This Time, No Escape, I Wake Up

It’s a week, as you read this, until the start of this year’s San Diego Comic-Con. I’m writing this about two weeks earlier. Nonetheless, you’ll all be happy to know that I have already reached the stage of San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams.

They happen every year, and it’s always some variation of “Something has come up to complicate the fact that I’m covering SDCC for work, and I have to deal with the problem in some manner that is both inventive and relatively low impact to my stress level and workload.” (For example, this year, the problem was that there was not enough news to report, but we had a certain quota of stories and word count to fulfill, so how do we turn the lack of news into the story that we’re writing about?)

The question is never, “Am I going to get San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams?” It is, without doubt, when am I going to get San Diego Comic-Con Stress Dreams?

To be honest, it not happening until three weeks before the show feels like a victory of sorts; there have been years when I’ve had them more than a month out, and just continued to have them on a seemingly nightly basis up until the show itself. (That made for an exhausting run-up to what is, easily, the most exhausting and stressful week of my year, every year.)

Despite the fact that they are, most clearly, stress dreams — and therefore, particularly un-relaxing — there is something comforting about these dreams, when they show up. It feels as if it’s my subconscious checking in with me, and reminding me that SDCC is just around the corner. It is, I’ve come to accept, a reminder that I do still care about all of this stuff, no matter how cynical I may pretend to be, even to myself, at times.

Don’t Call

I hate the phone.

I always used to think I was unusual in this; I had friends, for years, who’d spend all their time on the phone, it felt like. They’d talk to friends and family and come up with new and varied reasons to spend all the time talking and talking and talking, and I was just not a fan.

I would put this down to my time working at a telemarketing company, for a long time. I’d burned out on the phone, I’d tell myself; I’d used it too much on a daily basis for 8-10 hour shifts, and that ruined the idea for me. How else could I explain the exhaustion I felt at the very idea of talking to someone on the phone for any length of time?

The irony being, I actually liked my job; I liked talking to people on the phone in that setting. The weird, unexpected conversations I’d have there! It was consistently new and surprising, even on the worst days; it was like a way of remembering how unusual and unique and special people are, if you just take the time to listen. It was the prospect of doing it outside of work that just made me want to find any other alternative whatsoever.

Now, of course, I know that’s not true — I just share a dislike of the phone that almost everyone I know does, these days, or so it feels. It’s at once comforting, because, hey, I’m not alone, and also slightly depressing, as if I’ve lost some little moment of uniqueness. I am a contrary person, sadly.

All of this comes to mind as I end a week where I’ve spent far, far too long on the phone. As much as I dislike the phone in general, having to use it for work every day of the week is somehow even worse than usual.

Ignorance Is

As odd as it may be, I can remember the first time I thought to myself, Maybe this internet is bad after all. I was writing Fanboy Rampage!!! at the time, diving into the nascent comics internet every morning for pearls and/or the opportunity to snark and express my disdain and pretense of moral superiority, and that brought with it some interactions that were less than fun. (It’s strange to consider that something I did 17 years ago created enmity that to this day plagues my career, but there we go.)

These days, the idea that the internet isn’t a good thing feels oddly universal and widely accepted. For all the good that it’s done — and I genuinely believe that it has done a lot of good — there’s this general agreement that, really, when it comes down to it, the internet has been a net loss for humanity. And I say that as someone who only has the life that I have right now because of the internet, for better and worse. (Almost entirely better, I’ll be honest.)

I do this thing every Thursday and Friday — realistically, it’s more like “a little bit on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then a chunk of my Thursday and Friday,” but we’ll keep to those main days — for Wired which is officially called “While You Were Offline,” and unofficially called “Internet Week.” It’s basically a round-up of things that people have been talking about online over the past seven days, and in the past two years, it’s become increasingly political because, well, the world.

Every week, I basically search out some of the dumbest, most banal and occasionally some of the most fascinating things that people are talking about on the internet, and every single week, I find myself surprised by just how much of everything is out there. There’s always something (multiple somethings) to feel shitty about, it’s true, but there’s almost always something good to be found, too. Some random act of kindness, almost certainly, someone sending an unexpected message that can change — can save — someone else’s life.

There days, I find myself focusing more on the latter, at least personally. There’s so much shittiness everywhere, and it’s so easy to be cynical and pessimistic. More often than not, I find myself looking for the things that can put me back to the mindset before I realized, Wait, could this communication medium be bad after all.

And I Can Easily Understand How You Can Easily

I think about ambition sometimes. And the future. These thoughts are not unrelated.

A common question I get asked is, Why don’t you write a book? and my common answer has evolved to be, Once I figure out what I’d want to write a book about, I will. It’s not a dodge; I like the idea of writing a book — even more so, of having written one when it’s finished — but I genuinely don’t know what that book would be, and that feels like a bit of a hurdle to jump, all things considered.

