It’s Brilliant, Anyway

Every July 4, I remember my first Independence Day as an American citizen, and the way in which circumstances and my bosses at the time had conspired to make sure that, not only would I actually be working that day, but that I’d lose one of my regular days off that week in addition for reasons to arcane to articulate beyond, simply, “it came down to them or me, and they chose them.”

I remember the stinging feeling at the time, the sense of injustice that I felt with such clarity and sublimated anger, about the fact that I was finally a fully-fledged, naturalized and the whole shebang, citizen of the United States of America, and yet here I was being forced to work on the biggest damn holiday of the year that wasn’t Christmas or Thanksgiving — even though, back then, I didn’t really get Thanksgiving on any emotional level. (I still don’t, not really; I’m pretty convinced it’s something you need to have grown up with in order to fully appreciate, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Looking back at it today, I feel… embarrassed, perhaps…? about the whole thing, and how self-righteous I was in my upset. How naive I was, too, in being surprised that a decision had been made to put me to work instead of others sacrificing their own time off, and how self-centered it was to think that my first July 4th as an American citizen meant anything to anyone that wasn’t me. It’s something I go back to in my head periodically, as a reminder to keep myself in check and try to keep a sense of perspective about whatever’s happening to me: do you really want this to happen again? and so on.

I didn’t realize it at the time, and wouldn’t for a few years, but thinking about it now, being forced to work on a day you want to spend as a vacation, and being reminded that your bosses are your bosses and not your friends feels like a central part of the American experience, sadly. It was, if nothing else, unfortunately fitting.

Happy Independence Day.

Don’t Fence Me In (The Self-Indulgent Version)

It’s a sad reality of my career that I’ve learned to work through emotional distress and trauma; a sad reality of my life and previous marriage, as well, in that work became a respite and relief from a relationship that was not good for me, yet I felt locked inside.

There used to be a skill — a term I use loosely, and arguably utterly incorrectly— I had, wherein I was able to tune out everything bad around me and just concentrate on the words in front of me, anchoring myself in whatever deadlines I had and whatever the subject matter I was to focus on no matter how turbulent all the other stuff was.

I was thinking of this almost wistfully last week, writing in the wake of the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling and end the national right to abortion. It was news I struggled to come to terms with — intellectually, sure, I understood what was happening, but as soon as I tried to comprehend what had been taken from people, and the pain and misery that would come from the decision, my brain started to swim — and, try as hard as I might, I couldn’t stop it from taking over my brain and preoccupying me all day.

(That Chloe was visiting family at the time didn’t help; I wanted to be there with her as she processed the news, too, I wanted us to process it together, to talk about it and get angry and sad and scared together. Doing it alone and through texts and calls felt unnatural and awkward.)

I tried to compartmentalize, and put everything in a box as I met my deadlines, and I couldn’t; it wouldn’t fit. It wasn’t just the Supreme Court news, really, but the accumulation of everything that had been happening in the past few weeks. I tried to eke out what I could to meet my deadlines, but my heart was barely in it.

It’s an evolution for me as a person, this new inability to shut away unprocessed feelings; it’s something new that I know is good in the long run. It’s just not particularly good for my workload.

Wherever, Whatever

I’ve recently been seeing the word “woolgathering” in use again, in a number of places. It’s something that I never heard used as a kid, but read more than once; I’m pretty sure that Judge Dredd would say it on occasion, in one of those moments where the quasi-transatlantic nature of the comic became all-too-visible. (I mean, come on; what tough future New York cop would describe himself as woolgathering?)

For those unfamiliar with the term — I suspect that’s most anyone who might chance upon this post — it’s dictionary definition is straightforward: “indulgence in idle fancies and in daydreaming; absentmindedness.” To woolgather is, I guess, just meandering around mentally, thinking of whatever comes into your head and following it wherever it goes. It’s what I do here all the time.

I’ve become a fan of woolgathering lately; or, rather, it’s something I’ve learned to appreciate more fully. My current workload requires me to create cohesive, extended arguments on a daily basis, to research things and excavate the truth, and then curate everything into the most easily-understandable, almost certainly briefest version of events for whoever happens to be reading. It’s something that, to put it mildly, requires a fair amount of concentration.

At the same time as doing that, though, I need to be thinking about what’s next — planning future pitches, paying attention to whatever might be fodder for a story for another outlet, or whatever. My brain doesn’t get the luxury of solely concentrating on one thing for any extended period of time, because there’s always, always, the next thing to think about. So, I gather wool. I let my mind go where it wants, every now and again, and see what happens.

It’s an odd idea, to consider allowing your mind to wander to be not only a skill that you can develop, but one that can be productive. In both cases, though, that’s true for me. Woolgathering has become a necessary part of my process, even if the name for it sounds particularly casual and rustic.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

There was a point this year when I felt good about the amount of prose I was reading; I might even have written about it here. Through luck or happenstance, I was averaging a book a week, although that was including nonfiction I was reading for work — so many academic retrospectives on popular culture and the comic book industry! — and my secret pleasure of short story collections, which I can speed through effortlessly. (Perhaps my most recent favorite of the latter is Donald Westlake’s Thieves’ Dozen, which collects his short Dortmunder stories. Consider it highly recommended, if you like snappy, sneaky fiction.)

I’m not entirely sure when my reading streak finished, or how. Was it that period where I’d basically make it to the end of the day by dragging my tired ass across the finish line, slumping into bed with barely enough strength to turn out the light and lay my head down? Probably; I know that, during those few weeks, there was a pile of unread books on my bedside table that just wondered what the deal was and when I’d make time for them.

The result is, though, that I’m back to feeling self-consciously uncultured again, as if all I can manage to keep up with are comic books and television shows. Not that there’s anything wrong with either, mind; but I want the time and brain power to juggle some prose in there too, dammit.

There’s a solution to be found here, somewhere, but I’m not sure what it actually is — my workload isn’t lightening up anytime soon, and I barely get enough time to spend with Chloe as-is, so it’s not as if I can magically make time to sit down with a good book. And even then, I need to find the right good books, something that’ll keep my interest but let me dip out when necessary, something to make me obsessed but not too obsessed. Dear reader, I want to be a dear reader, if only I could find the time, thought power, and subject matter to make it happen.

What You’re Doing

I still think there’s something amusing about my missing the 20th anniversary of my arrival in the US as a permanent resident. It happened back in March sometime — I can’t remember the date offhand, but it was somewhere in the center of that month — and, although I was aware that it was coming ahead of time and casually, aimlessly, told myself that I should probably do something to mark such a momentous occasion, I missed it entirely when it actually rolled around. I was too busy with the day-to-day of life, and making sure that more important things were taken care of.

Putting it like that suggests that there was something else of great import happening at the time, some kind of event that was distracting me. Surely, after all, I could only miss the 20th anniversary if another Big Important Thing was taking up my headspace instead. That’s not true, though, to the best of my admittedly faulty recollection; March was simply another month, like so many other months in the last year or so, where the everyday is so packed and busy that things that… well, aren’t really important fall out of your head to make room for the good stuff.

That, at its core, is why I’m so amused and delighted by forgetting the me-getting-to-the-US anniversary. There was a time, and there was a me, not that long ago that would have hyper-focused on marking the date as some truly important, necessary thing to pay attention to, something meaningful. Now, though, I’ve become someone who’s too busy just living life — loving those around me, taking care of them, doing work that makes me happy so I can help support them — to reliably keep track of such things. I am, ironically, doing the really meaningful stuff so much that I’m forgetting about the self-indulgent faux meaningful.

Ernie

There’s no way to say goodbye to a pet, not really. Everything feels emotionally overwhelming, and you try your best in the moment, wishing that they understand on some level, hoping that your very presence and the physical affection you’re offering is, on some level, reassuring and enough to bring them some level of happiness at the end.

Ernie’s death came quickly, thanks to the vet’s skill, but it was the last part of a week that had been more difficult and, I suspect, more stressful and upsetting for him than he could have imagined.

He’d had oral surgery on the Tuesday, to have 25 teeth removed; they’d rotted in his skull over the years, under the gums, and were causing him pain, so it was decided that they had to come out; he went in nervous in the morning, and came out doped up and drooling that evening. The surgery, they said, had been longer and more extensive than anticipated, but they expected a full recovery.

I did, too; after all, his brother Gus had something similar happen last year, and he was back to normal in a day or so. That wasn’t the case for Ernie, however.

He spent hours on the Wednesday whining and crying and vomiting; there was so much vomit. He sounded so unhappy, on a primal level. I called the vet, and was told this was normal the day after a major surgery, as bad as it seemed, and that I should call the next day if he hasn’t improved. By Thursday morning, he couldn’t stand up and was still refusing food and now refusing water. The vet agreed to take a look.

Everything after that is a blur, really; multiple discoveries of bad news — his kidneys seemed to be failing, his blood sugar was far too low, his stomach distended, the nodules on his liver — and no real understanding about why or what was the reason for the sudden, shocking downward turn. I felt helpless and heartbroken with each new call. As he was checked into a hospital for constant care, I knew on some level it was the end even as others told me that he could still get better.

Friday morning, 6am, I got the call that nothing had improved and that they still had no idea what was happening. I asked if he could survive without this level of constant medical intervention, with IVs and anti-nausea medications and everything, and was told that he still hadn’t tried to eat or drink anything at that point. “If this was your dog, what would you do?” I asked the vet.

Two hours later, I was in a small room with him. His tail wagged when he saw me, the first time his tail had wagged since Monday. I held him on my lap as the vet offered the three injections, and told him that I loved him, that I’d miss him, and that he was a good boy. I hope he knew, somehow, that all three were true.

Four Times The Fun

Like most people on social media, judging by my feed, I fell for the siren song of Wordle some time ago. How could I resist? There’s just something about the appeal of a quick, daily, word game that lets you think Oh, I’m so smart, I guessed “rouge” on three attempts on a regular basis while also giving you the space to ignore the pure luck factor of it all. (Look, if you start off with the wrong word, sometimes you’re just fucked.)

The problem with Wordle, though, is that there’s just one word a day. That’s not enough for the truly obsessive need for distraction that lives inside my brain, dear reader. I needed something… more. I needed Quordle.

As the name suggests, Quordle is Wordle, but you’re simultaneously guessing four different words at the same time; you get more passes to make that happen, of course — nine instead of six — but that’s not the only change that’s important. No, with Quordle, there’s a “practice” setting that lets you play as many rounds as you want, instead of just one round a day. And that, let me tell you, is a game changer.

Quordle has become what I do if my brain is feeling restless, but I’m not ready to handle anything particularly requiring true focus just yet. If I have my iPad to hand — for some reason, I only play it on my iPad, which feels like a sign of true obsessiveness — then I’ll just play a quick round, and then almost certainly play a second before remembering I should probably be doing something else instead. It’s something that happens almost every day.

Moreover, it’s something that in a strange way has made me… slower and more methodical outside of the game, perhaps? For the first three passes, I’m throwing out whatever words I can think of to get letters on (and off) the board, but then I stop and start being analytical and deductive; I become a consonant Sherlock Holmes, trying out combinations in my head, however unlikely they seem. It sounds ridiculous, but Quordle has taught me the value of doing something similar in my writing and self-editing, as well.

I’m aware that the game is, perhaps, a timesuck and something I could and should pass up in favor of more worthwhile pursuits. Eventually, that may even happen. For now, though, I just need to figure out if any word could start with an X and then have a U as the next letter.

FYI, FYI

By this point, I’ve been doing the Comics, FYI newsletter for close to six months; it’s not something that’s necessarily turned out exactly as I expected, but in ways that have been more rewarding, and in entirely different ways than I’d anticipated.

The origins of the newsletter were somewhat diffuse: I missed writing regularly about comics, and in a relatively self-directed fashion. (At THR, I’d basically had my druthers to pursue what interested me, as long as I could sell my editors on it; Aaron and Erik were particularly good at helping me pare down what was, and wasn’t, interesting in the end.) I’d spent much of 2021 promising myself that I’d start a comics website of my own, only to hold off for the simple reason that, deep down, that wasn’t really something I felt ready for; a newsletter, though, felt like it could be fun, if done right.

Throughout the whole process of thinking about it pre-launch, I kept remembering a conversation I had with my friend Lucy (Hi, Lucy!), wherein she joked that she didn’t really pay attention to comics news and just needed someone to summarize the important things for her every now and then. That was always the North Star, when I was working out what I wanted to do. If I could basically write about what seemed important to me, and explain why in such a fashion that anyone could get it, then I was doing something right.

And, of course, I wanted it to earn money for me. After all, paid newsletters are a thing, now. Surely, if I got enough readers, then I could make money from it, right…?

Spoilers: I’m still not charging for it. By this point, I probably never will. The newsletter has become rewarding in its own right, and my career has picked up elsewhere, so I don’t feel the need to charge for it anymore, per se. Doing so feels almost the opposite of the “information for everyone” mission that the newsletter has evolved, and almost self-indulgent and greedy at this point. Maybe my thinking on that will change again at some point, but for now, the newsletter is my version of comics journalism public service, being curious in public and inviting others to join in.

It’s become a highlight of my week, every week, even when it’s stressful and not coming together in time. It’s something I can’t imagine not doing, anymore.