How Job Interviews Should Go

Chris, a good friend of mine from college, invited me to work at Boy Scout camp three years in a row before I took him up on it. Hands down, working there was the best decision I ever made.

I knew it was going to be an unforgettable summer as early as the job interview.

The person who is Chris might just be the spirit of camp embodied. Always kind and quirky, he’s just as likely to answer your questions by bursting into song as to give a straight answer. He often adopts cave man speech, grunting and calling himself Krog to fit in with a recurring character he plays in campfire skits. Hanging out with him is always surprising and novel. His obscure knowledge runs deep, and he loves Thai food. (Yes, that is camp-like when everybody on staff eats their single weekly meal away from camp at either of 2 places, one of which is Thai.) I didn’t know any of this was camp-related, though; I just thought Chris was unique and funny.

Anyway, after my first teaching contract (2 years in Malaysia) was completed, I posted on Facebook that I was looking for a summer job that didn’t involve kids or teaching, and I asked if anybody had any ideas. Less than a minute after posting, Chris tells me he has the opposite of what I was looking for: teaching Boy Scouts merit badge classes.

scouts4

For reference, all previous conversations with Chris, always on Facebook Messenger, usually went like this:
Person A: I just read Insert book title here. Have you read it?
Person B: No, should I?
Person A: Only if you want your mind blown! Insert analysis below…
Person B: Link to most bizarre YouTube video on hand
Person A: Hmmm….

Seeing as how I had just finished a book, I messaged him to talk about an unconventional, muddled mixture of: 1) that book… which reminded him of other books, that reminded me of other books, etc. 2) strange videos and 3) talk about camp sprinkled in. In short, the guy speaks my language: weird.

Suddenly, a new chat window pops up, in which Chris overly formally introduces me to a guy who, in his picture, is hiking in flip-flops, his face turned away so that the camera would focus on his enormous, glorious ponytail. And thus I met Wesley.

I soon found myself grinning stupidly at my screen, laughing a strange, cartoon villain-esque chuckle under my breath, furiously typing faster than I previously ever had as Wesley and I ganged up in a sort of pun war against Chris. Meanwhile, I hadn’t stopped my book/video/camp conversation with Chris, so at this point, I sent him a link to an amazing Bollywood song that one of my students in Malaysia once sent me.

Doofenshmirtz

Soon after, Wesley informs me in the chat bubble that he’s sorry I’m missing out on the Skype call he’s currently having with Chris because he can hear Chris’s Indian music playing in the background. I shrieked with completely unnecessary laughter as I had no idea the two could actually hear each other.

chennai express dance

Wesley decided he wanted me to come to camp when he realized that I was as outlandish as himself and Chris. Wesley, it turned out, was to be the camp’s Program Director that summer. He asked me if I could jump on Skype for an (in)formal interview, and with a groan, I realized that I’d need to put clothes on. (I’d had a long day, okay? Clothes just remind me of all the other burdens I shoulder throughout life.)

In order to prepare me for what was to come, Chris showed me a video of an interview done by camp staff, in which both interviewers and the interviewee conducted a normal, run of the mill interview (what are your strengths and weaknesses?), but everything they said was screamed at the top of their lungs. Oddly enough, this video provided me my first glimpse of Matt, with whom I’m currently suffering the world’s longest engagement.

This, said Chris, is what camp interviews are like. Oooooookay. As if I needed more of an idea what these people were like–me. They were just like me. I’d found my people.

Once I was decent, I logged into Skype and saw Wesley sitting next to an old guy with hair just as long as Wesley’s, but a straight, flat gray. This interview was less of an interview and more of an, “Ok, this is what the job is. It’s yours if you want it. Do you want it? PLEASE say yes! Camp starts in a week and we need to hire somebody RIGHT NOW!” Nobody screamed at me, though. That was disappointing.

Afore-mentioned old guy found it amusing that I had such an interesting relationship with Chris, who had been working at camp for 9 or so years by that point. He took the contract that would soon be scanned and emailed to me, and wrote in pencil under the job description heading that I was to mess with Chris as often as possible.

That was the deciding factor for me. I’d just spent 45 minutes joking around with an old friend, I’d clearly made a new one, and now Willie Nelson wanted me to continue doing the same thing all summer.

Camp turned out to be physically and personally challenging. It wasn’t all jokes and Bollywood; in fact, there was a distinct lack of Bollywood since there was limited Internet access in the wilderness.

chs

Whatever means they used to get me there, Chris and Wesley are double-handedly responsible for a shift in my development as a human being. They also ruined me for job interviews for the rest of my life. I’ve never felt as if I’d found a workplace where I truly belong since that one.

