Revisiting the Historic Women’s March

I should have posted this sooner, but I thought that the massive protest known as the Women’s March, held in major and minor cities all over the country, would be the talk of the town for at least weeks to come. I was wrong. It turns out that in Trump’s America, each weekend is a new major protest, following week after week of unbelievably corrupt actions coming from Washington.

In any case, here are some simple photos and stories from the brief time I spent at the Women’s March in Los Angeles.

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I took the metro to get from Santa Monica to downtown LA. It was my second time ever using the metro here, and the first time doing it by myself. I spotted this pretty green mountain and thought it made for a nice photo.
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And the clouds that day looked like snow. It was a beautiful afternoon.
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Still on the metro, I saw this smashed Trump pinata as I got closer towards downtown, hanging from someone’s balcony. The day was about to get weird.
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I arrived later in the day, so lots of folks were already there, trying to leave. The size of the crowd was immediately obvious.
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One of the first things I saw was this recycling bin full of protest signs. Some people, disrespectfully, threw trash into it also. The first thing I thought was, “Is this a ‘take a sign, leave a sign’ program?” Nah. Protest signs were simply littered all over downtown, often not even in bins or trash cans.
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This photo does not convey how tightly everyone was packed into the same crowd. It was hard to breathe, and I am amazed I even got out eventually.
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The stage where they had speakers, singers, and more was massive. This was the best angle I could get.
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There was an awesome wall made out of the protest signs. It was just radical.
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Here’s a closer look at a small section of that wall. It’s rather vulgar, but so is the fact that the president of the United States has bragged about committing sexual assault, and then refuses to take accountability for it, and says those who accuse him of sexual assault are “looking for attention.”
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And of course the metro ride home was much more packed than the ride there. It was really hot in there.
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Embracing the Chrome Dome

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Here’s how this adventure will end.

Sadly, I’m not talking about the Chrome Dome from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

I am a man. I’m still a bit young, 25, but I have been suffering from a receding hairline for several years already. Many men begin balding at some point in their life. My genetics decided I should start a little earlier than most. Some guys lose their hair around age 17, so I can’t really complain too much.

I struggled with the idea of fully shaving my head and going bald because I LOVE long hair. I think long hair looks great on both men and women, and it’s super fun to create different kinds of hairstyles.

However, even though the hair on the sides and back of my head is thick and full and strong… it is very thin and sparse up on top, in addition to the aforementioned receding hairline.

Last night, I decided to finally embrace the reality that is my balding. Today, I am bald.

I had been growing my hair out for 16 months, and it was longer than it had ever been.

Here are some before photos. You can notice the awful receding hairline, and the awkward “bangs” my hairline created.

And I had to get THESE next photos, because I am so in-love with the man-bun hairstyle. I am seriously going to miss putting my hair into a bun, even though it never really looked good on me.

Lastly, the photos below show the new me. Well, I’m not new. The only new thing is my decision to embrace my baldness. It’s not even been 24 hours, so I don’t really feel any different. But hopefully in time I’ll feel more comfortable and confident and stop worrying about my hair and physical appearance so much. That was the goal in shaving it all off.

Time to grow an epic beard!

How to end mass shootings

This is a very important topic to me, and I apologize for not having any fancy editing or effects or a proper YouTube channel set up, but I didn’t want to wait until I have all that stuff to upload this video.

Please be a part of the conversation, and the solution. Leave a comment, send a tweet, hug a friend. Just talking about it helps, and remember that you can express yourself nonverbally too. Every action you make matters and has power.

The 4 Kindest YouTubers I Met At VidCon

I went to VidCon. As one does at VidCon, I met YouTubers. All of them were cordial, but some were incredibly wonderfully nice and very sincere and so easy to make a real connection with. Here are the YouTubers that I had the best interactions with at VidCon:

Shay Carl

Shay and other panelists were rushed off the stage when the panel concluded, but after a few minutes, Shay popped out just for a hot second to talk to a couple fans. I was one of those two people. Shay is the biggest role model of my entire life, and I wrote this lengthy blog post before I left for VidCon about why he was the sole reason I even decided to go. I went to VidCon for no reason more significant than to thank Shay Carl for all he has done for me. And I got to do that. I only had a brief window to speak with him, and I told him some of my deepest darkest secrets in seconds, almost succumbing to tears. He hugged me and told me I inspire him to do what he does, and was very encouraging. This man is literally a hero. I tweeted about the encounter, and Shay “liked” it. He liked another of my tweets the next day, too. They were my first online interactions with him directly, and it is pretty cool that my very first-ever interaction with Shay was in-person.

