Shiny Things

Our tendency toward envy, and why you should knock that shit off

Jesus, I want a Bentley. Look at Chad in his radium Continental G8. Fucking Chad. I want that. I DESERVE that.

This is the state of mind most people live in. A constant envy of others for what they have, and what they feel THEY deserve. It’s the vey foundation of our consumer culture. You have to have “things” in order to define yourself and have value. When you don’t have those things, and other people do, you don’t feel happy for them, you feel sad for yourself. Eventually, you just get angry.

Just look up #hustle on Instagram and look at all the stacks of money, luxury cars, and exotic locations with big breasted women and men with 8 packs and bulging veins. Makes you feel kind of small, right? But it’s all masturbation. The life you see on the internet is only a glimpse of what people want us to see. They work very hard to show you how amazing life is, but will never show their crippling debt. Will never show their abusive relationship. Their deep insecurities. When you see people all flashy on IG, what you’re really seeing is a carefully constructed persona that they present to us. It’s an illusion.

Yet for some reason, we begin to look at that and we somehow make it the standard for what success is. There are so many things wrong with that. You don’t know who these people are, or where they are in life. You don’t know what advantages they had growing up, or what misery may be hiding behind those Chanel sunglasses. All you see is shiny things, and you get mesmerized. The truth is that these people have lives not much different than anyone else. Sure, the physical trappings are extravagant, but they deal with the same emotional challenges we all do.

Take a minute to evaluate why you want what they have. Is there any practical reason? Is this even a goal? Or are you just trying to live up to some false narrative that you believe will make you worthwhile as a person? If you are only chasing status, then it’s a hollow pursuit. You need to know what actually matters in your life. You need to figure that shit out and correct course.

This isn’t a shot at people with perfect abs, or breast implants, or Lamborghinis. If those things bring you true happiness, then more power to you. I mean that in the most sincere fashion. We are all entitled to happiness. I want to encourage self awareness, and taking time to understand what really matters to you. While perfect bodies and stacks of money and Bugattis can give pleasure, they do not create happiness. Real happiness comes from within, and a sincere understanding of yourself.

Define your purpose. Focus on your goals. Make a difference in someone’s life. These are the things that matter.

By Tim Pangburn on March 27, 2017.

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Exported from Medium on October 24, 2018.

Why I considered retirement

I’ve talked for some time now about how I’ve had personal struggles with tattooing. I’ve lost passion, found it hard to commit myself, and I get angry. I’m generally unhappy.

The truth though, is that I’m not unhappy with tattooing. I’m unhappy with things IN tattooing. I’m not going to praise the old days, because they were just as shitty for different reasons. I’m not going to take it the other direction and talk about lofty high scale experiences where you’re served kombucha from an ethically sourced woman’s shoe, because, well, that sounds like a patchouli scented nightmare.

I’m going to stay grounded in the oncoming opinion/rant, and be totally fucking real about how I feel. Those feelings are most certainly mixed, and at times full on contradictory, but that’s what existence is. Everything is duality and a shitload of grey areas, so I’m not going to downplay OR dramatize anything here.

These are the issues that have caused me so much internal struggle, so let’s dig in.

The good old days

“Everybody’s taking about the ‘good old days,’ right? Everybody! The good old days. Well, let’s talk about the good old days!”

I started tattooing June, 1998. That’s 21 years. More than half of my life. There’s plenty of people with more skin in the game (pun intended) but 21 years is a long fucking time. The changes that have happened since then are insane.

We didn’t use computers, didn’t use the internet, what the fuck is an iPad even, and people pull their kids away and managers follow you in the store to make sure you don’t steal, because you were heavily tattooed. You want to look at other people’s work? Buy a magazine. Want to talk to other artists? Walk into a shop you don’t work in. You made your own needles, what the fuck is a cartridge, and get ready for big laughs if you happen to find a rotary to use. You tattooed flash, and sometimes you were lucky enough to do something custom.

I started at the end of the first wave of new school, so things were already changing. People with art degrees were getting into tattooing. Even then, tattoo shops could be rough places. Anyone who’s been tattooing a long time undoubtedly has violent tales. You had to do things a certain way or it could be bad for your health.

