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Showing posts from 2017

The ghosts of November

I've been having telco troubles lately, so I decided to get prepaid SIMs from other networks. I didn't want to buy a new phone, so I dug up the old ones I had. Happily, despite my frustration with my telco, revisiting my old phones was a somewhat delightful trip down memory lane.

I found some old photos of my nieces and other family members. I saw some old texts I had forgotten I'd saved, like the text my brother sent me to inform me that Tutay, our dearly loved and clingy Sharpei, had died. I also found some texts from someone I used to be in love with.

There were old photos from trips with friends I used to travel with and a friend I will mostly probably no longer travel with.

Has it really been so long ago now?

I also found the photo above of the last two dogs we had, Basha and Boris. Basha was the only offspring of Sasha, our beloved German Shepherd and Lab Mix that my mom bought off a newspaper ad.

Sasha was sweet to us, but a Jekkyl and Hyde to others, especially cats. She was a big dog and needed to run, and since our garden didn't give her a lot of space, whenever someone opened the gate, she'd barrel past that poor someone and run out into the great wide open.

When she had Basha, the younger dog would follow her mother out. They'd run so far out that we'd often give up chasing them and just wait until they got back home by themselves. I was always worried, but they were good dogs and they never got into trouble and never got lost.

This was before our village became strict with dogs roaming the streets.

When Sasha passed away, Basha never went out again. How she got pregnant, we don't know for sure, but we suspect a small dog snuck in and knocked her up.

She had six puppies, and we kept the one that looked like Sasha. That puppy was Boris. He was a big bully to his siblings, and so they all ganged up on him and he eventually became the bullied one.

The smaller dog in the picture above is Basha; Boris is only a puppy in that picture. He grew to be more or less Sasha's size.

We've had so many dogs in my lifetime, and I loved them all, but it was Boris' death that, I think, ended my desire to care for another dog. Long story short, we had a flea infestation. I was able to nurse Boris back to health a couple of times, but that last time, it was too late.

When he was sick again, he climbed up the garden chair next to the door and nudged my hand. Maybe he was saying goodbye to me. Or maybe he was asking for help again. I wish I had brought him to the vet right away. I really thought I had some time.

That is one of my regrets and why I hesitate to have new pets. Boris died this year, so maybe the pain is still fresh, but I really don't see myself having any dogs of my own again.

One of my versions of heaven is filled with all the dogs and other pets I've had that I failed to love one hundred percent, and they'd still love me and tell me that I was the perfect human to them.

One of my versions of hell is the same, except that I am racked with guilt and unable to forgive myself.

Here's to Peachy, Keenie, Chewy, Duchess, Duke, Mako, Misha, Tutay, Diwata, Sasha, Midnight, Basha, Boris, and all the other dogs, birds, chickens, ducks, rabbits, fish, and hamsters who shared our home.

I loved you, but most importantly: you loved me. Thank you.

It's not sulking when you're in love: a short love story

Tampuhan (1895). Oil on canvas. Juan Luna

I'm having dinner alone at a pizza restaurant and across me is a couple. The girl's Filipina; the guy sounds French. When I arrive, the guy is lecturing her a little too strongly about something she needs to fill out. He sounds exasperated. Eventually, she gets annoyed as well.

So she shows him she's ... tampo. For fifteen minutes. In that length of time, she doesn't talk to him. Doesn't show she's angry, but taps away on her tablet silently. A little coldly.

The guy fidgets. Looks around the restaurant, at other tables, and for a split second, at me, awkwardly. He digs into his bag, takes out a bottle of water and drinks. He sighs silently. The girl puts down her tablet, but she turns away and stares out the window.

The guy's annoyance melts; he slumps back in his seat, suddenly defeated. He watches her, trying to read her silence. He looks almost afraid. But she gives him nothing and makes him wait.

He is in love with her, I can tell. And she? I think she's still making up her mind.

"Lambingin mo!" I want to tell him. But of course I don't, and I pretend to be more focused on my pizza.

The guy breaks the silence. He takes out his wallet and tells her he's going over to the counter to pay. She turns to him, a smile slowly blooming on her face. His eyes light up; he says something and she gifts him with a sparkling laugh.

He laughs back, and she leans over and says something. I'm guessing she's telling him to call the waiter over instead, because that's what he does. He doesn't seem to understand what just happened, but he is beaming as he settles the bill.

She leans back into her seat, takes out a compact mirror and checks her lipstick. She smacks her lips.

She has won the battle. They leave the restaurant. They look happy. I hope they both win the war.

***

I wrote the above a little over a year ago, on October 16, and came across it again while going over my old blog. I'm reposting it here.

If there are any non-Filipinos reading this, tampo is like sulking because of a perceived slight, but it's not exactly sulking. It's more of a protective withdrawal of affection or attention. There's still a playful element to it, and the proper and most effective response is lambing, which is a display of affection, sometimes exaggerated.

Whatever you do, don't respond to tampo with anger!

Here's a reddit thread responding to the question posted by a Western man married to a Filipina asking about tampo. And here's a Wiki entry on it, which also discusses the cultural context.

After 30 days of doing my Morning Pages

My actual Morning Pages journal, almost full!

I posted here earlier that I'd started doing Morning Pages. It's been over 30 days now -- 36, to be exact -- and I'm still at it. If I am not able to write my three pages in the morning, I write before I sleep. I've almost filled up my notebook, which I don't think I've done since grade school.

Before I started doing my Morning Pages, I'd seen a lot of blog posts claiming how the habit changed their writers' lives. I don't think it has changed mine in a big way yet, but I'm already noticing small differences.

