I’m sure I’ve said this before, but I tend to have a buffer of posts for this site; I’m not sure exactly how it started but by mid-April last year, I’d built up a three week advance on what was going to be posted and when, and it’s something I’ve more or less maintained ever since, with a couple of bumps where I simply didn’t have time to write.
It’s an imperfect system, for sure, and purposefully so — the buffer is literally just that, and I tend to play with scheduling and rearranging the timing of posts a bunch. Often, I’ll write things that go live that day or the next, and bump what had been loosely scheduled for that spot to some time in the future as a placeholder; it’s not uncommon for those posts to end up getting bumped repeatedly and eventually show up months after I originally wrote them, to the point where I’ve even forgotten what they’re about. But that’s kind of the point of the whole system.
As a system, it’s only come close to breaking down once before, and that was the result of overwork and having no time to do anything new for a week or so; I remember the anxiety I felt watching the number of scheduled posts count down to five, at which point I just decided to spend an entire morning just writing, to fix that.
This time, though, I got to just a couple of pre-scheduled posts before I started being able to replenish the supply, and the reason was simply that I had nothing to say. The combination of being sick, then catching up on work, while the internet exhausted me and real life just kept happening completely burned me out, and every time I sat down to write something for here, I realized that I had nothing.
It was, I guess, unsettling, but more than that, it was something I recognized as a sign that I needed to stop for a while and let my brain soak, relax and refill with the dumb ephemera that would let me come back when I was ready. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to recognize the need to just… stop, sometimes. It’s a small victory for self care, but a victory nonetheless.
And, ironically, because of the buffer of posts, I got to take the necessary break and come back recharged without posts here even pausing. I knew there was a reason I did it.
I got caught up in Hulu’s High Fidelity adaptation for the right reasons — that soundtrack! — and was happy to discover that it was, genuinely, great; something that felt faithful to the spirit of the original book, but not beholden to slavishly following every nook, cranny and dead end of its pages, instead choosing to change and update things where necessary. (The original book is 25 years old, shockingly; it definitely needed updating.)
The most obvious update is in the central cast, which in the show is made up of two women of color and a gay white man. They’re a charming trio on screen, and I like watching them bounce off each other, and seeing them come out of their initial appearances and grow past what first looks a bit too close to stereotypes, but more than anything, it made me realize how limited the original book was.
In High Fidelity the book, the core trio is… three white straight guys. Because of course it is; Nick Hornby, bless him, wrote what he knew and that’s what — and who — he knew. And, when I read the book all those many years ago (When it first came out? Surely not, I wouldn’t have bought the hardcover; I’m pretty sure I got the paperback, though, with the book already A Thing by that point), that was fine, because that was pretty much what I knew, too.
The comparison is like a window into my own past, and how small it seems when viewed from where and who I am now. Part of it is cultural — there are many, many people I knew then that I’m sure were queer and closeted, or simply unaware; this was the time when the lead singer of Suede called himself “a bisexual who’d never had a homosexual experience,” and it was turned into a joke that followed him for years afterwards — and part of it geographical, with Scotland being severely limited in terms of racial diversity.
Nonetheless, I find myself looking back and thinking, God, how small the world seemed back then, how limited and empty compared with today. And, really, there’s something perfect to me about this being inspired by High Fidelity, a story about looking back and growing from past mistakes. Next thing, I’ll be making a list of top 5 mixtapes.
For months now, I’ve had trouble with the O key on my laptop. It’s been happening for so long that I genuinely don’t remember when it first started, but I remember being concerned about going to Brazil with it acting up, which means that we’re talking about November last year at least, if not even earlier. That’s a long time.
The problem is, simply, that the key likes to… well, pop off. It’ll just detach from the keyboard at inopportune times, whether or not I’m actually touching it or not. Pop! It’s gone. Well, that was the first problem, at least; it happened and I googled and got this quick fix and reattached it, and that would happen a few times a week. It was frustrating, sure, but it was fine, really.
Less fine was the second, related, problem. After the key had been popping off for awhile, it stopped working sometimes. Not always, and not often, but every now and then, I’d hit it and… nothing. Well, not nothing nothing; sometimes the key would lift off when I lifted my finger, as if my hands were covered in glue — that was fun — but, despite that, there would be no “o” on the screen.
During all of this, I’d think to myself, I should put the laptop in to get fixed, this can’t go on, and then I’d think to myself, But I need my laptop to work, eh, I’ll do it later. Weekends would roll around and I’d think of it and remember I have the podcast to record, and when I didn’t, I’d simply get distracted, so it stayed like this for months. I didn’t mean for that to be true, but it was, alas.
Cut to two weeks ago, and I’m working at 5am because deadlines, typing away in bed and feeling very determined to just do the job and get it done, and the O key just… stops working entirely. Entirely. I hit it repeatedly, I let the key come off and reattach it, and it just doesn’t work. It’s at that point, at 5 in the morning with a deadline due, that I realize just how often the letter O appears (Spoiler: a lot), and that things can’t go on like this.
Within ten minutes, I’d jury-rigged a workaround and have spent the last week or so working with that and thinking, Maybe I don’t need to get it fixed, after all, because the shutdown of everything makes it hard to get it repaired, sure, but also because I am, at heart, very stupid.
It feels entirely unworthy, I feel, to characterize this moment we’re all in as “weird,” but that’s what I’ve found myself doing repeatedly, in multiple conversations with multiple people this week.
The context of the usage is, perhaps, instructive, though; I’ve used it in many cases as a response to people apologizing for not doing something, or really, not being able to do something, because they’re so emotionally overloaded and overwhelmed. “Look, I get it, everything’s weird right now, it’s okay,” I’d say, and they’d agree, and we’d take a second to silently think about just how weird everything actually is right now, how the world as we know it is, if not over, then certainly gone for now.
There are so many things that are weird. How quiet the streets are, for one thing. The complete lack of foot traffic outside the house that isn’t people walking their dogs is something that’s been causing me no end of low level anxiety all week, but that’s nothing compared with the one trip to the store I made midweek, where there was no-one around me and the restaurants had signs saying take-out only and the bars were closed. It felt unreal, unreasonable; there are usually so many people we have to step around each other carefully. Now this.
Or the mental pressure of it all — something that felt as if I was imagining it, until I saw a Twitter thread from a psychologist that suggested that we’re all in mourning and not accepting or even processing it, because we don’t think that the death of our lives as-was is actually a real thing. But that idea explains why my concentration has been poor, why I feel so tired, where my energy has gone. (Is it true? Is it a theory that holds water? I have no idea, but it feels true.)
The strangest, most unsettling thing of all is something so small, but something that very much messed with me until I realized what had happened. We live a block from a school, and that school’s bell is automated. It rings every day, even holidays, at 8:30, 8:40, 8:45, lunchtime, end of lunch, and then 3pm. Except, for three days this week, it didn’t, for whatever reason — maybe they were sanitizing the school and switched it off? The lack of that background noise, more than anything else, was a sign that things were weird.
Pavlov would be proud.