J. Awkward Prufrock Goes Back to School

Well, the good news is I’m 1/10 of the way through my master’s program! Gotta take what I can get.

But for the other 9/10, you can probably expect less frequent blog posts. I’m aiming for once a month. Turns out grad school is a lot of work. Who knew?

It’s weird to go back to school after a five-year hiatus. When I was in undergrad, I had all this energy, fueled by my starry-eyed dreams and desire to make memories. I didn’t only pull all-nighters to get work done; I pulled all-nighters just because. What?! And then I could simply brush my teeth, go to class, and be fine. Did I do the reading for class that day? Hell no! Who does the reading for class?

You know what you have to do in grad school? The reading for class. The professors acknowledge doing all of the reading is impossible, yet expected. How does that make any sense? Guys, I’m so tired.

Having been 27-years-old for nearly a week now, I can say…it’s an awful lot like being 26: if I don’t get at least 7 hours of sleep and eat some vegetables, I turn into the garbage that Oscar the Grouch sat on. A few people in my program are straight out of undergrad, and I look at the emails they send out at 1am and think, I was like you once. Ah, youth. I wonder where you disappeared to. Probably somewhere in all that time I was wishing it was the weekend. I accidentally made my life go 5 times faster.

I don’t want to complain too much. Philly is wonderful. Living with Marc is wonderful. The campus is wonderful. All of my classes are wonderful…and interesting and provocative and thoughtful…I think. I do take comfort in the fact that everyone around me looks just as confused as I feel. We’re all just trying to make it to May, merely cloaking ourselves in the scent of intellectualism (by Calvin Klein).

But the academics, I can handle. It’s tough, but I can (well…we’ll see what I say when I get my first paper back). What I’ve been the most worried about is making friends. It’s been a long time since I made a new friend. I’m a bit out of practice. And it’s so much easier when you live on campus and know you’re going to be spending the next four years with these people. This is a nine-month program and I live 30 minutes away and I don’t like to do things: all of these factors may work against me.

In these trying times, I find myself so much more aware of the things I say. Guys, that’s extremely aware. That’s beyond hyper-aware. That is a degree of awareness theoretical physicists haven’t dreamt of. Lately, after I say anything to anybody, I immediately say to myself, Everyone hates you now. Just last night, I found a potential friend in the ladies’ room. She was exiting while I was entering. Her look said that she was really chill, but not so chill that it made her superior. She had that friendly smell; of potato chips and freshly-soaped hands.

She looked at me and said, “Oh my God, I had to go to the bathroom so bad, but the professor wouldn’t stop talking.” She was paving the road for a friendship, slowly, with a small smile and open eyes.

I responded, “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.” She looked taken aback, hurt; she giggled unsurely, and darted out of the bathroom. And it dawned on me that, while my line was supposed to establish the common ground on which kinship wallows, she may have interpreted it as my telling her that her reaching out to me was preventing me from my own peeing. Everyone hates you now. 

My other friendship attempt happened in the university bookstore, where arguably the best friendships can happen. Books are sacred like that. I was at a table full of organizer journals, thinking about possibly buying one but then realizing that would prevent me from being able to tell myself that I don’t get anything done because I’m disorganized, when a girl walked over to browse. She clearly had no fear of organization and I thought maybe she could be the kind of person who would push me to be better throughout my master’s journey.

So I turned to her and cleverly said, “In the market for an organizer?”

She laughed and nodded, which I took as an affirmation that I totally should keep this act of an organizer salesperson going.

“Well you got your big ones, you small ones, your sparkly ones, your motivational sayings, animals doing animal things. Which do you find most appealing?”

At this point, I could tell that I had made it awkward. She looked confused. But for some reason, I thought that stopping at that point would make it more awkward, so I kept rambling on about the sales handles of various organizers until she walked off with one. I feel kind of bad. I’m not sure if it was the one she wanted or if she just wanted to get away from the weird girl who hangs out at the organizer table trying to make lifelong friends, or at least Facebook “happy birthday” acquaintances. We’ll never know!

