Just like “Blueprint For a Successful Evening,” this isn’t really a new piece. I originally “finished” it in December 2013 and until recently it’s existed in limbo. It felt finished but I didn’t like it enough to actually do anything with it. I took it back out on May 15th and put another fifteen to twenty hours into it and now I’m finally happy with it. It used to look like this:
The journals I wrote around it back then aren’t particularly interesting. It’s a whole lot of “I don’t feel okay but I know that I don’t have anything to not feel okay about.” It’s disturbingly similar to the shit I was writing last night. It was only about a month later that I totally rearranged my life and got a lot happier. Makes me think that maybe I need to do the same thing again but I’m not sure exactly what that would mean this time around.
Aside from the main caption, I Feel “Weird” When I’m Unconsciously Unwilling to Admit What’s Really Going On, the only text in this piece says: “I’m playing with textures because I hate myself.” Someone had told me (back when I made this piece “the first time”)| that my art was “too flat”; for some reason, I listened and that’s why I created a bunch of different textures in this piece. It’s [whatever]. It’s all part of the process of figuring out what’s me and what’s some other artist. I don’t seek out advice and I definitely don’t ever seek out art by anyone else (for comparison or for any purpose) but little things leak in to my head now and then that either take hold or don’t and that’s okay.
Just got to Asheville from Atlanta. The plan for tomorrow is pretty geographically unspecific: I gotta make the insert for the new Rational Anthem LP that I’ve been putting off forever. That – plus a bunch of practical/non-art related errands – should soak up most of the day.
Atlanta: Chris and I set up at Summerfest in Virginia Highland over the weekend and made some money selling prints. Leading up to that, I went around to a bunch of galleries but didn’t really pitch myself to any of them – having decided that the better approach might be to just send portfolios to each one, rather than stopping by unannounced and hoping for the best.
I’m not sure if that decision is more the result of insecurity or of wanting to be considerate / play by the rules. Even if it’s the latter, I’m not necessarily sure it’s a good move. Either way, the consequence is that it’s no longer incredibly necessary for me to be living on the road and traveling to all these different cities. Still, I don’t think it’s a bad thing either. If I were stationary in one city, I might be more productive in terms of actual painting but it’s just as likely that I’d get caught up in and distracted by a relationship (or friendships or [whatever]). For now, I think that living this way still makes sense. (Plus, I enjoy it – stressful as it might be at times). But I’m not totally certain that I won’t decide to simply post up for a good while, somewhere along the way , at least until summer’s over and I can move around the east coast without feeling like I need a shower every time I step outside. I’ve sold enough these last few months that I could hide out and do nothing but work on new paintings for the rest of the year. As much as I might like that though, I know I gotta keep putting myself out there and selling myself in some sense. I’ve got too much ambition to do otherwise. And I’m energized by all the feedback (monetary and otherwise) that I get when I do. I can’t exist in isolation.
My thinking right now is Asheville for about two weeks, finishing my current painting (which you can see pictures of on my Instagram and Facebook pages), waiting for the mailman to bring my digital portfolio CDs so I can mail out a hundred of them to galleries around the country, (at the very least) scoping out the galleries here in Asheville, and setting up a table somewhere downtown a few days each week to meet people and share/sell my prints and statements.
Here are a couple things I made for Rational Anthem last month. The first is a poster, the second is a koozie design.
In September 2012, I was working on my first major assignment at Tranquil Shores. About halfway through, one of the questions wasn’t really a question; it just said to draw an image of powerlessness. Fuck that. (This was around the time that I had just started to sort of sometimes enjoy art). I skipped the question for the time being and went to the next. “Powerlessness can creep into how you feel about yourself. If you were painting a portrait of yourself today, how would it look? Do you go to bed or wake up with feelings of shame or grief? What about the things you’ve wanted to accomplish that remain undone? What feelings do you have when your actions go against what you know is right? Share the way you really feel about yourself today. Paint with words a self-portrait of your inner feelings.”
Here’s how I answered (on 9/11/12):
If I were painting a self-portrait of my inner feelings today, it wouldn’t look quite like my inner feelings. I feel a little too okay right now and – as we all know – only art born of anger, discontent, self-loathing, misery, pain, poverty, and/or shit is worth anything. So whatever I painted would be too contrived to be any good. Unless I successfully recalled some darker moments and managed to displace my current sort-of-pleasant state of mind.
