The Shadow

Earlier this year, I moved into a new apartment. I doubled my square footage and gained myself a bedroom for the first time in my history of living on my own. I was not sure how to approach having a bedroom for a while, but more importantly, I was skeptical about having a bedroom door. I live alone, when I first moved, I had no reason to keep that door closed. I don’t have roommates, I don’t have many people over, I have no reason to close my bedroom door when I sleep. 

My evening routine is pretty simple. I come home, I shower,I change into my night clothes, I wrap my hair, I watch TV in the living room until I’m tired and then I retire to the bedroom. 

This is my routine day in and day out. 

But one night, something was different. One night, something caught my eye. 

The way my bed is positioned, I can see my open door from the corner of my eye, usually before my cooling eye mask goes on. And as I did my best to “unwind” by mindlessly scrolling through my social media feeds in bed; one night, out of the corner of my eye I swore I saw something. I sat up to get a better look at it was gone. 

Just some image my tired mind conjured. No big deal. 

The next night, the routine went on as usual and as I climbed into bed and once more I swore that something was watching me. I sat up and saw something that truly did scare me: I saw the shape of a man. The man was tall, there were no features, but it was clearly a man: standing there; imposing, watching. 

I was scared; I immediately shoved the covers back over my head and prayed that whatever horrors may come will be swift and that my end will be painless. My brain was lucid enough to see that this wasn’t a physical threat: I didn’t think it was an intruder; no one who could cause me corporeal harm but something that could damage me psychically, spiritually, or even just emotionally.

I woke up the next day and assumed that it was a just a weary brain adjusting to a new home. 

But when I saw the Shadow Man again, I became worried. From what I knew no one had been horrifically murdered in my new apartment. I didn’t notice things going missing. I didn’t hear any phantom noises. I didn’t notice anything else that would signal a typical haunting. 

The Shadow Man haunted me for a few days and as I did my best to sort through just why my brain would imagine such a haunting visage. I, of course, blamed myself because anxiety does that. I assumed it was a hallucination; the machinations of a tired mind or just a failing of my eyes but seeing the Shadow Man more than and at different times made it difficult to assume that it was just a sleepy brain and if it was a hallucination, it was a damn good hallucination. 

I bought sage on my next trip to my local apothecary. I was determined to rid my home of the spirit. I wanted the creature to be gone. I wanted sleep. I wanted safety. I wanted to feel secure in my new home.

I never did light the sage but I did keep it safe and for a moment, the evil seemed to vanish. Incense was burned. Crystals were kept. Runes were taken out of bags and tarot cards stayed in the damn box because I inherited a deck that isn’t mine and it’s old and I don’t trust what is in it.

I haven’t seen such a cruel spirit before in my life. I have tangled with demons before after staying in two haunted dorm rooms but I never saw anything or really felt anything emotionally. I had scratches that one time and things did go missing but I never saw shadows or faces in my room. 

Shadows are a common form of ghost that appears in homes with lots of energy. Shadows aren’t always evil, but they’re usually negative in a vague sense. But most shadow figures are airy, fluid, and fleeting: the fact that this one stood and stayed reminded me so much more of something solid rather than a fading spirit. It felt more like the stories of those stalked by Bigfoot or Skinwalkers or even the famous Smiling Man. It felt like there was something in the room with me; watching me, menacing me. 

I think the Shadow Man is gone now. It’s been months since I’ve seen him last. I have a ghost radar app on my phone and every once in a while, I’ll turn it on just to see how things are. One day, the app gave me a strange string of words: wrong and one. I was a little confused as I had not asked a question but talking a friend did help provide a little context. The weeks prior, I had been slowly poisoning myself. I have food allergies and I had been feeling poor for days. I didn’t realize that the coffee creamer I purchased with almond milk based, something I am very allergic to. I told a friend about the strange words I got and she said “well, the creamer you got was the wrong one.” and I practically threw my phone across the room. 

The concept of ghosts is one that is both comforting and terrifying. It does seem to confirm that for some, there is some manner of afterlife, an existence after death and thus perhaps a second chance at life. But it also seems to be a form of punishment, an entrapment, a lack of rest and a lack of a conclusion or peace.

Whatever that thing was that kept me awake at night was not an entity of peace or of good feelings. It wasn’t a lost parent or memory of a loved one.

It was a monster. 

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 22- THE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL

In which hosts Tori and Amanda do a magical face reveal AND talk about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

A Cosplayer’s Look at RuPaul’s Drag Race

I have been cosplaying for over 10 years. At least 5 of those years, in my opinion, have been good. I also happen to love RuPaul’s Drag Race. Now, one would think there’s little intersection between drag and cosplay, but really, cosplay is drag for nerds and drag is a gateway for many to get into cosplay. Really, we’re doing similar things. Selling illusion and essence, punishing our bodies to fit impossible standards of beauty and expressing ourselves with fashion. 

But cosplay and being surrounded by talented fashionable people means that the drag competition show for me is at times a conflicting mess of what I like most about drag and what I hate most about cosplay.

Let’s get a few things clear off the bat. I started cosplaying in the mid-2000s and I am a person of color. So, my brand of cosplay has always been detail oriented, mostly concerned about characterization and about having fun. I’ve never been a huge prop-smith (though I’m working on it) and I’ve never been one for giant builds like a Kamui Cosplay or the like. I much rather have bought a piece than immediately be clocked. As far as drag goes, well my favorite season is probably 7 and my favorite queens are ones that hold rather rigid standards of female impersonation like Trinity the Tuck and Katya. Not that I can’t appreciate more gender non-conforming queens or less fishy queens but when it comes down to taste, I’ll take a Brooke Lynn Hytes over a Scarlet Envy any day. 


I started to give thought to how cosplay and drag intersected when watching Fashion Photo RuView with Aquaria (of season 10) and Raja (an immortal wine-drinking, pot-smoking alien goddess here to make us all better people) were discussing the runway looks of Season 11’s episode involving fringe (Willam’s favorite color). Raja clocked Yvie Oddly’s look which was a jellyfish-inspired number and Raja commented on her having seen this look before and it looked a little pedestrian for a look that was mostly body paint and a modded umbrella.

On the runway, Yvie got a lot of praise about bringing something to the runway that no one had seen before. And while I was reading the comments of mostly newer fans of Drag Race giving Raja a hard time for having an opinion, I couldn’t help but agree with my one of my favorite winners. It is pedestrian. I have seen this done before and I’ve seen this done before better. I’ve seen someone attach scrap fabric from Jo-Ann Fabrics to an umbrella: it isn’t high fashion. If a Pinterest Mom can do it for a last minute kid’s Halloween costume; a drag queen can certainly do it; and thus, it does not earn a great deal of praise to me.

This feeling of a lack of awe while watching Drag Race is not new. I remember feeling it while watching The Future of Drag episode of All-Stars Season 2. Phi Phi O’Hara decided that cosplay was a good way to bring back her fading celebrity and make her likable and when she entered All-Stars 2 as a “cosplayer” I mostly rolled my eyes. Her Riddler look was good but nothing I haven’t seen at convention and her looks were increasingly mall drag as far as I could tell. The Future of Drag runway though featured Phi Phi in a skin-tight suit and an over-sized gun. Now, I would be a contrarian if I didn’t admin that she did look cool.

And I was a little shocked about how she brought that prop with her. But again, it was nothing I have not seen from Plexi, Kamui or IBlue.  It was cool but if you’ve seen a costume contest at a big convention, you’ve seen that look. 

Now, let’s be honest, I couldn’t make that gun. I couldn’t pull off that look. I’m not bashing Phi Phi, I’m just saying my wig was not gone, I was not snatched, I was not gagged. It was a look, it was a look I’ve seen before for years now. That doesn’t make it any less artful or beautiful, just that it takes a little of the luster off the diamond from my point of view. 

Another example of where cosplay knowledge meant that certain aspects of Drag Race were a little less than stellar was with Nina Bonina Brown. Nina was famed for being a makeup artist and could transform her face using makeup and paper.

