That expansive feeling

When I was seventeen or eighteen I went on a trip to the far north. It was a long journey and I slept most of the way–nodding awake only occasionally to see the city buildings and billboards at night become modest houses at dawn, then become rice fields in the early morning. I arrived at our destination groggy and with limbs sleeping sore. But when I stepped out of the van, I was taken aback by what felt like a sudden expansion of my chest. I saw the hills and mountains from yonder and the great distances of clear air between us. I didn’t gasp; it felt like an inhalation so penetrating it literally expanded the borders of my world. It was feeling of anything is possible. It was feeling of simultaneous excitement and contentment. All in a moment.

Few moments in my life I remember this clearly.

I tell you this story because I’ve been thinking how to describe a peculiar feeling I have when I’m with O.  I just realized that both is essentially the same. It’s the same expansion of chest, heart, and world, the same simultaneous excitement and comfort.  While this feeling no longer jolts me because it happens often and gently, it nevertheless always leaves me a little awed.

On work, philosophy, and burning

Want to hear something odd? I read philosophy better now that I’m out of the academe. I read better in general. I writer better: I’m beginning to recover my words. No longer empty or grappling, I found the water running underneath. Words are no longer threateningly elusive, they’ve returned to their jaunty playfulness, their skipping stones.
Looking back on those days, though there was the pervasive air of uncertainty and fear of my inability to cope, there was deep and settled boredom. Everything that I heard had already been said several times in same and different words, stories. Most of the teachers had, really, only one thing to say. Those things are usually the brilliant locus of their teaching, research, and lives. Their lives dedicated to the polishing of their gem, every question seems like an invitation to raise their rock to boast its glitter.
In more cynical days, I’d think bitterly that their prized grand insights are nothing but fog that fools them into thinking that is all there is. Who could blame them? Perhaps it’s the very thing of which they’re certain—the motherboard to which all their circuits connect. Who could blame their staunch certainty that it should likewise be yours?
Should I venture to be so brave as to think: I understand and I appreciate their central insights. The first times I learned them they glittered so gorgeously that I kept idols of all of them. They all became beautiful circuits to my motherboard. They all made sense; even though I couldn’t hope to articulate to others the same long and piecemeal eloquent way I have been convinced of their certainty.
After that, I gathered dust for so long. There was hardly anything that engaged me; that challenged the confines of my expansive net of concepts and beliefs. Nothing surprised me anymore. And I felt old, really old and tired. Paradoxically, in a place that engaged the truths of centuries and centuries of human thought, I learned all that I could.
Where I am right now, I’m being poked and prodded. I think there’s a certain conceit in academic philosophy that sees the tasks of selling soap or bottled water as derisory activities—as befitting the mindless labors of ants, and not beings who could contemplate the universe and being. But there is beauty in the grit of an ordinary working life. It is in common work, if ever any be called such, that our entire selves are engaged: shoulders sag in fatigue, brows knit in stress, our unselfconscious laughter with colleagues. We are so close to ourselves and to the world that we lose ourselves in engrossing work. The questions and gifts of philosophy are most relevant here.
The air is very thin up high in the tower. On Earth, where there are nourishments abound, the gems I inherited are muddied and cleaned every once in a while, and I appreciate them more than when they had been kept in unsullied repose inside glass pedestals.
On the way to work earlier today, I thought about the Burning Man festival, held every year in the States. I read somewhere that the festival emphasizes that art is not about the static and inert artifacts we serenely contemplate in museums, it’s about creation. Too often, there’s the temptation to stick to what we already know, to do things in ways we have always done them, to stay where it is proven to be safe. The festival celebrates the artists’ courage to liberate themselves from their work. More importantly, it celebrates their courage to begin again, anew. The most apt word is: renaissance, rebirth.
May we be forever young.

Bubog

It stopped raining for a while. The sky is still overcast and gray; I guess it will clear up soon—but not just yet. Trees shudder and they shake the remaining drops of rain onto the ground. The concrete pavement is shiny from where I’m standing. I wonder why all my stories start from trees, raining, and gray. I wonder why I’m always alone in the beginning—contemplating or looking at some scene in silence.
Someone calls me from the inside of the house, I look back. Then I never return to writing. That’s always the beginning, and, always, the abrupt end.

