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.

Baseball, (my) memory, and baseball memories

Well, today I learned I’ve been to 22 major league baseball games. I know that there are people who go to more than that many games in a year, to whom I ask: can I borrow your season tickets sometime?

I don’t really have anything profound to say, to be honest. I love baseball, and this list is my challenge to myself to see if I could remember every game I’d ever attended. After going through my original list that I started in a Word doc, I remembered about seven more games (including a few in 2010 – I completely forgot I’d been to so many, and I’d like to take credit now for propelling the Giants to their first World Series in San Francisco).

Huge shoutout to Baseball Reference, as well – often I could remember who pitched, which teams played, or which team won, but not the exact date, and this site was an invaluable resource to fill in those gaps. I’m including links to each game, so if anything, we can remember together that wait what I might have seen Orel Hershiser play?

Anyway, if anyone goes through this whole list, I’d love to hear about your experiences at these ballparks, with these teams, or just any baseball-related things you’d like to share! And if you have a favorite ballpark you think I should visit, it would be super fun to hear about it.

Enjoy!

(Sorry the photos don’t start until a few games in; I didn’t own a digital camera until around the time they start appearing here.)

Mets @ Giants – August 14 or 15, 1999

  • The reason I can’t remember the exact date is that I only remember that the Giants lost, Barry Bonds played, and that the giveaway was a J.T. Snow-and-son height chart. Both of those games fit the first two criteria, and my research has not revealed at which of these games that giveaway occurred.
  • If memory serves, this was the first (and last) game I attended at Candlestick Park, and as it was the final season the Giants played there, all the souvenir cups had “Tell it Goodbye” written on them.

Red Sox @ A’s – July 30, 2000

  • I narrowed it down to this game because I remember Jason Isringhausen pitched, and this was the only game in that series where a closer was necessary. His name barely fit on his jersey.
  • Both times I’ve seen the Red Sox play, they’ve lost. Excellent.

Red Sox @ Orioles – August 11, 2001

  • This was Cal Ripken, Jr.’s final season, so souvenir cups abound once more. He went 3-for-3 with a walk and it was incredible.
  • I have a photo album I made from this trip, which included requisite stops in New York and New Jersey to see family as well as the DMV area, and for whatever reason, all I can recall going in that album from this game is a photo of Trot Nixon leading off for the Red Sox. Why, 11-year-old Christine? Why?

Unknown @ Giants – 2004

  • I just didn’t assign much meaning to this game, as it was a middle school field trip and I don’t think any of my friends went. Here’s what I do remember: The Giants were at home, they lost, it was a day game, and it was also a non-Friday weekday. This means they either played the Brewers on 4/14, the Padres on 4/22, the Marlins on 4/29, or the Phillies on 5/13 (I’m telling you, bbref is unbeatable).

Rockies @ Giants – April 10, 2005

  • Joe Kennedy started for the Rockies and gave up 9 runs. Then he died two years later at age 28 and I suddenly felt very bad about having been to this game.
  • This was my first time seeing Jason Schmidt pitch. He was my #1 pitcher fave 4 lyfe until he went to the Dodgers, but then Tim Lincecum (hereafter “Timmy”) took his place, so it was fine.

Dodgers @ Giants – August 19, 2006

The Dodgers fans near us kept hesitantly chanting “First place…” as the Giants fans chanted “Beat LA!”
  • My aunt, uncle, and cousins were in town from New York, and this ended up my family’s first experience with Craigslist. We drove out to San Francisco after purchasing the tickets, and my uncle met up with the guy, and for Craiglist in a large city in 2006, it was a very pleasant and smooth experience. (I can’t remember the guy’s name, but “meeting up with [guy]” became a running joke for the next couple years.)

Marlins @ Giants – August 20, 2008

  • Fun fact: First time seeing Matt Cain pitch.
  • Less fun fact: First time being hospitalized for anxiety a few hours after the game.

Astros @ Giants – July 4, 2009

  • Oh, Timmy. Even you couldn’t rock those hideous hats.
  • This was my first time seeing Timmy pitch, and it went pretty amazingly. Seven innings of three-hit, nine-strikeout ball, plus he got on base via the walk twice. And the Giants won 9-0.
  • Remember when the Astros were bad?

Phillies @ Giants – August 1, 2009

  • My second Timmy game. (I have to lead off with the important stuff. Here’s a bonus photo I took of him in the dugout.)
  • This was my first and only time sitting in the infield club level at AT&T Park, and my goodness, my friend Adam and I did not deserve to live in such luxury. Look at the view we had???

Cardinals @ Giants – April 23, 2010

  • ORANGE FRIDAY. GIANTS WEARABLE BLANKET GIVEAWAY NIGHT.
  • There are photos of me daring to wear the “wearable blanket” (read: Snuggie) at the game (which actually makes sense, considering how cold it gets at AT&T at night), but I will not share those, thank you. Currently, it is being used as a blackout curtain because we are cheap.
  • Timmy game #3 for me.
  • Also, Albert Pujols went 1-for-4, including the above-pictured strikeout.

Orioles @ Giants – June 14, 2010

  • We – my sister, my friend Heather, and me – had special event tickets for this game that entitled us to having to traverse the “Giants County Fair” next door (pictured) to receive “Pandoval” bobbleheads. It was also “Zoo Night.” There was also a Halloween celebration, complete with on-field costume contest, because both teams’ colors are orange and black.
  • This matchup was one I always wanted to see, as I was born near Baltimore and have been told that my first-ever baseball game may have been at Camden Yards when I was a baby.
  • I would also like to add that this game dropped the Orioles to 17-47 on the season. By June 14 of this season, the Giants were 26-41. So this season is not even that bad, Giants fans.

Yankees @ A’s – July 5, 2010

  • This game was brilliant. It was my first time seeing the Yankees, the All-Star infield of A-Rod, Jeter, Canó, and Teixeira were all reporting for duty, and Joba Chamberlain and Mariano Rivera pitched the last two innings. Oh, and the Yankees won.
  • Lukewarm take: the Coliseum is a garbage stadium. There were only 27,000 people in attendance (and it felt like a solid half were Yankees fans, including myself) and it still took ten minutes to get to our seats.

Marlins @ Giants – July 29, 2010

  • The Giants were one-hit. The one hit did not come off Buster Posey’s bat, so his 21-game hitting streak ended.
  • This was my first time seeing Resident Young Upstart/Small Child (was about to turn 21) Madison Bumgarner pitch. It did not go well for him.

Giants @ Rockies – August 4, 2010

For some reason, the only photo I can find from this game is of me. Sorry.
  • For some reason, this never crossed my mind, but this was my first time seeing the Giants play somewhere other than Candlestick/Pac Bell/SBC/AT&T Park. Coors Field is really nice.
  • This was my second time seeing Resident Young Upstart/Small Child (had just turned 21) Madison Bumgarner pitch. It did not go well for him.

Cubs @ Giants – August 10, 2010

The Giants’ on-field bullpen is a gift.
  • My friend Christina and I sat next to a Cubs fan who looked a lot like Justin Chambers (Alex from Grey’s Anatomy), so I was trying really hard to research on my phone whether it was possible that he was a Cubs fan. He is not.
  • Timmy game #4 (and – barring a miracle – my last time seeing him pitch live).

A’s @ Twins – September 18, 2010

  • (I seriously went to seven games in 2010? That feels like so many now that the closest MLB stadium to me is a three-hour drive.)
  • During this game, I bought a Joe Mauer shirt, ate frozen yogurt out of a plastic baseball cap, and watched the A’s lose, all in the first season of a brand-new stadium, so it was a pretty spectacular day.

Cubs @ Giants – June 1, 2012

  • As it happens, I have been to a game where both (a) the Cubs lost, and (b) Madison Bumgarner won.
  • I honestly don’t remember much from this game, so I looked through the bbref page to see if anything sparked my attention. Nothing happened, so I went back through my photos from the game and found this beauty. (They were strangers, and had just realized they were wearing the same glasses.)

Diamondbacks @ Rangers – June 12, 2012

  • Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, or whatever the hell it’s called now, claims to be the “loudest ballpark in baseball.” There were nearly 40,000 people at this game, and I didn’t get that sense. I did, however, get the sense that they probably have the loudest PA system in baseball.
  • They served alligator po’ boys during the 2012 season. Apparently, alligator tastes pretty okay.

Royals @ Cardinals – June 17, 2012

  • This was a fifteen-inning, five-hour game and I only had the cash for one beer, so it got pretty old after a while (is it just me, or is beer served at ballparks named after beer way more expensive?). I also got sunburned for the first time in about 6 years.
  • I’m not saying I wouldn’t go back – especially since it was probably the best parking experience I’ve had at any stadium, rivaled only by Target Field – but I’m not, like, jumping to see a Cardinals game again or anything.
  • Cool view, though.

