I have, by now, outgrown the idea that New Year matters in any way beyond the purely symbolic, and even possibly (probably) in that respect as well. I’ve lost the ability to believe that things will change in any meaningful way just because we’ve gone from December to January, no matter how much I may try to convince myself otherwise.
Despite this, I’m relieved to leave 2021 behind today.
This year has been hard in ways that I’m still not sure I fully understand, or am even properly aware of. It has been a year of opportunities disappearing as soon as they popped up, and of long-established certainties being undermined, at least insofar as work has been concerned. It’s been financially dreadful in a way that’s almost comic — you know, if it weren’t dreadful — and stressful to degrees that I’ve never really had to struggle with before. It has, in other words, been a complete and utter shitshow.
That I’ve been able to make it through has little to do with my own fortitude, and everything to do with good luck from the past and the kindness and support of loved ones. I cannot overstate the importance of Chloe during the last year, in keeping me sane and providing perspective and distraction when needed; I dread to think where I’d be without her.
Again, nothing is going to magically change when today rolls into tomorrow, and 2021 becomes 2022; the problems and challenges will still be there, still waiting to be wrestled with or simply abandoned altogether — the latter may be the best route in the long run, I suspect — just as they have been for basically all of this year. All that will be different, really, will be the digit at the end of the year and the jokes about writing the wrong dates on checks, as if anyone does that anymore.
But still. Fuck you, 2021. I’m glad to say goodbye to you and at least pretend to move on.
The liminal space between Christmas and New Year is such a strange thing to live through each year, especially for one who cares little for the latter holiday such as myself. Things slow down around you, as people pause to take stock of things and consider what lies ahead — even if that simply means making a list of upcoming social possibilities.
For me, this week is always one where I feel unmoored in time. This year, that’s been especially true, for some reason: I’ve been convinced that I’m a day later than the truth since Monday, for some mysterious reason; thinking back to days that quite literally don’t exist as I try to make mental notes and maps of when I am and how I got there. Can you believe it’s Wednesday already? I think to myself on Tuesday, simultaneously astonished at how quickly and slowly time seems to be passing, while utterly incorrect about just where I actually am on that particular journey.
Part of it stems from the fact that neither Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day feel like specific days, especially this year — they’re somehow separate from the week and just exist as happy monoliths outside of regular time. Even on Christmas Eve this year, I was remarking on the fact that it felt like the official Big Day already: I’d talked to my family in Scotland and spent the day surrounded by my family here, full of cheer and love. Wasn’t that what Christmas is all about…? By the time December 25th rolled around with gifts in tow, I felt something akin to seasonal deja vu.
Not for the first time, I find myself pondering the Advent Calendar and wishing it was something we could continue and adapt for the entire year. Not just adopting a regular calendar, but making a daily event where establishing the day and date for all becomes an event in and of itself. Say what you like about the tradition, but at least an Advent Calendar leaves little doubt about where you are in December each year. Well, until the week between Christmas and New Year, of course.
There is, as the song goes, a kind of hush all over the world at this time of year.
I remember standing outside during Christmas Day, and it being completely still. I looked up and down the block — a block that is, if not always very busy, then at least home to some kind of foot traffic if not vehicular traffic as well — and there was absolutely no-one to be seen. It was as if everyone was hiding away, worried that Santa was running late and they didn’t want to ruin their chances of getting presents by seeing him.
It made me remember the stillness of my hometown on Christmases of my childhood. Again, I lived on a street that was relatively busy at almost every other part of the year, but every single Christmas, it would be supernaturally quiet, as if there had been some kind of law passed that everyone had to stay inside their homes until a certain time had come and gone. The street would be entirely empty, desolate, until some indistinct point in the afternoon when — no matter the weather — a child would appear on a new bicycle, wobbling their way down the road with an anxious parent nervously running behind. Every single year.
There weren’t any kids on bikes this year. Things stayed entirely quiet for the entire day, as far as I could see. (Perhaps everyone was afraid of the snow storm that had been forecast, but waited until we were all in bed, asleep, before barely arriving.) But it got me thinking: maybe there’s something about the holidays that makes everything particularly quiet — people traveling to see loved ones and then staying inside with those loved ones, perhaps, or something more basic about the bad weather. (Who could blame them?)
Maybe that’s something else to treasure about the holidays, then: the temporary silence that speeds around the world, allowing us a chance to turn off, just for a little bit.
Chloe and I were talking the other day about the fact that Christmas has snuck up on all of us this year. I’m not entirely sure how that could be true — it’s not as if we’ve all been unusually busy recently, although we’ve certainly had more than our fair share of nonsense to take care of (To be fair, we kind of did it to ourselves, getting a puppy that was roughly three months old and then having to deal with the reality of that. That’s hardly been the most relaxing thing) — and yet, somehow, it is. It’s Christmas Eve already. How did that happen?
There are so many things that I feel I haven’t done, or done enough of. I haven’t listened to enough Christmas music — although, to be fair, I don’t think there’s an upper limit of “enough” for some Christmas songs — and I haven’t had enough mincemeat and pretended that I was actually interested in the whole pie instead of the chopped fruit innards. I haven’t had stollen at all, even. What have I actually been doing with my month?
