Over the past few months I’ve been doing a rewatch of my all time favorite show IN THE WORLD. The West Wing (about the personal and political lives of a group of White House elite) first aired in 1999, and a few years later I began watching it on Wednesday nights with my dad. Bravo also used to play reruns of it for about 75% of the week, including late at night when I was supposed to be asleep. Even after I stopped sneaking out of bed to watch it, I would still hear Kelly leaving her room about half an hour after we were supposedly asleep, checking to make sure I hadn’t gotten up without her.
Suffice to say, The West Wing was pretty formative for me. It’s how I passed the AP Government exam. I drop West Wing quotes the way Kelly drops song lyrics – casually and abundantly. And for a long time, it was where I found my career goals. This was not uncommon in my age group. Vanity Fair did a whole story on it.
When I was little, I went through all the regular aspirations kids go through – teacher, marine biologist, astronaut. But from about seventh grade on, I wanted my life to look like The West Wing. I studied international relations. I wanted to advise the president. I wanted 18-hour days, and heavy conversations. I wanted to fight the good fight.
This doesn’t exactly explain how I ended up with a Masters degree in English Lit, living in Boston and working in a children’s book/toy store, but fourth year of college, I loaded a bunch of lit classes into my schedule. After I graduated, I started temping and ended up with an office job. Bored and infinitely restless, I applied to PhD programs and instead ended up in a partially funded Masters program at Boston College.
I had a lot of reasons for changing direction. Some were good, some were really stupid, some of them even still stand. Much of it was fear. But I don’t necessarily regret it. I’ve met some phenomenal people in Boston, read some incredible books. Become a much better writer.
I spent a lot of time thinking about this shift as the right choice, but really, it wasn’t good or bad, right or wrong. It was a choice I made, and through it I lost some things and gained some others. I like what I’ve gained, and I miss what I lost.
The West Wing keeps me up for all the usual reasons. Right now it’s keeping me up because I haven’t actually watched season 5 since it aired. But The West Wing also reminds me how powerful stories are. It’s a vicious contradiction, because all at once it validates and makes me question my life choices. And now, as I once again float around in the post-graduation haze of no fucking clue what I want out of my life, may not be the best time to do a rewatch. But maybe it is. Maybe it reminds me that there is more than one way to get what you want out of your life. Or that its possible to make changes in the world from wherever you stand. Or that you have to keep going, even when the show gets bad – uhhh, I mean when the going gets tough.
Or maybe it’ll just remind me to read the newspaper. I’ll let you know tonight, when I’m still thinking about it at three in the morning.