I have nothing much to say today, except I wish to go somewhere weird, purple, and interesting. Somewhere like home.
Early April, I realized that I’ve lost files of e-books, writings, and photographs because the school I attended have gotten rid of their Google Docs program for alumni. They did issue emails about this impending loss, but having been swept up by endless weeks of work (one holiday after another), I had no time to process that information. I don’t think I still fully feel the weight of this loss, among others much more painful and difficult to bear. Recent deaths, anxiety, feelings of isolation and struggle in a new city whose lack of public transit I still don’t completely accept. I think about the photographs, because they were of that sliver of time I spent in New York City on my own. And because it was my return to using film to capture moments and the excess of what I thought (and still think of) as complete personal freedom. I try to conjure some of these lost images, former confidants, with words.
A wall of red ribbons at a 99 cent store on Roosevelt Avenue, Queens.
I walked everywhere. And where I couldn’t walk, I took the train. I saw, felt, and saw everything. In Manila, I spent nights walking around Teacher’s Village, a dense suburb with the benefits of a good city. There are things to do and they are within reach. I would quietly shut the red gates of the townhouse I shared with my mother and start walking down Matimtiman Street to Malingap. Some nights I would pass by where R. lived and say hi. Some nights, often after work, I stopped by the butcher’s place on Maginhawa, head to her apartment (which she shared with her sisters) and cook her a meal in an open kitchen shared by all the tenants on her floor. I used to be self-righteous about my being caring. I believed it was a good thing and because of that I must be a good person. I now know it is quite the opposite. I care and love for very selfish reasons. It is only through the eyes, words, and touch of another person would I believe I am real. Others exist to affirm my existence because I simply cannot be bothered to affirm myself.
R. once told me she would dream of the things I made for her. Just like M. telling me I’m beautiful, it’s hard for me to understand how I’m capable of bringing some form of joy or pleasure to others. I think it’s just a resistance to letting my own feelings of happiness wash over me. Afraid that once I accept to be happy, it will be taken away from me. Afraid that once I accept I am a person just like everyone else in this world, and not some kind of ghost or fog, I will lose the impulse to constantly shape and transform myself in order to adapt. There are changes happening, though.
Three people in a biology lab looking at genetically modified plants. But this is also in an art school, which kind of does not make sense. At the helm of this modest meeting is a white girl with dreadlocks who, I had been informed, was deeply hated by my Polish roommate. I kept a safe distance while taking this photo but the girl shot me a dirty look anyway.
I stumbled upon my constant source of income, cooking, in the dumbest way possible. I was sixteen and felt a little cursed but knew I wanted to do something creative. I was walking on Shaw Boulevard one hot summer afternoon and saw a long line behind a five star hotel. It was perhaps dehydration that led me to think it was a line for free food or, at the very least, water. It was, in fact, a line for cook applications. The next day I was making spring rolls for an Indian wedding and getting hit on by at least three guys. I remember a maze of hallways that led to a glorious chocolate room, and being friends with a butcher girl named Croissant. I wish I was making this up, but this was the Philippines in the mid 2000s.
Brilliant blue sky and the tip of the Chrysler Building. I might have this photograph in physical form but since moving out of New York, old things have been hard to locate.
Wind tunnels in New York reminded me of Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore. I walked everywhere. In the book, he writes about getting through a tough moment is like walking through a tornado filled with sand. The wind spins so fast, the sand actually hurts. I could be wrong in remembering. I read books not because I wanted to be smart. I read books because it gave me access to pornography and other mature things without my mother having to walk in on me watching smut on my laptop. I got off on stories like The Witch by Isaac Bashevis Singer, and anything Joan Collins. Anne Rice’s Sleeping Beauty Trilogy. She walked in on me reading a book and she was proud. This right here—a girl on her sweaty futon, surrounded by lavender walls and sky blue ceiling—is a piece of shit.
Brooklyn, Baby (and Then Some) Part 1
Cities are all I’ve ever known. I moved to Quezon City when I was thirteen, and at twenty-seven I moved to New York City to participate in an MFA program at the School of Visual Arts. I spent my childhood in the suburbs of San Pedro, but the spaces I’ve inhabited as a child is dream-fodder at best. (I don’t remember it so well and, as far as my conscious mind is concerned, I don’t have any emotional attachment to it.) In 2021, me and M. had the brash and ill-conceived decision to move to Orlando. We acquired jobs and made it work. But each step taken or rather, each mile driven reminded us of what we had. So, the past six months have been spent dreaming of the city again. And the past two weeks, I have been looking forward to visiting the Big shiny, shimmering, splendid on the surface Apple. I really though we would break into tears at Newark Airport, but we didn’t. And just as well. New York was and will always be there.
