24 September, 2013

Horror Realm Con 2013

I had a really nice time at Horror Realm Con two years ago, and it made a good impression on me. It was my first horror convention (which is pretty exciting, being a horror fan), and the people were really laidback and friendly. As I recall, some of the highlights of my previous attendance were getting Kyra Schon's autograph (the girl whose face is on the iconic poster for Night of the Living Dead), seeing a group of half-naked girls breathe fire, and the live bands that performed out on the hotel patio. Since then, I've wanted to come back, but it took two years to make the arrangements.

Zombies! of the Corn

This year, I had two friends come and tag along with me, which is always nice. There was no fire-breathing, and no live bands (there was an indoor musician, but I missed him because I was getting ready for the costume contest), but Kyra Schon was once again in attendance, along with several other exciting guests. Unfortunately, my money is pretty tight this year, so I didn't get any autographs, nor any merchandise from the dealer's room.

They have all sorts of great horror, b, and softcore porno movies on offer (including such blasphemous titles as Jesus Christ, Serial Rapist), from the mainstream to the obscure. Also, lots of cool t-shirts (I would have liked to have gotten a Buffy the Vampire Slayer t-shirt, since I'm in the process of finally watching that series, and there were some Alien shirts that seriously tempted me), and various fan-made horror crafts, including one booth featuring a very talented artist's full-color drawings of deeply unsettling scenes and themes (many with a sinister, twisted fairy tale kind of a feeling to them).

As for those guests, they included Heather Langenkamp and Amanda Wyss who played Nancy (the lead/"final girl") and her friend Tina (the girl whose nightmarish death involved being dragged across the ceiling), respectively, in the original A Nightmare On Elm Street movie; Nicholas Brendon who played Xander Harris, Buffy's male friend on Buffy The Vampire Slayer (an entirely appropriate guest for me to see, given my current absorption into the Buffy TV series); and Camille Keaton, who played the lead role (and avenging woman) in the classic sexploitation/rape revenge flick I Spit On Your Grave.

All of those guests I just mentioned had panels that I attended. Heather and Amanda teamed up with horror documentarian Thommy Hutson for an interesting panel focusing on the legacy of the A Nightmare On Elm Street series (with unrelated tidbits like the fact that Amanda likes to watch The Walking Dead, but fast forwards through the scary parts, and that Heather is concerned about the human cost of consumer culture, in which people are more likely to spend time consuming other people's creative endeavors than exercising their own potential talents).

But Nicholas Brendon's panel was even more entertaining, as he, it turns out, is a natural comedian. As someone who is pretty awkward in social situations, it fascinates me the difference between people's personalities and social abilities, that some people can make a person feel so comfortable with seemingly so little effort. Nicky was loved by the crowd, whom he seemed to genuinely enjoy interacting with, and it was one of the highlights of my con-going experience. I already liked Xander's character on Buffy, even though he's kind of the comic relief (and me being more the serious kinda guy), but I think it's inevitable that I'm going to appreciate him even more from here on out, having actually met the guy.

Camille Keaton's panel had rather less in-depth philosophical discussion of the feminist repercussions of a movie like I Spit On Your Grave, or what it's like for a woman to star in a role that involves a) copious nudity, b) heavy sexual themes, and c) simulated rape, than I would have liked. But, if she didn't seem to approach it as something that she'd spent a lot of time considering/justifying (as opposed to just part of a job she became involved in), at least she didn't have anything especially negative to say about it.

A cute Poison Ivy/Harley Quinn pair

Saturday night featured a costume contest and the big dance party. Two years ago, I seem to recall that they combined the two, with the costumes being judged and winners announced as part of the party. This year, it was done separately, with the costume contest treated much like a panel in and of itself. One of my friends and I got dressed up for fun, to contribute to the spirit of the con (and in my case, to have an excuse to dress up). My friend had a goth-like dress with a black-and-white tie-dye pattern that looked a bit like spider webs, so she bought a bag of plastic Halloween spiders and decorated her shoes, fingers, and a crown she painted to look like a spider with them to become the Spider Queen. I dressed up in my sexy witch costume - the same one I wore trick 'r' treating last year.

