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Goodbye, yellow brick road


I didn't grow up listening to Elton John. He was already a big star when I was born, but the first grown-up songs I listened to were from vinyl records my parents, both born in the early 1950s, had in our record player. It was mostly music from The Carpenters, The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel, and Peter, Paul & Mary.

What I did grow up with, as far as Sir Elton John is concerned, is this line, forever carved into the road in front of our house, under the streetlight: "GOODBYE YELLOW BRICK ROAD."

For as long as I can remember, it has always been there, a curious phrase I'd stumble upon every now and then--first, in my younger years, when I had friends to play with in the streets; these days, when I occasionally venture out into the world and pause to look at my feet.

At first I didn't know it was a line from an Elton John song. I initially thought it was merely a The Wonderful Wizard of Oz reference, and I wondered about the boy--I just assumed it was a boy around my age--who dared write the words in wet cement and managed to not leave a single footprint. We had read the same book; if I we met, would we become friends?

When I was a little older, I started imagining it was a message from someone who knew the truth about our neighborhood: that underneath the rough concrete, made even rougher by tiny potholes and bits of dried cement left over from various house extension projects, was an actual golden road that led to the magical Land of Oz. They, whoever they were, had covered it up so nobody could find it, and yet one of them wrote the line so somebody magical--hopefully, me--would.

But then I grew up and the Internet happened, and one day, I typed the words in my computer and learned it was an Elton John song. Or maybe I grew up and videoke happened, and one day, I heard someone singing the words, recognized them, and discovered they were from an Elton John song.

I'm not really sure anymore how I made the connection. But even after I did, it took me a while to really listen to the song, and an even longer while--only tonight, in fact, when I was taking notes for a short story I am trying to write--to paint in my mind another picture of the person who may have written it.

He must have been one of the workers who built the road in the late 70s or early 80s, the period our subdivision was carved out from grassland and sold in lots to people who came in from a scattering of elsewheres.

He may have wanted to leave a mark on the product of his heavy labor. Instead of writing his name or the name of someone he loved on the drying cement, he must have settled on a line from his favorite song.

Listening to the song now, I wonder: Was he being quite literal, saying goodbye to the road, to the construction project, to the temporary job?

Or was he really feeling the song, wishing he had stayed on the farm, listened to his old man? Was he planning to go back to his plough? Had he finally decided that his future lay beyond whatever was his personal yellow brick road?

How much do you love me?

This morning, I asked my niece Kiara how much she loved me. "Eleven times," she said. "Only eleven?" I asked, and she said, with finality, yes.

I normally tease her until she gives me a bigger number, but she is four now, developing a mind of her own, and I decided to accept what she was willing to give.

This afternoon, as I was walking away from their house after dropping her off, she ran to the window and called out, "Auntie Dat!" "Yes?" I shouted back.

"I love you one hundred two times!" she shouted from the top of her tiny lungs, so loud the entire block could hear, "I miss you! I love you!"

The summer I learned sign language

When I was 16, I learned American Sign Language from a deaf guy named Larry, who was then a student at De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde. We were in Ozamiz, holding summer workshops at ICC-La Salle.

It's still one of my best summers, for many reasons, one of which involves a ghost encounter!

Larry wasn't supposed to teach ASL, but he volunteered to teach us. We finished all 12 modules, and I was amazed at how, as Larry taught us his language, he became more and more colorful in my eyes. He was a wonderful teacher, strict and funny and a little naughty when we were more fluent.

I found learning the signs easy, but I struggled with interpreting them in conversation, so after that summer, I forgot pretty much everything, except the name he gave me: the letter D, for my nickname Dat, dotting both my chubby cheeks.

Actually, he gave me two names: the letter D moving down in waves for my curly hair or the letter D on my cheeks. He smiled when we settled on cheeks, and I was just relieved he wasn't referring to my pimples!

I saw Larry in CSB last year, but he didn't see me. I wanted to say hi or hello (I still know how to sign that!), but I hesitated and the hesitation won.

Might as well, I told myself as I walked away. How on earth could I ask him if he remembered me, and if he didn't, how on earth could I tell him how he once spent several days in Ozamiz, silently changing how I saw the world?

Happy birthday, Stephen King, and how's the next book going, Mr. Martin?

While posting about Stephen King's birthday, I wandered into George R.R. Martin's Facebook page, wondering why I couldn't tag it the way I was able to tag King's. I scrolled down his timeline and found a throwback picture of GRRM as a zombie chewing on one of his books.

One comment said it was a scene from the future, when the "Winds of Winter" would have already been released. Someone else replied, "Never gonna happen."

I felt my heart break a little at the thought. I can't imagine not ever finishing reading "A Song of Ice and Fire," especially with the way the last season of Game of Thrones was written, despite its recent Emmy wins.

I got into ASOIAF very late, but I fell fast and hard. I'd never been into medieval epic fantasies before, but GRRM pulled me in completely. It was a whirlwind affair that brought back the geek in me.

But I guess this is how to love. We get to enjoy the ride, with no guarantees of an ending.

"For remember"

It was my second year in UP. While I was walking to the jeepney stop after a late afternoon class, two Korean men stopped me and talked to me, with a hint of urgency and desperation, in Korean. They'd been trying to catch the attention of other UP students, and none had given them the time of day until I came along, looking, at least in their eyes, all Korean-like.

Seriously, for some reason, they thought I was Korean. I know this because they kept saying, "You Korean? You Korean?"

They were disappointed to find out I wasn't. I felt bad for them, and my messianic complex kicked in, so I stayed to talk, even if it was getting dark. They barely spoke English, but I somehow understood they had gone straight to UP Diliman from the airport, left their bags at the kiosk across CAL, and started looking for somebody to help them find a place to stay. They were in UP to take English classes.

I couldn't get any more information beyond that, so I brought them to the College of Education, where they said the classes would be held. I had also seen posters in both Korean and English looking for Korean boarders. There was a name of a contact person at Educ and the phone number of the boarding house.

When we got to Educ, the person wasn't there or was busy, so I asked to use the phone instead. I called the boarding house, asked for any Korean available to come to phone, then handed the phone to the two men. They were so relieved to be able to explain their predicament to someone who could understand, and they were given directions to the boarding house. Good thing, too, because by the time we were done, it was dark.

I quickly walked them back to the kiosk, where, to my relief, I discovered that several students (either members of the UP Mountaineers or a frat) had watched over their things without having been asked. The Koreans and I exchanged names, and they asked for my contact details. We didn't have cellphones back then, but I gave them my home number.

They wrote down their names and home addresses in my notebook, all in Korean. Then, they gave me Korean coins. I didn't want to accept their money, but they were insistent. "For remember," one of them said, as the other tried to explain to me the conversion rates.

I thought that was the end of that.

A few months later, I heard from them--specifically from the guy who said "for remember." It probably wasn't the first time he called, but it was the first time he managed to leave me a message asking me to call their boarding house.

At first I didn't want to--I was shy--but then Filipino hospitality kicked in, and so I did. His English was better. He said they wanted to meet me and treat me to dinner.

It was quite a stretch for me, but I agreed to meet them outside the UP Film Center. I was expecting to have a quick catch-up at The Chocolate Kiss, but they wanted to go to SM North, eat at McDonald's, and watch a movie. Before I could explain that I actually wasn't very familiar with SM North, they flagged a taxi, and off we went.

They reintroduced themselves to me with their English names, names they'd chosen for their English class. The one who had invited me out said his new name was Rocky. When I asked him why, he acted out shooting a machine gun like Sylvester Stallone. The other guy was simply Michael.

We had a fun dinner, during which they told me their ages (if I remember correctly, Rocky was 24 and Michael was 27). They were studying again. Michael was taking up mechanical engineering; Rocky, business. They'd just completed mandatory military service. They didn't have wives or girlfriends.

Watching the movie, on the other hand, was kind of awkward. They didn't understand most of it. We watched Disney's "Peter Pan," if I'm not mistaken, and I can't remember why it was showing; it wasn't even new. We entered the cinema halfway through the movie, and they didn't know that we could stay to watch the first half. As soon as credits rolled, they stood up to leave, and I was too late to tell them we could stay.

As we walked outside SM North, Rocky asked if I could give him English lessons. I said I couldn't, because I had no idea how to teach English and I felt that I would be a terrible English teacher. You'll find a much better teacher in UP, I told him. Then I said goodbye.

I think I heard from him at least one more time, before I was swallowed into an organization called UP Quill. After that, I never saw or talked to them again. I didn't think about them much either, but for years I kept their coins, wrapped in a piece of paper with their real names in Korean and their addresses in Seoul.

Funny, because I didn't think anything of him then, but thinking about Rocky now, I feel like I missed something worth exploring, something that may or may not have been love.

Dream: The one that I let get away

I dreamt that I was at an old house that we'd converted into some sort of headquarters for work, and an English man dropped by with his five-year-old adopted son. The man was Neil Gaiman, maybe 10 to 15 years younger. He was also single.

The little boy was cute and playful, and I watched over him as Neil and my colleagues did some work together. I overheard interesting bits and pieces of their conversation, and I joined in.

Soon the two of us were bantering, and I was being extra witty (and also very cute, since this is my dream after all) despite his very English humor (and Aussie accent; I realize I don't know what the real Neil Gaiman sounds like).

"You guys should start dating," one of my colleagues said, "You seem to have amazing chemistry."

I said no way, but only because I was mortified. I mean, this was still work and hello, this was Neil Gaiman.

He grinned at me and said, "Do you want to bet that it won't work out between us?" I was confused, so I responded with a laugh. "Let's make a bet--give me your number," he said.

I laughed again, still confused. When I didn't budge, he asked for it again. "Oh, you were serious?" I asked. He smiled flirtatiously, and I was a little dizzy as I entered my number in his phone.

Then he and his son said goodbye to us, because they needed to get breakfast. He gave me one last look and signaled that he'd call me. As they walked away, I was thinking, "Oh my god, is Neil Gaiman going to be my boyfriend?"

My colleague told me to go after them. I said no. I had work, and I didn't want to rush things. But we did watch them walk away.

Outside the old house was a movie theater. A long queue had already formed for some big Hollywood movie. A beautiful woman in the middle of the line recognized Neil and ran after them to introduce herself.

She asked how he was finding the Philippines, then asked him where he was going next. He said he and his son were off to look for breakfast. She said she knew the perfect place and described how to get there and how good the food was.

"Would you care to join us?" Neil asked.

The woman did, never mind that she already had a movie ticket. I watched them walk away.

"This is why you are single," the narrator in my dream said.

Grass does not strain to grow

Ginger and turmeric from our urban garden

I was chatting with a dear old friend yesterday, and he pointed out that he could feel I was "in resistance mode." In life coaching terms, it means that I am going against whatever good that flows.

I do get my moments. Sometimes, it's whole stretches of time. I could beat myself up over the time I've wasted--and I would too--but I need to shift, pronto.

Perhaps it's because I've turned 40. I'd never been one of those women who felt the need to hide their age. I thought I'd never really care about growing older--I know so many women 40 and above who just got even more amazing as they put on the years--and to some extent, I still don't, but I'm suddenly hit by this existential anxiety.

I keep wondering: Am I doing what I was meant to do? What verse do I contribute to this powerful play? Is there a point to all this? And if there isn't, why do I feel like I need to contribute nevertheless?

I still have no answers. But I don't want to overthink it anymore.

The other day, I went out to our small garden, overflowing with plants because of the rains, and I was reminded again that "grass does not strain to grow."

We'd planted some turmeric and ginger rhizomes a couple of months ago, and there they were, full-grown plants, bulging out of their pots. From a store-bought ginger that we planted because it had started to sprout, we now have a several ginger roots, waiting to be harvested.

I planted an additional two dozen or more turmeric rhizomes. They had been our harvest from a few months ago, and they'd just stayed in a basket, almost forgotten. One day, they decided to sprout.

I am not the world's best gardener, but gardening appeals to me because it reminds me all the time of how little effort--and by this, I mean resistance--there should be in what one does.

If the space is right, the plant will grow. That is all there is to it. That is all I need to know.

Why bother?

On a whim, I decided to tinker with this blog's template once again. I ended up not changing much, preferring the old look. I still think I have nothing much to say, but I consider it a sign that I came across this quote on Facebook.

 

A love story

This would've been okay as a tweet, but I prefer to put it here, on this day that perhaps someone else's beautiful love story has officially begun.

In Starbucks, a chatty little girl, maybe four, nags her mother. "Mommy, tell me a story. Tell me the happiest story. What's your happiest story?"

The mother says, "Look at daddy."

Goodbye; it was nice to know you

Looking through my old blog posts (the ones I've decided to keep) and scrolling down my Facebook timeline (as I debate whether to delete my account or not), I saw interactions with people I no longer interact with, either by choice or by chance.

I didn't even know then that that would be the last time I'd be interacting with them or posting about being with them.

It makes me feel sad, actually, how people come into your life and make you happy, and then you somehow hurt each other, and then all you have left is evidence that at one point in life, it was good between the two of you.

Still, it is what it is. I have these happy memories that don't make a monster out of me and a monster out of you.

Two (blogs) become one

I suppose it requires some amount of courage to face the failed parts of yourself. And then it takes even more courage to accept those parts.

This is my dramatic way of saying I've decided to merge my old blog with this relatively new one, partly because I am tired of searching for stuff I remember writing but feared I'd deleted and partly because I'm sick of hiding what feels like a dirty past but is really a dreary one.

There's a lot to clean up, like cryptic posts to lost loves, dead links, embedded flash videos, and announcements to my Multiply (+) friends. 

There's a lot that makes me cringe. The earliest posts date from 2007 and I was naive and (more) dramatic and had a (higher) tendency towards self-reflection and self-analysis-paralysis.

I want to kick myself for the many times I swore I'd finally finish my MFA throughout the years!

But I also regret many of the entries I lost, partly because I didn't back up my Multiply properly and partly because every so often I'd feel like erasing my life and the personal blog, started in the late 1990s, was always the first to go. 

Anyway, no promises, but here we are.

If you ever had something that you wanted to say

Yesterday, I reminded a good friend of her blog. She thanked me for the reminder and replied, "These days, I feel like I have nothing much to say."

That is exactly how I feel as well. And it is why this blog--and my writing--is barely alive.

I feel like ever since social media gave everyone a platform, if you intend to write something and share it, you better make sure it's worth disturbing what ever silence there is left.

But shouldn't that be the goal of any creative writing endeavor? Isn't that why we strive for literature?

And now I'm suddenly reminded of this poem.

How to Be a Poet
(to remind myself)
By Wendell Berry

Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.

ii

Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.

iii

Accept what comes from silence.
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came. 

Pensieve


I recently went to the mall to meet an old friend. After the meetup, I happened upon this accessories store that was on sale. Against my better judgment--I'd recently thought of renewing my commitment to be minimalist--I decided to take a look inside the shop.

I ended up buying something: a silver sand dollar ring. I didn't need another ring, for sure, but I fell in love with this particular ring because it reminded me of something I did in the past for someone I loved: I collected sun-bleached sand dollars on a beach off Puerto Princesa so I could share a bit of paradise with him.

Many of the sand dollars didn't survive the plane ride to Manila. What was left of them disintegrated in the mail, and the recipient, while grateful and touched, didn't, couldn't, really appreciate the grandness of my gesture.

