I didn’t go to church as a kid, but I remember a friend once telling me about something he had heard at church that Sunday. “They said that a satellite took a picture from really far away of what they think might actually be heaven.”
I’m terrified of judgment when it comes to my spirituality or my ideas about God. I’ve had so much animosity built up around religion for so long that I get really nervous and defensive about it. (See: “Evil” / “Maybe I Don’t Believe in God”).
But I pray. Or – rather – I try to pray. Sometimes. I’m not praying to someone that can be photographed from outer space though. For me, prayer is an exercise that’s its own reward. When I pray, it’s never for myself. I only pray for other people because – in doing so – I think about them. (“Portraits of God, Nothing, and Fear”).
Most days, I isolate and tell myself that my activities through my website (and online generally) are enough sociality. Living in my little bubble of self, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in my own nonsense, problems, or [whatever]. Prayer is one way of forcing myself to remember other people in a way that affects me more than a “like” on a Facebook post. It feels good to break out of myself now and then. And it’ll usually motivate me to reach out and connect with a friend in a way that feels a little more meaningful than I might otherwise.
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.
I don’t have the slightest idea what’s happening in Syria. Something about weapons or genocide or… [who the fuck knows?] (Not me!). I am intentionally ignorant of it. I don’t give a shit. Not because I have some sort of bigoted animosity toward people in that part of the world, but because it’s not good for my mental health to be concerned with it. I don’t stress about it for the same reason I don’t stress about whether my friends in other parts of the country are consumed by drugs and at risk of dying. Because I can’t control it, I can’t change it, and worrying about it isn’t going to bring about anything positive for anyone.
I have a memory from when I was twenty years old. I was reading constantly and the things I was reading were consuming my thoughts. I remember walking through a grocery store and I started to cry (just a little bit) because I was thinking about water privatization in South America. I’m not interested in living that way anymore.
I saw some stuff on Facebook this week, criticizing our culture at large for being so consumed by the spectacle of MTV’s video music awards. I don’t give a shit about that either, but I actually saw some of it. (I went over to Angie and Alex’s house last night with Heather because Andrew and Claire came into town. They wanted to see some parts of the VMAs so Alex pulled it up on their magical internet television). I didn’t think it was awesome and I didn’t think it was the worst thing to ever happen. But it was really fucking boring. But [whatever]. It’s not important because – like Syria – things like that don’t need to be a part of my life at all.
Is it sad that bad things happen every day, whether or not we know about them? Absolutely. Is it frustrating that people obsess over (what I think is) vapid garbage “entertainment?” Sometimes, I guess. But none of it matters. Nothing matters. Not inherently. Things only have the significance that I assign to them. I don’t know if you’d call it a sort of nihilism or a “personal relativism” or what, but I get to choose my own truths and I get to create my own world.
As the only text on this painting (that isn’t in the title) says, “I like colors and contrast, bad teeth, crooked smiles, and nonsense. Things are better than they’ve ever been.”
This was the biggest fresh canvas I’ve ever worked with. I started on Thursday (8/29) and finished last night. It is acrylic, watercolor, pen, marker, carbon, and oil pastel.
Aside from “colors and contrast,” here’s something else that matters to me. Last night, when I was trying to figure out how to get a high-resolution photograph of something this big (and getting a little bit annoyed with how poorly my efforts were going) I realized that I was sitting alone in my kitchen, bouncing around in my seat, and singing along to this song. It made it a little tougher to feel at all annoyed or frustrated.
Edit(!): I can’t get the song to embed! Just go here and absorb everything: thebrokedowns.com
My first reaction to twelve-step programs was: “Required belief in a higher power? This isn’t going to work for me.” I read “We Agnostics” and heard about the proverbial higher powers of atheists (light bulbs, door knobs, etc.) and it was all bullshit. Besides, from what I could tell, these programs weren’t talking about “a higher power of your own understanding,” they were talking about GOD. Narcotics Anonymous goes so far as to refer to God as “Him” (with a capital fucking H)! The Alcoholics Anonymous text is even worse; with exclamations like “May you find Him now!” they might as well have a crucifix on the cover. I was equally unimpressed and unswayed by the guy who told me his higher power was Spiderman. And the people who said that NA or AA was their higher power just seemed to be reaching.
It wasn’t for me. “We Agnostics?” More like you agnostics. I wasn’t an agnostic or an atheist because I’m not even acknowledging it. If someone asked me if I believed in God, I’d look at them like they were retarded. “It’s not something that concerns me. It’s not a relevant question. Who fucking cares?”
In December of 2011, worn by desperation, my mind opened just a little bit. In my room alone, my second night in (my first) rehab, I accepted my first higher power. It was something. Literally. My first higher power was something. “Whatever it is that those addicts who recover share in common – that’s my higher power.” My thought was that I may not be able to identify or articulate exactly what that was specifically, but that only made the concept seem more in line with what I thought conceptions of God or a higher power are really all about.
As I became more well-versed in recovery speak, I would playfully throw the slogans and principles around – mock-chastising staff and peers when they’d do or say something that could be interpreted as out of step with recovery. This, of course, included statements invoking God. As it so often happens in rehabs (or kindergarten classes – or any place populated by those with the emotional maturity of children) someone made a joke that sparked a whole series of related jokes, perpetually retold, refined, and expanded. In this case, the joke was Sam’s punk god. I loved it and, somewhere along the way, actually adopted it. Accepting a higher power in spite of my awareness that it was the product of our imaginations – in a way – showed willingness. It required more than ordinary faith; it required total nonsense. And while completely irrational, it was still (as I’d love to point out) every bit as valid a conception of God as the ones presented in religious texts. Its absurdity was part of the appeal. “Punk God isn’t really concerned with sin,” I’d preach. “Except for voting. Punk God fucking hates voting. If you vote, you’re definitely going to hell.” In more earnest moments, I’d confess: “I don’t actually believe in Punk God, but as a concept – as a tool – sure.” Eventually, I’d need something that could offer me more guidance than a parodical exaggeration of myself. But for a time, the idea that Punk God was looking out for me was enough.
Something in me changed. I was building up to it over the course of more than a year but there was a moment when it really crystallized and I became a different person. [See: “No Accident”]. I’m still somewhat embarrassed to talk about it isometimes, but I got to a place (emotionally) where I could accept a real higher power.
I’m not perfect when it comes to practice but, in a tough situation, sometimes I have the peace of mind to pause and ask myself: What’s the loving thing to do? What action can I take in this moment to demonstrate love for myself as well as love for others? If I answer it honestly – and have the discipline and willingness to honor the answer in that moment – life seems to… everything seems to work out pretty okay (better than okay: extremely well).
This might not always be the case though, were it not for the second of my (let’s call them) “spiritual principles.” When something bad happens, I don’t accept that it’s bad. It might seem bad, but it isn’t. I might feel some kind of pain in response to it (whether physical, emotional, or [whatever]) but it’s a good thing. When I struggle with something, that’s a good thing. It’s an opportunity for growth. It’s a chance to become a better, stronger person. I believe that everything happens exactly it’s supposed to or, alternately, everything happens for the best. This is not a belief that I get consequent to some other belief (for example, that there’s a god up above that’s playing chess with all of our lives). This is a choice. I choose to believe that this is true. And – on a very basic philosophical level – it is very much, absolutely true – so long as I want it to be. Reality is reality. I can’t change it. What I can change is my perspective / attitude.
It’d be easy to conclude that terrible things happen on this planet and that we live in an awful world. Even in examining my own situation, I could conclude that I live in my ex-girlfriend’s parents’ house because I’m fresh out rehab; I went to Georgetown Law and I don’t even have a job; I sit in a dark garage all day and generate my only income by selling weird antique dolls on eBay; I’m 27 years old, spent most of the last 16 months in rehabs and mental health institutions, and can’t even get a bank account; the record label that I poured myself into for years has crumbled and my band doesn’t even really exist; I’m a fuck-up, a loser, and I have no prospects for the future.
Instead, I choose to see it more along the lines of… I was a trainwreck of a human being and behaved abominably; in spite of that, I have people in my life who not only trust me to live in their home, but allow me to do so rent-free; I got to take more than a year out of my life to study myself with the help of incredibly gifted counselors, therapists, and doctors and finally figure out why I’ve spent most of my life unhappy, and discover a new kind of happiness that I never knew existed; I also discovered visual art, something that I was once too fearful to even attempt seriously, but that I now enjoy as thoroughly as anything else in this world (even pop punk!) and that has allowed me to connect with other people (people still struggling with addiction, people in recovery, and just regular people) in a way that those people tell me has enriched their lives and, in turn, enriches my own; I have dreams and aspirations that I work toward everyday and I enjoy that work regardless of any external success that might or might never come from it; I have beautiful friendships with inspiring people whom I admire and a girlfriend with whom I am thoroughly in love; life could not possibly be better.
Only one of those two statements is true but I get to choose which one it is. This is where the old, abandoned concept of Punk God comes in – it’s all about choice. No one can prove me wrong. Things may look one way – it doesn’t matter. Everything is exactly as we believe that it is. Right and wrong don’t really exist. Not in any practical sense anyway. I choose to believe that everything works out for the best for the same reason I chose to “believe” in Punk God. Because it helps me. It makes life easier. And just as no one could prove that Punk God wasn’t real, I can’t prove that everything doesn’t work out for the best. So I believe that it does. And I’m right!
Prints of this piece are now for sale in my webstore.