Year-End Meta 2021: The End Spaces. . .

“Everybody had a hard year / everybody had a good time”
– The Beatles, “I’ve Got a Feeling” (1969)

One of my many abandoned essays for The Middle Spaces in 2021 was an examination of the raw sketchy style Frank Santoro uses in his graphic memoir, Pittsburgh (2018), its relationship to memory, and how it evokes a haunting sense of place even as it defamiliarizes. As someone recently moved to Pittsburgh, I find it fascinating.

March 2022 will mark the beginning of the 10th year of The Middle Spaces. Sure, March 2023 will be the actual 10-year anniversary, but I guess I should get it out of the way and say, we’re probably not gonna make it that far.

As the epigraph suggests, I’ve been watching Peter Jackson’s Get Back documentary and thinking about the bittersweetness of endings. I love the Beatles. I’m glad the Beatles broke up when they did.

Regular readers may recall that the 2020 year-end meta post mentioned that I have been having a hard time getting any writing done. The strange thing is, I still have plenty of ideas I’d like to explore and write about—and not just comics, my original plans for 2021 was to write more about music and film and leave comics to guest writers—but I can’t seem to pull the trigger and get any real writing done.

There are a myriad of reasons for this fallow period. Pandemic depression, ongoing family health issues, and most of all, I think my final exit from the world of academia has had more of an influence on my feelings regarding doing this work than I thought it would. And to be honest I am not sure I know what I want to do next.

When I began The Middle Spaces, it was a place to do some side writing about my ideas and what I was reading while I worked on my dissertation. I was all energy and ideas back then and in order to stay focused on my dissertation work I needed an outlet for all the other things that kept itching the back of my head despite not fitting into that project. Later, while on the academic job market to find a position in my field, The Middle Spaces was a great place to continue my work amid the tortoise pace of academic publishing and making my belief in the importance of public scholarship manifest by both doing it and by facilitating guest posts by other academics and fan-scholars. It also was a great outlet for me to write about ideas that would come to me while teaching, and more than once experiences or texts from the classroom would find their way into my essays (like here and here), which helped make these two kinds of academic work feel connected as they fed off each other. I know some academics seem to hate teaching and definitely resent having to teach comp or some other course outside their specific field (and come to resent their students in the process), but for me teaching, however onerous it might often be, felt like a font of renewal—a place where teaching and exploring ideas with young minds consistently gave me stuff to chew on.

One of the recent comics I have been enjoying digging into. My copy is signed by Kelly Sue DeConnick. Now I just need to corner Phil Jimenez somewhere and get him to do the same.

I may not have realized until this very moment how deep the connection between this work and my work in the classroom really was—and that now that I am trying to change directions career-wise and life-wise, the relative ease with which I started and developed essays for this site (or for academic publishing) has faded away because of that change. Simply being a part of an academic environment really inspired my work, even as that same environment increasingly made me feel under-appreciated, unwanted, overworked, and unlikely to ever advance careerwise. I don’t mean to suggest that none of my own personal choices didn’t potentially contribute to not getting on that coveted tenure track—I didn’t chase after one- or two-year postdocs that’d have me moving around the country, for example—but I also feel that living my values means not upending my life and that of my partner and my family for some job that will very likely wring out my last ounce of dignity and will to live.

Sigh. This year-end meta post is not meant to be an example of “academic quit lit,” so I’ll move on from musing on reasons why academia has lost its juice for me. The point is just accepting that it has and moving on.

You may wonder, if not writing for The Middle Spaces and not working a full-time job, what­—aside from looking for a job—have I been doing with my time for the last year? Well, I have not stopped reading comics, that’s for sure, but as a strong believer in following up with where your interests happen to go, I have been diving headfirst into gaming. As some of you may know, I have enjoyed role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons since I was a kid. I had not run a game in a decade, but when I moved to Pittsburgh a local friend talked me into starting up a campaign and then once the pandemic struck and remote play was required, I started a second game with friends all over the country. Later, I published a D&D themed ‘zine entitled HOW I RUN IT, emulating one of my hobby outlets from back in the 90s (when I published a zine about my homebrew game setting, entitled Thoth’s Libram) and then got really into painting miniatures and building terrain. (You can follow my HOW I RUN IT Instagram account for a glimpse of that, if you’re interested).

I have been considering starting some kind of ongoing D&D-related project, maybe a You Tube channel or a different blog. But aside from the zine (which is meant to provide tools for actually running a game, not a critical analysis of gaming or gaming products), I did not follow through because of the amount of work, and because I don’t want to make the one thing bringing me regular pleasure and satisfaction during what otherwise feels like a low point into another form of scheduled drudgery to be endured, transforming a beloved hobby into a dead weight in my limbs and head. It is not that I don’t have thoughts about D&D and other RPGs and how they intersect with my typical subjects of identity, race, gender, collecting culture, et. al, but the very idea of writing about them or doing the necessary research to take a scholarly pose in exploring them is exhausting. I just want to play and have fun and run the kind of inclusive games I want to see in the world but with the old school approach I prefer and to help others do the same. I may still do an e-newsletter on that running D&D games theme, but it’d be a far cry from something like Analog Game Studies and definitely not “The Middle Spaces for gaming.”

