Arson

year 1953, and an artist

erases a heavy, charcoal sketch of a man he admired

and hangs it up on the wall –

like a trophy, almost –

and the frame might as well have been

a chalk outline or a loud, bold DO NOT CROSS.

but even with the sighs of regret and curiosity at an unseen

(could have been, would have been) masterpiece,

you are forced to ask:

what is art but creation?

what of the creation of destruction?

 

it is criminal to contain this discovery, really, as

i find myself using rauschenberg much too broadly as an excuse.

i’ve a purpose, now, singeing my flesh, and i will tell you

i believe in artistic expression.

 

it is art, i say, and i set fire to paper and ink, the corners

of the page curling up within itself as the fire turns to darkness that

consumes what is left of my fickle memory. it is art, i say, and i set fire to my home,

vengeance for when it didn’t keep me warm in its arms as it promised to forever.

it is art, i say, and i set fire to the bridges that haven’t already been burnt down to earth.

it is art, i say,

and i set fire to myself.

 

marvel at it all. wonder at what is left, gild me with a frame, ask what was there

before the ashes, before the erasure of substance,

before i set everything ablaze, before i created

nothingness.

Art by Aleksandra Waliszewska

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Head over streets

I came to the city nearly a decade ago from my hometown. If one gave me the chance to do so, I’d launch into a nostalgic spiel about my childhood; scraping my knees in the wide roads in the afternoons and looking up at a blanket of stars in the evenings. I’d recount the cool air and the tight-knit community; the peacefulness and the canopy of trees. I’d talk about the lingering smell of cigarette smoke that blanketed the small sari-sari store we owned, and how a whiff of the same smell transported me back in time. I said all these with what must have been a childlike wonder in my eyes; the eyes of a homesick girl from a village now in the confusion of the city.

It wasn’t entirely true. I was born in the city first, but the years in which I was at an age to somewhat comprehend my surroundings was spent in various places. We moved too quickly for me to consider a place one I belonged to. Pilar Village was different; we stayed there for years. I spent rainy days getting my legs splashed with mud, and the summer afternoons plucking bayabas and alatiris from trees with playmates. I skinned my knees stumbling on unpaved roads and sang Christmas carols with makeshift tambourines from the metal caps of soda bottles. When I looked up the skies, there was always a hundred thousand stars twinkling back. It was home.

I hardly recognize it now, and I’m sure the village doesn’t, either. The houses were familiar – despite various paint jobs – but the people who poured life into them were gone. When I looked up at the skies, there was only a blanket of grey clouds. The roads were smooth and empty. The trees were bare. Only the memories remained, but I realize they are nothing compared to what the city has given me.

I found comfort in its mayhem. Here, I was many times lost in the concrete maze and at a loss at life’s labyrinth itself. It gave me loneliness and heartbreak, and with my lowest and highest, the city shared memories of my pain and my happiness, comforting and celebrating with me. I experienced moments and met people both fleeting yet precious. I had grown familiar to the miasma of smoke and filth; to the flurry of people; to the bright, flashing lights and skyscrapers at every corner. I knew complex routes like the back of my hand. Despite the ever-present chaos and confusion and danger, I can say that it is home.

I mistook nostalgia to mean a sense of belongingness. How could a person ever belong to the past, especially one conjured from a fickle, young memory that was seen through rose-coloured glasses? What matters is what is here in the present, and how one feels when it is presented. I write this from a fast-food chain with loud, pop music; the view from the glass windows is one of neon signs and an overwhelming number of cars passing by us and I can still say, Yes, I am home.

Yesterday’s ghosts.

Sometimes, you want to ask, “What the hell are you still doing here?” to a memory, only for them to smile smugly back. They’re like ghosts lingering at the loneliest crevices of your body. When it’s dark and quiet, the night looms with shadows of regrets. They’re there, standing at the foot of your bed. They’re there, slipping past a doorway so quickly you only catch a glimpse of their presence from your peripheral vision. They’re there, with the familiar scent of their perfume, or a tune they loved to hum to. Try as you might, you can’t shake off their existence.

Other times, you never notice when exactly they’ve started to slip away. You stop at a familiar place. You hear the same song. Something should be here, you think, but what you only know is that you’ve stopped remembering.

