Love Is All You Need

“That is the truest form of empathy: Not just feeling, but doing.” — Michelle Obama

What can I do?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last five months.

What can I do to find my way in a world that’s suddenly nothing like the world I knew before? What can I do to help all the people around me who are struggling? What can I do to feel more like myself again?

So much of my sense of self is wrapped up in the way I interact with others. I like being someone who randomly compliments someone’s shoes at work or tells the salesperson at the mall to have a great day or smiles as she holds the door open for the person behind her at Starbucks. I like hugging people and planning trips with my loved ones and taking my friends out to dinner to celebrate the big and small victories and to soothe the major and minor heartaches. And while this pandemic hasn’t completely taken away those things, it has shifted how I deal with the world—and how I see myself.

For a long time, I’ve been feeling lost, and in the spirit of openness and vulnerability that’s always been behind everything I do at NGN, I want to say it’s been hard. I want to say it’s been the cause of tears and sleepless nights and downright panic. I’m blessed to have my health and my job and to be surrounded by immediate family, but I also think we do each other and ourselves a disservice when we try to push down or hide our struggles just because we think we have it easier or better than others. There’s room to both acknowledge our blessings (of which I have an abundance) and to acknowledge our struggles.

But lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to take my struggles and my sense of searching for how I can interact in this weird new world and use them to move forward in a better way, in a way that feels true to the version of me I know is always there. And it hit me this morning that it can start in the place where I first really discovered that version of me: here at NGN.

Everyone is going through their own things right now. Some are bigger than others, but everyone is trying to find their footing on rocky ground. So how can I help? One way is to say that I’m right there with you—going through the entire spectrum of human emotions basically every day since March.

But another way—the way that feels the most like the version of me I want to hold on to—is to spread some love. In this current environment, sometimes it’s hard to remember the good things about both the world and ourselves, so today I wanted to try to help all of us reconnect with some positivity.

If you haven’t guessed the plan by now, here it is: We’re having our annual LOVE POST, and we’re having it today.

Here are the basic instructions as I remember them from my old LiveJournal days: Make a comment on this post with your username (and things like your Twitter or your Tumblr URL if you feel like people might know you better by those identifiers). Then, sit back and let others reply, telling you how much and why they love you. Finally, share the love! Reply to your friends’ comments on this post and tell them how awesome you think they are.

I don’t care if you’ve never visited NGN before today or if you haven’t been here in years or if you’re an old guard member of the NGN Family. You all deserve to have people tell you nice things about yourself—no matter how much you might tell yourself you hate compliments. I’m going to reply to every single person’s posts, so don’t worry that you’ll be stuck with no comments, either. That’s not how things work around these parts.

The world is dark, and everyone is stumbling blindly toward the light in their own way. So what can I do? I can bring some light back to this little corner of the internet that’s been dark for too long. I can feel for all of you, but I can do something too. And if I can make one person’s day brighter with a comment they read in this post, then today’s already been a better day than a lot of the ones that came before.

I’ll start things off with a comment of my own just to show any newbies how it’s done, and I hope to come back later to a long list of names for me to send love to.

Things are hard right now, but love has a way of making them feel a little bit easier.

Back to Pawnee: A Night of Hope, Happiness, and Coming Home Again

 

Parks Reunion

Source: CNN.com

That was the hardest I’d laughed in months.

That made me feel good for the first time in so long.

That felt like coming home.

If you’ve been on social media at all since Thursday night, chances are you’ve come across similar reactions to the Parks and Recreation reunion special. And maybe you even felt those things yourself as you sat down to watch Leslie, Ron, Ben, and so many others (Perd! Bobby Newport! Johnny Karate!) navigate their life in this time of social distancing in the way only they could—with silliness, sincerity, and a song.

Something special happened the second that familiar theme song started playing. For 30 minutes, things felt okay. The world didn’t seem like such a scary place—because Ben Wyatt was still making claymation videos and Leslie was still calling Ann every day (and making up new nicknames for her like “desert fox”) and Tom was still coming up with crazy business ideas.

These characters still felt like the people they were the last time we saw them, which is a testament to this cast and the writers. And for 30 minutes, it made me feel like the person I was when I last saw them too.

Continue reading

Finding a Reason to Celebrate

Today, NGN turns 8 years old, and in the spirit of honesty (because when have I ever been less than honest with all of you?), I have to admit that it feels weird to be celebrating this year.

