I bade you all welcome to this experiment one year ago.
Which makes now a good time to reflect on the State of the Blog. The contraction
of that phrase that gives this post its title is, unfortunately, a little too appropriate.
Please understand that I’m not trying to make the blog sound like a chore. Much about it is nothing but positive to me. It’s just that the glitches with Blogger have been terribly frustrating and serve to compound the natural frustration I had anticipated due to my own limitations these days. I’ll attempt to explain why, here, if only to get it off my chest; you’re welcome to move on to something more fun.
Neil Gaiman has said, “I don’t enjoy writing. I enjoy having written.” A (cursory) search online finds the quote attributed variously to him, Dorothy Parker, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Wherever it originated, I was surprised to hear it from Gaiman — as I’d be surprised to hear it from any writer. I love writing. I love jotting down notes, I love doing research, I love mulling over the proper word, I love picking apart and reassembling sentences and paragraphs, I love seeing how the whole article, interview, or story balances out. I love the entire writing process, fiction and nonfiction alike.
Drawing? That wears me down.
I’ve been known to friends and family most of my life as the artist kid/guy because I was possessed of a certain amount of inborn talent that I enthusiastically put on display and it’s simpler to pick out someone as a “good” artist than a “good” writer at a glance. Besides, everyone can write, in the technical sense — although everyone can draw in
the technical sense, too; how that usually turns out is probably evidence not that writing is easier than drawing but that it’s more difficult for writers to assess their relative skill than if they were aspiring painters (or carpenters, or yodelers). The fact is, however, that I’m really only talented enough to impress folks who can’t draw well. From the moment I begin, it’s all downhill, as each commitment of line defines the drawing on the page farther away from what the electric pulse from my brain to my hand intended. I’ve often liked a sketch enough that I refused to go any farther with it, since tightening it up in pencil, let alone inking to finish, just kills it. Yeah, I enjoy drawing when it’s futzing around, but when there’s a serious goal, if the result is good — which, on occasion, it still may be — yes, I enjoy having drawn, yet I rarely enjoy the tightrope walk of getting there.
People who knew me in my first couple of decades are usually surprised to hear that
most of my career was based on writing and graphic design. They ask me if I draw anymore. And I do, but seldom, as thanks to the health problems I’ll discuss shortly it’s hard to focus enough to render anything meaningful. The reason why I was never a fully professional cartoonist even when I could draw more easily is pretty obvious to me: I had little formal training and didn’t practice nearly enough to be as quick and as good as is necessary to make a living at it. Most writers who are likewise artists (better than I) will tell you that drawing just isn’t as cost-effective an avenue of making a living unless you’re insanely fast or insanely in demand.
What those friends and even family members never realized was that I was always writing as I was drawing, not only through my homemade comics but in the stand-alone pictures too. If you trained a movie camera on 7-year-old artist me, you’d have seen that for every poster-style image there was a superhero or spaceship battle raging, with ray beams flying back and forth, perhaps ending up in a total mess but lots of fun getting there. I also wrote prose stories by hand and on my mom’s nifty old cursive typewriter. Drawing sticks out as more unique, though.
That digression was to point out that I can, I suppose, relate in theory to those who don’t enjoy writing, only having written. And I do suspect that, just as I’ve done in talking about drawing, they make it sound a little less satisfying than it really is, because the moments, however rare, when any creative act clicks are joyful in an indescribable way. But writing for me is a pure thrill. Which is why it sucks so damn much not to be able to do it like I once could.
Almost twelve years ago now, I got sick. I’d been married for a spell, I was actually making a vocation out of my lifelong hobby, and things were generally good. To be sure, I had my allotment of personal and professional hurdles, but nothing that seemed insurmountable and, hey, the human condition can be rough; that simply makes the sweet moments sweeter. My wife, my immediate family, and my in-laws were extremely supportive as we tried to figure out what was going on. Through all sorts of medical tests and doctors’ visits and potential remedies, my daily functionality was ridiculously low, right as I wrapped up a massive, complex project.
I’m not going to get into the eventual diagnoses. One thing we discovered was that — whether triggered by or entirely coincidental to what else my body was experiencing — my thyroid was failing, and we hoped that fixing it would be the magic bullet. As my GP told me, your thyroid affects just about everything, and luckily, as I knew from family history, it’s easily treatable in most cases by a daily pill. My genes were also kind enough to bless me with intractable migraines, but those I’ve had since college. What turned out to be the root of my remaining pain, fatigue, and frequent inability to concentrate, I’m leery of sharing here — not because it’s embarrassing or psychosomatic or even controversial but because I’m still dealing with dealing with it. I’ve accepted it to the extent that I need to; I have ongoing explorations of how to address both the core problem if possible and administer palliative care while doing so; I belong to communities where I can confer with others in the same boat. A nasty incident not quite ten years back severely curtailed how open I’m willing to be about certain details in public forums, though, and this is already a big step.
