Under (Over) Achieving

The end of the year — and start of a new one, for that matter — is an excuse to look back and take stock, as the conventional wisdom goes. That was surely the thinking behind the work email that went out just before Christmas with statistics for how well the site had performed, what was the most successful story in terms of hits, and so on. As someone who is both a wonk and fascinatingly insecure about whether or not I’m earning my keep, the email was at once fascinating and terrifying, but one thing in particular caught my eye: the fact that I was the writer who’d posted the most stories that year, with close to 750 at time of writing. (By the time the year ended, I was almost certainly above that number.)

What caught my attention was, as counter-intuitive as it may seem, that the number felt low. 750 stories? But there are something like 260 workdays in the year! That means that I was only doing, what, 3 stories a day? That didn’t feel right…! What was I doing with the rest of my time?!? (Note: my math might be off in the number of workdays and the number of stories per day even if the workdays estimate was correct; I’m a writer, not a mathematician, dammit.)

The funny thing is, I know there’s a lot of work that wouldn’t have been tracked in that estimate: the stories as yet unpublished, the edits I do to other people’s stories, the rewrites and updates to other stories — that latter being a significant part of my week, but the stories go uncredited to me even if they’ve been rebuilt, Ship of Theseus style, so that none of the credited author’s work remains and it’s all mine by this point. None of that will show up in the official estimate, because my name isn’t officially attached. I know, objectively and intellectually, that the 750 figure if probably underestimating the actual number by 200 if not more. And yet, I still found myself feeling unexpectedly lazy.

(Wait, if I add on the… 120 pieces or so I created for here, does that make me feel less lazy? I can’t tell.)

I’d say that I want to do more in 2024, but that feels as if I’m signing up to return to being a workaholic, and there are better things for me to do than that, in almost every respect. And yet. Only 750? I know I can do better.


I’ve been thinking about the phrase “To Be Continued” lately, inspired by reading an essay (from Kevin Huizenga, from one of his Riverside Companion minis) that ends with it, as opposed to coming to any kind of conclusion; what really made me think about it wasn’t its use, per se, but the fact that… well, I’m not sure if it was used in the traditional sense. The next issue of Riverside Companion doesn’t pick up the essay, but is instead about something else entirely. I’m not sure if that original essay is actually completed anywhere. And I kind of love that.

Like everyone who grew up reading comics — or reading and/or watching serialized fiction of any kind, really — “To Be Continued” is a promise; it’s a deal that both parties agree to and understand; “we’re stopping this now, but we’ll pick it up again next time.” It’s something used so much as to have become iconic; I think about the end of Superman Beyond in the mid-2000s, where it’s the three words used on the tombstone to signify that the end isn’t the end. It’s something we all know and (most importantly for the purpose of where my head’s at right now) trust, implicitly.

So, what if it’s used insincerely, or incorrectly? What if we read “To Be Continued” and it’s just not true? (I guess, again, comic fans know that feeling: that favorite series that disappears mid-run and we never know why…) Or, alternately: what if we start using it and reading it as something longer-term, a promise to pick up the idea and come back to it far in the future at some unspecified time? That’s the thought I’ve been circling around: why can’t we use “To Be Continued” as a promise to others and ourselves when we can’t resolve thoughts or ideas or stories but don’t want to abandon them, even if — especially if — we can’t imagine when we’ll get around to it?

“To Be Continued” repurposed less as a tease of a serialized idea or story, and more as a signal that we’re not finished, but events have gotten in the way and we’ll come back to something eventually? I’m deep in the land of semiotics and semantics that matter to no-one, I deeply suspect, and yet: there’s something about this that’s very, very appealing to me here, if I can work it out.

To Be Continued, indeed.

This Year’s Migration

I’m back to thinking about Career Goals, for some reason. (There is a reason, but it’s not a particularly exciting one; I had a meeting at work that got me thinking about such matters, a thought process both compounded and extended by reading a particularly well-written story at an outlet I’d once wanted to write for, reminding me of that aspiration for the first time in some years.) These days, for the most part, I find myself buried in the day-to-day of it all, giving little thought for the most part about the bigger things. There’ll be time for that later, I think to myself, although that’s not really the case.

