Ten years.

I began my work in 2009. Surprisingly, I was asked if I would be interested to apply for work right after I graduated. I didn’t think twice, knowing that it was a place where I had met a lot of people that I admired, and which offered a curriculum that was in itself very attractive for me to be teaching in eventually.

Ten years, needless to say, so much has happened. Where did that child, with eyes-full-of-wonder and legs ready-to-hike-the-academic-mountain, go?

She existed once. Used to wonder more about the world. Used to feel like it was her job to keep things steady. Used to live a little more.

Slowly, she grew aware of the deliberate demands of each day. She began to focus on how to survive. She learned to get along with others, to adapt, to evolve.

It wasn’t long before—

she did not know how to balance out the idea of a past and present self, only to be dutiful—

she became lonely without realizing it.

She continued to search for some affirmation, some confirmation of her existence and importance, know that she was significant for another, and yet independent. By that point, anyone who felt like an affirmation would suffice, even if she had no idea why she did whatever she did.

It doesn’t take very much, or very long, for a person to lose themselves. All it takes is loneliness, and to stop thinking of anything meaningful like purpose or significance.

And so, I lost her. She is gone– the girl with eyes full of wonder.

She remains a memory to me but to others a ghost that they see. When they talk to me, they see her, not me, so I act for their sake.

I tell myself that, sometimes, people don’t need to realize that they are talking to ghosts, and are more comfortable knowing that they are living in a memory rather than a reality.

I keep her memory alive for them. I nourish those relationships she made, begun, and try to sustain the ones that continue to be good for her.

Frankly, if they paid more attention, they might notice the mask and miming. They might realize that they were talking to an actress, whose mask seems ready to fall off.

She is long-gone. Don’t they see?

I try to re-live that memory of me; now and then, if only because it feels like the better part of me.

Where did she go–? I wonder if you miss her too.

Sometimes, I’d like to think that I do.


A Bowl of Memory

Yukgaejang, please.” I placed my order and listened to my family place their own selections. It was one of those Sundays at a local Korean restaurant. Yukgaejang (spicy beef soup) was one of the dishes that I would order aside from Jjajjang myeon (black bean noodles). The savory flavor was something that I grew to enjoy and crave on days when I just needed to clear my mind of the many things that bothered me. 

 Today, as I waited for my bowl of spicy beef soup, I thought about how different I was from when I first sat in this restaurant with friends. Years ago, all I knew to order was bulgogi and bibimbap, mostly because they were familiar rice dishes with meat. Today, I was guiding my parents with what they might prefer on the menu. I could even figure out which ones were the sweet dishes and which ones were the spicy ones. 

Food has a way of bringing back memories, and usually good ones. In this case, I was remembering good memories against the backdrop of a different reality. Same restaurant, different association. I suppose that’s how it usually is; you don’t expect things to change so suddenly. Or, at least, with a good meal, you don’t expect to ever leave the people who are sharing it with you at the time. 

When the dark times of my relationship had arrived, I could not accept it. This very same Korean restaurant was my respite. I would order yukgaejang, welcome its spicy flavor as a way of waking me out of my stupor. Sometimes I could not finish it, because I just could not taste it. It was within these walls that I had begun my slow unraveling, my changing, my decision to become a different person. For some reason, the food never changed, but this was a good thing. I needed something constant.

As I recalled those times, I could clearly see my friends who turned out to be nothing more than acquaintances. I still remembered their orders, the food that they disliked, the ones that they always got. 

We don’t talk anymore, and I don’t want to either. But for some reason, their orders are stuck in my memory, as one of those useless pieces of information that resurfaces unexpectedly.

The waitress sets a hot bowl of Yukgaejang before me, and breaks my train of thought. I welcome the meal with fresher senses, with a deeper appreciation for life. This same dish, I now enjoy in a vibrant reality. My family, does not enjoy spicy dishes at all… but try to understand why I like this bowl of soup by tasting it anyway. 

Just like that, I have new memories with this bowl of soup. 

Forgiving but not Forgetting

“Forgive and forget,” this was a common phrase I would hear growing up. That, in order to truly know that you have forgiven another person, you need to have forgotten the anger and the crime committed against you. Most importantly, it was the thing good people did. I wanted to be a good person.

Eventually, I realized that sometimes you just have to forgive even if you can’t totally forget. Or, better yet, that forgetting is a gift and a grace from God. There were days when I prayed so hard, I thought my heart would stop from all my longing, “Lord, please let me forget. Please wipe away my memory. Please let me move on with life without this memory.”

The brain is such a curious thing. As I was with friends yesterday, they mentioned one time we went on a trip. I happily recalled the trip, and yet had a feeling that I was forgetting something, an inconsistency in the memory. One friend pointed out that so-and-so was also on that trip– someone whom I had cut out of my life.

I was more amazed by the fact that the memory seemed intact. I still remembered the food, the smells, the seating arrangement. But with this person completely cut out of the memory. All that was left was this strange feeling that there was someone else in that day trip.

The brain really has funny ways of helping us cope.

