The Morning After

For the majority of my professional writing career, I’ve prided myself on the speed at which I work — an ability to basically sit down, start writing and get to the end of the piece in a surprisingly speedy time, with minimal need to re-read or re-work as much as possible. It’s been something that’s been remarked upon by editors and other writers, with no small amount of jealousy and admiration; hence my lack of modesty about it.

Something has happened in the last couple of months to change that, however. I suspect the change happened earlier than that — I have a feeling it’s closely related to the period of extended writing I did for a couple of long term projects last year, only one of which has come to any kind of fruition as yet — but whatever the timing and whatever the reason, I’ve become a fan of writing things ahead of deadline and leaving them alone overnight, before re-reading them the next day and making whatever changes necessary.

It’s not that I make that many changes the next day; more often than not, I change a couple of words in a vain attempt to get the word count down, or perhaps shift the order of a couple of sentences around. Instead, it’s become a confidence thing, where I find myself feeling far more comfortable just being able to re-approach the piece fresh and see where I’ve gone wrong. It’s a safety net, perhaps, but one I’ve come to rely upon with almost everything I’m writing, these days. (Blog posts aside, of course.)

It’s this safety net that’s had me rework pieces from scratch, knowing exactly what to do to fix them in next-to-no time; it’s the safety net that’s made me more confident in working for larger companies paying me larger amounts of money to write for them. Sure, it’s slowed me down some, but I’m nearing 50. Writing automatic prose is a young person’s game — and it’s not as if waiting one day is going to make a significant change in anyone’s run time, anyway.

Chill Out, Daddio

It’s been a long winter, and no mistake. Even as I write this, the sky outside is still overcast and looking as if it’s going to piss down absolutely freezing rain any minute; that’s basically what it’s felt like since… the heatwave of August last year, perhaps…? That’s likely an overstatement, but almost certainly since early October, we’ve been gripped by some consistently terrible, cold weather. When it’s not been overcast, that’s almost certainly because it’s been downright stormy with apocalyptic rain. Things have, to say the least, been far from sunny and wonderful.

I’m telling you all this in an attempt to set up the shocking nature of what happened last night. At some point in the middle of the night — at a time when, when I woke up, I knew better than to look at what time it was because it was clearly the middle of the night o’clock, if that makes sense — I woke up because I was, stunningly, too warm to sleep.

I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened; it’s almost certainly last summer during the heatwave — although, even then, I stayed asleep through most of that because I fell asleep knowing how uncomfortably warm it was in the first place. But, no, I woke up because I felt as if I was oppressed by the heat.

I knew, even as I moved the covers off me (keeping the cat as unbothered as possible in the process; I was half-asleep, but not insane, after all), that this was something I probably should have been annoyed by. Who wants to wake up in the middle of the night for any reason, after all? But, no; there was something thrilled about this disturbance, apparently. I was almost gleeful for the unexpected heatwave, and determined to appreciate it even as I made necessary changes to allow me to sleep through the rest of the night.

Of course, I felt somewhat less grateful when I woke up this morning still exhausted, but you can’t have everything, can you? In related news: it’s cold again, now.

On Getting Older Working On The Internet

A thought occurred the other day, that I’ve been online for so long — by which I mean, working online for such an extended period, as opposed to “I have been sitting in front of my laptop all this time, oh no what have I done with my life” (but also, that) — that I’ve passed through multiple incarnations of who and what my peers are.

I came up with the first wave of what we called the comics blogosphere, and there are names from that period of time, almost 20 years ago, that I still see and have such affinity and affection for that I think of them as smarter and more on top of shit than me on almost every topic. I was part of the launch team for io9, which meant I was a professional blogger and a Gawker Media employee, so my peer group shifted to something more professional, which continued and expanded as I worked through Time, Wired, Playboy, The Hollywood Reporter and so on. And the people I worked beside each time because peers and other people who I feel on the same level as, except when they go on to do something more amazing altogether.

