Eye of the Beholder

I posted these two pictures on Instagram about two days apart. Both times, I did it because I had time to kill and nothing else to photograph. The one on the left had the caption “Waiting for the bus is megasuperawesomefun.” The one on the right, I had captioned, “I look really friggin’ weird without glasses.”

I posted it without thinking, because that’s usually how I roll on the internet. I went off to my friend’s birthday dinner and came back to a bunch of comments that all said “Oh no! You look beautiful!”

And that’s lovely. Really. But I didn’t post it fishing for compliments. I swear.

I have an image of me in my head. It’s the first picture. It’s with glasses. I’ve had them since I was eight. When I don’t have them on, my vision is so poor, I can’t see what I look like. I just see a blur. So in my head, it’s all glasses, all the time.

When I saw the glasses-less picture, my immediate thought was exactly what I posted: “I look really friggin’ weird.” And I’m pretty sure everyone took that as a bad thing. It isn’t.

In that photo, in my opinion, I look… not like me. Not in a bad way–it’s still my face, and my face is, well, my face. But it isn’t the face I’m used to seeing, both in the mirror and in my mind’s eye. I’m almost always “the girl with glasses”–the nerdy girl with glasses, the quiet girl with glasses, the funny girl with glasses. You see the pattern?

People identify certain ways. This applies to both personalities and the appearances. When you’re faced with an image of yourself that doesn’t match your personal view, it’s weird. It may not necessarily off-putting, but it can throw your balance a little bit. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It may even be a good thing. I think I look quite nice in the second picture. Weird, but nice. It’s a different look for me.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that weird and different aren’t bad things. They are often the start of a new and amazing direction. No, I’m not saying that me ditching my eyewear is going to revolutionize anything. I’m saying that weird and different, no matter the scale, should be embraced. Seek it out. It may improve things.

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El Oh El

Public transportation is, as any city-dweller knows, a necessary evil. Whether stuck driving behind the bus or stuck on it, it cannot be done away with. As one without her driver’s license, I depend on it. Unfortunately.

I don’t mind traveling with complete strangers, which seems to be the common complaint I run into. They are the least of my concerns. I have the benefit of time to myself, and I enjoy the fact that I’m doing my bit for the environment. I don’t have to worry about insurance bills or car payments. No missed exits, no jerk cutting me off because he’s late for work. Or the bar.

My aversion to public transportation is simply because it magnifies some of my biggest faults. I’m not particularly punctual and I’m horrible at running. Public transport requires me to either be on time, or (and this is usually the case due to my easily distracted nature) I must run for my life—or, rather, my employment.

But once on the el (my usual mode of transport), I’m fine. I keep to myself. I try and keep to the boundaries of my stupidly uncomfortable seat. I stick my nose in a book and drown everyone out with music–at a reasonable level, of course.

Not all people are content to do this, however. People blast music, yell into their phones, smoke, argue, make-out. I’ve even seen people sleep on the el. Not a quick catnap, head propped up on your hand (I think almost everyone is guilty of this), but an honest-to-goodness proper slumber, REM-cycle and all.

I once had a man fall asleep on me. I was in high school at the time, even more mousy and non-confrontational than now. It was winter, and he was wearing a puffy coat in a robin’s-egg blue, with a matching ear-warmer band wrapped around his bald head. Ghosts of his rocker lifestyle remained on his knuckles: faded tattoos hoarsely yelling LOVE and HATE. He sat in the aisle seat. Desperate for a seat in the crowded car, I settled into the empty chair, not believing my luck.

The el lurched to the side, and he leaned on me slightly. A gentle nudge sent him back to his proper place. The incident repeated: the el lurched, he leaned, I nudged. But then he began to lean on me with no prompting from the el. Now, gentle nudges weren’t enough to send him back to his own area. He was invading mine, leaning more and more heavily on my shoulder. He was big and bulky, and I was his opposite. My only defense was my elbow, which I jammed repeatedly into his side. The first few pokes seemed to send him the other way, if only a little, but then he adapted. He went back to leaning on me.

I was trapped. And, I quickly realized, a show. People did nothing to help and everything to get a better view. They craned their necks around others to watch me struggle to not be crushed. I swear I heard snickering.

