About The Journey

You still are blind, if you see a winding road,'Cause there's always a straight way to the point you see..png

I was late to watch Moana. That tardiness was intentional. I balked a little at its overwhelming praise and in pure cynical, hipster fashion I had to wait a full year before I sat down and watched it in full despite the few times I tried to watch it via clips and less than great downloads. I can’t say that the film Moana means to me what Up or even Princess and the Frog does but I can see why, how and where it’s important in the discourse. But I wanted to talk about the heroine’s journey, finding yourself and your culture and knowing the difference between your voice and the voice of your people.

Moana is a story about the titular Moana on an adventure where she discovers that she is from a long line of sea-faring people and through her bravery and cultural identity, she fixes the problem, becomes princess and all the things are good again. What is the most touching part about Moana is that it is a journey with her and through her culture to find herself. Moana is her people but in that she is also something so much more.

The idea that especially female characters have to go on some epic road trip isn’t a new one. Most female characters in great works tend to sit and stay in various castle or castle-like arrangements but anime and comics and some young adult novels are great in giving us tales of women who have to go on an adventure and hopefully find something more than just a man at the end. Rukia in Bleach searches for strength and her overbearing brother’s approval. Ino in Naruto uses her time during missions to find and learn new things and hunt for a replacement for Sasuke.  If you want an entire playlist of “girls on an adventure” stories look at the library of Hayao Miyazaki: most of his stories center around young girls that have to go out on an adventure to do something or learn something or to just save your pig-parents because capitalism. And if you must give  Disney more credit then they probably deserve, Merida in Brave has to go on a quest to find a solution to the whole…mom and bear thing before Moana aired. Lilo has to go on a self-discovery mission with her new alien friend in Lilo and Stitch and this was also way before Moana hit theaters.  And while the quest isn’t always literal: the need to put a heroine in the place of the hero on a journey is now a pivotal part of telling a female’s story. Though I will personally advocate as an out of shape person more metaphorical journeys.

Dear readership, you’ve been there with me as I’ve struggled with being more than my skin tone and that struggle has continued on for most of my life. I’m the dictionary definition of cultural abandonment. I’ve always prided my voice over the voices behind me. Look at my current situation with my family. Like the anime boy I am, I broke from tradition and forged my own path: for better or worse. I chose to listen to my own voice and ignore the voices that shouted so loudly behind me. My voice became the last one I heard and valued. But it’s lonely being on the top.

I work through being culturally abandoned through other cultures. I just said at dinner “I’ve given up so much for Japan.” . I work through my angst of not being “black enough” by turning my back on being black, being American or even being traditionally Southern or female for that matter. I embraced Japan, France, Austria, Germany…I embraced all of these cultures and countries as I did my best to come to terms with how wronged and left behind I felt by my own. I was never black enough to be black but could never and never wanted to be white. I just wanted to be me and in books I can be anyone or anything.

Amber and I are road-warriors and considering that we are both black women, it’s no surprise that many of our ventures have us facing the history and legacy behind us. We retrace the stories of rebellion, history and the complicated stories of complicated men and women. We venture out with our mythical steed (usually my Prius) and we go out to find our voices. She really only takes me along because I speak a few different languages and that there is still awe in my eyes when we find something genuinely interesting. She takes me because she knows she can probably still shock me and make me feel something. We go because I’m hoping for an experience that will shake me from my usual cynicism and will either make me feel immense shame or pride of the mix of both that comes with being a dually-conscious black person.

In my haste and desire to find my voice, I silenced out all the other voices that were kind. There are survivors of the Tuskegee Syphilis Study in me. There are Airmen in me. There are veterans, scientists, government officials, activists and writers in me. There is greatness in me and their voices are just as loud as mine. Those voices also do a wonderful job of drowning out the not to positive voices that still echo in my heart.

And while I’m not an airman or a survivor or even a full-time activist: I am me. I’m not in competition with their greatness and their weight isn’t a burden: it should be a comfort; albeit a bit of an overwhelming one. Their desire and the path they paved to let me be a cosplayer, writer, panelist and all should be enough. It is enough.

So, of course, it makes a lot of sense that I found the story of a young Polynesian girl discovering her voice and path through the stories lost to time immensely powerful. I had already bonded somewhat withe the stories of Mother Tahiti and of Polynesia during my time in Hawaii. And I’m not going to say the film’s perfect. I’m contractually obligated to mention the film’s not perfect. I was annoyed by Maui’s portrayal and most of the humor came from a literal dumb chicken. Being meta actually weakened the film a lot. Admitting that Moana in so many ways is just like the princesses that came before her actually weakens how special and unique her story is. But framing Moana as a light-reboot of  Pocahontas actually helps remind the view how different the movie is from all those that came before it. Moana achieves her goal through persistence and listening to the voices in her heart that can help her while shrugging off the ones that cannot.

That’s a lesson even a cynic can get behind.

