I’ve got this group show coming up and, last night, the organizers hosted a reception for the artists to meet each other. One girl was in another room most of the night but I did eventually get to know her a little bit when she asked if I’d like to sit down and draw with her. As it turns out, she just tagged along and isn’t actually participating in next week’s show. Although (while I’m not sure if she meant “professionally”) she did tell me that she’s an artist.
She ALSO told me that she has two nannas (who are both very nice), that Madelyn and Mikaylyn are twins (her favorite twin is both of them), and that she likes to make her own soup in her belly. Yeah, right. “How do you do that?” I asked incredulously. “I eat sweets and vegetables and that’s how I make my soup in my belly.” I had to concede. That’s a dynamite soup recipe if I’ve ever heard one.
So Marley’s pretty great and I’m not saying that just ’cause she gave me some of her drawings.
Is it just me or is this way too close-for-comfort to my art (considering it was drawn by someone who won’t be starting pre-kindergarten for another eight months)?
In any case, I DON”T MEAN TO BRAG but I’m pretty sure I’ve got at least a year or two before she catches up to me in terms of technical ability. I mean – she’s good, but not Sam’s-motor-skills-are-fully-developed good.
Here’s the picture I drew for her.
Shit… Looking at these side by side… If I’m being honest, I think the only real difference is that she got bored and moved on to another drawing (and then to dancing, and then to showing me some toys, and then to watching TV) in the time that it took me to draw mine. Focus might be my only edge over Marley… If she gets a Ritalin ‘scrip when she starts school, I’m gonna be shit outta luck.
Oh well. No use in worrying today about what may or may not happen tomorrow.
This was a treatment assignment, one morning in group. To draw a portrait of my “inner-child.” Or – more accurately – to let my inner child draw his own self-portrait (using just a few crayons (of my choice) and my non-dominant hand). So… this is me at age four.
There’s not much I feel like writing about it beyond that explanation, so here’s an excerpt from my “life story.” Since I’m pairing it with a drawing of me as a kid, I chose a part about my childhood but not that particular age.
Sometime during third grade, it was decided that I’d test for Pine View, the “gifted” public school in south county. IQ of 140 or higher required for admission. My parents wouldn’t tell me what I scored because they didn’t want Racey and I comparing.
I started fourth grade at my new school and was relatively okay with the change. I got along with the other kids better than I had at other schools and some of my friends from the last one had made the switch as well. There was one important difference. I had always been the destroyer of other students without even having to try; I constantly got the best grades on everything with very little effort. Some of the kids here though were smart. Maybe even as smart as me. That would’ve been okay had they not also been extremely motivated. Like me, they enjoyed being the best. Unlike me, they were willing to work for it. In hindsight I can also see that they had something with which I was almost totally unfamiliar: an alien concept called “self-esteem.” They wanted to get the highest grades they could, but seemed less concerned with how well their peers did. I, on the other hand, would be thrilled with any grade – no matter how low – so long as nobody else got a higher grade. They wanted As; I wanted to win the contest in my head. I needed to win the contest in my head. I may have been an uncontrollable, argumentative, morally-challenged basket case of a nine year-old, but so long as I was smarter than the other kids, that made it all okay, right?
It was time to buckle down, put in the necessary time and energy and learn to be proud of my achievements independent of the performance of my peers.
I’m not sure if I was aware of it at all at the time, but I called an audible and went with a brilliant alternate strategy. “If victory’s not guaranteed, just don’t play.” I may not even know how to play chess, but if I never sit down at the board, all you can do is guess. I could be terrible but I could be Bobby fucking Fisher. Prove me wrong. You can’t.
From that point on, I did a half-assed job on everything. I was still well-spoken enough for everyone to know that I was intelligent; I had just opted out of the contest that might have given someone evidence that I wasn’t the most intelligent. The kids at Pine View loved to accuse each other of having parents that bribed the psychiatrists who administered their IQ tests for admission. I had the lowest grades in class, yet no one ever pointed at me. “Sam’s smart, he just doesn’t care.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I cared a lot. But what else could I do? Try, and risk failure? No way. These kids can’t think they’re better than me. I can’t think these kids are better than me.
When fourth grade started, there was still only one band that I really gave a shit about. A couple months into the school year, they put out a new album. I had a bunch of favorites but, on the day I got it, the best song was “Brat.”
