And The Crash on The Sidelines

When I work a comic convention, it puts me in a particular mindset that’s difficult to explain; the best (or, at least, easiest for other people to understand) way to describe it is that I hyperfocus on the work at the expense of nearly everything else: I go where the work demands, I work until it’s over, and that becomes my primary focus over, basically, everything else. It’s as if my brain goes, oh, this is a work trip? Okay, so we’re all about the work and that’s it.

From an employer point of view, that probably sounds like a dream, but on a practical level, it’s not ideal; without fail, my sleep cycle gets screwy because all of a sudden I’m sleeping odd hours without meaning to — waking up earlier than I’d like because my subconscious feels as if there’s something I should be alert for and working on — and my diet similarly goes to shit, because I put off meals until my body is yelling at me to eat, because I tell myself that I can eat after this next thing, and there’s always a next thing. My hyperfocus is so narrow that the necessities unfortunately drop off a little.

I’m sharing this because, this past weekend, I’ve been doing something new: working a convention from home. On the one hand, that’s not entirely new because I’ve reported on conventions I’ve not been at before in a more limited capacity, but this time, it was a more intense, more intentional effort: I was editing and acting as back-up writer for the team at Chicago’s C2E2 all weekend, and tasked with a bunch of things that made it very much a “working the con for real, just from somewhere else” experience… and I found that, despite being home, my body and head went into exactly the same routine, and suddenly I’m working 12 hour days and not eating enough and only sleeping 6 hours a night at most despite trying otherwise.

I’m sure this is a habit I have to break, somehow; it’s not good to feel as tired as this even while working from home for a three-day stretch, nor is it particularly good to decompress my brain by watching Anyone But You or No Hard Feelings while collapsed on a couch because, sure, glossy romantic comedies feel like a good idea right now over anything more intellectually stimulating. (Reading, curiously enough, goes by the wayside for anything other than work during cons; one day, I’ll work out why. That said, No Hard Feelings was actually great…?) Objectively, this is not a “good time,” and yet…

I don’t know, maybe this is Stockholm Syndrome talking (Con-home Syndrome, in this case, for those who love puns?), but there’s something oddly reassuring to me that the experience transferred like this. It reaffirms that it’s conventions that do this to me, not travel, per se; that it’s hyperfocus because of work, and not an unease about being unmoored away from traditional comforts.

As a workaholic, I feel that’s easier to deal with, more acceptable, than the idea that I lose all reality when I travel, considering almost all of my travel in recent years — by which I mean the last decade, shockingly — has been related to work in some way or another. Having such a “con” experience while home is, in its own sick way, a sign that if I ever manage to have a vacation again, it might not be such a meandering mess.

There’s something to be said about accentuating the positive, I think to myself as I also ponder how tired I am.

The Things We’ve Seen, The Things We Didn’t Know At The Time

I had a moment not too long ago when I realized with no small amount of surprise that I remember an internet before YouTube.

It’s one of those things that, when I stop to actually think it through, only makes sense: I remember all kinds of “old things”: dial-up, GeoCities being the seeming building blocks of the entire world wide web (as it was called at the time, Netscape Navigator, newsgroups, and so on. I remember a world before the internet, and the fear and thrill and disbelief of the internet becoming a thing in the first place. (None of us really knew, if we’re being honest; I can remember talking to a researcher working on their PhD who was an internet evangelist in the mid-1990s and thinking in all seriousness, nah, this will never change our lives the way he thinks it will.)

But these days, looking things up on YouTube seems almost second nature when looking for video (or even audio). It’s a shorthand, an easy shared reference that everyone understands. The closest thing to a public utility, in some ways, even though it’s part of the Google Machine and very much not a public option in very meaningful ways.

I remember when YouTube was a new thing, and it felt strange to find actual video like that all collected together in one place; I have a sense memory of sitting at the computer in the first San Francisco apartment and looking things up on the site just because of the novelty of it all.

There was a point, back then — which feels almost parallel to when Blogger was relatively new, and there were other new ideas and formats being created to share things online — when the web felt like a new and exciting thing, and perhaps more importantly, a thing that had a real opportunity to be a Force For Good, whatever that might end up meaning in the grand scheme of things. Where every step was a step forward, even if it was just a small one.

