The Feel-Good Rut: A Guide
It’s embarrassing to admit, but I get stuck in cycles of re-watching movies and TV shows and re-reading the same books over and over, rarely introducing anything new into my bank of consumption. It’s like I develop an anxiety about seeing new films, starting new TV shows or picking up a new book. It’s seriously a wonder how I’ve amassed any sort of pop culture lexicon at all.
Why am I like this? Sometimes it’s because I’m indignant. Like, “I know what I like and I like what I know. Nothing else cool exists!” Sometimes I’m too lazy to watch something difficult or read a dense book, or I’m afraid of what I think a film or book or album or piece of art will make me feel. Sometimes it’s because I’m depressed or have a mental breakdown and these things that may seem silly for me to re-watch and read over and over again make me feel good. And sometimes, you really, really need that.
Tavi Gevinson once said: “The more I have a bad day or whatever, the more I learn like, ‘Okay, I know what my tools are. I know what movie I have to watch, I know which friends to call, I know how many hours to spend eating in bed watching TV.’ It’s all just getting to know yourself.” Even though you’re not experiencing new things, you’re experiencing the same thing in different ways and learning about that one thing in a very intimate and comprehensive way. And like Tavi says, it’s about self-care, too.
She also talked about seeking what makes you wonder. It should be noted that there are different tiers to the things you may be re-consuming and they serve purposes that are important in different ways. When you’re stressed and just need to chill and shut your brain off, it’s okay to re-watch the “Ace of Cakes” collection on Netflix, if it zens you out. And if you’re sad and uninspired, it’s good to read a book or watch a movie that you know will reignite your sense of wonder. There’s nothing wrong with knowing yourself and what makes you feel good or inspired.
What follows is a list of things from my personal Feel-Good Rut Toolkit. These are things that make me want to seek wonder. They inspire me to find other things that will make me feel the same way or give me courage.
“Girl” by Blake Nelson
I’ve tried to write about this book for years, but have never been able to. I think it’s because it means so much to me that it renders me incapable of speaking about it intellectually or even coherently. It’s one of those things where I’m like, “JUST READ IT!”
It originally started out as serialized excerpts in Sassy Magazine. And due to the huge response from readers, “Girl” was published as a novel. It’s about this average Oregon suburban teen girl named Andrea Marr who starts to discover the Northwest underground punk scene. There’s references to actual bands like All Girl Summer Fun Band, which is super cool. Andrea reminds me of what it was like to discover music as a teenager and identifying with a fringe scene for the first time. I love “Girl” so much that I even commissioned a friend of a friend to make me Andrea’s red dress with the cows on it that she wears throughout the entire book. It’s my nerdiest and most-prized item of clothing.
I like to describe my personal style as a 1960s London schoolgirl who is obsessed with Paris. And it’s because of Carey Mulligan in this movie. Her character, Jenny, desperately wants to get out of her town to study in Oxford and immerse herself in a world of culture. One of my favorite parts in the movie is when she declares, “I’m going to read what I want, and listen to what I want, and I’m going to look at paintings and watch French films, and I’m gonna talk to people who know lots about lots.” Jenny is such a beautiful, eyes-wide-open teen sponge. She’s totally mesmerizing.
The Jessica Darling series
It’s hard to tell if I like Jessica Darling so much because she’s just like me, or if I adopted some of her affectations because I like her so much. This is hands down my favorite book series. It follows Jessica from when she’s 16 until she’s 26 over the course of five books. The first four are written from Jessica’s point of view by way of her journal. She’s snarky and whip-smart and in love with the 80s… and she can sometimes be super judgmental and infuriating. Jessica reminds me to prioritize sitting down and journaling every night. Also, Marcus Flutie probably sets the bar for sexiest guy in YA. Think Justin Bobby (“The Hills”) meets a young Johnny Depp.
“My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy”
This one is a little more recent. I’m just now realizing that Kanye is a genius and that his music and message are incredibly empowering. This is my favorite of his albums. Like Tavi, Sadie from the YouTube channel defense360 is another teen that I look up to. She made a video talking about her experience seeing Kanye perform for the first time and why she loves him so much. She describes the monologue that Kanye gave that night:
“At one point… he was talking about how an interviewer on the radio said to him, ‘I really like when you talk about blah blah because it makes you sound humble.’ And he was saying, ‘I’m not humble at all. I’m a thousand feet tall.’ And it wasn’t about the bullshit that people try and say about Kanye. It wasn’t about arrogance. It wasn’t about any of that. It was just about knowing that you’re worthy and not letting anyone make you feel like shit for knowing that you have potential and knowing that you’re doing something new and awesome. He just gave the most masterful pep talk ever.”
“The Punk Singer”
One of the best things to do when you feel like human garbage and that everything you make is drivel is to read biographies or watch documentaries about people you admire. It’s like stalking people with jobs you hope to get one day on LinkedIn.
This documentary — about Kathleen Hannah, the frontwoman of Bikini Kill who became the face of the Riot Grrrl movement in the ’90s — seriously does it for me. What I love about the ’90s underground DIY punk movement was that it proved you don’t have to be a musician to play music as long as you’re making something… and that applies to other things as well. After each viewing of the film, I always feel like I can do anything. In the film, Kathleen talks about making “The Julie Ruin” record, and the sacredness of girls making art in their bedrooms, which is totally inspiring and gives me hardcore “Rookie”/”Virgin Suicides”/teenage dream bedroom vibes. Kathleen reminds me to not fear speaking out about my experiences because other women will believe me. This movie makes me feel invincible.
What’s in your Feel-Good Rut Toolkit?
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