Hold On Tight

I write elliptically, in the space between ellipses, sometimes. I don’t lay everything out, even here; I don’t explain it all or put the pieces in the right order at the right time.

At some times, that’s an intentional decision for any number of reasons, ranging from wanting to make things more inviting (or enjoyably frustrating) for the reader to make them read on — if I just told you everything, you’d get bored, surely — to, quite simply, not feeling comfortable sharing everything and wanting to keep some things to myself despite this whole space. In work mode, sometimes it’s also a function if not being able to say everything, because sources won’t share on the record, or there are things that aren’t my stories to share just yet.

But then, there are times when I write around things because that’s all I can do, when I don’t really know what it is I’m trying to say when I set out in the first place. I might have a vague idea, an imagined destination that may or may not be real, but I write in circles, I use words like echolocation to find my path when I don’t actually have a map. I’ll find my way somehow, I hope, as I get started.

When I was a student, I discovered the term “emergent research,” and remember to this day the definition I was given at the time: it was, I was told, what happens when you only really find out what you’re looking for when you’re already looking for it. In other words, you start out without a plan, and then the revelation comes midway through: Oh, it was this all along!

I’m unsure if that’s what “emergent research” actually means, or if it’s a recognized term in academia at all, I’ll admit. I could look into it, but that feels like it’d be risking bursting a bubble, or bringing some magic to an end by looking behind the curtain. Let’s enjoy that definition and idea of reality, even if it’s not true.

More often than not, I write as my version of emergent research, at least in the meaning I was taught. It’s the way I think, and the way I feel most comfortable doing it, I think. Sometimes, I just start a post with the words “I write elliptically,” not knowing what’s next, and enjoy the ride.

Or Die

I keep thinking about a sign I saw during one of the Portland protests a couple weeks ago, as you read this. The majority of signs were exactly what you’d expect: variations on Black Lives Matter or Feds Out of Portland or Defund the Police, each one something I agree with — each of those mirroring chants during the protest as well, with so many of the familiar favorites being screamed at the Justice Center walls. (“No Justice, No Peace, No Fascist Police,” or “This Is What Democracy Looks Like,” they seem to have multiple applications, but maybe that’s a sign of the protests I show up for; the more simple “Quit Your Job” was a new joy, however.)

I’m distracting myself. The sign that I keep thinking of read, simply, “Fix Your Hearts Or Die.” It wasn’t a threat, or at least, that’s not how I read it; it’s not as if  the person holding the sign was threatening to kill anyone. But the simplicity of “Fix Your Hearts” as a demand sticks with me. There’s a cleanliness, a bluntness, to it — a reduction that feels assured and correct. People not supporting Black Lives Matter, people not appalled by what’s happening here in Portland in terms of federal agent overreach, people standing on the wrong side of history… their hearts are broken. Of course.

I keep thinking about the federal officers that night, as well. I keep wondering what they were thinking, what stories they were told and that they tell themselves to do what they do. In the middle of the protest, being there, it’s so clear that the lie of rioting protestors or violent agitators is just bullshit; there’s passion and anger and, yes, power in the crowd, but the tear gas is fired into the crowd for none of those reasons. It’s violence in and of itself, an attempt to disrupt and destroy protest. Who could do that?

(But then, I am just as unable to comprehend who could have a problem with protests saying “black people matter,” and here we are.)

Fix your hearts or die isn’t a threat, it’s a forecast. You might be living in the medical sense, but there’s no soul there. No true life worth living.

Of The Month

When I was a kid, I didn’t like August. August was when I went back to school.

The Summer Holidays, as they were called back then — or maybe I’m misremembering, maybe it was just me that called them something so blunt and clear and everyone else called it “summer break” or something more exciting — ran from the end of June through the middle of August. That made July an exciting month, a month to look forward to and feel filled with potential and possibility, even if all it actually translated into was lying around the house more, reading comics inside in the shards of sunlight coming in through dirty windows.

(I’m subtweeting myself there, to be honest, that was how I spent my summer holidays. Going outside? Why would I do that unless someone told me to?)

The promise of July made June a good month, too, thanks to the kid logic that runs no matter what happens this month, the holidays are still right there, I can see them…! Exams? Homework? Sure, I can handle that, because it’s only for a few weeks before good things happen.

