Only A Certain Few Remember The Nexus

I’m reading Joanne McNeil’s Lurking: How One Person Became A User at night these days. I’m enjoying it, for the most part, although it’s making me curiously nostalgic for my own days where I first stumbled onto the internet and explored what was, at the time, called “cyberspace” with something approaching sincerity.

Like many, if not most, of my peers in terms of age, the internet was something I first explored at school — I can remember my art school hooking us all up with accounts that required ridiculously complicated logins that included our names and some arcane numerical sequences that I’d written down in multiple locations just in case, and I can remember getting confused by just how to move around the nascent internet and find anything I actually wanted to read, but nonetheless being extraordinarily excited by the whole thing, just because.

I can also remember finding communities for the first time on this weird internet place, and having what might have been my first major cases of imposter syndrome as a result: Look at all these people talking about comics that I love, they’re all so much smarter than me and have all this insider information, oh my God, I can’t interact with them, can I? (This is still applicable today, especially when I read particularly well-written comics crit.)

Even with this imposter syndrome, even with the fact that, back then, just getting online with anything resembling a regularity to log into to these communities was a task in and of itself, the very existence of those sites, those societies of people who were like me, just a little bit better at it than I was, proved to be endlessly, immeasurably important to the me I was at the time. I can’t imagine where I’d be without them, or even more, who I’d be.

I suspect I’d be far less happy or fulfilled. I suspect I’d be a lesser person. So, yeah; reading Lurking has been an unexpected experience, at once educational on an objective level, but also like reliving something impossible to describe in an emotional, subjective way. I’d recommend it, but far more than usual, your mileage may vary.

Please Don’t Put Your Life In The Hands of a Rock and Roll Band

I’ve been re-reading Bill Drummond’s 45 lately, off-and-on, and feeling the strange effects that come from revisiting something that has such a strong sense of place and time attached to it in my head.

As I’ve written before, 45 was something I discovered pretty much by accident when I was nearing the end of my art school career and already thinking of myself as a writer instead of any kind of graphic designer or visual artist; I liked the packaging of the original release, when I found it in a bookstore by chance — a 7 inch square book, just like the dimensions of a vinyl single, which would need to be played at 45RPM. I bought it after skimming the first few pages, having no idea just how much the mixture of pop history and personal digression would both appeal to me and form a basis for the kind of thing I wanted to write myself in later life.

I met Drummond not long afterwards; he came to do a talk at the arts organization I was involved in, and I remember just being afraid of speaking to him, because I was that in awe of him. The idea that he could make a living writing like that seemed impossible, and something I desperately wanted for myself.

More than anything, it’s been that meeting that I’ve been thinking about through this re-read. I remember clearly thinking that Drummond had everything figured out, and that this only made sense because, as I thought then, Drummond was in his mid-40s! Of course everything had fallen into place by that point! Of course he had all the answers!

From childhood through probably my late 20s, honestly, the idea of being 40 or above was some kind of marker of adulthood that defined having sorted your shit out. I remember my parents turning 40 when I was a kid, and how it seemed like “parent” age. Drummond was writing about hitting his mid-40s exactly, and so I just put all this pressure on him in my head to be an avatar of artistic success, projecting all manner of… everything onto the poor man.

Looking back at it now, I realize that he probably wasn’t making a living from his writing, but from making personal appearances and whatever royalties he was getting from his musical career; I read the stories again and notice his failures and failings in a way I didn’t the first time around, and see that he was writing about his flaws and his own anxieties and fears about throwing his life away on pop… something I only was vaguely aware of before, but now feel all too clearly.

45 is a book that’s growing with me, although perhaps that’s because I wasn’t smart enough to pick up what it was putting down before. Either way, I’m glad to be older and wiser on this go-through.

Whatever You Do

I’ve spent a lot of time recently thinking about the lost art of changing your mind, especially in critical scenarios. Part of this comes from revisiting movies that I’ve previously liked and found wanting years later — not least of which being the theatrical version of Justice League, which I rewatched for work reasons and realized was so uneven and disjointed that I couldn’t believe that I’d ever thought it was, you know, fine — as well as going back to things I’d believed were lacking, only to find new value and strength after the fact.

