Essay: Tell A More Interesting Story

The following essay, loosely based around the writings of Oscar Wilde, was written for my honors Queer Writings class at Austin Community College on April 23rd. 

Tell A More Interesting Story

     Wildflowers are a sign that I’ve lived another year. I can’t seem to believe it until I see them blanketing the grasses by the roadside, those little strips of the Texas prairie that civilization has allowed to survive. I am reminded of that first spring I spent numbly wandering through the smell of Earth in bloom—the one right after my fifteenth birthday, right after I dropped out of high school, and right before I learned to imagine surviving to adulthood. And I am reminded of the spring after that when I had laid my adolescent death wish to rest, and I could finally smile at the idea of a fresh beginning. Now it doesn’t feel like any time has passed at all ‘till cold rains flutter indecisively into a scorching early summer and I see the brown-eyed susans raising their little yellow banners in victory. Wildflowers are a sign that I’ve lived. I have decided this, and so it is true.

If identity is just a story we tell ourselves over and over again, then that story by nature can be changed.

     I have a habit of making symbols out of ordinary things as if my life were a movie I could pick over and analyze for hidden messages. I know there’s no such thing, but I do it all the time. I have a glossary of personally meaningful nonsense stored somewhere beyond my brain and behind my heart. For example, the moon is a sign of enduring truth. Although it appears to change shape in the sky, its true form is static; it only depends on where the light happens to fall in that moment. Just as Oscar Wilde wrote in his famous prison letter De Profundis, “At every single moment of one’s life one is what one is going to be no less than what one has been.” Past, present, and future phases exist at once in the spherical moon.

     Wilde goes on to write, “Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol.” A symbol is anything that stands in for some other concept. Symbols only have meaning through human interpretation. According to NASA, the real moon is just a mass of iron, olivine, and plagioclase feldspar flying through space; recent scientific research into personality indicates that the way we think of people as characters with enduring traits may be nothing but a comforting myth. Yet just because symbols have no inherent meaning does not mean they are meaningless. In art, as well as in life, meaning is created and shared. If identity is just a story we tell ourselves over and over again, then that story by nature can be changed. Through this comparison to symbols, Wilde suggests that to live an artistic life is to take in the whole cornucopia of human experiences both positive and negative and to simply tell a more interesting story.


Who Am I?

     Philosophers have long struggled with a problem called “the persistence of identity.” People want to know: Who am I? But even those three simple words carry a host of further questions. Which you is who? The person you are today? Five years ago? Who you’ll be in fifty years? And when is am? This week? Today? This hour? This second? And which aspect of you is I? Are you your physical body? Your thoughts and feelings? Your actions?” Many people spend years struggling to find out who they really are. But I would argue that who we are is not something meant to be found like a prize in a scavenger hunt, but something that is created by the stories we tell about ourselves to ourselves.

“People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations… to reframe them, to reconstrue them, to even reconstrue themselves.”

     In an episode of radio called “The Personality Myth,” NPR host Alix Spiegel talks to a psychologist whose research challenges something most people take for granted about their identities: “The idea that there are specific personality traits that we all have inside of us that are stable and consistent and will determine our lives.” Walter Mischel started out his career trying to study these personality traits, but when he ran studies and dug through past research, evidence suggested that this kind of stability of personality over time and across situations simply doesn’t exist.

     For example, Mischel cites a large study on children’s honesty by researchers Hartshorne and May, which found that the children they were studying were never simply honest or dishonest. Thousands of children were given numerous opportunities to be dishonest at school and home, but the same kid who was a model student in history class would cheat every day in math. Their behavior was not consistent across situations. In the past, every time a study like this would come out, the researchers would assume they did something wrong. It must have been a mistake. But Mischel thinks the mistake might be in researchers’ assumptions, not their results. His own research finds that “people are predictable, but they’re predictable because we see them in situations where their behavior is constrained by that situation and by the roles they’re occupying and the relationship they have with us.”

     But where is the individuality in that? Are we fated to operate like automatons, acting out the expectations of our circumstances? No. There is a third player in this game of identity that Mischel calls “the mind”: our attitudes, beliefs, and assumptions about the world and ourselves. These form the lens through which we view our circumstances, coloring our actions and in turn continuing to cyclically shape our ideas about who we are. And these stories are within our conscious control as long as we recognize them as changeable. “People can use their wonderful brains to think differently about situations,” Mischel says, “to reframe them, to reconstrue them, to even reconstrue themselves.”

