college: Part two

I stopped taking my medication again.

I spent my entire summer at a print shop. I printed T-shirts, and was pretty good at it. Having a slight fear of authority in me still made me work hard, but the place was very lax and certainly did not follow most laws. Most of us were paid in cash, and the rest of us were paid half cash so that people could keep abusing government programs. A lot of time was spent operating these presses and drinking, smoking, and having fun. Many of my first experiences with what I should have been done and over with were had there. It was my third summer there but my first with my new, "open-minded" perspective on life. I knew nothing mattered, and I had learned by this point that my drunken state wasn't a mirroring of my mother's behaviors like I had feared, but rather a pretty jovial and entertaining one. I was dancing at bars, drinking whisky by the glass, and experiencing new states of consciousness I hadn't even dreamed of.

This was the self medication I didn't realize I was performing.

The pay was good, really good, and so I didn't really worry about the year to come. It was my second year out of my parents' home, and my room mates didn't live in the state during the summer. I had my whole home to myself, and I had no real commitment or responsibilities. This is about when I had formed a pretty dangerous drinking habit, in retrospect. I would come home with a six pack from the store attached to the print shop, and I would drink and play video games. I was working about 60-80 hours a week, and I almost never had enough time to do anything productive. That's how I justified it at least. There's a pattern of behavior that occurs to me at the time as logical but is almost certainly my depression.

My friends at the time were based near my hometown and involved my cousins at some points. They were about 2-4 years younger than me, so their experimentation was pretty much on par with the rest of society. I had spent most of my time off experiencing and distracting myself with them. It also helped shape my personality, for better or worse. They are all good people, and I'm still pretty close with a few. I even live with one. But I still had this new faction of memories that I didn't want to confront, and so I stayed distracted. Escapism became my new life. Drinking, smoking, and hardly any thinking. It was enough to make me feel like I had finally saved myself from that dark spot I saw the year prior, but (again) in retrospect it was just a person who was experiencing a maturation gap. 

My senior year started, and I had to decide what my final project, my BFA Thesis, was going to be about. We had half a month to come up with ideas, and I was pretty sure that I had my mind made up on something involving tattooing. I had decided not to be a professor, but rather, a tattoo artist. I wanted to make art that meant something to people while still being able to live however I wanted. I had worked at a hospital a bit the year before, and even at a Natural History Museum, but the environments were not what I thought I wanted. One was too corporate. The other felt too... normal? It felt like a lie to say that I was the type of person to pick a company to stay with for years and years, growing with them and considering it fulfilling life work. It wasn't that way. I had to dress certain ways and talk certain ways. The print shop at least let me dress literally any way I wanted and speak how I felt best represented my mentality at the time. I wore clothing riddled with holes and ink stains, and sometimes didn't even wear a shirt.

So tattooing became my half-assed life goal.

Tuition was raised a couple grand again, and I had to work a bit during the week to keep up with financial demands. I didn't mind, because my work week became 3 days and my schoolwork was mostly piled onto 2 days of the week. At least for that first semester. I was cocky again, spending 4 hours or a few classes on a project and still looking good. I thought I had been back on my game, now having such rigorous practice on my belt. I was still doing very well with all my projects, and conversations with my classmates became easy, because now I could express myself without that concern of judgement. I decided already that I was as great as I wanted to be and didn't care if people didn't like it. I was cocky, but not outwardly. Having that confidence while still being empathetic really made connecting with even strangers a breeze. The problems in the world started to seem to all be related to money. All the distress in the world seemed to be summed up to lack of empathy, an abundance of greed, and the ability for that greed to obliterate the need for empathy. It was the corporations that caused humans to cease to be seen as such, and everyone was really just a product of their life and environment; it was not anything in anyone's control. And so, I began to justify everyone's actions as me just not truly understanding their life.

Being nice is easy when nobody is responsible for the evils of the world.

I wasn't without my lulls though. I wouldn't drink on school nights, which meant I drank way less than I did in the summer, and so all of those thoughts that I had avoided with the poisons I'd consume came rushing back, more potent than before. Having a bit of age to them made them the perfect new poisons. I had spoken of my past, but it ceased to be confronted. One of those first two weeks of school I decided to nix the tattoo thesis and focus on something a bit more detrimental to my mental health: my childhood.

