I’ve never watched a lot of TV that I actually cared about. Sure, throughout middle school I was entrenched in the story of none other than Ms. Lorelai and Rory Gilmore, but aside from that not much else sticks out in my mind.
During my dad’s illness, I especially avoided watching TV because you never knew when a character would just be killed off. I vividly remember going to the movies with my best friend Emily to see The Last Song, a romantic drama based on Nicholas Sparks’ novel when suddenly, out of left field, with barely any foreshadowing to warn vulnerable audience members, the father gets cancer and dies. For “dramatic effect.” Well, I was deeply insulted. All Emily could do was exaggeratedly mouth in the darkness, “I’m so sorry.” It’s okay Emily; it wasn’t your fault.
When I moved in with my grandparents after my dad died, I watched TV even less. I didn’t even have a TV in my bedroom. I even began to hate having to hear the TV when other people had it on in the other room. (For this reason, I always have either a. a fan blowing in my room to muffle the TV’s sounds b. ear plugs stuffed so far in my ears I worry I’ll never be able to pull them out c. headphones snug atop my head with music pouring into my ears or d. a combination of all the above.) And so when I do like something on TV, I really like it. I mean, really.
While I was living in my apartment during the school year, it was never a problem when I wanted to watch the one show I do follow on TV. We only had one television but I was lucky to have a roommate that enjoyed watching the same show I did. Now that I’m home though, I realized that in order to watch the season finale of my favorite show, I was going to have to ask permission to watch the television in our living room at 11 o’clock at night. This wouldn’t be an issue in a normal house where teenagers–ahem, young adults (since I’m no longer a teenager anymore)–stay up late and grandparents go to bed early, but since my house is anything but normal, my grandpa watches TV every single night into the wee hours of the morning. Every. Single. Night.
And so I planned my attack to ask him at the opportune moment. Right after breakfast, before anyone had seriously bothered him (yet).
“Hey Grandpa, I have a question for you…”
All right, at least he seems open to hearing your idea.
“Well, tonight my favorite show is having its season finale at 11 and I was wondering if I could watch it?”
“Why are you asking me?”
Is this a test?
“Well, you always watch TV at that time.”
“You do realize we have more than one television in this house, right?”
Apparently my grandparents had made some changes to our house while I was away. Oh the joys of being a college student returning home for the summer.
“Oh….okay. Duh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
Home free. Get out fast before he asks more questions!
And just as I stood up to walk upstairs…
“What show is it anyway?”
Oh here we go.
It’s not that I don’t want to share the interesting, exciting things that I love with my grandpa. Really, I do. It’s just that with every interesting and exciting thing I do or discover he seems to question me.
1) I became a vegetarian. FOUR YEARS AGO.
THIS Thanksgiving: “Abigail. Why would you want to be a vegetarian? I’ve never known a happy vegetarian. You’re missing out on all the good things in life!”
2) I wanted to be a music major.
“Abigail. What kind of a job can you get with that?”
3) I wanted to go to NYU’s creative nonfiction summer writing program.
“Abigail. How is that going to help you at all in life?” (Thanks to all my followers I managed to change his mind about this one!)
4) I pitched my first book idea to him.
“Abigail. Why the hell would anyone want to read that?”
5) I cut all my hair off.
“Abigail. Why did you do that? Are you a lesbian?”
Seriously. The list goes on.
So it’s no surprise that I didn’t want to reveal the one show on TV that actually makes me happy just so he can tell me why he thinks it sucks stinks. But I can’t ignore him since he’s my grandfather after all so I took a deep breath in through my nose to prepare myself for what I knew was coming next and said,
“World of Jenks.”
“World of what?”
“Jenks, Grandpa. Jenks. It’s a guys last name.”
“And what’s it about?”
Time to say goodbye to the one show that brings you joy. It was nice knowing you Jenks, Kaylin, Chad, and D-Real.
Clenching my jaw, I hesitantly began. Because when I find something I really like, I don’t want people questioning why I like it, I just do. And sometimes, it’s hard for me to understand how some people wouldn’t also find the things I like as awesome and completely amazing and inspirational as I do.
“Well…it’s about this guy…Andrew Jenks. And…he lives with these three people for a year and…documents their lives….
