A Letter to My Exhausted Self

In recent years, I’ve used the term “body politics” to cover a number of things. Of course this isn’t me claiming I’ve come up with the term; this is simply me wondering where I’ve gone wrong, and how psychosomatic pain has become a reality of which I speak, as much lived in as thought of and talked about.

At the last leg of the school year, an unexplained pain in my forearm resulted in elastic bandage for a week or two, just when I had bagged a terribly long freelance job and had told myself the struggle was enough and necessary, and that I could do all of that.

10487388_10205329595732974_217931378247926984_n

What looks a little cool the first time, around, till it itches and you just want to do without.

But the concern came when, after the recommended time, I removed the bandage but the pan came back. A series of unfortunate, blurred events: eventually we went to the doctor for an x-ray, but nothing suspicious was found. The words carpal tunnel had been thrown about, but I was unwilling to accept it, and even the doctors I talked to ruled it out. Could it be all the typing, I asked, and one of them said, Perhaps. Sometimes it has to do with the nerves in the fingers. They get tired.

*

Even today, months after I’ve taken the second bandage out, the pain flickers, just to remind me that it can still come back. I conduct exercises now, after long bouts of typing, and thankfully the pain is never as bad as it was. Meanwhile, I hear the same from friends as they go about their own tasks: the headaches, the changes in cycle, the inability to sleep, even when tired.

Again and again, the doctors tell us: Stress, stress. You’re too stressed out.

*

It is only in the last two years that emotional stress has manifested in physical pain. Before that, I used to read about women in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and wondered all the characters who came down with brain fever, having worried themselves out. Meanwhile, all around me I heard from friends who couldn’t muster the day ahead because of harrowing loneliness. I wondered at all of that, at the possibility, because it all seemed unreal.

Of course, that was all it took for it to start happening to me.

*

You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like.

If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. – Julien Smith, The Flinch

*

I want to tell someone (not a particular person, not someone, but anyone): You don’t understand. I take things slowly, I digest life one thing at a time. My whole life I’ve felt that everyone else grows by leaps and bounds. Of course this is an illusion, a story I’ve learned to tell myself. But all of it seems too real when I consider my snail-paced self. But what I want to say is that it took me forever to figure things out. And if I refuse to say anything, it is not so much a matter of distrust than the fact that I would like to keep things a little longer, to myself, to protect it from external doubt. The truth is, I took my time, I lazed around. I talked of words, and used words, but in practice I held everything back.

tumblr_nqyx6ysSwV1qe2rd8o2_1280

Always, always: it’s the little things all throughout.

I want to tell myself: You’re on your way up. The glasses of water, the pictures you took, the changes in the rooms you move in, none of them are empty signs. Keep drinking water. Cut down on caffeine. Read anything and everything. Put a book down as soon as you realize it’s not what you like. Choose company wisely. Look for recipes online. Write them down on your journal. Try them out. Study anything and everything that interests you, and learn to love yourself and your capacity to learn all this stuff. If you must spend money, then fine, but get rid of that sickening self-righteous guilt afterwards. Rearrange your space. Fangirl, fangirl, fangirl. Write even when you don’t feel like it. Update your blog when you feel like it’s time. The type of content and the number of hits you get matters less than the emotional and spiritual exercise it will give your heart. Sleep, sleep; when all seems lost, just sleep.

*

This is not late blooming. This is blooming on your own time.

Now for some notes in true non-sequitur form; I’ve been neglecting this blog, so to compel myself to get things done I might as well put some things down here:

– Part II of my The Well of Loneliness review

– Thoughts on fantasy (genre) and teaching fantasy

– Part II of my thoughts on Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves (Jeez, how long as it been?!)

– Critical thoughts on some trends in social media

And I will see you all again soon enough.

A Letter to My Exhausted Self

In recent years, I’ve used the term “body politics” to cover a number of things. Of course this isn’t me claiming I’ve come up with the term; this is simply me wondering where I’ve gone wrong, and how psychosomatic pain has become a reality of which I speak, as much lived in as thought of and talked about.

At the last leg of the school year, an unexplained pain in my forearm resulted in elastic bandage for a week or two, just when I had bagged a terribly long freelance job and had told myself the struggle was enough and necessary, and that I could do all of that.

10487388_10205329595732974_217931378247926984_n

What looks a little cool the first time, around, till it itches and you just want to do without.

But the concern came when, after the recommended time, I removed the bandage but the pan came back. A series of unfortunate, blurred events: eventually we went to the doctor for an x-ray, but nothing suspicious was found. The words carpal tunnel had been thrown about, but I was unwilling to accept it, and even the doctors I talked to ruled it out. Could it be all the typing, I asked, and one of them said, Perhaps. Sometimes it has to do with the nerves in the fingers. They get tired.

