Roads

There was a point, many many years ago now, where I spent a night with a girlfriend and we were both convinced she was pregnant. I say “convinced,” but the correct word to use, the only one that actually explains how it felt at the time, would be “terrified.”

She wasn’t a girlfriend at the time; she was an ex, although we’d get back together after this — as a result of this, really — and the split would be blurred out of our shared story as an awkward, uncomfortable inconvenience. But I remember the night we spent together, neither of us able to sleep, our minds spinning silently, separately, about what it would mean if she really was pregnant.

In retrospect, the details surrounding everything slip away and feel almost fictional. I know there was one night of this uncertainty, this Schrodinger’s Pregnancy, but I can’t remember why, why it was one night and then we’d know: was it that she was late, and we couldn’t get to a store to buy a test until the next day? Had something happened? I genuinely can’t remember. All I remember was that night, the lying next to each other awake and quiet, thinking to myself what if what if what if.

Both of us were still in art school, both of us not ready for the reality of being parents. Looking back, neither of us even had an idea what that really meant despite being uncles and aunts at the time. I spent the night with that hopeful, childish thought that maybe it would all go away and everything would be better in the morning. Surreally, the next day, we found out that she wasn’t pregnant after all; my pleas to the universe being answered.

I found myself thinking of this the other evening, out of nowhere, with the sudden realization that, had things turned out differently, had she been pregnant, that kid would be older than I was when everything had happened on that night. Suddenly, I felt older.

Welcome Back Welcome Back Welcome

As you read this, I’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con for the first time in three years. (I’m writing this ahead of time, because at the show itself, I’ll be writing up… well, a lot of other things.) I’m genuinely nervous about returning, for reasons that have nothing to do with my very real fear of getting COVID from a convention center filled with 150,000 people; I’m nervous about returning to the show and the exertion required to cover it across its five-day span, and whether I’ll have aged out of being able to do that without getting too exhausted and overwhelmed on a regular basis.

My editors, bless them, have been particularly generous about building in time for me to relax and not lose my mind. There’s an official schedule, and on it, there’s a note that repeats in all caps, telling us to RELAX; there are even asterisks surrounding it for emphasis. We’re all seasoned Comic-Con veterans, and yet, we’re also all aware that it’s been three years and we’re all a little older and a little bit wary at this point. We all need reminders in capital letters, putting our health and well-being on the schedule just in case we lose track of the important things.

I am excited about it all; I should say that. As nervous as I am, I’m excited to get back to this thing that I really have been missing for all this time. There’s something about a convention (and, especially covering a convention for work the way that I’ve been doing pretty continuously for the last decade-plus) that is an experience unlike any other, and it’s something that I’ve surprised myself by missing to the extent that I have. So, yeah: I’m glad to be going back, all things considered… I’m just quietly expecting disaster at any given opportunity, because, well, given the past couple of years, why wouldn’t I?

Meanwhile, Two Decades Earlier

I wrote awhile back about missing the 20th anniversary of my moving to the States; real life had intruded and I was too busy just… doing stuff (probably work) to keep track of when that had actually happened. Well, as I’ve been filling in paperwork relating to my new job, I’ve recently been revisiting my immigration progress and can happily report: it was March 17, 2002, that I left the UK for good and moved to the United States.

I’d actually forgotten just how convoluted and involved all the immigration stuff was, to be honest. My brain had blurred it all into a list of lengthy meetings and headshots taken at photographers who made their living helping immigrants with last minute government-ready images; something that was, repeatedly, a drag but not necessarily hard or unpleasant. It went on for years and it was expensive, sure, but it wasn’t that bad, I’d told myself.

Looking back at all the paperwork, and there’s a lot of paperwork to look back at, is a reminder of how incremental the process was, and how nerve wracking that felt at the time. Every decision, no matter how seemingly small in retrospect — going from a Conditional Permanent Resident of the US to being a Permanent Resident of the US, for example — would take months, and would require written requests, supporting documentation, and no small amount of patience.

