Exposure

I generally peruse Pinterest when I’m at work on my overnight shift in between talking to planes, even though it’s advised that I don’t use Pinterest at work because it may be considered “distracting” or an unhealthy use of social media. Pinterest to me is not social media, rather, a drug and the only drug I am currently hopelessly addicted to. I find inspiration for new drawings or paintings, compare myself to other artists, look at outfits I’ll never buy, and save dozens of paint swatch ideas for a house I don’t own, but when I do will have 37 different rooms of different colors; it’s an oversaturation playground for people such as myself to become hopelessly lost in the world of elevated expectations.

Recently – and more aggressively – I find advertisements from Pinterest directed to me for handmade coffins available through hyperlink on an Etsy page. Each time I log onto Pinterest – every five lines of clickbait or so – is an ominous albeit beautifully crafted coffin, advertised as reclaimed wood (and, of course, customizable). I’ve never clicked the advertisement for the fear of being redirected to the page, thus creating more coffin traffic to my paint swatches and floral designs, but I thought back long and hard to what other internet activity suggested me as a potential demographic for such a product in the first place. I honestly have found myself torn between being offended, or simply impressed to see a niche market for handmade, reclaimed wooden coffins available through a craft site.

 

It was almost refreshing to see mortality advertised to me in such a comfortable, soft manner. Alternatively speaking, however, the oversaturation of craft and talent and accomplishment has bled over into the afterlife: “We’re all gonna die anyway, but make sure you stay dead in this chic, custom coffin!” Our media platform has run rampant with options and blasts of what we each can do – a lot of which is amazing – but I would be lying if I said I didn’t find myself often comparing my own abilities as a writer and an artist to the constant flowing stream of relevant social media content.

Sometimes I forget that even as a part of this huge planet that somehow functions in its own way of synchronized entropy, I exist within my own microcosm that most of the known universe will never have the experience of viewing. And even if, for whatever reason, my entirety of life was exposed, no one can truly know the wholeness that is myself.

It makes me wonder then, as an artist, as a writer – creator in general – why I often find myself feeling so pressured to live up to a standard that ultimately proves nothing in the long run. Call me a cynic, but my exposure in this world since birth has either been censored without option, or exposed without filter. The only difference as an adult it he introduction of social media, which has mastered the art of over-exposing filtered content. It’s like playing God or controlling the weather each time I post to Instagram or Facebook, showing the world only what I want it to see and then captioning it as raw and true; we’re all guilty of it. What makes me laugh in a sad way – so sad that it’s humorous type of way – is that I’ve experienced things in my short lifetime that many would consider fake, and that I am so conditioned to be used to that I don’t bat an eye at the obscurity of it all. At the same time, I’m not sure what the point of any of it actually is.

I know what the endgame is of course – death. Dying, mortality, the only one true unifying thing we as humans all have in common. The idea that we’re all going to die one day should make us enjoy our lives more, but instead many of us spend our days trying to prove to outside eyes that we are truly enjoying our lives. In reality, though, a very large number of us are blowing away weekends to make up for our 9-5 or our shift work or our multiple jobs that we need in order to satiate our desired lifestyles and somewhere along that line we lose the true value of what our lives are meant for. We aren’t meant to just bide our time until we die; we aren’t meant to prove anything to anyone.

 

What I’ve always wanted to do is simply share. I want to give my weird, outlandish life stories to people and hope they’ll laugh, cry, gain insight, maybe even hate me; at least they’ll feel something.

Reminders.

I vividly remember standing beside my mother in the kitchen, May of 2011, watching her cry for the first time in three years. Hopeless, helpless, I studied her eye, and saw someone I was unfamiliar with.

She sucked in a couple of quick breaths to stop the tears, exhaled, and looked firmly at the kitchen table. She shrugged, “I’m better off just killing myself.”

In weeks leading up to that comment, her sleep habits became erratic. Days were spent in bed, with drawn blinds and the stale smell of alcohol and depression hanging limp in the darkness. A once-reputable and successful real estate broker, she no longer had the drive to work for others – no less herself – and remained indoors, clad in a bathrobe painted with coffee stains and cigarette smoke. From time to time, she dragged a brush through her wiry hair – once regularly dyed, now predominantly gray. It wasn’t her appearance that I no longer recognized, however – it was the desperation and loss in her voice. In her, I saw an avalanche – every problem compounding and escalating into a rapid-moving descent, wiping out anything and everything in its path. I feared it was only a matter of time before this chaotic downslide reached me.

