J. Awkward Prufrock and the Journey to Hogwarts

Harry Potter turned 20 this week! My how time flies. I’ll admit sometimes, even to this day, after school lets out for the summer, I find myself confused about why I still have to get up early and where my class schedule is.

Summer always fills me with that tremendous Harry Potter feeling, you know? That feeling of total wonder and excitement. I always make sure to re-read at least one of the books every summer, starting on July 31st: the date I spent every year, from ages 11-17, staring with unblinking alertness at the sky, waiting for my Hogwarts letter to come.

I was skeptical of Harry Potter at first. Even at age 7, I always found myself distrusting the majority. But I picked up the first book when I was around 10 or so, and after that, I totally understood the hype. Like millions of other kids, those books were my childhood.

However, there is one thing about the Harry Potter books that I simply cannot get behind. And that is the house system.

So, when students get to Hogwarts at age 11, they are sorted into four “houses” based on core personality traits.

To review:
You might belong in Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart,
their daring nerve and chivalry set Gryffindor apart.

You might belong in Hufflepuff, where they are just and loyal,
those patient Hufflepuffs are true and unafraid of toil.

Or yet in wise, old Ravenclaw, if you’ve a ready mind,
where those of wit and learning will always find their kind.

Or perhaps in Slytherin, you’ll make your real friends.
Those cunning folks use any means to achieve their ends.

(Yes, I did type that from memory. And later today, I’ll have no idea where I put my car keys.)

You take classes with your house, you dorm with your house, you eat meals with your house, you sit with them at Quidditch games. Your house is your family. And you are pitted against other houses with a points system that, granted, promotes good study habits and behavior, but also promotes rivalry against those who are unlike you.

The history of this is supposedly the four Hogwarts founders couldn’t decide which types of students they would admit, so they decided they would take them all. But while they were there, they would ensure students would stick to their own kind.

How irresponsible!

So these students are supposed to spend some of their most formative years only hanging out with people who are like them? That seems like a really good way to stunt their brain growth. They say there wasn’t a witch or wizard who went bad who wasn’t in Slytherin. Gee! I wonder why! That’s never happened when you’ve put a bunch of capitalists in one room. With sorting comes judgment, marginalizing, fascism. Maybe that’s why Voldemort went bad. Because he never had to talk to a Hufflepuff.

Also, who’s to say a Gryffindor at age 11 is still going to be a Gryffindor at age 17? When I first took the Pottermore test at age 21, I was sorted into Gryffindor. I took it again about a year ago when I made a new account, and I was sorted into Hufflepuff. But I’m fundamentally a bookish introvert. Does that make me a Ravenclaw? I identify with all the houses. Every time someone has asked me about my Hogwarts house, I legitimately do not know the answer. Which can make me feel even more out of place than I already feel.

And I know, I know: people are always going to have their differences. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were hardly the same on many levels. And the hat takes your choice into account and yada yada. A recent Atlantic article just discussed a study being done about how people were more likely to get Pottermore-sorted into the house they wanted to be in. But is that self-awareness, self-aspiration, or a testament to the malleability of the quiz? Quizzes are easily manipulated. The hat, seemingly, not so much.

Plus, what if you get into your house and it’s awful and you don’t get along with your housemates? Are you allowed to transfer houses the way you’d be allowed to transfer roommates at a university?  How are you supposed to bond with a whole group of people based solely on the fact that you’re “brave”? It doesn’t even seem like you’d be able to transfer schools without running into the same issue, as Ilvermorny, for example, uses the same system. Though that could be your standard U.S./British thing.

Maybe it’s best I didn’t go to Hogwarts. This is a lot of social pressure. Imagine those poor wizard kids losing sleep over whether or not they will make it into their family house, forcing them to adopt unnecessary personality traits. Or maybe, with a family like the Weasleys, the hat just throws them into Gryffindor for the sake of not having to think about it too hard. What are the implications of that? What does it do to the system?

J.K. Rowling, I adore you. You are my queen. You gave me the most precious gift I’ve ever been given, and I truly believe my love for Harry Potter has helped define me as a fierce proponent of storytelling. But this system is potentially hazardous to the youth of this fictional wizarding world. You can take that feedback all the way to the bank!