I survived by the grace of timing. My stop finally came and I squeezed myself out from under this strange man I never met (but was now uncomfortably intimate with) and dove from the car. I managed to catch sight of him plummeting to the empty seat, almost clipping his head on the windowsill. He woke up after that.

I’ve been asked out on dates, been hit up for money, been ogled at, and been asked if I was running away while riding public transportation. One guy even tried to kiss me. I’ve been cursed at verbally and through writing. And I just accept this. I focus past the obscenities carved into the window and watch the scenery pass me by. I try to enjoy it. It’s tranquil. A sort of in-between space where I don’t have to worry about where I’m coming from or where I’m going. You don’t get that driving a car.

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A Letter to My Sixteen-Year-Old Self

Dear Me,

Hi. It’s you. From the future. Don’t get excited–it’s not great. Doctor Who’s a Thing now, though. It was awesome, and then it eventually got not so awesome. Remember how much you hated Trial of a Time Lord? Or Mel, and her stupid fucking carrot juice? Yeah. It’s like that. But Christopher Eccleston is gonna blow your mind.

You’ve just finished your sophomore year. Congrats. Here’s a fair warning about your junior year: it’s going to suck. Chemistry class will be especially bad. I’m pretty sure the ten-page paper on nanotechnology you summer assignment clued you in. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. She won’t actually grade it, and you’re going to bomb the class anyway. Because she’s insane and you hate chemistry.

But there are some other factors at work. Mainly, the fact that you are clinically depressed. You’re not going to figure this out for a while, but that’s what it is. What you are going to figure out is that cutting yourself helps deal with the pain. I wish you wouldn’t do this.  But the advantage of being an older version of you is knowing why you do it. It’s a numbing agent. There is a hurt in you that you think has no source. So you give yourself pain that you can see and touch and watch heal. There is a therapeutic element to it. It’s just not a healthy one. Trust me: I have learned the hard way that it is no way to deal with your problems. It’s stupid and dangerous and doesn’t actually help anything. All it will do is give you something else to lie about. And the panic you feel over that is just going to make you do it more. You just keep circling the drain, getting closer and closer to the void until finally–swoosh. You’re gone.

Luckily, you do not get to this point, though you come close.

You’re also going to write shitty poetry. I really wish you wouldn’t do this. You are not, nor will you ever be Emily Dickinson. Eventually, you will discover that you don’t like writing poetry. It’s going to be around the time you get help for your depression. And then you will learn a painful truth: sadness subsides, scars fade, bad poetry is forever.

Junior year is going to be your worst one. Around March, you’re going to fall apart–assignments will be poorly done, if at all, and you will spend most of your time alone in the library. You will hide crying in study hall behind allergies. Your English teacher will worry about you, enough to keep you after class to talk to you. This should have been the point where you said something. Told somebody what was wrong. She would have helped. This will be your biggest regret.

Stay strong, kid. You’ll get through it. You’ll be exhausted by the end of it, and that much closer to giving up, but you won’t. Eventually, you will figure out the reason you didn’t: because somewhere, buried deep inside, in a part of you that you did not believe existed, there is a tiny ray of hope that this can get better. Protect this. It’ll take you three more years to get the help you need, but everything will be fueled by that little light.

“Take care, then, that the light in you not become darkness.” (Luke 11:35)

x Anna.

PS: DON’T CUT YOUR OWN BANGS. I cannot stress this enough.

PPS: You will be invited to go meet someone that will be a possible date for junior prom. Do not go. You will spend two hours at the mall, and an hour-and-a-half, he will spend on his hair. Stay home. Play MarioKart instead. It’s what you’re going to end up doing on prom night anyway.

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Tramootized

When I was in sixth grade, I went on a school trip to the California State Fair.

I’ve not been to another state’s fair, so I can’t really compare if the California is better or worse. I imagine it’s pretty typical, with the food and the livestock and the variations of the comment, “Yep, that’s a big sumbitch right there.” I think there were rides, but I don’t remember going on any. I remember milking a goat, though. I got a certificate. I have no idea what happened to it–some farm animal probably ate it. I have that type of luck. I’m not kidding. One time, a deer ate a hole in my shirt at the petting zoo. It’s my curse.

