“Something deep and meaningful yet shallow and exhibitionist.”

For me, moving away to college meant the opportunity to reinvent myself after growing up in a town of about 9,000 people where the opportunity to change was only granted as we started new schools in 6th and 9th grades. Because this was the late 2000s, the majority of my reinvention happened on social media. And because I was trying as hard as I could to be the biggest stereotype of a depressed English major possible, this was further pigeonholed to my Facebook quotes section, where I could prove I was worldly, had friends, and had great taste all at the same time.

TL;DR, peep this (vaguely edited) ancient relic, interspersed with a Photo Booth shoot I did between my freshman and sophomore years of college, as I figure out what my next real post should be. Italicized bits are comments I’m adding as I read through this before posting; usernames are all from AIM (RIP). Enjoy!


“I heard he dressed up like Josh Hamilton for the 1st and 2nd rounds of the home run derby and bombed a bunch of homers, then went to save 55 orphans from a burning building during the finals, letting the real Josh bat for himself. I’d be dehydrated too, after that.” —Scott Johnson [some guy in some comments section somewhere], on why Timmy [Tim Lincecum] was hospitalized [before the 2008 All-Star Game]

jjasperse: besides, most of what i write is crap and you know it
jjasperse: but even crap can be made into something like paper from Baksheesh [a local store with certain enlightened products]

“My love for you is like my quiver of arrows…endless.” —Legolas in a LOTR parody I watched once [one of the “One Ring to Rule Them All” flash films by LegendaryFrog]

“The wide world is all about you: you can fence yourself in, but you cannot for ever fence it out.” —J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” —Dr. Seuss, The Lorax

“Ecclesiastes is really emo.” —Lee

“(holds up ballpoint pen) These things can KILL. I saw it on Oprah.” —Angeline

Me: “‘Español’ done got a ‘g’ in it in French, it’s ‘espagnol.'”
Gelly: “Whatchu done do to our language?”
Me: “Well how’s do ya say ‘French’ in yo’ language?”
Gelly: “Francé…s?”
Me: “WhatCHU done do to our language? You dun pronounce the ‘s’!”
Gelly: “Well, at least we din’t put a ‘g’ in it! ‘FRAGnes…'”
(we were speaking in Southern accents)

“I like rice. Rice is great if you’re hungry and want 2000 of something.” —Mitch Hedberg

“They are sweat shorts, they are not man capris!” —Random GU guy

“It’s hard to spell at 210 beats per minute.” —Wayne Brady

Me: “The high school’s musical this year will be ridiculous, I feel bad for the people who will spend money to see it.”
ADWS [a friend’s nickname]: “What is it?”
Me: “Fiddler on the Roof. With no male singers in the entire school and no fiddlers!”
ADWS: “ABSURD. Very absurd. Bad Mac [music director].”
Me: “I know! Way to choose a musical with no female leads when that’s all you have, Barb [also music director]!”
ADWS: “Yeah, that’s lame.”
Me: “Well, I suppose they could have fucked themselves more. I mean, they could have done RENT.”
ADWS: (laughs emphatically) “That would have been a good end to the department!”

“On a large enough time line, the survival rate for everyone will drop to zero.” —Fight Club (novel)

“Apparently Oprah is not a Geodude.” —ADWS

“McMansion, McMansion, McMansion, McDonalds? McDreamy, McSteamy, McMansion, Fleetwood Mac, and Macaulay Culkin!”
—Bart Simpson

“You have not lived until you’ve found something worth dying for.” —Whale Wars trailer

From the 10/19/2007 IRQ-a-thon [when our AP Lit teacher asked us each questions about the reading]:
Aldy [teacher]: (begins to ask me an IRQ question about King Lear)
Me: (confused look)
Aldy: “Well, is that a pass?”
Me: “No, finish what you were saying.”
Aldy: “Yes, dear. Guys, you should work on saying that, I have to say it to my wife a lot…1, 2, 3, yes dear! Yes, comic relief is nice at a time like this!”

“Synec…douche?” —[a friend] trying to pronounce “Synecdoche”

“Why not admit that my dissatisfaction reveals an excessive ambition, perhaps a megalomaniac delirium? For the writer who wants to annul himself in order to give voice to what is outside him, two paths open: either write a book that could be the unique book, that exhausts the whole in its pages; or write all books, to pursue the whole through its partial images. The unique book, which contains the whole, could only be the sacred text, the total world revealed. But I do not believe totality can be contained in language; my problem is what remains outside, the unwritten, the unwritable. The only way left me is that writing of all books, writing the books of all possible authors.

