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Going Screen-Free Liberates the Mind


Culturally clogged and cut off, I’ve long been stuck in the past. It’s a past I only reinforced when I took on a circa-1780 log-and-stone farmhouse 15 years ago. Recently, I went so far as to remove the only television from my house (and life), retrofitting the space with a 200-year-old folk-art cupboard. 

Suddenly, though, I worried about my impending pop-culture abstinence. I wondered if I’d truly become deprived—or if I’d soon have trouble writing similes, a necessary endeavor in my writing career. Right now, I can’t even concoct a simile to connect my (seeming) sense of loss to a modern-day reference. I don’t know any.

And, to boot, pop culture kicked back. While moving the cupboard that hid my TV, I dropped it on my right foot, partially fracturing my toe. My podiatrist had to remove the entire toenail. I never thought turning off a TV for good could be so painful.

At home, I like to read, write, think, rearrange my collections, tend to my dwindling herd of Olde English Babydoll sheep, and comfort my dogs, B.B. and Maudie. I always have something better to do than watch TV.

And allegedly, so do millions of others who participate in Screen-Free Week, an annual event where children, families, schools and communities willingly turn off their TVs and “turn on life.” Instead, folks read, daydream, explore, enjoy nature, and converse with family and friends. Mark your calendars: This year, it’s May 5-11.

Truth be told, I’m not really worried about the pop culture thing. In reality, I only watched about three minutes of TV a month on average, anyway. I hadn’t seen any since last April, when I pulled the plug so I could power a fan. (There was no air- conditioning in the 18th century.) 

And I’m still learning how to work the technology I do use. This past New Year’s Eve, I somehow deleted 80-plus pages of emails and a storehouse of contact info, ideas, photos and documents. Talk about starting 2014 with a clean slate.

According to my computer—my crutch of a contemporary concession—a good translation of the words “auld lang syne” is “times gone by.” So, incorporating a couple of translations, when we sing the song, we’re saying, “We’ll drink a cup of kindness yet for times gone by.”

We ought to do that every day. Hurrah for history. Read a book. Visit a museum. Write a poem or a song. And turn off the TV—pop culture be damned.

Senior writer J.F. Pirro is considering a second career as the next Andy Rooney.