I Can’t Walk Out, Because I Love You Too Much Baby

One of the strange things about posting these graphics up here is, sometimes I post graphics that we ended up not using for one reason or another; maybe stories didn’t run, maybe they ran outside of the newsletter and so didn’t need the graphic, or whatever. If I had any sense, I just wouldn’t run the graphics, but normally there’s such a gap between doing the graphics and me posting them that I simply don’t remember what we ran and what we didn’t. This time, I know for sure we didn’t run the Adam Brody graphic but, fuck it; I really like it, so it’s here.

Two variant versions of this one. I went with the top, but I’m not sure I made the right choice.

Wake Up, Boo

I am, it seems, a late stage insomniac. My problem isn’t that I can’t fall asleep in the first place — that’s not been a consistent problem for me since I was a kid, and I’d lie in my bed and try to recite the opening crawl from Star Wars in my head as a mantra — but that, recently, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night continually.

It’s not that I wake up in a panic, as if from a nightmare. (Or, for that matter, remembering my dreams at all.) It’s more that, suddenly, gently, I’m awake and I know immediately that it’s too early to be comfortably awake. I know, even before I turn over to check the time, that it’s too early and I need to go back to sleep. And that knowledge, I suspect, is the trap.

I get in my head at that moment. I start being all-too-aware that I “should” be asleep, and that knowledge makes me low-level anxious, nervous that I’m going to be tired when it’s time to actually get up, and that in turn makes it harder for me to get back to sleep, which makes me more anxious and nervous, which makes it harder to go back to sleep, which makes me — sleep.

That’s the thing. I really don’t have trouble going to sleep. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night, unless something is wrong — and choose your own definition of what wrong might be in this scenario; for me, it’s traditionally something minor and easily fixed — I am normally awake for a few minutes at the most, and then I’m asleep again. It just happens.

And then, I’m awake again, and it’s maybe an hour or so later, and I go through the whole thing again; getting in my head, and then falling asleep again. And then, an hour or so later again, I wake up for a third time.

For some reason, it always stops after the third time. That’s usually somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning, and when I fall back to sleep, I stay there until 6:15 or so. I don’t know why these times repeat so consistently, but they do. It’s not intentional, but it is recurring, for the last few weeks.

Perhaps this is just what September feels like, now.

Then Rest

A genuinely strange pleasure, but not necessarily one I’d describe as “guilty”: Food writing, and particularly reading recipes.

What makes it strange is that I don’t cook, not really. I read the recipes and imagine cooking them, pictures the steps and the flavors and the result in my head — sometimes in surprising detail, right down to the plates or bowls they’d be served in — and think to myself, Maybe one day or I should save this for later. I read it with the pleasure of anticipation for something that I know, deep down, I’ll likely never do.

It’s not cookbooks that this plays out in, although I’ll certainly leaf through a cookbook or two if I’m in the local Powells; it’s online food writing. I check the New York Times food section, and especially The Guardian food section with the devotion of someone who knows what they’re doing, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a weekend tradition; I’ll find some down time and see what recipes are available this time.

I look at the recipes or the essays and filter them immediately. I don’t like figs, I’ll think, and slip past that one quickly, finding something more to my taste — is there a sweet thing? A pastry? — instead. It’s done with an eye to a final step, actually making the damn thing, that I know will never actually come.

It’s a tradition that is oddly calming and comforting. I don’t know where it came from — my family were not big cooks, and when married, food wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed or even had much say in, to be honest, as much as I discovered and loved baking a few years ago — and I don’t know when it started. Perhaps it’s always been a “What If?” scenario, a message from another life to suggest a world I could easily lose myself in.

All I know is, give me some good recipes and evocative writing, and I’ll be a happy man. For at least 20-30 minutes each weekend.

You’ll Never Use A Public Toilet Seat Again

At heart, Bunheads is a fantasy, a show that is removed from an realistic view of how the real world operates as much as a Marvel comic or an episode of Star Trek. It presents as something else, sure — who would think that a comedy/drama about a ballet school in Southern California would be anything other than realistic, or at least as realistic as any other TV comedy/drama? — but, in reality, it’s a show fueled by wishful thinking and what ifs as much as anything else.

That isn’t a complaint; just the opposite, in fact. Rewatching the show now, seven years after its all-too-brief life on air, it’s the magical realism of the thing that bewitches, still; not just the way in which Paradise, the town protagonist Michelle moves to after getting married to Hubbell, is filled with characters too quirky to exist anywhere else, but also the way in which no situation or problem exists outside of its narrative purpose, with that narrative purpose almost certainly to push a relationship into a new area to explore.

