01 December 2014

Progress report

It's my last week in Singapore this year. I have two more final exams and one last project to complete, then some errands to run, parties to attend, and packing to do before I fly back to Manila. I'm spending the week there to see some friends and hang out with Cris and his family, then I'll spend the rest of the break at home in Kalsangi. I'm not looking forward to the Manila pre-Christmas traffic, but I guess it's something I'll have to endure if I want to see people I care about.

So, how has the first semester of grad school been? I started off really ambitious but lost steam halfway through. Chalk it up to disillusionment and lack of willpower. Exams and how well I feel I'm doing on them are actually helping me to end things on a high note, though, and I'm looking forward to next semester's classes -- all the classes I'd come here to take in the first place.

Based on my experience, would I recommend graduate school to other people? This graduate school in particular? Let me go back to the reasons I had for coming here myself.

I felt like I'd hit a wall at work and didn't want to company-hop to see what else I could do in my field. I think that this semester has allowed me to do that. But, I also feel a bit disappointed that "what else", so far, hasn't been much -- hasn't been things I suspected and could have jumped right into, if I'd just applied to a new job instead of going to grad school.

I wanted to study new media at Asia's top (and the world's sixth-best) school for communication. So far, the new-media-related courses I've had are introductory; all the really good stuff is still to come. Most of my classes have felt like a review of media topics and research processes that I first learned as an undergrad. I feel that I could have re-learned those things via textbook or free MOOC instead of spending so much time and money on university-based study. The main upside I see to this is that, really, the classes are just one part of this package I'm paying for.

I wanted to live abroad and, by choosing this school in particular, understand other Asian cultures better. I just read a Facebook rant by a friend attending a different Asian university where Filipinos aren't considered "international" enough and where people think it's weird that a brown person can speak such good English. People at NTU have been much kinder, revealing/making no assumptions and asking questions about each other's cultures with sincere curiosity and without [revealing] racist or classist beliefs. Both in the classroom and out, I've developed a broader view of my geographical neighborhood without anybody getting offended. It's been nice. Singapore definitely knows something about multiculturalism.

Honestly, the people with the most questionable beliefs so far have been other Filipinos. Of course, there's no telling how often people of other nationalities dis us amongst themselves, too.

Based on this semester alone, I can't say I'm 100% happy with my decision to invest in graduate studies, and I wouldn't immediately recommend it to other people. Several times, I found myself wishing I'd just gone straight to applying for a new job. The ideal triangle of great classes, great professors, and great classmates remained an ideal. I'd have to be cynical and tell people to do it for the degree, the library resources, and the experience of life abroad.

But, hope springs for how next semester's lineup works out. Like I said, the things I'd wanted to study in the first place are finally on the board, including a couple of classes with professors who are preeminent in their fields. I've also applied for a research assistant position with one professor whose interest is science communication, something that isn't offered as a class.

And, yes, Cris is coming back. Cris's health is much, much better. Cris will be here. Cris will be around for adventures and meals and school and just being near. In the library right now, there is an empty seat next to me, and I like imagining what it would be like to study here knowing he was also studying in that seat. I so look forward to a quietness and comfort that "being nerds together" doesn't quite express.

I guess that's it for now. Later this month, I'll have time to think and maybe write about the year as a whole. Can it really be December already? I can't wait to go home.

30 October 2014

What's your favorite thing about where you live?

This post is my answer to the above random question on ask.fm. It got too long for the answer box.

My favorite thing about where I live is a stretch of road on the edge of campus. It has residential halls, including the one where I live, and some school buildings on one side and a thick forest on the other. The only other place I've seen trees so tall is in the village where I grew up, and the trees themselves are familiar. There are even spathodeas.

You can't go into the forest because the military use it for things, and there are fences and signs warning you that you may get shot. But I like walking or biking on the path closest to the forest at night, especially when there is fog, because something about the resulting light and chill sparks an impulse to dream like I haven't done in ages.

I recently realized that, sometime in the last couple of years, I'd lost the ability or forgotten how to dream. My head used to be filled with fantastic things: ideas for stories, made-up characters and their worlds and histories, or just simple daydreams about being able to fly or spy or fight or witch myself across oceans and between worlds. While I'm loath to blame a guy or a failed relationship entirely for my problems, I can say for certain that I stopped dreaming like this sometime in the course of that relationship. I felt I wasn't allowed to want even realistic things like moving to a new city or settling down or having kids, so I suppose that put magic even farther out of my reach.

When Cris and I got together, first, I started to feel like I could dream again. Then, cautiously, I started to dream about realistic, reachable things. By that time, I'd thought that was enough. I was still cleaning myself out, healing, and relearning how to do other things, like how to like music again, how to like books again, and how to even think about writing for myself again. At every turn, I've been amazed at how much healing I still need despite how happy love is making me, at how much of what had always made me feel alive had been crushed and buried over time. It's taken this long — three years — for the seed of my own imagination to know where the sun is.

I hadn't expected this to happen here. I hadn't expected it to or known that it could happen at all; like I said, I'd forgotten all about how I used to dream. I had a gnawing feeling that something was still missing, but I didn't know it was that.

And then I came here. It felt like waking up one day in Kalsangi, cradle of so many early dreams, and walking out to see that a city out of science fiction had sprung up among the trees. I'd done what I'd only dreamed about and traveled to another time or dimension, one where real people in labs and studios were doing things I'd only read about. Some bug of magic was going to get me, here, and I was ready.

Or at least, I thought I was. It was a heartbreak that gave me my first new dream of flight.

I've since marshaled every hope against further heartbreak. But, the dreaming has stayed, and it makes me glad. It gives me somewhere to go when I can't go where I want, to be with people I miss. The little tendrils of possible new stories are slowly poking through the dirt.

And to be quite honest, it just might be the best thing I've gotten out of grad school, so far. But, that's for another entry.

12 October 2014

Travel dark.

Last week, the world felt smaller than it was.

