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I hate the phone.
I always used to think I was unusual in this; I had friends, for years, who’d spend all their time on the phone, it felt like. They’d talk to friends and family and come up with new and varied reasons to spend all the time talking and talking and talking, and I was just not a fan.
I would put this down to my time working at a telemarketing company, for a long time. I’d burned out on the phone, I’d tell myself; I’d used it too much on a daily basis for 8-10 hour shifts, and that ruined the idea for me. How else could I explain the exhaustion I felt at the very idea of talking to someone on the phone for any length of time?
The irony being, I actually liked my job; I liked talking to people on the phone in that setting. The weird, unexpected conversations I’d have there! It was consistently new and surprising, even on the worst days; it was like a way of remembering how unusual and unique and special people are, if you just take the time to listen. It was the prospect of doing it outside of work that just made me want to find any other alternative whatsoever.
Now, of course, I know that’s not true — I just share a dislike of the phone that almost everyone I know does, these days, or so it feels. It’s at once comforting, because, hey, I’m not alone, and also slightly depressing, as if I’ve lost some little moment of uniqueness. I am a contrary person, sadly.
All of this comes to mind as I end a week where I’ve spent far, far too long on the phone. As much as I dislike the phone in general, having to use it for work every day of the week is somehow even worse than usual.
As odd as it may be, I can remember the first time I thought to myself, Maybe this internet is bad after all. I was writing Fanboy Rampage!!! at the time, diving into the nascent comics internet every morning for pearls and/or the opportunity to snark and express my disdain and pretense of moral superiority, and that brought with it some interactions that were less than fun. (It’s strange to consider that something I did 17 years ago created enmity that to this day plagues my career, but there we go.)
These days, the idea that the internet isn’t a good thing feels oddly universal and widely accepted. For all the good that it’s done — and I genuinely believe that it has done a lot of good — there’s this general agreement that, really, when it comes down to it, the internet has been a net loss for humanity. And I say that as someone who only has the life that I have right now because of the internet, for better and worse. (Almost entirely better, I’ll be honest.)
I do this thing every Thursday and Friday — realistically, it’s more like “a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a chunk of my Thursday and Friday,” but we’ll keep to those main days — for Wired which is officially called “While You Were Offline,” and unofficially called “Internet Week.” It’s basically a round-up of things that people have been talking about online over the past seven days, and in the past two years, it’s become increasingly political because, well, the world.
Every week, I basically search out some of the dumbest, most banal and occasionally some of the most fascinating things that people are talking about on the internet, and every single week, I find myself surprised by just how much of everything is out there. There’s always something (multiple somethings) to feel shitty about, it’s true, but there’s almost always something good to be found, too. Some random act of kindness, almost certainly, someone sending an unexpected message that can change — can save — someone else’s life.
There days, I find myself focusing more on the latter, at least personally. There’s so much shittiness everywhere, and it’s so easy to be cynical and pessimistic. More often than not, I find myself looking for the things that can put me back to the mindset before I realized, Wait, could this communication medium be bad after all.
Am I the only person who has incredibly vivid memories that almost definitely didn’t happen? For the past couple of days, I’ve had this memory-that-probably-isn’t stuck in my head, of me in New York City in 1999 — this part isn’t the impossible part, I was there, back then — wandering the streets and listening to Lilys’ “Cambridge California” on headphones. I can remember with astonishing clarity the coldness of the streets, the busyness and the awe I felt at the scale of things, and very clearly and specifically, the Lilys track at 1:28 below.
I’m almost 100% sure that is something that didn’t happen, because I remember specifically buying that Lilys album on that New York trip and yet, being unable to listen to it until I got back home. (I can’t remember why; did I not have a portable CD player at the time?) I remember the frustration of not being able to listen despite my utter fascination with the band, brought on by the then-recent “Nanny in Manhattan” single, and, instead, listening to both David Holmes and Primal Scream on repeat throughout the entire trip.
Nonetheless, I could close my eyes right now and be right back there at the time. I could tell you exactly what it was like, as if it had definitely happened. Memory is an impossible, strange place.
I think about ambition sometimes. And the future. These thoughts are not unrelated.
A common question I get asked is, Why don’t you write a book? and my common answer has evolved to be, Once I figure out what I’d want to write a book about, I will. It’s not a dodge; I like the idea of writing a book — even more so, of having written one when it’s finished — but I genuinely don’t know what that book would be, and that feels like a bit of a hurdle to jump, all things considered.
(I have friends who have book agents, who have been approached by publishers and agents to write something based on their work online, and I’ve always been jealous of that. It’s never happened to me, and although I know it’s because I don’t do that kind of writing for the most part, I still find myself thinking that it’s because people can sense my lack of ideas.)
