A Witch By Any Other Name

“When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even of a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist.png

Today is Friday the 13th and let’s say I’m feeling a little witchy. And “witch” is a title that I’ve actually been called a lot. After sprinkling coffee on my doorstep while wearing a blanket as a shroud my neighbors called me a “bruja”. And it’s been a running joke amongst friends that I am clearly made of magic. I’m a Cancer. We’re pretty magical and intuitive creatures. And if that makes it seem like I can read minds or whatever then sure, lemme just hop on my broomstick. But it seldom stopped at “witch”. I’ve been called a succubus, lamia, and several iterations of the “witch” motif. And please know this is seldom said in jest. Most of my friends know what the words mean historically and culturally and the few times it was slinged my way from people I don’t call my friends it was very much in the Biblical sense. If the term witch was thrown around they meant the broom-riding evil anger hag. This isn’t meant to diminish any of my friends or readers that are pagan or practitioners of Wicca, this is just a fun little Friday the 13th story.


Since Friday the 13th was a day for women to celebrate before the old fuddy duddies of the Catholic Church said “Hey, women, stop frolicking naked in the woods and having fun!” I wanted to take a moment to tell a recent little story of me being called a witch.

Now, I’ve been called a witch a few times, as I’ve said, and one of the most dramatic was in high school. I briefly was at an very conservative high school while my papers transferred for my final high school of choice and it was the most aggressively Christian school I had ever been to. I was about 16 and I was, as you probably assumed, super into anime. One of the popular girls was rudely dropping in on some of my then very important fanfiction writing and saw that she had the same name as the character I was writing. She called me a “witch” accused me of “witchcraft” and I had to talk with the principal over the matter. Really, what an uncultured girl. If she had any idea what I was writing, she would have known good things were coming to her. I was a Mary Sue back then. Nothing bad ever happened to my characters back then.

 



But this story’s recent. It’s actually only a month or so old. And it starts with a birthday, a last day of work and a quick trip to Walgreens.  

My agency is small. Just me, the creative director, our graphic designer, our accountant and for a brief time an account executive. So yeah, when I say small, I mean small. It was our account executive’s last day so the office was  a little morose and the occasion did cloud a more pressing issue: it was also our accountant’s birthday. She’s a lovely older woman but in the rush to close out things with our account executive, we didn’t forget her birthday as much as we just didn’t have anything prepared.  

“Amanda, run to Walgreens and get a little something from all of us.” my creative director said and sent me with a modest budget to the store. I walked down the block and picked up a few things. While out and about I picked up a couple of small cakes from a local bakery and spirited away back to work where I scurried to the side office where the rest of the team and I assembled the gift while our accountant settled into her morning routine. Everyone seemed to agree on the gifts and me going slightly over-budget for the sake of cake was accepted. It was a passable present done in a hurry so we hoped for the best but assumed that things would go over just fine. It’s an office present, you can’t expect too much, right?

We presented the gift to her and on baited breath, we waited.

“Oh, this card is adorable!” it was a card with puppies on it. It was common knowledge that she liked dogs so that wasn’t surprising of a hit.

Next up was a coffee mug. “I’ve always wanted an office mug! I love this design! And this is my favorite color, too!” that was got a few murmurs from my coworkers. Our accountant had never mentioned a favorite color not a desire to have a mug just for the office. She always brought one of her to-go cups from home in. The mug was also filled with those puffy dinner mints that literally everyone loves. That was more common knowledge and how do you not like puffy dinner mints? Heathens don’t like puffy dinner mints. She commented on the cake briefly but again, who scoffs at a cake? Madmen scoff at cake.

“These praline candies are delicious! My husband and I were just talking about these! These are my favorite!” That was what brought everything to a halt. I picked those up at the checkout line and were a total fluke of a purchase. I lucked out.

“Yep, Amanda’s a witch.” our account executive said and our creative director followed it up with a sagely nod. And upon each retelling of the tale, it only emphasized that I had some sort of magic ability to give gifts.


