The Literal Best Post Like Ever

“I live in a constant state of hyperbole.” Eden Sher

Trust me, I hated writing that title. Really I didn’t like it. But this isn’t about poor writing and the terrible writing convention that is the hyperbole. I wanna talk about why I STILL write hyperbolically, at least sometimes.

I am a writer. I think that’s obvious. I hang out with also mostly writers. We all talk though like the product of our generation. We talk like 90s kids. This is hardly the group of Bad Boy French Poets of the 19th Century. We speak to each other normally. We use slang. Lots of slang.We use short hand: most of us grew up with the last part of the AOL generation. I got my start online with Xanga, MySpace and AOL IM. I came into my own as a writer in the mid 2000s and despite the rampant fanfiction and emo-poetry: we did write pretty formally back then. (For the record referring to the mid 2000s as back then hurt my soul.) I continued a dualist form of writing: informally with friends with lots of shorthand and formally when it came to school work and writing. But in my speech and life I kept most of the shorthand I grew up with: LOL, LMAO, BRB; I’ll even use these to this day. But this isn’t just about shorthand. It’s about hyperbole and internet culture.

I’m a social media manager and I hate click-bait titles and the current trend of the Internets is hyperbolic generalizations.

I can’t even.

This is literally me.

This is the worst/best ever.

As much as I hate these because you cannot be any of those things. You can even, you have to so that you can exist. No block of text is literally anyone. And any one things is the best and worst all the time for most people because life is beautifully subjective. PBS Idea Channel did a great episode about it here.

But there’s something interesting about the relationship of being a writer and still using slang and Internet speak. In communications with my best friend, most of our posts are glimpses from Tumblr that are literally me right now. But as a writer I should be more proper. I should be above that. I should be better than that. I am not better than that. I currently moderate a chatroom that has a somewhat strict no-chatspeak policy. The policy cites that as a room for writers, we should all be literate. Now, this isn’t a berating of the policy: it’s a policy and they’re in place for a reason but it’s made me come to terms with the fact that I use A LOT of chatspeak. I frequently abbreviate words and shorten them based on how I feel and for the few times I was clocked on the policy I was charged to enforce I felt a lot of shame. I felt like I was somehow failing the English language itself if I didn’t end every single sentence with proper punctuation or with a definite article. I felt like a failed writer each time a phrase didn’t end in some Shakespearean couplet.

So I moved my more informal writing habits to personal chats and wherever the damn hell else I wanted. But I still struggled with the feeling that I was a failed writer whenever I used shorthand and spoke in like literally the best ever sort of way. But what’s so bad about speaking hyperbolically?

There’s been plenty of posts about the Age of Hyperbole where everything is the best and the greatest then what really is the best and the greatest.  I see that there’s a problem with this at its core and we’re reaching a saturation point that with all things being the best there is no the best anymore. We’ve long since lost the meanings of the word awesome and terrific because their Romantic-era meanings involved fear, sublime dread and literal mouth-gaping awe at something so vague, overwhelming and intensely other.

So here’s an unpopular opinion: maybe that’s okay. Yes, the word awesome is dreadfully overused and I can’t stand it but it’s just a reflection of the modern era. Thanks to technology and globalization we don’t get many awe-struck moments anymore. And I’d challenge if anything we aren’t in an age of hyperbole but an age of understatement. I find that when I use these words there’s almost an implied irony to it. Nothing is literally awesome anymore but it’s an understatement as a means to fill the void left behind so many of the little victories we face in day to day survival. Amazingly despite my disliking of him as a writer, John Green has been a bit of my model for the modern writer. A modern writer should use social media, should play video games, should falter, should have flaws and should be if anything opinionated and true to themselves. Being a writer doesn’t mean not being human.

Thanks for reading and if you ever hear me talk like a late 90s era Valley Girl, please don’t judge me. I literally can’t even sometimes.

The Day If Becomes When

Corpse Door

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”-W. Somerset Maugham

When I was 12 I lost my father under sudden circumstances and complications to chronic illness. But even at 12 I was no stranger to death. I had lost my grandfather at 9 and Death’s cruel shade would continue to haunt me well into my adulthood. It’s no surprise, really. It’s the one thing we all have in common. Mortality. But we as a group, collective or society don’t talk about it or deal with this fact well and today I’d like to talk about that a little bit more.

Don’t worry. Things will lighten up soon.

When I was 9, my grandfather passed away as mentioned above. He was a great man but he was sick. It was at 9 that I remember being one of the first times asking about my own mortality.  As children here in the West, our parents quickly changed the topic of conversation when such serious topics arose. The wording was always very careful.

If you die, you go to heaven. 

If, not when.