*

Even today, months after I’ve taken the second bandage out, the pain flickers, just to remind me that it can still come back. I conduct exercises now, after long bouts of typing, and thankfully the pain is never as bad as it was. Meanwhile, I hear the same from friends as they go about their own tasks: the headaches, the changes in cycle, the inability to sleep, even when tired.

Again and again, the doctors tell us: Stress, stress. You’re too stressed out.

*

It is only in the last two years that emotional stress has manifested in physical pain. Before that, I used to read about women in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and wondered all the characters who came down with brain fever, having worried themselves out. Meanwhile, all around me I heard from friends who couldn’t muster the day ahead because of harrowing loneliness. I wondered at all of that, at the possibility, because it all seemed unreal.

Of course, that was all it took for it to start happening to me.

*

You can change what you want about yourself at any time. You see yourself as someone who can’t write or play an instrument, who gives in to temptation or makes bad decisions, but that’s really not you. It’s not ingrained. It’s not your personality. Your personality is something else, something deeper than just preferences, and these details on the surface, you can change anytime you like.

If it is useful to do so, you must abandon your identity and start again. Sometimes, it’s the only way. – Julien Smith, The Flinch

*

I want to tell someone (not a particular person, not someone, but anyone): You don’t understand. I take things slowly, I digest life one thing at a time. My whole life I’ve felt that everyone else grows by leaps and bounds. Of course this is an illusion, a story I’ve learned to tell myself. But all of it seems too real when I consider my snail-paced self. But what I want to say is that it took me forever to figure things out. And if I refuse to say anything, it is not so much a matter of distrust than the fact that I would like to keep things a little longer, to myself, to protect it from external doubt. The truth is, I took my time, I lazed around. I talked of words, and used words, but in practice I held everything back.

tumblr_nqyx6ysSwV1qe2rd8o2_1280

Always, always: it’s the little things all throughout.

I want to tell myself: You’re on your way up. The glasses of water, the pictures you took, the changes in the rooms you move in, none of them are empty signs. Keep drinking water. Cut down on caffeine. Read anything and everything. Put a book down as soon as you realize it’s not what you like. Choose company wisely. Look for recipes online. Write them down on your journal. Try them out. Study anything and everything that interests you, and learn to love yourself and your capacity to learn all this stuff. If you must spend money, then fine, but get rid of that sickening self-righteous guilt afterwards. Rearrange your space. Fangirl, fangirl, fangirl. Write even when you don’t feel like it. Update your blog when you feel like it’s time. The type of content and the number of hits you get matters less than the emotional and spiritual exercise it will give your heart. Sleep, sleep; when all seems lost, just sleep.

*

This is not late blooming. This is blooming on your own time.

Now for some notes in true non-sequitur form; I’ve been neglecting this blog, so to compel myself to get things done I might as well put some things down here:

– Part II of my The Well of Loneliness review

– Thoughts on fantasy (genre) and teaching fantasy

– Part II of my thoughts on Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves (Jeez, how long as it been?!)

– Critical thoughts on some trends in social media

And I will see you all again soon enough.

Just One Footnote–

Writing these days is difficult, not because there’s nothing to write but because there is excess, and if the cut-and-dried years have taught me anything, it is that excess is good for nothing. Deadlines are things I can only dread, but I would be dumb to discredit them and ask for a piece of comfort in return. In the last three years alone I have molded tone, style, voice to suit wherever the page was meant to be printed–on the screen, on paper, on a notebook I keep for myself.

E v e r y t h i n g.

Not many people will tell you it’s hard work. This is not a defense of the craft or the elevation of so-called art. It is the confession that I am still trying to justify to myself, perhaps, why I am so hard on this person called me. Every writer has her favorite mistake. Well! Written like that it sounds enchanting! Something you’d put in a love song. A line from a movie you’ll never forget. What you won’t know until you’re old enough, viable and diable, is that what you love will slowly cease to be a division between work and play. In equal measure, your words will stand before you: things you submitted, typographic errors, words you wrote down for yourself.

It is necessary, of course, to think of areas in your life. An essay has its own parts. A story has chapters. You have your multiple hearts. There is a dedication you give to your work (your work, I say, not your job). To casual emails, formal messages, the slippery surface of the touchscreen where, for my part, chubby fingers will never on the right key land. There’s the soundbite that only social media can account for, although that is a platform where so few people wish to be accountable. There is the heart I lay bare when, after years of procrastinating I realize that fiction too, is hard work. That people bang their heads on tables to produce words, and out of them plots and themes and characters that you don’t need to find walking out on the street. For you can find them in one of your multiple hearts, where they each play a part.

*

Is my story a good one? I want it to be. But you know, a large part of you is written by somebody else. On another page. After they’ve already lived their lives. And you are but an afterthought. There must be some caution too, in thinking that you can write your self. I don’t believe you can. Because not all battles are waged or won or lost on the page.

