I can’t remember the last time I wrote a statement for one of my pieces but this painting never got one. A year later, here I go…
Things were going well. I was making thousands of dollars every month, I was getting booked at galleries, I was traveling the country with a girl with whom I was deeply in love, and I still wasn’t happy. (Or happy enough).
In March, I had an exhibition at Instinct in Minneapolis. Everyday – to help promote the exhibit and to make extra money selling prints – I’d set up on the sidewalk in front of the gallery with an easel, working on this, my next painting.
Some days, I didn’t wanna go set up though and spend twelve hours on the street, painting. Other days, I was frustrated having to park and carry my supplies too far away (or parking closer – illegally – and having to keep an eye over my shoulder for tow trucks all day). I was making money just for making art but I was actually having to work for it.
I wanted to paint in some studio or at home. I wanted to finish a painting and know that there were already galleries lined up to take them or collectors ready to buy them the moment each was finished. “I’m fucking brilliant!” (Right?) “My genius should be enough to generate an income all on its own! This should be easier.”
Alright, so maybe my thinking wasn’t quite that arrogant but … you know … pretty much.
Look – I don’t like myself a whole lotta the time and I could expand on that for days but – when it comes to my art – I know that it’s great. As a human being, I’m seriously flawed, but those same flaws (and my willingness to bare them so candidly and honestly) is what overwhelmingly/primarily accounts for the power and singularity of my art and is the reason I’ve sold as much of it as I have. I’ve hated so many things about me for long enough that I’m okay with being unapologetically proud of the art I’ve created.
I figured that once I got wide enough exposure and enough people knew about my art (once I was famous) my life would be a whole lot easier. No more worrying about bills. Lots of attention (to fill the empty void where my soul should live). You know: FAME. Money. Whatever.
Admittedly, that might be a little naive but – fuck it – I was getting really sick of having to work and I was getting really sick of not being famous.
Beyond all that, there’s a passage of smaller text hidden in the canvas that sort of jumps all over the place. I wrote about feeling fat and self-conscious and tugging at my clothes, pulling them straight a million times a day (even though I was well underweight at that point (and probably still am)). I wrote about other frustrations and how they made me want to use heroin, even though I’d been clean forever at that point and had gained so much to lose. And I wrote about how I didn’t know what I was doing wrong but that I was going to keep trying anyway, finding new approaches if necessary.
Like most of my work, this painting is meant to be funny and it’s supposed to seem dense and trivial but its humor is born of sincere frustration, genuine sadness, hopelessness, and a sense of uncertainty. And like a lot of the optimism I inject into my work, what little is here is mostly for my own benefit and not the painting’s. It’s forced with the hope that it will take hold.
And I think it did take hold for a while but ultimately, about a year after finishing this piece, I did cave and give in to heroin, letting it replace art as my full-time occupation. And seven months into that, in a state of drug-induced psychosis, I slashed away at this painting (and several others) shortly before eating an absurd quantity of Xanax and Klonopin and injecting an intentionally strong shot of heroin with the intention of killing myself. I’m not sure why I didn’t want the art to outlive me but the damage didn’t turn out to be all that bad anyway and I, myself, woke up in the hospital a few days later.
That was six weeks ago and I’m now in the process of stitching up all of the slashes I put into my paintings. This is the first I’ve finished sewing up which makes it the first in what I’m calling my “Suicide Stitches” series of paintings. More on that in another blog entry/post soon to follow.
I wrote two journals on this canvas that I later painted over.
Saturday, July 19th:
I don’t know where to start so I’m just gonna let my pen not stop. Chris was being an asshole and maybe I played a part but I don’t think so. So I went into emotional shut down mode and locked everyone out and dropped all my plans for the night. I hid from my friends and slept in the van and wrote a letter to a stranger and now I’m on the street, painting and journaling about some shit that no one will find interesting. When I got up this morning, I went inside, woke him up, drove us downtown, got out with my canvas, and sent him off with the van. He probably went back to Kendra’s, where the two of them can talk about how unbalanced I am. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m not the center of the universe. (Yeah, right).