I believe I've already mentioned here that I've been dealing with some anxiety. It's not debilitating and I don't get panic attacks or anything like that, but the level of anxiety I experience at times takes a lot of my energy and hinders creativity.

I worry about big things, too, like the Great Pacific garbage patch or Taal Volcano's next eruption or where this country is headed with our current leaders, and if I'm not careful, that worry could take over the rest of my day.

I've taken some steps towards reducing this anxiety: I've unsubscribed to all sources of news (that way, when I do decide to update myself on current events, I'm prepared) and I no longer check my Facebook.

There are other things to be done: sleep early, avoid coffee, start a meditation practice, get active, etc., but doing my Morning Pages has already helped me manage my anxiety.

I've noticed that when I am feeling particularly anxious about something I'm not ready to face, I delay writing in my Morning Pages journal because I know that I would be writing about the very thing I'm avoiding. Thankfully, the last month has taught me that writing about my concerns and fears help center me and clear my mind.

Another thing I've learned is that the way I talk to myself is sometimes terrible! Morning Pages are supposed to be your uncensored thoughts and I've noticed that I keep saying "I should be _____" or "My life should be ______." That's the root of a lot of frustration!

In some of my Morning Pages, I write to myself and I've been teaching myself kinder and more appreciative self-talk.

Finally, I've written down a lot of ideas -- for my goals, for my blog, for short stories, for what to do next. Morning Pages are not supposed to be treated like a journal; it's not even suggested that you read past entries, but I'm pretty sure my notebook is already home to a lot of creativity.

That's my latest update. I'll continue this habit and let's see where I am in six months or so.

If you'd like to do Morning Pages as well (I recommend it!) here's how, according to Julia Cameron. It's not high art!

How to stop thinking about things you want to stop thinking about

Image grabbed from clarabarm on Flickr

The other day at dinner, I asked my eleven-year-old niece what her earliest memory was. She mentioned going to Bohol and watching Dora the Explorer. I asked her what she remembered specifically, but she couldn't say.

I remember the connection between Bohol and Dora the Explorer. We were at Bohol Bee Farm, and we had gone down the cliff to the little hut on their wooden dock. Keona was probably two years old then, and she was just learning to speak. She knelt on the hut's floor, held on to the balustrade as if she were in prison, and cried out to the sea, "Ayudame!"

This was the time she'd speak snippets of Spanish, picked up from Dora and Diego. It was a funny period -- whenever she couldn't find anything, she'd tell her mommy to "Get the map!"

When we told her about this the other night, Keona said, "I don't even know what that means anymore." She's into manga now, and she's trying to learn some Japanese words.

While I know very well that childhood is the golden age for lifelong trauma, I also marvel at how quickly children can discard their old selves and create new ones. I'm generally happy to be an adult, but I wish I had retained the childlike ability to wake up one morning and just decide to be a different version of me, unencumbered by consequences and memories.

It's still probably as simple as just making the decision, but I've found that as I grow older, I often base my identity on past events. Of course, now that I'm wiser (ahem), I'm choosing to focus more on the life I want, not the life I've had or the life that has been, by default, given to me.

That conversation with Keona led to me digging up a link I'd saved from the writer Jonathan Carroll's website. To be honest, I've never read his books (he's a fantasy writer; it's not the genre I'd normally read first; I'm missing out on a lot, I'm sure), but I have been following his Facebook account and his posts on Medium because I love how he sees the world.

His post was an exchange on how to stop thinking about things you don't want to think about. You can read it here, but basically, it's about what you can do to stop thinking about things that make you feel bad, like heartbreak or fears or, in my case, past shame: SFS. Shrink, fade, swipe. Shrink the memory, watch it fade, and swipe it away.

I've been using that hack to forget some memories (many are embarrassingly trivial but have had such a huge emotional effect on me!), and it's been helpful.

Eventually, all this thinking about memory reminded me of the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which got me thinking twice about my wish to be able to erase memories when I was in my twenties and every heartbreak felt colossal.

I still have no desire to wipe out memories completely, especially after now enjoying the benefit of time. Nothing is quite as painful as they were when they happened, and I've developed a stronger capacity for pain and a richer appreciation of the seasons of life.

I don't mean to sound like an old woman -- I'm still figuring a lot of things out and there are days when I still feel evolutionally delayed -- but I've had a lot of time behind me now, and I'm finding out the wisdom in the advice I used to think was trite: "Just give it time."

So, from what I remember so far, here is how to stop thinking about things you want to stop thinking about.

1. Try the SFS method, but note that you'll need to do it several times.
2. Just give it time.
3. Remember that you wouldn't really want to erase all bad memories. Honestly, some of them are worth their weight.

Personal Journal of Althea Ricardo, B.A.

I believe I started blogging when Yahoo! launched Geocities in 1994. I'm probably not among the first bloggers in the Philippines, but I was blogging before "blog" even became a word. I was one of the multitudes inspired by Doogie Howser, M.D. to maintain a digital journal.

I've had many blogs since then. I was on Easyjournal, then Blogdrive, and I spent a few months on Livejournal before I recommitted to Blogdrive, where I already had a handful of blog friends. After a while, I made the move to Blogger (because their templates were so cool, haha), and after trying to transfer to Wordpress and Tumblr and cross-posting on Multiply, I chose to stay with Google.

I'm thinking about this now because I found my old blog posts from 2007 onward. I had a blog called "Like Endless Rain into a Paper Cup," but I moved it and made it private. To be honest, I was embarrassed to leave evidence of my emotionally turbulent and unwise 20s online. For most of the 2000s, I was half in love and half brokenhearted. By then, I knew better than to post about heartbreak in detail, but I still wrote some cryptic posts about my life drama.

