New Year, New NGN

The beginning of the year has always been a time of new beginnings at NGN. This site started as a New Year’s resolution, and January has always been a time for reflecting on this little corner of the internet and how I can make it the best it can possibly be.

For a few years, I wasn’t sure how to do that. My career changed in a major way in 2016, and with that, the time I could devote to this site—especially in the form of weekly reviews of shows—drastically decreased. But it was more than just my job that changed around that time. I changed. My relationship with fandom changed. My relationship with writing about and for fandom changed.

I felt like I couldn’t be what fandom needed me to be.

For years, I’d built a reputation as being a force of unstoppable positivity in fandom. And I relished that reputation. I encouraged it and took it very seriously.

But sometimes it’s hard to be positive.

Sometimes you can’t be what other people need you to be.

So I all but disappeared because I felt like I couldn’t be what fandom needed me to be—what fandom expected me to be. I couldn’t keep up with The Fan Mail Project (remember when I tried to write a book?) thanks to my grueling workload and packed schedule. I couldn’t post as often because I was burned out from writing all day at work. I couldn’t be as endlessly enthusiastic as I used to be because I was struggling with a prolonged period of anxiety and self-doubt.

I felt like I was letting people down, and I didn’t know how to deal with that.

I wrote when I could, but after my posts about The Americans ended, it was hard for me to find my groove—to find my voice.

But I think I’m starting to find it again.

And I have you—my NGN Family—to thank for that.

The encouragement you gave me when I wrote about what Schitt’s Creek taught me about coming home. The kindness you all showed when my year-end posts took a different—and more honest—tone this year. The sense of community that’s filled this place again in the last week.

It’s all reminded me that the people who matter—the people who’ve made the NGN community what it’s been for almost a decade—don’t need me to be anything but myself. My messy, vulnerable self. It’s reminded me that NGN can be a safe space not just for the people who visit it, but for me too. And it’s reminded me that nothing makes me feel less alone than connecting with people through the kind of writing that I’ve always loved bringing to NGN—writing about the things we love and what those things say about who we are.

So with that in mind—and in the spirit of new beginnings—I’m excited to announce that I’m bringing back a couple of old features from NGN’s past that I think will focus on that kind of writing and allow all of us to share enthusiasm and love the way we did this past week—and the way we’ve been sharing for more than eight years.

The first of these is The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week, which will return to its Sunday slot starting tomorrow! The second is an updated version of NGN’s old Daily Dose of Feelings feature that discussed some of my favorite emotional moments from TV. However, my life doesn’t really allow for “Daily” posts anymore, so instead, Right in the Feels is going to pop up at least a few times a month to focus on moments from movies, TV shows, and other aspects of pop culture that have brought me to tears throughout my many years as a fangirl. (I have a working list of moments to write about, but if you have suggestions, feel free to drop them in the comments!)

It’s my hope that these features—along with more essays throughout the year—will allow us all to continue to connect with the joy, enthusiasm, and community that’s been buzzing around NGN for the last week and that has always made this little corner of the internet so special.

It may be a new year, but I’m ready to rekindle a little bit of that old NGN magic.

How Movies Got Me Through 2020

Happy New Year, fellow nerds! This is the third and final post in a series wrapping up a different year in a different way. I’ve been recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. Since this post is going live on New Year’s Eve, I want to wish you all a happy, safe, and healthy start to 2021. May we all find brighter days in the coming year!

I’m not sure how to talk about movies this year.

Movies got me through 2018. And 2019. And I was ready for them to get me through 2020. In a string of years that featured major work stress, family health issues, and personal struggles, movies were my saving grace. When I stepped into a movie theater, I could forget about my own life for a couple of hours and become enveloped by a story that was all-encompassing. And when I stepped back out into the world, the world felt different. It felt brighter. It felt lighter. It felt bigger than me and my problems.

Then, a pandemic happened. And my world suddenly shrank to the four walls of my house and the often claustrophobic confines of my anxiety-ridden brain. The world felt so much smaller—suffocating and smothering.

And when it felt that way, I found myself missing movies, missing the ability to walk into a dark room and go somewhere else—anywhere else—and emerge from that journey feeling better than I did before the previews began.

I found myself missing the shared joy of a New Year’s Day family excursion to see The Rise of Skywalker, the excitement of taking myself to a Saturday matinee of Parasite, the emotional journey of Onward turning out to be nothing like I expected—in the best possible way.

I started 2020 on a movie fan high—seeing every Best Picture Oscar nominee before the ceremony for the first time in more than a decade. I was going to the movies by myself more often—relishing the sense of independence it gave me and the deeply personal, almost spiritual, experience that’s the closest thing I get to church (outside of church itself). I was making plans with friends and family to see a long lineup of great movies that were set to open this year.

And then it all stopped.

