Finding Balance

I was driving between malls on Lucille Ball’s 100th birthday (August 6th), listening to WNYC, and caught a bit of the discussion of I Love Lucy and its impact on television and on our culture.  I Love Lucy set the bar for television situation comedies and broke ground in a lot of ways, not the least of which was that All-American Lucy was married to Desi Arnaz, a Cuban, in both real life and on the television show, at a time when several US states still had miscegenation laws on their books.  I learned this while listening to the discussion on Studio 360, which has been running a series on American Icons, of which Lucille Ball is unequivocally one.  (

I went into the supermarket in the middle of the show, and came out again just as it was ending.  I felt a moment of regret that I had missed most of the discussion, and then the announcer said, “And that is it for this episode of Studio 360’s American Icons. . . . Don’t worry, you can hear it all again at Studio 360 dot org slash American Icons.” 

For a moment, while driving home, I toyed with the idea of listening to the entire show once I was back on my computer.  In a way it was liberating, knowing that I had control and could schedule listening at my convenience—I didn’t have to feel I had missed anything: the entire show was out there in the ether, waiting for me.  Very different from when I was growing up and if you missed a show on radio or tv, it was gone . . . at least until it showed up 6 months later in a rerun.  In those days, you had to learn to let go, to fill your time up with other activities and hope you didn’t miss anything essential, especially if you were watching a serial. 

I can remember feeling a real sense of loss at missing a favorite show, then moving on to do something else.  And I had the time to do the something else, because the shows weren’t “out there,” with their siren song calling to me to watch or listen now

My family was among the last to get a vcr (“For what?  To watch TV?!”  I can hear my parents’ incredulity across the decades! ).  When my husband and I finally got one, I used to record everything I liked.  The tapes piled up on every empty shelf in my study.  They were reassuring, in the same way the ether is: they meant I could watch my favorite shows at any time.

A side effect of this constant, ready availability of entertainment is how much less vivid it is than the shows I could only see once or maybe twice a year, growing up.  Those shows live in my memory, perhaps embellished the way childhood memories seem to be—always more vivid and alive than the reality. Perhaps more vivid because they were so ephemeral, an experience you had to have at one time, in one place and then, perhaps, never again.  Somehow, knowing that I can watch, or rewatch, a favorite show at any time makes it less compelling, to the point where once something is recorded, I often feel I have done my duty and can go on without ever watching it!

A positive consequence of this is that I have time to do other things, time to learn, read, write, even think! 

Now that I am a dean, I find that entertainment is not as high on my agenda: instead, I find myself working all the time, not just in the office, but often at home.  One of my dad’s favorite comments to me has always been, “You’re doing too much!  You should be thinking more and doing less.”  I never quite fully believed him, but nowadays, with the constant pressure of things to do, I have come to understand the extent to which doing is as much the enemy of thinking as entertainment!  And sometimes doing even becomes a refuge from having to think.  It is much easier to perceive of oneself as occupied with great tasks, of taking on serious responsibilities that must be handled today, and to put off the truly hard work: thinking about what one is doing, why one is doing it and whether there are other, better ways to be doing things.  

The ability to walk away from the constant lure of entertainment or excessive work is critical to being able to do important activities, to be “in the moment” with other people, and to improving your concentration and focus.  More than that, it may lie at the root of creativity:  As I was writing this blog, a colleague posted a link to an August 6th Wall Street Journal article by Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip, entitled, “The Heady Thrill of Having Nothing to Do:  Is constant stimulation hurting our creativity—and the economy? Scott Adams pays tribute to tedium” 

For academics, summer is often a time set aside for thinking and for taking a break from the intense schedule of the school year.  For many faculty, it is a time for scholarly work while their students travel, work at summer jobs, take on internships or research projects, or take one or two courses.  This break in our normal schedule makes it easier to set aside time to think, evaluate and make plans about what we are doing and what we want to do in the new academic year.  The challenge to us all is to maintain that balance once school starts again, with the deadlines of work and distractions from constant online entertainment.  That is when remembering to set aside a time for thought and reflection is harder but all the more crucial!

Like all good ideas about leading a balanced life, this is easier said than done, but I’ll promise to work on it this coming year if you will.