Ten Years Later

Today, Nerdy Girl Notes turns 10 years old.

Ten years. A decade. Almost a third of my life.

What a wild ride.

There have been times along the way when the ride has felt easy and smooth—and other times when it’s felt rough and bumpy. There are times when I’ve sat confidently in the driver’s seat on this journey—and other times when I’ve felt like I’d lost control.

But that’s how life feels.

And NGN has always been a reflection of my life.

A reflection of me.

Looking back on 10 years of posts, that’s what stands out more than anything else—the versions of me contained within these pretty pink borders.

I’ve spent months trying to plan what to say in this post. Ten years is no small feat when it comes to content creation on the internet. And there have been plenty of times when I’ve doubted I would get to this milestone. So I knew I wanted to celebrate today.

But what should I celebrate?

That was the harder question.

And it was made even harder to answer this week when a lovely second line showed up on my COVID test, confirming that I was going to be confined to my couch on a day when I was supposed to be toasting to 10 years with a cocktail at Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. (Fear not, friends: I’m working with a relatively mild—though still not fun—case, and my WDW trip has already been rescheduled for a few weeks from now.)

So what should I celebrate on a day when I’m feeling pretty far from a celebratory mood? (And when doing too much celebrating would undoubtedly trigger a coughing fit?)

Honesty.

When I think about all the versions of me contained within these pretty pink borders, I think about all the versions who would have been afraid to talk about something frustrating, hard, and not anywhere close to positive on a day like today. But I also think about all the versions who took baby steps to get to a place where I can stand here and say that I know today is a big day—but I’m not really in the mood to make a big deal of it.

It took a lot of baby steps to make NGN what it is today. To make me who I am today. And every single one of those baby steps is chronicled in some way on this site.

When I look back at 10 years of posts, that’s what stands out the most.

Every single post is a chapter in a story.

And it’s the story of a woman finding her voice.

NGN began as a place for me to reconnect with the kind of writing I missed doing after I graduated from college—analytical, academic, using “I” as little as humanly possible. As time went on, I eliminated some of that distance by writing more from a place of enthusiasm and less from a place of academic insight. It was closer to my authentic voice—but it was still self-conscious, still trying to present an image to the world. But instead of the image of a smart, critical media analyst, it was the image of an always positive, always happy fangirl.

But some time in the last couple of years, I stopped presenting an image and started just being myself—my messy, vulnerable, unfiltered self.

I found my voice. Not the voice I thought would make my college professors proud. Not the voice I thought would make me liked by my fellow fangirls.

My voice. Mine.

And those of you who are here have found the most honest version of me.

You’re all a part of this story too.

That’s another fascinating part of looking back on 10 years of posts. I was able to see the first comments left by people who have become some of my closest friends (Does it shock anyone that Heather left NGN’s first comment?), comment threads where lasting friendships were forged, and stories shared that have helped me hear so many of your voices as I learned how to find mine.

In so many ways, the story of NGN is a love story. It’s the story of how I met so many people I love, how I strengthened relationships with people I loved long before this site first took shape, and how I learned to love myself through speaking myself—finally letting go of my need to be perfect and accepting that the thing I really needed most was to be honest.

So this post gets to be another chapter in the story of NGN—the story of me. Some chapters are high points (going to NYCC, that time I thought I was going to write a book, all the love posts and reviews of incredible hours of television and letters to fictional characters who stole my heart). Some chapters feel lower (the rare times fandom drama bled into NGN’s comments, posts about depression and anxiety, that time I did not actually write the book I thought I was going to write). But they’re all a part of a larger story.

My story.

And that means they all have their place. They all matter.

Ten years.

What a wild ride.

And I can’t wait to see what comes next.

Let Us Shine: Lessons from BTS to Begin 2022

2021 American Music Awards - Arrivals

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – NOVEMBER 21: BTS attends the 2021 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on November 21, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for MRC )

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I was 17 years old when I read those words from Zora Neale Hurston in Their Eyes Were Watching God for the first time, but I don’t think I fully understood them until now, more than 15 years later.

When I look back—as one does at this time of year—it feels clear: 2020 was a year that asked a lot of questions, and 2021 was a year when I started finding some of the answers.

