Saturday, December 27, 2014

The Holiday Problem

I'm not sure if it's depression or the simple fact that I work in retail, but I have noticed a distinct shift in how I feel about holidays.  I don't actually feel anything about holidays lately.  I can remember back on how I felt on holidays previously, but this year it's been distinctly not magical and not special and I felt rather numb throughout the entire holiday season.  Much like I was going through the motions.  Don't get me wrong, on Halloween, I did feel rather happy with all of the children coming up and loving the display we put together.  However, this year at Thanksgiving I felt rather empty since we didn't have family up but for my mom.  And then come Christmas I was excited to go to Michigan to see snow.  It didn't feel like the holiday at all.

In fact, as I was getting excited to give my mom a Chromebook so we could finally start conversing with her via email and chats... she put off opening presents until we had a half hour left to go to my Aunt's dinner and we had only about enough time to show her how to turn the thing on and play a game of solitaire before having to pack up everything to leave.

I only got presents for a handful of people and I thought maybe I'd feel happier by giving away those presents, but they didn't seem to enjoy them all that much.  Then I turn around and don't really care if I got anything myself.  It felt strange not to be excited about it.

The Christmas dinner was more about the routine then actually seeing people.  We ate our dinner, watched our cousins yell at their children for not eating food or running around or not being obedient while we were praying... then we ate and opened presents and the little ones whined and cried because they only got one gift each, but last year I was told not to get them anything so I didn't get them anything at all either.  

Then someone burned a plastic container on the stove and things just sort of degraded and I realized that I didn't feel at home there anymore.  I just felt sort of on the outside watching it all happen.  I didn't take photos and didn't really get involved in any of the conversations happening.  I just wanted to eat and leave.

Maybe working retail has made it hard for me to enjoy consumerism.  And no, I don't just believe that's what the holiday is about, but when we bow our heads to say a quick prayer over supper and the children fidget and giggle and their parents haven't taught them to respect it, and they cry over not getting presents - well, didn't that just turn the holiday over to little consumers?  

I think I would have had a better holiday had I stayed home with my cats and just enjoyed being in the comfort of my own company and I didn't need any presents or anything special to have enjoyed a good holiday.

It's hard to describe this to people, so I'm just basically throwing this out there as I want to still get excited about the new year.  I want to be able to celebrate the ball drop, so who knows?  I did enjoy seeing an old friend while I was up in Michigan that I hadn't seen in years.  It was nice to touch base with people again after so long.  Maybe seeing my friends at New Year's will make things nice too.

Well...I hope.  I don't want to be writing another bummed out blog again any time soon!

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

A Matter of Friendship: Don't Make Me Choose Sides

Over this past year I've had a lot of different situations come up to make me contemplate the meaning of friendship.  I've already posted on how to treat friends that you get, and how to keep them, how to respect them and what kinds of things that you should look into, or be aware of, as a friend.  And especially, don't make me choose sides.

Now I feel like I've had a few more experiences recently, to quote a friend, "That have tapped out my emotional bank account."

Now, just as any person could attest, I know I'm an emotional kind of person.  However, my husband has really mellowed me down over the years since he's the most easy-going guy I know.  He can suck out the anger and hatred and change it into comfort and peace.  Of course, two of my most favorite animated shows over the years have those as their overriding themes:  Trigun: "Love and Peace!" and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic "Love & Tolerate" (and friendship being magic of course that has honesty, loyalty, generosity... to name a few of course.

However, if someone continues to tap out this emotional bank account, you'll see a backlash of emotional overdraft fees, so to speak, that I come back with.  My mother used to get the brunt of this growing up, but so did many of my friends when I just couldn't take it any more.  If they would get angry with me, and not want to talk about it in a civilized manner, but rather either yell, throw things, stop talking to me altogether, or walk away, I don't take that lightly.  I want to work through things, and maybe when I was a teenager living at home, it doesn't work that way.  I work things out rationally through writing most of the time as I can put my thoughts down on paper without getting ran over by some emotional person.  If you make me do it in person I cuss, I yell, I get upset and slam doors... but leave me alone for some time and I'll come back down once I calm down.

I mentioned such a thing awhile back as a friend decided he was going to divorce his wife and immediately took to the task of making us hate said wife.  I liked her, my husband liked her, we said as much that we still wanted to be her friend.  We had noticed some strain in their relationship over the years, but as we've had over four months to mull this through, we realized much of that strain actually came from him.  But he makes it impossible to tell him that, and when there was a huge blow up a few weeks ago and he 'de-friended' us on Facebook...I refused to have him back.  It was too much.  I was tired of the emotional stress and tired of feeling like I'd have to constantly stick up for my friend against him.  When my husband talked to him again, he tried again to turn us against the (now) ex.

Friends don't ask friends to hate another person.  They should NEVER ask another friend to take their side.

It feels like I'm in Junior High all over again!

In Elementary school, you become friends with your classmates.  After all, most of your classmates stay that way throughout the first five or six years of your life.  Sure, some larger schools will rotate children, but for the most part you keep your friends, especially those who live in your neighborhood.  When I headed off to Junior High, suddenly there was a whole new group to make friends with, and since my best friend wasn't in the same grade as me, I had to make friends with someone.  I became "trash girl" during lunch time so I could stay friends with the girls I already knew, but after a semester of being laughed at and ignored, I decided to start eating my lunches on my own away from them.  I discovered a new friend who said she felt sorry for me, and as I was eager for friendship, I clung to her small group of friends and those friends stuck around through most of Junior High.

Unfortunately, the best friends I had in Elementary were upset with me for finding new friends.  I invited them all over for my birthday party when I was 13, but my 'best' friend got upset that I didn't ask her to spend the night with my 'new best friend' and thus for a summer I hardly heard from her.  I didn't want to hurt her feelings as she didn't know any of the others I had invited over since she was still a year behind us.  But... being forced to take sides, I did.

I do regret it, taking sides, although I talk to both of those friends from time to time online, none of us are really 'friends', but more 'acquaintances'.  Why?  Because the 'new best friend' I found had a hard time talking about anyone but herself.  She still does it, and though I've called her out on it and we stopped talking for awhile, eventually came back and started talking about herself again, and I realized that was how it was always going to be.  So if I wanted to hear her talk about herself, I'd talk to her, but I realized I could never expect her to want to know about ME.  The other friend, I realize later, was pretty much the same.  But I only really realized that later in College when people would actually ask me about how things were going and wanted to know about my life.  I suddenly knew what a real friend was like and it was a relief that I wouldn't have to deal with the stress of forcing myself to be heard.

But I've already gone into this subject before, speaking of true friendships being those that go both ways.  You have to respect those whom you wish to be your friends.  Listen - LISTEN - LISTEN DAMMIT!!!  and really hear them, don't just walk away because it's not something you want to hear.  If you walk away from me or change the subject in the middle of a conversation then what's the point of me continuing with you?  It's the same reason I don't like repeating myself, because obviously you weren't interested enough to listen to me, then why should I take the time to talk to you at all?

Sorry...again, it's a point that I've tried to drive home with people.  I'll tell you how it is.  Maybe I'll try to word it in such a way that won't get you mad, but I will tell you.  If you can't stand it, then maybe you shouldn't be my friend!  Certainly I have lost enough friendships over the years when I've said it straight.  I lost one friend after her deadbeat daughter saddled her with the grandson.  I told her that she should make her daughter go out and get a job, that maybe she should talk to her about not running around, to which the reply became, "You're not a grandmother so you don't understand."  I do understand that if you're constantly watching your grandson then your daughter darn well should be working to pay for housing and food for that child, not running around!

Anyway, this afternoon I realized that I'd had enough, and surprisingly "unfriending" someone on Facebook really does get attention.  It's weird because years ago that would not have happened.  When I was growing up, if you didn't like someone you just stopped talking to them.  Same thing here, if you walk away from a conversation I'm having with you on facebook then you'd best not want to talk to me ever again.  I'm not going to put up with the High School drama that I've been getting lately because I'm not in High School anymore!  I'm very nearly 20 years away from that and would NEVER want to go back, thankyouverymuch!