“If you’re serious about that, I’ll call out of the rest of my shift.” I desperately tried to maintain eye contact with her while she looked down at a smoldering ashtray. “I’m serious. We can go somewhere together and no one has to know.”

A long pause followed, where she resolved to pick up her cigarette and take a long drag. Her eyelids lowered and her stare became indifferent. She exhaled a solemn, smoky breath and looked at me coolly, “I’m not going to kill myself.”

For years, I replayed that afternoon in my head, and carried blame for not tossing her into a car and dragging her off to rehab.

By mid-September, I saw my mother become even less recognizable. She was unable to hide from her addiction behind denial and proclamations as she lay dying in the hospital bed before me. I left college after my first week of senior year to visit her in Intensive Care, making trips back for class, with the intention of coming home on weekends. On my first visit to the hospital, her eyes met mine. They were yellowed like egg yolks, and appeared bulging from the gauntness of her face; the doctors informed us that, although very bloated, she weighed about 80 pounds. It shocked me how drastic her appearance had been altered from the kitchen in May, and from the kitchen in August when I said my goodbyes and promised to be home for her birthday in October.

She resisted any form of greeting as I choked back tears in front of her.

“What the hell are you doing here?” I really didn’t expect anything more. She was sick, and dying, and while her body gradually shut down, her aggressive tough-love attitude shined through with biting confrontation from the moment I walked through the door.

For days, I watched my mother lose her lucidity. Her head would bobble and she was wheeled in and out of the ICU for tests and to have the lymphatic fluid drained from her body. When we sat in the hospital room together, she would begin to speak normally, and the sentences would fade as her eyes fixated on a point on the wall, and I would lose her for a few moments as she drifted into silence. From time to time, she would grab my hand and say something like, “I’m proud of you,” or, “You have to be strong.” I would cry and tell her “thank you” or, “I will be,” but part of me didn’t know whether or not to believe what she was saying was sincere or not. Part of me was mad at her for not listening, for not looking at me and thinking I was reason enough to continue living. My arms were extended for years to her and she shrugged me off, stubbornly objecting to my advances and telling me, “You’re not the parent.”

I hurried home one Thursday when my father called to tell me they had to administer an oxygen mask and a feeding tube in her nose. Taking the ferry to Long Island was like wading through sludge, as I rushed to beat the deadline for visiting hours. I arrived at the hospital around 8PM to see her in the dark, wires and tubes all over, her arms covered in bruises and her hair matted around her face like a sickening halo. My family was scattered to their respective corners, all crying or cried-out. I approached her and she grabbed my hand.

“Your hair looks nice.” Labored breaths pushed compliments from her and I couldn’t muster enough to say anything back. She babbled incoherent requests to go home and to have her dog in the hospital, and a nurse finally entered the room and told us it would be best if we left. I kissed her forehead.

“Please stay with me tonight… just in case.”

The last words my mother heard from me were, “I’m sorry. I can’t.” I turned and left the hospital, breaking down in my car, unable to accept that this was actually happening. My head continued to turn over how she could do this to herself, how I wasn’t enough, and how I hadn’t known she was so sad for so long.

Sometime in the night, she slipped into a coma, and was given 12 hours to live. Through her own stubbornness, my mother lasted four days. The morning she died, as I lay next to her in the hospital bed, I was woken up by a phone call from my childhood best friend. She asked how I was, and then about my mother. As I rolled over in the bed next to her to confirm her status, she took her last two breaths.

“I have to call you back.”

I half-anticipated angels, a bright light – something. The room, however, was silent except for my own breathing and the hiss of her oxygen mask; the bright light was substituted by a blinding row of fluorescent bulbs. I stared down over her stillness, completely devoid of thought. How, I thought, how was it capable of getting this bad? I began to replay the past week, month, six months, years in my head. All of those moments, and the last thing I said to her was “I can’t.” I couldn’t stay with her, I couldn’t save her, and I couldn’t take that back.