Now, she’s talented and sickening in her own way but again, after years of being on the con circuit and seeing makeup tutorial after makeup tutorial…a paper peach does not rare talent make. After awhile, her gimmick wore thin for me, especially as other parts of her drag became repetitive: again I found myself agreeing with Raja and Manila when they said, we see what she can do and now a skull or a painted face is not enough. I, like the two immortal fashion goddesses, wanted more from her after seeing what Nina had to offer week after week.

Drag Race also echoes a lot of conversations said in the cosplay community: questions around whether you’re still a cosplayer if you don’t “make” your own costumes. The argument that if you don’t make every part of your costume thus invalidating your work is very real but I do think when it comes to Drag Race it’s a little different. I remember that talk on Season 9 with Farrah Moan and Kimora Blac being on one side of the “ugly girls make their own clothes” argument and Trinity and Shea and literally almost everyone else asserted that it is important to know how to sew to be a drag queen. I think once you make it to the show, you should know how to sew. But if you’re fine being a showgirl, I’m not here to judge. I know I don’t sew that well and you could not pay me to sew a dress from a pattern but that’s okay, that’s what online shopping is for. However, if I were to enter a cosplay contest, I would make as many pieces as possible. 

This can be said about a lot of the looks on Drag Race for me. I particularly notice when bodices don’t fit because not all queens wear breastplates anymore or when boy body is showing because not all queens pad or cinch in their waists as aggressively as others. Makeup, too, catches my eye but in a funny way. I find that I bring more makeup skills from drag queens into cosplay. For instance, I started wearing a lot more highlighter to really catch the eye when appropriate. I also contour more and I’m more aware of blending my wigs with a nice line of concealer. 

I’d be a liar if I didn’t mention that Drag Race inspires me. Seeing drag as the elevated and mainstream art form that it is makes me want to be better. Seeing costumes and wigs and makeup done so masterfully makes me want to be better. Seeing people living their authentic life in such an idealized and colorful skin makes me want to be my very best. 

But when the judges fawn over looks and hair and trends that I’ve been seeing from my brothers and sisters in craft for decades, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. RuPaul is a beacon of excellence in drag but to see her so out of touch at times when it comes to fashion (just in regards to fashion in this post) is sort of tragic. She has to see some of the looks at conventions across America. She has to see Instagram. She has to be aware that fabric on an umbrella avant garde does not make. 

I will never discredit the work the queens of Drag Race do. I will never knock the work my brothers and sisters in craft do. But being aware of the parts of the reality TV show that are a little less than gag-worthy after seeing so many talented people for so many years was an exercise worth going through.

The Complex Fragility of Being a Preemie

I was born premature. Now, I was born in the 90s, so premature as a medical term was a little different. Legend goes as far as I was concerned that I was about 2-3 weeks premature. With modern medicine, that’s pretty acceptable and fine but in 1990, that was apparently “well, don’t get too attached to your kid.” That mythology of being a preemie and surviving was a huge part of my childhood. My father was always very protective of me, which was really quite the sight, this mountain of a man protecting his small child ( I didn’t hit 5’0’’ until I was 12-13 and my father at the time of his death was 6’3’’) and my mother…well, we had a complicated relationship. 

I was a somewhat sickly kid, born with asthma and allergies, I have vivid memories of summers spent inside due to high ozone days and being attached to nebulizers and having to take pill after pill to combat the tyranny of my own shallow lungs. 4 lbs and 6 ozs at birth, I heard that all the time as a kid.

I was a spoiled kid, really. There was one birthday when I woke up and there was an outdoor play castle with a slide INSIDE my bedroom because my parents loved me very much and of course I needed to be able to slide into my bed like a television show rich kid. But in hindsight, my parents wanted me to be comfortable. I never really felt held back by asthma as a child but I had a GameBoy and a computer and books and CDs. It’s easy to spend an hour attached to a nebulizer when you have Pokemon Red. It’s easy to be bribed into another chewable Singulair tablet when being showered with Beanie Babies. I never really saw my childhood as being that full of things or even my life being that charmed until I got older and discovered that not all children got limo rides on their birthday. 

My parents’ pageantry over my birthday was something I just knew and accepted as canon. I accepted that my life was that of a small Roman emperor and that the entire month was a celebration and that for this one day, the Sun shone upon me and only me. It was an easy enough fact to accept as a child.