Perhaps if everyone is cordial and willing to listen to me, then I shall reconsider my decision.  Heaven knows I'm actually the forgiving type.  I really am.  I can really just forgive and forget - but I have to have someone ask for forgiveness first, and not in such a way as they say "well, I'm saying this but I don't really mean it."  That's B.S.  If you walked away, then it's your decision to walk, I wasn't the one walking.

Sort of like the lyrics in Train's new album "Bulletproof Picasso" - "The Bridge"

Were at the bridge together once more
We cross it over like we've done before
We could make a fire, go up in smoke
Jump into the water and do the backstroke
Were at the bridge, I love this view
But I don't know if I can cross again with you
We can start a fire, go up in smoke
Jump into the water and do the back stroke
Come on
What's it gonna be
Come on
What's it gonna be

I gotta feelin
You and I on the river
Burn it down to the ground
I need to know if you want me to jump or burn it to the ground
I gotta know now
Are you and I gonna go down
In flames or drown
I need to know if you want me to jump or burn it to the ground

This is what happens when you go to the bridge
You jump into the fire or you learn to swim
This is what happens when you go to the bridge
You jump into the fire or you learn to swim

Read more:
LetsSingIt - Your favorite Music Community 

Guess I'll leave this here as it's really how I'm feeling right now.  It's well worth a listen as the song is really catchy.  I've been a huge fan of Train for a lot of years and it's one of my 'howling' bands, that and "Tonic".  I mean by 'howling' as I crank up the music and just belt it out until I feel better about myself again.

I'm sure everyone has their own opinions on friendships like this.  Perhaps being an introverted person it's easy to feel like you don't want to talk.  The truth is, even as an introvert, most want to feel important and being listened to, not having to listen themselves is sometimes really nice.  No one, not even the shyest introvert should have to spend every moment with friends listening.  It's not fair to me, it's not fair to my other introverted friends.  Extroverts do not have the excuse to walk all over us just because they are more willing to speak.  It has nothing to do with that.

There is a fine line to having a friendship.  You can choose the kinds you want and you should never have to decide between your friendships.  Just like you should never have to choose between a loved one and a friend.  True love will never ask you that.  Heck, even from a business perspective (which is what I've been dealing with lately), making me decide who's side to be on isn't an option either.  If both sides contribute positively to an ends, then I shouldn't have to fire anyone.  I should be able to find a balance.  You don't want to talk to this person anymore?  Let me find a solution.  Don't just put your foot down and say, "It's them or me."

Because, you know what?  Maybe it WILL be THEM, and not you.  Consider that first!

Friday, September 26, 2014

Conventions: Where are they going?

I wrote a blog a few months ago about the death of anime conventions.  I had a few people argue that they didn't see conventions dying, but another blogger recently posted about how as an artist, she is seeing the death, or rather, the overshadowing, of cosplay over guests and artists.

Oh, I'm going to say right now that if you think that all cosplayers and convention attendees are blameless, then please don't read any more.  However, if you want my honest opinion on this subject as someone who's worked behind the scenes at conventions for nearly 10 years now, please, read on.

First off, it was pointed out that at many large conventions, artists, guests and other industry people are being largely ignored by attendees.  They will gather around a cosplayer, taking pictures for hours, but completely ignore the artist who's spent 20 years drawing comic books or sci-fi book covers.  They line up to get autographs for voice actors, but won't sit for an hour in a panel to listen to how that voice actor got to where he/she did.  They'd much rather spend $100 on a cosplay than that same $100 at a vendor room.

Many artists have to pay for their hotel room, travel, food, entry badge and table to sell their wares.  Once in awhile one gets lucky enough to get guest status so that they have a badge paid, maybe a hotel room, but most likely it's just a free table and badge for entry.  At large conventions, the hotel fee, travel and food expenses can range in the thousands for a weekend.  Perhaps they are able to drive and can bring all of their wares with them at relatively little cost, but if they come from across the U.S.A., then they might have to pay for airplane fare and also luggage fees for whatever art or books they bring with them.  That said, even if an artist doesn't have to spend a whole lot for the convention they are at, fees for printing books or prints or making items is pretty expensive.  Many artists have to save up in advance and then hope they'll get enough money back from what they are selling, little lone all of the convention costs.

So, if they're an artist, losing money, why bother to go to a convention?  Exposure.  Marketing.  Getting out there and hoping to collect a few new fans along the way.  However, they could do this on a much smaller scale simply by going to local stores and publishing online.  Why don't they?  Well, they have fans out there that they hope to be able to meet, they have new fans they hope they can win over, and they're out there putting all of that money at risk to sell a few books during a three-day weekend.

Then along come the 'new breed of attendees'.  Now, some of them will go to a convention to meet up with these people.  After all, so-and-so just came from L.A., all the way across the country and this will be their only time to meet them.  But there are a whole lot of other people who don't have any idea who this artist is, and they don't care either.  They've attended a convention in order to visit with their friends, see a few cosplayers and maybe cosplay themselves in order to catch the eye of someone.

That's not to say there aren't plenty of conventions out there that do a smack-up job of keeping artists and vendors and even voice actors happy.  Smaller conventions, for example, tend to have a good variety of artists so that they don't compete, vendors are the same, and typically guests don't have to compete for autograph dollars.  However, larger conventions, even with 22,000 or larger attendee numbers, they have to make money to hold the convention again next year, pay the hundreds of staffers and fill booths.  Suddenly vendors are competing with 20 others who are selling the same things and artists really have to put out a lot of effort to draw attention to themselves.

But while they're putting all this effort into drawing attention - new attendees aren't looking to buy stuff.  This 'breed' of attendee ages typically 16-25, and they spend money on cosplaying, or they have to travel a ways in order to attend just this one convention all year.  Why do they go to the convention?  To see, and be seen.  To hang out with friends.  To spend time with others who like what they like.

This is not the attendees conventions used to have 10 years ago.  Those were the days of giving credit cards to teenagers, signing them up in colleges and starting all of that debt that's crippled today's con goers.  These teens now days know how to save their money and they know how to shop around.  What is more fulfilling to this "Instant" generation?  Is it buying something that will grow dust on a shelf?  Or is it the memory of having dozens of people flock to them to take their picture?

Back in 2002 during my very first convention, I still remember the people who came up to me to take my picture.  I remember how special it felt to have all of these people want to hug me or say, "Hey!  I know you!" and call out my character's name.  It's special.  It's this sense of belonging, that someone knows who you are - even if they don't know you exactly, but they know what you like and they like what you like.  Suddenly you have friends and attention, and it's pretty cool because everyone wants to feel like they're famous, even if it's just for a weekend.

So again, I ask, would most attendees rather spend $100 on a cosplay or $100 on merchandise from a convention?  I think this newer generation is going to say, cosplay.  Because when the convention is over, most likely they're not going to think about all of those artists, not going to think about those items they didn't buy...and if they do think about them, it's there online somewhere.  They've probably bought it already or will when they get home if it's something they really want.

But of course, there has to be a solution to this problem, right?

Probably.  Mostly likely it means that the ever-growing convention will eventually start to plateau or eventually grow smaller.  Eventually artists just won't want to bother with the exposure and they'll turn to the internet.  Fewer artists interested in losing money and conventions will start to scale back.  Things that were popular at conventions 10 years ago will take a backseat to those things that are popular now.  Perhaps conventions will focus more on cosplay, more panels and guests that contribute to that.  Perhaps artists/crafters and vendors will focus on cosplay items - I've seen that switch already in numerous conventions.  Suddenly it goes from figures, wallscrolls, DVDs, etc, to cosplay wigs, contacts and costumes.  Is that good?  Probably, it's keeping the conventions alive and keeping vendors paid, but what about those artists?  Perhaps conventions will have to lower costs to pull them back in again, or maybe there's some other answer out on the horizon.  Maybe conventions FOR artists.  There are plenty of arts and crafts fairs out there.  Why not hold a convention where people go to just buy stuff from artists?

