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.

How to Bend, Not Break

Victoria Eriksson


11 November 2016

T. –

Question one: What’s one thing that has happened to you that has made you a stronger person?

It’s no one thing. It’s one fierce ride.

It’s three divorces, two countries, airplanes and suitcases. It’s knowledge of multiple local places, homes that keep shifting and changing until the idea of home doesn’t actually have the same boundaries to the container anymore.

It’s the juxtaposition of age and memory. It’s the flux of interpretation, meaning, and experience. It’s sequential memory, and blocked-out memory. It’s the things I’ll never forget, and the details that evolve and grow up to become more than themselves.

The best part of the question is: what does it mean to have something happen to me? Is it a position I’ve put myself in? Is it the journey of a million deliberate steps? Heidegger has this amazing phrase called “thrownness”. But the only things we are thrown into, against our will, is the relationship with the circumstances surrounding our birth and our death. We don’t control where we are born, and to whom, and where, and what surrounds us. Similarly, we rarely have control over the circumstances of our deaths.

Death has come up in multiple conversations I’ve had recently. Today: death as the only thing we can count on. Last week: the way I say “I’ll try not to die on my trip to the US” instead of “I’ll miss you, and things will happen to both of us while I’m gone. I’m joking, but my jokes are pointing to something deeper that I wish we had the time and space to talk about.”

When I was younger, I was so afraid I would die en route to something, that I wrote letters to my friends and family before every flight I took. New letters each time, to my crushes, to my family, to the people I would leave behind if I died. When the flight was successful, when the trip had finished, when I came back home, I got rid of the letters.

I think there’s only one letter in current existence to be given to someone in the event of my death. It’s in the bottom of someone else’s drawer.

What is one thing that has happened to me that has made me stronger? The confluence of events, in the order and manner in which they have happened. The moment I learned how to understand and articulate my own unique ways of being in the world. The day I found Philosophy. The first day I met failure, and decided it was temporary instead of fatal. The first time I admitted a serious mistake I was ashamed of. The night I stay up later to keep writing, to keep driving, to keep the momentum going, to strengthen the muscles that will collaborate and eventually get me closer to where I’m heading.

The first time I walked out on stage and realised that I was no longer shaking, that I had shaken off all of the stage fright, all of the nerves, set all the butterflies free.

The first time I tried on a new view of my life and it fit like a warm coat.

The moment I realised all of us are more than one thing.

The practice of learning how to bend, not break.

The practice of how to come back from the brink, how to be brought back, how to ask someone else to grab my hand and hold the ground until I can re-gravitate myself back into orbit.

More soon,

M

Remembering and Forgetting

The sky, and only ever the sky

The sky, and only ever the sky (Taken morning of 29 October 2016)

30 October 2016
2:48 AM
Tagaytay

M.–

I’ve taken a break from work, from the ills of my life, from the dreadful politics of the city, and from the day-to-day of trying to rise above it all in order to remain sane. I want to say, I’ve taken a break from myself, but I bring the whole of who I am wherever I go I suppose (as if I had any say in the matter).

We have a long weekend in observation of all saints’ and all souls’ day next week. A lot of people are going home to their respective provinces, or spending time at churches and cemeteries to remember their dead.

I have a feeling that most of Manila is emptied out by now, a rare occurrence often reserved for boxing matches. Those of us who have loved ones buried or kept in crypts within the city, however, are taking this opportunity to leave, if only for a few days. I think of my grandfather and his ashes, of bones turning to dust. I think of his frail body leaving this earth, seven years ago come November 9th.

I am back in Tagaytay again, this place I’ve been mooning over for years and years. Every time I return it is the same and not the same. I know her face and she knows mine, and yet there’s something different with us both.

The past two weeks I’ve been involved in several conversations about the cities and bodies. How my own body and the city I am in reflect separate and yet similar geographies. The self changes as the city changes, I told someone.

