Choose Between A Curtain and a Star

I’ve started a new tradition.

It’s not something I intended to do, nor something that I take particular pride in, but nonetheless, it’s something that I’ve started to do every night, and something that I find a strange amount of comfort and pleasure in, so it’s not as if I can pretend that this is an entirely random happenstance, nor something that I do unthinkingly. It does, however, require a little bit of backstory.

There are two lights in the bathroom close to where I sleep; one of those lights has a switch by the door, the second by the mirror on the far wall of the room. It’s a relatively large bathroom, so there’s some space between the two switches, and in theory, they illuminate different parts of the room. The problem is, the switch by the door is for a light that doesn’t really work anymore; there’s a loose connection, so the light flickers for a few seconds like something out of a horror movie before going dark.

This means that the only working light has its switch inside the room, which means that, at night, I walk into a room that is almost entirely pitch black before putting the light on. And that’s my new tradition.

Well, no; not entirely. My new tradition is reaching out into the darkness to find the switch in the light, and realizing that, no matter what, the wall is always further away than I think it is, so that I’m reaching tentatively into thin air for a few seconds, edging forward and hoping to find what I’m looking for. That’s it; that’s the thing I find myself taking an unexpected pleasure in.

What’s strange is the amount of enjoyment I take in reaching out into darkness each night, and finding nothing there. I don’t know why, but every single night, I find it a thrilling and comforting experience. Each night, as I reach out to find nothing, and then edge forward, I internally joke that I’m living out a metaphor for something that I haven’t identified yet.

And My Third Wish Is

It sounds strange, perhaps, to write this considering just how long that I’ve been doing what I do for a living, but it’s only really in the last month or so that I’ve felt like “a freelance writer,” whatever that actually means.

I mean, sure; I’ve technically, legally, been one for… what, a decade or so, by this point? Maybe a little over. Before that, I was technically an employed writer, being fulltime staff for io9 when it launched for a couple years, and before that, I was a part-time freelancer who wasn’t really getting paid for it, but that’s okay, I also had a day job that paid the bills. I’ve been writing online for more than 20 years, but I wouldn’t really call myself “a freelance writer” until after I’d moved to Portland.

Nonetheless, that was more than a decade ago. But in all that time, it felt more that I was a writer who had a home base or two — Time, say, or Wired, or more recently, The Hollywood Reporter — and occasionally ventured out into other areas to see what was out there. More often than not, I was a “permalancer,” as the term goes, someone who had a guaranteed monthly salary to rely on, and then other things would go on top.

Not so now, of course; now, I’m scrambling and juggling different gigs and deadlines to make sure that I have something coming in to help with rent and bills. (Not enough, of course, but give it time; also, online writing in general just doesn’t pay quite so well anymore, alas.) It’s a skillset that I feel like I’m learning as I go, but there’s something thrilling about that — the thrill of the chase, perhaps.

Part of the learning cycle is, of course, finding out when you’re stepping on your own toes, as I did earlier today, pitching something that I thought was a winner to an outlet I was currently working on a story for. I was right, but only kind of: the new story got picked up, in the process putting the story I was already working on — indeed, the story I’d spent the entire morning working on — on hold, if not killing it outright. The new story, meanwhile, has the same deadline as the old one, meaning I’ll have to work doubly hard to hit it. So… huzzah…?

Freelance writing, it seems, may just be one big series of monkey’s paws, waiting for the wish to be made and the twist to arrive. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

Notes From The Peanut Gallery

There was legitimate, actual news from the comics industry yesterday — a development that not only took many people (including myself!) by surprise, but also is likely to have significant repercussions for a lot of people, including potentially threatening companies — and it was the first time in a number of years where that’s happened and I’ve been on the sidelines, instead of reporting on it. It’s fair to say that I really didn’t like that experience.

Part of me wondered if my frustration at just being a bystander was an ego thing, and that I missed the opportunity to have people turning to me for information and a small amount of snark. I suspect there’s some level of that, because why wouldn’t there be…? But there’s something more to it, I think (I hope); I missed the ability to try and parse out what was real and what wasn’t, to ask the questions I had about the whole thing and find out answers and try to get into the weeds about the whole matter.

