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.

Ancestral Memories of the Local Olive Garden

It started when I was 9 oz of cheap white wine deep into what would stand to be a mostly forgettable meal at the local Olive Garden. In my younger years, I traversed across the Italian peninsula and ate some of the best food of my life. I soaked up Italian culture as any good Classics student would. So as I sat and pondered over a glass of wine that cost the same as my my meal and happened to cost twice as much in the restaurant as it would have if I purchased the exact same entire bottle outside of the fake stucco arched doorway, I asked myself a simple question:

Why the hell do I come here?

I was seated alone; surrounded on all sides by families and children running around hyped up on after dinner chocolates and soda they weren’t supposed to have but were permissively given because “it was a special occasion”. And I started really thinking about why I still come here. Most people who go to Olive Garden understand that they are not getting an authentic taste of the old country. So why come here? The prices aren’t great, the food’s okay, the restaurants are all the same aside from the occasionally too happy to please server.

To answer the question: we gotta go back in time.

When I was little girl, we (and by “we” I mean my family not some weird notion of the royal we) went to places like Olive Garden or Red Lobster when I did something exceedingly good. Back then Olive Garden was the perfect place for a middle/upper middle class family like mine. More expensive than most casual dining establishments but not out of the price range for a family of 3 to eat multiple courses without breaking the worrying about the state of the light bill. We went to Olive Garden when I made honor roll. When I finished a dance performance. When I ranked in a Latin Club competition (yes, I took Latin in middle school. And junior high. And high school. And college.). It was a place to celebrate. It was a place we didn’t go to often but when we did, we enjoyed it. It was different from Spaghetti Warehouse, a place my dad loved, and so we went to more often and more casually. Going to Olive Garden meant getting dressed up. I had to have my hair up, little stockings on and usually an obnoxiously frilly dress. It was a special occasion kind of place.

During my late teen years and even the post-college career it was a hang out spot. Taylor works there and his roommates did, too. I spent plenty of time there picking him up from work or meeting him there to hang out later. We abused his discount. Got punch drunk off of free bread sticks and drowned our miseries in glasses of wine that costs the same as the damn bottle would if we were at any other places. We stayed because of the discount. We went because of the friendship and we savored because we could use the restaurant as a de-facto headquarters. In fact, I was there so often that I got my own server’s name tag: a gift from hosts and hostesses that came to know me and my order due simply to the fact that I was always around.

So why do I come here now?

Because I can.

Because after the partial collapse of the middle class and the lowering of prices: Olive Garden suddenly went from a place I went to only dressed up for after church to a place I could visit in my sweat pants and a v-neck t-shirt. When you remove the monolithic-like barrier of entry to almost any place: it easily becomes more attainable and thus culturally ubiquitous. Anyone is welcome here. Everyone is sort of family. No one can judge you. The bartender can’t judge Amber and I for getting wine drunk after a hard day at work. Or Taylor and I for shoving mints into my shirt as we attempt to flee the restaurant. No one can judge us for playing the trivia game the electronic payment kiosk at the table offers and no one can say a damn thing about how many bread sticks I eat and with how much Italian dressing.

Olive Garden became a safe haven. A place to relax. The food isn’t the goal; you aren’t there because you want a real taste of Roma. You’re there because it’s attainable, common, simple and accessible. You’re there because you want to be. And don’t let anyone tell you that you’re wrong for that.

Enjoy your bread sticks.

Drown your sorrows in salad and overpriced wine.

Stuff your pockets with chocolate mints.

I won’t judge you.

Save me a seat.

 

 

Friends on the Other Side

Friends are the siblings God never gave us. Mencius.jpg

Carlos works late sometimes. Sierra’s busy with friends and family. Marisa’s studying or in class. Taylor works crazy shifts sometimes and Amber’s usually tired after a long day with her students. Ricky’s schedule is insane and keeping up with it could be a full-time job in itself.

