“The Truth Is Enough”: Wonder Woman 1984 and the Cost of Perfectionism

wonder-woman-1984-columns-e1605234040302

This world was a beautiful place just as it was. And you cannot have it all. You can only have the truth. And the truth is enough. The truth is beautiful”.

Wonder Woman 1984 is a flashy homage to 1980s superhero movies. It’s a love story. It’s a story about grief. It’s a story about family. It’s a story about the need for people to collectively choose the greater good over their own selfish desires.

That’s the beauty of an effective piece of media. It can mean something different to every person who interacts with it.

For me, Wonder Woman 1984 is a story about perfectionism.

It’s a story about what we lose when we chase the facade of a perfect life instead of standing in our truth and loving our lives—and ourselves—for all of the messy imperfections, losses, and struggles that make us who we are.

The plot of this film is based around three wishes: Max Lord’s wish for unlimited power, Barbara Minerva’s wish to be special, and Diana’s wish for her love, Steve Trevor, to return to her. Each of these wishes is made (not always knowingly) out of each character’s belief that their lives would be perfect—that the cracks in them left by trauma and loneliness and loss would be filled—if they could just have that one thing.

As Max says, “You can have it all. You just have to want it.”

For a moment, we get to see these characters having it all. We get to see Max turning his facade of power and prestige into reality. We get to see Barbara turning heads and charming crowds. And we get to see Diana gloriously, deliriously happy with Steve.

It’s perfect. Max gets his revenge on the businesspeople who doubted him and embarrassed him in front of his son. Barbara gets the attention she’s always craved—and the power to handle herself when that attention turns violent. And Diana gets to have Steve in her life—and her bed (or, more specifically, his futon)—again, eating breakfast and going to work the way he’d told her about all those decades ago. This is what perfection looks like for these characters; this is what they’ve always thought their lives were missing. This is what they saw in their mind’s eye when they looked with secret envy at successful oil magnates and confident coworkers and happy couples.

But what does it cost them?

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New Year, New NGN

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

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

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

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

But sometimes it’s hard to be positive.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest Post: A Year in Books

Today, we have a little treat in the form of a “Best of 2020” list from one of my favorite fellow Nerdy Girls, Mary! This deep dive into best books she read this year (which didn’t all come out in 2020) feels like a perfect way to introduce her to all of you, since Mary and I met working at a library back when we were baby fangirls still talking about Twilight. I trust Mary’s thoughts on books more than I trust my own, so I hope all of you enjoy this beautiful summary of a year in literature and a year in the life of an honest, open-hearted woman I’m lucky to call my friend.

There’s nothing like a global pandemic and unbridled anxiety to reignite a lost love of reading! We all know this year has been a lot, to put 2020 in the most reductive framing possible. I’ve been mostly stuck inside for month after month, feeling the walls closing in, physically and mentally. At the beginning of the pandemic, when we were mostly thinking this would be done in a few weeks while we all baked bread and became experts in the fields of big cats and true crime, I was not thriving. My spouse and several of my family members work in healthcare. I have a sister-in-law who works as a teacher, another as a social worker. Too many relatives were vulnerable. My nieces, nephews, and my friends’ children all seemed SO young and SO fragile all of a sudden. My sleepless nights turned into weeks then months. I was not doing well. I felt like I was walking around a room inside my head, and every day the walls were closing in a little bit more. My brain was thinking too much and too fast, and I needed an escape.

Confusingly, while I felt like I was losing my mind, I was also feeling really…bored. None of my usual hobbies could keep my attention. So I charged up my Kindle, installed the Kindle app on my phone, got a second library card, signed up for Kindle Unlimited, and even signed up for Audible. I was off like a shot. I was a desperately unstoppable reading force! By the time December rolled around I realized I had read a whopping (as of writing this sentence) 85 books. Friends, I have NEVER read this many books in my entire life. Even during my book-crazed youth! So what does one do, exactly, after reading 85 books in one year? They ask their friend if they can hijack their blog to write a top 10(ish) list of the books they read!

Before I begin the list, I’d like to make it clear that I can’t in all honesty say books alone saved me. But they opened the door I needed. By escaping into fictional worlds like I used to when I was young, I got to breathe. I could open a book with certain expectations, and watch them unfold. Watch the heroine win the hero’s heart. Watch a great evil crumble. See justice played out. Look back in time and be reassured things have been this bad (or worse!) before and we persevered. So then I reached out to friends and told them honestly that I was Not Okay and we’d commiserate. I talked with my boss about my struggles to have any motivation or focus. I got in touch with a therapist. I listened to folklore a lot. (A LOT). And slowly, I began to adjust. So, without any further ado, here are the books that I’ve fallen into—the books that became my flashlight in a very dark year.

