You’re in a movie theater.
You’ve long awaited this day. You’ve watched every trailer, you’ve researched the entire cast, you even read the book. At one point it seemed like a lifetime away, and now you’re here. You’ve already traded your right arm for admission and you’ve settled into your seat with your butter-drenched cancercorn and the booze you managed to sneak in. Your stomach tightens as the lights dim and the screen goes white. It’s starting now. The only problem is, you’re not watching the movie. You’re looking at the screen, but you’re not concentrating on the picture. You’re distracted. You’re thinking about the people in the row behind you. You have a feeling they’re looking at you, watching you. You spend the next twenty minutes wishing they’d stop. You’re missing the movie. You start getting annoyed. Why are they staring at you? What do they want from you? You gather the courage to glance behind you, only to find that they aren’t looking at you at all. You could leave right now and they wouldn’t even notice your absence, or that you were even here in the first place. They’re too busy watching the same movie you paid to see. Still, you can’t concentrate. The credits roll and you realize you haven’t really enjoyed a minute of it.
When I started rapping in 2007 my only goal was to rap. I’d written an innumerable amount of rhymes and poems and short stories over the course of fifteen years and I’d memorized so many other people’s songs that I could recite them like they were mine. It wasn’t until I met someone who owned some studio equipment that I actually considered writing and recording a somewhat properly structured song of my own. I’ll spare you the history lesson as I’m sure anyone who’s followed me since then has long been briefed on the details, especially considering how much I like to talk about myself.
Back in May I told my wife that I was considering not smoking weed anymore. I really only smoke in the evening once I have an hour or so to myself before heading to bed to press ‘reset’. The weed was making me panicky. Depressed even. While high, I found myself dwelling on things I’d otherwise let go unacknowledged or ultimately unnoticed. So I quit for a few weeks and the feelings were tamed. Not gone, just suppressed. One night I laid in bed staring at the ceiling for hours with no sign of sleep approaching. I said “fuck it” and got up to smoke an old joint I’d rolled before deciding to take a break. I wondered if the time away had rendered my tolerance low enough to be carried off into dreamland before giving into the urge to rape and pillage the poor, defenseless contents of my refrigerator. My goal was to relax, and what happened was the opposite. It backfired, and I laid there experiencing one of the most intense psychedelic episodes of my recent years (yes, just from weed). It didn’t have the intensity of acid or any of the big boy drugs, but it truly was like nothing I’d felt before. I tried assuring myself that it was just a bad trip and that it would soon pass, but it didn’t. About 30 minutes later (equivalent to 3 consecutive days when you’re that high) I was still freaking the fuck out. “You’re going nowhere.” “You’re letting your family down.” “You don’t even know who you are anymore.” These were some of the thoughts continuously river-dancing through my head. They were so powerful that I could actually feel them, like a physical weight being placed on my chest, gradually increasing. I tried my hardest to write them off as the irrational fears of an insomniac who can’t handle his herb, but the truth is that my thoughts were not only rational, but justified. I knew this, which only brought on more fear. I was being forced to look at things for what they were, unable to distract myself. This was the very first time in my life that I’d actually entertained the idea of suicide. Not in a “I think I’m going to kill myself” way, but more of a “if only my life were simple enough to allow me to kill myself” way. I woke my wife up out of a dead sleep and we talked for hours. I haven’t been the same since that night.
I’ve been many different characters throughout the course of my life. The person I am is not easily explained or understood. By putting on a costume that people can relate to, or at least one they find familiar, I can sit back and settle for being generalized rather than having to explain the puzzling results that would surface should I ever be put under a microscope. It’s a defense mechanism, I admit, but it’s also a lot fucking easier. Basically, I’m complicated, bro. I don’t know who the fuck I am either. This always drove me crazy as a kid because I assumed everyone around me had long figured out who they were, or that they had even asked the question. Not much has changed now that I’m an adult aside from the comfort I feel in knowing enough people and enough about the world to also know that nobody really has a goddamned thing figured out. But the fact that I have to constantly remind myself of this is probably a good indication of how far I still have yet to evolve.