In any case, when this was brought up, I could laugh it off. In the past, I would feel so bad for days about remembering anything related to that person. I remain perplexed with how my memory had re-written itself yesterday. There are so many ways that our selves try to cope with the difficulties of life and of traumatic situations that maybe it will take a whole person’s lifetime just to have a glimpse of what the human mind is truly like. Perhaps, my prayer was answered in a slow, incremental process of retaining the essential happy memories.

I have a long way to go, but at least for the past two years, I’ve learned so much about what forgiveness is like and how we can easily enclose and choke ourselves when we choose not to forgive. I had to move on because of the realization that life will pass me by, and that wonderful opportunities will go unnoticed simply because I am too caught up in the thought of retribution.

I can’t say that I’ve completely forgiven– to the point that I can befriend that person again. I’m not sure if that’s part of the equation even… I don’t want it to be.

For now, it’s enough that I don’t want to harm those who have hurt me. Eventually, I might actually get around to actually hoping for their authentic happiness.

So if you ask me– forgiving is possible without forgetting. I think that’s part of the point, otherwise we fall into the same trap again.



Processing through Distancing

Everyone goes through some kind of trouble or emotional tragedy in the course of their lives. Some might even be carrying the burden of having to deal with emotional scars all through their life, uncertain with how to process the trauma or, alternatively distract themselves from confronting the actual issue.

On my end, I’ve found that it’s easier to see the problem by creating distance, and perhaps finding other people who have the same problem. Rather than going into analyzing my own actions and creating standards for myself, comparing the experience of other people helps a lot because it levels expectations on myself as well.

Sometimes, it turns out that what I perceived to be a problem is actually not a problem at all. An MBTI reading said that my type (INFJ) tends to isolate themselves, and feel isolated, because the perceived issues are not easily understandable to other people, even though I might feel very deeply about it.

I realized that not taking myself seriously was one way to ease the burden of feeling isolated. It also helped at lot to simply ask others what was on my mind when I wasn’t sure, rather than being afraid to upset them with my question. Other times, that exercise also made me wonder if I ever really took myself seriously anymore.

Lately, I’ve been wondering how much of these anxieties are imagined. I felt like being busy and a workaholic was one way to keep the feelings at bay; I’ve slowly been unraveling all these insecurities which I never quite processed… and things are making sense, thankfully. At the end of all that processing though, I still need a goal or a possible direction. I think that’s what I need to work on now; the feeling that my wants and needs are just as significant as other people’s.

How do you make work purposeful, without making it the entire purpose of your life?

Reading Out Loud

When asked if I was willing to take on a teaching assignment, I thought that it was the best offer I had been given in a while. I said YES immediately, looking forward to this class, because it was a topic close to my heart (Literature) and with a group of students that I had taught before. They were insightful, curious, but most of all, not readily resistant to new ideas. It was a perfect semester ahead of me– full of ideas and curious questions and great reads.

It was not until the later meetings that a colleague suggested that I should change my approach. Though I was surprised at first by the suggestion, it greatly changed the quality of insights that students would share with the class.

Her advice was to read with the class, and to read passages out loud.

By this, it also meant that it had to be ME who read these passages, rather than what I’d gotten used to, which is to ask students to read the passage.

One thing that I realized was that students will definitely read the text and that it usually wakes them up… but that I can always expect some awkwardness and hesitance with some words. This time around, I had to take on that awkward situation and read the material in the way that I thought it should be read.

At first, while I was hesitant, I eventually grew to appreciate this approach to literature. The quality of insights changed, and became more introspective. I’d like to think that it was not only because other insights would be shared, but perhaps because putting sound and feeling into the words on paper also changed its meaning. It could have also been because there was time to think since there was less nervousness about being asked to read out loud (or maybe that’s just the introvert in me making this excuse).

Teaching Literature this past semester has taught me that there is so much more to teaching in this discipline than I expected. Initially, a good storyline and well-developed characters would be the sure way that I would keep reading a book. In recent years, I realized that another element to literature is terseness, or the exactness of words to convey an idea or experience. That’s where I find the excellent writers set apart– in the amount of editing to find the exact words for extremely complex human thoughts and experiences (or perhaps even for extremely simple ones).

Great literature has a way of creating connections between otherwise unrelated concepts, emphasizing one word or phrase so that the subtext becomes even louder. All together, these communicate a distinctly human trait– that human beings can  and will want more than what the animal self can be complacent with.

Since the second semester, I had also been telling students to read their paper out loud when they’re in the process of editing it. I find myself needing to follow the same advice, even if at times my arrogance can sometimes get ahead of me and say that I have learned to write much better (of course not, no one is exempt from proof-reading).

Reading out loud is such a simple advice to follow, but how it’s changed the way I see and think about things!


How to write off friends

In college, I got writing papers down to a science.

Even if I didn’t feel like writing, I could somehow manage a five-page research paper that could get me a higher-than-average score. I also managed to make some extra income by writing blog posts about paid ads… which lasted just enough for me to buy my long-coveted PSP.

On the other hand, all that writing also required focus– the kind that meant turning down parties or time with friends outside of class.

It didn’t feel so bad then to choose work over friends. I knew that they would understand. In any case, if they didn’t understand, I felt no greater need to keep them as friends– they were always free to go, always free to return. I couldn’t absorb the idea of friendship meaning giving up my own priorities, or me demanding that they give up theirs.

It wasn’t until I graduated and began working that I had to re-think how I kept my friendships intact. Much of it began as an indebtedness, while others were necessary for work to remain smooth. At this point, it was unquestionable to me that there were times when I needed to give up work in order to maintain some friendships.

You know how some things become so commonplace, that you don’t give it much thought anymore?

That’s what happened to me in the next couple of years. My work became my life, and my friendships, or what I understood to be friendships, defined me. Unimaginable to me today, but at the time I couldn’t see a future where I was without specific friends in my life. I slowly became a workaholic– but the kind that used it to maintain friendships. Not being able to perform well on a task or turning down a favor meant severing a good friendship.

It wasn’t until last year that I had regained my sense of self, by acknowledging that I had reached my limit. It’s an unnerving feeling to look at yourself in the mirror and not recognize the person. But even more unnerving was how I would say it didn’t matter, because there was so much more work that needed to be done and needed doing.

My family knew how much work meant to me. They left me alone when they saw me at my desk on weekends, and were enthusiastic enough to watch Youtube videos I indulged in when I actually took breaks.

Recently, my sister told me how work defined me. She figured I was that kind of person who thought about work more than anyone else did.

So what changed?

For one, I realized that it wasn’t like I worked at a competitive, multi-national corporation. I was in the academe, and the pay was going to be pretty much the same as everyone at my ranking. So what was making me work weekends, if I’ve pretty much delivered what was expected of me and of everyone else?

I started losing friends. Well, maybe not losing more than it was that they realized I had changed, and perhaps that I actually got angry for once. I learned to walk away from the demands and the blackmail, and realized that they needed me more than I needed them. I learned that friends whom you practically gave most your life over wouldn’t think twice about dropping you when you start setting boundaries for yourself.

I needed to learn to pick my friends better. And, more often than not, they were friends for a cause and an end. While I couldn’t absorb that kind of shallow friendship in the past, my older self has learned to be grateful that friendship can and should be compartmentalized. I don’t mean this in order to enable you to use people (although I’ve also read up about people who are very good at doing this), but so that you can keep yourself healthy and intact in relationships. Friends should not demand access to your inner world, or that you trust them– that sort of thing happens over time, and with communication.

While I’m sure that I’ve had my own lack in being a good friend, I know that life is passing quickly with my poor choices. Ever since I’ve been having some “spring cleaning” in my relationships, I’ve learned to appreciate my individuality better. And, though I never thought it could happen before, I actually found friends who have the same eccentricities that I do.

Writing off friendships doesn’t have to be the worst thing in the world. Sometimes, it frees you and clears your blindness to experience better friendships.

The Future

We had class yesterday. North America in the 19th century. Transcendentalism, frontier and the pioneer spirit.

I live in Manila. I am a college instructor. Lately, shifts in our educational system have made teaching more demanding, shifting more pressure for professors to document the learning curve….

Exams have to be measurable, do-able, reasonable. Work progress, predictable. No homework on weekends. Be mindful of students with special needs. Meanwhile, I also need to keep researching and studying as well.

In college, I was taught to think outside of the box. That, if I wanted to soar or at least make sense of this existence, I needed to expect problems before they happened. Teachers could flunk me on the basis of being asleep in class… never mind if I had to stay up late to complete assignments. Asking why my grade was low was such a difficult thing to do because I needed to figure this out on my own.

As a teacher now, I need to remember that I simply facilitate the discussion. There are no wrong answers… or maybe there are… just don’t make them feel horrible about it. Classroom discipline is needed, and this is my weak point. I forget that most of the time, students are not as interested to learn as they are to get the highest grade with the least effort.

I was trained to assume that nothing worthwhile ever comes easily. This meant, taking the brunt from the boss to staying quiet because it would be rude to speak up. You get to speak when you have established yourself somehow, or at least have a good backer.

Everyone has an opinion now, and curtailing that chance to speak– in any way — is offensive and a disregard of an individual’s rights.

They are very particular about rights; I hear nothing about taking responsibility.

I became a teacher, dreaming of a Manila that would be more intellectual. A place where conversation could take place without anyone getting hurt or dying. Where emotions could be safely kept in order so that the other can be heard better. I believed that teaching would be the best way to reach young minds, and was eager to share what I knew about the world so far.

I dreamt of Emerson, the pioneers, the spirit that pushed a civilization forward while they pushed others aside. They achieved their goal of changing the world, including mine. They became part of my ruined country’s history, they are still the gods to us, and that land is still where many Filipinos hope to find better futures.

After class yesterday, a student expressed her disappointment with her drink. She asked if I felt the same sometimes when the drink I bought did not meet my expectations or feel worth its cost.

I thought that it was such a petty problem. And I found myself hoping that they could weather greater problems than a sub-par beverage someday.