In September 2012, I was working on my first major assignment at Tranquil Shores. About halfway through, one of the questions wasn’t really a question; it just said to draw an image of powerlessness. Fuck that. (This was around the time that I had just started to sort of sometimes enjoy art). I skipped the question for the time being and went to the next. “Powerlessness can creep into how you feel about yourself. If you were painting a portrait of yourself today, how would it look? Do you go to bed or wake up with feelings of shame or grief? What about the things you’ve wanted to accomplish that remain undone? What feelings do you have when your actions go against what you know is right? Share the way you really feel about yourself today. Paint with words a self-portrait of your inner feelings.”
Here’s how I answered (on 9/11/12):
If I were painting a self-portrait of my inner feelings today, it wouldn’t look quite like my inner feelings. I feel a little too okay right now and – as we all know – only art born of anger, discontent, self-loathing, misery, pain, poverty, and/or shit is worth anything. So whatever I painted would be too contrived to be any good. Unless I successfully recalled some darker moments and managed to displace my current sort-of-pleasant state of mind.
I don’t usually wake up with shame. Well… sometimes. I always did when I was using (or a lot anyway). The things I want to accomplish will be fairly simple if I stay clean. Well, making another Troublemake record will be. Maybe not becoming at peace with myself and the world. Fuck, but I do sometimes act contrary to my intentions and then I feel really stupid, foolish, and inferior. Like when half of the things I say in a day (okay, less than that) can be heard escaping my mouth. That hurts. But generally, I feel enthused and intelligent. (I hate having to say good things about myself or about how I’m feeling though). It makes me feel self-conscious. And then less of whatever I was feeling before I said it (particularly when it comes to positive attributes). I’m definitely far more concerned with how others will perceive me than I have been at any other point in my life. I can’t feel good about myself and say it without it disappearing or at least fading.
Sometimes I feel confident, appreciated, (relatively) important, or even powerful (in some sort of sense) but the moment I acknowledge it, I feel insecure, discouraged, hurt, and lonely – which I soak in until those feelings morph into hopelessness, anger, apathy, and recklessness – which I use to ruin everything and ruin myself. Eventually, I feel outright hateful (though I direct most of it inward, at myself).
Maybe I don’t have to fake it after all… Maybe I’m really not in great emotional shape and I can paint a really awful self-portrait. I guess I could say… “I’m a bit miserable – not coming apart at the seams; things aren’t as bad as they seem but they ain’t much better…”
If I’m not always totally aware of these things, I’m at least thoughtful, but I’m also prone to confusion, self-doubt, and depression. It can be a little volatile. I’m a little volatile. My strongest “inner feeling” is instability. I don’t feel stable.
I finished answering all of the written questions within two weeks, but it wasn’t until October 2nd that I finally went back and drew the image of powerlessness that I needed to call the assignment complete.
I drew this on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, I was pulled aside and told that I was being discharged. I was getting kicked out of my third treatment facility that year. It was raining. I had no way to get anywhere and nowhere to go anyway. Someone gave me a little bit of money to help get me wherever I might decide to go. I spent the next couple hours arguing with myself: whether or not I should use it to go to a shooting range where, for twenty-five dollars, I could get my hands on a gun, put a bullet in my head, and just be done with it.
In my answer to the “self-portrait” question, I quoted a song. As I drew my image of powerlessness, I had another song on my mind. Here are both.
“Sorry Sam” by The Slow Death
I wake up in the warm sun on a folded out futon. Get some water from the bathroom sink and try to figure out what happened to me. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I spent my nights forgetting, my afternoons regretting, all the stupid things I said and everything I should have done instead. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I’m a bit miserable, not coming apart at the seams. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, but they ain’t much better.
“Wrong” by Off With Their Heads
Sit back and let me tell you about the sadness, about the beast that’s been gnashing its teeth trying to destroy me. It rears its head every time I’m alone. In the middle of the night, if you don’t answer your phone, it snarls at me. It hides underneath my bed and it sinks its teeth in every corner of my head. Don’t try to stop it, don’t try to control it, don’t try to defeat it, don’t try to console it – it’s unstoppable and it’s a part of me. Your best bet is not to get too close to me. Stay the fuck away, stay out of its reach or it will poison you like it’s been poisoning me. It tells me what I’m supposed to say and it controls every move that I make. You’ve got me all wrong. It’s not “the real me” screaming you away – it’s that selfish sadness ruining every day. Everything is wrong.
- “Sorry Sam” comes from The Slow Death’s 2011 album, “Born Ugly, Got Worse,” on Kiss of Death Records.
- “Wrong” comes from Off With Their Heads’ 2008 album, “From the Bottom,” on No Idea Records. (Though it was originally released as “I Hate My Stupid Ass and I Hope I Get in a Car Accident Tonight” on the band’s 2007 split 7-inch with Dukes of Hillsborough, on ADD Records).
- 5¾x4″ prints of “Nothing Helps” are available in my webstore.
- If you’re interested in purchasing the original drawing, send me an email.