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Whatsoever things are lovely



The title of this blog post comes from one of my favorite passages in the Bible. I think I've used it before in another post, but I'm using it again because the house is filled with flowers, orchids and lilies, and I'm really loving how beautiful they make the space. They inspire me to think of beautiful things, of a beautiful life.

Yesterday, my mother asked why newspapers always report bad news, and I found myself saying, "It's because the natural state of things is good and positive, and news is always about what's not normal." My mother said it was a nice way to think of things.

I spent a good time yesterday thinking of my own words, asking myself if that was what I really believed, and if it was the right way to think of things.

This morning, however, I took several pictures of the flowers and decided that it was how I wanted to think of things: Always to choose to see the beauty -- or what can be beautiful -- in life. To always be grateful.

Signs of life

The past few weeks have been heartbreaking. Supertyphoon Yolanda decimated places I've recently loved: Tacloban, Palo, and Palompon in Leyte. And I haven't heard any news of Lavezares and tiny Biri Island in Samar, but they were also in the supertyphoon's path.

There I was, planning to write something about these places, and suddenly they're gone.

But what I've lost is nothing. Around 4,000 people are dead, and that's not counting those whose bodies have not been found yet or those who have no one left to report them. There are people who lost everything but the clothes on their backs. There are people who were forced by desperation to do the unthinkable.

I can't bear to watch news videos, and so I've watched none except for early videos that show Yolanda's fierce winds after it made landfall. I read the news and things posted online, but when my Facebook network exploded a few days ago into the biggest online argument ever (the government sucks vs just shut up already and help vs I can complain and help at the same time), I had to step back a little.

I did some gardening with my mother, trimming orchid roots and putting what's left of my herb garden in order. I surveyed this monsoon season's casualties: my basil, my bayleaf. I found this monsoon season's survivors: plants I picked up in UP, my mint, some discarded cuttings that had grown roots and leaves.

I repotted the survivors, planning to turn the cuttings into bonsai. I had planned to try growing bonsai for my 37th year alive.

The gardening helped me feel better. I was putting order in my tiny universe, contributing to life. It also reminded me how the Universe is as much about life and growth as it is about death and destruction.

And then this week's additional reminder: a weeks-old kitten at the back of the apartment. I thought it had been abandoned by its mother.


I had just finished reading up on relief efforts and was feeling overwhelmed again when I decided to check on plants I'd been growing in the gated area at the back of my room. I was surprised to see the tiny kitten in the table's shelf space. It was mewing, but no sound was coming out.

I panicked, not wanting to be responsible for its death. I was already feeling bad I wasn't helping Yolanda victims enough. I posted an SOS on Facebook and Instagram, but happily its mother came back two hours later.



They're still there. I've been giving the mommy cat some food too, to help her with her breastfeeding. She's very protective of her baby, and I feel bad I'd almost taken her baby away believing she'd abandoned it.

I'm not keeping them; I'm just keeping them alive. Because it makes me feel I'm somehow, even in the littlest way possible, helping life.

Day 1 in Tacloban, Leyte


This is me, enjoying my first meal in Leyte. I'm hoping to make quick daily updates on this trip from my phone. I'll add the pictures when I'm back home, and maybe edit and rewrite some of the post, me being me.

In the meantime, check out my Instagram feed.

Day 1 officially started at 7.30pm with a slightly rough landing at Daniel Z. Romualdez airport. We had a good laugh, because a few minutes earlier, the Air Asia Zest pilot had announced we were about to land at Tagbilaran, earning him a few snickers from the passengers. For a minute I thought the pilot had really gotten the route wrong, since he said Tagbilaran several times, even saying we could expect good weather!

The thing is, after the earthquake last Tuesday and the hundreds of strong aftershocks, I don't think I'm ready to return to Bohol just yet!

Anyway, at the airport, Marchie and I stopped at the Tourism Center desk to ask about vans leaving for Catarman, Samar that evening. The last trip was at 7pm, we found out, so we had no choice but to stay in Tacloban for the night. Not bad, really, because that way, if I am awake for the trip to Catarman, I can enjoy the view from the van. I'm so excited to cross the San Juanico Bridge! It's the stuff of grade school textbooks!

We asked for directions to a good hotel, and the people were very helpful. Armed with commuting tips from locals, Marchie and I walked outside the airport and took a jeep with an Imelda sign board (P13 per head) and got off at GV Hotel. A standard room for two is at a promo price of P650. We had to pay upon check-in, which was fine by me because we were leaving very early in the morning the next day anyway.

GV Hotel is a budget hotel, but I was happy to discover that the hotel is clean, secure, and energy-efficient. The room has a bathroom (three times bigger than the bathroom we had at the Chunking Mansion in Hong Kong), and it's also clean, with the plumbing intact. Not bad for P325 per head.

