Bartlet for America and other words to live by

Many of us, I think, have good reason to be mad at Aaron Sorkin. His heroes elevate the professional life to classical heights, and I suspect that if I let myself, I could be quite bitter that the workplace is rarely the scene of an impassioned plea for idealism in action, or even a good pedeconference. It’s not that I feel lied to, because we’ve always known that The West Wing and Studio 60 and Sports Night were fairy tales, but now I have this model for how I’d love to live my professional life, and I don’t know where it exists.

Don’t get me wrong: my colleagues at my day job are passionate, hardworking, good people. I work at a nonprofit, and I’m very proud of my organization. Oddly enough, though, each day doesn’t unfold like a 45-minute play. There is very little patter, and even less narrative symmetry.

I’m taking the GRE tomorrow, which is why there’s no new chapter of Innogen and the Hungry Half today. As a coping mechanism, as those of you who follow me on Twitter have seen, I accidentally wound up watching the second half of Season 1 of The West Wing, and then the first two episodes of the second season. It’s been a while since I’ve spent time with the Bartlet White House, but one thing becomes apparent very quickly on a rewatch: I am still deeply in love with every one of these characters. It is an ensemble show in the truest sense; even the incidental characters are rich, and all of them mean something to each other. Sorkin’s writing and world-building are staggering, and the man who’s capable of intensely funny episodes (need I say more than “secret plan to fight inflation”?) is also responsible for   some of the most powerful and moving television ever aired (“Noël,” Season 2’s Christmas episode, is basically flawless).

There’s a reason we love them all, C.J. and Toby and Sam and Josh and the rest. The commitment these characters display, to their work, to their colleagues, to their principles, is immensely appealing—and this is one of many reasons why it’s a fairy tale, of course. Those manifestations that are out there in the real world aren’t marked by speeches or great banter: they’re subtler. That’s fine. But digging deeper, we find that one feature binding the players of the Bartlet Administration is a commitment to professionalism, to being able to take care of things, to fix them. “Don’t worry about it” is a constant refrain on The West Wing.

I remember, somewhere around middle school, I started having conversation with my parents about how they chose their jobs and how they became an English professor and a psychologist. My mom’s answer has always stuck with me: she wanted an identity as a professional, and I think I’ve absorbed that more deeply than I realized. I want, more than anything, to be a professional writer. It’s been the only consistent occupation I’ve ever wanted, and I’ve been writing stories since I was 4. Magpie & Whale is an effort toward that: with a long interruption in the middle of the year (for family health reasons), I’ve tried to hold myself to a regular posting schedule. I like the challenge of a deadline, and of producing good work quickly. One of the reasons I’m doing Innogen weekly is to push myself out of my comfort zone.

For five weeks, the story was produced more or less on schedule. However, it coincided with an immensely stressful month that I couldn’t have predicted, and while I tried to roll with the punches, some things have to be sacrificed, and given that my other balls in the air were paid work, graduate school prep, family commitments and personal issues, Innogen was what took the hit. (That was three entirely separate metaphors in one sentence—apologies!) I’ve been beating myself up about this. If I’m going to be a professional, I should be able to produce, I should be able to manage my time so that somehow I can put together work that makes me proud. That isn’t what happened, though—I wasn’t proud of any of the starts I made at Chapter 6, and I want this story to be good too badly to sacrifice quality for regularity.

So, all of this is to say that I’m sorry Innogen has fallen off the grid these past few weeks. Once I’m done with the GRE tomorrow, that will be off my back, and I hope to be able to resume normal life/posting. I’m very excited about where the story is going, and I so appreciate those who’ve stuck with me. It means more than I can say that people are interested in this. Thank you.

In the meantime, I have less than 24 hours until I take what I hope is the last standardized test of my life. There are still a few fistfuls of practice sets to do, and—dammit, Sorkin—more episodes of The West Wing to anticipate as a reward.