In fact, I think, the challenge is for me to stop. To not write. To let things write me sometimes. I cannot call it breathing, because breathing is writing. You do not stop breathing unless you want to die. I want to call it resting. I want to call it caring. I want to call it, presence, not praiseI want to call it nothing, so that I can have my own space.

*

In life, you can be given warnings, and the blame is never an easy one, a game that should not even have to be played. She writes:

…he died again. This time, I refused to accept his death because I could still communicate with him and so I asked him if he had, of late, been walking on water or on air, and he answered ‘neither.’ I only began to cry at his funeral, and the mourners, they didn’t know that it was I who made them; it was I who glued dragonflies to the scene and said, ‘you must read his stories.’ I woke because in my dream, I had been crying too profusely. I slept again and this time, I dreamt the dream of his resurrection: he arrived in my mailbox wrapped in his fiction and covered with butterflies. I ran around, shouting, ‘he’s not dead!’ But he is, you see. The dream wants to tell me that he is dead to me. The dream wants to inform me not to be fooled by pretty packages, that in matters of correspondence, the body is tragically absent.

But quite possibly, I think she lied. Or that she has not given me the whole truth. In fiction and footnotes both, we choose only the relevant, and leave the rest of language to a lacuna. I want to tell you: I can write facts. I dabble in fiction. I can escape myself. I want to tell you: it’s okay. Everything is going to be okay. Fiction, or fact?

*

My baby nephew hugged me around the waist: the first he’s ever done it, the first he’s ever begged anything of me: Sama ako!, he said. Take me with you!

(You will only understand if you have never been anything but the youngest child, if you’ve never had to work for the affection of a young one, only to experience being shunned by tantrums, and then finally, to have the same little one beg something of you, before the disaster comes).

*

Am I a story, am I a good one?

*

So you write things. Sometimes fiction. Sometimes criticism! But always a part of yourself. Fact.

How to Persist

From here, it’s strange to commence in a paradox that seems out of the blue, in medias res, when you have no time to start from the beginning. But don’t most stories these days start like this? As though one was born into the world already loaded with chaos. So not knowing where to begin, I begin where I am, so far from when I made plans.

I have often found that it’s easier to close things: to draw the line, to take a step back and say, Huh, I wish I’d known that sooner, or to breathe a sigh of relief. These are the things I pay for in order to achieve comfort: a sense of urgency that nearly chokes me; the sleepless nights and facial acne; the somber, heavy exhaustion; the volatility that does not so much sporadically fire me up as it builds over time to consume me slowly, until body politics demand my attention and atonement.

It is easier to toil at the beginning, feel confused in the middle, and then to turn weary before working for inspiration again–and then, finally, to work in just one more word, squeeze in extra correspondence, lose sleep just one more time, before one realizes that the moment has passed.

When I put pen to paper, and then fingertips to keyboard, I measure pages of my fiction: one page in a notebook can hardly cover a page on Microsoft Word. One must be subtle but honest. If there is no time for a plot diagram, you must plot it in your mind and ensure yourself that this is a living, breathing thing, this fiction of yours: Is there a point at the end you must write towards right now? How did one scene, between the lines, outside of the main plot, lead to trouble that constitutes the next arc? And so on and so forth…

(Never again will they be able to doubt that fiction is the easier lie, that real life rarely has plans for you though you may plan for it with all your might, for all that you are a blind woman climbing a mountain from the start)

But these small, cryptic things you will figure out:

  • There is no way out but through. And though you may cry, or struggle, or want to run away, somewhere, somehow, you will realize that the desire to survive is the same desire that means Go on, nudge things and watch them move, and even as you make decisions every hour, every day. And eventually you will learn that
  • Some things don’t need to be said. Or proven to others, because you already know them as true for yourself.
  • The people who matter will be happy for you. And they will show it–in all seriousness over coffee, while the papers are being checked, while the phenomenon of “adulting” looms over the horizon, you will pick them out, smartly and discreetly, and they will come bearing gifts of laughter and clever words, the concept and reality of food, looming, always, just over the horizon, and when the time is right,
  • All the pretty things will come to you, if you let them. Understand that organizing your environment–even the simple decision to never leave your room or cubicle before arranging it in the smallest way (it may make only a small difference to them, but it will mean the world to your heart) will lift the burden from your shoulders, not completely, but just enough. But remember:
  • Begin as you mean finish. Don’t worry about strangers you must cross paths with. Admit your mistakes, then let them simmer. You will drink this tea and find it more refreshing than the words you’ve had to pull yourself through, than all the nights you suffered when no one offered to listen and you were to scared to ask.