I mean, look: I carried with me the trappings of someone whose head is full of urban concerns. And yet when faced with the bluest sky this morning, and that quiet little volcano surrounded by the bluest lake, I want to weep. How much longer can Manila suit my life, or my life suit Manila?

A book I brought with me—Animal Triste by Monika Maron. Here is an excerpt I’ve been sitting with for the past few hours:

“I like to think about the brachiosaurus. Besides my lover and the brachiosaurus, there is not much else I like to think about. Over the years I have learned not to remember what I would rather forget. I don’t understand why people clutter their memories with mountains of inconsequential events, most of them not worth experiencing in the first place, so they can rummage around in them a hundred times or more and parade them as if they were proof positive of a life well spent. In my life there was not much that didn’t deserve to be forgotten; consequently, the version I deem worth preserving has become a rather condensed life.

…Forgetting is the fainting of the soul. Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. The whole world had forgotten the brachiosaurus. For 150 million years he had been lost to earthly, maybe even cosmic, memory, until Professor Janesch found a few bones in Tendaguru. From then on, we began to remember him, which means: We reinvented him, his tiny brain, his food, habits, contemporaries, the long span of his species’ life, and his death. Now he exists again, and every child knows him.

Since its passing, I have been inventing and reinventing that night, forty or fifty years ago, when my lover was sitting upright with his back against the wall, surrounded by carnivorous plants, like all the nights I spent with my lover. This way time passes and yet stands still.”

— from Animal Triste by Monika Maron, translated by Brigitte Goldstein

What does this city remember about me? What has it forgotten? I am not the same person I was that wrote you letters from this same place three years ago, although I have been here many times since then. I think this trip is my third time for this year. And yet it is still me, I am still in love with the mountains, I still dream of living here someday.

Remembering has nothing at all to do with not forgetting. I wonder if this is true, or if it only sounds beautiful because it offers me the possibility of rekindling with every little memory I have unknowingly parted ways with.

Here: I am sitting at the balcony, my feet freezing. I am facing the other side of the city, the lights as small as the stars above me. I am wrapped in a hand-knitted scarf I bought on a whim in Hanoi, my hair trying to escape from its braid. Who am I at this moment? I have changed the moment I arrived here, I felt it keenly, and I know it will happen again once I leave. What kind of self will I be bringing back home, and how long will I be able to hold on to her?

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.

Digging A Path to Follow

Along Lý Quốc Sư Street

Along Lý Quốc Sư Street

18 April 2016
2:02 AM
Hanoi, Vietnam

M.–

I thought it was three in the morning, but I forget that Hanoi is one hour behind Manila. It is 19 degrees celsius and raining outside, quite a novelty. I keep wondering how hot it is back home, my thoughts returning to it again and again. Home, not the weather, I mean. Every new city I’ve been to, I seem to have Manila in my mind. Is that love or exasperation, I don’t really know right now.

Today my friend S. and I just walked and walked and walked. It’s all quite lovely, the charm of Old Quarters. You’re here and not here at the same time. And it’s not just the architecture where the old meets the new, where the lives of people go on ordinarily as they should amidst construction of more modern cafés and banks—it’s also about your place in the middle of all this. How you carve out space for yourself in an already busy street, just standing at a corner trying to take it all in.

S. and I talked about the seemingly non-identity of tourists. There’s that element of being able to do what you want to do, and who cares about all the rest. On the surface, you think you’re doing it because why not, and also, you’re not going to be meeting these people again. But upon further examination, I think it’s really this—every one of us here is a stranger. I am not a Tourist, I am a tourist. I am much a tourist as the next one, and he or she the same. I could be the guy lugging around a big hiking backpack. I could be the family being driven around in a bicycle cart. I could be the tall woman in a blue-striped dress holding a map, wondering where to next. I could be the old man down by Hoàn Kiếm Lake, smoking and sitting with his dog. And they could all be me. We are all existing and living in this place and nobody here would know us.

