They’re way ahead of me

When I was in high school, I dreamt that someday I would be a teacher. An inspiring one. The kind that made you nervous to turn in your work if it was done sloppily. The kind that made you want to do more and read more.

I also hoped to be a writer. A novelist. Someone who could string words together and make otherwise unrealistic worlds into familiar ones for anyone who needed to expand their imaginative boundaries.

I believed that, when I grew up, all I needed was a laptop to write down all these stories and to keep working on my writing.

Today, I realize that I have become a teacher, but not the scary kind. I’d like to think that I inspire some (though obviously not all) to keep learning about the world around them. I have also a handy little laptop, which is a lot lighter than the one I had hoped to buy back in college.

But my dreams have also changed… and being both teacher and writer have become such huge responsibilities that it scares me sometimes to think to even get published with my real name on the cover.

I wonder a lot of times how people can publish topics which seem so trivial, awkward or even awful in writing style. But I cannot even imagine giving one criticism because of the fact that their being published is leagues ahead of my fear of setting anything onto a page.

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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.

 

Why Write

I might have gotten off the wrong foot on why I should have a blog. This was something I had easily maintained back in high school and college life, but immediately stopped when I had began working. Mostly, I stopped blogging because I didn’t want people to easily read my thoughts, and maintain a professional relationship with them. On the other hand, I still wanted people to know what I thought.

In the end, I just had a quick attempt and a few (half-assed) blogs somewhere along my working years. Reading through them tends to leave me feeling hollow, though. As if I was not encountering myself, but a bot. Being someone who has a lot of opinions on various things– both the mundane and the abstract– writing about safe topics slowly killed my spirit.

This reminds me of a question I had asked a writer friend about being a writer. I told him that I wanted to be a writer, and that I know this deep down even if I still have a lot of work to do. It was because writing sets me free, helps me sort things out, and is the best way I can express myself; I am happiest when I am able to write well. The problem is that I already foresee how some of my thoughts might not resound with people. To that, he simply smiled and said, “such is the fate of a writer.”

That being said, perhaps part of being an authentic writer and a memorable one (at least in my opinion), is the capacity to take all the goodness and sh*tiness of humanity, be authentic about it, and turn it into something worthwhile. It’s not just about expression, but about creating something. Hopefully, something that can serve others in a way that helps them grow.

Talking to friends who manage blogs for a living has helped me appreciate their talent and time management. It has also helped me realize my limitations as a writer: brevity is the soul of wit. And in blogging, wit might be the only thing that keeps people coming back for more.

This is a step towards becoming the writer I want to be, and to reclaim my authentic voice as a writer. I need to stop filtering all the time (that comes later, with editing and much thought).

I begin with blogging again, a venue for expression in my younger years. Perhaps, later on, I can take on greater strides and actually put myself out there, regardless of what expectations others had of me as a person and as a writer.

This is about authenticity.

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.”

 

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.