Reflections on Self Expression

Ever since I stopped working, I took it upon myself to rediscover the creative side I have lost when I was still teaching. It’s not that there is no creativity in being a teacher. There is. Lots of it. Every waking day is a hands-on experience: sprucing up an old concept, making sure keynotes are visually aesthetic, designing (and most often than not, improvising) activities that students would love and learn from, etc. Teaching is definitely not a blackhole of artistry. But there were also countless nights when I felt drained (or at times, even suicidal) right after I clocked out from work.

Maybe it was because of the religious nature of the school that I was in, but teaching eventually became a tedious chore for me. I knew that everyone meant well, but I felt that my being as a teacher was constantly judged from the moment I stepped inside the school grounds down to those random nights when colleagues would politely ask me about the choice of memes I shared. There were weekends when my students would randomly spot me strolling in a mall with my friends, and I would get anxiety attacks about what I just wore or how appropriate my behavior was. It was as if my life became a 24/7 reality show.

It took me some months to realize that as much as I enjoy having others appreciate my craft, I also need an outlet where I can express myself without any need of validation or approval.

Of course, I turned to poetry for recluse. The stories I wanted to share, but felt I would be called out for, made its way into a figurative line or two. What made it fun was the ambiguity and the fact that I could hide behind it. There will always be two or more interpretations to a seemingly indecent line ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°), so it was never brought out into the scrutinizing glare of light. It became a safe space for my other self that only a few people acknowledge.

When I quitted the academe, I vowed to focus my creative energies on poetry. I spent quiet nights in a nearby cafe, customized a notebook to call forth the muses, and even went for a social media detox. I mustered all my mental energy for a provocative imagery.

Alas, there were no ravens nor vultures. No lightning at the tip of my fingers. I didn’t have any words.

It took again a considerable amount of time to unpack that my poems are external manifestations of my internal turmoil, and that I couldn’t write because I am not tensed anymore. I have wrote about my life—one that is peppered by abuse, loneliness, and general sadness. Having cut myself away from all known triggers (a sudden live-in arrangement with ze partner did the trick), I found myself bereft of verses. Just how would I describe this new experience I have right now?

I used to maintain an acquaintanship with peace and joy. I knew how to spot them from the sidelines. They were regulars at this yoga studio I used to frequent in before. I ran at them in quiet coffee shops and other creative spaces. They were a hippy couple—one that has a million or so followers in Instagram. When I started living with them, I found out that I had missed so much.

It is so cliche to say this, but they are all about the small details: waking up without being hurried, having a clear agenda of what I need to do, and being patient with household chores. The day ends in gratitude, resting in the knowledge that I have accomplished everything I had to do, and that my palms would not run out of any basic need. The sleepless nights I sacrifice for achievement seem measly compared to the bliss I get every time I sleep without worrying about tomorrow’s performance.

I find it hard to write about peace and joy because fuck, I’ve been gloomy and anxious for the past x years of my existence. I am not prepared for it. I still have no words to capture the sunlight that radiates into my bedroom. Or the feeling of being safe after a long while. Unlike pain which operates on hiding behind ambiguity, happiness runs on a different language. It is sublime, but it does not rub itself on one’s face. It is bold, but at the same time does not draw attention to itself. It illuminates instead of making a material more sinister than it seems.

This is something I have to learn and get used to yet. Not only as means to channel creativity, but also as a way of conversing with life.

Meanwhile, I turn to other mediums for self-expression. In the absence of familiar structures, we learn to adapt to whatever form that is available. Or even create new ones. Journaling about the mundane helps a lot. Photography is an awesome method too (although I have to borrow ze partner’s camera from time to time). Cooking is my all-time favorite.

I will write about cooking the next time I have the chance to.

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Postcard

I am writing this as I wait for dinner to be done. Tonight my partner cooks. He is still busy configuring out the basics of bistek, a local beef stew dish. Meanwhile, the kitchen air is filled with the aroma of simmered soy sauce and caramelized onions. The soft hiss of cooking pan is faintly heard next to the croon of his favorite artist.

