I Don’t Understand “This is America”: Maybe That’s the Point

I somehow managed to miss the cultural whirlwind that came with Childish Gambino releasing the music video to his song This is America in 2018. I knew about it, I knew people talked about it but I had mostly skipped over the song because to be Childish Gambino just means Donald Glover and Donald Glover means Marshall Lee the Vampire King and that one guy in Community; a show that I had never watched but knew about thanks to my inner circle. It wasn’t that the song was offensive or worrisome to me with the limited context I had for it; it just didn’t float into my usual musical sphere of French house DJs and sad music by hot Japanese men. 

When I finally did the video due to Youtube Music’s aggressive autoplay feature, I was at first watching mostly just sort of overwhelmed; nearly to the point of disliking the video. The initial act of shocking violence via a gunshot delivered to the back of a man’s head took my breath away in a way that very few pieces of media can. Thanks to a childhood and teenage years spent desensitizing myself to sex and violence; I was shocked to feel so viscerally unsettled within seconds of the video starting. 

Now, I want to cover a few things immediately. I do “understand” the message behind the song and video. The video perfectly explores the shock and fear that comes with being black in America; a version of violence that lurks around every corner. The uncertainty that comes with large gatherings and public spaces, the rightful and generational fear of the police, the loss of life and the capricious nature of existence and the utter lack of value to a black man’s death in comparison to a white man’s. I understand racism, violence, trauma and fear. 

I suppose overwhelmed is still the best word that comes to mind. I spent so much time trying to understand the video and the many influences it draws from. Glover’s moments are so exaggerated and othered that he almost feels like a Sambo stock character, the pants he wears to evoke the uniform of sharecroppers and those who worked the fields, the different guns used and the specific act of violence against a church choir. There’s an unsettling nature to the tonal dissonance that comes from following up a shooting with a dance and there’s always something uncanny and strange about that slapped on grin Glover has that can and does quickly turn steely and frightening. 

When I say I don’t understand This is America, it’s mostly rooted in that despite playing it multiple times, knowing the lyrics (and having done most of this before deciding to blog about it) and seeing the music video multiple times; I don’t know if I like the song yet. It isn’t that I don’t get the references or don’t get the fear or the message, I just don’t know how the song makes me feel yet. I’ve struggled with my place and my blackness for years and while I absolutely feel the heavy burden of generational trauma and the weight of systemic oppression, I’ve always been very open and up front about my privilege. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a neighborhood that’s constantly shot up and full of police. I don’t know what it’s like (until recently) to know what it’s like to have a neighbor raising chickens and clothes hanging outside on makeshift lines and boards on some of the windows. And while I feel the dread and fear of every single shooting that happens to an unarmed black person; because of the luxuries afforded to me, that violence is a distant boogeyman rather than an oppressive force literally and figuratively standing on my neck. 

I’m almost glad I waited to find this music video. As violence against unarmed African-Americans only grows, distrust and misinformation spread and you can’t believe what anyone says and can only rely on what you see in front of you and the lenses we all have thanks to our life experience. 

I find that I like the song most when it feels almost like the information given by a loving black grandmother. Lines like “Get your money, black man” feel like something my aunts would tell me and honestly, have told me during the days I was willing to give out my talent for free rather than know and feel my worth and ask for payment for the things I was doing to enrich the lives of others. When the tune is cheery but still with that edge of having to be careful and sly to stay safe are when I like this song most. I appreciate the choice not to have the group of children dancing with Donald Glover not be shot because the entire time the video ran I was waiting for him to turn one of the many weapons on them and my heart just wasn’t ready for that. I grew up in the shadow of Columbine and I have seen too many children die that way after being told time after time, bloodshed after bloodshed, that this would never happen again only for it to happen again. The tonal changes feel just like real life code-switching that many African-Americans have to do just to survive in this world; switching easily from how we talk “proper” to fit into the patriarchal rigors of white hegemonic society and the more informal but yet deeper way we speak to each other about our pain, our fatigue, our generational trauma and hopes that one day things will indeed be better. 

I’m rarely left wondering like this anymore. As a seasoned media critic, there are few things that have me continuing mining for meaning and more importantly, continuing to search myself and form a damn opinion. Despite how many times this song comes up in my queue, I am never sure whether to skip it or play through: again, I am not sure I even like this song. I respect it, for sure, but that sense of dread and discomfort is still present. I don’t “get” this song but I also don’t “get” racism, sexism, the patriarchy and misogyny. I don’t get how someone could kill someone else just because they look different or want to suppress an entire group. I don’t get these things and maybe that’s the point. Maybe the point is to continue to examine these senseless things and figure out why they are so ingrained in society despite being so damn needless. 

The Incomplete Nostalgia of Youtube Rewind

I follow a lot of Youtubers; have for years. It can be a shock to some that I am quite well-versed in pop culture and celebrity news. Being a social media manager means keeping up with what’s going on in the world and that means being able to speak on and know a lot about what’s happening in the world at all times from memes to who is dating who. The Youtubers part may be less of a shock. From Jenna Marbles (please, come back to us); I’ve followed the journeys of many of these online celebrities and enjoyed their content and their personalities. John Green helped me come to terms with having OCD, Crash Course taught me new things, Mike Rugnetta helped me see the world in different ways, Hannah Hart taught me to check my cheese for poison. 

That’s to say, when Youtube Rewinds are released at the end of the year as a bit of a jaunt through the year’s events I look forward to them. I love seeing all the trends, the dancing, the mix of pop music and all the celebrities I’ve spent so much time with and I get a kick out of recognizing names and faces. 

