Before “No Real Than You Are,” my only acting experience was being totally full of shit in real life. Word on the street is that I gave a pretty good audition, but that’s probably only because the character (Calvin Mather) is incredibly similar to a slightly younger Sam North. Calvin is an intravenous drug addict with serious abandonment issues, who built his life on dumb punk songs and doesn’t believe in anything.
Seeing as I have a pretty good understanding of such a character, Vincent [who wrote and directed the film] gave me almost free reign to do whatever I wanted so far as Calvin’s clothes and apartment were concerned. Shitty studio apartments have mini-fridges and microwaves, so I got those [thanks, Joe!] but found out shortly thereafter that the fridge didn’t work. That’s fine since… you know… Calvin’s not real, but it meant that nobody would be using it when we were done filming so… I painted it. The front (“Food is For People”) is about how I mainly consume Adderall, cigarettes, and candy. The side (“Works Less Than I Do”) is about how I pay my bills by painting pictures of funny faces and (at that point) playing pretend. Watch the trailer to the movie and you can probably spot it in one of the shots.
I didn’t paint the microwave but I did bring it back to Jacksonville with me. Sometimes I pop popcorn in it. It also totally heats up leftover pizza and old coffee. Other stuff too! Pretty cool, right?
Granted – I’m out of mind but, for an emotional basket case, I’m a pretty nice kid. I’m friendly. And because I isolate and know that I shouldn’t, chances are – that if you ask me – I’ll probably hang out with you.I have enough of an interest in people (and interact with them so rarely) that I’ll sit and talk with just about anyone for an hour.
I’m trying to eke out a living as an artist. That’s not the easiest thing to do and I’m not above charity. Last week, I saw some guy with his hands full and I offered to help him. It took me all of thirty seconds and I certainly didn’t expect to be compensated, but he pulled out a five dollar bill. I paused – unsure whether or not I should accept it. But I did and I thanked him. If he felt that my little bit of help was worth five dollars, I’m not gonna tell him he’s wrong. Five dollars makes a difference in my life and I was grateful for it.
I was organizing my prints at Sun Ray and some guy asked me if the art on the walls was mine. I talked to him for a while, he was friendly enough, said he collects art, said he couldn’t make it to the opening tomorrow but that he wanted to get in touch later and asked for my phone number [which isn’t something I’m protective of; I even have it listed, here, on the internet]. I wrote it on one of my cards and gave it to him. “I really wanna keep in touch,” he said. ” I can really help you out. What I’m really interested in is hearing more about your background, maybe over a meal.”
“Yeah, okay, cool…” I said somewhat warily, trying to be polite, trying to not be socially awkward. (I have a hard time knowing when it’s me that’s being weird). If I take him at his word, after all, all of that would be cool. I mean, I (CLEARLY) don’t have a problem talking about myself, I eat food, and I’m stoked as fuck to sell my artwork. So… sounds like a win? Even if his choice of words is a little strange…
And then I realized that I was falling for the same shit I’ve fallen for before. And I remembered something else he had said in our conversation that now made a lot more sense to me. How he was disappointed the last time he bought a painting because, as he put it, “I was hoping the artist would have been a lot more appreciative.”
Being put in this position sucks because it makes me feel like a prostitute. I don’t want to come right out and say, “Hey, I’d be happy to eat lunch and talk to you, and more than happy to sell you a painting, but I’m not going to have sex with you.” Because no one’s actually said anything about sex and it makes ME feel like an asshole for jumping to that conclusion. But I fucking know that’s what it’s about. And I also (unfortunately) know from experience that even if I do state all that explicitly, an attempt is going to be made to coax me into meeting up under the pretense of selling art and having a meal and then I’m still gonna get propositioned. And even if I’m not, I’m still gonna feel like a prostitute because it’s not really my art that the guy is trying to buy, it’s me (or my time or my attention or [whatever]). That doesn’t sound so bad, but I just can’t do it. Even without the bullshit art pretense. I know because I tried once.
The offer was a hundred bucks (paid up front) to meet at a Starbuck’s for a cup of coffee and sit and talk for an hour. I thought about it and – like I said – if there wasn’t money involved, I’d meet up with somebody and talk for an hour, so why not? If somebody I don’t know is asking me to sit and talk, they’re probably pretty lonely. It seems like a kind thing to do and maybe I’ll learn something. And in a case like this – where money is offered – well, I wouldn’t have asked for it, but if someone wants to give it to me, I’ll accept. It might not be as altruistic, but that doesn’t make it unkind.
So it seemed like the rational choice was to go. The only “why not” I could think of was that it made me feel uncomfortable. And when I reflected on that, it struck me as being somehow homophobic and I didn’t like what that said about me. So I went. I walked into the coffee shop and… turned around just as quickly, went right out the door, got on my scooter, and sped the fuck away. It was too fucking weird. I felt uneasy. It felt wrong or, at the very least, it definitely didn’t feel right. No one should wanna pay me just to hang out with them. I’M COOL BUT I’M NOT THAT COOL. Besides, this asshole didn’t even know whether or not I was cool. He didn’t know me at all.
