Ask an Aspergirl

Essays and poems about Autistic experience, mental illness, & (post-) ABD life

Tag: insert pop culture reference here

Tessering between known and felt realities

When I encounter competing deadlines (and subsequent fears of  inadequacy), I have trouble seeing past the experience.  It helps to talk with my PhD mentor as these concerns build — when the waves of anxiety crash so violently that I feel pulled under and sleep fails to arrive. She listens when I’m struggling and continues to remind me that I’ve gotten through these situations before — sometimes in response to my distressed text messages sent in the midst of looming projects.

I hold onto others’ words and faith in my abilities when I doubt myself. I adapt conversations I’ve had with the supportive people in my life — therapeutic figures, PhD mentor, and close friends — into monologues I can reread (and eventually internalize) when I’m feeling stuck.

“I don’t want to push you to see this image of yourself — a strong, competent woman who’s been through and dealt with a lot this year — but I see her, and I suspect other people in your life do as well. Someday you will too.”

“You will get through this. Just one day at a time. And those of us who support and care about you, we are here for you as life keeps happening.”

It’s helped to have people in my life I can talk with when I’m feeling stuck. I’ve had a lot of these conversations via text and email, probably because I can write the gist of my concerns and ask for help before I stop myself from doing so. I have an easier time transferring my worried thoughts to written words rather than trying to insert these concerns into real-time dialogue.

Before I started talking with other people about my muddled thoughts and feelings, I journaled nearly every day. When I started therapy, I brought these pages with me as a way of sharing what I felt unable to verbalize. These days, I’ll ask my friends and mentors to read sections of my poetry notebook  when I don’t know how to say what’s been going on in my head. In doing so, I invite my conversation partner to meet me in the midst of my worries.

How we travel

When asked how I’m doing these days, I often reply, “I’m managing.” I’m reminded of the passage in A Wrinkle in Time in which Mrs. Who and Mrs. Whatsit describe tessering. I feel like that ant sometimes as I navigate these felt and known realities: I’m making progress in my academic and social-emotional world, even when I feel stuck and afraid of the future. I imagine myself falling apart, but then I don’t. In the midst of these fears, I do the next thing and act as if I will be okay.

I’m trying to let go of the idea that I’m supposed to be calm amongst anxiety-provoking scenarios. Long before I learned I met diagnostic criteria for GAD, I described myself as a worrywart. I’m currently living in a perfect storm of interpersonal and academic stressors, and yet I’m grateful for the people I’ve found who know my struggles don’t negate my abilities. That community helps me tesser.


Quirky kids among us (and the adults they become)

Troy and Abed in the morning“I hate being an oddball,” Meg said. “It’s hard on Sandy and Dennys, too. I don’t know it they’re really like everybody else, or if they’re just able to pretend they are. I try to pretend, but it isn’t any help.”

“You’re much too straightforward to be able to pretend to be what you aren’t,” Mrs. Murry said. “I don’t think I can do anything till you’ve managed to plow through some more time. Things will be easier for you. But that isn’t much help right now, is it?” (1)

“Kids we are calling ‘quirky’ are the ones who do things differently. They live with us in our houses — but they live in slightly different time zones, seeing the world around them through idiosyncratic lenses, walking just a  little out of step, marching, even dancing to the beat of different drummers.” (2)

As I think about my elementary and middle school years, I recognize I was a quirky kid. I read several years above grade level and in fourth grade, I found Madeleine L’Engle’s novels in the city library’s teen section. Reading A Wrinkle in Time, I related to Meg’s oddness and frustrations with her inability to fit in with her peers. She couldn’t pass for normal — as Mrs. Murry reminded her, “She was much too straightforward” for that to work. I collected big words and used them in stilted conversations in which I tried to show peers my passions (see attempt to start an Ubbi Dubbi club) (3).

I read constantly, and my all-encompassing interests shifted with available materials. Going to the public library weekly was a favorite pastime for a voracious reader like myself.  I remember being utterly fascinated with new religious movements  and being the only teenager who attended the world religion seminars at church. Back then, I felt more comfortable around adults than I did spending time with my peers. Maybe I could relate better to adults; maybe they were more accommodating to my quirky ways — maybe both.

