Hold on to Happiness

There are times it feels like you really have to reach to find happiness. There are times it feels like everything around you is angry, dark, and heavy. There are times when it seems like the entire media landscape—from the news to the fiction you turn to when you need to escape the news—is conspiring against your valiant attempt to find reasons to smile and laugh every day.

This seems like one of those times, doesn’t it?

Looking back on posts from previous years, it seems that around this time every year, television decides to get really dark, and this year is certainly no exception. From Jane the Virgin and Nashville to This Is Us, there’s been no shortage of tears shed over fictional characters lately. And even in the world of cinema, this has been a rough patch if you’re looking for some escapist fun and unabashed joy; Oscar season isn’t known for its happy films, but this was a particularly heavy year, where even the film being praised most ardently for its joyful spirit (La La Land) ended on a bittersweet note.

What are we to do when things look dark? We celebrate the light. We appreciate moments of pure good where we find them. And we hold on to happiness like the precious treasure it is.

I watched a lot of Fuller House in the days around the presidential inauguration this year. It’s a show that exists for no other reason than to make people happy, and it does its job well. It’s not Breaking Bad or Orange Is the New Black, and not every show needs to be or should be. Sometimes you just want to watch a silly, simple show where storylines are wrapped up in 30 minutes with a group hug. It’s a throwback to a more innocent, less cynical time, and if you’re looking for some warm, fluffy feelings in your media-consuming life, I highly recommend it.

Another show that has become my antidote to all the death and cynicism on television in recent weeks is Timeless. It’s certainly not on the same level of fluffiness as Fuller House, but it’s about three fundamentally good people working together and becoming a family through trust, respect, and empathy, which is even better than fluff. Plus, it’s a time-traveling adventure with great costumes, impeccable guest stars (Fellow Once Upon a Time fans should check it out if only for Sean Maguire’s almost inhumanly charming turn as James Bond creator Ian Fleming.), and characters you feel good about rooting for—characters who have grown more in one season than some shows allow their characters to grow during an entire run, characters who fight for each other, characters who have big hearts and are big nerds. It also has my favorite developing romance on television right now between Wyatt Logan and Lucy Preston, and there is no happier feeling than watching a fictional relationship progress from initial skepticism to respect to fake engagements to real hugs to “I cannot lose you again!” to opening hearts and taking chances—all in the course of one season.

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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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“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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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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Stronger Than She Knows: A Letter to Rey

TFA poster

In honor of today’s deadline for submissions for The Fan Mail Project, I wanted to share my latest letter for this project with all of you!

Dear Rey,

I’ve written a lot of letters for this project. I’ve written to characters who shaped my past and to characters who are helping me be my best self in the present. But you represent the future. So, while I have certainly discovered things about you while watching The Force Awakens that have inspired me personally, I’m not writing this letter for me.

I’m writing this letter for the little girls I saw in the movie theater around me all four times I saw The Force Awakens. I’m writing this for the girls too young to write you a letter of their own. I’m writing this for the girls too young to even write at all. And I’m writing this for the girls who aren’t even born yet but will someday be introduced to your story the way I was introduced to the original Star Wars trilogy as a child of only five or six.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars with my cousins on the playground near my grandparents’ house. While I always had fun pretending to be Princess Leia, so many of our games involved the boys “rescuing” me from the jungle gym that we imagined was the Death Star. There were times—even when pretending to be one of the strongest women in sci-fi—that I felt like I was just playing a small part in their imaginary adventures.

When I saw The Force Awakens for the first time, my initial reaction was to think of the little girl who would one day be playing this version of Star Wars on a playground with her cousins. And I was overwhelmed with gratitude on behalf of that little girl—whoever she may be. Because when that little girl pretends to be you, she’ll be the hero of her own story, and it’ll be the boys who are part of her adventures—not the other way around. That little girl will pretend she’s flying the Millennium Falcon. She’ll pretend she’s breaking out of her holding cell on her own. She’ll pretend to hold a lightsaber and use the Force. And none of those imaginary adventures will seem crazy to her, because she’ll have seen you do all those things. And when you see someone like you doing amazing things—no matter if it’s real or fictional—you begin to believe that you, too, can do amazing things.