I thought about it afterward and couldn’t quite figure it out – my reaction, I mean. Was it homophobic? My gay friends don’t make me uncomfortable. Being hit on by a guy doesn’t make me uncomfortable. Somehow, I’ve only just now arrived at a satisfying conclusion. It has nothing to do with sexuality; it’s about respect. I might be a self-promoting little fuckshit but it’s not really me that I’m selling. It was Traffic Street Records, now it’s my art, and (in a sense) it’s sometimes even my personality. (There’s a component of myself in all of it). But it’s not me. No one can actually buyme.I’m not for fucking sale.
Obviously, this stuff makes me a little angry but I’m still sympathetic. After all, I don’t think anyone out there is acting with the intent of fucking with me; we’re all just trying to get by and find some kind of happiness and we all act selfishly (to whatever degree) sometimes. But I’ve decided that I’m not interested in playing this sort of game or walking this balance beam. If you wanna buy my art because you like my art, that’s fucking awesome. But if you wanna buy it ’cause you want something else from me – with all due respect – fuck off. I might be broke but I’m not that desperate. I’d rather wait ’til I find a buyer that actually appreciates it.
If I didn’t make and wear shit like this, I probably wouldn’t have these problems but… fuck that. It’s my RIGHT to be fucking hilarious.
I was fourteen the first time I got kicked out of the house. The next few years, often enough, I’d move back in with my mom or dad, but never for very long. Fourteen’s when I had my Macaulay Culkin/Good Son epiphany – that I can do whatever I want. From then on, I was done with curfews and rules. When I moved in with my dad, I regularly came home to an empty house – which meant I didn’t even have to come home. Nobody was keeping tabs on me. I liked it. I liked not having to answer to anyone.
The thought that I might not be cut out for “sharing a life” has occurred to me before. I’m not great at making concessions. Doing what somebody else wants me to do instead of what I want to do isn’t something I’m good at. I like being away – in whatever city – and living out of a backpack. It’s an adventure. Nobody gives a fuck where I am or what time I’ll be home. I can go wherever I want, sleep here, sleep there. It doesn’t matter. The last time I did that was in Sarasota, for “No Real Than You Are.” Things eventually got ten kinds of fucked up but that’s a different thing. The being-on-my-own/adventure part was awesome. I had a fucking blast when I first got there.
On our way to Sarasota, a Friday, Heather and I weren’t getting along. Things got better but then, Saturday, got worse. I pitched the idea of “breaking up” for the first time. It got really intense and emotional but we figured it out. On Sunday, she went back to Jacksonville, leaving me in Sarasota for a month to make the movie. Riding around town each day, having places to go and things to do, I felt so alive. I felt really free. I started thinking about if I’d happier on my own. But I’m not ever on my own. “Pretend for a second that I left Heather,” I thought, “how would that play out?” I already knew. I’d run around for a minute, get into a little trouble, have a little fun, and wind up in a relationship with another girl within a month. That’s how it always goes. I fall in love way too fast. And if I’m going to be in a relationship anyway, it should be with Heather… right? I had to think about that. Why did I love Heather? Of course she’s [insert romantic/positive adjectives here] but if I’m really being honest it’s not about the laundry list of nice traits; a lot of people are smart, pretty, sweet, [whatever]. Admitting it to myself made me feel more self-centered than I’d ever felt in my life. What I most loved about Heather: she loves me.
– “So, Sam – what do you look for in a girl?”
…um… An affinity for… me.
That’s most of it anyway. She loves me enough (and she’s stable enough) that – should something go awry – she’s not gonna lose her shit or do anything really fucked up to hurt me. If we break up, I’m just gonna date somebody else. And there’s no guarantee that that girl will love me as much or be as even-keeled. I’d have to be crazy to leave her.
That was July. In August, I told her about it. I didn’t know how she’d react, but the next day she said something about being more in love with me than ever. When she says stuff like that to me, my kneejerk response is always “WHAT’D I DO??” Like the answers to most questions, I had to drag it out of her, but she said it was what I had told her the night before. “The thing about me loving you ‘cause you love me?” I asked. “Seriously?” I hadn’t exactly expected her to find it endearing.
[Quick interjection: For the first time, it’s occurred to me that she may have only said she “loved me more than ever” because (in light of what I had just told her) that would make meloveher more… If that’s the case though, I don’t think it was conscious].
I’m not happy and she doesn’t love me – or doesn’t treat me like it anyway – so why the fuck am I even bothering?
