When You Think You Know, You Know What

Whatever the reason, February always ends up feeling like a curious rush by the time the second half of the month rolls around. It’s something that happens every single year, so there would be a sense that I’d be on some level used to this rhythm by now, and yet… nope. Every single year, I feel taken by surprise and thinking to myself, where did all the time go?

There’s a cheap answer to this, of course: I get lured in by the fact that February is shorter than the average month, which I remember intellectually and forget in every other way every single year. That’s hardly an explanation, though, especially given that it’s not that much shorter; it’s two or three days, which isn’t really any kind of amount of time that should make that much difference, especially year upon year. (As proof that, occasionally, my brain decides not to work properly, I submit the evidence that upon starting this paragraph, my brain went, it’s only 28 days normally, that’s five whole days shorter than the usual month, almost an entire week. I then… well, realized how bad my math was, if nothing else.)

I blame all the fault at the feet of January. January, my regular enemy, is such a difficult month every single year that, when February rolls around, I’m just so grateful to make it there in one piece that I almost lose track of time and common sense. Sure, there might only be four weeks in February to do anything, but those are four non-January weeks, and that means everything: they’re going to be less cold, less dark, and less shit merely by not happening in January, and therefore the sky is the limit. Or, at least, that’s what I end up telling myself in that way that our beliefs are spoken without any words.

I like to think that, if I did use words, I’d realize how ridiculous it sounded at the time. But then, I like to think that without using words as well, so what do I know?

The Ghost At

Since we got divorced, the ex-wife and I have spent the last few years sharing custody of what was once our two dogs, and has been one dog since 2022. Every month or two, we meet up and hand off the little guy, Gus, and get used to the reality of the next few weeks: he’s here, or he’s not.

What that means, in practice, is what I’m going through as I write this: spending the evening of the handoff by feeling as if I’m haunted. He’s not here, but I feel as if he should be, I keep looking around to find him, to see where he is. When he is here, he’s almost certainly almost underfoot or somewhere close by, asking to cuddle or at least find somewhere to sleep nearby; almost immediately, I get used to that, to the sound of his snoring and the feel of him lying against my side when I’m sitting on the couch or lying in bed. I get used to the rhythm of the house when he’s here, which means taking him out the back to piss or shit, and also checking for him when I don’t know where he is, in case he’s decided to piss somewhere inside the house because he’s 15 years old and dumb. (It’s happened.)

It’s those first nights when he’s gone that feel so odd; the sense that he should be here, should be underfoot or leaning against me. Even though I know he’s going to be back in a month, there’s a sense of loss and disorientation that I find myself pausing, having to take a mental step back to think about what’s happening for a second. It’s like a surprise sadness every single time I remember.

The Anniversary Waltz

Something I’m all too aware of right now is that 2024 is the year I turn 50 years old. Ever since the year started, it’s been playing in the background of my head, as if something changed on January 1 and I started some kind of special anniversary year. Technically, that anniversary year began with my last birthday, of course, but this awareness of that big birthday didn’t dominate my subconscious until the new year; such neuroses are rarely logical or practical.

It’s not as if my brain really knows what to do with this half century information; I’m not planning anything grand to mark the occasion just yet, beyond finally taking my health more seriously — something that, let’s be honest, medical professionals and loved ones alike would have rather I started a decade earlier. Nonetheless, it’s a fact that just lies in the background, hoping for purpose and giving significance to whatever is happening around me. As I clean the house, it asks, perhaps this is a sign that you’re going to be more ordered for your 50th? I read more books, and it suggests that maybe you’re finally settling into this elder reading statesman thing. Really, I’m just trying to do whatever to make it through and have some fun in the process. Maybe that’s a notable thing in and of itself, who’s to say?

(Is the second-guessing everything also something that happens as you approach the half-century mark, I ask myself in some kind of parodic, more-serious-than-it-should be, metatextual moment of almost self-awareness. There’s a moment of falling down the rabbit hole, and I worry that I passed that some time back without even realizing. Alas.)

