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.
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.
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.