Showing posts from October, 2017

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

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 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.