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Breakfast Burgers

13 Nov



It’s 10AM and he’s making burgers.  He calls them breakfast burgers as though the title changes the reality.

A rose by any other name.

Or something.

A pan of water boils.

I read more Anne Lamott.  I’m sitting in the leather chair, curled up in his old basketball shorts, the ones I hate.

“Why do you love her so much?” he asks.

“It’s her truth.  She tells the truth.” I say.

I read him a passage where Anne vaguely threatens a 7-year-old, giggling all the while.


He kisses my forehead.  “You get more excited reading this book than I do about anything in my life.”

“Except me,” I say, going back to Anne.

He sets a plate in front of me.  A bacon cheese breakfast burger on a cheddar bun.  A heaping side of Annie’s shells–my requests at midnight when the store was closed and In-N-Out too far away.  My requests before I fell asleep in my dress.

I hate that I pass out so early these days.

“Anne is signing books in Santa Barbara in a few weeks,” I say.

“Let’s go,” he says.

“Should we have tri-tip again or try something new?” I ask.  A sliver of avocado falls from my burger, collecting the yolk on my plate.

He often tells me I’m this bright, giggling spot in his dark cynical life.

Me, the girl with the fickle heart, the teenage angst, all the emotions.

He, the boy who says, in his calm, non-excited way, that he’s so happy, so lucky all of the time.

Funny how that works.

This Morning, With Her, Having Coffee

10 Nov


When asked his idea of paradise Johnny Cash said:

This morning, with her, having coffee.

It’s a bit of a tumblr (and blog) sensation, this response.  You can buy prints and mugs and see tattoos of that simple sentence.


PARADISE was this morning with her, having coffee.

I recently asked Luke his idea of heaven.  I didn’t prompt him or give him any context to the question.  I truly wanted to see how he would respond on his own. He said:

 Eating a bacon cheeseburger with you on the beach at sunset.

It’s a little more high maintenance, his response, and not nearly as tattoo-able as Mr. Cash’s, but I’ll take it.

I’ll take the beach and the bacon cheeseburger.

I’ll take him.

I dated a boy for a long time, and more than dated this boy I gave this boy everything I had.  I gave him my heart and my life and my dignity.  I gave and gave and gave thinking that one day, if I gave enough, perhaps I would get what I needed in return.

I never believed this boy when he told me he couldn’t give me what I needed.

He just wasn’t trying hard enough.  He COULD give me what I wanted if he really wanted to.  I knew he had it in him.  Hell, I had seen with my own eyes the times he had it in him.

And one day, my friend Elisa said, “Believe him Jill.  Believe him when he says he can’t give you what you need.”

I think about that a lot.  Believe him.

This boy withheld his affection.  He said it made the times when he was loving “more special.”  “Isn’t it more special when I tell you I love you only once a year?  Doesn’t it make it more meaningful?”

“No,” I said.

“No, it’s not OK,” I sobbed.

But I stayed.

I stayed because I knew he was better than that.

I stayed because I didn’t believe him.

But mainly I stayed because I loved him.

And in this process, in accepting a person who consistently could not (or would not) give me what I needed, I developed something of an emotional disorder.  I was starved for attention and love, and when he threw any little crumb my way I gobbled it up so quick I was left wanting more, needing more always.  I was a junkie, a person dying of thirst in the desert.

I was out of control.

When someone shows you how little you mean to them and you keep coming back for more, before you know it you start to mean less to yourself.  You are not made up of compartments!  You are one whole person!  What gets said to you gets said to all of you, ditto what gets done.  Being treated like shit is not an amusing game or a transgressive intellectual experiment.  It’s something you accept, condone, and learn to believe you deserve.  This is so simple.  But I tried so hard to make it complicated. – Lena Dunham

Believe him when he tells you.


My mother is sure Luke is an answer to prayers.  An answer to prayers she had for years and years.  I can imagine it’s hard for a mother to watch her daughter hurt and cry.  To watch her daughter become the worst version of herself in pursuit of something and someone who will never make her happy.

