In Pursuit of “The Next Right Thing”

The following does NOT contain spoilers for the yet-to-be-released Frozen 2, but does make predictions about the film’s plot and reveals the lyrics of one pivotal song.

Hey there. It’s been a minute.

Yes, here we are again, another year nearly over, another resolution to blog more all but thwarted entirely. I thought I’d help this struggle to maintain a consistent blog schedule at the start of the year by making Project J-Curve, a blog series that would divert away from my pop culture, media and entertainment-focused posts and be more personalized towards documenting the very rapid increase of the real-world experiences of adulthood that I would be facing in the year 2019, something which I considered to resemble the sharp incline of a “j-curve” line graph.

In retrospect, I’d call it “Project Plateau;” it started off as planned, and then just flatlined right alongside my anticipated writing schedule.

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In the six years of having this blog, my last post this past June “How Thor, Forky, and a Murder Book Taught Me Valuable Lessons in Self-Love” was one of the most popular on the site. I had an overwhelming outpouring of responses from friends and strangers alike, with personal stories both heartbreaking and empowering that are reflective of a shared sentiment of isolation, dread, and self-deprecation in a very uncertain time. The blog even caught the attention of American crime journalist Billy Jensen! Yes, the host of one of the most popular true crime podcasts The Murder Squad, the guy who helped solve the decades-long unsolved mystery of the Golden State Killer–that Billy Jensen! He liked my weird ramblings comparing depression to a Thicc Thor™ and a sentient spork.

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…because this is real life, I guess?!? WHAT?!

I have long stated that this blog is really meant to serve as practice, and that I’m happiest to just be writing at all– an audience gives me the pressure to do good work, but isn’t a true priority. But the responses to Thor, Forky, and a Murder Book nevertheless meant the world. I had spent months crafting that particular blog, not only because I was apprehensive about sharing such a vulnerable part of myself, but also because I didn’t quite know how to present it. Its heavy references to three separate media properties rendered it akin to a regular blog, yet it also featured pretty personal content that I typically only reserved for my Project J-Curves.

Here again, I am faced with the same decision, because what I have to say today is more or less a check-in since the last post (because SO much has changed), but again, Chef Geek over here can’t help but add a wee sprinkling of pop culture as a garnish. However, to this post, it is exactly that—a garnish. Let’s dive in.

Things have been…wow. I think that’s the easiest way to describe it in a word. “Wow.” Good wows, bad wows, and all sorts of wows in between. The last true Project J-Curve post was exactly nine months ago, so I’ve compiled a highlight reel via bullet points:

  • I wrote, defended, and published a thesis.
  • I graduated with my Masters degree.
  • I moved up to Los Angeles.
  • I searched for work for three months to no avail.
  • I immediately discovered the effects of Rush Hour Traffic and Astronomical Prices, or the Twin Plagues of Los Angeles, as I like to call them. These are universally felt pestilences amongst all Angelenos and permeate nearly every aspect of daily life. At first overwhelming, they eventually become such a part of you that you are numb to their overall effects.
  • To combat encroaching feelings of dread, worry, and fear, I wasted the summer living vicariously in fictional worlds. The upside? I got caught up on all TV shows I was already watching/had been wanting to watch. Conversely, I also look back on that time with deep regret. I squandered ample opportunities to figure out what I wanted to become and do.
  • Then all of a sudden, a windfall. Three jobs, which all collided simultaneously, opened up to me. Theses three couldn’t be more different, and reveal how polarized I feel in choosing a streamlined path for my future: One is deeply tied to business and industry, one is artistic and service-driven, and one is academic and everything I’ve trained for. I see them as three roads – a road I had never before traveled, a road I had abandoned but gave a second chance, and a road that is well-worn, safe, and familiar. Each have had their various challenges, but also have undoubtedly taught me so much about myself. The greatest challenge between them, however, was taking them all on at the same time.

That about covers it. I thought that this time in my life would be different. And I know I’ve said it here before, that I knowingly admit that one’s twenties are supposed to be a time of great uncertainty and rapid changes. I’ve even jokingly exchanged with several friends around my age feeling the post-college slump “Hey, remember when we all weren’t in perpetual misery?” It’s a phase, it’s a process, and I know it will ultimately work itself out.

But a few weeks ago, I seriously contemplated getting in my car and driving north until I made it back to my hometown without any word or warning. And that terrified me. In over five years of living in this part of the world, I had always considered going home to be an admission that I couldn’t take the lifestyle here. These were the misinformed thoughts of a college freshman determined to get out of her hometown and stay out, and while going home or not pursuing your college major as a career are in no way signs of failure, I was worried that perhaps these thoughts of suddenly abandoning ship were confirming that I had made a huge, costly mistake in ever coming here. Maybe it was time to accept that I wasn’t cut out for this sort of life and start over.