I think the problem is that, somewhere along the way, my head decided without conscious thought that 50 is a Big Deal that Has To Mean Something. I went through the same thing at 40 — a quiet existential crisis that resolved itself with a shrug long before the birthday actually arrived. The same might be true of my 50th, in the end; I hope so. There’s something overly exhausting about this feeling that absolutely everything in your life has some additional significance just because of what the calendar has to say, especially when the feeling of the day-to-day says something entirely different.

The Destination is the Destination

Reading smart commentary about social media the other day left me thinking about the different ways in which I interact with the internet now, compared with when I first started using it way back when; specifically, the fact that — for all intents and purposes — I essentially live online now, and the way I interacted with it back then.

I mean, I actually try to draw lines that prevent me spending too much time actively online, a lesson learned the hard way; after work each day, I try to leave my phone/laptop/iPad alone until just before bed, and even then, that’s just me using whatever app to do some reading before I sleep. (And, if I’m brave, checking email to see that there’s nothing disastrous waiting for me in the morning.) But still; I work online, I interact with friends and family online, so much of my life is spent on the internet. It’s there for… everything. When you factor in the fact that my TV is powered by online streaming services instead of, you know, “traditional” television — something I’ve started to think of as being “passively” online — then it starts to feel omnipresent in a somewhat unsettling manner.

I still have the very strong sense memory of the internet being a limited resource, way back in the dial-up days: that you would “log on” for whatever purpose, and then get off the computer once that purpose was over — even if that purpose was (as was the case for me) looking up long screeds written by old fanboys about the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, or Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, or whatever. The sound of the dial-up, the feeling of needing to get on and off the internet in as little time as possible because, hell, someone might need to use the phone.

There’s something about that that I miss, now; the idea of the internet as a destination, perhaps, something you actively choose to do, a place to visit but not somewhere that is ever-present all around us. We used to call the internet things like “the world wide web” and “the information superhighway,” both of which suggested these tangible, physical locations or entities, and there was something about that that made it seem like these were places you could “go,” as opposed to some state that we permanently exist in and have to report in to regularly.

Remember an internet we didn’t live in? I miss that.

Happy To See You Again

I read something over the holidays that said, basically, “what have we done wrong that we push all of this joy and time off into a week-long period in late December, leaving us at the mercy of the subsequent darkest, coldest month of the year without any kind of break or relief?” It was something that, immediately upon reading it, I thought, oh, someone else gets it.

January is a struggle every year. That’s always been the case for me, even stretching back to when I was a kid. It’s not that I have Seasonal Affective Disorder — or, if I do, not to any great degree, at least — because it’s not as if the dark days and early evenings feel like a burden as such either in the past or right now. (My heart goes out to those who can’t say the same, though.)

Instead, it’s the fact that January every single year just stretches on, never-ending and with only the repetition of the weekday to offer. It’s a month when you have the holiday highs to come down from, whether it’s the color and the lights, the music and jollity, the time off and social aspects, or whatever, and there’s literally nothing to replace it other than everyday life, a return to the work week, and… I don’t know, shitty weather, I guess?

It feels especially notable for me this year, because I had to use all the time-off I’d accrued from work in December, meaning that I had a glorious month of three-day work weeks. Now, that’s almost doubled thanks to normality reasserting itself. I find myself tired and out of practice at… well, doing the base level, ashamedly.

We should all agree that January needs a break around this point in the month: a new holiday just to catch our breath and take a minute. Might I suggest the establishment of Phew You Made It Day?

Get Up Get Up Get Up

I am curiously protective of my sleep cycle, I think to myself occasionally, although it strikes me that perhaps two different ends of that sentence are wrong.

