Bests and Favourites

Today, as with most Mondays, lunch-break conversation turned to the weekend just passed. I happily told my colleagues about my Saturday night in the city for a dear friend’s 21st, and my Sunday afternoon at the theatre seeing Coriolanus for another dear friend’s 21st.

“Is that the one who lives up the coast?” my workmate asked.

“No,” I answered. “Saturday was the one from university. Sunday was the one from high school”.

“Which is the one from up the coast?” he asked, by now a little confused.

“Olivia,” I said. “And her 21st was last year”.

While he laughed, I realised, not for the first time, how bad I am at nominating bests and favourites. Ask me to name my favourite book and I forget literally every book I’ve ever read. ‘What’s your favourite food?’ is an impossible question. And, as I’d just proven, I have a good handful of people who I introduce as my best friend.

Ever since I left high school and could suddenly choose who I spent my time with, I’ve found the concept of ‘best friends’ limiting and outdated. I expanded my social circles; I found people I genuinely liked, rather than people who just happened to be in my class. I left friends behind and made new ones. When the world was suddenly full of beautiful, clever, interesting people, why would I want to limit myself to one, to pick one and say ‘this one is best’? My friends are wonderful, gifted, lovely people with so much to offer, and every single one of them has helped change me and my life for the better. I have people I am closer to, people I spend more time with – but choosing a ‘best’ friend would, to me, devalue the impact these amazing individuals have had in my world.

Nowadays, I have a circle of friends who, if pressed, I would call my bests. My oldest friend, Alice, my nap time neighbour from pre-school. Lara, my first high school friend who saved me a seat in seventh grade science. Olivia, from uni, who I wish I’d met earlier. Angela, the friend of a friend who became my friend. Sam, my first real guy friend. Liam, who I started out hating. Every one of them is important to me. Every one of them holds a special place in my life.

The same can be said for other ‘favourites’. Films? The Lord of the Rings, my first grown-up movie. The Avengers, which I shamelessly adore. Only Lovers Left Alive, which I first saw last week and fell immediately in love with. Bands? Coldplay, my first real concert. Imagine Dragons, my new love. U2, my first and forever favourites. Books? Harry Potter, who I grew up with. The Fault in Our Stars, which I read because everyone else was. Good Omens, which I never expected to love.

Even cities and countries are impossible to order. I love New York, in summer and later at Christmas. But then I remember London, eight years old, meeting my family for the first time. And Paris, mangling the language with my tiny tongue and mastering it years later. Brussels in the snow, celebrating the end of high school. Queenstown, learning to ski. Tromso, under the Northern Lights. Stockholm and Copenhagen and the train between the two.

The reason I struggle so much with ‘bests’ and ‘favourites’, I think, is because I have been so very fortunate for someone still so young. I have met incredible people who I am lucky enough to call my friends. I’ve devoured books and films and music with an insatiable appetite, savouring every word and note. I’ve been some truly remarkable places and done some truly remarkable things. I’ve never gone hungry. I’ve always had choice. I can’t pick the one thing I enjoy best of all because, I think, I’ve been blessed with opportunities and experiences that make the list too long to narrow down.

This is not a complaint, not even close. The fact that I struggle to choose favourites is only evidence of how deeply lucky I have been.

I’m not concerned with labelling my best friends or picking my favourite films or ranking cities from best to worst. I choose instead to enjoy everyone who enters my life for what they bring to it, to watch films and read books and listen to all the music I can, to eat good food and go new places when the chance comes my way.

I am very, very lucky to lead the life I lead.

Picking bests and favourites from such a wealth of wonders seems almost petty in comparison.

Don’t Freak Out

I’ve been telling myself this a lot lately. Don’t freak out. Don’t panic. You’re just fine. Fine, as they say, stands for Freaked out, Insecure, Neurotic and Emotional. When dealing with anxiety, the line between fine and FINE can be very thin indeed.

A lot of people deal with anxiety at some point or another, and everyone has their own triggers and their own ways of managing. I’m staring down the barrel of adulthood, and it’s quite possibly the most intimidating thing I’ve ever done. Sometimes I feel unprepared for being a grown up. Like someone somewhere is about to realise they’ve made a terrible mistake, revoke my Certified Adult card and send me back to adolescence for a few more years until I’m ready for the world.

I’ve been drifting back and forth between fine and FINE. Most days the rational part of my mind wins out. I remember that things are not as bad as I think they are, I try to keep things in perspective. Sometimes, though, the worry wins, and all my uncertainties and stresses pile up until it’s hard to see anything past my own fears.

The good news is that I’m much better at recognising this than I was a few years ago. I realise when I’m spiralling, I understand when I’m letting irrationality win over and I know what steps I can take to avoid the crash. I know how to take care of myself and put procedures in place to manage my worry. While everyone copes with worry in their own ways, there’s a few things everyone should consider before acting when anxious.

  • Are you hungry and/or thirsty? If your body is stressed, your mind will follow. Make sure you’re giving your body what it needs. Keep it well fuelled and cared for. Quick fixes like sugar and caffeine are a bad idea.
  • Are you sleepy? Sleep is basically the human equivalent of “Have you tried turning it off and back on again?”, and more often than not, it works. Stress can make it hard to sleep, so natural aids like herbal teas or valerian may help.
  • Are you lonely? Have you spoken to anyone today? It’s good to have your own space, but isolation can be counter productive. Talk to someone. Hug your dog. Bribe someone to cuddle with you. Contact is a good thing.
  • Are you comfy? Take a shower. Brush your teeth. Do your hair and get dressed, even if you’re not going anywhere. Work on feeling good in your own skin.
  • Are you doing something? A lazy day watching back to back episodes of Game of Thrones can be a good idea. It can also be a trap. When you’re doing nothing and feeling unproductive, it’s easy to spiral into despair and anxiety. Go for a walk, bake a cake, write something, do your laundry – keep busy. Give yourself purpose. Deny boredom its power.

I’ve figured out what methods of self-care work best for me. Usually it involves cleaning out the fridge and scrubbing the shower, or curling up under a heavy blanket with an exceptionally large cup of tea. I’ve learned to take control of the things I can so the things I can’t don’t overwhelm me.

Sometimes I tread the line between fine and FINE, but more often than not these days I lean towards the former. I know myself better. I know how to take care of myself, and that may honestly be my biggest achievement from the past few years. 

Not for you: movies, marketing and why girls need heroes too

Last weekend I was somewhat reluctantly recruited to help my mother on her latest expedition to Costco. I try to avoid being sucked into these trips because, in the past, I’ve found some frankly ridiculous things there that I’m ashamed to say I’ve purchased – the oversized stuffed ladybug comes to mind. Still, when I found myself stuck pushing around that enormous trolley, I couldn’t help scanning the shelves for things I don’t need but really really want.

Predictably, it was Iron Man that caught my eye.

Predictably, Iron Man and his super friends were plastered all over backpacks and stationary that was very obviously meant for someone much younger, and much more male, than me.

I don’t begrudge four year old boys their Captain America pyjamas or their Batman lunch boxes.

I do begrudge the outdated marketing style that decided that four year old boys were the only people who enjoyed superheroes.

As a child I was fortunate to be raised by parents who didn’t much care for gendered toys. I collected stuffed toys and kept my hand-crafted doll house immaculate. I also idolised my big brother and wanted to be just like him, so insisted on having my own Batman costume. Evidence, perhaps, that I have always had an affinity for superheroes. And, if the recent surge in comic-based movies is anything to go by, I’m far from alone. The Avengers, the biggest superhero film perhaps ever, was marketed as a explosion-riddled, city destroying, action packed blockbuster. Yet on its opening weekend, 40% of its audience was female, and half were aged over 25.

Yet comics, films and their merchandise continue to be marketed almost exclusively at the pre-teen boy market. Even though women make up more than half of theatre goers. Even though the vast majority of fans who engage with media on a deeper level – the artists and writers and critics who fuel their audience long after the film has finished its run – are female. Even though female fans have been campaigning for a proper female superhero solo movie for just about ever – Wonder Woman is right there guys, let her do something!

Naysayers might cite the fairly awful Elektra (2005) and the outright terrible Catwoman (2004) as evidence of why female superheroes ‘don’t work’. They gave you a lady hero and it was a disaster! No wonder they don’t want to do it again!

In turn, I would cite Xena: Warrior Princess and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I would cite Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman and, of course, Scarlett Johansson’s Natasha Romanoff (without whom, I might point out, the Avengers would never have been assembled, the God of Lies would never have been outwitted, the portal would never have been closed). I would cite Charmed and The Hunger Games and Charlie’s Angels and Kim Possible and The Powerpuff Girls. To those who say that female-driven action franchises are a recipe for failure, I would say, the women aren’t the problem.

Image(Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow from Iron Man 2)

The problem is lazy writing that relies on love triangles and stock characters over engaging stories and character agency. The problem is producers who would rather stick to a done-to-death formula than inject new life into the genre. The problem is female heroes who are sold as sexy and sassy instead of strong and serious. The problem is women who, to be strong, must be stripped of all femininity, who must, in all but body, be men. The problem is marketing that believes women are more likely to see the same vapid rom-com six dozen times before they see a woman kicking ass, that women are more interested in stories of unrequited love and overly dramatic affairs than seeing a woman save the world, with or without a man by her side.

The problem is teaching girls from such a young age that, because they are girls, certain toys and certain stories are not for them.

The simple fact is that in this day and age it is completely unacceptable to sell stories of adventure and heroism to our boys while feeding our girls a steady diet of romance and domesticity. There is nothing wrong with fairytales and princess and tea parties with mismatched dolls. But for every girl who wants to be Barbie there’s another who wants to be Batman. If we never give our girls the chance to even see Wonder Woman or Xena or the Black Widow taking charge of their own movie, we are robbing them of a chance to be the superheroes of their own stories.

Girls have been playing the sidekick long enough. It’s time we gave them a chance to take the spotlight, to have their own story, fight their own bad guys, to save the day instead of always being saved. Girls need to see Thor’s hammer sold alongside Sleeping Beauty’s dress, to wear Spiderman’s mask and Cinderella’s slippers and know that’s okay. Girls need to be shown that they can be the princess and the warrior and the wife and the hero and the genius and even, sometimes, the bad guy. And girls need to see other girls doing this, in their books, in their cartoons, in their movies, just like the boys.