Years ago when I still had a boyfriend, I went to cinema with him. I don’t remember who chose the movie we watched or why, I rather think it was just a chance that it happened to be this one. I watched it, eyes on screen at all times. It was exciting, it was full of action, it was fast and risky and adventurous. In the end there was even an unexpected love scene.
I remember walking out of the cinema and wondering – why did I watch it? There was nothing in it for me. I just lost about 90 minutes of my life and gained nothing. But I couldn’t say it wasn’t exciting or anything. But why should I care about these quite random characters in the movie I couldn’t really find anything similar to me? There was no reason why this would be educating or fun. Even the fact that I shared this eyes-on-screen time with my boyfriend didn’t make this time worthwhile. I could have spent more exciting time with him at home or just walking outside or anywhere.
At that day I decided never to watch action or comedy in the cinema. Why should I pay for it? I can understand sometimes relaxing in front of TV at home, but not paying for it specifically. No comedy or pure action movie is worth paying the high price the cinema charges for a seat, the smell of popcorn and hearing rustling of wrappers. And even at home, rather choose some movie to actually make you think.
When I was at home with my son, while he was still a baby, I had a hard time. I had post-birth depression and I had been used to getting over any unwanted feelings by digging myself into some book or a TV show. When I was inside, it was very hard for me to get out again, to live my life as people should. I had been used to reading a book intensely – I immersed myself in it, I read fast and didn’t put it down before it was read to the last cover. I’d ditch my responsibilities. I ‘d ditch everything. I would hide myself where nobody would find me and just read. Even when I had to sleep. Even when I was hungry. I just had to read as long as there was something to read, I had to forget myself for as long as it was possible, then I would forget the feelings as well. Everything would be better once a happy end was absorbed.
My son, he taught me to see how unimportant these things really are and how attached I am to them. When he woke crying, there was nothing else to do but to go and greet him, deal with his problems, deal with life and those closest to me. The one most important to me. It was abnormally hard to get up from the couch and do it.
But I did. It is hard to find something better to motivate you than the cry of someone you love.
I stopped watching soap operas. It is just disgusting to me now. I sometimes have no choice but to see them, to hear them anyway. It is frightening, how alluring they are still. The emotions, the intrigues! You watch and you stop living your life. You stop.
When I moved to my own apartment, a first for me, I discovered an addiction: I couldn’t bear silence. At first I was quite bent under the weight of the mortgage, too, and I couldn’t afford to buy a radio, a TV or a computer to give myself that background noise. I had hardest time when I was sitting alone in the mornings to eat. I had everything one should need – something to eat, something to drink, a stool and a table… Yet I felt anxious and confused, I felt the need to do something right now, I just wasn’t able to sit peacefully alone at the table, eat, drink and enjoy. Even though it was the only time in the day when it was possible by the outside conditions to be so. At first I hurried my eating, ate more in my anxiousness than I really needed. But after a while it got me thinking, why exactly is that so.
First and foremost and obvious – I was used to some background noise. A radio was always playing in the kitchen at my parents’ house. Not in the night, but from the time my mother got up from bed to the very late evening. I was used to be distracted by the music on the radio when I ate. It was reassuring to hear it throughout the day when I was moving around in the house. It was homely.
But I didn’t like to be addicted to noise, I wouldn’t like to be addicted to anything and noise isn’t something as primary to life as to be normal to be addicted to. The noise is not important, this addiction is not something I would like to admit about myself – so I started to accustom myself to be without it. I was in silence whenever I could. Even when my parents took pity – or rather couldn’t bear it themselves while they were here – and brought me an old radio from their house, I continued being in silence as long as I was alone or only with my son.
It was masochistic at first, a torture for myself, maintained only through discipline and perseverance. It was not understood by anybody I told about it – but after a while it did pay off. I started thinking. I started understanding. I understood how the background had always given me something to think about, something to occupy myself while I wasn’t busy with something practical to think about. I was so used to being distracted all the time that I missed it when there was nothing to distract me. I was even afraid of being without it. Without the distraction, only with my thoughts. I started being there, in the moment, conscious, active, alive, like I had never been before. I started to understand how I had forgotten myself into the books, into TV or radio, never really living only zombieing through life. I started to understand, why I always found a book whenever I felt angry or rejected in childhood. I started to understand so many things, because only then did I really think about them.
When my son was two years old, I gave him a photo camera for playing one day. These days using technology is so simple, even this small a child could easily learn to point and click to do whatever images they liked; and doing a digital photo doesn’t cost a cent (if you don’t count the energy). When we downloaded the pictures I was shocked at how this little child saw the world, because that’s what I saw on the pictures – another way to look at the world. Okay, on some of the pictures I could see him imitating me – finding something absolutely unimpressive and trying to get a picture of that. In this category there were pictures of the floor and the ceiling, of common household items or messy corners of the place we live in. These weren’t as artistic as they were supposed to be, but at least they were a start and these made me smile.