Dead Stars of the May Day Eve: The Illusion of Love

I still see love as this magical thing. I grew up on a steady diet of paperback love stories and romantic comedy movies where two people can look at each other and just know, there and then, that they were soulmates. Cue the next scene of Romeo and Juliet meeting in a party, marrying each other, and then lying together on Juliet’s bed the next day. Cue the next few chapters of a Nicholas Sparks book, with in-depth confessions and passionate kisses by the fireplace. Of course, there are also those anecdotes on the Internet, where each tells a story of how a couple simply fell in love at first sight and are now living happily ever after.

I eventually figured out that love isn’t always like that. It’s delusional to think you can just make eye contact with a fairly attractive stranger in the crowd and exchange vows with them the day after. Even in relationships, while grand gestures or big leaps of sacrifices like we see in the movies or read about in books can happen, it doesn’t guarantee either of you a fairy tale ending. Those books and films and stories amplified the basic desire to be wanted and loved, but with the illusion that it can happen in a snap. It’s as if all you have to do is go out, meet a person once and it’s eternal love and happiness from here on out. It’s refreshing when you read a book or see a movie where the “love at first sight” and “everything works out in the end” cliches aren’t done among many others. It may not be as satisfying or romantic, but it’s definitely more realistic. It shows you the other side of love: one that flames too quickly and burns out, one that consumes and hurts, one that we chase after and never get, one that slowly turns bitter instead of sweet.

These two Filipino short stories do just that. They capture the magic of love as well as the allure, and temptation it holds, and how it can all come crashing down with the test of time.

Continue reading “Dead Stars of the May Day Eve: The Illusion of Love”

The Girl in the Mirror

There are eyes on your neck. You feel it. It comes from three pews behind you, and a couple of seats to your left.

You turn your head slightly. It is just enough to catch a glimpse of a balding man with drooping, sleepy eyes a row behind you, his head nodding to the sermon blanketing the church. Behind him, a mother and her dark red lips is crooning to a baby clinging to her shoulder, with her arm clad with gold bangles holding him in place. Finally, behind her, there is a familiar face belonging to a boy your age, in a dark blue polo, staring at you. You turn around and catch his eyes. He smiles, abashed, and looks away.

What does he see, anyway? A friend. A tan girl, with long hair, pretty eyes – you’ve heard him say that to a mutual friend once, after the sermon in the gardens by the ancient fountain. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A floral dress every Sunday. A shy girl with always a smile to spare, but rarely a story to tell. You’ve heard the teasing and the jokes and felt the staring and the attention. From him, there was always a hand offered and oftentimes, a compliment or two.

There is a sharp pinch to your thigh, and you jump. You belatedly realize you’ve been staring off to the side, head still turned in the same direction, eyes transfixed on the floor. You turn your face to the front, but not before catching a whiff of jasmine perfume and a view of cherry red lips turned down in a scowl on a woman’s face bearing likeness to yours.

What does she see?

A younger her, perhaps. That’s what everybody in the family says, even though she herself couldn’t see her face on her mother’s features, with all of her high cheekbones and arched brows. Her face was softer and rounder, but maybe that would be taken away by age.

Soft. Her mother could see her that way. A sensitive, dazed, impractical young girl, who stayed in the corner in any sort of gathering (instead of milling around and shaking everybody’s hands like her mother), and who liked to stay out on the balcony, the mosquitoes feasting on her legs, to stare out at a fogged-up view of the city.

“You better listen,” your mother mutters, her lips barely moving.

You try. You can’t. The priest seems to look at everyone in the pews, but you know it can’t be so. He sweeps his hands and gazes at the audience to his left, right and center.

If his eyes would rest upon you, what would he see? Nothing more than a teenage girl as part of the 11 AM session.

If the woman sitting beside you looked at you, what would she see? A fellow church-goer. Someone younger. Someone in a dress. Someone with a bracelet on her wrist instead of pearls in her ears. Take a look at the woman beside the young girl, and she would see a daughter.

Time passes. An hour later, and you and your mother follow the crowd out. You excuse yourself to the bathroom.

You follow the path, open the door and face the mirror.

What do you see?

A girl. Long hair to her waist. A floral dress. A silver bracelet on her wrist. A daughter.

A girl in the church bathroom. Long hair she’s been itching to cut for months, except it seems such a waste. A floral dress she spilled scalding coffee on in her bedroom a week before, with the silver bracelet hiding the tiniest portion of the mark of the burn. A daughter, an only child, in fact, but not a prized one.

A girl. A shrinking violet with big dreams. Someone who desires too many things. Someone kind – yes, you could see that.

“I see you,” you say to the mirror. “Can you see me?”

The girl in the mirror nods.

***

Photo credit: Collaboration of Kensuke Koike aka 小池健輔 (Japanese, b. 1980, Nagoya, Japan) & Thomas Sauvin aka Beijing Silvermine aka 北京银矿 (French, b. 1983, Paris, France, based Beijing, China) – No More No Less  Photo Collages

I still believe in the promise of New Year’s.

The magic of the holidays wanes. I think it’s just the thrill of discovering a special day, where people come together over food, drink, and music, fading as you age. We were all at a certain age in life where holiday celebrations seemed so surreal, and then a year passes, and another, and it becomes less and less so. What never changes, however, is still going through all the traditions despite the realization. I know I still ate and drank and picked out gifts. I still wished people a Merry Christmas.

And now, I still wait for New Year’s Eve. I still feel excited to regard it as a fresh start, despite knowing it’s just another normal day. I know I’m just holding onto a semblance of control in my resolutions knowing we’re on a whole new calendar with 365 days where I don’t know what’s to come. I still hold onto tradition, eating round fruits for good fortune, and watching the fireworks that’s supposed to chase off bad luck. I still resolve to be better. I still look forward to a new beginning. I think it’s one of the only magic of the holidays that still lingers, and though yes, it is silly to be confident in it being an automatic reset… I’m willing to believe in it and myself to begin again.

While we’re at it, I’m willing to believe I can go back to this digital home of sorts ever since I was 15, and start it back up again – for longer, this time. I only managed to keep it active until July, and this time, I’m resolving to keep it longer than that, at the very least.

Believe, even when people tell you it’s futile, even when you think it is so. Have a happy New Year’s.

Masked

Once again, I find myself trying to fit into a space not meant for me. I try to break into roles the way I do with shoes a size too big or small; forcing my feet in and walking around with a placid grin stuck onto my face, thinking that if I never address my discomfort, then it would never be real.

I’m always torn between making things happen and letting it happen to you. When do you take initiative and control what you rightfully can? When do you let go and let things run their natural course? How would you ever be able to tell which the right decision is?

The problem always lies with what I’d like to be, what I am, and the secret compromise and negotiation going on between them, trying to figure out which one has more of their way than the other. I try to be three steps ahead of myself and throw on duties and personas impulsively; recklessly.

Let me give you an example: I believe in pragmatism, right and wrong, mercy and compassion and justice and love. At fifteen I realized this, and, wanting to walk the talk, thought of a way to further define and abide by my principles, and became a church girl. I was sobbing at sermons, donating my allowance as tithes and singing loudly to worship songs, despite growing up scowling, skeptic, at the idea of God, Santa, and the tooth fairy, among other imaginary creatures. I started to break nearly a year later, my persona weary and chipping away at the corners. I shuddered in guilt and disgust in the congregation instead of enlightenment and joy. I left and didn’t look back.

I’d love to have a smile plastered on my face all the time. I’d love to be kind all the time. I’d love to be on the genius-level of skill in art. I’d love to be a reliant friend. But the truth is I can’t be bothered to fake grins, I can spit out vitriol, my preferred art form is through words, blank ink on white paper and not the contrasting, fluid colors on canvas, and I won’t reply to friends’ messages promptly if I don’t feel like it and I can’t even comfort people well. As time passed, it’s been my refrain: I’d love to, but I can’t. I’d love to be that person. I’d love to love that thing. I’d love to do these for you. I would love to, and I could, but I really just can’t. I peel off the faces that they see in me; the faces they want me to have; the people they’d like me to be. I’m sorry, I tried. I can’t. It’s the trial-and-error solution; the dress-up game before the purchase of a dress; like the sing-song chant of he loves me, he loves me not. This should be it. No, it isn’t. Casting away wrong answers and poorly fit dresses until we arrive at something that’s right.

road to nowhere

When I am on the road, on foot with sore soles or on vehicles, slouched against seats; viewing proud, towering skyscrapers; hearing a cacophony of impatient sighs and traffic noise and snippets of conversations all dull and warm and deep, is when I feel alive the most.

