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the solstice sky

one of my intentions for 2020 was to teach myself oil painting & take a real crack at producing some work in the medium. this was quickly interrupted by the pandemic, an escape to la, and a subsequent ten-month nervous breakdown where the sum total of my efforts became four pieces & extended stays in psychiatric care.

it took some time before i could even consider the paintbrush a tool again, but now i am back on that horse, working through a series titled complications.

though i have seven pieces in various stages of progress right now, i can’t bring myself to push forward anymore until i finish the self-portrait. this is because i know by the time i finish the series as a whole, i will be different—my intention is to capture myself as i am, as i have been for the past months. i do not intend to be the same upon finishing this series. i genuinely hope not to be.

late may, early stages—i have since grown a beard

the piece has been near-completion for some weeks now, but in my carving & covering, it has, much like myself, remained unsettled. the previous work was not complete until it was cut down to where i was at that time.

i am hoping that tonight, the long sun will finally bring this all to rest. i am hoping that i can move on from this beaten face of hidden wounds & off in to the coming darkness, as it grows again, as someone new.

i keep a room at the hospital

closer to 40 than 39 & still having ‘first times’ in my life. this one: my psychiatrist giving me a 6:00 am wake-up call, saying, “mr. smith, my recommendation is you need to stop all your medications & get to the emergency room immediately.”

it’s a strange way to start a wednesday.

the anti-psychotic i am—or was—taking has a couple specific side-effects to look out for. one is a rash. fractions upon fractions of people get any, and fractions upon fractions of those experience dire results. i had messaged him tuesday night about the possibility of having one & it became a morning trip to the hospital. (for the past few days i’d thought it was simply irritated skin due to the chemicals i use with oil painting, until it appeared on more than my hands.)

the good news, i suppose, is that i don’t have the serious & potentially fatal thing going on. the bad is that i’m still not sure what exactly is going on, so in the meantime i am on a variety of new medications for relatively serious conditions.

even in the past day i’ve noticed the changes. i’ll be completely depleted of energy for hours—then suddenly it’s two in the morning & i have to force myself to try and sleep in an attempt to maintain routine. emotions come in waves. bad, worse, wonderful. seemingly at random, impossible to predict. at any given moment i could have a complete breakdown or find myself working non-stop.

—it’s not without some irony that all of this is happening—i’ve felt the emotional restraints of medication for some time & haven’t been able to experience my heart beat like it does. now that i am, it’s quite a relief to know ‘i’ still exist—

i have no clue what this experience will end up being, i just know that already there’s some fair extremes in highs & lows, energy spurts & exhausting crashes. it’s a tad nerve racking for these are reasons that previously have driven me to drink, but with aa still a daily fixture of life, i’m pretty sure i’ll be alright.

it is nice, though, to feel again. even in the sadness that immobilizes me, it’s a gut-punch reminding me that i am still breathing, that i still have something to lose.

one of the benefits of having an old-ass car that can only play the radio is occasionally i hear pop-punk singles that remind me of the shit i listened to 20 years ago (read also: the new my chemical romance song). this song is funny since i was seeing taking back sunday before charlotte sands was probably born, but whatever, it’s a great pop song. it also has a solid studio video that makes me want to do magazine layout again.

like, i know the new yeah yeah yeahs is ‘better than’ all of this stuff but hey. just a sucker for a sweet talker sometimes.

returning from the pharmacy

today i am 9 months sober—not a conscious choice, but one that kind of came with the territory when i ended up in a pasadena psych ward for 8 days & a venice facility for another two months.

i’ve been thinking a lot about dependency during this period. in those first weeks after detox, i was put on a number of medications—one for bipolar ii, another for major depressive disorder. one for panic, another to sleep. these are the new things i depend on to keep my emotional spectrum within a range where i can remain relatively in control of myself & have a better shot at staying sober.

i used to be dependent on alcohol—but that’s a different context. i’m not addicted to any of these pills. they’re such a secondary thought that i need to set alarms on my phone to remember to take them. i can have my pills & put them away without wanting to take every last one in the cabinet.

everything i take a pill for now, i used to manage with alcohol. in aa i hear, drinking works until it doesn’t a lot. that’s basically how it goes—drinking didn’t even feel like a conscious choice; it was a way to balance on the tight-rope i walked in my head. i knew my emotions & how to control them, i could maintain my sleep schedule without a strict routine. i could have the flexible life i wanted. it’s just, eventually, the crutch became a dependency that consumed every other part of my life. it worked until it didn’t.

there’s a trade-off for everything. i don’t get hangovers anymore, but i also don’t feel at home in my own head. i can’t identify emotions—or even if i’m having them. my thoughts haven’t changed from darkness, but my feelings drift between an unfamiliar lull & extended states of quiet sadness. there are no more spiking highs, no anticipation or inspiration. in sobering up, it feels like i both saved my life & lost it at the same time.

then, of course, there are people. i try to be reliable for those i care about, but like everyone i fall short. the term co-dependent has become a catch-all phrase of any sort of negativity in relationships (kind of like toxic), but the fact is people do depend on one another. if a person keeps flaking out on commitments then they’re not dependable. if a friend avoids being there when you need someone to listen, they probably aren’t much of a friend. and in this place, where i am constantly adjusting, how can i blame someone for not wanting to be around me when i don’t even know myself?

dependency is a challenging issue because using something or someone as a crutch can get harmful pretty quick. losing control of the self over time & losing that time to spinning out can catch plenty in an emotional cross-fire. while addiction tends to blind one to the wreckage, depending on this medication to keep me alive feels like i’m just watching a life not my own float by from inside my head. if i could feel anything at all, i wouldn’t know where to start.

Colin Smith (b. 1982) works in a form of assembly within and across disciplines, both in digital and analogue formats. Following in the ideas of media theorist Marshall McLuhan, the medium of his work is often dictated by its message—the diversity of projects that result are each an attempt to represent a particular thesis, a certain context.

Educated in graphic design and photojournalism, and self-taught in the visual arts, Smith has additionally worked as an art director, freelance designer or creative consultant for a variety of small businesses and independent clients around the world.

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