A Happy Beginning: A (New) Letter to Emma Swan

I know I’ve already written one of these, but so much has happened in both Emma’s journey and mine since I wrote my first letter to her that I needed to write something new. This is also felt like the right way to say goodbye to a character who has meant so much to me. If you’re interested in writing a letter like this one to a female character who’s inspired you, this post has all the details about The Fan Mail Project! And if you’ve already written a letter to Emma (or any other character) but want to change any part of it, you can always send me an edited version at nerdygirlnotes@gmail.com!

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Source: ibtimes.com

Dear Emma,

As I watched you and your husband step toward a portal to return home to live a happy life with your growing family, it hit me…

This might be the last thing I ever write about you.

I’ve written thousands of words about you over some of the most tumultuous years of my 20s, and as I approach this last post, I keep thinking about what could possibly sum up the journey we’ve been on together for more than half a decade.

When I started writing about your story, my entire life changed. I wrote things that reflected parts of myself I never imagined showing to the world. As I wrote about your discovery that there is bravery in vulnerability, I became a more vulnerable writer because I wanted to be brave like you. As I wrote about your story, I began to write my own story.

I found myself as I wrote about you finding yourself.

Needless to say, it’s a little intimidating to think of how I can put all that into a proper tribute. But because you taught me that opening your heart is the most heroic thing you can do, I’m going to try.

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It’s About What You Believe: A Letter to Diana of Themyscira (aka Wonder Woman)

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

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Source: rogerebert.com

Dear Diana,

I never thought I’d write a letter to you. Growing up, I didn’t read many comic books, so when I was getting ready to see Wonder Woman, I had only the slightest idea of what to expect. I thought you would kick ass and that your story would be empowering—not just for me, but for so many young girls who get to grow up now with your story as a part of their superhero movie pantheon—but I didn’t expect to see much of a reflection of myself in you.

You see, I’m not exactly built in the typical “strong female character” way. But then I discovered something amazing during my first viewing of Wonder Woman: neither are you. I sat down in that darkened movie theater and expected to see a woman whose strength would inspire me to want to be more like her, but what I ended up seeing was a woman whose strength has inspired me to want to be more fully myself.

“Strong” and “tough” are often synonyms, and, for most of my life, it’s been hard for me to see myself as strong because I’m about as far from tough as it gets. When it comes to how women are perceived—both in life and in the media—it’s typically the tough ones who become leaders, who earn people’s respect, and who get things done. No matter how often we tell women that vulnerability and openness can be a strength and not a weakness, it’s hard to believe when most female heroes in the media only smile when it’s a huge moment of character development and when most people in life are told more than once to “toughen up and stop being such a girl” when they openly display emotion.

For years now, one of the first phrases that comes to my mind when I’m asked to describe myself is “painfully sincere.” I think I was born without the ability to mask my true feelings about anything, and for decades, I’ve seen that as one of my greatest weaknesses. People have preyed on that part of me since I was a kid.

“They’re just saying that because they can tell they’re getting to you.”

“You’re an easy target. It’s fun to get you riled up.”

“Don’t let them know it bothers you, and they’ll stop.”

“You can’t hide that you’re mad at me. I can see it all over your face.”

“Katherine, your brow is furrowed. You must be confused by the assignment.”

“Calm down!”

“Why do you care so much?”

I spent so long hating that part of me—my emotional transparency, my painful (in more ways than one) sincerity. And then I saw you, and I saw how we were allowed to truly see you. I saw your indignation, your sadness, your childlike sense of wonder, your hope, your frustration, your joy, your desire, your confusion, and your conviction. You felt no shame in your emotions—whatever they were. You showed what you were feeling as you felt it, without ever feeling a need to hide your emotions or push them down to appear stronger or more in control.

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Fangirl Thursday: The End of an Era

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“Now we get to do what’s next…”

After this season’s finale of Once Upon a Time, I had to ask myself, what’s next? The show isn’t ending (Although it is moving to a new night—Fridays.), and the glimpse we were given into what the next season might look like—featuring an adult, unbelieving Henry and his young daughter—was promising. However, the version of the show that drew me to my TV every Sunday and drew me to my computer every Monday to write about it for years—Emma Swan’s story—has ended. It’s the end of an era for “Oncers,” and it’s caused many of us—especially those of us who have been inspired to write, draw, create videos, or participate in fandom at any level—to evaluate our relationship with the show now and going forward.

I’m still planning on watching Once Upon a Time (as long as its message of hope and optimism is still present). And maybe the next season will still inspire me to write about it from time to time. But as far as weekly posts are concerned, I think it’s time for me to do what’s next.

This season’s finale post will be my last Once Upon a Time episode analysis for the foreseeable future. I’m hoping to fill that gap in my posting schedule with analysis of another television show (the identity of which has yet to be determined), and if you find yourself missing NGN television discussions, you can always catch up on The Americans and visit our discussions of its episodes until the show airs its final season next year. There will always be plenty of nerdy fun to be had here at NGN, and I hope those of you who first came here because of my Once Upon a Time posts stick around to see what comes next.

