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.

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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.

Some Wounds Hurt Forever

24 May 2014
10:59 AM
Manila

M.–

1.
I am hurrying to get things done because it looks like I’m going to stay at the hospital overnight to take care of my sister. Already I could feel the heavy weight upon my chest. I remember a lot of things, but mostly the sight of my grandfather in his bed, and the horrible, sinking feeling of nothing, as he finally closed his eyes for the last time.

I don’t know how much longer I can keep doing this, forcing myself to go to hospitals, I mean. The amount of self-control I must summon to keep myself from hyperventilating is dwindling as I grow older.

2.
I suppose some wounds hurt forever.

3.
The other day my friends from ModPo started the discussion for A Shawl. It’s a subpoem from the first section of Tender Buttons by Gertrude Stein (“Objects”). A partial phrase went on and on in my mind: A shawl is a hat and hurt and a red balloon.

I said, the imagery of the red balloon has a special significance to me, because one of my favourite short films is Le Ballon Rouge by French filmmaker Albert Lamorisse. It was released sometime in 1956. It’s melancholy, it’s cathartic, it’s a lot of things that gets under my skin. Mostly I am enamoured of the idea that the red balloon has a mind of its own. For a child it is a tale of magic, as an adult I feel it is also about how a personal, private joy is fleeting as it is lasting.

4.
A shawl is a hat and hurt and a red balloon–

I have a particular fondness for shawls despite living where I am. I always think of it as an added layer to myself, a protection from the elements, no matter how flimsy the fabric is. A shawl perhaps is a hat, in the sense that it’s an accessory as well as protection from the sun, the wind, the rain. It adds attitude. The shawl is to me, a feminine article of clothing, while the first image that comes to mind when I think of a hat is a man’s hat. By equating the shawl to the hat, perhaps Stein is implying the equality of genders, from the literal (a woman can wear a hat, and a man can wear a shawl) to the metaphorical (the woman can be strong/hard and a man can be weak/soft) to the philosophical (Does one’s gender dictate what one can do or be? Are our roles dictated by society’s norms? Are we classified according to the things we use or the nouns/pronouns we use for ourselves?)

5.
Hurt as a noun makes me think of a wound. Perhaps a person, a body, can be a wound personified, and it is a shawl wrapped around itself. The wound stays, needs time to heal, is a state of suffering. It is here. And after it fades–well, some wounds last forever.

Good morning,
T.

A thing is a thing is a thing. Or is it?

21 May 2014
7:44 AM
Manila

M.–

Just saw this video of a guy who seems to deny any knowledge of what a photocopier is. It’s a short film but is based on an actual legal transcript. You can find out more here.

It made me laugh, and for some reason the repetition of the questions, how one describes the thing, how someone else perceives it–well, it made me think of poetry, somehow. It made me think of Gertrude Stein and her thoughts on naming (See “Rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.” See Naming What is Inside: Gertrude Stein’s Use of Names in Three Lives. See Poetry & Grammar). It made me think of Marcel Duchamp and his Fountain (“the assault on convention“), how he challenges people to examine their perceptions versus that of the world’s.

I am glad you are here again. There is something sacred in the ritual of letter-writing. It’s in the realm of keeping a journal, but with a different kind of intimacy. I treasure both activities. I do understand though the need to be away from this for a while, as we seek to do something similar but in our own private space. Somehow that makes coming back even more meaningful. I am repeating myself, but: I am glad you are here again.

Good morning from my side of the world.

Yours,
T.

I No Longer Have to Feel That Way

6 May 2014
11:42 PM
Manila

M.–

1.
This morning I hitched a ride with my sister on her way to our father’s office. It’s easier to commute from there, and I wanted to be on time for my meeting later in the day. While we were in the cab, she let out this very heavy sigh, one that’s full of resentment and frustration. I know, because those same sighs have passed my lips before.

I looked at her, and she shrugged. “I don’t like going to work,” she said, turning her face to the window. “I dread going to work. It’s the same feeling I get when I was younger, on the first day of school.”

2.
An hour later I got a text from A. saying she won’t be able to meet me for lunch. She punctuated her message with a note of despair, saying she wants to resign from her job. How funny that she was just going through the same thing (well–not nearly the same sentiment, but you know what I mean).

3.
I was thinking, no matter how many times I go back to that day years ago when I quit my job, what I feel about it is always the same, in the end: that it was a smart decision. I look at my sister, and I listen to my friend, and I realise that I no longer have to feel that way. I no longer have to wake up day after day, carrying my dismay, letting it fester, letting it kill me, being in a place I do not want to be, doing things I do not want to do.

Having a studio, trying to keep it afloat while a lot of other small businesses slowly crumble around me–it’s fucking hard. But it is mine.

4.
(Have I said this all before? It feels like I have.)

(And it feels like I have wondered before, too, about this exact same thing.)

5.
Granted, I have days when I wake up and I shudder at the thought of getting out of bed because I have to live. But that’s another story entirely.