As if to say because I was a child, I was somehow immune to the nature of entropy. Now, I understand being discrete with children. I’m Southern. And it’s a painful topic to discuss with a child. And not an easy one especially considering that most adults don’t seem to have a solid grasp on mortality. It was also at 9 that my mother told me that I shouldn’t cry at my grandfather’s funeral. I was the oldest of the grandchildren and “had to set an example” for my younger cousins. I was as I said before, 9 years old.

It was this verbiage of if that dotted my childhood. Through natural  disasters, terrorism and disease. If.

When my father died at 12, I received a book on how to “cope” with loss. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) [if you have read this book and had great feelings about it, please let me know. I’m almost tempted to give it another read now as a cynical adult to see if angry 12 year old Amanda just didn’t like being given a book to explain the grand mysteries of life and death or it was just a piss-poor book] and I maintain that it’s the most tone-deaf piece of literature ever. It did not help me cope with the loss of my father. It just made me angry. But it was the first time that I remember the tone of loss change. “When we die, this is where we’ll go.” my mother said, standing in front of the open plots. She had purchased two plots: one for me and one for her, shortly after my father’s death. At 12 the fabled if of loss became a when. Life became a ticking clock.

It happens to everyone. It’s just a matter of when. 

The reason to bring this up? Recently I joined The Order of the Good Death. A collection of those that say they are Death Positive. Mortality isn’t a curse, it’s a fact. We’re all headed to a grand greater something. What that something is…yet to be unknown. But we’ll all be there.

Another point to bring this up, many of my favorite web celebrities (John and Hank Green are honorable mentions) have been very concerned about mentioning mortality in popular culture. Hank Green recently posted a song to his very popular Youtube channel titled: We’re All Gonna Die. And it’s a brilliant, if not subtly cheeky way, to deal with the fact that our time is finite. I’ve always admired the Green brothers and their candid discussions on their anxiety with the matter; John especially.  The Ask a Mortician channel on Youtube is incredibly informative and witty while still being human and it quickly has become one of my favorite new sources for videos.

But as a culture, we’re still uncomfortable talking about death. Some outlets have taken a stand against this and has started to take a stand on realizing that life isn’t something that just goes on forever. We’re mortal. Our lives are very finite and it’s about time we start realizing it. When YOLO first became popular it was a catchall phrase to rationalize somewhat reckless acts because we do in fact “only live once”. Being finite doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless, it means if anything, it means more. We have so many days, minutes, seconds, weeks and so on. Let’s all do something with the time we have. We’re not Wonder Woman, Superman or a sitcom character: and even some superheroes die; they just come back later on. Our universe is even finite: it will eventually end. All of it.

However, being Southern it’s still a taboo topic. We still struggle with the memory, memorial and sanctity of our dead. We value and rush through life with vigor and we mourn the dead as if death never comes. But Death…the handsome gentleman caller that he is, has very little concerns for our Southern ignorance; he just waits.

Enjoy your existence, whether you believe in the cold nihilism of the mostly unforgiving universe or the warm tender embrace of an afterlife as something greater.

 

 

An African-American Otaku’s Cosplay Requiem

“If human beings had genuine courage, they’d wear their costumes every day of the year, not just on Halloween.”  Douglas Coupland

When I was a little girl watching Sailor Moon while all the other kids wanted to be Sailor Moon, Sailor Mars or even Chibi Usa: I wanted to be Tuxedo Mask. I tell this story because I feel like it’s the best insight into who I am as a cosplayer. I was a born cosplayer. I was a theater kid, pageant baby and I love being in costume.  Being a cosplayer is one of the truest forms of self expression that I can think of. It’s my catharsis, my community and my love. I am also a small, chubby African-American woman.

Now, it’s important to mention a very important to mention that there are plenty of absolutely amazing black cosplayers and this is not a rant about diversity. This is just to provide some of my thoughts and experiences about being a tiny black otaku. I personally almost never let being black or a woman hold me down from attempting a costume or character. Roy Mustang? Sure, lemme polish my boots. Deidara? Let’s pick up a verbal tick, un! Castiel? I’ll go grab my wings. It’s never really bothered me that my skin tone didn’t match the characters.

When I was young in my cosplay career the issue of race and cosplay did bother me a lot. I hated being that one black insert name of character. I wanted to be judged based on my work. Not how good I looked for someone who was the wrong color for that character. I took a break from cosplay. From the somewhat institutionalized racism. From the somewhat misogyny and when I picked cosplay back up I had even fewer worries or concern about my race, height or gender.  I didn’t care that I was a tiny chocolate girl cosplaying a Doctor or the Riddler or Princess Unikitty. I was just me. I picked characters I liked and I had fun being them and I looked damn good: that’s what matters when it comes to cosplay.

