There was a point, many many years ago now, where I spent a night with a girlfriend and we were both convinced she was pregnant. I say “convinced,” but the correct word to use, the only one that actually explains how it felt at the time, would be “terrified.”

She wasn’t a girlfriend at the time; she was an ex, although we’d get back together after this — as a result of this, really — and the split would be blurred out of our shared story as an awkward, uncomfortable inconvenience. But I remember the night we spent together, neither of us able to sleep, our minds spinning silently, separately, about what it would mean if she really was pregnant.

In retrospect, the details surrounding everything slip away and feel almost fictional. I know there was one night of this uncertainty, this Schrodinger’s Pregnancy, but I can’t remember why, why it was one night and then we’d know: was it that she was late, and we couldn’t get to a store to buy a test until the next day? Had something happened? I genuinely can’t remember. All I remember was that night, the lying next to each other awake and quiet, thinking to myself what if what if what if.

Both of us were still in art school, both of us not ready for the reality of being parents. Looking back, neither of us even had an idea what that really meant despite being uncles and aunts at the time. I spent the night with that hopeful, childish thought that maybe it would all go away and everything would be better in the morning. Surreally, the next day, we found out that she wasn’t pregnant after all; my pleas to the universe being answered.

I found myself thinking of this the other evening, out of nowhere, with the sudden realization that, had things turned out differently, had she been pregnant, that kid would be older than I was when everything had happened on that night. Suddenly, I felt older.

Got My Mind Made Up I Got My Finger On The Button

I missed the 25th anniversary of In It For The Money, the Supergrass album, earlier this year — apparently, it was in April, now that I’ve thought about it enough to go check — but even just thinking about its release and where my life was at at the time has had me thinking over the last few days.

In April 1997, I was speeding towards the end of my BA course in art school, and filled with no small amount of panic about the fact. I had no real idea what I was going to do next — I’m sure that I must have already interviewed about continuing into a Masters degree by that point, but I almost certainly wouldn’t have known that I’d gotten in — and, equally, no real idea about what I was truly working towards with the final exhibition that was going to make up the majority of my final grade. That spring, I was in mild panic the entire time.

I was, however, still a music fan and someone who obsessively went to record stores every week to check out the new releases and see what was happening. I remember being into the first couple of singles from In It For The Money, and convinced with the confidence of someone who genuinely knows no better that the full album would be integral to getting my work done in a timely, successful manner. So, I bought it.

I can still remember the sheer panic I felt when going to the bank immediately afterwards and realizing that I’d accidentally spent the last of my money on the album, and wouldn’t be able to buy food as a result. I am, thankfully, far more financially solvent today, but I’ll never ever forget what that felt like; the sense of regret, of panic, and of suddenly being aware of the value of things. Or, more accurately, the lack of value of other things.

In It For The Money, ironically, didn’t even come close to living up to those first two singles. I should’ve bought some groceries instead.

Welcome Back Welcome Back Welcome

As you read this, I’ll be at San Diego Comic-Con for the first time in three years. (I’m writing this ahead of time, because at the show itself, I’ll be writing up… well, a lot of other things.) I’m genuinely nervous about returning, for reasons that have nothing to do with my very real fear of getting COVID from a convention center filled with 150,000 people; I’m nervous about returning to the show and the exertion required to cover it across its five-day span, and whether I’ll have aged out of being able to do that without getting too exhausted and overwhelmed on a regular basis.

My editors, bless them, have been particularly generous about building in time for me to relax and not lose my mind. There’s an official schedule, and on it, there’s a note that repeats in all caps, telling us to RELAX; there are even asterisks surrounding it for emphasis. We’re all seasoned Comic-Con veterans, and yet, we’re also all aware that it’s been three years and we’re all a little older and a little bit wary at this point. We all need reminders in capital letters, putting our health and well-being on the schedule just in case we lose track of the important things.

I am excited about it all; I should say that. As nervous as I am, I’m excited to get back to this thing that I really have been missing for all this time. There’s something about a convention (and, especially covering a convention for work the way that I’ve been doing pretty continuously for the last decade-plus) that is an experience unlike any other, and it’s something that I’ve surprised myself by missing to the extent that I have. So, yeah: I’m glad to be going back, all things considered… I’m just quietly expecting disaster at any given opportunity, because, well, given the past couple of years, why wouldn’t I?

Meanwhile, Two Decades Earlier

I wrote awhile back about missing the 20th anniversary of my moving to the States; real life had intruded and I was too busy just… doing stuff (probably work) to keep track of when that had actually happened. Well, as I’ve been filling in paperwork relating to my new job, I’ve recently been revisiting my immigration progress and can happily report: it was March 17, 2002, that I left the UK for good and moved to the United States.

