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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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Thursday, November 10, 2005

entry arrow12:51 PM | The Pursuit of Rest

Second of Three Parts

PART 1 | PART 2 | PART 3

"If thou hast a fountain, shut it up; let even the fountain have a rest."
Alexei Konstantinovich Tolstoi, Collected Works of Kosma Prutkov (1884)

There is much in our culture to decry the idea of rest. The stillness that we take of the notion -- a picture one associates with withdrawing from a world of work to get some sleep, to watch a marathon of television shows, or to meditate on the slow setting of the sun in some faraway beach where silence is the only mark of being -- often makes "rest" become mistaken as a synonym for "laziness." The trickster folk tales of Juan Tamad becomes a case in point: here is a guy who takes rest to the extreme, because he falls asleep with mouth open waiting for the guava to fall on its own, rather than expend energy climbing the guava tree and getting the fruit himself.

Running through the literatures that treat "resting" in one way or another, one finds that the word itself is often associated with the notion of death or dying, sometimes in the physical sense (as in "May his soul rest in peace"), and often in the metaphorical (as in "going to seed," or becoming stagnant in the middle of creating). But even God needed rest. Our religious mythology of creation has him up to his arms creating light and the world for six days straight -- but on the seventh day, dammit, He rested.

Brought up in a family where the Protestant work ethic is the silent code for how things ought to be in the household, for me "rest" became marked with a sense of guilt. This must be why I cannot seem to say "no" to whatever it is requested of me. My best friend Kristyn in Sydney tells me that this may be my Achilles' heel -- overworking myself to death just to please other people. "You overwhelm yourself with so many responsibilities which you don't even have to take," she tells me constantly. Most days I agree with her. In my quiet moments, when night threatens to break into the darkest gloom of early morning and I still find myself sweating it out on a variety of projects, the only recourse is to cry. Or vomit.

Which was why it was a rare measure of self-regard when, at the end of a particularly hard semester where paperwork went beyond the decent, I decided to make the effort to go on a break -- and God bless GMA for making it possible; the wily dwarf's political missteps aside, she sure knows how to delight us with her gifts of giving us long weekends. It has always been my notion that the Filipino is a sad lot because he is overworked and often overeducated, but also highly underpaid; long vacations strewn throughout the year perhaps are only just.

I took to that unprecedented weeklong vacation by jumping my inhibitions, and deciding -- on the spot -- that I was going to Cebu, whether it was a good idea or not. Most people, I believe, restrain themselves from traveling by dreaming and drumming up projected expenses that will burn holes in their pockets -- but Kuya Moe (Atega) has taught me well the gifts of traveling far and wide on a shoestring budget, immense good will, and with a cellphone contact list that runs the gamut of Tawi-Tawi to Basilan. If you are a Sillimanian, you will also take note that proclaiming yourself an alumni may be the best ticket to enjoying any place with the best possible deals -- an enjoyable privilege of taking part of the so-called Silliman Spirit. Like the typical Filipino in the Diaspora, there is always a Sillimanian somewhere in any given spot in the globe.

That Monday, I packed whatever it was that passed for "traveling light" (a pair of jeans and shorts, four t-shirts, and an assortment of toiletries not readily available in a typical convenience store; it is also important to consider that one good pair of shoes that can pass for both casual and formal), and with Mark, proceeded to take the land trip via Sibulan and Lilo-an. (See previous post for the detailing of this adventure.) We mostly slept through the van ride of Cebu's southern country -- an interesting landscape that seems more Greek to me than Filipino. A little more than an hour later, the metropolis itself beckoned like an overly-painted woman: I loved the garishness of the ubiquitous billboards, the endless traffic that screeched, the heat that emanated from the asphalt and the friction of city people passing each other in their haste of running through their busy lives. In other words, something totally alien for the Dumagueteno -- a vacation from my idea of the usual.

In Cebu, we stayed in Apas along Lahug, in Camp Lapu-Lapu, on the immediate outskirts of the city's premiere IT Park, which is a large-enough enclave patterned after the Western idea of urban planning: you find here wide and concrete streets with brown bricks for pedestrian lanes; sidewalks lined with carefully maintained foliage; blocks and blocks of well-manicured lawns interrupted only by buildings that do not shame with their grand architectural statements. It is home to several off-shore contact centers -- one of which currently employs Mark as travel specialist. I think of the IT Park as the "front yard" to Mark's place in Apas, which is a more humble affair in the middle of an interesting neighborhood with small alleyways and intimately situated neighbors. Here, many of the denizens of the nearby contact centers stake their residence -- mere rest stops actually from their relentless schedules of being harried contact center agents, which, like how we constantly hear of it, sometimes require graveyard shifts.

While Mark went off to work, I made myself promise to do two things I haven't been doing lately, all in the name of "rest": sleeping, and reading. The malls were not even a consideration; there is only so much one can do promenading around the busy corridors of SM City and Ayala Center.

The sleeping part was easy enough to do. I slept twelve hours most days in the beginning of the vacation, my body soon becoming used to the sweet languor. Strangely, by the end, I had developed a weird preference for waking up at four in the morning where, after breakfast and coffee and shower, I could do so much more for the day. But it was a "doing" that had nothing to do with work, but everything to do with pursuing what relaxes. And that ultimately led to the second part of my vacation deal: reading.

First, I read Elizabeth Kostova's best-selling vampire tale, The Historian, which markets itself as a cleverer take on the Da Vinci Code appeal -- I think not so successfully (although Publisher's Weekly gave it a starred review, I still say it's a weak historical novel). Second, I read Doreen Fernandez's book of essays on Filipino food culture, Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture, which gave me fodder (ehem) for understanding the cultural underpinnings of our palate. And then I read Barbara Leaming's Marilyn Monroe, an exhaustive biography of the movie star which I liked for its relentless parade of facts and anecdotes to her tragic story, but which I liked most of all for culling a strange conclusion about the creativity fostered in the menage a trois of Arthur Miller, Eli Kazan, and Marilyn, that spilled into such crucial works as The Crucible, After the Fall, The Misfits, On the Waterfront, and others. It is an interesting guide to how our private lives can be telling about our public efforts.

Three books, in one week. That was a record. I'd sit in Bo's Coffee House most mornings, drinking Colombian brewed coffee, after breakfast of fried eggs, rice, and hamonada at The Breakfast Club. And by the end of that week, I felt as rested as in any point in my entire adult life. Good rest, I think, is the ultimate recharger: it was only then that I truly understood how it could give you zest to pursue worthier things at the end of the vacation from regular life.

Why do we need rest? Conventional wisdom applies. Because our bodies are machines that need maintenance, that need some oiling and pampering. Because we will work best when we are at our prime. Because we need pause. Because it gives you a return ticket to the best parts of living -- which is reading in my case. Because there is nothing as enjoyable as watching sunsets on a secluded beach without giving though that in the next second, there are those deadly deadlines to beat. Because rest, if you ask me, is one way of really learning to love ourselves. (To be continued.)

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