We Love the New Idea/I’m Bringin’ A Bunch, Then

I shared the first 50 songs from my 2023 playlist a few months back, but now it’s time for the next 50. Yes, somehow this playlist has breached 100 songs already. (By the time you’re reading this, it’ll almost certainly be higher.) Again, this is a playlist of music that it, for the most part, new to me, or something that I’ve rediscovered for whatever reason and gotten newly obsessed by. There’s some really fucking good stuff on here; it’s been a pretty fucking great year for my musical discoveries, even if other parts of 2023 haven’t been too kind.

As before: go search up some of these songs yourself. Ideally, you’ll find some new favorites of your own.

Slowly Downward and Other Stories

Upon discovering that Stanley Donwood — designer of Radiohead’s sleeve art since… OK Computer, I think? Maybe he did some stuff on The Bends before that, but I don’t think so — has a book out that’s a retrospective of his work with commentary and unseen concept and development art, I’ve been thinking a fair amount about books, and art books in particular.

(That I can remember his name without really trying is one of those weird memory things, for me; I can’t remember the full name of people who I actually know and are important to me, and yet the fucking guy who does Radiohead’s artwork, him, I can recall with no trouble.)

When I was in art school — fuck, a quarter century and some more years ago, now — I was increasingly drawn to the idea of the art book as a statement in and of itself. Lacking a course called Maybe You Want To Make Comics Or Something Who Knows, I specialized in graphic design (Visual Design, I think the course was officially called) for the majority of my time there, but it was never posters or covers that I felt truly excited by; I liked the idea of doing something across an extended space, and building a relationship with the viewer beyond one single image. It was probably my background in comic fandom that was behind this, but it’s no surprise that I ended up some very enamored with the idea of books as an artform in and of themselves.

We had a reasonably good library in the art school at the time, and Aberdeen had a similarly reasonable — in retrospect, probably only okay, but it worked for me at the time — public library, so I’d obsessively look through art books and catalogues and limited edition portfolios and the like. It was the ’90s, so there were collections and anthologies of design houses, too that I kept returning to: ones from Tomato or David Carson or whoever. All of these books would feel filled with potential and inspiration in a way I wasn’t finding elsewhere: this, I thought to myself, is what I want to be doing with my work.

The final year of my BA (Hons) course, I was making small-run zines. My post-graduate degree, I made a very-limited edition (only five!) hardcover book. All of these were imperfect examples of an idea I was just stumbling towards, messily and embarrassingly in retrospect. Looking back, though, the entire reason I started writing properly in the way that got me where I am now, is because of all of this. The words were an excuse that became the main reason in the end.

This Is The Day

Is there such a thing as time dysmorphia? I’m having another of those instances where I feel as if I’m living in three different time periods at once, because of the various things cycling through my life as I write. Like Billy Pilgrim, I feel as if I’ve become unstuck in time… but, thankfully, with less trauma as a result. (Well, so I hope, at least; check in with me in a couple of months to see.)

Almost all of this is work-related to some degree. The part that isn’t is The Now, because… well, that’s where we actually all are. The Now is the everyday and everything that entails, from the to-do lists at the job to the simple tasks of eating, sleeping, and making sure everyone else in the house — human and otherwise — does the same thing. That’s the easy part; it’s the things that are happening right in front of your face that you can’t get by, and just need to take care of.

Then, there’s what’s happening three weeks from now as I write: a trip to New York for New York Comic Con, and everything that’s happening there. It’s the biggest show of the year, and the busiest, too (especially after how strange San Diego Comic-Con turned out to be this year; this one, at least, has celebrities and studios that have had the time to work their way around the strikes), and I already know some — but not all — of what I’ll be up to for it. Meetings and emails and plans are happening, and it’s easy to slip forward into that as if it’s already there.

And then, there’s what’s happening a week after I get back from New York: a three week trip back to the UK, which is also currently in the planning stages. I’m booking flights to multiple places at once, hotels and places to stay at multiple places, trying to work out when and where I’m going to be, and why: who to see, who to talk to… It’s overwhelming and dizzying to try to keep track of. (The potential interviewees are also dizzying in their own right.) Time is a flat circle, as the show and resulting joke had it, but it’s a concept I’m beginning to see the appeal of.

