the plight of an artist, alone.

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Chris wasn’t just one of the greatest singers to walk this earth, but he was a husband, a father, a friend.

He was an artist that represented the pinnacle of creative expression; of that soul-bearing process that we all often take for granted — and yet, like many artists before him, he was left with such a profound sense of despair that the only release was to take his own life.

I’m so, so distraught that amazing, ripped-open and on display humans are drowning in despair while we mindlessly consume their souls as expressed in their art. That Chris Cornell today would join Robin Williams, Jeff Buckley, Ian Curtis and so many more truly does break my heart.

and makes me so angry.

What is it about our society that makes us okay with the way we treat our artists? That we expect them to move us, to understand us, to GIVE GIVE GIVE to us while we discard them as soon as someone new comes along. Why does someone like Kendrick Lamar have to explicitly tell us that “nobody is praying for [him],” as he shoulders this huge burden to bring healing to communities on his own? That we can listen to an album like DAMN., be affected by Kendrick’s assessment of society’s shallowness, and then take our shallow Instagram pictures and our snapchats is a slap in the face of the art that we claim affects us. What if right now Kendrick is inundated in the same sense of despair that caused Chris to take his life and we, as a society, are making fucking memes out of his art?

I truly believe that the way we shallowly engage with art is what drives a lot of our great artists into a space of despair. We’re okay with the casualties we cause as long as we’re entertained. Sure, we’re going to be sad about the death of this artists that supposedly mean “so much” to us, but then hardly even a day later we are going to move on and pump someone else’s music, or movie, or book into our bloodstream like the drug it is to us, unaware of how this symbiotic relationship to art is affecting the artist.

Chris sings on the heartbreakingly timely song Times of Trouble off of the Temple of the Dog self-titled record:

When you try to talk
And the words get hard
And they put you down
Don’t you stay
Don’t you ditch away…

But if somebody left you out on a ledge
If somebody pushed you over the edge
If somebody loved you and left you for dead
You got to hold on to your time till you break
Through these times of trouble”

In those lyrics are a poignant and heart-breaking account of a man reaching out to those around him only to be not only silenced by those same people, but used by them too.

I understand that my words on this subject may be harsh, but death is harsh. Despair is harsh. Hopelessness is harsh, and frankly, I don’t want to drive the amazing, beautiful, unbelievably talented upcoming artists to suffer the same fate as these artists that we claim to adore.

It seems like an overwhelming task. Society is set up perfectly for shallow human interaction, not just in the arts, but as a whole. Our voices on social media makes it easy to affirm or reject something in a millisecond; it breeds in us a desire to imitate and create Walmart versions of the art we consume, while we allow the real artists to suffer alone.

I wish so desperately that Chris Cornell grew up in a society where they treasured the gift of his voice and his words in a way that let Chris know that they treasured the deepest parts of him. That people engaged in Chris’ pain through presence and conversation. That fans wouldn’t simply buy his merch or take pictures with him just so THEY could get the likes on Instagram, but that they would believe so much in him and his art that their own lives would be changed by Chris’ transparency.

The people around you, are so, so, valuable. And the artists of our world are often the valuable people that we let down in the most profound of ways. So next time you see a friend honestly trying to create art, encourage them. Listen to their demos, read their rough drafts, study their paintings, and after you sit with their art, talk to them about it. Learn why they did what they did. Ask them about their dreams. Call them on the phone just to say that you are thinking about them. Be a friend to them, because I firmly believe that the way we treat our artists is the way we will treat each other as a whole.

To Chris Cornell, thank you. Thank you for bearing your soul and gifting us with a genuine unearthly voice. We didn’t deserve it, but you gave us all of yourself even though we couldn’t give you much in return.

As Chris sung these words with a pained passion about his friend Andy after Andy tragically died, I write them with a heavy heart mourning the loss of Chris: “Say hello to heaven.” 

in the moments.

When I lay down to “pray” each night, I begin by apologizing to the wall by all of the things I did wrong that day. I begin to ask the wall for things, and then my thoughts begin to drift to the book I was just reading, the podcast I was just listening to, how good that Boba tasted… and then I’m asleep. I reject that notion of prayer, but I continue to pray that way.

Real prayer, in my experience, is life changing.

I don’t hear any voices, I don’t really get guidance internally that comes from a source outside of myself, but I do experience gratitude.

It’s in moments that I pray. Prayer is a response, and as Rob Bell and Richard Rohr call it, a “flow” in to which I enter into. You respond when you think about the laughter of a friend, the high fives and the hugs. You respond to a powerfully written sentence in a novel, or a nice cool sip of lemon black tea. You respond to a Facetime conversation or a nighttime walk.

Prayer is gratitude.

When I’m overwhelmed with depression and loneliness, and I plead internally that God would take away my feelings, I’m reminded that I’ve made it through this before.

That’s gratitude. That’s prayer.

Jesus, to me, is in the moments. And even if you aren’t particularly spiritual, gratitude in the moments can be so powerful.

Prayer reminds us of the absurd amount of joy to be found within each day. It reminds us that our conversations matter, that the people around us are gifts, and that each of us are so resilient in our own way.

Prayer, my friends, is visceral in the moment, and it’s so much more about being attentive during a moment than mumbling a few words at morning or at night.

My gratitude guide your week, friends.

All is grace.

a graduate.

 

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(the above photos, Goob Adam c.2010, to Goob Adam c.2017)

I graduate tomorrow, but despite my propensity to feel overly sentimental, I don’t feel much right now. I think partially it’s because I’ve been lying to myself for a long time about all sorts of things. When I stepped on to my college campus for the first time, I thought about how crazy it was that this would be my new home for the next four years. Well, the four years turned into five as a series of unfortunate events, sans Count Olaf, hit me to where I’d have to stay a fifth year to complete my undergrad degree. I took it really hard that I had to stay an extra year. All the financial implications aside, it felt like the fifth year was a mark of a deficiency somewhere at the core of my being.

My fourth year at school was unequivocally the worst year of my life, and if it weren’t for a tiny group of the best humans around, I honestly wouldn’t have made it through. Retrospectively now, there are times that I can recall in my head that are cemented in my psyche that make me sob with thankfulness every time I think about them. Take this one for instance: it’s 2 am, and I’m on my floor in the dark, crying with both my hands on my head trying to stop the thunderous noise in my head that’s tearing me down, genuinely starting to long for release in any form, even if it was contemplating the darkest route of wanting to die. But thirty minutes later, I’m sitting in the front of a friend’s car as two of my friends have their hands on my arm and shoulder respectively, praying for and telling me how much they love me.

“We love Adam so freaking much, God, and I can’t even fathom you can somehow love him even more than we do”

Being near-suicidal and consistently depressed while “failing” to graduate on time with the people that helped you through the hardest parts of your life is something that makes it’s mark on you.

It’s taken me a lot of internal work to grow from that place, but I have. It’s amazing to me how far I’ve come in a year’s time. I have my depressive days still, but nowhere near as frequent, and more often than not, I’m happy. But I’m still scared. This whole feeling like a failure in every arena of my life thing continues to wait for it’s opening — I mean, I’ve made a fool of myself in every area of my life; romantically, relationally, familially, educationally, professionally – but now, I’ve noticed that those failures don’t destroy me like they used to. The image of myself that I hold is slowly growing better. I can point back to the moment in that car to the knowledge that I was loved in my darkest moments, and I am still loved now.

I’m beginning to embrace myself in its totality. I used to have to try and make up excuses for being the way that I was. I used to cringe at how much I feel sometimes or how sentimental I am; I used to cringe at my own dreams because I didn’t see the worth in myself that it would take to achieve them and I cared too much about what people would think about me if I talked about them (my dream is not a career or a place, but it’s to be the dopest dad and husband).

