200 Posts Later

200 Posts Later.jpg

I think I’ve told the story of how this little blog came to be years ago. I set this up because I had to as a class assignment and then it came to benefit me as I continued on in my career as a writer, social media manager and person who generally had opinions too big for my own brain. The blog was a great way for me to connect with my friends after I moved to start my career and it became a way for me to write creatively despite my day job of writing professionally for clients almost daily.

So today. After 200 posts, I wanted to take a moment to say thank you. I’ve been saying that a lot over here on the blog but it’s all been merited. I’ve hit highs I never expected, I’ve gotten some very insightful comments and I’ve even been challenged and I do love to be challenged.

Thank you all for being here as I make this blog into something truly spectacular.

In the meantime, a little while ago: I ran an AMA. I would love to take this time to answer a few more questions. If you ever want to discover more about me, my writing process or anything else: now’s a great time!

Once, again. Thank you. Thank you as I finish up 200 posts and I hope the rest of the content is worthy of the audience I have been so fortunate to build.

-Cheers,

Amanda.

But Vanity’s a Sin

Fashion is about dreaming and making other people dream. Donatella Versace.png

How many dresses do you own?

Didn’t you just go shopping?

How often do you polish your shoes?

Why are you so obsessed with where this came from and how much this cost?

I get asked questions like this more than I like admitting. And that may surprise people. We see fashion and clothing as vital parts of self expression. What you wear isn’t just about clothing your vulnerable meat shell from the elements, it’s an important part of expressing gender, race, interests and more. It sends a message when I wear a graphic t-shirt, jeans and a hoodie. It sends a message when I wear a 50s skater dress. And cosplaying shows very clearly that I obviously like being the center of attention.


Heavy. Short. Scarred.

Those are the things I have to say about myself.

But you’d likely never know that based upon how I dress and take care of myself.

I have a multi-step Korean-inspired skincare routine that takes me from clay mask to face wash to sheet masks to serums. I dress well. Many of my friends give me a hard time about how extra my fashion sense is. Recently, I’ve been stepping up my clothing for work, as well. And people have taken notice. My signature timeless style of dresses with pitch black tights have been well-documented. I like shoes and purses and clothes. I like looking good and I like attention.

But I am also hilariously insecure about my body and my looks.

I’m worried about my stomach and how short my legs are. I’m worried that my butt is too big and that my chest isn’t big enough. And despite my skincare routine, I suffer from acne, large pores and hyperpigmentation.

I take care of myself because in those moments of self-care I am aspiring to feel more beautiful.

I dress well, I value my face and I discuss fashion because it helps me feel beautiful at least for a moment or two.

I cosplay to, for a moment or two, become a character with a level of confidence that I clearly lack.

I write characters with more self-confidence than I have.

I do these things in hopes of one day being able to pull that confidence into my daily real life.

Now, there’s no conversation about vanity that isn’t also met with all of the hypocrisy of being a woman and being encouraged to be modest while also being so confident that it hurts.

As a lady, I am told to be modest and not try too hard to be noticed. But I am also shamed if I go out in sweatpants I’m told that I should “dress up just in case”. I have vivid memories of my grandmother saying that I may meet my future husband anywhere so I should always look good.

This doesn’t even begin to cover the strange junction between a woman looking good and feeling good about herself while also then being called “stuck up” or “vain” or “high maintenance” for caring about how she looks. Let’s also not forget that if I wear a low cut dress or a tight shirt that as a biological female I am “asking for it”.

The whore/virgin dichotomy that extends even to how I dress fascinates me and that applies to females as well. To women, at times, my choices for black tights, vintage patterns and low cut dresses and shirts is just as scandalous and offensive as it likely would be to one of my other Southern foremothers. I’m judged for wearing shapewear because I should “love my curves” while also then being judged for not having a smoothed out silhouette. That barely even covers the fact that people still feel the need to judge and comment how much I spend on clothing, serums, sheet masks and shoes. And unfortunately, I am not always mature enough to simply write off such comments. I’m happy to say where I get my sheet masks and where the dress was from and that only adds to the at times uncomfortable silences between “Where did you get that dress?” and “What did you do to your hair?”

It was only a few decades ago that a woman was more than mention that she spent hundreds on her hair, at least fifty to make sure she was entirely hairless and that her outfit was likely hundreds of dollars not to mention the thousands in jewelry or additional hundreds in makeup, shapewear and more. But humility is once more en vogue so mentioning how the more attractive sausage is made is now less a virtue and more a vice. The rise of social media influences has reversed some of this modesty. Now, it’s once more to spend a lot of money and time on some things. It’s alright to have brushes that cost you hundreds but your clothes should be perpetually thrifty. I’m supposed to wear little to no makeup but am also judged for letting my hyperpigmentation and dark circles remain uncovered on my face. Not long ago, an older acquaintance commented on the fact that I should wear lipstick more often.

Vanity works in a certain price bracket. It works for a Kylie Jenner or a Violet Chachki but it doesn’t always work for a social media manager who has a penchant for cameos and too much foundation. It’s not always alright for me to spend forty or so dollars on concealer but the dress I got at Goodwill equally raises concerns.


My perceived vanity helps me cope with my insecurity. Wearing a nice dress or getting my highlight just right help me feel better about how I look. When I was younger, I was told to value my looks and as I got older, I was told to value my mind. There was no middle ground. Either I focused on looking great or I focused on being a studious young woman. The idea that one is judged based upon clothing and style were drilled into me as a young one. I had a part to play and my family knew that no matter what I wore I’d face being sexualized, exoticized and fetishized: there was no room for error for sloppy dressing or anything like that. But all the while I was told to worry about how I looked and told to make sure I looked my best and took care of myself.

That all took a backseat for a while and I stopped caring about how I looked outside of costume because I was sexualized and fetishized no matter what. I’m fortunate enough to have come back into my own style-wise and hope that what many read as vanity in me just trying to cope in a world that doesn’t always value a lady with cellulite and acne scarring.

Stay beautiful, fair readership: in all the ways that word entails.

 

At the Intersection of Fish and Fab

 

“And now, I'm just trying to change the world, one sequin at a time.” ― Lady Gaga.jpgThis may be a surprise to literally no one but I love drag culture. And while I have my issues with the LGBT community and even my issues with RuPaul’s Drag Race, I am proud to call Ru “Mother” and I love the roots and history behind what drag is today. I love the steps between Tandi Dupree and Sasha Velour. I love that when faced with a mainstream culture that would not yield that so many LGBTQ folks just built their own culture. And while drag culture has been influential it has only recently been mainstream. All of that mainstream limelight has now become an influence to so many other creators. So today I want to talk about cosplay, fashion and how I connect to being a better cosplayer and person through drag, music and high art.

I love fashion. Clearly. I cosplay. You don’t get into cosplay and not want all eyes on you. And that being said I also do love fashion in general. It’s no wonder that Paradise Kiss is one of the few shojo animes I can tolerate. I love watching a good garment come together. I love the styling and the efforts people have to do so an outfit comes together. I’ve been watching a lot of Marco Marco shows online. Marco Marco is a designer who specializes in men’s underwear and leggings but that also extends to conceptual dresses and avant-garde body pieces. If you’ve never seen a Marco Marco show, you should. Like seriously, it’s all on Youtube. Just watch one. I’ll wait.

Are you done? Awesome, back to the show. I love the way that Marco Marco plays with gender, body shape and uses elements so foundational to the LGBT culture like voguing and ballroom couture as parts of his show. The way music plays into every show and every look is pivotal. But you already know that since you watched at least one show now, right?

