The Importance of Being Idle

By now, I’ve got San Diego Comic-Con coverage down to a fine art. (Writing that ahead of time, as I’m doing, is tempting fate; for all you know, I might actually be having a mild nervous breakdown as you read these words.) I’ve been covering the show as press for more than a decade at this point, which is honestly somewhat surreal to think about, but it’s also allowed me to have a reasonable sense of what is needed and when, and how to do it. I actually — as shocking as it may be to actually admit — enjoy the show now, working it and the surreal experience of the whole thing, and the pressure of work that comes with it.

Part of that is, mind you, that the amount of work I do for THR, who I’ve been covering the show for for the past few years, is significantly less than other outlets. (The io9 days, I still shiver when remembering.) That’s not to say that I’m not actually working, mind you; it’s just that I know what I need to do and I know I can do it. The stress level is significantly lessened from previous visits.

There was, however, one year when I really did pretty much do almost no work at the show. Or, rather, I didn’t do anything immediately. I was working for an outlet I won’t name for fear of embarrassing anyone related to it, but the decision had been made that the approach to coverage would be very different on that year, compared with others. The many of us who were attending on behalf of this outlet were tasked with three things:

  1. Posting images and brief commentary on the outlet’s liveblog throughout the show.
  2. Interviewing people for stories to be written and posted after the convention.
  3. Working on a large thinkpiece-type story to be posted after the convention, but focusing on a trend or news story that we found at the show.

As if this didn’t seem breezy enough, midway through the show, I discovered that the third option was off the table, meaning that I could pretty much wander around, talking to people who seemed interesting and taking the occasional photo, and that counted as work.

At this point, I’d been to Comic-Con as press perhaps four or five times, and each year had been a shitshow in a series of new and increasingly ridiculous ways. Suddenly, I was given this surreal gift of being able, essentially, to have a vacation at Comic-Con. It was an utter joy, and even as it was happening, I knew it would never be this good ever again.

(Yet, despite the above, I still think that Comic-Con 2018 was the highlight of all my years at the show.)

Those Were The Days, My Friend

It’s the first day of San Diego Comic-Con 2019. (Well, it’ll soon be Preview Night, technically; but that’s the first day, really.) As you read this, I’ll be in the air on the way to the show itself, but I thought I’d share this piece of Comic-Con ephemera — me on Preview Night 2008, looking every bit of the excitable nerd that I was back in the day. (Look at that smile.) I’m pretty sure this is the first year that I covered the show as press.

It Couldn’t Happen Here

It’s legitimately difficult for me to overstate how much I didn’t like the movie Midsommar; would it be enough to say that I came out of it immediately suspicious of everyone who claimed that they liked it? Perhaps; I saw a lot of people talking on social media before going into it, and the idea that it was a horror movie that was both beautiful and ultimately uplifting was something that came up again and again, and that just gave me false hope, considering it’s one of the ugliest and most empty movies I’ve ever seen.

I also saw a lot of commentary along the lines of, “This is a movie that will feel cathartic for any woman who’s ever had a shitty boyfriend,” which becomes a somewhat surreal statement considering said shitty boyfriend is drugged, sexually abused and then murdered, the last of which happens at the bidding of his girlfriend, who has apparently undergone a mental breakdown and is partially catatonic. Perhaps I have an unrealistic expectation of how non-toxic other people’s relationships are, or perhaps I have an unrealistic expectation about limits to revenge fantasies. Who can tell?

(It’s worth noting that The Shitty Boyfriend was less a character, per se, than a cypher who had little defining trait beyond Being Shitty, just like the other characters had one defining characteristic — Being Depressed, Being Horny, Being Studious I Guess But Kind Of A Myopic Asshole About It, and for every other character, Being A Member Of A Creepy Cult Where They Act All Mellow But Obviously They’re Astonishingly Fucked Up. Midsommar is not a movie for people who like well-rounded characters.)

