In high school, I remember asking a basketball player how his practice was going. And he just sat and stared at me. It was not basketball season. And perhaps to you, reader, basketball or football season is not pop culture, but as a person who grew up without a TV, I was hardly aware of the events that oriented the lives and conversations of others. Other kids in high school, sensing my strangeness, found it delightful to ask me my opinion of a song or a movie because they knew my face would burn red with uncontrollable blushing. I was shy and not good at responding. I think initially I made the mistake of trying to fake knowledge of whatever song or movie which only made me look more ridiculous. While doing this, I remember, one time, one of the kids pulled on my leg hairs and told me that I looked like a man. I had never learned to shave.
When I was born, my parents did not want to own a TV, a part of their rejection of commercial culture. When my grandma died, we did inherit her old TV. However, in Oark, Arkansas, at that time, there was no cable and very poor TV reception. I remember, in attempts to see something on TV, banging the side of the TV and occasionally getting a fuzzy PBS show. Recently Tim, a dear friend from my childhood in Oark told me, “One of my favorite memories of you is how you hit the TV with fury and force.” I spent most of my time outdoors building things out of rocks and mud. As a child of the 80s, I knew that Madonna and Michael Jackson existed, for example, but I had never seen any of their videos.
After graduating from high school, I did not buy a TV. In my whole life, I’ve never bought a TV. At no point have I ever tried to go back and watch the videos or TV shows I’ve missed. I never watched an episode of Friends when it was running. I still haven’t seen Madonna’s old videos. This week, for the first time, I started watching The Sopranos. Today, a friend of mine who is a filmmaker asked me what director and actors I would want to work with if I adapted a story of mine to film. And I felt that same familiar sense of terror that I felt when facing high school kids because, although I do love movies and watch TV now, I barely have a grasp on that world and who moves in it.
I run into cultural walls regularly, moments where people look at me as if I had fallen to earth from outer space. And there is now a part of me that owns that strangeness because I know that much of my creativity is rooted there.
This morning, my dad, who hates telemarketers and spends a significant amount of time yelling at them shouted into the phone at one, “I don’t watch TV!” I don’t know what the telemarketer wanted, but I know that my whole family continues to be strange.