I’m A Burning Wheel

The odd thing is the impulse to write it out.

One of my few rules here is that I don’t share anything that feels too personal. “If it’s your decision to be open about yourself, be careful or else,” as Elliott Smith sang; it’s a nervousness born as much as anything of the lingering shame I felt for almost two decades in my marriage for just being me and not who I was expected to be. I’m recovering, still, but it’s not gone entirely. Maybe it never will.

So, with that in mind, I know better than to write about what happened on Monday here. It would be a bad idea: it would upset the other person involved — just the opposite— and I wouldn’t get any sort of closure from it. It wouldn’t achieve anything good, aside from allowing me to rant, rave and scream primally.

At the same time, perhaps those are things I need to do. Certainly, the more I think about what happened, the more I want to scream. The realization that what I was facing was simply a concentrated taste of what used to be my everyday, but my psychic shield was gone now; the pain (and, again, shame) of that realization, but also the anger that accompanied it, the disbelief, were and still are overwhelming. How is this still happening? How did I survive through it all before? Why didn’t I notice sooner?

But there’s also something better, the secondary realization that I don’t have that psychic shield now because I don’t need it anymore. The acceptance that I really am in a better place now, as much as that sounds like a euphemism for death.

My feelings are all over the place right now, and will be for some time. What happened isn’t resolved, and isn’t likely to be resolved any time soon. But perhaps what I need to work through them is a primal scream made pixels, or this talking in code. Extended subtweet as therapy.

Weaving Time In A Tapestry

It’s fall now, and I’m very happy about that.

For the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking about fall, and anticipating it. (I actually thought it started in early September, and was joyous about that until I looked up a calendar and realized the error of my ways. Alas.) Fall is, Christmas aside, my favorite time of year — there’s something about the earlier nights, the cooler temperature, the half light of the afternoon, that warms my heart. I’ve known this for years, although I forgot as I lost track of myself for awhile.

I can remember the feel of walking through my hometown when I was in high school, crunching fallen leaves underfoot and everything was notably crisp in the air as the colors faded as the evening began; this was all happening, and I was thinking to myself, this is my time of year. I meant this relatively literally, considering my birthday is in early October, but the older I get, the more I appreciate that fall is mine in other ways, too.

I’ve literally been looking forward to this season for a little over a month, now. There came a point where I had tired of summer, when the occasional rain storm felt like a gift from above (literally), and I was waiting, wishing for sweater weather. As the mornings got darker and later, I could feel the season approaching with unabashed eagerness: It’s coming it’s coming it’s coming.

This isn’t born of a love of pumpkin spice (I have none) nor a need to see Halloween merchandise in stores. Perhaps it really is just because this is the time of year I was born, but fall feels nourishing and renewing to me; a chance to take stock, look ahead and make plans for the future. Fall means renewal.

A Recovery Period From Manhattan

My re-entry into what I only half-jokingly call “real life,” post New York Comic Con this year was surprisingly rough. I was going to write “unexpectedly,” but that’s not actually true; for some reason, there’s always a strange mental hangover following this particular five day trip — perhaps it’s the time difference, or maybe its that New York State of Mind that everyone loves to go on about so much — but this year, it was especially present, and coming back to my everyday, especially difficult.

It was, maybe, that I was sick during the trip. Or, really, that I was half-sick, getting there and struggling against it with all my might, literally just willing myself to hold together until I could get back on the plane and fall apart entirely. (I always seem to struggle with sickness in New York, too, but that probably comes from the show happening at the beginning of October every year, when the weather starts to shift and people are getting sick in general.) The tickling throat and fuzzy headedness of being half-sick is hardly conducive to returning to the world.

Or perhaps it was exhaustion, brought on from overwork. This year, I somehow put myself through the ringer in terms of workload, filing 25 stories to THR in a three day period (as well as some graphics, and an additional Wired story that was ~2000 words) and working anywhere from 12 to 18 hours a day, depending. Why did this happen? What was I thinking? I have no idea; it just happened. I’d write until I was done, and it would just take a long time to be done, if that makes sense. But I ended the show tired beyond belief as a result, so perhaps that had something to do with it, too.

It’s not as if I didn’t expect it to be more difficult than usual; I even took the first day back off, which almost never happens, but that still wasn’t enough. It took days to feel normal again, and lose the restlessness that felt as if I was going to leave again at a moment’s notice.


