Harry Potter, Gilmore Girls, & the Uncertainty of Unexpected Sequels

If your name is Kelsey Ryan, these last few weeks and months have been pretty thrilling in terms of your pop culture fixes.



Bam. Just like that, all within late October. And there’s a part of me that heard this news and broke out in “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

In so many ways, this is a return to childhood. Young Kelsey wept endlessly in the last chapter of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Weeks and months were spent imagining within the Harry Potter universe. I practically went to Hogwarts—and I’ve still got the trivia knowledge to prove it.

It’s the same for Gilmore Girls. I remember my first episode of the show when I was in eighth grade. My middle sister had bought Season 3 for my oldest sister, and one day, during some day when I was sick at home with the flu, I figured why not give it a try? And I was hooked. Lorelai was who I aspired to be: independent, hilarious, and just the right amount of sassy. Mother and daughter quipping pop culture references nonstop like it’s some sort of new language. The show introduced me to binge-watching, and now that it’s on Netflix, it’s never far from my “Keep Watching” list.

These series are part of who I am, and they make me endlessly happy—still, to this day, I relive the series every so often when I’m down. But although a part of me celebrates this news that my childhood has NOT yet ended,  there’s a part of me that can’t yet join the party.

Why am I feeling like such a downer?

  1. I’ve already grieved for the end of these shows.

    I cried when Harry Potter ended. I felt the loss, knowing that Gilmore Girls was done when Rory showed up at her going-away party and the credits rolled. I’ve dealt with the feelings of emptiness and loss that comes with finishing something and knowing  that you can’t go back and experience it all again. And of course, there was a part of me that would have done quite a bit in order to get just ONE MORE PAGE or just ONE MORE MINUTE of these series, back at that time.

    But then I got over it. I know that post-series grief (pardon the expression), and I handled it by moving on, and reliving the beautiful moments we already had. Now that BOTH of these series are back in my life again, not with the friendly remembrances of familiar stories, but with NEW STORIES, I’m afraid I feel wronged. Why didn’t this happen years ago? Why couldn’t you have worked something out back then, back when I was crushed that the series was over? Where were you then, JK? Why didn’t you finish the series yourself, Amy Sherman-Palladino?

    I know these things couldn’t have been planned ahead. But some part of me feels like this is holding onto past events, rather than stepping ahead and making something new. Yes, I want these series to keep coming, but what will they even look like?

    Strangely enough, these series feel like long-lost friends, who disappeared for years but are now back and want to hug again and pretend like they never left. Are we that close still? I thought you had died. I’m not ready for hugs just yet.

  2. I don’t trust that these series were brought back for good reasons.

    This is pure speculation, I know, but it’s a thought that haunts me more than I’d like to admit. Why are these series being brought back now? Amy Sherman-Palladino has moved on. She’s done Bunheads (the critically acclaimed but short-lived series about little ballerinas that I could never get into). She’s supposed to have moved on, just like her audience was asked to.

    JK Rowling has done the same, and I’ve followed her to each of her other projects. She’s published  at least 4 unrelated books to Harry’s story, which has been satisfying and feels appropriate: I feel like I’m enjoying life after Harry, when I read these. I can see she’s doing well, and she CLEARLY doesn’t need the money. So why a play? (Why not something more accessible to the millions of fans Harry’s amassed over the years?) And why now? Why is this appropriate? Why try to turn this story into more money, when it feels like you’ve made  enough off this one story, this one character and world?

  3. I want these new versions to be done right.

    If we’re going back to Stars Hollow, you had best be bringing along Melissa McCarthy, because a Gilmore Girls without Sookie is absurd. And JK, if you expect us to all buy our tickets and shell out thousands and traipse along with you across continents to follow Harry, you are out of your mind.

    I know a remake/reboot/update of these series in this new form is exciting. (And theatre geek/daily Netflix watcher Kelsey is WILD about a new way to experience the magic.) But they’re also deeply concerning. Are we going to just have to trust that the series will do the old series justice? What about our headcanons? Whatever happened to “death of the author,” where you as the creator set down your creative control over these universes, offering it to your fans? These series had conclusions. They were finished. They are done, and they are now in the hands of us, the fans. Taking back creative control feels cheap, and I worry that our memories of “the good old days” of these series will be over.

