I could describe my day in a way that’d sound horribly tragic and it’d be totally true. Shit – I could frame my entire life in such a way that it’d sound really awful…
But… as much as I feel like a crybaby in this moment – as stressed as I am right now – I know that the other truth – the one in which my life is awesome and I’ve got nothing but good things to be grateful for… it’s a better story and it’s better for me. And like I said, it’s totally true.
So – with an eye toward focusing on the positive – check out how happy this kid is….
And that’s from just earlier today!
I posted that photo on Instagram a little bit ago with the caption: “The (former) police officer and the KING OF THE SUPER PUNKS had a few disagreements when they first met last January. But *today* Robert bought a painting from his friend, Sam, who happily posed for a photo before he parted ways with the piece, less than 48 hours after its completion.” That was after Robert had posted it on Facebook with the caption: “I am now the proud owner of an original Sammy ThrashLife canvas! He is an intelligent (went to law school) and talented artist I’ve had the pleasure to get to know; he creates edgy works via stream of consciousness and drawing upon his emotions at the time.”
And all of that’s really awesome. It means a whole, whole lot to me. This little art thing I do… it’s my life. It’s saved my life. It’s brought people into my life. It’s made me a better person. It’s made it all worthwhile.
It’s what I do when I’m feeling down – to pull me out of that and get me back to a better place… it takes me places I never used to go.
Here’s one of my very first pieces, from November of last year; I made it one night when I was feeling especially depressed and suddenly (well, by the time I finished it HOURS after I started) I wasn’t depressed anymore.
In the past, when I’d felt as I did that night, it was an occasion to do way too much heroin. A few times in an attempt to fatally overdose, other times to just not have to exist for a little while. But – you know – I was in rehab so it seemed like the thing to do would be to maybe just create that image. It’s a mixed media collage – can you see the little cartoon syringe that I drew and glued onto my arm? The caption says, “Is blue a good color on me?”
Here’s a song I like a lot.
“Rejoice despite the fact this world will hurt you. Rejoice despite the fact this world will kill you. Rejoice despite the fact this world will tear you to shreds. Rejoice because you’re trying your best.” – Andrew Jackson Jihad
Numbered, signed, and sealed 12×18″ prints of Winter Colors are available in my webstore.
If you’re interested in the original piece, please get in touch.
I sat next to Ali-Jae in fifth grade science class. She knew who No Use For a Name and Ten Foot Pole were, which – of course – automatically made her the coolest person that ten year-old Sam had ever met.
About ten years later, somebody told me: “Ali-Jae is a Republican and a Christian now.”
I thought they were fucking with me! But it was true! I figured it was some kind of a weird phase; it’d only be a matter of time before she snapped out of it and went back to normal.
But she didn’t… Instead, she became a major obstacle in my endeavors to brand all Republicans as soulless destroyers of human life and (to a lesser extent) all Christians as passive and thoughtless. There was just no way to reconcile her existence with my ideas. Eventually, I had to grow up (just a little bit) and change the way I thought about other human beings.
Which is bullshit, man. (Life is so much easier in black and white).
Oh well – it’s still cool. People are people, I guess.
Speaking of which…
The final lyric in this song (“People” by Andrew Jackson Jihad) – “I have faith in my fellow man and I only hope he has faith in me” – (I think) is wonderful. At least in an aspirational sense. It’s not too far off from something I wrote in my statement for “Tola’s Approach to Demons”:
I don’t believe in evil. I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as bad people. I have to think that way ’cause if I’m wrong, then I’m most certainly evil (I’m definitely a bad person). But I try really hard. So I give other people the benefit of the doubt. If someone does something fucked up, I choose to believe that they’re doing their best. (Their best just happens to be pretty terrible relative to average/acceptable standards). I try to keep that in mind whether we’re talking about some asshole on the sidewalk or someone like that kid that shot up Sandy Hook. It’s hard to give everyone that credit – that empathy – but I try. In return, I hope to get the same.