I proposed a graphic novel about child abuse. It would be about me, but I made it sound like it had nothing to do with me, at least at first. I would spend the next few months making connections with local children services and abuse shelters, raking in data that was absolutely horrifying. I wasn't alone in my experiences, and it was speculated that, just as I had for so many years, far more people were never going to have the realization of their past. As you have read, I already knew that every event and environment helped shaped the person. I began to feel horrible for these people who haven't even began the journey to heal their mental wounds. It became that much more important that I finish this book; that I show people that it's okay to hurt, that they aren't alone, and that there are other ways of helping victims than the broken systems we have in place today.

My whole family on my mother's side ignored the horrific events that took place at our house. They all knew, though, and would have us sleep over as often as they could while simultaneously defending her actions in court, mostly with fabrications of reality. My sisters and I lived with her until we were of age to testify against her. Only then did my father get custody. I was very familiar with the failures of labeling children as numbers and of courts to really truly understand the situations. I also gained a lot of insight into other's stories, many far more devastating than my own. I wanted them to know that they too are not alone, and that they can escape the poisonous mindsets that they suffer from.

I stopped drinking even more, and began to work on the project. After my time with both of the significant others I was left pretty much friendless, but still maintained a civil relation with a few people. I didn't really worry about them though, because I had something to be passionate about. I spent hundreds of hours creating the story, altering the artwork, and trying to ensure my message was conveyed properly. A whole school year went by, and I had my book printed, and I bound them myself. I even printed the covers myself at work. Then something unfortunate happened after I had uploaded the story in text onto my website. This was about a month into advertising it, and about 2 days before I presented my work.

It was late, and I had been alone drinking at home. My room mates were gone, left for the rest of the summer having had presented days prior. I received an email on my phone, which was directed from my old website's forwarding service. It was a girl who had read my story, and felt inspired about it. She was an expecting mother, and had been so worried about having a child in the horrible environment she was surrounded with. It was the only environment she could provide for this child, but deep in her heart she felt it to be wrong.

In my story I had a few very clear and concise points about parenting trends, and one that was the central theme of the book more than all: if you cannot nurture a child in a positive environment you should not have a child. I went on to explain the shortcomings of public education of sexual reproduction and protections, as well as the sexual pressures experienced in youth. One of my conclusions was that Clayton shouldn't have been born, which was a mirrored mentality I had and still have of myself. I should not have existed. My mother should not have had children. She was Catholic and didn't believe abortion to be ethical, and I was and still am pro choice, but I felt she made the wrong one.

The woman went on to describe how I encouraged her to get an abortion and to spare this child a horrible life she knew it would have. Sober, I would have read the situation differently. I was drunk and alone though, which were both my decisions, and I was in a mental state that was not ready for such a harsh realization. My story had worked; I had spared misery. This child could have grown to be someone of influence, but statistically it would just be another dysfunctional and misunderstood human. We are too often blind to the effects of a childhood environment on a person. We decide that stories we hear of robberies and murders are "just bad people," but there is no such thing as just a bad person. We create these people, socially and economically. Our physiology only allows for so much resilience before we cannot resist the negative drives in our life. These people think it's okay to rob and murder, that there is nothing wrong with them. They think that this is just the hand life has given them, and it breaks my heart to know nothing has changed in this respect. Focused in the limited way that I was on the negatives, I decided I didn't want to influence anymore lives. I barely remember it, but I burnt every book and deleted every file, making sure that I had nothing left in my backups either. I had purged myself of this story.

The next morning was the first hangover of my life. Having scattered memory, I started to piece together what happened. In my deleted messages folder, I found the email from the unnamed girl. She probably doesn't even think about me or my story anymore, but I do think of her. I think of how I was afraid of the change I had worked so hard to find, and I think of how alcohol has effected my life despite my seemingly best efforts to stop it. I made all of these decisions and had to deal with the consequences. I to this day have not finished my degree, nor have I felt any passion or drive to be a creative. I work for a corporation now, still off my medication, and have had some realizations in the past month that have caused winds of change to stir up some of my life.

I'm very aware now that my decisions are mostly influenced by my  imbalances. It is not a weakness, it's a disability. I need to let my pride go and get back onto my medication and take hold of my life again. It took some inspiration from someone who hasn't been fooled by my facade to help me realize that. I guess all that's left is to do it.

college: Part one

My artwork has always been a little dark. I noticed when I was pretty young, decorating a kite in kindergarten, that there might be some issues. My kite was the only one hung up in the hallways that had fangs and blood splatters all over it. There was a long talk had at a conference between my teacher and my buzzed mom.