Approaching graduation now, I’m finally finding the strength and the freedom to step more fully into who I am. My self-image still isn’t the best right now, but it’s leaps and bounds better than even one year ago. I still make a full of myself ALL of the time, and I still find myself afraid often.

But man, I survived college. I survived the immense personal growth. I made friends with people that I hope to grow old around, the kind of people my kids will be calling Aunts and Uncles. Most of all, I learned that a 19 year old brown kid from Ohio, with really itchy skin (I abhor eczema), bad allergies, A.D.D., depression, and an unhealthy obsession with Nicolas Cage could graduate college at age 24 and find out he was made of so much more than he thought he was.

I thank God for college. The shittiest parts, and the parts that that still make me cry with thankfulness.

And THAT, my friends, is worth celebrating.

The Struggle to Struggle Alone

 

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“Deep within every human being there still lives the anxiety over the possibility of being alone in the world, forgotten by God, overlooked among the millions and millions in this enormous household. One keeps this anxiety at a distance by looking at the many round about who are related to them as kin and friends, but the anxiety is still there, nevertheless, and one hardly dares think of how they would feel if all this were taken away.”

Soren Kierkegaard has a way of speaking to my soul like no one else has done before.

The anxiety he addressed in the above quote has been a part of my life since I can remember. The meaning that rests in between the lines of his words show that most of us try to ignore the anxiety of loneliness by thinking about and being around the people that we have affinity to; the people we say that we “love.” When in reality, it’s when we struggle alone that we truly grow, that we can truly be healed. In Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard writes that health, growth, and the alleviation of that anxiety “all depends upon whether one is willing to labor and be heavy laden.”

To put it simply, we don’t want to feel the pain of loneliness and refuse to sit in a state of loneliness for long periods of time. I mean, we have Netflix and our phones, we have our friends and our spouses, we have our addictions and we have our empty busyness; but all this is doing is burying the anxiety of being alone deeper and deeper into our subconsciousness.

Kierkegaard even argues that anxiety can be a good thing, because at this point, the anxiety we feel from loneliness is a huge indication that we need to be alone. That there are things that we can only confront and heal from alone. 

2016 has been a painfully lonely journey for me. The respective beginning and end to this year has been darker than anything I’ve walked through previously. I’ve been consumed by darkness I’ve left unchecked in my life — it left me mentally and emotionally crippled. All I could do was lay on the floor of my room and stare at the wall that mocked me with its indifference. I’ve felt isolated and disconnected from everyone that I care about. I began to notice the shallowness of my interactions with the people closest to me, and I began to withdraw.

That loneliness fucking blows. It’s not a good time. You begin to tear yourself down, speaking worthlessness and anguish into your own life. You stop caring about the things you used to care about, and the things that used to bring you joy just bring you a sense of nothingness. You isolate yourself from the people around you because their lack of understanding pisses you off. This state of being feels endless. Day by day you feel this, you live this.

But then one day you take a breath. And then someone’s stupid joke makes you giggle. You spend time with a friend and have a small but meaningful conversation. You begin to recall things you love about those closest to you, remembering why they are in your life in the first place. You still feel lonely, and you still feel disconnected, but you also feel hope for the first time in a long time. You feel the hope that you aren’t destined forever to be sucked into this perpetuated state of anguish and exhaustion.

That little bit of hope grows slowly until you can find yourself with purpose.

That’s honestly where I am right now. I’m still nowhere near as joyful as I once was. Some nights I’m still overcome by burden, and most days I still struggle with finding worth in myself. But now I’ll think back to that little bit of hope that I felt. It was so freeing to just feel a little bit of hope. And then over the course of a few weeks,  I felt that little bit of hope more frequently and then realized that this time spent in isolation has been a really, really, good thing for me in the end. That it was the most painful thing I’ve ever walked through (and will continue to walk through), but that I can feel myself growing stronger in the process. Slowly but surely I’m becoming more fully me, and this could never have happened unless I did it on my own.