Getting Real

Sometimes, it’s hard to have a sense of humor about yourself. Especially when you’re using humor as a way to gloss over things in your life that stress you out or make you depressed. I’ve been unusually stressed lately, and so, here we are.

The support I’ve gotten from readers of this blog proves that no matter how insecure or out of place one feels, one is not alone in one’s awkward thoughts.

I’m going to use this post to get real with you, to describe what social anxiety feels like at its core, before all the jokes come in to make it more bearable, make you feel normal, if at all possible.

Social anxiety means looking back on your life and all you see is a string of embarrassing attempts at trying to be less lonely.

Social anxiety means saying a simple statement and then completely disengaging from the rest of the conversation because you’re worried that wasn’t the right thing to say.

Social anxiety means not acknowledging someone from your past whom you run into, because you either automatically assume they don’t remember you, or you’re worried that you won’t live up to their (nonexistent) expectations of you, or that they don’t want to talk to you. And then this person is hurt or offended by your actions, thinking you’re mean, that you’re a snob. When really, you’re just following your animal instincts: even dogs growl when they’re afraid.

It means constantly saying no to invitations because you’re afraid of what might happen. It means panicking about the invitations you accept and weighing the chances of getting out of it.

It means laying in your bed and wondering why you’re alone all the time. And it must mean that you’re a horrible, unworthy person and not at all that you never want to do anything.

It means entering any unfamiliar social situation automatically assuming you won’t connect with anyone there. It means longing for connection desperately but being completely jaded by the idea of it.

It means embarking on relationships with a relentless worry that you’re eventually going to be let down, hurt, abandoned. Even if all that person does is love you unconditionally.

It means being really exhausted and exhausting to those who love you. It means being acutely and unnecessarily critical of yourself. It means being afraid to live your life. It means being afraid to be yourself.

And, of course, it means feeling guilty about feeling this way, because relatively speaking, you’re an incredibly privileged person who has nothing but opportunities.

Beyond some of my own cathartic needs, I’m not sure what the purpose of this post is. I guess I’m saying that, if you’ve ever felt this way, I’m sorry. If you’ve ever felt like less of a human because of anxiety, I’m sorry. If you’ve felt alone, sad, and envious in a group of friends, I’m sorry. And to those who haven’t experienced this, try to understand that person who seems timid, insecure, unsure, or even quietly arrogant, rude, snobby. Don’t just listen to words, listen to their lack of eye contact, their crossed arms, their fidgeting. It’s a basic message, it’s an oft repeated message, but we need to be kind to one another.

My Top 5 Most Awkward Halloweens

I had a lovely post all written out for today, perfectly catered to reflect my awkwardness, and then my work computer crashed and I was told the files were not recoverable. So, alas, here we are. It was important to me to get a post out today since I missed last week, so I guess I’ll just have to wing it.

Halloween has always been such a weird time for me. You’d think it would be my favorite holiday, as it combines two of my favorite activities: being overly theatrical and soliciting candy from strangers. But for whatever reason, Halloween always leaves me with a particular, profound sort of emptiness. Maybe it has never lived up to my expectations. Or maybe I just associate it with less than fond memories.

I’m really looking forward to the weekend ahead of me: I’ll spend time with friends I haven’t seen in a while, I’ll get to sleep next to my boyfriend, I am entirely too proud of my costume. But I have no doubt I will still feel weird and moody and uncomfortable and somehow lonely. Because that is what Halloween does to me.

Anyhow, here are some of my awkward Halloween memories to share with you.

