You know how people say when someone starts day-drinking, it’s a red flag for depression. My version of that has been, day watching. Lately, you can find me mid-day, binge-watching old episodes of Star Trek while eating burnt home-made cookies.
I remember when watching TV in the middle of the day was sparingly reserved for childhood sick days. It was a rare and precious occurrence for my parents to think we weren’t well enough to go to school. In my world, the only thing that kept you from getting out of third grade was a 103 fever or a raging case of adolescent diarrhea.
But my mom knew exactly what she was doing when she permitted me to watch hours upon hours of daytime drama. Enjoying a mid-afternoon four-hour run of soap-operas was not only decadent but also just enough of a depressing lifestyle choice to motivate her child to want to go back to school the next day. I specifically remember even as a little kid, how heavy, yet empty it felt to waste an entire day vegging out. Ah, ye of little faith.
But in the adult world, the loss of motivation, self-esteem, depression, sadness, and grief will do that to a person faster than you can say, “Like sands through an hourglass, these are the days of our lives”. Ironically, my personal relationship with the TV show, “Days Of Our Lives”, is a very happy one. In the past few years, they have used a great deal of my music in their shows. Albeit, it’s been for scenes that have involved kidnappings, hospital deaths, inheritance reversals, and baby abductions. But I’m still happy about it nonetheless. If you need music to support your traumatic moment, Nina Storey is your gal.
Gratefully, I have been told my music has brought people a lot of joy and even helped some through challenging moments of their own. I tell you if I had a dollar for every person who has told me my music helped dig them out of a deep ditch. Wait, what? I think when I wrote that previous sentence late last night, I may have actually been asleep. I can’t recall how many people have told me my music has gotten them out of a deep ditch. Perhaps I meant, deep depression?
I digress. I seem to be doing a lot of that lately. The end of 2019 was a difficult one for me in several ways. The sheer fact I am writing anything other than “redrum” on my walls in crayon is a major accomplishment. I’ve never been one to publicly discuss my hardships. It kind of feels, for me personally, like I’d be showing you my uvula. And I don’t even know what a uvula is. But it feels inappropriately personal. (Note, I think the uvula, is either the thing hanging from the back of your throat or something associated with peeing. Either way, the letter “U” feels too provocative to use at the beginning of a word.) (Second note, I normally hold a strong policy on knowing the definition of at least 83 percent of the words I use when I’m writing, but sometimes you just have to pretend like using a dictionary is a compromise to your art.)
Also as of late, I have found it equally distasteful to brag extensively about one’s accomplishments online. (If I see one more Instagram post about someone’s “magical” year of wealth, abundance, and their rocket-launching gender reveal party, I swear I’m going to lose a grape.)
Yet, I always appreciate when people post fearlessly honest messages which sometimes show them as a little broken and a lot grateful. Also, kudos if they are sporting an unusually large forehead or rolls of belly flab because they’ve chosen not to photoshop their image. Hooray for blemishes!
So here’s my undoubtedly flawed attempt at showing you some of mine.
My motto lately seems to be, no one cares, everyone cares, everything matters and nothing matters. As you might infer, my cynicism has reached an all-time low. Or high. Whichever sounds more impressive. Because if I can be the best at feeling the worst, I’m still winning.
And yet, little things now make me happier than ever before. Take for example:
Ice water. Put some ice in a cup of room temperature water and just like that, your mouth feels like a disco ball.
A good pillow. It’s not fancy. It’s old and weathered and full of smoosh marks, but it knows my head like the back of my hand, and I take great comfort in that intimate friendship.
A rock-solid real-life hug. Try it pressing heart-to-heart, hold it a few moments longer than expected and you’ll feel like your soul has been given a do-over. I strongly encourage everyone to hug like this and see what kind of reaction your hug-ee gives you.
The thing is, after having been through some legitimately awful stuff the past few months, I find myself newly on the other side of it, (still in it, if I’m being totally honest) but somehow managing to find moments to let go of the hurt and pain of it all. Further, the byproduct of having temporary residence in Poopsville seems to be, it’s made me re-think what the hell I’m doing with my life.
Mind you, I don’t have the answer yet, but I find myself seriously re-evaluating the super go-getter attitude I have held since I was old enough to tie my shoes and understood the dictionary versions of “success” and “failure”.