“If I think I must write one book, all the problems of how this book should be and how it should not be block me and keep me from going forward. If, on the contrary, I think that I am writing a whole library, I feel suddenly lightened: I know that whatever I write will be integrated, contradicted, balanced, amplified, buried by the hundreds of volumes that remain for me to write.” —If on a winter’s night a traveler

*** [ellipses because of the lengthy quote above, I suppose]

Why I am a complete and utter nerd:

Upon hearing Philip Glass’s “Metamorphosis One” during the Academy Awards (this is how the conversation began, I guess we can just read each other’s minds):
scalpelixis [me]: OMG
scalpelixis: OMG
jjasperse [not me]: OMG
scalpelixis: I JUST TEXTED YOU
scalpelixis: OMG
jjasperse: OMGOMGOMG
scalpelixis: OMG!!!!!!!!!
jjasperse: KRAZZZYY

Something horrible like puns being turned into something amazing like LOTR:
scalpelixis: god
scalpelixis: why didn’t you do anything for my birthday
scalpelixis: except that pun thing
scalpelixis: i hate puns
jjasperse: haha
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT YOU KNEW THAT
scalpelixis: I THOUGHT WE WERE FRIENDS
jjasperse: AREN’T WE FRIENDS
jjasperse: SO WHAT’S THE PROBLEM
jjasperse: LEMME BARROW THAT TOP?
scalpelixis: Barrow-wights or Barrow-downs?!!?!?!??!
scalpelixis: omglotr [help me]
jjasperse: haha

Self-explanatory:
scalpelixis: I dreamt a dream tonight.
jjasperse: And so did I.
scalpelixis: Well, what was yours?
jjasperse: That dreamers often lie.
scalpelixis: In bed asleep, while they do dream things true.
jjasperse: Oh, then, I see Queen Mab hath been with you.
scalpelixis: and then he rants for a really long time
jjasperse: no
jjasperse: “Queen Mab, what’s she”
jjasperse: then rant
scalpelixis: since when
jjasperse: since 43V3r
scalpelixis: lemme check it off angeline’s complete works of shakespeare
jjasperse: kay
scalpelixis: I’m right
jjasperse: no
jjasperse: http://nfs.sparknotes.com/romeojuliet/page_52.html
scalpelixis: http://i41.tinypic.com/1tjudi.jpg
[the two links showed different things]
scalpelixis: weird
jjasperse: weird

*** [what??]

“Everything is more complicated than you think. You only see a tenth of what is true. There are a million little strings attached to every choice you make. You can destroy your life every time you choose. But maybe you won’t know for twenty years! And you may never ever trace it to its source. And you only get one chance to play it out. Just try and figure out your own divorce…

“And they say there’s no fate, but there is, it’s what you create. And even though the world goes on for eons and eons, you are only here for a fraction of a fraction of a second. Most of your time is spent being dead, or not yet born. But while alive, you wait in vain wasting years for a phone call or a letter or a look from someone or something to make it all right, but it never comes. Or it seems to, but it doesn’t really.

“So you spend your time in vague regret or vaguer hope that something good will come along, something to make you feel connected, something to make you feel cherished, something to make you feel loved. And the truth is is, I feel so angry! And the truth is, I feel so fucking sad! And the truth is, I’ve felt so fucking hurt for so fucking long and for just as long, I’ve been pretending I’m okay, just to get along!

“I don’t know why. Maybe because…no one wants to hear about my misery…because they have their own.

“Fuck everybody. Amen.” —Synecdoche, New York

“It feels like a moment I’ve lived a thousand times before, as if everything is familiar, right up to the moment of my death, that it will happen again an infinite number of times, that we will meet, marry, have our children, succeed in the ways we have, fail in the ways we have, all exactly the same, always unable to change a thing. I am again at the bottom of an unstoppable wheel, and when I feel my eyes close for death, as they have and will a thousand times, I awake.” —Everything Is Illuminated

Me: (drops a bag of chocolate on the floor, one falls out) Aww. Now I have to eat it. (does so; goes back to original position on bed, camera falls on the floor)
Angeline: Aww. Now you have to eat it.

Mrs. McElroy: “We’re meeting in the band room at 5 AM.”
ADWS: “There’s a 5 AM??”

“I felt like such an ADULT walking out of the bank, using the ATM and getting my own money, going to my CAR and driving to go buy food with my money!”—Andy

“Now the standard cure for one who is sunk is to consider those in actual destitution or physical suffering—this is an all-weather beatitude for gloom in general and fairly salutary day-time advice for everyone. But at three o’clock in the morning, a forgotten package has the same tragic importance as a death sentence, and the cure doesn’t work—and in a real dark night of the soul it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

“During his [U.N.] address, Gaddafi renewed his call for ‘Isratine,’ which would be one state made up of Israelis and Palestinians. Or as it’s known here: Queens.”—Seth Meyers

“What better cover than a business trip to Nebraska? Like that’s REALLY a place.” —Dr. House [I had a certain…personal hatred for Nebraska at the time, so this was very intentionally chosen]

*** [stop it, Christine]

All from Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close:

“The mistakes I’ve made are dead to me. But I can’t take back the things I never did.”

“What about little microphones? What if everyone swallowed them, and they played the sounds of our hearts through little speakers, which could be in the pouches of our overalls? When you skateboarded down the street at night you could hear everyone’s heartbeat, and they could hear yours, sort of like sonar. One weird thing is, I wonder if everyone’s hearts would start to beat at the same time, like how women who live together have their menstrual periods at the same time, which I know about, but don’t really want to know about. That would be so weird, except that the place in the hospital where babies are born would sound like a crystal chandelier in a houseboat, because the babies wouldn’t have had time to match up their heartbeats yet. And at the finish line at the end of the New York City Marathon it would sound like war.”

“I like to see people reunited, I like to see people run to each other, I like the kissing and the crying, I like the impatience, the stories that the mouth can’t tell fast enough, the ears that aren’t big enough, the eyes that can’t take in all of the change, I like the hugging, the bringing together, the end of missing someone.”

“Why are you leaving me?
He wrote, I do not know how to live.
I do not know either but I am trying.
I do not know how to try.
There were some things I wanted to tell him. But I knew they would hurt him. So I buried them and let them hurt me.”

*** [ah]

All from Of Human Bondage:

“‘Partly for pleasure, because it’s a habit and I’m just as uncomfortable if I don’t read as if I don’t smoke, and partly to know myself.  When I read a book I seem to read it with my eyes only, but now and then I come across a passage, perhaps only a phrase, which has a meaning for me, and it becomes part of me; I’ve got out of the book all that’s any use to me, and I can’t get anything more if I read it a dozen times.  You see, it seems to me, one’s like a closed bud, and most of what one reads and does has no effect at all; but there are certain things that have a peculiar significance for one, and they open a petal; and the petals open one by one; and at last the flower is there.'”

“‘I was examined yesterday,’ he remarked at last.  ‘It was worth while undergoing the gene of it to know that one was perfectly fit.’
Philip noticed that he still used a French word in an affected way when an English one would have served.”

“Philip himself asked desperately what was the use of living at all.  It all seemed inane.  It was the same with Cronshaw: it was quite unimportant that he had lived; he was dead and forgotten; his life seemed to have served nothing except to give a pushing journalist occasion to write an article in a review.  And Philip cried out in his soul:
‘What is the use of it?’
The effort was so incommensurate with the result.  The bright hopes of youth had to be paid for at such a bitter price of disillusionment.  Pain and disease and unhappiness weighed down the scale so heavily.  What did it all mean?  He thought of his own life, the high hopes with which he had entered upon it, the limitations which his body forced upon him, his friendlessness, and the lack of affection which had surrounded his youth.  He did not know that he had ever done anything but what seemed best to do, and what a cropper he had come!  Other men, with no more advantages than he, succeeded, and others again, with many more, failed.  It seemed pure chance.  The rain fell alike upon the just and upon the unjust, and for nothing was there a why and a wherefore.”

*** [I give up]

“Melinda Pratt rides city bus number twelve to her cello lesson, wearing her mother’s jean jacket and only one sock. Hallo, world, says Minna. Minna often addresses the world, sometimes silently, sometimes out loud. Bus number twelve is her favorite place for watching, inside and out. The bus passes cars and bicycles and people walking dogs. It passes store windows, and every so often Minna sees her face reflection, two dark eyes in a face as pale as a winter dawn. There are fourteen people on the bus today. Minna stands up to count them. She likes to count people, telephone poles, hats, umbrellas, and, lately, earrings. One girl, sitting directly in front of Minna, has seven earrings, five in one ear. She has wisps of dyed green hair that lie like forsythia buds against her neck.

“There are, Minna knows, a king, a past president of the United States, and a beauty queen on the bus. Minna can tell by looking. The king yawns and scratches his ear with his little finger. Scratches, not picks. The beauty queen sleeps, her mouth open, her hair the color of tomatoes not yet ripe. The past preside of the United States reads Teen Love and Body Builder’s Annual.

“Next to Minna, leaning against the seat, is her cello in its zippered canvas case. Next to her cello is her younger brother, McGrew, who is humming. McGrew always hums. Sometimes he hums sentences, though most often it comes out like singing. McGrew’s teachers do not enjoy McGrew answering questions in hums or song. Neither does the school principal, Mr. Ripley. McGrew spends lots of time sitting on the bench outside Mr. Ripley’s office, humming.

“Today McGrew is humming the newspaper. First the headlines, then the sports section, then the comics. McGrew only laughs at the headlines.

“Minna smiles at her brother. He is small and stocky and compact like a suitcase. Minna loves him. McGrew always tells the truth, even when he shouldn’t. He is kind. And he lends Minna money from the coffee jar he keeps beneath his mattress.

“Minna looks out the bus window and thinks about her life. Her one life. She likes artichokes and blue fingernail polish and Mozart played too fast. She loves baseball, and the month of March because no one else much likes March, and every shade of brown she has ever seen. But this is only one life. Someday, she knows, she will have another life. A better one. McGrew knows this, too. McGrew is ten years old. He knows nearly everything. He knows, for instance, that his older sister, Minna Pratt, age eleven, is sitting patiently next to her cello waiting to be a woman.” —The Facts and Fictions of Minna Pratt

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How “Lady Bird” inspires me to keep writing “unlikable” semi-autobiographical characters

(Note: Spoiler-wise, I don’t think there’s anything here that isn’t referenced in a trailer or review of Lady Bird. Let me know if this ends up not being the case and I will happily edit the post.)

I’ve written five novels, three of which feature high school-age girls navigating life, the inevitability of change, and the tumults of coming of age. The first time I workshopped a few chapters of one of them, my peers’ main feedback was that they didn’t like my protagonist. She was realistic, they said, but also annoying, uncaring, and most of all, “unlikable.” Inevitably, I’d reveal that this character was semi-autobiographical, based on myself in high school, and half my workshop would stare blankly, and at least one person would apologize.