The Time I Thought I Turned My Dog into a Pumpkin

The first Halloween I have committed to memory is when I was three years old. I was dressed as a fairy princess and was upset that I wasn’t accomplishing real magic, despite having a magic wand in my possession. My father, bless his heart, convinced me that if I closed my eyes very tightly, I could turn my dog, Brittany, into a pumpkin. While my eyes were shut, my father very swiftly put Brittany into another room and put a pumpkin in her place. I opened my eyes and my jaw dropped to the floor, but my reaction was not what my father was hoping for. I became grossly upset with myself, worried that my dog was gone for good, that she was trapped in a pumpkin and terrified, and that I had used my powers for evil. Of course, my dog did come back, but I retired my wand that day, and a part of me thinks that the reason I’m so obsessed with dogs is my penance for trapping my dog inside a pumpkin. And my punishment is that they usually ignore me, for I need their love way more than they need mine.

The Time I Learned a Lesson About Society

When I was five or so, I really wanted to be Belle for Halloween. She had brown hair, brown eyes, and liked stories, so we were essentially twins. My mom, at the time, told me that all Halloween stores were out of the costume, but I knew the truth when I saw my skinny cousin wearing the costume a few weeks later: they didn’t make the costume in my size. Chubby girls couldn’t be Belle. I will believe in progress when I see a movie with an overweight woman as a romantic lead, and not a single comment is made about her weight. Dear world, promote health, promote happiness, and stop making women feel like shit about themselves all the time and then telling them their insecurity is unattractive. You’re unattractive, world.

The Time That Somehow, Every Single Year, I Managed to be Either the Only Kid in School Who Wore a Costume, or the Only Kid in School Who Didn’t

Every…damn…time

The Time I Went Trick-or-Treating by Myself

Up until the eighth grade, I only really had one close friend, and we went trick-or-treating together every year. But one year, in the fifth grade, she had pneumonia and couldn’t go. I had two options: I could mooch off of my brothers’ candy, or I could go by myself. Destiny’s Child was big at the time, and so naturally I valued myself as a strong, independent woman, because Beyonce told me to, so I went by myself. I’m not sure if there is a sadder sight than a 10-year-old going door to door, her mom waiting for her at the curb, with her head hung in defeat because she realized this was incredibly boring, miserably asking, “Trick-or-treat?” in her voice that is 50 years ahead of her body, development wise. This is the first time I can recall having the weird Halloween feelings; feelings of overwhelming loneliness that are evoked by the sights and smells of Halloween to this very day.

The Time I Had Alcohol

My first alcohol experience was on Halloween. I had approximately four sips of Kahlua, so naturally I felt wasted. I ended the night eating an entire bag of Oreos and watching Donnie Darko.

So, combine a dog’s soul forever encased inside a vegetable, the denial of my royalty due to unfair discrimination against kids who love to eat, a slew of memories of getting it wrong, a lone trick-or-treating, and the mind-fuck that is Donnie Darko, and you get one awkward time of year.

Make New Friends? Keep the Old? A Struggle Story

I find it impossible to keep in touch with people.

Mostly because when the idea occurs to me to reach out to someone and I begin to execute it, I become filled with fear that I will be texting them at the most inconvenient time, like they just had to put their dog to sleep or they’re in a job interview but forgot to silence their phone or they’re driving and will become distracted by the noise and it will lead to their fiery death or they’re still mad about that ineffectual thing I said 4 years ago.

Or even worse, we realize we don’t really have anything to say to each other, or we are afraid to say things to each other, and the exchange becomes unsure small talk and it dawns on us that we’re accomplishing nothing and that our friendship was an illusion.

Of course, that’s a completely irrational way of thinking. I enjoy when people reach out to me, despite my hatred for the question, “How are you?” Because that question opens up the emotional floodgates and causes me to reflect on all the things that I am, yet the rule-follower in me still somehow insists on replying with an unengaged, “Good.”

There’s also social media. I have yet to decide if I think this helps or hinders keeping up with friends from a distance. On the one hand, it does keep all the happenings in your friends’ lives. Recently, I realized that I will often share a piece of news about someone by saying, “My friend, so-and-so…” and then it will dawn on me that so-and-so have not actually had a conversation in several years, but I still feel connected with so-and-so because I saw the pictures from their trip to Tahiti. But is that really friendship? The constant viewing of someone else’s highlight reel?