I don’t see a huge problem with being called a “witch”. In ye olden times, women who were just different, independent, or way too smart for their own good were labelled as witches. Witches for so many cultures were spiritual leaders and women of great power. It was the patriarchy and the church that turned the witch from a helpful woman to a demon harpy lady. So if I, a young black woman in the death care industry who loves cryptozoology, obscure texts, anime, comic books and goes through about a book a week and speaks multiple languages while also being a proficient baker, cook and science lover and great gift giver happens to be labelled as a witch then lemme just throw a few things into the cauldron.

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You Are My Friend, You Are My Dream

Today, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll keep laughing togetherWe're all tied to the same fateToday, and even tomorrow and the day after, we'll walk togetherWhatever happens now, is meant to be.Thank you, Th.png

Why wouldn’t I be into shonen anime? What about a good standard shonen series wouldn’t apply to someone like me? I didn’t click with shojo girls and their mostly small problems. And from an early age I fit much more easily into the narratives of young men against the world. We discussed in an earlier post how some series can grow with you while others get lost in the dust: I wanted to talk about an anime that itself may have been outgrown by me and my current life but has one theme that still holds true to my day to day existence and has been a nearly ever-present constant in my heart: friendship.

Naruto the anime and I have an interesting relationship. I started out as a high school student loving the story of a 12 year old Naruto Uzumaki trying to make his way through Ninja School to become Hokage. But the series did ebb and flow with some high points in the narrative and others that were…well, The Curry of Life arc comes to mind. But one radical notion did always stick with Naruto and my life with that series: how much Naruto went through for his friends. Now, we aren’t going to talk about…”dedicated” Naruto is to Sasuke but we are going to talk about friendship, sacrifice and effort.

Naruto is constantly fighting for Sasuke’s friendship. He is always trying to prove to Sasuke and to the others around him that they are important and that theme is so important to the series that most of the music in Naruto centers around it even before it centers around the romantic love the series tried to push later on in its run. This theme of friendship is so important to most shonen series that it is often more compelling of a story than the one between the main male and the main female.

Sasuke and Naruto have such great chemistry( And I use chemistry platonically. I have great chemistry with people I am not trying to date but that because we’re both compelling and engaging humans.) because they are constantly trying to prove something to the other while Sakura and Hinata are just sort of existing in the world.  Naruto speaks highly of friendship and is willing to do anything anything to prove his worth to Sasuke and then later to Gaara and to an extent to Shikamaru.

Friendship means collaboration, friendship means showing those you care about just how much you care but it also means regardless of where you are or what you are that hardship doesn’t simply  mean that anyone will being your friend.

One of my favorite scenes from Naruto is probably towards the end of the main anime that features Sasuke and Naruto as kids. Sasuke is underwater, he’s drowning in a sea of anger and darkness and a hand sinks below the water. Naruto literally pulls his friend up and is trying to save him. That’s what Naruto is willing to do, that’s how far he’s willing to go and to me that’s beautiful. Even though their backgrounds are similar, their experience shaped how they view the world and that’s what has the potential to make them close or to break them apart.

The same can be said for most shonen main males and their antagonists like Ichigo and Uryu of Bleach or even Goku and Vegeta of Dragon Ball Z. Their narratives together are much stronger because each one of those groups of men are proving themselves to those they care about all the time. Losing a friend is probably at times a more difficult and tragic part of a shonen anime than the main character dying for the 5th time or when the villain gets the magical McGuffin device. Think back to any episode of One Piece. The issue seldom is “Hey, let’s actually find the treasure.” and is usually Luffy trying to keep his crew together. He’s far more invested in keeping Sanji, Zolo, Robin, Nami and Usopp together than his is actually doing anything? And to go back to Naruto, the series only doubles down on the pain Naruto feels having lost Sasuke’s friendship. Shippuden is a giant road trip to find a lost friend and then the sequel Boruto (a show following everyone’s kids for some reason) continues to echo that sentiment. Everyone is still looking for Sasuke. Everyone still wants their lost friend back. 20 some odd years later and we’re all still held hostage while we look for one angsty raven-haired man in the woods.

Let’s get back to the real world before I fall off this soapbox.