Of course I still watched movies. I enjoyed the lush beauty of Emma. I found Disney’s new take on Mulan to be thrilling and gorgeous to look at. I rewatched a lot of Star Wars movies and took comfort in animated favorites.

But it didn’t feel the same.

My couch is comfortable, and my TV screen is big. I’ve watched plenty of new movies at home before. But it never feels the same as a trip to the theater.

The phone rings. People walk into the room to talk. The siren song of Twitter and Instagram is so close. The lights are too bright, and the popcorn never tastes exactly the same.

So for a long time, I didn’t watch any movies. And I could feel my world getting smaller—and my problems feeling bigger—as a result.

It took until Christmas Day—and two miraculous movies—for that to start to change.

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How Books Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the second in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with TV, books, and movies reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year. And if you’re in the mood for more book discussion, Mary wrote a fabulous guest post for NGN earlier this month about her favorite books of 2020.

I read 22 books this year.

(Technically, it’s more like 21.99 books at the time I’m writing this, but let’s round up for the sake of simplicity.)

For me, that’s a huge number. It’s almost double the number of books I read in 2019.

And yet I still found myself slightly nervous about sharing it. I found myself writing long-winded explanations about why I don’t read more—defenses mostly centered on a job in publishing and a past as an English major who read so many books in college she burned herself out for the next decade.

I found myself comparing my reading habits to those of everyone around me—and coming up short.

That’s when I knew I had to write about it.

Because that’s been my experience through much of 2020. Comparing myself to everyone around me—and coming up short.

I didn’t become an expert chef (or even a particularly functional one). I didn’t learn a new language or meditate every day or take up running. I didn’t write more blog posts or start a new hobby or even spend that much more time outside appreciating nature.

I didn’t become a more voracious reader or a reader of more respectable literature.

And for most of this year, I beat myself up about all of it.

But then, I thought about those 21.99 books. And like they have for my entire life, the books guided me to the exact lesson I needed.

Your story doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s to be good enough. You should never feel bad about or downplay something that makes you happy. You should embrace it. And if you have the strength, you should share it.

And if the way I shared books with loved ones, talked about them with friends, and got excited to read them with my morning coffee was any indication, every single one of those precious 21.99 books I read this year made me happy.

And now I want to share it.

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How TV Got Me Through 2020

Happy Holidays, fellow nerds! This is the first in a series of posts wrapping up a different year in a different way. Between now and the start of 2021, I’ll be recapping my year in media not through traditional “Best of” lists but instead through snapshots of how my relationships with books, movies, and TV reflected my journey through 2020. If you’re looking for great “Best of 2020” content, I highly recommend heading over to Marvelous Geeks and TVexamined for their lists and listening to the 2-part podcast I recorded with the wonderful women behind those two sites, where we recapped our TV favorites from this year.

I watched a lot of reality TV this year.

A lot.

From fantastic making-of docuseries (Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian and Into the Unknown: Making Frozen 2) to intense competitions (Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelorette), my streaming queues and DVR were filled with the stories of real people.

And then there was Bravo.

bravo

In a year without a lot of stability, I always knew I could count on Bravo to keep me company. Whether it was the best season of Top Chef in the show’s storied history, the stunning scenery of Below Deck Mediterranean, or the delicious drama of Vanderpump Rules and the Real Housewives Cinematic Universe, there were very few nights—especially this summer—when my TV wasn’t tuned into Bravo.

And that’s not even counting the weeks my sister and I spent binge-watching the entirety of Southern Charm and becoming far too attached to its bevy of South Carolina men-children.

I’ve never been shy about my consumption of reality television, but it reached new heights this year. And for a long time, I figured that was because I needed something mindless when it felt like my mind was going a mile a minute the rest of the day.

But as I found myself getting more and more invested in Tayshia Adams’s journey to find love, the crumbling friendship between Lisa Rinna and Denise Richards, Melissa King’s cooking, and whether or not Ramona Singer really has 50 close girlfriends, I realized that what most people would call “empty calories” in my TV diet was actually feeding me exactly what I was missing most in 2020.

People.

Real people.

I’m an extrovert. I love talking to people, being around huge groups of people, celebrating when people succeed, and comforting people when they struggle. I love people-watching at the mall, at happy hour, in airports, and walking out of hockey games, musicals, and movies.

I love people.

I miss people.

I’ve been incredibly lucky to have spent 2020 with my immediate family, but there’s still so much that I miss. I miss the energy of a Friday at the office, with everyone sharing their weekend plans. I miss long dinners with friends and unpacking all the silly drama in our lives over glasses of wine. I miss the excitement of sightseeing around big cities with my favorite people.

And reality TV gave me a little bit of that back.

I know the “real” part of reality TV can be debated, but these shows gave me a window into a social life I missed deeply this year. Watching the Real Housewives gossip over appetizers and watching Top Chef contestants support each other and watching the Dancing with the Stars cast form genuine friendships born of shared struggle and success allowed me to experience one of the things I was craving most acutely in an isolating, quiet, lonely year.

