The first time I ever decided to make art for its own sake, the results were… mixed. It was more than a year ago and at no point has it grown on me…
Maybe that’s for the best though – that I dislike it so much. Maybe it’s good for me to have to accept that the one piece of art that I can’t ignore – that I can’t leave out of my story – is one of which I’m totally embarrassed.
It’s (very seriously) insane just how much something like acknowledging that this painting exists can fuck with my emotional well-being. Sitting here typing this, I don’t … – I don’t want to type it. I hate it. But I’m doing it anyway. As imperfect as all of this is – it’s a good exercise in humility. I’m not perfect, my website isn’t perfect, my stories and artwork are not all uniformly fascinating. Sometimes I’m just okay.
Okay’s not so bad, I guess.
If you’d like to buy this painting, I would love to get it out of my home. Hit me up. (And remember: it’s got historical value).
One of the assignments given at Tranquil Shores is to make something representative of your higher power. Back in February, somebody tipped me off that there was a huge foamboard by the dumpster. I went to check it out and found it captioned (in stick-on letters), “My Higher Power.” I wouldn’t normally think anything of somebody tossing some project but – in this case… this person’s higher power was in the garbage. This person’s higher power was garbage. How great is that?
Anyway, I cut it up for “canvas” and over the course of the next couple weeks made a few new pieces by painting over the photos and other crap they had glued to it.
Aside from something I made in September 2012 that’s covered in song lyrics, this is the only thing I’ve ever made with text that I knowingly stole from somewhere else. (It’s from the chorus of “Mobbed By the 3s” by Toys That Kill). There’s just something about the phrase “shit’s perfect” that’s – well – perfect.
‘Cause it is perfect. Everything is. Good shit, bad shit, even literal shit – it’s all exactly as it’s supposed to be. And – on the other side of the coin – it just sounds snarky as fuck. Like, “Oh yeah, of course – shit’s perfect.”
This was an assignment at the end of group one day. I forget the specifics, but I think it pretty much amounted to “here’s the outline of your brain – fill it in.”
While everything here is rooted in truth, there’s obviously a self-deprecating humor underlying it all.
I started to write up a statement but so much felt redundant when taken in conjunction with a lot of my other writing that’s already online here. Since it’s really sort of an index of my brain anyway though, I decided to use this entry as a sort of directory. In the course of compiling it, however, I came to realize a few things…
First, I’m great at pointing out those weaknesses of mine that make me sympathetic (lovable), but am significantly less inclined to open up and and shine a spotlight on my more deplorable faults and flaws. Especially when it comes to dishonesty, manipulation, or anytime I’ve caused another person harm.
Second, when it comes to the things that have really hurt me: same problem. Hurts that I’ve conquered, I’ll talk about all day long because it feels like victory – but the things that really left a scar: not so much. I’m embarrassed by them and they make me feel weak. (This is especially true of events from childhood that now seem petty or trivial).
Third, for a recovering heroin addict that still thinks about heroin on a daily (if not hourly) basis, I don’t seem to ever write about heroin, except in the past tense, like when I’m telling a story.
Fourth, while I’ve shared more of my thoughts on it than a lot of people ever will, I’m still pretty meek when it comes to writing about sex – at least relative to my approach to lots of other socially taboo subjects.
Anyway, here’s the little directory I put together with regard to each “segment” of my brain, as depicted in this drawing from December, although a few are either curiously thin or entirely absent…
Lovesickness (girls, relationships, and associated consequences)
This… what you’re reading right now… the fact that I’m still making this fucking list when I know that I really ought to stop, elaborate on the things that warrant elaboration and not just keep thinking up pieces that fall under each of these headings. But I’ve made it this far and I don’t want to feel like this was all for nothing….
It was at this point that I paused and rewrote the introduction to this entry so as to include the things I learned about myself in the course of “curating” this directory. Although, remember – you can always use the search box at the bottom of every page to find content related to whatever you might be interested in. The tags just below the title of each entry can be useful too, although I haven’t always done a great job of using them as well as I really should. (I know of at least one tag that’s never been misapplied to an unrelated entry though)…
This entry is TOTALLY two to three hours past due but I was locked out of the site for a few hours on account of all the super 1337 h4x0r5 that have been fucking up my shit (and my webhost’s server) these last few days. I’m just glad they weren’t able to do any serious damage, so I’m not gonna bum out over the little stuff.