     A few years ago I woke up, wiped the crust from my eyes, vomited again, and poured the last of that disgusting peach vodka into the toilet. I decided to never drink again. I did not have the energy to be dramatic about this. I brushed my teeth and went back to sleep.

     Nowadays the story I tell myself about alcohol is completely different from when I was drinking. This isn’t because I have changed — in fact, it’s the reverse. I had to edit my personal narrative around drinking in order to change. Otherwise, my sobriety would only last as long as the emotional whim that started it. One by one I tracked down and eliminated the insecurities that had caused my problem in the first place.  I can open up to people sober. I am fun when I’m sober. The final victory was when I was able to switch from I’m quitting drinking to I don’t drink.  The former is a struggle. The latter is a simple statement of an identity that has changed.

Art As Practice

Writing and rewriting the narrative of my life through pretentious symbolism is the only way I know how to function. In that way, art is a means of survival.

     Wilde writes in De Profundis, “the artistic life is simply self-development.” I believe that the meaning we create for ourselves through identity is a form of art. I view creating and engaging with art as practice for creating meaning within my life. Reading novels and poetry as a child taught me how to deepen my experience of life by creatively interpreting the world around me.

     The symbols I’ve invented have helped me consciously edit the way I view the world. They keep me sane. Doesn’t that make them “real?” I remember exactly how real it felt when I bought my first bicycle helmet. On the physical level, it was a hunk of blue head-shaped styrofoam and plastic, but in the fairy tale I created out of my interior life as a sixteen-year-old, it was a peace offering. It said, I now care enough about my life that I will buy safety equipment. This new story I was starting to tell, the one where I wouldn’t end up dying young, was fragile still. It needed something to hang on to. So I chose that helmet as its symbol, and I held it up as proof against later urges to self-destruct. I am not going to break down tonight, I’d think,  I own a damn bike helmet. I want to live.

     And it doesn’t matter if the meaning of that helmet was entirely fabricated, a private performance, because it worked exactly how I wanted it to. I learned every psychological trick I know from artists and writers. I paint my nails yellow when I want to feel joy. On Saturdays, I light candles and drink red hibiscus tea. I write important dates on the bottom of my boot so that I’ll never lose them. I am determined to eke out as much joy from life as I can get, and if I can’t get any, I’ll still find some of that classic emo-kid satisfaction in the dramatic tension of my misery. As Wilde wrote in De Profundis, “humility in the artist is his frank acceptance of all experiences.” What kind of story would I be living if there were never moments of pain and defeat? Writing and rewriting the narrative of my life through pretentious symbolism is the only way I know how to function. In that way, art is a means of survival.

Working Within the Medium

     Finally, it is important to note that within any artistic medium there are limitations. A painting is, for the most part, two-dimensional, no matter the colors. A tapestry is made of cloth, no matter the subject. A novel is mainly comprised of words. This is also true for the creation of identity. A person’s actions and circumstances shape their experience, which is the text onto which the interpretation of identity is applied. You cannot begin to change what you’d like to change about yourself if you are not aware of what is beyond your personal control.

He is using the tools of art to shape his experiences into something he can bear, through the only thing in his incredibly poor situation he can control: his own worldview.

     Sexual orientation, for example, appears to be inborn. For some people, it changes over time, but few have seen positive results in trying to force it to change. In my case, the fact that I am attracted to women is simply the text of my life. It could not have been any other way. Within this fact, though, I can do as I please. I can act on my feelings, hide them, hate them, or love them. I can do all of these things with gorgeous inconsistency. I have decided to admit to the way I am and to feel content with it. Sometimes I call myself a homo, other times queer or gay. If I’m feeling courageous I can be a lesbian–I am only a dyke when provoked. 

