The Pop Culture Feels, Pt. 1

Pop culture escapism holds a special place in my heart, because I think it serves a very real purpose. When you’re numb from bad news or tired of crying over a bottle of cider, there’s always another episode of Bob’s Burgers or BoJack Horseman. A bad hangover can be watched away with a Will Ferrell marathon. I myself recently indulged in Mystery Men on a particularly torturous Sunday morning. I owe a lot to the type of pop culture that lets you escape from your immediate reality.

And then, there’s all the rest. Pop culture that forces, as us Internet kids would call it, The Feels. There are some pieces of pop culture that you’re meant to rub in open wounds and let sting you. You know them when you come across them: the end to Of Mice and Men, anything sung by Billie Holiday, when G-Baby dies. (Okay that’s an inappropriate juxtaposition, sorry Ms. Holiday, but losing G-Baby was one of my earliest scarring moments.)

I was going to share my Good Songs for Shit Times playlist, but that would be like opening my diary and letting you in. So instead, I thought I’d share some of the snippets of books, songs & movies that have struck a chord with me recently.

To prevent this from being stupid long, I’m breaking this up into different categories that I’ll share over a few days.

The Sad: Pop Culture for Wallowing

In the interest of keeping it wistful and melancholy per my last few posts, I’m starting with the sad snippets that pair well with a comforter cocoon and long sad phone calls to your best friend and/or mom.

Pop Culture for Wallowing

The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan

abyss, n.

There are times when I doubt everything. When I regret everything you’ve taken from me, everything I’ve given you, and the waste of all the time I’ve spent on us

corrode, v.

I spend all this time building a relationship. Then one night I left the window open, and it started to rust

I don’t know that I would recommend this book to everyone, but you’ll find yourself somewhere in the pages, whether you’re currently in the throes of a relationship or watching one crumble.

I picked this up from the dusty rows of a used bookstore, having seen it recommended before. As I sat down to dinner alone that night I started thumbing through it. Five pages in I felt the lump in my throat, and 10 pages later I was sobbing into my chicken tortilla soup.

Levithan details a relationship through a series of dictionary entries. It covers the moments of intimacy, light-hearted observations, and life-ruining revelations that come with a relationship. The book only takes about an hour start to finish, so it’s perfect if you’re looking for somewhat shallow & quick feels.

“Love Me Like You” Ella Eyre

“I guess I’ll love you forever, I guess that’s all my fault”

I recently started listening to Ella Eyre, the unmistakable voice behind Rudimental’s “Waiting All Night.” She has a voice that won’t quit and sings a slew of great shower karaoke songs. “Love Me Like You” made it into my regular rotation just post breakup, because it’s heartbreaking and also a lifeblood-girl-anthem power source. It recounts the slap in the face feel of realizing you’re the one who has to do the moving on, because your ex’s boat has already sailed. I also recommend “If I Go” for the restless in love, and “Deeper” for when you’re a little less in love than you should be.

“I Will Fall” from Nashville

Just when I think I’ve let you go / your song’s playing on the radio

And just like that it rushes back, / every part of you

I’m not even embarrassed that the Nashville soundtrack has crept its way into my top ten listened to albums (do the kids still call them albums?). T-Bone Burnett pulled together some incredible music for this show’s first season. The songs fit the narrative, but like the Burnett produced Oh Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, they stand alone as well. And no, I’m not saying the music on this show are as good as that soundtrack.

But this song, oh my, this song. The harmonizing, the heartbreak, the pleading to just please stay away because I will fall if you come around. It will resonate with anyone who has ever had to truly get over someone.

The Spectacular Now

Sutter: I almost just killed you and you wanna know if I’m okay?

Aimee: Yeah, I wanna make sure that you’re okay.

Sutter: What the fuck is wrong with you? Do you not see that I’m bad for you?

This is somewhat cheating, because in addition to wallowing to this movie I use it to live out my Miles Teller fantasies. The first time I watched this I developed a huge crush on Teller, and I recently realized it may be because he reminds me of a boy I used to crush on, so there’s that.

