Lather, rinse, repeat

I haven’t been feeling the least bit scared lately despite the truckload of new, er, pursuits, suddenly parading themselves in front of me, each one’s great potential for the kind of failure that numbs you for months as obvious as day, and so I took my blatant disregard for risk a sign that a)said pursuits are worth the long haul b)I may be getting better, or to be precise, I have been made to feel like there is nothing to recover from in the first place. How people surprise you, huh.

Imagine then my great annoyance when tonight, after a wonderful day of finding myself engrossed in research for work and daydreaming about handholding like teenagers in gala nights and an upcoming trip to the mountains in between, I crashed without warning. The good thing is, the whole episode lasted for only three hours and I can feel the slightest stirrings of hope again. Isn’t it just terrifying though to consider that this might be how things will be for the rest of my life, a toss-up of empty superlatives, a moment’s notice of alternating sheer bliss and crippling despair?

I’m very proud of myself for dealing with this better but this remains a paralyzing thought during the dark hours. This being good to yourself enterprise really is an everyday thing. I must work harder on remembering that this condition makes me not corrupted but complex, and complexity is void of any moral value, ergo I shouldn’t be too hard on myself and instead actively choose to dwell in the memory of good things. To add to the repertoire, for example, a week ago, on an afternoon when everything was still and shafts of afternoon light streamed into my room filling it with the softness of a sunset, I decided to launch into the depressing story that is fairly recent events knocking the wind out of me without warming, hesitated but confessed how I think I might never be as adjusted as I need to be because of collateral damage, and was only rendered speechless when someone came closer for a kiss, asked if I knew about the Japanese art of kintsugi and proceeded to give a speech about entire towns visiting exhibitions of pieces made exquisite because their crevices were mended by gold.


The past couple of days

felt like they just fused seamlessly into one big blur of plane tickets and comprehending how exactly a twenty-one-year-old fits into the grand scheme that is effecting legislation. One day I’m having palabok with a senator, then I’m discussing market mechanisms with the country delegation, the next day I’m forgoing sleep to make sure I catch sunrise seated on aisle 24 of a domestic flight for a half-day visit to disaster-stricken south. But this is what I do, and I happen to buy into the bourgeois concept of the hours flitting by when you love what you do, and so the hours don’t drag at least not so much, and so as of late I’ve been forgetting to mourn over all attempts to bridge time differences not standing a chance to the concept that is proper timing, and so wanting someone impossible to have and realizing how you really have a tendency to be tempted by unavailability is not as confounding anymore when top your to-do list screams figuring out how to articulate economic shifts and conjugating verbs in Spanish class and editing poems new and resurrected, and so finally – finally – you stop thinking of synonyms for exhaustion when in the dark someone’s hand finds its way to yours granting you an understanding of what it means to be still.



