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

hillary2016

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

American_Idol_logo

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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Fangirl Thursday: The Case for Crying

do you cry

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m a crier.

I cry all the time. I cry when I’m sad, when I’m happy, and sometimes when I’m really angry. I cry when I’m overwhelmed, when I’m scared, and sometimes when I’m really proud of myself or someone I love—or even someone I don’t know. And I cry all the time when I watch TV, go to the movies or theater, or read a book.

I think I’m supposed to be ashamed of that. I’m supposed to think that makes me weak and that I need to try harder to keep my emotions below the surface. But that’s never been who I am. And I’m done feeling bad about that.

I was only nine when a movie made me cry for the first time not because I was scared, but because I felt so deeply. It was an animated movie about cats in Old Hollywood called Cats Don’t Dance, and I cried so hard when it looked like the main cat was going to have to give up his dancing dreams to move back to his hometown that my mother had to turn the movie off and tell me things were going to be okay.

I feel things deeply; I always have. However, we’re taught from an early age that it’s dangerous to feel things deeply. We’re taught to be afraid of intense emotions. But the intensity with which we feel things and the ways we express how we feel are some of the most important parts of our collective humanity. Our emotions—even when they’re strong and sometimes overwhelming—are part of us. And that’s not something to be afraid or ashamed of. Instead, it’s something to understand.

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Fangirl Thursday: Fan Mail Feelings

This past Monday was the deadline for letters for The Fan Mail Project, but it wasn’t the end of this project. If you still have letters you’d like to send to female characters who’ve inspired you or impacted your life in some way, you send still send them to me at nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com. I’ll still accept them for at least another few weeks as I work on the next phase of the project, so if you see this post and are wondering if you can still submit a letter, it wouldn’t hurt to send me an email and ask—chances are I’ll say yes!

Also, if at any point you decide you need to add something to or change something about your letter—maybe to reflect a change in that character’s story or your own story—please don’t hesitate to ask if you can. The editing process for books is quite long, so I’m certain there will be plenty of time for you to edit your own letters if you need to.

The next part of this process is in my hands. I’ll be putting the letters in an order that I feel ties the project together in the most cohesive way and writing some connecting essays to further explain the importance of not just the characters these letters were written to but the importance of the fans that wrote them. I want this book to be a celebration of what I believe fandom is at its very best—an uplifting marriage of the deeply personal and the inherently communal that helps those looking for a place to belong feel less alone—and I’m working on additional material for this book that honors that belief.

I promise to keep you all updated as I continue along in this process, and I ask for your patience as things continue to move along at an uncertain speed. I’m not sure how long it will take to turn your beautiful letters into a book you’ll actually be able to read and show off to the world, but I pledge to work as hard as I can to make it a reality and to keep you informed every step of the way. This summer will be spent shopping the manuscript around to potential publishers and agents, and it’s my most sincere hope that someone connects with and believes in this project the way so many of you have and takes a chance on publishing it.

Monday was a special day. It was a day filled with overwhelming gratitude and a deep sense of purpose. To all who’ve participated in this project so far and to all who are still working to finish your letters, thank you—from the bottom of my heart. The way you embraced this project with not just enthusiasm but open hearts, powerful vulnerability, and total honesty touched my heart in a way even I—with the high expectations I have for everything—didn’t see coming. Your bravery and passion are every bit as inspiring as any of the traits in any of the women you wrote about. You are shining examples of the brilliant, beautiful, and wonderfully unique people that are brought together by fandom. And I will do everything in my power to honor your trust, your belief in this project, and your incredible words by making The Fan Mail Project a reflection not just of me but of all of you who shared so much of yourself with me through your letters.

I knew when I started this project that I couldn’t do it alone—because the whole point of fandom is to connect with others and discover that we’re not alone. And while I’m about to start a part of this process that’s on my shoulders and only mine, it’s nice to know I’m still not alone.