But I’m Happy To Report

Yesterday evening, I accidentally found myself stepping into the perfect metaphor for the experience of this past week. It’s rare that life offers up such an encapsulating moment, such a perfect instant of As Above, So Below, but when it happened, I felt curiously grateful in addition to everything else going on in that moment.

It’s been, I should offer as context, a difficult week for me. Not for any one particular reason, and not for any reason that I’ll be sharing in depth here, because they’re really other people’s stories that I’m connected to in many cases, but the fact of the matter is, this has been a week where things just keep happening; a week where there’s barely been a moment to catch my breath without something requiring my attention, or my presence. There’s been a lot happening at work — of course, this was the week that DC announced movie plans, requiring quick news write-ups and subsequent analysis seemingly daily — but there’s also been a lot happening personally, or at least to those around me. No matter what is going on, and not all of it has been bad I hasten to add, there would be something immediately pushing into view right behind it, asking to be heard.

So, cut to yesterday evening, and my realization post-work that I really might have some downtime. Everything had been taken care of, everyone seemed good, and there was an hour or so before dinner. Great, I thought to myself, why don’t I take a shower and just try to relax? So, I do; I give myself that time to just take it easy and get clean, stopping myself from reacting even when I hear the dog running around and making noise outside the door. Someone else can deal with that, I tell myself, as much as my natural tendency has become to take everything on myself.

I finish my shower, taking my time doing so. I’m being selfish, slightly, but not too much; all told, it’s only been half an hour at most. Everything can take care of itself for that time, I tell myself as I open the bathroom door to leave the room, and immediately step into a pile of dog shit left right outside the door. Apparently, the dog wasn’t just running around while I was in there. Apparently, things couldn’t take care of themselves after all.

In The Bleak

When I was a kid, January was always The Month After Christmas, an entire month I basically resented because it didn’t have the colored lights and the music and the Yuletide Glow. It was enough, then, for it simply to have the misfortune of following December for me to dismiss it almost entirely — almost, but my mum’s birthday was at the start of the month, which granted it the smallest of reprieves. January, I knew on some kind of instinctive, atomic level, just sucked.

I still believe that now, but my reasons to root against the month have grown in the intervening years.

Maybe it’s just my age, or a tendency to slip towards curmudgeonly thoughts across the past few years — is that also an age thing? Probably — but January increasingly feels like the most difficult month to get through every year. It’s the weather, of course: the cold, the rain, and this year especially, the wind, my God, the wind. It’s a month that doesn’t want you to leave the house, and then punishes you for even trying. January, especially January in Portland, is a month that asks you to put on your metaphorical (or maybe literal, who knows?) thermals and not take them off for weeks on end.

(Still, at least there’s been no snow, at least so far as of me writing this; we’ll see if that’s still the case by the time you read it.)

This year, I’ve also ended up becoming horribly aware of how dark the month is. Not just the overcast twilight of stormy days, but the lateness of the sunrise and how early the sun sets, each and every day. I know, in theory, that the days have been getting longer since the middle of December, but it doesn’t feel like that, just the opposite; I wake up and have no sense of internal time. Is it 5am or 7:30? Have I slept in, or not slept enough?

It’s the middle of the month as I write this, with as much of January left to go as is behind me. I find myself hoping it goes faster, easier. Surely there has to be some kind of shortcut to make it to February.

January 32nd Sounds Just Fine

To say that 2023 has failed to start gently would be an understatement; the first week was a series of days that — while none of them were strong enough to deliver a final blow — certainly left me bruised and dazed, staggering across the metaphorical boxing ring as if waiting for the knockout punch. It’s been practical and emotional hardship around these here parts, as if the year started with the intent of proving a particular point that no-one had really wanted in the first place.

And then… then I realized that the second week of the year ended with a Friday the 13th. It’s like we’re being told something, but the something is especially shitty.