I don’t usually wake up with shame. Well… sometimes. I always did when I was using (or a lot anyway). The things I want to accomplish will be fairly simple if I stay clean. Well, making another Troublemake record will be. Maybe not becoming at peace with myself and the world. Fuck, but I do sometimes act contrary to my intentions and then I feel really stupid, foolish, and inferior. Like when half of the things I say in a day (okay, less than that) can be heard escaping my mouth. That hurts. But generally, I feel enthused and intelligent. (I hate having to say good things about myself or about how I’m feeling though). It makes me feel self-conscious. And then less of whatever I was feeling before I said it (particularly when it comes to positive attributes). I’m definitely far more concerned with how others will perceive me than I have been at any other point in my life. I can’t feel good about myself and say it without it disappearing or at least fading.
Sometimes I feel confident, appreciated, (relatively) important, or even powerful (in some sort of sense) but the moment I acknowledge it, I feel insecure, discouraged, hurt, and lonely – which I soak in until those feelings morph into hopelessness, anger, apathy, and recklessness – which I use to ruin everything and ruin myself. Eventually, I feel outright hateful (though I direct most of it inward, at myself).
Maybe I don’t have to fake it after all… Maybe I’m really not in great emotional shape and I can paint a really awful self-portrait. I guess I could say… “I’m a bit miserable – not coming apart at the seams; things aren’t as bad as they seem but they ain’t much better…”
If I’m not always totally aware of these things, I’m at least thoughtful, but I’m also prone to confusion, self-doubt, and depression. It can be a little volatile. I’m a little volatile. My strongest “inner feeling” is instability. I don’t feel stable.
I finished answering all of the written questions within two weeks, but it wasn’t until October 2nd that I finally went back and drew the image of powerlessness that I needed to call the assignment complete.
I drew this on a Tuesday afternoon. On Wednesday morning, I was pulled aside and told that I was being discharged. I was getting kicked out of my third treatment facility that year. It was raining. I had no way to get anywhere and nowhere to go anyway. Someone gave me a little bit of money to help get me wherever I might decide to go. I spent the next couple hours arguing with myself: whether or not I should use it to go to a shooting range where, for twenty-five dollars, I could get my hands on a gun, put a bullet in my head, and just be done with it.
In my answer to the “self-portrait” question, I quoted a song. As I drew my image of powerlessness, I had another song on my mind. Here are both.
“Sorry Sam” by The Slow Death I wake up in the warm sun on a folded out futon. Get some water from the bathroom sink and try to figure out what happened to me. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I spent my nights forgetting, my afternoons regretting, all the stupid things I said and everything I should have done instead. And when I say, “I’m doing okay,” – it’s mostly overstated. I’m a bit miserable, not coming apart at the seams. Things aren’t as bad as they seem, but they ain’t much better.
“Wrong” by Off With Their Heads Sit back and let me tell you about the sadness, about the beast that’s been gnashing its teeth trying to destroy me. It rears its head every time I’m alone. In the middle of the night, if you don’t answer your phone, it snarls at me. It hides underneath my bed and it sinks its teeth in every corner of my head. Don’t try to stop it, don’t try to control it, don’t try to defeat it, don’t try to console it – it’s unstoppable and it’s a part of me. Your best bet is not to get too close to me. Stay the fuck away, stay out of its reach or it will poison you like it’s been poisoning me. It tells me what I’m supposed to say and it controls every move that I make. You’ve got me all wrong. It’s not “the real me” screaming you away – it’s that selfish sadness ruining every day. Everything is wrong.
“Sorry Sam” comes from The Slow Death’s 2011 album, “Born Ugly, Got Worse,” on Kiss of Death Records.
“Wrong” comes from Off With Their Heads’ 2008 album, “From the Bottom,” on No Idea Records. (Though it was originally released as “I Hate My Stupid Ass and I Hope I Get in a Car Accident Tonight” on the band’s 2007 split 7-inch with Dukes of Hillsborough, on ADD Records).
5¾x4″ prints of “Nothing Helps” are available in my webstore.
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.
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).