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October 2016

Post image for Life Gets Real When the TV Goes Off

I don’t remember when they changed it, but Netflix no longer asks you if you want to watch another episode. Instead, it tells you you are going to unless you take immediate action. You have the option, if your drive to get on with your life is strong enough at that moment, to spring to your feet and stop the countdown before it’s too late.

Back in 2008 I quit putting the news on first thing in the morning. I had noticed that I didn’t really watch it, it was just comforting to have on, and that made me suspicious. So I stopped. The effect was strangely jarring—my breakfast-making routine seemed unnervingly quiet. Suddenly it was just me, my kitchen, and creeping thoughts about my job and my boss and whatever troublesome project we were on at the time.

For some reason just having the TV on seemed to soften the reality of those mornings, and turning it off seemed to intensify my problems. It was like life finally had room to square up and confront me directly, whereas with the TV on it could only make glancing contact.

You might have noticed this phenomenon too. Even when the TV has only been on in the background, life and all its responsibilities suddenly become a lot more vivid the instant it plunks off. And that can be a strangely uncomfortable moment, to be in a quiet room once again, suddenly quite aware that the rest of your day and the rest of your life is undecided, and you’re at the helm.

Often we already have an impending obligation somewhere else, and that’s why we turn it off in the first place. But without another vine to grasp the moment we let go of the TV, shutting it off reintroduces a certain existential weight to our experience.

One of the least-acknowledged peculiarities about human beings is that we can scarcely bear being in the moment we’re already in. It’s rare for us to truly be at ease in an ordinary present moment, if we’re not being entertained, gratified or otherwise occupied by something. We’re always planning better moments than this current one, or at least trying to soften or improve it with entertainment or food, or anything else that delivers some predictability to our experience.

Just letting life flow by, without adding anything to it, distracting ourselves from it, or fixating on the future, is strangely excruciating for us. It should be the easiest thing in the world to do, just to let time unfold at its own pace, but we’re so uncomfortable with that.

The present moment is seldom good enough. We’ll do anything to avoid experiencing the moment unadulterated, even useless things like biting our lip, reading the sides of cereal boxes, or thumbing the seams of our jeans.  Read More

movie cinema

It took me years to discover this, but I become really uptight in movie theaters. Usually I’m pretty easygoing, but whenever I enter a room with rows of seats and a large screen, I have an incredibly difficult time relaxing.

It’s as though I develop certain mild mental illnesses as soon as I walk in. Suddenly I have misophonia—I can’t bear the sound of people eating anything, or crinkling packages, even though everyone is eating something, and has every right to. I feel paranoid and persecuted, as though my precious public movie experience will inevitably be ruined one or more persistently clumsy, noisy, or smelly moviegoers.

Even when nobody is doing anything annoying yet, my mind is poised for judgment, almost waiting for a reason to get mad. Undoubtedly, someone is going to talk through the whole thing, explaining to their partner all the references they catch, or asking plot questions the movie itself hasn’t answered yet. Every movie experience begins with a sense of impending loss.

I may be overstating this effect a little—describing the private emotional convulsions of your mind always makes you sound crazy, because we so seldom do it—but there’s no question that my capacity for judgment and indignation mushrooms at the cinema, regardless of what’s actually happening around me on any particular visit.  Read More

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