Wake Up, Boo

I am, it seems, a late stage insomniac. My problem isn’t that I can’t fall asleep in the first place — that’s not been a consistent problem for me since I was a kid, and I’d lie in my bed and try to recite the opening crawl from Star Wars in my head as a mantra — but that, recently, I find myself waking up in the middle of the night continually.

It’s not that I wake up in a panic, as if from a nightmare. (Or, for that matter, remembering my dreams at all.) It’s more that, suddenly, gently, I’m awake and I know immediately that it’s too early to be comfortably awake. I know, even before I turn over to check the time, that it’s too early and I need to go back to sleep. And that knowledge, I suspect, is the trap.

I get in my head at that moment. I start being all-too-aware that I “should” be asleep, and that knowledge makes me low-level anxious, nervous that I’m going to be tired when it’s time to actually get up, and that in turn makes it harder for me to get back to sleep, which makes me more anxious and nervous, which makes it harder to go back to sleep, which makes me — sleep.

That’s the thing. I really don’t have trouble going to sleep. Even when I wake up in the middle of the night, unless something is wrong — and choose your own definition of what wrong might be in this scenario; for me, it’s traditionally something minor and easily fixed — I am normally awake for a few minutes at the most, and then I’m asleep again. It just happens.

And then, I’m awake again, and it’s maybe an hour or so later, and I go through the whole thing again; getting in my head, and then falling asleep again. And then, an hour or so later again, I wake up for a third time.

For some reason, it always stops after the third time. That’s usually somewhere around 3 or 4 in the morning, and when I fall back to sleep, I stay there until 6:15 or so. I don’t know why these times repeat so consistently, but they do. It’s not intentional, but it is recurring, for the last few weeks.

Perhaps this is just what September feels like, now.

Then Rest

A genuinely strange pleasure, but not necessarily one I’d describe as “guilty”: Food writing, and particularly reading recipes.

What makes it strange is that I don’t cook, not really. I read the recipes and imagine cooking them, pictures the steps and the flavors and the result in my head — sometimes in surprising detail, right down to the plates or bowls they’d be served in — and think to myself, Maybe one day or I should save this for later. I read it with the pleasure of anticipation for something that I know, deep down, I’ll likely never do.

It’s not cookbooks that this plays out in, although I’ll certainly leaf through a cookbook or two if I’m in the local Powells; it’s online food writing. I check the New York Times food section, and especially The Guardian food section with the devotion of someone who knows what they’re doing, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. It’s a weekend tradition; I’ll find some down time and see what recipes are available this time.

I look at the recipes or the essays and filter them immediately. I don’t like figs, I’ll think, and slip past that one quickly, finding something more to my taste — is there a sweet thing? A pastry? — instead. It’s done with an eye to a final step, actually making the damn thing, that I know will never actually come.

It’s a tradition that is oddly calming and comforting. I don’t know where it came from — my family were not big cooks, and when married, food wasn’t something I particularly enjoyed or even had much say in, to be honest, as much as I discovered and loved baking a few years ago — and I don’t know when it started. Perhaps it’s always been a “What If?” scenario, a message from another life to suggest a world I could easily lose myself in.

All I know is, give me some good recipes and evocative writing, and I’ll be a happy man. For at least 20-30 minutes each weekend.

The Space Between

The thing about my job is, it’s so impermanent. I write for the day — or, at most, a few days ahead — and so, every day is a do-over. Or, at least, the chance of one.

I write “the thing,” as opposed to “the good thing” or “the bad thing,” simply because I’m unsure if it’s good or bad; who wouldn’t like the chance to rest on their laurels for a couple of days, for example, especially if they’d killed themselves finding success the day before? Isn’t that just a natural impulse? On that level — the whole, you can never really relax because each day is a new day, level — it’s obviously a bad thing, but there’s also something very freeing in the idea that you can say goodbye to the previous day’s failures each morning, as well.

On more than one occasion, I’ve found myself ending a particularly shitty or unproductive day by thinking, ‘Ah well, at least I get to try again tomorrow,’ perfectly aware that not everyone gets that luxury, that for many jobs, one day’s underproduction — or just outright crappiness— can cascade and ruin a week, if not more. I am, in many ways, very lucky to have the opportunity to start over with each new day.

All of this comes to mind after waking up on a Monday morning and realizing that I have no idea what lies ahead of me today. Oh, there are some knowns — there always are, even if it’s just that I’ll have to do this particular thing for Wired this week, or I’ll have the THR newsletter graphics — but for the most part, I have little-to-no idea what is actually going to happen over the next day. (It’s still before 7am as I write this.)

There’s something exciting about the uncertainty, as well as something just a little exhausting, too. The space between those two things is what every Monday morning feels like, for me. It’s a thing; I just don’t know if it’s a good thing or bad thing, is all.

Get Something For Yourself, While You’re At It

I don’t buy myself things. I just don’t do it; I had that impulse trained out of me almost 20 years ago when I arrived in the United States with no money and, for months, no job (and then a shit job that didn’t pay well*), and I was told by my then-partner that she brought in the money and I didn’t so I shouldn’t buy myself things, and it stuck.

I didn’t realize that, for the longest time. And, occasionally during that period, I would buy myself things — for the sake of argument, let’s define that as spending more than, say, $30 on frivolous and non-essential items aimed at making me happy — and when I bought myself things, I’d feel this intense guilt that I was wasting money and didn’t deserve whatever I’d bought, or to be spending that kind of money on myself, and so, I didn’t feel particularly good about it, which was why the buying myself things was only occasional.

Sometimes, people would notice this and ask me why I rarely treated myself, and I’d make a joke along the lines of being cheap because I’m Scottish, because I didn’t really understand yet — and, even if I did, certainly lacked the language to say, I’ve been shamed into thinking that spending money on myself is selfish and wasteful and I don’t quite know what to do with that just yet.

All of this is a train of thought brought about my the fact that, out of nowhere, I found myself remembering that there was a book that I’d really like to read — one that I know from experience isn’t in the local library, otherwise I would have read it already — and… I just went online and bought it like it was nothing. It wasn’t nothing, of course; it actually feels like quite a something, and just the act of doing that small (big) thing feels like a sign that I’m doing okay these days, after all.

(* That I went from the shit paid day job to life as a freelance writer is, perhaps, a sign that I will never look at financial security as a serious life goal. It’s too late to turn that ship around now.)

In My Thoughts

The news that one of my dogs is sick — and, potentially, very sick — came yesterday just moments before I received an email from someone I’d written about for work and who wanted me to answer for my sins, such as they were. Because of having to be professional and answer that email (and the ones that followed), I found myself not really dealing with the news until later that night when it suddenly struck me that there was a reason I was feeling so sad.

I’ve dealt with sick pets before, and know all too well the feelings of heartbreak, anger and frustration it brings; I’ve said goodbye to too many animals, but also know that sometimes they beat the odds and things go far better than intended. I also, however, know that Gus and Ernie are more than a decade old, and shit happens to animals any age, never mind those more than 10 years old.

The idea of Ernie being sick feels distant and wrong, difficult to properly comprehend. The idea of Ernie not being around at all feels, on every level, wrong, and even worse when I think about how Gus will deal with it. The two of them are a package deal, and the idea of one without the other is just… inconceivable. Or, at least, it should be.

I’m sad, and I’m feeling helpless as I wait for more news from vets and a treatment plan. I miss my little friend, who’s not staying with me right now because shared custody, and I feel like I want to give him a hug. (And his brother, too.)

Sometimes, you just need to put these things out into the world, in the hopes that somehow they might matter.

File Under

I didn’t realize the metaphor until days later, when my therapist pointed it out to me.

Instead, I thought I was being unusually practical. Since moving into where I’m staying now, there were boxes of paperwork and files and the like that I’d simply left untouched, for many reasons: It seemed too daunting to open them up, because there was quite so much in there. It seemed daunting because a lot of my old life, my pre-divorce life, was in there, and I wasn’t ready to look. Or, simply, I had something else to do with my time. Until the other day, when that wasn’t the case anymore.

Instead, I had both the free time and the free brain space to think about opening everything up and resorting it; going through everything and putting it all in an order that made sense to me, discarding what I didn’t need, and basically trying to put it all back together so that I knew where everything was if and when I needed it.

Admittedly, I had no idea quite how far the paperwork went. I genuinely didn’t remember that I had paperwork from my art school days (The program to my degree show, which is more than two decades old now! My diploma!) or that there were forms and duplicates of forms from when I was trying to move to the U.S. for the first time. I was unpacking these boxes and making all these (re-)discoveries, and it was more than a little overwhelming: There was so much of it all.

And so, at some point, I found myself sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of… well, everything, really. Things to keep, things to get rid of, things that I was going to put into a box, tape up and leave in the basement because I’m not ready just yet to make a decision about where it would go.

Days after I did this, spending an entire afternoon and feeling mentally and emotionally washed out afterwards, I explained the whole thing to my therapist, as I said above. She looked at me incredulously. “What?” I asked, confused.

“You… literally went through your past and put it all in order while deciding what you could get rid of, including putting things in a box in the basement because they’re too emotional to think about right now, and you don’t think that’s a little too on the nose?” she asked.

Well, sure. When you put it like that, I do. But until then, it had just been a Saturday afternoon where I felt oddly productive.

Whatcha Lookin’ At?

There are years of my life where I don’t exist. At least, in terms of photographs.

I don’t think of myself as particularly photogenic, and I actually hate having my photo taken; I feel self-conscious and awkward, so I tend to avoid it — which means that there are long stretches of my life where the only photographic proof that I’m alive comes in group shots, or candids from an event I’m at, or whatever. The only photo of myself that I saw in 2018, for example, is from the weekend where I was an Eisner Awards judge, and we posed together at the end of it all.

To make matters worse, or at least more complicated, post-divorce, there are group photos or shots of myself that I either don’t have access to, or don’t even exist anymore. Entire years where there’s no me, now.

(On the plus side, I barely changed visually, so it’s not like anything special has been lost to history.)

Beyond that, though; at some point, I stopped really taking photographs. I used to, voraciously. And then, somehow, I stopped. You could read all manner of reasoning into why that happened, I certainly have, but the fact remains: I just… stopped. There comes a point where it’s as if I ceased to exist, both as object and as viewer.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately; you’ll have noticed I’ve been posting old photos on here more, lately. It’s made me realize that I should start taking more photographs, again. Not just of myself — God, no, not that — but of everything. Recording life as it’s happening, so that I don’t lose it years later to misremembering and outright forgetfulness. Keeping a history of my existence, both how I look(ed), which I’ve never been good at, but also what I’m looking at.

I’ll thank myself later.

The Fireworks That Happen

What I took away from this year’s San Diego Comic-Con wasn’t how achy I felt at the end of each day — perhaps it’s just me getting older, or perhaps I’m out of shape more than I knew, but boy, did I feel the effects of running around the convention more than I used to, my poor feet — or anything about the excitement of the news announced, or the stress of getting those announcements out as PR folk got very nervous about the whole thing. (That happened a bunch, actually.) Nope, it was about the people I was there with.

I have, for awhile, said that the best part of San Diego is seeing the people I only ever see at the show each year — my THR crew, various folk who work at publishers scattered across the country, across the world — but this year brought that home in a manner that was, for want of a less sentimental term, heartwarming. The highlights of the show for me weren’t panels or booths or anything contained in the convention center at all. (No, nor were they the off-site “activations,” either; those remain exhausting and make the convention seem claustrophobic at times. Sometimes, you just want to leave the convention. And they weren’t the parties either, although those remain a strange and wonderful thrill.)

What I’ll remember — and, to be honest, treasure — were the meals and conversations away from everything, utterly unrelated to work, with people I’ve known for years but never really had the chance to just… sit down and talk to, properly.

Last year’s San Diego Comic-Con was amazingly big for me, personally, for all manner of reasons. I flew into the show this year in a strange state of mind, filled with a knowledge that this year couldn’t compare for obvious reasons, and… as I write this, on the last day of the show and with the memories of the last few days in my head, I think I might have been wrong. This year’s show was, in some inexplicable sense, about being included in a community — or, perhaps, knowing that I have built a community around me and been accepted by it, completely. Words can’t describe what that actually feels like, properly.

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.