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They Have a Choice Now: Thoughts on The Force Awakens

TFA poster

Source: starwars.com

Warning: This post contains MAJOR spoilers for The Force Awakens

I can’t write a review of The Force Awakens. To me, a review implies being able to see things at least somewhat objectively, being able to critically evaluate a piece of media. And there is no way I can be objective about this movie. Maybe after further viewings I’ll be able talk about things like cinematography and scoring and pacing and whether it borrowed too much of its structure from A New Hope or just enough to make it resonate with fans. But I’ve only seen it once so far, and after seeing it, there was only one thing I really wanted to write about—and that’s what this movie is going to mean for little girls and their playground adventures.

When I was a little girl, I used to play Star Wars on a playground near my grandparents’ house with my two older cousins, both of whom were boys, and my little sister (who—being the adorable toddler she was—always played an Ewok). My cousins had a choice: They could be Han or Luke or Darth Vader or any X-Wing pilot or any Stormtrooper. I could be Princess Leia. I’m not saying that was a bad thing or that I even wanted a choice back then. I think even now—if given a choice to pretend to be any female character ever created—I’d still choose Princess Leia. But maybe other little girls playing on playgrounds wanted a choice. And the only other choice they really had (besides being a dancer in Jabba’s palace—and no one wanted to choose that) was Luke’s Aunt Beru—who dies at the beginning of A New Hope—or Mon Mothma—who gets one exposition-heavy monologue that lasts about a minute and is never really seen again.

Even after the prequel trilogy came out, choices were limited for little girls who wanted to pretend to be Star Wars characters. Padme was a strong leader, but she wasn’t the main focal point of the story. There were some female bounty hunters and politicians, and even some female Jedi—but they never received the kind of focus that made kids really take notice of them in a way that became part of their imaginations and aspirations.

After The Force Awakens, things are different. Little girls have a choice now. They can be General Organa if they want to be a fierce leader of the Resistance, they can be Captain Phasma if they want to play the villain for a little while, they can be Maz Kanata if they want to be a wise alien creature, they can be any of the many female military leaders (on both sides of the conflict) and X-Wing pilots shown throughout the film, or they can be Rey if they want to go on their own hero’s journey.

As I watched Daisy Ridley own every bit of her screen time as Rey, I kept thinking about all the little girls who will see this movie in the coming weeks, months, and years. I thought about the little girl who one day—years after this trilogy ends—will be introduced to these movies by her older cousins and will play out Rey’s story on the playground with them by her side. And when she plays out this story, she will be the hero, and it will be the boys who are part of her story—not the other way around.

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Fangirl Thursday: What’s a Must-Watch For Your Halloween?

With Halloween right around the corner, it seemed fitting to have this week’s Fangirl Thursday post be an ode to all the spooky or silly (or maybe both?) movies or TV shows that you simply can’t miss during this time of year.

I will freely admit that I am not a horror movie fan. I’m the world’s biggest chicken when it comes to scary movies, so my tastes lean much closer to It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown than The Exorcist. I think this is also the time to fess up to the fact that I still have yet to see Hocus Pocus and The Nightmare Before Christmas, two Halloween classics. (Someone please tell me where I go to turn in my nerdy girl card after admitting that.)

While I’m not one for most traditional Halloween media, I do love some staples of the season: the aforementioned It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is a favorite of mine, and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, I have been known to enjoy The Rocky Horror Picture Show at this time of year (especially when I was in college).

However, most of my Halloween favorites come from the world of television. I’m a sucker for any and all of the Halloweentown movies from The Disney Channel, and I’m sure one of those will be on in my house at some point this weekend. But I’m also a huge fan of Halloween episodes of TV shows—from the ones that are completely themed to the holiday (Castle’s “Demons”) to the ones that have Halloween as merely a backdrop to some of my favorite moments in TV history. (I’m looking at you, “Halloween Surprise” from Parks and Recreation.)