Keeping up with timezones and busy schedules can make it difficult to keep friendships afloat and many 20somethings find themselves struggling with loneliness. I moved away a few years ago. I live alone. But in moving, I left some of my best friends and now that I work a full-time office job, I don’t have the time or energy to be the bon viveur I was in college. I have the topic of friendship on my heart (I hear it’s magic) and I wanted to go over a few of the ways I keep up with my friends.

Call and Call

Skype is wonderful. Some of the best memories I’ve made in my recent history have been made on Skype calls. I’m an Internet girl. I’ve made plenty of friends online and we do our best to stay connected whenever we can and Skype helps us stay in touch. (This isn’t an advert, just a fact.). One of my old stomping grounds, Gendou, had a booming community and many of those community members are some of my closest friends. We do our best to get together at least once a month and chat. Many of us have grown up together and it’s amazing to see how far we’ve come from being angsty anime kids to being angsty anime adults. But depending on the friend, there’s also been hours long phone calls. Epic Google Hangouts sessions and livestream nights that go on until the wee hours of the morning. We talk during everything. I’ve been on calls while making costumes, planning hotel trips and even while working on panels or playing video games. It makes the distance between us sometimes feel not so vast.

I’ll Check the Post Box

I’m an adult now and the only things that arrive in my mailbox are bills, bills and advertisements. It was a request I started a few years ago. I asked for, instead of gifts for my birthday, I asked for cards in the mail. Not online ones, not Facebook messages, just cards sent in the mail. Over the years, this evolved into Christmas and holiday cards, post cards and all sorts of other gifts and photos sent: even internationally, through the post. It’s a great way to keep in contact and a wonderful way to break up the dread of checking the mail. And rest assured, I keep each and every single gift and card I receive and I genuinely love sending out letters, postcards and presents.

It’s a Pokemon Go Kind of Day

My friends and I tend to be a little competitive. Okay, seriously competitive. And there’s a beautiful challenge and art to competing with friends. We’re all serious Pokemon fans but a few of us: Taylor, Ricky and Carlos are serious Pokemon players. When Pokemon Go debuted, we were all early adopters of the game. We chose our factions. Selected our buddies and now we regularly compete with each other and show off our catches and victories. And the newest update to the game makes the hunt for new Pokemon even more exciting. I did write up a post about here that goes into a little more how Pokemon Go became a huge social stepping point for us.

[EDITOR’S NOTE: Sierra would like you all to know that she also plays Pokemon Go and she is a higher level than me as of now.]

Pokemon in General

While we’re on the topic of Pokemon, we are mostly all fanatics so when a new game comes out: we are on it. But what’s even more amazing is how social the game is now. It’s like we’re all on the journey together. We judge the starter choices the others have made. We compare fashion. We train and battle. We share tips. We talk about how differently we play the game. Carlos is a serious perfectionist and wants to complex his Pokedex as quickly as possible. Ricky’s in it to be better than Carlos. I want to catch all the Pokemon that I want. We egg each other on, we strive to beat the league and we do our best to be better trainers and it was a great way to reconnect: especially after I moved from my home in North Texas to San Antonio.

There’s Always Convention

Some of us don’t get together very often. Some of us see each other every holiday. But dammit, there’s always convention. We often get together for con and we’ll either room together or we’ll just decide to meet up. Gendou has plenty of Texas members and convention is a great place to meet and get together. We talk, share amazing stories and make memories. You can read all about that here, here and here.

Super Smash Bros Smack Talk

I mentioned we’re competitive, right? We play a lot of fighting games. Smash Bros. is high on the list but there’s also Street Fighter, Naruto: Clash of Ninja and plenty of others. Online player modes let us fight against each other even if we’re not in the same room. We battle lag and each other sometimes and it proves for some pretty hilarious out of context quotes. 