Anna Akana

I got Anna for one of my lottery signings (you are entered into a lottery system to wait in a long line to meet a famous YouTuber), and I was so pumped. I have been a huge fan of hers for such a long time. I was one of the very first people in line to speak with her, and when I got to, I told her that she is the funniest comedian on YouTube, how relatable her comedy is, and how her more-serious subjects have really had an impact on me. As I was gushing about how great she is to her face, she got really happy and gave me a big hug. That’s where this photo came from:

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Left: Anna Akana. Right: No one important.

Grace Helbig

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Me meeting Grace. She immediately reacted to my tattoo in a very positive way. Also, Grace is beautiful on her own, but just look how gorgeous she is when placed next to an ugly dude like me.

Grace was super nice and we had such a great little chat. I told her about how the “song” from her movie, Camp Takota, which obnoxiously goes “Camp, camp, camp it up!” has been stuck in my head for literally years. She told me I put a curse on her because now it would be stuck in her head too. When I walked away, I said to her, “Stay amazing!” and she said, “Likewise!” She also made a pretty great face during one of our photos:

 

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Grace is also an amazing hugger. She’s a seriously awesome person.

 

Peanut Butter Gamer

I’m not as into the gaming side of YouTube, but Peanut Butter Gamer (Austin Hargrave) was on a panel that I went to, and he was really generous with his time afterwards, talking to every single fan even though he got swarmed. He is, in my opinion, the funniest gamer on YouTube, and I told him that, and he was very sincerely thankful for my compliments. I think it’s because he’s just a normal dude who happened to make it big doing something fun that he loves. I don’t think he ever saw himself as the inspirational public figure he has come to be, so he is super humble and just a really nice guy. He was one of the first YouTubers I met, and I took a photo with him, and it was so blurry that I didn’t bother to take photos with any other YouTubers for the rest of the convention.

The end.

I did meet a TON of other YouTubers, and they were all very cool, and it was so great to meet them, but these 4 people were the coolest, nicest, most genuine YouTubers among all the ones I happened to meet. Go subscribe to their channels.

Why I’m Risking Life and Limb to Attend VidCon

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Colette and Shay Butler, as they appeared when I discovered their YouTube channel. They’ve both gotten older, and Shay has lost ~100 pounds since this was taken.

It’s to say thank you to Shay Carl Butler. And to his wife, Colette, as she’s every bit the hero that he is.

I discovered their YouTube channel, Shaytards (which, I assure you, is a name that has nothing to do with “the R-word” and has everything to do with the word “unitard”), in early 2011, which was a very critical time in my life: I was a freshman in college, in the last few months of a very harrowing year that had me fearing for my very survival due to a sociopathic roommate who constantly harassed me and eventually threatened to kill me. While my peers were going to parties and getting really drunk and having lots of sex, I was trying to figure out how to stay safe. I was also having a lot of problems at home, and didn’t feel like I could confide in anyone or have anyone to turn back to.

The Shaytards changed my life. They made a new video every single day, and the content was nothing more than fun family home-videos. When I began watching, they had just had their fourth child, and each video they made (called a “vlog,” or video blog) featured lots of shenanigans as the silly and fun-loving Shay and Colette raised their kids.

I had never even comprehended the idea that families could be so happy. Watching their videos caused a radical paradigm shift in me. I was super-depressed, and had been through high school and as a kid, and here was this family having lots of fun, day after day after day after day, and Shay sharing his fatherly words of wisdom like “happiness is a choice” and just constantly giving lots of, well, I guess, “pep talks” throughout the videos. And he was totally honest that, yeah, when the camera was turned off, sometimes the family would fight, and things weren’t always perfect– but when the camera was on, none of that was staged or faked. And that might have been hard to believe if there weren’t so many years of videos showing such an amazingly happy family. Not only was the family so often happy, but over the years we got to see Shay and Colette have their fifth child, Shay lose 100 pounds, and selling the family business (a YouTube enterprise called Maker Studios) to Disney, for 500 million dollars. When I first started watching, they were rather poor. This is one hell of a successful family, and they have really motivated me every day since I started watching.

