my mother’s penmanship

October 16, 2017 § Leave a comment

My mother’s penmanship is nothing like mine.

Her smooth cursive glides in between two shades of her pen, interrupted only by perfunctory stops.  Each loop and line written in full and consistent control.  “Light, dark…light, dark“, as she showed me one day how it’s done the “Paulinian” way.  “They didn’t teach me that in school.  Can you just write my name on my notebook labels, Inay?“, I pleaded.  She would usually accede to my request, at least until before I went into secondary school.  When high school came, even doing the plastic cover wrapping was suddenly expected of me.  Looking at how I wrote my name usually made me squint in disgust.  The letters rarely stood on the same line, and the angles & sizes were undeniably mismatched.  In addition to that, I had to make do using print.  My cursive was even more appalling.  In contrast, though my plastic cover wrap started rather shabbily, I grew better with it over time.  So much so that I even looked forward to doing it for my brother – something he readily allowed me to claim responsibility for.  After a few years of bearing with my handwritten labels, I finally asked my mom to get me a name stamp.  It increased my desire to see my school books.

This was what I thought of as I dropped the letter I wrote for Tita Marivic in the mailbox.  She was one of my mother’s close friends, at least that’s how I would describe her.  My mom didn’t really have friends she would regularly hang out with, so to speak.  But I remembered Tita Marivic’s regular visits to our house in Sampaloc up until the time before she migrated to Australia.  Memories of their conversations are vague, but I recall sitting on her lap.  I was perhaps 6 or 7 then when she left – and I never did see her again.   When my mom passed away, we received a letter from her.  I could only assume she still kept in touch with my mom until the latter years as we had changed our address already by then.  Moved by her kind gesture, I wrote to her as well to thank her for her condolences.  I wrote so many letters that month, with the help of my brother and with the prodding of my father.  It helped us manage the pain better – to dwell on good memories and focus on gratitude.  And as with how the consciousness to friendly affection can sometimes vaporize over both the routine and hysteria of everyday living, it was only after almost 4 years again that she got in touch with me by way of greeting me on my birthday a couple of weeks ago.  I was ashamed for not having kept in touch, not because we were friends, but because she was my mother’s.  A thread of connection that I did not necessarily want to let go just because my mom’s knot was unraveled.  As I walked away from the post box, I was gripped by a sudden regret.  I hadn’t written a disclaimer for my messy handwriting and neither did I consciously try to make it more legible than usual, how inconsiderate of me.

But more than that, it somehow pained me a little that Tita Marivic would not be able to remark how I had the penmanship of my mother.

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(post-titled # 2)

October 14, 2017 § Leave a comment

You.

I stand there waiting whenever she leaves me half-past 9.  Perhaps a few thousand people per day, I hear their footsteps and I smell their presence.  Sometimes, on a few occasions which can be far in between, I feel their sadness creep in on me like a chill.  But when it’s happiness that radiates from within – a glow that refuses to die even in the direst of days, I smile off the wear away and draw more courage to stand there in wait.  Yet I still worry a lot.  My mind is often vagrant with troubling thoughts.  ‘Are you sick?’  ‘Do you feel bad today?’  ‘Have you forgotten about me?’  ‘Will you ever come?’

Today she picked me up a little past 5.  Always in a hurry, but nevertheless she asked me how my day was.  I smiled and said, “It’s been good”.  Because today, you came.

——————

“What were you waiting for?”

For the blind uncle who stands in wait for a kind passer-by to buy a tissue packet from him (Singapore)

(post-titled #1)

October 8, 2017 § Leave a comment

Not anymore.

I’m not sure when exactly, but it happened in the lull of an afternoon.  People hanging on threads of wakefulness, the sun burning more than half-through its day’s embers – everything working on a slow rhythm.  I was there, unadorned with thoughts.  Silent in the contemplation of nothing.  Moving like a fish that swam constantly because if it didn’t, it would die.  In a brief moment, the artery that gave me its dreams was sliced clean.  Not a drop of blood, not a tear was shed.  When I slept that night, I no longer saw the rainbow.  That was when I knew the answer to your question.

