In early January, I went to a reception/get-to-know-each-other kinda thing for the artists participating in Wunderground’s quarterly “Look! Listen! Buy!” event. At one point, I was telling another artist about my tendency to isolate – staying home and spending all of my time painting and writing. “Do you get social anxiety?” she asked. For whatever reason, I wasn’t totally honest. I told her that I didn’t. Which – OBVIOUSLY – is slightly less than the truth. I think it’s because I didn’t feel anxious in that moment. Either way, before long, I was proving the falsity of my claim. I tried to keep myself moderately engaged in and attentive to the conversations around me but I was primarily focused on scratching out some artwork in the tiny notepad I kept in my backpack. Eventually, I put it away and got involved in the slightly more socially appropriate activity of doing the exact same thing, only with the pretext of “entertaining a child.”
Seven days later, I was at “Look! Listen! Buy!,” sitting at my table, not enjoying myself. The music was too loud to really talk to anyone and – having just faced the consequences of some bad weather and an outdoor set-up – I wasn’t in the best mood. Things didn’t seem to be going especially well and I found myself back at work on the drawing I had started the night of the reception. I didn’t like the band that was playing. I had my headphones in. This was antisocial as fuck and I didn’t care. “I don’t want to be here anymore,” I thought. “All I want is to go back home and eat my leftover pizza. More than anything. SO BADLY.” (Not super-poetic but – when I’m falling apart emotionally – it’s not unusual for me to look to pizza to make everything okay again).
Which isn’t to say that I’m not grateful for the opportunity or that I don’t love the fuck out of Wunderground (because I really fucking do). I’m so happy to be a part of that group (though that doesn’t really have anything to do with Wunderground as much as it does the people behind it). Which kinda goes to show that (1) I don’t know shit about shit, (2) I’m a crybaby, and (3) everything works out exactly as it should / everything’s got a silver lining. I don’t make “friends” outside of punk rock (or treatment) – or so I thought. And I definitely didn’t think I’d make friends in Jacksonville. I’m not sure why that is… I get along with just about everyone I meet. I like just about everyone that I meet. But I just don’t usually feel connected to anyone. I was thinking about it recently though and (especially) last night. I’m kinda, sorta actually a part of a little crew of friends / artists here now. They like me and I like them. They invite me to do stuff with them. That feels nice. It makes me feel good. I’m grateful for it (and for them).
From my journal yesterday, immediately after finishing this painting:
I’ve got some cute little one-liners. I’ve got some snappy phrases that sound cool but don’t really mean anything. I don’t want to bullshit and I don’t wanna tag this with something that doesn’t represent it.
It took FOREVER to paint. So many layers, so much starting from scratch.
The truth is I’m sick, on the couch, and nothing is in my head. The truth is I’m not always SUPER BRILLIANT. And I don’t wanna not create just ’cause [whatever]. But I don’t really know what’s driving me right now. Maybe it’s just ’cause it’s what I feel like I’m supposed to do at this point. Which is lame but maybe that’s okay. I don’t know. Do I take a break or do I just keep going? Having a cold sucks. Feeling crummy physically is fucking with my ability to DO, which is fucking with my emotional well-being. Tomorrow I’m gonna get dressed and pretend I’m fine. Maybe I am. I guess?
I HATE giving the impression that I’m not doing well, especially when I’m not not doing well. I just have a cold! But if “success” is doing well (being happy) maybe it’s also being okay with acknowledging little hang-ups and demonstrating a progression beyond the pink cloud.
Maybe I’m too caught up in impressions in the first place. Living under a spotlight (even a little one) has its drawbacks. I hate feeling like (or realizing) that it’s influencing me in what I do or how I do it but – honestly – I wouldn’t be pushing myself like this if I didn’t feel like there was some expectation that I “produce.” Is that good or bad? I wanna call it ambition but it makes me feel small (I’m not a famous/important artist); it makes me feel like a joke. But I’m not. I’m okay. I just need to chill out.
It’s a fine line between humility and insecurity – between arrogance and self-esteem. I get carried away in both directions. I don’t need to “tenth step” my every thought / impulse. Hey, Sam: relax – everything’s cool. I know.
I saw this article today about creativity. There were two statements I really identified with.
“The study shows that if you have the sneaking suspicion you might not belong, the act of being rejected confirms your interpretation. The effect can liberate creative people from the need to fit in and allow them to pursue their interests.”