And so she prayed.

My mother is an expert at prayer.  It’s one of the things I admire most about her.

My mother prayed and prayed and prayed and then one day, Luke was in my life.  I was ready to give a Luke in my life a chance.  A boy I would have never dated years ago.  Because I didn’t value what he had to offer.

Kindness, stability, devotion

These things can never be underestimated.

Luke wrapped my birthday present this year in homemade paper.  He printed off a picture from our first date and made it into wrapping paper and when I got my present there it was.

Heaven is a bacon cheeseburger and a beach and me.

Paradise is kindness and stability and devotion.

This I believe.

The Love Scale Of Pain

1 Jul


The other night Luke and I went on a run down to the beach.

I know how cutesy that sounds, a couple exercising together, and I apologize for that.  This is a real thing now and we’re all going to have to live with it.

On the way down we stopped at the MAC store because I’ve had a hankering for a deep, blood red lipstick.  I have a to-do list on my phone that I check rather obsessively, and the number one thing for the past several weeks has been “blood lipstick.”

One can never underestimate the power of a new lipstick.

We got to the beach just in time to see the sun set. To our left was the Santa Monica Pier, lit up in neon and screams, almost smelling of cotton candy.  To our right were the Santa Monica Mountains, swirling under the sunset.  Just beyond that was Malibu, twinkling ever so slightly out of reach, as Malibu always is.

We sat for a moment on the bluffs watching nature take its course and speaking very little. It was a content silence, punctuated occasionally by a hand squeeze or a comment on the sky.  After it ended we ran the 13 blocks home and went out for a little Middle Eastern chicken with a lot of extra garlic sauce on the side.

It was lovely night.  And also, you know, just a run.

Earlier this year I told Hilary that I worried for myself.  I worried that I would never love like I once loved, with an intensity that made me want to die every moment of every day.   I worried I would have to go through my life only feeling that once.

Hilary, in her wisdom, said, “Jill…why would you want that?  Why would you want someone who makes you want to die?”

When I relayed the story to Caitlin she tacked on, “Jill, you’re saying, ‘I’m afraid I’ll never again find someone else who doesn’t understand me.  Who makes me feel terrible about myself.  Who mocks my beliefs.  Who makes me feel desperate and out of control and like I’m going to die of heartbreak every day.  What if I never find that again? Oh no!’”

And when you put it that way,


One of my biggest challenges as an adult has been learning how to love.

Not learning to love.  That part was easy.  Love just swept me away from a young age without any trying on my part.

But how to love.

That’s a different beast altogether.

For so long my idea of love was wrapped up in my idea of pain.  Love is pain.  Love hurts.  Love makes you want to die, but all of the good ones do!

I even began to measure my love on a pain scale, inadvertently.  How much I loved someone was directly tied to how much they could make me hurt.

He doesn’t make me want to die, thus I must not love him very much.

When I’m around him I am calm and content.  I guess I don’t have any feelings for him.

Alecia Moore put it another way when she crooned, “I hate you.  I really hate you, so much I think it must be true love. No one else can break my heart like you.”

I have a very difficult time registering love if it isn’t hurting me.

Which, when I put it that way,


I don’t really know how this ties to my run and sunset watching the other day, but I think it does.  I think last week I went on a run and ate some garlic sauce and wore blood red lipstick and it was good.

I think this something.


I’m working on a new scale.

Smuged Strawberries and Tri-Tip Sandwiches

22 May


Let’s skip to the most important stuff here.  Last weekend I went to the California Strawberry Festival and stood in line amongst the childrens to get this glitter face paint.  Soon after, I left the claustrophobic, bad corn dogged festival and traveled quite a distance away.

I wore the face paint all day, in about 20 different stores, amongst hundreds of people, in several Danish bakeries, and no one so much as mentioned it.

No double takes.