Because of the craftsmanship my friend had put into her costume, I was pleased to hear that she had entered herself into the costume contest. Though when we got there, all dressed up, a point was made by the judges to include anyone present who wanted to compete, even if they weren't signed up. I hadn't planned on it, but once there, I kinda felt like it'd be a shame to waste this opportunity to show off my costume, so we both went up to be judged. Thankfully, it was all pretty casual and laidback (at least if you ask me).

When it was my turn to step up front, I introduced myself and the crowd erupted into applause, realizing when they heard my name that I was not a girl but a guy dressed up in a sexy witch costume! Thanks to that shock factor, I won third place, and was awarded a signed book and a grab bag of random horror goodies (like a Walking Dead button, and a neat syringe pen). I was beaten by a serious witch who got second place, and a really good zombie nurse (a la Silent Hill) who totally deserved the first place prize, although judging from the reaction, I was probably the audience favorite. It was too bad that my friend's craftsmanship went unappreciated, but what can I say - sex sells...

Sexy Witch & Spider Queen

The dance party started - like everything else at the con - late, and we spent some time scoping it out. But there wasn't a whole lot of dancing going on (to watch), except for when the DJ played The Time Warp from the Rocky Horror soundtrack (the party had a '70s theme this year), and it was too dark to really appreciate all the con-goers dressed in costumes. That reference to Rocky Horror is appropriate, because we happened to hear a rumor earlier that the Rocky Horror Picture Show was playing that night at the Hollywood Theater, where my friend and I had gone to see it also two years ago.

So we ditched the party and drove out to the theater around midnight, but not before I had a chance to switch my witch costume for a set of black lingerie and fishnet stockings. The only thing I wore over it was a short jacket. I have to say, it was not only daring, but a rather sexy ensemble. Unfortunately, though, we were turned away at the door because the show was sold out! I know that it has a big cult following, and it's had plenty of time to be absorbed into the fabric of the mainstream, but, certainly with respect to its origins, the Rocky Horror Picture Show has a strong counterculture sentiment, and I'm somewhat surprised that it's just so popular. I mean, it's like, the only time I know when a man can go out in public dressed in women's lingerie, and not only be applauded rather than reviled, but actually feel like you belong in the crowd, instead of being the one that stands out.

Anyway, it was kind of embarrassing to be "rejected" from the Rocky Horror Picture Show - especially all dressed up as I was - but we went to a diner to have some hot chocolate instead. Yeah, I went to the diner in my jacket and lingerie. It was exciting, and pretty daring. Probably even more daring than those three young girls we saw at the hotel during the con, who seemed curiously to have made a conscious decision to come downstairs from whatever hotel room they were staying in, in order to parade themselves through the halls, in front of countless random con-going strangers, wearing no more than their fairly skimpy pajamas. You know, I really admire a daring, even exhibitionist mentality like that. You can say what you want, but I think it's extremely attractive.

31 August, 2013

Social Anxiety

I've made this argument before, but it's a good one, so it bears reiterating.

Let me try to give you an idea of how problematic my social anxiety is. My social anxiety often manifests as a strong fear of talking to and interacting with people. It doesn't even have to be strangers, I get anxious dealing with people I know, too.

Now imagine, for a second, somebody who has arachnophobia - which I also, incidentally, suffer from. It's not just an "ew, bugs are gross" sort of thing, because I have that, too. Other bugs can scare me and certainly gross me out, but when it's spiders, it's on a whole different level. I don't know why, it's just the way I'm wired, I figure. It's an intense and irrational fear - and I understand that, and that doesn't make it any easier for me.

