Have You Ever Considered…?

It’s almost the holiday season again, somehow — a realization I came to, as so many are these days, because of work, as we start to plan coverage that includes gift guides and Best Of lists. (It’s beginning to look a lot like Listmas, as the song almost goes.) 

That this is what you do for the end of the year isn’t anything new to me; I’ve been doing this for long enough that it’s not only second nature by this point, but almost a nostalgic tradition in and of itself. There was a period of a few years where the end of the year meant coming up with Best Comics Of The Year lists for both Wired and The Hollywood Reporter more or less simultaneously, and still trying to ensure that I wasn’t entirely repeating myself. They were for two different outlets with different audiences, I’d tell myself, and therefore what met the criteria of “best” was different.

By now, then, it really is as much a part of the end of the year to think in terms of this kind of writing as listening to Christmas music, putting lights around the tree or stressing that I’ve not gotten the presents right for whatever reason. It’s a comfort, in some kind of a way, if I’m honest: a familiar landmark that lets me know where I am in terms of the year, and reminds me that, before too long, the whole thing can be packed up and put away as we look to the new calendar with no small amount of hope that surely, surely, this one will be better. 

I tell myself all of this as I sit here, thinking about my work to-do list for the day, trying to find the piece of surprise, curiosity, and “new” — the novelty — that gets my fingers on the keys and my brain in gear, that makes the work happen every day.

That I Keep Calling It “Don’t Worry Baby” Doesn’t Help, Either

Somehow, I’m still thinking in the back of my brain, half-heartedly, about Don’t Worry Darling more than a week after watching it. On some level, I’m sure, some would take this as a sign of the movie’s artistic value — if it can be thought-provoking so long after viewing, especially considering that I’ve watched another handful of movies since, then surely that says something about the movie’s power, the argument might go — but the sad truth if it is, the reason I’m thinking about it remains that I’m mystified that it got released in the form that it was, without someone in some position of authority stepping in and going, “Maybe we should try and fix this…?”

The core of the central idea, after all, isn’t a disaster, even if it is shockingly derivative: the picture-perfect mid-20th century society the protagonist lives in is a lie, constructed by what is, for all intents and purposes, a cult of tech bro incels. It’s a twist on The Stepfird Wives, with a dash of The Matrix and Mad Men to boot; it’s not anything special, but it’s solid enough. 

The execution of this idea, though…! Ignoring the fact that it’s never quite clear how the fake reality works — the wives have all been… given electroshock therapy in the real world, and then implanted with fake memories but basically given the same fake memories, even though they spend all day together, talking…? — or, for that matter, why it exists, given that those responsible apparently still have to spend the majority of their time in the real world to support their captive wives’ lives of leisure, suffering exactly the same indignities and upsets as before, but with added responsibilities and costs added on, there’s the fact that the movie would rather offer trailer-ready moments than anything making any narrative sense.

For example, the first signifier that reality isn’t what it seems is when Florence Pugh’s character is baking, and discovers that all the eggs are hollow. Why is that the case in what’s later revealed to be virtual reality? What’s with the scene where she’s cleaning and suddenly the house starts to contract, crushing her? Why, when she’s watching a swimming display on television, does she suddenly find herself drowning? All of these make sense if her reality was responsive to her state of mind, but it’s not; it’s a virtual reality world controlled by external forces, right…? 

Again, there’s nothing so wrong with the writing that a second pass couldn’t have at least addressed, but it never happened, even as the multi-million dollar enterprise chugged along with some truly terrible performances in the process. (Harry Styles is as weightless as the reviews argued, but not enough was said of director Olivia Wilde’s lifeless performance as the lead supporting character.)

Maybe what’s sticking with me is the wasted potential, the idea that it could have been better with just a little more effort in specific areas. Maybe I’m stuck on something that really doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. I should just take a cue from the title and quit caring, perhaps.

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.

Is This Thing On?

I’ve been feeling self-conscious over my disappearance from here again, lately. I managed to keep up a relatively regular, three-times-a-week schedule for years, and then… I just didn’t. And I’ve been feeling anxious about it, to no small degree; anxious enough to stop myself from returning, if nothing else. I’m a professional writer, after all — words are my business — so what happened? How did I manage to stop writing for myself for six weeks, or however long it was since I’ve last been here…?

The truth is, I start to get tired of the words. Being a staff writer for Popverse is a wonderful thing, but it’s also a heavier work schedule than I’ve had in years — as a freelancer, I’d shaped my week into four work days pretty deliberately, and now I’m doing five days a week from 8am through 5pm — with a weekly (in theory) Wired column on top of that. For much of the time, it was Wired that I let slide — there’s about five or six columns I just didn’t even pitch, because my brain was too full of Popverse stuff — but the combination of guilt over missed deadlines and remembering how well Wired pays kicked in and brought me back into that fold… but it meant that something else had to go. So, the blog went dark.

