As a mentally ill writer and artist? I’m a disability porn star. With an online peepshow window of masturbatory personal essays. Lucky my only sex work is metaphoric. Given my mind is broken, I’m surprised not to have to sell my body. I survive by government Disability benefits and familial patronage. Comfort my shame with art therapy.
College poet friends were consumed by the Portland sex industry. Wipe the Nars Orgasm Blush and Urban Decay Heavy Metal Glitter Eyeliner off my face? Narrowly escaped stripper stares back. I wrote erotica for San Francisco rent money before that porn site went out of business. Failed even at sex work. Never learned how to work that pole. Missed my window. Is it sad?
Aileen Wuornos says in American Horror Story: Hotel: “You know what you do? When all you know is people takin’? You start to give. Give it away before they can take it from you. Give it all away for free. And that way, you can pretend that it doesn’t hurt.” I follow the same logic. Refuse to send nudes unless painted. Attention paid to my obscure body of work doesn’t expose or hurt my physical body. A nasty novel to tide you over: https://www.amazon.com/Jet-Set-Desolate-Andrea-Lambert/dp/0578016257 Oil paintings of blowjobs: https://andreaklambert.com/nsfw-series/ Trauma porn essays: https://andreaklambert.com/online-work/ Fap to that, schadenfreude.
I don’t need a social worker. Case manager. Or life coach. I’m not asking for you to pity me. Only withhold your life advice as to how I should be doing everything differently to be more inspirational. Role model was never within my grasp. It’s not my responsibility as a disabled person to inspire. Don’t pressure double amputees to run marathons so able people can sob over Special Olympics Pinterest. I get why disability porn is so offensive.
I recently talked to an old friend about being in different places in our lives ten years out of art school. He thought I should be doing more with my creative talents. Found it sad I was so complacently content. Projected him wanting more out of his own millennial party life onto my mature seclusion. I tried to explain my Schizoaffective Disorder with Wikipedia.
I am a rare bird to be able to live independently. Own the keys to my own cage. Drive. Be able to even communicate coherently. Not wander off into the streets and get into trouble. Like our Schizoaffective mutual friend currently. She’s speaking word salad. Institutionalized. Post trespassing arrests.
I left home at seventeen. When your entire adult life has been spent so far outside of your comfort zone? Now that I‘ve finally found it? I never want to leave. I lock the door of my House of the Rising Sun behind me. Become an eccentric recluse leaving only for groceries and medication. My Syd Barrett period. Cut off from the outside world except for family and wifi.
The Internet shines on like a crazy diamond in the darkness of obscurity. Crips use crutches like I use social media. On the Internet I can be both private and public. Isolated and communal. Hidden and confessional. Socially awkward and flamboyant. Alone and together.
American Horror Story: Freak Show spotlights the performative potential of medical disabilities. Mine: Schizophrenia. Bipolar Disorder. PTSD. Anxiety. I perform daily complicit disability exhibitionism on Twitter. Had wifi installed to willingly sign up for this freak show. A screen to the unseen voyeur. I’m glad to participate in this mediated way. I don’t feel exploited. Like Angela Bassett in Freak Show twirling three nude breasts in pasties beneath a red velvet curtain. The smoke and mirrors of my vaudeville throws glitter in the audience’s eyes. Blinding them to my affliction. I hope it will bear witness. To be deemed worthy of housing. Health care. Survival.
The squirmy subjective of “worthy.” Mental illness is popularly stigmatized as a character defect. Demonic possession. A curse upon my original sin for being born. My fault. I am blamed and attacked for my genetic affliction. Must forever apologize for my behavior. I am accused of having a “victim mentality” in accepting my limitations. Gaslit. Advised to find an exorcist. I’m not delusional enough to believe in either possession or the promise of any cure in my white knuckled grip on reality.
Sharon Tate in Valley of the Dolls says, right before she commits suicide, “You know, the only thing I know how to do is take off my clothes.” My post collegiate future if I stayed in Portland was doing exactly that. For money. AA lectured there was no “softer, easier way.” AA is full of shit. Writing sex scenes fully dressed was my way. Soft as a Playboy bunny’s marabou tail. I am living my suicide-free dream life performing a burlesque extended metaphor. Keeping men at a safe distance so none “Make it rain.” The metaphor snaps with reality like a cheap bra strap.
In the social justice warrior landscape? The oppression Olympics of marginalization centers my psychiatric disability until this one trick pony’s fifteen minutes are up. When someone with a worthier marginalization steals the spotlight. With more legitimate pain. Judicially balanced by less privilege. Wiser word choices.
“You’re alive and housed! Isn’t that enough? Quit greedily chasing fame, you spoiled, narcissistic bitch,” is the subtext I read in each and every rejection email. Publishing unpaid in online magazines? Small press anthologies? Showing mixed media oil paintings in rural galleries? Never for sale? Art and writing will always only be therapeutic hobbies. Doesn’t mean I am at all capable of any sort of real substantial gainful employment.