Signed and numbered prints of “Little Red Boy” are listed for sale in my webstore.
In honor of the crayon drawing I sold yesterday, here’s another that I made seven days later. At Tranquil Shores, Sunday is the day you can request permission to receive visitors or (once you’ve been around for a bit) to leave property with visitors for an hour or two. The Owens [my adoptive/surrogate family] came to visit me every chance they got and – this particular week – we went to a kinda-nice restaurant… not so nice as to not have crayons and placemats for children though.
I sold this drawing the same day that I painted “Spotlight on Mental Illness.” I thought it was a tremendous compromise when I offered it at $20, but I was so beaten down that I was willing to accept anything. I let it go for $6.12.
In the last months of 2012, I was inpatient at Tranquil Shores and taking my recovery really seriously. My general mood and outlook were more positive and upbeat than at any point prior in my life; things were going well – most of the time. When they weren’t, it was bad. I had learned to deal with some emotional triggers but others could still set me off in an instant. I was breaking down in a mess of tears constantly [and, historically, crying wasn’t something I had done very often]. The treatment team was really happy with my progress but were discussing the option of adding an antipsychotic to my daily prescription. Personally, I was 100% on board with the idea at the time. The way I felt most of the time was great. I just wanted to stop falling apart for two hours every other day.
There was something else going on though that was tearing me up and that I wasn’t talking about. There was this girl. And though (for the first time) I cared enough about “playing by the rules” (for the sake of my recovery) to not turn it into a sexual relationship, we were very much emotionally invested in one another. And the kinds of little things that chip away at my soul whenever I’m involved with any girl (coupled with the shame of having to lie to my counselor to keep it a secret) were killing me.
Eventually, I came clean about the whole thing. Alexis denied it but she was leaving Tranquil Shores in a week or so anyway. That confession was the catalyst that finally kicked my recovery into gear (for real). There was no need to talk about anti-psychotics after that. When she left, still denying everything though, I figured it was all over between us. It hurt but what could I do?
In the last week of December, she got in touch with me and we started talking again. She still saw her [also my] counselor on an outpatient basis and she had gotten honest and confessed that everything I had said was true. We had both been advised that we shouldn’t be speaking with one another until we had a better grip on exactly what was going on between us, but I was so excited to find that she was no longer furious with me (and wanted to see me) that I didn’t care. On December 30th, I snuck out of Tranquil Shores and she picked me up down the street. At the end of the night when she dropped me off to sneak back in, I could have skipped back to Tranquil Shores; I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I didn’t get caught and we made plans to meet up again the next night: New Year’s Eve.
I played it cool and waited all day for her to hit me up. Nothing. I tried her phone. Nothing. And then four more days of the same.
She had relapsed… right? The night that we were together, she had told me that that it had been on her mind a lot but that she had held strong. That was the way I usually talked to people on the occasions that I had already relapsed, but I took her word for it. I had to because I so badly wanted it to be true. It was obvious now though. Our night together had been incredible. She apologized for denying everything initially (in fear) and said that she had been dying to talk to / see me, but needed to sort through her feelings first. She had done that though now, she said, and she told me she was more in love with me than she had ever been in love with anyone and that there was no doubt in her mind that her love was real, authentic, and deep. You don’t disappear on someone for five days after saying some shit like that. It wasn’t the behavior of someone “living a program.” I didn’t know what to do. She might be dead. [People that start shooting up again after a period of clean time have an incredibly high rate of overdose]. Two friends of mine had already overdosed in the last two months. I feared the worst and it ate away at me.
In those five days, I exercised self-discipline like never before. I only allowed myself to try and reach her once or twice a day and I kept myself busy and focused around the clock with my art and my treatment plan. I was a ball of anxiety but I was extremely proud of the way that I didn’t completely lose my fucking mind. I felt like I had bullets under my skin, bouncing around my skeleton… but I managed.
Late afternoon, January 5th, I got a text: “hi sammy.”
HOLY FUCKING SHIT.
“Hey! Where have you been? Are you okay? I’m so happy to hear from you! Call me!”
She called later that night. It was … off. She didn’t sound high, but she wasn’t exactly coherent either. Above all though, she stressed that I didn’t have anything to worry about – and she asked if she could see me tomorrow [Sunday] night. “Of course.”
Those weren’t my only plans for the day: Taylor was coming to visit. I had been looking forward to it for at least a month. I got all my little papers to my counselor, got them stamped, signed, approved, and sent over to property staff. Everything was in order. It was the first time I’d get to see her since Labor Day, 2011 – when we left San Diego on separate flights and, upon arrival in Florida, I immediately proceeded to overdose (intentionally) in an attempt to kill myself. [But that’s another story].
I’ve written a lot about overlapping things I’ve had with girls (especially in this stretch of time) but I don’t consider this anything like that. Taylor and I had dated and lived together for six years, but I had spent a lot of time looking at the relationship and was almost certain that I was looking forward to seeing my friend, Taylor (and not Taylor, the girl with whom I might still be in love). I wasn’t trying to “win her back” as I had back in 2011; this wasn’t romantic, we were friends. [Though this, too, is tangential – a subject for another time]. We planned her visit at 10 AM because she was flying back to Baltimore at 4 that afternoon. I was excited.
At 11AM, I called. Running late, she said. Okay – no big deal.
At 1PM, I called. No response.
At 4PM… she’s on her flight right now. She fucking bailed on me and didn’t even care enough to tell me.
And what do you know… I haven’t heard from Her all day either. We’re supposed to meet up tonight… I sent her a text. I tried to call. Nothing. I need to go for a walk.
I signed out for an hour [I had been at Tranquil Shores for five months so I had that privilege on a Sunday afternoon]. I walked down the street not knowing what the fuck I was even doing. I sat down at a bus stop and waited… to hear from her. I wrote her a short but desperately conflicted “please let me back into your life” kind of note. I sent it as a picture so that she’d be more likely to look at it (assuming she actually had her phone and really was just ignoring me).
No response. I walked some more. Sat at another bus stop. Decided to draw. I looked in my bag and took out the only medium and paper I had on me: crayons and a tattered envelope. I was trying so desperately to remain optimistic and see everything in the best possible light. Taylor’s bailing on me that day and this girl (that I was in love with)’s strange behavior and looming death… it all hurt but it had to be for something. If nothing else, I told myself, it’s practice; I’m getting better at feeling pain and not falling apart. When I live in the real world again one day, where I could quickly and easily numb out pain with heroin, these experiences will be what keep me from doing so. I will get through this and I will be okay. It’s another opportunity for growth…
Here’s the note that I wrote her just before I drew my little cartoon.
If you wanna know how things turned out with her, it’s in my statement for “Spoiler Alert.”
Taylor and I are pals and talk all the time (but never about why she didn’t show up that day).
I tried to get my prescription refilled, but the pharmacy was all out of Adderall. I’d link to the piece I have about what happens when this happens, but it’s not online yet. I’d put it online but I’m out of Adderall.
Here is a piece in which my loss of… [whatever]… is probably apparent. I just finished it. It is all that I have done today.
There’s a pizza place down the street from my house that displays and sells art. I went in to see the owner, but he wasn’t around so I just dropped off a full-color flier with a bunch of my pieces on there and a little bit of info as to what I’m about. I went back the next day to eat, but it was busy so I didn’t want to bother him. I noticed though that there was a spot by the register for people leave business cards, so I left a little stack of my 2×3″ fliers with “My Favorite Cartoon” and my url on them.
A few days later, on our way to Alligator Farm, Alex told me, “I’m sorry about Moon River.” I didn’t know what he meant, but he said the owner threw out my little cartoon fliers because they weren’t “family-friendly.”
I knew my feelings shouldn’t be hurt, but they were anyway. Not to the extent that I let them fuck up my day, but I was a little sad. I don’t know – I don’t think those cartoons are all that offensive or controversial and – in any case – I have plenty of stuff that isn’t, but… It doesn’t really matter. It’s just one person’s opinion. I can’t win ’em all.
I started drawing this in the car that day, worked on it a little bit last night, and finished it this afternoon.
I was poking around on Reddit and – in the Art subreddit – there’s a rule: no “crayon art” allowed. I thought that was a little strange. I’m not wild about crayons ’cause I like bolder, brighter colors and sharper lines than crayon’s are really capable of producing, but I don’t see why crayons should be the one medium absolutely prohibited. (Why should any medium be absolutely prohibited?) So I used crayons in this piece. Not because I want to post it in the Art subreddit (’cause I’m not) but – I don’t know – maybe just as a reminder to myself that I don’t do this stuff for anyone else. Obviously, I’m attention-seeking and I still feel validated by positive feedback, but that stuff’s after the fact. It’s not what gets me started and it doesn’t influence my process. It’s not what drives me.
I’m gonna go try to get my Adderall again now. Well… I’m gonna try to try to get my Adderall. Let’s see if I make it out the door…
In the last year, I learned to use art as a tool for emotional health. Since I’ve been out of treatment, I’ve been doing very well in that area. One area in which my counselor insists I need improvement is my social health.
One day, I accidentally went out to lunch with a group of people. I crept around until I found the restaurant’s stock of crayons and paper. I didn’t have anything in mind when I started (other than removing myself from the world around me so I wouldn’t have to interact awkwardly with other human beings) so I just chose a color that appealed to me and drew some shapes that I liked. At some point, I decided what the shapes were, added to them to form the image of a kid blowing a bubble, and then captioned it with the first thing that came to mind.
This little cartoon has no unique significance to me, but – like a lot of what I do – it’s evidence of how far I’ve come. Granted, one could suggest that – ideally – I wouldn’t feel the need to escape reality at all, but I think that drawing is a big step up from shooting heroin. And – while I can see some validity to the opposing point of view – I don’t think that social interaction is all that much more important than doing something that helps me feel productive and (in a very real sense) valuable.
For years, I’d wake up with a sigh, as I contemplated another day of being alive and – even worse – being me. Sometimes I create things that have deep meaning to me. Other times, I just draw little cartoons that I think are cute or clever and are little more than they appear. Both of these kinds of art are important because both are pieces of what makes me happy to be living and breathing as Sam North. A lot of people could do what I do, but a lot of people don’t. For whatever reason, I do – and that’s something I’ve been rewarded for in innumerable ways every day. What I once considered a terrible fate, I’m now incredibly grateful for. I’m pretty excited about being me. [written 5/29/13]
Today, I went to Art Walk, a monthly event in downtown Jacksonville. People set up tables and sell art and other stuff they’ve made. Within minutes of arriving, a kid asked if he could give me a flier for a record store. I told him I’d trade him and handed him one of mine. And then we realized who we were. It was Josh from Dead Tank, one of the two kids in the area that I (met ten million years ago and) decided to email last month to find out about DIY shows/spaces in the area. Pretty excellent chance encounter.
From there, I just kind of poked around, scoping things out. (I sent in an application to be a participant, but it wasn’t in time for this month’s Art Walk). I met and talked to a few people though, awkwardly handed some strangers cartoons/fliers, and… then I rode home.
I once pitched “Another Successful Human Interaction” as a song title to Chris (for Rational Anthem). That’s the phrase that’s in my head again right now. I’m sure it’ll strike anyone that knows me as pretty absurd, but (as if I hadn’t covered this just earlier today) I get nervous in social situations sometimes. And when I have conversations that I can walk away from without feeling embarrassed, I feel proud of myself. Self-esteem requires a lot of maintenance, but (having a little bit these days) I can… it’s… I don’t know. I guess what I wanna say is that I’m able to use it to build up more. Just by having *some*, I’m able to develop more.
And it’s an easy slip, a fast fall, back to zero, but it’s not *really* zero anymore, even if it feels that way sometimes.
The Slow Death are playing soon and I’m excited to see them.
Just now – wanting to include a piece of art in this entry since I’m trying to get it all up on the site, piece by piece – I checked to see what I had photos of on my phone. This one seems appropriate.
I drew this with crayons in group back when I still lived at Tranquil Shores. Later, I played with it on the computer and turned it into something else. When I get home, I’ll add a photo of the original to this entry (if I have one, which I may not). In either case, I’ll upload a bigger picture of the “computerized” version. (That’s something I’ll have to do with everything I’m posting from the road). I can’t recall the specifics of why I was drawing in group on the day that I made this because I don’t know what day that was. Again, when I’m home, I’ll look into it. But I remember feeling a little inadequate, but – at the same time – a little hopeful. Like, “I may not be much now, but… you’ll see.” I guess I could call it a “letter to my detractors” of sorts. And – as noted – the original is entirely crayon – which I think is sort of perfect for this. I could call it “naive,” I could call it “immature,” but I’d rather call it innocent. I like that.