De-cluttering Time

June is summer break at University. Faculty members usually make the most of this time to develop their skills through workshops and conferences, while others take some time out to finally write their research work or take care of other things they’ve been putting off for the past months.  Other teachers take some much-needed R&R after handling a lot of paperwork for the semester.

My routine has lightened up compared to the past month. May went by so quickly, that even my planner / organizer had only one or two entries in it for each week;  my schedules were haphazardly listed into my cellphone. To review the month, I had to combine my photos, text messages, and google events to piece things together– I really could not remember what happened on some days.

I realize that every June is usually a month of recuperation and re-learning for me. After two months of cramming and chasing after deadlines, the weeks after inputting grades can either the be most restful or the most disorienting. In my case, it felt like withdrawal symptoms from the hectic semester– I was looking for something to do and to be stressed about it.

In addition, I DID have something to be busy about because I agreed to teach a summer class. However, I think it’s the last time that I’d be willing to teach for the summer term simply because my momentum is off… and so are the students’.

Since last year, I’ve been having mid-year classes. Last year was more of a last-minute request, but this year was scheduled long before the break began. It’s a little disorienting, especially in the weeks after the second semester ended in May. Students were on break and very few faculty members would come in. The school grounds were very quiet, and I often found myself cleaning my desk or walking around school rather than writing or staying at my desk to read.

The week after grades were due, we had our “spring cleaning” day. Our institution makes sure that we recycle papers, and that papers which are dated from five years ago or older than that should be discarded. I began to discard memos and letters from 2013. Since I work with the Humanities, it’s obvious that I need to be a bit more careful with how I apply that rule, or I end up throwing out everything. Needless to say, the past weeks have been dedicated to cleaning up my work and freeing some head space.

Since I’ve been trying to adopt the minimalist lifestyle, especially with the KonMari techniques, I decided to try to apply the same approach to my work space and my digital files. In the process of just sifting through my emails, I also found how much information I think I can fit into my head… subscribing to at least three different mailing groups about literature and teaching, only to find that I have no time to actually read them all every week though I thought that this was one way to improve myself.

In the process of cleaning up, I realized that my largest clutter is my digital clutter. I dedicated a whole morning just to organize and clean out my Google Drive and Dropbox account. I found redundant files, broken links, and a number of word files filled with potential research ideas or plot bunnies that remain unfinished. I completely forgot about them until I opened them again. When I was halfway through that, I decided to go through my email and unsubscribe to mailing lists which don’t benefit me anymore.

While my physical desk is so much cleaner now without all the papers, my online folders have a long way to go with organizing. I have yet to figure out a system for all these files, especially for books and digital readings that which have their occasional usefulness for classes. While I want to live a minimalist lifestyle, I realize that being in the academe seems like a paradox to that ideal way of life.

How do you organize your online files and clutter? I’m all ears.

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A Balanced Day

The second semester is done, and I’m relieved that the five months are finally over. A lot of this semester’s challenges were more on classroom management and my own time management. There was a lot to learn about time management this time around.

In the past year, I promised myself that I would make time for the things that matter and not to make work the most important aspect of my life. However, in the midst of all the deadlines, demanding students, and following-up bosses, this easily becomes a forgotten goal. Before I knew it, my weekends were also filled with things to do for work. I also began to do something which I promised I would stop making a habit of, which is  checking and responding to email while out with friends or family.

I listened to a podcast which also gave me a clarity about the work-life balance that I want, and why other co-workers seem to be able to live both at the same time. While some people can live both work and personal life as one, unified entity in their life, there are others who need to compartmentalize these aspects and create a clear separation between the two. I realized that I was the latter… which is why I get so stressed out when students message me at odd hours in the evening, or on non-working holidays.

One of the productivity ideas I thought I’d put into practice at the start of the semester was to use Sunday as preparation day for the coming week. While that worked and usually gave me a better sense of control for Monday, I also realized that the momentum of work in my workplace was very different– they usually began assigning and following-up on tasks for Monday and this would often change my plans. More often than not also, there would be a lot of disruptions through chats and emails on Monday. At some point, I would begin finding another work area so that I could focus on my writing and reading tasks.

So far, the method that’s worked for me is to dedicate the morning to writing and reading about the week. I make sure to do this away from my work desk– the library, a coffee shop or another room where I can work uninterrupted.

By lunch time, I actually drop by at my desk and begin to receive updates, which gets me out of my “too much thinking” mode from the morning. After consistently applying this, I realize that there is NOTHING related to writing and reading that I get done during those times I am actually at my work desk. Not only because of the disruptions, but because my cubicle is situated in such a way that I easily get distracted by people passing by.

