28 June 2010

Toy Stories

We caught "Toy Story 3" last Friday, and while I enjoyed it, I have to say that I still like the previous two movies better. I think it's the months of hype that pushed my expectations so high. I should sit down and watch it again when it all dies down--that's always how I best enjoyed the previous two movies, anyway: on the living room floor with my brothers, surrounded by their toys.

The movie did get me thinking about my own toys, though; the ones that are still stashed somewhere in my room at home and waiting for me to have kids so they can come out again. This is a list of the ones that stand out in my memory. (I wish I had pictures, but I'm not home right now to take them.)

Faded pink teddy bear. I stubbornly held on to this one, not because I actually had any strong attachment to it--I didn't even play with it that much--but because something in the back of my mind told me, "You have to have something that you've had since nursery school. All the life stories you've heard have someone holding onto something they've had since nursery school."

Sparkly purple teddy bear. Kind of itchy and not even that soft. I remember this because it was one of the first toys my parents got me when we'd first moved to the States. We were still living in the San Joaquin Hotel and our stuff hadn't arrived yet, so my brother and I picked out a few toys from the Salvation Army.

Big box of Lego. My brother Mikko and I shared this toy, also since our San Joaquin days. The space in front of the TV where we watched Nick Jr. (I still know the words to that "Red, red, red ball" song) was littered with these pieces. He liked to build his own stuff while I liked to copy the models on the box's cover. It became kind of a tradition between the two of us to play with these Legos on Christmas mornings while waiting for our parents to wake up. Over the years, though, the bricks were assimilated into the rest of my brothers' Lego collection.

Polly Pocket. I collected a lot of these, getting some of them as gifts and buying the rest with my weekly $1 allowance. My favorites were a small purple horse trailer with a saddled chocolate-colored horse that Polly could ride, the babysitting playset, the school, the mansion, and the ice cream parlor. A recurring storyline involved the floppy brown-haired one turning evil, taking over the town, stealing Polly's boyfriend--the only male figurine in my entire collection--and making everyone wear cement clothes.

Barbie. No girl's toy list is complete without this chick. I had several of the older model, before they adjusted her vital statistics to make her body more realistic. I also had the flat-chested, Skipper who didn't smile. To be honest, I didn't care how small her waistline or how big her boobs were; I just liked giving Barbie things to do in the wooden dollhouse my parents gave me. She had mostly G-rated adventures, until an older playmate took things to soap opera proportions one afternoon by introducing a teen pregnancy storyline for Babysitter Skipper. I feel somewhat traumatized on my dolls' behalf because of this.

Not really a toy: four ballerina figurines. Because they looked alike, they were sisters in my stories. The protagonist was a sitting ballerina (explained by a crippling injury), the least maarte-looking of the four. She was in love with a yellow yarn marionette I'd made. I later made a red one to play the part of lecherous antagonist.

Paradisa Lego sets (the girl-oriented Lego). I'd steal some of my brothers' bricks and male minifigs to stage pirate raids on the Paradisa resort. I had a heroine on a jetski. I was always annoyed with my youngest brother for messing up my playspace, so when I got older, I let him have the Paradisa pieces. I kind of regret this whenever I go home, go to his room, and see them gathering dust on his bookshelf.

Brown stuffed rabbit. My favorite stuffed toy to hug. Mom got him from the thrift store and was supposed to donate him along with a bunch of other toys, but I "borrowed" him from the pile and never gave him back. When I left for college, he and many other toys were hidden in the cupboard above my closet so my mom wouldn't give him away.

a Bratz Jade doll. Jade was the last doll I ever got. I was already in high school, so this cool-looking teen doll with a gang of equally cool friends appealed to me. With her sneakers and casual outfit, I made Jade out to be the athletic girl-next-door and got one of the male Bratz, Dylan, to play her fun boyfriend. But I lost all interest when the Bratz makers put out all those outrageous themed outfits and ditzy movies where Jade was a fashionista, her friends were all screeching caricatures, and Dylan was a useless goofball.

24 June 2010

Freedom in Quarterlife

A few days ago, my friend Audrey posted a link to "Welcome to Your Quarterlife Crisis," by Kate Carraway over on eyeweekly.com. 

I once said, "I used to think the quarterlife crisis was my generation's excuse for being lazy. Now I feel like crap."

After reading Ms. Carraway's article, though, that old idea's returned. I still think it's laziness, but in a desperate, M. Scott Peckian sense.

I think the problem of my generation (naks) is that we don't want to commit to any one thing, lest we miss out on something else. We want to be free to investigate all these possiblities, right? Ms. Carraway sums it up really nicely:

"They can’t make any decisions, because they don’t know what they want, and they don’t know what they want because they don’t know who they are, and they don’t know who they are because they’re allowed to be anyone they want."

One thing that's stuck with me from college theology, though, is that that kind of freedom is actually paralyzing. You get stuck in a chain of superficial relationships because you won't commit to one person. You get stuck in career limbo because you won't settle in any job. You become a chronic dabbler in a series of hobbies because any more advancement in one requires more of your time and effort.

That applies to everything, really--to get anywhere great with anything requires more of your time and effort. That's why the floundering around of quarterlifers strikes me as laziness.

The desperation comes in because people my age are scared of being so devoted, scared that the time and effort we'll put into something might be better spent on something else. There's nothing wrong with that, actually--as long as it's clear to you what that something else is. But most of us at this stage will say that it isn't.

How does it become clear? Well, to spoil the essay a bit, I'm going to quote part of the conclusion:

"Having so much — youth, ability, independence — can feel like the worst possible scenario. What remains, though, is the potential for the years with anxiety and without direction to be reclaimed. [Career counselor Marc] Scheer sees real opportunity here. 'If you feel you’re in crisis, this is a great opportunity to draft a five-year plan with steady concrete goals to help you get to where you want to be. Anyone can transform their life in just a few years.'"

Okay, let's see, five-year plan. I'm going to be a little flexible with myself and just set a few specific goals. What do I want? Not a career; that doesn't really matter to me. I want to settle down and have a family. But plans like that depend on committing to other people, and anyone who's committed themselves to another person will find that you have to make room for their own plans, plus things you can't control.

So my plans look more or less like this:
  1. Wait for Martin's surgery and recovery.
  2. Wait for Martin to complete his master's / plot his own career.
And in the meantime,
  1. Be patient, keep working, and save a lot of money.
  2. Get financial advice and put some of that money in a mutual fund or something, something that matures in three to five years. (The neat things you learn at this job!)
  3. Invest again if Martin needs more time.
That way, however long it takes Martin to do his thing, I'll be ready.

If he goes out of the country for his master's, the plan is
  1. Go on an adventure; leave Manila also.
If in the course of all this, things don't work out between me and Martin--well, God forbid. There's nothing that would make me want out, but to appease you pessimists out there, the plan would be to
  1. Go on an adventure; leave Manila.
Some people (relatives included) think it's silly of me to bind my lifeplans like this and that I should be cavorting in Amsterdam or something; you know, being free. I'm telling you, I am free.

I'm free to work toward what I really want. I'm free from worry about what to do with my life because the above points have me set for the next couple of years at least. I'm actually free to jump from job to job if I want--if I'm only out to save money and not to climb the ladder, then I don't have to stay at any one company for very long. But you know, I'm actually kinda interested to see where the current one will take me, so I'm free to do that, too.

I think that's the bottom line of Ms. Carraway's article, that freedom to choose isn't freedom until it's exercised. I think that paradox of freedom to commit is what has us quarterlifers in crisis. Deep down, we know how precious time is, so we're scared to waste it on the wrong things. The sad thing is that it takes people a while to know the right things.

And for all my talk of lifeplans here, I don't really have an answer for my generation; I can only ask, "Well, what do you want?" In my case, after reading the article, I sat myself down, asked myself where I wanted to be, and traced the simplest path to it. In the process, I saw a path that actually left room for lots of exploring on the way. My two cents is, maybe that'll work for all of us.

And if it doesn't, you're free to try something else, right?

22 June 2010

In the Weeds

Just a few things via e-mail today; I'm in the weeds at work and have a ton of catching up to do.