(A lot of people I’ve worked with on those outlets have gone on to write books, video games, TV shows, and the like; others have gone on to found tech start-ups or journalism groups, or edit big magazines or whatever. I feel like a kid compared with them, but I still think of them as peers in some way, somewhat selfishly.)

There are hordes, hosts, of people who have disappeared from the fields that I’ve worked and still work in — people whose losses I feel on a near-atomic level. (I could name names, but that might be embarrassing for everyone involved.) I feel very lucky to still be able to do what I do, and even more so when I think about some of the people who aren’t still doing it beside me on a regular basis.

Aware of the Tide that Drags Me Out to the Sea

As I’ve already complained about, I’ve been pretty busy lately.

By “pretty busy,” I mean, “I haven’t actually been this busy in a couple of years, in terms of workload.” That makes sense; this month is genuinely so loaded with deadlines all collapsing into each other thanks to unfortunate timing that I will, thankfully, be making the most money I’ve made in a one month period since the end of 2019. It’s a nice milestone to reach, but perhaps one I might have swapped for a little bit more downtime in the last week or so, had I known ahead of time.

Things are running into each other in such a way that I find myself living in two different understandings of time simultaneously. On the one hand, there’s what I’ve taken to thinking of as long-short term thinking. That’s the part of my brain that’s vaguely aware of what deadlines I have in the next couple of weeks, and maps out what order I need to take care of things so that they all get done. It’s also the part that tends to get me in trouble, whether it’s accidentally forgetting something I have due or simply assuming that I’ll magically learn how not to feel overwhelmed when a particularly hairy piece of scheduling hits future me a week or so away.

And then, there’s short-short term thinking. That’s the me I wake up to every morning, the one that goes, Okay, today you have to achieve exactly three things for work. Here’s how you’re going to do that. Of the two time senses, this is the one that feels the most understanding and forgiving; the one that takes a moment to recognize that certain things can’t be done on the schedule I’d originally planned, and tries to work out alternatives, and the one that knows just how much internal pushing can be achieved before I lose my mind. (Also, how much I can lose my mind before I really lose my mind; there is a difference, you know.)

Holding both of these senses of time in my head simultaneously is something that is, most of the time, not really much of a problem… apart from those days when I wake up convinced that it’s Saturday, and really it’s just Wednesday and so much more needs to be done than I’d previously assumed.

In related news, I’m tired.

It’s Not The End of The World, No No No No No-oh

It’s either a sign of how lucky I’ve been or, alternately, how particularly unlucky I’ve been in terms of a lack of workload, but when I had a piece returned to me this weekend as being rejected and in need of a line-one rewrite and rethink, it was the first time in a long time that’s happened. Which, it should be noted, sent me into a spiral of self-doubt and recrimination that, if I had more self-awareness and presence of mind, I would probably be embarrassed about in retrospect.

The problem wasn’t that I received such critical notice that my delicate sensibilities were offended, nor than I had done such a terrible job that I got an email savaging my very attempts to put more than three words in order; I actually received a very polite, almost apologetic email that argued in an eminently sensible manner that what I had written was going in entirely the wrong direction for the target audience. Looking back on what I’d written, I have to admit: they’re right! I 100% had aimed myself in the wrong place and just went for it nonetheless. But still, even that realization was enough to sink my self-confidence to near-parodic levels.

I spent the rest of the day managing to convince myself that I had done fucked up in the worst way possible, and that in doing so, I’d demonstrated that I couldn’t do the very thing that I’d been employed to do, and therefore shown myself to be utterly unemployable. I had the sinking feeling in the stomach that comes from that deeply-held conviction that I’d fucked up in an entirely irreparable fashion, and my brain wouldn’t let me rest until I’d written an entirely new piece that I hoped would salvage my clearly tarnished reputation in some small way and keep me from being thrown into a hole marked “never hire, ever again.”

I sent the email with the new version at 9:30 Sunday night. By 6:15am the next morning, I was told there were no notes, it was perfect, and I blushed at the memory of how convinced I’d been at calamity the day before.

Never Get Too Cool

Reading Bobby Gillespie’s memoir Tenement Kid has been a joy this week; it’s not that it’s a particularly well-written book (it’s not), or that Gillespie’s childhood was either unique enough to be fascinating or so similar to mine as to create a bond, but instead that he’s clearly being honest and thrilled by his own history, sharing memories and old loves and grudges alike with equal affection. It’s a surprisingly charming, unaffected, read that feels like the perfect balm after a busy day of thinking too hard.

It’s also something that, even though my experience barely mirrors his — I was born more than a decade later and in less violent surroundings, for one thing — triggers my own nostalgia in unexpected ways. He writes about the record shops he haunted as a teenager getting into the punk scene, and I’m launched into a pleasant reverie about places like Rhythmic Records and FOPP that I’d make weekly trips to when I hit the same age, excitedly flipping through the racks looking for something surprising and essential. He shares his passions for bands that unlocked parts of his brain and made things more possible, and I can remember my own version of the same experience with other bands, including his own Primal Scream. (The circle of life, I guess.)

At one point, he mentions offhandedly sitting in Glasgow and having lunch on his own, away from the other students in his college course, because he wanted to check out record stores at the same time. Reading that, I remembered the year I spent in community college after high school. Getting there meant going through Glasgow, and every Friday, I’d make it a point to get to a comic shop and pick up that week’s new releases; it felt like an unlikely, entirely welcome, side effect of college — a new freedom, in some way, at a time when little else felt free.

I hadn’t thought about that in years, before this book. Remembering it again was like unlocking a hidden building block of where I ended up, and who I became.

Seeberraber Hobosoben, What Did You Expect?

Things continue to get busier work wise in ways that feel almost impossible after the last year that I’ve had. It’s a genuinely strange feeling, to go from almost expecting rejection and having a lot of time on my hands to juggling projects and wondering how I’ll get it all done. Was this how things used to be? Was I always quite this busy, before?

(The real answer to that is complicated, because when I was essentially staff at THR, I managed to mix longer pieces with short ones that I could move in and out of effortlessly; I wasn’t writing 1000-word arguments after another all the time. I also wasn’t responsible for tracking payments and deadlines from four or five directions simultaneously, which I suspect may be where my brain is getting more tripped up these days.)

Nevertheless, it feels good to be swamped in this way. Stressful, too, definitely— I felt a tension in my shoulders and back that I honestly don’t think has been there in a year or so, the other day; that was a strange realization — but there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment that comes from triumphing over deadline adversity in circumstances like this. I become Alan Cumming at the end of Goldeneye, arms outstretched and yelling, “I am invincible” at the top of his voice in an unconvincing Russian accent.

(Yes, I know he immediately dies after saying that; we’re ignoring that part for now.)

There’s no small amount of mental muscle memory happening as I negotiate everything necessary right now. I have an awareness of what needs to be done, of deadlines lying ahead of me, and I’m finding myself jumping almost instinctively between projects in order to make things happen on time. Without thinking, I’m finding time (making time in some cases) to fit everything in, and somehow making it all work. It feels as if everything is speeding up, but I’m remembering how fast I can move to keep up. Right now, it’s exhilarating.

Sick, Tired and Sorry (Well, The Last Two)

I did my taxes today, only partially remembering how overwhelming and demoralizing an experience that actually is.

I forgot how long it takes, and how much it takes out of me; in my head, I thought to myself, it’s mostly just scanning all the 1099s I’ve received and doing some math, how bad can it be? but the reality of the situation is that there are always, always complications even in the bets of years, and 2021 was nowhere near the best of years.

In fact, that was one of the problems about doing it this year: when you actually sit down and work out just how much you earned across an entire year, and then work out all of your living expenses across that same year, it’s a sobering experience no matter what. When you do it in a year when you’ve known all along that you’re not making anywhere near enough and, instead, surviving off your savings, it’s… well, depressing isn’t even close to the right word. Looking at things as simply as a math problem and realizing just how much of your savings have disappeared into the ether is… a whole thing that I hope as few people as possible ever have to experience.

