274 Ways to Miss You

Hello, my dear Internet friends,

This month, I started the process of editing a chapter of my book called “How to Be a Girl.” This one is about teen magazines and my complicated relationship with them. It’s due for some TLC, as I cut it from the last version of the book. I thought it wasn’t relevant anymore since most teen magazines are no longer in print. But the truth is, I can’t fully tell my story of growing up girl without talking about them. Plus, while they don’t appear on newsstands anymore, some of the classic ones, like Teen Vogue, are still publishing online content. Also, I think the “need” that those publications met still exists but is being addressed by other means. I think there’s a solid case to be made for influencers being the new teen magazines. Perhaps I’ll explore that in another month’s post… or the updated chapter!

I don’t read magazines anymore, so in gearing up to work on the chapter, I decided to take a trip to Barnes & Noble to see what was even available these days. I was delighted to see that their magazine section was as big—and full—as it ever had been. There weren’t any teen magazines, but there was a strong “Women’s Interest” section. I grabbed a few of the titles I subscribed to in my twenties—Marie Claire, Elle, and Cosmopolitan—and took them over to a table at the edge of the café to skim through.

I decided to start with the favorite of my early twenties, Seventeen’s saucy older sister Cosmopolitan. As soon as I picked it up, the strangest feeling came over me. Nostalgia, sort of, or something in that neighborhood. I was hit with the memory of how exciting it used to feel to sit down with a new magazine. But I could only step into the shadow of that feeling. There was an emotional place between those pages that I could never access again. I simultaneously longed to go there and recognized that it was probably for the best that I couldn’t.

Cosmopolitan magazine surrounded by four issues of Seventeen magazine
The Cosmo in question with her (older) younger sisters.

Pretty complicated feelings for a shiny, disposable publication that some may have only passing thoughts about when they see it in a checkout line.  But it would be hard to overstate the influence of magazines on my life, the way they are woven into my story of becoming an adult, a writer… me. The first check I ever wrote was for a subscription to Seventeen. My first experience seeing my words in print was when I served as a “V.I.T.” (Very Important Teen) Editor for Teen magazine in high school. And for many years, one of my most tried-and-true methods of relaxation was sitting down with a Diet Coke and the latest issue of Seventeen, Cosmo, or one of their brightly colored peers.

But magazines are who they are. And their problems are hard to overlook. As another step in getting prepped to edit my book chapter, I took home all the magazines I saved in my childhood bedroom (two plastic tubs full). As I skimmed through years of Seventeen, I was struck by how supernaturally poreless the featured faces were. How many Ways To Look Pretty were offered. How expensive it would be to follow through on those offers.

But what troubles me most about magazines is also what I miss the most. Magazines feel like a fresh start. And I’m a sucker for a fresh start. Some of their brand-new essence comes from the fact that they regenerate every month. I was always excited to get a new issue in the mail and take in its flashy, pristine cover, not yet crinkled by use. But for me, and probably not just me, their fresh-start feeling also came from the insidious sense that there was a prettier, more likeable, all-around better me hidden between the pages. With every cover, every how-to article, and every fashion spread, magazines build an ideal girl or woman. Each month presents a new chance to find her. To become her. In an earlier chapter of my book, I wrote about how I used to feel like “there was a better me living a prettier life elsewhere.” I don’t solely blame or attribute that mindset to magazines. But we certainly spoke the same language. We reinforced each other’s beliefs. But it cost one of us more.

I set aside an hour this weekend to sit down and read that new Cosmo. (Yes, I brought her home with me.) I tried to approximate how I would have done so in the past. I got a cold drink (iced coffee over Diet Coke this time), propped myself up in a comfy spot, and started from the cover, reading front to back, not skipping a single article. Like the old days.

At first, I was highly tuned into the critical analysis lens of my current mind. When did the clothes get so expensive? Who is the woman who buys $380 sunglasses and wants a recipe for turning leftover pizza crusts into croutons? But I read more than I planned to—finding myself drawn back in after stepping away—and the more I did, the more that voice started to fade. I didn’t fold page corners to bookmark hairstyles or makeup looks to try, like I used to. I didn’t rip out Maddie Ziegler’s pictures to hang on my closet door between glow-in-the-dark stars, as I might have circa 2005. But I have to admit, I was having fun. It was strange how comfortable it was. It was easy even though it didn’t feel the same.  

It was like how I imagine it might feel to drive down the familiar streets of a long-left-behind hometown. I may not feel like I belong anymore. I may not choose to live there (for good reason). But I was wrong to think I could never go back. I’ll always know the way. Because part of me will live forever where I left her.

