I made this on the day that I first tried to sell my artwork. It’s kind of embarrassing. Beneath the bolder caption is some less legible text: “Fill your arms with paint. Sorry. I fill my arms with paint. Or I want to anyway. Um. Metaphorically. This thing is kind of cool. I guess it is what I thought it’d be. I feel selfish though. Like I’m not watching the other bands.”
Translation: Dumb phrase that sounds poetic. Apology for not speaking in the first person (as we’re taught in treatment). Analogy about using artwork in place of heroin to manage my anxiety. Craft Fest [in St. Pete] is kind of cool and about what I expected it to be. I haven’t looked at anything any of the other people are selling at their tables and I feel guilty in the same way I might if I were playing a show and didn’t go inside to watch any of the bands before/after my own.
I felt weird about all of that so I decided to just write out my bluntest, most human feelings on top of it: “Give me money and praise and I’ll give you this.”
Alex and I went to go see the “Everything is Terrible” holiday show at Sun-Ray tonight. When we walked out of the theater, there was a big gaping hole on the wall where one of my paintings once hung. I asked what happened and was handed an envelope with more money in it than I’ve ever been given for a single painting. Somebody bought it right on the spot and gave instructions to tell me that I’m “an international artist now” because it’s going in their home in Paris. So that’s pretty fucking awesome. And (like Beachtown Grafitti) – at the time of this one’s sale – it was also my favorite: Snowflakes Anonymous.
I’m really wrapped up in a “project” right now that’s costing me a lot of money and won’t pay anything (it’s not for me – it’s for some people that I care about). I was stressing about it earlier today but just told myself that it’s a nice thing to do and I don’t need to get all nervous because I like to believe that things will always work out when I’m making good, positive choices. And then this happened tonight so… Life’s kinda cool, right?
Here’s a song that’s rad as fuck.
Numbered, signed, and sealed Give Me Money and Praise prints are available in my webstore. If you’re interested in purchasing the original, get in touch.
Though it had become fairly regular with my expressive art therapy pieces, it’s been three months since I last felt compelled to cover my canvas with a sprawling journal entry. My newest painting though…
I take Adderall. If I don’t, I’m unproductive. But sometimes I can’t take my Adderall. Because I haven’t yet taken my Adderall. As much as I’d like to be clever – that’s not a joke. And when I admit that, it feels kind of pathetic.
I still don’t have a job, but I work at least eight hours a day. Many days, it’s much more than that. The work that I do is probably the only work that I’m capable of doing at this point in my life. It’s good for me and (it seems to be) good for a lot of other people too. It certainly seems to have more of a positive impact on the world than my work in [let’s say] a gas station would. It’s too bad that it doesn’t pay as well.
I’m not sure what my “job” is… Do I just do what I do, or do I need to dedicate the same kind of energy to marketing myself? I don’t wanna do that any more than I wanna work in a gas station.
I think a lot about “success” lately. I don’t think it’s just freedom (from rules, bosses, schedules, orders), I think it’s also… – I want to say freedom from anxiety – comfort (internally / spiritually). Excepting my EDD freak-outs, I stress about not having enough money to 1) pay bills and 2) keep Heather in love with me.
Look at that! I finally fucking admitted it!
You know… for a second, I thought this was big. But, really, it only means that I’m just like every other normal fuck on the planet.
Oh – shit. That is big.
Growing up, my dad taught me (or at least tried to teach me) a few things. One of those is at the crux of this piece. “If you don’t make enough money, (sooner or later) she’ll leave. It doesn’t matter how much she loves you. If you can’t afford to do things like go on vacation, then – eventually – she’ll find someone that can.”
My biggest regret (or possibly just the one I think of most) is something I said to Heather when we first started seeing each other. I was still living in Tranquil Shores then, so I was very much a blank slate; no one really had any idea what the fuck my life would look like even 30 days into the future. I had recently decided that I wanted to live, essentially, as I was at Tranquil Shores: I wanted to dedicate myself to art and other creative projects, and have a little time left to do standard mental health / recovery sorta stuff. When I told Heather, she asked how that could possibly be tenable in the long-term. I assured her that I was really clever – that I’d make it work somehow. And that “shit – if all else fails, I’ve got a fucking law degree from Georgetown – I can always go get a regular job. Work seasonally (or something like that). In any case, if I ever needed money, I’d be able to come up with it.” And why not? I always had in the past.
