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.
As for the text: Chris and I were staying at Kendra’s on our way to Lexington, I was being my usual charming self, and – after one of my especially boastful/obnoxious comments – she remarked, “This is why you’re sleeping in the living room.” I thought that was pretty hilarious so… four and a half hours later: another masterpiece in the books.
Which reminds me… Mike, won’t let me give him a tattoo with a sewing needle but he is going to let me tattoo him with the gun he just got. So that should be a fun new experiment…
I went quite a while without any emotional freakouts or serious anxiety when I suddenly found myself on a mental illness hot streak. At the root of it all (of course): girls. It’s nothing anyone does to me; it’s the way I interact and get involved and then am unable to handle the reality of the relationships I’ve built. These days, I’m lucky to have a way out of these messes I make that’s a lot more effective than shooting heroin or throwing temper tantrums. The journal I wrote in this painting lays it all out:
The highs this week have been absurd. Three nights ago, I exclaimed, "I'm on drugs!" I felt too good for it to not be some kind of chemical magic. But the next night, I cried out twice; first: "I hate my life!" Then: "I am the worst person in the world!" I felt so bad about myself. Seeing the state this girl was in. "It was wrong for me to trick her into falling in love with me," I thought. But I was in love with her at the time. Or so I thought at least.
The night before, I tried to have sex with this other girl that's gotten to know me pretty well pretty fast. She knows about all the other girls and is pretty enamored with me but is really caught up in not wanting to be "just another" of my "conquests" (as she put it). We got naked but then she wouldn't let me lead 'cause she didn't wanna feel used. But she wasn't taking the lead either. "I DON'T KNOW HOW TO FUCK YOU" was all I could think. It ended uncomfortably. I wasn't pleased with myself. We're supposed to give it another shot when I'm back in her city. But that sort of says it all right there. 'Cause I don't live anywhere, I'm not gonna date anyone anyway, and she likes me way too much for this little casual thing to end well.
Yesterday, I TOOK THE NIGHT OFF.
Tonight, I'm at a friend's house alone 'cause a couple hours ago I left the girl who I THOUGHT I had the best thing going with. I like spending time with her. But she was visibly bothered by my cigarette smoke today. And after I brushed my teeth and tried to kiss her, she still turned her cheek. I tried to play it cool but I'M NOT COOL. An hour later, I packed it in and left with minimal words. Feeling self-conscious, rejected, vulnerable, angry, hurt, and responsible. These girls all read my blog now. They know explicit details of what I'm up to. I can't NOT acknowledge it. I made a couple jokes… Is that what did it? I don't know. But all my finding-validation-through-girls shit is seriously backfiring on me this week.
After I left, I got pizza and listened to punk rock. Suddenly, my suicidal depression was over and everything was okay. "Pizza and punk rock" doesn't strike the ear as especially poetic and it makes me sound like a pretty trivial, simple-minded dweeb.
IS WHAT IT IS!
After I painted my "nothing's good enough" caption, everything was way better than okay. I was in love with myself and my silly doodle art again. And that's my god damn story.
I felt better (temporarily) but I didn’t really learn anything. Within a day, I was back to trying to get my self-esteem from girls, love, sex, etc. It was harder now though. This whole episode had fucked with my head a little bit and the next week – after leaving another girl’s house (not any of the three involved in the above-described antics) – I worried that I had forgotten how to sleep with a girl (even when the girl clearly wanted to sleep with me). I had become too self-conscious and insecure to make any kind of a move. Well that was it… I guess I’m never going to get laid again! (I thought). But then she sent me a text – she wanted me to come back. Which really only meant one thing at that hour. So I did. And all was well in the world.
