After two months stuck in Coronavirus induced lockdown, I, like many others have binge watched the series ‘New Girl’. The series was long forgotten to my pubescent memory. As a 16-year old during its run, I saw the words; ‘Adorkable’, ‘Girl’ and ‘Zooey Deschanel’ and gave it a hard and closed-minded pass. Only for it to be pushed so heavily on the home screens of Netflix and Amazon Prime eight years later.
Succumbing to the corporate media machine, I decided to do as I was told. I ended up bingeing all seven seasons in a single week. My actual review of the FOX series could be a separate blog, but to limit the word count here – it is a fantastic show that deserves your viewing. I highly recommend it (Note: there are going to be some spoilers in this article, so here is a heads up if you’re planning on watching).
However, I’m here today to write about my personal favourite character, Nick Miller. Schmidt is a very close second, he is hands-down the best part of the first season. Admittedly, by the actor Jake Johnson himself, the character did not come into his own until the second season. This was because the writers weren’t sure how to write his character yet. But I digress. Outside of the kooky wackiness of ‘New Girl’, the character of Nick is an unorthodox and frankly great example of the effect that the ancient Chinese philosophy of Taoism can have on our lives.
“Excuse me?” I can already hear you ask through your screen. How is this relevant to Nick?
Taoism is a way of thinking about life that dates to at least 2,500 years ago. Tao is the name given to the ‘way’ or the force that puts everything in life and existence into motion. Words themselves are claimed to be unable to correctly describe what ‘Tao’ is. However, a key belief in Taoism is that of ‘flow’ – that actions should not be forced. You should not strive in existence. You should live with the least amount of effort, prioritising what you want to do and investing your all into it.
When we are introduced to Nick, his friends see him as a lazy, alcoholic law-school dropout working at a dive bar claiming to be a writer. He is not taken seriously and is seen as a bit of a failure. Nick is a character I am sure many, including myself, can identify with. That is the core pull of the show ‘New Girl’ – most people can see themselves within one the shows characters. Middle-to-late twenty somethings who haven’t grown up into stereotypical adults yet, without kids or a family and are desperately trying to find their calling in life.
Despite his perceived shortcomings and lazy behaviour, Nick is just following the ‘flow’ or ‘Tao’ of his own existence. He is not forcing the things that don’t come naturally to him so he can be perceived as more well-off or successful, if he doesn’t actually want them. Many people in modern society chase jobs that they don’t actually want deep down, they just want the finances and the status that comes with it. I don’t recall ever talking to a child who yearns to grow old and become an Investment Banker. They want to drive trains, write stories or fly to the moon.
Nick actually did pass his bar examination while at law-school, yet instead of dropping out because he couldn’t – he decided being a bartender was more ‘him’ and chased that avenue instead. After sharing this advice with his friends, Winston leaves his job at the radio station and eventually becomes a cop. Jess decides to stay on as a teacher instead of taking the fundraising position, even though it pays more. Schmidt even visits the Christmas tree farm that he loved working at before getting a career in marketing – which he only has for the money, status and power.
This is averse to what most young adults are taught nowadays. I’ve worked in retail and catering and actually quite enjoyed them. However, I have always been taught they were bottom of the food-chain, despite both my parents working for decades in these environments. The definition of success and status in the western world right now is wrong. We should be praising these types of character decisions, not looking down on them with a sigh and an utterance of ‘lost potential’ at a family dinner.
If you need another example, it is Nick’s writing career. When he is teased by his loft mates for calling himself a writer and not writing anything substantial, he forces himself to stay up for 14 hours straight and churn out the last half of his first err… novel, ‘Z is for Zombie’. In his book he misspells the word ‘rhythm’ no less than 38 times and adds in a wordsearch that does not actually have any words hidden in it to ‘subvert the readers expectations’. Winston dubs it the worst thing that he is ever read but is proud of him for finishing it.
There is an argument that the metaphor here is, your first draft is never your best, but you learn from it and try again. I am not fighting that at all. I truly believe this is what the writers were going for, but it is a testament to the show and its writers that we can look further into their work. Taoism teaches that the act of ‘flow’ is a means to all things. We should not focus on the end-product of our workings, nor the potential reward, only the act of enjoying the things we do.
“He gives but not to receive
He works but for no reward
He competes but not for results
He does nothing for himself in this passing world
So nothing he does ever passes.”
(Verse 2, Tao Te Ching)
Like an athlete entering the ‘zone’, Nick taps into his creative energy during his stay in New Orleans with Reagan. He claims that the city resonated with him and he was able to tap into something special. The result? As he claims himself in his third person ‘About the Author’ page:
“He has also lived in New Orleans, [although] that was mostly a frenzied barely remembered fever-dream, during which he wrote the majority of his magnu[m] opus the Pepperwood Chronicles.”
The accidental pre-teen masterpiece about a detective wresting with his inner alligator was not a forced piece of fiction. It is unique and he wrote it because he wanted to. Not because his actions were forced by external influences such as his friends or societal pressure. He pretty much let the book write itself and found success. This is because his end goal was not to write the book, it was to get his story out into words.
This can be seen again when he attempts to write a sequel to ‘The Pepperwood Chronicles’ in the final season. His publisher tells him in no uncertain terms that his new material is garbage. It is because it is forced, he is writing Pepperwood to fill the criterion of a book contract, not because he wants to – he’s going against his natural flow.
The point of this article? I think Taoism is more useful now that it has ever been. We all need to be more like Nick Miller. He disregards modern society as egregious and does his own thing because it makes him happy. Sure, in his case it is beer for breakfast and refusing to pay out for repairs of the loft, but he gets where he needs to through innately being himself. If we all just did what we enjoyed, we would all live much happier lives than we do striving for something perceived as ‘greater’ by someone else. The current COVID-19 pandemic has shown us more than ever that every line of work is important, we should be celebrating the character of the people we have become instead of the number on our payslips at the end of every month.
Check out New Girl on Netflix or Amazon Prime here:
Or read the Tao Te Ching: