Not It

I had one of those old man yells at clouds moments the other day, when thinking about how easy it is to find media these days. When I discover a song in a TV show or movie or out in the real world — that last one, admittedly, being less likely these days for all kinds of reasons — it’s no big thing to find out what the song was, who recorded it, and buy it. All it takes is a Google search of some lyrics (assuming, of course, you can remember some of the lyrics at least close to correct), maybe a listen on Spotify or YouTube, and then a click to whatever music purchasing platform you prefer to use.

I like to think that I would’ve loved that a good 20 or so years ago — hell, make it 25 years — when my music buying was at its peak. At that point, it felt as if I was surrounded by music and still hungry for more, with a significant amount of my free time spent in record stores, rifling through the bins in the search for the next thing to get obsessed with.

Much of that rifling came from attempts to make connections between things, or search for the origins of particular sounds or elements. (I spent far, far too long trying to find if Badfinger really was the originator of the close harmonies of bands like Queen and Jellyfish, to my shame.) Much of the delay came from the fact that I’d think I’d have tracked down something I wanted to hear, but wasn’t willing to pay the money for a complete CD, or album, or whatever, if all I really wanted was one song, leading to a lot of back-and-forth while wondering if I could afford it, or wanted to.

What made this low level of obsession worthwhile, of course, were the mistakes and misfires, the things I bought by mistake and then realized that I loved even more than I could’ve expected, or the B-sides and album tracks that quickly became favorite songs. That, more than anything, is what I find myself missing today: The happy surprise that rewards the devoted search. Is there some way to recreate that these days, I wonder?

Have I Stood To The Side Aware of The Tide

I’m paying half an eye’s worth of attention to the British election results as they roll in today, and thinking about how strange that country’s political landscape feels to me now, after nearly two decades living in the U.S.

It’s not just that there’s multiple political parties compared to the United States’ ridiculous, archaic two party system. (There’s an argument to be made, I think, that the U.S. doesn’t really have a two party system as much as a system that thinks it’s a dichotomy but is far more complicated in practice. But I’m sure that, if I made that argument, it would lead to being disagreed with at high volume by self-proclaimed experts, so maybe not.)

Even considering the many, many parties that hold some level of power, however — be they the Conservatives, Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, UKIP, and so on — it probably should be noted that the political reality of the U.K. is far more complicated than it seems on the face of it. The Labour Party of the United Kingdom isn’t really the same as the Labour Party of Scotland, and Scottish Labour and “Labour” Labour are different again from Welsh Labour. The same with… well, every single different area in the country.

On paper, they’re the same parties, or at least affiliated with each other, but in practice… not so much. And so you end up with something that is unfolding today, where Labour Labour is losing seats while Welsh Labour is making big gains and Scottish Labour is less successful in a country predominantly left-leaning than the right wing Scottish Conservative Party, because the SNP has taken that demographic for themselves, and and and…

I feel as if things were simpler back when I lived there, but that might be a combination of nostalgia and fooling myself. Maybe I was just paying more attention and not an ocean away, trying to figure out if what was happening was a good thing or not and failing quite so hard.

It Must Be Morning Again

There was a point, early in lockdown, where things were so locked down that there were almost no cars on the road; I remember taking a walk in the middle of the road one afternoon, and it being almost supernaturally quiet. In later weeks and months, things reasserted themselves and I can remember wistfully remembering the time when I didn’t have to worry about a speeding car cutting me off with almost no warning.

This comes to mind when I think about the fact that we’ve started going for early morning walks in the last few weeks, Chloe and I; it started when Spring started to sprung and things started to get sunny, and it very quickly and entirely unintentionally became a tradition from that point on.

It’s a particularly pleasant, gentle way to start the day. There’s something unique about the light as the sun rises for the first time — a way in which it catches the leaves in the trees surrounding us that feels particularly colorful and beautiful — and something about the stillness all around us as we walk through streets and a city that’s not quite awake just yet.