Sunday, July 20th: Chris has been traveling with me for almost three months now. He’s got three months clean that he wouldn’t have without me. We got into an argument the other night. He thinks I boss him around. I think he takes all that I do for him for granted and that he doesn’t pitch in enough. We’ve basically not spoken for two days now. He’s off doing his own thing for once. Didn’t call or “come home” last night, which is more than okay with me. It’s what I was hoping for. I think his stint traveling with me is over. Actually, no. He’ll come back around as soon as he needs something. Money. Cigarettes. A place to sleep. Nevermind that I could use his help in the meantime. But I don’t need it. I get by fine without him. Maybe better. I’m more productive. Don’t need to spend as much money. Maybe I take him for granted but I’m ready to cut him loose. He likes the lifestyle my art’s provided, traveling, but he hasn’t taken to being an assistant or manager of any kind. I can’t protect him from needles and drug-addled girls forever. It’s time for him to find his own thing or fuck up trying. The only person I’m responsible for is me. Anyone that’d fault me for whatever might happen to him can fuck off. It’s no stretch to say that I saved his life and I absolutely gave him the reprieve he needed to start fresh and make another kind of life for himself. And – fuck it – I’ll say it: he has a good heart and all that shit but he’s selfish and lazy. And maybe that’s ’cause he doesn’t care about *this* like I do but all the more reason for him to find his own thing and make his own way.
Kendra had gone downtown with me that afternoon and when we got back to her apartment that night, Chris was sitting outside waiting for us. I went out to get dinner and bought food for him too but still chose not to speak to him anymore than was totally necessary. I was being a shitty child and was totally okay with it for the time being. I was still mad. Because he was being a shitty child too. It didn’t matter in that moment that he was my best friend. For all I cared, he could fuck right the fuck off. I didn’t pull it together until the next afternoon. I didn’t want to be an asshole but I also didn’t really care whether or not he stuck around and didn’t feel that I should be making any concessions. The work that I ask Chris to do (mostly errands and driving) isn’t as fun as a lot of the “work” that I do (painting, drawing, writing) but I also spend a lot of time on more tedious chores like color-correcting photographs and formatting images for prints. And my work is the stuff that pays for all the pizzas we eat, cigarettes we smoke, and the cool shit we get to do traveling around the U.S. If there’s stuff he can do to help, he should do it. It’ll still leave him with at least 22 hours each day to do whatever the fuck he wants. I have a hard enough time having to ask Chris, my friend, to do things, like he’s an employee, and it only makes it that much worse when we have to argue about it. When Chris pitches in without having to be asked, everything runs really smoothly. When he doesn’t, I feel like I can’t ask him unless I’m using 100% of my time super productively. I feel guilty if I watch The Simpsons or spend time with whatever girl I’m seeing.
“If you want to keep traveling with me,” I told him, “you’ve got to pitch in more and, if I ask you to help with something, just do it.” He agreed that it was fair, acknowledged that he had been slacking a little bit, and everything’s been cool since then.
I’m uncomfortable writing about any of this and would have much rather just told the story of how our band, Shitty Children, came to fruition but that story’s already been told and this is what was on my mind at the “emotional peak” of the time I spent on this painting so…
Chris, Mike, and I are leaving for California tonight – for Awesome Fest in San Diego and for Shitty Children’s second (ever) show, in Pomona. Dave can’t come so Andy from Turkish Techno will be filling in on guitar. We’ll get to practice with him on Thursday, a few hours before the show but – in order to do so – we’ve got to drive all thirty hours, straight through in one shot without stopping to sleep. If you see me on Thursday, I might be just a little sleepy. I’m really excited and if you live anywhere near Pomona, you should definitely come out to the show.
Here’s a video of us playing “Rumbleseats and Running Boards” by Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. We played it worse than any of our own songs but – for that reason – it’s one of my favorite videos from that first set. I like watching Chris and me laugh it off each time one of us makes a mistake.
“Snowflakes Anonymous.” 11/22/13. Acrylic, watercolor, and spray paints, food coloring, markers, pen, resin sand, cardboard and EBT card – on 24×30″ stretched canvas.
This piece took me over a week to finish. That left a lot of time for different issues to pop up, play off each other, and rearrange my ideas. I started it one nigh while I was thinking about missing Tranquil Shores. Then I thought about how I might like to work at a place like that except… For starters, I don’t have enough clean time. I’d have to pretend like
I didn’t fuck up at any point. That made me sad. You know what I eventually realized though? Fuck that. Someone recently complimented my honesty / willingness to be vulnerable through my artwork – “especially for someone with so little clean time.” That threw me for a loop! There was nothing mean-spirited about the comment (it came from someone that’s been really positive and supportive) but still – the implication is that I’ve only recently started getting well. In reality, most of the pieces she had seen and read about were created before that – sometime after my previous clean date (the day I got to Tranquil Shores: August 17th, 2012). And I didn’t really start getting better ’til December 12th. The vast majority of honest text in my pieces was always scribbled out up until that point.
So – yeah – I may have fucked up over the summer, but that didn’t hit the reset button on my recovery; I didn’t fall down into a gutter with a needle in my arm, desperate and miserable as ever. I made a mistake, called myself on it, told the people I needed to tell, and carried the fuck on and moved forward with the things I know to be good for me and good for my mental health and emotional well-being. And you know what else? The dangerous position I allowed myself to be in (that led to my relapse): it was worth it. That month I spent working on that project – it had incredible highs, some (very obvious) lows, I learned a lot about myself, a lot about the world around me, and – overall – was a better stronger person when all was said and done.
And it still affects me today (both positively and negatively). I wouldn’t say I regret any of it. Life is for living and anyone that’s really living is gonna fuck up every now and then. That’s not a preemptive copout for future relapse, it’s just reality. You can count on my not repeating that mistake but I’m sure as shit gonna fuck up at one thing or another!
Back on point: on Tuesday, I was reading the NA literature and I realized that so much of it really has nothing to do with me. It’s totally undescriptive of my thinking and my behavior. Not all of it, but enough of it. Does that mean I’m gonna quit going to meetings? No. But it explains why I stopped going more than once a week back in February – and why my
counselors at Tranquil Shores didn’t throw a monumental fit about it the way they’d always done with everyone else. I may not be some beautiful fucking snowflake, thoroughly unlike all to come before me, but – you know what? I am different than a lotta people and meetings, meetings, meetings isn’t the fucking cure-all for everyone.
And if you wanna get technical – it’s got nothing to do with the twelve steps as they were originally written (and are still written in the AA text). Same with sponsorship – there’s nothing in the original text about going to meetings or finding a sponsor. It’s just about working with / helping other alcoholics [or addicts]. And I do that shit constantly. I hate a lot of the attitudes that dominate the rooms of AA and NA: “Do this or die” (especially when “this” isn’t even part of the program). You know why they think that the only people who succeed in recovery are the ones that continue going to meetings for the rest of their lives? Because the people that come back are the one that fucked up and needed to come back; they never hear the stories of the people that leave their group and succeed because they don’t have any reason to come back around and tell their tale. It’s right for some people – not everyone. And fuck the notion that “clean time” is the only measure of success. I do pretty okay. I like myself. I like my life. And it’s been that way for a while now. It didn’t start ’til I got clean (and then some) but it didn’t go away just ’cause I had a lapse in judgment. I still have that time. There are documents of it – all over my walls and all over this website.
SECOND (reason I can’t get a job at a treatment facility), I don’t think I’m cut out to work anywhere. I’m not some wild, outta control basket case but that’s ’cause I know what I need to do to keep my grip. When things get rough, I’ve got tools I can use to get ’em back on the right track. But mental health is a chore and I can’t schedule my emotions. Being on the clock, being on someone else’s time… it doesn’t work for me. I have too much to do – sick or well, fucked or not. So while I might like to do some volunteer kinda stuff now and then, I don’t think that “getting a job” is anything that’s ever gonna work out for me.
From there I was thinking about something that’s occurred to me before: that I could almost certainly qualify to receive disability payments. Up ’til my “recovery” began, I’d have taken those without a second thought; I had (and still have) no moral objections to something like that (even if I were/am fully capable of working). But getting disability doesn’t really seem in line with what I’m about these days. My brain might be a little off but I’ve been creatively building a life out of that, through my artwork. I’m not sure I want a label like “disabled” on me.
But – also on Tuesday – I realized that I use food stamps and… is that really any different? It’s basically partial-disability with no questions asked. “Oh? You don’t make enough money? Okay, here you go. No – we don’t care why, just take it.” Strangely enough, the very next day, I met a girl who does receive disability payments (and for borderline personality disorder!) That had me actually considering it for the first time but it wasn’t ’til later that night I realized that – immediately after meeting her – I volunteered to pick up a shift at Sun-Ray over the weekend if they needed any extra help. AND THEN(!) I had to modify my offer to exclude Saturday because I’m going to some kind of seven hour “personal growth” / mental health thing tomorrow.
Just like that – I went from ruling out work because of my obligations to myself and my mental health but rejecting the prospect of disability payments on principle, meeting a girl on disability with the same issues I have and starting to reconsider, to unthinkingly offering to work, and then realizing I couldn’t because of a (very concrete, specific) mental health obligation.
For now, I’m gonna keep on as I have been. I already have everything I need. Well, maybe not a sense of security but what fun would that be?
Hey – speaking of “clean time,” “clean dates,” and what a beautiful fucking snowflake I am… When someone completes their treatment plan at Tranquil Shores, they have their coin-out ceremony and they get a little keychain with their clean date on it. Here’s the one they gave me back in February.
Yes, that is an “X” in place of a clean date. No, I had no idea that mine was going to be different and – no – of all the people that have been through the program, no one else has ever gotten anything other than their actual clean date.
Something I wrote in this entry reminded me of a lyric from a song I haven’t heard in a few years. “She asked me if I want to die / I said of course I do sometimes / Anyone who never wants to die / must not really be alive.” And now that I’m listening to it, I’m realizing that it’s right for this entry in more ways than one.
I got the Like Bats cassettes in the mail today. They’ll be the first new Traffic Street release in more than two years and will go on sale tomorrow! (This is a one-off sorta thing though; I’m not picking back up with Traffic Street for real – not anytime soon anyway).
Fun fact: Did you notice my (expired) EBT/foodstamp card glued to the top-right corner of the canvas? Did you notice that it says “ASK FOR VD” on the signature line? Just below that, it says “ARTS SUBSIDY” which I added after the card was on the canvas). I wrote “ASK FOR VD” on it back when it was still valid though – back when I first got it in March. I am a ridiculous human being.
This piece is available for purchase as a 12×15″ print. The original sold in December 2013.
You know that feeling when you’re hanging out with people in your favorite bands and you’re pretending that you’re as cool as they are (or – put another way – that you don’t secretly think they’re, like, THE COOLEST EVER [just ’cause they happen to be in a band you really like])? And you pull it off successfully?
If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re a liar. (Because we bothknow YOU’RE NOT COOL). You are exactly as much of a faker as I am.
I wrote that a few minutes ago (for nothing in particular) but then decided to use it in my entry tonight. It’s not totally on point for this painting (and what it means to me today) but it’s related. You could call that little blurb a prequel of sorts to what follows…
One of my best friends has written a ton of my favorite songs. Since we first became friends years ago, he’s known how much I liked his bands but – now that I have a website where I write about a lot of this stuff all the time – I guess the full extent of it sort of dawned on him. He called me recently to ask about our friendship. “Like, is it pretty much the same as if Dr. Frank or Ben Weasel were calling me to tell me about their problems?” My answer: “Yeah, pretty much.” He asked what that was like and I told him it had been good for me. That I had learned a lot from the experience.