That’s not to say that I don’t think other people were doing the same thing, or that I would be the only person trying to get exactly the same questions answered — so, again, I suspect that we’re getting back into the area of ego. Only I can ask exactly the right questions to make this happen! And yet… there really was some degree of that, to my shame. I wanted others to stop getting distracted by the wrong things, or to make leaps of logic that didn’t make sense (to me, at least).

Instead, I was left frustrated and thinking if only to myself more than once, and wishing that emails would arrive asking to give me money to write about it at some point during the day. They didn’t, and I didn’t. Instead, I return to the idea that there’s a bigger story connected to this one that I should be researching and pitching, before everything goes to hell and I lose my chance.

Reins Never Break, Take Us To The Stars Again

It’s been a couple of days where the universe has been giving me some kind of a sign — actually a couple — about what might be described as my career, and in a nicer format than I’ve been expecting after the last few months.

The first sign was something that I’m not entirely comfortable sharing yet, if only not to jinx something that could be very good further down the road. It’s currently not even a thing as much as it is the possibility of a thing, but the circumstances in which it came together — and the speed of same — makes me feel as if something’s happening that’s going to be interesting, if nothing else. (I’m being purposefully vague, but it’s an opportunity I’m excited about, especially if everything goes as hoped. It won’t be a quick process, however.)

The second sign was something that I’ve encountered before, but found particularly charming this time around. I’m working on a freelance story for an outlet, and I decided to get started by seeing if anyone else has previously approached the subject in any kind of way. The third result on Google… is me.

Thankfully, I wouldn’t be repeating myself with this new story; it’s literally taking what I’d previously written and adding a second chapter, in a lot of ways. But there’s something to be said for not only having previously approached the subject (and in a way that’s useful to me now, thankfully) and having entirely, utterly forgotten about it.

It connects with the mystery first thing, in some ways; the fact that someone approaches me about a topic, for the very reason that they’ve seen my work and they think that I’m on the same page with them. There’s a benefit to having been doing all this for so long that I have that kind of back catalogue, I think, and perhaps it wouldn’t be the worst thing if I continued to do it for a little bit longer, after all.

Wishing To Avoid An Unpleasant Scene

There are certain bands and musicians that I cycle back to on an irregular basis, as if they’re a planetary body that I orbit around continuously; while it’s been a surprisingly long time since I’ve returned to my Elliott Smith phase, I’ve recently gone back through Big Star’s back catalog in recent memory, and I’ve returned in the past week or so to the Beatles, thanks to the cursed song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” propping up my head for no immediately apparent reason. (Not the least of which being, it’s a terrible song so it didn’t get there through sheer quality, sadly.)

What’s particularly enjoyable about these nostalgic musical mystery tours is the potent combination of getting to revisit the familiar and discovering something new along the way — whether it’s hearing a particular arrangement differently (There’s a version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” that strips away the crowd noise and orchestration, and just hearing the band be a band completely changed the way I heard that song from that point forward, for the better), or finally making out something in the mix that’s been frustratingly unclear for years to that point. The best music, or at least the music I find myself coming back to over and over again, is the music where I find new spaces even after I think that I know something as intimately and completely as anything in my life.

That’s not to say that there’s not a joy in listening to something and it being exactly what you expect, I should add: there are songs where everything is just as I remember, and there’s a joy in that, as well — getting the ba ba ba baaaaas right in your head, or remembering the impossible notes that they reach every single time. Imagining the sounds as shapes inside your head and seeing them in every detail as they play out in front of you.

It’s possible that I just really, really like music, of course.

My Head Must Need Some Exercise

Seeing as two of these have been used multiple times by now, I feel relatively safe in sharing two of the “evergreen” graphics for the THR newsletter. These were created before I was laid off, along with another couple that haven’t been used yet, with the idea that there would always be a need for these kinds of things, even if we didn’t know when that would be just yet.

I miss doing these graphics.

Whatever You Do

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the lost art of changing your mind, especially in critical scenarios. Part of this comes from revisiting movies that I’ve previously liked and found wanting years later — not least of which being the theatrical version of Justice League, which I rewatched for work reasons and realized was so uneven and disjointed that I couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought it was, you know, fine — as well as going back to things I’d believed were lacking, only to find new value and strength after the fact.