It's something to think about, as maybe eventually there will have to be a split for cosplay to either have conventions of their own, with inexpensive venues for artists and vendors, just to fill space.  And then perhaps comic and anime conventions can kind of take back their conventions.  Maybe lessen cosplay's role in their convention, get rid of the cosplay items in the dealer rooms and get rid of the conventions.  No one knows for sure where the future of conventions are heading, but we'll head there nonetheless.

Let me know what you think in the comments below - but be forewarned - don't be mean!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Storm That's Not Yet

Being someone who really enjoys the outside for relaxation, it's easy to wake up in the morning and see the overcast sky as being a bit depressing.  Especially if that overcast sky looks like it could rain at any moment.  But it's worse when you know that it's not yet, but sometime this evening that it's going to rain, and yet, there isn't any sun, it's overly windy, and the pressure outside is acting all crazy.

The photo to the right, was not one of those days, rather, we'd had a pretty nice buildup of storm clouds, then it basically blew over with only a little bit of rain, leaving this beautiful glimpse of the sun in the West and a very faint rainbow to the East.  I like days like that, because you know what's coming, and after the storm buildup, this exciting moment of 'yes, it's going to happen!'  It finally does and you're happy it did.'s not so much there.  When the weather report this morning talked about the storm and I watched the radar, it was quite obvious that the northern part of the state was going to get hit, and quite badly, but this middle part of the state was just going to get a lot of wind for hours, lots of blah clouds, and then maybe if we were lucky, get some lovely storms, once it got dark again.

Okay, so I'm kind of a weather junkie.  I'm not ashamed of liking weather.  In fact, I was quite the nerd in school and when I had the opportunity for a meteorological section in a science class I took, I was pretty excited.  Unfortunately, it was the last unit I got to take at the end of the year and my partner fooled around the entire time so I've basically had to learn things on my own. I learn all sorts of earthy stuff though, like names of trees, birds, plants and animals, so it's kind of in my nature to like this kind of thing.

I'm not ashamed to admit that I got really excited upon meeting my first weather person from the news when I was working at the mall in Michigan so long ago, Norma Hall.  And then just last week I got to meet another weather person, Marshall McPeek.  It's pretty nifty to me to meet people who actually studied the weather.  In fact, growing up I went to school and later college with someone who was studying the weather, but I never did find out what happened to him after we graduated.  I always teased him to say he'd make a great newscaster, but I think he was always more interested in strictly the science of it.

And as for me, the weather junkie, I have a coworker who always expects me to make weather announcements at work.  I wasn't even aware that I was doing it, except that I suppose from time to time I announce, "oh the storm will just blow over," or "It'll stop raining in a minute."  Or something like that, "it'll get colder tonight, so you might want your jacket."  Okay, so I like the weather, is that so wrong?  It typically produces some pretty awesome things.

Just for my own reference, I decided to dig up a unique photo I took back in 2011 in the summer after we bought our house.  I'd planted this little pine tree and it made a really good contrast with the rainbow and all of the green and the sunset hitting just right... I loved this photo and yet didn't get all that much interest in it when I posted it online.

So, for myself, when I see a rainbow in the same direction over my little tree, I go out and take another picture.  I had to pull back quite a bit to take the photo however, as the pine tree is now about three-four times as tall as it was in the first photo!  I knew that pine trees grow quickly, but it was mighty small when I originally planted it.  Now it distinctly has two tops for some reason (although you can kind of see that when it was a younger tree) and almost looks like there are two trees there.

Just as a mention of how lighting can effect photos - the earlier photo was actually taken with a little Canon Powershot as opposed to my fancy Canon SL1, which I used for the second photo.  They're both clear, both taken of the exact same subject matter, but the lighting was different and thus had a completely different effect.

And now I await for the storm that not yet....

Friday, August 29, 2014

Disappointing Art Day

Here she is, six hours of work and as I was finishing it all up, getting ready to put final details to play, I realized that her right leg was too small.  In the original sketch you could tell that the left sock was pulling down and thus showed more leg.  However, the right leg just isn't correctly proportional and by the time I noticed it, I'd spent hours on drawing, inking and coloring and had been fairly certain that it looked right.

Lately, artwork like this has set me back quite a bit.  I realize that without much more practice, I'll never be much better than this, and with work and life in general, I just don't take the time out like I'd like to.  I wanted to do this for me.  I wanted to prove to myself that I was still a decent artist and I could pull something off if I needed to in a pinch.  What I've now realized is that I'm out of practice and sadly depressed about it.

I keep trying to find that younger me who drew things and found that she liked those things.  It doesn't matter if I look back on those drawings and see the flaws now.  When I originally drew this picture or that, I liked them, and I still look at them fondly.  Now, when I put pencil to paper I just see flaw after flaw, and no matter how long I spend trying to fix those problems, I can't get them right.  I realized today that I needed a model to do this drawing, so I had a figure that I based it on in order to get the positioning right.  For the most part, she has a good shape, the arms don't look too bad, the shoulders and angle are pretty tidy.

The problem is, what I wanted to use this drawing for, is for a program cover, but I can't.  Now when I've had better artists doing the covers over the years that are so much better than me.  How can I say, "let's go back to my artwork." ?  I can't.  I hasn't improved.  It isn't better or at least of equal quality of those others, so how can I use it?

And when I tried showing it to other people, I got no response.  Just as I expect not to get a response out of this post either seeing as though only a handful of people will ever see it.  But that's okay, because I had to put it somewhere, all of those hours of work I put into it, it would be a shame never to see the light of day.  But then again, quite a few of my drawings lately have ended up like this.  Maybe she'll be a tiny button where the knee won't even show.  Oh well.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014



I've been doing a lot of thinking about friendship lately.  My husband and I have very few friends, most of them are long distance, or just acquaintances at work, talking on Facebook and in passing.  I have one fairly close friend online whom I can tell anything to, and before my brother was put in prison, I had him too, but now we're just pen pals.  I have a few people I chat with online or a few that I'll see for dinner on occasion, but most of them are long distance and we only see them once a year.  There was a couple, however, that we'd hang out with about once a week and it was only when he wanted a divorce, that we started wondering about how fragile our friendships are.

It's a rare thing, no matter what people on television show, to have couples hanging out and enjoying each other's company.  It's rarer still that each of the four like each other and can hang out on a one-on-one basis, but for awhile, that's what we had and it was quite nice.  It wasn't like that at first, in fact, I would get so overwhelmed by them (mostly because of my introverted nature) that I had to limit our visits to once a month.  But, as we built up relationships and had common interests, things became better.

Unfortunately, the friendships that we had created were just as fragile as many of those that I've developed at work seeing as though at work, for example, I can't really be friends with those that are under me.  It would create complications, and I understand that, so I keep my distance and we have conversations at work and even though I have a few people at work whom I'd love to create better friendships, I also realize that I can't play favorites and unless we eventually get different jobs, the friendships will have to remain as they are.

It's a shame really, because I don't have anyone for the most part I can just call up and say, "hey, let's go out for coffee" or "let's meet for lunch", because most of them have the strange schedules I do, or they work 9-5 and because I work most weekends and a whole lot of mornings I can't hang out in the evening either.  I'm okay with it, but the person I really feel for is my husband because he's lost a friend in this couple now that they're splitting up.


Having had time to look back on Husband's (as I'll call my husband's friend this for his privacy) friendships, I feel rather sad for him.  He's burning all of the friendship bridges that he has built over the last 20 years.  My own husband has known him since around college and they were fairly decent friends.  The first moment that I met him he was single, rushed in like a storm, threw himself into the middle of everything.  He was fun-loving and excited and he let Mike stay with him while he was in town and they hung out and did things together.  Then Husband got married in something of a whirlwind and things were going pretty good.  His wife loved him and they made a home together and got a cat.  They were exclusive of one another.  We'd hear how much she didn't like her family and how much he didn't like his, they didn't like their jobs, but eventually they got better ones and the conversations turned from really hateful to pretty lighthearted and we started to get asked to go out to dinner together and to movies.  We went out shopping and hung out places together and it felt like they were in a good place so it was nice to be able to get to know them better.  She started thinking about getting a house and settling down and they started saving up.  I started inviting them to concerts and it was the first time I'd ask my husband to ask THEM to come over rather than them asking us.