It’s been in the back of my mind this entire time, though. Especially in the last week, as Twitter has started to be stripped for parts and people have been talking about returning to blogs en masse. So… here I am, wondering how to find the balance between everything that allows me to keep going without putting too much pressure on myself, or letting myself get tired of the words again.

Expect less regular posting, but continued posting, might be the answer. Shorter posts, more random posts. Or not…? Just know that, even if (when) things go quiet here, I’m wishing I had more words to share.

And I Wish I Could Have All That She Has Got, Hey

As soon as it was revealed that she was sick, people were asking me how I felt about the Queen. When she died, people were looking at me expectantly, waiting for some particular statement born of my nationality and whatever that might mean for my feelings towards a 96-year old woman I’d never met. It was a strange experience for a few days there, I have to say.

I don’t have any particularly strong feelings about the monarchy, I’m ashamed to say, beyond feeling as if it’s a ridiculous and outdated institution. That said, that could be said for more than half of what makes up British culture at any given moment, so that’s hardly the most damning criticism; I’m not someone to yell about how corrupt and evil the Royals are because of their connection to colonialism and slavery — and, as social media has shown over the last week or so, there’s certainly a lot who’ll talk about that at length — nor am I someone who romanticizes and makes excuses for the Royals and their behavior because they’re national institutions or whatever, either. They are just particularly expensive wallpaper to me, in a strange way — always there, only occasionally notable if nothing else is happening at the time.

The need others — all American-born, of course — had for me to have a take, an emotional reaction, to the Queen’s death reminded me of the response surrounding Brexit, or earlier, the Scottish Independence vote. This want for me to be at once entertainingly vitriolic and also help them understand what was happening, as if I had a verisimilitude due to where I was born that could help them navigate their own feelings. Alas, I failed them all.

I did think this, though: my parents met the Queen. It was two decades or so ago, and it was at an official event my dad got invited to through his work. There was a list of detailed instructions they received ahead of time, in terms of how to act and behave around Her Majesty, somewhat unsurprisingly, but my favorite was a rule that women’s hats were limited in size so that they wouldn’t overshadow whatever the Queen was wearing on her head that day.

There’s a level of petty there that I think is unintentionally hilarious. Let’s remember that about old Liz, and forget the rest.

Compression Comprehension

“After New York Comic Con, we’ll have done a year’s worth of conventions in four months.”

I was on a call with my editor when he said this, and it’s stuck with me ever since. He’s right, as it turns out; the weird scheduling of comic shows this year — driven in part by late planning and a belief earlier in the year (and late last year, for that matter) that COVID might be a thing of the past by now — meant that a series of big events that would traditionally run from March through October have instead all been squashed into a tiny window between the end of June and the start of October… and I’ve done almost all of them.

(I signed up for my job too late to attend things like Star Wars Celebration or Florida Supercon, as it happens. Everyone else was there, though.)

It’s something that I’ve found particularly useful to keep in mind when I’m feeling tired or run down lately; as I write, there’s another convention happening — D23 Expo, in Anaheim, California — because, of course there is. The way things feel right now, there’s always another convention happening somewhere, and even if I’m not there, I’m working it somehow. I’m not at D23, but I’m part of the support team, writing stories and quick news hits from home connected to what’s being announced.

There’s actually another convention this weekend, right here in town, that I don’t have time to attend… because I’m working as support for the California one. There’s a strange point being made there, I feel, even if I don’t know what that point actually is.

Maybe the point is that I’m not imagining that things feel a little too non-stop right now. There’s a year being squashed into four months, and I’m squashed in there with it, trying to find space to do everything while keeping up with the outside world.

Never Stop Never Stopping

To go from being, essentially, a hermit for two and a half years because of COVID to traveling across the country repeatedly in a five week period was, I’m sure you’ll be able to imagine, a surreal and dizzying experience. Prior to taking on this new gig, I’d eaten a meal outside of my house literally once since everything got locked down; then, I was spending a week in Southern California, followed by ten days home, then a week in Illinois, then another ten days home, then a few days in Washington State. There were things that didn’t get unpacked. There were countless COVID tests being taken.

To make matters more strange, Portland had an impossibly hot summer this year — I suspect this’ll be something that happens every year from now on, sadly — and I live in a house where there’s no air conditioning except for a window unit on the first floor; for most of my time between conventions, everyone in the house was sleeping on couches in the living room because it was the only place in the house cool enough to actually sleep. I’m pretty sure that I spent maybe seven or eight days total in my own bed between the middle of June and last week or so, adding to the feeling that I didn’t really get a lot of home time this summer.

It sounds ridiculous, but I started to think about all the songs I’ve heard about how lonely and shitty touring life is during all of this, as well as imagining myself as a businessman who had to travel nonstop for their job; if there was an alternate reality where I could project myself into having to travel continuously for my job, I’d do so, feeling a mix of frustration and exhaustion that I imagined people in those jobs would feel. I spent the summer wanting to be home, and longing for the calm and stillness I imagined fall will bring. The cool weather, too.