It’s not just that the roads are, for the most part, empty of moving vehicles, although that’s part of it. It feels as if we’re exploring something together, even as we move through areas that we’re all too familiar with because we walk them every few days. The lack of other people, of other motion, outside of the animals and the birds, feels as if we’re experiencing something particularly rare and somewhat special.

(And there are plenty of animals… or, at least, there are plenty of squirrels and cats, at least. Saying hello to the neighborhood cats, or even better, meeting brand new neighborhood cats, is a special thrill of each morning’s adventures.)

The feeling of quiet, of being alone in a good way, is such that, when other people start emerging from their houses to head to work or go for their own walks, we know it’s time for the walk to be over. It’s a transition point; a time when the world goes from ours to everybody’s. It’s the start of the day for everyone else, and we can go eat, knowing that we’ve laid claim to the best part already.

Should I, Dear, Come Up To You

Ever since watching Lovers Rock — part of Steve McQueen’s Small Axe collection of movies from last year, and easily the movie I’ve been most moved by in the last few years — I’ve been left with two particular thoughts circling back in my head over and over.

The first is that the song “Silly Games” by Janet Kay is a stunner, and has been on rotation ever since I heard it for the first time in the movie.

The second is that Lovers Rock brought back feelings and nostalgia for parties I attended when I was in art school, and did so in such a way that felt entirely authentic and honest, without any of the usual artifice that movies about house parties tend to produce.

Part of that comes from the unusually slow pacing and meandering plot of the movie. I’d be tempted to say that Lovers Rock doesn’t really have a plot, if that didn’t sound like more like an insult than it’s meant to be. (It’s not meant to be an insult at all.) On numerous occasions, the movie plays out more like a documentary — or, perhaps, a series of shots from a movie before they’ve been edited down to get to what most films consider the story. In each and every case, this is to the movie’s considerable benefit.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in two extended sequences of people at the party dancing to the music. In both of them — the “Silly Games” sequence, and the “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence — the song plays through in its entirety once, with no dialogue to distract from the music or the sights of everyone dancing… and then the scene continues, magically, as the song loops around because of the energy of the party. In the climactic “Kunta Kinte Dub” sequence, it’s because the crowd is so energized that they demand it gets played again, and then a third time.

In the “Silly Games” sequence, though, it’s something else. The crowd goes from singing along to the track to, once it’s over, just singing it en masse a capella, over and over. It’s something surprisingly, beautifully intimate, and hypnotic. It felt as if I was right there, and it made me remember countless late nights when I was younger and my heart (as another song puts it) was an open book.

So Many Ways To Communicate What You Want To Say

It’s not often that I think about my past life in a call center — and, honestly, on the rare occasions that I do, I tend to remember the period where I’d worked my way up the ladder and was writing the call scripts and meeting with clients. (It was very strange, looking back; I had an office to myself and everything. I wore ironed shirts with buttons and collars and everything every single day!) The time that I spent actually on the phone, making the calls, tends to fade into the background, for whatever reason.

That’s a shame, really, because I actually liked my time on the phones. Sure, I wasn’t entirely convinced about that at the time, and there were certainly days when it felt as if just the opposite was true, but… of course there were; it was a job, and there’s no such thing as a job that you don’t occasionally hate, because that’s literally how jobs work. (I’ve been doing what is pretty much my dream job for the last decade-plus and there are still times where I feel as if I’m dragging myself to the desk, so take from that what you will.)

Nonetheless, there was something genuinely great about talking to so many different people on a regular basis, even in such a regimented situation. Every now and then, you’d stumble upon a funny, or surprising, or educational, conversation that you never could have imagined, and your day would end up being significantly better as a result. It could be a slog, sure — we’d have hourly numbers to hit, in terms of dials and conversations — but, every so often, it could be a bit of a genuine joy, as well. Such things can happen.

All of this came to mind today when I had to deal with someone on the phone as part of a customer service thing — I was the customer, I should probably clarify, given the above — and I found myself quietly marveling at how well it was going, how wonderfully the person I was talking to was handling the entire thing. If there’s one thing that working in a call center does, it’s making you appreciative for people who work in call centers; this particular guy was so great, so helpful, that I almost asked to be transferred to his manager to demand that he gets a raise.