I'm not entirely sure when things started to go wrong.  Maybe they had always been wrong.  When Husband would come over he would talk a lot about himself but we didn't mind, all three of us were introverts so we let him lead the conversations.  We'd go where he wanted to go, and we started to feel a bit more at ease around him so we'd start suggesting places and he'd go along with them.  But, thinking back on it, I don't really remember him asking us about our day, only telling us about his.

There are two types of people as I've realized, those that talk and those that listen.  The good friends, the best friends, are those that learn (and you HAVE to learn it, this is not a natural skill) to do both.  I realize that most of my friends growing up were really the same way, they talked, I listened (being introverted) and maybe, just maybe, I'd get to share my side of things if I forced it into the conversation, but very rarely did anyone ask me.  My mother, even though she's introverted, has to remember to ask me about my day because there are some conversations where she talks and I rarely say a word because she never stops to listen to me.  It's a work in progress with even her in her 60's.  And I think I'm a lot more aware of it now that I've had arguments with friends over the years about this because I just stopped talking to them all together because I was exhausted from the listening and trying to force my way in.

After I met my first friend who actively listened and talked, it was a like a breath of fresh air.  I actually enjoyed talking to her.  I'm still friends with her today and she was my Matron of Honor (you know who you are!).  She showed me what it was like to have friends who really considered ME her friend and not just me considering HER a friend.


After this revelation, I burnt a lot of bridges myself because it's very tiring to have friends like these.  They get everything out of the friendship and use you up.  And unfortunately for Husband, he did it to his wife too.  I wish I could sit him down and talk to him about what he was doing.  He met his wife when she was going through a bad time with her mother and she wanted out.  I think because she wasn't a big fan of her own family and she didn't have too many friends, he got all of her attention.  That's what he wanted, lots of attention, and when he'd jump into a group situation he'd put himself in the middle of that attention too.  So he fed off of it, and that's okay, but you can't expect everyone to WANT to give you all of their attention all the time.  We just can't do it.  There has to be give and take otherwise we all just get tired and worn out.

Husband became, to put it bluntly, an attention Vampire.

That's okay when everyone is willing to give it to him.  But then his wife had a death in her family and she turned to helping them out and wanting attention of her own.  She took time to mourn and spent time with her mother and helping with things.  She stepped back from cleaning the house and keeping everything up until Husband grew resentful.  Suddenly the vampire wasn't getting fed anymore.  He turned to the internet where he'd met some people he could feed off and they, stupidly, started feeding him whatever he wanted.  You can't feed the vampire, it only makes him stronger, you know?  But younger people don't realize this most of the time until they start feeling tapped out and become resentful themselves.

I think things were in a state of flux even before this point, but it came to a head and Husband started burning bridges because his friends weren't feeding him anymore.  They started to have lives of their own and couldn't take time to listen and not get anything in return.  We were nice about it and let him get it out of his system once every week or two, but even my own husband started to retreat when he'd come over as I think he was feeling sucked dry by this constant attention need of Husband.  I feel rather sad about that because my own husband is the best man in the world.  He's loving and caring.  He's kind and even after things came out that the couple's divorce was imminent, he was willing to spend time with Husband and was evening willing to help him move.  He didn't offer, but he was willing had he been asked as he had in the past.

But by that time, it was too late.  Husband had written him off because we weren't on his side.  How could we be on his side when he wasn't willing to work things out with his wife?  Even if it had nothing to do with the people he had met online, feeding the attention vampire - it did have everything to do with the fact that he didn't try to change to help his wife in her time of need.  He went through the motions with her and got angry when she didn't want to do things when she was mourning her family member.  He got irritated that she wanted to do other things than give all of her attention to him.  She had other commitments and since they weren't him and he wasn't willing to work it out, then he started getting resentful and hateful.

I feel very sorry for him.  At least, up until the point where he started spreading lies and expanding truths to give reason to his feelings.  I know what he was feeling was real.  Yes, he really did feel like he was being emotionally abused by his wife and his friends.  But the abuse came in a form of absence of feeding the attention vampire.  He felt empty because he wasn't getting the attention that he needed.  What he didn't realize, was by cutting off ties with these people, he was cutting off his attention even more.  He started resenting them rather than approaching them to build a better relationship.


My advice to Husband would be this:  don't resent the relationships you have, but build upon them.  If you feel like you aren't getting anything from a relationship then maybe there's something lacking on your end.  Don't say "Oh, well, I do all the calling so they obviously don't like me if they don't call."  Think about what you say during those conversations.  Do you call only because you WANT something?  YOU want to hang out, YOU want to talk about your problems, YOU want to tell them about something in your life.  Okay, there's plenty of room for that, but have you ever stopped to ask them how his/her day was and actually listen?

When they do call you to tell you something, do you ever let them tell you about their event and not turn it around about something YOU wanted to talk about?

If your wife is mourning, have you asked her what she needed?  Did she need space?  Did she need help around the house?  Did she need help to deal with her family?

When you speak about your problems and someone comes up with an anecdote about their lives, have you ever commented on it or did you consider it an interruption and go on with your story?  Have you ever just put a pin in your story to let them speak and then go back without feeling jaded?

When things don't go your way, do you just get angry, or have you considered talking it out?  This isn't "giving in" this is "growing wiser."


Tell your friends you're having trouble but don't steam roller them.  Don't TELL them to be on your side, ASK them to be on your side.  But tell your side first and don't embellish.  Ask them what you should do and LISTEN to their response.  Often times they have good advice.  Think that you feel it's unfair that they don't spend enough time with you?  Ask them to set up a meeting spot on a regular basis.  Then you can unload everything at once.  Don't require them to drop everything at a moment's notice.

The best friendships are those where your friends WANT to contact you to hang out.  They don't feel like you've been sucked dry, but instead you have a free flow of awesome conversation and enjoyed each other.  This happens with friendships or one-on-one relationships with loved ones.  They want to feel happier just because they've been with you.  They'll invite YOU places, and ask you to do things with them.

Before the end, I actually started seeking out this couple's company.  I liked hanging out with them and talking about things.  Sure, Husband still never asked me about his day, but I spent time with his wife because she was starting to feel more sure about herself and her own relationship with us.  We were starting to share things and become friends even as Husband started thinking that he was losing a friendship that was fragile.  And instead of allowing us to be there for him, he pushed us away because we 'weren't on his side.'

Don't create "SIDES".  No one is going to want to be on your side if they're forced to.  We will choose to and be happier for it if you tell us you need us and are thankful.


The last bit I wish to talk about is something I learned from my dearest friend.  It's to be thankful.  It's to thank your friends and not be resentful of anything they do that's not to your standards.  They don't have to be your friend.  Many of my friends could cut off ties with me simply by de-friending on FaceBook, they could simply stop writing me emails.  But they don't.  They don't have to call and we don't have to hang out, but we're still friends and we still talk.  And I'm grateful they listen to my problems and want to be a part of my life.  Even when I'm grouchy or I'm being selfish, they'll call me out on it.  If I learn from that, then I become a better friend which makes me thankful that they helped me grow.

Remember:  No one HAS to be your friend.  They CHOOSE to be.  Never make them regret the decision.


I wish things could change after this point, and I'm sorry that I didn't learn to be a better friend myself all of these years because I know there are a lot of friendships I miss.  There are so many bridges that I burned I'll never get back because of things that I said or did.  But I've learned and if I'd just been told the problems, then maybe I could have fixed myself too.  Unfortunately, we have to all be patient with each other, grow with each other, thank each other, and respect each other.  In a world of "ME ME ME" it's hard, but I think it's possible.

And who knows, maybe someday Husband will return to being friends with my husband, because he's a sweet man who is very forgiving.  Or maybe he'll move on and we'll never see him again.  But I feel for them because it's a rare thing to have friends and worse when the friendships end as suddenly as this one did.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Baby Bunny Video

So many baby bunnies!

Now that it's been over a week since I posted this baby bunny video on YouTube, the babies are no longer little tiny "fit in the palm of your hand" size, rather they're about the size of softballs or very large grapefruits. I've only had the chance to see one of them again romping around on our patio, but Mom stops by to eat the clover in our yard at least once a day still.  I hope the babies are doing good after this, as my husband and I were a bit worried that they might run out into the road and get hit, or get killed by the numerous dogs residing in the neighborhood.

