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 V.21 No.15 | April 12 - 18, 2012 

Guest Editorial

As Not Seen on TV

Kurt Swearingen
Kurt Swearingen

Wake up, go to work, come home, watch TV. Wake up, go to work, come home, watch TV. Ad nauseam.

I was doing just that right up until I canceled my cable subscription. How could I go on without endless channels of reality shows and infomercial clowns? I didn’t know. But the daily cycle felt like a slow drift to a lobotomy. Enough.

I needed a theme for life without TV, and then it dawned on me: I would become my own reality star. I was going to live like my life was being filmed, putting all that money I would have spent on cable into my own reality—minus the crass behavior and antics.

To be clear, I had no intention of filming an actual show. I just hoped to begin living as though I was on camera. I would imagine that my life was interesting enough to film, that I’d be engaged enough to write my own story. Not in words, but in actions, reality, substance.

To be fair to cable, I developed my reality budget based on what a premium cable deal costs, about $200 per month on the upper end. What could I sub for that? And it had to be during the same times I would normally be watching the demise of Western civilization on the tube, such as evenings or weekends.

After learning how to use a pencil again, I made two lists of things to do: one for going out and one for staying in. For excursions, I scanned the papers for semi-regular activities. I found theater, concerts, book clubs, basket weaving, fantasy football, and classes for a variety of skills, such as cooking and karate.

I would imagine that my life was interesting enough to film, that I’d be engaged enough to write my own story

I wanted to do something social that also involved physical activity: I just had to lose all that weight I had gained watching others exercise on TV. Karate and dancing made the short list.

My journey started at CSP Dance Studios off of San Mateo. I was a bit apprehensive given my three left feet. And really, could I possibly get as much from learning the Texas two-step as watching a rerun of “All in the Family”? (Edith, get me a beer!) Amazingly, CSP offers unlimited classes for a month for about $100. They even taught me some line dancing, which I’ll never admit to liking, though there might be some photos showing otherwise. (I’ll buy them from you!)

It was a stretch because I normally spend my Saturdays watching beer and pizza commercials peppered with the occasional football play.

After just a few lessons, I tried a social dance, and before I knew it, I was getting around the floor like Fred Astaire. Well, more like Fred with a severe hangover. I soon discovered that Albuquerque has dozens of places to dance two-step, salsa, tango, swing and more, and I met some great people along the way. A guy or gal could dance every night of the week if so inclined.

OK, after dance lessons, I had $101 left over. Now what?

Ever since hustling my classmates out of their milk money, it’s been my dream to be a poker star, the next Doyle Brunson or Phil Hellmuth. My next stop was the Hard Rock Casino at Isleta. For only $20, I entered a Texas Hold ’em tournament. I played four games over the month, lost three of them, and made the money pool on one for a total of $120 won—or $40 net. That meant after poker, I still had $141 of my reality budget.

I just put it into savings—easier to do now that TV wasn’t telling me where to spend my money.

Dance lessons and poker were making me feel a bit self-indulgent. Part of my new reality had to include some giving back. I discovered that Habitat for Humanity needs volunteers to help with building homes on Saturdays around Albuquerque. It was a stretch because I normally spend my Saturdays watching beer and pizza commercials peppered with the occasional football play. But there I was, learning how to install drywall, frame windows and improve my sweeping technique. (“Show me sand the floor, Daniel-san.”). What I gave in labor I got back in the form of new skills I can use someday when I build my own house—without a TV room.

I had become my own reality TV star and lost the sad apathy of living vicariously through others.

Of course, I didn’t go out every night. At home, I read the newspaper. I read books on home repair and how to tie trout flies.

I listened to music—not the diversionary music you put on when you’re stuck in traffic, but the kind that demands focused, appreciative listening, like folks did in the good old days. It turned out to be a great cure for the attention deficit disorder TV had given me.

I had become my own reality TV star and lost the sad apathy of living vicariously through others. Cable television was eclipsed by my first dance lesson, my first poker game and the first nail I sank into the sweet-smelling lumber of a Habitat house. I kept my mind active, lost 20 pounds, saved money and made some great friends. When’s the last time TV did that for you?

Kurt Swearingen is a father, forester, knife-maker and writer who contributes regularly to national outdoor publications—when he's not
watching TV, that is.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author.
 

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