And with a blank stare that seriously suggested I continue on, I said,
“This year he lived with a young man with autism, a new father who is trying to promote peace in Oakland through dance, and a young woman who’s had cancer twice who just moved to New York” you know, that big city with all the lights that’s only a half an hour away from our house “to pursue a career in fashion.”
Perfect. Good job Abigail. Sweet and simple.
Oh for the love of God.
“Why would you want to watch that? Who cares about those people’s lives? Don’t you want to watch the lives of interesting people, like movie stars?”
Movie stars? Really? That’s the best you got?
“Because it shows that even though these people aren’t famous, they’re leading amazing lives all on their own!”
“It’s amazing that that girl had cancer?”
“No! Of course not! It’s amazing what she’s doing in spite of her cancer, Grandpa.”
You’re losing the battle Abigail.
I didn’t say you had to watch it, did I?
And with that, I walked away and counted the hours until I could sit in front of the new television we apparently acquired while I was away at school to watch the season finale of my favorite show on TV.
I guess there are other people who wouldn’t understand why I love World of Jenks so much. So maybe I should try and explain it here. And then maybe my grandpa can read it and understand a little better (since verbal communication isn’t exactly my strong suit—as you can tell from our conversation).
The biggest reason I love this show is because it’s real. The people being filmed aren’t actors. They’re just regular people like you and me. And that’s super cool, because it makes me feel like I could be doing just as cool things as they’re doing.
These people’s stories are true. Neither their pain and struggles nor their victories and triumphs are made up for dramatic effect (take note, Nicholas Sparks). And the best part is that they don’t let the obstacles in their lives—whether it be autism in Chad’s case, Kaylin’s pain after chemotherapy, or the violence where D-Real lives—identify them or keep them from doing amazing things. Jenks and his crew use the show to humanize these individuals instead of letting stereotypes define them.
For example, despite the challenges that Chad faces because of his autism, in the year that Jenks followed his life, he graduated high school, got himself a job, and even moved with his family despite the anxiety it brought him.
D-Real (who I posted a video of here: https://abbeygallagher.wordpress.com/2013/04/16/dancing-in-the-rain/) created dance competitions in Oakland to promote nonviolence and his dance crew performed for Mac Miller and even got signed with an extremely well-known choreographer.
Kaylin said f*ck you to cancer and moved from California to New York while in remission, published a comic series about cancer, got a job with a fashion designer, and even put together her own line that was shown at Brooklyn’s Fashion Week despite having to make it all in a few short days when her sample maker failed to make the pieces correctly.
I especially relate to Kaylin since I watched my dad battle cancer. I was so proud to see the way she handled her diagnosis (with a kick butt, take names later attitude) and the way she persevered to create a better life for herself while she could. Kaylin has a blog, which I highly recommend checking out here: http://cancerisnotfunny.blogspot.com. Unfortunately, from what I can tell from her blog, Kaylin’s cancer returned and it appears she’s needed help paying for medical services. I don’t know Kaylin personally but I do know her story and believe she would greatly appreciate any donation, no matter how small. (Despite this jab at trying to advertise on Kaylin’s behalf, I really recommend checking out her site, if only to read the unique way she has documented her experiences with cancer.)
I also love that the show is a documentary. There is rarely a time when the camera isn’t rolling because you never know when something important may happen. I think this is a testament to both the people behind the camera and the people on it because there is really no time to “take five,” making this the most demanding type of filmography (is that even a word?) there is, in my opinion. Not to mention all the editors who have to watch all the hours of footage and piece together the important parts to create a cohesive story for each individual. They work through the night, through the tears, and through the smiles of each of their subjects gracefully and honestly. And by doing so, Jenks and his team educate their audience on different ways of life and expose the audience to different perspectives, something we can all learn from. Jenks has my dream job. Telling other people’s stories.
Most importantly, I like watching these individual’s lives because it makes me feel like I stand a chance in this world that at times makes no sense at all. If these people can overcome the obstacles in their lives, I can certainly work my way to create a life that is different from the one I have been born into.
I guess the best way to put it is that the show gives me hope for a better life.
And so I write this post as a way to say thanks to everyone who was a part of the show for keeping that light at the end of the tunnel shining bright for me.
Here’s the trailer for the show if you’d like to check it out!