I ended last week in a few pieces, I have to admit, at least when it comes to emotions and thought processes. The week proved to be an especially difficult one, even though there wasn’t one particularly reason why that would be the case — there were, in my defense, about seventeen smaller ones, and Friday especially brought some news that was particularly difficult to deal with, if more than a little inconclusive. Nonetheless, it was one of those weeks that felt roughly three weeks longer than it should have been.
In sharing that observation with someone, the response came that, basically, that was the norm these days. When was the last time that a week hadn’t felt roughly a month long, they asked? When was the last time that it seemed as if everything had either worked out in everyone’s favor, or for that matter, just kept chugging along quietly without bothering anyone one way or another? It was a fair point, and the kind of reaction that simultaneously made me feel bad for complaining about my mental and emotional load and also wondering, wait, is everything just fucked now and that’s what we should consider the baseline for life? Doesn’t that mean that something is very wrong?
The thing is, even with the deluge of minor league bad news coming towards me, even with the unusually difficult year that 2021 has been for me professionally, I still can’t quite sign onto the idea that something is very wrong. There’s no small amount of irony in the fact that, personally, I’m actually in a far better place even with all of the shit happening right now than I was, say, five years ago — a fact that has me wondering just where my head and heart would’ve been if all of the bad news had struck when I was still where I was back then.
Things aren’t good, overall; there’s no denying that, and no real point in even trying. But, despite everything, I’m happier and in better shape for dealing with all this shit. That’s got to be something, at least.
Finally, this past week saw the publication of my oral history of the New 52, just six or seven weeks after I’d finished it. (I’m oddly salty about the time between submission and publication, even though I know the editing process was particularly in-depth on this one; really, I think I’m just upset that it stretched on to the point where we missed the actual 10th anniversary of August 31st.) Seeing it actually go live after so long, and after working on it for so long, was a surreal experience, and one that was more than a little awkward.
I am, I should say to start, happy with the piece. It’s imperfect, of course; creating it proved to be surprisingly difficult, with a genuinely surprising number of people contacted refusing to be involved for any number of reasons — including, on more than one occasion, explaining that they remain too traumatized by the experience that they couldn’t talk about it, or at least couldn’t talk about it on the record — which made for a difficult time assembling anything that looked like the reality of the situation. There are noticeable absences in the narrative, but they were unavoidable, unfortunately. For the most part, I like the story.
That said, watching the story’s reception across the week has been odd and uncomfortable, as people have noticed those absences and created arguments in their mind for them that… well, just aren’t true. Apparently, I’ve been alternately writing official propaganda, or ignoring specific creators intentionally; I’ve been an apologist for multiple, often opposing, viewpoints and arguments, I’ve had agenda to fulfill, and I’ve simply been trying to destroy the reputation of the entire era by, and I quote, “dredging up the past and making everyone look bad.” Really, I’ve seemingly been exceptionally productive, if you think about it.
Through the whole thing, I’ve kept quiet; arguing against people on the internet is a losing proposition, and it’s easier in the long run to just quietly seethe on the sidelines, knowing the truth. But still. But still.
I found myself listening to the new reissue of Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around the World album the other day, enjoying the unreleased tracks and the remixes. It was somewhere around the fourth or fifth track that I listened to, skipping around out of order, before it hit me: the fact that it was a 20th Anniversary Edition meant that Rings Around the World had come out two full decades earlier. Even now, that just doesn’t really feel possible.
It’s not that I feel as if music can’t have progressed since the release of what remains a perfectly wonderful, enjoyable album. (I’m amused, listening to it now, that so many of my favorite tracks today are the ones that I disliked on its initial release, and wonder what that says about me, and about aging in general; I’ve been singing “Alternate Route to Vulcan Street” for the last week.) More than that, it’s the sense that I can remember my experience of listening to the album the first time around in such detail that it feels almost impossible that this all happened 20 years earlier. Since when was my memory this good?
And yet: those memories place me in Scotland. Those memories have me still having hair, and being surrounded by piles of CDs — remember CDs? — as I sat at my iMac listening to the album. All of these things that, ironically, feel far older than happening two decades ago. The detail of the iMac alone feels roughly several lifetimes earlier; remember how modern they seemed at the time, and how, today, they feel as dated and signifiers of moments in design history as those weird bubble seats from the 1960s? (My iMac was “aquamarine,” which felt very exotic at the time. Oh, how innocent I was back then…! How little I knew…!)
Music has always felt more essential, more contemporary and now, than almost all other media, in my experience; it’s always had an easier connection to my memory and my responses, something more immediate and unavoidable. Now, thinking about it, I wonder how much of those connections are based on things that aren’t actually true, deep down.
