xoxo: what in the world is the gossip girl finale?

Okay this is one of the most random things I could be writing about considering it’s a show that ended six or so years ago, but I just finished it, and I have thoughts, and this is my blog, so I can talk about whatever trashy show I want to talk about.

Gossip Girl is a treasure of a show that aired on the CW from 2007 to 2012. It caters very nicely to my niche interests in 2000s teen culture. Watching the iconic Chuck Bass turn from chauvinistic, literally-a-sex-offender high schooler into a suave adult billionaire with his equally iconic partner Blair Waldorf is a treat. Watching Nate Archibald struggle to do any task that requires an IQ of greater than 5 is a treat too, sometimes probably not as the showrunners intended, but still. And it was all tied around the titular Gossip Girl, the name of the blog that spread gossip about all of the trust fund kids in Upper East Side Manhattan. The show had its ups and downs over its six seasons, but it all ended in a finale that had loyal viewers like me saying, “…meh.”

To start off, the finale had one big task to check off. Sure, lots of characters were in predicaments that needed settling, but the one major thing that lingered from day 1 was still there: who is Gossip Girl? And the answer we got? Dan Humphrey. Dan is presented as an outsider to the rich students at his fancy Manhattan private school. His single father wasn’t rich, he lived in Brooklyn, he didn’t own anything expensive or exotic, etc etc. He is introduced into the world of the Upper East Siders because of his interest in Serena Van Der Woodsen, who I guess gets the title of protagonist out of the ensemble cast. Throughout the series he never really gets accepted into the world of the bourgeoisie, but he’s friends/off-and-on lovers with them, and he writes successful stories about them, so that’s something. The revelation that he’s Gossip Girl is dumb, yes, but it’s also illogical. There are NUMEROUS moments throughout the series where Dan is seen reading Gossip Girl stories (by himself, no less) and being visibly shocked at what he’s reading. Gossip Girl also released stories about Dan’s sister’s sex life, which would be creepy as hell if it were coming from Dan himself. From a poetic standpoint, it does k i n d o f make sense when seen as Dan being stuck with his outsider persona while also desperately wanting to be on the inside. But then again I don’t think the show was smart enough to present it like that. In reading what the Internet’s consensus on the big reveal was, I came across a few quotes from one of the show’s creators that claimed that the plan was always to have Dan be Gossip Girl, but I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel like that’s how it was supposed to be. There were a few moments in the last two seasons that made sense through the lens of Dan being Gossip Girl, but other than that the reveal just didn’t seem right for the show.

Similarly but also different, another off part of the finale came from how every other character in the show took the Gossip Girl reveal. Dan confessed his alter ego through a piece published on another website in the show, which all of the characters read at once. Only one of them, Blair, was actually upset about it. Gossip Girl had spent years spreading rumors about them, so how could they not be upset to learn who it was? Even stranger, Serena, whom Gossip Girl targeted most often, loved Dan after the reveal. The final scenes in the finale show them getting married five years later. What? Imagine learning someone has been anonymously writing about the intimate details of your life for half a decade. Would you: a)want to get as far away from them as possible or b)marry them? I can’t imagine ever picking the former, but that’s what the Gossip Girl writers wanted. Bottom line: Dan as Gossip Girl doesn’t work, and if it did, he would’ve gotten a lot more hate from the other characters.

I briefly mentioned Chuck and Blair earlier. Their plot got a messy, rushed finish. Throughout the entire series, they play the part of the couple everyone wants to end up together in the end. Their chemistry really is unmatched. By the end though, Chuck’s evil, mogul father Bart, who supposedly died much earlier in the series, comes back to the show after apparently faking the death. He goes on to ruin everyone’s life, and then in a dramatic scene in the episode before the finale, Chuck and Bart fight it out on the roof of a skyscraper. Almost comedically, Bart throws a punch that doesn’t land and flings himself over the side of the building. Chuck doesn’t help him back up, and Bart falls to his real death. This came after Bart previously tried to kill Chuck, but I don’t think it was necessarily self defense at this particular moment. The legality of it seems like it would get fuzzy. And with 40 minutes to resolve everything, the writers didn’t have the time to give this the proper sendoff it deserved. Chuck and Blair had to get hastily married so that Blair wouldn’t have to testify against Chuck. I loved this scene because the hasty wedding was exactly what the two of them would’ve wanted. They never wanted to have a boring romance, and what’s less boring than a quick wedding with the cops taking them away a second after the I dos. But then, right before the Gossip Girl/Dan reveal, Chuck and Blair walk into the room and announce that they won’t be charged because of a lack of evidence or self defense or something. It’s obvious that the writers just wanted to give them a happy ending, but they didn’t have the time to properly give them one, so that’s what we got. Not that I wanted them to end up in prison, but if the last we saw of them was them getting hauled to jail after the wedding, that would’ve been a perfect sendoff. Instead, we got… meh.

Speaking of meh, the finale really pointed out a problem that I had had but couldn’t quite identify throughout the series. The villains never really get their comeuppance. Either they get caught and then immediately disappear, or they have a change of heart, or the show mildly punishes them but ultimately does nothing about it. I guess Bart got killed, but that was the closest they got. One character, Ivy Dickens, who basically scammed her way into the Upper East Side, had been terrorizing the show for two seasons. By the end, her literal crimes still had never seen punishment, and apart from a slight embarrassment, she still never got arrested, or kicked out, or saw any really punishment.

There are probably some more things that didn’t work, but frankly I’m tired, and these concerned me the most. I attribute some of the issues with the finale to be due to the fact that the final season was only ten episodes long, about 14 shorter than a standard season. They had a lot to cover and not a lot of time to do it. The writers also probably wanted to make the Gossip Girl reveal to be something people talked about, so they picked a character that only sorta worked. Or maybe no one knows how to end TV shows. What do I know? I’m just a mediocre writer for a blog two people read.

You know you love me,

X.O.X.O.

Ethan

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loveless summer part 1: brightsides and question marks

This is not a love story. The two characters don’t spend a whirlwind summer in love. It’s not even a sex story. Or a kiss story. It might not even have been a hug story. It is the story of a dumb 17-year-old boy with a crush on a girl. The boy was too anxious to actually do anything about the crush. The boy and the girl spent a summer together going on what might have been dates until whatever heat existed between them fizzled out. Then they did the same thing off-and-on for the next two years. The boy never told the girl how he felt. The girl might not’ve felt anything.

This anti-love story began in spring 2013, when the boy, yours truly, found himself in a sociology class with a girl he had known for a decade. Her name is Karen for the sake of the story, but her actual name was a lot prettier. Karen went to my elementary school for a few years before transferring. We went to middle school together but never interacted, and the same was true for the first two-and-a-half years of high school. Our friend groups vaguely interacted, so when I walked into sociology on the first day of the semester, I took the desk sort of near her. To paint myself as a douchebag for a second, Karen only vaguely resembled the person I knew as a kid. She had slimmed down to a frame that appealed to my dumb boy tastes, and the strangeness she exhibited as a child evolved into artsiness that seemed deep and intriguing to me. I was always weird and unnecessarily romantic, even with no experience to justify me being so, and when I developed a crush, I crushed hard. Very quickly I realized I was crushing on Karen.

