Diagnosis: Foot-in-Mouth Disease

My favorite teachers were always my art teachers, except for that one.  That one that I lamented to a classmate, “Mrs. Strickland is such a bitch – I can’t stand her and her stupid “art should always be beautiful” crap.  If you think art has to be beautiful, then you’re a moron who doesn’t know a damn thing about art.  Why doesn’t she go teach Hygiene or something?”

Then my classmate said, “Umm, you know she’s my mom, right?”

And that’s how I found out Emma was Mrs. Strickland’s daughter.

You know how much I just can’t stand to brag (all evidence to the contrary), but I’ve got an unparalleled knack for putting my foot in my mouth.  I don’t even really have to try that hard, it just sashays into any scene like 1950s Marlon Brando in a stained white t-shirt and starts smashing lightbulbs.

If you have something you care about, like and respect, please feel free to count on me to say the most awkward thing about it after having mistakenly thought we were on the same page about it.  Oh, you like Paris Hilton and named your baby after her?  How…interesting!  After I just spent ten minutes trashing her.

I used to try to backpedal when this happened, like I did with Emma when I’d responded to this mom business with, “Oh, uhh.  Well, I mean, she’s actually really nice!”

Even though Emma was only 15 years old at the time, she gave me that look of, “Don’t patronize me.  Just take your awkward medicine and live with how uncomfortable you just made both of us.”

It has taken me years to understand that look, that sometimes you just have to exist in a bubble of discomfort until it passes.

In a recent foot-in-mouth incident, I was forced to attend a seminar on healthy lifestyle habits that turned out to be one long sales pitch from a Real Housewives of Orange County-looking chiropractor who wanted to sell me magnetic shoe insoles to solve every health problem under the sun.

If a chiropractor has helped you in your life, that’s great.  I just don’t like being told that I’m going to learn about healthy lifestyle habits and then get the hard-sell on magnets – unless it’s that weird guy who’s on The History Channel all the time.  He’s like a train wreck I can’t look away from, like The Hogan Family after they replaced Valerie Harper with Sandy Duncan.

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The next day I walked into my office and someone asked how the seminar had gone.  My coworker butted in and he and I answered at exactly the same time, only he said:

“I was impressed.  It’s exactly what me and my wife need.  I signed us both up and we start on the whole regimen next week!”

And I said – at exactly the same time:

“It was some hard-sell, snake oil bullshit from a chiropractor who looked like a reject from the blow-up doll factory.  Yeah, no.  I didn’t sign up for her magic beans.”

I may have used air quotes around the words “magic beans” for effect.  Maybe (yes).

I can tell you, the ensuing silence clung to the air like a dog fart.  And not one of those dog farts from a beautiful dog.  It was a junkyard dog fart.  A fart from a dog that eats a steady diet of discarded, rotting mob victim-flesh and spent motor oil.  The kind of dog fart that makes you banish even a beloved dog from your dining room and think less of them as a family pet from that moment on.  A dog fart of destruction.

Did I immediately backpedal?  No – this time I didn’t.  Because I believed in every word I had just said.  I hadn’t said it to insult my coworker – I said it because I truly felt this magnet saleswoman was a scam artist and should be called out for it.  I had no idea he was going to barge into our conversation.  Nobody had even asked him his opinion to begin with.

So I let the dog fart sit in the room, and did nothing to dispel it.  I didn’t say, “Oh, I was just kidding!  I’ve actually heard great things about those magnet soles!” like I would have years ago.

Because sometimes you just have to sit with the discomfort and let it be uncomfortable.

As a lifelong codependent and people-pleaser, this can feel like the hardest thing in the world to do.  To let someone be mad at you and then just sit with it?  Not cow-tow to them to try to make things all better?  Not rush in to smooth things over?

It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.  Say it with me, out loud:

“It’s not your job to make everybody feel better.”

I’m not saying be rude – far from it.  Just stop making it your job to fix everything.  Be okay with the discomfort, and don’t change the subject to distract everyone from the discomfort.

Man, that Hogan Family went downhill after Valerie Harper got fired.

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.  🙂

OCD Gets a Job at The Shoe Store

I worked at the “alternative” shoe store in the mall for one day in the late 90s.

I had to quit the alternative shoe store because of herpes.

Bubblin’, tubblin’ herpes, which I imagine is probably the same reason Rob Thomas left Matchbox 20, but that’s neither here nor there… nor herpes, nor therpes.

Regardless, nobody likes a gossip.  Except for me.

The day started out like any other first day on the job at a shoe store.  First, the manager showed me the various ways to remove a shoe box from a very tall shelf.  Many boxes hit me in the head, and I was told that I would get used to it.

Then I learned that you always put the smallest size shoe on display, because every shoe looks cute when it’s tiny, which explains why I’m so disappointed every time I try on shoes and the size 9 doesn’t look as cute as the size 5 did on the display.

I learned that if you didn’t sell three pairs of socks for every 1.5 pairs of shoes you sold, you were in some serious trouble at the weekly meeting.  It’s called meeting your “Hosiery Ratio” which was, coincidentally, my nickname that one fateful night years earlier on the Collective Soul tour bus.

I couldn’t help but notice that the manager had a gigantic erupting herpes sore on her mouth.  And by “I couldn’t help but notice,” I mean “I literally could not stop staring at it.”

I realize this is something that was out of her control, and that it totally sucked that she had to deal with having this thing, but as I may have previously mentioned, my Obsessive Compulsive Disorder majors in checking and re-checking things and minors in germophobia, with mouth stuff being by far the worst for me.  Up-close photographs of mouths horrify me.  I have a hard time watching people eat and not gagging.  If someone gets food on their face, I probably will gag.  Eating sounds?  NO THANKS.  If I can feel your breath on me, it takes everything I have to not physically recoil and shudder.

In short, I’m a blast at dinner parties.

This thing was waaaaay beyond your average sore.  It was huge.  It was shiny and red and purple and yellow, glowing like a rainbow across a sky of Vaseline.  This thing was so packed with fluid that I swear I heard it make a sloshing sound when she turned her head.  She could have kept goldfish in there.

Every time she moved her head, that thing threatened me like a spring-loaded volcano, where the slightest movement would have caused its magma to explode with a fury that would paint the walls of the entire universe with its viral anger.  You could have seen this thing throbbing and pulsing from the International Space Station, and the only thing that could have rivaled it would have been the Great Wall of China or James Franco’s ego.

At that moment, my OCD saw this thing as the Heartbeat of America.  It was today’s Chevrolet.

Just in case there’s any confusion here, this thing was large and in charge and, as such, from this moment forward I will be referring to it as Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds.

The manager started to train me on the cash register.  It was at this time she felt an overwhelming desire to touch Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds, every three seconds while sucking air between her teeth and saying, “Oooh.  Oww.  It’s just so tingly.  Oooh.  Oww.  It’s so swollen.  Oooh.  Oww.  Ohh.  I WISH THIS THING WOULD JUST BURST!”

And in between tapping, fondling, and groping Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds, she was touching the buttons on the cash register with the same finger, leaving a greasy Vaseline fingerprint on each key that she touched.

Touch herpes sore, oooh, touch register.

Touch herpes sore, oww, touch register.

Touch herpes sore, I WISH THIS THING WOULD JUST BURST, touch register.

I had to find a focal point on the other side of the room so I didn’t pass out in a cold sweat right there on the Doc Martens display.

Then she said, “Now why don’t you try it?” and stepped back from the register.

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I froze.  It was like she had just given birth to my worst nightmare and I had to eat the placenta.  The screaming from inside my brain sounded like a freight train in my ears.  Everything in the room began to move in slow-motion.  From outside my body I saw my hand rise up to the register buttons and press them, and then a siren went off in my head:  DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!  FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DON’T TOUCH YOUR FACE!

Yes, I feel bad for anyone who has to deal with those sores.  It must be awful.  I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.  All the more reason that a person shouldn’t try to spread it around by being unhygienic as fuck.

I finished the register training and made an excuse to go to the bathroom.  I had already decided that if they didn’t have a satisfactory soap in there that I would just have to chop off the ol’ finger.  I mean, really, what’s one little finger sacrificed to Mt. Vesuvius, Destroyer of Worlds?  I’ve got nine others!

I made a cocoon of liquid soap for my finger and let it soak in while I mentally sang the “Happy Birthday” song twice in my head, which I heard somewhere years before, was the perfect amount of time to adequately kill viruses.  Then I did it again.  And again.  And again.

Then my OCD and I grabbed my purse, got the hell out of there, and never looked back.