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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Lucky Number Seven

Nerdy Girl Notes turns seven years old today!

If you would have asked me back on April 2, 2012, what I thought my life would be like seven years later, that young woman’s predictions would have been very different from how things turned out. But all those years ago, I knew I wanted NGN and the incredible people who make up the little family surrounding it to be a part of my life for as long as humanly possible. And I feel so blessed to know that seven years later, even after so much of my life has changed, NGN is still here for me to share my hopes and fears and thoughts and FEELINGS with all of you—and even more blessed to know that so many of you are still here for me to share all of those things with.

NGN itself is so different from what it was seven years ago. It’s gone through different stages (How did I ever review five shows a week?!) and chronicled different obsessions, but one thing remains the same: It’s a place that is driven by enthusiasm and love. I still love being able to write whenever inspiration strikes and the timing is right. And that’s why I wanted to take this opportunity to fill you in on what’s coming to NGN in the next few months!

After what has felt like the longest hiatus ever, NGN is returning to weekly content starting the week of April 15th! I’ll be back with my final round of Game of Thrones Moment of the Week posts (and maybe more about the show as we lead up to its finale), as well as weekly posts about FX’s new limited series Fosse/Verdon. As a dancer, a musical theater fangirl, a choreographer, and a reader who devoured the Sam Wasson biography this is based on, I have been eagerly awaiting the show since its announcement last year and knew right away I had to write about it. I’m not sure what form my posts will take yet and they’ll be starting after Episode 2 (because I’ll be soaking in the magic in Walt Disney World during the premiere), but I can’t wait to share all of my Gwen Verdon feelings and Cabaret love with all of you.

The fun will then continue into the summer with coverage of Big Little Lies and maybe some fun posts about movies, which I don’t write about enough around these parts.

Needless to say, I’m feeling very inspired lately and ready to share that inspiration with you. And I can’t think of a better mood to be in on NGN’s “blogiversary.” This little corner of the internet was founded on the belief that everyone needs a place where they can unashamedly love things, and I’m so thankful that so many of you continue to embrace that mindset along with me.

If you’ve been here for seven years or seven seconds, if you comment regularly or would rather remain an anonymous reader, if you visited for a specific show or have followed me through more fandoms than we can count—thank you. Thank you for your support, your encouragement, your humor, and your heart. Thank you for your insight, your honesty, your recommendations, and your inspiration. Most of all, thank you for your friendship. I never would have made it to Year Seven without my NGN Family behind me, and knowing I have you in my corner makes me excited every time I open a blank document and get ready to write.

It’s been an unpredictable journey and a winding road so far, and I can’t wait to see where this year’s twists and turns and fangirl flights of fancy take us!

I’m Off the Deep End (Watch as I Obsessively Talk About Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga)

“We’re far from the shallow now…”

There was nothing shallow about Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga’s performance of their Oscar-winning, Grammy-winning, and everything-else-winning hit from A Star Is Born. In fact, in an Oscar telecast filled with a surprising number of high points (Olivia Colman! Melissa McCarthy covered in rabbits! Women winning so many things! Spike Lee climbing Samuel L. Jackson like a tree!) their breathtaking take on the instant-classic “Shallow” might have been the moment with the most depth—or at least the moment people rewound the most to make sure they caught every last detail.

And there were some magical details to catch. From the way Gaga seemed to hold her breath as he sang and their ridiculously intense eye contact to his smile as she sang and that final intimate chorus that launched a thousand tweets, it seems people can’t get enough of them and their performance (myself included).

So what made this moment so special? Why can’t we stop talking and tweeting about it?

It felt real. Even if these are two actors who are both talented enough to be nominated for Oscars. Even if they’re just good friends (who like to look into each other’s eyes for so long it seems they’re trying to break some kind of record). The intimacy they created on that stage felt real, and sometimes what we feel matters more to us than the facts.

What I felt—more than anything else—was the best kind of vulnerability from both of them, and that’s where real intimacy comes from. Cooper has talked often about being unable to hide when you sing, and that was certainly true in this performance. From the minimal staging to the soft lighting and even the lack of introduction and stripped down arrangement, the moment was all about the two people sharing it and nothing else. Which isn’t an easy thing for an actor who didn’t sing before doing this movie and for a singer who’s used to hiding behind a persona when she takes the stage. All they had was each other and a piano, and that proved to be more than enough.

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