My version of “doing something” about my crushes was getting close to my crush without ever remotely mentioning that I was interested in them. I hoped that if they liked me back, they would make the first move. I was too nervous about rejection to risk making any moves by myself. It was a terrible strategy with a success rate of none percent. But naive little me went with this and sought to get as close to Karen as I could. She did seem vaguely interested. By that, I mean we spent most of sociology chatting with each other about this or that, and she seemed to like me. I worked up the courage to move from a  seat near her to the seat next to her, and sociology became the spot where Ethan and Karen spent an hour and a half every other day together. It was barely a class, so we had a lot of time to socialize.

I then considered doing something brash, something that skyrocketed my heartbeat. Junior prom was just around the corner, and what more natural of a time would there be to ask someone out? Everyone was doing extravagant “promposals,” but I was hoping I could even get myself to pull the trigger. It wasn’t romantic (or whatever people considered promposals), but I planned to pop the question one day after sociology. It wouldn’t be hard. “Will you go to prom with me?” Seven words. A single sentence. If she liked me like I liked her, it would be an easy yes. But I kept delaying it. There was always a reason to not do it. She seemed tired one day. I needed to walk the other direction the next. There was always a reason why not.

“Did you hear Craig asked Karen to prom?”

My friend Max gave me this rough news that he didn’t realize was rough news one morning. Craig was sort of part of the mutual friend groups between Karen and me. He was appropriately as artsy as she was and was far more outspoken than me.

My not-quite-adult heart sank in that moment. Max didn’t know how I felt about Karen. Telling others how I felt was not part of my convoluted plan. I knew it was my fault for never remotely making a move, but wow that didn’t feel great.

“Oh they will make such a cute couple,” I said eventually, using whatever acting skills I had to balance out my deep disappointment. I had to hear that exact line often from others too, “such a cute couple.” The overwhelming consensus was that Karen and Craig were cute together. I obviously disagreed, but that was a secret known only to me.

I considered skipping prom for a while. I never liked dances anyway, and what was the point without a date? Well, Max didn’t have a date either, and the two of us talked about it and decided that we’d go ahead and go with a group of single friends. It was probably for the best. Prom’s one of those things John Hughes movies remind us are important, and I guess it’s a good thing I didn’t miss out.

Prom night came, and I was dressed in a hideous color combo of black and dark blue. Our small group was supposed to meet up with a larger group for dinner, but Max messed up the dinner reservation, so instead we had to drive across town to an Italian place that’s closed now. I guess I’m grateful for Max’s mess-up because the group that we were going to meet up with included Craig and Karen. Oh well. But I did like the idea of keeping tabs on them, which I now realize sounds hella creepy. Anyway, I got to enjoy overpriced chicken parm with a few dudes who knew we weren’t getting laid that night.

Prom was vaguely themed that year. It was called “Moonlight Mirage,” or as its known colloquially “Vaguely Arabian Nights.” Due to the dinner mishap, we got there later than most people, which meant parking was a bitch. Inside, prom was a boring event for someone who didn’t like talking to people. There was a circle close to the DJ comprised of people dancing and grinding, and the further out you got from the circle, the angstier the people became. The group we were going to get dinner with was stationed at a table that we joined. Each of the singles in the group asked each other to dance at various points. I never did due to the whole “frustrated and angsty” thing. Subtly I kept an eye on Karen and Craig throughout the night. Part of me hoped that this would be my own John Hughes movie and that at some point, when Craig was off at the punchbowl, I could slip in and make my move. I knew that wasn’t actually going to happen, but fantasies help when real life isn’t what I want it to be. Instead my night consisted of going through the stages of grief and accepting that Karen being with Craig was the reality.

By the end of the night I had forced myself to accept that Karen and Craig indeed were cute together. As long as I didn’t think about what they were going to do after prom, all was well. I mean, I was still jealous, but whatever. Some things aren’t meant to be. That’s just how it goes. Did I want to rewrite “Mr. Brightside” with lyrics relevant to my situation? Of course! Did I do it? Of course not! So I drove home, watched SNL while arranging my tuxedo back in its bag to be returned the next day, and went to bed.

Karen and Craig turned out to be the rare instance of prom being the start of a relationship, and all I heard about on the following Monday was that they were a couple. But it was fine. I was fine. There were plenty of girls out there.

Oddly enough though, Karen never really talked about him. When she did, she referred to him by his full name as though he were unfamiliar. I had to shake myself from thinking too hard on that detail.

But then other things happened. Okay, I’m going to sound crazy going over these, but there were just enough oddities that occurred just frequently enough that I had to ask questions. Sometimes it wasn’t even an oddity, but enough things occurred to make me think, “What if she does like me?”

First off, she started texting me. I get it. It’s not the 1500s. A girl is allowed to talk to guys other than her boyfriend. Whatever. But we never texted back when she was single. No, her first message to me was something to the effect of, “This is Karen. Did anything interesting happen in sociology?” after she missed class one day. It was a totally innocent message, and nothing about it said, “Hey I know I’m dating Craig, but I also have feelings for you.” But to me this meant she wanted our relationship to extend beyond the classroom. It was a crazy train of thought, but I was a crazy guy. And the worst thing that can happen to a crazy guy is for his conspiracy to be even slightly validated. Because I told her about sociology, and then we just started talking. Our texts were longer than texts I had with anyone else, which meant a lot to a bored boy like me. She went from sociology to asking how I was doing, and I asked her the same thing. We talked about our parents and hobbies, sorts of normal things young folks talk about. We started having running jokes. I appreciated the friendship because I was generally a lonely boy, but also the part of my head that hoped this was a sign of her interest in me was nicely nourished. I liked how I could go to class, and one of us would be able to reference something the other had said over text. Oh, and Craig was still nowhere to be mentioned. Sometimes I wondered if she was with him and messaging me. My active, excessive imagination sometimes drew up scenes of them making out or whatever and then her turning over and answering my texts. I was boring and innocent, and the idea of being even remotely scandalous was kind of fun if I’m being honest.

And then she sent me a message that opened a new rabbit hole. “Dear sir, I am producing a film for class and wondered if you would be interested in taking part.” I remember her text almost verbatim, the old-timey tone was a running gag between us. Again, it was innocent, but it felt weird. I of course said yes because apart from like-liking Karen, I also liked her. It wasn’t just Karen’s film either. She was working on it with a group of people from the school’s gifted class. I knew her friends. Another one of them could have suggested me. But it was Karen who reached out. Again, this didn’t mean anything. It just felt a little like it could mean something.

Karen picked me up to film with her group. She knew that I could drive but didn’t like to. There was another girl in the car, so it wasn’t just us. Karen gave me a purple Veronica flower for helping out. My first thought was, “Oh, great. I’m the girl in this relationship.” I then spent all car ride wondering what kind of flower it was. Was it a thank you flower? A romantic flower? A flower she found on the ground and gave to me instead of a compost pile? Is it normal to give flowers to friends? I genuinely didn’t know.

The movie left a lot to be desired from the standpoint of a wannabe writer. It was about a karaoke contest or something. My part was not super important. I played a background person at a party, and most of my job was to pretend to have conversations and to cheer when someone’s karaoke routine was done. It’s a good thing I wasn’t written as Karen’s love interest or else this would’ve been even more complicated. Craig wasn’t there, by the way. He was in the movie in another scene, but he was absent from this filming session. I still have no idea how relevant any of this was, but it just felt weird. Especially since Karen and I talked between most shots. I wondered if it looked weird to anyone else, but I of course didn’t ask anyone. “Hey do you think Karen wants to cheat on her boyfriend with me?” is a question that would spark a number of issues. When it was all said and done, Karen drove me back home, and that was the end of that. I know talking about the “friend zone” is not really cool anymore, but I really wondered if I was friend zoned hard  or if Karen was keeping me around as a backup plan or something. I really couldn’t tell.