Job interviews have always been, in my experience (and contrary to what I keep hearing about the excruciating process), a panel of the worst sort of human beings (as they turned out to be 90% of the time) staring at me while I tried to overcome my introverted nature to impress these people who clearly want to eat me, not talk to me. Never again has an interviewer even remotely tried to inject a bit of the work culture into the process. More like being on trial, I often leave interviews feeling insecure, violated, and sweaty, hoping against hope that these demons like me enough to torture me with employment. Chris and Wesley’s interview was the opposite.

Future employers, take notes; Chris and Wesley know how interviews are done.

The Sorting Hat’s Mistake

Why on earth would the Sorting Hat put Percy Weasley into Gryffindor?

Let’s back up a step. Sorting Hat? Percy Weasley? Gryffindor? If these terms are confusing to you, you must be a Harry Potter neophyte. Don’t worry; I’m not judging you. Frankly, I’m amazed you’ve managed to live this long without succumbing to the utter happiness that the HP series would most certainly bring you. Well done.

I’ll try to briefly explain. If you already know what these terms mean, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. Warning: there are massive spoilers throughout this article!

In the HP universe, we Muggles, or non-magical people (called No-Maj in America), have no idea that there are magical people living among us or in their own communities. They have their own governing bodies that enforce strict laws about keeping magic a secret. Young magical people in Great Britain attend a boarding school called Hogwarts to help them develop and control their latent magical abilities. Within this school, students are sorted by personality into one of four “houses,” and students live, take classes with, and hang out with their houses most of the time. Gryffindor, as mentioned above, is populated with students who have a proclivity or potential for bravery; Ravenclaw is for people who value learning above all else; Hufflepuffs are determined and loyal, unafraid of hard work and never seeking undue glory; and Slytherins are ambitious and willing to make sacrifices to achieve their goals. The bewitched Sorting Hat is placed on the head of every new Hogwarts student, which then proceeds to read their minds and determine to which house each kid will belong to for the next seven years until they graduate.

house bookmarks

Hogwarts House crests, with the Sorting Hat’s descriptions

Within the magic community at large, there are two major factions: the Nazi-esque group who think pure-blooded magical people are better than wizards/witches with one or more Muggle parents, and the non-Nazis, who constantly fight to make sure the Nazi type people don’t pass terrible laws or come to power. Percy Weasley is the third child of the Weasely 7 children (all Gryffindors) and from one of the 28 pure blood families in England. The Weasleys are the only family of the 28 who aren’t uber-Nazis, so they’re much looked down upon by the others. Percy is, according to his brothers, “the world’s biggest prat,” always tattling on everybody and bragging about how amazing he is and how much respect those in authority give him.

(Fabulous Percy portrayal by Chris Rankin, by the way)

I find Percy to be a fascinating character. Though Lord Voldemort is the book’s official antagonist, all fans of the series unanimously unite in our passionate hatred of Dolores Umbridge. The number two most-hated spot, according to a conversation with many of my HP-nerd friends, is hotly debated. I vote Percy, though others vote Draco Malfoy, Lucius Malfoy, or Bellatrix Lestrange.

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Percy is the most goal-oriented person in the books other than Lord Voldemort himself. All he cared about in school was acquiring awards and prestige, and that attitude followed him into his career as a government lackey. He worships his boss, Barty Crouch, Sr., and looks down on less ambitious superiors of his, including his own father.

slytherin

Let’s take a look at how the Sorting Hat describes the House of Slytherin: “Those cunning folk use any means to achieve their ends.” A common misconception about Slytherin is that only evil people end up there. This isn’t true; however, many future evil overlords end up in Slytherin because they have ambitions of great power. Good people who are exceptionally motivated to prove themselves, such as Harry Potter’s second son Albus, also end up in Slytherin.

Percy is not evil; he never displays any hint of pure-blood superiority. He is, however, willing to “use any means” to rise up the ranks in the government. When Voldemort rises to power, Percy is completely willing to disown his family and the known greatest force for good in their world, Albus Dumbledore, in order to stay in the good graces of the Ministry of Magic. He uses his influence to discredit both Dumbledore and Harry Potter–the best friend of his brother and the guy who single-handedly saved his sister’s life.

Percy knows all too well that Harry Potter and Dumbledore are to be trusted, yet he’s willing to turn his back on his morals. A Gryffindor’s “daring, nerve, and chivalry” would never allow them to do such a thing, especially only a year after serving as Dumbledore’s Head Boy of all of Hogwarts. In the entire series, I never see a hint of Gryffindor in Percy. Every occasion his character is present in the series is marked with a distinct, disgusting, sycophantic tone, and even his own brothers can’t stand to be in the same room.