    This is different from the transition from book to movie. This feels not like a retelling, but a reshuffling, a revision. And it will probably disappoint, even if these creators are as careful as can be. They are taking back control of the series from the fans, and that’s deeply concerning.

It’s given me a lot of heartburn, guys. More than a play and a Netflix series really should.

This makes me think there’s a problem in the way we deal with conclusions. We are a culture that can’t handle death, and one that’s obsessed with eternal youth. Why can’t we be happy with the endings that we’re given? Why must a story be told and retold until we’re finally able to move on? Because all we want is the happiest of endings, and media companies know they can eke out more money from the same story because of this. Why are we accepting a seventh Star Wars? Why are we cool with splitting up the Hunger Games into four daggum movies instead of 3, and why are we encouraging Stephenie Meyer to tell us more about the Twilight universe please please please?

There’s something in stories that keeps us coming back, whether we like it or not, even though we’ve grieved and tried to walk away. When we’re attached, we as people hold on for dear life, though it may have been 10+ years since we said goodbye.

Nostalgia is a powerful force. And I’m no exception: I know I’m waiting with bated breath for Netflix to announce even one more detail about the series update, and reading every article about The Cursed Child.

Sign me up for that sequel. But when we’re waiting around to see Harry Potter 30: Harry Reloaded, and we’re all a little discouraged with the person Harry is now, at age 52, just know that I totally called it.


Places I’ve Called Home


To the places I’ve been lucky enough to call home, if even just for a few months:

Oh, how thankful I am for you.


Thank you for connections and reconnections, for a point of comparison, for all-embracing acceptance.


Thank you for grounding me. Thank you for warmth and love and foundation.


Thank you for growth, for seasons, for failure, for success.
durham river

Thank you for rivers and belltowers and history and ruins. Thank you for the joy of hard work with my hands.

P1070975 copy

Thank you for narrow paths, for independence, for reduction, for direction. Thank you for hard-won proof that I am getting there.


Thank you for opportunity, for expectations, for introductions.

Thank you for horizons of big possibilities, and greater things ahead, for stretching and stepping up, in all its forms. Thank you for daily surprises. Thank you for being home right now, for the foreseeable future.


With each move, I trade a bit of myself for each location I leave. And I’m better for it.

5 Months In: Taking Stock of My New Years’ Resolutions


This year, I promised myself it would be different.

After years of nebulous, “I will get my life together” New Year’s Resolutions that never seemed to have potential, I decided this year—this 2015—would be my year.

So what did I do?

Well, if you know me at all—and all ye blog readers, you should know this by now—you’ll know that I did what has become my favorite part of any day.

I made a list! (A checklist, to be exact.)

Kelsey’s Super-Spectacular 2015 New Years’ Resolutions

1. Run 5 miles, and enjoy it.

2. Read 55 books by different authors (following the 2015 Popsugar Reading Challenge, which I found at a bookstore!)

3. Commit to writing at least 1 blog post per month that you can be proud of.

I stuck to 3 resolutions only, because 3 is a lovely number, and I wanted to commit to each resolution with my full heart. Sure, I also wanted to volunteer and learn to cook creme brulee and make friends and find more hobbies and knit all the sweaters and travel the whole darn world and shoot award-winning photos and have all the work success and speak Dutch fluently.

But I said no (what a concept!), and stuck with three: exercise, reading, and writing.

And now, with summer just around the corner (!!!) and the half year fast approaching—yes, June 30 will come sooner than you think—I’ve stopped to take stock.

Resolution 1:

Have I run 5 miles? Do I enjoy running?

Let’s be honest—no, I have not run 5 miles. And I start to lose enthusiasm after Mile 3—it’s about that time that I start wondering why people run at all, when others aren’t chasing them. Isn’t this willful torture? Are we destined to die alone? (Dark thoughts, on my “long run,” that usually go away once I have my post-run snack of Ben & Jerry’s. Oh, Ben & Jerry’s, you make my life so good.)

But it is early in the year  still, and I am filled with a fire to do more and to succeed here, and to hit that 5 mile mark.

And most importantly, I have been making progress.