The strangest thing about this is, I actually have something approaching downtime before all this happens, but it doesn’t feel like it: there’s so much planning and conversation about what’s coming that the actual downtime, the weekends off, the theoretical relaxation, doesn’t feel real. All the time I should be savoring because things are about to be crazy, I spend thinking about the planning that hasn’t been done yet.

By the time I get to mid-November, I might have lost my mind. But at least I’ll be back in one piece again.

Slight Return, Return

And then I broke the website.

To be fair, I didn’t mean to break the website. In fact, according to the professional who I ended up hiring to bring the website, I wasn’t actually the one who broke it, as much as the breaking was an inevitability that I just… helped happen. Their exact words were something along the lines of, “Whoever was working in the back end of this site before me did some crazy stuff. It’s surprising this didn’t break down long before now.” When I read that message, a wave of relief washed over me: it wasn’t my fault.

Except, of course, it kind of was, anyway; the straw that broke this particular camel’s back was my asking WordPress to update to its latest edition, which apparently just pushed the hinky, taped-together behind-the-scenes too far. I’m not entirely blameless, unfortunately; I just had no idea the damage I’d cause, or what laid ahead when I clicked the button. There’s a lesson there to be learned, I’m sure.

While the site was down, just under two weeks, I felt a sense of frustration at not being able to write anything new, but also a sense of relief: I’d written ahead three weeks’ worth of posts, after all, so it wasn’t as if I would feel under the gun if and when the site retuned; I could just reschedule those for the future and my buffer would still exist. Except, of course, when the site came back, it retroactively posted everything I had already scheduled, and left my upcoming calendar worryingly bare.

The moral of this story, then, is multi-fold: (1) Don’t let your then-spouse jury-rig a website because they might make weird decisions that will cause the site to go down years after you’ve divorced. (2) Don’t schedule things out in advance because it might bite you in the ass. (3) Maybe just write when you have the chance, even if you can’t put it on the website anyway, so that time isn’t lost. (4) It’s nice to be back, isn’t it?

Hello again. Sorry the site was gone.


I’ve been thinking about the phrase “To Be Continued” lately, inspired by reading an essay (from Kevin Huizenga, from one of his Riverside Companion minis) that ends with it, as opposed to coming to any kind of conclusion; what really made me think about it wasn’t its use, per se, but the fact that… well, I’m not sure if it was used in the traditional sense. The next issue of Riverside Companion doesn’t pick up the essay, but is instead about something else entirely. I’m not sure if that original essay is actually completed anywhere. And I kind of love that.

Like everyone who grew up reading comics — or reading and/or watching serialized fiction of any kind, really — “To Be Continued” is a promise; it’s a deal that both parties agree to and understand; “we’re stopping this now, but we’ll pick it up again next time.” It’s something used so much as to have become iconic; I think about the end of Superman Beyond in the mid-2000s, where it’s the three words used on the tombstone to signify that the end isn’t the end. It’s something we all know and (most importantly for the purpose of where my head’s at right now) trust, implicitly.

So, what if it’s used insincerely, or incorrectly? What if we read “To Be Continued” and it’s just not true? (I guess, again, comic fans know that feeling: that favorite series that disappears mid-run and we never know why…) Or, alternately: what if we start using it and reading it as something longer-term, a promise to pick up the idea and come back to it far in the future at some unspecified time? That’s the thought I’ve been circling around: why can’t we use “To Be Continued” as a promise to others and ourselves when we can’t resolve thoughts or ideas or stories but don’t want to abandon them, even if — especially if — we can’t imagine when we’ll get around to it?

“To Be Continued” repurposed less as a tease of a serialized idea or story, and more as a signal that we’re not finished, but events have gotten in the way and we’ll come back to something eventually? I’m deep in the land of semiotics and semantics that matter to no-one, I deeply suspect, and yet: there’s something about this that’s very, very appealing to me here, if I can work it out.

To Be Continued, indeed.

But Tomorrow, Tomorrow

I found myself thinking about the turn of the century recently; about the way that culture felt at the time, and the way that I felt inside that culture, and about comparing that to today.

I didn’t buy into the idea of “Y2K” or “the Millennium Bug” or anything similar; although I knew that it was a Big Deal that we were about to cross over from years starting with 1 to years starting with 2, and that it was going to be odd thinking of the next 12 months as being “00” instead of “98” or “99,” or whatever, I wasn’t really paying attention to the increasingly panicked suggestions that disaster was around the corner for any and all technology. Someone will figure that out, if it’s a real thing was pretty much my attitude towards that.

My thoughts, instead, were caught up in the idea of a societal collapse. Not in the traditional sense of that phrase, but instead the idea common in a lot of things I was reading at the time that popular culture was falling in upon itself as self-reflexiveness and self-parody combined and everything seemed to be inspired by, or copied from, something else. I was reading a lot of cultural theory at the time — I had, after all, just graduated art school just a year or so earlier — and it felt as if something was ending all around me, leaving space for something new, and entirely unknown.

I think about that when I consider the internet today, a space filled with ideas and references and commentary that I, bluntly, don’t understand. It’s not just the number of memes or shared jokes that I’m not privy to, but the shared languages of communities I can’t comprehend on almost any level. For all that the internet makes me despair on a regular basis, especially when it comes to social media spaces and the communities and cliques found therein, there are times when I think about such things in the abstract and realize that, in so many ways, this is what I was expecting almost a quarter of a century ago. This is the future I wanted, even if I didn’t know that at the time.

Drop (Out)

A curious thing has happened over the past few weeks or so: I’ve become quietly obsessed with a rip-off of Tetris.

“Obsessed” is probably not the right word, given that I can’t even remember that actual name of the game offhand — it’s called something like Block Drop or Something Block, but I can’t remember what, exactly — but the name isn’t important in the slightest. What is, though, is the overwhelmingly therapeutic nature of playing it.

(It’s Block Puzzle, I just checked, a name that feels so generic I don’t feel that upset about forgetting it.)

I’ve had it on my phone for some time — since last summer, I think. Chloe was playing it on the plane when we were both going somewhere last year, and after repeatedly asking to borrow it for my own go, I downloaded it to play myself on the trip back, knowing full well that she’d fall asleep and I’d be at a loose end otherwise. And she did, so I did, and then I put it aside and didn’t think about it again.

Cut to… well, now. This year’s been an odd one, in ways I didn’t expect or initially know how to deal with; there’s been a lot of waiting for things to happen, or waiting for calls, or even just texting people a lot more than usual. As a result, I’ve found myself very often with both time on my hands and my phone usually close by. (Traditionally, usually, my phone lives in my office beside my laptop, with the ringer on so I can hear it if it goes off. I only carry it with me if I’m expecting a call.) Because of this, I’ve started playing the game far, far more often.

It’s not a complicated game, which is, I think, its appeal; the mindlessness is something that calls to me, the idea that I can “achieve” something with minimum effort. Again, using the word “achieve” feels misleading, given the essentially throwaway nature of the game, but the idea that I’m putting things in the right place — that there is a “right place,” and an order to things — is part of the draw of the whole thing. I find myself coming back to this repetitious activity, soothed by its small affirmations for the small effort required of me. (“Nice!” it says when a round ends, whether or not I did well. Sometimes, it’s more emphatic. “Great job!” I know better than to believe it, and yet.)

There’s simply something… reassuring about the thought-free repetition and sense that, really, I’m doing something without actually doing anything or feeling any real sense of pressure about it. The game is there when I’m overtired from work but my brain buzzes because it’s not fully done running yet, or when I don’t feel up to anything requiring true commitment. It’s a calming, almost hypnotic presence on my phone.

All told, I probably need to find something else to do. A hobby wouldn’t be the worst idea.