But “why not” is that I’m not a fucking drug addict anymore. Sure, I was always able to come up with money before but that’s because I was okay with heading over to the nearest college and stealing laptops (or anything else valuable I might come across). And – in case it doesn’t go without saying – I don’t do shit like that anymore. All that aside, what I emphasized was simply that I’mreally clever and that things are going to work out for me. I think I was more lacking in thoughtfulness than I was being dishonest.
When she told me she liked to go on vacations – and asked if I’d be able to afford something like that – the word probably rang that old bell in my head and sent me into panic mode. Without a second of pause, I just said “yes.”
Because of all that, I feel like I started this relationship under false pretenses – and now that I’ve already suckered her into liking me, it’s not the kind of thing I can just take back. In the end, I know it won’t make any difference (whether or not I promised to benot brokeone day); if I don’t ever make money (and it is an issue for her) it’s not like she’ll be obligated to stick around just because “she knew what she was getting into.” Then again, I was a heroin addict and a mental patient so… it might be fair to say that she knew (or at least should have known) what she was getting into either way.
I selected the “most outrageous” text from this piece for the title because I want to distract from how uncomfortable I am with the real subject. ”Who Do You Work For?” would make for a far more genuine title. I like it because it implies Heather and myself, as well as (potentially) a third-party audience (with – or instead of – Heather). After all, so much of the journal reads like I’m defending myself / trying to justify my life to someone. And just mentioning anything about financial anxiety within a piece of art makes the whole thing feel like a commercial solicitation (which also makes me uncomfortable).
Although, as Heather pointed out, I’m well aware that my pieces with journal entries on them as way less salable than the others and that by using her name in the piece (rather than a generic equivalent like “my girlfriend”) I made it even less salable. Which makes me happy – to spot concrete evidence that, though I might stress out about money in relation to my art, that tension isn’t influencing me in such a way as to detract from my (or my art’s) authenticity. I don’t ever make something with salability in mind; I just fucking make it. So while I may prove to be a commercial failure – so long as I honor myself and my expression – I can still be a personal success. And maybe that’s enough…
In the journal written on the actual painting, I mention “EDD freakouts.” Emotional dysregulation disorder and borderline personality disorder are one in the same. I usually use the latter since it’s the more well-known but, in this case, I felt that EDD was a better descriptive term.
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.
In late February, I went to Crafty Fest at Artpool to try and sell some of my pieces. It went really well. The first week of April, I went to Indie Market in downtown St. Pete and it was a bust. A few weeks later, I went back to Crafty Fest, but this time to do both days instead of just one.
On the first day, my table was not well-positioned and I got badly sunburned relatively early in. I left my table and sat under someone else’s tent. It didn’t really matter; no one seemed to give a shit anyway. So I sat a ways away, painting as I spied on the people that would stop to look at my stuff. When someone smiled, laughed, and really stopped to look at more than a couple of my pieces, I’d walk over and start to talk to them.
One woman really liked a lot of them. When she told me she really wanted to remember the details so she could tell her friends later, I hinted that if she were to buy one, she wouldn’t have to worry about remembering it. What a concept! She asked about the price on one and – given how poorly things were going – I aimed low. Really low. “Twenty dollars,” I said. “Oh my!” she responded, “I could never spend that much! I just paid ten dollars for two chairs!”
I’m not really sure what chairs have to do with art, but that’s the story of how I brokenly sold a piece for $6.12. The only sale of the day.
I was not excited to go back for day two. That first art fair had gone really well, but this was now two in a row that had not.
That morning I woke up wondering why I was going to bother driving out to do this. “Fuck brushing my teeth, fuck putting on shoes, fuck doing anything to get ready or look presentable. I’ll go and I’ll expect nothing. I’ll spend the day painting.”
So that’s how I approached it and, right away, it felt pretty great. I had become a lot less concerned with others’ perceptions of me since my most recent (and only successful) stint in treatment, but this was a step forward still. And not giving a shit about whether or not anyone would buy any of my art – here (on this day) or ever again – it was a relief. “If there’s no market for my art – fuck it,” I decided, “that’s not why I do it anyway. It was an exciting prospect that making art (something I’m going to do no matter what) might also be something that’d free me from having to wash dishes or bag groceries for the rest of my life, but if that doesn’t work out, it won’t be the end of the world. Whenever I make something new, I’ll just give it to a friend or anyone else that wants it – and then figure out some other way to pay bills. I mean, this whole painting thing is new to me. It’s not like being an artist has been my lifelong dream.”