August, though…! As soon as August rolled around, my mood changed; the end was nigh. It didn’t matter that I’d still have a couple of weeks of the break left when the month started — a full third of the Summer Holidays! — because school loomed visibly on the horizon, casting a shadow over everything. Whatever good things happened, they felt like consolation prizes or just postponing the inevitable heartbreak of returning to school. August was, then, an entirely untrustworthy month. August was trouble.

Decades later, I still have this suspicion when it comes to August, despite not having anything resembling Summer Holidays anymore. It wasn’t something that went away when I started art school, where the school year didn’t begin until September, and it didn’t fade when I left education and started working in the real world, which doesn’t offer six weeks off every summer for any purpose. Despite everything, I maintain this distrust for August, knowing full well that the poor month doesn’t deserve such disdain.

Maybe this year, this August, I’ll finally learn my lesson.

Wave Goodbye

Losing my Wired gig is, as much as my bank balance refuses to agree with me on this topic, something that might ultimately turn out to be a blessing in disguise.

I’m now two months out from the actual event — three from getting the news — and it’s no longer like a phantom limb, this desire to stay completely on top of what I laughably, bitterly call the “online discourse” every single day of the week, scouring social media to find the conversations worth sharing. That alone feels like a healthier, less frenetic place to be, mentally, and for that one thing, I feel like I can report that blessing in disguise theory as something approaching fact.

I’ve not found one thing to replace Wired in either my schedule or especially my income, but I’ve been dipping my toe back into the Comics Internet as a freelancer and that’s been a surprisingly enjoyable experience — there’s a lightness of touch and comfort in writing for specifically nerdy outlets again, and letting that freak flag fly a little more freely, I’ll admit. (Having Ava DuVernay share my return to Newsarama on social media, actually quoting from it, wasn’t that bad either, I’ll be honest; it certainly pleased editors there.)

There’s no joy in the scrambling to continually pitch stories — and have so many rejected! — nor the uncertainty of knowing where or how much my workload is going to be on any given week, but I can’t deny that the break from my old routine nonetheless feels bracing in a positive way, somehow, as if new possibilities are around the corner in ways I can’t quite imagine yet.

One has already quasi-presented itself, although in an abstract, unlikely fashion; I won’t jinx it by describing it, but suffice to say that it’s exciting enough to make me hope it happens, and to remind me that I had become more blinkered to my potential than I’d known while juggling Wired and THR for as long as I did.

2020 is a hard year, and losing a job is not fun. But, at least, there’s a feeling that it was the start of something else, as opposed to a shitty, cruel ending and nothing more.

There Is Power In A

I’ve been writing some important pieces for THR lately. That sounds like unbridled ego at work — my writing has meaning and weight and integrity, don’t you know — but it’s not intended that way; I mean it in the sense of, there are times when you write things because you have to, because they’re stories that people need to read and that you can’t fuck up for that same reason. It’s not the announcement of a new comic or some analysis of a trailer or a casting decision, both of which can be fun and popular enough in their own right; it’s a story where you feel, deep down, a need to make sure people understand some important truth in some way.

Working on these stories has been… stressful isn’t the right word, exactly, but it’s close. As I said above, the feeling of don’t fuck this up has been very much in the background of the process, as has the sneaking fear that I was, in some worrying and unknown way, fucking it up and that would be uncovered only when it was too late. I asked for oversight, shared what I was working on with others to fact-check, but also to gut-check: Is this right? Am I asking the right questions, thinking the right things? Am I disappearing down the wrong rabbit holes?

As I’m writing this, not all of the “important” stories are finished, never mind having run; the biggest of them all is still in the reporting process, with another waiting what is now the third round of legal review after a substantial re-write to excise material lawyers weren’t entirely comfortable with. (With any luck, by the time this runs, it will have been published; we’ll see.) Throughout the whole thing, I’ve realized that, as frustrating as these processes are, they’re also freeing in their own way — they’re institutional blocks that provide an oversight that allows me to overreach and be ambitious and try too hard, safe in the knowledge that I have someone (multiple someones) to tell me when to pull back, or put up or shut up. I find a strange comfort in that.

I’ve been writing some important pieces for THR lately, but it’s easier to do than it could be, because I’ve not been doing it alone.

I Know This For a Fact, You Don’t Like How I Act

Of all the many strange things about this year to consider, wandering around town and feeling as if we’re living in a literal police state is up there with that whole global pandemic thing in terms of “Welp, I certainly didn’t see that coming.” And yet, here we are, in Portland, Oregon in July 2020.