Me at 5 years-old:
Can tie shoes= winner.
Has to use velcro= loser.
As you can see, my bar has been pretty high for some time. As far back as I can recall, I’ve had a self-inflicted policy of always giving a thousand percent to every endeavor. Whether thumb-wrestling the school bully for my lunch money or learning how to build a violin, I was going to go big or go home. To be fair, I did lose a tooth to Nickanore in that altercation, and my home-made violin was built from a dirty shoebox and dental floss. (But you bet your third-grade ass I played that box of garbage with the passion a pre-deaf Beethoven.)
If we were told to pay attention during class, I wouldn’t so much as save my classmate from a swarm of land sharks if it meant breaking eye contact with the teacher.
In high school, I ditched class on two occasions. The first was to study extra for a test, and the second was when I had my wisdom teeth put back into my mouth.
As a professional musician, I have logged thousands of hours refining on my art, working on perfecting my singing notes, meticulously crafting words, and my, can-you-feel-the-funk, face.
But I mean, come on, don’t we all want to be the best at what we do? No one ever wakes up thinking, “Today I want to be mediocre at my job!” For so long, I’ve always wanted to be the best goddamn person at my art and skill, but I’m beginning to think I’ve had it all wrong.
Because wanting to be the very best leads the mind to constantly compare, judge, raise hopes, and often, be let down by the results. Even if you are the fucking best at what you do, you’re definitely going to be the person in the room who is always working ten times as hard to make sure you stay the best. And how stressful is that?
Versus, simply waking up each day thinking, “Today I’m going to do a relatively average job at whatever I partially set my mind to. I’m going to look bland, be bland, have very few original thoughts and rarely step outside of the lines.” If you follow this line of logic, what you end up with is presumably, a life less disappointing. A life with shorter distances to the ground. A life without manic expectations and plummets. A life with a meal at your mid-city Olive Garden, where the pasta tastes like paste and the bread sticks are harder than your bowel movements. But you get to go home with a full day, a full belly, and a sense of cursory accomplishments.
All facetiousness aside, there’s a lot to be said for the inner harmony that comes from not constantly striving like a maniac. Finding balance not only helps when you’re the chubby kid on a teeter-totter but also comes in handy when building your house on stilts, planning for your future, and carrying all your groceries in one trip. (You know you hate making a second trip to the car, so instead you weigh down each finger with a grocery bag, meticulously deciding how much to burden each overly stressed knuckle.)
There’s a reason balanced neutral colors work so well with others. Employees at Target aren’t wearing Taupe for no good reason. They know you’re more likely to approach them for where to find duct tape and Twizzlers, which as we know, are the two things you need to survive armageddon. * There’s also a reason Switzerland’s biggest concern is improving on their chocolate recipes and making an efficient watch. Because when your biggest national concerns are keeping time and then passing it binging on a Toblerone, you know neutrality can be a good thing.
So maybe this is my golden ticket out of the “everything’s a bummer” club. Maybe I’ve been overthinking this whole ambition thing. Perhaps it’s not about being the best. Maybe it’s not about focusing on what will somehow become better, if I just get better, do better, make better choices, get better at my singing, better at my writing, work on getting a better figure, making better connections, a better income, having better hair or making a better meatloaf. *
Instead, maybe it’s about finding more balance in what actually is. What is now. What is beautiful and amazing about right now, like an ice-cold glass of water drunk in bed while propping my head on a well-worn pillow, while getting a long-lasting hug from the person who happens to be right beside me.
Maybe herein lies the key to a happy life. It’s not about winning in the world, but being zen in the precious one you have.
Aim for the middle kids, it’s the heartiest place in the sandwich, the warmest place in the pack, and the spot you’re least likely to get eaten by a bear.
*Read my earthquake survival essay, “In Case Of Emergency”, for more tips on how to survive the “Big One” with only a handful of paperclips and a bag of marshmallows.
*My desire to make a better meatloaf is a fabrication for a punchline. I have little to no desire to make good meatloaf. I’m more likely to want to impress you with a nice piece of fish.**
**This is a Jewish saying in my family. We mean the fish is neither friendly nor jovial, merely tasty and not likely to give us heartburn .