Do I want to go back to that? Fuck no. I respect what it took to bring tattooing to where it is, but that shit sucked. I like Instagram, having reference on my phone, and a global network of artists to talk with and learn from. I like multiple styles of work, and doing custom tattoos. I like not asking the godfather tatter permission before I do shit.

Even as tattooing has grown, there’s still a lot of people trying to squeeze the last bit of life out of the cronyism and tough guy shit of the golden days, and frankly, that shit is tired. I’m a 40 year old man with a mortgage. I ain’t got time for that shit.

The wave of the future

On the other side of the spectrum, we have shops or artists who create a fully immersive experience, with fucking ferns and sparkling water and aromatherapy blasting in your face while their shop masseuse rubs your feet and your chakras are aligned using the appropriate crystals before they bless you with the tattoo design they’ve chosen for you.

I don’t think that’s actually a thing, but I’m sure you know what I’m talking about.

We owe clients two things: convenience and comfort. While a lot of older style shops can be intimidating, the same can be said for the opposite. If you set your shit up like a fuckin upscale day spa, clients could feel just as intimidated. It’s like removing the humanity from a human craft.

With the proliferation of high end, private studios, convenience and comfort are being taken away. People put barriers between themselves and clients in the name of progress and professionalism. In reality, it’s mainly fueled by narcissism and ego.

The fucked up thing is, I was guilty of this 9 years ago, and even after Art Machine opened. But opinions evolve, unless you’re a caveman. Now I’ll call MYSELF out on some of this shit. I put barriers between me and clients. I don’t talk on the phone, and I don’t want drop in visitors. But hey, I said there would be contradictions and duality in this.

Party like a rockstar

How many rockstar tattooers do you know? The fuckin egos abound, dude. It’s obnoxious. We’re not special or cool because we draw pictures. Is it one of the coolest jobs? For sure. But ground yourself. Get humble or get humbled.

People like validation, I LOVE validation, but a pat on the back and some kudos for a sweet tatty banger don’t make you cool. It means you did your job. Every time I see these attitudes, I want to bash myself in the face. The self indulgent circle jerk of coolness is too much to handle.

I get embarrassed by it. I look and think “is that what we look like? Is that what people think of tattooers?” It makes me want to distance myself from the entire thing.


The over edit squad is like poison. Adjusting and blurring and over-saturating shit into oblivion. The completely unrealistic vision of the work they present to the public is distorting and warping perception of what’s possible with tattooing.

I’m not knocking editing as a tool. If you have issues with lighting, it can be necessary to alter a photo to give an accurate representation of a tattoo. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, I encourage it and do it myself. I use a CPL lens to reduce glare because I’m an awful photographer and my lighting sucks.

However, too many people use those tools to misrepresent their work. They over saturate, darken blacks to an unholy void, and strengthen whites until they’re fucking blinding. They’ll smooth out pores and mag lines, and create what looks more like a painting and less like a tattoo.

It’s fucked up because people believe the tattoos look like that. A lot of these artists are already amazing, but it’s cool to over edit, so they do it. The altered pics get tens of thousands of likes on social media. It leaves other artists busting their asses to gain traction against what is essentially a fucking lie.

I’ll be honest and say I’m a baby about this one. I readily say it’s not fair, which is the warcry of the loser. It gets disheartening to see others amass followings on dishonesty, while others struggle.

The great trash heap

There’s way too many people who flaunt and revel in being shitty, trashy humans. Tattoos have always been associated with the lower rungs of society, and I don’t doubt for a second that customers are still primarily working class men and women. Most of us came from very little, but that doesn’t mean we should act like pieces of shit.

You shouldn’t take insults like white trash and then make it your platform. When grown ass men and women brag about getting in fights, how much they can drink, drugs they do, how many women they screw…my snob kicks in. Shit isn’t impressive, it’s trashy.

I don’t like being associated with that shit. Tattooing aside, I just don’t get down with it. But in tattooing, it’s a faction of people that are practically encouraged to act up and let the trash flag fly.

Instead of miring yourself deeper into the shit you came from, be the lotus. Be from the mud, but not of the mud.

“Can’t turn my back on the hood, too much love for them.”

There’s so much more to it than just this. This is a good start, though. These are some of the biggest issues that have been gnawing at me for years now. I was letting these things bother me on a deep level, and it was destroying my faith in and love for tattooing.