I wonder if anyone can write from a place of contentment and happiness, or should it always be written by constantly pricking our fingers on the bubog that we keep. The word is so ugly, isn’t it? Bubog means little shards of broken glass; it pronounces so close to the word bugbog, which means to batter or beat up.
It recalls one afternoon when I was a little girl and I was in the playground in school. My classmate held beautiful bits of bubog on her palm. She said they passed as diamonds and she was selling them to me.
The word recalls times at home when I accidentally drop glass on the floor. My father would warn me of the bubog, and then I would ever so carefully skip away to get a pair of slippers and a broom. I’d sweep the floor. But I would always miss some bubog and find them a few days later through their telltale glitter under tables and chairs.
Bubog could mean our enduring issues and concerns. Those are the knots in our lives— for which spend inordinate amounts of time and energy smoothening, pressing down, cracking, evading. Those tangled knots are often the center of rituals, repetitive patterns in life. And they say to make any creative work of art or any convincing performance they always say we should draw from this wellspring of hurt. When you draw from this place of pain, you’re more vulnerable, relatable—after all, who’s never felt pain?
And how many words can you wax and wane when everything is alright? When everything is fine, there is nothing to say: you just are. When something is amiss, when regularity, satisfaction, contentment is absent, we need to speak, or refuse to speak. Words can only fill hollow, cavernous mouths.
Anna Karenina began with, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

Melancholy

Can there be melancholy in Manila? Is there a place for its secret brown or deep black-blue in the city’s endless colors, running the spectrum from stark to faded? The city only becomes hospitable to melancholy only when it is midnight in lonely subdivision streets– when the yellow street lamps stare sadly at stragglers going somewhere, anywhere. More importantly, does melancholy have a right to be in Manila? In the face of the city people’s hungry sleep, is there room for your wispy shadows, melancholy? Your sadness without cause?

On social media and writing

Burst

Recently, I’ve wondered about my personal position about social media. Except for blogging, I don’t like social media very much. I hardly do anything with my Facebook account; my page’s content is primarily provided through the faithful tagging of friends who have not lost faith in my missing online self. I have a Twitter account, but I don’t check that very often either. Actually, I even find Twitter rather intrusive. I feel that it prevents me from being fully present, like as if I’m perpetually distracted by a like a persistent buzz on my ear about random snippets and people’s conversation. Heck, I don’t even like texting.

For a while, all of this made me think that maybe I just really hate people. But I do like people, only I like them when we’re face to face. I like them when they’re in my present, and not some subtext, or a running ticker tape at the back of my mind. In short, I like to keep my moments as clean, focused, and silent as possible.

The only thing that has ever really appealed to me is blogging, mostly because it doesn’t call attention to itself the way Facebook or Twitter does. It’s writing, it’s journaling, it is wide open spaces. I like doing it. And though it’s open to whoever wants to read it, it doesn’t ask for it. I just want it to be sincere, as sincere as possible. It’s something that I find difficult to do on Facebook, because it feels threatening– as if everyone’s eyes are around you. You never know who’s lurking and making misinformed conclusions about your life.

What Facebook shows only snippets of one’s life; not how one’s life really is. I’m sure some are so given to the enterprise that they use it to engineer their image: here’s me having the time of my life, here’s me being smart, here’s me being sophisticated, adventurous, rich, funny, whatever. This is my awesome life, people. That’s why people should always be wary of what conclusions they answer to “What Everyone Does in their Twenties” because most of it really just shows the highlights. But the effects of too much Facebook merits a separate post that won’t intrude on this one.

* * * * *

My question is why are we so concerned with recording the minute flux of our daily lives? Here’s a picture of what I ate, here’s where I am, this is what I feel, I’m with these people,  this is what I feel about random news in the internet that does not really concern me.

The other day, I wondered if incessant reporting of everything is a symptom of the need to preserve. I wonder if writing, that early invention of humanity, was one of the first attempts to put a stopper to the incessant influx of time and forgetting.  Memory, after all, is the basis of identity. We are what we remember of our past. What if, underneath all this, is the instinct to make our mark, to try and to ensure that we will live long past our death? The funny thing is, now memory is literally externalized and expanded because of the web. Our ever strengthening memory is the sturdy wall that keeps us safe from the rain outside that washes everything away.

But the question is, what do we want to preserve? What is it about that plate of dessert that just aches to be included among the enduring annals of human memory? Shouldn’t we start curating what we keep? Otherwise, we’ll all just be mental hoarders.  I’m a bit afraid that the fast nature of social networking sites only encourages us to constantly move about, but never sit still. We collect but can’t appreciate. In gathering too much, we can’t dwell. We’re just letting the rain in. I’m afraid of record-keeping that becomes meaningless. Hoarding.

