Reflections On Channel Surfing
My husband Lee and I almost came to blows in our living room last week over his love affair with the channel selector. It was an old issue between us and we skirted dangerously close to ending up in couples counseling over it, but finally, some changes were made.
What happened was I joined Lee and our dog Hootie on the couch in front of our big, flat screen TV in anticipation of Bill Maher’s: Politically Incorrect. We snuggled comfortably with Lee’s arm around me, my head on his shoulder, and Hootie’s little head resting on my curled-up legs. The show began and was laugh-out-loud funny. I was enjoying myself. At the first commercial break, Lee grabbed the remote and began channel surfing.
Question: is the channel selector just one more thing in this world for the male animal to explore and take charge of?
Anyway, the instant the commercial break came on, my generally considerate husband went through some kind of metamorphosis; his channel selector finger got itchy and away we go; surfing’s the name of the game! Click! We’re watching a scene from a love story that moved me to tears; then are treated to a selection of details from a police report on serial killing. Nice. Click! Click! A fleshy woman in pink is sautéing shrimp with garlic; four fifty-something’s are back packing, gaily, through Eastern Europe; five expressionless people stare at their cards during a tense moment in an international Poker championship. Click! We’re in the middle of a bloody fight in an exciting film preview that Lee saw two nights ago—at full volume.
By the time he returned to Bill Maher, the show was already in progress, the audience was convulsed with laughter over what funny line I would never know. Now to me, TV commercial breaks are inherently evil and should never be dignified by being watched by anyone. That’s what mute buttons are for, with time spent productively, in peaceful silence, fetching drinks and munchies, visiting the bathroom, or even, as I told Lee snidely that night, for actually talking to each other.
“Will you please stop jumping from channel to channel?” I demanded nastily, turning to face him. “You do that every time we watch TV. It drives me nuts!”
Looking back on it I could have made my needs known more diplomatically, but despite the series of cool talks by my yoga instructor, Gail, regarding the maintaining of equanimity within—regardless of circumstances without—those were, unfortunately, the words I used. Consequently, a rather stupid argument ensued with each of us biting down on our respective positions, like Hootie bites down on a bone.
“Why does it bother you so much?” Lee asked, annoyed. “I was curious about what else was on. I was exploring. Can’t you just tune it out?”
“Why should I tune it out?” I asked righteously, glaring at him. “Why can’t we have silence during the breaks? What would be wrong with that?”
The argument continued. I, somewhat pompously, stressed the physical, emotional, and spiritual benefits of meditative silence. Lee rose to the occasion and defended, with vigor, his apparently inalienable right to the extremely, annoying activity of channel surfing—which I have no doubt, comes with being born male.
We watched TV again a few evenings later, Boston Public was on. With the air of a martyr about to be set on fire, Lee muted the commercials and without once touching the channel selector, sat silently through each break. He didn’t even click on the sound for a preview of a new show we hadn’t seen yet. He didn’t say a word, but I could feel his pain.
I have to say the silence was enjoyable, but somehow I didn’t feel good about how pushy I’d been about getting my way. “Look, that’s a preview for a new Clint Eastwood film.” I told Lee. I ruffled his graying hair fondly as I got up from the couch. “You haven’t seen that one yet. Why don’t you turn on the sound and check it out while I get us some desert?”
The moment I left the room I heard Clint’s voice as the preview came on, then the familiar click of the channel selector, followed by the sound of sirens, a woman screaming, and finally, a dog barking. At the blue tiled counter in our kitchen I sliced German Chocolate cake and scooped strawberry ice cream on top. When I returned to the living room with dessert, Lee—a happy man—was surfing channels rapid fire, like it was something he was born to do. “Does this really bother you?” he asked a little plaintively.” I can turn it off…..”
Loving him, I shook my head no and remembering to breathe and remain calm, I sat down beside him and offered him cake. Images whizzed by me like some psychedelic dream sequence, but this time I put Gail’s words of wisdom to practice and focused my attention on my breath. Surprise! I wasn’t irritated. I wasn’t annoyed.
Channel surfing, I decided, may not be the finest of Lee’s masculine qualities, but does appear to be part of who he is, so my best move is to live and let live. Click! Someone on a reality show was chomping down on an insect the size of Rhode Island. I closed my eyes and breathed deeply, in and out, in and out; then I opened them and smiled at Lee. For this moment, at least—and the moment, I understand, is all there is—I have achieved some measure of acceptance, maybe even equanimity.
– Lynn Sunday