Of the ten paintings in my series, “The Weak End,” this was the seventh. I had spent the last forty (of my waking) hours painting and it had begun to feel mechanical. I didn’t feel productive, creative, or fulfilled; I felt dull. “This is a television in the same sense that I’m an artist” means two things. First, that the thing in front of me, occupying all of my time, might as well have been a TV insofar as I had lost myself in it and was now just wasting time. Second, that while I might be performing the same functions as an artist, no one should ever mistake me for one; I was just some asshole, playing with paint, for nothing.
Initially, I titled this piece “Stop Now” because I felt like that’s what I ought to have done at the time. Instead, I told my inner-critic to shut the fuck up, set this piece aside, continued on to the last three pieces in the series, and – today – couldn’t be any happier that I did. While my self-deprecating title for this series of paintings is a reflection of my hurt feelings and self-loathing upon discovering (Monday morning) that I’d be moving out of Tranquil Shores, all of my experiences between Friday and Sunday (primarily comprised of this paint marathon), I think, were exactly what I needed to propel me forward and back out into the real world.
The sixth piece from “The Weak End” series. Says: “What you call success looks like success. It isn’t. It’s a lowering of the bar. And that’s my fucking chair.”
I’m going to try something different today. Normally, I force myself to keep the focus on myself. I force myself to not write about other people. I also force myself to look at what’s really going on when I’m upset. I think that (a lot of the time) this makes for good mental health and boring fucking reading. So, today, let’s try something different: here’s a rant’s worth of petty bullshit about total nonsense! (Followed by just a little bit of reflection).
“Graduation” from Tranquil Shores (and plenty of other places like it) involves a ceremony called a “coining.” To coin out, you’ve gotta complete every item on your treatment plan. The coining is in recognition that you’ve done everything that’s been asked of you and proven your commitment to your emotional well-being and continued success. It’s a big deal.
Or so they fucking say.
I coined out last week. The number of people that came out to it and the things that they had to say [everyone in attendance at a coining speaks] left me humbled and speechless. And in all honesty, I didn’t think that I’d ever actually get there. I had been in treatment before but I had never not been kicked out. But even still – getting to coin out implies that there’s been a fundamental change from the person that you were when you checked in. It required a lot more than just not being so unbearable of an asshole that you’re actually forced to leave. Was I even capable of fundamental change? I had been a piece of shit for a long time and I had serious doubts. But something was different this time. I did change. I trudged through shit and hell long before I got here and I brought a lot of it with me so I could continue to step in shit even while I was here. It’s supposed to be a three month program but it took me seven – but that’s exactly how much time I needed; I couldn’t have gone any faster. What matters is that I did the work I was terrified to do and I got better. Actually getting to coin out meant a lot to me. It was the biggest fucking day of my life.
But this girl… They say that to coin-out you have to prove that you’re “willing to go to any lengths.” Less than a week after arriving, she decided that she wasn’t willing to do inpatient treatment. She’d stay but only if she could be an outpatient. That doesn’t sound like “any lengths” to me. And what was she here for? Her primary issue wasn’t with alcohol or drugs but with codependency. She was dating some guy that was also secretly dating other girls, telling each that she was the only one. And she had a stalking problem. So he’d lie about what he was doing, she’d spend hours following him around all day and night, find him going out with other girls and/or over to their homes, confront him, they’d have a huge blowout argument, make up, and then the same god damn thing would happen the very next day. Again and again. Even while she was in treatment! She continued to do this shit. That’s why she wanted to be outpatient, I’m sure.Throughout her time at Tranquil Shores, she was told consistently that this guy wasn’t healthy and that she couldn’t be healthy either so long as she stayed with him. Every now and again, she’d break it off but she’d always start stalking or dating him again (usually both). And now she’s getting to coin out – and today we found out that they’re a fucking couple again. Because sheinvited him to the fucking ceremony. That’s absolutelyequivalent to if I had pulled out a needle and shot heroin at my coining. It was a giant “fuck you” to all of the counselors that have worked with her on this and even to all of us, who have sat in group after group with her, listening to her talk about how it’s destroyed her life.
