The Yellow Pages

Life's questions completely unexplained


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Confessions of a Basket Case

Theme: “We’re all pretty bizarre. Some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all”

Regardless of whether you like eggs and bacon or pancakes and waffles—you’ll definitely love The Breakfast Club. It’s the iconic example of adolescent self-discovery, Saturday detention, and fantastic ’80’s music that transcends cinematic boundaries and leaves us with the question: Who Am I?

It’s also just a really good movie.

For those lost souls who have yet to see it, The Breakfast Club is about five socially- divergent teens: the Brain, the Athlete, the Basket Case, the Princess, and the Criminal, who are asked to discover their self-identity during Saturday detention.

The first time I saw The Breakfast Club, my friend and I assigned each other characters: he the Criminal, I the Basket Case. It may be that he was in his bad-boy phase and I only had two girls to choose from, but at the time the personas seemed to fit.

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The five characters begin their day with snide remarks, pointed jokes, and streams of eye rolls. No one knows why the others are there and no one really cares. The morning passes with nail filing, knife sharpening, a legendary game of paper football, and cumulates with a synchronized whistling number. Each character sits inside their stereotype and has no interest in standing up.

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However, as time passes and boredom runs high, something changes within the group. Together they escape their prison, avoid their warden, and find interest in their fellow delinquents. After some illicit activity, a quick dance party, and an impressive lipstick application using cleavage, the Breakfast Club finds themselves in a truth circle.

This is my favorite part. Gone are the snide remarks and pointed jokes and in their place is a deep sense of vulnerability. Here we find out the reasons for each character’s presence in detention and the underlying factors that drove them there. These intense confessions shatter the bulletproof glass of their stereotypes. Behind the lipstick, cigarettes, and straight-As, all of them are pretty bizarre. Cross-legged and vulnerable, the Brain, the Athlete, the Basket Case, the Princess, and the Criminal, shed their labels and become the Breakfast Club.

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The Breakfast Club may just be a movie, and a good one at that, but there is a reason why it resonates. It’s for this same reason my friend saw himself as the Criminal and I the Basket Case: we tend to see ourselves the way others want to see us. We fill these personas, for the good and the bad, in order to draw a distinct line between ourselves and the rest of the world.

We draw these lines to relieve the pressure of defining self-identity. The pressure comes from outside sources as well as our own inner voice saying: “What should I major in? What should I do with my life? Who am I??”. This uncertainty is scary so we latch onto the best persona that crosses our path.

But this isn’t good enough. I am no more the Basket Case than my friend is the Criminal. Being a Basket Case may be fun but it isn’t even close to describing all that I am. And no one, not even ourselves, can confine us to one persona. When we surpass defined labels, we find out that we’re all pretty bizarre, some of us are just better at hiding it, that’s all.  

 “You see us as you want to see us: in the simplest terms, in the most convenient definitions. But what we found out is that each one of us is a brain and an athlete and a basket case and a princess and a criminal.”

 Does that answer your question?

  Sincerely yours,
 the Breakfast Club.

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– j

Unanswerable Question: Who are you when you don’t define yourself?

And some solid ’80s music

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My Full Catastrophe Of College

Theme: Life to its Fullest

The first time I did laundry in college, I dried my dirty clothes before I washed them. The whole floor stunk of a locker room during pre-season, bringing my friend-making process to a halt. Earlier, I’d bragged about my laundry-doing prowess and even set up a “laundry date” to help a guy out. However, this illusion crashed down with the baking of my socks and underwear and thus began my full catastrophe of college.

Spiritual teacher Jon Kabit-Zinn speaks of the Full Catastrophe of Living: the human ability to transform the most difficult moments of life into the most spectacular. Living one’s full catastrophe is acknowledging the limitless potential in every single moment.

