Showing posts from December, 2020

The work for which all other work is but preparation

I've been thinking, off and on, of something I once read: The purpose of marriage is not happiness but holiness. Never having been a "good" Christian despite my many attempts, I couldn't understand this line of thinking. Having been raised Catholic, I understood "holiness" to have as one of its main ingredients sufferingand why even want to get married if to be successful at it means to suffer?

But these words never left me, bobbing up every now and then from the flotsam and jetsam of my brain. Until, one day, it dawned on me what the statement meant for me. On that same day, I also realized that I do want the gift of marriage. In fact, that is my Christmas wish this year. 

My view is not a biblical view, but I don't think it strays too far from it. To be holy is to be set apart from others, as God is, in his perfect goodness and righteousness, in his perfect love (yes, this is biblical; yes, I know I said I wasn't looking at it biblically). 

The way I'm seeing this now is that the purpose of marriage is to perfect your loveand there's a lot of work that comes with that: work you do on yourself, work you do for the relationship, work you do to love the other properly. 

Perfect love is unconditional love, and in the past I only understood that to mean you love the other anyway, but now I see better that it means your life (your success, your joys, your everything) is not contingent upon anything that has to do with the other. 

The other is free to be, free of the burden of you, and yet loved by you. That is perfect love, the kind of love that is set apart. 

Happiness, though not the purpose, is the byproduct. 

Still walking this way

Looks like Christmas is still on

My favorite exercise is walking, which, at least for me, is both exercise for the body and the mind. I don't do it often because I don't feel comfortable walking in our villageI could make a long list of things that make walking unenjoyable where I livebut I've decided to give it another shot, because this pandemic has had me getting used to being locked in my small house and I hardly get any exercise. 

The beautiful thing about walking, at least for me, is that as soon as I do it, I am reminded that I do enjoy it, no matter where I am. In college, I walked often from La Salle to CCP and from La Salle to Lawton. When I transferred to UP Diliman, my friends and I would walk from our tambayan beside the now gone FC building to wherever, often Philcoa. When I worked for The Philippine STAR, I'd often walk from Port Area through Intramuros to Liwasang Bonifacio, where I'd catch the bus home.

For a couple of years, I lived in Sampaloc, and I walked on a flooded España Boulevard from Welcome Rotonda to my apartment on Forbes Street (which was actually renamed Arsenio H. Lacson Street in the early 70s, but nobody called it that; they called it Por-bes which I kept pronouncing as Forbes should be pronounced on jeepney rides and nobody jeepney driver ever got me. But I digress.)

So, walking. The longest I've walked in Manila is still during the EDSA 2 revolution, and even then, as we were demanding Pres. Joseph Estrada to resign, I enjoyed seeing the sights along the way from the EDSA Shrine to Shakey's Quirino, I think, where my friend and I decided to hole up in because we'd heard that the rally was going to Malacañan Palace but Erap had already said he was leaving. We were tired and hungry (and hangry) from having been at the Shrine since the day before, so we ditched the rally for an airconditioned and empty Shakey's and was treated to news on TV of Erap exiting the Palace.

When I lived in Project 4, I walked to establishments along Katipunan Extension, like Countryside Restaurant and Kopi Roti and Route 196, and once to White Plains Avenue for a Marcos is Not a Hero rally in 2016. I wished I could walk to Eastwooddistance wasn't the issue; safety was. 

I wish walking around Manila were similar to, say, walking in Paris or Manhattan. But as Carlos Celdran kept saying, if you look close enough, you can still see the city's beauty. I guess that's what walking has done for me: It has taught me the art of looking close enough.

I've been looking closely in my neighborhood again, and taking bad pictures of things I found beautiful. As soon as I stepped out of the house, I saw that our bougainvillea tree was in full bloom after its extreme Typhoon Ulysses trim. Then there was that small brown dog the was on a roofnot a balcony, mind you, but an actual roof--watching me walk by. One of the houses I passed had a collection of hibiscus planted along the fence and they all had flowers. Things like that make my walks interesting.

And then there are the people. Sometimes, at our village commercial centerthe point of my walk where I turn backI buy things, like food or lottery tickets. The other day, I lingered around the lotto stall, and when I finally decided to get a ticket, the man manning the booth saw the shapeless bag I had slung across my chest and told me to roll the piece of paper so it wouldn't get crumpled. It's important to not get it crumpled, he said, his voice both gentle and wise.

That same day, I decided to buy some barbecue at the stall along the village church's creek, seeing that there weren't any people. My bill was P52, but she smiled and charged me only P50. Tonight, my bill was P61, and when I struggled with finding the right coin in my purse, she laughed and said to give her P60.

What I miss is smiling, albeit shyly, at people and making painfully awkward stabs at small talk. Things are more difficult now that I have to wear a face mask and a face shield, and, of course, with this virus basically a talking disease. 

But at least there's still a world to go out to, and I'm hoping so profoundly that it will open up again soon. In the meantime, I'll continue taking walks and looking closelyenough to keep on hoping.        

Here I go, again

The nice thing about digging up my early writings is that I am reminded of how I used to write just because it felt fun. I have several diskettes I can no longer open that I'm sure contains stuff I'd be happy to read, but I don't have the technology to do so anymore. I'm hopeful I still have dot matrix printouts somewhere, but I also did go through a phase of self-hatred where I destroyed a lot of the things I wrote, including early diaries.

I used to write for fun, imagine that. It really feels like so long ago, a different life ago. I'd just open a notebook or switch on the computer and start to write. I didn't write a lot of fiction, so I'm now wondering why I tried to focus on the short story in grad school. Maybe it's because "creative non-fiction" wasn't a thing then, and essay writing was something that felt academic. 

Sometimes, I still feel like writing for fun. I think that's why I still busy myself with this blog, even if it doesn't have a lot of readers and I promote it only minimally. Sometimes, it still feels fun. I'm doing it because I enjoy it; I do it for myself. 

I think what ruined me, at least partially, was that I started writing for profit, which I still want to do, but not in the way I was doing it. I had to think of how the piece would make money for someone (I did a lot of marketing writing), and then eventually, my brain started focusing on what I felt I needed to say for others and not what I had to say for myself.

I think I've said it here before, or at least I've said it to someone else: I am blocked because I feel like I have nothing to say. A few days ago I came upon this quote:

“Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.” - Barbara Kingsolver

So now I'm using this time to figure out what I have to say. I've started a little writing project (also for myself) to see exactly what I have to offer. It's one of the things I'm doing for Advent.

I know Advent resolutions are not a thing, but I did well with my Lenten resolution to stay away from Facebook, so now I've pledged to do some things in preparation for Christmas, and when I say Christmas, I mean the gift that I have humbly and faithfully asked for myself. 

My other Advent resolutions cover my overall well-being. I'll probably give updates from time to time, but I've looked at my blog archives and the posts I hate are those about my unfocused efforts to change my life, so maybe not so much. 

But I have to tell myself that it's okay to stop and start. Because here I go, again.

"And whatever I do will become forever what I’ve done"

Sometimes I wish I could relive certain moments and choose differently how to react. But it is what it is, and, at least in this timeline, nothing can be undone. 


Life While-You-Wait
By Wislawa Szymborska

Life While-You-Wait.
Performance without rehearsal.
Body without alterations.
Head without premeditation.

I know nothing of the role I play.
I only know it’s mine. I can’t exchange it.

I have to guess on the spot
just what this play’s all about.

Ill-prepared for the privilege of living,
I can barely keep up with the pace that the action demands.
I improvise, although I loathe improvisation.
I trip at every step over my own ignorance.
I can’t conceal my hayseed manners.
My instincts are for happy histrionics.
Stage fright makes excuses for me, which humiliate me more.
Extenuating circumstances strike me as cruel.

Words and impulses you can’t take back,
stars you’ll never get counted,
your character like a raincoat you button on the run —
the pitiful results of all this unexpectedness.

If only I could just rehearse one Wednesday in advance,
or repeat a single Thursday that has passed!
But here comes Friday with a script I haven’t seen.
Is it fair, I ask
(my voice a little hoarse,
since I couldn’t even clear my throat offstage).

You’d be wrong to think that it’s just a slapdash quiz
taken in makeshift accommodations. Oh no.
I’m standing on the set and I see how strong it is.
The props are surprisingly precise.
The machine rotating the stage has been around even longer.
The farthest galaxies have been turned on.
Oh no, there’s no question, this must be the premiere.
And whatever I do
will become forever what I’ve done.

Let things fade

I think it's ruining me that I am compelled to make every single experience meaningful. One of this year's lessons is: Let things fade into insignificance. Not everything or everyone earns the right to be beautiful in memory, no matter how much they were loved.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with wanting things to be wrapped up nicely, if this is who you are. Just know that it is not realistic and it can lead to a lot of frustration and, worse, heartbreak, because only life and the living of it can really reveal the gift of moments you have already lived. 

Some things feel so important now, so overpowering, and yet will surprise you with how small they actually are in the scheme of things. And some things feel so inconsequential but leave a mark. 

You can't always tell which is which, not while they are happening. The only way to find out is to simply live.   

Absent (a personal essay)

Image by Andy Gries from Pixabay

My father died in 2003, on March 19 in Manila and March 20 where he was. I was at work, and it was a terrible taxi ride home. Maybe next year I'll write about that night.

I believe I left the newspaper shortly after, but they still asked me to write for their Father's Day issue, and I came up with this piece.


Published in The Philippine STAR, June 15, 2003

It feels like all my life, I’ve been chasing after my father. I look for him in the scent of menthol cigarettes, in his signature perfume, in tool boxes, in the parts of our house he helped build. It’s like that, I suppose, when your father works away for ten months of each year.

Last year, for his annual two-month Christmas vacation, he refashioned the dresser between my sister’s and my cabinet into a new part of our closet, out of boredom and in concession to our growing wardrobe. From scratch he smoothened two wooden panels, attached it the dresser frames, hooked up a metal pipe, and there we had it: new space for our new clothes. It wasn’t varnished--he left it up to us-and he hadn’t attached knobs with which to open it, but there it was.

Only, my sister and I didn’t use it. It stayed as it originally was--a dresser for our bottles of vanity, for moisturizer, perfume, deodorant, cologne, hairbrushes, anything and everything two girls who share a room can have. It really wasn’t what we wanted, he just went on ahead and built it, thinking that was what we needed. But I guess that’s how it is, when your father works away for ten months of each year. He can’t always tell what you want. 

But he was always tried to guess, especially when I was younger, when the years hadn’t grown into the spaces between us. Each time he would come home, he would hand us his presents. One year he gave me perfume, never realizing I rarely use perfume because it burns my skin. Another year, he gave me a gold necklace, not knowing I prefer the safety of silver. But once he brought home a digital camera--for my mother, not for me, but it made me deliriously happy.

Most of the times the presents were off, sometimes, they hit close to the spot. But it wasn’t his fault, really, because, unlike my brothers who spoke his man’s language, I never learned to ask. It’s like that when your father works away for ten months of each year. Slowly, you become too shy to ask. 

He headed for the deserts when I was 11, first mining copper, as he was trained to do, and then mining gold. Before that, he worked in the mountains of Zambales, still away, but closer, coming home on weekends, almost always in the middle of the night, or early in the morning--either which way, I’d have to wake up to see him, the same way he had to see 25-year-old me the last time he came for his two-month visit. 

Straight from an all-nighter at work, I’d sneak into the house out of concern for those who were sleeping, but he would always get up to open the door for me, no matter the time. Or, when I decide, out of practicality, to go home after sunrise, he’d be up by his lonesome, ready with breakfast and a fresh pot of coffee. Late at night, or early morning – the last time he came home, that was how he saw me. Either which way, I’d kiss him goodnight, go to bed, and wake up to kiss him goodbye.

It took him long to realize he was the only early riser in the family, waking up so promptly, only to wait until noon for everyone else to rise. But that’s how it was, he once told me, because ten months out of twelve, he had to wake up early. He used to get mad at all of us because he thought it meant we were lazy, but my late nights at work made him understand things differently, and his last visit, while all of us slept thorough the morning, he found ways to keep himself busy.

Aside from building my sister’s and my new cabinet, he crafted a shelf for condiments and canned food in the kitchen, positioning it below the glass window he had helped install a few years back. He had his car checked. He stormed to the town hall, waging battle against the illegal car repair service that camped outside our home. He drove for my mom wherever her work took her, meeting most of her friends he hadn’t met before, visiting places he hadn’t been to before. A few weeks before he was set to return to work, he flew to his hometown in Cebu for a much-delayed visit with his old friends and family, returning home with few stories, few but enough to let us know it was a joyful homecoming. He made his mother, brother and sisters happy. No surprise there, because he hadn’t seen them in a long time--as you can expect with someone who, for most of the year, lives in another country.

