Losing my Wired gig is, as much as my bank balance refuses to agree with me on this topic, something that might ultimately turn out to be a blessing in disguise.
I’m now two months out from the actual event — three from getting the news — and it’s no longer like a phantom limb, this desire to stay completely on top of what I laughably, bitterly call the “online discourse” every single day of the week, scouring social media to find the conversations worth sharing. That alone feels like a healthier, less frenetic place to be, mentally, and for that one thing, I feel like I can report that blessing in disguise theory as something approaching fact.
I’ve not found one thing to replace Wired in either my schedule or especially my income, but I’ve been dipping my toe back into the Comics Internet as a freelancer and that’s been a surprisingly enjoyable experience — there’s a lightness of touch and comfort in writing for specifically nerdy outlets again, and letting that freak flag fly a little more freely, I’ll admit. (Having Ava DuVernay share my return to Newsarama on social media, actually quoting from it, wasn’t that bad either, I’ll be honest; it certainly pleased editors there.)
There’s no joy in the scrambling to continually pitch stories — and have so many rejected! — nor the uncertainty of knowing where or how much my workload is going to be on any given week, but I can’t deny that the break from my old routine nonetheless feels bracing in a positive way, somehow, as if new possibilities are around the corner in ways I can’t quite imagine yet.
One has already quasi-presented itself, although in an abstract, unlikely fashion; I won’t jinx it by describing it, but suffice to say that it’s exciting enough to make me hope it happens, and to remind me that I had become more blinkered to my potential than I’d known while juggling Wired and THR for as long as I did.
2020 is a hard year, and losing a job is not fun. But, at least, there’s a feeling that it was the start of something else, as opposed to a shitty, cruel ending and nothing more.
I’ve been writing some important pieces for THR lately. That sounds like unbridled ego at work — my writing has meaning and weight and integrity, don’t you know — but it’s not intended that way; I mean it in the sense of, there are times when you write things because you have to, because they’re stories that people need to read and that you can’t fuck up for that same reason. It’s not the announcement of a new comic or some analysis of a trailer or a casting decision, both of which can be fun and popular enough in their own right; it’s a story where you feel, deep down, a need to make sure people understand some important truth in some way.
Working on these stories has been… stressful isn’t the right word, exactly, but it’s close. As I said above, the feeling of don’t fuck this up has been very much in the background of the process, as has the sneaking fear that I was, in some worrying and unknown way, fucking it up and that would be uncovered only when it was too late. I asked for oversight, shared what I was working on with others to fact-check, but also to gut-check: Is this right? Am I asking the right questions, thinking the right things? Am I disappearing down the wrong rabbit holes?
As I’m writing this, not all of the “important” stories are finished, never mind having run; the biggest of them all is still in the reporting process, with another waiting what is now the third round of legal review after a substantial re-write to excise material lawyers weren’t entirely comfortable with. (With any luck, by the time this runs, it will have been published; we’ll see.) Throughout the whole thing, I’ve realized that, as frustrating as these processes are, they’re also freeing in their own way — they’re institutional blocks that provide an oversight that allows me to overreach and be ambitious and try too hard, safe in the knowledge that I have someone (multiple someones) to tell me when to pull back, or put up or shut up. I find a strange comfort in that.
I’ve been writing some important pieces for THR lately, but it’s easier to do than it could be, because I’ve not been doing it alone.
Of all the many strange things about this year to consider, wandering around town and feeling as if we’re living in a literal police state is up there with that whole global pandemic thing in terms of “Welp, I certainly didn’t see that coming.” And yet, here we are, in Portland, Oregon in July 2020.
I’m not (just) talking about the federal occupation of the city, with Department of Homeland Security and Customs & Border Patrol agents showing up in armor at riots with live ammunition and a seeming desire to start shit no matter what; I’m not even (just) talking about the fact that protesters are being pulled off the streets and into unmarked rental vans by federal agents who don’t identify themselves, nor have any legal right to arrest the people they’re snatching — although even the fact that those things are actually happening for real feels utterly surreal and horrifying.
No, I’m talking about the fact that, in an evening walk recently, we ran into the police patrolling the streets no less than five times, despite the fact that the walk lasted around, at best, 20-30 minutes. (We were going to the local movie store to return some films.) On two of those five times of seeing the police, they’d stopped to confront people who… didn’t seem to be doing much of anything, to my eyes.
Add to that, the number of nearby sirens I’m hearing daily, or the helicopters flying overhead each night. To say nothing of the sound of flashbangs in the distance every night.
Let me clarify something: I live in a relatively quiet part of the city. It’s certainly far from anything I’d describe as dangerous, and the last time I felt under threat in this neighborhood — outside of seeing the police driving around, checking everyone out at a time when the city’s under the thumb of the authorities, I mean — was more than a year ago, and purely the result of my own paranoia. There is, to put it bluntly, no need for the amount of police presence I’m seeing out there right now.
And yet. And yet.
It’s genuinely surreal to think about where 2020 has taken us so far, and scary, too. I dread to think what could be next.
Literally only a couple of graphics from the THR newsletter this time; the week before the July 4 holiday weekend — which we obviously took off, like the rest of the country, so no newsletter and no graphics — was surprisingly light on scoops, and there were no last minute reworkings of headlines or images. So this, dear reader, is your lot.