As an adult, though, I have learned some things that have elucidated just why my parents were so lavish with their love. 

I was not meant to be an only child. I didn’t know about my mother’s infertility until I was in my teens. I was not even really meant to survive and my parents’ insistence that I was a miracle, a blessing, a pearl, a gem, were not just the ramblings of two people who loved their child but the desperate prayer of two people doing their best to show their gratitude and appreciation and love for their child that lived. 


I was instilled with a very strict respect and reverence for my first name: Amanda. It was never shortened, never abbreviated, never made light of. My name was a prayer and knowing the meaning of my name mattered a great deal to me. Amanda as a name means worthy of love in Latin and my father would always translate it as most beloved or most loved. I always respected that sanctity and even though I never gave much thought to its meaning, it made so much more sense as I got older. 

My parents spoiled me. My parents lavished me with attention and time and love and concern. They did their best because like Harry Potter, I was the one that lived. But that air of fragility, that air of being that small palm-sized infant stayed with me for years. As my aunts raised me, my status of being a preemie and a survivor preceded me. My aunt would speak of this grand promise she made to me while I was still in the NICU that she would do her best to ensure that I was happy and healthy and the photos I have of my mother during that time were the most adoring I think she ever looked at me. 


And knowing that those feelings I had as a child of being special and spoiled were not just the rampant entitlement that Baby Boomers insist all Millennials have but a genuine deserve to show how cherished and appreciated this little demon that my parents raised. 

I survived, I did okay. I always thought my preemie-ness was sort of overblown as a youth. I wasn’t horribly preemie, I was born with all the proper fingers and toes and sure I couldn’t run quickly but I rarely felt I missed out. When asked now in my yearly physical if my asthma has held me back I’m quick to say the only time my asthma has held me back was that I could not climb Mount Vesuvius and I could not climb a mountain in Bavaria. And sure I have allergies and that just means I can’t enjoy peanut butter but I will cheat for the sake of Nutella. Sure, I have other health issues but I’ve never blamed a lack of time in the womb for that. 

But my family always did. Even my mother who was apparently a somewhat sickly child got a pass for most of her less than kind traits. My great-grandmother used it as a very common rationale for my mother’s behavior that she was poorly and that made it okay for her to be obese, sometimes cruel and oftentimes dismissive. 

There’s a need to protect children, especially to protect children who had a rough start in life. And I feel weird saying that I was a preemie because in hindsight, I was pretty okay. I wasn’t hooked up to tubes for long. I was allowed to go home relatively quickly.  I was lucky.

My childhood was not spent in a bubble and even the times when I was not allowed to see the horrors of the Texas sun, I did not care. I was fine with being told to stay inside and play video games. But the legacy of specialness, of over-protection, of fragility and unwavering reverence and support has been far more difficult to deal with than just the fact that I cannot run very far…oh, and I cannot not climb up a mountain or an active volcano. 

A Record Breaking Year

Guys, I’m floored. I’m genuinely floored. I’ve been blogging for years now and this year, I’ve hit so many milestones that frankly, I’m just humbled and shocked and surprised. So let’s go over a few of them. I hit 200 followers, managed to reach 11,000 views with just 3,000+ of those happening this year. I have been blessed to have 6,000 + visitors to this humble blog.

I’ve never been one to care about blog traffic in this way. I’ll mention milestones mostly because it’s just sort of fantastic to me that my work touches that many people. But these numbers are truly motivating, truly fantastic and honestly, I couldn’t do it without all of you.

So from the bottom of my heart: thank you.

I’m going to continue to do my best to provide content worthy of your attention.

Sincerely,

A.

Unfortunately, Required Reading: Episode 21: Drunkula (Dracula)

In which hosts Tori and Amanda discuss Bram Stoker’s Dracula while drinking sangria. A lot of sangria.

On the Avengers Suite

I’m a bit of a score nerd. You may know this about me considering that I have talked about musicals a fair amount here on this blog. But score is different. Score is the part of a movie that is typically the thesis of the film in song. Think of the music in Star Wars, you can probably hear it. Think of the Jurassic Park theme, yes, it’s a classic. You probably think of score and themes more than you know because at least since the rise of the Summer Blockbuster they have been a ubiquitous part of pop culture.

I’m an anime fan so theme songs and character theme songs have always been important to me. I’m also a huge musical theater nerd so my brain tends to cling to themes and score quite easily. Big movies tend to have themes still, especially fantasy and sci-fi ones; because as you know, I am a huge nerd. Harry Potter has a brilliant score that when played still makes me feel like I’m just about to hop off the Hogwarts Express back to school. The Lord of the Rings has many themes because that’s what Tolkien would have wanted and if you want to ask me about musical theater, well, let’s just say recently I was in the kitchen baking whilst holding a chef’s knife and singing “Pretty Women” from Sweeney Todd

But I also love superhero movies and if you read the title and you’re a very smart cookie then you know why we’re here. Let’s talk about The Avengers Suite.

 
I’m still emotionally recovering from Avengers: Endgame because of course I am but out of all the scenes that didn’t do it for me, the very end which I won’t spoil has a resurgence of a piece of musical score that I’ve now spent over a decade with. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s talk about Marvel’s Avengers

To paraphrase Lindsay Ellis’ feelings on The Lord of the Rings: Marvel’s Avengers is good that I hate it. That first movie directed by Joss Whedon was such a perfectly imperfect adaptation of decades of comic book lore into a movie that made me happy to be a comic book fan for the first time in my life. And while I have gushed about the film, the love seemed to run out as the films pressed on and Whedon’s enthusiasm was replaced by the Russo Brothers’ mostly okay filmmaking. 

In prep for Avenger’s Infinity War, I went down the Road to Infinity in which you trot through all the MCU films that lead up to what was the second to last film in a decade’s long saga. My opinions on the MCU movies range from pretty dang good to wow, I wish I could erase that from my mind but I want to praise especially Joss Whedon for one thing and that was his ability to frame shots that felt like they belonged in a comic book. I’m not the only person to say this but I am especially grateful for it considering my history with comics. The Russos have tried to frame such shots as well but it really just feels like they’re doing it because Whedon had set the bar so damn high.

And through all the movies, the tears, the comments about Captain America’s butt and the jokes that failed and the CGI that seemed spotty there was one thing that stuck with me and that was the score. The Avengers Suite as its called is the piece of score that accompanies all the superhero shots in the entire MCU relating to, well, The Avengers. So let’s really analyze a scene and that the Battle of New York in the first Avengers movie.

All the heroes return to New York, the dumb CGI army is about to attack. Loki is being angry and needs dry shampoo. All the heroes are together and are doing their best and we get this amazing low angle circular shot of all of them sort of posing and mugging and over it is the triumphant overture. The drums build drama. The strings add lift. The brass adds this larger than life element and even though there are parts of that shot that are objectively silly (like Black Widow just cocking a gun) it feels grand. It feels important. It feels like these guys are your heroes and they can do it. It’s inspirational, honestly.

What I love about score is how it builds. The softer notes that multiply and grow into a bombastic refrain. Good score is like a thesis statement to the film. Duel of the Fates shows you exactly what the stakes are between the Jedi and the Sith.

The Jurassic Park theme shows you that these marvelous and beautiful creatures are awesome and wondrous.

The music, the score is the pulse of the film and tells you, the audience, what you should be thinking or feeling in a brilliant trick of audiovisual shorthand. 

In instances when score is used correctly, it’s magical. Some of the Jurassic Park sequels have mistreated the iconic score by not placing it in shots with the dinosaurs but in shots of the new park because these movies have a budget now. In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams is very smart in his use of score because he so badly wants you to think good things about this movie. Score is a powerful tool and when used wisely, it can make or break a scene.

When I saw Avengers Endgame in theaters, despite my current ennui towards the film in the moment when Captain America summons Thor’s hammer and says those magical words and the music swells and for one beautiful moment you feel just on top of the world. You feel energized and a part of this giant team of heroes determined to save the world. In that moment, I was an Avenger. 

I’m always shocked that in film discourse, that more don’t talk about score. It’s such an important aspect of film and scene craft that I am surprised that more don’t think about just how vital that music in the background is. 

What’s your favorite piece of film score? Let me know in the comments below.