Forgiveness

Today is Good Friday.

In a predominantly Catholic country such as the Philippines, it’s today that feels like a legitimate vacation throughout the entire year. Holy Week is supposed to be solemn, and a time to invite everyone to rediscover their faith. Growing up as a Filipino Catholic, I also had my shares of strict rules during Good Friday:  this could mean from not playing music and being quiet, to not being able to laugh the whole day. It can be easy to say that it doesn’t make sense, but now that I’m older I’m thankful that the silence is part of the necessity of observing the solemnity of holy week. It’s also become a reminder of the small pleasures in life which are overlooked.

Holy Week usually meant going out of town and visiting our home province. It also usually meant catching everyone also doing the same thing and being stuck in traffic for hours. Now that my parents, siblings and I have grown older, Holy Week has become a time of the year when we can enjoy Manila at its quietest, and most traffic-jam-free.

It’s also a great time to catch up with spiritual activities. Like yesterday, we went to Makati to go to the church for confession and for prayers. Majority of the mall being closed, and following the Stations  of the Cross, we eventually found the church which was not completely lit up. A couple of times, the lights would go out and the only light left would be the one on the altar, since the church was just running on generator power. Nonetheless, It was heartwarming to see the many other people who were there to pray and also refresh their spiritual life.  It felt like a real community, and something which I had not always been sensitive to in the past.

The best part was confession. The priest who heard my confession, despite the tiredness in his voice because of the many confessions he had heard all day, really knew what to advice me. I wouldn’t call it inspiration or passion, because the kind of hope that he gave me was a steady and calm kind of hope. Not the kind that burned bright and run out quickly. Maybe it was something I needed to hear again:  that the path towards God was not in bursts of energy and passion, but in a steady, committed daily walk to become a better self. It was consistent, humble, and constantly reminded of how life on earth is a blessing– yes, despite all the evil in it and all the pain in it.

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Everyday

Over coffee one day, my friend told me about how self-help books are more to self-help the authors. It was his usual joke, driving at my interest in reading them when I don’t know who to ask about a topic (which is usually 70% of the time).

For this coffee break, we were talking about “the habitus”, mostly because I had been fixated on reading up about starting the year right. As much as 2016 was a bad year for many people, for me 2016 was the pinnacle of  my own hubris. That is, I had to learn about my failures in a way that I never experienced, and had to accept that my failings were no one else’s fault. In the midst of that tumultuous time it would have been difficult for me to know what exactly was wrong; a year later, I can’t help but feel grateful that I got myself out of a horrible, compromising relationship masked as a “friendship”.

On the plus side, losing a so-called friend left me re-discovering a lot of good things about myself, placing things into perspective and forcing me to do what I’ve always wanted to do years ago but didn’t have the courage for: to leave. Now, I just had to figure out what to improve about myself, to rebuild my habits in a way that I could re-discover more things about myself. You read that right: this friendship made me forget who I was. Basically I was setting myself up for a 2017 that could restore all the good in myself that I had lost.

Back to coffee with friend.

“We make all these resolutions, but actually most of the time you’re acting on your accepted habits. If you want to make real resolutions, you’ll have to study your daily habits first, otherwise you’re just making a list,” he said as he took coffee. “Not to seem too personal, but just my two cents’.” He was right though, and as an anthropologist with a grasp on many theories and actual experiences and fieldwork, I was not one to challenge his years of study.

So began the daily recording of my “habitus”. I realized that a lot of habits that I wanted to include in my “self-care list”, included a lot of activities that I never really did before– like weekly exercise. It didn’t take long (3 days?) that I broke the resolution and went back to my old habits (like, no exercise for weeks).

Another friend of mine said that “it takes 21 days to develop a habit.” Sure enough, as soon as I started talking to someone regularly, daily, I noticed that it had subconsciously become a habit– I began wondering if the person was all right, and wanted to talk to them.

And so began the experiment: I wanted to inculcate mindfulness. This to me meant becoming detached from my cellphone. I made it a goal not to look at my phone the entire time that I was commuting on the way to school (2-3 hours). With traffic jams  that caused commute time to extend to an hour almost everyday, I had developed the habit to read through my Facebook feed, social media sites, or whatever else I had on my phone. I thought, if I could overcome this habit of filling my commute time with social media reading, maybe I could build other habits later on.

A week into the resolution, I had a difficult time stopping myself from reaching into my bag and checking if anyone had replied or sent me anything. For someone who’s pretty low-profile, I no longer understand why I felt the impulse to respond immediately… but during that first week I can’t deny the impulse I felt to make sure that people who responded to my post were not neglected. On the third day, though, I had realized that I just checked my phone to see if I had any “likes” on a post– I felt a little pathetic after realizing that. I mean, who cares if people liked my post on Facebook anyway?