We stayed at a bare to the bones hotel in Brooklyn, right in our old neighborhood. (Nothing else to say about that!) Being creatures of memory and habit, we had our first meal at the corner diner, and saw Brandon Cronenberg’s Infinity Pool at the Alamo Drafthouse where I had what is perhaps the best avocado toast of my life.
The next day, M. got an early start to tend to his comedy show Xtremely Serious Wrestling, which was held at a venue in Frost Street. I spent most of my day in Long Island City, first trying to find a Filipino donut shop which I found was only taking pre-orders. I chalked the entire experience to getting my steps in and proceeded to MoMA PS1.
I particularly enjoyed Umar Rashid’s Ancien Regime Change 4, 5, 6 and Qualeasha Wood’s works of cyber images woven into tapestries as part of Studio Harlem’s Artist-in-Residence exhibit, It’s Time For Me To Go. I gravitated towards Rashid and Wood’s works because of their use of fabrics and threads, a medium I myself use when I feel more comfortable expressing myself visually.
Fiber or Textile Arts have always been a prominent medium for artists, I immediately think of Louise Bourgeois as a prominent artist that have used fabrics and fibers for their art, having been raised by parents who ran a tapestry restoration business. It is reassuring to see what was once considered women’s work or a feminine medium find itself in spaces beyond craft and home economics. I do want to go on and talk about the compactness of textiles and fibers, how these are materials that can be taken while travelling (or on the run), and why they are so suitable to tentative lives such as the one I find myself in. But there is more to share, and perhaps I should go back to writing papers about art and cuisine.
Around the corner from M.’s comedy show was an American-Cantonese restaurant called Bonnie’s. I resolved to give it a try and it was a revelation. I ordered a non-alcoholic lemonade that was just the right amount of sweet and tangy. I love eating dried citrus on top of any drink and the one I had was no different—it is always a gift of textures, and sweet-sour-bitter notes playing on my tongue like a frenzied jazz piece. For the appetizer, I ordered fish and shrimp dumplings in a warm, mild broth, and for the entree I had the Billionaire fried rice. The restaurant was buzzing with happy guests punctuated with hip-hop tunes and the action coming from the kitchen. While heaping chopsticks of rice in my mouth, I thought to myself, it feels like home—if mom had let me play all my explicit content albums.
After M.’s show, we also had a post party at Tom and Joan’s (“the Bar”). We called the night successful and looked forward to three more days of fun in the city of our hearts. (Literally, because this is where we met and got married.)
To be continued…
Walking into 2023
A few days ago, my mother sent me an old picture of K.B. standing outside my bedroom door, waiting for me to come out. At the time, I responded with the standard heart emoji, a symbol I gave out to let people know I still think and care about them without having to say anything. As a writer, I find myself constantly feeling as if I have so little to say, or that whatever I do want to say doesn’t matter. Moments and memories flow and wash over me in short but constant waves. I can spend a few more paragraphs explaining how growing up I learned to detach from my true feelings and emotions as a survival mechanism but, well, that doesn’t really matter anymore either. I am about to bare myself, besides.
I haven’t been able to blog as much as I would have wanted to in 2022. The last entry on this website was an obituary/memorial for my old cat Kitty Boy. He passed away earlier this year. My sister didn’t specify how and where—he was about seven or eight years old when he passed, far too young for a healthy house cat.
This morning, as M. eased into bed from working night shift and I was getting ready for a few last minute errands before New Years Eve celebrations kick off, I thought about that picture of K.B. and it filled me with incredible sadness. I thought about how K.B. had died waiting for me to come home. How I want to be around friends and family members but I really don’t know what to say to them. My heart sank at the thought of yet another year not seeing the Philippines, and the streets of Manila, not being able to observe traditions, and, more important for me, being surrounded by the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of my home. And yet, here I am in a strange country, thankful, somehow, for the existence of Asian Groceries and pockets of Asian communities.
It is freeing to admit to myself truths about the turns my life has taken. One of them is that America will always be an unpleasant (highways and car culture, not enough trains, hostility on most fronts and levels of society) and absurd (examples are too many to mention) place where M., the most important person in my life, happens to be from and lives in. This is where I met the love of my life and where I intend to stay. The fact that such a twisted and cursed place has allowed me to meet and spend time with some good people is a miracle in itself. Some of the best moments in my life happened here, and this is where I finally became my own person. Another is that it is possible to have tender feelings for things, people or places I am at odds with—I feel both tenderness and resentment for both my home country and this new home.
