It Looks Like We Made It

It feels oddly important to me that I can actually remember the first time that I saw the Monkees movie Head — not just in the sense of, “if I sit down and really think about it, I can work out where I would have been when it happened,” but as in, I can actually remember the feeling of where I was when I saw it for the first time like a sense memory.

It was the 1990s, and I was in Aberdeen, an art student who was both very much into POP as an idea and an aesthetic — of course I was, I was in my early 20s and it was the era of Britpop, who like me wasn’t into pop at that time? — and into the idea of a counter culture that commented on and hijacked the mainstream for its own ends. I had been reading Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles at the time, and following all the threads that came from that (situationists! Autocritiques! The joy of the spectacle!), and also seeing things that connected from that to other reading I was doing at the time (Lipstick Traces by Greil Marcus, and other pop-culture writing that focused on punk and rebellion; again, I was in my early 20s), so it proved to be a very surreal experience watching Head for the first time knowing nothing about it other than it starred the Monkees, and finding it to be this weird, wonderful collection of a million things that had been living in my head for awhile, disconnected.

I watched it on television, late at night. I think it was either after a night out or a party at mine — the former, I think, although I did put a video of it on after a party months later, sharing the joy — and I wasn’t prepared. I’d grown up with The Monkees, the TV show, which seemed on re-runs pretty often when I was a kid, strangely enough, and that was reason enough not just to tune in, but to record it at the time. (I did the same thing with Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, which I seem to remember was shown immediately before or after it; that one, at least, was advertised as a messy counter-culture classic.) I can remember lying on the couch while everyone else was asleep and just being amazed by what I was seeing, thinking, “This is the movie I always wanted to exist and didn’t think could.”

Thirty years later — well, almost, at least 28 — and I still think that about it; it’s a movie that I think of worryingly often, and still with no small amount of hushed awe that it was ever made, or fit so clearly and so easily into what I was thinking at the time. To this day, Head still feels like a magic trick that I can’t work out how it was done.

The Other End of the Telescope

When I was interviewing for the Popverse editor gig, a couple people politely inquired whether or not I’d miss writing, because I wouldn’t be doing it so much; I glibly answered no, and that I’d probably still be writing as much as ever, but in different directions and for different purposes, but the reality is that’s not turned out to be the case; it really has been more administrative and strategic than I’d initially assumed, and I’ve found the make-up of my work day shifting as a result… and I’ve been thinking more about writing.

In one way or another, I’ve been an entertainment journalist for two decades. I’ve worked at a worrying amount of outlets, covering a worrying amount of topics — oh, who can remember my time as a “tech writer,” because that was what paid the bills? — and in a worrying amount of styles. I’ve prided myself on my ability to adapt to the needs of others’ guides: if I needed to write longer or shorter, to focus on one particular audience or another, to speak in whatever voice was required of me. The problem with that is, of course, that your own voice becomes lost a little as a result… to the point where, if you’re not paying enough attention, you start to lose track of it entirely.

(I do wonder how much of that bleeds over here, where I am always trying to write relatively un-self-consciously; have there been noticeable shifts as I jump from gig to gig, from role to role, and I’ve just not seen them, because I’m at the center of it all…? If I think about that too much, I get embarrassed and second-guess myself, so best not.)

All of this is in my head as I try to construct a working theory of what I want as an editor, in terms of the voice, the approach, the everything for writers working for the site moving forward. I find myself lapsing into vagueness unintentionally: speaking in feelings and metaphors instead of practical, concrete steps and tips. Approaching these topics from the other side, I realize how much it’s like creating an entire language, a code that you want others to understand and be fluent in, even as you rip it up and re-arrange it for yourself in real time around them.

It’s far easier to adapt to someone else’s editorial edicts than make your own, for me — I feel my therapist would look at that and go, hmm, interesting. Say more — and, as I find my way forward and find my footing in the process, there’s something valuable and new and exciting in the process. Something exhausting, too, but that’s literally the job.

