Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What's Going On

Too tacky to use as art, but how often am I holding a camera when a pelican launches itself?

When I started this blog, it was intended more for self-amusement than anything else. After a while, I noticed that it was a very handy means of tracking my moods and mental states. But as I've gotten more in the public eye, I've been reluctant to simply hop on the blog and put up a post that says, "I'm feeling crappy because I'm an inferior specimen."

And that's why I haven't been posting much in the past months.

In 2010, I reached a crisis point. I was hospitalized after vomiting blood for three days. This was a stress reaction rather than a gastrointestinal issue, and I was inserted into the public health apparatus. It was disastrous; I was given powerful, addictive, inappropriate medications for just long enough to develop dependency, and then denied them without warning or preparation. They crapped me out of the system without ever telling me what they were doing.

At that point, dealing with my psychiatric issues became my number-one priority in life. Not to go into the (infinitely fascinating) clinical details at this point, but while I am a gentle, peaceful man, I am drawn from the pool that produces killers and suicides, and when I turn that will on myself, blood flows. On one hand I am a bit of a hypochondriac, always wondering if any particular symptom has come to stay or is indicative of further unpleasantness to come. However, there is such a thing as pscychogenic disease, and I get psychogenic diseases like crazy. If I am sufficiently unhappy, my body falls apart, and that is less of an exaggeration than anyone likes.

But, as I said, dealing with this became my primary occupation at the end of 2010. The missus very generously arranged for me to consult with a good therapist who has taken me on for free. Because she's a generous and committed person, of course, but also because I'm a fun client. We have a very relaxed, unconventional therapeutic relationship, and it's worked out very well for me. She isn't responsible for my therapy, but she keeps me focused and in touch with reality, and there have been times when her guidance has proven invaluable..

Up until last spring, the course of my work went very well indeed. My shrink says she's never seen improvement like that before, and I reply that I'm turning my artistic skills on the medium of myself. But  there's a concept called 'the healing crisis.' This can take a lot of forms, but what I'm dealing with is perspective. I've made a lot of serious progress, tackled issues I'd thought unconquerable. I'm not scared of gatherings of people anymore, I'm not overwhelmed by crowds. I'm developing some real affection for myself, and have reached a point with my self-care where the missus is no longer worried about leaving me at home alone for extended periods of time.

And that's been the problem right there. I've gotten well enough to get a clearer view of how I look from the outside, and Jesus. It isn't as simple as just being messed up. Every psychiatric issue I have is connected to some unusual mental or spiritual gift. This isn't typical, it's something out of a story rather than a textbook, but there it is.

Last spring I was finally facing the idea that I might have to apply for SSI and Social Security and so on. And it started getting to me. It wasn't the only thing, but it was the extra thing that was getting to me. I have had people telling me to do this for years, I had even been contacted by a homeless outreach program and began the process at that point, but I'd let it go.

Among other things, my shrink spent a long time working for Social Security, evaluating cases. She was one of the people who decide who deserves a check and who doesn't. So when she told me, very seriously, that I needed and deserved disability income, I had to take her seriously.

That was when I started losing weight. By early summer, I was down to about 180, which is light for someone my size. Anything less than that is clinically underweight. That was when I got into a dipsy-doo when an old friend of mine decided to perform class realignment surgery on me, and move me from the bottom one percent to the top.

And I found out that I do not belong there. I had the privilege of doing some interesting, challenging work there, but work turns out to be the least important thing when it comes to fitting into the world.

I had never understood that before. I always assumed that the work -- whatever it was -- was the most important thing, when actually getting along is the most important part of getting along.

I don't get along, and I don't go along, and that is how it is. I cannot act effectively except under the dictates of my will and principles. Not a goddamned thing to be done about it. It is a matter of both nature and nurture, and it has determined the course of my life through infancy, and now I'm nearly fifty years old and it's just dawning on me why I never was able to fit in, and it is a problem that will not be resolved.

Assuming it's a problem. When I explained to my dad the nature of my dilemma, he said, "Well, I'll take the blame for everything else, but I take the credit for that."

And I have been told by a number of people that a big part of my problem is that I live in the US, or even just in the wrong part of the US. In a country with either a more progressive educational system, or a comprehensive health care system that might have picked up on my psychiatric conditions in high school or even elementary school, things might have been different. As it is, I got PTSD instead of an education, and I didn't get that diagnosed until it almost killed me. On the other hand, I might have been born under conditions where I couldn't get glasses, and that might have croaked me in childhood. Woulda coulda shoulda, but shit.