(I have friends who have book agents, who have been approached by publishers and agents to write something based on their work online, and I’ve always been jealous of that. It’s never happened to me, and although I know it’s because I don’t do that kind of writing for the most part, I still find myself thinking that it’s because people can sense my lack of ideas.)

This all comes to mind again reading an interview with a TV writer who was once a journalist, and my thinking, Oh, I wonder if I could do that, and then thinking of the friends who’ve gone from journalism to TV, movies, comics. There are more than a few who’ve made the jump.

They did so because this journalism thing is impermanent, isn’t to be trusted. Writing about pop culture isn’t something I can realistically do for much longer, never mind forever; I’m in my 40s, after all. I should have some kind of long term plan. I need one. And yet. And yet.

My ambition lags behind my necessity. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, for now. And I literally don’t have an idea for what my next step would be, just yet. Maybe tomorrow.

 

Headshrinker

I had a moment in my last therapy session that, in retrospect, probably seemed particularly awkward to my therapist. I was, as is traditional, talking as much to myself as to her, and in doing so, realized that the thing I was talking about that had happened a few days earlier was, in fact, connected to my emotional state at that very moment, as was something else that I’d assumed was unconnected but had been talking about earlier in the session. It was the emotional equivalent of someone explaining how the killer did it at the end of a murder mystery, or seeing the instruction booklet for some complicated device; that same feeling of, “Oh, that’s how it works!”

I realized that, and laughed, and said something along the lines of,”Now I get it! Finally, I got an actual answer about something from therapy!”

It was a joke, of course, and I’m pretty sure my therapist understood that, but now, thinking back, I have this overwhelming guilt that, maybe she didn’t and maybe I accidentally offended her and her entire profession.

The truth is, I was suspicious of therapy for years for the same reason that my sisters are suspicious of therapy; it just wasn’t done in my family, or, for that matter, anyone in the culture we grew up in at all. It was saved for people who had suffered breakdowns or were far more screwed up than we were allowed to think we were. Even when I first went into therapy, I did so with a deep suspicion that it could ever be of any use to me, because I wasn’t that messed up.

The joke was on me, as much as anything that followed could be considered a joke; therapy proved to be entirely revolutionary for me, in terms of my understanding of myself and also what I was capable of, and what I deserved. It’s not an exaggeration to say it changed my life, and perhaps not even one to say that it saved my life.

That’s not to say any of it came easily, or even in a straightforward manner, which is what my self-conscious joke was all about. I don’t “get answers” from therapy in the sense of suddenly having an epiphany and everything falls into place immediately. (I don’t even think it’s supposed to work like that, as much as there’s even a way it’s supposed to work. At least, not for me.) The flash of realization this time around was a new experience, which is what provoked the laughter, and the joke, and then the guilt that followed.

That there was any guilt that followed just underscores the reasons why I see a therapist, of course.

Try Again Later

It’s been a day.

Really, it’s been a week. Maybe more than a week? As I write this, it’s Friday afternoon and there’s been a lot happening over the past week or so, even though I couldn’t tell you what any of it has been. I’m at the point in life, I think, where things as simple as “I didn’t sleep well last night,” or, “I didn’t get that work done when I thought and it’s playing on my mind” can completely wreck my day, which feels somewhat embarrassing to admit. It’s not that I feel old, per se, as much as I just feel curiously tired in unexpected ways, not least of which emotionally and mentally.

A friend — hi Jeff! — has joked that I’m basically at the age where my body should start to fall apart. Unfortunately, as a result, I’ve spent years preparing for that mentally, noting every single twinge and ache and thinking to myself, this is it, it’s finally starting. This mental and emotional fragility is more unexpected, however, and makes me think that maybe I’ve been paying attention to the wrong stuff all along.

(I worry that describing it as fragility makes it sound more dramatic, more deep, than it actually is; really, I’m just very tired.)

I’m reminded, I realize, of my mother, who built her life around a very strict regime of scheduling that included going to bed early each night; somewhere between nine and ten o’clock, depending on whether or not there was something she was watching on TV. As a kid, I was always surprised that she’d seem to go to bed even when she wasn’t sleepy, or didn’t seem so, but know that I’m older, I feel as if I’ve realized her magic trick: She was doing that to avoid sleepiness and exhaustion. Clearly, I need to adopt this plan.

Maybe I’m old, but not too old to stop learning from my parents. On the other hand, perhaps I’m just turning into my mother. There are worse fates.

Won’t You Ring The Alarm?

I have started to hear phantom alarms. This is not a metaphor, although it is most assuredly probably not a good thing.