I know the Harry Potter series is just a fun experience for kids to have. I know all the glaring plot holes, and I forgive them because they allow the series to be so vibrantly absorbing. I know J.K. Rowling has admitted that Ron and Hermione shouldn’t have ended up together and that Lily should have come out of Voldemort’s wand before James, and I don’t care.

But my disdain of Percy Weasley is so strong that I want answers. Why was Percy sorted into Gryffindor? Was it only to highlight Ron’s sense of inadequacy around his brothers, to show how much pressure he was under to be amazing? Even whiny little Neville Longbottom grew up to be a true Gryffindor, bravest of the brave. Why does Percy never show, for even a second, that he is willing to stand up for what he knows is right?

I have two guesses. The first is that he chose Gryffindor as ardently as Harry Potter, himself, did. Harry was famously almost sorted into Slytherin, but as a result of a battle of wills with the Sorting Hat, he was placed in Gryffindor. I think Percy might have felt the same pressure that Ron did. After all, his two older brothers were impressive.

sorting hat

Harry’s sorting: “Not Slytherin! Not Slytherin! Not Slytherin!”

My second guess is that Hogwarts changed Percy. The kid grew up poor, and many of the other kids mock the Weasleys mercilessly for their hand-me-down robes and used schoolbooks. He’s the only one of the seven without either the scintillating wit or a close-knit group of friends to help him through it. In this case, Percy was simply sorted too soon. Eleven does seem a young age at which to brand a person for life, and the wizarding world does judge people by their houses all their lives.

Weasley

Weasley Family

I need to stop this thinking. I love hating Percy. No Mercy for Percy!

Written by a Ravenclaw.

What House are you in? Who do you think deserves the title of #2 most hated character?

My Backpack

My backpack is huge and purple and has seen 4 continents. Made for hiking and camping, it’s also perfectly suited for travel. It fits within millimeters of what’s allowed as a carry-on, and the straps fit me so well, it takes several hours of wearing it before I feel burdened.

Before doing much travel, at all, ever, I decided to move to Malaysia. There, I soon realized that I needed a good backpack if I wanted to cheaply take advantage of the amazing weekend trips available to me.

A friend of mine took me into one of the 50+ malls that dot the Kuala Lumpur city-scape with towers, domes, and squares; some extending several stories underground, reaching below the street, and continuing above ground as another tower.

Malaysia takes its malls seriously.

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Most of these malls are crawling with tourists, but the one to which my friend escorted me was not. The ceiling loomed less than a foot over my head, and the floors, so uneven that plywood planks with carpet over them bridged the gaps, continually tripped me. Aisles and aisles of labyrinthine, signless shops overwhelmed me as I struggled to keep up with my guide through narrow walkways teeming with local bargain shoppers.

Serenely oblivious to the fact that anything might be out of the ordinary, my friend casually turned left into a shop lined floor-to-ceiling with burned DVD’s and continued through an invisible doorway in the back. In there, we found a giant walk-in closet full of backpacks.

The tiny old woman working there dropped her magazine on the floor, quickly sized me up with her eyes, and starting putting backpacks on my back, shaking her head, and then throwing those backpacks into a quickly growing pile on the floor at my feet. She sprinted around the closet-shop, like Mr. Ollivander searching for the perfect wand for Harry Potter, until suddenly she stopped. She squinted at the bewildered look on my face, then got to work strapping me in, only to take the bag off, adjust the straps, and starting the buckling process over.

Suddenly, Lady Ollivander walked away. Attempting to swivel around and follow her with my eyes, I found my face buried between backpacks. Righting my gaze forward, I found myself sprawled on the ground when Old Lady O. grabbed the backpack from behind and yanked it downward with cartoonish force.

My friend and and Lady O. had a good laugh at my bewildered face, then I got back up. She yanked on it a few more times, then stripped it off my back and clunked it down in my hands. A calculator appeared out of nowhere and she typed 250 on it before showing it to me.

“What?”

She rubbed her fingers together, the international sign for “Pay me, stupid.”

250 Ringgit, or roughly (at the time) $83 American later, and I walked out with my backpack.

For 5 years that backpack rode on my back through countless adventures. It’s weight became the physical representation of the frustration I felt when my bus to the ferry to Langkawi was eleven hours late.

langkawi

Langkawi, so worth it the wait!

It’s straps became a comforting embrace as I attempted to sleep against many an airport wall; it’s deep central pocket home to many items little Boy Scouts couldn’t carry on long hikes; it’s hidden compartments, known only by me, the safeguard of my passport and money when pickpockets carried off my broken FitBit that I had stuffed in my jeans.

My international travels are currently on hiatus as I relearn how to be an American. Unfortunately, my constant companion doesn’t fit in the single bedroom I currently share, so, sadly, it’s stuffed in a suitcase in the garage, full of other things I might need someday. It feels wrong; my backpack is a she, not an it. She needs sunlight and adventure.

Or is that me?

International living, though adventurous, is really difficult and frustrating. But just look at what Malaysia has to offer.

I miss it. And my backpack.


This post is a tribute to another blogger whose style I admire. If you liked it, check out AlmostIowa‘s “My Stuff” series. “My End Table” is my favorite.

If you like my writing, make sure to follow me!

The Problem With Cheerios

For breakfast, I had a bowl of Cheerios. For lunch, I had 2 bowls of Cheerios.

Companies, stop making all my favorite foods gluten-free!

I’m gluten intolerant, and I didn’t figure that out until I was 26. Twenty-six years of damage done to my intestines left my guts almost worthless in terms of nutrition–that is, I don’t absorb nutrients out of food very well. When I accidentally ingest the stupid little proteins, my insides protest by absorbing zero nutrients, and I slowly get malnourished to the point of fainting all the time.

gluten 2

Demon-protein free for four years now, and, I’m pleased to announce, I hardly ever faint. I have the whole gluten-free fad to thank for several things. First, my diagnosis. I don’t have any symptoms of gluten intolerance, so if it wasn’t such an obnoxious fad, who knows if doctors ever would have figured it out?

gluten1

Second, edible food. Glutenless bread products are actually pretty dang good these days. It’s come a long way in the last four years. I pity anybody who adhered to the diet before then.

That second thing I’m thankful for, the edible food, scratch that! I’m not thankful anymore! I just found out that Cheerios, my favorite favorite favorite thing in the world, is now gluten-free. And it is good–sinfully good, perhaps fatally good. Yeah, you heard me. I’m going to die from Cheerios.

Gluten-Free-Cheerios

I had a few things going for me with this easiest of diseases to have in 2017.

I like to call it sadmiration because, like everybody else these days, I love a good portmanteau. I used to get this awesome mixture of pity and respect because I, ever the patient and long-suffering saint, would politely decline delicious desserts and lunch invitations in order to protect my fragile innards. I would never directly bring it up, but you better believe I put myself in situations where it just seemed to come up in conversation organically. When it did, I’d humbly bask in the glow of everybody’s sadmiration as they guiltily enjoyed their treats, apologizing to me all the while.

People don’t sadmire me anymore. There are too many good options for me now.

The second huge perk of having only disgusting, semi-edible alternatives around was it was easy to eat healthfully. Oh, I can’t have pasta? I guess it’s chicken and brown rice again with watermelon for dessert.

Now, I have to actually watch what I eat just like the rest of you non-diseased people. I have to relearn how to use willpower now, and nobody’s gong to sadmire me for it! I feel so oppressed.

If You’re Not Weird, You’re Boring

I bought a book, once, based solely on the title. I didn’t open it up or read the back of the book. The name just described me so perfectly: Half-Broken Things.

half broken things

This was back when I thought I was alone in feeling broken; I didn’t yet know all of us felt that way at least sometimes. At this point, MySpace was just dying out, and Facebook was the new, cool thing–grandmothers and middle school kids weren’t on it yet. All my friends from high school had cool new college friends and took awesome trips. Some were getting enviable jobs or having the cutest babies. I, too, had my share of pictures on Facebook, and I now assume other people thought similarly about me. Man, Lorelle must be so happy. She has it all.

So, I bought this book. It was in the bargain bin outside of Barnes & Noble; I was a poor college student, after all. The story was pretty good; I liked it because it made me so sad. It confirmed my naive mindset that I was one of the weirdo outliers of society, destined to disappear into the background of a world that belongs to the normal, happy people.

Back when I was a teacher (you know, 4 months ago…), whenever I heard one of my students calling one of their peers weird, I’d run over and high five the weirdo and congratulate them because, as I always say, if you’re not weird, you’re boring. Your weirdness, your lack of suave aloofness when it comes to specific interests, makes you different and interesting. Lacking one of these makes you, well, generic. It’s truly weird, then, that people are expected to hide their weirdness.

I do believe that the world is changing away from this idea, though. Gone are the days of Jack Kerouac, where anybody who differed from the 1950’s picture-perfect, Pleasantville personality was deemed an outsider. Thank God, too. I would never want to wear stupid dresses like that for longer than a costume party.

pleasantville dress

No, we’re now free to let our Freak Flags fly, and if you don’t have something interesting about you, you’re now the weird one. Sorry, Morag Joss, we’re all half-broken now. We do far less hiding behind our perfect little masks, (though middle schoolers are doomed to forever struggle with what “fitting in” requires) and far more open self-expression.

