I watch TV, but not for Jesus

I spent my sophomore year of high school as a fundamentalist Christian. My teenage years were fraught with the typical awkwardness and I-don’t-fit-in-ness just like everyone else, but it all went away when I fell in with a group of Baptists. These new Baptist friends made me feel like I belonged, like I had a purpose, like Jesus loved me in spite of my bad skin and frizzy hair.

My Baptist leanings alarmed my parents. They were (are) Christians, and I’d grown up going to church, but our church was pretty casual compared to the Baptist way of doing things. At our church nobody cared if you listened to rock music or if you went trick-or-treating on Halloween. Nobody told you to keep your Bible visible on top of your other books at school so that your fellow students could identify you as a living symbol of Christ’s love.

I started going to the Baptist church on Sundays instead of the one my parents attended. I remember informing them of my decision to attend another church, and of my newfound belief that Halloween Is Evil. I expected them to congratulate me, to tell me that I was right, that Halloween was indeed Evil, but instead they just stared at me. “Oh,” my mother said. “Okay.”

I can imagine the conversation they must have had later. “She may be a Baptist, but at least we know she’s not doing drugs.” I wasn’t cool enough to do drugs in high school, Baptist or not, but I don’t think they knew that.

My new Baptist friends didn’t listen to secular music or read secular books or do anything secular at all. When we watched movies, we watched them for Jesus. When we hung out at someone’s house, we were hanging out for Jesus. When we went to the mall, we didn’t just go to the mall. We went to the mall for Jesus. I bought Petra CDs and Guardian CDs and went to a DC Talk autograph signing. And I started reading Christian novels.

At the time, Christian novels were all about demons and the Rapture, or at least those were the ones I read. I could never find any Christian novels that weren’t about demons and the Rapture. But that was okay, because demons and the Rapture were thrilling! In the books I read, plucky protagonists dealt with large-scale demonic possessions and epic Second-Comings with their beliefs and virginities intact. These books were like airport gift shop paperbacks with a Christian theme.

I can remember the names of most of the Christian musicians I listened to, and I still know the lyrics to some of the songs, but the only Christian author’s name I can think of now is Frank Peretti. I read three of Frank Peretti’s books, but I remember just one scene, from his third novel, Prophet. The main character, rebelling against something or other, goes to a secular rock concert. He looks around at the people enjoying the concert, and he looks at the performers on the stage, and he thinks to himself, “Where are we going? Where are you taking us?”

The implication of that scene (and if I recall correctly, this was the theme of the book itself) was that you should evaluate the things you’re a fan of and the things you spend your time on based on what these things are trying to get you to do. If the message being conveyed by these things isn’t leading you to Christ, then you shouldn’t be doing them. I took it to heart at the time, and evaluated nearly everything I did with a “Where are we going? Where are you taking us?” test.

If my sophomore year was the Year of the Baptist, then my junior year was the Year of the Heavy Hand With an Eyeliner Pencil. That was the year I realized that the Baptist kids had a hierarchy of popularity just like the secular kids did. That was the year I figured out that being a Baptist wasn’t the answer for me. And that was the year I discovered Led Zeppelin. I stopped going to the Baptist church and resumed my proper place at the church I’d once attended with my parents, a proper place which involved being the president of the youth group and director of the youth-group dinner theatre. That was more about leadership and theatre than it was about Jesus, but that was fine with me, because I could listen to “Houses of the Holy” on the way to rehearsals.

I’d forgotten all about Frank Peretti and Prophet until a few days ago. I was reading a blog post about Kathy Reichs, the woman who inspired the TV show Bones, one of the many shows I watch. The writer of the post compared the characters on the show to the characters in one of Kathy Reichs’ books, and found the book to be lacking. “Of course she didn’t like the book,” I thought. “Those crappy airport murder mysteries are never any good.”

As soon as I had that thought, I stopped eating my lunch (I was at my desk at work) and looked away from my computer. Why do I watch a show based on as a book I’d never read in a million years?

I’m pretty picky about my books. I don’t read crime novels or cheesy romances or books from the poorly-named chick-lit genre. I don’t read anything put out by the Tom Clancy Industrial Complex. Outside of the free pass I gave myself on the Harry Potter series, I like my fiction to come with believable character development, an insightful point to make, or at the very least an inventive way to tell a story. Essentially, it’s “Where are we going? Where are you taking us?” applied to the relative worth of books. I don’t want to read a book if its author has nothing to say to me.

So why aren’t I so discerning with television? Why don’t I apply my guidelines for books to what I watch on TV? It’s a different medium*, but the storytelling mechanisms are, or can be, similar.

