In The Place Where You Live

In the months before Tango passed, he worked out this ritual that, I admit, at the time seemed just as frustrating as it did charming — although, in retrospect, that frustration came as much from fear and sadness and stress knowing that he was not healthy and wondering if it was a sign of something else going on, instead of simply being what it appeared on the face of things.

Nonetheless, what he started doing was this: as was his manner, he’d run toward the back door with no small level of urgency, as if he really needed to get outside before his increasing incontinence got the better of him. One of us would run after him, and open doors to usher him outside with great speed, at which point, he’d just… stop.

It wasn’t just that he didn’t actually need to piss or shit; as soon as he’d get outside, he’d just stop, entirely. He’d stand there, and lift his face up slightly. By this point, he was mostly deaf and mostly blind, I should point out, so it was extremely unlikely that he was looking at anything in particular, or listening out for a specific thing. He just was standing there.

He was, however, sniffing. It was the one sense we’re pretty sure didn’t desert him towards the end. (He even seemed disinterested in food more than once, so it’s possible his taste started to fade, too, and his sensitivity to touch was an open question, but that might simply have been age and arthritis.) He’d stand and sniff the air, and it was as if he was being particularly appreciative of where he was in the world at that moment.

I was thinking about that this weekend, in part because new dog Alfie seemed to do the same thing for a second before getting distracted by something I can’t remember. Watching him do that made me nostalgic, and particularly sad that Tango wasn’t around anymore, but it also made me feel as if Tango had worked something out that I struggle with: how to just exist in the moment and be grateful for it.

Maybe, one day, I’ll be able to be more like Tango was, and not just in terms of incontinence or, I don’t know, going blind or whatever.

Hello Doctor, My Old Friend

By accident, I’ve fallen back into watching Doctor Who regularly for the first time since… fuck, three years? Four? I dropped out a few episodes into the first season featuring Jodie Whittaker as the Doctor due to a combination of circumstances — this was the period just after leaving my ex-wife, after all; my attention was elsewhere — and, to be blunt, not really enjoying the show that much anymore, due to what seemed to be a general downtrend in writing. Subsequent attempts to catch up were plagued with that feeling continuing; maybe it’s because I was such a fan of the Steven Moffat era, or perhaps my head was just in a different place, but Doctor Who didn’t feel like a show for me anymore.

Nonetheless, I have fallen back into the rhythm of watching weekly, thanks to (a) it being available to stream without additional cost for the first time that I can remember, and (b) being curious enough to try out the “all season is telling one large story, also, it’s only six episodes this year” experiment. I’m not sure if the show has improved significantly since the last season that I temporarily dropped into, only to dip back out of, but something has changed to keep me tuning back in, week after week. (It’s still not a great show, but there’s enough to keep me watching.)

What’s been particularly surprising about this whole thing is how… happy I am to be into the show again; it’s as if I’ve reconnected with an old friend, if that doesn’t sound too ridiculous. It’s surprisingly pleasing to be watching Doctor Who again, to be excited at the prospects of seeing a new episode every weekend, again. A fandom reborn turns out to be a very good thing indeed, as it turns out. It almost makes me want to check out other old favorites again, just in case.

Unedited Editing Thoughts

I’ve been thinking about editing lately.

I’ve obviously been edited a lot during my career, and I’ve also been an editor back at io9, in what was retrospectively one of the more rewarding parts of a relatively unrewarding time in my career. There are times that I think that I’d like to do more editing officially — I’ve unofficially helped out a bunch in editorial roles, whether it’s copy-editing or doing bigger picture repositioning and revising of already-written material — in large part because I find something really fulfilling in working on other people’s work, and trying to make it better in big ways and small.

Looking at other people’s stuff in an editorial capacity is also really clarifying in what kind of writer you are, and what you want to do with your own work — or, at least, that’s been my experience personally; when I see someone do something that rankles for whatever reason, and then recognize that I do the same thing, a light goes off in my head and a mental note is made to try and change that in future. Similarly, seeing someone do something particularly successfully, especially if it’s something that I’ve struggled with in the past, makes me think about why it works and how I can try to steal some of that mojo for myself.

