Don’t Call It

I can already tell that time is of the essence for the next few weeks. It’s a dizzying, unsettling feeling. It’s also a somewhat thrilling one.

In terms of my workload, this year is easily the busiest I’ve been in years. Part of that is, thankfully, that I’m simply finding work again after two years where it seemed as if no-one was particularly interested in what I had to say. Last year, especially, was one where I had a number of opportunities and potentially exciting gigs either disappeared entirely in circumstances I still don’t understand, or were taken out of my hands due to budgets being cut or redistributed elsewhere. It was a rough year for both my ego and my bank balance, and one that I came through mostly through a mix of stubbornness and stupidity.

So far, this year feels the exact opposite, at least in terms of the number of outlets I’m currently writing for and the (exciting, surprising) opportunities I’ve been able to accept and embrace. I’m very grateful for all of it; I’m also very aware of just how much work lies ahead in the next few weeks, especially. It’s more than a little scary.

This is, as much as anything, my telling myself to pace myself and not burn out. (That is, worryingly, a possibility; I’m so busy that I’ve created a schedule of deadlines that currently stretches into July, shockingly — I check in with it occasionally in fear.) I’m trying to build in time to refresh my brain and find ways to recharge and not get burned out, just constantly working and producing, over and over. My old work patterns won’t support me in this new reality, because my workload is different enough to make different demands on me.

It’s also a notice to myself to appreciate where I am, again, and not take it for granted or be frustrated by my workload. This time last year, this seemed literally impossible; no matter how overloaded and overwhelmed I get in the next few weeks, I should remember how lucky I am that I’m here. Not everyone gets a comeback; I should be grateful for mine, no matter how tired it makes me.

The Long-Awaited Return

I’ve been thinking a lot about comic book conventions recently. Thanks to COVID and lockdown and, I admit, my work situation, it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to participate in the madness and anxiety that is a big convention, and I’ve found that I am increasingly missing it… and yet, at the same time, the idea of returning to one also fills me with its own sense of anxiety and nervousness.

Prior to the world closing down, conventions were part of my annual rhythm. I’d make it to at least two a year, covering both San Diego Comic-Con and New York Comic Con for work. (In 2019, I also did Star Wars Celebration in Chicago and CCXP in São Paulo, Brazil; even just thinking about doing four in one year feels alien to me, now.) The summer wouldn’t feel complete without the visit to Southern California and the compressed socializing that came with the show, and the fall wouldn’t begin without the cross country trip to the East Coast and the overstuffed city that wouldn’t sleep.

I have wonderful memories associated with both shows, and important ones, too; in both cases, I feel like those shows — as packed as they inevitably were, as filled with work and socializing in such a compressed timeframe — gave me space to emotionally process necessary things in a way that was otherwise unavailable to me.

And they’ve been gone for the last few years.

This year, I’m assuming, they’ll be back and it’s more than likely that I’ll be attending at least one again. (None of my current employers have asked directly, but still.) I’m somewhere between being excited at returning, but nervous, too; I’m older now, and out of practice, after all, never mind the pandemic and the masks of it all. It’s a different world, and a different me. Will I still fit in, in that new convention reality?

Choose Your Own

I’m reading prose again, which is nice. After an impressive January — a prose book a week! I felt very accomplished! — my prose reading trailed off again as evening exhaustion and the demands of a job that requires a lot of comic reading took ahold once again. It wasn’t quite as overwhelming as the past couple of years when my prose reading fell through the floor, but it wasn’t something that I felt particularly proud of, either. After all, as the song goes: here’s more to life than books, you know, but not much more.

(I feel bad for quoting the Smiths, but it’s a fun line, dammit.)

I fell out of the habit of prose reading, I realize, because of COVID and lockdown; it closed the libraries for anything other than pre-scheduled pick-ups of online orders that took weeks, if not months, to arrive, and eventually I just gave up in response. Not only wasn’t I really into the idea of planning out my reading habits so far in advance, the lack of in-library browsing made it difficult for me to know what I’d want to be reading anyway. This is another reason why I love bookstore browsing, which I’m pretty sure I’ve written about before.