I started really taking notice of the Youtube Rewinds in 2016 when we had one of the best rewinds ever made since they began nearly two decades ago. It was the perfect blend of the memes, humor and tone of 2016 as we mostly ignored the election and thought on all the neat things that happened before the election and our lives and country would be changed forever. In 2016 while canceling and #MeToo was a thing, most were firmly in the camp of either denial when celebrities you cared about or to just chalk it up to a messy he said/she said. Which is why people like PewdiePie who is a literal racist being in the video isn’t so strange: he was still the biggest name on the platform and even though we had heard him be awful and racist before 2016, we accepted me; I accepted it. 

Since then, there’s only been two more rewinds including 2017 which has a montage of all the bad things that happened that year but the world coming together (and it does make me cry) and 2018 which is where things had fallen off the rails.We now knew and could not ignore the problematic elements in the Youtube community from racist stars to ignoring and suppressing LGBT voices and yet the 2018 Rewind displayed not only queer creators and many of the problematic creators that we by the time the rewind aired knew were problematic. It was almost like the rewind was meant to have us ignore all of this for a candy-colored view of the world. 2018 also had its fair share of issues mostly relating to a racist president that was bent on ruining the world but Youtube Rewind was determined to be upbeat to the point of being tone deaf. There’s something to be said about trying to choose positivity in the light of what was an objectively bad year but seeing a bunch of millionaire celebrities wax philosophic about equality and things being better and that Logan Paul wasn’t a terrible person. Even in 2017 it was starting to feel a little tired when we had people who were objectively better off than the millions watching the Youtube Rewind were continuing to insist that we just keep our heads up and dance because things are okay even when they aren’t. 

But now as I find myself sequestered inside, I found the older Rewinds so comforting or at least I want to. The 2015 Rewind that focuses on back then what was a decade of Youtube and meme culture nearly brought tears to my eyes as I saw viral videos and memes that were so much part of my teenage zeitgeist that they have imprinted on my heart. The 2016 Rewind may still be one of my favorites even if it does start to feel incomplete in comparison to what else was happening that year: 2016 was not just Pokemon Go and Justin Bieber music but it is nice to think of it that way. Even more so, it’s strange going back and looking at a year like 2015 or even 2013 which feels like it was approximately 1000 years ago. It’s almost strange now to see the tone of the world be so positive or different in comparison to how I feel now in 2021; a strange mix of desperate optimism atop of intense ennui, malaise and fatigue. At the same time, some of the earlier rewinds are nearly impossible to watch as they feature memes or songs that have been played to death or have been banished from the current social and digital lexicon. No one does the Harlem Shake anymore and if one more damn person asks “What does the Fox say?” I will fling myself into traffic. But to go back and think about a time where the world cared slime

Nostalgia is a strange thing: it does in fact distort the past into a comfortable and often linear narrative. It’s much easier to think of the past as a series of one-off events rather than think of the building tension and hostility that had been brewing under the surface or the terrible acts that happened during those years while others got the luxury to just play games and listen to popular music and revel in meme culture. It’s easier to ignore the complexities of men and the horrible things they do while the camera is running or when the camera isn’t running. It’s much easier to ignore the systemic issues that have plagued creators of color both online and in the real world to make them cheapened tokens of diversity amongst a sea of white creators. It’s much easier not to think about the racist demagogue whose reign of terror during those years would change the lives of millions while simply indulging in the hedonistic ambrosia of slick remixes and references to a thing you may or may not have liked. But for a piece of corporate-driven capitalistic nostalgia, it has been a strange sort of balm in these trying times to cast my mind back to a time that at least on the surface felt simpler. 

The Things I Want to do When This is All Over

As of the start of this post being written, I am coming off of receiving round one of my COVID-19 vaccine. I have one more month before I should be protected from the virus that has put my life and the lives of so many on pause. There is a light at the end of the tunnel as more and more start to receive the vaccine and we’re all looking towards what may be the end of this experience. With the end in mind, I want to talk about the things I want to do after this is all…well, I suppose, over. It may never truly be over. The world is changed, forever, in fact; but relatively soon, we may be able to return to something that has the look and feel of normalcy. 

Sitting at Restaurants 

I go out to eat a lot. I like cafe culture and being able to run out and eat, often by myself, and just enjoy a meal with a book or my phone. I have sat in only a few restaurants since this whole thing began and each time it felt like such a weird treat: a choice between the ethics of caring about people and remembering that as a citizen that I have a “responsibility” to keep these places open with my dollar. I look forward to sitting in a restaurant and feeling like I am at very least doing my best to protect myself and those around while enjoying a nice meal. 

Going to the Museum

God, I miss art. I miss waking up early on Sundays to be able to see the SAMA’s general collection for free. I miss being able to just bask in art or see unique exhibits with friends. I didn’t think I’d miss art so much but apparently, I do. 

Going to Con

Last year was supposed to be my ten year anniversary of con-going and I was going to go hard. Remember, increasingly going to con is less about the convention itself but more about paneling and going to places I miss back home or seeing new places and trying new things. It’s about friendship and long nights spent watching TV and swimming in the hotel pool and stressing over last minute costumes. Convention is a key part of my life and one I miss dearly. I went to one convention in 2020 and if I had known that it would be the only one I’d be able to visit, I would have tried to enjoy myself more. But at least late 2021 and into 2022 looks like it has more promise. 