It’s so hard, but I think the fact that I’ve only had a handful of disastrous social instances is rather encouraging! And I’m on smile-and-hi level with lots of people. So who knows? Maybe there is hope for this life chapter yet. Onward and awkward.

Now, back to reading about jurisprudential challenges in private university governance. Whatever that is.

Advertisements

J. Awkward Prufrock Learns to Cook!

Prepare for the most awkward cooking blog post ever, as, even though I vaguely planned this post, I did not take any pictures of my experiments. I never remember to take pictures of anything. I encourage you to use your imaginations as you accompany me on this culinary journey. I assure you none of them looked like their Pinterest pictures, if that helps.

Now, I have lived on my own before, but on those occasions, I was either kitchen-less or too afraid to really use the kitchen (because of the filth factor and because I live my life in fear). Also, I’m one of those people who is perfectly content to eat the same thing everyday and also perfectly content if that thing is a bag of frozen vegetables I can pop in the microwave.

But I live with my boyfriend now. And while he is a very smart man who has been feeding himself for years, my waspy ethnic origins are predominantly Irish and Italian, and thus I possess this unflappable stoicism that is only curbed by pictures of cute dogs and a need to feed others. It’s how I show I care. I’m also hoping that if I get good enough at cooking, he will be able to look past all the new neuroses he’s learning about now that we live together (Jillian, why do you keep all the closets open? Because someone might be in them. Obviously).

I love to eat, but I’m pretty health-conscious and like to keep things plant-based when I can. I also don’t really like the idea of handling meat (shut up, Freud). Now, the thing about cooking is it never looks or sounds that hard to do. And it isn’t, really, if you’re striving for edible, but boy does it take time. (Curses upon those Tasty videos that made it look like all cooking only takes 30 seconds!) Especially if you’re incredibly anal and insist on staring at everything the whole time to make sure it’s cooking the way it’s supposed to be…and yet, it still manages to be over or underdone at the end of it all.

So, here are some of the things I’ve made.

Day 1: Vegetarian French Dips
In this recipe, you use mushrooms instead of roast beef. It was pretty good and very easy to make. But this was the day I learned that even recipes labeled as “Healthy” on Pinterest can call for lots of olive oil and salt. Which makes me wonder, is anything really good for us?
Rating: 7.5/10
Recipe here: http://www.connoisseurusveg.com/vegan-french-dip-sandwiches

Day 2: Peach Mango Stir Fry
Ah, the joy of the stir fry! Proof that you can throw a bunch of things into a pan and it will probably come out alright. In this case, it was a bag of peppers and onions, a can of black beans, and peach/mango salsa. Added rice after. Above par, nutritious.
Rating: 8/10
Recipe: Whatever the hell is in your cabinets.

Day 3: Potato Mushroom Concoction
Peeling potatoes sucks.
Rating: 7/10
Recipe here: http://cooktoria.com/recipe/potatoes-with-mushrooms-2/

Day 4: Burgers and Black Bean Salad
I want to know why people think it’s so much better to cook on gas. Not only am I perpetually conscious of breathing when I’m around it, but it gets so hot! So fast! On this day, I thought I would give pan-frying burgers a try since we had some in the freezer and I know my boyfriend enjoys them. Bless his heart for eating these, which somehow managed to be burnt to a crisp on the outside and raw on the inside.
The black bean salad was fine. A bit vinegary. I also boiled him a hot dog. Amen to boiling hot dogs! I will boil hot dogs ‘til somebody stops me! What a low pressure meal.
Rating: 6.5/10
Recipe: Black bean salad consists of 1 can of black beans, peppers, onions, lime, corn, oil, balsamic vinegar, and the spices of your choice.

