Did You Hear That?

There’s a skill to being able to relax that, in the last year or so — thanks to such joys as a global pandemic, a social lockdown, and a collapse of my career as I once recognized it — I suspect that I’ve lost. That’s not to say that I used to be a master of the art, but I was certainly a skilled student, even if I do say so myself; I could find the mental space in which to happily while away the hours without too much effort, especially if it meant I had the ability to wander without purpose or simply read a book for an extended period of time. For all that was going on in my head, I knew enough to be able to leave it behind when possible.

These days, that’s not really something I’ve found myself able to pull off easily. There’s too much to think about and keep track off, whether it’s the numerous freelance gigs for different outlets — and who’s paid me for what and who I need to chase up, as well, sadly — or the latest updates about Gavin’s school and whether for not he’ll be able to attend in person, or if the Delta variant is fucking even more things up, or whatever. I try to drift off into my own head, only to be greeted with massive neon signs reminding me that I owe the ex-wife an email about taking care of the dogs and who’ll be taking care of them and when, or that there’s some bills due and maybe I need to take another look at my bank account just in case.

I’ve written before, I’m sure, about the value of silence when it comes to relaxation for me; the more complications that life likes to throw at me, the more I realize that they’re all versions of an uncomfortable sound interrupting that quiet. If there’s a personal goal I should be looking at for the near to mid future, it might simply be described as finding out how to create emotional noise cancelling headphones.

Who Wants To Be Neil Armstrong, Anyway?

I had the thought the other day, that I should have gone into music journalism when I had the chance.

To be clear, I’m not sure that I ever actually had the chance in the first place; unless I’m forgetting something, I’m pretty sure that I’ve never actually been paid to write about music or musicians, and I doubt that’s anything that is about to change nowadays. Who in their right mind wants a 46-year old who’s spent too much time in the last month listening to Damon Albarn and old Primal Scream albums to write about music? It’s a young person’s game, and I think that’s the way it should be, at least for neophytes; they’re the one still hungrily discovering new sounds.

Nonetheless, the thought occurred when I thought about the fact that music writing has a cultural validity that writing about comic books just… doesn’t. Music writers get more freelance opportunities, as almost every news outlet runs stories about music and musicians; there’s an established market for books based in music writing — so much so, in fact, that bookstores have actual sections just for that very thing. If you write about music, then there are possibilities available to you that feel far less possible if, like me, you write about comic books and comic culture.

I’m thinking about this wrong, perhaps; I should be embracing the challenge and opportunity of being a pioneer, of breaking the new ground that I have, that I’m still trying to do. There is something exciting about that, it’s true, in being one of the few people who’ve written so extensively about all this stuff at a time when it’s gone (and continues to go) mainstream. I can remember when we all thought this was a bubble that would pop; more than a decade later, it’s clear to everyone that it’s something else, and I’ve been there the whole time, writing about it. That’s not nothing.

And yet, looking at the failed pitches, the doors now closed because of budget cutbacks, my bank balance this year… I find myself wishing that I’d gone into music journalism, or anything less niche, when I had the chance.


There have been a number of times, increasingly so lately, where I’ve been putting less out into the digital world and, instead, paying more attention to what others have been saying. I hate it.

That’s a joke, to an extent; while I remain frustrated that I don’t have the kind of free-ranging journalistic outlet that THR was to me for so long — oh, the stories I would write, would have written, still want to write, if I had that opportunity again…! — the choice to stay so quiet online in other ways has been an intentional one, and something that I think has been pretty good for me overall.

I’ve been posting less and less on social media for any number of reasons, not least of which being an increasing sense of unease about the question of what I’m actually adding to the conversation — so many others are asking (and answering) more articulate, interesting questions, and in almost every instance, all I’d be doing is adding noise rather than signal. There’s no need for that, to say the least, so I keep my virtual lips shut. (Well, for the most part. Every now and then, I give in; I can’t always resist.)

As all of this happens, I get to listen and read, instead of talk and write; I get to be an audience, instead of an author. I get to learn, which feels like the ultimate goal, surely — at least, if you’re not looking to purposefully use the space to promote your own voice. (Which is, I should add, a valid thing to do on social media!) It’s been good, for the most part, when it’s not been frustrating or annoying to see malice or stupidity spread, rewarded for no real reason.

I have to relearn how to put myself out there at some point, and re-engage with that world; I think it’d be a healthy thing to not remain an audience forever. But for now, in the words of Frasier Craine: I’m here. I’m listening.

Don’t Look Down

I’ve had two conversations recently that have, independently of each other, been about the same thing: namely, the idea that 2021 isn’t any easier than last year, but may in fact be harder — but that our inability as a culture to accept that is something that’s ultimately going to leave us in a far worse position than we were last year.

It is, perhaps, a strange idea to echo between people entirely unrelated of each other. But it’s not an entirely alien one, I have to admit; this year has been considerably worse for me than I’d imagined going in, and I wasn’t the most enthusiastic of people at the start of it all. (There was, after all, a pandemic and disaster all around to deal with at the time, never mind the potential for political disaster in the dying days of the Trump presidency.)