We were all younger then, with no idea what a mess lay ahead of us all.

A Lesson Not Learned

There was a point, a lifetime ago, when I realized that the me inside my head and the me in the real world looked very different. This is, literally, decades in the past — I was in art school at the time, and spending every second week drawing a comic strip in which I appeared as a character alongside my best friend of the time, and the two of us had managed to get our self-caricatures down to, if not a fine art, then at least a practiced one due to all the practice we’d had. (The drawing, after all, was merely there as a support to the writing, despite the fact we were both art students.)

But then… I changed the way I looked, not thinking about what that would mean for the strip.

When the strip started, I had a beard and, midway through its run, I shaved it off. (I feared I looked too old, too hippy-ish with it; this was the Britpop era, after all, and hippies were decidedly not in back then.) I remember thinking as I did so that I’d no longer have the scribble at the bottom of my cartoon face, but beyond that, not giving the strip any choice… until people started telling me that I didn’t look like myself anymore.

They were right; I’d not realized — because I didn’t look at my own reflection closely, I suppose — that the shape I believed my face was had been the outgrowth of my unkempt beard, and that the blockhead I’d been drawing didn’t actually match my naked chin, after all. The me I’d been drawing was… well, nothing like me at all.

Upon realizing this, I initially felt self-conscious about it: How could I not have noticed? and Did I not know what I actually looked like? What kind of artist am I? Looking back now, it feels like an important lesson in a need to keep checking in on myself that I entirely missed the point of, in the flush of youth. After all, why keep track of how you’re doing when there’s a new Blur single to fall in love with…?

All Signed and Sealed, I’ll Take It

So, I put together a resume for a thing recently. (By the time you read this, either it will have happened, or I’ll know that it’s not happening; either way, I’ll probably be okay with not calling it “a thing” anymore, but right now as I type this, it’s best to be vague so as to not jinx anything.) It’s always a strange, sobering experience putting together a resume, in large part because… well, they always feel like they tell an entirely different story than my lived experience.

That’s not an admission that I’m lying on a resume, I quickly want to point out. The discovery that my old university has no records of my MA degree because information from that period was lost due to an accident, and knowing that I have no copy of that degree after moving countries, made me almost take that off the resume because I was so self-conscious about the idea that I couldn’t back up a claim; that’s how awkward I am about the idea of making sure everything on my resume is factual and honest.

What I mean, though, is that resumes seem sequential and ordered in a way that life just isn’t, in my experience: the story it tells is that you did this thing, and that automatically led to the next, and then the next. You learned skills in such a way that feels intentional and purposeful in an attempt to get to some imaginary next level, or new position career-wise, whereas the reality is that things just happened and suddenly you’d picked up all these abilities because you needed to, just to do the thing in the first place.

Putting a resume together feels as if you’re looking at an alternate version of yourself: one that’s more purposeful and filled with intent. One who knows what they’re doing at all times, as opposed to the me typing these words, blundering from one situation to the next with good intentions. What would it be like to be them, I think to myself when I look at my own resume. What would it even be like to talk to them?

Friendly Neighborhood

If there’s been a running theme in my life over the past few weeks — the past few months, perhaps — it’s that things have just kept happening, and time has sped past without me being fully aware of it. Just the other day, I made some reference to someone that I couldn’t believe that it was the start of April already, to which they gently reminded me that it was actually the middle of April.

Reader, I quietly shuddered.

Is this old age, or the sign of a busy life? The answer could be “both,” of course; certainly, I’ve had a particularly non-stop time of things recently, with the metronome of my life seemingly amped up to “Spider-Man levels,” where it seems to fluctuate between work drama and personal stuff at alarming speed, with something always happening in one of them to occupy my mind. (Not even necessarily bad things, or bad things for me, at least, but just things, and things that need to be acknowledged and addressed by me in some manner.) I fully understand the idea of “The Parker Luck” now, that there actually is balance in my life, it’s just that the balance is “something will always be happening that needs your attention in one part, while everything else backs off.”