After freshening up a little, we stepped out for dinner. We were just an hour behind the itinerary I made, so I was feeling pretty good. We took a "multicab" (a tricycle, really) to Leyte Park Resort to get to Pier Tres, which I'd read about while doing research for our Leyte-Samar itinerary. The multicab driver was an old man, very friendly. He chatted with us, first asking if we were really Tagalog, then telling us about the languages in Leyte. I had expected people to speak Visayan, which I still understand, but they spoke Waray! The trike ride was P30, but we gave him P50.

Dinner at Pier Tres was great for P705. We had fried shrimp, baked mussels, and fruit shake (watermelon-mango for Marchie and mango for me). Pier Tres is an above-water seafood restaurant that's all lit up with pretty lights at night. Across it is Bar-ko, also lit up in pretty colors and featuring, at least that evening, a live band. So we enjoyed a quiet dinner at Pier Tres and the live music from Bar-ko. Did I mention the moon was full?

After dinner, Marchie and I walked out of Leyte Park, passing by the nice little nice bars near the gate. It was a Sunday night, so there weren't a lot of people, but the area was still lively. I found the bars really quaint -- each one had its own style and, I'm guessing, draw.

We took a multicab back to GV Hotel (P50), calling it a night because it was already "leyt" in Leyte. We should be off to Catarman, Samar early tomorrow morningm

I haven't seen Leyte in daylight yet, but I already love it!

Biri Island is on the itinerary tomorrow. It's a six-hour trip from Tacloban to Catarman. That's why we want to leave at 5am. Good luck to us!

Entering my final full week at 35

"Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life--well, valuable, but small--and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven't been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?" - Kathleen Kelly, You've Got Mail

Busy days, joyous days ahead

Last week, I accepted Marchie's invitation to watch The Legends and the Classics, a restaging of the concert that brought together Cecile Licad, Lisa Macuja, and Lea Salonga on one stage.

It was magical. I'd never been a fan of Cecile and Lisa (I liked their work; sadly, I didn't follow their careers as much as I did Lea's), but seeing the three of them performing together just woke up this longing in me to create something beautiful so someone sitting in the audience could feel the way I felt that late afternoon.

Before all the literary theory, the literary criticism, the workshops, the BA, the pursuit of an MFA, the occasional snarky encounter, the practicality of gainful employment, there was that: the desire to connect with one reader's heart simply because one author connected with mine.

At the end of the show, Lea talked about how the three of them shared one thing, which was that they've lived all their lives doing what they loved. I was reminded of that quote from Annie Dillard that was going around Facebook recently: "How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives."

I really, really don't want to be that person saying at the end of my life that I'd done everything wrong. Just making the easy choice to watch that concert was reminder enough of the many, many things I can do to just break out of this creative rut!

Excuse the drama. I'm in my last two weeks of being 35. Busy days, joyous days ahead!

Dream: Benedict and me in Italy

BEST. DREAM. EVER. I was introduced to Benedict Cumberbatch. And no, it doesn't end there.

We had a project together, and we got to hang out. I got to know him "as a regular person, not a star" and found that he wasn't really as cute as I had imagined him to be, but liked him all the more for that. His parents loved me.

He found out I liked him, and he rejected me. I fled to Italy to heal my broken heart. He regretted losing me, and looked for me all over the world, Sherlock-style. I hid in a bell tower, but he found me. And no, it doesn't end there.

He organized an elaborate marriage proposal in front of my friends and family. He gave me a platinum ring -- no diamond, just a cute little heart in the middle -- and gave me a completely rational reason why we should be engaged even if we hadn't even started dating yet. He demanded I wear the ring all the time because he wanted the whole world to know I was his, especially because he would be away most of the time, making movies and all.

I held the ring up, and I found myself thinking if I could wear it while doing the dishes. And that's when I knew I could marry Benedict Cumberbatch: he had just pursued me in Italy and proposed to me in front of family and friends, and I was still grounded enough to think of doing the dishes.

Morning

I took this photo in May 2012. I was going home very early in the morning (it was past 5 am; I can't remember where I was from), and I liked how everything was dark, almost purple, except for this yellow little shop. I snapped a photo with my mobile phone. I wish I had a better camera!

This week, my goal is (again) to be a morning person.

I usually go home late at night, but I really do feel more energetic in the mornings. Plus, it feels good to wake up to the scent of people cooking breakfast.

Good luck to me!


One rainy night

Last night, as the cab neared the apartment, we could see water on the street glimmering ahead of us, waves lapping at the speed bump that marked my stop. The speed bump had acted as a barrier to the flood, and I could get off the cab and go to my room without wading in flood water. In front of the apartment, people -- two tenants and their friends -- were huddled, waiting, I assumed, for the water to recede or a safe way to leave. 

Three parties were blessed the moment I arrived: me, because I could go home without walking through water; my neighbors' guests, because a suddenly empty cab just happened to arrive in front of them; and the cab driver, who was visibly worried he'd have to drive through flood in unfamiliar streets to bring me to my destination. 

What are you looking at?


My favorite meal of the day

It's always breakfast, no matter the dish, no matter the time of day. When I'm eating breakfast, it makes me feel like something new is about to begin or like something was worth staying up for, and someone, staying up with.