That Monday, I went to class, the last one before the midterm break. Afterward, I had dinner with my roommate at one of the campus canteens. I finished packing when I got to the hall, took a quick shower, and then walked down with my bags to the bus stop.

It was dark and kind of muggy, and an orange haze hung from the trees. I supposed that nearly everyone else had gone already; the campus was so quiet. The bus stop was empty, but a few fellow stragglers came too as every car that swept quietly by was not the 199 bus.

Two or three other students were there, and so was a big guy in a singlet. A woman on a scooter pulled up, exchanged a few words with him, and then went away again. He lit a cigarette. I couldn't sit down, knowing where I'd be in just 12 hours. All of us watched the street.

It was the kind of night at the kind of bus stop where anything could pull up at any moment — a van full of goons, an elegant lady riding a giant dog, an indigo bus carrying tired ghosts — anything that might possibly be interested in a small girl in black. But I'd have to beg off; I had to get on the 199.

In the film version, the bus will be mostly empty, the driver gray and world-weary, the ride quiet. But I boarded a packed bus and had to stand. I didn't care. I kept looking at my big blue bag — big enough to carry my body, if I folded myself up like the shirts inside — and remembering what having a bag and being on a bus meant, what was waiting at the end for me.

The whole thing took nearly nine hours, but I think of that Monday evening as an unbelievably brief trip through a long, long tunnel of night. The world outside the bus was dark. The crossing from the bus station to the train station was dark. The train ride across the country was dark — doubly dark as I drifted in and out of sleep. I'd close my eyes to an empty train, open them to a full one, close them again, and then find myself alone again, as the train entered and exited the city center and people trickled off to their homes, leaving me still slouched in that green plastic seat, my feet guarding the week's worth of clothes in the blue bag underneath.

The Tanah Merah Station platform is in the open air, but when I got out there, I was still in the tunnel; the world beyond the railings was dark. More people shuffled into the scene as the second train took its time: a male flight crew member, sitting up straight in his crisp lilac-colored shirt, one hand on the handle of his smart black luggage set; an interracial couple with tiny sling bags, slumping against one another in fatigue, probably making their way back after spending a layover in the city; a trio of students giggling over a notebook; an elegant young woman in trendy, dark clothes and a floral head scarf. She looked at me for a moment, and then she went back to watching for the train; I was a character too, maybe.

Then, I was back on the train and moving through the tunnel again, but only until I had to get out to walk the next part of the way.

Changi airport was very different at close to midnight. Many of the shops were closed, the air smelled faintly of urine, and there were traces of litter around the terminal as, understandably, the night shift staff was probably smaller. The terminal's trademark carpet, almost luxurious in the daytime, made me think of seedy hotel hallways at that strange hour.

The penultimate stretch of the tunnel was the sky. I had a window seat, squashed between two other girls and the blackness outside. We weren't moving, maybe; maybe we were suspended in the sky, and the world slowly turned a few degrees underneath. I closed my eyes and then opened them, and somehow, two hours had passed. I spent the last hour awake, eating the sandwich I'd bought in the terminal.

We landed. I got through immigration. I claimed my bag. I walked past customs. And then Cris was there, handsome as ever, and warm, and real. It was the end of the tunnel. We crab-walked, arms still around each other, to the parking lot.

Finally, finally, through another orange haze, the sun.

21 September 2014


Three years ago, I looked out of an MRT window, saw a huge public library building, and was filled with the hunger to live in a place where public libraries were a thing, where they were as much a part of the people's lives as places of worship, shopping malls, and schools. My family and I were just heading home from a day at the Science Centre, and I was already awed at the fact of the Science Centre, the fact that people lived, worked, and played in a place with such a Science Centre, and the fact of the public transport one could ride to and from it, when that building came into my field of view.

It rose over the pale grass on that hot day. There was construction on one side and nothing remarkable on all the other sides, but it was there. Here we were on the less developed, more industrial, and possibly poorer side of the country, and it had one of the biggest public library buildings I'd ever seen.

I loved the public library system in our short years in the US, and I've been extremely lucky to have gone to Philippine schools with good libraries. But back home, once school was over, my life with libraries was over.

I saw that building and remembered, realized everything I was missing. The day I saw that building was the day I realized that people didn't have to live the way I was living. Public libraries were definitely a thing. They were in people's lives. People could live around them. I wanted to live around them. I wanted it so bad, and that want was a pit that buried itself inside me, took root, and started giving me ideas about the future — ideas that led me here.

Today, I finally got to walk into that building for the first time. I stayed for nearly five hours, working on a project, and I didn't realize how long I'd been there until I got up to go. On the surface, there wasn't anything wondrous about my going there; I was just another student at the local library, going about my business and then going home. And that, the very ordinariness of it, was what made it special. I was there, in the library, like all the other people there. Maybe it was even the first time I felt I might belong here, if I'd like to.

It smelled like peaches.

P.S. – I also found the place where my family and I got lost on our way to the train station. We had to walk through apartment blocks, a hawker center, and a small tiangge. There are malls and corporate centers now, but the hawker center and tiangge are still there. Passing through that same corridor was like time travel. I'd never expected to be back there or to even be able to recognize it, and then suddenly, there I was. Maybe the fact that we were lost there made it stand out to me.

I miss everyone.

01 September 2014


The shoes I bought in Manila are finally, fully broken in. I no longer get those telltale scrapes above my heel. The shoes no longer break the skin.

In the fourth week of class, I have a proposal to work on, a presentation to give, and a mountain of reading and research to do. But somehow, I still eat thrice, sometimes four times a day and manage to get six to eight hours of sleep at night.

I do plenty of walking. I'm waiting for the weather to be good, so I can bike.

I'm making friends, slowly. I feel wary around new people, even afraid to say hello, as if to protect a Cris-shaped space inside my tiny chest. As if anyone else could fill it.

I see interesting sights. I work on interesting projects or try to make them interesting to me. I learn a ton of new things. I warm up to people, eventually. I even have fun.