Emily Dickinson is suddenly in my head: I’m Nobody! Who are you? The non-identity comes first before the question, and in this moment, the question doesn’t really matter. I can do anything because I have lost who I am, if only temporarily. And this loss is such a gift.

Yours,
T.

Do not hurry; do not rest.

Two in the morning, passing through Cần Thơ Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

Two in the morning, passing through Cần Thơ Bridge in Hanoi, Vietnam

17 April 2016
2:45 AM
Hanoi, Vietnam

M.–

I brought Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life here in Hanoi. It was your birthday gift to me years ago. I packed it with my bags as some sort of talisman almost. I don’t really know what I was hoping to happen. I’m sure my decision was motivated by an unnamed desire.

Chapter one begins with an epigraph from Goethe: “Do not hurry; do not rest.” It speaks so much of how my trip has been so far, and I only landed about an hour and forty-five minutes ago.

My flight was delayed because of a previous flight. It was the kind of waiting that rips me apart after the day I’ve had (long story), but as always I took it as an opportunity to observe and think and write in my head. I would like to think that you do this, too—use the world as your canvas, and take in as much as you can. Of course there’s a part of me that longs to run away from all the unknown variables—everyone I don’t know who is within the vicinity of my personal space is a variable—but sitting for hours with all these stories around me, who am I to say no?

I’m exhausted though, and long for sleep. Another letter tomorrow. For now, some errant thoughts I scribbled in my journal:

1:00 AM thereabouts. Noi Bai Airport.

Marveled at the cleanliness and newness of being in another country again. Woman flustered, dropping booking ticket, spilling her bag. Thought, that’s me, in another lifetime. Perhaps any arbitrary turning along the way. Two teenage boys escorted all the way through everything since Manila. The privilege of being white, I mused. It only took me thirty years to get here. Guy stamping passports looks disgruntled. Probably by the fact that we’re about thirty minutes late. Asking why we’re here. Pleasure. Tourist. The longer and farther away from home I am, the more I am discovering and getting to know my body and who I am as a citizen and person. Got through. Luggage showed up right away for once. Airport transfer. All done without saying a word to each other. And here I thought the absence of language would be a disaster. But the body is a language, too.

Almost an hour to the hotel. The city is so quiet and beautiful like this. We passed by the Cần Thơ Bridge. Spectacular. The Mekong River beneath us. What have I done to be here, right now? Everything I can, I suppose. Lights everywhere. Bathing our faces before the distance returns us to the shadows.

Yours,
T.

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.

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.

The Poet Awake

by Martin Vlach

by Martin Vlach

17 February 2014
12:00 am
Edinburgh

T. —

I think I’m stuck in the past. I really do keep writing 2013, and it’s not just that my mind hasn’t made the leap into the new year yet. Part of me thinks it’s entirely plausible that it could be February 2013 at this moment.

I’m in bed, waiting for sleep to take over. Andrew is down in London for three days for work, and he left on the sleeper train tonight. I’ve been wondering what it will be like in Iona to be almost completely on my own. Of course, I’ll be surrounded by people, but none of them will know me. And in amongst all of those people will be silence. I’ve almost forgotten what it sounds like.

These three days are an interesting reminder.

When I was younger, I used to take trips to dark places with people I loved to look at the stars. Star-gazing at night with the right people opened up whole other worlds to me. It was so easy to disappear into the tiny place we occupy when faced with the multitudes of the cosmos. I haven’t been stargazing in years, but I have a visual image of watching the Perseid meteor shower out on Tybee beach in Savannah, when Andrew turned to face me, and a bright green comet flew over his head.

And – twice – the counted meteors in an August shower.
First, on an interstate in Indiana, lying on the backseat peering
out the window at a ceiling of stars when she was still alive
and laughing up a storm in the passenger seat.
Later, on the beach in Georgia, lines like struck-matches
in the night sky. We went down dirty and tired
and came back smelling like the sea.