This is my spicy chai latte and hazelnut waffle sandwich from The Wicked Waffle All-Day Breakfast Cafe in Eastwood Cybermall.

Breakfast was at 1am, with a book, The Girl who Played with Fire.

Good morning

This week is off to an early (rainy) start. Too early! But it's good to know that riding off to work at this hour means riding off into the sunrise.

Leaf says I love you

Let me always be a person who looks for proofs of love.

Bus rides



I was 16 when I first started going on public bus rides regularly, first as a college freshman at DLSU, then as a college freshman all over again at UP Diliman.

From our house in Las Piñas, the trip to Taft was more comfortable. I'd take the Tas Trans bus from outside our village, bear the traffic along Alabang-Zapote Road, always watching for the old trees that line the way, and get off right outside La Salle. I loved the Tas Trans bus line, with its clean modern buses and friendly drivers and conducters. I always felt safe. I could leave my school bag with the driver if I had to sit by the back, and I would be sure to get it when it was time to get off.

The trip to Diliman from Las Piñas, on the other hand, will always be a taste of hell, the gates to which can be found at the Alabang Viaduct. The difference was made clear to me on my first commute as a UP student: as the Fairview-bound bus turned to enter the Quezon Circle, the driver had a fight with another motorist. There was a flurry of angry words, and steel pipes were pulled out. I thought I'd have to try to escape a bloody bashing at the only point of exit. Thankfully, traffic cops quickly intervened.

I was scared while it was happening, but when it was all over with the intervention of traffic cops, I told myself, "I'm in the real world!" Of course, I was a naive college student, more a country girl than a city one, raring for any taste of adventure that wasn't anything like my sleepy suburban home.

Compare this to my worst memory of taking the Tas Trans line, which involved having to ride the bus "round trip," all the way to Sta. Cruz and back, because my "bus mates" and I couldn't get a ride in front of the campus. It took us four hours to go home, because of flooding and heavy traffic in Manila. We were starving, but we managed to get off and buy boiled sweet corn somewhere along Taft and still get back on the bus. The commute was horrible, but the experience wasn't really that bad.

When I learned to love travel, long bus rides meant going to Sagada via Banaue or Dumaguete via Cebu. It meant going to Baguio and eating local snacks at each stop. It meant shuttling from a Point A to a very different Point B, and signing up for a momentarily suspension of life in between. For a couple of hours, you can watch life changing outside your window as you deal with a simplified, unignorable now.

I really, really need to get on a bus soon.

I'm alive

Things have happened.

Some of them I'm happy about, some I'm sad about, some I'm not proud about, some I can live with, and the rest I'm still processing.

I think about mirrors, about how, I've been told, what you don't like in another person is usually what you don't like in yourself.

I think about radical authenticity, about how difficult it is, this business of going for truth and transparency and showing up as yourself in a body that is filled with fear in a world that may not be patient enough to understand.

I think about my relationships, about relating, about the people I've kept close, the people who chose to lose me, and the people I've been glad to lose.

I think about harsh words people have for each other, harsh words I've used against people and harsh words that have been used against me.

I think about how, beneath those harsh words, we really know nothing about each other, and that maybe, just maybe, if I saw that part of you that earned a term of endearment or if you saw that part of me that, I don't know, will never find it in herself to enjoy your misery, then we would think twice before saying anything hurtful.

*****

Tonight I spoke to an old online friend who's been going through a tough time in the last five or six years. I hadn't spoken to him since 2011, and he suddenly just appeared on my Yahoo Messenger.

He updated me on his life story, and suddenly my life was all roses, and I found it in me to feel compassion for someone once again. Suddenly, I was grateful for every aspect of my life again.

"Be good," he told me.

"I try," I replied.

"You've always been a good person," he said.

"You be good yourself," I said, "and I'm sorry about what's happened to you."

"I'm alive," he said, and I could imagine him smiling sadly. "That's it. I'm alive."

*****

I think about the faces I need to prepare and hate preparing. I think about some truths I can't say.

I think about how I am surviving, and how it feels nothing like living.

Then, somewhere in my heart, in that space that had sought to love you and failed without any regret, I think about whether you're feeling the same way.

I love laing and it's news to me

A few days ago, craving one of my favorite street foods, squid balls, I stepped out of Eastwood City, hoping to get my fix at one of the carts along C-5. To my surprise, none of the usual carts were there, perhaps removed from the area by traffic enforcers since new jeepney stops were in place. Still hungry and now frustrated, I decided to check out a new place a colleague had recommended, Señor Liempo.

Like the fishball carts, Señor Liempo is just outside Eastwood City. Located in the same area as Piandré and Omakase, it's an unassuming little place that's a little more than just a food stall with some tables and chairs. I think it can seat 20 (but don't trust me with numbers!). 

