And Now For Something Completely Different

In case you didn’t know, September is Suicide Awareness Month.  I know, fun times!  (Many trigger warnings on suicide ahead, because that’s pretty much all we’re going to talk about here, so if you need to dip out, I more than understand.)

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, then you know I’ve struggled with Depression off and on my whole life, and that this is a subject that is very important to me.

If you suffer from Depression, then you know how hard it is to describe it to someone who’s never had it.  It’s so much more than being “sad”.  Depression makes you feel like negative space in the shape of a human, an entity that can’t even muster the energy to cry anymore, where it feels like it doesn’t even matter how much you don’t matter.  It’s incredibly difficult to reach out for help when you’re at the bottom of that well.

So!  I’m going to pause from dick jokes and judging people’s eyebrows for the week and share something a little (a lot) different with you, and then we can discuss, if that’s cool.  It’s something that I wrote on the subject of suicide.  Two somethings, actually.

They’re, oh my god, poems that are in this month’s issue of The Hunger journal.  I know.  Poems!  Just bear with me.

Like all sad/angry girls in high school, I was both a painter and a poet.

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Acrylic and tempura on 26″ x 24″ board, 12th grade.  What parent wouldn’t be thrilled to have their 17-year old daughter bring this one home?  “Look what our little girl made in school!”

I started painting again last year and started writing poetry again a couple months ago after a 25-year hiatus.  Poetry and painting were the only things I was even semi-decent at in high school, and they were really the only reasons I ever bothered to show up to class.

I wasn’t sure if I still had it in me at all, so I gave it a shot and submitted a few new poems to just a handful of journals.  I was truly blown away when The Hunger accepted two of them and gave them a safe and supportive home.  These are actually my first published poems ever.  (At 43!  It’s never too late, friends.)

These two poems are about the early deaths of two of my favorite painters.  Click the links in pink below to read the poems on The Hunger journal’s site:

Death, Jackson Pollock

About:  Jackson Pollock struggled with what they now believe was Depression and Bipolar Disorder, and self-medicated with much, much alcohol.  Famous for his “drip paintings”, he died in a drunk driving car crash at the age of 44.  (44!  For the love of Zod, he was my age.)  It was officially declared an accident, but witness accounts say he crashed the car deliberately.

His mistress, Ruth Kligman, who was also in the car, survived and went on to be the mistress of Willem deKooning, another one of my favorite artists.  Willem deKooning’s wife referred to Kligman as “the pink mink”.  I would have certainly called her worse.  Kligman’s best friend, Edith Metzger, was also killed in the crash.

 

Death, Mark Rothko

About:  Mark Rothko had a successful career as an artist.  Like way, way successful – for his entire career.  Famous especially for his red “color fields”, he died at the age of 66 after suffering with Depression and slashing his arms with his painter’s knife until he severed an artery (as well as taking an overdose of barbituates).  Alone, on the floor in his kitchen, he died one of the most successful artists of the 20th century, from the very same painter’s knife that he used to make his art.

I can’t take that.  I cannot take that image.  As an artist, it haunts me in my spine.  His death makes me cry every single time I think about it or look at one of his paintings, and I cried off and on for a whole day when I wrote the last lines of this poem.

Depression doesn’t discriminate, whether you’re wildly successful or living in the gutter.  It’s an equal opportunity disorder, and it’s killing people every day.  Suicide rates in the U.S. are actually rising.  Depression is a health crisis and a goddamned epidemic.

I’ve written another dozen of these poems and I’m planning to make a chapbook of them along with creating accompanying paintings about artists who left us too soon due to untreated mental illness.  (I’m hoping to donate the profits to mental health charities if I can find someone to publish it.  I don’t know what else to do, I just feel like I have to do something.)      

As author Jenny Lawson, The Bloggess we all know and love says, “Depression lies.”  It tells you that everyone would be better off without you.  That this is just the way things are.  That’s there’s nothing you can do to stop it.  That you’re out of options.

Let’s all say it together:  Depression lies.

I wrote these poems because if you’re an artist, there can often be an added obstacle to seeking help.  Everyone tells you that as an artist you’re supposed to be “tortured” and that it’s normal.

Maybe you feel that you write or paint or create from the darkest part of yourself, and you’re afraid that if you “fix” that part, that you won’t be able to make your art anymore.  If your entire identity is your art, then not being able to make art anymore is like death in itself.

You suffer in silence because Depression tells you that getting treatment will change who you are for the worse, even when you’re so low that you curse each new day that you wake up alive, angry and numb that you have to face yet. another. day.  That’s when Depression whispers in your ear, “Hey – you think this is bad?  It’ll be even worse if you do something about me!”