I’m fortunate to have some of the best friends in the world. Why do you think I talk about them so much? They’re my family when mine has been less than ideal and I spoil them the best that I can as you’ve seen in several blog posts now. But fundamentally, friendship has always been something to work for and towards. While we all have something in common, we have differing opinions. We have different schedules: some of us live in different parts of the globe. We agree, we disagree. We have varying ideas about how cute a main character is or whether Batman’s a bad guy or a hero.

But it’s also about understanding when not to press an issue. Being of the older generation of the Internet, I’m very aware of the fact that my friends may not be on the same level as I am. They may not want to hear about me trying to figure out a Kousuke Oshiba costume and I don’t always want to hear about Street Fighter.  But them being my friend means supporting them.

Remember that A-Kon I spent mostly bored as the boys played their fighting game? Sure, I complained and I regret that now. But seeing my boys on stage made me so proud that by the second round when they both advanced to the main stage, I was on the ground taking photos. They’re my friends: I celebrate their success. And then immediately after the tournament they supported me as I courted one of my biggest panel audiences ever. I ride the wave of my friend’s success and their passion motivates me: even if it’s in something I may not typically enjoy myself.

Carlos and I have had passionate one-sided conversations while I rant over military uniforms in Japanese anime. And I lovingly will sit and listen to him talk about the game mechanics of Persona 5. And we double down on the things we do have in common like comic books and YuGiOh and misanthropy.

Friendship is struggle, sacrifice and understanding. Friendship is empathy and love and making time even when you don’t want to. Friendship is coming home early, staying up late and listening regardless of  how difficult your day was. Friendship is understanding hype levels, lovingly arguing and being there if and when you need a shoulder to cry on or a stiff drink. Working towards friendship is important and being willing to go above and beyond for those that matter to you is vital.

The lyrics that this is titled from is from the Naruto Shippuden closing theme Distance and it’s about as shonen of an ending as shonen can be.   It’s strange little song but I think it’s a good place to wrap up with a few of the lyrics.

You are my friend

You are my dream

So I’ll go the Distance 

Imperfection Perfected

 

Perfectionism kills art. (1).pngIt probably surprises no one that I am a bit of a perfectionist. I’m an aggressive editor of my image and how people see me. I’m worried about how I’m viewed and making sure things look just right. Which is why my history as a cosplayer is a fraught one. I spent more time making costumes than wearing them and my desire to be comfortable while walking around and moving around on stage all day often overrides my desire to look like a convincing Yuki Eiri (though for my Writing Female Characters panel at A-Kon 28 I DID stay as Bak Chang during the entire panel. You can see the video where I spend 1 hour moving my heavy front fringe from my eyes so I could answer questions and see people.).

So today in the spirit of cosplay, OCD and perfectionism: I wanted to talk about when it’s okay to accept flaws and when your desire to get things just right can hide beauty.

I started fabric dyeing late in my cosplay career. I’ve been able to luck out in finding fabric and pieces that were the color I needed. Recently, I’ve had to dye fabric and it is not fun. On top of the sweater that would not be dyed (no, seriously: I used 4 different bleaches and then any dye that did stick ended up dripping onto the floor leaving a mostly undyed red sweater) I’ve had moderate success going from light to dark. For an upcoming costume, though: I had to go from what was in my mind white to yellow. Sounds easy enough, right? I found the perfect item at Forever 21 for a cheap price, got my dye and settled into going home. Immediately things went well and then I forgot to seal the dye. For those unsure, dye sealant is a product that keeps the dye in the fabric and not on other clothes or on your skin. So I in all of my years of common sense and wisdom decided “I should be able to just spray on the sealant to a piece that was already dried and perfect from last week.”

Dear readership, I was a fool.