We had a worksheet to fill out, which was basically a list of places the teacher wanted us to go and see. We wrote down facts to prove we actually went. The only thing on the list I remembered was having to go see the state’s fattest pig. The reason I remember it is because we didn’t go. We got caught up with something else, instead.

I should add that my father chaperoned my group for this particular trip. My parents often chaperoned. My mother took on things like museums, while my father did the more outdoorsy or “weird” stuff.

There was one time where the class was short a chaperone for a trip to the planetarium, so my father stepped in, meaning both of my parents were on the trip. I was fine with this, initially, because my dad was (and I imagine still is) into astronomy. When I was little, we used to walk around the track at my elementary school, and he would tell me about the constellations. Instead of bedtimes stories, I was told about the solar system and how orbits worked, going so far as t act it out with a lamp and some stuffed animals. It did nothing to make me sleepy, but it’s come in handy during Jeopardy.

The problem with this was that my father has this habit of falling asleep when it’s dark. You know how a bird drops off whenever you make it dark? It’s like that.

Just hear under the narration, I could hear my parents: “Bernie. Bernie. Wake up!” “M’not sleep.” “Yes you are, you’re snoring.” I spent the rest of the day trying to convince everyone I was adopted. It didn’t work.

But back to the state fair: we made good time filling out the worksheet. By the goat-milking station, there was a tent with some bleachers in it, surrounding what looked like a boxing ring. My dad called us over and led us in and sat us down. We had no idea what was going to happen, but thirty seconds ago we just saw a goat take an epic piss, so we were just grateful to get away from that. We settled in, and waited for whatever to start.

A man brought a cow into the little boxing ring thing. I like cows. I always have. I think they’re cute. So I was totally okay with this. The man was talking about something that I wasn’t really paying attention to, because I was being an eleven-year-old and goofing off with my friends. My dad stood in the back, looking mildly interested.

Let me explains something about my dad: he grew up in a coal town in the boonies of upstate Pennsylvania. He spent his days hanging out in the woods. He learned to dress a deer by the time he was twelve. Pest control involved sitting with his dad on the porch, both with firearms. Shit doesn’t really faze him, especially nature.

The man continues talking, I continue goofing off with the other kids in my group, and my dad continues to wait quietly.

There are things I could have gone a lifetime not seeing and I would have been perfectly content. A grown man sticking his arm nearly shoulder-deep into a cow and pulling out a calf is definitely one of them.

There was lots of horrified screaming, lots of cowering behind each other and the people in front of us. The calf came into the world looking just as shocked as we were. He, however, got over it rather quickly. We did not. Mama Cow just stood there, annoyed at the entire ordeal. I don’t blame her.

When we got back to school, we explained to the teacher, in quiet, shellshocked tones, why we didn’t make it over to the fattest pig. My teacher was not mad at us in the least. Instead, he was disappointed he missed the live cow birth. My father described it to him, in detail, with us still around, effectively making us relive our trauma. My teacher said that he saw us go into the tent, but kept walking because they wanted to get to an item on the worksheet.

Annoyed that I had to not only see it live, but relive it for his benefit, I asked, “Why didn’t you just go in, then?”

My teacher, whose wife was expecting a baby at the time, replied, “Well, I didn’t hear anyone shouting for an epidural, so how was I supposed to know what was going on in there?”

Long story short, that’s how I learned what an epidural was.

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Go West, Young Woman

“For West is where we all plan to go some day. It is where you go when the land gives out and the old-field pines encroach. It is where you go when you get the letter saying: Flee, all is discovered. It is where you go when you look down at the blade in your hand and the blood on it. It is where you go when you are told that you are a bubble on the tide of empire. It is where you go when you hear that thar’s gold in them-thar hills. It is where you go to grow up with the country. It is where you go to spend your old age. Or it is just where you go.” –Robert Warren Penn, All the King’s Men

——————–

For the longest time, I’ve said that I love Philadelphia because I fit here. It is true. I do love this city: its roughness, its polish, its dichotomy, its unity. It is a city of neighborhoods that have been stitched together to form a most beautiful quilt.

