Another collection of THR newsletter graphics, with lots more revisions — this seems to be part of the process now, as ideas are thrown out and executed before getting revised into something else entirely. Sometimes it’s just a headline change, others, it’s a complete do-over for any number of reasons… including, this time, “that kid looks too scary.”
The news last week that a train had derailed outside of Stonehaven, a small town in the North-East of Scotland on the outskirts of Aberdeen, hit surprisingly hard. For most people outside of the UK, and likely outside of Scotland, this isn’t even news they would’ve heard in the first place, perhaps understandably given what’s happening everywhere else in the world right now; and yet, it was a subject that I found myself obsessed with on the day it happened, checking and rechecking and refreshing news reports from the Guardian and the BBC for whatever new updates I could get.
A lot of the reason for my fascination was, I’ll be honest, something resembling nostalgia. Not for train disasters, although when I put it like that, it feels like something that someone would have a weird longing for, because it sounds like a horror from days of old. “Remember when the worst thing that could happen would be a train derailment? Oh, those were the days…!”
Instead, I mean nostalgia for my old art school days, and the people that filled them. My best friend of the time moved to Stonehaven a few years after we all graduated, into a tiny little house with his family that always felt curiously old-fashioned and beautifully peaceful at once; when I first read the news, my first thought (and my second, and third, and on and on until I saw an appropriate update) was concern that maybe he or one of his family had been in the train when it happened. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case.
Nonetheless, the more I read and learned, the more I imagined how horrible what was happening for everyone involved. Sure, my friend wasn’t in the train but I was all too aware of what everyone else who feared the same thing was feeling, and just as certain that a number of those people would find their fears turn out to be well-founded. There’s something about that kind of strange close shave that adds to whatever sense of empathy you already had, because for all intents and purposes, you really were that person just minutes earlier.
Three people died in the accident, as it turned out, with six others taken to hospital. I feel guilty for being as relieved as I am that I didn’t know any of them.
There was a day at the end of last month where I got surprising good news. I’m tempted to make the joke that, in 2020, that’s enough of an unusual occurrence to be the entire story — I mean, have you seen this year? — but the reason I say that isn’t to boast that there was one day when everything wasn’t terrible, but to cue up the real point: when I got that good news, I didn’t really know how to react.
On the one hand, it was certainly not news I’d been expecting. It’s fair to say that I’d been expecting just the opposite, with regards to this particular subject, so I had that element of the unexpected to deal with; I wouldn’t go so far as to call it outright disbelief, but it was close. That might explain some of my confusion as to just how to respond, if nothing else.
Nonetheless, I was in a daze. I worked through what could legitimately be described as suspicion that what certainly appeared to be good news was, in fact, actually bad news in disguise. That felt more comfortable, more believable, more 2020: the idea that something that at first feels like a win is, in fact, setting us up for not only disappointment but failure in some sense. Sure, my subconscious told me, that, I can believe.
But… what if it wasn’t? What if the good news was… just good news? What did that mean? That idea made my brain spin. I’d become so used to the alternative, to getting used to the idea that everything is, given the odds, going to be bad news that being presented with good news just felt nearly impossible, for want if a better way to put it.
Realizing this didn’t feel like a positive. What had happened to my optimism? Had the past year — maybe the past four years, considering — really made me so unable to appreciate the good things? The idea stuck with me for awhile, saddening me with its potential to be true, until I remembered the first thing I’d thought when learning of the good news: Maybe this is a sign that everything’s turning around! Anyone who sincerely thinks things like that hasn’t lost it just yet.
I write elliptically, in the space between ellipses, sometimes. I don’t lay everything out, even here; I don’t explain it all or put the pieces in the right order at the right time.
At some times, that’s an intentional decision for any number of reasons, ranging from wanting to make things more inviting (or enjoyably frustrating) for the reader to make them read on — if I just told you everything, you’d get bored, surely — to, quite simply, not feeling comfortable sharing everything and wanting to keep some things to myself despite this whole space. In work mode, sometimes it’s also a function if not being able to say everything, because sources won’t share on the record, or there are things that aren’t my stories to share just yet.
But then, there are times when I write around things because that’s all I can do, when I don’t really know what it is I’m trying to say when I set out in the first place. I might have a vague idea, an imagined destination that may or may not be real, but I write in circles, I use words like echolocation to find my path when I don’t actually have a map. I’ll find my way somehow, I hope, as I get started.
When I was a student, I discovered the term “emergent research,” and remember to this day the definition I was given at the time: it was, I was told, what happens when you only really find out what you’re looking for when you’re already looking for it. In other words, you start out without a plan, and then the revelation comes midway through: Oh, it was this all along!
I’m unsure if that’s what “emergent research” actually means, or if it’s a recognized term in academia at all, I’ll admit. I could look into it, but that feels like it’d be risking bursting a bubble, or bringing some magic to an end by looking behind the curtain. Let’s enjoy that definition and idea of reality, even if it’s not true.
More often than not, I write as my version of emergent research, at least in the meaning I was taught. It’s the way I think, and the way I feel most comfortable doing it, I think. Sometimes, I just start a post with the words “I write elliptically,” not knowing what’s next, and enjoy the ride.