Day 5: Pasta and Broccoli
I’m not a terribly gifted person but I can usually get pasta right. And the more the kitchen smells like garlic, the harder people think you worked!
Rating: 8/10
Recipe: Pasta and broccoli and stuff.

Day 6: Roasted Cauliflower and Chick Pea Salad
After a few days of hearty eating (weekends are for pizza. It’s in the bible), I thought we could cleanse ourselves with some kale and other vegetables. But roasting vegetables takes a lot of time and the ability to walk away from the oven. I do not have that capability.
The dressing called for tahini, which is hella expensive, so I thought I would improvise by combining every condiment in the fridge: a concoction my boyfriend kindly described as, “a lot of really good flavors that maybe shouldn’t be together.” Womp womp.
Also, why is salad never filling? We broke out the Ben & Jerry’s an hour later!
Rating: 6/10
Recipe here: https://www.budgetbytes.com/2017/02/roasted-cauliflower-salad-lemon-tahini-dressing/

Day 7: Enchilada Orzo Casserole Thingy
Oh, if I could only shake the hands of Mr. Crockpot himself! Seriously, what ingenuity. This was definitely the best of all the attempts so far. And to think, all I did was dump some stuff into a pot in the morning and by 6, we had dinner. The crockpot gets my full endorsement. I will die so crockpots can live.
Rating: 8.5/10
Recipe here: http://damndelicious.net/2014/12/01/slow-cooker-enchilada-orzo/

Does anyone have some easy recipes they want to share with me? Does anyone want to help me get over my fear of cooking meat or my CO woes (I don’t think it’s good to keep testing the detector…)? I would love to hear from you!

My Top 3 Most Awkward First Date Moments

I’m a bit of a perfectionist.

Dating was important to me from a fairly young age, because I thought that being in love would fix all of my problems, from my glaring emotional insecurities to why pants never fit me right. So when the time came around for me to date, I wanted to do it correctly.

The problem was that I was growing up during the dawn of the internet and a golden age of romantic comedies, and while young me hoped this would provide answers, it only created a crowded and ambiguous thought bubble full of questions. Questions that I still have to this very day.

And so, here we are.

1.


From my pre-teen years onward, I always thought it was kind of weird that men were expected to pay for everything on dates, based on what I had observed and read. I understood where the idea came from, but now that we were living in a time in which women earned their own money and forged their own independent paths, it didn’t make sense to me. I also feel horribly uncomfortable whenever anyone does anything for me. If I ever broke my leg, I would still limp my way to the kitchen for a glass of water to avoid inconveniencing anyone.

Of course as an uptight, angry teen, I thought the idea of a woman paying was highly progressive and that my cause would contribute to the betterment of humanity. To the point that I was pretty militant about it. Any guy who offered to pay got a hard no (it, of course, never occurred to me that the money I spent usually came from my father’s wallet since I had no pennies to speak of at the time).

When I was about 19, I was talking to an ex-boyfriend and he casually mentioned that while he supported my viewpoint, if someone wants to treat you, sometimes it’s polite to just let them treat you. So when another guy pulled up to my house for our first date, saying he was going to treat me to miniature golf, I decided I was going to try and be treated. What could be so bad about a treat?

When we arrived at the mini golf course, I started to panic. The idea of letting him pay made me feel so…dependent, powerless, weak. I was coming around to understanding that’s not always how the treat-er sees it, but the helplessness that started to take over my body was uncomfortable and making me feel sick. So when he was about to walk over to pay for our mini golf outing, I knew it was going to happen.

But that didn’t mean I had to see it happen.

“I…uh….” I stammered.

“You okay?”

“Yeah, all good, I just uh…” Think, Jillian, think! What is a good excuse? His beautiful face is staring, waiting.

“I’m just…gonna stand over here.” Yes, that makes sense.

“What?”

“I’m just gonna stand over here for a minute.”

“Do you need me to…stay with you?”

“No! No…that’s alright. You go over there. I’m just gonna stay here.”