The years that answer are harder.

The years that answer challenge us to confront hard truths about the world, about the ways we live our life, and about ourselves.

And this year, one of the answers I found was that so much of who I am and how I interact with the world was built on a shaky foundation because it was all external—it was all about appearing perfect and seeing myself through the eyes of others. I defined myself using the words other people had used to define me, which feels good when the words are good but also means you’re constantly looking outside of yourself for answers to the big questions asked in years like 2020: Who am I? What do I want? Am I worthy of love? Does my story matter?

At times this year, I honestly didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.

But then, this year answered back in a big way.

It gave me BTS.

And somewhere in the middle of countless YouTube videos and car singalongs in my bad attempts at Korean and talking to my best friend about these seven men who’d stolen my heart, some of those answers, which had been evading me for so long, started to become louder and clearer. The part of me that had always known those answers—that voice in my gut that has stubbornly stuck around even during years when I didn’t want to listen to her—grew more confident.

Maybe it was the therapy I finally decided to commit to. Maybe it was the self-compassion journaling and the hard work I started putting in to understand myself and to be gentle with myself instead of always looking to shame and punish.

It was all of that.

But it was also BTS.

Because it can’t be a coincidence that the year that taught me that I hadn’t ever learned to love myself as I am in an internal way—independent of how other people perceive me—also brought me into the orbit of a band who sing songs with lyrics like:

You’ve shown me I have reasons I should love myself…

I am the one I should love in this world…

You can’t stop me loving myself…

That’s the big lesson I learned from BTS this year—and it’s the answer to one of the questions asked by years like 2020, years when I felt isolated from the other people I always looked to when I needed to see what about me was worth loving, why I should love myself:

Loving myself doesn’t require anyone else’s permission.

And there are times when that seems easy and times when that seems like such a lofty concept that it’s impossible to put into practice. But luckily, BTS has illuminated the path not just for the big picture of self-love, but also for the million little ways we can actually put it into practice. From each of the seven members of this band, I’ve learned lessons about what it means to love yourself and why that should be the most important resolution I make going forward—to commit to a practice of truly, completely learning how to love myself.

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Lights in the Dark Forest: 2021 in Review

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My journey through the dark forest of 2021 began with Wanda Maximoff. (Source: TVLine)

“Believing in rom-communism is all about believing that everything’s gonna work out in the end. Now, these next few months might be tricky, but that’s just ’cause we’re going through the dark forest. Fairy tales do not start, nor do they end, in the dark forest.”

I can’t write about Ted Lasso.

But every time I think about 2021, I come back to this quote.

(And maybe that’s why I can’t write about it.)

So much of the last two years has felt like a long walk through the dark forest. And in 2021 things felt like they got even darker. So it was hard for me to watch a show—whose first season had given me so much comfort—take its characters through that dark forest and not quite out of it yet.

I didn’t like that Ted Lasso had changed.

And I felt that way about a whole lot of media this year. From The Rookie’s decision to all but abandon the challenging storylines that had made the first half of its third season so compelling to Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s emotional farewell that took its characters in different directions, some changes were for the better and others less so, but it still seemed like a lot of the media I had used for comfort through the toughest parts of early pandemic life had changed.

And I hate change.

When I look at the only piece of scripted television that motivated me to write on an almost weekly basis, the only one that consistently moved me and stayed with me in a meaningful way, it was a show about a woman who resists change so strongly that she creates an entire new reality to escape the fact that her life had changed in deeply painful ways.

WandaVision is a show about a woman in the dark forest who spends so much time refusing to admit she’s in there that she builds herself a home and a life in the middle of it because even if it’s an illusion of control, it’s still better than the terror and unknown of the dark forest.

Control—however fake, however fleeting—feels better than uncertainty.

I don’t have a lot in common with Wanda Maximoff. I don’t have her powers or her tragic backstory or her tortured romance with an AI system turned sentient. But her need to hold on to some sense of control in a world that feels scary and lonely? That I get.

I spent the beginning of this year trying to build a world that I could control—a place that felt like nothing had changed even though everything had changed (both inside and outside of me).

There’s a reason WandaVision was the show that produced the most writing from me.

