When I got home from work yesterday afternoon, there was no fourteen-year-old who greeted me by closing the door to her bedroom but then popping out a few minutes later to ask what’s to eat, nor was there a Maltese named Poops who jumped up and danced on his hind legs when he saw me. There was only the dining room table with its self-created collection of piles to greet me. It's his weekend with them both.
I unpacked the bag of groceries that I bought for my evening at home, trying to ignore the silence by turning on the radio. I put away the frozen pizza and the two bottles of beer. After I responded to some emails, I went into my daughter’s room, piled her clothes on a chair as I had done when I was her age instead of the floor mounds that she prefers, arranged her five pillows on her bed, lay down, and lifted up the remote for what would be hours of unending numbness. It’s not that my job is so hard that I need to unwind so intensely, perhaps it’s because I don’t watch tv other than those Friday nights (okay, the occasional Saturday night if I’ve been grading or on the computer for too long—I think I need a “life”) but it is time that enables me to detach from my mind. Perhaps this is how I meditate. Sometimes it gets hard to think and be aware.
So there I was, on a hot pink sheet for hours watching Say Yes to the Dress and House Hunters International. The thought of why it is always those two programs that I return to kept trying to break into my mindlessness. Is it because I like to see people so happy, so ready to step into another phase of their lives, that I want to become a voyeur? Is it that I wish that for myself and so I live vicariously through them? Maybe it’s a bit of both; maybe I’m anticipating more change. But it’s also that there is nothing else that I can settle my mind onto. I cannot watch the news or opinion shows because I’m tired of listening to people open and close their mouths repeatedly without saying anything. (I don’t ignore the news, I still read mine.) I know, I know, I’m sure some of my students say that about me [especially the ones who wrote “I hate this class” on my “What I Want to Do This Year” sign on the backboard before I ripped it off in a moment that combined hurt and bitchiness (no one was there to witness this act)]. And I can’t watch scripted programs because everything is so fake and contrived that I don’t see how I could ever have been compelled to watch so much falsity in writing and acting.
How bare can I make my life? Is that why I need to watch tv every once in a while? How much can my life, a life, revolve around one’s actions and thoughts and the people one encounters? Is that why we read and watch? Is that how we expand our circle if we need it to be larger than it is in reality? Or do we need to incorporate ideas and people and images that don’t always challenge us and demand attention from us on a personal level? Do I need the numbness because there are so many people I need to care about everyday that I need to just stop sometimes? In a week I have about 185 students, each is an individual who I need—want—to understand and reach, and who I care about. Maybe it is about the job. Maybe it’s more draining than I realized. I get up in front of my classes three times a day and on religious school days, four or six times a day. And each time I’m on stage; I need to sense the audience and project, and thrust my personality out so that it meshes with the instruction. Is that why I don’t watch dramas? Not because of the corny stories and plasticine acting, but because I have too many lives to care about that I cannot expand my heart anymore?
Is this about self-preservation? Do I need to return my thoughts and cares to myself instead of always extending them and sharing them? Do I need to come back to myself at the end of the week because if I didn’t there wouldn’t be anything to share the next week? When I walk, I think. When I read, I think. When I watch, I detach. Maybe it’s not as much of a time-waster as I thought.
Where’s the remote?