I'm used to being without Cris in the sense that missing him permeates the day. It's as if I'm programmed to interact with him, and remembering that he isn't here is like skipping a line of code and moving on to what's left.

if Cris_presence = 1 AND hug_want >= 1:
  hug(hug_want + 1)

elif Cris_hoodie = not laundry:

  schoolwork += 1

if Cris_presence = 1 AND new_show >=1:

elif Cris_skype = 1:

  schoolwork += 1

if time = sleep_time AND Cris_presence = 1:


As for his health and how he's doing, we're still waiting for news about the most recent test. I don't know how it is to be so uncertain about your own body for so long. I wish I could be there with him.

We're still hoping for the best.

06 August 2014

"... and then my good girl shall wear white roses, too."

In the past few weeks, I've been reading Louisa May Alcott's March family trilogy, rereading "Little Women" and "Little Men" for the first time in maybe a decade and reading the conclusion, "Jo's Boys", for the first time ever.

Since the first book is set in the Civil War - era US (is that an oxymoron?), some of the March family's ideas about woman- and manliness don't stand the test of time, and the overt moralizing might not sit well with many readers today. But, I found the overall story of the characters sincerely striving to improve themselves — even when faced with their own ordinariness — a comfort, especially when I found myself alone.

If you're familiar with the story, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that, as a teenager, I most identified with Jo March, the tomboy and wannabe novelist turned successful author and mother of many. Revisiting her story allowed me to see how much I've changed since I first wished for a writer's garret of my own. I now understand why she and her best friend Laurie/Teddy didn't and couldn't end up together. I also now understand her decision to stop writing when she did, and I felt prodded when she started again, later in the trilogy.

One lesson that went sailing over my head when I was a teenager was the one Amy learned during her tour of Europe: "Talent is not genius." As someone with a big writer's ego and fantasies of literary stardom, I considered it a lack of willpower on Amy's part when she came to this conclusion and scaled back her artistic ambitions. Today, I want to congratulate her for being an artist and an accomplished woman, even if she isn't the best.

The bigger thing I've taken away from the March books is the idea of endurance and self-control. Most of the characters, at some point, are encouraged to tame their personal demons and strive to be their best despite the circumstances — when loved ones are feared dead, when failing or having failed, when alone, when doubted and shunned by all one's friends, and so on. In their struggles to become better people, they receive kind words from others who have lived through the same or worse; Jo hears from Marmee, many times, and later, Jo's boys hear from Jo.

With Cris far away, I found Jo's words to the boys, all grown up now and about to ship out, the most comforting. I happened to read them the first morning I had breakfast alone and he'd gone, and I felt as though they'd been written for me. It's not an easy thing, to suppress a pained whimper over toast and eggs in the middle of Canteen 11.

To Nat, the young violinist about to leave for studies in Germany, she says:

"I'll tell you what I should do. I'd say to myself:

"'I'll prove that my love is strong and faithful, and make Daisy's mother proud to give her to me by being not only a good musician but an excellent man, and so command respect and confidence. This I will try for; and if I fail, I shall be the better for the effort, and find comfort in the thought that I did my best for her sake.'"

To Emil, the young sailor who has just been promoted:

"I read somewhere that every inch of rope used in the British Navy has a strand of red in it, so that wherever a bit of it is found it is known. That is the text of my little sermon to you. Virtue, which means honour, honesty, courage, and all that makes character, is the red thread that marks a good man wherever he is."

While Jo's roles in the second and third books are mostly behind the scenes, and while her life does not turn out as she'd dreamed in girlhood, it is nice to see that her character remains like the red thread. Jo grows older, wiser, and differently, but somehow, she is still undeniably the Jo March we first meet in the first book, lying on the rug, pining after a new book, and wanting to run with the boys.

It's something I hope my loved ones will see when they see me again. I know that being here, away from them all, is going to change me, but I hope the red thread of my own character will prove true, so that wherever and whenever I am found again, I'll be known.

30 July 2014

5J 806

I'd meant for my first post to be about the things I've seen and done in these last few weeks of bumming around while waiting for classes to start. Things don't always go according to plan.

I'm back in the hall now with a mug of hot chocolate. It was a rainy, gloomy day. There was fog over the forest and the yellow street lamps outside as I walked back from the canteen. I was alone.

This afternoon, I saw Cris off at the airport. At this moment, he is now somewhere over the ocean, flying back to the Philippines. I won't see him again till my birthday, which is not too far off, really. But, it's still different from seeing him every day. We'd planned for over a year to be able to do that here in Singapore together, but things don't always go according to plan.

To study here, besides passing the admission requirements and maybe receiving a scholarship, as Cris did, you have to pass a medical exam. Most people treat it as just another item on the pre-registration checklist. Nothing to worry about.

Unfortunately for us, the medical center here saw something in Cris's tests. He had to go to a hospital downtown for more tests. Now, he's going home for even more tests, because his own doctor is there, and it's easier to pay PHP instead of SGD.

The doctors all share suspicions, and if those are founded, then what he might have is treatable. But, he won't be able to enroll this semester. He might lose his scholarship and not be back for the next semester, because scholars aren't ordinarily allowed to defer. We're keeping our fingers crossed, but until we know things for sure -- well, we don't know what else.

We both want him to be alive and healthy, so it's for the best that he goes home for now. But, it still hurts that our little dream has to give way to a new one that involves us finding our way back to each other across indefinite time and seas, instead of being together already and strolling confidently into the future.

We've had plenty of time since that jarring phone call to cry and be rational and then cry some more. We spent what time we had together watching TV shows we liked, walking around the city, and, on one really wonderful day, going to the zoo to see the otters.

Then, today came. We watched some cartoons after breakfast. He left me a hoodie and a blanket. We loaded his things into a cab and rode it across the country (it's a very small country) to the airport. We walked around the airport and looked at the Kinetic Rain sculpture. He told me that I was carrying the dream now. We hugged and kissed and cried and said we'd see each other soon. I took the train back across the country by myself, while he boarded the plane now taking him across the sea. I should hear from him again in an hour or so.

I'm going to kick ass this year for both our sakes. But I miss him so much.

