Insect Infect Insect Infect

Of all the fake names ever used in spam comments on this site, “Johnson & Johnson COVID vaccine” is perhaps the most amusing and the most timely. I’ve been thinking a lot about the vaccine lately; about its availability, about when I’ll be able to get it, and about just how successful it’s going to be in the grand scheme of things.

In some abstract way, as we approach a full year in lockdown — although, it strikes me, few have fully observed the lockdown for that entire time; the seemingly increasing number of people wandering the streets without masks makes that all too clear, sadly — the idea that the vaccines will work, and that we may one day return to something close to what we used to call “normal,” feels almost impossible.

This, by now, is normal. This weird world where we don’t really go out and do things, is the world as it is and has been for the length of our short-term memory; even moreso, the idea of doing something else, whether it’s going to the movies, or going to a restaurant, or anything that used to be considered an usual social occurrence, feels not only alien, but more than a little unsettling to boot. Imagine being that close to strangers without wearing a mask at all times!

(Or two masks, even; I’ve taken to wearing two masks out in public after reading advice that it would be advisable considering the new COVID variants, and even that has become less strange and uncomfortable incredibly quickly — it was only a couple of weeks ago when I felt as if it was too much, and that I was breathing oddly, but now I do it without even thinking and feel entirely normal when I do.)

Perhaps this is just what happens, perhaps it’s just how our brains work. All I know is that, this far into COVID lockdown, the very notion that there’s an “other side” to the virus and to lockdown that we’re headed towards feels as if it’s science fiction.

With A-Mixed Emotions

I spent some time yesterday writing a pitch for a piece that I might be working on in the future, if all goes well; it’s something that I, ironically, was hoping to do for THR, before I was laid off and was then invited to pitch for elsewhere. The plus side of this is, I have a pretty good idea of what I’d want to do, given the chance. On the other hand, my pitch alone turned out to be longer than some stories I’ve written for outlets in the past, so it would be a significant undertaking.

(But, oh! If I had a chance to do it! It could be so much fun, despite the workload…!)

I am returning, in my head, to work — or the idea of working, anyway. I’d planned to use February to step away and get my head straight, to plane future moves and take a break before returning to things properly in March and pitching everywhere, writing some things for outlets old and new, and generally discovering what the future “swing of things” would look like. It felt like a good idea at the time, not least of all because, while I didn’t realize quite how much I’d been affected by being laid off, I knew the answer was “probably more than I know right now.”

Now that I’m here, though, I find myself both excited at the thought of working again — which is, in itself, surprising and exciting — but also quietly terrified about the vague plan I have for my future. Really, the fear centers around a very simple idea: what if I fail? What if I can’t make a living doing this anymore?

It’s a fear born of rejection anxiety after being laid off as much as any practical, “real” concern, I’m well aware. It’s also coming from the knowledge that I really did have it unnaturally good before, with my relationships with THR and Wired, and that things will never be that good again. I’m trying to be okay with knowing that, though, and embracing whatever is next, in whatever shape it comes. Even if it means writing enormously long pitches and crossing my fingers that someone says yes.

There On The Stair, Right There

Watching It’s A Sin has unleashed a wave of unlikely 1980s nostalgia in me, and not because much of the show’s period soundtrack turns out to be surprisingly great; instead, what I was reminded of was the way in which the decade felt, at times, like the end of the world.

I remember, for example, the AIDS crisis becoming mainstream, and the panic and misinformation that brought with it — everything from the apocalyptic adverts on television and in newspapers, made by the government, that basically said, there’s this illness, we’re not sure how it’s transmitted, but don’t get it or you will die, good luck, to the rumors of how you could get it from using public toilets. There was a sense that it was an almost Biblical plague and, as such, it was incurable, so the only option was to surrender to it and accept its spread as unstoppable.

(I half-remember some of the context that It’s A Sin provides, but I wish I’d known more at the time; I was just a kid at the time, sure, but nonetheless, I wish I’d known more.)

It wasn’t just AIDS, though; I remember the free floating feeling, almost a certainly from many, that we were almost guaranteed to die in an imminent nuclear war. I remember hearing discussions about the US Navy base at Holy Loch, just across the river from my hometown, and how that was almost sure to be one of the first targets if and when war broke out. We were, I learned, pretty much assured to be vaporized when the US and Russia went to war, which I was all but assured was going to happen any moment.

Again, I was just a child during all of this; I was five when 1980 started. I never really stopped to wonder whatever that must have done to me, growing up with a background certainty that the end was nigh, but I’m sure the answer isn’t “nothing, that kind of thing is good for a developing mind.” It makes me wonder, not for the first time, what this COVID era is doing to kids today.