My go to wallow movie would typically be Eternal Sunshine, so that’s my most honest recommendation. I haven’t been able to bring myself to watch that alone, however, since the last time I watched it was on an air mattress in my ex’s childhood bedroom. So instead I’ve wallowed to Spectacular, a charmingly heart-rending movie about high school love. Teller and Shailene Woodley capture the sadness and vulnerability of a first love.

Plus it has one of my favorite wallowing lines, delivered by the perfect Brie Larson: “You’ll always be my favorite ex-boyfriend.”

The Definites, The Maybes & the What-Ifs

Today's dose of weirdly earnest reflection brought to you by the city of San Francisco

Today’s dose of weirdly earnest reflection brought to you by the city of San Francisco

Up until the age of 21 there was a plan. My parents reassured me I could veer, swerve, wiggle or jump ship at any time, but I felt confident in the plan. Go to school, find a passion, do well, make friends, form a next plan. All part & parcel of the plan. It was definite, and solid.

The last couple of weeks I’ve felt on edge, with a hint of nausea lurking behind everything I do. The familiar flutter in my stomach, the elevated heart rate, the deep breaths that trip in my throat & fight their way down. Anxiety has come back to town.

As of right now, there’s no plan.

 

In my head I’ve got my contingency plans:

How to Book a Flight When Everything Falls to Shit

How to Live in a Small Cabin in the Woods of Maine

How to Pack Everything in One Suitcase and Move to a Foreign Land Where No One Knows My Name

 

 

For the past two months I have been dismantling & reconstructing the things that were comfortable and solid in my life. The people and routines changed entirely, from the cup my toothbrush sits in to the arms I run to when anxiety roosts.

I take it for granted that there’s some larger vague outline—move around, explore the world, find a job and life that mean something, succeed—but I’m terrified that that’s not the plan at all. The Boy I Love didn’t think our futures fit together, so what does it mean if I was wrong all along about what that future was? What if it’s supposed to be stay put, settle down, grow old in San Francisco? What if, as it so likely will be, the next thing is something I haven’t even dreamed up yet, and to kill time I’m playing roulette? My plans suddenly look so much more like maybes.

 

So now I’m afloat in a lonely city with no plan.

 

The current definites? Keep up at work. Keep forcing myself to the gym. Keep my room clean. Keep writing, keep cooking, keep drawing. Keep on with the things that keep the anxiety from stalking through my guts, and keep close to the people who understand what that means. Keep myself sane.

Because sooner or later, my definites will turn to maybes, and my plans will turn to what ifs. And then what’s the plan?

Breaking Up the Routine

Sometimes your life gets shaken up in several ways at the same time. Just a casual “everything you know seems to have changed all of a sudden” type of shake-up. Well, friends, I’m in the middle of such a shake-up.

My initial reactions (“Are you fucking kidding me?” “I’m going to swing a shovel at the next thing that comes my way” “Where’s the gruyere?”) gave way to a realization that my restless nature was being given a chance to start fresh. And with a move under my belt and a birthday right around the corner, the timing seems impeccable. I could be unstoppable, I’m going to kick ass and take the world by storm. Or something like that.

And so, I present my Guide to Turning 24, Kicking Ass and Taking the World by Storm (Or At the Very Least, How Not to Crash and Burn When Your Life Seems to Fall Apart 3000 Miles From Most of Your Favorite People) (But Seriously This is Not a How To This is My Life)

  • Be very funny
    • It helps if you find yourself incredibly funny to start with, because you’re going to spend a lot of time by yourself if many of your favorite people live 3000 miles away. And others live 500 miles away. And others live nearby but you can’t see them as often as you’d like or even at all. If you already think you’re one of the funniest people you know this suddenly becomes much easier.
  • Explore (aka do all the things you forgot to do before when you were taking your life for granted)
    • In the past few month or two I’ve been doing all the San Francisco exploring and activities I’ve been putting off for way too long. Land’s End, Sutro Baths, Coit Tower, Clarion Alley, Palace of Fine Arts, Chrissy Field, and hell I even set foot in Noe Valley for the first time. On top of that I’ve been getting myself to try new bars & restaurants, and go out more, although if I’m honest that’s just because I keep hoping I’ll finally find my Cheers. All the places I’ve never been before make it feel like a new city, and the places I have been but am rediscovering are being exorcized of bad juju.
  • Take time to yourself
    • For me, this is reading funny tweets and drinking tea while watching movies in bed. Also, lots of bad TV.