(Rings Around the World is still a great album, and something you should all revisit, mind you.)
I had the strange experience last week of making an argument for my dream job — or, at least, one of my dream jobs. It was something that spun out of a phone call with an editor, and me beginning that argument during the call; they said something along the lines of, “I’ve never heard you so fired up! Why don’t you write something up and we’ll see what happens?” and it was off to the races.
The reason I’m sharing this isn’t that I think it’ll happen; just the opposite, given the way that so much of this year has worked out when it comes to career opportunities. But, really, just the act of sitting down and writing out what is more or less a pitch for, “this is what I want to be doing with my career, and this is why I think that you, unknown decision maker who has to think about if this is financially viable, should agree with me,” is a dizzying, surreal experience. Think of it as the old idea of singing for your supper, but with a component of having to consider how the supper and the song fits into the listener’s overall business plans.
The even stranger thing is, this wasn’t the first time that I’ve had to do something like this in the last couple of months. As I try to consider what shape my writing career is going to take in the next few months to a year — if I’m going to continue to have a writing career of any note — I’ve had to write more than one attempt at pitching myself and my plans. As someone who hates talking about themselves and coming across as anything resembling confident, it’s a skill that I’m still working on learning, but one that I arguably should have had years ago.
I’ll find out if this latest argument was convincing in a few weeks, I suspect. Like I said, I doubt that it truly will be, given the evidence so far, but I’m willing to be surprised one more time, just in case.
The strangest thing about my career, or what remains of it, is the fact that no-one ever seems to be entirely sure about the limits of what I can and can’t do in any particular situation.
For editors or those in charge of commissioning stories, there’s a feeling that I have complete control over sources or the events surrounding any particular story — or, at least, that I can pivot in almost any circumstance to get the desired outcome. The number of times I’ve been asked (or perhaps more appropriately, instructed) to get specific answers or statements that no-one wants to offer up is significant, as is the number of times I’ve had to patiently try anyway, before apologizing for my failure.
Worse, perhaps, are the times when the subject of a story believes that I have final say over the story. Just recently, I’ve had some of the more surreal experiences of my work life when people involved in stories have made demands after the fact of pieces they’ve been interviewed for or contributed to, in some way — up to and including asking for something that was printed to be altered, as if anyone had the ability to change what already existed in physical form days after it had been shipped to retailers. (It genuinely seemed a surprise that I didn’t have that power, when I explained that to them.)
At times, I make jokes about how such things are above my pay grade, to make light of the fact that, in so many of these situations, I’m actually pretty powerless. The reality of the situation is, especially as a freelancer, I’m a middle man, a service provider. I make connections and put things together in multiple ways, and a story comes out of that.
In reality, I have limited power in my situation, despite being central to the finished story. It’s an odd position to be in, which might explain why no-one seems to get how it works.
Chloe and I have been pursuing what I, initially (and mistakenly) thought was an impossible dream, this year: Watching at least 200 movies together across the year, despite never going to the movie theater once. (That wasn’t part of the mission statement, admittedly, it’s just how it’s worked out so far. Yes, I know that movie theaters are open now, but so is my paranoia about getting sick and so, streaming and DVD rentals it is.)
When we set the goal at the start of the year, 200 felt like an unobtainable target: that’s more or less four movies a week! Now, as we near the end of September and the final three months of the year, it feels not only entirely doable, but almost pedestrian in terms of its ambition. Only 200? Why, we could have gone at least as high as 250, I think to myself. (I have, I admit, started to unofficially hope that we get to 240, at least. I don’t know why 240 in particular; the mind goes where it goes.)
We’re currently somewhere around 160. We reached that point this past weekend, ending a week where we somehow managed to get in ten movies, which isn’t even counting the two we started and abandoned because they were genuinely unwatchable. Given that we managed to complete the horrific Cruella, that might give you an idea of just how bad the two we abandoned were — considering both were relatively critically acclaimed, there’s no little humor to be found there for both Chloe and I. (Apparently, the bar is lower for musicals, I guess…?)
In the midst of all of this movie watching, it strikes me that we’ve managed to create a new tradition by accident, where we settle into movie nights (or movie afternoons, if we’re both not working, or even movie mornings, depending how lazy we’re feeling) and it’s this thing that just happens. Whether or not the movie is good, or whether or not it’s the result of one of us — usually me — wanting to work through an entire series of films, or whatever. I doubt we’ll be able to make it through another 200 movies next year, but at this point of the year, I very much hope we’d try.
As the weather (finally) gets colder, I can feel the world shift from summer towards that time of the year known universally as “scratchy throat season.” You know the drill: it’s when the days get shorter, the temperature drops, and you start feeling that little tickle at the back of your throat that makes you feel as if you have to cough to clear it up.