Libraries are open again now, thankfully, and with it the ability to browse new releases and see what’s worth reading again. Of course, the book I flew through this weekend — reading the whole thing in one day, practically — wasn’t a browsed discovery, but something I’ve been looking forward to since learning about it: Blood Sweat & Chrome: The Wild and True Story of Mad Max: Fury Road. It’s not that Fury Road is even one of my favorite movies as much as it’s one with a ridiculous behind-the-scenes story, and I’m a sucker for a well-done oral history of anything interesting. No wonder I finished it so quickly.

Flushed with this success, I find myself excited to keep going: what else can I read, where am I going to go next? I’m only a couple of library visits away from my next great adventure.

Mood Indigo

I’ve been revisiting comics from my youth, again. This time, it’s a significant chunk of writer John Smith’s 2000 AD work, which I eagerly and impatiently followed through the late 1980s and early 1990s; he wrote a number of different things for the anthology during that time, both of his own creation — Tyranny Rex, Indigo Prime, Revere, Firekind, Devlin Waugh — and picking up part-time work on other people’s characters and strips. He did some Judge Dredd, a little bit of Rogue Trooper, and even a Robo Hunter at some point, if I remember correctly.

I’m telling you this not to be a fanboy — I think I’ve already established those bona fides simply by being able to list all those strips without having to reference anything in advance, let’s be honest — but to point out that Smith was someone who made a point to keep busy on a number of different projects during this time, with a number of different attitudes on display in each of them. There wasn’t just one “John Smith” flavor, if that makes sense.

And yet, I always knew when Smith was writing something, even as a teen who wasn’t the most adept at understanding the nuances of author’s tics or how to identify recurring themes and obsessions to identify a creator. Revisiting his work en masse as I have been, I realize what clued me in was, of all things, Smith’s language, and the ways in which he’d write things in such a way to be… emotionally centered, rather than practically so, if that makes sense…?

Looking at it today, I can recognize that Smith was using techniques he’d lifted from contemporary poets and literary prose in how he approached language; there would be blocks of purple prose, or sentences in fragments to establish a mood or a feeling, all of which felt brand new and exciting to the me I was back then. I feel as if, in his way, Smith opened up a space in my brain for an appreciation of non-linear writing, and more experimental writing, just by being in that Judge Dredd comic when I was at the right age to learn. I’m forever grateful for that.

Good Night, Good Night

Despite the weather shitshow that Portland has seemed intent on delivering lately — it’s April, why are we having to deal with snow showers and the temperature dropping below freezing seemingly every night? — it is, nonetheless, still edging towards summer, and my body is clearly preparing for this eventuality by refusing to keep me asleep past 5:45am.

This isn’t the worst thing in the world, I know; at the very least, I’ve been able to see some genuinely beautiful sunrises, as the sky shifts through colors in order to find the right setting for the day, all soundtracked by insistent and excited birdsong. There’s something about that being the start to your day that feels refreshing and invigorating, as if the world is waking up with you and you’re connected with something larger than yourself. I’m not complaining about that part of it.

I’m also not complaining about the opportunity waking up early has afforded me to both catch up on reading and, in a couple of cases, catch up on or get ahead of writing deadlines. There’s been a lot going on in the last few weeks, and even just that extra hour or so has proven to be a welcome godsend of quiet and brain space that’s been impossibly useful.

No, what I’m complaining about is the price my early wake-ups have taken from me. Now, no matter what, I am entirely done with the day by 10 o’clock at night; 10:30 at the latest. I don’t just mean that I’m sleepy, although I am; I mean that my body just basically makes the choice for me that the day is over, and I realize that I have maybe half an hour to get into bed before I’m out like a light.

It’s not as if I’ve ever really been a night owl, but this feels like next level tiredness, and a reminder that I’m that little bit closer to 50 every single day. Only old people are this tired at night, I think to myself as I start wrapping things up at 9:30 in the evening, and that’s just what I am, now.