You suffer in silence because you think “tortured” is just the way artists and writers are.  Maybe you’ve been taught that suffering builds character.  Maybe you think were meant to live this way.  You’re just one of those people who “spends too much time inside their head”.  These are lies that Depression has told me I don’t know how many times in my life when I was down in the well.  Just suffer.  It’s who you are.

If you’re trying to make a living from your art, you more than likely have limited or no access to mental healthcare on top of everything else.

What do I want?

I want the normalization of the “tortured artist” and “tortured writer” to stop being a thing. 

I want people to have access to resources that teach them ways to take care of themselves and make their art at the same time.

I want to start a dialogue about Depression, suicide, and artists, be they painters, writers, poets, dancers, sculptors, or musicians – and what the communities that rely on and serve artists can do to help:  schools, galleries, writing workshops, museums, art fairs, record labels, dance studios, and community centers.

I want posters in classrooms, formal discussions in about how to spot Depression in ourselves and our peers, mental health lessons to be added to curricula, support groups, foundations, you name it.  I want people to talk about this instead of suffering in silence.

And I’ll tell you what else – I want the people who make money off the backs of artists to pony up for it.  I want them to give away free ad space for suicide hotlines in their magazines and journals, foster a network of mental health professionals that they can refer their artists to, hell, just ask their artists how they’re doing, donate some profits from gallery sales or book sales to mental health charities, start a charity of their own.  

Take care of yourselves, folks, and if you’re struggling, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.  Don’t listen to the lies that Depression puts into your head.

Thanks for listening.  I promise next week we’ll be back to dick jokes and eyebrow judging and whatnot.  🙂

When Your Pants Shrink on The 250th Wash

“Don’t get on the scale.  Ever.  It’s just a number, and it doesn’t really correspond with your health or your fitness level.  So throw it out!  Never step on a scale again!”

I had an eight year period of my life where I embraced this philosophy.  After being fairly small for most of my life, I gave up the scale in my late 20s and what do you think happened?

Did I feel unchained from watching my figure?  Did I gain a newfound sense of confidence?

No.

I put on forty pounds.

I know what you’re thinking.  It was probably because I was putting on muscle!  Was I really fit under that doughy layer of marshmallow fluff?

For some people, I’m sure that’s the case, but it was most certainly not the case for me.  I personally chunked up for a few reasons, and none of them had anything to do with having too much muscle mass.

The first reason for My Own Personal Chunkening was that I ate anything I wanted, anytime I felt like it, until I felt uncomfortably full – and I mean packing it in.

Wendy’s Double Cheeseburger, fries, and a Frosty for lunch?  Thank you!  And not just as a treat.  Every day.  Then round off the workday afternoon with some cookies, maybe a bag of chips or two.

Dunkin’ Donuts sausage, egg, and cheese on a bagel as a midnight snack, after already having eaten three meals and two snacks that day?  Please pull forward and pay at the first window.

Brownie sundae at every restaurant meal?  I would order a brownie sundae and when the other person with me would say, “We’ll split it!” I had absolutely no qualms about giving them the look of death, saying, “No,” and then inhaling the sundae like it was my last day on Earth.

People loved this.  Any time I shoved an entire slice of pizza into my mouth, my cheeks expanding out to those of a hamster, they practically applauded.  People love to encourage bad behavior for some reason, I assume so they don’t feel so bad about their own?

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This is a good look and you know it.

The second reason was that I sat at a desk-job all day.  I did zero exercise.  Literally none.  I was so unfit, I was constantly out of breath even just walking fast, and my joints hurt all the time.  Knees, hip joints, even my finger joints.  I wasn’t even 35 and I hurt all over.

The third reason was that I was perpetually very stressed out and under-slept.  I was out playing shows with the band at night and still waking up at 6am for my 8-to-5 day job every morning.  I dragged myself into work in the morning on 2-3 hours sleep regularly, and I was all kinds of messed up and constantly sick.

I was so exhausted that I felt I had earned the right to stuff my face and slowly become one with the couch.  Hadn’t I suffered enough with my financial problems, stressful workload, and unsupportive boyfriend?  The least I deserved was fresh-baked cookies and an episode (or eight) of The Golden Girls.

And I tell ya what, my thick ol’ body onstage with the band?  People loved it, especially the women in the crowd.  They couldn’t believe the confidence I displayed onstage despite my yuuuuuuuuge ass.  They were encouraging, and sweet, and awesome, and always made me feel like a million bucks.  I was never actually as confident as I appeared to be, but I felt like I owed it to women to show them that they could be confident no matter what size they were.