I come into 2023 thinking about who I am as it relates to where I am. I tend to see the Philippines as the place that contains traces of who I used to be, and America as the place where I am trying to figure a new self. For the most part, I feel as if I have changed and improved so much in the past four years. That time has also taught me to rest easy on expectations and resolutions. Things rarely worked out the way I intended, it’s better to walk through and look for the little morsels of goodness and warmth I can find. I want to teach myself to take time and take a good look, touch things when I can, notice smells and sounds. I want to walk into a year more cognizant of what comes to my senses. I want for a sensual year, and to enjoy, however little, what the rest of my days and years have to offer.
ImagiDreaming; Miscellany, yet again
Before anything else, I’m thrilled to share that M. has started his own blog on another hosting site. He loves theme parks and endlessly conceptualizes rides which I think are great but would realistically never come to life. So he writes about them in detail instead. You can find these ideas at ImagiDreaming with Fesh!
A set of poems recently appeared in the issue 1, volume 15 of Likhaan: the Journal of Contemporary Philippine Literature, you can read it here.
Without giving away too much, I also want to share about a book I’ve been working on since 2019, and has moved into becoming a work that uses fiction and poetry. It isn’t a verse novel like Charlotte or the Iliad. It should be interesting, and I am taking my time, as always, knowing I will arrive at the best way to shape it. I’ve done away with the pretense of having a writing life or of even having a network of writers. There is no pressure to publish, even though I’ve gotten in touch with a publisher (who gave a soft ‘no’).
Most of the time I spend shaping a domestic life with M., or working. I take somewhat long drives and explore the city we’ve moved into at the end of 2021. Outside of New York City, where M. and I met and made a life for about a year, car culture dominates the wide open spaces of peripheral-urban “cities” designed to sustain mono-cultures created by corporate monopolies. From lawn grass in the suburbs to box malls of the same three or four names, and movie theaters that, at any given day, will show movies made by big studios. Once, on an exploratory drive, I took a detour into a subdivision that was so still and devoid of any movement, with houses designed the same way and painted the same colors of beige and gray, they seemed more like mausoleums than homes. Then again, all this is punctuated by lush greenery, beautiful wildlife, good food (which I might start writing about, as well—I am too busy enjoying myself cooking and consuming), and the occasional kooky and weird places.
Obituary: Kitty Boy
The beginning of 2022 has been clear and crisp, like a good sunny day after heavy rain. I started a new job in a new city. I felt invigorated and ready to write again. It is, for the most part, marked by fresh starts. It’s like walking around a flower garden when gentle sprinklers go off.
Yesterday, Saturday, I received news from my sister that our cat Kitty Boy was very sick. Within the same day, she informed us that he has passed away. I didn’t cry, I couldn’t because of the shock and the profound sadness I felt. I left home in 2018, without so much as an “I’ll be back” to him. When I saw Kitty Boy again in 2019 he was skittish around me and seemed to refuse to be near me. Whether it was because he’d forgotten about me or he was upset at my departure, I wouldn’t be able to know. He can’t speak.
(I left again to finish my master’s degree. I graduated in 2020 and have not been able to come home since.)
What I do know, mostly from spending time with him, from his gestures and gaze, is that he truly loved me. And I loved him too. It’s a gut-wrenching that he passed without seeing me for the last time. But as I reeled from the waves of grief and shock, I felt a purring furry skeleton at my feet—Coco, the senior Manhattanite tabby Mitch and me adopted one autumn day, telling ourselves we “were just looking”. Because I wasn’t expecting to take a cat home with me that day, we had to take Coco inside a cardboard box issued by the shelter. She hated it.
But slowly, we grew into her. And she, like Kitty Boy and every cat who has been with me, will pass knowing that I love them.
So, as with everything in my life, I would rather focus my energy on what (or who) I have rather than what has already been lost. Adopting stray cats mean to me that they will never be lonely or suffering, and that they will pass knowing that somebody loves them.
I remember Kitty Boy loved sleeping curled up against my stomach when I slept on my side. Coco loves doing that, too.
Doesn’t matter to me if you hate cats or love them as much as I do, it’s all about the love we give to other people and other beings on this earth.
(Close to Being) Out of the Woods
I finished reading Anne Carson’s Plainwater around the end of February but I have been constantly thinking of a passage from “The Anthropology of Water”:
“Lovers— correct me if I’m wrong— insist on bringing the two perspectives together, a sort of double exposure. To draw into the very inside of my heart the limit that was supposed to mark it on the outside, your strangeness. But keep it strange. Those three things.”
