How Harry Potter (Apparently) Taught Me Confidence

Aside

I don’t get soccer.

I don’t get how a game can be 1.5 hours long and still only have two points on the board. I don’t get how it can end in a tie, and I don’t get how Americans don’t give a crap about the sport for three and a half years at a time, then suddenly flip a switch and become big patriotic fans.

Needless to say, I’ve been a little bit of an outcast the last few weeks.

You know what I do get, though? Quidditch.

harry-potter-quidditch

Which is why, when someone was recently explaining America’s standing in the World Cup – and how in certain situations, the number of goals scored will come into play… my very first thought was “Oh! Like in quidditch!” (Because, for those of you who haven’t read Harry Potter, winning isn’t everything – points matter.*)

I know, I know, I’m letting my freak flag fly a little here. This revelation alone would have been nerdy enough if I just thought it quietly to myself. But did I think it quietly to myself? Of course not. I said it aloud, in a meeting with all of my coworkers.

(…And then I put it on the internet.)

Now luckily, I have the very best coworkers in the history of the world… and not only did they not make fun of me, some of them even echoed my assertion. (Readers, I expect nothing less of you.)

But it got me thinking about how unlucky it would be if my coworkers were not as amazing as they are. Might I have swallowed my quidditch comment? Would I hide my love for Harry Potter altogether? What other aspects of my personality would be altered? WOULD I PRETEND TO LIKE SOCCER?

It’s fascinating, the many different personas we wear to embody all the different versions of ourselves. Like Eleanor Rigby, wearing the face that she keeps in a jar by the door. (Come to think of it, would I ever pretend not to be a Beatles fan? …Nahh, who am I kidding? I couldn’t cover that up if I tried.)

I’ve written about weirdness in the workplace before, and I think the issue stems from a fundamental obsession with other people’s thoughts. I’m certainly guilty of it myself, exhausting every possible watt of brainpower worrying about being liked.

Maybe it’s a result of getting older, or my new job, or my new city, or just generally loving life right now – but for some reason, I didn’t think twice about letting my geekiness show this time. I proclaimed my love for a book about a bespectacled young wizard, I revealed my true self to the people I see every day, and we all had a good laugh about it. And you know what? I’m no worse for wear.

So if you’re in a new job, or meeting new people, or are generally timid about showing your cards, take it from someone who used to stress a lot about what these coworkers thought… trust me guys, it ain’t no thang.

 

…Unless you like soccer, in which case you’re on your own.

 

*(You wouldn’t know this if you only saw the movies. Because in the movies there is no point system. Oliver just tells Harry, “If you catch the snitch, the game is over. You catch this, Potter, and we win.” Which is totally absurd because if that were the case, why the hell are there other balls and goal posts or even other players? Obviously there are more factors at play here, HOLLYWOOD. Gahd.)

Throwback Thursday: A Letter to The Anonymous Sticker Bully

Hi there, readers. It’s that time again – Throwback Thursday! Which means the rest of the Interwebz is posting instagram-filtered photos of yesteryear… and I’m over here with a bucket of popcorn, entertaining myself with the recent discovery of all my childhood journals. And I’m passing that entertainment onto youuu!

This week’s installment is a little different, since it is actually NOT written by Childhood Susie. Which might be against the rules… except that OH WAIT I made the rules so it’s totally okay.

The following entry was found in my 6th grade journal, written on March 12th, 2001. I can only guess at which of my middle school friends was the culprit here, because she didn’t sign her name:

HI SUSIE’S JOURNAL I AM GOING TO PUT ONE STICKER ON THIS PAGE FOR EVERY NEW BOYFRIEND SUSIE HAS.

SUSIE’S FUTURE HUSBAND, I HOPE YOU’RE NOT READING THIS…

The second half of the page has six Lisa Frank puppy stickers on it. Six. Which – I might be going out on a limb here – but I’m guessing means that 6th grade Susie had six boyfriends.

I have absolutely no memory to support this discovery, so I am admittedly ignorant as to the surrounding context. Nevertheless, I find myself deeply upset by these findings.

And so I would like to take this opportunity to rebuttle, on behalf of my 6th grade self, to this anonymous sticker bully.