Nevertheless, the year has been a curious mix of things going wrong — or, at least, not to plan, which isn’t quite the same thing, even if they can feel similar at the time — with occasional bursts of potential good news that, judging by the evidence to date, is more likely to fade into insignificance or disappear entirely than come to fruition. It’s something that, I know, should feel far more crushing than it actually does. But perhaps that’s the wrong attitude to have?

Then again, I’m not sure what the right attitude would be: feeling worse about things? Surrendering to the bad news and expecting more at any given opportunity? Those both seem like unhealthy options, even though I’m sure that pessimists would think that my optimism is closer to ignorance if not outright denial, and look similarly down their noses at the very notion.

The truth of the matter is, this year is harder than last year, with COVID on an upswing and my career prospects stagnant if not downright dying. It’s been rough, and I’m sure rougher is on the way before things change. But I have to hope that things will get better at some time. What else can I do?

Hober Reeber Sabasoben Hobaseeba Snick

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the last few months since going from permalance to properly, everything-is-a-pitch-process freelance, it’s that there’s never enough time to do everything you want — or, really, half of the things you want to do.

I had particularly ambitious plans when I started down this road back in February that involved purchasing web domains and alternating between doing work that I owned and would, in theory, get paid for via sources, and doing more traditionally freelance work; the reality, I’ve learned in the last few months, is that the freelance work alone takes up so much more time than I’d expected, because of all the things that aren’t actually doing the work: the pitching back and forth, the invoicing, the keeping track of everything as it’s happening so that I don’t make it to the end of a week, or a month, and realize something’s entirely fallen through the cracks.

(That’s to say nothing about the unexpected complications, like editors leaving outlets and my work being in unpaid limbo, or full-time staff stealing stories I was working on, because they’re full-time and can do that. Both of those have happened recently, too.)

I literally can’t imagine having done all of this and still having followed through on my earlier plans; I honestly can’t imagine how I would have found the time on a practical level, never mind being able to not lose my mind because of everything else that would have been going on.

Even now, there’s a second secret thing in the background of my days — something that I spent a good amount of July making the foreground of my days, hoping to get it all done before that month ended, but again, things happened. As a result, it’s been breathing in the background for the past few weeks, waiting for me to have time to finish it even as that time just isn’t available because of paying work that needs to be done first. It’s weighing on my mind, but I can’t do anything about it right now. Alas.

I’m frustrated, and convinced there’s an easier — less-time consuming — way to do all of this. I’d say more, but who has the time?

Fancy A Chat?

There’s a fine line between… good trash and trash trash, I guess would be the best way to describe it…? I’ve been watching a lot — really, too much — reality television lately, including Love IslandFboy Island, and Below Decks: Mediterranean, and as a result, I feel like I can recognize the rhythms and the tropes of each show even before they appear onscreen at this point. I’ve become an accidental scholar of reality television, and I’ve started to lean into the ways this impacts my viewing of each show.

It’s because of this that I’m convinced that Fboy Island is either an entirely scripted parody of the genre — no spoilers, I’ve not made it to the end of the season, and therefore any potential reveal, yet — or an incompetently edited attempt to lean into the expectations of the audience. There are just too many moments that land too heavily, and too many things that are artificial constructs that no-one seemingly questions at all for things to even ring as truly as, say, Love Island, another show that’s entirely artificial.

And yet, Love Island, now in its seventh season — not to mention the international spin-offs, which include at least Australian and American versions, neither of which truly measure up to the real thing — has a history to its artificiality, which gives it a feel of… verisimilitude, perhaps? Reality? Something that somehow stretches beyond the fakeness and allows for a shorthand and acceptance of things that we as an audience understand because, even just as viewers, we’ve been here before.

(This doesn’t make things like “Casa Amor,” wherein the groups are split across gender lines and sent to different locations where a new group of potential suitors basically try and ruin whatever romantic connections they’ve made to that point, are any less troublesome or, honestly, annoying even now. But at least they’re familiar.)

There’s something to watching these shows and recognizing signs, thinking, oh, now they’re going to do this plot twist, and then remembering: In theory, these are people’s actual lives. It’s a key point of watching Below Decks, to be honest — the one show I’ve mentioned where it’s not meant to be a performative contest, but instead a fly on the wall look at people doing their jobs: Is this what people actually just do in their lives now? Is this how life is for other people?

In/Flux, And Other DJ Shadow Greatest Hits

What with COVID and all of its fallout — me losing work, conventions essentially going away altogether (No-one cares about virtual conventions, let’s be completely honest) — I have entirely lost the ability to travel well in the past year or so. Whatever skill I had at letting the entire process wash over me and surrender to it has, based on recent experience, curdled into a touchiness that meant every small complication felt like a pretty substantial body blow.

