Sunday, January 15, 2012

'I'm not watching TV, I'm working.'

Being a writer is great. Here’s why.

‘Honey, can you help? I’m trying to make dinner and the kids are screaming at each other again.’ ‘Well I just got this incredible subplot idea I need to develop; I need to think, I’m going out for a bike ride.’

Maxim? What kind of magazine is that?’ ‘Oh, it’s a kind of resource for creating a new character for my book.’

‘You don’t usually drink Kahlua. You know, that much at one time.’ ‘Yeah, well it helps my imagination.’

‘Are you coming to bed soon?’ ‘In a while, I’m going to watch some TV first, get some fodder for a new blog post.’ ‘You mean for the blog that makes you no money?’ ‘These things take time, honey.’ ‘Fine. Good night. You’re on breakfast duty tomorrow, I have to go to the mall.’ ‘Why, what do you need?’ ‘Nothing, but all the walking around is good exercise.’

I can’t complain. She spends about as much as I make as a writer.


I was up late last night channel-surfing again. The wife, bless her weary, pregnant soul, got up early today and fed our one-year-old his breakfast. Meanwhile our older boy is still passed out, a true rarity, while my wife seems to have forgotten about that going to the mall thing, so here I am at the keyboard, sipping coffee and pretending this is the post that will put me on that road to cyber-notoriety.

It was just after midnight when I clicked on the telly; another of these CSI spin-offs was just starting. I see these shows as a personal challenge, an hour-long psychological battle royale pitting these shows’ writers against my keen perception and my sixteen-year-old degree in forensic science. Back in around 2000 I would have things figured out by the second commercial break. Now they throw these random curve balls in with about three minutes left in the show, total cheating as far as I’m concerned.

I changed the channel.

Fox News Watch, with a panel of pretty damn important people as far as these unimportant people are concerned. I likely would have breezed right by, but the technology of television has changed things. Long ago, meaning up until we left Japan for good last September, channel surfing for me meant changing the channel, pausing to see what was going on, laughing at the silly culture, changing the channel, trying to understand what the people were talking about, failing, changing the channel, staring at the Japanese woman in the facial cleanser commercial, picking my drooling tongue off the floor, etc. But this new digital TV thing changes the whole game. Change the channel, and before a new image pops up on screen there’s a blurb at the bottom with the name and a one-line synopsis of the show that’s on. After ten years of reading Japanese subtitles on Japanese TV (yes, Japanese sub-titles for Japanese voices) I can absorb these one-liners in English in about a tenth of a second - more or less, depending on how much Kahlua I’ve had – so I don’t need to wait for the actual show to come up on the screen, I just read real fast and keep changing the channel. It's cool, with this time lag between these blurbs and the shows they coincide with it's like the overlapping flashes and the booms in the grand finale at a fireworks display. So the Fox News Watch logo – which I would not have stopped for – hadn’t even come up before I saw the blurb and kept going. I didn't even read the whole thing; yet some kind of subliminal thing told me something was wrong.

I put the fireworks display in reverse and backed up for a closer read.

‘Fox News Watch – Fox News hosts and panelists seek to unearth media bias in news coverage.’

…In other news, Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, is seeking answers as to the causes behind the recent string of self-immolations in Tibet…

The commentators’ voices fall into my head. They are discussing the idea that there are too many debates, which leads to confusion in the heads of the public. This, naturally, leads to the brilliant idea of having more debates, but with different moderators, like Sean Hannity and – I kid you not – Rush Limbaugh.

…Xinhua has determined that all discontent and unrest in Tibet can be traced to a mental disease known as ‘being Tibetan,’ and Chinese military personnel officials will be working to eradicate this widespread condition by any means necessary through peaceful diplomatic overtures…

Conversation moves to the ‘Media Takeover of the GOP primary process.’ On the ticker running across the bottom of the screen there is, in a continuous string of news bites, the following: US to restore diplomatic ties with Myanmar upon the release of all political prisoners.

Hey. Fox News. Watch.

Back to that crime drama. There are interviews going on with several women who have been somehow victimized (it is not a secret how they've been victimized, I just haven’t seen enough to know the nature of the crimes), and I come to the speedy and indubitable conclusion that, even though the victims and interviewers are all talking about ‘he’ I have been able to understand, through super powers I myself can not adequately explain, that ‘he’ is actually a she. Show’s over, nothing else to see here, switch channels.

Through news and late night talk shows and a dozen consecutive Spanish channels I come to a commercial for an upcoming special on how to win big in Las Vegas (while not, certain images imply, not getting beaten up by casino ‘security’). As might be expected, the screen is exploding in video clips of gaming tables and chips and money and people going ga-ga and security cameras and gray human-like figures getting beaten up by casino security. The clip ends with a predictable shot of a desert valley filled with an impossibly dense swath of electric light, overlaid with the official logo of the channel promoting all this: Planet Green.

Lots of movie channels here, some of them free – as they better be. Stonehenge Apocalypse? I had to watch – and made it for as long as it took to take another swig of my Yuengling. Another film: Children of Invention. The blurb: Two children are left to their own devices when their single mother is arrested. After twenty seconds I wanted to slit my throat. How does stuff like this get made? But something made me hang on, and after another few minutes of watching this ten year old boy trying to take care of his five year old sister I wanted again, under the duress of completely opposite emotions from before, to slit my throat.

To return to my blunted equilibrium I switched to Futbol de Mexico. I don’t understand Spanish, yet I find myself thoroughly enjoying the commentary.

Next show to stop my senses in their tracks is a program about Texas Hold’em Poker. Imagine what such a show might look like. Chances are you are spot on. At the end of the blurb at the bottom: Episode 52670. Seriously. For the good of…well, everything, I hope this is the zip code where the show is being taped.

More movie channels. One flick is from 1961, entitled Good-Bye Again. ‘An older woman begins a passionate affair with a lawyer despite disapproval.’ Riveting. And, for 1961, probably quite controversial.

Now back to our serial rapist show. Yes, that is the premise of the crime drama I had figured out twenty minutes ago. Apparently the perpetrator is indeed a man. Or a woman with some, you know, accoutrements.

Being a writer is great, because no matter what you are doing – biking around town, flipping through (almost) any magazine, staring out the window or channel-surfing – you can ostensibly be accomplishing something. 

Which can, ostensibly, make you some money someday.

After watching the rest of the crime drama I decide that tomorrow I’ll get up early and start looking at online graduate degrees in criminal detective stuff so I too can fly around the country in a private jet, working on fantastical cases with attractive women with…you know…nice accoutrements.