I Was Looking Back To See If You Were

The very idea of a safe space has become almost cliche at this point in time, a joke about overly sensitive people and a need for protection from an all-too-cruel “real world.” But recently, I’ve been thinking about the idea in a more concrete, coherent, form; a safe space that is an actual, physical, space.

We think of our homes as safe spaces, surely. I’ve had this conversation twice this week in different forms, but our homes are places where (ideally) we can take off whatever mental protection we wear in the rest of the world and can just relax and be our authentic selves, whatever and whoever that may be. In order to do that, we have to, of course, feel safe there.

I was asked, earlier in the week, what it would feel like to be back in the house I shared with my ex-wife. Not to live there again, but just to be there. All I could imagine, when I thought about it, was how alien it would feel, how uncomfortable. Even when I was moving my stuff out of there, after just a handful of weeks of not living there, it felt unlike the home I’d lived in for a decade to that point. I felt unwelcome, unsafe. The bones of the place were the same, but in the emotional sense, it had become a different place altogether.

And then, later this same week, I was talking about the idea of a stranger staying in the home I have now, and what came to mind was the concept of being on guard, feeling as if I wouldn’t be able to relax properly. A sense of my home becoming something else temporarily; unsafe, somehow.

We should be kinder to the idea of the safe space, I think. Each of us have them, and they’re more necessary to us than we know.

Wiil Remember Us

The idea that we’re living through history is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; not just in the sense of, it’s all going to be history someday, man, but watching events unfold around the world — specifically in the U.S. and the U.K. in the last three years or so — it’s difficult to actually fully comprehend the fact that what is happening right now is so extraordinary and unusual (and, let’s be honest, completely screwed up and fucked) that all of this is literally going to end up in history books someday to be studied and questioned and over analyzed.

We are, I think, raised to believe that was live in uninteresting times. Perhaps that’s a generational thing, or a geographical point; I know that, while American Exceptionalism is an all-too-real thing, amongst my peers in my home country, we felt particularly un-exceptional, living with the idea that history happened to other people and our best days as a culture were probably behind us already. (Oh, Britpop, what had you done to us…?) The notion that we were witness to massive, substantial events just didn’t seem likely.

Of course, that was already true, even if we’d written it off as otherwise. I can remember with shocking clarity watching news reports about the Berlin Wall falling, or the Challenger shuttle explosion. I was there for both things, but they were the aberration, not the norm. The norm was an era past its best, soon to be forgotten.

What I’d give now for that feeling of unimportance, of smallness. Instead, democracy feels under real, legitimate danger in both the country I was born and the one I adopted, and everything feels precarious in a manner that is all too real. History is around the corner, looming, ever-watching and, more than anything, it feels scary to be so aware of that.

I’ve Got No Mind To Worry

It’s been awhile since I posted any drawings, hasn’t it? The truth of the matter is, I haven’t even been doing quick sketches on the iPad in awhile for no real reason beyond, “I just haven’t,” but that drought ended the other week. Here are three lazy Sunday afternoon drawings.

Take A Break, Home Box Office

I’ve discovered this strange side effect of binging HBO’s so-called “prestige dramas” recently, after years of having little-to-no access to this stuff: I get obsessed with a show during its first season, and then rapidly lose interest after that first season finale.

I don’t know what it is, or what’s to blame. Have I had too much of a good thing in too short a time, perhaps? Even when the season finale ends in a cliffhanger that has me on the edge of my seat — hello, Westworld — I get maybe an episode or two into the second season and just… don’t want to watch it anymore.

It’s not that I lose interest in the show entirely; I know I’ll go back to Westworld just as I know I’ll go back to Succession. It’s just that the idea of going back to either right now feels not just unappealing, but exhausting. I need something else, another flavor, for now.

(I’m writing this and suddenly just thought of Chernobyl, a show I appreciated but found emotionally exhausting to watch episode-to-episode; the prospect of there somehow being a second season of that — this time with even more real-life dystopia and human frailty! — is something that would make me think about taking a long cruise towards the horizon with no plans to turn back.)

Am I merely worn out by the top-quality acting from people I half-recognize from movies I might have watched ten years ago? Perhaps that’s it. Is it that I can sense the end of one chapter and need a breather before continuing onwards? I’m not sure that’s true; I went immediately from season 2 to season 3 of No Offence as if my life depended on it. (I should write about that show soon, I think.) Are seasons of these shows structured as complete — or, at least, nearly complete — set pieces that require a break upon completion, to mediate upon and get some emotional distance?

Closer to the truth, perhaps, is the fact that, sometimes, it’s just more relaxing to watch The Great British Bake-Off and Top Chef after a day of thinking too hard. Never underestimate the value of well-made comfort food.

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.