After that week, it was a lot easier to tune out my need to check my phone. I almost wanted to buy a basic brick-phone to completely tune out the need to check social media. On my way to work, I had also begun to notice some things which I never really did when I was distracted with my phone. I noticed that the coffee shop that I passed by daily had familiar faces (maybe they held office there?). I began to drop by the chapel and notice how people from all walks of life would also say a few prayers before heading out. I also noticed how many people were constantly glued to their phone when I’d be on the train.

I felt free, not feeling the need to be on my phone.

So the next coffee break, I’ll be telling my friend how right he was. And also, I’ll be taking note of how often I’ve been asking him out for coffee.

The Haunted House

A friend of mine explained that there’s a small difference between creative non-fiction and the essay. Since I had to teach this topic for class, I asked him what exactly that was, because I couldn’t really put my finger on that difference as well. He told me to explain by example, to tell him a story that I wanted to write about. I told him that, at the top of my mind, I wanted to write about the haunted house we lived in when I was still very young, and that because of our stay there I may have become more aware of the realities that lie beyond what can be seen–

he politely asked me to stop there. I did, though unsure why. I was at the point of recalling my memories, growing up in the large house, and the fragmented layout that my lizard brain could muster– the stairs, the library, the dining room, the bedroom.

He gave me an example of a narrative, about a beggar going about her way, trying to beg for alms. One person gave her bread, another gave her coins, another gave her a drink, and one gave her a rosary. After her collection, the beggar began sorting out what had been collected and dropped the rosary at the roadside and went on with the other items.

He stopped and asked me, “what do you think happened?”

I said, “She didn’t see the value of the rosary, because she threw it away.”

“And?” he encouraged.

“…and…” I saw the beggar, walking by a busy road that I frequently passed. In reality, I rarely saw her walking around with anything in her hands. More often, she sat by the roadside, and there was the occasional pile of empty paper bags on her side. But back to the story. She discarded the rosary. “Maybe to her,” when did she become a woman? “maybe to her, praying is the least that she needs to do right now. Maybe she doesn’t believe in God. Maybe she doesn’t know what a rosary is for. She just needs food.” I was uncertain with my response, and wondered if he could tell.

“Mm-hmm,” he nodded at that, saying that THAT was what creative non fiction is about. “Lead the reader to their own inferences, to their own conclusions,” and he pointed out that this was the trouble with my story. I began with the lesson, framing my reader to think of the insight I had drawn from the experience, rather than leaving them to draw it for themselves.

This particular insight caught me by surprise. Perhaps, being a teacher for some time, I’ve become so used to drawing students to what I need them to think, and to meet the objectives that would tell me they understood. But here I was, figuring out how to make any reader want to read my work, to stop a moment and take a walk with me down an imagined reality despite the busy demands of the moment. My friend showed me the same advice that I had heard from my previous literature classes in the past, “Show, don’t tell.”

“Let’s try this one more time,” he referred to my haunted house story, “what is it about living in a haunted house that you want to say?”

“Well, it was scary…” I answered, but suddenly realizing the redundancy of what I said. He was patient and prodded me on, “what was scary about it?”

I tried to dig deep into what I could remember about the house, about the stories my family members would share during our dinners, about the way that it turned out to be abandoned for two years.

I threw out a few lines from those memories, “I remember the haunted house we lived in when I was five years old. We would later find out that it was vacant for two years, and that there were things that happened in that house that could not be explained. There was also one time my mom had to be late for work, because of the dead body right outside our gate– a man who possibly got into a bloody fight after a drunken argument. I’m not sure which was more scary about that house…”

As my friend nodded, he saw that I had understood– even if for just a first step. I could not deny as well, the affirmation that I felt, the way that memories were lighting up in my brain, and the way that I needed to find the right words to create that picture to make a story worth telling.

Over our dinner, a plate of sushi and cups of tea, my friend showed me the world that I had missed so much that left me feeling very full. The world where words become images, the kind of images that move the heart, that capture the mind, all while one sits and watches as these worlds come into being.

I missed being a participant, a writer, a reader, a lover of words in a world where images were fed to me without me asking for it. And as I took another bite of salmon sashimi, noticing the lines and the pink meat, and how I could actually consume this, I wondered how I would write about the softness of that raw fish and how I felt like the soy sauce would ruin the fresh taste– but I realized that we had not really come towards a conclusion.

“So what’s the difference between and essay and creative non-fiction again?” I recalled the topic. He answered, taking a sip from his cup of warm rice tea, “Actually, creative non-fiction is also an essay.”

The Judge

“Stay your hand,” He said,

as I cried for the hurt in my chest,

for the shame and the anger

and I yelled out, “Avenge me, Lord”

 

I wanted vengeance ten times over,

and I knew He had this power

 

“Stay your hand,” He said,

more a reminder than a command

“When will You avenge me?” I sobbed,

proud and confident that He would–

“I will give you something better,” He said,

and as I felt the weight lift from me–

“I will restore your Life.”

 

Pass the Aggression, Please

I wonder how many posts and public opinions will remain online if it required the following things:

– Cannot contain profanity

– Should not be offensive, or use offensive content directed to specific groups

– Should have facts if uses the statement “as a matter of fact” and “literally”

– Cannot have more than 3 grammatical errors (this includes punctuation)
I’m not sure if it’s just the feed that I’m seeing, but it seems so easy to post “critical” (more like offensive) opinions that try to present themselves as the “decent way that people do __(insert whatever the rant is about)___”.

The best therapy, and it seems that my cousin’s psychiatrist required it to ease her anxiety, would be to detox from the social media stream or filter out the negative “critical opinion” posts that you see.

This is not to say that people should not use social media to discuss or debate about contemporary issues, in fact I think that’s a great way that social media could be used. However, there is a time and place for such discussions. It’s no surprise also that public debates are usually within a controlled environment– that’s because people can get emotional and “fired up” over their perspectives. The difference on social media is that there’s no avoiding that it could be your friend’s or relative’s personal opinion (and no one asked for it) but there it is. 

Sometimes I wonder about where humanity is going as well, when all these useless arguments online take place while real problems continue to happen and actually take lives. 

Just today, one of my friends posted yet another reported “arrest” of alleged drug users/pushers who were killed right there– right in front of their families. 

Hello, this is the Philippines, and I swear majority of this population would claim itself to be Catholic or Protestant Christian– Christian… but I have no idea if majority of this population also leaves it when they exit the church they worship in and go back to trying to survive every day. 

Parallel Universes

I recently got into the Doctor Who series, and it’s the best thing that my escapist mind could look for.

But sometimes, I do wonder if it’s possible. Maybe not so much the time-travel, “timey-wimey” stuff, but parallel universes. Consciousness that exists in a different plane, at a different place– or maybe receding memories from previous generations.

The idea of reincarnation never really appealed to me; life seems so much more tiring and loathsome with the thought that you’re making up for a past mistake. Recently, I heard of a theory that it’s possible to transmit memories through genetics– the lineage. This would probably make sense as to why some people have memories of themselves in the past. But again, it’s just a theory.

I’m searching for an answer to this because of how the vivid dreams I have often come back– deja vu. At the time when I dreamt them, they seem impossible, but eventually they just happen, and it makes sense. Sometimes, they’re completely harmless moments, like being in a certain place and saying a specific line to someone. Other times, it’s the context that really gets me worried, like knowing that it’s the end of the world, or that I’m no longer in touch with this person but they’re talking to me.

Dreams are supposedly your subconscious thoughts. I can’t seem to make sense of this because a lot of times, my dreams are complete stories, or unfinished stories which continue on some other day. Sometimes, my dreams have contexts within themselves– memories of being there before.

First Post : Why I don’t write

Hello to writing again! And Happy 2017!

First time in a while since I had taken to blogging again, and not for any particular purpose than to write and let some thoughts out.

Maybe the mistake last time was that I had an agenda– not that it’s bad to have a blog that was focused on something– but in a way, that stifled the things that I wanted to write about. Many times I found myself filtering my own writing because it did not fit the blog’s image. In any case, here’s to a first entry!

I had always wanted to be a writer, but today I got to think about the many conditions I had set since I was in highschool about becoming a “serious writer” (whatever that means).

In highschool and college, I said to myself that when

  • I began working, and having my own income
  • I had my own, portable laptop (so you can guess how old I am now)
  • I had my own place or apartment where I lived alone

Guess what, I had all those things for the past five years, and did any “serious writing” come to pass? NO.

Instead, I kept changing the conditions:

  • If I find time for it during the week
  • When I get to have that portable tablet + keyboard set-up
  • When I find a coffee shop to be alone and work

See, here’s the lesson I had to pick up on five or ten years later:

That in any serious goal or craft you want to achieve, you HAVE TO MAKE TIME FOR IT. Enough with the conditions. Now, and whatever you have at the moment will have to suffice, because otherwise other things are going to take up your attention. The problem with my serious writing not getting anywhere were not the conditions I found myself in, but that I had not really been serious about it at all… that is, I did not balance my time, or prioritize my activities in such a way that was deliberate.

No regrets, however. I think I also needed those past years of experiences, mistakes and failures to actually have SOMETHING to write about.

So cheers to 2017! And here’s to prioritizing goals and what truly matters.