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Live Your Dream: A Letter to Rapunzel

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling (tentatively titled Fan Mail), and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

tangled

Dear Rapunzel,

You came into my life when I was well past the age when girls typically want to be Disney princesses. I was 22 years old, a recent college graduate, and a member of the “working world” of adults. I thought I didn’t have any use for fairytales anymore. Sure, I’d be entertained by the them, but I tried to tell myself that I couldn’t be inspired in any profound way by them now that I was “all grown up.”

Thank you for showing me I was wrong.

Thank you for bringing magic back into my life. The moment I saw you and Flynn Rider on that boat, surrounded by floating lanterns, something changed in me—or, more accurately, something changed back. I’d spent too long trying to push down the part of me that looked at the world with wonder and wanted to believe in dreams coming true—because I thought that would make me look immature to the rest of the “adult” world. But in that magical cinematic moment, I let myself feel like a little kid again. I felt my heart open up in that moment to the idea that this kind of story might still have the power to change my life for the better—not just by connecting me to my past, but by giving me hope for my future.

Fairytales aren’t just for little kids or even little-kids-at-heart. They’re for all of us. They teach all of us, but only if we’re open to it. And with my heart newly opened to the possibility of learning from your journey, I discovered you had so much to teach me. And the things you taught me I could never have understood as a little girl. I might have liked your hair and sang your songs, but I wouldn’t have needed you as a child. I needed you as I became an adult—and I still need you now.

We’re all stuck in towers. Sometimes other people put us there, sheltering us from the world and keeping us from experiencing life for any number of reasons. But there are also many times when we keep ourselves locked in our own tower. Sometimes we’re our own Mother Gothel, and we need to find the courage to be you instead.

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Finding Faith: A Letter to Jamie Sullivan

This is the latest addition to my collection of letters to female fictional characters who’ve inspired me throughout my years as a fangirl. If you have a letter of your own you’d like to share, check out this post to learn more about the book of letters I’m compiling, and send your letter(s) to nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Source: awalktoremember.wikia.com

Dear Jamie,

I was 13 when I first saw A Walk to Remember on a snowy Sunday afternoon with my two best friends. Life isn’t easy for a 13-year-old girl. I was caught between desperately wanting to be “cool” and knowing in my gut that I could never really fit in with the “cool” kids. I was starting to ask the big questions about myself, my future, and my faith. Needless to say, you came into my life exactly when I needed you the most.

You were the rare breed of teenage character who genuinely didn’t care what other people thought of them. When you told Landon that, you didn’t say it to impress him or to make yourself look cool or better than your peers. Popularity simply wasn’t something that made you lose sleep at night like it is for so many teenagers—myself included at the time. Of course, you had bigger things to worry about (that pesky “dying of cancer” thing), but there was more to your place in “self-exile territory” than that.

When it comes to your character, Jamie, everything is a matter of faith. And you had enough faith in yourself and your principles to know that you were living the right life for you—regardless of what other people thought of it. The impact that had on 13-year-old me was immediate and intense. You weren’t naïve; you knew people made fun of your modesty, your interest in astronomy, and your religious beliefs. But you also knew something it would have taken me a lot longer to learn without your example: What mattered wasn’t what other people said; it was what you believed. So thank you for showing me that the coolest thing you can be is yourself—even if other people make fun of you for it or don’t understand it at the time.

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Fangirl Thursday: An Underrated Christmas Classic

Title.mfc

We all have a favorite holiday movie that we love with all our hearts, despite it being seemingly unknown by most people. It makes watching that movie even more special, like you have a holiday tradition few others could appreciate, a little hidden gem of Christmas joy.

My hidden gem of holiday joy is A Muppet Family Christmas. No, it’s not the same as A Muppet Christmas Carol—although I love that movie, too. A Muppet Family Christmas is a TV movie first aired in 1987 that features all of the classic Muppets, Sesame Street gang, and Fraggles visiting Fozzie Bear’s mom for Christmas during a snowstorm.

Most people don’t know this made-for-TV special exists, but those who do cherish it for the gift it is. My sister and I have to watch it at least once every Christmas season, but we can be heard quoting it and referencing it all year (especially telling people to “Look out for the icy patch!’). From interactions between Big Bird and the Swedish Chef to small talk between Ernie, Bert, and Doc, this is a mash-up of some of the most beloved characters of not just my generation but ones before and after me, too.

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