“It’s easy to feel uncared for when people aren’t able to communicate and connect with you in the way you need. And it’s hard not to internalize that silence as a reflection on your worth. But the truth is that the way other people operate is not about you. most people are so caught up in their own responsibilities, struggles, and anxiety that the thought of asking someone else how they’re doing doesn’t even cross their mind. They aren’t inherently bad or uncaring – they’re just busy and self-focused. And that’s okay. It’s not evidence of some fundamental failing on your part. It doesn’t make you unloveable or invisible. It just means that those people aren’t very good at looking beyond their own world. But the fact that you are – that despite the darkness you feel, you have the ability to share your love and light with others – is a strength. Your work isn’t to change who you are; it’s to find people who are able to give you the connection you need. Because despite what you feel, you are not too sensitive or too needy. You are thoughtful and empathetic. You are compassionate and kind. And with or without anyone’s acknowledgement or affection, you are enough.” — Daniel Koepke

  • Always tell a story. Even when you don’t believe in your own words just yet. Because what not enough people have told you, in all your twenty six years, is that
  • Hard work consists mainly of…well, hard work. And surprisingly? The knowledge and self-proof you have that you worked hard on something–not just (non)fiction or research or the day-in, day-out of jobs–will not be in the finished product alone. And it will be enough to convince you that you have given the world something important. You have given the world a part of yourself.

I could tell you much more, but I’ve said enough. Yesterday it was December and now it’s April, the cruelest month. But you know what? Today, this morning, I have found that the day’s cruelty is nothing more than my own potential.

“How odd I can have all this inside me and to you it’s just words.” – David Foster Wallace

The Nowadays of Unease

My father’s stories always make me uncomfortable.

These are usually told during mealtime, with his much-needed clearing of the throat, or random bursts of coughing which irk us, because we never know why he always needs to cough while speaking, and because most times he forgets to cover his mouth.

Only for meals outside of home: consent to sit elsewhere, but still always beside my mother

Only for meals outside of home: consent to sit elsewhere, but still always beside my mother

But the discomfort that I feel–youngest daughter, who upon reaching the earliest possible age that allowed her to argue back, insisted that she sit between her mother and father at the dinner table no matter what–goes beyond that, into the realm of the unsaid. There has always been the fact of the unspeakable in my father’s past, because it is something which, aside from being removed from me in time, tells of a life that the rest of us, my two older brothers and my mother, would rather forget. Poverty is something I designate with the masses; I insist, like the rest of my class, with what little privilege we have (but privilege nonetheless) that it must be alleviated.

But also when I say poverty and look out the car window and pretend not to see the leering faces of truck drivers, when I read real-life rags-to-riches stories or hear friends talk about their parents and their younger days, I always somehow think of my father, so that my throat and chest meet to constrict in ways cruel to my breathing. I dare not think of my father sleeping underneath the trucks he had to drive, or his boyhood days spent crafting cars from random materials because he didn’t have manufactured toys, or his having to give up college so that a younger sibling could go to school instead–indeed I do not dare, but it does not matter, because these are the images that stay with me anyway.

Sometimes when, in a blinding rage and having fallen victim to some personal injustice, I allow myself to think of my father as the solid figure of my childhood: with fitted shirts and thick sideburns and his own short version of the vernacular balbas-sarado, walking around the house with fists clenched and barking in anger at the smallest movements–one answered a question in a disrespectful tone, or forgot to seal a bottle; one arrived five minutes later than promised or couldn’t memorize a phone number as instructed.

A moment of pretension: there exists, too, the image of him behind the steering wheel; we’ve taken a U-turn where there is none, or we’ve been caught out on a day when the numbers on our plate say we should have taken other means to get where we need to be. Then the stiff, baritone of anger fades into illusion, as though my entire childhood were a lie. But this is not pretension, I think, this moment when he lowers his window and talks to the MMDA officer, who informs him of the mistake. My father really is apologetic; he really does not mean any harm. But he also knows the advantage of age, although perhaps not fully–how it has dressed to acquire his face which has now become smaller, with sallow cheeks and too-sharp bones. There is always a veil of exhaustion on my father’s face now, and his stomach has grown, while his arms appear weaker and softer. Altogether, something in his posture has changed in a way that cannot be anchored by the dead weight of language. But I have chosen to say posture because he holds himself much the same way he did when he was younger: proud and defensive, always suspecting that the other might throw the punch first. But watching him walk from behind, or clutching his arm as we cross the street, a fierceness takes hold of me, part confusion but also firmness, the way one fears a bonfire but wants to keep it burning.

At what point does the need to be protective transfer to the child, from her mother or father? When does a child realize that departure from home translates to leaving one’s parents unprotected? Sad? Together and alone?

*

I’m getting too old for this, I think, largely, about everything these days: Coffee with friends after work? Negative. Last full show of the latest critically-acclaimed film? God, no. An all-nighter on the same day that I woke up before 7AM to keep up with the mounting pile of work? I’d rather die. And on the other hand, to be filled with youth: to have passed the stalwart fragility of teenage years; to smile and shrug, helpless and apologetic for one’s early twenties when bravado and insistence on adulthood came in waves of infinite determination followed by spaces of ennui on one’s first job and the blank-faced awareness of logging onto social media only to see that one’s peers have become successful–to know, at this point, that sometimes the best approach really is to keep one’s head down; to reveal secrets like rare currency, to be shared on the black market with a network of agents who deal in the same emotional lacuna but who brighten at the mention of cheap thrills you like to call indulgence; to understand that working hours are an excellent derivative of opium, but that at the same time one must count the breaths taken between and tally them up to understand the depth of dissatisfaction with oneself and then wonder, automated, “What’s next on the to-do-list?” In other words: Not old, not young, my favorite writer says, but a viable-diable age.

