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:

  • STARTING TO WRITE 3RD BOOK
  • ESSENTIALLY FLAT MOM
  • NEWS IMPORTANT INCREASINGLY
  • BREAKOUT
  • LIVESTREAMING 1 WEEK???
  • 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.

Waiting for Something to Happen

I’m very familiar with the concept that we end up looking just like our pets, in no small part because I should be so lucky — if I had the deceptive baby face of the old dog Gus, I’d be thrilled; if I had the unavoidably adorable charm of Alfie, or the inexplicable charm of Ging, I’d be similarly excited. I think you get what I’m saying here; I think all of my (many) pets are at the very least cute, if not downright beautiful, and I can only wish that my own physical features matched up to their standards.

Instead, though, what I’ve found myself thinking about with increasing, concerning regularity across the past few months, is what I would be like were I suddenly transformed into an animal — how my personality would show up in my behavior, how I’d interact with the world at large.

What brought this on, of all things, was watching the two dogs interact with the backyard when they go out to piss or shit, Alfie, the younger of the two by some distance, attacks the world and collapses all over it energetically, investigating but with such enthusiasm that he’s a perpetual motion machine just moving and moving and moving until suddenly it happens, whatever the it of the moment happens to be.

I feel much more in tune with Gus, who cautiously circles where he wants to go and then waits, patiently, crouching or with his leg cocked, as if knowing that something has to happen eventually if he can just… get there. I watch him when all of this is going on, and I think, that would be me if I were a dog, if I had to go through everything a dog has to go through to go to the bathroom. And maybe it’s true; I feel as if there’s some accidental attempt to self-compliment hidden in there, a “I could be as patient and zen as he is,” when I’d likely be grumbling and unhappy with the discomfort.

Whether or not I’ll ever end up looking like any one of my pets, I remain unconvinced, but I’ll say this: I’m pretty sure I could learn from their approaches to life.

The Smell of Old Books and Rubber Flooring

When I was a kid, we’d go to the library once a week, as a family; me, my older sister (for awhile, both of my sisters before the oldest got too old to think it was cool), and both my parents. It was something I looked forward to intensely, this weekly pilgrimage en masse; no matter what else might have been going on in my life, it was always a highlight of the week — a chance to find new things, new words and new worlds, and new thoughts to go inside my head.

I had favorite books I’d return to time after time, of course, but more than that, I had favorite areas of the library where I’d find new things every single week; even though I’ve not been there for more than 30 years, I could still draw you a detailed map of where you could find books about movies and TV shows — making-of type things, that I was obsessed with — or the books about art, whether it was art history or how-tos. I could take you to the exact shelf where Jonathan Carroll’s books were, which I returned to time after time; I could tell you where the music section was, and even more than that, where you could find the cool and weird music if you really wanted it.

(A sudden reminder how old I am; I can remember when the music section was primarily made up of vinyl. Not even cassettes — vinyl.)

I was in love with that library. It was one of my favorite places in the world when I lived in my hometown, somewhere that felt safe and exciting at once; somewhere that I felt safe to be myself, even when I didn’t know who that was. I loved it so much that, when I was back in my hometown last year, I went all the way to the walkway leading to the library, but daren’t walk up to the doors themselves. I knew that it would have changed from the way it was when I was a kid — it should, that was more than three decades ago — and, at the same time, I knew that it would break my heart to see it any different, even after all this time.

The Perils of the Season, Again

Because I am a responsible adult who, very importantly, doesn’t want to get in trouble with anyone thank you very much, I spent part of the last weekend doing my taxes. It’s a chore that has become the most depressing second nature imaginable in the many years that I’ve been living in the U.S., and one that without fail leaves me in a melancholy mood with one simple question: Why don’t I have more money?

Not in the sense of, why don’t I earn more money generally, because that’s a thought that I keep to myself during the work week, especially on those more stressful times; instead, it’s when I do the math about how much income I get, and how much I spend to pay rent, pay bills, etc., I’m always left thinking, surely I should have more in my bank account for the two minutes before I remember things like groceries and eating.

This year was worse than usual, because of the multiple international trips I took, and the dent they made in my bank balance. (On the one hand, yes, the flights were paid for my work, but once I was there, I paid for the majority of my accommodation and all of my domestic travel, and that really piles up when you’re there for two or three weeks at a time and criss-crossing around the country all the time.) I added up all the incoming money I had, looked at the outgoing and then… took a quiet moment to myself.

