The three hardest words to say are, “I need help,” even more difficult when you’re an artist, in a feverish industry more about judging than relating (see American Idol).
This beautiful, talented artist is my current hero, Michael Angelakos, lead singer of Passion Pit, one of my favorite bands of the 21st century.
Please find the time this weekend to read this article: Cover Story: Passion Pit
Angelakos’ description of his journey in promotion of Bring Change 2 Mind, a non-profit working to end the stigma around mental illness:
One foot in front of the other. Onward.
Today we’ll move the pin down one.
The hammies were complaining during the stationary bike warm-up, and now on the leg curls, they don’t wanna move.
I can do this.
Look left. Look right. All alone in the gym.
There it goes!
Fluid, don’t smack against the arse. Smooth, smooth, smooth…
Ironically, the song I have set for this week’s Turn It Up Tuesday comes on. Fitting, as we’re moving now to the quads.
I growl through upper body presses, then sigh towards the padded stand.
Lower ab leg curls.
As I stabilize my position to bang out crunches, a heavily obese woman enters the gym. She’s got proper gym clothes on, her water bottle is filled, and she’s motioning towards the cardio machines.
I’m so proud of her, showing the lazy skinny punks how to self-care. Her arrival encourages me to push through side crunches, to the point of making my injured right hip sing.
We did it.
I take my time giving Bobby his weekly bath, and suddenly I remember, I HAVE THERAPY TODAY.
I rush him so I can shower. He’s visibly relieved.
As I happen to swipe my smartphone screen, I notice the misread: two thirty not twelve thirty.
We’ve got time for pancakes!
2:36PM I arrive at the therapist’s office.
“I left the house an hour ago, I swear! Time always works against me…”
We shuffle into the room.
I remove a copy of Night Walkers from my purse. “You might recognize someone in there.”
She chuckles, then proceeds to read my short story, Tokyo Rose.
She looks up. “Metaphorically, what am I examining with this first page?”
“Consider it…the event horizon of a suicide.”
She laughs at the right parts, marvels at the word play, notes my editorializing. I’m pleased that she gets it.
After she’s done, I review with the therapist how this work stems from the memory of my last suicide attempt, now four years ago.
“What does this mean for you now?” Alluding to fame, fortune, popularity.
“It’s me confessing my truths. I put the work out there, because, mainly, I’m not long for this world.”
She mentions Stevie Smith and Nick Drake. I mention Michael Angelakos.
“So it seems that…knowing you’re not long for this world, helps you be part of it?”
I tell the therapist I’m visiting with a spiritualist to understand further the metaphysical dynamic of my existence. As we speak, I’m thumbing through a copy of the DSM-V. She encourages my interest in the science behind psychosis, but reminds me, the DSM is a tome put together by psychiatrists under the influence of pharmaceutical companies.
I mention the show happening tomorrow. She’s visibly proud, but sees I’m not.
I then recall the last time I had a grand event occur involving my art, I ended up in the HPU.
Knowing this, we design a skeletal plan of approach: “How are you going to keep safe?” I offer my initial strategy. The therapist approves of my suggestions. “Give yourself permission to refuse anything that you know will upset you. Allow yourself to be emotional, if you have a reaction.”
“Just remember…you can express yourself, just don’t touch anybody.”
I flip to Bipolar Disorder. “I wish We weren’t the new bogeymen.”
I smirk. “Bipolar is the new gay.”
“We should start making T-shirts. ‘Bipolar Is The New Gay’!”
“Yes.” I clasp my hands, “We just want to belong.”
She laughs. “You’re going to be alright.”
Sigh. “I know.”
I can do this.
Continuing this week’s exploration of the artistic struggle, I thought it’d be fun to dig through the crates, find a composition about “struggling,” and explore the emotions and events which evoked the piece. I shall take the phenomenological approach and react first, then reflect.
How old was I when I composed this? 2006…it’s 2015 now…that puts me at 29 years of age. Ooh! What a particularly conflicting year. End of February-beginning of March-ish, I had received an acceptance letter from The Graduate School at Penn State University. I was absolutely stoked, so stoked that I jumped onto my motorcycle, burned it to the job site, found my co-worker/secret lover, pulled him aside, and whispered, “I’ve got some big news!” expecting him to be proud of what I was about to relay.
Oh gosh, I remember being filled with excitement, wide eyed and eager to announce this achievement. Emotionally, I was still in that phase of thinking guys I’m fucking care about me as a person, so of course, when he interpreted my excitement as something regarding him and his mediocre achievements in the workplace, I was stunned! Clearly it had to do with me, how is he making it about him??
Dumb silly cunt I was.
The acceptance letter meant two things: one, despite being away from academia for seven years, my past academic achievements coupled with my professional achievements validated a Masters candidacy at one of the top three research facilities in the country, possible PhD if I was so emboldened. Second, my professional achievements since high school had risen me to executive leadership qualification, and all I needed was a Master in something to FINALLY break through The Glass Ceiling.
But again… dumb silly cunt I was.