I've always had this battle with rabbits since the moment we moved into the house.  I guess I shouldn't have been overly worried because for the most part I have more trouble with bugs eating my flowers than rabbits!  However, the winter we moved into our house I found little 'presents' of pellets all over the yard for weeks and figured we must have a heard of rabbits that lived in our yard.  Usually this meant chasing a couple of the precocious things from our flower and veggie gardens.

The bunnies get just SO comfortable in our yard I'll oftentimes see them lying out there like this!  Or they'll be grooming or just munching along at the clover to their heart's content.

Luckily, they do tend to leave our garden alone provided we don't plant small leafy greans and stick to tomatoes, pumpkins, and other vine plants (assuming those don't taste very yummy!)

It was sheer luck that I caught the video that I did as I had been chasing the mom bunny away from my garden over and over until realizing there was a reason she kept going over there, and that was to nurse her seven kits.  I had just enough time to race inside to grab the camera and race out again in hopes that I'd catch them on video as they left the lilac bush they were hiding under.

Hopefully I'll get some more photos up soon of the bunny antics in my yard.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Business Ideas that Are Causing Damage to Businesses

I'm going to take us on a strange topic today that is completely different than all of my blogs to date.  As I spend time working as a retail manager, I find that there are a lot of business practices that aren't really helping businesses at all.  I'm not here to talk about my business or the things that they do, because I would be out of a job that I need.  What I'm here to talk about today are the business ideas that keep cropping up around the United States that need to go away.  Many of these businesses are trying to fill a need.  What they're doing instead are creating havoc and theft.  Let me take a step back and give a few examples of what kinds of businesses I'm referring to, as they are causing far more theft and crime than they probably ever meant.

  • The first of these businesses I want to talk about are scrap yards.  I am sure everyone has seen these huge plots of land filled with various scrap metals and cars.  These yards have been around for ages and really haven't caused all that much trouble in the past.  Most of the time scrappers simply go around picking up cars, appliances and other scrap pieces of metal from the curb of a household that doesn't want it anymore, and they take it to sell at these scrap yards.  Most of the time they'd get a hundred dollars for the amount in a pick-up truck or some other amount depending on what kinds of metals that they have brought in.  This worked pretty good because home owners who couldn't afford to pay to have their oversize garbage taken away found it gone the next morning.  I get rid of lots of things that I know I can't sell but someone else can use and I can't afford to drive it somewhere to donate it.

  • The second business is very similar to the scrap yards, as it deals with selling electronics or gold or some other items for cash.  Mind you, pawn shops have been around for a long time.  You take in small items, and they give you a bit of cash for it, and you can either leave it behind forever or come back to get it when you have the money to pay the loan back.  Simple enough.  But now there are places that buy more specific things like gold, electronics, phones, etc.  These places will usually recycle the items much like at a scrap yard and your items are gone forever.

  • The third business has to do with gift cards.  In the past gift certificates were non-transferable pieces of paper that one could buy from a business if they didn't know what to get someone from that store.  The person could bring it in and use it as cash to buy something they actually wanted.  Certificates changed to gift cards when the technology for card swiping machines were included in nearly every store as the credit card companies expanded.  Around the 1990s everyone could get credit cards and so businesses started selling gift cards, cash cards, phone cards, you name it.  But what if someone bought you a card for a business you didn't like?  Suddenly there were websites popping up to exchange the cards.  Then, more recently, there are kiosks that could exchange cards for cash.  The company would take a small profit for the card, but you got money instead of a card you couldn't use.  More recently, CoinStar is starting to exchange these cards as well, making it less of a local program to a wide-spread problem.  (I say problem as you'll soon find out).

All of these companies and businesses fill a need in our consumerist driven society.  How to get rid of something you don't need to get something you do need - money.  That's all fine and dandy.  I, like everyone else, needs money to get by.  These ideas on paper probably look really good and for many people, they use these businesses rarely and use them honestly.

However, there's a catch.  What if these offerings are not used honestly?  What if people start selling other's items to get money for themselves?

Sure, you see pawnshops in every lower class area, every 'ghetto' area, everywhere that people start finding they're just scratching by.  I won't even talk about loans and check advance places or gambling places because they all have their own problems and you'll see them everywhere as well.  Most of the time these places move into a bad neighborhood, but as things change they get forced out by a changing economy and eventually the run down neighborhood gets a face lift and the pawn shop moves away.

But what if the area doesn't make a comeback?  What if things make a turn for the worse when something like the Great Recession of 2008 happens?  There's a huge bankruptcy crises, mortgages collapse because banks let people over-borrow, they go into dept because of credit cards, and large businesses that never had trouble staying afloat are suddenly buried.

Suddenly homeowners are forced to leave their homes in foreclosure.  The honest ones will leave their houses quickly but fairly intact.  The others, instead of being able to crawl out of the debt by moving on, take every scratch of appliance, every wire, everything that isn't nailed down (and even some that are) and run to the nearest scrap yard to sell it.  That doesn't get them out of debt, it merely helps them survive.  They run out of things to sell and so they start taking things to sell.  They steal from friends and family, they steal from empty houses on the street and take pool pumps and air conditioning units.  They take copper wires and clear out entire homes of everything that could bring them a bit of spare change.  Suddenly these people allow themselves to do corrupt things in order to just get by.

I digress... the reason for this blog is to point out that these ideas that should be helping honest people are merely helping thieves.  Thieves will steal purses and backpacks to steal phones and laptops.  They don't use these items because they need them, they steal them to sell.  They break into cars and into homes to steal and pawn TVs and computer equipment.  The police can't track them down or won't unless the items are worth just so much, and if they find out the owner has insurance, then they won't bother at all.  The items will just get replaced.  That, in turn, makes the insurance fees go up and it causes those people who were stealing to go around without insurance because they can't afford it any more.

Gift card kiosks are the worst of these businesses in the last few years.  It's stores that get hurt because they're trying to be nice to the honest people.  Here's how it works:  Thief knows that store will take back merchandise without a receipt and give them a gift card in return.  So they go in and steal stuff.  Maybe they'll have a crew that steals and a crew that 'returns' the items.  The person who 'returns' these items takes the gift card they get and takes it to the kiosk.  They get free money.  It might be $20, but for some of these people it's enough to buy a meal and some drugs.  Most of them are usually out for the drugs since food stamps pay for the food.  So the stores are out the money, but if they refuse to do the return, they're out the items.  If they take back the stolen items, the store shows an extra in their stock and when they have inventory they'll come up short which takes a hit on their theft shrinkage.  That means they'll get hit twice, first with the theft of money, and then with the supposed theft of items in inventory.

But thieves don't stop there.  Eventually the thieves realize that the store isn't cooperating and if they find out that it's too easy to steal things, they'll go to great lengths to get tons of things out the front door.  I've seen huge boxes and carts full of things leaving the door.  I don't work in a retail establishment that sells food or items of great value, nothing that these people would need to live.  So what are they doing with these items?  Pawning most likely, some of it.  Flea markets maybe.  Selling it to other businesses that buy items for money, I'm sure.  Whatever big score they can get to buy them a bag of drugs or some money to feed their kids.

And what is stopping these thieves?  These businesses say they track these people.  They say they only let people get just so much money a day...  But how do they stop them if they use fake IDs?  Many of these people have drivers licences as well as just IDs... And I'm not sure why the government is allowing this, but I won't get into that.  What I'm saying, however, is that there's nothing stopping these people from getting multiple "IDs" with various addresses and they can get around all of the rules in place to stop them from fraud.

What I hope though, is that these businesses would take a much better look at how people are going to use their product.  Will this cell phone sell-back service cause theft from honest people?  How can this business be abused?  If every business would take a step back before promoting their product and ask, "can this go wrong?"  I think perhaps that thieves would have to think twice in order to make a profit.  Businesses are losing money because they aren't planning ahead.  Sure, if everyone was honest, putting that gift card kiosk in the store would be great.  You would make a profit and customers could have the convenience of buying a card for a gift.  However, what about those people buying gift cards with stolen credit cards?

