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?

The Fairest and Dearest

Entirely by accident I found out this weekend that Damon Albarn has a new single out — well, a new track, but those are the closest that we really come to singles in this digital landscape we’re in, let’s be honest — and it left me nostalgic for the musical world I grew up in.

Being British and of a certain age, I was a child of pop radio. Not the pop radio of the United States, where everything is sliced up into particular genres and demographics; the radio I listened to religiously was BBC Radio 1, which played “pop music” with all the vagueness and blurred boundaries that implied. That was part of the joy of it all, though: that if you listened for long enough (which, honestly, meant about half an hour at the most, less if it was a daytime, “mainstream,” show), you’d hear songs you absolutely hated, songs you were in love with, and at least one thing that you’d never heard before. Who didn’t want that?

The entire country listened to Radio 1, it felt like. (That there were so few alternatives helped with that, though; there’s nothing like a captive audience.) It meant that, when it was time to unveil a new single from a popular band or a new album track of some importance or whatever, it not only happened on Radio 1, but it became an event, something that would be teased and trailed, to ensure that you were definitely listening at the right time to hear it.

At the height of Britpop, this was how new Blur tracks — and new Oasis tracks, or anything else by a popular band of white men in tennis shoes holding guitars — were unleashed on the world: hyped across a day or so of shows before the hushed tones of Steve Lamacq or Jo Whiley quietly introduced them.

Three decades or so later, this is how I still expect to discover new Damon Albarn songs. Finding them on Spotify and going, “Wait, is this new?” really doesn’t have the same feel to it at all.

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.

Please Don’t Put Your Life In The Hands of a Rock and Roll Band

I’ve been re-reading Bill Drummond’s 45 lately, off-and-on, and feeling the strange effects that come from revisiting something that has such a strong sense of place and time attached to it in my head.

As I’ve written before, 45 was something I discovered pretty much by accident when I was nearing the end of my art school career and already thinking of myself as a writer instead of any kind of graphic designer or visual artist; I liked the packaging of the original release, when I found it in a bookstore by chance — a 7 inch square book, just like the dimensions of a vinyl single, which would need to be played at 45RPM. I bought it after skimming the first few pages, having no idea just how much the mixture of pop history and personal digression would both appeal to me and form a basis for the kind of thing I wanted to write myself in later life.

I met Drummond not long afterwards; he came to do a talk at the arts organization I was involved in, and I remember just being afraid of speaking to him, because I was that in awe of him. The idea that he could make a living writing like that seemed impossible, and something I desperately wanted for myself.

More than anything, it’s been that meeting that I’ve been thinking about through this re-read. I remember clearly thinking that Drummond had everything figured out, and that this only made sense because, as I thought then, Drummond was in his mid-40s! Of course everything had fallen into place by that point! Of course he had all the answers!

From childhood through probably my late 20s, honestly, the idea of being 40 or above was some kind of marker of adulthood that defined having sorted your shit out. I remember my parents turning 40 when I was a kid, and how it seemed like “parent” age. Drummond was writing about hitting his mid-40s exactly, and so I just put all this pressure on him in my head to be an avatar of artistic success, projecting all manner of… everything onto the poor man.

Looking back at it now, I realize that he probably wasn’t making a living from his writing, but from making personal appearances and whatever royalties he was getting from his musical career; I read the stories again and notice his failures and failings in a way I didn’t the first time around, and see that he was writing about his flaws and his own anxieties and fears about throwing his life away on pop… something I only was vaguely aware of before, but now feel all too clearly.

45 is a book that’s growing with me, although perhaps that’s because I wasn’t smart enough to pick up what it was putting down before. Either way, I’m glad to be older and wiser on this go-through.

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.)

The Most Traditional Blog Of All

It’s been quite a couple of days. This is literally just me venting, be warned.

Work wise, a story that’s been in process for the last couple of weeks finally went live, prompting a social media breakdown for one of the sources for it — not because of anything he did, but because a promotional tweet for the outlet made it look as if he was the writer, meaning that he got an entire furore of fake outrage that should have rightfully been mine. (Yes, I feel very guilty, thank you for asking. I also feel a little relieved, which just makes me feel more guilty.)

It also got the company at the center of the story complaining that they’d been blindsided by it, and also changing policy but claiming that the changed policy had always been the case, it was just worded badly… except that the story was, in part, about how the original policy was a problem.

Yesterday was spent, in part, messaging both of the above parties to try and sort things out, while also messaging the editor of the outlet to fix things, make edits after the fact, and so on.

While all of this was going on, I was also writing a story that’s supposed to go live today that kept changing as I was writing it. (About the return of Warren Ellis to comics, via a new Image Comics series.) No sooner would I write a section than I’d have to either dump it or change it as new facts came to light, all while getting messages from sources either giving me new information or promising something would arrive momentarily, probably.

Suffice to say, my focus was scattered, and I’m not sure that anyone necessarily felt as if they were getting the proper attention they deserved. Worse, they were probably right, which just leads back to the feeling very guilty thing again.

Of course, that’s just work: on top of all of that, Portland is headed into a record-breaking heatwave this weekend, which has me all kinds of worried in addition to being all kinds of uncomfortable and clammily sweaty as temperatures already rise. I’m sure that (and the fact that it’s kind of ruining my sleep cycle) aren’t contributing to my feeling of being utterly overwhelmed by everything, right…?