I ordered a set meal of their kiln-roasted pork belly (their specialty) and rice, and the young guy taking my order asked me if I wanted unlimited rice or a side dish with it. I told him unlimited rice wasn't an option because I was getting my food to go. He explained that I could get one order of extra rice instead -- which wasn't an option either as I was already having one cup too many.

So I asked him what the side dish was.

"Laing," he said.

Now, next to buro, laing is perhaps the most unappealing Filipino dish I've ever set eyes on. I've always thought it looked like somebody had chewed some leaves, changed their mind about swallowing it, and spit it out with some extra half-digested stuff--which is exactly how I would describe how buro looks, but instead of leaves it would be rice.

It didn't help that growing up I'd heard many of my friends say laing wasn't good. Except they used the word "yuck."

Still, since I'm cutting down on rice again, I grudgingly chose the laing side dish.

Back at the office, as I was thoroughly enjoying the liempo, I decided to give the laing a try. I dipped my spoon into the small container it came in and licked the spoon. Not bad. Then I tried half a tablespoon of it, ready to chase it down with rice and water. But there was no need--I absolutely loved it!

The next day, I had laing for lunch again. And typing this now, I'm hoping I can do a repeat. And I really rue the years I'd spent not eating laing only because I thought I wouldn't like it.

Which led me to wonder: What other things I actually like have I missed out on by listening to people who didn't like them? That question has been on my mind since. I mean, how much of what I think I like now that I'm in my mid-thirties was really shaped by other people's preferences?

I'm still thinking!

Dream: Writing by hand


This time, I don't remember the entire dream.

What I do remember is this: I am writing, blue ballpoint pen in hand. I'm taking copious notes, and the pen in my hand doesn't skip a beat, gliding smoothly, effortlessly across the page. I'm taking notes for a project, either for school or work, so I am not thinking too much, just taking in what is being said and putting it on paper in my own words.

My thoughts are so organized, I was thinking to myself, so clean.

I wrote for hours and hours, churning out pages of my handwriting at its most beautiful best. And my hand was never tired.

Dream: Writing by hand

This time, I don't remember the entire dream.

What I do remember is this: I am writing, blue ballpoint pen in hand. I'm taking copious notes, and the pen in my hand doesn't skip a beat, gliding smoothly, effortlessly across the page. I'm taking notes for a project, either for school or work, so I am not thinking too much, just taking in what is being said and putting it on paper in my own words.

My thoughts are so organized, I was thinking to myself, so clean.

I wrote for hours and hours, churning out pages of my handwriting at its most beautiful best. And my hand was never tired.

Dream: Missing the bus


My best friends, Sherwil, Emily, Ruth, and I were going to Shangri-La Plaza from SM Megamall. Ruth was back in the country and needed to do some shopping for friends and family in Canada. For some reason, we were advised to take a provincial bus since it was going to pass by Shangri-La anyway, and, also for some reason, we thought it was a good idea.

On the way to the bus station, we happened upon a residential building that had been used as a location for an elaborate wedding-themed photo and video shoot featuring Judy Ann Santos and an older glamorous actress. A preview flashed in my head: the shots were of them as innocent brides and young housewives. In one scene, Judy Ann was creating an elegant table setting. In another, she was preparing a beautiful meal for her husband.

The crew had finished packing up, but the shoot's creative director was still wrapping up business with the owner of the building. I realized I knew the director; we had been really good friends once upon a time. I went over to say hi, and we ended up talking about her recent wedding. She wasn't a happy bride, she said, because her husband was based abroad and she didn't feel married at all. She showed me her ring, which she wore on a silver chain around her neck. I wondered aloud if the marriage hadn't worked out, if the relationship was over, and she looked at me like I had misunderstood, that I couldn't possibly understand.

Then she led me to a plant at the corner of the building. It was a "wish for love" plant, a sign said, and to wish for love, you had to pick one leaf and say a few lines that were about sending a message to your one true love, for him to be ready, for him to come and find you. Then you had to arrange the leaf on the ground to resemble an angel, at least in your mind.

My old friend grabbed a clump of leaves and proceeded to arrange them to look like an angel, and when she whipped out a paintbrush and some paints to use on the leaves, I was extremely bothered she wasn't following what the sign said to the letter. I wanted to say something, but my other friends had also started picking leaves and making their own angels (again not following the instructions)! Then I thought I wanted a picture of my own angel leaf on Instagram, so I picked a leaf and, to be safe, said the words. Then I picked another to complete my angel wings, which I thought would count as another round.

My friends' angels had dresses and halos. I was going for a more simple cherub when another old friend appeared from nowhere and borrowed my two leaves to form a dress for her own angel. "You're giving those back to me, right?" I asked, and she said, "Of course." I figured I was going for a cherub anyway, so what I really needed to work hard on was the face. I looked around and found some abandoned calamansi at a nearby table. I squeezed out some seeds for my cherub's eyes.

Soon it was time to go and after a short walk (and a fun high school reunion that had us eating caramel popcorn and ice cream!), we arrived at the provincial bus station. I asked a guard how to get tickets, and he said to go straight and turn right. At the point where we had to turn right, we discovered he had meant to turn left because there was a metal barricade in the way.