This comment didn’t really bother me, all things considered. I didn’t need the apology. I know that in high school, especially, I could come off as possessing any of these three characteristics. This criticism wasn’t reflective of me now, but more likely the way I wrote her. However, as I’ve recently learned, a big reason for not being able to write unlikable yet relatable characters to the standard I wanted was that I’m not Greta Gerwig, the writer-director of Lady Bird.

In trying to cram all the good things I’d like to say about this film into a spoiler-free paragraph that will provide context for what I’m about to discuss, here’s what I’ve got: It’s incredibly well-written, but not forced. There’s no “how do you do, fellow kids?” about it; the teenagers sound like teenagers. It’s fast-paced, but each scene feels entirely fleshed out and also necessary, even the ones that are only a few seconds long. The characters and settings and storylines alike are given the right amount of attention for the story that’s being told.

Music⚡️Band 4 lyfe.

My main impression, though, was something I was instantly convinced of while watching for the first time, that I ever-so-eloquently put into words upon exiting the theater: Gosh, this is so real.

And the basic “real”-ness of Lady Bird is no coincidence. Reading about Gerwig, I learned about the similarities she shares with the titular character: they both grew up in Sacramento with a nurse for a mother, they both went to all-girls Catholic high schools, they both attended college in New York City. And then I read this quote of hers in a Rolling Stone article about the film:

“Writing this character was an exploration of all these things I didn’t have access to or I couldn’t be. In that way, it almost felt like this fairy-tale invention of a deeply flawed heroine, but one who I admire. I think she shows courage and a lot of character even when she’s flailing.”

Reading this is when it clicked: Lady Bird is the young-adult novel—and more importantly, the protagonist—that I’ve always wanted to write.

Can I also say that it’s the first time EVER that a film protagonist has shared my name and I haven’t recoiled in horror by the end?

I don’t exactly have escapism fantasies of returning to my senior year of high school. But in all of my novel-length works that feature teenagers, I’ve based characters, places, and even conversations on my own experiences. For example, as a 17-year-old, I didn’t think that I could get into a college in New York City, so I sent a character to a small liberal arts college in Vermont that mirrors where I first ended up, Gonzaga University. If I write a best friend character, she’s almost certainly based on one or two of my actual closest friends from that time—that way, I can draw upon our most naïve conversations, our most trivial arguments, and our overall friendship dynamic (how often did we see each other? were we huggers? did we mostly hang out right after school or plan activities for the weekend? and so on).

And it’s not that I can’t write “original” characters or scenarios. In fact, seemingly like Gerwig, I use my own experiences to set the tone for my stories, whether it’s a small town like the one I grew up in or a “borrowed” character or two, before introducing new ideas. To me, this kind of freedom isn’t restricted by the limitations of place or people I’ve set, but is in fact made wider by my extensive knowledge of the universe I’ve established. Being able to draw from my own life in order to tweak a scene or a line of dialogue and make it more authentic is a fantastic privilege.

I can’t describe well enough how empowered I felt after each time I saw Lady Bird. Here’s a writer-director who’s come up with a character, and a mother-daughter duo, who cycle between BFF-style bonding and familial bickering in the way that only mothers and daughters can, but who, more than that, are allowed to be as “unlikable” as they want. My favorite part is that what Gerwig has accomplished with Lady Bird and her mother has spurred reactions online ranging from enthusiastic relatability to abject annoyance. Which, not to compare the execution but rather the basic content, is pretty much how my own foray into the young adult genre has gone. My main shortcoming, though, is not letting my characters know well enough that they can be wholly unapologetic about their real-life qualities. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it has to be fake.

Worth it.

Finally, I’d like to talk about the reason I’ve seen Lady Bird five times in the theater (as evidenced by the above photo). And best way (or at least, the way I’ve chosen) to do this is to list my general thoughts going into each viewing:

  • 1: My sister said I’d like this. I’m a big fan of Saoirse Ronan. It got good reviews. Why not?
  • 2: My husband MUST see this movie, and I enjoyed it so I won’t mind seeing it a second time.
  • 3: I’ve decided I want to write something about this lovely, lovely movie. But what? (Here’s where I realize that it’s very much like a young adult novel.)
  • 4: No, seriously, what? (Worth mentioning: this is the first viewing where I cried almost all the way through. I knew all the jokes and the emotional moments and what happened and whose performances would affect me, and it all hit me at once.)
  • 5: Here’s what I want to write about. Here’s how I want to view the film this time around; what I want to get out of it. And look, it’s only $6.

A fifth viewing may have solidified the topic I’ve chosen for this particular writing, but it still only scratches the surface of my attempt to learn more about and begin to emulate everything I love about this film, this script. I want to nail Lady Bird’s voice in my own characters. I want to learn to balance the unlikability of teenage characters with their (nostalgic) relatability. I want to balance how high schoolers present themselves with how they think, how the things that they never tell anyone influence how they see the world. I want to be able to write a mother-daughter relationship that takes the inherent volatility, love, and “like” and makes it feel effortlessly real.

It’s always been somewhat therapeutic for me to almost “rewrite” my teenage years through my characters, whether it’s working out a part of my personality that I was never able to figure out then by finally putting it into words, or so pettily finally getting to say what I wanted to say in a ten-year-old argument with a friend that hasn’t left my memories. But now, thanks to Lady Bird, I have a new wish for my future as a writer: I hope that I can develop the confidence and the skill to have my own characters reach out to others in the way that Lady Bird‘s have to me. As long as they’re well-written, then the more unlikable, the better.