First of all, I haven’t been around much lately. I’ve written some stuff in the last year that I’m really proud of, and focusing on quality over quantity (and writing about things I really care about instead of things I feel I have to write about) has made me a much better writer overall. But thanks to more shuffling around at work, I was left with less time than ever before for nerdy fun. I’m glad to still be in the blogging game eight years after I decided that I needed an outlet for all my impassioned ramblings, but it’s different than it used to be. I’m different than I used to be. And sometimes I really miss this site—and the version of me who ran it—when it was at its peak. It all feels a bit bittersweet.

And then of course there’s the fact that celebrating anything at all while a pandemic is raging feels strange. I’m writing this from my dining room table, which is where I’ve been working from home for the past three weeks, and I haven’t left the house at all (except for walks) for more than two weeks now. I feel so blessed and lucky to say that I’m surrounded by my immediate family, we have our health, and I have my job—and my heart breaks for those who cannot say those things anymore. It’s a hard time for literally everyone. I haven’t had a day pass this week that hasn’t either started or ended in tears (or sometimes I opted for both). So patting myself on the back for something in the middle of all this feels a little more hollow than it might have a month ago.

However, we have to look for the joy where we can, right? Whether that’s reality TV, Star Wars marathons, Zoom happy hours, yoga, board games, baking, online shopping, or the rare burst of springtime sunshine, we have to still find reasons to smile and get out of bed in the morning (or afternoon…). And we have to embrace the things that give us comfort when times are hard. That’s not going to be the same for any two people, but whatever it is, I hope you find it and get to hold onto it with both hands during this hard time.

For me, NGN has always been a place of joy and comfort. It’s the place where I found myself and the place I return to when I need to feel like that version of myself still exists under all the stress and anxiety and obligations that come as life changes. But the real reason why NGN gives me joy and comfort is because of all of you who—over the past 8 years—have become my NGN Family. You’ve been my confidants, my teachers, my defenders, and my friends for almost a decade now, and I’ve watched so many of you become that for each other too.

I hope that this time provides an opening for me to get back to some of the writing that brought vibrancy to this place for so long and that still fills my heart with hope and healing every time I get to do it. And until then, consider this post me reaching out to say that I’m thinking of all of you and that I know things are hard right now, but I also know that this community has always had a bit of a magical way of helping us through hard times. So if you’re struggling, I’m here for a shoulder to lean on, and if you’re feeling strong today, I’m here to champion your strength.

NGN has only made it this long because of the family we created, and that family is what I’m choosing to celebrate today.

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2020 Oscars

 

Oscars

Source: MentalFloss.com

This is a special Academy Awards for me. For the first time since I was 17 years old—and the first time since they expanded the field of nominees beyond five—I watched all of the films nominated for Best Picture before the Oscars telecast. I feel more educated about the nominees and in a better position to share my opinions than ever before. But my knowledge of this year’s nominees is only part of the reason why I can’t wait to celebrate this year in film.

In a lot of ways, movies got me through this past year. This was a year of health scares, work woes, and high anxiety, and in the midst of it all, I turned to the movies. I laughed through Booksmart and Jojo Rabbit, I cried through Avengers: Endgame and The Rise of Skywalker, I hung on for every twist and turn in Parasite and Knives Out, and I was inspired by brilliant performances like Adam Driver’s in Marriage Story, Charlize Theron’s in Bombshell, and Robert De Niro’s in The Irishman. I saw movies with friends and family, and I also embraced the simple pleasure of seeing a movie by myself. I read more reviews, I talked more analytically with fellow movie fans, and I once again followed the ups and downs of award season with the good folks at Collider FYC. In a year when I needed moments of calm in the chaos of life, I returned to one of my oldest and most cherished happy places: the popcorn-scented, peacefully dark, transportive movie theater. And in doing so, I found the escapism that has always helped me walk away from the rolling credits of a movie a little lighter and a little less burdened by life’s trials than I was before the title card appeared.

So when I curl up on the couch with my favorite people and my favorite food to watch my favorite awards show, I won’t just be celebrating my favorite movies this year. I’ll be celebrating the version of myself that I am when I watch movies and the million ways both big and small that these stories helped me, healed me, and gave me hope. And while I might be sad when my favorites inevitably lose or when my predictions turn out wrong and while I’ll always be bitter that Greta Gerwig wasn’t nominated for Best Director and Jennifer Lopez was snubbed for one of the best performances of the year, Oscar Sunday is still one of the best days of the year. It’s a day to remember what movies mean to us, and this year, they meant everything to me.