Instead, I wrote this. Look, there’s a reason I left call center work to become a writer.

Brand New Thing

Well, it seems to have gone live now, but the logo design thing I was talking about on Monday was redoing the logo for Shelfdust, the comic criticism site run by Steve Morris that I occasionally contribute to.

Steve made a somewhat open call for a new logo this weekend, which prompted Chloe to put my name forward publicly; as she put it, she did this because I’m bad at tooting my own horn. The two of us talked, which led me to putting together three proposals for him to choose from:

He went for the first, which was my favorite — and also one that I kind of arrived at by mistake. It started as a color version —

— the colors were placeholders, but I wondered how/if the image would work in black and white, which brought me onto the 45-degree lined version above, which is just much stronger, I think.

When Steve picked his favorite, he asked for one simple change, which was a smart one — he wanted the colors inverted.

I’m not sure it reads as well, but I’m also not sure that it doesn’t — I can see benefits for both versions, and so I was happy when he said that he planned to use both variants in future.

We also came up with banners.

The logo’s already in use, far sooner than I expected, but the whole thing was a joy from surprise start to speedy finish, not least of all because doing stuff with Steve is always a pleasure. But look at me, putting that art degree to use again…!

But No-One Seemed To Notice Me

I’ve written here before about my love for doing the graphics for the weekly THR newsletter; this far out from working there on a regular basis, I’m beginning to think that it might have been one of my favorite parts of the gig, to be honest. I’ve also written here about missing the opportunity to just… make pictures that it provided me every week, and the fact that I’d not really found the mental space to be able to do that for myself, for some reason.

I mention all of this because, this weekend, a series of strange and unusual circumstances occurred that resulted in me working on logo proposals for something — I’m being purposefully vague for the purposes of (a) not jinxing anything, and (b) I’m not sure if I can even say anything about it at this point. It’s far from anything resembling a done deal right now; I’m basically just helping out a friend, and they could utterly hate everything I sent them, and yet… it was something that I found particularly pleasurable to do.

(This despite the nerves that I felt upon being pretty much pushed into the situation, and thinking to myself, oh my God, I haven’t made an actual logo for anything in years, how many years, maybe it’s been since I was at art school, no surely not, that can’t be right, oh my God on something approaching a repeating loop.)

There’s a lesson to be found here about using different parts of your brain to solve different tasks, and the way in which that can feel like a break even though you’re still being officially “productive.” There’s also some kind of lesson to be found about my need to be productive in order to make images, but that’s a whole other kettle of unhealthy fish that we’ll ignore right now. More than anything, though, I find myself excited at the prospect of one of the logo suggestions being chosen, and the possibility that more such things could be down the line for me at some point. Fingers are crossed…!

No, You Are

I’ve been thinking about the contrarian view lately. Not a particular contrarian view, I feel the need to point out, but the idea of the contrarian view in and of itself.

I used to be a proud contrarian; I didn’t intend to be, or at least, that’s not how I found myself setting out on any specific intellectual or critical journey. But there were points — especially when I was first starting out to write online inside the comics internet, as it was then known — where I found myself entirely at odds with the general consensus, and as such feeling at once ostracized from and at odds with the majority of my peers.

It was a lonely place to be, and one that I initially struggled with before I became more convinced by my personal opinions and became, instead, a contrarian. Oh, I became so happy in that role, smacking down the mass thinking more from self-righteous zeal than anything else; looking back, I’m embarrassed about how convinced in the value of contrarianism for its own sake I became, how utterly sure I was that simply disagreeing with people for the sake of disagreement had an inherent value.

That embarrassment shouldn’t be taken as the sign of any kind of revelation about the value of going along with the crowd, mind you; despite an upbringing that seemed quietly centered around the idea of never really drawing attention to yourself and keeping out of trouble, I never really bought into the idea of group think, so I’m far from making any kind of argument against disagreeing with people, even if I blush at the memory of half of the fights I got into online for no reason beyond arguing.

