When I was in college, I was a spectacular idiot. While most freshmen spent their time socializing or signing petitions to save whales, I squandered all my free hours taking online quizzes. They were the kind you’d probably find on any spammy website, with titles like FIND YOUR SPIRIT ANIMAL! or WHICH SUBJECT IN HOGWARTS WOULD YOU EXCEL AT?!*
You remember these quizzes. Of course you do. We all did them at one point. They were the multiple choice ones that asked you random questions like what flavour of ice cream you prefer or what your weapon of choice would be. They were the quizzes that decided whether you were a genius or a maverick, a Gryffindor or a Ravenclaw, a girl with a wolflike personality or a guy with a lama’s. For most people, these were just fun quizzes – something you’d do while you were waiting for a friend.
But not me. I was a believer. I thought these tests possessed some mystical prescience, that they knew something about me that even I didn’t know. I’d spend hours clicking different boxes – “I like reading,” “I like autumn,” “I want my patronus to be a valorous bumblebee!” – and I did so with the conviction that this would unlock the secrets of my being!
Congratulations! You’re a Ravenclaw!
Congratulations! You’re a Charlotte!
Congratulations! You’ll find love when you’re forty!!!
These tests tell the world’s most beautiful lie: that people aren’t as complex and full of contradictions as they feel. That there’s some kind of simplicity – some core or essence – that makes us who we are. We can be bold as Gryffindors or clever like Ravenclaws and it’s as clean-cut as that. And if we’re curious about what our inner truth is, all we need to do is take a test.
I was so into these ridiculous quizzes that whenever I got a result that I didn’t like – like when fucking Pottermore sorted me into Hufflepuff – I totally queened. Another, even worse instance of this happened when, one day in freshman year, I made the mistake of walking into the common room. People were laughing and having fun and I really didn’t want to be in there.
“Look!” my RA said as she unrolled a pack of stickers. “Charlene gets a swan!”
My RA cut out a swan sticker, which Charlene promptly stuck to her forehead. I looked around. Everyone had an animal sticker.
“Why does everyone have an animal sticker? Do I get an animal sticker?”
“Everyone gets a sticker based on the animal they most resemble. See, so Charlene gets a swan because she’s elegant. Tyler gets a dog because he’s athletic. And James gets a gazelle because of his legs.”
James did have nice legs.
“What’s my sticker?”
“You get…” My RA rummaged through her rolls. What was she looking for? A daring eagle, soaring through the skies? Or a sexy, slithering snake doing sexy snake things in the grass? “Congratulations, Corey. You’re a groundhog.”
The Groundhog: the virgin of the animal kingdom. A sad-looking sticker for a sad, despicable creature. And I was just about to protest before she stuck the little fucker right on my nose.
“A groundhog?” I peeled the sticker off and flicked it away like a scab. “Who wants to be a fucking groundhog?!” I gestured at all the other animals proudly displayed on my neighbours’ foreheads. “Charlene got a swan! Marcus got a lion! You got a duck!”
“We made you a groundhog because you’re always holed up in your room,” Tyler said (his beautiful bare legs featured prominently in red short-shorts).
My RA added, “Plus you know about the weather, so you’re wise.”
I held it all in. The rage. BURNING! The righteous indignation. BURNING! I felt like Naomi Campbell did that one time she guest-starred on the Tyra Show. But even though my temperature was rising with the onset of Diva Fever, I knew that my urge to start throwing cell phones at people was unjustified. My floor mates were right. I was a groundhog. I studied so much and retreated so often into the solitude of my (shitty) dorm that I had no idea who my neighbours were. I didn’t even know my RA’s first name, which is why I only ever thought of her as RA Jones.
That was five years ago. And even though I’ve outgrown the personality quizzes I’m still drawn to the idea of people having a core-self. I know intellectually that people are more complicated than this. People are whimsical, complex, intricate. That’s part of what makes our species so fascinating. But the writer in me – the part of me who reads Jung and who was trained to think about characters as having central motivations that generate story – wonders if maybe there’s something to the whole essence argument. When I took a creative writing workshop at Humber College, our mentor, Wayson Choy, told us that all writers have a recurring theme or idea in their works. His theme was transformation. A peer’s was survival. Another’s, beauty. And then the bell rang before he could get around the circle so I never found out what my theme was. Fucking bell. But you get the point.
Some people might find this worldview limiting. But somehow I like it. I think there’s a kind of magic to its simplicity. The universe as it exists is already so chaotic and busy that I like the idea that our souls or bodies gravitate towards one, singular thing – an idea or an animal or an object – and that we aspire to bring more of what this thing represents into this world, because it speaks to who we are as people. These physical things give form to that foggy inner being that we call the self.
I’m not a philosopher, so that was terrible and terribly pretentious. I think I’ll punch myself later. But until then, what are your thoughts on this?
Anyway. To this day I still don’t want to be a groundhog, though I’m sure they are very nice. If I could choose one animal to represent me, though, it would be Totoro.
I just learned how to create gifs. Can you tell?
I know, I know. Totoro isn’t an animal. He’s a vegetable spirit, and an animated one at that. But if you really think about it, shouldn’t we all aspire to be more like Totoro? He’s friendly but humble, playful but contemplative. He’s curious about things. He’s also industrious, helping trees to grow and preserving nature’s biodiversity. Oh, that’s another thing: he’s eco-friendly.
In case you’re wondering, I’ve been thinking so much about character and core and motivation because… *drumroll* I’m beginning my Degrassi adventure in two weeks! I need to be sharp and more thoughtful about story-telling if I want to contribute anything to the story room. This is also such a great opportunity to learn from some really talented people. The reality of everything didn’t hit me until a few days ago, when I got this in the mail:
It felt weird to hold these CDs in my hand, like everything was suddenly real. I’ll be in a writer’s room. Of a show that I loved when I was in high school. It’ll be so humbling to sit in the presence of writers who work on something that continues to mean so much to young people everywhere. I think about Degrassi and I get goosebumps all over my arms. And then I think about what shirt I should wear on my first day and that I should refrain from using the word “Candy” (because apparently I say it weird).
Oh. Also: take a look at this scarf I bought from a street vendor in Hong Kong.
Sorry, that was a really random request to make mid-topic. Now back to the CDs… can’t tell you what’s on it (even though I really want to). All I can say is, those Degrassi writers are smart people. So stay tuned, fans!
* Transfiguration all da way.