And maybe because I’m feeling particularly sentimental, I will decide to reach out to so-and-so and say, “Hey, how was Tahiti? Love the pictures!” And they will respond with, “Hey, thanks! It was good.” And what do you do then? Where do you go from there? Is so-and-so interested in continuing this conversation or are they wondering why the hell I’m contacting them when we haven’t talked in years? And then I feel stunted and slightly embarrassed and afraid to ask about what their favorite part of the trip was, how was the food, what are their hopes, dreams, and fears, have they found personal satisfaction and happiness and if so, where did they find it? Was it in a burrito? That’s the closest I’ve ever come.

Perhaps I am on the wrong types of social media. I’m only on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook is a really good way to get a general view of what’s going with hundreds of people and Twitter is a great way to remind yourself of how funny you are. I’ve seen people having all kinds of laughs with Snapchat so maybe that’s the way to go. But how do you make new friends if you’re always looking at what your old friends are up to?

I feel like people are inherently insecure, that we all have times when we feel lonely and unimportant, and that throughout history, humans have always been searching to connect with someone, anyone, and those connections at the very least form an experience, a funny story, and at most they form a friendship. We used to keep those connections up through letters and phone calls—mediums where we feel less inclined to censor ourselves—but quality of connection has been traded in for quantity, i.e. how many “likes” your post gets. And our instinctual sense of propriety has evolved into being afraid of being vulnerable, despite our longing for connection.

This post may seem strange and because I, too, am a victim of the insecurity condition (probably way more than the average person), I am putting a disclaimer here to apologize for the strangeness (and for its reiterative nature, because seriously, who needs another social media is ruining human connection story? Says the blogger), even though this is something that I think about a lot and it certainly falls into the awkwardness category, because what is awkwardness but insecurity? And lately, any time I say, “I’m really bad at keeping in touch with friends,” the person I’m talking to almost always says, “Yeah, me too.” And yet I feel like I’m always hearing stories about what that person’s friends are up to, because they can find it online. Mind you, I have no plans to free myself of social media and make it my personal philosophy to call people frequently. I am the problem.

But a part of me has also always felt like I expect way too much when it comes to friendship. Probably because I watch too much TV. But why write friendship that way if it’s not something we secretly all crave? A topic for another day, I suppose!

New York, I’m Breaking Up With You

New York and I had a whopping nine months together, and all I can say is we’ve gestated a pretty ugly baby.

When I was in college studying acting, everyone always talked about how they were going to live in New York after graduation. I tried to hop on that bandwagon, envying their starry-eyed aspirations and the glamorous outlooks they had for their futures. I made plans with friends to move to New York, to pound the pavement, looking for our big breaks. But in the back of my mind, I knew both acting and New York weren’t for me.

However, because the world works the way it does, I ended up having to move to New York City for a job.

Hi Jillian,

Will u go out wit me?

YES      NO

Xoxo New York City

Eh…I guess?

And so, I packed up what I could fit in my new tiny, overpriced room, and headed off to the big city.

In some ways, I was really excited about it. I had a lot of friends living in the city and I thought it would help improve my social life. Despite the fact that many people think I’m this really intense and serious person, I’ve never had much ambition when it comes to my career. All I’ve ever really wanted was friendships like the ones on I saw on TV. And if you ever did find me staring at you like you’re nuts, it’s simply because you’ve gone off script.

I’ve now found out that New York City friendships are rooted fundamentally in the, “You’re broke, I’m broke, and you’re either in another borough or a far walk from my apartment, so let’s just text each other occasionally” mentality.

And now, because fate is a fickle fiend with a twisted sense of humor, after nine months, I have to leave New York, once again for work. Because my boss no longer wants to pay a monthly fee that could feed a family of four for a cubby with no ventilation.

And while I’m always the kind of person who gets really anxious about any sort of change, and the kind of person who clings on to nostalgia, I can look around at my New York apartment, my first real adulthood home, and feel absolutely nothing.