What I actually mean is that I find myself particularly thrown off when I don’t keep to the traditional rhythms of sleep that I’ve built across the past few years: in bed somewhere between 10 and 11, asleep somewhere around 11, and waking up somewhere between 5 and 6. Sure, there are occasional mild variations to that — sometimes I’ll be tired and asleep earlier, there are times I wake up closer to 4:30 or 6:30, depending — but, for the most part, that’s how I sleep. It’s what works for me.

Somehow, this past month has broken that a little. I’m not entirely sure how, or why. I’ve been sleeping later multiple times, sleeping late, even, on a couple of occasions. (By which I mean, I have to get up around 7 in order to eat and take care of the animals before work; a couple times, I’ve woken up closer to 7:30, panicked.) And then, there was the odd night of insomnia.

I use the term insomnia too easily; it’s my go-to if I just have a bad night of sleep, as in, “I woke up at 1 and couldn’t sleep for 30 minutes, it was just insomnia.” I know it’s not really the case, but I love a bit of shorthand. What happened at the start of the month, though, felt like actual insomnia, summoned Beetlejuice-style by accident: a night where I just… couldn’t fall asleep.

My mind wasn’t racing, or filled with intrusive or looping thoughts; I was, if anything, very calm and clear-headed. My body was heavy with actual exhaustion, and I felt “sleepy,” as it usually goes… but I just laid there, unable to actually sleep, until almost 5am. I have no idea what happened, but I’m in no rush to go through anything like that again.

The experience has stuck with me ever since, unnerving me. It’s as if it was foreshadowing something that I can’t see waiting just around the corner: What if I’m just going to have a year of not sleeping? What if 2024 is going to be a year of it feeling like 3:15 in the morning, all the time? What then?

Cold, Dead Fingers

As I type this, I have just realized that the tingling I’ve had in my fingers since this morning, when I ventured out into a blizzard to get weekend snacks — don’t ask, it wasn’t my idea — is, in fact, more than likely frostbite.

It’s an odd realization, not least of all because there’s a significant portion of my brain that’s arguing against the idea for all manner of reasons: I wasn’t outside for that long and It wasn’t really that cold, surely and As soon as I got home, even though I’d lost the feeling in my fingers, I ran them under hot water, so why shouldn’t they be okay, or even But my right hand is fine, why is my left hand still feeling a little numb and tingly, that’s ridiculous that it’s only one hand?

The real reason I think part of my brain refuses to accept it is far less logical than even those (admittedly, very illogical) thoughts: simply, part of my brain refuses to believe that frostbite is real, in some very basic way. It’s like scurvy, something else that I know objectively is real, but somehow still feel as if it’s an entirely fictional thing, made up by people who wanted to make both history and pirates seem more interesting by implication.

As a result, me having frostbite just feels… almost impossible? Or, at least, severely unlikely; it’s as if I’d have caught the Black Plague or some science-fiction ailment that the real world has yet to encounter. Never mind the tingling in the fingers, or the idea that I should probably put my hand in warm water for 15 minutes every now and then to try and raise the temperature periodically for the next day or so. Simply the very idea that I could have frostbite at all feels so ridiculous as to be unworthy of further consideration.

If and when I lose my fingers to this, I’ll keep you posted on how extensive my disbelief continues to be.

Offline

I was thinking, recently, about how voracious my sketchbook-keeping was when I was younger. There were multiple reasons why that would have been the case — the primary being that I was in art school and, you know, sketchbooks are kind of important for that whole kind of thing — but nonetheless, I would eagerly, happily, endlessly work in my sketchbooks, keeping multiple at any one time and having different purposes for each of them: one was a mark-making sketchbook, one was a diary of sorts (one that turned into a diary comic, once the influence of Eddie Campbell had settled in fully), and so on. This was my primary way of passing the time, for a number of years: just… recording the world in some inexplicable, unconscious manner.

(It helped that, very early in my art school career, I came across books in the library that explored in detail the sketchbooks of Paul Klee, Egon Schiele, and Gustav Klimt, who in a very real way were as influential to me because of their sketchbook approach than for the “finished art” they produced that is more familiar and celebrated.)

