I read a lot, but I also watch a lot of TV. I have TV on while I work, while I clean, while I sew and make jewelry, and sometimes I like to put Netflix on my laptop on the edge of the sink while I’m in the bathtub.
I watch newly-released shows and shows I haven’t seen before, but mostly I watch things I’ve already seen. Give me a line from the X-Files and I can tell you which episode it was, which season that episode was in, and possibly even who wrote it. I can quote nearly entire episodes of Bob’s Burgers or early Simpsons. Sometimes things I say out loud are lines from TV shows that pop out of my mouth without my even realizing it.
My TV-watching used to bother me. A whole lot. I used to beat myself up for the habit, because I was better than that, or I should be writing instead, or successful people don’t watch TV. But mostly I’ve come to terms with it. As I’ve said before, it allows me to not think so much about my own life, and that’s good for my mental state.
Also TV shows are stories, and I love stories in whatever form they take. A well-done television show has plot and character development and themes and subtext to rival plenty of good movies and books. My old English-major habits die hard, and I usually examine the TV I watch as if I were writing a college paper on it.
There is a phrase that I use only in my own head, that I don’t usually tell anyone about. It’s “now is now and it’ll never be now again.” I wish I knew when it first came to me, but as far as I can recall it’s always been there. I say it in my mind when I want to capture and remember specific moments from my life, moments when I am particularly happy or content or when I’m doing something cool I’ve never done before. I say it to myself and I see
a little Texas valley in the winter, as two close friends and I look out over it on horseback
the sunset out the driver’s side window on a highway in Austin, this song on the stereo, a freshly-pressed plaid shirt
late afternoon light reflecting off the frozen Charles River
a red neon sign in Manhattan that blinks CO FF EE over and over, as I’m sitting on a bench talking with a friend
a specific little mailbox on a narrow street in Onset, MA
wooden posts submerged underwater as I glide past in a kayak
watching the sun set over Lake Somerville from the back of a crowded pickup truck
sitting at a sushi bar with friends, bouncing in my seat because the food is so delicious
streetlights mirrored in wet city pavement at night, walking too fast across the street
snow falling on the windshield of my old black Acura
I replay these and other moments in my head when I’m feeling depressed or bored or missing someone. Or sometimes they just pop up unannounced, and it’s like I’m there all over again. Now is now.
But those moments make me a little sad, too, and that’s the second part of the phrase: it’ll never be now again. Sometimes I re-watch my favorite episodes of a TV show over and over again, noticing little things about them that I hadn’t seen before: a billboard in the background, a character’s facial expression, a line I didn’t remember.
I have a freakishly good memory, but I still can’t examine my mental snapshots that way: try as I might to picture what color my horse was or what I was wearing or what street we were on or what the house behind the mailbox looked like, I can’t.
And I know that life can’t always be Good Times, otherwise the Good Times would become just Times, but it still frustrates me that I can’t rewind and watch the best parts of my life over and over again for new details. When I believed in God as a child, I used to say that in my version of heaven, I’d be allowed to sit in front of a TV in the clouds and watch my life unfold all over again on the screen, my finger hovering just over the fast-forward and rewind buttons on the remote.
I have plenty of things to look forward to in my life, of course: upcoming travels, pretty sunsets, seeing friends, watching my nephew learn to walk and talk. But sometimes I’m sitting in an airport or in traffic or on my sofa having normal Times and I think, why can’t now be now again?