Without further ado, let’s make some predictions! I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about most of the races this year, but I’ll try to keep my analysis brief—this is a big ballot to get through!

Picture
My Pick: 1917
My Thoughts: I love when the last category of the night is still up in the air in the days, hours, and even minutes before it’s announced, and that’s certainly true this year. Throughout award season, it’s never felt like this category was any single movie’s to lose, and that’s still true, even though 1917 seems like the safest best and surest thing at this point. It has all the requisite precursors and positive industry buzz, it’s a war film (The Academy loves those.), and it’s a truly impressive technical achievement. It did something groundbreaking with its single-take technique in such a large-scale film, making this tale of World War I feel immediate, visceral, and inescapable. And despite some claims that it’s all style and no substance, I found the performances of the two leads to be utterly captivating and its unflinching look at a war that’s not often the subject of major movies (Wonder Woman notwithstanding) heartbreaking at times and surprisingly hopeful at others. While I wouldn’t rule out the Parasite victory it seems so many are hoping for or the Jojo Rabbit upset that would truly thrill me, I still think they both have too much working against them to dethrone 1917. (For Parasite, it’s the fact that it’s going to win Best International Feature, and I don’t know if voters will want to give it two “Best Picture” wins in one night. For Jojo Rabbit, I don’t think some people can get past the satirical treatment of the subject matter.) I enjoyed 1917, and while I’m still hoping for a surprise, I do think it’s a worthy winner should voters choose to play it safe.

Continue reading

Discovering Euphoria: 2019 in Review

the good place

Source: avclub.com

“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”

When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.

Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.

It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.

There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.

And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.

Continue reading

Never Really Gone: The View from the End of the Skywalker Saga

 

SW logo

No matter how much we fought, I always hated watching you leave.

This is it. The end of the Skywalker Saga is upon us. On Thursday night (or sometime before if you’re lucky or after if you’ve got the patience or willpower of a saint), we’ll be watching the story that’s shaped so many of our lives leave us. And just like Leia and Han in The Force Awakens, when the time for that final farewell comes, I know I won’t be thinking about any parts of the story that disappointed me or didn’t turn out like I’d hoped. Instead, I’ll be thinking about the good stuff—because there was so much good stuff.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was barely out of kindergarten when I was pretending to escape the Death Star on the playground with my cousins. Return of the Jedi was my comfort movie on many sick days in elementary school, and The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much my signal that puberty started when I watched it basically every day the summer I turned 13. (No teenage girl hormones can resist Harrison Ford in his prime.) I asked for Star Wars Trivial Pursuit for Christmas (but no one would play with me because I knew all the answers). I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith multiple times in theaters. I subscribed to Star Wars magazines.

And it was one of those magazines that ultimately brought me to the fangirl life I now proudly live—in a way that’s very strongly connected to the trilogy that’s about to end this week.

Continue reading

Nerdy Girl Predicts: The 2019 Emmy Awards

62nd Primetime Emmy Awards - Audience

(Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

My relationship with the Emmys has always been a volatile one. It’s resulted in shoes thrown at the television (when Keri Russell didn’t win for The Americans last year) but also in tears of joy from my couch (when Matthew Rhys did win last year—and thanked Keri Russell in the cutest way possible). And so I continue to tune in year after year, ready for the emotional roller coaster that comes with caring way too much about whether or not your favorites go home with a shiny gold statue.

With some awards shows, I try to be objective with my predictions, but that never works with the Emmys. I care too much about the shows I love, and I can never separate my head from my heart. As such, my predictions might not be the best guide for your own Emmy pools or parties, but they offer a look into the shows and performances that captured my heart in the last year. And since my job and my life have gotten busier recently (yet again—can’t things ever slow down?!), I hope this will provide you all with a nice little snapshot of my thoughts on this past year of television since it’s been hard for me to write about my thoughts and (MANY) feelings as often as I’d like around these parts.

Without further ado, let’s make some predictions (and talk endlessly about our favorites)! I won’t cover every category—especially because in some categories (like TV Movie), I haven’t seen a single nominee. But I have a horse in most of the races this year, and I can’t wait to share my feelings with you about why I’ll be rooting for them on Sunday night. And if you want even more insight (and emotional, all-caps reactions), I’ll be live tweeting throughout the evening starting with the red carpet at 6 p.m. EST. Come for the analysis—stay for the rabid fangirling over how gorgeous the cast of Game of Thrones is sure to look.

Outstanding Drama Series
My Pick: Game of Thrones
My Thoughts: No matter what your opinion was concerning the final season of Game of Thrones (For the record: My opinion is a cross between a shrug of the shoulders and a fit of rage depending on what storyline we’re talking about), it was impossible to top the show in terms of its production value, cultural impact, and buzz. With a plethora of nominations and a reputation for Emmy glory (even for less than stellar seasons), I think this is one of the few safe bets of the night. And despite my misgivings about the final season as a whole, I think parts of it (namely, “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms”) were among the best things television gave us in the last year. I’m not sure a TV drama will ever again draw the kind of universal attention and discussion that Game of Thrones did, and I can’t see Emmy voters passing up one last chance to honor its cultural impact.

Outstanding Comedy Series
My Pick: Veep
My Thoughts: This is one category where I can separate my hopes from my sense of reality, and that’s because I’m going to console myself with the idea that The Good Place will have a better shot to win a “body of work” Emmy for its next—and last—season. This time, I think Veep is going to take home one last Emmy in a category stacked with brilliance. I wouldn’t mind any of the nominees winning—and I hope the love is spread around in the writing and directing categories—but I’ve heard nothing but praise for Veep’s final season (I’m still many seasons behind in my quest to watch all of it), so I think Emmy voters will want to send it out on a winning note.

Outstanding Limited Series
My Pick: When They See Us
My Thoughts: This is another powerhouse of a category, but nothing I watched on TV this year has stayed with me in a visceral way like When They See Us. The power of its performances, the clarity of its writing, the immersive and unflinching style of its direction—every part of it was operating at the highest level to produce something masterful. It’s a showcase of this particular medium at its very best, with each episode varying just enough in focus and tone to present a comprehensive look at the lives of human beings caught up in the horrors of the American criminal justice system. The humanity on display in this limited series was almost too painful to process at points, and that is exactly why it deserves this recognition.

Continue reading

Nothing to Prove: A Story of Soccer, Success, and Self-Worth

“I have nothing to prove to you.”

Those words were said earlier this year by Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel), but they could have just as easily been said by Megan Rapinoe (aka captain of the World Cup winning USWNT).

Superheroes think alike, I suppose.

In fact, there are many comparisons that can be drawn from one captain to another. Both have short, eye-catching haircuts. Both speak with a commanding presence. Both have no time for people who abuse power. Both stand up for what they believe is right, even when it makes them a target. Both became their most powerful selves when the world needed them the most.

And both are fiercely, beautifully, and unapologetically confident.

When I first started noticing the backlash directed at Rapinoe and her USWNT teammates, it reminded me so much of that small but vocal chorus of whiners after Captain Marvel who thought both Carol and the woman who plays her—Brie Larson—came off as “arrogant” and “unlikable.” Both sets of critics are cut from the same cloth—an unyielding fabric that doesn’t seem to want to bend and mold to a new era for women, an era in which we no longer have to downplay what makes us special, treat our skills with a sick kind of self-deprecation, or stand in the shadows because the world isn’t ready for what we look like in the sunlight.

On Sunday, when Rapinoe stood in her now iconic pose—arms spread wide, chin high, chest out—after scoring the first (and ultimately game-winning) goal of the World Cup final, the world saw what we look like in the sunlight. And it was breathtaking.

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Last of the Starks”

The Moment: Jaime Lannister Leaves Brienne of Tarth

Setting the Scene: After the consummation of Jaime and Brienne’s relationship and seemingly a period of happiness in Winterfell, Jaime hears that Cersei and Euron have done serious damage to Daenerys’s forces, which causes him to do some soul-searching.

Why It Matters: If you’ll notice, I changed the title of this section. “Why It’s Awesome” didn’t feel right for a scene that left my favorite character sobbing and my other favorite character riding off to what seems to be certain death with the most unclear motives in television history. Despite its inherently tragic (and possibly frustrating) nature, this scene deserved a closer look.

Let’s start with the obvious: None of us have any idea why Jaime really left the North—and the life he was building there with Brienne—to return South. We can make educated guesses, make up various theories, and even claim to use the actors’ performances, small pieces of what we think is foreshadowing, and potential spoilers to gain insight into Jaime’s mind in this moment. Is he leaving to kill Cersei because he knows he’s the only one who can get close enough? Is he leaving to die with her because he feels that’s the only way to fully atone for the sins he committed out of his love for her? Is he leaving to try to save her because he still loves her? Is he leaving because of the child Cersei is pregnant with? Does he plan to die in her arms as her soulmate? Did he always only love Cersei, or does he truly love Brienne now? Does he think he’s not worthy of Brienne? Is he trying to protect Brienne by pushing her away so she won’t follow him?

