Saturday, September 30, 2017

She and her cup of coffee

When I think of you, I often end up thinking of how gracefully you hold your coffee cup with your finger, as if your touch were a kiss.

And I envy your romance with objects, how you seem to draw out the secret beauty of everyday things.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

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.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

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.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

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. 

Thursday, September 21, 2017

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.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

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 PiƱas 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.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

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.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

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.

Monday, September 4, 2017

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.