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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Saturday, March 19, 2005

entry arrow1:25 AM | Welcome to Real Life

If you want a nice, sugarcoated message about the reality of your Graduation Day, do not read further. Bromides never worked for me.

There is a moment sometime during the end days of March that leaves anyone -- especially jobless 21-year olds who mistake aimless sniggering with profundity -- breathless with the anxiety of having to do absolutely... nothing. These are the doldrums, complete with dog day afternoons that stretch and continue one after the other, not yet quite the summer but already bearing the likeness of the season: dryness and dust, eternal sunshine, heat, and perspiring nights. School's over. For the most part, there are only a few options to choose from: planning a summer getaway somewhere (in particular, for the Holy Week ahead), or resigning to the reality of having to hog the couch and becoming its potato, and knowing, by heart, the TV schedule for the next two months.

For college graduates, it is perhaps a little bit more terrifying. Real life is about to begin -- and after the lechon, the handshakes and congratulations, and the not-yet-dry ink spelling your name on the diploma, there is that slowly sickening realization in the pits of your stomach that your four (or five) years of having the perfect excuse to party are finally over, and there is just no sidestepping the notion of demanding responsibility suddenly falling onto your hands. You're an adult now, and by God, people actually expect you to have a job.

A job.

In a time of war and utter restlessness. Where the future holds a nurse's cap, and nothing else.

"I hate the realities of March. Caesar was murdered in March," my friend Aivy texted me. "Nothing good ever happens in March."

Last Sunday:

"What are you going to do now?" I asked another friend (and former student), Jun, who had just graduated. We were still in our semi-formal wear. And we were in that delicate balance of celebration and sobriety in Mamia's, right after some school's commencement ceremonies. As usual, Dumaguete's restaurants were like beehives of hearty congratulations mixed with silver clinking against china. Food was everywhere.

"I don't know," Jun finally said, "maybe I'll just bum around for a while."

I told him, in that wizened voice survivors adopt, that all I really knew was this: the first six post-graduation months are scary. Not to sink the feelings of the guy, but to arm him with knowledge of the usual things. After all, one shouldn't be a champion of false send-offs, but rather of guarded hopefulness -- not cynicism, but a general assessment of the way things really are.

Until now I still thank, from my heart, my dentist friend Dr. Patrick Chua who had given the advice I go back to now and again after my own graduation: "Just do things slowly but certainly. It can be very hard in the beginning. It takes an average of five years to create a semblance of a career," Patrick said. "Always try to do what you love best. But sometimes you find yourself doing things you never thought you'd be doing. Get this, though: sometimes the way to your dreams is finding another."

He didn't say those all at once, of course. I gathered the thoughts from our sometime conquests of the nocturnal life, over beer, over Vienna coffee, over Rosante pizza, over paella. His words grew on me.

I vaguely recollected my own graduation party six years ago. I had barely gotten out of my toga when it was suggested that perhaps it was time that I lived on my own. (My family always had an independent streak. But I take it as a point of pride that after the day I graduated, I never even asked my family for a single centavo.)

I remember the lump of fear and uncertainty in my throat. Responsibility felt so heavy, my shoulders sagged. There were questions racing through my mind, all of them unanswered. How shall I live on my own? How does one start paying utility bills? Or rent? Where do I get a damn job? For the next six months, jobless and losing hope and anxious of feeling so much like a stranger in the family home, I stretched the P60 in my wallet forever and made penny-pinching an art.

When I got my first job with peanuts for pay, I grabbed it like it was a glass of water being dangled in front of a desert wanderer. Yet that was also when I started learning about how life worked: that there are actually people out there who believe in you even if you don't, that people do help other people just because they feel like doing it, that somehow, when you're about just convinced there is still something deeper to sink to in the quagmire when your life's bottoming out, miracles happen.

(Dear God, but I'm beginning to sound like a piece of bromide myself.)

But there is a manual through life, actually. We learn -- if we remember the literature our English teachers in college taught us in the classroom -- that life is all about the fulfillment of an archetype: the journey, or the making, of the hero -- so much like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars becoming a Jedi, or Harry Potter becoming a wizard, or a young Juan de la Cruz becoming a successful young man.

The journey goes this way: We all come from the "womb," from the "cave," from a comfort zone in a stretch of innocence. Call it Luke Skywalker as a young boy in Tatoine, call it Frodo in the Shire blissfully ignorant of destiny, call it Dumaguete, call it childhood, call it Mother, call it the family home.

Then we get the hint of crisis, the first portal to our call to adulthood, the first glimpse into a world beyond our innocence: C.S. Lewis called it Narnia behind the wardrobe, Lewis Carroll's Alice called it the rabbit hole into Wonderland, J.K. Rowling called it Platform 9 1/2 into the Hogwarts Express.

The hero, us, then ventures, fearfully but resolutely from the comfort zone, to travel through the "dark forest" -- call it encountering Lord Voldemort and Harry Potter getting a lightning scar on his forehead, call it Jesus being tempted during 40 days and 40 nights in the desert, call it the vexations of high school life, or call it battling adolescent zits and hormones.

Along the way, the hero encounters strange beings while training to become the young knight -- call it becoming a Jedi, call it carrying The One Ring to be destroyed in the fires of Mordor, call it surviving college, call it a writer's workshop, call it the agonies of first love.

Then there is the final battle, the final test -- call it acing the final (or the board) exams, call it the Bar, call it penetrating the maze to blow up the Death Star, call it Oedipally killing the father a la Darth Vader, call it submitting a story to the Palanca Awards.

And then the hero finally emerges victorious -- scarred, but triumphant. Cinderella gets her Prince, Aragorn becomes king, we become lawyers, teachers, doctors, CEOs, fathers, mothers.

This, for me, becomes a source of great comfort.

We all follow our myths. Myths are truths -- they are the paradigms of our hidden lives coded into our stories to make sense of the varieties (and vagaries) of human experience. Almost all of us still live through the process of journeying to become the hero; almost all of us still face our battles, our inner demons.

There are days, though, when we waver from the quest, when the going gets too tough, so it is always helpful to be reminded of the ultimate prize that can be won in the little game called persistence.

My mother, bless her, just sent me a card that said she missed me, and reprimanded me for not calling her for some time now. I'm taking the independence thing a little too seriously, she said. The card she sent says, in part, "When you are going through a difficult time, you may wonder if you're making the right choices. You may wonder about how things will turn out if you take a different road...," in the end, when you follow your heart to the dogged end, the hero suddenly becomes you.

Happy Graduation Day to all you students out there. It's a tough life, but really, that's how diamonds get made. (Oh, great, a bromide again.)

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich