Always: Reflections on Harry Potter


So, today is both Harry Potter and J.K. Rowling’s birthday. I’ll admit, it seems excessive to celebrate the birthday of a fictional character and a woman I’ve never met, but because I just finished re-reading Half-Blood Prince, I’m seizing the opportunity to speak to my boundless adoration for J.K. Rowling and her marvelous world.

In many ways, the two months since my graduation have been marked by my rediscovery of Harry Potter. As I embarked on my first trip to Europe, I picked up where I stopped re-reading last summer and began Goblet of Fire. While in Europe, I visited the sites that brought my favorite book series to life for me. Some were obvious (Platform 9 ¾, The Harry Studio Tour, The Elephant House Café), others slightly less so (the Scottish countryside, Eilean Donan Castle, the streets of London). There is nothing quite like bringing a childhood dream to fruition, especially when it exceeds expectations. Exhilarated, I resumed my re-reading with fresh eyes on the journey home and continued upon returning.

It is no exaggeration that, in re-reading these books, I have fallen in love with storytelling all over again. Ask Chris or anyone who has spent a few hours around me in the past couple months; I haven’t gone long without praising them. It is only fitting that, following my college graduation, with so much uncertainty before me in spite of my continuing education, I should return to my lifelong favorite series. Those pages hold so much nostalgia for me. And, as I’ve said every time I re-read this series, I always find something new, be it a previously unnoticed bit of foreshadowing, an adult remark that once went over my head, or the mention of a location that I’ve now visited.

But this time, re-reading Harry Potter was something more. For the first time, I did not just lose myself in the world but also studied its construction. And far from ruining the experience, it has only heightened the magic. At a time where my own frustration with Los Angeles has forced me to question my career path, Harry Potter has reminded me why I must write, no matter what. It is likely that I will never match J.K. Rowling’s greatness, but, as I’ve said before, if my work can touch a handful of people the way this series has touched me, I will have achieved great success.

Clearly, I could go on and on about what makes these books so superb for me: the intricacy of the world, the almost-painful realness of the characters, the masterful plants and payoffs, the subtle implications of emotions and actions that are more powerful when left unspoken. But, truly, no explanation could ever pay proper homage to the impact these books have had on my life. And yet, as I lie here in bed at 3am, sneezing my head off from a bad cold and emotionally drained from the end of Half-Blood Prince, I feel compelled to say something. To at least attempt to explain how these books have been so integral to who I am as a person and who I am still becoming.

I spent my childhood roaming the halls of a paper castle, whittling away the hours with my body in one place and my mind far away. In the beginning, each corridor held new mysteries and potential allies. I was too young to understand the motivations for my inky friends’ behavior or even what it meant that a door was left “ajar.” But heart and bravery know no age. And so I lingered, spent year after year revisiting these hallways. Conjuring images more vivid than the world beyond the pages, my fictional dreams and memories encroaching on reality. When my companions ached so did I, and when I grew, so did they. And when our journey ended, I felt compelled to create worlds of my own.

I have spent many days revisiting those hallways. Over the years, much cleverer beings attempted to capture their essence, rendered it into image and sound, but nothing could hope to match the feeling of those books on my lap– the pleasant weight and woody smell. The heartache and longing and ecstasy. The promise of one more visit to my ink-and-paper home.

And though long ago, I learned that my own acceptance letter would never arrive, though I’ll never illuminate the room with an enchanted twig or soar on a hippogriff’s back, I know that magic exists, if only on the page.

The End! (Kinda)

To say it has been a long time since I last blogged would be an understatement. Like most healthy, productive practices, it was one of those things where, once I fell out of practice, it was oh so easy to stop altogether. And while senior year is supposed to be a breath of fresh air— one last chance to appreciate college life before the real world comes knocking— my last year at USC was full of non-stop activity.

Of course, I can’t complain. Yeah, there were a few especially bothersome classes and a relentless fruit fly problem, but I also had the chance to co-write my first feature film and intern at Fox Broadcasting Company.* I applied and was accepted into my dream master’s program (Guess where!), and despite my lack of time for a social life, I strengthened old relationships and made wonderful new friends. I don’t know where my sanity would be without late nights of food, laughter, and Super Smash with Chris and Gabby, weekly gossip fests with Zach, or monthly catch-up sessions with Natalie. Not to mention that I had the incredible chance to spend my last year of college with my sister, who somehow managed to live in the building next door.