Maybe it’s because I work online, and exist in those spaces — not just my work spaces, but also social media as a whole — that I feel as if it’s difficult to come out and say, “that earlier take I had, I disagree with now.” There’s a pressure to entirely dedicate yourself to your opinion and valiantly defend it, no matter what, I feel; the idea that liking something or disliking it to the degree that every single opinion becomes a potential hill to die on, no matter how trivial. Perhaps it’s old age talking, but I feel like it’s not overly ridiculous to be okay with deciding that the superhero movie you thought was cool five years ago is actually a bit shit, on reflection.

This is, of course, dangerous thing to admit out loud; by being an online culture writer, it’s basically an announcement that I have critical opinions that others should pay attention to, and going back to those opinions after the fact to say that, on reflection, maybe I was wrong, might undercut the very purpose of the whole thing. Aren’t we supposed to be, if not infallible, then at least unchanging?

But, again, that feels like a fault. There is value in changing your mind, and re-evaluating your opinions on art at a later date, even if it’s just discovering new favorites to love from that point on. Or accepting that Justice League could never be as strong as I wanted it to be.

Not a Sports Page, Not a Magazine

A stray comment from a friend recently has been stuck inside my brain for the last few days, bouncing around as if it contains more weight and truth than initially appears. We were talking about his Thanksgiving break, and just how he filled five days off in a house by himself, and he said something along the lines of, “And I can’t even manage to read books anymore, my concentration is so shot.”

I used to read a lot. A lot. I’d get through books at breakneck speed, with a pile of comics to accompany them always at the ready, either literally or virtually. It was something that, if I didn’t exactly pride myself on, then I was at least proud of — not the number of books read, per se, but that I was constantly taking in new ideas, new information, and feeding my brain. Reading, as the slogan goes, is fundamental, and I was excited and happy to be someone who read a lot.

This year has wrecked that. Specifically, it’s wrecked my reading concentration — or, perhaps, my ability to concentrate for the extended periods necessary to read — to the point where I’ve only managed to complete a handful of books, and even those have felt more like a struggle than I’d like to admit.

It’s not that I don’t want to read. It’s that my brain likes to distract me when I do — reminding me of other things I should or could be doing, other things I should thinking or asking or or or — and so, reading becomes difficult. This is specifically related to the concept of reading for pleasure, I should add; I have likely read more for work, or read more news and analysis in the name of “feeling informed,” than usual across the last 12 months. My word count, such as it is, is likely the same, but it’s purpose is entirely different.

I’m sad about that; I miss reading for fun. I miss feeding those new ideas into my head, even if they were trashy, shitty ideas. (Especially then.) It’s oddly comforting to know that I’m seemingly not alone in having this problem, but still: I hope that I can learn to read more books again next year.

Cancellation Notice

So, I cancelled my New York Times subscription.

I’d subscribed digitally just after Trump was inaugurated, in part because I wanted to support journalism in an era that would need journalism, and also because I knew realistically that I’d want access to more than the 10 articles a month limit you get without a subscription. I wasn’t the biggest Times booster, even though I enjoyed a bunch of writers there (and particularly enjoyed their podcasts, too; The Daily was a must every day for a long time), but it felt important to finally sign up to the Times as an accompaniment to my already present Washington Post subscription.

(I’d been a Post subscriber for longer for two reasons; I prefer that paper’s political coverage by far, and the digital subscription was far, far cheaper. The Times subscription felt overpriced for what I was getting out of it, to be honest.)

I stayed a Times subscriber through multiple concerns about coverage and weakness in both reporting and editorial point of view; sure, my readership of it dropped to almost non-existent outside of the big stories, but I was still supporting journalism, dammit! As a journalist myself, it was a point of principle, even when the journalism being practiced didn’t seem to uphold the principles I would’ve wanted it to. And then the Tom Cotton op-ed ran.

There’s so much about that op-ed and the circumstances of its creation and publication that are, to say the least, troubling, that came out in the days after its publication — that the section editor didn’t read it prior to publishing, that it was pitched to Cotton by the paper, that it didn’t go through fact checks and was subsequently found to fall under the paper’s own journalistic standards — but for me, even just seeing the headline “Send In The Troops” was enough. It was time to cancel.

(The piece was trash, of course, but it was lying, dangerous trash calling for martial law in a public venue that should not, under any circumstances, publish such inflammatory bullshit at a time like now. Days later, I’m still incandescent with anger over how irresponsible the piece was, how drastically the Times failed in not only allowing it to run, but commissioning it in the first place.)

