Why Spongebob Matters
*The idea for this story started with me sitting in the study room of my dorm, sipping Trader Joe's Green Tea, and listening to a “Peaceful Piano” playlist on Spotify.
Over the course of this past year, I’ve read this wonderful self improvement book called “Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits Of Billionaires, Icons, and World Class Performers”, and I often like to wake up, read a chapter, and write down any poignant quotes or stand out ideas I come across. I was reading a chapter about Brene Brown, a professor who has given a Ted Talk on “the power of vulnerability”, and I came across this quote:
“To be trusted, be vulnerable”
And something inside me clicked.
Since the days of my first post “An Epiphany About How I Was Being Dumb”, I’ve talked to family, friends, and a couple of professors about their thoughts on the blog. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive, and as you would expect, in the days since I have felt incredibly inspired and excited about what my blog could become.
So, when I went to the Cal Poly Library to start writing my second post, I walked into the computer lab like I owned the place, Starbucks Dark Roast coffee in hand, and set up shop in the corner of the room. I logged on through the Cal Poly Portal, brought up my Google Drive, and clicked on my document titled “New Blog Posts”. Suddenly, I was facing the blank desolation of an empty word document. To explain how I felt, I'd like to delve into the world of Spongebob Squarepants.
I don’t know if all my readers are familiar with the adventures of Spongebob Squarepants, but a beloved storyline of the Spongebob series is one in which Spongebob heroically strives to graduate from “Mrs. Puff’s Boating School”, and earn the right to legally drive. But of course, something inevitably always goes wrong.
The thing is, Spongebob knows how to drive. He knows the Boating Manual front and back, and is shown to lead the class with the most golden stars on the “Good Noodles” board.
In fact, Spongebob has attended Mrs. Puff’s Boating School for so long that Mrs. Puff (A characterization of a Pufferfish) often loses her grip on sanity, and in the episode “Mrs. Puff, You’re Fired”, it’s noted that Spongebob has failed the final driving exam 1,258,056 times. It’s clear that Spongebob’s issue is succumbing to the pressure of proving he can truly drive the damn boat. Whenever he attempts the final test, he either drives into a gas can, blowing up the entire facility, or crashes into the school’s lighthouse, causing Mrs. Puff to blow up (as Pufferfish do when they are agitated or threatened) and lament, as she realizes Spongebob will never graduate, “Oh, Spongebob, Why?”
There is an episode titled “Procrastination” in which Spongebob is assigned an 800 word essay on “What Not to Do at a Stoplight”. Mrs. Puff is sure to make it clear, the essay is due tomorrow, and foreshadows when she says with a dark tone “No goofing off.” At first, Spongebob is overjoyed. He boldly claims he is “going to write the greatest essay of all time.”
So, Spongebob locks himself away in his pineapple, sits down at his desk, sharpens his pencil, and titles his paper “What Not to Do At a Stoplight.” Then, the clock starts ticking, and Spongebob doesn’t write anything. The camera pans from the clock on the wall, and zooms in on Spongebob looking like this:
Spongebob then notices what a “sailorific sun shiny” day it is and looks out the window to see this:
At this point, Spongebob is clearly losing his grip on his mental composure. He attempts to reassure himself, but he starts to appear more and more unhinged. Remember, this is Boating School, and Spongebob really cares about Boating School. There lies the problem.
In an effort to break through his writer’s block, Spongebob embarks on a journey that is terrifyingly similar to what many of us do when facing a stressful situation: We do and think about everything but the stressful situation.
So, Spongebob engages in calisthenics:
Feeds his pet snail:
And cleans his kitchen until it looks like this:
Spongebob is so hell bent on avoiding the stress of his essay, he cleans his garbage:
Finally, after 4 hours of completing many irrelevant and miscellaneous tasks, Spongebob realizes he needs to put his ass in the chair and get writing.
What follows is one of the most famous moments in Spongebob history. Spongebob suddenly decides that he is going to give the essay his heart and soul. Dramatic orchestral music is queued, and Spongebob flies off into a montage of what appears to be sweaty and frenzied inspiration:
Just to produce this:
Now, this is the point in the episode where Spongebob really starts to lose his shit. He descends into a deep state of self delusion, neuroticism, and paranoia.
