Tag Archives: failure

I Work Hard For the Money

"I Work Hard For the Money." 8/11/14. Ink. 8x6".
“I Work Hard For the Money.” 8/11/14. Ink. 8×6″.

A friend made a joke that hurt my feelings. I put my response in a drawing.

If you wanna make me angry, suggest that I’m lazy or somehow less than self-sufficient. My job is emotionally fucking taxing. Every day that I’m not getting more famous feels like some kind of a failure. I’m in the business of trying to convince strangers that I’m extraordinary. It’s a fragile position to be in.

It’d be easy to say that your desk job is an easy, coward’s way out but I’m not gonna ’cause I couldn’t do that shit. But don’t tell me that I have it easier on the streets, selling my story and my essence to people that – 9 times outta 10 – don’t even wanna make eye contact with me.

You don’t got it any harder or any better than me; it’s just different. I don’t shit on your desk; don’t act like you’re better than me. You’re just more stable. If you think my job is easier then – by all means – there’s plenty of room in the marketplace.

This was one in a series of four drawings that I made two months ago. I realized last week that I’m angry. And that I have been for some time now. Back when I was still on heroin (and all throughout my life even before that) I had a really terrible temper. By the time I got out of Tranquil Shores though, I had learned to control it. And – honestly – I don’t even really think I needed to control it at that point. It’d flare up occasionally but, for the most part, I was happy enough that things didn’t get to me the way that they always had in the past. I’m realizing that that’s no longer the case and this drawing is evidence that it’s been that way since (at least) mid-summer. I’m hyper-sensitive and it’s fucking up my life. I think I need regular counseling again and (as much as I hate the idea) I’m even considering new medication.

On another note, my legal situation remains unresolved and I am (consequently) still accepting online orders to help with my legal expenses. Check out my GoFundMe page for more info.

Snowflakes Anonymous

“Snowflakes Anonymous.” 11/22/13. Acrylic, watercolor, and spray paints, food coloring, markers, pen, resin sand, cardboard and EBT card – on 24×30″ stretched canvas.

This piece took me over a week to finish. That left a lot of time for different issues to pop up, play off each other, and rearrange my ideas. I started it one nigh while I was thinking about missing Tranquil Shores. Then I thought about how I might like to work at a place like that except… For starters, I don’t have enough clean time. I’d have to pretend like
I didn’t fuck up at any point. That made me sad. You know what I eventually realized though? Fuck that. Someone recently complimented my honesty / willingness to be vulnerable through my artwork – “especially for someone with so little clean time.” That threw me for a loop! There was nothing mean-spirited about the comment (it came from someone that’s been really positive and supportive) but still – the implication is that I’ve only recently started getting well. In reality, most of the pieces she had seen and read about were created before that – sometime after my previous clean date (the day I got to Tranquil Shores: August 17th, 2012). And I didn’t really start getting better ’til December 12th. The vast majority of honest text in my pieces was always scribbled out up until that point.

So – yeah – I may have fucked up over the summer, but that didn’t hit the reset button on my recovery; I didn’t fall down into a gutter with a needle in my arm, desperate and miserable as ever. I made a mistake, called myself on it, told the people I needed to tell, and carried the fuck on and moved forward with the things I know to be good for me and good for my mental health and emotional well-being. And you know what else? The dangerous position I allowed myself to be in (that led to my relapse): it was worth it. That month I spent working on that project – it had incredible highs, some (very obvious) lows, I learned a lot about myself, a lot about the world around me, and – overall – was a better stronger person when all was said and done.

And it still affects me today (both positively and negatively). I wouldn’t say I regret any of it. Life is for living and anyone that’s really living is gonna fuck up every now and then. That’s not a preemptive copout for future relapse, it’s just reality. You can count on my not repeating that mistake but I’m sure as shit gonna fuck up at one thing or another!

Back on point: on Tuesday, I was reading the NA literature and I realized that so much of it really has nothing to do with me. It’s totally undescriptive of my thinking and my behavior. Not all of it, but enough of it. Does that mean I’m gonna quit going to meetings? No. But it explains why I stopped going more than once a week back in February – and why my
counselors at Tranquil Shores didn’t throw a monumental fit about it the way they’d always done with everyone else. I may not be some beautiful fucking snowflake, thoroughly unlike all to come before me, but – you know what? I am different than a lotta people and meetings, meetings, meetings isn’t the fucking cure-all for everyone.