But let’s take a step back. Let’s go back to a simpler time. Let’s go back to the 70s. Voguing in the drag community is a dance style. Depending on who you ask Madonna did it first but most drag mothers will say she took it from the drag scene. And it’s exactly what you think it is. It’s serving fierce looks and fierce dancing mostly with your hands and arms but a good Vogue routine should be a full body experience. Think disco ParaPara. And being able to pull a look together that you could lip sync and serve face to was vitol and influenced drag culture for decades. Things didn’t get impractical until the Club Kid era in the 80s-90s. And that has continued even now. We’ve seen mainstream fashion take cues from drag and LGBT icons like Grace Jones and RuPaul. We’ve seen fashion shows become pop culture spectacles again as opposed to these haughty affairs for the upper crust. The way music plays into fashion is huge for me and as a kid who grew up with things like DanceDance Revolution and ParaPara where your clothing can actually impact your score. ParaPara is what got me to always end in a pose when it comes to cosplay and having to remember that your gender affects your score in ParaPara links it back to music, fashion and form. There’s nothing like cosplaying while dancing and having your friends cheer you on or egg you on so you either graciously succeed or comedically fail.

Fashion’s a tricky subject for a girl like me. At my smallest I was still plus-sized and I did my best to dress my body and dress to my tastes which is always something in between sailing in Martha’s Vineyard and prep who probably took your boyfriend in sophomore year to androgynous vaguely edgy but somehow still preppy bog creature. My style has evolved some from high school to college to young professional. But drag has always inspired me. Playing with shape and proportion. And despite how plain my exterior can be, I do have a serious passion for fashion. I love Project Runway and shows like it but more importantly my heart always comes back to RuPaul’s Drag Race.  The way big girls dress themselves and the way the majority of these biological men can use the power of clothing and makeup to transform into women that are not gonna lie prettier than me.

Needless to say, I watch a lot of Drag Race when I’m working on costumes. It’s good background noise and the beats of the music and the sounds of men as women fighting over who wore it well. And all the while RuPaul’s encouraging words keep me steadily sewing and painting within the lines when required. And when I have to sit down and think about it, I am so inspired by these fashionistas and trendsetters when I work on my costumes. I want to be a better makeup artist because I can see what Kim Chi can do. I want to style and put pieces together because I know Latrice Royale can style her body so well. I want to conquer my anxiety and perfectionism because I know Katya can and did get over hers. I look up to Violet Chacki and Raja for how well they can serve face and I think about that every time I overdraw my highlight line or don’t go far enough with my eye shadow.

We all have plenty of different inspirations and drag and fashion happen to be two of mine. I work hard to be a better cosplayer because I know Mother Ru would want me to. RuPaul is like my patron saint of fashion, a statuette of her sits on my mantle that I have to provide offerings of thread, lace, ribbon and glittered candles. Drag motivates me to try dyeing fabric and painting my nails even though I’m wearing gloves. Drag motivates me to be more aware of my accessories in and out of cosplay. And when you look good, you feel good. And when you feel good, you let that light show to the rest of the world.

 

A “True” Introvert

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. Carl Jung.png

I’m always surprised by what the internet thinks an introvert is. Listicle after listicle will say that an introvert is someone who shuns plans with friends, ignores humanity from days on in and lives in some sort of Frodo Baggins book-filled Hobbit Hole.

Well, folks. Sit down. Today, we’re gonna talk about introversion, being a crappy friend and what it means to get power from the self or power from the crowd.

Here’s a good time to discuss the difference between introversion and extroversion. An introvert as described by the Myer-Briggs Personality Test of Magic and Mostly Nonsense is a person who generally sounds like this, apparently:

I like getting my energy from dealing with the ideas, pictures, memories, and reactions that are inside my head, in my inner world. I often prefer doing things alone or with one or two people I feel comfortable with. I take time to reflect so that I have a clear idea of what I’ll be doing when I decide to act. Ideas are almost solid things for me. Sometimes I like the idea of something better than the real thing.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as “reflective” or “reserved.”
  • I feel comfortable being alone and like things I can do on my own.
  • I prefer to know just a few people well.
  • I sometimes spend too much time reflecting and don’t move into action quickly enough.
  • I sometimes forget to check with the outside world to see if my ideas really fit the experience.

And extrovert is someone who looks a little like this, apparently:

I like getting my energy from active involvement in events and having a lot of different activities. I’m excited when I’m around people and I like to energize other people. I like moving into action and making things happen. I generally feel at home in the world. I often understand a problem better when I can talk out loud about it and hear what others have to say.

