Secret Origins

When I was going through all my paperwork a few weeks ago, I discovered what was a complete set of thumbnails for a (seemingly complete) short comic strip that was part 1950s DC Comics parody and part loving tribute to 2000 AD. I have no recollection of writing/drawing it, nor do I have any clue when I would have done so — based on the fact that it was on paper from a particular sketchbook, I’d say that it’s more than a decade old, and from when I was still living in San Francisco, but that’s just a guess — but the strangest thing was reading it and going, “Oh, that’s right, I guess that was something I did once, I guess?”

There was a point where I wanted to make comics. To be exact, there have been multiple points where I wanted to do it, and in various ways; when I was a teenager, I wanted nothing more than to be a comic book artist, to the point where I even took samples to a convention and showed them to… someone? (I sadly can’t remember who, or even from what publisher. I do remember how nervous I was, and how I could not hear the encouragement being offered over the “You’re not quite ready yet” rejection.)

Later, when I was newly in the United States, I wanted to be a comic book writer, kind of. I actually had a few brushes with the possibility that didn’t happen for various reasons, but one of the recurring impediments was the fact that, deep down, I didn’t really want to be a comic book writer; I was convinced that I’d be no good and so never went the distance, despite those on the sidelines egging me on at various times.

(Sometimes, I look back at one of the opportunities available to me that I all-but-bailed on and want to eat my fist, but I digress.)

Which is what makes this thumbnailed short so surprising. I don’t know why I did it, or if it was intended for any particular purpose. Had I promised something to someone? (If so, I guess I didn’t deliver) Was it something I did just for fun? Was there some part of me, at whatever time I made it, that still wanted to do comics?

All I know now is, I’m tempted to go find those pages again and see if I could draw them now. Just to see what they’d look like.

We Take Our Time

There’s something very amusing to me about the fact that, every now and then, I get fantasies about taking time off from my job writing to… write some more. But I do; every now and then, I get the urge to just take some time during the day to write something for here, or for the Wait, What site, or something else that’s personal and not “work.”

It’s not that I have any kind of grand design or magnum opus that I’m aching to get to — although I have been meaning to write a series for Wait, What about the post-Kirby New Gods books since January — more, simply, that there are times where putting work to the fore because, you know, it’s what pays the bills and I like bills being paid, can leave me feeling wrung out and hollow. There’s a lot to be said both for the opportunities my job allows me and the people I work with (Many of whom I love dearly), but occasionally, it can leave me feeling like a cog in a machine.

And yet, if I were honest, should I take time off, I’d want to spend that time writing something. I can’t explain why; it’s the way I understand the world, I guess. I write here despite knowing only two people read it; in doing so, I work through ideas and feelings and end up with something resembling a finished thought. (“Resembling” being the important word.) In that sense, I’m an old school blogger, I guess.

Maybe I just need someone to start paying me to write about utterly random subjects and feelings. That’s a thing that’s certainly not impossible, right…?

I’ve Been Caught In A Trap I Set For Myself

I don’t listen to music when I write. I was going to say that I can’t, but that’s not true; I’ve worked in cafes where there’s music and, yes, it’s different and difficult and I’m slower, but it’s certainly possible. But I don’t like to do it; I get distracted and connections don’t get made the same way.

I wish that wasn’t true; I wish that I could listen to something as I type away, that my brain could split its attention and do both things at once. If nothing else, I feel like it would give me the opportunity to listen to more music than I currently do, and arguably discover new things to adore. (Spotify, I know I should hate you and your algorithms, and yet…!) In theory, it sounds like some kind of perpetual motion machine, something new entering your head as you output things from inside it. And yet…

I need, I think, to listen too much for it to work for me. Even if it’s just background noise, something will happen — some unexpected melody, a chord change, a half-understood lyric — and my concentration will be with the music, not anything else. It happens when I’m out and having conversations, too; I’ll hear something in the background and my head will go, I am interested in what you’re saying, but what is this song? What just happened?

I’m an easily distracted writer at the best of times, so you can imagine how much trouble music would be for me. But I continually wish that wasn’t the case. I see people write about what they’re listening to as they write, their soundtracks, and I get jealous. If only that could be me, if only my brain worked like that…!

Instead, I work in silence aside from the grumbles and moans I make without realizing it, and the sound of the keys as I hit them. Which, in its own way, is music of some sort.

You Say I’m Putting You On But It’s No Joke

I write a weekly column for Wired which is, ostensibly, a summary/explanation of five things that people have been talking about online over the last seven days. It has, over the past couple years, transformed into a weird record of political events as the world has become swallowed by the news (or, perhaps, since I have become swallowed by the news). It’s one of the most exhausting things I work on, every single week.

I mean that in multiple senses. Practically, it’s a lot; it’s probably the longest thing I’ll write in most weeks, coming in around 2000 words every Friday morning before edits, and researching it is a bear, taking up a chunk of every week. I spend hours looking on Twitter and elsewhere throughout the week to find what people are talking about, and then trying to backtrack to find what the shape of that conversation was, how it started, how it evolved, not to mention external (online) sources to back up the social media of it all.