There’s a certain feeling of purpose within each distance covered that even the most mundane of errands feels like a quest. Being around the presence of other people grounds you to the fundamentals of nature and society: here we are, in a chaotic world, trying our hardest to systemize and organize what little we can. Realizations that, as a whole, seem to whisper to me, goading me on: You are here. You are here. You are here.

No human being was ever created to settle. From the very beginning of civilization, we stay where we have what we need and where we may be needed. Over time, resources deplete or needs are modified and changed and we wander farther. One step out and there’s the feeling of liberation – our homes are far from being prisons, depending on an individual’s perspectives, but just one step out, and another, then another, until we are further out from our comfort zones of built routines around the basic necessities of human survival and there is freedom in where I can go and what I can do and who I’d stumble upon. I am awake, and life is no longer waiting to happen or merely happening upon me. I’m making it happen. I’m making the choices. I am hopeless when the slightest and smallest of things slip from my fingers, reminding me I am not in charge of fate – there is nothing you can do – but then, I’m reminded I can, however futile, take charge of my own.

I have the promise of purpose somewhere.

Calypso

If there should be something that you must remember,
it is this: you are one of the many lovers
sinking their toes into the smooth sand of this isle.
I don’t say this in order to dull the fire
that we have stoked to flames, caressing the heavens –
but to confess and to stand witness to these piles of ashes.
soon you will leave, like the rest of your brethren,
to fulfill one of the Olympians’ worst curses:
inevitable love, the promise of loneliness;
my island a mere rest stop to your epic quests;
when you venture to the seas, gone the 0
(of us, of me) will be. you are a kind guest,

so please: keep your distance. let your sweet, sweet words fester,
on your tongue with your wistful desires- forever.

Photo credit: Tim Lane (British, b. Cheltenham, England, based Bristol, South West, England) – Sophia  Drawings: Graphite, Pencils, Paint on Paper

Raindrops

The rain does not want to stop falling.

It’s relentless. From the breaks of dawn to the hazy sunsets, it comes in the forms of both light drizzle and angry torrents. The streets are perpetually wet, and I perpetually cold; my feet muddy and slipping on the pavement much more than I’d like to admit. In the neighborhood, we all have weary eyes looking up at the sky and our lips form the same dejected comments. We put on our raincoats, carry our umbrellas, slide our screens shut in the face of bugs seeking shelter, don warm clothing and pile up the blankets over our shivering bodies. We wait to wake to a bright morning, instead of a persistent haze of grey.

All that is left to do, it seems, is to cope.

•••

This fact has held true throught my existence of a whole 18 years. It’s not a very long time compared to, well, the rest of the world, but it just so happens that my birthday is dabsmack on the start of the rainy season in the Philippines – the perfect weather for mulling over your years. It just so happens that this year, I was not in the mood to celebrate, and it just so happens that turning eighteen is considered important, and I feel like I’m obligated to make some realizations.

It just so happens that rain is the perfect metaphor.

It’s a cheesy one, but it applies.

One of my long-running mistakes is assuming that happiness should be the default. It’s the standard. If you’re not happy, what are you doing with your life? You must have done something wrong; you’re doing something wrong. You’re hindering yourself. Take charge of your life; speak it into action to the universe; don’t you know the Law of Attraction? Think positively. Be better. The problem lies within you, not the world you keep blaming.

I think I’ve forgotten we’re still human. I’ve forgotten there are things outside our control. I’ve forgotten that I cannot keep the sun from rising and setting, nor hiding away, tucked in the dark clouds of a thunderstorm.

There is nothing I can do about the rain, except grabbing an umbrella and wrapping yourself in raincoats and sloshing around puddles of mud in boots; making hot chocolate and falling asleep as the raindrops thud harder against the roofs.

All that’s left to do, it seems, is cope.