Your Memories On

I don’t use Facebook, much. If this had been, say, a year or so ago, I would’ve told you that I didn’t use it at all, because that was before I’d had to sign in daily for work reasons — suddenly, I was one of the people responsible for Popverse’s Facebook presence! — but, even with those daily visits, I find myself keeping to myself when it comes to personal business. I don’t post on there, and while I quietly, silently peruse the feed of friends and former friends telling me what they’re up to and what they’re watching, eating, or complaining about, I don’t even hit the Like or Comment buttons to let them know I’m out there. I’m a ghost.

For a long time, that’s because I was on Twitter instead; that was my chosen social media, up until… a year ago? Perhaps a little more? I pulled away from that slightly when Elon Musk bought the site, and then continued to step even further out the door every day since. Today, I’m barely there except for, again, work reasons. But even those seem less and less worthwhile, as Twitter (which is now, officially, “X” as of a few weeks back, redirecting entirely and signing everyone out in the process) becomes more and more noise and no signal, just bots and right wing idiots filling up the feed and twisting algorithms for whatever fucking purpose seemed like an idea at the time.

Back to Facebook, though. I stopped posting there at some point because, in the marriage I was in at the time, Facebook belonged to my wife while Twitter was “mine.” It’s funny to think about that now; an early division of labor and digital assets years before we split. It made it easier when we did split, though, because it wasn’t as if we’d be tripping over each other. I remember, when I changed my status to “divorced,” the system asked me if I wanted to mute her posts to save myself from pain. There’s some kind of Black Mirror-esque irony there, if I’d wanted to look for it.

Facebook still feels very “not for me,” which is funny to consider when it offers me alerts with titles like “Your Memories on Facebook” on a daily basis. I have no memories on Facebook — not real ones, anyway, not meaningful ones or anything that actually connects me to the platform in a manner that I’d find myself missing it if it disappeared. Instead, when I click on those alerts, all I see are memes or posts without context from more than a decade ago, feeling like radio signals out of another life.

All Over The World Tonight

Due to a combination of this year being my 50th birthday, a short burst of free time, and being inspired by someone else’s collection of old zines, I spent a couple hours recently looking through old files of work from… well, a long, long time ago. How long ago? If I tell you that most of the files were impossible to open because the platform that created them stopped being supported by their makers more than a decade ago, that might give you a clue. (Yes, it was a depressing discovery; I should have turned them all into PDFs when I had the chance.)

However, this dive into my own nostalgia did help me discover something I hadn’t realized, and which felt quite special, surprisingly: this month marks the 25th anniversary of the time the Scottish Arts Council paid me to go to Venice to visit and write about the Biennale for that year… which means that this is the 25th anniversary of the first professional writing gig I ever had.

That this happens the year I turn 50 — meaning that I have quite literally been a professional writer for half my life, which I genuinely hadn’t realized — feels quite the discovery, and an unexpected gift to me, the man who remains attached to signs and wonders and numerology despite not being good at math.

It’s a bit of a cheat to say that was the start of my professional writing career, maybe, despite it being technically true — I did, after all, get paid to go and write about the experience — it was close to a decade later before I got paid to write again, so maybe this counts as a preview of what was to come rather than the start of a career. (I had to move countries and spend some time in telesales before I really got started, as it turned out.) But I still remember how it felt to be told that it was happening, and the feeling that maybe people wanted to read what I had to say and how that felt like a responsibility and an honor and the start of something unexpected and important.

It was, even if that took awhile to arrive. I’m glad I realized it was the 25th anniversary while it was still the 25th anniversary, if that makes sense.

Catching Up

“How’s your week been?” the message asked, entirely innocuously and genuinely; I was chatting to a friend on the work Slack and we’d been commiserating about something that had utterly failed to come together for reasons outside everyone’s control, and they asked the question. My first thought was to say, similarly genuinely, that I had no idea.

