and dark. But we had a wood stove going and lots of blankets. So we snuggled down and lost ourselves. First in Homeland, both seasons. Then in The Wire, all, ahem, five seasons. (Did we really watch all five seasons?)

The character development. The plot lines. They were so good. So we watched another episode, and another. Until each night, it was wayyy past my bedtime. (Easily two episodes past.) And the next day's alarm clock was still ringing at the same time, which was coming around way too soon.

I was getting sucked in each night, saying "Oh just one more episode. Sure. I need to know what happens to Carrie or Bubbles or this crazy drug dealer."

Watch. Get even more hooked. Watch another. Drag self to bed. Wake up the next day exhausted. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

Until finally at the end of January, I pulled the plug. Literally. I made the grand announcement that come February, I was going on a media fast and anyone who wanted to (my man) could come with me. (In case you missed that blog post, you can read more about that here.)

Why did I reach such a breaking point that I quit watching television in a fancy, dramatic fashion?

And what the what did I do with all my free time?

First confession. We don't even own a television. Nor have we for years.

You've heard of this thing called the internet right? Well my man, who is a web master, would find and download all these interesting, or potentially interesting, shows for us. And he'd download a couple episodes just in case we liked it and wanted to watch more.

Except when you're watching a show on tv, when the episode's over, that's it. You gotta wait til the following week. (Which is how I was rolling with Downton Abbey.) But we would watch the first episode. It would seem mildly interesting so we'd watch another. And another.

For a few weeks, I was enjoying losing myself in Carrie's crazy escapades or the wilds of West Baltimore. These screen writers are darn good at what they do. And the show's mantels hold Emmys, SAG awards and other countless accolades, reflecting that I wasn't the only one to fall into the trap of a good, or at least crazy, plotline.

But I was enjoying these shows to the detriment of things I loved. And I was exhausted each day. Which made me a wee bit crabby. And hungry. Meals were last minute operations. It stressed me out.

There was no nice balance of watching just an episode or two with the rest of my life.

As Sir Issac Newton once said,

"A body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion continues to move at a constant velocity unless acted upon by an external force."

And I was a body at rest. Very much at rest. There was no motion about this girl moving in any direction, with any velocity!

Turns out I'm not the only one at rest. In 2011, the average person in the US watched TV more than 158 hours a month at home, 4.5 hours a month on the Internet and 4.3 hours a month on tablet or smartphone mobile devices. That's about 167 hours a month! That comes to nearly 7 full 24 hour days in front of the TV each month, or more than 5 and a half hours a day.

Since I tend to just up and do things, quitting cold turkey if I need to, that's the path I took to break my tv watching addiction.

My month long media fast was one of the best decisions I have made in a long time.

What did I gain when I said goodbye to Carrie, Marlo Stanfield, Avon Barksdale and Sargent Brody?

1. Oh the books I read.

I'm a total bookwork. Nothing makes me happier than sticking my nose in a book and getting lost there for a couple hours. I have very vivid memories of being a little girl and looking forward to weekly trips to the library. After each visit, we were allowed to take as many books out as we could carry. I clearly remember walking super slowly out of the library because I had so many books, I could never see where I was going.

While I have a library card, truth be told, it had been awhile since I last checked out a  book. I had a piles of books next to my bed for ages, just calling my name.  Well during my media fast, I read:

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

Steve Jobs by Walter Issacson

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Buried in the Sky By Peter Zuckerman and Amanda Padoan

2. Oh the meals I made.

Not only were my man and I eating good food, but we didn't have the stress of last minute meal planning.  I got back into the habit of meal prep and cooking. I revisited my list of bookmarked recipes and started working my way through the list. I tried new recipes in my favorite cookbooks. I made brown rice and had it on standby in the fridge. I tried farro for the first time. I roasted tons of veggies to have ready for lunch and dinner. Eating was a beautiful, less stressful thing.

3. Oh the sleep I got.

My body wants to be in bed, reading by around 10pm. Finally, for most of the month of February, I was in bed reading around 10pm. Hallelujah! 8 hours later when that alarm clock went off at 6am, it wasn't a rough jolt back to reality. On some occasions, I was even up before my alarm clock. Fancy that. Sleep is my drug. When I get denied a good night's sleep a couple nights in a row, my concentration wanes, my patience thins and my creativity and production goes down the tubes.

During my media fast, I created my current online program, March Madness...In Your Kitchen. It's my most favorite, exciting, inspiring program yet. People in it love it and are super engaged and participatory. It's a beautiful thing. It's not a coincidence that this program (and all my great journal entries) came from the clarity that arose with a good night's sleep.

My fellow March Madness people are telling me "Johanna, my fridge is an explosion of greens right now!"  "... I actually got my hubby to eat Swiss chard without any complaints, and he even said, "wow, this is really good!" "I wanted to share part of my lunch today. It is kale and red cabbage slaw- so pretty. I love the colors."

4. Oh the QT with my man I had.

By being in bed around 10pm each night, not only did I get a good night's sleep, but my man and I also had a chance to reconnect with each other before we fell asleep with exhaustion.

I don't r e a l l y need to explain this one do I?

And this was only in the month of February. Yes, it's mid-March so I'd say this post is a little overdue. But you know what? I've been having so much fun away from my computer and the "TV" that I don't mind writing this post later than I had planned.

Now, what to do if you too want to break up with your TV?

Here are a couple helpful steps to cut back on your TV watching, if you don't want to go cold turkey like I did.

1. Watch one less episode a night.

2. Embrace the same philosophy as Meatless Mondays, replace one day/night of television watching with another activity. Think of it like Trial-Day Tuesdays. (Totally didn't think of that title on my own!)

3. Make a list of all the things you could do during that same amount of time. For example, Make a photo album, write a letter, cook a meal, organize a pile of papers, call a friend, meet a friend for tea, grab a book, write in your journal, paint, cut up a magazine, go to a yoga class, workout, revisit your rainy day projects list, paint a room.

3. If you have more than one TV in your house, unplug all TVs except for one.

4. Move the TV out of the main room in the house, into a smaller room.

5. Hide the remote.

6. When you are able to cut back on your TV watching, put your cable bill somewhere prominent. Ya know, so you can see how much money you are wasting, spending.

What adventures and fun await you when you break up with your television? I'd love to hear how you replace your TV watching time with something fun. Please leave a comment below.

Oh, and good luck! See you at the library.

xx Johanna