I was in Hobby Lobby the other day looking for a new calligraphy pen. As I walked through the aisles, it reminded me of when I was a little boy. I would have been in heaven.
Living in a small town, we didn’t have specialty art supply stores like Hobby Lobby or Michaels. All we had was a small Wal-Mart in the next town over. As a single-digit-age kid, my world is incredibly small so a trip to the next town felt like a huge adventure. And a trip to Wal-Mart was like Walt Disney World. ‘Cause that meant I could get a toy. And also some new crayons.
I was happy with my one aisle of arts and crafts our Wal-Mart provided. Over the years, I did outgrow the space as I eventually purchased just about every piece of charcoal, fine-tipped drawing pen, pastel, and watercolor set available. But at first, I was mesmerized by all the different tools and techniques I wanted to master.
I loved drawing when I was a kid. And coloring. And painting. And building. And creating in general. It was fun for me and the more I did it, the better I got at it. Not only did I enjoy the creative process but took great satisfaction at the outcome, felt genuine pride over that final polished piece.
Art was all I knew and that’s all my peers began to associate me with. I was “that chubby artist guy.” And while I was better than average, I was no Picasso. But everyone acted like I was. And I found that kind of reputation hard to live up to. I started developing art anxiety that compounded my general anxiety. I wasn’t as good as people thought and I started to feel like a fraud. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be as amazing as others expected. And the art that I enjoyed so much began to feel more like a chore.
But I thought college would help me catch up to the expectations people had for me. I would learn the craft, refine my techniques, and learn to fall in love with art again. Unfortunately, attending an art school only reinforced my fears that I was not good enough. My classmates were lightyears ahead of me and wildly talented. But again, art was all I knew. God knows I’m not good at math. I’m not really good at anything, actually. So I stuck with it, got my degree, then promptly moved back home and “retired” from art.
I didn’t want to deal with my insecurities, didn’t want to face the possibility of failure, so I just stopped trying. One of the biggest mistakes I could have made.
Since graduating college nearly ten years ago, I’ve only occasionally done something creative. I’ve drawn a picture here or there. I’ve made a couple of videos. But for the most part, I’ve just not been artistically active. But I still think about it. I still want to learn more about drawing, photography, calligraphy, design, and animation, which was my major in college. Yes, ya boy knows how to do cartoons. I could have worked for Nickelodeon if I wasn’t such a knucklehead.
Back then, I had no expectations. I did art for fun, not for fame or recognition or validation. It was for me and me alone. And the mistake I made was trying to associate my art with my value.
I still feel the pull to be creative. I still get excited about stationary. Still feel the pinpricks of possibilities from pens and pencils. It’s bittersweet and it almost hurts a little bit because I think of the time I wasted and think that I could actually be talented if I would have just kept practicing. Now I’m very behind. But that doesn’t mean I’m totally done.
I almost want to start over completely. Rebuild a foundation first. Start small. And go back to my roots of doing art just for the fun of it. Just for me. It used to be soothing and enjoyable and I want to have that back because I could sure use some soothing these days.
There are so many resources out there. It blows my mind. The Internet is an amazing place and offers so much knowledge. Youtube alone has so many free videos that can teach you to do just about anything you’d ever be interested in. There are also great places like Lynda, Udemy, and Skillshare. And although you do have to pay for those, some of the classes might be worth it.
So that’s what I want to focus on. I’ve had good intentions before and they never panned out. But this time I really do want to get back into it. And I want to take it easy on myself. I’m no professional and I’m not going to try to be one. I just need to do something creative and productive instead of just being lazy all the time. I want to feel proud of the work I do, like I used to be.
”My mommy always said there were no monsters, no real ones, but there are.”
”Yes, there are, aren’t there?”
”Why do they tell little kids that?
”Most of the time it’s true.”
I’m a horror movie fan 365 days of the year. But Halloween is extra special to me because of the larger availability of horror movies. I watch serial killer films to relax. Monster movies get me in the mood. And if I can get a little hipster for a moment, I was way into zombies before The Walking Dead consumed all of America’s brains.
So, while I watch horror movies regularly, I made an effort to squeeze in an extra evisceration or two back in October, Netflixing and Youtubing Z-grade films with ketchup blood and cardboard brains, catching mid-afternoon scary flicks on television and Halloween-themed episodes of my favorite shows. And as I watched nude girls getting nailed to a wall or jocks jogging to their death in a haunted gym, I started to realize how easy it seems to summon evil spirits. Naturally, ouija boards are a clear violation of soul safety. But other harbingers of evil might seem more innocuous at first, like puzzle boxes, a child’s doll, or a suspiciously inexpensive house for a new family.
No one seems to be able to invoke good spirits with such effortlessness. Why is it that most houses seem to inhabit horrible things? Why is it that spirit boards almost always summon the sinister? Why can’t we call upon God and good energy with the same simplicity that dials up the devil? Why is it that when the Holy Ghost possesses someone, he eventually pulls up stakes in their soul while demons wanna settle? And why are exorcisms so exhausting? Why can’t we just extract black spirits with the sam ease we extract blackheads?
If tales of supernatural serial killers are all fake, I suppose watching teens being pummeled by pissed off poltergeists is more entertaining than being visited by the ghost of great Aunt Sue with good news of true love. But when it’s real, having a real demon on your ass is really scary. It’s no longer about the yuck yuck but the yikes. It’s not entertaining. It’s devastating. And a lot of people would say it is real.
I’m not sure how I feel about it. I can’t say what’s real and what’s not. I can only speak for my own experiences and throughout my life, I do feel I’ve had more than my fair share of bad luck. There have been many times I’ve actually thought I was cursed or that something bad had latched itself onto me. It’s never been anything huge, mostly just circumstances that converge into a crippling disappointment again and again. But those little heartbreaks weigh heavy over time.
And I’ve called on God to remove the dulling residue of past demons. But instead of feeling cleansed, I’ve only ever felt crushed. What’s it gonna take to tackle the terrifying and bandage to the bad juju?
I wonder if there’s anything that can be done at all. What if God doesn’t have anything to do with lethargy, larceny, or lunacy? What if, by design or negligence, we are all just hurdling toward implosion? What if our lives are all examples of entropy playing out in real time?
It’s so hard to be nice. We have to constantly bite our tongues, keep our fists at our sides, and step away from the line of fire. We have to talk ourselves up every day and concentrate on keeping the good vibes going. And as soon as we let up on the affirmations, we atrophy all over again. We gotta keep flipping those light switches on less we be surrounded by darkness again.
I don’t know why possessions are prevalent while good spirits are scarce. The only thing I know for sure is nothing is ever going to change. It’s never going to be easy. And when it all comes down to it, who’s to say our lives aren’t someone else’s entertainment? This is why we have reality shows and horror movies based on true events. And there just might be a higher power that gets a kick out of watching us overcome our curses. Maybe things that are really scary can also be really educating.
And although we have to fight to be friendly, it’s worth the effort. Instead of adding to the agony, we can help patch up other people. Even if it’s just for a bit, even if it’s just a temporary bandage, isn’t that enough to make a difference? In a world laid to waste, it still matters that we hold out our hands rather than hold up a gun, use our tongues to prepare praises instead of slinging insults, and make moves to slowly kill the hate that’s been jammed into our hearts. Maybe that’s how we can make our souls uninhabitable for the inhospitable demons and they’ll be forced to dig themselves out.
And that shouldn’t be too hard at all.
“Let’s rehearse the song and verse
the graceful dance of dying
when my friends mouth their validation
I can tell they’re lying…”
-Showbread, I am Horrible at Processing Rejection
Somehow, one of my coworkers got on the topic of my book and I shrugged it off, told her I was over it.
“I want to buy a copy.” Yeah, sure. That’s what they all say.
