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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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Wednesday, December 26, 2007

entry arrow5:07 PM | For the Pursuit of Terrible Ideas

We know, from the troves of trivia we devour, that the firecrackers of New Year’s Eve first came about as a festive Chinese ritual for chasing away the old man-eating demon Nian, who is sensitive to noise and the color red, and is thus effectively banished from making foul of the coming year by the pyrotechnic combination of explosion and color. In a sense then, the celebration of New Year is all about two things: first, it marks a time for attaining closure, and second, it marks a hope for felicitous beginnings.

The start of any year thus comes to me as this double-edged sword that I must learn to wield well, if I must look forward to entertaining the notion of having balance in the coming 365 days. That we know of New Year as a traditional mark of a fresh start is nothing new for most of us. In fact, for many people this may be the sole allure of the whole holiday. With this, of course, come the now traditional expectations of renewal and resolutions. When we were younger and more optimistic (maybe, naïve?) we took stock of what had gone wrong in our lives in the past year, and then vowed—with the earnestness of having discovered second (or third, or fourth) wind—to stay steadfast to the “path” we know was true. But as adults, we have learned to scorn at such noble follies, having discovered the all-too-human tendency for failing our loftiest expectations of ourselves.

Perhaps as proof, a British psychologist by the name of Dr. Cliff Arnall has calculated that the fourth Monday after the New Year—it will be January 28th in 2008—is, for most of us, the most depressing day of the year. Arnall, a seasonal disorders specialist at the University of Cardiff in Wales, came up with a formula that crunches into mathematical certainty the variety of feelings that constitute our lowest point, and the model he has come up with is this:

[W + (D-d)] x TQ
M x NA

where the variables are W for weather, D for debt, d for monthly salary, T for time since Christmas, Q for time since one has failed and quitted one’s grand designs for lofty resolutions, M for low motivational levels, and NA for the need to take action. In an interview with MSNBC’s Jennifer Carlile, he explained: “Following the initial thrill of New Year’s celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in. The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”

Still, some of us are eternal optimists—I among them—and plot out, in numbered or bulleted sincerity, the do’s and don’ts for the coming year. The considerations are always invariably about weight loss, hard work, a change in attitude, and an increase in one’s bank balance. Some even trudge on to the nearest bookstore to buy new volumes of appointment journals, hoping to compartmentalize our newest wishes into workable days. I guess this exercise is a kind of rebellion against the base expectations of the darker sides of human nature—a hope for triumph against what is said to be eventual failure. If we must be existentialists, then things bode well for those for striving against all dark “inevitabilities.”

But what is not as universally acknowledged as the need for resolutions is the New Year’s other urging, which is to strive for conclusions. This one is perhaps much more difficult, because it calls—demands?—for a more concrete contribution from our part, instead of our rather abstract designs in compiling resolutions.

For me, the 31st of December is a ticking deadline to finish the unfinished, to settle old scores, and to put to a definite end the whirl of I-should-have-done-this-already’s that I know have polluted my old year. This is the very manifestation of the monster Nian, the growing ghost of aborted dreams that would only haunt us the moment we cross the threshold of New Year’s Eve, with most of them still unrealized. They are the very core of regret.

What do we usually regret? That we have not seized, and owned, the fleeting idea of the possibility of other lives, and not this one that we have come to know. It is sometimes a contraband dream, something we hope we have done with our lives, but nevertheless feared to pursue because we have long succumbed to the security blanket of our ordinary existences.

We often fantasize about the what-if’s of our lives—the kind we occasionally come to consider when we are given a hypothetical limit to our days. What would we have done with our remaining days? We would have gone to Sagada to taste the mountain air and the cold blast of morning water against skin. We would have finished writing that novel. We would have built that house beside the sea in Tambobo Bay and paint the days away. We would have learned to drive a car. We would have listened to our mother’s growing up story to the finish. We would have learned to bake. We would have read Proust in the original French. We would have finished the whole Woody Allen oeuvre. We would have traveled to see the moai in Easter Island, the pyramids in Giza, the steppes of Ulan Bator, the Van Gogh in the Netherlands, the kabuki in Tokyo, the flowers of Grasse, and the Pampas of Argentina. We would have communion with God in some silent mountain. We would have finished all that needed completion.

We would have learned to fly a kite.

Or catch fish.

Or told the persons that we love that we love them.

But we never get around to doing anything, perpetually putting everything off because of the so-called demands of daily living. “It is such a bad idea to do that now,” we tell ourselves, “we have bills to pay, we have meetings to attend.”

Bad, terrible ideas… This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun, where the theme is put forth in the very beginning of the film: “Terrible ideas are like playground scapegoats. Given the right encouragement, they grow up to be geniuses.” In the movie, the terrible idea comes in leaving an old life for the uncertainties of a Italian sojourn. Acclaimed travel writer Frances Mayes (here largely fictionalized in an incandescent portrayal by Diane Lane) endures the indignity of an ugly divorce and slogs through the trying times by taking on the weight of daily living—teaching, reviewing other people’s books, commiserating on the unfairness of life. Her days become grey, her shaky anchor the daily grind she puts herself through. Soon her friends urge her to dump everything, and go on a romantic tour of Tuscany. She, of course, finds the idea ridiculous. A terrible idea, she says. But one of her friends insists: “You know when you come across one of those empty-shell people, and you think, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they were standing at a crossroads...”

“Crossroads,” Frances sighs. “God, that is so Oprah—”

“—Someplace where they had to decide to turn left or right,” the friend cuts in. “This is no time to be chicken shit, Frances.”

“I’m not being a chickenshit. I’m not.”

“Okay, just promise me you will think about it.”

“I’ll think about it.

She does go on that tour of Tuscany, and finds herself impulsively buying a villa. A terrible idea, she thinks, following other terrible ideas. What am I thinking? But by the end of the story, the terrible idea is the right one all along. And new life blooms under the Tuscan sunshine.

So here's a toast to terrible ideas for the New Year. And may we have the strength to pursue them!

P.S. And so it goes. In the name of completing the unfinished, I must stop blogging until the beginning of January. See you then, and have a blessed New Year!

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