As described throughout this site, a lot of my art is informed or inspired by music. Fiona Apple’s song “Anything We Want” includes a visual that has always resonated with me because of the overall story, but particularly because of these lines, which I appreciate as a way by which Apple embraces her scars as a form of intimacy. In this painting, as a neon zebra of sorts in homage to the song, I’m presenting my own facial scars as a kind of traditional warrior mask. The making of the painting was emotionally difficult, but the end result is empowering.
My cheeks were reflecting the longest wavelength.
My fan was folded up and grazing my forehead.
And I kept touching my neck
To guide your eyes to where I wanted you
To kiss me when we find some time alone.
My scars were reflecting
The mist in your headlights.
I looked like a neon zebra
Shaking rain off her stripes.
This is a large-format painting–a different kind of a self-portrait. I won’t go into the details–if you want to know what triggered it, listen–but after many years of health complications of unknown origin, I was sent into a state of extreme panic and agitation that needed an outlet. This was it. Incorporating paintings, written communications with the U.S. Census Bureau and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with medical records and other personally identifying information, this painting is both an immediate reaction to an acutely life-disrupting experience and a holistic reaction–myself turned inside out, essentially, profiling both the material and the intangible aspects of my identity.
You’ve just arrived home from work and you’re puttering about, getting ready to make yourself a quick dinner. Slowly, you feel a strange sensation…a toothache? That’s what it feels like, but it’s your eye, not a tooth. By the time you realize you’re feeling a slight ache, you’re doubled over on the floor in agonizing pain, clutching your right eye. You are alone, but it feels like someone is there with you, quickly stabbing a life electrical wire into and out of your eye for an hour straight. Your right nostril streams fluid the entire time. You get up and run around and around–circles, actual circles. You get in bed and cover your face but last only seconds before you’re back on your feet, literally trying to outrun the pain. An hour later, it fades, slowly. What just happened? A stroke? A seizure. You make an appointment with your doctor for a couple of days later; the next night at 7:00 p.m., it happens again. And then it keeps happening, 7:00 every day. You are convinced that you are losing your mind. Your doctor says it doesn’t sound like a migraine; your neuro tests come back–as always; this is predictable by now–normal. You’re perfectly healthy, you are told; you just need to learn to relax. It’s a panic attack. A year later, you find out you’ve had cluster headaches–known, too, as alarm-clock headaches and suicide headaches–potentially the most painful experience known to humankind. This painting/drawing was made during a cluster headache, using a mirror. It was begun and completed within the span of the attack, and it was made to chronicle the moment, as I had no idea what was happening but felt certain that whatever these seizures or strokes were were ultimately going to claim my life. Incredibly, I had one “cluster” of cluster headaches during November 2012–and have not had a single one since. This rarely happens. Coincidentally, I discovered that I have had Lyme disease for many years and the majority of “probably multiple sclerosis” symptoms have been completely eradicated since I began antibiotic treatment. This portrait preceded the one above–“They won’t take no for an answer”–and, together, they are part of an ongoing life narrative that continues to be stranger and stranger as it unfolds. “Suicide Headache” is the beginning of this chapter; “They won’t take no for an answer” is the climax, and “Self-portrait as neon zebra” represents where I am now–damaged, yes, visibly damaged, but more resilient than ever. Resurrected.
And this is a simple charcoal-and-chalk sketch of myself with my father on Christmas day. “Holiday whimsy.”