How about we all just start looking at the world with a bit more suspicion.  I like to be optimistic when the economy is starting to bounce back after our recession, but there are too many out there who have gotten used to this dishonest system.  They take advantage because the system has taken advantage of them.  Maybe someday these people will all get jobs and be productive members of the society again, perhaps the government will give them a reason to, but more likely these people will keep doing what they are doing, teach their kids to do the same, and if we don't stop them from doing these things, it will continue to get worse and worse.

So, I plead with new business owners and these people who are thinking about starting up the 'next great thing' - ask yourself, "How can this be abused?"  Don't put it into practice if only a few honest people will actually be able to take advantage of this and a few hundred thieves are using it daily.  Take a good hard look at what protections you have in place.  Then, not only will your business thrive because thieves aren't taking advantage of you, but the honest person will also trust you to know that you're taking care of them too.


EDIT ADDITIONAL THOUGHTS:  It was brought to my attention that of course not all homeowners forced to allow their homes go into foreclosure are thieves and vandals.  Some, like those in the military, may have to move and cannot sell their homes and have to forfeit the home they bought.  There are others, as well who just have financial crises and family problems, job lose, etc.  In this article, I'm talking only about those people who, instead of finding ways to make ends meet honestly, turn to making a quick buck as an answer.  There may be some people who turn to this life of crime or vandalism once and then find their way out again without letting anything get on their permanent records.  However, there are still so many more out there who allow themselves to be swept up with the lie that "it's okay because everyone is doing it" or "just one more time and I'll quit this drug and won't need the money anymore."

I sincerely believe that anyone, anyone can go through a hard time in their lives due to unforeseen circumstances.  A job can be taken out from under them, a loved one can die, a tornado or flood can take out a house where insurance won't cover it...  Good people (and I believe everyone can be good, but it's much harder to do sometimes than to be bad) will try to crawl out of their situation even if that means taking a part-time job that pays squat, or they'll give up and start over again somewhere new.  It might be hard, but there's always an honest way out, so long as one is willing to put everything they have into it.  The problem exists in the 'easy dollar' or trying to find some way out that usually results in a temporary solution that tends to hurt not only the person doing it, but those around them as well.  And perhaps if businesses paid their employees enough to live, they wouldn't have so many employees stealing from them and adding to a whole set of other problems!  But...that is for another day.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Followup: The Demise of Anime Conventions

If you have not read my previous blog on this topic, please skip this entry and go to "The Demise of Anime Conventions".  I got a bunch of interesting feedback and I plan to do a short followup with some questions that arose after publishing.


In my blog entry, "The Demise of Anime Conventions" I pointed out a distinct shift away from "anime-only" conventions and towards more of a return to the sci-fi/comic book convention that originally spawned these genre specific conventions.  Some people agreed with me whole-heartedly while others disagreed with me completely.  This made me realize that I have been looking at anime conventions from a distinctly East Coast point of view, and more likely a Mid-East/North-East point of view since I've never been further than Chicago in my convention wanderings.  That doesn't mean that everyone West of Chicago disagreed with me as a few of them also agreed that things were making a distinct shift, but I did start to wonder about location and also about saturation of the market.

Let me start with talking briefly here about West Coast conventions.  Now, really, I don't have anything but my own personal perceptions of these West coast conventions as I've never been to one.  From what I can see online, however, most of them are quite large and run by possibly, larger corporations.  I could be completely wrong, there may be dozens of little conventions (and I'm sure there are) all over the West coast, but because of population numbers, I wonder how near to one another these conventions are located.  Simply looking at population, I can only imagine that larger cities tend to host these conventions as most of the time larger cities are where there are more convention spaces and hotels.

That said, if you move to East Coast conventions, we have a whole heck of a lot of them.  They range from fairly large 22K or bigger Otakon, down to some very small 100 people conventions.  Within the range of where I am in Ohio, I could probably drive to a few dozen conventions just within an 8 hour drive.  I usually attend at least 2-5 conventions a year which are within the 3 hour range.  What does that mean to me and those who agreed with me on the demise of conventions?

Perhaps it means that the true demise of anime conventions lies in the demise of smaller conventions.  These conventions range probably less than 2,000 attendees and are forced to cater to a larger group of genres for their attendees or risk losing attendance each year as children/teenagers grow up and move on to other things rather than just anime/manga.

Perhaps though, this genre switch is also taking place in the larger conventions.  The largest conventions that I've attended are Anime Central, Ohayocon, and Otakon.  I've attended Ohayocon since 2003, and Anime Central off and on over the years, and Otakon only once in 2006.  So, if I take Ohayocon for example, it started out in 2003 as perhaps less than 5,000 attendees, their dealer room was about 12-20 vendors who dealt strictly with figures, plushies, manga from Japan, doujinshi from Japan, Funimation, MediaBlasters, and maybe a sword dealer.  Artists in the alley attempted drawing doujinshi, but more often they had tables full of fan art.  I do not remember any cosplayers playing anything but anime or manga characters.  Fast forward to 2014 and there were American comic book stores, card gaming and video gaming, artists and clothing ranging from cosplay to gothic to steampunk.

Now, Ohayocon was always an ANIME convention.  It's expanded into something a bit more, and for it's size it can have anything it wants.  It's a Pop Culture convention, no matter what it may call itself now.  And if you ask the 18-20 sect, they might still say it's an "anime" convention.  However, don't be fooled, because running the anime convention Tsubasacon and sitting in the Ohayocon dealer room advertising for that convention... we had people coming up to us saying "Oh, you're an anime convention?  We don't go to anime conventions."  WAIT..... WHAT?  But YOU'RE AT ONE!

I've seen the same shift in genres at Anime Central a few year's back and at Colossalcon, at Matsuricon, Tekkoshocon, and every single other convention that I've attended in the past few years.

Does that mean it's happening everywhere?  No.  It doesn't.  But...I have a feeling it is happening everywhere.  You can't stop cartoon characters from popping up at anime conventions.  Can't stop people cosplaying various objects and people found in other sci-fi genres.  People go to these events to share in their geekdom and they've realized that if they stand out a bit by wearing something from a different series that isn't Japanese, then they'll get more photos and more interest.

Ah... so there you are again.  Interest.  People are interested in far more things now than just anime.  It was actually a lot easier a few years back to pick up dozens of manga and anime every week and keep your daily dose high.  Heck, I used to drop $100 a week on all of that and it was my life for a few years.  However, it's a lot harder to do that now with only a few companies putting out anime and manga.  Okay... so I take that back, there's a WHOLE LOT of stuff out there on the internet, and if you're reading this then you're probably thinking "well, I watch all of my anime on Crunchyroll or I download it, and I read all of my manga online" - but when you're online, are you only doing that?  Aren't you downloading "Game of Thrones" and watching "Adventure Time" as well?  And when you go to a convention, aren't you hoping to find something to support those genres too?

I'd really love to know if anyone else out there has a different opinion on anime conventions.  Feel free to drop me a line at my email:  if you have a different idea on this.  Or just comment below.  If you go to a convention that is sticking with it's anime roots and not bowing to the American comics or cartoons... I'd love to know.  If you think that there are still 'pure' anime conventions that will outlast this 'death' I've foretold, it would be interesting to look into for me.

Otherwise... I have a feeling I'm still somewhat right about this.

Friday, May 2, 2014

The Demise of Anime Conventions

This is going to be a serious look at the demise of anime conventions.  Over the past twelve years I have seen the rise and fall of anime conventions, and it's at once a sad, and yet inevitable fall of this strange incarnation of fandom conventions.

If you were to Wiki the term "Anime Convention", you'll find a fairly accurate description of this strange beast.  Originating around 1980 or so, anime conventions spawned off the more popular comic book conventions of the age, and those spawned from even earlier science fiction conventions that started around the 1930s.  In that day and age, conventions were a way of drawing authors and fans of the genre together for a day or weekend in order to share their common fascination with science fiction.  At the time, science fiction was mainly found in the format of dime novels and compilation magazines, the occasional radio show or movie, and later in comic books.  Obviously, drawn comics spawned animated comics, called cartoons, which were for a typically younger audience.  As those youngsters grew up, however, they found a need to gather at conventions of their own where they could celebrate all things comic-book related away from the older science fiction group.  Comic conventions were created, which eventually drew in the likes of Japanese comics, called "manga" (mahn-ga, not MAN-ga) and the animated equivalent of "anime" (short for animation).

