Get Up, Get Up, Get Up

Since receiving my bad news at the start of the week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the big things: What do I want? What are my ambitions? How realistic are they, how do I achieve them? It’s been a quietly constant process in the back of my mind — and, sometimes, the front of it — for the last few days. With this unexpected period of reflection has come an equally unexpected byproduct: vividly remembered dreams for what feels like the first time in months.

Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that I’ve been sleeping poorly since getting the news; the low-level stress has combined with what was already not the greatest sleep cycle to leave me surprisingly awake at 5am, like someone flipped a switch. (Don’t worry; come 9pm, I’ll be exhausted and brain dead as a result.) But there is, I’m sure, more to my sudden spate of dream recall than simply waking up at the right time. My brain, perhaps, is trying to tell me something.

Of course, what that something is, is not necessarily straightforward or even that interesting. If there’s been a common thread to the dreams in the last few nights, it’s been that I’ve been ill-prepared for things happening on work trips, which is far from a deep or significant insight given the context of my week. (Oh, for a piercing commentary from my subconscious that answers all the innermost questions!)

In these dreams, I’ve attended the first post-COVID comic conventions, only to discover that my laptop doesn’t work and I’ve failed to set up any interviews or meetings in advance; I’ve had in-depth conversations with the people who make Star Wars in which they revealed lots of secrets and things that I knew, in the moment, was “big news,” only to discover after the fact that none of it actually recorded — that level of quiet panic.

It’s almost certainly a response to what’s happening, and the general feeling of unpreparedness I have for what’s to come, and yet… there’s something oddly satisfying about actually properly remembering my dreams for the first time in awhile, even if they’re simply generic stress dreams. That’s a silver lining of some kind, right?

I Want To Get Off

I got some news yesterday that, if it doesn’t end up getting reversed — a possibility, albeit a distant one — is going to, once again, significantly change my life in the short-to-medium term. It’s the latest in a number of such shifts in the past twelve months, I think…? (It depends on whether or not you count COVID and the pandemic shutting life as we knew it down.) As I sit and let this latest update, and everything it means, sink in, one thing strikes me beyond everything else: I am so very tired of having to get used to new normals.

In the past year, I’ve lost my regular writing gig at Wired after close to a decade, I’ve watched as the world stopped working the way it used to because of a virus that has run rampant across the globe, and in the rare piece of good news, I got money from the divorce settlement that proved to be particularly welcome in its timing. (See also: me losing a regular writing assignment.) Each of these wrenches in the works has required a re-evaluation of how I’m living, how I’m feeling, what I’m spending and on what, and… Well, now I have to do it again.

(Because it might get rolled back, I’m not going to talk about the latest change just yet, but it’s safe to say, it’s another to fall into the Not Good, Kinda Shitty pile.)

On the one hand, I’m all for taking a periodic look at my ambitions and priorities, and seeing if they line up with my current reality. On the other, there’s something to be said for being secure enough in your life that you don’t have to do that every handful of months because of outside circumstances upending everything. But maybe that’s just me.

Perhaps this is some kind of extended karmic ritual for… something I’m not admittedly aware of. Or maybe it’s a sign that existential years run February through January, and my 2020 is just ending with a flourish. All I really know is, I would love just a year or two of calm to follow, please. Please.

All Three of Them, Ha

I admit, I didn’t have “a riot in the Capitol” on my list of ways to start the year, nor everything that’s followed, but that may be because I wasn’t thinking big enough.

Last week’s insanity in Washington DC was something I couldn’t stop following on social media as it was unfolding, ruining the plans I had for the day. I watched (and retweeted, and signal boosted) not just in quiet, stunned shock at the surreality of the moment — that it was happening, that the house was being invaded, looted, held hostage at gunpoint, all of which felt like a shitty movie — but also because I felt a strange compulsion to do so, as if it were my responsibility to pay attention as history was unfolding.

I had no idea where things would end up, as I kept checking everything from Twitter to news sources to YouTube; I couldn’t really wrap my head around what was even happening in the first place. In the back of my mind, I was sure the rioters wouldn’t “win,” whatever that looked like — push Congress into announcing a second Trump term? — but I didn’t even trust that impulse, because I’d never really imagined things would reach the point they had by that point.

