33 going on 13

Trying to pinpoint when exactly this caring-about-other-people’s-opinions thing really began in earnest is an inexact science, but something about Jack turning 13 right around the 20-year anniversary of my turning 13 has stirred up a lot of memories that make me think that actually, this was kind of it, and it becomes quantifiable in part thanks to the pop-culture-nostalgia machine, which has turned out some fascinating and engrossing retrospectives on America in 1999.

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If you like good writing so much, why don't you just MARRY it?

The first e-mail I ever got from my husband included an attachment: an essay he’d written on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner. We’d just met over dinner in the dining hall, and somehow the conversation had turned to this thing he’d written for a literature class class (of which he was clearly very proud, mainly because he’d managed to make a big joke out of the assignment while still demonstrating that he could write with intention and precision). I’d smiled and nodded (dude was bragging about his English paper) and quite possibly said something along the lines of “mmhm, I’d like to read that,” not thinking that he’d take me at my word. The e-mail arrived minutes after I’d returned to my room, subject: “I hope you’re impressed.” Body text read “With the essay.” File attached.

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Go ahead and love something an embarrassing amount: PEN15 and best friends

Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, and the writing of Tina Fey gave us the expression “mean girls” in the early 00s, and we have so internalized it that we barely even think about it when we use it. Without a doubt, Mean Girls was a huge phenomenon for a reason: it speaks some real truth (and it holds up extremely well 15 years later). Middle-school and high-school girls have the ability to behave in horrifying ways to each other. PEN15 doesn’t hesitate to show us how, nor does it exempt its two main characters from the pettiness and cruelty that we so commonly associate with tween girls. But what you will remember of this show if you watch the whole season is the unbridled generosity and fierce love of their friendship.

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I am not like other mothers

Even when I’m not thinking directly about motherhood and its claim over my identity, whatever course of thought I am pursuing often brings me back to it somehow. It seems to seep into my reading and viewing choices, fiction and non: the book I just finished, Angelika Schrobsdorff’s You Are Not Like Other Mothers. The Canadian TV show Workin’ Moms on Netflix. The news coverage of highly consequential court cases regarding abortion access. Unless you live in total isolation from society, you, a mother, are going to be getting some feedback from the world about how you’re doing in the mothering department. Maybe you’re not leaning in enough at work or maybe you’re not sacrificing enough of yourself to your children; from the moment your embryo is detectable, people are going to have thoughts for you. Your motherhood cannot fail to make its mark on every other part of your identity, even if it is one of the few characteristics you share with over 2 billion other humans living on Earth, or as Katherine Goldstein put it during a guest appearance on Mom and Dad Are Fighting, “literally the least interesting thing about [you.]”

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Beale Street didn't have to make me cry

I am a consistent crier at movies. I somehow cried all the way through Moana even the third time I watched it - as in, starting at minute one! There are, no doubt, explanations for this. I am overly empathetic, my emotions lie too close to the surface, and motherhood has likely exacerbated both things. I tell you this because a piece of media making me cry, whether it’s Oscar bait or a Superbowl commercial, tells you nothing about its quality or its emotional honesty. My tears are not a standing ovation; they’re more like the polite applause you get from golf spectators even when it takes you seven strokes to sink your putt (not that I would know anything about that).

Maybe it’s not so strange, then, that the standout movie of my recent past is the one that has lodged itself in my brain without making me shed a single tear. That movie is Barry Jenkins’s If Beale Street Could Talk, which I’m tempted to say should have been nominated for Best Picture, but given how that race turned out, I’m almost glad it didn’t run.

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About that Facebook challenge

I can only describe my first Facebook profile picture, because I have since scrubbed it and all other pre-weight-loss photos from Facebook. It was impossible to look at this picture and glean from it any real sense of what I looked like, which was, of course, the point. What it conveyed was a certain carefree ease, a happiness and boldness that I aspired to. You couldn’t see that I was afraid of what you’d think of me when you saw me.

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The wall calendar of my discontent

While in Paris, I did something I have not done lo these many years: I bought a wall calendar. Between Google Calendar and the ubiquity of wall calendars as tools for soliciting charitable donations, my calendar needs have been largely met for at least the last decade. The Middlebury College annual calendar always features some really lovely shots of Old Chapel in winter and other such iconic seasonal landscapes. It makes a nice office-wall adornment, though I often forget to turn the page when the new month arrives. This calendar, on the other hand, is a Joan Miró calendar from the Grand Palais in Paris, an impulse purchase at the end of a meander through the exhibit halls that had been both too short and too long. Before I could think it through, my hands were on it, my credit card was out of my wallet, and I was signing here.

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Go ahead and love something an embarrassing amount: Amahl and the Night Visitors

Christmas to me is something in between a secular holiday and a religious holiday. My own celebrations of the season have generally tended towards the former - Christmas movies, Christmas trees, and gift-giving being the main constants. And yet I have always fallen mysteriously prey to the emotional pull of religious Christmas music. Don’t get me started on the popular stuff; I can’t stand it. I can take about one Bruce Springsteen rendition of “Santa Claus is Coming To Town” a year and I’m done, and don’t come near me with that Mariah Carey racket. There was one year (ninth grade?) when I was briefly taken with Mariah Carey’s Christmas album, and it is one of the few things in my life I look back on with sincere regret. Not to yuck your yum; let’s just not go there. No, give me the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “O Come All Ye Faithful” every single time. And for that matter “Joy To The World.” Does the Savior reign? I don’t know, but who cares? You bet I’ll well up with tears when we get to “repeat the sounding joy”!

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