Something clicked recently, and I was finally able to understand. It’s like a light bulb went off. I realized that the values I’ve stood for and the values I desire at Art Machine Productions shouldn’t be affected by what’s happening in the rest of tattooing. My sole mission has always been to give a nurturing, growth oriented environment to artists, and to give a comfortable, easy experience for clients.

There’s no reason my frustrations with the state of the industry should affect how I operate, or how the shop operates. Neither are defined by the trends, but by our customers and how they feel. So I shouldn’t consider quitting, I should be doubling down on the strengths that we as a studio have.

That means better customer service. Better communication with artists. This place is my second home, and I’m not going to change that. I’m in for the long haul, and so is Art Machine Productions.

I won’t let myself get caught up in all of this shit again. If something is bothering me, I’ll let it be known so I can work it out and get back to normal. Frustrations don’t always subside on their own, and being up front and open is the best way to move past it. Apparently if I keep shit to myself too long, it’ll make me want to quit altogether.

I might not love the tattoo industry, but I love to tattoo, and I love my clients and coworkers.

It’s okay to talk about it

The dirty word people ignore

Addiction is the fucking devil. There’s really no other way to put it. I’m not going to cite academic papers or statistics, I’m just going to speak from the heart and my own experience. Addiction ruins lives.

When people think of addiction, they think of frail, crooked toothed ruffians grifting in the streets to score a fix. The real face is more familiar than that. It’s your coworkers. It’s your buddy you watch the game with. It’s your child. I can’t count the number of people I’ve known who struggled with an addiction, and I can’t count the number of people I’ve known who have died because of it. It’s that prevalent.

I just want to smash the argument I often see that addicts get what they deserve because they made those decisions. That if they make better choices, things would be fine. It’s the biggest load of horse shit of an argument I’ve ever seen. It points to an extreme lack of understanding of the nature of addiction. Let me set some shit straight so maybe you can have a better handle on it.

Brain stuff

What goes on in the brain of an addict is incredibly simple to understand, but most people don’t take the time to learn about it. You see, the reward system in the brain is set to release dopamine, that feel good chemical, when you complete tasks and challenges. It usually takes a certain amount of effort to make that happen. Drugs and alcohol, along with a slew of behaviors, bypass that effort and cause the brain to release that dopamine with basically no action. It’s reward with no challenge. Eventually the reward system identifies the drug of choice as being the only source of pleasure. It’s been hijacked.

This is where things get really interesting. The frontal cortex is responsible for logic and reasoning, as well as decision making. This area of the brain DOES NOT have control over the reward system. In fact, part of its job is to fight the impulses that are happening.

We all know that when you are under the influence of drugs or alcohol, your judgment is impaired. That impairment can last beyond the time you are actually under the influence. For an addict, this impairment is constant due to continued abuse, and still manifests for a long period of time even when they’re not high. It can take weeks, months, even years before the reasoning function of the frontal cortex returns to normal.

Okay, what does that mean?

This means that for an addict, the reward system has been overridden by substances so that it believes the only source of any joy comes from that substance. At the same time, their reasoning and logic skills are basically fucked from constant abuse. This is how addicts seem to be able to justify the deplorable. Their judgement is broken, and that’s an issue of chemistry, not simply will.

Now I’m not implying that a certain level of will isn’t required to quit. It takes immense strength and willpower to enter recovery. The difference is that the willpower used to quit is attempting to fight against complex, ingrained neural pathways formed through long term repetitive action.

You literally have to restructure the neural pathways of your brain. Take a minute to process that.

Changing your brain chemistry is more difficult than it sounds. And it sounds hard as hell. It takes years of hard work. Recovery requires community, study, practice, service to others, and often people need outside resources like rehab and therapy. But there is hope. There’s light at the end of the tunnel. You need diligence, commitment, and patience, but lasting sobriety is real.

If you or a loved one suffers from an addiction, there is help. Don’t be afraid to reach out. You deserve to live a happy and fulfilled life, and admitting there is a problem and you need help is the first step to get there.

By Tim Pangburn on April 7, 2017.

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Exported from Medium on October 24, 2018.

