introducing new voices to 16til26*– this week is from julianna, as she prepares for a quarter abroad in italy.

12 sept – 17 sept

I read Izzy’s last blog post curled up on the couch in my dad’s new home. It’s been a week of a lot of change, or rather, a summer, a year, two years of change at a breakneck speed. It all happened so fast it’s hard for me to believe it actually did happen. So when I read that Izzy took a Hogwarts sorting quiz, I wondered if my wizarding house changed too. What if somewhere in all the obstacles and growth, I had altered my values and how I actualize them? Nothing more exact and scientific than a Harry Potter sorting quiz to find out.

When I was a kid, I was sorted into Ravenclaw (fun fact: I stayed up all night for the chance to answer one of the trivia questions needed to get a Pottermore beta account and thus early access to the sorting quiz. Totally worth it). Ravenclaw fit. I was a kid obsessed with books and learning. I had a plan for where my life was going and how I would find success. I think back then, I wanted to be some sort of doctor or architect. I thought theatre was embarrassing.

Needless to say, a lot of those self-definitions changed in high school. I fell in love with theatre. My plan got blurrier (or, quite often, nonexistent). I still loved learning, but it became rarer for me to sit in a corner for days at a time reading a book (although it still is nice when I have the time).  Most importantly, I stopped valuing myself based on what other people thought of me. The refusal to shrink myself to please others became central to my identity.

Shortly after leaving for Stanford, I took the Pottermore quiz again. I was Gryffindor. That result was a kind of revelation. I never thought I could be brave, until I realized I was. High school proved to me that I was a resilient person. That I charged into challenges head-on. That I wasn’t good at accepting failure (I’m still working on it). Bravery isn’t necessarily about saving lives or taking unnecessary risks. Sometimes it’s getting up in the morning and living by your values in a world that doesn’t always show you kindness. I’m also a Taurus, so yeah, Gryffindor sounded about right. 

“But what about now?” I wondered, sitting alone amidst the boxes that my dad and I have yet to unpack. Over the past two years, my plans fell apart and rebuilt themselves. In the aftermath, my understanding of myself is still being reconstructed. Every time I craft a new conception of who I am, I change again. I learn something new; I try something new; quite often I fail at something new, and I change. How can you fit a morphing human into just one category? 

I still want to be Gryffindor. I want to be brave. I want to do things in my life that are a little crazy and a little fantastic. And in that vein, I want to change the world, at least somebody’s world, for the better. And here is where the beauty of a sorting quiz comes in. YOU CAN CHOOSE WHO YOU WANT TO BE. If you want to be Gryffindor, you can be. You become the person you say you are. I know this to be true. When I am down on myself, beating myself up for a bad decision or my impatience or wasted time, I become more and more that irritable person I am telling myself I am. And when I stop and try to be kind to myself, when I insist that I am a kind person, I behave as one. 

Results: Gryffindor Primary and Gryffindor Secondary. Not burned.

Not burned. This surprised me. Some days I feel burned. Disillusioned at 20. Convinced I’ll never accomplish all those big and crazy things. Some days I feel the need for control. I make spreadsheets and to-do lists and you would SWEAR I’m a Ravenclaw. But those days are not every day. Some days I follow my intuition. This past spring, I moved to Italy for two and a half months on my own. I solo hiked 15 miles to a secluded beach. I booked a same-day bus ticket to San Francisco because I needed to see my friends. I got up at 4am and rode the metro to an audition because I wanted to learn something. And those are the actions of a Gryffindor, if you ask me. Even if I’m scared, I still take the action. And that is all there is to bravery. Not in the big sense. In the small and personal way bravery manifests in all of us. In the ways we love ourselves and our friends. In the ways we love our planet. In the faith we put in the unknown. We are all conflict and change and chaos. But we are also the choices we make. And I choose Gryffindor. 

I cried watching Call Me By Your Name tonight. I always cry at different parts. The movie seems alive, like a changing thing, or maybe I am the one changing in regard to it. This time, it was Elio’s parents who got me. His mother’s knowing eyes. The way she lets him cry. His father’s ability to say the truth while leaving the secrets unspoken. Life finds a way to find our weakest parts, he says. Movies do the same. I love the name Elio, almost enough, although not quite, to want a child in order to put the name to good use. Elio comes from “Helios”—the sun, yes, light. This movie is a lonely summer and a lost love. Just some thoughts before I drift to sleep. Today has been a very hard day. But then, there’s tomorrow.