That might be the thing, though; maybe it’s always the end of the world for kids, and it’s just we adults that learn to tune it out.

And In The End

And so, here they are — the last graphics I made for THR‘s newsletter before I left. (I was going to say, “jumped ship,” but I think that’s the term when it’s more intentional than what actually occurred. I might be wrong, though.) As I write, there’s discussion about whether or not I might return to do more for the newsletter, which I assume would include more graphics, but nothing’s been finalized yet, so… we’ll see, I guess. For now, consider these the last ones I made — although there are others that I made around the same time that haven’t seen the light of day yet. (Well, one has, but not the rest.) Maybe they’ll show up here at some point in the future…? For now, say goodbye with these ones…

I Remember How It Used To Be

For reasons, I’ve been thinking a lot about my art school days recently. Not so much in the sense of the social aspect of it all — traditionally my go-to when feeling nostalgic about that time of my life — but the work-related parts of it all: what we were expected to do, and how we were expected to do it.

At the time, the studio structure of school was something we didn’t really think about. It felt like a classroom, after all, and that was something that the majority of us were all too familiar with; in fact, for most of us, it was all we’d really known to that point. The idea that we’d all sit at tables crammed next to each other in relatively sizable rooms just made sense, because that’s what we did, as a matter of course. You sit down surrounded by other people and you do the work.

Coming almost a year into lockdown, and multiple years into freelancing from home, I can’t help but wonder how the studio shaped the work I was doing, and the methods of working I had in general. I wasn’t in a bubble, just the opposite; I was literally surrounded by people struggling with the same things I was, and all our ideas were cross-pollinating, intentionally or otherwise. We were teaching each other as much, if not far more than, any of the lecturers were teaching us. How could we not?

I think back, and I can identify ideas I discarded or approaches I abandoned based on the people around me — either because they were doing something that felt better (or easier, or ambitious in a way I wasn’t, or vice versa, or…), or because I felt self-conscious doing so in comparison to what they were doing. I can think of times when I approached problems with solutions that were entirely based on what I’d seen others do in previous projects.

Working in a studio was, in a way, like having another teacher in the room at all times. (Or multiple teachers.) I mean that as a positive and a negative; after working in relative isolation for so long, it’s something I miss to a degree, but also something I wonder if I was accidentally constricted by, without realizing it.

And Now I Holler

I got news last week that an old friend had died unexpectedly, and in somewhat mysterious circumstances. I hadn’t talked to him in at least a decade — we lost touch awhile after I moved to the States, following the death of a mutual friend who was good at making sure everyone was checking in on each other — but his death has shaken me, left me pondering my own mortality and thinking about our shared past.

He was younger than me, although in my head that’s far more true than reality; he’s locked at the age he was when we spent most of our time together, when we were both studying for our post-graduate degrees. I know, intellectually, that he was actually in his early 40s and working in the art school we both studied in, but to me, he’s still the early 20s kid he was back then, making his death somehow even more tragic.

He was, back then at least, astonishingly kind and effortlessly selfless — to a fault, almost. He wouldn’t think twice about trying to do whatever it took to help out, even if it was inconvenient or downright difficult to him; it was something his parents had ingrained in him. I met them a few times, and they were the same — kind, loving even, to a relative stranger they’d only just met. Apparently, he was living in their old home at the time he died, a detail that felt unsettling to discover; I can remember eating dinner there, talking to all three of them together. All dead now.

We spent a lot of time together, during that intense post-graduate year — it was one of those courses where you do two years’ worth of study in a compressed 12-month period, and it wasn’t uncommon to work late nights, or all through the night entirely. I think of the nights where the school was empty except for us, and we’d be playing music loud as we tried to express whatever the hell was in our heads at the time. He’d be goofy, silly, enthusiastic about his random obsessions — Chris Morris, the Pixies, movie opening titles — and I like to think he was still like that to the end.

But then I think about the fact that there was an end, and I hope that he was, at the very least, happy.

All Around Us, Children Playing, Having Fun

When I first moved to Portland, the concept of a snowfall that lasted more than, say, an evening, felt like an alien concept. I can remember with embarrassing clarity how ill-prepared I was for the first blizzard here, which arrived within a month of my arrival; I wandered out in what had felt like a heavy coat by California standards, only to end up huddled in a doorway, shivering and wondering what the hell was going on and could I get back to the house without dying of cold. (That’s only slightly more melodramatic than what I was actually feeling at the time.)

Within a couple of years, though, I’d discovered Portland’s snowy secret: It snows every year here. It’s not as if I can say it’s regular, or “like clockwork,” but it’s somewhere close — it will almost certainly snow at least once in January or February every year, and more often than not, it’ll stick around at least for a couple of days. The years where that doesn’t happen are far, far more rare than the alternative. With that kind of frequency, it’s relatively easy to get used to the snow and prepare for it.