6 principles that will bring you happiness

It’s been a long time since I felt that pinch. That simultaneously dull and acute sting in the middle of my chest. That ache that threatens to boil over into the real world and tear down this facade. It’s been a long time since I felt it, but I immediately recognize it.

That’s that suffocating woe. That ball of despair stuck deep in your esophagus that just feels like it’s going down on a rollercoaster. Not you, just that knot in your chest. It’s in free fall, and that “womp womp” sound isn’t audible, but you can feel it in your chest. It’s agitated and wet, it’s fuzzy and sharp.

Now I don’t claim to be immune to the throes of my wild mind, or to have mastered the 6 principles that will bring you happiness. If I could, I would smash my brain with a hammer to make it shut the fuck up and stop doing this to me. What I do know is that this brain, this stupid vindictive brain, is the only one that I have.

It’s a real love hate relationship. I love to hate my brain. That piece of shit defies me constantly and tries to bury my efforts. It collapses common sense and sabotages everything I aspire to. It makes me hate everyone, when I know in reality I don’t hate them. It makes me pray for death, swift and quick, when there’s nothing worth dying for.

My brain and mind are confined to the same space, battling for control. My mind trying to subdue the animal instinct to violence and self destruction; trying to stop me from dying in a shitty hotel room, full of Percocet and bourbon with a subpar hooker like a third rate Chris Farley. My baseline is depravity and decimation, and without vigilance, I return to it.

It’s strange how I spent so much of my life assuring myself I was a good person, never understanding why I did shitty things. Now I’ve become the good person I knew I was, but my mind is pushing me to do even worse things than I had before. Some days are better than others, and other days are my own personal war.

Sometimes I wish I was able to believe in god. To offload responsibility and fate into the hands of a supreme being, beyond mortal comprehension, sure seems like a nice way to ostrich my head in the sand. But I’ve been blessed and cursed with self awareness, and the desire to make sense of the chaos. Answering the tough questions by saying “because magic” doesn’t work for me.

But oh, to lay down in simplistic bliss, unaware and unwilling to face my demons head on. The ongoing struggle is tiring. Sometimes I wonder if I can keep fighting, but more often I’m just rolling my eyes and thinking “this again?”

It’s a bizarre place to be, but not unfamiliar. I often feel like a house of cards, and there’s constantly a light breeze. Maybe I’m blowing it up to be more than it truly is. Maybe I’m too wrapped up in narcissistic indulgence of self pity to see that not only are my problems small, but they’re unimportant. The world spins on, people die, babies are born.

But that’s just the nature of being human, isn’t it? We bend and fold out entire lives and experience around our sense of who we are, or, more importantly, who we think we are. And who we think we are is usually defined by the struggles we have overcome. So logically, if you still struggle, your sense of self is damaged. But the truth is, there is no real self anyway.

I had this image stuck in my head the other day. You ever see a time lapse of a flower growing and blooming and then wilting? I’d like to see that in a person. Just a few seconds taking them from birth to death. I mean, our lives are far less than a few seconds in the scale of the universe.

Now picture it with all of humanity. The entire history of mankind on a planar graph, rising and falling, as tides. I am a speck in that graph, and my struggles mean nothing. There is no me against the backdrop of humanity.

Where does that leave me? In the same place, but knowing that it’s up to me. What I do, where I go, how to feel, those are all decisions I make. My brain isn’t me. All that bullshit trying to drag me to baseline? Those are all just part of the human machine, but my consciousness is my own.

I choose what to do with the information I learn, and today I’ll choose to stay sober.

Old dogs, new tricks, something something

I’m mentally ill. I talk about mental health in a way that creates a separation between me and the sickness, making it appear like I have my shit together. The problem is that my awareness of my illness does not remove the episodes, and no matter how much personal work I do or what medications I take, I am still mentally ill.

Sometimes I don’t like myself. I’ve spent my adult life playing tug of war between knowing I’m a good person, and believing I’m a monster. Lord knows I’ve done enough monstrous things. Lord knows I actively fight that monster.

A lot of people think that you shouldn’t have to actively fight instinct, and you should just be yourself. But you see, people like me can’t just “be.” Just being means that I will inevitably give in to the worst behavior that still lies dormant in my core. If I don’t put up a fight, I will burn everything to the ground.