Now, my arachnophobia doesn't bother me all that much. Obviously, if I'm anywhere near a spider, it's a big deal, and I have an uncomfortable reaction whenever I, for example, stumble upon a picture of a spider on the internet. But this is something I can manage. Spiders, though they cover the face of the Earth, are, in the grand scheme of things, not all that prevalent in modern day-to-day life. And I can do things to reduce my interactions with them, and I can also enlist the help of others to deal with them when they become a problem. I might have a little more trouble in my life than other people doing things where spiders are more prevalent, like going camping, but again, it's something I can deal with.

But social anxiety is different. Interacting with people is not only unavoidable, it's indispensible to living both a successful and rewarding life. It's like being an arachnophobe, and living in a world where the only way to actually make a living and support yourself is working every day handling spiders. Worse yet, it's like being an arachnophobe, and at the same time, being a creature that requires the closeness of spiders to be happy. That's a bit of a mindfuck, I know, because fearing spiders makes me hate them. But I need people, and I know it. Yet I can't bring them into my life because I'm too afraid to interact with them.

Now you might think, as some psychologists argue, that with proper exposure, any fear can be overcome. If, for example, forcing yourself to work with spiders everyday eventually made you stop being afraid of them. Maybe this is true. I don't know, because I haven't had an opportunity to see it work. I do know, however, that I have been forced to interact with people throughout my life, and yet I still remain ever as anxious. Granted, I have a strong avoidant impulse, so maybe I am not exposing myself enough, but the fact remains that if this is the solution, then it is akin to forcing myself to work with spiders everyday, not certain that I will ever get less fearful of them, and even if I do, not certain of how long that will take (i.e., it may be days, weeks, months, or even years of torturing myself with spider-handling before I finally reach a point where it doesn't bother me). Can you blame me for not having the courage to do it?

I mean, I know that any goal worth accomplishing takes effort. If you want to get or stay in shape, for example, you have to exert constant, continuous effort, and it's not easy. But that's work that you just push yourself through. It's something you don't want to do, maybe. But it's not something that your whole body and your mind literally trembles at the very thought of. Forcing yourself to do something - not just that you're afraid of - but something that you're absolutely terrified of doing, requires a whole different level of strength.

And I've never considered myself as being particularly strong. Or brave.

18 August, 2013

Atheism in a nutshell

It's a little known fact that I'd love to start a webcomic, but unfortunately my drawing skills aren't up to snuff. Nevertheless, here's another one-off, which, following my last post, demonstrates that I don't discriminate against the religions I like to poke fun at.

This is also a good, concise example of why atheism is not, as some claim, just another belief system like religion. The religious believe in the existence of God based on faith. The atheist disbelieves in the existence of God based on a lack of evidence. It's true that a lack of evidence doesn't prove that God doesn't exist, but it does make his existence about as plausible as the existence of unicorns, fire-breathing dragons, the fountain of youth, and alien abductions. If God were to part the heavens tomorrow and introduce himself to the world in no ambiguous terms, the atheist would begin to believe in His existence, because it would no longer require a blind faith. But in the meantime, he professes that believing in ghosts is about as productive to society, and makes just about as much sense from a modern perspective, as the practice of bloodletting is to medicine.

20 May, 2013

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

As a staunch supporter of the freedom of speech, as well as one for whom blasphemy is a treasured pastime - not because I enjoy offending people, but because the idea that anything is sacred undermines the very principle of free speech - I have decided to participate in Everybody Draw Mohammed Day (which I only found out about this year). For an explanation of why it is important to participate in this recent tradition if you value freedom, I refer you to Greta Christina, who has already done such an excellent job that I needn't reiterate her points.

This comic is drawn lovingly in the style of Cyanide & Happiness, whose irreverent humor it is in no small part inspired by.

