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Sometimes the big questions come — and come barreling — in the course of a small, ordinary day. I’ve completely forgotten that they do that.

Today my dad called in the morning and asked if he could use my bathroom. I live right smack in the center of things (or so I like to think), so I inevitably get all kinds of drop-ins. It was around 10 am and I had just woken up, but it parent world that means it’s precious hours upon hours after the sun had come up and I’ve just slept off half the day.

I let my dad in, he went straight to the bathroom, I did my little morning routine — rub eyes awake, drink a glass of tepid water, then a bottle of fresh vegetable and fruit juice, read my daily spiritual reading, then sat down to work on my computer.

My dad came out of the bathroom and sat on the couch, wondering what to do next. He had done his errands. With my lifestyle journalist hat on (one of the many I wear), I sat typing, rummaging through yet another press release and wondering why get such strange assignments. Just another day at the office in the freelance world.

Then, finally bored, my dad declares he’s going off. My little apartment didn’t have enough to entertain him, apart from the balcony he says should be boarded up by strong glass windows, in case somebody gets some ideas about jumping out. I tell him I would take the lift down with him so I can get my morning coffee.

In the elevator lobby, he sighs and wonders, genuinely baffled: “Do you like living like this, Tar? Alone?”

I said, “Yes, sure, it’s fun!” as we both stepped into the elevator. I remember babbling something about being able to call people if I needed company, and being free to head out as and when I please, and that more importantly, if I wanted to be alone to write, I could.

He nodded and seemed to be OK with my answer. We got to the ground floor and parted ways at the lobby — him to the parking, me to the nearby 7-11. But as I went to pour myself a medium cup of coffee on the self-serve counter, as I paid for it and headed back upstairs and back to work, as I sat for hours and finished only two paragraphs, as I showered for a 4 pm appointment, as I drove with a friend to Greenhills for that appointment, as I brainstormed for two hours about a new project (which will require another hat), as I rode home and settled back in to continue working, as I procrastinated for hours while whining about procrastination on Facebook and Twitter, I thought about the seeming innocuous question.

Do I like living like this? Do I? No judgment, dear: Do I?

 

 

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Suddenly, Singapore

It feels as though I’ve been here for a week now, with everything that I’ve gleefully and guiltlessly forced down my throat as though it were Christmas.

Since arriving at mid-morning yesterday, a Saturday, I have eaten: two servings of Char Siew Pork from the Tiong Bahru market for lunch, and for dinner, Crispy Pata, Bistek Tagalog, Laing, chicken (that Maya baked following her sister Rina’s recipe), and chips. For Kiko’s birthday brunch at PS Cafe in Palais Renaissance this morning, I had a large serving of Eggs Benedict, a sliver of bacon, fries, and two cups of coffee. Hours later, for dinner, Maya and I polished off the last of last night’s chicken at her flat.

I walked back home to Itsy’s with my bags of groceries (from Cold Storage in Great World, where Maya and I hopped to after brunch). It feels like ages since I’d last been in Singapore but the truth is I was here in May last year, and considering I used to fly in quite often anyway since moving back to Manila, I should be used to the place. But tonight it was both foreign and familiar; during my last several weeks of living here in 2006, I had been very happy with the friends I’d made. And now being among them again, as though no time had passed, it does feel a little bit like Christmas.

I’m getting ready (and really taking my time about it—suitcase is still gaping and empty) for a weekend trip to Cebu. You have no idea how much I need this trip, not in the least because summer is ending and I haven’t been anywhere near the beach.

Tomorrow, Maoi, Rissa and I are flying to a beautiful beach resort for a weekend of art: BenCab is opening a show, and I’m covering the event for the paper. Rissa and I are determined to wear bikinis under our clothes as we head out to the airport; that way we waste absolutely no time in hitting the water. Maoi, I’m guessing, is determined to have beers by the beach at noon; God knows this hardworking mother of three and artist deserves every drop of it.

This same time last year I had just returned to Singapore, where I pretended that Aldo’s jaw-droppingly swanky two-bedroom Riverside flat was mine, after a fantastic trip to Vietnam with Maya and Luz. For most of that adventure in Phan Thiet I was somewhat distracted, and yet I remember that as one of my most wonderful and healing trips, thanks mostly to Maya, who practically held my hand the whole time. It was also inspiring to see Luz, practically glowing, six months after she had quit her bank job in Singapore and just skipped town to live and work in a small boutique resort four long hours out of Ho Chi Minh.

When I wasn’t distracted, the resort town of Phan Thiet was simply fun and fantastic — the water was impossible to swim in, what with all the kiteboarders speeding by, but the beach walks were meditative. Even the sandboarding in nearby Mui Ne, and the rollicking fun we had falling on our faces and getting sand in our mouths, was healing. By the time we returned to Ho Chi Minh we had Luz with us, and again it was like a sisterhood bonding.

And now it is the middle of the year yet again, and again, as I have been last year, I am humming with excitement; but where last year I could not explain it, this time I know precisely what this excitement is about. And where last year the trip with my girls was about loving healing, this one is about fun and wits. There’s another trip in the offing, in June, with Paula; that one will be about looking forward 🙂

We all need these moments with the friends who come into our lives as sisters, providing support and inspiring in us all kinds of strengths we always have but are sometimes afraid to use. I’m quite excited 😀

Here I Go Again…

Sent a text message to my broker this evening — I won’t be renewing my lease when it ends in mid-May.

She asked me where I was moving to and my honest reply was: I don’t know.
And here are some other things I don’t know for now, but am not too worried about:

1. I don’t know where I’m going to live in June, when I come back from a quick trip to Cebu, followed by another quick one to Dumaguete for the 50th anniversary of the National Writers’ Workshop, then (hopefully — fingers crossed) to a little ashram in Cavite for ten days of Vipassana.

2. I don’t know how I’m going to finish the personal writing project with the big deadline set in August. I really don’t, but somehow I see it happening.

3. I don’t know what I’ll be like after I’ve pared down the number of anchors I cling hard and fast to in my life (one of them literally) to almost zero, determinedly trying to rely only on myself. But things look promising.

4. I don’t know if I’ve found my True North, then decided to switch directions, or if I’ve suddenly developed an inner compass that I know now where to go. We’ll see.

And so: good night, and good luck.

Making a Manifesto

The idea was Abi’s.

Maybe, she said to me this afternoon at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf on Tordesillas, drafting a personal manifesto would help us understand some of the things we want to know about ourselves. Show us what we’ve stood for, if what we stand for is as elusive as the winning lotto combination. Bring some clarity, if we’ve been struggling to see who we are as though we had shampoo in our eyes.

So we head over to Bugsy’s where presumably clarity will come to us like a friend sidling up to a stool at the bar. I bring out a piece of paper on which to scribble notes (the backside of my salsa class lesson plan), and begin scribbling. Abi dutifully begins work on her “Mamu-festo” and I on my “Me-me-festo”.

There are some things that come easy for me — on writing: craft and style uber alles; on kindness: unconditional shouldn’t be unreasonable or short-sighted — and then there are those that draw blood.

When, for instance, is kindness real? And to whom should we be generous with compassion — ourselves first of all, or to the ones we love? Is such an act one and the same, in the end? And: if we are to be profoundly truthful to ourselves, how do we be begin to live through the uncomfortable episodes that will inevitably arise?

I order a beer to soften the edge. Some big decisions need to be made, and soon. Abi orders coffee, then a Coke. We promise to revise our notes because it’s important, she says, to be pithy with such momentous declarations. The idea is that if we show our manifestos to someone else, they could easily jump to the conclusion that, “Yeah, that sounds like Abi”, or, “Of course, that’s Tara.”

Here’s hoping 🙂 Good night everybody, it’s been a very productive Sunday 🙂

Sunday

I woke up in time to join lunch at an uncle’s and aunt’s house to celebrate their daughter’s graduation from high school. It’s the mark of the ill-fed to be so gung-ho about home-cooked food. What’s more: it’s free.

To mark my cousin’s happy graduation day from high school — she was a crawling infant when I graduated from college, and now she’s old! — I stuffed my face with lamb steak and mint jelly sauce, pasta with mushrooms and maybe too much sun-dried tomatoes, tacos with ground beef, and pork lechon in hoisin sauce.

I got home feeling the weight of my stomach ready to pull me down full front to the floor. I rushed through a meeting that made my head spin, and that gave me such a massive headache that I can now really say that I know what it feels like to feel like the sky is falling, and went home to find siblings at the door.

It was a familiar sight, a familiar scenario, in any one of the apartments I’d ever lived in. One needed my computer plug, the other needed to hang around while the other was busy. As I lay curled on the bed, watching the daylight leave the apartment and the florescent glow take its place, one more person came in. As they went about their business, I divided my time between joining in the conversation (it’s sometimes nice to see them, after all), and reading three different books — Freedom, because it’s good; Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me With Apples, because I thought it would be a nice, peppy antidote to the depressing mid-chapters of Freedom, but is becoming challenging to read (will post a review later); and Eat, Pray, Love, because these days, that’s my antidote to everything.

By the time all three of them left, it was time for another meeting with two other people. More ideas sprung forth; more deliverables materialized. Meanwhile, half my mind was on that other thing that I needed to do after my meeting (that I had needed to do, in fact, on Saturday). That ended at around eleven, by which time I was ready to collapse.

But there was that thing that needed to be done. I wrote for two hours before woozily stretching out on the bed, kicking books, moving papers, and just basically finding a piece of bed to sink into for the night. I closed my eyes to the world at three a.m., woke up at six, struggled with the snooze button for three hours before finally sliding down to the marble floor, so that the cold would wake me up. I ambled into the shower stall and when the water ran, a thought hit me: hey I made it! Am alive! Whoopee!

I can find 6765986 things wrong with this picture, but only one counts: how long can I keep this up?

Freedom

I can’t wax philosophical about this word yet, but it seems to be hounding me for attention.

Case in point: a few weeks ago, I walked past the reception desk of my building and saw a stack of Time magazines (along with an even higher stack of The Nippon Times) on the floor, waiting to be properly discarded. I asked the receptionist if I could keep some of them instead, and she was happy to unload a couple of Time magazines to me.

One of them had Jonathan Franzen on the cover, under the banner: Great American Novelist. Inside was a profile on the birdwatching author and a glowing albeit cursory review of his latest novel, Freedom, the highly anticipated follow-up to The Commitments, which came ten years before.

I took this as a sign that I should continue reading my copy of Freedom, which Erin had given to me before she upped and left for Canada. I had started reading a few pages, had a hard time putting it down, but decided I needed the time to work on some money-making writing jobs. After that, I could reward myself with reading again.

Then just last week I made a new friend at Apartment 1B, where the coffee is good, the wi-fi is free, and where I am always running into old friends and making new ones. Matt was reading a Michael Chabon book, and because Franzen had been put in the same category as Chabon in the Time article, I mentioned that I had started but stopped on Freedom.

To which Matt became animated and said: “It’s great, right?! When I got to the end, I cried like I had never before because of a novel. You should keep at it.”

I suppose that was enough endorsement because I did pick up the book again and got hooked. Here’s the thing: it’s not a great book to read when you’re feeling a bad case of the blues over not having been entirely true to yourself for, well, your entire conscious life, and having been well-intentioned but ultimately dishonest to yourself because it was the easier thing to do. This is not the book for that time, because Franzen is merciless in his dissection of personal motives, in prying off the protective hoodie that hides the real face.

So all of yesterday, I was restless in a sad way and couldn’t think of doing anything but reading the book, then reading the book and chucking it and picking up Eat, Pray, Love to feel better and more sympathetic towards myself, then going back to Freedom because of the promise of a cathartic ending.

R, in all his straightforward wisdom, had to step in and say: “Maybe you should stop reading the book. Watch Secretariat or Seabiscuit, or some triumphant story.”

And then I thought of the title itself. Of course I had the freedom to stop reading it and save all the merciless self-investigation for another, better time. There’s no need to be too hard on myself if all that can amount to at the moment is a debilitating episode of frustration. If I had read it a month ago, when I was feeling at peak health and ready to go back to “work on the mountain”, as NVM Gonzalez had once described writing, I would have looked at it as a standout piece of literature, hardcore in its examination of individuals in this day and age, in faraway America. The kind of sharp writing to be emulated by someone who has just chosen to finish an eleven-years-overdue writing project.

But yesterday? The grim prospects and continuing mistakes, largely because of an almost inescapable sense of dishonesty, of these foreign characters (one of the major ones has a meltdown spanning decades) were just too depressing. Every day I—like almost everyone else—am given a choice: to be happy and reframe my mind as needed so that ultimately everything is a positive learning episode, or to burrow my head in the sand, ostrich-style, because the world and all its self-sabotage is a dismal, dismal place.

So for now, I’m taking the freedom to stop reading Freedom. I’m going to reread my favorite passages of Eat, Pray, Love. Pick up where I left off on the book of Rumi’s poems Dang gave for my birthday last year. It’s just the responsible thing to do.