It would be impossible to flesh out every wonderful memory from this year, so I’ll write about my new favorite: graduation. From the moment I started freshman year, I dreaded the thought of ever leaving USC. It was, and remains, my favorite place in the entire world, and I doubted I’d ever get tired of apple pie milkshakes at Ground Zero or biking down Trousdale with the wind in my hair. But, as the years rushed by and I gained clarity about who I wanted to be after college, that day not only seemed manageable but exciting. Of course, I didn’t WANT to leave, but by the end of this semester, I was ready.   

I awoke last Monday morning to two frightening realizations: I had 16 hours to write my final ten-page paper of college and, holy crap, there were four days until graduation. The day passed in a whirlwind of words and caffeine, and then it was on to graduation prep. I spent Tuesday decorating my cap** with Natalie and Alex before heading home with Gabby to show her my hometown and do some last minute shopping. After winning the battle with traffic, I returned to campus Wednesday just in time to attend Chris’ final Demo Day for his program and braced myself for the busy days to come. Thursday was the beginning of a packed long weekend; I arrived on campus at 10am to take graduation pictures with Natalie and Alex before attending an awards ceremony at Bovard Auditorium and another ceremony at Leavey Library in honor of my 4.0 GPA. (Shaking Nikias’ hand made all my hard work worthwhile.) After a much-earned dinner at the Campus Center with my dad, we took a few more pictures at SCA before he headed home.

The night before graduation, I was plagued with all manner of anxiety dreams— not packing enough for my upcoming Europe trip, being late to the ceremony, and I think there was something about having a child. I awoke every few hours, fearing that I’d somehow miss all ten of my alarms, until finally it was time to get up. After curling my hair, donning my regalia, and rallying Gabby and Chris, the three of us headed to campus. I had the chance to say a quick hello to my family before joining the line of eager SCA students. After a thousand pictures, the procession began. While some of our classmates took swigs from hidden flasks, Chris and I stuffed our faces with his smuggled Fruit Loops. As if having Nikias read my name as one of the straight-A students wasn’t great enough, Will Ferrell serenaded us with Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You,” and a flock of white doves was released in our honor.

After the main ceremony, my family and I had several hours to kill before the SCA ceremony, so we recharged and chatted with the Gordons at the Hillel house before meeting up with Chris and his family. Eventually, it was time to line up inside the Shrine, and I spent the next hour or so catching up with old and new crit studies friends as we waited to enter the auditorium. I was lucky enough to sit with my first friend at USC (Natalie) as Ron Myers and the Dot sisters imparted their advice to us, and soon it was time for us to walk. I was so focused on not tripping or looking awkward for photos that I completely forgot to look for Hillary and Bill Clinton in the audience, but it was incredible nonetheless. After the ceremony had ended and the Indiana Jones theme filled the auditorium, I used the rest of my iPhone battery to locate my family. Together, we headed to the SCA reception, where I gorged myself on finger sandwiches and peach iced tea before taking another thousand pictures. After turning in our robes and gathering our belongings for the night, Chris and I headed to Orange County for an extremely late Chinese dinner.

Despite my constant level of adrenaline throughout the day, I crashed the moment my head hit the pillow, but I couldn’t sleep in just yet; I woke up a little after 9 to finish preparations for my graduation luncheon at Maggiano’s that afternoon. After hours of good conversation and more than enough chicken parm and lemon cookies, it was back to LA for a friend’s graduation dinner before preparing to move out the next day.

So, now what? I’m officially moved out and final grades are in. I leave for a two-and-a-half-week trip to Europe tomorrow. Naturally, I found out that I would not be receiving the scholarship I had hoped for right in the middle of packing, but by the grace of my incredible family, I will officially be attending the MFA screenwriting program at USC beginning this Fall. And as for the Trojenn Diaries, I know I’ve been neglectful, but I’m not ready to give up this blog just yet. After all, I’m sure that my next two years at USC will bring plenty of new adventures my way. Whatever happens, thank you to all of you who have followed me on this incredible journey and watched me grow from an eager, semi-terrified freshman to a still eager, still semi-terrified USC grad. Fight on!

* On the off chance you didn’t see my 5,000 Facebook posts on the topic, I was selected to co-write an adaptation of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer to be produced by James Franco and John Watson’s spring directing class, and I stayed with the project through production as the rewriter.
**For those of you who aren’t crit studies majors, my design was homage to the legendary Dr. Caspter. He refers to our generation as “postmodern babies,” and, in his purview, the Star Wars films hearkened the postmodern era.

Hello, Seattle

Well, in case anyone was wondering, I am still alive, despite my blogging hiatus. (If you were hoping otherwise, sorry to disappoint.)

Because I’d rather not revisit junior year at this point, I’ll just take you back a few weeks to when Chris and I left our drought-ridden land of eternal sunshine for the gorgeous Pacific Northwest! This trip marked several milestones for me: 1) It was the longest trip Chris and I have taken together; 2) It was my first time planning nearly every aspect of a trip from flights to lodging to attractions; 3) It was Chris and my first time on a plane together; 4) I finally got to meet my dad’s good friend Rome and his lovely wife, Connie; 5) It was the most money I’ve ever spent on a trip for myself; and 6) It was the farthest northwest I’ve ever been!


We arrived at LAX several hours early on Tuesday, May 17 expecting the usual delay at the TSA checkpoint. Miraculously, we made it through in no time at all, leaving us with two-ish hours to play vicious games of Words with Friends and eagerly await our departure. At last, it was time to board the plane, and Chris and I were (overly) excited to find that you can order drinks ON YOUR SCREEN on Virgin Airlines. (We live in the future, guys.) So, essentially, our flight consisted of marveling at this TV/menu and me hurriedly assembling my DSLR camera to take pictures of snow-capped volcanoes.

After getting lost looking for our soon-to-be-hosts at Sea-Tac Airport, the four of us headed to Tacoma for pizza and a stroll to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. From Downtown Tacoma, we headed to Chambers Bay to watch the sunset, and I knew I’d fallen in love.


On our first full day in Washington, Chris and I rose bright and early (no easy task for my boyfriend). Connie was sweet enough to drive us to the transit station in Tacoma that morning and every subsequent morning, and before long, we were at Pike Place Market. Naturally, I had created an extensive itinerary detailing every landmark and restaurant I wanted to visit, and we decided to share small bites of food at some of the top places on my list: macaroni from Beecher’s, piroshkies from Piroshky Piroshky, and a latte at Storyville Coffee. Many pictures later, we made our way to Pioneer Square for the Underground Tour, where we learned that decrepit underground passageways can actually be pretty awesome. From Pioneer Square, we made our way towards the Seattle Public Library, stopping at City Hall and the incredible Sky View Observatory along the way.IMG_7153 Upon finding that the observatory was a comfy lounge with incredible views instead of a cramped outdoor observatory, we decided to rest there for a while to recharge our minds as well as a our iPhones. After the library, we returned to Pike Place Market to eat at Steelhead Diner, where we tried (and disliked) oysters.

Now that we had (somewhat) learned the lay of the land, the next day felt much more relaxed. We started the morning at the Cederberg Teahouse, a South African teahouse specializing in rooibos tea lattes. From there, we rode the bus to the Seattle Center, where we took a thousand pictures under the Space Needle, longingly peeked inside the EMP museum, perused gift shops, and unleashed our inner children at the world’s coolest playground. IMG_7177As fun as the Seattle Center was, we couldn’t help but notice the ominous clouds above and prayed that the rain would wait for the sun to set. Luckily, after riding the link rail, we emerged to find that the University of Washington was completely dry, and we strolled the campus sans umbrellas. From there, we worked our way to the Amazon Bookstore before sitting down for a sushi dinner. Of course, while the two of us stuffed our faces with the most seafood we’ve consumed in one sitting, it began to drizzle, but we came prepared. All was well as we rode back into the city and walked to the Pie Bar… until we began to eat. No, it wasn’t the food– our pie was awesome. But while we set to work on our giant slice, the light drizzle turned to a torrential downpour. We resolved to wait out the worst of the rain, but the downpour continued long after we’d scarfed down the last bites of pie. Finally, we resolved to walk to the Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room. It wasn’t too far away, we decided. How bad could it REALLY be?

Awful. No SoCal storm could have prepared us for this kind of rain. Thankfully, we had each other, and the rain was so heavy that it was almost comical. Sure, our feet and lower legs were soaked, but our warm drinks more than made up for it. And our pictures were amazing.IMG_7251

Friday marked our last full day in Washington. Since Rome had the day off work, Chris and I accompanied our hosts into the city for the day. It was refreshing not to have to consult a map every few seconds, and Rome and Connie took us to places that we would never have known existed. From exploring the International District to sharing, in Rome’s world, “the best canolis on the West Coast,” to perusing the Olympic Sculpture Park, the day was filled with fun, food, and great company.  After a Vietnamese lunch, donuts at Top Pot, and another trip to the Reserve Roastery, we decided to head to Point Defiance park to watch another gorgeous sunset. Though Chris and I spent most of our time in the city, Point Defiance was the highlight of the trip for me. The Puget Sound is gorgeous no matter where you see it from, but the glittering water coupled with endless greenery felt like something out of a painting. So, basically, I think I’ll leave California and buy a cabin in the Washington wilderness.


It was past 9pm when we left the park, so we skipped eating dinner out and instead enjoyed a late pasta dinner at home with our hosts. After plenty of spaghetti and egg creams, Chris and I packed our things and prepared for the next morning’s early departure. Rome and Connie drove us to Sea-Tac, and we thanked them profusely for waking up so early to take us and for making this adventure possible.

As we prepared for liftoff, I sipped on my iced vanilla latte and craned my head for one last glimpse of Mt. Rainier. It was sad to see this incredible trip come to an end, but I know I’ll return to Washington soon enough– be it for another vacation or perhaps as my future home. Until then, I’ll be sipping coffee from my new Starbucks mug, dreaming up my next itinerary.

Winter Wonderland

Bonjour!* Wow, it’s hard to believe it’s been so long since I last posted. Yeah, yeah, I’m notoriously bad about that, but it feels like just yesterday I was on the plane home from my New York adventure, blogging amidst the clouds. 12342623_10153024376616116_1237085363570710059_n

As usual, my lack of posts can be attributed to extreme busy-ness rather than monotony. Naturally, my week-long hiatus across the country left me in a time crunch for final papers, which, in turn, meant less time to study for exams. But never fear- finals week was a success, despite many delirious hours spent studying  with friends. I emerged with good grades and praise for my first short film script… Not bad.

Speaking of friendship, Junior Year, Pt. 1 precipitated a great deal of change. The semester was punctuated with on and off drama. However, this semester also saw the strengthening of old and new friendships. I experienced my first ever Friendsgiving, and spent the last weekend before finals pigging out at Din Tai Fung with lots of food.)

With a cramped hand and an exhausted mind, I exited SCA on the Thursday, December 10th and prepared for the next four weeks at home. After one last day on campus, I returned to Orange County.

12374996_10208625612546033_1414564149548466558_oThankfully, finals did not ruin my Chanukah; I spent the first weekend of break celebrating with my grandparents and cousins before exchanging with my immediate family back at home. And the celebration didn’t end there; it was impossible not to feel festive after two visits to Din Tai Fung the next week in a highly-decorated mall and seeing A Christmas Carol with Chris and Lindsay.

After attending an ugly sweater party and our family friend J.D.’s Christmas party on the 19th , Chris and I were eager to embark to his house for Christmas. Of course, he was unable to assist me in baking four types of holiday cookies for his family, as he caught the flu in the days before leaving my house. Still, I thoroughly enjoyed every moment of baking, arranging, and wrapping the cookies, and I couldn’t be more excited to drive up to Ventura County.  As a Jew, the commercial aspects of Christmas have always held a certain magic for me, perhaps because I’ve romanticized them for so many years. For this reason, I could not be more excited to help Chris’ mom decorate or open presents on Christmas morning. (Though, I probably annoyed everyone by insisting on playing Michael Buble during the entire holiday.)

