One Day, One Thing

by Anne Moore

It’s the new year, and I’m filled with the typical impetus toward self-improvement and Protestant Productivity. What better way for that to manifest than in a new ongoing writing project, right?

So here’s the idea: one day, one thing. Each day, I’ll record here some observation of the world around me–about television, literature, art, parenting, performance, recovery, academia, affect, excess–all my standard bugbears. Rather than aiming for long, thoughtful pieces that are subject to my standard nigh-endless revision process, this will be a place for ideas that are just starting out. Bigger, more thoughtful work can still be found in my standard haunt–and hopefully this project will mean that I’ll be posting there more frequently. More is more, right?

And what better way to begin than by thinking about finishing? Because that’s the idea I woke up obsessed with today. Last night, I had this strangely split experience of finishing texts. I’m engaged with three main narrative universes right now: Deep Space Nine, Friday Night Lights, and Portrait of a Lady. It’s kind of fantastic having my attention divided among such disparate worlds, and the pleasure and process of reading each of them is radically different. I’ve been taking forever to get through all of them, but for different reasons. With DS9, (and, to an extent, FNL), the text is so expansive, I feel like I have no choice but to take my time. There are seven seasons of Deep Space Nine, at 22 episodes per season! Even at three episodes a day (a level of gorging that is impossible with a baby and a full-time job), I wouldn’t finish for months. Besides which, Ariel flatly refuses to watch with me. So I’m taking my time, watching eps on my own over lunch when there’s no one to go out with at work, or nights when I’m home on my own. I’m in no hurry, and maybe because of this, there’s a part of me that’s constantly hanging out with Odo, Kira, Sisko, and the rest of them.

But, as you may know, one of the frustrating things about being a Star Trek fan is the variability of the show’s quality. And last night I found myself watching this courtroom episode where Worf was on trial for being Klingon. A typical exchange:

Advocate: What I wish to demonstrate is how Worf’s bloodlust led him to X
Sisko (acting as Worf’s lawyer, naturally): You cannot put a man’s heart on trial!
Judge: I’ll allow it.

And so on.

I knew it was terrible, and I knew every step of how it would turn out, but I couldn’t stop watching. I had to get to the end, in the way that I can’t stop a game of solitaire in the middle, even when I know I’m going to lose. I’d hit “play” on the episode, and I just had to get to the end. Even though it’s taking me ages and ages to make my way through this series, I have this impulse to make it to the end of specific episodes that feels at times despotic.

When I went to bed, I finally (finally!) finished Portrait of a Ladywhich I’ve been reading at least since August. The thing about this novel in particular is how the final chapter so completely alters your understanding of it. It’s so like a contemporary long-form serial in that it’s meant to be read piecemeal, but you really know when you’re in the beginning, the middle, or the end. (Think of the obvious difference between someone who has only seen the first two seasons of Lost  or Battlestar Galactica versus someone who has seen the entire series). Because I’d been thinking of Isabel Archer as some ideal example of an American expatriate–the one whom you’d want to give things to. My job is hooking undergraduates up with competitive scholarships, and I once described the ultimate Fulbright English Teaching Assistant as Isabel Archer. This was (clearly, to anyone who has finished the book) probably not the best way to describe someone, even though it makes sense. The money is so obviously the worst possible thing that could have happened for Isabel, and reaching the end of the book makes it impossible to read her receipt of the money as anything but a curse.

So what this leaves me thinking about is the difference between being in the middle of a novel versus being in the middle of a television show. They’re both expansive universes, and they’re both constructed to be read in pieces (at least serialized novels, anyway–but any novel worth being called one is probably too long to be read in a single sitting). Maybe the difference is between an experience that is meant to be cumulative and one that is meant to be a relatively free-standing collection of fragments. The thing that makes DS9 so interesting is its in-between status as a serial/stand-alone hybrid–but it’s very very different from something like Portrait, which is obviously meant to be understood as a coherent thing.

So that’s day one! No thesis–just a bunch of thoughts.