A bit of backstory here: I’ve wanted to run for most of my life, even though for years, I always lied to anyone who mentioned the sport. “Running? You’ve got to be kidding. No thanks; I’m much more of a swimming person.”

Was I a swimming person? No. I was more of a Netflix person.

But finally, with the encouragement of Boyfriend (who is a fabulous athlete without even trying) a few years ago, we started running. Our first run was for five minutes, and let me tell you: running is hard. And this asthmatic didn’t last the whole 5 minutes.  With the help of Couch to 5K (the app!), and the goal of participating in the Ugly Sweater 5K, I made very, very slow progress.

Fast forward to now, and I’ve built up to 3.5 miles. I’m slow—and before you say it, I am very slow. Slow, as in I am always passed by walkers. But that’s okay, because it’s still running, and because I’ve seen how I’ve improved.

I’m signed up for an 8K (yes, that’s just about 5 miles!) in June, so I’ll keep you posted.

Resolution 2:

Have I read 55 books?

Nope! But I’m just about halfway through—at last count, I’ve completed 24 books from the list, plus a few others that didn’t fit on the Popsugar Challenge. Two of my best friends and I decided to do this resolution together, and we’re blogging our experience (along with our book reviews) over at bookbros.tumblr.com.

kry photos

Having a good time, trying to figure out what book to read for which category.

Best of all, I can really say I feel more connected to reading than I ever have before. It feels so good to be able to curl up with a newly-won used bookstore trophy on an easy weekend morning. I’m relishing this challenge because I didn’t set the bar too high.

If I had asked myself to finish 100 books in a year, could I have done it? Maybe. But I’d be miserably skimming the books I did pick, and selecting them based on length, rather than interest. Would I have picked up my latest book, with its 600+ pages, if I was just counting book numbers? Probably not.

Feeling great about reading again. Could not recommend this highly enough.

Resolution 3:

Have I published posts on this blog frequently? Do I feel proud of what I post?

(Strange, to be writing about writing.)

This one is also still in the works. For a long time, I wasn’t sure what this space would even say. What good is a blog, if it doesn’t tell a story? How could I put everything I love into a blog? How could I be professional but explain issues about grief activism? How could I play around with what I do, and make it into one cohesive image of me?

For a long time, these questions kept me away from blogging.

But making this resolution was the moment where I decided having everything perfect (and having a giant backlog of posts that I could share and commit to) wasn’t going to get this blog done. I wasn’t going to start this project by making lists and by worrying.

So I just started to write what I could.

Over the past several months, this blog has become a place for me to share photos, relive experiences, explain my own feelings, and imagine and connect. It’s the space where I can be myself in numerous respects: professional and casual, excited and introspective, photographer and writer.

To be sure, it’s still got a long ways to go, but by freeing myself of the expectations of Having a Blog have been so exciting. People aren’t meant to have just one story to share.

Well, there you have it: my resolutions haven’t changed yet, but they’re changing me.

Have you made any resolutions that you’ve kept, or that you quit for any reason? Share them with me—I always love a good story!


On Collaboration, or Why I Love Teams of Writers

Writers may be tough to work with. But I’ll tell you one thing about writers that I love more than anything else: their spirit of collaboration.

Currently, I run the day-to-day operations of an online publication, writing and editing articles and recruiting for/managing our team of freelance writers and designers. One of my major responsibilities is handling our editorial brainstorming meeting, held weekly.

I’ll be honest: this meeting is one of my favorite parts of this job. It’s a chance for the editorial team, fellows, and contributing writers to touch base and discuss the content strategy, and how that will play out in articles during the week and in the month to come. Although we meet during the workday in the office, writers from all across the US have joined in, both in person and via conference call/video chat. Not all writers attend, but some do—we have a healthy balance between new blood and regulars each week.

Unlike in college, where we sat down in class and tried our hardest NOT to speak up, these meetings are full of energy and life. I don’t take credit for this: the writers who we’ve found (and who have found us) are so willing to pitch in, speak up, and share ideas and thoughts as they come. It’s a collaborative process; I start the meeting with a list of topics, and we run from there. And what happens most often is that we never make it fully through the list of topics, and we’re always short on time—writers are sharing their opinions, being respectful but challenging, and keeping the conversation alive with limited required input by me or by other staffers.