It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

Every single year without exception, tax time stresses me out. It’s something I struggle through from the moment I start thinking about taxes — usually somewhere in mid-December, because the year’s ending and oh boy I should start putting together that expenses list again — to the moment everything is filed and I’ve put the checks in the mail. (Yes, I pay the majority of things online; for some reason, though, I always pay Portland’s Arts Tax with a check. It’s the one thing I use my checks for, still. That’s not a joke; literally the last time I used my checkbook was this time last year, to write a check for Arts Tax.)

The stress surrounding taxes comes in waves, in different flavors. Gathering together all the information I need in the first place, and stressing simultaneously about how little money I made in any year and how much of it I spent on things that are literally unavoidable, like rent and groceries. (Honestly, my discretionary spending is shockingly low; I just can’t afford it.) Wondering if I’ve missed some expense, some information that would change all the math. Checking where all my 10-99 forms have gone. (One year, I’ll remember to store them all in one place as they arrive, I promise.)

And then there’s the anxious wait for my CPA to tell me how bad things are, and the feeling of, welp, I guess I didn’t want to save any money after all when I actually get the information back. I didn’t use an accountant for many years, and then the first year that I did, he told me that I’d been missing out on a lot of possible benefits I could have claimed, but also that I’d been failing to pay a freelance tax for years; after that, having a tax guy became a must.

I’ve mailed everything off for the year as I write. But even now, the stress isn’t entirely over: what if this is the year I get audited? What if there’s a mistake in there I didn’t catch? Surely there’s some way I could do this better? Maybe a month from now, I’ll be able to think of something else again.

The Takeaway

So, yeah, things are getting busier again for me.

Part of the current flurry of activity for me right now, at least when it comes to work, is trying to consider just how much I can handle, and how to structure my time to help that happen to the best of my ability. This kind of introspection is very much the product of not having been quite so busy for at least the last year, and having fallen out of practice of simply just keeping my head down and producing, without too much reflection of what that means and what costs such an attitude have; nonetheless, it’s still an unexpected level of self-analysis that runs contrary to the story I’d previously told myself, where I could get everything done as long as I just made it happen.

I’m recognizing my limits, as they exist today: the rhythms I’ve developed as to when I’m at my most productive, and the space I need between projects in order to recalibrate my head. I’ve learned, already, the amount of downtime I need at the end of the day, at weekends, to allow my brain a chance to relax, and allow me a life outside of work and simply fulfilling physical needs. The upshot of this is that, as I take note and relearn just what I’m capable of, I’ll eventually be more productive and able to juggle multiple projects again with something approaching ease, or at least easier than it’s been.

Part of all of this, though, is also that difficult thing of realizing that I can’t do everything, and that I’m going to make mistakes or miss deadlines — self-imposed deadlines, at least; thankfully, I haven’t blown any official deadlines yet — and that that’s okay. That’s maybe the hardest part of all this re-evaluation: accepting that, of course, at some point I’m going to fuck up. It’s inevitable, and it’s also understandable, given everything being asked of me, even by myself. It’s also not the end of the world, if handled well and humbly.

Or, at least, that’s the new story I tell myself.

D’Ya Wanna Be On Top?

In our search for appropriately mindless, entertaining post-work, post-getting kid in bed nighttime viewing, we’ve arrived at binging seasons of the dearly-departed America’s Next Top Model, and, man. Let me tell you.

How we ended up here was, admittedly, somewhat skewed. A couple of weeks ago, there was an article somewhere on the internet — I saw it excerpted at length on Twitter, and unfortunately can’t remember where it actually came from; Insider, maybe? — that purported to be an expose of just how shittily the show had been run, how poorly it treated everyone involved aside from the show’s host and creator Tyra Banks, and just generally the way in which ANTM was, in fact, the worst of reality television. Chloe and I saw that and thought, as you do, we should watch old seasons.

(I’d say, don’t judge, but it’s fine; you probably should.)

Here’s the thing: I remember, vaguely, watching some of the show when it was airing — I love reality TV, after all — but I was never really a fan, for whatever reason. It seemed over the top, but fine if you liked that kind of thing, if that doesn’t seem too dismissive. Dear reader, I was so, so wrong. America’s Next Top Model is a whole special level of trash television.

