Never had honesty look this good

Toss your crumpled life up in the air then watch a glossy white sheet of paper float and glide down slowly, a soft silhouette against the setting sun.

A clean slate from heaven is a delightful espresso shot until you feel your heart pounding with the realization that nothing’s figured out…yet.

Most of the time, I feel like a toddler playing dress-up. I walk around drowning in my Mom’s trench coat; both feet stuck deep in a pair of oversized stilettos. Twenty-three feels like a hundred little lightning bolt striking down my spine. It thunders connotations that are way too serious, too definite, too responsible.

Coming to terms with a not-so-put-together version of myself, I’ve learned gentleness that still knows strength. I’ve learned to forgive myself, to embrace and love her despite the imperfections. I’ve learned comfort in solitude. I’ve wandered streets and came across kind-hearted strangers who gave me three Krispy Kreme doughnuts for the price of two; a free warm cup of black coffee to complement my breakfast; and some polite remarks about my contagious smile.

This year, I am Miss Congeniality taking her time. I am pacing myself and keeping my circle small. I am tackling life in bite sizes, not swallowing it whole. When emotions ring the bell, I open my front door and welcome them in. I hand them names written on sticker paper cut outs as I sit on the dinner table, listening to their rants. I let them stay for as long as they want, until they’re ready to go.

Some who saw it as indolence, or fear, or pessimism crossed the yellow caution lines only to make the burden heavier. They spilled alcohol over open wounds, dragged me by my broken arm, and uttered words that weren’t encouraging at all. They kept themselves busy jotting down prescriptions, even suggested I give myself a deadline. I shrugged.

For the entirety of my life, I’ve always bent down so people could have a platform to stand on; I’ve torn the pages of my book so they could have a story in theirs; I’ve set myself on fire so they could stay warm. How is charity even a virtue if it threatens self-love, if it compromises one’s value, if it makes you a giant pile of spare things people only go to, to get fixed?

This year, I was the one who needed fixing but I didn’t slay people’s lives in order to get even, or demand they pay me back for the times they stressed me out. I kept it low-key. I remained silent while I try to put my shit together. I wasn’t a self-entitled brat stepping on people’s backs, or tearing pages out of their books, or setting them on fire so I could stay warm. I just sit before this giant pile of broken glass.

The know-it-alls were avoided. The huggers, back-patters, and the ones who have the widest smiles were welcomed. God knows how much I’m grateful for having them.

They’ve seen sweat and tears; cuts and blood; and their company made it a little bearable. Around them, I didn’t have to walk on tiptoes. I can snort before the punch line. I can order the biggest meal and finish it off with a dessert. I can wear honesty like a broken-in classic white Chuck Taylor.

They listen; they look me in the eyes; they grip my hand with reassurance. There weren’t any condescending advice or snide remarks. No how-tos; no formula. They only sit with me as I tell stories. They welcome my quirks and they don’t mind the heart hanging by the sleeve. They are the ones who truly know. They cheer me on. They get excited whenever I pick another broken piece.

For coming off so real, so honest and so dependable, they are given access to this huge stained glass mosaic I’ve been working on.

They think it’s a sight to behold. They think it will turn heads.

Just Ain’t There Yet

Most days I would think my calling in life is to keep track of coffee shops that fall short of my expectations, or to jumpstart ideas I don’t really follow through on; I’m good at both.

Days pass with little to no contrast. The only detail of my life I find easy to recognize is the difference between a weekday and a weekend. Everything else blurs together, perhaps meeting in secret to complicate my life much more than it already is.

I hate whatever image I’ve subconsciously put up on social media; things aren’t exactly as structured as I might’ve made them appear to be. With best efforts, I try not to post anything that’ll mislead my friends to thinking my life is a nacho feast overflowing with cheese salsa. To be honest, I don’t like where I am, so any invitation that will catapult me away from the concrete jungles of the Metropolis is much appreciated.

Last weekend I was invited to join Anthropology students on their fieldwork among the Aetas of Botolan, Zambales. It was an opportunity to revisit and check on my endeared foster family.

A good introduction does not end with stating your name, age and college degree. Nothing brings me anxiety more than being asked about my current job and future plans. I sucked it up and confronted dreaded questions with brutal honesty, lashed out countless ifs, whens, and hopefullys.

There’s something about uncertainty that kicks you in the gut.

In between the crackling sound of twigs breaking underneath my soles, and beholding the view of Botolan at sunrise, I cannot recall how many times I’ve asked, “Are we there yet?” Norman, a good friend, remained silent throughout the hike, occasionally pointing where I should land my feet.