Dear Anonymous Sticker Bully,

I don’t know who you are, or what you want… but I have a very particular set of skills. I will look for you, I will find you, and I will make you pay for these allegations.

First of all, missy, your tallying skills are sincerely lacking. You don’t even have a designated time frame assigned to this venture. Was it six boyfriends over the course of a year? That doesn’t seem so bad. Six boyfriends in a week? Okay, maybe that’s worthy of documentation. But come on, dude, that’s just record-keeping 101. Get it together.

ALSO, while I don’t have any specific memory of this boyfriend streak – I was there, in sixth grade. And knowing Childhood Susie as I do… I am highly suspicious of the plausibility of these claims. I was gangly, bookish, and awkward, and didn’t even have my first kiss until two years after this was written. You do the math.

THIRDLY. Umm, hi, I’m a lowercase letter. Have we met? Here, I should introduce you to my good friend, punctuation.

ImageAnd furthermore, how dare you bring my future husband into this. This doesn’t have anything to do with him. Put the past in the past, okay? He doesn’t need to know about my scandalous sixth grade affairs.

In fact, I just interrupted Taylor reading on the couch to say: “Hey. What would you say if you found out I had six boyfriends in sixth grade?” To which he replied, “Uhh… I’d say it was sixth grade.” So your libelous attempts were fruitless. HA.

Susie: 1; Anonymous Sticker Bully: 0

In conclusion, not only do you not have the evidentiary support to back this outrageous assertion, but even if you did, it was poorly documented and in any case made no difference to my current love life. So bite me, Anonymous Sticker Bully.

Sincerely,

Susie

P.S. It’s also not my fault, anyway, because boys were really cute back then.

Well that’s awkward.

When I was little and I came home from school, my mom would always be adamant that I tell her one thing I’d learned that day. It didn’t have to be academic – I could say that I learned my friend Lindsey’s big brother played the bassoon in the school band… but I had to be able to report something daily.

It seems simple enough now, but as a child this was somewhat of a stressor for me. I would ride the bus home racking my brain, trying to come up with something I knew today that I didn’t know yesterday.

It wasn’t long before I cracked the code – that is to say, I started seeking out new facts so that I could have answers prepared when I walked through the door. I would walk around asking my friends random questions, and – when that got old – I would flip through trivia books and write my favorite nuggets of information in my journal.

I became so obsessed with this endeavor that I soon became little flaming ball of random fun facts. I could rattle off the difference between a regular horse and an Arabian horse (Arabians have one fewer vertebrae in their back), I could tell you one of the original Coca Cola ingredients (Cocaine), and I could explain why half of hypothermia victims are found naked (blood rushes to vital organs and back, causing skin to become flush and in an altered state of judgement victims think it’s logical to peel off their clothes) “Did you know…” became my favorite expression, and before long I was a walking, talking trivia reference guide.

Given my obsession with literature, I became the most interested in facts about the English language. This trait followed me into adulthood… and to this day I am still giddy as a schoolgirl (literally) when I learn something new about my native tongue.

Which is why I was fascinated when I came across this blog post on Dictionary.com (oh, what, not everybody reads the Dictionary’s blog?), which explored the lexical history of a word I use pretty regularly: awkward.

The gist, in case you’re too engrossed in this blog to go galavanting off into another one (wishful thinking), is that the word ‘awkward’ comes from the same directional language family as ‘forward’ and ‘backward.’ And the root ‘awk’ literally means ‘turned the wrong way.’

awkward_blog

So if you lived in the 16th century and said “that’s awkward,” your fellow ruffle-collared gentlemen would probably think you were referring to your croquet ball’s perilous turn away from its target.

…Or something.

But in any case, if you go home tonight and your mom demands to know what you learned today, you know what to do. You’re welcome.

Things I’ve Learned About Writing (And Life)

Worst Blogger Award

I know, guys. I’m the worst. Admittedly, Spiderman is pretty entertaining… but likely not enough so to keep you occupied for my entire – GASP – two week absence.

This month has just been so unbelievably jam-packed busy with multiple weekend trips to Seattle, a houseguest, and my brand new job… that I don’t even know where to begin.

OH WAIT, yes I do. I’ll start with the brand new job thing.