I’m not (just) talking about the federal occupation of the city, with Department of Homeland Security and Customs & Border Patrol agents showing up in armor at riots with live ammunition and a seeming desire to start shit no matter what; I’m not even (just) talking about the fact that protesters are being pulled off the streets and into unmarked rental vans by federal agents who don’t identify themselves, nor have any legal right to arrest the people they’re snatching — although even the fact that those things are actually happening for real feels utterly surreal and horrifying.

No, I’m talking about the fact that, in an evening walk recently, we ran into the police patrolling the streets no less than five times, despite the fact that the walk lasted around, at best, 20-30 minutes. (We were going to the local movie store to return some films.) On two of those five times of seeing the police, they’d stopped to confront people who… didn’t seem to be doing much of anything, to my eyes.

Add to that, the number of nearby sirens I’m hearing daily, or the helicopters flying overhead each night. To say nothing of the sound of flashbangs in the distance every night.

Let me clarify something: I live in a relatively quiet part of the city. It’s certainly far from anything I’d describe as dangerous, and the last time I felt under threat in this neighborhood — outside of seeing the police driving around, checking everyone out at a time when the city’s under the thumb of the authorities, I mean — was more than a year ago, and purely the result of my own paranoia. There is, to put it bluntly, no need for the amount of police presence I’m seeing out there right now.

And yet. And yet.

It’s genuinely surreal to think about where 2020 has taken us so far, and scary, too. I dread to think what could be next.

Stay At Home Con

The reality of there being no San Diego Comic-Con has fully set in by now, of course; this is the day I should be in the air on the way to Southern California for a week of overwork and panicked socializing, seeing people in person that I’ve only talked to via email or Slack for a year. Alas, this year, it’s not to be, and I’ll admit that I’m still struggling with that in a number of ways.

Don’t get me wrong; with everything happening in the world, I don’t want to be in a packed convention center with hundreds of thousands of other people right now, especially not in all-too-warm San Diego, with everyone sweating over each other — if ever there was a perfect petri dish for infection, it’d be that scenario. (Also, at this stage of quarantine, even the idea of being in that kind of crowd feels unreal and more than a little scary; imagine going from being cut off from the rest of the world for four months to suddenly being seemingly surrounded in close quarters by it!)

But the fact remains that the loss of SDCC feels like the true signifier that this year has been lost to the plague, for some dumb internal system waiting to reach a particular level before sounding the alarm. This is where the true break is for my ridiculous broken brain. If there’s no San Diego Comic-Con, then all is lost, apparently. Mother of mercy, is this the end of Rico…?

It’s that the SDCC trip has been, perpetually, the closest thing I’ve had to a summer vacation in — what, a decade, if not longer, by this point…? That’s part of it, and that it is a place (and event) that resonates so strongly for me for a number of reasons, as well; more than any other convention — the others all feel like “work trips” far more than SDCC, even though I traditionally work irrationally hard at SDCC — it’s become a traditional place to see friends and have experiences that are often surreal and heightened and a break from reality in some indistinct, but very real, way.

Perhaps that’s what I’m missing the most from the absence of the show this year — that break from the norm. 2020 is a year that’s “not normal,” of course, but it’s steamrolled everything into this new shape where everyday is more or less like the one before because we’re in the same space, doing the same thing, all the time. If ever there was a need for something unusual and special, it’s now — but, instead, SDCC has been cancelled and replaced by an event online that we watch from the comfort of our own homes, like everything else.

I miss the alternative, is all.

Don’t Catch You Slipping Now

It’s quite a thing to be as scared for your city as I am right now. To know with actual certainty that federal forces are literally kidnapping people off the streets and pulling them into unmarked vans in broad daylight — on camera, even — and that there’s nothing I can do about it, in a practical sense. The feeling of powerlessness, of helplessness, is the point, of course; what’s happening is entirely about intimidation and fear and trying to push people’s spirits down even further to break them. It’s a show of force, and there’s never a reason for that beyond emotional abuse.

The whole thing feels almost cartoonishly dystopian, even as it’s just a small increase from where we’ve been living for weeks, now. The Black Lives Matter protests have been happening for, what, six or seven weeks by this point, and they’ve been peaceful each time until police have arrived and literally pushed for violence; there was a video from a protest just last week where a cop smacked a protester’s phone from their hand into a store window, with that smashed window then used to justify beating the protesters. It was, after all, “property damage,” and such things take priority over everything else, even if the damage was the result of police actions.

Also this week, there was the confirmation of something long rumored, as court documents revealed that undercover police really are seeding protests and trying to work as agitators, pushing others into acts that will then be used as “proof” that the protests are unjust, uncouth, unconstitutional in some way. That they’re reason enough for authorities to “fight back,” to fight, to become the thugs they declare the other side to be and beat down an argument that they can’t have, have no interest in having. The tactics of bullies in uniforms throughout history.

As reports of what’s happening in Portland started spreading across social media late last week, I saw so many people say things to the effect of, “This isn’t America.” It’s a lie that makes people feel comfortable, and I understand why, but the truth is, this is America. This is what it’s been like for some time. And it’s why it’s all the more important to stand up and do something about it, no matter how scary it feels.

Good Morning Good Morning Good Morning Good

We’re at the point in the year where we can sleep with the windows open without fear of waking up the next morning feeling as if we’ve frozen solid; indeed, without warning, we ended up at the point where not having windows open makes the air feel thicker and, just maybe, it’s time to think about sleeping on top of the sheets, too. (It is the end of June, of course; okay, maybe there was some warning.)

The reason I mention this isn’t to update on how I’m sleeping or my temperature regulation activities; it’s because, as the weather improves and the windows open, I’m rediscovering the joys of listening to the morning anew.

I’ve previously written about how quiet the house is first thing in the morning, but the rest of the world doesn’t follow suit, wonderfully. There is bird song, as countless different birds chirp and warble to each other in high-pitched Morse Code that seems as pretty but unintelligible to me as it does incessant; lists to it, the invention of music feels inevitable — it wasn’t even as if humans had anything to invent, given how melodic, repetitive and rhythmic the birds have been singing all along. We just ripped them off and gave it a different name.

But it’s not just nature out there. There’s the sound of cars in the distance, that slowly increasing, then decreasing hum of the engines and the crunch of the road underneath the tires. I lie there, listening and unintentionally trying to work out where each car is, relative to me. That one’s on Belmont, but this new one has to be on Cesar Chavez…? and so on. I don’t really mean to do it, it doesn’t matter, but I can’t stop myself, nonetheless.

And then there are the occasional footsteps, even in these quarantine times — although, of course, the quarantine is losing its strength as time goes on. I listen to people walk past, jog past every now and then, hear snatches of music or conversation as they do. It’s a gentle reminder that this isn’t a bubble or a life raft, but that I’m part of something larger, a world out there, filled with life, ready for me to wake fully and join in.

One Down, One to Go

When July started, I saw enough people talk about us being midway through 2020 that I ended up researching it; surely that couldn’t be right, could it? February is so short that we must be a week off or so, surely, before we catch up again? Surely we can’t actually be halfway through the year?

Much of that disbelief came from, simply, the feeling that we couldn’t be half done with the year just yet. (More cynically and dramatically, that the year wasn’t half finished with us yet, perhaps, but, it’s been that kind of a year.) 2020 has been existentially difficult, a year that’s assailed us in ways that I’m not sure I could have really seen coming in any way beyond jokingly imagining worst case scenarios that could never, really, come true; a year that looked at my End Of 2019 wish that, coming off a year that saw my divorce and attempts to rebuild my finances in the wake of that, maybe the next 12 months would be just a little bit easier and laughed maniacally. Oh, if only I knew what was in store. If only.

Time has flattened, or folded, since quarantine went into effect. March was seventy years long, but April seemed to go by in a blink. Even just writing that feels like a surreal thing, though, a reminder that we’ve been in quarantine for longer this year than not — everything shut down mid-March, and since then we’ve had fully April, May and June living almost entirely inside our homes while our jobs go away and, judging by the infection rates in the US, nothing actually really gets better. Is this just the way things are going to be, now? Surely not, and yet…

(A brief aside; something rumored for the President’s July 4 speech and thankfully missing was an announcement that, basically, we’d all just have to learn to accept this as the new ongoing reality going forward. Even the idea of saying that felt so callous, so cruel to me.)

So I looked into it, like I said, and it turns out that July 2 is the actual midway point of the year — the 183rd day, with 182 behind it and 182 ahead. Still earlier than I thought, but still; we’re firmly in the second half of 2020 now. May it be kinder than the first.