In Your Head, In Your Head

I made it through This Way Up in a handful of days; it’s only six episodes, and they’re just around half an hour each with commercials, so it was hardly the biggest time commitment. I suspect that I would’ve run through it just as quickly no matter what, though. What was initially introduced to me as “Fleabag, but more traditional,” ended up being one of the kinder things I’ve watched all year.

What made the show so enjoyable to me — beyond the fact that it’s very funny, obviously, with the joke about the song that isn’t really about a ghost being one of my favorite jokes in anything I’ve seen lately — is that it’s something that refuses to go big.

It’s a show that looks as if it’s about something big — Aine (creator/writer Aisling Bea) is recovering from a nervous breakdown and suicide attempt, and attempting to return to her everyday life — but that’s misdirection. All of that is background to a story that’s really about loneliness and the need to connect with people you love. (The need to find people you love, too.) And all of that happens on a wonderfully small scale.

What really reinforced how much I loved the show was the final episode, which looked as if it was going to be exactly what the audience expects from a sitcom like this, an episode where the plots come together in an overwhelming manner, prompting the one big dramatic moment that has felt like Chekhov’s Gun the entire series… and then it goes off and does something else instead, more in keeping with everything that had come before.

It’s not Fleabag, beyond the fact that it’s created by and starring a woman in her mid-thirties and about someone who is complex and has a sister. They’re different stories, and coming from different places. But both do share a belief that kindness and empathy are what can save us, and there’s always space for stories like that.

Spins A Web, Any Size

Normally, these posts are a couple of weeks’ worth of newsletter graphics per post. This time, it’s just one week because I was unusually asked to do six at once. (Well, technically, six for one newsletter; I did them in three batches of three, one, and two images, respectively, across two days.)

Of note is the Spider-Man one, which I’m particularly happy about because it meant that I got my own Spider-Man drawing — yes, I did that one — out in public. I don’t know quite why that feels like such a big deal, yet it somehow does…

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.


There’s A Page Back In History

BIll Drummond’s 45 is one of those books for me; a core text, something I read at an impressionable age — the internet tells me it came out in 2000, which means I was 25 when I first read it, most likely — that resonated with me for reasons I still don’t fully comprehend almost two decades later.

It’s a series of essays, if you can call them that — in many ways, their length, their tone, their digressive nature, all makes me feel as if they were accidental forerunner for the way people, me especially, write online, but this was pre-internet as we know it now — all written around the time that Drummond turned 45, but almost none of them are written about turning 45. Instead, it’s a combination of half-remembered stories told in a charmingly shaggy dog fashion, and unfinished thoughts about all manner of things, including how to just live your life. It’s rambling, messy, kind and effortlessly charming.

It was a revelation when I read it. I’ll admit, I bought it initially not because of the writing — I’m not sure I’d even read anything by Drummond beforehand — but because I’d read a couple of positive reviews and because, more than anything, I liked the format of the original release in an art school fashion; it was called 45, and it was a 7-inch-by-7-inch release, like an old 45″ vinyl record. How could I resist? That the writing felt like a series of letters from an old friend was this unexpected, amazing, bonus.

I remember, upon reading it for that first time, the feeling that Drummond had started the book, was writing all of this, because 45 as an age was this significant milestone that denoted something in particular. After all, when I pictured my parents, they were always in their mid-40s in my mind. (At that precise moment in my life, they were both in their late 50s, but reality be damned.) 45 was the age, then, that I imagined being a demarkation point of some kind: the age when you were properly, definitively old.

I tell you all of this because I turned 45 last week, and aside from wondering if it actually meant something, aside from all the aches and pains from the exercise of the surrounding days (It happened during New York Comic Con), I can happily report that I just feel the same as ever, however old that happens to be.

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.

Here I Am, Lord, Knocking At Your Back Door

As you read this, I’ll just have returned from New York and New York Comic Con for the year. It’ll have been the… fourth one I attended, I think…? Maybe the fifth; time and memory are weird that way. It’s a show I enjoy, but the reason for attending each year — besides the fact that I’m there for work — is that it allows me to fly to the other coast and spend time in New York City for a few days.

The first time I was there was in 1998, on a trip with art school. I was somewhere between student and teacher on the trip; I was studying for my MA and was unofficially helping the actual teachers keep track of all the other students, which basically amounted to being available in case of emergency. (The closest thing to an emergency was when a gang of students got in trouble for drinking out of open containers on the street; in the end, they apologized and promised to behave, and almost fulfilled that promise.)

I remember wandering the streets, listening to music a lot. I was listening to Primal Scream, David Holmes, that kind of urban sprawl of music and feeling very in tune with everything going on around me. The city felt alive, but unsettling, dangerous and filled with potential of anything and everything happening at any point. I’d search out bookstores to recharge and feel comfortable, I remember; they felt familiar and alien at the same time. It was thrilling.

I went back to New York a number of times after that, periodically, but the circumstance was always different. Last year’s NYCC trip was, oddly, the first time it felt like that 1998 trip again; two decades later, but feeling as simultaneously lost and full of potential as I has 20 years earlier. I walked the length on Manhattan the first morning I was there without realizing, thinking, this is how everything is supposed to feel, and once again listening to Primal Scream on my headphones.

Signs and Wonders

It’s that time again. As you read this, I’m in New York for New York Comic Con, but that doesn’t mean that the graphic magic stops for THR’s newsletter. Take a look, enjoy, and think of me in Metropolis…

The above was a last minute redo of this one, which just felt off to me.

What I Don’t Know I Don’t Know

I was talking to my therapist about the ways in which my brain forgets things to protect me.

Specifically, we were talking about the fact that I can’t remember the exact date that I moved out of the house I shared with my ex-wife. It’s something I could work out if I had to, if I sat down and really thought about it, but instead I identify it as if it’s a physical location I’m giving directions to to a stranger; I describe it in proximity to other landmarks that are more easily identified.

In telling her this, she asked if there was a reason I don’t pin it to a specific date, and I made the comment that my brain was stopping me from obsessing about the details; that, if I did automatically think of the date, I’d be unable to stop counting down to the anniversary, or thinking about it nonstop on the day itself.

It was one of those things you say in the moment that may or may not be true, may be a joke, but feels real, if that makes sense…? In the days since, though, I keep returning to that idea — that my brain knows the dumb, unhelpful stuff that it does, and sometimes steps in to prevent those things from happening.

Despite the fact that I even have a therapist — someone I now consider pretty essential to keeping me running, if I’m honest — I don’t really think too much about how my brain actually works, or the things that my subconscious (or, occasionally, conscious mind) does to get me through life. The notion that , on some level, my head is aware of how screwy and obsessive it can be on certain subjects, and has built a way around it, feels at once surreal and literally awesome to me.

It makes me very aware, briefly, of how little I truly know what’s happening inside me to keep me going, mentally and emotionally just as much as physically — the last of which has been a longtime mystery and marvel to me, this thing of continual aren’t bodies incredible? — which, in turn, makes me feel at once very small in the grand scheme of things, and also immense and amazing.

Thank you, brain. Thanks for all your work, I guess.

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.