31 January 2013

Letter No. 13

My age didn't hang over my head till now. Till now, I was "20-something," figuring it out, taking my time, planning only as far as a year in advance. But last year, the year I turned 25, everything seemed to happen all at once. Or rather, the worries that simmered at the back of my mind all started to bubble and whistle louder for attention.

This isn't the first time I've written about my family getting older or the rest of my life being ahead of me, but this is the first time in years that I can remember feeling seriously pressured to do something about it. "When will I have apo?" sounds a lot more urgent now than it did when I was 20. So do, "What are you going to do with your career?", "When are you coming home again?", and "So, are you [two] next?"

I don't want to have ready answers to these questions just because other people are asking them. I keep fending them off with, "It's early," and "There's still time," but they've gotten deeper under my skin somehow.

I think the biggest thing that bothers me is having — or rather, not yet having children. Since the start of the year, it's like the universe has dispatched a pro-use-your-uterus front against me: my mom, my brother, a trend in articles against motherhood after 30, couples mentioning their future children in their wedding vows, people at weddings asking about my own plans, and Metro Manila's bottomless supply of adorable infants and toddlers in public places.

Sometimes, their attacks are combined. At Ba Noi's on Ken's last night in town, he, Cris, and I saw one wide-eyed infant boy getting handed from one person to another at the next table. Ken piped up, "So, do you guys want kids?" And after a long, "Uh — " from me, he backpedalled with, "I ask the couple that's been together nine months," but it was too late; the awkward bomb had dropped. Just last Saturday, one little stinker I nicknamed "Dumpling Baby" entertained me and Cris through the wedding ceremony of his friend.

The other day, I had kind of an emotional response to one blog I've been following. I followed dover/Callai after reading some of her posts on an American freethinkers' blog, at around the time she and her husband Andrew were just thinking of having children. It's been a few years since then, and Callai and Andrew now have Eleanor, a lovely, funny, clever near-two-year-old whose face just brightens up your screen and your day. But it was the moment they took the plunge and decided to have her that really got me hooked on dover's blog.

In the post I responded to, dover related how she felt like an odd one out at a recent meeting with her peers. She was the only 20-something in her book club who'd decided to be a stay-at-home mom, and she expressed discomfort at being seen by the other women as a big "What if...?"

But I'd be lying if I didn't say that her blog hasn't given me that "What if...?" since I started following it. We're around the same age, have similar social backgrounds, and ask ourselves a lot of questions about where our lives are going. And I also wanted to have kids that young. Through dover's blog posts about pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing, I've gotten to imagine what my life would have been like if I'd had my own dumpling baby, instead of working till I landed backwards into a comfortable job and started entertaining thoughts about further studies.

She occasionally reads my own posts, so dover, if you're reading this, I hope you don't feel bad. You and your growing family are an inspiration to someone here across the Pacific, and I wish you, Andrew, Eleanor, and whoever's next all the best. I am happy for you and, often, jealous.

Anyway, in my own Tumblr post, I ranted a little bit about how sad it is that career and motherhood still seems like an either-or thing. I was thinking of this article about the pending global population decline, and I was mad that it "blamed" educating girls for the fact that fewer women are having fewer kids at the best reproductive age. But after the post, I realized that it had never been an either-or thing for me. I'd said it myself: the opportunity to have kids had never presented itself. And now, I'm 25.

God. You know what 25 for me feels like? It feels early and late all at once. Late because I wanted kids for a long time, and two years ago, I was in a relationship with someone I thought I'd have those kids with. Early because I can't even write my boyfriend's name into this sentence because I'm afraid of scaring him off, because I have no fucking clue if or when it's safe to move past admiring other people's babies to talking, really talking and really thinking (again) about having one.

(I mean, never mind the fact that I want two.)

29 January 2013

thing-a-week 4

Last week, I worked on another kirigami piece, an experiment based on something I saw on Robert Sabuda's website. I figured that the model I imagined would work in theory, so, of course, I had to try it out.

Let's call it "Around the World".

22 January 2013

thing-a-week 3: Nail Grave

In late December or early January, I saw some photos of this nail grave in Taiyuan, Shanxi, China. All the people in this cemetery had been relocated except one, and the building developers went on with construction around it. I couldn't get the image out of my head. Talk about the world leaving you behind, right?

The remains were eventually relocated, but I like to imagine how things might have been if they hadn't.

Anyway, this week's thing is a simple kirigami building inspired by the nail grave. I took two photos because I couldn't decide on a background.

Bonus: Here's a blast from my (crafting) past. In 2006, our Intro to Psych teacher asked us to make autobiographies. I made mine a scrapbox (but still wrote the required paper and put it inside).

On the weekend, I had to dig a dress out of storage, and I found the box again. Grama's kasambahay offered to do the repacking for me, but when she was done, I noticed that she'd left the box on the floor. I had the feeling she was going to throw it away, so I decided to take it home. (Sadly, I had to cut and flatten it first.) No matter how crude it is, somehow, I still feel proud of this project.

I think I still have copies of all these photos, except the birthday one above. That's from when I turned 17; I remember because that was my favorite T-shirt in freshman year.

16 January 2013

Letter No. 12

I've drafted several letters in the past few days, but none of them have felt worth posting. It's all been mostly scribbles on ethnic/cultural identity, language, and my own neurosis, with some new thoughts but ultimately the same old dog. Perhaps I can offer you this xkcd comic, or this subnormality comic, so you can get a feel for the best and worst (respectively) of what I've been going through.

I'm not depressed; I've just been anxious about the future. It's one thing when it's New Year's Day, and you make all these plans and resolutions, because the path ahead seems so clear. It's another thing when it's one of the other 364.25 days of the year, when you've climbed down from the trees, the peak, the viewing deck, and you realize how rocky, dusty, muddy, or meandering the path is up close and under your feet, and the undergrowth's so thick you can't really see what you're walking toward, most of the time. Also, you're about to run out of water already and can't remember if the river is east, west, north, or south of you.

So, I'm not really sure I want to write about that, because I've written enough variations here and elsewhere to make it all seem redundant, to make me wonder if there's just something I still can't get over, something holding me back or making me go in these mental (!) circles day after day, week after week. I read some of my old blog posts, as far back as maybe late 2011, and I kept see-sawing between feeling wiser and readier and feeling stuck and doomed. (A few days ago, I resumed plodding through Jorge Luis Borges's "Labyrinths," and "The Immortal," "The Theologians," and "The House of Asterion" felt both disturbing and familiar.)

I probably just need to get out more.

I went to Intramuros on Saturday afternoon (Chinese class, which went surprisingly well, was in the morning). It was Cris's idea, to give his visiting sociologist friend Ken a different look at Manila via a Celdran tour, and I'd never been on a Celdran tour myself. I enjoyed the afternoon out, and I think I have a better appreciation for Manila. But I also felt a little sadness over the lack of similar experiences for Mindanao (frankly, the history of Gensan in particular sounds as ridiculous and watered-down as the American Thanksgiving origin story).

Then, I had to work on Sunday. Sunday afternoon, I went with the guys to the airport to see Ken off, and then Cris and I hung out. I told him what was on my mind, and he gave me some advice — "dapat lagi kang may ibang palaman" — which I guess is best summarized, "expect the worst, but hope for the best."

Making friends with Ken, a Canadian-born Vietnamese guy with Chinese parents, recalled to me a conversation I'd had with Cris much, much earlier, maybe sometime late last year. Cris asked me what the anti-Kat would be like, and I shrugged and said, "I don't know, probably someone super kikay." I actually thought about it some more later, and I decided that there is no anti-Kat; there's only the Kat that would have existed if something, sometime back down the line, had been different — if I'd made a different choice or if different choices had been made for me. It's more difficult to imagine a completely polar opposite Kat than it is to think of the Kat who:

