Finding My Fight Song

“Always aim high, work hard, and care deeply about what you believe in.” — Hillary Clinton

“When they go low, we go high.” — Michelle Obama

I’m trying, ladies, but it’s been hard.

It’s been 2 months and 12 days, and I’ve been trying for every single one of them to look for the good, to find reasons to be positive, to hold on to hope—in short, to be the Katie you’ve all come to know over the last four years here at NGN. But 2 months and 12 days ago, something inside of me broke, and I’m still trying to figure out how to fix it—or if I ever will be able to fix it.

Positivity, optimism, and hope do not always come easily for me. When you’ve lived with anxiety for as long as you can remember, you have to fight every day to be someone who tries to see reasons to feel good about the future instead of reasons to be terrified at every turn. And for a long while I was doing a pretty good job with that; I was fighting that good fight every day, and it felt like I was winning.

And then Hillary Clinton lost, and, in a major way, it felt like I lost. It felt like the things I had fought so hard to believe and preach with conviction and truth every day in my own life—the power of light in the face of darkness, the importance of choosing hope over fear, the belief that people are stronger together, the importance of diversity, and the value of women—were suddenly no longer valued by my country. In the days and weeks and months following that seemingly endless Election Night, I’ve come to discover and embrace the fact that more of my fellow Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump, and that has given me some comfort in the dark times I’ve faced. But that’s often felt like a tiny bandage on a gaping hole in my heart.

It’s been all too easy for me to slip back into old thought patterns. I’ve been so anxious lately that some days I find myself crying or panicking while putting on my makeup or sitting at my desk. I’m filled with doubt about the world and my place in it, and the uncertainty in our country has made me question the certainty I used to feel about nearly everything in my life. Fear, anger, and apathy have been creeping back into my life in the last couple of months—to the point where I haven’t even wanted to write anything here or work on The Fan Mail Project because I haven’t been able to find the strength to see much good in anything or much of a reason to hope that I can effect any kind of positive change through my writing.

I think that was the hardest part for me, accepting that sometimes you can put the work in and it still won’t matter. I wanted Hillary to win. I didn’t vote for her just because I disliked and feared the possibility of a Trump presidency; I genuinely believed in her and believed she could change our nation for the better. I donated, I wore the shirts, I decked my car out in the stickers, I convinced family members and friends to vote for her, I wrote extensively about what she meant to me—heck, I even wrote a biography of her for fourth graders thanks to my job. And to see all of that passion, work, and genuine belief end in the worst-case scenario had me spiraling. For the first time in a very long time, it made me question if it was worth it to ever care about something with my whole heart again.

All in all, I’ve been far from the best version of myself for these past 2 months and 12 days, and it’s been especially evident in the immediate lead-up to today’s transition of power. Yesterday I cried for a long time about a lot of things, and it hit me mid-sob that one of the things I was doing was grieving.

I hadn’t let myself grieve.

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How Long Forever Was: Remembering Carrie Fisher

leia

Rest easy, General.

“It was raining in L.A. and I was Princess Leia. I had never been Princess Leia before and now I would be her forever. I would never not be Princess Leia. I had no idea how profoundly true that was and how long forever was.” — The Princess Diarist

What is a legacy? Hamilton taught me “It’s planting seeds in a garden you never get to see.” But I believe some people—if they leave the right kind of mark—live to see at least a small portion of that garden. And I think Carrie Fisher was one of those people.

She got to see the little girls dressed up as Princess Leia. She got to hear stories of women who were inspired by the character she brought to life. And she’d be the first one to tell you that she also got to hear stories of men who were inspired in their own way by the character, too.

Princess Leia is a huge part of Fisher’s legacy. She will live on forever in that character—forever our Princess, our General, our trailblazing badass.

I’ve written so much already about what Princess Leia has meant to me (and I’m planning to write much more in the future), so I’ll just say this about Fisher’s most famous role: I have no idea who I would have become if I never saw Leia shooting her blaster, kissing her pirate, and commanding her troops as a kid, but I do know that woman would have been a lot less confident, independent, outspoken, and happy.

I was introduced to Princess Leia at the ripe old age of five, so it took a while before I understood that she wasn’t real and that a woman named Carrie Fisher played her in the movies. But once I could grasp that concept and I learned about Fisher’s life, I became incredibly intrigued by her writing career. Even as a kid, I knew I loved to write, and upon learning that Fisher became a writer after her time in that galaxy far, far away, it occurred to me that maybe if I couldn’t really be a Princess/Rebel, being a writer might be the next best career path.

Princess Leia is my hero, but so is the woman who played her. And as I’ve gotten older, my admiration for Carrie Fisher beyond her job of bringing Leia to life has only grown. Her ability to be unapologetically, unashamedly, unrelentingly herself in a world that constantly tried to make her feel bad about that is something we all should strive to channel in our own lives. And her emotional honesty and openness—especially in her writing—represents the kind of bravery I can only hope to achieve.

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Fangirl Thursday: Feel the Magic

Henry’s speech about the power of belief and the necessity of magic in the Season Five finale of Once Upon a Time will always be one of my favorite moments in the history of one of my favorite shows. And that is because it touched on something I believe with all my heart: Magic is real. You just have to be open to it in order to experience it.

Kids find magic everywhere—the stars in the night sky, the waves in the ocean, the worlds they create in their own imaginations. But as we get older, we tend to stop looking for magic. We get cynical, and then we start looking for reasons to roll our eyes at others who still see magic around them. We learn facts about the world, and we think that means we need to throw away our sense of wonder because we know how things work now. We become busy, and we put our heads down to get where we think we need to be—losing sight of the places where magic lives.

But that magic is still there. It’s just waiting for us to find it again. And those places where we find it—where we reconnect with what it means to believe—are special. They are places where we are reminded of one beautiful fact: Sometimes even grownups can still be believers.

Belief creates magic. There’s something profoundly magical about a room full of adults who put aside their cynicism and even their logic in order to allow themselves to experience they joy and excitement that can come from the willing suspension of disbelief. I’ve seen it in movie theaters, during plays, and at TV screenings at conventions: the way a group of adults all cheer when something great happens, cry when something emotional happens, or gasp when something surprising happens. Logically, we all know we’re watching actors performing words and actions from a script. But something special happens when you find yourself surrounded by people who let themselves believe the emotional truth of what they’re watching and experiencing: You start to believe, too. And that is the strongest kind of magic there is—the magic that comes from a group of people believing together, even just for a moment. Communal belief. Communal participation in magic.

Everyone has their own special place where that sense of communal belief is at its strongest. For some, it’s a darkened theater the night the latest Harry Potter or Star Wars or Marvel movie premieres, where you get to watch and react with other fans who find the same magic on the big screen. For others, it’s a stadium or an arena, where sitting in your seat just the right way or cheering at just the right time or saying a prayer right before overtime actually feels like it might make a difference.

For me, it’s Walt Disney World.

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“That Perfect Girl Is Gone”: A Letter to Elsa

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

elsa

Source: frozen.disney.com

Dear Elsa,

You weren’t around when I was growing up. Instead, I had a plethora of Disney princess role models who were all strong and kind and incredible in their own ways. I grew up with Belle teaching me to love books, Jasmine teaching me that I wasn’t a prize to be won, Pocahontas teaching me to follow my heart, and Mulan teaching me that I was just as capable and powerful as any man. I will always be thankful for the lessons they taught me, but a part of me will always wish that I could have grown up with you.

Those princesses were smart and fierce and courageous and…pretty close to perfect. And while it’s wonderful for little girls to grow up with an ideal image of all they can be, it’s also important for them to see that it’s okay to have moments when they’re not perfect princesses, even moments when they hurt people—not because they mean to, but because they are struggling with things that feel beyond their control. It’s important for them to know that every princess (or queen, in your case) is flawed, and that’s okay. It doesn’t make them unlovable or unforgivable; it makes them human.

