The healing power of art.

One thing I’m constantly fighting, or some might say feeding, is the preconceived notion some people have that I’m just a horrible human being with absolutely no respect for my fans and , in some cases, for human life in general.

I’ve never been the sort to defend myself in the form of arguments that try to turn a person’s opinion of me to something more in line with how I view myself because it’s, in the grand scheme of things, an act of futility, like trying to dust in a sandstorm.  Still, it makes me wonder what these critics of mine would say if they were to actually KNOW me instead of constructing their demented alternate realities with the bits and pieces I reveal of my life on my Twitter stream.

I’m not saying that everything on my Twitter isn’t a hundred percent true, because it is, but it’s also not the best way to get a sense of how wonderful I am.

Thing is, I don’t feel it’s particularly dignified to constantly boast publicly about any of the charitable works I partake in, about the kind of things that would definitely shine a bit of light on my humanitarian side as that sort of showiness always comes off as desperate and forced to me.  It’s a gaudy approach towards life and I avoid it when possible.

Still, here I am, telling you about one of the more recent experiences I had, this time with a children’s hospital full of some of the sickest, most disgusting kids you could ever cover your mouth around.  I don’t do this to gain any friends or advocates, but to possibly buffer the ones I do have against some of the terrible slander that gets thrown around about me.

So yeah, children’s hospital, maybe a month back as Christmas was still looming, and I’m running around like a madman because the holidays make every pain in the ass even more of a pain in the ass.  Despite the hectic schedule at the time, I still made room to respond to a request from the kid’s parents.  Memory fails me here and I honestly couldn’t tell you what was wrong with the little guy, around nine years old, name of Brandon or Bartlett or some variant of a ‘B’ name.  Maybe his last name had a B in it.  Either way, the kid was sick and he was a fan and apparently wanted a visit from “ZIM” to cheer him up.  His parents told him ZIM couldn’t appear but the person who made him up maybe could, and so there I was.

One thing that kept running through my mind before actually seeing Barlow or Beuford was that I hoped the kid would be one of those super cute sick kids like you see in the commercials because then I would take a few pictures with him to post online so people could see how much fun the kid was having with me.  Well, the moment I walked into that room I knew that just wasn’t gonna happen as the kid was seriously one of the most repellent looking kids I had ever seen.  This was a kid that, even outside of a hospital setting, was just begging for a bag over his head, or I guess in a more civilized age one of those voice changing Optimus Prime masks.  Throw devastating illness on top of that and you’ve got something unspeakable.

Still, I had set aside my other errands until late so I had time to kill and it’s so easy for me to spread a bit of warmth so I took my hand from my mouth, stopped coughing from the sick, sour smell of the place and pretended I hadn’t acted like I was holding back a vomit upon walking into the room.

“Hey, kid!  Your parents tell me you’re a big ZIM fan, huh?”

The kid brightened up and explained that he knows the show is probably older than he is, but that his parents were big fans and practically forced him to watch it and he fell in love with it.  All this he said through his breathing mask.

I broke away from the subject to ask about any masks I might be able to use, my thinking being that if the kid was  gonna wear a mask I at least wanted a mask to keep out whatever his mask is keeping in.

Apparently what the kid had wasn’t communicable, but I still wrapped my scarf around my face so that only my eyes showed through a slit.

What usually happens in these situations is that the kid ends up wanting me to draw something for them.  They never just seem happy enough with me being there, it’s always draw this draw that, I’m dying soon boohoohoo.  You learn to mask your anger with insults, sure, but that doesn’t mean I’m not still affected by the sheer ballsiness of it all.

This kid…get this.  So I tell this kid, Buster or Belljar or whatever, I tell him that I get uncomfortable doing sketches for people, that I don’t really enjoy feeling like I’m performing for anyone.  That’s true enough too, but in this case I wasn’t big on the idea of taking my gloves off for fear of touching something, like maybe the kid would flip out and just lock onto my hand with one of his own, grotesque, bony, diminished ones, the burning sickness eating him up from inside jumping across into my own body like a diseased spark.

Just the thought of it sent me spitting and rubbing at my hands.

“Why are you spitting on me?” the kid croaked at me, the sound weak and broken, the feeble air of him pushing up and out of his dried, cracked lips, forcing the smell of impending death out into the room.

I tightened my scarf around my mouth and hoped that ignoring the question will be a good enough answer.

The kid starts guilting me about how he really hoped I would draw something for him, says his favorite character is ZIM.

That last bit wins him a few points, not that liking any other character over another is bad or anything, just that it’s always nice when someone doesn’t go for the obvious pick, Bloaty the Pizza Hog.  I look at my watch and figure what the hell, I can do a doodle or two.