I am a quirky adult: I’m rule-bound, utterly resistant to change, and prone to monologues about pop culture and feminism. I learned sarcasm as a second language and often miss the forest for the trees. I’m detail oriented and make connection between things that others don’t see. Sometimes when I try to describe my thoughts, I’m met with blank stares or exhausted looks. I have unconventional social skills; I’ve learned workarounds for my lack of attention to social nuance. I manage relatively well, but it can be an isolating experience. Maybe that’s why I return to A Wrinkle in Time when I’m feeling like an oddball — Meg (and Madeline L’Engle) understood me.

Quirky Kids is an informative book for parents helping their quirky kids  find their fit in their schools, families, and communities. These quirky kids “are the ones who do things differently” and have “skewed development, temperamental extremes, and social complications.” With support, neurodiverse children and adolescents  — who may experience attentional difficulties, hyperactivity, depression, or anxiety as well — will become adults who manage quite well most days (4).

They’ll have their off-days – when they’re feeling ashamed of themselves or overloaded with expectations – but they will cope, even thrive, as they grow into themselves. I am growing into myself as I find my own ways of managing  and surprisingly thriving.

“The world needs its quirky children, its quirky adults, its quirky minds, and its quirky sensibilities; for all the challenges they face, quirky people enlarge and enhance life for us all.”

  1. L’Engle, M. (1962). A wrinkle in time. New York, NY: Farrar, Strous, and Giroux.
  2. Klass, P., & Costello, E. (2003) Quirky kids. New York, NY: Ballantine Books.
  3. Ubbi Dubi –
  4. Autistic, Allistic, Neurodiverse, and Neurotypical: Say what? –

Becoming Meg

swiftly tilting planet“Her inner vision of herself was still more the adolescent Meg than the attractive woman she’d become.” ~ A Swiftly Tilting Planet

“Imagine a version of yourself who’s self-assured, confident of who she is, but also remembering that the ongoing narrative of yourself shapes who you become – not about finding yourself, but developing a sense of self. What would she be like?”

My therapist and I had a conversation about Meg developing into herself across Madeleine L’Engle’s The Time Quintet. Those books have always been a touchstone for me. For much of the series, Meg is trying to understand who she is and how she fits in the world.

I’ve read A Wrinkle in Time countless numbers of times, but I’m relatively sure that I’ve never returned to A Swiftly Tilting Planet. It seemed that Meg was in the peripherals of the narrative. Returning to the novel, it’s interesting to notice the parallels between it and Wrinkle: understanding Calvin’s mother and watching Meg still finding her place in the Murry family. Ananda, a stray dog appears on the Murry’s doorstep much like Fortinbras did in Wrinkle, and a kitten keeps her company in her attic bedroom. I wondered how Meg settled into her life. Did she attend college? It seemed like Meg was denied her own narrative, instead serving as a conduit for Charles Wallace, wife of Calvin, and sister of the twins. I missed the sense of Meg we got in Wrinkle. L’Engle wrote a Swiftly Tilting Planet in 1978, in the midst of second-wave feminism, when women were carving out spaces for themselves between home and work. She mentioned Meg briefly in An Acceptable Time, noting that she was a scientist.

In Swiftly Titling Planet Meg serves as an anchor to the world for Charles Wallace and maternal figure — she’s defined by her pregnancy. Throughout the novel, other characters keep worrying about her in her supposedly fragile state.  I remember reading about the unfinished book (The Eye Begins to See) L’Engle wrote about Meg and how she’d settled into her later life. I wanted to see Meg defined on her own terms. I did find the Swiftly Tilting Planet‘s focus on the “might have been” fascinating – in the imagined and experienced other narratives.

Wrinkle takes place in a relational context in which kything strengthens the emotional bond between Meg and Charles Wallace. Its world is saved by love and connection. I found myself identifying with Meg and wondering if she settled. Is this what she imagined her life to be? And yet her mother had a rich life with both family and career, including Bunsen burner stews. Do we know how we’ll be or who will become? How much can we control it? I pictured the Meg of Swiftly Tilting Planet to be in her 20s, at home, while Calvin attends the conference in London. I always expected Meg to end up with work of her own, although I read that she finished her PhD during the Polly O’Keefe novels.

Looking back at the titles featuring Meg, I noticed that her relationships deepen across the novels; she seems more connected to other people. She doesn’t feel so odd anymore. I suppose that was the dialogue my therapist was trying to continue with me — that as we become adults, we develop a sense of self-acceptance. Meg seems happy with who she is becoming and no longer feels she is “doing everything wrong.” I still think it’s strange that in Swiftly Tilting Planet, L’Engle describes what Meg looks like, but not who she is, so I choose to imagine her as the headstrong young woman from Wrinkle – the clever one who loved math and fell in love with a boy named Calvin. They made a life together, and I think that Meg found contentment in it.