The funny thing — and it is funny to me — is that Portland as a city seems unable to do that. It feels like, every year, there’s mild panic buying in stores as soon as snow is forecast, and then when it’s started falling and lying on the ground, you can see people wandering around as if they’re in a post-apocalyptic landscape with handmade bindles full of supplies, their faces covered with scarves and goggles as they stare into the distance. That’s saying nothing about people abandoning their cars on the sides of the road if the snow gets particularly heavy, which I’ve seen happen more than once.

Quite what’s behind the city’s collective amnesia when it comes to cold weather continues to fascinate me. Things could be so much easier for everyone here if they’d get panic less and remember what it was like this time last year… but I can’t deny that it’s especially wonderful to me when, just like right now, the snow is falling outside my window and I suspect that half of my town thinks that the sky is falling.

I Heard The Siren Call A Truce

There’s an irony to the fact that I struggled for longer than I’d care to admit about what to write for today’s post — no, really, I’m talking on-and-off for the past couple of days, an unusually long time for me, for here — without managing to come up with a topic worth my time or yours, before giving up and thinking, you know what, maybe I’ll just skip it. It’s more important to be kind to myself than force it, and then to realize, oh, that’s what I want to write about after all. It’s not a fun irony, because I’d like all that struggle time back, thank you, but I’ll take it.

I was going to write that I’ve been focusing on being kind to myself since being laid off last month, but the truth of it is that I’ve been trying to do it even before then. It’s still an unusual and occasionally uncomfortable and awkward practice for me, not least of all because I spent so long in a relationship that wasn’t kind to me at all; I still have moments where the concept of trying to identify what it means to be good to myself feels either greedy and selfish or, worse, a question I don’t have an answer to. It is, nonetheless, something that I’ve come to realize is a necessity if I want to be anywhere close to healthy and happy.

The form of being kind to myself changes regularly; it’s giving myself a break on self-imposed deadlines, or watching another episode of Project Runway while snuggling Chloe on the couch. It’s eating well, or being okay with spending time to clean the kitchen because I’ve been noticing small messes that frustrate me far too often. It’s basically understanding what I need at that moment and quickly doing the mental math of if it’s worth the cost (the effort, the financial impact, the whatever) before making what feels like the right decision. A simple practice, but one I never got around to actually trying until too recently.

I’ve been relaxing more than I expected since being laid off, and taking things slower. Sometimes I worry that I should be doing more, but there’s time enough for that later; for now, I’m working on being kind, instead.

Cornered, Cut and Rolled

The most surprising thing about my first week of unemployment was just how busy it ended up being.

I don’t want to give the impression that I was rushed off my feet the entire week, without any chance to sit down and relax, because that’s obviously not true; I spent more than my fair share of time in front of the television, enjoying the cinematic fruits of many people’s labor including some genuinely terrible, yet utterly enjoyable, movies. (The Meg, I’m looking at you pretty directly.) There was a lot of downtime, and it was particularly enjoyable; I can’t and wouldn’t claim otherwise.

Despite all that, though, there were things that I’d fully intended to do with that week that just… didn’t get done. And not for lack of trying, either; I would start days with an internal checklist of things to accomplish, with specific items on the list, and they would somehow still be on that list by the end of the day, and I wouldn’t really have any excuse for that other that, “somehow, things got in the way…?” What those things happened to be, however, felt as mysterious to me as to everyone else. Nature abhors a vacuum, and somehow, my days became filled by whatever it was possible to be filled by.

Some of this was filled by work stuff, or at least work-related stuff; I did an edit test for a gig I didn’t get, I sent a lot of emails, I made some phone calls and tried to set up future things that may or may not happen. I also found out about things that wouldn’t happen, or found out news about the landscape out there that made my plans feel that little bit less possible, and I feel as if those were the things that filled my week the most — the emotional labor of having to reassess things and deal with the bad news aspect of it all.

This might be the thing I wasn’t expecting, but will have to deal with the most over the next few weeks: having to deal with things not working out and having to come up with Plans B, C, D, and however far in the alphabet I have to go before something sticks. The perils of a previously charmed life, I guess.

No Safety or Surprise

With the news that I’m no longer at THR out there now, it feels weird to be sharing images I created for the newsletter, but, well, the completist in me demands it, I guess.

All of these were created for the 100th newsletter last month, which was also the first newsletter we made after we found out I had been let go. It was a strange and somewhat sad experience to make all of these — six in one week, as well, which is a lot compared with the more traditional two or three — but I also felt a particular enjoyment with them all because I knew I wouldn’t get to do it much longer, if that makes sense…?