Monday, December 31, 2012

The Gifts of 2012

This old year coming to an end has fulfilled its purpose in my life. Today, on its last day, I want to write something for many reasons -- to end this year with awareness instead of just letting it slip by, to have a post to read on the same day next year, to set my mind and my heart for the new year, and most especially to be grateful for the gifts that this year has given me.

I had thought 2011 to be like a dark tunnel as it led to the Rebirth promised by 2012. Little did I realize that the Rebirth was to be accompanied by intense labor pains that came in overwhelming waves. But with every push there was an aspect of myself that breathed into life.

I wrote a novel. That perhaps is the biggest gift I am grateful for. My rebirth as a writer. I won the NaNoWriMo challenge at the first try and have unlocked the rusted gates of my storytelling.

In addition, I have also written more profusely than ever since I lost my muses sometime way back in the early 2000.

I painted and made art more than I have ever painted and made art in that past sixteen years. I have also invested in a watercolor painting and a photography workshop to help with my creativity.

I have finally regained my reading pace (which I also lost sometime in the early 2000) and met my target of finishing 24 books this year. I have even exceeded it and am close to doubling the number.

I have authenticated the relationships in my life ---letting go of those that harm me and those that inhibit my growth. I have made my peace with those worth keeping, and I have begun to be more nurturing of those I wish to keep and evolve. I have also reached out and forged new ones so that I may deepen and expand my own web of kindred spirits. I made choices and I made decisions on whom I want to share my life with.

I have fallen in love, then out, then in again, (all with the same person) which has certainly messed up my heart's landscape like a hurricane. But in the process I learned new lessons that I never managed to learn in my past heart stories. I am officially retired from leaping "bravely" and blindly into voids without nets, because one of the most important lesson I learned is that when it is truly meant to be, I will not be leaping alone (and Gandalf's friendly eagles will be swooping down in perfect timing to catch us). This year ends with me in love and not totally immune to imagining movie-like last-minute declarations of mutual affection.

I have gained clarity on my career and how it must complement my creative life. And making it work is probably the biggest challenge I will face in the coming year. The rebirth it brought me took me back to square one, on a different playing field, but square one nonetheless. I pray for fortitude, and bucketfuls of optimism.

I have achieved a calmness of spirit that I never could before. I will dare and say that I am even finally learning to be truly patient, and sometimes I can't help but think that the moment I grasp this one single lesson of being patient then everything else will fall into place, because all this time it has only been my stubbornness that has been keeping everything on hold. Who knows. I let go and let the Universe weave its magic and I will not utter a single question of "Is it here yet?"

Have I mentioned that I have fallen in love? Oh yes, I have. More than everything else this is the matter that dangles in front of my eyes as the year draws to a close, like a teasing mistletoe hanging in a roomful of couples where I am the only one without a partner, and the clock will soon strike twelve.

I end this post with a poem, in honor of the rebirth of my writer self, in honor of the creative spirit that dwells in me, and in honor of the love that inspired it, written for him who told me something about how love is like a dance between two people. Maybe one day I will know what it exactly means.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

around the mango tree

I had lunch with a very dear friend today. He also used to be my boss and is a believer in the kind of research work that I do (i.e. my dayjob). At the same time he is a staunch supporter of everything else in my life. But most importantly he has become the best kind of friend anyone can ever hope to have in a lifetime.

We agreed to meet up at a bookstore by noon. He came from a meeting so he was a few minutes late, which meant that I ended up discovering and finding books. There was this blank moment and then I am suddenly in possession of three new books that I could barely afford (although they were priced quite low for a regular book).

My friend and I had lunch at a Thai restaurant called The Mango Tree. We had pomelo salad with prawns for starters, then grilled steak with thai sauce and seafood with hot basil. We were so engrossed with catching up that I totally forgot about taking a snapshot of the food. But here's a snapshot of the ever delicious Illy coffee.

I always believe that people and events come upon us when we are ready to receive the message. Something along the line of the saying that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. For today, my friend has been the strong gust of wind that blew on my sails and helped me move forward with an optimistic heart. He shared a number of inspiring stories, particularly how the tide turned just when he thought it never would. I like that image of the tide turning, of last-minute plot twists, even a deux ex machina, a divine intervention, an explosion of magic.