It’s not that it’s tacky, although it is, nor that it’s geared towards generating the most amount of interpersonal drama possible between its contestants, even though that’s also the case. (There’s definitely a line to be drawn between the editing manipulation here and the far more successful evolution of the same ideas on something like Below Deck.) It’s not even the shocking ego on display from Tyra Banks, and the way in which everyone else on the show seeks to stroke that ego, shamelessly, for attention and approval, even though, wooooooooooo, that is shocking and hilarious at the same time.

More than anything for me, it’s how cheap the show feels, on every level. Even in the latter seasons when it’s been a hit for more than a decade and produced international spin-offs, Top Model has the air of a show being produced on a shoestring by people promising that, as soon as the check clears, everyone will get paid, really. The tension between the self-declared glamor of the show and the clearly limited budget and effort spent on bringing said show to the screen is, repeatedly, breathtaking and hilarious. It’s impossible to look away from.

Add Sugar, Add Tea

I couldn’t not tell you why this happens to be the case, but in the last few days I’ve found myself wanting to write something entirely different from what I normally do; I don’t know if it’s simply needing to take a mental break, or wanting to stretch new muscles or some combination of the two, but it’s been a running theme in my head recently.

Specifically, I’ve wondered what it would be like to write guides to everyday tasks. You know the kinds of things: step-by-step methodologies to things that we all do every day without even really thinking about it, to help someone less skilled in whatever task get better at it. Every morning, as I make tea for myself and Chloe, I think to myself, I wonder what it would be like to write a guide to making a good cup of tea.

Of course, it’s the kind of idea doomed to failure; I couldn’t write something entirely dryly without breaking character, I’m pretty sure — nor, to be honest, something that I’d want to not break character at least once — but also, it’s something that I suspect I’d lose interest in quickly because there are inevitably going to be other things demanding my attention that, you know, pay my bills, and that’s something that tends to win out in the competition for my affections. (I’m so mercenary.)

And yet. And yet.

I want to write something like, if only there were more hours in the day, but the honest fact is, if there were more hours in the day, it would be great to use them on things that don’t involve me sitting in front of a computer or an iPad. What I really mean, I think, is that I occasionally (more than occasionally) wish there was more space in my brain to do things that remind me that writing was a hobby and one I loved, before writing became my job. Even if it means writing instructions for someone to make a cup of tea.

Look Out The Window, What Do You See?

There is, I’m sure, a specific word to describe the feeling I had yesterday when standing outside in a t-shirt and pants — no sweater, no jacket, no hat — basking in the sun and actually, honestly, swear-to-god feeling the warmth of the sun on my head and shoulders and realizing that, maybe really honestly, the winter is coming to an end.

In younger days, I embraced the cold and the overcast; sometimes, I even appreciated the rain, although growing up in the west coast of Scotland, that wasn’t something I did that often. The summer and, more importantly, the idea of enjoying sunshine and warmth was something that I had definitively decided was Something That Other People Did. Not for me, the t-shirt weather of even San Francisco in the summer; I’d ride the bus downtown to work and grimace at the sun in the sky, squinting when it got in my eyes.

Portland, then, felt like a godsend when I arrived. The weather here was just like I’d grown up with, after all, with actual seasons after almost a decade of generic, unchanging Bay Area pleasantness. Within weeks of getting here, there was a snowstorm that I was in no way prepared for, and I was thrilled to freeze my backside off upon discovering that.

Maybe it’s just the increasing length of the winters that have changed that — I’m fairly sure that March marked the changeover from winter to spring when I first got here,  although that might be an entirely faulty memory at work — or simply the reality of getting older and less tolerant of atmospheric conditions that are, let’s be blunt, uncomfortable and not entirely enjoyable to anyone with a lick of sense. Nonetheless, just as seasons change, so has my response to said seasons. I may not be becoming a summer person just yet, but I’m at least making it to spring.

That said, it’s gone from high 70s and sunny yesterday to low 50s and blustery today, so perhaps the weather is trying to tell me not to get too comfortable just yet.