26 December 2011


Whenever I came home and found that home had stayed the same no matter how I'd changed, I felt reassured. This Christmas, it's home that's changed, and it feels like for good.

The other day, I had just an hour to spend with some of my oldest friends. My family had to go to church in a bit, Kim and Kriselle would be leaving for Davao again the next day, and I wasn't sure if I'd see Mariel again in Kalsangi after Christmas (I'm flying back to Manila tomorrow).

Of the four of us, only Mariel has lived in Kalsangi longer than my family. In January, she and her family will be moving away.

This vacation has literally been a nostalgia trip. While going around the neighborhood, I haven't been able to stop thinking, "So-and-so used to live there. I used to climb that rock. I used to go inside that shop and look at the bracelets. My friends and I once called that cluster of trees Narnia. I used to go to that pond and catch those tiny frogs."

I wish there was more time.

In our family, Christmas has rarely been just for us. My mom is so involved in the community that she's buying, baking, cooking, wrapping, and delivering presents till well past Christmas day. It's a lot for one person to do alone, which is why the rest of us get roped into helping her. I guess it's selfish of me to wish that just one Christmas Eve, she could have nothing to do, but I wish it all the same.

Then I remember that I live in Manila; if I didn't, she'd have an extra pair of hands leading up to the holidays, and maybe by Christmas, she'd be chilling on the couch and listening to her favorite CDs, instead of begging my brother to get away from the computer and deliver this tin of fruit cocktail cake to the Parcons.

Things have settled down now, so I think it's safe to "plan" today on doing nothing but letting my memory catch up and settle itself also. I just wish there was more time.

22 December 2011

Now Dismiss

A recent comment from Lance has encouraged me to blog a little more openly about my faith, so here's a little pre-Christmas reflection.


In church, we've been counting down to Christmas with four songs that were sung in the days leading up to Jesus's birth. I missed the first, but the other three were Mary's, the angels' to the shepherds, and Simeon's.

I like the latter two best. I miss the days when I believed that heaven could speak to me in the most unlikely places, so to imagine myself hearing the angel song, say, while waiting on a crowded MRT platform would give me all the hope and foundation I needed. Never mind my doubt and throw off my anxieties if I could have a moment like that to remember: I saw angels and heard them sing. We all did. The light and the sound was incredible. God is real, and near.

At the same time, however, I suspect that I wouldn't be the one seeing the angels. That visit today would be made to day laborers at a construction site, slum dwellers, and flood evacuees sleeping on cold classroom floors. If there is such a God as the preachers have preached, he is a God of those for whom things are most hopeless, and I should be afraid to receive the word that the Gloria was sung.

The prophets of the Bible have warned against ignoring the suffering of the fatherless, the widowed, and the destitute. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed not for sexual deviance, but for failing to care for the needy. The Messiah heralded by the angels brings justice, so for all the times I've failed to care, I should be afraid.

This is the point in the post where someone who means well rushes to the comment box and says, "But you're missing the point of the angel song! They're announcing the arrival of a Savior who banishes all fear! The Savior is for both rich and poor! Just accept him into your heart, and you won't have to worry about punishment; you'll be in heaven when you die!" (Plus a little side debate about faith and works.)

This is why Christmas can be difficult for me. Believing in and celebrating a Savior entails believing in the kind of God that would send a Savior, and would send one in the style set out in the Bible, which in itself requires a lot of rewiring on my part to be fully accepted. Once I get through those road blocks, I then have to consider the proposal that this Savior is Jesus of Nazareth.

And if it is Jesus, then it is the Jesus who made it a point to prioritize the poor and the outsiders over all the rest. It's the Jesus who, in one teacher's translation of the old Greek and Hebrew for "compassion," saw the multitudes and wanted to shit himself.

It's the Jesus who can tell you at the gates of heaven, "I don't know you," and whose ancestor Abraham may tell you that the gulf between your station and poor Lazarus's is too great to cross.

When I was smaller, I wanted to be the boy with the basket of bread and fish, ready to be offered and shared. Now that I'm older, I know that at my worst, I'm the Levite crossing the road to avoid the mugging victim, and at my best, I'm only the man in Mark 9:24, Thomas who needed to touch the holes in Jesus's palms to believe, and Zaccheus who needed a little shakeup to give his wealth away.

