Why The World (Still) Needs Lois Lane, 2020

I was depressed the summer I decided I was going to watch Smallville all the way through, from beginning to end. Spring semester 2014 had been the culmination of my descent into the darkest parts of my mind. I stopped eating and leaving my room; the one time I did, I ended up sobbing on the floor in the Outreach Office of Admission. I cried for so long that by the time I could be persuaded to accept a ride back to my dorm and got back, I was greeted by a squad of cop cars and police officers who were preparing to take me to the hospital for a psychiatric evaluation.

My therapist and psychiatrist had both firmly suggested I take a medical leave for the rest of the semester after that. I cried and laid in bed with the lights out, exhausted, for the rest of the semester, but I didn’t leave. At least, not until my courses were officially over and my exams were done. Not having been in the presence of mind to apply for summer internships or programs, I returned to my parents’. I received a letter later that summer which stated that I had made the Dean’s List. It came around the time I had wandered out of the house, with the vague idea that I might lay down on the train tracks less than a mile away. This was all before I had a panic attack so bad I was hospitalized.

After months of the endless panic and emptiness that plagued me during the day and the sleep paralysis which haunted me at night, I felt I needed to do something, anything to occupy my mind. My irregular visits to the library for comics had led me to Smallville. Browsing the small graphic novel collection in my library reminded me of someone– someone I had loved for a very long time and who had, incidentally, told me for years that I would love Smallville.

Fine, I thought, half to myself and half to him, that afternoon when I returned home and pulled up the pilot episode on my laptop, you win.

For the rest of that summer, I binge-watched Smallville. It didn’t take me long to fall in love. Between Clark Kent’s puppy dog eyes, the angsty 2000s rock soundtrack, and my adoration for seeing characters I had met in the pages of my beloved comic books on screen, I was hooked. I knew Smallville’s characters as if they were my own friends and I loved them all.

But I especially loved Lois Lane.

Lois, I felt, was far superior to Lana and her relationship to Chloe was a perfectly executed character introduction. Lana Lang was the dictionary definition of a damsel in distress. She was weak, defenseless– a liability. And yet with a flip of her hair, she could make Clark Kent’s eyes glaze over.

I had always imagined the root of my distaste for Lana could be boiled down to my fierce love of Lois, and by extension Lois and Clark. I had a similar feeling when I watched The Vampire Diaries’ Elena fall into a seemingly endless number of dangerous situations, only to have Stefan, Damon or both save her. Fans doted over Elena, who in my mind couldn’t hold her own, and passed over much better characters (read: Bonnie Bennett). Perhaps it was simply my inclination as a fan; but that explanation never satisfied me.

The next fall when I returned to school, I found myself drawn back in a theater for the first time since my sophomore year of high school and when I emerged, I had a new set of friends. We were bonded together as if by an indestructible golden thread, and some among us were closer than others, including me and K. I had never imagined we would be friends, K and I, because for a long time, I had disliked her.

She was about my height and we were both plus sized girls. We were both smart and outspoken and involved in many of the same organizations as first years. We were matched in every way and yet she somehow still managed to be better at everything. She sang like an angel and I had not gotten a call back for a single a cappella group. She stood at Harambee when we honored those with impeccable GPAs from first semester; a former straight-A student, I barely hid my sulk. I heard the whispers of boys who wanted to date her but knew they didn’t stand a chance.

No, I didn’t dislike her; I was jealous of her.

When I went back to watch Smallville a few years into our friendship, I didn’t see Lana. I saw K. I saw a girl who everyone liked, who was good at everything, who got the guy. She was everything I wasn’t. Comparison, the saying goes, is the thief of joy; and yet I watched Smallville and realized I was sizing myself up next to Lana.

This rewatch, I discovered different gems. This time, I realized that though Clark’s Lana chapter and his Lois chapter overlapped, that didn’t bother the girls. Lois, and Lana, seemed to know that they could both be important to him, for different reasons and in different ways. They were never catty; they peacefully coexisted. Lois was never jealous of Lana to the point of disliking her. In fact, Lois always seemed to respect Lana. It was almost if Lois could see Lana through Clark’s eyes; if Clark saw something in Lana, then she must be something special. Lois was always self-confident enough to not be insecure about Lana, because she knew there could only ever be one Lois Lane.

K and I never competed for anyone’s affections. The only person who was keeping score was me. Lois taught me how to let go of my insecurities.

And I listened.

Chloe Sullivan, on the other hand, was the version of myself I had left behind.

I remember my disappointment in summer 2014 when I realized I would have to watch three entire seasons before I got even a glimpse of Lois Lane on Smallville. I was even more disappointed when I was confronted with Chloe Sullivan, one of Clark’s best friends, who appeared, at first glance, to be a half-baked version of Lois, meant to tide over viewers until showrunners were ready to introduce the infamous LL.