And when I say that, I’m joking – but when I pause… it’s not really a joke. I absolutely felt validated by sleeping with that girl that night. In a very real, very significant way. Had it not played out like that, I would have sunk even deeper into insecurity and shame. Instead, I was pulled completely out of it and actually regained the confidence that I always seem to have (even when I don’t). A few days later, I met up with another girl who had bought some of my art at One Spark. We went on a “date” (kind of) and she invited me to stay the night. But she didn’t want to sleep with me. My freshly bolstered self-worth was high enough though that I was able to accept that rejection (with a smile even)! I don’t need for EVERYONE to want to fuck me all the time.
“Wait For It … Wait For It!!” (the song I was listening to when I started to feel better) by Dead to Me.
This painting sold in April 2014. 12×16″ prints are still available.
On the drive back to Jacksonville tonight, I wrote in my journal. At one point in the process, I felt like I’d had a major breakthrough. Now – just a couple hours later – I’m not so sure. In either case, I think it’s worth sharing. And (above all) what matters is that I was feeling tremendous anxiety when I started and (at least a semblance of) peace when I was done.
Journal: Christmas 2013
The last time I made a playlist was July. The music I like gives most people anxiety but it’s an extremely rare occasion when it has that effect on me. But I’m feeling way too fragile right now to risk hearing anything that I’m not totally prepared for. I need really to be comforted right now and I’m counting on this music to do it.
We just hit the part of the highway with no lights. I’m writing in total darkness now.
Heather’s so sweet. I know she never intends to do me any harm. That’s why it’s hard to leave her. I don’t know if I understand love so – sadly – it has to be a practical consideration.
I know I can’t ever be alone. I fall in “love” way too fast. So if I’m gonna be with someone, it should (probably?)be her…
She’s not great at making me feel loved, which is something I desperately need. But maybe that sort of thing goes both ways. Maybe a girl that was better at making me feel loved would also be great at hurting me if/when she wanted to. Fuck. I can be (or am) such a fragile fucking baby.
I met this girl in November. She took in the whole story behind Autobiography and pointed at the girl in it. “That’s your mom,” she said.
I didn’t like that. I’m pretty sure my disgust registered on my face before I could even think to mask it. With a smile, I responded: “I reject that. I don’t agree at all.” I had just met this girl. What the fuck?
“That’s fine,” she said. “You can reject it. But it’s still true.”
When I shot down her interpretation, I meant what I said. But – of course – she’s fucking right. As much as it’s killed me to realize that and as much as I hate to admit it.
When my mom used to constantly badger me about how much I hated her, I’d tell her I loved her and ask her to stop. I really didn’t hate her. But I kind of do now.
It’s one thing to have an intellectual understanding that your parents did their best – and to use that to “forgive” them. It’s another thing to really make sense of everything emotionally, connect all the dots, and really get a grip on it. ‘Cause when you realize now that I’ve realized that it’s not about the individual incidents of especially fucked up shit that she did, it’s about the life-threatening defects ingrained into my every fiber that she cut in and fucking cultivated for years… It’s about the fact that every time I feel rejected by Heather in the slightest, I wanna run away from home all over again.
I told Heather again yesterday that she hadn’t done anything wrong – we’re just not a good match because she doesn’t have the kind of affectionate personality that I need to feel loved. She responded that she loves me 500% and didn’t I know that? I told her that I had that information in my brain but that I don’t often feel it. Shit – how could I?
No one’s ever gonna be able to do anything that’ll make me feel loved all the time. Just as my art (which is really just the maintenance of my (relative) sanity) is a full-time job, another person couldn’t possibly give me what I need unless that was their full-time job too. Or – more accurately – were on call 24/7. ‘Cause a lot of the time I need to be left alone to “work” (paint, write, or do various backend business-of-art or website kinds of tasks). But the second I need love, if [insert the name of any girl I’ve ever been with here] can’t deliver exactly to my specifications in that instant… well, then IT’S NOT WORKING AND WE’RE JUST NOT RIGHT FOR EACH OTHER.
So – contrary to my understanding up ’til this moment– this is on me more than it’s on Heather and it’s not some incurable defect that she needs to be solely responsible for maintaining an awareness of and behaving accordingly (because she “signed up for it” by getting involved with someone who’s so openly an emotional basketcase). I need to step back in these moments and remind myself of these things of which I need to be reminded. Still, if she’s my partner, she does need to be “in it” with me and make a little more of an effort to actually express that love she says she has for me. She can be pretty cold. And in some of those moments, there’s not gonna be anything I can do to not feel unattractive, unloved, and unwanted. Worthless, and undeserving of love. This new understanding of myself won’t always be enough. Sometimes feelings are more important than facts.
This is a real breakthrough for me. Right now, in this moment. It’s not the only one from the last 48 hours though.
Driving to Manatee from Jacksonville, we had another of our four hour drives without speaking. Not in as hostile a way, but things were tense so I kept busy as she drove and, when I took the wheel, she slept. Then, when we got to the Owens, I went in alone without a goodbye. (We both just looked at each other, waiting for the other to initiate it, as I collected my things from the backseat). Then she went to her parents’. I did my thing with the Owens and with my friends in Sarasota and we didn’t see each other for two days. We didn’t spend the holiday (which means nothing to me but something to her) together. The few texts we exchanged were not especially productive.
I opened up to some friends yesterday and acknowledged that a lot of the problem – what I felt – was sexual rejection. I’ll decide in an instant, at anytime, that I want to fool around, make some gesture toward that, she’ll shoot me down for whatever reason, and I’ll feel like shit. In her defense, I know where and when she will/would be in the right frame of mind for that and I rarely act on it because it’s when I’ll usually be busy working. Our schedules are wildly different and I need to work on compromising mine more, seeing as hers is handed down from a company and mind can be whatever the fuck I want it to be. It sucks but I feel constantly burdened with a need to be productive and I’m rarely willing to set aside and stop working because I’m terrified that I won’t be able to get back on course fast enough once I’m free to pick back up.
“It’s harder to be yourself than it is to be anybody else.” My problems are so petty, small, and (really) within the bounds of my control. Still, they’re monumental monster motherfuckers and THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES WITH WHICH ANY HUMAN BEING HAS EVER BEEN FACED. I say that jokingly but it’s equally true and false. It’s real and it’s a struggle that won’t ever end. It’ll only morph and evolve. As I do…
I got away from myself and the other “breakthrough” to which I alluded. I was talking to some friends about this stuff yesterday and the response I got went from “you gotta end it (for your own sake)” to “you gotta end it (for her sake).” At one point in the conversation, the feedback I was getting, the direction that the conversation had taken, and the things coming out of my own mouth had me feeling like the most sociopathic, seriously damaged, selfish mental case on the planet. I felt like a calculating monster with an impressively evil skill-set, who was so distinct from normal people that he didn’t even have the slightest idea or awareness of what he was doing or the full implications of his decisions and behavior. I felt sicker than I’ve ever felt – like I could be some murderer, smiling at the cameras.
I probably could be. I just remembered – I had been thinking about conscience just earlier in the day. Some friend of Clifford’s murdered his girlfriend and then turned himself in. What a sap, I thought, when Mclane told me about it. What a weak human being.
I considered it further: I would never do that. You buckle down and live with the secret. No good comes from that confession; just move forward, asshole.
Well – not really. He needed to be caught; I mean, he’s clearly dangerous. But if Ikilled someone, Ishould just move forward… Learn from my mistake and accept that the consequence for my actions is having another fascinating story that I can’t ever share with the world.
WHAT’S WORSE THAN THAT?
So… that’s what I wrote as we made our way back to Jacksonville tonight. I probably started around 9pm and put the pen down a little after 10…
I looked in my other notebook at the pieces I have left to add to the website and – given everything I wrote about tonight – one of them jumped off the page and struck me as being a perfect fit.
(Relatively) early in my stay at Tranquil Shores, we got an assignment, in art therapy group – to make a figure of our “inner-child.” Like most of my inner-child stuff, I focused on myself at age four.