Giants @ Yankees – July 23, 2016

  • Another dream matchup! Also, my first time at Yankee Stadium! Also also, my first time seeing Johnny Cueto pitch!
  • This is a great, great stadium, but my goodness was the process getting into the ballpark slow. I’m not sure how other stadiums avoid the people gridlock so well – or if I usually just get to games earlier – but no one knew which masses of people were lines and which were just large groups of people.
  • But once we got inside…yes. You can absolutely tell this stadium was built during the 21st century because of all the screens.
  • My aunt bought her and my uncle and myself these seats and was worried they wouldn’t be good. They were in the shade, and on padded fold-out chairs rather than actual hard plastic baseball seats, so they were excellent.
  • Also, the Giants won in extras, so that is a major yes to free baseball this time.

Giants @ Royals – April 19, 2017

  • I never thought I’d see the Giants twice in one year (not season) again, but here I was, seeing the Giants twice in nine months. Thank goodness for interleague play.
  • MadBum pitched, and lost. Then he got into that dirt bike accident and didn’t pitch again until July.
  • When I first got to Kauffman, I ended up sitting next to an older guy who was very impressed by the fact that I’d driven down from Des Moines for the day. We talked baseball, who was in the Giants’ lineup these days (it was his first time seeing them!), and then his friend showed up and they ended up moving to a different area. Super nice guy, though.

Atlanta @ Brewers – April 29, 2017

  • I tailgated! At a baseball game! For the first time! With Hannah! And then we bought extremely expensive craft beer (see “stadiums named after beer” note above)! Which made the fact that the Brewers lost very bearable!
  • It was $1 hot dog night, and even though Twitter told me to eat 15 of them, I only ended up with…substantially fewer than that.
  • This was my first time being in a baseball stadium with a roof, and luckily, there was a terrible thunderstorm outside, so the roof was closed. It is super surreal watching baseball indoors.
  • Finally, Hannah and I made a video after the game:

The top photo is a stock photo from Pexels of the Rogers Centre in Toronto, a stadium (and baseball atmosphere) that I would love to experience someday.

On the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter

A quick summary of the Harry Potter thoughts I had today before I get into the thing:

1. “Twenty years? Gosh, I’m old.”

2. “Aww, what a nice tweet from J.K. Rowling.”

3. “Oh, so that’s why Freeform did a movie marathon this weekend.”

4. “Wait, what’s my contribution to this going to be? I don’t own any of the books anymore, so I can’t post a cute, nostalgic Instagram photo or anything.”

5. “Oh, right, words.”

NOTE: Spoilers below. You can never be too careful, I reckon, even today.

Photo via Amazon

My mom must have started buying the books for me in 1998 (they didn’t start synching UK/US release dates until Goblet of Fire – doesn’t it seem unfathomable now that books 1 and 2 were out in the UK before Sorcerer’s Stone came out here?), because I remember having them in the house very early on. In fourth grade, we took photos sometime in the first month of school as part of a “get to know your classmates” assignment, and in mine, I’m beaming with my copy of the newly-released Prisoner of Azkaban.

But here’s the thing: I don’t remember actually reading a Harry Potter book until early in high school. My sole memory of interacting with the books, aside from presumably touching them every once in a while on my bookshelf, was when my sister was assigned a book report in third grade (to keep up with dates, this would have been 2001 or 2002) that had to be about a mystery. She chose Chamber of Secrets, and sometimes, my mom would read it to us as a bedtime story. I remember the story being immensely engaging, but I never actually read it for myself until later.

Actually, you know, that last part probably isn’t true. I definitely did read the books in the way I’d always read books growing up – lots of skimming, and not a lot of comprehension. So I’d read the previous Harry Potter books when a new one came out, but I hadn’t really read them – I’d absorbed the words and maybe formed a few of the scenes, out of order, in my head. I remember being outraged when the Sorcerer’s Stone movie omitted the Potions scene at the end, but until later, I couldn’t have told you any of the other differences between the books and the movies.

(The “my reading comprehension is terrible” thing is a whole other story that extends from being assigned books way beyond my skill level just because I could read in first grade, to having my lowest SAT score come in critical reading. I won’t go into it further here, but JSYK.)