I was immediately reminded of the Lovers card in the tarot deck, and how I wrote it in shorthand like a venn diagram.
One of the common interpretations of the Lovers card is doubt. When I was learning how to interpret the images and symbolism of each tarot card, I often wondered why such a seemingly positive and reassuring card such as the Lovers would connote doubt. Thinking about it a little bit more, I also realize that the overlapping of two images or, in the case of venn diagrams, situations lead to a third image, or space. A third condition where ambiguity and uncertainty arises, but also common ground (how ever different the two overlapping things are), possibility and growth. What appears to be two separate things, one thing or another, are actually also both things at once. A limitation that is drawn on the ground between two people exists within them. What feelings and thoughts tremble within that limitation also exists in both bodies. And I imagine that for some, these conditions are frightening to contemplate and confront. Hence, doubt.
The diagram above is from “The Auditory-Visual Overlap” from Don Ihde’s Listening and Voice: Phenomenology of Sound (1976; 2007). It shows the realms of the auditory and the visual, where –z– stand for purely vibratory and sonic things (the unseen, sound waves, ghosts) and –x– refers to things that are visual (objects, the natural world). –y– is the third condition where the seen (–x–) and unseen (–z–) meet and that denotes movement. So, when the unseen and seen are thrust into each others proximity, there is movement. Movement is going from one place to another; it is also growth, a cataclysm, a revolution. It is a force of change.
In Carson’s “The Anthropology of Water”, the voice (main character) goes on a road trip with a lover whom she refers to as The Emperor (there are plenty of references to Ancient China in this section of the book). He’s not really that great. He talks mostly about himself and his exes. He seems only concerned with sex. He says cruel things disguised as clever observations. She is aware of all this— why else would she speak of it?— but goes with him anyway. So, thrust into each other’s presence, they go on a road trip.
There is always something bubbling and boiling and trembling underneath the surface. The road trip ends with the voice keeping a set of maps her lover no longer needs. Or wants. Seemingly without explanation The Emperor flits in and out of the voice’s life and within the reader’s sight. The voice at some point— in Luz, Utah— says, “By the time I wake, anger is scorching through me… The light snaps at my heel like a farm dog.” Through the road trip, the voice is occasionally reminded of her father. It appears that love and resentment overlapped to create a third space where she understood. “I am wondering about the color green. Why it hurts like sound hurts inside a jar…” the voice says as they drive through Kansas where “there is the limitless green limit of the horizon” and of the changing landscape as The Emperor is talking about history, “… This is not what he is saying but it is what I know. I am the one who watches the way plants sweat at noon come at me, slap my mind across the room. That is who I am, those three things.”
Lately, I have been focusing on understanding things, situations, people, and myself. Why I write, for instance. It can’t always be for the clout or a way to brag, as if writing was content and I was only producing for an audience. I’ve always grappled with intentions. Mine and other people’s. I really didn’t understand much, and let things happen. Even though I knew what I liked and didn’t like, it was different from knowing what I wanted and who I was. Am I past this condition? I feel I am nearly out of the woods.
Keep moving, stay strange, be all three things and more.
A New Project
The past two weeks have been an intense period of tending to personal stuff. Dealing with bureaucracy just got even worse in an ongoing pandemic, and I definitely have had to deal with government offices a lot more in the past year and at the beginning of 2021. But I do find moments of beauty and respite, mostly in tending to plants and watching projects— ongoing and new— blossom. There still potential in chaotic limbo.
I’ve also started a podcast on possession movies. I love watching horror movies, and discussed the etymology (origins) of the word “possession” for my first episode. With its origins rooted in purely legal usage in Old French, and transformed into the supernatural usage in English as a “state of being under the influence of madness or a demon”, there’s definitely an angle of exploitation through the related word “dispossession”. As in, being dispossessed of one’s land or property. Definitely a loaded history that I connect to feudal relations, land grabbing, and colonization.
You can listen to my new little project THE LAST POSSESSION OF on anchor.fm or on Spotify.
Film and Writing: Voice, Intent
I recently watched a Taiwanese romantic drama, The Personals, directed by Kuo Fu Chen. The film is about a successful ophthalmologist Du Jia Zhen (played by Rene Liu) placing a personal ad on newspapers in her search for a husband. I thought it was a great movie that presented the character of a successful woman seeking marriage through what would be considered an unusual way. I was interested in the structure of the film, where each date is a short story of its own and tied together by Jia Zhen’s quest. In each meeting, we see different aspects of her personality, her intelligence and charm, as well as what scares her or makes her uncomfortable. The story appears to be an anthology with narrative overlaps.
When I undertake a big writing project, I watch films, look at art and pretty things, to feed my creative fire. In the last quarter of 2020, I undertook two major projects. During the rest in between projects, I watched Apichatpong Weersethakul’s Mysterious Object at Noon (2000) and Chungking Express (1994). Mysterious Object at Noon is what I would consider a generous film in terms of how it inspired me to think and approach storytelling as a travelling narrative that transforms as its wanders from one ear to another. Chungking Express created a lasting portrayal of human emotions as opposed to fiction’s traditional definition as about being human action. It’s what I mean when I say describe anything as a vibe— I feel as I see and this is what constitutes the experience. I look to films to inspire me about writing because there are things you can do in film/visual narrative that would not translate and be as successful in written narrative. For instance, in The Personals, on Jia Zhen’s first date, the man talks about his work at a computer factory and the scene cut from a dining room to the factory— what writing style could achieve that? (It reminds me of the editing style of Strangebrew, a situational comedy reality/travelogue from the Philippines.) But I think that this speaks more about the additional work I have to do mastering fiction writing. I’m also pretty sure my film professors in college and graduate school have a very simple way of verbalizing everything I have said so far, and noting that this is not too uncommon among writers and artists. But these ruminations on drawing inspiration from film for my writing are similar to how a baby one day realize that they have legs and must walk with it.
I also don’t think much about the other aspects of my process, and this blog for the most part is for me to draw attention to what other things inform my work, to think about them as I go along, and to share them with an audience. It is to question what intentions I begin with in writing and to be mindful of them. In the past years, I’ve been working on developing a neutral inner voice. With some help, I realized that wanting to have a supportive inner voice leans towards the tendency to have a voice that will attack me because of self-judgment. Constantly, I want to speak and write with sincere and generous intentions. When I speak in writing to my reader what are my intentions, what would I like to impart? In the same vein, when I speak to myself, what is my intention for myself?
Since the beginning of 2021, I’ve been restlessly moving and re-arranging the plants by the window. Last week, I noticed that some of the plants, especially the ones I placed in plastic pots, were teeming with fungus gnats. Chili spray seemed to do the work, as well as placing bowls of water with a dash of apple cider vinegar by the affected plants. I keep constant watch, wanting to ensure that the pothos will to thrive, the purple oxalis was issuing more growths each day, and the succulents appear to be in steady sleep. The bigger plants—a monstera, peace lily, and zz—were unaffected.
I grew up in a house filled and surrounded by plants. In front of my childhood home was an empty lot. Empty because it was the steep slope of a small hill, on top of which was an abandoned club house. On the lot, we planted vegetables. At the abandoned club house, me and my friends played. But on Sundays, a church group would hold sermons there and the pastor would warn his flock of the decadent Catholics that lived on the street below. Decadent because, my father explained, some of us had three cars. Our parents, in turn, warned us about suspect figures, among them a man who would show his genitals to anyone who happened to look up at random hours of the day. Once, someone threw down a bottle of Tanduay rum perhaps to assert dominance. Eventually, nine papaya trees grew on the empty lot, among eggplants, okras, and malunggay. Shortly after, my mother developed terrible rashes. At its worst, the rashes had fluid inside them. My big sister spent nights picking on the tiny boils with a sterilized needle. My mother claimed she felt no pain. The shaman my parents consulted blamed the tikbalang living among the papaya trees. But after a trip to the dermatologist we learned that my mother was allergic to lamb— which she had during a work trip to Australia— and she was given effective ointments.
I share a ground floor apartment with my partner and a senior cat. When we buy roast chicken, we eat the skin, the thighs, drumsticks, and wings; the cat eats the breasts in chicken broth I would make from the left-over bones. The weather and the climate have been especially punishing, we stretch food for as long as we can.
It seems each month is a tumultuous beginning. Let me end my days in a small place I can constantly re-order.
Currently reading Jacques Ranciere’s The Edges of Fiction, where in the introduction he writes that fiction is a result of a surfeit of rationality, which he notes is an idea postulated by Aristotle. In a series of tweets, writers give writing advice, one of them being that if a reader is able to guess a foreshadowing through a series of well placed hints in the narrative, it means that the writer has done their job. Indie publisher Inside the Castle defines writing in general as the re-ordering of a preexisting order, to offer the reader novel ways of thinking and looking. What other creature has a mind that whose intelligence is determined because of its openness towards novelty? The octopus.
Days in 2020 were exercises in turning and returning. Memories and thoughts would be visited in loops and dips in emotion. In my mind, I see myself tearing pages off my journals to create a nest, leaning towards tending and protection.
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