In early November, Alexis and I were “just friends” but it was obvious that something was going on. We walked into the room laughing, toward some empty chairs near Delia. “So when are you two going to get married?” she asked. “Pffft… What are you talking about? We’re just friends,” I said as we sat down. Alexis turned and whispered in my ear: “So… when are we going to get married?” I smiled. At this point, that kind of flirting was still a bit of a lapse in our usual insistence (even to one another) that this was a strictly platonic friendship. “Hmm…That’s a pretty serious commitment. I might need some time to think about it.”
A few minutes into the meeting, I motioned her in a little closer. “Okay, so here’s the deal,” I whispered in her ear, “We’re not allowed to be in relationships until we’ve had a year clean, right? So we can’t date until next August… Recovery: twelve steps, the last of which is “helping other addicts,” which is why – you know – the joke about fucking someone you meet in recovery is “the thirteenth step.” So – from that – you could say that the fourteenth step is getting married. So… 12, 13, 14: December 13th, 2014. By then, we’ll have known each other for two and a half years, in which we got our year clean, started dating, and then spent a year and a half together as a couple. 12-13-14.” I pulled back from her ear with a smile to see her reaction. She loved it. She looked giddy.
Alexis: I love you. I wish we could communicate like before but I guess this is how It’s supposed to be. I’m sorry for being a shit but I’ve been working out my own demons. It isn’t easy on my own but I’m managing. Will I get to see you again?
Sam: You can see me pretty much anytime you want to.
A: That’s not true. I can’t leave the county. Have you talked to Tracy since you left [Tranquil Shores]?
[Tracy was my counselor, as well as hers]
S: I didn’t leave. I was just desperate to get you to open up. And I was hurt and angry – feeling like you had locked me out. Feeling unloved, neglected, and rejected. So I was probably trying to fuck with you a little bit. To get a reaction out of you and get you to call me back for once. I’m sorry for doing that.
A: So you didn’t leave? You LIED TO ME? Played mind games?
S: Yes. And not that there’s any excuse for it, but that’s what I felt like you were doing to me when you’d disappear for four days. Or lie to me and promise that you’d call me at a certain time and then ignore my calls and just text me a day later. But like I said, two wrongs don’t make a right. You’re going through your own shit, I’ve got my shit. So – yeah – I’m sorry. I was hurt and desperate to get you to talk to me.
A: This is what our relationship has become?
S: Lexi, I didn’t do this alone. You can’t put it all on me. You practically ended our relationship on New Year’s Eve when you disappeared all week and then refused to tell me anything about what’s going on.
A: What have you been going through?
S: There was this girl that I was totally crazy for. We met up one night and I told her how much I loved her. She told me how much she loved me and how she knew it was for real. And I was so happy. I couldn’t wait to see her again. We made plans for NYE but she never called me back. And then, when she did – days later – she wouldn’t tell me anything about what was going on. But I knew something serious was happening because she also stopped going to groups and seeing her counselor (who she had always seemed to love). I didn’t know what was up, but I was terrified for her. Because I loved her and cared about her so much. Even a week later, she was still being spotty and still wouldn’t tell me what was going on. I would have told her anything but she wouldn’t tell me even one thing. It got to be more than I could handle. It hurt too much, worrying about what this girl was going through and at the same time dealing with the pain of being locked out by someone that I had bared my soul to and opened up in a way I never had before.
S: That’s what I was going through.
A: I’m not dead, Sam.
S: I know you’re not dead. But there were a few days where I was afraid you might be. And I’m still scared that you might be mixed up in something dangerous. But I’m not letting it get to me.
A: I’m here for you. Always.
S: Kid, I love you to death, but you can’t say that. You’re NOT always there for me. You won’t ever answer my calls or call me and you only respond to my texts half the time. But that’s okay. I accept that.
