Without Pictures

Entirely by accident, I seem to have fallen back into reading prose after a significant period where that wasn’t really true. I am, to be blunt, fucking thrilled about this.

Just as I can’t really explain why I stopped in the first place — two of the causes were that my brain wasn’t in the right place to have that kind of sustained concentration across however many nights it would take to complete a book, and the earliest days of COVID lockdown meant that the library was off-limits, but that feels like just the tip of an undefined iceberg, if I’m being honest — I couldn’t really tell you what made me go back or how it happened. And yet, here I am.

Without trying, I appear to have made it through a book a week for the first month of the year. They’re not all necessary good books — I read a 300+ page collection of essays on transmedia storytelling as research for something I’m doing for work, for example — and even the ones I enjoyed weren’t necessarily quality storytelling. I’m looking at you, Star Trek: The Next Generation Warped, which is essentially just a joke book making fun of ST:TNG for a few hundred pages. It is, however, a lot of fun for those of us who grew up on that show, and are perfectly aware of its many flaws. (It’s also written by the showrunner for the wonderful Star Trek: Lower Decks, if that acts as a recommendation to anyone.)

I defend myself by pointing out that I also completed the mammoth Tinderbox: HBO’s Ruthless Pursuit of New Frontiers, which is an almost 1,000-page long oral history of the cable channel filled with all kinds of interesting and occasionally amusing information about television across the last 50 years or so. Surely that counts as more than one book, given just how fucking long it is? Viewed through that lens, maybe I’ve been reading even more than I thought, allowing me to feel especially smug about myself for just this once. Look at me, reading prose and enjoying it like a big boy!

(The other books I didn’t mention but read were two critical books about comics, and specifically, Alan Moore-related topics: Poisoned Chalice, about the history of Marvelman and Miracleman, and The British Invasion, a fun analysis and comparison of the work and careers of Moore, Grant Morrison, and Neil Gaiman. What can I say? I’m a nerd.)

Spilt Milk

I’ve been thinking a lot about housecleaning lately, not least because there’s a lot of cleaning that we need to take care of in this house. (January’s been a strange month, everyone; things have fallen behind, and I’m not afraid to admit it, even if I am somewhat ashamed.)

When I was a kid, I was almost the dictionary definition of “messy.” My bedroom was a disaster site roughly 99 percent of the time, with a floor near-permanently hidden underneath debris consisting of discarded toys, comics, scribbled-upon papers and anything else that had at one point slipped through my fingers. I was more than okay with it, though; I knew just how messy the room was, and also how frustrating it was for my mother, who’d perpetually complain about it before eventually just tidying it herself. I just didn’t particularly care.

Somewhere along the line, that changed; decades later, I find myself tidying and straightening up as a form of therapy, although actually putting it in those terms makes me feel self-conscious and a little bit ridiculous. Nonetheless, on days when my stress or anxiety are peaking, I’ve discovered that something as simple as doing the dishes or folding laundry can help me feel more relaxed and more human.

Similarly, the idea that the house needs some attention is something that I find almost… comforting…? That’s not the right way to put it, I know, and I’m sure that when it actually comes to the time to, you know, do the cleaning, I’ll find ways to grumble and complain, but still: I am almost looking forward to the idea of putting on some music and getting down to work with broom, dustpan, cleaning sprays and paper towels in metaphorical hand. The very thought makes me smile, as if it’s some kind of strange meditation I can look forward to, somehow.

The moral of this story, perhaps, is that someone needs to invent time travel so I can go back in time and clean up my own childhood messes, and enjoy doing so.

Whoops There Goes Another

One of the stranger things about the variety of media available to us in this, our digital era, is the ways in which you can find objects of utter nostalgia without meaning to. Simply scrolling through Netflix or HBO Max, or Spotify, or whatever, it’s all too easy to discover that movie or that song that meant so much to you at one point in your life and be flooded by the feelings that surrounding you at the time. It’s a strangely passive form of nostalgia-seeking, in that it’s not the same as going through old photographs or even record collections, yet the end result can be exactly identical.

I’m thinking of this because I was looking for something in DC Universe Infinite of all things — the digital comics subscription service for, unsurprisingly, DC comics — and came across an Aquaman cover from the mid-1990s, and found myself nearly overwhelmed with the memory of a comic shop where I’d bought that particular issue, despite not having thought about the place since… well, probably since I bought that issue, almost three decades ago. (On a related note, I am old. Three decades? Jesus.)

It’s a strange thing to remember, not least of all because it feels so very removed from my day-to-day existence today. I don’t just mean that in the sense of, I don’t buy many Peter David comics these days, but in the sense of… well, almost missing the feeling of being able to wander into stores and browse, if that makes sense. We’re approaching the two-year mark of COVID lockdown next month, and with the exception of a very limited number of non-grocery store trips, it’s not as if I’ve been into many (any) stores during that time.