I suppose in some weird way, I will miss being on the subway, told that I am being delayed because of the train traffic ahead of me, cursing the MTA under my breath, avoiding the overly affectionate couple next to me while I vigilantly scan the train for suspicious characters until some old lady does a hip hop dance for quarters. I will miss the constant threat of terrorism. I will miss how every Starbucks has an inexplicably long line. I will miss thinking I have money until the 1st of the month arrives. I will miss walking in the rain with my arms full of groceries. I will miss the church bells across the street ringing every hour, starting at 7:30am on weekends.  I will miss the tremendous sense of culture I felt whenever I got yelled at in another language. I will miss being enveloped in the hot scent of old sewage like a warm hug. And I will miss you, people who blast Kanye West out of your car at 3am, so loudly that my walls shake. You, I will miss most of all.

In a completely serious, non-weird way, I will miss the fact that Coldstone delivers. And speedily, at that.

To all of you tried and true New Yorkers out there, I am not mocking you. I have nothing but envy and admiration for artists, for dreamers, for those who can look at something like New York and see unending possibility, see home. I look at New York and see a TV show I might enjoy if I didn’t have to keep getting up to shift the antennae.

So…

Hi New York,

I have 2 break up wit u. I like da suburbs now.

Sry,

Jillian

P.S. As a small update from my last entry, I came home to find the dead bird had finally been swept off the ledge by the rain and is now resting comfortably in the grass. I like to think it was some kind of metaphor.

By Accident of Memory

Hello everyone! No, I’m not dead yet. I’ve just been insanely busy. My work life took a turn and also one of my best friends got married. Shout out to them for throwing the best wedding ever! And shout out to me for remembering to keep hydrated throughout the night. This is one of the reasons I am not dead yet.

Anywho, back in action!

There are tons of things science still doesn’t understand, but I’m pretty sure it knows way more about the brain than I do. Ergo, a part of me is tempted to hand mine over and say, “Fix, please.”

My brain rarely processes lessons learned from certain experiences, i.e. what is the correct thing to say at that point in time, when it is best to say nothing, when to not nervously peel my nails off, etc. Do you know what my brain remembers? Every episode of every TV show I’ve ever seen, the lyrics to Missy Elliot songs, and the name, birthday, and other scattered fax about every person I’ve ever met. Up to and including what they were wearing when they told me those facts.

It comes in handy sometimes. I know the ISBNs of every book in my company’s database without having to look them up. I know phone numbers off the top of my head. I can remind people of upcoming events like anniversaries or birthdays so that plans can be made. In college, my memory was depended on. People would ask me about assignments, details of conversations we’d had months earlier, lines from plays. It was nice. It made me feel like I had a purpose. But I’ve also realized that my memory is not often impressive.

In order to not come across like a Creepy Kevin, I usually have to pretend I’ve forgotten a lot of things.

It took me a long time to teach myself to pretend to forget (see, never remembers any life lessons! My mind is one dastardly creature!). Back when I was a bartender, I had a semi-regular customer order the short ribs, claiming he had “never tried them before.” My response?

“You’ve had them before. Last December. December 15th.”

He stared at me, clearly taken aback, and I was taken aback by his taken aback-ness, which caused me to keep rambling on about December 15th, 2013.

“I was wearing a black button-down with white feathers on it. You’d had a mimosa and then switched to beer. Brooklyn Lager. You were with two friends. I made them Tokyo Teas because they were curious…”

More stares.

“At any rate, you seemed to enjoy them.”

“Yeahhhhhh.”

There was another time where someone asked if anyone had this guy Chris’s phone number. I was only casual acquaintances with Chris and surely never had cause to call or text him, but I still was able to recite his phone number off the top of my head. Everyone stared.

“…Well, Chris called Ed last week but Ed didn’t recognize the phone number. He read it off to a few different people and one of them had it in their phone as Chris. I just remembered the number.” Staring. “I’d heard it a few times at that point.” Staring. “It’s just like memorizing lines!” NO I AM NOT STALKING CHRIS STOP JUDGING ME! I AM MERELY FILLED WITH GOOD INTENTIONS AND INSECURITIES!

I went to an event with my boyfriend a few months ago where a lot of people I’d met at a writers’ conference were going to be. I was nervous about attending the event and was comforted by the fact I’d see a few familiar faces.