And yet, here I am. I’m a remarkably lucky person, when I think of my career to date, and how I’ve managed to survive as a writer for the past nearly two decades at this point. I think it’s… 17 years now that I’ve just been a writer, as opposed to moonlighting from another job? Something like that; maybe 16. I’ve written for all kinds of places, some far better than I deserve, and I currently have an actual staff position doing what I love to do. That’s rare, and very much appreciated on a daily basis.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t still some goals remaining, because there are: outlets I’d still like my name to appear as a byline, or stories that I’d very much want to write once I can make sense of the best way to do that. Of course I have those; if I didn’t, I’m not sure I’d keep going with the excitement and hunger that I somehow still have. Better yet, my current position gives me new goals when and where I least expect them, and challenges me to come up with things that I’d never thought of on my own. As tiring as it can be, it’s also a trip, in the best way.

I was thinking to myself yesterday, about how lucky I am to be able to write for a living, and then my thoughts turned to that phrase itself: that I write for a living in the sense of, “it’s what pays my bills and pays my rent, so that I can stay alive,” but also in that other sense, at the same time: that I write to make sense of the world, to find a space and way to live and navigate everything that comes my way.

My career goal is one that I’ve already achieved, ultimately: to make a career out of the thing I not only know how to do, but can’t not do. I write.


After watching the impossibly fun Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One the other day — a movie as fast moving and enjoyable as that title is clunky and awkward — I found myself remembering the fact that, when Tom Cruise’s first Mission: Impossible movie came out back in 1996, it was accompanied by a high-profile version of Lalo Schifrin’s classic theme music by the unfamous half of U2, Larry Mullen and Adam Clayton.

More importantly, that version of the theme (every bit as uninspired and mid-90s as you would expect) was released as a single where the B-sides were remixes by dance producers, one of whom was Dave Clarke. Clarke’s contribution to the whole enterprise was to, bluntly, turn up the bass and make everything sound squelchy. (It was better than the U2 version, if nothing else.) There was a review in one of the music weeklies as the time that likened it to a bunch of spiders running over a synthesizer that had been left turned on by accident, a description that was enough to make me buy the single out of curiosity.

I mention all of this because it got me thinking about how much the music weeklies of that era impacted me: how easily swayed I was by their reviews, sure, but how much of their attitude and (in retrospect, painfully fake) confidence and swagger made me a believer and shaped my future career without my knowing.

It’s the 1990s Britpop era of the NME and Melody Maker (and monthly magazines like Select and Q) that demonstrated what could be done to write about pop culture as it was happening all around you in real time, and how that could be addressed as a fan but also a cynic, and that those two things weren’t really in opposition. That taught me how to temper your love for and belief in something with humor, too — thinking about writers like David Quantick or Steven Wells or Caitlin Moran, and how funny they were, as well as being insightful, angry, or whatever else was in their heads as the deadline approached.

I hadn’t realized it until I remembered the spiders on the keyboard line, close to three decades later, but the music writing I was reading in my late teens and early 20s accidentally showed me how to do the job I do today, and remember that it’s both ridiculous and oddly important. Another hidden part of my DNA.

Power Pachyderms

My brain is turning things over these days, weighing things up and trying to figure things out. I can feel it happening in the background at times; an itching of small electricity somewhere inside, like sparks happening in the dark, things starting to come together.

There’s something I’m trying to do for work — a format I’m trying to work out for something, and a voice I’m trying to find for it — that is, in theory, not anything timely or urgent, but I can feel it shifting around in my head more and more these days, pushing itself around as if to tell me that it’s going to happen soon. It’s not a conscious thing, I feel compelled to clarify; I’m not sitting in a chair and thinking to myself I must break this format or else calamity, because that alone is a recipe for disaster and disappointment alike. I’m staying away from the “dis” words for now as much as possible.

Instead, it’s something I can feel moving when I’m doing dishes or cleaning the house. I’ve been going on more walks by myself lately, listening to music and getting some exercise, but I think that’s also subconsciously an attempt to let my brain wander and find the edges of this particular jigsaw at the same time without putting undue pressure on myself: just trying to clear space and see what happens.

It’s all an odd feeling, nonetheless; this sense of something unfolding in the background and fumbling around without looking to find something I’m not even sure about in the process. More than that, the strange part might be knowing that it’s all happening, feeling it in some weird, inexplicable manner, and trying not to think about it or focus on it at the same time so that I don’t interrupt whatever magic might be taking place.

Don’t think of pink elephants.


Every now and then, I ask myself why I’m doing any of this. By “this,” I mean, writing this blog and publishing random thoughts and ramblings when there are countless other things that I could be doing with my time, not the least of which could be sleeping. (Only joking; it’s summer or close enough, which means I’m awake by 5:30 no matter what, now, no matter when I go to sleep. I’m so tired, friends.)