So why the fuck was this girl coining out? Because she put in three months? Big fucking deal. That’s how it works at a lot of other treatment centers but that’s not how it’s supposed to happen here. This cheapens the whole thing; it makes all the other coinings suddenly mean less. It’s like the time I spent studied like crazy for an exam that I knew we hadn’t really been prepared for. I got a 98% only to find out that since the second highest grade in the class was a 54%, everyone’s grade was getting bumped up by 46 points…. Except for mine of course – there’s no such thing as a 144%. So why the fuck did I bother to put all of that work in when these lazy dipshits that just show up and hope for the best get the same result?
And what the fuck, Matt? YOU KNOW THAT’S WHERE I ALWAYS SIT FOR ART GROUP.
Okay… So I’ve struggled with how I wanted to present this piece for a long time because it is petty and it is childish and it is (in a sense) bullshit. Did I really feel that way about this situation? Yeah. Do I still have a hard time understanding why Tranquil Shores allows some people to coin out but not others? Totally. But does any of this have anything to do with me (or take away at all from my coining or my recovery)? Absolutely not.
Why did I put the work in? Because I fucking needed to to save my own life. Did we all get the same result? Of fucking course not! The coining is a ceremony to acknowledge the progress you’ve made – just like a grade is an acknowledgement of the things you’ve learned. But the coining itself isn’t progress just as a grade isn’t itself knowledge. We may both get 100% on the test and we might both coin out; that shit (on its own) means nothing. What matters is what’s in my head, in my heart, and in my fucking guts.
As for what’s in your head, heart, and guts… well, that’s none of my fucking business. And I’m not really in a position to make any kind of estimation on the subject (tempting as it (clearly) is) anyway.
And I forgive you for sitting in my chair, Matt. I found another one.
In the unlikely event that the girl who coined out after me reads this, please don’t get bummed out about it. I actually think you’re alright. This is just some eight month old shit about me being crazy.
So smart I got life lessons dripping out my asshole (also: charm); pay me (…?)
Expressive art. Self-deprecating humor. The ninth painting of ten in my series, “The Weak End.” If you’re at all familiar with my work, you’ve already read everything that I could possibly say about this painting or the two days over which I worked on it.
I do, however, have a new (almost-finished) painting that will be featured here soon. In presenting it, there are three stories that I’ll want to share. Were I to include them all in a single entry, it’d be a little overwhelming. So…
The true story of my afternoon on April 28, 2012.
We met in a treatment facility that we had both transferred to from others. It was from her previous rehab that she knew Bill. He wasn’t a patient of theirs, he was an employee. He had clean time. (Emphasis on had). He started using yesterday.
J had a habit of not counting his money until he was back in his car. We didn’t have any money, but if we could find someone to throw in a hundred, we could pad the twenties with small bills to make it look like as much as three. We called Bill and he met us with a hundred dollars cash.
We had shorted J before but only by twenty or thirty and we’d always eventually (sort of) paid in full. In any case, we bought from him everyday. We were junkies; he knew we weren’t going anywhere.
I made the call and with her by my side and Bill in the backseat, we met up with J. As soon as we made the hand-off, I put the car in gear and drove off as quickly as I could without raising suspicion – but it’d only be a matter of time before he sat down and counted that money. He called within a minute. I had (I thought, slyly) taken a residential street so that he wouldn’t see us in traffic, but before I knew it, he was there. He slid around us, cut off our path, and was out of the car. I floored it in reverse, struggling to keep the car from backing into any of the others parked on the narrow street. He chased after us and almost grabbed hold of me through the window when I swung the car out into the intersection and into drive. His girlfriend had taken the wheel when he got out and she picked him up. They were right on us immediately and we proceeded to play bumper cars across the streets of Delray Beach, running every red light, driving on the wrong side of the roads. Our car was already beat up but his was really nice. Or had been earlier that day anyway.
