I am afraid to learn myself, afraid to find what’s in it. Perhaps it is a universal struggle, loving ourselves. This bigness, this thickness, all this excess! I do not know what to do with it. To have so much of me taking up more space than necessary, limbs longer than anyone else’s, I keep expanding and growing and invading, trespassing—my body—trespassing other people’s spaces. And I limit movement, constrain and hold back all of this, this muchness, as a futile attempt at daintiness, a pitiful attempt at grace. Clunky and awkward, my feet and hands too large, bumping my head and stabbing my elbows into somebody else;s flesh was a quotidian thing. Perhaps my only purpose was to reach things from high places and crane my neck to look for who is lost because I do not ball, do not pose, do not wave like a lush pageant girl: half white and unknowing of her own father’s identity. I’ve been filling up voids with my size, as if the world were afraid of being empty, of empty spaces, and in this fear I was created, to soothe this horror vacui and take up the corners and spaces and invade, manifest. But this is all a waste. Anything more than necessary is a waste.
i need to rant. i went to an awarding ceremony today and was dressed down for it; i felt inadequate being there, with everybody wearing gowns and tuxedos, surrounded by a bunch of faces i did not care for. i didn’t take the dress code seriously and came in a polo tucked under a casual dress. my feature story was nominated for Top Award, but didn’t win. i won an Award of Excellence though, which i think is okay. i didn’t want to go initially because i was afraid. i thought that if i went, they’d tell me everything was a huge mistake and that they got it all wrong and that i didn’t really win the award and if i could just return the award and go back home please. i was afraid that they’d see me as the phony that i am, that i don’t really know anything, and that’ I’m not deserving of the award because i’m a quack. at the same time, i felt bothered because a part of me wanted to win the top award, but a part of me felt like an impostor. the feeling is obsessive. i am caught between my fear of losing and fear of winning. my pride makes me fear rejection and failure, yet at the same time, i fear achievement. how do you comprehend such a thing?
i will admit, i was disappointed i didn’t win top award. i was hoping i would, but we lose some and win some. the award went to a literary folio instead. the criteria is weird and apparently, you can only be nominated for top award if you win an award of excellence. i won that, so that’s one award. i guess a part of me was just hoping i’d make the top. apparently not.
but it’s really funny. it’s funny because i still feel the same. awards, i thought before, are something that would make me happy. it’s a slap to the face because what i thought would make me happy in this world doesn’t make me happy at all. with or with no writing award, i still feel like utter shit. i honestly really don’t know what makes me happy. not the top award. not recognition, not fame, not power. not money, though it would make things a little bit easier, i guess, but it wont make me happy, no. not a boat full of friends and admirers, even.
i don’t understand. i’m not speaking out of bitterness, i won an award myself, but it just gives a bad taste in my mouth how people make such a huge deal out of themselves. i was almost embarrassed going up the stage with my award. i don’t understand how anyone can think of themselves as being “up there”. i don’t understand arrogance. how can you be that way up in your head when you know that you don’t really know much? it’s a writing award and i should be happy and proud and i am, i suppose, i don’t mean to sound ungrateful or self deprecating (which is just as bad), but when i see people in award ceremonies, i cant help but cringe. it’s a night of glamour, yes, but when it’s over, we go back to our simple lives and we are not, all of a sudden, better writers. i still go back to a broken home, sit on my desk and break my back every night, forcing myself to write, hating myself more and more. this is what people don’t see. they don’t see that i don’t feel confident at all when i sit in front of a blank sheet of paper. i wish they saw this, so we can admit to ourselves that all these awards are nothing but white noise. it wont make me bankable or kinder nor will it make me love myself more. it’s just another thing to add on my resumé and i’ve decided long ago that i don’t want to live for my resumé or eulogy.
i read a poem by Charles Bukowski and it spoke to me because it is so real. the poem’s title is “this”. here’s a fragment of it:
self congratulatory nonsense
as the famous gather to applaud their seeming greatness
as the deathly talentless bow to accolades
as the fools are fooled again
you wonder where the real ones are.
if there are real ones.