Shay was a very involved and connected YouTuber, and I discovered many other YouTube channels, and became a very active member of the YouTube community, because of him. I’m subscribed to over 50 channels that I watch frequently and regularly today. At one point, I was subscribed to over 100 channels, but wasn’t watching them all so I unsubscribed from some to clear out what’s called your “subscription box.” What’s nice about YouTube is that you get access to an infinite number of channels and content, all for free, and can watch at your own convenience.

What’s also nice about YouTube is that, unlike TV, it’s a social media, somewhat similar to Facebook. Content creators like Shay are able to read comments made to them on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever other online platform that people communicate to them with. And they will respond to certain comments or questions in their videos. There is clearly a relationship between content creators and their audience. And it’s a very special relationship, especially with people like the Shaytards, who let you in to see so much of their lives.

So today, in 2016, I have been actively watching various YouTube channels for five years. Since 2007 or so, there has been a convention held every year, called VidCon, created by YouTuber/Entrepeneur/Renaissance-Man Hank Green. I’ve always wanted to go, and this year I am.

But I have had the absolute worst time setting up for this trip. The convention is held in Anaheim, California. I am currently living in Pennsylvania. Let me tell you about a few challenges I have had in arranging this trip:

It’s expensive.

This was challenge #1. Tickets to VidCon are over $100, and flights to CA are very expensive. Then a place to stay, whether a hotel or Airbnb, adds another few hundred dollars to the cost. By booking so early for VidCon, I did get a reduced-price ticket and flight, thank goodness. However, while I had enough money for the trip when I made the arrangements, recent events in my life have drained my bank account and income, so now I consider it very high-risk to go on this trip. And there have been additional problems such as…

Graduate school was in the way.

When I made arrangements to attend VidCon, I didn’t know I would enroll in some summer classes for my graduate program. And when I did enroll, and eventually got the schedule, I was basically told that I had to choose between taking the class or going to VidCon, as I wouldn’t be able to pass the summer class if I missed a single day, which my trip would have resulted in. Like any sensible person, I chose to take my class and drop VidCon. Maybe I could go next year or something, even though I had already made the arrangements and always wanted to go, just to thank Shay for everything he taught me. But then, later, major life events happened, the same life events that drained my bank account, which also had the effect of me dropping my summer classes. So I was able to go to VidCon after all. But then…

My Airbnb host cancelled.

This part sucked. I had booked well in advance a cheap and nearby Airbnb. It was a much better price than any hotel or anywhere else. But I was informed by the hosts that they would be moving during those days and could no longer host. It was the only affordable Airbnb in the area, but I didn’t want to cancel the trip. I was prepared to go with just a backpack and a small sleeping bag, and find somewhere to sleep outdoors each night. Yes, that’s how crazy I was about going on this trip. Luckily, this past weekend, additional Airbnb hosts opened up their homes, and I do have somewhere to stay now, though it’s farther away (3.5 miles away– so if I walk to the convention center and back each day, that’s 7 miles of walking a day) and slightly more expensive. This is something I was very worried about for a while. But my original Airbnb hosts weren’t the only ones changing things on me…

My flight changed this morning, and this was my first time hearing about it, and I booked the flight in January.

Yep. Originally I was flying out of Pittsburgh at 10 AM and returning at 8 PM later in the week, but just this morning, two days before the flight, I was informed, in no ceremonious way, that my flight was leaving at 6:30 AM on Wednesday and returning at 11 PM on Sunday. So, leaving much earlier and returning much later. Okay then. I had already made preparations with friends to drop me off and pick me up, and scheduled myself accordingly, but now I’ve had to make big updates to my plans in a really short time. What really annoyed me is that the email I was sent made it sound like this was a normal, regular, typical reminder email, as if those were the original times I had booked for. I was never properly notified that the flight changed. But I can be adaptable and move quickly. It’s a strength I have, thankfully. The worst problem is…

I am extremely sick and in a lot of pain.

