Mom’s Old Photos

I never thought my Mother was pretty when I was growing up. She was a big woman who needed oxygen to survive and I was resentful of her weight, her mostly sour attitude as she battled the demons of mental illness and of her oxygen tanks that brought her all the unnecessary attention that later drove her to agoraphobia.

I never thought my Mother was attractive and I spent most of my childhood wanting nothing more than to distance myself from her. I relished in being compared to my Father while shuddered at being compared to her. My earliest memories of her were comparing her to Ursula from The Little Mermaid as the two in my mind had a similar haircut, built and attitude.

But my Father was not the only one who took a lot of photographs. By nature of who my Mother was, she was photographed. And it took nearly a decade of her being committed to her eternal rest for me to realize something: my Mother was beautiful, but that doesn’t mean she was perfect.

Mother was, from what my family has told me, always someone who cared deeply about her appearance. She was the first of five children and being the oldest had its perks and responsibilities. I never got to hear many stories of the woman she was before she married my Father but from what I knew, she wanted not for men or for male attention.  Most of the photos I have of my Mother from the time that existed before my Father and well before I was even a concept were her with one of the many male callers that dotted her life experience.

I never understood what my Father saw in my Mother in all those strange Electra complex ways a young girl does when she thinks about her parents.  

My Mother wore a ton of makeup. Personally, as a child, I resented such a thing. She was always so heavily painted that it angered me. It was like mask she wore to hide something, she was invincible because of eyeshadow or she was omnipotent because of blush. I always wondered what she was hiding or why she felt the need to wear so much makeup. The photos I have of her only seem to remind me that she had always been that way.

When I was in middle school and was getting ready for Halloween that year dressed as Maid Marion she gave me such aggressive blue eyeshadow that went from the bottom of my small lash line to the top of my eyebrow and that couldn’t have been appropriate for a ten year old. And it wasn’t I remember being scolded some at the school function I was attending for such heavy makeup on a child.

But almost all of my Mother’s photos had such heavy eyeshadow. And it was either an electric blue color or it was done to echo whatever color she was wearing. I used to think such a display was garish. Why call so much attention to yourself? Men should want to give you attention without makeup. It didn’t enhance the woman; it was a mask, a sham, a lie, a deceit.

I seldom wore makeup when I was younger. I carried much of that resentment through my life. My Mother was no saint, especially after my Father died and the way she fell reliant to male attention after her husband’s death made me resent my own femininity. She spent so much time on her hair and makeup while she dated men to fill the void that her husband’s sudden death left behind. I didn’t recognize that I carried that much hatred for makeup that was mostly rooted in a projection of angst over my Mother’s shallowness.

My Mother was dedicated to making sure she always left the house looking her best. Even when she didn’t feel good, she still did her best to look good. When planning for her funeral, my aunts and I made sure to bury her in a dress that she would feel proud of being seen in. My Mother was vain in all the ways most Southern women were. Her vanity oftentimes meant we were late for church or for appointments and I’ve always been a stickler for punctuality. It was irksome to have to wait for her to look just right when I never saw her as looking better for doing so.  

But that dedication to her looks was none of my business. It was no one’s business but my Mother’s. Her doing so didn’t hurt anyone and honestly, doing so her made happy.

It took me many years to be mature enough to say that.

I started wearing makeup a few years ago and more importantly, I started wearing eye makeup last year. And recently, I’ve been going quite heavy on the eye makeup. Beauty trends tend to go in a cycle and heavier eye makeup is back in style just like the casual racism of the 1950s is still en vogue. And each time I find myself placing not one but at times two or three colors of eyeshadow onto my eyes or the delight I get now by collecting pallets of eyeshadow like a painter hoards paint; I’m reminded of the complicated woman whose strewn makeup cluttered many a childhood homes’ bathroom. I’m reminded of the woman who so dedicated to her personal level of beauty that she was willing to run late for work lest she be seen without blush. I am reminded of my Mother every time I open up a palette of eyeshadow and am delighted about what I can do with all the colors.

My Mother was not perfect. Our relationship was not perfect. My Mother was a complicated woman to love and to be accepted by. But there’s a reason that we managed to get closer after I had finished high school and was mature enough to realize that holding a grudge wouldn’t solve any issues. Time does not heal all wounds but it certainly does increase one’s propensity to simply not waste new tears on old griefs.

And when I finish doing my makeup now for a convention, a costume, a date, a special occasion or even just because I feel like doing so, I find myself wondering if my Mother would think I was doing a good job. I find myself wondering if my Mother would think I was beautiful. I find myself wondering if my Mother would still be so committed to her personal style if she was still here.

My Mother was no saint. But seeing her through the eyes of her sisters, cousins and friends who describe her so vividly, lovingly and with such a genuine heartfelt grief that she is no longer here with us helped me finally realize that she was in her own complicated way beautiful.

