It’s All In My Head

fuel for the mind, circa 2002

People often ask me, “Have you always been an artist?”

“Of course I’ve always been an artist,” I say with an undertone of resentment for the fact they didn’t already know this. “Just because this is the first time you’ve ever seen me paint something, doesn’t mean I’m making it up right here on the spot. I didn’t become an artist overnight.”

That last bit is never said out loud, of course, because I’m not an asshole, and it’s not really their fault they don’t know what I do when I’m not pretending to be a respectable citizen.

Even while I internally fume about how still — even in my adult age — so many people have a terrible misconception of who I am, I understand why. Outwardly, I don’t give off the “artist vibe”. I’m not covered in tattoos, I dress fairly conservatively, I don’t spend my days yammering about artsy things. Quite frankly, I don’t find most meetings to be appropriate for such conversations, but given the right time and place, and I’ll talk your ear off about music or books or movies or politics. I didn’t gain an interest in those topics overnight, either; I simply choose to not talk about them all the time.

Perhaps the reason why I don’t expose myself as an artist in my daily life is because I’ve learned to compartmentalize those versions of myself. Growing up, most people in my life didn’t understand that I had such an incredible need to express myself. I channeled my emotions through any medium I could — music, art, graphic design, poetry, storytelling, anything — because the real world did not offer me the platform to truly speak my mind. Both my parents have artistic backgrounds (my dad is a writer, my mom has done fine art for decades), yet both their lives followed a path that halted their progression as artists. You know … the real world. So when it came time for me to graduate high school and decide what the hell I was going to do with my life, the voices of family members and friends alike resonated through my head: “You won’t make money as an artist. Pick something else.”

I spoke with Bryan at Good Nerd Bad Nerd about this very conflict in regards to my book, Tick.  I was stunned to hear how the struggles of my main character Jo resonated with him. You can listen to the interview here, starting around 43:00 minutes:

Bryan: I feel like you grew up as a young artist, because there’s some very, kind of, personal emotional stuff that you, I think, deal with as an artist trying to find your place in this world. My wife is also an artist. In college, her parents literally sat her down and had a conversation that came out of this book. “Well, how are you going to make a living as an artist?” It was so spot-on, that, I’m like, “Okay, Allison clearly had this conversation with her parents.”

Me: Absolutely, yeah. And that’s kind of where this story was bred from, was that frustration of me being an adolescent trying to do that. I had this desperate need to express myself. And as everybody says, “Being an artist, being a musician, being a writer … it doesn’t really pay that well. Are you sure you want to do that, why don’t you just go be a bank teller?” And I said, “I can’t be a bank teller, I have to say something!” Being a teenager, it’s really hard to figure out how to express that, how to emote that, and how to get that point across that I can do this if I have the means and the motivation to do so. And now, fifteen years later, I was able to turn all of those emotions back around, and look at it from an adult perspective, and say, “Hey, look, I can do that.” And then I wrote a book about this very struggle.

No joke, someone told me to be a bank teller when I was 18. It was a steady income, they said. I knew, of course, that if I became a bank teller I’d drive myself crazy. Really, I’d probably be clinically insane by now if I didn’t spend those years finding any and every avenue to express myself. Hell, when I was 20 a therapist diagnosed me as bi-polar and loaded me up with anti-depressants. That lasted all of a year. Why? Because I moved to Hollywood and found people whose own inner struggles resonated with my own in an incredible symphony of down-tuned strings. Yeah, we were all broke and struggling, but we were creating a community of friends who supported each other emotionally and artistically. It was in LA where I expanded on my fine art and graphic design skills. It was in that dank apartment off Hollywood and Western where I planted the seeds of my solo music demo. It was hard, but after losing myself to a mis-diagnosis of mental illness, it was in LA that I truly discovered myself.

And then, I spent the next decade creating myself. I knew that in order to live a happy life, I needed to be a creator. I’d always known that, but when the terrors of adult life smacked me in the head more times than I’d like to admit to, I really knew that I needed to be creative in order to keep my soul from being sucked into a dark hole.

I tried to live a “normal” life. I tried to take a safer route of being involved in a creative industry without being the center of it (audio and music engineering), but I could only spend so many years on the wrong side of the glass, watching musicians and songwriters express themselves through sound. I was envious. I was depressed. I was lost. And for years, I didn’t create anything.

Until finally, when my knees scraped against the rocks at the bottom of the despair pit, I was reminded that I had something to say. I had a lot to say. It was a risk — to say the least — to put aside the countless hours I’d put into trying to become something I didn’t really have the heart to be, put all my eggs in another basket, and shoot for the stars. If I were to become the woman I was meant to be, I needed to take the risk.

So I wrote a book. This book spilled from my heart and soul. It became the therapy that money couldn’t buy. It was the healing process of my psyche. It told of all the things that I’d had rattling in my head for decades, because finding one’s self is only part of the journey … the rest of the journey involves taking that self and giving her the chance to be that person. Yes, it’s going to be hard. Yes, there will be countless people who will tell you it can’t be done. There will be countless times you’ll wonder if it’s possible, if it’s necessary, if it’s worth it. But then there will be a time when all the inspiration built up inside will burst out and shine for the world, and those doubters will understand and be inspired by it themselves.

Become the person you want to be. Become the person you need to be. Become the person you want to be inspired by. Keep trying. It will take work, but it will be worth it.

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