So thank you for giving a new generation of girls something I didn’t have when I was little—a Disney princess who struggled with something internal rather than external, a Disney princess who lived out the conflict women often struggle with between the perfect image we feel we need to project and the messy reality of who we really are. The biggest fight many of these girls will face in their lives won’t be with some terrible villain; it will be with the darkest parts of themselves. And in you, those girls will see a champion, a symbol of their own ability to accept the parts of themselves they feel they’re supposed to hide and hate—and their ability to turn that acceptance into power.

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The Sky’s the Limit

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Source: cosmopolitan.com

I know I don’t typically write about politics, but NGN has always been a place for me to write about what moves me and inspires me. And, as you’ll see, the following is something I have been passionate about for a long time but nervous to talk about so openly before today. But if any day is a day for a politically active woman to speak what’s on her mind and in her heart, it’s today.

When I was a little girl, my mom used to tell me, “Girls can do anything boys can do.” I’m sure this is a common refrain in many American households, especially ones that are predominantly female. While I took those words to heart as a kid and never let anyone stop me from doing things because of my gender—whether it was graduating top in my high school class or running a sports blog in college—there was one thing I never really dreamed of doing—not even during that stage of childhood where you pretend to have a thousand jobs at once.

I never dreamed of being the president.

Sometimes we have no idea what we can dream of being until we see someone like us achieving it. Some people can believe without seeing, but even from a young age, I was a bit of a Doubting Thomas. I had trouble dreaming without knowing in the back of my mind that there was a chance that—if I worked hard enough and had enough support—my dream could come true.

Sometimes we limit ourselves without even knowing we’re doing it—all because we have never seen the full extent of what is possible.

Last night, I finally saw the full extent of what is possible. And I hope that parents let their little girls (and little boys) stay up past their bedtimes—or watch in the morning—so they could see the full extent of what is possible, too.

Last night, I saw Hillary Clinton accept the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination, and in her speech, she said something that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about:

When there are no ceilings, the sky’s the limit.

That “highest, hardest glass ceiling” has hung over my head for my entire 27 years on this Earth. And when you’re born under a glass ceiling, sometimes you don’t even know that there is anything for you beyond it. I dream big—I always have—but I never thought to extend those dreams beyond that ceiling, to think of achieving what Hillary did last night.

But from this moment forward, little girls will grow up thinking there is no limit to what they can achieve because of their gender. They will grow up believing that the sky is the limit and that there is a desk waiting for them to sit behind in the Oval Office. They will grow up with footsteps to follow in because a trailblazer named Hillary Clinton made the uneven path smoother with her strides. They will grow up in a world where someone who looks like them and their mothers and their grandmothers can be a major political party’s nominee for president. They will grow up with the fullness of the American dream made visible for them: that someone like them could do amazing things through hard work, a strong support system, and belief in herself.

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Let’s Go: A Letter to the Women of Ghostbusters

This is the latest in my series of letters to inspirational female characters that will be compiled in a book alongside letters from my fellow fangirls and fanboys. If you are interested in being part of The Fan Mail Project, I’m still taking submissions on a case-by-case basis, and you can check out all the information here

ghostbusters

Source: ghostbusters.com

Dear Erin, Abby, Patty, and Hotltzmann,

You made me cry. Normally, this would not be much of a surprise to anyone, but even my intensely emotional self can usually keep it together during action scenes in summer blockbusters. But there you were, battling ghosts, guns blazing, and I couldn’t help it. I thought of the millions of little girls who would watch that scene in the coming days, weeks, and years, and I felt so overwhelmingly grateful for the fact that they will grow up in a world where women like you get to save the day.