When I couldn’t control anything else, I wanted to control this little corner of the internet. I wanted it to be what it was when things felt better and brighter. I wanted to be who I was when things felt better and brighter.

Because, like Wanda, I didn’t want to acknowledge one of the truths of the dark forest: You don’t come out of it in the same place you were when you went in.

Slowly, steadily, my writing has started to move toward that truth. NGN has started to move toward that truth. Instead of being Westview—a place created to desperately hold onto a piece of the past because the present is sad and the future is scary—it’s growing into something that feels more real, something that feels more honest. It may not be sitcom shiny—a beacon of constant positivity where every problem is fixed and hurt is healed by the end of a post—but it’s stronger because of its messy reality.

I’m stronger because of my messy reality.

I’ve changed so much this year, and that means my writing changed too. And that’s part of life. Change is a part of life.

You can’t grow if you refuse to change.

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There’s No Place for Her: A Letter to Sadness

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Dear Sadness,

I don’t want to write this.

And that’s exactly why I’m writing this.

I’ve fought this post with every fiber of my being—putting it off, changing its focus 10 different times, doing every household chore imaginable to avoid listening to the nagging voice inside of me that keeps insistently whispering that this will help. That you will help.

You can never just stay in your “circle of Sadness,” can you?

I’ve always felt proud when people compare me to Joy from Inside Out. For a long time, I worked hard to share positivity whenever I could, to spread sunshine everywhere I went. I wanted that to be what people remembered when they thought of me—bright yellow (or even hot pink) light, lots of smiles, memories dipped in gold. And even when other emotions took their turn at the console (especially fear, my ever-present companion for most of my life) I tried to find a way to make all those feelings positive—to share my big feelings with the world so that the people around me could feel more comfortable with theirs.

I was good with big feelings.

Or—to be more accurate—I was good with big feelings that made sense.

Anger was a way for me to respond to injustices—both personal and global. Disgust helped me hone my sense of taste—in food, clothes, media, and more. Fear kept me safe—sometimes a little too safe, but with some therapy and a little openness, we worked on that. And joy was my favorite big feeling to feel—I loved crying happy tears or laughing so loud people stared or dancing down a grocery store aisle because I just felt happy.

And even you had a place, Sadness. I was good with you when you made sense—when a TV show made me sad or when I experienced a loss and needed to grieve or when I felt lonely. I was never totally comfortable with you taking the console, but as long as you did it at a time that made sense, you could make things turn blue for a little while.

But sometimes you don’t make sense. Sometimes you don’t stay in the circle Joy made for you. Sometimes you touch the console and turn everything blue when I’m not ready or when I can’t figure out why.

And that’s when the version of Joy that’s inside of me gets desperate, just like the version of Joy inside of Riley.

When you created a blue core memory for Riley, Joy couldn’t handle it. Instead of accepting that not every foundational moment in life can be a happy one, she tried to destroy it—to erase any memory that wasn’t happy. Because Joy liked how it was in Riley’s head. It was perfect up there as it was.

There’s something about you, Sadness, that messes with ideas of perfection.

Because, let’s admit it, you’re a little messy. You come with tears and sometimes snot and a splotchy face and a cracking voice. You’re not something we like showing the world.

You’re not something I like showing the world.

I have worked so hard to keep you in your circle. I have tried to explain that other people around me are going through really hard things, so there’s no place for you right now. I have pleaded and begged for you to understand that I have a job to do—and that job is to cheer people up, to be a beacon of positivity, to brighten the days of everyone I come across.

But you didn’t listen.

You didn’t listen when Riley needed to be happy for her parents, and you didn’t listen when I needed to be happy for the people around me who are struggling.

You didn’t stay in your circle.

That’s what depression feels like for me.

It’s when you don’t stay in your circle.

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Right in the Feels: Anna Does “The Next Right Thing” in Frozen 2

I’ve seen dark before
But not like this
This is cold
This is empty
This is numb
The life I knew is over
The lights are out
Hello, darkness
I’m ready to succumb…

This moment in Frozen 2—as Anna finds herself trapped in a cave and totally alone after watching Olaf disintegrate and realizing that meant something horrible had happened to Elsa—isn’t for kids. In fact, when I saw Frozen 2 in theaters on its opening night back in 2019, I remember hearing lots of tiny sniffles as Olaf turned to snowflakes and thinking that this was going to traumatize a heck of a lot of children for years to come.

Luckily, the trauma is short-lived—this is a Disney movie, after all (and not Bambi). But as with all emotionally compelling media, the point isn’t that we know Elsa and Olaf are most likely going to be fine because we know how these movies work. The point is that Anna doesn’t know this. And she’s written so well—and her moment of grief is written so well—that we’re able to suspend our disbelief as if we’re right in that cave with her, trying to figure out how to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

Trying to figure out if we want to survive in a world that’s suddenly changed beyond recognition.

It doesn’t seem like a moment Anna should have. She’s the perky princess who sees the good in everyone. She’s the ray of sunshine to her sister’s ice and snow. She always has a smile, always tries to find the bright side, and always seems to make the best of a bad situation (see her entire childhood and adolescence kept locked away in a castle without even her sister to talk to). She’s a woman of action, never giving up—even in the craziest of circumstances.

But that’s exactly why it matters.

Because grief and depression are things that can affect anyone. And the idea that “happy” people can’t be depressed, extroverted people can’t be lonely, and take-charge people can’t be immobilized by grief does so much damage to people who are suffering but feel they have to do so in silence because struggling doesn’t fit their personality—that no one would believe them if they said they feel like they can’t keep going because they’ve always kept going through whatever else life has thrown at them.

Anna—one of the most popular Disney princesses in the most popular Disney animated franchise—is so consumed by her grief that she can’t see a reason to keep going. If she stays in that dark and isolated cave—the physical representation of depression—she’s going to die in there. And for a moment, things seem so bad and she feels so hopeless that she seriously considers it.

It’s an important moment for kids to witness—even if they’re hopefully too young to understand what she’s describing. Because they’re going to internalize the message that sometimes even the brightest people feel the darkness pressing in, that there’s no shame in struggling with loss or sadness—no matter who you are or what your life looks like on the outside—and that they’re not alone if they ever start to feel that way as they grow up. Because even Princess Anna felt hopeless and lost once too.

And they’re also going to internalize the message that there’s a way out of that darkness if they ever feel stuck in it.

Do the next right thing.

They may be 5 small words, but they’ve left a big impact on so many people.

People like me.

Do the next right thing.

Late at night last week, I had a panic attack in the shower. It was exhausting and awful, and one of the few things I remember from those moments of shaking and crying and feeling like I was drowning was saying out loud in between sobs, “I just don’t know what to do.”

I have a tendency to spiral when I’m left alone with my own thoughts for too long. That’s always been true. My thoughts race ahead faster than an Olympic track star, and they tend to go in circles like one too. I’m someone who likes to always have the right answer, but lately I’ve been grappling with some big questions that don’t seem to have one. I’m someone who believes in listening to her gut, but lately I’ve been having a hard time hearing it—or maybe it’s more that I’ve been having a hard time accepting and acting on what it’s been telling me.

But in that moment—when I was at my lowest—I could hear it loud and clear:

Do the next right thing.

There it was—the answer to maybe the biggest question.

What do I do?

Do the next right thing.

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Learning How to Love Myself

Needy. Selfish. Self-centered. Demanding. Attention whore.

These are all words I have used to describe myself—most of them multiple times in the last week alone. Sometimes it’s with more than a little guilt. Sometimes it’s coming from deep in the pit of self-loathing. Often, it’s said with a laugh or in an attempt at self-deprecating humor.

But somewhere along the way, it stopped being funny.

Somewhere along the way, those words became how I defined myself—above other words like passionate or friendly or warm or kind or good.

I take more than I give. I ask for too much. I need too much.

I am too much.

That’s a common refrain for me when I feel myself wanting to ask for help on a bad day, when I feel the gnawing emptiness in my chest that says I’m having a hard time and could use some love, and even when someone who loves me shows me they do and the guilt settles in because I’m not supposed to need that. I’m supposed to be stronger than that.

I’m supposed to love myself enough that I don’t need to ask other people to help me with that.

I’m supposed to get enough satisfaction out of showing other people that I love them that I’m not supposed to need other people to show me they love me too.

But I do need it.

And I need it in different ways than most people I know.

I’m an extrovert who loves words and hugs—whose primary love languages are words of affirmation and physical touch. And I am surrounded by a beautiful group of introverts whose primary love language is typically acts of service—and who are very good at never asking for anything in return.

I have spent a long time wishing I was more like them. I know that the ways I most clearly and confidently show love and feel loved are things that make a lot of people uncomfortable to even think about. Not everyone likes cuddles. A lot of people get shy when it comes to compliments. So I have told myself that I should never ask for these things from other people—because that’s the selfless thing to do. But most of the time, I fail. I fish for compliments or ask for reassurance or hug whoever will give me even the tiniest glimpse of not hating the physical contact.

And then the guilt sinks in. And then the words come.

Needy. Selfish. Self-centered. Demanding. Attention whore.

They’re words I would never think about saying to someone I care about if they asked me to do something for them or to spend time with them or if they told me they were feeling bad and needed a little love in any of the ways they believe it most assuredly.

Other people deserve to have their needs met—and to not feel ashamed or afraid or guilty for asking that they be met sometimes in a way that makes them feel happiest. That’s something I believe with every piece of me.

But why is it so hard for me to believe that about myself?

I’ll let the boys of BTS explain it:

Loving myself might be harder
Than loving someone else
Let’s admit it
The standards you made are more strict for yourself…

The first time I saw the lyrics to “Answer: Love Myself,” those were the ones that immediately jumped out at me because they’re so painfully true. Loving other people has always felt easy to me. But loving myself has always been a struggle.

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Right in the Feels: Ted Lasso Reminds Us We’re Not Alone

“I promise you, there is something worse out there than being sad—and that is being alone and being sad.”

I didn’t see it coming.

I thought I knew the playbook Ted Lasso was using. I’ve seen a lot of sports movies. I’ve also seen a lot of comedies that look at the world through the rose-colored glasses Ted always seems to have on. So, despite the fact that I should have known AFC Richmond needed to lose in the Season One finale to secure a second season for the show, I genuinely believed  they would do what all underdogs do in these kinds of stories—shock the world (and comfort the audience) with a win.

I thought everyone loved the first season of this show because it gave them a happy ending at a time when so many of us could use one.

I was wrong.

Ted Lasso isn’t a show about what it means to be happy. That’s not why people love it.

It’s a show about how we deal with sadness.

And that’s why people need it.

Everyone on this show experiences sadness—and not just because Richmond loses in the end. Rebecca’s divorce, Roy’s injury, Keeley’s issues with Jamie, Jamie’s issues with his father, and Ted’s own marital struggles—they all highlight an important fact about being human:

In the words of another brilliant recent comedy that had a lot to say about how we handle hard times, “We’re all a little bit sad, all the time. That’s just the deal.”

Sadness is part of the deal. It comes with the territory. When you feel and care and love, there are going to be sad moments. So much of Ted Lasso’s appeal—especially in this last year—is in the way it acknowledges that sadness and setbacks are a part of life. And sometimes we can’t make it better, for ourselves or the people we love.

For a show that’s been praised for its positive outlook, Ted Lasso’s positivity is never toxic. It’s not a show that says, “Don’t be sad! If we all help each other, everything will turn out fine in the end!” Instead it’s a show that says, “Sometimes life is sad and things don’t turn out fine, but if we help each other, at least we won’t have to be sad alone.”

For all his optimism and openness and belief in the power of teamwork, Ted knows what it means to be alone and be sad. We watch him struggle with his crumbling marriage on his own and we see how his belief that growth matters more than wins can isolate him from even those closest to him. But then, there are the moments when someone sees him and reaches out—when Roy stops him from walking into traffic or when Rebecca gently eases him through his panic attack. It’s in those moments that the sadness feels a little less overwhelming and the loneliness fades a little. Because when we’re seen, when we lift our head up and meet the eyes of someone who cares, it doesn’t magically fix what’s broken in our lives, but it makes it a little easier to live with the broken pieces.