*

Where does the disparity come from? I remember when I couldn’t imagine a boudoir of my own, when playtime meant I could climb on the office chair (or perhaps it was another kind? I remember we only moved an office chair in there sometime in my high school years) in front of my mother’s dresser and play with her jewelry, and take in the fragrance of her cosmetics which were, of course, really her own smell. Even now I know it: something soft and hidden, gathering years–although it was always new back then, because in those days my mother hadn’t yet sacrificed her career for us. In those days she still wore high heels and walked around Makati as easily as she now navigates, with her weak knee, the memorized paths of our small home–from the bedroom, down to steps and into the kitchen, from the kitchen through the dining room and into the sala, back to the kitchen, until night falls and she must rest after all she has done.

These days I have my own dresser, of strange varnished wood that smells sour even though it was bought years ago, and if my cosmetics and toiletries, my blush-on and lotions, my bottles of perfume have lent it a distinct smell, I can only tell you that sitting beside my bookshelf, it suffers the necessary inheritance of burden: dusty books I love and  tried to re-read but failed to, in pursuit always of new things to read in the conviction that re-reading, once a favorite activity, now translates to a waste of time, a kind of fear of missing out; earrings I always promise myself I’ll store in their proper little jewelry boxes but which get lost eventually, falling to the floor and never to be found again; dirty mugs and glasses when I come home for weekends and drink myself to caffeine death chasing deadlines.

My whole life my father has scolded me about clutter. Surprisingly, this is one of the characteristics of my childhood that was not dictated by sex–my thanks to one older brother who, in his whole life, has also manifested the talent for living in complete disarray. But these days when, at home, I walk around the house with dark circles under my eyes, thinking of words I must write and meetings that clash with the precious time I would have wanted to dedicate to much needed cramming, my father keeps his silence, and on the days when I am away my mother tells me he goes into my room: not to revel in the disappointment of a messy daughter, but to clean up after me; indeed, to pick up the dirty clothes I’ve discarded in my rush to return to my life in the north. To fold the blanket I’ve tossed under, worried and sleepless the entire night. To gather the books and papers I’ve read through and stacked together in an order that makes sense only in the time I don’t have to arrange them. To do all this without complaint.

Nowadays he tells me not to rush; to take it easy and make sure to eat a lot when I’m away. Now he tells me, in moments when I want to give up on this much-acclaimed path to higher education and another thesis, to be thankful and to calm down–to adjust to those whose way of thinking can expect no more progress, because I am the one capable of change.

But no, I think. Change happens to all of us. There comes a point in our lives when change is no longer a matter of wanting to turn the proverbial leaf but a matter of Margaret sitting in front of her laptop on a Sunday evening crying, aware of the onslaught of the coming weeks and wondering why no one ever bothered telling her that by blight they really meant formless terror, the kind that hovers in the peripheral, always uncertain and so bound to happen and take shape when you least expect it. Nobody bothers to say that by blight they also mean the forgotten paper clip as much as the chance cab taken to work. Nobody bothers to teach the child that once was that it is the sharing of eyebrow pencils between mother and daughter, or the pain of her first real death–the mother of a mother–is heavier and more haunting than any heartbreak.

*

Several conversations in the course of perhaps only a few weeks have helped to form this personal compulsion, which is precisely what I hadn’t been wont to feel when it comes to writing lately. That’s the necessary collateral, probably, when you make your so-called passion your a means of living, although to say so here is of course, only a minor but necessary diversion.

One fangirl moment which is unique in that I feel I do not have to defend my literary politics or whom I associate with: months ago I thought that perhaps to finally enjoy my labor would paradoxically require some sacrifice. One Saturday, I thought; I can sacrifice one Saturday and attend a symposium on a critic I may never get this close to again, whose work I have read my entire life and with whom, at least internally, I feel I can manage to disagree with as I discussed him with my peers, imagining myself to be in the best formative years of my writing, no matter how illusory that “now” as the very moment may finally become.

It was a day, I think, of a generation I had much admired, and still do, in the only way that someone in my current age and position can admire them while looking at the crisis of my own times. It was a day of recognizing, not for the first time, that I admire old men the way I think about my father and the ghost of two grandfathers I never had the chance to meet. That is, with fascination and faint despair, and so therefore always, always, with sadness.

