In the last few weeks, there’s been a movement (or maybe a meme) for Millennials – at least those of us currently latched to our Twitter feeds, forced to watch the democratic institutions of our country implode 280 characters at a time – to binge watch Frasier on Netflix. It’s the new Thing, and I’ll admit I’ve been suckered in by the sudden influx of Frasier Discourse floating around. Though I’ve been lately falling asleep to an episode or so of Ken Burns The Roosevelt’s documentary, last night I watched two or three episodes of Frasier instead.
I had forgotten what a funny, smartly written show it was, or how overtly dramatic Frasier Crane was over every single mild upset life threw his way. I get it, twitter peeps. Frasier Crane is literally all of us. We just didn’t know it at the time.
Frasier, for those of us not well versed in their late 80’s, early 90’s sitcom lore, was a spin-off of Cheers – another binge-worthy show now available on Netflix. (Bring back Roseanne, Netflix, or I swear…). Cheers took place in a bar in Boston, where Frasier Crane and his (rather intense) wife Lilith were frequent secondary characters. To account for the existence of the spin-off, which relocated Frasier across the continental United States in his home town of Seattle, hosting a pop psychology radio show and begrudgingly allowing his father and a live-in care worker to live with him in his lavish, eclectic apartment, conveniently in the eye of the space needle, it was told to us in the Pilot that Frasier had divorced Lilith and moved back home for a new chapter of his life. Because of this unexpected turn in the path, he had to leave his son behind, his practice, and everything he thought he had built in Boston.
Something struck me towards the end of the Pilot episode. During his radio show, where he gives advice to call-in patients, Frasier takes a call from someone who says she has just broken up with her boyfriend of eight years and cannot stop crying. Is she mourning the relationship, she asks? Frasier explains that no, she isn’t. She is mourning the life she had thought she had planned for herself, but which has now been completely reshuffled.
I thought that was such a poignant and insightful observation – that sometimes the plans we make fall apart, and not only do we have to adjust to this new reality, but we have to give ourselves the time and the space to mourn the story we had written in our heads of The Way Things Are Going To Be, and which now seems dashed, foiled, scrubbed out.
I’m extremely guilty of concocting wild and vivid scenarios for how my life is going to play out, scenarios which, which scraped against the less satisfying reality of the situation, produce friction that sends me reeling back. Earlier this summer, I thought I was going to UCLA. I had the next four years – the next eight years, really, all mapped out in my head. The classes I was going to take, the internships, the study abroad opportunities, the Master’s programs I would apply for, the PhD’s.
But one small factor I had failed to account for was the actual physical act of attending that school – Los Angeles is, apparently, the worst city in the nation for air quality and asthmatics. Within a week, my health — which I had spent the last five years fighting to get control of — had spiralled into a complete disaster. All of my asthma and heart symptoms, which I hadn’t had to take medicine for in years, all came back. I couldn’t stop coughing, couldn’t stop having heart palpitations, couldn’t calm down, couldn’t stop panicking that I was going to have to go to the hospital in a strange city 3,000 miles away from my family, and that I couldn’t even go outside for a breath of fresh air since it was the air outside that was the problem. After a week of feeling like I had a cloud of smoke caught between my ribs, I had to get out of there. The decision to leave was made so instinctively, hysterically, that I am still a little shocked at myself for it. In the game of fight or flight, it took a long time to accept that my instinct was flight.
Since August, I’ve been, I think, in a period of confused readjustment, as I try to reconcile the plans I had so excitedly made with the split-second decision to abandon them. I was, like Frasier said, mourning the life I had envisioned for myself, which I had now, by my own reckoning, cast aside. In the last few months, I’ve been obsessively making plans again – what books I want to write, what classes I’m going to take – in, I recognize now, a desperately attempt to reinsert structure to a reality that had, in an instant, become untethered.
I also watched It’s A Wonderful Life last night, which is at the same time a wildly depressing film about the heartlessness of capitalism and the way it chews up and spits out the poorer classes as they’re forced to give up their hopes and dreams to simply keep their heads above water – and a story of accepting the life you have and finding joy in it, and not losing yourself in what might have, could have, maybe should have beens. As he paced that snowy bridge, George Bailey was doing the same as Frasier Crane’s caller – mourning the life he had planned for himself, which had fallen apart when he wasn’t looking.
I didn’t win NaNoWriMo this year, not really. Technically, I made it to 50,000 words, but only by editing a different project, when my plan had been to write the first draft of a book I had again planned, but neglected, to write the month before. I’ve been having a difficult time immersing myself, concentrating, being creative. I think I’m still adjusting, still mourning. I also think this period of re-centering one’s world view goes back further than August – I think I’ve been, like so many of us, in a mental and emotional and creative freefall since last November. It’s difficult to stick to well-laid plans when – again – the democratic institutions of your country are falling apart 280 characters at a time.
Is the lesson that Frasier Crane and George Bailey strive to each us to stop making plans? Stop hoping for things that could be? Not at all, I don’t think. I think the lesson here isn’t to stop making plans, to stop dreaming or trying or doing, but to understand that plans get scrambled, they get upended, they get set aside, or flipped upside down, or bent and twisted into wild and unrecognizable contortions. When changes in our life come that we weren’t expecting, we shouldn’t let them completely derail us – but we should also acknowledge, for the sake of our emotional sanity, that we need the time to process the change, and to mourn it. You’re not to blame if the road you’re on swerves directions, and it’s not a personal failing if you need a moment to readjust.
I’m not sure what all of this means or what I mean to say. I guess I want to say, be gentle with yourself. Be forgiving. Make new plans and work hard at them, and when those get scrambled, make some more. But at the same time, enjoy where you are and what you do have, accept where you’ve been and what you wanted and haven’t gotten, and take whatever steps you can to get what you need.
I’ll be okay. I have Millennials gallows humor and 90’s TV shows to binge, and new ideas for how to move forward. I’m signed up for online classes starting in January, for a Certificate in Writing. I’ve got plans for the books I want to write, and when those plans get messy, I’ll rework them and try again.
Happy Monday, everyone, and happy writing.