I didn’t make that drive. I’m still here for the foreseeable future. But I’m currently in the process of trying to craft a better life for myself in whatever form that takes. If that means pivoting in my career path, if it means separating myself from toxic relationships, and, dare I say it, if it means leaving Los Angeles altogether for a time. All I know is that I have to invest wholeheartedly into crafting my own happiness and fast, because what I’ve been doing has not been working. The worst part about all of this is being faced with an endless array of unknowns, and feeling so overwhelmed by it all that I just end up shutting down and shutting off. I would say that the depression has returned in full force, but in all honesty, it never left.

I am writing this after having listened to the soundtrack to Frozen 2, which was released today. Reviews came pouring in this afternoon, with many critics suggesting that the sequel is an unnecessary addition to the story, but is nevertheless beautiful with some poignant, more adult themes to suit an audience that is six years older from when we last left Frozen. What I have been able to glean from the songs is that the overarching theme of the film will be the evolution that accompanies growing up and finding one’s purpose.

Anna’s song “The Next Right Thing” hit me particularly hard. It sent chills coursing through my body and tears to my eyes immediately, not only because of Kristen Bell’s beautiful and emotionally-charged performance, but also the Lopezes’ haunting melody and absolutely devastating lyrics. Though I don’t know the full context of the song, as the film’s release is still a week away, its general sentiment and place as the very last song on the soundtrack concerns me…Disney Animation, y’all aren’t gonna pull an Avengers: Infinity War on us, are you?!

Whatever the true meaning may be, the song is nevertheless an ode to perseverance and overcoming fear, isolation, and intense sorrow.

You are lost, hope is gone
But you must go on
And do the next right thing.
[…]
Take a step. Step again.
It is all that I can
To do the next right thing.

I won’t look too far ahead.
It’s too much for me to take.
But break it down to this next breath.
This next step.
This next choice
Is one that I must make.

So I’ll walk through this night,
Stumbling blindly toward the light
And do the next right thing.
And with the dawn, what comes then?
When it’s clear that everything
Will never be the same again?
Then I’ll make the choice,
To hear that voice,
And do the next right thing.

I cannot overemphasize what a heart-wrenchingly beautiful and important lesson this song communicates. When your world seems to be falling down around you, as long as you can make the choice to keep going in whatever form that takes, you can start the process of moving onward. Even the choice to do something as small as taking your next breath is a right thing.

This song isn’t laced with a rosy message of “everything will be okay” and “this too shall pass” and “this hurt will go away when things get better.” This song instead communicates that pain is real and becomes a part of you, and you don’t have to hide or suppress it. But always persevere and quest onward. Making the choice to do the next right thing doesn’t dwarf or lessen the hurt, but will help you rise in spite of the hurt and grow to be a stronger person. And that is a vital lesson to teach this next generation of young moviegoers.

I was floored by this song and played it over and over again on my drive home (along with Kristoff’s Chicago-inspired 80’s power ballad, and yes, it’s everything you want it to be and more). And because life is weird, immediately after getting home from work, I walked to my neighborhood’s Starbucks, and this caught my eye through the window:

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A giant, illuminated billboard of Anna leaping courageously over a ravine, her expression determined and certain.

I mean…I’ve openly asked the universe for a sign that I’m where I’m supposed to be, but I didn’t expect them to be quite so on-the-nose about it!!

So the quest continues. Many things in life feel like the giant ravine Anna is crossing– too deep, scary, and big to safely traverse. But the only way to get up enough courage to make that leap is to accept the mistakes I’ve already made and make “this next breath, this next step, this next choice” and keep fighting until I discover who I want to be and what I was put here to do in this world.

Though admittedly compartmentalizing sounds like commonplace advice, it’s oftentimes the first thing forgotten when life gets chaotic. I am so grateful to this truly gorgeous song for providing a reminder of just how important it is.

Well, that about does it for yet another hybrid Project J-Curve post! I’m not sure when I’ll post again, but you can be sure there will be an end-of-the-year/end-of-the-decade round-up before 2019 is over and mostly likely a declaration of a blog schedule that I may or may not adhere to once again! Whatever ends up happening, both within and outside of this weird little blog, I can now trust that any action for betterment, failed or otherwise, is always “the next right thing.”

Photos by author.

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