What’s fucked up is that when I look back on all of the things I wanted but I didn’t do because I knew they were wrong, I regret it. I regret doing the right thing. I look back on failed relationships and think I should’ve just fucked those other girls when I had a chance. I look back and think I should’ve taken more drugs when I had the chance. I reflect on so much of my life from that fucked up place that I barely know what to make of it.

I could’ve gotten higher. I could’ve had more reckless sex. I could’ve been a full blown degenerate deviant. And part of me wishes I had been.

That is, part of me wishes I had been, when I’m in the middle of an episode. When all I really want to do is burn it down to numb my pain and my loneliness. When I know I can’t do that anymore. When nothing brings a sense of joy.

My brain is a fucking asshole. I’ve accomplished so much, and I have everything I’ve wanted, yet my own mind doesn’t let me enjoy it. And this is the curse, this is the fine print on the contract. I can achieve anything, but the depression will still sap the joy from it and leave it bleak and grey.

People don’t understand that when you’re depressed, it’s not that you’ve given up, it’s that you can no longer muster the strength to do it any longer. It’s a war with no end. Some battles you win, others you lose, and the tide can turn at any moment. Sometimes you get battle fatigue and don’t have the power to face it, so you run.

I want to run more than ever right now. This has hands down been the most difficult and trying year of my life, and it’s showing no signs of letting up. I’m tired. I’m battle fatigued like hell. A lot of the time, I don’t know how much longer I can fight.

Lately I’ve been pouring myself into hobbies to the point that it’s detrimental to everything else. My only hobby is yard sales and thrift stores. Tonight I detoured on my way home to hit four curb alerts and try to snag free shit to sell. Steph asks me where the hell I plan on keeping everything, because what I’ve already gotten is trickling through the whole house. Selling is slow work, but acquiring is easy.

But I need this. That sounds so fucking stupid when I say it. I need this. I need to find an awesome deal on an item I can theoretically resell because it gives me a feeling of control in a life that’s otherwise spiraling into madness. I need to assert control on something, ANYTHING, to give me a sense that I am the one guiding my life.

I need this so that spiraling madness of existence doesn’t drive me back to the bottle.

That sounds so weak willed when I reread it all, but it’s just the truth. I’m struggling bad lately because I feel incredibly helpless, and I get the sense that it’s all going to collapse like a house of cards sooner or later. And when it falls apart, what’s standing between me and a bottle of bourbon? So I say fuck it. If sorting dozens of crates of used books is what keeps me sane, then that’s what I do.

When life gives us so many difficulties that we can’t recover before the next one hits, we don’t have a lot of options. We can fight, or we can run. For me, running is not an option, because running only creates more difficulties. So I’ll work through it the best I can. If that sends me down some strange roads, so be it. As long as those roads aren’t paved with whiskey, I’ll be alright.

Do your best. It’s all any of us can do.

Whoah, We’re Halfway There (Whoah oh! Living in Despair!)

Lithium may control my mood swings and even out my mood, but it doesn’t mean I don’t have mood changes. It doesn’t mean that I float along at a steady medium, never dipping too high or low from the medically regulated baseline I’m accustomed to. No, it doesn’t mean I no longer get sad or happy.

If anything, it’s made the lows a little less severe, and the transition between moods a smooth process, and not a frantic back and forth. Less severe doesn’t mean nonexistent. I’m actually coming out of what I assume has been a manic episode, and I’m monitoring my mood pretty closely. Monitoring doesn’t mean I can change it, it just means I’m being aware of it.

The quest for happiness is bullshit. Or I should say, people’s definition of happiness is bullshit. People think of it as something tangible; something that once achieved, remains. They think of it as a state of emotional being where the bad can no longer touch you. That’s not happiness, that’s joy.

It’s a train of thought that’s dangerous to your own wellbeing. You can’t sustain joy for the long term anymore than you can sustain ongoing anger or fear. The fight to sustain constant joy would result in your brain melting. The denial of anger, pain, and sadness would compress and compound those feelings into a festering ball in your gullet, and they would eventually force their way out in a display that would most likely be extreme and embarrassing.

So yes, your quest for happiness is bullshit.

So let’s reframe what we call happiness. Let’s stop saying that happiness is all about smiles and pleasantry and laughing. Because again, that’s called joy.