I’ll Be Home for Festivus

Many of my friends plan to see me during the holidays or when I’m in town for convention. Sometimes my convention schedule is crazy but it’s often true that I will prioritize time with certain friends over even some family obligations. We do our best to see each other during the holidays and that’s usually more than enough time to bond before the next convention or road trip.

Wait, You’re Watching That, too?

Despite us being friends, not all of us have very similar interests. So when we end up watching something similar, it’s cause for an uproar. Whether it’s complaining about RuPaul’s Drag Race or discussing the fact that Harry Potter fans have been wronged by the ship that is Harry and Ginny: common interest binds. However, we may like the same show, we often have different opinions on the matter.

What’s most important is that we plan. We take time out to talk to each other. Carlos and I talk every week and message each other throughout the day. Ricky usually joins us on the weekends. We chat when we have time: during lunches, in between meetings, late at night or early in the morning. We talk while we travel for work, cook dinner and in between time with other friends and significant others. We make time because we care. We make time because we built a family for ourselves around common hobbies, interests and a longing to feel like we were part of something better. I’m in my 20s, so people have come and gone. People who I thought would always mean something to me I can barely remember and the people that I thought would be a passing phase are now central figures in my life. 

My friends mean the world to me; and at the risk of sounding like a shonen anime’s leading male: I want them to know how special they are to me. So thanks for keeping me grounded. Thanks for encouraging me. Thanks for staying up with me while I work on costumes. Editing panel videos. Thanks for holding costume pieces while I go to the bathroom. Thanks for letting me have the last of the pickled daikon. Thank you for cheering me up after a rough day or letting me cry over a fictional character’s dramatic death. Thank you for challenging me over issues both great and small: each one makes me a little stronger. Thank you for encouraging me to try new things but also reassuring me that things will be okay: they always will be. Thanks for all the memes and pictures of cute animals and most of all, thanks for being there.

To many more years of friendship.

 

Year in Review: 2016

“The world has turned into a proper dumpster fire.”-John Green.png

What else can be said about 2016? This will go down for many as one of the most disappointing and disheartening years in recent memory and history. This year was even a roller coaster for me, not all bad but not all good. So let’s go over 2016 the best way we can.

January: I found myself let go again from another advertising job. I knew the nature of the business was high turnover but I never expected to have to change jobs so frequently. But I did manage to go out to Goliad with a friend and discover some of the more “interesting” aspects of Texas history. As a black woman, I’m always at odds with Texas history. To think that these men who fought for their right to own other people are praised and defied here in the state, I dunno, it’s just a strange feeling for someone with such a high level of dual-consciousness. For some context to the Goliad situation, here’s the bigger post on the San Antonio Missions I wrote late last year here.

February: I continued my job search but was able to pick up some fantastic freelance work. And I did manage to find a random as hell site in the Hill Country. I was traveling to Fredsrickburg with Amber and this little site had caught our eye as we were planning our trip. Someone, for some reason, wanted to build a replica of Stonehenge and complete with Moai statues (which have nothing to do with the Celtic origins of Stonehenge). Well, more power to him. If I had that kind of disposable money, I can’t promise I’d always be prudent with it.

10269637_10153658776378884_7234494057313747303_n.jpg

March: I took a job in Austin that didn’t pan out but something wonderful did come out of it. My very handsome car, Kurogane. You can read about my transition from walking to driving here. I also ended up picking up a contract job that was stable for the time. 

April: My grandmother passed away after many years battling lupus and I came home to visit and be with my family. We coped. We moved on. We buried her in a way only we could. I miss her, of course, but I’m comforted by the fact that she is no longer suffering.

May: Mostly full of costume work in prep for A-Kon.