That day his wife talked about Escolta, and I found I could finally drop everything else I was tasked to do on a working Saturday and truly listen–the way that, lately, I can recognize discomfort over a meal and listen to a story and enjoy both, although not always with equal measure. My father grew me up on these stories which are horrible not because they were sad, or even because they are about him in particular, but because I can read nothing from them except nostalgia. But from the moment he started that habit he also ingrained in me the ability to read him between the lines of other people’s stories, so that when she, late in the afternoon begins to speak of old Manila I cannot help but remember my father and whatever errands he once ran there as a young man, or how he knows every nook and cranny and at seventy can still take public transportation or drive me around where I need to be, taking short cuts along side streets I wouldn’t trust were I with anybody else, only to re-emerge, sighing and relieved,  in the middle of EDSA or somewhere along Makati Avenue.

*

Discomfort in your own home is so ridiculous because you feel like you don’t deserve it, but also because it rightly belongs only to you. Sadness exists in the narratives that you don’t recognize as your own until somebody else mirrors them and confirms: Those stories of your father are true. They are real; I was there too.

Memory triggers.

Memory triggers

Pagsasarili: Sa Diskurso ng Disiplina at Pakiki-EDSA

Sometimes, it does happen: perhaps where fiction and reality intersect before creative license is fully awakened, one does realize something. For instance: that the desire to acquire years, as a real yearning, a kind of hunger made worse because nothing can substitute for it, was also a desire for validity. Being young offers very little power, except in the advent of privilege, born with a silver spoon. But when born the youngest you are given, without even your consent, the same significance as fancy drapery.

Home where the questions lie. Image credit: blogger's own.

Home where the questions lie. Image credit: blogger’s own.

The desire for years then, accumulated, collectively adulthood, is the desire for validity: not merely to be given the chance to speak, but to be heard without the incredulous look which accompanies surprise when it is realized that whatever silence an individual was forced to hide under was exactly that: imposition and not some inborn ability that just so happened to be convenient for the world hereafter.

So then, the question: how and why does she choose to be silent?

I have been taught the value of words–that though I may falter in stringing sentences together and the syntax may puzzle me as any language will do, I must say my piece; that though it has been said before in different forms and varying degrees of eloquence, the configurations must find their way out of my mouth.

*

But not enough people said, You need a little bit of silence as well. One is allowed this incognito space: to speak publicly and loudly, to laugh and jibe when it is necessary, or even just because. But one is allowed to use incognito space to mull over, by herself, the doubts she has about the very ruptures presented to her:

Sa ingay ng apat na pu’t apat na pagkamatay, sa dami ng mga tanong na hindi sa kanya, sa bilis ng mga sanaysay at pag-uusap tungkol sa kung sino ang may karapatang magsalita at sino’ng hindi, sa maya’t mayang pag-aaway sa social media at sa mga hinahabol na salitang binibitiwan sa mga munting sandali na may pagkakataong pag-usapan ang pagluluksa, sa mabigat na katahimikang dumidiin sa kanya, maari rin naman niyang tanunging: kailan pa naging mali na magbigay-opinyon ang isang artista, kung ang opinyon na ito ay tungkol sa pamhalaaang sanay dapat ay pinagkakatiwalaan? Kailan pa nawala sa katiwalian ng pag-iisip na ang tamang gawin ay hindi panoorin ang karumal-dumal, hindi lamang dahil maaaring may dala itong virus kundi dahil ito ay kawalan ng paggalang sa namatay at namatayan? Ngunit higit sa lahat, ang mga tanong na ito:

Kailan pa naging pana-panahon lang ang pakikibaka? Bakit may mga namamataan sa Facebook newsfeed na pakikidalamhati sa bayan kung kailan lang maraming nakakasabay? Sa kabilang palad, bakit may mga kilala siyang tao na ipinagmamalaki ang kawalan ng pakialam? Ngunit pag kausapin mo naman tungkol sa mga isyu na ito, ay may opinyon naman pala? At bakit, sa panahong napakaraming maaaring gamiting paraan upang matuto, marami ang kikiling sa pinakamadaling paraan upang maintindihan ang isang pangyayari–at sa salitang Pranses pa!

Credit: Art from Elena Georiou at http://imanopenbookinstead.tumblr.com

Credit: Art from Elena Georgiou at http://imanopenbookinstead.tumblr.com

But what needs to be said before others find the gaps in the questions, before the mask of hypocrisy and intellectual snobbery are used, gunpoint, to threaten these questions, is that before even the thought of malice or prejudice can be attributed to such questions, the primary concern is to ask these out of curiosity: yes, age allows for validity, or at least a smidgen of it, but it too allows for cynicism. What has had the ability to surprise, in the last couple of years when maturity seemed both forced and rushed (and yet viewed as that cliche, being on the cusp of something), however, is that even basic questions have a place in the grand discourse. And if it may seem judgmental or naive that she ask such questions, perhaps better, at least, for her to have a clearer idea of where people are coming from and why: for to ask means not to belittle intention or personhood. To ask is to give the other the chance to speak. For to be silenced is to be oppressed; and on the other end, to be taken point blank is either a motion of trust or (as in this case), to be endangered–taken as flat, singular, with nothing relevant or meaningful even, to say.