No secret I-want-to-bring-it-up-but-might-offend looks.

No, “Oh hey what’s that strawberry doing on your cheek?” conversations.




Not even Nada Surf.

I’ve been trying to figure out what this means ever since. Did no one notice it? Did the strawberry just fit me so well that people didn’t feel the need to comment on it just as they didn’t comment on the fact that I had mascara-d eyelashes or painted fingernails?

Were eyelashes and fingernails the right choice for this comparison?

I’m not going to lie, the idea of becoming a casual face paint sort of person just thrills me down to my toes.  Imagine the possibilities here!  Next time I throw on my gray t-shirt dress I can just add a few colorful stars to my cheek and call it a day.

Whenever that pink sundress comes out I can draw a subtle red heart next to my eye and conquer the world.  Maybe I turn this into a business, an Instagram account, a whole new, wildly profitable blog.

Maybe casual face paint is the way of the future.

Or at least my future.


Second things second.

The remains of that deliciousness you see on my plate?  That’s the Cold Spring Tavern tri-tip sandwich also known as the best thing Cat Cora ever ate, and let me tell you, she was not exaggerating, oh no she wasn’t.

The tri-tip sandwich at Cold Spring Tavern is a whole blog post in and of itself if I had the energy or patience for the gushing-about-food-for-1000-words thing.  The tavern is in the middle of nowherseville in the Santa Barbara mountains and there’s a live band outside and a chili recipe on the wall and the sandwich comes with three of the most delicious sauces the world has ever seen.

Like the tri-tip?  It was good.

But these sauces.

I want to say inappropriate things about these sauces.  I want to use the words lick and heaven and I want that spicy salsa to know that nothing compares.

Nothing compares 2U.


So about this picture.

I have a bunch of photos from this perfect day of mine, actually, sitting on my phone, soon to be uploaded to my computer and forgotten about for all of time, but this was the shot I liked most.  This was the one at the end of the day, when my body was tired and my strawberry was faded from the sun and heat and, well, kisses, if you must know.

This was the picture that showed off my $3 gold heart bracelets purchased at a kitschy little store in Solvang, found amongst the wind chimes and the Buddha candles.

This was the one taken right before we raced the sunset to the Santa Barbara beach only to discover the sun sets away from the water. (What?)

I’m drowsy in this shot, tired from a day of driving and eating and wandering, and I’m happy.

My boyfriend said something the other day.  Shall we call this boyfriend of mine Luke for now?  I don’t know how these blog relationship things work, and look, if I were married I would share his name right quick, but I’m not.  And I don’t do cute nicknames.  And dating is so hard and so fleeting I just don’t want to go there quite yet.

So we’ll call him Luke, yes?

Anyway, Luke said the other day that my happiness is so fragile.

And I feel like that’s a good way to describe it.

My happiness, like much of me, is so fragile.

Some parts of me are so solid and strong and rooted in years of practice.  But this happiness-in-a-relationship bit I’m just getting used to and it startles me sometimes.

I’m happy in this picture.

I did this trip once before alone, the Santa Barbara/Solvang adventure trip.  And the thing is I really like to travel alone.  I believe solo travel is one of the great luxuries in life.  I love to do exactly what I want when I want, thank you very much.

Pizza at 10:00AM? Done.

12 minutes in a museum before I’m bored?  Don’t have to mention it to anyone.

Sleeping 16 hours a day?  Perfect.

And I guess I got so used to traveling alone, having mini solo adventures, that I dismissed the possibility that traveling with someone else could be even more fun.

That watching the mellow light bounce over the rolling hills and reading Nick Hornby is actually better when someone else can admire the sun and laugh at the quotes and share your love of California.

That, maybe, with the right type of person, life and love and mini road trips don’t have to be so endlessly hard all of the time.

Sheesh, who am I?

What has this blog become?

Reading and Dating

6 May


I’m dating someone.