June: WOW. A-Kon was…a lot. So much. You can read all about A-Kon here. I had an amazing time with Ricky and Carlos and really, this one was a game-changer. Some of the highest highs and at least one of the lowest lows but we handled it all with grace, humor and lots of delicious food. I’ll never forget sitting in the car and crying with Carlos. We admitted that as friends, it’s difficult to be apart and when we’re together, we can pick up like no time had passed at all. I cried for the city I miss so much. For the memories I make every single convention. I cried for all of those reasons but I got back on my bus and returned to San Antonio, knowing that it would be far from the last time I venture up to North Texas to see my friends and put on a show that the fans go wild for. This one’s actually from the con. This picture here is from A-Kon. I got to challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel.

13407195_10153912221943884_6523344308865918226_n.jpg

In addition to A-Kon, I also was reminded of my mother’s passing via a callous Facebook notification that you can read about time, the nature of grief and how awful it is to be reminded via social media that your mother died here

July: I celebrated my birthday in Corpus Christi. I had asked to visit the beach, so Amber took me to the beach. This is one of the nice pictures of the ocean.What’s not pictured is my book on the poetry of Sappho and my immense desire to find shade despite requesting that we go to the beach. It’s like I always forget that seeing the ocean usually means temperatures that I do not much care for.  Oh, and realizing that apparently Domino’s Pizza WILL deliver to a beach: which seems like a terrible idea. I think it’s a terrible idea.13754675_10154012471208884_3577320894248237073_n.jpg

Also, on this trip I got to see one of the oldest trees in state (maybe even the nation). It was a beautiful tree that I’m sure has seen a lot, survived a lot and will continue to survive things long after I’m gone. It was a surreal existential moment, recognizing that this tree has seen more of human history than I ever will. 13729136_10154012471073884_9214261078277397338_n.jpg

It’s called the Big Tree. Really, no better name for this behemoth? Oh well. 

I also saw Welcome to Night Vale live as a gift to Amber and myself (post here) and Fitz and the Tantrums in concert a gift from Amber to me for my birthday (post here). Needless to say, July was very busy.

August-November: I was let go from a company that I thought would be a great fit. I put in hundreds of applications and the months all blurred together until I found work again. You can read more about that experience here. The only other good thing to come out of these months was the amazing panel review I received. At this time, I’d like to thank my friends and family that helped me through such a difficult time. No one likes being out of work and the support system I had around me was an integral part in me getting back on my feet. This was also around the time I returned to the church which you can find out more about here. I did land another gig in November and so far as of this post, it’s a great fit. 

This also featured an election that…I just rather not talk about.

December: So far despite all of the celebrity deaths, December has had a fun and emotional Christmas that you can read about here. And since December is still technically going on, let’s hope the celebrity deaths slow down just a little bit. 

Amazing how quickly a year flies by. Amazing how people come and go in your life. Amazing that friends who have been with you through highs and lows sometimes are better than family and amazing how wonderful routine and normalcy can be. This year was…for many, including myself in places, not great. It was a tough election year. A year filled with national and state tragedy. It was a year of hate crimes, senseless death and unmatched hatred and bigotry. But beneath all of that angst, there was a light. There was friendship. There was community. There was love and kindness and coming together. So I hope that for all of you who only see the darkness of this year, I hope that you all can see the light, no matter how dim. That light’s there and there’s always a light at the end of a tunnel. Because even dumpster fires eventually stop burning.

See you all in 2017.

-Amanda

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.

 

The Day If Becomes When

Corpse Door

“Dying is a very dull, dreary affair. And my advice to you is to have nothing whatever to do with it.”-W. Somerset Maugham

When I was 12 I lost my father under sudden circumstances and complications to chronic illness. But even at 12 I was no stranger to death. I had lost my grandfather at 9 and Death’s cruel shade would continue to haunt me well into my adulthood. It’s no surprise, really. It’s the one thing we all have in common. Mortality. But we as a group, collective or society don’t talk about it or deal with this fact well and today I’d like to talk about that a little bit more.

Don’t worry. Things will lighten up soon.