The first three issues of my D&D-themed zine, HOW I RUN IT.

Speaking of, back to The Middle Spaces…

Those who pay close attention might know that I aim for 25 new posts on The Middle Spaces every year. And most years we have gotten in that ballpark or even surpassed the number. In 2021, however, the site only had 11 new posts and I only wrote two of them (including this one) and conducted one interview. The other eight were written by guest writers or our regular contributor, Nicholas Miller.

I am grateful for these contributions since something I have not lost my enthusiasm for is editing and responding to the work of others. And the only way I can imagine The Middle Spaces continuing would be through a substantial increase in the number of viable submissions from other writers. That said, however, my efforts to recruit more guest posters and foster relationships towards regular contributors have mostly been a bust (including the round tables, calling for contributors using academic listservs, paying writers more, and just reaching out through networks of colleagues to spread the word, especially among graduate students who could use some writing practice and honest feedback). I don’t say that to try to guilt people into writing for the site but as a simple statement of fact. I know people are busy and have other priorities. Also, I have pretty high standards for the writing on this site and being able to pay twenty-five, fifty, or even 100 dollars for a guest post is not always (if ever) sufficient compensation for the work that goes into that writing. I love paying folks to write for us but it is just not happening enough to make the site worth maintaining without my own work to take up the slack.

What happens next?

This is my call to action: since I plan to shutter The Middle Spaces in December 2022 (transforming the site into an archive), this is your last chance to have something published on The Middle Spaces and I’d love this final year to feature work from both returning favorites and newcomers alike wanting to participate while they still have a chance. It’d be fantastic to have 2022 feature at least one new post every month to close out this project—but since I can’t promise to be able to write even one of them, I can’t really anticipate that others would be willing to do so as well­—though I would be delighted to help others make that happen.

I guess I could have just used the occasion of this year-end post to shut the site down immediately, but I want the chance for one last great year to round out the decade’s worth of work. I want time to reach out to potential writers with one final opportunity to contribute to the site’s legacy. We’ll see. It may be that 2022 will be as barren a year post-wise as 2021 was (not that what we did publish in 2021 wasn’t fantastic because all the guest posts were as sharp and thoughtful as ever), but I haven’t given up complete and total hope that we can go out on a high note.

What does this mean for The Middle Spaces Patreon?

Our patreon supporters have been crucial in keeping this site going and growing. And it is my hope that with the little TMS nest egg Patreon made possible, I can continue to pay to keep the site ad-free for another 10 years at least. I do plan to keep the Patreon going throughout 2022. While some of the goals will have to be changed or removed (not much point in re-designing the site if it is going to shut down, for example), I plan to fulfill benefits throughout the last year and hope people will just be generous enough to keep giving, helping me out as I make this transition. That said, I totally understand if anyone wants to cancel their monthly pledge in light of this news.

So, is there a future beyond 2022 for The Middle Spaces?

Cancel Christmas (Web of Spider-Man #7 – October 1985 – cover by Ron Wilson and Brett Breeding)

One project I am considering, and will be looking into the logistics of producing during 2022 to announce for 2023, is some kind of The Best of the Middle Spaces print anthology using Kickstarter to raise the funds. As a part of that project I would not only revisit some of my favorite and/or most popular posts but would reach out to some guest writers in hopes they’d be willing to do the same for their essay published on the site in the previous 10 years. I’ve had more than one person suggest this course of action to me in the past, but I have always been hesitant because the internet is littered with the corpses of failed Kickstarters. I had a similar hesitation when it came to starting a Patreon. And while the Patreon was certainly successful enough to cover the cost of keeping the site ad free and paying contributors an honorarium, it was never as successful as I’d hoped in order to improve and customize the site and pay people (including myself) a little more. I don’t plan to try a Kickstarter book project unless I have a strong sense of having the support I need to see it through and fairly compensate everyone who contributes to it.

Keep an eye on this space for any announcements about such a project, if it should come to be (probably at the end of the coming year).

“And in the End. . .”

Finally, I want to thank everyone who has visited the site, shared posts, contributed, given me feedback, and has supported the Patreon. Ultimately, The Middle Spaces would not be what it is without you. And I hope that you’ll continue to return as we close out this era.

From the cover of Christmas with the Super-Heroes #2 (1989). Cover art by: Stephen DeStefano & Larry Mahlstedt.

HAPPY NEW YEAR (& TO HELL WITH THE LAST ONE)!

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