If I had to pick a mood to experience over a long period of time, it would actually be less about joy and more about contentment. I’d rather just be okay with whatever is happening. Joy is prone to disruption by bad situations. It’s hard to laugh and smile when shit is falling apart around you, but being content? Being content doesn’t hinge on external factors.

A lot of people think I have a negative attitude because of this stance. I’d argue that this is the most positive attitude one can actually have. The problem with our current social view of positivity is that it often glosses over the negative, or sugar coats things. It has people believing that in order to be positive, you have to rid yourself of the negative. That’s impossible. You can’t remove all struggles, you can only trade one set for another.

So the idea that you’re somehow going to find a constant state of joy is a pipe dream at best. Abandon that idea. Just get it out of your fuckin head and move forward. Embrace the hardships when you experience them, because they are teachers. Always work for the best outcomes, and understand that you may not get them. This is what real positivity and contentment mean, and this is a keystone to a happier life.

If this blog post was helpful to you, or you think it would be helpful to someone else, please share it. If you’d like to continue the conversation, follow me on Twitter, or joint my Facebook group, Unstoppable.

Face your challenges and become great

I hope the clickbait title is what brought you here. Especially because most of the time when you click on clickbait titles, it only gives you some rah rah bullshit to make you feel good, and doesn’t actually address anything. That’s not what I do. Oh no, I throw the garbage side of things right at you, just so you’re aware.

So here it is: life is really hard sometimes.

Not the big revelation I was making it out to be. Everybody knows life can be really hard. A lot of self help gurus tell you that mindset and positivity and manifesting your dreams and shit will basically remove difficulty. Yeah that’s a fucking lie. If the story of the Buddha tells us anything, it’s that no one is safe from the harsh realities of existence.

Instead, we can only learn to manage our own reactions to the thoughts and emotions that rise and fall in our minds. The good and bad of life will continue, with no discretion to man or woman. We just have to keep going.

I’ve been having some difficult times lately. I’ve had a lot of internal struggle, and a lot of external hardships and obstacles just tossing logs on the fire. The shit is like a beach party bonfire at this point, and I hate sand. Does that metaphor make sense? Fuck no, but it makes me uncomfortable so it’s doing its job.

Let me be clear about something. This isn’t easy for me. I’m not giving advice because I’ve transcended or some shit, I’m giving it because this is what I’m doing to stay above water. Some people can handle things better than others, and some people just present well. Don’t be fooled, everyone faces challenges.

So yeah, self help gurus tell you that positive mindset and actualizing your energy or some crap will fix it. They’re half right. Positive mindset will absolutely help, even to the point of possibly saving your life. But that’s not all it takes.

It takes action. It takes perseverance. It takes being stubborn and unwilling to quit.

I’m not going to blow smoke up your ass. A lot of us haven’t even seen the biggest challenges we’ll face. But that doesn’t mean they’ll break us, and that doesn’t mean you have to face them alone. Just be open about what you’re going through, and willing to take a helping hand.

Keep going. You got this.

If you found this post useful, or think you know someone who would, please share it. If you’d like to continue the discussion, follow me on Twitter, or on my Facebook group, Unstoppable.

Drugs and alcohol aren’t the reason for relapse

When you’re in addiction recovery, relapse is when you start using drugs or alcohol again. So relapse happens because you use drugs or alcohol, right? Not really. Not at all, actually.

Going back to using is the definition of relapse, but it starts a lot earlier than that. Some people dance with relapse for days, weeks, months, even years without picking up. The reality is that most people have already relapsed before they even take that drink.

Real recovery takes a lot of ongoing psychological work. It’s awareness of thoughts, drives, urges, motivations, and the full range of emotion. Drinking is only a symptom of deeper issues, and unless those are recognized and managed, you simply can’t find happiness in lasting sobriety.

In my experience, there are two things that stand in the way of enjoying the happiness afforded through long standing sobriety. Those things are honesty and a maintained awareness and evaluation of your thoughts, emotions, and drives. Let’s dive into those a little bit.

Honesty and recovery

Honesty seems like it should be a no brainer, but you’d be surprised how many people can’t keep this simple ethic, myself included. Every addict has a long history of lying, even about the stupidest shit. The big lies have been easy to stop, it’s those little ones that are hard. Why would I lie about what I had for lunch? Who knows, it’s just standard addict behavior. Lie about everything.