He raised one eyebrow at me, but he did listen. And he did date me for a little while after this. Bless him.

I then proceeded to hide behind the bathroom building and let the transaction happen at a distance.

It occurs to me all these years later that I could have just said I had to go to the bathroom. That’s probably a more normal thing to do, right? Oh, well.

2.


Because I, like many, was a walking bucket of contradictions (still am, just different contradictions), even though I felt I was pursuing a great feminist plight financially, I also still really wanted boys to like me. This combined with a total lack of social and self-awareness at the time really made some weird science happen.

I used to be a lot more preoccupied with physical appearance than I am now. I think being healthy and feeling your best is important, but back in my teenage years, my warped brain was downright obsessed with keeping my weight low and making sure nobody knew that I ate.

Which proved tough. Because I can eat, friends. Like, really eat. I have no sense of fullness. Only a sense of sickness and self-loathing.

But I thought that showing off this talent would be unattractive to the opposite sex. This started to be a sort of problem when I entered the “getting asked to dinner” phase.

Once for a first date, a guy took me to a nice pub with a small menu, mostly consisting of burgers, wings, and other messy foods that I could chew loudly and get all over myself as I licked the plate clean. Also, he had already said he insisted on paying, and if I was going to allow that, you could bet your arse I was going to get something real cheap. I perused the menu for something that would make me seem dainty and low-maintenance (even though I am neither). I settled on a stuffed mushroom appetizer, knowing how impressed he’d be by my teensy appetite.

“Are you sure that’s what you want for your meal?” The waiter asked. “It’s kind of small.”

“Oh, yes, that sounds perfect,” I responded as my stomach growled at me.

“You girls always eat like birds,” my date said through a small smile (see! It wasn’t just me! We all had them fooled).

Turns out “kind of small” meant one mushroom, stuffed with breadcrumbs and cheese, in the middle of a white plate.

Now I didn’t want to eat too quickly and appear gluttonous or make him feel like he had to eat his actual, normal meal quickly, so I decided to cut the mushroom into crumb-size pieces, fit for the delicate birdie-ness I was emanating, and ate them at a very slow, calculated pace. I think I actually finished after he did.

Then I went home and made myself nachos and he never called me again.

3.


This story, while awkward, is also about effective techniques one can adopt in the face of douchery. It is about survival.

I went on a first date and it was going well. Pretty low-pressure stuff: fruit smoothies, a walk around town. He seemed nice.

Of course it turned out, for this man, a date that’s going well means he’s totes gonna get laid after.

So, as we pulled into my driveway, I leaned in to give him a tame kiss on the lips, and he took my face in his hands and forced my mouth open with his tongue. I pulled myself away because, ew, gross.

“What are you doing?”

“You, hopefully,” he responded with a smugness so potent, I wanted to throw acid on it.

He started leaning in again. His face was mere centimeters from mine.

“I’M OVULATING!”

“What?”

Then I jumped out of the car and ran.

I Put the Ports in Sports

My dear friend Andrew requested I take a stab at writing about sports.

I’m here to tell you I know nothing about them!

I think football has been explained to me at least 4 times now. In one ear and out the other. I’ve tried to learn because movies have taught me that if you’re not the manic pixie dream girl who somehow learned everything about life by dancing in the rain, then you’re the girl who swears a lot and loves whiskey and football and the guy realizes he’s been in love with you the whole time in act 3. But as much as I love whiskey, I can’t get behind football. Or soccer. Or golf. Or tennis. To me, there’s just nothing to care about. No protagonist to follow, no interesting motives to study. Two teams are there to win, and even if I wanted one team to win more than another team, I can’t get mad at the other team for doing what they’re supposed to do. I just can’t.

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve met many people who, upon seeing me, automatically assumed I was athletic. I am not athletic. I like to exercise. And by “like,” I mean need a vice to combat my anxiety that is not drugs or alcohol. I am terrible at any form of movement that requires speed, agility, or coordination. The only form of movement I’m good at is the kind that’s objective is to keep moving…slowly. I would die immediately in the zombie apocalypse.

