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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.