I always say that I’m not superstitious, and the truth of the matter is that if I stop for any matter of time and think about things, I’m not; I understand on an intellectual basis that there are either scientific rationales at play, or else that people are imagining things and/or reading into events in a manner that isn’t actually supported by the facts, and yet… I can’t deny it. I’m actually ridiculously, irrationally superstitious.

I mean, I know, I know, that there’s nothing special one way or the other about Friday the 13ths. They happen all the time, and they’re not any more lucky or unlucky than any other day on the calendar. I know this to be factually correct, I promise. It’s just that the very fact of there being a Friday the 13th this early in what’s already been a rougher-than-I’d-like year feels as if it’s asking for trouble on a cosmic level and I am simply not prepared for the inevitable outcome.

It’s not even as if I have a particular feeling about what this outcome would be, per se; I don’t have a particular, targeted worry about what today could bring, nor a specific concern that I’m dreading as a result of reaching this point on the calendar. I just… feel as if we should have somehow skipped today altogether, like buildings pretending they don’t have 13th floors. That could work, right? If we all agreed that no month had to have a 13th in it, and added a new day on at the end. Just to be safe.

Won’t You Tell Me How?

The return to work last week wasn’t something I was looking forward to, as it looked closer and larger. Even if my holiday break had been surprisingly complicated  — a mix of the holidays themselves being more difficult than I could have expected and the feeling of not knowing what to do with so much time off for the first time in years — I wasn’t excited about the return to a traditional work week, with its 7am rises and the pressure of being constantly under deadline no matter how many stories I’d filed on any given day. I spent the last couple of days of the break dreading my first day back, having no idea it would be even worse.

In his defense, the dog didn’t intend to need an emergency trip to the vet; even ignoring the fact that animals aren’t really the type to plan such things in advance (and especially not Gus, who’s never shown any signs of being a particularly strategic thinker — or much of a thinker at all, really), the look he gave me when he was being carried into the back rooms to get his paw looked at made it clear how unhappy he was about the entire situation. Me too, little guy, me too.

He was there because, suddenly, his foot had been covered in blood and upon investigation, his claw had been torn. It was a shock to discover and an additional stress neither of us needed in that moment, but that’s what happened nonetheless. He was, ultimately, fine — by a day later, his biggest concern was that he didn’t want to take his medicine — but I spent the day worried about him, and also worried about needing to take time off work immediately after the break to take care of things. Oh, and also worried about completing the work I needed to do with less time to do it, and also the cost of the vet visit.

It was, to look for the silver lining, a lesson in appreciating the good stuff when you can, and that things could always be worse. If nothing else, the next day when I didn’t spend half of it traveling to and from the vet with a cold, sad dog in my arms almost felt like being back on vacation.

All This Will Fade Away

When I say that I haven’t really used Facebook in a long time, it’s worth putting that into context: the last update I made there prior to last week was noting my divorce had been finalized back in early 2019; my profile picture and cover photo hadn’t been updated since 2015. It was that last fact that brought me to the platform last week, along with the fact that I had time for such things thanks to my holiday break from work.

It was actually a passing comment from Chloe that put the idea in my head weeks earlier, with the two of us comparing how rarely we used the platform; we’d been discussing how best to reach comic creators we didn’t know for work, and I mentioned that my Popverse editor had suggested social media introductions as first moves. Try Facebook for some of the older creators maybe, I suggested. Facebook? You haven’t used that in years, she said, you still have a Grumpy Cat picture as your cover photo.

It was true, I did; a graphic in support of the Marriage Equality Act, which had become law some seven years prior. Maybe it was time for a change after all, I reasoned.

That said, I didn’t do anything about it until I had to take a selfie for my passport application weeks later. Something about the unsmiling, purposefully flat expression — you’re not allowed to smile in passport photos, in case you didn’t know — amused me, so I made it sepia toned quickly and threw it up as my first update to Facebook in years, letting the platform see my beard for the first time. It started getting liked immediately, to my mild horror, with someone comparing it to a “Stalin look.” Suddenly, I remembered why I hadn’t posted anything there in years, and regretted the slight return, as understated as it actually was.