i think we are all fools. i think we don’t really know anything and the more we learn and the more degrees and awards we accumulate, the more we should realize that we don’t really know much and cant ever know everything. and this shouldn’t give us a license for arrogance. not even a license to think that we are, in any way, close to being good.
i went to wabi sabi after the awarding. it’s a small restaurant in the ugly part of the city, inside a nondescript warehouse, a little ways past the costume shop down a dim alley. i always keep coming back to this place. i thought the place is so apropos for me. wabi sabi. welcoming imperfection like an old friend. accepting it. living with it. i go there every week and order the same steaming cup of suanong and, sometimes, a bowl of tantanmen or pho, depending if i want something rich or something light.
i always sit by the single-diner table, facing the wall, beside the stack of old magazines with rat droppings sandwiched between each one for never being read. it saves me from the awkwardness and prying eyes of people in groups, which doesn’t happen too often because the place is almost always empty or occupied by single diners as well. it was raining hard and it was flooding outside. the rain’s still going and going—it’s persistent in its mission to keep me out of the house.
of course, i didnt tell my parents about this award. not that they care or anything, because they show no interest or support whatsoever with my writing. i don’t mind though. i’ve surmised a long time ago that this is something i have to do alone. i cannot dream around my parents. most of the time, they make me feel guilty for being alive. and they will never get the best of me. and i will never let them see the best of me. and i will continue working and transcending and i wont pay them any mind. i will continue to dream.
and my dreams scare me. they scare me so so much. i cannot even write them down here. i cannot even say them out loud. but they’re always in my mind, always. i will be flayed, stripped, and undone, but i guess it cant be called dreaming if it weren’t painful, if it didn’t break my spirit like nothing else can. i am so desperate to challenge myself beyond the blinkers of the little i know. though, i think, i unconsciously know what i want. i think it’s why i am here. i think my unconscious guides me to where i am headed, wherever that is. i cannot be doing all of this randomly, don’t you think? perhaps there are inner workings of myself, working on its own, as if unbidden, as if it has its own person. or, perhaps, it is me, still me, just an undiscovered side of me. well whatever it may be, i think it is unconsciously guiding me there. wherever there is, even though most days i fail to recognize myself.
it was a good time, being alone, by the way. the coffee came with a single cup filter and it was hot just how i liked it hot. the condensed milk rested at the bottom, and i watched as the coffee turned lighter and lighter with every swing of the spoon. bittersweet, just like this day. the pho had soft glass noodles, its broth minty, light, and refreshing, topped with little flags of cabbage and of celery, and bean sprouts crunchy and perfect the way they are. a dash of fish sauce and a nice squeeze of calamansi. i like talking about food this way, as if they were friends. i learned that from Pablo Neruda, who saw the beauty in everything, from a bar of soap to a chair to an artichoke and an onion! i think a good bowl of soup is quiet in its magnificence. comforting, like a long-awaited hug from someone familiar.
let me go back to what i said earlier, when i said i do not really know what makes me happy. i am not demanding for love or someone to complete me. i would hate it if i lived my life carrying everywhere a sense of lack that i so long to fill. i don’t think i am fragmented in any way. i think i am a whole person, and do not need an other half in the way people look at other halves. i think i am already whole. i’ve always been. i mean, how can you be only half of yourself? i suppose i just do not know how to accept this wholeness of mine, in all its nakedness and convolutions and complications. i am still learning to accept it, still trying to know it, and discover and be surprised in all its secrets (there are things i have yet to discover from my Self). i am still trying to love it, show it kindness, this wholeness of mine. i have jabbed it with hatred for so long it’s not fair. i wish i didn’t feel ashamed of it.
what i really want is tenderness. warm, brown hands that are always willing, ready, to take me into them. in spite of the bad days and bouts of doubt and insecurity and self hatred. i long for tenderness.