There’s a whole process you have to go through in order to cancel your Times subscription, it turns out; it’s not like you can just click a button. In total, it took me an hour or so, and an online chat with someone called Eric to shut it down. What stands out about the whole thing, though, was Eric’s response when I told him why I was cancelling. He dropped the attempts to keep me by lowering the price or offering additional add-one, and just thanked me for being “an important voice for change.”

When even your sales staff think some things are worth cancelling over, that’s probably a sign you’ve fucked up, surely.

Please Excuse Me While I Hide Away

I’m reminded of that adage about most plans not surviving first contact with the enemy, except that, in this case — as in most, let’s be honest — the enemy in question happens to be reality. So it goes.

Thanks to the suggestion of podcast partner and all-round good egg Jeff Lester, I decided at the start of the year to keep track of what I’ve been reading. He’s been doing this for some time, and I was, if not jealous of his organizational skills, at least curious to see if I could do something similar given (a) how much I read, and (b) how casually (read, “chaotic”) said reading tends to be. If nothing else, I thought, it’ll be an interesting exercise.

Within a week, I’d lost track of the whole thing.

The trick, I realized fairly early, was that I needed to update pretty immediately; trying to reconstruct after a week, going on my digital footprint and a pile of things by my bed wasn’t going to cut it, as much as I still hoped otherwise. If nothing else, that ignored the random comic issues that would accompany me into the bathroom in the middle of the day, or the glance-throughs first thing in the morning or last thing at night that turn into reading binges.

(And that’s ignoring the things I end up reading for work that I always fail to remember, because they are for work; if you knew how many issues of Birds of Prey and related comics I’ve read in the last month…!)

Instead, my list for January is… simultaneously lengthy and threadbare, missing all manner of things that I’ve simply forgotten. Not the finest start to the experiment, but then, January wasn’t the finest start to the year in general. This month, I’ve been better about things (I think), and the picture it’s painting is… pretty much what I’d expected, in terms of how uneven and random my reading has turned out.

I think, in a strange way, that’s a plus. I’m a flighty reader, curious and unable to sit still for too long, and this is definitely reflected in my lists, but that hummingbird nature fits my work, and lets me turn away towards something fun when necessary. If I keep this up, it’ll be interesting to see what trends emerge over the year as a whole.

Hello Hello Hello

Last week, it was the 25th anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death, something that took me by surprise — the anniversary, I mean, although it’s not as if I’d expected his death when it happened, either. Today is the anniversary of the discovery of his body; I’d never realized there was such a gap between death and discovery before.

As always happens in situations like this, the media was filled with reminiscences of where I was when I heard the news or how important Cobain was to me, to remind those who were there of how young and vital they used to feel, and to educate those who weren’t about who Kurt Cobain was.

I wasn’t really a Nirvana fan, although that was slowly changing when he died. Weirdly, I had a copy of In Utero, even though I didn’t own Nevermind, but beyond “Serve the Servants” and it’s ersatz Beatles riffing, I hadn’t listened that often. Nirvana felt part of the cultural conversation and I was curious, but not a believer, per se.

My main memory of Cobain’s death is, I suspect, a false one. Somehow, I remember myself in my hometown with a copy of the Melody Maker for that week, filled with tributes and memorials, reading through it and feeling a sadness not specifically about Cobain’s death but about not feeling the grief and loss as intently as others. I felt as if I was missing out, excluded from a moment that was momentous and important, purely because I didn’t get the music, or the band, in the “right” way.

Looking back now, I feel like Cobain’s death was in some way an early echo of Elliott Smith’s — that was the death that impacted me, that ripped my heart out and still saddens me deeply to this day. Maybe there’s only one musician whose death feels like a loss in your family for each person, and Cobain was too early for me. Maybe I was never a grunge fan. Or perhaps I was simply an outsider to the outsider genre.

I still read the thinkpieces and op-eds this month. It’s just that they remembered a time I was there for, but never really a part of.

Close Your Eyes

This past weekend finally broke me of my news obsession; it’s taken years — literally, I’ve been like this since the one-two punch of the 2016 US election and the Brexit referendum — but it was another one-two punch that finally put paid to the fire in my eyes for “keeping up to date.”

As soon as news broke that the Mueller Report had been handed into the Department of Justice, I was done. I won’t be cynical and claim that I knew nothing would come of it, because I didn’t; I fully expected obstruction to be identified and a decision to be that a sitting President couldn’t be indicted, I admit. But the breathless rush to “explain” what was utterly unknown for two days, and now only partly unknown, finished me.

(Yes, I think something is hinky about Barr’s summary, too, but I also think something is hinky about a two year investigation ending with, “Eh, I dunno,” and a shrug, essentially. But what does that matter?)

This came after my growing sadness over everything Brexit, which breaks my heart with each new maddening story of a political process riddled with ineptitude, driving an entire country ever closer to utter disaster, so, so slowly. I can’t verbalize what it actually feels like, to be honest; it’s upsetting in a way that feels at once intensely personal and also at a remove, because I’ve not lived in the UK for close to two decades at this point. I just find myself hoping for the best and wanting to look away.

This impulse, this Okay, I’m done for awhile, feels like it’s probably healthy — disconnecting as self-care, just for a short time. I’ll come back, I know I will, but for now, it only seems sensible to look away from a feed that only offers Bad News day after day after day.

Recently Read, Prose (9/17/13)

booksseptI haven’t done one of these in the longest time — blame my increasingly busy work (over-)load — and can’t really remember what I’ve read in the recent months since I last did one. Theoretically, I could simply look up my “Recently Borrowed” list on the libary’s website and make an educated guess, but instead I’ll declare a do-over and just list the books I read this past weekend. Sorry, everything that fell into that four month limbo!

Brian Stelter’s Top of the Morning was a book that I’d been really looking forward to — I like his work on the New York Times’ media beat a lot, and find the whole weird world of American morning television politics both fascinating and funny, so this seemed like the ideal book for me. Sadly, it wasn’t, and it ultimately comes down to Stelter’s writing, which read like it needed a stronger editor — he kept going back to the same tics (especially comparing a big event to a big sporting event, without any context because obviously everyone gets boxing references, right?), and was clearly more comfortable with shorter prose than something as long as this book. It’s not a bad book, but it’s one that could’ve been a lot better with just a little more time spent on refining it.

The Aimee Bender anthology, meanwhile, is as good as you’d expect from her. It’s also… sadder, perhaps? More melancholy? It felt darker, and lonelier, than I am used to, for some reason. Or, perhaps, it could be that there wasn’t the balance of melancholy and wonder that I’ve come to expect from her. Nevertheless, that’s all on me; I loved this collection, as I’ve loved all of her work. Aimee Bender’s awesome, you guys.

That said, maybe she’s not as awesome as Questlove? Mo Meta Blues was a wonderfully fun, wonderfully readable book, a memoir about a life filled with music that is just filled with joy and wonder and makes you want to listen to all the music he mentions (It gave me a serious Prince jones, of all things). I sped through this one, starting it on Saturday evening and finishing it before lunch on Sunday; it was just that enjoyable, that un-put-down-able.

I also read Fade In, Michael Piller’s unpublished-but-available-online memoir about the creation of Star Trek: Insurrection, a movie that I’ve never even seen. It was a curious read, because it’s essentially a tell-all about the way in which a movie can start as one thing, then end up as something entirely different (and arguably not as good) written by someone entirely complicit in all the changes and who isn’t outraged by them. It’s… Sad, but telling, might be the best way to describe it. You can tell that Piller did what he thought was best given the circumstances, but you can also feel his frustration about those circumstances at the same time. Weirdly compelling, even if you’ve never seen the movie like me.

A Kurt Power Novel

Kurt Power was Niles Golan’s signature character, a no-nonsense private eye and ex-lawyer who, on the days when he wasn’t solving cases involving serial killers, consulted for the police and anti-terrorist forces. He was divorced, with a drink problem and – the clever touch Niles was most proud of – an autistic six-year-old daughter, whose unique insights often provided the key to a difficult case.

In The Fictional Man, every now and again, writer Al Ewing will drop in the title of one of his lead character’s novels into the narrative. Here, thanks to the wonders of searchable Kindle books, are the collected Kurt Power works of Niles Golan (that we know of):

Pudding and Pie: A Kurt Power Novel
Down to The Woods Tonight: A Kurt Power Novel
The Saladin Imperative: A Kurt Power Novel
Power of Attorney: A Kurt Power Novel
Murder Force: A Kurt Power Novel
Edge of Doomsday: A Kurt Power Novel
Pocketful of Posies: A Kurt Power Novel
Little Pig, Little Pig, Let Me Come In: A Kurt Power Novel
The Moon Comes Out As Bright As Day: A Kurt Power Novel
Eye of The Scimitar: A Kurt Power Novel
One, Two, Buckle My Shoe: A Kurt Power Novel

In a perfect world, there would be garish fan art for these books already.