Tag Archives: expressive

Because Nihilism

"Because Nihilism." 4/22/13. Watercolor and acrylic paints, charcoal, and ink. 12x16".
“Because Nihilism.” 4/22/13. Watercolor and acrylic paints, charcoal, and ink. 12×16″.


I painted this in April. I like ants. It’s expressive art and the story behind it is enough like a million others that it’s not worth telling. Instead, here’s the story of my life in April 2011.


When Taylor finally called me back, she sounded weird. “What’s going on?” She wouldn’t say. She was being evasive. I just came out and asked – “are you done with me?” She didn’t answer right away but – when she did – yeah, that was pretty much the gist of it.

Six years… I was in total shock. I had just gotten into my first “treatment” program eight days prior. (Methadone maintenance). I was cured! How could she break up with me now?!? Life was about to become a dream! This is preposterous!

Not to mention, I was in the middle of my final exams. My final final exams. She couldn’t wait two fucking weeks to do this? I was gonna be so busy for the next few weeks that, at most she might have seen me once. By breaking up with me now, it was guaranteeing that I’d fail my exams, not graduate from law school, lose at life, and DIE. What a selfish, miserable human being. (Her, I mean). (I’m really cool and great).

Granted, her timing was a little poor but I’m obviously still alive, and my interpretation of things has changed with time. Taylor didn’t leave me that day – because I had already left her – when I let heroin overtake her on my list of priorities. For the last eight months, I had barely existed in her life. I spent all my time hiding from her, out all day, out all night, shooting up at school or the basement of our building, ignoring her phone calls. Now that I had a couple pleasant days I thought everything was gonna be okay again?

But I couldn’t see that; I couldn’t see anything. I just hurt. More than hurt. I was fucking leveled. I didn’t want to use but… I had to. If I didn’t relapse, that’d mean I wasn’t really hurt. And I was really hurt so… I had to shoot some heroin to prove it. To myself. To Taylor. To the world. (I’m not really sure). And I had to buy a lot (two hundred bucks’ worth) ‘cause that was the best deal. (Money management’s an important skill!) My little bundle lasted me through the day with a few caps left over for the next. And then I put it out of my head and got back to the task at hand.

I hadn’t been to any of my courses all semester (I never even bothered to get textbooks). I logged in to the school’s website, found out which classes I was enrolled in, and settled into a couch in a (usually) empty room at school, where I’d spend the next few weeks, trying to learn as much as I could and just maybe graduate. When I couldn’t stay up any longer, I’d put my computer in my backpack and sleep on that same couch where I was studying. I didn’t get up for anything. Almost. Every six or seven days, I’d walk to the closest store to stock up on bagel bites and apples, which I kept in the fridge of a student organization to which I (of course) didn’t belong. There were three other reasons I’d occasionally leave the couch: to smoke a cigarette, use the bathroom, and (most importantly) – once a day, between the hours of 6AM and noon – go get my daily dose of methadone.

At one point, I saw myself in the bathroom mirror and was pretty impressed with how strung out I looked. (I guess the methadone / Adderall / sleep deprivation combo will do that you).  I took a picture for posterity.

April 2011


“Barkmarket Fuckacy” by House Boat is my favorite song on the last record [The Thorns of Life CD/LP] to bear the Traffic Street Records logo.

In the liner notes for the record, there’s a special “thanks to Sam North for basically ruining his life to help get this record made.”

(On our way to the studio for the recording of the album, I caught two felony possession of heroin charges and more misdemeanor charges for needles and other paraphernalia than I can count/remember). And if that wasn’t bad enough, the cops didn’t even give me back my drugs when they let me go! So on top of everything else, I had to spend the next day scrambling around Indiana looking for heroin.

Shit Fits / Funny Faces

I used one of the frames I got the other day for my most CONTROVERSIAL(!) painting – Toilet Humor. When I shared a photo of that, I got one particularly succinct response: “Crap.”

