I’ve heard about this kind of thing before. Anxiety, depression, abruptly waking up in a cold sweat, longing for the vice that’s recently been removed from your life. I’ve seen “Celebrity Rehab,” so I know all about the effects that a detox can bring, but I never thought that this issue would apply to me. I’ve never thought that I’d experience the traumas of detox firsthand. Until now. Recently I’ve learned exactly what it is to “go cold turkey.” For the past five days, I haven’t watched any TV.

When I was in fourth grade, each student in my class was asked to monitor the number of hours that he or she spent watching TV per day. I won. By a landslide. Around this time, my mother enacted a two-and-a-half hour daily limit on the time that I could spend in front of the set. Believe it or not, this time restriction didn’t work for me. I either ignored her completely or insisted that the previous episode of “Hey Dude” had been a “to be continued,” so I had no choice but to see another and find out how the loose ends would be tied. I was hooked.

Every morning, before elementary school, my mom would wake me up at 6:30 to watch a half-hour of TV before getting ready to head to the bus stop. The show at this hour alternated between “Lassie,” “Free Willy,” “Tailspin,” “Bullwinkle,” and my own personal favorite, “Gummi Bears,” which I would watch while eating breakfast. At 7:00, “Under the Umbrella Tree” began, and this served as my cue to get my ass into gear for the school day. Sometimes I would fall back asleep, but I always knew I had screwed up if I wasn’t up and at ’em and “Under the Umbrella Tree” was on.

TV is the way that my day has always started, and for years, it’s also been my daily calendar. My parents religiously watched “60 Minutes” each Sunday night, and to this day, its tick-tocking theme song sends me into an instant panic as it signals weekend’s end. For this same reason, I can no longer watch any version of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” and I generally save “Desperate Housewives” for later on in the week. This way, when I begin to feel sick from the Sunday night blues, I can remind myself, “but it’s really Tuesday!” Talk about a great relief!  Wednesday continues to bring me warm memories of a Chick-Fil-A combo meal and Breyer’s mint chocolate chip ice cream (and spitting the chips out into another bowl because they always got stuck in my teeth) and waiting all day in anticipation for 8:00 to hit. From 1996-2000, Wednesday was “90210-day” in my house and as such, it continues to be one of my favorite days of the week.

ABC’s TGIF lineup told me that there were two days without school ahead, and “Rescue 911” meant staying up extra late in the summer. I still sing commercials to occupy myself while waiting in lines or just as a way to annoy my co-workers, my favorites being one for Quaker Instant Grits and the jingle for the Suzi Stretch life-sized doll. I also continue to listen to theme songs and especially love a Carly Simon anthem used in a little-known Judith Light show called, “Phenom.”

Despite many efforts to get in on the action, I still don’t like “Cheers,” but this present-day feeling didn’t stop me from taking it very hard when the show went off the air in 1993. I was seven-years-old and had never seen it before but something about learning of this place “where everybody knows your name” and watching the final episode with my parents struck a chord in me. I sang the theme song on the bus the next morning and spent that day with the show on my mind. I didn’t just watch more TV than my peers, it also seemed to mean more to me. When “Seinfeld” ended six years later, I wrote epitaphs to it all over my trapper keeper in white out. “Serenity now.” Serenity now.

I was also a voracious reader as a kid, and I’ve always found it interesting when people suggest that books are superior to television. I can get behind the idea of “don’t watch TV, go climb a tree,” but I have trouble with, “don’t watch TV with your family, go up to your room and read some C.S. Lewis alone.” Don’t get me wrong, I love C.S. Lewis, but something about the superiority-complex that “scholars” hold over TV watchers has always irritated me. For this reason alone, it has taken me a long time to forge ahead with this experiment in fear that it will sound like I’m suggesting that television is bad for people. I certainly don’t think that it’s bad for people, but by the same token, I’ve wondered what it’s doing to me. I’ve wondered what I would find the time to do if TV wasn’t in the picture.

The main motivation behind this experiment (which is scheduled to proceed for 29 days, equal in length to my trip around America) stems from a blackout (as in power outage, not a result of too many Long Island iced teas) that I experienced in LA a little under a year ago. The power and cable were both out, and I couldn’t watch or record television for an entire night. I was distraught as there were shows that I felt I simply couldn’t miss! I read a bit by candlelight and went to bed angry, like a kid that had missed out on dessert. When I woke up though, something inside me had changed. I found myself hoping that the power would still be out when I came home from work that night. Not having to watch any shows had come to me as somewhat of a relief. Could it be? Could TV be a self-imposed burden on my life?

I ignored this question for the following year and continued to watch television in typical fashion, but I’m interested to see what I’ll end up doing with my time over the next few weeks. Naturally, there are a couple of reality shows that I’ll be saving on my DVR so that I’m not out of the loop forever. Something tells me that no matter what happens, the “no TV” clause won’t be a permanent fixture in my world. So far and in a largely unexpected twist, I’ve spent a lot of time reading Naomi Judd’s autobiography (she also drove through Texas and seems to appreciate fields), and I have strangely found myself missing shows that I haven’t seen in a while, like “My So-Called Life” and “Party of Five.” I suppose the more things change, the more they stay the same. I’m hoping though, that at some point, I’ll proceed with the attempt to expand my horizons rather than simply use this time to move up the expert rankings in subjects that I already know. For instance, I’ve already been tempted to re-read my favorite novel, The Babysitters Club Super Special # 2, but then I reminded myself that the point of this experiment is to learn new things and to step out of my comfort zone. As a result, I’ll go out later and attempt to find Super Special # 3.

I’m also hoping that on day ten or eleven I’ll get the motivation to take up wood carving or learn to make lye soap. Then I won’t simply be a crazy person, I’ll be a crazy person with some skills. Whatever happens though, if this process doesn’t end with me chasing a small boy around the snowy woods like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, I think that one way or another, I’ll come out slightly better in the end. Stay tuned as I come up with things to do! (Hint: “Muzzy” cartoon tapes in French don’t count as “watching TV” for the purposes of this experiment, and my 7th grade flute has already been freshly polished…)

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