Rewatch – The West Wing

The West Wing first aired when I was in elementary school. It wasn’t meant to be on my radar, children were decidedly not its target audience. But growing up in French Canada and living through a referendum on independence makes your existence political and forces awareness earlier than for your peers. I knew that when I grew up, I was going to watch the West Wing and I was going to like it (please don’t judge past me, my diet of Passions and DragonBall Z was not cutting it).

Baby-me had been spot on, I enjoyed it when I first saw it…maybe 3 years ago. I’m watching it again, with an American who has never seen it–both of us astonished by how well the show has stood the test of time. The societal issues that divided people 20 years still remain today and the predictions about the the future state of affairs is eerily accurate.

Given current circumstances, I’m nostalgic for this alternate reality where all people have the gift of biting humour. Truly a world where how you speak is just as important as what you said, a universe before having a character limit. Where everyone is earnest to a degree bordering on naive, and concisely expresses ideas in short snippets in an almost Shakespearean rhythm having little semblance to regular conversation. It was like Gilmore Girls: Government Edition, running on the stale coffee that abounds in dusty offices.

Despite the lack of realism, I genuinely love this show.  They’re all so noble, even their flaws don’t stop you from rooting for them. This humanization of public servants and politicians is one of the greatest strengths for the show–they’re not always good people, and that doesn’t always matter in the grand scheme of things.

Accolades are also warranted for the fictional depiction of real events, from global skirmishes threatening to boil over in mutually assured destruction to the wrangling of critical votes on a more local scale. As a Canadian, they helped me visualize some of the differences between our governmental systems and to make sense of things I read in the news.

I wonder how many people in the White House watched it as part of their training.

 

Bonny Scottish Highlands

The Land

Living in Canada means going through the 5 stages of grief every year, coming to terms with how the greenery literally degenerating into a crunchy and listless shade of brown– signals the start of the steady decline.  The promise of the first snowfall is a unique flicker of hope in this dreadful season, a moment where society permits taking pause to admire the barely perceptible flakes that melt into nothingness. They float carelessly downward, and the world goes deafly silent–almost as if a real glass dome covered overhead.

This relationship with snow is very short-lived.

Strangely enough, the sight of snow away from home fills me with happiness, to the point of being giddy. I find myself frantically scanning the horizon, looking for anything snowcapped–even if it’s just a small hill. They’re so beautifully isolated, too far out of reach for anyone to desecrate through unceremonious stomping, but still so familiar.

Road-to-Ben-Nevis-for-site
Walking on the road to Ben Nevis in Fort William, the Highlands of Scotland. 

The People

I have been very fortunate in the last couple of years, to be able to meander far from home and to meet new people. It’s important to be receptive to others, what they care about, things that they think are important, things that are aggravating. Even outside of travel (which is nice, but a luxury), for better or worse, everyone has something to teach you. The people we met in Scotland embraced us, told us where they came from–where they hoped they were going. It wasn’t lost on me that these threads of warmth and welcome were things I recognized from the Canadian cultural tapestry.

We (my SO and I) were only in Scotland for 4-5 days, coming to Edinburgh from London by train. From the window, I saw some of the greenest pastures I had ever laid eyes on, almost unnaturally bright even under an overcast sky. Arriving in Waverly station, we felt self-conscious and awkward, struggling to maneuver our luggage around local commuters.

All of that washed away when we arrived at our Airbnb, greeted by our friendly host. She was originally from the Highlands, which meant it was a matter of honour to go above an beyond to help these exhausted travelers from Canada. On her recommendation, we spent an entire day getting lost in the National Museum of Scotland, a monument to the knowledge of everything (if there ever was one). Before we left for Glencoe in the Highlands, she drew us multiple maps showing which routes to take, and where we absolutely had to eat. We were very lucky to have met her.

While in the city, we were on the hunt for British-Indian food, a unique, fusion cuisine that had resulted from longevity of British India.  Being Indo-Canadian, I had always wondered how members of the same diasporic communities had diverged as people settled around the world. What new traditions had people created? What did they keep?It was a complete mystery until we stumbled into Pakora Bar in Edinburgh. The owner elaborated, much to our delight, on his family’s history and how they had first settled in Glasgow. He gestured behind the counter at a painting of a turbaned man, a Sardar, wearing a jacket and pants with a plaid pattern–watching over the restaurant. This man, his grandfather, had created the Singh Tartan for all of “Asian origin” to use–I had been welcomed into the fold.

Soon after, we winded our way up north to the shores of Loch Leven, where we had rented a private room in a beautiful B&B. Our host here was also overflowing with warmth, sharing with us how she had felt unfulfilled as a lawyer in the too-big city, one day just leaving it all behind. She had been gutsy, if not short-sighted, but she seemed happy–a cheerful person who almost sang her phrases and showered blessings on those who crossed her threshold. As we left the B&B, we could hear laughter. She could be heard befriending a woman, a stranger, who had grown up in this house. They lightheartedly gossiped about how little had changed.

I think I’ll go back.

In defense of words

Technology demands that complex ideas be distilled into soundbites and tweets, floating away into a context-less ether.  Words are a means to an end, to convince and convey opinion and information, the lines between them easily smudged by the talented editorialist.  Despite this, I do not write to express my distrust for words and how they are used, but to appreciate the artistry of having exactly the intended effect. For me, it’s the ultimate exercise in empathy, when your work hinges on forging a connection and provoking feeling in your audience. I genuinely think it’s wonderful, especially in a time where isolation can be so easy.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I’ve written anything but technical documents for the better part of a decade, detailed sequences required to make a machine work. Do “this” first, then “that”, but only after “this”. The transitions are harsh, and the tone matter-of-fact–full of arrows and bullet points. Microsoft Word has become more unimpressed, and even snarky, in response to my choppy fragments.

I have started reading again, choosing to get immersed in the memories of someone else. The words have transported me to the North Atlantic coast of a half-century ago, able to taste the cool, briney air on my tongue, and able to feel comfort in starting into the vastness of the ocean.

I love it.

I’m trying to improve my writing, so I’ll use this blog as my notebook. It’s more important to me that you understand my musings and opinions, not necessarily share them.