His eyes light up, as much as eyes can when they’re clouded with sick and crusty with secretions, and I think to myself “My god that kid’s eyes are disgusting.”  I crack open my sketchbook and hold the pen to paper and then I close the book, keeping the page with the pen inside.  ”I should explain a little something before I get started, Bernice.”

“That’s not my name”

“Huh?”

“My name’s not Bernice.  It’s-”

“I’m sorry you’re sick, little guy, but that’s no excuse for interrupting a person when they’re trying to tell you something.”

“I didn’t mean…I’m sorry I-”

“OH MY GOD SHUT UP!”

What the kid had to know was that art develops, it finds a track and moves along that track but the track itself goes places you don’t always expect, so what used to be this ends up becoming that simply for the fact that the journey itself changes the passenger.  What kid doesn’t know that?

“What?” was all the kid could say.

“What I’m saying is that you think of ZIM as one particular thing, like a soldier in some bygone war staring intently at a photo of his sweetheart back home.  You form connections with that thing and that thing is painted by your emotions of what you remember about that thing, but the reality is that, back home, that thing is changing, wearing different clothes than she is in the photo, changing her hair, gaining weight, losing weight, sleeping with your neighbor.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about”  The kid again.  Not just sick, but dense as all hell.

“I’m saying that things evolve, even the way I think of or even portray my own characters.  It’s why when people talk about drawing in a “Jhonen Vasquez style”, the resulting artwork is usually something I have no real connection with in terms of it being ME at all.  It’s someone else’s idea of what it is I do, and it’s usually frozen in time going back maybe a decade, ya see?”

The kid didn’t say anything at all after that, and I opened up the sketchbook again, noting how that’s all it took for the kid to start smiling again.  My compromise for drawing in front of someone was that I’d hold the sketchbook facing me , knees up to block him from being able to watch me do the thing.  I hummed the entire time because if I didn’t the only sound in the room was the kid’s disturbing, wet, muffled breathing.

“Alright, lil’ guy, here ya go.”  I said, tearing the page out of my book and dropping it on his bed.

“W…what is this?  This is ZIM?” the kid asked.

 ”That’s him, yeah!” I said, maybe a little too cheerily.  What’s the harm in playing along, I figured,  so I do what I can to act as excited as I knew the kid must be.

“What’s wrong with him?  Why is he like that?” the kid mewled, sounding as though he was on the verge of tears.  It’s nice, in a way, but I’ve always hated when people get so happy they cry.

“Nothing’s wrong with him!  Lookit him there, yelling and ready to dominate the humans!  Hah!  Oh, that ZIM.”

The next sound the kid makes isn’t even words.  He just sorta lets it out like a weak fart, this sad, sputtery sound that grows in intensity slightly like he’s maybe losing his mind a bit.  It hits me right away what’s happening, the kid knows my visit’s coming to an end and he’s wondering how he can deal with not having me around anymore.  I understand.

“Hey, tell you what.  I know you’re a big ZIM fan, but I think I might have a GIR in me.  How’s that sound to you? ”

“Nnnnnno…no.  I don’t feel good.” he mewls, reaching for the button that calls the nurse.

I push the button farther away so he can’t reach it and say “Hah!  It’s no big deal.  You relax, and I’ll draw you something else to put up on your wall to keep ya company!  For my number one fan, right?!  I always finish my visits with that number one fan thing.  It always does the trick, and even though I know that makes me a big liar, it’s the thought that counts.

The kid’s just silent as I draw, and I hum again because it’s always better, as I’ve learned, than telling the kids to just stop breathing.

“Aaaannnd…there ya go!” I tear another page from my sketchbook and I toss it his way.

It’s almost like he doesn’t want to look for a moment, averting his eyes, suddenly finding maybe the ceiling interesting or something out the window.  He looks down, finally, not actually picking the drawing up off the bed or even touching it.

“NOOOOOOO!!  NOOOOOOOOOO!!!  NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOAAAAAAAAGHHHHHH!!”  That’s what he says before he starts coughing violently, before he drags his terrible, wasted body from the blankets trying to reach the nurse call button.

I left around that point and I there’s not a whole lot else of note to tell about the encounter other than I remember getting a very satisfying bag of chips from a vending machine down the hall.

So there you have it.  I think maybe by doing this, by letting you in just a litter more intimately to the life I lead behind the curtain a bit, I maybe veered dangerously close to doing exactly what I find so distasteful about people who cherry pick only the cool sounding things about their lives to share with strangers.  If I did, I apologize, but there it is.