But I was shocked about the others: there were many pictures of TV or computer screen and some, the most shocking of them all, about the family he lived with – us. I think many people wouldn’t have thought twice about just deleting the pictures about TV and computer screen and seen as cute and loving the ones taken about the family. I didn’t. Pictures about the family were really deserving of a name “Contemporary family life” – and that in a bitter meaning. There was a picture of me reading a book. Another of my mom at the computer. And a picture of my father relaxing on the couch, apparently watching TV. Nobody noticed this little spy and so there wasn’t any happy masquerades of closeness, only plain painful truth.
Family life..?! There was no interaction! There was no “family”! Everybody entertained themselves any way possible, but alone although in the same room. Did we talk? Did we do something together? No, if you don’t count being alone together as doing something together. It would have been too much of an effort. Seeing that, it was not at all surprising that loneliness is the top-ranking complaint these days. People entertain themselves and do not connect with one another even though they might be physically together. Even the pictures of the TV and the computer screen were part of it – these items were just as important and close to this small developing child as the members of his small family…
“This is boring!” says Ziggy. I have never seen him so bored before.
Stephanie concurs, “Yeah, let’s go play”.
“But we ARE playing!” says Pixel, the techno guy, who has just invented a remote control, that can make anything do anything he wants. Quite fascinated, he is making a basketball do all kinds of tricks without moving more than pushing a few buttons on the remote.
“No we’re not. This is boring! We want to play with our hands, our feet, our bodies!” exclaims Stephanie, the sportiest girl you might have ever seen.
“Yeah, this is like … like watching someone else eat your candy for you!” says Ziggy, the one who is best described by one of his previous quotes “Eating candy, yeah, that’s important.”
Lazytown, the children’s TV show that promotes healthy lifestyle
This one started haunting me. Watching someone else eat your candy for you. I have done it, more than I should have been. And I don’t mean only watching TV – I have cut watching it quite a lot since the childish voice started repeating the sentence in its annoyed way every time I tried to. I didn’t watch it very much before it did as well. And now I never watch it when there is something else I’d rather do – for that end I don’t read the TV guide, to be able to choose the other activities first and only when I feel tired and powerless to act, do I turn on the TV and see what is on.
There are enough channels that there is almost always something. I only watch if it is somehow educating or interesting. How it’s made. How things work. Engineered. No news, I get them from internet at daytime. No sports – what is there to learn from information that someone was able to run a few seconds faster than anyone before? Or that a group of people somewhere was able to win some other group in some game? Yes it is entertaining, it is exciting to watch, it is giving the satisfying distraction from your own pitiful life. It is just soap opera for men. I’d rather go running myself or play a game with my friends or son. This would be a challenge, enjoying your own muscles flex, having good time with other people, being exhilarated by your own adrenalin.
© Hugh MacLeod, gapingvoid.com
But at the same time I also understand Pixel. I have a long history of being tempted to watch and not act. I have a long history of being excited by technical gizmos, that are really just devices to make yourself entertained, alone. I understand the lure to watch others act and get the second-hand taste, the story has been done for you, now you only have to imagine to be in the shoes of the one you see on screen, only imagine that you taste the candy he is eating for you.
The real world doesn’t advertise itself. And most of the time, doesn’t cost as much either. It doesn’t make you pay with yourself, it makes it possible for you to think instead. It let’s you open up your potential, it let’s you shine in the light of the fabulous being that is yourself, it let’s you be in charge of your life, be the driver not the passenger in the boat of life. But it is hard work. It is frightening and tiring. It is real, it is hard. It is the only way that changes the world.
Oh, but the temptation to just let go, to just let the others decide. Somebody will make it right, somebody will know what to do, somebody will take action. I don’t want to make an effort but live like a good worker bee – wake up, go to work, work, come home, hide myself in TV, let myself be entertained, reproduce, sleep, repeat. Forget that there is evil in the world – good word wins the evil might, isn’t it right? I have had a hard time so long, why can’t I just relax and hide myself from the truth? Why can’t I just hide myself inside all this noise, why do I have to remember, that this world is not a paradise? Why must it be me who makes the change, let someone else do all the work…
A friend told me about his nightmare one day. He saw himself lost somewhere. There was a soft rubber floor, no walls and no ceiling visible anywhere. There were no sounds, there was nothing to be seen – only him and this endless floor. He didn’t need anything to eat or drink, he knew he could just stay there and be. He knew that he could go any way he liked, but the scenery would stay the same. There wasn’t anything to do, there wasn’t anyone else.
I was enraptured by his vision. I told him how great and desirable that was. Alone, without any restrictions! The absolute freedom to do whatever you wanted! The perfect source for creativity, the nirvana Buddhists yearn for, the balance within! I would remove from this vision the material things that were there still. I would remove the rubber floor and imagine myself inside void, weightless, directionless, with no Up or Down. And I would remove the body and leave only a mind with no perceptible shell. And then I would spend eternity within the fantastic images I would imagine around myself. With this mind I would create myself an universe of things, everything I’d ever need. I told him about the start of a book I once wrote and that is unfinished still. I told him about how God felt at the start of creating the Universe.
I told him, it feels great to think.
Soundtrack – none