Friday, July 25, 2008

Temptation, Thy Name is Cable

Every once in a while, Ed will make a wry observation that my blog continually veers from the subject of “journey to simplicity.” Of course, that’s absolutely true, but I took some time this week to think about why.

I’ve been posting to this blog almost 2-1/2 years. I started it when we had decided to downsize, the first step being to put our huge house on the market and all the decisions that came with that. These were hard decisions - giving away/selling a lot of our stuff, trying to figure out what was important in life, what was truly valuable and meaningful. As reflection usually does, my introspection broadened and soon our adventures in downsizing were expanded to include my coming to terms with aging, my frustration with my co-workers, my procrastination, and my relationships with family members (hence this year, the birthday posts). I eventually learned that a journey to simplicity encompasses all this and more - because it gets to the very core what one considers to be life’s priorities and the kind of person one wants to be.

However, the main reason for expanding the blog is that, although we will never reach the goal of perfect simplicity, we have done rather well in these 2-1/2 years and on the whole I am pleased with our progress. We moved to a smaller house. We cut down our quantity of “stuff,” and what we have left we treasure. We have gotten used to low water pressure, shoveling snow off the cars, a cramped sewing room/office, and small closets. We have cut expenses. We try to buy most of our food local if we can. I gave up coloring my hair. I let some magazine subscriptions lapse. We go to the library more frequently and borrow books instead of buying so many. In essence, we are traveling fine, not much hassle, and there’s not as much to report in the journey as there was at the beginning. But without a doubt the hardest things we had to adjust to (sometimes kicking and screaming, I assure you) is s-l-o-w dial-up Internet and no cable TV.

As I’ve mentioned before, there are lots of times I am trying to download pictures from family and friends and it takes forever - so long that I have to leave the computer altogether for 5-10 minutes for each picture because I can’t abide sitting here and watching that blue status line creep along. Paying bills online is a nightmare. Ordering things online is likewise frustrating. Getting updates from Apple is virtually impossible - even overnight is not long enough to download them. I can’t watch videos - even a 1-minute video of Charlotte singing or Caroline reading is off limits. My medical transcription sites take so long to just to download one thread that I just avoid them unless I have plenty of time. I have access to an interesting blog with incredible pictures from a lady on Prince Edward Island who posts daily, but the download takes forever, so I don't visit as often as I'd like. I can’t use my Delicious Library software to scan and catalog all my books because it has to access for the information on each book. The list of why I miss my high-speed Internet grows longer by the day.

The TV part is harder on Ed, since he stays at home all day and has to fill his time after I go to bed at 7 p.m. five nights a week. His favorite shows used to be the cooking shows, history shows, and travel shows. My favorites were medical shows, TLC’s What Not to Wear, Designed to Sell, and any old reruns I could find of shows from my childhood. We’d hardly ever watch sitcoms, but give us a good biography and we’d be glued to the TV. Of course, it became a habit like anything else, and the TV would be on more and more hours a day. We’d start with the local evening news and keep it on until the late evening news, then I’d turn it on in the morning while I was getting ready for work, and Ed would turn it on when he got up and sometimes it would stay on until 10:00 in the morning. Ever since we moved, we’ve managed to get two channels with our rabbit ears - ABC and PBS, with at times inadequate picture and sound quality. We refused to get satellite for a variety of reasons, and took our chances on what we could get free. Needless to say, the TV is not on much around here anymore, unless we are watching movies from the library, the rental store, or our stash on the weekend.

I give you this detailed background to set the stage for a drastic change in our near future. Ed has always said that blessings carry curses and vice versa, and neither category is unadulterated. Well, we are about to get the blessing and curse of Time Warner cable access for TV and Internet. They are just finishing up in our neighborhood (after starting a full year ago and working on and off), and I actually have a real order number for installation in the coming few weeks. “How exciting!” you say. “Whatever is the problem? This is what you’ve been waiting for - the breakthrough - the ultimate luxury - the things you sacrificed when you moved out of town!” Aye, but the curse always accompanies the gift, does it not?

I love the sign that says, “Lord, lead me not into temptation; I can find it myself just fine.” And therein lies the curse: Are we ready for these old temptations to return to our lives? Have we been put on a diet for 2-1/2 years, only to wake up at one of the biggest buffet tables we ever saw? Have we learned enough in our journey to simplicity to handle this? That’s the temptation - that’s the fear.

Ed is afraid if I get high-speed Internet, I’ll hole up in this tiny office and he’ll never see me again. I worry if he gets cable TV, he will waste too much time when he should be doing more constructive things like cutting wood and walking the dog. (It also should be noted that I can “veg out” in front of the TV just as easily, justifying that I’m simultaneously doing quilting or reading, and he can now get on the Internet and look up stuff he wants to order, so these temptations are not exclusive to either of us.) There is no question that cable TV offers some great educational and life-enriching programs. But anyone can watch the “good stuff” 24 hours a day if he/she has a mind to. Then where does real life go? As far as the Internet, I tell Ed I will spend a shorter amount, not longer amount, of time on the computer because things will get done faster. Yes, he says, but I will use the time I “save” to go to more places and spend more time visiting with my online MT friends, etc. Activities expand to fill a time vacuum. It's as if you go to the store to buy a pair of pants for $50, they are on sale for $25, so instead of pocketing the extra $25 you saved, you spend it to buy something else. Your spending has expanded to fill your wallet vacuum. (The frustrating thing is, he’s probably right.)

I also know we could arrange to get the cable Internet without the cable TV, but I’ll bet there will be a package offer with a tempting price and besides, I would love to see some football this fall, and, oh yes, getting to watch the Macy’s Parade live instead of, on the day after Thanksgiving, watching a VHS tape recorded by Rachel the day before would be such a treat! Did I mention all the quilting and sewing shows I used to watch? Yes, but will I end up watching quilting shows instead of actually spending the time quilting?

Maybe we can just “try” the TV with an introductory offer and cancel later. Uh-huh. Right. On the other hand, maybe we have grown wise enough to handle what used to be out of control.

Do you see the dilemma? We have worked hard along our journey to simplicity, and now all of a sudden, temptation has moved into our neighborhood and will be knocking on our door any moment. Are we prepared? It is possible to regain cable TV and Internet without losing ourselves in the process? Have we gained enough wisdom in the last 2-1/2 years to be able to hand these two “gifts”? Are we up to a difficult challenge? Stay tuned!

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