For those who haven’t been around lately, I recently got a new job. A writing job. And 2.5 months in, I’m still in a state of disbelief. Every time I get a new assignment I’m still so honored – “You want ME to come up with your company’s new tagline? Really?! You want ME to write the story of your business? You want MY WORDS smeared all over your website?” And I have to constantly remind myself – oh RIGHT, that’s my job. I get paid to write words. And it’s just so crazy fantastic that I’m practically beside myself.

It hasn’t all been easy, though. Until recently, the only people reading my writing  were my friends and family… well, and anyone with access to an internet connection. But in any case, there wasn’t much reason for those readers to revise or critique, and a majority of the feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive. I happily labored under the delusion that everyone in the world was as enamored with my writing as my mother was.

But now, when people are actually paying for this service, there is (obviously) a much higher standard at play. Which means that the last 2.5 months have involved an awful lot of learning – both about writing and life in general. So much so, in fact, that I compiled a list of all the things I’ve learned. And so, without further ado…

The Things I’ve Learned About Writing (And Life)

Know the “why.” Everything you do – in writing and in life – should have a purpose. I learned this right away in this new job, when my boss would ask me, “Why did you choose to phrase it this way? Why did you put the paragraphs in this order? How did you decide on this flow of concepts?” And all I could do was stare at her, mouth agape, and say “Ummm… cuz that’s… how… I wrote it.” Never before had I been asked to explain my reasoning behind my writing, so logically, never before had I devoted much thought to the strategy behind it. Make every decision intentional.

Embrace rejection. This was the first – and hardest – lesson to learn. I’m still learning it. I might never stop learning it. Rejection is a huge part of human existence, both inside the writing world and out. You will get rejected. You will receive criticism. Learn how to cope with it, and then learn how to run with it. Rejection is your friend; perfection leaves no room for growth.

…But still be confident. Having understood the frequency and necessity of rejection, I started presenting my writing with a disclaimer: “Here’s this blog post. But you probably won’t like it. And if so I understand, and I can change it.” It was a weird protective mechanism that helped me preemptively cope with criticism. Maybe if I tell them I don’t like it, it’ll be easier to swallow when they agree with me? But it meant setting myself up for failure –  the person reading it might have loved it with no preface, but now they’ve been predisposed to think it’s crap. Ergo, self-fulfilling prophecy. Present yourself with confidence.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. It’s tempting to get caught up in big words and compound sentences that make your writing sound robust and sophisticated. But as one of the co-founders of my company puts it, “forget most of English 101.” At the end of the day, you’re still writing to a person. Be human. Use contractions. Indulge in the occasional grammar mistake. End sentences with prepositions. (As Winston Churchill said, “that rule is something up with which I will not put.”) Writing – like life – is supposed to be fun.

Just do it. Nike had this one right on the money. If you’re staring at a blinking cursor, or aren’t sure what to say or how to write something, the quickest way to get started… is to get started. Even if you’re not 100% sure of your direction yet, start typing. A brain dump will at least get the ball rolling, and will eventually morph into something cohesive. Don’t let the blank page intimidate you.

Give the Nutshell Version. This is something my big brother used to say to me when I was younger and telling a long story (which, ahem, might have happened once or twice…). Upon the third or fourth “Which reminds me!” he would interrupt me with “Susie. Susie. Nutshell version.” In other words, get to the goddamn point. One of my favorite books, Eat Pray Love, puts it a little more nicely with ‘Say it like you eat it’: “Keep your language as simple and direct as Roman food. Don’t make a big production out of it. Just lay it on the table.”

I would be lying if I tried to say I’ve mastered this particular writing skill – and, moreover, I wouldn’t be fooling anyone. I just can’t help it, I want to get every last detail onto the page. Having to discriminate between words and paragraphs and decide what’s absolutely necessary and what’s not is like asking a mother to choose between her children. And I’m not the only writer in history to feel this way – Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.”

But it’s a skill that needs mastering, because I’ve likely lost half my readers already. So I’ll stop there, and I won’t make a big production out of the rest of this (ongoing) list. So there you have it – everything I’ve learned about writing and life.

…Or at least the nutshell version.