Things didn’t go as awfully as I prepared for. I sold quite a few pieces and made a good deal of money. That meant my street-sales record was now 2-2 and my hope / optimism concerning the possibility of art saving me from less fulfilling “work” was renewed. And the experience was even more successful in terms of the quality of time spent painting and the lessons I learned regarding acceptance and expectations.
I can be filthy and paint pictures as I smoke cigarettes barefoot on downtown sidewalks… I can do whatever it is that I do, and … that’s it. Things work out.
And I’m not talking about people appreciating my paintings and buying them. (That’s just a bonus). The best moment of the day was before any of that happened. It was the moment I realized that I was no longer dreading the day to come. It was the moment that I felt free of expectations. The moment that I felt free period.
Among the million criticisms launched at Against Me! when they started to get popular was that all of their songs were about playing in a band or (more generally) the music industry. I thought it was a bummer when they forgot how to write catchy, engaging songs but didn’t mind those lyrical themes so much. But part of me is bothered by this piece in that same kind of way. It’s a little too self-referential / on-the-subject-of-art/business for my taste. Or maybe I’m just embarrassed by the sentiment or the vulnerability. It was my second time selling at a street fair-kinda thing, nobody was even stopping to look at my stuff, and I was getting a little down in the dumps. Eventually people did stop – and laugh, and compliment – and come back with their friends to show them certain pieces that they really liked, but no one was really buying anything.
I knew all along that I shouldn’t need validation from anyone or anything outside of myself, but it took me a little bit to realize that – if that’s what I wanted – the positive feedback should have been enough for me to feel validated in that way anyway. After all, if the lack of sales was actually about me (or, more specifically, my art), what would that mean? What would the explanation be? It would be that my pieces weren’t good enough to sell. Which would mean that if I wanted to succeed, I’d have to make “better” art. My pieces though are authentic, honest, and expressive. A lot of them are also funny and some of them even lookcool as well. Even if I didn’t know that myself, I can tell a real response or compliment from a bullshit one, and plenty of people have told me as much and genuinely meant it. I could have been peddling unearthed/never-seen Picassos, and (unless they had his name on them) I probably still wouldn’t have sold much more than I did that day. Or maybe if I had been selling technically proficient portraits of TV characters, I’d have sold everything I had. But that would have been bullshit because that’s not who I am and it’s not what I do.
So this painting is about the emotional triggers I was struggling with before I took the time to really reflect and figure it all out. When I finished it, I was too embarrassed to even add it to my display. And I’m still a little embarrassed by it, but that’s okay (just like everything else).
This statement was written in May, around the time the painting sold. An 11½x12” print/poster is available in my store.
Here’s a later-period Against Me! song that I think is every bit as good as anything they’ve ever recorded.
She might be scared, but that has nothing to do with me, my choices, my attitude, or my … how I’ve been.
I’m ambitious and I have confidence but moving out starts the ticking of the clock. It sets the deadline for my success or the date of my failure. Not moving out is what I’m comfortable with. But how long is it okay for me to stall intimate relationships so that I can enjoy myself (and do the things I want to without worry)?
Is it okay for me to be okay? Complacency. Fear. Priorities. GROWING UP. I understand far less than I let on. Strange that someone with all the answers in interactions has nothing but questions when alone.
That’s the text within this piece – painted in my Friday expressive art therapy group at Tranquil Shores. It was getting closer to the time Heather and I had talked about picking up and moving to Jacksonville. We were bickering a lot. I had asked her what was really going on. When she failed to come up with anything, I suggested that maybe she was scared about moving to a new city. After all, it wasn’t me. I’m itinerant! I’m punk! All we do is move. We have no roots. “I don’t live anywhere!” She, on the other hand, had never moved to a new city before so she was scared and that was making her irritable. Obviously.
But this was expressive art therapy and (in therapy) we don’t look at what’s wrong with other people, we look at ourselves. So that’s what I tried to do as I painted and – when I started writing – all of this suddenly came out of me.