The reality was that deep down, anytime I saw a picture of myself, I would get very upset, delete it, and spend the rest of the day freaking out about my double chin.  Clothes didn’t fit me unless I put on practically head-to-toe Spanx, and I had to wear biking shorts under my dresses so that my thighs didn’t rub together.  I sat down at my kitchen table one time, and snapped a leather belt I was wearing right in half at the back.

I knew I’d put on weight, but I didn’t think it was that much.  As someone who’s exceptionally skilled at living in denial, I made up every excuse in the book when I split a pair of pants that I’d had and worn on a weekly basis for ten years.  “Oh, the washer must have shrunk these!  On the 250th wash!”

I went to the doctor for the first time in a lot of years, and they made me get on a scale.  When the little metal slider thing clicked into place and the number was read aloud, I felt my knees go weak.  I could not believe how much I weighed.  I had estimated that I weighed about 30 pounds LESS than the number that was staring back at me on the scale.  Holy ballz.  I’m only 5’4″.  When you’re that short, every 5 pounds puts you up at least another dress size.

I had finally had enough of feeling like crap all the time, so I started working out, and kind of watching what I ate.  I lost about ten pounds, and I was really happy with it.  Then the ex-boyfriend dropped a nuclear bomb on my life and I lost ten more pounds in one week.  (Related – I don’t recommend grief-rage vomiting as a diet.)

Then I straightened my ass up, decided I needed to get healthy, and signed up for a paleo local food delivery service and lost another twenty-five pounds.  I started exercising just 15-20 minutes a day, six days a week.  (That paleo diet made me lose weight like crazy.  I literally could not stop losing weight on it, and eventually had to start adding stuff like bread and pasta back in to even maintain my weight.)

I wasn’t surprised at the people told me I looked great with the weight loss, but I was surprised at how many people were total dicks about it.  I mean, really, really surprised.  They would ask outright how much I weighed (something that would NOT have been cool when I was overweight), scrutinized my diet, accused me working out for hours every day, and there was even a rumor going around that I had developed an eating disorder.

When I was inhaling pizza and cheeseburgers until I was so full that it was physically painful and I could barely move, nobody accused me of having an eating disorder.  They cheered me on.  When I stopped eating pizza, people gossiped that I needed to go to a clinic.  It was really weird.

So don’t let random unsubstantiated tips like “Don’t get on the scale!” take over your life.  I get on the scale at least a few times a week so that I know when I need to tone it back on the pies, because it works for me.  Do what works for you.  Paleo worked for me, might not work for you.  Running 10 miles a day might work for you, doesn’t work for me.

And the washer totally shrunk those pants.  On the 250th wash!

How Greg Brady Got My Groove Back

How did we get here?

This is the question that’s been plaguing me since I heard the news that an editor has nominated one of my published pieces for the 2019 Best of The Net Anthology.  The Greg Brady one.

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I know, right?  This was the one that when I submitted it to the journal I thought, “Yeah right.  We’ll see if literally anyone is interested in publishing this weirdo little piece.”

If you’re a regular reader of the blog, then as always, first of all, I’m sorry, and second, you know that I have a scorching case of Imposter Syndrome as a writer.  I barely graduated high school, and I did not attend a single day of college.  I’ve only ever had office day jobs since I was 18.  I’ve always really loved writing, but growing up, nobody besides my ninth grade English teacher ever told me I might be good at it.  I was taught to graduate high school and get a job, preferably something that offered health insurance.  End of story.  So that’s what I did.

People will tell you that nominations and awards are just external reinforcements that don’t matter, but they absolutely DO matter to me.  It’s how the writing community tells me that I might be good at this – and as an Imposter I never think I’m good at this – so it’s tremendously helpful when an authority in the writing community says, “I think you’re good at this.”

People will tell you that it doesn’t matter that you don’t have a writing education, but I can assure you, especially after mingling with writers for the past year, it DEFINITELY matters.  It matters when someone asks you what your favorite braided essay is and you have to stall for time while you google, “What is a braided essay?”

As it turns out, I write a lot of braided essays.  Who knew?!  I’ve always just called them “rambling”.  There’s a whole writing lingo world out there that I didn’t even know existed.  What the hell is slipstream?  Ekphrastic poetry?  A lyrical essay?  I have to constantly google things to keep up with these people.  I only learned how to use semi-colons this year, after I spent about three months googling, “How do you use semi-colons?”

When you have to put your work up against competition who have a freaking PhD from Stanford, or people who have already put out books with major publishers, or people who are tenured writing professors at Columbia, a lack of education matters.  It is intimidating as hell and it makes you feel like an outsider.  These people all know each other from years of networking through academia and workshops and they are a club.  I spend a tremendous amount of time every day knocking on their doors and introducing myself, hoping they’ll let me in and not ask me how I got there.

