Author Archives: JennHolton

About JennHolton

Near-sighted graphic designer, illustrator, trivial fact accumulator, fan, cinephile, and coulrophobe.

The Honor Guard

Poppy, me, Nana, and Laura

Poppy, me, Nana, and Laura

My maternal grandfather recently passed away. I called him Poppy when I was very little, and the nickname stuck.

Poppy was the best person I had ever known.

I have never cried so hard in my life until my dad told me that Poppy passed away.

He encouraged me to keep drawing and painting and, one Christmas, I gifted him and my Nana a gigantic painting of their old horse, Gidget. He hung it over the sofa. I see it every time I visit, and though I have always had this feeling that I could have done more detail in my artwork, that painting remains one of the pieces that I am actually satisfied with.

More recently, he volunteered at the hospital. When Mom called to tell me that he was on a ventilator, I was having a very hard time picturing it. I’ve always been terrified to see a loved one in a hospital bed, and he seemed like his old, goofy self lately. I’m actually somewhat relieved that I don’t have the memory of him hooked up to machines.

He was almost never serious with me. He told jokes, came up with loads of puns, renamed everyday object like a windshield on a car as a “transparent wind deflector,” and was a master at long sentences of alliteration. He listened to Prairie Home Companion on Sundays and laughed when, after we saw a live performance, Mom bought him a hat for the Catchup Advisory Board and The American Duct Tape Council. He wore them a lot.

Me with Poppy

Me with Poppy

My mom had an encounter with a horned toad when she was a kid, and it scared the daylights out of her with its defense mechanism (shooting blood out of its eye). Ever since, Poppy bought her random horned toad figures every time he saw one just to mess with her. They’re sitting on the upright piano, and I couldn’t breathe when I was dusting them a few days after his funeral. I stood there realizing that we will never get another one to add to the collection. I don’t know why that thought hurt the most.

When I was very little, he tried to teach me how to do the Donald Duck voice. I still can’t do it, but I remember making him laugh with an impression of Gollum much later.

We watched WWF wrestling together. We were often the first people on Thanksgiving to head into the living room to watch football. When I was learning how to drive, terrified of the idea of the highway, he patiently taught me how to drive in his massive Chevy pickup—taking a route on !-35 that lead to Holland, TX. He made the trip less stressful and was patient with me as I freaked out when I had to drive over a skinny bridge that didn’t allow for two full traffic lanes and I had to yield to another truck. He taught me how to fully brake at stop signs, telling me that Barney Fife lived in Holland and was so bored of the small town that he would ticket people who didn’t rock back slightly when they came to a stop. He taught me how to parallel park, how to navigate the service roads and get back on the highway. He made driving a good experience, and to this day I am excellent at parking in larger vehicles.

When I was even younger, young enough not to remember it, I was sitting on his lap, looked up at him, and called him “the old man with hair up his nose.” I even did a drawing of him—a stick figure with bushy nostrils.

When cleaning out his attic, he found an old Toshiba laptop with Windows 3.1 installed on it. It was almost useless, but had a working floppy drive and Word installed on it. I wrote on it all the way up to the point that it quit working at all. He also found a massive brass shell that he gave me, telling me that he’d recovered it when he flew on helicopters in Vietnam.

He received an honor guard at his funeral. They carried his flag-draped casket to the gravesite, folded it, and knelt in front of my Nana to offer it to her. They gave him a rifle salute. They handed Nana the shells and played “Taps” on a bugle.

It was one of the hardest things I’ve gone through. His name was carved into a beautiful headstone with his birth and death years, and Nana’s name was right beside it with no death year. Just a dash that scares the hell out of me.

I was given a yellow rose to either place on the casket or take home. I took it home and hung it upside-down to let it dry.

The last time I saw him in person was on Christmas. My sister and her family, all five kids under ten, were visiting as well, and the noise of them was so loud that he and I looked at one another, and he mimed turning off his hearing aid. I could have gone up to visit him and Nana after that. I could have. But I didn’t.

Last year, I got a concussion (my third overall) that developed into post-concussion syndrome—basically categorized by fluctuating symptoms of a concussion and a headache that worsens at random. The really frustrating part about PCS is that it can go on for months or years. So far, It’s been a year and ten months. It can last even longer, and I can’t work because of it. Cluster headaches have become a daily thing for me, and my formerly annoying migraines intensified to the point where I have gone to the ER for anything to stop the pain. The fact that Nana and Poppy lived two hours away and my headaches kept me in dark, cool rooms (sometimes with sunglasses on as well) kept me at home when my parents would drive up to visit. I could have sucked it up and gone anyway. I could have said to myself: “you have had headaches that were much worse, Jenn,” and visited after Christmas.

I could have put my own pain on the back burner and made sure he knew I cared about his welfare.

Instead, I saw his navy blue casket and I listened to “Taps” while trying not to scream.

The next week, I went to see Nana even with the headache that felt like I had lava instead of a brain. I couldn’t be absent again.

She took us to their closet and opened a drawer in the old dresser there. She pulled out six boxes of medals he had earned in the Air Force. I had never known that he received these accolades. But there was one medal that surprised me more than the others.

For Military Merit Anson L. Kelley

For Military Merit
Anson L. Kelley

A Purple Heart.

Nana told me that he received it in Vietnam. She recounted how terrified she was when an officer delivered a telegram stating that he was wounded in action. She told me that he earned it by being shot in the elbow with the bullet exited the underside of his forearm while he was on a helicopter.

I had never known this. He never spoke about it; which I can understand completely as war is not something that is easy to talk about.

The most I knew about his service in Vietnam was that he built C-130 Loadmasters, trained airmen how to fly them, and that he flew on helicopters during. That was it.

But so far, the most difficult thing to do has been to read his personal story. He recounted his childhood and his service in the Air Force, and I’m afraid to read the files. I’m afraid of how much it will hurt to read about, because I know I’ll end up bawling my eyes out.

I need to do it, though. It might help with the grief I’m feeling.

It stings to know that I’ll never hear him laugh again or that the humor I developed with his example is something that I will never again share with him. I think this is so hard because I loved him for everything he was. He was my favorite person to be around. He helped me. He loved me. And I still love him.

Shaming

This… This is heartbreaking.

I don’t see anything constructive in these videos that parents take where they shame their children as punishment and then they post them online for EVERYONE to watch and laugh about. Isn’t it funny? Isn’t it just hilarious to watch a child be punished?

Cutting off someone’s hair as punishment seems especially cruel to me. Yes, hair grows back. Yes, it’s not like it physically hurts the child. But MENTALLY? Having your hair cut against your will is something that is meant to be demeaning and dehumanizing—even more so when you’re a teenager and your appearance is so important to you and your hair is your identity.

The incidents in history where women forcibly had their hair cut or their heads shaved just… I really hate that people are looking at this and other instances where parents are posting videos online where they do this to their children and laughing about it. There are other ways to go about disciplining your child that DON’T involve bullying.

Because that’s what these shaming videos are. They’re bullying.

It’s bad enough that other adults will bully children—that someone with authority over you will pick at you until you break—but to have your parent do the same? That formerly safe environment of home no longer feels safe.

Once parents publicly shame their children for bad behavior, it opens the door to the child’s peers for more bullying, and that will only make the situation worse. Because without that safe space of home, there’s no escaping feeling like a failure or feeling ugly.

Parents. Please. TALK to your kids about their behavior. Try—just TRY—to have patience with them. Don’t shame them for their actions. Humiliation is not constructive.

Apathetic Way To Be

The things that I take on
I soon shrug off
’cause I know no one
Will ever be content
With the way things are
Or with what they’ve got
So I’ve given up and now I’m just indifferent

-Relient K

So, I’ve reached that point.

I have a sketch that I started on the day before Christmas Eve. Today, I stared at my closed sketchbook for five minutes going over the merits of actually making myself pick it up and finish it. And I couldn’t bring myself to care at all about it. Instead, I left it on my shelf and went back to reading fanfic and not feeling much of anything.

Am I sad?

No.

I just don’t care.

It is so much easier to just sit here and do nothing. There is no risk of being told that I’m not experienced enough. There is no risk of me being dismissed as some ignorant thing if I stay in my room and keep to myself. Hell, it’s hard enough to write a goddamn post about this because I know—I know—that someone will read this and call me lazy. Call me a coward. Think I’m weak.

I am weak.

I know I am.

Strong people aren’t this hard on themselves. Strong people don’t feel such intense self-loathing. Strong people don’t sit in apathy and feel comfortable in it.

Today, in therapy (yes, I am getting help), I talked my way through where I felt I’d taken a wrong turn in life. In high school, I took creative writing classes and I loved them. I also wanted to do something with fine art, and my advisors all told me that graphic design would be my best bet to avoid being a sterotypical starving artist. This wasn’t said to me quite as explicitly as that, but… Being told that there is almost no market for illustrators put the kibosh on that kind of thinking. And everyone was telling me that graphic design was close to the same.

God, how I wish I’d taken that other turn in life. Gone left instead. Creative writing and novel writing… Perhaps the same thing would have happened. Perhaps I’d grow to feel drained and lifeless at the idea of continuing down that path like I have with my current path.

But maybe they wouldn’t have…

As it stands, there is no use in thinking of the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” It’s a fruitless exercise that just makes me feel lost and useless.

That’s not true. I was already thinking “what the fuck is the point” before the “if onlys” started. And “what the fuck is the point” has shifted quite easily into that dangerous state of mind. Apathy. The “who the fuck cares” point.

You’ll see me laugh, make jokes on Facebook and Tumblr… But it’s like being tickled. I can’t help but react. The reality is that the feeling fades very quickly and I’ve had lots and lots of practice at hiding how I really feel.

All this probably sounds a bit on the scary side of things (what with how such strong apathy is that dangerous precusor to acting on suicidal thoughts), but I need to write it out. Or put it out there. If anything, just to explain why I haven’t been around lately.

So… Yeah.

Setbacks

So, I started seeing a therapist.

It’s helping a little, but there is still quite a large part of me that looks long and hard at my life—at where I am at my age (28) and thinks of what a complete failure I am as an adult. I can’t help it. Yes, there are people who love me. Yes, I am receiving support that a majority of unemployed people my age aren’t getting. My parents are supporting me. I should consider myself lucky. I should feel a measure of happiness.

All I can feel is empty. Like I shouldn’t be here. I’m a mooch. I can’t get work because this headache (I still have a headache after that concussion in January) and the severe depression make it difficult for me to get out of bed each morning. It probably sounds like an excuse to some people. In fact, after reading comments on articles written by people who still live with their parents, I feel like I am one of those people. A drain. I don’t contribute, so I have no worth.

And so returns that old friend, Self Loathing. The oily sludge that slithers across the back of my neck and digs it’s thin tentacles beneath my skin to take hold. To remain close and whisper horrible things to me. “You’re just a waste. Things would be better for everyone if you would just go away. Does anyone even really need you?”

For a disgusting sludge monster, Self Loathing certainly has a seductive voice.

It’s going to be hard to pry Self Loathing loose. Its hold is deep and I’m weak. Sometimes, most of the time, my weakness worries me.

I’ve tried to apply for disability. I don’t qualify. I’ve tried to apply for Medicaid. I don’t qualify (I would if I had a child). Seeing those rejection letters… To put it in a succinct version of their terms, I do not make enough money for them to help me. I am too poor for financial aid. I am too poor in general.

And so I live with my parents. I go to therapy every week any pay for my appointments out of my parents’ pocket.

And Self Loathing twines its cold, greasy tentacles further beneath my skin and squeezes my spine. “Just do it, Jenn. You’ll save a lot of people a lot of financial trouble. Sure, they’ll mourn you—but will you really care? It’s not like you’ll be around to see it.”

God, I need to talk to my therapist.

I’m Not Okay

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

Old Man in Sorrow (On the Threshold of Eternity), Vincent van Gogh (1890)

I’ll start by saying that I’m going to be incredibly candid in this entry. I wrote a few things down as they happened, and I’m just going to paste the text in here. It’s easier.

November 16, 2014

I’ve done something today that I swore I would never do again. I set everything up on the bathroom floor—Q-tips, Peroxide, bandaids, disenfectant cream… I pulled my sweats down, cleaned off my pocket knife, and started cutting a line in my thigh. Not fast—I scored a line and went over it again and again until I had a deep enough point to start flicking through the tougher layer of skin. I spent fifteen minutes just digging away at myself, cleaned the wound, slapped a bandaid on it, cleaned my knife, and went into the spare room to go through some boxes that needed going through.

As I tested the bristles of old paint brushes and tossed aside dried out bottles of pro-white, my thigh stung. And I felt nothing else. I moved like a zombie until I had all the good supplies organized and put away in proper places, then I curled up on my bed and started crying.

I am a failure.

I have bills that my parents are paying for me. My mother is angry with me for not finding work. I am angry and disappointed with myself for choosing to be an artist when there is no real way for me to make a career of it. The work that I see when I check the Internet is for unpaid internships and one-time-only jobs that pay terribly.

Why did I do this to myself?

Why did I ever think that art could be a career where I’d feel fulfilled and useful?

I want so badly to give up. I want so badly to just kill myself and leave this feeling of failure behind in nothingness. What stops me from actually doing it is the knowledge that my mother would be devastated. That my very good friend would feel horrible. That they wouldn’t understand why I did it.

I can’t stop crying.

I can’t take this. I hate myself so much. I hate the decisions I’ve made. I hate my materialism. I hate that this self-loathing is so crippling that I put things off—because why bother? Why bother when, in the grand scheme of things, nothing I do matters? I am just here for debts to be made. I am worthless.

I made an appointment with a therapist.

November 18, 2014

I realized today that I don’t have enough money to pay for therapy. And I had a complete breakdown about it. I called the counselor’s office and explained to them that I was uncertain about what I could do about this. There was a lot of crying on my part, and I must have sounded hopeless to the receptionist. I certainly felt it. After a few questions about where I was mentally, I admitted to cutting myself and that I felt like I might be in a dangerous place mentally. She asked if I thought if I needed to be hospitalized and I said that I thought I might. After saying a few things I can’t remember, I hung up and went downstairs, completely freaked out about everything. Mom had me call them back and confirm my appointment and then someone was a the door.

They called the cops on me for a wellness check.

The officer spoke to me for a while and, seeing that I was with my mother and not alone, she gave me her card and wrote some information on the back about mental health resources in the county area. She and her partner left and I felt like a complete asshole for scaring my mom like that.

November 19, 2014

I went to my appointment. This new therapist is nice and seems to listen to me—she thought that my other therapist spending an entire session looking on Craigslist for jobs I might be qualified for was inexcusably rude. I go to see her again next week.

November 21, 2014

I have $17 in my bank account. They charged me $5 for having an account at all.

I can’t do this anymore.

I cut myself again today. I used an X-Acto knife because it’s sharper. It didn’t hurt enough.

God, I hate myself so fucking much. I’m a failure. I’m broke. I have a spending problem. I can’t live on my own. I just want to stop. Stop everything. I don’t deserve the people who tell me I’m worth it. I’m not worth it. I’m nothing.

I’m just taking up space that someone so much more accomplished and competent could occupy.


I see my therapist again on Wednesday.

On Suicidal Ideation

To call someone a coward for taking their own life is cruel. To tell someone they should just kill themselves is cruel To not consider the internal suffering someone has and then call them selfish for taking their own life is cruel.

Though the loss hurts deeply, one must consider how much pain this person was going through to lead them to the point where the only way out of it would be to take his or her own life.

I once had a plan. I was going to take an entire bottle of pills and fall asleep, never to wake up again. I kept thinking about this plan. I started to seriously consider going through with it a while ago, and decided to call a suicide hotline instead. I spent about an hour talking to this stranger about what I was going through—my depression, my recent head injury and how I didn’t feel like myself anymore, my constant headache, my apathy toward things I used to love… He talked to me long enough that I realized what a bad idea suicide was.

But, despite knowing that, the thought will still run through my brain at random.

It doesn’t have to be triggered by anything. Sometimes, I’ll just be sitting in traffic and I’ll think: “People would have it so much easier if I wasn’t alive.” The fact that I want to kill myself has nothing to do with feeling sad for myself. No, it’s the absence of any feeling towards myself at all. I don’t care what happens to me. Because I don’t matter. Not in my mind.

I think about how much easier people would have it, and then I think about how they would miss me when I’m gone. That usually stops me. Usually. This other day when I called the hotline—nothing was working. I was going to go through with it. As I sit here and write this, I have to ask myself: what was it that made me call?

I suppose a part of me had some genuine curiosity about what someone says to you on the suicide hotline. And, while I wasn’t in the frame of mind to retain information, I do remember thinking that they needed better hold music.

Having dealt with suicidal ideation on more than one occasion, I can empathize with those who go through with it. Hopelessness and that loss of control are powerful and draining. You can put on a front of being a carefree and happy person, but that one part of you that feels nothing doesn’t go away. People think you’re fine when you have your good days. They think you’re over it. But the reality is that you aren’t over it at all. It lurks. It is the slimy mass of self-hate that is latched onto your back, burdening you and draining you at the same time.

And when you hear people say things like: “this person was a coward” or “this person was selfish” when suicide is discussed, it simply helps to validate those feelings you have about yourself. That you are a coward. That you are selfish. And it leads to having those thoughts again—that the world would be better off with one less selfish coward.

Suicide is not about your feelings. Naturally, you will feel grief and so many conflicting emotions about it, but you were not the one who felt so lost that the only way to stop feeling like nothing at all was to kill yourself.

On Tattoos

I have several. I started this tradition to get a new one on my birthday each year. So far, I have the  following:

797095_original The orange text is Greek for “patience.” The little black star is for my five nieces and nephews, and the cross with the “veritas” and “aequitas” is a straight up Boondock Saints tattoo.

extraction_by_quicksilvermad_jenn-d3cm1oe

This one was inspired by the drawing Cobb did on the napkin in Inception to explain dream extraction, but I took it to mean something else. I have a problem with cyclical thinking that gets me nowhere except further into depression. The line through the cycle represents a line through those thoughts. I plan on getting this one touched up this year. I admit, I didn’t take very good care of it and it’s faded in spots.

serenity_by_jennholton-d19wukm

This is my first tattoo. And a nerdy one. The Chinese is “serenity,” the name of the ship in Firefly, and the wings are designed after the ones that appear on the very last screen of Final Fantasy VIII. I had to get this one touched up during my last appointment because the first artist didn’t copy my drawing completely. Thankfully, I have a great artist (Leo) over at Hybrid Tattoo and he fixed it for me. It looks exactly like I wanted it to now.

Usually, I get two tattoos done at a time on my birthday. And I have two designs this time, but I plan on only getting one this year. This one:

Shoulder Tattoo

As another extremely nerdy tattoo design, this is the design on Loki’s armor (his spaulder) from The Avengers. Meaning it’s going on my left shoulder. I stylized it a bit so that it would look fine without shadowing (and could still look fine with shadowing in case I changed my mind later).

You know what? I’m rather comfortable in my nerdiness. These tattoos represent things I like and things that are beautiful to me. That’s all that matters. Because it’s going to end up on me,not someone else.

The other design was this:

Leg Tattoo

Which will require shading. But I think I’ll save that for next year.