It’s a welcome thought that people enjoy talking to me and keeping me updated about things I’d otherwise not be aware about. However, for the remaining months of the semester I think it’s about time that I create some boundaries and make these working conditions work to my advantage.

This is still better than working from home. I’m not sure how people get anything done when they work from home. All I want to do is watch TV and sleep when I tried working from home.

2018 Resolutions (again)

2017 was a rollercoaster kind of year.

There were so many disruptions, unexpected changes, political events… to an extent, it almost appeared absurd that many of these things were even happening. I’m not going to dwell on these things in this post, however.

While there were many instances for me to just give up and accept defeat, there were also insights and opportunities that gave me the privilege to enjoy life and what else it had to offer. Perhaps because of the resolutions I made for 2017, I had subconsciously decided to focus on my own challenges and duties than on what is going on in the internet world or what the media would report. There was just so much that needed to be done, that it became clear that there really was nothing that I could do— as much as I hoped that I could— for these events outside and far away from me.

All I had was my community, my immediate circles, and myself to deal with.

In hindsight, that’s actually a lot of influence right there. I don’t mean social media influence either, but actual interaction. The need to be in the moment and to absorb what can and cannot be done with my limited time.

Because of the challenges that 2017 presented to me, I realise that 2018 should be about focusing on what needs to be done… to rebuild boundaries and to challenge myself to say no and accept that I will be criticized for my new behaviour.

I think I got a taste of what this challenge would mean, just this past week. It takes a while for people to get used to a “new you”, when they’ve been used to a version of you that they didn’t really need to get to know or to take care of… someone who was fun to be with and agreed to everything that needed to be done. Most especially, someone who used to change themselves readily to fit into any given situation.

Now that I’m learning to say “no”, or to offer some resistance to things I actually don’t want to do, it’s been more obvious that people are surprised by this behaviour.

While it’s made more relationships a little rocky, compared to before, I’ve seen that it also brought out the people who are truly friends. By this, I mean the people who respect me as I am, rather than how I make them feel all the time. People who share common interests but also common values with me.

I’ve also realised how many friendships I had made and kept out of necessity. It’s eye-opening for me that I’d give so much of my time and effort for this level of friendship, too.  I’m not saying that gave more, either (I never thought it should be a competition of affection) but that I sincerely did believe that I valued them as individuals. For that reason, though, a lot of times I did give up my own individuality.

I think 2017 had to teach me about expectations. Both mine and others’ expectations of me. There is no doubt that everyone has expectations, but it’s not very often that people know what they actually want… they’re more likely to criticize or comment on things that did not meet their expectation.

This 2018, I begin my resolutions again… keep at trying to be a better version of me even if I don’t appease everyone all the time. At the same time, know when I need help and have to ask for it.

 

The Magic of Cleaning

2017 is coming to a close, and we’re back to that time of the year when everyone has to re-assess the things that they’ve been doing and where they wanna go in preparation for the coming new year.

Along with these preparations, I’ve downloaded the manga version of Marie Kondo’s (Konmari) “The Art of Tidying Up” and finished reading the whole thing overnight. The next day, I felt this urge to begin reviewing the things in my room, and how much I needed to clean up. This was also the day before I was heading out to Japan with my family and preparations for the trip had pre-occupied my mind more than anything. The cleaning was a welcome break from strategising and managing tempers.

In college, I didn’t really see cleaning as something therapeutic. It wasn’t until grad school that I realised how relaxing it was (sans the scrubbing and sorting and dust bunnies, of course). Reading Konmari’s method has given me an even deeper perspective on how to tidy up, and as she claims no one has gone back after they tried her method of cleaning.

A lot of it has to do with her approach to integrate the act of cleaning with why we keep things. Through her method, you can also imagine why she usually allots two weeks for the whole cleaning-up process (of course, it also depends on how much cleaning needs to get done). From the easiest category (papers, everyday items) to the toughest (things of sentimental value), one must reflect on the significance of the  item in their present life and if it should be part of the future that they want for themselves. It sounds like a tall order, but once you get into the system, you’ll find yourself losing track of time. In my case, it felt like a presentation of my past year, and previous years— how far I’ve come and how much I’ve changed. And, on the funnier side, how some things about me have remained the same.

In the end, all that cleaning taught me how to embrace both good and bad parts of myself, while staying hopeful for the road ahead. Funny how cleaning can be such an eye-opener!

Cheers to a productive, positive and focused 2018! 🙂

 

 

How do you know a country has “a reading culture”?

Every September is a good time to go shopping for books. Every year I look forward to the Manila Book Fair, along with sales in many different local book stores. Being based in Manila, I have to admit that I’ve felt very limited in what book stores I can go to and which ones  can offer a cheaper price. Not to mention, the titles which usually grab my attention are not usually available in most branches and might be more economical to order online.