I’d actually forgotten just how convoluted and involved all the immigration stuff was, to be honest. My brain had blurred it all into a list of lengthy meetings and headshots taken at photographers who made their living helping immigrants with last minute government-ready images; something that was, repeatedly, a drag but not necessarily hard or unpleasant. It went on for years and it was expensive, sure, but it wasn’t that bad, I’d told myself.

Looking back at all the paperwork, and there’s a lot of paperwork to look back at, is a reminder of how incremental the process was, and how nerve wracking that felt at the time. Every decision, no matter how seemingly small in retrospect — going from a Conditional Permanent Resident of the US to being a Permanent Resident of the US, for example — would take months, and would require written requests, supporting documentation, and no small amount of patience.

Amusingly, my memory proved to be faulty in the different direction, as well; I remember the wait between the marriage and getting a green card as taking a long time, in part because of the complaints I was getting from Kate on a regular basis about my not bringing money into the house. Turns out, I had a green card three weeks after getting married. There’s no small amount of retrospective maybe there were earlier signs that I didn’t pick up on to learn from looking back, it seems.

Looking through all the paperwork was a sobering, surreal reminder of things I’d clearly filed away mentally with no desire to revisit. At the same time, though, it’s almost exciting to excavate your own life and relearn your own history.

A Personal Announcement

So, last week I started a new full time job; my first in more than a decade. I’m both excited and nervous about this.

Excited because, well, it’s exciting: I’m somewhere I want to be, working on material that I want to work on, and with editorial support to do what feels like it’s going to be good work. And it’s a staff position, something I haven’t had for more than a decade at this point — although both THR and Wired were long term freelance gigs that felt like staff positions, in their own way — which brings with it not only a sense of security and stability, but also a guaranteed income on a monthly basis, healthcare benefits, and paid time off. Even just typing that, I can feel the tension of the freelance hustle fading off my shoulders just a little. That, in itself, is exciting.

I’m also nervous, though, because it has been more than a decade since I’ve been staff, and because being staff has responsibilities and requirements that I’m not used to at this point, not just yet. I’m nervous because I want to do a good job and convince those who hired me that they made the right decision, and because I want to do a good job just to do a good job, that that’s a reward in and of itself. (Of course.) I’m nervous because this is, ultimately, something new and uncomfortable, and no matter how exciting I find it, anything new and uncomfortable is almost certainly going to leave you a little bit nervous if you care about it in any way.

2022 has been an entirely unexpected year in countless ways so far, and we’re barely halfway through. This is just the latest twist I didn’t see coming just a couple months ago, but it’s a rarity in that it’s not a disaster that I have to survive and recover from. Or, at least, I hope it isn’t.

And The Drop Beat Sounds Like This

I’ve been thinking about mixtapes, recently. Not in the sense that the term is currently used — I’m not about to drop my debut and reveal previously unknown skill on the mic, I’m sad to say — nor, really, in the same nostalgic sense that many have about choosing the perfect tracks and putting them in the right order, so as to convince your target audience of your desired message; instead, I’ve been thinking about the actual, physical act of making those tapes in the first place. The sitting down and building the mix, song by song, hitting record on each and every track.

(Not every mixtape had some deep message behind it, of course; I can remember making tapes for myself and others that had no meaning deeper than these songs are cool, maybe you’ll like them too and that was more than enough. Of course, plenty of that tapes I made did have ulterior motives, because that was the language we all shared and spoke, even if it was an entirely unstated agreement between us all at the time.)

I’ve been thinking a lot about the actual act of making the tapes. The fact that I’d choose the songs — taking great care to sequence them right, listening to the start of each potential new track to convince myself that it fit — with great care, and then hit the pause button to start recording in time for the song to start. I’ve been thinking about how all of this was live, which meant that any mistake — a skip in the record, the CD jumping, whatever — was part of the tape itself, and how that didn’t feel as scary then as it somehow does now, in an age of making playlists digitally with everything clean and controlled. 

There was an element of… chaos, perhaps…? An element of surrender to the process, acceptance that messiness and imperfection was part of the plan, that was central to making a mixtape back in the day. A lack of control but a comfort with that, too. I need to get my head back to that space again, I think. Sometimes a record skips; it can still sound like music.

And In Health

The last week has been a reminder, not that I needed one, that Covid stalks the world at large; in the space of a few days, my best friend and his wife tested positive, even as Chloe’s grandparents and the nine-year-old (who’s spending the summer with them) did the same. Two days after that, a booster shot laid both Chloe and myself out entirely, both of us feeling entirely sick just as the result of a quick vaccination shot. Illness is, as has been the case for the last two and a bit years, all around us.