Going to the Mall

Fun fact: I love the mall. I love mall culture. I love shopping. I love being able to grab an Auntie Anne’s pretzel, go to the Forever 21 and spend more money than I should while idly listening in on conversations that people think are private despite them yelling their words while drinking a Starbucks Iced White Chocolate Mocha. I just like being alone in crowds and I love shopping. I didn’t think I’d miss the mall as much as I do but this is just where we are.

Going to the Movies

I love the theater experience. I love the food, the popcorn, the overpriced Icees and sodas, I love all parts of sitting in those dark rooms and being forced to enjoy what is on the screen. I did sneak away to one movie during the pandemic but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to see Lupin III on the big screen. But with so many movies being pushed back, movies I would want to see in theaters rather than in the confines of my home, I can’t help but miss the planning and fun of actually getting up and going to the movies.

Going to the Farmer’s Market

Oh to go to the Farmer’s Market. To get bread and jam and butter. To enjoy a drink. To sample the finest of local fare outside on a gorgeous day. The Pearl Farmer’s Market is a place I often like to haunt when I can and I love to indulge in some of the best food in the city when it’s open. Now, being outside does lower transmission of the virus, especially if everyone is wearing a mask; I just don’t feel safe going to crowded spaces like so even with proper protections in place. 

Going Out With Friends

Despite my status as an introvert, I love my friends. I love going to drinks at local bars, checking out restaurants both new and old; I love deep conversations that linger until the cafe is nearly ready to close. I haven’t seen some of my friends in over a year physically and others I’ve seen once or twice when normally we’d see each other several times during the year. Now, I’ve been lucky to have friends that regularly call or video chat or keep in touch through instant messages and texts but sometimes there’s nothing that beats having company over or going out with someone else. 


There are many things I plan to do when it’s safe enough to do them. Reclaim my birthday, wander around the mall with reckless abandon, go to the Hill Country and do five wine tasting. I’m excited about going to the park with less worry and just being out of the house in moderation as the vaccine isn’t a get out of pandemic free card. But the amount of stress and worry this has taken off of me is tremendous. I realize the amount of privilege I have by even being able to be vaccinated and to have an inner circle that’s very quickly working towards vaccination so that I can reclaim some aspects of my normalcy. The world has been forever changed after this pandemic; I have been forever changed after this pandemic, but in the places where I get to reclaim parts of who and what I was before all this happened: I will do so eagerly and with vigor. 

Rethinking Black Panther

I remember going to the theater to see Black Panther with a friend; both of us being African-American. There were people dressed in traditional African clothing and it was something truly beautiful. People were proud of being African or of African descent for the first time in a while. I was never so much a contrarian to think the movie was bad but there were parts that I found deeply problematic and unsettling. But with the pandemic, too much time to kill and my friend’s generous access to her family’s Disney+ account, I’ve rewatched Black Panther several times recently. This rewatch has been affected by a few things that have changed in the world and in my world since the movie’s original release in 2018; namely the death of lead actor Chadwick Boseman and the continued pressures of racism and racial violence in the U.S. So we’re gonna talk about it. 

Let’s start with a major gripe I had about the movie at first which was pan-Africanism and cultural appropriation. At first I was very bothered by the picking and choosing of various African motifs and clothes for Wakanda. You see various African cultures represented during the first trial scene and at first watch, that bothered me. Many of those cultures and traditions had nothing to do with each other but to show them off as all related and to a fictional land in Africa just bothered me as lazy costume design and story-telling. Not to say that the outfits weren’t executed with care: everyone looked great but it just sat wrong with me. On the third or so watch or so, I cared much less and was mostly just glad to see nice costumes. Now as far as the cultural appropriation goes; I still have an issue with it and it’s one that may shock some readers and is an instance hiding in plain sight. Hanuman is a real Hindu deity and while I do love M’Baku, his is using a god that is still worshiped by millions. Now, I don’t feel that strongly about the movie’s appropriation of Baast mostly because while she is worshiped by some pagans; the religion of the ancient Egyptians is not one still commonly practiced. The cultural appropriation still sits a little raw with me but I’m less willing to openly show displeasure about it: maybe I’m getting old. 

Next up has to do with one of the biggest changes in opinion I’ve had on the film and that has to do with Chadwick Boseman. Now, the first time I saw the movie and the other MCU films that had Black Panther in it; I was always a little put off by Boseman’s almost sleepy performance. To quote a conversation I had with a friend: “It looks like he’s delivering every line with his dick being cut off.” I was really concerned about the utter lack of charisma the King of Wakanda had and that stayed with me until late last year when the news hit. Chadwick Boseman passed away after a lengthy and secret battle with cancer; meaning that all the roles he did for the MCU, he was in treatment for and dealing with a serious medical condition. It put things in perspective for many who had looked at Boseman as someone who just never seemed to match the energy of the other big personalities in the room when playing T’Challa. Even if your canon version of the King of Wakanda was one of the more regal and stoic types, Boseman to many (myself included) just seemed particularly low-energy without the context of a man who was battling disease and mostly suffering in silence. When the news of his death reached the masses, I felt like an immediate jerk: I was determined to take back every mean thing I had ever said because death tends to make saints of men but upon watching Black Panther a few more times I’ve come to a more balanced conclusion. Yes, the performance is subdued in comparison but really, everyone is except for Shuri who…we’ll get to. It’s a mostly laid back movie despite the stakes and message of the film. In his own movie, Boseman’s more flat affectation as T’Challa makes sense and though it does still stand out in other movies where he may not match the charisma of RDJ or Chris Evans: it’s still a good performance. 

The battle in the climax of the film does nothing for me as it is still just CGI blobs fighting in dark CGI nothing-scape. Angela Bassett is literally wearing baskets on her head. Everyone’s accents are inconsistent and weird. Andy Serkis is…I suppose, happy to be a human being on camera? The movie has flaws still but upon many rewatches, I find it more and more enjoyable. We’re not done yet; we’re finally going to tackle who may replace Killmonger as “Character I Wish Would Fall into a Pit” the most: Shuri. 

At first, Shuri was a funny character to me. I liked how funny and charming she was and she acted as a good foil to T’Challa’s more traditional and subdued personality. I was okay with her and her memes and the nonsense technology Wakanda has with its let’s say loose use of vibranium but after watching the movie a few times again; Shuri began to wear on me the most. She just knows too much in the way that many characters that are not written that well are. She has an answer to everything, a solution to everything; she’s very much written like a Mary Sue insert character. Now, I get that canonically she’s meant to be very smart and there’s a way to show that. Shuri is no Tony Stark, there’s just something about her that makes her quickness to correct people irksome (it’s probably internalized misogyny). 

Now onto the character I had the most issue with on my first watch and still have issues with now: Killmonger. Killmonger is touted as one of the most complex, most right and best villains in the MCU and while yes, his motivations are, I suppose, better than Klaue’s or Ultron’s; I don’t think he’s all that right. Being black, I’ve seen his rhetoric. I’ve seen the class of ideals between peace and violence. Being the PR savvy person I am, I’ve always chosen peace. In my opinion, oftentimes, violence makes an entire group look bad and has rarely been a good way to get a point across. Exceptions exist for sure but on a whole I’ve never supported revolution that way. And Killmonger’s idea to just arm random black folk and hope that it will be a big enough show of force just turned my stomach. However, after seeing the horrific backslide we’ve made in the last few years when it comes to police brutality, racism, acts of violence and domestic terrorism: maybe he has a point. Maybe being nice isn’t getting us far. I still won’t ever advocate for violence on the scale he planned but after seeing so many unarmed black men die at the hands of the police who are meant to protect us: yeah, fuck up that Target. 

I’ve had plenty of time to think about the media I ingest and why I ingest it. I can’t and won’t deny the impact Black Panther had on society and for black people. It was empowering to see an Africa not in strife and to see black excellence. It was empowering to see people use the Wakandan salute in real life to greet each other as a show of respect. I personally wouldn’t mind calling more white people “colonizer” when they speak out of turn or barking at them like M’Baku does. If this movie gave black kids someone to look up to, aspire to be, admire; then I’m not here to harsh anyone’s yums. I’ve had time to let my opinions mellow and change as the times have changed and because of that I’m still happy to say: Wakanda Forever. 

On My 600 lb Life

I’ve had too much time on my hands. I’ve been coughing and lounging for days. I’ve been recovering and in my lax state, I found another reality television show that quickly sucked up too much of my attention and thanks to my heady mix of personal experiences and traumas quickly became a time sink that I have come to deeply regret. My 600-lb Life is a show that capitalizes on the trauma and poor coping skills within all of us and focuses on the morbidly obese of the United States who are ain desperate need of weightloss surgery to stay alive. The show is led by a small little foreign man who goes by Dr. Now and a revolving cast of people who desperately need help getting their weight under control. The show is mostly set in Dr. Now’s Houston clinic but does feature a decent amount of back and forth between the home of the patient in question and the Houston clinic. 

There are a lot of things I wanted to cover as I sank myself further and further into this, let’s be clear, problematic as hell reality show but there was one thing that kept circling around and that was the finances and economics of weight loss and dieting. Maybe next time we can talk about my personal trauma when it comes to morbid obesity or the horrible framing of the show. 

It started with an observation: many of the people on the show are living in poverty; that isn’t a judgement, it’s just a fact. And if the patient of the week is not indeed in abject poverty they are a part of a large family with a single breadwinner and several children/dependants that rely on one paycheck. Listen, eating healthy is expensive and Trader Joe’s aren’t all over the place. Food deserts are places where it’s hard to find healthy or fresh food in a neighborhood; besides if you have 20 dollars to feed a family of four: you’re going to McDonald’s, not Panera. Junk food is just more cost-effective. I remember being raised by vegans back in the early 2000s before it was cool and there is a reason Whole Foods Market is not-so lovingly called Whole Paycheck. In theory, you can shop there on a budget but everything there is indeed more expensive because you are paying for the luxury of organic and small-batch.

I say this because I noticed how often that participants of the show had a hard time buying healthy, not just because their minds and bodies had been conditioned to love junk food but because of the expense. Many work so fast-food is the only option to feed themselves or their families and even though in theory every fast-food establishment should have some options that are in theory healthy but even as a short-term solution; grilled nuggets at Chick-Fil-A does not a meal healthier make. 

There were a few cases that particularly struck me: the ones where medication and money were involved. James K. is a patient who despite being very easy to mock and jeer at because of horrible framing faced quite a few financial issues during his journey to Houston which is a vital part of the show. That’s right, folks, you have to uproot your entire life and move to Houston: a hell swamp with miserable traffic and no memorable skyline. And you don’t even move to Houston immediately, though some do. Many have to make hours long trips across states just to visit a small man who is here to mostly berate you about your lack of weight loss. I’ve been on long trips: they are expensive, time consuming and I can’t imagine having the commitment to anything that isn’t anime to do so for one man who can’t even promise a solution. If the patient does not lose enough weight, they will be denied for surgery and while the show frames that as a lack of will and while my personal inner goblins do, too; we have to see food addiction and trauma as serious issues and realize that there are at times major psychological factors that lead to food addiction and not being able to work out. Another patient, a mother, could literally not afford to feed her family with the frequency of trips she was taking to Houston and she dropped out of the program and continued to lose weight on her own. Dr. Now vilified this action because he has to make money somehow and we the audience are thus told that driving yourself into poverty and letting your children go hungry are worthy sacrifices for weight loss and weight loss surgery. 