In some small measure, then, Simeon's song is comforting, because he received the sign he was waiting for, held his Savior in his arms, and knew that he could now die happy and at peace. On good days, I don't have to go through all these mental gymnastics, I can see how easy it is to "just" believe, and I have a little peace. On bad days, I hope there is a God, I hope he gives signs, and I hope I'll know how to recognize them, to grasp them before I die, so I can have a little peace.

And in the meantime, I do what work I can.

15 December 2011

To Architect a Heart

Two years ago, I was in the middle of what I can now, from a distance, identify as a nervous breakdown.

I had just taken on a new, more challenging job that I wasn't sure I could handle. I had just moved to a new place that I hated. Around the time of my 22nd birthday, I felt myself being pulled apart, by my family telling me not to tie myself down too soon and by Martin asking me to take our still fairly new relationship more seriously.

I also felt that the megacity was swallowing me whole. A cab ride from Martin's house in Parañaque, through C-5, back to Quezon City would freak me out. I was riding on the rim of Metro Manila, and the sight of Parañaque, Taguig, Makati, Mandaluyong, Pasig, and Quezon City all whizzing past within minutes heightened my alienation. Where in all that concrete, steel, and slumland was I supposed to be?

I think that feeling, more than anything, sparked my later interest in real estate, urban planning, and architecture. I wanted to understand how people used and moved in their spaces, how they decided whether to put up walls or to set pathways between one another, and whether the shape of a window changed how one looked out and others looked in. Would how we went from point A to point B, and what we saw, be somehow different through a triangle instead of a square?

Thus, the simplicity and order of moving from point A to point B in Singapore, and the beauty of even the lowest-cost housing, appealed to me when my family and I went this year. Getting from me to you did not have to require a jeepney ride, a train ride, an FX ride, another jeepney ride, and a ten-minute walk. And when I got there, we could have room to move, light to see, and air to breathe.

Before I learned about buildings, though, back in 2009, I knew that I needed to adjust and change. I had to accept the city if not embrace it, because it was the only place Martin wanted to be, and I wanted to be with Martin. Yet I was terrified at the thought that when it was over, I wouldn't recognize myself anymore.

God, what a wreck I was. Poor Martin, having to carry me through that.

Then, at the start of 2010, his leg broke, literally and figuratively. So I somehow snapped out of my stupid crisis and tried to carry him.

It really was a snap; I remember answering the phone, hearing those two small words ("It broke."), and feeling my gears fly into place because there was someone more important than me and in much more pain. It was time to put the wrench down.

What followed was difficult and painful, to say the least (and I want to say only the least). Everything was put on hold while Martin recovered his strength.

And then, when he could stand again, he walked away.

He walked into a once-in-a-lifetime career opportunity, grad school, and life without time or energy for anything else, much less for picking up where we'd left off. I told myself to just wait a little longer, be supportive, work on improving myself, and just be there for him.

So I worked at my job and learned to enjoy it. I never quite got to love the city, but I accepted it, the way one accepts that they must work with an enemy against an even greater enemy.

For me, this enemy was disorder and decay. And because I couldn't set a wrecking ball on the megacity, I set it on the unsound structures I'd built inside me. I gave my emotional squatters more productive outlets and settled them in a tidy high-rise overlooking a lake, which I dredged and cleared of invasive thoughts. I made myself bike paths and got myself new trains, so that getting from problem to solution would be simpler, quieter, and even enjoyable. I restored the park as well as the crumbling theater and museum, the places inside myself that made me feel safe, whole, and progressive. I planted tree seedlings, dreams I hoped we'd get to nurture once Martin was better.

I wanted to be stable, solid, and strong for him. I wanted to be at once his Taliesin West and Fallingwater, Hundertwasserhaus and the Guggenheim de Bilbao, the Manila Met returned to glory and the Parthenon lovely even against all erosion.

I wanted to be the home with the gentle staircase and the treetop view, the quiet study armored with full bookcases, the sunlit kitchen window lined with potted herbs, the bedroom overlooking Central Park--the dream home, in other words.

So, I worked. I can't say I reached the ideal, but God damn it, I worked to become a balanced, loving, lovable, worthy person.

But as the months passed, I doubted that he noticed at all. He talked about work and school all the time. When I asked if we could talk about something else, the conversation died, and when it picked up, it felt forced and hollow. When I asked if we could talk about us, he got defensive. He wouldn't even let me touch him, because it meant more lost energy, more time away from whatever was on his desk.

I told myself to wait for later; he had no time right now. After months of this, though, I finally asked if he could possibly make time, make room, or if he had any room at all.

In a nutshell, he said no.

So until fairly recently, I felt that all I'd done since the breakdown, all I'd built, had been a waste. I was angry, because he'd asked me to make a place for us in all my plans--he'd even gotten mad about it several times--and now he was the one who got to walk away.

And he couldn't even say why. That's why, for the past couple of months, I've been questioning everything I've done in the past near-three years, looking for cracks that I'd missed, and picking up old guilt over the old breakdown.

I think I'm done now. I felt another snap, maybe three. I finally found the gap in the bridge, the loose cables, the one car causing the jam.

It's a little hard to explain, or, at least, it sounds a little stupid. These are things I've been telling myself over the past few months, things I myself would tell other people in the same situation, but I guess these things just didn't sink in until now.

The longer I hang on to my anger, the harder it is to just let Martin keep walking. The more I look for cracks, the harder it is to admire my handiwork and the good it actually, still, has. And the more I question whether I'm ready, the longer I'll wait before I reopen the gates.

I could hide inside myself and chip away at my own foundations until I implode like poor Christine Chubbuck. Or, I could pick up my hammer and build again, better, stronger, higher, until I scrape the sky.

14 December 2011

Wǒ xuéxí Hànyǔ

"Learning a language, even a natural language, is more of an emotional decision than a practical one. It’s about belonging to a group."*
— Arika Okrent, author of “In the Land of Invented Languages”

To this day, I'm not entirely sure why I signed up for Mandarin classes. I am sure the trip to Singapore and the subsequent dream of an interesting life somewhere far away would have something to do with it. I figured that given current world affairs, if I ever decided to move to another country, Chinese would be the most practical new language to learn.

(And if I was wrong, at least I might make a buck teaching people who might also be wrong still.)

I did sign up for the class to meet people, too. So far, though I haven't had much of a conversation with anyone beyond,

"Nín guì xìng?" (Sir/Madam, what is your honorable surname?),
"Nǐ zuò shénmè gōngzuò?" (What do you do for a living?), and
"Nǐ jiā yǒu jǐ kǒu rén?" (How many people are in your family?).

I guess I'll see who sticks around for Basic 2.

It all comes down to wanting to feel like I'm getting somewhere with my life, especially now that the things I planned over the past two and a half years are now dust.

In the end, though, it might just something to keep me busy until I have something big and new and consuming to work toward, to belong to, again.

* strikethrough mine; quotation source

13 December 2011

New Books I Read in 2011

Before I get on with the list, some notes.
  • Not all of these books were released this year; by "new," I mean that I read them for the first time this year.
  • I'm not even sure if this list is accurate. I only started with "Never Let Me Go" because I know I received it last Christmas. I can't seem to get Shelfari to show me exactly when I added the books.
  • I'm a little disappointed that I didn't read a lot more this year. Maybe I'll be able to squeeze in one or two more books before 2012 comes.

And now, the list.

  1. Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. A Christmas gift from my grandmother. Really beautiful story, made me cry.

    Also, it is not a little painful to read about the death throes of a young couple's life together when you are constantly asking yourself whether you are in the death throes of a young couple's life together.

  2. The Joys of Love, by Madeleine L'Engle. Another Christmas gift, this one from my mother. It's Ms. L'Engle's first novel, posthumously published by her granddaughters. I found it a refreshingly simple, happy look at what it was like for one of my favorite authors to be a young writer and actress.

  3. Certain Women, by Madeleine L'Engle. Another gift from Mom. It might be a little dry for some people, but I loved all the theater and Biblical references, as well as the way Ms. L'Engle wrote about this family.

