Getting the bigger picture

The Dude abides.

That’s probably the most important thing I learned during break, but the Dude probably doesn’t care how high he ranks on my list of summer lessons.

It all started when my cousin got into film school from his local community college. His new purpose in life was movies, and by the end of his first year at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, movies were all he would talk about, even with non-cinephiles like me.

Something about this newfound passion, maybe the happiness that accompanied it, transformed Stephen into a much better older cousin. He started taking my brother and me to screenings of classic films and coming over to our house afterward to eat tacos and lecture us on those films. Then he gave me a list of must-watch movies.

This summer was supposed to be one of the most important in my life. I was supposed to do amazing things to put on my college applications and make amazing progress putting said amazing things down on said college applications.

All that expectation stressed me out, and my cousin’s list of movies became my refuge.

They were the only way I could stop working without feeling like I was wasting time. My excuse for putting off my college essays to stare at a screen for two or three hours at a time was that I was getting cultured. Having watched these films would probably make me sound smart at some point in my life, I rationalized. I predicted that I might even reference them in some of my writing (like this column).

What I couldn’t predict was that a few of these films would directly contradict the reasoning behind my watching them.

Characters like the Dude, Ferris Bueller and police chief Marge Gunderson reminded me to relax. I wasn’t really relaxing by taking the time to watch these films, I realized. I was only pretending to.

Even though these characters’ examples were a bit extreme (I still wonder how Marge could have walked around seven months pregnant and dealt with murderers without anything terrible happening to her), I needed some of that extreme to balance the extremity of my stress.

And of course, stress is by no means banished from my life. I can’t anticipate what it’s going to feel like in a few months to be rejected from colleges, and I still don’t have my Common App essay figured out. Even writing this column is stressing me out because it’s not coming out perfectly.

But I’ve been able to relax in small ways.

Sometimes I took breaks from sending emails and updating my calendar to lie on my mother’s bed (the only one in the house that was always made) and think about life (or nothing). A week ago I was made to attend a Korean-American Parents’ Association barbeque. I couldn’t do anything but sit back and wait for it to be over, so I decided to have fun doing it. Being deliberate in relaxing helped, even though trying stressed me out at first.

I think with practice my efforts to relax will break out of sheer trying into something real, something for the sake of itself.

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