I don’t have the slightest idea what’s happening in Syria. Something about weapons or genocide or… [who the fuck knows?] (Not me!). I am intentionally ignorant of it. I don’t give a shit. Not because I have some sort of bigoted animosity toward people in that part of the world, but because it’s not good for my mental health to be concerned with it. I don’t stress about it for the same reason I don’t stress about whether my friends in other parts of the country are consumed by drugs and at risk of dying. Because I can’t control it, I can’t change it, and worrying about it isn’t going to bring about anything positive for anyone.
I have a memory from when I was twenty years old. I was reading constantly and the things I was reading were consuming my thoughts. I remember walking through a grocery store and I started to cry (just a little bit) because I was thinking about water privatization in South America. I’m not interested in living that way anymore.
I saw some stuff on Facebook this week, criticizing our culture at large for being so consumed by the spectacle of MTV’s video music awards. I don’t give a shit about that either, but I actually saw some of it. (I went over to Angie and Alex’s house last night with Heather because Andrew and Claire came into town. They wanted to see some parts of the VMAs so Alex pulled it up on their magical internet television). I didn’t think it was awesome and I didn’t think it was the worst thing to ever happen. But it was really fucking boring. But [whatever]. It’s not important because – like Syria – things like that don’t need to be a part of my life at all.
Is it sad that bad things happen every day, whether or not we know about them? Absolutely. Is it frustrating that people obsess over (what I think is) vapid garbage “entertainment?” Sometimes, I guess. But none of it matters. Nothing matters. Not inherently. Things only have the significance that I assign to them. I don’t know if you’d call it a sort of nihilism or a “personal relativism” or what, but I get to choose my own truths and I get to create my own world.
As the only text on this painting (that isn’t in the title) says, “I like colors and contrast, bad teeth, crooked smiles, and nonsense. Things are better than they’ve ever been.”
This was the biggest fresh canvas I’ve ever worked with. I started on Thursday (8/29) and finished last night. It is acrylic, watercolor, pen, marker, carbon, and oil pastel.
Aside from “colors and contrast,” here’s something else that matters to me. Last night, when I was trying to figure out how to get a high-resolution photograph of something this big (and getting a little bit annoyed with how poorly my efforts were going) I realized that I was sitting alone in my kitchen, bouncing around in my seat, and singing along to this song. It made it a little tougher to feel at all annoyed or frustrated.
Edit(!): I can’t get the song to embed! Just go here and absorb everything: thebrokedowns.com
She might be scared, but that has nothing to do with me, my choices, my attitude, or my … how I’ve been.
I’m ambitious and I have confidence but moving out starts the ticking of the clock. It sets the deadline for my success or the date of my failure. Not moving out is what I’m comfortable with. But how long is it okay for me to stall intimate relationships so that I can enjoy myself (and do the things I want to without worry)?
Is it okay for me to be okay? Complacency. Fear. Priorities. GROWING UP. I understand far less than I let on. Strange that someone with all the answers in interactions has nothing but questions when alone.
That’s the text within this piece – painted in my Friday expressive art therapy group at Tranquil Shores. It was getting closer to the time Heather and I had talked about picking up and moving to Jacksonville. We were bickering a lot. I had asked her what was really going on. When she failed to come up with anything, I suggested that maybe she was scared about moving to a new city. After all, it wasn’t me. I’m itinerant! I’m punk! All we do is move. We have no roots. “I don’t live anywhere!” She, on the other hand, had never moved to a new city before so she was scared and that was making her irritable. Obviously.
But this was expressive art therapy and (in therapy) we don’t look at what’s wrong with other people, we look at ourselves. So that’s what I tried to do as I painted and – when I started writing – all of this suddenly came out of me.
God dammit. It was totally me. I was terrified. If I moved to Jacksonville with Heather, I’d suddenly be responsible for rent and utilities and who knows what else. I had been out of (inpatient) treatment for three months and thus far was doing great. I was supporting myself without having to give in to reality and get a real job. (Which – in hindsight – I realize may not have been all that impressive a feat considering that I had absolutely no bills to pay). But if I moved to Jacksonville and came up short on money for bills one month, all of a sudden, I’d have to admit that I was wrong. I’d have to get a job and acknowledge that I couldn’t support myself creatively…
Maybe I should just break it off and stay in Bradenton and live with Taylor’s family forever…? I don’t need a girlfriend or to be an adult or…
“Moving boxes and little else” is an acknowledgment that I had moved more times than I could count but was terrified to move forward.
But I did! And – so far – so good.