10 – The Bride Test by Helen Hoang: Do you want a book that feels like a hug? That features language and cultural differences, a neurodivergent hero and immigrant heroine written by an own voice author? The Bride Test is a sequel to The Kiss Quotenet, and this was one of the books I read earlier in the pandemic. Khai and Esme are genuinely some of the sweetest characters I’ve had the pleasure to read. Esme lives in Ho Chi Man City and works as a cleaner in a hotel. When her paths cross with Co Nga, our hero’s mother, in a hotel bathroom, she is presented with an interesting offer: move to America and marry her son. And while I’m normally not much for books where one character either doesn’t realize or doesn’t acknowledge they are in love, it made so much sense within the context of this story. Khai has autism, but Esme never sees that as a negative, instead seeing him as a whole person right from the beginning. Esme is a strong woman, but her strength is never her only characteristic. She is smart, driven, loving, vulnerable, kind, scared, focused, and shy. I cannot stress enough how utterly charmed I was by this book. The next book in this series, The Heart Principle, is expected in 2021. Read this book if you like fun contemporaries, friends to lovers, POC representation, or descriptions of a really good dress.

Quotes: “It wasn’t loneliness if it could be eradicated with work or a Netflix marathon or a good book. Real loneliness would stick with you all the time. Real loneliness would hurt you nonstop.”

“In a split second, she redefined perfection for him. His standards aligned to her exact proportions and measurements. No one else would ever live up to her.”

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

Source: TV Insider

 

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

I never thought it would be Stevie.

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

But somehow, I keep coming back to Stevie Budd.

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

It’s not “A Little Bit Alexis.”

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

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

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

“Maybe this time I’ll win…”

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

For me, it’s all about vulnerability.

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Love Is All You Need

“That is the truest form of empathy: Not just feeling, but doing.” — Michelle Obama

What can I do?

That’s a question I’ve been asking myself a lot over the last five months.

What can I do to find my way in a world that’s suddenly nothing like the world I knew before? What can I do to help all the people around me who are struggling? What can I do to feel more like myself again?

So much of my sense of self is wrapped up in the way I interact with others. I like being someone who randomly compliments someone’s shoes at work or tells the salesperson at the mall to have a great day or smiles as she holds the door open for the person behind her at Starbucks. I like hugging people and planning trips with my loved ones and taking my friends out to dinner to celebrate the big and small victories and to soothe the major and minor heartaches. And while this pandemic hasn’t completely taken away those things, it has shifted how I deal with the world—and how I see myself.

For a long time, I’ve been feeling lost, and in the spirit of openness and vulnerability that’s always been behind everything I do at NGN, I want to say it’s been hard. I want to say it’s been the cause of tears and sleepless nights and downright panic. I’m blessed to have my health and my job and to be surrounded by immediate family, but I also think we do each other and ourselves a disservice when we try to push down or hide our struggles just because we think we have it easier or better than others. There’s room to both acknowledge our blessings (of which I have an abundance) and to acknowledge our struggles.

But lately I’ve been trying to figure out how to take my struggles and my sense of searching for how I can interact in this weird new world and use them to move forward in a better way, in a way that feels true to the version of me I know is always there. And it hit me this morning that it can start in the place where I first really discovered that version of me: here at NGN.

Everyone is going through their own things right now. Some are bigger than others, but everyone is trying to find their footing on rocky ground. So how can I help? One way is to say that I’m right there with you—going through the entire spectrum of human emotions basically every day since March.

But another way—the way that feels the most like the version of me I want to hold on to—is to spread some love. In this current environment, sometimes it’s hard to remember the good things about both the world and ourselves, so today I wanted to try to help all of us reconnect with some positivity.

If you haven’t guessed the plan by now, here it is: We’re having our annual LOVE POST, and we’re having it today.

Here are the basic instructions as I remember them from my old LiveJournal days: Make a comment on this post with your username (and things like your Twitter or your Tumblr URL if you feel like people might know you better by those identifiers). Then, sit back and let others reply, telling you how much and why they love you. Finally, share the love! Reply to your friends’ comments on this post and tell them how awesome you think they are.