“To live creatively is a choice. You must make a commitment to your own mind and the possibility that you will not be accepted. You have to let go of satisfying people, often even yourself.“
That last part seemed especially relevant right now, given this new painting and last night’s journal entry. As I wrote about it, on the canvas [near top-center], “I can’t get to a place where I feel okay with what I’ve done.”
It made me think about what it means to be “beyond the pink cloud.” I think it means accepting that life isn’t always going to be 100% awesome all the time. I used to think that the most a person could hope for was “to be happy 50% of the time.” I don’t think that’s true anymore, but I still think it gets to something that might be true. I think a good aspiration might be “to be 50% happy all of the time” – by which I mean: even when things aren’t going so great, to be able to pause and recognize that I’m at least 50% okay… that some thing might be wrong – but not every thing is wrong; most things are okay.
“Fragile is the hell we make for ourselves when we acknowledge that the spotlight’s on.” – from Fuck You, Ms. Rochelle by Dillinger Four
“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.
I was still inpatient when I made this. It was the product of the my first episode after “No Accident.” A full month had passed since then, which was longer than I could remember having gone without an emotional breakdown of one kind or another but I was still pretty disappointed with myself. If December 12th (the day I made “No Accident”) was my “emotional sobriety date,” this was most definitely my emotional relapse. I picked right back up with the kind of negative self-talk that had ruled my brain for most of my life. The body of the text reads:
I thought I found a place where I belonged. I wasn’t wrong. At the time. But time has passed and I don’t fit in here anymore. I can’t stall. I can’t adapt. I have to move on. Ready or not.
I’m already dead.
I don’t measure up. It’s who I am. It’s not sad. It just is. Nothing lasts forever and we can’t all be astronauts.
I’m not exactly sure what I meant with that last word. I’m sure it was an allusion to something I had heard (or something that had happened) recently. The rest of the text in the piece appears in bits and pieces, scattered throughout.
THIS MIGHT BE BULLSHIT.
It’s time for me to go home. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA.
Please break my hands and kick my fucking teeth in.
[I’m] tired of me taking up space and time.
Fuck my stupid fucking life.
No amount of any anything from me could ever be enough.
Tonight was the opening reception for my first art show. My emotional reaction to it was very much in tune with the painting I’m working on right now, so I’ll probably work it into that and share more about it once the painting is done.
In a few words though, the response tonight was such that it could very easily be interpreted as having implications that are either wildly positive and encouraging or terribly crushing and depressing. I’m working to get to a place of strictly gratitude though (and I’m almost there). To the people that did come out, I can’t thank you enough. Not just for showing up, but for really showing up. It means a lot to me. It’s keeping me going.
It’s not my favorite thing to acknowledge but I hit the reset button on my clean time over the summer. I was up to eleven months (which shattered the old record of thirty-one days). In any case, I’m back up to 103 days now and, today, I went to my “usual” NA meeting. It’s the only one I’ve ever been to in Jacksonville. As I sat there, I scribbled on the cover of my text.
“This is my first meeting in five weeks. Did I mention yet that I haven’t seen my counselor since September? How strange that I forgot to mention that…”
I was listening to this song on my way home tonight. It’s got a couple lyrics that’ve always stuck out to me. I don’t always relate to them as much as I used to, but I still love it.
I can see the question across your face: “How can you live so trivially?” I’ve got my ways and I’ve got my techniques… Our lives are built on hurt and shame; it doesn’t mean they’re not okay.
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.”
When I was in pre-school, my dad once asked my teacher, “Racey brings home art almost everyday – why doesn’t Sam ever bring anything home?”
“Because it doesn’t turn out the way he wants it to, so he crumples it up, throws it away, and then stares at the floor sulking until art time is over.”
Forget about art and pre-school – that’s kind of how I lived my entire life until recently.
I drew this one day in January back when I was still inpatient at Tranquil Shores. (It wasn’t an art group but I’m like – totally rebellious, you guys). It started out as a drawing for my friend Nick but – after I fucked it up – I let it become something else. (Pen isn’t a very forgiving medium). I’m glad that I have the capacity these days to accept my mistakes as normative. (They’re not really mistakes; they were supposed to happen). And this too works as an analogy for my life. I’ve fucked up plenty, even in this last year, but I accept all of it now. I’m right where I’m supposed to be.
The caption is the same as the title: EAT GUMMY WORMS AND SMOKE CRACK WITH SOMEONE WHO APPRECIATES YOU.
Daily status update: My first Artwalk tonight went really well. Jacksonville may not be the ARTS CAPITAL of the world, but I’m really grateful that we’ve got something like this that happens every month. Looking forward to round two in November. (It’ll be just two days after my birthday)!