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”

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.

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.

Of Fears

I have a fear of heights and the dark. Well, I used to have a fear of heights and the dark. I’ve read something – a book, an internet post, a message – that said I did not fear heights or the dark exactly, but the unknown that lies within them. It is not the dark that I am frightened of, but the countless shadows that seem to form, taking on personas of various monsters and demons with the purpose of harm. It is not heights that I am frightened of, but the answer to the question, what happens after I fall? and if you think that the answer isn’t “unknown” to the latter exactly – and yes, I know, I get it: my skull could crack and my bones could break and I could lie dying in a pool of my own blood, but there’s the uncertainty lying within the number of possibilities that could happen. There’s the uncertainty lying within the thought of how it’d feel to fall and hit the ground. There’s the uncertainty lying within the thought of death.

Do all of our fears lead to the same thing: the fear of the unknown? What’s your fear? Spiders, ghosts, banshees, blood, the death of loved ones – some of these we cannot even begin to explain the origin of dread that makes us shudder. Some are just mere possibilities. The idea that it could happen frightens us, despite circumstances that say there’s a higher probability it wouldn’t.

Then again, we never know, don’t we? It’s what has haunted mankind for centuries. We are born into this world unknowing, and we leave it the same still. We throw ourselves into exploring and finding what we can, but instead of arriving at answers, we reap new questions. The majority of us focus on making survival as comfortable as it can get, with our questions left to gather dust at a corner in our heads, manifesting as the universal fear; as the reason why we hold on to God and fate, and find solace in the promise of forever and heaven; in wearing lucky charms and blowing dandelions to the wind. You never know. You never know. you dread this at the same time it gives you hope.

metathesio

All my life, I never knew what exactly I feared. The eyes adjust to darkness, and a familiarity of a place eliminates any fear. Ghosts are rare to come by. Cockroaches are just pests, ones that give me shudders because they’re ridiculously ugly and unclean. I can’t say I fear heights when I’ve stood on top of mountains and I know my survival instincts will kick in if ever I do fall – and see, I’m afraid of falling and breaking my bones, not heights itself, which is sensible for any human being.

No, I never knew what I feared. I didn’t know what personal terror I possessed deep within me. It’s fine, really. The most frustrating thing I’ve encountered because of my lack of knowledge is that I can’t do a self-insert when reading about Harry Potter’s boggart, a creature that transforms itself to your darkest fear, or when watching It, where the freak clown weaponizes your fear against you. Maybe the boggart or It will turn into a cloud of confusion and I end up saving the day.

In the quiet lull of the morning, sitting in a bus bumping along a road I’ve taken for a decade, my fear finally dawns on me.

•••

To all beloveds and friends who talk of us existing in the far, far future, I always say:

“You can’t promise me that.”

“We never know.”

“We’ll see.”

“You can’t say that now.”

Or sometimes, I smile and never say it aloud, letting quaint fantasies delude both of us. The lovechild of Time and Fate is Change; powerful with its inevitability. It is in humanity’s nature to fight a lost battle, and even though I know better, I let myself hope and believe that despite billions in testimony it is all in vain, I – we – will defy the odds.

It’s romantic, and pathetic. I look back at those moments full of promises and images conjured of us years older and still together the same way we’ve always been, and I can’t believe myself.

It is change that I fear, and I choose to turn a blind eye to what I know to be true: that in time all that I know will decay and wither and cease to exist. I take my comfort in the monotony of routine; these mornings that, now looking back, are almost indistinguishable from one another.

And so I gladly sit through the traffic; on the road I’ve been on for years. I cannot promise even myself anything. I turn to the window, and try not to think of the day I will last set foot on this road.

#MentalHealthBlogathon2018: Voices for Change

Before I start this post, here are some of the mental health services I discovered through the event:

• University of Santo Tomas Psycho-Trauma Clinic (free for all)

• Bahay Aruga

• Mental Health PH Database for services available nationwide

•••

On the Internet, especially on social media, mental health is becoming more commonly discussed. News of celebrity deaths through suicide are on our timelines and feed, it seems, month after month. Suicide hotlines and threads regarding depression and other mental health disorders are shared throughout every social media platform.

I don’t believe that discussion is enough to address the stigma and the issues around mental health. But I believe that discussion elevates awareness, and the more we realize how alarming it is that many Filipinos go undiagnosed, without help, unaware of their own illness or unaware that help is possible, the closer we get to a more sustainable solution for each and every one of them.

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And for that reason, I participated in Mental Health Philippine’ first Blogathon on April 28, 2018. I have had this blog for three years, posting prose, poetry, and the rare personal blog post of an event. This year, I was committed to extending my reach as a writer, and I think having meaningful content to share with my audience, no matter how small, is part of it.

Continue reading “#MentalHealthBlogathon2018: Voices for Change”