And if you wanna get technical – it’s got nothing to do with the twelve steps as they were originally written (and are still written in the AA text). Same with sponsorship – there’s nothing in the original text about going to meetings or finding a sponsor. It’s just about working with / helping other alcoholics [or addicts]. And I do that shit constantly. I hate a lot of the attitudes that dominate the rooms of AA and NA: “Do this or die” (especially when “this” isn’t even part of the program). You know why they think that the only people who succeed in recovery are the ones that continue going to meetings for the rest of their lives? Because the people that come back are the one that fucked up and needed to come back; they never hear the stories of the people that leave their group and succeed because they don’t have any reason to come back around and tell their tale. It’s right for some people – not everyone. And fuck the notion that “clean time” is the only measure of success. I do pretty okay. I like myself. I like my life. And it’s been that way for a while now. It didn’t start ’til I got clean (and then some) but it didn’t go away just ’cause I had a lapse in judgment. I still have that time. There are documents of it – all over my walls and all over this website.

SECOND (reason I can’t get a job at a treatment facility), I don’t think I’m cut out to work anywhere. I’m not some wild, outta control basket case but that’s ’cause I know what I need to do to keep my grip. When things get rough, I’ve got tools I can use to get ’em back on the right track. But mental health is a chore and I can’t schedule my emotions. Being on the clock, being on someone else’s time… it doesn’t work for me. I have too much to do – sick or well, fucked or not. So while I might like to do some volunteer kinda stuff now and then, I don’t think that “getting a job” is anything that’s ever gonna work out for me.

From there I was thinking about something that’s occurred to me before: that I could almost certainly qualify to receive disability payments. Up ’til my “recovery” began, I’d have taken those without a second thought; I had (and still have) no moral objections to something like that (even if I were/am fully capable of working). But getting disability doesn’t really seem in line with what I’m about these days. My brain might be a little off but I’ve been creatively building a life out of that, through my artwork. I’m not sure I want a label like “disabled” on me.

But – also on Tuesday – I realized that I use food stamps and… is that really any different? It’s basically partial-disability with no questions asked. “Oh? You don’t make enough money? Okay, here you go. No – we don’t care why, just take it.” Strangely enough, the very next day, I met a girl who does receive disability payments (and for borderline personality disorder!) That had me actually considering it for the first time but it wasn’t ’til later that night I realized that – immediately after meeting her – I volunteered to pick up a shift at Sun-Ray over the weekend if they needed any extra help. AND THEN(!) I had to modify my offer to exclude Saturday because I’m going to some kind of seven hour “personal growth” / mental health thing tomorrow.

Just like that – I went from ruling out work because of my obligations to myself and my mental health but rejecting the prospect of disability payments on principle, meeting a girl on disability with the same issues I have and starting to reconsider,  to unthinkingly offering to work, and then realizing I couldn’t because of a (very concrete, specific) mental health obligation.

For now, I’m gonna keep on as I have been. I already have everything I need. Well, maybe not a sense of security but what fun would that be?


Hey – speaking of “clean time,” “clean dates,” and what a beautiful fucking snowflake I am… When someone completes their treatment plan at Tranquil Shores, they have their coin-out ceremony and they get a little keychain with their clean date on it. Here’s the one they gave me back in February.

Clean date key tag

Yes, that is an “X” in place of a clean date. No, I had no idea that mine was going to be different and – no – of all the people that have been through the program, no one else has ever gotten anything other than their actual clean date.


Something I wrote in this entry reminded me of a lyric from a song I haven’t heard in a few years. “She asked me if I want to die / I said of course I do sometimes / Anyone who never wants to die / must not really be alive.” And now that I’m listening to it, I’m realizing that it’s right for this entry in more ways than one.


I got the Like Bats cassettes in the mail today. They’ll be the first new Traffic Street release in more than two years and will go on sale tomorrow! (This is a one-off sorta thing though; I’m not picking back up with Traffic Street for real – not anytime soon anyway).

I've had that box of inserts and covers for three years now!
I’ve had that box of inserts and covers for three years now!


Fun fact: Did you notice my (expired) EBT/foodstamp card glued to the top-right corner of the canvas? Did you notice that it says “ASK FOR VD” on the signature line? Just below that, it says “ARTS SUBSIDY” which I added after the card was on the canvas). I wrote “ASK FOR VD” on it back when it was still valid though – back when I first got it in March. I am a ridiculous human being.

This piece is available for purchase as a 12×15″ print. The original sold in December 2013.

