How daily my life.

View from my desk, at this hour

25 March 2017
1:26 AM
Manila, Philippines

Dear M.,

What a holy mess, my desk is, at this hour. And every day, I suppose, looks like this. I sit at my desk and write and work, and somehow, without looking, the days have turned into another week, and the weeks into months, and it’s my life, the life I make, is what it is.

I am reminded of a part of a poem:

from Otherwise Smooth
Rosmarie Waldrop

How daily my life. How tiny the impurities around which words might accrue. Worlds. Whorls. Pearls? Once I stood in a town where nothing was left unchanged but the clouds driven from the east. Now I learn from the sea. Always the same, always different, brackish body, uncertain. The unusual I hold at bay by taking pictures. To let it accrue to memory without having to experience it? Do we live this way, walking, as if we could, on thin air? But the sycamore stands in the yard all day and all night. And now, though still lifeless in appearance, quickens. Roots gripping farther down.

What is one place do I feel most like myself? I suppose it is before this desk, my holy altar of broken prayers and broken words, where I come to make myself whole again, if at all possible, and if the days are kinder.

It is past one in the morning and I am again wrestling with a poem with no end in sight. I don’t know how long I’ll be working tonight, but this is the kind of work I get out of bed for. The rest—all the rest of it that pays the bills and reminds me I’m still a citizen of a society—they’re something I have to do in order to survive. This work though—the work of my life, our lives, M., the work of showing up at our desks to write with our being—it’s what I do to be alive.

The hour is late. I’m not even sure if I’m making sense. But: how daily my life. Most days I forget and lament, where am I going? What am I doing? I am lost in my own life and I’m afraid I’ve gone and done it, wasted it all away. But I sit at my desk anyway. And nights like this will remind me why. Something I need to keep repeating over and over: it’s a writing life.

Yours,
T.

I had thought myself frail

Nuhlimkilaka – Koskimo (likely in Quatsino Sound, Island of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada). Kwakiutl person wearing an oversize mask and hands representing a forest spirit, Nuhlimkilaka (“bringer of confusion”). Photograph by Edward S. Curtis, ca. 13 November 1914. (via)

15 March 2017
06:02 PM
Manila, Philippines

Dear M. —

1.
I remember my grandfather and the day he died. Seeing his last breath leave his body was one of the most excruciating moments of my life. Seeing my father howl with pain rendered me helpless and powerless.

The days that followed were surreal: accepting the absence of a person you loved is a difficult task, but one we must all do. I not only felt weak in the knees—I felt it all the way to my soul. That hollowness.

2.
I am thirty-one today. It’s nothing extraordinary—more like a quiet settling, inside myself. Knowing I’m older. Thinking I’m beginning another decade, which will hopefully see myself grow more into the person I hoped to be. I’m melancholy but also anxious, and I’ve yet to get to the bottom of these feelings.

Have you ever wondered about the self you leave behind as you age? Do you ever revisit your past dreams and concerns? And what do you make of them?

3.
I think of my grandfather and the life he’s lived. If I’m being honest, his death, no matter how shattering, was his greatest lesson to me. He taught me how to find the thread of grace amidst the grief. I got to know the recesses of sorrow, but I also wrote through that, and what a gift.

4.
Here is a poem, one of the many that I’ve read during hard times:

from Fragment Forty
H.D.

I had thought myself frail;
a petal,
with light equal
on leaf and under-leaf.

I had thought myself frail;
a lamp,
shell, ivory or crust of pearl,
about to fall shattered,
with flame spent.

I cried:
“I must perish,
I am deserted,
an outcast, desperate
in this darkness,”
(such fire rent me with Hesperus,)
then the day broke

5.
I wonder what tomorrow brings. What this new year has in store for me. Do I feel nervous? Yes. But I’m hoping I have enough grit, I have enough grace. The thing about weakness is that it’s energy, too. That it can be transformed into something useful, into a thing that belongs to you.

Yours,
T.

How the light gets in

Over Sea, Under Stone by Martin Johansson

Over Sea, Under Stone by Martin Johansson

14 March 2016
2:16 PM
Manila, Philippines

My dear M.–

I’m not sure I’m what could qualify as a strong person. There are so many things that I’m scared about; I sometimes stop and ask myself, when have I become this human being? Someone who has a lot of anxieties and can scarcely go a week without spiralling into some kind of panic attack. I want to say, I don’t know. It’s so much easier that way, maybe, to shrug my shoulders and sort of helplessly laugh, I don’t know! And then go about my days.

