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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.


Thoughts from Fredericksburg

I have long been convinced that my artistic ideal stands or falls with Germany. Only the Germany that we love and desire can help us achieve that ideal.- Richard Wagner.png

It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of German culture. I spent 6 weeks overseas in Austria and some of my most beloved and most important trips in Europe were of the German persuasion. Seeing King Ludwig II’s castles, seeing and being accosted by German swans. Learning a nearly impossible language. Texas’ history as a diverse state has made it rather easy to find handsome little pockets of Deutschland all across this great state so here are some of my thoughts after a day trip to Fredericksburg with my historian friend, Amber.

  • So the hill country is gorgeous but I hate that I don’t get cell service out there.
  • Giant crosses are a great landmark.
  • Indian Motorcycles apparently still live outside of the city limits.
  • The drive to Fredericksburg is perfect. Just within a few hours of the city limits so it feels like a trip while being close enough to do a day trip with no concern.
  • Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had have been in cars.
  • Amber only keeps me around because I speak German.
  • Postcards are amazing!
    • Seriously, I love sending out postcards so I may start a mailing list or something.
  • German culture is spectacular and the German history of Texas could be its own blog post.
    • I didn’t think out of all the places in Europe I saw, that I’d miss Austria and Germany the most.
  • Parking in downtown Fredericksburg is like surviving The Hunger Games. At times, sacrifices must be made and at times, you must park nearly a mile away from your destination.
  • Walking on a nice day though, is pretty special.
  • I feel remarkably guilty playing Pokemon Go in front of other people. Like I’m not giving them enough attention.
    • I’m sorry. I just needed my streak bonus…I didn’t ignore Amber. I promise.
  • There’s something to be said about knowing your history so it’s always a little weird as a black person to visit destinations that glorify the men that wanted to keep my ancestors in chains.
  • Also, restored and recreated houses are great but when they feature terrifying narration that is triggered by movement: it’s terrifying.
    • Some of these houses also have mannequins, so you just walk in and see a shape of a person and freak the hell out. Or at least, I did. Twice.
  • Fluffy chickens are the best chickens.
  • German food makes me so happy. Any place I can get potato pancakes, mustard and applesauce are places I rather just stay forever.
  • There’s nothing like speaking German to someone who doesn’t expect me to know German.
    • It sort of makes me feel like Broomhilda from Django Unchained. A confusing but pleasant oddity that is a black woman who speaks a little German.
  • The Hill Country has a lot of wineries.
    • A lot.
  • Comfort bites are apparently Frankenstein’s monster-esque foods that are probably going to kill you and you don’t mind that so much.
  • Fun fact: you can walk along downtown Fredericksburg with a glass of wine or beer in hand.
  • There’s a lot of places that offer to sell you wine in Fredericksburg. The main street is full of wine tasting rooms and breweries.
    • Lots.
      • Amber and I went on 2 wine tours in the hill country and keeping the glasses so far is the best part of it.
  • The history of wine in Texas could also be its own blog post.
  • Bathroom cats are apparently a thing outside of Welcome to Night Vale.
  • My taste in wine is changing. I can now stomach red wine without getting a headache and a serious case of ennui.
  • Apparently there’s a wine bus tour that lets you tour all of the wineries and not have to worry about driving afterwards.
    • You know, if you’re looking for a gift for me or something.
  • I also love and hate words used to describe wine.
    • Amber and I had a glass of Orange Muscat at a winery and I said the finish was “medicinal” and Amber agreed. But think of how asinine it is to say something has a medicinal finish.

I could go on forever about the how much I love German culture and German food but I’ll end on one note. Germans have a proud culture and the history of that tragically has some not so rosy parts of it. It’s difficult at times to express a love of other cultures when their history is so tarnished. I love Japanese culture but with that means accepting when Japan and my homeland were at war. I love German culture but loving Bayern means knowing that their history is marked with immense darkness. But what I love about Fredericksburg, what I love about Texas and what I love about culture is that just for a moment; a brief fleeting moment filled with excess, wine, beer and potatoes: it’s just good to be German.  

Cynic, Critic, Fan

-I much prefer the sharpest criticism of a single intelligent man to the thoughtless approval of the masses.- Johannes Kepler.png

I have been called “critical” more than once and that statement always strikes me as a bit strange. Criticism to me has never been a negative thing on its own. Everything has its problems, even great things are imperfect and yet issues do not always negate enjoyment. There are plenty of movies that I admit are terrible but I like a lot. But as someone who writes, reads and enjoys many things; I am very aware of issues like cliches, plot holes and I’m remarkably sensitive to poor representation, historical anachronisms and inaccuracies.

I’m very much from the camp of “nothing is original”. I’m not easily swayed by claims of “this series was the first to do”-isms. Everything has a root in something, almost everything is a rip off of something and there’s a beautiful fine line between homage and plagiarism.