This all comes to mind again reading an interview with a TV writer who was once a journalist, and my thinking, Oh, I wonder if I could do that, and then thinking of the friends who’ve gone from journalism to TV, movies, comics. There are more than a few who’ve made the jump.
They did so because this journalism thing is impermanent, isn’t to be trusted. Writing about pop culture isn’t something I can realistically do for much longer, never mind forever; I’m in my 40s, after all. I should have some kind of long term plan. I need one. And yet. And yet.
My ambition lags behind my necessity. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, for now. And I literally don’t have an idea for what my next step would be, just yet. Maybe tomorrow.
There was a time, if you can believe it, when Heavy Stereo was a band people talked about as if they were the next Oasis. In some respects, it made sense — like the Brothers Gallagher, they were on Creation Records, and they were slavishly devoted to taking recognizable tropes of beloved music from the past and covering them with a sluggishness that could be considered “Britpop Indie Du Jour,” I guess — but there was no mistaking that, despite certain moments of joy (The lead guitar collapsing at 0:29 in the video above, for example, or even just the earworm of “Do you smile/When you open your eyes/In the moooooorrrrning”), there just wasn’t the tunefulness or melodic gift of Oasis present. The very thing that made Oasis stand out and transcend all of the jokes at their expense just… wasn’t there.
Heavy Stereo didn’t make it, of course; the first album flopped and there wasn’t a second. Gem Archer, the lead singer/guitarist/songwriter found a fitting second career, however, when he ended up joining Oasis in 2000, just in time for the underrated-but-still-crap Standing on the Shoulder of Giants.
He’d go on to write a bunch of material for the band in its dying days, and those songs sounded not unlike what’s above: Competent, occasionally catchy, and entirely reliant on the performances to lift them out the mire. Thankfully, Liam Gallagher and the rest of the band had far more charm than Heavy Stereo to pull that off.
Sometimes, I still get this song stuck in my head. I don’t know what I did to deserve it.
I had a moment in my last therapy session that, in retrospect, probably seemed particularly awkward to my therapist. I was, as is traditional, talking as much to myself as to her, and in doing so, realized that the thing I was talking about that had happened a few days earlier was, in fact, connected to my emotional state at that very moment, as was something else that I’d assumed was unconnected but had been talking about earlier in the session. It was the emotional equivalent of someone explaining how the killer did it at the end of a murder mystery, or seeing the instruction booklet for some complicated device; that same feeling of, “Oh, that’s how it works!”
I realized that, and laughed, and said something along the lines of,”Now I get it! Finally, I got an actual answer about something from therapy!”
It was a joke, of course, and I’m pretty sure my therapist understood that, but now, thinking back, I have this overwhelming guilt that, maybe she didn’t and maybe I accidentally offended her and her entire profession.
The truth is, I was suspicious of therapy for years for the same reason that my sisters are suspicious of therapy; it just wasn’t done in my family, or, for that matter, anyone in the culture we grew up in at all. It was saved for people who had suffered breakdowns or were far more screwed up than we were allowed to think we were. Even when I first went into therapy, I did so with a deep suspicion that it could ever be of any use to me, because I wasn’t that messed up.
The joke was on me, as much as anything that followed could be considered a joke; therapy proved to be entirely revolutionary for me, in terms of my understanding of myself and also what I was capable of, and what I deserved. It’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life, and perhaps not even one to say that it saved my life.
That’s not to say any of it came easily, or even in a straightforward manner, which is what my self-conscious joke was all about. I don’t “get answers” from therapy in the sense of suddenly having an epiphany and everything falls into place immediately. (I don’t even think it’s supposed to work like that, as much as there’s even a way it’s supposed to work. At least, not for me.) The flash of realization this time around was a new experience, which is what provoked the laughter, and the joke, and then the guilt that followed.
That there was any guilt that followed just underscores the reasons why I see a therapist, of course.
I feel as if I should have something deep to say about Fleabag, but I don’t. Words fail me; I am so bowled over by the second season — which I tore through in three days, telling myself that I was going to pace myself and failing — that I’m dumbstruck, in love and in awe at the same time by what’s there in front of me. Which, in many ways, feels at once appropriate and ironic, considering what the series, and especially the second season, is about.
What I’m left with, is this memory. Two episodes left, and finding myself thinking, this is masterful, this is beautiful and honest and complicated and, fuck it, I just want a happy ending.
There are, if and when we’re lucky, stories that we’re told where the characters come alive and we fall in love with them. We can appreciate the artistry and talent and need for dramatic irony and all, but we find ourselves caring for the characters as if they’re real and wanting them to succeed even if it betrays all logic. As I reached the end of Fleabag, all I wanted was for her to be okay at the end.
I won’t spoil how it ends for those who haven’t seen it, but I’ll say this: I was heartbroken and elated by the wave.