Sticky Tricky Sweets You Crave

I do not understand why I don’t like soda.

“Soda” as a name for it is an affectation I’ve picked up since moving to the US, much to my dismay; it’s the same as the fact that I instinctively call trousers “pants” now, even though they are quite clearly trousers, dammit. I don’t really want to call it soda, and yet I do. In my heart, I know that it’s called “fizzy juice,” because that’s what we called it when I was a kid, but one of the true joys of fizzy juice, or soda, is that there’s no one true name for it. It’s “pop” to a lot of people, which I love very much. I don’t call it pop, however; I don’t even call it fizzy juice any more, much to my upset. I call it soda, as much as I wish I didn’t.

Anyway: I don’t like soda. I didn’t even really like it as a kid, with the exception of Lucozade — a sugary, syrupy concoction that was initially sold as a medicinal tonic before idiots like me started drinking it for fun — and lemonade in its British incarnation, which is basically Sprite but more bland. My sisters and my friends loved Coke, or Ginger Ale, or any number of a similar carbonated beverages, and I just… didn’t. I feel like it’s a missed skill, a step I somehow didn’t get around to treading upon at the right time. Something I’ve somehow done wrong.

It’s not something I think about, normally, but in summer I always end up wondering if I’d have a better time if I was a soda drinker — if the possibility of a nice big glass of soda with some ice cubes would make the heat more pleasurable in some way, instead of leaving me seated on the sofa, fan in my face, as I sweat and frown and long for cooler days.

And If It’s Morning, It Must Be Morning

More than a month after arriving back in the US, and I’ve seemingly lost the ability to sleep past 5:30 in the morning. I think it’s happened maybe twice in the past few weeks, if that…? Otherwise, there I am, literally waking up with the birds just before sunrise.

Aside from the obvious tiredness issue — oh, man, do I need to go to bed by 10 or 10:30 if I don’t want to feel sluggish as shit the next day; if lights aren’t out by, say, 11, then I’ll be struggling — it’s actually a surprisingly pleasant experience, this particular brand of insomnia: I get to appreciate the stillness and quiet of the morning for at least a little bit every day before the chaos starts, and my reading time has exploded. There’s something particularly nice about lying around with the window open, the daylight approaching and just reading with nothing happening around me.

What’s unusual, and unexpected to me before I remember that I’m me, though, the sense of… guilt, perhaps…? Obligation, maybe. A sense that I get occasionally during these mornings that I should be doing something. Not necessarily something in particular; it’s not as if I’m constantly feeling as if there’s one specific task that requires my attention each and every morning… I simply feel this nagging idea of, maybe this time would be better spent being productive.

It’s an idea I do my best to ignore. So much of my time is spent being productive — for work, for house chores, for whatever reason that I’m needed — that this unexpected downtime feels special purely because I do get to be lazy and selfish. For all I know, that’s the entire reason my subconscious has a secret alarm clock waking me up so early each day.

Kurt Had No Idea

Like Billy Pilgrim, I’ve come unstuck in time, it feels like.

We joke that, since the pandemic started — fuck, since Donald Trump became President years before that — time has become increasingly difficult to gauge: did something happen this week, or the week before? Was it actually months ago? It’s been the regular go-to with friends for some time (but how much time, ha ha etc.), but ever since arriving back from the UK, it’s been particularly true for me. Somehow, I’ve stumbled and lost my footing on the calendar. It’s a disorienting feeling.

It’s not merely that one week will feel like two, by the time the weekend arrives, although that’s been the case for the past couple of weeks at least. (We can blame overwork for that, at least, I think, as much as I should feel worse about that.) It’s the feeling of uncertainty when waking up and genuinely feeling unclear about what day it is: is it a weekend, or a weekday? Am I meant to be working, and if I am, is it one of those days when there are meetings or interviews, or am I just writing? How anxious about the day ahead should I be?

Beyond that, even, since we reached May, I’ve been convinced that it’s been later in the month than the reality. I’d have deadlines looming that were more than a week away, while other things I’d feel were missed opportunities rather than open doors for me to walk through.

Is this all coming from the travel, or something else? I can’t tell, but it doesn’t really matter where it comes from. What matters is the feeling of tumbling forward, a little unsteady and unclear about just when I am, the entire… well, the entire time.

Where Am I?

I had a thought, the other day — two weeks after arriving back from the UK — that surprised me even though it shouldn’t: I suddenly realized I didn’t have to plan the UK trip anymore. It was over and done, and the next one wasn’t for another six months. It felt strange to think that, and somewhat wrong, too.

What you have to understand is that, for the first quarter of this year, the UK trip was a permanent part of my brain. Even when I wasn’t actively planning it or thinking about it, it was there: I’d think of the future as “pre-going to the UK,” and “post-going to the UK.” (There wasn’t really a lot of the latter; it was as if the first two weeks of April were an event horizon that I’d never actually manage to pass, at times.)