09 April, 2013

Weekend Constravaganza

As I write this, a mild 69 degree night-time breeze blows in through the window, [hopefully] heralding the sudden and long-awaited arrival of Spring, after a long March embittered by cold, frequently freezing temperatures. It is a shame the change in weather did not come a week earlier, but nevertheless, the shifting season is a sure indicator that it is once again con season in Pittsburgh. Last weekend marked not only my annual pilgrimage to the anime convention Tekkoshocon, but also another Steel City Con (a local toys, comics, and pop culture convention). The last Steel City Con I went to - two Decembers ago, if I'm not mistaken - awarded me Linda Blair's autograph (you might remember her as the possessed girl from The Exorcist), and this time, the con boasted one Madison Lintz, the girl who played Sophia on the hit AMC television series The Walking Dead. In other words, it proved to be a very busy weekend.

Of considerable note this year is the fact that Tekkoshocon has moved back into the big ol' downtown convention center - the DLLCC (David L. Lawrence Convention Center) after the past two years in a nearby cramped hotel building. As such, there was much more space this year - particularly in the halls and stairways. But as a result, the con - and the people attending - was much more spread out. Certainly, the hotel was much too small for the con's crowds, but while the convention center gave us lots more space (more than we needed, truth be told), the con itself felt smaller in comparison, and it didn't seem like there were as many people - or cosplays - there.

I'm not saying I prefer the hotel - although it would have been lots less stressful if they had actually finished the grand ballroom staircase like they promised, as the worst part was getting between the first and second floors either via the deathtrap stairwell or the overloaded elevators - just that it had a kind of coziness to it. It's much harder to find people (and chase them down) and see everything there is to see when everything is so spread out. On the other hand, I sincerely hope that Tekkoshocon's future involves the kind of growth that would make having this much space necessary, although I can't say how realistic that dream is.

On a related note, while the space was very well utilized for the Dealer's Room and Artist's Alley (located, for once, on the showroom floor), I, among others, found it particularly inconvenient that they were situated so far from the rest of the con (panels, video rooms, main stage, etc.). It seemed like you had to walk a mile just to get from one node of the con to the other. And while the ample space all around is welcome for cosplay photoshoots and keeping the hallways navigable and such, having all that space between two very important poles of the convention, requiring your repeated traversal, can be a bit frustrating, and doubtless more tiring than is desirable. I can't say what possible solution there could be for this problem, however, as having the Dealer's Room on the showroom floor was very appealing.

Being back in the convention center (for whatever reasons), the con this year was stripped back to the standard Friday, Saturday, Sunday schedule, with no on-site programming on Thursday, as with last year. In the case of my group of pilgrims, this was just as well, as the rest of my group was not very well-impressed with Thursday's con atmosphere in previous years (although that's one thing I disagree with them on), and scheduling would have made one more day of con madness more trouble than it would have been worth. As such, we arrived in town on Thursday night and proceeded eagerly to the con on Friday morning (and I do mean morning - like, before noon!).

In recent years, you might recall, I have become very fond of cosplaying. This year, I regret that lack of funds and other issues resulted in me not doing all the cosplays I was planning. I still hope, however, to work through the kinks in my Chii bandage and White Rock Shooter prospective cosplays, among others, so that I can debut them next year or some other time in the future. But this year, I whittled my cosplay down to one single costume - which consisted of me recycling my trusty Japanese schoolgirl uniform (which I usually find some excuse to wear at least once every year), refitted with a bright red bow and coupled with that unique hairstyle that can only be associated with Tsukino Usagi - the magical girl who moonlights as the crime fighter Sailor Moon!

So instead of focusing on my own cosplay this year, I thought it would be a good opportunity to refocus my efforts on getting pictures of other cosplayers, since I kind of used that as an excuse not to get as many pictures last year. Unfortunately, though, as it turns out, I didn't get a whole lot of pictures this year, either. Part of that was due to my anxiety on Friday, and the fact that we chose to leave Tekkoshocon for a few hours to hit up another con, but on Saturday I found to my surprise that being in cosplay, despite my anticipation that it would make me more self-conscious, actually made me feel more comfortable about asking other people for their picture. I don't know if it has to do with the idea of putting on a mask or alternate persona and allowing that to buffer my thoughts and my actions (like it might with an actor), or if it's because I feel like a participant - like I'm playing the game, and am not just an outsider in street clothes wanting to get pictures of those nerds in funny costumes - but either way it helped.