So the stress is currently settled in my neck and shoulders. If the pain is bad, I can't sleep, and I sit up, and my neck gets better. When my neck gets better, I can sleep, which makes it get worse. The pain was located in my right side for a few months there. It got better. I got the pukes, and was up all night. The next night I slept like a baby, and woke up with the pain back again, only this time on the left side.

And that's where I'm at right now. Chronic pain that hasn't been looked at by a doctor, irritability, loss of appetite, loss of interest in activities, etc, etc. I have begun the process of applying for disability, and that's one of the sources of my current malaise. It's forced me to actually recognize that my condition isn't something I'm going to just shrug off one day, and that my life of semi-poverty is growing more and more difficult for me.

So that's the bad news. But there is good news.

First off, even though I'm at a low point in my personal cycle, I'm still a lot better off than I would have been even a year or two ago. I've accumulated enough of a sense of self not to be completely overwhelmed by this.

But that is weak good news, "Well, you still have your thumb," good news. I have real good news.

My years of stewing at a slow simmer seem to be paying off. The fact of the matter is that I haven't heard of anyone with my fucking career arc. Every time I have received any notice regarding my work, my response has been to freak out and go back to practicing even harder. And my work is getting out into the world anyway.

Who gets approached by a gallery owner for their first show? Who else has a publisher come up to them and say, "Hey! You! Start writing!" I mean, I went from "I should try to push this novel on agents," to, "I'm not going to read your outline because you had me with the proposal," with absolutely no effort on my own behalf. My first professional sale? The editor found me at a workshop. (Viable Paradise, and it was WONDERFUL.) The only thing I've done on-purpose was start reading (my own work out-loud to audiences), and that has taken on a life of its own. Basically, my 'career' has been a string of benevolent muggings induced by friendship as much as anything else.

Right now, if I do something, and I like it, it gets produced on a professional level. Sometimes I do it myself, sometimes I work at the Big Fancy Corporate level. Right now, I am operating within sniffing distance of public broadcasting, which is as close to a respectable cultural institution as our sorry nation currently features. I've gotten the kind of approval from the kind of people that I really wanted, and I don't need to prove to myself that I'm a real artist anymore. I ain't the best in the world, but I"m good enough and I'm getting better.

And right now I am working on three projects that have me engaged, excited, and hopeful.

My second novel, Helping Henry, is a development of my stories published in November of 2012 as part of the collection We Are Now, currently available from your ebook retailer. It's a consciously commercial volume, intended to please and enrich an audience rather than perform surgery on myself. I'm just about done with it, and the response from my writer's groups has been more positive than for anything I've ever written. And it was written at the request of a publisher, so it is coming out. I even get to do the cover, which I did before I started writing the book. That, folks, is the kind of creative freedom you don't get every day.

In the visual arts, my new series started as a response to a crashed computer and desperate deadlines. It's heavily processed photographs of East Bay urban landscapes -- the picture up-top was taken on a shooting expedition -- rendered in gray tones, intended to be reproduced at a small size. The goal is to have somewhere over a hundred of them before I start thinking about doing a show. It's funny -- they have the same feel I was trying for with my last series, but using straight photography seems elegant rather than lazy, as if the effort I was putting into constructing the images was just me getting in my own way.

And they're going to be part of a book. The way my last series of prints grew out of my first novel, these have their roots in project number three.

This one is a doozy.

When I had my gallery show in Montana, a jazz band played at the opening. They were incredible, but so avant-garde I was just barely able to appreciate them. They were great, but they were extremely challenging, operating at a genuinely high level. At the end of the evening I performed with two members of the band, and it was an amazing experience. I came back to the Bay Area knowing that I had to do more work like that, and wishing that I could do it with those particular musicians.

Well, I wasn't the only one who thought something special happened that night. They got in touch with me. We're going to do a studio project, and we are going to do a full-length live show based on my three readings on the subject of violence that I did for Lip Service West. And that will be assembled as a chapbook with a selection of photos from my East Bay Gray series. I'll be writing about all this in more detail and with links.

But there you have it. Essentially, I am very good at a few things that may or may not ever make me a living, and I am terrible at conducting my life, so terrible I actually require supervision, and thrive or fail  greatly in response to the care I'm given by my friends and loved ones, or 'oaf wranglers,' as I call them. I don't fit in to conventional society at all, yet silly as it sounds I am slowly becoming a rather interesting cultural figure.

I am simultaneously at what I regard as the bottom and the top of society. My best chance at not being a bum is being a celebrity. I am in debt and applying for benefits, but if I walk out of the house in a good mood perfect strangers treat me as if I'm hot shit. After a lifetime of being the token creepy dude, I am now a magnetic personality. And this is all warping my brain. And that, folks, is why I haven't been posting much. I'll try and be better in the future.