Written upon Realizing Julia Sugarbaker Made Me Who I Am

If y’all don’t know, I’m a pretty awkward bird.

Not that I don’t hide it well on certain days, or up to a certain point.

But to my mind, at least, awkward remains the default.

Even now, a decade and a half into my career, well-compensated and provided with plenty of opportunity, I feel out-of-step in things like virtual meetings. My contributions seem to go over as either too existential, or too fascinated with that weird little detail over there in the corner at the expense of the big picture, or too surface-level because I’ve decided “hey, you’ve already gone about this in a way I can’t relate to, so the most I can do is copy edit.” (I try to take all this in stride, of course, on account of the whole “nothing ventured, nothing gained” thing, and since I still get paid at the end of the day.)

In middle school music class, I once chose to sit at a table full of people who didn’t care for me much. I used my lunch cooler as a chair, which meant I was at the exact right level to rest my chin on the tabletop. I tried talking to them from down there, in a quirky, self-effacing kind of way, looking like a disembodied head.

They hated it, I’m sure, and it was SUPER cringe. I cannot believe the person who did that was ME.

But I distinctly remember them being (eventually) disarmed, and I coaxed an uncomfortable laugh out of one or two of them.

Now, this was a one off, and it didn’t make any of us friends. (I also clearly had a thing or two to learn about appropriate boundaries.) But my point in telling this squirm-worthy anecdote is that it seems I was always mining for people’s real innards. The goo glimpsed through the cracks in the social armor. I wasn’t interested in anything less.

Though I eventually adjusted (at least by comparison), going through school as this kind of earnest raw nerve got me a lot of abuse. I learned that my way of doing things was none too popular, and I often found myself in the midst of dynamics that made me feel utterly powerless.

It didn’t help that I was naturally an introvert, which meant I needed to marinate in every little thing, and I took forever to polish thoughts, tweaking and tweaking every formulation till it was something I felt twinkled. A master of the swift, sizzling, inarguable burn I was not.

Much has been said about relatively cerebral aughts series like Gilmore Girls and indie movies like Juno having absurdly articulate dialogue where everyone is conversing at the level of an English major’s wet dream. But as a Xennial, I can’t think of a better example of self-expression wish fulfillment than JULIA EFFING SUGARBAKER.

The thoroughly justified indignation. The courtroom-ready monologues that could casually slice you like the lid of a can. The charisma and warmth underneath it all. The fabulous fashion sense to boot.

And most of all, the fact that, because it was a scripted network sitcom, the antagonist had to shut their confounded trap and just LISTEN, without interrupting. And of course they were ALWAYS contrite, or at the very least stunned into silence.

Forget Disney princesses and their woodland creature serenades ruining people for the ugly world. I didn’t want to be lovely and dainty and pastoral; I wanted to wield the extemporaneous verbal horsepower of Julia Sugarbaker.

Failing that, I decided to be a writer instead.

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