There’s a skill to editing, of course, but editing is really two separate tasks in one: the ability to read something in a critical, analytical manner to identify what would make it better and sharpen what’s already there (or, if it’s entirely a mess, what to cut and how to salvage it), and the ability to communicate that to the creator in such a way that they hear what you’re saying and don’t think that the message is actually I hate this and you suck. That last bit is more difficult than it sounds, and something that trips up many an editor, in my experience.

Maybe, after the headfuck that has been 2021 professionally, I should start thinking about transitioning into a more editorial role somewhere in 2022…?

And Pains

My left knee has been hurting for the past couple of weeks. When I kneel on it, it sends a sudden message of no, don’t do that, this isn’t good up to my brain, as if I’m pushing it down on some uneven surface. Given that, with an almost four month old puppy in the house, I find myself doing a lot of kneeling these days, this is far from an optimal experience.

(I’m pretty sure the whole thing got started because I accidentally kneeled a little too heavily on the bathroom floor awhile back, while preparing to clean the cat litter boxes; animals are not good for me, it seems.)

I’ve reached the stage in my life where it feels insincere to be as surprised as I am when my body aches like this. I’m firmly middle aged now, I’m 47 years old; this is the portion of my life when things are supposed to start aching and hurting for seemingly no reason, the part where my body takes stock of its situation and thinks that, all things considered, I’m lucky I’m not in worse shape and still able to get out of bed in the morning.

Adding to my complicated feelings about 2021 — they’re not that complicated, I hate this overly cruel, seemingly ruthless year — is the fact that I’ve spent much of the past twelve months dealing with physical ailments. My lower back has been in various stages of pain since the late summer, in no small part because it seems to flare up when I feel particularly stressed, and I’ve felt particularly stressed since… 2018, maybe…? Add to that headaches, buttaches, and multiple other thankfully temporary ailments, and it’s been an unusually painful year.

But that is, I guess, the point — this won’t be unusual moving forward. The house that I live in, that my body has grown into over the past nearly five decades, is in a state of disrepair now. I’ll have to take better care of myself from now on. Starting with, I suspect, less kneeling… or less grimacing when I do kneel.

Don’t Be Too Late

I’m off schedule.

This might already be obvious to anyone who’s been paying attention to when posts usually appear here, with the traditional Monday-Wednesday-Friday rhythm disrupted for the past few weeks; I’m not even getting around to writing this until Saturday morning, after all, which is a sign for quite how bad things have gotten.

Of course, “bad” is an over-dramatic way of looking at it — it’s not as if some great disaster has befallen me to make me slip out of the schedule I’ve been keeping up all this time. Nothing has gone wrong, per se; it’s simply that life has taken a turn.

I suspect that my irregular working schedule plays no small part in throwing me off. Back when I was doing roughly the same thing week in and week out, I could roughly predict what every day of the week looked like: what I’d be up to on Monday, Tuesday, and so on. It was that environment in which I started doing this blog again in earnest, during the divorce, to ground and rediscover myself in something just for me. The schedule made sense, then, because I could already imagine the spaces I’d carve out to write the posts in.

These days, everything is far less steady. Yesterday was working on one freelance post for Outlet A, proofing and corresponding on another for Outlet B, being a second set of eyes for Chloe on something she was working on, and having a strange, surreal conversation that I suspect closed down a work opportunity for Outlet C. My focus was scattered (more so when you factor in the multiple animals to look after during the day), and I didn’t even remember this blog until late afternoon, when I didn’t have anymore words in me.

Consider this an apology, then, for the slip — but also an internal acknowledgment that things are more complicated and less certain, but that writing here remains something important for me, nonetheless. I’m still discovering myself here, even now.

Whoops There Goes Another Rubber Tree Plant

Something I almost tweeted the other day, but didn’t: “In a year of win-some, lose-some, I feel like I’ve been given far too many of the latter and not enough of the former.”

