Thursday, December 18, 2014

Northern Exposure; It's the fling itself

On paper, my last semester at N.C. State was a failure. Ultimately it left me on the street, back in Maryland, getting in shape with designs of going into the Army and jumping out of planes. It got me back to running. Made me change my life's direction. That is the good.

Not a lot of time was spent in classrooms. But I think I learned a lot that fall. The curriculum was organic, unstructured, self-guided. It included Jerry Garcia and David Grisman. It included chess and whiskey. It included Whitman and Emerson. It included Paul Newman and Robert Redford; Charlie Chaplan and Robert Downey Jr.; daily episodes of Northern Exposure reruns; and deep discussions with a good friend, Lindsay Loflin, who was the only other English Literature (and in his case film) student that I knew well at a textiles and engineering school.

Northern Exposure is my favorite TV series of all time. It was made and aired within the parameters of prime time network television, before HBO changed the TV series rules forever (for the better) with shows such as The Wire, Sopranos, Game of Thrones, etc. Point being Northern Exposure had to play by the network rules. Let's be honest, Maggie O'Connell (Janine Turner) could have been a fun character to have playing by HBO/Showtime standards :)

For me, the series is full of life lessons, philosophy, humor, etc. It is a study on how life sometimes goes in directions you had no idea were coming, not directions you necessarily would want, but directions you need to get where you are going. Dr. Joel Fleischman (Rob Morrow) is a Jewish physician from NYC whose medical school at Columbia was financed by the state of Alaska. He is a city cat, but winds up in Cicely, Alaska, as part of a contract to repay/pay back the state for his education. It's in the middle of nowhere, he hates it, is a salmon out of water, but starts to change. The place and people teach him, even when he doesn't want them to or expect it. We get what we need, and what needs us.

Alaskan/Indian Ed Chigliak (Darren E. Burrows), film critic and aspiring director is a brilliantly conceived, quirky character. Adam Arkin's "Adam," the paranoid recluse who is a gourmet chef and wired into the inner-workings of global counter-intelligence is phenomenal. And Chris Stevens (John Corbett), radio DJ host of "Chris in the Morning" is perhaps my favorite character of all time, possibly in any media. Chris is an air waves philosopher, reading Walt Whitman to his listeners; sharing personal stories, groping life. The piano fling scene and speech is one of the all-time great moments in television. To me that sums up art, philosophy, fun, being eccentric, being different, being alive. YouTube won't let me embed it, but I highly recommend you check it out with the link.

Because it's how I roll, I'll also give you the text of Chris's speech:

I've been here now for some days, groping my way along, trying to realize my vision here. I started concentrating so hard on my vision that I lost sight. I've come to find out that it's not the vision, it's not the vision at all. It's the groping. It's the groping, it's the yearning, it's the moving forward. I was so fixated on that flying cow that when Ed told me Monty Python already painted that picture, I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see all the other possibilities. Anyway, I want to thank Maurice for helping me to let go of that cow. Thank you Maurice for playing Apollo to my Dionysus in art's Cartesian dialectic. And thanks to you, Ed, cause the truth shall set us free! And Maggie, thank you for sharing in the destruction of your house so that today we could have something to fling. I think Kierkegaard said it oh so well, "The self is only that which it's in the process of becoming." Art? Same thing. James Joyce had something to say about it too. "Welcome, Oh Life! I go to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge the smythe of my soul the uncreated conscious of my race." We're here today to fling something that bubbled up from the collective unconsciousness of our community. Ed, you about ready? The thing I learned folks, this is absolutely key: It's not the thing you fling. It's the fling itself. Let's fling something, Cicely!

I am at such a loss for words here. Philosophy, art, existentialism, Monty Python, breaking shit, the collective unconscious, James Joyce, Kierkegaard, catharsis, groping: these are a few of my favorite things.

A couple years ago, I scarfed up seasons one and two of Northern Exposure on DVD. I put it on this morning at 4-ish a.m., with a cup of coffee and began the series again from the pilot episode. There is so much there. It inspires me, makes me laugh, makes me think. And though it is a TV show about a place that doesn't really exist, it rekindles my urge to go stand in Alaska, to hike there, to trail run there, to stay in a cabin, to drink beer in a tavern, to imbibe the spirit of the place.

It's the groping. It's the fling itself. Let's fling something!

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