Martin and I saw "The A-Team" over the weekend and really enjoyed it. Maybe we'll catch "Toy Story 3" later this week.

I attended a talk held by some members of the public health sector at this resort. It was interesting, but I think the talk could have been held at any old conference room in Manila to save time and money. It was nice to get away from the city for a while, though. Maybe someday I'll go back there to check out the
snorkelling.

One stupid thing: I want more visitors to this blog, but when I got the chance to share the URL with people I met at the talk, I got shy.

Another stupid thing: I left my cell phone charger in the room at the resort. It was plugged into a hidden outlet under the side table, so I wouldn't be surprised if none of the resort staff spotted it during check-out inspection. I ended up shelling out P500 last night at SM Cubao for a new charger.

My parents celebrated their 24th wedding anniversary yesterday, but on their way home, the truck got hit by a jeepney with a drunk driver. My parents are safe and unharmed, apart from Dad's hand, which Mom says is/was painful and swelling. When I texted Dad, he joked about it, so I guess things are okay. I'm actually worried about the driver now, because he's in jail.

My brother was picked best on-the-job trainee at Shell when the internships were over. I found out pretty late, on Facebook. Hay.

My schoolmate Audrey posted this link to yet another essay on the quarterlife crisis. Maybe I'll post some
thoughts on it later. You know, when I'm not supposed to be working.

17 June 2010

Institusyon?

I had a little reunion dinner with my roommates last night (C2, Powerplant Mall--awesome food!), and Gella and Aeli got to dishing on the guys they've been going out with lately. Whenever they asked me and Myka in turn about us and our boyfriends, the conversation would kind of die.

I don't know how it is for Myka, but for me it's just that I don't really know what to share about our relationship. What's going on in our individual lives, maybe--"Oh, Martin's waiting for the loan for his surgery to come through. He's still teaching this year and is now the Creative Writing coordinator. Me, I'm still plodding along at old BWorld and entertaining thoughts of moving to a new neighborhood." But us together? What could they possibly want to know?

"Institusyon na kasi," Anne would say.

I could argue that a relationship doesn't reach institution status till it lasts maybe 50 years, not 15 months. But I guess she means that at this point, there seems to be no reason for me or Myka to pore over every little detail with the girlfriends to find out, "What does he mean? What's going on in his head? Where is this thing we have together going?"

The catch, of course, is that--again, I can't speak for Myka--I'm with a guy who says what he means, will clue me in on what's going on when I need to know, and who can assure me of at least the general direction in which TTWHT is going. I don't need to hash out my confusion with an external party; I just go right to the source. If I
didn't, then I'd probably be right in there with Gella and Aeli, taking a scalpel to what's happened so far.

"What's it like, being an institusyon?" Aeli asked.

"It's nice," was all I managed to say.

Well, it is. It's nice to be able to go to his house on the weekend in an old t-shirt and pair of shorts and do nothing but watch cooking shows and movies on TV. I like meeting up in MoA and making the rounds of all the bookstores before settling into a cafe for wifi and paperwork. I actually like listening now to his gripes about work and the politics going on at school. In short, I like the comfortable routines that we've taken on since the start of the year.

When you hear single people talk about the troubles of finding a good partner or speculate about whether some guy in the next department is making eyes with them, you feel kind of glad that this is not your problem. It's not to say that people in couples are superior, just that their problems are different.

What are the problems? Me, I worry a lot about another person. Every now and then, I feel a mild panic at the idea that I might not be as much a part of his life as I want to be. I feel helpless when he has a problem that I can't really do anything to fix. I wonder if it's safe or sane, to have so much of your own happiness depend on another person's. I have bouts of impatience; I want to know when all the waiting is through. Overall, there's this terrifying vulnerability that, at the same time, seems completely necessary for TTWHT to be so awesome.

I think my problem with being asked about being institutsyon is that I have no snappy way to adequately convey its awesome ordinaryness. It's one of those you-had-to-be-there kind of things.

"Uh. It's nice."

I guess that's really all I can say.

15 June 2010

Leveling Up

I had breakfast with Martin in the Ateneo faculty lounge this morning. I'd eaten there before, during the summer, when there were but a handful of students around. Martin wasn't teaching, but he would come in for admin meetings at the Fine Arts Department.

Today was the first day of school, so there were more than just a handful of students there, even if it was so early in the morning. We even spotted a few moms accompanying their freshman sons. (Hay.)

With a near-empty campus in the summertime, it's easy to feel proud of yourself upon returning to your alma mater, but after this morning, I can no longer remember why. "Suddenly, college life feels like a blur," I said aloud. Suddenly, when I look back on the four years spent racing from classroom to classroom, staying up late in my dorm room to cram and commiserate with roommates during finals week, being the token little sister type in our block's guy barkada and then spending all my free time in the pub(lications) room, I hear a VROOMSH sound in my head. The pride I feel over "it all" being behind me has been replaced by shock at just how far behind me "it" is. That was college? Oh. Well. Huh.

Maybe that's why adults keep mentioning a certain "real world" whenever they talk to students. Maybe it's not so much that their disbelief in students' ability to cope with new responsibilities as it is their disbelief that they ever had old ones, once upon a time. It's not really a "real world;" it's a new world, one that bears some resemblance to the old ones (ever hear this song?) but has higher expectations and direr consequences.

Now that I think about it, life so far has been like those MMORPGs I used to play. At the start, you get a puny weapon and can only kill puny monsters. Then, as you gain more experience points, you level up. You get to wield bigger weapons and kill bigger monsters--but in the end, that's all it is: killing monsters, just at different levels.

Then the game asks you to specialize, so you focus your efforts on developing a certain aspect of your character (I have a high level of DEX, so I'd make a great archer, but now that I think about it, I'd rather be a magician). You think about stuff to invest in for your character's survival (I can afford this really cool staff, but I really should save up for a better shield).

And then, some quest or errand sends high-level you back to your old training grounds. You find that the map wasn't as big as you thought, the terrain was not as difficult, and the claws of your most feared monsters now give just a slight tickle. You may feel pride, and feel like laughing at the beginners just entering the field. But after a while, it's not even funny, and instead, you feel some kind of amnesia. "Did I really come from this place? Was I really like them? When? How?"

I don't claim to be a high-level player, whether in real life or in RPGs. I usually gave up on a game once I got the basics down and reached phase two or three of a career; the tedious quests you had to complete to become an awesome, highly specialized top-level player just didn't seem worth it to me--unlike my brother, who kept notes and bought guides and did all these calculations and stuff to make sure he made all the right moves and eventually be king of the game. Our approaches to gaming are actually not that far off from our approaches to life in general. (I wonder if it means anything that I preferred simulations to RPGs. Hmm.)

But at the very least, I can reasonably say to the people about to cross the bridges I've crossed that the fearsomeness of those ravines is all in their heads. You get over things. You move on. You even forget.

Of course I'm a little sad. I miss when things were big deals. I miss when cutting class meant a missed quiz, not a smaller payslip. I miss having concrete, if somewhat superficial goals. I miss living under the illusion that I really knew what I wanted.

But I'm here now. And when I think about it, life is good. I live independently. I have a decent job. I have my family and my friends. I have Martin. This is, more or less, the life I want for myself at this point. Even if I'm half stumbling through life out of school, there are actually more opportunities for me to be happy now than there ever were before.

And the best part is, the fun's not about to be cut short by graduation--at least, not for maybe eighty more years.

Life is good.

11 June 2010

10 June 2010

Fly on a Corner Office Wall

This morning, I interviewed a guy in one of the country's top investment houses, and as I hurried out of the tower and onto the sidewalks of Ayala Avenue afterward, I wanted to cry out, "Investment banking is the shit!"

Say I've been drinking the Kool-Aid, but working for BusinessWorld has given me an appreciation for the world of business (hahaha) that I doubt I could ever have picked up in a classroom.

One of my favorite movie dialogues happens to sum up the reason for my esteem quite nicely.

Linus: Making money isn't the main point of business. Money is a by-product.

David: What's the main objective? Power?

Linus: Ah! That's become a dirty word.

...

