This week I thought I would share another personal essay from Hollins. We were prompted to write about technology and had to choose between television, computers, and a third option that I don’t remember, perhaps our phones. I chose to write about my television at home in Wyoming. Regularly working with footnotes in the history department, I decided to include some aiming mostly for a pithy sort of tone but at times falling into sticky sentimentality.

Cowboy/Dancer/Whatever

Kylie Louise McCormick

My television at home has dissociative personality disorder[1].  For three weeks my television thinks itself a rough and tumble cowboy like John Wayne, taking reins in his mouth and riding across the field, guns-a-blazin’.  It maintains the modern cowboy with bull riding and the occasional ultimate cage fight, mixing grit and skill.  The next three weeks my television holds itself with an air of sophistication.  It dances with the skill and grace of Fred Astaire one minute and in a flash it moves like the inventive Gene Kelly.  Constant song and dance fills the screen for these 21 days.  The talent overshadows that much of this is accomplished in black and white.  The only consistency in the life of my three-week-cowboy/dancer television is how well informed it is with various news broadcast stations being its default and man, if that TV could cook.

My father has the tendency to snore.  Remote in hand, a western we have seen fifty times before playing, the chair pushed back, and his stomach moving up and down with each breath until finally: the snore[2].  We are not allowed to remove the remote and change the channel while this occurs.  Instead you either learn to enjoy the Gunsmoke[3] morality tales, or you leave the room and find something besides television that might hold some interest to you.

The snore is almost better than when he is awake.  At least you can watch an entire show when he is sleeping, even if you don’t have a choice in what that show is.  While he is awake the channel never knows what type of cowboy to be.  There are three western channels, two channels that occasionally play bull riding, one that plays fights for free, the metal detectors, the treasure hunters, the pundits, the chefs and during college football season there is a whole array of games to choose from.  These channels bounce back and forth across the screen staying only long enough to get you engaged with the plight of Brett Maverick before ripping you away and engaging you in the score of the Nebraska football game.  Watching television with my dad is like riding a bucking bronco—you may be getting tossed around but you are always riding a horse.

The number of times I have heard the phrase, “Oh a western! I’ve never seen this one before!” when Open Range, Quigley Down Under, or a whole range of westerns show up on the bouncing screen, is impossible to count.  To put it bluntly, this is a lie[4].  He has seen those all before, several times before.  It is always the same horse.

When my dad goes back to work—three weeks on the oil fields in Dead Horse, Alaska— my mom and I take on our mutually respective role of “bad influence.”  Walking down the aisles of a grocery store, I tell her that we should get ice cream, and chocolate, not to mention marshmallows—“oh wouldn’t it be fun to bake brownies!”[5]  She asserts her influence elsewhere. 

While in high school I did my homework in shifts.  This was not because I worked better that way or I got off track easily, but because my mom doesn’t like to watch TV alone.  I could sit at my desk and hear her creep down the stairs into the kitchen.  If the stairs didn’t alert me the sound of the cabinet door closing and the microwave door opening always did.  Sometimes I was wrong[6]; she could be making herself dinner, maybe some soup.  However, once I heard the popping I knew that I better find a stopping point or prepare my stressed puppy dog eyes[7].  Sure enough a few minutes later my mom would be in my door way giving me her own version of puppy dog eyes[8] with a giant bowl of popcorn to match.  It was always a classic show: from Singing in the Rain to Daddy Long Legs, not to forget Easter Parade or Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.  For these movies I would procrastinate with my mom.  She and I would sit like two young girls in a candy shop, gossiping and stuffing our faces full of popcorn[9] while we would romanticize the creepy relationships between men far too old to be dating the young and vibrant women they did.

My sister, Kelsey, and I used to blame these old movies and our mom for raising our expectations of love too high.  No one in high school is going to chase after you the way Gene Kelly does in An American in Paris.  Don’t expect flowers unless mandated by a dance, and certainly don’t expect your date to move with the nimbleness of a professional dancer.  It was a joke that ran in the family, Kelsey and I never had steady boyfriends because we were waiting for one from the movies—though maybe not so old.  My mom taught Kelsey and I about romance and relationships through example.  She told stories about my dad and her in college, and then we would watch the classics over and over again.  She hasn’t yet had to come up with the “I’ve never seen this one before!” excuse, but that might be because TCM doesn’t repeat quite as often as Encore Westerns. 

Much like my dad though, my mom has a tendency to sleep.  Either we need to invest in less comfortable furniture or my parents need to break down and get a comfortable bedside television to sing them to sleep.  In these sleeping moments of my parents enters my sister.  Kelsey didn’t watch enough television to confuse the TV’s identity but just enough to give it an odd personality trait or some weird fetish.  Kelsey, unlike the rest of my family, has developed the ability to sneak the remote out of my dad’s sleeping hands[10] and my mom’s.  When this happens she and I watch the shows that fit our age group. 

She and I progressed through the music channels, from MTV to Fuse, to the trash TV[11] and the after school specials—One Tree Hill was always her favorite, and now I come home and we sit and watch True Blood and Entourage.  I become engaged in these stories, much like I always root for Robert Duval’s character in whatever western he is in and the way I let Gene Kelly woo me in each musical number.  Yet, with time and space I forget that I haven’t found out what is happening with Bill and Sookie because I didn’t get to watch the season finale.

Having a television with dissociative disorder allows me glimpses into my family [12]. In those sparse moments when I finally get the remote—I turn on a cowboy flick, a classic movie, or some ridiculous TV show and wish I wasn’t watching alone.


[1] More commonly known as multiple personality disorder; it seems that no one paid attention to the name change except psychologists.  If you study psychology, sorry for the redundant notice.  If you don’t, you are welcome.

[2] One night my mom and I were sitting with him watching TV, and when he closed his eyes she and I held up our hands counting down our fingers for the snore.  We got three down with seven standing when he started.  Our laugh jolted him awake; we repeated this process four more times until he went to bed.

[3] We are talking original black and white Gunsmoke with Marshal Dillon and his beautiful tan horse with that dark mane.  I always told my dad that if I ever got a horse I wanted it to be as beautiful as Marshal Dillon’s horse.  He just nods with a certain sort of smile that tells me that he should have grown up to be a cowboy.

[4] Some people, mostly new to our home, do not understand this is a lie and they always exclaim, “You mean you’ve never seen Dances with Wolves?” 

[5] These are only suggestions—it’s not my fault she takes them seriously.

[6] Not often.

[7] Puppy dog eyes include the widening of the eye lids to show more of the eye, the expanding of the pupils (this is tricky but not impossible) and a small mouth (don’t want to detract from the eyes).  To add stress, peak eyebrows.  This is only to be used in situations involving very long papers/projects that cannot be finished with 5 hours of sleep normally let alone with an added break.  Also to be used when needing hugs and candy.

[8] Unfortunately this skill is inherited and she knows all my tricks.

[9] She is more of a friend now than a mom, something that happens with age.

[10] I’ve been able to pull this feat off a total of four times.

[11] Anyone ever watch Next?  Surely, if you have been awake around 3 in the morning you have seen this absurd dating show.

[12] My TV with its split identity engages for moments, but those moments have engaged me for a lifetime.

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