When I eased into my more mature 30s, I wanted everything gone. I restarted my blog, saved the posts I liked, and then ... I just stopped blogging. I tried, but I found that I had nothing to say. My brain was overwhelmed, I think, and there were many days when I just wanted to run away from myself. Blogging is still journaling for me, and I've realized that when I blog, I am forced to look at myself. For too long, I refused to.

This time, while checking my old posts, I felt some nostalgia for the person that I was, and I half-wished I had just let my original blogs be. There are days when I wish I could read my life without missing chapters, and today is one of them.

I miss the ease with which I would write about my feelings, even the bad ones. I miss when I wasn't so self-conscious about what people could google about me online. I miss my candor and authenticity in writing. But I'm also thankful that I did not grow up in today's environment of oversharing and overexposure for bullies to screencap and share.

If I have time, and if I still feel like it, I might try to migrate my old posts to this blog. I think I'm finally done with my seemingly endless, obsessive template tweaking. For now.

Just saw: Gerald's Game (2017)

Not having read the book, I didn't know what Gerald's Game was about beyond the story of a woman, Jessie, whose husband Gerald suddenly dies of a heart attack as they were about to have kinky sex, leaving her handcuffed to the bed. Alone. In a house in a remote cabin in the woods.

I'm sure I have a copy of the Stephen King novel lying around somewhere, but I probably didn't find the premise intriguing enough to put it on top of my reading list.

I read that director Mike Flanagan carried the book with him all the time for years, hoping to convince someone to turn it into a movie. Everyone thought Gerald's Game was either unfilmable or "not a movie." Years later, Netflix happened.

It's one of the movies that I thought I could watch without paying complete attention (some horror films are like that, at least to me, and too many Stephen King film adaptations are like that), but upon seeing the ending, I regret that I missed some details. I missed out on how creepy the Moonlight Man was, and I missed the symmetry in the script.

Gerald's Game has a "locked room" set up and basically has only three actors plus a dog. A younger horror fan me might have been a little bored by it because it doesn't have a lot of action (no jump scares!), but older me shares a little bit in Jessie's psychological torment, tied to the bed as much as she is tied to a past trauma that had her repeating patterns -- a horror more real to me these days.

Attempting to escape the handcuffs becomes a deeper emotional journey for Jessie (Gerald's Game been called a feminist movie), and the dialogue (an internal monologue actually, but Flanagan has Jessie talking to her imaginary self and an imaginary Gerald) shows beautifully how she talks herself out of giving up, subverting her trauma and its consequences in her bid to survive.

And because this is a Stephen King story, the moment Jessie is about to win is also the moment that has sent some viewers -- not me -- passing out or throwing up.

It's not a perfect film -- I found some parts of it corny -- but it's one of the better film adaptations of a Stephen King work and any fan of his should not miss it. Plus, the acting's great -- Carla Gugino as Jessie is almost mesmerizing. My only complaint is that the part with the Moonlight Man could have been done better.

They should also have told us what happened to the dog. Kidding.

Because I didn't pay complete attention the first time, I watched parts of it again. Upon second viewing, Gerald's Game reminded me of one of my favorite Stephen King novels, the lesser known (and, in my humble opinion, one of the best written) Lisey's Story.

I read that Flanagan also wants a shot at turning Lisey's Story into a movie. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

Just read: The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra

To prepare for my thesis writing and revisions, I started reading short stories by Filipino authors again. As it was my latest acquisition, The Stories So Far by Jessica Zafra was on top of my pile, so I started with it.

I stopped reading Jessica Zafra's essays in the early 2000s, when I had regular access to it at the newspaper I worked for. Either I outgrew her bitchy persona or I embraced my cheerful, positive, emotional (and perhaps escapist) side -- maybe both -- but I simply lost interest, after a couple of years of following her column  as religiously as I could, given that our newspaper man didn't carry the newspaper it was in.

But I stayed a fan of her fiction writing, even if there was only one collection and even if I don't always share her worldview. Her stories are good reads -- well-formed, compelling, cerebral, strange and yet familiar, and they somehow reflect my own journey as a child of the 80s and 90s -- but sometimes they leave me tired and not liking the world. This is not a bad thing, of course; it's just a matter of preference.

Every time I read her stories,  two things happen: First, I suddenly have the urge to respond with a more encouraging fiction of my own. Second, I am reminded to revisit Luis Katigbak's Happy Endings.

Anyway, I was happy to hear she had a follow up to Manananggal Terrorizes Manila and Other Stories.

I enjoyed The Stories So Far. I especially enjoyed the stories about Jude, the smart girl with a troubled childhood. I felt like I grew up with her. However, my favorite story is "914, 915, 916," which is about the residents of a strange apartment building who share the same space but not the same time.

Stories usually earn my loyalty with lines I fall in love with. I do not particularly love Jessica Zafra's writing voice, but I admire how crisp her sentences sound when I read them out loud in my head.

Here's a part that I particularly like. It's from the story "Heavy Metal," where Jude, who we first meet in another story when she was in the third grade, is now in university and dating a bad boy straight out of the 1990s. She realizes that she doesn't know him very well after all, and he brings her to his place for the first time. I liked it because of how the sex (Jude's first time) was introduced in the cataloguing.

He takes my hand, turns it over, and kisses the palm. "You like me, don't you."

"No, I can't stand you, that's why I'm here." My mother will kill me. She's probably calling the police as we speak.

"You're a very strange girl," he smiles, which is totally unfair because there is no sarcasm to counter a smile like that.

The stairs creak. There are no curtains on the windows. There's a wooden crucifix and a poster of The Clash. The sheets on the unmade bed are striped blue and white. The springs squeak. The ceiling is eggshell white, with cobwebs. The ceiling fan is whirring. The wrapper won't rip, he has to tear it open with his teeth. Without meaning to, I start giggling. I wait for the fadeout.

I've been doing my Morning Pages



There's a book called The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. It was written to help people recover their artistic side. I haven't read it, and I didn't think I'd ever want to, but here we are.

In my 20s, I was a writer in grad school, working towards an MFA in creative writing, living and breathing, or so I thought, my art. I felt bad for older people who'd lost their way, especially those who dug into their old treasure chests to recover past glories and said, "I used to do this."

I never imagined I'd be one of them -- one of those who ended up sacrificing a passion for a job. What I didn't know then was that sacrifice can come easily, and that it's not always about trading art for a paycheck. Sometimes, you just fall for something else and neglect something you promised never to leave behind.

I love the work I've been doing and I've always felt that it afforded me enough creativity. As someone who creates learning materials, I am still writing. People are still reading what I write; in fact, to be honest, often with more attention. It is a new passion, and there have been many moments that I feel lucky that I am being paid to do something I enjoy so much.

However, I'm leaving my 30s soon and I've realized that even if I have a new affair, my old love refuses to be forgotten. In fact, I find myself thinking about creative writing more and more often.

If I were to dig into my old treasure chest, my "glory days" would probably be the time I was writing for newspapers and magazines and made very little money. I don't think I've ever explored how far I would go as a fiction writer. I didn't do workshops because I focused on earning soon after I graduated from college. I think I submitted a story once to Junior Inquirer and it was published, but that was it.

I had a dream recently, and if you've been reading all my entries, you might have seen it posted here before I deleted it. I've processed that dream since, and I suspect it's about my first love coming back to me.

Before I write about the dream, let me just say that I'm a big fan of BBC's Sherlock, especially the earlier episodes. In fact, it was because of Sherlock that I discovered Doctor Who and now I'm even a bigger fan of Doctor Who.

Anyway, in that dream, I was leaving Martin Freeman/Watson for his best friend, whom I liked before I got together with Martin. It wasn't Benedict Cumberbatch/Sherlock, and maybe it wasn't him because that dream was about going back to something I loved first without completely leaving behind someone/something I had also come to love. (With Benedict, I suspect, there would be no looking back.) A lot happened in the dream, but the prevailing feeling was that of me questioning my decisions and digesting the truth of the statement "It has always been you."

We were in high school in that dream. I was in high school when I discovered I loved words.

So, about Morning Pages. It's a tool that The Artist's Way espouses to help nurture creativity. It's basically a free writing exercise where you don't censor yourself and just write whatever comes to mind for three pages.

Like I said, I haven't read The Artist's Way yet, but I have read articles by people who've found doing Morning Pages helpful. I needed a writing habit outside of this blog, and since I don't really keep a diary, I decided to go for structure one and try doing Morning Pages.

I'm on Day 12 of daily writing and while I still have some entries where I write "I don't know what else to write," I'm finding that my mind is clearer about the things I want to do: like, I do want to work full-time a build a career in learning and development, but I also want to be a creative writer at my own pace.

If I write a single story that touches a few lives, I'd be grateful. I mean, a lot of the artists I love, I love only for one singularly stellar work.

I think I'd be fine with being that for a few people.

I've found myself remembering details -- like my previous entry -- and meaningful memories that somehow shaped my life. Maybe they'll find their way into my short stories one day.

No, scratch that -- I'm pretty sure they will find their way into my short stories one day, soon.

I had a nightmare after watching IT (2017)

I watched the last full show of IT (2017) last night. I'll write an entry on it later, but first this.

This is the nightmare I had after watching IT.

***

I dreamt that I had grabbed a cute blue-eyed white kitten through the window of a car stuck in EDSA traffic.

I was walking on the sidewalk when I saw the kitten, a family pet, about to get crushed by a reclining seat, so I reached into the car and pulled it to safety, fully intending to give it back immediately.

I knew the driver, and I had been seeing pictures of her five-year-old son and the kitten named Brutus on Instagram. She mouthed a "thank you" and reached out for the kitten, but as I tried to hand it over, the traffic lightened. I half ran beside the car, hoping to toss the kitten back in.

"Stop for a few seconds," I said to the driver. But she didn't, or couldn't, and soon she had to drive faster up the Ortigas flyover. She sped away in her BMW, leaving me standing on the sidewalk with Brutus.

I played with him a little. He liked being babied, so I cradled him in my arms and rubbed his tummy. But on the way home, I had to put him in a small cloth pouch with a plastic cover and a zipper. He went in without complaining and promptly fell asleep.

I expected a call from Brutus' family. Two days later, still no call.

Why wasn't she calling?

Also two days later, while talking to my friends, I suddenly wondered where Brutus was and realized I had forgotten to take him out of the pouch. I ran to my room.

Heart pounding, I picked up the pouch from my desk. There was no movement. When I opened it, out came the dead kitten, stiff and dry, hair still fluffy but body a bit flat. A tiny leg fell off. There was no blood, only a deflation.

I was horrified. I had no idea how to tell my friend I had killed her beloved pet! I could say he just died of natural causes, I thought to myself. Or maybe I could just say he ran away. But maybe her son needed to see little Brutus' body for a proper goodbye.

I put the tiny corpse in a shoebox, still not knowing what to say.

And why hadn't she called?

I went back to my friends, silent about my accidental murder. They were talking happily about their babies.

One of them looked up at me and asked, "So, how's my baby? Did he behave?"

I had no idea what she was talking about.

What baby?

Why was she asking me about her baby?

I woke up when I was starting to remember.

On knowing better (the first of many parts, because I'm still thinking this over)

One of the things that growing up taught me is this: One day I will surely think about a thing that hurts now and cringe over how much I allowed it to affect me.

Over the years, this has never failed.

For example:

Sometimes, I'd be filling a water bottle or cooking or doing something so mundane, and I would suddenly remember fighting with someone I thought I would love forever but very rarely think about now, more than ten years later.

It was a long-distance romance, and we fought over the telephone. We fought viciously and loudly, even when I was on the bus, or walking along Taft Avenue, or going around in a shopping mall, usually within the perceiving distance of strangers. I was in my mid-20s and troubled; that is my excuse.

The times the memory of that love resurfaces, I feel some shame in not having controlled myself better. I am quick to forgive myself, though, because who doesn't lose himself or herself when in love, and at any age?

There are things I am less self-forgiving about. In this aspect, I am still learning.

For example:

I sometimes deal with memories surfacing from a few years ago. I was so stressed over work things that I know now are not as important as I had led myself to believe.

Back then, I was already better than my twenty-something self. I was distinctly aware of the impending regret over my own actions. Still, I simply couldn't help myself. The heart know what it wants, and, at the time, it wanted to be upset. I have so many memories lurking in the dark, waiting to pounce.

There's me crying at work (twice! with two different people!) because I couldn't believe the preposterous lie someone was saying to my face. There's me accidentally making enemies because I couldn't let go of something that I felt was being wrongfully done. There's me caring too much what other people thought, because reasons.

There are more memories; some, I know, are monstrous only in my perception. Sometimes they would sneak up on me, and I'd feel the need to hide from myself because I just couldn't believe the embarrassment of the person that I was.

But growing up, I've also learned that shame is not a good feeling to store or, worse, nurture. To deal with this, I take a deep breath and tell myself this: "You are not that person anymore. Now, you know better. Now, you are better."

On many days, especially when I repeat it long enough, it helps.

What do I fear missing out on, exactly?

This morning, as in the past couple of days, I woke up, made coffee, and sat at the table to write. I wasn't very pleased with myself because, as in past countless mornings, I had spent some time, between getting up and making coffee, checking social media on my phone. Before I knew it, half an hour had gone.

I've been trying to quit Facebook for two years now. After the 2016 elections, I took a 30-day break and that has been my most successful attempt so far.

My Facebook break wasn't as productive as it was healing. I was feeling angry and also a bit betrayed by how the election campaigns were rolled out. I think that Facebook brought out the worst in people, myself included.

At the end of 30 days, I actually felt better and, strangely, more connected. But it didn't take long for me to return to my old habits. Almost as soon as I logged back in, I was back spending time on things that ultimately drained me.

I know a few people who've stayed away for six to eight months. I would love to do that, but I kept getting pulled back because of some news or other. I'm attempting another break again, hopefully for the remainder of the 2017.

It has been four days since I opened my main Facebook account. I still post and reply to comments via Hootsuite, but my hope is for my habitual posting to taper down and eventually stop, at least long enough for me to get over my fear of missing out.

I think the question that I need to ask myself is this: What do I fear missing out on, exactly?

Yesterday, I wrote that as soon as I woke up, I checked Twitter to see if the world had come to an end. I do that all the time, actually. It makes me feel updated. I am comforted to find out that nothing about today is vastly different from yesterday. It's a habit that I am convinced guards me from surprise tragedies -- personal, national, and global.

But, surely when most tragedies strike, they will wait? The truly urgent will make itself felt outside of the Internet. I must stop treating social media as some kind of police scanner for the things I worry about. It's not like I'll be a first responder anyway.

I also need to understand that sharing is not always caring -- reposting is not always a useful response -- and that being the first to know is not a measure of social awareness or social relevance.

Of course, I also use social media as a way to stay in touch with my friends. These days, while I appreciate the gift of being able to maintain contact, I'm also discovering how it has become a crutch. I have online relationships I treasure, many with people I wish I had gotten to know better when we were actually in the same physical space, but, like a true introvert, I've also learned to use social media as a way to keep people at a distance: Why meet up, haven't we been in touch?

I'm not sure I need to be updated on my loved ones' lives all the time -- or maybe I do, but I should relearn the pleasure of having them deliver the news themselves. Someone I know quit Facebook for a year because he didn't appreciate that when he got together with his friends, he already knew all their stories.

I think he was on to something. Besides, it's not nice to sum people up based on what they have chosen to share on their timelines.

Most everything can wait, I think. If it's an emergency, by the time it hits social media, it's often too late. Not everything is news, and a lot of the information I value anyway can take the slow, leisurely route in coming. They're often easier to digest and relish that way.

When you're worried about the end of the world

It may be a fixture of this mild anxiety I've been dealing with, but I start most mornings wondering if the world as I know it has finally come to an end.

Yesterday, there was a big rally protesting the government's creeping fascism and growing list of human rights abuses. It was also the 45th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law in the Philippines by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, celebrated to remind us to never let the abuses happen again.

I wasn't at the rally, but I had the TV on and I kept checking Twitter for news. It was supposed to be a peaceful show of force -- it was -- but yesterday, rumors were going around that if the rally turned violent, the president would declare Martial Law nationwide.

He could do it. And he would, too. The whole of Mindanao is under Martial Law right now because of the armed conflict in Marawi.

