I’ve been in a rut since March. Actually, allow me to clarify. I have been in about fifty different kinds of ruts since March. Even down to what I’m doing for entertainment. For the most part, I have only watched movies that I’ve already seen countless times. My go-to TV series has been Friends. And I just finished listening to the Harry Potter series on audiobook. (Granted, this was my first time through the audiobooks, but the combined number of times I have read the books and watched the movies certainly negate any “something new and different” points I could hope to win.)
A few weeks ago I decided it was time to climb out of this particular rut and actually absorb something new, so I began watching the HBO series The Newsroom. It only took about five minutes of the first episode for me to realize that even in trying something new, I was playing it pretty safe. As someone to whom The West Wing was appointment viewing each and every week back in the day, who studied A Few Good Men as a theatre major in college, who has obsessed over every nuance of The America President and Moneyball, who unwittingly-at-the-time based the sports network dynamic of one of her novels on Sports Night, who actually refused to watch 30 Rock for years out of loyalty to the ill-fated Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, and who travelled from Colorado to New York to see the Aaron Sorkin adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway…you could say I’m a bit of an Aaron Sorkin devotee. I knew I would love The Newsroom. And I did. All in all, it was a safe way to branch out to something new.
Safe because, well…Aaron Sorkin tends to be a bit repetitive.
Even acknowledging that publicly feels like a betrayal, because I really do love me some Sorkin—but even in acknowledging that he tends to be a bit repetitive, I realize that “a bit repetitive” might be an understatement. (Here’s a video of “Sorkinisms” if you want a few minutes of proof/entertainment, but be warned: you will never watch anything written by Aaron Sorkin the same way again.) There are so many common threads across everything he writes. Characters, patterns, backstory, dialogue. In many ways, if you’ve seen one Sorkin, you’ve seen them all. That doesn’t change the fact that, in my opinion, each and every one of them is worth seeing. That’s a strange dichotomy, but I stand behind it 100%.
Take, for instance, the title “What Kind of Day Has It Been.” That has been the title of no fewer than four Aaron Sorkin-penned television episodes. The West Wing, Sports Night, and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip all wrapped up their first seasons with an episode with that title, and it was the title of the series finale of The Newsroom. Mr. Sorkin finds something he likes and then he isn’t afraid to use it again. You can call it a rut, if you want to, I don’t really see it that way. Not this. (On the other hand, his continual use of the phrase “not for nothin’” is still up for debate.) You see, there’s always an answer when Aaron Sorkin asks of his television series “What kind of day has it been?” Getting to that answer is the point of the episode. Possibly the point of the season. Sometimes of the entire series. The answer may not be simple, and it may vary from character to character; from moment to moment. But Sorkin is always going to answer the question for us.
I like knowing what I’m going to get from Aaron Sorkin’s writing, while enjoying the fact that I don’t know exactly how I’m going to receive what I’ve been promised. I would liken it to knowing your boyfriend is preparing to propose, but having no idea how he’s actually going to do it. You go to a baseball game and half-expect to see “Will you marry me?” on the scoreboard, or you take a walk on the beach at sunset with certainty there is a ring in the pocket of his shorts—but then you’re taken completely off-guard when he gets down on one knee at the grocery store or during a family badminton game.
This has all been a really long lead-up to say I’ve been in a rut, and for quite a while I didn’t even feel any motivation to climb out of it. I feel as if I have aged ten years in the past four months. (Can anyone else identify with that?) I’m not sure when to speak and not sure when to stay silent—not about race relations or politics or “to face-mask or not to face-mask”…but about everything. About life. About myself. About things that matter and things that don’t. About books I’m writing and characters I’m creating. About how I’m feeling. And when in doubt, it’s easier to stay silent and watch (for the 10,000th time) the two-part episode in which Chandler and Monica get engaged. (Side note: I was #TeamChandler, all the way, but does anyone else out there wish they still could have found a reason to keep Tom Selleck’s Richard around? He and Phoebe would have been adorable together! #MissedOpportunites) I teeter back and forth between confident and insecure. Inspired and tapped dry. A lot of the time I’m just really sad, but then I feel guilty about being sad…because really, I don’t have any reason to be.
My latest book launched on May 5th, in the midst of a Shelter in Place order, and I—like pretty much everyone else on the planet—had to adapt on the fly. Trips were cancelled. Shippings were delayed. Schedules were changed. Marketing plans were adjusted. Book sales went down. And of course planned, in-person signings at bookstores? Yeah…I don’t think so. I wasn’t the only one having to deal with those things, of course, and it goes without saying that countless people had it so much worse than I did. Truth be told, I’m usually pretty good at adapting. I can make a mean lemonade out of the lemons life hands me when I really need to. And for a while, the lemonade was being served in abundance. And then I seemed to hit a wall.
Over the course of the past few months, I’ve had a difficult time being the Bethany Turner people expect me to be. On social media, in my writing, at work, with my friends and family…you name it. And Satan has used that against me. Not the inability to be the Bethany Turner people expect me to be so much as the realization that the expectation exists. Even if the expectation exists mostly inside my own head. Because, really, it’s not about other people’s expectations at all. It’s about the expectations I burden myself with. Expectations that have always motivated and pushed me, but which took an unexpected turn in recent days. And on top of all of that, the truth is I’m tired. No…I’m more than tired. I’m completely exhausted. I’m depleted, and history’s greatest power nap wouldn’t even put a dent in the level of fatigue I’m feeling.
Again…maybe you can relate.
I find myself asking, “What kind of day has it been?” and truthfully, I’m not sure. Aaron Sorkin isn’t writing the script of my life. (Good thing, probably. I don’t have the energy for all the walk-and-talks.) But I do believe that the point of this episode—the point of this season—is, at least partially, to figure it out. Sorkin wouldn’t have asked the question so many times if it wasn’t a question worth asking, right? I believe it will be worth trudging through the pages of dialogue, sitting through the commercial break, and maybe even hanging in until next season to get the answer.
And that’s not for nothin’.