Not As Good As

It’s perhaps telling that it took me until switching off my laptop last Friday, and finally stopping thinking about work as continuously as I had been doing, to realize just how exhausted I actually was.

I knew something was wrong, of course; I knew that I was struggling to meet deadlines and juggle the various bits of work that were hanging over my head across the last week or two, and I knew that this blog was suffering even more — after all, it’s the easiest thing to put to one side when I’m trying to make sure that I’m taking care of the various bits of business that are actually, you know, business.

Despite what old GI Joe cartoons claimed, though, knowing isn’t really half the battle — even though I was all too aware that everything wasn’t really going as it normally did, and that I was finding it harder to actually do what traditionally came easier, if not easily, my thought process pretty much stopped there: I got to the edge of “something’s probably wrong” and never managed to progress to “I wonder what it is?”

Instead, I just pushed myself through the days by force of will as much as anything else, making sure that I was doing at least the bare minimum and hoping that things would get better magically, somehow. Maybe I was just having an off day. Maybe I was just having, like, a couple of weeks of off days. That’s not impossible, right?

Weirdly, it was the most obvious leap of logic that put everything into focus for me last week: for pet-related reasons, I’d been sleeping like shit for three or four nights by that point, and as I finished work for that day, I thought to myself, I’m really tired. And then I thought, wait, what if I’m not just sleepy tired, but actually, really and properly exhausted tired? What if I’m burned out and need a break?

That broke a mental dam, somehow, and I almost immediately started feeling better — it was as if just naming the problem was the start of recovering from it. A weekend of doing as little as possible (but sleeping well for the first time in weeks, honestly) later, and things seem like maybe they’re on an upswing again. It’s not the rest that I need, not yet, but maybe it’s a start. Maybe that’s enough for now.

And Then She Said

Last week, as part of everything that was going on, I found myself forced out into the real world for more than simply groceries or a gentle walk for the first time in… honestly, quite a while, actually. (Months, certainly, but I genuinely couldn’t tell you how many — which might, in itself, give you an idea of how long it has been.) On the one hand, this is clearly a good thing; COVID and lockdown aside, there’s no reason for me to become any more of a shut-in than I already am, and it’s been so long since I interacted with people I don’t know that I’d genuinely forgotten that I like talking to people at times.

That said, I have apparently lost the ability to make small talk.

Small talk is an all-important part of interacting with the outside world; it’s the social grease that eases the wheels of conversation with strangers, and, I’ll be honest, it’s something that I had previously prided myself at being good at, or at least, not entirely shitty at. Those days, apparently, are long gone.

Whether it was the Lyft drivers that made sure I got to the vets, or the vet techs themselves as we walked around the block desperately trying to get Gus to pee while the small plastic tray was close to the clinic — he didn’t — I found myself depressingly unable to keep the small talk going without awkward pauses and overthinking my responses.

On the plus side, I’m not entirely sure this was just a problem on my part. Indeed, I’d hazard a guess that this is an endemic problem to the wider populace, all of us still in a mild recovery position from the last year or so. We’ve all been in our little bubbles, and not needing to make small talk, after all. Can you blame us for being rusty at it now?

And yet, as we think about the possibility of a post-lockdown world — even if the idea of a post-COVID world feels a little unlikely just yet — it strikes me that small talk is something I need to return to, sooner rather than later. If I can just remember how.

Wagwan

I am a creature of habit, ultimately. I pretend that I’m not, but I have an internal rhythm that’s tied to certain things happening at certain times — or, at least, in a certain order that I’ve come to expect from repetition and good faith. I know, when I wake up, how the next few hours of the day is likely to go, and to no small extent, I rely on that knowledge to get me started. There’s a security in the routine, and it’s something I’ve come to appreciate more and more as I get older.

As I said, I pretend that this isn’t the case on a quasi-regular basis. I am, after all, an intelligent and capable person who should be able to think their way through any wrinkles, in time or otherwise, when it comes to any particular subject facing me at any point of the day. Surely, I tell myself, I’m not married to just one idea of how to do things, some unwritten schedule or to-do list.

I tell myself that often, and then things like today happen, and I’m just reminded of who the real me actually is.

It’s not as if today was especially difficult in any meaningful way; it’s simply that my traditional schedule was thrown off entirely. One of the dogs needed to be taken to the vet for a check-up, but in order to prepare for that, he had to eat and have medicine three hours before the appointment — which translated into 6am. So, while I woke up at my usual time, I got up earlier, and also had to prepare to be out the house by 8:30 or so in order to be at the appointment at the right time.

By the time I got home after dropping him off, I sat down at the computer ready to do some work — half an hour later than usual, but that’s not that big a deal — but after 10 minutes or so of checking email, I got a call from the vet telling me that they were finished already, and could I pick the dog up…? Another hour or so later, I was back with the grateful dog, but it was 11:30 by the time I was able to sit in front of the computer again, meaning the morning was already gone… and so, it seemed, was my ability to focus.

So distracted by the blown schedule, I took lunch earlier than usual, hoping that food would help. If I tell you that it’s only now, hours later, that my head feels anywhere close to normal, that might let you know how successful that plan was.