Today my well of hope has been refreshed. Even when many things are still up in the air and seem to be evading resolution.

I have started re-writing my novel after letting it rest for a couple of weeks. And again I am experiencing that joy and calm that lifted me up before amidst the uncertainties and trials. Anger, despair, and fears are channeled into this creative endeavor. When nothing much is happening in real life, it helps to make things happen on the page.

On the way home I finally made myself purchase a large old dictionary with yellowing pages for a creative project that I have been wanting to do for months. I was postponing it because I thought it cost too much given my budget constraints. When I checked again today, however, the shop was on sale and the price was a third of what I thought it was.

I walked home from the mall (where the secondhand book shop was), my arms aching with the weight of the dictionary. But I treated it like a little exercise and did not mind the burning pain in my muscles as I dodged traffic and marched steadily through the varying slopes of the sidewalk.

I am now back on my writing desk, CSI: New York playing in the background, and chores lined up for the evening. It has been a good day.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

random thoughts on a tuesday

I am wondering if I want to do the 10-day early morning Christmas mass from the 16th to the 25th as a kind of prayer petition. I have never done it before. Maybe I will have first-timer's luck.

I am wondering whether I will have sealed the deal on a job or a big project before the year ends. There are many prospects hanging in the air, hovering like indifferent spacecrafts sizing a planet for takeover.

I am wondering if I could exorcise this particular dream wrapped around my heart before my heart breaks from the sheer weight and heat of it. This particular dream of a hope of someone. This thing that I thought I had safely put to sleep. I am wondering if I could manage to just not care, and instead pour all that energy and fervor into something else, like an artwork or a novel.

I am wondering how much time and effort it will take to save up enough for a trip to England. My desire for it surpasses how I felt for my little pilgrimage to Athens, Georgia in 2000 (where I left a hand-bound and handwritten book of poetry at Michael Stipe's old home - yes, I'm kind of crazy that way.)

As Christmas approaches I feel less of it. For one thing, its commercial grip could find no purchase in me. My own Christmas gift list has been dictated by necessity and intensity. It is a very short list, and most of it I will make by hand, with whatever material is available. Little labors of love in little parcels, made with very little time to spare. I seem to be running out of many things - money, patience, time, hope. For everyone else I will send out good intentions and I hope I have enough of that as well.

But I am not unhappy. That is probably the unusual thing. Normally I would be unhappy given the circumstances. I am not. It is puzzling. My life hangs in a precarious balance and all I could feel is a strange stillness inside me.

I have been in a sort of daze for the past few days. As if one foot is stuck in fairyland or dreamland or some other plane of existence. I have this urge to sleep all day and stay within the safety of my bed. I seem to sleepwalk through the hours, barely able to eat, fingers itching constantly for a pen or a pencil or a keyboard. Writing grounds me a bit, makes me feel less like floating, reins in my thoughts from wandering too frequently in one direction ("She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me..." - Mr. Darcy, Pride And Prejudice, by Jane Austen)

Reading helps sometimes. But sometimes the stories pull me deeper and away. They keep me up at night,  playing with the shadows on the walls.

My dreams alternate between orderly attempts at symbolic prophecy and chaotic chases through obstacle courses. Clever distortions of my desires.

I was planning to have a dress made for a party but at the last minute I changed my mind. Instead I went through my now-meager closet and looked for something close to what I wanted (a bit Austen-era-inspired, empire cut, scooped neckline, work in a few ribbons and lace).  The dress would not matter much. But how I am while I'm in it would. At the very least it has enough sleeve to hide my heart.

My life right now is a cliffhanger. A series season-ender. A storm waiting to break.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

a particular fantasy

This is the side that faces visitors to my home. On the other side there are more shelves filled with books. On the other side is my sleeping corner. The postcards on display are from the Griffin and Sabine postcard collection that I bought way back in the 1990s. It's a pity to keep them hidden in a box so I put them up. They also inspire me in my art-making.
For almost two weeks now I have been beset by one particular fantasy. If you have been reading this blog for a while you will know that I have been on a very strict budget because of my adamant pursuit of happiness and satisfaction in my work. Unfortunately such kind of work does not always come hand-in-hand with a satisfactory amount of money. Maybe it will, at some point, but right now they do not share the same sphere in my life. Hence, I cannot indulge in my usual book-shopping.

