A Year of Distance

Sleep is now a three-hour event. Twice per night on good ones, many aimless wee hours in between. Often, I don’t bother going back to bed. (cue Tyler Durden …)

372 days ago, I ate in an empty restaurant for my parents’ anniversary, already a sketchy endeavor at that time. Public dining, I mean. My beloved Chiefs had recently celebrated their first Super Bowl victory in 50 years with mass public gatherings that would soon be prohibited.

Since my pandemic experience resembles many of yours, I’ll skip the tedious details. I’ve been fortunate for 1) continuous employment and 2) living alone. Those are also my biggest stressors, but there’s no oxygen right now for such gripes when mere survival tops everyone’s bucket list. That you cared enough to click this truly warms my heart, and if I have a point here—other than narcissism and obsessive listmaking—it’s to encourage checking in on those we take for granted. Maybe that’s your extended family, friends who rarely post personal updates, service providers, or even the purveyors of your favorite doodles. Sometimes we need to be asked how we’re doing, too. If the relationship autopilot is still functioning after this long … consider some in-air maintenance. Even metaphors get exhausted.

Early on, people were either hyper-connected or off-grid. It took a month to receive word that a cousin died of the virus, and about half the relatives I know contracted and recovered from it at various points. For many not in imminent danger, lockdown felt like being away at camp. “I’m wired for this,” I would tell folks, having lived alone for twenty years of self-amusement, with more unread books than remaining life expectancy. Plus the tools and flexibility to work largely from home. We held online gaming nights, walk-n-talk meetings debating recent streaming binges, even attempted some small outdoor gatherings.

What did I watch this year? Probably the same shows as you. Schitt’s Creek, The Mandalorian, Ted Lasso, Cobra Kai, Raised By Wolves, Upload, The Good Lord Bird. No interest in Tiger King, though, nor any of the so-called reality or talent shows on network. I loved shotgunning all four seasons of the Battlestar Galactica reboot, unlike my brutal wait between episodes the first time around. I’m currently catching up on the past decade of The Simpsons since football has dominated Sundays (including another Chiefs Super Bowl campaign). My favorite watch was a special on Hulu called In & Of Itself, entertaining and affecting. Of course you can imagine how Pixar’s Coco wrecked me, given the nature of this post. My brother’s (executive producer) film Saint Frances won both the Audience Award and Breakthrough Voice at SXSW the previous year, and is up for an Independent Spirit as well. It tackles tough topics warmly and with a light touch. Despite universal acclaim, 2020 meant they were deprived of a theatrical run, being distributed on demand instead, now widely available.

After a month of serenades from other shut-ins, I felt an obligation to entertain as well, and performed a medley of my favorite childhood TV themes, with the lyrics “Weird Al”-ed into various disturbing misremembered soundalikes. Y’all know I’m no singer, and it’s pretty tricky swapping lyrics in real time that you’ve been humming for forty years while making your hands do something else and maintaining a semblance of camera awareness. Your enthusiastic response caught me by surprise, as did demand for a second volume. That one was tougher because I had to learn its music from scratch and replace some broken keys under the hood.

Productivity hasn’t been an issue this year; it’s creativity. I’ve got enough new lyrics for two albums (or one good one) but haven’t written a note of music yet to go with any. Given a topic and a perspective, I can craft artful phrases on command. But the music—the notes—those have to come from someplace more inspired, currently stunted by lack of new life experience. The last thing I wanna hear right now is another friggin’ pandemic-themed tune. (I did write one, titled “Greetings from Fort Riley,” but it’s about 1918.)

While treading water musically and avoiding household chores, it dawned on me that I’d never bothered notating my original songs. At best, some chicken-scratches to get through their recording, because most haven’t been performed beyond that. I completed most of the *cough* notable ones, 27 down so far. Transcribing yourself is such an odd exercise, and I discovered some tendencies in the process. Apparently my favorite key is G-minor, in which you could perform an entire Deep Purple set, or keep the B-flat orchestra kids happy.

Home-improvement projects continue slipping down the list. My only real accomplishment was some studio declutter by installing drawers with plucked foam, and reorganizing bookshelves to permit future acquisitions in my favorite genres.

Good news: I haven’t been sick in over a year! Bad news: I needed a lot of dental work even before this whole thing began, still unaddressed because I wouldn’t feel safe during such long procedures, not to mention the certain backlog that will await after choosing a new dentist. My history with grille docs could fill a book. One recommended steroids. Another got busted in a meth ring. Yeah, the supply/demand joke writes itself.

On my 18th anniversary at Sprint, I became a T-Mobile employee. This complex merger landed me on a team where I split time between video production and emerging learning technology. For example, my morning might be spent animating and narrating, and my afternoon developing the platform where it will be delivered. Our progressive culture is something I’m very proud of, and has helped through many tough stretches of the pandemic and civil unrest, confronting issues head-on while devoting the necessary energy to help alleviate them. It’s frustrating how “essential worker” changed once vaccinations became available.

Because work requests continue pouring in through the evenings, I’ve adopted a west-coast schedule and delay my mornings to compensate. Had someone told me I’d only set my alarm clock a handful of times in one year, I’d say that sounded like paradise, yet insomnia is the result because it feels like working second shift. Once I’m back in the office regularly, I’ll end this practice. Speaking of, those buildings are newly remodeled, and our video production complex is damned impressive, including an extended-reality studio with LED walls/flooring, which combines lens data with videogame-engine rendering to position the background and maintain perspective in real time. This allows us to shoot the final composite in-camera instead of using a greenscreen then figuring it out later. It’s much like this, though we swapped out some components.