     Wilde himself obviously didn’t choose to love men, but he did choose to create beauty and leave an enduring mark on the world through that love. Literary critic Guy Willoughby writes of De Profundis: “Presenting his own troubled history as a self-conscious creation, he adjures his audience to review his life according to the tenets of art-criticism, whereby all his deeds may be faced, condoned, and integrated into a complex and suggestive artifact.” Wilde spends a good bit of the letter discussing how, within the circumstance of his imprisonment, he is fighting against the urge to become bitter and spiteful. He says he is more-or-less okay with suffering, but he “could not bear [the suffering] to be without meaning.” He is using the tools of art to shape his experiences into something he can bear, through the only thing in his incredibly poor situation he can control: his own worldview. In this way, despite his moralistic bent in the letter, Wilde’s notion of artistic survival is highly individualistic. He writes, “Nothing seems to me of the smallest value except what one gets out of oneself. My nature is seeking a fresh mode of self-realisation. That is all I am concerned with. And the first thing that I have got to do is to free myself from any possible bitterness of feeling against the world.” The letter reads to me as a struggle to become different by thinking differently, turning over past events, past writings, even the life of Christ in a search for solid enough symbols to ease the pain of his imprisonment and disgrace.

In Conclusion

     It is impossible for us to know exactly what Oscar Wilde meant when he penned the words “Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol” at the end of one paragraph in a very long letter from prison in 1897. He might not have meant much by it at all; maybe he just thought it sounded smart. Despite this, I consider it entirely within the spirit of his work to take this witty little phrase into my life and make something important of it. Art is a symbol, because man is a symbol, because both are constantly searching for a way to be more meaningful. I have decided this, and so it is true.


Celebration! ‘Advice I Ignored’ is available as a paperback RIGHT NOW!

Click here to go get ’em!

Tell your friends, tell your sister, tell your dad, tell your teacher. And leave a good ass review if you like it! It’s such a strange feeling, to be putting the book I started writing in my notebooks at 16 out into the world.

I’m proud of my work and I hope you’ll love it too.

Here’s a little sneak peek at some ink illustrations from chapter two! The whole book is full of ’em.



Quick update – Advice I Ignored is live on Amazon this week!

yawpRejoice! Advice I Ignored, my lovely baby child of a book (with 100 ink illustrations and it’s so good read it blah blah) will be LIVE on Amazon within 72 hours! The paperback is a gorgeous little tome, and I’m so proud of my work. Tell your friends to tell their friends.

And most importantly, please enjoy a spicy little sample:


Five Steps to Feeling Human Again After You Go On A 28-Hour Internet “Research” Bender And Forget To Eat, Breathe Or Sleep

If I were a better, more honest person, I would deal with life’s pressures appropriately as they arise. That’s the kind of person everyone wants to be, right?

This girl tackles every challenge head-on. She keeps twelve different houseplants with varying humidity preferences healthy at the same time. She goes to bed at 9:30pm, moisturized but without so much moisturizer on that it ends up sticking her face to the pillowcase or getting in her eye. She wakes up excited to go out for a brisk morning jog. Maybe while she’s eating breakfast she catches an episode of This American Life: Ten stories about dogs who found business opportunities in unexpected places, and she thinks to herself, “Wow, that’s so me.”

Instead, I pretend I can shirk my mounting avalanche of ignored responsibilities by window shopping for vintage skirts on Etsy. As if that will fill the void! I pretend I don’t know I’m making a bad decision, when I really know exactly what I’m doing, as if I can fool myself! Inside my own brain!


The thing is, everyone does this sometimes. Bad habits may differ but the guilt, shame, and lethargy we feel after binging on something we know we shouldn’t have is pretty much universal.

This shame will get you nowhere. Heed my warning, traveler: You don’t feel awful right now because you’re a horrible person and you deserve it. You feel bad because you’ve been neglecting your needs. The good news is that the past is behind you and the glorious present is right here in your hands. What you need right now isn’t punishment or excuses– it’s a bit of care.

Believe me, I’ve been to disappointment-ville so much I made a goddamn map of the place. I have a pretty good idea of how to get out. These are all just suggestions–pick one or two things from each list, going in order, and you’ll feel at least a bit better in no time. Let’s blow this popsickle stand, shall we?

Slink out of your room and eat something, please. AKA: Physical needs.

  • Drink a glass of water, or tea, or juice if you prefer. You need fluid!
  • Brush your teeth.
  • Splash your face with water and change into some clean clothes!
  • Take a shower if you can. If a bath is easier, go for that.
  • Have a snack. I prefer toast.
  • Do five jumping jacks — or more if you can. Even better if you can go on a walk. Even just a little bit of exercise can do a lot for your mood and motivation.
  • Is there a medication you take? Pop it.

Find a plant to water or a dog to pet. AKA: Emotional needs.

  • Care for your pets, or even just say hi to the neighbor’s cat. They have pure hearts.
  • Reread the first chapter of your favorite book.
  • Enlist a friend or family member to watch a movie with you!
  • Call someone you love up on the phone. Tell them you just wanted to hear their voice.
  • Put on a guided meditation video! It’s okay if you’re not “good at it” yet. Being mindful of your breathing, body, and feelings for just a few minutes every day can be a very relaxing and grounding experience.
  • Complete a small task, like taking out the trash. There is a feeling of pride that comes with accomplishing even the tiniest of feats.

Laundry. Hamper. Now. AKA: Environmental needs.

  • Do a load of laundry!
  • Care for your houseplants. (Gotta have ’em.)
  • Pick up any trash from around your room and throw it in the garbage or recycling.
  • Is the air kinda stale? Crack a window!
  • Get your kitchen clean. Put on some fun music while you’re at it.

Ask yourself: what am I avoiding? AKA: Work.

  • Do one small task.
  • Commit to chipping into the thing you are avoiding.
  • Are you avoiding certain thoughts? Why? Write or draw something about those thoughts.
  • If you have a homework assignment, make yourself a checklist. Break it down into little parts.

Why did that happen? AKA: Prevention.

  • Forgive yourself. That wasn’t wasted time – you were learning about yourself and your reaction to stress!
  • Say it with me: I deserve the comfort and rest of a regular sleep cycle.
  • And again: I deserve the nourishment of having three meals every day.
  • And again: I deserve the peace-of-mind that comes from facing my life head-on.


The Five Demons You Must Vanquish to Actually Finish Something

I’m about to drop something really obvious on you, so don’t give me shit: finishing things. It’s hard.

It’s not even just the actual work of finishing a long project. Have you ever been three steps from completing something monumental, and then suddenly you’re more stressed than you were in the beginning? There is less work to do than ever, but the end seems at once far, far away and frighteningly close.

In the murky depths of that coffee-fueled haze of stress and ambition, you must overcome five demons in order to finally see your work through…

1. I can do it whenever, there’s not much left.


This hell-beast of a thought will take a few half-logical steps and have you convinced that, no really man, you don’t need to finish right now. I mean, there’s not that much to do, anyway, so why worry? You could finish any time you want. You just don’t feel like it right now. But like, it’ll be fine.

How to vanquish Procrastination: Make a realistic plan to finish. Break it down into small tasks. Don’t save the hardest thing for last, and at least make sure you’re doing something every day.

2. I’m so stressed! I need to take it easy.demon2

This demon lure you in with the idea of sitting around on a sunlit porch, drinking S.Pellegrino with your friends and listening to the new Hozier album in peace. She holds in her grubby little hands a promise:

You can have it both ways. You can relax for a while and still finish your journey later.

It will feel like taking a vacation is the best way to recharge before you tackle your project’s home stretch. But when you’re in the grip of this demon, a vacation can last a very…




How to vanquish Denial: Remember her tricks. Remember that stress is necessary sometimes. Ignoring the task at hand will only put more pressure on you in the future.

3. Everything must be perfect or I’ll die.demon3

Just one more thing, and one more, and one more…

This demon will keep you trapped in the finishing touches. There will always be one tiny edit to make, or even several big edits. All your hard work up ’till now hasn’t been good enough. How could you have thought you were close to finishing?

How to vanquish Perfectionism: Heed this warning: it is far better to complete a good painting than it is to never, ever complete a masterpiece. The world deserves to see what you’ve done — even if it isn’t perfect. You can always publish a second edition.

4. This was a dumb idea in the first place.


You thought you could finish the thing? Fool. Idiot. Scoundrel. You don’t have what it takes. You don’t have the guts, the skill, or the talent. Even if you did finish it, it would be a piece of shit. Don’t even bother. This was a mistake. You’ve been wasting your time. Give up. 

This demon will hit you with full-force doubt. You’re so close to being done, but all of a sudden you start to wonder: what’s the point? It’s not just bad execution, no, your little project has been doomed since the start. It was a bad concept. 

How to vanquish last-minute Regret:

The truth is, you’ve already put so much effort into the thing you’re doing, it would be an even bigger waste not to finish. Think of how satisfied you’ll feel when it’s done. Make a list of ten things you like about your project. Think back to what originally motivated you to try this. Are you going to help people? Create beauty? Fix a problem? The truth is, you’re only doubting yourself now because you’re scared to see your little brain-baby come into the world of real things. Let it happen. Don’t be a coward. This was a great idea.

5. Suddenly I have too many emotions about ______.demon5

Of all the demons, this one is the easiest to miss. It relies on deception. It’s hard to spot because the problems it presents will likely be very real.

You really need to get all the clutter in your life under control. You have to create a schedule to fertilize that garden. Your skin is so dry — should you get that checked out? Those old family photos won’t organize themselves. 

Keep a careful eye out for big dramatic emotions about big worldwide issues or existential angst. Am I going to die alone? What should we do about human trafficking? If I weren’t so selfish would I go vegan? 

All important problems, but is now really the time?

How to vanquish Distraction:

Remember that you will feel more confident and capable of solving these other issues once you’ve finished the thing you really need to finish. Believe it or not, they can wait. You will be more effective when you can devote real time and effort to coming up with solutions to your worries, instead of just… worrying.


So you’ve been introduced to the five demons of completion: procrastination, denial, perfectionism, regret, and distraction. You’ve learned how to recognize and defeat their tricky ways. Now there’s something you should be doing right now, isn’t there? What was that? 

Oh, right. 

Get out there and kick some ass!



Update: It’s Almost Armageddon

AKA: I’m actually finishing a project, could this be a sign of the Apocalypse?

I’m kidding. But according to my spreadsheet, I’m on track to finish this manuscript in less than a month.


First rule of projects: ABC. Always Be Color-coding!

Finish! I will have have actually achieved the result I set out for an entire year ago. I know some people work on a book for ten years, and it’s their magnum opus, but I’m seventeen.

Ten years ago I was seven. I thought people grew new teeth every few years like sharks, and that Europe was a country North of France.

One year ago, I was sixteen. I thought my zine was going to take off. I was still drinking like a fish. I gardened like a fiend. I dabbled very seriously in several religions. I decided to forsake electric light for a few weeks, drunkenly kissed a friend at a party, and then I got really obsessed with Harry Styles.

I painted him.

Real teen stuff, OK? I swear I change interests every six seconds.

So I’ve been tearing through all the raucous whims of adolescence, and I’ve managed to stick with one project for an entire year. That’s a big deal to me; I’m happier than I can say.

always changing
(The glass is full of apple juice.)



Book Cover Design Hell: Will I Make it Out of this Alive?

I need a book cover, and I need it by the end of the month. I need the agents and editors at the conference I’m attending to take one look at my cover, talk to me for five minutes, and think: “Wow. This girl really has her sh*t together. I want to help her succeed.”

When I began this quest for a cover last month, I tried doing what first came to mind: yellow, because yellow is happy. Some shapes. Maybe millennial pink? But nothing came out looking memorable, or even good.

Obviously first instinct wasn’t going that well– So I decided I wanted to do something a little bit homespun. First, because I don’t have the money to hire a cover designer, and second, because it communicates the personal nature of my book a bit better than something more refined.

I began by accumulating lots of inspiration.

Then, in MS paint or on my phone or with pencil and paper, I tried my hand at a cover of my own. Mostly they were very ugly.

My next idea: a drawing. I needed a better drawing.
 I was happy with this cover. It was balanced, pretty, and it looked as if my hands were holding something precious.
The issue: it didn’t really communicate anything about what the core purpose of the book was. Friends and family said they liked it, but they didn’t love it.
I need a cover people will love.

My latest attempt is this:

I may have to play around with different drawings, but I like the concept I have going now. I just need to make sure it’s pleasing from a design perspective, and I’ll be on my way.

What is your favorite book cover, dear reader? I know we all judge.


I took the advice of my stepdad and decided to make the image smaller and the text bigger – after all, what’s most important about my book cover is the title and subtitle.

I ended up taking inspiration from Kurt Vonnegut. I love the way his book covers combine simple doodles with large text.