We arrived at the summit just as the sun started casting shadows on the eastern mountain ranges. Quickly, I lowered myself onto a bed of fresh green grass, turning the rewind knob of my Pentax Spotmatic SP500. I opened the back cover to unload the 24 shot Lucky 200 I just finished. My heart sank at the sight of an entire film strip tangled around the take-up spool, exposed. It felt like a bucket of iced water was dumped all over me. Inconsolably, I sat there wasting time lamenting an entire roll of good photographs—of the journey—right there at the destination.

I think a pebble just hit me in the head for whining over lost memories when I could savor the moment of triumph passing me by. So with a lighter spirit, I nodded on the rising sun’s proposal. Basking in its warmth, I held my hands up to the sky and offered all the bitterness to melt. I allowed the unfamiliar western winds to crawl onto my skin. I permitted myself to embrace that moment, to breathe with my eyes closed, and to think of nothing else—it was perfect.

Some people say the journey is the reward. On top of that mountain, another borrowed conviction was broken and now my stance rests its weight on the destination. Nothing compares to reaching what motivated you to even take the first step.

If that hike is an allegory of my life, I’m somewhere far from the summit still asking, “Are we there yet?” and taking photos to distract myself, to have reasons to keep going, to love the crackling sound of twigs breaking beneath my soles.

Fighting to Make It Count

The mood of Belle and Sebastian’s album If You’re Feeling Sinister pretty much sums up how I have been feeling recently—a dark stormy day that makes you want to wear sweat pants paired with chunky knitted shirt and bury yourself under the sheets, when in reality, it’s 38 degrees outside, birds are chirping and there’s little to no chance of downpour.

Nursing my misery felt like the right thing to do. Most of my friends are in med school or law school; their current goal is to finish a degree. But what’s mine? Keep working and go out on dates until I’m convinced I already found someone I CAN marry then get a trophy for being the best homemaker—cooking meals, doing the laundry and raising socially relevant children? What the heck.

For days, or probably weeks, I have allowed this atmosphere to engulf me. I’m tired of all the mundane tasks. I wanted my life to be as simple and easy as possible: wake up, go to work, eat whenever I feel hungry, and get some sleep.

On the brink of getting a master’s degree on simple and easy, I opted to shift out because I was not having fun. The thought of tasks I’ve been delaying haunted me. The amount of money I’ve been wasting because of laziness guilt-tripped me. The junk I’ve been feeding my body made me sickly and cranky.

After the last day of what seemed like my worst week ever, I caught myself staring blankly onto a rack of chips and biscuits in a convenience store, undecided which I should get. I wasn’t hungry; I just needed something to chew to tame my anxiety.

On my way home I kept thinking how terrible that weekend could turn out and how in two days’ time, I’ll be going back to work again. It aches to accept that this is my life at the moment AND this is how it’s going to be like until I’m ready to pursue my pending cabin crew application with Saudi Arabian Airlines, which might probably take at least another six months.

At this point, nothing’s certain. What if the appearance of my acne scars can’t be improved anymore? What if after spending tens of thousands, I still won’t get the kind of smooth skin fitting for an FA? What if their height requirement gets raised back to 5’3”? I can’t wait for another six months to be happy, to feel like I’m getting things together, and to make my life count. No. I’m doing it now.

That day, I got home before 2:00 AM. The moment the door shut behind me, I’ve made up my mind: I’m going to pull up an all-nighter. Game plan: while waiting for the clock to strike 5:00, I’ll watch How I Met Your Mother. I’ll start the day with a quick run at sunrise. Then, I’ll get a big breakfast at McDonald’s, buy fruits and pick up clothes I have left at a Laundromat ten months ago (yes, I’ve been THAT lazy).

To cut the story short, I made it. And it was the most productive morning yet. I tucked myself in at 10:00; got up at 16:00; went out at 19:00 to grab dinner and coffee; and finally, watched a 10-star indie film at my new favorite movie place to cap it all off. I can’t stress enough how September 24 has been this year’s most productive day EVER.

Lesson learned: I am the distance between me and my happiness, with ‘I’ being the motivated version of myself. After all those “chores”, I was tired, I felt sore, and I had a hard time sleeping BUT I went to bed with a smile.

I know there’ll be days when my life would feel like a Belle and Sebastian album but it’s up to me if I’ll turn the volume up, or turn it down; pause it or stop it; or change what I am listening to. At the end of the day, this is my life. Either I choose to stay warm and comfy or get out and fight to make it count.