God dammit. It was totally me. I was terrified. If I moved to Jacksonville with Heather, I’d suddenly be responsible for rent and utilities and who knows what else. I had been out of (inpatient) treatment for three months and thus far was doing great. I was supporting myself without having to give in to reality and get a real job. (Which – in hindsight – I realize may not have been all that impressive a feat considering that I had absolutely no bills to pay). But if I moved to Jacksonville and came up short on money for bills one month, all of a sudden, I’d have to admit that I was wrong. I’d have to get a job and acknowledge that I couldn’t support myself creatively…
Maybe I should just break it off and stay in Bradenton and live with Taylor’s family forever…? I don’t need a girlfriend or to be an adult or…
“Moving boxes and little else” is an acknowledgment that I had moved more times than I could count but was terrified to move forward.
But I did! And – so far – so good.
This piece is important to me because the process of creating it really was revelatory. I had spend a lot time thinking about this stuff and had gotten nowhere. After I made this piece, the bickering between Heather and I stopped completely. It’s pretty remarkable how much garbage sometimes lurks just below the surface (and how badly it can fuck me up). This piece is proof that art is essential to the maintenance of my mental health.
Here’s the song I quoted in this entry. It’s from the new Dead Mechanical album out soon on Toxic Pop (who split released the last DM full-length with Traffic Street (that’s my label, you guys!)) When I lived in DC, I spent a lot of time in Baltimore. When I wasn’t copping or shooting heroin, I was usually at a Dead Mechanical show. (Sometimes both!) But getting to see them play all the time was definitely one of the best things about living up there.
Here’s another song from the same record. Just ’cause.
Hit the Toxic Pop website to check out the album art (by Julie Benoit!) and pre-order the LP, which starts shipping next week. (I know the site says that it starts shipping in early August, but Mike (Toxic Pop) sent out an update changing the shipping date due to delays at the pressing plant).
This painting is currently for sale. Or – if you’re not a big spender – you can pick up a signed and framed (behind glass) print/poster that’s the same size as the original.
Somehow, at the end of my ride home, the perfect song always seems to come up to remind me that life is spectacular. Tonight it was “Why’d You Walk Away?” by The Potential Johns.
Here’s the first real break in the chronology. I spent between four and five hours painting it earlier tonight.
As I mentioned earlier, I had been stressing out about this site. Heather asked me the other day what I was trying to get out of it. “Money and attention,” I told her. And then I backpedaled because I was really thrown by my answer. And then I was just sort of confused. Was that really what I was after? If so, what the fuck was wrong with me?
Tonight I realized that nothing’s wrong with me – well, not that anyway. That is the purpose of this site and I’m totally okay with that. Because that’s NOT the purpose of the content, just the site itself. My journals (both while in treatment and today) aren’t something that I write for money or attention. They’re usually the product of intense psychic trauma that I’m trying to get rid of – especially these days. In treatment, I tried to journal every day just for its own sake. Lately, I really only journal when I’m incredibly stressed out and need to get some shit out of my head and in front of my eyes. Similarly, my artwork is all about emotional balance. I make it because it’s what I have to do in order to stay sane. When I don’t make it, I start stressing out about stupid shit (like this website).
But I don’t need to share any of this stuff publicly, on the internet, in order to be well. I do it because I was encouraged by counselors and peers to dedicate as much of my time as possible to doing these creative things and to see if I could find a way to use the products of that time to support myself as well. I was told that the things I was making had value to other people and I decided to put myself out there and see what would happen. Thus far, the return I’ve gotten on that emotional risk has been incredible in just about every sense. It’s true that – since this site has launched – I haven’t gotten a ton of feedback, but we’re only talking about five days. I can’t even count how many people have reached out to me because of the things I’ve put out there prior to this week. I can hardly comprehend the amount of love and support people have shown me as a result of all of this.
The site is about marketing in a sense and so it’s disappointing when I’m not selling anything or getting as much attention as I’ve become accustomed to, but that’s some bullshit on my part. I need to remember to be grateful for all that I have received. I also need to remember to be humble. Posting old journal entries from when I first got into treatment… there may be some value to it, but it’s probably not quite as fascinating to read as I initially thought it might be. Which leads me to the most important point – that I need to remember to honor myself with honest self-expression. Yesterday has happened. What matters is today. What matters is how I’m feeling, how I’m doing, and what I’m doing today. And today, I’m back to focusing on the process of creating art, rather than what might come of it down the road.
Psst… If you notice any weird lines in the image, it’s ’cause I had to use a low-resolution camera and I pieced together a few close-up photographs. (I’ll replace it with a better photo once I’m able).
Bonus! Remember when I was talking about “Why’d You Walk Away” by The Potential Johns?