Get Up, Get Up, Get Up

Since receiving my bad news at the start of the week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the big things: What do I want? What are my ambitions? How realistic are they, how do I achieve them? It’s been a quietly constant process in the back of my mind — and, sometimes, the front of it — for the last few days. With this unexpected period of reflection has come an equally unexpected byproduct: vividly remembered dreams for what feels like the first time in months.

Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that I’ve been sleeping poorly since getting the news; the low-level stress has combined with what was already not the greatest sleep cycle to leave me surprisingly awake at 5am, like someone flipped a switch. (Don’t worry; come 9pm, I’ll be exhausted and brain dead as a result.) But there is, I’m sure, more to my sudden spate of dream recall than simply waking up at the right time. My brain, perhaps, is trying to tell me something.

Of course, what that something is, is not necessarily straightforward or even that interesting. If there’s been a common thread to the dreams in the last few nights, it’s been that I’ve been ill-prepared for things happening on work trips, which is far from a deep or significant insight given the context of my week. (Oh, for a piercing commentary from my subconscious that answers all the innermost questions!)

In these dreams, I’ve attended the first post-COVID comic conventions, only to discover that my laptop doesn’t work and I’ve failed to set up any interviews or meetings in advance; I’ve had in-depth conversations with the people who make Star Wars in which they revealed lots of secrets and things that I knew, in the moment, was “big news,” only to discover after the fact that none of it actually recorded — that level of quiet panic.

It’s almost certainly a response to what’s happening, and the general feeling of unpreparedness I have for what’s to come, and yet… there’s something oddly satisfying about actually properly remembering my dreams for the first time in awhile, even if they’re simply generic stress dreams. That’s a silver lining of some kind, right?

I Want To Get Off

I got some news yesterday that, if it doesn’t end up getting reversed — a possibility, albeit a distant one — is going to, once again, significantly change my life in the short-to-medium term. It’s the latest in a number of such shifts in the past twelve months, I think…? (It depends on whether or not you count COVID and the pandemic shutting life as we knew it down.) As I sit and let this latest update, and everything it means, sink in, one thing strikes me beyond everything else: I am so very tired of having to get used to new normals.

In the past year, I’ve lost my regular writing gig at Wired after close to a decade, I’ve watched as the world stopped working the way it used to because of a virus that has run rampant across the globe, and in the rare piece of good news, I got money from the divorce settlement that proved to be particularly welcome in its timing. (See also: me losing a regular writing assignment.) Each of these wrenches in the works has required a re-evaluation of how I’m living, how I’m feeling, what I’m spending and on what, and… Well, now I have to do it again.

(Because it might get rolled back, I’m not going to talk about the latest change just yet, but it’s safe to say, it’s another to fall into the Not Good, Kinda Shitty pile.)

On the one hand, I’m all for taking a periodic look at my ambitions and priorities, and seeing if they line up with my current reality. On the other, there’s something to be said for being secure enough in your life that you don’t have to do that every handful of months because of outside circumstances upending everything. But maybe that’s just me.

Perhaps this is some kind of extended karmic ritual for… something I’m not admittedly aware of. Or maybe it’s a sign that existential years run February through January, and my 2020 is just ending with a flourish. All I really know is, I would love just a year or two of calm to follow, please. Please.

All Three of Them, Ha

I admit, I didn’t have “a riot in the Capitol” on my list of ways to start the year, nor everything that’s followed, but that may be because I wasn’t thinking big enough.

Last week’s insanity in Washington DC was something I couldn’t stop following on social media as it was unfolding, ruining the plans I had for the day. I watched (and retweeted, and signal boosted) not just in quiet, stunned shock at the surreality of the moment — that it was happening, that the house was being invaded, looted, held hostage at gunpoint, all of which felt like a shitty movie — but also because I felt a strange compulsion to do so, as if it were my responsibility to pay attention as history was unfolding.

I had no idea where things would end up, as I kept checking everything from Twitter to news sources to YouTube; I couldn’t really wrap my head around what was even happening in the first place. In the back of my mind, I was sure the rioters wouldn’t “win,” whatever that looked like — push Congress into announcing a second Trump term? — but I didn’t even trust that impulse, because I’d never really imagined things would reach the point they had by that point.

The idea that the start of any new year is really the dying embers of the old one has rarely felt so true as they did on Wednesday. The storming of the Capitol was undoubtedly a 2020 move, folding in countless threads from last year — Trump, white supremacy, domestic terrorists, the complicity and ineptitude of police, COVID superspreader events, the fucking election — in one, hopefully final, concoction to underscore how tied together they all were, all along. A season finale move, if you want to view it through the prism of entertainment, as the President surely did.

Looking at it now, I’m still uncertain if it was the end of something, like a fever finally breaking, or the start of something new. As a way of announcing itself, though, 2021 had a hell of a first week. Where do we go from here?

Look The Same As Your Crowd

Returning to the land of THR newsletter graphics after a couple of weeks off — because the newsletter itself took a couple of weeks off for the holidays — and I’m surprised by how completely I’ve forgotten creating any of these images. Apparently these things really don’t stick in my head very long. That, or the holiday period was more thought-provoking than I thought at the time.


Concentrate And Ask Again

I no longer have Wednesdays off work, and it’s a complicated thing for me to work through, surprisingly.

On the one hand, it’s undoubtedly a good thing: the reason I did have the middle of the week free for half of 2020 was because I was furloughed at THR for that day, thanks to a pay cut brought about by COVID and the understanding that I shouldn’t have to work the same amount as usual for only 70% of the usual money. Thankfully, as of this week, my pay has been restored, and so, my hours have been, as well. Like I said, it’s a good thing.