When I was 9, my grandfather passed away as mentioned above. He was a great man but he was sick. It was at 9 that I remember being one of the first times asking about my own mortality.  As children here in the West, our parents quickly changed the topic of conversation when such serious topics arose. The wording was always very careful.

If you die, you go to heaven. 

If, not when.

As if to say because I was a child, I was somehow immune to the nature of entropy. Now, I understand being discrete with children. I’m Southern. And it’s a painful topic to discuss with a child. And not an easy one especially considering that most adults don’t seem to have a solid grasp on mortality. It was also at 9 that my mother told me that I shouldn’t cry at my grandfather’s funeral. I was the oldest of the grandchildren and “had to set an example” for my younger cousins. I was as I said before, 9 years old.

It was this verbiage of if that dotted my childhood. Through natural  disasters, terrorism and disease. If.

When my father died at 12, I received a book on how to “cope” with loss. When Dinosaurs Die: A Guide to Understanding Death (Dino Life Guides for Families) [if you have read this book and had great feelings about it, please let me know. I’m almost tempted to give it another read now as a cynical adult to see if angry 12 year old Amanda just didn’t like being given a book to explain the grand mysteries of life and death or it was just a piss-poor book] and I maintain that it’s the most tone-deaf piece of literature ever. It did not help me cope with the loss of my father. It just made me angry. But it was the first time that I remember the tone of loss change. “When we die, this is where we’ll go.” my mother said, standing in front of the open plots. She had purchased two plots: one for me and one for her, shortly after my father’s death. At 12 the fabled if of loss became a when. Life became a ticking clock.

It happens to everyone. It’s just a matter of when. 

The reason to bring this up? Recently I joined The Order of the Good Death. A collection of those that say they are Death Positive. Mortality isn’t a curse, it’s a fact. We’re all headed to a grand greater something. What that something is…yet to be unknown. But we’ll all be there.

Another point to bring this up, many of my favorite web celebrities (John and Hank Green are honorable mentions) have been very concerned about mentioning mortality in popular culture. Hank Green recently posted a song to his very popular Youtube channel titled: We’re All Gonna Die. And it’s a brilliant, if not subtly cheeky way, to deal with the fact that our time is finite. I’ve always admired the Green brothers and their candid discussions on their anxiety with the matter; John especially.  The Ask a Mortician channel on Youtube is incredibly informative and witty while still being human and it quickly has become one of my favorite new sources for videos.

But as a culture, we’re still uncomfortable talking about death. Some outlets have taken a stand against this and has started to take a stand on realizing that life isn’t something that just goes on forever. We’re mortal. Our lives are very finite and it’s about time we start realizing it. When YOLO first became popular it was a catchall phrase to rationalize somewhat reckless acts because we do in fact “only live once”. Being finite doesn’t mean that our lives are meaningless, it means if anything, it means more. We have so many days, minutes, seconds, weeks and so on. Let’s all do something with the time we have. We’re not Wonder Woman, Superman or a sitcom character: and even some superheroes die; they just come back later on. Our universe is even finite: it will eventually end. All of it.

However, being Southern it’s still a taboo topic. We still struggle with the memory, memorial and sanctity of our dead. We value and rush through life with vigor and we mourn the dead as if death never comes. But Death…the handsome gentleman caller that he is, has very little concerns for our Southern ignorance; he just waits.

Enjoy your existence, whether you believe in the cold nihilism of the mostly unforgiving universe or the warm tender embrace of an afterlife as something greater.

 

 

Coming Out of the Style Closet

“Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn.”- Gore Vidal

I am a young advertising and marketing professional.

I am an otaku.

I am a cosplayer.

I’m a traveler and filled with wanderlust.

I am a Southern belle and African-American woman.

I support multiple fandoms both Eastern and Western.

I am a theater brat.

I am a choir sister.

I am an orchestra member.

I am a writer.