However, though I’m quick to celebrate others’ weirdness, it’s surprisingly hard to come to terms my own. Recently, I’ve discovered that people enjoy reading these trite epiphanies that I furiously scribble down, until now only privately in my journal. The fact that this thing I’ve been doing my whole life, this obsessive chronicling and analyzing of my life, is interesting to some people inspires me to reveal some of my other “freak flags,” if you will.

I was hanging out with a group of avid birdwatchers recently, and they were captivating. Being an expert in an outlying subject facilitates fascinating discourse. Eventually, the conversation being rather one-sided, one of them asked me, “What about you? What are you passionate about?”

This question–this magical question–invited me to reveal my weirdness to be celebrated, but I panicked. Passionate? I wouldn’t really call myself passionate, my mind started stuttering. Good at things? Maybe. Do I actually like doing those things though? Do they really make me happy? Is it worth it to say it out loud and be labeled “weird” in somebody else’s mind yet again? What if I say… I ended up staring at her and saying, “Um…” Smooth, Lorelle. Real cool.

I was on the verge of shutting down, of admitting to her and to myself that I was nothing more than a half-broken half-wit who had no passions and no personality, when my fiance said, “She knows everything about Shakespeare.”

Oh yeah, I thought, relieved. I can talk about the Bard. Granted, I know far from everything about good ol’ William, but I can intelligently discuss many of his plays, Elizabethan/Jacobean theater conventions, several authorship theories, and much of what’s known about Shakespeare’s life.

play at the globe

I’ve also lived on 3 continents and been held at gunpoint by a dude shouting at me in Bahasa Malaysia and spent ten years fainting constantly. I’m downright interesting!

However, I have 2 strikes against me in polite conversation. First, I’m shy. Many people don’t know this because I try so damn hard to pretend like I’m not, but if I’ve never met you before, you might as well be 10 feet tall with blood dripping from enormous fangs, swinging your massive, scaly tail. Second, I still have this deep-rooted mindset that everything I actually like is pretty lame. When I was a kid, the only cool thing to talk about was sports. Even though I am good at sports, I haven’t played any since high school, so that doesn’t exactly come to mind when somebody asks about my current life.

I guess I need to be my own teacher. I need to high-five myself whenever my brain calls itself weird. Maybe I am half-broken, but isn’t everybody else? If I can become engrossed with a conversation about the different hoots and screeches of the local owl populations, why can’t other people find my knowledge base equally enthralling?

My quest for self-actualization continues…

What about you? Leave me a comment and start a conversation about something you find interesting, you brilliantly broken beast, you.

A Scout Is…

I’ll never forget the summer of 2014, my first summer at Camp Hi-Sierra. My original intention in working at Boy Scout camp was to have an adventuresome summer, hiking in the mountains and swimming in rivers and lakes, seeing spectacular stars at night. All this happened, and more. It was probably the best summer of my life.

chs sign tiny

We got to wear dorky uniforms (sorry Boy Scouts. You’re all big dorks in the most wonderful way!), we sang and danced and made fools of ourselves in order to entertain hundreds of boys every week. We also taught really cool merit badges, took scouts on overnight trips, and slept almost never.

It wasn’t all fun and games, though. The food, intended to stuff twelve-year-olds full of sugar and carbs so they have energy to do cool stuff, absolutely failed to provide long term nutrition to adults living off of it for 8 week stints. The work day was often more than thirteen hours long, and sometimes you just want to smack an annoying little scout or overbearing, awful, ego-tripping Scoutmaster. In the meantime though, I made some of the best friends I’ve ever had, (some of those even scoutmasters!) and it made me come back for more.

I’m the redhead whose right leg apparently bends in weird directions.funny flags pic

I also met the man I’d later marry (which hasn’t happened yet. It’s totally normal to be engaged for more than two years, right?). It was this picture, in fact, that made me realize I was in love with him. This was taken less than a week after we met. (I’m in the middle, he’s the guy I’m staring at.)staff benches with Matt and Lillie

One of the best things that happened to me while working at Scout camp was witnessing the admiration and reverence with which Boy Scouts treat the Scout Oath and Law. One of the first things every new scout must do is memorize them and explain, in their own words, what they mean. Even adults spend hours discussing them and how they apply in their lives.

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The kids totally buy into it, too! Whenever a scout does something they shouldn’t do, 90% of the time, if you just say, “Hey, Scout. Remember, a scout is trustworthy / friendly / helpful / whichever point of the Scout Law applies in this situation,” the kid, will say, “Oh, right,” and then just start doing something else. It was like magic. If all my students could buy into a code of behavior like these scouts did their scout law, teaching would be a breeze!

