There’s A Page Back In History

BIll Drummond’s 45 is one of those books for me; a core text, something I read at an impressionable age — the internet tells me it came out in 2000, which means I was 25 when I first read it, most likely — that resonated with me for reasons I still don’t fully comprehend almost two decades later.

It’s a series of essays, if you can call them that — in many ways, their length, their tone, their digressive nature, all makes me feel as if they were accidental forerunner for the way people, me especially, write online, but this was pre-internet as we know it now — all written around the time that Drummond turned 45, but almost none of them are written about turning 45. Instead, it’s a combination of half-remembered stories told in a charmingly shaggy dog fashion, and unfinished thoughts about all manner of things, including how to just live your life. It’s rambling, messy, kind and effortlessly charming.

It was a revelation when I read it. I’ll admit, I bought it initially not because of the writing — I’m not sure I’d even read anything by Drummond beforehand — but because I’d read a couple of positive reviews and because, more than anything, I liked the format of the original release in an art school fashion; it was called 45, and it was a 7-inch-by-7-inch release, like an old 45″ vinyl record. How could I resist? That the writing felt like a series of letters from an old friend was this unexpected, amazing, bonus.

I remember, upon reading it for that first time, the feeling that Drummond had started the book, was writing all of this, because 45 as an age was this significant milestone that denoted something in particular. After all, when I pictured my parents, they were always in their mid-40s in my mind. (At that precise moment in my life, they were both in their late 50s, but reality be damned.) 45 was the age, then, that I imagined being a demarkation point of some kind: the age when you were properly, definitively old.

I tell you all of this because I turned 45 last week, and aside from wondering if it actually meant something, aside from all the aches and pains from the exercise of the surrounding days (It happened during New York Comic Con), I can happily report that I just feel the same as ever, however old that happens to be.

Here I Am, Lord, Knocking At Your Back Door

As you read this, I’ll just have returned from New York and New York Comic Con for the year. It’ll have been the… fourth one I attended, I think…? Maybe the fifth; time and memory are weird that way. It’s a show I enjoy, but the reason for attending each year — besides the fact that I’m there for work — is that it allows me to fly to the other coast and spend time in New York City for a few days.

The first time I was there was in 1998, on a trip with art school. I was somewhere between student and teacher on the trip; I was studying for my MA and was unofficially helping the actual teachers keep track of all the other students, which basically amounted to being available in case of emergency. (The closest thing to an emergency was when a gang of students got in trouble for drinking out of open containers on the street; in the end, they apologized and promised to behave, and almost fulfilled that promise.)

I remember wandering the streets, listening to music a lot. I was listening to Primal Scream, David Holmes, that kind of urban sprawl of music and feeling very in tune with everything going on around me. The city felt alive, but unsettling, dangerous and filled with potential of anything and everything happening at any point. I’d search out bookstores to recharge and feel comfortable, I remember; they felt familiar and alien at the same time. It was thrilling.

I went back to New York a number of times after that, periodically, but the circumstance was always different. Last year’s NYCC trip was, oddly, the first time it felt like that 1998 trip again; two decades later, but feeling as simultaneously lost and full of potential as I has 20 years earlier. I walked the length on Manhattan the first morning I was there without realizing, thinking, this is how everything is supposed to feel, and once again listening to Primal Scream on my headphones.

What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know

I was talking to my therapist about the ways in which my brain forgets things to protect me.

Specifically, we were talking about the fact that I can’t remember the exact date that I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-wife. It’s something I could work out if I had to, if I sat down and really thought about it, but instead I identify it as if it’s a physical location I’m giving directions to to a stranger; I describe it in proximity to other landmarks that are more easily identified.

In telling her this, she asked if there was a reason I don’t pin it to a specific date, and I made the comment that my brain was stopping me from obsessing about the details; that, if I did automatically think of the date, I’d be unable to stop counting down to the anniversary, or thinking about it nonstop on the day itself.

It was one of those things you say in the moment that may or may not be true, may be a joke, but feels real, if that makes sense…? In the days since, though, I keep returning to that idea — that my brain knows the dumb, unhelpful stuff that it does, and sometimes steps in to prevent those things from happening.

Despite the fact that I even have a therapist — someone I now consider pretty essential to keeping me running, if I’m honest — I don’t really think too much about how my brain actually works, or the things that my subconscious (or, occasionally, conscious mind) does to get me through life. The notion that , on some level, my head is aware of how screwy and obsessive it can be on certain subjects, and has built a way around it, feels at once surreal and literally awesome to me.

It makes me very aware, briefly, of how little I truly know what’s happening inside me to keep me going, mentally and emotionally just as much as physically — the last of which has been a longtime mystery and marvel to me, this thing of continual aren’t bodies incredible? — which, in turn, makes me feel at once very small in the grand scheme of things, and also immense and amazing.

Thank you, brain. Thanks for all your work, I guess.