Amusingly, my memory proved to be faulty in the different direction, as well; I remember the wait between the marriage and getting a green card as taking a long time, in part because of the complaints I was getting from Kate on a regular basis about my not bringing money into the house. Turns out, I had a green card three weeks after getting married. There’s no small amount of retrospective maybe there were earlier signs that I didn’t pick up on to learn from looking back, it seems.

Looking through all the paperwork was a sobering, surreal reminder of things I’d clearly filed away mentally with no desire to revisit. At the same time, though, it’s almost exciting to excavate your own life and relearn your own history.

And The Drop Beat Sounds Like This

I’ve been thinking about mixtapes, recently. Not in the sense that the term is currently used — I’m not about to drop my debut and reveal previously unknown skill on the mic, I’m sad to say — nor, really, in the same nostalgic sense that many have about choosing the perfect tracks and putting them in the right order, so as to convince your target audience of your desired message; instead, I’ve been thinking about the actual, physical act of making those tapes in the first place. The sitting down and building the mix, song by song, hitting record on each and every track.

(Not every mixtape had some deep message behind it, of course; I can remember making tapes for myself and others that had no meaning deeper than these songs are cool, maybe you’ll like them too and that was more than enough. Of course, plenty of that tapes I made did have ulterior motives, because that was the language we all shared and spoke, even if it was an entirely unstated agreement between us all at the time.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the actual act of making the tapes. The fact that I’d choose the songs — taking great care to sequence them right, listening to the start of each potential new track to convince myself that it fit — with great care, and then hit the pause button to start recording in time for the song to start. I’ve been thinking about how all of this was live, which meant that any mistake — a skip in the record, the CD jumping, whatever — was part of the tape itself, and how that didn’t feel as scary then as it somehow does now, in an age of making playlists digitally with everything clean and controlled. 

There was an element of… chaos, perhaps…? An element of surrender to the process, acceptance that messiness and imperfection was part of the plan, that was central to making a mixtape back in the day. A lack of control but a comfort with that, too. I need to get my head back to that space again, I think. Sometimes a record skips; it can still sound like music.

And In Health

The last week has been a reminder, not that I needed one, that Covid stalks the world at large; in the space of a few days, my best friend and his wife tested positive, even as Chloe’s grandparents and the nine-year-old (who’s spending the summer with them) did the same. Two days after that, a booster shot laid both Chloe and myself out entirely, both of us feeling entirely sick just as the result of a quick vaccination shot. Illness is, as has been the case for the last two and a bit years, all around us.

It’s not as if I’d ever really forgotten that, per se; I still wear my mask almost every time I leave the house — I might leave it off if I’m just walking the dog, and expecting that I’m going to be keeping my distance from everyone else, and in an open-air space — and I barely go anywhere that isn’t the grocery store, especially now that the kid is on summer break and doesn’t need to be walked to school each morning. I am, on some level, always conscious that Covid is out there, preparing to strike and fearful of that possibility. And yet.

There’s something I’ve been thinking of, with regards to the virus, lately, and it feeds into all this: the idea that it’s become an inevitability that we’ll all get it (again). I’d normalized it, made it into this thing like a cold where it’s at once unavoidable and also not a big deal, helped by… I don’t know, a society that’s sending that message more every day, I guess. But then people you love get it, and there’s this moment of worrying, what if they have a really bad case? What if they die? and it becomes scary in a way it hasn’t felt in a long time again. You remember how big and dangerous it feels, after all.

Wherever, Whatever

I’ve recently been seeing the word “woolgathering” in use again, in a number of places. It’s something that I never heard used as a kid, but read more than once; I’m pretty sure that Judge Dredd would say it on occasion, in one of those moments where the quasi-transatlantic nature of the comic became all-too-visible. (I mean, come on; what tough future New York cop would describe himself as woolgathering?)

For those unfamiliar with the term — I suspect that’s most anyone who might chance upon this post — it’s dictionary definition is straightforward: “indulgence in idle fancies and in daydreaming; absentmindedness.” To woolgather is, I guess, just meandering around mentally, thinking of whatever comes into your head and following it wherever it goes. It’s what I do here all the time.

I’ve become a fan of woolgathering lately; or, rather, it’s something I’ve learned to appreciate more fully. My current workload requires me to create cohesive, extended arguments on a daily basis, to research things and excavate the truth, and then curate everything into the most easily-understandable, almost certainly briefest version of events for whoever happens to be reading. It’s something that, to put it mildly, requires a fair amount of concentration.

At the same time as doing that, though, I need to be thinking about what’s next — planning future pitches, paying attention to whatever might be fodder for a story for another outlet, or whatever. My brain doesn’t get the luxury of solely concentrating on one thing for any extended period of time, because there’s always, always, the next thing to think about. So, I gather wool. I let my mind go where it wants, every now and again, and see what happens.

It’s an odd idea, to consider allowing your mind to wander to be not only a skill that you can develop, but one that can be productive. In both cases, though, that’s true for me. Woolgathering has become a necessary part of my process, even if the name for it sounds particularly casual and rustic.

What You’re Doing

I still think there’s something amusing about my missing the 20th anniversary of my arrival in the US as a permanent resident. It happened back in March sometime — I can’t remember the date offhand, but it was somewhere in the center of that month — and, although I was aware that it was coming ahead of time and casually, aimlessly, told myself that I should probably do something to mark such a momentous occasion, I missed it entirely when it actually rolled around. I was too busy with the day-to-day of life, and making sure that more important things were taken care of.

Putting it like that suggests that there was something else of great import happening at the time, some kind of event that was distracting me. Surely, after all, I could only miss the 20th anniversary if another Big Important Thing was taking up my headspace instead. That’s not true, though, to the best of my admittedly faulty recollection; March was simply another month, like so many other months in the last year or so, where the everyday is so packed and busy that things that… well, aren’t really important fall out of your head to make room for the good stuff.

That, at its core, is why I’m so amused and delighted by forgetting the me-getting-to-the-US anniversary. There was a time, and there was a me, not that long ago that would have hyper-focused on marking the date as some truly important, necessary thing to pay attention to, something meaningful. Now, though, I’ve become someone who’s too busy just living life — loving those around me, taking care of them, doing work that makes me happy so I can help support them — to reliably keep track of such things. I am, ironically, doing the really meaningful stuff so much that I’m forgetting about the self-indulgent faux meaningful.

Ernie

There’s no way to say goodbye to a pet, not really. Everything feels emotionally overwhelming, and you try your best in the moment, wishing that they understand on some level, hoping that your very presence and the physical affection you’re offering is, on some level, reassuring and enough to bring them some level of happiness at the end.

Ernie’s death came quickly, thanks to the vet’s skill, but it was the last part of a week that had been more difficult and, I suspect, more stressful and upsetting for him than he could have imagined.

He’d had oral surgery on the Tuesday, to have 25 teeth removed; they’d rotted in his skull over the years, under the gums, and were causing him pain, so it was decided that they had to come out; he went in nervous in the morning, and came out doped up and drooling that evening. The surgery, they said, had been longer and more extensive than anticipated, but they expected a full recovery.

I did, too; after all, his brother Gus had something similar happen last year, and he was back to normal in a day or so. That wasn’t the case for Ernie, however.

He spent hours on the Wednesday whining and crying and vomiting; there was so much vomit. He sounded so unhappy, on a primal level. I called the vet, and was told this was normal the day after a major surgery, as bad as it seemed, and that I should call the next day if he hasn’t improved. By Thursday morning, he couldn’t stand up and was still refusing food and now refusing water. The vet agreed to take a look.

Everything after that is a blur, really; multiple discoveries of bad news — his kidneys seemed to be failing, his blood sugar was far too low, his stomach distended, the nodules on his liver — and no real understanding about why or what was the reason for the sudden, shocking downward turn. I felt helpless and heartbroken with each new call. As he was checked into a hospital for constant care, I knew on some level it was the end even as others told me that he could still get better.