So what’s the big deal about little lies? Why are they dangerous? I mean, if you’re being honest about serious things, then who cares about bending the truth or embellishing a little? Well, the more small lies you allow, the easier it becomes to lie. The easier the small ones are, the easier it is to lie about bigger and bigger things.

I look at lies, no matter how small, like shadows. Every shadow gives me a place to hide. When I lie, I’m hiding behaviors I think will create friction in my life. I’m avoiding confrontation. The more shadows, the more places to hide behavior I know is unacceptable. Hiding questionable behavior is a step in the direction of relapse.

If I am adamant about being honest with everyone, even about the uncomfortable shit, then I’m shining light into the corners. Remove the shadow, remove the hiding place. Stay honest, and you will automatically avoid bad behavior just to avoid the confrontation and accountability that come with it.

Evaluating your motives

I suppose this is a little trickier than not lying, but it’s definitely as important. We have the natural inclination to view things from our own perspective. The problem with that is the truth becomes tainted by our experiences and emotions. We justify behavior by how we feel, and offset blame to others. If we step outside of our own narrow scope, we can see our own fault, and work to correct it.

Look, the fact of the matter is that if you don’t take the time and effort to learn WHY you do the shit you do and act the way you do, then you’re going to keep doing dumb shit. And if you struggle with an addiction, doing dumb shit is a shortcut to relapse. I feel like I should make a chart or a venn diagram or something to illustrate it.

A lot of our actions are based on first reaction to what’s happening. Most of us are guilty of not taking a moment to think rationally about our actions, and instead letting emotion dictate what we do. First reactions tend to be defensive. Often, we’re defending our own faults and shortcomings.

If we want unbiased perspective, we need to work on changing our relationship with our mind and emotions. We have to remind ourselves that our thoughts and emotions are subconscious products of the brain, and we don’t have control over what pops up in our head. What we do have control over is how we react to those thoughts and emotions. You can’t stop yourself from feeling anger, but you don’t have to feed back into it by dwelling on it and creating negative thought patterns.

Drugs and alcohol aren’t the problem. Your unresolved trauma and inability to confront your shortcomings are. Face them. Recovery will be a lot easier.

When you need to change, but don’t know what you need

Some days you feel like you can take on the world, and some days you want to smash your own dick with a hammer. Those days where you feel so little patience that severing a limb to escape everything seems a viable tactic. Where nothing is acceptable, and you want to burn every motherfucker that gets near you, even if “near” just means you saw posts on Instagram.

I want to stay present in whatever it is I’m doing. When I say “whatever it is,” I really mean whatever it is I SHOULD be doing but can’t seem to focus enough to do it. You ever feel like you need a day or two of absolute solitude just to get your thoughts organized? Just a couple days to sit down and write down a plan of action? Instead, it’s like somebody flicks you in the back of the ear every time you start to gain any level of focus.

I’m so fucking ADD it’s ridiculous, and I can’t tune out the distractions when I need to work. And the truth is, I really need to fucking work right now. I need to work on what I’m actually trying to accomplish. I need to work on defining it. I need to work on mapping it.

I never actually work like that, though. I usually just frantically jump back and forth between half a dozen things until something works. The thing is, everything tastes like failure before I start, and my wheels are spinning. I don’t think I’m scared of the failure, because I always learn something in the process, but it’s like it’s tainted before it starts. I feel burdened by concepts.

That makes for uncomfortable bedfellows, because I’m burdened by my career too. Tattooing lost it’s magic a long time ago for me, and the ongoing process of limiting booking, limiting style, limiting content of my tattoos is all about me being able to find something that resembles happiness. I have no fucking idea what that is sometimes, but I’m going to keep looking. And if I find myself hacking off toes and heels to contort my feet to fit that shoe, then I guess that’s what I’m doing.

We’re all on a quest just to find our happiness. We want fulfillment and a sense of purpose. We want to be sure that we’re happy in our endeavors, and that they’ll mean something to someone; anyone really. I’ve talked over and over about my desire to be liked and accepted for who I am and what I do, and this doesn’t feel any different.