I have adopted the Scout Law as my own code of ethics, and though I fail to achieve it more often than I succeed, I believe it helps me to be a better person.

This is all well and good except for one, nagging concern lurking right in the middle: obedient. Obviously, this code was written by adults for children to follow. I never remind scouts of this point in terms of immediate behavior correction because I, myself, don’t buy into it very much.

One of the wisest people I’ve ever met is our official camp doctor, who told me that while he was working on his Eagle Scout ranking, the Nuremberg Trials were happening. During this time, Nazis who committed heinous acts were on trial, many set free because they were just obeying orders. (Imperious curse, Harry Potter nerds?) While I cast no judgment on people terrified of crossing the dangerous overgrown toddler that Hitler was, I still think we need to learn lessons from history. Along with obedience, we need to be teaching kids Civil Disobedience. Where would we be if Martin Luther King, Jr. simply obeyed all the rules? What about Rosa Parks and the Freedom Riders?

I still buy into the Scout Law; I still proudly affiliate with the Boy Scouts, that flawed organization taking baby steps towards equality. I still think obedience is good, overall, and necessary in many situations. I just define it differently. Obedience to my conscience trumps obedience to laws made by other people. We cannot follow orders blindly.

I really hope that I get to spend another amazing summer at Camp Hi-Sierra. If I can’t, though, I’ll carry the Scout Law with me wherever I go.

Magic Is for Grown-Ups

We’ve done it! My generation has declared themselves to be magical to the literary world. Harry Potter is all grown up now, and so are we. Books, TV shows, and movies about magic are no longer just for kids and basement-dwelling dorks.

My generation, love us or hate us, is changing America in crazy ways. Many of us are parents now, which means that the future is being sculpted by us. Record numbers of us, though, aren’t parents. We, more than ever, are not reproducing. For this reason, instead of getting our fantasy fix from reading our kids bedtime stories, we’re still seeking it out for ourselves.

This phenomenon is the reason we’re flooded with Marvel and DC movies, 50 Shades of Grey, and Game of Thrones, and it’s why extremely grateful readers such as myself now have awesome choices for books that appeal us at our current life stages as the fantasy genre has become acceptable.

I just finished listening to The Magicians and the two subsequent audiobooks, The Magician King and The Magician’s Land, and, in my opinion, these books perfectly illustrate our generation’s love for magic as we progress further into adulthood.

magicians series

Don’t worry, there will be no spoilers. I highly recommend this book series and it’s TV show.

Quentin Coldwater, our protagonist, grew up, as we did, loving a particular book series based on The Chronicles of Narnia, and is just faced with entering adulthood and leaving such childish things behind when he discovers that magic is real. 18 year old Quentin is as punchable as any other teenager, yet the vibrant cast of characters more than make up for this constant frustration.

magicians tv2

This is our first foray into a magic book for adults: realism. Harry Potter is a pretty bland kid, which allows every real kid in the universe to relate to him, but he’s not the one you love. You like Hermione or the Weasley Twins or even Snape. They’re all compelling, while Harry, though likeable, is so amazingly typical of his own age. Quentin has the quintessential characteristics of his age, like Harry does, but he lacks the charm and overall good-heartedness of his pre-pubescent predecessor, which gives the reader the same cringe-worthy feeling they get when they remember how annoying they were at that age.

Somehow, this series also makes magic feel realistic. Thirty-somethings such as myself just can’t buy into the fact that children can make things happen as long as they know a butchered Latin phrase. We’re all inundated daily with the reality that nothing in life is free or easy, so the rigorous magic training at Brakebills College for Magical Pedagogy is much more satisfying. The characters reference Harry Potter often in order to remind each other and the reader that this magic isn’t cute; it’s difficult and it has real, deadly, often interdemensional consequences.

brakebills shirt

The real charm of this series is that it faces life just like an adult does. Throughout the first book, for example, Quentin deals with disillusionment at every turn. Constantly feeling like the world must have more to offer, Quentin attacks each new magical revelation with the fervor any Harry Potter nerd would, thinking that each new situation would be the solution to his angst. Each time, however, he’s faced with the reality that his issues are inside himself, not the world. Magical escapism for adults can’t ignore such truths; if they did, they wouldn’t have the emotional complexity to hold the attention of somebody with bills to pay and paperwork to do.

Quentin starts the series way too immature to function in the world, and though he grows up to be a flawed individual, he becomes incredibly well-rounded, and even becomes likeable, taking the reader through the self-esteem journey that our twenties typified.