This thing isn’t totally devoid of substantive meaning but – obviously – this wasn’t an especially probing assignment. It was mostly fun though and I felt pretty pleased with myself when I finished it.
When I typed up my journal entry, I linked to a few entries which struck me as relevant.
Autobiography: watercolor cartoon (regarding codependency, rejection, and self-esteem)
After I journaled, I felt well enough to skip around and listen to songs that would have made me nervous earlier in the night. One of them was “Debt” by Pipsqueak, the acoustic band which was initially just the kid that sang in Snuggle (and – more recently – Murmurs) but now has a second member, playing cello and also singing. It was great before and it’s great now.
Jesse coined out and went on vacation with friends of her parents. She’ll be back, in two weeks, as an outpatient, and she’ll be living on property again. That makes me really, really happy. I don’t know what I would do if she left for good. She’s the source of all that’s good in my life. She’s what makes my life worth living. You know… since I had met her a couple weeks ago anyway.
We talk every day while she’s gone. I tell her about the note I got from Hal. She has something to tell me but won’t say what. I’ll get it out of her when I have her in person. I don’t think for a second that she’s relapsed. But she has. And that’s not fair.
Jesse got back two days ago and, yesterday, started to really push. She wants to get high. “That’s a terrible idea,” I tell her. But then something MONUMENTAL happens. This morning, she went off-property to go do something other than hang out with me. Naturally, I’m feeling rejected and depressed and am in a really dark place again [unreasonable as that may be]. As she always does when I get this way, she’s distanced herself, which is – of course – making me feel even more rejected. But I know how I can feel better andwin her back.
I call Stacy. She’s at the hospital because her sister is giving birth but – if I can meet her there – she’s got some thirtys on her that she’ll sell me. [Florida. It’s always pills with these kids.] Close enough. I set it up and look for Jesse. When I see her, I creep up with a grin that tells her everything she needs to know: “Go sign out and park your car at the strip mall. Soon as the coast is clear, I’ll sneak off property and meet you. We’ve got an errand to run.”
That was part two of the story I started to tell yesterday.
I’m pretty sure anyone reading this already knows but just in case… A “thirty” is a 30mg oxycodone pill. More commonly known as “blues,” but I’ve always hated that name. It’s too cute. If you had asked me about it back in the day, I’d probably have said something like… “I shoot heroin and – absent that – synthetic heroin. But never blues. There’s nothing colorful or fun about this.”
Really, I think I was just upset that my SUPER COOL DRUG HABIT had been co-opted by half the dorks in Florida and I didn’t wanna use the same terminology as them. I was dangerous; they were cuttin’ loose! … Fuck that.
[Check it out, guys! You can be a douchey elitist when it comes to just about anything!]
The drawing I chose for this entry was drawn on the day that I shared the first half of my life story in group at Tranquil Shores. It was also a day on which I was similarly upset because I felt similarly rejected by a girl that I was similarly in treatment with.
The tombstone behind me reads: “Sickle Cell: November 4, 1985 to Any Day Now.” The original drawing was damaged before I ever got a good picture or scan of it, so this image is the best I can do.
This is how bad at relationships I am: I wait until twenty-four hours after things start to get better to share my painting from when things were still fucked up – thereby risking that they get fucked up again. Actually, that’s bullshit – I don’t think this is going to fuck anything up. I’m just not comfortable sharing this ’cause I think it makes me sound petty and immature. I don’t need to write a statement for this piece because it’s got all the text it needs right on the canvas. Here’s what it says…
I didn’t cry. Well, no, when it got bad, I did. But pre-addiction, if I cried, it was usually fake. To show a girl how hurt I was. It was emotional manipulation. But at my worst, I’d break down and cry. Then I went away to treatment and I watched other people cry. But I didn’t. Still “in,” a year later, I started. Like all the time. I was a mess but I was getting better. Then I “got” “better” and I stopped.