24 July 2014

Where's the wind?

While sitting in the lecture theater for registration this morning and waiting for my name to be called, I felt my heart rate rising along with an unmistakable panic. I chalked it up to new kid jitters, "f*ck, this officially makes me a graduate student" jitters, and the anxiety that comes with bracing yourself for heartbreak.

I filled up the forms, lugged out my Ateneo diploma canister (it was a little lonely, having the only one in the room) when asked to unroll the scroll, dropped the forms in the appropriate boxes, and then walked out the door. That was that. It should have been just that. But, the panic remained.

I took the bus down to my school building for the first time and walked around the empty first floor, already wondering if I truly belonged there, and then took the bus back to my hall (dorm). The ride went along that stretch of forbidden forest, and I felt like running for the sake of running, to spend my panic on that little track they'd made for joggers along the canal, the trees, and the red DANGER signs.

As I walked from my stop to the hall, I saw the sunlight flowing with the water in the canal, and I found myself wishing something I hadn't wished since I was a teenager, full of fantasies about superpowers and no longer having to be where I was. I wished I could fly.

I wanted the wind that played with my skirt to just pick the rest of me up and take me over the canal, over the trees, above the danger zone — above everything. I just didn't want to be earthbound, heavy, while waiting for the final word on how this year will begin.

I've been wanting to write since I got here, but something happened and is still happening, and I'm just waiting for it to complete before I go into detail. Suffice it to say, for now, that things are not going according to the plans we planned for over a year, and I can't do anything but be on the ground and prepare for impact.

08 June 2014

The Final Exam

He once wrote that his life was like a bad movie.

True enough, that night, in the restaurant, they played mediocre acoustic covers of "Someone Like You" (Adele) and "When I Was Your Man" (Bruno Mars). He looked up at the ceiling when they came on, one after the other, and began to say something about what the restaurant seemed to be saying, but he trailed off. I thought it was funny.

When I got home, I knew I had passed a test with flying colors. He was the one who had come from the past, but I was the one who had become the ghost.

25 May 2014


Word is slowly getting out, mostly via my mom's Facebook status updates, but I thought I'd wait until I'd told most of my close friends, superiors, and colleagues before making any kind of announcement here.

I'm leaving the country in about a month and a half to attend graduate school in Singapore.

A few years ago, I started to feel that I needed to learn more about my field, but I didn't want to jump from company to company to do that, so I started looking at graduate programs and scholarships. Since Philippine universities didn't offer the kind of thing I was looking for, I figured, why not look outside, check out the programs in other countries, and maybe land somewhere all this Mandarin I've been studying might actually come in handy?

I didn't get a scholarship, but I did get into a good school. I understand that going will mean joining the legions of young adults with student debt, but given my age and the other plans I have for my life, this is a now-or-never thing. I'll just consider it an investment in my future, including the part of the near future that will involve working the debt off.

There is some hope for a scholarship, but it basically requires out-nerding everyone in my program to come out with the top GPA. I've never been the most insightful, original, or hard-working student, and I won't be surprised to meet classmates who know much, much more than I, but I have more motivation to chase grades this year than I ever have in my life.

I have a little over a month left to work things out with banks, get all the necessary paperwork done, and pack my bags. As far as my emotions are concerned, the last is the biggest deal right now.

I've often mentioned that I never fully unpacked in my current apartment; now I can say that it's mostly because I believed in the chance that I was simply going to leave again. All the stuff I never bothered to arrange just stayed in a huge pile on the floor; now, I just have to put everything back in a box.

I recognize, though, that "everything" is basically the past six years of my life, however you'd like to frame it — the first half of my 20s, the post-college wandering, the passage into adulthood, etc. — and all the associated heartache, triumph, and growth. I now have to decide how much of that I get to take with me — how much will be necessary and comforting, and how much will only literally and figuratively weigh me down.

Knickknacks will be wrapped in newspaper and cushioned with clothes I no longer wear. Appliances and furniture will be sold off to add to my small pool of funds. (Does anyone want a ref? A twin bed? A small cabinet? A drop-leaf table with matching chairs? A small rice cooker? A toaster oven? Modular Stack & Rack shelves in white?)

The diaries are going to be sent home, along with a prayer that neither my parents nor my lola will take it into their head to crack any of them open. I recognize that, like the diaries I left behind when I went to college, the diaries of the past six years must now enter my poorly hidden archive at home in Kalsangi. You can only carry your past around for so long.

Most of my books will be sent home, too, with the hope that those, someone will read. But as with my old diaries, seeing my books' spines on my shelf today calls back the version of myself that first read them. I've actually done a bit of rereading in the past few weeks, and it's easy to see that I can't make room for everything, however much I love it, on the shelf I'll be allotted in a month or so.

Off the top of my head, the things that I do plan to bring are a much, much smaller collection of books, a piece of sea glass from Sarangani Bay, the same photos of my family and friends I've had since my days at Eliazo Hall, my small collection of postcards, my ocarinas, some card games, my craft knife, and maybe a small bag of LEGO. I know those things aren't exactly necessities, and I expect I won't have a lot of time to make brick creatures or annoy my roommate with the shrill high D in "Danny Boy". But I know I'll like having those things with me.

I'll like having Cris with me, too. He was awarded a full scholarship to a different program, but at the same university. I know I can't expect to see him all the time, with all the nerdery I intend to take on, but I think living and studying in a different country with him will add new dimensions to the growth of our relationship. The adventure I'm about to go on seems even grander, knowing I get to go with him.

(For those of you clutching your pearls, we applied for slots at the dorm, and only married couples get to cohabit.)

I really can't express the gratitude due to my family for their support. Barring (great-)grandchildren/nephews/nieces, they haven't laid any demands or expectations on me, but I so want to make them proud.

Wish me luck.

19 May 2014

The Universe of Us

Scientists say the human body is home to some 100 trillion microbes, which make up what they call a microbiome; we are a universe to innumerable tiny living things that do things these scientists are only beginning to understand.

