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.

 

 

gratitude for a broken heart

August 17, 2016 § 2 Comments

Some 11 months ago, I dealt with a broken heart.  And while I never found the courage to actually write about it until now, I struggled through so much emotions  – blocking them mostly, if anything.  So many times I attempted to write about what I felt in an effort to make sense of the turbulence but each time I had finished writing, I was afraid to expose the defeat I felt at that point.  I was afraid to admit how I failed in my pursuit of making myself vulnerable.  I was afraid to admit that I lost someone I loved and face the question if I’ll ever find someone again.  As a person, I had never felt comfortable writing anything that I hadn’t resolved.  Ending a narrative without a conclusion was unthinkable to me then.

In the beginning, I allowed myself to drown in the vortex of regret, disappointment, pain, and confusion that I felt.  I broke down several times each day.  Never in the company of anyone if I could help it, as I resolved to confine my misery within the walls of my room.  I went home at odd times in the middle of the day and finished an excess of tissue boxes.  Sometimes I had to make do with the walls of a cubicle in the school’s lavatory.  It was ugly and not an inch beautiful unlike those portrayed in movies, but tears did not discern between situations.  I went through my daily tasks in a lifeless body – how my brain managed to function, I have no recollection now.  Within a month, I consciously decided to put an end to the daily misery.  I forced myself out of that pit I wallowed in.  I told my friends I was okay.  I repressed memories with news articles and new hobbies.  I intentionally rebuilt memories by creating new ones in the same places where the old ones occurred.  Anything that preoccupied me was welcomed.  I reprimanded myself every single time I felt any drop of remorse.  I faked smiles and maybe bordered on being hysterical.  And while I refuse to admit I felt bitter, in all honesty I probably was to some degree.  In an effort to find strength, I lost a bit of my kindness.  I had to protect the tender wound by covering it with a numb callus.

But faking it til I made it worked for the most part.  Soon enough, I found myself thinking about him less and less.  Eventually, that turned into feeling lonely less and less.  I felt liberated in more ways than I expected.  Enjoying my newly found solitude became my source of comfort.  Though I wouldn’t go to the extent of saying if I had stayed in that relationship, my life this past year would have been far less colorful – I can say it was far better than I feared it could possibly turn out to be.  I had nothing to lose and more reason to try new things.  And I did go on to do new things.  Despite the pervasive myth of women being biological time bombs, I did not succumb to the desperation.  While I have to admit there is a certain despair to seeing my social media feed filled with news of engagements, marriages and children (basically, stable relationships) – I appreciated the fact that the magic of falling in love once again is something I can still potentially experience in the future.  I was free to be my own self and I didn’t feel the need to glorify it.  Neither being single or attached or happily married is better than the other.  I took my situation as it was and held my ground as everyone else went ahead with their own.

Looking back, I would have never made it out as good as I did it without my family and friends.  To Kat, thank you for forcing me to think about the good in that breakup.  While I didn’t appreciate the nudge then, that assignment was always on my mind.  And while I never told you, I lived working on it each day hence.  Thank you for taking me to Langkawi.  To Marge, thank you for consoling me over the phone.  I appreciated it more than I could verbalize at that point in time.  To JM, thank you for forcing me to go to Myanmar.  To my brother, thank you for listening to me when I couldn’t tell our dad what I was going through.  To my dad, thank you for listening to me cry over the phone, even if you had no idea what the real underlying reason was.  To Ray and Renee, thank you for helping me see the humor in my situation, as always.  To Swati, thank you for being patient enough to deal with my fleeting moods.  Thank you for bearing with me as I worked on removing the indifference I felt for the world.  And to so much other friends who had no idea how their random kindness soothed my callousness, thank you.  Thank you Marvin for the memories and the lessons – the good and the bad.  And most importantly, I thank God for continually staying by my side despite my unreasonable disregard.  I am not worthy of anything, yet the life I’m blessed with is more than enough to dispel any doubts.  I’m sorry it took me time to process things.

It was a beauty being underwater, but I’ve finally resurfaced.  And god, is there even much more beauty above.

 

letter to heaven.6

May 20, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dearest Inay,

We finally made it to our first milestone! I called Mamow immediately when I received the news.  I then texted Rhubz, because he’s about the closest thing I have right now to a boyfriend.  I was ecstatic, not so much because it’s my first publication but more so because the endless nights of pounding myself if what I’m doing is any relevance has finally at least paid off (not that I’m convinced yet that it is relevant).  I got busy telling a few other friends soon after that, to be honest.  But as soon as I closed my lights and walked towards my bed, excitement overwhelmed me.  In the darkness and solitude where I am always sure to find you, I told you that we nailed it.  Just as how I rushed home to tell you years ago whenever I got an honor card at the end of every quarter, it was that exact same feeling that brimmed in me.  In me is still the child who just wants to make her parents smile.  Only now I had some tears in my eyes – partly for happiness and partly for sadness.  If you were still here, I can imagine you’d send the link to all our relatives.  I guess the prevention of that is the only advantage of you being not of the earth now.  Otherwise, it would have been heartwarming if you were here in person to tell me I made you proud.  Don’t worry about the link.  I’m sure Mamow, even against my wishes, will take care of it.

romance

March 15, 2016 § Leave a comment

Ask me to define romance, and this will be one of my answers.

post

March 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

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The sun glazed down on everything as I held up my hand to hail a bus.  Though it could have just been any other day in this place I had grown both distant and accustomed to, there was something ethereal about holding sheets of paper from Kazakhstan with Assel’s handwriting. I held on them tightly as the bus dragged the wind against me.  It’s been awhile since I last went to the post office.  For the sake of recognizing this memory, I confess that being in love is harmful to my writing.  On the other hand, the search and loss loss and search of it does wonders.  It magnifies emotions and turns platitudes to wisdom.

I had sent a letter to Assel shortly after coming back from my year-end vacation.  The created reality of the “new year” helped me break away from the doldrums.  Along with that, I sent a slow trickle of other long overdue letters as well. There’s always something beautiful about reading posted letters.  Just like how we see the light of stars that had long gone – reaching our eyes at a time past when it appeared, but nonetheless a sign of its existence.  There is something resplendent in the desynchronization of the space-time of the sender and the recipient.  Here she was talking about a celebration she looks forward to, and me realizing that the said celebration was in fact yesterday.  Here she was talking about looking for a job while me proud of the fact that she told me a month ago that she’s found one.  Here she was telling me how surprised she was of the news of my failed conquest of love, and me slowly becoming indifferent to it.  And just how physicists solely rely on electromagnetic waves to learn of celestial objects light-years away, we are sometimes just as dependent on words.  I’m happy I’ll be stashing in another envelope in my letter box in my dorm.  I’ve collected 2 shoeboxes-full now since moving to Singapore.  The magnitude surprises me not because I never expected I’d receive as much, but because knowing how slow mail arrives, I have not been aware of how fast time had been running.  The idea that I’ve only a year til I hopefully finish PhD excites me (and scares me).  Will I still be in this place then?  Will I miss it?  I wonder.

As I reach my stop, I fold back the two sheets and put it inside the handmade envelope Assel made.  At least some things, like this friendship, I need not wonder.
——————-

hibiscus

January 16, 2016 § 2 Comments

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Tried my hand in watercolor painting lately. This is the first one I did in real watercolor paper.  Looks bad (I did that purple thing in the middle all wrong) but…let the learning curve begin!

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letter to heaven.5

April 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

Dearest Inay,

It’s been a while since I’ve written to you. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve written anything of worth. I miss you a lot. I was imagining addressing you in poetry, but I’m afraid my thoughts are all in prose.  Rhymeless prose.  The only song in my head when I think of you is the last song you ever heard.

I finally asked Ama that question that I’ve always wanted an answer to.  It was a selfish question that I could not bring myself to ask for quite some time until after you passed away.  But I wanted an answer, and I wanted it in words.  I asked him if you missed me when I was away.

You see, I know there’s an obvious answer to that, but there’s a difference in answering my own questions to someone else answering them for me.  Especially when the question is independent of me, but whose answer I am dependent on.  He told me you were always crying and you thought that you’d never see me again. To say that I felt a pang of guilt is an understatement. Yet it was a stark contrast to the neutral, brave front you always showed me whenever you called me in Skype.  Sometimes I recall you with silent longing – a memory that performs a brief waltz in my head.  Sometimes it’s in the middle of the night when I wake up in tears – succumbing to the treachery of my dreams.  Sometimes, it is exactly as now – when tears still well up from my eyes and all that can comfort me is writing.  Truly, there is nothing like going home to a mother, to a mom, to a nayoti, to a naychi, to a baby buddha – to half of everything that stood for all the past and present and future strength I had, have and will ever have.  When the going gets tough, it’s easier to be tough and get going if you know your parents have your back.  I miss knowing I have someone to tell my fears to, without being embarrassed about it.  Ironically though, I rarely did that with you.  In truth, we operated with a constant buffer to maintain emotional normality.  If I count the number of times we both broke down in tears at the same time, I can only even remember two.  The times I broke down, you always consoled me with your firm trust and resolve.  The times you broke down, I always encouraged you to have faith and stand right back up.  But I always believed that you felt my thoughts and knew my feelings.  You probably just denied me of the superficial comfort derived from wallowing in self-pity; and wisely at that.  It’s how I learned to follow suit.  But now when I find myself breaking down, it’s hard for me to look for the same solid ground that you always made sure I stood on.  I’m stuck in this limbo looking for you.  Floating among old memories and flashbacks. Immobile and overwhelmed with an inconsolable loneliness. It is a brief paralysis, but it is a stroke of reality.

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