rest begets rest
Role: Writing, Art Direction, Illustration, Interviews
I created this piece as the 2021-2022 Artist in Residence with The Seventh Wave around the theme in Issue 13: Rebellious Joy. This piece consists of Part 1: a personal essay, Part 2: fifteen conversations with TSW rebellious joy residents, contributors, and staff members about rest, Part 3: ten illustrations inspired by it all.
When I first set out to manifest a project about the radical importance of rest, I felt overwhelmed with research and thoughts. The hardest part was trying to make sense of what I wanted to convey and narrowing down the most poignant quotes from the various conversations. I went from 35 to 8 pages of quotes; it was painstakingly difficult because each conversation contained so much wisdom.
I want to believe every conversation I had about rest over fourish months sparked more conversations. Maybe it planted a seed into people's subconscious to make space for rest. My hope is that this project sparks more discussions between people, so we produced a set of postcards meant to be shared with loved ones. This limited edition set of twenty 5x7” postcards and one 10x16" risograph printed poster can be purchased through TSW online store.
As a child, my mom would brag about how I could tolerate the most bitter Chinese vegetables that even adults didn't enjoy eating. I wasn't taught how to listen to my needs; I was taught how to keep my head down, to quietly swallow the bitterness.
I watched my parents work multiple jobs to make ends meet as immigrants. After 20 plus years of working as a Sushi Chef, my dad finally retired in 2020. When he retired, my mom proudly stated in Cantonese, “Since he started working here, Dad’s only taken five days off.” My mom, sister, and I had been trying to convince him to quit for the last few years; he only retired because of the global pandemic. Otherwise, I'm not sure when he would've quit.
Perhaps like my parents, much of my life was spent numbing myself through output. After college, I worshiped the creative industry I felt privileged to participate in. It was a right of passage that in a single week, you had to work a full-time job for 50 hours and have a side hustle you moonlighted another 30 hours. Otherwise, you could barely consider yourself a designer. I remember reading articles, books, and talks from leaders in the industry romanticizing the grind. I accepted their truth as facts. I became addicted to productivity. Ironically, the more overworked I became, the more work I took on. I would rather say yes to five no's than unpack why I kept saying yes. I needed to be overworked because if I wasn't, then how would I define my self-worth? I was so distracted by my exhaustion and desire to feed my ego that I couldn’t see beyond my tunnel vision of surviving this current thing and the next thing.
Somewhere between middle school and post-college, I believed being high-strung and stressed was just a part of my personality. Even when I was succeeding in my early 20s, defined by traditional, capitalistic standards, and exhilarated by the thrill of it all, I knew I was deluding myself. But how could I reimagine a different way of being when this is all I've ever known? That's how capitalism keeps you on its leash without exerting any force. You're so deep in the grind that you believe these are your values, and this is who you've always been, and this is how you want to live your life.
When I reflect back on moments in my life when I needed rest the most, I remember how hard I pushed myself to the point of physical and mental exhaustion, worn as a badge of honor. My exhaustion is proof that I care more than you. Look how strong I am because I don't need rest. I placed my self-worth on what I did, so in that logic, if I did the most, regardless of my well-being, that meant I was worth something.
When did I learn the definition of my worth is from doing and not from being? Am I only as valuable as what I can offer? The creative industry scoffs at the concept of work-life balance. Is it really impossible, or are we just too tired to imagine a life where we can live in balance with rest and creation?
I’ll never forget when I reached the deepest pit of my addiction to productivity; that week I cried in therapy, I cried on the city street corner while on the phone with my best friend in the morning, I cried in the bathroom at work, I cried on the subway going home, and I cried in the shower. I’m not someone who easily cries, especially not in public or with other people. I was physically exhausted, overwhelmed with student loans, and lived such a precarious life that any mistake felt like the end. I let what I do define who I was and when I no longer wanted to do, I didn’t know why I still needed to be here. I defined my value as a human by what I could do and believed that if I worked hard enough, money and prestige would not only give me security but also fulfillment and happiness.
I realized no job will ever be worth making me feel that way; no job is guaranteed and no amount of money would’ve ever given me the sense of security I was seeking. I vowed to focus on paying off my student loans and self-fund a three-month creative sabbatical backpacking throughout Japan, the one place I would’ve regretted not visiting in this lifetime.
Solo traveling was the first time I found peace within myself and recognized that I am more than my output. Being in a new environment, taking myself completely out of context from all that I’ve ever known to be true, gave me the spaciousness to imagine a different me. Each person I encountered wasn’t concerned with what I did or could do, but who I was in that moment. Suddenly, my output didn’t have as much value as it used to have, but it didn’t feel debilitating; it felt liberating. Traveling is not a vacation; oftentimes, my mental and physical limits were tested, but I was humbled by strangers who welcomed me into their homes, shared food and stories with me, and showed me their values. Time and distance away from the structure of the life I had been living made me realize it wasn’t the life I wanted to continue living, and most importantly, it wasn’t the only option either. After finding security within my sense of self, I finally felt able to trust myself to choose the values I wanted to live by.