I hand it in every Friday somewhere between 7 and 9 am, and have from then until Monday as a break to not continually be searching for potential fodder. Otherwise, I’m on it; looking for what stories are trending, what interests me, who’s saying what and if there’s anything to it. It’s exhausting in that sense, too.

And then there’s just the sad fact of, there is rarely any good news. It sounds almost like a joke, but in the last few years — I want to say, since Trump got elected, but that’s not the whole truth — the news has just been overwhelmingly, oppressively, bad. People get hurt. Institutional and societal mass cruelty spreads across the world like a virus. Bad people get more and more successful, get away with more and more shit. That is exhausting, too. Writing about that, every single week.

I’m writing this instead of looking at social media right now. When I’m done, I’ll go back to see what people are talking about, and try to decipher what’s right for the column, and what is just people venting on Twitter. But I’m tired.

One Day, Maybe Next Week

When Entertainment Weekly went monthly — without changing its name, because of course, why would it? — I tweeted out something about how I had always wanted to write for the magazine. After more than a decade doing this professional pop culture writer thing, I still have these bucket list items, these outlets I want to pursue.

It’s not that I’ve never tried. There’s one in particular that I’ve tried many many times over the years, and been rebuffed each time in a series of increasingly amusing, awkward, form responses, each one stinging just a little more than the last. Some, I’ve circled around warily for the entire time, knowing that it’s still not the right time and waiting for an unknown, unclear final piece to be slotted in before I’m ready. Others, I just… wait for, awkwardly.

I’ve written for a lot of places over the years, some genuinely iconic. I’ve been in TimePlayboy and Wired! I’ve reached the point where I’m both confident and proud about my career, thankfully, and not just expecting to be outed as a fraud at any minute. That’s enough to make my bucket list feel possible, at least. One day or another, I’ll get in there, wherever the “there” of it happens to be.

Where It’s At

I decided to restart this site as a going concern — not that I had ever really decided to stop it being a going concern, as such, but things happen and real life gets in the way — at the start of 2019 as a little bit of selfishness and a small amount of self discipline, mixed together. My 2018 had ended dramatically, and I was in a very different place than I had been a year earlier, both emotionally and physically. The notion of having a place where I could “be myself,” whatever that might mean, and write things for me, as opposed to work or for friends or whatever, was a very exciting one.

I started it, also, not knowing how long I’d keep it up. This wasn’t going to be the first time I’d promise myself I’d do this, after all, and previous attempts had run aground all-too-quickly, for various reasons. This time, things would be different, I half-heartedly told myself, because this time, I was different.

I set myself a schedule — three posts a week, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays — with occasional quote-posts in between if I found anything interesting and remembered to do it. And I set off.

At some point, somewhere in the middle of February or the beginning of March, I realized that I’d actually managed to write ahead enough that I was scheduled out with posts three weeks in the future or so. It was, to some degree, thrilling, but also a relief; that way, it seemed less likely that I’d drop off altogether, because now I had a buffer. Surely, if the worst came to the worst, I’d find the chance to find time to write within that three week window and refill my schedule appropriately?

For months, I did. And then, for some reason, June just killed me. It wasn’t that my workload increased — if anything, I was maybe less productive than I had been in other months? — but my concentration was shot, somehow. Weeks went by without me writing here, or writing very little, and suddenly… I had no buffer left.

I was faced with the prospect of either taking a break from the site  or deciding to stick with it and just, well, write. I chose the latter, and I’m surprisingly glad that I did. It sounds odd, I know, but I feel like I chose something selfish in a good, positive way. Is this place self-care for me? Is that too pretentious to suggest? Or simply too honest?

And I Can Easily Understand How You Can Easily

I think about ambition sometimes. And the future. These thoughts are not unrelated.

A common question I get asked is, Why don’t you write a book? and my common answer has evolved to be, Once I figure out what I’d want to write a book about, I will. It’s not a dodge; I like the idea of writing a book — even more so, of having written one when it’s finished — but I genuinely don’t know what that book would be, and that feels like a bit of a hurdle to jump, all things considered.

(I have friends who have book agents, who have been approached by publishers and agents to write something based on their work online, and I’ve always been jealous of that. It’s never happened to me, and although I know it’s because I don’t do that kind of writing for the most part, I still find myself thinking that it’s because people can sense my lack of ideas.)

This all comes to mind again reading an interview with a TV writer who was once a journalist, and my thinking, Oh, I wonder if I could do that, and then thinking of the friends who’ve gone from journalism to TV, movies, comics. There are more than a few who’ve made the jump.

They did so because this journalism thing is impermanent, isn’t to be trusted. Writing about pop culture isn’t something I can realistically do for much longer, never mind forever; I’m in my 40s, after all. I should have some kind of long term plan. I need one. And yet. And yet.

My ambition lags behind my necessity. I’m happy doing what I’m doing, for now. And I literally don’t have an idea for what my next step would be, just yet. Maybe tomorrow.


Moleskine Dreams

I always wanted to be someone with a moleskin notebook who sat in cafes and wrote deathless prose and brief snippets of beautiful poetry about the people around me. It’s not who I am, of course — I can barely string together sentences that make sense, and poetry is far beyond me — but there’s something about the idea that remains appealing.

For a couple of years at the end of the 20th century (And how weird it is to write that sentence and think, That’s right, I lived through the end of a century as if it was nothing special, Damon Albarn’s own poetry aside), I kept notebooks filled with writing. I wrote what was a diary, I guess, although I’m sure I thought of it as “a journal,” as if that was somehow more artistic and meaningful. In my defense, I had just finished art school and was still teaching there, so pretension was a comfortable second language.

Those notebooks were filled with everything internal in a way that I soon lost the ability to express. I remember very clearly a point in the early 2000s, when I was newly in San Francisco, taking public transport to work and feeling embarrassed about the intimacy and sincerity I displayed in those early notebooks, convinced that the knowing irony and unearned self-confidence I was wearing publicly as a writer at that point was inherently superior. I was finding success as a writer for the first time and in a world where I felt (secretly, quietly, not even daring admit it to myself) like a fraud who didn’t deserve to be read by anyone; the protective shell of irony felt like the only way to move forward. Anything else was not only too dangerous, it was naive and foolish.

Now, of course, I long for the ease of revelation of those notebooks, the fearlessness of just saying everything without shame or anxiety. The me that I was 20 years ago may not have been any more likely to write the poetry or documentary in notebooks and cafes than who I am today, but I feel certain that he’d be far less nervous about trying.

The Ego Has Landed

So, we didn’t get nominated for the Eisners this year, and I’ve surprised myself by being quite as upset as I’ve been. When I first saw the nominations, I immediately scrolled to the Periodicals/Journalism section in excitement, then — upon not seeing THR — told myself that it was a bummer, but understandable considering the weird process of the Eisners judging system and, really, no big deal. And then I realized more and more that it was a bigger deal than I thought.

There’s some level of rejection anxiety in here, of course, and no small level of frustration that one of the two things I did this year motivated by a sense of, You know what, I am good at what I do was so definitively stymied. (Actually, it was both, in the end; I got turned down for the raise I mentioned awhile back, too.) What the rest of the ingredients were for my mood on Friday, though, I can’t fully explain. Tiredness? The karmic downside for having enjoyed Avengers: Endgame the night before…?

Whatever the reason, I spent Friday increasingly glum and, more annoyingly, increasingly distracted and unable to work as quickly as I needed, leading to me carrying work through to the weekend in order to hit deadlines. It wasn’t the best way to deal with a creeping suspicion that maybe my work is unappreciated and I’m working too much for too little reason, but the fates have a cruel sense of humor that way, I guess. I’m not sure if I didn’t hit my deadlines because I was distraught that no-one appreciates me is in any way a good excuse that works, but let’s not try to find out anytime soon.

You Never Knew The Way To Say No

The freelancer’s dilemma is the one where you say find yourself wondering whether to yes to work that you know you don’t have time for, because you either are afraid of not having enough work in the future or, simply, you need the money too much to say no.  (There’s a variation in which someone offers you something so exciting that you can’t resist, but trust me; that’s far more rare.)

In short, this has been my past couple of weeks. Or, rather, the consequences of my having said yes have been.

I have my excuses, of course; in my head, I argue that I actually said yes to the big job that dominated my brain and schedule because it was an outlet I haven’t been doing a lot of work with recently and wanted a better relationship with, but I also can’t deny that the outrageous money being offered helped a lot, too. The end of February brought about a significant financial crunch that I wasn’t expecting, and that left deep scars; if I said yes to this project that sounded unexciting but not entirely uninteresting, I thought to myself, then perhaps I wouldn’t be in that shape again this month.

(I wouldn’t be in that shape again anyway; February was a collection of other people’s mistakes, moneywise, all of which impacted me. The odds of that happening again were, to be polite, absolutely fucking astronomical. But, as I said, it left scars.)

The thing is, even as I said yes, I knew it was not smart. My schedule was already full, and I had already been telling people that I was feeling overworked. Adding more was in every respect except for money and my relationship with this outlet, a bad idea. And yet.

The fates decided to teach me a lesson; research and interviews for the piece took longer than expected, got rescheduled at the last minute. (Literally the last two minutes: I got an email at 1:58 asking to postpone a 2pm call at one point.) Other pieces of work I already owed popped up that needed attention unexpectedly. The whole process was just harder than it should have been, to an almost comic degree.

i finished it, anyway, and handed it in yesterday afternoon as I write this. My brain was doing the thing where it feels like it’s running too fast and off the rails, and I felt both exhausted and slightly crazy. And, as soon as I sent it off, I wondered, “Can I do one of these every month? The money was crazily good…”