There are seven canvases of various sizes leaning against the makeshift walls and furniture that comprise my studio. Behind the walls and on the shelves are a combination of my few remaining possessions and a collection of temporary objects that alternate between pieces of works in progress—like partially-painted balsa wood—and evidence of my inescapable routines involving to-go boxes and vodka bottles. On the canvases are various experiments in oil painting, a series of imaginary flowers in imaginary settings. None of this is meaningful, and nothing has been for quite some time.

At first it felt that something was missing. It seemed the space surrounding me was containing me, that it was absorbing whatever allows people to feel connected to reality. It’s most obvious to me in painting; the canvas sometimes feels like a magnetic opposite, a force physically pushing me away. Other times it feels as if a person is in front of me, not allowing any connection, matching my every move with an equal and opposite force. It isn’t that something is missing, but that a presence is lingering; some invisible weight, hanging ’round my neck, affecting every thought.

This is more than a sense of depression, it’s an all-consuming nightmare where hours and days are lost to the constant, repeating confusion. I am distracted, caught in loops. Decisions are hard to come by. Nothing seems to matter. It feels like nothing will again.

Somewhere in this fog recently, everything changed with a single line.

12

A few years back at an old haunt we were drinking and talking about marriage and I said that it wasn’t for me. That there had been possibilities in the past but I’ve worked too hard in all aspects of my life to avoid responsibility, that a life contract seemed just contradictory to where I wanted to be. That, and the entire idea of believing things last forever is ridiculous to me. Yet somehow it feels like this will last forever; that the days of panicked breath are here to stay and if nothing I’ve done yet can ease this worry than it’s likely nothing ever will.

I have been frustrated with my work for a couple years now. Some of it isn’t all bad, but like everything else in my life, I feel no connection to it. There is an emptiness to all of it, lacking a certain truth the way the dead lack a heartbeat.

Lately the disappointment has come from a series of oil paintings about imaginary flowers in imaginary places. It was working on one of these that, amidst a length of feeling unimpressed, I abruptly painted a line of deep violet through the composition. At that moment, everything changed.

I know this is all in my head. That’s always the worst part about mental health issues. Knowing that none of the conditions or paranoia are actually real, yet the merciless extent of very real effects seem to be boundless. Painting is the act of legitimizing the feelings: giving evidence to their existence, that even if it is all in my head, the feelings remain real.

Technically, lines don’t exist. It’s a two-dimensional concept, so our reality only has three-dimensional representations of lines. This doesn’t really matter, it’s just one of those things I get to thinking about when a 2-D idea fucks up the third and fourth dimensions of my life.

The concept of a line, however, is one of the most important in human history. From borders to language, no dominant system would exist without the use of lines.

WIP

These are all things I was considering as I was looking at this purple line meandering around my canvas.

The final exam for my third-year studio graphic design course came with a self-critique. I had to examine my own work from the detached nature of a critic—which, though arguably impossible, is at least an engaging exercise. One of the questions was to identify any visual repetitions; aesthetic choices that could be considered a crutch. The class didn’t come up with any, but I did: 95% of my work was in capital letters. I couldn’t communicate in lowercase.

The line created the definition I was looking for. It was imperfect, looking like a crack across the canvas. It felt like a crack across the canvas—across the room, across my mind. One of those moments that, much like a self-critique in college, the blinders are pulled back and a glaring crutch of my process, my nature, is revealed; There are no lines in my life.

It’s a simple enough idea whose impact has kept me in a bit of a fog. Because, while I do use lines in my art plenty, they’re never as intentional barriers. They’re representational, or relentlessly abstracted, but rarely if ever do I use lines to create form.

The same can be said for my life. How I have avoided major responsibility and the assembly of structure has created a canvas I am completely lost in, where lines are suddenly needed but, this far along, they need to be drawn with foresight and specificity, a context not always available to a painting in an unfinished state.

13

My new studio is perched above a large concrete floor whose contents regularly shift between explorations of creative expression. I have my first international exhibitions coming up, I generally define my own days, and I’m in love. I can tell that many things are going well. And yet this very American sense of ennui continues to paralyze me.

And so now I cannot escape an obsession with lines and the sudden wave of evidence found in self-reflection of my under-use of them across the board. A simultaneous exercise in being heavily critical of my work while trying to conceive of a way to achieve some definition and clarity in my life (and/or identity). To suddenly flood myself with questions: How do I start creating a form out of where I am at? What does this even look like and how would it be done?

This as it’s getting to the point where we can accurately say the world is literally on fire.

There is still a crippling sense of anxiety in everything and the world offers very little reason to look forward to anything, so much that sometimes I’m wondering when I feel hopeful if it’s the real emotion, or simply an echo of a memory of feeling that way.

That blocking force between my brain and the world at large is still there, and I don’t know how to get out of it. But the way to get from point A to point B is with a line, so I guess that’s a start.