So what do you do when you hit these crossroads in life? You keep working. You work more, and work harder. I know some people would say that’s the wrong answer, but they’re wrong. Hard work is always the deciding factor in getting where you want to be.

I don’t know exactly where I want to be in the future. I know I want to rely more on my artwork as I come, and I thoroughly enjoy buying and selling weird shit I find at yard sales and thrift stores. I could do both of those every day and be happy. I want to be home more and at work less, and I want to be able to split attention quickly when I need to. Tattooing has always been good to me, and I can’t see me leaving it, but it doesn’t hold the importance it once did.

All I know is that I’ve been getting more and more uneasy about where my future lies, and the more time that passes without me doing something about it, the more unhappy I’ll be. I have to take steps right now, right here, whether I feel ready or not.

It’s the same for everyone. You have to take steps toward what makes you happy, even if you don’t always know what that is. Time doesn’t stop for any of us, and if we just stay in one place without making changes, we’ll eventually resent our position, even though we’re the only ones to blame.

Today I’ll make a conscious decision to take a step forward, even if it feels like I’m going back. Today, I’ll get out of my comfort zone and take chances. Life is too short and my happiness is imperative.

At 40, being a new father makes sense

When I say being a new father makes sense, I don’t necessarily mean it’s a great idea. Not for everyone, for sure. But then again, kids aren’t for everyone. What I mean is that at 40, being a new father finally makes sense for me.

That doesn’t mean I love and appreciate a child at 40 more than I did at 26, or 29, or 37, it just means that I feel more prepared and capable of being a good father. Becoming a parent makes you question and evaluate a lot of things, and the truth is, I lacked the self awareness for honest evaluation when I was younger. It’s only been as I’ve gotten older and made a conscious effort for personal growth that I feel the responsibility of parenthood is one I should be trusted with.

I think a lot of people take for granted what being a parent really means. You become responsible for feeding, clothing, and housing a tiny helpless human. But that’s just the meat and potatoes of it. Anybody can cook shitty mean and potatoes, just like anyone can raise a shitty person. The important part is in the details.

You’re expected to raise a functioning adult, who is a productive member of society.

Well, fuck, I’M barely a functioning adult. That’s where the truth of it all is. We’re expected to raise functioning adults when most of us, to some extent, still feel like children.

I believe that most people don’t live to their potential, and aren’t being the best person they can be. It’s just the way human beings are. Our baseline behaviors contain a lot of fear, anger, anxiety, and selfish behavior. We’re egocentric creatures who are always concerned for our own well-being , even if it’s at the expense of others. You see this play out in the political landscape constantly. Fear mongering and xenophobia are standard platforms for a lot of politicians.

It takes conscious effort to live life from a place of deeper compassion and honesty. Facing our own shortcomings and fears is incredibly difficult, but when we do, we’re able to grow and become better people. Being a better person resonates outward and affects those we come in contact with. And who do we come in contact with more than our children?

Children need guidance to make the right decisions, be honest with others, and let go of anger. We expect them to be grateful and treat others with kindness. Yet at the same time, we don’t always exhibit those characteristics in ourselves. How can we expect them to behave in ways we don’t behave? Children learn by the example they’re shown, not by the words they’re told.

I remember from my childhood the hypocrisy of adults, and how we were told to do certain things and act certain ways that they themselves didn’t. I remember grown ups breaking cardinal rules like it wasn’t a big deal, though they had been ingrained in my head as the gospel. Those experiences are commonly shared, and I’m sure you have your own versions. Those experiences also help create a cynical world view, and at the same time, the corrupt world we view with cynicism.

This is why I feel better equipped for parenting at 40. When I look at what I want to teach my children, I know that I can also hold myself to that standard. I don’t want my kids to lie? Then I don’t lie. I want my kids to be kind? Then I am kind to others. It’s really simple, and tragically overlooked, ignored, or even more often, excuses are used to justify the behavior.

I love all of my children. My daughters are growing into amazing young women, and I’m incredibly proud of their strength and intelligence. I hope that my personal problems I navigated through their early years don’t have too bad of an effect on them, and I hope they recognize the changes I’ve made in who I am as a person.

And I hope my sons can emulate the man I’m becoming, and not the man I was. One day I’ll teach them about that man, and what he had to do to become their father. But for now, pancakes and hugs are enough.