When I woke up this morning, I instinctively checked my phone to get updates. Everything is still the same, and -- how sad, but -- I breathed a sigh of relief. 

Leftovers

"A question that sometimes drives me hazy: am I or are the others crazy?" - Albert Einstein

At the mall yesterday, I noticed a man slip into a recently abandoned table at Jollibee and pretend that he was the original occupant so he could eat the leftover spaghetti.

I was on my way to pick something up at the nearby Mr. Quickie, but my instinct was to stop and check if he was okay and maybe offer him something.

Now, when it comes to strangers, even in what I feel to be safe public spaces, I almost never follow my instincts anymore. As quickly as my feet paused mid-stride, I picked up the pace again and completed my errand.

I hate it when I hold back on helping. I end up tortured by thoughts of my indifference or selfishness. But denying this instinct is something I need to survive or else I would end up trying to save the whole world, failing spectacularly, and destroying myself in the process.

I've learned to counter my messianic complex by considering a different version of the case story. This time, I questioned what I had seen. You're not even sure that it wasn't his table, I told myself as I went on with my day as planned, maybe you just imagined he was eating scraps. He didn't even look like a beggar.

But I saw the man again later at the food court, wandering around the tables. There would be plenty of scraps, certainly, if that was what he was looking for. The mall doesn't have trashcans, preferring to have janitors clean up after customers (this is a safety precaution, I was told years back, when bomb threats in malls were common). Basically, people just stand up and leave their plates, empty or not empty.

This time I was seated, eating some dim sum, so I was able to watch him more closely. He looked to be in his mid-50s. He had no bag. His clothes were worn, but they were clean and even color-coordinated in shades of blue. He wore imitation Crocs.

I considered his survival strategy. It was sad, but it also brilliant, if you think about it. Why rummage through trash for food when you can get leftovers from tables at fast food restaurants and food courts? If it would come to that choice for me, I'd probably hit the malls as well to retain some semblance of dignity and hygiene.

I was thinking this over when I saw the man heading quickly in my direction, a guilty look on his face, mumbling to himself and waving his hands like he was swatting at flies. He passed in front of me, scurried to the other end of the food court, and kept on walking until I lost sight of him.

He was long gone before I noticed the security guard that had been on his trail discreetly.

I wondered if someone had complained about him; I also wondered if the man wasn't just a resourceful mall scavenger after all but had mental issues as well.

And this is the end of this story.

I didn't help him. I can't say I'm sorry I didn't, but I also think I am.

You are here and warm, but I could look away and you'd be gone

One of my favorite love songs is Bob Welch's "Sentimental Lady." I love the simple but playful lyrics, and the song's melody pulls me back to a decade that exists only in my earliest of memories, completely buried beneath everything that has happened since the 80s.

I can't recall the first time I heard "Sentimental Lady." I'm sure I heard it many times on the bus, in the endless bus rides I've taken since I ventured out of Las Piñas to go to a university in Manila, then to a different one in Quezon City, in the heavy traffic of the MRT and Skyway construction. This song is a favorite among bus drivers, for sure.

I'm quite certain I didn't hear it first from my friends. None of my close friends, the ones I spent a lot of time with, listened to Fleetwood Mac or Bob Welch. Maybe I first heard it from my father? He probably sang it on videoke, and so terribly, that summer in the 90s he brought our first VCD/CD player home.

Some songs have stuck with me and they have their own stories that I can recall clearly. This song, it just feels important and as to why, this is all I have: One particular day, I heard it on the bus. The timing was perfect, something significant was happening, and I told myself: When you hear this song again, this is the moment you will remember.

Now, here's what I actually remember. I was traveling and had just had a happy moment where I felt that I had "all of the things that I said that I wanted ... fourteen joys and a will to be merry."

Maybe I was with someone I loved or came to love. Or maybe I did something for the first time. I'm sure I understood that I would never have that moment again, so as soon as the song played and I thought it so apt, I tried to commit it to memory.

But I have a lousy brain for recollection.

If I can't remember the exact thing that happened, it must have been a small event in the grand scheme of things, big only to me in a moment. I imagine now that it is equal in significance to a first sunset, shooting star or even a root beer float. But at that time, I was in the center of its magnificence and I was so certain I would always remember.

I guess, in a way, I do. When "Sentimental Lady" plays on the radio, it still serves as an anchor, more to sentiment than specific detail. I had something good and I lost it, but what was essentially good remained. That thought still warms me.

How to save yourself from drowning

First, create a pocket of air you can carry with you: a world that is your own.

It can be a temporary world, created by occasion -- your bedroom slowly filling with sunlight, the den cluttered with a hundred thousand carefully collected things, a good book you keep reading only until page 72, the evening meal of healthy fish soup you are stirring in a stainless steel pot -- but it is a world that is your own and it is not broken and, most importantly, it doesn't want to kill you.

When you need to step out, carry this world with you. Restrict when needed; open only in safe and familiar places, and even then, think twice.

In your favorite restaurant, fix it upon the comfort of the familiar flavors of the pizza and pasta on your plate. If the servers are kind, invite them in. Tip generously, if you are so inclined.

Craft it around your table in your most frequently visited coffee shop, including maybe the chair you put your bag on when the place isn't too crowded. Take pleasure in your cup of coffee. If it's a good day, get that piece of chocolate cake.

Expand it at the local mall, with the one million and one strangers who are practically your neighbors -- some of them people you could someday love -- but maybe not beyond its glass doors. Who knows what is happening outside. Remember what happened once by the fountain outside?

On the road -- on buses and trains, during cab or car rides -- keep your world as small as you need it to be. If you have no one to talk to, practice saying your thank-yous. For instance, thank you for the safe trip home, thank you that I can still come a home.  