This Might Be Bullshit

"This Might Be Bullshit." 1/11/13. Pen. 8½x11".
“This Might Be Bullshit.” 1/11/13. Pen. 8½x11″.

I was still inpatient when I made this. It was the product of the my first episode after “No Accident.” A full month had passed since then, which was longer than I could remember having gone without an emotional breakdown of one kind or another but I was still pretty disappointed with myself. If December 12th (the day I made “No Accident”) was my “emotional sobriety date,” this was most definitely my emotional relapse. I picked right back up with the kind of negative self-talk that had ruled my brain for most of my life. The body of the text reads:

I thought I found a place where I belonged. I wasn’t wrong. At the time. But time has passed and I don’t fit in here anymore. I can’t stall. I can’t adapt. I have to move on. Ready or not.

I’m already dead.

I don’t measure up. It’s who I am. It’s not sad. It just is. Nothing lasts forever and we can’t all be astronauts.

I’m not exactly sure what I meant with that last word. I’m sure it was an allusion to something I had heard (or something that had happened) recently. The rest of the text in the piece appears in bits and pieces, scattered throughout.

  • Outsider art.
  • It’s time for me to go home. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
  • Please break my hands and kick my fucking teeth in.
  • [I’m] tired of me taking up space and time.
  • Fuck my stupid fucking life.
  • No amount of any anything from me could ever be enough.


Tonight was the opening reception for my first art show. My emotional reaction to it was very much in tune with the painting I’m working on right now, so I’ll probably work it into that and share more about it once the painting is done.

In a few words though, the response tonight was such that it could very easily be interpreted as having implications that are either wildly positive and encouraging or terribly crushing and depressing. I’m working to get to a place of strictly gratitude though (and I’m almost there). To the people that did come out, I can’t thank you enough. Not just for showing up, but for really showing up. It means a lot to me. It’s keeping me going.

Ten Dollars an Hour

"Ten Dollars an Hour." 3/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink. 11x14".
“Ten Dollars an Hour.” 3/3/13. Acrylic paint and ink. 11×14″.
You know that feeling when you’re hanging out with people in your favorite bands and you’re pretending that you’re as cool as they are (or – put another way – that you don’t secretly think they’re, like, THE COOLEST EVER [just ’cause they happen to be in a band you really like])? And you pull it off successfully?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re a liar. (Because we bothknow YOU’RE NOT COOL). You are exactly as much of a faker as I am.
I wrote that a few minutes ago (for nothing in particular) but then decided to use it in my entry tonight. It’s not totally on point for this painting (and what it means to me today) but it’s related. You could call that little blurb a prequel of sorts to what follows…

One of my best friends has written a ton of my favorite songs. Since we first became friends years ago, he’s known how much I liked his bands but – now that I have a website where I write about a lot of this stuff all the time – I guess the full extent of it sort of dawned on him. He called me recently to ask about our friendship. “Like, is it pretty much the same as if Dr. Frank or Ben Weasel were calling me to tell me about their problems?” My answer: “Yeah, pretty much.” He asked what that was like and I told him it had been good for me. That I had learned a lot from the experience.

Believe it or not, there are people who think that I’m cool (and/or accomplished). And the experience of becoming so close with one of my “heroes” has given me some insight into that. We’re all nerds, none of us have a handle on our lives, and we all feel like we’re faking it to some degree. And the things that we’ve each achieved: they don’t always seem like much because they’re all we know. My “measure for success” changes constantly. At one point, if I posted a picture of something I made on Facebook and it got a dozen or so “likes,” I wanted to throw a fucking parade. That kind of stuff can still mean a lot to me (especially when I’m down) but it’s not quite the big deal that it used to be.
One afternoon in January, I was sitting on the side of the road trying not to lose my mind… I found a few crayons and some scrap paper in my backpack and scribbled out some nonsense. Today, somebody gave me sixty-five dollars for that piece of scrap paper. When I take the time to stop and think about that, it’s pretty incredible (and I’m very grateful). But that’s sort of where the bar is at now. When that sort of thing doesn’t happen, I feel like a failure. Recently though, I’ve been able to examine that along with my experiences with friends in more “successful” bands (who do the kinds of shit that a lot of us have only dreamt about (and write the kinds of songs most of us will never even get close to)) and I get it; I can understand why they don’t feel like the “success stories” that others might see them as. And I can see why I am the success story that I don’t always think I am.
That’s not all either. At times, the experience has given me self-esteem. Not because “somebody cool is my friend,” but because of the tough spots that it’s put me in. It’s hard to tell anyone that you care about something you think they might not wanna hear (or that they might be insulted by). And it’s even harder when that person is a “hero” of sorts. I found myself in that position recently and it wasn’t easy. I reallywanted to keep my mouth shut, but I also didn’t wanna be a coward. I swallowed the lump in my throat, said everything I wanted to say (with as much sincerity as I could), and… it couldn’t have gone better. Not only that but – when I asked, “What’ve your other friends said?” – the response I got was, “You’re the only one that’s said anything to me about this.” I think that’s a testament to just how easy it is to keep one’s mouth shut and not say the hard thing to a friend. Which (of course) isn’t being a friend at all. I was pretty shocked when I heard that but I also felt good about it – about overcoming my fear and finding the courage to say these things. No one else had.
This stuff’s all super awkward. Who wants to talk about friendship or admit to having “heroes” in the first place? (Not me!) So – seein’ as I’ve been brave enough to do that – I’m gonna cut myself a little slack and allow myself to “cut it short” right here. Cool? Cool.

