I’m like everyone else; I love finding a new show on Netflix and binge-watching till its end. Never having caught its actual on-air run, my husband and I are currently in the middle of Season 5 of Mad Men. We can’t get enough. I am champing at the bit to be finished and delve into all the critical commentary I am sure was written over the years. I am anxious to see how my thoughts on the show’s writing and my impressions of the characters compare to others.
There are shows we watch together, and shows that we watch on our own. I’ve seen very few full episodes of The Walking Dead but I usually have a general grasp of what’s transpired, both from overhearing it playing as I am in the kitchen cooking dinner, and from the smattering of questions I pepper my husband with to fill in the blanks. If I am watching Downton Abbey, he’s either not home, or resting next to me on the sofa half occupied with his phone and only half interested in Lady Mary’s current plot to ruin Edith. Shows like Downton — period dramas, are kind of an obsession of mine. If a series is set in the early 1900’s or before and produced by the BBC, I’ve either seen it or it’s on my list. I especially love historical fiction. It can regularly take me two hours to finish a 52 minute episode as I pause frequently to google real-life events and explore the context. When I start a new series I set out to lose myself, to become enraptured by a world that is not my own.
Because I maintain the ability to conjure up guilty feelings about 95% of the things that give me pleasure (must be my Irish Catholic heritage), I’ve wondered at times if these TV marathons are really healthy for me. If I decide to neglect both my domestic and blogging duties and binge on a Sunday for example, the delight I get from the spree can start to grow dark as the sun goes down. I find myself attached to the other world I’ve been immersed in for hours. I look at the clock. Time slips away so swiftly on Sundays. Only 10 hours till doom. The thought of getting up at 5am to head to my crappy gym and cramming myself on the subway to arrive at a lackluster job seems impossible. The fact that I have neglected my weekend responsibilities sits at the back of my mind and weighs heavily on the start of the week. I long to stay in the ballroom or on the battlefield — anywhere but real life.
Once I hit the treadmill Monday morning I bounce back to reality. The sweet check-in girl — Arden, at my perfectly adequate $20 a month gym reminds me why I haven’t sold my soul and half my paycheck to Equinox. Then I remember that I really like running, and that I am training to run a half marathon that I love. Next I’m on the subway, almost sad that my stop is next and my podcast listening and people watching have to be put on pause. Finally I settle into my desk at the office with a green drink and start chatting my co-workers — whom I love, at a job I do not hate. So…I don’t hate my life. I actually love it. I know this is so, and so I wonder why I know I’ll look to escape it again in a few days time.
There will always be days where I choose to binge-watch movies or TV instead of write. Just as many days remain where I will choose to skip my morning run and eat more than one donut. What inspired this piece is the pure exhaustion from the guilt that I have felt for these choices. Guilt that casts a wave of thick depression that I must constantly remind myself will be brief. I’ve decided I must find the hidden but sunny productive side of these behaviors. They aren’t going to stop, and I’m over beating myself up over them and robbing myself of the pleasure they were meant to illicit in the first place.
I guess I could keep it simple — one might think I’m over-analyzing. Although it feels like it, maybe I’m not trying to escape. Maybe I just enjoy watching TV. Who doesn’t? Still, I think it is a bit deeper than that. I don’t think it is so much that I long to flee my real world circumstances and delve into a cushy fantasy that’s all roses. I can cover a full range of emotions while viewing a series — I laugh, I cry, I get angry. I become attached to the characters and their stories. I have opinions about the choices they should make and I grow frustrated when the writer has a character make decisions or act in a way that I don’t feel is true to their identity. I’ve come to realize that this dissection of circumstances and problems that are not my own is actually a sort of therapy.
Have you ever been troubled, but instead of engaging someone to vent your sadness or frustration you’ve instead asked them how they were doing? Not that I don’t find plenty of time to bitch about my problems (as my hubs can attest), but I actually do this frequently. If you’ve ever been in recovery for anything you will find that this is one of the foundations of a 12-step program. If you’re an alcoholic, and you feel compelled to take a drink, go to an AA meeting. There is a good chance that even if you just sit silently, and listen to other people share their struggles, that compulsion might be lifted for a time. I think other people’s challenges — whether real or on-screen, can help us right the size of our own worries. When I am left to dwell on my issues with no distraction, they grow to giants. But when I can add and even mirror the perspective I’ve witnessed from a friend or character, life is more than manageable. I am often able to recall something in their past or my own that might aid in a future decision. If I remove the guilt that I’ve allowed to inevitably fall on a day spent on my ass watching a show, I’m actually left with quite a bit of clarity and motivation. Solutions come easier as I can finally see the simplicity of so many of my difficulties. As a bonus, I feel more inspired than ever to live and to share my own story — to continue to write my own character.
In a couple of weeks I will start my freelancer’s hiatus. I’ll have about 2 months off before I go back to work on the Showtime series I am an accountant on(funnily enough a series I have no interest in watching). This time will surely be a melange of great workouts, extra yoga classes, experimental cooking, bountiful blogging, and hours upon hours of Netflix abandon. With this examination of the great value of this sofa time and my determination to rid myself of the ‘guilt’ in this pleasure, I look forward to my time off like never before.
Note: Binge-watching the Kardashians will NOT give you any perspective or inspiration of value. That wave of depression you will feel after watching them is your soul being sucked out of your body.