I was haunted by a lingering guilt for months to follow. The helplessness that a child would experience now found its way back into the forefront of my adult mind. I was matured by trauma, and crippled by a feeling of weakness. School no longer seemed to matter, yet I continued on day after day, determined to get my degree if for no other reason than a fear of my mother haunting me. I was driven by the routine and familiarity of faces I could count on passing me by in the halls. There was no longer a taste for life, not when I didn’t have my mother to reassure me that I was doing the right thing.

We never had that “final talk.” She wasn’t lucid enough to reflect on her last moments and the futility of it all; there was no remembrance back to the younger years, or where I should take my next steps in life. It felt like it wasn’t enough. She was stolen at her own hand, and I had to learn how to deal with it. I tried to cope with therapists, exercise, writing, and that hole remained. None of the guidance, recommendations, sweat or tears would make my mother’s voice appear before me. There would never be a final talk, and I was unable to accept that she left without me knowing she was proud of me, or that I did all I could to save her. All she knew was that I couldn’t stay, and I knew she couldn’t stay either.

Eventually, I got to a point where I realized I had to learn to be proud of myself, and gave up on searching for her acceptance. I would have to learn to live for a self that I wasn’t entirely sure I knew. It seemed almost impossible to go about my days without my mother’s voice, without the conversations about my life, without her reassurance – without my guide. I went about my school year, hole in my heart, fishing through student emails about graduation, online classes, and assignments due. Then, in the middle of it all, I saw a familiar address – my mother’s.

I opened the email, and read through a mundane description of family business. She told me about my father and work, my grandpa, my brother, and my dog. It comforted me to read it in her voice as I scrolled down towards the end. It was there, in the last lines, where I received the answer I had spent the past year searching for.

“I’m very proud of you. You’re like your grandmothers. You are eager and exceptionally bright… but most importantly, you are sensitive to others but don’t take sh…”

There was the outspoken, hard-loving reassurance I craved for so long. It was eternal in emails, and letters I found later in my storage unit, old voicemails, and cards. She was always proud of me. And those last moments of her life, although the freshest, hardest memories, held no candle to 20 years I lived with my mother’s love.

The End Game

Today, an acquaintance asked me what my “end game” or “end goal” was with my life. As in, what am I doing? What do I want to do? Why am I at a job I have no experience in and why have I stayed for over three years? Six years ago, at the major turn in my life, I would have stopped and pondered and probably had an existential crisis. I had nowhere to go, no money, and no emotional backbone. During that time (and if you follow my blog you already know), I just read my mom’s eulogy, returned to school in a haze, and felt like my world was ripped into shreds in front of me by Death himself; the being I blamed for my misery.
I blamed Death for so much. I blamed him for my predicament, and pain, and for making me witness my mother’s last breath. I felt like he was a purveyor of destruction, and that his goal was to ruin me. I had so much anger and resentment – and confusion – writhing within me that I needed to put the blame on someone else other than my mother or my family. It took me a solid year to admit that my mom was responsible for her death. Her addiction is what brought on Death. Her internal blame; her inability – or refusal – to address her own demons head-on called her final moments to her bedside, and I was merely a witness. After she died I no longer feared Death. I hated Death. I felt he was evil. It turned out, however, after much reflection that Death is neutral. He does not discriminate, nor does he pick people out. People are all products of their circumstances, and he just collects. He does his job, and that’s it.
Maybe it’s a coping mechanism for me, maybe it’s a weird fantastical denial of the uncertainty and horrors that could hide behind each of our final breaths, or maybe I just “get it.” Regardless, I have survived – and in my opinion thrived – with the thought of dying as negligible in my mind and second nature as playing with my hair when I’m bored or breathing. My brain has been opened to other opportunities, to more “now” moments, and to actually living. So, six years later, when my acquaintance came to me asking about my end game and what my plan was, I didn’t hesitate to say the end game is death.