*

I want to tell you: discipline, too, is vigilance. That even when I rejoice in your triumph and listen to so-called intellectual discourse around me (that, even when I choose to be silent at least it is a choice to listen), I also wonder where we have failed and where we are satisfied to simply praise these sporadic instances of rebellion-resistance:

Kung kaya naman pala nating ipaglaban ang karapatang magmahal ng kahit sino at kahit paano sa kay-laki-laking mga billboard, dapat kayanin din nating aminin na tayo rin ang gumawa ng paraan na maisantabi ang marami sa atin pagdating sa pagkatawan. Yun mismo ay interesanteng sailita: pagkatawan–hindi lamang ang simpleng Ingles nitong katumbas na “representation”–ngunit dahil higit sa lahat ang pakikipaglaban sa mga imahe na pumapaligid sa atin ay pakikipaglaban upang ilantad ang katotohanan sa likod ng katawan: na ang diskurso ay ‘di lamang tungkol sa pagmamahal sa sarili tapos magpaliit ng braso o pagpapaputi kung hindi dulot mismo ng pagpapahalaga at pagkakaalam na hindi tayo ang kinakatawan ng mga billboard na yan, kahit tayo ang kausap nila; na hindi pagmamalasakit sa ating kasiyahan o kalooban kundi ang kasinungalingang tayo ay isang pagkakamaling maaaring ayusin sa bawat hakbang.

At kung pag-ibig ang diskurso ay hindi ito kailanman kailangang idaan sa kapitalismo o sa paraan ng kagandahan.

*

On a day that commemorates the first EDSA People Power Revolution, these are the musings that bother me, for in truth and laughter I can tell you frankly that these questions are musings, in the same way that they irritate me like an itch which, precisely, it will take me years to scratch.

*

This is the personal story I will offer you: that my father had the chance to join the revolution; that he had seen it from afar, from a side street perhaps. He saw the crowds and the tanks from afar. And he left. But what the rashness of youth, that judgment of his acts constituting cowardice would also mean irresponsibility on the part of the young girl who would set such judgment down, in the light of what I have asked for and whatever doubt has instilled in me: perhaps after all one cannot blame those who did not take part, physically, of that one revolution. Because fear of death and pain is real, and the choice of safety has its own wisdom to offer, though it is not perhaps the same kind of wisdom we always wish for ourselves.

*

I wonder at the sheer powerlessness of my position: when you are told to speak each day and make sure your words are weighted, your silences scheduled. To fell the faces of your audience that this is what matters, and this and this, but that this also matters, such that the world becomes a game of substitution, with nothing at stake. How do you teach them about vigilance when you look at yourself and think: I have not been careful enough.

*

In the few days before Mamasapano happened, it was easy to use the word vigilanceThese are someone else’s words and any nuance can be defended, discussed, and praised because I love the fact that they have been wrought so precisely by someone else other than me. But what does it mean in my life? As I find I have more questions than answers? What then, when I would rather exchange the nuances of adulthood with that of passive, yet not insignificant acceptance, from the position of the audience?

Now it is no longer easy to say the word. From now on it means persistence. A kind of desire that must be desired even when one does not feel like it. To know that practice will not make perfect until the line that represents horizon disappears completely. To know that fiction and reality are part of her: but that both will require discipline and

(Because I know that these words will mean very little except to a small circle; and that even worst, perhaps it makes sense only to one, and there is no question who she is. But I find that that is discipline, too: to voice out your concerns not just because someone may know exactly what you mean, but because to voice them and set them out in the sphere where they may be criticized is important for you as well, lending what may have been at first mere solipsism a much needed sense of urgency. Ah, now there is something at stake. After all, that is the problem with silence. It is not a permanent place: it is a mere pause, a chance to examine white noise so that, when one re-joins the discourse, one at least is clear–where does she come from and why does she speak? Perhaps for remembrance. For learning. For the fight against self-complacency to continue)

perhaps that is the meaning of revolution. To continue. To discipline yourself. To know that “work” is not “job” is not mere exhaustion. It is a measure of how far you are willing to go, and why; and if the latter poses no plausible answer yet, then to revolutionize also means to seek, and to be pleased, even quietly, that you have one more league to go, when the situation and comforts offered are not enough.

Credit: Art from Emma at http://phmsbelievers.tumblr.com

Credit: Art from Emma at http://ohmsbelievers.tumblr.com

Baka ito na ang ibig sabihin ng pag-memeron. Baka ito rin ay isang paraan ng pakiki-EDSA.

____

*Note: Full text of Castillo’s poem here.

