How Television Tells the Story of our Far-from-Average, Disaster-Responding, Lesbian Life


We have weird television habits at our house on Fourth Street.  Sara and I are tunnel-visioned and singularly focused, like my nephews, watching Star Wars incessantly—Hans-Solo-ed and Darth-Vader-ed to death.  Except for us it’s not science fiction we’re obsessed with, but rather all things HGTV for me, and equally everything Food Network for Sara —each of us bleeding decorating and duvets or butter and broth.

For example, when we’ve been home in the US in recent years, my partner has watched entire seasons of “Top Chef”—appetizer to dessert—beginning to end—over and over—till the next-to-last chef packs her knives, and I am able to quote entire dinner dialogs off the top of my head, guest chef judges sound-tracking our complete Christmas visit, critiquing candied carrots and pickled beets till we are out the door again, and back to Port-au-Prince, where, thank God, we were without TV, and Sara was forced to download podcasts on how to cook the perfect omelet, and we ate eggs, well-whisked and gorgeously prepared, morning, noon, and sometimes even night.

Aha, you say, “Top Chef” is not a Food Network series, but that fact conveniently leads to my next television insight—namely that each of us has a secondary network of choice.  And Sara’s second best is Bravo.

“Flipping Out” and “Tabitha’s Salon Takeover,” with their hard-core management styles and bad ass attitudes toward employees  are two of her favorite, which amazes me, as she is kind and mentoring toward her staff and doesn’t generally try taking  over, even at home.  Instead she leaves domestic commandeering and flipping out for me.

Admittedly, Sara has more well-rounded television interests than I.  She deviates from food-related programming more than I do from HGTV.  In addition to Bravo, she enjoys the Travel Channel, especially Anthony Bourdain’s “No Reservations.”  But then I like Tony, as well.  Somehow his vulgarity adds drama to our aging, early-to-bed, lesbian lives.

Sara also watches “Bizarre Foods”—the series, in which Andrew Zimmern travels to exotic places and eats things most of us would try to avoid in everyday life—things like grasshopper and rattlesnake, cricket and caribou—mostly creepy-crawly things and things with wings.  He eats bats, for example, and tons of testicles, the balls of almost any mammal worthy of having his private parts sautéed in olive oil or lots and lots of butter. 

However, if you knew my taste in television you would understand that I am way, way weirder than Sara—more singular in focus and borderline bizarre—willing to watch only two kinds of programming—those related to homes, and others nearer to news.

I’ve indicated before on this blog that I’m a fan of HGTV.  However, I’ve not yet confessed just how decorating-obsessed I happen to be.  For example, I live to see David Bromstad splash color from one end of Miami to the other—South Beach to Bal Harbor—Dade County dripping—a decorator’s delight.  (To watch an episode of “Color Splash Miami,” click here.) 

By far, however, my favorite HGTV series is “House Hunters International,” as it has, in recent years, paralleled my own ex-pat experience—going abroad, searching for housing, deciding what it takes to settle down domestically in a place far from home.  In some cases, I’m fascinated by cost—or the lack thereof—the hugely affordable urban apartments of Bangkok, the fabulous beach front flats in Ecuador, the Dominican Republic.  I fanaticize.  I dream.  Life by the sea at give-away prices.

an episode of "House Hunters International" in the Dominican Republic

At the same time, however, I’m also a huge fan of cable news—especially CNN—an obsession that kicks in especially during US presidential election years and massive natural disasters.  Largely CNN is for me what Bravo is to Sara—background noise—but in my case, at least not meaningless chatter—rather information and discussion of globally impactful issues—or in my case, regionally focused narratives what will affect me in distinctly global ways.

Since my partner Sara works in disaster response, sometimes stories about earthquakes or tsunamis become personally significant.  The Haiti earthquake, for example, meant leaving Hanoi, the place we called home at the time, and eventually settling in yet another remote location—Port-au-Prince.  Since Haiti has nearly non-existent or non-functioning infrastructure, perhaps, I watch cable news, and even “House Hunters International” to figure out what will make me a happy camper in similar locations, or happy camping, as the case may be.

So, given our globe-trottingly eccentric lifestyle, perhaps, both Sara’s and my programming choices are understandable and not as weird as I’d thought.  In fact, maybe it’s not our approach to television that’s exceptional, but rather our disaster-responding lifestyle that is borderline bizarre—living without screens in malaria-plagued places, surviving without electricity in countries infernally hot, locations where fans, not to mention air conditioning would have made worlds of difference.

But then again, that’s what we want our lives to be.  Living in comfort is second-rate compared to making meaning and making a difference.

And the year we lived in Haiti, we had no television except when we came home on holiday—so maybe that fueled our viewing eccentricities.  “Top Chef” droning non-stop in the background at least gave my partner a break from poverty housing and humanitarian aid, the ups-and-downs of responding to disasters in distant places.

So, maybe, this post is less about television and more about living life on the edge, less about meaningless programming and more about making meaning in a stressed-out, crazy world, where sometimes the earth shakes in places like Haiti, buildings collapse and lives are lost—but sometimes babies are saved, sometimes families survive, sometimes dreams can endure—hope pulled like prayer from the rubble—

—television or not.

24 thoughts on “How Television Tells the Story of our Far-from-Average, Disaster-Responding, Lesbian Life

  1. ” Living in comfort is second-rate compared to making meaning and making a difference.” words which I wish I had the courage to live by. With every post your write, I admire you and Sara more and question my own purpose in life.

