The Slog


On
Tuesday, this blog turned a year old, and today's the anniversary of its first substantive post. I figured that it was a good time to reflect on the State of the Blog. Unfortunately, the contraction of that phrase that gives this post its title is a little too appropriate.

I'm not trying to make the blog sound like a chore. Much about it is nothing but positive to me. But the technical glitches with Blogger have been terribly frustrating, which only compounds some of the natural frustration I anticipated due to my own limitations these days. I'll try to explain why, if only to get it off my chest; you're more than welcome to move on to something more fun. 8^)

Neil Gaiman once said, "I don't enjoy writing. I enjoy
having written." A quick web-search finds the quote attributed variously to him, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Dorothy Parker. Wherever it originated, I was surprised to hear Gaiman employ it — in fact, 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 right word, I love picking apart and rearranging sentences and paragraphs, I love seeing how the whole article or interview or story balances out. I love the entire writing process, fiction and nonfiction alike.

Drawing wears me down, though. I was known as an artist for most of my life because I'd displayed a certain amount of inborn talent and it's much easier to pick out someone as a "good" artist than a "good" writer at a glance. Besides, everybody can write, at least in the technical sense (although, frankly, everybody can draw in the technical sense, too; how that usually turns out is probably evidence not that writing is easier than drawing but that many writers aren't as talented as they think — only it's harder to prove their relative skill to them than if they were aspiring painters, carpenters, or yodelers). The fact is, however, that I'm really only talented enough to impress folks who can't draw. From the moment I start sketching, it's all downhill, as every stroke, every commitment of line defines the drawing on the page farther away from what the electric pulse from my mind to my hand had intended. Many times I've liked a sketch enough that I refused to go any farther with it, because tightening it up in pencil, let alone rendering it in ink, just kills it. I enjoy drawing when it's just futzing around, but when there's a real goal, if it turns out well — which, on occasion, it does — yes, I enjoy having drawn, yet I rarely enjoy the tightrope walk of getting there; it's like building a house of cards that's more likely to fall with every stroke of the marker.

Folks 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 still draw. And I do, but rarely, 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 more 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 also artists will tell you (even those more talented than I) that drawing just isn't as cost-effective a way of making a living unless you're insanely fast or insanely in demand.

What those friends and even family members never realized, distracted by the colorful pictures, was that I was always writing as I was drawing, not only through my homemade comics but even in the standalone pictures. If you trained a movie camera on 7-year-old artist me, you'd have seen that for every poster-style image there was also a superhero or spaceship battle raging, with ray beams flying back and forth, often ending up in a total mess but lots of fun on the way. I also wrote prose stories by hand or on my mom's nifty old cursive typewriter. The drawing just sticks out as more unique.

That digression was to point out that I can, I suppose, relate in theory to those who don't enjoy
writing, only having written. I also suspect that, just as I've done in talking about drawing, they make it sound a little less satisfying than it really is, because even if rare the moments 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 hard 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 couple of years, I was actually making a vocation out of my lifelong hobby, and things were generally good. To be sure, I had my share of personal and professional hurdles, but nothing that seemed insurmountable, and, hey, life can be hard; that just makes the sweet moments sweeter. My wife, my immediate family, and my in-laws were all tremendously supportive as we tried to figure out what was going on. Through all kinds of medical tests, doctors' visits, and potential remedies, my daily functionality was ridiculously low, just as I was finishing up a massive, long-gestating project.

I don't mean to be coy, but I'm not going to get into the eventual diagnoses and exactly how I'm dealing with things now. One thing we found out early on was that my thyroid was failing — either triggered by or entirely coincidental to what else my body was going through, its hormone levels started dropping at the same time, and for a while we hoped that fixing it would be the magic bullet. As my GP told me, the thyroid affects just about everything, and luckily, as I knew from family history, it's easily treatable in most cases by a simple daily pill. My genes were also kind enough to bless me with intractable migraines, which I've mentioned before on the blog, but those I've had since college. What turned out to be the root of my remaining pain, fatigue, and frequent inability to concentrate, however, remains too personal to share here — not because it's embarrassing or psychosomatic or even controversial, but because I'm still dealing with how to deal 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 things in such public forums as this, however.

Over a period of days and months following the morning I woke up to the world 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. Work was largely therapeutic, but my reduced capacity led me to reconsider publishing the magazine I'd launched through my own company and join forces with another publisher; unfortunately, while it seemed like a good idea at the time, it proved to be one of the most stressful and regrettable decisions I could have made. The marriage dissolved, about which the less said the better, 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; whether because of insufficient attention or wholly unusual worsening after reaching a manageable plateau, my health went south again and drained my finances completely.

While the traditional post-nuptial doughiness had set in, and I've never exactly been an athlete, I was in pretty decent shape before getting sick. After losing 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
unitask. 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 not only made his living but, in many ways, defined his life 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 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 (except maybe the guy who took to gaslighting me). I lost friends, acquaintances, and general camaraderie as the convention trips, participation on chat lists and online forums, and even visits to the local comics shop dried up. The comps stopped coming in and for the first time in nearly three decades I was no longer buying comics at all. I'll delve into this more in a separate post, but my re-entry into reading and discussing, let alone writing about, comics over the last few years has been
very 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 ago; for quite a few years, my only Internet access was through the grace of friends, family, and the local library. As my concentration improved and ability to write began to return (with credit to good fortune, practice, and the meditation), 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 that gaslighting, even if the actual problem is only some strange technical glitch, and just a heck of a thing to encounter given how much time and effort goes into some of these posts.

Dipping into my collection of comics during my time away from the industry, 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, something that hadn't been done in far too long 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 in me; maybe the logistics of sorting everything and putting it up for sale, 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, retailer, journalist, aspiring creator — could form the basis of one of these blogs I'd heard so much about and eventually get shaped into something to stick on the shelves.

I still plan to launch that blog, and hopefully get most of my old writing online where it can do researchers some good too. Print-on-demand and electronic books have evolved to the point where I might even make some money collecting the interviews I've done over the years, because I don't seem to be alone in finding even old conversations with solid subjects interesting. But as getting my collection in order turned into a bigger logistical problem than I'd anticipated, 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 put posts together.

For the rest of this month I'm going to focus on finishing or reposting essays on television and film, since it's both sweeps and Oscars season. I've been livid over timely posts getting knocked down, a wholly separate problem from not yet having posted in the first place long-gestating pieces that have proved substantive enough that getting my hands dirty with them has been exciting but finishing them has been difficult. Next month I just might inaugurate another March of Comics as something of a swan song to the periodical habit and an impetus to finally review some great recent material. I'll be looking into alternatives to Blogger as well, with both WordPress and TypePad highly recommended but also more complicated and potentially pricey. Recommendations are welcome, the more objective the better as each platform seems to have its fair share of zealots.

The past year of blogging has been at least as fulfilling as it has frustrating, never more so than 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 difficult this often is. Enough time has gone by that I'd like it to be more than frivolous, however, and 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.

12 comments:

Jenn said...

Wow! What an honest post. How refreshing. As a migraine sufferer for many, many years, I can really empathize with your inability to concentrate sometimes. It can be very frustrating.

I can't believe it took me so long to wander over here, but I have really enjoyed what I've read so far. I am just discovering just how much I really enjoy certain comics and comic-book characters, graphic novels, etc. It all started with Watchmen, and has started growing from there. However, I'm still pretty noob about a lot of it, so I look forward to reading more of your posts!

VW: scifi. Seriously. It's Sci Fi!

Joan Crawford said...

You hide it well, my friend! Your posts always seem very fresh and your comments are rapid fire - I couldn't tell at all what a struggle some of this stuff has been for you. I love your blog and I think you should post those past entries on thoughts you had about things...past. See, I'm a talker - not so much a writer. I agree with that guy - I like having written a whole bunch more than actual writing. I can't believe what scum some people are, that someone would try to sabotage you with personal information is creepy and I imagine enraging.
Keep fighting the good fight - remember when that jerk was on Nikki's site and he trashed her book and then you shamed him? I admire the hell out of that :)
Anyway, if you do decide to go to wordpress or what-have-you (and I wouldn't blame you if you did) - you'll have to teach me how to do an rss feed. I tried once and it said "You're following!" and then...nothing.
Great Post, Blammy Cakes!

Blam said...

Thanks, both of you.

AchingHope said...

Wow... Sometimes when I read people's comments on other blogs I forget that they're real people with real lives and issues and problems.

I feel privileged that you'd share a bit of your life right there with us folks, and I'm glad you did join the blogging world and got back into writing and stuff. I don't think I would have laughed quite as much this year if you hadn't.

El Qué said...

Blammy Cakes... Yum! ^__^
He does hide it well, Joan, even in "real life", but I think blogging's been a real escape for him. (Can I speak for you Blam?) Actually, "escape" isn't the right word, maybe "creative outlet". Trust me, though, this isn't easy and I admire him for keeping at it. Blam is my personal hero. (Him and Wonder Woman. And maybe Rumiko Takahashi. He's in good company.)
Now back to frivolity!

Blam said...

Thanks, AH. I'm not sure there's a higher compliment in life than having brought laughter to someone — intentionally, anyway.

Blam said...

Me, Wonder Woman, and Rumiko Takahashi walk into a bar... I really want to hear the rest of that joke.

Blam said...

I love your blog and I think you should post those past entries on thoughts you had about things...past.
I plan to, Joan; I'm stubborn that way. 8^) As for rapid-fire comments, I do get into a groove sometimes and if I had any reference point I'd probably say it's addictive. I also think that the level of "game" so many of Nikki's regulars have causes me to step up my own. You, Ms. Thing, are frickin' hysterical.

Joan Crawford said...

*This is to be read in James Brown's voice.

Watch out now! Keep calling me Ms.Thing and I may be forced to go on and get my groove back.

Excuse me, Miss, I am fairly certain you never had a "groove".

SonshineMusic i.e. Rebecca T. said...

I too am glad you joined the blogging world, Mr. Blam (you and your alter ego :)

I can't imagine Nikki's blog without your comments. And I always look forward to your comments on my own little piece of cyberspace.

I never would have guessed it was so difficult for you and I am so happy you felt open enough to share this with us.

And you definitely bring often hysterical laughter to my life on a regular basis :)

VW: humsiona - An affliction where you perpetually and helplessly hum.

Teebore said...

State of the Blog=Slog. I love it!

As a frequent migraine sufferer myself, I share that particular pain.

And I agree with Joan; the work you do, the voice you cultivate, here and elsewhere, comes off as utterly effortless (as well as humorous, intelligent and articulate, of course); you do indeed hide it well.

I hope you'll stick with me.

Indeed I shall!

Noah Berlatsky said...

Hey Brian. Don't know if you remember me; we were friends way back in Oberlin many years ago.

Anyway, it's good to hear what you've been up to, and that you're still working away despite your health troubles. Take care,

Noah