All Lady Bird screencaps come from the trailer, which can be found here.

Modern Thanatopsis

One of my favorite longform pieces I’ve ever read is about Madison Holleran, a young woman who died by suicide about halfway through her freshman year of college. It discusses how her Instagram feed served as a façade for her true feelings and experiences, so those who viewed it could see the type of life she wanted them to see. After reading it again more recently in light of the book about her that was recently published by the same author of the article, Kate Fagan, I ventured to her Instagram account. It likely has quite a few more followers than it did before she died: more than 14,000. As a result, many of the likes and comments below each photo are from people who didn’t know Madison, though her story had touched them, like it had for me, to the point that they felt they needed their voices to be heard.

That day, I clicked on one photo, a striking yet heavily-filtered sunset. After the caption, she had posted the hashtags #finals and #someonesaveme. As if on cue, the barrage of over-thinking, over-analyzing, began:

“The hashtags in this picture speak volumes.”

“Like that last hashtag. It wasn’t about finals.”

“God I wish I could’ve saved you and I never even met you.”

“You could have been saved!”

But what are these well-meaning people envisioning exactly? That they would take every (probably) haphazardly-posted hashtag so seriously that they might stage an intervention each time the common and often colloquial “someone save me!” appeared during finals week? That this young woman’s friends weren’t the type of friends she needed to help her fight her mental illness? That if these complete strangers been friends with her, she would still be alive today?

•   •   •

For me, going to Gonzaga University meant proving to myself that I could thrive not just outside my hometown, but far away from the state in which I’d grown up. Almost by default, all the friends I’d make would probably not be from California, but from states in the Pacific Northwest. And for the first few weeks, that’s how it was: my roommate was from Washington, a few other people I met were from the Seattle area, and even the Californians I came into contact with were either from southern California or way northern California – far enough from my hometown that in almost any other part of the country, they would have been from other states. We friended each other on Facebook, tagged each other in photos, and for a while, the illusion I’d wanted so badly, that I could leave my hometown and thrive, was intact.

When my depression that had been festering in some form since the beginning of high school got a lot worse very quickly, it wasn’t like I could let anyone back home know. Admitting that maybe Gonzaga wasn’t the right fit for me, that the friends I’d made those first few weeks of classes had found new friends, that I was more excited than ever for Thanksgiving break or winter break because those vacations came with a trip home, not only meant to me that I wasn’t happy, but that I might even be homesick. And admitting that I was homesick felt like a betrayal to the person I envisioned myself becoming in college: the person that was sad to leave campus because it meant leaving friends behind, who couldn’t want to get back to see those friends, and so on.

So even though inside I knew that being at Gonzaga meant fueling my depression – which wasn’t necessarily related to being homesick, but just being there – I kept up the charade on social media. I posted Facebook status after Facebook status about how excited I was for the next basketball game, how annoying the snow was, how prestigious the theaters downtown that I performed concerts in were. Every time a friend from home posted about their California college, the comment I posted would involve something about Washington, reminding them that I had left the state for no reason other than to justify my decision, to trick myself into believing I was happy.

Of course, I was drowning. But looking at my social feeds, aside from the occasional ambiguous sad song lyrics, even my closest friends from home (or the few friends at school) wouldn’t have guessed how bad my depression had become.

At the end of the fall semester of my sophomore year, after a lengthy hospital stay a few months before had essentially forced me to open up to people on both sides of my life – home and college – I was the most candid I had ever been online in a Facebook note I wrote titled “Ten Things I Learned in 2009”:

Never go to the emergency room on a Sunday night. Ever. Even if you have to. Wait until Monday morning or call an ambulance instead, so you’ll at least bypass the waiting room.

Reach out to someone who can help, even if it’s your professor. Even if they’re not technically allowed to handle the issue themselves, they’ll do everything they can and make sure that they hand you off to someone with whom you feel equally comfortable. Then after your issue is resolved, you can go back to your professor and become best friends and they will buy you coffee.

But while the hospital stay had taught me a lot about my mental illnesses and how to better address them, I wasn’t cured – and I will never be, as the clinical term for “depression that’s a little better now,” just like for cancer, is “remission” – but I still wanted everyone to think I was. Because even though many people had heard by then that things weren’t going well, all they’d have to do is read these items on this list and be content with the fact that things were, at least, better than they were.

In reality, for every #someonesaveme, there’s an #everythingisgoinggreat, and as much as we truly care about the people in our lives, by design, one of those expressions tends to outweigh the other in life, and one tends to outweigh the other after death.

•   •   •

It feels like after someone dies by suicide, everyone who knew them – and if their story extends outside of their immediate circles, everyone who wished they knew them – begins philosophizing about what could have been. If their friends had done this differently, then this would have happened instead. If they’d known the person better, had reached out to them at the right time, they might have been able to stop them. Much of this is a natural part of the grieving process and the guilt that comes with it. But for those who simply want to insert themselves into a stranger’s experiences, it can quickly become a circlejerk of living, often able-bodied people proselytizing that they knew what was best for this person they didn’t know. It can quickly turn into a whole new list of grievances for the ones who did know the person, further compounding their guilt: if so many strangers see their dead friend as “saveable” now, how could those close to them not have seen the signs before it was too late?

