A decade before “Shrek” hit theatres, I discovered the incredible tweenage feeling of getting the reference.
I’d just gotten into comic books, and all the cool kids were telling me that I should go back and read the Phoenix Saga. Legendary X-Men writer Chris Claremont told the story over many issues: A core character appeared to die in a space-travel accident, but then popped back up with firey new powers and started going by the name “Phoenix.” By the end–spoiler alert–she’d repeatedly died, transformed, and/or come back to life.
Get it? “Phoenix,” like the ancient Greek myth! And she does what phoenixes do! It’s an allusion!
Recognizing this made me feel not only like I was cool and mature, but that comic books were, too. Every lavish illustration of the Phoenix Force, a space-faring firebird, and its human avatar inspired awe and kicked ass in equal measure. When I went to aviation camp in the summer after seventh grade, I took a journal I’d made myself, including a hand-painted phoenix on the cover.
But I soon realized this wasn’t exactly a deep cut. Your typical high-schooler would get about four panels into the Phoenix Saga and think, Ah, I can’t wait for her to repeatedly die, transform, and/or come back to life. In college, I got dragged to an open-mic poetry reading–and when a fellow student described the memory of her grandfather “rising from the ashes,” I mentally begged her not to say “like a phoenix” a hundred times in the instant before she did.
Ugh, could she be more clichéd? I was already dying of cringe, and that line took me out.
But twenty years later, I got my first tattoo: A phoenix.
On July 5th, 2021, I took my first dose of Adderall and started writing. With an eye toward maybe doing that newsletter thing everyone’s doing, I blogged my heart out. A few weeks later, I launched Gimme Schalter, writing often about how taking my mental and physical health seriously–and recognizing and treating my ADHD–was doing wonders for me personally and professionally. A few months later, I wrote about turning 40 in the best shape of my adult life.
I played indoor soccer all winter long, took up sporadic attempts at yoga, dipped my toe into a panoply of #content-creating pursuits like TikTok and had tons of fun (if not tons of success). I buckled down on years-overdue home-improvement tasks, helped re-do our kitchen. My drumming improved, to the point where I started picking up paid gigs. I was able to pay more and better attention to our kids, who were all growing and maturing into happier post-lockdown lives. I started wearing my beard shorter and my hair in braids. I kept doubling down on Liking Things without shame or hesitation. I kept liking the guy I saw in the mirror more and more.
I also kept seeing…foreshadowing. Weird little coincidences, like a local used-car lot getting in this gorgeous Pontiac Firebird from the year I was born:
accelerates, handles, and guzzles fuel like a dump truck--but LOOK at it
As the weather warmed up, GLOS commissioner Dean Jong called me up and asked me if I’d like to captain my own team. In return for making sure people showed up and acted cool, I’d get to pick the team name. The answer jumped out of my mouth: “Firebirds.”
It was a motley crew of free agents; I only knew one person on the initial roster. But we instantly clicked, on and off the field. I tried to set a tone of fun and inclusion, and everyone was super into it. I even got my notoriously team-sports-averse wife to give it shot–and she loved it, too. We all agreed this was officially A Thing Worth Keeping Going. I made a team crest, and then a team Twitter account:
The sharp-eyed among you might note that I now appear to be in significantly better shape than what was, a year ago, “the best shape of my adult life.” Indeed, I am–and it feels amazing. Just one year after feeling like I had failed, or was failing, at everything I cared about, I was physically, mentally, and emotionally transformed.
All summer long, the thought kept occurring to me: I am finally the adult my dorky tween self wanted to grow up to be.
Before school started, our youngest urged the family to start binging “Ink Master” together, and we did. Before long, my wife and I started trading knowing looks: She’d long been sitting on an idea for her third tattoo, and I’d been sitting forever on the idea of getting my first. It was time.
Just a couple of days after I started looking for local artists, Crain’s Detroit reporter Dustin Walsh posted his fresh, stunning, jellyfish tattoo. I knew I wanted whoever did that to do my phoenix.
Dustin pointed me toward Brandon Inman at Splash of Color, whose blend of art nouveau and neotraditional styles is 1000% my jam. Thankfully, Brandon was into it–and he put up with my way-too-wordy emails about symbols of transformation, sudden clarity, etc. He also had a colleague, Mikayla Dull, who could ace my wife’s idea, and had parallel availability so we could get them at the same time.
In the end, I gave Brandon the basic elements and colors and let him go as big and bold as he wanted:
two sittings, eight hours, all worth it
It was so much better than I ever could have imagined, and yet exactly what I wanted. Brandon continually asked for (and was open to) input, kept making sure I was comfortable, and just generally knocked it the hell out of the park. I was an anxious mess before, during, and after, both because I wanted it to be everything and because it clearly was going to be.
My friend Lauren Bajek called it “very beautiful,” “nerdy as hell,” and “like a 90s fantasy book cover”–and both my inner tweenage self and outer current self couldn’t be happier with it.
I usually use ‘Everything Awesome’ to promote great creative work that I think people like me might enjoy–work like the kinds of stories and articles you’ll find in Uncanny Magazine, the SFF mag edited by the Thomases, or the books and blogs of Jim C. Hines.
But this week I’d like to start by promoting Hines’s fundraiser for end-of-life care for the Thomases’ daughter, Caitlin, whose Aicardi Syndrome has led to unrecoverable complications. If you’re into the SFF short-fiction scene, you’re surely familiar with the Thomases’ work, and quite likely familiar with their fierce advocacy for (and joyful celebration of) Caitlin.
Raising a child into adulthood is hard enough, and doing so while dealing with high care needs is harder yet. Staying by her side through 51 consecutive days of hospitalization, and then making preparations to say goodbye? It’s a challenge no parent should have to meet–and certainly not without all possible help.
Grayson, a veteran video-game reporter with a forthcoming book about streamers (“STREAMERS: Fame, Fortune, and Burnout Behind the Scenes”), took a deep dive into Twitch’s refusal to pony up the industry semi-standard , evenue split of 70/30.
Besides getting Twitch Chief Monetization Officer Mike Minton on the record about it, Grayson does a great job of explaining how Twitch is trying to save face with the people who make the content they monetize, while simultaneously trying to take more of the money that content generates.
As games writer and PR pro Sam Greszes pointed out, though, Twitch is owned by trillion-dollar company Amazon, which in turn is owned by hundred-billionaire Jeff Bezos–who, as Grayson is forced to note in the article, also owns The Washington Post. Ah, the wild world of trying to make money in digital media.
I stumbled across this on Twitter this week, and what a rabbit hole it is. Issendai, a writer and editor with a variety of niche interests (as, of course, many writers have), did the bulk of this work in 2014 and 2015 as part of their research into the psychology of narcissism.
The entry point is gripping: Forums full of older adults commiserating over the fact that all their adult children won’t talk to them anymore. As Issendai found, they swap stories, trade pointers, console each other and vent their spleens about their ungrateful kids who cut them off for no good reason (and often, in the process, making it clear that there definitely were good reasons!).
As anyone who has any first-, second-, or even third-hand experience with this will be gripped. Fortunately, Issendai has linked each of their small articles on each aspect of the issue in sequence, so you can click the orange button on through to the next as soon as you’re finished with the first one.
Exploring the relationships between sports, emotions, fandom, and identity was the raison d'etre for the Detroit Lions blog that started my writing career–and Mike Payton is an old friend from the primordial Lions-blogosphere soup.
This piece starts with a delightful little expectation-subversion, and features an interview with a clinical and sports psychologist about how something like a favorite player changing teams can hurt just like getting dumped.
It’s almost November again, which means it’s almost time to buckle back down on CODEX 17 and finish the dang thing. Updates soon.