Mr. Magpie and I “cut the cable cord” years ago and have, for the most part, never looked back. The only show I’ve continuously grieved in the breakup is “The Office,” which, a few years ago, was marooned on NBC’s Peacock island, a subscription service we refuse to consider. After years of my complaints about its absence from our “comfort show” repertoire, Mr. Magpie bought me the entire run of nine seasons on Apple TV over the holiday and I have been joyfully rewatching it in its entirety. Much has been written and made of this show since its initial airing nearly 20 years ago (can you even believe?) in 2005, but there is something that has hit different on this viewing, in a pandemic context. For starters, there is the shock of recognizing that the show’s namesake, its setting — a physical office, with all of the discomforts and awkwardnesses it presents — is nearly unrecognizable in today’s “remote work” world. There is something vaguely post-apocalyptic about watching all of these unmasked people gather together each day and endure the inconveniences of working in close physical proximity with one another while using now-obsolete relics of work years past. I mean, there is actual white out being used on paper in the intro scenes! Faxes, pagers, and landlines play heavily into the logistics of various episodes. Even when the show aired, there were gestures to the near-antediluvian nature of the business: here were unsatisfied employees slinging paper, an industry dying in the face of the digital world and likely to collapse thanks to the presence of enormous conglomerates like Office Depot besides. Earlier viewings, in pre-pandemic contexts, led me to read this situational friction as ironic in various ways. It indicated Michael Scott’s cluelessness (i.e., how could someone be so passionate and chipper about a defunct business?) and seemed to converse with the then-burgeoning millennial obsession with finding meaning and passion in one’s work (i.e., the show gestured to the pointlessness of its characters’ careers, thereby mildly encouraging the opposite). I have been thinking a lot about the latter since a conversation with a girlfriend a week ago in which she said, “My job is fine. It doesn’t define me or feel particularly challenging. But that’s OK. It’s what I need right now with young children at home.” I found her candor refreshing, laudable. Life is seasonal, isn’t it? Maybe what we needed when we were in our 20s is not what we need when we’re in our 30s and perhaps that evolves again and again and again as we age.
Anyhow, this most recent viewing has drawn me to an entirely different headspace. Instead of reading those dissonances as comedy, I see instead heart. The mordancy has dulled with age, particularly in the context of a global pandemic. Because here is a cast of idiosyncratic characters who are living the greater measure of their lives in the confines of an office they do not want to work for and yet finding meaning, love, empathy, courage, awareness. They begrudge the situation but they also laugh, cry, fight, console, cheer, support, provoke. In other words: each character is living her one wild and precious life not in spite of the circumstances but because of the circumstances. The narrative reads an awful lot like some of the conclusions we drew earlier in this pandemic. Almost exactly a year ago, I wrote:
“…I have grappled with an unarticulated impression that we are living an alternity right now, an otherness that is “getting in the way of” or somehow distinct from “real life.” How often do I say: “when things get back to normal…” or “whenever this is done…” or “post-COVID…”? And yet, spring has given way to summer, summer to fall, fall to winter, and winter, soon, to spring again. My children sprout with new abilities and awarenesses….That is to say – I continue to live my life. The pandemic has constricted its latitude in various ways, but not, as it turns out, in one of the ways that matters most: I still move through my days capable of the same wide spray of emotions.”
I trace a similar thread in “The Office,” where the workplace presents itself in some ways as an unpleasant alternity, and yet it is where Pam and Jim fall in love, and Michael finds meaning, and the site of countless other moments of growth and awareness in its characters. I am moved and left hopeful in contemplating the parallels, as I must say I felt rather depleted the other day when micro’s teacher asked me to send in more spare masks, and I found myself hunting around online for new ones only to wander on a fool’s errand for thirty minutes. The ones he likes (Roller Rabbit) are no longer being produced; the ones I like (Busy Bees) I have determined to be too expensive for him as he is far more likely to lose masks than mini ever has been; the ones recommended by a recent article (Evolve Together) are currently out of stock.
“We are here, still?”
I was, in fact, angry for a minute, outraged by the complications and protractedness of this situation. I have tried where possible to take it all on the chin but my God. There are moments like these, where you pop your head up over the precipice and take stock of how long we have lived like this, and the effort knocks the wind right out of you.
“The Office” presents as good medicine, not only because it has always been a comfort, but because it is a reminder that life happens in the narrowest of straits. Keep going — keep swimming — as we say:
+On surviving some tough days of pandemic life: it begins with a prayer.
+On the courage of starting something new.
+How do you start your day?
+More great TV shows — the recs in the comments are fabulous!
+I know many of you have purchased Helly Henson ski jackets for yourself and your littles (get very good reviews, plus well-priced compared to other brands), but did want to mention I’ve also been hearing really good things about Reima’s bibs, snowsuits, other gear. They are nearly sold out for the season (especially in the colors I’d want) but I have signed up for emails with the intent to buy some gear for next year, when we hope to introduce our children to the slopes.
+Meanwhile, had to mention that H&M has some rain pants (also come in a great pink color) and snow bibs that look a LOT like the Polarn O. Pyrets I have purchased my children for years. Of course, I doubt they will have the same quality as P.O.P. but in case you’re looking for an inexpensive pair to tide you through the season or that will only be used sparingly, I LOVE the style! (Have also heard good things about the quality of this $30 pair from a few moms.) The rain pants in particular are interesting to me if your children walk to school. I used to dress mini in her snowbibs if it was rainy or slushy in the winter because we walked and took the subway every single morning and afternoon and it was freezing and disgusting! At the end of our tenure in Manhattan, I remember telling Mr. Magpie I needed to buy her rain pants for rainy warmer weather days because it was always SO gross to show up sopping wet at school. There’s only so much an umbrella can do for a toddler…
+Speaking of umbrellas, I am in the market for one for micro at the moment. Umbrellas are SUCH a good gift for a child his age. They LOVE them. I love these color-changing ones from Flock and Ross — this space one is fun. Also love this robot one!
+Cutest mini dress.
+I bought Mr. Magpie a few things from Alo to support his new cycling regimen (including these shirts and these shorts), and just noticed that some of the tees I bought him are currently on sale here.
+I also bought him one of these sports water bottles so he wouldn’t have to screw off the top of his while cycling (his old one was a screw top). The one I picked is, according to the Wirecutter, the best on the market.
+Cute personalized mask chain for a little.
+This sweatshirt comes in such great colors. Love the neck.
+If lucky, you can snag one of the last pairs of these adorable Roller Rabbit jammies on sale for $31 (almost 50% off).
+I have a set of these that I have reused countless times at parties, NYE, etc. They’re so fun to just spray across a table for a little texture and sparkle, or to bunch together in a little bouquet next to candles, or whatever.
+This market cart for children is SO cute. Imagine setting up a birthday party situation with this (serve up little treats on top, goodie bags, etc) and then they can play with it in a play room after.
+This sculpted sweater is so chic. Looks very Khaite, but a fraction of the price.