What does it mean to rest? I’m on a break over these few days, like many others are at this time of year, but unlike others who are—what’s the term…essential? I mean no disrespect to first responders, medical and/or emergency personnel, or anyone else who fits into this category of person. I just mean that the term “essential” is interesting, and that its meaning beyond the concrete and critical is, shall we say, open for discussion.
It is essential that I rest, some have said. And they’re not just referring to me, though they are referring to me. They are speaking generically, yet presuming something undefined: what are we, or I, resting from? As I canvas memories of past holiday seasons, distant and recent, I can hardly think of an instance when I didn’t think, or declare tritely, that it was time for a rest because…well, because that’s what you’re supposed to do at the end of the year. The notion conjures some ancient myth or several relating to solstice or Christian Sundays, or whatever corresponds in cultures that observe this stretch of calendar but with different traditions. It is a time to reflect, to sit back, inside, away from the cold, by a fire with chestnuts roasting upon it and such. This reflecting: it means thinking, sort of. Well, what else does it mean? It doesn’t mean intellectual thought, much less entrepreneurial scheming. Tangential to the latter, it certainly means buying and therefore attending to the entrepreneurial scheming of retailers. But this is no intro of anti-commercial cynicism. Tangential to the “rest” mandate, reflecting makes way for fun, and if the plethora of cheesy songs heard and lighthearted films watched is anything to go by, then this is a time for play.
Yes, I know I’ve left out God so far. But does that mean I’ve eschewed spirituality? I don’t know, but I have made use of reverie, which is dream plus thought, roughly, and I’m using the term in a psychoanalytic sense: wedding thought to play, which is how I truly rest in 2020. This, for example, is play. Writing, I mean, has been my principal form of play over the last nine months, and before that, for just over a decade. 2009 was when I self-published my first novel, Living Without Blood. I followed it up with five others and two non-fictions, and while a couple have garnered good reviews, most notably through Kirkus magazine, they have sold negligibly. That’s about to change, but more on that another time. This is about play. Thoughtful play. See, I play every day, sometimes for a few minutes between obligations, and sometimes for hours well into the night. When I’m into this play I don’t feel tired. It doesn’t matter if I’ve had three appointments during the day, or nine, or none. If I’m on a roll I’m not tired—at least, not until the next day, maybe. It’s as simple as that.
It wasn’t always like this, and I’m not referring in this moment to something like writer’s block. I’m referring to a time when I was indolent, torpid, and…other big words that connote something beyond boredom. Then I was young and far more often than I realized, lonely. On some things, like career-building or partner-seeking, I was patient, if listless, while impulsive with day-to-day matters, what retroactively seems trivial. I was often irritable and hasty. I still am upon that which seems in my way. My way? As if I had goals, a direction…ambition. And so I do, now, have goals, direction, and ambition. And yet it feels like play, like time is flying by as it does in a dream. No time to lose. Time to seize. Time to act. That time of old is gone, as in lost, and good riddance, I say. I wish I had enjoyed being young more, because I did when I was very young. I played and got tired when playing, but like many boys and I hope girls, I didn’t want to come in when time was up because I didn’t know that rest is essential. My parents did and did a good job on this originally, but they may have struggled later, when I was a teen, when the problem reversed. By adolescence I’d learned how to stop playing. What I’d lost was how to start.
These days I start thoughts, or start a process, maybe a prodigious task even, with a certain will to move forward, at whatever pace becomes necessary. The patience is still there, now coupled with a bit more experience, desire, and confidence—all nestled within the lines of my aging forehead. My body tells some kind of story, though not one that will sell many more copies than my existing ones have. But my mind is active and working hard, though liking the labors of love, generally. There’s tension of a kind Freud wrote about also, between pleasure and reality: the pleasure of what I want to say, want to write versus the reality of what readers want to hear and read, and how that might shape me, inhibit me or draw me out, perhaps. Into the breach, sayeth the ego, sitting atop the unconscious, looking a bit like a tumor when it shows up in my dreams. This image shows up repeatedly, which reminds me of another Freudian trope: something about repetition facilitating memory in the long run, and manifesting as obsession in the meantime. Practice makes perfect, they told me as a kid. It’s a cliché, my wife remarks quite correctly. As a kid, I practiced some things better than others, and became good at some things that were not useful; or I was bad at some things that held utility but not for me; and finally, I was good at one or two things that yielded results over time. Again, patience and, I suppose, modesty, which came after puberty, was key to a long game. Dreams tell me when to wake up, when it’s time to leave something disturbing, or else when to start something important. Daydreams have me fretting over a variant of time: timing. When do I make my move, take my shot, or give that announcement about…that thing? When will it be my day? My daydreams are often inflected with associations: these often seem like frivolous thoughts leftover from an idle and inchoate trail. I’ll watch a film or hear a song—maybe one of those cheesy, lighthearted icons of the holidays—that will linger with me, acting like a nuisance, a thought cousin that drinks too much, eats too much sugar, and won’t leave when the party’s over. I feel like this cousin’s just getting me fat on his indulgent, useless thought. My latest fantasy has me thinking twice about this matter. This last one, meaning daydream of these days of “rest” has me thinking of an anonymous assassin who is given a task and then left alone to accomplish it. Within the film in question (which I’ll choose to not identify), this character is the protagonist. The actor who plays is or was a star, yet he says little. We, meaning the audience, just get to watch him, observe his method, his patience and skill as he prepares his deadly task, his evil deed. Despite his cool arrogance, or perhaps because of it, we—and at this point I really should say I—admire his dedication and calm; his resilience. He waits, but he is not idle. He may be slow, but it’s because he’s methodical, a perfectionist and obsessive. And he arrives on time, at every point in his schedule, including, most importantly, the climax. He seizes his moment, his time, as his is the day of…? Will anyone stop him? Will anyone or thing stop me, for God’s sake?