“I get a physical at least once a year. Not by design. It’s part of most places’ intake process.”
I don’t remember if I had this idea or if I just drew something that developed into a kid in a straight jacket and then added the caption after the fact. Either way, it’s silly but it’s not really a joke. The only check-ups I’ve had in years were all in treatment centers, mental wards, and methadone clinics.
I’m still outta town, visiting a friend. Today, I met James; he’s seven years old and really great at Mad Libs. For example:
Yesterday my friend Poop and I walked across town to see Santa at our local poop store. But there was a long line of kids waiting to poop with Santa. As expected, he was a big, round poop who wore a bright red poop. Whenever a little kid came up to him, Santa would sit the child on his poop and ask, “Have you been a good little poop this year?”
James has been lucky to find his niche early in life and I admire his confidence in ignoring his detractors and refusing to deviate or stray from his vision. He knows what works and he delivers.
For a long time, I thought this was the most embarrassing thing I’d ever made. I was hesitant to even call it “art.”
Immediately after figuring out how I felt about myself, I decided to see if I could use the same approach to figure out how I felt about the girl. With my non-dominant hand, I wrote until I had completely filled the two sheets in front of me (taped together earlier for some other purpose). My only pauses were to change colors and even that was done without real consideration – a quick swap when I felt the urge. I tried my best to be totally blunt, perfectly honest, and entirely concentrated on my feelings. I didn’t want to rationalize, bullshit, or otherwise fuck myself up. I wanted what came out of me to be real. I’m not sure whether or not it was…
Some parts were written in such a way that they wouldn’t make sense to anyone else – and there was no punctuation in any of it – so I’ve made a few minor edits.
Your first group, the buddhist monk we had coming was running late. I was manic but I caught myself and asked the group to keep me in check. I didn’t want to be a spazz on your first day even though I preemptively disliked you. (You seemed too level-headed and assembled to like me).
I didn’t like the way the other guys talked about (and sometimes to) you. We didn’t talk much but you were nicer than I’d assumed and smarter too. When I ran into you after getting kicked out, you were so sweet to me. I thought, “I’d like to have sex with her.”
I didn’t really understand friendship but ,when I came back, we became friends. It was outstanding. We were exceptional. I liked it when we’d touch but knew that was the limit. We had both made that mistake in treatment before. Our counselors said they were worried about us getting too close. We talked about it and you said, “If this were last year, we’d be in trouble.”
We respected the physical boundaries we were given (for the most part) but got carried away otherwise – we loved each other too much. I didn’t know what was real. A pretty girl, an interesting boy, codependency issues, rehab and limited options… Was it love or something like it, or just compulsion and fear?
You didn’t seem too interested when I presented my life story. (Punishment for how I acted at your first step?) It hurt. That and more. It got worse. I needed to talk. I still don’t understand that night. I got mean enough to get rid of you when all I really wanted was for your door to open.
I couldn’t handle it. I told the truth and you denied everything but, in between, I realized that I really did care about you, contrary to what I thought and said when I first spilled our guts to everyone, while you were away. It gets worse: I think i love you. I admit, I’m still not 100% but I’m going with it – even if you hate me. And not ’cause I wanna be tragic.
I still want to have sex with you but, mostly, I want to be friends.
Two months later, when I had my coin out, the staff decided that we should have an “art show” – everything I had made since arriving (more than one hundred pieces) was hung up on display in the group room. Each had a title card with a short statement. The one next to this piece said, “If this thing actually ends up on the wall at my coin-out then I am way fucking braver than I have ever suspected. And way more honest. Well, honest about disclosing my art and my thoughts from the past (as evidenced in my art). There’s very little that’s honest about this thing in and of itself.” I’m not totally sure how I feel about that. The things I said with this piece were definitely honest when I wrote them… By February though, I had convinced myself that I had been seriously deluding myself – to such an extent that “the truth” was something completely beyond my reach. Today, I think that was probably an example of my “putting walls back up” to protect myself. My feelings were real and I shouldn’t have tried to discount them just because things played out a certain way and I now (then) felt silly about them.
Update (a couple hours later): Wow – kinda funny. I just looked at the Storenvy listing for this piece and it has a different statement that I wrote back when I first listed it for sale (sometime in August, I think). It’s interesting how much my attitudes and perceptions shift over time.
Initially, this was to be a painting of me and this girl, having a picnic under the shade of a tree. You know – cute, innocent. Except not really.