There’s a whole process of discovery and love of ambiguity and not knowing exactly what I’m doing every time I step out the door that is entirely missing from my life these days, and it’s an absence that I feel on a deep level more and more. Accidentally stumbling into nostalgia via streaming services is a poor substitute, but at least it’s what’s available.

Blazing A New Trail

In an attempt to come down from the insanity of the past few weeks — none of which has been bad, per se, as much as simply overwhelming and seemingly relentless — Chloe and I have unfortunately fallen down a hole called “Binging The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City.”

I’d like to blame our friend David Wolkin for this disaster, mostly because the very idea came up when he texted to suggest that we try it, claiming that just a few episodes in, “I’m convinced that our entire society needs to be rebuilt from scratch.” That kind of schadenfreude is difficult to resist for both of us, coming as we are from the guilty pleasure that is Below Deck, and so we succumbed before too long. (Not immediately, though; we binged HBO Max’s Finding Magic Mike first, finding it an unexpectedly wholesome, uplifting show. I genuinely recommend that one.)

It’s safe to say that, if you also like watching terrible people being terrible to each other in a way that can be genuinely shocking at times — how do people like this actually exist, and how can they talk to each other like that? — then The Real Housewives of Salt Lake City is a must-see. It’s the only Real Housewives I’ve ever watched, but it feels like the only one I’d ever need, given the curious combination of horror and comedy almost very interaction provides in any given episode. Again, that this is at least some form of reality, feels almost impossible, given how tonally perfect the show manages to be in its analysis of embarrassment and awkwardness. Armando Ianucci only dreams he could have made this.

As with all televisual obsessions, however, it’s started seeping into my everyday in unexpected ways; the opening titles feature each of the housewives saying an introductory, ridiculous phrase. For one, she spend the entire first season saying, “Like my pioneer ancestors before me, I’m trying to blaze a new trail,” and now I can’t help but think like my pioneer ancestors before me ahead of any random sentence in my head, as if that somehow makes the sentence more meaningful. The unexpected thing is, it works. Like my pioneer ancestors before me, I suggest trying it for yourself.

How’s Your Mother?

I was on a call earlier today, related to a work thing, when I realized that I was accidentally sounding like a stereotypical gangster, even though the actual intent of what I was trying to say was entirely sincere.

I was talking to a party involved in a particular story, about which I happen to know certain facts even though they would never admit to those facts publicly. (Or, at least, not until it fits into a pre-determined publicity plan, which for my purposes amounts to the same thing.) Said facts, I hasten to add, are good things in the grand scheme of things, and something that would reflect well upon said party if they were to be known publicly.

Which is, again, not what said party is currently wanting to happen.

The problem in this case was that there are rumors to the contrary to the facts going around. Rumors that not only contradict said certain facts, but make the unnamed party look undeservedly bad as a result. So, I’m on a call earlier today which basically consists of me saying, please can I report what I believe is the truth so that these rumors don’t become reported and then people think they’re true, instead, and them telling me, more or less, well, we don’t know… over and over again.

At some point in the call, things got heated and I tried to bluntly say something along the lines of, if I can’t get you on the record saying X, then someone’s going to write the record saying Y, at which point I realized: I’ve basically become a fake gangster saying the equivalent of, “Nice reputation you’ve got here, shame if something was going to happen to it.”

I’d like to say that I ended the call there and then, and withdrew from the entire debacle, but reader…? I didn’t. Instead, I plunged ahead, perfectly aware of the surreal and ridiculous circumstance and trying not to laugh out loud every time I spoke.

Where Nothing But Dust is Falling

Let us, for a brief second, appreciate the stillness that comes from a moment of silence. Not in the “let us all have a moment of silence to appreciate the dead” sense, I should add as quickly as possible; I literally just mean, a break from the chaos and cacophony that feels near constant in this ever-changing world in which we’re living.

This weekend was, despite all odds, utterly chaotic for me. The surprise that was a relaxed, low key and utterly enjoyable Friday afternoon proved to be a red herring for the way things were to unfold for the next couple of days, as events — and the ever-present need for Stuff To Be Done — meant that it was all go for two days, with little time for quiet contemplation or reflection.

At the time, I just kept my head down and took care of what needed to be taken care of, with only a small amount of grumping and grumbling. (Okay, maybe not the smallest amount, but it could have been so much worse, I swear.) It’s only today, as things calm down somewhat — helped, oddly, by the daily grind of the work week and all the things it includes — that I find myself with the space to appreciate, well, the space to appreciate things.

There’s something to be said for silence, in both the literal “oh, there’s no loud noises happening” sense, as well as the “I can think clearly and I very much appreciate that” one. There’s something to be said for the way in which it can help everything feel more centered and in its place, even if the place in question is scattered all around with small dogs gnawing on things quietly by your feet.

For the first time in days, I find myself just… sitting down and appreciating everything, feeling my stress levels falling and smiling at the way of it all. Silence might not be golden, but it’s better than the alternative sometimes.

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?