Tuesday, Wednesday, and one day last week, I didn’t sleep in the bed. It felt wrong; it was way too intimate for us. I’m not connected to this person – I’m not gonna sleep beside her.
I had a lot on my mind but I didn’t wanna let my emotions call the shots. I was making plans but wanted to be sure that they still made sense when I was a little more relaxed. I wanted to be certain that I wasn’t acting out of anger or hurt. After all, I love her. If I’m about to break up with her, I need to do it in a loving way. It shouldn’t be cavalier – if it’s really what’s right for me then I wouldn’t do it in a way that hurts her. I took some time to sort everything out and when I felt I was in a good place, I told her I needed to talk before she left for work. I let her take her time getting ready and continued to sort out my feelings, in my head and on paper.
“My plan is to move out at the end of the month. I’m not happy, I don’t feel like you love me, and I feel like we’re completely disconnected.” She said she didn’t feel that way at all. If she was upset by this news though, she didn’t show it. That’s perfectly in line with what I’ve come to expect and a perfect example of my biggest issue with her: an unwillingness (or at least hesitancy) to share how she’s feeling. She barely said anything in response; she just stood there. I’d stand silently too, waiting for something that never came, before saying something else or asking her to please respond.
The whole thing just reinforced my idea that we might not be compatible. That we couldn’t communicate. When I ran out of things to say, we just stood there. Even if it was ending, I wanted to be loving. I gave her a hug. She hugged back the same way she always does: just barely. I went outside to smoke a cigarette and she left for work.
I thought about it all day as I painted. I’ve written a lot about it the last few days, but I wrote more on my canvas. A lot of it’s been obscured by paint but – of the (still visible) statements that strike me as having genuine relevance – here’s what it says:
I wanna live alone in a city where no one wants me. I wanna be a stranger. I’m so much more interesting when you’ve just met me. I want a recurring guest role (for just one season) in your life. And yours. And yours. I like long distance friendships. I like sex for the first time. It’s only been 9 months I’ve known her. It’s only been ten months I’ve known me. I love her but I don’t know what the fuck that means. What’re the implications? What’s my obligation? Is this about me or about her? If I’m getting an ego again, then I’m a fucking joke. Because I am a joke. I’m fucking Halloween every day. I wanna wake up alone on my birthday. I wanna go days on end. I still don’t know what’s real or right. I’m insane. That’s part of the deal.
Late last night, we finally had a back and forth conversation. “When I said I was planning on moving out at the end of the month, it’s not like I was committing to anything. That was just my notice, if I’m still unhappy. I don’t actually make plans because I have no idea where I’ll be, how I’ll feel, one moment to the next.” In the end, she said if she was gonna make an effort that I had to try too. That I couldn’t still be upset. “I can’t just flip a switch in an instant and be okay. Then again, there’s a good chance I’ll wake up tomorrow and be totally fine.”
Which is exactly what happened.
And today, everything’s been okay, so I’m okay. Today. Right now.
Later? We’ll see… But I’m gonna try and I can already see that she’s trying so I’m hoping for the best.
There’s a good few things that come up in the text on the canvas that I didn’t begin to touch with this statement. But I wanted to push this out into the world already ’cause I’m ready to move past it. The parts that really hold water – I’ll have ample opportunity to look at later on down the line.
I’m not sure I really even accept the concept of a personality disorder but … Do other people really not think / behave / feel this way? I kind of have a hard time believing that. Then again, I go back and forth with it. I mean – obviously – I’m not ashamed (or I wouldn’t talk about it as much as I do) but…
Signed, limited edition (#/100) 12×15″ Eradicating the Threat of Happiness prints are available in my webstore. Each print is packaged in a sealed Crystal Clear acid/lignin-free plastic archival sleeve, with a heavy backing board, and a single sheet artist’s statement on the reverse. Shipping and handling is free.
The original painting sold January 4, 2014.
For information regarding the availability of other original pieces, I’d be happy to send you a current price list or arrange a meeting.
I played Calvin Mather in the short film “No Real Than You Are.” During the four weeks I was in town to work on the movie, I tried to pitch in with whatever I could to be helpful. This is some of my “prop work”: a perfect replica of a Walgreens prescription label. Every detail is exactly as it would be if Calvin were… you know… not a character in a movie. That’s the address and phone number for the Walgreens closest to the address I chose for him (my last address before going to rehab in December 2011). It was a shitty little box of a studio apartment that had mushrooms growing out of the carpet. I pulled ’em out, sprayed fungicide and other assorted chemicals, but they’d always grow back. Eventually I relented and just accepted them as part of my home. I kinda liked ’em.
So while this isn’t anything like my usual “art,” I think it counts. I didn’t have a scanner so I had to create it from scratch – and everything is 100% dead on. (Go ahead! Pull out a prescription bottle from Walgreens and see how it measures up!)