Let’s take a property I like a lot as an example. Axis Powers: Hetalia is a series I like quite a bit about personified anthropomorphic countries and all of their adventures and misadventures through history and major social movements. Hetalia is not the first series a humanize and personify nations. Scandinavia and the World came way before Hetalia and even before the two of them was Afghanistan (a delightfully dark little web comic about the titular character and her friends in the Middle East). But Hetalia did something that the others didn’t, it gave the characters/countries more personality and greater quirks. France wasn’t just France, he’s Francis Bonnefoy. He’s a Cancer and he has a weird talking bird named Pierre. Prussia isn’t just Prussia, his name is Gilbert and he has a brother, Ludwig: who is Germany, and also has a weird talking bird named Gilbird (I wish I was kidding). So I can’t say Hetalia was the most original of ideas but it took the concept and suspended my disbelief far enough to give it credit for being a newer take on an old idea.

Besides, most movies are based on the same like 5 Shakespeare plays. And being someone who reads and writes a lot, I am now a pretty tough sell. I’ve wondered many times if I should take a break from from reading and writing so that I can just “enjoy” some things. But it’s difficult to enjoy a series when cliches fly around and everyone still thinks the series is the most original, splendid and glorious.

In the last post, we talked about discourse and I love that about my friends and fellow fans. We have several amazing conversations about varying theories, headcanons and facts. We also have radically different opinions at times over things and our criticisms and critiques of different properties help us have rich and insightful conversations about, well everything. Friends and I have discussed socioeconomic conditions in The Great Gatsby, light and dark imagery in Naruto and plenty of talks about comic book movies (so many comic book movies). But these conversations do more than just show what we liked and didn’t like about a series, it shows our level of passion for the work. The more heavily criticized a property, the more beloved.

One of the first instances of this probably came from my issues with movies like The Dark Knight and X-Men: First Class. I was violently against these movies and their flagrant disregard of canon and my open criticism of the movies was because I was passionate about Batman and X-Men. If you ever hear or see me get up in arms about something, it’s because I care.

At the same time, being able to cite a criticism doesn’t mean that I don’t like something. As mentioned with Hetalia, the series has plenty of problems but that doesn’t stop me from having fun with it. C’mon, guys. I’m a comic book fan. I have to deal with a lot of unnecessary things and cliches.

Here’s a good place to talk about the difference between criticism, trolling and nit-picking. Channels like CinemaSins have made an entire market essentially destroying films. Their motto of “no movie is without sin” takes the idea of criticism to a new level. Often times, their comments are made without any consideration to the canon of the series or to the storylines themselves and by merely pointing out that the mirror isn’t tilted just so in a scene does not improve the work or the movie, it just ruins the shot for everyone and makes me very very angry when I can’t enjoy movies because now all I see are their tiny flaws. Criticism should be made with valid information and with love. Using words as a weapon has never gotten anyone very far and I wish people wouldn’t do that.Criticism is meant to be constructive, not destructive and if it ever is, it’s no longer criticism: it’s bullying.

But back to unilateral support. I never did understand this (here’s a helpful video to explain why to the critical mind, unanimity sounds a little fishy). Even in the most critically-acclaimed of series, there has to be someone who disagrees and I would certainly hope that anyone who disagrees even with overwhelming support would be accepted and welcomed with open arms. Disagreeing with a popular opinion, a villain does not make. Unilateral support is actually something I noticed more in my stint marathoning reality TV shows. Many of the subplots of the shows involved a person making an unpopular choice and saying that anyone that opposed them wasn’t a friend. I bring this up because this seems to be a problem with more than just comics: discourse and criticism seems to be something all around that has been a prickly topic as criticism has become nothing more than a reason to reinforce echo chambers and drown out any dissenters.

If you aren’t with me, you’re my enemy

I’m always a little suspicious of fandoms where everyone agrees. Just in one fandom, everyone should have different opinions, even if everyone likes it. Everyone should view things differently. Everyone should have their own ideas. I suppose I blame the echo chambers I mentioned last post. But why did we get to a place of criticism being a personal attack? Well, think about fandoms. We built these communities. We found friends. We all like this one precious thing and any outside voice that corrupts it, makes it less good, hurts us personally. Go back to my earlier statement: I was critical of these movies because I loved these properties. Because I was passionate, because I cared, because I liked them I didn’t enjoy seeing them treated in such a way. And experiences with people who take criticism lightly and use their words to just destroy instead of correct has left fans especially weary of negative comments. For so long, being a nerd has not been a positive attribute and when we found the internet, we found acceptance: an acceptance that so many longed for.

But that isn’t the root of fandom; echo chambers have never been the root of what we love. Fandoms start with conversations, with loving arguments, with differences in opinion. It starts with changing IM profiles to your Lantern Corps color and to talking at odd hours about who plays the better Batman. Fandoms start with discussing subtitles or dubbing. Talking voice actors. Trying to figure out what was censorship and what was just poor translation. Our community was founded by dissenters, unpopular opinions and obscure knowledge. Our community is made strong by comments, discussion and diversity. Never forget that.

That was a lot, huh?

With all of this being said, I’d like to wrap things up with this. Nothing escapes criticism. Criticism does not negate passion and finding concerns and voicing them does not make you literally the worst person in the world. Be kind to each other and other’s opinions.

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.


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.


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.