I can’t teach. My first year Teaching Assistant evaluations and lack of recommendations post-graduate school told me that. Show me a writer who doesn’t teach? Isn’t moonlighting as a hooker? Yet makes a sustainable living? That’s a unicorn. Like pornography I know one when I see one. I stopped believing in mythical creatures when I stopped playing with My Little Ponies. The only way that mythical unicorn is a real unicorn frappuccino is if a patron at Starbucks subsidizes payment.
I never know when another breakdown is coming. Every day is a rotating spectra of five unpredictable symptoms: Psychosis. Mania. Anxiety. PTSD. Depression. Productivity flickers on and off in different forms and media over the years. Interspersed with hospitalizations. Being a self-supporting freelance creative? That takes a one in a million sane reliable responsible person with a head for business on a hot streak. Mental illness deprives me of the common sense and entrepreneurial skill to make that improbable scenario work out for me.
Pop psychology articles all over the Internet instruct, “How to Purge Yourself of Toxic People.” Toxic is defined in Urban Dictionary as, “a person who is tainted by a subconscious malevolence or psychosis that affects the lives of those who come into contact with them.” Translating as mentally ill in problematic proximity to others. Office toxic purge encouragement is legitimized casting out of the mentally ill from society.
Literary agents write books telling wanna-be’s they don’t want queries from “crazy Eddie.” Agents lay down their ableist terms. I’ll never sell a novel via the traditional route. No matter how many manuscripts I write that languish unpublished on my iCloud. I‘ll never be a normal, functioning member of society who can “give back.” I know when I’m not wanted. I just go away. Elusive as Antonin Artaud.
Surviving disability is a vast privilege. Most of us fucking die. The toxic privilege of still creating so afflicted? Many find my work obscenely disgusting. My people used to be punitively locked up in asylums for being “Born This Way” as Lady Gaga sings. When Reagan’s deinstitutionalization freed us? Most became homeless. Sorry I put on a “NaNoWriMo Winner” T-shirt instead of platform stripper shoes.
Survivors privilege is a symptom of PTSD. Hash tagged on Twitter in discussions of rape culture. Veterans often commit suicide over survivor’s privilege. Hard to live with oneself after surviving a war in which everyone else died. This life is a war. My domestic partner committed suicide. I take a veteran’s level dose of PTSD medication and medical marijuana. Can you blame me for not wanting to rejoin the battle now that I’m healing in a sanitarium?
Privileged people are told to “give back. Not be so self-involved. Do volunteer work.” My invisible disability looks like narcissistic lazy as I have all my limbs. A quadriplegic, struggling to move a spoon to their own mouth, wouldn’t be told to help other people. Even if their private nursing home gave them fancy pudding. Why did my neurotypical friend suggest I do volunteer high school tutoring? “For good karma,” he said. Can an amputee afford to care about good karma? I’m figuring out when the stars will be aligned so I can next brave buying groceries. Self-involved focus on only lifting my own spoon. That’s all my broken mind can bear.
My main concerns are: Taking psych meds three times a day. Even if impossible to take on any consistent schedule. Trying yet failing to pull fewer thirty hour days. Maintaining housekeeping and hygiene. Writing and painting when inspired. Routinely meaning forty hours of wildfire creative compulsion followed by twenty hours of sleep. I am completely incapable of doing anything else. Helping anyone else. All I can do is live in seclusion with a low maintenance cat.
My dearly departed paternal grandpa used to punctuate his lectures with the phrase, “The thing of it is.” The thing of it is, I can’t give back when there’s nothing left in me to give. The same grandpa who lived in my House of the Rising Sun before me passed down genes for Schizophrenia. Fraught inheritance. Ancestral home shared with the voices in my head.
I am thankful to have a place to be discreetly batshit out of everyone’s way.
The lower echelon creative system trades content for exposure. Never profit. I don’t fight or object to this fact. I‘m grateful for the opportunity to share my therapeutic scribblings with interested parties. My entire oeuvre of published writing and art is available for free on the Internet. How is that not giving back?
I gave away everything I ever made away in volunteer creative work. Like Aileen Wuornos, giving so it wouldn’t hurt anymore. Like I used to give my body away to strangers in nightclubs. That was more painful. I‘d so much rather write for online magazines in the distant ether then actually fuck anyone in real life. Print promiscuity over sad sex. Validation without the herpes.
Getting published is an otherworldly extra sprinkle on a sundae I never thought I‘d get. I‘m sure I don’t deserve dessert after this life’s war. I will lovingly devour it down to the last spoonful of nuts swathed in whipped cream. Luscious.
Andrea Lambert wrote Jet Set Desolate, Lorazepam & the Valley of Skin: Extrapolations on Los Angeles and the chapbook G(u)ilt. Her writing appears in Fanzine, Entropy, Angel’s Flight Literary West and elsewhere. Anthologies: Golden State 2017, Haunting Muses, Writing the Walls Down, The L.A. Telephone Book and elsewhere. CalArts MFA.