I had a note to get out of most activities in gym class (thanks to asthma and that time in kindergarten when we had to run laps and I started to vomit. However, like the little rule follower I was, I knew I was supposed to be running, not vomiting. So I kept running…and kept vomiting. All over that that wooden gym floor, my little gags echoing off the reverberant walls). If I didn’t have a note, I would wait on the line to play and then move to the back of the line every time I got to the front. If it was a team activity and I had no note, I would half-heartedly trot around the field with my hands out in front of me like I was ready to catch something (hopefully a taco).

One time I tried to turn basketball into dancing basketball, twirling away with the ball in my hand. The gym teacher yelled at me and told me there was no dancing in basketball. Which brings me to…

I did go through a phase where I really liked resident-funny-lady-of-the-time Rosie O’Donnell and from that sprung a totally healthy obsession with a little movie called A League of Their Own.

Even at age 9, I knew it was an important movie. Despite my undeveloped understanding of the true meanings and implications of the movie, I knew I felt inspired. I wanted to be just like those women.  And the most logical place I could think to start was with baseball.

I quickly learned that girls don’t play baseball. They play softball. Girls haven’t played baseball since the events of A League of Their Own. Why this is so, I cannot say. Either way, I signed up for the local (girls’) softball league.

I remember being incredibly nervous for my first practice. I’d never really played softball before. I’d never really tried to play a sport before. I had no idea what was in store.

The first thing I discovered was that I was extremely afraid of the ball.

It was huge and hard and flying at my face (no, she didn’t say that. Stop it). Why would I put myself in danger just to get someone else “out”? That seemed unnecessary and bad for their self-esteem. And so I would do my best to get as far from the ball as possible. This was, surprisingly, a point of contention with my teammates.

You’d think I could have made up for it by being good at hitting the ball. I was okay at this, because it was an action that got the ball away from my face. Plus, I got to wear that fetching head gear. But, as you may recall, speed is not a gift I was granted. It didn’t matter if I hit the ball to the corner of the field. It wouldn’t have mattered if I’d hit it out into the parking lot. Someone would have gone to collect it, gotten a smoothie, and then walked it over to first base before I even got there.

Maybe I had PTSD from all the vomit-running I did when I was younger, but I also seemed to be a bit afraid of running. I essentially did a brisk walk to the bases. As a walk, it was pretty speedy, but my knees didn’t want to shift into the running mode. They just locked.

For some reason, even though it made me miserable, I insisted on playing softball for multiple seasons. When I hit age 11, I ended up in “Major Little League,” which essentially meant I spent a lot of time on the bench. Maybe that’s why I stayed on. It was a nice block of time to sit and read a book a few times a week.

So I suppose, one could say I, Jillian Ports, put the “Ports” in “Sports”…because the integral “s” is still missing.

Everything I Needed to Know About Life, I Learned from Nick at Nite

If there has been one thing I could count on in my life, it’s my ability to sit and watch TV for hours. I binge-watched before it was cool. I am the binge-watch hipster. I remember my small group of friends in high school used to brag about how little TV they watched, and I would just sit there quietly. The absolute worst punishment I could get as a kid was having TV taken away. I would write my parents long, pleading notes as to why whatever wrong I committed did not deserve such retribution. I was a good kid! TV was my friend! All summer vacation meant to me was more time to watch TV.

I had some kid-friendly favorites, like Hey Arnold! And the TGIF lineup, but by far I was most drawn to the hits of the 70s and earlier. I worshipped Nick at Nite. I lived for the Block Party Summer where they would marathon my favorites all the way through the night. I’m pretty sure my 20-year battle with insomnia was sparked by staying up until 4am watching Happy Days.

