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I Like TV the Way I Like Big Projects: In Small Chunks

I don’t waste a lot of time watching TV. On the other hand, I have no clue about pop culture and feel like a disconnected dork.

Most nights, my husband and I put the kids to sleep, cuddle up in bed, and watch TV. Except, a lot of time, I can’t manage that. I cuddle up, sure: I fluff pillows; I arrange myself into a curl against Bear and between the large dogs who hog our leg space. We pick something. It’s never very current, and we tend to binge watch, so we’re usually in the middle of The West Wing or Fringe or Sherlock. Bear works some sort of wizardry with the Roku to summon up whatever show we want to watch. We settle in.

And we watch. We do, we really watch, for about 10 minutes. That’s all I can manage. Then, unless I’m sleepy and closing my eyes, I start to fidget. The dogs hoorf at me and rearrange their tangled selves. I move my pillow. I move my pillow back. Then I prop it behind me and ask Bear for my cell phone. I spend the rest of the one-hour TV show (I can’t manage any longer) half-watching the TV, half-playing on my phone. Bear sometimes reads a book. I accuse him of not watching the show, and he says he can do both at the same time. I have not reached that ultimate pinnacle in ADHD efficiency.

Most people with ADHD find the TV to be their place of hyperfocus. But some of us are the opposite. I’ve had problems with the television ever since I was a little kid. My neurotypical sister could watch it until, as my grandmother said, her eyeballs rolled out of her head. Me, on the other hand, I had to have something else to do. The TV could be on, of course, and I might even pay half-attention to it. But I needed to draw or write or play cards on the little tables my mom provided us. I couldn’t do my homework there—I needed quiet for that—but I could do art, or something that didn’t require my whole concentration.

As I grew up, I would crochet hat after hat, even afghans, while my husband and I worked our way through TV series. I preferred half-hour comedies that I could pick up and drop without any sense of loss. I loved Thirty Rock, whose quick-paced comedy is perfect for a person with ADHD. I’ll always watch Arrested Development, and often manage to pay attention to an entire episode without needing distraction. In college, I managed Comedy Central’s Adult Swim. I like quick, both time- and pace-wise. Once the shows got too drama-y, though, I often began to lose interest. I liked Parks and Recreation, but I never finished it.

This becomes a problem when it comes to movies. Much of American culture revolves around movies and movie stars. I simply have no interest. It’s desperately hard for me to sit through any film that isn’t related to a franchise I’m heavily invested in (Harry Potter or Star Wars). And unless I’m in a dark theater with no distractions, I even find those difficult to watch. I get up. I wander around. I find other things to do. I crochet. I write. I surf the Internet. Despite my abiding crush on Benedict Cumberbatch, I have yet to watch the movie Dr. Strange—it’s too long, and I don’t have the mental energy to make myself sit on the couch and watch the stupid thing. I even watch Sherlock episodes in parts, a series I adore.

As a consequence, I have little or no knowledge about American pop culture. I can’t watch cable TV, because I just get bored and find myself lost in the Internet. This includes everything from popular TV dramas to comedies to vocal performance contests to awards shows. When my editors want someone to write about the latest parental dramedy, or who wore what at the Emmies, I’m always the first to tap out. I don’t have the attention span for that stuff. In some ways, it’s good. I waste less time sitting in front of the boob tube. It’s also annoying, because I have no idea what most neurotypical people are talking about as soon as they dive into pop culture convos. It can be an alienating feature of ADHD, and one that people seldom talk about. If called upon for an opinion, all I can do is shrug. I look like a disconnected dork.

But somehow, in this American landscape of blaring televisions—including my own, because my sons and husband all hyperfocus on the TV —I manage to get by. I watch a few shows that I like, and do what I have to do to keep watching them. That means I break Sherlock into chunks, try to watch TV in bed when I’m sleepy, and set my phone in another room if I really want to watch something. I brave the movie theater once a year, to take my oldest son to see the newest Star Wars flick. But other than that, I don’t watch many movies. I don’t know many movie stars. Couple that with my general disdain for top 40 music and I have a serious pop culture deficit when it comes to the rest of America.

But in the end, it’s only a minor annoyance. I get more done without the television. And honestly, if given the choice, I probably wouldn’t change it. Even if it’s awkward not to care about the Gilmore Girls reunion or This is Us.

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