I’m a lot of things. And the best way I express myself is through clothing. That’s true for almost all people. I have a lot of patterns and colors that I like. My personal style seems to be constantly at odds with who I am. Clothing is one of the most basic means of personal expression that we have but it’s also an amazing way to not commit to a particular style. As a cosplayer I am constantly becoming and changing who and what I am.

My personal style journey has been a complicated one. I spent most of my childhood as a hair show and mini-pageant baby. It was also the 90s so there were plenty of bad fashion choices made by my parents. As I grew up and became the sporty more tomboy-ish Amanda many of my friends and family know came to know I wore more denim and overalls. Lots of color. But one thing was always the same: my hair remained long. My father was very against me cutting my hair. So, my hair stayed long and perfectly manicured.

After my father died I faced an interesting act of rebellion: I cut my hair. At 13 or so I found my hair shorter and shorter and with that my choices in clothing changed again. I was a punk. Green Day, Blink 182, Simple Plan. I loved it all. Also by 12 and 13 I had found myself an incredibly dedicated anime fan, though at the time merchandise from these shows weren’t available. You kids these days, you have it easy with your J-List and Hot Topic carrying your fandom stuff. I date myself. I was also a Catholic school student so I didn’t spend a lot of time in “free dress”. I also had incredibly conservative and non-supportive aunts that did not like my punk rock music and cynical attitude and comic books that read in the wrong direction. So my clothing stayed conventional.

And then high school. Oh high school. High school was fantastic because with conservative aunties, my dress seemed to not reflect the otaku I was on the inside though it always managed to show out somehow on the outside. I hung out with the goths but was a bright pink spot in a sea of leather and black. I worked at Hot Topic but wore mostly purple and white. Then I’d spout out Maximum the Hormone lyrics and my “goth cred” was verified. But high school always felt like I was the most me. My style was a combination of preppy with argyles to nautical with blue and white stripes to general otaku wear: thank you, Hot Topic for carrying fan merchandise. But high school always felt like I was the most me. I found cosplay and cosplayers. I could be anyone. Anything. All the things. I could wear plaid and still be the otaku Amanda everyone knew and loved. College was a lot of the same. I was anime club president but also in honors societies. I was constantly in between looking like a high school age teen and a professional trying to get a job.

A few years ago I managed to get my first “real job” complete with going to an office and having to dress like a “professional”. I had learned about professional dress from the debate team which mostly involved Hillary Clinton-esque pant suits and pencil skirts with fitted blazers but working in advertising and especially as a writer, my work environment has never been incredibly strict with what I wore as long as it was more than presentable and I always have been. I could still be that somewhat preppy girl but with little accents of the weekend me via Hello Kitty rings, cake earrings, bracelets from my favorite bands and the occasional party that involved dressing up: Thank you, Halloween.

So why did I take you all on this journey through my history and closet?

Recently I picked up my first pair of Converse in years. Converse: the shoe that defined an entire generation of punks, emo kids and goths. I was one of those kids. My Chuck Taylors mattered more to me than some of my high school boyfriends. My Chucks, signed by my theater friends, anime clubbers and kept for years. Paint-spattered, messed up, faded: they were perfect. They were also murder on my incredibly flat feet so I stopped wearing them. Their expense also made them a less than attractive addition to my closet. But when I returned home for Thanksgiving, a Black Friday sale got me to buy not one but two new pairs of Converse.

I broke both in (a mint pair and a black and white pair, both low tops) and have been wearing them pretty regularly. It wasn’t until I walked into work with black skinny jeans, a black v-neck, my black and white converse and a black cardigan that I realized something: I felt like I finally looked good in something. I felt the most like…well, me. And that’s saying a lot. For someone like me who’s look never really matched all that was going on inside to feel comfortable in something was fantastic. A friend had made a snide remark about what that means about me and my character that I felt most like me in all black but it was easy to shake it off. I felt good. That’s what matters. To feel like me beyond the body image issues, dark spots (learn more about that here) and all; I felt like Amanda. The purest form of Amanda. Simple. Timeless but a medium for personal expression. It’s not the clothes. It’s the person. The clothes are an accessory to my personality.