A new product has been found, something of use to the world. A new industry moves into an undeveloped area. Factories go up, machines go in and you're in business. It's coincidental that people who've never seen a dime now have a dollar, and barefooted kids wear shoes and have their faces washed. What's wrong with an urge that gives people libraries, hospitals, baseball diamonds, and movies on a Saturday night?

David: You make me feel like a heel. If I don't marry her, some kid will run around Puerto Rico barefoot!


Have I quoted this scene in an older post? Sorry; I can't help but recall it after meeting one of these folks in suits.

In this scene from "Sabrina," David Larrabee is upset because his tycoon elder brother Linus has asked him to marry the daughter of the guy with whom the Larrabee company is going into a joint venture. I can't remember the details, but it's kind of to seal the deal. David asks Linus why he doesn't marry the girl himself, and Linus explains that he'd be a terrible husband because he's in love with business. David asks what he sees in it, and Linus answers with what I see in it.

I don't think I've got what it takes to be a great entrepreneur or an investment banker, but I admire people who do, because their work gets things done. All these executives I've interviewed in the past near-ten months I've worked for this paper have shown me that there are powerful people who are not only aware of their impact on the community but are also glad to make it.

There are real estate developers eager to build homes for the people who can't afford a ritzy business district condo. There are investment bankers who want and will help small businesses to break into a market dominated by olde, establishde names. There are company presidents who are willing to absorb the costs of ensuring environmental sustainability.

Though I don't doubt that somewhere, such a caricature lives and breathes, CEOs are not all fat cats who light their cigars with dollar bills. Though there are still issues that need to be resolved (how much of their success actually trickles down?), suits aren't all evil, greedy, money-grubbing jerks; some of them actually want to do something to improve the lives of the people around them, and they have the power to do it. It's a breath of fresh air, and it gives you hope, even as you board the bus back to your own little desk across town, and the conductor switches the TV over to a noontime show.

08 June 2010

The Search for My Brother

Yesterday was my youngest brother's first day of high school. He and my dad were here in Manila for a few days (Dad stopping over on a business trip to Thailand, Momon tagging along just for fun). While little in our dynamic's changed, I get subtle hints that he's turning into his own person, and I feel bad that I'm missing out.

The last time I was home, it was his toying with the idea of introducing himself to girls with his second name, Gabriel, and not as the Mon/Momon/Ramon he's been to us since his babyhood. My first instinct as an older sibling was to ridicule him, of course, but I remembered all the names I made up for myself at his age, remembered how I liked my nickname change when I entered college, and thought better. Let him be Gabriel if he wants, I figured.

This time it was just the fact of sharing the same space, in Manila for once, and not in Kalsangi. The last time he was here, he was around six or seven. This was before I left for college and our middle sibling Mikko followed after. Now, aware of him following a few paces behind, I can't help wishing I could see things through is eyes. I wonder how our little trip from Paranaque to Quezon City to see Alvi's truck, how walking from mall to mall, and how lazing around in Merville have colored his ideas of the city where his siblings have been living apart from him all these years. Does our being here make him want to be here, too? Does the city have some pull on him that it never had on me?

I wish I knew what Mon was thinking, wish we could somehow talk and bridge the physical and emotional gaps. But when you're a 13-year-old boy with a new PSP and a ton of friends and high school just beginning, catching up with your 22-year-old sister working far away must be the last thing on your mind.

I wish I could be home to see this, to see my brother in this part of his life. I mean, with Mikko, there was always an overlap; I was always a senior at the same time he was a freshman, and even if we didn't see each other, I could still get some sense of how he was doing because he was in the area. When we got to have lunch together, I'd get to see who he was without our parents around. When I found out he started a tumblog, I followed just to see what he likes and how he expresses himself.

To learn about my other brother Momon, I have to read between the lines of Mom's worried e-mails and his friends' adolescent Facebook posts and, when he's around, watch him only out of the corner of my eye lest he get all self-conscious. I'm waiting, just waiting for him to break out with something of his own, something that will tell me what he wants, where he'd like to go, and who he is and wants to be.

But, eh. He's 13. Yesterday was his first day of high school. I think I'm going to have to wait a while longer. I'm looking forward to it (whatever it is), though.

05 June 2010

Weekend!

Just some little things today. I added an About page and put final touches on my blog theme. It will probably stay that way for the next six months or so.

I have a little backlog at work and a lot waiting for me in the coming weeks, but since my family's not in town that often, it will have to wait till Monday. I'm hanging out with my dad and brothers today and then taking them to the airport tomorrow. Then there's Martin's inaanak's birthday at Museo Pambata in the afternoon. That makes one last full weekend, I guess, before I get buried again. I'm excited. :)

03 June 2010

Time Out

There's a kind of happy anticipation coloring my life these days. I recognize it as the same kind I felt at around the same time last year. Things were settling. Suddenly, I didn't hate the condo; I wanted to buy new tables and splurge on a new mattress.

Myka kinda rained on my parade then when she told me that she wasn't planning on renewing the lease, so I had to find a new place to live. That happened at around the same time I took on a more demanding job, so it was pretty turbulent, emotionally. (Ask Martin. I cried nearly every night.) Just when things were settling, I took double the hits.

I must not be very good at this life stuff if it takes me a whole year to get over the changes and adjust.

And now that I've adjusted, the little voices that told me to change jobs are piping up again. It's nothing about furniture, considering how tiny my room is, but stuff like: "Maybe you should study abroad. Maybe you should try working for an NGO. Maybe you should follow the marine biologists around again. Doesn't Dumaguete sound fun?"

I don't regret having followed those little voices in the past, but, oy, the process. I'm not really sure I want to do it again. Not right now, anyway. Now that my lease doesn't depend on anyone else sticking around to pay half, I get to proceed with my life on my own terms, and I want to proceed slowly.

In the past year, I learned more than ever how much I need to stay in one place for a while. I'm more of a country mouse than I thought. Even my teenage fantasies of being a superhero, being famous, being cool--they all depended on Kat the Great having a base to return to at the end. The part of reckless, wandering youth? You guys can have it.

Does that mean I'm cutting spontaneity out of my life? Of course not. If something too good to pass up comes along, I'll grab it. If the voices are really persistent, I'll give them a listen. I don't want to be lazy or complacent. I don't want to be too afraid of the unknown to let great opportunities slip away.

But I just want to take time to enjoy where I am right now, really soak it in before I have to let this go, too. I mean, how often in your life do you find any kind of contentment?

01 June 2010

The Faith of Starfish

As far as I can tell, starfish don't have faith. If we were to get technical and philosophical about it, I'd point out that they have neither a heart (if you still believe that's where feelings come from) nor a centralized brain with which to consider anything.

But somehow, starfish get around. When they lose an arm, they just keep going on their little tube feet, looking for mollusks or coral or whatever's slower than they are, to eat it, and the arm just grows back eventually. So if starfish were capable of emotion, I'd guess that they feel secure. If starfish had any faith, they'd trust in their God-given (Oh, Great Echinoderm of the Deep!) ability to just regrow themselves after trauma and be content. If Jesus had been more of a seafaring type, maybe he would've had one more analogy for old Matthew to record in Chapter 6.

Unfortunately for me, I am not a starfish. I've lost parts of myself in the past couple of years, and the regeneration process has been painful. (Due to their lack of brains, starfish don't feel pain, either. And you could cut one in half and, after enough time, have two starfish on your hands. Some creatures really have all the luck.) It's mostly because I don't even know if those things--home, church, dreams deferred, etc.--can grow back, or if I'd recognize them if they did. New starfish arms are exact replicas of the old ones. I feel kind of like a misshapen mutant in comparison.

I think my life would be better--trouble easier to endure, frustration and impatience dropped from my emotional vocabulary--if I had a more brainless brand of faith, with "It'lll grow back" a soothing mantra repeating in the back of my mind (or in whatever nervous system is left): "It'll grow back. It'll all grow back. I don't know how, how long it will take, or what it will look like, but that won't bother me, as long as it grows back. And it will. It just will."

*long sigh of true peace and contentment; hum and wiggle of tube feet*

"Oh, look, a mussel!"

--
Thanks for coming over to my new blog, where I will more or less do the same things I did on the old ones. There are several reasons I decided to change blog hosts, and most of them are technical. I'll spare you and provide just the personal one.

It felt like a good time to start again.