The Western educational system drilled into my brain that there is one correct solution to every problem. I could never be the student my teachers wanted me to be because I never understood how to find the solution; you were either right or wrong. In creative problem solving (and life), there is never only one solution. How much time did I spend distracting myself on being ‘right’ so that I wouldn't need to reimagine the life I want to build based on my own values. Maybe the fact that there isn't one right answer can feel exciting and liberating because each of us has the agency to determine what we value.
When was the last time you reflected upon your values? Not your parent's, sibling's, partner's, friend's, or society's. Your own. The first time I did it, I was terrified that I picked the wrong values, and it would lead me down a path of despair. Now, I reflect on my values every year, and the more I do it, the clearer my values become. I am constantly changing and evolving as I gain more insight and life experiences, so it's only natural my values should change to reflect that. My values for 2021 are abundance, grace, interdependence, daring, vision, and presence. My responsibility to myself is to make decisions that align with my values; this is my definition of success.
Admitting my values do not align with the capitalistic society I grew up in and that I want a different life feels scary. But I don't want to brag about how busy I am anymore. I want to celebrate how present I am. I want to brag about how prioritizing rest allows me to show up more fully for the people in my life.
In the brief time we're on this Earth, don't we owe it to ourselves to figure out what rest is and what it can be, and how to live in alignment with values we set for ourselves?
My definition of rest is embodied presence, solitude, quiet, nature, slow movement, warm water, nourishing food. I imagine meditating, lying in the grass, being submerged in water, strolling through a garden, deep dreamless sleep, drawing in my sketchbook, cooking a meal, listening to the wind blow through lush trees, or sitting at the peak of a mountain. It's being careless with time and getting lost in taking photos of different colored rocks because wow, did you know rocks could be all shades of pink and purple?
Sometimes I feel guilty, worrying that rest is selfish because I'm not serving or thinking of anyone, and there isn't necessarily an output. I connect resting with being a bad person who doesn't care about my loved ones and neglects my responsibility to society. Capitalistic values have been so ingrained into my being that no matter how far I run, it will still make me second guess actions towards my own well-being. Rest is an act of rebellion when you were born into a capitalistic society that tells you rest is an opportunity cost.
The truth is this: The ability to care for ourselves directly correlates with how well we can care for others. The way we care for ourselves is to tend to our needs. From my observations, so much of my parents' lives were about survival. I finally realized that I honor my ancestors, who struggled through famine, war, violence, and immigration, by healing my family's intergenerational trauma. I owe it not only to myself but to them to thrive and not just survive. Part of healing that trauma is finding wholeness and peace within myself and living a life based on the values I believe in. And rest plays an integral piece in my healing process.
When I am rested, I can breathe deeply, think clearly, listen actively, and make embodied choices. I'm alert and grounded. All my senses are engaged with the environment around me, but it doesn't feel overwhelming. It feels expansive and nourishing. I am opened to life’s possibilities and allow my curiosities to guide me. My presence and attention, not my output, are my greatest gifts I can offer in this lifetime.
Image gallery, click the arrow on the right.
Conversations & Artwork
I always find myself asking questions I never have any answers for, but the process of inviting others into my questioning has been gratifying. Over two months, I had fifteen 45-60 minute conversations with the rebellious joy residents, contributors, and staff members of The Seventh Wave about collective rest. Through conversations, I’m able to uncover some tiny understanding for myself that feels true. Each conversation helped inform my essay, final art piece, and perspective.
The set of questions I had from my first conversation slowly evolved with each new conversation I had. But the word that kept lingering in my brain after all the conversations were ‘permission.’ The final question I landed on, which felt like the overarching theme of these collective conversations, was “What do you need in order to give yourself permission to rest?”
Special thank you for the restful conversations: Sara Yinling Post, Jennifer Perrine, Lauren Mallett, Miguel Barretto Garcia, Rachel Edelman, sheena d, Alysia Gonzales, Sarah Ghazal Ali, Swastika Jajoo, Teri Vela, Nanya Jhingran, Emilie Menzel, Briana Gwin, Bretty Rawson, Joyce Chen
What are you resting from?
How does it feel in your body when you are rested? When you are not rested?
Why do people struggle to prioritize rest?
How does rest influence your creative practice?
When did you learn how to rest? Who taught you?
What does regenerative rest look like for you?
Is there an activity that you find unexpectedly restful?
What does a life centered around rest look like for you?
What advice would you give to your younger self regarding rest?
What do you need in order to give yourself permission to rest?
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