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    • That’s what I love about you, Lisa! You are always willing to ask the tough questions. You will find your way, my friend. Life can always be so much more! Your comment is humbling———————————-

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  2. I don’t live life on the edge, but do understand an obsession with cable television programs when they are available as I don’t have cable here in the Bogs. I should rephrase that. I don’t have cable television. I do have a cable internet connection. My cable company thinks I’m weird and they are forever trying to convince me to get cable tv. I already spend too much time sitting on my arse at the computer. Cable tv would guarantee me a spot on some future season of The Biggest Loser. I know this for sure because I find myself hooked on TLC, Bravo, HGTV, and FoodNetwork programs when we travel and cable is available.

    Seems to me, and I could be wrong, your tv viewing habits are downtime, a way to relax in between living on the edge and making meaning. That’s what tv viewing ought to be. 🙂

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    • You are one very wise woman. Not having cable is smart! Sometimes I wish we were willing to do the same. It was nice in Haiti to not have television at all–but then that was a little too extreme–and difficult to not to have a viable television option. I love your Biggest Loser comment! Too funny!

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  3. I love this Kathy. See I’m not sure that your TV viewing is that odd – food and shelter are the business that you two are in, in fact those two things are the business (why am I repeating that word?) the whole world is in. They are the basics we all need and are maybe the first to go when disaster strikes – both globally(like earthquakes) and in our inner worlds too so maybe there is a comfort for you in these programmes? I love how you are making meaning in your lives – it is inspirational.
    For me at the moment it has been round the clock news channels as the unraveling of the press, police and political life continues with the phone hacking and News International debacle here in the UK. But the disaster that is unfolding in Kenya from the famine in nearby Ethiopia is struggling to be seen amongst this story. Oops I could go off on one! Your blog always makes me think deeply!!

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    • It’s interesting what you say about food and shelter’s connection to our inner worlds during time of personal disaster–so true–and something I had never thought about!

      I too tend to be a news junkie when Sara is not around. (She really dislikes watching it.) But I hate the fact that even CNN in the US does not have comprehensive global news coverage. It’s pretty pathetic! Americans tend to think the world ends at our nation’s borders–gross over-generalization–but not far from the truth is many instances.

      Hope you have a lovely Sunday!

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  4. Joe and I don’t have TV in South Africa. I generally don’t miss it, except for moments like this, when someone reminds me about the Food Network and No Reservations. My life is not really complete with Ina Garten and Tony B. Sniff 😦

    Now I use blogging and Facebook as my replacement fixes!

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    • Actually, there was a lot to be said for life with no TV. There were times I really enjoyed not having it in Haiti–but sometimes, like you say, you just really want it. And you are right–blogging and Facebook are great replacements! Hope you have a great week, Heather!

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  5. You might be wondering why I’m replying to this post so late. I usually read your posts on my phone when I’m in bed at night. Always mean to come back and comment on them when I’m next at my PC. Sometimes, that takes a while . . . 🙂

    Anyway, what I wanted to say is that I find it fascinating to hear what other people like watching on television. I recently had an old friend stay over. It was so funny that even though we have very different interests and hobbies, and never had talked about television before (probably because of the different interests), we like the same programs!

    I haven’t been watching a lot of television lately, but if I do need to relax I watch a couple of back-to-back episodes of “Come dine with me”. Funny program on BBC Lifestyle where 4 non-professional cooks, each host a dinner party for the others, and then score each others’ menu and food and hosting skills. It’s hilarious how seriously they take it, and how critical and snippy they get with each other!

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    • How fun that show sounds. It amazes me how seriously people take cooking. I just don’t love it, I’m afraid. I like the idea of that show,since the chefs are judging one another. That would add the interesting dynamic of seeing how each evaluates–what their criteria are and how kind they are or aren’t in their criticisms. Fascinating. I’ve not heard of that show here. Take care, my friend, and congrats again on last week’s FP-ed! It was a wonderful post!

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  6. I’m getting here rather late – referred by Lisa (of Notes from Africa fame 🙂 )

    I have a TV but we somehow lost its power cable when we moved to the bush from Belgium and I have not missed it one bit. However, when I did watch TV overseas I pigged out only on food and design shows – wonder what that says about me?

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    • How funny that you like food and design shows. My partner Sara is crazy about cooking shows, and I’m the same way with decorating ones. I have a few fun posts about our inclinations in these directions.

      I’m even later than you. Just now getting to your comment and haven’t even gotten to look at your blog yet. I look forward to reading some of your posts.

      When you mention the “bush” and Belgium, it makes me wonder if you live in Congo. Do you?

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  7. Interesting post (and very well-written I may add)
    I love watching home makeover shows (so inspiring!) and some of the cooking ones on BBC Lifestyles…..some of them can have me glued to the tv, and it doesn’t help when they show back-to-back episodes of my favorites!
    I wonder what Sara would say if I told her I actually met Anthony Bourdain on a trip to Beirut with my husband in 2006. Israel had begun bombing the Hezbollah areas and the airport had also been damaged, so we were on the run. Had to find a way out of Lebanon by road. Bourdain was staying at the same hotel as us, and it was surreal to hear him tell the egg-chef at the breakfast buffet to make him ‘two eggs, sunny side up’! 😀
    Have written about my home improvement show obsession here if you’d like to read about it some day…http://munzee72.wordpress.com/2010/04/02/messes-and-miracles/

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