Jarfuls of river water

My room is a haze of dust. For days, I’ve been unboxing, boxing, sweeping, sorting, chucking things. What I’d donate. What I’d give to my niece and nephews. What I’d take to fresh life in another country. The work has been a material review of the past decade.
Very few people have been invited to my condo in recent years. It had been messy and the frequent victim of my go-to defense mechanism against anything painful, upsetting, or difficult: “I’ll sort that out, eventually.” The layers of things, dust, mementos reveal my complicated relationship with space. In an old blog, I wrote about my fears of owning my own place: that it would be some sort of final determination of my identity. Is it the gloriously designed, sun-lit place I imagined it would be? No. But I was right– it was me.

It’s lived and occasionally abandoned, with calcified fossils of the parts of me in the past decade. Wads of Japanese origami paper. A thick binding of the music and lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar. Tarot cards. Bookmarks from Oli’s trip to Europe. Notebooks with only the first few pages filled out. My friends’ org registration forms. Half-full packets of lettuce seeds and tomatoes. A facemask from the 2013 Korea trip.

Things were indiscriminately dumped in corners because they were artifacts of possibilities of myself I didn’t want to let go. I’ll do that later. I always thought I had all the time in the world to do everything I liked. That was youthful nonchalance and bravado. My work is a relentless deliberation of who I am now and what I choose to be. For which things would I set aside a parcel of my “one wild and precious life.”

Part of me feels frustrated that I didn’t just throw away things. That’s the same part that wishes we could all just move forward, onward. It wishes we could glide through life without any hitches or snags, and that growth is linear and the slope depends only on our self-determined tenacity. We are able to integrate so fully that nothing falls by the wayside. We can throw away old journals because we’ve learned everything we absolutely can.

But it doesn’t work that way. A mentor said that growth moves as a spiral: we circle back into the same issues and experiences but each iteration invites us to go deeper. And then there’s a nostalgic delight in revisiting these old nooks. I’m sifting through yellowed readings, journals, planners– and the sundry bits stuck on pages. Many of them are stained with dried rain, tracing cragged shorelines. I’m given little time machines to revisit old lessons and old selves:

On my college notes, I stuck a post-it where I wrote indignantly about a tricycle ride to school one day in 2008. A corrupt cop flagged my tricycle driver over some trumped-up charge, demanded payment, and took a day’s wage. When we got to school, I emptied my wallet and gave the driver all of my 250 pesos.

A copy of “Courtly Love,” which Mam Sol lent me with the pregnant expectation that I’d stick around in the academe and move to the IS department.

Doodles on my class notes. Resolutions to lose weight.

Postcards from all over. The delightful little missives friends left on gifts. The best poster I’ve ever designed for a feminism seminar in which I also spoke.

Tickets to museum trips. Boarding passes. City maps.

Oli’s tottering, teetering, friendly gifts and letters and then his valentine’s cards.

What’s so worthy of keeping these specks, when they’re so insignificant they’re forgotten by the very person who’s lived through them? In the vastness of life, universe, and time, what does it matter? I suppose it’s these ephemeral little moments that makeup life. And while the mess is frustrating, I’m somehow grateful for the residues.

Some time ago, I’ve decided to become a bit more minimalist. I’m lucky I’m getting the chance. I learned: everything you own demands your attention. Every item draws you to certain direction– a Linda Howard novel asks you to be the person who spends a bit of time to indulge in romantic tropes, a box of watercolor asks you to dabble a bit, a jar of creme asks you to be the kind to your skin. And everything eventually inquires after its own ending. Every single thing you have, you will have to think about again. I’ve learned that time and attention is more expensive than money.

There has to be a sweet spot somewhere: to be light and spry enough to sprint into the future and to be grounded and meditative enough with my jarfuls of river water. It’s the still waters that can best tell the story of movement.

And sometimes, it bears reminding: these are the good days we’ll someday reminisce about.