So many influential writers, speakers, and authors in my life talk about this. Kierkegaard has said this process is absolutely essential into becoming the best version of oneself possible; Richard Rohr and Rob Bell call this “the hero’s journey,” saying that it forever changes you for the better. Haruki Murakami talks about how this journey can lead you to places you’ve never imagined, and Aaron Weiss talks about how this process is the only way to truly encounter the living and loving God.

And what is all this for? Well, for myself, at first it seemed like me battling a full-blown mental collapse, but now I can see that it’s so much more. My ability to love has deepened. I can feel that now. I don’t know how that will manifest, but my capacity to love has grown. My self-awareness has brought to light the things that I need immense work on, and has also brought to light the things that I don’t give myself enough credit for.

All of this to say, I also want to point out that this is in no way undermining the importance of relationship and true community in each of our lives. But it is in this process of walking “through the storm” alone that we somehow find the strength and the capacity to pour ourselves out more for our loved ones, and honestly more importantly, to pour ourselves out for those that are hurting and oppressed.

The struggle to struggle alone. Hemingway depicts it as an old man wrestling with a fish.

It’s depicted in my life as a man trying to learn how to love well. Because at the end of the day, that’s something worth living and dying for.

Here

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The birds stopped singing as soon as I sat down on the swing.

They either feel scared and threatened, or they’re listening intently to the scene unfolding in front of them. Either way, the absence of their song makes me feel a little uneasy. With my shoe dragging along in the mulch I press the tip of my foot pointedly down and begin to draw unintelligible hieroglyphics in the dirt. My stomach’s stomach is feeling nauseous and my lungs’ lungs are empty of breath.

It must be an odd sight for those birds; a thirty-two year old man sitting on a swing by himself at an old park, but, then again, they must see a lot of odd things from their vantage point.

I hear mulch crunching behind me and I feel the air around me move ever so slightly as she sits down on the swing next to me.

“Hey,” I say, without words.
“Hey,” she says, without words.

I continue dragging my foot in the mulch. She watches, a small smile on the right corner of her lip. Some time passes. How much? I’m not so sure, and I honestly don’t care to know.

“I’ve decided on Hokkaido.”

I turn my head and meet her eyes. The words that left her lips replaced the silence left in the wake of the end of the birds’ song.

“Japan?” I ask, “What’s there for you?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Cherry Blossoms, the smell of the sea, a good Murakami novel… anyways, it beats here don’t you think?”

Anything beats here, but that wasn’t always the case. There was a time when here, this swing set, held all the joy and potential possible for a twenty-five year old boy and a twenty-three year old girl. Here was the first place we had met. Here we read novels together and held hands for the first time. Here I proposed to her, and here she said yes.

But that was then.

“I guess you’re right,” I admit. “But it wasn’t always like this.”

“Not at all,” she said.

Even before I had met her, sitting on this swing always made me feel like I was known. The sky used to greet me (even through its ever changing moods) and the birds used to sing to me. And then one day she showed up. Here. We were going to build a lifetime together, right here. But it turned out a lifetime was only six years. One day we were sitting in our living room, there, when she said “I can’t live this way anymore.”

She couldn’t live the way she was living anymore, and I haven’t lived my life since then.

She sways the swing over to her left, tippy toes dragging in the mulch, and touches my hand. “I don’t think it was you that made me feel unsure,” she began. “I think if I were to have married any guy it would have ended up the same. I just never felt like myself here.”

“Feeling like oneself is overrated,” I say.

She sways back.

“Anyways,” I continue, “here.”

I reach into my backpack sitting on the ground and hand her a small parcel. She takes it carefully and curiously. As she starts to unravel the twine, I start to think about here without her. I think about her being there. I think too much.