Slowly Reading: The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall

It’s been a while since I’ve enjoyed reading, which is something I was surprised to learn recently. I’ve thrown around the words “I love to read!” my entire life, after all: I’ve survived long, tortuous family reunions and childhood summers reading, and even during the school year I fancy the lie that I am still actively reading, if only for use in lectures or the papers that won’t write themselves for grad school.

But it becomes exhausting, having to tell yourself how much you love something in order to consume it. I didn’t enjoy Winterson’s The Passion, by now I’ve given up completely on Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves (there’s your irony), and I’ve got a couple more books on the shelf that remain unread, or half-finished (see photo below). Logically, instead of slowly making my way through these, I bought Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness last month. It’s a childish impulse, I admit, this desire to pay for something you insist you need even when you have something else to sate the impulse temporarily.

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Unfinished: Hickman’s “Wayne of Gotham,” Bhattacharya’s “The Sly Company of People Who Care,” Bulgakov’s “The Master and Margarita,” Wallace’s “The Pale King,” Fforde’s “The Eyre Affair,” and Joven’s “The Book of God and Physics”

And I’d blame the cover of the Hesperus edition of The Well of Loneliness, I think, except I have no regrets.

By Its Name

To tell you the truth, this is the first book in a long time that I can remember, that has been a joy to read slowly: lately I’ve had to count the pages and tell myself that I ought to read faster given the short time I have for leisure. I’ve got a handful people on Facebook who have made it their goal to finish thirty to fifty books a year, after all, and I think subconsciously that adds to the pressure on me. An aside: I’m intrigued by this challenge, and I want to try it out hopefully within the next two years, but right now it just seems like the kind of thing that would aggravate my problem.

Going into The Well of Loneliness, then, knowing full well that I could very well pay for the price of not listening to an old adage about book covers, I never expected…well, enjoyment.

Which is why, out of all the pieces I’ve labeled (non)review so far, I think I’m most insistent in saying that this isn’t a book review.

It’s a memoir of reading for pleasure.

Book One

The Well of Loneliness is the kind of novel worth reading slowly, because it’s the kind of book that lets you in on the characters completely. Written at a time when the editorial voice was still in vogue, it can switch from one perspective to another and yet never leave the reader confused.

For instance: I love Stephen Gordon’s father because Stephen worships him; I feel Sir Phillip’s pain and the terrible, wordless affection he has for his daughter because he has shared that pain with me; and I understand why Stephen clamors for catharsis even when, after every confession, she finds herself disappointed because she can never quite express what makes her so different, and what makes her ache. I feel every inch of Stephen’s obsession with Angela Crossby because I understand the way a child needs affection to be returned to her, not understanding yet that some passions are not meant to last.

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Not quite ready to part ways with Stephen Gordon just yet.

I think part of what really fascinates me about Hall’s writing, however, is the rule that she so blatantly breaks: of showing rather than telling. Or maybe, because looking back at my own writing, I wonder at the way she can do both: one minute I’m reading about one small detail and the next I know the uncomfortable divide that Anna Gordon isn’t sure she wants to relieve of herself of, between herself and her own daughter, and if I had to point out to you where one point transitions to the other, I’d be at a loss for words.

And I admire that about the novel, too. The fact that its characters don’t have the words to describe what isolates Stephen, in her mannish clothes and angular, handsome face, she with her love for hunting, or the hunger in her eyes when she looks at another woman. They only have a language of fear and disgust, and so to veer away from the vulgar (up until a certain point at least), they tolerate her or attempt to express their support in silence–both of which are poor substitutes for the companionship that Stephen longs for, especially in her early years spent at the Gordon home.

And that is what has struck me only now–that maybe, aside from style, it’s the fact that the first book of this novel (which consists of several short chapters that then make up three “books” together) has focused on a particular subject, that has made it so pleasurable for me to read.

For, primarily, the first book is about family. It’s about that tender, early pain of being confused where one belongs. Inevitably, I can only imagine the pain that the character feels–not only because she is fictional, but because her confusion stems from the deep shadows of sexuality that, in her narrative context, no one dares name. Still, it persists: that solidarity that the story constructs between reader and character, ineffably.

Musings

Still I’ve asked myself: Do I enjoy this then, because I fancy that I am happier than Stephen? Or do I enjoy it because it has romanticized the pain of lesbianism in the late 20’s?

But no. I want to prolong my time with Stephen because Hall’s novel does what every favorite book of mine–read lovingly, and with indescribable pleasure–has done: to name every small happiness and great disappointment that has made me (and so many others) believe, that we are alone in feeling these little icicles of sadness, or fleeting victory, when quite the opposite is true.

And Of Course: A Favorite Quote 

“His voice faltered a little, then he held out his hand: ‘And Stephen, come here – look me straight in the eyes – what is honour, my daughter?’

She looked into his anxious, questioning eyes. “‘You are honour,'” she said quite simply.”

*

And another installment of this, of course, after Book Two.