Human connection.

Every TV show that captured my attention this year had a strong element of human connection at the center of it. From the groups of people working together to make Frozen 2 possible to the Real Housewives of New York coming together to cheer on one of their own when she finally launched her clothing line to the former enemies burying the hatchet on Vanderpump Rules, I was drawn to shows with strong group dynamics—shows that demonstrated the fact that, for better or worse, humans are social animals who are always better together.

That extended into the fictional television that I loved this year too.

The year started with the core group of lovable disasters of The Good Place helping each other finally get to the titular heavenly realm—and eventually move beyond it. And it continued with the team at the 99th Precinct helping each other through fertility struggles, dognappings, and the birth of a new baby on Brooklyn 99. I was immediately charmed and moved by the realistic female friendships on The Baby-Sitters Club, which filled the hole in my heart that was left behind when I stopped teaching teenage girls at the dance studio where I used to work. And watching the women of Mrs. America talk about feminism, politics, and social change helped me at a time when I missed having serious discussions in person with my female friends.

My extroverted soul felt seen by Lucy Chen on The Rookie—a character who talks through her feelings, her problems, and pretty much everything else. Lucy’s belief in people and in the importance of relationships and communication anchors a show that could easily become lost in a swirling sea of procedurals. And her relationship with Tim Bradford is so much more than just the stereotypical “gruff mentor/sunshiney mentee” trope—or a budding slow-burn romance (depending on how you want to read it). It’s a beautiful representation of how human connection works—the little moments of sharing and learning and helping each other that build up over time to bond us to another person. Warmth is something a lot of us have been missing this year, and their dynamic gave me that in spades.

And that brings us to Schitt’s Creek, the warmest and most wonderful show I watched in 2020. To paraphrase another show I love deeply, no one in Schitt’s Creek achieves anything alone. This is a show about people needing people—to succeed, to lean on, to grow into the best versions of themselves. It’s a show about the healing power of relationships based on kindness, sincerity, and appreciating other people for who they truly are. It’s a show about what it means to love people—really love them—and how our relationships are the most valuable things we carry with us.

Schitt’s Creek is a show that believes in people—in the power we all have to help each other, to reach out to each other, and to give each other a safe place to land. And in a year that was defined by isolation, there was real comfort—and real catharsis—in watching a show about the beauty of togetherness, community, and connection.

From a fictional small town to a galaxy far, far away—and from a very real yacht on the Mediterranean to a mansion in Charleston—all the TV shows I watched this year reminded me that the connections we make with other people are all that really matters in the end.

I can’t think of anything more real than that.

I’ll Be Home at Last: What Schitt’s Creek Taught Me About Vulnerability

Source: TV Insider

 

Everybody loves a winner
So nobody loved me
‘”Lady Peaceful,” “Lady Happy”
That’s what I long to be
Well all the odds are—they’re in my favor
Something’s bound to begin
It’s got to happen, happen sometime
Maybe this time
Maybe this time, I’ll win…

I never thought it would be Stevie.

Moira Rose is the iconic one—the one who belongs in the pantheon with Ron Swanson, Michael Scott, Liz Lemon, Selina Meyer, and all the other 21st century comedic icons. Alexis has one of the best character arcs in TV comedy history. Johnny makes me cry more than any other character. Patrick is basically my dream man. And I’m more like David Rose—charred marshmallow heart and all—than I should probably admit.

But somehow, I keep coming back to Stevie Budd.

Schitt’s Creek has been a beacon of light and laughter for me and for so many others during the dark year that’s been 2020. And when things seem particularly dark, I’ve found myself watching one scene over and over.

It’s not “A Little Bit Alexis.”

It’s not Moira’s fruit wine commercial. (Although that one is definitely high up on my most-viewed list.)

It’s not even David and Patrick’s first kiss, proposal, or wedding.

It’s Stevie in the Season 5 finale, opening up to Moira backstage during “Cabaret” about how she feels stuck behind the desk while everyone else finds their person and their purpose. It’s Stevie, taking her first steps out from behind the desk and into the spotlight to sing “Maybe This Time.” It’s Stevie, basking in a standing ovation and gasping in overwhelmed surprise—at her chosen family’s reaction…and maybe at herself too.

“Maybe this time I’ll win…”

Schitt’s Creek has a sense of utopia about it. It’s a show where homophobia doesn’t exist, where people are accepted and nurtured and loved for who they are while still being guided to the best version of themselves. It’s a show where families reconnect, where broken hearts are healed, where people of all kinds get a second chance and a fresh start. One of the most beautiful things about this show is that every person watching it can find a different thing to inspire them, a different storyline or thematic element to give them hope.

For me, it’s all about vulnerability.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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