The other thing that traditionally happens when I do my taxes is that I promise myself that this is the year I’ll be better with money, that I’ll save more, that I will be conscious of everything I could and should be doing to prepare for my future. This year, thankfully, I put that to the side; I’m old enough now to accept that shit will happen no matter what I plan, whether it’s pet medical expenses, family medical expenses, or, you know, global pandemics dramatically impacting my ability to make a living. The best you can hope for is… well, the best you can hope for.

Tax season is a time of year where you come to terms with how powerless you are about your own finances, or else you want to stare out a window wordlessly for a few hours.

The quiet hum of a city outside your hotel room window

I’m trying to work out how best to describe the recent Seattle trip for this year’s Emerald City Comic Con. It was a particularly odd one, for all number of reasons — having almost no sleep the first night because the dinner I had that night not agreeing with me, and then feeling exhausting and increasingly out-of-it the next day to the point where I was asleep by 8:30pm set a very strange tone for what proved to be a very strange trip, in the end — and one that felt perpetually out of whack for reasons I couldn’t quite put my finger on, entirely.

Something that only added to the feeling of disconnection was the fact that, even more so than most Emerald City Comic Cons, on this particular trip I didn’t really exist anywhere that wasn’t the hotel or the convention center. It was a combination of having a busier than usual schedule — breakfast meetings! Evening panels! — and the weather being impressively bad, with freezing temperatures and enough rain that I didn’t particularly want to wander through the streets in the early morning, as I’ve done in the past; instead, I worked a lot, and as such, I existed at either the convention center or in my hotel room. The rest of Seattle didn’t really exist, for all intents and purposes.

It’s a lonely way to be, which is ironic, given that I was definitely at my most social that I’ve been for a long time at the show; I got to see a lot of friends and almost-friends, and I got to have a lot of good conversations, but in a strange way, that underscored how strange it felt to be working at 10pm in the hotel room and sitting in bed afterwards, my brain still turning over and feeling the silence surround me almost tangibly after failing to find anything to watch on TV, knowing I wasn’t ready for sleep just yet, but I also wasn’t up for anything else, either.

On the final day, one of the people I work with said something along the lines about the whole thing having felt like it had happened out of order, with that last day feeling like the first. The days weren’t the same for me, but I knew what she meant; the entire trip felt like it was jumbled, collapsed in on itself and rebuilt in a hurry. Even a week later, I’m unsure whether or not I enjoyed it or not.

When You Think You Know, You Know What

Whatever the reason, February always ends up feeling like a curious rush by the time the second half of the month rolls around. It’s something that happens every single year, so there would be a sense that I’d be on some level used to this rhythm by now, and yet… nope. Every single year, I feel taken by surprise and thinking to myself, where did all the time go?

There’s a cheap answer to this, of course: I get lured in by the fact that February is shorter than the average month, which I remember intellectually and forget in every other way every single year. That’s hardly an explanation, though, especially given that it’s not that much shorter; it’s two or three days, which isn’t really any kind of amount of time that should make that much difference, especially year upon year. (As proof that, occasionally, my brain decides not to work properly, I submit the evidence that upon starting this paragraph, my brain went, it’s only 28 days normally, that’s five whole days shorter than the usual month, almost an entire week. I then… well, realized how bad my math was, if nothing else.)

I blame all the fault at the feet of January. January, my regular enemy, is such a difficult month every single year that, when February rolls around, I’m just so grateful to make it there in one piece that I almost lose track of time and common sense. Sure, there might only be four weeks in February to do anything, but those are four non-January weeks, and that means everything: they’re going to be less cold, less dark, and less shit merely by not happening in January, and therefore the sky is the limit. Or, at least, that’s what I end up telling myself in that way that our beliefs are spoken without any words.

I like to think that, if I did use words, I’d realize how ridiculous it sounded at the time. But then, I like to think that without using words as well, so what do I know?

The Ghost At

Since we got divorced, the ex-wife and I have spent the last few years sharing custody of what was once our two dogs, and has been one dog since 2022. Every month or two, we meet up and hand off the little guy, Gus, and get used to the reality of the next few weeks: he’s here, or he’s not.