I held on to that flower. It was pretty and smelled good, and it made my dumb romantic mind think of Karen. It became a custom to spin the flower between my fingers and question what she felt about me. Nothing productive would ever come from this of course. I also wondered if I would get another chance to hang out with Karen. I might’ve been picked for the movie because she knew I’d say yes, but would she ask me to do anything else?

Karen’s family had a foreign exchange student that year, and she was throwing a surprise party for Karen’s birthday. I was invited at the last minute. I know it wasn’t Karen’s plan, but it still felt like part of the weird chain of occurrences. Karen just kept coming back into the picture. I wasn’t of the mindset of, “THIS IS DESTINY!” or anything, but it all felt weird. Oh, it also felt weird when I had a mild fender bender while getting her birthday present on the day of the party. I was stressed about coming across too strongly in my card to her and worried that my gift wouldn’t be good enough. What if she wanted something special from me? What if it seemed like I was hitting on her? What if I had to interact with both her and Craig at the party? Crunch. I saw the car in front of me, but the stop came quicker than I expected, and I bumped their bumper. No damage whatsoever, but the other driver locked her keys in the car. Yep, so I had to sit on an incredibly busy road during rush hour while this lady figured out her key situation. First I was worried about missing the party, then I was worried that my parents wouldn’t let me go to the party, and then I wondered if I wanted to go to the party at all. Since it was a harmless incident, my parents encouraged me to go, and Max drove me.

The party itself mostly wasn’t that exciting. Her parents were there, so it didn’t resemble a fun party scene from a movie. I was kind of hoping Karen and I would have some scandalous moment together, but that didn’t happen. On the other hand I was glad it didn’t. Maybe I was just a friend. Friends get invited to birthday parties. Max was invited. He was just a guy friend to her.

I couldn’t actually enjoy the party due to the internal disappointment and embarrassment I felt about the fender bender earlier that day. I could, however, fight a proxy war with Craig over a game of ping pong. He asked if I wanted to play, probably assuming that I wasn’t low-key crushing on his girlfriend, and I said yes, as though owning him at ping pong would win Karen’s affection. She and Max were standing behind us respectively, like trainers in boxers’ corners. Being the creep I was, I tried to get a read on how Karen and Craig interacted. It really wasn’t romantic. I know most couples aren’t going to just bang in front of you, but I typically expect a slight change in characteristics when two people are in a relationship. Anyway, I got crushed at ping pong, so I never got to see if winning ping pong would break the two of them up. But the game had the additional effect of getting me to realize that I kind of hated Craig. Like, he was just obnoxious. I don’t think I ever heard him say anything that wasn’t a joke or in a joking tone. And Karen didn’t seem that amused by his act either. The party then came to a close without anything interesting happening, and Max drove me home.

That night, still hating myself over the fender bender ordeal, I came to a pact with myself. I was going to give up on Karen. This wasn’t healthy for me. I was never going to act on my feelings, and I could never be a good friend to her because I would feel attracted to her regardless. It was a waste of my time. I was done. I’d respond to her texts to be polite, and I’d still sit with her in sociology. Other than that, I was done. It wasn’t worth getting in a car accident over.

“You’re coming to the TAGademy Awards, right?” she messaged me. TAG was short for Talented and Gifted, and the semi-clever pun was the name of their annual, end-of-year movie screening and awards ceremony.

“Oh, of course!” I answered immediately. Pact, broken. But, I mean, I was in the movie. I did have reason to be there. And again, asking me to come did nothing to imply that she had feelings for me.

At the TAGademy Awards, I sat with the crew of the movie I was part of. I don’t remember the name of the movie, which is a pretty accurate way to sum up how good it was. Craig was there, and he sat justifiably next to Karen. Craig’s role in the film was as a wise fisherman whom the protagonist gets advice from before the climax. His moment got reasonable laughter from he audience. In fact, Karen’s movie won one (1) TAGademy Award: Best Supporting Actor for Craig. Being the jealous type that I was, this didn’t sit well. He was in the movie for like twenty seconds! And not to brag, but I was a pretty damn fine partygoer in my scene if I do say so myself. Where was my award? Oh well. If this was another battle in the fictitious proxy war, the score was 2-0 Craig.

After the awards were done and the audience dismissed, I said my goodbyes and made my way to my mom’s rusted Jeep that had only a week before been victim to my inattention. I tried to be one of the first to leave because busy parking lots scared me.

And then I got my rom-com scene.

Karen followed me out of theater and caught me before I got to my car. “What’d you think of the movie?” she asked.

I responded in a way that mocked one of the “critics” that was brought in to judge the films. I could never tell if Karen liked when my humor revolved around making fun of people, but she went along with it anyway, which I always appreciated.

“Hey, we’re going to IHOP to celebrate,” she spoke up after we exchanged a few more lines of smalltalk. “Care to join us?”

At that moment, Craig popped up like a Kramer-esque sitcom figure next to Karen. I looked over at him and then made eye contact with Karen with a disappointed look that said something to the effect of, “I wish.”

“Oh,” she said. Her face mirrored mine. “Thanks for coming out tonight.”

“Of course!” I said. And then we went through our goodbyes, and I drove off. For the rest of the night though, I thought about that last exchange we had. I knew I was crazy. That wasn’t a secret to me. But that look she gave me was the exact one I gave her. It wasn’t just, “Darn, wish I could go out tonight.” It was a deeper sadness, like a longing for a universe where it all could work out. I knew I liked Karen. I’m of the opinion that one simply can’t stop liking someone. There’s no way to just turn off feelings for no reason. I had tried to make a deal with myself to get out of Karen’s life, but I know I didn’t really want that. And did she want it either? I genuinely couldn’t tell. And, again, I didn’t want to be a homewrecker, but also the idea of it was kind of fun.

TAGademy was held the Friday before the last week of school. Part of me was looking forward to the summer and not having to think about Karen constantly. Another part of me was not wanting to give up our sociology chats together. What if she forgot about me? What if I wasn’t able to get her out of my head? At this point she wasn’t texting me as often as before. My anxious, self-loathing side thought that meant she was over me or pushing me away to be with Craig. A logical side told me that she was busy, which made sense considering she was in and out of class due to various end-of-year art things. But I hated that that was the logical side because it catered to my belief that maybe Karen and me could be a thing.

And then came the last day of class. We had already signed each other’s yearbooks, and I played it safe to ensure nothing ambiguous could be made out. Her note to me was fun but equally tame. I wondered what our last goodbye of the school year would be like. I knew I was being dramatic. We would probably see each other over the summer in some form or another, but it was still a big moment for me. I sat in my usual spot… and she never showed up. Me and my unhealthy crush were disappointed in the symbolism of this. As it turns out she was at a student art show, which, again, made sense. But I wasn’t going to get my chance to say goodbye, which meant I wasn’t going to have closure in this crush, get the chance to put it to bed before going into the freedom of the summer. Oh well.