A group of girls will grow up with that image—four female friends fighting ghosts without any help from a man and without ever having their looks become the focus instead of their skills—being their introduction to action movies. They’ll grow up with that image stuck in their minds and written onto the fabric of their fangirl hearts, and that’s a kind of power that not even the strongest proton pack can produce.

That’s why all the talk about the four of you “ruining” people’s childhoods was such garbage. You can’t ruin a childhood that already happened. But you can help create a brighter childhood for a new generation of young girls. And that is exactly what you’ve done. Your purpose isn’t to create nostalgia for the past; it’s to create inspiration for the future.

The world you inhabit is a world where women fighting ghosts isn’t seen as a big deal. And that matters. (It’s also sadly far away from the world we actually inhabit.) If they only paid attention to the movie, young girls watching Ghostbusters might not ever think that there’s something atypical about you being heroes, and that’s how it should be. You’re treated as people and not as paragons of feminism or stereotypes of “strong female characters,” and it’s so important for girls to see a world where women aren’t defined by their gender or limited by it. You’re ghostbusters who just happen to be women, and that kind of normalcy in terms of the treatment of female heroes is so rare, which makes it so important.

That doesn’t mean, though, that you aren’t examples of how to overcome common problems women face throughout their lives. So much of your collective story is based on the fact that no one will take you seriously when you talk about what you believe and what you’ve seen. Even when you have proof, what you say makes people uncomfortable, so you’re belittled and ridiculed and painted as delusional. People try to silence you, but you stand your ground. Thank you for being an example of what it means to own your truth in a world that is often uncomfortable with women speaking out about what they know, what they believe, and what they’ve experienced.

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Fangirl Thursday: Change Is Good

I’m not normally someone who likes change, but sometimes change can be great.

Some of you have known this for a couple of weeks now (if you follow me on Twitter): I was promoted to an Associate Editorial Director position within the children’s publishing company I’ve worked for since I graduated from college. This is an incredibly exciting (and just a little bit anxiety-inducing) change in my life, allowing me to take on new responsibilities and grow not just as an editor but as a leader, which is what I’ve always wanted from a job.

What does that mean for NGN? Hopefully not much. But I do want to prepare you for the fact that it might mean posts showing up later than usual as I deal with my new workload. However, I promise to keep producing the kind of content that’s brought you to this site in the first place. It might just take a little longer than before for that content to be produced.

For a long time I wrestled with the idea of doing what I do here at NGN professionally, but over the last week or so I’ve done a lot of soul-searching. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I like things the way they are now. Would it be great to get paid for running NGN? Of course. Who wouldn’t like making money writing exactly what they want to write how they want to write it. But I’m not sure I’d love it this much if it were my actual job. So for now, I’m going to enjoy the fact that I have a paying job doing something I like and a website I run for my own enjoyment that by some miracle of the Internet has become something other people enjoy, too.

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Fangirl Thursday: Coming Home

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When a television show you love ends, it can feel like leaving home. But when a television show ends years after you stopped really loving it, it can feel like hearing that the house you grew up in—but have since moved far away from—is going to be torn down. You might not have the same connection to that place anymore, but you still feel that loss, and that loss makes you think about who you were when you lived there and how much has changed since then.

I haven’t watched American Idol in years, but for a brief time, that show and its fandom were my home. So before it ends tonight, I wanted to look back—not so much at the show itself (because people far more talented than I am have done that already) but at its impact on my own life as a fangirl.

I was an Idol devotee for its first two seasons. I had a picture of Justin Guarini in my high school locker and worshipped Kelly Clarkson. (Let’s be honest: I still worship Kelly Clarkson.) I saw the Season Two contestants on tour, and, yes, I will admit to casting more than one vote for Clay Aiken. That show was something my family—even my extended family—wanted to watch and talk about together, which was rare at the time.