My mother was obese and she developed a pretty serious case of agoraphobia because of it. She felt constantly judged by a world too small for her and while I wasn’t always the most caring child or teen about the issue as an adult I can now understand why such things are easily traumatizing and can lead to more complex psychological issues. I never knew what was the root of my mother’s obesity: what the inciting incident was that led her to turn to food rather than therapy but maybe it’s for the best that I don’t know. I think my mother’s own lost journey with food addiction, obesity and diabetes puts a lens on the show: it makes it doubly conflicting to watch: one part reliving the trauma of having a chronically ill parent and one part bitter anger at the lack of good personal choices made by seemingly everyone involved. 

I could go on about this show, and I probably will considering how much real estate it now takes up in my mind. From the awful framing to the considerable pressure and toll that is put on caregivers I may touch on this show again but for now, cost was the most important factor to discuss. And while in theory TLC does offset some of the costs and participants are said to be paid; with many of the numbers not adding up it seems that Dr. Now and the producers are still asking too much and refusing to budge for the sake of patients that find it simply too expensive to try to save their own lives. 

My Year in Captivity

To say that 2020 was a hectic and insane year is a massive understatement. A pandemic, social unrest and political turmoil made the year exhausting, scary, uncertain and with many many days spent inside. There are lots of things I’ve learned about myself and others and the world as we approach the anniversary of when this whole thing kicked up in the U.S. and we assumed this should be done and finished in no more than a few weeks. Here are some of the lessons I’ve learned, things I’ve come to appreciate and hardship I’ve been through this year.

Don’t Be a Dick

I can’t think of a time where I’ve ever ordered so many things to be delivered to my door. I finally get to live my dream of being like the Onceler in The Lorax and just order in all the time and never again be held down by the tyranny of pants or a bra. But with this newfound freedom I’ve found that people on the outside, unfortunately, are still terrible. There have been a few instances where orders have been wrong or items have not arrived on time and each time, thanks especially to the barrier to technology, I’ve been able to just stay chill. I used to work retail and I’ve learned that being cruel to front-end workers is never the way to get anything done. And honestly, not being a dick has carried over into my personal life as well. When my friends seem to need more time to vent or are acting in a way that seems unlike them I am quicker to be more understanding. These are insane times for everyone and it’s important to be mindful of that. You never know what someone is going through: best to air on the side of caution and exchange the grace you may need yourself later on.

Indulge, The World is on Fire

I woke up with a desire for sweet and sour chicken from my favorite Chinese restaurant in the city: and thus I ordered it. I’ve been more mindful of my budget but the benefit of not being able to go out shopping all weekend if a more balanced budget and more wiggle room for indulgences. Now, I admit the amount of privilege I have; however it is nice to be able to splurge every once in a while. The world is on fire. There’s a pandemic outside, white supremacists, people who don’t think the pandemic is real and racism, sexism and homophobia all still exist: even when you haven’t left the house. 

Routine Can Be a Comfort

The times I can think of that I really struggled during the pandemic was my brief stint of unemployment when I had no solid routine. I applied to jobs, laid on the sofa all day, napped like a spoiled house cat and rarely ate anything of substance. The structure of having to clock in for work even if it’s from home and having to take medicine and then getting off of work to have an evening up to my own devices was incredibly important for me to survive the days that all rolled together and continue to do so during the pandemic. It’s hard for me to compel myself to a rhythm sometimes, thanks to years of depression and anxiety, and it’s much easier for me to have a structure set in place for me and then I figure out how to make it my own and bend it to my will. 

Don’t Self-Isolate

It’s an easy thing to do when depressed: close yourself off, ignore humanity, coil into yourself and shun those who care about you. Luckily for me, I have a very insistent friend and family group that refuses to let me climb into the little box of sadness for too long. If a few days pass without contact, someone certainly is messaging me or calling me to make sure that I am still amongst the living and have not fallen into a puddle of self-loathing. And if my friends or family are for some reason busy, I’m fortunate enough to know myself right before I fall off that edge of misery and know when to reach out and say that I’m struggling and need a lifeline. No one has to go through this alone and really, no one should: you are worthy of help if you need it. 

It’s Okay to Not be Okay

How anyone manages to leave the bed without some resistance nowadays is a genuine surprise to me. I often lay there begging the clock to go back, let me rest and try to fill a fatigue that is never relieved. But I still get up but the feeling I have is something in between just existing and being just sort of a grey color. Malaise, I think is what the French would call it. I’m fine but only just so and there are plenty of reasons inside and out that would add to a feeling of not being anything more than “existing” or “alive”. The world is a scary place and even though I think I don’t internalize the anxieties and atrocities of the modern world, I do. I hold onto them and they root deep in me and come up as fear usually right before I try to sleep or in the moments my brain is quiet. But what’s amazing is to talk to my other friends and know they have similar fears: we’re all scared. We’re all aware the future is uncertain and the present is strange and nebulous. I was not and am not alone in being less than peachy and that was remarkably comforting. It’s okay to not be okay within reason; really, is anyone right now?