Families, they say, share a microbiome, and so do couples. When you share a home, meals, a bed, and occasional bodily fluids, there's bound to be some intergalactic multiculturalism, or whatever the word is. The more varied your microbiome, the better — plus points if you own a dog.

This is the reason, I guess, that my immune system freaks out whenever I go home; my germs don't think it's home anymore.

With you gone for the last two weeks, I fancy that the problems I'm having with my gut are my microbiome missing its other half. This spate of gastrointestinal troubles is because the balance of germs we've built up over the past couple of years is suddenly out of whack; the world of 200 trillion creatures has suddenly been ripped in two. Organism 75GXB in my large intestine is missing his wife and kids Organisms 82FCE and 79AAA to 79ZZZ, currently on vacation in my favorite part of your belly.

This isn't just gas, I tell myself. I'm half a universe waiting for you to come back.

10 April 2014

"yer heart's desire."

I don't know why, but no matter how sick or sad I feel some days, I can't bring myself to leave work. I don't consider myself a workaholic at all; I'll honestly say that on some days, I just phone it in — figuratively.

There are days when I wake up and don't want to get out of bed, but somehow, I find myself on my feet anyway, making breakfast, getting dressed, and grumbling but, eventually, finding myself on the road and then at my desk. I completely understand the feelings people have when they decide to call in sick when they aren't or drop everything and head on the next bus to the beach. But I just find myself unable to do the same thing, no matter how much I want to.

A few years ago, I saw this interview with Hugh Laurie. Jay Leno asks Mr. Laurie if he had fun hosting Saturday Night Live, and Mr. Laurie says:

Where I was brought up, sort of fairly strict Presbyterian household, fun was viewed with suspicion. Fun was not a good thing. Pleasure was a questionable goal. It stayed with me. I don't see fun as a goal ... I think I may actually be incapable of having fun. So when I went there, and people said, 'Oh, you know, just have fun!', to me, it's like saying, 'Just have a baby!' It's that ridiculous. I'm just sort of not put together that way.

Later in the interview, he goes back to it, when he's asked about people saying he's difficult to work with:

I suppose I have this, somewhere in my head, I have this idea that if a thing is pleasurable, it can't be any good.

The interview is really funny, maybe especially because Mr. Laurie doesn't smile much in it.

In another interview, he says:

I had some pretty bleak times, dark days when it seemed like there was no escape. And having a very Presbyterian work ethic, I was determined never to be late, not to miss a single day's filming. You wouldn't catch me phoning in to say, 'I think I may be coming down with the flu'.

But there were times when I'd think, 'If I were just to have an accident on the way to the studio and win a couple of days off to recover, how brilliant would that be?'

So when I beat myself up about turning down something good because of work, I think of Hugh Laurie, and I wonder about how this kind of thinking got wired into me, too.

And then I think of my dad and those years that he was in that one department where you had to drop everything if the plant needed you. I remember my mom telling me and my brothers that it was Dad's job that let us live in our house and have food on the table, etc. I also remember seeing that other kids' dads got to come home Saturday afternoon, and mine didn't. I remember that one Father's Day I walked out of church and cried in the car because it was time to honor the dads, and he wasn't there for me to honor with the ribbon or the mug or whatever it was the church had come up with for us kids.

But mind you, the whole time I was crying, I was also lecturing myself about being a melodramatic baby. I did used to be a big crybaby, and I think people at school knew this and would make me cry on purpose. So some part of me saw crying not just as an expression of weakness but as an invitation for others to pick on that weakness.

Maybe I deserve to cry, I told myself in the car that day. Maybe crying is for wusses, I also told myself.

My dad showed up, still in his uniform, while I was still in the car. He was smiling when I hugged him. But, I felt extremely embarrassed.

Anyway, enough of the trip down backstory lane; I'm at ~700 words now and still haven't gotten to the good part of this post.

I've been stuck in a no-fun holding pattern for the past eight or nine months, and it's been, well, no fun. I told myself I couldn't have certain things I wanted because it was not a good time. Friends, family, and Cris complained that my job took me away from them. I had to tell myself, it's your job that lets you pay your rent and bills, have food on the table, have something maybe impressive to put on that grad school application, and have bosses who can give you references for said application. I told my loved ones, "Well, it's work."

I tried telling myself not to want things because it would just set me up for the disappointment of having to turn them down. The problem is, I hadn't recognized that telling yourself not to want things doesn't actually stop you from wanting them. You think you're doing the Christian self-denial thing or the Buddhist shunning-desires thing (take your pick). But, it's impossible to drain yourself of your wants. The wants don't go away — you can either act on them or change them; it's denying that they're there that makes them stronger.

You want to know what it gets you, denying your wants because you think you shouldn't have fun right now? Tonight, my family is flying to Europe without me. I could have gone with them, and all I would have spent would have been for personal stuff, like meals and souvenirs. Who turns down a semi-free trip to Europe because of work? This idiot, that's who: the one who didn't ask for leave because she told herself she wasn't allowed to want it.

This great epiphany came at around 1 AM as I cried my eyes out — for the first time in ages, I might add — because my plans with Cris for a consuelo trip to Pinatubo fell through. After months of telling myself I couldn't have what I wanted, I acknowledged that I wanted this little thing, and disappointment had immediately swooped in.

It wasn't just the disappointment, though, it was the disappointment on top of knowing that my family was about to leave, and I would be left behind because of my own quote-unquote work ethic, which nobody in today's world gets a cookie for, really.

I can't live like this (I told myself); I can't not want things. To want is to live, because you act or you change — and, goddammit, you actually have fun sometimes. I'm not having any fun; I'm just becoming sadder and more isolated the more I try to want less.

I'm done. I don't want to wait anymore.

The other day, I got some news that I'd been waiting for. I told my dad, and he offered to loan me the money I'd need, "if this is yer heart's desire."

(Another reason I still value work ethic: it's helped get my dad to where he is, able to fund family trips to Europe and offer to finance heart's desires.)

It's a cheesy phrase, often used at my old church as a euphemism when people pray for someone to make the singles not-single. But, I've taken hold of it. I cup it in my hands like a secret and relish knowing that, yes, I have it, and I'm allowed to have it, a "heart's desire" — something to live for.

01 April 2014


I flew home last weekend to see Mon graduate from high school.

I have so many hopes for my youngest brother as he gets ready for college and so many fears, too.

He never did get grades as high as mine at school, but his social skills are lightyears ahead of mine — he'll be high-fiving the school janitors one day and walking the GM's daughter home another. He's handled a breakup with a maturity I didn't gain until much later. He's witty, which means he's smart; he speaks well, he's learned to cook much sooner than I did, and the girls and the boys all seem to love him. I think this will do more for him and his future than his report cards ever will.

And yet, all this is why I'm a little afraid. I mean, you remember being 16 or 17 and feeling bigger and stronger than anything, and you remember the times life proved you wrong afterward. You always look back on them with bittersweet gratitude — thanks to that, I know better, but shit! if that didn't hurt.

I played photographer at the ceremony last Friday, and this is my favorite shot of Mon. He's just received his diploma and is confidently walking forward to take a bow. This is the boy who wants to do both college and culinary school and who says the college thing he looks most forward to is meeting new people. He wears T-shirts with Bible verses on them to church and helps man the sound booth. He loves pizza and video games. His drum skills are killer.

Of course, in entries like these, I'm expected to tell you that this is also the boy whose stroller I used to push, or that I was the first person to see him sit up by himself (it was in his crib, and he was wearing a blue-and-green striped shirt). But I decided to stop addressing him as Momon a year or so ago; today, I'm talking about Mon. I'm long past waxing nostalgic about the little boy he used to be and more interested in the young man he's becoming.

All I want is some kind of assurance — and all I can ever really hope for is — that he'll always have a reason to smile the way he does in this picture.

19 March 2014

Anyway here's not Wonderwall

For about a month and a half, I took a songwriting class from the Berklee College of Music on Coursera. I was actually looking for some media studies / journalism classes I could take as refreshers for work and (possibly) school when I saw that a songwriting class was starting soon.

Why not? I wanted to write but didn't like the idea of my own writing — what little I'd done, what I'd failed to finish, what I felt too inadequate to start. There were some issues I wanted to process into some tidy paragraphs, but diary entries and a dozen drafted posts couldn't help me, for some reason. It got to the point that I looked at my diary and my blog URL with dread. Maybe what I needed was to try writing something else.

I had written lyrics before: the words to my high school class's cheesy graduation song, and two or three just-as-cheesy love songs as a college freshman, before actual schoolwork took over. I think I never tried songwriting again, partly because I didn't know piano or guitar chords, but mostly because college life — and later, post-college life — was just so full of things to do.

So, anyway, here was this class on the Coursera lineup, with the description claiming I wouldn't have to have any great musical background to be able to take it. And here was I, in a rut and casting about for something creative to do. Again, why not?

The songwriting process ended up fixing the emotional leaks I'd been trying to plug. Just in the first week, we were shown how to take a song idea through three stages, making sure that the chorus or refrain gains weight at each stage so that the repetition at the end of the song has the most weight.

I soon found that my tendency to repeat myself in my personal writing has its uses in song. More importantly, though, while taking my own song ideas — all based on issues I'd been carrying around — through those three stages, I ended up resolving stuff that had been bothering me for months:

Idea 1: My life is great, but it doesn't feel secure. It doesn't help that my friends are complaining about how everyone on Facebook is getting married.

Idea 2: I'm no longer mad at this person, but I don't want to be friends. I wish I could stop feeling bad about not wanting to be friends.

Idea 3: There are all these little, ordinary-seeming things about being with Cris that make life awesome. How can I tell him that in a way I haven't already, and without dulling the secret magic of those little things?

Here is the song I wrote for Idea 1. Like all great songs, it was recorded on my phone in the bathroom, with an exhaust fan going in the background. It was the first song I completed, early in the class, and so is the simplest; it doesn't incorporate any of the stuff I learned in the later weeks — phrasing, language shaping, rhyme schemes, the use of bridges, etc. But, it's the one I feel least shy about sharing.

Here's to more projects for happiness. Here's a link to the class, in case anyone's interested. And, here's an old video of the teacher.

17 March 2014

These days.

These days, I’m just waiting. While everyone around me seems to be getting on with their lives, I’m waiting.

It’s not like I’m waiting for nothing. I applied to a grad school. Results don’t come out until July. If I get in, I’ll get to live in another country for at least a year and study some things I believe a regular job in this country wouldn’t show me. If I don’t, I’ve got a long list of Plan-B things to do.

In the meantime, though, the frustrations pile up. A few weeks ago, Cris and I visited an animal shelter and saw so many dogs in need of a home. We could give one or two a home, but that requires a basic certainty or permanence that our lives don’t really have right now. Dogs, according to our favorite show on Animal Planet, are, at most, a 15-year investment. You can’t take home a dog — previously abandoned, at that — and then give it back after four months because grad school’s come a-callin’ (Cris has applied, too).

My apartment still looks like I just moved in. I put up my shelves and unpacked the books, but I don’t see the point of getting everything set up given the possibility that I might have to leave again. It isn’t like my old apartment, the one with the treetop view that I loved, where I thought I’d live for a few years. I’d planned decor, I was going to get a proper couch, and I was going to replace all the dorm-era bedsheets I was still using. Then, I applied to grad school. And then, I took this job and had to move closer to work.

My dad offered to finance a trip to Europe, particularly so I can go with him and Mon to visit Mikko in Barcelona. The time he set for the trip was the Easter weekend plus two weeks, which is when Mikko is on holiday from school and can tramp around Spain and maybe Paris with us. But because of some changes at work and my fairness thing that other people say I should ignore, I didn’t ask for leave and didn’t apply for a visa.

That fairness thing: Since I went on leave at Christmas while our complement was already understaffed and overworked, I feel someone else should get to go on leave at Easter. This is not actually a rule at work but one of those conscience things. It now looks like nobody is actually going to file for leave, but it’s too late for me to do that now, since visa appointments have to be scheduled months in advance.

Meanwhile, my friends are traveling, or planning to travel, to places nearer than Europe but still some great distance from here. I want to do the same but hold back because I might need the money for school.

I have one more shot to see Barcelona this year, but again, it depends on whether I get into school. My dad says that, if I get in, he’d give me the money that would have gone into my trip to set myself up as a grad student in that other country instead. If I don’t get in, I can go to Spain with my mom, when she visits Mikko in November.

I almost don’t know if I still want to go to school at this point.

If I don’t get in, I get to move to a different place, somewhere with a lower noise level and a pet-friendly landlord. Maybe I can get a new bike, an electric one. Maybe I can look into long-term projects at work. I’ll definitely plan a trip, not just one to Europe, but to all the other places I want to visit.

If I do get in, I get to move to a different place, somewhere with decent public transport and city parks larger than a half-block or a road island. I get to study, feel horribly inferior to my more experienced and more talented classmates, and remind myself that I’m lucky that I even get to be there, learning. Maybe I can get a bike, a second-hand one, handed down by a previous batch of dormers. I’ll bike around the city without fear of getting catcalled or run off the road by jeepney, truck, and cab drivers.

Waiting is the pits. It’s a weird uncertainty where the ifs are a lot sunnier than the but really right nows.

Eh. It’s just a couple more months.

30 January 2014

Imelda's House (with attempts at illustration)

I dreamt that Calvin couldn't sleep, so I watched him move from panel to panel, painting on the faded red walls of a room with a black-and-white checkerboard floor.

Calvin looks older here, but in the dream, he was about six or seven years old.

His teacher caught him and set him at a bunch of other activities with the other kids. Calvin had a fun day and was excited about the school sleepover.

But when it was time to sleep, and the other kids had all climbed into their beds, on either side of the teacher's big bed, Calvin felt a panic. So he climbed into the teacher's bed, which woke her. She was angry about it, but when she saw that he was crying, she said, "Don't worry, Calvin, there is something you can do." And she pointed at something off-panel; in my mind, it was a book.

I was adjusting photographs for uploading, and one photo of some kind of evergreen caught my eye. It wasn't a pine — the bark was different — but it had needles. I had planned to crop the photo around the tree, with the house — my house, but not in Kalsangi; someplace between the edges of "Christina's World" and the edge of a forest, of which the evergreen was one tree to say, "You are near a forest" — in the background. But as I zoomed in on the photo, I was drawn closer and closer to the tree, until it filled my screen. The bark was gray-green and had lichens, and the needle-leaves looked feathery, like frost patterns on glass, and almost soft. I saw that no matter how close I zoomed in on the trunk and the leaves, I could still make out the shadow of the house behind them.

There was a man, David. He was not Calvin, but he was like Calvin. I was him, and I also watched him, the way you can in dreams. No more panels here.

In his house, David played with his children, two sons and a melancholy daughter — his youngest. And then his children were gone, and David in his dark brown suit with a white shirt went from his son's room, crossed a sort of red hall with a checkerboard floor and some arches in the walls, and went into his daughter's rom. He was sorry he hadn't spent enough time with them.

The hall in David's house. The pillars at the top are supporting a black or dark brown roof; the space between the pillars is open for air to come in.

Both the children's rooms were a mess. The daughter's room was all papers and paints and books, scattered all over the place. She was collecting these books by a guy whose last name was Funk (first name Paul?). His style was Shaun Tan meets M.C. Escher. One book she didn't have yet — there was a long list, and she had only one or two — was titled, "Imelda's House."

David found a diary where his daughter had scribbled things about him. (David talked aloud.) On one page, the word "Dad" changed before our eyes:

and David realized that his daughter had learned something about him.

On the opposite page, the left-hand page, some pencil writing about her dad had been erased and then covered by other pencil writing about her dad. David erased this, and the old writing reappeared, and he saw that his name was not David [Lastname] but David Davies. Davies was underlined three times.

And then David was in another town, in its tiny, Shaker-style, dimly lit records hall. Afternoon sunlight came in from outside through high slats. He was holding the same book his mother must have held years before — the one that said her name was actually Gwendolyn G[...] and not Gwendolyn [Lastname]. And he was in despair, in a kind of panic, because how many books were there left to go through, and when would he finally find out who he really was?

David went into the next room, the hall in his home, faded red with the checkerboard floor. As he cried, a great clock came down from the ceiling. Its circular face was white, and it had the peaked square top of a lantern. Its body was thin and silver, like a tall designer lamp's, and the clock face bobbed gently at the end of it. The silver shone yet was not smoothed down; it was as if someone had stretched that metal out by hand and then left it like that, covered with the impressions of the insides of his fists.

Above the clock, there was a swirling, tornado-like vortex and some thunder and lightning. The clock said to David to not be afraid; he could find the answers if he sought them.

David went up with the clock into the vortex, and then they were in a great library. It was a messy library; the shelves were out of order, and there were books scattered on the floor. The room David and the clock had entered was rectangular and had three walls, all lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling, plus balconies. The two long walls had doorways to other rooms. The center of the room had a wooden staircase that dropped down to more rooms. Past the staircase were reading tables, and past those reading tables, where the fourth wall would have been, was a view that looked a lot like Escher's "Gallery" or "Other World", but with blue and green gardens instead of outer space beyond the arches.

There were other people in the library. They scrambled frantically from shelf to shelf, grabbing books, poring through the pages, filling their arms, and looking for their answers. Men, women, and children, young people, old people — all kinds of people rushed this way and that with their stacks. David quickly joined them, and suddenly, I was outside David. I wasn't on a quest like him and the others; I was just a visitor. I looked at an old man with a long white beard at one of the reading tables, and I wondered how long any of these people would be here, knowing that there could be any number of rooms and staircases and books.

The room was faded red, with a checkerboard floor. In front of the shelves were decorative white metal trellises. I approached one of the shelves on the opposite wall. I saw that all the books were fictional, and there were volumes and volumes and series and series by so many different authors from so many thousands of years. I saw two series, one red and one green, but both with a picture of a man in a Martin Luther getup on the cover. I wondered how long it would take someone to piece together all the clues in all these books and what sort of answer they'd get in the end.

One of the books I saw.

I saw a shelf full of those books by Funk, that author David's daughter had liked, and since I had liked the illustrations, I decided that I'd read the books. I wonder if there was anyone else there who was just reading for fun and not looking for answers. I reached for Funk book No. 1 and saw that the first illustration was of a place like this library, with a checkerboard floor, people looking at shelves and books, and an arched garden in the background. Among the people in the illustration, there was a man who looked like David and a girl in a red dress that I had seen when we'd entered the library.

I tried to read the first paragraph and immediately found it difficult, the way you sometimes read the same paragraph several times over without anything in it sinking in.

So, I showed the book to the clock, which was going around with a ring-bound book shaped like a red ribbon or arrow. The clock was putting the shelves back in order. I asked it, "Why can't I read this book?" And it took the book from me and flipped through the pages of its red book — which was strange, because the clock didn't have hands, except for the clock hands on its face, and I can't even remember what time it showed. After finding the right page, the clock said, "Today is September. It is not the time for F. You'll have to try another time. Here, try [...]." And he left me by another shelf to put the Funk book back where I'd found it.

The clock's "book". I'd forgotten to draw it, so I made this drawing in GIMP. Now that I think about it, the pages look like the hands of a clock.

On that shelf, I saw another Funk book, possibly misplaced. It wasn't like a regular book, but when I saw it, the word that came to mind was "book". It was called "Imelda's House." It was shaped like a cake tower, like something out of a Giorgio de Chirico painting, and instead of pages or a cover, it had little doors in the sides that you could open, to see dioramas of things inside the building. I don't remember any of the scenes I saw except the one behind the biggest door: a library with decorative white trellises in front of the shelves, faded red walls, and a checkerboard floor, and with the clock standing over a pile of books on the floor and with the gray cotton vortex above its head.

"Imelda's House," by Paul(?) Funk

After this, I woke up.


I guess I should lay off the surrealists for a while.

21 January 2014

Jane at the University

Cris and I spent Saturday night playing board games with his friends. One game I really enjoyed was Betrayal at House on the Hill, which — along with the book I'm currently reading on American First Ladies — probably gets most of the credit for this dream I had the other night.

It was the 1800s. Jane Pierce (not the actual Jane Pierce) was a young woman who had come to the University to study chemistry, or something like that.

The University had a charred, half-collapsed old faculty and laboratory building that people said was haunted and/or cursed. Many years before, the University president at the time, Gunther Godfrey, had gone mad, claiming that he had been attacked by a mutant crocodile, and fled the campus, never to be seen or heard from again. Two days after Mr. Godfrey's disappearance, the Croc attacked another beloved teacher, Sarah Pullman (possibly Polk, but not the actual Sarah Polk), as well as two other faculty members in the lab. A portion of the lab was burned, and the bodies of Ms. Pullman and the other two faculty members were never found.

At the time of Jane's arrival at the University, campus legend had it that the lab was haunted by the spirits of the lost faculty members, unable to rest because their bodies had never been buried, and the Croc was still loose. Jane was fascinated by the building and, as an orphan, sometimes fantasized that the two other faculty members (never named in the dream) had been her parents. It's strange that no one at the University had been able to confirm this for her, but by the time of Jane's senior year, these mysteries remained unsolved.

Sometimes, Jane imagined that she had seen the Croc in the tall grass.

One day, an animal trainer came to the University to give some sort of demonstration, and afterward, she let the students play with the animals for a while. Jane played with some of the dogs and chased a long-haired, grumpy-looking orange cat toward the trophy case. While trying to get the cat to come out of the odd hole it had wedged itself into, Jane discovered a secret passage to some underground offices.

The first office looked like someone had left it in a hurry; things had been knocked over, and papers were strewn about. Jane discovered that the office had belonged to Gunther Godfrey. Among the papers, Jane found that someone had been threatening Mr. Godfrey. He had found out something about the Croc's origins, and this someone had threatened to sic the Croc on him if he didn't leave. There were claw marks on the walls and on the desk.

I guess Jane left because she heard a noise, but she went back to explore the underground offices the next day. This time, she found a person, the long-missing Sarah Pullman.

Fiercely bitter, Ms. Pullman confessed to Jane that she had created the Croc. She had been more popular than Mr. Godfrey and so had wanted the University presidency for herself. But after Mr. Godfrey's disappearance, the Croc had turned on her in the lab. In the middle of the struggle, the fire started, the other faculty members were lost, and one of them became the vengeful spirit that indeed haunted the old lab. The spirit had also cursed Ms. Pullman to live underground, unable to venture above for food without being able to feel as though acid was melting her flesh away.

Jane left her there and went to the old lab. Sensing her presence, the spirit was agitated and began collapsing the whole building, which also started to glow green and purple. The collapse extended to the underground offices, and, presumably, Sarah Pullman died there. It also pushed Jane into a narrow, tightly fenced yard behind the building, and at the dead end, she curled up into a ball and prepared to die as the building fell.

At the last second, however, Jane spotted a gap in the fence and a path in the tall grass, and she ran for it, not stopping as it took her away from the disaster.

It was morning by the time Jane found where the path ended: at a lonely wooden house, far out of the campus's sight. On the porch, in a rocking chair with a straw hat and a banjo, was a man with a crocodile's head. In that moment, Jane knew that this was her father.

The Croc had been one of the two unnamed faculty members and had been forced to become the Croc against his will. The vengeful spirit in the lab was the other one and Jane's mother, at rest now that Jane knew the truth. Her body was buried in a small plot beside the wooden house.

One year later, the Croc, Jane, and Jane's mustachioed gentleman were sitting around a table in the wooden house, watching with wonder and waiting for her eggs to hatch.