I never mention these things on my blog, and for good reason, but I’m dating someone and he loves to cook and I love to read.  And so whenever we get the chance, he cooks me some fabulous gourmet meal of my choice, and I sit on the counter with a Diet Coke and I read to him.

Sometimes it’s the book I’m reading at the time and I have to catch him up and give him context, and sometimes it’s one of my favorites because he says he wants to know the books that shaped me and he means it.

At the moment we are tackling Anne of Green Gables.  My Marilla Cuthbert voice is pretty on point, I must say.

Then again, I think most of my voices are pretty on point.  I’ve certainly had enough reading-out-loud practice.

This dating boy and I have settled into a routine these days.  We go shopping.  He complains about the lack of cheese/meat/DON’T ASK ME I DON’T COOK at the local grocery store.  I assure him I don’t care as long as he gets the lemon for my Diet Coke .  He starts to cook, the onion and garlic sizzling.  My voice grows as I become the romantical Anne with an e. He tells me I’m adorable when I get excited about books because I have my comments and voices and giggles.

And I pause, oh once a page or so, for an aside.  “Did you ever have an imaginary friend like Katie Maurice or Violetta?”  “I want to move to Prince Edward Island for a summer, say this summer?”  “I hope my daughter is just like her one day.  Can I force this to happen?”

And then we eat the delicious dinner together.  And he does the dishes and I do my voices.  And then we go on a walk or eat some ice cream or watch some Frasier or all of the above.

It’s so simple.

No hurt.  No tears.  No drama.

It’s so simple and yet it feels so big, you know?

I have no idea what will happen with us, me and this boy who is making me so happy.  A lot of significant changes are about to occur in my life, not to mention that with this particular boy there are all sorts of inborn struggles in our relationship, but I do know this:

Whoever I end up with, we’re reading aloud together.

We’re reading aloud together or he’s the wrong guy for me.

Oh, but it’s really good with this one.

I’m dating someone and it’s really, really good with this one.

Nick Hornby and Recommitting to the Concept of Love

23 Apr


Recently the question of “favorite living author” was batted around my little nine-person program.  By this, I mean that recently I posed the question, “Who is your favorite living author” to my little nine-person program.

Batted around sounds so much more romantic and less forced, though, doesn’t it?

Several authors were thrown out—Donna Tart, Laurie Hals Anderson, John Green.  Lively discussion was had.  Opinions were justified.  Lives were changed.

I decided on Nick Hornby.

Well Helen Fielding first, then Nick Hornby.

But I’m sticking with Nick.

With Helen Fielding/Bridget Jones as the queen of everything including life.

For my adaptation class this semester, I had to compare a movie to the original book, and in a non-shock move, I chose Bridget Jones.  In fact, had you lined up the nine students in my program and the nine adaptations we chose, all of us could have made a direct line from person to adaptation.


While watching a Tarantino film.

And eating sushi.

With chopsticks.

The point is, when you spend two years with nine people, you almost become a parody of yourself, and and when you spend two years with nine people your adaptation choice most definitely becomes a parody of yourself.

The Bridget adaptation paper was one of those assignments that should be the poster child for “do what you would do even if you weren’t being paid” idea because writing a comparison of the Bridget Jones movie and book sounds like a thrilling Saturday night activity I would do of my own accord.

I joke in no way.

Then again, maybe this assignment should be the poster child for “do what you would do even if you are paying a million dollars to go to grad school” idea because no one’s paying me for that paper, I am instead selling my soul to student loans for the opportunity to complete that paper.

Sob. Sob. Sob.

On a happier note, I was able to sneak in the sentence, “The audience swoons and recommits to the concept of love” after describing Bridget and Mark’s first kiss, so maybe all those loans were worth it in the end!

Sobbing.  Sobbing. Sobbing.

One fun Bridget movie fact: Richard Curtis was the mastermind behind the infamous Mark/Daniel fight scene and said it came about simply as a wish fulfillment, “Wouldn’t it be fun to see Hugh Grant and Colin Firth having a punch-up?”