It was weird and it was nice to visit. If only for one issue.

xoxo

Marie

Reading Rec: An Exploration of Teen Girl Power by Constance Grady of Vox

Hello internet friends,

In addition to continuing to share some of my favorite books here, I’d love to start sharing online articles or essays that have excited me/taught me something/made me think. Recently I came across an article which I have since reread multiple times and thought about often, so I wanted to share it with you. You can read the full piece here:

“Who runs the world? Not teen girls.” by Constance Grady (Vox)

While the title says that girls don’t run the world, Constance dives into the ways in which teen girls have always been incredibly influential in shaping culture, from language to music to fashion. She explores the cultural shifts towards acknowledging the power of teen girls: young activists have found worldwide platforms, and music popularized or even made by teen girls has been taken more seriously. Unfortunately, as Constance points out, the sense that girls are powerful or deserve to be empowered has also been co-opted to sell them products.

I thought often of my teen self while reading this piece. I wish I had come across something like it back then. I felt conflicted at times about being a fan of musical artists that I knew weren’t treated seriously. I thought my tastes were just “uncool.” I personalized an issue that was really much bigger than me, and I wish I could have seen that. I also wish I had learned about the amazing history of teen girl fandoms. I would have seen I was in great company!

This piece was also a helpful reminder for my adult self, and maybe for others, too. I think it can be easy to dismiss something out of hand just because it’s not for you. This has often and too easily happened for things important to teen girls. Whether it’s an album, a social media platform, or anything else, I think it can be helpful for all of us to start from a place of asking what purpose it might be serving for those engaging with it. That’s of course not to say that we can’t critique anything. Sometimes we should. But I think to do so successfully and empathetically, we need to start from a place of understanding. Plus, I think we can all probably remember a time when we felt like someone just didn’t “get” what we were into. We all deserve to have who we are and what we love taken seriously.

xoxo

Marie

If you have anything you’ve read lately that you’d love to share too, please leave it in the comments below!

Happiness vs. Joy

Hello my spring blossoms,

I sometimes wonder how often or thoroughly other people remember their teen years. If you haven’t committed to writing a book for young people based on your own experiences, do you still remember the first time you heard a song by your soon-to-be favorite artist, on a mixed CD in your first car? Do you still think about your first massive crush from time to time, or do you leave any thought of them behind, along with the so-earnest-it-hurts journal entries you wrote back then? Maybe it’s just me, or maybe some experiences are universally sticky in our minds.

The reason I decided to write for teens—when I was still a teen myself—was that I wanted to help other girls avoid the pitfalls I fell into. I spent way too much of my teen life being unhappy, and my faulty formula for changing that was based on changing myself.

I still want maximum happiness for all of us, but I’ve adjusted my perspective slightly. I’m taking an amazing course led by the incomparable Jess Weiner, called “WTF is Success?!?” We are working to redefine success and what it means to have a good life on our own terms. One of the recent exercises was to choose 3 non-negotiable values for your life. Doing so helped crystallize some things I’ve been reflecting on as of late. The first guidepost value I chose for myself was “joy.” I’ve decided that I’d rather focus on creating joy than chasing happiness. I get that those terms could be synonyms, but hear me out. The difference, as I’ve defined it for myself, matters.

One thing I’ve come to accept is that emotions can be fickle and, honestly, sometimes incongruous. If you’re someone who has struggled with your mental health, you probably know what I mean. As a teenager, I coulda/shoulda been happy, but often I wasn’t. That was true at times in my twenties as well. When you start tilting towards anxiety or depression, being happy feels like one more thing you’re bad at. And of course, being hard on yourself about it hardly helps.

I can’t necessarily control my emotions or what life throws at me. I may get a frustrating email at work, or a burst of anxiety out of seemingly nowhere. Already this year, I’ve felt both the bittersweet sadness of loss and the ecstatic joy of celebrating a new life. All of these experiences, all of these feelings, are worthy parts of being alive. I can’t promise myself that I will always feel happy. But I can make a commitment to create joy in my life, and sprinkle it throughout my days.

Even if I have a long day ahead, I can pause to make a good cup of coffee. I can sing off-key to Taylor Swift (still my favorite, years away from that mixed CD) while loading the dishwasher. I can ask my partner to sit on the back patio during sunset with me, even if it isn’t quite warm enough yet for that to make sense.

Looking back, my younger self may not have had a great handle on happiness, but she did know joy. Back then, it was a stack of magazines in my bedroom, episodes of “Hannah Montana,” and a perfectly chilled Diet Coke. If I could go back, I’d give her more of all that. Still, seeing my life now through her eyes—from my pink office and stuffed bookshelf to my wonderfully strange and cute cats—I can’t help but think, Man, she would really enjoy this. And so I will.

xoxo

Marie

Hannah Montana was Right: Learning to Challenge My Perfectionist Thoughts

Perfect and bulletproof are seductive, but they don’t exist in the human experience.” – Brené Brown

Photo by Jonathan Hoxmark on Unsplash

Hello my digital angels,

I came across the above quote while working on my book. (Mark my words, it will be done before my next birthday!) I decided to add a preface, and I was reading through the first pages of books I admire for inspiration. On page 2 of Daring Greatly, that line jumped out at me. Like something I needed to hear. And that surprised me.

You see, I think of myself as a recovered perfectionist; I wrote about it for Gurl.com (see below!). My sophomore year of high school was the peak of my perfectionism. I took AP classes for the first time and was diligent with my homework. (I remember reading my World History textbook on Friday evenings.) I was active outside of classes, participating in cheerleading, theatre, Key Club, and concert band.

Gurl.com no longer exists on the web, but it does in my heart (and this screenshot). ❤️

And I monitored every bite of food I ate, in search of the “perfect” body.

By junior year, I learned to be more realistic about my schoolwork. On the first day of AP U.S. History, when the syllabus was passed out, I realized I couldn’t complete the work to my satisfaction and stay sane. So I switched to the regular version of the class. By the end of the year, I acknowledged that being a cheerleader was more about what I wanted to be (popular) than what made me happy, and I quit. As for eating, it took me a number of years of ups and downs to unlearn the desire to control my body, but I did it. One night recently, I was standing at the kitchen counter at 10 PM eating cold Chinese food. I stopped and marveled at the fact that I can do that. Silly as it sounds, back then I never would have dreamed it. I listen to my body and enjoy food without constraints, and that’s a miracle to me.

I worked my way out of all those modes of perfectionism. I know, and not just because Hannah Montana told me, that nobody’s perfect. So why did that quote hit me?

Then I realized, even though consciously I know I am not expected to be perfect, I sometimes react in a way that suggests the opposite.

One of my greatest fears—and anxiety triggers—is hurting others. This year, my mind has been a little harder to manage than usual, for understandable reasons. Lately, when I feel I’ve made a mistake (or remember one from months past), I go into a downward spiral. I think, over and over again, about what I did wrong and how it could have negatively impacted someone else. Anxiety takes over my body, and I can’t slow down my thoughts or heart rate until I talk to someone else or “fix” the perceived problem.

Of course, it’s normal to feel a sting when you think about how you could have done something better. I care so much about doing things well, and I don’t expect that to change. But when I go into full-on meltdown mode over things that do not warrant that, what I’m telling myself is that it’s not okay to ever make a less-than-100%-perfect decision. And that’s not okay.

Recognizing this problematic pattern of thinking has already been liberating. Not that I’ve “fixed” it—you can’t be perfect at not being perfect—but I realize the path I’ve been walking, perhaps longer than I realized, is not one I want to continue down. I want to be kinder to myself. I want to give myself the love and grace I think everyone deserves in moments of struggle. I want to live a life of self-compassion.

I have so many more thoughts, and a few resources, to share with you, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. What I ask of you is this: if you find yourself being your own worst critic, stop and examine the standards to which you’re holding yourself. And if you wouldn’t say it to a friend, don’t say it to yourself. Your compassion belongs to you, too.

xoxo

Marie

GP Reads—Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen

Hello, dear internet friends!

One thing I would love to do in my lifetime is write (and then publish) a book. This certainly isn’t a new dream for me; in fact, I spent a good chunk of the summer before I turned 19 putting together a book proposal. That particular project was never fully realized, but I still consider the time well-spent.

Fast-forward to today. I’m at a place now where I’m taking steps to make that dream a reality. Or perhaps I’m taking steps in preparation for taking steps to make that dream a reality. Either way, I decided a comfortable starting place would be to see what related YA/teen nonfiction books had come out since I last looked, as that’s the genre I imagine my future book project would fall under. After I gathered a list, I decided to start working my way through the titles. And then I realized I’d like to share my finds with you, in case you’d find them of interest. So today, I’m sharing with you my first pick, Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen.

popular-cropped
Please excuse the barcode covering Maya’s name… Shout out to Lincoln City Libraries for lending this to me!

Popular is the true story of Maya’s eighth grade year, but the inspiration behind it came from a book written—and purchased—long before Maya was even born. That book is Betty Cornell’s Teen-Age Popularity Guide, written by former teen model Betty Cornell and published in 1951. Years later, Maya’s dad purchased the interesting, now-vintage book at a thrift store. Years after that, the book made its way out of storage and into the hands of Maya—and so this journey begins.

