I started this piece the night after I met a girl in Jacksonville. She was just visiting, from Tampa, but we went out once before she went back home. Over the next few weeks, we texted a whole lot and made plans to spend a night together the next time I was around Tampa. She may or may not have sort of had a boyfriend that she lived with. About a month after we had met, I was on my way to Sarasota for the premiere screening of No Real Than You Are. I invited her to go with me. She didn’t respond. I tried to call but she didn’t answer. I don’t know if I did something wrong or if the reality of my actually coming around didn’t quite mesh with her boyfriend situation, but I never heard from her again. That hurt my feelings, especially since it coincided with similar developments in my “relationships” with three other girls (all in the span of a couple days)! This particular rejection was the only one I didn’t acknowledge at the time ’cause it felt the worst and struck me as being the most petty / trivial. On the one hand, it was really casual and I obviously wasn’t taking it too seriously. On the other hand, I really liked her! I did my best to not let it get to me but it made the next rejection hurt that much more.
Luckily, I fell in love with another girl a few days later and everything was okay again.
Some less interesting details: I worked at this piece on and off for three months because I just couldn’t seem to get it to look like anything I could be happy with. Somewhere in there, I glued some cardboard and a piece of a reflective sun visor to it, even though I sort of hate collage / mixed media stuff; I just felt like I needed something to sort of shake it up a little bit. It’s also on a small canvas board (11×14″) – way smaller than anything I’ve got any interest in painting these days, but the board was given to me on a night when I didn’t have a fresh canvas with me and I figured I’d roll with it. I’m pretty sure I spent at least forty hours on this tiny little thing – every bit as much time as I spend on my
huge canvas paintings. I got the idea for the pattern in the lower-left (“mummy”) figure after painting the white slip-on shoes I bought at Walmart for ten dollars.
I’ve held off on writing about it but No Real Than You Are (the movie I acted in last summer and that played at the Sarasota and Cannes film festivals earlier this year) is up on the internet now, and you can watch it for free.
I have mixed feelings about the film as well as my experiences surrounding and making it. I pride myself on being totally open and honest but – for the benefit of others involved (and, admittedly, some of my own selfish reasons) – I’ve held my tongue. I’m not happy about that and maybe one day I’ll throw caution to the wind, stop giving a shit, and spill it all.
Until then, here it is – presented with no (real) comment.
Vincent Dale (writer/director of NRTYA)and his crew are starting work on their next film, Paris Love Conspiracy, and are nearing the end of their fundraising campaign. If you’d like to contribute, check out their Kickstarter campaign.
“Adventures Per Minute” is how I felt in early April. From the moment I woke up until I crawled into bed each night, I was busy. Traveling back and forth between Jacksonville, Delray, and Sarasota; givinginterviews and being photographed; attending the premiere of the movie I starred in; directing a music video; setting up exhibits; making and distributing fliers and meeting people; selling prints at One Spark and Spring Fest; fucking; designing albumcovers and merchandise for some of my favorite bands; making more money than I’ve ever made in my life; and (of course) painting – at parks, at friends’ houses, on the streets, at punk shows, on rooftops, and at galleries.
It was just outside one of those galleries that I started this painting. Passers-by would stop, compliment my work, and ask how I was doing. That sparked the first small caption: “HOW AM I? I’m standing on a stool, paintin’ funny faces outside the gallery that sells my paintings for all the moneys. So – yeah – I’m okay.”
At the other end of the canvas, I elaborated: “I have everything.” And I really do. I’m not super rich just yet but all of my needs are met and then some.
I went back to Sarasota with the intention of trading in my van for a bigger one; it was my last stop before I finally took my show on the road outside of Florida. I changed my mind about the van but had quite a time back in that city where I (sort of) grew up. Things were messy – not only with friends in Sarasota but in my “adoptive” family’s house up the road in Bradenton. Drugs, lying, screaming, stealing… it was all around me and it was starting to fuck with my head. I don’t often feel “triggered” and – for the most part – think it’s sort of a bullshit concept. One afternoon in particular became an exception. I was on the back porch painting when the weather started acting up but there was no way I was walking back into the house. I took to the top corner of my canvas and started journaling:
It's been ten days [since I last wrote on this painting]. I'm on the porch in Bradenton. There's a tornado warning. I don't care. That'd be cooler if I actually thought it might hit. I would totally shoot up right now if I had drugs in front of me. BUT I HAVE THE MONEY THESE DAYS.
My best friend (the one that used to shoot heroin) - he started shooting heroin again. And smoking [and shooting] crack. I had him Marchman Acted soon as I got back to Sarasota. Everyone's pretty happy about that - and I've been buying into it too. But let's get real. Nothing has changed. This is just getting started. And it's gonna get a lot worse. I kind of think he's gonna die soon. What should I do? Drag him around the country with me? That's a lot of responsibility. And what would he do all day everyday?
And I love Abby too but her situation is even tougher, more hopeless.
I was talking to Heather about some of this and she asked me if I'll "ever get to live for myself." But I'm more independent, disconnected, and uninvolved than anyone. I do "me" constantly. But I grew up a fuck-up with other fuck-ups and what little I'm able to do these days when this shit goes on - I need to. Sometimes I'm the only one that can. I can't live without people anyway. It's all part of the package.
It's all worth it, I think. Even when it hurts a lot. And makes me wanna put a needle back in my arm. I don't think I will but, for the second time since I stopped, I really want to. This shit is dangerous.