There is life outside my apartment: Scheduling free time

Leslie Knopp finds time for self-care.

Leslie Knopp finds time for self-care.

I finally registered for fall classes a few days ago. I’ve had my advising plan (in a spreadsheet that my like-minded mentor emailed me no less) since May, so I was wondering why I waited until the end of July to complete the process. I told myself I was busy and would eventually get to it. Sometimes, I think I’m waiting for things to slow down to a manageable pace before I can complete any additional tasks, especially ones that involve scheduling for the future. Signing up for fall classes reminds me that sometimes grad school feels like I’m playing Tetris with myself as I allocate my time: one task moves and another quickly arrives to fill the space. The past few semesters, it’s helped to create a visual schedule that contains my weekly tasks written in brightly colored blocks. Somehow seeing everything I need to attend in front of me helps me feel better when school gets busy since I know where I need to be and when.

Waiting for things to slow down to a manageable pace rarely works for me. Things don’t just slow down on their own. I realized that I needed to schedule time to be around other people and do activities I enjoyed, especially as the semester grew busier. Scheduling self-care helps me to avoid isolating myself, which tends to be my default setting when I’m feeling overwhelmed with demands. I try to pick activities where I will be in contact with other people who share similar interests. If they asked about my week, I could respond honestly because these people were familiar points of contact. We had some context from our weekly conversations, but they were separate from my day-to-day life.

Finding free time is most important when I feel like I’ll never have enough time to get things done. When I’m convinced there’s never enough time, I tend to work until I’m exhausted and have trouble recognizing when I’m no longer making progress. I lose myself in research or writing. On those days, it helps to remind myself that there is in fact “life outside my apartment” (thanks Avenue Q). That life might be found in attending womyn’s writing circle or a dance aerobics class. In these places, I can focus on the present moment, the one where I’m responding to a writing prompt or following the instructor’s steps, rather than worrying about tasks later that evening. It’s difficult to worry and dance at the same time, for fear of falling over. I try to remember that taking a break is good; the work will still be there when I return.

I started making my fall schedule and although I’m still trying to wrap my mind around working part-time while attending classes, it’s better seeing things on paper. Does school feel real yet? Not yet, but it’s still a month away. It seems that every semester, I find myself wondering if this will be the one where everything falls apart. But then it doesn’t — I finish the project or make a B in the class and wonder how I’d convinced myself things were going to end so badly.  I know by now that I tend to anticipate negative outcomes. When I start to go down the rabbit hole of what ifs, I have a few options to diffuse the worry: I can ask myself how I would cope with the most feared outcome or I can distract myself (sometimes both). Spending time around people helps me get out of my own head either way.

Scheduling free time seems a bit counterintuitive, so far it’s been an effective strategy for me. It’s comforting to glance at the laminated visual schedules posted on my walls reminding me that I won’t be staring at my textbooks indefinitely. There are places I can go and people I can see — people who will earnestly ask me about my week and have stories of their own to share. So dear readers, how do you practice self-care in the midst of busyness?

Measuring a week — in poetry

It’s been a weird week and a half, so today’s a bit of retrospective day. I was thinking about “Seasons of Love,” from Rent, specifically the lyrics about measuring time:

“In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights
In cups of coffee
In inches, in miles, in laughter, in strife.”

So this is newish for the blog, but I’ve been writing what I like to call prosy poetry since the end of January. There’s a womyn’s writing circle that meets once a week, just to check in with on another and discuss our work, that I usually attend. Something about writing helps me to make sense of an otherwise chaotic space. Between grad school and my poor lizard brain (when the GAD gets bad enough, I try to remember that my brain may not be evolved enough to think rationally — just need to help calm it back down the best I can), life feels like such a mess sometimes. This thought quickly evolves from life is a mess –> I am a mess, which is not necessarily the case. As my therapist likes to remind me every time we meet, “You’re doing the best you can all things considered; I would be more surprised if you weren’t anxious about this.”

fucking train station

March 29 — After processing emotionally-fraught things with a friend after sharing the Sophie sessions of In Treatment with her, so maybe I was ready.