And then there was a winter break, or spring break – some non-summer break from school between 2003 and 2005 – where I decided to sit down and try to get through what would be the longest book of the series, and the newest at the time, Order of the Phoenix. My dad’s coworker had read it upon release, and the message that my dad (who’s never read the books) relayed to me was a simple, “Things are getting darker for Harry.” I remember buying it at an airport and, as a result of the previous summary, being too intimidated to start reading until I got home. As I read, I found that as engaged as I was with the story, there was still so much I didn’t understand because of my casual attitude toward the previous books. Wasn’t Sirius Black a bad guy? Why was the Ministry so anti-Harry? And what was that special spell Harry used that got him in so much trouble? (That last one despite having seen Prisoner of Azkaban in theaters. Sigh.)

So using whatever break time I had left, I dove into the previous four books. I learned about and connected to the characters, memorized the spells (even making a Word doc of all of them), and vowed to figure out a way to play Quidditch someday. Harry Potter became the deepest damn books I’d ever read, and probably the first book series I ever became attached to, aside from Little House on the Prairie or Narnia (which I was told to read in first grade and so diligently skimmed, so…you get the idea).

I didn’t go to the Half-Blood Prince book release party in town because I was sleeping over at a friend’s house, but when I got home the next day, my sister – who’d already read it by staying up all night – insisted I had to read it immediately. She even used a Post-It to cover up the chapter photo for “Flight of the Prince” (it’s of Snape) so I wouldn’t inadvertently be spoiled before the big reveal.

Then, in 2007 – a super goddamn Harry Potter summer, with the Order of the Phoenix movie and the final book both coming out in July – I attended my first and only release party for Deathly Hallows. My sister and I, of similar enthusiasm, each bought our own copy so we wouldn’t have to decide who would read it first (though, uh, she stopped reading about 100 pages in and, to my knowledge, never finished. No matter). I stayed up until 4 a.m. to read the first 70% or so, all the while texting the friend I went to the release with for his play-by-play, and then woke up just a few hours later to devour the rest. We had family in town that day from the East Coast who were anything but Harry Potter fans, so I again resorted to texting everyone I could to get their thoughts on the book.

It didn’t sink in until a few days later that the series was over. But really, I was so satisfied by how Deathly Hallows ended that I didn’t care to the extent that many I knew did. (Also, probably, the rumors of a Harry Potter encyclopedia at the time kept me hopeful that there would be more. Sigh.) And as time passed, I managed to get my Harry Potter fix in some way, whether it was rewatching a movie or two one weekend, rereading a book, taking dozens of themed Sporcle quizzes, riding the Pottermore hype before it got comically boring, or reading Mark Oshiro’s “Mark Reads Harry Potter” series as he read the books for the first time (how he managed to stay completely unspoiled until 2011, I will never, ever know and I will forever be amazed).

As only the cheesiest people say – and me, happily – the magic never really ended. I am incredibly grateful to J.K. Rowling for sharing this world with us, and between that and the previous sentence, there’s not much more I need to add to this beautiful, rambling thing.

The semi-exhaustive list of individuals I have to thank for getting me to Iowa, or, Why maybe growing up in tiny, tiny Sonoma wasn’t the worst thing in the world

I grew up in California, but I’ve spent all but a couple weeks of my 20s living in various cities in Iowa. When I tell Iowans – especially native Iowans – where I’m from, they look at me in disbelief, almost disapprovingly. They ask me how I ended up in Iowa (though it’s usually more of a “Why?”, though they never use “Why?”).

I usually tell them there’s a short version – that I transferred to the University of Iowa, settled in, and never left – and a long version – a rambling mess that includes three key parts: why I considered Iowa at all (#1 on this list), what sold me on the UI (#2 on this list), and why I stuck around (the husband).

People never want the long version. So I’ve finally compromised between the two, and I now present to you a list version that contains all the people who played some part in getting me here, where I’ve since earned two degrees, gotten married, and now enjoy something resembling a life here. (Now I can just send inquiring Iowans this link!)