When I was having this train of thought, I marveled at my productivity of the era with no small amount of jealousy: where did this energy come from, I asked myself, and where did it go? Is it really just that I’m three decades older? And then I realized: all of this was in the pre-Internet era, a thought that made me impossibly glad that I’d gone to school when I had. I know myself too well to pretend that I wouldn’t have found excuses to spend far too much time fucking around online if I’d had the chance back in the day. If I’d had the internet available to me when I was a student — with all its rabbit holes and dark alleys and all of its everything right there at the touch of a button — I can’t imagine I would have gotten anything of any note done at all.

It’s a strange thought to think of so much of my life being, essentially, “pre-internet,” given how ubiquitous it is today, but… half of my life was spent that way, and it might have been so much better because of that. What a weird, sobering thought to start the year I turn 50 with.

Return to Sender

Like, I suspect, many people of my generation, I’ve had many email addresses in my time; I’ve gone from Hotmail to Yahoo to Gmail, with stops at other destinations in between for any number of reasons. (Not least of which being different jobs asking me to use their domain-centric addresses; I’m pretty sure all but my current one is defunct by now, which is something that I think about from time to time: addresses that just cease to exist, routes to communicate that are just destroyed entirely.)

I was thinking about these past email addresses the other day, and specifically the fact that I purposefully didn’t use my actual name in any of the addresses for a number of years; I used nicknames, or arcane alternate identifiers that seemed witty in the short term. “LegionOfGrim” went one, which sounds all so goth when looking back but was, originally, intended as a reference to the Legion of Super-Heroes and the fact that I had the nickname “Grim,” because of a friend’s girlfriend and her inability to pronounce my name any other way. “FanboyRampage” went another, named after my blog of the period.

Is this an artifact of a bygone age, when we were all exploring the internet for the first time and trying to figure out what the rules were? It feels like that, but maybe I’m misremembering, or being too kind to myself to spare the blushes of a pretentious former art student who knew no better. Was there really an era when we didn’t want to put our true selves out there so nakedly, in case we revealed too much by accident?

Almost all of those early email accounts are, I suspect, all lost to the ages now; I haven’t checked them in years (decades!) and I’m not sure I could even access them if I wanted to. I like the idea that some still exist, though; time capsules of the me that I was at that point, and all the friends and relationships I had at the time.

Ignore Those Fading Sleigh Bells

Every year, it surprises me how quickly the holidays end. It’s an American thing, really; the idea that you do New Year’s Day and then, bam, you’re back to work immediately afterwards. I grew up in a country where we had the good manners and laziness to agree that you need at least a day after that to get used to the idea of getting back to normal, and preferably even more time if the New Year falls anywhere close to a weekend. “The holidays” when I was a wee kid were a two week period surrounding Christmas and New Year, and that’s just stuck in my brain as the accepted period ever since. Of course it’s two weeks: one for each of the holidays. Obviously.

It was, I think, my… first US holiday season that I realized things worked differently here. Either the first or second year after I got married, I remember we spent Christmas with her family and New Year back at home. I was back in the office on January 2, and I thought it was an unusual thing, something I commented on to other people in the office: can you believe that we have to work on the second day of the year I asked, and every single person said, “Yes, I can, that’s what we do here, what is wrong with you?” or some variation.

It was maybe the year after that when I had to work the day after Christmas and that just felt wrong on a molecular level. That’s still a holiday! It’s Boxing Day! It’s a thing, I believed (and still believe). Again, the rest of the United States didn’t share my outrage.

Maybe this is best; maybe it’s good that we move on so quickly, and don’t dwell on the fact that we’re still in the official 12 Days of Christmas. (They last until January 4, because they start on Christmas Eve, in case you didn’t know.) It’s a new year, after all, and a new beginning for those who like to think that way. Let the holidays fade into the background quickly while we all turn our attentions to what’s next. Well, except for those of us who’re grumbling about the fact that we’ve not even taken the tree down yet and what the fuck.