College always seemed like a dream—something to be thought up but never lived. It was that pretty picture on the horizon but not the ground under my feet. However, on August 31st I peaked my head out from behind this illusion and college hit me smack in the face. Bruised and star-struck, I stepped on stage—ready for my full catastrophe.

And it came like this:

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There were times when the things I had to do outnumbered the hours I had to do them; when my home was the library and my only friend Plato (see top left). There were rainy days and snowy days and days I wanted to go home. Times when I wondered what would happen if I just didn’t go that exam or just didn’t write that paper. Nights when I went to the dining hall alone, performing that uncomfortable quick-eye scan for a place to sit. And that time I laid down on the Main Green at midnight and questioned human existence, to which my friend answered—it was time for me to go to bed.

And yet, between the rain, awkward meals, and philosophic questions—college also came like this:

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This is my ‘yay college’ face I donned for the times I couldn’t get enough of life. From wearing a classy bear suit to slip and sliding on the Main Green to ‘party-shopping’ all the sports houses in one night—life was incredible. These moments infiltrated the rainy days and library nights and turned them into a one-person dance party with “I Love College” blasting in the background.

And yet again, between the embarrassing costumes and ecstatic selfies—college always came like this:

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These moments morphed the highs and the lows into a breathtaking sunset and a clear autumn day. They transform all those things I ‘have to do’ into one simple task: stopping and taking a breath. These are the moments I can’t help but wonder whether I’m still in that dream and I’ll wake soon in my bed at home prepped to take the SATs. These moments remind me of the full catastrophe that is Life.

College is a microcosm of life. It magnifies the highs and intensifies the lows, a constant reminder of the potency of the human experience. It’s the most dramatic change of my life, a dream turned reality. The most important thing I learned in college was that college was  actually real.

Perhaps college didn’t come to me but instead I came to it. It may have been that pretty picture on the horizon but it’s now the ground beneath my feet. I walked through its gates, arm raised, scared and excited, yet completely prepared, for the full catastrophe beyond.

Screenshot_2014-01-06-22-33-54– j

Unanswerable question: How is life, and not just college, a full catastrophe? 

look familiar?


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Me and My Red-Plaid Shirt

Theme: Memories

I have this shirt: Its Red. Its Plaid. And I’m pretty sure I found it in the Men’s sale section at Urban Outfitters. I like to wear it to bed, to school, and on mountain tops where I take inspirational, instagram-able pictures. 

Screen shot 2013-12-31 at 11.19.55 AMI love my Red-Plaid shirt. It’s graced with a shortage of buttons and an abundance of Memories. Whether its eating every flavor of popsicle during a chick-flick marathon on senior week, rock climbing for the first time after 3 hours of sleep, or writing “17” on my face in a mirror and realizing later that’s not how it works—my Red-Plaid shirt has been present in more than one my defining moments.

I’ve noticed that life transforms as it goes from present to memory. It takes on a ‘Rosy retrospection’ that eliminates the wrong and illuminates the right. That stressful first week of school becomes “The Best Time ever” and that painful breakup, “Not so Bad”.

This past year I have watched as memories transform within themselves, going from wonderful, to painful, to wonderful again. Memories are not static pieces of life, but dynamic moments morphing with their owner’s present state of being. Your ‘Ups‘ lace your memories with nostalgia, your ‘Downs’—with  heartache. These memories exist not only in the past but also in the present, reflecting the beholder’s intricate perception of their own life.

When it comes to memories, I have a somewhat invasive habit of asking people about their own. I’ll say “Whatever’s on you mind. Now. Go” and expect to be graced with some snippet of their life. I like to see what threads of memory are woven into the whatever-colored-Plaid shirt they wear. Because I’ve come to see our memories not as windows to our past, but as doors to who we are in this very moment.

