Tag Archives: The Confidence Man

The Confidence Man and The Burden of Belief

Lately, I’ve slipped. The blog has been neglected. I have more stories to tell, but it’s been hard to gather myself to write and post. I’m scattered most of the time. Not that I was ever the most grounded person, but I’m worse lately. Granted, my wife and I have been stretched thin. Between Texas and what’s left of our lives back in Santa Fe, it’s been a strange time. We don’t know exactly where to be.

Well, that’s not really true. We know where we want to be, and that’s Texas.

We want to be home.

The problem is that we don’t know exactly where we want to live and what we want to do. Conveniently, my wife and I are going through a bit of a mid-life crisis at the same time. She has been on her journey and I ‘ve been on mine. Some days it’s difficult to depend on each other. There isn’t always a stronger party. We both feel shattered.

Bear with me, this probably isn’t going to be the most coherent of posts, but I’ll do my best to ramble as little as possible.

Life has been turned upside down since Ginger’s mother died. God has provided at every turn, but waiting on Him has been difficult, to put it mildly. To give you an idea of where I’m coming from, I want to fill in a little of what’s happened in the past couple of years.

I’ll be brief.

In August of 2008, the construction company that I had been with for almost seven years went under. That was scary at the time, but it turned out to be a blessing. On October 31st, 2008, my brother-in-law, Josh, moved in with us. He was 25 at the time. That proved to be a whole other layer of difficulty, although he has risen to his potential on so many levels. Frankly, it’s been a miracle to watch him change and grow. Anyway, I’ll talk about him some other time.

The day after Josh moved in, November 1st, my wife and I had to put our dog, Bear, to sleep. He wasn’t yet three years old, but he had a congenital defect and over the course of several months his health declined. He was still young, so when he would have his bad times, he would be able to rally. Ultimately though, he just had nothing left in the tank. Food wasn’t absorbing into his body. He was slowly starving.

At the end he could barely walk, much less eat. After going from vet to vet, and having test after test performed, we came to the conclusion that there was nothing left to do for him. I could ask no more of him. It was one of the worst days of my life. I still feel like I failed him. I could not make him better. I couldn’t take the pain away.

I know that some will say he was just a dog. Okay, that’s true, but I’ll say this: I loved him unguardedly. That may seem like an odd thing to say, but it’s true. For someone who has been so closed off with the majority of his human relationships, it was good to know that I had the capacity for letting the castle gate down over the mote. Bear was the beginning of something, I believe. An opening up. When he died it was devastating. I mourned for that dog. I was pissed at God for not doing anything. It’s taken a long time to get to where I can talk about Bear without tearing up.

Now, we have a new dog, Toto. We got him a little over a month ago. He’s no Bear, but no dog could be. He’s Toto. And that’s a good thing.

Sorry, I kind of got sidetracked, but that’s what life is, right? Sidetracks. If life were a straight line with no curves and no detours, what would be interesting about that?

Anyway, at the beginning of 2009, I started trying to lose weight. I’ve written about this before. At the time I started, I just wanted to feel better. I wanted to lose 20 lbs. I ended up losing 65 that year. I played tennis. I walked almost every day. I ate better. At the start of 2010, I took a full load at the Community College in Santa Fe. Photoshop. Photographing Artwork. Portfolio Development. Office Technologies. Something else, but it’s slipping my mind right now. The classes were geared to get me to embrace technology, but I also had a foggy notion of getting my art career off the ground. I mean, really trying to get my stuff out there. I had been somewhat of a go-getter in the early days, but after my museum show in 2003, I had done less and less to promote my work. The work kept piling up, but it didn’t go anywhere. Occasionally, I would sell a piece to a friend, but that’s it. When I began to take the classes in 2010, a funny thing happened. I lost my taste for painting. It didn’t happen overnight, but I noticed that I was becoming more interested in other mediums like photography.

And writing.

At the end of the year, I moved out of the studio. I had been in that building for close to ten years. In the process of moving out, I threw away four dumpsters full of work. It was intense. Hüsker Dü was in heavy rotation, blaring out of the speakers every day. Probably annoying the neighbors. I have a whole new appreciation for ‘Zen Arcade’ and ‘New Day Rising’ now.

I kept some paintings: all of the work from the museum show and some scattered pieces. I also kept almost every Confidence Man painting. This was my dark western self-portrait. It’s sort of like a graphic novel. I kept around sixty of them. When I was working on them, I didn’t know I was working on an autobiography. Everyone else that saw them seemed to know that, but they never told me. The paintings are good. I just wish someone else had done them. In my hands, they have little chance of seeing the light of day. They will sit in storage because I’m crouched in the corner licking my wounds. Nursing my defeat. I failed. That’s the way it feels. I’ve got nothing to show for all those years of my life.

What a waste.

Now, I write. The problem is that I start all these projects, but don’t follow through, now. I’m gun-shy. Anytime I think about continuing on the short stories I’ve started or the novel, or the screenplay, I think about the years I spent painting. All the hours and the commitment that I put into that. All for nothing. They sit in a storage unit. In a few weeks, I will remove them from that location and transfer them to a big red trailer. There, they will sit. Waiting for someone to rescue them from oblivion.

When I think of writing, I think of the dust collecting in the brushstrokes of those paintings. I don’t want that to happen again. But, it’s overwhelming. I tell people that I write now, and I’m embarrassed of what they will think. He’s on to something else, now. What a loser.

A couple of years ago, I read a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. She wrote “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”, a couple of novels and a bunch of astonishingly brutal short stories. She was a devout southern Catholic who raised peacocks. She died at 39. Within this large collection of correspondences, there are religious discussions, recounts of daily life, schedules of some of her upcoming speaking engagements, some advice to other writers and the occasional review. Flannery had wildly eclectic tastes in literature and was very forthcoming in her praise or damnation of other’s work. One particular review was of a new book by Martin Amis. She said that the book was rather weak and shallow. His first book had been noteworthy and interesting, she explained, but she probably would not pick up another. Her reason was that Amis seemed to be a man who was not “burdened with belief”. In other words, the struggle for faith had been conveniently removed from his work and when that happens, all that is left is surface.

Whether we choose to believe it or not, the search for something that is greater than ourselves is the central concern of mankind. It always has been. You can’t just take a black magic marker and blot out God. Well, you can, but you’re destroying what makes you human to begin with. It is built into our natures to seek for a higher power. We may settle for things that are less, but somehow we know it’s incomplete. U2 said it best in “Mofo”, I’ve been looking for a way to fill this God-shaped hole.


My character, the Confidence Man, was on this journey. Searching for a higher power, settling for something less. Much less, in most cases. The final painting that I worked on in that series featured the Confidence Man naked and passed out in a chair. A woman was lying in the small bed beside him, struggling to get up. I was imagining an opium den. The light in the painting is orange and oppressive. The brushstrokes slash. It was the first time I showed the Confidence man up close. There are no barriers. He is defenseless. I left him in that den. I left him with no salvation, no redemption, and no hope.

I left him in hell.

Why did I do that? Maybe I left him there because I felt that he deserved no better.

That wasn’t my plan. The Confidence Man, in truth, was a fictional imagining of the life of the thief on the cross. The one that was crucified beside Christ. The one who was told by Christ that he would be in Paradise later that day.

The man was a thief. That’s all the Bible says about him. And that’s the reason I chose the name for my character: the confidence man. It is a term that originated in the 19th century. A confidence man was a deceiver. It was shortened in later years to its more familiar form: con man.

Again, I ask myself, why did I abandon him? That’s not the end of the story. That’s not what’s supposed to happen.

Perhaps I just gave up on him.

The disturbing thing is that the Confidence Man seems to be my doppelgänger. And if that’s true, then what does that say about me? Have I given up as well? Have I given up on myself, like I gave up on him? Do I feel like I deserve no better than to be abandoned to the darkness? I feel like I have promoted myself to judge, jury and executioner. The sentence is death, or at least anonymity. I have cast myself into the outer dark.


I realize that this seems like a rather deep analysis of a character from a group of paintings that haven’t seen the light of day. But it’s more than that. I worked on those for almost five years. I got to know this guy. I got to know a little about myself as well. Eventually, all those paintings would make their way into the world at large. That’s what I thought would happen. But it didn’t.


Maybe this comes off as whining. I don’t know. But, for all those years I believed that I was on the road to something great. Something extraordinary. Perhaps I’m in the midst of it, but it doesn’t feel that way. It just feels like failure. I didn’t think that I would be some anonymous eccentric creating strange outsider art in his garage. I wanted more than that. Now, I feel like all I have left on the creative front is uncertainty.

Don’t get me wrong. This is my fault. The world didn’t fail to understand me, or anything like that. I quit trying. That’s it. And now, I can’t seem to shake this feeling that anything I do from here on out is bound to fail. This is a bad place to be. A dangerous place.

I have no answers, but I will say this: the Confidence Man deserves better from me.

I deserve better from me.


Posted by on April 8, 2011 in The Burden of Belief


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