Thursday, May 16, 2013

It's Really Incalcucable - My Love Letter to The Office (U.S.)

When they announced earlier this year that this would be the final season of NBC's The Office, I didn't quite know how to feel.  Deep down somewhere in the recesses of my mind, I knew this day would come eventually, not the exact date, but that the series would one day come to a close.  And while there were many times in the Post-Michael Scott seasons that I desired a mercy killing for the ghost of a series I once loved, there was always a certain comfort in knowing that the show was still around.  It meant that, for the most part, things hadn't changed.  It meant that I hadn't changed.

My love affair with The Office started in late 2005, in the middle of season two.  I accidentally caught some of the Halloween episode in a rerun.  I thought the tall guy with the black dots on his shirt was cute; I stuck around for another two minutes for Steve Carell.  It was meh.   Nothing special.  I had a whole queue of shows I was invested in (in case you need reminding, the 2005 Fall TV season remains the pinnacle of man's achievement, giving us House, Lost, how i met your mother, 30 Rock the first season of Prison Break, and others) so it was no big deal.  But I kept hearing how amazing and hilarious this show was.  The first live episode I watched was Booze Cruise, with the infamous 27 seconds of silence between Jim and Pam.  The second was The Injury, which to this day is my favorite 22 minutes of comedic television writing ever.  Thus began my obsession with The Office, both the show and the fandom. 

The obsession started out by purchasing the first season and watching through that.  Then it turned to watching the commentaries and deleted scenes and finding fanvids (this was the first one I ever watched, and this Battlestar Galactica/Office mashup is one of the greatest things ever; oh, and here), and looking up information on John Krasinski.  And then at some point it took a nosedive into doing research into ALL the cast and crew, and following Pam, Kevin, and Angela on MySpace.  It culminated with me joining an avid community of individuals who wrote fanfiction based on the show (my stories I'm proud of can be found herehere, and here), and eventually I joined fansites like Office Tally and Northern Attack, spending hours on message boards discussing the kiss at the end of season two, or Michael proposing to Holly.

I didn't just find a show I liked in The Office, I kind of found an extended family.  I found my niche. For me, The Office was never just a show.  It was a dear, old friend I spent nine wonderful years with.  When my sister was hospitalized to prevent her from self harming back during my junior year of  high school, The Office helped me escape on countless evenings.  The show saw me through my crushing college rejections at the end of senior year in 2008, and again in 2010 when I watched my Alzheimer's ridden grandmother deteriorate even further.  When I stepped onto the campus of that conservative Baptist college I attended, hating everything and thinking no one would appreciate my "Stewart/Colbert '08" shirt, it was a guy standing in line for the cafeteria wearing a Dunder Mifflin shirt who gave me hope that maybe I wasn't alone in my comedic preferences.

When I started watching it for the first time at the age of 16, I can remember thinking that deep down, in that dark, private place I share with no one (except for the ten of you that read this blog) that I knew that what I wanted more than anything else was to write comedy for a living.  I wanted to create something that meant as much to others as The Office meant to me.  Something that could simultaneously make you laugh so hard that tears and urine freely exited your body and ameliorate, if only for a little while, the pain in your current situation.  And now, seven years later, at the age of 23, that desire hasn't changed.

But what has changed is everything else; time doesn't stop just because you want it to.  Everything must end, much to my increasing disappointment.  Last year marked my graduation from college, and by the end of this summer, I'll officially have my diploma, thereby forcing me into the adult world. As The Office ends tonight, so too does the adolescent chapter in my life, and while I know I have a plethora of opportunities ahead of me, it doesn't make either ending any less bittersweet.  But like Vonnegut, I've always enjoyed my grief with a good flatulence joke, or two.

Dinkin' Flicka,

The General

Saturday, February 23, 2013

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You General Kenobi

Over the past week, God's been forcibly teaching me about coming to terms with, and accepting, my weaknesses (our lessons are never like, "Oh, yeah, God, I'm absolutely ready to hear about what I'm doing wrong. No, yeah, definitely;" which is why I get stuck in the learning annex with the other slow kids and 'forcibly').  For anyone that knows me, it may come as a bit of a surprise (I know it did for me when I first figured it out) that I have many, many flaws.  Despite the energy I put into convincing everyone otherwise, "perfection" never has, nor will it ever be, a fit descriptor for the person I am.  Cripplingly insecure?  N--yeah, probably.  Lukewarm and weak?  Like, ninety-seven percent of the time.  But perfect?  Never.

I assume this weakness thing has plagued me my whole life (Have I mentioned pride?  Because I struggle with that one about 114% of the time, every time), but it's never been more apparent to me than in the midst of what can arguably be considered the apex of my time here at home since graduating college.  After a summer of rejection by no-response-whatsoever, my dreams of interning with a late night comedy show or a satirical newspaper based in Chicago were dashed five times over.  ("But your degree is in political science," you say wisely, to which bespectacled, hipster General responds, "Yes, but my dream has always been comedy, man.")  If you want to know what failure and weak feels like, try explaining to your parents that the past four years (of which they assisted in funding) may have been spent in a field of study you love, but you're not in love with it.  Bonus points if your father is a gun-owning, salt-of-the-earth, Blue-collar working, Republican who secretly thinks your dream makes you a commie-loving pinko.

But when the past few months provided nothing but a bleak and dismal future of me living with my parents FOREVER, I sobered quickly and began applying for internships more closely related to my field.  Within the week, I had two interview offers.  Within that same week, I had such severe anxiety because rather than the success I was blessed with, all I could focus on was the impending failure brought about by my infinitesimal weaknesses.  My brain wouldn't shut up.  You're crippled by your insecurities (your abilities, your femininity, your intelligence, your physical appearance, how funny you are, how "Christian" you are) and your fear of the unknown.  You can't keep it together mentally (you had to see a counselor during college and in the months leaving it), spiritually (you haven't tithed once in the past year, you haven't volunteered anywhere, you've been so wrapped up in your own bout of depression that the first time you attended church since last May was two weeks ago), or professionally (you still don't have a real job; you're still working part-time at that video game place).   And relationally you're such a failure you can't even bring yourself to call any of your old friends for fear that they may want nothing to do with you when you don't have the energy left to be 'the entertainer.'  How could you possibly succeed now?

Turns out that both the apostle Paul and Luke Skywalker shared in my crippling weaknesses.  See, Luke was a whiny, ungrateful moisture farmer (what the hell does that even mean?) on some scrap of land on Tatooine, an entire planet of deserts, Jawas, and freaking Sand People, and Paul--Super-Christian Paul--even writes that because he struggled with pride, he was given a thorn to torment him (see 2 Cor. 12:7).  To anybody else, these two men would be seen as useless.  What's the point of a proud man serving a God who values and demands humility?  How could anyone possibly pick Luke--this whiny orphan who's never even heard of the Force before--to be the key player for the Rebel Alliance?  Especially when Han is so much hotter and doubles as a part time professor/archaeologist in his spare time?

The key is grace.  Luke is weak, but both Ben Kenobi and eventually Yoda are gracious enough to extend at least a chance for him to measure up to the hero the Rebel Alliance has been searching for.  When Paul is all, "This blows; could you at least try to help me out with this thorn issue?" (essentially the Message translation, I assume), God comes back with, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Cor. 12:9b)  The key is paradox.

The paradox doesn't magically solve my insecurities or my crippling fear (just like applying logic to Doctor Who doesn't magically make the show any easier to understand, sadly).  But what it does is give me the freedom and breathing room to face those weaknesses and know that in that moment, God makes up for what I lack, the Ben Kenobi to my General Kenobi.  So that in that moment, I can join in when Paul concludes:

"That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weakness,
in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. 
For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2 Cor. 12:10).
Keelah Se'lai,
The General

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Uteruses before Duderuses, or Caught in a Bad Bromance

February 13th marks the official, fictitious holiday of Galentine's Day.  Basically it's a holiday celebrating friendship, a different kind of love that seems to be completely overlooked on Valentine's Day.  In honor of Leslie Knope, I've decided to make a list of some of my favorite fictional friendships.  Since I am nothing short of a somewhat bitter single and a self-proclaimed pro-female, pro-male feminist who believes in empowering women without degrading men in the process, I've decided to include guys on the list, too.  Just call me the U.N. because I'm making peaceful resolutions all up in this joint.  In no particular order:
Leslie Knope, Anne Perkins Parks and Recreation
What better way to start off than with the creator of Galentine's Day, Leslie Knope and her best friend, Anne Perkins?  Their friendship is by no means perfect (they once got into a drunken fight at a club that resulted in some harsh words and a pretty vicious dance-off), but Anne calms Leslie's crazy, and Leslie constantly showers Anne with encouragement  ("She's the most beautiful nurse in the world.")  Uteruses before Duderuses, indeed.
Troy, Abed Community
Everyone needs a friend who sees your crazy, and not only accepts it, but goes right along with it.  Troy and Abed are the kind of friends who make up Spanish rap songs, create fictitious morning shows, build massive blanket forts, watch Inspector Space Time together, and create Firefly suicide pacts together.  They even have a secret handshake, and admittedly, I'm slightly jealous.  Speaking of Firefly . . .

Mal, Zoe Firefly, Shepard, Garrus Mass Effect
Every Captain (or Commander) needs a solid right hand man (er, woman and Turian respectively) they can trust to help keep the crew motivated and to stand by their side as they march into hell to save the 'verse from some impending doom (Reavers and Reapers respectively). Mal and Zoe mourned Serenity Valley together, and when Mal lost his faith in God, Zoe was right there to help pick up the pieces.  And while Garrus wasn't there physically when Cerberus picked up the pieces of Shepard's lifeless body, he certainly answered the call on Omega even after he took a missile to the face.  That's what friendship should look like for big damn heroes.
Veronica, Wallace Veronica Mars, Daria, Jane Daria
Let's get one thing straight:  high school is the worst.  It's cruel, and everyone's a monster.  The only thing that makes it suck less is sarcasm.  Lots and lots of sarcasm. And having a solid friend who appreciates and encourages such sarcasm.  Or in Wallace's case, a friend who cuts you down from the school's flag pole.  When the entirety of Neptune turned its back on Veronica, Wallace remained a loyal and steadfast friend.  When Daria couldn't find a single redeemable student at Lawndale, she met Jane, another outcast who willingly tried to set her up with her older brother.  The only way high school could be worse is if . . .
Buffy, Willow, Xander Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Harry, Ron, Hermione Harry Potter
. . . everyone is literally a monster.  Whether your Big Bad is some kind of vampire who has been around since the dawn of time, or a murderous wizard who's number one goal is to murder you, it's tough to keep friends around who really get it.  Other than Buffy, there's nothing remarkable or super power-y about any of these people, except for their courage, their loyalty, and their love for their friends.  The Scoobies and Harry's group definitely have their downs (remember that time Willow became evil, or that time Ron dated Lavender?), but they stick by each other because they understand friendship is about way more than weekends at Hosgmeade or week nights at the Bronze.  It's about sometimes having to stand up to your friends when they're out of line.
Dean and Sam Winchester, Supernatural
The Winchester brothers' relationship can be defined in one word:  sacrifice.  Sam gave up his future prospect of becoming a lawyer in order to travel across the country in a '67 Impala with his older brother in order to rid the world of evil, whatever form it may take.  Dean willingly signed away his life in order to keep Sam alive, taking after his dad to did the same thing to save him.  To an extent, their behavior may be considered excessive, but more than love, I truly believe that family makes you do the wacky.  You may hate them, you may fight with them, call them names, but at the end of the day, they're still family, and you'll do everything in your power to protect them.
Tenth Doctor, Donna Noble Doctor Who
Any man would be devastated if the woman he loved left him.  Even more devastating would be if that same woman did so because she was trapped in a freaking parallel world. (Sci-fi problems, amirite?)  Donna Noble, more than any other companion, traveled through all of space and time with the Doctor expecting nothing more than adventure, witty banter, and occasionally saving the universe.   The Doctor saved Donna from a world of mediocrity, and in turn, Donna supported him, vexed him, later became part time lord, and eventually became the most important woman in the universe.  Their friendship was a thing of beauty, and as a fan, watching him have to wipe her memory of all their time together was one of the most heartbreaking moments of the series.
Keelah Se'lai, and Happy Galentine's Day!
The General