Joe Lavin

April 5, 2005

I Wouldn't Read This If I Were You


The no-TV folks have nothing on me. Sure, you'll hear a lot about TV Turnoff Week later this month, but I just went through something far more arduous. I went without reading for a week. That's right. No books, no newspapers, no Internet reading, not even any articles about the Red Sox! How was a New Englander to survive? The closest I could come to reading was with that stupid news crawl at the bottom of CNN, and after a few days of that I was starting to get dizzy.

Don't worry. This wasn't part of some warped program from an evil media conglomerate to promote more television viewing. It was instead a creativity exercise that my girlfriend had discovered in, ironically, a book. The point was to clear your mind of all distractions and concentrate on just being creative, or something like that. Despite my initial concerns -- I believe my exact words were "But that's crazy!" -- I decided to give it a try, partly because I'm a good sport and partly because I was in the middle of Moby Dick and really needed a week off from the long-winded travails of Ishmael.

As much as I hated this at times, the experiment was fascinating. You'll probably never realize just how much you read until you give it up for a week. We all tend to fill the little moments of our lives with the written word. For me, riding the subway was the worst part. Never mind that I probably don't even read much on the subway, just the fact that I couldn't was driving me crazy. During every delay, I thought, "Damn, I could be reading right now." I don't read much more than most, but I'm the type who always has a book with me just in case I end up in line somewhere. I have never been in such long lines.

Frankly, you get a little irritable seeing so many people reading when you can't. Once, I was caught walking behind someone reading a book while he walked. It was as if he was just flaunting his ability to read, and I wanted to slap his stupid book away. To add insult to injury, The Boston Herald seemed intent on giving away their newspaper for free whenever I traveled on the subway. The "Free Newspapers!" cry as I entered the subway station seemed like someone giving away heroin outside a methadone clinic.

I am a little ashamed to say that it wasn't the books that I missed the most. It was the Internet. I wasn't all that bothered by the lack of literature in my life. No, I was worried about missing articles on Red Sox roster moves, the oddly enough headlines from Yahoo, and the very latest news about celebrity arrests and divorces. Moby Dick? That could wait a week, but not the Internet. I always joked about having an Internet addiction. Who knew it was real?

And then there were the Red Sox. The season was a week away, and I couldn't read a thing about the team. Sure, I could have listened to sports radio, but all that whimpering and screaming just gives me a headache. Except for the games themselves, I prefer to get my news by way of the written word, but this week I was cut off. The team made two trades one of which I didn't even know about until my Mom told me -- and I had no idea if the trades were any good. When talking with other fans, I tried to fake it, but I think they knew the awful truth. I hadn't done my homework.

Obviously, I cheated a little during the week. After all, I couldn't very well tell my boss, "Hey, boss, can't read that important report. It's no-reading week." Luckily, most of what I need to read involves numbers. I soon made an executive decision that reading was okay, as long as it didn't include complete sentences. Because my work revolves around e-mail, I also allowed myself to read occasional work e-mails. Of course, that still doesn't explain why I soon started checking my home e-mail as well. It's a slippery slope. That's all I can say.

For the most part, though, I avoided reading. Despite my increased irritability, the exercise seemed to work. I think I did write more last week, if only so that I would have something to read. And it was certainly interesting to see how much our lives revolve around reading, though I'm not sure whether I achieved the greater clarity that I was promised. Still, it wasn't the end of the world, and a Red Sox moratorium was probably not such a bad thing with 162 games ahead.

By the time Sunday arrived, a deep calm overcame me. At last, I could read. I don't even know what I read that night, but just the fact that I could made me feel instantly better. A hit of words made everything all right. Of course, as happy as I am to read again, I still haven't picked up Moby Dick. Don't call me Ishmael. I'll call you.


©2005 Joe Lavin

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