As You Mean To Go On

Now that it’s almost over, it feels fair to say that 2022 has been a strange, and at times nearly overwhelmingly difficult, year. It’s different in that from last year, which felt shockingly, breathtakingly oppressive in its determination to remove things — jobs and income, in particular — and see how I’d fare; this year has seen a lot of good mixed in with the bad, adding up to a dizzying, confusing experience where I’ve found myself uncertain about how I was feeling in any given moment, and whether I was unhappy, or simply overworked and exhausted and just ungrateful for things I should really appreciate given my experience in 2021.

There’s been much I purposefully haven’t written about here, for an army of reasons: it’s felt too personal to share, or too fresh to re-examine, or not-just-my-story-to-share. Almost all of that has been, if not negative, then at least Not Really Good, and the kind of thing that leaves me contemplative and a little unsteady. There was one week at the start of the summer in particular that feels fictional to recount, now, filled with things piling on top of each other that simply shouldn’t occur next to each other, yet did. 2022 has felt, at times, like a lesson in extremes and how much we can bear at any given time.

As I look ahead to the next twelve months, I find myself unable to imagine what lies in wait in a way that feels different than usual. My tradition at this time of year, even in the shittiest years, has been to imagine the last year as something I was leaving behind and starting fresh with something new. 2022 refuses to go out the way, I feel. There’s a sense inside me that the flux and uncertainty about the world is going to continue into 2023, as if the story of the year isn’t finished with me yet. When midnight rolls around on December 31, it feels as if the message is less Happy New Year and more To Be Continued…

Fa La La La La, La La La La

Well,the holidays weren’t what we expected.

To be fair, as you’re reading this, we’re still in the middle of the holidays — it’s Boxing Day, although the rest of the world doesn’t really follow that British tradition, in my experience — and I’m writing this even earlier, on December 23rd. (Secrets behind the blog!) But, already I can tell: this is very much not going to be the Christmas we were hoping for.

This became obvious yesterday, as I write, when we found out that Chloe’s grandparents, who were going to be visiting for the week, were stranded in Chicago after flights were grounded because of weather. That was the start of the day, literally a message Chloe got as soon as she woke up, and before too long it was followed by the news that they wouldn’t be able to get here at all for Christmas, with the airline refusing to rebook flights until after the holiday. In fact, they were almost stranded in Chicago for a few days, with no chance to return home until the very end of the day (9pm their time; they’d been there something like 13 or 14 hours by that point) and every piece of news unclear or quickly contradicted to that point.

As our plans imploded due to weather in Chicago — really, what were we going to do, now that all the, “we can do this with Grammy and Grandad” ideas were suddenly out the window? — the weather in Portland decided that there was no point going above freezing at all, which is a problem in a house with heating and insulation as bad as this one. Blankets, layers, and hot water bottles became a must as it quickly became clear that going outside to do groceries might be a significant undertaking, while last-minute gift shopping could be a luxury we couldn’t afford.

It’s been, as I’ve said before, an odd year and an odd December to date. Perhaps a strange, weird Christmas is what comes of all of this. Tis the season.

All Apologies (Cover Version)

Yeah, I’ve been more quiet than I’d have liked over the last month again, and at a time of the year when I’m usually much more vocal about the joys of the season. In my slight defense, a significant reason for that has been my undertaking a daily Advent Calendar series for Popverse that ate up a really sizable portion of my time for the first two or so weeks of the month, so… maybe I’ve actually been as verbose as usual, just elsewhere…?

