Looking For The Great Pumpkin

Hallowe’en — because I’m old and pretentious enough to add the apostrophe— wasn’t the big deal that it is now, when I was a kid. Oh, people dressed up and did trick or treating (or galloshing, as it was called in Scotland in the 1980s), and there was bobbing for apples or the closest alternative, but it was literally kids’ stuff as far as I recall. I don’t remember it being anything that adults really indulged in.

I often wonder if that’s an age thing, or a nationality thing; was America always a country that couldn’t wait to dress up at the end of October to make morning commutes and days in the office that little bit more colorful, and I just missed out growing up elsewhere? Even in art school, I remember Hallowe’en shenanigans being limited to the parties at night, rather than the all-day event it is here, these days.

(I also feel as if it’s something that gets a lot more attention in terms of decoration in the U.S.; I don’t remember houses going as all-out in the Scotland of my childhood, but that might be selective memory at play. At most, I think there were minor things on the night itself as a sign that a particular house had treats to give out to kids. Am I misremembering? Maybe.)

All of which is to say: I don’t get Hallowe’en, not really. It doesn’t hit the nostalgic notes of Christmas, and I’m not sure what the appeal is supposed to be unless you have a cosplay fetish. (If you do, though, go to town.) I am, I’m afraid to say, the Hallowe’en Grinch who’s waiting for his heart to grow, still. Perhaps this will be the year when the penny drops and I finally understand what the appeal is supposed to be. It’d be nice, if so.

Cheap Self-Awareness in Other People’s Misery

I saw at the end of a book review in The Guardian, a link to buy the book itself, along with the book’s price: £7.99. Immediately, unexpectedly, I found myself flooded with nostalgia.

When I first moved to Aberdeen to attend art school, I was 19 years old and devastatingly lonely; I was a shy person, completely lacking in confidence and convinced that the rest of the world wouldn’t want anything to do with me. I’d moved across the country to a city where I knew no-one and hadn’t built any new social structures yet, and I was lodging in the spare room of an alcoholic old woman who made me so uncomfortable that I locked my door as soon as I was home and tried to spend as little time as possible in her presence.

My safe space in those first months was the bookshop.

I’d love to tell you it was this quirky independent bookshop run by fascinating people with equally fascinating life stories, but that’s not true; it was part of the Waterstones chain, and everyone working there seemed somewhat bored by the job. But I loved it, nonetheless. On Saturdays, I’d spend hours in there, leafing through books I’d heard of and those I hadn’t, picking up random things based on if the cover caught my eye or if the title was strange and interesting. I remember the displays and the filled bookshelves with a sense of awe and excitement even now.

And this is why the review pushed all of this into my head: the books were under £10 for the most part — not the hardcovers, of course, they were a special occasion thing — and so seemed affordable and a reasonable cost of discovering new things. I bought so many books in that first year in Aberdeen, all because I was in love with the way that bookshop made me feel, and found out so much about my taste and myself in the process. It was a journey of small, affordable, self-discovery; just not the traditional one people experience in their first year of college.

All The Rich White Folk Are Going To Argue

I’m back on the Succession train, finally. What’s funny is that, in many ways, what brought me back wasn’t necessarily the show itself, as good as it is — and it is very good, an oddly perfect distillation of a very British flavor of grim satire for the Trump era that, fittingly for the age, occasionally forgets which side it’s on and helps the viewer to do so, as well — but all the conversation surrounding it. There are more than a few plot developments I learned from Twitter rather than the show itself, so coming back before everything got spoiled for me only made sense.

The way in which Succession is treated in the culture circles I apparently move in is fascinating, because of the ways in which repeated disdain displayed for the decadence and immorality of its characters often feels laced with an unspoken jealousy, with that only ramping up even as the series itself becomes ever-more clear in how utterly broken everyone in the show actually is, to the point of approaching — and, at times, arguably crossing — the point of self-parody. It feels as if it’s a conversation between creators and audience where the former is saying, louder and louder, don’t you get it? These are not aspirational figures, and the latter laughs in response, says, yes, they’re terrible, but it’s so fun.

It is fun, of course. It’s a funny show as much as it’s anything else, and the second season is sharper in its humor than the first. But I’m just as moved by the quiet tragedy of what’s happening, as well, the cautionary tales of the main characters — well, some of them, Cameron is just an idiot — as they remain impressively unaware of their own circumstances because of those same circumstances, their self-awareness shielded from view thanks to the fact that they can easily afford to escape elsewhere when necessary. It’s a show that feels horrifyingly, unmistakably of the moment.

(Of course, such wealth also, arguably, allows them the ability to buy their way out of any consequences, defeating the tragedy of their stories. Ah, well…)

I’m glad I’ve returned to the show. I might have come back for the wrong reasons, but it’s good to be back, nonetheless.