Of course, all this will not keep you from drowning. But when the waters start to engulf you, breathe to the last drop your personal oxygen, drawn from a world that was completely your own: one which was not cruel and unjust and was filled by you with beauty and kindness and small joys and big loves.

This is what will save you.

How we spend our days

"How we spend our days, of course, is how we spend our lives," wrote Annie Dillard. When I first read that a couple of years ago, I felt a small panic rise inside me. I was always worried that I was wasting my life, and then I worried I was wasting it on worry. I resolved to not worry, at least not so much.

I remembered that line again while changing my bed yesterday evening, as I was stuffing pillows into frayed pink pillowcases. I noticed my pillows were starting to look yellow and as I was trying to remember when I bought them, I suddenly became irritated that they needed replacing so soon.

A couple of months ago, I'd read on a website that you need to replace your pillows every three months. That evening, I found the mere thought of it exhausting: Every three months, you need to consider pillows. You are supposed to do this four times a year for as long as you live, or for as long as you choose to have pillows, which is pretty much the same thing for me.

One of the disappointments adulthood brought me was the work of maintenance. I loved the concept of continuous improvement, of walking steadily and even slowly on an upward path, but maintenance was like treading water. Part of me found it unfair.

The way I saw it, you reach a goal, even one as small as owning a pillow, and that should be enough, any work related to it forever crossed off your to-do list, never needing to be revisited in order for you to stay where you are, as you are. Movement was for improvement, not status quo.

This is how my brain works, and this is why mindfulness appeals to me. It's still a struggle to be in the present (especially when you know that four months after buying a pillow, you need to repeat the same process all over again, and again), but it has been helping me a lot.

So, as I finished putting my pillows in pillowcases, I took a deep breath and told myself, "I am making my bed. I have pillows." It was enough, for the moment.

I'm still slow to accept that life is a lot of maintenance work, but I'm getting there. Some of the work, like nurturing relationships, are always tiring but enjoyable for me. Some of the work, like working through differences with people, is hard and exhausting. And some of the work, like replacing pillows, can seem so meaningless, but it's work you are glad you did when you rest your tired head on a fluffy pillow at night.

Being mindful is important. And so is intention. To go back to the metaphor of treading water (which is actually a poor one for me, because I don't swim) the most I can do is be intentional about the bodies of water I immerse myself in. And I remind myself constantly that I love a nice bed with soft, clean pillows and that I am willing to do the maintenance work that requires.

I'm going back to the start

Maybe it's because I'm nearing a milestone birthday or maybe it's because it's the monsoon season, but I've once again been feeling the urge to clean up. We have only two seasons in the Philippines, wet from June to October and dry from November to May, and the coming of rain has always been my version of spring.

I've been doing the easiest purging: of my possessions. It's slow going because my attachment to things is tinged with a dash of anthromorphism (e.g., How can I send away my pens when they've been very loyal friends?) and most everything I have, even the -- especially the -- rattiest shirt I sleep in, sparks joy. But when I do manage to let go and find new homes for my most loved things, I welcome the change in the space and shift in the energy.

I may not be Kondo-ing, but I've always subscribed to the idea that space clearing is energy clearing. And I'm in an endless cycle of hoard and purge, define and edit, collect and curate, create and erase, my summer of discontent and the rain that washes it away. I like to imagine that it's because I was born in the sign of water and that's where I feel my best, and maybe the real reason is as dramatic as that but not about sailing on the bright clear water.

I've also begun some digital purging. I've deleted some accounts; made some private; stepped away, in a way, from others. I want to hear my voice again amidst all the noise.

Anyway, this is just to say that I've archived all my old posts so I can write again. Forgive me; it was a long time coming.

"Even love’s lightning flash has no thunderous end"

Endings
By Derek Walcott

Things do not explode,
they fail, they fade,

as sunlight fades from the flesh,
as the foam drains quick in the sand,

even love’s lightning flash
has no thunderous end,

it dies with the sound
of flowers fading like the flesh

from sweating pumice stone,
everything shapes this

till we are left
with the silence that surrounds Beethoven’s head.

What happens when you show up in life

A couple of weeks ago, I had to go to Benilde for the second day in a row for yet another transaction that would take less than half an hour. I live two hours away, traffic-wise, and I was a little frustrated that I had to go back. I've been holed up in Las Piñas City most days, thankful that I don't need to make any long commutes just yet, and I dreaded wasting a full day to do something I could have done in half a day if I'd been properly informed of the accounting office's schedule.

But anyway  --

To psych myself up, I decided to make a little food trip out of my excursion into the city of Manila: I decided to look for The Counselor's Cafe, this little vegetarian cafe near The Adventist Hospital in Pasay that I'd read about, and have an early dinner there.

So I went to Benilde, applied to graduate, and then took a jeep to Buendia, from where I walked to where Google Maps told me the cafe would be. It wasn't likely, but I hoped I wouldn't run into anybody I knew.

These days, I've been happily on introvert mode, talking only to close friends, but I've also been wary that I was getting used to being in a little bubble again. I know I need to be "out there" for my career, for my personal growth, for my relationships, and I always remind myself to do the work.

That particular day, however, since I was already stretching my personal geography, I wasn't looking to stretch my comfort zone, people-wise. 

Of course, with new places come new people. And I was reminded of that soon enough.

The cafe was empty when I walked in, and I was thrilled to be alone. But I had arrived early, and as soon as dusk settled, people started coming in. I had a big table all to myself, and as I was eating, an elderly gentleman, neatly dressed and looking very healthy, asked if he could share my table. 