Believe it or not, there are people who think that I’m cool (and/or accomplished). And the experience of becoming so close with one of my “heroes” has given me some insight into that. We’re all nerds, none of us have a handle on our lives, and we all feel like we’re faking it to some degree. And the things that we’ve each achieved: they don’t always seem like much because they’re all we know. My “measure for success” changes constantly. At one point, if I posted a picture of something I made on Facebook and it got a dozen or so “likes,” I wanted to throw a fucking parade. That kind of stuff can still mean a lot to me (especially when I’m down) but it’s not quite the big deal that it used to be.
One afternoon in January, I was sitting on the side of the road trying not to lose my mind… I found a few crayons and some scrap paper in my backpack and scribbled out some nonsense. Today, somebody gave me sixty-five dollars for that piece of scrap paper. When I take the time to stop and think about that, it’s pretty incredible (and I’m very grateful). But that’s sort of where the bar is at now. When that sort of thing doesn’t happen, I feel like a failure. Recently though, I’ve been able to examine that along with my experiences with friends in more “successful” bands (who do the kinds of shit that a lot of us have only dreamt about (and write the kinds of songs most of us will never even get close to)) and I get it; I can understand why they don’t feel like the “success stories” that others might see them as. And I can see why I am the success story that I don’t always think I am.
That’s not all either. At times, the experience has given me self-esteem. Not because “somebody cool is my friend,” but because of the tough spots that it’s put me in. It’s hard to tell anyone that you care about something you think they might not wanna hear (or that they might be insulted by). And it’s even harder when that person is a “hero” of sorts. I found myself in that position recently and it wasn’t easy. I reallywanted to keep my mouth shut, but I also didn’t wanna be a coward. I swallowed the lump in my throat, said everything I wanted to say (with as much sincerity as I could), and… it couldn’t have gone better. Not only that but – when I asked, “What’ve your other friends said?” – the response I got was, “You’re the only one that’s said anything to me about this.” I think that’s a testament to just how easy it is to keep one’s mouth shut and not say the hard thing to a friend. Which (of course) isn’t being a friend at all. I was pretty shocked when I heard that but I also felt good about it – about overcoming my fear and finding the courage to say these things. No one else had.
This stuff’s all super awkward. Who wants to talk about friendship or admit to having “heroes” in the first place? (Not me!) So – seein’ as I’ve been brave enough to do that – I’m gonna cut myself a little slack and allow myself to “cut it short” right here. Cool? Cool.
Zack and his mom were in the front yard when we pulled up to get him. From inside the van, I heard him say my name and when we spilled out, he pointed me out and said something about “Mowgli.” I thought that was pretty funny seeing as we have pretty similar taste in attire and I’m constantly scratching at real or imagined bugs in my hair. It’s an apt comparison.
Today is Tuesday – that’s my one day of the week when I have a routine in the outside world. I meet with my counselor at 10 AM and then go to an NA meeting at noon. It’s a reason to put clothes on. The rest of the time, I tend to not be very dressed. I ride around town without shirt or shoes because my only destinations are Alex and Angie’s (to do yardwork) or the convenience store up the street from my house. Sometimes I keep a shirt or shoes in my backpack though just in case. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m pretty free. I do whatever I want to do. Not only do I not have to put on a uniform or a collared shirt every day, I don’t really have to put on much of anything. That’s only significant insofar as what it says about the world and life I’ve built for myself.