I have re-learned to live without a lot of things since I simplified my lifestyle to afford my journey of true paths. I have whittled down my wants and needs to the essentials, and one of those is books.

I could easily find torrents of e-books online but I find that nothing fulfills me as much as a bound volume of paper in my hands, with the scent of ink lingering on my fingertips.

For the past two weeks, especially since I finished writing my novel and while I am currently editing it, my hunger for books to read has been sharper than ever. It is like the writing had consumed so much "word energy" that I desperately need to replenish it. I crave for more stories, I yearn to meet more heroines and the men who torment their hearts, I long for the fairy tale endings that are such a comfort after hundreds of pages of almost losing hope that things will turn out well.

I have this particular fantasy of dressing up. I would be wearing a favorite long skirt, a perfectly complementing top, a pair of comfortable shoes that add twist to the whole ensemble. My hair would be behaving perfectly, cascading in soft waves down my back. I would be wearing my favorite spider turquoise bracelets layered with my pair of bracelets from India (for luck). Maybe my butterfly earrings. Or the tea and cupcake pair. My bag slung over my shoulder carrying my simple survival kit that includes a journal notebook and an inked fountain pen.

I enter the bookstore, slowing down at the entrance enough to take a deep breath like what I usually do when I enter libraries. My eyes scan the New Arrivals, the Special Discounts, the Bestsellers. But I know what I want. I weave through the many shelves to find the sections where countless joys await me. The classics, poetry, fantasy, contemporary fiction, literary fiction. I am drawn to stories with magic. Once in a while I would venture into food and travel. But I linger longest in fantasy, crashing through age lines, picking from children's as well as from young adults's. But how I wish for adult fantasy that retains the sweetness and wonder and magic of the young adults's. (Maybe that is why I am attempting to write one now.)

I run my fingers across the clean straight spines. I delight in feeling the embossed letters and images beneath my fingertips, like tracing a tattoo on someone's skin. I like the books with unevenly cut pages. I risk paper cuts on my own skin by sliding my thumb down the rough thick press of pages.

I pull a book out and open it randomly. I caress the paper, then slowly bring it up to my face so I could steal a breath of ink and pulp. My eyes play on the fonts. I like fonts that are well-spaced, not too cramped, and not too default. I like books that have been printed with care and consideration. Good paper, just the right thickness and weight and with that charming aged tinge. There are types of paper that you just know will age so beautifully. I check the solidity of the spine. Few things are more disappointing than a new book that falls apart, especially in your hands, while you're still reading it. It should be able to stand the abuse of being rolled over in bed, stuffed beneath the pillows, or slept over for hours in awkward positions.

I have a growing pile of chosen volumes beside me, as I sit on the floor, between rows and rows of books waiting for consideration. My long skirt is like a sacred circle marking my space in front of a shelf. Other people walk around me, dare not to disturb me.

I have lost track of time. Time is of no consequence. I am immersed in silent conversations, weighing promises and judging covers. My heart beats fast. It is in a constant state of agitation, of anticipation, of expectation. My fingertips are cold. They tremble with excitement at the thought of plunging into all those worlds. Of repeating the same journeys but always living through each one as if it were the first time. Of meeting every possible version of the same man who will break my heart just as he would break the heroine's heart. Of suspending my belief long enough to take me through the breathtaking climax of a happily ever after.

I expel a deep sigh that carried within its weight the litany of prayers that continue to prove my faith in fairy tales. I take my pile of books, my pile of dreams, to the counter. I become thousands of pesos poorer, possibly sacrificing the week's groceries and I would have to survive on crackers and jam on some days. But in exchange I gain days of sanity and hope as I balance along the edge of a long leap into the void.

One day, fueled and inspired by all those stories, I will finish editing my novel. I say by early next year. One day, I will be brave enough again to make one story that I will do instead of reading or writing it.

just like the beginning of the year

The ending of the year forecasts storms. Perhaps as strong as the ones I experienced in the beginning of this year. Maybe even stronger.

