Swollen But Unseen

I’ve been re-reading Brian Eno’s A Year With Swollen Appendices lately, I’ve become fascinated with the latter element of the book. For those who’re unfamiliar with it, it’s basically a published version of a year of Eno’s diaries, with the addition of a bunch of essays and expanded thoughts at the end; about a third of the finished book is made up of those appendices, which range from everything from lists of books and records Eno has been involved with to unfinished essays about why “interactive” isn’t the right word to use when describing certain kinds of media. It’s a fun, thought provoking, playful read, and one I’ve been enjoying revisiting.

All of this is prelude to me admitting this: it’s made me want to write big, thoughtful pieces of comics theory. It’s left me wanting not just to read, but to write longform thinking and theorizing about the comics medium and the comics format. It’s left me wanting to be playful with something that is my field of expertise in the same way that Eno is with his, even if I don’t necessarily know what that would actually look like in practice. It’s become a really exciting idea, at least in theory.

The thing is, I don’t know where I’d put that; in theory, it could be a Popverse idea, but I don’t feel like it’s complete enough for there, or necessarily even coherent enough — there’s something about Popverse as a platform (and a job!) that I think needs to be almost finished before putting in there, and this isn’t that, at all. Is it something for here? Maybe — this has always been a space I’d promised myself for experimentation and failure, but is it too comic-forward for here…? I don’t know.

There’s no small part of me that wishes that I had the book deal that never quite happened; if this could be anything, it could be a book. One day, perhaps. One day.

In The Bleak

When I was a kid, January was always The Month After Christmas, an entire month I basically resented because it didn’t have the colored lights and the music and the Yuletide Glow. It was enough, then, for it simply to have the misfortune of following December for me to dismiss it almost entirely — almost, but my mum’s birthday was at the start of the month, which granted it the smallest of reprieves. January, I knew on some kind of instinctive, atomic level, just sucked.

I still believe that now, but my reasons to root against the month have grown in the intervening years.

Maybe it’s just my age, or a tendency to slip towards curmudgeonly thoughts across the past few years — is that also an age thing? Probably — but January increasingly feels like the most difficult month to get through every year. It’s the weather, of course: the cold, the rain, and this year especially, the wind, my God, the wind. It’s a month that doesn’t want you to leave the house, and then punishes you for even trying. January, especially January in Portland, is a month that asks you to put on your metaphorical (or maybe literal, who knows?) thermals and not take them off for weeks on end.

(Still, at least there’s been no snow, at least so far as of me writing this; we’ll see if that’s still the case by the time you read it.)

This year, I’ve also ended up becoming horribly aware of how dark the month is. Not just the overcast twilight of stormy days, but the lateness of the sunrise and how early the sun sets, each and every day. I know, in theory, that the days have been getting longer since the middle of December, but it doesn’t feel like that, just the opposite; I wake up and have no sense of internal time. Is it 5am or 7:30? Have I slept in, or not slept enough?

It’s the middle of the month as I write this, with as much of January left to go as is behind me. I find myself hoping it goes faster, easier. Surely there has to be some kind of shortcut to make it to February.

The Path, Taken

For no immediately apparent reason the other night, I started thinking about the final year of my undergraduate art school program. Like I said, I’m really not sure why; I was falling asleep, and it just happened, as if my brain went, hey, this was more than a quarter century ago, why not start thinking about it now? Reader, I did. I was falling asleep and suggestible, what can I tell you?

Specifically, I was thinking about my dissertation that made up some significant portion of my final grade that I can’t remember — a quarter? That can’t be right, but it feels like it might be, nonetheless — and how I basically half-assed it. I got a pretty good final grade for my degree, good enough that I felt accomplished and relieved in equal measure when finally learning what it was, but I remember being told in an offhand manner by one of my teachers that my dissertation had dragged it down, and what’s more, I remember hearing that and thinking in response, yeah, that makes sense.

The irony of the whole situation from today’s point of view is that I screwed up the dissertation purely because I didn’t want to write. I had countless, multiple chances to work on the thing, but I’d spend them doing almost anything else until I had no other option. To this day, almost exactly 26 years later (I basically wrote the whole thing in a blur across the Christmas break), I remember with shocking clarity the feeling of sitting down to just do it with a combination of stress and resignation, as if I’d run out of chances to avoid doing it.

Looking back now, I think about how short the word count was (10-15,000 words) and how difficult it felt to get them out of me at the time. I was, ironically, less than a year away from realizing that maybe I wanted to be a writer, but if you’d asked me at the time, that would have seemed almost impossible.

Checking It Twice

I’m keeping track of what comics I’m reading this year, or at least, I’m trying to — it’s something I’ve tried in the past, only to abandon almost immediately by accident or design, because I’ll realize I forgot something or other and give the whole thing up as inherently flawed. As I’m writing this, it’s January 14 so we’re almost halfway through the month (how, I don’t know), and my progress has been… reasonable…? I think…?

I have, I’m sure, forgotten more than one thing to add, by now; I read for fun but also for work, which means that sometimes I’ll quickly have to skip through an issue or two in the middle of the day and forget about it when thinking about the list later. That’s okay, though — this is an inherently imperfect exercise, and it’s enough to get a close approximation of my reading habits, rather than an exact snapshot. Or, you know, so I tell myself, anyway.

It’s funny to me that I’m finally (almost) succeeding in this project when the original impetus for it is no longer in place, I have to admit. This was, whenever it first occurred to me, something I was doing to match Jeff’s efforts in tracking his reading for the podcast; we’d be talking about what we’d been going through and I’d just guess based on my admittedly faulty recollection, before he’d pull out a spreadsheet with facts. I was always a bit daunted, impressed, and jealous every time. I could do that if I tried, I’d think to myself, and then a new year would roll around and I’d prove myself wrong.

(One thing that’s actually made a difference this year: not trying to do it in a spreadsheet. Honestly, just keeping a lengthy, messy list is working so much better. There’s a lesson there, I’m sure.)

This far in, I can happily report that there’s no rhyme or reason to my reading, no through line to discover. I remain as random as ever, in my old age.

Ooh Ooh Hoo No

Sometimes, I think about what I left behind to move to the US.

I mean that in a literal way, instead of a metaphorical one. I’ve been thinking about the physical possessions I left behind a bunch lately, in part because I’ve been re-buying some of them from eBay across the past year or so. Not in any kind of organized, “I’m rebuilding my comic and book collection and this is my plan,” way; it is, as is my tradition, far more haphazard and unintentional than anything like that. I think we’d all expect no less.

I’m not buying everything over again, thankfully; there were no shortage of books, records, comics, and whatever I once owned that I have little desire to revisit in the slightest, never mind re-purchase. (Just remembering the tower of Empire magazines I had gives me no shortage of anxiety, as much as I long for the days of longform entertainment magazine writing.) But as I grow older and think about the mass of media that I didn’t just live through but were a fan of, I find myself wishing that I hadn’t left basically everything I’d known entirely behind when I moved continents. Couldn’t I have had a plan to keep things in storage and move them eventually…? I had a near-complete run of Deadline, for God’s sake. Do you know how expensive that kind of thing is to buy nowadays?

I left it all behind to start anew, under the impression that I wouldn’t want or need much or all of it. Looking back now, that feels like an early warning sign of how that relationship would turn out — the suggestion (as was the case for many years) that I limit any comic or book collection because it wasn’t important enough to make space for, and there were more important things to focus on.

I guess we ended on the metaphor after all; I left parts of me behind when I left all those stories and magazines and books and pages of other people’s words. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I should have been paying attention to why I was doing it, and what it would mean, years down the line.

Or maybe I’m just bitter at the price of Green Lantern Corps #201, all these years later.

January 32nd Sounds Just Fine

To say that 2023 has failed to start gently would be an understatement; the first week was a series of days that — while none of them were strong enough to deliver a final blow — certainly left me bruised and dazed, staggering across the metaphorical boxing ring as if waiting for the knockout punch. It’s been practical and emotional hardship around these here parts, as if the year started with the intent of proving a particular point that no-one had really wanted in the first place.

And then… then I realized that the second week of the year ended with a Friday the 13th. It’s like we’re being told something, but the something is especially shitty.

I always say that I’m not superstitious, and the truth of the matter is that if I stop for any matter of time and think about things, I’m not; I understand on an intellectual basis that there are either scientific rationales at play, or else that people are imagining things and/or reading into events in a manner that isn’t actually supported by the facts, and yet… I can’t deny it. I’m actually ridiculously, irrationally superstitious.

I mean, I know, I know, that there’s nothing special one way or the other about Friday the 13ths. They happen all the time, and they’re not any more lucky or unlucky than any other day on the calendar. I know this to be factually correct, I promise. It’s just that the very fact of there being a Friday the 13th this early in what’s already been a rougher-than-I’d-like year feels as if it’s asking for trouble on a cosmic level and I am simply not prepared for the inevitable outcome.

It’s not even as if I have a particular feeling about what this outcome would be, per se; I don’t have a particular, targeted worry about what today could bring, nor a specific concern that I’m dreading as a result of reaching this point on the calendar. I just… feel as if we should have somehow skipped today altogether, like buildings pretending they don’t have 13th floors. That could work, right? If we all agreed that no month had to have a 13th in it, and added a new day on at the end. Just to be safe.

Make This Boy Shout, Make This Boy Scream

I never really listened to The Jam when I was younger; there was something about them that didn’t really work for me. A harshness, perhaps, an anger and attitude that felt at odds with the Britpop kid I was at the time, the one who preferred the rounded edges instead of the sharp, who still felt as if The Beatles was a weaker album than Rubber Soul or whatever. (No offense to those of you who prefer the Folk Beatles, of course.)

That Paul Weller was still around and making music at the time, and such a force in the scene still with albums like Wild Wood and Stanley Road, didn’t help; it felt oddly too retro to listen to The Jam in those circumstances, as if “retro” wasn’t at the very heart of the Britpop project as a whole. What can I say? I was young and stupid, as opposed to now, when I’m old and… well, still stupid.

All of this is to say that I’ve started listening to The Jam in the last week or so, inspired in part by Spotify making the suggestion, but moreso by the fact that I’d already been listening to a lot of Billy Bragg and The Specials, so it felt oddly period appropriate.

It’s an experience I would liken to discovering The Who or Harry Nilsson for the first time, in both cases things that happened long after the fact; I hear things that are at once New Favorite Songs or music that has always been in my life in one way or another, in large part because, indirectly, it has; I know the echoes of it from the bands I’ve been a fan of for years, who were influenced by all of this and ripped it off in several different ways.

Beyond simply enjoying the music for the sake of the music, there’s also the additional fun/reminder that music is a continuum, each song a part of a conversation that we’re only partly privy to. It’s humbling and surprisingly welcome to realize that we’re all dwarfed by history in ways like that, I find.

Won’t You Tell Me How?

The return to work last week wasn’t something I was looking forward to, as it looked closer and larger. Even if my holiday break had been surprisingly complicated  — a mix of the holidays themselves being more difficult than I could have expected and the feeling of not knowing what to do with so much time off for the first time in years — I wasn’t excited about the return to a traditional work week, with its 7am rises and the pressure of being constantly under deadline no matter how many stories I’d filed on any given day. I spent the last couple of days of the break dreading my first day back, having no idea it would be even worse.

In his defense, the dog didn’t intend to need an emergency trip to the vet; even ignoring the fact that animals aren’t really the type to plan such things in advance (and especially not Gus, who’s never shown any signs of being a particularly strategic thinker — or much of a thinker at all, really), the look he gave me when he was being carried into the back rooms to get his paw looked at made it clear how unhappy he was about the entire situation. Me too, little guy, me too.

He was there because, suddenly, his foot had been covered in blood and upon investigation, his claw had been torn. It was a shock to discover and an additional stress neither of us needed in that moment, but that’s what happened nonetheless. He was, ultimately, fine — by a day later, his biggest concern was that he didn’t want to take his medicine — but I spent the day worried about him, and also worried about needing to take time off work immediately after the break to take care of things. Oh, and also worried about completing the work I needed to do with less time to do it, and also the cost of the vet visit.

It was, to look for the silver lining, a lesson in appreciating the good stuff when you can, and that things could always be worse. If nothing else, the next day when I didn’t spend half of it traveling to and from the vet with a cold, sad dog in my arms almost felt like being back on vacation.

Byeeeeee

What was funny about recording the last episode of Wait, What? was how not-sad I was during the whole thing. I was even aware of that in the moment, the lack of sadness and sorrow during the final recording session. I’m pretty sure I even called it out in the recording itself.

I’d certainly expected to be sad, ahead of that. It had been a running theme when talking about it in the run-up to that final recording; I’d make some kind of comment along the lines of, “oh, we’ll both be messes in the last one, we won’t know what to say,” and I meant that entirely sincerely. Even on the day of the recording itself, it weighed on me; I felt this sadness on my shoulders hours ahead of sitting down to actually do it, all too aware of it being The Last One.

The podcast, after all, had been a constant in my life for more than a decade. It was one of the few things that had survived the upheaval of 2018, when everything else in my life to that point had gone; indeed, some of the strongest memories of the initial weeks after leaving my marriage was actually talking to Jeff and recording the podcast. For a show that was, ostensibly, just two friends talking casually about comics and culture, Wait, What? had this immense importance in my personal cosmology.

Jeff was the one who suggested ending it, months earlier, expecting me to disagree. I didn’t, although it took awhile for both of us to finally, properly settle on the idea that we were actually going to go through with it. For awhile, it felt like a dare each of us was expecting the other to back away from: were we really going to do it? Was it really going to happen?

It’s a few weeks later now, and the loss hasn’t sunk in yet. The holidays happened immediately after to distract us from the muscle memory of sitting down to chat for two or three hours every Saturday evening. We’ll still be calling and chatting anyway, just without recording it, which makes the loss infinitely easier — it’s probably why I didn’t feel the sadness when recording that last episode — but nonetheless, I know something has been lost. I’ll feel it when I least expect it, I can tell.