Secret Origins

When I was going through all my paperwork a few weeks ago, I discovered what was a complete set of thumbnails for a (seemingly complete) short comic strip that was part 1950s DC Comics parody and part loving tribute to 2000 AD. I have no recollection of writing/drawing it, nor do I have any clue when I would have done so — based on the fact that it was on paper from a particular sketchbook, I’d say that it’s more than a decade old, and from when I was still living in San Francisco, but that’s just a guess — but the strangest thing was reading it and going, “Oh, that’s right, I guess that was something I did once, I guess?”

There was a point where I wanted to make comics. To be exact, there have been multiple points where I wanted to do it, and in various ways; when I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be a comic book artist, to the point where I even took samples to a convention and showed them to… someone? (I sadly can’t remember who, or even from what publisher. I do remember how nervous I was, and how I could not hear the encouragement being offered over the “You’re not quite ready yet” rejection.)

Later, when I was newly in the United States, I wanted to be a comic book writer, kind of. I actually had a few brushes with the possibility that didn’t happen for various reasons, but one of the recurring impediments was the fact that, deep down, I didn’t really want to be a comic book writer; I was convinced that I’d be no good and so never went the distance, despite those on the sidelines egging me on at various times.

(Sometimes, I look back at one of the opportunities available to me that I all-but-bailed on and want to eat my fist, but I digress.)

Which is what makes this thumbnailed short so surprising. I don’t know why I did it, or if it was intended for any particular purpose. Had I promised something to someone? (If so, I guess I didn’t deliver) Was it something I did just for fun? Was there some part of me, at whatever time I made it, that still wanted to do comics?

All I know now is, I’m tempted to go find those pages again and see if I could draw them now. Just to see what they’d look like.

Wandering (Never)

The other day, for reasons I can’t really comprehend, I found myself thinking about the streets of Aberdeen, where I went to art school. Specifically, I found myself thinking about the main commercial street — Market Street — and the way it would feel walking along it at night, on the way to or from something more interesting.

Perhaps it was the street — which was nothing special, really; a street filled with department stores and a bridge and that was about it, really — or more likely, the age I was at the time, the way that life felt in general, but I can’t think about Market Street without there being a feeling that, even though there was nothing unusual or unlikely about it, there was a magic to be found there. Or, perhaps, a possibility. Especially at night, for some reason.

Nights on Market Street, everything looked different. The streetlights turned everything orange, but flat, as well; what was traditionally three dimensional turned into a theater set, with background actors wandering around to try and make it feel authentic. I’d almost certainly be listening to music on headphones as I walked along it, and so my memories are always soundtracked by Blur, Primal Scream, David Holmes and, weirdly, Bernard Butler.  (It was the 1990s, and I was — am — a Britpop kid.)

It would, with the exception of a few weeks of each year, be surprisingly cold but I’d rarely notice. Seagulls would swoop down to steal people’s takeaway chips , periodically, but otherwise everything would feel still as I walked past. These are very specific sense memories that feel crystal clear, despite being almost certainly false. It’s odd to be nostalgic for something that never actually happened.

Birthday To You

This Saturday would be my father’s 78th birthday, if he were still alive. Instead, it’ll be another day of ghost feelings; one where the thought of him will linger but not stay ever present, and another year where I’ll struggle to imagine what life would be like if he were still around.

The idea of him being alive still becomes more difficult to conjure with each day, as potentially bad as that may be to admit. Nonetheless, it’s true; so much of my life now is entirely alien to how it was before he died. I wonder, often, how he would have dealt with my divorce, or, a decade earlier,  the move to Portland — he would have liked it here, I always imagine — or even just my day-to-day life. I didn’t become a full time writer until after his death; given his own ambitions in that direction, I often wish he could have seen that.

(I have many childhood memories of standing in the office, surrounded by piles of paper next to a typewriter that were explained away as my dad’s novel-in-progress. I never read them, which I regret more and more as I get older, but I also have no memory of my dad ever sitting at that typewriter and working, so perhaps the novel never actually existed…?)

As terrible as it is to say, I don’t actually think of him, or my mother, often. During big life events, or around their birthdays, or Christmas. (My dad died on Christmas Eve.) I feel guilty about that, as if I should be keeping them in my heart and mind more often, but I also know that both would find that idea suspicious, if not downright ridiculous.

Perhaps the most fitting tribute I can pay is just to do my best going forward, but every now and then, I find myself imagining if they’d stuck around, if things had been different.

When The World Is Yours

I’m reminded, in the mornings now, of waking up when I was a kid. I was one of six people in my house back then, alongside both my parents, two sisters, and my grandmother (my dad’s mother, who we called Babbie; it was a corruption of her given name, Barbara, and “granny,” coined by my oldest sister when a baby). Waking up would be, for me, a calm before the storm.