Toward the end of 2012, there were a couple times in the van when I took out my headphones and noticed that the female patients were a little more giggly than usual – and talking about trees. On both occasions, I was the only male in the van and had been listening to music but it was still pretty dumb insofar as it was painfully obvious. Trees was a code word (and not a particularly clever one). I didn’t say anything though (who was I to ruin their fun?) I just rolled my eyes and put my headphones back in.
But that’s how I got the idea and I thought was really clever. On the surface, it’d be really sweet and innocuous but – underlying that – something a little bolder. I wanted it to say, “Hey, I like you, you like me, we’re really cute together,” as well as, “I know what your little code word means and – oh – here’s a picture of my dick — how ’bout that?”
So I set to work. First thing’s first: I needed to trace my penis (you know – the “tree” under which we’d be having our picnic). I chose not to start tracing from the bottom edge because I wanted to leave a little ambiguity. (Like, “Is this the whole thing? Maybe! Maybe not!”). After all, you don’t wanna give it all away, right? I still needed to camouflage it to some extent with branches and leaves, but I decided to draw the two of us sitting in the grass first.
I couldn’t fucking do it. I couldn’t get the characters to look the way that I wanted. I erased and began again over and over until I got frustrated. And then it occurred to me: this wonderful new thing (art) that had recently come into my life — I didn’t enjoy it because it was a way for me to showcase my dazzling fucking wit (or my penis), I enjoyed it because it was a way for me to legitimately work through my feelings and express myself authentically. This – what I was currently engaged in – was bullshit. And what do you know? Like so many of my mistakes and fuck-ups, both big and small, what was at the root of this misstep? My dick.
I changed course, painted without intent, and looked at the page. Yeah – there it was, right in front of me: WHY I FAIL.
Aside from a commission, my first sale was for two pieces: this painting and a drawing.
My first sale as an artist was a painting of my dick.
The buyer had to have seen it, right? Jacob certainly spotted it when I posted it on Facebook back in December. I opted to respond vaguely with comments like, “Eye of the beholder, my friend!” (even when he posted his own derivative work on Imgur to support his interpretation).
I think I was scared because if I acknowledged it, anyone that saw it could play mathematician based on the dimensions of the painting. Unless I also added that it wasn’t my entire penis. And then I’m suddenly the kid on the internet writing about how “my dick is at least this big (and who knows how much bigger?)!”
It was Friday so I drove up to Tranquil Shores for my session with Tracy and my weekly expressive art group with the kids that were still inpatients. Earlier that week, I had found an apartment in Jacksonville. When I told Tracy, she was really surprised. (I had been talking about moving, but it was just a few days prior that I actually started looking for a place, so it all happened really quickly). “Seriously?” she asked me. “Well, let me get the papers for your discharge.”
Somehow that hadn’t occurred to me: that moving away would mean I’d be officially discharged from Tranquil Shores. My life was about to change and it was just now registering. It made me sad. It even made me a little angry, though I’m not sure with whom. (Probably myself). It was a really great afternoon; everyone at Tranquil Shores couldn’t have been sweeter to me or more supportive. But… I didn’t wanna leave. I didn’t want it to be over and I guess I was as caught off-guard as Tracy had been.
After my session, I went into the art room for group. I felt good overall, but had that little streak of darkness in me. I got an idea in my head of a sorta vulture and I liked it. I wanted to draw something that lived off dead flesh – something sustained by failure.
But still sorta comic and fun.
(Especially relevant) status update: Heather’s friends are getting married in Englewood next weekend, so I won’t be too far from Tranquil Shores. On Friday, I’m going to drive up that way and meet up with a crew of kids I went to treatment with for lunch, and then I’m gonna go in for the expressive art group just like I used to. I’ve been really excited about it but am getting more nervous as it gets closer. It’s gonna be a totally new crop of kids. I’ll still know all the staff obviously, but it seems kinda strange to go to group with a bunch of patients I’ve never met before. I hope I don’t wimp out. I hope it goes well.
My counselor said I seemed different today. It wasn’t a change for the better. If I had to name it, I’d call it “Defeat.” I haven’t surrendered but there’s this bit of quiet resignation in me. I fight for myself but I think there’s a part of me that doesn’t actually believe I can win. I work toward my goals, I work for the life I want (everyday — and all day). But these goals may not be attainable. They’re as conceptual as my “belief” in a higher power. They are tools that keep me moving — they give me a reason to live, but they might not exist beyond that. My destination may be farther away than I’m able to travel in this lifetime.
Here’s a piece from April and a statement from May.