That said, I’ve struggled to be as festive as I’d want to be this year for all manner of reasons, both real and imaginary. The month has sped past far quicker than I would’ve wanted, and I feel as if I haven’t really had the time to indulge in the usual festivities (pun maybe intended): I’ve barely listened to Christmas music, and I feel like I came to the traditional playlist of holiday movies a week or so later than usual. I didn’t even manage to get Christmas Cards printed to send out in time, despite drawing the card for the first time in years before the end of November. What was I doing with all that time? (Working, for much of it, is an answer.)

In a way, this feels entirely appropriate for the 2022 holiday season. It’s been an odd year, that has at times felt overwhelming with things happening and at others, as if time itself was getting distorted by outside events and expectations from external forces. This past month has felt like all of that on a loop, for reasons I couldn’t fully comprehend, but the upshot of that is that I’ve been ignoring this site, again, in order to focus on the important things like “my loved ones” and “staying employed.”

It’s not that I haven’t had anything to say, I promise; and, as I head into some time off — my first Christmas vacation time that isn’t just “not getting paid and I’m a freelancer oh no” in more than a decade! — I’m going to try to find some time to say it. For real, this time.

Step Inside, Love

If there’s a surprise gift that keeps giving when it comes to being a full-time staff writer for a website after ~13 years of being a freelancer, it’s that I have paid holidays and paid time-off for the first time in a long time. I am, I confess, unsure quite what to do with this new and wonderful experience.

It’s not as if I didn’t know this was part of the whole deal; I mean, I was paying attention to the job offer, and can read, I promise. It’s simply that my brain sped past that when weighing up the pros and cons of taking the gig, in favor of things like “a guaranteed wage every month that is unlikely to fluctuate wildly through no fault of my own” and “health benefits, no really, health benefits, can you imagine?” All of this was happening at the beginning of the summer, far enough away from everything bar July 4 (and even then, it was going to take effect after then), so holidays and what they’d mean for me just wasn’t something even vaguely on my radar.

Now, of course, things are different: not only am I about to get to take Thanksgiving off without being thankful for losing the money that I could be making otherwise for the first time in… well, 13 years, I guess, but I’m also facing down the start of the holiday season knowing that I get to take basically half of the month off at the end because Chloe’s family are in town and, again, I don’t have to worry about losing money as a result. On the one hand, I feel somewhat shocked at this turn of events; on the other, I feel as if I’ve accidentally slipped into a far more cultured, kind world that doesn’t punish me for wanting a life outside of “content creation.”

That said, the problem with full time jobs is that they find whole other ways to punish you, but that’s neither here nor there right now…

I Wanna Wake Up In The

I disappeared from here before New York Comic Con — and truth be told, the convention exhaustion is no small reason why I got so overwhelmed and stopped posting here — which meant that I didn’t share my dual excitement and terror about returning to the city that never fucking sleeps please God just shut up already for the first time in three years. It was something I was both breathlessly excited about, and endlessly nervous about, at the same time.

I love New York. It’s not just a trademarked t-shirt slogan, but the actual truth; I have such happy memories in that city, and there’s an energy and feel to it that genuinely can’t be matched by anywhere else in the world that I’ve visited. (London comes close, maybe, but that’s something else in its own right, another city locked in memory from another part of my life altogether.) New York is one of those rare places that I can close my eyes and picture myself in almost immediately, entirely — the architecture, the busyness, the crush and the noise.

But, again: the crush and the noise. The busyness. It had been three years since I was last there, and they were Pandemic Years, quieter and more withdrawn than most. The prospect of being in New York in COVID times was a scary one, just from the idea of all those crowds, never mind the mental math of surely I’ll get sick this time — math that’s just permanent in my head now — and everything else. As exciting as it was to imagine returning to the city, I was genuinely worried that it wouldn’t end well.

Looking back now, I feel as if my nervousness was misplaced, at least to the degree that the city didn’t feel any more or less dangerous than any of the other cities I’ve visited this year; while there was certainly some worry about COVID during the trip, that arguably had more to do with individual choices rather than an entire city, per se. I’m glad I got back there, even if I wish it had been a different trip for other reasons.