“Don’t worry about it,” I said. “It’s not that big of a deal.”
“Yes, it is,” she said. Yeah, sure. They all say that, too.
I shrugged again. She told me not to give up, to believe in myself, even when no one else did. I smiled and thanked her just to drop the topic.
The thing is it’s not so much about me not believing in myself. Despite a lack of confidence, I believed in myself enough to write a book. And I believe it was a good book. What bums me out is that no one else believes in me. I already feel so alone and insignificant having not contributed anything to anyone or anything, never having changed someone’s life or fixed a huge problem or created a piece of art that enlightened. I’ve just existed, taking up space and eating Doritos by the ton. It’s not a good existence. It’s no quality of life.
This book has helped me suss out all the insincere people in my life, the false cheerleaders, the fake friends, the ones who said they cared and showed they didn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve realized it’s just about all of them. And I didn’t have many people in the first place. So, chop chop, they’re out of my life. But I don’t feel any better, don’t feel like I’ve solved anything.
A few days later, that same coworker who was all about buying my book (she never did, I’ve been checking my sales. I told you) posted and inspirational quote on my Facebook wall. But that inspirational quote didn’t mean anything to me. Anything meant to be inspirational doesn’t mean anything to me anymore, holds no weight, does not move me. In fact, I read these inspirational memes that many people post on their walls and I just chuckle. God bless if it gives them comfort but to me, it’s just words shaped into a sentence intended for a smile. But I suppose those quotes are meant for those who still have a shred of hope left. I just bypass them and move on to the next post, a cat video or political cartoon.
Words mean nothing to me anymore.
Don’t tell me you believe in me. Don’t tell me I’m talented or funny or good-looking. I will not believe you. If anything, it will steer me toward not trusting you. Because I know the truth and I don’t need your charity lies.
But, if I’m supposed to be a writer, shouldn’t words mean everything? I tried to incite change through my words. I tried to drum up understanding and conveyed my heartfelt desires and losses through my words. I wanted a reaction. I wanted a response. But if my words continue to be rejected while their words are shoved down my ears, eventually eroding into empty symbols, how can I reconcile that?
I suppose it’s because I’ve never tried to cheer anyone up with my writing. I’ve never tried to write fluff to form a happy face. That’s not to say it’s all been negative or hopeless. When I first started writing in my teens, I was depressed even back then. But I still had some hope. And my writing showed that, exploring my feelings while holding out for a better future. Unfortunately, my future was blotted out with bad decisions and bad jobs. But with my book, even though it was filled with despondency, in the end, I tried to realistically write an outcome that was hopeful without being cheesy. There was hesitation. There was hellfire. But through it, there was human spirit. It didn’t go down smoothly but it was still palatable.
I just like realism. And for me, false positivity is not realistic. Let’s all just be honest about how things suck. But that doesn’t mean we should wallow in it (I know I’m totally guilty of doing this and I’m a huge hypocrite). Naturally, no one wants a downer. But I feel like people who are too happy or too positive are not to be trusted. It’s not about suffocating your sadness with another fake smile. And it’s not about spreading your sadness around like you’ve just peed in the pool. Ideally, we’d all find a balance, allow ourselves to go deep into the depression while also pointing out and appreciating the good moments. I feel like I succeeded in doing that in my book. In this blog? Not so much. But I’m better at it in my daily life.
The meaning of all things is slipping away. It’s hard to be inspiring. It’s hard to maintain connections. It’s hard to be a person when you’ve been voided out of humanity. Sometimes it takes something so little as validation, as a simple follow-through to turn a person from a floating glob to suddenly gathered together, allowed to finally find footing and move forward.
My relationships have no meaning. My life has no meaning. Food and taste has no meaning and now the last thing I had in my life, words, no longer have meaning to them. These are words you are reading but they are not reaching you. I will never reach you because as I’m writing this down, you’re writing me off as someone who is too negative, who is too sensitive. But I’m trying to tell you that while those things are true, I haven’t been given the kind of support most have. You try to be all smiles when your classmates and colleagues say they care and then crap all over you at the first chance they get.
There was a bird in my chest once, a heart made of feathers and profuse love. It sang with hope, with teenage newness and the shimmering hope of a better tomorrow. It took flight around those I admired, those I wanted to love me back. But those very people reached in and stuffed its mouth. My bad luck plucked it bare, then Life itself stepped in and stripped the flesh of writing and relationships until that bird was a just a skeleton, hollow enough to be blown away by the first gust of wind, then dropped back down to earth, shattered.
But I guess that doesn’t matter, now does it? It’s just words. Words I’ve said to people in the past to convey how I feel, to tell them they hurt me, that I’ve been disappointed, that I’ve felt abandoned. And I’ve been killed by their quiet, their apathetic rigidness. Their excuses. Their lack of sympathy or apology. I can only guess their callousness means their birds don’t sing anymore, either.
This past Tuesday, I went back to the ENT for my post-op checkup. He removed my bandages and said I was a fast healer. He handed me a mirror and I tried to look at the damage but I couldn’t actually see anything. I hadn’t shaved since the surgery so my beard was covering up a good portion of the incision. But the fact that I couldn’t see a jagged, raised scar was good. It didn’t even bruise like it did during my last procedure.
After he cut away my bandages, he opened the door and raised his hand for a goodbye shake. Slightly annoyed, I told him I had a few questions. I had waited for an hour to speak with him so I didn’t want to be ushered out after 7 minutes. I asked him what caused these cysts and he informed me it’s a birth defect that I’ve had all my life. They just don’t typically form noticeable, protruding lumps until between the ages of 19-30. He also informed me that he took out a part of my hyoid bone, which is where the cysts can stem from. So between the excision and my age, the chances of it coming back are unlikely. Thank goodness.
I asked about various scar treatments and if the numbness under my chin was normal. He told me it was ’cause he had to cut a flap open underneath my jaw to get to the cyst. “You’ll start to feel some itching when the nerves reform.” Yuck. My mind raced with all the questions I wanted to ask him but his presence towering over me caused all those questions to fly right out of my incision.
“Well, I guess that is all,” I said.
“Just give us a call if you think of anything else,” he said with a handshake and then that was it.
I went back to work the next day. I’d gone back to work that previous Saturday but I really shouldn’t have. I felt terrible with a mixture of antibiotics and lethargy coursing through me. It still hurt to talk and my voice was reminiscent of someone who’d been smoking for the past 50 years. But I needed the money so I went in. But I felt much better during this shift. It didn’t hurt as much to talk and my voice had almost returned to normal. I’d also taken my last antibiotic the day before so I’d hoped the majority of it was making its way out of my system.
During my shift, I passed by a familiar customer. I greeted him and he asked me if I’d been on vacation.
“Not quite,” I said. “I had surgery and I spent last week in bed recovering. So, I guess it was a vacation of sorts.”
“Ah, well we missed you,” he said, referring to him and his wife. That was really nice to hear. In fact, he acted like he was more glad to see me than some of my coworkers were. It just reminded me that sometimes we don’t always feel like we are noticed or appreciated but there are people out there who do see, who do recognize, and who do feel it when you’re missing.
After my shift was over, I wanted some kind of milkshake or other creamy confection to soothe my throat. I went to a fast food place and thought, “Well, while I’m here, might as well grab a little dinner.” ‘Cause I’m logical like that. Actually, my reasoning made sense to me. I hadn’t eaten for about 4 days while laid up in bed with what felt like a butcher knife in my windpipe so I figured a couple of grease-coated calories wouldn’t kill me. I wasn’t sure what I wanted so I just stared at the menu and listed off things to the cashier that I thought sounded good.
“I’m gonna just combo all this up for you so it’ll be cheaper,” she said. Another nice thing. It was small and maybe she’s supposed to do that kind of thing but I took it as a kind gesture from a girl just tryin’ to help a brotha out.
