my broken brain

What Is Aaron Sorkin Even Talking About?

Photo: NOAM GALAI/Getty Images

On Monday, the New York Times ran an extensive interview with Aaron Sorkin, which reads like a crumpled road map through the conception of an Aaron Sorkin story, one where Good Liberals who are also anti-heroes wrestle with the soul of America and win. But the leaking gas station of verbal precocity I lingered at longest was definitely the moment where Sorkin whips out a metaphor in which he compares this monumental process to carrying water in your hands until it turns into Champagne. The entire quote goes as follows:

“You start with a feeling about an interesting workplace, whether it’s a cable newsroom or the White House. Getting that feeling, that idea, from your head to the page to the screen is like trying to walk from here to there with water in your hands. By the time you get to there, there’s not going to be much water left. But every once in a while, if you collaborate with great people, not only do you get from here to there with a lot of that water left, it turns into champagne by the time you’ve done it.”

Obviously this in no way reflects my experience of the writing process, which I’d describe as “typing for hours without water breaks.” But what I really want to understand is what this metaphor could possibly refer to. Carrying water in your open palms, only to have it transformed, as though by some sort of Jesus figure, into bubbly wine? Which I guess you’d then … drink? Out of your own hands? In celebration of what you’ve created?

Or perhaps it’s some kind of meta-metaphor, where the grapes are the water and the water is the raw moral power of Sorkin’s mind. The hands are the wine barrels but the wine barrels are also hands, typing out Sorkin’s ideas so they can be sent as emails to other creatives for collaborative purposes. Keep in mind that these are faulty wine barrels, prone to leaks, like hands that need to hold water for a long time.

The West Wing did not come from a particular region of France where they grow the mind grapes that made President Bartlet so good at making decisions, but the metaphor doesn’t have to be perfect. Sorkin’s fermentation process is local, organic, and exactly what my dad likes to discuss as dinner is being served. If all goes to plan, it will yield a critically acclaimed Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Cheers.

What Is Aaron Sorkin Even Talking About?