Everyone involved with the show seems fully aware of what is going on; Sutton Foster’s central performance plays like someone from a 1950s musical, filled with manic, can-do energy that feels at odds with everyone around her. The teenage ballet students of the show’s title have self-aware dialogue that nods at how removed from real teenagers they actually are as they reference how they prefer old movies because everyone talked faster and make Heathers shoutouts the very next line. Kelly Bishop is, well, Kelly Bishop. It’s all a self-aware, self-conscious joy to watch.

Rewatching now is also revelatory in light of what creator/showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino did next. Of course, after this was canceled, she made The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and of course that was more warmly received; as a period piece, its fantasy elements are more easily explained away, its unstoppable dialogue deemed more believable and authentic. (She’s a comedian, of course she is.) Watching Bunheads again, so much about Mrs. Maisel feels like a retreat into acceptance and away from the boldness and rejection of reality that the former show got dinged for.

The new show gets awards and critical plaudits, and I’m glad for everyone involved, but I wish we’d gotten more Bunheads instead. If only because that last episode was, in almost every respect, an unsatisfying conclusion to the series. (Not because it was bad; because it was in no way a conclusion.)

Secret Origins

When I was going through all my paperwork a few weeks ago, I discovered what was a complete set of thumbnails for a (seemingly complete) short comic strip that was part 1950s DC Comics parody and part loving tribute to 2000 AD. I have no recollection of writing/drawing it, nor do I have any clue when I would have done so — based on the fact that it was on paper from a particular sketchbook, I’d say that it’s more than a decade old, and from when I was still living in San Francisco, but that’s just a guess — but the strangest thing was reading it and going, “Oh, that’s right, I guess that was something I did once, I guess?”

There was a point where I wanted to make comics. To be exact, there have been multiple points where I wanted to do it, and in various ways; when I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be a comic book artist, to the point where I even took samples to a convention and showed them to… someone? (I sadly can’t remember who, or even from what publisher. I do remember how nervous I was, and how I could not hear the encouragement being offered over the “You’re not quite ready yet” rejection.)

Later, when I was newly in the United States, I wanted to be a comic book writer, kind of. I actually had a few brushes with the possibility that didn’t happen for various reasons, but one of the recurring impediments was the fact that, deep down, I didn’t really want to be a comic book writer; I was convinced that I’d be no good and so never went the distance, despite those on the sidelines egging me on at various times.

(Sometimes, I look back at one of the opportunities available to me that I all-but-bailed on and want to eat my fist, but I digress.)

Which is what makes this thumbnailed short so surprising. I don’t know why I did it, or if it was intended for any particular purpose. Had I promised something to someone? (If so, I guess I didn’t deliver) Was it something I did just for fun? Was there some part of me, at whatever time I made it, that still wanted to do comics?

All I know now is, I’m tempted to go find those pages again and see if I could draw them now. Just to see what they’d look like.

Wandering (Never)

The other day, for reasons I can’t really comprehend, I found myself thinking about the streets of Aberdeen, where I went to art school. Specifically, I found myself thinking about the main commercial street — Market Street — and the way it would feel walking along it at night, on the way to or from something more interesting.

Perhaps it was the street — which was nothing special, really; a street filled with department stores and a bridge and that was about it, really — or more likely, the age I was at the time, the way that life felt in general, but I can’t think about Market Street without there being a feeling that, even though there was nothing unusual or unlikely about it, there was a magic to be found there. Or, perhaps, a possibility. Especially at night, for some reason.

Nights on Market Street, everything looked different. The streetlights turned everything orange, but flat, as well; what was traditionally three dimensional turned into a theater set, with background actors wandering around to try and make it feel authentic. I’d almost certainly be listening to music on headphones as I walked along it, and so my memories are always soundtracked by Blur, Primal Scream, David Holmes and, weirdly, Bernard Butler.  (It was the 1990s, and I was — am — a Britpop kid.)

It would, with the exception of a few weeks of each year, be surprisingly cold but I’d rarely notice. Seagulls would swoop down to steal people’s takeaway chips , periodically, but otherwise everything would feel still as I walked past. These are very specific sense memories that feel crystal clear, despite being almost certainly false. It’s odd to be nostalgic for something that never actually happened.

Take You Uptown, I’ll Show You The Sights

Normally, we do, I think, three graphics a week for the Heat Vision newsletter, and normally we do them on Thursday afternoons. For the two weeks contained below, it was Friday morning for various reasons, and the second of the weeks had five graphics needed pretty much immediately while I also had to take a work call for someone else and hadn’t slept properly because of faulty smoke alarms going off since 4am. Despite that, I had fun. There might be something wrong with me.

