Warning: The following post contains graphic descriptions of feelings. Yeah, those weird emotional things. If feelings make you uncomfortable then you should probably click back to whatever respective social media platform you came from and keep on truckin' while I proceed to mumble on in a sensitive shoe-gazing way.
Not to be presumptuous, but if at times while reading the various product non-descriptions and all the other various "header card" nonsense, you've thought to yourself, "Wow, this dude sounds like he's on the verge of a mental breakdown," I'd have to say, "Sure, why not," which ultimately brings us to the return of the "Balloon Boy" graphic.
This is, I know, a confusing one, because someone did in fact once ask what this image is supposed to even mean—which, incidentally, is the absolute worst thing to ever ask me. It's like this: if I can't figure out what I'm doing with my own life how can I even begin to describe the shit I end up drawing? I've never been one for highfalutin art theory speak, so I often eschew doing so in favor of resorting to confusing statements intended to mask my own cornucopia of insecurities and inadequacies, like, "This graphic represents the collective struggle of humanity in search of a mid-century modern soul." Sounds good, doesn't it? Maybe even a tad philosophical with subtle hints of architectural design? But the sad truth is this graphic came out of a particularly shaky moment in life when I was tip-toeing through a mental minefield (mindfield?) and didn't know whether to keep on smiling through the shit or distract my loose-marbled mind from all the mad matters at hand by indulging in idle materialistic pursuits of mid-century modern bandaids for my echo chamber of a domicile.
Again, confusing. Sorry. It's what I do best at my worst.
So let's try this again. A little less than a decade ago, my life collapsed like a house of cards for personal reasons I'd prefer not to get into here—because personal—but I'd just returned to Los Angeles to try and circle the wagons, mentally regroup, and reestablish my freelance art career after an experiment in living abroad had gone much further south than ever expected. In many ways it felt like starting over from square one, something I never thought I'd be doing at 45. I rented an empty apartment in the cuts of Hollywood, leased the cheapest car I could possibly find, and barely had any possessions to speak of aside from a used drawing table I found on Craigslist and a mattress that a friend of mine was getting rid of (hence the aforementioned echo chamber).
Freelance life is not for the faint of heart—especially in the cyclical downturn of a skate industry where yet another "changing of the company guard" was going down, my contacts were dwindling, rates were falling, and checks required more time and energy to chase down as they rarely arrived in a now much more needed timely manner—and I began to have less and less of a clue as to how I was going to make multiple ends meet. To compound the creeping mental morass, I came across a reply to a comment made about me and another artist on the ever delightful Slap message boards that essentially said: "Those guys are legends but they've got nothing to say anymore." Boy oh boy, the timing couldn't have been worse for stumbling upon that one! Depression and anxiety, both of which have long been a part of my chemical makeup ever since I was a socially awkward, introverted kid, swiftly regained a stranglehold on my unstable psyche. Panic attacks became a regular part of my day as I felt more and more untethered from everyone and everything around me. I was officially spinning out, aka losing my fucking shit.
The one thing I've always had going for me—or not, I guess, depending upon who you ask—is a dark, cynical safety net of wry humor. So, needless to say, inspirational "feel good" quotes have never been my cup of uplifting tea. Hang in there? Choose happiness? How about go fuck yourself with the emoji you emoted in on? With this spark of ire in mind I took it to the art table to try and draw myself out of the black hole collapsing about me. That said, this "Balloon Boy" image could more adequately be described as my own personal "mental health self-awareness check," because such was the state of my troubled mind and the overall context from whence this graphic originated.
Suicide is no idle matter and nothing to invoke lightly. And while I never stared directly into that particularly black abyss, I did have inklings of where the drop off point began and that was enough to scare me. So this graphic is not so much about the act itself—and by no means making light of it—but the wayward path that can possibly lead there and the public facing mask I regularly kept while simultaneously going all to bat shit inside. I guess that would be my "super power," if anything, because by all outward appearances I think people generally find me rather unflappable, perhaps even a tad callous, aloof, and curiously hard to read. But the truth is I've always had poor self-esteem, little self-confidence, and I'm constantly living in fear, second guessing, questioning, and castigating myself about, well, anything and everything. So what's often presumed to be a cool, calm demeanor is really just a Potemkin facade masking the proverbial deer who is perpetually frozen in the headlights of oncoming life.
Don't get me wrong, I know I've been incredibly fortunate in many aspects of my life with a ridiculous dumb luck that has allowed me to jump several of the formative lines normally taken into adulthood, but the downside to this is that it's left me without a lot of the necessary tools to fall back on if and when ye olde house of cards starts to teeter and sway. Yeah, I know, this is all much more than you bargained for in a stupid skateboard blahg, too much information as per my usual, but so it goes in the Back Forty of Oz and what's really going on behind the blackout curtain. Woohoo!
"So wait," you may be thinking, "Let me get this straight. You're the same motherf'er who once worked at Big Brother magazine and likes to routinely flaunt the phrase 'Lighten up, Francis'?" Yep, one and the same. Like I said, super power. And the latter really has become more of a personal mantra that I've adopted over the years to simply live, thrive, and survive in a world that always feels a hundred-times more mad to me than it may in fact be (although given the state of the nation today, maybe it's only just ten-times now).
Earlier this year, a DM slipped in through the backdoor of StrangeLove from a person inquiring as to why I had blocked them from my personal Instagram account with the jab that my skin must not be as thick as they thought it to be. Rather stupidly, perhaps, I took a moment to explain in all sincerity that assumptions should never be made about the perceived thickness of ones skin, because you never know what's actually going on beneath that thin, superficial veneer depicted on social media. The person never bothered to respond and probably thinks I'm a dainty little snowflake to this day. And who knows, maybe I am, I've pretty much let that cat out of the bag with everything splayed out above, but I do know that depression and anxiety can be real sons of a bitches to duke it out with alone and both are currently surging to all-time highs—Good Job, America!—so if you or someone you know is struggling or in need of someone to just talk through some serious mental shit with, please consult screening.mhanational.org for a directory of support/warmlines in your area. —Sean Cliver
By the by, my eventual return to equanimous being came via the lifeline of a 6-year-old retired "working dog" named Meko that my son insisted I adopt to live with me in LA. I was never really what you would call a dog person, so I never understood the whole “man’s best friend” thing, but Meko came into my life at precisely the time I needed him most. He provided an anchor point to my beleaguered daze of days in the craze of Hollywood… a daily routine that would serve to keep me grounded and quell the tempest spinning out in my head. Meko became my constant in a manner that my friends simply couldn't be, what with all our assorted trajectories through middle-aged life, and although he and I both shared the “high anxiety” attribute, as long as we were together all was fine. Fate's best timed curveball, though, began with a right swipe on Tinder that connected me to a woman who lived less than a mile from me. It was through our evening walks with Meko that we learned about each other and all the ups and downs it took to finally meet across the universe and eventually reconnect to life together. So how's that for a Hollywood ending? And not a single footnote to boot!