Remember Remember

Fireworks Night in the UK was always supposed to be a thing, but I struggle to remember any from my childhood that ever came close to living up to the hype. Sure, we all know the rhyme about “Remember, Remember, the Fifth of November,” but I genuinely can’t think of any Fifths of November that were worth remembering.

One of the problems is the time of year. Let me tell you something about the beginning of November in Scotland, at least when I was a kid: they were wet and cold, and the very opposite of the conditions that would be optimum for starting a bonfire, or hanging around outside to watch fireworks. Many were the Bonfire Nights that I gamely went outside hoping for the best, and just stood there, shivering and damp, wondering if things were ever going to get exciting or even worth being outside in the first place. (Spoilers: they didn’t.)

I couldn’t tell you if every Fifth of November failed for me because I have no real interest or excitement surrounding fireworks, or if I have no real interest or excitement surround fireworks because every Fifth of November failed for me; it’s a snake eating its own tail made of disappointment and a frustrated belief that, for real you guys, isn’t this meant to be fun? It’s something that’s followed me to the U.S., though, where Bonfire Night isn’t really a thing — the Fifth of November here is mostly a day for V for Vendetta fetishists, from what I can tell — but the Fourth of July is, and I can (un)happily report that, even in the summer, there’s not that much to see that’s worth standing around with your neck craned in case some explosions are more colorful than others.

All of this, I know, marks me as some terrible killjoy, but the reality of the situation is… I am. Stay inside, and watch something good on television, instead. Catch up on Doom Patrol; this season’s been really something.

My Back (Issue) Pages

For reasons that escape me, I’ve been reading extended runs of comics lately — running through collected editions of writers’ stays on titles (and, occasionally, artists’ stays as well, if the industry allows) that span years in just a couple of evenings. It’s not something that I necessarily intended to do, per se, as much as something that just happened — a re-read of one comic led to another, then another, then another.

It’s a surprisingly satisfying approach to late-night reading, I’ve found; in theory, I guess it’s “binging,” but it’s really just an attempt to recreate the experience of reading a prose novel, I suspect — reading a story that has a beginning, middle, and end and isn’t indefinitely continued until an undetermined point in the future. There’s a comfort in knowing where you are, in terms of the story — I’m on collected edition six, and there’s ten overall, so I’m basically at the halfway point — and also no small amount of comfort in being able to appreciate (and recognize) the recurring themes and intent behind the stories being told more easily, because I’m not waiting roughly four weeks between chapters.

(Of course, many mainstream comics don’t really have intentional recurring themes or an intent beyond Make Comic Get Paid, but that’s another story.)

The upshot of all of this, beyond something as base as “Immortal Hulk is good, but it dips in the middle and I’m not sure it lands the ending properly,” or “Man, the Five Years Later era of Legion of Super-Heroes is an utter mess, I can’t believe someone didn’t step in to tighten it up earlier,” is this: sitting down to invest the time and attention into an extended run on one set of characters and story has proven to be so rewarding as to feel as if I’ve managed to start reading for pleasure again, as opposed to work research or simply trying to keep on top of everything that’s out there because I’m supposed to.

Enjoying a leisure activity before I fall asleep at night! Will wonders never cease.

Things In Front Of Our Faces

I’ve been thinking about explanatory journalism lately, for a number of reasons — in part, the one remaining Mystery Project I would mention, obliquely, in the first half of this year (something that remains unresolved but which, I worry, has gone the way of so many promising moments from 2021 that ended up vanishing into the ether before too long), and in part because of something else ongoing right now that may or may not turn into A Thing further down the line.

(Given my experience so far this year, I’m leaning towards “may not,” but I’m willing to be proven wrong on this particular subject.)

It’s also a subject that has been in my head because of the Washington Post massive story on what happened January 6, which goes substantially in-depth and breaks down the story into three sections: before the coup attempt, during it, and afterwards. It’s an impressive piece of work, and somewhat immersive to read due to the amount of research and reporting that clearly went into it, and it’s had me thinking: is this something that I could be doing? Or, really: what are the other ways I can present the stories that I’m working on, to make them more interesting to the reader?

It’s funny; I feel as if I’m dealing with these theoretical issues even though I have no outlet to experiment with right now. (True story: at the start of the year, I fully intended to start my own comics site. And then real life took over, and I had no time to do that. I even bought the domain and hosting!) And yet, I keep thinking about it — finding a way to present massive amounts of information to newcomers without it feeling too mechanical or un-personal, and making it interesting and understandable at the same time.

I’ve been watching For All Mankind lately, and there’s a line in an early episode where one of the engineers says that math is like music — sometimes, that’s how I feel about writing. As if there’s a song I just need to properly remember and then I’ll have the key to whatever problem I’m dealing with.