Once Upon a Time will always hold a special place in my heart. It was one of the building blocks of NGN in this website’s earliest days. It’s the show I’ve written about the most in terms of years and word counts, and it was the show I watched for the first time the day I decided to start this site. There would be no NGN—at least not as we know it today—without Once Upon a Time. And that’s why I can’t walk away from my weekly posts about it without saying thank you.

Thank you, Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, for creating a show that spoke to a lost girl in her 20s who was looking for something positive to believe in. Thank you for never losing sight of your vision and for never letting go of your belief that hopeful media still matters. Thank you for creating a story about complex, flawed, relatable women who find strength through many different kinds of love—a new set of fairytales women in today’s world can be inspired and empowered by.

Thank you to all the writers who took their vision and made it your own, and thank you to the most underrated cast on television for bringing these fairytales to life with depth, charm, and sincerity; this show could never have worked without the right cast. But even more than bringing these stories to life, thank you for caring so deeply about those who care so deeply about the show. The kindness and enthusiasm this entire cast has shown toward their fans is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in all my years in various fandoms. We have been truly lucky to have our favorite characters be played not only by talented actors but also by genuinely good people who truly believed in what they were doing. That makes all the difference in the world.

This show has changed my life. It was the reason I attended my first major fan convention. It was the inspiration behind some of my best and bravest writing. It introduced me to people I would never have known without it who have now become close friends of mine, and it helped strengthen my relationships with friends and family members by watching and talking about this special show together. And thanks to the incredibly encouraging corner of the fandom that I was a part of as well as the support and kindness I was shown by the incomparably thoughtful Jennifer Morrison, it gave me the confidence that I needed not just to make NGN the best it can be but also to push myself forward in my career as a writer and editor.

Once Upon a Time is a true light in the darkness. It has reminded me to never give up hope, that it’s never too late to be the best version of yourself, and that there is no darkness so powerful that it can’t be overcome by belief in yourself and the love of those around you. It has helped me learn to define myself on my own terms—to punch back and say “No, this is who I am.” And it has given me the courage to believe and to keep believing at a time in my life when it is all too easy to become cynical and apathetic.

More than anything, though, the most precious thing Once Upon a Time has given me is a place to belong. I’ve had different fandom “homes” before, but I’ve never stayed in one this long. And along the way, I have met so many incredible people—all because this show about fairytales brought us together. I feel honored to be a part of a close-knit community of fan writers who have written about every episode of this show for years and have formed our own support group to offer encouragement to each other in hard times and to celebrate with each other when things are good. To be surrounded by such positive, enthusiastic women and to be part of a group of ladies supporting ladies the way we have for as long as we have is a true joy and a gift that I don’t take for granted. I can’t wait to see what all of them do next.

Finally, when I look back on the years I spent writing about Once Upon a Time, I will think about the growth of the NGN Family during this time. I will think about the incredible discussions we had in the comments, the words of support I cherish to this day, the friendships I watched form with smiles on my face and tears in my eyes, and the reminders in a million tiny ways that I have the most beautiful chosen family on the Internet—a group of people who always has my back, who makes me want to be a better writer and a better woman because they deserve the very best of me, and who has shown me the true meaning of love being strength. It’s been an honor talking about this show and the journeys of these incredible characters with all of you, and I hope you know how much I value your readership and, more importantly, your friendship.

So let’s raise our Doctoberfest mugs to the show that brought us together. Cheers, Oncers!

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That’s When the Fun Begins: The Best of Captain Swan

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Is there anything more magical than a wedding? On Sunday, Emma Swan and Killian Jones are finally tying the knot during Once Upon a Time’s musical episode extravaganza, and to prepare for their walk down the aisle, I thought it was the perfect occasion to take a walk down memory lane, reliving our favorite moments in their fairytale romance.

There’s never been a love story on television like Emma and Killian’s. From the very start, it’s been the perfect blend of sweeping fairytale and relatable realism. This pirate and princess have taken us on a journey that’s spanned years and realms; have found each other through lost memories, alternate realities, and a ridiculous number of curses; and have gone to the Underworld and back again for each other. Along the way, they’ve struggled with their own demons, fears, and emotional walls—forces of darkness just as strong as any villain they’ve ever faced—but they’ve emerged from those battles stronger as individuals and as partners.

Killian and Emma have proven their True Love many times—sacrificing for each other, choosing each other, fighting for each other, supporting each other, and making each other happy when they thought happiness might not be in the cards for them anymore. They’ve given each other hope, and in the process, they’ve given hope to so many people watching.

So before the next chapter in this love story begins, let’s take a look back at my 10 favorite moments along the way—from Never Land to the Underworld and from time-traveling adventures to breakfast table kisses. Don’t forget to share your favorites in the comments!