The idea that the start of any new year is really the dying embers of the old one has rarely felt so true as they did on Wednesday. The storming of the Capitol was undoubtedly a 2020 move, folding in countless threads from last year — Trump, white supremacy, domestic terrorists, the complicity and ineptitude of police, COVID superspreader events, the fucking election — in one, hopefully final, concoction to underscore how tied together they all were, all along. A season finale move, if you want to view it through the prism of entertainment, as the President surely did.

Looking at it now, I’m still uncertain if it was the end of something, like a fever finally breaking, or the start of something new. As a way of announcing itself, though, 2021 had a hell of a first week. Where do we go from here?

Concentrate And Ask Again

I no longer have Wednesdays off work, and it’s a complicated thing for me to work through, surprisingly.

On the one hand, it’s undoubtedly a good thing: the reason I did have the middle of the week free for half of 2020 was because I was furloughed at THR for that day, thanks to a pay cut brought about by COVID and the understanding that I shouldn’t have to work the same amount as usual for only 70% of the usual money. Thankfully, as of this week, my pay has been restored, and so, my hours have been, as well. Like I said, it’s a good thing.

It also keeps the rest of my work week from being quite so harried, because now I have another day to do everything necessary — no more panicked Tuesdays, preparing a post to run first thing Thursday, or whatever. I like that aspect of it, as well.

At the same time, though, the midweek break has become part of my routine by now, and something I’ve come to really appreciate and rely on, emotionally and mentally. What started as an uncomfortable oddity — with me almost raring to go sit down behind the laptop and just get stuff done because that’s what I do on weekdays, dammit — became something that I looked forward to, planned for, after a few months. It became part of my rhythm, for want of a better way to put it, and now that’s no longer there.

As strange as it may seem, I’ve finally — at age 46 — come to appreciate time off work and the need to relax and recover; the holiday break just passed, and even the Thanksgiving break before that, were unusual in that I could feel the mental benefit of taking a break in real time. As a former workaholic, it’s an amazing, wonderful thing… that I seemingly only got my head around in time to see me get less time off.

Will the trade off (less time off, but more money and hopefully less stressful days that I do work) work out? Ask me again in a few weeks. This is just the first Wednesday of the year, after all.

Move Over Here

When I was a kid, I learned that the holidays kept going until the official twelfth day of Christmas, which I remember as January 4th — although, curiously enough, my two sisters remember it as January 5th and 6th, respectively, suggesting that my family wasn’t exactly consistent in its timekeeping when it came to taking down decorations. Nonetheless, the point remains the same; the holiday season, when I was young, was something that continued into the week following New Year, for tradition as well as a lack of wanting to go through the effort of taking all the decorations down.

This year, however, while the fireworks were still bursting in the sky and frightening dogs throughout the land — no, really, fuck you, fireworks people — I quietly thought to myself, it’s New Year, thank God we’ve gotten through the holidays.

Was this a sudden attack of anti-seasonal grinchiness? Was it just frustration born of wanting my dog not to be losing his mind because of the fireworks, and feeling as if the entire concept of New Year wasn’t worth the trouble in the first place? Maybe both, but the restless feeling of wanting to just get on with everything and leave the tinsel behind lingered across the next few days; the decorations were gone before this morning came around.

I can’t explain my desire to get moving into the year. It clearly doesn’t make sense, especially given that it means I want to jump firmly into January, the darkest, dullest month of the year. (February, at least, has the good grace to be short, and March has spring going for it, with plants returning to life and the feeling that things are happening again; January is just there, long and cold and without much sunlight.) And yet, here we are.

Perhaps it’s a need to put more distance between ourselves and 2020, the year that felt endless like a Doctor Who plot. Or maybe it was a realization that there’s more to be found this year than usual, and it’s time to get started,

Your Wait Time Is

This year, as I have done for the past two, I sat down and got healthcare for the next twelve months through Healthcare.gov and the Affordable Care Act. As much as I could rage against the irony of that name — I’ve paid literally thousands of dollars in the last few years for something that I have yet to use, thankfully, and I really struggle with calling it “affordable”; for that matter, I still struggle with the insanity that is the US healthcare system in general — that isn’t the purpose of me telling you this. No, I’m telling you as preamble to this story.