In my defense, the small complications from this week’s cross-country excursion weren’t really that small — a delayed flight ended up derailing the planned connection, meaning that we had to leave a day later than intended, with the delayed trip becoming delayed further thanks to airline screw-ups and what simply looked as if no-one has worked out how to keep everything going in this era of sickness and stress. (Seriously, why would you re-assign seating twice with less than an hour to go before the flight leaves? Ahem.)

Nonetheless, I share this not to complain about how inept American Airlines is at the basics of being an airline. (Very.) Instead, I’m writing it because, two days after arriving home, I feel as if I’m still in transit, somehow. I’m not sure quite what’s happened.

There’s a feeling I get when I’m traveling for a reasonable amount of time — anything over, say, six hours — where I just feel as if I’m constantly in motion. My focus vanishes, almost, and you’ll get perhaps 30 minutes of good attention out of me before I have to drift for a little bit. Depending on how long I’m in the air, I lose my appetite, and I start to feel low-level dizzy — not so much that it’s a problem, but enough that I find myself wanting to remain in my seat as much as possible.

I still feel like that today, despite landing in PDX Wednesday evening. For all of yesterday, I told myself that it was the mental hangover of traveling for 15 hours the day before, and perhaps that is still the case — or perhaps it’s the wildfire smoke that makes the air feel simultaneously thicker and thinner than usual outside right now. Maybe I simply just need a good night’s sleep, which has escaped me for days now, thanks to the heat on both coasts.

All I know for sure is that I’ve rarely been more grateful that it’s almost the weekend, and that I have an opportunity to reset my focus. I need it, I think. (Or, at least, I think I think… It’s hard to tell, right now.)

Choose Between A Curtain and A Star

Talking to a friend last week, the conversation turned to how the year has been so far. For me, I said, it’s been a particularly strange year that’s been far more difficult than I’d expected heading into it; I’d thought that 2020 was the difficult year, the one that was so hard that it had to be the bottom of the cosmic arc — there was a global pandemic that essentially closed the world, after all — before we headed into an emotional upswing, but so much of 2021 had been, if not bad per se, then at least more trying and weirder than I’d anticipated.

The friend was far more pessimistic, as it turned out. 2021, they argued, was so much worse than last year, in part because many people had started the year thinking as I had, only for things to somehow get worse. How could a year that dashed all those anxious raised hopes be anything other than cruel and difficult? (In his defense, he’s had a particularly difficult year to date, with illness — not COVID-related — and family stress combining to make things far more stressful than anyone should have to deal with.)

The conversation got me thinking about how the year has been going for me. 2021 has, admittedly, been far more of a struggle than I’d anticipated — I’ve lost work, and watched as seemingly new opportunities disappeared as if by magic for seemingly no reason. There have been sick pets, and sick friends and family, as well. (My nephew has tested positive for COVID more than once, although both times was thankfully free of symptoms.) I’ve tried to self-start a couple of projects with varying degrees of success, and it’s not been something I’ve found particularly easy.

Throughout all of this, though, I’ve had an optimism that wasn’t there last year — a feeling that I can get through it somehow, even if it’s just by stubbornness and sheer bloodyminded force of will. The setbacks have, almost entirely, been something I’ve viewed as “weird” or frustrating, rather than debilitating, and that’s what’s been different this time around. Maybe this year has been worse, but my attitude has been better.

Put Our Service To The Test

I found myself out for dinner the other night, eating in a restaurant for the first time since… February 2020, I think…? Perhaps even January? (That would make it, what, 19 months or something similar; it’s genuinely surreal to think about, that way.)

I was nervous, I admit — I’m nervous going anywhere public in this age of COVID still, despite being vaccinated and wearing a mask as much as humanly possible while out the house. It’s not that I am particularly convinced that I’ll be one of those so-called “breakthrough cases” and get the Delta Variant despite everything, as much as I’ve become particularly conscious, paranoid even, of the need to protect myself no matter what when venturing out into the world. Who knows what could happen, after all…?

Despite that, I was in a restaurant, surrounded by other people,  nervous. “Surrounded” was a good way of putting it; it was a small place, but particularly busy — every table was seated, filled by happy and excited customers eager to eat and socialize and be there in that moment. I’d genuinely forgotten what that was like, as anything other than an abstract idea, in all the time it had been since that had last happened for me.

I’d forgotten the physical feeling of that many people around me, and the sound of it all — the way that the sound around you rises to a new volume and you go with it, like a boat on a rising wave. I’d forgotten the joy of passively people watching, catching glimpses into conversations and lives as everyone else pairs their food with the emotions of their day, and overhearing other people’s conversations nosily. (I can’t help myself. I’d apologize, but I wouldn’t really mean it.)

I stayed nervous through the meal. I can’t help that, either. But I wasn’t only nervous, and that proved to be the pleasure of the whole evening — more than the (delicious) food, more than the good company. The surprise and joy of rediscovering how much I love eating out, for all the many different reasons, and the discovery that it’s still there after so long, made the meal such a special experience that I’m still giddy, days later.