That was how I loved back then: romantic and impractical, thoughtful and contrived. How I threw myself into love!

I don't miss it, and I do.

On sitting with the discomfort

Yesterday, I ended up doing more work because someone didn't do a job well. I felt angry; my instinct was to lash out at the person, completely convinced that it would lighten my emotional load.

But I remembered these two things:

1. A quote from this excellent essay by Internet hacktivist Aaron Swartz.
In moments of great emotional stress, we revert to our worst habits: we dig in and fight harder. The real trick is not to get better at fighting — it’s to get better at stopping ourselves: at taking a deep breath, calming down, and letting our better natures take over from our worst instincts.
 2. This expression that I see often in discussions on mindfulness, meditation, and yoga:
Sit with the discomfort.
Or, in this context, sit with the uncomfortable feeling. So I did.

I still ended up doing the work, but at least I was no longer doing it upset.

Purposeful whimsy

Whenever I try to picture the kind of life I want to create this year, I always end up thinking of teacups, delicate ones made of porcelain or bone china, with pretty flowers and edges gilded with gold.

I see myself drinking tea or coffee in them, gracefully holding the saucer, even. There are no sandwiches, scones or cake in the picture, because while I do drink tea and coffee, I am not really one who actually does tea, you know?

There's a word I discovered when I was working in media many years ago: aspirational. I still can't use it with a straight face, but maybe this dainty teacup I keep envisioning is exactly that, aspirational for me.

What words do I associate with this teacup? Elegance and design. Beauty. And also purposeful whimsy.

I'm also reminded of criticism--the kind you want when you want to improve as a writer--I received at a class writing workshop many years ago: Your words are beautiful, but they say nothing at all.

A teacup is beautiful and elegant in its service.

***

Yesterday, while organizing our bathroom shelf, I realized I don't like decorative soap. I mean soap that is molded in shapes like seashells, animals or, worse, flowers.

Their design defeats their purpose.

They look sad within a couple of uses and they're uncomfortable to scrub your hands with. As d├ęcor, they gather dust. As fragrance, most of them quickly lose scent.

What is the use of it, really.

***

I have three miniature teacups, all gifts or souvenirs. Today, I planted sansevieria in the remaining two.

We are off to a slow start, 2018

Last night, I dreamt that I was in the United States with some people, including a boy I liked years ago, someone I was interested in again. We were all staying in a relative's house; the family was out of the country and had invited us to use their home.

All of us were friendly, but we weren't exactly traveling together. I had my own plans, including reunions with other friends I didn't share with them. However, as people who find themselves together tend to do, everyone started planning as a group: tours, night outs, shows. I hesitated; I always start out wanting to do my own thing, not following anyone else's agenda.

But when they invited me to a barbecue night in the backyard, I looked at the boy I liked shyly and thought: This is a good way to get to know him better. I imagined the two of us chatting on the porch, laughing over drinks and maybe liking each other a little bit more.

I ran off to my room and took a shower. Before dressing, I decided to lie down in bed for a few minutes. It was morning when I woke up, still with bathrobe on and a towel wrapped around my hair. Barbecue night was over; I had lost my chance.

That was the end of the dream.

I woke up a little upset at myself. Later, when I shared this dream with friends, I wondered: Do I feel bad because I am so slow at everything?

Years ago, I tried to make a vision board, but I couldn't fill it up. Someone I went to grad school with scoffed at it and said, "Dagdagan mo naman ang mga pangarap mo." Add to your dreams; have more ambition; be more; do more.

Lately, I've been rethinking this idea of "more."

One of the articles I read last year that left an impression asked this question: What if All I Want is a Mediocre Life? Of course, the writer doesn't really want a mediocre life. She wants a small, slow, simple one and she defines it for herself and declares it enough.

That's something that I am committed to this year, but it's also something I'm slow at defining. But I'm getting there. I'm getting there.