A: So because you’re assuming everything, that’s how you want us to be?
S: No. I want us to be partners. But I can’t always get what I want, so I’m settling for being your friend. To whatever extent you’ll allow me to be.
S: If I could, I’d see you every day. But if all you want from me is the occasional text, I’ll take what I can get.
A: We did see each other every day. We had that. I want to hear from you daily and see you.
S: Can I call you so we can talk for a minute?
A: Talk of what?
S: About whatever. I can just tell you about my weekend. I just like to hear your voice ’cause I miss you.
S: If you don’t want to talk on the phone, that’s fine. You don’t have to stop texting me just to avoid it.
S: Hey – by the way – did you see that picture of my Lexi tattoo?
A: What tattoo?
S: The ghost from the painting I made way back in October when I first started trying to figure out if I was in love with you or if I even knew what love was or if I was capable of loving someone. And – next to it – “14.” Because I did it on 1/2/13 (the same numbers in the same order as 12/13). So – you know – to complete the number: 12/13/14.
A: Where’d you tattoo it on your body? That’s seriously about me? Wow, Sammy.
S: It’s right above my right knee, in the only spot that I don’t ever patch on my jeans so that it’ll always show.
A: Where’s mine gonna be?
S: Wherever you want it to be. But you’d actually have to meet up with me to get it. Will I get to see you sometime this week?
A: Up until an hour ago, I thought you’ve been in Sarasota. I definitely crave and truly miss your energy. Why the ghost though?
S: In the painting?
S: This sound lame but (when I made it) it was because I felt possessed or haunted by doubt and uncertainty. And then (when I did the tattoo) – even though I didn’t doubt my feelings anymore and knew that I loved you – it made sense to reuse it. Not just because that was the first thing I painted about my feelings for you but also because I felt like you had disappeared. You were there one minute and gone the next. Like a ghost. Which was scary (like a ghost) because I thought you might be dead… like a ghost. And I was upset again – about something going on with us – just like i had been when I first painted it.
S: I miss you a ton, kid. I still think about you all the time. One of these days, you’ll have to let me come see you, or at least hear your voice. But it’s nice even just to text.
A: I’m laying in bed so I don’t sound cute right now. Sleepy and in pain.
S: You always sound cute but it’s okay if you don’t feel like talking. Sorry to hear you’re in pain. What hurts?
A: I pulled a muscle.
A: Think I may just be getting old.
S: Aw. I’m really sorry to hear that. I pulled a muscle in my arm that’s been hurting for a week now. Not bad though (sometimes not at all). I hope it feels better soon.
S: Yours, I mean. I hope YOURS feels better. Mine, I can manage.
A: Lol. You’re cute. We’re just linked and connected in some strange cosmic way I suppose. It feels good to talk to you. You make me feel at peace. It’s weird to explain.
S: You don’t have to explain a thing. Even if it’s just texting, you make me feel the same way. When I’m not losing my mind worried about you, you’re pretty much my favorite person on the planet.
S: And hopefully those days are done with. I’m gonna do my best to just hold it down and deal even if I can’t get in touch with you for days.
A: That’s where trust and faith come into play.
S: Yeah, you’re absolutely right.
A: Don’t lose your mind. And I couldn’t possibly be your favorite person. There are a lot more interesting people out there.
S: Well, you’ll have to introduce me to some of them then, I guess. I sure haven’t found them on my own.
A: Stop making me smile. It hurts.
S: So when I get my “vehicle” this week, you gonna let me come over and tattoo you?
A: What vehicle?
S: If I tell you, you promise not to make fun of me?
S: I’m getting a scooter. I should have it by Sunday. Not exactly a car, but it’s a start. Plus, I can paint it and cover it in stickers and stuff, so it’ll be REALLY, REALLY PUNK.
A: I love it. Fucking adorable and so totally punk.
S: So does this mean I can scoot on over and draw something under your skin?
A: I’m laying down now. It’s time I try to get back to a schedule of early bedtime, up early.
S: Okay, I should do the same.
A: I love you, Sammy. Sweet dreams.
S: Love you too, kid. Sleep tight.
