An attempt to make sense of things in a random universe, one Friday at a time.

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Location: Philippines

Life is for the living, freedom is for the free.

04 September 2015

Notes from the precipice

For about six weeks sometime this year I had to file a sick leave from work and stay with my parents in Naga because of an anxiety disorder that left me, literally, physically, scared stiff. I could not move my neck and upper back. I would shake at random times of the day. I would break out in cold sweat. I was terrified of everything, especially of cars and of riding in cars. Eventually it escalated into a fear not just of vehicles but also of high places, confined spaces, and loud noises. I would panic every time a vehicle would pass by our house. I could not stay in the bathroom for more than a minute, afraid that I would get locked in and the ceiling would cave in and I would suffocate to death. I could not sleep because if I did, I'd get nightmares about falling off high places, crashing into trains, and suffocating.

I could not eat. I lost 20 lbs. I could not write, literally, because my handwriting would come out as ineligible chicken scrawl. I could not type on my computer because my hands would shake so much that all I’d get would be more typos than I could correct. I could not read or watch movies because any scene with vehicles in them would scare me to pieces. The constant fear gave me palpitations, and I feared that I could develop a heart problem because of it. Prayers were always on my lips because every moment was a portal to death. Thankfully, with the support of my parents and the expertise of my third psychiatrist, we got to the bottom of it. But for a while, it was touch and go for me, and I really felt that I could die any moment.

Turns out the fearful feelings were side effects of a psychiatric medication I have been put on by my second psychiatrist, and this was discovered by my third psychiatrist. The medication was Aripiprazole. The moment I was off it, the fearful feelings lifted immediately, and it was glorious. Imagine being in a situation in which you are about to fall off a precipice, without a handhold, and then suddenly and without warning, you are pulled back to safety completely. I was on the brink of either death or insanity, and then I was saved. That’s how it felt. After that, everyday has been an exercise in gratitude.

And as part of my gratitude for this second chance at life, I resolved never to place myself in a situation in which that could happen again. I changed my entire lifestyle. My life and my health are so much more precious to me now and I feel that I am both stronger and more frail at the same time. I am sharper at identifying dangerous things and people, but I am also more sensitive to negativity. I am now more decisive, but I also tend to shy away from situations of uncertainty. I take care of myself better, but the heightened sense of creativity leaves me vulnerable to certain evils. My focus is now much clearer, but I can also see other unrelated things in the periphery of my vision. It’s a balancing act, but so far my instincts and gut-feel have been serving me well, and I am still alive and sane and, I believe, happy.

My third psychiatrist and I decided to go off all psychiatric medication completely, and that I should observe my moods closely and learn how to master them on my own, without help from medication. (My third psychiatrist is doubtful whether I am truly bipolar, anyway. That diagnosis came in 2007 from my first psychiatrist, who had always placed on some medication or other and whom I fired in April this year because I can no longer trust her. My second psychiatrist is someone I started seeing in April after I had a minor emotional issue at work. The second psychiatrist is a student of the first psychiatrist, so I’m still not very comfortable with her, and I haven’t been to see her since I came back from the precipice.)

In the effort to take myself out of situations that can stress me out, I have moved out of my old apartment in Makati, so I no longer have to live alone and rely only on security guards for my safety. I no longer have to keep house and deal with housework and the maintenance of a pretty home. I have given up my car and moved to a place much closer to the office so I no longer have to drive and no longer have to pass through traffic. I no longer have to see kilometers of cars with their brake lights on for hours, which used to, and sometimes still, give me panic attacks. I no longer have to take on projects that I’m not completely excited about just to sustain my old lifestyle. Now every single thing I spend time on is something that makes me happy, whether it be designing publications, reading, studying, writing, or taking public transport to go somewhere I am eager to be. I no longer talk to people I don't like. I no longer even dress for other people anymore. I have now reverted to dressing the way I have always been happy dressing for years — in jeans, soft shirts, and light jackets. My nonessential wardrobe is all packed up together with all of my furniture, and I suppose I shall be giving many of them away, in the continuing effort to pare down my stuff and retain only what I absolutely need to survive. Life is more than just owning stuff. Life is more than just doing stuff. I know that now.

Perhaps this is why it all had to happen. If I hadn’t had that emotional issue at work, I wouldn’t have fired the first psychiatrist, wouldn’t have met the second psychiatrist, wouldn’t have started taking Aripiprazole, wouldn’t have had the anxiety disorder, wouldn’t have met the third psychiatrist, wouldn’t have been off psychiatric medications completely, wouldn’t have had the opportunity to realize what was really important to me.  I wouldn’t have had the resolve to write again and write much better. So I’m grateful for everything that happened, now that I know how it all fits into the bigger picture, no matter how awful it was when I was going through them. The bad things were not wasted on me. It turned me into this, and it's beautiful.

