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ON ASSIGNMENT: Learning to swim |


ON ASSIGNMENT: Learning to swim

BRIEF HISTORIES - Don Jaucian - The Philippine Star
ON ASSIGNMENT: Learning to swim
Calachuchi Beach in Coron, Palawan.
Photos by JL Javier

In high school, our values professor asked us to make a Book of Life, a chronicle of our life’s trajectory and how we foresee ourselves in the future. That time, the music I listened to tended towards the morose and the gothic: Evanescence, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos, Enigma, and even Gregorian Chants (I made a CD mix of all the songs that I submitted along with the “book”). Then, at 16, rebelling against the warm, sunshiny days of my peers’ youth, I predicted that I would grow up to be a film director who will die at 30 — just because I thought I would have lived enough of my life at that time.

Clearly, my 16-year-old self had fun being a Debbie Downer.

When you’re in your late teenage years, you have this notion that the future is a golden era of possibilities. You can finally move out of your parents’ house; or live in the city with  “cosmopolitan” friends; or buy anything you want because you’re spending your own hard-earned dough. It’s a fantasy we like to live in when we’re looking at our future prospects, that we can be this other person who’s a little more refined and better suited to our ideals of who we want ourselves to be. That’s what the Book of Life exercise afforded me: to look at the contents of my current life and re-evaluate whether this is something I’d be happy to continue living in, five or 10 years later. And seeing how I decided to cut myself off the narrative by the time I hit 30, I wonder what it was about my life then, during my adolescence, that made me think I could be a proper, lived-in human being in just a decade or so.

Until then, I didn’t have any major life experiences. I was a scrawny kid in a small city, who liked to burrow in books and newspapers. I haven’t even come to terms with my sexuality then. It was perhaps the boldness and entitlement that I allowed myself to indulge in. I wanted to think that I knew better, that three decades would be enough for someone to fill his/her life with moments of joy, misery, and contentment. What I didn’t see was, by the time my mid-20s was underway and everything in my life was happening so fast, I’d keep asking time to slow down so I could catch up.

The Terror of the Big 3-0

I’ll be turning 30 this year. And if you’ve seen Friends, or talked to actual friends who already turned 30, it is an event that fills them with boundless terror. It is a turning point that, by society’s conventions, marks full adulthood. The folly of “youth” should be a far-off recollection by then; only living as stories that you tell your younger friends. But I think much of the expectations that go with turning 30 were cobbled together by baby boomers who were anxious in accomplishing something concrete, who are used to ticking one box after another like life is just a video game where you have to collect one item after another.

It’s this fear that I’ve learned to let go recently, much to the sanity of my soul that has constantly languished in anxiety and torment for the latter part of my 20s. I’d like to think it’s a matter of being at peace with what you have and consolidating your thinning pake and effort to things you are truly passionate about.

No longer caring what’s cool

For example, I no longer care whether the music I like is considered “cool” or not. I shamelessly tell my friends I am fond of The Chainsmokers’s Closer, and I let myself revel in the weepy-eyed optimism of Coldplay recently at their Manila concert (I also consider the two bands’ collab, Something Like This a total jam. Liking The Chainsmokers themselves is another thing though). I do venture into Pitchfork territory every now and then, just to clean up the junk that’s been accumulating in my Spotify playlists, but on some days, when I need a pick-me-up, I have a go-to playlist that is pure trash.

I also took this newly discarded fear to greater depths — jumping into a 60-foot body of water with just a life jacket on. I went to Palawan for work recently and of course, part of the trip went to exploring the islands of Coron. Most of the people in our group wanted to snorkel and see the coral reefs on Coron Bay. My fear of great depths — or basically just any body of water that is more than five-foot deep — has always been an electric fire that consumes me whenever I’m out at sea. But that day, encouraged by people I just met and the anxiety of anything that terrified me already banished, I put on a life jacket and jumped into a 30-foot lake (I also can’t swim!), snorkeled and saw, for the first time, the vastness that the sea can hold in its keep.

The experience was intoxicating, especially knowing that I had it in me to do these things. It’s nothing momentous like any other achievement. But it was a small step for me to try and grow outside the lines that I usually color. And it’s great, being filled with the knowledge that life still has some surprises for you.

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Tweet the author @donutjaucian.

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