2013 was a huge year for me for a lot of reasons, but I don’t keep a real diary so the only way I can track my growth is through movie stubs, tv shows, Spotify, and used books. 7 pop culture experiences that helped me grow up after the jump.

Fruitvale Station

I thought Fruitvale Station was a wonderful movie, but that’s not why it’s on this list. There were easily 10-15 movies from this year that I liked more, and many that were better crafted. But it’s my experience after seeing Fruitvale Station that stayed with me and affected my point of view. The final act of the movie is a visceral gut punch, as anyone aware of the story must know by now. I’d estimate that about half the theater was sniffing in the final minutes, and one person legitimately ran out in tears before the credits. It’s a tough watch. But as we were walking out and began our standard “what did you think of the movie” debrief, my boyfriend wasted no time breaking down the flaws he found with the movie. He was perfectly right to criticize it – its a gripping but structurally imperfect work – but I reacted poorly to his criticism at first. The only ludicrous thought in my head at the time was “How could you criticize that movie so close to theater? People who cried are nearby!” I felt dumb for a few minutes, wondering if I was so easily taken by emotional manipulation that I’m okay ignoring imperfection. But the audience was clearly affected and moved by the movie – did that mean nothing?  In the end, my boyfriend was right, but so was I. It’s important to criticize movies, both as audience members and aspiring filmmakers. And yet, it’s just as important, and just as intelligent, to acknowledge an emotional reaction as valid praise. Movies can create thought and feeling at once, and we gain nothing by ignoring one for the other.

Season 4 of Community

I spent a lot of last year getting frustrated with fellow Community fans and defending season 4. I still don’t think it’s quite as bad as most do: it’s the worst season by far, yeah, but it’s not quite so dramatically awful as it was being treated. Plenty of shows have bad seasons, and with new showrunners and a truncated season obviously there would be growing pains. The characters and stories felt more primitive, but it’s not 2 Broke Girls or something so let’s all take a breath. I still feel that way, but when I created my Fun 21 list, I had to acknowledge how out of place season 4 was in the entire narrative of the show. It doesn’t ruin what came before it, but it added nothing. I so often feel the need to preach Community at people, and to take it and hold it close when its being attacked, that I lost sight of the fact that sometimes even my favorite show ever could be imperfect. Sometimes, even often, your favorite things fail. And it’s okay to love them anyway.

Greendale is Where I Belong

When I took stock of my growth this year, I sort of forgot that I graduated college in 2013. It should be a huge deal, and it is, but I had already mentally checked out of college by spring and so it feels like I left school much earlier than that. Ironically, physically getting a diploma feels somehow more abstract and more muted than growing to be a more confident and responsible woman. But around May, I was definitely feeling some graduation blues. I had spent my entire life building up to this moment: so now what? Community began during my freshman year of college, and a lot of my nostalgia for the early seasons is connected to my first few years figuring college out. So I listened to this beautiful song – my absolute favorite from the soundtrack – all the way to both of my graduations. In a way this song, and my love of the show, acted as a shuttle towards a pretty significant threshold.

Flowers for Algernon

Cards on the table: I haven’t quite finished this book yet, but it’s already affected me quite a bit. Historically, I’ve had very little confidence in my strength or intelligence, and so a lot of Charlie Gordon’s fears have found a real, hard place inside me. Especially now, without a transcript or tests to back up my intelligence, I’m terrified of falling behind – of feeling stupid or making the wrong move. I dislike resolutions, but I’m a big fan of goals, and a major one for me is to grow more confident in my skills and more forgiving of my weaknesses. A lot of that is thanks to Charlie’s journey towards self awareness and assuredness throughout the book (and yes, I do know how it ends). This year, I’ll trust myself to make real, even scary decisions. And when I’m indecisive, I’ll reread this passage:

“You’re damned right something is happening! A cloud of smoke was hanging in front of my eyes, and with one breath you blew it away. A simple idea. Trust myself. And it never occurred to me before.”

Matilda: The Musical

Look, when a musical has a lovely song literally titled “When I Grow Up”, it’s never not going to make this type of list. I went to see it in the middle of a really topsy turvy week, and so regrettably I didn’t focus in on this wonderful show as much as I should have. But that song did, and still does, cut to the core of me. I’ve since listened to the cast recording dozens of times (thanks Spotify) and little Matilda has become a huge source of inspiration for me as I try to mature past my anxieties. There’s a theme of taking control of your story and finding strength in yourself that I constantly go to for reassurance. Earlier this fall I had the awful but powerful experience of having to kill a mouse that was trapped under my bed (seriously, I thought of “I killed a mouse” before “I graduated college” when I tallied my 2013 accomplishments). It’s no accident that I had “When I grow up, I will be brave enough to fight the creatures that you have to fight beneath the bed each night to be a grownup!” revolving in my head as I became a mouse murderer and an adult in one night.

I also gave myself this sticker for the experience, because I’m grown up:

I WAS BRAVE

Ikiru

Unintentionally, Ikiru had probably the biggest influence on me this year. I’m easily spooked, and I watched this Akira Kurosawa film for the first time in February, when someone I love very much was going through some medical issues that were evading diagnosis. Watching the first few scenes of the film, where Watanabe understands he is dying from stomach cancer while his doctor refuses to tell him, I became terrified of a similar diagnosis in my own life. So I spent the entire movie praying and promising God that if he made sure there was nothing wrong, I would be a good girl and write at least a page of screenplay every day. Because of course all God cares about is my writing. It’s been nearly a year, and for better or worse I’ve kept that promise – and thankfully my loved one is just fine. Random as it is, there’s something fitting about Ikiru (“To Live” in English) inspiring this vow towards being a little bit creative every day. It’s a film about a dying man who struggles to make his life meaningful until finally he finds the answer in creativity and work. It’s something major that helped me cope in 2013, and something I’ll continue on, with both screenwriting and this blog, for a while. I’m excited to see what comes from it.

My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

This one’s very personal. I watched My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend at the exact right time, and by “right time” I don’t mean something vague like in my early 20s. I watched this special the very night I reached a paralyzing crossroads in my relationship, and had to decide to either walk away or get extra-committed to making it work. I isolated myself in my room and watched MGB mostly as a distraction from my relationship woes. It truly was a moronic choice for that purpose, and by the time it ended I was on my floor weeping (this song playing over the credits doesn’t help). I already really liked Birbiglia’s storytelling comedy, but the earnestness and honesty of this special had made it possibly my all time favorite, and certainly my top 2013 pop culture experience. It’s scary to admit when the thing you love and trust most in the world can cause you true, lasting pain, and that that pain doesn’t make the whole thing worthless. It’s scary to imagine that the very misery you’re feeling in that moment can be worked through to something brighter. But My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend definitely helps.