Max was always bummed by my lack of progress in my love life. I still hadn’t told him about my crush on Karen or the weird ways we kept being in each other’s lives. I loved the guy to death, but that was just the sort of thing I felt needed to be kept to myself. He and a few mutual friends decided to kickstart the summer by setting up a blind date for me. It wasn’t really a “blind” date necessarily because I met the girl, Lindsey, while filming Karen’s movie. We hit it off pretty well there, but, as the last 3,700 words have stated, I was focused on someone else at the time. But I was excited to really meet Lindsey. Dating in general seemed like a fun idea. If I learned anything from my whole ordeal with Karen, it was that I needed to not be afraid to speak up. If I just asked Karen out when I originally wanted to, I wouldn’t have spent three months in a state of unhealthy limbo. It would be good for me to start going on dates and seeing what happens.

The day came for my date with Lindsey. What did people wear on dates? What was protocol for anything on a first date? How do people keep conversation up without  awkward periods of silence? These were the questions I was stressing myself out with. I really did give excessive weight to everything. Unfortunately for my self growth, but fortunately for the short-term stress I was feeling, a few hours before the date, I got a call from Max.

“Hey bud,” he started. I knew this was not a good thing. His voice had this tone whenever bad news was coming. “Bad news: Lindsey asked to cancel. She said she’s not really looking to date anyone right now.”

I was a little disappointed, but also I was happy to know that I wasn’t going to have to go through the stress and potential embarrassment of a first date. “Don’t worry about it!” I said, sounding enthusiastic from my relief. Max initially sounded puzzled by my positive tone there, but then we kept talking for a while.

“Oh, and here’s my second big piece of news,” Max said with no clue of just how important that news was going to be for me. “Karen and Craig broke up.”

Any sadness from the abrupt cancellation of the date immediately flushed away and renewed, irrational hope filled its absence. The timing of this was just odd. Lindsey was friends with Karen. What if Lindsey was stepping aside for Karen? I mean, I know it’s a little farfetched, but I was working with a lot of coincidences.

“Want to get lunch?” I asked Max. I had to tell him everything. I needed someone to hear my story and tell me that I wasn’t looking too far into what was going on. And that’s what I did. I spilled every bit of the last semester to Max. He found my theory of Karen keeping me around for when she and Craig broke up to be a realistic possibility, and he told me that it would be completely realistic for me to make a move on her. After giving her some time to recover from the breakup, of course.

“So, are you going to ask her out?” Max asked.

“I want to,” I said. “We’ll see. I don’t know if she even wants to keep talking to me.”

It’s adorable how naive I was. I now know how the story ends, and it would take another two years for Karen’s chapter of my life to conclude, but at the time, I wasn’t sure if she’d still want to talk to me or if we were just school friends. I was in for a summer of unresolved questions.

But that’s a story for another day. Stay tuned for the frustrating part 2 of Loveless Summer!

bandersnatch- choose to watch something else

Log in to Netflix and fire up Twitter for your response because the folks across the pond are back again with another edition of the sci-fi anthology phenomenon, Black Mirror! Rather than an episode though, Black Mirror’s newest project comes in the form of a choose your own adventure movie called Bandersnatch that gives viewers the chance to choose between different paths at various points throughout the story. It’s a cool idea on paper, but I don’t know man. Ultimately I felt like it was far more gimmicky than it was actually enjoyable. The main idea of Bandersnatch is what holds it back the most and prevents it from being as deep or interesting as many of the other episodes in the series.

Black Mirror is one of the most unique shows on television right now. It’s often compared to The Twilight Zone for its anthology elements and uses of storytelling to portray contemporary issues. If I had one big criticism of the series, it’s that almost every episode boils down to “technology is bad.” The ways that this message is portrayed vary drastically from episode to episode, but the message is mostly the same. When I’m feeling more cynical I sometimes wonder if Black Mirror is actually that deep at all, but then I ultimately decide that even if it’s not, the series is so well-conceived and produced that the complaint isn’t even that valid if it were true. One thing I personally love about the series is how everyone has their own choices for which episodes are the best, and there’s really no reason for anyone to be more correct than anyone else. My personal favorite is Fifteen Million Merits. Its world is wonderfully terrifying underneath its colorful screen-filled future, and the ending is so frustratingly unsatisfying and ironic. But I don’t necessarily think it’s objectively the best episode. I really don’t know if there is definitely a Black Mirror that’s better than the rest (apart from The Waldo Moment, which is definitely not the best don’t even try to argue for it).

All of this is to say that when I say that I really only felt “meh” about Bandersnatch, I honestly have no idea how valid that is. Judging by public reaction online, there are people who seem to really enjoy it or at the very least feel dedicated to mapping out the various pathways the movie can take and uncovering every ending and storyline possible. But at the same time, most of what people are talking about goes back to Bandersnatch’s interactivity rather than its actual story, and I think that’s very telling of the quality of the movie as a whole. Its concept is far more intriguing than its final product.

So what is the final product? Set in 1984 (hehe get it?), Bandersnatch follows an aspiring video game developer named Stefan who is in the process of writing Bandersnatch, an adaptation of a book of the same name. It’s an ambitious game because for it to succeed it relies on branching paths (get it? like the show? so clever!), a concept difficult with the limited technology of the time. As the story goes on, it is revealed that the writer of the original Bandersnatch book murdered his wife after seemingly going insane from writing the book, and it seems that a similar fate is going to follow Stefan. Paths explore mental health, the concept of a sort of Big Brother-like figure, and even breaking the fourth wall, as Stefan realizes an external figure is controlling his actions.

One of the biggest issues I have with the movie is that if the interactivity is taken away, Bandersnatch is actually really pretty simple. That’s not to say that Black Mirror has never been simple before. One of the, if not THE, most highly regarded episodes in the series is The National Anthem, a very simple episode in which the English Prime Minister has to perform sexual acts on a pig on live television in order to save a princess from a terrorist. It’s simple, tense, and terrifying. And yet, despite being simple it has a lot to say about society’s addiction to media and how people have become desensitized to   disturbing content. Bandersnatch on the other hand is simple, but it doesn’t really have much to say. You could spend hours combing through its endings, but there’s never anything that productive being said. Technology is bad, there may be someone somewhere controlling our actions, and that’s it.

It becomes especially frustrating because the options given were never particularly satisfying, and often it felt like they didn’t have enough weight in the general story. For example, the first big choice you get to make is regarding how Stefan will go about working on his game. He could either work in the office of a game studio, which will provide him with resources to finish Bandersnatch but on a strict deadline, or he could continue to work on it from his bedroom. Rather than opening up the possibility for two completely different stories, the first option signals an immediate end to the story. Bandersnatch is released, but it’s an unplayable mess, and viewers are sent back to the option back at the game studio. Out of curiosity I picked to work in the office again in the slight chance that the movie would reward messing around with it, but no, it gave the same ending and booted me back to the office. Most of the choices in the movie boil down to this. If you want to break off from the path the movie wants you to travel down, the results will be unsatisfied and you’ll get sent back down the preferred path. For example, Stefan goes to his therapist, who asks him to talk about his mother. If you answer no, the story will briefly continue only for another unsatisfying ending to occur. It’s then only possible to go deeper into the story by talking about the mother. The element of choice is in Bandersnatch, but not really.

“Psh, you foolish pleb,” you might already be typing. “That’s the point of the episode! Choice is an illusion! Nothing will ever be as satisfying as you want it to be! The choices you have in life are tragically limited, and Bandersnatch represents that perfectly!”

Don’t worry, I’ve already thought of that and disregarded it as pretentious and wrong. Bandersnatch brought out some of my more cynical views on Black Mirror because I really don’t think it’s that deep. I don’t think its lack of impactful choices represent the lack of choices we have in life. I think it represents the lack of resources they had to make a movie with endless possibilities. And it’s silly to believe that all roads truly lead to “kill dad,” as Bandersnatch might lead you to believe. I really do think that they had a good idea for a concept, but relied so heavily on said concept that the actual content they made was just mediocre.