It started maybe a week ago; I woke up too early in the morning, and the sun was still rising. I laid in bed, with the window open — thank God that Portland is finally getting warm after a long winter from Hell — and listened to the sound of birds chirping, and people starting early morning walks to work. It was very relaxing, until I noticed the alarm in the distance.

More than anything, it sounded like a burglar alarm or a fire alarm at a building some distance away. It wasn’t loud, just the opposite; my first thought was that it sort of faded in and out on the wind, and was almost relaxing in its insistence. It was just present, and constant in its tone when it did appear.

Over the next few days, I’d hear it again. Not always, and never loud. In the back of my head, I thought, Wow, someone needs to get their alarm fixed. It was only when I mentioned this to someone else that I realized something was up; they couldn’t hear anything.

Now, maybe they have bad hearing and I’m the one in the right. But isn’t it more likely that, instead of an alarm going off at random times during the day over and over again, always in the distance, that fades in and out that only I can hear, that I’m imagining it for some reason?

I’m sure this has some meaning, and I’m equally sure it’s not a good one. But, yes; I’ve started to hear phantom alarms, and it’s not a metaphor.

It Must Be Morning, Again

The best mornings are the ones where I wake up and can’t quite believe that it’s so light outside just yet. I’ve accidentally developed the knack for waking up early across the years, and sometimes that’s a thing that means that I wake up too early; at a point that even I have to admit is still technically night.

I remember someone telling me, ten or so years ago, that as they got older, their sleep cycle got ruined. They woke up in the middle of the night, or they’d be unable to fall asleep in the first place, or they’d start waking up at 4 in the morning. All of this was said in the tone of, One day this horror will befall you too. I scoffed, as you do. The same person also told me that, after 50, I’d start to piss myself, so I was used to aging body horror stories from them.

I don’t know if they were right, at least in regards to sleep, but I feel like my waking up creeps ever earlier over time. It’s definitely not what was advertised; I’m still falling asleep with an ease that has irritated many, and it’s rare that I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t fall back to sleep soon enough. But still. (Thankfully, I’m not pissing myself yet, but then again, I’m not 50 yet.)

Right now, I’m waking anywhere between 5:30 and 6:30 in the morning, most days. It’s something that’s frustrating, more than anything else — I wake up too early and I get mad because, well, who wants to be awake before six? — but it’s part of whatever routine by body has created for itself. I wake up, check Twitter and email and the news, and wait for the rest of the world to start for the day.

But it’s better when the sun is out, telling me I won’t have to wait too long.

And If It’s Morning, It Must Be Morning Again

I hadn’t realized how important my morning routine was until it changed. In recent months, I’ve taken to a schedule of purposefully not working until 9am, if I could possibly help it — this really translates to “Not writing,” because I almost always use the time before then to read and do research for future things I will write, including making notes and sending myself links and the like. But I’ve come to consider everything pre-9 as, say, research time as well as breakfast time. A quiet, understated start to the day.

And then, for multiple reasons, that went to hell for the last four days. Deadlines and other things conspired so that, as soon as I was awake, I was writing — I had to be immediately on — and it utterly wrecked me in ways that were genuinely surprising. Without the slow ramp up to it, the checking in on the world through email, Twitter and news sites, the chance for my brain to engage at its own rate, my mood was worse, my anxiety greater. I felt more short-tempered, more behind the curve and needy to catch up.

What made this such a surprise is that, until very recently, that was how I started my day for years. I’d wake up and immediately get up and consider myself in work mode and ready to go. I’d wake up and get to my office straight away. That’s not to say I’d always be writing as soon as I woke up, but I told myself I was ready. Eating happened after 9, and I’d always try to have something accomplished by that point.

It’s only now, having tried this other thing, that I realize how much expectation I was placing on myself, and how much stress I was choosing to put myself under without knowing it. It’s only now that I realize there are better ways to start the day.

Preferably With Less Of A Fetish For The Fall

I think about John Peel too much for someone who rarely listened to his show, way back when. (I did, however, listen to a lot of Home Truths, his Radio 4 show  about families and, well, life; it was filled with his gentle humor and understatedness, and it was a way of connecting to my mother across the Atlantic, who listened to it, too.) But the Peel myth looms large in my head — a man who became famous, if not beloved, because he stayed true to his own taste and rarely compromised it, instead introducing new music and new ideas to people continuously, including himself.

I often find myself wondering who the John Peel of [Insert Media Here] is, looking to find someone who could be trusted as a tastemaker in the same way in different fields, but the older I get, the more I realize that any true John Peel of today wouldn’t look anything like John Peel. It’s that whole contradictory thing, again; what we’re looking for doesn’t look like what we expected. Instead, they’re out there — a gender neutral term because, let’s be honest, the likelihood of a new John Peel being male is very small indeed — looking like themselves and doing their own thing, waiting to find their audience, or for their audience to find them.

There’s something very reassuring about that thought, to me.