But there was something familiar in the way Chloe looked at Clark. Her feelings for him stirred up the ghosts of my own from long ago. I cried when she wrote a letter to him in Season 2: “I’m the girl of your dreams masquerading as your best friend.” I knew that feeling intimately. I, too, had harbored feelings for more than one best friend long past their expiration date. I held onto them for so long they started to define me.

It was why I felt for Chloe. It would be six seasons before there was even a glimmer of hope that she would move on and realize that Clark simply would never look at her the way she wanted him to. In spite of everything that she had going for her– she was cute, smart, resourceful, loyal, empathetic and loving– her torch for Clark Kent would be what defined her.

Like Chloe, I had a tendency to put everyone and everything before myself. In many ways, it wasn’t even our unrequited loves that broke our hearts. Our expectations made us responsible for the mess.

I didn’t want to be defined by the school girl crush on the captain of the JV football team that I continued to nurse for no reason other than it was familiar.

And so I imagined who I wanted to be.

It was easy. I wanted to be like Lois. She was the person I was before the break, who I was at my core– the person I wanted to make my way back to. She was who I wanted to be. Lois was brash and honest and had an eye that knew how to cut through a lie. You could tell she had a spine of iron and grip of steel. She was a natural disaster, a hurricane who defied labels, and orderly Clark Kent both hated and loved the way she blew through his life.

I loved people who saw me as a hurricane– intense, immovable, and inevitable. Beautiful and dangerous, powerful and hand-crafted by God.

In the same way which a storm like that cannot disguise itself as anything else, Lois is unapologetic and insistent about who she is. She cannot change, and why would she?

There’s a core to the character of Lois Lane that has been stable over time, amid her various iterations: she has been ambitious, driven, and justice-oriented. Those are no small personality traits. They are character defining. And it’s this strength of character that brings Clark Kent and Superman back to Lois time and time again.

It is possible to love a hurricane.

Lois is how I made my way back to myself. That summer, and for a long time before, the parts of myself that I had loved– my conviction, my unconditional love, my creativity– were suffocated by the jagged edges of the broken person I was at that moment. But there were moments when bits of my beloved character shined through the mess, glowing weakly, but strong enough to remind me that it was still there. It was those parts of myself that Lois spoke to. She seemed to help those pieces glow a little stronger. I was able to hang onto their shine a little longer. She was how I started to make my way back to myself over the course of ten seasons.

Truthfully, Lois led me to something better. She and Smallville showed me mirrors, representations of my life. Some truths were easier to see than others. Some took more time to digest.

I clung to Lois because she reminded me of who I was and taught me how to be brave again. Lois was a fighter; I almost walked away from my fight.

I’m not sure that I knew it then, when I first sat down to watch Smallville that hot summer in 2014 or when I wrote “Why the World Needs Lois Lane” in 2016, but I know it now: Lois Lane saved my life.

And that’s why I still need her, after all this time.

Dissertating During Coronavirus

As you all are well aware, we are in the midst of a pandemic. In a matter of weeks, the coronavirus has redoubled public health and safety efforts, effectively resulting in the seeming indefinite closure of schools and universities, retailers and other places and events where folks congregate. This means conferences have been cancelled or postponed, travel is limited, and teleworking and online learning is the new standard.

There’s plenty to be concerned about: beyond the risk and concerns of contracting the virus, many are worried about spreading it, as we’re learning some folks are asymptomatic carriers; parents and other caretakers are now concerned about how to balance caring for their children and elderly; finding appropriate sustenance and necessities as panic-induced bulk buying cleans out shelves at grocery stores. There are worries about displaced college students having to shelter in abusive homes; acute financial concerns as some people are laid off entirely and losing work, and others having to continue working overtime to support a panicking population; and whether our president will wield this disaster as an opportunity to postpone the election.

And that’s just some of the discourse I’ve seen on the news and around the internet in the last week.

Then, of course, there’s the firm suggestion that we practice “social distancing,” a conscious effort to prevent the spread of the virus, which involves limiting the amount of contact we have with others. Many others are having a much harder time with this than I am, admittedly. Staying indoors, only venturing out for necessities, and entertaining myself with hobbies I can do in the house is pretty much what I do anyway. Plus, as I’ve written before, it’s just me and my dissertation this semester, which means I can write from anywhere as I have no obligations to be physically present at the university.

Rationally, I know not much changes for me, aside from the fact that my dog and I are weathering the pandemic from my parents’ house an hour away from campus. And yet, the low level of panic I typically feel in general on any given day has been turned up from about a 1.5 to a 4, with spikes of acute anxiety throughout the day.

I know I will be okay for a while. I’m safe. I have many of my comforts: my dog, my art, my books, my journals… but I can’t say I’m not unaffected by the many stories that cross my timeline in a day. Folks I interact with regularly online are having graduations cancelled and losing freelance gigs and are already in precarious financial and health situations. It could easily be months before things get back to normal.