I wake up early and go to the beach. It’s a beach I went to hundreds of times as a kid, always around midday, when teenage girls in too-small bikinis dominated the sand. In the early morning it is different. The water is placid—a crystal blue mirror of the rising sun. The sand is cool under my feet, comforting. Surfers wait patiently in the water for small, almost timid waves to carry them towards the shore. I go swimming. Immerse (transitive verb): to plunge into something that surrounds or covers. But also, to baptize by immersion. To immerse oneself in the ocean is to be surrounded by the water, but in some sense to become a part of it. And even if I can never quite put my finger on it, it’s clear that humans innately sense that immersion has something to do with the divine. Maybe this is why I’ve always felt free near the water. It is an uncanny experience to immerse yourself in the vastness—to become a part of the ocean reminds you that you are already a part of this earth. It makes any fear that you carried in on your shoulders seem impossibly small. As I swim, I feel joy—the kind that bubbles up and forces you to laugh, just to let some of that happiness out. I also feel weak. I cannot swim past the buoy, and I certainly cannot swim across an ocean. But for once, I understand that it is not bad to be a small piece of a beautiful world.

I wrote recently that I go to the water because that is where I have always gone. I grew up looking at the ocean every day, and even though home has never had much meaning for me, the closest I can come to the idea of home is when I think about the water. As I carve out new corners of the world for myself, it’s comforting to know this one will always be waiting for me. I keep a piece of it in a Longfellow poem on my wall. The tide rises. The tide falls.

When did I become a person who takes morning showers? I always feel so clean during the day now. But then I go to bed dirty. Which is better?

Podcasts for a better commute:

  • On Being
  • That One Audition
  • Finance Theory I – MIT Open Courseware
  • Women Who Travel
  • The Stinging Fly
  • The A24 Podcast
  • How I Write (from Stanford!) – the Rebecca Solnit episode (or perhaps any interview with Rebecca Solnit, including the On Being one)
  • Classical Mythology – Greek Drama (where is lecture 2?!)
  • The New Yorker Fiction Podcast
  • Pensieri e Parole

And some new recommendations from Mary:

  • Experts on Experts
  • Myths and Legends

I love the fact that I can write words down and then put them in a little corner of the internet and people will read them (or not), but someone might really like the writing or it might make them smile and that means it mattered. Also, in a year or two, I can come back to that corner and re-read the words and it’s like a time capsule of my past self in a way pictures can’t be—because to capture yourself you have to capture some aspect of the in-between, of the thoughts and feelings that come and go. The person who wrote this is already gone but the words remain.

Writing this post is more difficult than I expected. I’m not inspired 24/7. Sometimes I let a day drift by, and I don’t think any big thoughts. But I guess that is also a part of this…no one is introspective all the time. Sometimes we are just making grocery lists and getting flu shots and that is part of being alive as well. It’s not a glossy magazine and it’s not a therapy session. It’s complicated and boring and scary and wonderful. I want to capture the beauty that I see in life, if only to remind myself it exists at those times when I don’t see it. But also, not everything is beautiful, and it is okay to have beige days. Sometimes beige days are quite enjoyable. They make the colorful ones all the more juicy. 

