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.