But lately, I’ve found my thoughts turned to the west coast. Not for the sun and surf, but for the possibilities it holds. The freshness of it all.

I am a writer. In my heart and in my soul and in my breath, I am a writer. Los Angeles is a town built upon the broken dreams of artists. Were I to go there, I would just be another face in the crowd. I convince myself I’m comfortable with this. But sometimes I’m not. Sometimes, I want the spotlight. It is a selfish, foolish thing to want, but it does not stop me.

I should start closer to home. Find new things. I live in a large city. There are people who are interested in what I am interested.

Philadelphia is my home, and always will be. But adventure calls. And while adventures often start at home, they do not keep you there. They pull you along new paths and push you towards new experiences. I don’t have that.

I have clung to this place and its supposedly perfect fit for so long. And I fear that I have shoehorned myself in so well that I may very well be stuck. I don’t want to be stuck. I don’t want to feel trapped. I want a chance to break out and break free.

But what if I don’t fit in out there? What if I just end up feeling more trapped? What if everything falls apart and I can’t hold it together?

And with every question and every worry, the noose grows tighter.

But maybe it would be the clean slate I dream of. Maybe I will unfurl and stretch so far that even I will be surprised by my reach.

And maybe there’s no real perfect fit for me. Maybe I just haven’t found it yet. I don’t know. And I don’t know if I’m brave enough to find out.

But maybe…

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In Which Our Hero Reunited With Her Heroes

I’ve started reading comics again. I used to read them when I was still in elementary school and hung out with boys. I wasn’t trying to be, y’know, cool or anything. I just preferred video games and Legos and acting out post-apocalyptic scenarios with my Barbies.

And SkyDancers. Because at the right angle, you could strafe someone and it was hilarious.

I hung out with boys because they liked those same things. Maybe other girls did, too, but they never said anything. They played house with their Barbies and thought video games were silly and boys had cooties. I didn’t have the patience for that. I didn’t quite comprehend why I wasn’t allowed to like those things. It all seemed perfectly harmless.

It was easy enough to ignore. I was in my home, with my friends, playing MarioKart and reading Spider-man and building towns out of paper and cardboard. My friends embraced this, challenging me to Pokemon battles and arguing over who was the best X-Man (if your answer is anyone other than Wolverine, you’re wrong). It was a pleasant little bubble, and I flourished.

I could handle having the other girls in my class talking about me behind my back. When my friends weren’t there, I would read under a tree during recess. I would ask the teacher if I could be partnered up with one of the boys

Then I went to a comic book section of the bookstore. And my bubble burst.

I usually just read whatever one of my friends brought to school or to my house. This involved a lot of X-Men and Spider-man, but with Marvel, there’s always crossover, and so I wanted to go check out some other characters I thought were cool. I tagged along with one of my friends to the comic book section.

I was looking at different things, sort of in a daze at just how much there all was. I recognized some stuff from what my dad told me he grew up on. I recognized characters from different issues, and was excited they had their own titles. I thought it was all really cool, and the more i poked around, the more excited I got.

As I got my bearings, I became aware of snickering. At me.

I realized very quickly that I had ventured into forbidden territory. I was a girl and this was boy stuff and I should get out. Their stares made it very clear. There are plenty of girl book for you to read. There’s a new Babysitter’s Club book out. Go read that. Stay away from the comics. They are boy stuff. These are not for you because you do not belong.

I bolted. I went to the young adult section and pretended to be super-interested in whatever the newest thing was. I didn’t read comics so much after that. I didn’t play my GameBoy in public. I kept the fantastic little worlds I built to myself.

I could handle the girls at school being mean to me. I wasn’t trying to be their friend, and all of the adults in my life told me that they were jealous of me because I was friends with the boys they had crushes on. I bought it, because hey, not really my problem.

But those boys… they liked the things I liked. And they rejected me for that. I was maybe eleven. I was just figuring out who I was and what I liked, and I was told that I was wrong. And I, for the first time, felt ashamed of being me.

I suppose I still am, a bit. I got back into comics through the MCU films. I finally mustered up enough courage to find a comic book store and check out a few things. I was stupidly quiet at first, darting in and out of the shop before anyone could say anything of substance to me. Gradually, I started to poke around a bit. I asked questions. Struck up conversations. And I was accepted. I wasn’t rejected, but I wasn’t lauded. I was just there. Which is exactly the reaction I wanted. I’m nothing special. I just like comic books.