Are You Receiving? Are You Receiving Me?

This year’s New York Comic Con was a genuinely odd one. It was, curiously, unusually busy — I found myself working far more than at previous NYCCs, and for far longer, and I’m genuinely unsure how that happened: the first two days of the show, I worked 18 and 16 hour days, respectively, and filed somewhere in the region of 20 stories (and some graphics for the THR newsletter, too). All of this while recovering from being sick.  Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I did it.

Admittedly, when I say “I worked” those hours, not all of it was writing — it includes the being at the show aspect, the talking to people parts, the whole convention experience that is this indefinable thing that is certainly not not work, for all the fun that it might be. This year, all of that was… strange, is really the best way to put it.

For one thing, I feel like I barely saw the show — I was so busy on the first day that I really didn’t, I missed the show floor almost entirely outside of saying hello to a friend and doing an interview, and I didn’t make it to Artist’s Alley at all until a quick walkthrough on the second day. But throughout the whole thing, the convention center was so off-puttingly busy that I felt claustrophobic and grumpy the entire time I was there: Why is there a line for everything? Who are all these people who can’t walk more than three paces without needing to stop for no discernible reason and why are they exactly in front of me?

I also managed to fail to see almost everyone I knew there, somehow. Part of it was my schedule and workload — traditionally, I overwork at NYCC, being one of the few THR people there, and this year all the more so, without meaning to — but that added to my feeling of disconnect and discomfort, as well. It was a strange year, and I’m left unsure if it was me or the show, and either way, whether or not I want to return next year.

I Was Looking Back To See If You Were

The very idea of a safe space has become almost cliche at this point in time, a joke about overly sensitive people and a need for protection from an all-too-cruel “real world.” But recently, I’ve been thinking about the idea in a more concrete, coherent, form; a safe space that is an actual, physical, space.

We think of our homes as safe spaces, surely. I’ve had this conversation twice this week in different forms, but our homes are places where (ideally) we can take off whatever mental protection we wear in the rest of the world and can just relax and be our authentic selves, whatever and whoever that may be. In order to do that, we have to, of course, feel safe there.

I was asked, earlier in the week, what it would feel like to be back in the house I shared with my ex-wife. Not to live there again, but just to be there. All I could imagine, when I thought about it, was how alien it would feel, how uncomfortable. Even when I was moving my stuff out of there, after just a handful of weeks of not living there, it felt unlike the home I’d lived in for a decade to that point. I felt unwelcome, unsafe. The bones of the place were the same, but in the emotional sense, it had become a different place altogether.

And then, later this same week, I was talking about the idea of a stranger staying in the home I have now, and what came to mind was the concept of being on guard, feeling as if I wouldn’t be able to relax properly. A sense of my home becoming something else temporarily; unsafe, somehow.

We should be kinder to the idea of the safe space, I think. Each of us have them, and they’re more necessary to us than we know.

Wiil Remember Us

The idea that we’re living through history is something that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; not just in the sense of, it’s all going to be history someday, man, but watching events unfold around the world — specifically in the U.S. and the U.K. in the last three years or so — it’s difficult to actually fully comprehend the fact that what is happening right now is so extraordinary and unusual (and, let’s be honest, completely screwed up and fucked) that all of this is literally going to end up in history books someday to be studied and questioned and over analyzed.

We are, I think, raised to believe that was live in uninteresting times. Perhaps that’s a generational thing, or a geographical point; I know that, while American Exceptionalism is an all-too-real thing, amongst my peers in my home country, we felt particularly un-exceptional, living with the idea that history happened to other people and our best days as a culture were probably behind us already. (Oh, Britpop, what had you done to us…?) The notion that we were witness to massive, substantial events just didn’t seem likely.

Of course, that was already true, even if we’d written it off as otherwise. I can remember with shocking clarity watching news reports about the Berlin Wall falling, or the Challenger shuttle explosion. I was there for both things, but they were the aberration, not the norm. The norm was an era past its best, soon to be forgotten.

What I’d give now for that feeling of unimportance, of smallness. Instead, democracy feels under real, legitimate danger in both the country I was born and the one I adopted, and everything feels precarious in a manner that is all too real. History is around the corner, looming, ever-watching and, more than anything, it feels scary to be so aware of that.

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.)