I don’t care if you’ve never visited NGN before today or if you haven’t been here in years or if you’re an old guard member of the NGN Family. You all deserve to have people tell you nice things about yourself—no matter how much you might tell yourself you hate compliments. I’m going to reply to every single person’s posts, so don’t worry that you’ll be stuck with no comments, either. That’s not how things work around these parts.

The world is dark, and everyone is stumbling blindly toward the light in their own way. So what can I do? I can bring some light back to this little corner of the internet that’s been dark for too long. I can feel for all of you, but I can do something too. And if I can make one person’s day brighter with a comment they read in this post, then today’s already been a better day than a lot of the ones that came before.

I’ll start things off with a comment of my own just to show any newbies how it’s done, and I hope to come back later to a long list of names for me to send love to.

Things are hard right now, but love has a way of making them feel a little bit easier.

Back to Pawnee: A Night of Hope, Happiness, and Coming Home Again

 

Parks Reunion

Source: CNN.com

That was the hardest I’d laughed in months.

That made me feel good for the first time in so long.

That felt like coming home.

If you’ve been on social media at all since Thursday night, chances are you’ve come across similar reactions to the Parks and Recreation reunion special. And maybe you even felt those things yourself as you sat down to watch Leslie, Ron, Ben, and so many others (Perd! Bobby Newport! Johnny Karate!) navigate their life in this time of social distancing in the way only they could—with silliness, sincerity, and a song.

Something special happened the second that familiar theme song started playing. For 30 minutes, things felt okay. The world didn’t seem like such a scary place—because Ben Wyatt was still making claymation videos and Leslie was still calling Ann every day (and making up new nicknames for her like “desert fox”) and Tom was still coming up with crazy business ideas.

These characters still felt like the people they were the last time we saw them, which is a testament to this cast and the writers. And for 30 minutes, it made me feel like the person I was when I last saw them too.

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Finding a Reason to Celebrate

Today, NGN turns 8 years old, and in the spirit of honesty (because when have I ever been less than honest with all of you?), I have to admit that it feels weird to be celebrating this year.

First of all, I haven’t been around much lately. I’ve written some stuff in the last year that I’m really proud of, and focusing on quality over quantity (and writing about things I really care about instead of things I feel I have to write about) has made me a much better writer overall. But thanks to more shuffling around at work, I was left with less time than ever before for nerdy fun. I’m glad to still be in the blogging game eight years after I decided that I needed an outlet for all my impassioned ramblings, but it’s different than it used to be. I’m different than I used to be. And sometimes I really miss this site—and the version of me who ran it—when it was at its peak. It all feels a bit bittersweet.

And then of course there’s the fact that celebrating anything at all while a pandemic is raging feels strange. I’m writing this from my dining room table, which is where I’ve been working from home for the past three weeks, and I haven’t left the house at all (except for walks) for more than two weeks now. I feel so blessed and lucky to say that I’m surrounded by my immediate family, we have our health, and I have my job—and my heart breaks for those who cannot say those things anymore. It’s a hard time for literally everyone. I haven’t had a day pass this week that hasn’t either started or ended in tears (or sometimes I opted for both). So patting myself on the back for something in the middle of all this feels a little more hollow than it might have a month ago.

However, we have to look for the joy where we can, right? Whether that’s reality TV, Star Wars marathons, Zoom happy hours, yoga, board games, baking, online shopping, or the rare burst of springtime sunshine, we have to still find reasons to smile and get out of bed in the morning (or afternoon…). And we have to embrace the things that give us comfort when times are hard. That’s not going to be the same for any two people, but whatever it is, I hope you find it and get to hold onto it with both hands during this hard time.

For me, NGN has always been a place of joy and comfort. It’s the place where I found myself and the place I return to when I need to feel like that version of myself still exists under all the stress and anxiety and obligations that come as life changes. But the real reason why NGN gives me joy and comfort is because of all of you who—over the past 8 years—have become my NGN Family. You’ve been my confidants, my teachers, my defenders, and my friends for almost a decade now, and I’ve watched so many of you become that for each other too.

I hope that this time provides an opening for me to get back to some of the writing that brought vibrancy to this place for so long and that still fills my heart with hope and healing every time I get to do it. And until then, consider this post me reaching out to say that I’m thinking of all of you and that I know things are hard right now, but I also know that this community has always had a bit of a magical way of helping us through hard times. So if you’re struggling, I’m here for a shoulder to lean on, and if you’re feeling strong today, I’m here to champion your strength.