If you’re reading that and thinking, “Nobody writes messages like that,” you’re half right. Mine are unedited but she writes messages like a normal human being (without “proper” capitalization/punctuation, with typos, etc.); so I changed that when I typed this up for… um… uniformity? Otherwise, it’s pretty much a straight transcript.
When asked about this tattoo, I don’t usually mention the girl – only that the ghost is my emblem for borderline personality disorder (as it came from an expressive art piece created in the midst of an episode / incident of particularly strong “symptoms” – and used in later pieces when I was either experiencing or commenting on the same). Both explanations are equally true (and very much related).
The first thing about this conversation that jumps out at me is the way I was trying so hard to be okay with what was going on, when I should have just turned my back and ran. She wasn’t in a good place and I had “fallen down” with girls in situations just like thisso many times.
Second: She says “That’s where trust and faith come into play” and I respond, “You’re absolutely right.” She was absolutely wrong insofar as she was suggesting that I should trust (and have faith in) her. And I knew that even then. But I chose to knowingly misunderstand her, which enabled me to agree with her. Because I did have trust and faith (or I was trying to have them anyway). Not in her – (she was obviously fucking up hard) – but in … everything, I guess. I was trying to believe that everything was happening exactly as it needed to (or – at the very least – the only way that it could happen). Whatever had happened so far, I was just hoping that she’d spin herself back into Tranquil Shores before shit got really bad.
My counselor said I seemed different today. It wasn’t a change for the better. If I had to name it, I’d call it “Defeat.” I haven’t surrendered but there’s this bit of quiet resignation in me. I fight for myself but I think there’s a part of me that doesn’t actually believe I can win. I work toward my goals, I work for the life I want (everyday — and all day). But these goals may not be attainable. They’re as conceptual as my “belief” in a higher power. They are tools that keep me moving — they give me a reason to live, but they might not exist beyond that. My destination may be farther away than I’m able to travel in this lifetime.
All day, I’ve been working on that ridiculously oversized drawing (the one I mentioned starting yesterday). I think I’ve put at least twelve hours into it so far. I might have problems.
Here’s the third of my nine learning-to-draw-with-charcoal “sketches” – the first four of which were done while sitting in a Narcotics Anonymous meeting. The drawing’s from January, but this statement is from May.
I saw someone selling paintings with flat-color backgrounds behind characters like Merle from “The Walking Dead.” “Are you fucking kidding me?” I thought. “What’s the value in (or purpose of) a fucking portrait of a television show character, with nothing added at all to even personalize it?” I was pretty contemptuous for someone that’s trying to be – you know – well. But I realized: I don’t know why that guy paints, I don’t know what he gets out of it, and it really doesn’t matter. Maybe he’s the artistic equivalent of a rock’n’roll cover band playing in some bar every night – and maybeI’m a judgmental little shithead who just started painting a few months ago and should shut the fuck up.
The only thing that’s certain in all of this is that none of it matters. None of it is important. I’m sure there are people that think a portrait of Merle is great and that everything I’ve ever made belongs in a landfill. They’re not wrong.
I don’t wanna be judgmental and there’s no logical criteria from which I can really judge anyway. So… “I shot heroin. You paint TV characters. Life is meaningless!”
Admittedly, the statement, “Life is meaningless!,” was on my mind because I had been revisiting my Nate Gangelhoff zines and he used the phrase (hysterically) in an imagined scene wherein executives greenlight the publication of a Mr. T comic book. That’s in the third issue of “You Idiot” but both of his books and all of his zines are really spectacular.
In 2011, when I was inpatient at Hazelden, I noticed something about myself: whenever we got a new patient, I’d behave just a little more “outrageously.” Like – the things that came out of my mouth were a little more shocking, absurd, or over the top. I very much had a need to let new people know that I was a character. And I realized that it wasn’t a new behavior; the settings varied, but I had been acting this way all my life.
