Gift Horse, Mouth, etc.

I can still remember, oddly, the circumstances in which I got invited to join THR. Perhaps this shouldn’t be so surprising, but my famously shitty memory plays a significant role here; I can’t remember where I was when I first was brought onto Wired or Time or almost anywhere else I’ve ever worked; I have a vague recollection of what happened when I was asked to be a full time staffer on io9, but that’s mostly because it happened during a meal where the food wasn’t particularly good. The memory, it works in strange ways, I guess.

Nonetheless, I can remember what happened with THR with unusual clarity. I was back in the UK for my nephew’s christening — I was (am) his godfather, so it was a big deal for me — and it was a strange, somewhat surreal trip for me. It was the first time I’d been there since my father’s death, and that alone made the whole thing feel different; that I was staying with one of my sisters and keeping odd hours because I was still working on Pacific time during the whole thing just added to the strangeness. I’d be awake while everyone else slept, typing away and struggling with WiFi that seemed almost archaic in how bad it was, and how often it would cut out.

The first email I got was a polite, would you be interested from Marc Bernardin, who I knew through Meredith Woerner at io9, and I remember the sense of excitement and disbelief I got from it — it sounded far too good to be true, especially considering the way the gig was described, and I was partially convinced it was either a mistake or a joke. I said yes, of course, because I knew better than to do otherwise. I was convinced that, at the worst, it was flattering to be asked, and I might get a good story out of it. Even if I got the job, I told myself, I’d probably only last two years or so.

That was eight years ago.

Waiting Hopes Cast Silent Spells

There are days in which nothing special happens; you go about your daily business quietly and unassumedly, doing pretty much everything you thought you would, and there are few surprises to knock you off your stride. It’s a pleasant, if understandably dull, experience. And then, there are days like Monday.

To be clear: nothing bad happened on Monday. No-one is hurt, no-one unhappy; nonetheless, the two unexpected things that happened on that day — neither of which I can go into detail about here for frustrating reasons of respecting others’ privacy and not doing something dumb with regards to something work-related, respectively — were enough when combined to remind me that, really, sometimes all it takes is the smallest thing(s) to unbalance your thinking.

This isn’t necessarily a bad experience. The work-related thing was a phone call that wasn’t what I’d anticipated, but looking back from the safety of a couple days later, I think it all went fine, maybe even well. I can even see moments I feel as if I could feel proud of, even if I can remember at the time being all too aware of how anxious I felt being blindsided the way I was: it was, I suspect, a victory of sorts despite that, but my head was spinning for hours afterwards, as if I’d been jumped from behind and was recovering slowly.

It was in that mindset where the second surprise — news from my ex — appeared, and that update just felt literally surreal; so at odds from my lived experience and what I thought was fact that it was at once maddening and funny, something that (not for the first time) recast our shared past in new light and made me doubt my memory somewhat.

Combined, the two events felt like a one-two punch that left me unsteady and spending all of Tuesday expecting a further shoe to drop. (It didn’t, thankfully, but there’s always more shoes out there.) That, I think, was the worst thing about Monday — just how anxious it left me about the possibility of the unexpected moving forward.

Don’t They Know

The aftereffects of the past few years, and especially the past 12 months, which I’ve taken to calling the Year of Doomscrolling, continues to be a genuinely odd place to be.

As I made obvious last week, I’ve not only become paranoid about potential outbreaks of political violence from the right — although, in my defense, I wasn’t alone and there was ample reason from the past month alone to suspect such a thing would take place; I was, of course, genuinely relieved to be wrong — but I’ve also ended up feeling endlessly agitated by the fact that things aren’t going worse than they are, because it has me convinced that bad news is literally just around the corner. After Doomscrolling, perhaps this is the age of anxious concern and waiting for the other shoe to drop.

On top of all that, I’ve also become impatient with how quickly other things have been returning to what used to be normal; I’m still paying too much attention to the overall political chatter, the news reports and the analysis, and I’ve been inundated with commentary about things that are genuinely trivial as if they’re actually important: Peloton bikes, Rolex watches, and so on. It’s as if journalists have forgotten about the coup attempt that happened just a couple weeks earlier, somehow.

(I remember, during the Trump years, that journalists and pundits would make snarky responses to the days when Obama wearing a tan suit was considered a scandal; I didn’t realize that they wanted to make such things happen again quite so quickly. You live and learn, I guess.)

It’s not just the pundit class, though; somehow, the fact that Bernie Sanders wore an overcoat and mittens to the inauguration produced a meme that lives on almost a week later. It’s an old man wearing old man things! Why is anyone surprised, never mind amused?

All of this comes from the same place, though — for me, for everyone, I suspect: recovering from a period where it felt as if everything was happening all at once, and was incredibly important. Leaving that period, going to something that is, in theory, not as dramatic or horrific, was always going to be difficult to adjust to. How do you recover from the end of the world?

Oh God, It’s Half Past Eight, You’ll Be Late

Let’s flash back for a brief second to the end of 2020 — well, really the middle of the end of the year. The first images below are from the final 2020 newsletter, which went out mid-December, and they’re followed by the two graphics (and two versions therein of each) that started off the 2021 newsletters. Remember back then? Remember each January?

Assume The

I’m writing this on Tuesday afternoon, a fact which may or may not become important as events subsequently unfold. Nonetheless, it’s actually a day before, and I have to admit: I’m extraordinarily nervous about the way that the next 24 hours are going to unfold.

In a month that has seen the Capitol stormed by insurrectionists — a spectacle both compelling and terrifying, one I couldn’t look away from even as I felt guilty for it — I have become convinced that something bad is going to happen around the inauguration. I’m not entirely sure what that “something” will be, how big or small it could be, but I feel this almost Pavlovian dread at the idea that there’s a significant number of Americans who aren’t prepared to let the peaceful transition of power actually turn out to be peaceful.

It is, I suspect, an attitude born of the nerve-shredding last few months, where what were once assumed to be normal limits of behavior have been abandoned not only by Trump, but by his supporters, including the authorities in response to the Black Lives Matter protests of last summer. It’s especially something born out of what’s been happening in the last few weeks, with right-wing extremists openly at war with America in the name of Trumpism — but perhaps even more than that, it’s an attitude that comes from friends and family all equally expecting disaster, no matter what.

This is something I’m going to have to learn to deal with, a trauma from the past year or so — the past four years, maybe? — to process and recover from: a firm belief in worst case scenarios and expectation of only bad things. A constant bracing for impact, in response to any and every external impact.

To have anything else is to come from a position of privilege, I know; to pretend that things will be “solved” with the next administration, foolishness bordering on stupidity — it’s Joe Biden, after all — and yet, I feel as if I have to teach myself how to be optimistic again, or how to try, at least. It feels like the only healthy option.

Mirages of Matchstick Men

An unexpected side effect of ending the 2020 Vision series of posts at the end of 2020 — strange how that worked out — is that I’ve found myself missing the discipline of making new images every work day.

This feels particularly ironic, considering how much of a grind that felt at the time, especially as the year went on and the pandemic exhaustion grew. There were days, during the year, when the very idea of spending any time whatsoever on creating the graphic felt like too much, and it was only my stupidly compulsive need to not miss a post at all costs or else that kept me from giving the whole thing up. (Huzzah for completist tendencies brought on by years of being a comic book nerd, I guess.)

And yet, now that it’s over, I find myself at a loss in some indescribable way that the muscles that got trained — the ones that, on some level, I knew I was training, the ones that I haven’t really used since art school decades earlier to very quickly, almost unthinkingly, respond to a brief and decide this is the right way to illustrate this idea in my head simply — are atrophying again, or at least, not getting used on the same regular basis in the same way.

(There is, for now, the THR newsletter graphics, but even that isn’t the same thing; they’re for very different purposes and talk to different parts of my brain. It’s hard to express, hard to explain, how that works, but just accept it and go with me on here.)

I’m not entirely sure what to do about this particular absence in my life, I’ll be honest; I don’t want to decide to do daily images again, because the grind was too much, and it stopped being fun remarkably early on. But… I feel like I have to do something to fill this gap, whatever it ends up being. Maybe I’ll just draw and keep the results for myself.

Get Up, Get Up, Get Up

Since receiving my bad news at the start of the week, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the big things: What do I want? What are my ambitions? How realistic are they, how do I achieve them? It’s been a quietly constant process in the back of my mind — and, sometimes, the front of it — for the last few days. With this unexpected period of reflection has come an equally unexpected byproduct: vividly remembered dreams for what feels like the first time in months.

Part of this is undoubtedly due to the fact that I’ve been sleeping poorly since getting the news; the low-level stress has combined with what was already not the greatest sleep cycle to leave me surprisingly awake at 5am, like someone flipped a switch. (Don’t worry; come 9pm, I’ll be exhausted and brain dead as a result.) But there is, I’m sure, more to my sudden spate of dream recall than simply waking up at the right time. My brain, perhaps, is trying to tell me something.