The last day I saw him--the last day I would ever see him--we watched a movie. He held my hand tight, like he would always do when it was nearer the day he was leaving. Sometimes, he would raise my hand, raising his beside it, and smile at how much they looked alike, short, fat fingers, thick palms, and all. I used to hate it because I didn’t want my hands to look like a man’s, but it’s his contribution to me, and now I look at it when I want to remember who made half of me. 

My brother and I offered to drive him to the airport, and, grumbling typically, he refused the fuss, opting to take a taxi and, in a way, choosing not to worry if we had gotten home safe. I took in my last look of him--my last look, or so I thought, of my father until he came back again for Christmas. Then I kissed him on the cheek, too shy to tell him I loved him--the way it sometimes turns out when your father works away for ten months of each year. Then he was gone.

And then, in a matter of weeks, he was completely, utterly gone. To his officemates, and the other people he roomed with, it was a stroke, his first, that took him away. For me, it was a phone call in the middle of the night, while I was at work, wondering if he was okay. But it wasn’t just that phone call, more than that, it was life that took him away, it was life that gave us his constant absence.

All my life, I’ve been chasing after my father, finding him in the things I associated with him--the scent of menthol cigarettes, in his signature perfume, in tool boxes, in the parts of our house he helped build. Now, I look even closer, I look at more things, vowing always to remember.

Late last night, coming in exhausted from another all-nighter at work, I looked at the cabinet he had painstakingly built, the same cabinet that had left me wondering what on earth he was thinking as he built it. And last night too, I finally had my answer. 

Me. He was thinking of me. 

All along, he was also chasing me.

Absence (a personal essay)

Image by Porch from Pixabay

It was my father's birthday on December 1, and I remembered that I wrote two articles about him for Father's Day when I was still writing for a broadsheet. 

These essays used to be shared on Multiply, but I think I suddenly became self-conscious when workmates started adding me, so I took them down.

Today, during lunch with by best friend Sherwil, we talked about these pieces, which I found when I was going through old CDs in which I had saved my early 2000s work. Sherwil asked me if Daddy ever got to read my first essay; I said I didn't think so.  

I'm not particularly fond of this essay, but I love that I tried to be brave in writing about something intensely personal. What I enjoyed about getting published in a newspaper is that you get to release your work to the whole world, but you can also pretend it didn't happen because you are just a byline. 

It's different now with sharing your work online. People can find you.

What I now appreciate about this piece, however, is that it was followed by a second one. My father was still alive when I wrote the first essay, and he had already passed away when I wrote the second. They were just a year apart. 

I'm still a little apprehensive about sharing them on this blog, which is funny, because they were published in a nationwide newspaper. 


Published in The Philippine STAR on June 16, 2002

In 1989, my father, an engineer, got on a plane and didn’t come home for a full year. I was eleven, going on twelve, and you know how that is--you think of things on a daily basis and forever stretches on only until bedtime: Daddy was just not with us during breakfast; he wasn’t around to bark at us to switch off the TV and go to bed; and he just wasn’t there to torture, er, tutor me into understanding fractions and the many complexities of math. Oh, I missed my father everyday, but it was different. Life went on with the richness of its promises: I had the school paper, I had Nancy Drew, I was discovering Sweet Dreams and I was wearing my first trainer bra. From day to day, I eagerly took the path to adolescence, unaware that I was also headed for a lifetime away from my father. And I didn’t realize that its mark was just beginning to form.

It creeps up on us, the effects of absence. I didn’t think any of us felt its immensity the first year Daddy was away. Life’s many concerns kept swirling about us, and I didn’t think we had much time for nostalgia. It was a surprise, really, when I only realized what his being away meant on the first day he was back.

I already expected the changes; we had all been looking forward to his two-month vacation, and we already knew that we had a lot of catching up to do: my brother was anticipating his first year in high school, our four rabbits had given birth to about twenty little bunnies and all of them were now dead, my mom had left teaching to head the university’s outreach office, I was a few months shy of thirteen and facing everything that puberty was threatening me with, the family dog was pregnant, we had found a snake inside the house--all urgent news he just had to be updated with. I was ready to talk a mile a minute the moment he stepped inside our house. And I did just that, non-stop as he unpacked his bags and happily handed each of us our long-delayed birthday presents and other gifts that had piled up.

But I wasn’t prepared for the many invisible issues that started to landslide the minute he was home. It was as trifle as his wanting us to get up at six o’clock on the dot for a family breakfast, and as titanic as him expecting us to turn 180 degrees against the way of life we had gotten used to since he left. It was as trifle as me already forming my own, albeit raw, opinions and as titanic as him wanting the blind authority he relinquished for the year he left to work for his family. It was as trifle as his children wanting to play outside after school and as titanic as my father being shocked at how much they had grown up--and away--from him. 

We made adjustments, of course--a precursor of many that we would make each time he would come home for his yearly vacation. He was our father, the man of the house, and we learned to make concessions. For the two months he was around, we woke up at the same time he did, had coffee and waffles or champorado with tuyo for breakfast, had a real meal for lunch on weekends, went to church together, and ate dinner before ten o’clock--all happy things that had become more inconvenient as we lived our ‘normal’ lives without him. 

When I was a bit older, sixteen and arrogant because I was winging my first year in college, I found myself resenting the suspension of normalcy. By then, my mother had long since given up on setting curfews for my brothers and I, settling instead for the calmer anxiety of trusting that she had brought us up to know better than to do things that would set our live off course. My father, on the other hand, suddenly saw his three older children’s adolescence in the eyes of distrust. He was being protective, I know that now, and he had reason to be afraid for us because despite his many phone calls and the letters we regularly exchanged, he had not the vaguest notion of how his children had turned out. And I resented it; not because for two months out of twelve I had a curfew, but because for those two months I wasn’t being trusted.

We had our first big fight that year of his visit. I yelled at him and slammed the door to my room, and he promptly threatened to break it down, demanding to be respected. Later, when we had both calmed down, I stepped out of the house, urged by the familiar ring of the sorbetero. I saw him out in the terrace, pensively smoking his menthol cigarettes, maybe seeing for the first time how much our house, the neighborhood, and perhaps his family, had changed. I turned back to avoid him, but not before he asked my sister to go get his wallet.

A few minutes later, my sister handed me my favorite popsicle, one that I hadn’t tasted for years. We sat on my bed, sharing it, she with a messy grin, and I, puffy-eyed and smiling. And suddenly, she was six, and I was twelve, zeroing in on the things that mattered and would never change: we were our father’s daughters, he was just the Daddy we loved, and no history of absence could ever change that.

Dream: Performance Poetry

Image by Rupert Kittinger-Sereinig from Pixabay

I had a long and vivid dream, but all I can remember is the last part. 

After a long journey, where we had to eat packed meals and wash up in our cars, we finally reached a Makati hotel we called The Westin. I was with family and friends, and we occupied several rooms. 

The hotel was decrepit, aged by the pandemic, and you could no longer tell it used to be good. "This was my favorite hotel," my sister said, as we surveyed the room and stashed our belongings.

I checked the bathroom. It was clean enough, but it wasn't well-constructed. You could tell by the puddles gathering in some parts of the floor. There were also leaks--when you turned on the light by the sink, water spouted out of a crack near the switch.

We took quick showers, changed, and started to settle in.

We had dirty clothes and dishes and a lot of leftover food. As I was putting away some food containers on a dresser, I dropped a bowl of champorado, spilling chocolate and rice all over the floor.

My sister sighed and said, "Clean that up." But before I could, people started arriving, including old Filipino poets, with a couple of National Artists, tracking the chocolate mess all over the floor. But because the room was packed, nobody noticed. 

Apparently, we had agreed to host a poetry reading and my best friend Sherwil was going to perform a classic ars poetica piece about poetry. It was called something like The Point of Poetry or The Purpose of a Poem. 

When our friend Jimple--he was staying in another room--heard that Sherwil was performing this particular poem, he lent her an origami piece based on the poem that he had made a few years ago so she could use it as a prop. It was like a handheld pinwheel that transformed, as it turned, into several things: a blooming flower, a pointing finger, a smoking gun, a dancing lady, a pensive fairy ... 

When it was Sherwil's turn to perform, the whole room went quiet. She gave the performance of her life, unleashing acting skills even I didn't know she had. (I dreamed the entire poem, but I can't remember it in its entirety. Boo. It sounded a little like Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish.)

Sherwil arrived at the last lines, which I vaguely remember: 

A poem exists so it can be all of this--

And she held the origami piece for everyone to see.

--a blooming flower, a pointing finger, a smoking gun, a dancing lady, a pensive fairy--

Everyone was blown away. Sherwil paused. Then continued:

a man's clothed honesty. 

The dream ended with everyone's applause.