I drew this cartoon of an astronaut boxing a pirate, while sitting in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. It was the same meeting the 12/13/14 thing started. It was also the day I finished reading my life story to my peers and counselor. It has no real significance, I was just trying to draw something a little bit unlike everything else that I draw.
The last time I was struck by that urge, I drew this.
The day that I started reading my life story, I drew this.
I chose the word “promise” for the same reason that, a week or so later, I drew this.
This is a really shitty, lazy update. I’ll make up for it later!
I forget how it came up, but I found myself in rehab, defending some view as not being illegitimate or immoral. Something to do with property and how this world has enough for everyone to have everything that they need. But how people get scared, their fear morphs into greed, and they feel like they need to hoard wealth or resources to the detriment of others. One way or another, we got to that thing from the Beatitudes where Jesus says it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the gates of heaven. And from there, “For God so loved the world, he gave his only begotten son to burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich” popped into my head – which I, of course, thought was hilarious. And I immediately started jokingly trying to recruit my fellow inpatients for a crusade to burn down the banks and – you know – drink the blood of the rich.
The next day, in expressive art therapy group, we were told that the theme was Christmas (it was December 22nd). “Not really Christmas though – just in terms of birth or re-birth – just as a metaphor.” Everyone else in the group kind of ignored that. We produced a lot of paintings of Christmas trees and Santa Claus that day. I – predictably – went really literal with it though. I started painting myself being born (fully grown and clothed). And not so much being born, as much as pulling myself out of a woman’s birth canal. (The distinction is that birth wasn’t “happening” to me, I was taking the action). I thought that was pretty great given my circumstances. Recovery or rehabilitation weren’t happening to me – I was making them happen. I was bringing them about. Doing the work to get better.
And then it occurred to me that the “For God so loved the world…” thing that I had come up with the day before would be PERFECT for this painting. It was supposed to be about Christmas, right? The celebration of the birth of Christ. And while I had intended for the character in the painting to be me (and – no – I don’t think I’m the messiah) adding the caption would make this a depiction of what must be the second coming of Christ. When he comes back as a lion instead of a lamb. Lion Christ just might be the kind of guy that WOULD burn the banks to the fucking ground and drink the blood of the rich, the greedy, and the selfish. After all, Jesus never spoke ill of homosexuals or [whoever evangelists are bummed out about these days] but he sure as fuck had a distaste for the rich.
So this may sound absurd, but this painting, the little things leading up to it, and the process itself.. this was a spiritual experience for me. No offense to any of my peers, but they all painted Christmas trees and (by their own admission in group that day) didn’t get much out of it, so this assignment/prompt MUST have been for my benefit. And the way that it all panned out – what I chose to paint without even thinking of the previous day – and then remembering it at just the right time – this was all predestined. Similarly, back when I was told that I needed to have some kind of faith – that I’d need to believe in some kind of higher power if I ever wanted to get better and stop shooting heroin – the first belief I adopted (albeit sarcastically) was that “my higher power thinks I’m fucking hilarious“; if this whole episode isn’t proof of that, then I don’t know what is. The universe really brought it all together for me this time around.
HISTORICAL note!: Our art therapy counselor brought us acrylic paint and canvas boards as a Christmas present, so this was my first time using “real” art supplies. (Normally we used cheap paper and tempera/poster-paint). And I kinda can’t mention that counselor without saying something else…
Even when everyone else thought that “something might need to be done” about the kind of stuff I was turning out in art group, Julie stuck up for me and insisted that I be allowed (and encouraged) to create whatever I was feeling. It’s so much more than entirely possible that – were it not for Julie – what little enjoyment I got out of those early art groups might have been snuffed out. Had that been the case, there’s no way in hell that you’d be reading this right now because this website (and all of these pieces) wouldn’t even exist. And It’s not quite as certain, but it’s extremely likely that I’d either still be shooting heroin or dead. A lot of people and factors played into my recovery but the one piece that I’m almost positive is totally crucial is art. And Julie gets total credit for that. (With an assist from my friend (and fellow inpatient) Mary Beth, who was also a huge source of encouragement in the early stages of the game.
And so long as I’m going on tangents: After I finished this painting, as I was carrying it from group to my room, one of the property techs stopped and asked me if he could see what I had made. Staff aren’t really supposed to be “friends” with patients/clients, but I definitely considered Kenny a friend and (as a Christian) I was afraid this would bum him out. But I showed it to him and he surprised me. He knew exactly what I was going for, got the joke, told me it was actually a really Christian sentiment, and even gave me the [call number or whatever it’s called] for a verse of scripture. That sort of reaffirmed my faith in humanity that day. It was really awesome.
By the way, that movie I was cast in over the summer… the production designer saw this painting and asked if I could redraw it so that it could be screened onto a t-shirt for my character to wear. So I did!
A lot of what you’ve just read was written a few months back. Some of it is even older than that. The word “predestined” jumps off the page at me. Do I really believe in such a concept? I don’t know. I’m tempted to say “not really.” I’ll say this though… on December 22nd, back when all of this was happening… when I say, “this was a spiritual experience for me”, Imean it. Did I believe anything was predetermined earlier that day? No. Did I believe it in that moment? Again – I don’t really know. But I know that I was having fun acting as if I did… This really struck me as too perfect to be random (it just felt too excellent) but … eh… Well, like I sort of said: this was the best evidence I had ever seen that [to borrow from Andrew Jackson Jihad] “my god thinks my jokes are funny.” And it was all great fodder as I explained the cartoon/painting/sentiment to the patients and staff that were giving me funny looks. So I was having a lot of fun with it. So far as my real (confident) beliefs go… – only what I laid out in my entry for “Everything Works Out Exactly As It Should.”
Anyway, here’s a song that I was listening to a lot around the time this was painted.
Here’s a song that strikes me as otherwise relevant.
I was sitting in an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and I was pretty bummed out over (surprise!) a girl. (I’ve astutely noticed that this seems to be a pattern). You see… When we saw each other just before we went into the meeting, she hadn’t paid me quite as much attention as I felt that I needed (ALL OF THE ATTENTION).
So, as I had become prone to doing, I tried to work through my anxiety and hurt feelings with a pen and a piece of paper. I drew a little cartoon, but I wasn’t happy with it. Which made me even more upset. So I tried again. Annnnnnnd… same result. I put my pen and paper on the floor and decided to just sit in my misery and sulk. Because I so enjoy feeling that way. (Who doesn’t?!)
But that was what the old Sam would do. So I begrudgingly picked my pen and paper back up and started again, not even knowing what I was drawing. And this is what came out.
And then I wasn’t upset anymore.
So while I really like this cartoon, what makes it my favorite isn’t necessarily the cartoon itself as much as it’s evidence that I can use art to heal all my stupid, petty wounds. It helps me step back and realize that every little thing that happens around me is not (and is not meant to be interpreted as) proof that I’m a worthless, unlovable piece of shit.
I painted this for a friend’s nursery (and wrote this) after the birth of his first child.
Sometime in April, I found two baby birds that had fallen out of a nest and were clearly dying. I’m embarrassed to say so (which strikes me as a pretty strong indication that I should) but that little incident sparked serious thought – about my priorities, my responsibilities, and how I spend my time. I felt stupid since (apparently) I need to be confronted face-to-face with a dying animal in order to consider it. And I felt weak for being affected by the encounter at all.
About an hour before I had planned to start painting this, I was reminded of another incident where I had felt similarly weak. In twelve-step programs, the sixth step is to become ready to have God remove all of one’s character defects (and the seventh is to actually ask God to remove them). For me, step six meant spending a considerable amount of time actually considering and listing my character defects and then really thinking about whether I truly wanted to stop indulging them. Regarding the seventh step… I talk about faith in relation to other pieces and it’s not the crux of this painting so I’ll just say that one of the best things I’ve ever heard in Alcoholics Anonymous (one of very few things that actually stuck with me) was: “If you’re gonna pray for your character defects to go away, you better fucking act like it worked.”
I did those two steps and realized, “Shit – if I just committed to being honest, I can’t really sneak out of rehab tomorrow to meet up with a girl.” (A scheme I had hatched earlier in the week). So I called the girl. “Um… this is going to sound really dopey, but I have to cancel… I just did my seventh step so I can’t be dishonest and sneak out to see you.”
The buildings in this painting are arranged like the ones at Tranquil Shores. The one with the bird at the window was my room. I often contemplated sneaking out by stepping out of that window and onto the roof of the adjacent building. (I never followed through, but only because I had easier means of sneaking out).
I’ll never forget when Kyle’s mom left (or, more specifically, the day she came back), her attitude, and Kyle’s response… We were sitting in his room when she showed up at the house. She was really happy to see him and he was just… blank. Emotionless. He looked bored by it. I’m sure he wasn’t bored, but he was hurt and I guess that’s how he protected himself. Or maybe he was angry and that was his way of getting back at her: acting like he didn’t care. I don’t know why Kyle’s mom left and maybe she didn’t have a choice, but I saw how the way that she left hurt my friend. She loved him, but she fucked up. My parents loved me and they fucked up. Kyle has his own kid now and I have faith in him as a dad, but he’s going to fuck up in some respect somewhere along the way. We all do. It won’t mean he doesn’t love his daughter, it just means that he’s as shitty, selfish, and imperfect as everyone else. I might do tremendously terrible things in some moment, but I never have that intention; I’m just misguided, short-sighted, frustrated, or [whatever].
The mean looking bird is in my window because it’s me. It’s me and it’s my dad – and my mom. It’s Kyle’s parents, it’s Kyle, it’s his girlfriend, and one day it’ll be their daughter.
“Take what you need and leave the rest” is a slogan that gets used a lot in the contexts of substance abuse recovery and mental health treatment. “Take what you need and leave the nest” is a silly, little bird/growing up pun that I came up with for this piece to show everyone how clever I am.
I struck out on my own at a pretty early age. Some people seem to never leave home. It doesn’t matter. When it comes to parents, family, and home (or anything really), get what you can out of it – all the good lessons or experiences available – and then move forward to what’s next. Don’t dwell on the bad. Resentments only hurt one person – the person holding them. Forgiveness can still be tough, but it’s easier to forgive someone when you remember: they mean well, baby bird.
On an unrelated note, I just fixed a lamp with a soldering iron. If anyone needs the wiring in their house redone, I’m now taking appointments.
Who says a full-length can’t be 19 minutes long? The first three tracks on this thing are so good, they could have cut it off right there and called it a full-length and I still wouldn’t have argued.