Humanity (as well as perception) are at the heart of a lot of Jihad songs. In “This is Not a War” (a song about the Occupy movement), Sean sings: “There is no enemy, there’s only dummies that also love their families.” And the refrain they’ve used more than any other is: “It’s harder to be yourself than it is to be anybody else.” So long as I remember to give that to other people at least as often as I give it to myself, that’s… – it’s not a bad mantra.
(Somebody help me out… I could’ve sworn that lyric was used in a song before “Distance” and “Big Bird” but now I’m doubting myself).
I forget how it came up, but I found myself in rehab, defending some view as not being illegitimate or immoral. Something to do with property and how this world has enough for everyone to have everything that they need. But how people get scared, their fear morphs into greed, and they feel like they need to hoard wealth or resources to the detriment of others. One way or another, we got to that thing from the Beatitudes where Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. And from there, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son to burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich” popped into my head – which I, of course, thought was hilarious. And I immediately started jokingly trying to recruit my fellow inpatients for a crusade to burn down the banks and – you know – drink the blood of the rich.
The next day, in expressive art therapy group, we were told that the theme was Christmas (it was December 22nd). “Not really Christmas though – just in terms of birth or re-birth – just as a metaphor.” Everyone else in the group kind of ignored that. We produced a lot of paintings of Christmas trees and Santa Claus that day. I – predictably – went really literal with it though. I started painting myself being born (fully grown and clothed). And not so much being born, as much as pulling myself out of a woman’s birth canal. (The distinction is that birth wasn’t “happening” to me, I was taking the action). I thought that was pretty great given my circumstances. Recovery or rehabilitation weren’t happening to me – I was making them happen. I was bringing them about. Doing the work to get better.
And then it occurred to me that the “For God so loved the world…” thing that I had come up with the day before would be PERFECT for this painting. It was supposed to be about Christmas, right? The celebration of the birth of Christ. And while I had intended for the character in the painting to be me (and – no – I don’t think I’m the messiah) adding the caption would make this a depiction of what must be the second coming of Christ. When he comes back as a lion instead of a lamb. Lion Christ just might be the kind of guy that WOULD burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich, the greedy, and the selfish. After all, Jesus never spoke ill of homosexuals or [whoever evangelists are bummed out about these days] but he sure as fuck had a distaste for the rich.
So this may sound absurd, but this painting, the little things leading up to it, and the process itself.. this was a spiritual experience for me. No offense to any of my peers, but they all painted Christmas trees and (by their own admission in group that day) didn’t get much out of it, so this assignment/prompt MUST have been for my benefit. And the way that it all panned out – what I chose to paint without even thinking of the previous day – and then remembering it at just the right time – this was all predestined. Similarly, back when I was told that I needed to have some kind of faith – that I’d need to believe in some kind of higher power if I ever wanted to get better and stop shooting heroin – the first belief I adopted (albeit sarcastically) was that “my higher power thinks I’m fucking hilarious“; if this whole episode isn’t proof of that, then I don’t know what is. The universe really brought it all together for me this time around.
HISTORICAL note!: Our art therapy counselor brought us acrylic paint and canvas boards as a Christmas present, so this was my first time using “real” art supplies. (Normally we used cheap paper and tempera/poster-paint). And I kinda can’t mention that counselor without saying something else…
Even when everyone else thought that “something might need to be done” about the kind of stuff I was turning out in art group, Julie stuck up for me and insisted that I be allowed (and encouraged) to create whatever I was feeling. It’s so much more than entirely possible that – were it not for Julie – what little enjoyment I got out of those early art groups might have been snuffed out. Had that been the case, there’s no way in hell that you’d be reading this right now because this website (and all of these pieces) wouldn’t even exist. And It’s not quite as certain, but it’s extremely likely that I’d either still be shooting heroin or dead. A lot of people and factors played into my recovery but the one piece that I’m almost positive is totally crucial is art. And Julie gets total credit for that. (With an assist from my friend (and fellow inpatient) Mary Beth, who was also a huge source of encouragement in the early stages of the game.