Not that this was a lead-in for a “key” pun, I hasten to add.

More Meta Problems

Written for somewhere that rejected it, so I posted it here. 

Founder’s Letter, 2021 (First Draft)

We are at the beginning of the next chapter for the internet, and it’s the next chapter for our company too. 

A wise man once said that the next chapter isn’t the end of our company, or even the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning, which makes it still the beginning, so if you think about it, this is the beginning of the beginning of the future for our company, which is the most exciting place for us all to be. The most exciting place is one that doesn’t exist yet. 

In recent decades, technology has changed the way that we as people connect and express ourselves. Before I started Facebook, people could only communicate face-to-face, or by letters, or using the telephone, or texting which is kind of like using the telephone I guess if you don’t like talking, or using telegrams, or smoke signals, or asking their friends to talk to you. Sometimes I guess you could get on television and people would watch you, if you were famous enough. My point stands: before I started Facebook, it was as if we were cavemen waiting for me to invent fire. We couldn’t do anything. 

But then I invented Facebook, for all mankind despite what The Social Network says. When I did that, technology got so much better. We didn’t just type text, we got phones that could take photographs, so we could suddenly see pictures. Connections got faster, allowing us all to pivot to video. The potential to share misinformation with impacts ranging from trivial to life-threatening just kept growing. And that’s just the beginning. The beginning of the beginning.

The next platform will be even more immersive — an internet just like the holodeck on Star Trek, but one that relies on products that we manufacture and own the rights to. A holodeck that we can profit from as we move into the future. We call this the metaverse. Don’t worry, the name will grow on you.

In the metaverse, you’ll be able to do anything you can imagine — chat with friends, shop online, work, learn, masturbate to multiple flavors of pornography — as well as multiple activities that we have imagined and monetized already for you. Experiences that you don’t fit with how you might think about computers or technology today, but which do require expensive hardware such as VR headsets manufactured by Oculus, one of the subsidiaries of meta. We were going to make a film that explores how you might use the metaverse, but realized we could just recommend watching Videodrome and The Lawnmower Man simultaneously instead.

In this future, you’ll be able to use the metaverse like you use the internet right now, but you’ll have a cartoon avatar and can pretend to be a hologram like Tupac. Imagine if you never had to leave your house, but your cartoon avatar hologram could go everywhere for you instead. You’d still have to work and pay bills but you can do so from the comfort of the extensive virtual reality set-up in your own home and without ever having to be near another human being ever again. This is the future. It’s very exciting. It’s very meta.

The metaverse will not be built by just one company. Thankfully, we are a lot of companies and you’re already using many of them. Even if you’ve abandoned Facebook, you’re probably still on Instagram, or chatting to friends on WhatsApp. Maybe you own an Oculus headset. We’re thinking about buying a grocery store like Jeff Bezos. You’d use that too. 

We take this responsibility lightly. In the past five years, I’ve been criticized a lot — I think everyone would agree too much — for not listening to users enough or listening to people inside my own company warning that Facebook is a threat to democracy and anyone that isn’t cis and white. In the metaverse, things will be different, in part because we can simply stop complaining holograms from being heard altogether. It will take a lot of work, but if there’s one thing I know about the people who work to make the internet happen, it’s that you can always give them more work. 

We’re going to make some important changes in order to build the metaverse. Not enough people are talking about NFTs and cryptocurrency, and that’s something we’re working to change. Few understand how cool holograms are, and that’s something I’m personally dedicating myself to change. Some people still think that Pinkerton is the best album that Weezer recorded, but Maladroit is really underrated and it’s not the kind of thing that people really give enough credit to. All of the company is going to be working to change that, too.

As we embark on this next chapter, this beginning of the beginning, I’ve thought a lot about what this means for our company and our identity. 

Today we’re seen as a social media company. An evil social media company that has undoubtedly done its part to make the internet worse for every single user. It’s an iconic social media brand. But we can be more. We can make more worse than just the internet. We can be better — no, we can be betta. We can be Meta. Do you see what I did there?

Our new name Meta embodies everything I want our company to be moving forward — seemingly profound but ultimately meaningless, inexplicable, and just irritating enough to provoke a negative gut reaction at the very thought of it. It’s the future I want to see, and I hope it’s the future that you want to see as well. This next chapter will be the beginning of a beginning of a future beyond anything we can imagine. Well, anything you can imagine. To paraphrase my own personal hero, I already imagined it 35 minutes ago. 

All the best! Let’s be hologram buddies!

— Mark Zuckerberg

Tango’s Last Laugh

Unsurprisingly, even though we said goodbye to Tango last week, his memory lingers. In some ways, it’s entirely understandable, if not something we’ve pretty much invited upon ourselves — we’ve not put away his food, or his food bowl yet, because we can’t bring ourselves to, for example — and in other ways… well, it’s somewhat less easily anticipated.

Without being too morbid, we had to take Tango to the vet’s car after we’d said goodbye; it took two of us to carry him on a stretcher, and we were honestly worried that the stretcher might snap, because he was so heavy. (When I say “so heavy,” I’d estimate he was… somewhere around 100 pounds, maybe a little over? So, pretty heavy.) The problem wasn’t in carrying him to the car, nor that he was heavy. The problem, I realized earlier this week, was that I didn’t lift him up appropriately.

On Thursday morning, I got out of bed and thought my lower back was aching a little, but I didn’t think anything about it. Friday, the ache was worse, but I put it down to sleeping in a strange position. By Saturday, I was grumbling and moaning as I stood up from a chair. I think you get the picture.

Monday night, I realized I probably needed to take care of myself a bit better, when I stood up and realized that I was standing at an unnatural angle. By that, I don’t mean that I was unable to stand upright, I mean that my body had essentially become a zig-zag, with my hips so uneven that my torso was twisted into a form that no regular person should be in — imagine a person, reinvented in the shape of a lightning bolt, and you’re halfway there. In celebration of Halloween, my life became accidental body horror.

In the days since, I’ve taken care of myself enough — applying heat, using a TENS unit, stretching a lot — to return to some semblance of normalcy. It’s a sign that I’m getting older, I guess, but I like to think of it as one last gift from the big old dog.

There’s A Way of Saying, A Way of Saying A Shape

An entirely random memory, brought on by listening to a song from Graham Coxon’s 1998 album The Sky is Too High for the first time in… well, pretty much 23 years:

It was during the period, post-graduation, that I was working in Aberdeen without having a permanent place to live; instead, I was spending a lot of time on couches and floors of understanding friends, as well as the occasional night in a bed-and-breakfast or something similar when I couldn’t rely on the kindness of friends that particular evening. In this particular case, I was staying with a friend who was still a student in the art school where I was now teaching, which was very much a strange and awkward experience for both of us — not that I was staying with him, but that I was now technically a peer of teachers that he very much didn’t like or respect. (For, it should be said, good reason; they didn’t understand what he was doing, so pretty much dismissed everything that he did without asking other peoples’ opinions.)

The memory in question is of me in the morning, getting ready to go to work, and playing Coxon’s just-released album in the background. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s mostly acoustic and somewhat drone-y and deary, in the way that a lot of post-Britpop acoustic music was at the time before melodies were rediscovered; that it was both acoustic and dreary was what caught the attention of the friend I was staying with, and he somewhat tongue-in-cheekily called me out on those facts, with my defensive reaction being a variation on, basically, you shut up this is good and you just don’t get it.

I was, for the record, only half-right — it’s an okay record, but as an album, it’s actually overlong and far too same-y for its own good.

As we discussed how quiet and afraid the music sounded, the penultimate track on the album came on. It sounds like this:

Both of us stopped talking for the entire duration of the song. When it was finished, the friend looked at me for a second, and then said, matter-of-factly, “See? That’s more like it.”

It’s Always Fine

A sign of how things are going may be that, after two nights of pretty much falling asleep as soon as the light’s been switched off and then sleeping solidly until 7am or so — something that I’ve not really been able to do for a couple of months now, because of dealing with a sick dog and/or my anxiety over a sick dog — I’m still absolutely bone tired.

Wednesday was as emotionally devastating as anticipated, which in some ways feels like a blessing; if there’s one thing that I’ve learned across the last year or so, things can always get worse when you least expect it. Unfortunately, “as bad as expected” in this case means tears, grief, and the feeling of being dizzy from emotion, something that lasted through yesterday night. There were small mercies, not least of which being that Tango seemed ready to go when his time came, and I think everyone was at peace with how it eventually happened. Nonetheless, we’re still very aware of the lack of him in the house, and the hole left behind.

One of the unexpected by-products of having such an emotionally full midweek — really, the time leading up to Wednesday, too — is that, when Thursday arrived, none of us were really ready for it. How could we have to return to work (or, in the nine-year-old’s case, school)? Why didn’t we have more time to recover before plunging back into everything? In a year where the passage of time has seemed apparently random and occurring entirely out of synch with anything resembling expectations, it felt as if the last two days of the week were a cruel prank being played on us, just to see how exhausted we’d get before the weekend arrived.

And so, here I am now, tired and fantasizing about getting a break — even if it’s simply spending a day on the couch, watching Dune or whatever. (We watched the first hour or so last night; it’s fun enough.) Fingers are crossed for calm metaphorical weather in the next few days, even if the actual weather is apparently going to be lousy.

Tango

By the time this publishes, we’ll be sitting beside Tango Jones and saying goodbye, all of our hearts entirely broken.