More than the misanthropy, the xenophobia and the belief that pastoral imagery is inherently creepy — okay, perhaps we can give the movie that last one — what was most upsetting about Midsommar was how entirely unsurprising it ended up being. Without fail, the movie chose the obvious route, ignoring the option to play against expectation in favor of… Is there such a thing as comfort food horror movies…?

Every generation gets the Wicker Man it deserves, I guess.  Except that Midsommar is only fit for today’s generation if you believe that The Kids Today are the butt of every stereotypical joke about avocado toast and safe spaces. Instead, it’s what happens if Morrissey wanted to make a horror movie and embraced all his worst impulses.

If You Could See What I Can See, Feel What I Feel

I could never have made it as a graphic designer, despite my schooling — I’m simply not good enough, and my brain doesn’t work in those shapes anymore — but nonetheless, I can’t tell you how much I love doing the graphics for the THR newsletter every week. It’s a break from my usual work norm, and a strange puzzle that I enjoy solving every seven days. Here are some more recent solutions.

This Time, No Escape, I Wake Up

It’s a week, as you read this, until the start of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. I’m writing this about two weeks earlier. Nonetheless, you’ll all be happy to know that I have already reached the stage of San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams.

They happen every year, and it’s always some variation of “Something has come up to complicate the fact that I’m covering SDCC for work, and I have to deal with the problem in some manner that is both inventive and relatively low impact to my stress level and workload.” (For example, this year, the problem was that there was not enough news to report, but we had a certain quota of stories and word count to fulfill, so how do we turn the lack of news into the story that we’re writing about?)

The question is never, “Am I going to get San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams?” It is, without doubt, when am I going to get San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams?

To be honest, it not happening until three weeks before the show feels like a victory of sorts; there have been years when I’ve had them more than a month out, and just continued to have them on a seemingly nightly basis up until the show itself. (That made for an exhausting run-up to what is, easily, the most exhausting and stressful week of my year, every year.)

Despite the fact that they are, most clearly, stress dreams — and therefore, particularly un-relaxing — there is something comforting about these dreams, when they show up. It feels as if it’s my subconscious checking in with me, and reminding me that SDCC is just around the corner. It is, I’ve come to accept, a reminder that I do still care about all of this stuff, no matter how cynical I may pretend to be, even to myself, at times.

Please, Just Leave Me Be

Watching the second season of Killing Eve, I had the most unexpected sense memory. Despite the fact that I, too, have been to many of the glamorous locations in the show — despite not being a psychopathic assassin with exquisite dress sense — it wasn’t seeing Villanelle or Eve wandering the streets of Paris or Rome that made me feel the pang of nostalgia, but instead a scene of Villanelle lying on a hotel bed, MTV on in the background.

There was a period in my life where I was traveling more than I do these days — which is to say, barely, and only ever for work — and I’d find myself in hotel rooms in countries where I didn’t speak the language on multiple locations. Every single time, I’d end up finding MTV on the television and basically living with that as the soundtrack to my stay.

It wasn’t the music that I wanted, many times just the opposite, with me complaining internally about the videos on rotation — MTV Europe still favoring music videos at the time I’m talking about; I don’t even know if it still exists. What I wanted, simply, was the voices saying words that I’d understand. It grounded me in a strangely reassuring way, despite how banal and meaningless what those words might be when strung together in that particular order.

I would rarely actually watch what was on MTV. It was background noise, there to reassure and little else. It became the sound of me being out of touch with the world and needing something to ground me, just a little.

With that in mind, the fact that I found myself searching out, and being disappointed by, MTV the last time I was back in Scotland and on my own for a few hours feels as if it’s saying something important. I’m just not entirely sure what.

But It’s Brilliant Anyway

It was a tradition that happened every July 4, for a number of years: My putting on Elliott Smith’s “Independence Day” in the morning, and enjoying the repeated “Everybody knows,” as if it’s some kind of mantra that completed the day the same way that Christmas only truly becomes real when I’ve listened to Low’s “Just Like Christmas” or Slade’s “Merry Xmas Everybody.”

