Welcome back to A Day In The Life, our miniseries that dives deep into the day-to-day of two seemingly distinct, yet not so different professions. Earlier this week, we profiled Chris, a powerlifter, who uses CBD and THC products to get himself “in the zone” before a session, and to ameliorate the inflammation the weights can take on his body. We also met Carla, an up-and-coming young chef who is searching for another stress-reliever to add to her yoga and meditation regimen. Today, we’ll be talking to Mark and Lena, who both grew up in the same part of New York, but have ended up on two separate paths.
Lena and Mark, both 33 years old, were raised on the South Shore of Long Island. It’s an area probably best known as being home to the Hamptons, or where the well-to-do keep their summer homes. However, there’s a lot more to the place than lobster rolls and aperol spritzes. The real residents, the year-rounders, are made up of farmers and fishermen, teachers and contractors, who labor to keep their lights on.
“There wasn’t a ton to do out here, growing up,” Mark says. A veteran of the local music scene, Mark has been playing in bands since he was fifteen. “Really, it was either work in my dad’s store, play music, hang out - that was about it.”
Mark’s family, like so many other families on Long Island, own a local business that’s become a cornerstone of their community. Lena’s parents were teachers in the local school district. Both have since retired.
“It’s the kind of place where everyone knows each other, for better or for worse. And some people just get stuck out here, kind of.”
Lena’s talking about the side effects of growing up in a smaller community. Lena herself moved to Manhattan to build a now-successful design studio. But many of her and Mark’s friends from high school have fallen victim to alcohol and drug abuse. Heroin use is rampant on Long Island, and in a community where nearly 80% of people between 16 and 25 are employed in the service industry, the booze flows like, well, wine.
“It’s really easy to get caught up in it. Some of us just never stop.”
Mark is referring to his own experiences with substance abuse. As a musician, he is no stranger to drugs or drinking. He’s seen friends and bandmates get arrested, go to rehab, come back from rehab, and relapse. Mark himself has been entangled with the law - a DUI has kept him from driving for the past year. DUIs are so prevalent on the island that they’re referred to as “deewees” - “these days, it feels like everybody has at least one.”
Lena is familiar. “Drugs are scary easy to get out here. I think people don’t really want to think about it, because it spoils their image of this being some beautiful, wealthy community.”
For Lena, she was able to leverage her skill in art to obtain a scholarship at a well-respected art school. She interned at several publishing houses and became an illustrator before venturing out on her own and forming her studio. Now, she and her partner handle contracts from businesses based locally and across the country.
“I don’t think I could have done any of this if I had stayed on the Island. Seriously. And I don’t think any of my friends in high school are doing art now - it’s kind of crazy to think about.”
Like Lena and her art, Mark’s playing music has been the one consistent thing in his life. He’s played bars, festivals, and has done a bit of touring - but his DUI keeps him stuck in the same spot he grew up in, at least for now.
“I’m never going to stop playing, I literally wouldn’t know what to do with myself. My hopes for the next year are to finish the album I’m working on (Mark’s third) and collaborate with other acts on the Island.”
Finding what you love, and making a life out of doing it, is a beautiful thing. It’s also hard as hell. Especially in the face of others’ failure. It’s no small act to break away from where you came from and build something new - but it can be equally intense to stay there and keep trying.
Lena and Mark have found their joy, and are doing everything they can to nurture it. For Mark, that means staying active, healthy, and away from alcohol.
“I don’t smoke anymore, because any of that can show up on a test. But I definitely use CBD oil, especially on my hands and arms before a jam session.”
Lena has no legal constrictions on her activity, and so chooses to mix CBD and THC products with a regimen of dance classes and dog-walking - yes, dog-walking!
“So my apartment doesn’t allow dogs, and it’s weird to go to a dog park by yourself, but I literally get paid to spend time with puppies. It’s the best therapy, ever.”