I fucked up my submission this year. I knew this because every time I got to the last page of the form, the very last page, I’d get an error message. I’d filled in everything, put all my information in, electronically signed everything, and I’d get the same numerical error each time. I was, to put it mildly, losing my mind over this: partially in terms of frustration, partially panic — the deadline was approaching and I just couldn’t finish the process for reasons I couldn’t understand. Faced with the prospect of having no healthcare next year, I took drastic measures, and called the 1-800 number for assistance.

I used to work in a call center. It was my first job in the US, and I did it for a long time; because of that, I have more patience than most with call centers and call center workers, which made it slightly more palatable to deal with the recorded message I got immediately, telling me my hold time was estimated at 50 minutes. That, it turned out, was a conservative estimate: it was closer to 90 minutes later when I finally got to speak to someone. An hour and a half of the same 30 seconds of music, looped forever and ever.

Here’s the twist, though: the woman I spoke to was amazing. Patient with my grumbling and ineptitude, kind and funny, she not only diagnosed my problem quickly, she went out of her way to fix it — to the point of restarting my entire application on the phone and walking me through it step by step, calmly dealing with me answering the wrong questions and telling me to try again. What was, by any objective measure, a frustrating chore, she made something close to a pleasant experience, or something close.

By the end of the call, everything was sorted out and my application completed and approved. (No, I won’t tell you what I fucked up; it was simultaneously arcane and embarrassing.) I had spent the entire day then increasingly upset and frustrated, angry at both the system and my inability to work inside it, and by the time I hung up, I felt relieved and oddly touched at the way I’d been treated — that someone had taken care of the problem with such good humor and patience. I knew that job, and knew just how many calls like mine she’d likely had to deal with that day; that just made me even more impressed by how things had gone.

It sounds ridiculous, perhaps, but I felt happy and filled with new faith in human nature after the call. It came a week or so too early, but still; let’s call that the first small Christmas miracle of the year.

It Echoes Round The World

We’re at that time of the year when Best Of lists are being put together, and everyone expects to see carefully curated, well-researched, numbered lists of the cream of whatever crop is being discussed: books, music, TV shows, music, whatever. In theory, it’s something that I’m currently doing for comics, for THR, but there’s just one problem: I can’t really remember what happened this year, as opposed to last, or even  next year. My personal Best of 2020 feels more like a Best of Something Close To 2020 But Really, What Is Time If You Think About It, Anyway, No, Really Think About It?

This isn’t a new thing; the fact that I discover work months after its release — and am lucky enough to read other things far ahead of when it arrives in stores — means that I’m always struggling a little with the timeframes of my Best Of lists. (This is the first year in… at least the last three or four, where I only have to create one list instead of two, now that I’m not writing for Wired anymore. I think I’m grateful for that, but I’m not too sure.) But it’s a problem exacerbated by COVID making my sense of time particularly screwy this year, without doubt.

The pandemic has skewed my thinking along the Best Of lines in other, less obvious, ways, as well. It meant no comic conventions, which has left me unexposed to work that I would’ve discovered there, as well as robbed me of conversations that almost always sway my opinions and get me to try things I wouldn’t otherwise. The lack of any true 2020 “buzz book” is almost certainly down to the absence of comic conventions to help build consensus, I’m sure.

And so, here I am, passively — well, perhaps a little more active than that — trying to remember what came out when, and whether they deserve to be placed in the plastic pantheon that is a Best Of list, while also missing the shows I didn’t attend, and the conversations I didn’t have. It feels very 2020, if nothing else.

All These Things and More

It is, as the song goes, beginning to look a lot like Christmas, which means what it always does at this time of year: me overthinking my attachment to the holidays.

That’s being purposefully glib, but the truth of the matter is that, at least once every December, I tend to find myself pausing amidst so much mental tinsel and fairy lights and wondering just why this time of year makes me so happy. Surely, I ask myself, there’s more to it than just taking the word of noted entertainer Andy Williams when he confidently declares that this is the most wonderful time of the year? There has to be.

That said, I don’t quite know what that “more” might actually be. I’m sure that nostalgia plays no small role here; I have a vague, lazy theory that this time of year is as much about nostalgia as it is anything else, after all. But, while it’s true that I had some wonderful Christmases as a kid, I’m not sure that I’d describe them as so wonderful as to create a lifelong attachment to the pageantry and show of the holiday season that I love so much today. So, something else, then.