It’s not a song that’s actually about July 4, of course; the only one of those I can actually think of comes from Holiday Inn, a genuinely wonderful song with at least one genuinely terrible moment of cringeworthy racism: The blackface number, “Abraham,” which also happens to be one of the most catchy songs of the entire movie.  But nonetheless, “Independence Day” became something that I did for years every July 4, just for myself. A newly created tradition I gave to myself when I arrived in the States and enjoyed the day for the first time, and the following years. A way to make the holiday mine, as opposed to finding it off-putting and alien.

(As someone who came to the States, the patriotism displayed on July 4, or at other specific times and situations, can be disorienting and confusing, if not accidentally disturbing and/or hilarious.)

This year, I listened to it again. The first time in years, as it happened; it felt like something I needed to do, a promise to myself fulfilled. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me until I heard that “Everybody knows, everybody knowseverybody knows,” with the harmonies gliding in, once again.

Cat, People

Recently rescued from what, I assume, is now a dead and gone Flickr account, this is Lunacat. (“Luna,” for short; it was, as you might imagine, her full name to begin with, but then “Lunacat” took root and replaced it.) She was a stray who followed us home in San Francisco, years and years and years ago — it was close to 15 years ago, if not more — and ended up living with us all the way until her death, after Portland had become home.

She had cancer, in the end. In fact, these photos are from her surgery to remove a tumor, when she was given six months or so to live. (That’s why she’s been shaved so oddly; it’s where the surgery had taken place, and also on her leg, where the IV had been put in. It’s also why her neck is so big; it was a side effect from the anesthetic.) She survived for years after that, too stubborn to give up, and too filled with love to say goodbye.

Losing her was, still, one of the saddest periods of my life, and I still miss her all the time. Pets become part of us in a way that few people do, perhaps.

I Am Dented And Spent With High Treason

Elton John was very much not my bag, for a number of years; he was one of a number of bands and singers that I’d decided that about, for reasons that didn’t amount to much more than, I’ve seen them or heard them when I was a kid and wasn’t into it, so I guess they’re just out forever. In my defense, I grew up in an era where Elton John was releasing things like “I’m Still Standing,” and then “Sacrifice,” or worse, the Princess Diana version of “Candle in the Wind.” He didn’t really feel like someone worth re-evaluating, not when there were a million other records to be listened to and enjoyed.

It changed for me as the result of reading a biography of John, not that long ago; I read it because I was oddly interested in his 1970s persona without having listened to that much of his music from that period, and even that, not too closely. There was an explanation about the level of his output at the start of his career, and the level of his success — 5% of all worldwide record sales belonged to him! That remains absolutely ridiculous to me — that I thought that I probably should take another listen and see what I thought.

I’m not sure what it was about “Take Me To The Pilot” that caught in my head; the stumbling piano at the start or the propulsive sound of the whole thing that feels as if the whole song is just charging forward, determined to get to the end come hell or high water.

There’s a dynamism here — a hunger — that was entirely at odds with my idea of who Elton John was, and a sense of fun, as well. It’s clearly the work of a younger musician than the one I knew, but all for the good. Things are more rough and less fully-formed, but more playful and less precious, as well, and I found myself responding really strongly to that difference. This was someone I wanted to hear more from, and someone I wanted to follow to other songs.

That the lyrics are, to be polite, absolute nonsense, helped considerably: at first, I strained to understand what John was singing as if there was perhaps some arcane code or wisdom to be ascertained, but the reality, the realization that, no, this really is just a bunch of meaningless words strung together, felt less like a frustration and more like a strange gift waiting for me at the end. Somehow, everything was more playful than I’d imagined.

This is a song that I can imagine people falling in love with, and expecting great things from the performer going forward. Even more than the album version, the live version released a handful of months later. Who wouldn’t want more of this? And suddenly, Elton John came alive, finally, for the first time.

So Kick Off Your Shoes And Feel Some Kind Of Free

If at first you don’t succeed, you keep going because every week needs new graphics for the THR newsletter.




Like the “Sluggo is Lit” joke from a couple weeks prior, Plants vs. Zombies was a reference than bypassed my editors.



The above was replaced with this, after the headline changed: