I was a bookish little girl, first in Baltimore and then in small town PA. I didn’t feel alienated or othered, as much as in search for other people, any people, like me. I had bookish best friends and cousins, aunts who sustained me on a diet of Cat Who mysteries and historical fiction, and teachers who encouraged and inspired me. But I also began finding my idols in fiction and TV. First their was Anne, fast talking and fast reading future writer. Then there was Hermione Granger, rule-loving, book-consulting intellectual. And then there was Rory Gilmore. Bookish, quietly ambitious, implicitly guided by her desire to be something more than her town no matter how much she loved it. Fearful of becoming her mother no matter how much she loved her.
I didn’t just admire Rory Gilmore, I wanted to be Rory Gilmore. In late middle school, this manifested itself in a million small and weird ways. I would sit in front of Gilmore Girls, looking up the words I didn’t know in my leapfrog digital dictionary. I tried to read her booklist, a feat that I still have not accomplished, but resulted in me reading way too much Charles Dickens and Mark Twain and Ayn Rand as a 13 year old. I wanted to go to a prep school, a dream not created by Rory but certainly exacerbated by her transfer to Chilton. I wanted to be a Journalist and a writer and I saw Rory’s trajectory in high school and college as a sort of fictional road map, an escape route out of small town life. If I could just go to a fancy high school, an elite college, become “well read” I would quietly be given the life of a writer and a way out of Central Pennsylvania.
It didn’t quite pan out this way. I applied to fancy private school, but the schools in my area were all a bit too hippy or Catholic for my taste. I fell in love with Temple University, a state school in Philadelphia (and realized how expensive those fancy schools are). I became editor of my high school newspaper The Leonid, but even while I was still in high school decided I wanted to be a historian. Even when I was clearly diverting in dramatic and permanent (and perfectly normal ways), I still saw Rory as a guide post, a measuring stick that I would clearly never live up to.
When friends insulted her privileged and irresponsible decisions in later seasons, I felt the need to defend her because her character was so wrapped up in the way I saw myself. I was a Rory. No matter her faults. No matter my own differences and opinions and ways of seeing the world. Rory Gilmore was my becoming and I felt the need to defend that, defend the actions of a fictional character as if they were a reflection of my own self worth.
But in recent years (and after an embarrassing number of rewatches) I have become more and more dissatisfied with Rory. How did a girl so devoted to getting into Harvard not know she need to do extracurricular activities in addition to her school work? How did a Yale college student not realize she needed to spend her summers interning at newspapers to land a job as a journalist? Why was a love of reading and literature built up as an intrinsic good rather than a means to learning and engagement? And why was Paris Gellar, Rory’s sometimes enemy and long time friend, punished for losing her virginity with a rejection from Harvard and punished for her ambition by needing Rory’s help to become student council president? Why was Paris, a hard worker and perfectionist, ousted from the Yale Daily News, while Rory was given the job without asking? And why was Paris constantly rejected by men when Rory always had a swoony bad boy after her?
I slowly realized that I was never a Rory. I was not one to sit idly by instead of asking for a new position, a new job, a new opportunity. I never said no to anything. And anyway, what was wrong with perfectionism or trying so hard it shows? What was so wrong with ambition coupled with intellect? Why did I want to be a Doe eyed girl waiting to be given the things that I deserved instead of shouting at the world until I got them? The ways in which I distanced myself from the Rory Gilmore road map were not personal failings but instead ways that I showed my own ambitions and independence, something that Rory Gilmore was never quite capable of.
Two days ago I finished Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. And Rory Gilmore was by far the biggest disappointment. As I watched, I yelled more and more ridiculous comments at the TV. She went to Yale, shouldn’t she be a major editor by now? Shouldn’t she be friends with David Remnick and a correspondent for the Atlantic? “Richard deserves a posthumous refund for all that tuition” is something I actually texted to multiple friends. And worst of all, why did she see herself as too good for an online magazine?
My disappointment with Rory Gilmore quickly became more than a disappointment in a TV show and became some semblance of an identity crisis. What if reading didn’t make you a better person? What if education wasn’t the express lane out of small town living? And what if I had to chart my own path, without comparing myself to a fictional TV character?
In You’ve Got Mail Kathleen says that “when you read a book as a child, it becomes a part of your identity in a way that no other reading in your whole life does.” As much as Kathleen would hate me for saying this, I think the same can be said can be said for TV. I am not Rory Gilmore, I am a real living breathing person. And more importantly, I don’t want to be Rory anymore. I want to be myself. A fancy education, a penchant for long books, and the love and support of family doesn’t guarantee success any more that a state school education and a love for YA romance novels guarantees failure. It took Rory Gilmore’s personal failings to get me here. But even still, even 12 years after I started watching, I know that without Rory, without my Rory Gilmore road map, I wouldn’t be who I am right now.