Maybe it’s because I work online, and exist in those spaces — not just my work spaces, but also social media as a whole — that I feel as if it’s difficult to come out and say, “that earlier take I had, I disagree with now.” There’s a pressure to entirely dedicate yourself to your opinion and valiantly defend it, no matter what, I feel; the idea that liking something or disliking it to the degree that every single opinion becomes a potential hill to die on, no matter how trivial. Perhaps it’s old age talking, but I feel like it’s not overly ridiculous to be okay with deciding that the superhero movie you thought was cool five years ago is actually a bit shit, on reflection.

This is, of course, dangerous thing to admit out loud; by being an online culture writer, it’s basically an announcement that I have critical opinions that others should pay attention to, and going back to those opinions after the fact to say that, on reflection, maybe I was wrong, might undercut the very purpose of the whole thing. Aren’t we supposed to be, if not infallible, then at least unchanging?

But, again, that feels like a fault. There is value in changing your mind, and re-evaluating your opinions on art at a later date, even if it’s just discovering new favorites to love from that point on. Or accepting that Justice League could never be as strong as I wanted it to be.

I Can’t Stop My Brain You Know It’s Three Weeks

After five weeks of either not working or very low impact working, last week saw a confluence of events that meant that, not only did I have enough freelance gigs to keep me busy all week, but the deadlines for them were all such that I was left with a week that would have been busy even before I lost all my regular gigs, and got out of practice of, you know, actually sitting down and writing.

The upshot of this was that I spent the week thinking about my job a lot more than usual; not just what I was writing and what I was trying to say, but also the when and the how and the why of it all — as well as the just how much am I managing to make from this, and the will I be able to make a living doing this moving forward, for real? (Spoilers: those last two were the more stressful of the subjects to consider for the entire week, and I still don’t really have answers to either, yet.)

During all of this, I realized two things. Firstly, that my job is weird. The thing that I’ve spent the last 15 years of my life or so doing, day in and day out, is a very strange way of earning a living, and I’m very fortunate to have been able to succeed doing it for as long as I have. Secondly, that it’s also a particularly exhausting job, which I’m not sure that I’d ever actually realized before, or had the time and/or opportunity to do so.

I don’t just mean the fact that it can be physically tiring, although I had forgotten the back ache that comes with sitting there all day for a week;  constantly having to “generate content,” as the kids say, is an endurance race I’d never really stopped to consider. The brain space required to have to write multiple extended argumentative or informative pieces per day isn’t nothing, especially when you add in the pitch process which means you’re coming up with three ideas for every one you manage to get accepted.

This is my new normal, and I’m sure that I’ll get back up to speed sooner rather than later, but right now…? I’m just left thinking that I’ve been doing more than I thought for a long time, and perhaps that was harder than I really knew.

O La La

That we’ve now made it a full year into official, all-across-the-country (if not the world, but let’s keep things in some kind of sensible perspective) COVID-inspired lockdown is the kind of thing that has inspired multiple threads of journalistic coverage over the past week or so: retrospectives of where we were one year ago, oral histories of whatever particular industry you want to think of about just how their specific slice of the world has been impacted by what’s happened in the past 52 weeks, and so on. As with every notable anniversary of anything, there’s been a substantial amount of reflection happening and being shared across media.

Which means that it’s time to take note that, as of writing, we are somewhere like 54 weeks since I decided that I should really take my laptop into a repair shop to take care of the fact that the “O” key is broken, and has a tendency to come off when hit, or else not work at all, and therefore force me to type more slowly and deliberately — or else have to retype certain words after the fact. (It doesn’t escape my notice that the last sentence had a fair amount of “O”s in it; does that count as irony?)

Weirdly, I remember this so clearly because I more or less made the decision to deal with the problem — which had actually started when I was on the plane to Brazil, months earlier — just before lockdown started, but I procrastinated as is my tendency, and suddenly, the word was given. Specifically, I remember thinking innocently, fine, I’ll just put it into the shop when lockdown is over, it’s probably only going to be a few weeks and I can put up with it until that’s done.

Ah, if only I knew then what I know now…!

Of course, what I know now is that I can be remarkably patient with typing if I need to be, and that somehow I can survive without a fully working keyboard longer than I’d expected. Admittedly, I did almost buy an entirely new laptop as a solution at one point last year, but at least I knew enough to know that was an overreaction at the time…