NGN has only made it this long because of the family we created, and that family is what I’m choosing to celebrate today.

Discovering Euphoria: 2019 in Review

the good place

Source: avclub.com

“If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works, it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.”

When I think back on 2019, I’ll think of this quote from The Good Place. At many points this year, things—personally, professionally, and in even in my fangirl life—didn’t seem to make sense. This was a challenging year on a lot of levels for me and for a lot of people I know—and even a lot of people I know only through this wonderful world of fandom. But through it all, one of the best and most beautiful things about it were those brief moments when something clicked—when something finally made sense and the pieces fell into place and for just one moment it was euphoria.

Looking at my favorite pieces of media this year, they’re all connected by that thread—moments of euphoria amidst the pandemonium. As I searched for meaning in the chaos of my own life, I found comfort, catharsis, and so much joy in watching fictional characters do the same.

It began with The Good Place—the show that gave us those beautiful words about our search for meaning and where we find it. There’s no more perfect show for this current moment in our world because it never tells us that life is supposed to be painless or that being a good person is easy. It acknowledges that life can be hard and hope can feel a million miles away and happiness can be fleeting. But it also reminds us that the important thing is to never stop trying to make things a little better for your fellow human beings. That’s how we find euphoria—in connecting with others, for a moment or for eternity. And maybe—just maybe—those connections—that love—can be the thing that saves us all.

There’s no message more brazenly, bravely, beautifully hopeful than that.

And almost every other piece of media I loved this year followed in those footsteps—reminding me that there’s hope to be found in moments when we feel truly understood and accepted—by others or even by ourselves.

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Never Really Gone: The View from the End of the Skywalker Saga

 

SW logo

No matter how much we fought, I always hated watching you leave.

This is it. The end of the Skywalker Saga is upon us. On Thursday night (or sometime before if you’re lucky or after if you’ve got the patience or willpower of a saint), we’ll be watching the story that’s shaped so many of our lives leave us. And just like Leia and Han in The Force Awakens, when the time for that final farewell comes, I know I won’t be thinking about any parts of the story that disappointed me or didn’t turn out like I’d hoped. Instead, I’ll be thinking about the good stuff—because there was so much good stuff.

Star Wars has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was barely out of kindergarten when I was pretending to escape the Death Star on the playground with my cousins. Return of the Jedi was my comfort movie on many sick days in elementary school, and The Empire Strikes Back was pretty much my signal that puberty started when I watched it basically every day the summer I turned 13. (No teenage girl hormones can resist Harrison Ford in his prime.) I asked for Star Wars Trivial Pursuit for Christmas (but no one would play with me because I knew all the answers). I saw both Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith multiple times in theaters. I subscribed to Star Wars magazines.

And it was one of those magazines that ultimately brought me to the fangirl life I now proudly live—in a way that’s very strongly connected to the trilogy that’s about to end this week.

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Nothing to Prove: A Story of Soccer, Success, and Self-Worth

“I have nothing to prove to you.”

Those words were said earlier this year by Carol Danvers (aka Captain Marvel), but they could have just as easily been said by Megan Rapinoe (aka captain of the World Cup winning USWNT).

Superheroes think alike, I suppose.

In fact, there are many comparisons that can be drawn from one captain to another. Both have short, eye-catching haircuts. Both speak with a commanding presence. Both have no time for people who abuse power. Both stand up for what they believe is right, even when it makes them a target. Both became their most powerful selves when the world needed them the most.

And both are fiercely, beautifully, and unapologetically confident.

When I first started noticing the backlash directed at Rapinoe and her USWNT teammates, it reminded me so much of that small but vocal chorus of whiners after Captain Marvel who thought both Carol and the woman who plays her—Brie Larson—came off as “arrogant” and “unlikable.” Both sets of critics are cut from the same cloth—an unyielding fabric that doesn’t seem to want to bend and mold to a new era for women, an era in which we no longer have to downplay what makes us special, treat our skills with a sick kind of self-deprecation, or stand in the shadows because the world isn’t ready for what we look like in the sunlight.

On Sunday, when Rapinoe stood in her now iconic pose—arms spread wide, chin high, chest out—after scoring the first (and ultimately game-winning) goal of the World Cup final, the world saw what we look like in the sunlight. And it was breathtaking.

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