That’s what having a team is all about. They’re not just the people who celebrate the good times with you; they’re the people who see you and sit with you in the hard times too.

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Fangirl Thursday: Choosing Your Mark

“You think it’s a weakness? Make it a strength. It’s a part of you … So use it.”

//

“It feels like everyone’s growing up all around me…”
“Use it.”

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Two words. Five letters.

My story.

I always knew I wanted a tattoo. I love the idea of something meaning so much to you that you want to etch it into your body—to make it part of you. But for years, I never felt sure enough of what I wanted to say—what I wanted to be tied to forever—to do it.

This year changed that.

This year changed a lot of things.

I don’t know a single person who is going to walk away from the last 14 months unscathed. This year is going to leave its mark on all of us forever.

Today I chose the mark it’s going to leave on me.

And instead of this year leaving a scar, I chose a story.

And it’s a story that has its roots farther back in my life than I even realized at first.

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You Got Me, I Got You: Nine Years of NGN

Today, Nerdy Girl Notes turns nine years old.

Nine years. Almost a decade.

So much has changed in those nine years—the kind of writing I do here, the number of posts I write, and the version of me who’s writing those posts.

But today, I’m not really thinking about what’s changed.

I’m thinking about what hasn’t.

And that’s you—my friends, my fellow fangirls (and fanboys), my NGN Family.

No matter how long I go between posts, no matter what crazy new obsession I try to drag all of you into, no matter how much I overshare, you’re still here.

And this year, more than any other, that knowledge saved me.

I have made no secret of the fact that this year has been one of the hardest—if not the hardest—years of my life. And for a long part of it, I actively stayed away from NGN, despite the extra time I had and the fandoms I could have written about. I stayed away because I was afraid that I would come back to this place and it wouldn’t feel the same. I was afraid that this would become just another online space where I was screaming into the void. I was afraid that this little corner of the internet that had been my most fulfilling source of connection for so many years wouldn’t be that anymore at a time when I needed connection more than I’d ever needed it before.

I was so afraid.

But then I did something that’s really hard for me to do when I’m scared—I stopped running away. I wrote one thing and then another (and another…). I opened my eyes after keeping them shut for so long because I was afraid that I’d see that even this—my safe space for the last nine years—had changed in a year that felt like it had changed everything else.

But when I opened my eyes, there you were.

And I knew—even though things still felt bad and I was still scared and every post was an exercise in trusting that I wasn’t going to chase all of you away with my vulnerability and obvious clinginess—I knew things were going to be OK.

Because I have you.

Because I came home.

Home means different things to different people, but to me, home has always meant safety.

That’s what NGN has become for me over the last nine years. It’s the place where I feel safe enough to be myself, to share hard things, and to trust that I’m not alone in whatever I’m feeling.

And that’s what I hope it is for you too.

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The Best Thing I Saw on TV This Week: BTS, The GRAMMYs, and That Fangirl Feeling

Every fangirl knows that feeling.

You’re watching a TV show and two characters share a look, and you know they’re going to be the next fictional couple to keep you up at night writing fanfic in your head. You’re scrolling through Tumblr, and you see a GIF of an actor, and you know that you’re going to be looking up their entire filmography on IMDb. You’re watching a movie trailer, and you know this is going to be the only movie you want to talk about for the next 6 months.

You’re watching a band perform at the GRAMMYs, and you know that you’re going to be headed down a YouTube rabbit hole of every version of that song and every staging of that choreography.

Before Sunday night, it had been a long time since I’d felt that feeling. It’s that little spark in your fangirl soul that a lifetime of bouncing from one obsession to another tells you is going to grow into a fire that’s bright and warm and all-consuming. And I’d started to genuinely worry that I’d lost the ability to feel that spark—that this year had taken away the part of me that can throw herself into a new fandom with reckless abandon, happy tears, and lots of capslock.

I feel the most like me when I’m deep in that feeling (and usually when I’m dragging other people into it with me—or enabling the ones already there), and without it, I didn’t feel like me anymore.

Who knew all it would take to bring back the best version of me was 7 guys from Korea dancing on top of a building in snazzy suits?

Hi, my name is Katie, and I’m obsessed with BTS.

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