I would do mental math continuously: how can I do X, Y, or Z with the time I had there? How much time would I have I have? When should I leave and return, how long am I staying in each place, when should I be where? It was never-ending, and ever-present, and even when decisions were made, then it was time to book things and spend extortionate amounts of money, and worry about that, too, while trying to remember all the details and also wonder if I’d made all the right choices.

All of that is behind me now, and has been for a few weeks, but it took me a long time to actually realize that: such was the enormity of the trip in my head that I needed that time to recover before I could realize what wasn’t actually there anymore. There’s a whole level of stress and background noise that just isn’t present anymore, and as grateful as I am, I’m also feeling curiously lost at sea without it.

Not Naming Names

For whatever reason, I’ve been re-reading comics from my youth lately that could charitably be considered as “mid-level” in terms of both quality and relative importance to the publishing lines to which they belonged when they were release, and it’s left me with less of a nostalgic attachment than I would have expected, but instead a simple question: Whatever happened to shitty, pointless superhero comics?

Don’t get me wrong; we’re still surrounded by shitty superhero comics today. Just go into any comic book store and you’ll see more than you can shake any number of sticks at. I’m not arguing for a second that we’ve stepped into an era where every single superhero comics is inherently good in any real manner (although I’d argue that even the worst have a level of quality that’s somehow above the worst of days gone by, somehow. Don’t ask me why, it doesn’t really make sense if I stop to think about it).

What I really mean is, in re-reading all these comics from the 1990s, I was struck by the number of times I read an issue that didn’t seem to have any kind of intent behind it other than “let’s just try and get through another month together.” Stories in which nothing happens, sure, but also where there’s no actual attempt to tell a story with a beginning, middle, or end — or even some form of continuation of a bigger idea. Stories in which there aren’t really any ideas, in fact, just creators desperately and clearly trying to get to the end of their page count for the month.

And all of this is happening in series where the central character has… no real personality…? This is a particular problem to superhero comics, I feel, and especially superhero comics from the 1980s and ’90s, where central characters were almost intentionally bland copies of the Spider-Man template, because that’s what creators grew up reading and loving; they’re reactive, passive-aggressive quip machines who complain about situations but end up doing the right thing eventually and magically save the day. But there’s nothing to them, beyond that. They’re just… there.

None of this should be taken as condemnations of what were, to be honest, comics that probably should be condemned; I enjoyed them for what they were, relics of another time and another approach to comics that I grew up with but can recognize with some distance now. More than anything, it’s recognition that we’ve lost something in today’s superhero comics: a celebration of mediocrity and hackwork that, in so many words, I kind of wish we could see back to some degree.

Still, Still

It was, in retrospect, a moment of innocent optimism that led me to believe that losing momentum was going to be a good thing when we got home at 2:30am on a Sunday, after just over 24 hours of travel. (Well, a lot of that included an extended layover in JFK airport, but you know what I mean.) My head at the time was exhausted, sure, but also buzzing the way it does after I’ve been on the go for too long, as if it was literally in motion despite what the rest of my body was doing. I felt dizzy and tired, and I remember thinking to myself, finally, we get to stop. I get to stop for awhile.

Turns out, that wasn’t a good thing, after all.

Don’t get me wrong; not traveling has been great — as much as the UK trip was filled with good things and family and a lot that I’m already looking back on fondly, it felt like almost constant motion: even on the rare occasions when it wasn’t a day when I was traveling somewhere or about to, my brain was in the mode of, “okay, but in a couple of days, we have to catch this car to get to this airport” and so on. Not having that in the back of my mind for the last few days as I write has been wonderful.

The problem is, I’ve realized that I’ve also lost the momentum of my everyday life, and that’s a hard one to deal with. It’s not simply the jet lag, which took a couple of days to arrive and then stuck around like a bad smell; it’s that I spent the first week or so back struggling to get through my workday, because I’d lost the weird rhythm that I’ve become used to. That week off — actually just three and a half days, as it turned out, but a lot happened in those three and a half days — broke all the everyday magic spells I’d unthinkingly constructed to travel through the day easily, and everything for those days just felt impossibly, unreasonably hard.

“I’ve lost momentum,” I’d tell anyone who asked, feeling the irony in those words even as they came out my mouth.

Stay Home

Continuing with the confounding of expectations on the UK trip, I embarrassedly confess that I expected the Scottish leg of the visit to have been far less emotional on every single front; I knew, of course, going in that it was a flying visit (literally, if you consider how we arrived and left): we flew in Tuesday afternoon and left Friday morning, which is far shorter than it sounds initially. Realistically, that translates into just two days there with timing a little bit fuzzier around the edges. That was, of course, not that long, but I still figured something was better than nothing, and it’s not like we could have gotten away with extending the trip any longer than the 11 days it was already lasting — there’s a home and a family to tend to back in Portland, after all.