There’s no lack of wonder in the magical world(s) that Quentin experiences, though. Fantasy narrated with the aloofness of a college snob is still fantastic, especially when said brat is as in love with magic as the readers are. Ultimately, the series’s lack of innocence makes it better for a more jaded audience. It’s still no Harry Potter, but nothing ever will be.

Truer Than True

“You can tell a true war story by the questions you ask. Somebody tells a story, let’s say, and afterward you ask, ‘Is it true?’ and if the answer matters, you’ve got your answer . . . Absolute occurrence is irrelevant. A thing may happen and be a total lie; another thing may not happen and be truer than the truth.”
-Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried

The world is non-fiction, but to experience it is purely fictional.

That’s why we use metaphors, hyperbole, and flat out lies to tell our stories. Although expressing the facts of a situation does accurately portray the world as it was in that moment, it fails miserably to capture the humanity. In that sense, fiction is truer than true.

It is factually correct, for instance, that my brother dislocated his shoulder while snowboarding and, in doing so, broke off a piece of bone that then shattered beyond repair. It’s truer than true, however, that in a timeless moment of weightlessness, the snowbank flew at his head; his brawny arm, an only human arm after all, powerless against the gods of solid matter and gravity, flew aside like it was as insubstantial as fog, bones liquefying inside his skin as that eternal moment ended and his new existence of agony began.

The first one tells you what happened, but the second one lets you live it and thereby truly understand it.

Writing non-fiction is much easier than writing fiction, but it’s so much harder to bring it to life, to make it interesting. Think of the non-fiction you read on the internet. If it doesn’t reach a certain threshold of snark, you get bored after a sentence or two and click on the next shiny new link.

OMG! Cher bought three grizzly bears? Heck yeah I want to click for more!


Short post today. It’s Friday, and my writing this week has put me through the emotional wringer.

Seriously, though, the outpouring of love I’ve received from family and friends about my writing is truly inspiring. This week, for the first time in years, I talked to both of my brothers at the same time. I’m reconnecting with old friends and distant family members. I never dreamed anybody would be interested in reading what I have to say, but you all have made me want to write more and more.

I’ve only shared my writing a handful of times in my life before this blog. My writing is so personal; sharing it is terrifying. It’s baring my soul to the world, facing possible rejection and ridicule. The opposite is happening, though. People are relating to me and encouraging me.

Thank you to everybody who has reached out to me in the last week. You’ll never know how much your kind words and support mean to me.

I love you all so much,

Lorelle

The Lie We Tell Ourselves

I grew up near Vandenberg Air Force Base, and in fifth grade, I got to go on the coolest field trip there. We got to see massive satellite dishes, bigger than any building in our small town. A real Air Force guy (as I called him–I have no idea who he was or what rank he held) took us around and explained how their rocket launches worked, and we got to have lunch at a park overlooking the launch site. I won a model rocket by answering the most questions right, and when my mom came to pick me up that day, I was bursting with pride, shoving my rocket in her face.

My little brother crawled in the car behind me. “She doesn’t know,” he said simply.

As we drove out of the parking lot, my brothers staring blankly out of their respective windows, I stared in open-mouth shock at my mother in the driver’s seat ahead of me as she broke the news that my Grandpa had died earlier that day. My brothers had heard earlier as they were at school and my Dad came by to tell them.

I wanted to feel sad, but I didn’t. I went to baseball practice after school, glove dangling off my left hand, and just stood staring off into the distance, waiting for the flood of tears that should be coming. When are they coming? Didn’t I love my Grandpa?

Oh my God, am I horrible because I’m not sad about this?

I didn’t cry at the funeral. I didn’t cry a couple of weeks later when my beloved kitten was hit by a car.

My parents told me much later that they were worried about me. They thought I might be suppressing my feelings on purpose, and maybe I was.

They were sure shocked when, months later, I accidentally stepped on my favorite pink cup, my diminutive weight enough to decimate the fragile plastic. Though my parents told me they would buy me a new one, I cried for days. Literally, days. All the tragedy that had hit 10 year old me in the last 3 months caught up with me in the realization that I’d never get to drink my Gatorade out of that plastic pink cup anymore.

Denial is a weird thing. Sometimes, we opt to stay in denial to save ourselves from the pain that comes with the rest of the cycle of grief. We lie to ourselves and cling to the idea that we’re fine. It even works for a while.

But that lie, and it definitely is a lie, eventually catches up to us. Something will happen, and all the willpower that had been holding reality at bay just crumples around us, leaving us with a backlog of unavoidable emotion to sift through.