As soon as J was back in the car, he was back on the phone. As we swerved around and into each other, I tried to reason with him. “It’s only two hundred dollars. Report the damage as a hit and run and turn it in to your insurance. This isn’t worth it.”
“This car isn’t insured or registered. It’s not even my plate. You owe me a lot of money – and the dope – and I’m beating the shit out of you.”
“I’ll get you money later in the week but I’m not giving the drugs back so you might as well give up now.”
I got us to the on ramp for I-95, but our car was old and slow. We didn’t stand a chance at outrunning him. Smashing the fuck out of his car hadn’t deterred him so I had to get creative. I swerved around other cars, trying to lead J into an accident that might actually slow him down.
“I’m gonna flip your car and kill you,” he said.
“That’s the only way you’re getting the drugs back. Chalk it up as a loss and give up before it gets any worse.” I was pretty bold for someone shaking so badly.
I tried a new technique: slamming on the brakes to take us from 90 mph to a dead stop in the middle of the interstate – counting on the cars around us to prevent J from doing the same. After a couple stalemates, where he pulled onto the shoulder up ahead to wait, knowing we had no option but to start driving again, I started to lose hope. How had we not passed a cop yet? How many other drivers must have called this demolition derby in by now? It was only a matter of time before this all ended verybadly – one way or another. And my fucking fuel light was on.
“My boys are getting on at Lantana and are gonna light you the fuck up. You and your girl are as good as dead.”
I guess he didn’t notice that we also had Bill in the back seat. (Quite an experience for someone so freshly off the wagon, huh?)
Eventually, somehow, I was able to lose him. After an exit, I tore across two lanes and into the grass back toward the off-ramp at the last possible second when I’d be able to do so and J wouldn’t without losing sight of us for long enough for us to turn and leave him guessing which way we had gone.
J didn’t follow and when I got to the first red light that I wouldn’t be running that afternoon, I eased into a stop with a police car right next to me. My headlight was dragging on the street in front of the car. The front bumper was partially detached and the back bumper was smashed in. The light turned green and the distance between us and the cop increased until I was able to exhale.
And then I laughed. We all laughed. A lot. It wasn’t funny but it was amazing in its way. As fucked up as all of it is in hindsight, in that moment we were triumphant and I was a hero. (Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, but it felt that way). We had no right to be alive. It defied all logic that we were driving away, unscathed and with heroin. I dropped Bill off at his car and drove back to the trailer park where she and I were renting a windowless room with no door to the outside. I left the car at the opposite end of the park and we got out to walk. We lived at the entrance of the park and J’s house was only a mile down the road; I didn’t want to run the risk were he to go out looking for us.
We walked into the trailer, into our room, shut the door, and shot up. I don’t remember anything that happened after that, but the next day, we packed our shit to leave for Miami.
I didn’t go to church as a kid, but I remember a friend once telling me about something he had heard at church that Sunday. “They said that a satellite took a picture from really far away of what they think might actually be heaven.”
I’m terrified of judgment when it comes to my spirituality or my ideas about God. I’ve had so much animosity built up around religion for so long that I get really nervous and defensive about it. (See: “Evil” / “Maybe I Don’t Believe in God”).
But I pray. Or – rather – I try to pray. Sometimes. I’m not praying to someone that can be photographed from outer space though. For me, prayer is an exercise that’s its own reward. When I pray, it’s never for myself. I only pray for other people because – in doing so – I think about them. (“Portraits of God, Nothing, and Fear”).
Most days, I isolate and tell myself that my activities through my website (and online generally) are enough sociality. Living in my little bubble of self, it’s really easy to get wrapped up in my own nonsense, problems, or [whatever]. Prayer is one way of forcing myself to remember other people in a way that affects me more than a “like” on a Facebook post. It feels good to break out of myself now and then. And it’ll usually motivate me to reach out and connect with a friend in a way that feels a little more meaningful than I might otherwise.
It’s Tuesday – my one day of routine. I got home from my session and my meeting and found a package waiting for me.