One of my earliest pieces.
“Toilet Humor.”  11/10/12. My THIRD EVER non-assigned drawing or painting.

That (I think) is fair. Sort of. As a standalone image, it kinda screams, “look at me!” and (arguably) little else. I added a link to its entry on my website, with the statement I had written. That’ll clear this all up!

My critic’s response: “Still crap.”

Come on!

I guess I understand but, at that point, I no longer thought it was fair. I said as much and added that it’s clearly something I put a lot of time and thought into it. She said it’s contrived. In a sense, that’s true. It wasn’t natural; it took a lot of strain and effort, not because it was bullshit but because it’s difficult and scary to work with and write about something that’s got such potential to hurt (or at least offend). And that’s especially true when your audience is online. Truth be told, it even makes me so uncomfortable that (as tempted as I was) it took a little while to compel myself to actually re-read the statement. There’s nothing easy about “Toilet Humor.” And if it’s insulting to my critic’s intelligence (as I was also told) she must be a whole lot smarter than I am.

The point I’m really getting at [I have one, I swear!] is that, while I absolutely stand by the piece, it is worth mentioning that it’s one of my very first; is totally unlike the stuff I paint these days; and that that’s (I think) both good and bad. On the one hand, “rich kids care about politics”; I’m too caught up in my own nonsense to wanna make any kinda statement beyond my “artist’s statements,” e.g. “Today I threw an emotional shit fit and then painted a bunch of funny faces about it!” [My regular “go-to” when I wanna make fun of myself and my art. Pretty spot on, right!?]

I poke fun but that part of my process is really important to me, I’m glad I do it, and I need to do it. But the value of work like “Toilet Humor” is that it forces me outside my comfort zone and (I don’t think) that’s ever a bad thing. And I don’t mean to say that I’m tackling issues; I wasn’t off on any irrelevant/diversionary social or political rants. Like most of what I do, it’s thoroughly personal.

Which brings me to my piece from today, ”Shit Fits / Funny Faces.” (It was bound to happen sooner or later, if only because I think I’m hilarious).

"Shit Fits / Funny Faces." 12/22/13. Acrylic and spray paints, food coloring, and ink. 18x24".
“Shit Fits / Funny Faces.” 12/22/13. Acrylic and spray paints, food coloring, and ink. 18×24″.

The “shit fit” that gave rise to it had nothing to do with Toilet Humor. It takes a lot more than criticism of my art to send me into a downward spiral. That only happens when something really serious goes down. You know – like A GIRL NOT PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO ME FIRST THING IN THE MORNING WHEN WE WAKE UP. Or, um, something like that anyway…

Hey, Heather! Look! I’m talking about you on my website again! JUST LIKE YOU (implied that) YOU WANTED (or at least liked?) (I think!?!)

(I love you).


large canvasUp next, I have a canvas that’s more than twice as big as any other I’ve ever worked with. I got it for just thirty bucks!

  • Numbered, signed and sealed 12×16″ prints of Shit Fits / Funny Faces and Toilet Humor are both sold in my webstore.
  • For information regarding the availability of these (or any of my) originals for purchase, shoot me an email. [Update (12/24/13): Shit Fits / Funny Faces has been purchased].

All I Really Need to Know, I Learned From a Drunk 14 Year-Old at the Mall

"All I Really Need to Know I Learned From a Drunk 14 Year Old at the Mall." 10/25/13. Acrylic and spray paints, resin sand, and food coloring. 18x24" stretched canvas.
“All I Really Need to Know, I Learned From a Drunk 14 Year-Old at the Mall.” 10/25/13. Acrylic and spray paints, resin sand, and food coloring. 18×24″ stretched canvas.

Revision (10/30/13): This entry, as published, had no real statement or details. I wasn’t ready to share what was really happening at the time. I am now.


It’s one thing to spill my own guts publicly – it’d be another to spill my girlfriend’s…

I guess the reasons aren’t so important – what’s relevant is that it’s been a rough week. As it goes at times like this, she pretty much shut down all lines of communication. She doesn’t say anything to me and responds to anything I say with as few syllables as possible. I (as usual) have plenty of work to distract myself with (and I did just that) but I did it while feeling shitty and unloved. We exist under the same roof, but totally apart from one another. Life goes on for the most part as if nothing’s wrong  but everything is very clearly wrong. The first couple days, I took it with understanding and compassion. And – to her credit – in moments, she catches herself; on Tuesday, she apologized for “being weird” and told me she loved me.  But it didn’t end there. By Thursday, I felt emotionally drained and physically exhausted.

Yesterday, I went to Sun-Ray and found out that I was about to have my first art show. I haven’t told her about it. I’m too excited, and  too afraid of how she might respond. Totally devoid of enthusiasm or support… I don’t wanna be in a position where I’ll have to figure out how to process something like that.

Maybe I should tell her and give her the opportunity to prove me wrong. But I just feel so detached.

After I got the news about Sun-Ray, I decided to budget in some canvases; I wanted to have a couple new pieces. I started painting this late last night and just finished.  It took me about ten hours in all. The smaller caption says, “I don’t need anything, I don’t need anyone, I don’t even care.” This is the kind of sentiment voiced by wounded little kids, shouting through their walls of affected apathy  – and by twenty-somethings soaking in grimy, self-loathing punk rock. (I ought to know, having been both).

It’s really easy to not care. It’s about the safest thing a person can commit to. It’s a middle road of low highs and high lows. Eventually though, it all goes grey; it’s not sustainable (or isn’t for me anyway). And the rewards that come from caring (from giving a shit)… I like to think they’re worth it – hard as it may be to recognize that while I’m actually down.


Note: I feel obligated to remind anyone reading that this shit isn’t fair. My girlfriend is wonderful and human but – in any case – I’m pretty sure that, from her vantage point, things look a little different.  And I’m almost equally certain that she could tell this same story – just as truthfully – but with me as the villain. It just so happens that I have a website and she doesn’t. But my intent isn’t to cast anyone in a negative light, only to share my process. I hope that comes across and that no one takes this for anything more than a reflection of my feelings in a moment.




Case For Pillow | Landfill

“Case For Pillow.” 10/18/13. Needle, thread, fabric, and marker. 26×26″ (length x girth).
I just finished my most impressive work to date. (Our futon pillows don’t fit in regular pillow cases so… needle + thread + two pieces of fabric leftover from when I made “Gift Horse” + fabric marker = “Case For Pillow”).



"Landfill." 10/17/13. Marker on envelope. 9x10".
“Landfill.” 10/17/13. Marker on envelope. 9×10″.

In between addressing it and sticking it in the mailbox, I scribbled some shit on the back of an envelope while smoking a cigarette. Seven months ago, I wrote a note in my phone that said, “I’ll get to that landfill one day.” I don’t remember what the fuck that means, but I remember that it was really funny at the time! Now… not so much. Eh.

Everything Sucks When I’m Out of Adderall

"Everything Sucks When I'm Out of Adderall." 3/23/13. Watercolor, pen, marker, and acrylic on 140 lb cold pressed paper. 9x12".
“Everything Sucks When I’m Out of Adderall.” 3/23/13. Watercolor, pen, marker, and acrylic on 140 lb cold pressed paper. 9×12″.

I don’t believe that drugs are always bad. Even drugs like heroin. I think drug use is a problem when it starts to cause problems. If you’re able to use heroin recreationally, sporadically: congratulations! Have at it! If it’s not draining your bank account, if you don’t ever develop a physical dependence, if your use isn’t destroying your personal relationships – well, I say, shoot up to your little heart’s content.

I did that for a while… Five and a half years. I can’t seem to pull that trick anymore though so – for me – the party’s over. I don’t take any drugs these days. Except for Adderall. Every day. Do I have attention deficit disorder? Um… yeah – sure, probably. [Whatever that means]. What’s important though is that it helps me; I do well with it.