I made plenty of friends in the years when I was a college student, but I only made one friend in college. He’s pretty much my only non-punk rock friend. By which I just mean that he’s my only friend that didn’t at least grow up in the punk scene – he’s my only friend that’s not connected to that world at all. He’s married, he has a mortgage, an advanced degree, and he just got a promotion at work. He’s well-adjusted (relatively speaking). When we were in school together, I was always cynical and angry and just chock full o’ nihilism, gloom, and doom. As much as he enjoyed that comedy (because it was so over-the-top as to be parodical) he’d try to get me to see the bright side and not be such a miserable little shit all the time. Tonight he sent me a text to ask how I was doing. “Great! Working on a huge painting right now. How are you?” His response was a little less enthusiastic so I called him.
He’s bored with work, with life. He doesn’t get to spend his time doing the things that he likes to do. Years ago, on the occasions when he was feeling a little less cheery about the world, I couldn’t offer him anything but commiseration (and maybe some I-told-you-sos). But tonight we talked for a little over an hour and (at the risk of being presumptuous) I’d like to think that I was actually able to help him feel a little better. Together, we came up with an idea. A change he could make to free up more of his time so that he can get a little more enjoyment out of this whole “being alive” thing. I don’t know if it’ll necessarily turn out to be the right thing, but that’s not really the point.
I’ve gone over this before but… fuck what the world wants you to do. I don’t have a job, I don’t own a home, and I run around this city looking like Mowgli from the Disney Jungle Book. He asked me what am I gonna do if something falls into my lap that I can’t handle, that I can’t afford. We went back and forth for a while over different hypotheticals, discussing different outcomes for different problems but the “what if”s kept coming. Finally, I came up with an answer that satisfied him. “I don’t know what I’d do. But none of that stuff has happened. I have everything that I need today. If something changes tomorrow, then I’ll deal with it tomorrow. I don’t live in fear or with anxiety over what might happen. I live for today and – today – I’m happy.” He liked that. Whatever it is that he needs to change, I hope he figures it out and follows through. He deserves to be happy and it’s not outside of his reach. (The same can be said of just about everyone).
Speaking of Zack (um… like, nine paragraphs ago). He told me last week that my worldview is (are you ready?) a little immature! (Unbelievable, right?!?)
If that is at all true though, it’s at least partially his fault.
“Do what you really wanna do. Don’t fucking ‘yes, sir’ through your whole life like a fool, kid. I hope you don’t really need the lies. Don’t fucking waste your time with the world always dragging you down.”
That feeling when you get to the grocery store, unaware of anything that you’ve done wrong, yet the one person who’s supposed to love you, is very clearly feeling anything but love for you. So you withdraw and stop trying, only to have her take out the car keys and say she’d just rather go home. And since the idea of going back to your “home” with this person, who clearly has no degree of affection for you, sounds about as appealing/energizing as … its not an exciting prospect. So you walk back to the car with her, grab your bag, smoke a cigarette in the parking lot as she drives away, and then start wandering in the general direction that your *current* residence is. But you look down a side street and see the water. And it strikes you that maybe the best course of action is to just sit on the ledge with your feet resting on a rusted out sewer pipe just above the water’s surface.
This isn’t anything I’ve ever experienced, but it seems like something a lot of other people might be able to relate to.
When I’m away, she’s terribly in love with me, can’t stand to be away from me, and can’t wait to see me. And once I’m back, she’s just frustrated with me almost all of the time. For no reason. Or at least not one that she’s willing to share with me or address in any way.
I meet with mental health professionals twice a week. I might not be the poster boy for wellness, but I think I’ve achieved some level of awareness and I think I do a pretty good job at expressing myself, my feelings, and my needs.
She, on the other hand, won’t talk to me about shit.
What am I doing here? Why are we a couple? Why are we living together?
Maybe it was naive to think that the first girl I got involved with at the end of my two years in and out of inpatient treatment would be the one for me.
Or maybe it can work.
I don’t know, but this is a bummer.
Did I mention that it’s raining?
“Uncertainty.” 7/29/31. Acrylics and Ink. 16×20″ stretched canvas.
Painted two days ago, at a time when I was feeling pretty disconnected. The only thing that I could recognize when I was painting it was the way i felt so in love with her every time I looked at her.
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).