One of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met is a recovering heroin addict. He called me today, and, as I like to do, I bounced my ideas off of him. Winona, as he asked me to call him for anonymity’s sake, is brilliant, and taking his suggestions has only improved my life.

I’m going to paraphrase what Winona said. His ideas come so fast he can’t get one out before the next one starts, so his ideas often come in fragments and shards. His insights about denial, for instance, mixed jarringly in with his awe of the laws of physics and the mysteries that time and space hold within them. I’ll use the first person and try to capture Winona’s voice while also trying to keep it on topic and as profanity-free as possible.

“It’s crazy, you know, because I knew I was a drug addict the first time I did drugs. I remember that, the first time. I knew right away.

But I didn’t really know. There was this break between my logical brain and my emotions, like my deep, psychological self. I knew I was addicted, so I wasn’t in denial, but there was always that thought in the back of my mind that I could stop being addicted any time I want. That it wasn’t really a problem. But it was. It was a huge problem. So I was in denial even though I wasn’t. Does that make sense?

It’s like my grandma, who chainsmoked her whole life, and who had emphysema and had to wear an oxygen mask all the time, and who still chainsmoked with it on. I thought she was going to blow herself up with that. But she always said she liked smoking and that she could quit if she wanted to. No way she could. She was near death, and still holding on to that denial because quitting would be damn near impossible.

But heroin and other drugs, they’re different from smoking because you get high. You don’t think the same way. At first it’s just while you’re high, but then it’s all the time. You do things that your old self would never do because all that matters is getting high again. Everything is ok, and nothing seems like the wrong thing to do because your brain starts only rewarding you for getting high. You wake up one day and realize you feel good about yourself for, like, ripping off your mom because it means you got to get high again.

That’s the worst thing, really. One of the main reasons it’s hard getting sober. Your brain starts to change back, and you realize all the crap you did. You want to stay addicted so you don’t have to deal with this enormous guilt. You hurt everybody you love. You did it a lot. Getting sober means you can’t stay in denial about that stuff. You have to break through so many levels of denial to get sober. That’s hard, man. I still feel guilty all the time. ”

Denial. That stupid psychological adaptation that helps us get away from dangerous situations before we feel the crushing pain of loss or guilt. That demon who forces you further down your road to hell because redemption hurts.

Denial.

Round One, Me!

Kevin stepped through the door on the first day of seventh grade exactly three seconds after the bell. I looked at him, and he smirked at me. He was letting me know exactly what I was in for for the rest of the year. Try as I might, he was saying, I would never be able to turn him into a good student, a good kid.

Ah, that’s where you’re wrong, Kevin, I naively said with my smile back to him. I know you’re a good kid, and I’ll prove it to you. “You must be Kevin. I thought you were absent. Have a seat right here,” I said, pointing to a desk in the front of the room.

He sauntered over, his untied shoelaces pinging softly against the metal legs of all the desks he walked past. His fingers trailed on everybody’s new binders and pencils, and more than one scowl bounced right off the back of Kevin’s head.

As students got to work on an art project designed for me to learn all of their names, Kevin just stared at me, a lonely, pubescent Mona Lisa, moving only his eyes, following me around the room as I met each student individually. A single, dirty, yellow-blond tangle dropped over his eye.

“Good morning, Kevin.”

“Hi!” he exclaimed with a cheerfulness that didn’t meet his face.

“What are you going to draw?”

“Nothing!” he exclaimed, his smirk deepening. “I just feel, you know, that nothing would be a more accurate illustration of me than Charlie’s stick figure. There’s nothing here,” he remarked, tapping his greasy head.

Are you sure you’re 12? I thought. “Well, that’s the beauty of English class. As long as you can explain it, there are, often, no right or wrong answers.”

Round 1, me! I thought as I walked away.


 

“There are only two weeks left in the school year!” I begged, leaning over the Assistant Principal’s desk.

“There’s no way he can even pass a single class. What does it matter?” he asked, exasperated. “You gave him half of his detentions, anyway. He reached his limit. Kevin is suspended for the rest of the year.”

Walking back to my classroom, I reached into my pocket for the stack of colorful labels that have lived there for the last month. I looked at the first one. “Dear Madison, you grew up so much this year! I can’t believe how confident you are now. You’ve come so far from the girl too shy to talk to her partner on the first day of school. Have a great summer! -Ms. Lohman”

I flipped through the unfinished stack of 150, one yearbook note for each student. Finally, I found the one I was looking for, the one I’d never be able to deliver. “Dear Kevin, I’m sad to hear you’ll be moving away next year! I know this year was hard for you, but I’m so happy I got to know you. You’re so smart and funny. I know you’ll make something great of yourself someday. -Ms. Lohman”

Round 87, Kevin. You win, little man.