I’m sticking to my theory that marrying Freud’s descendant really affected Richard’s psyche for the good of all mankind.

These are the type of wish fulfillments that need to come to pass, people!

Firth and Grant wish fulfillments are the only type of wish fulfillments!

(This post started as a way for me to list my favorite Nick Hornby novels to the world. Let’s see if I can get it back there.)

All right, so I’m off track.  This post started as a way for me to list my favorite Nick Hornby novels to the world, and I’ll be doggoned with a dachshund if I don’t do that!

(Nailed it.)

(Also managed to use my dachshund line from a script earlier this year.)

(Grad school is really working out for me.)

Jillian Denning’s favorite Nick Hornby novels, ranked

*as Nick Hornby is her favorite living author*

  1. High Fidelity
  2. About a Boy (may be biased by Hugh Grant?)
  3. Fever Pitch
  4. A Long Way Down
  5. Juliet, Naked
  6. How to be Good
  7. Slam

Also, I don’t know a graceful way to slip this in anywhere, but I just finished my roundup of John Green and I do believe the opening paragraph for Paper Towns is the best YA opening paragraph of all time.

I’m not willing to debate this.

The way I figure it, everyone gets a miracle.  Like, I will probably never be struck by lightning, or win a Nobel Prize, or become the dictator of a small nation in the Pacific Islands, or contract terminal ear cancer, or spontaneously combust.  But if you consider all the unlikely things together, at least one of them will probably happen to each of us.  I could have seen it rain frogs.  I could have stepped foot on Mars.  I could have been eaten by a whale.  I could have married the queen of England or survived months at sea.  But my miracle was different.  My miracle was this: out of all the houses in all the subdivisions in all of Florida, I ended up living next door to Margo Roth Spiegelman.







Firth and Grant!

You’ll have to excuse me.

I’m off to swoon and recommit to the concept of love.

A is for Awkward

1 Apr

In the crazy haze that was last month, I signed up to be part of the A to Z blogging challenge and pledged to blog 26 times this month. 

Pledged seems like a big word to use here, like I’ve joined a sorority or something, but I sort of feel like I have.  26 times? Is this possible?

What is a sorority?


I think that most people who move to Malibu have some version of a Cinderella story in their minds.  I’m sure it varies from person to person and interest to interest, but you’d be hard pressed to find a 20-something student in Malibu who has never entertained, even for one second, the possibility of randomly meeting and subsequently falling in love with a celebrity.

“Oh my gosh, I never saw this happening.  I totally didn’t even want in on the scene.  But it was Adam, you know?  Adam convinced me.”

“He’s just a good, solid guy, don’t let his stunning looks and curly hair fool you.”

“I mean, hanging out with Chrissy Tiegen at the Oscars was cool and all, but she and Johnny are normal people like us.  You’re making too big of a deal out of this.”

(Should I stop or do 25 more?)

My dream Cinderella story involves Adam Brody in all his awkward glory fighting for my attention, me rebuffing him again and again, and Adam declaring his love for me on top of the Starbucks coffee counter.

I love him back.  We kiss.  Death Cab for Cutie swells in the background.  We move to Orange County.  He makes a comic book character named Diva Jillian.  I seek psychological treatment.

Deep breath.

And another.

And oneeeeeeee more.

OK, feeling better.

I’m ready to continue.

Alas, this isn’t a story about my unhealthy love of Adam Brody.  Nor is it a story of how I’ve been coping since his marriage to Leighton Meester.

No, this is the story of my Malibu Cinderella moment with a celebrity you likely haven’t heard of (and who shall rename nameless) and how I seized the mother freaking day.

It all began at Malibu Kitchen…

(Screen swirls taking us back to that fateful day.)

I was all dressed up, a ploy my friends and I were trying in order to improve my mood.  Looking good means feeling good, right?  Onwards and upwards!  A penny saved is a penny earned!