We spent six days and many delicious meals with Chris’ parents before returning to Orange County to prepare for my 21st birthday. And, after re-dyeing my hair, baking chai latte cupcakes, and a lovely double date with Suzanne and Nik, December 30th dawned at last. The celebration began with a delicious homemade brunch of Belgian waffles, fresh berries, eggs, bacon, and pineapple mimosas. After a trip to the mall for a NYE outfit and a bit more last-minute cleaning, I spent the night surrounded by friends, family, and Chris- rollerskating, eating, and marveling at how lucky I am. Sam wound up spending the night, and we four cousins realized just how little our relationship- and sense of humor- has changed. I ended my birthday watching the Jessica Jones pilot with my sisters, cousin, and boyfriend by my side. 1915502_10153078061436116_604652439547692305_n

The next day proved equally exciting. In preparation for Sam and Pat’s party, I made my first alcoholic purchase, and I don’t think I stopped smiling once for the rest of 2015.

Last week brought rare So-Cal storms, last-minute shopping, and much-needed catchup with friends. Between seeing Sherlock on the big screen with Delaney, spending hours chatting with Sydney, and embarking on one last boba run before Sarah leaves for ASU, I ended break with a bang. And when I wasn’t out and about, I’ve caught up on some much-needed downtime, watching Netflix with my family, reading, and beating Pokemon Alpha Sapphire. (Don’t judge.)

Just before returning to USC, I’ll admit to feeling a little hesitant to return. Winter Break was  such a marvelous reprieve from reality, and for once I relished in a lack of obligations. But, at the risk of sounding cheesy, I know this semester will be a new adventure unto itself, filled with awesome classes, awesome people, and my first internship. Oh, and plenty of creme brulee. (I’m dying to try my new ramekins.)

Well, friends, thank you for sharing a wonderful year with me. 2015 was an absolute blast, and I know 2016 will be even better. L’chaim!

*No, I did not learn French or visit Paris. I just figured I should change up my greeting.

**Excuse the lack of red highlighting. My feverish brain is not up for the task.

Jenn Takes New York, Pt. 5

And just like that, it was Saturday, and I’d be leaving that afternoon.

IMG_5536After one last meeting with the showrunner, I mapped out my route to Union Square for brunch with my “cousin” Rachel. On her recommendation, we ate at The Grey Dog Cafe, a cute restaurant close to her NYU dorm. (For the record, my challah french toast and apple cider rivaled breakfast at Jacks n Joe’s.) As usual, we realized that we’re both studying and interested in the same things, so there was plenty to discuss!

Now, the one NYC spot I’d lamented not seeing was Washington Square, and it just so happened that this very park is the hub of NYU. And since it’s only a few blocks from the restaurant, Rachel and I walked over after brunch to continue catching up. After more talking and lots of pictures, we headed to Rachel’s dorm for a bit before I returned to my hotelIMG_5534.

I packed my things and scanned the room for any forgotten items- half because I was afraid of leaving valuables across the country and half to delay my time until checkout. At last, everything was together, and it was time to return to JFK. Traffic had been so terrible on the way over that I scarcely had time to sit down between the security checkpoint, stocking up on snacks, and using the bathroom. Before I knew it, the city disappeared beneath the clouds.IMG_5550

Naturally, the flight back to LAX felt much quicker. I spent most of it listening to the “Spring Awakening” soundtrack, blogging, and going through all my pictures.

As happy as I was to see Chris, I must say I’ve never been so sad to return to USC. I now speak from experience when I say I want to move to the East Coast. Until next time, New York!


Jenn Takes New York, Pt. 4

This brings us to my favorite part of the journey- FRIDAY!

I sIMG_5243.jpgtarted the day with an 11am trip to Liberty Island. After great internal debate, I caved and purchased a selfie stick. (It’s perfectly justifiable for a tourist traveling alone- or so I told myself.) I braved the cold Atlantic winds on the ferry ride over, admiring (and photographing) the Manhattan skyline. After snapping some selfies with Lady Liberty, I ferried on to Ellis Island, where I searched for my immigrant ancestors and admired the exhibits. I realized how ironic it was that I’d FLOWN to New York and PAID to visit Ellis Island when my ancestors had endured grueling sea voyages to arrive here. It’s truly mind-blowing.

Upon returning to Battery Park, I decided that the banana I’d packed and the pretzel I bought weren’t enough to hold me over. So, I headed to Greenwich Village in search of Tea and Sympathy, a hole-in-the-wall English restaurant I’d found online.

After a delightful “lunch” of tea and scones, I roamed the Village before making my way to the High Line. Strolling through the “park” was a perfect reprieve from tourist traps; I found myself enchanted by its synthesis of urban vistas and sprawling plant life, and I probably annoyed everyone around me with my frequent photography. Due to my injured knee, I feared I wouldn’t last very long. Yet, somehow, I made it almost to the end of the path.

IMG_5340The High Line took me considerably far from the subway, but I returned to Rockefeller Center all the same. I admired the iceskating rink once more before exploring Fifth Avenue. I located the flagship Tiffany store, admired the holiday displays, peeked into Trump Tower (despite my hatred for its namesake), and window-shopped at Bergdorf Goodman. Before returning to Times Square, I stopped into Henri Bendel, where a gorgeous red cross-body caught my eye and made its way onto my holiday wishlist. (Parents, be warned.)

Legs aching, I made my way back to the TKTS booth. Now that I’d seen Les Mis, I was completely at a loss. Play or musical? Something I’d seen before or something new? Eventually, I decided on the Spring Awakening revival… and, wow, what an experience! This incarnation of the musical premiered in Los Angeles and fully incorporates ASL into the performance. This initially caught me off guard, but I was enrapt by the end of “All That’s Known.” The performance demanded my full attention, but that’s exactly what good theatre SHOULD do. Since I’d seen Spring Awakening without ASL at USC, I could fully appreciate the unique direction and the actors’ choices, and I was engaged from beginning to end. All in all, two thumbs up! IMG_5480

After the show, I was exhausted, so I took an Uber back to the hotel. I stared out at the moonlit cityscape for practically the whole car ride and marveled at how quickly everything had happened- my agreement to fly to New York, the plane flight, the trip itself. All of the sudden, I’d been granted my dream vacation, and now, it was nearly over.

“Home” at last, I prepared for the morning to come, vowing to make the most of my final day.


Jenn Takes New York, Pt. 3

Thursday dawned, bringing grey clouds and bittersweet news. As I had suspected, the other contributor backed out of the show due to contract issues, and there wasn’t enough time to negotiate. This was a bit of a let-down, of course, but how could I really complain about 2.5 full days to explore the city?

Thursday also marked my first real experience with East Coast weather… And for the first time in my life, I understood why the rest of the country complains about rain.

It was great for the first couple hours or so. I relished in the light drizzle as I made my way to the Jay Street station. I was even a bit disappointed to find that the rain had stopped once I disembarked. In retrospect, I’m grateful that my walk from the subway to the Met was dry; I imagine that soaked jeans would’ve hindered my ability to appreciate ancient art.

IMG_4968.jpgAs it turns out, the beginning of the REAL rain was perfectly timed with my arrival at The Temple of Dendur, a sandstone temple in a room with large pools and slanted floor-length windows. It just so happens that these windows overlook Central Park- gorgeously rainy, autumnal Central Park with fiery trees and silver skies.  And as much as I loved the rest of the Met, nothing beat this room. I took about 5,000 pictures out the window and probably looked like a maniac smiling to myself.

The Met was breathtaking but also far too massive for any sane human being to see everything in one day. After a couple hours of admiring art and perusing the gift shops, I headed for a local deli, Barney Greengrass. It just so happened that Google Maps routed me through rainy Central Park, and I paused every few steps to snap a photo beneath my umbrella. I was basically the only person crazy enough to roam Central Park in the rain and certainly the only person crazy enough to continually pause for photo ops.


I arrived at Barney Greengrass just when the rain started picking up and the wind kicked in. Once inside, I was immediately greeted and led to my table. Hailing from a line of New York-bred Jews on my mom’s side, I felt right at home in the cozy deli. It didn’t take long for me to decide on an everything bagel with cream cheese, lox, and all the fixings. The waiter chatted to me about my current read- Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me– and I regretted not having room in my stomach for a proper dessert. Thankfully, the deli contains a bakery, so I stocked up on cookies for later.

After lunch, I rode the subway to the famed Times Square Toys R Us- one more life goal off the bucket list.
IMG_5118(I didn’t ride the ferris wheel, but I did snap plenty of pictures.)

I had intended to see another Broadway show, but that would mean spending another three hours in the now-torrential downpour with an aching knee. Naturally, I decided to call it a day and return to my hotel, where I ordered Vietnamese food, started “Master of None,” and began brainstorming my plans for the following day…