I’m going to start evaluating what I watch on TV the same way I evaluate my books, the same way I looked at everything during my sophomore year of high school. “Where are we going? Where are you taking us?” Why do I like this show? What is it trying to say to me?

I think this will be good for my television-watching habits:

I watch Psych because I feel smart when I get the eighties references. Nope! Gone.

I watch How I Met Your Mother because I like Neil Patrick Harris and his character is funny. Not good enough. Gone.

I watch House because Hugh Laurie’s American accent is just that impressive. Sorry. Gone.

I’m only going to watch Heroes until they try to sell me another Nissan, and then it’s gone. But God help me, I’m still on the fence about Bones. It’s really just CSI for people who liked Buffy and The X-Files, and on its best days it’s only as good as the mediocre episodes of the latter two. But I think the show has good characters, and the dialogue is well-written. Come to think of it, I might be on the fence about House, too.

Okay, it’s clear that this new system isn’t going to be exact. But for someone like me, whose self-loathing muscles are never so flexed as when she’s spending her sixth straight hour watching a show she isn’t even sure she likes, at least it’s a start.

*I think that at this point, television exists almost exclusively to support advertising. That doesn’t mean that good work can’t be done on TV, or that good stories can’t be told. They’re just not told that often.

you suck, andrew.

Eight Obscure Things About Me:

1. I realized today that one of my favorite things about believing in God was that he remembered things about me that I didn’t. If he knew how many hairs were on my head and so forth, surely he could remember long-forgotten conversations I’d had, right? What I liked about this was not the reassurance that God was looking out for me, but the idea that, after I died, he might tell me about these conversations, or maybe even let me watch the tapes. I imagined sitting on a cloud in front of some heavenly VCR, playing back my life and seeing all the little things I’d forgotten. My bible-study teachers and youth group leaders always said that once I got to heaven, I would have no interest in my former life on earth. I didn’t buy it.

2. I participated in the spelling bee twice in elementary school. In the third grade I was the fourth person to be disqualified; I spelled the word “biscuit” b-i-s-c-u-t. The next year I was the fourth-grade winner, which meant I was the last fourth-grader to misspell a word. The word in question was “hollowly,” which the school principal pronounced “hallowy.” I asked her to define it and use it in a sentence, but each time she said “hallowy,” so I spelled it that way and was disqualified. That year’s champion was a second-grader, a friend of my sister’s. He won the next year, too, in part because the principal disqualified fourth- and fifth-graders even though they’d spelled words correctly. Apparently the principal was mispronouncing words and disqualifying people deliberately, because to have such a young spelling-bee winner looked really good for the school.

3. Until I was almost eleven years old, I was deathly afraid of dogs. Any dogs. All dogs. Small ones, big ones, friendly ones, mean ones. My dad once claimed it was because my mother was wary of dogs herself, and whenever one was present she would grab me and pull me towards her, thereby passing her own fear onto me. It sort of makes sense, but it doesn’t explain why my sister was never afraid of dogs. When I was ten, my parents got my sister a dog for her birthday. It was a terrier/lab puppy from one of my mother’s coworkers, and I loved the dog, but I was afraid of her, too. Every time I had to go through the backyard to get to the garage, I made my dad hold the dog’s collar so she couldn’t come near me. One morning before church, I looked out the window at our dog and thought, “What am I afraid of?” I told my dad he didn’t have to hold her collar this time. When I walked out the back door into the yard, she didn’t try to kill me or maul me or even jump on me, and after that I was mostly okay with dogs. I’m still wary of the big ones sometimes.

4. In high school my friend Jessica and her friend Suzanne used to talk in gibberish. That’s the one where you add -idig to the end of every syllable of a word, so that “He’s standing right there” becomes “H-idig-e’s st-idig-and-idig-ing r-idig-ight th-idig-ere.” It was really useful when they wanted to talk about someone who may have been within earshot. The two of them were really fast at it, but they did it often enough that I knew what they were saying all the time, and then they started using it when talking to me. Jessica and I used it as recently as a few years ago; we found it particularly helpful at craft shows.

5. In the last six years I’ve gained fifteen pounds, the last five of which I’ve acquired since returning from my roadtrip. Apparently my body got used to all the walking I did while traveling, and then it freaked out when I got back and spent a month sitting on the sofa. I don’t think I look too bad; what bothers me is that I’m all out of shape and a lot of my clothes don’t fit. My new exercise bike should help. I bought it so I can work out indoors without anyone else around — extreme Texas heat and oh my God I’m all sweaty and people can see me are the two biggest things that prevent me from getting exercise. And frankly, anything that can be done in front of the TV is more likely to be done.