The following statements generally apply to me:

  • I am seen as “outgoing” or as a “people person.”
  • I feel comfortable in groups and like working in them.
  • I have a wide range of friends and know lots of people.
  • I sometimes jump too quickly into an activity and don’t allow enough time to think it over.
  • Before I start a project, I sometimes forget to stop and get clear on what I want to do and why.

The main differences between the two is that an introvert gets power from within while an extrovert gets power from the crowd or others.

In the made up land of Myers & Briggs (and I only say made up because it is reductive to say you can fit all of a person into literally 4 letters but like astrology, when it’s right, it’s right) I am an INFP. That is the archetype of the “idealist” and this is what that looks like:

As an INFP, your primary mode of living is focused internally, where you deal with things according to how you feel about them, or how they fit into your personal value system. Your secondary mode is external, where you take things in primarily via your intuition.

INFPs, more than other iNtuitive Feeling types, are focused on making the world a better place for people. Their primary goal is to find out their meaning in life. What is their purpose? How can they best serve humanity in their lives? They are idealists and perfectionists, who drive themselves hard in their quest for achieving the goals they have identified for themselves.

INFPs are highly intuitive about people. They rely heavily on their intuitions to guide them, and use their discoveries to constantly search for value in life. They are on a continuous mission to find the truth and meaning underlying things. Every encounter and every piece of knowledge gained gets sifted through the INFP’s value system, and is evaluated to see if it has any potential to help the INFP define or refine their own path in life. The goal at the end of the path is always the same – the INFP is driven to help people and make the world a better place. (source)

I am an introvert and that surprises a lot of people. Many know me from paneling, podcasting, cosplaying, running organizations or generally being the center of attention. None of my friends would describe me as having a small personality and no one I work with has ever been able to claim that I don’t leave an impression.

So when do I have time to curl up in a cocoon of manga panels and mainline Mr. Pibb and ignore humanity in a sea of books I can’t afford and will never finish? The truth is that the Internet Introvert just isn’t real. Introverts aren’t just hermits. They aren’t hobgoblins that shirk away from sunlight and ignore humanity just to read and write fanfiction and sure there are introverts that do that but not every introvert is like that. And the continual perpetuation that an introvert is some sort of silkworm pupae that nestles in and ignores plans and calls from friends to binge watch Netflix is just immature.

If a friend needs me, I’m the first to hop in my car and be with them. If a friend cancels plans, am I sometimes happy? Sure sometimes. Am I also sometimes really disappointed that I’m wasting a full face of makeup and cute outfit? Absolutely and I will occasionally go out anyways if that happens. Just because I’m an introvert doesn’t mean I can’t command an audience. Doesn’t mean I hate going out. Doesn’t mean that I don’t like other people. It just means I don’t get a lot of power from those actions. If you’ve seen me panel I’m energetic and vibrant. I adapt to the changes of crowds and answer questions gracefully and with charm. After the panel? Oh, after the show is a whole different story. In the Whataburger at 2 AM after a panel is a very different Amanda. And even after convention I am usually exhausted emotionally for days after. The crowd takes my energy. And sure, sometimes I get perked up from the crowd. Carlos has noted many times that he can see the sparkle in my eye when I’m on stage but the power I get is not equal to the power I give.

The difference between introversion and extroversion is what gives you power and I do not get a ton of power from people. That doesn’t mean I don’t like other people or that I don’t like going out. I also do get lonely and don’t like being by myself for too long.  And the idea that introverts are strange magical bat creatures diminishes all the good that introverts who have to be public do.

You know what real introversion is? Sitting down after convention at Mozart Bakery with Carlos over aloe vera tea and rainbow cake. Introversion is sewing while watching Deadliest Warrior. Introversion is still comforting a friend after a long day. Introversion is late night phone calls despite being tired and firing up an audience only to sit in your hotel bedroom while watching 5 hours of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

That’s what being an introvert is. And it certainly doesn’t involve being a garbage person who just likes to flake out on friends and shun commitments.

So is now the time that I ask for my book fort, obnoxious blanket pile and general disdain for humanity?

The Soundtrack of a Young Man’s Heart

It's so lovely, it's so lovely, there's nothing else for meI'll round up the entire scenery I viewed from hereI’ll take you to that, so please don’t let go.The MELODY of this wild dance will never cease..png

I can’t be the only person who gets super pumped to Ready, Steady, Go!. I can’t be the only one still singing Go!!!. There’s something magical about a good shonen theme song. And while there’s one or two shojo that I like and still sing along to, there’s a special kind of magic that is used by the pairing of a good shonen and a theme. So today, in the spirit of the youthful revolution still in my heart, I wanted to talk about what makes a great shonen theme song, why the themes match so well and why I spent most of my high school career learning how to groan into a microphone like Hyde.

Before we even begin, there’s a saxophone playing elephant in the room. I am will not be mentioning any Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo in this post. Why? Is it because I hate Yoko Kanno? Is it because I can’t stand good music? Hell no. I love both of those soundtracks but Bebop is made greater because of the OST so it’s a little unfair to compare Yoko Kanno belting out her heart to the owl-shrieking that is SID during Monochrome no Kiss. The music of Bebop and the way Watanabe uses music in anime could and should be its own post along with the way Miyazaki uses music. I’ll pause for any more indignation despite reading the obvious reason why I’m not mentioning those works.

All done?

Excellent.

Now, let’s get on with the show.

Some of my favorite songs of all time are from animes. Some of those animes happen to be shonen series and while I’ve been very open about my love of the average shonen series, the way they use music really is genius. So much of the animation, style and feel of a show is conveyed just in the theme music. The translations alone should tell you where you’re going: Save the One, Save the All, No Rain, No Rainbow,  Alones, and so many songs titled Rain. They’re moody, they’re deep and most of them are far more intense than the light whimsy of most shojo. And when a shonen goes girly like Yura Yura for Naruto or the other half of the InuYasha soundtrack. Or it was thematic. The more intense song was the opening like Ready, Steady, Go! To the much softer Motherland that it transitioned into from opening to closing. Bleach is probably the most effective at this where you begin with a song like Asterick and close with Life is Like a Boat. By the end of an episode, you probably need a break and what better break is there than a 2 minute melodramatic-fest.

Even more brilliant is when a theme matches the plot. Think about Death Note briefly. The first two openings are Alumina for the closing and The World for the opening. Both are very 90s Japanese metal from Nightmare and they speak more to a benevolent leader who does what he can despite making unpopular decisions. Really, these are the theme songs to an Ayn Rand fever dream.

The fact of piercing through the whitewash will turn into the truth someday

I want to keep believing in it stubbornly; It’s just my faith. The absolute truth.

And that matches season 1 of the series. Light is a strong dictator with a mission but he feels he is doing the right thing. He feels like he is justice.

By season 2 we get two songs from Maximum the Hormone: Zetsubou Billy as the closing and What’s Up People? As the opening. These are about as vulgar metal as you can get. I totally understand why my aunt didn’t like me screaming these at home. That’s okay. Sang these songs in the halls at school because at school, no one understood the collective screeching of the Japanese Culture Club. By Season 2, Light has gone from caring about his mission to full nihilism and self-protection. Light is willing to kill anyone that stands in his way and that is very evident in these songs.

Despair the Billy

C’mon, morals

Go on, the unstoppable EraserRain

Despair the Billy

C’mon, morals

Go on, the unstoppable EraserRain

And both of the sets of themes are taken from artists who wrote around the series as opposed to just grabbing a song from a discography the way Paradise Kiss did with Do You Want To by Franz Ferdinand (and yes, I know this isn’t shonen, I just needed to prove a point).

I think Naruto also does this very well and it isn’t just because Wind is probably one of my favorite songs. As Naruto gains confidence so do the songs from Go!!! And Haruka Kanata and when the show despairs a little with the main as he loses friends and ties are broken you get songs like Wind and No Rain, No Rainbow, songs that reflect that to get anywhere there are things that must be lost.