Over the weekend, I took a shirtless nap in the local park, along with lots of other people in this town. It was such a beautiful, sunny day. Then I woke up, went home, watched Grave of the Fireflies and wrote a great blog post about it the next day, and then I realized that I had become severely, severely burnt. I had no idea that sunburns could hurt so badly. This morning, in addition to finding out about the flight changing, I was feeling very short-of-breath, and my throat really hurt. And my sunburn hurts A LOT, and covers a very large and wide area on my chest. I am in so much pain and feel totally awful. I can’t wait to get back in bed and rest more once I finish writing this post. I don’t know why I thought I could be in the sun for so long without sunscreen, or how I didn’t know that severe sunburns can actually make you sick. Sometimes, you just have to learn life lessons the hard way. But…

I am still going to Vidcon.

I have to thank Shay for all the profound ways in which he has changed my life. There are other YouTubers who I am so excited to meet, see perform, see present, etc. I’m volunteering at the event, too. And it’s going to be crazy, millions of people come to this thing each year. Each year it gets bigger, and each year tickets sell out. I am going to be really sick, walking 7+ miles a day, working all day, and running around to lots of different sessions and presentations to see my favorite YouTubers, and have spent an unsafe amount of money to make this trip happen, and the thing that motivates me to go through it all is the off-chance that I get to say thank you to Shay Carl Butler. That man is my role model and hero. If I get to thank him at VidCon, a place I’ve always wanted to go, all of this pain will be worth it.

The Top 5 Studio Ghibli Films

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Her name isn’t actually “Princess Mononoke.” It’s “San.” There is no character named Mononoke. Until they explained in the movie what “Princess Mononoke” meant, I kept thinking, Man when are they gonna introduce this ‘Princess Mononoke’ character?

About a month ago, I saw the film Princess Mononoke for the first time, and was absolutely blown away. It told a story about 3 different arguments made about how to use the environment, and how those 3 different paradigms conflicted with each other, while set in a fantasy setting and genre. It was incredibly thought-provoking and epic.

 

I really wanted to see more films by the creators of Princess Mononoke, because I was so impressed. The only other I had seen was their most famous work, Spirited Away, and I had only seen that as a kid. It probably deserved another viewing.

So each weekend for the past month, I have watched more Studio Ghibli movies, and at this point have seen 12 out of 22. That’s one hell of a repertoire. I am really excited for the film Only Yesterday, being released this upcoming July.

Anyway, here’s my take on the 5 best Studio Ghibli films:

castle-in-the-sky_wallpaper-25. Castle in the Sky

The first “official” Studio Ghibli movie, this is seriously one of the absolute best adventure films of all time. It is perfectly paced and has the most lovable characters and settings ever. This is a film that everyone who likes fun should watch. Also, the villain is voiced by Mark Hamill, the actor who plays Luke Skywalker and who voices The Joker in (almost) every animated Batman movie or TV show. And it’s really great to hear The Joker manically trying to stop the protagonists of this movie.

princess_mononoke_by_travzero4. Princess Mononoke

An epic fantasy world that tells a story about environmentalism. I know I started this blog post out by raving about how good this movie is, but it just isn’t quite the very best. There are 3 that I liked more, so it takes 4th place.

kiki__s_delivery_service_by_kikisdeliveryservice3. Kiki’s Delivery Service

A hybrid film that flawlessly blends a slice-of-life story of a young girl coming into her own, who also happens to be a witch. You know, someone with a broomstick who can fly around and who makes potions and stuff. It is absolutely charming and precious, and its themes are represented in a very powerful, impacting way that won’t leave you. It’s an unforgettable piece of art.

ghibli-1996-06_whisper20of20the20heart2. Whisper of the Heart

ONE OF THE BEST MOVIES I HAVE EVER SEEN IN MY ENTIRE LIFE. It is nothing more than a slice-of-life film, and it’s handled even more flawlessly than Kiki’s Delivery Service. You will be grinning from ear to ear the whole time, and it is unbelievably compelling. The story revolves around a young teenage girl who goes to school and talks about boys and is

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Left: Me. Right: Brittany Snow, who coincidentally voices the main character of this amazing movie.

