Kitchens and Living Rooms

Once upon a time — and we’re talking some time ago; I was living in Scotland at the time, and this year marks two decades since I moved to the U.S. — I prided myself on enjoying the dour autumns and winters that surrounded me every year.

The seasons would slip from summer into something colder, darker, and more permanently overcast, and I would find myself thinking, finally, this is what I’ve been waiting for for so long. I have a particularly vivid memory of walking along the street where I was born, the leaves all off the trees, turning the branches into some kind of gothic silhouette against a particularly grey, cloud-filled sky, and feeling as if this was the ideal environment for me at that point in my life. There was something beautiful about it, beyond simply whatever adolescent or post-adolescent angst I happened to be living through at that moment.

Even after I moved to the U.S., I found myself enjoying the colder, more overcast weather when it arrived. When I first lived in San Francisco, it was in an apartment that basically straddled the line between the foggy side of the city and the sunny side; if I looked out the living room window, everything was grey, but out the kitchen window, there was sunshine and warmth. I spent a lot of time looking out of the living room window, feeling particularly at home.

With this in mind, of course Portland, Oregon was a fine place to move to. The weather here reminds me of Scotland at many times each year, and it’s arguably one of the reasons why I love the city as much as I do. Each fall arrives and brings with it darkness and a coldness that feels seasonal and appropriate. You know what time of the year it is, based on what’s out the window, no matter when you look.

I mention all of this, of course, because the past week has brought with it more sun than we’ve seen in a long time, and I’ve been surprised by just how much it’s lightened my mood and made things feel more possible by implication. Perhaps this is me aging, or simply a sign that even the most weather curmudgeon of us all needs a little bit of solar power every now and then; either way, there’s something to be said for seeing your shadow after so long of it being a faint blur.

All Possibilities

My writing rhythm is off.

That’s been the case for the last couple of weeks, since returning from the holiday break — I almost wrote “that’s been the case all year,” but that felt misleading, even if it would have been factually correct. Nonetheless, I’ve been off since returning to the holidays, finding it unusually hard to sit down and concentrate on one particular thing instead of finding multiple different things to think about and distract me.

Partially, this comes from trying to keep multiple balls in the air for the newsletter, so as to allow for me to hit the self-imposed “two a week, one of which has some original reporting” deadline that I gave myself, before realizing how time consuming and overwhelming that actually is to work under. (I really should have started smaller; alas.) Every day now starts with emails and checking in on stories and trying to make sure things are moving along in relatively timely manners on multiple things, even as I try not to get too upset by the multiple things that run aground despite the best intentions of all involved.

(This week alone, for example, three things that were in process might have fallen off the docket for various reasons; none of that is really anyone’s fault per se, but each one means that I’ll need to come up with a replacement story and pretty quickly, considering.)

And so, by the time I get around to actually writing anything, I’m already scattered and in a frame of mind that almost refuses to concentrate on the task at hand — something made all the more difficult by needing to break that concentration when it does happen to take the dog outside to pee, or to deal with any number of other outside interruptions that happen every day. As a result, I’m writing less, and failing to find my rhythm.

Maybe that’s next week’s problem.

All Apologies

I admit, it wasn’t my intention to have all of last week’s posts here be almost entirely image-based. I had a vague idea that I’d be able to write about what was happening for me professionally — the launch of my comics journo newsletter Comics FYI — in such a way that would be both informative for anyone reading and an exorcism of the anxiety I was feeling surrounding the whole enterprise. Circumstances, however, had an entirely different plan for me, as it turned out.

Before the week began, I had a rough idea of how I expected it to go. There were a number of things to accomplish outside of work — none of them particularly important beyond some paperwork and a couple of outstanding emails that had to be followed up on — but I felt laser-focused on the newsletter that I knew I’d be sending out Wednesday morning. That was what the week was all about (to the point where I wasn’t entirely sure what the following Friday’s newsletter would be, which was only a mild worry at the start of the week; by the end, it was a significantly greater one). As it happened, my entire plan for the week was utterly gone by midweek.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I was in entirely the wrong mindset for the whole thing. I’d gone into the week thinking, oh, it’s the first week back after the holidays, everyone is going to be relatively lowkey, which was very much not the case — especially when it came to bad news that streamed in to attack so many people around me. It felt as if we were all entering a battle without realizing it, or preparing adequately, and we all paid the price — even if that price was merely feeling battered, bruised, and exhausted at the end of each day.

All of which is a long way of saying, “my brain was too scrambled to write last week. I’m sorry, I’ll try harder this week.” But even then — who knows if that will do any good, given what may lie ahead?

Can You Take Me Back Where I Came From

I have, by now, outgrown the idea that New Year matters in any way beyond the purely symbolic, and even possibly (probably) in that respect as well. I’ve lost the ability to believe that things will change in any meaningful way just because we’ve gone from December to January, no matter how much I may try to convince myself otherwise.

Despite this, I’m relieved to leave 2021 behind today.

This year has been hard in ways that I’m still not sure I fully understand, or am even properly aware of. It has been a year of opportunities disappearing as soon as they popped up, and of long-established certainties being undermined, at least insofar as work has been concerned. It’s been financially dreadful in a way that’s almost comic — you know, if it weren’t dreadful — and stressful to degrees that I’ve never really had to struggle with before. It has, in other words, been a complete and utter shitshow.

That I’ve been able to make it through has little to do with my own fortitude, and everything to do with good luck from the past and the kindness and support of loved ones. I cannot overstate the importance of Chloe during the last year, in keeping me sane and providing perspective and distraction when needed; I dread to think where I’d be without her.

Again, nothing is going to magically change when today rolls into tomorrow, and 2021 becomes 2022; the problems and challenges will still be there, still waiting to be wrestled with or simply abandoned altogether — the latter may be the best route in the long run, I suspect — just as they have been for basically all of this year. All that will be different, really, will be the digit at the end of the year and the jokes about writing the wrong dates on checks, as if anyone does that anymore.

But still. Fuck you, 2021. I’m glad to say goodbye to you and at least pretend to move on.

Timeless

The liminal space between Christmas and New Year is such a strange thing to live through each year, especially for one who cares little for the latter holiday such as myself. Things slow down around you, as people pause to take stock of things and consider what lies ahead — even if that simply means making a list of upcoming social possibilities.

For me, this week is always one where I feel unmoored in time. This year, that’s been especially true, for some reason: I’ve been convinced that I’m a day later than the truth since Monday, for some mysterious reason; thinking back to days that quite literally don’t exist as I try to make mental notes and maps of when I am and how I got there. Can you believe it’s Wednesday already? I think to myself on Tuesday, simultaneously astonished at how quickly and slowly time seems to be passing, while utterly incorrect about just where I actually am on that particular journey.

Part of it stems from the fact that neither Christmas Eve nor Christmas Day feel like specific days, especially this year — they’re somehow separate from the week and just exist as happy monoliths outside of regular time. Even on Christmas Eve this year, I was remarking on the fact that it felt like the official Big Day already: I’d talked to my family in Scotland and spent the day surrounded by my family here, full of cheer and love. Wasn’t that what Christmas is all about…? By the time December 25th rolled around with gifts in tow, I felt something akin to seasonal deja vu.

Not for the first time, I find myself pondering the Advent Calendar and wishing it was something we could continue and adapt for the entire year. Not just adopting a regular calendar, but making a daily event where establishing the day and date for all becomes an event in and of itself. Say what you like about the tradition, but at least an Advent Calendar leaves little doubt about where you are in December each year. Well, until the week between Christmas and New Year, of course.

Shhhhh

There is, as the song goes, a kind of hush all over the world at this time of year.

I remember standing outside during Christmas Day, and it being completely still. I looked up and down the block — a block that is, if not always very busy, then at least home to some kind of foot traffic if not vehicular traffic as well — and there was absolutely no-one to be seen. It was as if everyone was hiding away, worried that Santa was running late and they didn’t want to ruin their chances of getting presents by seeing him.

It made me remember the stillness of my hometown on Christmases of my childhood. Again, I lived on a street that was relatively busy at almost every other part of the year, but every single Christmas, it would be supernaturally quiet, as if there had been some kind of law passed that everyone had to stay inside their homes until a certain time had come and gone. The street would be entirely empty, desolate, until some indistinct point in the afternoon when — no matter the weather — a child would appear on a new bicycle, wobbling their way down the road with an anxious parent nervously running behind. Every single year.

There weren’t any kids on bikes this year. Things stayed entirely quiet for the entire day, as far as I could see. (Perhaps everyone was afraid of the snow storm that had been forecast, but waited until we were all in bed, asleep, before barely arriving.) But it got me thinking: maybe there’s something about the holidays that makes everything particularly quiet — people traveling to see loved ones and then staying inside with those loved ones, perhaps, or something more basic about the bad weather. (Who could blame them?)

Maybe that’s something else to treasure about the holidays, then: the temporary silence that speeds around the world, allowing us a chance to turn off, just for a little bit.

As To Get Me Christmas Cheer

Chloe and I were talking the other day about the fact that Christmas has snuck up on all of us this year. I’m not entirely sure how that could be true — it’s not as if we’ve all been unusually busy recently, although we’ve certainly had more than our fair share of nonsense to take care of (To be fair, we kind of did it to ourselves, getting a puppy that was roughly three months old and then having to deal with the reality of that. That’s hardly been the most relaxing thing) — and yet, somehow, it is. It’s Christmas Eve already. How did that happen?

There are so many things that I feel I haven’t done, or done enough of. I haven’t listened to enough Christmas music — although, to be fair, I don’t think there’s an upper limit of “enough” for some Christmas songs — and I haven’t had enough mincemeat and pretended that I was actually interested in the whole pie instead of the chopped fruit innards. I haven’t had stollen at all, even. What have I actually been doing with my month?

The answer to that is, in many cases, equally seasonal: we did get to go downtown to enjoy what passes for Portland’s Christmas lights this year (a mall Santa waved to me, and I was as thrilled as if I was a kid again); we did watch an outrageous amount of holiday movies and television shows, and there was much shopping and wrapping and prepping for the big day itself. There are worse ways to spend the month leading up to Christmas, and I don’t really regret any of it at all. I just wish there was more time.

This, of course, is the truth about the holidays and getting older. You realize that it’s not about the day as much as it’s about the lead-up to the day — the weeks and days covered by the advent calendar, with everyone filled with anticipation and excitement about what’s to come. The older you get, the less you can even plan which presents you want, never mind look forward to getting everything on your list; you just want to embrace the season and believe in the goodwill, however shortlived it may be.

Happy holidays, if you celebrate.

And The Sky Is A

It sounds genuinely absurd, but I’ve become oddly obsessed with the idea of natural attrition lately — or, perhaps, natural degradation is a better way to put it, all focused on the backyard of the house we’ve been living in for the past three years, and how swiftly it changed entirely due to the entirely odd weather we’ve been having for the last few months.

Fall seemed to arrive late and suddenly, when what had felt like a lengthy summer slipped into a sudden windy and rainy snap that helped all the leaves off the trees in record time. What had been such a dry earth in the yard was suddenly sodden, muddy and filled with puddles that were caked with leaves as far as the eye could see. The entire environment changed in what felt like a day.

And now, everything is changing again out there: the rains of the last few weeks — really dramatic, torrential downpours — paired with the freezing temperatures have terraformed a new yard once again. The leaves are disappearing, slowly mulched into non-existence by the elements, and the mud has started shifting in ways that feel almost intentional, creating rivers and pools in the ground that look and feel as if they’ve been there for years.

Watching all of this happen has been a passive pleasure across the last few months, something I’ve noticed as I’ve taken the dogs outside to pee, or moved trash bins from the back of the house to the sidewalk on Sunday evenings. As ridiculous as it sounds, it’s been helpful in such a shitty year to look at something like this, entirely out of anyone’s control but constantly in motion, constantly evolving.

There’s something very comforting to me with watching the world do things that it does, outside of any human interaction, right there in my own backyard. Being constantly surprised by changes that I could never hope to predict, and waiting to see what’s next.

The End of The Road

I saw someone tweet something today along the lines of, “It’s at the point of the year when you have to sort everything into ‘December Problems’ or ‘January Problems,'” to which someone else responded, basically saying that at this point, everything is a January problem. Suffice to say, I understand that point of view particularly well right now.

Despite not having worked in education for more than two decades now — and not having been a student for even longer — I maintain a sincere belief in school holidays as a model for… well, time off from everything. Obviously, not everyone can enjoy two weeks of break around the holidays, and it’s not even something that everyone would want, more fool them, but still: I wholeheartedly think that having a significant holiday break would be a better thing for the majority of people at this time of year.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, in no small part because the nine-year-old is on holiday break right now, and I have found myself being actively jealous; listening to him talk about how he has the next two weeks off and thinking to myself, you’re not even going to appreciate it properly like some old curmudgeon.

(In my defense, he won’t; I certainly never did, when I was a kid. The last couple of days of the holiday would arrive and I’d somehow be surprised, feeling as if I’d wasted every moment of break to that point.)

(That doesn’t actually mean I’m not a curmudgeon, however.)

All of this is a preamble to admitting that I am, in an unofficial sense, declaring a holiday break for myself this year. This is assisted by the fact that work is supernaturally slow as the year draws to a close, but I’ve decided to attempt to carve myself some downtime over the next couple of weeks — outside of the actual holidays themselves — in order to try and get my brain a little less full and a little more prepared for what’s to come. Let’s try to get 2022 started as right as possible, even if everything might collapse just days later; hell, based on this year, maybe even just hours later.

Check, Please

I wrote a thing, earlier this year, to basically argue to get hired as a full-time comics reporter at an outlet. It was, to all intents and purposes, a manifesto arguing that comics as an industry worked at enough of a financial scale to be worth said outlet investing in a full time industry specialist — something that also paid attention to the ways in which comics are the source material for other media and thereby worthy of attention and reporting that might otherwise seem out of scale with how big comics actually is, as a business.

It was a document that I’d been asked for; in fact, it came out of a conversation that suggested that the position — while not something that existed at that point in time — was a very definite possibility, with me being the person most likely to fill the position. In other words, it was a document that I was eager to write, and something that ultimately ended up being part passion project and part research intensive, figure-filled argument to demonstrate that I was very much coming at the subject from a position of authority. Which, not unintentionally, would also demonstrate that I was the right person to fill the position I was arguing should exist.

As is clearly the case, considering what I’ve been writing about recently, all of this came to naught — the position never happened, and therefore I couldn’t fill it. When I got the final word on this subject, I thought to myself, I should just post the manifesto on the blog, and what had previously been in this very WYSIWYG window was, indeed, that manifesto. Common sense prevailed, in the end, as I realized that it was a document that I might want to revisit and recycle for other outlets at some point in the future. Hence, this post.

I write this not simply to fill in what would otherwise have been a void of something I didn’t say, but to point out the value of keeping some things back for the future, just in case. Who knows what 2022 has in store, after all…?