It was those themes that inspired me so much as a youth and even more so now as an adult. As a teenager, my anime club and friends sang these songs. At home, I obsessed over learning the lyrics and even began to translate them for Gendou.com. I recorded fandubs. I made friends that I’ve kept most of my life. I’ve made new ones running through convention halls belting Ranbu no Melody. These songs, because they were of our hearts, were of our generation and we committed them to memory. There’s a reason when on road trips Amber and I both finish each and every non-sensual groan Hyde does in Ready, Steady, Go! (Actually, Amber usually leaves those to me. I take them on with pride.). So many of these songs were learned in darkened bedrooms, at late hours of the night, in between homework assignments and collectively with friends.

Look at the music I listen to that isn’t from an animated TV show. I still love the themes of shonen that are determination, forging your own way, self-reliance, the importance or friends and making your own family from those that value you. I also adore the way shonen theme songs frame love in a better way. It’s seldom the obsessive cringe-stalking of shojo series or the passive “I watch you while you sleep” of other girl-centric narratives, it’s romantic while also valuing the person you love like this piece taken from a Bleach closing theme.

I will protect you, from everything that makes you hurt

I don’t even care if other people laugh at me

I may not be able to make it perfect but I’ll definitely make you smile

I swear, I will protect you no matter what

Here’s where I’ll pause and let you have your moment of “Well, Amanda, that’s like totally a matter of opinion.” to which then I submit that point only then to remind you that you are in my world and we briefly go back and forth on the nature of reality and why my hair is blonde for some reason.

Sure, it’s all subjective. The stories and themes of shonen spoke to me and amazingly still do as an adult. If I could pin down one reason I never clicked with shojo it probably just was boring storytelling. I didn’t fit neatly into the narrative of “the normal high school girl”. By age 14 I had buried a parent, moved out from my mother’s house, was living with my aunts and was a strict honor’s student trying to balance a host’s personality on a misanthrope’s heart. Tohru Honda didn’t get me. Kagome Higurashi didn’t get me. And while I found disappointment after disappointment when it came to looking for representation in a female lead in anime, I did find my voice, my heart and my spirit in their male counterparts. That’s what led me to shonen all those years ago. Edward Elric gave me my voice. Yuki Eiri gave me my voice even though Gravitation is to shonen anime what a Jackson Pollock is to an upside-down framed toddler painting.

Not to say that there aren’t series that aren’t shonen that don’t get the music right. Most of the shonen ai series that have taken over my heart and corrupted it like a vine to a statue use music exceptionally: they have to. Most shonen ai series have such a shoe-string plot that something has to keep you in. If you aren’t watching Antique Bakery for anything other than watching Tachibana-san struggle emotionally and financially, you’re there for the beautifully mirrored opening and closing that is Life Goes On and that song is even echoed in the series itself. Tachibana’s ringtone to the phone he almost never answers is the slower, waltz-like version of Life Goes On Side D, the very same song that acts as the shows closing theme that is the foil to the upbeat version that seems to follow optimistic Eiji around which is Life Goes On Side K.

Gravitation is centered around a couple of bands so you’d expect the soundtrack to be great and it’s one of the best. Shuichi’s not so annoying when he sings and Anti-Nostalgic still makes me cry on the right day. I could spend hours going on how Sleepless Beauty is a fantastic song (you should hear me sing it) and how Shining Collection confirms that the true OTP of the series is not Yuki and Shuichi. (GASP. Leave me a comment and I will explain the song to you in a way only a person who has spent almost 20 years obsessing over Gravitation can.)

If I have to praise shojo for a moment (a very brief moment), I still know all the words to Sakura Kiss thanks to years of cosplaying as Tamaki and I’m surprised by how much of the dance from Lucky Star I still remember. Let Me Be With You annoys Amber but I like it. Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt doesn’t fit into any one category but it has a fantastic soundtrack. Same could be said for FLCL but when you start with a good base, of course the result is good. (This also could be its own entire blog post but I’d call this one a shonen/coming of age story). 

This was different, wasn’t it?

Let’s do this again soon.