I smiled, nodded, and soon we were immersed in the smallest talk: he said that he was eating seaweed because it was healthy, that he didn't want to eat too much (meaning he would be leaving the baked beans the waitress gave him untouched, while I was almost done polishing off a plate of red rice and tofu sisig and a side order of nachos, washing them down with a strawberry banana shake) because he was watching his health. He also told me that it had started raining. 

I worried about staying longer than intended -- I had wanted to leave before dark because Pasay City was unfamiliar territory and I'd have to walk back alone to Taft Avenue -- but he was a really pleasant man, so I lingered awhile and got up to leave only when he found someone else to talk to.

Before leaving, I passed by the store in front of the cafe to get some vegetarian sausages. The elderly lady manning the store was also very friendly. She asked me whether it was my first time to visit the cafe, and when I said it was, asked how I had come to hear of it. She thanked me for visiting, talked to me about their business hours (they're closed on Saturdays before sunset), and said she hoped I'd come back. For sure, I said.

While we chatted, a girl who was sitting by the door joined in. I'd seen her come in earlier; like me, she had also eaten alone. "Are you going to walk out?" she asked me. When I said yes, she asked, "Can I share your umbrella?" I had a small umbrella, but it wasn't raining that hard and she seemed like a nice person, so I said, okay.

She held my arm as we walked. I didn't mind so much because it kept us both dry. Besides, I welcomed the company since the street, while not really crowded, was already a little dark. I said I was walking to Taft, and she said she just needed to get to her car, which was on the way. 

She told me about herself as we walked in the rain. She was flexitarian for health (eats vegetarian mostly, but also fish and chicken, rarely), worked in BGC but studied law in a school nearby, and was happy to have found The Counselor's Cafe because they served good, healthy food. When we finally got to her car, she already felt like a friend.

On the bus ride home, I felt like I'd had a full, productive day, that I wasn't even the same person who'd left home. My world was a little bigger, my heart a little more fuller. I hadn't counted on meeting new people, and while the people I did meet were people I'd most likely never see again (except, perhaps, the lady at the cafe), they'd somehow changed my life forever. All because I'd decided to make a little adventure out of what would have been merely a dreadful chore.

Sweet, corny

I'm so sorry, I couldn't resist the title!

Whenever I go to Manila, I find myself craving street food, usually bananacue, turon and sweet corn. I think it's because when we were kids, we would go with my mother to UP Manila when she was still a graduate student there, and she would often buy us these snacks. I didn't care much for the city--it was too busy and dark and dirty for me--but I looked forward to merienda and I eventually associated any trip to Manila with street food.

When I was a student at DLS-CSB SPACE recently, I'd often buy sweet corn from this old lady who parks her cart in front of a 7-11. I'd buy more than one cob, one for me to eat on the bus and the rest to bring home. This old lady was unfailingly pleasant and accommodating, and she always remembered not to put any margarine on the corn and to salt only one of them, the one I would eat on the bus.

Tonight, since I was already in the Starbucks at the corner of Taft and Vito Cruz, I decided to walk in the opposite direction, to the Rizal Coliseum, to find someone selling corn.

I came upon this old man manning a cart. He smiled when I ordered four cobs, and smiled again, apologetically this time, when he said he could only give me three because the rest of the corn wasn't ready yet.

I said three was okay, and watched as he shucked three corn cobs and slid them into transparent plastic bags. I couldn't help but notice his hands. Like those of many of the street vendors I'd bought corn from, his hands were red and thick, toughened, I suppose, by constantly handling hot wares. He could dip his hands into the bucket of steaming water and take out bushels of corn.

As I paid, I asked if anyone else nearby was selling corn.

He smiled, this time a little shyly, and said his wife was selling corn at the 7-11 near the school.

"That nice lady is your wife?" I replied, "I usually buy from her, but this time I was on this side of Taft so I came here. But I almost always buy from her!"

This time he smiled with pride, with love in his eyes. "Yes, that's my wife."

As I walked to my bus, I imagined them holding each other's hands, hands that were red and tough and very much loved.

Give me a memory I can use

On the first day of this new year, I made spaghetti with tomato and basil. While preparing the ingredients, I decided to play some music (normally I watch FRIENDS on iflix, but I had mutilated a finger that way). I had only Adele's 25 in my phone, and as I was chopping onions, "All I Ask" came on.

So there I was, with chemically-induced tears in my eyes, and the lines "Give me a memory I can use, take me by the hand while we do what lovers do. It matters how this ends ..." started playing. I was hunked over the chopping board, wiping away tears, when my brother came in.

What the hell are you crying about, he asked. He left before I could answer.

I'm suddenly recalling this memory, over a week later, because I'm making the same pasta dish right now. And I'm also thinking "... what if I never love again?"

Haha.

Thank you and goodbye, 2016!

Things I gave up in 2016: blind faith in humans (even when I still choose to see the good), blanket dislike of some humans (um, thanks for the lesson, Lacson), following newspapers on social media, my low estimation of the extent of my gullibility (I am not so smart!), collecting Starbucks stickers for a planner I never really use, high heels (except maybe wedges), my fear of bangs, FOMO especially when it comes to food, a career path in professional writing (will still write for both fun and money but it won't be my day job), the notion that FRIENDS is better than HIMYM, respect for the man Jessica Zafra considered her mentor, my firm decision to make this lovely country my only home, my fear of dirty diapers (just do it; you're allowed to use a mask), the need to convince people I'm a good person.

There's more for sure; it was a year as well for little deaths and shedding. But I need coffee now.