Book Review: Pop Classics Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Most people who know me know that the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is one of my favorite things. It has been the dominant pop culture text in my life for almost 20 years, so of course my husband bought our son the BtVS picture book for his second birthday.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer picture book cover

We read it for the first time a few nights ago, and, y’all, this is done so lovingly, I almost cried. If you love BtVS and you like picture books, pick this one up.

The plot is simple. This is, let’s say, an AU where Buffy lived in Sunnydale when she was in elementary school. Don’t think about canon too hard. The writers of the show didn’t, so we probably shouldn’t, either. Sixteen year old Buffy introduces herself at the beginning, then sends us in a flashback to when she was eight years old and afraid of the dark, because OF COURSE there is a monster in her closet.

And you know how BtVS is all about literalizing tropes, so… She’s not wrong. She recruits Willow, Xander, and Giles to help her with the problem, and of course through the power of friendship it all works out.

But where the whole thing shines is the little touches in the illustration. Each time I read it, I find a new BtVS easter egg. I don’t want to spoil too much, so here are just a couple examples.

Below, I’ve noted a few special  Sunnydale locations in the front endpapers in yellow.

Front endpapers

Next, a few things worth noticing in Buffy’s room, this time in blue:

Buffy's room

And this is just the beginning. Each page has tons of this stuff, and the book’s climax has the best references of all.

Right before the climax, though, we get this page:

Together we stepped into the darkness.

And really, isn’t stepping into the darkness together what BtVS is all about?

 

Stop optimizing. Start nourishing.

A week ago, my friend shared the video for Lizzo’s song “Juice.”

I commented, “I want to feel as cute as she is.”


I started watching Dietland last week. I got to the scene where the main character, Plum, goes to her Waist Watchers meeting, and everything they talked about started to feel familiar:

Logging literally every bite you eat. Telling yourself you’re doing it to look good naked.

When Janice showed up with her amazing dipped hair and fabulous eye makeup and colorful clothes, I loved her immediately. And then when she responds to the idea that she is here to be her best self with “Excuse me?” and then launches in to her lovely monologue:

I love myself… I came here to get some help to lose weight because I have back problems, not because I hate my body… I am a unicorn. I am a goddess.

I was ready to cheer.

In the one-on-one at the end of the scene, the facilitator reminds Plum that, “Food is fuel. That is all.”

Later, there’s a scene where Plum absentmindedly licks a little bit of frosting off her finger, then realizes what she’s done and runs to the sink to try and spit it out.

There are a million tricks: put half your food away as soon as you get it at a restaurant. (I actually like that one.) Drink water and fill up on vegetables before you go to a party so there will be no room in your stomach for treats. And there are all of the fashion rules to make you look slimmer, too: black. Only vertical stripes. Prints on a very precise scale to match your body.

I realized watching Dietland how tired I was of this nonsense.

I have been trying to lose weight since I was 20 years old. And I know I started later than many other people. I have tried Slim-Fast. I have tried ChangeOne. I have tried the Fat Flush diet. I have done two elimination diets. I have walked on the treadmill. I have done the rowing machine. I have done bodyweight exercises. I have used hand weights. I have used gallon jugs as weights. I have done all the things you can do to make water taste better. I have brought my own special foods to parties.

And I’ve also tried intuitive eating and Health at Every Size.

The only correlation I have found between my actions and my body’s shape is that when I eat fewer inflammatory foods, I’m less-inflamed. So that informs how I think about food. Food is one of life’s great pleasures. It is a centerpiece for social functions. It is a source of comfort. And it is fuel. I want to give my body anti-inflammatory, mostly whole foods, because it gives me energy and is more flavorful. But not to punish it for being the wrong size or shape.

Lizzo said in this interview with the New York Times, “I had to really look myself in the mirror and say, this is it…This is the person I am going to be for the rest of my life and it is not going to change.”

I need to love this vessel I’m in. This chronically ill, hard-to-clothe piece of flesh that carries me around the world, that created the most amazing person I’ve ever known. I need to get okay with it truly at every. Size.

 


But my body shape isn’t the only way I’m not too much or not enough. I remarked on how I tried literally all the things that Anne Helen suggests won’t fix burnout.

I’ve tried a million things to fix my mood – not things that move directly toward giving me the neurotransmitters (a thing I wholeheartedly endorse getting via pharmaceuticals if your body isn’t making them), but things that indirectly help: sun lamps. Fish oil supplements. Scheduled friend times. Gratitude journaling. Affirmations.

I’ve tried gamifying my habits with Habitica and Fitocracy.

I have more than five different books about how to get my home organized and keep it clean. It isn’t organized. It’s only clean because my husband cleans it.

I have two different books about improving my wardrobe. I have four about fixing my finances.

I subscribe to two self-care newsletters and two self-care podcasts. But at this point, self-care feels like another to-do list item that overwhelms me, not something that actually involves caring for myself.

I read this New York Times piece on the genius of insomnia, and thought about all the different ways I’ve tried to fix my “bad sleep hygiene.” Red light bulbs. Blue light filters on my devices. Yellow glasses. White noise. Audiobooks. No caffeine after 4 pm. Using the bedroom for nothing but sleep.

And then I thought, “What if everything I am – everything I’ve tried to improve in this particular, optimizing, tool-utilizing way, is just fine?”

And then I thought, “Well, what if I try living as if it is, anyway?”

What if I give all facets of myself the nutrients they need, without judgment? What if I purchase things from companies that affirm the idea that I’m already great, rather than selling me the idea that I need to be corrected? What if, when I wake up at 4 am, I don’t chastise myself for being a bad sleeper, but instead use that time to relax while awake? What if the only self-improvement projects I take on are related to my curiosity, my desire to grow and learn?


And I decided I will live this way. I’m going to operate on the assumption that everything about me is exactly enough.

I’m going to stop optimizing.

I’m going to start nourishing.

 

On Millennial burnout

Some notes on Millennial burnout. This started as a Twitter thread because I needed a frictionless place to write my initial ideas, and apparently I was hoping they would get some attention. (They didn’t, really, and that’s fine now that I’ve slept on it.)

Anne Helen’s excellent piece on Millennial burnout sketches out a framework for us to think about why (white, middle class) Millennials are burned out. She admits that a framework is not a solution, and in her newsletter that acts as a sort of commentary track she talks about both why she didn’t use academic jargon (BLESS HER) and also didn’t offer a solution (which I’m sure is disappointing/frustrating for some people). Tiana Clark offers a valuable critique about the limits of this sort of generational thinking and its failure to capture the experiences of people of color. Helen published additional perspectives on what Millennial burnout looks like for different people: black women, first-generation immigrants, queer people, chronically ill people, people with disabilities, people at the intersections of more than one of these identities, and more.

I’ve collected some less in-depth pieces on the phenomenon in my Pocket, like Kristin Iversen’s Why Millennials Are Always Tired (found via Holisticism‘s newsletter), which approaches Millennial exhaustion more from the perspective of the youngest Millennials, as opposed to Helen’s piece coming from the perspective of older Millennials. (Jesse Singal’s Don’t Call Me a Millennial — I’m an Old Millennial is my favorite piece that makes it clear how old Millennials and young Millennials differ and what the inflection points are for Millennialness.)

Helen says:

You don’t fix burnout by going on vacation. You don’t fix it through “life hacks,” like inbox zero, or by using a meditation app for five minutes in the morning, or doing Sunday meal prep for the entire family, or starting a bullet journal. You don’t fix it by reading a book on how to “unfu*k yourself.” You don’t fix it with vacation, or an adult coloring book, or “anxiety baking,” or the Pomodoro Technique, or overnight fucking oats.

This is basically a caricature of my life. I have been an avid follower of Lifehacker, obsessed with Inbox Zero, installed and uninstalled Headspace and Calm, prepped meals for the week ahead, used a Bullet Journal for approaching five years, read and re-read Unf*ck Your Habitat, have the immense privilege of being able to take a beach vacation annually, have a huge stack of adult coloring books, anxiety baked my way through my Master of Science degree, powered through PhD writing using the Pomodoro Technique, and had overnight oats for breakfast every day for a week. (Other things that won’t fix it: mason jar salads. An Instant Pot. Subscribing to every self-care newsletter and podcast. Witchery.)

And I agree with Helen that

…individual action isn’t enough. Personal choices alone won’t keep the planet from dying, or get Facebook to quit violating our privacy. To do that, you need paradigm-shifting change.

But at the same time, I can’t sit and wait on that paradigm shift. Helen doesn’t have a plan of action, but I need one. So that’s what I nattered about in that Twitter thread. And here it is, summed up:

We have to perceive ourselves, and by extension others, as creatures of inherent worth, not merely parties to transactions, in spite of existing within an economic system that views us exactly as such. Tiana Clark points out that being a literal commodity was an actual, physical reality for black people until 1865. I think our economic system still relies on people seeing themselves as engines or tools.

I think we have to reject that idea with our whole hearts.

When I was a freshman in college, I saw a clinical social worker in my school’s Counseling and Psychological Services department. I saw him once and never again, because he enraged me. But now, almost 20 years later, I’m realizing he was really right in one thing about his assessment of me. He’d asked me to tell him about myself. And after I did, he’d pointed out that everything I’d told him was about my achievements: the grades I’d gotten, the scholarships I’d won. I left angry. Of course those things were how I defined myself. Of course those things were what made me a person of value in the world.

My 18 year-old-self had completely bought into the idea that her value could be measured and had to do with the production of valued things. (In my case, scholarly output. That’s still the valued thing I try to produce.)

Almost-38-year-old me is ready to reject that idea. I have value because I am a person who exists. I don’t need to be productive all the time. I feel a sense of purpose when I work, but that work is not what makes me a person.

The current version of me is ready to move into this way of thinking.

But, as I admitted in my Twitter thread…

I’m not there yet.

For more on “fixing” Millennial burnout, read Jessanne Collins’s Having a Kid Was the Unexpected Cure for my Millennial Burnout. It resonates with my experience as a mother of a young child.

Noah Smith identifies another piece of the burnout puzzle when he says Burned-Out Millennials Need Careers, Not Just Jobs. (Ask any stereotypical Millennial about their #sidehustle.)

Many thanks to Austin Kleon for first running Anne Helen’s piece across my radar.

Featured image is my favorite panel from Joss Whedon’s run on the Astonishing X-Men, Vol 3 #22, drawn by John Cassaday. Colors by Laura Martin. Letters by Chris Eliopoulos.

What if You Already Are Your Best Self? by Haley Nahman
Every year I find myself making one or two tiny resolutions (or intentions if I’m feeling full of crystals and moonlight) that seem do-able and manageable and then spiraling out into full-on reinvention. This post of Haley’s from 2017 really helped me walk things back a bit and reframe how I’m...
I found this Man Repeller post via  the Holisticism newsletter. (One of my favorite reads every week.) It captures one of the important ideas I’ve been working with for several weeks now.

As I was trying to settle on a word for 2019, I went looking to a couple of oracle decks for inspiration: Lucy Cavendish’s Oracle of the Mermaids and Oracle of the Dragonfae. I didn’t find my word there, but I did pull one card from each deck that caught my eye and seemed like it captured some energy I wanted to live in 2019.

From the Oracle of the Mermaids, Sanctuary:

and from the Oracle of the Dragonfae, Melusine:

I didn’t know until I read the card descriptions in the deck guidebooks that Melusine is actually the mermaid depicted in Sanctuary. So I chose Melusine twice.

Who is Melusine?

If you’re big into mermaid mythology, you know her already. And even if you aren’t, you probably do, because this is her, too:

Starbucks Logos

You can read her legend at Wikipedia if you want. But here are the two things I’m taking away from Melusine:

  1. That I do need to enforce more boundaries. I’m lucky to have a lot of family support, so I do get a fair amount of me-time as compared with most moms of young children, but I don’t use it wisely and I want to start doing that.
  2. That I need to really lean into being myself. In any version of the story, Melusine and her loved ones face the consequences of keeping a part of yourself hidden as well as of not respecting boundaries. Enforcing boundaries and being yourself can be balanced, and I want to work on that balance.

2019 Word of the Year: PHASE

It’s January 9 and I’m finally ready to talk about my intentions for this year.

I selected PHASE as my word of the year because I wanted to capture my intention to be chill in the face of cyclical experiences. To accept that my energy will ebb and flow. To surf the big waves when they come, being as productive as I can, and then to rest at low tide, letting my body recover. To recognize that whatever hard parenting moment I’m having at any time is just that, a parenting moment, even if it’s a moment where my kid doesn’t sleep for longer than two hours at a stretch for four weeks, because eventually we’ll come back around to a 6, 7, 8 hour stretch.

One of my favorite lines from the Aeneid is Book I, line 199: “dabit deus his quoque finem” (forgive the lack of macrons, please) – which comes from an even better couplet:

O socii—neque enim ignari sumus ante malorum—
O passi graviora, dabit deus his quoque finem.

 

As happens so often, translating this directly is a challenge. And I don’t have my Fagles at hand and I’m not content with the Williams or Dryden translations at the Perseus Project, so I’ll paraphrase. At this point, Aeneas and his friends/comrades, who have sailed away from Troy, narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Greeks in the Trojan war, are shipwrecked at Carthage. And he rallies them, telling them, essentially, “We’ve been through bad stuff before; we’ve endured harder challenges than this; god will give an end to these things, also.” It’s the Wheel of Fortune in the Tarot. It’s the Circle of Life.

Wheel of Fortune from the Moonchild Tarot
Wheel of Fortune from the Moonchild Tarot.

Each of us has survived up to this point, and whatever we’re dealing with now, things will change before too long. And that might mean they’re worse, or it might mean they’re better, but whatever they are, they’ll be different.

That’s the key interpretation the Tarot reader gave me of the Wheel of Fortune right before my birthday, and it is the energy that I, as a chronically ill woman, as a mother, need to embrace. It is one of my key lessons in life: you’re strong, you’ve gotten through everything so far, you’ll get through this too. Don’t get too comfortable, don’t get too complacent, don’t despair too much.

So PHASE is my word, which captures cycles like the moon, which captures stages of projects, which in its verb form can be defined as “to adjust so as to be in a synchronized condition.” Also, it’s what you call it when Kitty Pryde uses her power.


I’m not big on resolutions, but here are the things I’m feeling/trying this year:

  • Embracing the PHASE energy.
  • Really owning my Mer-Goth/#seawitchvibes aesthetic.
  • Reading for pleasure more.
  • Having a good time.

That last one came from a fun Twitter autotext meme:

I think my phone’s keyboard is on to something.


Featured image is the 2019 Celestial Calendar by Rivtak. I put one on my Christmas list and got it. You can get your own here.