1. Mr Chainsaw
9:25 a.m. - 2021-07-30
So here we are. Every now and then I need an outlet. It's hard these days to talk to anybody around me because I'm so concerned that I'll seem negative, a drain, a burden, annoying. I don't want to complain to my partner or friends because they blame themselves when its nothing to do with them. They feel upset when they want to find solutions for me and there are none.
I've come back here because it's where I always used to be. I've been thinking about this idea of characteristic millennial oversharing and how, because i am now Ancient, I've seen this shift. I've been on the internet for 23 years. What the fuck. The footprint I've left around is gigantic and I regret it. I think, like many of my peers, I made the mistake of rushing headfirst into social media early on without really giving much thought to the consequences of blurting all my stupid thoughts out in public under my own name. Over time I came to believe it was something necessary, that nothing had really happened unless it was documented and published on a timeline. I knew at the time what the pitfalls were, but was it ever really enough to criticise the attention economy and the disease of self-branding while still fully participating in it and letting it ruin my brain?
I still need an outlet though, if not just to untangle my messy thoughts. Back in 2002 we had diaryland and livejournal and we wrote anonymously, so here I am, a fallen leaf. I'm pleased and amazed this place is still here, looking just the same as it always did.
There's an anxiety bubbling inside me lately. I know it's a normal thing that a lot of people experience but I seem to have real trouble with my sense of self so I find it hard to define what I want from life. It's really fucked me up in the last couple of months. I'm in my early thirties now and I've made a lot of pretty poor life decisions. I've squandered a lot of my opportunities. That said, I'm not doing terribly and I'm grateful for what I do have - a wonderful relationship, a nice home to live in, enough money for food and clothing and a little fun. My life isn't bad... but there has always been this fire in me for something different and it flares up. When I have quiet I crave chaos. When things are hectic and hard I remember the value of a quiet life. Grass ever greener, etc.
My best friend had a baby, which is beautiful. For a good few weeks I sent myself into this absolute tailspin. Every time I had a moment to myself I'd feel this panic rising up in my throat. The time between being 24 and 32 has passed so blindingly fast I've only just realised I'm not some young cool person anymore and I can't define myself in those ways. It feels like I was so preoccupied with being perceived as an 'artist' and having a cool haircut and music taste and other hollow trappings of 00s hipsterdom, I forgot to cultivate any actual priorities, values or personality traits. At some point, you have to accept reality and grow up. You have to think about what will define the next chapter of your life, now that the fun is over. It became something that felt crushingly important and terrifying. I woke up in a race I didn't know I was running in. I gave myself exactly one year to be better with money, stop abusing substances and be a better fucking person and then maybe I might allow myself to have a baby too. Thing is, for about 6 weeks that felt like A Good Plan, and now it's fading. Now I'm not sure if that's what I truly want, or just what I've observed others do and hope might give me a sense of purpose. Self-actualisation seems a selfish, self-absorbed and misguided reason to bring a life into the world. I really do not know who I am inside.
I notice that I live in the past an awful lot. I'm freaking out because I'm having to face up to a certain chapter of my life being well and truly over, and I can't figure out what to do next. I suspect that I don't have a great deal of insight or clarity when it comes to assessing my life which makes it harder.
Eight years ago, I decided to pack in my dead-end call centre job and go to art school. This is one decision I am mostly pleased to have made and I really enjoyed my time there. I talk about it a lot. I am starting to feel embarrassed at how often I refer to the events that took place between 2013 and 2018 when I'm out drinking with people or whatever. Like a sad little has-been. I'll be in a retirement home one day, still talking about this narrow sliver of time when I felt like Somebody.
I did well at art school. I made some good work. I got a first class degree. I won awards. I went to another country to give a lecture about my work. I got 30k followers on Instagram. I sold some of my pieces to a well known celebrity. I did shows and met people who seemed utterly fabulous and cool. I loved it and it gave me a taste for things that... perhaps now I don't consider to be so worthwhile. It is amazing how intoxicating it can be to receive gratification like that, to watch likes rack up on a post, to have people want to meet you, to feel like a Somebody. Its especially intoxicating to somebody who doesn't have good self-esteem or any ability to self-validate. While I think of this time as being very exciting and enjoyable - the best years I've had really, I think it really played into and exacerbated some of my worst, most narcissistic tendencies as well. On top of that, it ruins what art should be about. I fell into a trap where art became content, and content had to be delivered frequently and regularly to stay relevant, to beat the algorithms. I don't think that leads to good work being made - or at least, I certainly can't keep up with that. I know that I'm not the only one this paradigm shift has affected in this way.
I did squander opportunities. When I look back at the position I was in as an artist in 2015, I wonder if I really shot myself in the foot by not trying to capitalise more on the work I was making. I actively stopped making my most successful and popular pieces because I had other ideas and I didn't want to be defined by one thing. I could have made some money but I saw that as crass and boring and I chose my bigger ideas instead. I wish I had realised that the bigger ideas would have benefited so much more from having a bigger budget behind them.
I haven't always executed my ideas very well. I tend to rush, I cut corners. One thing Instagram did was cause me to wrongly prioritise how something might appear online over making sure it was decently built and robust enough for exhibition. Some of my pieces look great online but I am ashamed by how poorly made some of them were up close. I got lazy. I got lazy and I tried to jump straight into finished products without knowing what I was doing because I didn't bother practicing or perfecting or testing. 'Just photoshop the flaws out later' became my approach to life itself. When I lie in bed at night with my thoughts, I think about how many people out there in the art world I've accidentally blacklisted myself from working with because I delivered a badly made piece, came across weird in conversation or flaked out on one too many times. The celebrity unfollowed me. I lost 14,000 followers. I stopped courting attention and people stopped caring. It's over.
In 2020 I was offered a couple of online projects and I turned them down because I just knew I wasn't going to deliver. I'm so mad at myself for that. I was too busy drinking and putting on weight, trying to escape myself and fill a void. I've had bouts of major depression before, real lie-in-bed-all-day-crying deep dark days, for weeks on end. Sleeping just to avoid being awake, etc. This wasn't that, I just... I just stopped caring. I lost all motivation. I have some ideas but no inclination to make them happen, no drive to sit and learn how to do something new or challenge myself. I don't know where that fire went. I'm tired.
I have a full time job now because being an artist never made me any money. Maybe I could bash out a thousand living room friendly prints and cute little sculptures that would look nice next to your houseplants, but I don't think I would find it fulfilling to become a factory line like that.
Where did I leave that fire?
I've been working on my mental health recently. For the most part I've quit social media. I've been feeling better in myself. I've been exercising, dropping the lockdown weight gain. Enjoying the local pool. I've been outside under the big sky, in open fields, with my love. I haven't felt any need to tell the internet about it. People don't need to know what I'm doing for me to feel like I exist. That has been healing, I definitely feel more stable and more capable of self-soothing when I get emotional because of it. I even stopped taking antidepressants, and I feel better without them.
Every now and then I wonder if I should quit my full time job again and pursue a Masters, since I was so happy in an academic setting, making art and getting recognition for it... but I'm not sure how I could financially make that happen. I wonder if that's the younger, sillier me talking too. I mean, a few weeks back I was planning to have a fucking child, so what the fuck. I can't trust any of my decisions. My full time job does not fulfil or inspire me, but it does put food on the table. I never saw myself as a person who would grow up and give in to mediocrity like that. It feels gross and cruel of me to think of it as mediocrity. It's enough for a lot of other people to live this way. So why do I keep thinking about an impossible dream? Of this stupid idea of myself as a Somebody? I'm not sure if its that I care about making art, or if its just about craving some weird narcissistic supply for myself. This is partly why I'm afraid to pursue my own passions now. My relationship with it is too complex for me to wrap my head around.
When I go on my phone for a scroll now, I can't do it for long at all until the negative feelings kick in and I have to stop to protect myself. When I get sad it lasts for days and days and days. On Instagram it's comparison, seeing all this good artwork people have made and thinking about how shit I am. On Twitter it's the sad, angry opinions of the entire world screaming at me. I can't handle it now. Its damaging. So of course I feel left behind. I can't make work about a world that I don't understand anymore. It feels IMPOSSIBLE to me to be able to be an 'artist' in the same way I used to be, to get shows and get my work out there, without participating in social media. So I am at a kind of impasse. I'm too old for Tiktok, too tired and beaten to read about current events. Too scared to re-engage with a world that is sick. Everything is burning and reality is a relentless hellscape.
What on earth do I have left to say about it? Nothing anybody needs to hear. This is where I am. What next??
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