I’ve never understood the stigma that TV turns your brain to mush. To me, it’s just as credible a form of storytelling as anything else (though I have my pretentious opinions about reality TV, as any true hypocrite would). I’ve turned to TV to learn some of my most important life lessons. Sometimes, it worked. I’ve got some pretty snappy comebacks up my sleeves.

And sometimes, it didn’t.

As Plato says in The Republic, art has a place in society provided one has the antidote: we need the capacity to understand that art is a reflection of reality, but sometimes those realities are hidden underneath layers. I was not old enough to use a peeler and so I took sitcoms at face value. And so I thought that life was pretty much a series of shenanigans until someone got married or had a baby. Whether or not the shenanigans continued after that remained to be seen.

Because I was never good at making friends, being terrified of people and all, I would often use what I saw on TV as a crutch, using lines that I’d heard to make conversation and physical habits I’d learned from said shenanigans.

For example, there is an episode of I Love Lucy where Lucy goes to charm school. The charm school instructor tells Lucy that charming women swing their hips while they walk. Comedy ensued when Lucy, in response, very exaggeratedly swung her hips to their limits, causing her to lose her balance. Now I inferred that Lucy was doing it wrong, based on the laugh track, but what I picked up on was the “charming women swing their hips” point. As 8-year-old me understood it, charming people, in the very least, often got to hang out with princesses. Knowing a princess would no doubt shower me with friends and admiration, so I decided from that point forward, I was going to swing my hips when I walked.

The next day I swung my hips with every step I took. It didn’t seem to change anything, much to my disappointment. But when my class was all lined up to go to gym, the cutest boy was standing near me, and so I started swinging my hips even larger, as Lucy had done (because the reality within the comedy was Lucy’s lack of understanding how much to swing her hips but how was I supposed to know?!). The boy just looked at me and said, “Why are you walking funny?” And so my charming dreams where shattered.

Then I thought, maybe I was simply not a Lucy. Lucy was a bit older, after all. Maybe I was a Jan Brady. Jan and I had a lot in common. We were both the middle child and…actually, the similarities end there. But that was enough to make me test the Jan walk. Jan Brady had the opposite walk of Lucy. Jan kept most of her joints perfectly straight and swung her hair instead. I showed off this new groove to the boy. He responded, “Seriously, is there something wrong?”

The problem is really that I’ve never recovered from these two walks. I’ve had many people try to teach me to walk like a human but ultimately it just ends up looking like a duck, balancing big, swinging hips on top of locked knees. Just call me Lucy Brady.

This went on and on. I loved The Nanny and thought talking like Fran Drescher would make me seem streetwise and New York-witty. Nothing is cooler than the Fonz. How about buying a pleather jacket from the Gap and dropping my “ers”? Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to make a juke box go with my first, but I have gotten double prizes from a vending machine with my hips. Must be all the swinging.

I thought twitching my nose like Samantha Stevens would be a neat party trick. I probably looked like I was about to sneeze through most of the 90s. I quoted Archie Bunker when I was upset with someone. That never went over well with my parents.

I sat up at night, watching TV, and wished life was a sitcom, where I had my own laugh track and the villains got a pie to the face at the end of the episode. Or even a drama, where my woes were a tear-jerking focal point for everyone around me.

While I never succeeded in becoming a character, this did inspire my love for creating characters and for generally choosing to see the funny side of life. And so I am ever thankful to TV, especially Nick at Nite, without whom I may have been spared a lot of embarrassment in my attempts to be somebody else, but I wouldn’t have the passions or sense of humor I have today.

Now, if you’ll pardon me, it’s Spring Break and there’s a Little House marathon on so…

High Anxiety

For further confirmation of the fact that I am, indeed, an anxious person, please refer to any previous entry on this here blog. Thank you.

I’ve been seeing posts and articles all over the internet about anxiety, and I’m loving that anxiety is becoming a part of the conversational canon. Fellow anxious people are probably feeling less alone, and since anxious people are often anxious about whether or not they are alone in their anxiety, this is one thing to cross off the list.