X-Files Tweet

  • Cry to your friends
    • Here’s the thing: you might be able to take the world by storm without doing this one, but I’m not. I have never cried in more uncomfortable places (bus, meeting with my boss, Trader Joe’s) than I have recently and I’m so unashamed of that. That type of public embarrassment makes it that much better when you wind up getting to cry and lean on your People for a change. And as I’ve learned, my People are pretty ride or die.
  • Rock out in all the possible ways
    • I recently became the girl with headphones in who aggressively head bobs and occasionally does rap hands on the bus. I like to think I’m making a real name for myself on the 45 bus route. Listening to Sylvan Esso’s “Coffee” and dancing down the sidewalk is now a regular part of my morning routine. And I’m pretty sure I gave the best / only karaoke performance of “Don’t Think I’m Not” by Kandi in the last 14 years. Basically, I’m a karaoke queen.
  • Cook food that makes you happy
    • I like beet soup and cucumber noodles, but I also like milky way cheesecake brownies. All three of those things have come out of my kitchen. I don’t want to say cooking is better than love, but…
  • Get away
    • Never underestimate the power of running away from your problems for a short while. I highly recommend a weekend somewhere random and hot with some of your best friends in the world, but if you can’t swing that literally anywhere that’s not your day-to-day will do.
  • You Do You
    • For me, that’s bad photoshop, relaying my terrifying Tinder experiences to friends, reading Bad Feminist, and writing haphazard yet long overdue blog posts that are ultimately about getting some stuff committed to a page and not about anyone else. I’m not gonna pretend to suggest how you should do you.

At the end of the day, shake-ups just take some time to get used to. This is me trying to figure out how I retain some sanity while I wade through the muck. In the meantime, enjoy this example of me doing me:

Louis Stevens Doesn't Dance Backup

 

The Ex-Factor

It’s not every week that This American Life and No Doubt have major message overlap. But as I was listening to Starlee Kine remind her NPR audience that every person you’ve ever dated has become your ex (ep. #339), I realized this was a lesson I’d learned before. Cue Gwen Stefani’s warbling voice:

I kind of always knew I’d end up your ex-girlfriend.”

Oh Gwen, truer words have never been spoken. A staple on my breakup playlist (you know you have one too), Ex-Girlfriend flattens you with the heartbreaking truth that you’re going to have far more exes than you will Dearly Beloveds.

As I find myself in the midst of one of those rip-your-heart-out-knock-the-wind-out-of-you kind of breakups, I can’t help but notice the ex lurking behind every song. At the Jay-Z and Beyonce concert* I relished every single chick anthem, and dumb-girl cried during “Song Cry.” I’ve subjected my male roommates to better-without-you anthems and never-love-again ballads belted from the shower. I listened to Drake (‘nuff said).

And so, with exes on the mind, I tried not to think about the kind of ex-girlfriend I am, and, according to Gwen, will continue to be. I turned instead to the exes we’ve all known and loved. I dwelled on them the best way I know how: doodle form. Please forgive the terrible images, as they were taken in a poorly lit bedroom with my phone. May they serve as a reminder to us all: we’re all just remembered as someone’s ex, and doodles are the best medicine.

All perceived relation to Molly’s exes is probably entirely valid, but let’s just go with any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. I love my exes, they’re actually a group of pretty legit human beings.

 

Doodles on a Monday Night

Doodles on a Monday Night

 

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Songwriting Ex, equipped with old school mix-tapes, journals of feelings, and hipster microbrews

Songwriting Ex, equipped with old school mix-tapes, journals of feelings, and hipster microbrews

Stoner Ex will leave you with munchies, chill rap jams and some easy sleep

Stoner Ex will leave you with munchies, chill rap jams and some easy sleep

Sports Fan Ex: Bearer of tacky sports accessories and worn out sofas

Sports Fan Ex: Bearer of tacky sports accessories and worn out sofas

Ah the recent ex, who must be drowned in wine

Ah the recent/current ex, who must be drowned in wine

 

*Full disclosure: Beyonce covered Lauryn Hill’s “Ex-Factor“, and did it damn well, providing the inspiration for this blog post title.