His television starts reporting a story about a local Sponge who won’t write his essay:
His chair invites him to put his feet up and relax:
His desk starts to run away from him:
Even Spongebob’s pants abandon him:
The psychotic breakdown concludes with Spongebob’s house burning down as it begs him to write his essay:
But, thankfully, Spongebob wakes up:
And it turns out it had all been a nightmare. Still, Spongebob hasn’t written his essay. When he checks the clock, he has five minutes until class starts and the paper is due. Then, it hits him. “What Not to Do At a Stoplight” is feed your pet snail, or clean your kitchen, or squats, or spray disinfectant on your garbage. And in two minutes of writing, Spongebob completes his 800 word essay:
But when Spongebob triumphantly storms into Mrs. Puff’s classroom, he finds the classroom empty:
Mrs. Puff then ambles in and informs Spongebob the assignment was cancelled, and subsequently, that there was no need to worry about it.
The episode ends with Mrs. Puff leaving the classroom, Spongebob ripping his essay in half, and then ripping himself in half:
Turns out, after all that, Spongebob had no need to worry at all. And all because of a silly bit of miscommunication.
For those of you who made it through my digression into the deep and allegorical world of Spongebob Squarepants, I’ll try to explain how Spongebob’s battle with his inner demons connects to me:
Facing writing my second post in the Cal Poly Library, I started to experience pangs of anxiety and stress. I wondered what I should write about, how I should do it, and how other people would judge whatever my second post would eventually become.
I too, like Spongebob, approached my second post like I was going to write the next great American novel, but then when I sat down to actually write, I couldn’t think of jack shit. The coffee I’d drank made me feel jittery and anxious rather than alert and focused. The music I was listening to stopped being music and became distracting noise. My hands hurt from typing so much. To put it colloquially, I felt like ass. And consequently, I left the library having written nothing of value.
So, the next day, as I was drinking my green tea and reading Tools of Titans, I stumbled upon the quote:
“To be trusted, be vulnerable”
And I realized what my second post should be about: how I struggled to write my second post.
Similar to how Spongebob realizes he should write his essay on all the things he did while actively not writing his essay, I’m now attempting to do just that. I’m trying to outline the weird self doubt and anxiety I experienced facing this whole second post thing, because that is how I truly felt and still feel as I type these words. As my friends and family could attest, I’ve been trying to spread “whyharmony.com” to everyone I possibly can. And for the most part, I’ve had a blast advertising my first little post.
And while it has been really exciting, it has also been really scary. Being the social creatures we are, other people’s judgement means a lot to us. Social reputation means so much to us that many of us lie, cheat, and go through great amounts of pain to either protect the reputation we currently have, or gain a more prestigious one. The reason the quote “To be trusted, be vulnerable” stood out to me so much was because I’ve noticed how much people respect and appreciate honesty. And oftentimes, being honest requires being vulnerable.
In a world where Taco Bell is constantly trying to convince you their food is healthy, a world where Facebook acts like they actually give a fuck about your 19th birthday, a world where swimsuit models are photoshopped to fit an absolutely unrealistic paradigm of beauty, it is refreshing to have somebody tell you the truth of what they really feel.
If your roommate leaving his dirty laundry all over the floor leaves you wanting to strangle the oxygen out of his lungs, then you should tell him. If your professor is struggling to communicate why Plato thought Democracy sucks, tell him. If you feel like a teammate on your basketball team should pass the ball, tell him. Now, of course it is essential we are careful with our words and practice caution when pointing fingers, but if we never tell our roommates why they piss us off, how would we ever expect them to understand what they’re doing wrong?
Why do I love Spongebob so much? Because that little yellow sponge is authentic. There is not a drop of artifice in Spongebob’s being. He loves flipping burgers at the Krusty Krab so much he gets exploited for a 7 cent an hour salary. He loves Boating School so much he endured hours of psychotic agony attempting to write an essay about what not to do at a god damned red light.
While Spongebob could probably benefit from taming his ever flowing spirit, I’d argue most of us would benefit from letting ourselves be more like Spongebob. And when I say “Be more like Spongebob”, I’m not suggesting we all descend into the darkest chambers of our minds every time we need to write an essay, I’m suggesting we all become more willing to let the world know what we really feel about things. If you really like a certain song, tell people about it. If you feel like shit, tell somebody why.
Because the truth is, you can’t really earn trust without being somewhat vulnerable first.
To leave you with the prophetic words of Patrick Star,
“I Wumbo, You Wumbo, He She Me Wumbo.”
*Songs I’m highly enjoying right now:
“Dive” - Beach House
“Hot Knifer” - Peach Pit
“Flower Power” - Greta Van Fleet