Why I Fail

"Why I Fail." 12/8/12. Tempera, watercolor, oil pastel. 9x12".
“Why I Fail.” 12/8/12. Tempera, watercolor, oil pastel. 9×12″.

Initially, this was to be a painting of me and this girl, having a picnic under the shade of a tree. You know – cute, innocent. Except not really.

Toward the end of 2012, there were a couple times in the van when I took out my headphones and noticed that the female patients were a little more giggly than usual – and talking about trees. On both occasions, I was the only male in the van and had been listening to music but it was still pretty dumb insofar as it was painfully obvious. Trees was a code word (and not a particularly clever one). I didn’t say anything though (who was I to ruin their fun?) I just rolled my eyes and put my headphones back in.

But that’s how I got the idea and I thought was really clever. On the surface, it’d be really sweet and innocuous but – underlying that – something a little bolder. I wanted it to say, “Hey, I like you, you like me, we’re really cute together,” as well as, “I know what your little code word means and – oh –  here’s a picture of my dickhow ’bout that?

So I set to work. First thing’s first: I needed to trace my penis (you know – the “tree” under which we’d be having our picnic). I chose not to start tracing from the bottom edge because I wanted to leave a little ambiguity. (Like, “Is this the whole thing? Maybe! Maybe not!”). After all, you don’t wanna give it all away, right? I still needed to camouflage it to some extent with branches and leaves, but I decided to draw the two of us sitting in the grass first.

I couldn’t fucking do it. I couldn’t get the characters to look the way that I wanted. I erased and began again over and over until I got frustrated. And then it occurred to me: this wonderful new thing (art) that had recently come into my life — I didn’t enjoy it because it was a way for me to showcase my dazzling fucking wit (or my penis), I enjoyed it because it was a way for me to legitimately work through my feelings and express myself authentically. This – what I was currently engaged in – was bullshit. And what do you know? Like so many of my mistakes and fuck-ups, both big and small, what was at the root of this misstep? My dick.

I changed course, painted without intent, and looked at the page. Yeah – there it was, right in front of me: WHY I FAIL.


Aside from a commission, my first sale was for two pieces: this painting and a drawing.

My first sale as an artist was a painting of my dick.

The buyer had to have seen it, right? Jacob certainly spotted it when I posted it on Facebook back in December. I opted to respond vaguely with comments like, “Eye of the beholder, my friend!” (even when he posted his own derivative work on Imgur to support his interpretation).

I think I was scared because if I acknowledged  it, anyone that saw it could play mathematician based on the dimensions of the painting. Unless I also added that it wasn’t my entire penis. And then I’m suddenly the kid on the internet writing about how “my dick is at least this big (and who knows how much bigger?)!

Which – now – I totally am anyway.

[By the way,  the answer: not that much].


Ready When You Are

"Ready When You Are." 6/7/13. Oil pastel. 9½x12”.
“Ready When You Are.” 6/7/13. Oil pastel. 9½x12”.

It was Friday so I drove up to Tranquil Shores for my session with Tracy and my weekly expressive art group with the kids that were still inpatients. Earlier that week, I had found an apartment in Jacksonville. When I told Tracy, she was really surprised. (I had been talking about moving, but it was just a few days prior that I actually started looking for a place, so it all happened really quickly). “Seriously?” she asked me. “Well, let me get the papers for your discharge.”

Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me: that moving away would mean I’d be officially discharged from Tranquil Shores. My life was about to change and it was just now registering. It made me sad. It even made me a little angry, though I’m not sure with whom. (Probably myself). It was a really great afternoon; everyone at Tranquil Shores couldn’t have been sweeter to me or more supportive. But… I didn’t wanna leave. I didn’t want it to be over and I guess I was as caught off-guard as Tracy had been.

After my session, I went into the art room for group. I felt good overall, but had that little streak of darkness in me. I got an idea in my head of a sorta vulture and I liked it. I wanted to draw something that lived off dead flesh – something sustained by failure.

But still sorta comic and fun.


(Especially relevant) status update: Heather’s friends are getting married in Englewood next weekend, so I won’t be too far from Tranquil Shores. On Friday, I’m going to drive up that way and meet up with a crew of kids I went to treatment with for lunch, and then I’m gonna go in for the expressive art group just like I used to. I’ve been really excited about it but am getting more nervous as it gets closer. It’s gonna be a totally new crop of kids. I’ll still know all the staff obviously, but it seems kinda strange to go to group with a bunch of patients I’ve never met before. I hope I don’t wimp out. I hope it goes well.


Perfect Love / Exit Bag

"Perfect Love / Exit Bag." 10/31/12. Tempera, colored pencil, oil pastel. 12x18".
“Perfect Love / Exit Bag.” 10/31/12. Tempera, colored pencil, oil pastel. 12×18″.

“Perfect love” (to me) isn’t just unconditional love; it’s bigger than that and it’s greater (or wider) than any kind of romantic love. It’s a total respect for the entirety of another human being. It doesn’t have any room for jealousy or anything like that.

I really like the word “cupidity.” Technically, it’s an excessive desire to possess something (like money or materials things). Given the connotations of “cupid” though, I like to think of it as more of an excessive desire to possess someone. It’s sort of the opposite of perfect love. When I meet a girl, I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other. One minute, I might be totally enamored or infatuated with her and then – the second I fear that she might not reciprocate (if she’s paying more attention to someone else, for example) – I’ll totally shut off absolutely all feeling and cease to care about her in any way at all. And then – the moment my fear is somehow allayed – a switch flips and I’m one-hundred percent invested in her again.

I’ve never been what you’d call a jealous or possessive boyfriend. I’m not bothered by my girlfriend going out without me, having male friends, or anything like that, but I think that’s because – once she’s “officially” my girlfriend – my cupidity is sated. That’s all the “possession” I need to feel okay, but that’s still a problem. It’s still not okay with me that I (feel like I) need that at all.

Last October, I was in treatment and I liked a girl but I knew it was a bad idea for me to get involved. So I was trying to have a genuine friendship with her. I was trying to practice this concept of “perfect love” that I had in my head. I was trying to be real and authentic and honest, and to value and respect her as an independent human being. It was a totally different dynamic (and experience) than my usual approach of (still trying to be honest but primarily) trying to get her to like me (or want to be my girlfriend or want to sleep with me). I wanted my behavior to reflect perfect love, which meant acting without any expectation, desire, or even hope of receiving anything in return.

On Halloween, she was having a problem and – after coming to me for help – she went to someone else. “What – I’m not enough? My help wasn’t good enough? What’s happening!?”–I thought. I didn’t show any of this outwardly, but the switch flipped and I immediately ceased to have any interest in this girl. My feelings were hurt so I was going to stop caring. …Because I wasn’t the only person that she shared her problem with…

And it’s worse than that even. In these situations, I don’t usually stop caring about the girl alone – more often than not, I also stop caring about myself. Suddenly, I’m a worthless unlovable piece of shit and there’s no reason for me to be alive. (My attempt at perfect love was an abysmal failure).

This all happened just before expressive art therapy group. An “exit bag” is a homemade suicide device. To make one, you need a helium tank, an oven bag, a piece of string, some tape, and a tube. I felt like I wanted to die, but I knew that I didn’t really and I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings because I probably wasn’t ready to feel better. I needed to punish myself by stewing in misery for a little bit longer. Writing “helium, bag, string, tape, and tube” here was my way of saying “I WANT TO DIE” without having to deal with anyone’s response to a statement like that.

Because so much of what I was experiencing as I made this piece so perfectly exemplifies (/is symptomatic of) borderline personality disorder, I came to see the ghost that I drew here as sort of a stand-in for BPD. He’s in at least five of my pieces (including a tattoo). Once I have more of those online, I’ll probably do a special post just to feature him in all his different forms. (That sounds like fun to me). : )