6. In 2003 I watched every episode of a reality show called Mr. Personality. It had the hallmarks of all terrible reality shows: fucked-up contestants, contrived dating situations with bizarre restrictions, hosts of dubious celebrity. I watched it for several reasons: 1) it aired during a bad time in my life, when any distraction was a good distraction, 2) I found the premise sort of interesting, and 3) the rubber masks made the whole thing downright surreal. I was dating Andy at the time; to his credit he only made fun of me a little.

7. I get a lot of compliments on my various craft endeavors: sewing, jewelry, wall-hangings, etc. But for every project I complete successfully, there are at least two I fuck up beyond salvation. The shelves in my closet are stuffed full of botched sewing, and I have a small box full of ill-advised jewelry-making attempts. Right now my hands are covered with spray adhesive from a recent project, but I’m not sure I’m too happy with how it came out. I never know what to do with these projects gone awry: it seems wasteful to throw them away, and rude to give them to Goodwill, but I don’t want to keep them, either. I guess they’ll stay here until the next time I move.

8. Not so obscure: I’ve been writing this website in lower-case letters since February of 2000. I did it partly because it was easy, and partly because I thought lower-case letters looked better in general. Nearly everything I wrote online was done in lower-case letters: forum postings, IM conversations, e-mails. But I’m getting tired of it. I write all my work e-mails with proper capitalization, and I’m starting to do the same on forums. So I’m going to use capital letters on this website from now on. It makes me a little sad to do it, but I’ve been feeling weird about lowercase for the past few months, and now’s as good a time as any to roll out the capitals. IMs and e-mails will remain the same, though. I don’t want to abandon it altogether.

I don’t feel like tagging anyone.

my entire shoplifting career

one day when i was eight years old i went to the grocery store with my dad and sister (the same store from which i was nearly kidnapped as a toddler).  my sister and i were old enough to wander around the store unsupervised, and i found myself alone in the produce area.  i always liked the produce area — all those bizarre vegetables and fruits stacked up so uniformly, most of them unfamiliar to me.  my parents bought grapes and carrots and apples and oranges, but they never bought any of the really weird stuff, and they almost never bought cherries.  cherries were my favorite, so i’d always try to get my mom to buy some.  unless they were on sale, she’d say, “no, we’re getting grapes,” and i’d proceed to sulk about cherries until we got to the candy aisle.

but on this day my mom wasn’t there, and my dad was off somewhere else in the store, probably trying to find the easiest thing he could possibly make for dinner.  i don’t know where my sister was.  so i was standing alone in the produce area, noticing how pretty all the different bell peppers were, and then i saw the cherries.  there they were in a big shiny heap, gorgeous and completely unsupervised.  i walked over and looked at them.  then i looked around at the other people.  then i took a cherry and put it in my pocket.

nothing happened.  no alarms went off, nobody said “HEY, PUT THAT BACK!”  nobody even looked at me.  i don’t know why i’d expected all hell to break loose, but i was surprised it didn’t.  i was even more surprised i’d done it in the first place, and that it had been so easy.  i could feel the cherry in my pocket as i left the produce area and went to find my sister.

she was in the toy aisle.  “megan, come on, i have to show you something,” i said.  she followed me into the women’s restroom.  i looked under all the bathroom stalls to make sure we were alone, and then i took the cherry from my pocket and held it out in my hand.  “i stole a cherry.”

“what?” she said, looking as shocked as is possible for a seven-year-old.

“i stole it,” i said, expecting her to be impressed.  “it was really easy.”

“i’m telling dad!” she said.

“no, no, don’t!” i said, grabbing her arm.  “i’ll put it back!”

“i’m still telling!” she said, pulling her arm away and running out of the restroom.  i stayed in there for a few minutes after she left, not sure what to do.  i was going to be in trouble for sure.  was it too late to ditch the cherry in the garbage can and deny the whole thing?  probably.

when i finally came out of the restroom, my dad was waiting for me, my sister standing next to him.  “did you steal a cherry?” he asked, staring down at me.

“yes,” i said.

he made me put it back, and after going through the checkout line, the three of us left the store without a word.  when we got home he sat me down at the kitchen table and we talked about the incident.  the only thing i remember about the conversation is that i felt really, really embarrassed the whole time, and after it was over i begged him not to tell my mother.  he agreed, and she never said anything to me about it, but i know he must have told her.  it was a pretty serious conversation, but i don’t think i was punished for the stealing.  he could probably tell how badly i felt about the whole thing.  in retrospect i know he was less worried about the value of what i’d stolen than he was about my potential career as a fruit thief.

i don’t think either one of us thought about the fact that, since i’d put the cherry back in the produce bin, some poor unsuspecting person was probably going to eat a cherry that’d spent time in some kid’s linty pocket.