[Image credits: 123]

28 August 2015

An excerpt

from a novel I am working on.

It is only after the passing of so many years and of so many of her bloodline that Assumpta could begin to understand a little of what had happened. But even then, she could not make sense of much. All that she could experience are random glimmers of sentience, somewhat like memories, somewhat like prophetic visions, somewhat like voices whispering to her from somewhere from the past or the future or an indeterminate time, but always out of reach, like a patch of sky on the pavement on a very bright and hot day, looking like water, inviting and fresh and rippling, but then dissipating into nothing when approached, and the pavement remains flat and parched and gritty as it always has been.

She wishes Guadalupe were still alive to help her figure everything out. But Assumpta no longer hopes to understand it all. At her age, she no longer remembers so many things, even things that had happened the day before. But of a certain part of her life, when she was much younger, she could remember every single detail -- when the very sky broke with ferocious wind and rain as if it were hell itself, when the hills undulated and moaned and changed shape, and the tree branches swayed in terror, and fell, and walked, and wrapped their big, trembling arms around each other, and the stalks of rice trembled on the wet ground from they grew and then fell onto the swampy paddies, defeated by the elements and the fury of the night, and brown, filthy, half-naked, malicious, demented men came up from out of those moaning, groaning hills with weapons of death, and the house of her forefathers burned to the ground.

But there is more that had happened. It wasn’t just the horrifying things. No life can ever be just about monstrosity. There had been beauty, truly, there had been. And there had been order, and good manners, and tradition, friends, the seasons of planting and harvesting, a system of life that had sustained them, and there had been trust and faith, and strong men who kept her safe, and warm beds and beautiful curtains, perfume, flowers, evenings of lights and laughter, food wonderfully concocted, and love, and the land which had been nurtured by her family and which had fed so many generations of Camarines people. Those, Assumpta also remembers. Those, she feels strongly, ferociously, and defiantly, are her birthright. And those are what she holds on to with more vehemence than her memories of the day of annihilation that left her and her youngest brother as the only remaining descendants of the powerful family Arguelles who owned and ruled much of Camarines for over two hundred years.

[Image credit]

21 August 2015

To the streets

After more or less nine years of driving a car, I am back to taking public transport. The change is required both by practicality and my psychiatric condition; traffic in Metro Manila has been getting worse, and I have the vestigial remains of a driving-related anxiety which has plagued me for two long and excruciating months. Because of these, in order to cope, I have transformed myself into a commuter.

So far it has been relatively easy, and the ease is of course facilitated by my move to a place that is much closer to the office. Now I carry an umbrella in my bag. Now I wear rubber boots when it's raining. Now I walk to where public transport is, and join the horde that battle the streets to get where they need to go everyday. Now I am one of those who say, "Bayad po," and , "Sa tabi lang." It's not particularly difficult, but it's not easy, either. The Metro Manila commuter is, I daresay, the new salt of the earth.

There isn't much contact with other people when one drives a private car. Most of the time it's just Daft Punk, America, and me. I can make and take calls. I wear a Bluetooth headset. I use Waze. I talk to myself sometimes. I let my mind wander a bit, especially when stuck in traffic. Though I still traverse the same streets as public transport, it's still an entirely different plane.

As a commuter I have to be alert always, and I have to keep my phone on silent and out of sight. I dont bring my valuables. I don't need Waze. And I dare not listen to music for fear that it will distract me. I am one of the horde now, walking, taking rides, walking again, and taking another ride, until I get to where I need to be. It's a very earthy kind of existence, one with its own norms and demarcations that I am still in the process of learning. I traverse a different kind of plane this way.

[Image credits: 12]

14 August 2015


I have recently moved out of the Makati apartment I have lived in for five and a half years. Before living there, I lived in a small Makati studio for seven years. That's a total of thirteen years spent living alone in Metro Manila.

When I moved out of my 58 square meter apartment in Makati, my stuff completely filled up the interior of a very large moving van -- a six-wheeler container van, actually -- with the help of four workers. It was a total move out, consisting of just one trip, so we had to find a way for everything to fit. It was a rather stressful exercise, as I was temporarily living in Bicol because of certain illnesses, and had to travel to Manila just to move and start my life over.

As I watched the van slowly fill up with stuff, I wondered how I had accumulated so much for the past thirteen years. A whole lot of them were books, and then shelves to hold the books. A lot of them were files that I still have to hold on to, so there's that. I do have a lot of bed linens because I love my custom-made bed with the orthopedic mattress topper, and that was the one area in which I tended to splurge. A lot of them were also clothes, which is strange, because I have never really been a consciously sartorial person, always just favoring jeans and round neck shirts if I could get away with it.

It all got me thinking, if I who don't buy much can end up with so much stuff over the span of thirteen years, what about those who consciously buy a lot of stuff? Why do we buy stuff, anyway? I bought stuff because I thought I needed them. Books were a necessity in my life, and thus so were shelves. Clothes were cycled as my weight roller-coastered. I didn't fancy many shoes. But what of those who bought stuff indiscriminately, such as those who buy stuff every time there is a sale, for instance? What of those who live in bigger homes where there is enough space to house a lot of stuff? What of those who live with other people who need stuff? I dare not think of our house in Naga, all 400-something square meters of it, housing its eight members and four maids, all of whom need stuff. A house in which stuff has accumulated for about forty years of my parents' married life.

Now I am sharing a house with several girls, and all I brought with me is one suitcase of clothes and my sister's old electric fan. Now I am already allergic to buying stuff. My mother wants new bed linens for me and my dad has suggested a new headboard, but I said no more additional stuff. I have used up my quota for the past thirteen years, and now I will use what we already have.

And maybe that's what the whole exercise is for -- for me to have had the experience of acquiring stuff, stuff that now have memories attached to them. Perhaps it was also for me to experience life in Manila for thirteen years with the convenience and comfort brought about by stuff. And in all this, it's for me to see that what I have is more than enough. I'm done buying.

[Image credits: 123]

07 August 2015

Life begins

at forty, as the saying goes, and as I enter the line of four, I crane my neck to see what's out there. Certainly when life begins there has to be some sort of ceremony, similar to the fuss and bustle that happens when one is pulled from the womb, when life begins for the first time?

But turning forty is quieter. Perhaps it does seem that way because right before I turned forty, there was so much noise and stress. I had to change psychiatrists. Then I suffered from an anxiety disorder, which turned me into a bag of nerves. Then I had to change psychiatrists again. Then, in an effort to relieve myself of driving-related anxieties I stopped driving and moved out of the apartment I have been living in for five years, moved into a place much closer to the office, a set of exercises that has its own inherent stresses.

And now, I am past the noise for the most part. The dust has settled after the mayhem has died down. Now I am forty, living simply and sharing house with several girls. I now walk to where public transport is. I now carry an umbrella in my bag, and wear rubber boots when it's raining. Once again, I am elsewhere, and by doing a paradigm shift, also living another life, albeit still mine. Let's see where this takes me. I begin.

13 June 2014

Breathing lessons

This is a transcript of my eulogy for my paternal grandmother, Francisca Kare Moll, who passed on June 3 and was laid to rest on June 8.

When I was a teenager, my parents had to go to the United States and stay there for a few years. They had no choice. They simply had to do it. There was no one else available to take care of me and my two siblings, Squiddward and Nachie, but Bita.

And Oh. My. God. The things I put her through, it’s the stuff of family legend. In fact, because of all the hardships she had suffered because of me, I don’t think she will even have to go through Purgatory. She is going straight to heaven. She is exempted from Purgatory because of me.

What strikes me most about Bita is her generosity in everything. She was generous with her time, her words of wisdom, her teaching, her prayers. Even in her endearing little subtleties, she was also generous. Maybe no one else notices that but us. Maybe we notice that because we have all come from her. Who could ever forget the meaning of that phenomenal, unforgettable, powerful phrase, “May lapat?” ("There are cobwebs.")

She was also generous in her pantatachar, but it was always in good humor, and it was her own subtle way of teaching us what is proper and what is not.

For instance, she would say, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Itong babaying ito, ang pagkatukaw baya burukaka na. Makakaagi na ang carabao. Jesus, Jesus, Jesus!” (“Oh dear Jesus, look at that woman, sitting there with her legs wide open, enough to let a carabao walk through!”)

Translation: Always sit with your knees together.

Another example: “Hilinga na baya iyan babaying iyan. Ang kiray puwede nang sukrayon.” (Look at that woman. Her eyebrows are fit to be groomed with a hairbrush.)

Translation: Always maintain your eyebrows, and be consistent with its proper density and arc.

And another example: “Habo ko na daw makasabay mag-cena si kunyan. Kawasa man kaya kun magsapa, nahihiling mo na an kakanon sa laog kan nguso. Ay, kaati!” (I no longer want to have supper with such-and-such, because when he eats, I can see the food that’s right inside his mouth. How disgusting!)

Translation: Chew your food with your mouth closed.

And yet another example: "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, iyan babayi kun makangirit ning makusog, kulang na sanang entirong nguso magkabaraliktad." ("Oh, dear Jesus. That woman, when she laughs, it's enough to turn her entire mouth inside out.")

Translation: When you smile or laugh, always keep your gums out of sight.

That was Bita. Restrained, discreet, elegant, proper, and full of simple yet stylish generosity. In all of the aspects of her life, she has given more than she has received. She was generous even with her body, the very same body that lies here in the room with us now. That body has given birth to, raised, and has given us ten God-fearing, law-abiding, respectable, reasonable, and decent children, whom we, primas y primos, would eventually have the privilege of being our parents.

Bita has brought so many good things into our lives that I cannot even begin to name them now, tonight. But the most important thing she has taught us, I believe, aside from all those lessons, is the most subtle: the proper way to breathe.

She died because of complications that began with her difficulty in breathing. At that very moment, when we knew that her body, which was once healthy enough to carry and deliver ten children, was full of various tubes, incoming, outgoing, connected to very sophisticated machines that we never even knew existed, I’m sure we all hoped we could all breathe for her. But of course it simply is not possible. Only she could breathe for herself, which she did, she tried, and she prayed for. Until the very end, when God told her that she can rest.

Prior to her passing, we thought we could only breathe for ourselves. But after Bita has come and gone, this breathing has now gained more meaning. It’s no longer just a biological function that we instinctively and unthinkingly perform in order to survive.

Breathing, for us, has now become a channel for gratitude, remembrance, and love. With every breath we take in, we also take in a hundred years of wonderful family history, a history that deserves acceptance, understanding, and faith, because it is a history that made us. With every breath, we also acknowledge our ancestors, who breathed in their time, so we can in ours.

We may not always breathe the same air, but we always breathe the same sensibilities. We may not always love the same way, but we always love as best as we can. And Bita, true to her reticence and her subtle style, has taught us that that is the proper way to breathe.

These are the tenets of Bita’s breathing lessons: That we become grateful for every breath, that with each breath we take we should love more deeply, live more profoundly, give more generously, forgive more sincerely, treat family more lovingly, live life more faithfully.

And most importantly, we should all breathe for each other, breathe for the people we love, breathe for those who cannot, breathe for the future that we will face. Bita, we will continue to breathe for you. We shall expand the breathing you have given to us so it will encompass the generations to come. So let’s breathe in and breathe out. Bita, te amamos, te echamos de menos, pero nunca te olvidaremos. Usted está siempre con nosotros.

[Image Credit: Iggy Belleza-Gonzales]

03 January 2014

For ghosts

For ghosts and the departed, both living and dead; for hauntings and unanswered questions and thoughts that trail off to the realm of darkness; for realities that beg the question; for wishes and dreams left suspended in some magical space and time, never to be realized; for love and memories and regrets; for that which is lost; for that which is not meant to be found.

Three days ago I left behind a previous life, and begin a new one. I was on the edge of the precipice then. Now the winds of love have propelled me to take flight.

[Image credit]

27 December 2013


I don't normally wait for the year to end before taking stock of my life. The OCD in me requires me to do this every week during the weekly review of my custom-designed planner. But the OCD in me also requires that I do something conclusive towards the end of every year, just to give finality to the year that is ending.

However, this year I will not do the requisite New Year's resolution, which always drove me crazy towards the end of January -- because apparently, having OCD is not an assurance that one will actually get things done as scheduled, and at the same time having OCD is an assurance that one will have frazzled nerves over things committed to and not done. Instead, I have decided just to close one door and open a new one.

Here are few things I have closed the door to as I leave 2013 behind: Overeating, overspending, psychiatric medication, negative thoughts, psychic vampires, high-maintenance relationships, direction-less relationships, direction-less people, hustlers and liars, credit cards, succumbing to depression, interest rates, painful shoes, cellulite, superficial gatherings, lousy music, bad lighting, bad lipstick, bad typography, bad adaptations, derivative art, senseless superstitions, too many bags, too much drama.

I have opened my door to: Regular exercise, drinking more water, travel, sincere and chivalrous suitors, elegant date nights, strong and honest men, sleeping alone, sleeping enough, zero debt, taking a leisurely walk at sunset, more time reading the classics, more time writing, proper skin care, laughter, fluffy bedroom slippers, Stevie Nicks, star gazing, ghosts, gardens, eating fruits, windy days, rainy days, patience, freedom.

What shall remain constant: family, true friends, America the band, solitude, literature, shiraz, and love.

[Image credit]

20 December 2013


When one has OCD, everything is connected, and remembered, and big, and important, and relevant. What is trivial and inconsequential to normal folks is monumental and epic to a person with OCD, such as myself.

Most of the time, it's overwhelming.