But as time passed, I drifted away from Idol, only returning for occasional episodes and each season’s finale. In fact, it was during the Season Eight finale that I saw Kris Allen and Adam Lambert perform “We Are the Champions,” and I knew right away that I was in trouble. Allen had the cute, singer-songwriter vibe I always adore, and you had to be crazy not to be drawn to Lambert’s incredible voice and magnetic stage presence. When coupled with the genuine friendship I saw on display when Kris was named the winner, I knew it was only a matter of time before I fell down an Internet rabbit hole, trying to catch up on everything I missed during the season.

During my trip down that rabbit hole early in the summer of 2009, I encountered a LiveJournal community about American Idol, and it felt like finding a home. The people there were smart, funny, and just as obsessed with the show and its contestants as I was. It was the same magical feeling I got when I discovered my first Star Wars fan site and visited MuggleNet for the first time. I didn’t feel alone anymore. But I didn’t have much experience with actual fandom participation. Sure, I’d posted on message boards about So You Think You Can Dance and even had my own blog about my hometown hockey team, but this was bigger and crazier than a message board and much wider in scope than the Buffalo Sabres fandom. I was scared to make that jump from lurker to participant in the discussions.

But then it hit me: I wanted to be a part of this. I didn’t want to watch everyone else having fun and making friends like I did in the Alias fandom back when I was in high school. I wanted to have fun and make friends myself. So the night of the first stop on the Season Eight tour, I stopped lurking and started commenting, and I never looked back.

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Four Years of Fun and Feelings

Today, Nerdy Girl Notes turns four years old. In my first post on this site, I wrote a sentence that I still believe with every fiber of my being:

I can’t imagine a better, more fulfilling life than the life of a nerdy girl.

A lot of things can change in four years. And a lot of things have changed over the last four years—not just for NGN as a site but for me as a person. But my goal from the start has always been to keep NGN moving forward, and I’d like to think I’ve done that—moving forward in the process of becoming not just a better writer but a better version of myself through running this site.

When I look back on some of my oldest NGN posts, I’m struck by how much distance I kept between myself and what I was writing about. I was afraid to get too personal—and the secret is, sometimes I still am. It’s scary to be vulnerable, it’s scary to talk about how much something means to you, and it’s scary to talk about yourself through a medium that makes that writing available to anyone who wants to read it and comment on it. In my quest to be as open as I can be in my writing, I’ve discovered that emotional honesty is a double-edged sword. It allows you to form genuine connections with people through your writing, but it also allows people who don’t like a particular thing you’ve written or an opinion you’ve shared to believe they can judge you as a person because of it. There have been plenty of occasions—this year perhaps more than any other—where it’s felt easier to just hide behind a more impersonal approach to writing or to just stop writing altogether. Because writing with honesty and vulnerability is hard.

But to quote one of my favorite movies, A League of Their Own: “It’s supposed to be hard…The hard is what makes it great.” And it is great. And part of the reason it’s so great is because it’s scary. Running this site and sharing my writing with all of you has made me feel braver than I could ever have hoped to feel. And this year I’ve felt braver than ever before.

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Fangirl Thursday: The Best Seat in the House

When you love television as much as I do, where you watch matters almost as much as what you’re watching. Everyone has their favorite place to watch their favorite shows. It can be an oversized chair in a room where friends and family gather to watch things together or a darkened bedroom where you escape with your laptop and Netflix.

Sometimes it’s a cozy couch with room for the people you love to share the shows you love. My couch has quite the reputation as a great TV-watching couch. It was where I cried when Castle walked away from Beckett to end Castle’s second season. It was where I spent a glorious few days hosting mini marathons of Parks and Recreation episodes when Heather came to Buffalo a couple of years ago. And it’s where I watch every episode of Once Upon a Time with my sister and my mom on Sunday nights.

My couch is an ideal place to watch television—it’s huge and comfortable and right in front of a big HD screen. However, it’s not my favorite place to watch television. That honor belongs to a corner of my kitchen where a small television stands next to a coffee pot and a bowl of fresh fruit.

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