Like I said: I am a creature of habit. When that’s lost, so is everything else, at least for a short while.

And In The End

Well, that was a bit strange.

You might remember, a couple of months ago, I ambiguously wrote about a work opportunity that I was particularly excited about that seemed, on the face of it, too good to be true, yet somehow was happening nonetheless. Two months later, I am almost giddy to report back: it was, in fact, too good to be true. I think.

The short version of what’s happened was this: In mid-May, I pitched something almost jokingly to an outlet that I really wanted to write for, only to find it accepted. I was given a deadline of a few weeks hence, and ended up writing it and handing it in early, excited for the opportunity that I had been given. And then… nothing happened.

I mean that: nothing happened. The story didn’t run, but I also didn’t get any edit notes. Emails I sent to the editor went unanswered. Literally, nothing happened. Perhaps they’re just very busy, I thought, as I did one of a countless number of other things to keep myself occupied — a theory that seemed borne out when, a month after I submitted the piece, I got a brief email from the editor telling me that she had it, hadn’t edited it yet (I suspect she hadn’t even read it, based on her wording), but would be getting in touch again soon if she had notes.

That email arrived a month ago; today, I figured that I might as well email and ask if there was an update, and there was: the email bounced back, accompanied by a message that the editor was no longer with the company, and I should email someone else entirely if I had any questions.

I emailed that person, of course, because I do in fact have questions: Will my piece ever run? Am I right in assuming that the idea (from the now-departed editor!) that the piece was a pilot for a potential series is now utterly dead? Was this just another surreal example of the unexpected ways in which 2021 is managing to lowkey kill my work ambitions?

Okay, I didn’t ask that last one, but still. But still.

I literally have no idea what the status of this whole thing is, at this point; maybe it’ll run, maybe it never will (in which case, I guess, I could just run it here). Nonetheless, I was happy for the few weeks in which I felt as if a small little work dream might be about to come true.

Pearly Whites

There is, as I’m sure everyone is well aware, a stereotype when it comes to British people and dental care. I’d complain about Austin Powers but I’m sure it goes back far further, although I’m not entirely sure where it got started — except for, of course, the fact that British dental care was (and may still be, for all I know) far from the best for a long time, as part of the proud British tradition with regards to healthcare, which can be summed up with the phrase, “You’re not really paying for it, so what do you expect?”

For sure, I have my own horror stories when it comes to dental care when I lived in the U.K., and those experiences — and the fact that I stayed away from the dentist for years after one such horrible time — are the cornerstone of the reasons why my own teeth are quite as shoddy as they are these days. British teeth are, to be blunt, a horror show, and mine are definitely part of the reality behind that unfortunate cliche.

The reason I mention this is because, while mainlining Love Island and Too Hot to Handle — both shows featuring young British people looking for love and/or fame via a dating show — one thing has popped up again and again, to the point where it’s become a minor fascination to me. Over and over, people ask each other, “what’s your type?” or “what are you looking for in a partner?” and the one constant in each and every answer is “good teeth.”

Everyone is looking for good teeth. Sometimes, it’s part of a shopping list of physical attributes. (Women, especially, seem to want “tall, gym, tattoos” and good teeth; it’s a trend, seemingly.) Sometimes, it’s the one physical attribute mentioned alongside a bunch of emotional traits. (“I want someone who can make me laugh, someone who’s open, and good teeth.”) Whatever the reason, it’s the one thing that everyone in the UK apparently agrees on: good teeth.

Just think: If the UK had better dental care decades ago, no-one would know what to look for on shows like this anymore.

Permanent Distraction

It turns out work is a true feast or famine situation right now; after a couple of relatively laidback weeks in terms of short-term, immediate projects, allowing me to work on the Secret Thing That I Should Probably Get Back To, No, For Real (not to mention, just after me writing about things being slow lately), I find myself surprisingly underwater in terms of other gigs that are needed right now.

It’s a good problem to have, I should clarify; just earlier this week, I found myself thinking about how good I’d be if it turned out that this week saw almost no freelance money come in, telling myself that this longterm project would pay off in… well, the longterm, and that I just needed to be patient and not stress about money. (This is, I should add, pretty much the mantra I’ve had this year since THR went away, mostly because if I stop and think about the money too much, I get twitchy.) Now, out of nowhere, I have a rush of gigs and find myself juggling to fit them all in.

The funny/strange part of it is trying to talk my brain into accepting what needs to be done and when. Today, for example, I got two different gigs that both needed to be handed in at the end of the day, which means that I needed to write them immediately. The problem being that my brain had already decided that it wanted to work more on the longterm project and had very little interest in anything else.

In my years of doing this job, I’ve developed a reasonable amount of tactics to push myself back on task, or at least find ways to get myself thinking about a particular topic when that topic is the very thing that I need to be thinking about. Unfortunately, those tricks work best when I’m not getting other messages about other jobs that have a tight turnaround that I should also be thinking about at that very moment.

…I should get back to what I’m supposed to be doing, shouldn’t I?