Wanting to be funny, I made as if I was still turning right, pushing against the barricade. My friends weren't amused, but a handsome man with a sexy smile at the other side of the barricade laughed in approval. He looked familiar. British, I thought to myself, that guy's British.

Giggling like schoolgirls about the British guy, we turned left, got tickets, and bumped into an old friend of Ruth's. He was a musician from somewhere North (Ilocos, maybe, or Cagayan), and he had had a meeting in Manila so he was in the capital just for the day. I had a flashback of his meeting: early morning coffee at Starbucks with his former music teacher, a paying gig as part of a wedding orchestra.

Ruth updated the guy on her life in Canada, and he told her about his life in Northern Luzon. "He's cute," I told Ruth after they said goodbye. She said, "Yes, and happily married."

We had to wait for the bus to come, so we hung out near a window. Ruth looked outside and said, "Hey, I can see Shangri-La from here! What are we taking the bus for? Let's walk!" But by then I had seen this guy I liked years ago, one of my favorite crushes, and he was also waiting to get on the same bus. He was alone, looking bored, and when we locked eyes, he seemed to recognize me but wasn't sure. It was the first time we were seeing each other in over a decade.

"Are we going on the bus?" I asked my friends, more a hint than a question. Before they could answer, the bus arrived and hundreds of North Luzon-bound people started clamoring to get a seat.

"I guess we're missing the bus then," I sighed. I thought of my old crush riding away from me, never again to be seen until maybe another full decade later.

"Let's just walk," Ruth said. I nodded, since the others needed to get on the bus more than we did.

As we were leaving, I looked back and saw that my old crush hadn't gotten on the bus either. He was still waiting, looking bored.

I didn't feel like saying hi, but I was relieved he hadn't left, as if both of us missing the same bus meant we were, as far as life was concerned, still available for each other to rediscover some other time.

When I woke up, I instantly knew who the British guy was: Alfie Evan Allen, who plays Theon Greyjoy in HBO's Game of Thrones.

I'm going back to the start

First, an explanation: This isn't an account of my entire experience. This is more if me thinking on digital paper, holding a weekend in my hand like a bright jewel and turning it around to examine angles that sparkle brighter than the rest.

***

The weekend found me in Subic, attending the Singles for Christ Metro Manila Conference for 2013. It was only a few weeks after my Christian Living Program graduation, and there I was, feeling a little out of place in the 3,700-strong crowd, but nevertheless happy to be there.

Our road trip to Subic was long and uneventful, and it was capped by a nice lunch at an Asian restaurant called Coco Lime. I realized I'd never really gone around Subic before, that I didn't really know the place. But the real first for me was my attending the SFC MMC -- or any large-scale religious event after high school, for that matter.

I wasn't sure what to expect. I'd never really felt comfortable in large group activities, my attention always escaping, straying to my surroundings, then shifting to the activity, and back to my surroundings again.

In group worship, I'd try to sing the songs, clap my hands with the crowd, get into the moment, and then start wondering if I was doing things right: Was I clapping in time, was I out of tune, did I need to I raise my hands? I'd wonder: Why am I not like all the other people, who are completely awash in worship bliss?

I know that none of these matter to the God, but still I think there is always something I can do, to be better, to be part of something big. But I've always been like that: never the person who completely lets go, and always that person who has to open her eyes and observe what is happening to see what else needs to be done. I take two steps forward, and I have to step back, survey the situation, check myself and process my experience. Then I can take several steps forward again.

So, anyway.

For the first night of the conference, the theme was the 90s. We were asked to wear a 90s-inspired outfit. I wore a plaid polo shirt on top of a white T-shirt, dark jeans with the cuffs folded, and black boots. Pop music from the 90s played all day, songs like "Always" and "Quit Playing Games With My Heart" and "Stop" and this girl group song I know I like but can't, at the moment, remember.

Later at night, the music ministry performed a 90s music medley, and the song lyrics were flashed onscreen so the crowd could sing along. Everyone was belting out "And I sing this song to all of my age, for these are the questions we've got to face" when I suddenly remembered myself as a college freshman, sixteen and making sense of my life, discovering what I was good at and what I liked, knowing myself, and following my heart.

And my 16-year-old self looked at my 35-year-old self and asked: Who is this person?

The feeling and the thought stuck with me throughout the evening. The weekend would give me beautiful small and big answers, enough to make having the question hanging over me comfortable. But I am grateful the question begged to be asked, never mind if I had to channel my best version of 90s grunge (my plaid shirt was a bright green!) and listen to some of that beautiful decade's bad hits.

I suppose the way I live most of life is the way I behaved in group worship: I never lose myself completely in it, always stop to look around, and constantly process my experience. At one point in Subic, while everyone around me was jumping around, raising their hands out of overflowing joy in the Maker, I paused and threw a sincere question at God, "Where am I in all this? Where is my joy?"