(Who knows.)

I wore this little blue dress with ankle boots that placed me somewhere around the 6’1’’ zone and I shopped for cookies with a vengeance and a purpose.  Basically, it was like any given Thursday afternoon in Malibu plus heels.

There was this hot, disheled, Jewish man (not Adam) outside of Malibu Kitchen reading the newspaper. I noticed him, vaguely, and then put on my best “I’m so fabulous I don’t even notice you” face and bustled around buying three extra Kinder Buenos for good measure.  Hot Man smiled at me.  I acted like I didn’t notice.  There was a check out and another smile.  I moved on.

Back at Pepperdine I pulled out my laptop and settled down for an afternoon of writing when Hilary casually mentioned, “Oh hey.  That hot guy outside Malibu Kitchen who smiled at you? Yeah, that was CELEBRITY NAME.”

I about fell out of my chair.






(More theatrics I will spare you.)

Within minutes Hilary and I were back in her car speeding towards Malibu Country Mart and within a few more minutes I was (very, very awkwardly) giving my number to CELEBRITY NAME and then running off in a fit of giggles and ankle boots.

I spent the afternoon giggling and shaking and saying “oh my gosh” at less and less frequent intervals.  (By the end there I think I was down to four times a minute!)

It was the bravest, craziest, seize-the-mother-freaking-day-est thing I have ever done in my entire life.

Call me Cinderjilla.


Call me Mrs. CELEBRITY NAME Denning.

(I’m keeping my last name.)

Oh my gosh.

Oh my gosh.

Oh my gosh.

Oh my gosh.

Dating!!! Also, Happy Valentine’s Day

14 Feb


A few days ago I got a text from my friend, let’s refer to him as Seth.  Seth said, “Call me, I have just been through a horrific ordeal.”

Seth can be a bit of a drama king (as all of my favorite people are) so I was expecting something along the lines of “Pepsi products have overtaken my favorite restaurant and I’ll never recover.” I was instead treated to an absolutely, positively awful dating experience.

Now, I’ve been on terrible dates.  In fact, I once went on a double blind date where by the time I walked to the car, my friend who was with me gripped my hand and whispered, “Are you okay?”  In the 30 seconds I had known my date I had already experienced trauma and she could feel it.

I get bad dates on a visceral level.

Don’t worry though, Seth’s story takes the cake.

Seth’s was a Tinder first date, which is really where I could begin and end this story, but I’ll continue, just for your sake and for my posterity’s sake, because I want my great grandchildren reading this.

Early on problem #1 came up: Seth’s date, Floyd, announced he was going to court in a few days on robbery charges.


You read that right.

Take a deep breath and prepare yourself for what’s next.

Problem #2 came in the form of Floyd asking Seth to take him to the mall where Floyd then proceeded to participate in what may or may not have been a drug deal.



Seth doesn’t know anything about drug deals.  Seth isn’t equipped to handle these things!

I’m not equipped to handle these things!

More terribleness.  More fake phone calls to get out of the date. Where are we?


Problem #3: On Seth’s way to drop off this terrible date/criminal, Floyd forced Seth to go into a gas station and buy him cigarettes claiming a lost wallet.  As Seth feared for his life/sanity at this point he BOUGHT THE CIGARETTES AND DROVE THE MAN HOME.

Holy cow.

Now, I may not be great at a lot of things, but one thing I am completely amazing at is being an audience for dating stories.  I gasp at just the right points and I get REALLY REALLY loud and I shriek with glee and I shriek with pain and by the time someone has told me a story, we’ve both relived it, except this time it was better because there was more screaming involved.

While we were in the process of analyzing whether or not Floyd had planted drugs in Seth’s car/screaming, I said, “I’m never dating again.”

“What?” Seth said.

I repeated myself, “I know this is about you right now, but I’m making it about me and I’m never dating again.”

“Oh, OK,” Seth said.  “Me neither.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, folks.