Screen shot 2014-01-06 at 6.18.46 PMI love my memories. I love the way they weave together in an elaborate story with me as the protagonist. Within their seams I find the day I got my dog, the moment I scored that goal, or hurt my knee, or got into college. I find that sunset, that snowstorm, that unbeleivable night sky. This fabric takes form with each moment of my life. My Red-Plaid shirt holds memories where buttons once were. They’re sewn into its frayed sleeves and limp collar, illustrating a story from a chapter of my life.

Soon my Red-Plaid shirt will be devoid of buttons, frayed to the point of embarrassment, and I’ll have to find new Mountain-Top attire. My new favorite shirt will soon be the vehicle for my defining memories. It will change as these memories, and I, evolve with each passing moment of my life.

j

Unanswerable Question: Do our present states shape our memories or do our memories shape our present state?

“He was still too young to know that the heart’s memory eliminates the bad and magnifies the good, and that thanks to this artifice we manage to endure the burden of the past.”

– Gabriel Garcia Marquez


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No Place Like Home?

Theme: Home

 The past few months have transformed my concept of Home. I began my first bright-eyed week of college repeating over and over a book jacket version of myself: “Julianna, freshman, outside of Philly”, to everyone I met. School was where I was and home was where I wasn’t—nothing much to ponder.

However, as the semester progressed, I found the word ‘Home’ slipping loosely off my tongue. ‘Home’ now described my dorm or my building or the school itself. This unchecked multiplication pushed my out-dated ‘homing’ device to the brink of its breaking point.

And this point did come. It cracked on a five hour Southbound Amtrak and broke on the way back North. Thanksgiving break solidified my fear that I no longer had any idea what Home was.

This realization came to me in the form of Facebook cover photos. Thinking myself pretty clever, I changed the current display of a sunset in Pennsylvania to one in Rhode Island with the duplicate caption of “No Place Like Home”. For a while, I was profoundly self-impressed with this use of juxtaposition. Then I realized I had impressed—and confused—nobody but myself:

Somewhat clever juxtaposition:

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What is Home? Is it a place? Is it more than one place? Is it ‘where your heart is’? My concept of Home has been flipped, folded, turned inside out, and hidden somewhere I don’t think I’ll find for some time. The dictionary-definition of Home is a place where one spends the majority of their time, but I’m not sure this works for me anymore. As time goes on, I will spend more and more time away from where I grew up, be farther and farther from best friends and memories and places I call Home. The majority of my time may be spent where nothing and no one knows who I am.

Maybe Home is just that: Home. It’s whatever you ask it to be: your dorm room, your parent’s house, your birth-place, your summer-place, your memory of a place or none of the above. Maybe Home is crying when seeing your dad six weeks into college. Or falling into your best friend’s arms. Or hearing that music from that time you smiled, that joke from the time you laughed. Maybe It lives in that feeling—whether fleeting or enduring—that reminds you that all is well.

And maybe it is just that. For below that first dictionary-definition lies another: Home is a place where something flourishes.

I flourish from New Hampshire to Texas and at many points in between. I flourish wherever I know there is joy. Where there is love. I don’t need a permanent address or a set of coordinate points to know I am Home. As life continues, the number of Facebook cover photos with the caption “No Place Like Home” will multiply and the ‘juxtaposition’ will go from awkward to embarrassing. Because maybe there really isn’t a place quite like Home. Maybe Home is so limitless and indefinable that clicking the heels of your Ruby Red slippers won’t land you in Kansas but right back in Oz.

My life has transformed my concept of Home. My book jacket self will continue to diverge from “Julianna, freshman, outside of Philly” until it is no longer recognizable. And I may never know where, or whom, or what Home really is, but I can still hold one thing to be true:

There is No Place Like Home.

– j

Unanswerable Question: What is Home?

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Overcoming my ‘Rapunzel Complex’

Theme: Attachment

Right about now, my hair is getting a bit too long. It’s currently straddling the line between “kinda cool” and “pretty weird” and is dangerously close to the latter. I’ve been making excuses about getting it cut for a while now: ‘there are no Supercuts near school’ (lie), ‘it hasn’t reached my belly-button yet’ (half-lie), and ‘it’s winter and it keeps me warm’ (truth, but what?).