At first, Maya simply finds the book “quirky,” but then her mom gives a suggestion: Maya could follow the book’s advice on how to become popular throughout her eighth grade year and write about what happens. Like many a middle schooler given advice by their mother, Maya initially rejects this idea. But Maya, by her account, has never had the experience of being popular; in her ranking of her school’s “popularity scale,” she places herself at “the lowest level of people at school who weren’t paid to be here.” She decides to give the experiment ago.

And go all in she does. Each month, Maya tests out a different category of Betty’s advice. She tries everything from wearing Vaseline on her eyelids to sitting at each table in the cafeteria. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Maya gets mixed results and reactions along the way, but by the end, Maya is transformed—and I’d definitely say that the ending is a happy one.

Maya’s story was very relatable to me. In middle school (and high school), I did have good friends, but I definitely didn’t consider myself popular. And for much of that time, I really, really wanted to be. I thought, misguidedly, that being popular was the key to ultimate happiness.

Looking back on that time in my life gives me a kind of achy feeling. I can’t help but think, Man, with everything I know now, I could do that time so much better. Although I never experienced life on the “popular” side, I can say that over time, that label ceases to matter, but good friendships don’t. Also, the things that help me establish real connections with others—being in the moment, listening, sharing my joy—also make me feel happier, and again, have nothing to do with labels. That all may sound kind of cheesy, but it’s so true, it hurts.

This book definitely ignited that ache, but in a good way. Because—without giving too much away—Maya proves my line of thinking right. She puts the conventional notion of popularity to the test, and in the process, learns what that word really means to her, as well as how she wants to live her life going forward. Which is a lot for any one person to do in a year, let alone someone also navigating the halls of middle school. But Maya does it—and, thankfully, she brings us along on the journey.

So, whether you are a preteen or teen, or you know one, or you just want to vicariously ease your own ache about what might have been, I recommend this book. It’s a pretty quick read—and a powerful one.

xoxo

Marie

P.S. If you have any recommendations for my teen nonfiction reading list, let me know in the comments! Or send me an email at xomarielorene@gmail.com!

The Huffington Post: “5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails”

Hello, lovelies!

I’m very excited to share that an article I wrote was published yesterday on The Huffington Post.  It’s titled, you guessed it, “5 YA Makeover Novels Where Inner Beauty Prevails”  (though it has appeared on the main pages as “The Problem with Our Cultural Obsession with Makeovers”).  You can view it here.  They have published a coHuffPost YA makeover articleuple other pieces of my work, and honestly, it never stops being exciting.

The idea for this piece came from my excitement over a few movies that came out this spring: the new live-action Cinderella and the book-to-movie The Duff.  I am notoriously bad at watching movies; I nearly always fall asleep before the end (or maybe the middle).  But I stayed awake for these two movies, and I loved them.  And the more I thought about it, the more I realized that they have something in common (besides being based on stories I already loved):  they both hinge on a makeover.

I can’t resist a good makeover story; I’ve even tried to create a few real-life ones for myself, with the help of John Frieda Precision Foam Colour in a variety of shades.  But, as with almost all things pop culture, I’ve conflicted by the draw of makeovers.  Is it just another example of the high value placed on appearances?

After digging through the YA stacks, I realized that the truth is more complex.  In truth, the best makeover stories are about personal growth.  The characters may start off with the wrong idea (that changing your looks will fix your life), but ultimately, their choice – superficial as it may have seemed – leads them to a truer version of themselves.

For me, that makes sense.  A number of times, I have tried to change something external about myself, thinking that if I fixed my outside, then I’d be happy on the inside.  Unsurprisingly, it never panned out quite like I dreamed up.  But each time, I gained new insights on myself that I’m not sure I would’ve gotten otherwise.  And therein lies the true beauty of mistakes.

Above and beyond all that, though, I just want to reiterate to you, my captive(ish?) audience, how exciting this is for me.  I was thinking about how cool this opportunity is in the car the other day, and it made me tear up (and that’s before Sarah Dessen shared my article, which just sent me over the edge).  I thought about my 17-year-old self, many transformations ago, who had braces and a purple composition notebook and dreamed of writing girly things that would inspire people.  She may not have truly known how much hard work it would take to get here, but she had enough hope to believe it was possible.  And in their wonderfully roundabout way, that’s what these great makeover stories remind us to do:  believe in our ability to craft a beautiful, genuine life.

xoxo

Marie