Of course, what that something is, is not necessarily straightforward or even that interesting. If there’s been a common thread to the dreams in the last few nights, it’s been that I’ve been ill-prepared for things happening on work trips, which is far from a deep or significant insight given the context of my week. (Oh, for a piercing commentary from my subconscious that answers all the innermost questions!)

In these dreams, I’ve attended the first post-COVID comic conventions, only to discover that my laptop doesn’t work and I’ve failed to set up any interviews or meetings in advance; I’ve had in-depth conversations with the people who make Star Wars in which they revealed lots of secrets and things that I knew, in the moment, was “big news,” only to discover after the fact that none of it actually recorded — that level of quiet panic.

It’s almost certainly a response to what’s happening, and the general feeling of unpreparedness I have for what’s to come, and yet… there’s something oddly satisfying about actually properly remembering my dreams for the first time in awhile, even if they’re simply generic stress dreams. That’s a silver lining of some kind, right?

I Want To Get Off

I got some news yesterday that, if it doesn’t end up getting reversed — a possibility, albeit a distant one — is going to, once again, significantly change my life in the short-to-medium term. It’s the latest in a number of such shifts in the past twelve months, I think…? (It depends on whether or not you count COVID and the pandemic shutting life as we knew it down.) As I sit and let this latest update, and everything it means, sink in, one thing strikes me beyond everything else: I am so very tired of having to get used to new normals.

In the past year, I’ve lost my regular writing gig at Wired after close to a decade, I’ve watched as the world stopped working the way it used to because of a virus that has run rampant across the globe, and in the rare piece of good news, I got money from the divorce settlement that proved to be particularly welcome in its timing. (See also: me losing a regular writing assignment.) Each of these wrenches in the works has required a re-evaluation of how I’m living, how I’m feeling, what I’m spending and on what, and… Well, now I have to do it again.

(Because it might get rolled back, I’m not going to talk about the latest change just yet, but it’s safe to say, it’s another to fall into the Not Good, Kinda Shitty pile.)

On the one hand, I’m all for taking a periodic look at my ambitions and priorities, and seeing if they line up with my current reality. On the other, there’s something to be said for being secure enough in your life that you don’t have to do that every handful of months because of outside circumstances upending everything. But maybe that’s just me.

Perhaps this is some kind of extended karmic ritual for… something I’m not admittedly aware of. Or maybe it’s a sign that existential years run February through January, and my 2020 is just ending with a flourish. All I really know is, I would love just a year or two of calm to follow, please. Please.

All Three of Them, Ha

I admit, I didn’t have “a riot in the Capitol” on my list of ways to start the year, nor everything that’s followed, but that may be because I wasn’t thinking big enough.

Last week’s insanity in Washington DC was something I couldn’t stop following on social media as it was unfolding, ruining the plans I had for the day. I watched (and retweeted, and signal boosted) not just in quiet, stunned shock at the surreality of the moment — that it was happening, that the house was being invaded, looted, held hostage at gunpoint, all of which felt like a shitty movie — but also because I felt a strange compulsion to do so, as if it were my responsibility to pay attention as history was unfolding.

I had no idea where things would end up, as I kept checking everything from Twitter to news sources to YouTube; I couldn’t really wrap my head around what was even happening in the first place. In the back of my mind, I was sure the rioters wouldn’t “win,” whatever that looked like — push Congress into announcing a second Trump term? — but I didn’t even trust that impulse, because I’d never really imagined things would reach the point they had by that point.

The idea that the start of any new year is really the dying embers of the old one has rarely felt so true as they did on Wednesday. The storming of the Capitol was undoubtedly a 2020 move, folding in countless threads from last year — Trump, white supremacy, domestic terrorists, the complicity and ineptitude of police, COVID superspreader events, the fucking election — in one, hopefully final, concoction to underscore how tied together they all were, all along. A season finale move, if you want to view it through the prism of entertainment, as the President surely did.

Looking at it now, I’m still uncertain if it was the end of something, like a fever finally breaking, or the start of something new. As a way of announcing itself, though, 2021 had a hell of a first week. Where do we go from here?

Look The Same As Your Crowd

Returning to the land of THR newsletter graphics after a couple of weeks off — because the newsletter itself took a couple of weeks off for the holidays — and I’m surprised by how completely I’ve forgotten creating any of these images. Apparently these things really don’t stick in my head very long. That, or the holiday period was more thought-provoking than I thought at the time.