“Thank you, really,” she says through a smile. Inside the unwrapped parcel is her favorite Murakami novel, Kafka on the Shore, and a disposable camera. I never understood her love of pictures that come from disposable cameras, but then again I guess I never understood much about her at all.

“If you think of it, take a picture of something cool over there and write about it on the back, it’ll be great to hear from you again at some point.”

“Only if you take a picture of something cool here and send it to me,” she said.

And with that, she stood up off the swing and put her hand on my shoulder. It rested there for a while. How long exactly? I don’t know. I don’t want to think about it.

“Goodbye,” she said.
“Goodbye,” I said.

As the sound of her footsteps faded, I exhaled. After a while (how much longer was I sitting there?) I stood up to leave. Where I was going, I hadn’t the faintest of ideas. Here, there, it was all the same to me.

I began to walk away from the swing set.
The birds began to sing.

 

 

 

There are Dementors in my Room

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I wake up shivering. 

Instead of keeping me warm, my clothes feel like they are confining me; my covers, tying me down. Whatever the word “joy” means, I won’t ever feel it again. And then I hear something; asthmatic breathing coming from many different directions puts dread into my bones in the place where warmth should be.

I break out in a cold sweat as I see five or six hooded figures floating around my bed, their clammy, cruel, hands reaching out ominously to my head. 

I was watching the Prisoner of Azkaban a couple of nights ago, and I was struck by the scene where Harry first encountered the dementors. It really hit home for me this time around. Harry had just woken up from passing out and wondering why the dementors had affected him so badly while Ron was describing how he felt all of the joy leave the room.

I wondered aloud whether dementors were allegorical for depression. It made so much sense. When a dementor draws near, it ravages the soul. You feel cold, your breath starts to shorten. You feel claustrophobic and afraid. Your worst memories begin to surface, clawing at your psyche, making you all-too aware of your shortcomings. You believe so strongly that joy has never existed, nor will it ever exist in the future.

The past couple months for me have been a return to this dementor-filled room, this constant state of melancholy at best and crippling depression at worst. I can’t seem to escape it. It seems as if 2016 is going to have bookends of an extremely dark frame of mind for me, with this latter part of the year being the worst of it. I’ve hardly told a soul, but I’ve been seriously considering going through with getting medication for it because I genuinely feel at the end of my own ability to cope with it. Not that I believe medication is a bad thing, mind you, part of me is so relieved to have that as an option, but I do feel that I have nothing left to give to fight this thing off in my current state.

While reflecting as I was watching Azkaban, though, the scene where Harry was learning to cast a Patronus Charm really hit the feels. Having a sense in my head that dementors were pretty much physical manifestations of depression, it made the Patronus Charm so much more beautiful to me. Lupin was teaching Harry to fight the dementor with the happiest memories he could muster. It was the knowledge that joy had existed in the past that gave Harry a promise that joy could exist in the future, that this dementor would not be the end of him.

It was beautiful.

The dementors begin to press in all around me on my bed. My breathing is quick and shallow. The claustrophobia sets in my my mind and I can’t even think, let alone conjure up happy memories.

“Focus,” I can hear Lupin say, “think.”

I try to concentrate, and memories slowly start to form: me standing at the ocean; laughing at jokes; listening to good music; these memories are all good, but they aren’t powerful enough. The dementors are getting closer. One of them wraps their cold fingers around my throat and begins to heave it’s lungs. No, this can’t be it for me. More memories start to pour in: I’m yelling along to David Bowie’s verse in Under Pressure in a car; I’m sitting at the edge of the Grand Canyon playing Jenga; I’m drinking tea with new friends in China; the faces of the friends that have stood by me in the hardest times flashes in my head, as well as all of the moments of laughter and of life with them. 

The room fills with the brightest and purest light (and of course, being me, it’s in fox form). The dementors flee, and I’m left in my room with my memories, knowing that there is still joy to be found in the future. 

A Conversation with Fog.

 

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The ocean, once so blue, so beautiful and serene, so peaceful, now gnaws with a foreboding gray. A heavy Fog rolls in to where I can’t see ten feet in front of me. I’m on a surfboard, and the air around me seems to be holding it’s breath in anticipation as if watching a scary movie. There is silence, but not the contemplative kind.

I’m alone.

And yet, for some reason I keep on paddling. Further and further out to sea, further and further into the Fog (which cackles as it brings me into itself). How I’m paddling, I’m not too sure. I’m on autopilot. I feel despair.

I’m alone.

The Fog speaks:

“You’ve never made it this far; enjoying yourself?” it asks, condescendingly.

I don’t reply. Not because I had planned on not speaking, but because my words couldn’t find their way out of my body. My thoughts feel heavy, the familiar weight causing my legs to tremble, sending ripples out into the ocean.

“Wouldn’t you like to know what lies beyond me?”

I don’t think I do want to know what lies beyond the Fog. Each successive time it has come to me I have felt weaker and weaker for wear in its absence.

“Think about all of the times you’ve confidently kept going. Think of where it has taken you.”

I don’t like to admit, but it’s right. Everybody talks about how great it is to have confidence, and lately I’ve been calling bullshit on that. Confidence is a burden because it always shows you how wrong you truly were. Perseverance sounds great on paper, but practically it’s a wearisome cruelty.

“THEY’VE NEVER LOVED YOU,” it screamed. “NONE OF THEM HAVE.”

“… what?” I shakily say aloud.

“Come now, there there,” it says with a mock soothing tone. “How can their love be real if you feel this way?”

I feel defeated. As horrible as it sounds to say aloud, I think the Fog is right.

“Maybe you’re right,” I say as I stop paddling.

I look around. I can still hardly see a thing. I feel an emptiness after admitting my own doubts about reciprocated love. I think again about the memories that made Fog’s words convincing. I think about the extreme vulnerability and openness that I’ve given others that were thrown back in my face. I think about the seemingly endless nights alone, unable to take my face out from my pillow. The movie reel of my life so far plays out before me – broken families, broken relationships; dreams confidently walked into only for the laugh-track to start playing as I realize I’ve been the punchline of a joke I unwittingly stepped into.

I think about people that have said they’ve cared about me and then backed that up with silence and distance when I’ve needed their voices and their presence.

“Well, at least I’m not completely alone.”

“What do you mean?”

“I’m talking to you, aren’t I? I mean, you aren’t exactly the ‘person’ I thought I would be talking to during such a monumental mental breakdown as this one, but at least you’re listening to me, and you know what, I’m thankful for that. You can be a dick, but you’re at least sitting with me. And for all of this pretentiousness that you mask yourself with, you actually can bring hope. You ARE the unknown, and the unknown itself has the potential for good. To be honest, I have no real reason to keep moving forward. I like to convince myself that I do, but experience tells me time and time again that I will somehow feel even MORE hurt and even MORE alone if I keep paddling. Fuck it, though. I don’t have anything to lose. I’ve seen the beauty that lies in the unknown, just as I’ve seen the horror of it. I’ve loved different people who treated that love with indifference and mockery, and more often than not when I live life beside others I end up feeling like I’m living life alone, but that’s all I know how to do. There are instances that happened both long ago and more recently, and this will happen in my future too, but I’m better for it. And amidst the wallowing in my self-pity, deep down I know that there are people that love me. And until I’m gone, I want to love them. I need to.”

I exhale.

I sit there on the board and think of the words of another man who was in despair in the overwhelming task ahead of him. I say out loud the same thing that he said: “my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death…”

He needed his friends, and I need mine. I need him.

When confronted with everything I feel and so much more, even he felt overwhelmed. But then he reminds me that to give yourself completely to friends, the people you love, without expectation for reciprocation, is the greatest love imaginable. No matter how difficult, this love is worth moving into the unknown for.

The Fog begins to lift.
I begin to paddle.