I’m pretty sure that the colored vinyl has been sold out for a good while now, which would mean that Chris (of Dirt Cult Records) sent me one of the copies he had set aside – unprompted… because he’s a sweet, wonderful human being and probably figured that it’d make me smile.
Also, I know this is silly but (even though I’m sure it has nothing to do with me) it makes me happy that Rumspringer still use my handwriting on their records, inserts, and other stuff.
Low Culture is the new(ish) band from Chris and Joe of Shang-a-Lang. “Screens” is their debut full-length (CD/LP on Dirtnap; cassette on Dead Broke) and it was produced by Mark Ryan of The Marked Men, which is a really excellent pairing for them.
Here’s a stream of the Sister Kisser / Rumspringer split as well.
And here’s the only other piece to slip through the cracks early on (like “Dear Diary.”) It’s the fourth painting in “The Weak End” series and the text says, “WHAT YOU DO IS.”
When I threw this online before, I just noted the title and the text in relation to lyrics from “48 Doublestack” by Rivethead (We’ve rejected what you’ve got to show for the trade-off: a life spent just waiting for orders and taking the shit from the parents, the bullies, and bosses. The fault’s no one’s but your own ’cause you couldn’t stand up and say no). Which makes me feel a little… um… redundant, in light of “Stand Up and Say No,” “Mowgli,” “Whatevermind,” and (probably) a few others that escape me at the moment.
Anyway, this was an expressive process. I played with colors and shapes, then looked to them to lead me forward. I saw this slug-type character, reclined, which brought to mind someone who (so far as I could tell) did little but recline. And criticize. And had been offering a lot of advice lately. Which has always struck me as funny: the way that thoroughly unhappy people tend to give advice.
I won’t say whom I had in mind when I made this. Only because I think the negativity that’d come with the disclosure outweighs the value of the honesty and release that I’d get from it. And I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. This is, after all, a mean painting. And I was feeling mean when I made it. Because my feelings were hurt.
That’s the way it goes. Someone’s hurt. They respond with anger, to hurt the other person. Who then responds in the exact same way. It’s a sad, ridiculous cycle.
I can honestly say that I could make the disclosure (without ill will) at this point, but I can’t control whether this person would recognize that. And I’d rather not fan a flame / keep the cycle going.
The tenth and final painting in my series, “The Weak End,” says: “When I think about hurting you, I get really excited.” People always think thatt’s an expression of anger, directed at someone I don’t like. Which couldn’t be more wrong. The title, “Hard Feelings,” is an allusion to a Radon lyric: “The only hard feelings that I’ve got are in my front pocket.”
Some of us are sicker than others. I’m cool with it.
If I can be sincere for just one second though, I used to think there was something wrong with me. Punk rock taught me that traditional gender roles and power dynamics are totally fucked and I let that influence my attitudes and behavior, even in the bedroom, for a long time. When it comes to sex though, I don’t feel guilty anymore about what I’m into and what I want to do. I’m still figuring it out and I might find a “line” at some point but (thus far) the more freely I feel able to express myself sexually, the better the outcome seems to be.
And no one’s even been seriously injured yet! So… you know… that seems like a good thing too.
I’m still a little uncomfortable talking about sex – well, when I’m talking to the fucking internet anyway. But I’m getting better. I mean, wrote this much, right?
Status update: Tour’s been a lot of fun so far. En route to Minneapolis right now, running late of course, but I’m not stressed about it.
Got to hang out last night with the St. Louis crew. Saw The Humanoids play for the first time and got a copy of their LP, which was – at one point – slated to be on Traffic Street. After the show, Noelle and company drove to Iowa. Pete, Chris, and I stuck around. Hung out at Darren’s bar then stayed over at Shaun’s house, where he and I explained to Chris that Blink 182 and Fleetwood Mac aren’t punk bands.
I could go on, but this stuff’s not of any tremendous significance. What matters is that it’s good and that I’m happy and grateful to be where I’m at, with the people I’m with. Old friends and new friends. Looking forward to a lot more of that tonight and in the days to come.