Right around the early 1980s, anime was starting to creep over to the United States in the form of recorded Beta/VHS tapes, many of which were sent over from people who were stationed in Japan as part of the US Military.  At that time, things of Japan were starting to take on a new level of fascination since WWII was starting to fade from the minds of many Americans and there were these strange cartoons, books, and foodstuffs starting to pop up around Japanese immigrant areas (Little Japan).  People could find sushi and Pocky and these strange adult cartoons that were often of a pornographic nature, but not always of course. ( I'm sure the guys who brought back some of these tapes in the day probably got a real kick out of it while they were stationed in Japan!)

With very few copyright laws surrounding these VHS tapes, the bootleg industry boomed.  Comic book conventions were an excellent way to pick up VHS tapes of these strange Japanese anime shows, and slowly the artwork of manga started to trickle over to be translated by comic book companies in the USA.  By the 1990s, quite a few of the fans of Japanese comics started spawning their own conventions.  These conventions were typically run for an entire weekend, rather than one or two days of the weekend.  Often held in a hotel which could be open 24 hours, they would show anime translated by fans (fansubs) and sell bootleg merchandise that could be anything from figures, posters, wallscrolls, whatever could be imported or bought from shops that imported from Japan or China.  At the time, it didn't really matter where the fans were getting this stuff, so long as they could get their hands on it!

I came into the anime convention circuit rather late in the game.  American comic companies were starting to get copyrights from Japan in order to translate and distribute anime and manga.  Funimation was born after the success of Pioneer (which was a Japanese company with US distribution) and MediaBlasters had the corner on hentai (pornographic anime).  Many of these companies were reacting to the demand and picking up titles that had not yet been copyrighted.  Japan, excited to get their product sold in the USA, started licensing titles to all sorts of up-and-coming companies.  Many of these companies would rise and fall, leaving only a few survivors today, but I'll speak on that later.

About the time I was getting into anime, Cartoon network had followed in the footsteps of SciFi (SyFy now) to play the now English dubbed anime.  Children's programming such as Pokemon, Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura were being chopping and recombined into new shows for American audiences at an alarming rate (note, this was done 10-20 years earlier but it started to gain more popularity since merchandising around these shows were so much more profitable to the 80/90's era children).  Tokyopop had started printing manga in it's original, although translated, form, rather than the left-to-right format most people read.

This whole huge boom of anime, manga, and conventions reached a head right around the year 2000.  A handful of companies were bringing over anime titles to the point there was a new DVD each week, if not more than one title a week.  The anime section at Best Buy in my town grew to encompass 16 feet (maybe even more) of 5 foot tall racks: hundreds of titles, with more coming each week.  Bookstores went from one 4 foot shelf of graphic novels to entire walls of manga, and at one point Borders even started to buy up manga straight from Japan to sell in some of their locations.  Before long there were figures, wallscrolls, T-shirts, posters, bags, stuffed animals and food stuffs and just about every store you walked into.  Something Japanese could be found anywhere from the local grocery store to the shelves of Walmart.  

The true saturation limit of all of this anime and manga hit right between 2002-2006.  For a time there were actual anime/manga stores cropping up in college towns where only normal comic book stores once controlled the territory.  Anime conventions could bring in 2,000 people on their very first weekends, and some of the larger conventions were starting to break out in LosAngeles, Chicago, Baltimore, New York, and quite a few other places as well.

But for every good growth period, there comes a downfall.  2008, or the beginning of the "Great Recession" in the USA, suddenly things started to take a downturn.  The Blu-Ray/HD Disc war started, and VHS tapes were no longer being produced.  DVDs were on the decline.  The internet was starting to take over the distribution for anime and manga.  During the height of demand, quite a few fans moved to Japan, learned Japanese, or perhaps made contacts overseas.  Suddenly there were hundreds of fan subtitled anime, hundreds of scanned/translated manga, and conventions were no longer a place to meet friends, because the internet could instantly connect someone with dozens of others who liked the same things as they did.  Japan started realizing that they could make a whole bunch more money if they brought over anime and manga themselves rather than selling the rights off.  And especially after the scandals over the many anime/manga sites that were just distributing fan copies all over the internet reached an all-time high.  Eventually many of them started to bring lawsuits against this illegal distribution and many companies couldn't compete against the rising prices of licensing Japanese titles.

I always kind of mark the downfall of anime conventions with the death of Big Apple con.  I'm not sure what happened there in New York, but for some reason this very large convention died a pretty big death and other smaller conventions started dying off afterward.  Maybe it was because every other anime fan thought that he could 'start a convention of his own' and with very little start up money and no financial backing, went overboard and brought themselves into financial collapse.  It takes a lot of money and time to start up a convention, and even more to keep it running.  I've personally seen two or three 'almost cons' start up and fail either before they even had a single weekend or after that one weekend.  The most successful conventions of course were run by business people who perhaps run two or more conventions around the country.  With proper financial prowess and dozens of contacts in the industry, these conventions will most likely be the last ones standing when all the other conventions fail.

The true demise of anime conventions today is the stigma of being an anime convention.  It might sound strange, but the same thing that used to drive people to an anime convention now drives them away.  "ANIME."  You wouldn't think the title would mean a lot, but anime conventions are starting to slowly be driven back to their original roots.  These conventions must now drop their subtitle.  They must reach into the American comic book interests, the pop culture and the cartoons that drive the geek interest in today's world.  The younger fans drive the money, and if they think they don't like 'anime', then they'll say so.  They won't come to an anime convention unless they think they'll get something from their Marvel universe.  

Anime conventions are now being forced to either allow the cosplayers of American comics to compete, or they find themselves shunned by the fan community.  There has to be Steampunk and Cartoon Network related things, there have to be memes and trading games.  They have to encompass all things "Geek" now just to keep bringing in the attendees.  In essence, these Anime Conventions are becoming Pop Culture Conventions.  

Will some of these conventions die if they continue on with their chosen category of fandom?  Yes.  Why?  Because the fans are no longer fans of just one thing anymore.  That guy over there who likes watching anime also likes Game of Thrones.  That girl who reads manga also likes to watch Dr. Who.  No one likes just one thing when there are so many things to choose from.  Social Media has made staying in touch with others who like our fandom easy.  Conventions merely provide a place to socialize in person.  Many of these also provide a change of pace and scenery.  Conventions are starting to become places to go on a vacation.  They have to have a unique venue, unique guests, and interesting vendors to shop from.  They have to cater to a wide variety of fans, must have a wide variety of programming, and must continuously find new ways to hit these marks each time.

This, of course, is not to say that new fandoms won't spawn from these conventions.  I'm merely stating that anime conventions are no longer the social meeting places they once were.  Anime conventions now spawn off other conventions such as My Little Pony conventions.  Will these last longer than the series?  A few perhaps, but more for collectors rather than fans of the series.  Comic book conventions have survived the growth of anime conventions, and they will most likely out-live them as well.  Many anime conventions will most likely return to their roots or join back with the comic book conventions of the 70's/80's.  Many of them will end when those who run them grow older and wish to deal with families and their futures.  

We will probably never see a time again where anime conventions were once the sprawling places where someone could dress up in their favorite outfit and get surrounded by other fans of the series.  We won't see 'glomping' or dozens of fans sitting around a room watching a 'new' anime because almost everyone has seen it within the week it was released in Japan.  Cosplay won't be limited to just characters coming out of Japan.  Video game rooms won't be limited to titles released in Japan.  We won't be able to find the vast numbers of bootleg toys and items (which, is actually a good thing) but we won't find the vast numbers of manga and DVD/BDs that we once could in dealer rooms.  We won't see artist alleys filled with fan art of our favorite series as now they're limited to mostly original artwork and comics that are more American.