He’s been with Chloe since he was born, 15 years ago; he’s been there through everything in her life since then, which is a lot — she’s said that, without him, she might not even be around now, and I believe her considering everything that’s happened. I’ve called him the co-founder of the family, because before everything and everyone else, it was Chloe and Tango together. Everything followed from there.

Before he got sick, he was a lump, but a lump that was full of love and playfulness; he’s always been particularly food-focused, which might be one of the reasons why he took to me so quickly — I’d give him bits of my toast or my bagel or whatever every morning, and it soon became such a tradition that I started to think of it as our breakfast, as if it were an official thing. (Is there such a thing as an “official breakfast thing”? Not really, but I like to think that you know what I mean, nonetheless.) We’d literally break bread together, his face just staring up at me, halfway between begging and just being present and charming enough that no-one could even think of not feeding him.

Across the last couple of weeks, since we found out that we’d have to say goodbye, I’ve just been stuck thinking about all the daily traditions that won’t be there anymore when he’s gone: Taking him out first thing in the morning, and watching him stand impassively as he sniffs out the day before taking action; sharing breakfast; talking to him as if he could understand and using one of his many varied names (“Tango Jones” offers multiple variations by itself, before you add in the potential offered by “Boof,” named after the distinctive sound of his barks); scratching his head when he barks at night just to let him know we’re here.

The world is going to be a lonelier place without him in it. He was sick enough that it’s a mercy to let him go — part-blind and almost entirely deaf, he has arthritis, is senile, incontinent, and has a malignant tumor on his spleen that also makes it difficult for him to breathe — but, still. He’s my friend and I’m going to miss him so much.

Only A Certain Few Remember The Nexus

I’m reading Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How One Person Became A User at night these days. I’m enjoying it, for the most part, although it’s making me curiously nostalgic for my own days where I first stumbled onto the internet and explored what was, at the time, called “cyberspace” with something approaching sincerity.

Like many, if not most, of my peers in terms of age, the internet was something I first explored at school — I can remember my art school hooking us all up with accounts that required ridiculously complicated logins that included our names and some arcane numerical sequences that I’d written down in multiple locations just in case, and I can remember getting confused by just how to move around the nascent internet and find anything I actually wanted to read, but nonetheless being extraordinarily excited by the whole thing, just because.

I can also remember finding communities for the first time on this weird internet place, and having what might have been my first major cases of imposter syndrome as a result: Look at all these people talking about comics that I love, they’re all so much smarter than me and have all this insider information, oh my God, I can’t interact with them, can I? (This is still applicable today, especially when I read particularly well-written comics crit.)

Even with this imposter syndrome, even with the fact that, back then, just getting online with anything resembling a regularity to log into to these communities was a task in and of itself, the very existence of those sites, those societies of people who were like me, just a little bit better at it than I was, proved to be endlessly, immeasurably important to the me I was at the time. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them, or even more, who I’d be.

I suspect I’d be far less happy or fulfilled. I suspect I’d be a lesser person. So, yeah; reading Lurking has been an unexpected experience, at once educational on an objective level, but also like reliving something impossible to describe in an emotional, subjective way. I’d recommend it, but far more than usual, your mileage may vary.

Passed On

Because I’m old, and because it was recently my birthday, and because I’ve found myself listening to a lot of music from decades ago in the last few weeks — in part because of the reissues of Supergrass’s In It For The Money and Super Furry Animals’ Rings Around the World, in part because of watching the very enjoyable Beastie Boys Story the other night — I’ve been thinking about the way culture ages.

I watched a trailer for Get Back yesterday; it’s the upcoming documentary edited out of the raw footage shot in 1969, with the Beatles recording what would eventually become Let It Be. More than anything, it reminded me of The Beatles Anthology, the 1990s TV show and album series that basically went, “The Beatles are iconic and changed everything, it’s time we put them in this lionized historical context that treats them simultaneously as human beings and pop culture gods.” As a child of Britpop, this show was everything for me; I watched it avidly and remember feeling as if I was watching ancient history. After all, this was anywhere between 35 and 25 years ago they were talking about…!

And now, here I am, 47 years old and listening to albums released 20 years ago and feeling as if they’re recent, and wondering if my parents felt the same about the Beatles back when Anthology was released. “Why are you watching this show that pretends that Abbey Road was a long time ago? I remember picking that up at the local record shop…!” (My parents, I know, watched the series, but I don’t know how they felt about it; I do think they were amused by Britpop in general, and the revival of something they’d lived through the first time around.)

As bad as it is with music, it’s maybe worse for comics, for me; I think of material released at the turn of the century as being almost contemporary, even though that was decades ago; because I remember the release of particular titles or the debut of certain characters, I feel an affinity with them that tells me that they can’t be considered old, or passé. And yet…