I feel pretty good today. Not manically good, not hyper-excellent, but just good. Nothing is bothering me or clawing at me. It’s been a while since I painted. I made one piece on the 3rd, but it’s for a record so I’m not able to share it until the release is announced. Still, that was a week ago, so last night I decided to try and paint. Rather than take out a blank canvas, I pulled out one that I had painted a few months back but didn’t really care for. I repainted it and then decided to let what I had dry before I kept going with it. So I pulled out a second piece and repainted that And then decided to let that one dry too. Then I took out a piece that I started when I was sitting on the ledge, looking out over the water, and really having a hard time. I didn’t finish any of them last night.
Today I picked that first one back up and I guess it’s sort of finished now. It doesn’t look quite like my other pieces. Most noticeably, it’s missing any text. Well, it says “OKAY,” but not in any way that most people would spot it. I spent a lot of time on it, but it doesn’t seem quite right. I think that – maybe – I need to move away from paints for a little bit and work with a less fluid medium. And maybe work on some less abstract kinds of projects. I have some cartoons in my head that I’ve been meaning to draw, so it might be a good time to actually put those down on paper.
I reflected on how I’m feeling – on how I’m doing, overall – and I decided that I’m okay. During the painting process, I made myself look at the areas of my life that are… awry – in one sense or another. To see if maybe I could pull that into the painting and work with it. The only thing that came to mind was family. I’m not on speaking terms with two of my three siblings. I’m not on speaking terms with my mom. And the last interaction I had with my dad was earlier in the week, via text, and I told him to “fuck off.” And haven’t talked to him since then.
My dad’s done a lot for me lately, so I feel like I need to take a step to repair that but, at the same time, he said something that upset me. Still, “fuck off” probably wasn’t the correct response to that. I guess if I think about it – in each of these situations – I’m waiting for the other person to make it better when – really – if I want it to be better, I should probably take responsibility for that myself.
Which isn’t to say that I want to do that in each case. While it’d be pretty great if I could have good relationships with my parents and siblings, I’m not entirely sure that it’s even possible. Actually, I’m quite certain that it’s not. And that’s okay. I’m not aware of any rule that says I have to get along with everyone I’m related to. Life is easier without some of these people. And while – generally – I’m not interested in taking “easy ways out,” I can’t take on everything. Everyone has a breaking point. Somewhere along the line, what I know (or even what I want) doesn’t matter anymore. I get overwhelmed and negative feelings take hold. I’m not going to push myself into dealing with things that have the potential to ruin my day. Not today anyway. Outcomes aren’t guaranteed and now matter how I approach it…
[I’m done talking about this now]
I’m not stressed out about money anymore. Everything worked out this week and I don’t have a reason to be anymore. Which is a relief. And I’m grateful for that. I have all of the tools I need to maintain an income right now, I just need to remember to use them. For example, I still have a box of antique dolls and other stuff given to me (to sell on eBay) that I get to keep a share of the profits on. Granted, spending time creating eBay listings isn’t all that different from any other job, but I can do it on my own schedule and take time out for myself when I need it.
Having an online journal is tricky. When I was keeping a journal just for myself (with no intention of ever sharing it at all) I wrote differently. There are things I’d mention and things I wouldn’t. There are definitely more substantial, personal examples I could come up with, but – for example – Mike sent me the new Like Bats EP yesterday and it’s really awesome. And if this were a private journal, right now I’d be writing about why I think it’s awesome. But there’s something awkward about switching gears like that, here, online. Similarly, I joked with myself a lot more in my private journal, but – in this context – I find myself forcing myself to be serious so much of the time. Which just isn’t fun. And I like having fun.
Okay, I feel better about it now. That statement alone made me feel better about it. I’m gonna go listen to the Like Bats EP really loudly, smoke a cigarette, and then work on something else for a while. Today’s been good so far and I’m gonna keep it that way.
Oh – also, the fourth painting from “The Weak End” series in in the Gallery. If you don’t see the statement when you click this link, it’s just because you need to scroll down a little bit.