 

Can’t Sit Still

Today I made four different to do lists, three organizational spreadsheets, and scheduled an unending stream of touch bases and meetings for the coming weeks. On any other week that would make me anxious about all the things I’ve got to do, but right now I’m just feeling a wave of relief. Why? It means I’m finally sitting still long enough to plan.

For the last two months I’ve been on the go non-stop. Vacations, work, a festival, and a tragedy have kept me busy and moving so much that a free moment to lie in my bed and plan out my next few weeks feels like bliss.

I’ve always been a restless person and love being on-the-go, experiencing new things and visiting old friends. And don’t get me wrong, I’ve done some much-needed adventuring recently.

The breakdown?

  • Musical acts: 20+
  • Surprise appearances by Lauryn Hil or Jay Z: 2
  • States I’ve been in: 5
  • Old friends visited with: 10
  • Drinks while visiting old friends: ….
  • Comedy shows: 2
  • Unexpected reunions: 1

And then I realized…

  • Distance Travelled: 13,600 mi.
  • Days of work running on <5 hrs sleep: 8
  • Flight Legs: 9

 

These past two months have been a much-needed reminder that I also need time to decompress. As I’ve been traveling and asking people to fill my time with new activities I haven’t been very good about giving myself space to breathe.

So friends far and wide: I’m taking a break. I am committing to a few weeks–knowing me it wont be any longer than that–of time to relax. Reading, planning, cooking, sketching, and generally doing the things that make me happy and relaxed. What a novel concept.

That comes with the caveat that I’ll be traveling next weekend, because God forbid I sit still. But it’s for a great, and hopefully relaxing reason: my mom and dad’s 30th wedding anniversary. The Family will be schlepping from our respective corners of the map to Bryce Canyon for a weekend. They aren’t a particularly taxing or tiring bunch, plus it’ll help me knock 2 new states off my list on my quest to get to all 50 states.

And then I swear I’ll sit still. Until the next adventure arises?

A peek at a few of my travels

A peek at a few of my travels

 

The Lebron James of Filibustering

I was going to do a “whoops-haven’t-blogged-in-a-while” update on my life, or the city, or curried rice with shrimp, or Yeezus, or any number of important topics. But then… Wendy Davis.

For those of you who haven’t been obsessively following this for the past 4 hours (or 9 hours, or days), Senator Wendy Davis spent her day filibustering the SB 5 bill in Texas that would severely limit women’s access to safe abortions and restrict women’s health care access. She stood on the Senate floor speaking out against the bill and reading testimony from women about their own experiences with reproductive freedoms. She wasn’t allowed to leave for a bathroom break or lean on anything. Yes ladies and gentlemen, she did not pee for 13 hours.

And suddenly my day seems a hell of a lot easier.

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

The updated Wikipedia page for Wendy Davis

Coming from the liberal haven of Providence I didn’t ever have to explain to people that my body was my own and if you want in on my medical decisions, well, tough cookies. I didn’t have to worry about whether I would have access to women’s health care.  Today our girl Wendy stood up for women who aren’t so fortunate. You don’t have to agree with her politics to see that what she’s doing is totally badass.

Women are silenced all the time, and it is so easy to let that silence go unnoticed. Rape culture silences women. Gaslighting silences women. Restricting women’s health options silences women. Hell, women silence other women. To see a female politician refuse the silence and take a stand for women’s rights is pretty inspiring.

There’s something to be said for kick-ass women taking a stand.

And when it comes right down to it, that’s the best return to blogging I can make. Because the past few months have been all about kick-ass women. I am fortunate enough to work for a company that values and celebrates women, and for a CEO who understands how much kick-ass women can achieve. I had the pleasure of celebrating a very exciting birthday with my kick-ass mother (I wont out your age on the internet, Mom, I promise). Her birthday celebrations were filled with people reminding me how rare women like her are.

And today, Wendy Davis.

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(There is a whole lot more to write about the democratic process and the badassness involved here, but that’s for another day. It’s 9:57pm PT the crowd is still cheering, trying to prevent the vote.)

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(As of 10:12pm PT it’s unclear whether a vote happened, or if it made it in before midnight central time. It is, however, clear that Wendy is still kickass)

(10:23pm PT: Allegedly a vote took place before midnight and the bill passed. In the tweets of @JamilSmith, “Oh, so THIS is what voter fraud looks like?”)

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Love Letters

I’m hardly the first to point out that this age of texts and tweets, pins and posts, status updates and endless check ins has had a profound impact on the way we communicate. Hell, I practically majored and in texts and tweets, forced to consider the ways our communities have changed because of them. Our words can be amplified beyond our own safe worlds, with the power to inspire or incite. They can also get lost in the chaos and noise. Even as I sit here in my bed I know this will be safely read by a select few, but with the powerful potential to live on in unimagined places. Digitized, our intimate becomes impersonal, and our impersonal public.

So in all that noise, there’s one bit of magic that remains: a letter. To be more specific, a love letter.

I don’t mean the romantic musings that kept soldiers at war attached to home, or that make their way into literary archives. I simply mean the act of putting a pen to paper, and letting the love you have guide your hand.

Even as I write the words they sound rehearsed and saccharine. The cynic in me is laughing at how silly I sound. But the cynic isn’t the part of me that becomes elated at every hand-addressed envelope that winds up in my mailbox. It also isn’t the part of me that keeps all the best letters I’ve gotten in a box, stashed away.

Every letter I write, excepting maybe the obligatory thank you card or the quickly dashed off birthday note, is a love letter, some more so than others. There are the undeniable love letters, the confessions that my heart might burst if I loved any more, penned late at night in dim light. The soul-rending admissions of guilt and past wrong-doing, the vows to always be there, the pathetic attempts to soothe a deeply felt grief. They all fall into the conventional category of “love letter,” so expected.

But my love of love letters started long before I knew what it was to be in love. When I was little and my mom had to leave town she would leave a postcard for every day she was gone, a small handwritten reminder that she was still out there somewhere. As I grew up the notes became fewer and far between, but still just as important to me. After a particularly devastating heartbreak from a particularly life-changing First Love, she snuck a postcard in my bag. “In the great adventure of life,” it read, “you have hit a tough spot.” It’s hard to remember truer words being spoken to me, and I still sometimes pull that postcard out to rub the small bit of seaglass taped to it: good luck for bad times.

That doesn’t even begin to touch on the countless letters, less profound but no less wonderful, that fill my little box: letters to and from my Grandma, exchanged every couple months like pen pals; letters at camp bringing bits of home when I needed them most; letters this Christmas that made me giggle and snort thinking of the friends they came from; letters from Africa that have travelled far and long carrying tales of red-headed adventure. All love letters in their own way, and all treasures I’ll hang onto.

I will sappily admit I just finished a love letter to Patrick (and have now ruined the surprise), a little habit of mine that I hope he hasn’t gotten sick of yet. It used to be that the distance made it feel important, a way of sharing an intimate moment from 3000 miles away. Now it’s just habit, and when the words start to bubble out I put a pen to paper. The cynic in me sometimes loses out to the dreamer. And then some bad TV comes on and the cynic wins.

After I write this I’ll go bad to my day-job as a snarky and guarded purveyor of pop-culture knowledge and not-funny jokes. But every now and again I like to escape into a love letter. For a sometimes comical escape into love letters (and their spiteful counterparts), check out Letters to Ex-Lovers. They range from the short and sweet and strangely earnest to the hilarious (sweet Norah Jones quote), the odd, and everything you’d expect from the internet. I can’t help but feel like every letter is accompanied by that little bit of wishful thinking that maybe just maybe that one ex will read it, which is a little heart-breaking.

If you like a little more variety in your love letters, Post Secret is a good standby. From the laugh-out-loud to the unbearably sad, it’s hard not to think of every secret as a love letter to the project itself. I also stumbled across Other People’s Love Letters. So maybe I was wrong, maybe the internet is a wonderfully magical place for love letters. But I’m thinking not.