This isn’t a new thing, of course. It happens every single year, and it’s always something that gets chalked up to the change in the weather. This is something that I’ve come to expect since childhood, with my parents explaining away any potential ailment as being due to the shift in the temperature and my body needing to come to terms with the new normal. (Well, almost any ailment; I’m pretty sure if I’d broken a bone or something that wouldn’t have been their reaction, although I couldn’t swear to it.)
The problem is, of course, this year, a scratchy throat is the one thing you really don’t want to have. If there’s one thing you really, really don’t want to be doing while out in public, it’s coughing or clearing your throat, after all. I know that firsthand after spending the last week or so having to discreetly do that, and then feeling as if I was going to have everyone turning around and facing me in shock, pointing and screaming “Diseased!” at the top of their lungs.
I get it. The paranoia is real; even when I’m out myself with a mask, I’m particularly aware when other people are coughing, or clearing their throats, or simply making any kind of noise that could suggest that they’re not 100 percent healthy. I am those paranoid types convinced that sickness is around the corner, so it stands to reason that I’m particularly conscious of when I seem like the sick one.
Perhaps I just need to make things easier; get a t-shirt made that reads, “It’s the change in the seasons, that’s all,” and point to it whenever necessary.
I mean, at least I’m still wearing a mask.
There’s no denying that the choice to let the kid go back to school in school this year was a tough one. It also wasn’t a particularly difficult choice to make, at the same time.
To say that CDL — Comprehensive Distance Learning, aka “doing school through a laptop” as we’d been doing since March last year — was an effort was an understatement; it was understandably difficult to get him motivated about doing it, and if anything, more difficult to get him to concentrate on actually doing the work when necessary for all of that time, as well. (How could it not be? The rest of the internet was right there, after all.) Add to that, the feeling that we, as parents, felt having to keep him on task while simultaneously keep him quiet enough that we could do all the shit that we had to do, and… yeah; it was an effort, indeed.
So, the prospect of his returning to school in person was initially an exciting one for all of us. For him, especially; he’s a social kid, and lockdown left him adrift without his friends, with the exception of a few scant play dates. The idea that he could go back to school full time with all of his friends was something that almost made him cry with excitement and anticipation, with absolutely no exaggeration. On that side, it was an easy choice.
Even easier: it’s what the school system demanded. There was a CDL option available, but it was clear from all communication that it was seen as a poor Plan B. In-person learning was where it was at, as far as the local schools demanded.
But the Delta variant and the new wave of infections loom in the background, making everything seem dangerous again. These were kids, too; how successful could any attempt to enforce social distancing, or even appropriate mask etiquette, be with a building of hundreds of kids? It felt like lunacy to consider, even as the kid told us over and over again how excited he was. We said yes, nervously, hoping for the best, knowing that his heart would break if we’d done anything else.
His reaction after the first day made us all feel it was worth it; how could anyone be so excited for school? He was thrilled, glowing from the experience. It was a relief that we hadn’t made the wrong decision, even as each morning brings new worry that someone, somewhere, would cough in such a way that the fear takes over again.
Before I hit send, I thought the following things:
– That I was relieved, more than anything, to be finished. This process was one that had been in the back of my head since I first had that conversation months ago, and the constant presence was something that had gone from something filled with potential and possibility and, yes, even excitement had become something of a worry, especially in recent weeks. At the start of everything, I’d suggested the end of summer as a self-imposed deadline because it felt impossibly far away; then, suddenly, the end of August was staring me in the face, and I was all too aware of the need to just sit down and get things done.
– That this wasn’t the end, but really just the end of the beginning, to use the cliche. What I was sending off was a first draft — arguably, something even earlier than that, notes towards a partial first draft, perhaps? — and nothing was really finished at all. In fact, this was taking things into a more difficult, awkward place where someone else would see what I’ve been doing and could tell me all the ways I’d messed up. This was just the start; as soon as I sent it, things would only continue, only get bigger and more filled with pressure and expectation.
– That I was nervous of letting go of the whole thing. As exhausting as the process had been to date, there’s been a comfort and security in working on it for so long in private, in working to my own expectations and plans without anyone else seeing or telling me where I’m going wrong. In many ways, the project had become a security blanket I hadn’t expected, and as soon as I sent it off, that wouldn’t be true anymore.
– That I would be heartbroken if it was rejected, or pulled apart with notes to essentially start over.
– That I wasn’t emotionally prepared for it to be accepted either, with all that would mean.
Knowing how scary the moment was, I hit send quickly, and tried to ignore the knot in my stomach afterwards.