A holdover from my formative days still remain. Every week, I walk into the comic book store, and I talk too much in this effort to get people to like me. Because maybe if they like me, they won’t figure out I don’t belong.

Except I know that, at least with that store, it’s totally not the case. I can ask a million questions and every single one will be answered without pretension  I know, because I’ve done it. I didn’t feel stupid. I mean, I’m still pretty sure that the guy behind the counter wants me to stop talking, but that has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a girl and everything to do with the fact that I’m ridiculously awkward and don’t know how to take conversation-ending social cues.

It’s a step forward, believe it or not.

——————–

The store I go to, if you’re curious, is Brave New Worlds in Old City. It’s small, yes, but I like that about it. And they manage to cram a lot of stuff in there. Cozy. The word is “cozy.”

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A Dreary Sightseer

“Monotony has nothing to do with a place; monotony, either in its sensation or its infliction, is simply the quality of a person. There are no dreary sights; there are only dreary sight seers.” –G.K. Chesterton, Alarms and Discursions

——————–

My last post involved me declaring that I was going to go out and do stuff. And I did. I started to actively pursue my degree in… something. Okay, so I haven’t gotten that far yet, but I’m headed in that direction, and that’s the important thing.

The problem is, doing things leaves very little time for other things. Like sleeping. Which is something I enjoy. Immensely.

No, seriously, it’s like a hobby for me, behind watching things and then complaining about those things over Twitter.

Because doing things eats up sleeping time, other things tend to fall to the wayside. Like blogging and reading and brushing my hair.

But the thing about doing things and sleeping instead of doing other things, it doesn’t give me a lot to talk about. Because monotony, which is the very thing I was trying to avoid, seeps in anyway. I’m in class or at work or asleep. That’s it. Same boring life, just more tired. This is not a formula for excitement. I have experience with that. Extensive experience.

I’m sitting in the school cafeteria, waiting for class to begin, and this is the first time in a while that I’m not sucking down coffee in an effort to remain awake. This is my life now. Coffee work coffee class sleep coffee work coffee class sleep coffee work coffee class sleep. On and on and on.

I’m taking two different English courses, both of which are making me write creatively. I haden’t been doing that as much. And 90% of what I produce for class is crap, but it’s a start. I can work with starts. I can’t work with a blank page sitting in front of me.

So maybe in the monotony there is something redeeming. I am required at least twice a week to write something. I focus on that because around me is the same old boring whatever. There’s a rhythm to my life, and that does help free up some brain space to write stuff.

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

Like a moving train. Steady pace, steady sound, steady journey. Stare out of the window. Watch trees go by. Let the mind wander.

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

Stories come again. Some good, some bad, some wanting to be told, some dragged onto the paper. But all stories, all there, all coming out of my hand.

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

Free mind. Free thought. Free flow.

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

coffee work coffee class sleep

Chugging along.

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Guru

Everyone’s a guru these days: make-up, hair, dieting. I’m one, too.

I’m a procrastination guru.

I am an expert. The majority of my school career was spent waiting until the last minute to do anything. My most impressive one is when I completed a paper–from research to final draft–in eight hours, and received a perfect mark. Not to brag, but, y’know, I’m qualified.

The problem with procrastination is that it only works with a deadline. When you don’t have one, it becomes laziness. Because procrastination implies that it will get done at some point. It has to be. There’s a due date. When there isn’t one, and you just keep putting it off and putting it off because, well, you can, then that’s just apathy.

You cannot be a a guru of laziness. There’s no skill involved with that. You are simply a victim of it. It overtakes any part of you that has the energy to accomplish something and it whispers those five destructive words: “you can do it later.”

And suddenly you’re watching a movie you’ve seen 800 times because it’s there and you don’t have to think about it.

I’m trying to fight my laziness. I want to accomplish things in my life. It’s hard to do that when I suffer from laziness. But I can fight back, the only way you can fight such a demon: actively. Which is why I’m trying to get back into blogging. Because in order to have something to blog about, I have to have accomplished something. You can’t talk about sitting in bed all day. I’ve learned from experience that that particular conversation thread is pretty short.

