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!

J. Awkward Prufrock’s Next Adventure

Well, after a few weeks of apartment hunting, work retreats, and health nonsense, I’m back, baby!

Whether or not I will be able to post more frequently in the future remains to be seen. I do have other writing projects sitting on my desktop. I would ultimately have time to do both if I didn’t keep looking at Reddit theories on who killed Sister Cathy. But if I’m being honest with myself…

There are A LOT of changes happening in my life right now. Big ones. My boyfriend and I are moving to Philadelphia in a few weeks. I’ll be starting my MSEd program in Higher Education Administration at the University of Pennsylvania shortly thereafter. With the exception of my brief stint in New York City, I’ve been living a comfortable suburban existence mooching off of my parents since I graduated college in 2012. This is all fairly new to me. And scary. Change is weird.

Bear with me as I write all of this out. Making all of these decisions has been hard work and I need to put a timeline and logical flow to my thought process.

I always knew I wanted to pursue a master’s degree, and I’ve virtually spent the past five years trying to decide what the heck to get a master’s in. I even had a deposit down for an MFA program four years ago. Then I got into a bad car accident and decided the world was too much for me and I was just going to drink wine on my parents’ deck forever.

I took some graduate courses after that, did some more rounds of applications for different programs (thanks to the theatre professor who wrote me a recommendation every single time!). It was a very slow process. Finally, about a year ago, I decided I just had to pick something. All the time I’d had on my parents’ deck (coupled with a lot of therapy) allowed me to conclude that your career is just one part of you. What you do for money and who you are as a whole and complex human being simply do not equate. The American Dream is kind of warped in that way, since it preaches that they are, in fact, the same thing. What a stressful way of thinking.

The funny thing is, when I was 17 and all throughout my undergraduate education, I felt like I had to defend why I was majoring in theatre. Ever since I graduated and have dabbled in a few different career paths, I feel like I have to defend why I didn’t (and won’t) pursue theatre. People constantly ask me why I’m not acting (though I’ve never seen anyone ask a history major, “Why aren’t you historying?”). What can I say? I fell out of love with it. If someone offered me a job acting 9-5, Monday-Friday, with a decent salary and full benefits, would I do it? Maybe. I don’t know. Probably not. If someone offered me a job writing 9-5, Monday-Friday, yes, absolutely, without question. But I can write any time, in the comfort of my own home, without a crowd of people watching my every move. And in the meantime, I will just continue pledging my loyalty to the arts and dedicating my life to sealing its place as a necessary piece of community, culture, and therapy. I don’t want to act. I want to wake people up.

An MSEd is just a step toward keeping my promise to the arts. And after that, who knows? Maybe a PhD or an MFA. I really really like school.

I’ll admit, moving to a city I barely know is rather daunting. When I first went to college, in a small town called Center Valley, PA, was the first time I understood the true definition of, “New Yorker.” Philly is, of course, a major city and I’m not expecting nearly as much of a culture shock. And if New York didn’t want people to leave home, it would lower its taxes. But it’s new and it’s different and I’ve never been that savvy at urban living. I’m bad at finding “scenes.” Unless that scene is panning in on me, my antagonist, sitting in a dark room, because time has gone by since I started sitting in silence, and I don’t feel like getting up and putting on the lights.

Moving in with my boyfriend, in contrast, is one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. On top of his many endearing qualities, he rubs my feet without my having to ask, so he’s pretty much a necessity.

Frankly, I’m most terrified of learning how to cook. And keeping neighborhood ne’er-do-wells at bay. Don’t mess with me! I will cry!

And what can I say? Even though all of these changes have and will continue to stress me out, even though I spend hours on end questioning everything I’ve ever known about myself and living my life, even though I have no idea what the fuck I’m doing…I’m really freaking excited.

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.

Nasal Spray: An Awkward Addiction Story

I have a fairly high pain tolerance. I’m able to get through most instances of discomfort by simply telling myself that it’s not permanent. Either the pain will end or I will die. It works surprisingly well! I also don’t have an addictive personality, generally speaking. I am wildly turned off by the idea of being out of control of, well, anything. Let alone my own mind. So drugs and other such things never really appealed to me.

But the one thing, THE ONE THING, I have absolutely zero tolerance for is a stuffy nose. Ever since I was a little kid, a stuffy nose meant a lot of misery and absolutely no sleep. Even a little bit of congestion would spark the tossing and turning. I needed my nostrils to be absolutely clear.