To Boldly Go Where Some Have Gone Before

The first season of Star Trek: Discovery left me cold, ultimately; I could see what it was trying to do, I could even appreciate what it was trying to do, but it didn’t work for me so heavily that I put the series aside, sadly. Despite my deep and enduring love for Star Trek as a whole — I’m that person who’s even watched Enterprise, like an idiot — I felt as if Discovery was a fundamental misunderstanding of the franchise and it’s essential ingredients, a misguided attempt to update the idea that accidentally jettisoned the optimism at its heart. When the second season started, I skipped it; I had other things to do.

That, it turns out, was a mistake.

I dove back in based on the show’s NYCC panel, which I covered for work. They talked about the show resetting itself for the third season, about how much it respects canon despite starting as a prequel (and one that really, really, didn’t respect canon but whatever), but more importantly for me, co-showrunner and EP Alex Kurtzman kept returning to the notion that Star Trek is about hope and living up to that hope despite everything, and that felt like what had been utterly missing for me in that first season. The panel made me excited about the show, cautiously, so it was clearly time to check out that second season after all.

Discovery has been famously (infamously) troubled as a production, switching showrunners between seasons, stumbling around to try and find its footing, so I shouldn’t have been that surprised that the second season feels like a different show than the first. More excitingly, though, it feels like Star Trek, right down to having real life situations transformed awkwardly into sci-fi morality plays every now and then. The characters suddenly… liked each other and felt as if they had character, and weren’t just slavishly doing whatever the writers demanded of them in any given moment. In Anson Mount’s Captain Pike, the show had a curious mix of moral center and charismatic black hole who weirdly made sense as a Captain. It all, almost immediately, felt as right as the first season felt wrong.

(There are still problems, of course, not least of which a belief that bringing back “dark” characters is inherently interesting, or that having someone announce how they’re feeling is preferable to their demonstrating that emotion instead, but… those are pretty Star Trek, too, really.)

The rediscovery of the show — no pun intended, etc. — was a surprise joy, and catching up has become a welcome way of decompressing from work in the evening. Ever since I was a kid, Star Trek has been a kind of comfort food for my head. I’m genuinely thrilled that I get that feeling again.

“That’s Where Instinct Lives”

“I’m worried about people that are trying to eliminate or delete or get rid of the mistakes… It’s like, no, no, no wait, that’s where brilliance lives. That’s where instinct lives. That’s where God lives. That’s the spark. You know, when the book was printed, I looked at it, and I got halfway through and I was like: ‘This is such a weird book. It’s so weird.’ I’d thought, as I used to do with my lyric writing, I thought I was being so clear and so obvious and actually overstating my points. Overdoing it, really. But actually, the book is weird. It might take a bit of work, but I feel like if you go from beginning to end and you close the book, you might look up and see something a little bit differently than you had before.”

— Michael Stipe, from here.

In Your Head, In Your Head

I made it through This Way Up in a handful of days; it’s only six episodes, and they’re just around half an hour each with commercials, so it was hardly the biggest time commitment. I suspect that I would’ve run through it just as quickly no matter what, though. What was initially introduced to me as “Fleabag, but more traditional,” ended up being one of the kinder things I’ve watched all year.

What made the show so enjoyable to me — beyond the fact that it’s very funny, obviously, with the joke about the song that isn’t really about a ghost being one of my favorite jokes in anything I’ve seen lately — is that it’s something that refuses to go big.

It’s a show that looks as if it’s about something big — Aine (creator/writer Aisling Bea) is recovering from a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt, and attempting to return to her everyday life — but that’s misdirection. All of that is background to a story that’s really about loneliness and the need to connect with people you love. (The need to find people you love, too.) And all of that happens on a wonderfully small scale.

What really reinforced how much I loved the show was the final episode, which looked as if it was going to be exactly what the audience expects from a sitcom like this, an episode where the plots come together in an overwhelming manner, prompting the one big dramatic moment that has felt like Chekhov’s Gun the entire series… and then it goes off and does something else instead, more in keeping with everything that had come before.

It’s not Fleabag, beyond the fact that it’s created by and starring a woman in her mid-thirties and about someone who is complex and has a sister. They’re different stories, and coming from different places. But both do share a belief that kindness and empathy are what can save us, and there’s always space for stories like that.

Spins A Web, Any Size

Normally, these posts are a couple of weeks’ worth of newsletter graphics per post. This time, it’s just one week because I was unusually asked to do six at once. (Well, technically, six for one newsletter; I did them in three batches of three, one, and two images, respectively, across two days.)