Instead of taking his lack of care as a cue to tell him to fuck off, I collapsed into a depression. I recall taking a day off to make a three day weekend (I would fake physical illnesses because I was too embarrassed to admit my mental disorder then) and I sat there, a pajama pity party in full swing, writing sad, woe-is-me, nobody-loves-me poetry.
Thank the Universe for Penn State! And thanks to Spirit for trumping Ego, because I’m certain if Ego wrote back to Penn State, Ego would’ve said, “Thanks but I need to work on my career/desperate need for male affection right now.”
Spirit wrote an enthusiastic confirmation letter back, and in August 2006, I moved to State College, PA and became a Nittany Lion.
Reflecting on this poem now, I’m glad I kept it. It demonstrates the inner turmoil of the futility of trying to please Society. I did everything right, I followed all the rules, I followed all definitions of “success,” and despite all my sacrifices, I was not worthy of unconditional love.
It’s what comics fondly call “IGDI Girl.” I had Daddy Issues, but not with my father; it was the macro issue of having excelled in traditionally masculine roles as a woman. At the time, I was the only female salaried employee in the entire division. I ran a crew of twelve, all men. They took orders from me, orders I relayed straight from the executive director, whose weekly meetings I attended and contributed to. The acceptance letter was another stroke on the masculine tally board: I was going for a Master of Science in an economics concentration, not the stuff for girls.
I was 29, single, well-paid, no babies, I owned a sedan and a motorcycle, and I lived in an exclusive condominium. I was living the life!
A man’s life.
Critiquing this poem, I realize in bright technicolor the why of the matter…what man would want a woman who’s better at being a man than he is?
No wonder I was lonely…
I was raised an American.
I physically developed, formulated a personality, practiced social graces, and made friends living abroad, almost entirely outside of the United States of America.
Beyond America, as an American, no one gave a shit if your father was this race, your mother was that ethnicity, and certainly, without a hometown to tout, nobody cared which city/town/state in America your people came from. The determinant of a shared drink at the bierstübe or an all-out beat down was simple: conciliatory manners, meaning, demonstrating respect towards the culture one is ensconced in, for the sake of peace. This is how I came to understand “relationship building.”
Thus, my confusion when I arrived on these shores to find the Americans acting rather…feral…towards each other. As soon as I smiled hello, the marginalization began: What are you? What are your parents? Where do they come from? What neighborhood do you live in? Marginalizing box after box after box instead of just a, ‘nice to meet you’ in response. I thought it was a phase, but, twenty-three years later, that fervent need to make a person fit in a narrow-minded box is still definitive Americana.
Artistically, my race/sex/ethnicity/nationality/sexuality/etc does not matter. I have voiced men, I have voiced South Asians, I have voiced transsexuals through my artistry. It’s because I allow myself to be infused by these cultures that these stories and poems manifest, and manifest with respect to the attributes of the culture.
As an independent author, I had to manage my own marketing, so I tried assimilating into the literary world fold without utilizing Americanism, because it belittles me. If I’m only an [adjective] author, then I’m saying my art is only valuable to [adjective] people, which would be me belittling my target audience, the global community!
The last two months During the summer of 2014, I did decent with general sales but abysmal in representing my work without getting forced into a social cubby-hole. I incurred derogatory statements regarding my sex, my race, my ethnicity, and those statements then erroneously defined the quality of my novel.
While I try to respect the perspective of those who protect their “-ness,” I won’t allow my principles to be subjugated to the -ness. Does that make sense? That’s not my crutch; that’s that person’s crutch, and I needn’t lean on it. Here’s a sample of that:
There was an opportunity for I Blew Up Juarez to be featured in one of Tampa Bay’s [adjective] bookstores. This [adjective] bookstore, according to its owner, is the signature bookstore for the area’s [adjective] community. As well, the owner was a contributing committee member for a major area festival celebrating the [adjective] community, and she was THE person to talk to in order to be a featured artist in that festival. Struck gold, right?
The bookstore owner felt her endorsement of my work would be integral to achieving success in the Greater Tampa Bay reading community. It was here in the conversation I started to experience trepidation, as I observed her mentally pushing four boards together around me in the middle of her shop.
A bystander to our conversation felt compelled to declare, “We need to support all [adjective] authors!” He nodded heavily, proud of this statement. He supplemented his declaration by talking about inspiring the future generation of [adjectives], and the struggles of being [adjective].
Very rah-rah-rah this guy! I saw an opportunity and replied, “Thank you for that! I have copies in my car, would you like to purchase one?”
He blinked at me.
He looked at the bookstore owner.
The bookstore owner burned eyes into him.
He looked back to me and declared, “I wasn’t going to buy a book today.”
I retrieved my review copy of I Blew Up Juarez from her weeks later, as it became more evident her intentions were to puppet my [adjective] self, not my artist self. Even if she was a fellow [adjective] person in the literary community, she behaved like a complete asshole.
Unfortunately, it is socially expected to accept marginalization and profitable to -ness it up.
It’s disparaging, but…I suppose I’m the only one who sees it that way.
*: original post 06.24.2014 – edited content and toned down cynicism