I was 8-years-old the first time I had Afrin. I was going on a field trip to see the Secret Garden. My mom knew that I really liked theatre but that I would be really unhappy if I had a stuffy nose throughout the thing, so she gave me the good stuff. I remember it so well. The instant feeling of absolute, total relief. I sat on my Sun Bonnet Sue comforter, utterly obsessed with my new ability to breathe. In and out. In and out. How glorious! How exhilarating!

And how dangerous.

As a child, my parents were able to monitor my nasal spray use when I had a cold. It was essentially for sleeping or special events such as the one listed above. Otherwise, I had to tough it out. It meant 7-10 days of being the mouth-breather kid, but I was mostly okay with this.

Ay, but that’s the problem with youth. Who thought it was a responsible idea to let 18-year-olds out of the house? To unleash the monster within? One good cold in college set me back one year in smelling things.

The stuffy nose appeared. I thought I could control it. I thought, I’ll go to the store and get some nasal spray and I’ll just use it to sleep and everything will be fine. I didn’t and it wasn’t. I found myself in class thinking it would just be one time. Then one time turned into every time.

And the thing about nasal spray is that, if you use it more frequently than every 12 hours for no more than 3 days, it can actually cause the congestion to get worse, which causes you to need more nasal spray. It’s a vicious cycle. I became completely dependent upon it. Would have to have it in my pocket at all times. Would have to make friends drive me to the store to get more since I didn’t have a car. Once, I woke my friend up in the middle of the night because I realized I’d left it in his car and needed it to sleep.

I was pumping this stuff into my nose probably once every hour. If I let it wear off, it would feel like someone had flipped my over and poured cement up my nostrils. Then I would sit up at night, my heart beating fast, full of anxiety about the unhealthiness of it all. I visited doctor after doctor that winter for chest pains and palpitations, oblivious to the fact that I was worried about myself and the poison I was pumping into my body 12-15 times a day.

I think I could finally admit I had a problem when I stopped being able to smell or taste things. That’s probably the only way I could ever admit I have a problem with anything: if it comes between me and food.

And so I began my journey to recovery.

I started with doing my research. It turns out this is a fairly common problem. Which is on some level comforting and on some level frustrating because if I was going to be addicted to something, I at least wanted to be original. It was common enough for there to be a nasal spray weaning kit, which involved diluting nasal spray with saline every night until your nose adjusts accordingly. So simple! So ingenious! Yet, I mentioned already, even the teensiest bit of stuffiness won’t do.

Cue the hardest weeks of my life. There was no sleep. There was no happiness. Just lunches not tasted and a nose filled with despair. The best phase was when stuff just started coming out of my nose, like an elegant bidet. All I wanted to do was sneak into the bathroom when no one was looking, and shove more spray up there.

But a little voice told me that this isn’t permanent. That one day, either the stuffiness will end or I will die.

And so, my addiction subsided and one day my nose cleared up like the hand of God poking through the clouds.

I would like to note that I am not belittling or mocking addiction in any way. Addiction is a serious issue that we need to come together to combat as a society and find ways to help people who truly need help.

It’s just that…nasal spray addiction is such a J. Awkward Prufrock thing.

And now the cruel joke is that I have a thyroid problem and can’t take any decongestants or else it will contraindicate my medicine. Thanks a lot, Jesus.

 

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.

Should I Have Another Garlic Knot?

Should I have another garlic knot?
The meeting has only just begun.
I tried to look demure with my one pizza slice
and kept my five garlic knots hidden in a napkin.
But now that they’re gone, I find myself wanting
one more garlic knot, and there are plenty left.
Will I look like a jerk if I get another garlic knot
or will I be a hero for all the others who don’t know
if it’s okay to get up in the middle of the meeting
for another garlic knot, which the host provided?

I scan the room for clues but only find half-asleep faces
and a girl who sat next to the garlic knots and
is casually eating one right off the plate.
Clever bitch. That should’ve been my garlic knot!
How did I not think of that? Will it be weird if I move seats?
I could say there’s a draft; that’s very ladylike,
or I could slowly move down one seat at a time
and convince everyone the prime garlic knot real estate
had been my seat all along. Will they see through me?

Goddammit, this shouldn’t be this hard.
Nobody cares if I have another garlic knot.
The host, so graciously, brought them for us after all.
Wouldn’t it be ruder to not finish the garlic knots?
Or is there some unwritten rule we can’t finish the garlic knots
because the host wants them with their dinner tonight?
So if I get up to get a garlic knot, I will interrupt them
and also rob them of a tasty side dish, and I’ll lose my job
and never be able to find another one because
I’ll be the impatient garlic knot hog.

I think someone may have just asked me a question.
I can’t be sure. I only have the sudden silence in the room
as the foundation for this assumption.
A part of me really hopes the question was,
“Would you like another garlic knot?” After they notice
I was staring at the greasy, buttery treats.
Then I could answer with a resounding, “God, yes!”
and we could move on with our lives. But the rest of me
knows that even if that were the question, I’d say,
“No, I’m okay,” because clearly the root of all my issues
is that I’m worried about being judged for my garlic knot habits.
I’m still unsure of what just happened but the silence continues
so I nod my head as I often do at work when someone asks me
a question but I wasn’t paying attention. 99% of the time,
like this time, it’s good enough, so the host nods back
and continues. I sit back and imagine the taste of garlic on my tongue.

The worst thing is that I’m not even hungry.
I had a slice of pizza and five other garlic knots,
but I know that, like a true American,
I cannot and will not be okay until I have
just…one…more…

The bustle around me must mean the meeting’s adjourned.
People are gathering their bags and leaving, only a small group
remains clustered around the meeting host.  I look over
to the area where lunch had been so carefully assembled
and see that there are still eleven beautiful, glistening garlic knots.
Now is my chance. I’m going for it.

I almost feel as though I’m floating toward the garlic knots
in one majestic alley-oop. I’m soon to be free of my burden.
I roll out my arm to the plate like a flourishing red carpet
and grab a garlic knot. With fervor, I stuff it into my mouth.

I close my eyes as I chew, tasting each delicious morsel,
each delicious crumb. I’m afraid to swallow because I know
life will never be this good again. Nirvana is an extra garlic knot.
When it’s over, I open my eyes slowly to ease myself back.

Why is everyone staring at me? Why is everyone staring at me?
Did I moan with delight? Chew too loudly?
Do I have grease on my face? Did someone have dibs?
Or is a relieved stare? Because they knew my plight.
Is there such thing as a relieved stare?

I begin to back away, attempting to cloak my panic
and self-consciousness. I have to get out of here. Fast.
But before I go, I take one longing look back at the table,
remembering my journey, my ephemeral glory,
when I notice there are still three slices of pizza left.
My stomach makes a yawp of yearning. I stop for a moment.

Should I have another slice of pizza?

Hug Alternatives

I’m not much of a hugger. On top of the deep vulnerability issues that caused years of therapy, I don’t really come from a touchy-feely family. My brother and I tried hugging once and we vowed to never speak of it again…crap. Sorry, bro.

So, if you’re like me, and come into a moment where it might be socially appropriate to hug, but you’re all, “Hey now, that seems a little intimate. Like, I barely know you, grandma,” here is a list of alternatives that may or may not be just as uncomfortable, but they will get you out of a hug.

  • A nice pat on the shoulder. Of course, you don’t want to pat too hard so it may come across as more of an attention-getting tap, so make sure to pat three times on the shoulder if you want credit for your affectionate and well-meaning gesture.
  • A half-hug. Sure, it’s still kind of a hug, but way more bearable than a whole hug. If you can, try it while one of you is sitting down to add the teensiest bit of that panicked “Don’t touch their butt” feeling.
  • Grab their shoulders and kiss the air next to them. You create the illusion of endearment toward another human, but really you’re saving the earth by kissing the booboo in the ozone layer.
  • Exclamations and excuses. As soon as someone expresses their salutations, good news, or goodbyes, you immediately reply with an over-enthusiastic, “Hello!” “Congratulations!” or “See you!” And then book it to the other side of the room, where you simply must answer the phone that probably rang, address a digestive emergency, or suddenly be trapped under something heavy.
  • Become a miser. Then no one will want to hug you. I find this to be the easiest and most frequently used tactic.

Now, I know you must be thinking, “But Jillian, these all seem so awkward and complicated. Wouldn’t it be easier to just hug?” What can I say? I make life hard.