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…

My Top 5 Good Things for Getting Through These Dark Times

Welp, Donald Trump is President of the United States.

I’m not going to get terribly political here but I’ll just say this wasn’t my first choice.

And with how quickly news spreads these days, especially considering the media’s got this guy under a microscope, it’s been pretty easy to feel bummed out, to say the least.

While I do feel called to fight much of this, fiercely and ferociously, sometimes you just need a quick fix of good things and good thoughts (provided you can temporarily turn off the thought of all the people who don’t have the good things).

Tasty Videos: Nothing better to put your mind at ease than watching delicious things being mixed together to make delicious food. Watching these videos is so relaxing! Seeing different things working together, complementing one another, into a giant melting pot filled with sense, reason, kindness, and acceptance. Imagine that!

Pictures and videos of dogs being dogs: Need I explain? We should all be more like dogs.

We’re due a messiah any day now! Whether you believe he already stopped by once or not, there is a chance we’ll get a savior very soon! And if you see a big, hairy guy with a pink umbrella or a very pale, winged person dressed in white, it could be you!

This is a terrific time for comedy. With badness comes satire and with satire comes laughter. I’ve been watching more Saturday Night Live than I have in my entire life. I feel like anyone could just go onstage at an open mic and say, “Donald Trump is our president,” and that would be enough material for a whole set. Guys, this guy is our president. Previous credits include host of The Apprentice and Orange is the New Orange.

Good exists. Fundamentally, I believe most people are good, and that if you encounter hatred, combat it with kindness. Be a citizen. Be a door holder. Be present, listen intently, research fiercely, and, most importantly, consider the lobster. Each one of us only gets one life and I think we should be doing our best to make it as easy for each other as possible.

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.”