There was one moment that built my hopes that this episode would turn into something great, but like all choices in the movie, it led to quick endings that sent the viewer back to a previous scene. Rather than choosing to see a doctor at one point in the story, viewers can send Stefan to to Colin’s apartment. Colin is another video game developer, and he and Stefan take hallucinogens together. Colin uses the experience to tell Stefan that their lives are being controlled by someone else and that their own choices are meaningless. The scene ends with the choice to throw either Stefan or Colin over the apartment’s balcony to his death. I hoped this would lead to some deeper layers of a Black Mirror acid trip, but that didn’t happen. If Stefan goes over, Bandersnatch gets released posthumously and the movie ends. If Colin goes over, Stefan sees a monster and the movie ends. Moments that could be interesting turns in the story, but they just never pan out like they should, and the experience Bandersnatch wants you to have instead is far less interesting.

I’m glad I watched Bandersnatch because it really was one of the most original concepts for a show I’ve ever seen, but this was done at the expense of coming off as gimmicky and ultimately a lesser Black Mirror experience. People have found enjoyment out of Bandersnatch, but I don’t think I’ll ever have a desire to watch it again. I’ve seen all the endings that I know of and was occasionally entertained. If someone finds a secret ending or path that makes Bandersnatch more interesting, my opinion might change, but for now, it really was just meh. It serves as a lesson that not all good ideas produce good products.

Or, in terms the movie would understand, 2.5 stars out of 5. Kill Dad.

life-size 2- a life-sized disaster

Freeform’s Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve might very well be the best worst thing I’ve ever seen. It’s a true 80-minute travesty of absent direction, lazy acting, half-assed messages, and this dumpster fire is available for streaming on Hulu right now. My ribs still hurt from laughing so hard at this mess that it gets my full endorsement. Gather ’round the TV this Christmas and make it a new tradition. Watch with your friends, neighbors, and everyone else. Share the joy of Life-Size 2 this holiday season.

Okay, so I’m going to give a brief rundown of the p l o t before I tear into this one because it’s so nonsensical and half-written that a synopsis is essentially a replacement for commentary. Life-Size 2 is the sequel to 2000’s Life-Size, which starred a young Lindsay Lohan and Tyra Banks. The sequel follows a new protagonist, Grace Martin, a young woman who becomes CEO of Marathon Toys after her mother, the company’s founder, is sent to jail. The board of directors is considering discontinuing the company’s popular “Eve” doll, essentially a Barbie doll, due to waning popularity and the company’s difficulties with competition from online retailers. Grace, being a young party girl with no business experience, goes along with the plan because Eve doesn’t really matter to her. However, Grace’s young neighbor, Lex, wants Grace to reconsider the decision, and the two of them attempt a magical spell to save the company. This spell brings Grace’s own Eve doll to life. Life-size Eve (played by Tyra Banks) quickly teaches Grace to accept her inner child and understand the importance of  Eve dolls. It is revealed that an evil member of Marathon Toys’ board is attempting to take power away from Grace, but I don’t remember that guy’s name because the movie doesn’t care either. Eve wants to save the dolls because all of the dolls actually live in a  world called Sunnyvale, and the discontinuation of the toy line would bring about an end to Sunnyvale. When Grace realizes the importance of the dolls, Lex suggests that what they need to do is modernize Eve. The movie reaches its climax at the Marathon Toys shareholder meeting. Evil board member planned to use the event to take over as CEO, but lo and behold! Grace and Eve show up and unveil the new modern Eve dolls in a big rap number. We are gifted with Woke Eve, Love is Love Eve, Thicc Eve, Quarterback Eve, and CEO Eve to truly capture the five different flavors of women. Evil man is arrested for fraud and framing Grace’s mother, Grace’s mother is released from prison, Marathon Toys survives under the new line of dolls, and Grace hooks up with some dude named Calum while Eve brings a chef named Hyde back to her doll world.

Any details that seem vague in that summary are basically as vague as the movie presented them. To start off, the jail plot. We learn early on in the movie through a horribly low-budget news segment that Grace’s mom is in jail, but they never actually specify why that is. Did she murder someone? Is she a drug smuggler? It’s up to your imagination. At the end it’s revealed that her mom was framed by a scheming board member, but until that board member bluntly states, “I framed her mother!” late in the movie, it’s never mentioned. Grace doesn’t ever act like she suspects her mother is innocent. Until sketchy businessman blatantly states that he set her up, there’s no reason for viewers to believe anything other than that the mom’s innocent until then. Then we get a scene of Grace and her mother from jail. They speak Spanish to each other at various points, and it doesn’t give subtitles. Don’t get tricked into thinking this was an artistic statement. I doubt the people behind Life-Size 2 really thought that much.

To break up the monotony of complaining, it’s time to give credit where credit is due: Tyra Banks was definitely Tyra Banks. It’s not like she’s a fantastic actor or anything, but she puts 1000% into everything she does. No one in this movie can really act, but Tyra delivers real energy in every scene she’s in. Sometimes I don’t even think they gave her a script. One scene boiled down to a fashion show with Eve, and Tyra looks like she’s having a lot of fun with it. Tyra’s talent didn’t make the bizarre rap number any better, but at least she put some effort into Life-Size 2, which is more than anyone else involved could say.

Oh yeah, here’s something terrifying the movie did. After coming to life, Eve develops a relationship with a human chef named Hyde. The chef comes on to Eve because Eve ordered a ton of food from his restaurant and ate a stick of butter. That’s not a joke; that’s the plot. Anyway, they get romantically involved, but at the end of the movie, when Marathon Toys is saved, Eve has to return to Sunnyvale. Chef Hyde makes the decision to leave his life behind and go with Eve, and we see as they magically get transformed into dolls. Then in one of the final scenes of the movie we see Chef Hyde and Eve in the world filled with Eve dolls as Hyde attempts and fails to make food out of the plastic in the Barbie World. This is some real Twilight Zone shit here. He’s a chef trapped in a world where he can’t cook. And imagine what his family and friends would be thinking! He disappears without warning, and the only clue is a doll that resembles him. Can he come back to the human world? I’m genuinely concerned about the fate of Chef Hyde. And don’t say that he found true love. Eve is mentally a young girl, and they knew each other for a few days before he decided to abandon his life for her. This whole plot line is terrifying, and the logistics of it are giving me a headache. Next complaint.

Thinking of that odd relationship, this movie is bizarrely sexual. Not that I’m a prude or anything, and this movie was definitely written for an older audience, but like… why? Why did they think that a movie about a doll coming to life and a girl inheriting a company and saving a toy company needed middle school quality innuendo? The scene that introduces Eve first finds her in bed with Grace and Grace not realizing who it is. Grace assumes Eve was a drunken hook-up while Eve naively replies with seemingly sexual responses. It’s less funny and more awkward cringey. Plus I just can’t get over how dumb it is that someone genuinely got paid to come up with the idea, “Let’s make a sequel to that family comedy from eighteen years ago, except now the characters bang.”

Oh, this anecdote is less about the movie itself and more about public response I found while searching around on Twitter. There have been several (low quality) think pieces praising Life-Size 2 for its LGTBQ inclusion. Because of the hook-up mix-up scene, it seems that Grace’s character was written as bisexual. It’s never really addressed again, and it’s used mostly for laughs in the one (1) scene it’s in, but it is in there. Also there’s a little boy who’s presented as gay. It is kinda cool that this isn’t a major plot point. Rather it’s merely a normal part of the movie. But at the same time, this movie is a lazy mess, and if it includes anything progressive, it’s done solely so that D-list Twitter verifieds will praise it. Hollywood is a cynical place. They don’t care about you. They care about money. And when a movie is as lazy as Life-Size 2, there’s no reason to believe that the single thing they cared about was inclusion for inclusion’s sake. The bottom line: don’t fall for Hollywood slacktivism. Strive for actual inclusion.

And now, Christmas. If you remember back to the start of our journey through this quality program, I first called this movie Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve and haven’t mentioned Christmas once since then. I hear a lot of people these days debating whether or not Die Hard is a Christmas movie, and I think that’s the lesser Christmas movie debate. I want to know if people think Life-Size 2: A Christmas Eve is actually remotely a Christmas movie. The poster for the movie sure doesn’t make it look like one. Life-Size 2, final poster.jpg                                https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=59272022

Sure some of the scenes have Christmas trees in the backgrounds, and one scene definitely takes place in some sort of Christmas market thing, but other than that, there really is nothing about Christmas in this movie. About halfway through the movie I realized I forgot it was a Christmas movie and I came up with a conspiracy theory: Christmas was added in the last minute. At the end of the movie, when it’s announced that Grace’s mom will be released from prison, someone says “She’ll be out before Christmas,” and I think from that throwaway line made the writers realize, “Oh we can just throw some Christmas things in, release this in December, and boom: Christmas movie.” If I cared enough, I would rewatch the two definitely Christmas scenes to see if they have any differences in character hairstyles or other small details than the rest of the movie, but I’ve probably already spent enough time talking about a movie five people watched and three people cared about. Regardless, is it worthy of its Christmas subtitle? Not at all. Am I going to force everyone in my life to watch it with my every December? You bet!

Life-Size 2 unintentionally made me laugh harder than almost every intentional comedy I’ve ever seen, and I highly recommend you watch it. Sure it’s already past Christmas season, but it’s barely a Christmas movie, so you’re fine. How many movies end with a Tyra Banks rap? That’s right. One (1). This one.

Also, I didn’t really know where to put this, but Lil Yachty shows up and beatboxes for like ten seconds. So that’s a thing.

museum patrons

For the last several months, while in limbo between student life and the real life, I’ve ben working at a small museum in my hometown, a job that falls somewhere between exactly what I want to do with my life and something I’d rather just avoid. It was a fine job, and it came to me at a time I really needed it or whatever. It involved a lot of boredom though. And the pay wasn’t that great. And I felt disrespected. But whatever. I’m complaining. The museum did provide a fair amount of bizarre moments though, mostly through interactions with the museum’s odd crew of patrons.

Most of the people who came to my museum were of the older variety. As a young person I relish any opportunity to bitch about baby boomers, so that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I don’t know if this is common for museums in general or if this was exclusive for St. Joseph, Missouri (which I wouldn’t doubt), but I had this one lady complain that a portrait of her great-great-greatX3 grandma was not getting proper treatment. Basically, someone, maybe this lady, donated this portrait because, according to the lady, her ancestor was an early settler of the town. When the lady saw the portrait, she complained that the portrait was not given a placard to identify the woman. She complained in person and then sent a HANDWRITTEN letter expressing her disdain. Mind you, the portrait was being taken care of and was prominently displayed in the museum. The woman’s letter explained that the lady in the portrait was named Rachel Burns-Fleming, and her claim to fame was that she inherited a business after her husband died. It’s impressive that a woman owned a business in the 1850s, but at the same time, is it really that important? Because the museum’s small and needs money, it basically caters to any whim a person  has, and we had to make sure that we knew everything we could about Rachel Fleming. Even worse, this lady CAME BACK about two months later to make sure that we had sufficiently educated ourselves. It was like theSpanish Inquisition, except slightly more brutal. If you want to know how a museums wallows in mediocrity, this is it.

Old people really like their participation trophy equivalents at that museum. Before I started working there, this ancient woman painted a portrait of Edmond Eckel, a prominent architect in St. Joseph, and donated it to the museum. “Donated” is a bit strong of a word though. Donating implies that it’s charitable and, y’know, free. The portrait itself was indeed free, but she wanted the museum director to pay for a frame. It wasn’t a cheap frame either. And much like Rachel Whatsherface, it was expected that the Eckel portrait be displayed for all eternity. Here’s the thing though; the Eckel painting sucked. Like, it was not good. He’s wearing a bow tie that’s mostly a black splotch, and his skin is Trump orange. If this were just someone’s art project it would be fine, but it wasn’t. This lady felt it was entitled to be a museum piece. And because the museum, much like an overweight kid at prom, was held captive by anyone who gave them attention, they spent the money to frame it and planned to hang it. But the artist’s demands were not done. She not only expected the museum to frame it; she wanted an event to commemorate the unveiling of the museum. Once again, the museum obliged. Except, she canceled last minute for that event. And then she didn’t want the museum to display it until she could be there. So about five years later they finally were able to get the lady and her huge family on sight to dedicate the artwork. The ceremony was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen. It was the equivalent of parents overly praising their kids’ drawings, except the drawing was in a $60 frame and was expected to be displayed in a museum.

Most memorable incidents at the museum went like this. Someone, typically over the age of 70, demanded something they donated be put on display. One time someone legitimately called with a vague threat to the museum because the museum’s executive director was not listed as a member of the museum. Old people, man. But I’m being too harsh on the seniors. Let’s pick on some young people. 

September rings in the annual celebration of Free Museum Day, a tradition started by the Smithsonian. It’s a great idea that gives everyone a chance to explore museums, which can otherwise be quite costly. Museums serve as an educational tool, and quite frankly most people aren’t willing to spend money to learn. And I can’t blame them. You have $10 to either see a movie or a museum. There’s no shame in picking the former. Free Museum Day is a great way to bring people in who normally wouldn’t. My hometown is also a battleground in the opioid epidemic though, so use your imagination to guess the sorts of demographics Free Museum Day brings in. A tall, methy-looking dude and his wife/girlfriend/SO were some of my favorites. He walked around like he was an absolute expert on everything only to make statements like, “Look babe! The Fan!” He said that while pointing at a random fan on the wall, which according to him contained some history I was unaware of. He’s the expert I guess.

And then came a family that just made me sad. The parents were both pushing around 400 pounds, and their four kids were dirty and wearing torn tank tops. The dad was heavily tattooed, with special attention deserved to a fishhook that sat permanently on his face. The kids ran through the tiny museum without a hint of awareness for social norms, and I wasn’t paid enough to chase them down. Meanwhile their fat ass father stood there half aware saying, “Slow down, James,” in a gravely voice. I initially thought this was a funny sight, and since they didn’t break any priceless artifacts I guess I am more inclined to say it was funny, but when I thought about it later on it mostly just made me sad. Those poor kids were in the cycle. Lackluster parenting turns into a future where they themselves might have fishhooks on their faces. Or maybe I’m just judging people unfairly. Neither option speaks too highly about humanity.
Wow that took a turn I wasn’t expecting. Anyway, TL;DR the museum was generally boring and had a lot of annoying guests, but it did help me out when I needed it. Now let’s get back to laughing at some old folks.

the time the worry wouldn’t go away

Writing about anxiety is a weird thing for me. It’s not like I’m hesitant to share my experiences or anything. I consider myself a pretty open book on the subject. Have any questions? I’ll answer them. But it’s hard for me to really put into words the things I felt and the extent to which they bothered me. Most of the time the things I got transfixed on were nothing, small issues that I had no business spending hours and hours a day replaying in my head. This hard to explain part of anxiety was what really made me realize I needed help, and there is one moment I can pinpoint as the time the worry drifted beyond rational and couldn’t be handled with any sort of logic.