He clearly has talent, Ms. Sunday. We’re just concerned with the content of his.. drawings.

Let's skip ahead a decade and a half. I'm now attending college at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and up until these years in my life, I've kept all of my morbid and biographical work pretty hidden. I'd show a few people a few things sometimes, but I honestly was so dedicated in High School to the idea that I had to work hard in order to be a great artist. Well, foundation year sort of taught me I already hit that point I wanted to hit. I had some improvement I could make, but it wasn't something school gave me; it was a matter of repetition. Of becoming a machine pumping out 18 hours of work in 3, five times a week. After so long, you don't really have to critically think about it. By the end of my Freshman year I pretty much knew how to make something that conveys a message I want in an "aesthetically pleasing" way.

My Sophomore year introduced freedom, and also came with a choice: what would I major in? There were two different majors I considered.

One was all about science and conveying information, which was something I was really interested in because at this point I was almost certain I was going to become a professor. This was Bio-med, or Biomedical Illustration. Basically scientific illustration, but focused on biological and medical fields.

The other was something that was really near and dear to me, but that I feel a lot of us brush off. It was called TIME, or Technology Integrated Media Environment. If that sounds pretty vague it's because it was named this by design. It was led by a creative that almost seemed to be fluent in the modern distaste for artists. How anyone who even starts out by saying they're an artist seems to get this weird "oh" feeling from anyone who isn't part of a world that's already influenced by art. Her name was Sarah Paul, and she was from New York, which somehow added to her character for me.

Having my mind made that I was already a great artist helped influence my decision. I figured being humble was just something polite people did for people without our merits. I had a long talk after applying to both majors (along with drawing, which I was good at but seemed like it would be more of what I had been doing) with Sarah Paul, and she convinced me to accept the TIME election for my major. It was something I truly wanted anyways but just didn't know was a real possibility for me. To play with technology, even so far as to break it just to see what I could make it do after.

I was accepted in both, but opted for TIME. The first sophomore year was now going to be filled with hours of coding, breaking electronics, soldering, and video editing. So much fucking video editing. I became sort of keen with meticulously editing my work, frame by frame. I didn't mind spending a lot of time on a piece, because it always paid off. I was also lucky enough at this time to not have to balance a job with school. I could just spend a literal full day on one project and not worry about other obligations.

At this point I was still, for the most part, concerned about doing what I was "supposed" to. I had been sober up to this point in my life, mostly because of my alcoholic mother's influence on me from a very young age. I was very aware that it had the power in my family to destroy a life, and I swore to myself I would never grow up to be that person. I'd never tried drugs, I never drank, and I was always doing what I had to, which stressed me out and gave me no outlet but artwork and avoiding people as much as possible. I was on medication for melancholic depression at the time too, so those bouts of misery and lack of motivation weren't so potent, if they appeared at all.

I was on top of my game, putting a lot of thought and time into my work. I loved TIME, and I loved the idea of doing anything that I wanted to do with my life after my degree. Then came some pretty terrible news: they were phasing TIME out because the board "didn't really understand what TIME was about" and "didn't see the potential for the major in the art world," which in my opinion, was a huge mistake for the college. The digital courses were either shifted into video & photography curriculum, or just phased out completely. The other classes were spread into other portions of the school, most of them seeming obsolete and being cancelled. They gave us the option to keep going and be the "last class of TIME" or to change majors, after reapplication. I didn't make up my mind until the next summer.

I changed my major to Biomed, and with a few summer meetings, was accepted and given a quick introduction into the curriculum. This meant my second sophomore year, and a whole new group of friends and new environments. New ways to be thought of and new ways to think. I started that year thinking that I was still a great traditional artist, and the first assignment ended up tearing down that mentality completely. I had spent the small amount of time that I was accustomed to drawing, and it showed. Everyone else did far better than me, both in realism and content. I was shocked, and it knocked me off my high horse. It became a new challenging environment, and I would soon learn was one of the hardest working departments in the school. I felt like it was what I needed to progress, now that I knew I wasn't happy where I was.

I always thought I wasn't competitive.