It’s my last day at work. Last commute. Last watery coffee. Last pencil skirt—for the moment, as I’m sure there will be more, though I don’t know where/when/how/what quite yet. That’s the fun part I suppose. I put on my late grandmother’s heart-shaped necklace today. I think it looks quite nice. It reminds me that I am connected to other people, even people who are gone. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do believe in memories as powerful, almost tangible things. It is good for us to remain connected, even by things as small as inherited jewelry. I ate leftovers of homemade matzo ball soup for lunch and I thought of my grandmother, even though I remember her cooking Greek/Turkish food more often than Jewish (and here is a constant mystery of my childhood: what exactly was that cheesy phyllo dough triangle dish called and where did it come from in our family—the internet tells me it is called tiropitas or börek, depending on which culture is cooking it, but I distinctly remember her calling them phylikas, or perhaps, filikas). Isn’t it funny the pieces we remember and the pieces which, generationally, are lost? We remember the food but not the name. We remember the war but not the battle. We remember the country but not the people. In my heritage there are many fuzzy lines—myths and stories once told, never confirmed, only half-remembered. Like my biological grandfather, who I never met and whose Italian heritage is the only tangible link to a country I fell in love with for many less tangible (but more beautiful) reasons. Tomorrow I go back to Italy, where my first name almost, but not quite, belongs. But if my name is just off and my accent just strange enough, my skin color, brown hair, and brown eyes afford me automatic acceptance in a country where citizenship is in the blood more than in the land (legally and socially, you will find). I feel the normal discomfort with this privilege, but then discomfort is useless unless we use it to make a more equitable world. I listened to Ta-Nehisi Coates speak on what we inherit this morning, and he is correct that we prefer to only inherit the good and not the bad. We will take the credit but not the debt (to loosely adapt his phrasing). It’s a good argument for reparations and for a loving patriotism (though I am uncomfortable with patriotism for the exclusionary love it implies). I am still sorting out all of those strands, as one should at my age, but what I do know is that these bodies we inherit (alongside the jewelry and recipes) come with privilege and trauma and responsibility, deep responsibility, that we so often fail to live up to—for all our intellectualizing.

If it seems sprawling to jump from my last day of work to my grandmother to systemic inequality, you would be correct. But then there is Rebecca Solnit’s argument that sometimes everything IS connected, and we need to remove the microscope to get closer to the truth. Or, if not the truth, then a truth, which is constantly in revision, but which surely must exist. We are used to thinking in this way—jumping between abstract connections. We should begin to write this way, particularly when in haste in the notes tab of our cellphones, as I am currently writing. There’s freedom in that. And if I have inherited freedom, then I have a debt to spread that freedom wide—wide like my grandmother’s smile, wide like hips forged from cheese and phyllo, wide like the ocean I cross tomorrow.

My last night in Los Angeles I eat Israeli food with Mary. It is the perfect ending to an imperfect time in my life. Not a bad time, I’ve come to realize, merely imperfect. My heart is yearning to be challenged, and the space for that growth can only be found elsewhere. But sometimes, before the next leap, it is nice to come home to a friend who remembers the you from before, but who also understands the you present today. We talk about spirituality and screenwriting and the deep need to be making art. I am struck by Mary’s generosity time and time again. I think it is important to have friends who inspire you to give more of yourself. We (societally and personally) put so much emphasis on our careers, our dreams, our Instagram feeds, but isn’t it fantastic when you’re snapped out of your narcissism and gifted with an honest conversation? Yes, it is a gift to know intelligent people who are excited to spend dinner discussing comparative religion (they are rare but fabulous friends indeed…I feel lucky to have many). I will tuck this memory in my carry-on bag. You need joy to start a journey. 

I will end with a beginning. I’m currently in the air on my way to Chicago O’Hare, where I have a short layover before departing to Rome. AnQi and I agree that the start of a new school year brings inevitable optimism. Despite knowing the flaws in the system that is higher education, there is always the hope we might figure it all out this time. Or at least do better. I miss my friends, but I am excited to make new ones studying abroad. I miss my dad, but I know he’ll be okay. I miss pieces of myself I had to leave behind in order to grow. But I am proud of myself despite everything. Thank you for giving me a sharing space. It is self-indulgent but immensely joyful to write down my thoughts for someone else to read. This week, I’d encourage you to take this assignment for yourself. Write down all the things you are thinking about. Make sure to put all the joy in. That can be uncomfortable (at least it is for me), but it is valuable. Then, send your thoughts to someone you trust. Journals are nice but they are inherently self-oriented. What if we wrote with generosity, as Selby Schwartz once suggested to me? What if we admitted, publicly, that we are still figuring it all out? That is the beauty of the project Izzy has created, and I’m so grateful she let me come inhabit this world for a while. 

Lots of love,

*julianna, 20

i’m introducing new voices to 16til26*, slowly but surely. julianna is a friend of mine from school. she has a beautiful way of describing the world, so i asked her to just send me some jottings from a week in her life. journal entires, lists, anything.

if you’re at all interested in sharing your own week, please fill out this form below. i’ll get back to you as soon as possible with more information~ i would love more than anything to have you be a part of this.

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