And I needed all the help I could get ’cause I had to pay for the surgery. Even with insurance, I had to pay a large chunk out of pocket to meet my deductible. When the lady at the front counter at the doctor’s office asked me if I wanted to pay a little bit on it along with my co-pay, I told her I wanted to go ahead and take care of the whole thing.
“All of it?” she asked with wide eyes.
I’m fortunate I had the funds to pay for the whole thing. And it isn’t going to break me to part with the money. I’m struggling, for sure, but I recognize and am grateful for the fact that I do have some in savings and was able to take care of it without it being a huge burden on me. I’m terrible with money and one day it’ll all come crashing down on me but over the past few years, I have at least tried to be more conscientious of my spending and my bank account. And I think I’ve done better. It’s still a process because spending, much like eating, is how I soothe myself.
But overall, my recovery and transition back to work was nice. I encountered some kind people and I just want to recognize that because it doesn’t happen often that I have something good to say about my surroundings.
Here’s hoping those goiters are gone for good!
People tell me I’m preoccupied with the negative aspects of my life. I focus on the bad and don’t give enough praise to the good. In some ways, I can understand their point. There have been many times when I’ll go inside my head and find nothing but bad and I have to pull myself out and realize I need to give credit for all the good I have going on.
I’ve been made to feel so guilty for not being this shining beacon of light that when I do feel down, I immediately counter my complaints with gratitude. My job sucks but I have my health! I have no friends but I have a roof over my head! I can’t control my weight but at least I have food to eat!
Yes, I recognize and understand all of this but I just don’t think anyone understands how deep the depression runs. It’s not just a matter of inconvenience. It’s a matter of chemical imbalances and separation from people, happiness, and God. It’s a matter of always feeling dead and always wishing I really was. It’s so much more than the outer shell of what you see of me, who you perceive me to be through conversations, and the words you read from me.
It’s like telling someone to ignore a knife wound. You’ve been struck in the chest but you can still walk, right? That’s just not how it works. Every day when I wake up, I can feel the knife sliding in deeper, sawing away at the nerves and edges of organs. I’m sorry, but I can’t just pretend that didn’t happen.
That doesn’t mean I’ve twisted the weapon further in, either. That doesn’t mean I’ve laid myself down and given in to the damage. I don’t point to the penetration and pray for pity. I talk about it. I’m open. I’m honest. I am not diluted into thinking things are okay when I know they aren’t.
And that’s the problem with people who tell me I’m too negative. I’m not negative. I’m just real. And I have enough strength to be aware of the limitations and disappointments in my life. I don’t put a bow around the base of the knife and wear it like a decoration. I know it’s there and I won’t dress it up or work my way around it. I don’t ignore it. I don’t settle for the steel inside skin like others do, rotting them from the inside out.
Every time I sit down at the computer and write like this, I’m facing it head on. I’m working out the blade by working out my problems. And pain and disappointment comes with facing it head on. There will be challenges. There are arteries you have to navigate through. And sometimes you’ll hit a new nerve and you’ll want to give up and just leave it in to prevent further damage. But you’ll never truly be healed until it comes out fully. You can’t be healed if you don’t give your wound some attention.
As with anything, it’s all about balance. Sure, I shouldn’t focus on all the bad. But that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t deal with it in some capacity. I’m working on it. I go about my business. I get up and drive to work and collect my paycheck. I look forward to the temporary deaths of sleep and the ecstasies of eggs in the morning. All the while, the pain lingers and the fact that I’m not on the floor in a fit should be seen as a sign of progress.
And when someone asks how I am, how I really am, not in an informal salutation, but during an actual conversation, I tell them because I think they genuinely care. And then they tell me I’m too negative, that I should ignore the knife wound. And I withdraw because they don’t get it or they don’t care.
I go home and sit in my room, alone, and get to work on unsticking the blade from my bones.