May 8, 2017 by Gregory Josephs
I’ll Watch TV When I’m Dead: The Pressure of Creative Guilt
Want to play a game? It’s really fun, I promise. Here’s how it goes:
Think of a popular television show, then ask me “Hey, have you seen ________?”
Unless you were thinking of Game of Thrones or anything else on HBO, the answer is almost certainly no. Outside of that, let’s see. . . I saw a few seasons of American Horror Story. I’m almost caught up on Homeland, but that’s a recent development.
Netflix originals? Nope. Hulu exclusives? Forget about it. Every single show that ends up a trending hashtag on Twitter on Sunday nights? Sorry, I missed it.
I even wrote about watching the series premiere of American Gods! We’re now two episodes in, and I haven’t actually started it yet.
Believe me, I’m not bitter. Well, mostly not bitter. The truth is, while I don’t love television, I do like it. I just can’t make time to watch it; the creative guilt sets in, and before I know it I’m feeling lousy and unproductive. And then there’s the stress of keeping up! But let me unpack the first part. . .
The Shadow of Creative Guilt
On our first date seven years ago, while we were laying all our baggage out on the table, I told my husband I was an intense person. When I’m into something, or I’ve got a project, I devote all my spare energy to that endeavor. He might have shrugged it off at the time, but seven years into our relationship he knows I wasn’t kidding. He’s seen me cycle through a number of minor passions, and been right there to help me as I’ve come close to burning out.
The last couple years, as I’ve worked feverishly to launch my writing career, it’s been go, go, go all the time. I start moving so fast, first I’m running. Then I’m flying. Luckily, he’s always there to patiently guide me back down to earth when my feet leave the ground. I think he wonders what I’m running from.
The answer is creative guilt, with its long, horrible shadow; the feeling that I should be doing more to achieve my dreams. How could I justify watching Sense8 when I could be editing another chapter, writing a blog post, or platform-building on Twitter? That new season of Grace and Frankie isn’t going anywhere, but neither is my writing career if I don’t get this book out.
Somehow, I’ve decided that living in that shadow is so unpleasant, I fill every spare moment with more creative work. Honestly, flipping on the TV while I’m drinking my morning coffee, or late at night after work, never even crosses my mind. I’m too deep in the Twitterverse, or busy chewing an awkward sentence I’ve written.
And when I do take some time to just relax? I’m either reading (which ultimately improves my writing) or listening to music with my eyes closed.
Perhaps the only exception to all of this is when my husband and I are together. Our schedules keep us apart most of the week, so when we have the chance to be with one another, even my creative guilt takes a back seat. This is the only time I get any TV watching in; we’ve got our shows we’ll watch together. The problem is, TV shows today are so great and so compelling—
It’s Stressful Keeping Up
Just staying current on the few shows we watch together can be a chore. I can’t wait to watch American Gods together—he’s going to love it—but I can’t justify the subscription to STARZ until we finish watching the current season of Homeland on Showtime. I’m psyched about the current (and final) season of The Leftovers, but if we have to choose between catching up with Kevin Garvey and Nora Durst, or going for a nice long hike, the hike is going to win out.
I guess we find time for what really matters to us, and for better or for worse, television doesn’t make the cut. I’ll watch TV when I’m dead, because the shadow of creative guilt is a lot longer, and a lot colder, than the shadow cast by my Sony Bravia.
I promise I’m only a little bitter.
Later tonight, when my husband and I discuss this post, he’ll remind me for the eight-hundred ninety-eighth time that balance is the key to happiness. I’ll listen, and I’ll agree, and I’ll be so thankful. I’ll come home from work tonight and watch the second episode of The Santa Clarita Diet, which he recommended highly. I’ll feel a little guilty, but my brain will be grateful for the break.
I’ll set a goal of watching an episode a night. They’re only 30 minutes, right? I’ll make it through the week and think maybe I’ve turned a corner.
But by next week I’ll be thinking of everything I ought to get done, even at 1AM. That old shadow will spread over me again, and in short order the escapism the television offers will be forgotten. I’ll start drifting up into the atmosphere until my loving tether pulls me back down again.
Once more, I’ll strive for a little balance. The cycle will start over.
Ultimately, I’m fine with it. This rhythm is comfortable, and I’m happy. Every day I’m a little closer to achieving my dreams.
Television can wait, and maybe so can balance.
I’d love to know your thoughts! How do you balance being productive with letting your mind rest? Do you get stressed trying to keep up with television? Are there any shows you can’t stand to miss? Let me know in the comments below.
Thanks as always for reading.