I need to close my eyes, I thought. And I did. And that's where I found it. It came to me like pictures of my travels to places where I had felt the least out of place. Almost-uninhabited islands. Endless ocean. Clear lakes. Tall, strong trees and swaying grass. Mud on my feat. My hand on cold, solid rock. Birds. A dragonfly coming to me.

So many pictures, and then words. Overflowing words, and I was covered in their richness.

I kept my eyes closed while people sang around me. I was around thousands of people, and I was sure of their ecstasy because it encroached on my senses, and I did not begrudge them that. They had their joy; I had mine. We were all rich. We were all blessed.

It was okay that I was reeling from the sheer number of people. It was okay that I was feeling out of place, like a bottle fighting to keep afloat on relentless waves of joy. It was okay that I swung from exhaustion to bliss, from acceptance to rejection, from yes to no and yes again.

I am this person.

I think a thousand thoughts per minute. My heart feelings a hundred emotions per second. I am scared, and I am brave. I hate being with strangers, but I love people, and it takes only a moment for strangers to become people to me. I have an anxious brain, and I have, I'd like to believe, a good heart. And this last, big reminder-slash-realization: Words are central to my faith, and so are stories. And letters. Words are my service.

I am this person.

I had known this before, in fact, it was the only thing I was sure of when everything else was uncertain, but somehow, somewhere along the way, I had forgotten. I was so sorry I had forgotten.

Be kind to yourself, I told myself. This is how you surrender. This is how you begin. Just close your eyes.

Hello? Hello!

My last post was over a month ago! I'm disappointed in myself, but I remember getting sick and then getting busy and forgetting about this little side project right after I'd invited most of my Facebook friends to like my blog's Facebook page! Tsk, tsk.

But now I'm back. I've also (yet again) tweaked my blog's layout and restored the minimalist look I like. I'm quite pleased with the simple look. Maybe it'll inspire me to keep blogging.

Guess who's now a member of Singles for Christ?

I have other news to share: I've just become a member of Singles for Christ, after completing a 12-week Christian Life Program. You could say I'm rediscovering my Catholic faith. To be honest, it's a rather bumpy journey, but, at the same time, it also feels like a long trip to a familiar place. Still, most of the time, I don't know what I've gotten myself into. But I think it's worth a try.

Tomorrow, I'm heading off to Subic with other SFC members to attend my first MMC (Metro Manila Conference). It'll be a two-day affair, and I really have no idea what's going to happen, except that I'm attending a workshop called "Shakespeare in Love" and it's about writing to share God's love. At the very least, it's a nice break from my usual life. And I'm up for anything.

I'll try to update from Subic, if I can.

CLP graduation day on July 12, 2013. I'm with one of my best friends,
Emily, who's an active member of SFC.

On learning to like things

My two nieces spent the night at our house over the weekend. Jasmine is eight and Keona is seven. They're both learning to assert themselves and testing their boundaries, so they were quite a handful when it came to things they had to do, like eat or take a bath.

When you tell Jasmine to do something, she studies your face closely to see how serious you are and decides to follow (or not to) based on what she sees. When you tell Keona to do something, it's a battle of wills and, sometimes, fake tears. They're both beautiful, kind, and sweet, and they're also stubborn, strong-willed, and, really, too clever for their own good.

They are also very picky eaters.

When my mom served them red rice (we're trying to eat healthier) and corned beef (I said trying!) with scrambled eggs for brunch, they both said matter-of-factly that they only ate white rice. It took us a lot of convincing and prodding to make them eat.

We told them how red rice is healthy for them. "I don't like it."

We told them them how red rice is princess food in the mountains of the North. "I don't like princesses."

We told them how we wouldn't leave the table until they were done, so no Minecraft until they clean their plates.

Keona liked corned beef, so she was the first to yield. The moment she realized the red rice "doesn't taste like anything," she couldn't stop eating. Jasmine, on the other hand, declared she would just eat the rice, after having convinced herself that it tasted like chocolate. Eventually, she asked to try "just a little" of the corned beef and was surprised she liked it. The two girls finally cleaned their plates--and they both decided on their own that they actually liked what they ate, even the strange red rice.

In fact, Keona asked for a second helping in the afternoon.

This got me thinking about the things I like and how I got to like them. For instance, I love to eat, but I'm not a very adventurous eater. For years, I would order the same items in restaurants, because I liked knowing that I already liked what I was going to have.

This week, I'll blog about at least three things I know for sure I like and try to recall how I learned to like them for the first time.

I should take a good look at where I am

I treated myself to dinner and a movie (Man of Steel) in Eastwood yesterday, and it hit me that even if I've been working in Eastwood City since 2009, it was the first time I actually went to the place for leisure.

I mean, I've watched movies and I've treated myself to nice dinners in Eastwood, but it's always been after work.

Then again, even if yesterday was a holiday, I did pass by the office first!

That's one side of me that I want to change, that person that often forgets to take a good look at where I am at the moment.

Like, I now live most of the time in Quezon City, but have I gone around the place, discovering what's nice about it? Not so much.