Really, though; there are times when I start typing here and not knowing exactly where I’m going. The thing is, I think that’s the point. I’ve been writing professionally for more than a decade at this point, and writing publicly but unpaid for far, far longer — if we’re counting my student newspaper days, it gets close to three decades, shockingly — and I’ve come to trust in two truths along that time:

  1. I make sense of the world through writing.
  2. Writing is a skill that requires you both to keep your muscles in good shape through practice, but also to play, so that it stays fun and you learn new things to keep yourself engaged.

That’s what I’m doing here: I’m playing — doing this for me, and writing about what I want, no matter how self-indulgent and pointless that will be to others — while also putting things down on virtual paper to try and find out what happening around me and in my head. That other people are reading (I know of three friends who do, although I try not to think of them while writing because this is a space for me, dammit) is something I try to ignore: I don’t want to second guess the rambling, pointless nature of things, I guess.

Welcome to my brain; I’m sorry for the mess.

The Shots I Don’t Take

I’ve been left thinking lately about the stories I haven’t written for work, and the oddly zen practice of how that has shaped my day-to-day and my career as a whole. I’m not talking about turning down or ignoring so many of the PR emails I receive daily — so, so many, like you wouldn’t believe — but the stories that I actually research and work on that, for whatever reason, don’t end up making it to the finish line. There’s more of those than you’d think.

Part of this is, simply, you go into something researching the truth behind a rumor or something that someone has told you and it turns out not to be true. This is relatively common, honestly, and it’s at once frustrating and enlightening; your story might die, but at least you get to the truth of the matter, you know? There’s something to be said for that, even if you ultimately have to surrender all the work you’ve done up to that point.

(Very very recently, I was looking into something that would have been A Story in a very big way, and I was eagerly trying to get to the bottom of it as quickly as possible so I could write it… but it turn out to be nothing, outside of some uninformed gossiping and people believing the worst of others. I was at once relieved and, honestly, upset.)

There are also stories that never see the light of day because of anxious editors or, worse, cautious lawyers; I’ve had that happen on a number of occasions, and that is far more upsetting, especially when it’s of particular importance to people personally. I get that publications don’t want to say that XXXXX XXXXXX is a manipulative asshole who has been accused of emotional abuse by previous partners for legal reasons or whatever, but that doesn’t change the fact that they are, and that people involved want their stories told. Alas.

One day, when I’m old and everyone has forgotten everything else, I should just put all of these unfinished, unpublished stories in a book and share them anyway. I’ll call it, Go Ahead and Sue Me, I’m an Old Journalist and Have No Money, Fuckers.

Me/Not Me

Discovering my name on a newly-published story at The Hollywood Reporter the other day was a trip, as someone who hasn’t written for the site in a more than a couple of years at this point. It was attached to an obituary for John Romita Snr., one that I can remember writing in advance many years earlier; still, it’s an odd thing to see yourself suddenly out of context like that.

(It was written, darkly, just after the death of Stan Lee in 2018; we’d had a meeting that was, essentially, “Which other comic creator is old and is likely to die soon? We should write obituaries for them just in case.” Even then, Romita was 88 years old. He was, of course, on the list.)

The THR story wasn’t the first time that I’d discovered my name on “new” stories without any warning, mind you; Newsarama as-was — I think the site is officially called Games Radar now — used to do that kind of thing as a matter of course: taking old stories and updating them and republishing them as new, with the name of the original author attached. Going by their business practice, which I should emphasize I knew about ahead of time so this wasn’t a surprise, I was working for them years and years after I’d actually stopped. “New” stories would appear while I’d moved on to multiple other sites.

It’s a strange feeling, this particular lack of autonomy. It’s one thing to search for background material on a story and find something you’d written and utterly forgotten about years ago — that happens all the time, which only makes sense considering how long I’ve been doing this, and I’ve gotten used to it — but to find things that appear to be written contemporaneously, referencing events that have only just happened, that claim to be mine and I didn’t do it? That’s a whole different level of strangeness.

My writing will live on, on the internet, after me. But sometimes, it’ll be born on the internet without me, as well. It’s a disorienting feeling, at times.