Everything is Waiting for You

Everything is Waiting for you
David Whyte

Your great mistake is to act the drama
as if you were alone. As if life
were a progressive and cunning crime
with no witness to the tiny hidden
transgressions. To feel abandoned is to deny
the intimacy of your surroundings. Surely,
even you, at times, have felt the grand array;
the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding
out your solo voice. You must note
the way the soap dish enables you,
or the window latch grants you freedom.
Alertness is the hidden discipline of familiarity.
The stairs are your mentor of things
to come, the doors have always been there
to frighten you and invite you,
and the tiny speaker in the phone
is your dream-ladder to divinity.
Put down the weight of your aloneness and ease into the
conversation. The kettle is singing
even as it pours you a drink, the cooking pots
have left their arrogant aloofness and
seen the good in you at last. All the birds
and creatures of the world are unutterably
themselves. Everything is waiting for you.

To the mountains

The ending has been set: July 12 is my last day of work. I’m excited for the space it will open up, for the things the gust will blow inside once the door opens.

I’ll spend time with Oliver. I’ll start chipping away at the tower of guilt, the books I’ve been intending to read. I can watch the series and movies I want to watch, take my online courses, listen to podcasts. I can write! Take walks and push myself to do yoga. I can paint. I’m excited to have the luxury of boredom, of watching the dust filaments turn in the afternoon light. I’m excited to remember the other parts of me, the ones that have gathered dust because they weren’t needed in the past few years.

I can rest. I can withdraw for a blessed moment before I need to launch myself to the world, ever vigorously.  A breather.

Doorways. Endings and beginnings. It’s wonderfully strange how things are unfolding. I’m not yanked out; I’m being moved the way the sky’s colors sinks to sunset or rises to dawn. Thanks to the admission requirements of the schools I’ve been applying to, I’ve been recollecting and writing about what I’ve been through and what I’ve learned.  It’s as if I’m brought to collect myself and my pieces as I prepare to leave. Tied together nicely with a bow.

The difficulties and disappointments of the past few years have been recast in the light of growth. I’ve grown thankful for them, including the ones that I caused or worsened myself. They’ve been instrumental in herding me to where I am now. I’ve grown tremendously: I was able to do things I thought I couldn’t do, and recovered some self-esteem along the way. I learned to champion myself. I fumbled and felt the invisible walls that held me back and I’m working on untying those stubborn knots.

In a certain angle, it’s an education on how human beings really are. I’ve been let down many times; only to realize later how askew my expectations were in the first place. The sliver between hero and villain have since expanded into a vast space that homes everyone. It’s a place better compatible with patience and compassion, not that I’ve mastered either.

What’s a human being? What’s a human organization? With noble intentions and base instincts. Inconsistent. Momentarily generous. Needy and vulnerable. Compensating. Lost. Laughing. Unaware. Flashes of aggression and violence. In pain. Tired. Distracted. Joyful.

Flawed, but trying. Trying, but flawed. The order depends on my day.

I’ll tell you, my basest, most selfish, most indulgent instinct is withdrawal. Human beings tire me. Many times, in the face of frustration, I wish to be left alone so I can do what I want or need to do without needing to consider messy internal lives and without having to work at alien paces. My vision of peace is a farm in the mountains; I take care of animals and grow my own flowers and food; it’s cool and it snows sometimes.

I also know that that it’s the hollowest life I can live. The ethical life is the disturbed one, we learn from Levinas. I don’t think we’ll ever run of things to do if we want to make the world a fairer, better place for everyone– flawed, messy, trying everyone.

But every once in a while, it does us good to go up in the mountains to breathe.

Welcome back

Imagine that. Thirty and married and still you.

And now, scared shitless, again, like you were 10 years ago. And about to be launched, ready or not, to a whole new, undefined life.

And the things that happened the past few years, when you haven’t been writing? The world moved very fast and you’ve survived quite a bit.  You’ve changed some and yet you remained essentially the same. You’re both softer and tougher now, and you still laugh at the same stupid things.

It’s now possible to thread a narrative for the past ten years: the first three in a stumbling haze of post-school uncertainty and the last seven a curious journey that rounded you back to where you came from. Philosophy, Levinas, ethics, and the Atenean ethos. But this time, you meet them in the wild where they’re more alive than they ever were, when they pinned, studied, and dusty in your cube back in Dela Costa.