These new stresses started to affect me in ways I didn't expect. I seldom slept, and I ate poorly if I ate at all. Money became tight, and I had to visit my mother every so often to ask for money. She handed it over gladly, but only after I stuck around for her to drink just enough to be friendly but not yet violent. Those were some of the darkest moments of that year. The stress and physical strain began to affect my thoughts about myself too, ultimately leading to me flushing my medication down the toilet (something that is extremely irresponsible and is a serious threat for our water supply). I started to sink, not really letting myself connect with my new peers, and letting old ones drift. I felt, at the time, like I had it all together. I think I knew deep down I was setting myself up for a plummet. It seems to happen when I neglect my health.

The year went on, and I did well in almost all of my projects. It was another year of school before anything changed. Junior year, I was still not doing well physically or mentally, and one night made a decision that's changed my life, probably for the worse. I got to my aunt's, and was sarcastically offered a drink by my uncle, who was a little tipsy from his night bowling. At this point I had been keeping this facade of total control up, even so much as to convince someone I was stable enough for a relationship. She was at a party, and I was not.  I wasn't worried or anything, but I just knew at that point I couldn't go on ignoring my problems and suppressing my memories. I thought this, at least, not knowing any ways to cope besides my old ways. Then I took that drink. Baffled, my uncle seemed to go through a cycle of emotions and facial expressions, before pouring me my first drink at 22 years old. He went to sleep, and I kept pounding whisky shots. Then I moved on to cups of whisky. Soon I was swimming in a sea of memories from my childhood, and the deep dark things I had not yet come to terms with. I started to text the girl I was in a relationship with all of these horrible things that happened to me. She was overwhelmed, not having expected my life to be as grim. That was my fault though; I was the one that was lying with my personality.

I woke up under a table, with a slightly blurry mind. I was still a bit drunk. I woke up to see the damage I caused, and apparently a new relationship I had started to forge. I was saying so much to this poor girl that a friend of hers, who happened to be in Biomed, reached out to me through email. She was at the same party, and knowing that the girl I was talking to was a bit too drunk and blindsided to deal with me, decided to take action. She sent me her number and told me to talk to her about it. Reviewing my messages, I told her stories and thoughts that I hadn't spoken out loud or even accepted as reality. This was a very large turning point for me. A lot of my relationships and mentalities were uprooted and a lot of character traits I had ignored started to surface. This new person had sympathized with my drunken form, because she too had a chemical imbalance in her brain.

That next morning, after sobering up and questioning everything, I felt a bit of relief. I didn't really understand why, but I did. I drove up to meet the girl I had been in a relationship with, and she told me she wasn't capable of being with someone with so much baggage. I honestly don't blame her, because she came from a small town with a good family. How could she possibly deal with someone with a mood disorder that wasn't on medication? I left the room, sort of shocked though, because at the time it felt almost like I wasn't wanted. Like I couldn't be understood for who I was hiding or what I had been through. It was rough, and I left the room with such an energy about myself that it made her chase me. Yeah, like in the movies. I was thinking it as I heard her call my name, how cheesy it would be if I was in a movie. How this thing doesn't really happen in real life, and how this is probably the only way to react to distress that she knows.

I kept walking.

I went into the Biomed studios, and there was the other girl. I had to say something; the obligation felt obvious. I walked up to her desk, she pulled her headphone out of one ear and read my face. She immediately knew what I was thinking.

you don’t have to say anything. I’m glad to help.

I thanked her, and went to my desk. Sat there for a minute, and then gathered my projects and went home. My memories from about this day on started to become increasingly hazy, as I had become accustomed to drinking a bit every so often, and to allowing disassociation to foil any recollection of my time. All I know is that someone who was completely accepting of who I was and how I thought existed, and it was perplexing. To go from a state of unwanted and misunderstood, like every teen feels, to a state of being understood and even encouraged to be myself, was honestly panic inducing. I spent my time the same as I had the rest of that year, working hard, stumbling through awkward conversations with my classmates, and cancelling almost all of my social plans. She was persistent though. Always in my head.

We started to hang out more and more. She helped bring me out of my shell. I got back onto medication and everything seemed to be going well. We were together the rest of that year, and I ended up not being able to deal with her untreated chemical imbalances. I had adopted a sort of optimistic existentialist persona, accepting and often shouting the joyous news that god was dead and nothing mattered. I knew I could make my own life up, and I knew that all pain was temporary. So I said goodbye to her, focusing on my pain, and being glad it was the summer and I didn't have to see her for another 2 months. I figured it would make it easier for both of us, never really getting closure but having time to form a callus.