It’s always weird for a young woman to deal with style. Society expects one thing from you. Family another. How are we supposed to be able to express ourselves and be true to ourselves and still maintain all that is socially and physically acceptable? As of now, I feel great with my new shoes and better outlook. Getting back into cosplay has been another great way to express myself and I still flash little peeps of who I am on the inside. You don’t have to abandon who you are and more times than not, the clothes we wear don’t mean much about who we are. You can be a pop princess in all black or a scene kid in argyle.

Stay true, readerships! And tell me in the comments what your personal style is!

Mending the Heart With Cosplay

10543700_10152395420298884_1662551736_n 10464171_10152389242383884_2202871677284422615_n 10494603_10152389243153884_2317901507758640408_n

“Idle hands are the Devil’s Playthings.”

Not too long ago, I found myself suddenly out of a long-term relationship. I’m not here to talk details or perform the customary ritual of discrediting my ex and for the record we’re doing much better now.

Break ups are a strange thing in your 20s. Stuck between an adult and an adolescent, break ups are like an emotional reset. You’re not sure whether to be a productive adult or sob like the man/woman child you are.

I chose a happy combination of both, fine for the most part but there were times that a song would come on or I’d catch a phrase in a book and find myself in a melodramatic haze of tears and ice cream. My apartment became a prison, a constant reminder that the significant other I valued so much wasn’t there anymore. There was no one to return home to. There was no one waiting for me. No one but my sofa.

I needed something to do.

Many of you may or may not know, I’m a cosplayer. I love anime  and other fandoms and it’s been a passion of mine for years. This post also isn’t here to discuss my glorious days as a cosplayer. Maybe another time…

A few months ago a close friend of mine decided that we were going to AnimeFest again. We’ve been to this convention before together and we went last year, we love it. So we started making plans. I had nearly everything ready and I was deciding on outfits when I finally settled down on a new thought:

This year, I’m going to cosplay.

I agonized for a long time over what to pick as my outfits for the weekend. What was suitable for a professional young lady who happens to be a cosplayer?

I settled on a Fem! Doctor Who and a Drifloon-inspired dress.

Now, for a treasured moment: context!

Dr. Who and I have had a long and complicated relationship. I love the series, but at times can be a little put off by Whovians that are a less than accepting, not saying they’re all like that, they just generally tend to speak the loudest . But I decided what do I have to lose and went on with a costume inspired by the 11th Doctor.

Drifloon is my spirit Pokemon. It’s an adorable balloon that tries it’s very best to take children away but because of its light weight, they’re often taken by the children or floating off at the mercy of the wind. Needless to say, they’re pretty damn fantastic and they’re one of my favorite Pokemon.

Once I settled on my outfits, I got to work immediately, gathering materials and sketching and deciding on methods of execution. And of course, like many cosplayers I found that I was adding more and more to the costumes the more time I spent with them.

And suddenly there was a lift in my heart; I didn’t feel as heavy anymore.
It gave me something to do. I had something to look forward to. I had something waiting for me when I came home to my tiny apartment. I was excited to come home and attach the next piece, I was looking forward to cutting and attaching, sewing and painting. The void in my heart and life were filled.

I found meaning in felt, warmth in craft glue and comfort my designs.

Each strip I cut, the fine layer of felt that I’m sure lines my lungs, the coating of craft glue that I’m sure now lines my kitchen counter. It all brought me back to being the me I always am.

Break ups are hard, but cosplay renewed my spirit on this occasion. I was able to mend the hole in my heart with craft glue and pre-threaded needles.

I’m excited to debut these outfits at AnimeFest this year and if any of you, fair readership will be there, I’d love to hang out! Feel free to give me a shout out on Twitter: @RawrAmandaRawr or look for the fez and TARDIS purse.