So how did we get here?  I’m not sure I’ve ever told you the whole story, but I feel ready to tell it today.

I’ll give you the Non-Cliff’s Notes version, despite the fact that my name is not Non-Cliff.  Oh, but if it were.  I would be such a dick!

Back in “the day” as the kids say, roundabout 2004-2005 when the band was first starting out, I used to send out emails to our mailing list to let people know about upcoming shows and band news.  I would write a couple paragraphs, maybe tell a little story, act like an asshole.  You know, be myself.

One of the people on our mailing list was Audra Schroeder, then-music editor for The New Times in Broward/Palm Beach.  She emailed me and said she liked my writing voice, and did I want to freelance for the magazine?  Maybe write a band review or something about upcoming concerts?

You should have seen the look on my face.  Someone wanted to pay me to write something?  So I did.  Working with Audra was a blast.  Eventually a new editor came in, and we didn’t mesh well at all (he edited the term “local yokels” into a piece I wrote about one of my favorite local bands), so that was the end of freelancing for New Times.  I’m touchy about the use of the term “local yokels”, apparently.

Then I started a little myspace blog for the band where I could air out my unedited thoughts on a daily basis, and I was really surprised at how well it was received.  I mean really surprised.  Eventually The New Times declared my blog “The Best Blog in South Florida”.  Holy crap-balls.  I had to leave my desk that day and go outside and cry.  (Truth be told, I still cry every time I get an acceptance.)

The blog kept on keepin’ on, and I was getting a really nice following.  I started writing freelance pieces for other local music and culture magazines.  Things were going great.

Then, in 2012, my boyfriend and bandmate/songwriting partner of ten years ran off with one of my best friends, married her, and they started churning out babies together, their gleeful lovey-dovey faces plastered across my social media on a goddamned daily basis while I tried to pick up the shattered pieces of my exploded life.  I had to block, delete, unfriend mutual friends, and eventually burn down all of my social media accounts and create new ones, and even that didn’t stop it.  When I went to see friends’ bands, they were there.  When I went out to brunch, they were there.  When I tried to go to the movies, they were there.  It felt like a nonstop assault.

The hurt, the anger, the humiliation.  It clawed through my body like a wolf and, pardon my French, ate my fucking soul until I was hollow.  It wrenched every creative bone out my body and pounded them into dust.  My writing, my painting, my singing, the band.  Whatever I had was gone.  Dead.

I cast writing and art and music out of my life and climbed into a shell where nothing could hurt me.  I had no desire to ever feel exposed again, in any way, shape, or form.  That part of me was officially over.

And I tell you what, I never thought those things would come back to me, but they did.

After six years of creative silence (and the love and support of my amazing husband), I decided to take a chance and start writing again last year with the promise to myself that I was really going to try this time.  That I owed it to myself to give myself a chance.  Not just start a blog, but send out work for publication, write a book, really put myself out there and dive into the writing community to become a real part of it.  Walk into the big, scary room all by myself and say, “Hi, I’m Maggie.  Let me into your world.”

I started the blog in February 2018 and sent my first piece out for submission on November 26, 2018. Here’s where we’re at today, eight months after that first submission:

I have had sixteen pieces either published or that are awaiting publication this year.

One of those pieces has been nominated for the 2019 Best of The Net Anthology.

I finished writing the damn book, all 73,600 words of it, and it’s currently a semi-finalist for the 2019 Pamet River Prize from YesYes Books.

I have been accepted as a member into The Author’s Guild.

The blog is now read in 62 countries.

Best of all, I’ve got a really awesome group of people who read and comment and subscribe to this blog, and I’m so grateful to all of you who come here to read about whatever I’m pissed off at during any given week.  I treasure, and I mean really treasure, the fact that you take time out of your lives to listen to me ramble about, relive, and work through the stuff that keeps me up at night.  You have no idea how much it means to me.  I do not take your support and friendliness and senses of humor for granted.  You’re all so freaking awesome.

What I want, from all of this, more than anything, is for all of us to not feel alone with our struggles.  You all make me feel less alone with my struggles.  I hope I make you feel less alone with yours.

You can come back from the things that you thought destroyed you.  You can start over.  You can work your ass off and make things happen if you’re willing to take a chance to put yourself out there.  You can pull yourself out of the scorched rubble and rise like a goddamned phoenix from the ashes.

I’m just an uneducated dirtbag who spends too much time inside her own head when she’s not listening to Poison.  Sometimes I write stuff down.  When I don’t know what I’m doing, I google it until I figure it out.

If I can do it, you can do it.