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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Drive Away

 

Not all those who wander are lost.J. R. R. Tolkien.pngA former partner used to comment on my wanderlust rather frequently. I’d go for long walks. I was constantly dreaming of a place anywhere but where I was. I wanted nothing more than to walk into the woods and sometimes, just sometimes, never have to leave the tangled mess of Grendel’s forest. All of these are very atypical for the average Cancerian.

We had a shared passion for astrology when it was convenient to us and both of us being Cancers, it was a common topic of discussion that I had such a desire to “get lost”.

Cancers are supposed to be homebodies; my partner certainly was. I absolutely have it in my character to be a homebody and my friends can attest to the fact that sometimes I am often heard and seldom seen. But upon further research, an interesting concept did appear.

A Cancer, like a real Crab, often picks up its home wherever it goes and if it feels it has no home to return to; a crab will wander until it finds a suitable home.

Now for some context, this was during a time of my life shortly after the passing of my mother and during one of the most tumultuous phases of my home life. My aunts were at times unsympathetic, the economy was bad and my grandmother was sick. And even though I was physically at home in North Texas I felt very far from being anywhere that felt like home. I had returned from San Antonio after graduating from college and hoped to find myself in North Texas. That didn’t work out for me and I returned to San Antonio to start my life.

I left behind plenty of people in that move but I did what felt right.

I wanted to find my home. I wanted to build a home because I embraced that the nostalgic view of home I had no longer existed. My nuclear family had died, my aunts struggled to deal with a melancholy college grad. We were no longer in the home I was raised in: we were far from it. All of the things were of value to me were either movable or didn’t exist anymore. Friendships don’t usually just vanish over miles and I’ve managed to keep many of my North Texas friends since I moved: sure, things have been difficult but not impossible.

I built a happy home in San Antonio and even though lovers, partners and friends have come and gone I did find home. I found routine. I found security. I found stability.

But every once in awhile a pang of anxiety will coax me from my bed. Every once in awhile a twinge of fear will stop me from my sewing. And before I got my handsome car, usually in those moments I’d either hop on the next bus to anywhere but home or I’d sit and distract myself until the negative thoughts went away.

Now that I have a car, I find that I go on drives. Amber and I are known for our weekend trips. I for a while drove back and forth to Austin daily. The drives to North Texas have gotten easier and easier. I am a bit of a road warrior. Give me a good playlist and most road trips are pretty easy to manage, even alone. They get better with company. I’ve even considered a few trips on my own to find myself.

So now if those same invasive negative thoughts creep in, despite the time of day or night, I can hop in the car and go for a drive. I can go to the park and go for a walk. Go to the mall and just people watch. I can go to the museum and embrace a culture that isn’t mine. I can go to the library and get books I no longer have self space for but will never turn down.  

Despite my pugnacious personality, I rather dislike conflict. And when things are less than kind, I much rather walk away. I much rather distance myself from a bad situation than stay in a non-productive argument. Like a hermit crab, I will pick up my shell and walk until I find more hospitable waters.

Sometimes it’s okay to walk away from a conversation that isn’t going anywhere. Sometimes it’s okay to avoid pain. If a crab has a home, even one it likes a lot, it will leave it behind if it is repeatedly shocked or subjected to torments or acidic waters.

Home is where you set up camp and home is almost always inside of you and those you care for most.

Lessons Learned From Driving Home for Christmas

-Family is this very deep, complex thing that for most people becomes everything. It informs your entire life.- Ezra Miller.png

My family is at times a strange thing to describe. We are a troupe of strong, resilient individuals each one of us with a backstory that seems straight out of a YA dystopian novel. Those of us who are left are an odd mix of strong, charming, cynical and loving. Openly sweet and suspicious within the safety of cloistered ranks. Here are some of the things I learned while driving home and being with my family for the first time in months for the holidays. Be prepared for feels, light food porn and lots of inside jokes.