That's why I break things down into smaller pieces that make it easier for me to live my life from day to day to painstaking day. Among the tools critical for my survival are detailed lists, planners, tracking calendars, organizers, file folders, pre-set formulas, rulers, tabs, labelers, multi-pens, color-coding pens, straight lines, very clear sentences, boxes of a certain dimension, pre-programmed and recurring alarms, parameters, delineations, math, date-and-time stamps, and the solid laws of logic.

If you think me strange, perhaps that's because I am. But I have never let that stop me from reaching for my dreams. In that manner, I am perhaps more normal than the most normal person on earth.

[Image credits: 12]

13 December 2013


Because I am inordinately superstitious, this day fills me with trepidation. But at the same time I anticipate it with a giggly, feverish exhilaration. This Friday the Thirteenth will be like no other.

It will be the first Friday the Thirteenth in eleven years in which I shall be without a man in my life.

That realization came crashing through my senses a couple of days ago, from out of the blue, jolting me from my office paperwork, and I sat bolt upright in my chair. I frantically tried to remember how I dealt with the last Friday the Thirteenth that I had to spend alone, and could not remember anything recent. I was always with a man, and judging from my fear of days such as this, I’m sure they all bent backwards to appease me, keep me from feeling anxious and jittery and hyper-observant of all other superstitious details that would bring bad luck to our already unlucky day: a black cat crossing our path and I would completely change or dinner plans; two people saying the same word at the same time and not knocking on wood right after would cause me to panic; and a myriad of other little un-connected things that I would obsess and fixate over until dreadful, dreadful Friday the Thirteenth was over. My, the things I made my men go through, and the things they endured for me!

But they are no longer here. I am alone, vulnerable to all the cruel vagaries of this upcoming dark day. Some higher power must be telling me something. Last night I rolled my eyes at the heavens (or, more accurately, the ceiling), and said a little prayer before I went to sleep.

And then, right before dawn today, I woke up to a text message that said, “Good morning, beautiful.” It’s from someone I know and he loves me. How could I not jump out of bed happily after that, Friday the Thirteenth all forgotten, superstitions all forgotten, recent heartbreak all forgotten? Like a squeaky schoolgirl I smiled at the heavens (or, more accurately, the ceiling) and said a little prayer before starting my day.

It’s amazing how a simple, short sentence can make the difference in our day. Because all words come from somewhere, and from where his words came, I know it beats for me. His words gave me strength to brave the day today.

Superstition is just one of the many ways of dealing with a natural human fear of the unknown, and I can always choose another way. I’m still a little afraid, but in a good way. It's okay not to know what will happen in the future. All life is risk. All love is risk. I sally on. Love, here we go.

[Image credits: 12]

06 December 2013

Dear 38 Year-Old Maryanne,

Thank you so much for writing me. I have taken your words to heart, and I really appreciate the time and effort you took in writing me that letter, and finding a way to reach me through time. I took an ample amount of time to process everything you told me, and realized that it’s all up to me to decide how your life is going to be.

You were writing me out of fear and sadness then, although it was a credit to you that you were still able to make your letter sound happy. But I could see your fear and sadness through all that. Now please forgive me, but I have to be honest with you. I cannot proceed with my life eternally concerned about what you will feel, even if I know that at the lowest moments of your life, you will blame me. There are things that I have to do, and things that I have to go through, so that you will become who you are now.

Because young as I am, and with no other frame of reference than my limited view of life, I know no other way to learn but to surrender to the chaos, the uncertainty, and the lost feeling I get when I look out into the future and see nothing. But let me deal with all that. Let me bear the brunt of the pain. Let me be the one to make the mistakes, be with the wrong men, do the wrong things, be in the wrong places, be hurt over and over. Being my age is for all that, anyway. Let me be the one to fight. Let me be the one to be angry. Let me have all the bad hairstyles and wear all the awful clothes. Let me be the silly stupid, asinine one. Let me be the one to hurry when I should slow down and slow down when I should hurry. Let me have the sunburn, the scraped knees, the concussions, the bruises, the colds, the fevers, the disorders, the depression. Let me do all the crying and declare all the regrets. Let me face the darkness for you. Let me be the caterpillar so you can be the butterfly.

And what an amazing butterfly you are now. Your life is much simpler. You know clearly what you want, what are important to you, and what you want to fight for. You have let go of what you cannot control and what is not good for you. You no longer fear new things so much. You sleep better at night. More significantly, you can now keep secrets. You can now discern when to take action and when to wait for events to fall into place. You now know how to deal with the darkness that comes every once in a while. You now walk taller, you speak with more confidence, smile with more sincerity, and laugh more heartily. You can now face fear and pain with silence and imperturbable composure. You have learned how to cry in secret. You have learned how to be the guardian of your own dignity. You now have faith, and hope has never been stronger in you. You are fearless.  

Of course I did not see all these when I got your letter. I could not see the future, although your letter gave me a clue. But a very small voice inside me told me not to listen to fear, and I proceeded with that. I have decided to live my life the way I wanted to, and not in the way you wanted me to. This is my way of teaching you all the things that you asked me in the letter to teach you.

I make no apologies for your dark days. I make no apologies for anything in your life. But little by little, you will understand why I decided to live life the way I did. And the end result of all that is you, now, at this moment, suspended momentarily for the time that you are taking to read this letter from me. In the convergence of you and me, across 23 years of pain and love and magic, you will see what I mean. I think you are starting to see it now. You are on the verge. Give in to it. Close your eyes and fly.

With love,
15 year-old Maryanne
[Image credits: 1, 23]

29 November 2013

'Tis true

That when someone’s character is so dark and scheming, and that someone hurts you and you do not deserve it, you need not retaliate at all. The universe itself will declare revenge in your name, and will provide a glorious resolution for you, without you lifting a finger or saying a single word. Lady Justice, faithful soldier of an orderly universe, will strike the blow.

And perhaps, despite the blindfold over Lady Justice, she is not really that unseeing. I have reason to believe that her eyesight is so sharp and intuitive that, blindfold or no blindfold, scale or no scale, she can see beyond made-up faces and public personas to the kind of heart buried deep beneath the fake surface, and she will always know when to lift her sword. And after the moment of judgment, life will go on as decreed, until darkness anew calls on Lady Justice to intervene again.

At any rate, I’m okay, and life goes on, now wonderfully, happily, productively. Maybe this is also what the universe is telling me: I must live to tell the tale, in my own way, in my own time, because writing truthfully, beautifully, and unforgettably about it is the best justice of all.

[Image credit]

22 November 2013


Although I have never been able to attend a masquerade ball in my life, I have always been fascinated by the concept of it. There is a theme, and there must be masks. No matter that the masks don’t really mask who one is, it’s the masquerade of being masked that matters. I love that people seem to exert real effort on the costumes that will fit the theme -- at least that’s what it looks like in the movies I watch and in the online articles that I read about masquerade balls -- and that they make the masks real works of art.

But isn’t that what we already do in real life? We put on masks -- makeup, literally, and a public persona, figuratively. We dress the part we want to play: executive, graduate student, starving artist, yuppie, poet, professor.

Even our language is masked. We don’t always say what we feel, out of the concerns of politeness, decorum, and diplomacy. We don’t always reveal what we think, to keep from hurting others, and we don’t always express what we mean, for fear of being misunderstood even in the explaining. Sometimes, we cry out for help, but even those are masked. They are not literal cries for help, but jokes filled with meaning, a word edged into an otherwise banal statement, a story told in a casual manner.

I am part of this masked crowd that wades through the ocean of civility with a calm face, a brave expression, a smile and a joke every now and then, polite laughter, and a social life that seems normal. But underneath, I am nothing like that. Only the people closest to me know who I really am inside, without the mask. An elite few have accepted me, and have stayed with me all their lives. One got very close, saw behind the mask, and did his best to  love me anyway and even removed his own mask in the process. But it was not meant to be. We got blinded by our own image.

So after he walked away, I just put my mask back on, and continue to wade through the horde in this ball, still hopeful for what life will bring me.

Because beneath the mask, I still believe in love. I still can find happiness in this masquerade ball of life. Someday, someone new and strong and honest and true will walk up to me and say, “I know who you are, even with the mask on, and I love you nevertheless, even without the mask.”

[Image credits: 12.]

15 November 2013

My mother

is celebrating her birthday today.

And on this day I cannot help but wonder how her life was like when she was my age.

When she was 38, I was 17. She had just gotten back from four years in California with Da, and I was not the same person that she left. I was older, more headstrong, more broken, more lonely, more angry, more unpredictable than ever, and impossible to handle. Most 17 year-olds are. But in her eyes, I am nothing like the rest of that population. She believed I was special.

So she stayed with me, and worked with me, and though it was not easy -- for her as well as for me -- and nothing was perfect, I shed off that grunge-y, angst-y shell and was able to start making peace with who I really am inside.

Now I am 38 myself, and I have not experienced half the pain and difficulties she went through when she was 38. I have it easy, mostly because she saw to it that I won't go through the same difficulties she had, and for that I am grateful.

But as life must have it, I must go through my own purgatories, my own abysses, my own confrontations with the devil, and there are times when I absolutely must do it alone, and I'm glad I got through them. My mother taught me how.