I have an idea for a cartoon. It won’t be hard to make. People will like it. But I just wanna cry. But I don’t do that anymore. I can still force myself. I can fake it. But I don’t do it for real. I’m not holding back tears because I’m not in the kind of emotional state in which they can even begin to form.
The question of “what I wanted to do for my birthday” never came up. Maybe that’s my fault, but there were already other plans and I didn’t want to be disagreeable. Am I being crazy though to feel like I should have never been in that position? Is it unreasonable to think I should have been asked?
She’s not at all mean or selfish. She had good intent. But this gets to what was under my skin the other day. That we just might not be on the same page. We might not be right for each other. And that’s what I’m actually upset about.
On the ride home, I wanted her and told her so. She said she had to be up early for work in the morning. I guess I understand that but – at the same time – it’s my birthday and I guess I sort of thought she’d want to do whatever for me. And it makes me sad that she didn’t just want me the way that I wanted her.
I don’t think it’s supposed to be this way. I think something’s missing. She says otherwise but I can’t imagine that she gets what she needs out of me / this relationship. Which is why I feel guilty whenever I bring this stuff up. It’s not like I’m so great.
This is the story stripped of all its detail (at its vaguest). I write that way for myself. To keep the focus on my feelings. Even though I know it’ll be less satisfying for anyone else. Less “entertaining.” I enjoy an audience but I won’t cater to it. Not with this kind of work anyway.
I enjoy the sentiment of self-pity but not when its point of origin is with me. This feels like self-pity and it makes me feel embarrassed.
I wonder what I’m saying without realizing it. What I want this to say (or think it says) and what it actually says are probably wildly different. [I’m probably an asshole].
So that’s the text on the canvas… Have I embarrassed myself enough for one day? Great! Here are links to the other pieces in what might as well be considered the “series” to which this one belongs.
When I was asked to consider how I present myself to the world, I was able to identify four different “roles” that I play. While all of them are genuine parts of who I am, what’s not genuine is how I’ll focus on (or “play up”) whichever will best suit me in some situation. These days, I try to be authentic but I (of course) still do it to some degree. We all do.
I like this cartoon a lot but—in all honesty—it’s kind of bullshit. I hardly ever put myself out there in such a way as to risk being rejected by a girl. I just thought this up one night because I knew it’d be cute and it’d fit well with my “wounded child / stray dog” persona that some girls seem to find so endearing and attractive.
As redundant as my art may be at times, it’s incredibly rare that I’ll make the same thing twice. This cartoon is one of those exceptions. Below are some journal excerpts that explain why I wanted to create this image again and [bonus!] paint a pretty good picture of a kid with low self-esteem, trying to solve his problems with female attention.
Tranquil Shores Journal, November 16th, 2012:
Saw Kelly at the Church of the Isles meeting last night. First time since she bolted from Tranquil Shores. She came up to me and was really flirty. Lightly kicked me ‘cause I was sitting on a curb smoking a cigarette and then sat down next to me. I kicked it with her at the Fairwinds table. Or – rather – I sat down at a table and they all sat down with me. She didn’t sit next to me, but across from me (which I commented on). We made funny faces throughout the meeting, with occasional little comments. I drew a picture of Satan with the caption, “Anal Sex and Goat’s Blood,” and passed it across the table to her. She asked if she could keep it and then pointed out that the crumpled paper on the table (that she had thrown at me a little earlier) was actually a note. I uncrumpled it; it said, “You’re hot.” I gave her a look. After the meeting, we traded numbers. I’m looking forward to that. Though she does have a boyfriend, he just got arrested so I don’t think it’ll be an obstacle. Not that I want to date her anyway. I do think she’s cool, but she’s not ready to get better. They don’t get to keep their phones in Fairwinds but she gets out in eight days.
I broke up with Chelsea. She keeps going back and forth. Trying to be mean to me, begging me to still be with her, saying I used her, trying to pull me back in with sex appeal (“I want you in my bed right now; I want to have sex with you so bad”). It’s all over the place. For the time being, I blocked her on Facebook. I think it should stay that way so she’s not perpetually flipping her shit every time there’s any activity on my page.
Alexis coins out in three weeks. I’m not thrilled about that.
Met another girl at the meeting on Tuesday. Lilly. She’s from Lexington. I said I had some friends there. “Anybody I’d know?” I asked if she ever went to shows or was at all into punk. “Sort of.” Turns out while she didn’t know the kids I named, she is friends with Infected (that sorta-metal punk band on A.D.D.). Outstanding. [I don’t know those guys, but that’s close enough to my world]. She was cute. Not insanely hot, but definitely a cute girl. We talked for a long while before the meeting, while Alexis sat to my left feeling totally neglected (I’m sure) which I kind of enjoyed. I had done the same thing with/to her back when Kelly was at Tranquil Shores and it only got her to pay more attention to me. At one point, Lilly was fishing in her bag for something to show me that she thought I’d get a kick out of. She couldn’t find it and told me she’d show it to me “next time” so after the meeting, I asked for a pen and gave her my number and Facebook. She hasn’t hit me up yet, but it’s only been a couple days.
The property staff is out of town for some training seminar so the clinical and office staffs are filling in as our weekend babysitters. Should be fun.
Tracy came by and I played “Song For the Desperate” for her. She liked “parts of it.”
When she left, it was just Ashley and I. We talked about girls and boys and rehab romance and I told her about Jesse’s coin out and running into Kelly last night. I also tricked her into telling me how much Tranquil Shores pays her (and then pointed that out). It was fun talking to her. I think she’ll be a good counselor.
Tranquil Shores Journal, December 6th, 2012:
Kelly never called but word is Fairwinds decided to hold her for another 30 [which means she still doesn’t have a phone].For the first time since I saw her there, we went to Church of the Isles for our meeting tonight. I was looking forward to it all week ‘cause Fairwinds is always there on Thursdays. Until tonight… Maybe I’ll see her when we come back on the 20th.
Willa [who I met at Blind Pass recently] was at the meeting though, so maybe it’s for the best that Kelly wasn’t. I sat with her and pulled (what I guess is now) my “Church of the Isles” trick: I drew a picture and passed it to her. It was a fucked up looking kid offering a flower to a pretty (but disgusted or annoyed) looking girl, captioned “My Autobiography.” She said something nice but didn’t ask if she could keep it. But she did pass me a note with her phone number in it.
After the meeting, I went outside and sat on the curb to smoke a cigarette. Alexis came out and sat down next to me. I pulled the “My Autobiography” cartoon from my pocket and showed it to her. “Did you make this for me?” she asked. I froze for just a second and then nodded and smiled, “I did!” She was really into it. It’s funny how things play out sometimes.
Journal, April 7th, 2013:
On top of everything else that happened yesterday, Alexis sent me a text. It’s gotten less and less frequent and I’m not sure why she even bothers at this point. It’s so pointless and she acts so oblivious. I tried to have a conversation with her and when that proved impossible, I just asked her to please send me a picture of my cartoon like she promised. It’s the one thing I’ve made that I don’t have a picture of. She told me when she moved out that she hung it next to her bed but I can never actually get her to send the picture. I think it’s because she knows it’s the one thing she’s got to keep me from ignoring her outright.
Journal, June 21st, 2013:
Not that I expected her to show up this weekend [for the Tranquil Shores Alumni Reunion], but I just found out that Alexis violated her probation (again) and is almost certainly going to jail for the next decade or so. I saw it coming but it still… it’s just sad how fast she went from “shining star of recovery” to “totally fucked in the head and making all the wrong decisions.” We both let each other fuck us up a little bit but she was still my best friend for a while there—and I really thought she was going to do well. I really wanted her to do well.
In any case, it’s a safe bet that I’m never getting a picture of that cartoon. Is it fucked up for me to even think of that?