I got out of rehab in February, but I’m still technically “in treatment.” Instead of twenty-five hours of group therapy each week, I’m down to three and a half. That’s one group – expressive art therapy – on Friday afternoons.
This piece is a little off for two reasons. At the start of art group, there’s a meditation, intended to lead us in what we’ll make. I was late and I missed it. More importantly, there had been an influx of new patients since I had been in group the previous Friday. And though it’s way more tempered than it once was, I still struggle with this strange impulse when confronted with new people (particularly in this kind of setting) – I feel like I have to let everyone know just how fucking outrageous I am… So I drew my drawing and then when it came time to title/caption it, I went with something not at all representative of how I was feeling, but something that would show the new crew how god damn wacky and edgy I am.
In that sense, this piece is kind of a failure. Because it’s not totally authentic or honest. In two other ways though, it’s a success. First, expressive art therapy isn’t about setting out to make something and then making it. It’s about making something – anything. It’s about making whatever comes out onto the page without premeditation or commitment to some vision in your head. When I first sat down, I started drawing an image that I had dreamed up for use as Rational Anthem’s summer tour poster. But I caught myself and stopped.
Second, it’s a success in that it’s got me writing this, right now. Acknowledging my neurotic compulsions and being honest about what an attention seeking, other-people’s-perceptions-of-me obsessed, insecure basketcase I can sometimes still be.
“Perfect love” (to me) isn’t just unconditional love; it’s bigger than that and it’s greater (or wider) than any kind of romantic love. It’s a total respect for the entirety of another human being. It doesn’t have any room for jealousy or anything like that.
I really like the word “cupidity.” Technically, it’s an excessive desire to possess something (like money or materials things). Given the connotations of “cupid” though, I like to think of it as more of an excessive desire to possess someone. It’s sort of the opposite of perfect love. When I meet a girl, I have a tendency to go from one extreme to the other. One minute, I might be totally enamored or infatuated with her and then – the second I fear that she might not reciprocate (if she’s paying more attention to someone else, for example) – I’ll totally shut off absolutely all feeling and cease to care about her in any way at all. And then – the moment my fear is somehow allayed – a switch flips and I’m one-hundred percent invested in her again.
I’ve never been what you’d call a jealous or possessive boyfriend. I’m not bothered by my girlfriend going out without me, having male friends, or anything like that, but I think that’s because – once she’s “officially” my girlfriend – my cupidity is sated. That’s all the “possession” I need to feel okay, but that’s still a problem. It’s still not okay with me that I (feel like I) need that at all.
Last October, I was in treatment and I liked a girl but I knew it was a bad idea for me to get involved. So I was trying to have a genuine friendship with her. I was trying to practice this concept of “perfect love” that I had in my head. I was trying to be real and authentic and honest, and to value and respect her as an independent human being. It was a totally different dynamic (and experience) than my usual approach of (still trying to be honest but primarily) trying to get her to like me (or want to be my girlfriend or want to sleep with me). I wanted my behavior to reflect perfect love, which meant acting without any expectation, desire, or even hope of receivinganything in return.
On Halloween, she was having a problem and – after coming to me for help – she went to someone else. “What – I’m not enough? My help wasn’t good enough? What’s happening!?”–I thought. I didn’t show any of this outwardly, but the switch flipped and I immediately ceased to have any interest in this girl. My feelings were hurt so I was going to stop caring. …Because I wasn’t the only person that she shared her problem with…
And it’s worse than that even. In these situations, I don’t usually stop caring about the girl alone – more often than not, I also stop caring about myself. Suddenly, I’m a worthless unlovable piece of shit and there’s no reason for me to be alive. (My attempt at perfect love was an abysmal failure).
This all happened just before expressive art therapy group. An “exit bag” is a homemade suicide device. To make one, you need a helium tank, an oven bag, a piece of string, some tape, and a tube. I felt like I wanted to die, but I knew that I didn’t really and I wasn’t ready to talk about my feelings because I probably wasn’t ready to feel better. I needed to punish myself by stewing in misery for a little bit longer. Writing “helium, bag, string, tape, and tube” here was my way of saying “I WANT TO DIE” without having to deal with anyone’s response to a statement like that.
Because so much of what I was experiencing as I made this piece so perfectly exemplifies (/is symptomatic of) borderline personality disorder, I came to see the ghost that I drew here as sort of a stand-in for BPD. He’s in at least five of my pieces (including a tattoo). Once I have more of those online, I’ll probably do a special post just to feature him in all his different forms. (That sounds like fun to me). : )