My White Padded Vacation

 

My mind is vicious two-faced bitch sometimes.

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I used to fantasize about having some kind of nervous breakdown so they’d lock me up in a mental ward somewhere and all I could do to keep myself busy was play games, smoke cigarettes, stare out the window and look fashionable in a frayed bathrobe. Family members and friends would visit me and vulnerable truths would be admitted and catharses would be had followed by tears and hugs and the idea of starting over from square one with a clean slate was on par with the ending scene to “Good Will Hunting” when, finally, Will leaves his neighborhood friends and job behind and says, “Sorry, I had to go see about a girl.”

Even then, I wanted a break from life so badly the idea of a white padded room actually seemed like a vacation to me.

I remember when I started taking medication in my mid-twenties for bipolar II disorder I thought, Thank God I’m one step closer to the loony bin. Maybe now things will finally slow down. Maybe now I can stop trying so hard to live up to this thing, this fire-breathing dragon that calls itself my Ideal Self Image.

When, like in “Almost Famous,” I finally took my first solo road trip at twenty-nine from New York City to New Orleans I thought, This is it. This is where I’m supposed to be: on the road. This is where life is. I’m present. I’m in it.

“It’s all happening,” Penny Lane says to William Miller over hopeful guitar strumming and the music gently crescendos out as the camera cranes up signaling the end of act one.

I like the ideas of a white-padded room, of starting over with a clean slate or escaping on the road into the vast country wilderness. Or rather, I like what they represent to me: a moment of relief. A place where I can lie down and breathe into the clean air without the heat of the dragon’s breath hot on my neck like an oncoming fever.

A place to stop the constant drone pulsing between the tender folds of my brain tissue at the top of my skull that says I need to be doing something else, I need to be somewhere else, I need to accomplish more; that as I am, I am not good enough.

Tony Robbins has a meditation on YouTube he does with Tim Ferris where he talks about being in what he calls a “beautiful state” and how, in this state, we can solve our problems and live in our days with love and gratitude.

In the meditation Tony walks you through three moments in your life that you can feel immense gratitude for. He asks you to access that gratitude, to walk inside it. To feel what you felt during those moments; the smells, the sensations.

Admittedly, I do feel better after doing this meditation. But that’s not the point I want to make here although I do highly recommend you try this meditation. The point I wish to make is that my moments of immense gratitude are never the images I’m striving so hard to achieve. They never embody that fire-breathing Ideal Self Image I spend so much time paling in comparison to.

In contrast, the memories I have immense gratitude for are those memories I was most present for: Driving across country with a best friend and experiencing each day for all its newness and wonder. Camping alone in Joshua Tree and meditating at dawn as the sun rose above the distant mountain ranges. Jumping in the cold ocean at dawn along the shores of the Outer Banks.

So, is my white-padded vacation an escape from my life? Or is it an escape from the idea of what I think my life should be?

Self Opposition

I want you to see me; but I want to be left alone. I want you to call me; and I don’t want to answer the phone. I want you to knock at my door; and I want to hide under the covers. Invite me to your party; so I can tell you I have other plans. Give me a job; so I can spit in your face and tell you I’m entitled to more. Let me talk to you through a computer; so I don’t have to look you in the eye. Let me forget what it is to be alive; so that I can escape into a lush dream where I can control when the sun sets.

Is Social Media Destroying My Artistic Integrity?

I admit I had to take a break without knowing if I’d ever come back to writing these posts. I enjoyed it at first, but then quickly found myself checking the WordPress stats all day. I developed a Pavlovian response to the little dings in my inbox that signified a new follower or like; the immediacy of viewership creating in me a dopamine high that is utterly dangerous. It tells me I’m on to something, I’ve figured it out. It’s that feeling when Edmond Dantés discovers the map to his soon-to-be uncovered buried treasure.

I soon found myself trying to hack the system, reading articles that sounded like: Minute-to-Minute Instagram Posting Metrics, How To Gain WordPress Followers and Influence Twitter Trends, So You Want To Be A Blogger? and even watching YouTube videos with tips and tricks that tell you to post at least twice a day, use hashtags, be honest, be yourself, be patient and soon you’ll find yourself with a loyal brand following! I admit that it took no time at all for me to try and write and post what I thought you wanted to read and how best to get you to read it.

And what began as a great feeling quickly became an obsession.

So I stopped and took a breath. This is the civil war that routinely cycles through my body; the war between the mind and the heart; the need to impress versus the need to express; the ego versus the spirit. It is an ancient war and one that doesn’t belong only to me and the problem is: it will happen again. It’s happening right now. Some days I’m aware of it, other days not so much.

So how can I disrupt this pattern?

Is it possible to be completely authentic to one’s own artistic integrity when literally everything can be measured by some sort of statistic? Is it a matter of living in an acceptable ignorance? Is it swearing away social media forever and becoming an eccentric street painter?

There is something that happens to my brain when I see friends of mine getting hundreds, if not thousands of likes on social media. At first I am in disbelief, followed by jealousy and sometimes anger. “Why don’t I have thousands of followers?” I ask myself routinely, “What am I doing wrong? Am I good enough? Maybe I’ll never measure up? They’re lucky because they have [some magical power]. They’re hot and travel the world and of course they’re going to get followers. I just need to find my audience. I just need more time. If I didn’t have to work so much, then I’d figure it out.”

I’m being embarrassingly blunt here, but let’s be honest, can any of us escape the digital rat race at this point? Or am I the only one with an inflamed ego?

What are the questions I need to be asking? Would I write if only I read it? Would I shoot photographs even if I never posted them Instagram? Do I make films because I need to tell my stories or because you might see it? Does creative work have merit on its own, or must everything be subjected to the public shaming of the digital chorus? And why can’t I simply be happy for my friends that have found success in the public forum instead of jealous?

We’ve made great works of art successfully throughout human existence and we still do. Except now we have focus groups.