  • Driving to DFW is difficult from South Texas. The drive is about 4 hours and over 200 miles. I regret everything about the drive.
  • That being said, listen to your GPS. It could literally save you 3 hours.
  • Getting pulled over is terrifying, not even considering the current state of the world.
    • Real talk though, if the pursuing officer starts asking about “how much” you have in luggage in the backseat; don’t sweat it but answer flatly. That’s an opening question to civil asset forfeiture and it’s awful. Be informed. Save a life.
    • But it did also start a wonderful hashtag. #FreeAmanda
    • I did get out okay, though. Just a warning.
  • There is nothing quite like being able to lay down after a 6 hour drive.
  • Never question why your homeopathic aunt has a cupping machine.
    • Just don’t ask.
  • Kids are in fact brattier today than they ever were but it takes a brat to recognize a brat.
  • The 12 year age difference between my little cousin and I is nearly insurmountable now, which is normal.
  • There’s nothing like being able to hold the guinea pigs you’ve seen only in pictures for the first time ever.
    Look at my babies!
  • Host attire is acceptable when the date is with a friend you’ve had for 6 years.
      • Speaking of long term friendship, I’m curious as to when people will stop assuming we’re dating. There is literally no more of a platonic relationship than between Carlos and I.
  • Daiso is still the most magical place on earth.
  • When a new Korean BBQ joint opens up, TRY IT.
    • Especially when your waiter looks like this:
      Look at this glorious, cheeky bastard. His name is Richard. If you’re ever at Gen Korean BBQ, ask for him.
  • Find and marry someone who looks at you the way I look at sizzling Korean beef.
    • I seriously gave my bulgogi bedroom eyes.
      • Don’t judge me.
  • CHURRO CAFES ARE REAL AND I CAN’T WAIT.
  • Carlos and I have a lot of traditions and occasionally, it is okay to break them.
  • Revolving sushi is also something I’m excited for.
  • There’s an interesting moment in meeting your friend’s sister and hoping that she doesn’t hate you.
    • She doesn’t hate me.
  • Mozart Bakery is still the best bakery out there.
  • Taco Bueno is and forever will be my first stop in DFW.
  • So many bad choices
  • Chicken Express is not far after that.
  • Unless you are receiving life lessons while in line at the Chicken Express and then it’s up to you whether to accept the forthcoming mission to achieve your destiny  or to just drown your misery in sweet tea and corn nuggets.
  • Kirin Court is still the best place to exchange Christmas gifts.
    • Even more so if you screech so loud that everyone assumes you were proposed to.
    • The gift was better than a ring.
  • My car may be small but I get miles per gallon like you wouldn’t imagine.
  • Do not ask a man who leaves a comic book shop with two issues of Jem and the Holograms about the aesthetic and meaning of Daredevil as a hero.
  • Sometimes, it’s okay to ignore when your name is called in the middle of the night at a grocery store. Sometimes it isn’t.
  • Kingsman is now a Christmas movie for me and I’m okay with that.
  • Be careful when you name things.
    • That being said: I did get a new sewing machine. His name is Klaus and he’s much better than my current machine, Fritz.
      • Stop snickering. I can hear you.
  • Sometimes a bottle of wine that is essentially thrown at you by a pushy salesman will be the best part of a holiday dinner.
  • Occasionally, LiveTweeting is the only way to cope with a bratty little cousin.
  • That being said though, I can’t imagine how difficult it is to be compared to someone like me.
    • I was very smart as a child (still am mostly) and was highly praised for my strength, intelligence and for my excellence in nearly anything I touched. So I can’t imagine the pressure of being compared to me. In a lot of ways, my little cousin and I are two sides of the same coin and that even further brings up my empathetic concerns that he isn’t able to develop his own personality while stuck in the shadow of me and the rest of the family.
  • Southern families and Southern people have a very hard time “toning down” a holiday meal.
    • We’ve faced a lot of death over the years, so we’re still not sure how to cook for so few people.
  • Always ask someone what their pronouns are!
  • I keep getting told that I have a “radio voice” which is hilarious as a voice actor, podcaster and Cecil Palmer cosplayer.
  • Having allergies means that your aunt’s new and very cute dogs are nothing but overactive death-traps.
  • There are moments where you will have to explain jokes to your aunts and that moment you may or may not suddenly care about who you are and if they know who you are.
  • I am surprised at the places that I can get to back home without my GPS which include:
    • My best friend’s house
    • The local video store
    • Local colleges
    • The cemetery where my mother and grandparents are buried.
      • Side note: if Blue by Mai Yamane and Yoko Kanno comes on as you drive into the cemetery, just accept the tears.
  • The drive home may be easier. Pray it’s easier.
  • Buc-cee’s is still a magical land of clean bathrooms and delicious food.
  • If given the chance, I do not like making stops if that means I can save time.
    • Having a hybrid and not having to stop for gas enables this part of me.

I learned a lot this Christmas season and during this drive that took me over 10 hours round trip and over hundreds of miles. I learned that I am at times envious of a family’s ability to forgive and forget. To let time pass and heal wounds. I am caught just as heavily as the rest of my family in the great burden of being left behind. To be one of the few still left on this Earth as those we love and cherish have gone before us. We are left with the weight of their stories; their ghosts and that weight fills rooms, burdens hearts and shifts relationships. We are strong. So strong. Too strong. Too quick to hold onto judgement. Stay steadfast to opinions. To keep memories long gone front and center. We are loving, too gracious. We open doors for all who need it, regardless of knowing all of the trappings of being hurt.

My family is complex and there are no words to adequately describe how I feel, what I feel and how I will move forward with the heavy burden of their excellence,complex legacies  and the inevitable flaws of their humanity, but I hope to do so with the same quiet fortitude my grandfather had, my grandmother’s grace under pressure, my father’s wit and humor, my mother’s intelligence and the host of traits, quirks and flaws I’ve picked up from the women who raised me to be in part the person I am today: for better or for worse.