With the exception of my boyfriend’s ex roommates, who obviously remembered how heavily I come down stairs and how poorly I park, only one or two of them actually remembered me. I decided to give this whole nonchalance thing a whirl.

“Hey, I think we met once but I don’t remember your name.”

“Oh, hey, yeah it’s Jillian. And your name again? Sorry.”

But in my head the whole time, I was going, “Your name is Tristan. You’re from Missouri. You’re a poetry concentration. Your birthday is July 18th.”

Then another girl came up to me, and the same conversation ensued, and I tried to switch off the marquee of facts about Jennifer flowing from brain-edge to brain-edge, but still, “Your name is Jennifer. You are also from Missouri. You teach yoga. You have a cat.”

Truthfully, I think it’s kind of sad we live in a world where I have to pretend details about other people aren’t important to me. I do not care one bit if people remember anything about me, though if they did, I wouldn’t be offended by it, because I understand that the brain is weird and life is weird.

This is just a little quick entry to whet your appetite for the mediocrity to come on this blog. Now I must tend to the unleavened cookies for my first Passover Seder and answer the work emails I’ve been pretending don’t exist.

Being the Dad

It’s my dad’s birthday. In honor of him, here is a post.

I’ve heard a lot of girls talk about what it’s like to be the Mom of their friend group: the dependable one, who people can turn to for care or comfort, who will sew your buttons back on and make you a hearty stew, who will dish out practical and sympathetic wisdom to help you overcome your obstacles.

I’ve never heard anyone refer to being the Dad of their group, especially a group of mostly females, but after giving it careful consideration over the years, I know that I’m definitely the Dad. Or the uncle who walks around in his undershirt and overstays his welcome on holidays. It’s a toss-up. Either way, take that, gender roles!

Here is the following evidence that I am your Dad:

  1. If you cry in front of me, I will feel very, very bad about it and will most certainly want it to stop, but I will have no idea what to do. I will naturally respond with an inappropriate joke or an unhelpful comment. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked to leave the room while someone else comforted the crier.
  2. If someone has a question about their math homework or what they can and can’t put in the microwave, they come to me. If they have a question about shoes, they go to literally anyone else. Seriously, ask the bum behind the supermarket. Or your drug dealer. They will know better.
  3. I love puns. Bad ones.
  4. If you’re sick, I will take care of you, but the back of mind will always be telling you to suck it up and get back to work.
  5. I don’t like dressing up, have used the term, “kids these days,” and am generally always wondering what all the fuss is about.
  6. I’m very willing to spend my money on other people but when I’m shopping for myself, I am known to utter, “$10? They must be mad!”
  7. I love everything about BBQs. Fourth of July is my favorite holiday.
  8. I probably can’t name more than five songs written in the last five years.
  9. I get really excited about practical or silly gifts. I do not get excited by brand names, cosmetics, or handbags (because I’ve probably never heard of them, I don’t know how to put makeup on, and I don’t like having a bag weighing me down incase I have to run from ne’er-do-wells).
  10. I don’t have great maternal instincts. I’m honestly a little afraid of babies. Why would you put a whole human life in my hands? Have you seen my resume? I’m not even remotely qualified for that. Why can’t we arrange it like when you buy a dog and it’s already weened and has had its shots and won’t die if you go take a bathroom break?
  11. You could call me from jail and I would pick you up, no questions asked, but you would probably feel the weight of my disappointment in the silence of the car ride home.
  12. The only sound advice I am even kind of prepared to offer is career advice.
  13. Out of all of your friends, you will probably be the most embarrassed by me.

Luke, I am your fatherrrrrrrrr.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll be different once a little me comes along, should I ever decide to reproduce. There are plenty of things about me that aren’t dad-like. For starters, I refuse to be productive on weekends and I’m half-convinced the lawn mower wants to eat me. I blame that scene from The Happening. But regardless, if you’re looking for a shoulder to cry on, you’ll probably find mine too boney, if you’re looking for a hug, we’ll have to make it quick, if you’re looking for a babysitter, you probably wouldn’t even think to ask me.

If you’re looking for someone to drink beers in silence with, you know where to find me.