Friday morning, 6am, I got the call that nothing had improved and that they still had no idea what was happening. I asked if he could survive without this level of constant medical intervention, with IVs and anti-nausea medications and everything, and was told that he still hadn’t tried to eat or drink anything at that point. “If this was your dog, what would you do?” I asked the vet.

Two hours later, I was in a small room with him. His tail wagged when he saw me, the first time his tail had wagged since Monday. I held him on my lap as the vet offered the three injections, and told him that I loved him, that I’d miss him, and that he was a good boy. I hope he knew, somehow, that all three were true.

Four Times The Fun

Like most people on social media, judging by my feed, I fell for the siren song of Wordle some time ago. How could I resist? There’s just something about the appeal of a quick, daily, word game that lets you think Oh, I’m so smart, I guessed “rouge” on three attempts on a regular basis while also giving you the space to ignore the pure luck factor of it all. (Look, if you start off with the wrong word, sometimes you’re just fucked.)

The problem with Wordle, though, is that there’s just one word a day. That’s not enough for the truly obsessive need for distraction that lives inside my brain, dear reader. I needed something… more. I needed Quordle.

As the name suggests, Quordle is Wordle, but you’re simultaneously guessing four different words at the same time; you get more passes to make that happen, of course — nine instead of six — but that’s not the only change that’s important. No, with Quordle, there’s a “practice” setting that lets you play as many rounds as you want, instead of just one round a day. And that, let me tell you, is a game changer.

Quordle has become what I do if my brain is feeling restless, but I’m not ready to handle anything particularly requiring true focus just yet. If I have my iPad to hand — for some reason, I only play it on my iPad, which feels like a sign of true obsessiveness — then I’ll just play a quick round, and then almost certainly play a second before remembering I should probably be doing something else instead. It’s something that happens almost every day.

Moreover, it’s something that in a strange way has made me… slower and more methodical outside of the game, perhaps? For the first three passes, I’m throwing out whatever words I can think of to get letters on (and off) the board, but then I stop and start being analytical and deductive; I become a consonant Sherlock Holmes, trying out combinations in my head, however unlikely they seem. It sounds ridiculous, but Quordle has taught me the value of doing something similar in my writing and self-editing, as well.

I’m aware that the game is, perhaps, a timesuck and something I could and should pass up in favor of more worthwhile pursuits. Eventually, that may even happen. For now, though, I just need to figure out if any word could start with an X and then have a U as the next letter.

Simply Nowhere To Be Found

The cat had entirely, utterly disappeared. There were three of us looking for him, running through the three-level house and checking all the rooms as quickly as we could, and he was nowhere to be found.

We were preparing for an inspection of the house by the landlords, and already relatively excited, by which I mean stressed and exhausted; although we were pretty confident that everything would be fine — we take really good care of this house! We make small repairs ourselves, without complaint! —there was just a feeling of, listen, you never know when things can go south unexpectedly, that made us nervous. Both Chloe and I have become suspicious of relying on good feelings and good fortune over the past year or so.

With the landlords due in thirty minutes or so, the plan was for her mom, visiting from out of town, to take the cats during the inspection to ensure an orderliness and calm that wouldn’t otherwise happen; but one of the cats had utterly vanished. He’d been around for a first attempt to go in a crate to be carried out, but he’d resisted and run upstairs; we watched him go… but he was nowhere to be found upstairs. Nor, it turned out, was he downstairs, either.

We searched the house maybe four, five times with no luck. He was simply gone, but that was impossible, too — he couldn’t get outside because doors and windows were shut. Things had reached the point where we were starting to find it simultaneously funny and genuinely insane-making; how can a cat disappear so completely? Did he even exist in the first place, or have we been hallucinating him all these years? Was this the end of a cat version of Fight Club? All the while, the clock is ticking down and the landlords’ arrival is getting closer.

Reality was restored when he was discovered inside a box spring, having burrowed himself in there at some point without anyone noticing. The inspection went well, and all was good in the world, but for the rest of the day, I kept remembering what it felt like when he was simply nowhere, as impossible as it was.