The answer to that is, in many cases, equally seasonal: we did get to go downtown to enjoy what passes for Portland’s Christmas lights this year (a mall Santa waved to me, and I was as thrilled as if I was a kid again); we did watch an outrageous amount of holiday movies and television shows, and there was much shopping and wrapping and prepping for the big day itself. There are worse ways to spend the month leading up to Christmas, and I don’t really regret any of it at all. I just wish there was more time.
This, of course, is the truth about the holidays and getting older. You realize that it’s not about the day as much as it’s about the lead-up to the day — the weeks and days covered by the advent calendar, with everyone filled with anticipation and excitement about what’s to come. The older you get, the less you can even plan which presents you want, never mind look forward to getting everything on your list; you just want to embrace the season and believe in the goodwill, however shortlived it may be.
Happy holidays, if you celebrate.
It sounds genuinely absurd, but I’ve become oddly obsessed with the idea of natural attrition lately — or, perhaps, natural degradation is a better way to put it, all focused on the backyard of the house we’ve been living in for the past three years, and how swiftly it changed entirely due to the entirely odd weather we’ve been having for the last few months.
Fall seemed to arrive late and suddenly, when what had felt like a lengthy summer slipped into a sudden windy and rainy snap that helped all the leaves off the trees in record time. What had been such a dry earth in the yard was suddenly sodden, muddy and filled with puddles that were caked with leaves as far as the eye could see. The entire environment changed in what felt like a day.
And now, everything is changing again out there: the rains of the last few weeks — really dramatic, torrential downpours — paired with the freezing temperatures have terraformed a new yard once again. The leaves are disappearing, slowly mulched into non-existence by the elements, and the mud has started shifting in ways that feel almost intentional, creating rivers and pools in the ground that look and feel as if they’ve been there for years.
Watching all of this happen has been a passive pleasure across the last few months, something I’ve noticed as I’ve taken the dogs outside to pee, or moved trash bins from the back of the house to the sidewalk on Sunday evenings. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s been helpful in such a shitty year to look at something like this, entirely out of anyone’s control but constantly in motion, constantly evolving.
There’s something very comforting to me with watching the world do things that it does, outside of any human interaction, right there in my own backyard. Being constantly surprised by changes that I could never hope to predict, and waiting to see what’s next.
I saw someone tweet something today along the lines of, “It’s at the point of the year when you have to sort everything into ‘December Problems’ or ‘January Problems,'” to which someone else responded, basically saying that at this point, everything is a January problem. Suffice to say, I understand that point of view particularly well right now.
Despite not having worked in education for more than two decades now — and not having been a student for even longer — I maintain a sincere belief in school holidays as a model for… well, time off from everything. Obviously, not everyone can enjoy two weeks of break around the holidays, and it’s not even something that everyone would want, more fool them, but still: I wholeheartedly think that having a significant holiday break would be a better thing for the majority of people at this time of year.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, in no small part because the nine-year-old is on holiday break right now, and I have found myself being actively jealous; listening to him talk about how he has the next two weeks off and thinking to myself, you’re not even going to appreciate it properly like some old curmudgeon.
(In my defense, he won’t; I certainly never did, when I was a kid. The last couple of days of the holiday would arrive and I’d somehow be surprised, feeling as if I’d wasted every moment of break to that point.)
(That doesn’t actually mean I’m not a curmudgeon, however.)
All of this is a preamble to admitting that I am, in an unofficial sense, declaring a holiday break for myself this year. This is assisted by the fact that work is supernaturally slow as the year draws to a close, but I’ve decided to attempt to carve myself some downtime over the next couple of weeks — outside of the actual holidays themselves — in order to try and get my brain a little less full and a little more prepared for what’s to come. Let’s try to get 2022 started as right as possible, even if everything might collapse just days later; hell, based on this year, maybe even just hours later.
I wrote a thing, earlier this year, to basically argue to get hired as a full-time comics reporter at an outlet. It was, to all intents and purposes, a manifesto arguing that comics as an industry worked at enough of a financial scale to be worth said outlet investing in a full time industry specialist — something that also paid attention to the ways in which comics are the source material for other media and thereby worthy of attention and reporting that might otherwise seem out of scale with how big comics actually is, as a business.
It was a document that I’d been asked for; in fact, it came out of a conversation that suggested that the position — while not something that existed at that point in time — was a very definite possibility, with me being the person most likely to fill the position. In other words, it was a document that I was eager to write, and something that ultimately ended up being part passion project and part research intensive, figure-filled argument to demonstrate that I was very much coming at the subject from a position of authority. Which, not unintentionally, would also demonstrate that I was the right person to fill the position I was arguing should exist.
As is clearly the case, considering what I’ve been writing about recently, all of this came to naught — the position never happened, and therefore I couldn’t fill it. When I got the final word on this subject, I thought to myself, I should just post the manifesto on the blog, and what had previously been in this very WYSIWYG window was, indeed, that manifesto. Common sense prevailed, in the end, as I realized that it was a document that I might want to revisit and recycle for other outlets at some point in the future. Hence, this post.