Until I run out. In March, there was a hiccup in getting my prescription. [Adderall is controlled to the extent that a doctor needs to write a new prescription every single month]. I had been getting it from the doctor at Tranquil Shores, but I wasn’t in Tranquil Shores anymore. And once I actually run out, it gets even harder to get my prescription. I’m pretty debilitated by its absence in my system. (I’ve been on it for almost ten years). So I had been out for at least a few days and I was struggling to get out of bed or even move. If I’m being honest, part of this is probably psychological but – if that is the case – it’s a tough fucking psychological hurdle to overcome. I feel thoroughly drained.

I dragged myself to the edge of the mattress so I could reach at my backpack on the floor. And I stayed in that position (hanging off the side of the bed) painting or – more accurately -just swiping at the paper. Raising my arm and letting it fall. I wanted to be productive, I wanted to create, but I just didn’t have it in me. Eventually I found the strength to lift myself back onto the mattress and finish the piece with my pen.

You know – having written this all out – I come across as way more pathetic than I’d intended.

The caption says, “I remember when I had ideas. I remember when I had Adderall.”



Things got a little hectic yesterday morning. I’m going to try to tell this story, which involves other people, while keeping the focus mostly on myself. I’ve never stated so explicitly but there’s a reason I do that and it’s not because I think I’m such a fascinating character. Letting my focus shift to other people would make for better storytelling but less effective mental health exercise. When it comes to my well-being, the things that other people think, say, and do are irrelevant. Really, they have nothing to do with me and are none of my business (or at least none of my concern).

The Lipstick Homicide and Bloated Kat houses are about a block apart, so our crew was split between them for the night. It was about time for us to get on the road from Iowa City to Carbondale when Noelle called me and said she needed my help. “It’s nothing bad or serious, is it?”

“Andrea broke up with me and is driving back to Florida without Jessica.”

Since 2008, Rational Anthem has had an incredibly sensible rule: no girlfriends on tour. Relationship problems are bad enough on their own, but when they come up on tour, they become the whole band’s problem. This trip though wasn’t quite a tour and an exception was made. Noelle’s girlfriend rented a car to drive up to Dave Strait Fest, but also to stop along the way up and back for two of the shows Rational was playing between Florida and Minneapolis. In the car with her was a friend of Noelle’s (and – at one point – possibly of Andrea’s as well).

What happened isn’t important. There was now bad blood and Andrea didn’t want to drive back to Florida with the other girl.

Rational Anthem has three members. Their van has four seats. I was along for the whole trip and Zack’s summer in Minneapolis was over, so he was hitching a ride with us back home to Florida.

I walked over to the house and sat down with Andrea. I offered a couple different ideas/options that might make her more receptive to driving back with Jessica in tow, as planned. She wasn’t having it.

There was a point in my life where I was so desperate to be perceived as a “winner” – as someone capable of pulling any trick or fixing any problem – that I would have pulled whatever emotionally manipulative bullshit was necessary to get those two girls in the car together and back on the road to Florida. But that’s not me anymore. Andrea was hurting and I felt for her. Whatever happened to spark the conflict didn’t really matter to me. Two (or three) people can have radically different versions of a story and neither’s is wrong. Perception *is* reality. If Noelle or Jessica were mean to Andrea, if it was all in Andrea’s head – it didn’t make any difference. Emotions are more powerful than facts. I didn’t care about the problem, only the solution.

The rental car was in Andrea’s name. On paper, the call was hers. Could she have been coaxed into taking Jessica and making life easier for the other people involved? Probably. But I consider Andrea a friend and – it’s a little strange but – my empathy was stronger than my need to be the clever problem-solver. It’s strange because I’m not sure that’s ever happened before. I wasn’t willing to do anything to keep her from doing what she felt she needed to in order to feel okay.

I gave Andrea a hug and told Jessica she’d have to take a bus from Iowa to Florida. Not because she did something wrong (I don’t know or care whether or not she did) but because that was simply the situation we were in. Unfortunate but… things are as they are.