This has been a typical night for both of us.

It is still surreal that a few months ago, I would clock out at eight and still be at lost as to what I should be doing after work. Well, for one, there was more work— occupied by keynotes needed to be animated, grades that must be computed, assessment tasks that should be drafted or conceptualized. It was not surprising that I have developed a tendency for procrastination— after repeatedly being advised to work smart, not hard. Well, foine. If you really insist to turn off all lights at six, maybe I should get life after work.

The alternative life would mean signing out at five and exploring whatever city life has to offer for a poorly paid yuppie. Having moved out from my parents and settled at my friend’s couch, a fringe benefit entitled me to a lot of unsupervised free time (well, saved from those nights when my host needed me to tutor her kids, but you get the drift). I entered the wonderland of dating, and boy was it magical.

Still, the spell would wear off at the strike of a certain hour or on particular days when a date suddenly ghosts, and I would find myself brooding and listless at social media. What to do now?

It took me three specialists, two mental breakdowns, and a barrage of office memos to finally realize that what I need is more than a break. I need a vacation.

Now that I think about it, I haven’t really had a legit vacation ever since I graduated college. After being hurled out screaming from my alma mater’s, I focused on one thing I was weaned to do: survive. I moved from one job to another, traversed cities, and even entered graduate school— all for the dream of being this sophisticated self-made woman.

What I am right now is SO far-fetched from the ideals I had imagined back when I was a graduate. For starters, I am currently unemployed. I try to scrape out an income by tutoring from time to time. Fifty percent of my purchase power is fuelled by my parents’ unconditional(?) love for me. I secretly live with my partner to regain the sanity I lost when I was teaching. My media subscriptions are all on hold. Aside from some books, I have nothing else valuable except time…

…which I am learning to enjoy indiscriminately. I used to abhor how time runs so fast while I, weighed by responsibilities and personal demons, trudged far behind it. Now that I am on an indefinite vacation, time stretches like a wide paved road, and I have the option to stroll wherever I please.

It is very ironic to have found my sense of routine in a space devoid of rigid structures. Without any morning commitment, I now regularly wake up at nine. I am slow in preparing food, but always make it in time for lunch. Afternoons are spent either responding to mails, playing video games, or napping. At five, I go to my tutee and we would have a productive time learning together. I usually arrive home at eight, just in time for me and my partner to decide on what we are going to have for dinner. My routine is a tad boring than what I used to do, but I overall feel alive, accomplished and happy.

To add, this has been going on for two months- the longest I am able to sustain a routine without any sort of internal revulsion.

Do I want this to last forever? Partly. But I am also aware that there is life after this LIFE. ;). After all, I am an adult who has bills to pay, plans to save for, and places to travel to. Staying permanently in this utopic set-up would prolly defeat the purpose of being human. So yes, I will soon be returning to the throng of mass workers who digests Metro Manila traffic for breakfast. This time I clutch dearly onto my souvenir: a better sense of what I should do and what my work is worth for.

Meanwhile, I relish the remaining time I have here while ze partner is setting the table for dinner.

Random Reminders for Sanity

1. If you’re going to die at 30, make sure to live a life that is well-spent. Live a rich life, and let others find humor and solace in your story.

2. That means to say, let go of all things that keep you from flying. Sometimes, courage is exhibited in quitting. If pride is the only thing that makes you stay, it is not a worthy cause. Let go and let the universe take you to new places. We are all pilgrims of realms.

3. Pursue the authentic. Deside first what is authentic and go after it with all your heart (Erdrich, Advice to Myself).

4. As you grow older, you would notice that your body isn’t as sharp or as efficient as it was before. Forgive yourself and put your focus on things that matter. You cannot multi-task now, but you can always prioritize.

5. Never apologize for being too intense. If s/he couldn’t handle the heat of your flame, s/he is not worth burning for.

6. Always turn hurt into art. If there’s a gift that you need to practice, that is to recycle negativity into beauty.

7. See the good in people. Everyone deserves to be given the benefit of doubt.

8. Kindness and persistence cultivate the heart. You would have already been dead if not for people who took you in, spoonfed you with warm food, and treated your wounds.

9. After all the heartache, strive to remain soft. There is hidden strength in being raw and vulnerable. But don’t forget prudence.

10. Listen to your anger. It is sadness that has not been grieved. Breathe it out without causing harm to others.

Transient Dreams

Maybe all I am looking for
as I sleep around in people’s houses
is one that finally says,
Stay.

You are no guest here.
You have long left your clutter
in the nooks and crannies of every room
This house will be robbed empty without it.

See, the dogs whine whenever you’re away.
Flowers grope blindly in search of sunlight,
and the side of the bed gathers dust,
stretches itself to a white desert, blinding
without water, without warmth.

I have always left my keys pressed on your hand.
Open those tight fists and let yourself in.
No need for any ceremonial fanfare,
or seemingly polite declarations of entry.

Just kick off your shoes. Unclasp your clothes.
It has been a long day.

Stay.

Providence

Nights like these:
when the last traces of sunlight radiates
from your hand
into my cheek.

Salt in tears:
the base ingredient
for both joy and sorrow.
Felt in our tongues,
twisted layers of silent repining-
something we had to share
and go through
to realize the bittersweet taste
of departures.

Comfort of solitude:
Wandering through the desert,
making homes in makeshift tents,
acknowledging the fire within my body,
and finding means to tend its flames.

The gift of birth pains:
Learning the art of breathing
as water breaks from within.
Just when I was about to drown
in an ocean of self-induced penitence,
Life springs forth from the swell,
bursts the bubble,
and cries out for my name.

Heritage

These are the words of your ancestors-
Your grandmothers who have surfaced from the sea,
leaving the life of comfort behind,
humming growth and livelihood
to anyone willing to walk and be bruised.
 
They become the song of your mothers
queens who have long paved the road
with their footsteps,
who have discovered the ability to fly,
and have been burnt by being able to do so.

They are not lost to your sisters
who have managed to gather the ashes
at the foot of the stakes,
releasing them to the wind
as to where they originally belonged.

These are heirlooms from your kin
Your family who waits for you
should you decide to be born:

Know.

There is no permanence,
No land to contain your bones.

You are not meant for staying.
We are all pilgrims of realms.

There will be long nights
when you have to travel alone,
tend a fire within your body,
and eat whatever that grows.

There will be days when
you will be fed,
share a bed with a stranger,
and see the world glow
at someone else’s windowsill

There will be afternoons and midnights
when someone will graze at your palm,
holding you close,
pleading you not to go,

But you gotta be brave.
You have to trust
the universe who placed you here
will usher you safe
where you are needed to be.

Probably not as comfortable as you would expect.
Who ever told that flying on broomsticks is easy?
Who ever said you can grow fins overnight?
But you will learn.

It’s in your very marrows.
History etched at your spine,
Molten fire in your veins,
They are your heritage.
Waiting to be used.
Waiting to be acknowledged.

Graces

To exist.

To safely arrive from one point to another,

To enjoy the momentary stillness amidst the honking of horns,

To radiate the warmth of sunlight into another person’s hand,

To take advantage of being cold as an invitation to intimacy,

To write without fear, to create without warning,

To look into the eyes of a child, defying demarcations of time,

To impregnate yourself with joy, to be expectant of it,

To partake in the labor of the universe,

To surrender a bit in the grand order of things,

    floating on an endless ocean, finding your breath underwater,

    leaving your children in their sleep, trusting their innate gift,

To live, to swim, to grow their own gills,

To find water wherever there is,

     becoming more aware that the going and returning are just halves,

     of a person I long knew, and will know,

These are graces I continually thank for