It’s not as if I’d ever really forgotten that, per se; I still wear my mask almost every time I leave the house — I might leave it off if I’m just walking the dog, and expecting that I’m going to be keeping my distance from everyone else, and in an open-air space — and I barely go anywhere that isn’t the grocery store, especially now that the kid is on summer break and doesn’t need to be walked to school each morning. I am, on some level, always conscious that Covid is out there, preparing to strike and fearful of that possibility. And yet.

There’s something I’ve been thinking of, with regards to the virus, lately, and it feeds into all this: the idea that it’s become an inevitability that we’ll all get it (again). I’d normalized it, made it into this thing like a cold where it’s at once unavoidable and also not a big deal, helped by… I don’t know, a society that’s sending that message more every day, I guess. But then people you love get it, and there’s this moment of worrying, what if they have a really bad case? What if they die? and it becomes scary in a way it hasn’t felt in a long time again. You remember how big and dangerous it feels, after all.

Cheap Holidays In

Having recently watched — and, seemingly unlike many critics, really enjoyed — Danny Boyle’s Pistol, the TV adaptation of Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones’ memoir of the origins of the band, I’ve been thinking about the Sex Pistols reunion of the 1990s, and what it meant at the time.

I can’t remember if the band got back together for just a couple of gigs or a full-blown tour, but I remember that whatever it was, it went under the umbrella title of Filthy Lucre as a way of deflecting and embracing the obvious criticism that it was all being done for the money.

It was, of course — me and some friends pooled our dwindling resources to buy tickets to give to my best friend at the time, who was a massive Pistols fan, and I can remember feeling at once impressed and terrified by how expensive those tickets were; this was all of the Pistols selling out by getting back together, but ensuring that they were selling their credibility for as much of your money as possible. “Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated,” indeed.

Traditionally, I’m cool on the idea of selling out in general: there’s usually more behind the situation than anyone else sees, and sometimes you simply have to do whatever to keep the lights on. The very idea of “selling out” feels as if it comes from people who’ve never truly worried about money, overvaluing a concept of artistic freedom they’ve made up in their minds. With the Pistols, though…

I remember there being legitimate anger at the band for doing it, for tarnishing their reputations in that kind of way. It reminds me of much of the objections to Pistol, for that matter — this notion that the Sex Pistols are somehow sacrosanct and should be deified for their role in the punk scene, instead of treated like real people. How dare they get back together, and reveal themselves as imperfect? Why couldn’t they just allow the legend that had built around them to remain unsullied?

Except that was the point, maybe even as much as the money. I remember the friend telling me, after the gig, that it was fun but also disappointing, because they could play their instruments and it felt like a regular concert. It was the final true punk move they could make: making their most devoted fans face up to the fact that they’d been jobbing musicians all along, instead of antichrists here to change the world.

And The Tenderness I Feel

My latest obsession may be a book I bought roughly a quarter of a century ago, and what my memory has done to it. It’s not the book itself — The Mystery Play, a hardcover graphic novel by Grant Morrison and Jon J. Muth that has pretty much faded from institutional memory, arguably for good reason — that’s important here, I hasten to add, but specifically the actual physical copy I bought of it, all those years ago.

(I just went and looked it up; this was all closer to 30 years back. The book came out in 1994. I’m old, now.)

I was a student at the time, and one who didn’t have a lot of money. New hardcover books weren’t something I bought on a regular basis if ever, but I was a massive Morrison fan, so the prospect of an all-new Morrison book — and painted by Muth, whose work I’d loved for years! — proved irresistible. I plunked down my money on the counter and took away the shrink wrapped copy from the local comic shop excitedly.

I remember going almost immediately to a local coffee shop, where I opened the shrink wrap nervously but excitedly, and discovered that the dustcover had one small, clean cut across the front, as if someone had sliced it open with a razor blade. I knew, on some level, that it must have been a printing defect, because the book had been shrink wrapped, but still; the cut fascinated me. Even as I read through the book, I’d pause periodically and close the book, running my finger over the cut as if it had a deeper meaning.

Remembering the book for the first time in literally decades the other week, I realized that I couldn’t recall anything about the plot of The Mystery Play, or what Muth’s art for the book looked like, but I could (and did) remember everything about that cut: the size, the placement on the dustcover, my need to repeatedly look at it, study it. My relationship with that book is, somehow, actually a relationship with that cut.

What that says about me, I don’t know nor care to find out.