I didn’t tweet it not because of its sour grapes quality, nor because it sounds a little too much like whining — I have no problem with either, I have to admit — but because I was waiting for another shoe to drop before surrendering to my pessimism so fully. Maybe, just maybe, I thought, maybe I could get something unexpected good happening that would balance out so much of the bad this year! Better not tempt fate by saying anything bad just yet!

You know where this is going, of course. While I’ve not had a final no on the dangling shoe in question just yet, I’ve had a fairly definitive “yeah, probably not unless something dramatic changes,” so… yeah. Let’s all start playing Aimee Mann’s “I Should’ve Known” and start dancing for a brief moment of self-shadenfreude. (Is there such a thing? Maybe not, given how confused spellcheck seems about the concept.)

I remember, back when 2021 was getting underway, that a couple of smart people said something to me along the lines of, “I bet this year is going to be worse than 2020,” the very idea of which seemed near-impossible to me. Why, we’d had a pandemic break out and multiple industries — including the one I worked in — had shuddered to a halt as a result. By January of this year, though, we’d all created a new normal that meant that there were plans and contingencies, and surely everything would get better from that point onwards?

Dear reader, how innocent and naive I was. It took less than a month of 2021 to reveal that it was going to be a harder year, and the numerous bait-and-switches of potential good fortune and welcome opportunities have only underscored that sad fact. We’re a month and change away from the end of the year, and while I hope it means an end to this trend, I’m far too cynical to truly believe that at this minute.

I Remember When, I Remember When

There’s a meme that makes regular reappearances on social media, in which people use metaphor and reference to explain how old they are; “I’m [Insert Generational Marker] years old,” they’d say, and everyone else who shares that particular experience reads it and goes, oh, remember [Generational Marker]? I remember that, they’re just like me, I’m not alone. I mention this not to shame anyone taking part in whatever incarnation of this meme they might have seen, but because I found myself accidentally thinking in terms of that meme earlier today, upon realizing I lived through a moment in pop culture history we’ll likely never see again. You see, dear reader, I can remember when Star Wars was not only uncool, but considered a dead franchise left in the past.

To be a late teen in the early 1990s was quite a thing, especially in the UK; there was grunge, or whatever the British echo of that proved to be (People listening to Nirvana records, basically), and then there was Britpop, the musical movement that seemingly encompassed everything around it. For a certain generation of teen nerd, however, there was also the experience of finding fast friendship with other people who were Star Wars fans, and this being both a novelty and a sign that you’d found your people, or something close to it.

I can remember talking to people and making reference to things in The Empire Strikes Back and some people just not getting it; they hadn’t watched the movies as kids, or if they had, they hadn’t rewatched them and read the comics and the novels, and the details had simply left them, replaced by more important things necessary to ahead in life. This was the culture back then, and it’s one that I miss — when Star Wars was a niche interest (at best) and not a lifestyle supported by multiple industries dedicated to ensuring that Content Is Always Available No Matter What.

I know that, today, Star Wars is in a strange holding pattern outside of a handful of television shows, but still — there are those TV shows, and the comics, the novels, the toys, and the inevitable movies still to come. Even if there isn’t a new movie every year, it’s not something that will ever fully go away ever again, and I find myself sad about that. Sometimes, it’s good to let these things just be nostalgia again, at least for awhile.

Are We On Web 4.0 By Now?

I was reading something the other day that suggested that, because of things like cryptocurrency, NFTs, and the metaverse, the “internet of today” was not a particularly fun place to be. Putting aside the obvious common sense factor that, yes, all of those things are terrible — I can’t deny that part of me sometimes thinks, oh, what if I could make a fortune on NFTs before the grift collapses, before immediately coming to my senses — the thing that sticks with me about this idea is the notion of the internet of today, as compared with internets of different periods of history.

Part of this is, I suspect, because the internet isn’t something that I’ve had in my life for even half of my life. (I’m old.) The idea that the internet has history is difficult for me to fully comprehend, because part of me is still of the opinion that the whole thing just got started a handful of years ago and everything has a novel sheen to it to this day.