trying to write a song for some upcoming school event (and that song is Country Roads, for some reason. Why do characters who live in Japan sing about West Virginia? It doesn’t matter, it’s a great movie!). This is a movie that doesn’t seem like it would even be entertaining at all, but holy crap, it really is. The characters are all incredibly likable and develop in realistic ways as the story goes on. So go watch it! Super fun fact: the main
character is voiced by Brittany Snow, who is not only a wonderful person, but created the Love is Louder movement, which I am actively involved with.

grave-of-the-fireflies_background_wallpaper1. Grave of the Fireflies

Get ready to cry! But seriously, while this film is unquestionably a tear-jerker that will make even the most stoic person feel genuine sorrow… the themes of loss are beyond needed in our society and today’s world. This film was made in the 1980s, and is still highly relevant today. It takes place during World War II in Japan, when air raids were very common on Japanese towns. There are stories contained in this film about homelessness, war, famine, money, child neglect, societal demands and expectations, the pressure to be perfect, the difficulty of fitting in with “mainstream” society– and they are all important for the world to hear. Please, watch this film. It has so much to say about how we need to move society forward, and it literally changed my life.

 

Honorable Mentions:

catbusMy Neighbor Totoro

A story about two little girls whose youth, imagination, and innocence protects them from something very grim that just sort of lingers in the background the whole time. It’s a fantastic film, but goes a little long, and I think Totoro and Cat Bus are kind of terrifying.

sa_fs08hSpirited Away

The most famous Studio Ghibli film has one the most-realized fantasy settings ever created, and it’s absolutely awesome. A young girl and her family end up getting seamlessly transported to a nightmarish world of crazy monsters who all work at a bathhouse. It’s definitely worth seeing if you haven’t before. The characters and the world they inhabit are extremely memorable. And it has a great message about how horrible capitalism is.

109249-6127Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind

An environmentalist film that takes place in a fantasy setting, and feels like a precursor to Princess Mononoke, yet was made about 20 years earlier. The story of a princess who has to protect her city and its surrounding forest from an invading kingdom, it’s almost as much fun as Castle in the Sky, and has a very similar feel to that movie. Also, the main character turns out to be Jesus. Spoiler alert. I’m not kidding. Well, I kind of am. Watch the movie to see what I mean. And it is definitely worth watching.

 

Old hobbies and the weird glory of nostalgia

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with videogames. When I was a teenager, I got into game design and particularly a series of PC programs called RPG Maker, which had a huge impact on me during those years. Every so often I think about picking this hobby back up because I’ve been a writer and artist (mainly with film, journalism, and dance) for parts of my adult life, and videogames are an interactive form of art that have the potential to be a really awesome experience for someone. But I don’t have the time or desire to make games, so I haven’t, in quite a long time.

But I periodically hear news about what’s going on in the RPG Maker space, and the connectedness of the Internet brought me back to an old game I made.

Around 2010, I used RPG Maker VX to create a Final Fantasy fan-game that I titled Final Fantasy Worlds, and it was a weird roguelike-platformer hybrid. Something I just discovered is that a very nice and entertaining Let’s Player made a series of videos about it. Here was his first one:

I watched this and I was just blushing with embarrassment the whole time. I recall this game being well-received, but I also recall making it at a time when I was creatively trying to invent experimental new gameplay features, and that was it.

And boy you could tell: no real story of which to speak, bad grammar, extremely vague character descriptions, wonky graphics…

I had put quite a bit of effort into it, but I could have taken a few additional easy steps to actually make a proper, presentable game. Oh well. I put this on the Internet anyway, and people liked it, for the most part. I agree with all the complaints and criticisms about it.

I wanted to write this post because I forgot this was something I had even done in my life. I seriously forgot I ever made this game, forgot it even existed. It’s weird to have something pop up in front of you that says, “Hey, remember this thing you did 6 years ago? You know, when you were a dumb teenager?”

There’s a weird-but-good feeling you get when you are reminded of insignificant parts of your past. I’m a little embarrassed that I made something like this, and that I even know how to make something like this, and that my teenage years were spent delving deeply into making things like this. When I started to grow up, I stopped being such a nerd and started to get into things that still really matter to me today, like hiking. But there’s a weird part of me that still slightly feels like this nerdy little teenager who loves videogames. And I kind of like that part of me.

Life is for living, and we all get to do whatever we want. Sometimes I want to be a nerd and sometimes I want to be a badass. I get to have both because it’s my life.