There are probably a thousand more ways to interpret this scene and what Jaime is going through during it, but we won’t know until the next episode airs, or the series finale, or maybe not even then. And for some people, that might be fine. Obscuring character motivations for the sake of preserving shock value is not a new trick on this show—it was my main complaint with last season’s Arya/Sansa storyline. But it’s not fine for me. I want to leave every scene of this final season feeling something—whatever that feeling may be—deeply. I prefer when the characters drive the plot, not the other way around. So Jaime’s lack of clear motivation—and the lack of relationship building between him and Brienne (in this episode rather than in the many seasons of gorgeous development we got before their love scene)—left me feeling confused more than anything else. By trying to hit two huge beats (the sex and the “breakup”) in one of the show’s most nuanced and beloved relationships all in the course of an episode, it just cemented my belief that this final season is more about moving characters into predetermined places as quickly as possible instead of creating a story whose final highs and lows feel earned.

With that being said, I don’t want to talk much about Jaime in this scene. I want to believe that the tears in his eyes gave away his true feelings (because how deeply unsatisfying would it be for him to actually go back to Cersei because he loves her after all this?), but my lack of faith in these writers when it comes to Jaime’s character arc is telling me that might have just been the result of Nikolaj Coster-Waldau once again bringing so much more depth to his character than the writers believe exists in Jaime.

And how could he not bring everything he had to this scene when he was met with his best scene partner giving what may have been her best performance yet?

Continue reading

Game of Thrones Moment of the Week: “The Long Night”

The Moment: Arya Stark Kills the Night King

Setting the Scene: Just as all hope seems lost for the living in Winterfell and with the Night King seemingly about to draw his sword against Bran, Arya jumps out of the darkness and fulfills her destiny to close blue eyes forever.

Why It’s Awesome: I’ll be honest: I didn’t love “The Long Night.” Last week’s “A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms” is much more my style of storytelling and provided far more of what I want from Game of Thrones. However, this episode delivered when it counted, with a moment that had me leaping off my couch in shock and will forever be immortalized in reaction videos that bring tears to my eyes when I watch them.

This is what fandom is all about. It’s what entertainment is all about. It’s about these kinds of moments—ones that make us hold our breath and then explode with emotion, ones that make us want to talk to everyone we know about how it made us feel, and ones that bring us together in shared excitement.

Arya killing the Night King was unexpected in the moment. It seemed like it was Jon’s destiny—or maybe even Bran’s. And then, as the episode neared its end and the fates of all the main characters looked pretty grim, I actually started to worry if maybe the Night King would actually win. But that wasn’t the subversion the writers were going for. Instead, it was the subversion of our expectations of whose hero’s journey we’re actually on when it comes to this story. After Arya stabbed the Night King, I had the best kind of reaction imaginable to a piece of media—I immediately thought about going back and rewatching the entire show with this knowledge in mind, because I knew that I’d see everything differently now. This was a moment that changed not just the future of the show, but how I will now view its previous episodes, too. Because, in her own twisted way, Arya was on a hero’s journey. She had to travel far from home, encounter monsters of all kinds, let her old self die, survive hell, and return home with new knowledge that could be used to create a better future. It doesn’t get more quintessentially Joseph Campbell than that.

I love that Arya’s journey had a real purpose. I struggled for a long time with her story because it felt like a depressing tale of a haunted girl learning to become a soulless killer for revenge. And that kind of story is never interesting to me. But now it all makes sense. She had to become intimately familiar with death in order to kill its greatest agent and symbol. She had to know death to destroy death. All of her training led her to that moment of sticking death itself with the pointy end to defend her brother and her home. When you look at who Arya is and what she was fighting for, there was no better way for this part of the story to end. It managed to be both surprising and satisfying, which doesn’t happen very often on television.

I have no idea where this story is going to go now, but I’m ready to move on from the Night King and get back to the interpersonal, human dramas that have made this show so compelling from the pilot onward. And if this moment taught me anything, it’s that satisfying surprises are still lurking around every corner.

Honorable Mentions: Tyrion kissing Sansa’s hand, Bran telling Theon he’s a good man, Arya giving Sansa a dagger, and literally any of the approximately 800 times Jaime and Brienne saved each other