This piece is important to me because the process of creating it really was revelatory. I had spend a lot time thinking about this stuff and had gotten nowhere. After I made this piece, the bickering between Heather and I stopped completely. It’s pretty remarkable how much garbage sometimes lurks just below the surface (and how badly it can fuck me up). This piece is proof that art is essential to the maintenance of my mental health.
Here’s the song I quoted in this entry. It’s from the new Dead Mechanical album out soon on Toxic Pop (who split released the last DM full-length with Traffic Street (that’s my label, you guys!)) When I lived in DC, I spent a lot of time in Baltimore. When I wasn’t copping or shooting heroin, I was usually at a Dead Mechanical show. (Sometimes both!) But getting to see them play all the time was definitely one of the best things about living up there.
Here’s another song from the same record. Just ’cause.
Hit the Toxic Pop website to check out the album art (by Julie Benoit!) and pre-order the LP, which starts shipping next week. (I know the site says that it starts shipping in early August, but Mike (Toxic Pop) sent out an update changing the shipping date due to delays at the pressing plant).
This painting is currently for sale. Or – if you’re not a big spender – you can pick up a signed and framed (behind glass) print/poster that’s the same size as the original.
I’ve never shared the text in this piece with anyone until now. Shortly after I moved out of Tranquil Shores, I went down to Sarasota to see if I could sell some of my artwork by just setting up on the sidewalk. I didn’t want any trouble with police and the most trafficked spot in downtown Sarasota is outside of Whole Foods, so rather than set up in such a way as to be explicitly selling artwork, I just sat at a table outside of Whole Foods and painted, with a few finished pieces (facing outward) in the crate attached to my bike, another on the table in front of me, and another leaning against my chair. I just painted and hoped that someone would walk up and want to talk to me and then I could somehow segue into trying to sell something. Plenty of people did stop and talk to me, but I didn’t say anything to anyone about selling anything. And it was twilight, so no one could really see anything anyway. The whole thing was awkward. It wasn’t exactly my best plan.
Just before I went to Whole Foods, I had stopped by Clothesline. I had made a habit of doing that whenever I was back in Sarasota in the last year or so (in between stints in rehab), but this time it wasn’t just to say hi to the owner, Austin (my best friend from ages two to ten or so). Clothesline does gallery openings or art exhibits or [whatever you call that kind of thing] and – as of a couple months ago – I was now an artist. I figured I’d show him some of my pieces and see if there was any possibility of showing some of my stuff there. He was really supportive and sweet, but I didn’t actually ask outright and the whole thing didn’t pan out exactly as I’d have liked it to. Looking back, that makes a lot of sense.
Anyway, this was written a few hours later – after the Whole Foods attempt, after starting my ride back to Bradenton. It was colder than I could stand (to ride in) so I pulled over and wrote this on a piece of canvas that I had started to paint earlier. It says:
At first I thought it was just because she wanted to see me, but when I started writing on “Smiling With a Paintbrush in My Teeth,” I realized it might not be a good thing. When I asked her if she just wanted to see me or had something specific to talk about (and that I might not be home by ten) she said, “It’s not a big deal – it can wait ’til tomorrow.” But it’s a big enough deal that it’s not a text or a phone call. And a big enough deal that – ideally – she wanted to talk about it tonight. I’m really scared. Trying to see the good. Trying to be a light. Whole Foods today (covert street sales) was a bust. Clothesline was a bust. I might need to be in a big city to be an artist. And what keeps me from that? Heather. If she left me, I could go wherever I want. In another piece today, I had described myself as “stuck” and “trapped.” Also “smiling,” but still. My little punk rock heart’ll be broken, but I’ll be free to pursue my dream. And she’s been weird the last two days. “A dream I don’t want to wake up from.” It’s true, but maybe it’s time for me to wake up. I tried to ride the moped back. It’s too cold. The zipper on my bag keeps opening. I caved and called Lynette. There’s pizza waiting at home. I’m scared but I just need to make it another 100 minutes. Writing this killed 17. By the time I’m warm and fed, I’ll only have maybe 55 minutes to kill. Fuck. I’m smoking a cigarette now.
So – being incredibly codependent – I wanted to see Heather every night, but I was trying to be cool with it on the nights that I didn’t see her. But when she sent me a text on this evening, asking if she could come over around 10, I was excited because she had said that she had to work early and wouldn’t be coming over. And then my brain went into panic mode, as I realized that her text also implied that there was something we needed to talk about. Obviously, I jumped to the conclusion that she was going to break up with me. We had only been dating for a couple of weeks, but – shit – I didn’t really understand why she had been into seeing me in the first place. I’m a heroin addict and I just got out of rehab. She’s well-adjusted and employed. She drives a car! That she bought! With money from working!
I got picked up on the side of the rode and went “home.” (I was living with an ex-girlfriend’s family – although – I think it’s safe to say at this point (eight years in) that they’re basically my family; they’re as much family to me as anyone else in the world). Anyway, I was a ball of anxiety, I was so incredibly stressed out throughout this, but I remember that the one comforting thought in my head was there will be pizza – I will eat pizza and everything will be okay. (Yes, I am nine years old). When I got back to the house, there was not any pizza left. It was a pretty devastating blow.
I didn’t finish this piece that night because I didn’t want it to be a piece. I didn’t want anyone to see what I had written. It’s embarrassing.
Three weeks later, I found myself similarly upset though and I picked it back up. In all of that time, I had been cutting my anti-depressants all the way down to zero. For that reason, it was tough to tell when something was a legitimate issue and when I was maybe just feeling the absence of my medication. Just before I moved out of Tranquil Shores, it had been suggested that maybe I didn’t need anti-depressants after all. I started titrating down and we were monitoring my condition to see how I did with a lower dose and then with no dose. The day that I finished this piece, I was at the very end of my titration. I had no idea what was what.
I still get depressed, but I haven’t gone back on anti-depressants. After all, I still got depressed even when I was on them. And actually, I got depressed even more often because my “mental health tools” weren’t as strong back then. I don’t wanna go on a long spiel about it, but I’ll just say: I think anti-depressants are for people suffering from depression without cause. If, on the other hand, a person has plenty of legitimate reasons to be depressed, depression is the appropriate response and not something that should be treated with a pill. That strikes me as being roughly equivalent to putting a piece of duct tape over a “check engine” light and thinking the problem’s solved.
Anyway, I’m not saying that I have good reasons to be depressed, but I’ve got my little episodes and I have ways that I can manage them without a pill. Did I need it for a time? Almost definitely. I don’t think I could have started to get a grip without them. I was immeasurably miserable all the time. Words like “hopeful” and “happy” disgusted me. I wouldn’t even say them out loud. My process, getting well… it wasn’t quick and it wasn’t easy. I had a very long way to go. (And – yeah – I’m still going).
Quick aside. In writing this entry, I noticed something cool about this piece: how many other pieces it alludes to or is tied to in some sense. At least five. Maybe those will be the next ones I add to the site. (As I add those pieces, I’ll add links to them in the text of this entry, where each is referenced).
There have been a bunch of big, mean-looking ants, trolling around my front porch like they own the place. And they’re biters. Yesterday, I sprayed some poison around. I went outside this morning: not a bug in sight! I don’t have to be hyper-vigilant when I got outside anymore; I can sit outside and relax.
I thought about how nice that is. And how simple. I’m all fucked up right now. I’m supposed to be celebrating one year clean this week and I’m not. Money makes no sense to me. The future scares the shit out of me sometimes. Life without heroin… it sometimes reminds me of why for so long I chose life with heroin. I needed a little victory today. A problem I could act on and resolve without years of uncertainty. Like I said: simple.
But then I started thinking about how the poison might effect the lizards that hang out on my porch. Are they gonna be poisoned by it too? Am I destroying their food supply? What other environmental consequences does this spray have? Is this really all that simple?
But ultimately, I’ve got too many real problems to let myself get caught up in shit like that. Sure, it’d be nice if I could save all the trees and the lizards and we could all live happily ever after, but – first – I think I’ll just work on saving myself. Not from bugs. That’s not what I mean. From the stress and anxiety that comes with taking on problems that I don’t need to. (“Precious on the Edge” by Drunken Boat is one of my favorite songs: He knows he’s gotta save the world somehow, but first he’s gotta save himself and that’s the hardest trick of all).
I’m also reminded of a Riverboat Gamblers lyric: It seems we’ve been conditioned to think it’s unreasonable not to be miserable. That was definitely one of my core beliefs for a long time and something I had to work on a lot in treatment. If I felt good, I felt like an idiot. Like, “Hey, dumbass! Look around you! What the fuck is there to be happy about??” I try not to think that way anymore. It hasn’t been easy to shed a lot of those old ideas. I held on to them for at least two decades.
I’m glad that I have the capacity to be thoughtful—reflective. But sometimes I need to tell my inner-critic to just shut the fuck up already.
Here are both songs (and the full lyrics to “Precious on the Edge”).