Coping Mechanism is a column by Mackenna Manidis exploring the care practices of creative people she finds inspiring.
It’s summertime in Los Angeles. Summer for Angelenos is ritualistic: the rooftop hotel pools, our beloved Dodger games, the beach, the barbeques. This year we’re adding Whiteclaw and overalls to the list.
Personally, my favorite part of summer in LA is the natural glow I develop from heat and sweat. My least favorite is an annual desire to blow up my whole life. I never know where to place the blame for this impulse… astrology? The sun melting my brain? I haven’t figured out why, but like clockwork every year the feeling is there. Gut it all. Start fresh. Whatever I think I am, that’s not it.
In an attempt to curb my potentially reckless and/or destructive behavior, I reached out to one of my most stable people, Nirantha. Nirantha is one of my oldest friends, a piece of my heart walking outside of my body, someone who sat next to me in high school band class when I was last chair tuba player and she played the upright bass. Nirantha is someone I’ve always admired because she does it all. Plays multiple instruments and juggles being in multiple bands? Check. Writes and releases her own music under the pseudonym Language Barrier? Uh huh. On the board of a nonprofit supporting the arts and music community of the youth in Tucson, where she lives? Of course she does that. Is a literal fucking full-time optical engineer?! Yeah, that’s my Nirantha. Also, she just got engaged. This woman is a force of nature.
I’ve been wanting to interview Nirantha for Coping Mechanism since the idea for this column began. I was ready to garner any and all wisdom she had to pass on to me, a single twenty-something woman in Los Angeles with no college degree and approximately one trillion started and unfinished projects. How does she juggle her life? Where does she find the time? Instead of answering my questions in linear format, she sent me the following beautiful piece of writing of her own. It seems as if the siren song of purposeful disruption is singing in the desert, too. Read her beautiful words below, better that you, too, get the music of their flow than read them chopped up into quotes.
You’re asking me these questions at a really peculiar time in my life. I just decided to make a huge life change; I decided to completely upheave my career.
As someone who always likes to have plans, and lists, and five steps in the future planned out, you’d think I’d be more anxious now than ever, but I actually feel a specific zen I haven’t felt in… ever, maybe? I think I finally figured out, for real, what my coping mechanism. And that’s saying “no.”
I’ve always tried to do exactly what has been asked of me, and expected of me (I attribute some of this to being the child of immigrants; second-generation guilt is real and often painful, but a lot of it is self-predicated too — I will try to responsibly accept my actions.) I think this is apparent in my past academic and professional life as an engineer. There’s also this whole other side of me that yearned to nurture my creative side. As you know, I’m a musician too, and though I don’t have dreams of “making it big,” it is a fun daydream to entertain. But it’s also a very real “hobby” (ugh, I don’t want to use that word, my music is so much more than that) that takes up a lot of time and energy.
Trying to line up this “should” life with the “wanted” life has, for so long, left me tethered to anxiety. I know I’m not alone here. We’re all stressed out, all the time.
At 28-years-old I’ve learned that saying “no” is not a death warrant for my social or professional or creative life. I’m still trying to figure out why it’s been hard for me all those years, though. Was it FOMO? Is it because I’m a control freak? Little of column A, little of column B, perhaps.
I would like to share a self-care practice — actually, it’s not so much a practice as a one time event. I deleted my Instagram account in early 2018 and my relationship with myself changed drastically. I hate to profess the evils of social media, because I find that narrative really grating and, like, Luddite-y. Anyway, it wasn’t helpful for me personally to stare at pictures of people with successful careers in their beautiful houses, musicians making it big on long tours. This makes me sound so misanthropic and the truth is I really was happy for the happiness of all these other folks, but the envy and eternal internal comparison were killing me.
I used to live with a friend who was a preschool teacher; she’s the one who actually taught me the phrase “self-soothing.” It was in reference to her 2-year-olds learning how to do that. I guess it’s actually an innate human trait. We’re born knowing how to self sooth. She would tell me about her kids tightly hugging their teddy bears or just wrapping their arms around themselves, or even just crying it out until they felt better. I think I’m still figuring out how best to do this for myself. Maybe I just need a good cry.”
So there you have it.
The most stable person I know believes in upheaval. She believes in change and destruction. She believes in rebuilding with intention and living that way too. She believes, too, that it’s okay to be vulnerable and in touch with what scares you. She believes that it’s okay to ask for help.
She believes in saying no. She believes in herself. Maybe I don’t need the chaos. Maybe I don’t need the shuffle to feel safe.
Maybe I just need a good cry. After all, that’s the most basic coping mechanism there is — even two-year-olds get it.