Conversely, this upbringing did foster independence. It honed my imagination which was so vital to a young lad with severe dyslexia that would remain undiagnosed until high school. In the formative years, writing or reading was all but futile and a constant reminder that I was ‘challenged.’ As a result, media (TV and radio) was a salvation since it was an easily accessible audio-visual. It became the continuing thread no matter where we were.
Distant background media in another room still trigger childhood memories of being alone in my own world while my sister incessantly played a David Cassidy record that wafted under my door or the convivial sounds of music that rose up through the floor vents. The rare laughter of my mom and dad sounding happy assured me that all was okay and I was safe.
As kids, traveling through the night across country, we were stuffed in back seats between blankets, clothes and coolers. I remember half listening to the adults up front murmur like they were in a Charlie Brown Special, “Wa-wa-wa, wa-wa-wa-wa."
I zoned out to a mix of Top 40, strange local twang, news bulletins, low chatter and the vibrating drone of the motor. Through my closed eyelids, I could count the flicker of every lamp post, the hollow echo of tunnels and the rhythm of wind pulsing through guard rails on rural bridges. I could hear the click of the center markers every time we changed lanes sync up to the song on the radio letting me know we were at the outskirts of a city. I’d brace for the inevitable blast of cold air when the window opened and the clank and spin of the toll quarter as it ricocheted in the basket.
Media often was my only viewpoint of the world, and I thank God that, as bucolic in its portrayal as it may have been, I grew up with Walter Cronkite, Edward R. Murrow and TV shows where couples slept in separate beds and the mere mention of the word pregnant was controversial. It wasn’t an authentic slice of life, but it was kind, often silly and nice in its intent. It did not shock, and it had America on a ‘need to know’ basis.
As I began to develop creatively, and slowly began to memorize what I saw backward, learning how to turn my hieroglyphics into the word symbols everyone else saw, newspapers and magazines burst open new vistas. I studied every image and read all the ad copy. I scrutinized the reasoning behind story lines, dissecting the execution of ‘content.’ I was developing a toolbox to get what was in my head out into the world. When I was first living on my own as a late teen, the white noise of TV masked the groans and creaks of otherwise worrisome bump-in-the-night sounds that I decided were best covered by the late-night Million Dollar Movie.
As a young adult entering the world of advertising, TV was a ‘must’ to staying current with the ever-changing images and tone of a then volatile cultural revolution. The innocent sounds of happy TV were changing to mayhem as the dawning of Aquarius ushered in a new generation struggling to emancipate itself. The wonky xylophone accents became acid guitar.
I never took for granted what media could do and how it could uplift and manipulate all at the same time. Studying media led me to be in media myself. Soon big companies were hiring me to creatively tell their stories in 30-second commercials or in a single frame of a magazine ad. I quickly climbed the ladder to becoming a respected Creative Director. I fought the backroom battles, the politics, and the ulterior motives behind every image I was charged to make. I lived in a “Mad Men” world.
When I was actually on TV every day, the sounds of it began to change again. Big graphics made everything look like Star Wars. Monumental music (once only reserved for the Olympics) was now the amped up prelude to a salacious tease on Hard Copy, making tabloid fodder actually seem riveting and relevant. My fingers would be on the laptop keys, but my eyes were increasingly on the TV in the background as little disasters of life got magnified into epics. Suddenly ten minutes of actual fact stretched to hours of speculation save only for the brief interruption of a celebrity behaving badly.
The background ‘company’ of TV was no longer triggering fond memories but baiting me to be part of the gossip, worrying me that the big bad world was encroaching nearer to my own stoop.
When I moved here to Santa Fe, I made a pact with myself; Limit media only to ‘appointment viewing.’ “Don’t watch anything you haven’t already specifically chosen to DVR,” was my new credo.
And, surprise, I haven’t missed anything. I get the relevant information required to be informed and if necessary, be on alert. I now spend the rest of my day actually living life…not watching other people have conversations about other people’s conversations. I get the facts versus getting sucked in the blow-by-blow speculation.
At a time when we are fighting to hear our own, quiet inner voice, grappling with who we are today and what reinvention means for our own happiness, searching for our often elusive creativity, our own salvation and contributions need a fighting chance.
In an on-demand world, we have the opportunity to elect what we view. Let's exercise that record button more and use the off switch when we’re just bored. We are accountable to the light that we receive….I’m just saying.