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.)

In My Thoughts

The news that one of my dogs is sick — and, potentially, very sick — came yesterday just moments before I received an email from someone I’d written about for work and who wanted me to answer for my sins, such as they were. Because of having to be professional and answer that email (and the ones that followed), I found myself not really dealing with the news until later that night when it suddenly struck me that there was a reason I was feeling so sad.

I’ve dealt with sick pets before, and know all too well the feelings of heartbreak, anger and frustration it brings; I’ve said goodbye to too many animals, but also know that sometimes they beat the odds and things go far better than intended. I also, however, know that Gus and Ernie are more than a decade old, and shit happens to animals any age, never mind those more than 10 years old.

The idea of Ernie being sick feels distant and wrong, difficult to properly comprehend. The idea of Ernie not being around at all feels, on every level, wrong, and even worse when I think about how Gus will deal with it. The two of them are a package deal, and the idea of one without the other is just… inconceivable. Or, at least, it should be.

I’m sad, and I’m feeling helpless as I wait for more news from vets and a treatment plan. I miss my little friend, who’s not staying with me right now because shared custody, and I feel like I want to give him a hug. (And his brother, too.)

Sometimes, you just need to put these things out into the world, in the hopes that somehow they might matter.

When The World Is Yours

I’m reminded, in the mornings now, of waking up when I was a kid. I was one of six people in my house back then, alongside both my parents, two sisters, and my grandmother (my dad’s mother, who we called Babbie; it was a corruption of her given name, Barbara, and “granny,” coined by my oldest sister when a baby). Waking up would be, for me, a calm before the storm.

I was never the first awake, even though I was an early riser — that wouldn’t happen until college, when I’d have to set an alarm to make sure I caught the early train to Glasgow — but, as a kid, I’d wake up after Babbie and my mum. They’d be awake downstairs, my mum in the kitchen having coffee, cigarettes and a crossword, Babbie in the living room, listening to the radio or watching breakfast TV. I’d be awake before my sisters, though, and before my dad, so there wouldn’t be the noise of a household of six immediately.

I’d wake up and lie in bed. I’d read, or when I reached teenagerdom, jerk off, and it would be quiet out there. The sky would get lighter as the sun decided to do its business, and I’d pick up clothes and head out of the room and into the day. But that period between waking up and getting up, that was everything.

That’s what I remember now, when I wake up. There’s another period now, between waking up and getting up, where I just lie in bed and read. (Or write; that’s when I’m writing this, for example. Sorry, jerking off fans. It’s reading or writing only these days.) There’s something special about this time, in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend, but it’s important to me that I have this small sliver of peace before I get up, pick up clothes, and head out of the room and into the day. Something sacred, almost, three, four decades after that was first the case.

File Under

I didn’t realize the metaphor until days later, when my therapist pointed it out to me.

Instead, I thought I was being unusually practical. Since moving into where I’m staying now, there were boxes of paperwork and files and the like that I’d simply left untouched, for many reasons: It seemed too daunting to open them up, because there was quite so much in there. It seemed daunting because a lot of my old life, my pre-divorce life, was in there, and I wasn’t ready to look. Or, simply, I had something else to do with my time. Until the other day, when that wasn’t the case anymore.

Instead, I had both the free time and the free brain space to think about opening everything up and resorting it; going through everything and putting it all in an order that made sense to me, discarding what I didn’t need, and basically trying to put it all back together so that I knew where everything was if and when I needed it.

Admittedly, I had no idea quite how far the paperwork went. I genuinely didn’t remember that I had paperwork from my art school days (The program to my degree show, which is more than two decades old now! My diploma!) or that there were forms and duplicates of forms from when I was trying to move to the U.S. for the first time. I was unpacking these boxes and making all these (re-)discoveries, and it was more than a little overwhelming: There was so much of it all.

And so, at some point, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of… well, everything, really. Things to keep, things to get rid of, things that I was going to put into a box, tape up and leave in the basement because I’m not ready just yet to make a decision about where it would go.

Days after I did this, spending an entire afternoon and feeling mentally and emotionally washed out afterwards, I explained the whole thing to my therapist, as I said above. She looked at me incredulously. “What?” I asked, confused.

“You… literally went through your past and put it all in order while deciding what you could get rid of, including putting things in a box in the basement because they’re too emotional to think about right now, and you don’t think that’s a little too on the nose?” she asked.

Well, sure. When you put it like that, I do. But until then, it had just been a Saturday afternoon where I felt oddly productive.

Full Moon Tonight, Everything’s Alright

I know, if I’m honest, that it’s the product of an utterly cynical and insincere process, yet there’s something about Todd Rundgren’s “Wolfman Jack” that strikes me as one of the most upbeat, happy and instantaneous songs ever made, every single time that I hear it.

There’s significant cognitive dissonance between knowing, on some deep primal level, that Rundgren — a notorious studio wizard (a true star, no less) — probably spent far too long perfecting every little last piece of every single thing that you hear in its 2:54 run time, from the amount of the echo of the opening sax to the “whoo-oo-oo-oo-oohhh” harmonies in the background, and the emotional rush that comes to me every time I hear the song. It sounds so effortless, and yet, I know, there was doubtlessly a lot of effort into making that the case.

And yet: It’s this beautiful, over-the-top piece of nostalgia for something that likely never existed, and something that seems to rejoice in going just that little bit further than you expect even when you think you know how ridiculous the whole thing is. (The falsetto at the end of “You can’t do this to me” at 1:53, for example.)