I have a diligent friend who never forgets to take pictures and videos. She has something to come back to; she preserves little moments of happiness. I want that too, I want to remember things, I want to remember my ideas. I want a chest of these things so that one day I can look them over one by one, and marvel at how much I’ve changed, how little I’ve changed. I want to remember what I said I’ll do, what I said I’ll be. There is much joy in visiting the past.

So I always resolve to journal more often, to take more pictures. I want a journal about my everyday life, one that is a pause in the flux of life. A moment to appreciate, to witness a moment of happiness, inspiration, sadness, or anger. But I’m wary of Facebook and Twitter that just encourages us to fire, fire, fire away.

Brief Letters to Unnamed People 2

Oh dear, oh dear. I would warn you if I could, if warnings are acceptable between acquaintances. No one deserves what happened to me a long, long time ago. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I would hate it especially if it were to happen to you; I like you, you see. From what little I know, you’re wonderful and just a little fragile. The deep of space is bursting inside you– with its bright lights, dense matter, mysterious collisions, dark energies– but you’re just a little brittle on the outside.

Listen carefully, the honey coats and conceals two kinds of poison. Both are slow moving, but potent. You may think, at first, that the solution rids you of your common ails. You will always seek it. Always administered in small and sweet doses, the poisons continue to accumulate in your system. One day, you’ll be surprised to find your bile climbing your throat. The first poison says you are different, too different, a freak. The second poison keeps you hostage.

Equilibrium

There’s this fascinating insight in Organizational Development that is just begging to be applied to life. It’s called equilibrium. Our boss explained it in one of videos we used for training, I thought his explanation was brilliant. One can see an organization, as well as the human body, as a whole composed of cooperating parts.

Suppose one such body is healthy and aligned– taking ‘alignment’ here in its most literal and physical sense, I mean a body with good posture. Suppose this body suffers an accident and sprains the left ankle. Suppose that this sprain goes untreated. The left leg will carry little weight, because it would  be painful to lean on the left leg. The right leg will compensate by carrying more than its fair share. One begins to limp. And because of the uneven distribution of weight, one shoulder might dip lower than the other. This deformation might persist long past the injury.

When there is change, the body will always seek to achieve equilibrium. The body must walk, the body’s weight must be carried; and so it will. And without proper assistance, without guidance, the body will find ways to equilibrium which may not be the most optimal. A part of the organization might compensate for the weakness of another. It will be uneasy, it will be malformed,  maybe inefficient, and might break down often but at the end of the day it gets a job done. It is an odd state of rest, the kind of sleep that is sonorous and deep in the middle of the sea that tosses and turns.

I didn’t quite understand the extent of this, and how far it reaches down to touch my spine until a few weeks ago when my office mates and I were discussing a problematic person, and what lessons can be gleaned from dealings with such people. I said I cannot understand how some people stick with patterns that hurt them, when they continuously perpetuate the same errors. Why insist on stupid rituals so global that it engulfs their world, and each sputterance a minute’s difference away from the last complaint. Same, same, same, same, just different names, just different proper nouns. Same, same, same same. Why keep to something that hurts you anyway?

Because, She said, there are just some people who just do. She told the story of some people having problems with their telephone or internet line; they complain about it, but never fix it. I remember my refrigerator light which I haven’t fixed, and that broken pipe in the kitchen. Complaining has become their equilibrium. For people who drive people away because they claw too close, the ritual of love, need, pain and loss has become their norm. Mediocrity can be someone’s equilibrium. A broken pipe, a missing knob, silence between spouses– the wrong, the mistake, the horrible can be the state of normal.

How foolish are to throw flour, eggs, milk, and sugar in a oven and expect a cake? Are we really so naive as to think that things will fall in place as fall where they may?

The cost of straying from these patterns is the cost of the unknown. I guess the doors out of our habitual processes are hidden by willful ignorance, or maybe a few blown-up fears. It requires leaning on weak ankles, maybe even atrophied limbs. It perhaps requires seeing ourselves in harsh light; when we see ourselves as having slept or given up. It requires courage.

Freud wrote about something like this in an article called “Working-Through.” He says the analysand must be brave enough to speak, to break the patterns which are hitherto untold. We repeat, he says. Repetition is always in action, and more often than not, it is unconscious and unarticulated. It is language that breaks the pattern of repetition. Because when we tell the story of ourselves as we are now, in the sharpest, honest, brightest light, we get to re-write our patterns. But I guess this is only insofar as we have the courage to face the shadows the harsh lights may cast.