  4. Betty Crocker's Microwave Cookbook. Ha.

  5. I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak. I loved it until I got to the ending. What a cop-out.

  6. Mercury, by Hope Larson. My expectations were high for this Eisner winner, so I was a little disappointed with the simplistic story. Good art, premise, and choice of themes, though.

  7. Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson. My gift to Martin. I sort of wanted to take it back after I read it, haha. I really enjoyed the whole investigation into apophenia.

    Yes, that was my favorite word for a few weeks.

  8. For the Win, by Cory Doctorow. I've actually ranted about this here and here.

  9.  Art & Max, by David Wiesner. Visually exuberant, like a Pixar short with words.

  10. Just Being Audrey, by Margaret Cardillo. A tribute to the Hollywood icon that also serves to introduce her to young readers. I think the illustrations captured the poise, charm, and lightness that fans have ascribed to Ms. Hepburn.

  11. A Visit From the Goon Squad, by Jennifer Egan. Just awesome.

  12. The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman. Also awesome. I generally love stories about the world after human civilization, so it was great to get a National Geographic kind of look at how it would happen.

    Before the book, Mr. Weisman wrote this article on the same subject; it should give you an idea.

  13. The Major Plays, by Anton Chekhov. <3

  14. The Diaries of Adam and Eve, by Mark Twain. The writing's a little sexist, but I love the sheer joy Eve feels as she explores the newly-made world. Adam's such a fuddy-duddy.

  15. A Song of Ice and Fire, series, by George R. R. Martin. It's not going to win any Pulitzers, but I'm so invested in the characters now. Sansa Stark for the win.

  16. The Animal Family, by Randall Jarrell. A wonderfully weird fairy tale. The decorations by Maurice Sendak are a huge bonus.

  17. And Another Thing... by Eoin Colfer. I also reviewed this here.

  18. The Red Tree, by Shaun Tan. I read this shortly before the breakup. It helped before and after the breakup. I will probably gravitate to this book and anything by Shaun Tan whenever I feel really sad. If someone you know is sad, give them this book.

  19. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky. I'd heard about this book on and off for several years, but I'll admit, I only finally picked it up after I'd read that Emma Watson had been cast as the girl. I know. Bad reader, bad, bad. But the book was good, good.

  20. Blankets, by Craig Thompson. Relatable and sweet.

  21. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, by Oliver Sacks. If someone had told me ten years ago that neurology was where it's at, I'd be in med school right now. Instead, I have to content myself with the tales of Oliver Sacks.

  22. Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Not very well-written, but still moving and thoughtful. It was nice to feel someone within the evangelical establishment (well, as far in as the liberal upstart Mr. Bell got, anyway) reaching out to doubters like me.

  23. Clockwork, by Philip Pullman. At once chilling and sweet, like several Grimms' tales woven together.

  24. Gentlemen of the Road, by Michael Chabon. Having read #15 put me in the mood for something like this, and Mr. Chabon did not disappoint. There's historical interest as well as solid swashbuckling.

    It was also the first Chabon book I ever read, but the self-stroking afterword has made me hesitant to read any other.

  25. Over to You, by Roald Dahl. Exquisite stories about being in the Royal Air Force during WWII. Also, madness.

  26. The History of Luminous Motion, by Scott Bradfield. The macabre, lyrical, at times drug-addled bildungsroman of a frighteningly precocious eight-year-old sociopath. Hacksaws are involved.

  27. Delirium's Party, A Little Endless Storybook, by Jill Thompson. A little too cutesie, but I loved the illustrations.

Next time, books I hope to read next year.

12 December 2011

Swing Seven

This photo I took of my youngest cousin Paolo at his seventh birthday party last Saturday has me near tears, for reasons I can't openly share.

Oh, little man, always swinging between tearful brooding and deafening exuberance. May your childhood be awesome. May you often, if not always, be this happy. May there always be someone to catch you regardless. It will be okay.

08 December 2011

Do What Pray Tell

A well-meaning friend suggested that, now that I'm single again, I should spend more time with God and ask myself if I was going to be with him in heaven after I died.

The thing is, she and I have different ideas of God. I don't think she'd really dig mine, much less how I spend time with who I believe is God. There's also no paper trail--no Bible study group signup forms, no outreach ministry membership brochures--to prove to her that I spend any time with God at all.

Ever since I left my church job, talking about God to the people--especially the professing Christian people--who have known me since childhood runs the risk of opening a can of worms that never seems safe to open. So, all I could do was sidestep my friend's suggestion and address some of the other points she'd raised during our conversation about whether I'm ready to date anyone.

I do wish, though, that there was someone I could talk to about my faith. The next-closest person to me who has any clue about its state is my younger brother, but out of pride, I avoid talking to him about it. I say next-closest, because Martin knew a little more than my brother does, but his viewpoint is Catholic, so he didn't quite get everything.

I once dropped in on a Filipino Freethinkers meeting and would have liked to talk to the Episcopalian guy, but I don't feel like going back.

I guess I would just like to talk to someone who understands Protestant, particularly evangelical church culture, is familiar with evangelical teachings, would listen to what I had to say, wouldn't judge me, and would maybe even walk away without worrying unnecessarily over the fate of my immortal soul. Basically, I would like to talk to someone who would listen, not preach or fret, and just leave me in the hands of whatever God they believed in, just as I place myself in the hands of mine.

Preferably not someone I work with, because just knowing they follow me on Twitter makes things soooo awkward already.

Is it too early for New Year's resolutions? I'm looking forward to the new year. These are more plans than resolutions:

1. Reread the Bible, this time a KJV.
2. Continue studying Mandarin.
3. Bike more.
4. Move out of Cubao.
5. Keep a planner.
6. Make more complicated popup buildings.
7. Invest some more.
8. Study more economics.
9. Get a pet. If where I live doesn't allow pets, get a small pet that doesn't make noise. A turtle, maybe.
10. Be happy.

And as for whether I'm ready to date anyone, I don't think I want to just yet. So far, no one who's expressed interest has really grabbed my attention, either. I guess we'll see how the new year goes.

04 December 2011

Is this thing on?

I've installed the IntenseDebate comment system for new posts on this blog. This is just a test post to see if it's working.

01 December 2011

In My Country, We Sit on the Street and Draw With Rocks

I often feel that when it comes to popular culture, my peers are always at parties to which I am always late, where I barely know anybody else, where I am horribly underdressed , and where everybody talks about what they ate at the last party--to which I was also late, and so only got leftovers.

I'm the foreign exchange student, the extraterrestrial whose guidebook to this land is out-of-date, incomplete, and misspelled. I grin stupidly at everyone in the room, fail at conversation, and try not to stick my proboscis in my hosts' flower vase instead of the glass someone set out for me. I want to get assimilated, but at the same time, I can't help wondering why everyone gets so worked up about everything.

What I'm trying to say is that it's exhausting to try to keep up with the movies, TV shows, books, and music that everyone else seems to not only consume but also thoroughly digest. It seems to be the Thing to Do around here, so I feel a subtle pressure to join in, but it's a wonder nobody's head falls over from the sheer weight of everything they've crammed in there.

I tend to chalk these feelings up my old life in isolation, when the school library had what it had, the only decent bookstore I knew was a three-hour drive away, Internet access was rationed, the TV had less than 20 channels, and I just read or watched or listened to (1) what was there on the shelves, (2) what I could buy with my P50/week allowance, and (3) what I liked. And if I didn't like anything that was on, I went outside.

Now that I live here Where Everything Happens, I have online, offline, financial, convenient, and near-constant access to practically every piece of culture created in history. I can catch up on whatever I missed (the books, my God, the books) and get my hands on whatever's new.

I should be stuffing myself, licking my fingers, smacking my lips, and letting the juices of all those texts dribble down my chin. Instead, I am overwhelmed by the sheer amount on the table, ask to be excused early, and wish I could go outside.

It's not to say that I think I'm better than people who do consume so much culture; in fact, I wholly admire them and their capacity for what feels like everything everyone ever made in the world, as well as their ability to discern which consumable is, in fact, tasteful. But I think I'll go on reaching only for the things I might like and hope someone will want to talk about it later.