Jessica said she didn’t know what she had done wrong. I said that I didn’t either, but that it didn’t matter. She was upset (and reasonably enough so). Not being the type of itinerant punk rock fuck-up that so many of us are, a bus trip from Iowa to Florida was going to be a new kind of experience for her. I did my best to remain calm, compassionate, and supportive, and to alleviate any fears, but it didn’t go over much better than my initial proposals to Andrea. Jessica asked if she could go in the van with Rational Anthem and someone else could take a bus or ride back with Andrea.

Chris, Noelle, and I walked back to the other house. Chris wanted to keep the group intact as it was. Noelle said she felt bad about the situation Jessica was in so she was okay with Zack or I heading back with Andrea – so long as we were. I didn’t like that option, but was willing to do whatever seemed to make the most sense. Zack was too. I saw Andrea’s hurt, but there was hurt all over the place and I’d do just about anything for Noelle at this point. She’s my friend and – besides – I owe it to her. For all the times when I haven’t been a good friend to her. For all the times when the only thing she could really count on me doing was making trouble myself.

As it turned out, Andrea returned
the car in Iowa and made other plans. The five of us decided to hit the road as initially planned.

"Iowa." 8/19/13. Watercolor, marker, and pen. 9x12".
“Iowa.” 8/19/13. Watercolor, marker, and pen. 9×12″.

This was finished later that afternoon but drawn mostly the night before, on the way to (and at) the show in Des Moines (which was The Copyrights, Lipstick Homicide, Rational Anthem, Tight Bros, and a few others). The text is basically journaling about the situation and some other stuff that was on my mind at one point or another.

The text that stands out most to me says, “What’s to come is what matters. We roll with the punches. We’ll do whatever it is that we have to do.” It’s kind of about what is as well as what should be. Or maybe just what is when we’re at our best. Human beings, I mean.

I’m really grateful for the fact that – even when I thought it might mean that I’d have to go home early – the thought never occurred to me that I should go back and try to talk Andrea into taking Jessica after all.

And I’m grateful that I’m still here with four of my friends. And grateful that I’m finally able to treat my friends the way a friend should.

Portraits of God, Nothing, and Fear

“Portraits of God, Nothing, and Fear.” February 16th, 2013. Acrylics and gold ink on cardboard. 15x19”.
“Portraits of God, Nothing, and Fear.” February 16th, 2013. Acrylics and gold ink on cardboard. 15×19”.

The third painting of ten in my series, “The Weak End,” created in the last few days of my seven months living in Tranquil Shores’ inpatient facility.

The text in this piece (though barely legible) says, “I’ve basically stopped praying. I do (maybe) three real meetings each week. I don’t EVER think of you. And ‘you’ isn’t even you.

By early February, I wasn’t technically inpatient anymore. Though I lived on property and was subject to a lot of the same rules as before, I had some special privileges. For example, I was still required to go to at least five meetings a week, but I no longer had to go with everyone else. If I could transport myself, I could go to whatever meetings I wanted, so long as I signed in and out, came back on time, had it approved by my counselor, etc.

On the night that I painted this, I left for a meeting. It was only my sixth one on my own. And I ran out of gas on the way there. For the third time. There were no gas stations in that area, but I was still really close to Tranquil Shores. I was too embarrassed to go back and admit that I had fucked up again though, and in such a basic/stupid way. I decided to hide out in a parking lot until the time when I was scheduled to return from the meeting. But then I got anxious and snuck back onto property early so I could go back to painting. Later, I pretended that I had just forgotten to sign back in.

I didn’t write a statement on this piece back in February and I don’t think I journaled that night either. I wish I had because I don’t even know who the “you” that I “wasn’t thinking about” is. If I had to guess, it was a girl, but it could have been any one of three girls that I would have been having thoughts like this about at the time.


This was my favorite song that week. I was listening to it at least five or ten times a day.


“The Weak End” series includes: