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. 

Thoughts from UshiCon, Austin and a local Sake Brewery

I am back from another convention. I was accepted as a panelist for UshiCon and so I went. If you’re close to me personally, you know this convention was… a lot. Disorganization and poor communication made it hard to plan for, hard to get excited for and hard to do but I’ve never turned my back on a convention and I don’t plan on doing so now. I spent weeks frantic over which of my already finished costumes to wear and weeks frantic over the state of my panels and me as a panelist. I want to talk about this con as I have talked about others since this one doesn’t lend towards a flowing narrative, let’s bring back the old format: you’re welcome. 

  • Austin has too many toll roads. If this is supposed to help boost the economy then I want to see it boost the economy. I get tolls pay for roads but good lord I do not look forward to my bill that will be sent to me sometime within the next couple of months. 
  • Austin is a beautiful city that is simultaneously very close and very far away full of things I quite like a bit. 
  • The hotel my friend and I were staying at this go around as beautiful and I’m so glad I found a good one. I was fretting over the condition of the hotel only to redeem myself from the previous year where we stayed in Kamoshida’s Castle with a staircase that went to nowhere. 

Now for some context. UshiCon is a con I’ve tried to get into for years. It was just never at a good time so I could never make it. It’s an 18+ con and I’ve been trying to visit since college. I put in a panel application late last year and was shocked to find out that I was. The convention itself is older, in its 15th iteration of the eponymous convention. I was lured in by the hopes of an older audience as recently I have been disillusioned and deep in the ennui of being an anime fan, panelist and human person. I assumed that maybe being around a group of older peers would help.

Back to the bullet points: 

  • Whole Foods is a magical land full of delicious and over-priced food. I regret nothing.
  • The Domain is a mall that I could live in but also reminds me of all of the best and worst parts of gentrification and generational wealth. 
  • It was nice to get some hallway photos for once. 
    • For context: hallways are when photographers ask to take photos of you in the con hallway. It typically means you look good and are worth photographing.
  • Having costumes and panels done is wonderful and it means moving forward, I want to work on having that material done way before the convention.
  • Getting ready in a hotel bathroom is indeed an art form; and one I am getting shockingly good at including applying makeup, wigs

One of the detours I took on this trip was to a local sake distillery: Texas Sake and FOR THE LOVE OF KAMI-SAMA their stuff is delicious. Honestly, some of the best sake I’ve ever had in my life and you should support them if you’re anywhere near Austin. Austin did feature some delicious food including Cafe Eden which had some of the best chicken katsu I’ve ever had and Little Lucy’s donuts which is a pink food truck that serves mini donuts and I could just live there; let’s be honest. Also I found a cute little succulent shop that nearly resulted in Toi gaining a sibling…which may happen this year regardless.

This convention didn’t bring a lot to me as far as big bombastic moments like larger cons but I do want to get a little personal here. This convention opened my eyes and well…let’s ditch the bullet points. 

I have been struggling as a panelist for the last year or two. I’ve been chasing the high of packed houses from 2015 and 2016. I’ve been chasing this high that I can still dazzle audiences and still be good. But my numbers have not been the best in the last few years, hell; I’ve had flat out bad conventions in the last few years and in tying so much of myself and my self-worth to paneling; I hated myself. I was not my best and I was bitterly disappointed and cruel to myself. I had told myself over and over again that I liked small crowds and that surely it was my fault that audience participation had dwindled and my numbers weren’t the same. It was my fault, my failure, and my inadequacies. 

UshiCon told me that I was partially right. I do like paneling. I do like small and engaged crowds. I am good at this and all of those things were so needed for me, my career and my ego. 

I have spent the last few years beating my head against a wall obsessing over what I was doing wrong even though the answers were right in front of me. I was ignoring changes in my audience, changes in trends and changing in how conventions are to begin with. I have spent the last few years chasing a dragon that flew off years ago; hoping lightning would strike twice and shunning any other success I had. 

During UshiCon I had a guy say that I changed his view on media criticism. I met a fan who said they loved my energy. I had questions that spilled out into the hallway and I couldn’t see any of that as success because I didn’t have a packed house. 

And it took some serious self-reflection and some serious emotional time to realize that I was not helping myself. I was giving myself too much time and resenting a lack of questions during my panels rather than the simple answer of just asking for less damn time. I was upset at low numbers as I forgot that for most conventions: fan panelist attendance is down if you aren’t like Youtube famous. 

I spent years mad at myself for nothing; well, for things that are rather easy to fix. 

It also reminded me that I am so blessed to have Carlos as a co-panelist. I traveled with another friend of mine who I am indeed close to but certainly communicates in a way that was less helpful to me: which to be fair, I’m awful at communicating my needs. At this stage, Carlos is damn near psychic and knows my needs and knows how to talk me up, talk me down and keep me grounded and even; and I only realize how much I appreciate him and need him during those moments of intense stress and emotional exhaustion when he isn’t there.  

UshiCon was a good time. I can’t say it was a great time, but it was a good time. It’s given me a new focus and a new drive to be better that I have needed now for a few years. I look forward to more conventions this year; maybe even one for fun; I haven’t taken a con off in years so maybe I’ll just visit one to visit. I look forward to retooling my formula and being the best version of me. I’m not the same person I was in 2015. The world is not the same world as it was in 2015. I’m not a bad person for not being able to pack a house consistently; most performers can’t.

So thank you to all of those who came to see me during Ushicon. Thank you to Ushicon for having me. Thank you to my friends who keep me humble and thanks to my anxiety that never lets me think too many positive things about myself. 

See you all next con.