Easter Sunday — I wrote this in church as I reminded myself why I was staying in my college town for Easter weekend.

April 1 — began with the phrase, “The tech bubble burst, and my dad went with it…”

April 7 – Bridges — Dealing with interpersonal relationships is ridiculously frustrating. We’ll just go with that, dear readers. Make of this piece what you will.

Creating charts and making meaning

I was thinking about the How I Met Your Mother episode in which Marshall makes numerous charts, to the point in which the group holds an intervention for him.

Marshall: This circle represents people who are breaking my heart. And this circle represents people who are shaking my confidence daily. And where they overlap — Cecilia.

I remember my friend’s advice to diagram my thoughts, which led to my creating elaborate Venn diagrams about my history, emotional state, and social behaviors. I noticed how everything seemed to fit together when illustrated in chart form, using notecards and magic markers.  I’ve even drawn pictures around written verse — what I call prosy poetry —  about how my life had been lately. I’ve also made maps of how my week had gone with arrows linking seemingly significant things together, including excerpts from memorable conversations I’d had recently.

It helps me to see my scattered self  (poor lizard brain: in my ridiculously anxious moments) in an organized format. I feel more together somehow, as if I could make sense of incredibly messy situations. In these times, I feel horribly scattered, and sometimes drawing or writing about my experiences, and sometimes creating visuals, helps me piece myself back together — even when I only think I’m falling apart. I made a diagram describing how I could see my interpersonal experiences, Aspergirl traits, and anxiety spectrum condition using a strengths-based approach. It’s a reframing of sorts for when I feel odd or misunderstood again.

Beyond the overlap

  • I was inspired by Adulting’s flowcharts and doodles, as well as the diagrams we used to make for my logic class in undergrad [e.g., examining the four basic categorical statements (Vaughn, 2010, p. 264-268)].

Working with cI've lived this, mostly on my monologuing dayshildren means I’ve collected a lot of art supplies over the years, which I tend to use when I’m distressed or bored — especially markers and my 24-pack of Crayola colored pencils. There’s something comforting about sorting one’s thoughts using color, as if there could still be an organizing principle at work in my anxious states. Lately, I’ve been writing and then illustrating around the contents of my prosy poetry. It’s an illuminating way to process emotionally fraught concepts, and there’s coloring involved!

References: Vaughn, L. (2010). The power of critical thinking: Effective reasoning about ordinary and extraordinary claims (3rd ed.). New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Blaming oneself in relationships and finding people who notice your strengths

change is like stepping off a curb...

It’s realizing you’ve stepped off a sidewalk curb, without even realizing it was there.

Let’s read through this scene together (by now, dear readers, you’ve noticed my love of emotional mirrors via popular culture) and then begin our discussion:

Scene from In Treatment – Sophie, week 8

Aspergirls seem to get so used to looking for environmental cues that they blame themselves when they miss them, especially when social scenarios end badly in the process. I  have a fellow Aspergirl friend who says that “change is like stepping off a curb without realizing it’s there.” Such changes, especially when we miss the cues leading up to them, are difficult to process emotionally. Many of us also have a history of trauma or social frustrations (e.g., bullying or fucked-up relationships) that make us feel powerless enough as it is, so we look for ways to enlarge our responsibility over a set of circumstances beyond our control, if only to feel a sense of power over them.

This reminds me of the passage, “While it’s true that some Aspergirls just don’t want friends and are happy being alone, the thing I have found in my research is not so much an innate lack of desire for friends, but an acceptance of the fact they will never have them” (Simone, 2010, p. 100). Simone also reminds us that “Doctors and diagnostic manuals are telling us that we are not cultivating appropriate peer relationships, but in light of all these things it makes sense” (p. 100). When I was younger, I remember feeling more comfortable around older people than my same-aged peers. They seemed more accepting of my all-encompassing interests and idiosyncratic language. I was the girl experimenting with big words, while wearing sweater vests.

I suppose the good news is that as we grow older, we can surround ourselves with people who tolerate, and even enjoy our quirky ways of being. I’m always on the lookout for people who love film or other kinds of media as much as I do. There’s a kind of love that comes in talking with someone who shares your passions (be it comic books, black-and-white films, or feminist zines, and everything in between).  Supportive people don’t make you feel like it’s completely your fault when you monologue for a while or say something completely out of context.

