You’re not Andy Bernard

Andy Bernard
Andrew Bernard, the “nard dog,” a character from The Office, a comedy series on NBC

“How did I just abandon my dreams so quickly? It’s because I had a fallback. That’s the problem. When you have fallbacks, it’s just easy to give up. When Cortez landed in Mexico, only way he got his men to defeat the Aztecs was by burning all of his own boats. So they could never return home. Huge dick move, but very effective. I need to be that same kind of dick to myself.”

“I wish there was a way to know you’re in ‘the good old days’, before you’ve actually left them. Someone should write a song about that.”

Andy Bernard, the “Nard Dog”

So Dahlia and I have been spending evenings of late binge-watching The Office. We’re in the last season now. The other night, while we were watching I had an epiphany of sorts.

I don’t remember the exact moment now—it had to do with Andy Bernard (played by Ed Helms) and his sudden departure from the Scranton branch of Dunder Mifflin. Andy hops on a boat and sails to Barbados or Turks and Caicos or whenever the heck it was he was going. He leaves his girlfriend behind. He leaves his career behind and sets sail, on a whim—to find himself.

Something about the “Nard Dog.”  I don’t think it was anything he did, but something about who he revealed himself to be in that last season. There was a spark of recognition for me—a  faint glow, like a distant star winking in and out of existence.

So I asked Dahlia a question. The following conversation ensued:

I think she was kidding, maybe.

Me: Why do I get the sense, watching this, that I’m Andy? You think I’m Andy?

Silence from Dahlia. I’m looking at her expectantly. We’re in bed. She’s lounged out right next to me, her ears inches from my lips, her eyes glued to the screen. Seconds pass by. She does this sometimes.

Me: You’re silence says it all.

Dahlia: What are you even talking about?

Me: I just asked a question. You didn’t answer.

Dahlia: What was the question again?

Me: Come on, really? You think I’m Andy Bernard.

Another long pause.

Dahlia: You’re not Andy.

Me: I sense there’s a “but” in there somewhere.

Dahlia: The secret to a happy marriage is not completing all your sentences.

She also knew me, knew I was grasping at something I couldn’t quite get a handle on. The question, in a sense, was an invitation to hash it all out. Dahlia had been subpoenaed for this type of query many times before, knew that it could take a while, knew that it would, in all probability, produce very little actual insight—so she wisely and deftly opted out. I can’t blame her.

So how am I like Andy Bernard? Now that I’ve had some time to think about it:

Andy was impulsive, completely irresponsible, selfish, stupid even, getting on that boat. Sometimes (often) I feel that way. Here I am, an able-bodied, relatively high-functioning human, skilled in a credible profession, of (debatably) sound mind, and what am I doing with my days? Frittering away at the keyword. Fingers tap, tap, tapping, and staring—too often, for far too long—into nothing, trying to freeze-frame a thought, an image, an idea, reducing whatever it is to words, enough words to produce something resembling a book.

Because I’m a writer, or, at least, that’s what I tell myself. In defiance of sound judgment and all logic, it’s the thing I feel must do. But it is selfish and impractical, and completely ridiculous. I’m all too aware what it looks like. “Some goddamn 21st century Don Quixote, chasing windmills”—what one of my characters would say.

I had a good thing going, after all, being a [redacted]. It was sensible. I was surprisingly good at it. It paid the bills. It was safe. No one would ever say, “What the hell’s this guy doing?” There are days now where I imagine that’s what everybody thinks. It’s explicitly what my father thinks. It’s what I sometimes think.

Andy turned out to be, against all odds, a decent manager at Dunder Mifflin in the 8th season. He’d earned the respect of his colleagues, and he’d won back the woman he loved. Everything was going great for Andy Berhard. And then he set off on this foolish, three-month odyssey. Is that what I’m in the midst of?

But you get the sense that Andy never wanted to hock paper for a living, and it wasn’t his life’s ambition to be an office manager.

It’s seems clear to me what he really wanted (and no, I don’t think it was working admissions at Cornell). Music was his passion. It flowed through him. Every chance he had, he was singing, playing an instrument, composing music. It was how he expressed himself. A career in music though, like a career in writing, seems daunting, impractical—dare I say it, quixotic. So Andy did what many of us creative-types do: He demoted his passion to hobby and settled for something that comes with a steady paycheck and a stamp of approval from the herd.

But I don’t think any of this is what Dahlia meant in evading my question. Nor was it what I was asking. I know she supports me writing. I wouldn’t do it otherwise. I think what I recognized in that moment was Andy’s penchant for self-inflicted wounds. He is, by far and away, his biggest enemy. He routinely defeats himself. Needlessly, hopelessly, he undermines his success. You can see it from a distant shore, if you’re anybody other than Andy Bernard. This is what I recognized in that moment. It’s what Dahlia didn’t care to discuss. We’ve already had that conversation many times before.

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