The bit I didn’t expect, honestly, was how much I wouldn’t want to leave by the time Friday rolled around: how painfully short the visit to reconnect with family would feel, and how much I’d want to stay and talk more, hang out more, just be there with them for longer. It’s not just my two sisters I’m talking about, obviously, but their spouses and offspring — all of whom are actual people now as opposed to the babies and kids they were the last time I was there. (More than a decade ago, to put it in context.) We had dinner on Tuesday, and spent all of Thursday together, as well as Friday morning — Wednesday we spent in Glasgow, again catching up with people I hadn’t seen in a decade-plus — but it didn’t feel like enough time.

I left them at the airport, more than slightly heartbroken, and happy that plans are already in place for a November return. (Another work-related UK trip.) We’ll do Zoom calls in the meantime, just as we have done over the past few years while I’ve not been able to visit, but now I know how unlike the real thing that is. I left Scotland with this need to return, with this sadness for stepping away, again.

(And no, my accent genuinely didn’t get any stronger during the visit. Who knew?)

The Man From

Airports are liminal spaces at the best of times, by design; they’re very literally places where you’re meant to pass through almost frictionlessly — with the obvious exceptions of security and check-ins, of course. Having recently traveled back from the UK in a trip that included an extended, unintentional layover of nearly seven hours, I can report that John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City might be the most liminal of all spaces.

By somewhere around the end of the second hour in the airport, I was lying on the floor, my head propped up on one of my carry-on, staring at the stenciled graphics on the ceiling above me. We were only meant to have three hours or so there before boarding the next (and final) flight on our journey home, but the fates had decided otherwise. Within minutes of checking bags and being told, “Your flight is on time, get through security and head for Gate 9,” the board displayed an update: the flight was suddenly delayed 90 minutes. That wouldn’t be the last update throughout the evening.

At some point — hour three, perhaps? Hour four? — it just felt as if I’d always been there. By that point, even the concept of “there” felt like a malleable one: I went into a store for a snack and saw the “I[HEART]NY” logo everywhere and had a brief instant of, Weird. Why would they do that? before remembering, that’s right: I’m actually in New York at the moment, kind of. The idea of any place existing that wasn’t JFK just felt… almost impossible.

Eventually, the plane left, and so did we. But if you told me that it was all a fantasy, and that I really was still there, lying on the floor and wondering if I’d ever leave, I might actually believe you.

In The Wee Small

If I’m honest, I’m not sure if I could have properly described any particular expectations for the Star Wars Celebration portion of the UK trip ahead of time. I knew, for example, that I was likely going to have to deal with jet lag, and I also knew that it was going to be an unusual show to cover; I went to Star Wars Celebration in Chicago a few years back, and I remembered that it was a very odd beast — a show very much weighted towards the beginning of events, opening with a big panel that would break the biggest news, with everything getting progressively less interesting to non-Star Wars fans as it went on.

I also, thanks to my optimism, suspected that it would be a light show, so to speak — one where there wasn’t that much to cover, and with a five-person team there, I’d find myself with lots of free time to go exploring London. Such optimism, as it turns out, was not matched by the reality of the situation, which arguably saw me more present at the show than most shows I’ve attended in recent years, thanks to an unexpected wrinkle that emerged just before leaving for the UK: Morning Queue.

As the name suggests, Morning Queue is helping the lines of con-goers enter the show in the morning. It’s not part of my job description, technically, but Popverse is owned by ReedPop, who organizes SWC for Lucasfilm, and we were all invited to help out on Morning Queue this time around. I’ll be honest: I actually really enjoyed the couple of days I did it; there’s something genuinely fun for me in helping answer people’s questions and directing them to whichever line they needed to stand in depending on where they were going first. If nothing else, the people watching was second to none.

Unfortunately, there’s a drawback to Morning Queue: in order to get there on time, I had to leave the hotel at 6am, which meant getting up around 5 so that I could shower and get ready… all of which happening while I’m struggling through jet lag which was waking me up around 2 or 3 after a few fitful hours of sleep. In other words, Morning Queue and jet lag conspired to keep me utterly exhausted; by the time I’d finished that, it was time to head to my first panel at 10am, and then I’d be working through until 6 or 7 at night. Factor in travel time — or simply just delays for whatever reason — and it was around 8pm when I’d get back to the hotel, giving me just enough time to eat room service for dinner, then go to bed, to get up at 5 the next morning, and do it all again.

The end result is, by the time the show ended on Monday evening, all I’d seen of London was the route to and from the hotel and convention center. Not quite what you’d want from one of the world’s greatest cities, to be honest.

Boom, Shake The Room

If you’re wondering how the UK trip is going so far, this was the most explosive moment of last Friday. And I mean literally explosive.

Who needs to recharge their phone, right? Or, you know, have a working power adapter that can keep everything else working properly in this country?