What that means, in practice, is what I’m going through as I write this: spending the evening of the handoff by feeling as if I’m haunted. He’s not here, but I feel as if he should be, I keep looking around to find him, to see where he is. When he is here, he’s almost certainly almost underfoot or somewhere close by, asking to cuddle or at least find somewhere to sleep nearby; almost immediately, I get used to that, to the sound of his snoring and the feel of him lying against my side when I’m sitting on the couch or lying in bed. I get used to the rhythm of the house when he’s here, which means taking him out the back to piss or shit, and also checking for him when I don’t know where he is, in case he’s decided to piss somewhere inside the house because he’s 15 years old and dumb. (It’s happened.)

It’s those first nights when he’s gone that feel so odd; the sense that he should be here, should be underfoot or leaning against me. Even though I know he’s going to be back in a month, there’s a sense of loss and disorientation that I find myself pausing, having to take a mental step back to think about what’s happening for a second. It’s like a surprise sadness every single time I remember.

The Anniversary Waltz

Something I’m all too aware of right now is that 2024 is the year I turn 50 years old. Ever since the year started, it’s been playing in the background of my head, as if something changed on January 1 and I started some kind of special anniversary year. Technically, that anniversary year began with my last birthday, of course, but this awareness of that big birthday didn’t dominate my subconscious until the new year; such neuroses are rarely logical or practical.

It’s not as if my brain really knows what to do with this half century information; I’m not planning anything grand to mark the occasion just yet, beyond finally taking my health more seriously — something that, let’s be honest, medical professionals and loved ones alike would have rather I started a decade earlier. Nonetheless, it’s a fact that just lies in the background, hoping for purpose and giving significance to whatever is happening around me. As I clean the house, it asks, perhaps this is a sign that you’re going to be more ordered for your 50th? I read more books, and it suggests that maybe you’re finally settling into this elder reading statesman thing. Really, I’m just trying to do whatever to make it through and have some fun in the process. Maybe that’s a notable thing in and of itself, who’s to say?

(Is the second-guessing everything also something that happens as you approach the half-century mark, I ask myself in some kind of parodic, more-serious-than-it-should be, metatextual moment of almost self-awareness. There’s a moment of falling down the rabbit hole, and I worry that I passed that some time back without even realizing. Alas.)

I think the problem is that, somewhere along the way, my head decided without conscious thought that 50 is a Big Deal that Has To Mean Something. I went through the same thing at 40 — a quiet existential crisis that resolved itself with a shrug long before the birthday actually arrived. The same might be true of my 50th, in the end; I hope so. There’s something overly exhausting about this feeling that absolutely everything in your life has some additional significance just because of what the calendar has to say, especially when the feeling of the day-to-day says something entirely different.

The Destination is the Destination

Reading smart commentary about social media the other day left me thinking about the different ways in which I interact with the internet now, compared with when I first started using it way back when; specifically, the fact that — for all intents and purposes — I essentially live online now, and the way I interacted with it back then.

I mean, I actually try to draw lines that prevent me spending too much time actively online, a lesson learned the hard way; after work each day, I try to leave my phone/laptop/iPad alone until just before bed, and even then, that’s just me using whatever app to do some reading before I sleep. (And, if I’m brave, checking email to see that there’s nothing disastrous waiting for me in the morning.) But still; I work online, I interact with friends and family online, so much of my life is spent on the internet. It’s there for… everything. When you factor in the fact that my TV is powered by online streaming services instead of, you know, “traditional” television — something I’ve started to think of as being “passively” online — then it starts to feel omnipresent in a somewhat unsettling manner.

I still have the very strong sense memory of the internet being a limited resource, way back in the dial-up days: that you would “log on” for whatever purpose, and then get off the computer once that purpose was over — even if that purpose was (as was the case for me) looking up long screeds written by old fanboys about the history of the Legion of Super-Heroes, or Jack Kirby’s Fourth World, or whatever. The sound of the dial-up, the feeling of needing to get on and off the internet in as little time as possible because, hell, someone might need to use the phone.

There’s something about that that I miss, now; the idea of the internet as a destination, perhaps, something you actively choose to do, a place to visit but not somewhere that is ever-present all around us. We used to call the internet things like “the world wide web” and “the information superhighway,” both of which suggested these tangible, physical locations or entities, and there was something about that that made it seem like these were places you could “go,” as opposed to some state that we permanently exist in and have to report in to regularly.

Remember an internet we didn’t live in? I miss that.