I liked the mockup a lot! And so began the process of actually putting the book cover together. I tried out a bunch of different colors, fonts, etc. but I eventually settled on a handwritten india-ink look to match the illustrations inside.

only the cover

This is the final book cover. Looks pretty snazzy, doesn’t it!


5 Paintings of Achilles Lamenting Patroclus’ Death, Ranked In Order Of Gayness

In honor of Pride Month 2018…

I consider this two days PTSOA, or post- The Song of Achilles, which has made living my real life difficult in its wake. The only way it could possibly be improved is if it were some sort of… Very historically inaccurate lesbian re-imagining. That would truly knock my socks off.

As it is, I think it’s the best love story ever written, and I’m sad,

And this is my blog now. So! I think the title explains it all.

Jean Alaux - Briseis mourns Patroclus in the tent of ...

5. Briseis mourns Patroclus in the tent of Achilles by Jean Alaux

Achilles looks golden. He is filled with determination, with caustic rage, raising a short sword (dagger?) in the air. Briseis is allowed to weep and cling, but Achilles has to be strong. He isn’t looking at the body. The only hint of softness about him is in his hand, placed over his beloved’s. This is about as gay as sleeping over at your friend’s house, but one of you takes the couch.

Deaths in The Iliad: Battlefield Dying as Told by Homer

4. Achilles Contemplating The Body of Patroclus by Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini.

What can I say about this one? The chiaroscuro on Pat’s face is haunting. The surprised renaissance hand is there, delicately expressive where Achilles’ face shows almost nothing. He looks nearly dead himself. I’m sad again. Half his soul is gone. What’s left but vengeance? About as gay as throwing your legs over your pal’s lap when you sit down to watch some heterosexual sh*t like Pretty Woman.

Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus | National ...

3. Achilles Lamenting the Death of Patroclus by Gavin Hamilton

Finally, a painting where Achilles gets to actually look sad! Patroclus’ sheet-white corpse draws focus to the swirling center of this masterful painting, but that’s all BS. What of our feelings? Achilles is in agony and so am I. You could look at this painting and think, “Hey, that blond dude must have really cared about Mr. Rigor Mortis over there.” This one’s as gay as holding hands in that way where your fingers interlace.


2. Achilles and the Body of Patroclus by Nikolai Ge

In the same vein as the others, but a more intimate position. Kinda weird to hug a corpse IMO, but I can’t judge. They’re ancient greeks! It’s almost hidden in the shadows but you can clearly see Achilles wiping away tears, lying over Patroclus like he was clearly comfortable doing in life. His eyes are on Patroclus’s face, his expression one of longing: I would give anything to have him again. Just for a second, could he open his eyes and look at me? Best of the Greeks. My Patroclus. My philtatos. Most beloved. Dear Lord, I’m making myself sad again. This one’s as gay as makin’ out.

File:Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at the Feet of ...

1. Achilles Displaying the Body of Hector at The Feet of Patroclus by Jean Joseph Taillason

This is a powerful image. I’m shaking– perhaps from the sheer emotion of this painting, perhaps from sleep deprivation. Who’s to say? Now, not a lot of touchy-feely stuff here, because Pat’s corpse is not fresh and it’s probably starting to smell too rank for any quality weeping to occur. But let’s check out the imagery: super dead body of super dead boyfriend, swaddled in blankets on a big fancy platform bed. (Uh. We all grieve in our own ways.) Then there’s Hector, the guy who killed Pat, just junked onto the floor like dirty laundry. Everyone’s crying in the background but Achilles is pointing, dynamic– he’s half mad at this point, or fully mad, wracked with grief.

“Look, there he is!” Achilles looks like he wants Patroclus to sit up, go “Oh, you killed Hector, great! I’m not dead anymore. Let’s go eat off gold plates or whatever.” There is no comparison to make here. This painting is as gay as revenge-slaughtering the man who killed the love of your life, and dumping his body at your dead beloved’s feet. But if I had to estimate? As gay as holding your beloved all night long, adoring the way they breathe slow and calm as you drift off into peaceful sleep.


Want more of the homosexual agenda? Make sure follow me and subscribe to my mailing list, because that’s one of the stories in my upcoming book, Advice I Ignored! (Fortunately, though, my first gay crush did not end in anybody getting a spear through the chest.)