To say that 2015 took a lot out of me would be an understatement. It seemed like the pattern was to lose things. People. Places. Organs. Well, one organ –– which had to be literally taken out of me. The others were really of the metaphorical sort, their departures imagined at best, but the voids they left sometimes felt so expansive that the idea of placeholders seemed so wonderfully tempting, I gave in.
Still, I kept losing. I lost the reckless confidence in myself perhaps possible only in youth. I lost faith in humanity quite a couple of times. I lost sight of how in the grand scheme of things, there will always be bigger losses, but these do not necessarily invalidate mine. I lost love in possibly the most clichéd, gut-wrenching way (but oh, you’re still young! –– I lost how that statement once seemed logical, too.) I then lost the ability to forgive myself for the tendency to needlessly lament. I lost opportunities because I waited too long. I lost all remaining notions of self-restraint after. I lost people to my impatience or timing or geography or the magnanimity of an outright refusal to remain.
But as Elizabeth Bishop wrote, “so many things seem filled / with the intent to be lost / that their loss is no disaster.” So I suppose I am fine. And I’ve been fine –– most days.
What got me through the rest was how people kept telling me to be good to myself, in spite of how at times I became aware only of the gnawing absence of reasons to be.
I found that most of the time, the enterprise of being good to yourself requires merely an acknowledgment of the assortment of objects that came and occupied the spaces now rendered free-for-all. Perhaps a new job that everyday despite your troubles makes you consider the big picture. Maybe another shot at a degree, which, combined with said job, reminds you that all you’ve ever wanted was to make the least bit of difference. A new friend. A new mentor. A new love. How these three can somehow come together in one new person, too. Tidbits of information you’ll hopefully find a use for one day: like how the universe apparently hums in B flat, how in Tamil there is a word for fake anger during a lovers’ tiff called oodal, or that Puttanesca sauce and the ease with which it’s prepared originates from how in 18th century Naples as in today, a puttana only had so much time in her hands. You marvel at your new appreciation for accomplishments in all packages, whether it is developing a skin regimen, finishing a manuscript or finally admitting you need help. You feel this new overwhelming sense of gratitude for the slightest stirrings that happen in the darkest of evenings, whether it is rage at the injustices that prevail or the ability to want things again despite perpetually losing, and indeed losing again, this time “farther, faster.”
Happy new year, friends. May we all come across more marvelous things, remember how loss is ineluctable, but go in with full force, anyway –– if only for the fun of it.

One Art


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.
I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.
—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

A Strategic Retreat

Look at me still referencing Blair Waldorf at the worst of times. A moment of silence for my lingering obsession with Gossip Girl, my only desire that has yet to be trampled by the inconvenient realities of time and space.

That said, I figured I have enough willpower left tonight to attempt to articulate what feels like the daily inevitable imploding. What remains intact at the very least is the certainty that writing remains my catharsis, ergo this note, whose overarching theme of sophomoric nostalgia already pains me. But still — the whole being good to yourself enterprise, I realized just this morning, includes cherishing and making the most out of the little things, and with that comes the complete disregard for the unattainable standards and timetable you have long set for yourself in an attempt to pack into a moment all worth you could extract from experiences mundane to profound. These days, I am learning to pat myself in the back for what feels like the simplest acts of kindness to myself, be it finishing a chapter of a Marquez novel, managing to sit through an entire film and actually staying in the mise-en-scene long enough to identify with a character, getting through and even learning to prefer the numbing allure of domestic tasks, or picking up writing again, albeit in short bursts.

I’ve always thought getting points for mere effort was such a ridiculous concept, thought reassurance of potential as some ridiculous bourgeois logic of upper middle class reward invented to further a consumer-capitalist agenda, and felt a disproportionate amount of anger for those who received insane credit for trying, which I believed should be a given, never mind which pursuit. While I never knew disproportionate anger and outbursts were already symptoms of this probable condition I am trying so hard to make sense out of, it makes me laugh now stumbling upon the irony that I’ve spent most of my life directing much of this anger at myself. I kept up a laid-back vibe of course, but my darkest hours were spent berating myself for having yet to be the multi-hyphenate I wanted to and still want to be, deemed the reaches for greatness insufficient; futile.

Being classified as intense has always felt like the worst insult. Actually clenching the certainty that you are, indeed, intense, is draining. Imagine gravitating back and forth between ridiculous brilliant moments of inspiration and paralyzing episodes of self-loathing because of the inconsistency and unsustainability of aforementioned moments, and worse, having nothing in between between these two. Imagine blaming yourself for feeling too much, wanting too much, or nothing at all. Imagine your condition, which make everything feel like life and death situations, being dismissed as just a flair for the dramatics, a childhood quirk just being resilient, or your generation’s tendency to label every unwanted emotion as a disorder. Imagine comparing yourself to level-headed, highly-achieving creatures who can keep their cool and rely on human intuition, which in their case, doesn’t tell them contradicting stances in a span of several hours. Just writing this down for the first time in my life makes me want to take a breather.

A few months back, someone shared how my tendency to succumb to gravity without hesitation and fall completely for things, people, despite the trauma of the past is utterly admirable. I joked how this just means I unfortunately know nothing about self-preservation. I’m thinking now is the best time to start learning.

I suppose what I am trying to say is, in light of my whole commitment to make the best out of these rare, small moments of calm and clarity, I came to the decision of just making the days a wee bit more bearable by pulling back from social media and the like. God knows I am so close to losing everything if i don’t stop and rest now. In the meantime, the world just seems a bit more manageable when I am not constantly exposed to anything that overwhelms me to the point of exhaustion. I am all for anything that renders me speechless still, I don’t think having this fascination will ever dwindle.

So hi, dear reader. In case you’re wondering, I am still alive. But as of today, I just need some time to be still.


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Found this photo of grinning-because-bewildered 20-year-old me in Lima via fellow youth delegate, Marlex Tuson. It’s almost a year to this day when we actually had to sit down and sip frozen chicha morada’s after only one meeting to wonder what the hell have we gotten ourselves into and wrap out heads over the reality that we have to declare specializations soon, if only to maintain sanity for the next two weeks. The realization that this is the only way we can be effective seemed tantamount to shedding hubris for me then. You want to save the world? You want to do good? You decide how, preferably the soonest you can, and then you get on it.

First lesson: you don’t look back and wonder about paths you didn’t take. Three million baby steps, and “tomorrow the same day, tomorrow the same day.” Sometimes you’d long for giant strides and even life-threatening leaps and the silence of your heroes versus the noise the politics of it all seemingly warrant everything pointless, but you keep at it, because there is nowhere else you’d rather be. You think of those deprived of choices, rendered twice vulnerable by oppressive socio-economic systems reinforced by ideologies that are so ingrained they seem as natural as breathing on your bad days, and you are relieved to find even the slightest stirrings of rage, and you get out of bed thinking no matter how rotten everything in your life seems, at your core, you are this desire to help.

There is now only over a week left before the Paris negotiations. Side events being cancelled left and right as a matter of precaution. There are rumors that non-negotiating sessions will cancelled, too. Civil society organizations are clamoring for more transparency. Frankly, after a year out on the field and even taking a semester off from school to do this full-time, I have no clue what will happen. All I know is, these past few weeks, I have witnessed the worst of humanity. But still, I retain faith in the best of us. No time but now.

Climate justice is a human right. Climate justice now.

#paris2015 #COP21 #climatechange#roadtoparisph #climatejusticenow#nowph

On a slow and basic Sunday

Hardcore backpacker friends would chide me for often opting to spend my last day in foreign towns in malls and cafe’s when I should really be cramming my itineraries to the minute with out-of-the-way art galleries and hot spring pools only locals have access to, but hear me out: despite having only recently accepted that I need human company to thrive no matter how much I adore being alone else I’ll dwell on things more than I should, I like quietly watching from the sidelines the most ordinary scenes. That way, long after I’ve gone home, I can think back to a place and this is exactly how unfiltered it’ll look, very much removed from the hype of travelogues and Instagram that it begins to feel like home.

Case in point: today, I heard mass in the town mall despite having relinquished my faith years ago, said a little prayer for the toddler who kept tugging at my dress as his mother closed her eyes in thanksgiving or penance, I don’t know which, struck conversation with ticket vendors at the central bus terminal on where I should go for lunch given that I was alone — yes, ate, as single as I could possibly be — and therefore can’t afford the tourist trap places which only serve large dishes, shopped for books on bargain then proceeded to plunk myself down in this small coffee stall while watching from the corner of my eye an impeccably-dressed old couple on a Sunday day date sip cappuccino’s as they read — the lady on her smartphone, the grandfather whipping out the newspaper he had tucked under his arm. I am aware this is not exactly a faithful picture of this city, a more comprehensive story supposedly factoring in accounts of people from the outskirts such as that habal-habal driver who offered to guide me up Mt. Isarog and who I now have to turn down once and for all because despite the temptation, post-surgery practices don’t normally include a major technical climb and I should, for once, side with my more logical side and hop on that bus back to Manila tonight instead. 