Over here, it’s easy to see that preferences in readership range from badly-written romance novelletas, to romantic-horror fiction, to self-help books by celebrities. A quick google search of local bookstores’ bestsellers will easily show this.

I take it as a sign that, over here, the reading preference has not only been price-based, but also based on how well titles can offer some release from daily life. In a highly-stressful capital like Manila, reading classics is a conscious and rare choice. Understandably, reading Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” while on the MRT, could easily launch one into existential depths when one has to walk because the train broke down.

If there’s any positive note to books and readership over here in Manila, in the past years, one thing has been constant– bookstores double as libraries. So far, I think it’s quite a welcome sight to see that Fully Booked has placed signage that it’s all right to remove the plastic and browse through the books. In an informal interview I conducted a few years back, one book-seller from another popular bookstore said that they had to cover books in plastic because of the cost it incurred to have so many damaged books– mostly due to readers who decide to finish the book and not buy it.

Contrast this to the second-hand books that I found in Japan. Our group was brought to the bookstore block of Jimbocho in Tokyo. We spent 4 to 5 hours looking at the collections of spotless secondhand books (I really wondered if they were even read). Some books went back to the 80’s, some even further. In many of those bookstores, there was a cafe inside, or right beside, for readers who wanted to take time to have coffee or tea while reading through their purchased books.

The myriad collection of books was not the only thing that astounded me while I looked through the books in Jimbocho. What caught my interest more was the amount of care that went into keeping books organized, and how readers made sure to return books properly.

While so many second-hand books and bookstores exist within Manila, with books priced dirt-cheap, often times it’s because you get what you paid for. I have yet to find a bookstore that has a cafe that allows readers to bring books and browse through them while having a dessert or a cup of coffee. I’m also not sure if the reason for this is because the local culture will take anything for free if it’s presented as an opportunity– even if it means bankruptcy for the business.

Inasmuch as I didn’t want to believe that the Philippines “is not a reading culture”, having seen the reading culture of Japan really gave me perspective on how different our priorities are. While we were browsing through books in Jimbocho, I’d notice businessmen stopping by to browse through some technical books (engineering / sciences). Also, while there were a number of bookstores on manga, I had to learn how naive I was, and realize that there were specialty bookstores depending on what genre you were interested in.

Not only was having a “reading culture” about a wide readership, but a discernment of what to fill one’s mind with. And, with Japan, this ranged from the simple to the most complex of topics and genres.

The curiosity and the ability to acquire knowledge was so available and accessible while I was in Tokyo, that now I feel so limited being back in Manila and figuring out how to get safely from one library to another. It took me a while to re-think how much I thought I knew just because I thought I had found enough books locally… only to see that the subject had been written on extensively and archived in Japan.

It’s both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time. This must be a common feeling for a scholar though… and I have only begun.

Every now and then, I still dream about that bookstore tour. I still recall the wall-to-wall books, the scrolls that were for specialty scholars, the art books that cost a fortune for a young worker like myself. But most of all, I miss that natural curiosity and love for further learning that filled that area. THAT was a reading culture, and I still hope for a Filipino readership that could reach such levels without the class-based limitations.

 

 

 

 

Hiatus and Recovery

What Recovery Looks Like

One of the things I had hoped to do since last year was to actually put my experience into writing. Over the past year, everything was about getting better– I even had a plan about it, from the goals to the deadlines.

Many times, I fell short of my ideal goals. This also helped me learn that the decision to be better required discipline and humbling. Along the way, I found a lot of reference materials and resources. It also helped a lot to go back to the classics, reading up on both literature and spiritual reading to keep me inspired and keep working towards my goals for 2017. It was even more comforting to know that I had a safe space, with friends and family who were also very supportive of me despite my many setbacks.

If there’s anything that I have learned over the past year, I’d sum it up in three items:

  • Falling back into old habits happens in a span of two weeks
    • The first week of working on a resolution is a make-or-break. But getting past two weeks towards a third week is when you know that it has become a habit
  • Goal-setting is a holistic process
    • You are a human being, a complex and rational being. Along the way of trying to become better, you’ll realize that there are many aspects of your life that you’ll need to resolve. This is also why you need an anchor, or a center that keeps you in check after the overwhelming amount of help that comes your way. In my case, I had to constantly review my “promise” when I asked for divine intervention to take me out of my situation.
  • Your idea of your best self has a better version
    • The best part of working towards becoming a better version of you, and of being accountable to something greater than you (in this case, I decided to become more serious as a Catholic), is slowly finding out that life has even more to offer. In a way, you just needed to be prepared for the greater things ahead.

So much of the amazing events within first half of 2017 were small miracles. Moving forward from discovering that I was recovering from Narcissistic Abuse has been challenging in ways I had never imagined.

The most difficult part is that not everyone can understand that it actually happens. Sometimes, they’ll say that it’s nothing compared to what they’ve been through, but most of the time they tell you that you’ll get better– and I guess that’s what really matters.

Within the past year, this was what recovery looked like:

  • not wanting to be avenged anymore, or learning to understand that it could have happened to anyone
  • learning that love finds it way to you, despite how convinced I was that I was meant to be single forever (happily single, not resigned to it. Haha!)
  • that while the fear returns every now and then, it no longer cripples me
  • and most of all, that I’ve been able to forgive my offender– and myself for failing myself.

In the process of trying to figure out how to understand what I was going through, I accidentally found this Youtube channel. It gave me a lot of comfort and realizations, aside from the prayers and goal-setting I tried to integrate into my journey to healing.

I’m sharing this here in case you also need to process things. Her videos are very patient and empathetic towards those recovering from narcissistic abuse. And as for my story, here it is… *drumroll*

The Back-story

(Basically, what I was recovering from in the past year.)

 

Continue reading “Hiatus and Recovery”

Existentialism is overrated

We’ve all come to a point in our lives where we have to confront the question, “What is the meaning of life?”, or maybe something simpler, “Why am I alive?”, or “Why should I keep living?”

When you’ve witnessed great suffering, or experience the numbness of pleasure, there seems to be nothing further ahead. Does it get any better, does it get any worse? And at that moment, you probably begin thinking about what you’ve been spending so much time on in the past weeks or years.

Sometimes, we get stuck with the question, and it isn’t easy to answer. For some existentialist philosophers, perhaps the meaning of existence goes only so far as your needs exist. But what if you wanted or needed nothing? What if, at some point of great suffering or great pleasure, death finally lost its sting, and the unknown presented itself as a better reality than what you currently have?

Are you willing to philosophize, to the extent that you’re willing to risk your life?

It sounded cool back in college to think about these things, to spout out names and words about existence and how reality is manufactured and how we’re all part of some system. But when I actually went through the reality of death, the possibility of it, while lying on a hospital bed for the first time because of some stupid sickness, I suddenly felt very small and insignificant. I wondered how fortunate I was to receive medical care, and if other people in the world even had other people tending to them when they really needed help. At this point, pursuing the why of existence came to a halt because mine could possibly come to a halt and that would simply be that– an obituary.

I obviously survived that sickness, making a promise to redeem my pointless angsty life by making a difference in wherever I was placed. It was from that sickness that I also learned that life is not about dwelling on the meaning of it, but making relationships that create greater meaning out of it.

Years later, because I had lost track of my vision and instead made pleasing people my goal, I had found myself at the same dark pit. Only this time, I had myself to contend with. The reality was that I had friends and family, but this was a reality that my distorted mind had presented differently: I did not matter, I never did. Somehow, I believed this, thinking that I only had myself, and that I can only take care of my choices and my life.

It was at this point that I wondered, if atheistic existentialist philosophy was really what I believed in… I really wouldn’t have anything to live for. If it made me happy to just die, then why prolong life? If it made me happy to be alone, then why bother trying to be with others? It was an endless cycle of trying to find some meaning where there was none to be found. A pit of self-pity that I needed to get out of, because I had lost my purpose. I had been betrayed by someone I had trusted, and realized that I did truly know who they were all along. And for some strange reason, the world just did not matter anymore, the only thing keeping me alive was the fact that I had accepted God years ago and it did not make sense for me to take my own life when He said it wasn’t time. I was begging Him to– why else should I be around?

But He stayed silent, and showed me, at my pace, why I needed to live. I wanted revenge, I wanted to hurt, I wanted to throw away everything. But He reminded me each day, through unexpected interactions, through messages from loved ones, about what I was missing out on. He reminded me that, on my own, He had already given me worth.

(If you’re reading this and can relate. Know that you are enough.)

I did not save myself that day, because left to myself I don’t think I’d be here. Thankfully, it wasn’t up to me. Since that day, life has been better– day by day, little by little. Pieces started falling into place, realities were unraveled to me, and I realized that I had almost wasted my life for such a useless thing.

Of course, to say that life is so much better does not mean that it is devoid of difficulties or of rainy days and broke days. But it has been better because I have come to accept all these realities as part and parcel of the journey to becoming an authentic human being. All the darkness and the light, and how I can decide on which one takes over me. I have come to acknowledge my darkness, and if I acknowledge my limitations and ask for help, I can keep it in check.

 

So there you are, a little survivor story. You’ll know it’s a survivor story because it doesn’t use the suffering as a focal point.

Your suffering is not the best part of your story, it’s your determination to improve and recover. And you can’t do that without acknowledging that pain or need for improvement.