Thankfully, the weekend is around the corner. Even with the heat, a break’s going to help somehow, right…? Right…?

A Cat Calls

There are a number of animals in this house. I can even put a number to that number: right now, there are seven animals in this house — three dogs and four cats. (Surprisingly, they all get on.) That number isn’t a consistent one, though; two of the dogs are shared with my ex-wife and so only part-time residents, and one of the cats is… well, not our cat.

It’s actually a joke, that he’s not our cat. He officially belongs to a neighbor, but he all but lives here. He started coming around more than a year ago, and spent more and more time here — initially just on out front porch, before asking to come inside, and then spending more and more time here — to the point where we’d have to say, he’s not our cat. Except, he kind of is.

That last part was underscored the other day, when his actual owner appeared at the front door, to deliver food for him and try to give money because we’re taking care of the cat.

It was, as you might expect, an awkward and uncomfortable conversation, not least of all because both of us kept apologizing to the other and talking about how bad we felt — me, because we didn’t mean to steal her cat, and her because she felt as if we suddenly had new responsibility and expenses because of her cat. It felt as if we were talking past each other, honestly, both of us trying to emphasize, no, I’m uncomfortable with this conversation and how the situation has turned out, too, I promise you without just being blunt enough to say that.

She was clearly, understandably, heartbroken that her cat had to all intents and purposes, moved out. She talked about it feeling as if he’d broken up with her, but that he’d “made his choice” (a phrase she used multiple times) about where he wanted to be. We talked about the fact that we keep letting him out and asking him to go back and see her, but that he rarely does. It was this horrible conversation for both of us, and one that felt as if it went on for several years.

I feel bad for her, and how upset she clearly is about the whole thing. But. But I can’t deny that I kind of love not our cat, and I’m happy to see him every day when he decides to come visit.

Time Traveling While Standing In Place

Perhaps it’s the nostalgic value, perhaps it’s the feeling that there’s something to be gained by such an exercise, but I’ve had the recurring thought in the last few days that I should look back at old comic strips I created when I was in art school and, where possible, rework them in some manner.

As only befits someone who (a) is a big comic fan and has been since as far back as I can remember, and (b) went to art school, I was heavily into writing and drawing my own comics all the way through my mid-20s; the subject matter shifting as I grew older and my interests shifting too, as did my influences. (There was, I’m only part-ashamed to say, a period where Jim Lee was drawing the X-Men and I really tried to recreate what he was doing; so, so many lines and people gritting their teeth.)

Most of this stuff is lost to the ages now, thankfully — no-one really needs to see me work out obsessions with everyone from Walt Simonson to Dave McKean, entirely failing to fully understand why their work left such an impression on me, trust me — but some of it remains, at least digitally; the final things I did in art school as part of my final projects. They’re somewhere on a CD-Rom, and I’m pretty sure I could access them if I wanted to.

I’m sure the very sight of them would embarrass me were I to look at them today, but there’s also the hope that they’d seem as if they were the work of someone else entirely, because they were created so long ago; that I’d be able to look at them afresh and see if there’s any value there. (Probably not, I suspect they’re very “early 20s and very earnest” in tone, but that might just be self-consciousness talking.)

There’s something in the idea of going back and touching them again — not updating them, or even really changing them significantly, but fixing things that never worked out the first time — that is what keeps bringing me back to the topic in my head. The kindness of reaching back in time and offering a hand to the person who was me, in some weird but sincere way.

Soon, perhaps.

Make Note Of It

I was thinking the other day about notebooks and sketchbooks, and my obsessive need to maintain both when I was younger. When I was in art school, I always had at least one sketchbook on the go (in fact, usually two; I don’t know why, but they had different purposes in my head at the time, so it made sense to me). They were an integral part of how I navigated life at the time, how I processed what was happening to me and what I was feeling at any particular moment. Well, maybe not that up-to-the-minute, some pretty close.

They were filled with everything; with sketches and comic strips; with abstract experimentations in mark-making, or collage; with hastily written-down quotes from books, magazines, TV shows, or conversations — with everything, like I said. The scattered nature of the whole thing was the point, though; these weren’t intended to be finished documents, or even anything that was meant to be seen by anyone that wasn’t me. They were me downloading my brain in pieces to see what happened.

(I still write like that now, as is obvious on this site; I start with a vague idea or direction and then discover what I’m doing as I go, finishing with a sense of oh, so it was that all along! Honestly, I think it’s the only way that I can actually work my way through an idea. The notion of not sharing it in writing in real time as the thought process is happening feels almost comically wrong, to me.)

I kept hold of these sketchbooks as I moved from place to place, through the 1990s; I moved apartments, I moved cities, but I still had them all, ready to revisit and make new discoveries and come to new conclusions. When I moved to the U.S., I made the last minute decision to leave them behind — almost literally last minute; I decided a few hours before I left, when I was reconsidering luggage costs — and, to be blunt, I’ve regretted it ever since.

I pretty much stopped keeping a notebook or sketchbook when I moved countries, and sometimes I wonder how things might have been different — been better — had I managed to stay in that practice. Just imagine what I could have learned, years before I discovered it the hard way.