That realization really upset me and I resolved to change immediately. I didn’t need anything else on my (already) long list of shit don’t like about myself. Some people responded well to those antics, but I’m sure there were plenty more that were thoroughly annoyed. Granted, treatment is the kind of intimate environment where – so long as you’re not totally shut down – people will learn to spot your bullshit and see through to “the real you” pretty quickly (whether they want to or not) and that meant the only real consequence of my acting out was to be initially disliked. [I remember deciding at one point that four to five days (for someone to come around and not hate me) was the standard rule]. Still, I didn’t wanna stomach that feeling for any days if I didn’t have to.
Once I’m comfortable somewhere, I can conduct myself more consciously; I can elect to play the clown or choose to be more authentic. But when I’m the new kid, I’m really shy, quiet, and usually lie silently as I absorb the dynamic. But I move fast. That “new-kid phase” is usually only twelve to twenty-four hours. After all, I’m pretty desperate for attention, pretty much all the time [as sad (and uncomfortable to admit) as that is].
About twenty-one hours after my arrival at Tranquil Shores, we’re taken to an arcade for our “community event.” In the van afterward, riding back, I asked about some of the past community events.
“We went to the roller rink, but probably for the last time. Debbie fell and cracked her head. There was blood everywhere, and kids, and…”
Holy shit! What a fantastic image! I pictured little kids slipping around a roller rink as a pool of blood spread across the floor. I couldn’t contain myself and shared my delight with my new peers. Everyone laughed and someone joked, “Nobody let this kid near any scissors.” I responded with mock indignation, “HEY – just ‘cause I like to roller skate sideways through blood – doesn’t make me a cutter.” That really cracked everyone up. I was pretty pleased with myself. (More so than was warranted but…)
Either way, I quickly discovered that it wasn’t going to take four or five days for these people to not hate me. I felt accepted, by both the clients and staff, almost immediately. And while there were certainly moments when I tested that acceptance (and consequently felt like a misfit or an outcast again) really, it only increased as my stay went on [the exact reverse of every past experience]. To this day, I’ve never felt more accepted or appreciated anywhere than I have at Tranquil Shores. And though that had very little to do with my dumb jokes, that moment in the van was when I first started to feel it.
Fast-forward eight months or so: I’m at Indie Market, feeling very notpleased with myself. The “skating sideways through blood” thing came to mind and I wanted to recapture the feeling of that day. I picked up my brush and started to paint, but it wasn’t going well. Nothing was looking as it had in my head and I was beginning to feel frustrated (to an absolutely irrational degree). But I was trying so hard to not be that way. I wanted so badly to be better and stronger than that. Instead of giving up entirely, I moved colors, distorted shapes, and started writing about art and my frustration with the commercial end. I had become incredibly prolific but nobody was buying my work; I felt like a factory, spewing shit no one cared about. And I had spent a bunch of money on frames, thinking they’d help “legitimize” my work in the eyes of strangers at Indie Market (and increase sales) but no one was buying anything. I was burnt out and annoyed with myself for posting every new piece of art on Facebook. It’d be one thing to shamelessly promote a product no one was interested in – it was worse that the product was (essentially) me.
I needed to sell my art it because someone told me I had “what it takes” to be an artist and I had allowed myself to believe them. I was afraid of letting them down and even more terrified that I was letting myself down – terrified of being wrong, of not having what it takes. In hindsight, it was all insane. I had only moved out of Tranquil Shores five or six weeks prior – and I had only started painting and drawing a few months before that. To have sold anything in that timeframe was fucking remarkable.
The last sentence (“It’s better than Cymbalta”): I don’t know if I really believed it as the letters formed on the canvas but – as soon as they had – I know that I did. That’s when I started to feel better. And – as if the universe was offering a direct rebuttal to all my negative thinking – within a few weeks I had sold eight paintings – including this one.
I’d say that, every so often, someone really ought to kick the shit out of me but I already do such a great job of it myself. But in my better moments, I dohave gratitude. I do see how lucky I’ve been. How blessed I am. I’m not sure exactly what that means, but I feel it and it’s real.
has borderline personality disorder and a heroin problem. In 2012, he got clean, discovered art, and traveled the country, painting and writing. Three years later, he went back to heroin and quit painting. He's currently hard at work trying to get clean or kill himself (depending on the day).