Perhaps it’s the pageantry in its own right, of course. I can’t deny that I’m a sucker for the elaborate (overly elaborate, in many cases) decorations, the music all filled with aural code and repeated tropes in arrangements and lyrics alike, all of it. (I almost wrote, “the semiotics of the season,” before being forced to admit that I’m unsure about the real definition of that word.) That argument doesn’t really work, though; I don’t fall for such things in different circumstances, so surely there’s something else about this time of year that’s speaking to me in holly, jolly, tones.

I come back, repeatedly, to the sentiment of the whole thing, and my love of the idea that celebrating peace, love, kindness, and goodwill to all. It’s saccharine, it’s often insincere, but still… Just the idea that people will try to achieve that, or even lie and tell themselves that they’re trying — there’s something in there, for me. It may not be the answer for real, but it’s annually been the North Star that I’ve found myself looking to.

The Accidental Goodbye

I missed a deadline for this blog, for the first time in almost two years, and I feel terrible about it. This isn’t an exaggeration; I had a post in draft for yesterday, but didn’t get to finish it in time — a combination of a heavier than expected workload and my brain deciding to work slower than normal being to blame — which meant that, for the first time since I restarted doing this on a regular basis, I didn’t have anything to post for one of the thrice-weekly posts.

It’s difficult to overstate quite how badly I felt about this; it was the kind of thing that stuck in my head all evening, despite the fact that I knew it wasn’t of any importance to anyone that wasn’t me. Nevertheless, I found myself wracked with guilt over it, thinking that perhaps I needed to drop everything and sit myself back down at the laptop to write something, anything to ensure that the entire day wasn’t missing a post.

(Again, no-one that isn’t me cares about this. And yet.)

Once upon a time, I had a bunch of posts lined up in advance to make sure that things like this didn’t happen; I was three weeks ahead on average, which I’m pretty sure meant that I didn’t even miss anything when I was suffering from something that was probably/possibly COVID at the start of the year.

I prided myself on that, on having a buffer of material that I could rearrange as needs be, and when that buffer slowly got eaten up as summer turned to fall — everything being so stressful and busy that I didn’t really have either the time or the inclination to write as often as I’d otherwise like — I could feel the self-imposed pressure building, knowing that I’d soon have to sit down and handle things one way or another.

As it turned out, that didn’t happen, and I missed a post.

What makes me most frustrated, I think, is the concern that this is the beginning of a slippery slope into not writing here on a regular basis. That’s the thing that I really don’t want to happen. This space has become increasingly important to me, and the idea of it going away through my own inaction is a stressful and deeply upsetting one.

Happy To Be Here

In the last few days, I’ve been thinking a lot about where I was a year ago, more or less. By that, I don’t actually mean the fact that I had the opportunity to go to Brazil for a comic convention that turned out to be a genuinely incredible trip, surprisingly enough — although it really was a wonderful experience, and one that I hope to repeat at a time when the world isn’t gripped by a pandemic that’s peaking again at levels that are horrific to even consider — but, as strange as it may be, what it felt like to come back after that trip.

I’ll preface all of this by telling you that I was, as the saying goes, tired and emotional when the plane landed in Portland; not only had I just spent a busy week working a comic convention in a country where the time difference from where I normally was, was notable, but I’d also just spent a full 24 hours traveling back from there, with very little sleep actually achieved on the plane. I was, to be blunt, exhausted, which might explain some of the feelings I went through as I sat in the drive back from the airport, confused and upset that, somehow, the holiday season had started without me.

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of the holidays; they’ve always felt like the perfect end to the eleven months that have preceded them, as I entirely buy into the sentimentality and the aesthetic of the time, believing that, yes, it really is the most wonderful time of the year. Yet, when I looked out the window of the car and saw that, while I had been away, Portland had decked its metaphorical halls with decorations and garish cheer, I felt… oddly betrayed.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see decorations; I really did, I swear. But I felt as if they’d happened without me, and that I’d missed something important in a way that I couldn’t properly explain. Added to that, I missed the weird nostalgic, comforting moment of returning from a period away and seeing everything exactly as I’d left it. Things weren’t as I left them. How could Portland do this to me?

As I said, there was exhaustion and a sleep-deprived lack of logic at play in my feelings of disappointment and betrayal; I know in retrospect just how ridiculous I was being… but I can’t deny that I take a small measure of comfort this year being in town for the first week of December, and being here as the holidays start this time around.