All that to say, I feel tremendously lucky to be working with such a group.

As a person, I’m greedy about stories: I want to be the one to tell them.

But as a writer, I know I can never tell every story. I can’t even tell most stories: there’s someone more experienced than me who could do it, and would likely give a better performance. But I can tell some stories just the same, and there’s no problem with writing something, even if someone else’s is better.

For what I can’t write, I can encourage others to write.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m no fan of plagiarism, and I believe strongly in letting each writer have first access to the stories they bring to the table. But I also feel that an article (especially an article written from a personal lens) is often stronger with a little verbal editing, and a little group discussion.

Seth Godin said it perfectly:

“It’s one of the things I’ve always liked best about being a professional writer. The universal recognition that there’s plenty of room for more authors, and that more reading is better than less reading, even if what’s getting read isn’t ours.

It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s an infinite game, one where we each seek to help ideas spread and lives change.”

Writers share, support each other, and push each other towards goals. And that’s a near-universal fact about writers that’s wowed me since I was young.

When I was in elementary school, my mother took part in a writers’ group in our area town. I have vague recollections during that time, but I do remember going to local book festivals and having my mother know several of the authors there. I felt like she was in some sort of secret club.

My love affair with writing isn’t just about the sometimes-frustrating process of writing, editing, rewriting, and publication. I don’t write in a vacuum. I write for myself, I write for others, I write to have a place at the table, and a spot in that universal club. I feel welcome there—and you should, too.

More reading is better than less reading—and more writing is better than less writing.

A Love Letter: Philadelphia


I think this city looks just so in black and white.

Like film noir, Philadelphia was my uncertain, trench-coat-wearing, rainy evening, saxophone-playing mystery love town. I spent sweltering Mays, Junes, Julys, and Augusts here, blustering around West Philly, clacking my heels around Center City.

Philadelphia was the city that taught me to open my windows in summer, even if there were bugs.

To walk fast, and act like you know exactly where you’re going.

To appreciate row homes and Restaurant Week and trolleys and misspelled street signs.

I couldn’t have asked for a better name to say, when people asked me where I lived. Philadelphia, I’d say, and feel so secure in my superiority. Philadelphia was a city that conferred a certain hardness, a particular grounded beauty. And because I lived there, that meant I got a piece of it, too, right? The city of Brotherly Love. The city of murals, of cheesesteaks, of the worst public transportation the Northeast has ever seen. My city?

My city, if only in one small way.

It was as north as I’d ever lived, and as central as I’d ever dared to be. Philadelphia is to me what New York has been for countless Midwestern hopefuls who dream of something bigger.

I gave Philadelphia, its condensed suburbs, and my alma mater the least they deserved, and I wish I had invested more. I try not to feel regret, and for the most part, I don’t. But every so often, I’m caught up again in the relentless mystery of Center City, and I find myself aching to return.

Philly, you stupid, terrible, wonderful, parking nightmare of a city. I miss you.

Why I Hate “Your Mom” Jokes

“So what do your parents do?”

I tense. I’d been expecting the question: as you’re making friends, it’s hardly unusual to be asked about your life. But I could foresee the end of the conversation from here, and I’d grown tired of having this exact exchange.

Usually, I give my father’s profession definitively to try to settle the matter, and make a desperate attempt to change the conversation. “Enough about me; what about you?”

But more often than not, I’m pressed to continue. And this time was no exception. “Wait, what does your mom do?”

Breathe in. I say, with as much casualness as I can muster, “Oh, she died when I was 14.”

A stutter. A beat. “Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. That’s terrible.” Pause. Sigh. “I didn’t mean to make you…”

I imagine my poor new friend is picturing what loss at 14 might look like. A teenage girl losing her mother? Nightmare. I shouldn’t have pressed her. I feel awful. What if I had lost my mother at 14? I would be so lost. How did it happen? Is that okay to ask? Why isn’t she crying? What am I supposed to say? Should I give her a hug?

Or maybe my friend is simply thinking, Oh, right, some people’s parents are dead. How sad!

And then, I say the words I hate, because I can’t think of anything else; the words I’ve used every day since I was 14.

“It’s okay.”