I’ve spent a year indoors and the last 3 months even more isolated, rarely leaving the house due to either illness or injury. I’ve spent a year rarely seeing friends and rarely seeing family. I’ve been closed off from the things I love doing and I’ve had to find strength in myself and trust in those who want to help me. It’s been interesting: finding small ways to return to normalcy, the little indulgences I’ll allow myself, the small breaks I take when I finally leave the house and for what reason. I’ve done a lot of baking, a lot of podcasting, a lot of writing and talking to my friends but I’ve mostly spent time with myself trying to work through many of the bags I’ve been carrying with me for the past 10 or so years. What else should I do with this vast expanse of introspective time? 

Thank you all for being with me during this year: you’ve all made it a little easier to face the future. 

An Update and an Apology

It’s been a while since I’ve been able to pen a proper post on this blog and I am sorry for that. In all of my years of blogging, I’ve rarely been this off schedule. There are a few reasons behind my inability to write nd mostly, the resurgence of some people with too strong opinions on guinea pigs and some not so nice comments on how I should moderate my own blog. It spiraled me deeper into a depression than I expected and made it really hard to trust my own skills and my own abilities.

I’m feeling better, slowly gaining the strength to write more and hopefully I’ll be back on schedule soon. Thank you all for your patience with me during this time.

Getting Sick During a Pandemic

I have said in many posts that I have been blessed and thankful for my health. I was never joking about that but at a few points in the year, I was a little concerned that in fact, I was sick. 

I’m an asthmatic, a lifelong asthmatic. While many will grow out of their childhood symptoms, I’ll be stuck with mine until I go off into that good sweet night. Now, asthma is no excuse to not workout or not move around and I honestly am very lucky. My asthma is pretty mild and there are only a few moments in my life I can think of where my asthma has never held me back. I was not able to climb an active volcano, I could not make short walk up mountain and every once in a while an exercise was too difficult to do without a rest. 

Being asthmatic does mean I am prone to respiratory infections: one of the reasons I have taken the COVID-19 pandemic so seriously. I am already incredibly prone to bronchitis, pneumonia and upper respiratory infections and I do get sick a decent amount of times per year depending on the year. Con plague is a condition I’m very prone to because you will get sick after being in a room full of sweaty nerds all weekend. I get a chest cold usually in the winter as the weather turns cold. Walking pneumonia isn’t super uncommon for me in the summer but I always manage. I’m lucky. My asthma is usually fairly under control and I can be active if I so choose to be. 

During the start of the pandemic, I maintained physical activity the best I could. I’d go for walks, play Pokemon Go outside, play Just Dance; I moved and had no problem doing so. I think it was during the summer when I lost my job that I also came down with a pretty common summer cold that I just couldn’t shake. I got winded much easier than I normally did and thanks to my depression it got easier and easier to ignore my need to exercise. I got weaker and weaker over the months as my new job allowed me to continue to work from home. That’s when I noticed the shortness of breath. It was harder and harder to talk to my car, go to the grocery store; just to live. But I brushed it off and assumed it was part and parcel of the chest cold. The symptoms ebbed and flowed for honestly, months, but the weakness and lack of stamina was the issue I was most troubled by. I couldn’t work out or move around more if I wanted to. It was like my body just quit on me. If my body was willing to quit, I was happy to let it and I slid further and further into a somehow even more sedentary lifestyle. 

It was in November that I had noticed the swelling in my feet and ankles; I assumed it was an injury but quickly I learned that it was from poor circulation due to a lack of movement. I ordered compression socks online and some desk pedals hoping that I could will myself to move at all. Both worked with some success but not in enough time for my symptoms to be gone by the time I visited home for Christmas. My aunts of course noticed my fat ankles and lack of ability to maintain breath while going through the entire grocery store aisle by aisle. My aunts doted on me and that only added to my distress and discomfort about not being as well as I used to be and that feeling of self-hatred made it much easier to continue to push down the fact that really, I should see a doctor. I did my best to ignore that I wasn’t feeling well and hide that from those closest to me. 

It wasn’t until I got home for Christmas that I realized I was backpedaling further than I already had. By New Year’s Eve I was exhausted and couldn’t breathe. After New Year’s I was having a hard time going room to room without having to take a break or having to stop and catch my breath. Friday night I did a telemedicine appointment which reminded me of all the reasons I hate going to the doctor and was given a pretty inconclusive diagnosis. It was either COVID-19 or Pulmonary Edema; neither answer was great. Saturday I drug myself to a local urgent care to get tested for COVID-19 and figure out what was wrong with me. 

Arriving at the med clinic was less than fun but with my symptoms I was indeed tested for COVID-19 because cough, shortness of breath and being tired all ring the COVID-19 bell. I waited for my test results while another storm brewed (one that may be discussed later). I tested negative; a weight that honestly I could feel leaving me and I was left with a much more reasonable solution: it was either pneumonia or a severe upper respiratory infection; conditions I’ve lived with my whole life as an asthmatic. 