But I do know the hows, and the specific when of it. See, all my life I was living with good days and bad days, until about five years ago when the bad became worse. And then it was simply a matter of letting yourself slide deeper and deeper into the pit because the rest of it—living—was such a shit alternative.

Any one thing can make me strong: the way the sunlight beckons at my desk at eight in the morning, the memory of the sea, the knowledge that I am loved and wanted, finishing writing a poem I think might be worth a read, letters from friends, coming home from a trip, and so on.

But the one thing that has made me stronger: digging into myself and finding the desire to be here. To occupy space, and to know that I can be, just be.

I realise that a lot of it has to do with having a mental illness and accepting that I am not a lesser person because of it. Oh, there are some nights when everything would be inexplicable and I know for certain how broken I am. Some afternoons though, like this one—I can almost live with it, not being put back together as I used to be. I’m chipped and scarred, and who knows how many ways I can still shatter. But that’s the thing: that’s how the light gets in.

Yours,
T.

Slow to Process

27 April 2016
12:49 AM
Manila, Philippines

M.–

I got back last Friday but it seems like I’m in a trance ever since. There’s so much that happened in that week in Hanoi that it’s taking me some time to unpack everything. And here I am, asking again—how do you do it? I’m so slow to process. It feels like I’m never going to recover, and I’m not sure I want to.

The different parts of myself demand different kinds of unpacking, too. There’s the self that processes things through images and moments and poetry, thus my poetry journal, which remains incomplete and late as well. There’s the self that longs to tell you stories, which is what this place is for. There’s the self that wants to relive the days and revel through the photographs I’ve taken, the self that wants to share even just a fraction of the experience to friends and family, to spread that wonder and awe. That self is what I allow to upload photos on social media. (And the other self that observes this activity and has a separate commentary on how we enjoy things is another creature that I’ll have to entertain some other time.) There’s another self that longs to dissect the whole trip as an introvert and a discoverer at the same time, that I’ve toyed with the idea of creating another blog just to give in to that urge. All of this, and I arrive at the same question you had: what am I doing this for?

I smiled when I read about your desire to have more than one brain and two eyes. Yes please. And perhaps more than a set of limbs! Ah, to be able to halve our selves, and then halve these halves once more, so that pieces of our soul can scatter away to do everything all at once. Then, at the end of the day, for all of them to make a journey back home and return to one piece, and put together everything while we’re sleeping.

I would like to think, M., that it is something that we are destined to carry—to not just see things, but observe them. To contemplate constantly, to feel things deeply, and without remorse. It is more a gift than a burden, although the latter happens when we have nowhere to put all these thoughts down. I think this space we have carved for ourselves can be a safe place to leave everything that’s in our heads and hearts. Even if just temporarily. Or to exorcise a sentiment that has dogged us for so long that it needs to be spoken about, then filed away for good.

Yours,
T.

P.S. I think about death more often than I should. One of these days I’ll tell you about it.

P.P.S. Or: how do you feel about having a writing map again? We can start in June maybe.

P.P.P.S. I’ve been following your posts about Brooklyn actually. I have a draft of another letter in response that I wrote earlier but haven’t had a chance to finish yet. Will you go ahead with the blog series about books? Will it be a new blog? Apart from a travel blog, I also wanted a place where I can write about books I’ve read and films I’ve watched, which I kind of already started but has remained stagnant for a few years now. Ugh! Why can’t we have more time to do these things which fire up our soul instead of work?

P.P.P.P.S. Please bear with me as I backdate my letters to you from Hanoi. Next week I’ll be on a plane again, but will just be traveling within the country.

On Self-Love and Self-Sabotage

16 April 2016
3:31 AM
Manila

M.–

I have no idea how you do this—constantly pack your bags and decide what to take with you and what to leave behind. I suppose over time you get very efficient at it, and you come to know for a certainty what things are non-negotiable, and what things are replaceable.

I think I have been packing my bag for a week now, not only because I’m worried about the weight and how much it’ll cost if I go beyond seven kilograms, but that sense of security and peace of mind I’m trying to chase after—if I bring this I’ll be okay.

Then I catch myself thinking, isn’t the objective to be lost? Isn’t the goal to completely assimilate yourself with the unknown, and see what happens? (A voice in my head whispers, there’s a difference between being lost and being foolish.)