Of note is the Spider-Man one, which I’m particularly happy about because it meant that I got my own Spider-Man drawing — yes, I did that one — out in public. I don’t know quite why that feels like such a big deal, yet it somehow does…

Weaving Time In A Tapestry

It’s fall now, and I’m very happy about that.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about fall, and anticipating it. (I actually thought it started in early September, and was joyous about that until I looked up a calendar and realized the error of my ways. Alas.) Fall is, Christmas aside, my favorite time of year — there’s something about the earlier nights, the cooler temperature, the half light of the afternoon, that warms my heart. I’ve known this for years, although I forgot as I lost track of myself for awhile.

I can remember the feel of walking through my hometown when I was in high school, crunching fallen leaves underfoot and everything was notably crisp in the air as the colors faded as the evening began; this was all happening, and I was thinking to myself, this is my time of year. I meant this relatively literally, considering my birthday is in early October, but the older I get, the more I appreciate that fall is mine in other ways, too.

I’ve literally been looking forward to this season for a little over a month, now. There came a point where I had tired of summer, when the occasional rain storm felt like a gift from above (literally), and I was waiting, wishing for sweater weather. As the mornings got darker and later, I could feel the season approaching with unabashed eagerness: It’s coming it’s coming it’s coming.

This isn’t born of a love of pumpkin spice (I have none) nor a need to see Halloween merchandise in stores. Perhaps it really is just because this is the time of year I was born, but fall feels nourishing and renewing to me; a chance to take stock, look ahead and make plans for the future. Fall means renewal.

A Recovery Period From Manhattan

My re-entry into what I only half-jokingly call “real life,” post New York Comic Con this year was surprisingly rough. I was going to write “unexpectedly,” but that’s not actually true; for some reason, there’s always a strange mental hangover following this particular five day trip — perhaps it’s the time difference, or maybe its that New York State of Mind that everyone loves to go on about so much — but this year, it was especially present, and coming back to my everyday, especially difficult.

It was, maybe, that I was sick during the trip. Or, really, that I was half-sick, getting there and struggling against it with all my might, literally just willing myself to hold together until I could get back on the plane and fall apart entirely. (I always seem to struggle with sickness in New York, too, but that probably comes from the show happening at the beginning of October every year, when the weather starts to shift and people are getting sick in general.) The tickling throat and fuzzy headedness of being half-sick is hardly conducive to returning to the world.

Or perhaps it was exhaustion, brought on from overwork. This year, I somehow put myself through the ringer in terms of workload, filing 25 stories to THR in a three day period (as well as some graphics, and an additional Wired story that was ~2000 words) and working anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, depending. Why did this happen? What was I thinking? I have no idea; it just happened. I’d write until I was done, and it would just take a long time to be done, if that makes sense. But I ended the show tired beyond belief as a result, so perhaps that had something to do with it, too.

It’s not as if I didn’t expect it to be more difficult than usual; I even took the first day back off, which almost never happens, but that still wasn’t enough. It took days to feel normal again, and lose the restlessness that felt as if I was going to leave again at a moment’s notice.


There’s A Page Back In History

BIll Drummond’s 45 is one of those books for me; a core text, something I read at an impressionable age — the internet tells me it came out in 2000, which means I was 25 when I first read it, most likely — that resonated with me for reasons I still don’t fully comprehend almost two decades later.

It’s a series of essays, if you can call them that — in many ways, their length, their tone, their digressive nature, all makes me feel as if they were accidental forerunner for the way people, me especially, write online, but this was pre-internet as we know it now — all written around the time that Drummond turned 45, but almost none of them are written about turning 45. Instead, it’s a combination of half-remembered stories told in a charmingly shaggy dog fashion, and unfinished thoughts about all manner of things, including how to just live your life. It’s rambling, messy, kind and effortlessly charming.

It was a revelation when I read it. I’ll admit, I bought it initially not because of the writing — I’m not sure I’d even read anything by Drummond beforehand — but because I’d read a couple of positive reviews and because, more than anything, I liked the format of the original release in an art school fashion; it was called 45, and it was a 7-inch-by-7-inch release, like an old 45″ vinyl record. How could I resist? That the writing felt like a series of letters from an old friend was this unexpected, amazing, bonus.

I remember, upon reading it for that first time, the feeling that Drummond had started the book, was writing all of this, because 45 as an age was this significant milestone that denoted something in particular. After all, when I pictured my parents, they were always in their mid-40s in my mind. (At that precise moment in my life, they were both in their late 50s, but reality be damned.) 45 was the age, then, that I imagined being a demarkation point of some kind: the age when you were properly, definitively old.

I tell you all of this because I turned 45 last week, and aside from wondering if it actually meant something, aside from all the aches and pains from the exercise of the surrounding days (It happened during New York Comic Con), I can happily report that I just feel the same as ever, however old that happens to be.