This is a house near where I live in Quezon City that I've always found interesting. I took this photo in October 2012. I thought the house was abandoned, but a couple of weeks ago, I saw a group of teenage boys calling on a girl, asking her to come outside.

Come to think of it, I haven't been doing a lot of discovering recently. Maybe that's why I'm a little bored with life. I've got to change this.

There are a few places that I want to check out in Metro Manila. I'll post the list in a separate entry.

Maybe you have some suggestions?

I said I would write every day

I want to do it, really. Just to keep the habit going again. I've written for two days straight, and I can already feel the words swirling around in my head. Still, I worry that I would run out of things to say.

When I started blogging so many years ago (it was so long ago, I put it on Blogdrive.com, which, I'm pleasantly surprised to discover, is still alive), I was content with writing about my daily activities, no matter how mundane. In fact, my life then, no matter how dull, was enough to fuel a blog post or two a day. Three, even.

Nowadays, for some reason, outside of my little personal dramas, I can't seem to find anything worth blogging about. I think I've gotten used to Facebook status updates -- minimal effort with almost immediate results!

But I said I would write every day, and I will do it. So I asked the Internet for advice through Facebook (and again, minimal effort, almost immediate results), and I was advised to google "blogging prompts."

After a quick search, I found a couple of sites that may be helpful. Check them out at the bottom of the column on the right.

Maybe I will only need them for a while, until I get my writing groove back. Or maybe I won't use them at all because just knowing they're there for me to turn to takes out a lot of the pressure, and I can finally hunker down and write.

Making room for trees

The fire trees at the Madrigal Business Park in Alabang are in bloom, and this reminds me of what I loved most about going to UP. There was just so much space for nature and beauty!

Understand that before moving to UP, I was a freshman at DLSU.

In summer, there were sunflowers and fire trees in bloom. And how beautiful the lagoon looked with its resident ducks and geese, now long gone. There were large rocks and old trees, and the Sunken Garden would be mostly green. In the rainy season, rain would fall onto the trees and grass, and not make mud, and there was fresh air to breathe from where we sat--along the AS Steps, or under our tambayan tents.

I loved leisurely afternoon walks across the shortcut from behind the Math Building to NIGS because at one point, you had to walk along what I fancied to be a little brook (more like a canal, really, but the water was clean enough for frogs and snails and little fish).

Having gone to DLSU for a year before I transferred to Diliman, I had felt how the City of Manila can completely crowd one out. Every corner was filled with concrete, and how the vehicles competed for space, even in the air! (Later, when I was back at DLSU for grad school, I marveled at how students could hang out at Starbucks Vito Cruz and not go crazy with all the noise from the traffic five feet away!)

I love living in Southern Manila for the same reason: space. There is still space for trees and bike trails. Last Saturday, I commuted to Asian Hospital to visit my best friend and her dad, who is confined there, and I almost decided to walk to the hospital all the way from South Station because of the trees lining the street. It had been a long day, but I felt energized. I could breathe.

This had me thinking about my own "space."

The past few months--or maybe the past year--I think I've inadvertently crowded my own self out. I've filled my time with lesser passions and too many people for whom I could have no strong affections.

It's entirely my fault for not taking the wheel. I enjoy what I am doing most of the time, and I'm grateful for what I have now, but how long has it been since I planted something alive or created something beautiful?

Too long, the fire trees tell me. Too long.

Letting the lover be

I spent some hours tinkering with this blog again, fixing what I thought needed fixing. I'm reminded of that story about Walt Whitman, and how he just kept working on Leaves of Grass even after it was published, polishing it to death. While this blog is no literary masterpiece, I find myself always wanting to tweak it, as if somehow tweaking it would tell a better story of my life, and my past, present, and future would actually be better for it.

I know it won't be, because life is what it is no matter how organized my blog is, but I'm always happy to organize and re-organize, so I'm letting my slightly neurotic self be!

That's one thing I'm learning in my mid-30s, just to let myself be.

At present, letting myself be means giving myself space to be a little confused about where to go next in my life.

I don't know when I started second-guessing myself. Entering college, I was, like many of my batchmates, uncertain of how the future would unfold, but I was so sure of what I wanted for myself. I couldn't relate with friends who weren't clear on what they wanted. This confusion I'm experiencing now is truly unfamiliar territory.

I've heard it said (and I think I've mentioned it here before) that major life changes occur every seven years in one's lifetime. I suppose I'm right on track at 35.

I just have to remind myself that I have never strayed far from my passions, and the clouds will clear in time, as they always do.

Letting myself be also means honoring my own feelings. I've always been a feeling person, but I've also always sort of pushed my feelings away or at least kept them hidden because I thought that something else -- usually the opinions of other people -- were more important. But not anymore.

I will put my own heart first, and trust that it will always be a good compass, because I am a good person at heart.

I'll close this post with a short poem by Rumi, because it's always a good reminder to just be myself:

Let the lover be disgraceful, crazy,
absentminded. Someone sober
will worry about things going badly.
Let the lover be.