For a little background, I had several scholarships throughout college. Humble brag, right? These really made it possible for me to go through college on the timetable that I did and were, not to brag but, deservedly mine. I followed all of their guidelines and had nothing to worry about as far as losing scholarships or anything. But starting in the fall of my junior year my worries, which usually caused me to assume I had cancer or caused car accidents I didn’t notice, targeted my scholarships.

I wish I could remember the exact logic I used to conclude that I was violating my scholarship. It started with this vague feeling I would often get while anxious that something was “off”. Medically this was just my body responding to anxiety and my mind grabbing on to SOMETHING that could be causing the worrying to occur. I went through scholarship stipulations for a random scholarship I had nothing to worry about and concluded that I had probably done something to violate it even though logic would tell me that I had not. Immediately my forehead got sweaty and my heart ticked quicker. I knew this was one of those worries, the ones that would last a long time and couldn’t easily be swayed.

I had had a few of these types of worries before. They were painful and impossible to fully deal with until some odd condition was met. I would worry I had made a costly mistake that I wouldn’t know for certain was okay until a certain deadline, often one that would cause me to worry for weeks. Usually I would spend the time before then distracting myself, and I’d have periods in which I’d realize the thing I was worrying about was nothing, which would end and be replaced with more worry a few days later.

But here was a situation with no deadline. The way my anxious mind processed the situation was that I had to endlessly worry about the scholarship for basically ever. If I had made an error, I would hear about it from the school. Or the cops. Once my anxiety had time to age, the fears grew far out of proportion. An imaginary scholarship issue would result in jail time, for example. But if I didn’t hear from the school, it didn’t mean I was in the clear. It meant the school might not have found the error yet. Again, there was no error for them to find, but I worried. At this point in time my mind knew I was anxious, but even though it processed that I had anxiety, it still took worries like this completely seriously.

I remember staying awake that night, unable to twist correctly in my bed to get comfortable. I worried that the consequences of my nonexistent scholarship crisis would catch up with me. Even more though, I worried about the indefinite worry that this would cause me.

The next few weeks produced a daily cycle of worry that I convinced myself was going to be my reality from then on. I would wake up feeling good and ready to face the day only to be almost immediately reminded of my worry. I’d search for phrases like “scholarship fraud” and “receiving an incorrect scholarship” to reaffirm that my fears were justified. I’d find almost no results, and the results I’d find would have almost no relevance to my situation. Still I’d worry. I’d go to my archiving internship and then to class, and I would go back and forth between worrying and paying attention to material. When classes were over I’d go back to my dorm. I quickly realized that staying alone in my dorm did nothing to help my anxieties. I adopted the floor lounge instead. I was still alone, but at least he space was open. This did serve to help a little bit. Most nights I’d ask friends if they wanted to get dinner or something. Anything to distract me. And I’d try and fail to resist the temptation to go back to my unhelpful Google searches. At the end of the day I would get into bed and try to think of things to distract myself from worrying untilI tricked myself into falling asleep. The process repeated itself the next day.

Then I decided I wanted to put an end to this cycle. If I were thinking clearly I would’ve known that the solution would be to go speak to a doctor about options for anxiety treatment. Instead what I did was email my financial aid advisor. This was an option I had thought of previously but avoided because I worried about the consequences if they actually found that I had made an error. I sent this email on a Friday. In an ideal world I would’ve gotten a response immediately, and my worry would immediately subside. I did get a response, but it was an automated response telling me that the advisor was out of the office until Monday. Suddenly my slight albeit painful nagging anxiety had turned into a severe one as I knew that I would have an answer, but that I had to wait. The physical symptoms of anxiety, like the sweating and heart palpitations, were constant rather than occasional. Whereas I usually managed to distract myself for a few hours at a time, I could never distract myself. It really was one of the worst weekends of my life.

Finally Monday morning came. I checked my email every few minutes in a weird combination of excitement and hesitation. I wanted an answer. I didn’t want a certain answer. A response came back at about 9:15. The advisor confirmed what would’ve been obvious to most people; I hadn’t done anything wrong. Rereading the words of the email from my desktop screen at my internship, I breathed a sigh of relief. It felt good. I sweat for a while, and it felt like I was sweating the last of the worries from the scholarship conundrum away.

That afternoon I felt on top of the world. I couldn’t really explain why this was to anyone though, since I realized that my issue was crazy in the first place, and there was no way to adequately explain it. But it felt so relieving to go to class and be able to just think about class. Or if my mind wandered, it would be to fun things, not whether or not I had committed “scholarship fraud,” whatever that is. I ate lunch and was able to just relax. It felt so good. When I got back to my dorm I started my homework and was never tempted to open an incognito window to do my crazed searching in. It felt good.

Until it didn’t. I had this feeling up my spine that something was going to cause the worry to come back. I tried to ride the wave of positivity though. I asked a friend to go get evening coffee. If I could get out of my dorm, hang out with someone, have some laughs, that would ease my negative thoughts. I had my answer from the financial aid office, and there was nothing to worry about. But the friend couldn’t get coffee. I stayed in the dorm that night.

“What if they didn’t know the full situation?” I asked myself as the hours passed.

“What if by emailing them I made them think there might be a problem?” my worries kept going throughout the night.

“There’s no way to know for certain if I’m okay,” I eventually concluded.

I woke up the next morning and was immediately greeted with that familiar worry. It was as though I never got an answer from the aid advisor. At one point I even asked them again to see if that would help my worries. It did, but I quickly found another thing to worry about. It took me another few months of cycles of worry like this to finally convince myself I needed to see someone. It’s hard nowadays to even really remember exactly how badly I felt when anxiety was at its worst, which makes it challenging to put into words the way it controlled my life. Mostly though, I’m just glad it doesn’t happen to me anymore.

carlie appreciation

It’s funny to think of how drastically different, and often drastically worse, things could be if small actions were done differently. What if I had picked slightly different lottery numbers? What if I didn’t apply to that job?

I try not to think about how things would have been if I hadn’t spent the morning of Sunday, December 3rd swiping on Tinder. At the time I was struggling to work up the motivation to get out of bed. I knew I had essays to write and finals to prepare for, but my bed was comfortable, and I was enjoying being unproductive. I was disillusioned with Tinder at that point. My philosophy of just asking people to go on dates had amounted to very little, and even though I’d like to say I got used to not making connections or getting ghosted, it never really happened. The day before that Sunday, I actually had a Tinder date. I often forget about it because it was completely irrelevant.

But thankfully I was swiping on Tinder that morning. And somewhere between the boring, conventionally attractive sorority girls, probably sweet but unfortunately unattractive girls, and confusingly transsexual types that make me feel bigoted for swiping left I found Carlie. Her profile was one I fortunately didn’t ignore. Her primary photo was her Bitmoji, a decision I know she made because she doesn’t seek the attention of lousy, easy-to-please dudes who get off on unironic pickup lines they somehow expect to advance them further in life. She’s the type of person who could get attention without having to beg for it. Her linked Instagram was a meme account, hilariously called @trash_bandic00t. I loved her cool attitude, the kind I always wished I could have myself, as well as her sense of humor I immediately picked up on, one deeply in tune with bizarre modern memes. Plus, as her other photos showed, she was indeed very pretty. I’m not going to sit here and pretend to be the unrealistic type that doesn’t think looks matter.