Anxiety is a very natural thing. Anxiety is the reason your bloodlines are still running. The cavemen who didn’t worry about getting eaten were probably the ones who got eaten first. But now that we have evolved and we no longer have to worry about getting eaten (most of the time), our trusty human brains have found a myriad of other things to worry about, some of them reasonable, some of them not so much.

If I write about my own more reasonable anxieties, it will sadden and frighten me, so here are some of my not-so-much-es:

Most of you, I’m sure, are familiar with the Stop! Don’t Touch Me There videos that were shown to kids across the country every year, until we were old enough for the puberty video and then I guess they figured we had enough to worry about. The Stop! Don’t Touch Me There series was educational storytelling in its prime, alerting children of stranger danger and of the proper course of action if an adult touches you inappropriately.

I’ve always been a rule follower. My parents told me to stay away from fire, and so I did. A cop told my 5th grade class not to do drugs, and so I didn’t. I got no rise out of questioning authority and wasn’t overly interested in anything other than reading books and being left alone. So when I was told not to talk to strangers, well, I really took it seriously.

The problem was that the Stop! Don’t Touch Me There videos were not merely about stranger safety. They also highlighted how anyone in your life could hurt you. And thus I entered that incredibly awkward stage of youth where one assumes every adult one meets is a pedophile.

I wish I was kidding.

Suddenly, being left anywhere without one of my parents would put me in the full-on throes of a panic attack. One time, when I was 10, my friend’s mom left us in her minivan with the door cracked open (had I truly known about hot car deaths yet, this situation could have been way more complicated). I was extremely uncomfortable being left so accessible, so vulnerable to all the malicious, potential pedophiles that were nearby, but I was trying not to show it because, even at 10-years-old, a part of me knew I was crazy.

But then this man was coming toward us. He looked quite ordinary, but the videos taught me that didn’t mean shit. I screamed bloody murder as I slammed the door of the minivan shut. Of course, the man simply got into the car next to the one I was in and drove off on his merry way, but there is no way to prove that he didn’t have other malicious intentions and that my screams hadn’t saved us. My friend, of course, had never thought about these possibilities before. I wonder how she’s doing.

Incase you were wondering, yes, I am aware that this is the root of all of my trust issues and why I approach every relationship in my life with a grain of skepticism. Yes, I’m aware of that.

Later in life, I went to gym class one day. We had a substitute teacher who had a very specific style: aka scare the pleasant thoughts away forever. His lectures featured a broad range of topics, from carbon monoxide poisoning to your imminent death.

But there was one that had a particularly scarring effect on me. After all, I could always have electric appliances and keep the windows cracked. This lecture started with, “People are going back to their hotel rooms…and DYING!” And as he proceeded to terrify us with information about Deep Vein Thrombosis, the silent killer, I knew I had another Stop! Don’t Touch Me There crisis on my hands.

Enter the phase of my life when I was afraid to sit still.

I sat in the backs of movie theatres so I could pace, I would purposely shake my legs and feet to ensure blood was flowing. It got to the point where a boyfriend would have to turn to me after sitting for along while and say, “You don’t have a blood clot.” And I knew I didn’t…right? I knew that. I didn’t check myself into the hospital once because I was convinced I had one. No, that wasn’t me.

I can now confidently say I have sat on a 7-hour flight and only got up once. This was mostly due to the fact that I had a window seat and my fear of inconveniencing anyone for the sake of my anxiety trumps my actual anxieties these days…but still, what a triumph!

Can I confidently say that I can walk down the street, unafraid of getting touched or kidnapped by some dude? Well, unfortunately, I am a woman.

I think that a lot of this behavior is behind me, actually. While I still have anxiety about tons of things, I can combat it with rationality. Of course, last week, my boyfriend said we should go to Harry Potter World. And instead of my immediate thought being, “Yes! Yes! Whee! Squee!” My first thought was, “We can’t go to Orlando. We will be mauled by alligators.” And then I stayed up all night thinking about being mauled by alligators.