  1. Ms. Manchester: My junior year AP English teacher, and the obvious #1. She did her master’s program at the University of Iowa, and when she heard I was going to be driving through the state, she urged me to make a pit stop in Iowa City. I did. I fell in love immediately and applied to the school as soon as I got home. (She was also the first to introduce me to Hamburg Inn, for which I can never truly thank her enough).
  2. Ariel: My good high school friend. She was working for one of our high school teachers, who asked her to deliver his van from Sonoma to Chicago the summer after our freshman year of college. She then asked me to join her, and we ended up making that pit stop in Iowa City a few hours before we arrived in Chicago.
  3. Mr. Donnelley: My – and Ariel’s – high school economics teacher. He was flush with cash from growing some algae before he started teaching in the area and thus felt it necessary to dip into a pool of loyal former students to find a personal assistant. He chose Ariel, and one summer he asked her to deliver one of his cars from Sonoma to Chicago.
  4. Sonoma Valley Unified School District/the city of Sonoma: There’s only one high school in Sonoma. But there are two middle schools, one of which opened the year I started sixth grade. Thanks to a diversity-motivated move from the district, my elementary school and another elementary school across town were the ones chosen to populate the new middle school. Ariel didn’t go to that other elementary school, but she lived in its district, so she ended up in middle school with me.
  5. Old Adobe School: The preschool where Ariel and I first met. We wouldn’t have reconnected in middle school if not for this chance friendship.
  6. My parents: We moved to Sonoma when I was 4 years old. “We” included my parents, who chose to move there. This was pretty straightforward.
  7. My dad’s firm: I think it was their choice to move the company from the San Francisco metro, where we lived at the time, to Sonoma.
  8. Maybe going back any further would be pointless, but I could have gone back quite a bit, until it devolved into a series of “what if” questions: What if my dad hadn’t hated his first college so much he quit during his first semester, thereby graduating from his second college a year later than if he’d finished on time? What if he’d finished on time and hadn’t ended up in the Washington, D.C. area, where he was introduced to my mom? What if my mom hadn’t left Haiti, where she was born, and made it to New York City, where she grew up?
  9. Myself: For the existential crisis that was the process of making this list.
  10. You: Well, either you’re here in Iowa with me and have made this journey worthwhile, you’re someone I knew before Iowa and didn’t virulently object to my decision to move here, or you’re neither, you’re still reading this, and you made it to #10. Thank you.

How I used “Lord of the Rings” to get into college

Did you know that your SAT essays are right there, scanned and posted on the College Board website, just waiting for people who graduated high school years ago to log in and relive the best 25 minutes of their lives?

I sure did!

In honor of the new SAT expanding the length of the now-optional essay section to 50 minutes in order to accommodate a longer prompt, I thought I’d share these excerpts from my two 2007 SAT essays. I believe they conclusively prove my demonstrated Lord of the Rings obsession trumped my GPA, letters of recommendation, and extracurriculars in helping me get into college.

Also, I don’t think context is necessary, do you?


March 2007 (with bonus Harry Potter):

“Literature has shown countless times that one should not set smaller goals if one will be displeased with the results. One should try to achieve a goal with an optimistic outlook, like Sam in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, or Harry Potter in the Harry Potter series. Both characters exemplified their drive to achieve their respective goals. Sam was able to think about destroying the One Ring throughout the journey, and his optimism led Frodo to ultimately destroy the Ring. Harry Potter kept the destruction of Voldemort in sight as he, almost subconsciously, achieved smaller goals while keeping the largest one in his mind. Optimism is key in achieving large goals, whether one’s imagination permits it or not.”

October 2007 (with bonus Beowulf):

“If one researches some of the most recently recognized films, one will discover that history plays a large role in crafting these epic tales. The ‘Lord of the Rings’ trilogy is a prime example. Not only is it based on a book, but a myriad of the costumes and battle items forged for the battle sequences were based on Anglo-Saxon and Norman mail and swords. Director Peter Jackson knew that he had the task of creating Middle-earth for the very first time, but instead of treating his viewers to novel costumes, he told the employees at Weta Workshop to research the 12th and 13th century’s clothing and mail and design the costumes for ‘Lord of the Rings’ based on those pictures and descriptions. Although perfected, Jackson’s attempt at creating an original view of Middle-earth failed as he chose to mirror the Anglo-Saxon battlewear. However, one cannot assume that Jackson duplicated every aspect of the Anglo-Saxons; J.R.R. Tolkien, the author of the novels, borrowed material heavily from Beowulf. The monster Grendel, for example, is an almost exact manifestation of Tolkien’s character Gollum. Shunned by his family, Gollum delves into the mist and becomes an unfathomable representation of a human gone mad.”


Now that I think about it, these read so much like posts on Shit My Students Write and lol my thesis that I’m surprised I didn’t get zeros on each of these essays. At least it wasn’t as bad as what I wrote/pictures I drew on my AP Biology exam, I suppose (purposeful vagueness and/or harkening to inside joke lost to time entirely intended).