Don’t expect my accomplishments to be big. They won’t be. My only real rule is that they have to involve doing something that will contribute to my life in a positive way. So as accomplished as it may make me feel, finishing a season of a television series does not count.

Except maybe for Lost. That shit is complicated.

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The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Christmas is a time full of traditions. Some honor the memory of family past, some have evolved with the times, and some are downright bizarre.

This is where I come in.

  • The Christmas Eve Shopping Adventure. My father and I inevitably forget to buy something–whether it be a proper gift or stocking stuffers. So we venture out into the scarred warzone that is the local mall and hunt down what we need. We always come back victorious, and with a story to tell. My favorite is when we went out to buy my mother some clothes, because that’s what she wanted for Christmas. Okay, fine. I pick out a lovely pair of brown pants, to which my father says no, because “she doesn’t have anything to wear with it.” This is a man who has paired plaid and polka dot, so I don’t know where the hell that came from. Anyway, he picked out a pair of black pants, because “she already has black pants, so she has stuff to wear with them.” Okay, but if she has black pants, shouldn’t I get her the brown pants, since she doesn’t have those?” We went back and forth on this, with me standing in the middle of the store literally yelling “BROWN PAAANTS” at him.
  • Christmas Eve in the city. My aunt Brenda and uncle Louie host Christmas Eve. This involves making fun of the bubble lights on their tree and being terrified of their motion-activated singing-and-dancing figures that are a million years old and have been dying slowly and painfully for the last decade. Nothing quite like walking past a seemingly innocent snowman and having it demand you “Have a Holly Jolly Christmas” at you in a tinny screech full of demonic rage.
  • PRESENT TIME!! Where all of the kids rip into their presents while the adults all trade lottery scratchers and alternatively berate the giver for giving them terrible scratchers or bragging about how much they won. Yes. We turn gift-giving into a competition. This does handily lead into…
  • The Amazing Traveling Christmas Card. My cousin Joseph does this thing where he buys one generic Christmas card, gives it to people, and then asks for it back to give to someone else. He claims it’s because he’s poor. It is actually because he is an asshole.
  • Christmas in the Country. My cousin Nicole lives outside of the city, in a place where deer and foxes are common sightings in her (massive) backyard. As a city-dweller whose idea of nature is pigeons, rats, and the occasional raccoon, this automatically means “country Christmas.” It usually involves us ignoring the nicely-decorated dining room and hanging out around her kitchen island. This displeases her, to say the least. We are not fazed by this, as most things displease her.
  • “What do we make for Christmas dinner?” We can never actually remember. At this point, the tradition is trying to recall what the hell we did last year. Best my mother offers to that conversation is, “Well, there was that year where I brought all those salad dressings. Everyone liked that.”

The connecting tradition, however, is family. Because that’s what Christmas is all about, at least to me. No matter how crazy they drive me (and believe me… they do), I love them. I cherish them.

And I’m stuck with them.

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Holiday Stress Barbie

Man, when did buying Barbie dolls become stressful? I had to go shopping for two of my cousins, five and three, and I decided to get them Barbies. My reasoning behind this was, “Hey. They play with Barbies. I played with Barbies. Easy.”

I was very, very wrong.

There are, rough estimate, about a million different kinds of Barbies. Did you know Tim Gunn has a line of Barbies? Oh yeah. Barbies dressed in Tim Gunn-designed clothes. That’s a thing. She’s also a pop star princess and a hula dancer and Katniss Everdeen and the president and a fairy and gymnast and Hair-tastic and So In Style and she has new friends and I think a new little sister and Skipper’s a brunette now and I may have almost had a panic attack in the middle of Target while shopping. I called my mom, and practically yelled in the middle of the Barbie section, “I don’t know what I’m doing! Barbie doesn’t even look like Barbie anymore!”

Honestly, I was this close to curling in a fetal position around a Tim Gunn Barbie, next to a Dream House, sobbing about how I couldn’t make it work.

I just keep hearing Grandpa Simpson in my head: “I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. It’ll happen to you.

And sooner than you think.

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