The further removed you are from a person who’s died by suicide, like the strangers posting comments on Madison’s Instagram, the easier it is to wildly speculate. It is easier to assign meaning to someone’s life, to the hashtags they post with a seemingly benign photo, if the person is no longer here. It’s a morbid game played only by those who see it as such – a true-crime mystery to unravel. It’s House trying to figure out who killed Kutner, when all the signs of a suicide are right there, so simple and therefore so easily ignored.

You can be intimately familiar with the signs of suicide, from personal experience or research or both, and still not foresee this outcome. You can pore through a friend’s social media history, wondering where something shifted, if something shifted, if something could have been done, if there’s something you should have noticed. If there was a singular way to define mental illness, then perhaps fewer people would see suicide as an option, but there isn’t. Because of this, so often in the wake of a death by suicide, there’s only an endless supply of questions left that can never be answered. But equally often, the most authentic realization one can have is when to stop asking these questions and mourn in peace.

PETTY GRIEVANCES FOR LIFE

Today, Nicole Cliffe asked Twitter to talk about their “oldest, most cherished grudges.” The replies were filled with names of terrible teachers, tales of unforgivable parenting errors, and so much more beauty, sometimes twenty or more years in the making.

In the spirit of that tweet, I’m going to list a few of mine really quickly. If you see yourself in any of these, don’t worry. I’m mostly over it.

  1. I mentioned in my previous post that if my third-grade teacher noticed a group of friends was having problems, he would send them outside during class time to work them out on their own, as a way of helping us be more independent about that sort of thing. One time, the problem with my group of friends was that they were all mad at me for some reason. So we went outside to work it out, but just as we got to the door, I remembered something a little bit vital: they were all mad at me. The last thing they’d want to do is spend time with me that they didn’t have to. So it came as no surprise when one of them turned to me and practically screamed, “This isn’t about you!”, leaving me inside for them to, I don’t know, use class time to plot against me? Who knows.
  2. Sometime during my single-digit ages, my parents told me that when I turned 10, I could finally get the cat I wanted. Twentyish years later, I’ve never owned a cat because I didn’t get the experience of having one growing up (much less for my 10th birthday).
  3. In fifth grade, we held an election for class vice president (our teacher was the president, obviously) which I won by a single vote. Instead of giving to me what was RIGHTLY MINE, my teacher awarded me and the girl I beat the “co-vice presidency,” whatever that is.
  4. Also in fifth grade, I was eliminated from the school spelling bee on the word “rendezvous.” The girl who ended up winning came to the microphone right after me. Her word? “Special.”
  5. ALSO in fifth grade, I was fired from altar serving because I blew out a candle instead of using the candle snuffer (a term I had to look up just now). This one lady who had some job at the church came up to me after Mass and went off on me about it, and while I was just relieved that meant I didn’t have to do it anymore, I still dislike her very much to this day for yelling at a 10-year-old for something so silly.
  6. In high school, I had a teacher who offered us extra credit if we found copy errors in the syllabus. I found one – this teacher had used “right of passage” instead of “rite of passage” – and showed it to them. My mom even helped me find a source online to back me up. When I showed it to the teacher, they replied with, “No, I meant ‘right of passage.'” They did not.

Honorable mention because it’s very recent: A professor I had said that a hard news article I’d written for an assignment was bad and that I should consider “not centering writing” in my future career. One month later, I turned in a 3,100-word narrative article with four interviews and many more secondary sources. I’m not going to go into exactly what happened next (I mean, go ahead and ask privately, though), but let’s just say this professor ate their words in a beautiful, beautiful way.

Tell me about your very old grudges! The older and the pettier, the better (and that nearly rhymes, so it has to be true).

I am Lisa Simpson

This post is a cliché, and I’m very aware. I’m pressing ahead anyway because I can’t not admit that Lisa Simpson was the character I looked up to most throughout my childhood. In a sense, I still do today, because how can a character who affected me like that not continue to influence me?

At Lisa’s age, I too was a constantly-stressed-out overachiever. In third grade, a classmate and I were engaged in a yearlong, daily race to see who could finish their in-class work first. I sacrificed the quality of my work all year long, but who cares? I finished first most of the time! It got so stressful that, the summer before fourth grade when I learned this girl and I would be in the same class once more, I spent weeks drafting a long speech I would deliver to her, explaining why it was in our best interests to lay off each other and just concentrate on our own work. But before I could give it, I learned she’d had a change of heart over the summer as well: the first day, I cautiously finished an assignment first and was already hovering above my seat to beat her to the teacher’s desk to hand it in, when I realized that not only was she not doing the same thing, but she wasn’t even halfway finished yet. That was the end of our tacit competition, and I couldn’t have been happier (or more relieved).

In this post straight out of any number of ’90s/’00s nostalgia websites – because, let’s face it, Lisa is very relatable for a lot of reasons to many different people – I’m going to post a few of my favorite screenshots of quintessential Lisa Simpson moments and discuss how exactly that young (or current) Christine is reflected in each.