The end is known, so why are we spending our time worrying about it? I worry about travel, making money in order to spend it and save a little. I worry about writing what I want, painting when I can, working out when I am motivated. I think about dinner with friends and falling in love, and how to deal with heartbreak better each time it happens. I fear not living my life the way I want. I fear monotony, complacency, and merely accepting what’s in front of me if I have the means to change it for the better. I do not fear removing myself from negative energy – from people who are constantly finding problems in everything, because they can’t see how much control of themselves they truly have in their own lives.
My end game may be death, but at least I know what I’m currently doing. I am living for myself, and not hurting others, and listening to stories, and creating stories. I am happy.

Stop Normalizing Addiction in Hollywood

I recently read an article about a young musician who died of an overdose at age 21. He was highlighted for his Youtube views, and his creativity, and his influence. However, his clear and blatant addiction to opioids and other various drugs was merely mentioned. His manager was quoted from a Twitter post, citing he had “expected” this type of news for a year. People mourn this kid – yes – and it is a tragedy. I never heard of this musician until today, but what stuck with me the most from this news was how normalized and passively mentioned his addiction seemed.
Recently, the industry that involves any kind of fame or fortune seems to be reliant on social media influence at the expense of the entertainer or influencer for the benefit of the managers and puppeteers – for lack of a better term – in control of the performers. There is nothing wrong, in my opinion, with fame. There is nothing wrong with those who work hard and pursue their dreams in order to spread a message or music or art to the world. However, when a manager says they “expected” to hear of an overdose of their client – someone they are responsible for – it leaves a hole in my mind of what type of message is being sent around the world.
Addiction overall – something I am very familiar with – should be de-stigmatized, and at the same time should not be normalized the way it is in the entertainment industry. My opinions are completely my own, however I feel I am not the only one with a sour taste in my mouth surrounding this current situation, especially since this isn’t the first case of an artist overdosing. My experience with addiction is with my mother, an alcoholic who died from liver poisoning. Her state and condition worsened over the course of my life and was something I had absolutely no control over. I couldn’t save her and I couldn’t sway her. Her own personal reasoning was because I was “the child” and not the parent, so I didn’t know what I was saying.
What bothers me most with addiction and death with young artists in Hollywood is that many of them are managed and influenced by older artists and individuals who have been in the business longer. These people are enabling the addictive behaviors and seemingly ignoring the problem all for the sake of views and revenue, and the expense of this seems to be the life and well-being of the artist. Since when did it become alright to inspire people through normalization of addiction? Since when did an over-consumption of prescriptions, and mixing drugs become almost expected as an artist?
As a writer and an artist myself, I watched my mother – an artist – change her outlet for her mental struggles from art and playing guitar to alcohol and silence. Watching her die in front of me left a huge scar on my being, and I walked away with anxiety issues and post traumatic stress. My outlet was alcohol and over-consumption of food for about three years, until I realized I didn’t want to live my life out like she did, and I took up writing, painting, and music as outlets. My work, generally dark, allows me to flush out bad feelings I would have otherwise drowned and have a more positive verbal and mental outlook on life.
I do not doubt an increased pressure on artists to create what the public wants to hear rather than what’s in their own heads and hearts, but as a mass population I feel giant steps need to be made to stop desensitizing ourselves to the blatant and oftentimes open addictions in Hollywood where cries for help are said through song and we are more concerned about views and popularity rather than taking care of each other. We need to stop forgetting humanity at the expense of entertainment and money, and stop feeling entitled to having artists at the mercy of the public.

Meeting Death

It’s weird to think that I met Death

Not for myself, always in passing.

He is quiet and humble

And collects final breaths

Of people who he’s ready for

It doesn’t matter if they’re ready

For him.

When it’s my turn to die

I look forward to the encounter

Not the end of my life

But the reunion with the last being

Besides me

To hold my mother’s hand

 

 

Searching

Tragedy drains the pallor

of gaunt, exhausted faces

looking downwards into a nothingness –

They continue to search

for what they have lost

but they don’t know

what they lost anymore.

And the sunrise blinds them to the dark

for only a moment and cuts

serrated lines across brows

and in the corners of eyes –

Lips parting to breathe in and taste

the light, a sweet warm

dripping light that washes the dust

from the backs of their throats

and makes them forget

what they were looking for.

Pinky Promise

To maintain peace,

   Life assures to

       Death, little bargaining

             chips.

  And Death is patient,

                      because Life

              has never broken a

                                     Promise.

 

  k.o.