It’s funny and strange how it works out like that. It almost feels meaningful, like a strange suggestion that– that nothing ever goes to waste? that I’m where I ought to be? The fact that I have to write about the past few years as part of my admissions requirements– it feels a bit too on the nose, doesn’t it? Nevertheless, I’m grateful for the symmetry and the cohesion it makes for my story.

No. I’m just grateful.

On spiraling back

T and C says that if we examine our lives, we see patterns and cycles. Every few years, the same monsters appear, but in different forms. Human life isn’t linear as the relentlessness of time would suggest; not is it cyclical- or else it will bring us the exact same sorrows and joys (perhaps like Nietzsche’s eternal recurrence of the same). It’s a spiral process, T says. We circle around the same issues and pains but, I guess if we do it right, we enter them more deeply each time. If we allow ourselves, we are changed by the encounter.

The depth in which we engage our pains largely depend on our willingness and courage to face these demons. Otherwise, we are bound to them. I don’t suppose it’s some mystical force that traps us in the same cage. This is a consequence of the shapes of our own character– the roughness of our surfaces always catch the same debris. The Greek tragedies have warned us: it is not fate or destiny that dooms a hero, it’s his own tragic flaw (see: Achilles’ and Oedipus’ hubris). We must stave off sleep, we must continue to overcome ourselves. And the work never ends.

Repetition. It’s an old insight of Freud. We are bound to repeat our traumas; it is the responsibility of a therapist to bring these wounds to light to cease the unconscious patterns that plague us. Many, many years ago, I knew this. But now I know how little I had understood. The potency of old ideas come to fore and I am humbled.

You are young, C said, life has not begun for you. I listened knowing that my vocabulary of wounds is too elementary to understand what she meant.

I’ve entered a new space. I’m in the middle of a storm. Life is changing. The currents are fast and violent and it’s difficult to maintain my bearings. I’m holding on to the few things I know to be true. This poem by my college professor is one of them.

Kung Papaano,  by Rofel Brion

Kung paano dumadapo
ang buto sa malumot na bato,
at nagiging binhi’t lumalago,
gumagapang tungo sa iba pang bato,
namumulaklak, hitik na hitik,
at bago malanta’y nagkakalat ng bango,

ganito sana ako maging ako,
ganito sana ako maging sa iyo.

For most of my twenties, (in varying degrees of intentionality) this poem has animated me. It has always articulated for me what a good human life means. It means to leave the world better than I had entered it. My life must dedicate itself into opening space for bango to exist for othershowever minute or momentary,  however futile against the vast emptiness of time and space, and despite our assured quiet end (death, forgetfulness, entropy).

It also means another thing: to flourish. The imagery of the seed is so potent and rich. All that you had in you comes to fullness. Or like fireworks, you come to a satisfying end, assured of not having wasted anything.

But what does it mean to flourish? What are the conditions of possibility of flourishing? For a seed to burst through its dormancy, the world gives it water, sunlight, air; and for it to live its life to fruition, it needs the steady constancy of the right conditions. How do you seek this for yourself? How do you create it for others? The tectonic movements in my life give spirit to these living questions.

But then again, all these are articulations of a question, an old friend: Where is my place in Earth?

* * * * *

Many things that have happened in the past few years. The last time I wrote in this site, life had been different. I haven’t written in long while– at least not in the intentional and sustained manner I’m attempting to do now. I’ve come home again from a long sojourn. I’ve gained some things, and lost others. Something borrowed, something blue. I learned that the world is kinder, harsher, and stranger than I thought.

I hope that the world had been kind to you in the past few years.

Writing has always been a return to form for me. I emerged into consciousness, writing. It carried me through tumultuous adolescence to nutrient-rich college years. After my schooling, I’ve flitted in and out of writing– battling conflicting feelings about it. It had been buried under the rubble of the demands of the world. Underneath that forgetting is the anxiety over the vanity of writing, especially writing in a public space. Its narcissism. There are billions of people in the world– who is to say that my thoughts and remembrances are anything of worth?