I’m finally on the right combination of medicines that make me feel less like I’m dying and more like I can actually breathe. It took longer than usual to get the right medical help thanks to the pandemic but I’m glad to be on the mend. I’ve been sleeping a lot, watching a ton of reality television and trying to make sure I eat because of the literal brown paper bag full of medication I was sent home with. But that’s the story of how I got sick during the pandemic and I must admit, I do not recommend it. There’s a strange kind of hell that people with pre-existing respiratory illnesses have been in thanks to a pandemic that has made coughing, being short of breath and being tired all the time as small pieces of social shorthand for disaster. Spoiler alert, asthmatics will cough. Asthmatics will be short of breath. Asthmatics will be tired; our lungs don’t work, give us a break. I understand the pandemic is scary and bad but jeez, it is exhausting having to feel like every time I cough due to something completely innocuous and feel an entire store’s set of eyes on me. 

Well, that’s the story of how I got sick during the pandemic and somehow, it wasn’t COVID-19. I hope this little bit of vulnerability is helpful for y’all. 

Stay safe and healthy out there.

What I’ve Done During the Pandemic (Year in Review 2020)

Well, we’re still doing this, aren’t we? Alright, normally I wrap up my year with a thrilling and sentimental post about all the things I’ve done and all the places I’ve seen. That didn’t happen this year; not to say I’ve done absolutely nothing but for sure it feels wrong to structure it or even think about this year in review like past years; this year is nothing like past years. The pandemic has kept me inside for most of the year and it has changed many facets of my daily life. But I still think it’s worth sharing some of the things I have done and did manage to do as safely as possible during this year indoors. 

January: Ah yes, January Amanda. Blissfully aware of the storm that was approaching. I had a convention in February that I was trying to prep for on top of my day job and podcasts. I was busy, I had things to do. 

February: UshiCon! A convention I’ve been trying to get into for years and finally made it. It was…well, an experience. I rarely regret convention experiences but I left this particular con exhausted, bitter and upset with myself. In personal news; I was also at the worst of my depression. I was horribly ill and miserable and was at that stage, taking it out on everyone including myself. I started back on antidepressants because I couldn’t stand who I was anymore. February also brought with it something I wasn’t expecting. Someone tried to cancel me. Now, I don’t have the energy to relive the saga but there’s a whole video on the matter that can bring you up to speed. 

March: I spent a pretty decent amount of March adjusting to the new medication but it was in March that the whispers of whatever virus that was affecting China was starting to take root here. I remember the day my boss encouraged us to work from home and if I had known that would be the last day I’d leave that office; I’d probably treasure it a little more. Working from home was a huge adjustment of trying to figure out a schedule that still allowed me to work but also accounted for the fact that now I was at home. I had to find things to fill my time in ways I was not used to. Luckily, work and the podcasts kept me busy.

April: I had a couple of virtual panels to do in April and started making masks. Amazing how cosplay started to fill a void in my life when I felt like there was nothing else to look forward to. Virtual conventions are really something. I admire event planners who had to scramble to make in-person events suddenly virtual. But it just can never quite capture the magic, can it? It’s never going to be the same. By April I had pretty much settled into what I assumed would be like the many other pandemics I’ve survived during my lifetime but I didn’t know that this was still just the tip of the iceberg. 

May: In May I did a shocking amount of baking and cooking. Mostly baking for other people because that’s how I coped with an uncertain world. I also started therapy which for longtime readers is probably a bit of a shocker. I haven’t been in therapy in a while and like most mentally ill people; I’m great at giving therapy but bad at being in therapy. It’s hard to be open about my emotions but as my psychologist cranked up the dose on the antidepressants, it got easier to talk about my past and trauma. Work continued to be a huge stressor for me; I had left a job in the death care industry (one I truly loved) hoping for more responsibility and more advanced. I got a lot of grunt work and stress that began to fray on my nerves and make me resent myself and others. 

June: By June I was sure that I no longer understood linear time. My podcasts and column kept me busy but it was also incredibly hard to think about days outside of work and not work. My day job exhausted me, I couldn’t see my friends and the conventions I had been looking forward to all year were steadily closing and canceling as the virus took its hold. I haven’t had anxiety like this before. Having anxiety during a pandemic is a unique kind of hell. It’s being constantly on edge about something but with the state of the world, there are plenty of things to be on edge about.  Oh and I lost my job. That happened. 

July: I celebrated my 30th birthday quietly with a friend in my quarantine circle without pomp or circumstance. Earlier in the year, I had thought of so many plans to celebrate a birthday that is so special but no, I stayed home and ordered in with a friend while watching trashy television. It may not have been a cruise or Las Vegas but it was nice to still be able to celebrate. 

August:  Freelance work and looking for a stable job kept me busy. I continued working on the things my therapist said and stayed on my meds. I did my best not to isolate the way my depression wanted me to do. Without conventions or other reasons to do anything, I found myself increasingly missing the things that give me meaning and pleasure. Luckily, I’d not only get a new job in August but also a visit from my best friend, Carlos, who had always been quarantining safely and took some time out to visit me. It was great even if we spent most of his visit in my apartment watching television; it was just great to do that with someone else. 

September:  I continued working, podcasting and doing my best to find my stride. The two podcasts continued to keep me busy as did the social media and design work for them. I’ve always known I do a lot for my hobbies but it was around this time of the year that I became aware of the fact that indeed, I was working quite hard all the time for these projects. September was quiet even as I tried to find more little reasons to leave the house safely in some sort of vague attempt at finding normalcy again.

October: Fortunately, October for me means two live shows and actually getting to be in costume. I wasn’t expecting to miss being in costume so much; even though I’ve been cosplaying for years. Having something to work on, to keep my idle hands busy, to look forward to was immensely rewarding and restorative. 