The sealant ruined the dye and left splotches all over the piece. Then when I finally tried the piece on, what I thought was a dress was actually a high-low t-shirt. So not only was it ruined, but it was way too short to wear as a dress and with non-opaque tights, it was a mess. So I tried to re-dye the shirt: didn’t work. Tried to get shorts: those are fine but I actually hate yellow so I have no idea what to do with them now. So I swallowed my pride and bought another dress but the dress was grey. So I bleached the dress and dyed it the yellow I needed but I was certain that I had failed. I was certain that I had failed in getting the color right since it’s difficult to go from grey to white/not white to yellow. I was miserable, felt like I had failed and was down on myself for weeks. I dyed, redyed and tried to fix these pieces over and over and over again until I nearly ruined a perfectly good t-shirt and ignored a good dress that I assumed was a failure.

Dear readership, I was wrong.

As I stressed and was anxious over 2 failed pieces, I had forgotten something. The dress that I had dyed the second time around was drying in the back of my closet and had been left for dead. Until I pulled it out while doing laundry only to find it was perfect. For the character I was working on, the yellow it had taken on was perfect. It looked just fine and if anything the splotches of brighter yellow only made the piece look better and feel more homemade and authentic. It looks like work was put into it and dammit with my yellow for days fingers, there was work put into this.

Sometimes, in costume work it’s easy to ignore all the hard work you’ve done when things don’t look just right. It’s easy to do this in life with projects and I am more than empathetic to the need to always look and do your best. But my perfectionism, hastiness and inability to see good in what I can do cost me time, money and moments of my life without yellow-dyed skin.

When working on things, it’s important to be critical but not condescending: to yourself and to others. Be kind to yourself and your work. Things almost always work out in the end.

Happy cosplay, everyone. I’ll be posting some cosplay progress photos and be doing a convention announcement very soon.

I promise.

The Day They Burned Their House Down

I talk a lot about Fullmetal Alchemist, don’t I? I’ve gone on record and said it’s probably one of my favorite series and it has some of my favorite characters of all time within it. I think the major reason it means so much to be is because of when this series hit for me. Like a comic book main male, I have to say again: this series hit me right after my father passed away. When FMA started its run, my dad’s death was a very recent memory. So having a main cast that all dealt with the loss of a parent and what it meant to be human in a world of loss was important to me, formative for me. I suddenly had someone on TV that understood my grief. I didn’t grieve in the way that all the books I got from my family and teachers did. I skipped sadness and moved straight to cynicism and trying to find logic to replace the hole in my heart. As far as series that are important to me, you can look to FMA as one of the most. Because I’ll say it again for those in the back, you don’t need a character to look like you to feel represented.

This post is coming out during a special time of the year for me (I’m pretty good about scheduling things out far in advance. Don’t judge me.). October 1st is my Mom’s birthday and she would have been 58. October 11th is my Dad’s birthday. He would have been 54 today.  My Dad was a complicated man and I’ve talked about my Father, his legacy and his memory plenty of times. I don’t talk about my Mother as much maybe because that grief is still such a recent memory for me. I don’t like talking about it because that’s a wound that hasn’t closed up all the way yet.

October really is a strange month for me.

My family (both sides,really, if I have to think about it) usually looks to me and then checks on me on these days in particular. And in the past, these days have been difficult. My friends knew to take special care of me and to get me out of the house on these days so I could keep my mind off the negative thoughts that tend to creep in on significant dates surrounding those you’ve lost. My family wants to look to me as some effigy to my parent’s memory.

But really, after all of these years: I’d love to reclaim these days.

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October 3rd for FMA fans is a very important day. It’s the day Edward and his brother Alphonse burned their house down. They made this choice after committing the ultimate sin and paying the price as a knee-jerk reaction to the loss of their beloved mother. They will for the rest of their foreseeable days carry the weight of their sin and the weight of the grief that clouds their hearts. They had lost their beloved mother and their father as far as they were concerned was gone forever. They had no reason to stay in their family home that had been so corrupted by sin and death, so they burned it down. But they didn’t just turn away from their past and ignore it, no. Edward upon receiving the pocket watch that marks him as a State Alchemist scratches the date into his watch.

Don’t forget 3 Oct. 11

It’s probably one of the most important dates in the series and Edward carries it with him everywhere he goes.

I also carry that date with me because like the good State Alchemist that I am, I also have my pocket watch. Travis gave me that watch when we took over our college’s anime club. And even though I had cosplayed as Mustang and as Edward before, I never had my own watch. It was a great irony that Travis gave me the watch that I am now so proud of. In our friend group I was always Col. Mustang, the charismatic leader and he was my loyal Hughes. He was there to keep me grounded and help me move up the ranks and make our club the best we could.

I’m a fully functioning adult and I still wear my pocket watch on occasion (and I still get plenty of compliments on it). And that weight in my pocket, that date in my pocket is a reminder of the date that means so much to an anime I love and so much to my family and my actual family.

So today after 15 years since my father passed and just a little over 5 years since mother joined him; I want to reclaim 10-1, 10-11 and hell, the entire month of October while I’m at it. My family still looks to me a bit to do something grand. To post something inspirational. To show that I still remember. To show that I’ll never forget. To show that I’m doing okay. And trust me, with no sense of irony I can proudly say that I’m fine. I will be fine. And even on the days I’m not, I have more than enough coping skills and loving support to quickly pull myself back up after a rough day.

Today, I burn down the emotional house. And what a perfect day to do so? It just so happens that days after the Elrics burned their house down and the dates of my parent’s birthdays coincide.

If I post something that honors my parents, fantastic and I have posted for them a few times. If I don’t, also fine and despite my blog postings there have been years that I choose not to memorialize the day. A big step in the grieving process is just moving on and I think after so many years, I’m ready to treat these days like they are any other day. The weight will always be with me. I will never forget this day. But I’d also like to move on and try and forge my own path. That’s what my Dad would have wanted and I can hope that it’s what my Mom would have wanted, as well. 

Happy Fullmetal Alchemist Day, to my fellow otakus. Remember to keep moving forward and never let your past dictate who you are.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I didn’t forget.

And Happy Birthday, Dad. I’m a little bit early but now you know that I didn’t forget you, either.

Editor of the Past

 

“To regret one’s own experiences is to arrest one’s own development. To deny one’s own experiences is to put a lie into the lips of one’s own life. It is no less than a denial of the soul.” ― Oscar Wilde, De Profundi.png

I’ve been going through old photos. You’ve probably noticed that by now. And old photos bring up a lot of fond memories but also a lot of slightly bitter memories. Time moves on and people fade in and out of your life. But the photos you took of them: what happens when a person who meant the world to you is now a stranger in your life?

Travis and I drifted apart after creative differences over the state of the anime club. Liz and I stopped talking after she started dating that one guy. Davilin and I are still friends on Facebook, aren’t we?

Old photos are so full of people I just don’t talk to anymore. So what do I do with photos that make me uncomfortable? Like the angsty edgelord I am, I delete them. I tend to remove the photos I don’t like. There’s a reason why there aren’t a lot of photos of my life between the ages of 12-16. Those years weren’t great, so why document them?

But it goes beyond just being an aggressive editor of images. I’m also a huge editor of who can see what. Why do you think it took so long to finally make a Youtube channel or why so many friends have failed to do a successful podcast with me? I’m a great podcast guest but I’m not great at running one with friends. I’m image conscious and pain averse.

This method does go perfectly fundamentally how I use Facebook, Twitter and most things digital: I use them as a simulacra of me. I’m part of the “yearbook” camp of Facebook use.  Facebook is meant to be the thing people see that can be pieced together to form one complete Amanda.

But in those photos, I do have a piece of me in each one. I had these people in my life. Their stories matter or at least they did as of the picture taken. And in those old photos are plenty of pictures I want to keep. Pictures of Mandy. Pictures of my mom: some of the last of her life. From my trip to Disney that I enjoyed more than my little cousin. From conventions. Of a thinner me. Of a me in power of an anime club. Of former lovers and former friends. There are traces of me in every single photograph and maybe, just maybe I shouldn’t delete them.

Or I should. No one will know. I don’t talk to these people anymore.

 

Dad’s Old Photos

Taking pictures is savoring life intensely, every hundredth of a second.Marc Riboud.png

My father was a shutterbug.

