The weeks have been going by at a rate too fast for my brain to record amidst the chaos I let in. I have created a lot of unneeded stress in my life by starting too many new things, taking them as far as my brain will let me, and then storing the contents in a box until there is a lack of stimulation. In order to curb this activity and take control over my days(daze?) I have started to create a routine by which I can develop my why…my purpose for being.
Finding joy has been as illusive a challenge to me as solving a rubik’s cube is for someone fascinated by puzzles; I am pretty sure after I solve the pattern of activity the first time it will permanently alter how I am perceived by this universe. I know, it’s like riding a bike. My wife has brought it to my attention the fact that I have been outwardly focused on the aesthetic of looking like I am in business, but I have almost intentionally skipped over the everyday. I constantly live within the failure that floats on my past; my life raft keeps me gently rocking towards the future, no paddle, guided by nothing. I am grateful for the people who are constantly in my radar, as I am in theirs; I know I am loved. I often look over the sea that is my everyday, across the wake created by the growth of my children and the overwhelming support and guidance provided by my wife.
This is not an entry designed to draw in more customer support as it is a way to label my new understanding of purpose. My wife does not realize that I am not only immuno-compromised, developing a lifestyle conducive to keeping ulcerative colitis at bay, but also I am emotionally compromised…that is, I feel like I have an allergy to the affection and intimacy involved in developing appropriate relationships with anyone outside of my head. My wife and a few of my close friends have stayed with me, through my self-imposed isolation and self development. My psychological wall, fortified with years of shame and failure, had successfully kept my emotions at bay, locked deep in a war chest, until I was hospitalized last year.
My shame. I developed ulcerative colitis around the time I realized that I was very much in a state of arrested development, unable to advance in a career that seemed to be straightforward and planned. I had my first real career, as a teacher in NYC, and I had been dropped by the second school in two school years. In an attempt to separate my life from my parents, to learn to be comfortable supporting me, I moved into an apartment with a friend. One of my best friends. Losing this job was devastating to me and my fragile emotional state. That is, of course, only a few bricks in the foundation of my house of lonely.
In 2022, October, I was hospitalized after a massive flair up. I was severely underweight and unable to keep food in my body; it took a month, new infusion meds, and a lot of solitary confinement in my bed to open up to the idea of change. When I was finally “healthy” and able to be discharged, I was required to find a therapist and a psychiatrist to help me deal with my new reality. Being fragile of mind and body, I started to disappear once again into my long, cold winter.
I have made plenty of mistakes, I have had very important failures and painful moments that I believe were constructed in part by myself, but mostly by the universe. From my most painful moments I have learned that I need to find my power, a way to find peace and strength within me, because for three decades I have let the reality of failure guide my voice. I essentially split my artistic abilities from my emotions, which was the proverbial nail in my financial coffin. And I am open to change.
I have been working out a process of accessing my deep imagination to tell what I have termed Pseudo-Narratives. Our story, based on the memories of everyone who remembers us, is flexible, plastic enough to mold to the current reality. Our brains pull only the most necessary icons from our visual library during remembering sessions as a way to keep us safe when we share our story with another entity. Through the process of making lists, word association, writing out in full sentences the first narrative that comes to mind using words from the list. I have kept it systematic and the routine has helped create an aqueduct from the other side of my wall, allowing for a small amount of emotion to escape. By continuing to allow this process to guide my creative voice, I will eventually land on a routine that I can share with other individuals who feel equally lost. I am not claiming that anyone can, all of a sudden, develop the talent of a master and be a defined fine artist. What I am saying is that, with my process, I have figured out a way to bypass the ego for a short time. I confuse the brain with nonsense, which it then has to make sense of or shut down, and the resulting images connect with emotional wellsprings. Little cracks in the dam. Those cracks become larger, allowing for more flow, with the persistence of the process. It is organic and slow, but hopefully more meaningful when the dam breaks.
I have learned from scheduled journaling, contemplations and meditations, that I have allowed my life to end prematurely, allowed my suffering to be complete, like dark side training, because I thought in self-isolation there was empowerment. Lock myself up in the woodshed and practice until it becomes natural. I know now that this has only hindered my growth as both a person and an artist. The recorded painful moments, the ones necessary to complete my discovery, were both physical and emotional, and have been the warden to my self imprisonment. I now get that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional. I can look back this far and realize that my road forked and I chose the path of least resistance. The weak path. I am ready to build up my strength and start to thrive. Life is hard when you do not let people in. Needing to do it all alone has felt so real up until this moment. I look back at how I have made decisions based on whether or not I would acquire the approval of others, disregarding my own approval, and i am sad. The process of breaking down my wall and discovering where I have hidden my true self is a long and painful one, and I hope that I can find the blockage and remove it, allowing for true growth to begin.