Birthday To You

This Saturday would be my father’s 78th birthday, if he were still alive. Instead, it’ll be another day of ghost feelings; one where the thought of him will linger but not stay ever present, and another year where I’ll struggle to imagine what life would be like if he were still around.

The idea of him being alive still becomes more difficult to conjure with each day, as potentially bad as that may be to admit. Nonetheless, it’s true; so much of my life now is entirely alien to how it was before he died. I wonder, often, how he would have dealt with my divorce, or, a decade earlier,  the move to Portland — he would have liked it here, I always imagine — or even just my day-to-day life. I didn’t become a full time writer until after his death; given his own ambitions in that direction, I often wish he could have seen that.

(I have many childhood memories of standing in the office, surrounded by piles of paper next to a typewriter that were explained away as my dad’s novel-in-progress. I never read them, which I regret more and more as I get older, but I also have no memory of my dad ever sitting at that typewriter and working, so perhaps the novel never actually existed…?)

As terrible as it is to say, I don’t actually think of him, or my mother, often. During big life events, or around their birthdays, or Christmas. (My dad died on Christmas Eve.) I feel guilty about that, as if I should be keeping them in my heart and mind more often, but I also know that both would find that idea suspicious, if not downright ridiculous.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute I can pay is just to do my best going forward, but every now and then, I find myself imagining if they’d stuck around, if things had been different.

The Space Between

The thing about my job is, it’s so impermanent. I write for the day — or, at most, a few days ahead — and so, every day is a do-over. Or, at least, the chance of one.

I write “the thing,” as opposed to “the good thing” or “the bad thing,” simply because I’m unsure if it’s good or bad; who wouldn’t like the chance to rest on their laurels for a couple of days, for example, especially if they’d killed themselves finding success the day before? Isn’t that just a natural impulse? On that level — the whole, you can never really relax because each day is a new day, level — it’s obviously a bad thing, but there’s also something very freeing in the idea that you can say goodbye to the previous day’s failures each morning, as well.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself ending a particularly shitty or unproductive day by thinking, ‘Ah well, at least I get to try again tomorrow,’ perfectly aware that not everyone gets that luxury, that for many jobs, one day’s underproduction — or just outright crappiness— can cascade and ruin a week, if not more. I am, in many ways, very lucky to have the opportunity to start over with each new day.

All of this comes to mind after waking up on a Monday morning and realizing that I have no idea what lies ahead of me today. Oh, there are some knowns — there always are, even if it’s just that I’ll have to do this particular thing for Wired this week, or I’ll have the THR newsletter graphics — but for the most part, I have little-to-no idea what is actually going to happen over the next day. (It’s still before 7am as I write this.)

There’s something exciting about the uncertainty, as well as something just a little exhausting, too. The space between those two things is what every Monday morning feels like, for me. It’s a thing; I just don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing, is all.

Get Something For Yourself, While You’re At It

I don’t buy myself things. I just don’t do it; I had that impulse trained out of me almost 20 years ago when I arrived in the United States with no money and, for months, no job (and then a shit job that didn’t pay well*), and I was told by my then-partner that she brought in the money and I didn’t so I shouldn’t buy myself things, and it stuck.

I didn’t realize that, for the longest time. And, occasionally during that period, I would buy myself things — for the sake of argument, let’s define that as spending more than, say, $30 on frivolous and non-essential items aimed at making me happy — and when I bought myself things, I’d feel this intense guilt that I was wasting money and didn’t deserve whatever I’d bought, or to be spending that kind of money on myself, and so, I didn’t feel particularly good about it, which was why the buying myself things was only occasional.

Sometimes, people would notice this and ask me why I rarely treated myself, and I’d make a joke along the lines of being cheap because I’m Scottish, because I didn’t really understand yet — and, even if I did, certainly lacked the language to say, I’ve been shamed into thinking that spending money on myself is selfish and wasteful and I don’t quite know what to do with that just yet.

All of this is a train of thought brought about my the fact that, out of nowhere, I found myself remembering that there was a book that I’d really like to read — one that I know from experience isn’t in the local library, otherwise I would have read it already — and… I just went online and bought it like it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing, of course; it actually feels like quite a something, and just the act of doing that small (big) thing feels like a sign that I’m doing okay these days, after all.

(* That I went from the shit paid day job to life as a freelance writer is, perhaps, a sign that I will never look at financial security as a serious life goal. It’s too late to turn that ship around now.)