Still, though, it seemed like I was seeing less cosplayers overall that impressed me - and that could be because of the quality of cosplay this year, or more likely the difficulty in tracking people down over the large space, or else just my becoming accustomed (and, in a sense, bored) of the cosplayers I see every year, exacerbated by my changing and refined tastes as a photographer. I'm not sure about that, though, and anyway, another contributing factor may be the rising popularity of American cartoons among Tekko-goers - Homestuck is inexplicably popular, as is My Little Pony, among others (including the usual comics offenders).

Whatever the case may be, despite my not putting very much effort into my cosplay this year, I did have a couple people ask for my picture on Saturday, and several that expressed their approval of my crossplay. I ran into one other Sailor Moon in particular who was very friendly and interested in getting a picture of the two of us together (I have to admit, placed side by side with a real girl just emphasizes - at least in my mind - all the ways in which I don't measure up to my own visual ideal).

There ended up being a lot of potentially interesting panels (although still not as much on topics of my preference as I would have liked) that I didn't make it to this year, mostly due to scheduling. One exception was the Better Than It Sounds panel about anime series with stupid (or weird) names that are actually good. The best thing I got out of that panel was a description of the cult hit series Madoka Magica, which was totally hyped up for me by being described as Sailor Moon meets Neon Genesis Evangelion (two of my favorite series!). From how it sounds, it's like what Evangelion did to the mecha genre (adding in angst and all that), but with the mahou shoujo - magical girl - genre instead. I've got to watch it.

Speaking of watching, I got to watch the AMV contest again this year. There actually wasn't a whole lot of great AMVs, but it was worth it for the one Serial Experiments Lain AMV alone (Terror In The Depths Of The Wired). It was set to an instrumental track from the Silent Hill 2 soundtrack, and it was fantastic. I voted it best in show, but it didn't win any awards. Lousy judges. (Yes, that includes the audience members who voted :p). There was also a great romance AMV set to Victoria Justice's Best Friend's Brother, but the award went to a Toradora video featuring Taylor Swift's poppy We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together instead.

I made it to the Extreme AMV contest again this year, since I enjoyed it so much last year, but it was unfortunately pretty lackluster. Allegedly this was due to a sheer lack of submissions. There was a funny AMV using explicit clips from La Blue Girl, and a violent one with Hellsing imagery, but only four videos in total, and nothing to go totally gaga over. Ah well. Note to AMV makers: don't be shy, make those extremely violent, pornographic AMVs with pervasive [foul] language - we want to see them! I would love to see an Urotsukidoji (Legend of the Overfiend) AMV, or even just an AMV that serves as an ode to tentacle rape - that would be awesome.

For, like, the first time ever, I didn't buy anything in the Dealer's Room this year. Money was tight on the one hand, and on the other, I didn't see anything that totally blew me away. Except this great Black Rock Shooter figure, but I wasn't going to pay $70 for it... Although, apparently, somebody else was, because it was gone when I looked again on Saturday. There were a lot more dakimakura (body pillows) this year, although after last year's complaints (I'm sure), they were either on display and crudely censored with post-it notes, or wrapped in plastic with only a tiny cardboard picture on the corner to look at. I was sorta hoping to get one, but as I said, I didn't see one that really blew me away. Plus, I get really self-conscious looking at the 18+ stuff. It's silly, but even though I'm an adult and everything, when they put up signs and talk about checking IDs and stuff, it just makes me feel like a kid again, like I'm trying to get away with something, and I have to avoid getting caught. It's bogus.