It’s become a running joke with friends to talk about how the way in which everything feels low key overwhelming at any given point these days; Jeff and I will check up on each other weekly and our calls are variations on, “Man, this week was a lot,” only for the other one to say something along the lines of, “Yeah, and wait until you hear about my week.” It’s not that we’re trying to outdo each other, as much as it feels as if things are just constantly, perpetually in flux and complicated. As the Scott Pilgrim blurb almost said, almost 20 years ago, “things just keep happening.”

How has the week been? It’s been full, no matter what week you’re aksing about. It’s had questions I’ve struggled to answer (increasingly so, since getting the new job), and it’s left me unable to take care of everything I needed to take care of — I now have a notebook where I made lists of all of these things that need to get done the next day and there’s at least one thing left off by the end of the week because who has the time — and it’s likely left me dizzy and dazed at the end of each workday while I struggle to get my head around everything… and, the strangest thing is, I think I might like it?

I know that’s counterintuitive and makes no sense. There’s something about the pace of it that feels curiously right, though, and almost enjoyable. Like something I’m learning, slowly but surely, to get on top of and master. There’s something about these weeks lately that I feel as if they’re teaching me some kind of skill that I can’t name, but want to understand and take advantage of. I can’t really explain what that means beyond that just yet, but that also feels part of the learning curve.

I get to the end of the week and feel exhausted. But it also feels like I’m getting closer to something in the process, whatever that may be. So it’ll do for now, no matter how tiring it is.

Put the X in the box

I admit it; I am utterly obsessed with the UK general election right now. I eagerly pour over the news as it unfolds, with a tab open on my browser to live election coverage as I work. (Not that I actually check said tab all the time, because, well… work. But it’s there, as this constant reminder to just sneak a look and see what’s happening.) It’s not simply that I become unnaturally interested in election seasons in the UK and US traditionally — something I can and do attribute to my dad, who did the same thing; I have fond memories of him staying up to watch the returns every time there was a general election in the UK, him always being eager for things to change — but that, this general election in particular… well, it’s just wild.

There’s something about this one that’s just funny, for want of a better way to put it. (There has to be a better way to put it; there’s so much at stake in this election in the UK, just as there’s so much at stake in our election here in the US this year, too.) Think about the announcement in the first place, and how mishandled that was, with Rishi Sunak ending up drenched through and being drowned out by a sound system nearby. Think about the fact that one of Sunak’s policies was essentially a return of the draft, as if anyone would think that’s a good idea or something to convince young people to vote for you. Or that Sunak left D-Day anniversary proceedings early to go and do an interview and then asked people not to politicize it.

I’m sure that the other parties are also doing things, but that’s not what’s got me so fascinated. Nope, if this election has a story, it’s that the Conservative Party is running a campaign that is so utterly disorganized and unprofessional that it feels fictional — and holding my breath to see what this means when the actual voting arrives on July 4. UK votes have felt like clues about where the US is going to go for awhile, and I keep reading about how completely shambolic the Conservatives are in the UK and thinking, please let them be punished for this, please don’t let them somehow win despite it all simply because I need to think that maybe, just maybe, there’s a consequence to being so obviously inept and uncaring that could be reflected over here, as well.

Fingers crossed, right?

The Movies of May 2024

I think I might be missing something off this list; I’m half-convinced that I watched another movie between Self-Portrait — hi, indie art films on Mubi! — and Saturday Night Fever, but I’ll be damned if I can remember what it would have been. Of note in this list: The Velvet Underground really doesn’t shy away from Lou Reed being a dick, wonderfully; Oppenheimer may be a movie that wrestled me into submission purely through exhaustion, because I’m not actually sure that it’s good, but I found myself warming to it by the end, somehow; Saturday Night Fever, which I haven’t seen in decades — I think I saw it on TV when I was a teenager? — is very much not the movie I remembered it being, to its benefit. (I also wonder if the UK television version quietly worked the rapes out of the movie; I certainly didn’t remember them…)