I can count the times on my hand that race and gender have held me back from cosplaying a character. What goes into this choice? Mostly series canon. For instance I adore Scandinavia and the World and the rest of Humon’s work but if a character looks a certain way; it’s for a reason so it just seems somewhat inappropriate to me to fudge that. Axis Powers: Hetalia is another example: I love the series but I won’t cosplay it out in public outside of an event just because these are meant to be caricatures: the characters look this way for a reason and I despite being a very lovely lady do not look like France or Austria.

Now you may be asking by now: Amanda, why don’t you care about race, height and gender when it comes to character depictions? Well, that’s a good and fair question. I do care. A lot. I’m a writer. If I make a character look a certain way; it’s for a reason. But I tend not to fret over things I can’t change. Costume work is amazing and make up has come a long way but I’m not going to suddenly become a fair-skinned male without a great deal of work done. I can augment aspects of myself but when they are too much I simply rather not. Now I don’t mind a hidden heel to make me somewhat taller than 5’1’’ and I’ll use shapewear to slim my profile but nothing’s changing the cafe color of my skin or the fact that once the shoes come off I am very very petite. And above all I mostly just don’t see an issue with it. Yes, Superman is a white male but if I put on that cape I can become Superman and not just a chocolate-colored Superman marauder. I put a lot of work into my costumes and I want people to see that work, that passion, that excitement; I don’t want people to just ask me why I chose a character that wasn’t of color.

In the early days of anime and comics: diversity was a legit concern. All heroes looked the same and there wasn’t much room for a female yet alone a female of color that wasn’t an exotic princess of a made up land or just an alternate darker-colored carbon copy of a classic hero. Diversity has absolutely changed for American comics and it’s never been easier to be LGBT, young, tall, short, out of shape or anything and still be a valid member of a recognizable franchise.

I am, however, primarily an otaku. Japan has not quite ridden the wave of diversity and it’s still somewhat difficult finding characters that well…look like me. But this goes beyond just looks: most characters I encountered didn’t sound like me, either. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post: I didn’t exactly have a very African-American upbringing. For instance when watching Static Shock as a young girl, I couldn’t relate to Virgil (Static Shock) and his urban, single-parent upbringing. I was a young girl living with two very loving and protective parents in a mostly upper-middle class fairly white but also very Vietnamese suburb of a large North Texas city. When it comes to cosplaying various anime and Japanese videos games my attitude has been mostly not to let it bother me as above mentioned: I can count the times on my hand where I’ve looked at my skin and said I probably shouldn’t cosplay that character. This also comes to mind in the question of “race-bending”. It’s a big thing in the cosplay and fandom world. What if Hermonie was black? What if Castiel was Hispanic? This has come out of the fandom world in direct response to the lack of diversity in cosplay and it’s sometimes still a contentious topic: it’s technically a non-canon depiction but amazing fan art and costumes have come out of different races being well-known characters so even if someone does a hell of a good job, it’s still to the fan world a non-canon outfit. I bring up race-bending because I have been asked more than once if any of my costumes are race-bent insert name of character here. And most of the time I’ll say no. Again, I’m not aiming to be a darker skinned version of a character: that character is who I am trying to be

Another key part of this little conversation is the backlash so many receive when it comes to bringing up questions of diversity in casting. Oh well that side character or other universe’s character is of some vague ethnicity. And to that I have one thing to say: I am a drama queen. If I cosplay someone. When I cosplay someone: I want to be recognized. I want to walk out onto the convention floor and immediately someone knows who I am. Not an alternate version of or a side character from. And not to say there aren’t some great side and alternate characters: (Young Avengers, anyone? ) but I personally don’t struggle much with looking at my skin and looking at a character on page or screen and recognizing and admitting the difference but still deciding to cosplay that character.

So now you may be asking Amanda, this is all lovely, but why rant on like this? Well, here’s why: I am a passionate cosplayer. I am also of color. Those two things should not hinder the other. Being black doesn’t mean I can’t be a nerd and being a cosplayer shouldn’t mean ignoring that I’m the wrong Pantone shade in comparison to most of the characters on the screen or page. 

Diversity matters and one of the first steps to making it a logical and real part of the world: we have to step up our game. Cosplayers of all size, gender, creed and race: we all have to step up. So don’t be afraid of what you look like. You might not look just like the character you want but that shouldn’t stop you. Cosplay is art. Cosplay is magic. Cosplay is what you make of it. So be unafraid. Look good. Show the world how wonderful you can be. Let me be your battle cry. And if you see me in costume: comment on my stitches not my skin color.