I was trying to write my mortician feature story late last night, but found myself blank and unable to write. Prior that, I spent the past three hours editing the articles of my staff writers for the November issue and realized, after breaking my back for hours, just how tough and thankless the job of an editor is. I am not complaining, by the way, it’s just a Truth I need to come to terms with. I think editors and writers in general feel in the beginning that writing is a thankless job. Unless you’re famous, no one comes up to you saying, “Thank you for writing, you changed my life.” It’s the type of work where you need tenure to actually get the respect you deserve—and sometimes, you don’t even get that respect, no matter how long you’ve been in the field. But here’s the principal question: Why do we still write?
I have no straight answer to that question. I’d like to believe that someday I will, but for now, I guess I cannot think of anything rational. It certainly isn’t a lucrative field; if I wanted to be rich, I would’ve chosen a different path, yet why are we still here, writing? I guess it’s because it’s the only way I can keep myself alive and amused, it’s the only way to make this life bearable. Writing from the cheap seats, to reflect the times, to release surges of emotions, to escape, and critique a profoundly sick society. I honestly believe we have too much of men in suits and less of teachers and writers and anthropologists and professors and researchers and historians and artists. And, I think, at the state of our world right now wherein violence and war is the answer to everything, we need these people now more than ever to remind us what it really means to be alive.
My parents, I must admit, always wanted a corporate job for me. And I don’t know how I’m going to tell them, Hey, I want to be a forensic anthropologist and spend the rest of my life in the fields, digging up bones, and confined in research labs, writing dissertations. I want to do research and teach in classrooms, I want to continue writing features and fiction stories on the side, what are you going to do about it?
And it sucks, because I do not get the support I need from the people who should be my support system, and that’s okay, because we can’t have everything and I won’t demand for their support if they’re not willing to give it wholeheartedly. I know we should never compromise our finances—that is just absurd and irresponsible, but I don’t see the point in life if I am forced to live a life I have no interest in living.
I am actually doing my internship at a property management corporation right now, and this internship has helped me so much in realizing what I do not want to do in the future. Certainly I don’t want to spend the hours of my day trapped in a cubicle inside a cold, characterless, behemoth building. That I know for sure. The people have been great and regardless if it’s corporate, I am learning new things which I believe is always a good thing, either way. But a week ago, I was talking to my boss and my other colleagues and they all said the same thing: “This isn’t what I want to do.”
And I get that we have to sacrifice sometimes. Some people aren’t privileged enough to go about what they want, knowing they have families to feed and bills to pay. And it just makes me so sad that we have to suffer this way, giving up what we want and love to make way for something else, something that we don’t feel so strongly about in the first place. And I hate so much that some people are never able to live their dreams because of the sacrifices they made and they die lonely and unfulfilled because they never got to do what they really wanted to do, and it just makes me so depressed that even though I am saying all these things right now, there is always that possibility in the future that I will be a hypocrite to my own word and work a job I do not love and as much as I try to align my actions to my own principles, I have a fear that I will be betraying my own word. And I wish I never have to reach that point in my life wherein I have to sell out just because I am forced to. I will never forgive myself for that.
Sigh. To be honest, I think this whole mortician feature story is messing with my head. When I interviewed the mortician a Friday ago, we talked about life and death, and how his work has changed his entire life. But listen here. This mortician never wanted to be a mortician in the first place. He was studying engineering in university when he had to stop because of lack of funds. His father, a mortician, taught him the trade and he decided to just take his father’s job on his shoulders. Decades later and here he is now and he tells me he is happy with his job. So, I suppose, it is possible to get into a job we don’t initially love and learn to love it down the road, I guess? The mortician did tell me that although people still have a stigma towards the nature of their job, it’s important to be reminded that we all die in the end. And the phrase, memento mori, popped up in my head. Remember that you must die.
We all die in the end. I am 20 and already feel really old, as if I’ve been here forever. I was contemplating the other day whether I wanted to die young or old. I realize I don’t want to die young, having achieved nothing, but I am also deathly afraid of getting old, to be honest. Of being wrinkly, and losing my mind to dementia, where it takes away the very essence of what makes me human. But I also know that I have a lot of things to learn, lots of books to read, lots of stories to write and tell, and of course, lots of people to love—and I want all that stretched out in decades. Not everyone has the privilege to reach an old age and share the wisdom they’ve learned throughout the years. I want to see myself at that point; wiser, more confident, more humble, with so much love for the world.