– from Thirty Two by Emma Sedlak

*

I’ve been reading all day, and writing all day too, which — I won’t lie — kind of astounds me.

Lament often inaugurates elegies, but repetition organizes them. Take Elizabeth Bishop’s “North Haven,” written for Robert Lowell one year after his fatal heart attack. Although she is looking at one of Lowell’s most beloved seascapes in Maine, she resists the pathetic fallacy. Bishop does not believe that nature is shedding tears simply because she is. “The islands haven’t shifted since last summer,” she writes, and then acknowledges, “even if I like to pretend they have.”

She also recognizes that the constancy of nature is illusory: “the goldfinches are back, or others like them.” Not even nature resists change, although it does repeat itself year after year, bringing new finches and growing different flowers even though the seasons themselves seem unchanging. “Nature repeats herself,” Bishop concedes, “or almost does: / repeat, repeat, repeat; revise, revise, revise.”

– Poets Mourning Poets, the Paris Review Daily

*

The thing I always loved best about staying up and writing late into the night was to think of the rest of the world sleeping. This one amazing, beautifully written piece instilled that penchant in me, to write into the night, to stay up late and anchor the world:

Loving my Poet as I do, though, I try hard to understand what a poet is. The first clue lies in the fact that my Poet—every poet—is an insomniac. My own reads or wanders about our apartment for the best part of most nights. She told me she often feels she would give up every poem she’s ever written for one good night’s sleep. A friend of mine, who’s a literature professor, is very enamored of my Poet, whom he describes, tremblingly, as “the real thing.” (I once asked if I was “the real thing,” but it unfortunately triggered a grand mal seizure in him.) Anyway, he tells me he finds it profoundly reassuring that while we ordinary mortals are asleep, there exist lit rooms containing anxious, vigilant souls. A terrible responsibility, he says, devolves upon the poet, that requires her never to be fully awake or asleep: at night, wakeful poets buoy humanity to the surface, to consciousness, preventing our slumbering bulk from sinking too far; during the day, these same poets anchor the madding masses to the depths. The world will end, he once told me, when the final poet awake closes her eyes. Last night I woke up sweating, having dreamed of sinking with the rest of humanity into cold oblivion. Sure enough my Poet was fast asleep beside me—the first deep sleep she’d entered in more than a week. So I knocked a pile of books to the floor, and returned to my blissful slumbers, much comforted by the thought that at least one poet would wander the midnight battlements, keep watch, and preserve us all for one more day.

– My Poet by Naeem Murr

When that prose piece was released in the Poetry Magazine, I photocopied it about five times and sent it to everyone I knew who might still be around in later years to watch me grow up into a poet. I wanted to be someone’s Poet so badly. This description has always been, hands down, my favorite.

*

I have a copy of Crannog magazine to send you with this poem in it. I’m sorry I haven’t sent off your package yet.

My Pilgrim Soul
Emma Sedlak

I am not local, am not foreign, am not a stranger
except to myself on the dark days with no sunlight
seeping around the edges. I travel far, when I can,
with what I have.

My words have dissimilated until not even I can understand
the syllables that form inside my tongue and teeth and lungs
and breath and if you ask me to repeat myself, I won’t know
if I’ll say what I’ve said before or that the days are shorter

now and no one will acknowledge the winter was long.
Heavy. Ripping at the seams with the weight of myself
being left to myself. Let me out to roam. Put me out to pasture
and leave me there under the deep bright strokes of night sky.

The rushed star struck the atmosphere, but I could only feel my chest
shake its timorous shiver from when the cold damp feeling of grief
had been allowed to sit and settle. Any other day, my pilgrim soul
would have run toward the flare of the meteor meeting our sky

for the first time, to offer myself up with hope
of thawing
in the fallen fire of its shattered heart.

*

I am going to read myself to sleep: the book-lover’s lullaby.

Goodnight,
M