1. “Perhaps I would…” (3.02: Lost Girl)
There’s a moment in every “shipper’s” life when you go from liking the idea of a pairing and thinking they have good chemistry to being completely sold on what this relationship could be, and this moment of startling sincerity from Killian Jones was that moment for me. I appreciated Colin O’Donoghue and Jennifer Morrison’s chemistry and could see the potential in pairing their two character together as far back as “Tallahassee,” but this was the moment I went all in. The way the scene shifted from playful and flirtatious to suddenly sincere stopped me in my tracks, and it made me realize that what Emma Swan truly deserved in a partner was exactly what Killian Jones was offering her in that moment (and would continue to offer her from them on): someone who would love her for everything she is and would patiently wait for her to let him see the true Emma behind her armor.

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A Fabulous Five Years

On April 2, 2012, a 23-year-old editorial assistant sat down at her brand-new MacBook and wrote her first post on a hot pink blog about why she was proud to be a nerd. She had no idea who that post would reach, what post would come after it, or how long she would keep that blog running. All she knew was that she needed to write analytically and enthusiastically about things she loved, and this seemed like the best plan.

Five years later, a 28-year-old associate editorial director sat down at her slowly dying MacBook and started writing her 733 post on a hot pink blog about why she’s still proud to be a nerd.

So much has changed in the last five years—both at NGN and in my life—but some things will never change. I will always believe that there’s no more fulfilling life than the life of a nerdy girl. I will always be thankful for every comment, like, and view this website gets. And I will always find joy in writing analytically and enthusiastically about the things I love.

Every year since NGN was created has been a new adventure, filled with challenges, changes, and lessons to learn—and this year held more challenges, changes, and lessons than any other. A new position at work pushed me professionally in ways I never imagined I would be pushed so early in my career, and that’s led to some changes here at NGN in terms of how much and how often I post. Such a major life change called for me to reevaluate my relationship with what I do here at NGN, and recently, I’ve been reminded that this website and the kind of writing I do here bring me more happiness and fulfillment than almost anything else in my life.

It’s good to work hard, but it’s also good to make time for what makes you happy. And even after five years, running this website still makes me happy. Writing posts, interacting with the NGN Family, and reading all of your comments (I may not always reply, but know that I still read and appreciate every single one.) has been a way for me to connect with the best version of myself at a time when it could have been easy for me to lose the voice I started to find on April 2, 2012.

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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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Galentine’s Day Goals

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Today we celebrate my favorite fictional-turned-real holiday: Galentine’s Day. Not only is today a day to eat waffles and drink mimosas, it is a day to celebrate the women in our lives. It is a day to celebrate female friendship, female mentorship, and female support systems.

Ladies celebrating ladies—what a novel, beautiful concept.

This year, it feels even more important to celebrate the power of women and the positive impact they have on our lives. As such, I’m reopening submissions for The Fan Mail Project for another month—with a deadline of March 13, 2017, at 9 p.m. EST. You can read all about the project and how you can contribute to it here, but the general gist of it is this: Write a letter to a female character who has inspired you in some way. Thank her for being a positive influence in your life or maybe in the life of someone you know and love. Share your story by sharing what she means to you.

That’s what The Fan Mail Project is all about—sharing our stories of courage, vulnerability, growth, struggle, and strength by sharing the stories of the female characters that helped us see our own beauty, power, and potential. And at a time in which so many people are actively trying to silence women and keep us from telling our stories and the stories of other women, it’s our job to persist in our stubborn belief that our stories matter.

We matter.

Throughout the process of compiling the letters that have already come in for The Fan Mail Project, I have been moved to tears more times than I can count by the beauty and bravery of every single person who has used their voice to take ownership of their story through their love for the stories of female characters from every corner of the media landscape. You are all my Galentines this year, inspiring me with your authenticity, your honesty, your openness, and your stubborn refusal to be anything but your most authentic self.

So this is your chance to join in the movement that has helped me—and I hope others—grow in incredible ways. If you wanted to write a letter but never found the time or the inspiration, this is your chance. If you wrote one (or more) but always wanted to write another, this is your chance. And if you already wrote a letter but want to add to it or change it to reflect the continuing relationships we all have with the fictional women who have imprinted on our hearts, this is your chance to do that, too. I know I have two letters I’d like to update myself and at least one more I’d like to write. For a while, I let the state of the world and the state of my own busy, stressful life keep me from the joy and hope that this project has given me for the last year and a half. My Galentine’s Day goal this year is to return to this project with bright eyes, a hopeful heart, and a renewed sense of purpose.

The world needs these letters and the stories they tell. The world needs our stories. But even more importantly, we need these stories. We need to remind ourselves today and always that we are just as amazing, strong, and inspiring as the fictional women we love so much.

So write your letter. Embrace your story. Tell the world that you have something to say and you won’t be kept from saying it.

Happy Galentine’s Day, friends. Let’s show the world what we can accomplish when we celebrate ladies not just today but every day.

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

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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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