I was never the first awake, even though I was an early riser — that wouldn’t happen until college, when I’d have to set an alarm to make sure I caught the early train to Glasgow — but, as a kid, I’d wake up after Babbie and my mum. They’d be awake downstairs, my mum in the kitchen having coffee, cigarettes and a crossword, Babbie in the living room, listening to the radio or watching breakfast TV. I’d be awake before my sisters, though, and before my dad, so there wouldn’t be the noise of a household of six immediately.

I’d wake up and lie in bed. I’d read, or when I reached teenagerdom, jerk off, and it would be quiet out there. The sky would get lighter as the sun decided to do its business, and I’d pick up clothes and head out of the room and into the day. But that period between waking up and getting up, that was everything.

That’s what I remember now, when I wake up. There’s another period now, between waking up and getting up, where I just lie in bed and read. (Or write; that’s when I’m writing this, for example. Sorry, jerking off fans. It’s reading or writing only these days.) There’s something special about this time, in ways that I still don’t fully comprehend, but it’s important to me that I have this small sliver of peace before I get up, pick up clothes, and head out of the room and into the day. Something sacred, almost, three, four decades after that was first the case.

The Importance of Being Idle

By now, I’ve got San Diego Comic-Con coverage down to a fine art. (Writing that ahead of time, as I’m doing, is tempting fate; for all you know, I might actually be having a mild nervous breakdown as you read these words.) I’ve been covering the show as press for more than a decade at this point, which is honestly somewhat surreal to think about, but it’s also allowed me to have a reasonable sense of what is needed and when, and how to do it. I actually — as shocking as it may be to actually admit — enjoy the show now, working it and the surreal experience of the whole thing, and the pressure of work that comes with it.

Part of that is, mind you, that the amount of work I do for THR, who I’ve been covering the show for for the past few years, is significantly less than other outlets. (The io9 days, I still shiver when remembering.) That’s not to say that I’m not actually working, mind you; it’s just that I know what I need to do and I know I can do it. The stress level is significantly lessened from previous visits.

There was, however, one year when I really did pretty much do almost no work at the show. Or, rather, I didn’t do anything immediately. I was working for an outlet I won’t name for fear of embarrassing anyone related to it, but the decision had been made that the approach to coverage would be very different on that year, compared with others. The many of us who were attending on behalf of this outlet were tasked with three things:

  1. Posting images and brief commentary on the outlet’s liveblog throughout the show.
  2. Interviewing people for stories to be written and posted after the convention.
  3. Working on a large thinkpiece-type story to be posted after the convention, but focusing on a trend or news story that we found at the show.

As if this didn’t seem breezy enough, midway through the show, I discovered that the third option was off the table, meaning that I could pretty much wander around, talking to people who seemed interesting and taking the occasional photo, and that counted as work.

At this point, I’d been to Comic-Con as press perhaps four or five times, and each year had been a shitshow in a series of new and increasingly ridiculous ways. Suddenly, I was given this surreal gift of being able, essentially, to have a vacation at Comic-Con. It was an utter joy, and even as it was happening, I knew it would never be this good ever again.

(Yet, despite the above, I still think that Comic-Con 2018 was the highlight of all my years at the show.)

Those Were The Days, My Friend

It’s the first day of San Diego Comic-Con 2019. (Well, it’ll soon be Preview Night, technically; but that’s the first day, really.) As you read this, I’ll be in the air on the way to the show itself, but I thought I’d share this piece of Comic-Con ephemera — me on Preview Night 2008, looking every bit of the excitable nerd that I was back in the day. (Look at that smile.) I’m pretty sure this is the first year that I covered the show as press.

Please, Just Leave Me Be

Watching the second season of Killing Eve, I had the most unexpected sense memory. Despite the fact that I, too, have been to many of the glamorous locations in the show — despite not being a psychopathic assassin with exquisite dress sense — it wasn’t seeing Villanelle or Eve wandering the streets of Paris or Rome that made me feel the pang of nostalgia, but instead a scene of Villanelle lying on a hotel bed, MTV on in the background.

There was a period in my life where I was traveling more than I do these days — which is to say, barely, and only ever for work — and I’d find myself in hotel rooms in countries where I didn’t speak the language on multiple locations. Every single time, I’d end up finding MTV on the television and basically living with that as the soundtrack to my stay.

It wasn’t the music that I wanted, many times just the opposite, with me complaining internally about the videos on rotation — MTV Europe still favoring music videos at the time I’m talking about; I don’t even know if it still exists. What I wanted, simply, was the voices saying words that I’d understand. It grounded me in a strangely reassuring way, despite how banal and meaningless what those words might be when strung together in that particular order.

I would rarely actually watch what was on MTV. It was background noise, there to reassure and little else. It became the sound of me being out of touch with the world and needing something to ground me, just a little.

With that in mind, the fact that I found myself searching out, and being disappointed by, MTV the last time I was back in Scotland and on my own for a few hours feels as if it’s saying something important. I’m just not entirely sure what.