I have some strange attachment to my long hair: a self-diagnosed ‘Rapunzel Complex’.

Visual Symptoms:

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We can all admit it’s getting a bit ridiculous. So why don’t I get it cut? Because I’m attached. Like I mentioned before, I’ve formed an attachment to my long hair and am unwilling to face change. I’m comfortable with the way things currently are and am closed to what possibilities lie behind some shampoo and scissors.

The last time my Rapunzel Complex flared up was the summer before high school. I hid behind closed lipped smiles and a curly mane of hair in order to mask my fear of growing up. Yet after my soccer coach withheld my spot on the team until I got a hair cut (s/o to Danielle) and my braces came off, I let go of always having to be comfortable. 

Pre-high school model shots:

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To me attachment is the fear of letting go. It’s holding on so tightly your knuckles are blue and energy is waned. I find myself attached to things, ideas, places, and people when I  fear losing them. There seems to be a delicate balance between loving the moment  and wishing it would never end. I become attached to what I think will make me happy only to have it transform into what causes me the most pain (e.g. loving long hair, but hurting when its caught in the car door).

There’s peace in letting go. In accepting the impermanence of life. In letting your hands slip off the monkey bars, knowing that hitting the wood-chips will hurt less than holding on forever. In moving on. In cutting your hair. Buddhists speak of attachment as the greatest source of suffering, yet the origin of joy. My goal is to ‘carpe’ the ‘diem’ without crying when the sun sets.

And so, I am not about to claim my Rapunzel Complex is part of the past. But I am learning to cherish what I love about life without wishing for its immortality.

My first step is to go get my hair cut. A whole. Two. Inches.

– j

Unanswerable question: Where is the balance between ‘seizing the day’ and letting it go?

Before

Before

After

After


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The Yellow Pages

Many who know me, some who don’t, and a choice few college admissions officers—know that my favorite color is Yellow. With help from my Yellow rain-boots, prom dress, bed sheets, TOMS, backpack, and the random streak in my hair, I came to realize that not only is it my favorite color, but Yellow is who I am.

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This conclusion struck me when considering how to approach a prompt on a college application. The question was “Who Am I?” and my answer was “How the Hell do I Know?”. This original answer wasn’t getting me any closer to that coveted ‘Congratulations!’ so I reluctantly considered a revision. After whining to my mom, planking on the floor, and declaring I wasn’t going to college, the answer came to me: Who am I?—I am Yellow.

I realize “being Yellow” doesn’t make much sense. I am not very blond, I don’t have cat eyes, and I’m pretty partial to brushing my teeth—so none of me is very Yellow. However, answering the impossible question “Who Am I?” with an ambiguous, and admittedly ridiculous, answer gives me the opportunity to change while always remaining me. I began my experiment in being Yellow in my senior year Euro Lit class. I posed my theory before blank stares and encouraging smiles and allowed it to become what it was. Over the next several months, I found comfort in my metaphorically Yellow shoes. Pretty soon I found myself squished somewhere between Orange and Green and was pretty happy to be there.

For me, being Yellow means having a chronically optimistic view on life. It means fully engaging in whatever moment I am in. It means being completely annoying in my over-enthusiasm. Being open-minded. Being stubborn. Being (somewhat) overwhelmingly friendly. It means lying flat on Rock Bottom knowing the only way out is up. It means waking up every morning excited for the day to come. Being Yellow means being me.

My goal here is to pose Life’s unanswerable questions and completely ‘un-answer’ them. I will ‘un-answer’ them in my most optimistic, over-enthusiastic, pseudo-philosophic, and ‘Yellow’ way possible. I figure since I’m always thinking about life I might as well write about it. These are my thoughts on what it means to be ‘Yellow’—these are The Yellow Pages. 

– j