Now life is still not perfect, but I know now that for as long as I stay true to myself, and be respectful of my own core values, then all will be well. Sometimes I forget that, I admit, but I always eventually go back to who I am. I always come home to where I belong.

Happy birthday, Mama Eden.

[Image credit]

Under the spotlight

Last November 10 I was Philofaxy's Reader Under The Spotlight. I talk about planners and Filofaxes and organizers, and other tools that help me manage my life. Check out the full post here.

08 November 2013

Second chances

Yesterday I attended my very first class for the one and only class that I am enrolled in for this semester in the University of the Philippines, Diliman. This time, I am attending just one undergraduate class, in compliance of a prerequisite for me to study for a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature, Major in Literary Theory. I was admitted to the program just last October, and I have begun attending classes only yesterday, at the start of the second semester.

This would be my second Master's Degree, after my Master in Business Administration from the Ateneo many, many, many years ago.

CL was never my first choice as a major for my second Master's Degree. In 2002, I was admitted to the Master's Degree Program for Creative Writing, and it was an exhilarating journey for me. I was fresh out of the province, living with relatives in Quezon City, and still working for my freelance consultancies, and I was thrilled to finally be learning first-hand from the biggest names in Philippine Literature. These big names actually read the stories that I wrote for class, and told me what they thought about them, and I, in turn, can tell them what I think as well. Finally, they have become real people for me, writers who also struggle with the writing craft on a daily basis, like I do.

Still, that did not help to dissipate the star-struck feeling I always get when I interact with them, either in class, in writers' gatherings, in lectures and symposiums, at book launches, or elsewhere. In keeping with my brown-nosed method of formal study, I enrolled in each and every class being taught by my literary and academic idols, even classes that were not required of me and which I knew will not be credited. And those classes were difficult! And many of them got me only a grade of INC.

Nevertheless, I persevered in flying around aimlessly inside the College of Arts and Letters, only wanting to experience studying at the feet of the masters. Of course it will come as no surprise that the program eventually expired on me, on the tenth year, which was last year.

But of course I have vowed never to leave UP without a degree. So I pleaded with my Graduate School Coordinator, who fought for me as best she could, and I also pleaded with my Vice-Chancellor to grant me an extension, but I understand that they had to put their foot down at some point. They could not just keep students in there, un-graduated, forever. And like my coordinator and two-time professor told me, "It's not that we don't want you here. It's just not good parenting."

And so here I am, starting again. This time, I am on a strict study plan that spans only five very tight years. And I have a ghost theory for it, and I am very excited about it, and so are my enrollment advisers, and my professor for this class that I am taking this semester.

I, of course, am grateful for this second chance, knowing that I shall have to prove myself worthy of the slot this time. I shall have to work harder, submit better papers, have more focus, devote more time, get better grades, and come up with a final work that will surpass everyone's expectations of what a ghost theory is.

And I am grateful not just for this second chance, but for the many other second chances that I have been given in my life. I am not a perfect girl / daughter / employee / mother / wife / student / consultant / editor / writer, but through sheer grit and the conviction that I was born to write, write, write, I have more or less been able to redeem myself by doing the one and only thing I know how to do well: to write.

So I write down a plan, write down a definite schedule, write down tasks and duties, write down deadlines, write down what is expected of me, write down everything I need to do to make myself worthy of this generous second chance. And I write down my ideas, write down what is real and true and important, write down what I want to make true, write down my dreams and my desires and my future.

And in so doing, I also write away my fears, write away my sadness, write away my pain. Because that's the only way I know how to cope, to survive, to become better: by turning everything into words that I can actually hold in my hands and deal with.

I am a writer, and that's what I do. Finally, I have found the gumption to claim the title for myself.

[Image credits: 1234]

01 November 2013

Take care, my love

Your home, where you belong, and where you have always found peace and quiet and comfort, will be here waiting for you when you return from the difficult journey that you have to make.

And when you finally do come back to this home that we have made real and true, beyond all legalities and beyond all social conventions, you can be happy and at peace and silent once more, and you can finally rest inside the warmth and safety of the love that we have built together, this time for all eternity.

25 October 2013

The streak

Growing up, I sported a very short, very flat version of a page boy with full bangs. It was called the apple cut, which was popular with both boys and girls in the seventies and eighties. It was not my choice of haircut, as I was barely in my teens, and so my mother decided on every aspect of my life then, including my hair. But being too young, I did not quite care how I looked. I was happy with whatever I was allowed.

Since I turned 13, however, I was given free rein over my hair and other things, and true to adolescent impetuosity, I have gone from short to long to short again many times over, from straight to curly to frizzy and back to straight, from to brown to black to brown again. I even sported a crew cut at one point during high school, a no-no in our Catholic all-girls’ school. And then in further defiance, I had my head shaved to almost-bald in my senior year. Coupled with torn jeans, and sometimes, super-short skirts and super-short shorts -- all no-nos in school as well -- I became iconic in my class this way: the girl with that hair and those outfits.

It is only expected of any self-respecting teenager that she would thumb at authority in some of the most superficial ways possible, and choice of hairstyle and clothes was one of the channels through which the aforementioned teenager can pronounce a revolution. In my mind, at sixteen, the world turned on whether or not my hair was spiky and what color my socks were, and how torn my jeans were, and other profound details of such a frivolous philosophy. I had a willing audience for that, though. Quite a lot of people constantly reacted to what I wore, what I said, what I did -- teachers, classmates, the nuns. Classmates were mostly encouraging; perhaps they were living their own revolutions vicariously through me. Teachers turned their noses up at me. Nuns made the sign of the cross and mumbled a short prayer for the salvation of my soul each time they would pass me at the hallways and corridors of that large and stuffy high school that was my home for four years.

Now, nearing forty, and hardly a revolutionary -- and still not knowing whether my soul would be saved despite all the prayers that the nuns may have uttered on my behalf -- I have let my hair grow out. It’s straight, now brushes my shoulders, and has about 30% of white in it, spread all over, giving the illusion, when seen from a distance, that I had hair that was a strange, indescribable shade of brown. I have a streak of white hair, too, a fat swathe of it that starts from the top of my head and falls over the right side of my part. This streak, I suspect, started sometime during college, secretly, without me noticing it -- especially because it flowed down in a part of my head that I did not see -- until someone asked me if I got that part dyed white. All other white hair began to appear around that streak, and then gradually spread out all over my head.

The streak is still there, holding its own, but I know that in time it will be overpowered by all the individual white strands as they grow in number, eventually turning my entire head of hair white. Or gray. I cannot really tell yet. It has not gotten to that point. Right now it’s still in a state of ambivalence, and my hair sports that ‘color’ that people would, in an attempt to bestow comfort, call ‘salt-and-pepper.’

People ask me what salon I go to to get my ‘white highlights,’ and if it took me a long time to get it ‘just right.’ When I tell them it’s natural, they then promptly ask me if I have any plans to get the whites colored. At least now the tables have turned, and I’m no longer the one confused about my hair. Because I have decided to just let it go, let it grow, let it turn white, or gray. My hair is the least of my concerns now. I declare revolutions elsewhere. 

Perhaps, in this day and age in which everyone dyes their hair, leaving mine natural is my own new form of revolution. As the white streak starts to wave goodbye to its formerly dominant stature in my head, my wild streak has likewise begun to dissipate into the mists of memory. It will be replaced, in time, by white hair, straight hair, long hair, hair that does not need much to be healthy, and a life that does not need much to be happy. And the revolution will have been complete.

[Image credits: 12]

06 September 2013

I have an Etsy Store

It's called Paper Love Forever. In it, I design custom-made planner inserts for the Filofax, Franklin Covey, and other organizers with similar hole configurations.

Paper has always been my most preferred medium, and when I work with paper I feel like I am truly in my element. Also, because of my OCD, designing paper planners and time-management systems relieves my compulsion for order, and makes me feel like all is well in the world.

I also design custom-made tracking boxes for the planner inserts, so that my clients -- as well as I -- can stay on top of the many things that we all have to deal with on a daily basis, making sure that nothing falls though the cracks.

It might sound like a lot of work, but when something is already an organic part of your life, you find that it's much, much more natural than you used to think, and being without it would be like going through life without wearing shoes or drinking water.

The store opened quietly at the end of August, and so far I have had good support. My clients are usually from the US and UK, and prefer planning on paper rather than on the iPad. That, I can certainly relate to.

I don't know where this store will bring me, but I am open to possibilities, and I am grateful for the chance to have a hand at designing. I like the feeling of just putting on my headphones and listening to glorious music while working with the vectors that make up the planner elements. In zoning out the noise and clutter of the world, I can zone into the order that I need so much in my life.

Yes, paper, in its many creative forms and applications, is always good for the soul.

25 August 2013

The gift

Over forty decades ago, he was born. Little did anyone know that he was born specifically to be God's gift to me.

To the man in my life, Mr. T, who has always been patient and kind and tender and loving to me, without fail, and who always does his best to make me happy and cater to all my needs, and who always picks me up each time I fall, and treats my wounds and heals my ailments, please know that everyday I thank God for giving you to me, despite all the odds, despite all the many missed chances. Sometimes, when we think something is not meant to be but it still happens, it only means that greater powers are in force, and we can only surrender.

Happy birthday, my love.