6.
Oh, look at me go. But today was a good day. I only felt mildly anxious. I went to another city, and the trip only took an hour. Sure, the meeting lasted only twenty minutes, but I got the project.

7.
And I was okay. In fact, I sat outside for a good few minutes more, alone at my table, drinking up the sun.

8.
I should really say yes more than no.

Goodnight,
T.

How We Allow Ourselves to Live

from the film, Thumbsucker

from the film, Thumbsucker
poster design by Mike Mills, who is also the director

2 May 2014
8:09 PM
Manila

M.–

I had another…difficulty earlier this afternoon. A potential client wanted to meet and it’s tied me up in knots, the thought of going out there again. Logically I know that it’s nothing complicated–I’ve done this before, lots of times. I know how to communicate and bag a project; I know how to talk about what I do, and to some extent, how to sell it, I suppose (sell–such an ugly word sometimes).

The thing is, I am having a hard time processing, if I should go or not. I’m leaning towards not, without a rational reason why. It’s not necessarily a won’t, more of a can’t, as in damn, a crippling kind of just can’t. Trying to explain it to my family made me even more anxious. I had to hide in the bathroom; I stayed there until I can breathe again, and then I took a shower for good measure.

I am worried that it’s going to be another one of those months, and I don’t want to fall back to that? I’ve started being productive again, in a way that felt like it was a few years ago, when I still had it together. No–not that together–perhaps it’s more accurate to say that it’s similar to when I was beginning. And it’s a good feeling, beginning.

I went back to my desk and reread the messages sent to me last night and this morning by my friend K.:

“Try to remember what it was like to be loved by family, friends, and other people. You deprive yourself of that by keeping yourself secluded…and yes of course part of being with others comes getting hurt…but that is how we allow ourselves to live. You haven’t healed well with what you have gone through which is probably why you have become withdrawn. Maybe part of why we need each other is to help each other heal.”

– from K., sent 6:30 AM, 2 May 2014

I started drafting a proposal. Afterward I set a meeting, and we’re to see each other next week Tuesday. I am apprehensive still. I’m trying to come up with a back-up plan–perhaps have lunch with A. if she’s in the area.

I know–I should (wo)man the fuck up. I’m trying to get there. Until then:

Goodnight,
T.

Days Gone By

A Montrouge (Rosa La Rouge) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

A Montrouge (Rosa La Rouge) by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec

1 May 2014
8:05 PM
Manila

M.–

I reckon I’d start writing here again, after being remiss for the past few weeks. I’ve missed this, and I was sorry to break the rhythm of everyday letters. Perhaps one day I’ll upload them all.

I apologise, too, if my letter that’s on its way to you will land at your doorstep in Edinburgh instead of Iona. I had planned to send you a letter or two while you are there on the island, but it seems I could never find the time.

No, that’s not correct. I think, if I’m being honest, there is always time, but lately it feels thick around me. There is time but there isn’t enough space. I don’t know if that makes sense, but that’s how it felt. As if I will never get to where I’m going, as if I will never finish anything I started, as if I am stuck in a loop of repetitive actions that never amount to anything.

I am trying to take care of myself. There are things to do and yet at the end of the day I have to reconcile with myself that I did what I could, and I’d try again tomorrow.

I wonder if I’ll ever be okay. When. A. told me that I looked better, but I had to admit that I’ve been trying really hard to sound like myself that night, over dinner, even if I’m really not. For what it’s worth, it was a difficult endeavour, but at the same time it didn’t feel like a farce. Maybe a part of me can remember who I was before. Maybe I’m not as lost? Down but not out.

These days I work. Write. Talk to myself in my journal. Talk to you in my letters. Or maybe it’s the other way around.

I read, too. Oh, that’s where I mostly am actually. Inside my head, with other characters. Feeling their joy, their pain. Walking with them. Experiencing their adventures.

I used to say that these are my ‘cocooning’ days–days when the world chafes and I need to wrap myself around myself–but I can’t remember the last time I emerged and felt like a goddamn butterfly. Perhaps ‘hibernating’ is better. The beast hides and turns its back away from the world, and when it’s ready to go out again, there are no pretenses, no surprises–because it is still a beast.

Goodnight,
T.

Margin Notes and Ephemera

Mulholland Books / Photo by Summer Anne Burton for BuzzFeed

Mulholland Books / Photo by Summer Anne Burton for BuzzFeed

3 April 2014
5:09 PM
Manila

M.–

S. by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst sounds like a book we would like. From here:

“The book is actually two (or more) books in one: Ship of Theseus, purportedly written by (fictional) author V.M. Straka, and another story that plays out in handwritten margin notes and ephemera stuffed into that book’s pages.

Every page is crammed with notes from a male graduate student and a female college senior who are using the margins to piece together the mysteries of the tome’s enigmatic author.

The marginalia will be a delight to any book lover who has spent hours combing through the secrets pencilled in books at antique shops or dusty used bookstores.”

You can view more images from the link.

Meanwhile, I decided to make a list in my current read:

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

A Storm of Swords by George R.R. Martin

T.