Today I have been most agitated. I could not sit to write, and only managed about three paragraphs. I could not sit still enough to read, I only managed half a chapter. I made myself watch a movie (Emma starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam) and at different points I had to stand up and pace while watching because I was feeling restless.

It could simply be the holiday season seeping in, inducing both extremes of sadness and joy, as it usually does.

I sat on the floor, resting against a heavy bookshelf, my journal on my knees, a bottle of ink by my side. I wrote while I listened to a looped playlist with the volume turned up to overwhelm the street noises from outside the window.

I have been unable to eat proper meals. My appetite is often the first to go, then insomnia sets in. It is the phase. It will pass. Just like any storm. I just have to be strong and pray that I do not become too broken from the whiplash of intense emotions and the lightnings of longing. It will pass, and everything will be tolerable again.

"I think about stepping closer to him, not for any practical reason, but just because I want to see what it would be like to stand that close to him; just because I want to. Foolish, a voice in my head says."  - Divergent, Veronica Roth

Sunday, December 2, 2012

loose ends, full circles

At Hong Kong, February 2012, before the retreat.
Photos belatedly, yet also timely, shared by a sempai.
My hair was so short!
It is the last month of the year. Soon enough I will be scrambling to put together some kind of year-end summary blog post on what this year had brought me.

For this post I wish to lay to resolution one thing that had hovered around me like a hungry vulture.

I had started out 2012 highly optimistic. A quarter of the way through, something gave on a part of my life that left me broken-hearted in so many ways. In March of this year, I decide to take time off from my kendo, needing time to heal and sort out my heart and my spirit.

Things built up through the four and a half years I have been practicing, starting out nice and sweet like all good intentions usually do, and then somehow not surviving the random tests that the Universe threw to poke at their authenticity. I had my failings and my failures. What made them more painful was the realization that there were also people who failed me. It would not have hurt so much if the way it happened was like a clean strike that left no doubt of its intention to slice through a hand, eviscerate, or cleave one in half. But it happened in subtle stabs and little sabotages, leaving  no evidence behind, no witnesses. By the time I realized I was wounded and losing too much blood, I was too weak. It became a time when kendo brought out the worst in me and also made me feel the worst about myself. I discovered reservoirs of hate, anger, resentment, jealousy, and other unpleasant things hidden within myself. I came to kendo hoping to learn calm and peace in the midst of adversity and I learned the opposite.

It was not just the practice of kendo, although that in itself was already a challenge that consumed every ounce of my courage. It was the the little things around it that when you gather them together could be as dangerous and damaging as a Portuguese man o' war. The things on the side that most people dismiss and take in stride. But I came to the dojo with all heart and took things too seriously perhaps, trusted too easily. Now I know oh so much better.

Yesterday, after more than eight months of absence and avoidance, I went back to the dojo. I wanted to see what I would feel, if I still wanted to come back, if I could bear to come back.

Here's a very useful advice: staying away for a good chunk of time does help. A lot. Never ever underestimate the value of a retreat, in all its shades of meaning. There will always be a time when it is the best thing you could ever do for yourself.

(During my retreat I had: written a novel, redecorated my home, painted a lot, redesigned my career, read too many books)

As I walked towards the dojo,  I could feel my heartbeat becoming erratic. Two-thirds of the way my fingertips were as cold as ice and I had to breathe through my mouth.

I came in when the session had started so I would not have to talk to anybody, and I stepped out during the break for the same reason. But one thing that the retreat had brought me was clarity. As well as the calmness of distance. That clarity was completed when I was inside the dojo with the reality of everything and everyone in it. That clarity guided me, and then finally, I knew what to do, what to say, and knew not to care if I, in turn, be the cause of hurt or disappointment. I have been making too many allowances for others, I think it's time I take mine. As the wife of the club president had told me while she was convincing me to come back, "Everyone is selfish."  She has a very good point.

There were other things that unfolded that evening, very close to my ever vulnerable heart, but already tangential to my kendo practice. One thing I have decided though, I will return to practice next week, and see where that leads me, armed with my new clarity and gifted with a new shade of courage (I hope!)

Eight months ago I truly believed I will never return. There were many things I believed were hopeless eight months ago. Maybe a few more will prove me wrong.

Dinner after practice
December 2012, after the retreat
Love my long hair now
What things have turned around for you lately?