I have no answers and I don’t ever think I’ll reach a point where I’ll demand to be heard. But here I am again, emerging from my nook of the universe to tell you how the universe is from here.

Ang Nagdaan

Ang Nagdaan
Edgar Calabia Samar

Ayaw kong magpahuli
Tinalon ko ang bakod.
Maysa-pusa akong lumapag
sa lupa. Nagkakahugis na
ang braso ko sa dilim.

“Huwag ka nang babalik!”
Huling hiyaw ng Tatay noon
bago namaalam ang kalahati
ng kaniyang katawan. Tahimik
na tahimik kahit ang kuliglig.

Suwail nga ako. Suminsay
ako’t hinirap siya, natakanghod
sa bakuran, puro kalmot
ang bisig. Tumitig siya sa akin,
ngunit di na ako nakilala

Huli na ito.
Wala na ang nakaraan.

Relevant, in many levels.



A moment to mark this simple, lovely quiet moment before it is swallowed by the noise, the absurd, and the ultimately meaningless. May this memory tide me over the next flurries.

Warm afternoon at home,
Electric fan buzz and breeze,
Me: chopping carrots and singing the Strumbellas

* * * * *

I’m working on a new piece; it’s coming along well. I hope to have it out before I move away from the space where it’s the central insight.  It’s called the slow march to progress and it speaks of growing up as a slow unfolding that often surprises us. As usual, I have too many ideas and I need to prune it.

* * * * *

Life has been kind and well. I was at home with my folks for the last couple of days. Somewhere in this experience is a meditation on how our rhythmic return to home (to places, to people) is never really mundane, but drives us into deeper community with ourselves and the world. We gather a better sense of self in these meetings with people who love us, who have kept safe whatever of us they could catch. We remember and see ourselves through them and their memories.

For many years, I was irritated at my mother for being insufferably disorganized and hyper (accusations that could veritably be leveled on me now!). But this weekend, I saw it in different light. Maybe it’s because we’ve all gotten older and understood more of the world.

Before she retired, my mother took charge of the annual Christmas decorations in her office. Every year, she comes up these creatively themed DIY’s to the delight of her office mates. I have vague and sparse memories through the years of me trying to dip into her nighttime projects and her wild assortments of knick-knacks and baubles (personalized jars, paper birds, ribbons, little flowers with their wire stems, little paper-clay baskets with fruits, etc).

It wouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve developed a deep liking for crafts and working with my hands, a predilection discovered by a colleague when I took charge of decorating a room for my boss’s surprise baby shower.

She asked me for help in decorating some office spaces for Christmas. I felt the string of familial affinity strummed. I thought it a good project for her, she must have missed decorating for Christmas as she has been retired for the last couple of years. So I asked for her help. So she did help. That isn’t really the surprising part.

What surprised me this weekend is really her relentlessness. There is no other word to describe her stamina and energy. You’d think she’s this frail little 66-year-old with her right-leg hobble. Getting up before 7 , she moves from (physical) task to task with nary a break. She cooked and cleaned after breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with an assortment of respectable dishes); repaired my brother’s shorts; made some salsa from scratch; rallied the troops (grandkids) into the car; drove to a nearby shopping mall; shopped and bargained; conceptualized a design and strung together twigs into these pretty boughs and wreaths; and, managed to nag everyone to do what they’re supposed to do . All within a day. How? Most of the time, I found myself edging to bed because it was so damn exhausting just trying to keep up with her. That she only went to take a break at 6 pm–frankly, that was awe-inspiring.

I recognize the same impulse to do something, to create anything, everything. But here I am– the whiny, chronic over-thinker, who’s always in my bed. Here I am, trying to hold myself against measured beats, but always failing.

But this. But here it is, a possible version of myself if I refuse to be held down by my ambition regular cadences. It’s a chance, it’s a door, it’s a possibility. And if she could do that all in a day, what’s a blog post after work?

From my mother, (on top of an infinite of things), I learn relentlessness and stamina and another possible version of myself.