And so long as I’m going on tangents: After I finished this painting, as I was carrying it from group to my room, one of the property techs stopped and asked me if he could see what I had made. Staff aren’t really supposed to be “friends” with patients/clients, but I definitely considered Kenny a friend and (as a Christian) I was afraid this would bum him out. But I showed it to him and he surprised me. He knew exactly what I was going for, got the joke, told me it was actually a really Christian sentiment, and even gave me the [call number or whatever it’s called] for a verse of scripture. That sort of reaffirmed my faith in humanity that day. It was really awesome.
By the way, that movie I was cast in over the summer… the production designer saw this painting and asked if I could redraw it so that it could be screened onto a t-shirt for my character to wear. So I did!
A lot of what you’ve just read was written a few months back. Some of it is even older than that. The word “predestined” jumps off the page at me. Do I really believe in such a concept? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say “not really.” I’ll say this though… on December 22nd, back when all of this was happening… when I say, “this was a spiritual experience for me”, Imean it. Did I believe anything was predetermined earlier that day? No. Did I believe it in that moment? Again – I don’t really know. But I know that I was having fun acting as if I did… This really struck me as too perfect to be random (it just felt too excellent) but … eh… Well, like I sort of said: this was the best evidence I had ever seen that [to borrow from Andrew Jackson Jihad] “my god thinks my jokes are funny.” And it was all great fodder as I explained the cartoon/painting/sentiment to the patients and staff that were giving me funny looks. So I was having a lot of fun with it. So far as my real (confident) beliefs go… – only what I laid out in my entry for “Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.”
Anyway, here’s a song that I was listening to a lot around the time this was painted.
Here’s a song that strikes me as otherwise relevant.
Was flipping through pictures, looking for a piece that I don’t see all the time and settled on this one. It’s a cartoon I drew for my friend Avi. It’s about what a judgmental butthole I used to be. The text below it is from the same time as the cartoon.
“Sam Explains Avi’s Life to Him.” May 28th, 2013. Colored pencil and pen, collage. 3½x5”.
My first reaction to the Silver Sprocket Bicycle Club was something along the lines of “Fuck this hippy dippy, peace punk, Plan-It-X, fake community bullshit. This is one kid running a record label and trying to make it seem like more than that as a marketing tactic aimed at dorks who want to believe that their ill-attended costume parties and stupid fucking dance parties are somehow important.”
That might say a little something more about me than it does about anything relating to Silver Sprocket or Avi.
When I met Avi (2009) at the Basement House in Tampa, he was a nice enough sort, but I also found out that he was making these custom jackets (that he was selling for – I don’t know – eighty dollars? One hundred dollars?) I scoffed when I found out – if not out loud, then in my head. (Expensive clothing = not punk). I also remember hearing about his “business model” and about “presentations” he’d given to bands before putting out their records. This only confirmed my suspicions: not punk, not cool.
In spite of all this, I liked him. He was a geek and he had it all wrong, but I liked him. In the nicest way I could manage, I tried to tell him why the way he ran his label was wrong and the way I ran my label was right. My memory isn’t too clear, but I’m sure I sounded like a tremendous asshole.
Silver Sprocket may not be a bicycle club, but – as I’ve come to realize – it is more than a record label. Or – at the very least – it’s more than your typical DIY record label. Avi does things. He does things that other people are afraid to do. He has ideas and he follows through on them. He believes in fun. He’s not jaded and cynical. From what I can tell, he doesn’t worry about how other people are going to react to the things he does. I have a sneaking suspicion that Silver Sprocket is more profitable than your typical DIY label, but I no longer think that there’s anything wrong with that. The more well-adjusted I’ve become, the more I realize that my contempt was nothing but jealousy. He had something that I didn’t: self-esteem. And, from that, the courage to be innovative, different, and (most of all) really, really punk.
And here’s an incredibly appropriate song (by a band with releases on both Silver Sprocket and Traffic Street)!