It’s not okay. My mother died when I was 14. There was a long time when I couldn’t admit to that without tearing up, or even downright sobbing. Yes, it was a nightmare. Cancer always is.

But sharing that story with others even years later is still a mess. In that one moment, I must play both roles of victim and comforter. I inflict pain with my unpleasant story (how dare I not have a happier response?), so I must perform tenderness as well as sadness. I must assure my conversation partner gently (not too emphatically; that’d just be disrespectful) that no, they had done no lasting harm; it’s a terrible story but yes, yes, I’m not crying, see? I’m okay. So it’s okay. We’re okay.

What a racket.

It’s a silly thing: there’s really no great response to the question, but the question itself isn’t flawed. It’s polite to ask about one’s family, and it’s certainly not anyone’s fault my mother died. But there’s an angry part of me that asks why the onus always falls on me to make you okay. Why must you apologize? Why do you ask forgiveness for an event that is completely out of your control? Why should I have to teach you about death?

It’s not as though reminding me is something unusual. I remember my mother daily. I know that death happens. Asking about her doesn’t make me any sadder (or frankly, any less sad) at her death.

That’s the thing about grief: losing someone you love is filled with pain, complicated emotions, loneliness, and a lifetime of remembering. But in that death, you must grow to accept a society that finds death so incredibly bizarre. As a society, we’re afraid of dying, and of being left behind. And my reminding you that no, my story is not “a lifetime of mother-daughter brunches” is a sad moment for you. Death happens to everyone, remember? I’ve let you in on a moment of my lifetime of sadness. And I’m the one who has to see to your comfort (no no, we’re still alive, see?), to guide your temporary grief.

Experiencing death is supposed to turn you into an expert on teaching others in moments of grief. You’ve been through it, so you’re different. And I’ll admit, I’ve felt different after loss. But as someone who experienced death at so young an age, I’m an unusual professional griever. You’re supposed to lose a parent when you’re 60—that’s partly why you stop asking about parents’ professions after a certain age. You’re not supposed to lose your parent the summer after your freshman year of high school.

But those same words that we use to comfort others in grief aren’t useful when your mother died so young. I can’t say, “She lived a long full life,” or “At least she’s not in any pain anymore.” And so I just say, “It’s okay,” even though it’s not, and I’m sad, and it’s gross and miserable and wrong and unfair. My peers still had their mothers. Why couldn’t I? Why didn’t I?

A friend of mine, who lost her mother at 18, has a passionate loathing for those middle school “your mom” jokes.

“Your momma’s so fat, when she walks in a room, she sits next to EVERYBODY!”

“Your momma’s so old, she went to school with JESUS.”

And the classic response to any insult: “So’s your mom!”

Hilarious, right?

When my friend comes across anyone still willing to use these jokes, she’s perfected her response: “Stop. My mother is dead.”

Cue panicked expressions. “Are you for real? Dude, that’s not funny.”

“I know. Stop using that joke.”

It’s fast. It’s direct. It gives immense power only to the person using it, while making the joker into a villain—who can call you out on that? (And honestly, the joke is a miserable excuse for an amusing comeback, so this technique is a fast way to help this joke format die out.)

The “dead mom” card is the ultimate trump.

And I’ll admit, when I’m in this situation (or something similar), I often want to use her response. When I’m sick of answering politely about my family, when I’m feeling vulnerable or when people are willfully ignorant, or when I’m tired of grieving on my own. It could be a comeback to a stupid joke, or a quick response to a casual question, or a reply to a friend’s story about a fight she had with her mom.

Suck it up. At least your mother isn’t dead.

Instead of walking someone through the experience of grief, it’s a quick punch to the gut, a reminder of the nearness of death without that comforting, “There, there; it’s okay!” I could use my mother’s grief as a weapon, to get what I want, or to make others feel sad. And doesn’t misery love company?

Yes, but I love company, too. And knowing the pain I’ve experienced, I want to be careful not to show people this sadness unless they’re already there. So I wait, and I comfort when I can.

As a whole, our society needs to be more open about its relationship to grief, and to understand the permanent identity shift with someone who is living with loss.

Death is not okay. But it happens. And it’s okay to feel loss, and to talk about it.