And I haven't even gotten into the other shit that's eating me right now… My phone is ringing. What kinds of decisions am I gonna make today?
I feel safer in this house with drugs, screaming, CPS, threats, lies, theft, etc. than at Morgan's ('cause she's got roommates) and this [house] is the only place I don't feel like an intruder.
I paused and thought about all the good things that had happened lately – and the specifics of some of the bad… I brought the pen back to the canvas.
Life is sad and tragic and funny and beautiful. I'm usually having a pretty good time. I laugh and smile a lot. I don't want the people I care about to die. Or to live without knowing happiness.
Up to this point, I hadn’t given any thought to what I was writing or how it might be received. I just let it come out, even when it occurred to me that I might need or want to remove Abby’s name at some point. But after I finished that long journal down the left side of the canvas, I remembered that I was creating art and that I had intended for this to be a joyful painting – a celebration of the wonderful, exciting things happening in my life. “I need to balance out all this dark with some the light I experienced leading up to this.” But (in my soul, not my brain) I really only felt compelled to write the darker (more recent) stories. I decided to phrase everything in the present tense.
I am standing in an alley while my friend smokes the last of her crack before I take her to the police station, from which she'll be transported to detox, under court order. I picked her up in an empty parking lot.
I am dropping my "sister" off (with everything she owns) at a drug dealer's house. An hour ago, she attempted to transfer custody of her daughter to me. I still live in / operate primarily out of A VAN. We hugged and I told her to not be a fuck-up.
I am back on Adderall [after a month without] and I think the dose is too high now and I'm too in my head and having thoughts like these: [An arrow points at the long, sad, I-wanna-shoot-heroin, my-friends-are-dying journal].
I needed my positive adventures to balance the painting and convey what “adventures per minute” had meant to me initially. But I had already told those nice stories on my blog. Repeating them here felt contrived. I did it anyway but in just four short sentences – covering One Spark, the music video, the film festival, and painting on rooftops. A few days later though, I had another adventure. But one that I didn’t want to be the first thing to pop out at someone. I hid it against a dark blue backdrop. It says: “I just PRETEND (consensually) ‘raped’ a girl that identifies as ‘gay.’ It was pretty awesome. I like her.”
So THAT sort of raises some questions and probably warrants a whole exposition of its own but this statement’s already long enough, I’m writing this in Atlanta, and – you know – I got some more adventures I really ought to be getting up to right about now so…
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?
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 shipped out the inserts for Rational Anthem’s Whatevermind LP this morning. Pictured above is the art that I made for those after I decided that my first attempt didn’t quite match the themes of the album. The band should have the records for sale in time for Pre-Fest next week). “Pinkhairdontcare” is what some little girl nicknamed me while I was filming “No Real Than You Are” (or so I’m told). It was also the caption Van used when he posted his portrait of me on Facebook. My character wears a Rational Anthem shirt in most of his scenes so… – seems like an appropriate title.
Today’s been really pleasant. After the post office, I came back home to find a package from a friend, waiting by my door. Aside from the book and the “underwear that is orange,” it had a really nice card/letter. I also got a check in the mail and (now that my bank finally has a branch in this city) I was able to go deposit it. As you could probably tell from my newest painting, financial panic was starting to set in these last couple days. Yesterday, were I to set aside the money I’d need to pay my bills on the first of the month, I’d only have had five dollars to spare. And yet, one day later, I have enough of a cushion that I should be okay. I definitely still need to figure out some ways to branch out and sell more artwork because my current “situation” definitely isn’t sustainable but I think things are gonna be alright (even if I don’t have any evidence to support that proposition!)
(I came up with an idea last night – something I’m planning on ending my entries with… While some people might find it objectionable, I’ve given it some thought and I’m comfortable with it. It won’t change the fact that I still need to “branch out” and reach a bigger audience, but it does have some potential to help facilitate that).
But anyway, riding around town, running errands – the weather’s nice, people are nice (they smile at me) – life is good. I was listening to Against Me! and it occurred to me that their strongest material is probably the stuff they recorded for Fat, which happens to be the period in which I paid them the least attention.
For example, is there any better sentence fragment than “…if this is how I communicate and demonstrate a love of life…” – from “T.S.R. (This Shit Rules)?”
And while I think their weakest releases (outside of the really early demos) are New Wave and (to a lesser extent) White Crosses, there are a handful of really strong songs there. I remember when WC came out, Taylor fucking hated whenever I’d listen to “Bamboo Bones,” mostly on account of the lyric, “what God doesn’t give to you, you’ve got to go and get for yourself.” I found it amusing – not because I wasn’t equally put off by all things even remotely religious or spiritual at the time – just because it was so against the grain. (I like anything that fucks with people just a little bit). It’s kind of brave in that sense: to sing about “God,” in that way, in a band with an audience like Against Me!’s. I don’t know what meaning the songwriter attaches to the word but, when you throw something that vague (and bold) into the world, you can bet it’s gonna be spun all kindsa ways by all kindsa people. Today, I like that lyric a lot.
I don’t really use the word “God” these days but, in the short period in which I was, I liked it. I might not have had the same meaning for it as anyone I spoke to, but it connected me with people that I don’t usually connect with – in a way that I don’t usually connect with anyone. And like today, it just felt nice. Pleasant.
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.”
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).