The only time this gets to truly be an issue is when, like last week, it involves me getting overworked, specifically. Last week, I worked from 7:30am through 6pm (ish) for a couple of days in a row due to a confluence of events — it wasn’t intended to be that way, but things happened and it was the best course for everyone — and found myself feeling the effects of it for a couple of days afterwards; it wasn’t helped by the fact I was also worried for a friend’s health during this time, and all three added together to lead to a sleepless night between these two days, but I spent the next two days in recovery mode, feeling low-key sick and as if my brain was an overworked muscle.

This too might simply be the result of getting old, of course, but there’s something else that comes with age: recognizing your limits far more easily. On that second night after, I climbed into bed at 9pm and was asleep almost immediately, crashing out for a full nine hours. I can’t control the speed of events around me, but I can at least know when to call it quits for the night and hide under the cover for a bit. That feels like something approaching progress.

But seriously: how is it the middle of the month already?

Who Knows If It’s Real

At some point in what I have taken to relatively unselfconsciously taken to calling my “career”, I became someone who obsessively takes notes, especially during the (increasing) number of meetings and calls that I end up taking on a fairly regular basis. It’s become second nature: if I am on a call of some kind, I’ll end up scribbling away, longhand, in a spiral-bound notebook, as if I was back in school and making sure I had all the important details from a lecture, or whatever.

I’m not entirely sure when this started happening, but it’s fairly clear why, at least: so’s that I could keep track of any and all necessary developments that I’d need to either remember later, whether it’s because I need to do something about them or because I might need to remind someone else to do something about them. (In some cases, it’s simply paranoia about whether or not I might need to know things later; the number of times, especially in my first few months at ReedPop, where I realized I could remember being told a piece of information but couldn’t remember the information itself was… not zero, shall we say.)

There’s only one problem with this new habit: my notes are, very often, indecipherable, even to me.

I don’t mean that in the sense of, “I can’t read them,” because a lifetime of reading comics means that my notes are almost always in ALL CAPS and perfectly legible. What I mean is that, for whatever reason, the words I choose to write in the moment might not have any particular meaning to me even days after I wrote them.

Take, for example, the notes I made from a recent editorial meeting for Popverse:

  • DONE AT 7:20

I have no doubt that each of these things meant something at the time. Now, though, I have no idea who is starting to write a third book, or a third book of what. I can make a guess what was “essentially flat” month-on-month, but I might be wrong, and I’m assuming MOM is “month-on-month” and not, you know, mom. (But whose mother is essentially flat?!?) What is the breakout? What is livestreaming in a week — and is that what that note means, or is it something livestreaming for a week? What was done at 7:20? Everything is lost in a haze of bad memory, with these notes just serving to confuse the matter.

Maybe I should just accept that some things are meant to be a mystery, for now and forever.

The Corner of My Eye

I had this moment the other week, catching sight of myself in the bathroom mirror, when I realized that I really could see my dad stare back at me. It was a disorienting instant, because for the most part, I don’t think that he and I look that alike at all — but I think that’s as much rooted in a misremembering of what he actually looked like versus the version in my memory, and my own mild body dysmorphia. (I say that somewhat glibly, but I always imagine myself taller and skinnier than I actually am.)

But, no: there he was, for the shortest of seconds. I could see him not only in my face (and in the whiteness of my beard, something that’s consistently a surprise to me; I feel like that went so white so quickly, as if it were just waiting for an excuse and then it received one in the stress of the past few years), but in my belly, my posture, my body as a whole. I looked in the mirror, and there he was, looking back.

It was something that stuck with me for awhile afterwards, as the shock of the moment mellowed out into something at first less stressful, and then almost grateful and happy for the feeling of continuity in my own life, and my family. A long time ago — a long time ago now, a lifetime, it feels like — I fretted and worried about essentially leaving my family to move to the States, and what that meant in an existential sense for me as… well, as a “McMillan,” whatever that might mean. Was I surrendering some essential part of me that I couldn’t put my finger on, in leaving my home country?

Seeing myself transform, even for the briefest of seconds, into my own father in the mirror was a surprise, welcome reminder that some things linger and remain, even when you’re not aware of them, even when you don’t think that they’re there.