There’s photos of everything. Silly things. Mundane things. Plants, trees, oceans, cars. He also had a lot of pictures of himself. Dad was a handsome guy, I can see why he’d want photos of himself. But what was most important was the fact that he had pictures of his family. Dad was always taking pictures. I never really remember the camera flashes but the evidence of his obsessive commemoration of life was evident when I cleaned up my mom’s old storage unit.

The storage unit had been a contention point in my family. My mother had it during the most turbulent time of our relationship. It was an unneeded expense and I drove up in a huff to get it cleaned out so my aunt didn’t have that expense anymore. It was an exhausting and miserable experience but my friends made it worth it. I reclaimed box after box of my mother and father’s things. Memories, souvenirs and box after box of camera, photo albums and pictures. And this was back in the day when you had to take instant cameras to the local grocery to get them developed.

There were pictures of me as a child; lots of those. Pictures of me and my mom. Pictures of my dad when he was younger. Pictures of my parents’ marriage. Things I never got to see, things I barely remember. I got to see my parents in love ( I always knew my parents loved each other but by the time I was born and into my childhood whether they actually were in love was a question). I got to see pictures of me as a baby, as a child, with friends, with others. With family: family I don’t know or can’t say I’m close to. I saw my Dad’s mother (my namesake) and his father (who I barely remember). And I got to share those with my friends who had really never seen a me past 2008.

But my dad being a shutterbug reminded me of a distinct fact: I am not always a shutterbug. And it’s a lament that comes up a lot. I regret not taking more pictures before, during and after convention. I lament that I don’t take more pictures of vacations, of people I care about and of my family. I regret not being in more photos and the desire is pretty selfish: I want to be remembered. I want to remember those I care about. But I also struggle with the idea of being “present”. A common gripe people have with us young millennials is that we don’t experience life: we only live through phones and cameras. I want to be in the moment. I want to experience things and commit them to memory. I doubt I’ll forget what Carlos looks like or how Amber’s hair resists fitting into a photo frame. I won’t forget the rush of being on stage at A-Kon or how I felt during that Fitz and the Tantrums show. I wanted to be in the now but I regret not taking more pictures. To show the world, my family, my friends.

I struggle with the “narcissism” associated with being a person who takes a lot of photos. And it’s hard to want to take a lot of photos of yourself when you fundamentally don’t like who you are or what you look like. I didn’t get the “millennial” urge to capture all the moments but having a blog and a social media following does encourage me to post photos. My memories are no longer just mine, they are everyone’s.

My family started a strange fixation with photos after my grandmother’s memory started to go. Mary Anne had been forgetful for a while but towards the end of her life, we started taking more pictures. It wasn’t just to celebrate a holiday: it was a tool. When Grandma forgot one of her grandchildren, there was a photo. When Grandma asked about her husband, there was a photo. And if we had to establish how long we’ve been a family: there were pictures from the past. But we had been a family of photos for years. There’s pictures from the 70s and more regrettable fashion and hair choices that I got to discover during the process of burying my mother.

We were always a family that took photos, Dad and Mom could agree on there. There’s stylized GlamorShots of me from childhood and school pictures and all sorts of other pictures to celebrate milestones, holidays and just because for reasons. We stopped taking pictures like that before Dad died. But no one really stopped taking pictures of other things but the way I used the camera did change. After dad died, when I was given a camera to go and do something: I took pictures of people and things. Almost never myself. I had to be forced into photos during middle school and junior high and by high school this was a huge problem. There just weren’t pictures of me.

College was full of photos of people but by the nature of my friends and status as panelist, anime club president and cosplayer that people took photos of me. And as I got older, I started to cherish photos more.

I want to carry on Dad’s legacy of photography. I want more pictures, more memories. I want more albums and more pictures framed. One of the nicest gifts I’ve ever received was a framed picture from Taylor of me and his roommate (who I did consider a friend at the time). I want to show the world what I care about and what a moment is like for me. I want to share pictures of mountains, of meals, of oceans and skies. Blurry concert photos and fat fingers that greedily cover up lenses in frenzied attempts to capture a moment. I want to take more pictures of costumes and more of me in costumes.

I promise to get better about taking pictures. I hope this picture of me as a kid making poor fashion choices helps.

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