But the important thing is I will still go to Orlando, because it’s freaking Harry Potter World! I will just panic a little bit every time I see an alligator, or think about an alligator, or walk anywhere because snakes, or swim anywhere because eels, or fly anywhere because terrorists. I will still go, friends, and that is 50 points for Gryffindor!

Being THAT Person

Here’s the thing about archetypes: they spring from truth.

I’m not particularly good at a lot of things. I’m not athletic, I’m not musical, I’m not artistic, and I have no charisma. These are the realities of life and I’m okay with it.

But when you’re young and you’re desperately searching for your place and purpose within the world, as if those things exist so simply, when you’re walking around blindfolded and swinging a stick around, looking for a piñata filled with passion, chances are you’re just gonna focus on the first thing you hit.

And my first hit was the English language.

I’m a nerd. That much is certain. But I’m not the cool kind of nerd (i.e. the ones who grow up to make a lot of money, and it turns out, the whole time, if you’d just taken off their glasses, you would’ve realized they were good-looking the whole time). I’m a word nerd. A grammar nerd. I have fiercely strong opinions about hyphens, apostrophes, and em dashes—opinions that could be summed up with the statement, “They should be used properly.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all about individual creative style. Huck Finn is my favorite book, and you can’t act like there aren’t any conventional violations in that text. Style serves a grand storytelling purpose and for that reason, it deserves utmost respect.

It took a very long time for me to get used to colloquial speech. I guess I grew up thinking that people wanted to be corrected: that my interrupting them mid-sentence to say, “You mean Mary and I,” was extremely helpful and educational, and they would walk away thinking, Not only is Jillian a considerate and charitable friend, she is also so polished and intelligent. Mary and I. Who knew?

I did realize, embarrassingly late, that they were more likely thinking, Bitch.

I remember the first time it occurred to me that I might be a bit uptight. It occurred to me because I went to a party and this person I kind of knew said, “I’m surprised to see you at a party. You usually seem pretty uptight.” Then he walked away and left me to reflect.

And the conclusion I came to was that I didn’t want to be THAT person. The person who, in the year 2008, every teenage boy came up to and said, “Why so serious?” (RIP Heath Ledger). The person who couldn’t physically handle ending a sentence with a preposition. So I set out to make some changes. As history has pointed out, you can be happy or you can be right.

It’s amazing how much actually working in the book business helped with this goal. It made me realize that while people can do their very best with quality control, no one is infallible. A book contains a lot of words and thus a lot of ways to screw them up. And while I thought I knew a lot about this language we call English, I really was ridiculously ignorant.

Then, one day, one of my interns told me she was going to write a letter to a publishing company about a typo she found in one of their books (an irrelevant typo. Not an unfortunately funny, context-changing one like public policy vs. pubic policy). My response?

“C’mon. Don’t be THAT person.”

While calling someone out for being the exact THAT person I used to be could be construed as hypocritical and bitchy, I saw this as more of an important transformative moment. Like God was moving me into the “Maybe” pile.

Here’s the thing about old habits: they run deep.

While I can’t recall a time I have outright corrected anybody in the recent past, I can say that I have made it clear that I value pristine written communication in the workplace. At work the other day, one of my colleagues got a load of my Interview Dos and Don’ts board.

She said, “Can you fix this board? ‘Dos’ should be apostrophized.”

I said, “No, I don’t believe it should be. An apostrophe indicates possession or omission of a letter. In this case, ‘Dos’ is plural, not possessive.”

“Well, thank you for the grammar lesson,” she deadpanned.

When I went home later that night, my father asked me about my work day.

“Oh, you know, just had a chat with my coworker about proper apostrophe usage.”

My brother overheard and rolled his eyes.

“Congratulations, Jill. You’re THAT person.”