I write this not simply to fill in what would otherwise have been a void of something I didn’t say, but to point out the value of keeping some things back for the future, just in case. Who knows what 2022 has in store, after all…?
After a year of false starts and raised hopes that were ultimately dashed, and all manner of unpleasant and difficult opportunities that disappeared before too long, I’ve started quietly, behind-the-scenes, working on something new for January that I’m… cautiously excited about…? And that, my friends, is kind of the problem.
Not the excitement, I should quickly point out. It’s nice to get excited about things, especially after a year of being disappointed or having dreams dashed by the cruel glare of reality. There were times this year when I worried that I wouldn’t be able to get properly excited about new projects after seeing one after another “dream jobs” appear to disappear in front of my eyes, so it’s particularly rewarding and reassuring to feel this flush of eagerness regarding what lies ahead.
What’s got me nervous is the “cautious” bit. One of the problems with the multiple car crashes that defined by 2021 workload or lack thereof was that new things would appear as possibilities, and I’d go all out for them, only for them to disappear in one way or another, and each time, I thought to myself, if only you hadn’t counted your chickens before they’d hatched, you wouldn’t be quite so hurt and disappointed this time. Maybe not those exact words — really, who actually talks about chickens before they’ve hatched unless they’re in the hatching chickens business — but that general meaning, at least.
I know, rationally, that this new thing is not going to be the answer to any of my current woes in the short term, with the exception of giving me the opportunity to exercise some muscles I’ve not really had the opportunity to in awhile. I need to bear that in mind, though, as I work on this, and not get lost in the excitement only to crash and burn later when fame and fortune doesn’t arrive as a result. I mean, I know it won’t, but hope — for better or worse — continues to spring eternal.
I was reminded, via a random tweet recently, about a Christmas tradition from my childhood that I’d entirely forgotten about, and which feels as if it recasts the Christmases I’d experienced then, compared with how I remember them today.
Back in the day, my family would know that the holiday season was officially underway by the fact that the Christmas Radio Times and TV Times had been released; as the names almost suggest, both magazines were filled with television listings for the next week or so for different channels. (You can tell this is back in the day; all the BBC listings were in the Radio Times, which mixed BBC TV and radio listings, while the TV Times was filled with upcoming listings for ITV and Channel 4; other networks didn’t even exist at the time, so we didn’t have to worry about those.)
When those listings magazines were released, they were attacked by my family, or at least the three kids; we’d go through them, day-by-day, and mark down the shows we wanted to see. The three of us would use different colored highlighter pens to differentiate what was a me show, versus one of my sisters’, and vice versa. Anything that more than one of us wanted to watch, as far as I can remember, would be claimed by whoever went through the magazine first. (Almost certainly me, as the youngest.)
What’s surprising about this, for me, is how important the television was for the season. I’m not exaggerating this, even though I’ll be honest and admit I didn’t really remember this until someone tweeted a picture of this year’s Radio Times; the arrival of these listing magazines really did feel like a signifier that the holidays were now, properly, underway. Knowing what I was going to be watching, and when, somehow, meant that the Christmas period was in a shape that I understood and could plan for.
It’s not really the same, scrolling through Netflix and HBO Max these days. Maybe if someone made a listings magazine to help…
It’s the Holiday Season, which means I’m already knee-deep in watching Christmas movies, reading Christmas comics, and listening to Christmas music. (I’ve also eaten roughly my body weight in cookies, but that’s not really any different from the norm, let’s be entirely honest.) It’s become tradition for me at this time of the year, to utterly surrender to as much Christmas media as possible without losing my mind.
What’s particularly fun about this is that the media itself becomes a tradition in the process. Chloe and I make a point to watch Miracle on 34th Street on Thanksgiving, and Holiday Inn as soon as possible after that, because both movies have come to symbolize the start of the season for us; similarly, every year, we watch White Christmas and It’s a Wonderful Life as close to the actual holiday as possible. (The latter is a Christmas Eve staple for us, already.)
If movies as the object of tradition is a relatively recent phenomenon for me, music has long been something that I’ve placed a lot of holiday tradition faith in; one of my earliest Christmas memories is riding in a car with my dad, listening to Christmas music and delivering Christmas cards. (We did that every year together until I left home for art school; my sisters dropped out of it, but I never did — it always felt like a special way for the two of us to spend time together.)
I have lists of favorite Christmas songs that, thankfully, get updated almost every single year — I’m constantly discovering new music that feels immediately necessary to celebrate the season, thankfully. (Even if that music might be relatively old overall; Lord Executor is a thing of the past for most, after all, but “Christmas is a Joyful Day” is only something I discovered in the last few days. Same with Imperial Drag’s “Please Leave Me Home for Christmas,” uncovered decades after they split up.)
There are, of course, ways to feel Christmassy that have nothing to do with the songs or the shows — things to do with the joy and love of the season, the excitement of celebrating the generosity and affection that abounds. But every single year, I can’t hit play soon enough on all the festive treats that make it happen artificially.