I once told a few dudes I’d recently met, who are now good friends, that I know I’m a real artist because I hate myself and everything I do. Rather than dealing with the root of my problem (wherever the hell that is), I’ve always resorted to quickly hiding under whatever I deemed a suitable costume. When you put so much time and effort into wearing a costume, especially a costume that, you hope, both hides and justifies the seemingly inescapable assembly line of defective fuck toys that is your brain, you begin to forget where the costume ends and the person begins. You know you’re only one delicate facade away from being the guy that never leaves his house or changes out of his pajamas, so you cling to your new found defense as if it were a life-source. Next thing you know, the person finds themselves covered in tattoos that the artist wanted. The person has a closet full of clothes they really aren’t comfortable in, but that the artist hoped would generate credibility or, at the very least, acceptance. The person realizes the artist has been stealing all of their experiences and paying them half-hearted attention. The person realizes just how many of their daily actions, from the way they play with their child in public to the faces they make when they’re pumping gas, are somehow dictated by the way the artist wants to be perceived. The person pays for the home that the artist is in charge of. The person’s memories are just a movie the artist vaguely remembers watching. It’s cliche, but you literally lose yourself. You look in the mirror and see a stranger. You forget what it’s like to look at yourself through your own eyes, without trying to see what you hope others might see. You really want to take your quickly-growing son camping, but first, you have to scroll through your calendar to find a weekend in which you’re free from forcing yourself to perform in front of strangers.
The conversation I had with my wife that night made me realize just how miserable I’d been. Rather, just how miserable I’d been making myself. We’d recently returned from a short vacation we took to celebrate our anniversary. Reflecting on our trip, she said, “I felt like I had you back for a little while. The real you. It was nice seeing you actually happy and at peace again. As soon as we got home, I could actually see you slip away and I knew I had lost you again.” Those words just about ripped my heart out of my chest, because I knew she was right. On our trip, I had allowed myself to check out completely. That’s an every-day thing for most of the people I know, but it’s damn near impossible for me. The dreaded “return to reality” following a vacation is something most can relate to. The job you hate, the bills you can’t pay, the car you have to fix, that thing you need to see a doctor for, all the bullshit you don’t remember getting old enough to start worrying about. Not only are you thrown right back into it, but you’re actually behind and have to play catch-up, and the sense of peace that ended only hours ago now feels like a dream you had. I travel often, so I naturally attributed my being depressed to that familiar and abrupt return to the rat race. But after talking with my wife, I realized it wasn’t the break from work that made me happy and at peace, but the break from my art. Moreover, I wasn’t dreading the return to my regular life – to being a dad, a homeowner, an employee, etc. I was dreading the fact that I was again expected to be an artist, even if that expectation was all my own.
I now realize there’s been two people inside of me. One wants to be happy and already has everything he needs in order to be so. The other one thrives on progress, on work and productiveness. That one is never happy and will never have enough, because all he wants is more. And more times than not, the latter is the one who manifests. He’s always here with me, but I don’t know who he is. He raises my child and sleeps next to my wife. He avoids his friends of twenty years to go forge new relationships from which he hopes there’s something to gain. He doesn’t sleep or eat right or return phone calls or laugh uncontrollably. Worst of all, he romanticizes his misery. He tells himself and everyone around him that it’s just part of the trade. He confuses battle wounds with self-inflicted scars, and he assures himself that he’ll be happy once he gets through the misery. But it’s all misery, kid. He goes through absolute hell getting to a door, and even more hell getting the door open, because he’s sure he’ll be happier on the other side. He opens the door to find nothing but an empty room, on the other side of which is another door. And on the other side of that door, another door. Eventually, he realizes he’s spent the last decade prying doors open for the sake of being able to say he did so, and by that time, he’s stuck in a world only he knows exists. It’s the world of his thoughts and his internalized goals, which are dictated by the superficial world he thought he wanted to be part of.
Calling yourself an aspiring artist rolls off the tongue a lot nicer than admitting you’re just attention-starved, selfish, and ultimately afraid of growing up. Sometimes, the pressure of knowing you could walk away from all of it without anyone noticing is too much. There’s a strange sort of comfort in knowing you have to go to work every day. You can disconnect for awhile and do something you have absolutely no stakes in. When a relatively healthy person has a bad day at the office, they can go home and forget it all, because their heart isn’t in it anyway. But when your job is your art, and you have a bad day, it feels as though your life is over. I’ve been telling myself that I’m chasing happiness, but I’m really just chasing validation, and I’ve truly never known a stronger addiction. Furthermore, I’ve never been as happy as I was the day before I decided to become a professional artist.
I’ve had the most amazing gift right in my hands every single day, and I’ve consistently looked away from it to spend time doing things that I not only don’t enjoy, but that make my entire life darker. My son sees me constantly stressed, and, whether I like it or not, it’s teaching him that it’s okay to be this way. That it’s actually expected of you. “If you want something you must work hard for it” has somehow translated into “if you’re not stressed out, exhausted and/or completely fucking miserable, you’re not dedicated.” That’s not only a very toxic way of thinking, but a very dangerous notion to implement in a child.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed many moments of being a musician. I’ve had the chance to actually be on stage next to some of my heroes. I’ve been publicly complimented by legends, and people I once watched on TV or heard on the radio or on movie or video game soundtracks are now in my email and cellphone contacts. Guys I didn’t get along with in high school started coming to my shows, now we regularly hangout at each other’s houses while our kids play together. I’ve made new friends who, at first, were just talented artists I wanted to work with before spending time with them and discovering the genuinely kind and interesting people they are. I’ve had my name on flyers and on buildings and in the newspaper, my mother saw me on stage at the House of Blues, I’ve performed in countless cities, some in different states and even on the other side of the country, I’ve been given free clothes and free drinks, offered sex and drugs and money, and I taught myself how to do a ton of cool shit I probably never would’ve bothered learning had I not pursued music. This blog exists because of music. I know how to design and operate websites, because of music. Every photo I take is with the camera I bought and learned to use just because I didn’t want to pay someone else for head-shots, for music. I know Protools and Garageband and Premiere and Final Cut and Photoshop and Lightroom and iWeb and WordPress, because of music. I also got pretty damn good at pirating software in order to get my hands on all of that expensive shit. While I’ve never believed that everything happens for a reason, I do know there’s good and bad to everything. I haven’t been lucky, I’ve been dedicated, and also very selfish.
So what now?
The truth is that I’ll probably never stop making music completely. There was definitely a time when I enjoyed it, so my efforts will be put toward getting back to that place. In the mean time, I’ll be lightly scratching some of my other art itches. I’ve been working on music videos for other musicians, taking photos and keeping a lot of them to myself, writing whenever I feel like it, and I’ve been kicking around the idea of starting a podcast. I’m also going back to school for the first time since I graduated high school in 2005, and, to my surprise, I’m enjoying it. My decision to go back to school can also be attributed to music. Not to music itself, but to someone I met through music, whom I doubt knows the impact he left on me after a conversation we had at a show when I was in a particularly bad place. Reactions have been understandably mixed as I’ve always been colorfully outspoken on my feelings toward formal education and the people who bow to it. My views have not changed but my goals and understanding have. Granted, this could be just another one of those doors leading to an empty room. But the fact is, I’m genuinely proud of myself for the first time in, well, quite possibly ever, and nobody can take that from me.
So I tentatively plan to finish school, get a relatively normal but potentially exciting job, make music when I feel like it, maybe make and raise another human because I’m good at it, write books, take photos, make films, see more of the world, explore more of my consciousness, meet new people, eat strange things, read about Buddhist shit, and basically just stay stoked. Pending projects will either gradually trickle out to the universe or never see the light of day, and I’ll jump back on stage when I’m ready to.
I could close with a cliche ass “thank you to everyone who’s supported me over the years”, but I hope that much is assumed and goes without saying. So thanks for reading if you’ve gotten this far. Now on to [slightly] less self-absorbed entries.