So I swiped right and waited. Again, I was pretty disillusioned with Tinder by this point. Sure, Carlie seemed like the type of person I would get along with, but I hadn’t made a real connection with anyone yet, so there was really no reason to expect that this would be any different. But I was hoping we would match. It was early in the afternoon when we matched, if I’m remembering correctly. I know I was watching the Packers play the Buccaneers, so that seems right. When I checked Tinder for whatever time it was, I saw I had a new match. What followed was a concerted effort on my part to seem as cool and funny as Carlie through my initial messages. Inevitably I just looked as nerdy as I actually am.

Even so, we connected! Carlie added me to a meme-trading GroupMe, and I sent her my most recent meme finds in an attempt to look cool. We talked through the afternoon, and I eagerly awaited every new message she sent. I knew I wanted to meet her IRL, but timing asking someone out and striking the right tone were things that deeply concerned me. Ultimately I asked her to get coffee with me because I thought she was, “super rad” (It might’ve also been “hella rad,” my exact quotation may be off). Because I’m a basic bitch, I always went for coffee as a first date choice. It just seemed standard. Carlie is much cooler than coffee, and she suggested we go to Popeyes instead since we both like fried chicken and I mentioned that I hadn’t gone before. I already felt different talking to her than I did to other Tinder matches, and this just served as a metaphor for that. She is Popeyes when everyone else was coffee.

Our date, which is a word Carlie humorously does not like to refer to such meet ups as, was scheduled for December 5th, and I met her at the community newspaper she was an editor for as part of her journalism program. There was never a period of awkward introductions for us, or if there was I didn’t feel it, and I’m always awkward around new people (and old friends too). The period that normally would’ve been reserved for awkward silence was replaced with her showing me around the newsroom before we walked to her car to go to Popeyes. That’s not to say I wasn’t nervous on the inside because I was. She was really pretty and gave off the same cool energy she did over text, but I did feel a sort of calmness too, like we already knew each other or already had some cliche connection

We told a lot of stories to each other on that first date (where I was also introduced to the best chain fried chicken), but the biggest takeaway I had about Carlie from that first meet up was her driving. Watching Carlie drive was like watching Mozart conduct. She had every street in town memorized and she navigated them with the sort of precision no one else could achieve. I don’t know for certain if I fell in love watching her drive, but at the very least it confirmed those feelings. And we drove around a lot that night, and that is in no way a euphemism. We really did just drive around town, with each of us finding new ways to prolong the drive. And when she finally took me back to my dorm, we gave each other a salute as we separated.

I spent the rest of the night hoping she liked me the same way I liked her. I was never good at determining exactly how someone felt about me, but it certainly seemed to go well. I gave the date twelve salutes out of ten at least. But I was excited to see her again, to make sure she felt the same way as I did.

And I didn’t have to wait long. She informed me over text that she was going to go to the local piano bar on Thursday, which I did every week with my friend crew. I had never seen her before, so I hoped she was going because of me. Did she think I was just a friend she wanted to hang out with? No dipshit, if she wasn’t actually into you she wouldn’t want to meet up at a bar. That’s not how this works. Of course, I had no idea how these things were supposed to go. But anyway we met up and went to the piano bar.

A few drinks passed, and I attempted to keep up my obviously not-very-convincing facade of being cooler than I was. Soon enough, and I don’t really remember who started it or if either of us definitively did, but suddenly any questions I had about how she felt about me were cleared up and we started gushing over how we felt about each other. Even more telling was when we started making out in the middle of the dance floor. This was the sort of thing I would’e been so embarrassed about previously, but not here. Here it felt so right, and I never wanted it to stop. We bumped into other people on the floor, got in the way, I had someone passing by give me a wet willy, but it was amazing.

This began the endless honeymoon period of Carliethan. (Get it? It’s a perfect couple name)

I had never had a relationship before, so I didn’t really know how these things normally progressed. It was only a week or so until we would go to our respective homes for Christmas break. I was worried that if we didn’t go into break on a high note that she’d forget about me. Obviously, Carlie would never do that. Carlie is the most caring person out there, but I still worried. I wanted to spend every moment we had before break together because I knew after that I wouldn’t see her for a month. And thankfully we got to spend a lot of time together. She drove us around lot, which I quickly learned as a a turn on of mine. Basically everything she does is a turn on for me, but whatever.

Most of the time I wondered why she wanted to be with such a nerd like me. She could basically be with anyone she wants. No one can match her in terms of basically every category a guy could look for, and yet somehow I was the lucky one. One major example of this neediness came from when I asked her to be my girlfriend. It happened about a week after I met her, and I asked her over text while wine drunk. To be fair, I really just wanted to clear any confusion I had up, but that also was about the lamest thing I could have done. And yet, she didn’t tell me no, and she didn’t criticize me for it like I assume anyone else would have. Later she asked that I give her a proper promposal to ask her out, which took me until our two monthiversary to do. I still feel pretty bad about asking her the way I did because she truly deserves better, but I guess it could have turned out worse.

And we’ve been together ever since, for almost ten months now. I find it funny when I realize how it’s been so recently that we met each other, when it’s really difficult to picture a time in my life where I didn’t have Carlie with me. She boosts my confidence in the way no one else has ever been able to before. When she laughs at a joke of mine, I know it’s a good joke. She’s the type of person who would send a postcard from Japan addressed to my cat because it makes her smile and she knows I would appreciate it too.

I feel like any time with Carlie can be an adventure, and a good adventure at that. One day she sent me a message that she wanted to leave our college town for a weekend and go to Indianapolis. Why Indianapolis? Why not? And we had no plans, and I know the trip was stressful, but I don’t feel like most people could just decide to have an adventure like that. Even our conventionally boring times are adventures to me. One of my favorite memories so far is simply bingeing BuzzFeed’s Unsolved series with her.

Not to brag, but I don’t think I’ve seen a relationship work better than Carliethan. Every couple I see is always fighting or just doesn’t seem to complement each other well in some form or another. But we don’t fight. Like, at all. And it’s funny because we’re pretty different if you actually look into it. Our personalities, on paper, can come across as almost opposites (introvert vs. extrovert, optimist vs. pessimist), and yet we go together perfectly. I think that might be partially the key to it all. Find someone who complements your strengths and weaknesses like Carliethan.

Plus, being with someone as perfect with Carlie has helped me in a number of practical ways as well. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do with my life before I met Carlie, and in some ways I honestly still don’t, but being with her has helped me prioritize things for myself. I know generally what makes me happy, and I’ve been able to find jobs that would help me further my happiness. She has also taught me the importance of skin and haircare. Every time I lotion my face I do so knowing that it is something Carlie would approve of. That’s a generally good rule of life: live in such a way that Carlie would approve of.

I have an endless supply of things to say about Carlie because it really is not an overstatement to say that she is the best thing that has happened in my life, as cheesy as that definitely sounds. I think I’ll stop here though. This is just a taste of how amazing she is. Long live Carliethan!

Y’all should be jealous of me because I get the title of Carlie’s boyfriend,

Ethan Tyrrell