What finds you when you're ready to see

A long time ago, my heart was broken. He was a friend, one whose love I thought I couldn't return, until one day I did, and it was too late. I was distraught; I thought I had finally found perfect love, and, the blind idiot that I was, had managed to lose it.

But I knew nothing would come out of dwelling in my misery. To get over that heartbreak--and, more importantly, to get over hating myself--I went on a mission to focus on life's messages of love for me.

By love, I didn't mean romantic love; I meant the love that says I am always blessed, that I haven't missed out on any of life's joys, and that the happiness that I thought I'd lost was still there for me to delight in, to take as mine, to give to someone else.

Still, even if I didn't mean romantic love, and because I had missed love even when it was staring me in the face, I wanted life to tell me it loved me by sending me, why, yes, hearts. What could be more obvious, more telling, than hearts?

People who know me well now know me to be a collector of hearts. But I don't collect heart-shaped things, at least not in the normal sense of the word. Instead, I take pictures of hearts that I happen upon, like that little heart-shaped leatherette purple patch that covered a hole in the seat of a Cubao-bound jeepney or a tiny red heart that I found in a shoe label in a dusty outlet store in Cubao X.

These are life's messages of love for me; they make me happy. You could say I healed my heart with whimsy.

Early on in this personal mission, I found that you find what you are looking for because you've made yourself ready to see. But I also found that what you think you will find because you've made yourself ready to see is nothing compared to what actually finds you.

A long time ago, one early afternoon when my heart was still broken, I was wading in the low-tide waters of Dumaluan Beach, just feeling the sand in my toes, looking at the tiny little fish, trying my very best not to think of someone and miserably failing.

Send me a sign that it's going to be okay, I whispered to the Universe, tell me it's still love eventually.

In the glimmering waters, a tiny pinprick of light sparkled at me. Is that a piece of broken glass? I thought to myself, pausing for a few seconds before realizing one gentle wave could wash out any hope of an answer. Quickly, I knelt in the water, picked up a fistful of sand, and opened my hand to find a twinkling pink heart-shaped gemstone, so small it could have fallen from somebody's ring.

What could be more obvious, more telling, than hearts?

I am (still) here

A friend reminded me of my blog, asked me, "Didn't you get a domain name because you wanted to start blogging regularly?" All I had were six posts since November 2012, many of them recycled from the old blog.

I felt like a fresh start again, I wanted to delete my posts all over again, I wanted even to buy a new domain name.

But I stopped myself and decided to merge old blog and new blog and move forward from there.

Of course that meant having to read through some 300 posts from 2007, and that meant facing my younger self with her promises of commitment and changes and the turning of new chapters. Confronting myself, my personal nightmare.

But here we are. New template, old stories told, new stories to be written.

Here we are.

Dream: Dog Prime

Our house was being attacked by this demonic dog. We knew him to be Dog Prime, the first dog to ever exist. He carried a big pointy stick. After stalking our house and trying to get in through all the windows and failing, he threw the stick at a window pane and broke it. He was terrorizing us with his little antics.

Fed up, I opened the main door, ready to whip Dog Prime with my own stick. But after I poked him several times, he turned into this really cute and docile puppy (that looked a little like the Palawan anteater; still Dog Prime but no longer demonic). He rolled over and let me stroke his belly, and I was in love with the ancient little creature.

I was carrying Dog Prime when two men who introduced themselves as bill collectors of Globe Telecom came. They were men in uniform, quite tall and bulky. I can't recall why they came, but we had no business with them. Then one of them noticed Dog Prime and said he was cute. I let him carry Dog Prime -- and the bastard walked away with the puppy!

I ran after them, and said, "If you don't give him back, I will call the police." The man stopped, looked at me, and threw the puppy on the ground. Then he pulled out a gun and shot Dog Prime several times, as if saying, "If I can't have him, you can't too." Then they left.

I ran home, and when the coast was clear, I went back to pick up Dog Prime's body. Surprisingly, he was alive but weak, and none of the bullets had penetrated his body. He suffered from the fall though, and I woke up wondering if I should take the first dog to ever exist on Earth to the vet.

Dream: Fishcats

I dreamed I was sleeping in my brother's room and he and my mom entered the room to put a fishbowl with some goldfish on the nightstand. Their voices woke me up a little, and I looked at the fishbowl as they left. Suddenly, two goldfish leapt out of the fishbowl and transformed into cats, still with shimmery goldfish scales. I called out to my brother and mother, fearing the fishcats would die. Nobody came, so I decided not to care and turned around. One of the fishcats suddenly jumped on my bed. Then I woke up screaming.

Dream: Food strung up in trees

When I'm sick, I get the weirdest dreams. Last night, I dreamed I was visiting a woman with friends. As we were eating, she pointed to the mango trees in front of her home and said they were haunted by ghosts from the war. They would appear to the townspeople and ask for specific food, usually fried chicken. One time, lechon. Then the townspeople would string the food up in the trees.