It also keeps the rest of my work week from being quite so harried, because now I have another day to do everything necessary — no more panicked Tuesdays, preparing a post to run first thing Thursday, or whatever. I like that aspect of it, as well.

At the same time, though, the midweek break has become part of my routine by now, and something I’ve come to really appreciate and rely on, emotionally and mentally. What started as an uncomfortable oddity — with me almost raring to go sit down behind the laptop and just get stuff done because that’s what I do on weekdays, dammit — became something that I looked forward to, planned for, after a few months. It became part of my rhythm, for want of a better way to put it, and now that’s no longer there.

As strange as it may seem, I’ve finally — at age 46 — come to appreciate time off work and the need to relax and recover; the holiday break just passed, and even the Thanksgiving break before that, were unusual in that I could feel the mental benefit of taking a break in real time. As a former workaholic, it’s an amazing, wonderful thing… that I seemingly only got my head around in time to see me get less time off.

Will the trade off (less time off, but more money and hopefully less stressful days that I do work) work out? Ask me again in a few weeks. This is just the first Wednesday of the year, after all.

Move Over Here

When I was a kid, I learned that the holidays kept going until the official twelfth day of Christmas, which I remember as January 4th — although, curiously enough, my two sisters remember it as January 5th and 6th, respectively, suggesting that my family wasn’t exactly consistent in its timekeeping when it came to taking down decorations. Nonetheless, the point remains the same; the holiday season, when I was young, was something that continued into the week following New Year, for tradition as well as a lack of wanting to go through the effort of taking all the decorations down.

This year, however, while the fireworks were still bursting in the sky and frightening dogs throughout the land — no, really, fuck you, fireworks people — I quietly thought to myself, it’s New Year, thank God we’ve gotten through the holidays.

Was this a sudden attack of anti-seasonal grinchiness? Was it just frustration born of wanting my dog not to be losing his mind because of the fireworks, and feeling as if the entire concept of New Year wasn’t worth the trouble in the first place? Maybe both, but the restless feeling of wanting to just get on with everything and leave the tinsel behind lingered across the next few days; the decorations were gone before this morning came around.

I can’t explain my desire to get moving into the year. It clearly doesn’t make sense, especially given that it means I want to jump firmly into January, the darkest, dullest month of the year. (February, at least, has the good grace to be short, and March has spring going for it, with plants returning to life and the feeling that things are happening again; January is just there, long and cold and without much sunlight.) And yet, here we are.

Perhaps it’s a need to put more distance between ourselves and 2020, the year that felt endless like a Doctor Who plot. Or maybe it was a realization that there’s more to be found this year than usual, and it’s time to get started,

Through Vale and Field, You Flow So Calm

I don’t have a lot of special New Year’s memories, mostly because New Year’s is a bullshit holiday that exists for entirely arbitrary reasons that owe, I suspect, to the desire for everyone to have some more time off around Christmas by hook or by crook.

That’s not to say that I don’t “believe” in New Year’s as a concept — it sure is the start of another calendar year, I know that to be true — or that I’m not entirely susceptible to the idea that there’s something special, even magical, about the idea that a new year can mean a do-over, or at least the chance for a fresh start. (Really, though: who would have a problem with that? Who doesn’t want to start again and do better?)

Nevertheless, when I think of New Year’s, I find myself remembering one New Year’s Day from when I was a young kid — young enough that the fact that I was awake early on January 1, and no-one else was up yet aside from my mother, almost disturbing in how unusual it was. Normally, the house was filled with people and noise in the morning, and things were unsettling in how quiet they were, everyone else having stayed up until midnight the night before, if not later.

With the house, essentially, to myself, I did what any kid would do: I put on the television and watched 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was inexplicably playing at the time. It wasn’t the first time I’d watched it, and I knew by this point that it was boring and slow and not what any movie with the word “space” in the title should be, but there wasn’t anything else worth watching, so I switched it on, anyway.

It had already reached the point with all the psychedelic colors and stargates and oh boy were these guys on something, and I can remember sitting there, watching it and thinking to myself that it was too bright and sunny outside for that time of year. All of a sudden, it felt as if something strange and unexpected was happening, as if the weirdness onscreen had somehow crossed over and altered reality.

I sat there, feeling as if something had changed in some significant and indescribable sense, and I remember feeling very clearly that this was what the start of a new year should feel like.

Here’s to a year that feels like that, only less disturbing.

And In The End

So, after a year, I feel like I should have something profound to say about 2020 Vision, the self-directed project that had me posting 800×800 pixel images on here each weekday of the year. After a year, though, it’s become so second nature that profundity feels almost impossible.

The basic idea behind it was that, essentially, improvising a daily image — going in with no plan, no preparation, and no expectation most of all, and just seeing what happened — would become both an exercise in unlocking something in my head creatively and a discipline thing that would get me over the hump in my brain that has made me second-guess any image making intent I’ve had since art school two decades earlier. (They fuck you up, those higher education establishments, they may not mean to, but they do.)

I’m not entirely sure the plan worked out, to be honest. At multiple times, the image making felt more of an obligation than a creative exercise, and something that I resented, or something close to it. I never actually got to the point of disliking the project, but I certainly got close a few times, especially on days where my workload got so heavy that I was all too aware that I had far too many other things that I should be doing instead. Things that would, you know, actually help pay my bills.

Yet I kept going, in part because I said that I would and I didn’t want to back down, and in part because it became a habit through sheer repetition. That felt like a problem in its own right; surely there was something wrong with continuing purely because of momentum and the creative version of muscle memory…? Or perhaps not; this was something I went into purposefully without expectation, so maybe any outcome was the right one.

The end is in sight now; as of Friday, a new year begins and 2020 is done. The project will be over, and I’ll stop making daily images. The question I haven’t really answered for myself yet is, will I keep making and posting them on an irregular basis, just because?