“‘Scuse Me While I Miss the Sky” (S14E16)

Music: While sometimes I wish I’d been a one-instrument phenom like Lisa, I’m also incredibly happy I had the opportunity to play – and then teach myself – so many instruments. My more formal training in violin and flute led to personal endeavors in piano (which I played in my high school’s jazz band), alto sax (which I played in the Gonzaga pep band), guitar (thanks, School of Rock), voice (thanks again, Gonzaga), and dulcimer (a late-night eBay purchase in 2010 that I do not regret in the least).

Science: In seventh grade, I was nominated, applied, and chosen to attend Tech Trek, a STEM camp for girls, in its 2003 summer home at Stanford University. Not only was it my first time getting a college experience – no parents, unlimited food at the dining hall, Jamba Juice on campus, at one of the most prestigious universities in the world – it was also my first time being exposed to activities like using high-tech telescopes, or programming robots, or extracting DNA from wheat germ. We also had a visit from a Pixar animator who told us about their next film, which had the working title Cars (“we’ll be changing it before release,” she assured us). I still keep in contact with a few of the people I met there today, and while my career path didn’t take me into STEM, I’m still immensely grateful for the experience, as well as for the teacher who nominated me.

Justice: Really, see below, but I will say here quickly that attending protests gives me an adrenaline rush like no other, and it’s something I very much recommend. I also write a lot about issues of social justice, from abortion rights to the failures of policing. It’s a lifestyle and a passion.

Animals: See, Lisa had a cat, and I was promised a cat when I turned 10, but that never happened. I did have three hamsters growing up, though, and have fostered a cat and a dog since. I also enjoy the Bambi-like vibes of my Iowa backyard, which consistently features deer, rabbits, chipmunks, and squirrels.

Shapes: Especially when they come as Lucky Charms marshmallows.

Feelings: Depression and anxiety aside, if you’re a good friend of mine (or, I don’t know, maybe if you aren’t), you’ve probably seen the full range of how I express my feelings, from elation that results in wild gesticulation to crying that will probably never, ever stop, until it does. So first of all, thank you for staying friends with me, but also, isn’t it wonderful having such delightfully complex friends?

“Thirty Minutes Over Tokyo” (S10E23)

I have not been to Tokyo, but I have been to New Zealand, which while maybe not having the same level of difference, cultural identity-wise, as Tokyo (vs. the United States), still has plenty of restaurants that are uniquely New Zealand. So, of course, our first day in Auckland, we stopped at Starbucks while wandering around town – which did have snacks that you could only dream of finding in the U.S., let’s be real – as well as the Denny’s by our hotel for dinner that night. Then we vowed to never sink to that level again, and for the most part, we did not. (We did eat dinner at the Sky Tower’s revolving restaurant, but I’ll maintain that it is probably a completely different experience than, say, the Space Needle.)

Isn’t clothes shopping the worst?

Like Lisa, I more or less wore the same thing every day in middle school and high school (though, you know, not exactly the same thing): T-shirt with sports-related logos, sweatpants or long cargo shorts, sneakers. My identity was dictated by my passion for sports, as most of the year, I was in season for soccer, track, softball, basketball, and so on. But as I got older and started going to school with more of the people I played on teams with – the several elementary schools funneling into two middle schools funneling into a single high school – I learned that the teammates I looked up to dressed…well, like normal girls: jeans; “T-shirts” as in short-sleeved, without logos, and in colors other than black and white (as opposed to ones “for boys,” which was apparently what I was wearing); hair down, not in the ponytails they’d wear on the field. At the time, this realization absolutely shocked me.

As a result, a few times I did try to “reinvent” myself to be more like girls I went to school with, trying out decorative jeans, the correct type of T-shirt, fancy sandals, more obvious jewelry. And that’s when I realized I just couldn’t win. I was made fun of for “dressing like a boy,” then I was made fun of for “dressing like a girl.” I remember one instance in middle school of a “gender-bender” dress-up day, where a friend approached me in my cargo shorts and T-shirt (her wearing the same thing, because today it was “appropriate”) and claimed that my outfit “didn’t count” for this dress-up day because I “always dressed like a boy.”

Although I’ve come to accept that my fashion sense is best described using another Simpsons popularization, “meh,” trying to find clothing I’m comfortable in, regardless of how it’s been gendered, is difficult. From sizing being wildly inconsistent among women’s clothing (why, oh why, can’t all pants be measured in inches like men’s are?) to the brands that manage to tack on $5-10 extra for a single size up from their “normal” range (miss me with the too-common “the fabric costs more only for plus-size women” nonsense, it’s purely fatphobia), it’s no wonder I’m way more comfortable putting on those same T-shirts I relied on growing up. I don’t put myself first very often, but when it comes to attaining comfort for something everyone does every day – wearing clothes – I’ll sacrifice a “fashion sense” for that.

If you know me, you might have come to me for advice on social issues manifesting in your own life, to rant about systemic inequalities, or to share articles you’ve read that taught you a lot or provided valuable insight, a new way to look at something.

The last one is my favorite, not necessarily from a social interaction perspective (as I’m a fan of them all in that way), but because it’s the one I most like doing by myself. I enjoy having my views challenged if doing so can open my mind a bit more and provide growth. It’s for this reason that I’m immensely grateful to minoritized individuals for offering their words, their personal stories, so that others may learn from them. If you’re able to financially support a minoritized writer, or activist, or anyone else whose work consists of a lot of free labor, I highly recommend doing so. Their perspectives are valuable, influential, and vastly embarrassingly underutilized and unheeded. To give just one example (lest this post become a list of Patreons and PayPal links), I recommend reading and donating to The Establishment, an outlet started by women that amplifies marginalized voices.