Anyway, I’m at a hotel now. Later in the evening I’ll be going to the airport. My flight leaves at ten. My dilemma right now is choosing between a smaller luggage and a bigger one. I’m trying to decide which is more advantageous for me on the way back, as this is all checked in anyway. I know the answer is obvious and staring me right in the face, but maybe I can’t see it because I’m myopic.

Also, I forgot my meds. At least, the ones that matter. Headache and tummy aches—I’ve got that covered. But when my anxiety arrives without warning, or the darkness comes for me unexpectedly, well. I suppose I’ll just have to fight it. My sister tells me it’s self-sabotage, that I intentionally left it at home. I don’t have an answer to that.

Off to another adventure it seems. Here’s to our attempts at making our world bigger. I want to say that I’m running off to meet my future self who’s waiting for me to catch up so we can finally move forward. I really want to believe that.

Yours,
T.

Here Again

Window Seat by Jim Darling

Window Seat by Jim Darling

15 April 2016
2:42 AM
Manila

M.–

Well, I am here again. I’ve been meaning to go back to this place for quite some time, but I’ve always had excuses, always something else to do. We’ve been mostly quiet, too, and I am hoping, with all my heart, that your silence means you are having the time of your life, that you are outside and meeting the world. Thinking about you happy, in the middle of doing things you love—I don’t mind it at all, the distance.

And yet I miss you, and so I am here.

My days are pretty hectic as I am about to go away on a trip tomorrow. Most of the time it’s full of doubts and questioning my decisions (as I am wont to do). And the tiny spaces left I fill with poetry and anything else that would keep me anchored to the present moment.

What are your anchors now, I wonder. Has living in another country finally become another piece of your life falling into place, or is it still something you’re trying to figure out? Do you wake up every morning thinking that this is all so new, or have you found yourself surprised that you’ve grown familiar enough with everything to develop and nurture rituals and routine?

I sometimes dream of staging a disappearance from the life I’ve known and everybody who has known me, and reappear somewhere else, in another city or country, unknown and unnamed. The dream to remake myself is constant.

Well—perhaps not remaking so much as restructuring. Rearranging into the person I am meant to be, if only because it’s taking such a long time to arrive there myself, by myself, in this life.

I keep asking, how much longer? Somewhere at the back of my mind, an echo: Perhaps it takes as long as it takes.

Be well.

Yours,
T.

Making Space

2 September 2014
11:31 PM
Manila

M.–

A few Sundays ago I spent an afternoon sifting through my notebooks and lots of first drafts. I made several outlines of what I have so far, trying to find some coherence–perhaps even progression–in my poems. A big chunk of what I have written was seven, eight years old. Maybe even older than that. But surprisingly I have a considerable number of new ones (I’m talking recently, which in my timeline means as far back as two years). I haven’t been as lazy (and hopeless) as I thought!

The hours went by. By midnight I have, more or less, segregated my work into piles, and I have a clearer picture of what I have written, what interested me, what I believed in, all these years. I have a better understanding of what I am writing about now. It’s been a long time since I did this, and I have to admit that it was a little bit lonely, too, going at it alone. But I was happy to do it–to be able to discuss with myself all of these with a clarity (and maturity?) that I didn’t have when I was eighteen, or twenty-five. I feel (somewhat) accomplished. I feel like I have an agenda (finally!). I have an idea of what I am going to do in the next few months–that part is done. Now, on to the doing.

You often talk about your mentor(s), and consultations about your poems. What does it feel like for you? How do you go about your writing, or your PhD? I sometimes imagine you standing in front of a labyrinthian master plan, your very own Ariadne.

I hope you are making space for what makes you happy, as I am.

Yours,
T.

Keeping Alive

1 September 2014
11:42 PM
Manila

M.–

I miss you. I need to write you, and talk to you, even if I’m just really talking to myself, so here I am. It’s been a busy past few months for me, full of ups and downs. Mostly downs, actually. But those small moments of joy? They far outweigh the bad stuff. And I hold on to them with tenacity that I didn’t think I have.

What this month looks like: I’ve signed up for a lot of classes, but ModPo remains my lighthouse. It’s going to start again on the 6th, and I am returning with a full heart and an excitement to learn new things. I have made new friends in the last few weeks, deepened my relationships with people who have been in my life since the past year, and reconnected with those in my past. It’s an interesting development, seeing myself mirrored in three different ways. But what is constant: the pang of wanting to be in touch with you.

How have you been?

Love always,
T.