- never moved to the US
- never came back from the US
- went through with the move to Thailand
- made different friends in the US
- made different friends in the PH
- took gymnastics
- didn't stop piano lessons
- wasn't on the spelling team
- stayed on the track team
- cared more about conventional femininity
- prioritized science and math
- was more obnoxious
- didn't laugh when F (not his real initial) told me he liked me
- didn't go home when R (still not his real initial) asked me to stay
- accepted X's (you get the point) invitation to the prom
- didn't dismiss W, and later, G
- took the PHSA exam instead of attending graduation day
- went to UP instead of Ateneo
- went to Silliman instead of Ateneo
- considered foreign schools more seriously
- made different friends in college
- stayed in So. Cot. after college
- didn't live in Merville after graduation
- didn't move out of Merville later
- didn't work for CCF
- didn't resign from CCF
- didn't ask questions about my religion
- didn't go to that Heights reunion in Megamall
- didn't start going to Cris's game nights
- didn't get a job at BusinessWorld
- didn't move to Cubao
- didn't get to take that trip to Singapore

... and so on.

Some of the things on this list are actual regrets, while some just come from a vague, "I wonder if...." Most of them sharpen the picture of who I'd be or what I'd do whatever the branch. Negative experiences stand out specially — I think I'd still have had those kinds of relationships, and I think they still would have ended. I think I'd still make those kinds of friends, and I think we'd still have drifted apart.

It's difficult to imagine positive experiences that may have come about, because they seem more like daydreams than likely results, and because, based on actual experience, I never expect the good things. In the last five years or so, I never expected the good things that have happened to me. Maybe that makes me more of a pessimist than I think, but it somehow also gives me more hope for the future. Just because I don't see good things coming doesn't mean that they won't come at all.

Damn it. I think I've written that before.

13 January 2013

thing-a-week 2: Postcard and photo wallhanging

I've collected a bunch of neat postcards and old photos, and I wanted to put them up on my wall somehow.

Featured here are:
  • four big black-and-white postcards from Beijing
  • one colored postcard depicting rickshaw drivers, also from Beijing
  • photos of India and Tokyo by Isagani Campo
  • a mysterious photo of the Luneta Grandstand
  • tiger and palm postcards from the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, plus the brown envelope
  • a postcard depicting the German moped, the NSU Quickly
The bar is part of a defective shower curtain rod that I covered in paper and then painted with blue poster paint.

I'm not entirely happy with how the whole thing turned out, though. I like the sleeves, but I'd like some alternative to the rod and the string.

Till next week, then.

11 January 2013

Letter No. 11

Earlier this week, I made this emo (does anyone still use that word) tweet, "why are all the people i love getting old?"

The night before, I'd had a disturbing dream about my family, and it only made me feel even more torn up about living my life here while they are over there.

I thought I'd finished feeling that way, because it was clear from earlier visits that they had their own lives, could take care of themselves, and, despite their ages, were pretty active and happy.

The next thing I'm going to write sounds so stupid and obvious, but I'm going to write it anyway. Nine months later, when I went home for Christmas, they all seemed older.

While in some families, the adult children have taken over the cooking, delivery and other bits of Christmas prep that grown-ups do while the kids play, oblivious to just how much work goes into Christmas, in my family, my parents — Mom, in particular — still take care of everything. And just because the kids are older doesn't mean it's getting any easier, because my parents are older, too.

It freaks me out.

In response to my tweet, Dom Cimafranca said, "because you are too." But that's not how I feel at all.

I feel like my life is just beginning. Around the corner are all these things I'm going to do — work, study, travel, settle — and I finally feel old-young enough and clear-headed enough to fully enjoy them at my own pace. Then, the fatigue in my mom's eyes tells me to hurry up, because she, Dad, and Lola won't always be there to enjoy those things with me. All the crasian-mother-inspired digs about my cold ovaries felt like only half-jokes; "I want grandchildren because I'm getting old" suddenly sounds like a valid request, because they really are getting old.

Maybe I'm not supposed to say this next thing, because it's so gruesome, but the reality of my parents' inevitable death dawned on me at Christmas. I saw myself in the future, standing over my own child and telling them to get off the holoscreen to deliver this cake to the neighbors, and then receiving a phone call I could never be ready for. It once seemed so distant an event — come on, Dad regularly bikes x many kilometers, and Lola just took an international trip abroad by herself at 88 — but the reality of their ages, as much as Mom might protest, can no longer be ignored.

"Don't worry about us," my mom would say. "Just live your life; enjoy yourself. We will all be fine..."

... basta you should give me apo before you turn 30."

Chinese class is starting again tomorrow, and my attempts to cram-review this past week make me uneasy. I don't feel ready. I read fine and listen okay, but my speaking skills could use a lot of work, as evidenced by last night's pitiful exchanges with Cris's friend Ken. Writing and then reading aloud a dialogue is all right, but I still can't say more than three or four words when asked a quick question, and my confidence is shit.

We ran into some of Cris's Chinese friends on the street one day, and when I told them what level I was about to enter, one of them said, "Oh, so we should speak Chinese to you, because you should be able to understand." I probably gave her the scarediest fake smile she'd ever seen.

To make matters worse, I was placed in a class on a different campus. I've got this grade-school-level fear of being the only new kid there, plus this performance anxiety from knowing that most of Cris's Chinese colleagues will be there — and he won't be.

Oh, well. Why bother learning Chinese if I don't actually use it, right?

07 January 2013

Introducing thing-a-week

One of my resolutions this year is to make something every week, because I'm not going to get better at crafts unless I make them, and because I haven't completed a 365/52/do-x-things-in-a-year project yet.

In 2009, I had a 365 photography project that abruptly ended when my camera got stolen, and I was supposed to read 50 books last year but only got through about 20. I'd like to renew last year's aspirations of self-improvement by increasing my attempts at creativity as well as discipline; otherwise, I'm going to spend all my free time at home playing Solitaire and letting my clutter pile up.

For the first week (Jan. 1-6), I actually made two things.

I made this letter box with a cutter, a cereal box, and some textured paper, because any attempt at proper storage on my part will make my much neater boyfriend rejoice.

Then, I made a simple Chinese Starbucks magnet by cutting the campaign logo out of the box someone's gift came in, supergluing the logo onto one of those bare magnets, and covering it with dimensional glaze. I'm not actually a Starbucks fan, but I liked the chicken-scratch look of the calligraphy (which literally says, "dream return to Starbucks").

Very messy, but it's a start.

I don't promise to post the crafts every week, but I shouldn't run out of things to make, with all the clutter I've amassed. I also kicked off the year by rearranging my furniture, and now there's a big pile of unsorted junk on the floor. So maybe this project will help make me a tidier person, too.

Leavings: An Afternoon at the Ayala Museum

Some of you might recall that last year, my brother Mikko gave me Ayala Museum membership for Christmas. It was a great gift for someone who thought she'd be spending the year single, with lots of free time. But, life happened, and also, I got lazy. So, though I attended some talks at the museum during my membership, I didn't actually take full advantage of my free passes until yesterday, one week before the membership's set to expire.

Looming expiration date aside, my timing was pretty great. Last month, the museum launched "Botong Francisco: A Nation Imagined," an exhibit of selected works by the late National Artist. There was a short Peque Gallaga film, written by Vicente Garcia Groyon, to accompany the exhibit, and it actually helped set the tone for the rest of my afternoon.

The film focused on Botong's love for scenes from everyday Filipino life as well as from Philippine history. As actors reenacted the scenes Botong painted — a local fiesta, the progress of medicine, Rizal's execution, bayanihan — a voiceover from his point of view went over his desire to preserve the past. The actors would be locked into their poses, the painting preserving their moment forever. It might be a cheesy concept, but I thought it was really well done.

It's not clear whether the text was based on Botong's actual writings or thoughts, but they seemed consistent with his style and themes. The film began with something about how the marks on his paper or canvas were like the tracks of an animal, but the animal is art, not the artist. As for the shape of the tracks, it was the past, and the artist served as myth-maker in the interest of preservation:

"If this were the world of the past, it would be painted as though it belonged to the world of the future."
"If history is to be kept alive, perhaps it must pass into myth."
"History awakened becomes history that is present, seen, remembered."
"A nation awakened to its history is a nation that remembers."

Although I was once lucky enough to visit Botong's studio in Angono, I confess that my memory is horrible; I remember the studio, but not the paintings. I'm glad that the film reacquainted me with the artist and his art, and it got me to see the content of his works in a new light; when I might have dismissed them as old-fashioned, they made history and its figures loom large and legendary.

From the Botong exhibit, I headed up to the museum's second floor, where the history refresher continued. This was my third or fourth time to see the diorama collection, so I thought I knew what to expect. But with the idea of "history awakened" fresh in my mind, the old scenes came alive; before the scene of the rice terraces, I could hear high winds and feet moving through water, and I suddenly recalled what it had been like to see the dioramas for the first time, at nine years old.

I started to see details I hadn't noticed before: a lone Indian soldier, in a strange hat and still in shorts and sandals, trailing after the British forces during the occupation; broken plates in the Balangiga massacre and a dead American still clutching his fork; two women chopping ingredients and standing over two pots of stew, and a guy pulling up his pants and coming out of a latrine as the cedulas are torn.

I didn't have the audio guide with me, so whatever I could remember from school filled in the gaps. I also liked the quotes from old texts printed beneath some of the dioramas:

- a reference to the "miraculous punishment" of the Sangley rebellion, in a dispatch dated 1606
- the boasts of Kudarat regarding Spanish conquerors:
"He had the God of the Christians already under his feet", after he'd stolen some Communion bread and literally put it under his feet; and
"Be of good courage, and wait here for me, for I am going to do what I did yesterday to the others." to his wife who, sadly, did not wait and threw herself to her death before the Spaniards could get her
- the text on the walls of the Katipunan initiation room:
"If you have strength and valor you may proceed.
"If only curiosity has brought you here — go away.
"If you do not know how to control your passions — go away.
"Never will the gates of the sovereign and venerable association of the sons of the people open for you."
- "... to shoot the brothers for the good of the country." from Emilio Aguinaldo's statement regarding the verdict on the Bonifacios
- from General Antonio Luna's last will and testament: "I confess that I would gladly die for my country, for independence — without however seeking death."
- from General Gregorio del Pilar's last diary entry: "I realize what a terrible task has been given me. And yet I feel that this is the most glorious moment of my life."

The dioramas make an abrupt jump from the days of the Philippine-American War to President Quezon's inauguration; I suppose there were other jumps, but as struggle was the theme for the longest time, the scene of this peacetime activity was especially jarring.

On the next floor was an exhibit on 1960s works by Fernando Zobel and Botong Francisco. It was interesting to move from Zobel's abstract, conceptual works to Botong's more realistic and colorful pictures.

I liked the two Botong works titled "Harana," because they were just interesting to look at next to each other; the 1965 "Harana" has a mysterious guitarist with his eyes covered, his target woman practically in his lap already; the undated "Harana" has a blushing boy guitarist with his eyes to the floor and an indifferent girl spacing out. Also noteworthy was "Kuloban ni Kuping," if only for its ridiculously ornate, thick, golden frame; the painting itself was of a cobbled-together bangka boathouse with a roof of yero.

As for my favorite Zobel work, it was "Icaro" (1962), black lines in the rough shape of wings, thrust so you're not sure whether they're falling or flying.

The top floor galleries had three exhibits in one: "Gold of Ancestors," "Embroidered Multiples," and "A Millennium of Contact," all under the banner "Crossroads of Civilizations."

"Gold of Ancestors" was my favorite; I had no idea that pre-colonial Filipinos had all that gold, so to see all these belts, sword hilts, necklaces, earrings, cuffs, death masks, and even "chastity covers" was just mind-blowing.

Alas, it is not part of modern culture to don gold ornaments and hold a "life-crisis ceremony", so I guess McNuggets of Shame and lazing around in bed will have to do for me.

"Embroidered Multiples" was also really interesting. The exhibit breaks down 19th-century Philippine clothing, and I liked seeing how the number of layers and types of clothing differentiated one social class from another. It also turns out that the elephant pants of the early 2000s were predated by the men's sayasaya — worn with barong and top hat — of the 1800s.

"A Millennium of Contact" features trade ceramics from China and Southeast Asia. Frankly, I've had my fill of ceramics, but it's not to say that the pieces in the exhibit aren't beautiful.

I had a great afternoon at the museum and would definitely like to add more museum visits to my calendar. My only complaint about the Ayala Museum was that the gift shop didn't have any postcards for my collection, but the foldout brochure on "Gold of Ancestors" should be all right.

Come to think of it, I also went to a museum in January 2012, and also to beat some kind of deadline (it was the last weekend to see Picasso's "Suite Vollard"). Maybe I'll stick to this accidental New Year tradition.

When I changed the name of my blog last year, I created two categories: Letters, for weekly (haha, nice try, Kat) personal dispatches, and Leavings, a link list for all the interesting things I found online during the week. I've more or less covered the latter through Twitter, so I've decided to repurpose Leavings for entries about things (mostly) outside of my own head.

01 January 2013

Letter No. 10

The other day, I realized that this is the longest I've been home in about two years. For the last two visits, I was here for just three to five days. This time, I'm home for ten.

I thought the fact that I took the briefness so well before meant that I'd adjusted to life away. But it turns out that the longer you stay, the longer you want to stay, and the more painful it is to think about leaving again.

Maybe it's just as well. It's a test of the heart, and it's been a while since I've thought seriously about what I want to do. I thought I'd been doing just that toward the end of the year, but somehow, sitting on top of the monkey bars and listening to the birds and the wind and the bugs sort of stretches out your vision, so you see more paths, and more branches to those paths, than you thought you had.

I can't help rethinking my childhood dreams whenever I'm here. More than ever, I see that I had no clue what getting those dreams entailed.

For some reason, I've been thinking about one of my classmates who seems to have settled here. I imagine her driving her truck to work past the pine trees, working in the same little hospital where we had our school physicals as kids, and maybe having dinner with her boyfriend (who works at the plant? in the next town?) before driving home to her family in the house where she grew up.

I know other classmates who've also stayed home and who also say that this makes them happy. And really, I can see why. It wasn't really that long ago that I wanted the same kind of life for myself, and the jungle gym alone is enough to remind me that some part of me never really stopped wanting.

Last year, one of my friends said something on Twitter about deciding what to leave behind and what to take with them into 2012. I actually thought it was silly; this person had a great life. But here, I can see that even a great life needs re-evaluation. That scares me.

I wrote the above two days ago, and it's now just 45 minutes into the new year. This year's celebrations are even more low-key than the last. At midnight, I kissed my parents and my lola to greet them Happy New Year, and then Cris called to greet me, too. All of my friends are gone for the holidays, so, with no one else to hang out with after the fireworks at the neighborhood party, I decided to go home.

The stars were out, and the wind was a little chilly, but I was warmed by thoughts of my family, friends, and Cris, even if they weren't with me. I walked under the trees and past the playground, and as if on cue, I looked up and saw a shooting star. When I got home, I let the dog in, made myself some hot chocolate, and knew that the feelings of the past several days were what I wanted to take into the new year.

I want to stay conscious of the way I relate to my family. I see them less and less every year, so every moment counts. I want less twinges of regret over something I said, however small, or the tone of my voice, and more certainty that I'm treating them the way they deserve.

I want the mixed rush and relaxation that comes from being outside — from spacing out on the monkey bars, taking a long walk around my tree-filled neighborhood, hiking across the pineapple fields and up and down gullies with my family, watching the clouds drift over the swaying trees as the sun sets, and finding that weird balance between calm and inspired twitchiness under the open sky. This is something that might be really hard to recreate in the city, but I'd really like to try.

I want more openness to doing things for other people, just because.

I'd like Cris to be able to share more of these things. Things have been going at a pretty comfortable pace, and for the most part, it feels like we're still getting to know each other. For the past few days, I've been getting back in touch with parts of myself that he's just begun to see, and I can't wait to bring him back with me later this year.

There's more, but it's now 2 in the morning, and I should get some sleep. For now, here's all hope for a happy new year.