“Do you believe in Love?”

 

living on the 10th

May 23, 2017 § 2 Comments

It was the eighth day in a row that I turned to my side to the aroma of freshly roasted coffee.  The slick from my sweat made being in bed with the persistent heat unbearable, but surprisingly the warm scent soothed me.  Someone several floors down must have finally pursued an old flame, that burning passion.  The blinds right beside my bed afforded me shadows to the lives below – mostly through the sounds I heard and the redolence I smelled.  Strange voices, strange noises, charcoal burning, and curries stewing.  Animated conversations in foreign tongues would sometimes keep me up at night, usually annoying but not as much as that rogue mosquito intent on whispering his tiny tales directly to my ear.  Like most people where I came from, I had lived in a house most of my life.  With my room always on the second floor, the view from the window carried different memories as I grew up.  When I was six, one evening in Sampaloc, I looked out and felt the overwhelming distance that separated me from my parents.  The black car that they were in was leaving.  When I was 12, I looked out to the life in the streets of Pio del Pilar that I was not allowed to participate in: barefoot kids running, shouting profanities and giddy laughter, as vehicles skillfully navigated bike tracks and balls.  Not that I wanted to.  When I was 16, I pulled down all my curtains nightly to escape the view of the large mango tree that stood guard right in front of me.  I always saw it as ominous, though not once did it bring me any particular trouble.  Every morning, I’d wake up to my curtains neatly bundled and my windows wide open, enough to give me a chill.  “The breeze is wonderful”, my dad would repeatedly keep on exclaiming.  Only on bright weekend mornings would I look out through my windows.  We left before the sun rose on Mondays, as we lived in the suburbs of Dasmarinas only during the weekend.  The rest, we spent in Makati.  Now at 28, I look out from the tenth floor into the sight of concrete buildings.  Lighted windows in random patterns block the skyline, yet they magnetize my eyes to a strange sight that hold conflicting feelings.  They remind me of how far I’ve come, but also of how far I’ve gone.  It’s strange that I’ve been recently having these spells of suddenly realizing my reality.  As if I usually wasn’t living in it, something not impossible.  I’d be walking down the street clutching my groceries, or sometimes in the middle of transferring fluid between two flasks in the laboratory.  And it would hit me like the first splash of a numbing cold shower.  Simple as three-worded sentences.  “Inay is gone.”  “I’m in Singapore.”  “I’m turning 30.”  Undeniable facts, common knowledge, disclosed to most if not to everyone, yet they somehow still surprise me.  A brief rinse of clarity from the everyday drudgery.  But it doesn’t happen when I look out the window.  In that gaze, they come in run-on sentences, lacking punctuation and still, a conclusion.

when we remember/when I move on

May 16, 2017 § 3 Comments

What details are left out when we remember?  Doesn’t omission hold the hand of inclusion?  The silver lining in the clouds that day remains vivid, but the way you smiled has been forgotten.  Like a faded old receipt blurred out from friction and time, all the details once printed neatly but will never be made out.  Emotions wield power over our memories.  Just as anger doesn’t allow you to forget the shrug of her shoulders as she brushed away your question.  Or just as nostalgia makes you forget how you hated most of your mother’s Christmas day presents.  Instead, it paves the way for memories with her of rolling with the waves on fine black sand in a waning sunset.  You choose what you remember.  You willingly forget.  The details in between get carried along, lost when you’re searching and present at the most inappropriate moments.  Sometimes, it isn’t simply a burial of a hodgepodge of folded letters.  Sometimes, you handpick a select few to keep you going.

The rest, you tear into smithereens and set ablaze in the glorious sun.

things change

May 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

There was a time I lived for instant cup noodles.  My parents initially refrained from buying them and I would only get to eat them on airplanes.  So among my favorite childhood memories were all the long haul flights I took with my mom.  I have this one lucid memory where the cabin lights were already dimmed and I was wrapped up in the airline blanket.  I told her I was still hungry even if we had just eaten the served dinner.  She rang the button for the attendant, and moments later the beautiful lady set down in front of me a cup of hot noodles.  I loved eating the corn kernels in those instant cup noodles then.  Apart from that treat, I always looked forward to the activity kit airlines give to children to keep them preoccupied.  That aside from peering through the window the entire duration of the flight.  I was careful of everything inside those kits, making sure my brother didn’t accidentally pack into his kit one of the contents from mine during those times that we were already flying together.  I didn’t hand those to my mom for safekeeping unlike the other things that I didn’t care keeping.  I stashed them in my own bag and worked on them even when we were at our destination already.  I also remember how during those flights, my mom would at one point ask me if I wanted to sleep on her lap.  And I always did say yes, until the time my height didn’t allow any comfortable position to be found.  At that point, I leaned on her shoulder instead.  And eventually, I didn’t dare lean on her fragile frame anymore, settling with just clutching her hand.

I thought about these memories on the flight back home, while looking on a mother with her child seated on her lap.  I was initially seated beside them but as the flight was barely full, I decided to move into another seat when they were served food.  I no longer like ordering food on the plane because of how the smell seems to cling on my clothes.  And that was the same reason I moved into the opposite row when I discovered she had ordered her own.  She naively thought I moved to allow her to set down her child as she ate dinner and thanked me after.  I suppose she had hoped I would move after all.  When I was granted the pass to take whatever I wanted in the grocery, my brother and I did at some point always take in cup noodles for our study nights.  Nowadays, I don’t look forward to corn being mixed in my noodles, and in fact it’s been ages since I ate an instant one.  I now buy seats not by the window but right beside the aisle.  I think about the ease of evacuating during an emergency and the convenience when I need to go to the loo.  Though I still occasionally steal glances of the window as the view still has the ability to mesmerize me.  I don’t remember personally throwing away those activity kits from the plane, but I guess I did at some point.  Save for letters and some objects worth keeping, it’s easy for me to dispose of unnecessary things now.  That clinical disposal has even crept into my once stubborn sentimentality.

And as for the lap that will never be beside me, my best chance would now be an empty seat behind as I freely recline mine and rest my head in the groove in between.

Things have changed.  But never the memories worth keeping.  Happy mother’s day to you in heaven, Inay.

day marker

February 5, 2017 § Leave a comment

“The nun Wu Jincang asked the Sixth Patriarch Huineng, “I have studied the Mahaparinirvana sutra for many years, yet there are many areas I do not quite understand. Please enlighten me.”
The patriarch responded, “I am illiterate. Please read out the characters to me and perhaps I will be able to explain the meaning.”
Said the nun, “You cannot even recognize the characters. How are you able then to understand the meaning?”
“Truth has nothing to do with words. Truth can be likened to the bright moon in the sky. Words, in this case, can be likened to a finger. The finger can point to the moon’s location. However, the finger is not the moon. To look at the moon, it is necessary to gaze beyond the finger, right?””

at the twilight

January 18, 2017 § 2 Comments

There is a sight I love seeing.  In school, inside the engineering building.  In the afternoons, around half past 3.  Along the corridors or around the benches, I see them preparing to leave.  Decked in their pressed shirts and blouses, with fine patterned prints.  With their bags and gold watches, looking like they’re going to see no less than the mister or the missus.  Perfumed subtly and styled in pomade, they wait for each other at that certain hour.  The familiar faces of the uncles and the aunties who take care of the dust, litter and green patches.  It’s a sight that puts a smile because I also see the hard work they put in the mornings – dressed with the same uniform and going about their cleaning.  Without much of a chatter, but maybe a tune or some lyrics.  Even a nod or greeting from their well-aged faces can easily change the mood of my musings. To some, it may be a sad reality that someone’s grandparent is still working.  But to them, it may be everything, knowing that they’re still contributing to something.

They gather their belongings and hail the next bus that will bring them.  Til the next morning.


A tribute to the elderly people who keep this city-state clean.

letter to heaven.7

October 28, 2016 § 3 Comments

Dearest Inay

I dreamt of you today.  I’m again frustrated that I only remember the last few scenes when I wake up.  We were in a spacious building, and they had an exhibition of glass-paneled structures that looked like churches.  All the glasses were stained with colors.  I was looking around.  And so were you.  You called me over to where you were and exclaimed you found a good night light for me as you handed a smaller replica of the stained-glass church I was previously admiring.  I examined it slowly and tried to figure out how the stains were made.  You wandered somewhere else, and I walked over.  You were putting a small light against a wall and held it at an arm’s-length, perhaps trying to imagine how it would look like in some place in your mind.  It was a simple light.  Just a dim yellow, square one.  You were covering it with a piece of paper, as you usually do with night lights.  You never liked them too bright.  “Inay, ano yan?  Night light niyo? (What’s that for Inay, your night light?)“, I asked.  “Night light namin ni Ama (Your dad and I’s night light)“, you said while still looking at it.  You looked healthy and fatter, and in fact you had your wig on.  I don’t recall dreaming of you like this before.  In my past dreams you didn’t wear it; also a slightly thinner version more reminiscent of your later years.  As always, the me in my dream ends up crying when I start talking to you.  And this is always the point where I wake up.  My eyes are dry though in reality.

The rain was about to start when I woke up this time.  I reached for my phone and told Ama and Gab about my dream.  I told them you looked happy.  Nostalgia set in and so I’m compelled to write.

You never left me, I now realize.

symbols

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

I recently finished reading Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore.  As with most of his novels, I am left dazed after the experience of having gone through an apparent literary lifetime with his characters.  What separates his brand of fiction is that it isn’t the same as typical fiction novels which operate in the same laws as the real world albeit with details that never really happened.  It doesn’t border on fantasy or sci-fi either because although supernatural things are a common content in his stories, there is no effort at all to explain their rationale and mechanism.  Murakami often presents them as a matter-of-fact, which you are then expected to digest as acceptable if you’d like to see through the entire story.  And interspersed through these fictional worlds that float in between reality and fantasy are strings of wisdom that are true in both sides.  What’s even more interesting to me is how Murakami’s prose functions more like poetry in that the meaning is not straightforward either.  They’re more like metaphors woven into a symbolic statement that may mean different things to different people.  To both the author and the reader.  Although quite a few lines struck me, I’ve elected to write only about those that gripped me.

In traveling, a companion, in life, compassion.

On a personal level, I do thrive from chance encounters with strangers who “accompany” you in life even for a while.  It’s true that not everyone we meet, whether we’d like it or not, is intended to stay in our lives forever.  Nevertheless, like compassion, when we find them, we’re grateful, and that’s what keeps us going.  Initially I thought that if I wrote this line, I would have written “hope” rather than “compassion”.  But looking back on the times that I felt hope, I realized they are indeed moments tied to compassion.  It is compassion, through empathy, that we make real connections.

Closing your eyes isn’t going to change anything.  Nothing’s going to disappear  just because you can’t see what’s going on.  In fact, things will be even worse the next time you open your eyes.  That’s the kind of world we live in.

The context of this line was when Nakata was forced to watch the coldblooded murder of cats.  Bringing this into the context of our times, murder is happening everywhere as well, and at a more heightened awareness for everyone who has internet access.  A lot of us may be guilty turning a blind eye to all these atrocities, especially when we feel helpless in resolving them.  But there is truth to the line that while we live in our own little box, the world may turn out worse the next time we do decide to see what’s going on.  Just now, values and perspectives are changing.  Morals as well.  And perhaps the next best thing to do if at all we can’t really help directly is to stay informed about the world around us.  To care a bit more, be more open to other perspectives and understand why people do such things.  Not just by condemning seemingly straightforward evil, but trying to dig up the cause of such negativity.  Just because we live a life where we see no reason to commit such sins means we are not capable of doing so should our situation change.  And it is our responsibility to make sure that our morals stay intact then no matter the situation.

Artists are those who can evade the verbose…Most great poetry is like that.  If the words can’t create a prophetic tunnel connecting them to the reader, then the whole thing no longer functions as a poem.

I guess this is just a realization for me why some lines strike me as poetry and some don’t.  I felt this as I was reading some of the excerpts from Michael Faudet’s Dirty Little Things (it isn’t his fault, I now realize).  Perhaps it’s not a matter of just the artist’s skill but as well as my own experience which allows or prevents me from experiencing their poem.

The pure present is an ungraspable advance of the past devouring the future.  In truth, all sensation is already memory.

There’s so much bitter-sweetness in the fact that indeed all sensation is already a memory.  And delving into it further, aren’t all our important memories sensations as well?  There will always be feelings associated with them, and likewise it’s those feelings that make them precious.  The memory of my mom calling me “Baby”, or the sensation of comfort that you get from a mother’s voice.  They’re almost interchangeable.  While it’s true that not all sensations are committed to memory, one can argue that the reason we don’t commit those other sensations as memory might be due to the fact that we’re not entirely feeling them.  Either consciously or unconsciously, we pass off from those experiences.

Perhaps most people in the world aren’t trying to be free, Kafka.  They just think they are.  It’s all an illusion.  If they really were set free, most people would be in a real bind.  You’d better remember that.  People actually prefer not being free…Rousseau defined civilization as when people build fences…The people who build high, strong fences are the ones who survive the best.  You deny that reality only at the risk of being driven into the wilderness yourself.

I’m not sure how relevant this line is now given that globalization and migration promote lowering down these fences.  And although they come with a lot of advantages, there are also a host of challenges such as terrorism, epidemics, resource prioritization and allocation, etc.  Perhaps this is why some people still insist on keeping those fences high, because they’re acutely aware of the fear of living in an open society.  They in fact don’t want to be free.  They just want to be comfortable.  And who doesn’t, really?  We’re used to the security of our houses, our communities and our consciousness.  Opening up demands more from us.  Honestly, I also deal with the question of how to better equip myself in this borderless economy without losing my sanity.  It is perhaps finding a balance of sort in positioning yourself out there without losing your own ground.  It’s a continuous iteration of learning how to live.

Pointless thinking is worse than no thinking at all.

This is largely self-explanatory for pointless worries.  Easier said than done though.

Symbols guide us to the roles we play.

This line was what actually triggered me to write a post.  There are a lot of symbols in our lives, and they come in many forms.  A diploma may guide you in your career choices, a ring may remind you of your role in a marriage, and the fact that you live in a mansion or a shanty elicits a certain behavior from you.  But when I thought about symbols, the first thing that came to my mind is the gold bracelet I have on my wrist.  It’s my great grandmother’s in fact, but I started wearing it when my mom passed away. In truth I didn’t attach any significant meaning to it aside from just wanting to mark the memory of her.  It comforts me to know that I carry a reminder that I am her daughter and to some extent her legacy.  I don’t see it as a talisman nor do I look at it when I need to make important decisions.  It’s a symbol that means something relevant only to me, and what it symbolizes does guide me in playing my role in this world.

Every one of us is losing something precious to us…Lost opportunities, lost possibilities, feelings we can never get back again.  That’s part of what it means to be alive.  But inside our heads – at least that’s where I imagine it – there’s a little room where we store those memories…you’ll live forever in your own private library.

I love it when cliche statements take an entirely new being when we take their converse.  Just like the other day when I watched Boyhood and I heard the line “the moment seizes us” instead of the usual “seize the moment“.  We’re constantly taught to acquire while we’re alive.  Sure, perhaps you don’t subscribe to acquiring money, wealth and power.  But we still strive to acquire memories, acquire experiences, acquire relationships, acquire wisdom, inner peace and the list goes on.  So when I read how living is actually equated to a continuous loss, as opposed to the idea that we can only stop acquiring when we die, it made me pause and ponder.  But Murakami added the important caveat that loss is just one part of it, leaving out (that we do gain otherwise) as something we should obviously know.  But it is an important recognition that we should welcome loss.  While it’s hard to not be unhappy about certain things we lose, it allows a more graceful acceptance to be keenly aware of the fact that it’s part of it.  And that we can always take comfort in their memory should we need to.

This is probably why my greatest fear would be to lose all my memories.

 

 

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