Drawn into Orbit

Still Life with a Glass and Oysters by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1640)

Still Life with a Glass and Oysters (1640) by Jan Davidsz de Heem

10 June 2014
12:16 AM
Manila

M.–

Having gone through my second car accident last Friday, I look at my swollen knee and think about the way we arrive in the world. The way we leave. All the people who have come and gone, all those whom you loved and thought would stay forever.

I often lose those who matter. I suppose life has always been like this.

Have you read this book? I came across an excerpt and I have fallen in love, there’s no other way to say it:

“…I have fallen in love with a painting. Though that phrase doesn’t seem to suffice, not really – rather it’s that I have been drawn into the orbit of a painting, have allowed myself to be pulled into its sphere by casual attraction deepening to something more compelling. I have felt the energy and life of the painting’s will; I have been held there, instructed. And the overall effect, the result of looking and looking into its brimming surface as long as I could look, is love, by which I mean a sense of tenderness toward experience, of being held within an intimacy with the things of the world…”

– from Still Life with Oysters and Lemon: On Objects and Intimacy by Mark Doty

I am thinking of our own orbits, of paths crossing, of every one of us who have meandered into one another’s lives. Isn’t it strange to know each other at all, given where you are, given where I am?

Goodnight,
T.

Everything Hinges on the Fact that People Assume Life is Relatively Simple

29 May 2014
11:07 AM
Manila

M.–

My eldest sister ended up staying overnight. That was a load off my chest, although it was quickly replaced by more dread, when our family doctor had this brilliant idea of making me take more tests for a general checkup. I couldn’t get out of it, so that’s how my past few days have been–going to the hospital for tests, visiting S. (who ended up having her gallstones removed), and working on deadlines.

Every night I come home and go straight to my room, stand by a corner and just take deep breaths, swearing, wondering how many days are left until my sister comes home, until the tests stop.

I’ve been thinking about receiving compliments, and how I handle it.

The other day E. told me all about the writers’ festival in Sydney, and mentioned some Filipino poets who were there to read their work. I might have gushed about some works a bit–and E., bless her heart, wanted to buy a book for me. She said that it would make her happy.

My gut reaction was, of course, no. Absolutely not. And immediately I cringed, because that was totally ungracious. To tell the truth, I am giddy with excitement just thinking about it. Books always make for good presents, after all, especially if they come in the mail. It’s just that–I can be quite unbearable and awkward when it comes to accepting something good, as if I always have to ask permission first to be happy about it, to welcome it willingly, to know that it’s allowed.

I ended up blabbering on and embarrassing myself. I shared something I read recently which felt so true: “when people give me compliments I feel like a vending machine trying to accept a wrinkly dollar and it’s just really frustrating for everyone involved.” (x)

But I adore E. and did not want to be a jerk. I told myself, damn it, T., just fucking shut up for once. So I said yes.

This morning, someone told me that the scarf I was wearing was lovely. I stopped and panicked internally, and before I could formulate a proper response, I said, “It’s not a scarf, it’s a shawl.” And then there were sirens inside my head so I quickly walked away.

When I told my sister what happened, she looked at me disapprovingly and said that all I had to do was say, “Thank you.” I hid my face in my hands because I realised that the moment I walked away, but my feet were already carrying me farther from the scene of the crime, and I just kept on going. Ugh.

Now I’m going to think about it for the rest of the day. Damn it.

“…What should we do with these pains and troubles? Well, if you’re a relatively stupid person, there is one answer that is customarily given, and that answer is read a self-help book. These things are for stupid people; there are some of those people around, and they’ll tell you how to live.

But the elite answer says that anyone who is clever doesn’t need that sort of stuff, and the reason is that life is relatively simple. After all, all you need to do in an average life is: grow up, separate yourself from your parents, find a job that’s moderately satisfying, create a relationship where you can relate to someone, start raising some children, watch the onset of mortality in your parents’ generation, [which] then start[s] to lap at the shores of your own, and then eventually when it gets [to] you, lie down in the coffin and shut the lid politely, and go off into the next world (or no world at all). And it’s simple–who’s got any problems with that?

Well, I think that’s desperately wrong.”

– Alain de Botton on art as therapy

Yesterday, R. and I talked about naivete, and how we approached writing and poetry when we were younger. He said, “I like to think of you as excited about what you were doing then and would have liked to see that.”

Sometimes I wonder what it would be like if the important people in my life now–you, R., E., being some of them–have met me years back. If we would’ve been friends. If we would have always mattered to each other, in this universe, this timeline, or any other.

Good morning,
T.