Another project I did for the movie… The night before the filming of the first scene in which a character would be sniffing oxycodone, I found out that the powder the crew had been planning to use (instead of real drugs) wasn’t going to work. So Chris Spillane and I went to Walmart at 2am and bought vitamins, food dye, hose clamps, bowls, a lamp, and a lightbulb and cooked up a pile of “oxycodone” that looked extraordinarily like the real thing. Walmart probably gets its share of sketchy characters during the third shift, but I think Chris and I won the contest that night. We both had a pretty good time with the whole thing. I remember laughing a lot that night, especially while we were still in the store. Back at the apartment, I was reminded of being a seventeen year old drug dealer, cutting cocaine with vitamins and acetone.
A couple days later, when we ran out of the stuff and needed more, I had Chris – plus Tola and Alex (the production designer and leadman) – sitting on the floor in my apartment, grinding away at vitamins as I mixed, colored, and cooked them. It felt like I was actually running a fake drug manufacture scam!
In case you’re wondering… while this is what went up the noses of the actors that sniffed “drugs,” it is not what my character was injecting whenever he did a shot. For that, I used blue Gatorade. While there were some concerns that injecting Gatorade might be dangerous… Back when I was shooting heroin everyday, I was pretty shiftless; if there was no water within reach but a bottle of Gatorade sitting next to me, I’d just put that in my spoon instead. Electrolytes are good for you, you guys.
“No Real Than You Are” is currently raising money to help with the costs of post-production. If you’d like to contribute (or just watch the trailer), check out their Kickstarter page.
Bent Outta Shape fans will probably enjoy that the RX# on Calvin’s prescription is telephone spelling for “IYDKMRNIGE.”
I knew it’d be a problem. No one took me seriously. I gave up – I wanted to be agreeable. Now the consequences are here and I hate myself. Addressing it directly now will only make it worse. So – here I am – fumbling around with vague bullshit. I want to say “am” but will settle for “feel.” I feel weak, dependent, vain, and trivial.
The text at upper left: “That was amazing,” Vincent said. “How do you feel?” “Like garbage.” I went back out on the dock with Tola. We sat out there for the rest of the night. “I don’t really mind demons,” he told me. “So long as they’re not actively trying to fuck my shit up, I just keep my distance and everything is cool.”
Tola had been drinking and I don’t know exactly what he meant when he said “demons,” but it made sense to me either way. Everything he said to me that night made a lot of sense. And meant a lot to me. That conversation was exactly what I needed that night.
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.
With all of that said, some people are not entirely well. (I should know; often enough, I’m one of them). And if you play with fire… if you fuck with a demon … that demon is going to burn you alive. Nothing good ever comes from it. When it comes to people who are sick – people that aren’t even interested in being well – stay the fuck away. This is a lesson I have learned the hard way, but am still having a little trouble applying.
I need to learn to more closely adhere to “Tola’s approach to demons.”
Everything you just read was written right after painting this. It was two days after I wrapped on “No Real Than You Are.”
July 4th (the night referenced in the piece) was my first night of filming. In the hour or so before we actually shot the scene, my co-star and I were not getting along. In fact, we weren’t even speaking to one another. And this scene we had to film – let me put it this way: the director told us that it was the scene in which it was most important for the audience to really see just how in love these characters were with one another. Suffice to say, I was not feeling any love for this girl on that evening and I’m pretty certain her feelings toward me were about the same. In hindsight, she was probably a scapegoat, but that didn’t change my feelings in the moment.
I still haven’t seen the footage, but – from what I’m told – we pulled it off. It took everything I had in me to not say FUCK THIS and just walk away from the set and quit. I was miserable and I was angry. But I didn’t walk away. I shook my shitty feelings the fuck out of my body and for [however long we filmed that night] I played and pretended and made myself alright. If that footage is at all believable, then I gave one fuck of a performance. More of a performance than anyone watching would ever realize. As soon as the director said “cut” though, I fell right back into it. Suppression and healing are two very different things. I can’t actually force myself to be okay. I don’t think anyone can. “Holding it together” and “getting it together” are two very different things. Real healing takes a lot of work. I think that this painting was one step of a walk in the right direction though.
During the month I spent working on “No Real Than You Are” (and scooting around Sarasota on my little thrashBike) I listened almost exclusively to the songs on a playlist that I made shortly after getting into town. The first song on the playlist isn’t online anywhere, so here’s the second. “Eviction Notice” by Riverboat Gamblers.
Signed and numbered 12×15″ prints of “Tola’s Approach to Demons” are available in my webstore.
Hit me up if you’re interested in purchasing the original piece.
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?
has borderline personality disorder and a heroin problem. In 2012, he got clean, discovered art, and traveled the country, painting and writing. Three years later, he went back to heroin and quit painting. He's currently hard at work trying to get clean or kill himself (depending on the day).