To get back to the screencap at hand, this quote also speaks to my ability to apparently uncover a negative in everything (which I’m aware of because some people find it annoying about me), and yes, while it’s sometimes frustrating to be “always on,” I’d rather it be this way than the opposite.

“Lisa the Simpson” (S09E17)

My elementary school experience was defined by a series of triumphs, mainly along the lines of being noticed by teachers for having a head start in several academic areas. In first grade, I was writing full-length journal entries on day one and it was recommended that I read the Little House on the Prairie series while many of my classmates were still learning how to read. In third grade, my teacher suggested I read Narnia at the same time that I was consistently finishing Mad Minute exercises in less than a minute. In fifth grade, I received so many stickers for noticing proofreading errors that the paper stars that housed my stickers on our “Proofreaders Hall of Fame” spanned almost half the allotted space for the entire class.

But then, middle school hit. Letter grades arrived. I didn’t get into Algebra 1 two years early (the trajectory of which would have had me taking Geometry at the high school in eighth grade) like several of my friends, and I got my first “B” grades in English. It’s not that school was suddenly hard, but I wasn’t excelling anymore, and that really bothered me. And if you understand that two of the biggest internal freakouts I can recall from elementary school include getting a single 9/10 on a spelling test in first grade and being completely lost learning long division in third grade, this might make some sense.

By middle school, I was convinced that my smart streak had run out. And I rolled with it, but it was difficult at first seeing classmates seemingly “overtaking” me, academics-wise, as if that was my title to lose. But I think it helped in high school when for my freshman Honors English summer assignment, we had to write an essay and design a poster, and I received a “C” on the essay and a “D” on the poster. It was my first time seeing either of those grades and as I tearfully admitted this to my mom one day, she laughed. Not out of any malice, but because she finally saw how hard I was being on myself and was able to rationally explain to me that these particular grades meant nothing in the long run – most colleges wouldn’t even ask for sophomore year grades, much less freshman summer assignment grades – and that anyone who gave a new freshman a “D” on a poster that contained all the required elements was probably not a great teacher to begin with. (She was right on that: this particular teacher was fired my sophomore year.)

So while I thought I was, as Lisa puts it, “descending into mediocrity” in middle school, and then again in high school, really, those feelings were a direct result of my unrealistic expectation that everything school-related would be easy for me forever. And it wasn’t, and I wish I’d been told that – or had the capacity to have been told that – sooner.

“The Book Job” (S23E06)

Those two middle panels really speak to me, as it is never not amazing how productive you can be in other areas while you “should” be writing. In the past, I’ve cleaned my entire apartment to avoid a day of NaNoWriMo where I’m just not feeling it, or even done other, more painful writing for my classes so I don’t have to face a daunting personal piece I’d thought about writing that day.

It’s the final two panels that remind me of my brief stint as an English major, though. There was a Starbucks about a block away from my freshman dorm, and I’d go there to read, write, and people-watch, all because I had concocted this image of myself as the ideal English major: coffee-drinker, all-black-wearer, eclectic-fiction-reader, deeply-personal-piece-writer. So I’d head to Starbucks wearing a black T-shirt, order a hazelnut hot chocolate, and let Fight Club inspire my hashtag-deep writing. (The point here is that I was insufferable. Let’s not further mince words.)

It’s not even that Lisa is insufferable here as much as painfully relatable. When we’re deep in the “real writer” mindset, it’s so easy to not see it until it’s been a day and we’ve produced nothing of substance. But at least the CD collection we haven’t touched in years is properly alphabetized and sorted by genre.

“Lisa’s Substitute” (S02E19)

I had to include this scene not just because it’s an iconic Lisa moment, but because there’s one specific memory I have that parallels with this fairly well.

Third grade – which I’ve talked about a few times above – was a truly formative year for me, as it was the first year I was truly challenged academically, but also the first year my homework assignments went beyond worksheets, the first year we kept a book of quotes, the first year that our teacher would send groups of friends outside to work things out ourselves if he noticed we were having issues. I gained independence, started to break out of my constant shyness, and began to believe in myself as a person, not just as a student. Our teacher got to know us, was the perfect balance of strict and approachable, and wanted to see us succeed. Third grade was even the first time ever that I didn’t cry on the first day of school.

And then it ended. The last day of school arrived, and the entire class gathered on the rug where my teacher read us stories, he sat in his big chair, and we talked about our favorite things we’d done that year. There were students crying because even though he’d still be around next year, he wouldn’t be our teacher anymore. We all knew, even as eight- and nine-year-olds, that this year was something special that other teachers could try to replicate, but never fully achieve.

So we all cried together on the last day of third grade, knowing that even though we’d never have this teacher again, the year we’d spent together would change each of us for the better. In spite of the story I shared at the top of this post about the competition that drove my third-grade year, there was still so much good about that year that I still consider it my favorite because it outweighed and sometimes even eased much of the stress I put on myself. That, to me, is the mark of a truly stellar teacher, and I’m so grateful to had had that experience.