This post is long, and maybe a bit more than unfocused, but it is coming from a place of enhanced honesty. I don’t really know what joy is supposed to look like or feel like, only that there have been times where I was proud to be me. They are few, but precious moments. Moments that common men find make them proud as well. The birth of my first son. I remember the feeling when I held him and walked with him in my arms. The time when my wife and I, after just wrapping up the wedding ceremony and reception, sat together peacefully, surrounded by friends, to capacity so full that a friend had to remove the window and get others to join them on the hotel roof. The same pride was apparent in this moment. But is pride a precursor to joy? I do not know. I have been in hiding for so long, not allowing myself to feel anything but anger and pain, for thirty years, at least. Up until 4th grade I had been planning my escape from my existence. Seriously. I can’t reach joyful moments because all my brain is flashing to me is this compilation of moments that prove why I should stay hidden. After 4th grade I shut down part of me. I vividly remember my fifth grade experience. The interactions with my classmates had begun to dwindle to the minimum necessary to acknowledge my body’s presence in the seat. I persisted through days of school being either left out of friend groups or forced to try and make friends by switching my seating. At 4th grade I learned that I was different. I started to look for clues as to how I was supposed to act in order to change my status in the educational institution. Instead of developing me, writing more stories and exploring art styles, I became involved in a downward spiral of activity designed to help me cloak my depression with the generic, an invisibility cloak of sorts, so that I could survive what I already knew was going to be a rough 8 years of higher learning.
I know now that I could have tried to develop my story through cartooning and comic making; writing to my cartooning and creative heroes yielded nothing more than a discouraging generic response. Jim Davis STAMPED a typed letter with his “signature” and I was crushed. Instead of trying hard to explain myself and share more of me, develop friendships based on the honest truth that I felt small and insignificant, I retreated into my mind and filtered out all of the vulnerability. I needed to appear stable and strong to survive being emotionally malnourished. This practiced structure is perhaps why my middle school years are filled with nothing but the negative lessons. I neglected to develop me. I wanted to be invisible, so why should I share anything with anyone. Especially those closest to me who only need to know that they are doing a decent job during uncertain times.
I cared a lot about how I was seen by others. Other students, not classmates mind you, the language is specifically chosen. 5th grade solidified that necessity for me. As a member of the band, with my chosen weapon being the trumpet, I set forth in 4th grade to learn how to be a part of a group illuminating hallways with music. In 5th grade it was made clear that there were far too many trumpet players, and I was made to move to playing the baritone. Treble Clef Baritone was simple; the music sheets were basic and boring. Because I allowed everyone else to place me in the world where I was most needed, I accepted my new role begrudgingly. I was identified now, outed as being an unnecessary member of what would become a solid tribe throughout my high school experience.
Again, I am retreating into my mind. Focus. I learned to become invisible because I needed to escape being recognized as a disappointment. This was most likely a self-perception, but by 6th grade I had eliminated me from the conversation. I trudged through, head down with a backpack full of textbooks, the labyrinth of my middle school’s halls, sat and took notes, and uttered no words…for the next 5 years. This imposed silence did not help me grow and learn to communicate with people. It helped me keep opening up emotional scar tissue so that it would heal incorrectly. When I got home from school I would remove my bag, grab a snack, and go to my room. I proceeded to watch tv until dinner. Sometimes I put effort into my work, but I had repeated to myself that it did not matter anyhow. No one noticed me at all. Skateboards and surf culture were big in my home town at this time, so the local shops sold appropriate gear. When you live in a small town and all of the stores are local, it becomes the standard uniform for every age group. I was agreeable on the surface, but I felt like wearing labeled gear from a sport/pastime I was not connected to wasn’t helping me at all. I did not learn how to make friends. I struggled to feel like I was connected to anyone in a meaningful way. My existence was therefore absurd and confusing. Wearing the clothes of a tribe I was not a part of lead to judgemental looks…or did it?…I am no longer sure. All I know is that I felt different.
I am 42 this year, and I feel like I am, in many ways, still 12. Help was not offered, but only because I could not articulate what I really needed from the universe. I allowed things to be done for me, said yes and right to most arguments, and I stopped developing. I wish that I did not have that experience. It is now very hard to be a person. I still feel like I am warm under my blanket of depression, but I think the weight of all of the insecurities is enough only to suppress my true feelings. I no longer feel like I deserve to exist under the weight of this blanket. I need a change.
Is it too late to change? Is it too late to develop, to say out loud what I like and dislike, with confidence? The people that are close to me would probably say that it is never too late, but I look at the evidence and have my doubts. There are no moments I can recall that prove that what I do holds value. That sounds depressing because it is, and I know this to be true. I have created beautiful paintings that sit in my closet now, gathering dust, that explore my loneliness in no less than complete terms. But I haven’t been able to sell them at all. I don’t have the ability to connect with people. I never allowed myself to fully commit to initiating communication. In this way I have made sure that no one would be disappointed by my not performing up to expectations.
I graduated from SCAD in 2003 with a clear knowledge of nothing. I was nothing and had nothing to show for it. I wasted that part of my life trying hard to survive the onslaught of human interaction. I feel ashamed that I did not have the strength to work on my art and use my school for networking, creating a community of like minded artists that communicated visually. I chose my major of illustration for the same reason I chose to shut down and stop sharing my life; I thought it would be better if I let someone else decide what I should be doing with my life. I obviously was not able to control my existence, so I just agreed that commercial art, illustration, would provide me with a certain amount of fulfillment and a certain amount of money, the balance of which made up the life of a professional illustrator. Then I jumped to Sequential Art, when I realized that I still loved cartooning. I read through volumes of cartoons, but never settled into the practice enough to actually learn how to draft, ink, letter, WRITE a comic. The other students all seemed to have a direct connection with specific style and confidence. I was hesitant to tell stories on paper, choosing to fall into the trap of listening to what I was told to do, and I kept me hidden.
Ted Stern, the cartooning teacher and someone who I should have made better friends with, told me I should switch over to photography, because I was not able to express myself in this artform. That was a painful blow to my already fragile sense of self. It was supposed to be a kick in the pants jumpstart, but it felt like an assault on that little bit of me that was being “kept safe” by my outer persona. I denied myself the chance to grow and learn because I let fear tell me that in order to be anything I had to watch and learn what others have done before me. I stayed in the world of theory. I graduated without a path. Without a true purpose for my art practice. I have spent every extra minute of my days since that one trying to fight the urge to completely remove myself from the day to day. I am only now discovering that I just took the wrong way home, a very long time ago.
This stream of conscious thought usually happens when I am on the precipice of transformation. Up until now, I would slink back into my cave and resign myself to the life I have had chosen for me. That’s Life, according to Frank, and I am eternally grateful for his frankness. But I have to break free of it all and unite my two selves. I have to be a human and an artist.
It is hard to look back at my journal entries and see any progress. The pattern is always the same. I am ready to break the static pattern and attempt to find my connection to joy. I can not keep doing the same thing all of the time and expect results different from what has happened up until now. That is why I have been attempting to force the universe to bend to my needs, instead of me bending to the needs of the universe. Is that just fighting the inevitable? I feel conflicted and lonely, but I know that it is because I have not allowed anyone to help.
So if my pain has been a result of me hiding instead of owning my existence, and my joy and pride are a result of positive decisions? No that is not it. My joyful moments have taught me that there are good things that I can accomplish. I don’t have to hide completely, because I have cultivated a tribe of culturally similar friends, and they most likely love me in spite of my perceived shortcomings. I am still confused as to why my friends see me as anything other than a weak being in this world, but some of them have even depended on me for support during their times of stress and pain. Like the main character in The Wall, I have developed a block by block stockade to protect me from being exposed before my peers. That wall has to come down, and it wont until I let go of the past and start to live in the present.
Finding joy is a process that is taking me down dead end streets and avenues littered with negative stories. There are outcomes that I can consider to be positive. But I still have a lingering hatred for how I have conducted myself up until this time. While I have tried hard to be honest, I have become a liar by omission. I have learned how to cycle through information and speak only the words that will garner me passage to the next level. I learned how to take multiple choice tests instead of studying for the exam in question. I can look back and determine that I spent way too much time trying hard to escape being me. I spent very little attempting to be the best version of me. I got to college and realized that I no longer existed. I let suffering and depression guide me so much that I have led others to resent me. I have had opportunities, apparently, for success, but have dropped the ball more than once. My brain has created an alternate story for me to feel better about failing, but I have allowed too much failure to guide my boat. I want my art to be a paddle, guiding me towards a deeper understanding of me and my story. I need to be self aware, to find me in all of the notes. Once I find me, know what I need, the value will be apparent. Hopefully.
As an artist, I enjoy making cartoons that are dark and humorous, but I lack the focused attention needed to develop my ideas into usable pieces that can be printed or used to create books. I wanted to be a children’s book illustrator because I envy those that are kids at heart. I envy individuals that know how to keep everything light and fun because it is natural for them. I want to be that weird and funny guy who makes art about farts and poop. I want to amuse myself and know that my art is amusing others as well. There are so many things that I say I want, but I really need to make at least one of them happen. If my purpose on this earth is not determined by my art skills, but by something greater, I have to listen to the universe until I hear my song. I really want to be a published author of amazing, funny stories, where I get to show things in a funny weird way and connect with the readers who need to hear the stories. I also loved building guitars and guitar effects pedals, knowing full well that I am not as focused as other craftsman. I simply like the accomplishment of attempting to create something new, and then troubleshooting until it works well. But that is hobby territory, once again disconnected from being a valuable asset for my business dream. Am I just reliving the same story my mom had, the same story that my cousin Bobby told? Am I doomed to create something that sort of fits what I need, but leaves me thoroughly unfulfilled?
I take classes under the guise of learning skills that I can then share with my students, but that is not the whole truth, is it? I buy and take classes so I can hear how other artists developed their skills and purpose. I love buying Domestika courses so I can I see what others are doing and what they sound like and I get discouraged by how realized they are as people. I want to absorb their knowledge but I get lost in the fact that they are sharing their skills because they have had success using them. I claim that my process is real and works without any real evidence of that fact. So how do I start making this a real thing? Do I want to?
Maybe the title of this entry should have been Finding Existential Cause for Failure. I have a very serious history of overthinking the things that I should be taking action on and then, in a fit of fear, I take action on the things I should be overthinking until they disappear. I have to end this mind dump now. It will probably start to repeat ideas if I let it all flow any more. Until next entry, enjoy the day!