But still. My point is, my heart is very, very full, and the places I know and love are increasing, and the world I know is growing. The subsequent departures used to feel like desperate tries at coping. All the empty spaces now, all the hurt I’ve learned to live/distract myself with, suddenly they don’t matter so much anymore.

For the very first time in a long time, I feel hopeful — like I’m about to be thrown into something so impossibly beautiful I won’t even make the slightest attempt to fumble with words. 


This morning I woke up from a dream about someone I was seeing until a couple of weeks ago. And then I thought of how, exactly a year and and nine months ago yesterday, I decided the face I saw every morning was the last one I’ll imprint in memory, and how that changed too last summer. Then I looked up from my office window and from a distance saw a window I once looked out of at five in the morning as I waited for the sun with someone I could have loved. Could have loved, what a funny phrase.

And then more names came up and only this poem could silence the enumeration.

Arkaye Kierulf


In this room I was born. And I knew I was in the wrong place: the world. I knew pain was to come. I knew it by the persistence of the blade that cut me out. I knew it as every baby born to the world knows it: I came here to die.


Somewhere a beautiful woman in a story I do not understand is crying. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. She is holding a letter. She is in love with Peter. I am in love with her.


Stand on the floor where it’s marked X. I am standing by your side where it’s marked Y. We are a shoulder’s length apart. I’m so close you can almost smell the perfume. If I step ten paces away from you, there could be a garden between us, or a table and some chairs. If I step another 20 paces there could be a house between us. If I continue to walk away from you in this way, tramping through walls and hovering above water, in 80,150,320 steps I will bump into you. I can never get away from you, and will you remember me? Distance brings us closer. There is no distance.


In 1961 I was in Berlin. It was a dusty Sunday in August. In the radio news was out that Ulbricht had convinced Khrushchev to build a wall around West Berlin. I remember it precisely: By midnight East German troops had sealed off the zonal boundary with barbed wire. The streets along which the barrier ran had been torn up. I lived in that street. It was the day after my birthday. I remember the dust covering the sky. I remember being scared. Father had not returned from the other side. The Kampfgruppen der Arbeiterklasse had orders to shoot anyone who would attempt to defect. Father had not returned.


Happiness is simple.
Sadness forks into many roads.


Before the time of Christ, Aristotle believed that the earth was the center of the universe because he needed a stationary reference point against which to measure all other motions: a rock falling, a star reeling through the sky, his heart beating against his chest like a club. He needed to believe in certainty, in absolute space. Without it, the world would not be known absolutely. Without it, the world cannot be known.

Twenty centuries later Hendrik Lorentz needed to believe that every single molecule in the universe must move through a stationary material called the aether, as every human being in his various turnings must move through God. Scientists looked everywhere for proof of this aether. And everywhere they found nothing.


I have sometimes been accused of being a bore. I beg to differ: people laugh at my jokes, and I’m handsome. I would like now to talk more about myself: I don’t like going to airports and hospitals. They make me uneasy. In both cases, somebody is always going to leave. I was born in 1983, and have never been to Berlin. But I have a memory of being in Berlin in 1961. I have a memory of something that never happened.

I would like to elaborate on myself, but you will understand if I talk instead about the sky in Berlin in 1961: it was covered with dust. There were no birds. There was no sky.


Memory is brutal because precise.


She said: give me more space. I said: don’t you love me anymore? She said: give me more space. I said: why? Did I do something wrong? Is there something wrong? Is there someone else? When did you stop loving me? In what precise moment? In what room? What city?

I held her tight as one who’s about to lose his own life holds on. Then she said: give me more space. I said: no.


I have only one purpose: to live intensely.


I wish I never met you
and I wish you never left.

You taste like a river in June.