I’m finally glad to have my Mother’s old photographs.

Thoughts from George Washington’s Front Yard: A Trip to Mount Vernon

I wasn’t expecting to go to Virginia. One of my aunts reached out to me to offer me a chance to go to a cousin’s wedding over in Colonial Country and I said sure. I hadn’t been out of the state in a few years and I’ve been itching to travel. While this was going to be a longer post about the entire trip and the wedding with plenty of personal details and stories: those are personal so I’ll keep it to the one historical trip I got to take during my short time in Virginia: Mount Vernon.

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For those of you who don’t know, Mount Vernon is the house that Washington inherited from his father and later added onto as he made it the sprawling home that he shared with his family and entertained guests at. It’s a beautiful piece of architecture and an important part of American history so I was happy to take a small trip there with my aunt.

Here are some of the things I learned from Washington’s porch.

    • As a Texan, New England is hilariously small to me. The fact that Virginia is such a small state means that there are plenty of things in very close proximity to each other so while I got to see one historical place I’m sure on my next trip (and trust me, I’m already planning the next trip) I’m sure with a little more planning, it wouldn’t be hard to have a full historical tour of the founding of my homeland.
    • Mount Vernon is huge. I was not expecting it to be as big as it was and based purely on the sweat that covered my poor pudgy frame, I was not prepared to walk this sprawling estate.
    • Our tour guide, Becky, was genuinely amazing and I loved her insights.
  • Mount Vernon is full of wonderfully detailed rooms and decor that gives me serious envy of how colonial folks were as extra as we are now including:
      • A fan chair which is literally a chair with a fan over top that you power with a foot pedal system.
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      • A marble mantle that according to legend a British friend of Washington said he just had to have and then replaced the damn thing from his own British home and gave it to Washington.
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        • I need friends like that.
      • A view of the Potomac that looks across to Maryland.
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        • Again, very strange as a Texan that just right across over yonder water is another state. We only have that with Oklahoma and no one is proud of that.
    • And a stunning piece of historical context in the form of an iron key.
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      • Story time, kids. So Washington was friends with the Marquis Lafayette. The French Revolution had mostly ended the chill part but the Marquis was called back to France on a July day after word of the Bastille prison was facing a prison break of epic proportions. The Marquis reported from the wreckage of the Bastille and upon his return to the United States gave his friend and fellow revolutionary spirit one of the iron keys of the Bastille in hopes to inspire his friend to greatness. The storming of the Bastille kicked off the much bloodier part of the revolution but we’re gonna ignore that for now. And I am proud to own a chachki copy of that key because I am a francophile, don’t judge me.
    • Martha Washington’s gardens were beautiful and it’s nice to see that many of them are still full of herbs, veggies and fruits.
    • Becky was very proud of me for knowing that sugar was the more valuable precious white substance over salt.
    • I struggle with the legacy of one of America’s founders being sold as bobbleheads and more.
      • In my mind, I can imagine Washington being a bit of an introvert and would not like all of us on his lawn and buying his stuff in the form of cheap desk fodder.
    • Becky also understood my hatred of Thomas Jefferson.
      • Jefferson was a racist and he believed slavery was good for black people. On top of that, his love of the French Revolution was dangerous and reckless and led us into a bloodier war with England.
    • I love that Mount Vernon acknowledges that slavery was real and that it was bad.
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        • There’s a very moving monument to the slaves that lived and died on Mount Vernon that was designed by Howard University students and dedicated by local pastors.
      • Honestly, the legacy of slavery is difficult to grapple with and Becky was sweet and empathetic and didn’t try to explain slavery as a white woman to me and my aunt (two black women).
  • I wasn’t expecting to see my aunt cry while touring the slave quarters.
    • It was a powerful moment that I did my best to endure but I suppose because I have the privilege of traveling more and being more away of my history, I’ve moved on past tears and moved onto quiet anger.
  • I was denied the ability to purchase wine from Mount Vernon as we had to return to our hotel for a family obligation, someone avenge me and send me Washington’s wine.

Mount Vernon was lovely and beautiful and the history of this place could easily fill many blog posts and pages. I’m fortunate that I was able to travel and I look forward to doing so again.

Some News!

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Hello, all.

How’s your day going? I hope it’s been well! You may have noticed some changes around the site! I am now more social than ever.

After much protesting, I finally made a proper Youtube channel that’s full of panel videos and even a cosplay tutorial!

I also made a Tumblr account for generalized short musings.

And on top of all of that, I have an Instagram now for the ever so elusive photo of the real Amanda.

Thank you all for stopping by and to those who have stayed with me for so long.

Please check out all the places you can find me and as always, stay fantastic!

-A

 

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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