Early summer, my aunt and uncle visited, getting tours of KC’s fine barbecue and outdoor-recreation superstores. I had previously cancelled July plans for a reciprocal hometown trip. About the best I could manage was helping my sister shop online for an acoustic guitar.

If you mostly know me through creative work, I’ve probably never mentioned genealogy. Hours spent on that in recent years dwarf other projects, 2020 most interestingly of all, because I organized a private Facebook group for some of them, allowing me to share findings with more than just a handful of people, while putting them into interesting or amusing historical contexts, and getting feedback. As part of that, I created over 100 unique family trees in the cloud, with photo galleries for as many as possible. A distant cousin from Germany even provided entries from the village directory back to the 1700s to confirm and correct findings.

Subscribing to archival newspaper services enlightened me more than anything else, from high-school athletic supremacy or bravery in crises to romantic elopements, juvenile misadventures, or incarceration. Even found a branch of previously unknown cousins who’d lived nearby back home. And another cousin I’d previously called godmother, being my uncle’s wife. Turns out my dad and his brother both married women from the same ancestor. Further back, I discovered a trio of brothers who all married sisters in the same pecking order. Can you imagine the pressure of being the youngest?

I’ve continued attempting to reach out to newfound distant relatives from many branches, with varying results. Many are intensely interested … for brief periods. Others know so little that I end up doing all the sharing and learning not much. Emotions can run high from discoveries of events from generations ago. I’ve submitted my DNA and am awaiting those results, expecting more confirmations than surprises, and hoping to connect with others who’ve done the same.

October 6, my lifelong musical hero Edward Van Halen crossed over to the great gig in the sky. His influence being evident in my playing and songwriting and impossible to capture in words, this essay attempt linked below required 7000 of them. Van Halen was the soundtrack to so many of my life events, this became an autobiography of sorts, should any mystery still remain. Six months later I still find myself down YouTube rabbit-holes of vault treasures.

Edward Van Halen: a fanboyography

This week I finally polished up this site. Dumped the audio player entirely, so those selections are functioning again and now just open in new browser tabs. Nixed links that went 404, mourning each while welcoming others. The updates most worth your time are under the Visual category up top, like the Graphic Design page with its new Memes section where I’ve curated some of my favorite silly Photoshop creations. Even if they look familiar, click through for the large versions, because they’re often crops of collages. I even GIFed a few of my ancient sites so you can experience how they functioned back then! It’s been a while since I’ve done any serious Photography, but I added more amateur Snapshots to that page for fun.

Speaking of offline sites, CDBaby is no more, so if you’re still looking for a physical copy of Finding the Light, you’ll have to get it directly from me. (CD is that hot format kids are talking about, like miniature vinyl with digital quality.)

Holy flashback, Batman, I just reread this 1993 paper where I basically predicted the current industry 28 years ago! For context, I’d recently seen my first burned CD-R at a cost of $25.
Electronic Distribution and Its Effect on the Music Business (PDF)

I’d written another about virtual reality for the same class, unfortunately inspired by The Lawnmower Man. A couple of years ago when the price dropped, I got a VR headset and Move controllers for my PlayStation. We’d been creating some virtual reality experiences at work, and I wanted to see what else was possible. Was hooked immediately, suspending disbelief and feeling like I was inside the game environment itself, peeking around corners, 3D audio moving along with my head. Cockpits, escape-room puzzles, sea diving, lightsabers, vacation simulators, etc. Total blackout makes it especially effective for horror experiences. Often I find the immersion relaxing, but even without motion sickness, I only play in about 30-minute increments. Here are the best PSVR titles I picked up last year.

Well, that about does ’er, wraps ’er all up. Last month, I bought a ukulele (behave, and I promise you’ll never hear it). Friday, my parents received their first vaccine doses. And today, despite losing yet another overnight hour to something called Daylight Savings Time, I’m stepping out to witness some of this stuff we’re conserving.

EDIT: Nope, a rainy 48 degrees. Guess I’ll try again tomorrow.

NEXT DAY: Tornadoes on the ground nearby. Tub time.

About Gordon

Gordon Highland is the author of the novels Flashover and Major Inversions, with short stories in such publications as Word Riot, Black Heart, Noir at the Bar Vol. 2, and Warmed and Bound, among others. He lives in the Kansas City area, where he makes videos by day and music by night.
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3 Responses to A Year of Distance

  1. Shelia Patton says:

    I can’t believe you have done all of this, you have been super busy! And just to think that you and your parent’s stayed safe but you all did it all the right way and practiced safety. I am so proud of you for all you do and you are so awesome at it all, you are so amazing!!! Love you

  2. Julia Purnell says:

    Thank you for sharing. I’ve always loved your flow of words, and this is no different. Cherish your parents. I know you do but it’s worth stating. Take care friend!

  3. Roger Welp says:

    I always enjoy reading your blog and enjoyed hearing what all you’ve been up to of late. Btw- Thanks for the shout out! Many people have had more time to talk in 2020, leave it to us to actually be even busier than normal during the pandemic. Keep doing you brother! Stay healthy and safe. Talk soon.

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