I know that’s not actually true, of course; if nothing else, parts of the internet feel just the opposite, as if they’ve always existed. Haven’t I always been on Twitter, leaving it open as an endless newsfeed as I get through my work day? (Apparently not; I actually wrote about the utopian dream that was Twitter back in 2008 or 2009, brand new and fresh faced about the whole thing.) How did I exist before Gmail? Did I ever actually write lettersReally?

(And let’s not get into the streaming services and how they’ve changed the world, including my own personal world. I’ve heard a rumor that YouTube didn’t even get started until after I’d moved to the U.S., but that just seems extraordinary to consider.)

Despite all of this, I understand the concept of the “internet of today.” I think of all these things like crypto and NFTs and Web3 and everything as something beyond my ken, something for audiences younger and smarter than me. In many ways, the internet of today isn’t for me, but to actually consider that for even a minute leaves me adrift: if I don’t belong in the internet of today, does that mean I’m forever stuck in the past?

Home Taping is Making Music

When I think about the various signposts that made me into the music fan I am today, I always gloss over the importance of my local library growing up, for some reason. I’m not entirely sure why, given just how central that place probably was for some of my more outré choices of listening; while it didn’t play the same kind of role that certain friends did in shaping my musical identity — I can still think about people specifically recommending or lending me particular albums or CDs or tapes, and how big that felt in the immediate aftermath, even if that particular band isn’t a cornerstone of what I listen to — it was, nonetheless, an introduction to all kinds of things that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered, and a cheap way to explore some of my stranger curiosities when it came to sounds and tunes.

I was helped, greatly, by the fact that the local library’s music collection was seemingly curated by someone with extremely eclectic taste. To this day, I can remember being a nervous teenager leafing through the bins of vinyl — all in protective plastic sleeves, because of course — and just stunned by the number of things I’d never heard of, and didn’t know what to make of. I remember, years after the fact, in the mid-90s when the Divine Comedy broke through to the mainstream, realizing that somehow my local library had the obscure early albums all along, and I’d never stopped to check them out. (Literally.) The same with all of the many jazz albums they had that I, in my youth, flipped through with an internal jazz, ugh, only to wish years later that I’d had the common sense and good luck to listen to and get my little teenaged mind blown.

Nonetheless, the library was responsible for my love of Jellyfish, of Randy Newman, of the Guys and Dolls soundtrack, of discovering Jeff Lynne and ELO through the War of the Worlds double album; I listened to so many movie soundtracks, and developed a strange appreciation for orchestral scores. I’d take all of these albums home, obsessively listen to them. In their own way, they paved the way for some of the odder things I love now, even if I didn’t recognize that at the time.

Mumble Gripe Groan, Reprise

Going from a career based around permalancing — where you’re basically on staff for an outlet or multiple outlets, only without the benefits and with a lesser expectation of output per month, more or less — to fully freelancing this year has been, to be blunt, a learning experience. There’s certainly a skill to simply keeping track of the multiple outlets and deadlines and relationships necessary to keep yourself active and successful as a freelancer, and it’s been a pretty heavy learning curve for me, especially in an environment such as the past year or so, when so many publishers have been cutting back so dramatically when it comes to freelance budget across the board.

Even inside that larger learning experience, though, there has been an additional lesson that’s been a tough one to swallow: repeatedly getting stories that you just know would be worthwhile — or, at the very least, successful, which is far from the same thing, but perhaps no less important — turned down, because they’re not worth taking the risk of paying for even by editors who are otherwise in favor of them.

Part of this is genuinely the result of being spoiled by permalancing in the past, I know; pitching stories that editors perhaps weren’t entirely convinced by, but knew that it wasn’t going to cost them anything extra because I was paid per month, not per story — and, as a result, getting to do some pretty niche stuff that went over well as a result. That kind of thing just isn’t possible when every single story has to be paid for, and that money has to be justified to other people less willing to be forgiving for some of the random things I suggest.

I’m writing this now, salty, having (unsuccessfully) pitched variations on an idea to three different outlets and being told, essentially, that could be fun, but I couldn’t justify it each time. It’s frustrating, and depressing, to see in real time just how conservative (small c) online journalism has become, for entirely practical reasons. Alas.