Over a period of days and months following the morning I woke up to the room spinning, my functionality improved, but it took a long time to zero in on what might
be wrong and things never returned to the old normal. Despite work being largely therapeutic my reduced capacity led me to reconsider publishing the magazine I’d launched through my own company and join forces with another publisher; sadly, it proved to be one of the most stressful and regrettable decisions I could have made. The marriage dissolved, which is not a story for now, and then the publishing arrangement did as well, in part due to vicious, initially mysterious attacks on my character and twisted attempts at gaslighting that abused privileged information (hence the wariness referenced above). I did not handle my illness well during this period, and the unreliability that it engendered made it difficult to keep up with freelance projects, especially when after reaching a manageable plateau my health went south again and drained my finances completely.
While the traditional post-nuptial doughiness had manifested, I was in pretty decent shape before getting sick. Having dropped a lot of weight and then, once I could eat again, gaining too much back, the physical exhaustion that comes with even minimal activity became a roadblock to many aspects of everyday life, from exercise to socializing. But the mental fatigue is what’s really done me in this past decade. Not only can I not multitask; often, I can hardly monotask. Although meditation has helped me regain a greater ability to focus than at times I dared hope for, my cognitive reserves are still low and unpredictable. For someone who made his living and, in many ways, defined his very identity through his ability to sit down with paper or keyboard and monitor arranging words and pictures, it’s been tough.
Having my career slip away, and with it the tremendous satisfaction that came from becoming a professional in the industry that had fascinated me since childhood, was a disappointment of such magnitude as I’d never wish on anyone. I lost friends, acquaintances, partnerships, and general camaraderie as the convention trips, participation on chat lists and online forums, and even visits to the local comics shop stopped. The complimentary review copies dried up and for the first time in nearly three decades I wasn’t buying comics. I’ll perhaps delve into this more later, but my re-entry into reading and discussing — let alone writing about — comics over the last few years has been awfully cautious, because having to give it all up again would be devastating on a whole new level.
Almost as strange as watching comics reach new heights of literary and multimedia awareness from the sidelines was having the digital revolution pass me by. My last computer only had a dial-up modem, and it died several years back; for quite a few years, my Internet access came solely through the grace of friends, family, and the local library. As my concentration improved and ability to write started to return (with credit to good fortune, practice, and judicious self-care), however tentatively and intermittently, getting a new computer became more important, and once I was able to do so I turned my attention to blogging. On the whole it’s been rewarding but the persistent problem of vanishing posts is both an eerie reminder of my gaslighting, even if the actual problem is merely a software glitch, and just a heck of a thing to encounter given how much time and effort is put into many of these posts.
Going through my collection of comics during my time away from that world, and resigning myself to the fact that there was little reason to keep it around if it was no longer research material — not with space at a premium and the cash it could bring a necessity — I decided to sell it off. Slowly, I began to organize it, after letting it slide into disarray because of how taxing it was to bag issues and shift stacks and move boxes. Then I realized that such a project could serve more than one purpose. Maybe I had at least one more book to write; maybe the logistics of sorting everything and divesting it, reading it all one last time as I did so to make it earn its keep — with the through-line of how I’d been involved in comics from different perspectives over my life, as a reader, scholar, aspiring creator, retailer, journalist — could form the basis of one of these blogs I’d been hearing about and eventually get shaped into something to stick on the shelves.
I still plan to launch that blog and endeavor to get most of my old writing online for posterity. Electronic books and print-on-demand technology have evolved to the point where I might even make a little money reprinting the interviews I’ve done over the years. As getting my collection in order was revealed to be a bigger logistical problem than I’d anticipated, though, and the lure of writing about current media and other subjects proved strong, I let this blog go where it would to see just how well and how often I could turn out content.
For the rest of this month I’m going to focus on finishing or reposting essays on television and film, since it’s sweeps and Oscars season. I’ve been livid over the removal of timely posts, a wholly separate problem from not having posted in the first place long-gestating pieces that have proved substantive enough that getting my hands dirty with them has been exciting because I do love writing even when finishing them has been difficult. I’ll be looking into alternatives to Blogger, with both WordPress and TypePad highly recommended but also pricier and more complicated. Suggestions are welcome as each platform seems to have its fair share of true believers.
The past year of blogging has been at least as fulfilling as it has frustrating, never as much as when I hear from friends and family that it’s good to see me writing again or get kudos from folks who have no idea how incredibly hard this often is. Yet I’d like it to be more than frivolous and to find out whether this plain old blog on whatever I can throw out there is my limit or I can be productive on
a greater level. I hope you’ll stick with me.
Related: Welcome • The Clog • Ebert &c. • Scrap Medal • Blest of the Bog