Ten Years Living In A Paper Bag

I’ve been in an unusual place with work for the last week or so, in part through necessity — I’m waiting for a number of responses before moving forward with things that need to be moved forward, and yes, that’s somewhat frustrating, thanks for asking — and in part through choice, because I’ve been taking care of something that’s been hanging over me for a few months now, and I went into it with the it’s about time mindset that proves to be very rewarding when you’re finally in the middle of it and it’s going well.

I’m talking in riddles because this is a thing that isn’t a thing yet, it’s essentially prep work for a project that might not even happen in the end, and I don’t want to jinx anything by talking out of turn just yet. Suffice to say, what I’m working on is a different kind of work than what I’m used to, requiring a different mindset that I’m still getting used to, and it’s… been a strange and rewarding experience, at least so far.

On the one hand, I’m working at a faster rate than I have been for some time — my daily word count is probably somewhere around what I was doing before COVID struck and my freelance work dried up, if not a little more, but that includes me reworking and deleting, then rewriting, work from the previous day or so — but the final goal is significantly further away than the average project I’ve been involved in, in ways that are at once thrilling and impossibly scary.

I’ve been working in the short term for more than a decade now — writing with the expectation that what I’m working on will see print (well, virtual print) that day or maybe a couple of days out at most. Even simply recalibrating so that everything isn’t quite as immediate makes everything I’m doing feel different, in such a way that it all feels brand new again. A change might not be as good as a rest, but apparently it can be recharging at the very least.

Phew

I have been entirely, unintentionally, absent from here for the last week. In my defense, the last week has been particularly stressful for a number of reasons, even bearing in mind just how stressful the previous two weeks had been.

It’s not as if it was stressful for any one particular reason; there was no singular thing that made everything just a little more tiring and impossible to deal with, compared with other days, as much as I almost wish that was the case. (At least then, I’d have a good idea of what to blame, for want of a better way to put it.) Instead, it was a conflation of a bunch of small things — or maybe not entirely small, but at least small enough that I feel as if I should’ve been able to handle it without too much stress — that piled up on top of each other, Jenga-style, daring me to pull out a brick and see how quickly and loudly everything could fall over.

There are weeks (months, if you’re unlucky) when everything feels as if you’re stuck in a cosmic game of “Let’s See What Else Can Happen Now”; times when it feels as if the only respite from one particular problem is when another comes along to divert attention. That’s what it had felt like on a low level for the last few weeks, but last week was very firmly in the region of, just when you think you’ve got this one licked, get ready for its replacement. One of the pets was sick, and less than 24 hours after we get the “it’s okay really” notice from the vet, another one went down with an entirely different problem; it was that kind of week, over and over again.

(Sick pets, as everyone who has a pet knows, is the very worst type of stress because you just want to fix it but are operating in the dark at the very best of times.)

My fingers are crossed that this week will be different, if only because, surely that has to happen eventually. In the meantime, I’m planning on doing posts here every day through Friday to catch up; we’ll see together if the week’s insanity lightens up to allow that to happen, won’t we?

Is Sizzlin’ Hot

I didn’t properly write about the heatwave, did I…? Let’s chalk that up to heat exhaustion and get it out the way now. (You think I’m joking about heat exhaustion; I’m not.)

I’ve been hot before; I’ve even suffered from dehydration so badly that I almost passed out, although I strongly suspect that’s not anything I should boast about as any kind of evidence that anything I have to say should be taken seriously. That said, take it at the very least as proof that I know what I’m talking about when I say that I’m familiar with heat that people should perhaps not be hanging around in, and then use that as the basis for my telling you that the heatwave in Portland was perhaps the hottest I can remember being in my entire life — and that it lasted for three whole days.

Sure, it got colder at night… but only colder, not necessarily “cold.” Instead, the lowest it managed was the temperature of a relatively hot day, and even that was in the middle of the night as I lay inside a house that never quite managed to get its own temperature below “you’re lying in a pool of your own sweat, sleep is an impossibility.” (At one point, the temperature outside was close to 115C, and inside, it was a “cool” 98C.)

The entire period was an exercise in patience, and in will power. You had to keep remembering that the forecast promised just three days of this particular hell, and you had to tell yourself that you weren’t actually as hot as you really were, while ensuring that you stayed hydrated and kept drinking all the water and ice cubes possible even though both the desire to never move ever again and the need to piss at almost all times were simultaneously overwhelming.

It was three days of barely eating, barely moving, and barely sleeping, all while the air felt so thick you should have been able to slice it with a bread knife. It was an endurance test, and one that I still feel has every chance of repeating whenever the air feels even the least bit warm.

Gone Fishing

It’s literally too hot to blog. (Or to write in general, although I just completed a draft of something while sitting directly in front of a fan and hating every moment of it.) Here’s why.

(Really, it’s difficult to properly explain what it feels like, beyond simply saying very hot. I’ve known the heat before, but I’m not sure I’ve known it for this kind of sustained period before — it’s not dropped below the mid-70s since Thursday, so there’s no chance for it to cool down at all, and we have no air conditioning. It’s just hot.)