In other words, I’ve finally — after too many years, let’s be honest — come around to the simple and straightforward idea of simply having the courage of your convictions and sticking to your guns on the things that matter, no matter who else agrees. Think of it as targeted contrarianism, perhaps, or using old skills and muscles for something a little more worthwhile.

After all, sometimes, it’s still a little fun to argue about things, if you pick your battles.

With Your Best Shot

It strikes me just now that I didn’t write anything here about the fact that I had my first vaccine shot last week; somehow, it slipped my mind after the fact despite utterly dominating my every thought — well, every third thought, perhaps — before it happened.

The problem wasn’t just that I’m afraid of needles and was nervous about the actual act of getting the shot itself, although I couldn’t pretend that wasn’t a factor; I was getting quietly obsessed over the question of just when I’d be able to get the shot at all. I’d talk to friends and acquaintances, and the subject would come up; I’d see others making announcements of their vaccines on social media, and every time, I’d think to myself, I’m in my mid-40s, shouldn’t I be getting this by now?

The irony was that I was too healthy. I’d filled in the state questionnaire, only to find that I was in too good a shape to be viable for the first waves of vaccines, leaving me impatient and decrying my absence of chronic health problems in something approaching jest. (But only approaching, I confess.) Finally, I got the nod midway through last week: I’d receive the first shot that Friday.

My anxiety about the actual shot then truly kicked in. I’m not someone who has a true phobia of needles, just someone squeamish enough about pain that the idea of being stabbed makes me uncomfortable, but that was enough to leave me in a nervous, talkative state as I sat down for the actual event, making nervous jokes about how I’d have to look away when it happened or else I’d look like I was having an allergic reaction. The medics in question patiently put up with me nonetheless, and the whole thing was over in almost no time. All that worry for something so small, in the end.

I’ve already scheduled my second shot, for a month from now; I’ve already told people I’m Team Moderna as if it’s a fandom, not a vaccine. I’ve already moved on from all the nerves and worry, somehow. No wonder I forgot to write about it here.

No Matter Where You Go

Getting back, obliquely, to the subject of my current obsession and potential work project, I found myself losing far too much time the other day on eBay, looking for old fanzines and comics news magazines, and remembering just how exciting it was for me to discover such things existed, lo those many years ago.

I’m likely misremembering, but I’m pretty sure the first one I found was Speakeasy, a snarky, British magazine that felt as close to British music tabloids like NME and Melody Maker for the comic book industry as it was possible to get. It was a discovery that blew my little teenage mind for all manner of reasons, and not just because it suggested the existence of a complete culture to comics out there that threatened to offer the little outsider teen that I was a sense of belonging and validity that I had failed to find anywhere else.

Speakeasy was something that let me know that you could love comics but also feel frustrated by them; that it was okay — that it was necessary — to be critical about even your favorite characters and creators, and just as importantly, that you could be critical in such a way that was amusing and, perhaps, creative in its own right.

(This was before I’d really started reading Melody Maker or NME, so I hadn’t realized how much Speakeasy owed to them; it seemed more creative and essential in that particular vacuum, I admit.)

Speakeasy folded in the early ’90s — maybe 1991? I can’t remember — and I moved on to the American comics press, becoming a devotee of the weekly Comic Buyer’s Guide newspaper, which also felt like a revelation: not only were news stories treated as news stories, but there were also op-ed columns, humor cartoons and, at the time, a letter column where creators themselves would write in! It felt like a further glimpse into the world behind the curtain, but a confirmation that there was a world there to be found. I was entranced, and jealous; I wanted to be there.

It’s only now, writing this, that I realize that I got there, that my career now is working in the contemporary version of those magazines and newspapers. It’s something that makes me feel unexpectedly happy, and proud. It took a few years and a few misadventures and wrong turns along the way, but I got to where I was supposed to be, without even knowing it.