I’m going to say something important. Look at my face. Ignore my eyes. Just listen to me. But listen only to the timbre of my voice, not to what I am saying. They are different. They are two different rooms. The first is an exhibition of despair, the second only an explanation.

The first is all you have to listen to. So listen carefully because I cannot repeat myself:

“Everything/ one suspects to be true/ is true.”


In 1879 a boy is born in Germany. At age five he’d throw a chair at his violin teacher and chase him out. In time he would develop the capacity to withdraw instantaneously from a crowd into loneliness. At twenty-six he would publish his theory of relativity in Annalen der Physik. He looks crazy, but he is certain: there is no aether, no absolute space.


Sometimes they thought it was the words.
What they wanted to say could not be said.

They fixed the TV, vacuumed the rug,
dusted the furniture, looked out the window.

Sometimes she would purposefully lose hold of
a plate and it would smash to the floor.

Then they would have something to say,
only to begin to say it then stop.


Look at this box. It is empty except for a diary, a book, and this picture in my hand. Now look at this picture. It weighs nothing and occupies almost zero space. I can slip it in anywhere and it will fit: inside the diary, under the box, through a crack on the wall. If I tear it several times, it will occupy a different volume, many and various. It mutates, you see. If I burn it, it will smoke into the air. It will take up a whole expanse.


How many more times
are you going to let the world
hurt you?


My father is an incorrigible storyteller. He would tell the same stories in different ways. I wouldn’t know which ones to believe. So I believed all of them. “There is no story that is not true,” said Uchendu.

Father would point at the TV. He would repeat lines, rehearse the beginnings and ends, explicate with his hands the elaborate twists and turns of every road.

He said: “I am dying.”

I said: “But aren’t all of us dying.”


And I thought the world
was about this leaving,
not about anybody’s leaving
but about this leaving.
The next day it was the same.


A beautiful woman walks into a room. The room is dark. There are no windows. There is one light bulb but any time now it will go off. I pretend not to notice and look away, my heart beating against my chest like a club. If I strain hard enough I will hear a song in the background. What other forms of happiness are there than this?


In 1989 the Berlin wall falls down.


I believe in love only when it rains.


To appreciate the value of land, one need only look into a painting: so much beauty. Buying land means buying the layers of beauty directly above it. It means buying the sky above it. And the birds above it, the clouds, the gods.

In truth you are buying a corner of the universe. You are saying: this is my room. You are saying: I live here. Here I exist.


Your sadness is immaterial. You did
not come into the world to be happy.


You came to suffer/survive.


How many words have you spoken in your life?
How many did you mean?
How many did you understand?


Somebody picks up a phone. He dials a number. His voice travels a thousand miles into another country. On the other end somebody picks up and hears the voice. Who is this?– This is me. The phone is hung up. The voice travels back a thousand miles.

Elsewhere somebody picks up a phone and before he could dial forgets the number.


Sometimes wars are waged because there are too many people in too few rooms.


Memory is incomplete–lost.
The world is incomplete–vanishing.

Nothing more happens. You open your eyes and it’s over.

Memory is brutal.
Memory is precise.


In the next room people I do not know are talking with hushed voices. Their secret slips out the window like a cat. It is raining, and I press my ear to the wall. I imagine that one of them is smoking a cigarette. I imagine that one of them is covering his mouth in surprise.


When my aunt died the doctors said the fat clogged her arteries. Every week she visited the hospital, and every week the vein on her wrist had to be ripped out so a catheter could be stuck into her body to suck out her blood. You could see the plasma pass through a filter and then back to the body. If you put your ear to her wrist you would hear her heart.

Before my uncle died the heart attacks were so excruciating he said he’d prefer to just die. They transported him to the hospital, and on the way to the emergency room his heart gave. Mother said my uncle ate too much pork and drank too much beer. She wonders if he’s going to be happy in heaven.


In some house in some province in some country in some novel there is a story of a man a father a child a lover who dies because of too much sadness.


Nobody thought that what was wrong was the love.


She said: give me more space.