Perhaps I am overthinking things again, but I always tell myself it’s better to overthink than not think at all. I’d like to believe that this whole thing has been heightened by the mortician feature story I’m currently writing, but I cannot help myself. I always get attached to the stories I write and sometimes, these stories are too heavy to tell, but still need telling, to remind us that we are only human. Insignificant compared to the astronomical universe, but relevant to the tiny blips of people we matter to.
Maybe if we looked at life at a different vantage we’d appreciate it more. Eating, drinking, laughing, spending time with loved ones—these are things we so easily take advantage of. And I guess, what I’m trying to say is, I just want to be more appreciative and content with the things I have and do, because I am so tired of feeling like I will never amount to anything.
That there is absolutely no reason to beat myself up for going too slow or not doing the same things my peers are doing, that I am absolutely doing perfectly well at my own pace, that there is no need for me to compare myself to anybody but my yesterday-self, that I only have to worry about my possible future self, that I don’t have to mind other people’s lives and businesses, that I don’t have to be depressed every time I go out of my door, that I don’t have to be afraid all the time, that I will be fine as long as I keep walking, regardless if I do it with a limp or with two steady feet, that being insecure at times is fine, that being flawed is perfect because it always gives me something to strive for, that I don’t have to make life so difficult for me, that it’s fine to appreciate the mere fact of sitting down, breathing and just being alive, that I can take a rest and not feel guilty, that no matter what happens, no matter how conscious and angry I feel with myself, I can always pick up my pen and write, and that if I do find myself stubborn or weak at times to pick up my pen, I can always stow my shoes away, climb to bed, sleep, and wake up the next day to try again.
whenever I find myself drowning in my woes and the world’s noise, I turn to chapter nine of Rainer Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. this masterpiece of his has been my pick-me-up for the longest time, his writing a comforting embrace to my insecurities, doubts, and distress. in this chapter, Rilke tells Mr. Kappus that his doubt may become a good quality, if he trains it.
our doubt must become knowing, it must be critical. whenever we are in doubt, we must ask it, demand proofs from it, why something is ugly. we must insist on arguments from our doubt. so often i find myself feeling sorry for myself when i am in doubt, and i make the blow even harder by centering on my ugly qualities and mistakes boohoo hoo, woe is me. i realize it is not fair to do this to myself, to be in doubt but not objective and constructive. to treat myself fairly, i must be objective even to the things i like the least about myself. Rilke says that if we are watchful and consistent, the day will arrive when our doubt—the destroyer—will become one of our best workers, perhaps the cleverest, even.
so we must train our doubts. no matter how tempting it is to kick ourselves down, remember that we must also be fair and objective. why is it ugly? why is it bad? why is it disappointing? why is it a failure? amidst all these questions, remind yourself to be kinder and fair to yourself. with all the injustices in this life, it would be absolute criminal that we be unjust to our own beings.
Sometimes I do not know if I am living for my eulogy or my resumé. I’d like to think that I’m neither because I’d like to make myself believe that I am embracing every single day of my life with no regrets— which I admit is a nasty lie because I spend every waking moment in binary: Paranoia and anxiety. In an ideal world perhaps I’d be a lady with a little more spice, able to talk to the man she is fond of with an untied tongue; able to sit over fine wine and have the gall to laugh at life’s absurdity; able to ward off all unnecessary feelings and just enjoy life as is. But this is reality and my fight or flight response is always kicked into high gear; I’m constantly looking over my shoulder every now and then because I’ve learned that things are never as good as they seem.
I came upon a phrase that struck me the strongest. Memento mori, a Latin phrase that translates to “remember that you must die.” It was something that got my mind spinning, got me thinking about my current life and future endeavors, and then realize how hard everything really is. Hard, perhaps, because I am not trying enough. Unlike most of my peers, my future is still hazy to me, just as hazy as the day I asked my highschooler self what my plans were and I was left silenced because I didn’t know what I wanted.
A month ago, I stopped eating pork, beef, and chicken after hours of Reddit-browsing and reading up on cowspiracy, climate change, and The Omnivore’s Dilemma. I think with the rate that the population of the human race is going right now, it is impossible to even foresee a universal ethical way of farming. I tried to be vegetarian (in the hopes of becoming full-vegan) before but ended up failing because the motivating factor in my head was that it would make me lose weight and I can finally be beautiful, but after doing some reading, I realized that if I can’t be vegetarian for vain purposes, perhaps I can be one for the sake of a better world. And I’m not even being ambitious or idealistic right now, but all these studies on climate change and the destruction of our world because of the very humans created to live in it really scares me. I know I’m just one person, but I’d like to believe that there is a reaction for every action and I guess I can only hope in hopelessness that all reaction is good reaction.
Five days ago, my editor in chief (I am a journalist for the school paper) posted on our page calling for assistant-editor sign ups for the next term. I bookmarked the post, urging myself to try out because I’ve never, but knowing myself, I’d probably back out before anything can even begin because I am such a fucking self-deprecating coward suffering from impostor syndrome or just really, really bad self esteem. Today I think I’m a decent writer and most days I’m just utter crap.
Today, however, I was in pottery class and I was trying my best to smoothen my bisque-d works, pre-glazing, with a piece of overused sandpaper. Pottery has always been familiar to me ever since my dad exposed me to it when I was 11, about nine years ago. I dropped it when I entered high school and eventually stopped and forgot about it, until recently. I took it up again, this lost passion of mine, and started to train my hands again to the once-familiar sensations of pottery. Frustrating at first, but I have fallen in love again.
On my way home, my dad and I stopped by a bike store to look for a city bike for myself because I’ve been thinking of trying out biking. We looked around for a bit before proceeding off, shrugging and telling myself that I can get back to it some other day.
Tonight I am writing and I can say for myself that writing will always be my favorite thing, if not my only favorite thing in this world. But I realize that I cannot write if I do not put myself out there and live. I cannot live inside my head forever, I think, and the only way I can make sense with writing is if I keep challenging myself and telling myself to go out there, be more human. So often I am entrapped by the screen of my phone or even the pages of a book, but what I really should be doing is be out there. See things and for heaven’s sake, do things. Find the strange in the familiar, see the general in the particular, experience things I’ve never done, think thoughts that make me uncomfortable, re-examine everything that I already know. Learning is the only thing to keep me youthful and I must keep my unabating curiosity for life for—well—the rest of my life, I hope.
Again, my future is hazy. At this moment, I feel like a bowl of chopsuey. A bowl of random veggies thrown together, one vegetable for each of my feelings and woes. I want to do so many things and sometimes I ask myself, why do I only have to choose one? And I realize, why are we conditioned to only pick one when we are in control and can choose as many as we want? Why is it that in this life, you just have to pick one course and then follow that till you die? From womb to tomb? Life is too short for that, I think. And perhaps we shouldn’t be afraid to do what we love the most and also pursue other things that we want to try, because really, we have to remember that we must die. And we will, and that keeps me going every single day.
I do not know if I am living for my eulogy or my resumé, but I will admit to myself now and say that I don’t want to be living for either. That if I had the chance (and I do) then I should live my life for the sole purpose of reaching my full potential as a human being, not for praises on my deathday or a forty-page resume of all my achievements. I think that the worth and purpose of life cannot be measured by paper or words of other humans anyway.
I always have optimism in my heart, but the cynicism in my head always trumps over. With all these binary oppositions and contradictions, insecurities and self-deprecation, most of the time it makes me forget who I really am and who is really in control: Me. And if it were so easy to let go of all the toxicity, then I would’ve done so a long time ago.
But there are days when I just feel sorry for myself and tell myself that I will never amount to anything, just like tonight when I can feel my depression swell in me again, like a surge that passes in and out, for no other reason that it just happens to be a late night and I’m left with deep thoughts. But I’d like to think that in these dark hours, I can still have hope and the least I can do is go back to my point of innocence and ask myself, What would 11 year old me do? And of course, little me would say that I should be “a lady with a little spice” to which I take as tenacity for me to go out there and shake the world by the lapels.