According to Spotify, the very first song I listened to in 2018 was “Bikini Bottom Day” from the SpongeBob SquarePants musical.
Jump out of bed
Mix up a breakfast for my favorite pet snail
Full steam ahead
The S.S. I Am Ready is about to set sail
Once upon a time in college, I went with my parents to see my little brother run a relay race in a high school track meet. My dad, a former high school track champion, and my little brother rode together, and my mom and I followed. Upon arrival, I found my dad hanging out in the stands, looking stricken.
“Do you know what your brother said to me in the car?”
“Your” brother, as if I was somehow responsible.
“He said that, today, they’re just going to go out there and have fun.” My dad continued this horror story. “You know what’s fun? Winning is fun.”
OH, THANKS, DAD. NOW I GET WHY I’M LIKE THIS.
I don’t actually blame my dad for my weird life standards. That would be unfair. My dad’s intense emphasis on the importance of victory is just one piece of my alchemy. Sometimes I wish that I could pinpoint one person or event or anything as the genesis of my depression. I’ve always craved having a reason for why I’m “like this.”
Winning is fun. The thesis of my depression is often, “You’re a loser.” I feel like a loser so much of the time. When I really let my brain go off the rails on a crazy train, the thoughts are always these: No one likes you. They just feel sorry for you. You’re not a good actor. If you were, you’d be in more plays. You’re not a good writer. You don’t make enough money. You’re a disappointment. You’re a failure. You’re a loser.
And who’s the lucky sponge in the middle
Who is living his dream?
Who’s always extra careful ’bout his dental hygiene
Gary, it’s me
Happy just to be here in the world
WELL, GOOD FOR FUCKING YOU, SPONGEBOB.
Here’s the thing: I AM living my dream, right? I have the friends, and I write the words, and I do the plays, and I floss the teeth. But I just don’t share SpongeBob’s disposition right now. Trust me, I super want to! SpongeBob’s a great role model.
But he’s not the one I need. No. Here, today, on the brink of a very personally frightening 2019, I need Squidward Q. Tentacles.
Squidward’s big number in the SpongeBob musical is called “I’m Not a Loser.” And I truly believe that about Squidward. Squidward is pretty openly disappointed with his lot in life. Yeah, he’s working the register at the Krusty Krab. He’s living in between SpongeBob and Patrick, who never give him the peace he craves. He’s alone and cranky and nowhere he wants to be.
But he keeps going. It is a truth universally acknowledged in Bikini Bottom that Squidward isn’t a good clarinet player. But he still plays whenever he can. He paints and he practices interpretive dance. He’s not rich or famous, and he very seldom has any kind of audience at all, but he keeps going. Squidward does his art for him. Because it gives him joy and pleasure and satisfaction and all that awesomeness.
Striving for SpongeBob every day is a tall order. I want to hop out of bed tomorrow morning, happy just to exist in this brave new world. But sometimes I can only think of where I’m not and of what I don’t have and how those facts are undoubtedly my fault. When I feel like my art isn’t “going anywhere,” I lose resolve and I lose joy.
I’m not a loser
I don’t secretly hate myself
I’m not singing this to no one
It’s not the case that no one cares
I’m not a failure
I don’t not have talent
When others see me they don’t see
The nobody that isn’t there
I’m not ready. I go back and forth every day about whether or not I’m going to move away when the time comes, and I don’t even know for sure where we might be going. I don’t have any performances or deadlines on the horizon, which makes me feel lost and worthless. I’m disappointed in myself for where I’m at right now, but I’m also not ready to move forward.
But I’m not a loser either. I don’t have to demonstrably “win” something in order for it to count as something meaningful in my life. Dear reader, I write this kind of sentiment so often in this blog, because I need to remind myself of it constantly. I hope you will forgive the repetitiveness.
The circumstances ahead of me are going to be a mental and emotional challenge. So, I’m going to strive for Squidward’s resilience. Whether or not the sun is shining or if anyone’s watching me, I’m going to try to get up and go. If I was a vision board-making type, I’d put Squidward right at the top, clarinet in tentacle.
Because when Squidward DOES get a “win,” as he so memorably did in the season two episode “Band Geeks,” I mean… just look at how great it is.
Happy New Year, everybody. You’re so super cool.