I’d heard some Todd Rundgren before this song, and never quite got it; I distinctly remember hearing “I Saw The Light” and going, “This is what people went so nuts over? I don’t get it.” But when I heard this for the first time, I had a mild epiphany; I knew this wasn’t what the majority of his music sounded like — or, really, anything beyond this song — but for the almost-three minutes it lasted, I didn’t care. This, I decided, was someone I could listen to for days on end.

(Strange but true; I can never listen to this song just once. I always, without fail, play it through a second time at least.)

We Take Our Time

There’s something very amusing to me about the fact that, every now and then, I get fantasies about taking time off from my job writing to… write some more. But I do; every now and then, I get the urge to just take some time during the day to write something for here, or for the Wait, What site, or something else that’s personal and not “work.”

It’s not that I have any kind of grand design or magnum opus that I’m aching to get to — although I have been meaning to write a series for Wait, What about the post-Kirby New Gods books since January — more, simply, that there are times where putting work to the fore because, you know, it’s what pays the bills and I like bills being paid, can leave me feeling wrung out and hollow. There’s a lot to be said both for the opportunities my job allows me and the people I work with (Many of whom I love dearly), but occasionally, it can leave me feeling like a cog in a machine.

And yet, if I were honest, should I take time off, I’d want to spend that time writing something. I can’t explain why; it’s the way I understand the world, I guess. I write here despite knowing only two people read it; in doing so, I work through ideas and feelings and end up with something resembling a finished thought. (“Resembling” being the important word.) In that sense, I’m an old school blogger, I guess.

Maybe I just need someone to start paying me to write about utterly random subjects and feelings. That’s a thing that’s certainly not impossible, right…?

I’ve Been Caught In A Trap I Set For Myself

I don’t listen to music when I write. I was going to say that I can’t, but that’s not true; I’ve worked in cafes where there’s music and, yes, it’s different and difficult and I’m slower, but it’s certainly possible. But I don’t like to do it; I get distracted and connections don’t get made the same way.

I wish that wasn’t true; I wish that I could listen to something as I type away, that my brain could split its attention and do both things at once. If nothing else, I feel like it would give me the opportunity to listen to more music than I currently do, and arguably discover new things to adore. (Spotify, I know I should hate you and your algorithms, and yet…!) In theory, it sounds like some kind of perpetual motion machine, something new entering your head as you output things from inside it. And yet…

I need, I think, to listen too much for it to work for me. Even if it’s just background noise, something will happen — some unexpected melody, a chord change, a half-understood lyric — and my concentration will be with the music, not anything else. It happens when I’m out and having conversations, too; I’ll hear something in the background and my head will go, I am interested in what you’re saying, but what is this song? What just happened?

I’m an easily distracted writer at the best of times, so you can imagine how much trouble music would be for me. But I continually wish that wasn’t the case. I see people write about what they’re listening to as they write, their soundtracks, and I get jealous. If only that could be me, if only my brain worked like that…!

Instead, I work in silence aside from the grumbles and moans I make without realizing it, and the sound of the keys as I hit them. Which, in its own way, is music of some sort.

You Say I’m Putting You On But It’s No Joke

I write a weekly column for Wired which is, ostensibly, a summary/explanation of five things that people have been talking about online over the last seven days. It has, over the past couple years, transformed into a weird record of political events as the world has become swallowed by the news (or, perhaps, since I have become swallowed by the news). It’s one of the most exhausting things I work on, every single week.

I mean that in multiple senses. Practically, it’s a lot; it’s probably the longest thing I’ll write in most weeks, coming in around 2000 words every Friday morning before edits, and researching it is a bear, taking up a chunk of every week. I spend hours looking on Twitter and elsewhere throughout the week to find what people are talking about, and then trying to backtrack to find what the shape of that conversation was, how it started, how it evolved, not to mention external (online) sources to back up the social media of it all.

I hand it in every Friday somewhere between 7 and 9 am, and have from then until Monday as a break to not continually be searching for potential fodder. Otherwise, I’m on it; looking for what stories are trending, what interests me, who’s saying what and if there’s anything to it. It’s exhausting in that sense, too.

And then there’s just the sad fact of, there is rarely any good news. It sounds almost like a joke, but in the last few years — I want to say, since Trump got elected, but that’s not the whole truth — the news has just been overwhelmingly, oppressively, bad. People get hurt. Institutional and societal mass cruelty spreads across the world like a virus. Bad people get more and more successful, get away with more and more shit. That is exhausting, too. Writing about that, every single week.

I’m writing this instead of looking at social media right now. When I’m done, I’ll go back to see what people are talking about, and try to decipher what’s right for the column, and what is just people venting on Twitter. But I’m tired.

The View From My Bed, San Diego Comic-Con Design Edition

When I found out that we were doing a Heat Vision newsletter from Comic-Con, I’ll admit that my heart sank a little. Not because I didn’t think it was a good idea — in fact, sending it on the last day of the show, even though it would probably go out when all of us had already left (I’m pretty sure I’m the last one to leave San Diego every year, from the THR team; everyone else just jumps on a train in the morning), seemed like a great way to cap off five days of coverage. Instead, I just had visions of me doing graphics in the press room just before deadline, stressed.

Nope; I did them at 6am in my bed at the hotel, because I woke up stupidly early, as it turned out. And they looked like this: