An essay about feeling down, but not out. Also, Situation Normal turns 3!
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I’m flat. This happens to me sometimes. It’s a classic ME problem, as in Michael Estrin problem.
When I say flat, here’s what I mean: my head, heart, gut, and funny bone have all collapsed under their own weight.
Or, maybe they collapsed under the weight of some heavy news. Because the news is heavy right now.
Or, maybe they collapsed because Christina has a new job, which is good, but also stressful because change is stressful, and when my wife feels stress I feel it too.
Or, maybe they collapsed because my day job is slow at the moment and I’m coming to terms with the fact that I need to reinvent my career once again.
Or, maybe it was the essay I wrote called Bad Doppelgänger Vibes. Maybe that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, causing the camel to fall on me and flatten my head, heart, gut, and funny bone.
Honestly, it’s hard to say why I’m flat because it’s hard to put a finger on the blues, and it’s even harder to sing them.
Sorry for mixing metaphors.
Usually, I’m the opposite of flat.
The opposite of flat is…
[checks ye olde Google machine]
Exciting comes close, I think. Or, maybe excited is more accurate. One thing I’ve learned after twenty years at the keyboard is that when I’m excited to tell a story, it’ll be funny, as long as I remember to get out of my own way and just let the narrative unfold. For a serious essay, I could replace excited with emotional, I suppose. When I write a serious essay, it’s because I’ve got to get something important off my chest.
Usually, I write Situation Normal at the beginning of the week. Unlike most writers I know, I suck at procrastination. But as I write these words, it’s Thursday night in Los Angeles. Technically, I’m still 48 hours away from deadline, but to me that’s cutting it close.
The thing about waiting until Thursday night to start writing this piece is that I spent the entire week feeling flat. Every morning, I’d wake up and say, “I got nothing.” All day long, I’d say, “I got nothing.” At night, I’d put my head on my pillow, and as drifted off to sleep, I’d say, “I got nothing.” By the time Thursday rolled around, I still had nothing.
Actually, that’s not quite true.
I have people who love and support me, no matter what.
I have a dog who loves me, as long as I give him treats.
I have you.
While I have you, it’s a good time to tell you about a milestone. I launched Situation Normal three years ago, almost to the day. When I began this project, I had about 125 subscribers. Today, there are roughly 4,000 of you.
I mean, wow!
Also, happy third birthday to Situation Normal!
Also, thank you, situation normies, for showing up, for sharing my work, and for being so dang awesome. I’d write Situation Normal even if nobody came to read it, but writing for you is way more fun, and incredibly fulfilling.
My philosophy for Situation Normal has always been simple. Basically, I tell funny stories from my life. The wrinkle is this: life is messy and complicated, and while finding the humor in life comes naturally to me, I am not a joke machine. I am a human being who cares more about telling the truth than nailing a joke, although I care a lot about my jokes too. That’s why this post isn’t a funny story. Instead, it’s a post about feeling flat, with a few jokes here and there. I prefer to tell the truth.
Actually, I need to tell the truth. If lying to you was a viable alternative, I’d do that. But I’m a terrible liar. Ask Christina. One time I told the IRS they had made a mistake. That cost us of thousands of dollars. Bad liar. Or, maybe compulsive truth teller. I can live with “bad liar” on my resume, but I’d rather be remembered as a “compulsive truth teller.”
Of course, there’s a middle path. You don’t have to lie, but you don’t have to tell the truth either. You can duck the question—something I learned in law school, internalized as a journalist, and perfected working in PR.
I thought about skipping this week because I was feeling flat. Actually, that’s what I planned to do. But then I met with my writing group. I told them I was feeling flat.
Alex and Anne were sympathetic. Jane was sympathetic too, but she also had an idea.
“That’s an essay right there,” Jane said. “You should write about feeling flat.”
I knew Jane was right. I even made a note about what Jane said on my notepad. But as soon as we got off the call, I was like, no way,
So, instead of writing, I cleaned the house. Despite what I wrote earlier about being bad at procrastination, I can put off a writing assignment if I find another valuable use for my time. There’s a lot of subjectivity in the word “valuable,” but for me it comes down to this: if it’s something enjoyable like eating ice cream or watching a movie, it’s not a valuable use of my time, but if it’s a chore, like running errands, or cooking, or cleaning, it is a valuable use of my time.
I make the rules, but I can’t make them make sense. Sorry.
Anyway, procrastination unlocked!
There are a lot of upsides to cleaning the house. For one thing, you get your steps in. Also, you get a clean house at the end. Plus, the process of cleaning sometimes yields hidden treasures like long-lost socks and loose change in the couch cushions. But by far the biggest upside is that cleaning humbles you.
As I cleaned the toilet, I thought about feeling flat and what that really meant. On the one hand, I feel an obligation to be funny. Basically, I feel like people only want to read Situation Normal because it makes them laugh. But then there’s the other hand—the hand cleaning the toilet bowl, in this case. Basically, that other hand comes down to this: people read Situation Normal because they trust me to tell the truth, and OK sure, the truth is funny, or rather, it’s funny because it’s true, but really, the main thing is that it has to be true, above all else.
So there I was, down on my knees, scrubbing poop off of porcelain, feeling flat, with an imaginary devil on my shoulder telling me to “just be funny” and an imaginary angel on the other shoulder telling me to “be honest.” And OK, that’s a cliche, and the angel and devil were probably just hallucinations caused by inhaling fumes from cleaning supplies, but the angel was making a good case, and the devil was making a good case too. That epic fight for my flat soul had to amount to something, right?
See, angel shit and devil shit only resolve movie and television shit.
In life, the shit gets real, as they say.
So yeah, I’m flat and Situation Normal, a funny newsletter that just turned three, is marking the occasion with an unfunny post. I want to say that’s a good thing, but you wouldn’t believe that because I don’t believe it. But I can’t quite bring myself to say that’s a bad thing either, because life isn’t as black and white as flat and whatever the opposite of flat is.
It’s just a thing. A real-ass thing.
I am flat this week.
But next week?
Well, that’s another story…
Stick around and chat!
You know the drill. I’ve got questions, you’ve got answers.
Do you ever feel flat? What do you do when you’re flat? Share your tips!
Are you a procrastinator? Take your time answering.
What do you get a newsletter for its third birthday? Angel’s food cake? Devil’s food cake? Gift card? Socks? All ideas welcome.
What do you think about when cleaning toilets? Dish your shit.
Can a lie be funny? Explain.
Have you listened to the podcast yet?
Want more Michael Estrin stories? I’ve got two books!
Ride/Share: Micro Stories of Soul, Wit and Wisdom from the Backseat is a collection of my Lyft driver stories🚗🗣
Not Safe for Work is a slacker noir novel based on my experiences covering the adult entertainment industry💋🍑🍆🕵️♂️
The ebook versions of my books are priced between 99 cents and $2.99, so if you don’t have the budget for a Situation Normal subscription, buying an ebook is a great way to support my work. Bonus: you’ll laugh your butt off!