As I was reading Aspergirls, I also noted this: “Because of Asperger/fluid intelligence, I was able to make some unique connections that were beyond what I was being taught, and I was misunderstood” (p. 112). I definitely have had times when I’ve been on the receiving end of the side-glance of people mildly confused about how I pieced things together. My closest friends and colleagues take the time to understand how my Aspie brain processes information in seemingly strange ways. But I’ve also noticed that this sort of  meaning-making allows me to examine problems in novel ways. Those who notice my strengths have helped me to empower myself.

I remember one conversation in particular in which a friend asked me, “What would you think of a girl who’d been through all of that and was thriving in a Ph.D. program?” “She’d be pretty amazing,” I said. What stuck with me was her reminder, “You can tesser — you see things in ways that others can’t.” My friend knows I love A Wrinkle in Time, but her statement resonated with me in a way I hadn’t expected. Oftentimes, my friends help me to see past myself, when I have trouble doing so on my own.

Aspergirls, anxiety, and the therapeutic process

Reassuringly enough, Liz Lemon finds life to be perplexing sometimes.

Reassuringly enough, Liz Lemon also finds life to be perplexing sometimes.

This evening, I read a piece that Todd VanDerWerff wrote following the series finale of In Treatment. Every now and then his words will come back to me :

“Therapy, at some level, is performance art. It’s a deliberately created space where people come together to engage in an artificial construct meant to get at deeper truths but not really guaranteed to do so. Therapy only works if all of the players agree to the artifice. The second anyone realizes that it is, to some degree, bullshit, the whole edifice falls apart. That’s not to say that the idea of therapy is bullshit or that real insight can’t be gained from going into therapy. But therapy as we understand it is a construct built by therapists and patients over the course of a century, and the “roles” played by both parties are as firmly entrenched as actors on a stage performing to an audience. Deeper truths can be found within that construct, but both parties have to be willing to agree to the artifice. And that’s not always the case.”

As an Aspergirl, I find my life is filled with scripts, some I intentionally created to know what to say in a difficult situation (e.g., talking to a supervisor at work about a potentially problematic situation) and others that I inadvertently use  on a daily basis, such as in a coffee shop making conversation with stranger. I’ll find myself asking what the person sitting in the booth beside me is reading or studying and follow-up with questions based on those interests. I’ve gotten quite good at the process over the years, and yet I still wonder if I’m bothering them. That’s because inevitably I’ll lapse into a monologue about my own interests and then feel self-conscious. “Am I talking too long? Do you need to get back to what you’re doing? Do you even care what I’m saying?” Some of these statements remain in my sea of thoughts, while others I attempt to verbalize.

So how does this idea of scripts fit into the therapeutic process you might ask, dear reader? As an Aspergirl with an anxiety spectrum condition, I’ve been to a lot of intake interviews over the years. Such sessions consist of semi-structured interviews and behavioral observations, which in themselves are highly scripted. Therapy itself can be scripted as well, but it’s difficult for me when a therapist won’t acknowledge the reality of the situation. As much as I share, they’ll always be the ones guiding the session, asking the questions, and in turn, editing the script. It makes sense to me as someone with child and adolescent counseling experience and as a patient that, “Therapy as we understand it is a construct built by therapists and patients over the course of a century, and the ‘roles’ played by both parties are as firmly entrenched as actors on a stage performing to an audience.”

My anxiety alters the way I manage social scripts, both the ones I’ve created and those that are part of my daily experiences. When someone provides constructive criticism, my lizard brain automatically jumps to all the things I supposedly did wrong that day. My anxiety deeply affects my perceptions of the world, even as I take my psych meds and use the cognitive-behavioral tools I know so well.

Even in therapy, I worry about how I’m perceived. The waves of anxiety get smaller and smaller, but they never seem to go away entirely. And so I continue to hope that “deeper truths can be found within that construct” as I seek out mental health professionals who attempt to understand my experiences, but can also acknowledge that they will never fully understand me. That’s okay, good even. The women therapists over the years with whom I’ve enjoyed working have been amazing listeners who only asked questions because they wanted to better understand my story.

In hearing others’ stories we better understand our own.

At a certain point in your life in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by…

Phoebe: Look. I think about Alice falling. And I look down, and I get scared.

Miss Dodger: Yes

Phoebe: I don’t want to do those things or say those things. I just have to… except here. Everywhere else, I feel ugly.