(It’s a lot of money, that’s all I’m going to say. A lot of money.)

The other problem was that, thanks to COVID and multiple other factors that had nothing to do with me and everything to do with corporate changes internally at various places, I had to do more than a little bit of detective work to fully track down what I’d received in terms of paperwork and what I hadn’t, making the process longer, more exhausting, and more confusing than it should have been.  Every single year, doing taxes turns into detective work, and I can never fully prepare for it.

I’d make a joke about wishing I’d been an accountant instead of a writer, so at least I would’ve been paid for all this work, but just imagine how bad my taxes would’ve been if that had been the case.

Happy Anniversary

Something someone said to me lately has been sticking in my brain a lot. We were talking about how people had reacted on social media to one particular piece of news, and they said something along the lines of, “Everyone is just mean now. This far into lockdown, we’ve gone from trying to be polite to just being feral.”

It was one of those things that just flipped a switch in my brain. I wouldn’t call it an epiphany, because it’s not as if it translated immediately into any kind of concrete realization, but it’s been pinballing around inside my head ever since. It feels as if it touches on something true about the transformation we’ve all been undergoing since we first closed everything down and hid in our homes two years ago now.

(It’s two years! Well, almost We went into lockdown in March 2020, and here we are now. I can still remember people saying with all seriousness that lockdown was only going to last two weeks, and here we are now.)

I’m not sure that I buy that we’ve all gone feral — in fact, I’d pretty aggressively push back on that idea, to be honest — but the idea that we’re all somehow at our worst after two years of COVID is something that has just been stuck inside my head. Something that I’ve been struggling with over the past few months has been how to express how difficult it’s been to just… do the usual stuff in the halfway house between what used to be normal and the full lockdown of March 2020.

In theory, people are “returning to normal,” and businesses certainly would like us to believe that’s the case, but it’s clearly not; the dissonance between what we’ve been told and what’s actually happening has been wearing in ways that I never could have imagined, and I’m pretty sure it’s changed me in the same way that I’ve watched it changed other people around me.

Does that mean that we’re all worse for everything that’s happened? I genuinely don’t know. But even the hyperbole of talking about people being feral feels like it’s a step towards some essential truth, that we’re all different now, in ways we won’t properly appreciate for years yet.

You Just Don’t Get It

If there’s something that I’ve become increasingly impatient with in pop culture spaces over the past couple of years, it’s an attitude that can best be summed up by a quasi-mathematical  mad-lib formula: “[Pop Culture Property X] was good when [I was young], but now it’s bad because [it’s not aimed specifically at me and what I want from my nostalgia].”

I try to stay away from people who offer up this line of thinking as much as possible, because it’s exhausting and disappointing — especially when coming from people whose golden era for whatever they’re complaining about was as dissonant from an earlier incarnation as whatever they’re complaining about. It’s a common complain inside sci-fi circles, especially: you can see people saying it about Star Trek and Star Wars and Doctor Who all the time.

That’s not to say that I’m a fan of all of those things even today; I was left relatively cold by recent Doctor Who and I thought The Book of Boba Fett was pretty much a mess, and I’ve been disappointed in the current season of Star Trek: Discovery as much as I’ve watched it. (I’m weeks behind, I shamefully admit.) But in each of those cases, I find the easiest thing to do is just… move on and look for something else to watch, instead?

Here’s the thing: I can always go back and rewatch the episodes that I do love whenever I want. (And, in the case of Doctor Who, at least, I do.) Even if I didn’t want to do that, though, there’s so much out there that I do want to watch and enjoy that I don’t feel the need to hatewatch anything to fuel my anger. Instead, I can just go, “well, this really isn’t my bag” and leave it to those who really love it.

This is either maturity, or a sign that I’m a really bad nerd. Not that those two things are mutually exclusive, of course.