All of these things are in the past.  I hope, if you are reading this, you were able to enjoy some of the rise of Anime Conventions, and if you are still attending them now, I have a feeling many of them will never been the same as they once were.  My guess is many of them will have fallen to the Pop Culture influences (if they haven't already) within the next few years.  Enjoy them while they last, as they are a dying breed.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Backyard Birdwatching

Welcome to the wonderful world of backyard bird watching!  Your host today - me - will walk you through a couple of basics when it comes to starting your new hobby of watching birds in the backyard!  I will walk you through a couple of easy steps to attracting birds and then go over a few of the species that you'll see regularly if you live in the North/Eastern United States.

Okay...actually, that's pretty cut and dry stuff.  Actually this blog is more about showing off pictures I've taken in my backyard, but I thought maybe putting some educational stuff in there too might be a bonus.  I've been feeding birds in my backyard since I was pretty young.  My mother had a bird feeder that hung from the eaves outside our patio window and she'd fill it from time to time.  Growing up I thought these little birds in the picture above were "chickadees" - they are not.  They are House Sparrows.  (I'm only capitalizing the names of birds as I name them, don't freak out all you English major types.)  I had a small, metal windup toy of one of these sparrows and for some reason I got the wrong assumption that they were chickadees from a mix up of my grandmother talking about the song of a chickadee (chick-a-dee-dee-dee) and this little toy bird.

Since then, I've learned about all sorts of birds.  I especially love feeding them out in my backyard as my cats get a bit of a kick out of seeing them, and I just like to see what other types of birds I can attract.  Without feeding birds, you might only see these nesting in nearby bushes or trees or typically the birds will hit in a group after mowing the lawn or because of overgrown weeds.  Other birds that are common are Robins, Starlings and a few other species that pass by.  It is possible to see birds without feeding them, but if you wish to see their antics up close, it's good to buy a nice feeder.

My backyard setup at the present are two different feeders (one standard seed, another for thistle which they call something else but I have no inclination to walk downstairs for the proper spelling as I'm lazy - njyger maybe) on hooks that I have attached to my fence - these can be hooked onto back porches and other flat surfaces like tables if you're so inclined.  I also have a new yard hook (shepherd hook) that has a suet attachment and eventually a birdbath if I start to feel ambitious.  It only takes one feeder to bring in birds, and be patient, it sometimes takes a full week or more for birds to find it and start using it, but they'll be all over the place once they do!

Before long the birds start coming and drain the feeder within the span of an afternoon.  Typically, this large hole feeder (which, by the way, I do not recommend as it can be emptied within an hour by an industrious gang of sparrows) attracts all number of small brown birds and their larger cousins.  Starlings tend to love emptying them and I've had a number of flocks of these birds in the past take over the feeder until all the seed was on the ground.  What this does, however, is encourage the birds who don't, or can't sit on a feeder, to come and feast on the fallen seeds. The Mourning Doves in the top photo have taken advantage of this for the last three years and they have multiplied from only one nesting couple the first year I moved into my house to three nesting couples and a lone sibling.  They will just sit under the feeders sleeping for hours until a flock of rowdy sparrows or starlings comes and empties the feeder.

Two other birds which enjoy this mass-emptying are the Junco (slate-gray in this case hopping on the fence) and the Song Sparrow (seen by himself in the photo below).  This particular sparrow is a very vocal sort of chap, and loves to drive my cats crazy by sitting in the bush that sits in the front yard in front of the window and sing until it's lungs give out.  I tend to only see one of these at a time, so am inclined to think it's the same bird over and over, but I could be mistaken.

One misconception that I've had myself over the years is to believe that the birds you see out in your yard are the same birds.  Now, it's possible.  However, many times if you see a species you are unfamiliar with, they are simply migrating through.  Quite a few species, especially starlings for example, might appear in your yard multiple times during the week but then they move on in their large flocks and won't come back until months later, even though you've seen a very similar group come by once a week, normally these aren't the same birds.

On the other hand, my mourning doves do return year after year as I've taken pictures of them to compare coloration and markings.  Doves like to find a good nesting ground and they will return.  My group, as I explained before, were just a single nesting pair that chose to use my fence for their nest.  Since then I never count more than seven birds at a time, have watched the most recent three grow up from small babies.  A few in this group are almost pink in color.  Some are avid singers (as seen in the photo below where he's belting out a tune), though others sometimes coo quietly, the loud singers tend to wake me up by sitting on the fence under my bedroom window.

Mourning doves are prolific breeders and can nest multiple times during the course of the spring and summer.  I have found multiple nests all over my fence line which causes some pretty messy situations after the babies have hatched and choose to poop all over wherever they are currently sitting.  I wouldn't encourage this behavior necessarily as it takes a lot of scrubbing to get bird poop off of porches, chairs, tables, fences, etc.

Another popular bird that can be spotted without a bird feeder is the robin.  Growing up in Michigan, this was our state bird so if you didn't know what a robin looked like you were pretty much stupid.  I remember children coloring in our state bird to look like a blue-bird (blue with a red breast) and would have to argue with them that robins are more brown or gray.  Pale robins without the darker head as seen in these photos are females.  I caught two males sneaking suet from the feeder.  Worms and bugs are tough to come by after this cold winter so these two hung around for a few days before moving on.

Just like starlings, robins migrate.  Often they don't stay around more than a few days, unless they are nesting, that is.  I have had a nesting couple in the maple in my front yard last year and have had a few fat little baby robins pooping all over the porch.  I suppose I need to do a short blog on baby birds sometime this spring to show off some of these photos I've taken over the past few years.  However, because robins migrate at the first signs of cold and then return at the first signs of spring, they are good indicators that spring is coming when they show up.  My mother always believed spring was here when the first robin showed up in Michigan.  However, warm weather typically is marked by the red-wing blackbird.  Unfortunately, even though I have had two of these visit my feeders this year already, and can hear them singing by the train tracks near my house, I have been unable to photograph the buggers.

Now to change tracks just slightly and visit the prettier birds that I've been able to attract to my feeders.  This is the smaller thistle feeder which attracts mostly finches.  Gold Finches, in this case, have been visiting since early February, and I tend to see these birds year round in Ohio, so it's possible they don't migrate nearly as far if they have a good food source.  This male is just starting to show his summer yellow.  During the winter the main distinguishing feature of a gold finch is its black and white patched wings.  They are darker than any other species I have locally and even when the birds are brown in the dead of winter, it is easy to tell which type of bird they are.  As the month wears on this male will shed the brown feathers and become bright yellow.

Another less noticeable finch is the House Finch (not to be confused with the house sparrow) which has a red coloring on its face and chest.  These pretty little birds often show up about the same time as the sparrows and I've seen them fly off together in little groups and next together.  They're about the same size, but the males are brilliantly colored.

The last birds I will cover for now are also two very flashy birds.  One probably wouldn't include the Grackle as a 'flashy bird' but I believe they are one of the sharpest birds that grace my backyard.  There is something about this jet black bird with the purple/blue/green iridescent head that just really stands out to me.  They tend to stay in groups and sometimes appear with starlings or red-wing blackbirds.  This one will call his friends to come over when the feeder is freshly filled and they will do everything possible to empty the feeder so they pick from their favorite seeds.

The cardinal is one of the most recognizable birds in the Northeast United States and oftentimes people know what this bird is even when drawn in very abstract ways, so long as it has red plumage and a black face, most people know the name of this bird.  Females are more brown, but still as recognizable.  Perhaps this is the reason that so many states (including Ohio and West Virginia and many others) actually have this bird as their state bird.  I've had a pair of these birds at my feeder, but they really loved my sunflowers last summer, so they tend to like larger seeds in the feeders.

 For now, this concludes your backyard bird watching lesson!  For now I'm concentrating on birds I've taken photos of only this year rather than ones I've seen in previous sessions (plus the photos are prettier with the new camera).  Be sure to click on the photos to see the large versions as some of the earlier photos have a multitude of birds in various angles in flight.  I hope you've enjoyed this short lesson in bird watching!

I'm not sure what the next blog topic might be on, perhaps cooking.