Miss Dodger: I want to tell you something which may not make any sense. But I should say it just so that one day, you might remember it and maybe it will make you feel better. At a certain point in your life, probably when too much of it has gone by… you will open your eyes and see yourself for who you are… especially for everything that made you so different from all the awful normals. And you will say to yourself… “But I am this person.” And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.

Phoebe: I’m so scared.

Miss Dodger: We all are.

I’ve found Miss Dodger’s monologue from Phoebe in Wonderland  to be unbelievably comforting when I’m having a hard day, and I feel so odd and out-of-place. I first saw this film in the middle of my undergrad years, and it resonated with me in a way I hadn’t expected. It’s a narrative I’ve come back to on numerous occasions, for reasons I’m still beginning to understand. I was reminded of this scene yesterday when I basically outed myself (as a person with clinically significant levels of anxiety) at a staff meeting.

A fellow staffer asked, “Did you have too much coffee this morning [because I was talking more quickly than I usually do, and my conversational pace is already relatively fast]?” And so rather than using any of my standard workaround / “that is none of your business” redirective statements, I simply replied, “No, my psych meds are just leveling out.” Our interaction felt pretty awkward from my end, and my friend seemed disheartened that she’d pushed me to disclose my mental health status, but at the same time, it was nice to just normalize my experience. As I begin to tell my own story, I continue to be surprised by how terribly ordinary mental health conditions can be. A friend of mine says, “None of us have it together. Some of us are just better at pretending [to be normal – as Liane Holliday Willey would say] than others.” I get that now — maybe in a way I didn’t before I started attempting to be more open with others, as I share my own vulnerabilities.

Not to say the process of measured self-disclosure (right place, right time, and right person) or self-acceptance, for that matter, is easy, but it’s more manageable than I expected. So I’m an Aspergirl with an anxiety spectrum condition… That’s definitely not fun and can feel overwhelming at times, but I’m getting better at finding social-emotional supports.

These people remind me, “I will open my eyes and see myself for who I am… especially for everything that made me so different from all the awful normals. And I will say to myself… ‘But I am this person.’ And in that statement, that correction, there will be a kind of love.”

Developing friendships via popular culture

Paul and Sophie

Scene from In Treatment (2008) featuring Paul and Sophie discussing her journal, Hermione.

I find myself using a shared love of media to find people who enjoy my presence and could one day become my friend. Knowing that I have all-encompassing passions for films and dramas, it helps to surround myself with like-minded people (e.g., poetry circles and literary groups). I remember watching Sophie’s sessions on In Treatment with a friend in undergrad and finally realizing that my friend understood me. We nodded at the same moments onscreen as Paul’s adolescent client, Sophie, dealt with the complexities of her family, and we made conversation regarding interactions between characters over the episodes. Because I sometimes have trouble explaining my thoughts and feelings to others, it helps to have character dramas to analyze with a friend as I attempt to share experiences from my own life. It feels safer somehow to strongly empathize with someone onscreen than to attempt to describe events from my own life — at least at first.

Maybe I look for people who enjoy the same books, films, and television shows that I do because I expect that I’ll monologue about these subjects at some point. There are times in conversations when I’ll become so excited about particular media and completely forget that the other person may have lost interest. I’ve noticed lately that I tend to miss those nonverbal cues indicative of others wishing I would move on to another topic. When I surround myself with fellow bibliophiles and fans of character dramas (e.g., In Treatment), I don’t have to worry so much when I lapse into monologuing because if the other person is equally interested, we remain in conversation-mode.  My closest friends may not have the same passion that I do for particular dramas, but they can share in my joy about these things regardless.

Even when I’m making casual conversation in coffee shops, I tend to lapse into film, book, or television-related comments within the first 15 minutes or so. Because my speech is often sprinkled with pop culture references, I feel less awkward around media savvy people (which thankfully is a lot of people in their 20s and 30s because of the internet). But other times, I feel like that weird girl who keeps referring to things no one really cares about or understands anyway. On a good day, I begin such conversations, and then eventually ask if the other person still wants to continue the discussion, so we talk for a bit longer. On the best days, I find someone who’s equally nerdy about films, television programs, or books, and we have an emotionally intimate talk centered on these topics.

For me, pop culture can often serve as an emotional mirror: It’s a way for me to process my own thoughts and feelings as I attempt to understand others at the same time. Hence, many of my comments around others begin, “Have you heard of ______ [insert pop culture reference here].” But maybe that’s okay.

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