I used to have an unhealthy addiction to political news shows: I felt I wasn’t doing my civic duty unless I had consulted Morning Joe and Mika, Chris, Rachel, Lawrence, and the rest of the MSNBC crew. But a month ago, that changed. My dad died at ninety-three years old from a combination of dementia and other health issues. I suddenly found it a burden to keep up with all the bad news that constituted a good news day.
Instead, I channel-surfed for a more palatable option. I settled on the homey comfort of house shows on HGTV. Illness and death never invade the HGTV world, and no one speaks of problems like global warming and political corruption: it is an alternative universe where the central topics of conversation have to do with square feet, reno budgets, granite countertops, and replacing carpet with hardwood floors. The only evils that plague home-improvement shows are asbestos, rodent or ant infestations, and cost overruns.
Exploring HGTV, I felt like Alice who stepped through the Looking Glass into a Goldilocks world where there were always just three house choices: too hot, too cold, and just right. Many of the shows follow this formula, or a variation of it, which (no doubt) has been focus-grouped and market tested.
Once the home has been chosen, a few of the best shows have a part two: again, another fairy tale sets the theme: this time it’s the Cinderella story, and we get to witness a wreck of a place being transformed into a palace—and here Fixer Upper’s Joanna Gaines reigns supreme as the ultimate Fairy Godmother, waving her wand to magically turn a sad scullery maid of a house into a princess fit for a ball. She is assisted by her shaggy-dog husband, Chip, who in his own playful-dude way takes care of the manly “demo” (that’s “demolition” for the uninitiated) work.
There are other wannabe husband-wife (or in one case, ex-wife) teams but none match the yin/yang of Jo and Chip. The other pairings of opposites that succeed in their own ways are the Property Brothers twins Jonathan and Drew (lots of sibling rivalry, but can you tell them apart?) and Love It or List It’s hilarious team of Hillary and David (she renovates with a British hauteur; he finds new listings with all the scrappy grit of a pit bull). These two battle each other to get couples to choose between staying in their old home—radically revitalized—or buying a new house.
I found relief from my own emotional stress and the chaos of the world by watching a steady diet of these aspirational series that ranged from insipid to instructive to inspired, all focused on finding (or creating) the perfect place to live in. It was what my heart seemed to need as I dealt with grief — the searches on these shows almost always end with couples finding the ideal home or seeing their fixer-upper get a miraculous makeover: everyone winds up happy, with the house of their dreams.
As I watched these shows I learned the special vocabulary of this hermetic world: that “shiplap” is the wood of choice when renovating old homes, that it’s considered cool to want a “mid-century modern” house, and that a bathroom connected to a bedroom is called the “en suite” (as if we are supposed to go politely French when referring to anything as impolite as the john).
Apparently, I have been living under a rock because I didn’t know that everyone—even the most doltish of men with no flair for interior design—seeks the Holy Grail of home decorating: the “open-concept” living room/dining room/kitchen.
I felt oddly comforted by HGTV Land, where a good demo can solve all one’s problems, even ordinary couples miraculously seem to have extraordinary budgets, and at the end of the day (or at least each episode) the disastrous fixer-upper is turned into a show place.
As I heal from the loss of my dad, I am also beginning to discover the importance of an “open-concept” life, one where the internal walls I had built up over the years could be torn down to make room for a more expansive way of being. It took my dad a lot of years to feel comfortable hugging me and my brother or saying the words “I love you”—and I am deeply grateful that he got there. Looking at myself the way Jo and Chip evaluate a fixer-upper, I see there is plenty of room for improvement; that past experiences have made me too guarded in my search for love. If my dad could change, so could I.
Maybe that’s what grief does: opens our eyes to see ourselves in new ways and to live differently from before. HGTV became my pathway there; an unexpectedly healing kind of therapy. And who knows? I may even redecorate my en suite!
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.
Are you a first-time contributor to The Good Men Project? Submit here:
Have you contributed before and have a Submittable account? Use our Quick Submit link here:
Got Writer’s Block?
We are a participatory media company. Join us.
Participate with the rest of the world, with the things your write and the things you say, and help co-create the world you want to live in.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project, please join us as a Premium Member, today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all-access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class, and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group, and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Do you have previously published work that you would like to syndicate on The Good Men Project? Click here:
Photo by Aaron Huber on Unsplash