I’ve Been on Tenterhooks, Ending in Dirty Looks

In the 1990s, I was astonishingly, fearlessly sincere in my writing. I was fueled by things like Jonathan Carroll novels, Neil Gaiman comics, Alex Chilton’s Big Star lyrics, but more of all, youth: I felt the heartfelt need to be heartfelt as I stumbled into writing. This wasn’t true of everything I was writing — the stuff I wrote for the university newsletter was, thankfully, not impassioned and emotional, because I don’t think anyone would have wanted that — but if I was writing something “for me,” which is to say, for art school purposes or worse, gulp, a diary or something similar, there was this pained need to be understood right there at the center of it all.

In the early 2000s, I shifted into a knowing artifice that almost mocked the idea of sincerity or wearing my heart on my sleeve. It coincided with my starting writing for the internet, although I don’t think that’s why it happened. (I hope not, at least.) There’s a line in Grant Morrison’s Supergods where they make a reference to writing in an approximation of Alan Moore’s middle class English voice in order to become more palatable to a mainstream audience, and I remember reading that and chuckling to myself; unknowingly, I was writing in an approximation of Morrison’s Invisibles letter columns and knowing patter from interviews and text pieces at that time. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut puts it.

(Of course, Moore’s authorial voice that Morrison’s referring to is, itself, rooted elsewhere: there’s no small influence from Douglas Adams in there, as well as other English humorists of the mid-20th century. It’s mirrors, all the way down…)

I can remember, with surprising clarity, sitting on a bus headed to work one day in… 2006? 2007? and thinking about the voice in which I wrote at the time, feeling the pressure of the assumed irony and humor on my shoulders at the time. What if I could just write the emotional, vulnerable way I used to? I asked myself, and quickly put aside the idea as impossible: it would be too risky to be so open, I remember reasoning, and also, who really wants to read someone writing like that these days?

My current writing “voice,” such as it is came from… I don’t know… age…? Necessity? I like to think it’s more honest, a truer reflection of who I actually am these days. But then, one thing about this site is, I write this for me. It’s that rare thing where the cliche is true: if anyone’s actually reading this, I’m both surprised and honored. Welcome to the inside of my head.

As Above, Etc.

As I write this — a week or so before you read it, unless I end up doing what I’ve done before on this blog and just changed around the order of posts before they publish for reasons that even I don’t understand at the time — I’m coming off a pretty sustained period of intense workload. It wasn’t the same kind of workload as, say, a convention or whatever; thankfully, I don’t have one of those again until mid-summer. Nonetheless, I’ve found myself with a bunch to do, and my head swimming a little as a result.

While I’m never a fan of these lots-of-work-no-time-to-do-anything periods — I’m not that much of a masochist — I’ve always found something weirdly fulfilling about them, especially afterwards. There’s probably some sense of unhealthy internal justification going on, for some of that; an idea that, if I do a good job, then I’ve proved my worth on some level in a personal manner and therefore I’m… a good person, or something similar…? That’s a route I don’t feel particularly comfortable exploring, in large part because I know it’s entirely ridiculous but also close to the truth on some level despite everything. (When things were shitty in my marriage, I’d bury myself in work because it felt like an escape. I know that kind of mindset is in there, unfortunately.)

Instead, there’s a sense of reflection and calm that comes afterwards, when the work is done and I can take a breath, let a lot of things that have been floating around in my head go, and reassess how everything went. I had this after the UK trip a well, to some degree, so it’s not entirely a work thing; I find relief in the aftermath of things, in knowing that something big is over and taking that as an opportunity to take stock and look back. It’s a learning experience, in some way, even if sometimes all you learn is “That was too much, let’s never do that again.”

In this case, I’ve learned that I need to re-learn something: part of this intense work period involved writing a long form piece that I found myself struggling with for the silliest reason, in retrospect — that I was impatient with myself for the entire time, and pushing myself to just get it done already. There was no reason for that, I wasn’t up against a hard deadline, per se, but I found myself angry and frustrated that it wasn’t done already very early on in the writing, as if I was letting myself down, and it wasn’t until the third day of proper writing, when it came to an end, that I came to peace with the fact that some things really need the time and distance to get right. (I’d been writing other things during this time, as well; each of those three days, I wrote four or five other stories, because that’s how the internet works.)

It’s a good lesson, especially given that I’m theoretically going to be writing more long form pieces in the future — but also a good lesson that I should apply to all my work, and all my everything else as well: I need to learn to step back, calm down a bit, and remember that not everything can be done through sheer force of will in one sitting. Some things take time.