I haven't much to say about the rave that I haven't said in years past. Fun atmosphere, but I can never really get into it, on account of me not being much of a dancing, partying kinda guy. But it's like I want to be. Plus, people start taking their clothes off (not all of them, mind you), or switching into skimpy, sexy raver gear to go dancing in and that's pretty cool to see. Of course, flashing lights aside, there's not much light in the rave, so you can hardly get the benefit of enjoying the eye candy. :-\

Although on that note, I was treated to a marvelous surprise on Saturday, when it became clear that the convention center was also being rented out to a serious cheerleader competition. Early on, there were scores of young cheerleaders gathering in the halls and even, to an extent, mingling with congoers and cosplayers. And then later, in the walkway overlooking the two larger showrooms in the building, I had the opportunity to join the myriad other Tekko-ers spying on the cheerleading competition, watching their bombastic, tumbling performances. It was like something straight out of Bring It On! It was not at all an experience I was expecting, nor one that seems in tune with the whole atmosphere of being at an anime convention, but I'll be damned if I didn't enjoy the spectacle, and if it didn't amplify my overall enjoyment of the weekend. Hell, I wish that were a regular feature of the con, and not just a happy scheduling accident. I might have to consider getting tickets to a cheerleading competition instead of an anime convention next time! ;p

And finally we come to meeting Madison Lintz, although it actually happened early in the weekend - on Friday. I'm always nervous meeting people, and especially interacting with people I don't know very well, but I wasn't even prepared for how nervous I was anticipating my meeting with the girl who played Sophia on The Walking Dead. The scene where spoiler happens (if you've seen the show, you can guess what I'm talking about), was such a heartbreaking moment, and one of the greatest moments in TV history, in my opinion. I told Madison as much, even if I did so very awkwardly. But she was very professional and took it in stride. Then I got her autograph and posed for a picture with her, for a very modest fee. It was certainly one of the highlights of a very busy, and at times stressful and exhausting, but ultimately very exciting, weekend.

Post-script: One thing I forgot to mention was checking out one of the musical guests. Last year I remarked that, despite being a musician and a music-fan, I hardly ever check out the musical guests at anime conventions (at least partly due to the fact that it's not Japanese music I'm largely dedicated to). So this year, I made a point to attend one of the concerts. I picked Dazzle Vision, which seemed to offer the best chance of hearing some rock n roll screaming guitars. Unfortunately, the only screaming was in the vocals, as it was a screamo band, and the guitar parts were harsh and uninspiring. I was disappointed, but they just weren't my style. It was worth checking out, though, and I'm willing to give some other acts a chance in the future.

09 January, 2013

Looking Back

As this blog has ostensibly become about me becoming a better person (crossing the "bridge to better days") - although I have no intention of coming here to sap about all my problems (gee, have I changed that much already?) - I thought it might be a nice gesture to list all the 'great accomplishments' I've made, things of note that I've done or experienced over the past year, now that we are looking ahead into the new year and all. So here's what I've been up to over the last year:

* I've moved.
* I got a cell phone.
* I got into better shape (for the summer at least).
* I recorded my first album since actually becoming decent as a guitar player.
* I took lots of great pictures, most of which with my new cell phone.
* I spent a week-long vacation at a nudist camp, and attended a nude volleyball tournament - an experience that I won't soon forget.

* I quit therapy (I felt we reached the limit of what was possible through talk alone - and that just wasn't enough. Plus it's expensive).
* By the end of the year, I decided to try medication for my anxiety (this could be a huge pro in the longterm, but right now it's pretty crappy - I don't think my body likes drugs).

* I had my first visit to the ER, and my first overnight (twice over) stay in a hospital (it was a pure nightmare).
* I basically found out that I have a shitty heart, and so now I'm on indefinite medication. You'd have to know me to know how much that pisses me off. (Even though I was perfectly fine without medication until that one freak occurrence this year).

All in all, it was a pretty productive year, with ups and downs, and despite the downs, not at all the worst year of my life (thanks in no small part to the ups). But I'm not over the bridge just yet.