November: I’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving away from my ancestral homeland for the past few years. I’ve mostly stayed close to my chosen home out of convenience but now considering the pandemic of it all; staying home was really the only option. Again: I got to celebrate with a friend and cater in to mitigate stress and the intimate gathering was exactly what I needed. November also featured an election that I’m pretty sure took a year or two off my life. 

December: I made the choice to go home for Christmas. I’m not sure why, but it felt right. I missed my family, I missed my friends, I missed something that felt like my life before this pandemic. I was safe: stayed in a hotel, limited my contact with others, wore my mask: I did everything possible to be safe and honestly, I don’t regret going home and seeing my family.

I’m going to keep wearing a mask and socially distancing. I’m going to keep doing my best to be responsible. This year has been absolutely insane personally, professionally, emotionally and more and I know every year I thank my friends and those close to me but dammit, I can say with confidence that I don’t think I would have made it through this year without my friends, found family and biological family. I’ve been so fortunate to have my health and my support system and the job I have and the podcasts I get to work on. I’m just fortunate, even when it doesn’t feel like it.

Stay safe, everyone. Thanks for reading and sticking with me through this year. 

The Comforting Xenophobia of Border Enforcement Shows

Yes, it is the Year of Our Lord 2020 and I am still talking about copaganda. In my continued hunt for shows to watch that isn’t ER. I found myself down a rabbit hole of watching UK Border Force, a show all about the border agents of the UK either out trying to find illegal immigrants, undocumented workers or those bringing drugs or other illegal items into the Queen’s Dominion. It’s a pretty slow-paced show; usually just people bringing in too many damn cigarettes through customs. But every once in a while the show gets really fast-paced when someone brings in drugs via their body cavity or in the lining of their luggage. Every once in a while someone will bring in too much cash and the best episodes feature dogs on the job. But one thing came to mind as I continued, there was a shocking amount of casual racism, jingoism and xenophobia in these shows. 

The UK version was not the only border force show I’ve seen, I’ve seen the US version which is…well, American and the Australian persuasion which seems very concerned about fruit: I’m serious so much of the episodes in New Zealand are concerned about mostly Pacific Islanders bringing in native fruits that could “damage local flora and fauna”; there’s even a hilarious part where a tourist bringing in an apple that was left in their backpack from another flight causes a $5,000 fine. And while I’m not here to minimize the threat of ecological threats it all does seem so excessive. Especially when it comes to the treatment of indigious peoples bringing in food or medicine that is culturally relevant or significant to them: these border agents are literal colonizers telling the people who were here before them that their native fruits and veggies and medicine are “dangerous” and “unregulated” and have the authority to have those goods destroyed. 

Another main focus of these shows is the finding and capturing of illegal workers and immigrants with varying levels of sensitive language. Because these shows are sensationalized, it’s easy to think of them as linear good and bad. Those who work illegally and take jobs away from native Britons or Aussies are bad and the good guys are those enforcing those rules. But many of these people are coming from poorer regions of the world and are often of color and the irony is not lost on me that those in colonizing countries demanding that people of color “enter the country the right way”. Again, I am not an idealized liberal who doesn’t believe in borders and I do very much agree that it’s always best to enter a country legally, but if you are from a poor village in India or Africa and coming over to England to work is the only way you can make money to support your family: you will do what you need to do. We’re also not going to ignore that much of “developed” world had no issue relying on the labor of people of color regardless of how they entered the country (it was not of their own will) and to this day benefit sight unseen on the backs of immigrants and people of color working whether it be legal or not. 

Shows like this work because they are inherently framed as a struggle of good versus evil. The good and brave border force agents are here to keep the country safe and the bad and evil people taking up jobs and resources and not paying taxes are bad. The editing and framing is dynamic and stories are shortened and stripped of nuance and complexity. We’re meant to, through framing, camera work and editing think that all actions taken by the border force are good and meant to keep us safe while anything that puts that safety at risk is bad. But most of the undocumented workers at the chip shop aren’t causing harm. The student who overstayed on his visa is not likely a terrorist and while the person who smuggled drugs in via laptop is in fact a criminal, they’re likely doing so for money. 

There are bad people out there who want to bring in drugs and illegal cigarettes and weird pornography and there are in fact terrorists who want to hurt people. But border force shows continue to push a linear narrative in situations that are oftentimes full of nuance. People don’t flee their home countries for no good reason but we don’t have time in a forty minute reality television show for nuance.  

It’s all a form of propaganda; a show to let you see just how hard border enforcement works and to show them the “danger” they put themselves in to keep us “safe”; but we’ve already covered that due to the nature of framing and editing that danger is clearly played up for the sake of sensationalized television. The chases, the thrill, the finding people trying to enter the country without permission in trucks and the drugs, oh the drama of the drugs. It makes the border force agents look capable, exciting and like they’re really doing something; just like all the other cop shows before it. Live PD was created almost explicitly to show cops as human after a string of police shootings of unarmed black men (a string that continues on to this day). Shows like this are meant to humanize the police and law enforcement but showing us as viewers just what the police do for us. It’s meant to remind us of the danger and hope that a little good press will make it easier to swallow the bitter pill of police violence. Look at all these cops doing the right thing; ignore the ones that have committed murder in cold blood. And it’s comforting for a while to see it; it’s called “security theater”, sorta like how you feel safer with extra TSA agents after 9/11 even though they really haven’t stopped any actual terrorists and have only succeeded in being angry at my flat iron, concerned by my bra’s underwire and upset at my potato chips in my backpack.  These actions are meant to make us feel safe and secure and reassured while we are meant to ignore all of the wrong going on underneath the surface.