It feels…disingenuous to be worried about my dissertation right now. On the one hand, there are so many other, more important things I could be occupying myself with at the moment. But on the other, work has always been my anchor, it has kept me grounded in the midst of personal upheavals. As long as my already busy mind is kept focused on a task, I can minimize the amount of time I spend spiraling into rabbit holes about the world ending.

I can’t say that there’s a “right” response to an international pandemic, but pressuring myself to work on a project that ultimately will end up on a shelf in College Apartments, untouched for decades once finished, just doesn’t seem useful.

What I think is a better idea is striving for some sense of normalcy in these uncertain times. Given that I am already prone to panic and anxiety without the added stress of a global crisis, for me, striving for normalcy will probably mean being more proactive than usual about my mental health and tending myself first, and working when and if I feel like it. I will need sleep, walks with Genghis, time to read, make art, write, to feel okay. I really need yoga, but it looks like my University is working to put some virtual fitness classes in place for us, so hopefully, I’ll be able to tune in with my favorite yoga teachers soon enough.

Most importantly, I think I’ll be reminding myself as often as I can to take some very deep breaths. More often than not, I realize I’ve been holding my breath. I sit up straight and and do some seated cat and cows to release my spine, roll my head on my shoulders, and breathe.

Sometimes that’s all you can do.

Breathe.

Dissertation Check-In #1

I opened a new scrivener file for my dissertation and started writing on December 28, 2019. In the two months that have elapsed since that day, I have done a lot of reading and a lot of drafting– 50 pages worth actually.

If it seems like I’m writing like a madwoman, here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. Writing is my primary vehicle for processing the world so I write a lot and often.
  2. I write fast. If I have an idea, I can lay down 1,000 words in under an hour.
  3. I don’t self-edit as I write. I word vomit and edit later.
  4. I am not working this semester. At my school, if you TA or are a teaching fellow, you’re off the semester you are not working.
  5. I have written something that can serve as a basis for each chapter, intro and conclusion, whether it be a conference or seminar paper, or an article draft. (Protip: before I started writing, I gathered all my relevant writing into a document so I would have my ideas all in one place. That document was 150 pages.)

To point number five, I’ve tested out a lot of these ideas, worked them out, but I’m excited to get to spend some time molding them on paper and synthesizing them even further.

Also, in terms of actual writing time, I don’t spend that much time writing. Every week, I give myself a writing goal word count. Typically, the minimum is 1,250 words (or 250 words on average every week day) and the maximum is 2,500 (or 500 words on average every week day). I try to be very flexible with myself, so it doesn’t matter how the words come out. If I write 1,250 words or more one day, I consider my work done for the week unless I have a stroke of inspiration, I rarely write more. Usually, though, I spend about an hour three days out of the week working on my word count goal.

That said, if I’m only writing a few hours a week, what am I doing the rest of the time? Reading. I spend a lot of time reading, rereading, reviewing, and researching. I’m taking notes and sketching and outlining. Admittedly, I do other things, too: I go to meetings for my various jobs around campus and with my advisor, I do conferences, go to lectures. And of course, I spend some time freelance writing, pitching and drafting and editing essays.

But I’ve got a rhythm for the time being: Monday through Friday, I am in Williamsburg, writing in my apartment or at the local coffeehouse. Every day that I write, I also move. So I try to make it to a yoga class (or Body Combat on Wednesdays), every day that I spend sedentary working. On Friday, I stop working, no matter where I am on the spectrum of my word count, and I drive home to Suffolk and spend the weekend with my folks. We do nothing happily and we go to church on Sundays. I sometimes make things, like mini canvases with custom quotes, for people. I take a break. And then on Monday, I drive back to Williamsburg and start my week over again.

All of my pages have gone off to my dissertation advisor and I’ve since gotten edits and comments back. However, sometime last week, I realized I was going really hard on the dissertation, even with all of my scheduling and breaks. So I took last week (which incidentally happened to be my birthday week) off. Tomorrow, Monday March 2, I am going to comb through my advisor’s comments a little more carefully and spend a week or two adjusting and reworking based on her thoughts. I will spend the last two weeks of March hopefully drafting about 20 new pages of work.

My goal, ultimately, is to have a sizeable chunk of this project drafted this year. I expect most of my work will come in the editing process. Writing, simply put, isn’t the hard part for me. Editing to get it where it needs to be is the beast I have to conquer.

In any case, I think I’ve made good progress over the last two months. I have a system that works for me and an advisor who is supportive, present and forthcoming with feedback. I do like being in this space: I love that it’s just me and my writing. It’s what I love, just getting carried away by ideas, and right now I can do that with minimal interruption.

It’s kind of nice.

Will it stay that way? Only time will tell.

My attempt at joining the Academy