Friday, October 31, 2014

Of Fruit Flies and a "Writer's" Self-Doubt

Yessssssssssssssss!! YESSSSSSS! I screamed and hoped none of the neighbors heard me in my ecstatic state.

In as much as I'd like to keep you thinking that there is shock value to this post, let me stop you right here and sanitize whatever's going through your mind.

Sanitize...An interesting choice of words considering that what I'm talking about here is this fruit fly on my palm, squashed and definitely beyond dead. I just had to take a photo first before washing my hands. Why wouldn't I? I feel like I need to remember this moment, bask in this triumph, when huge mammal triumphed over pesky insect.

Now don't feel so sorry for the little guy. Please know that it has tormented me for a couple of weeks now. Numerous times I chased it around and thought I had killed it, only for it to taunt me even more as it flies away from the surface where I thought I had already smashed it. It has driven me ABSOLUTELY. INSANE!

So you can understand why I wasn't able to contain myself when I finally had proof that I had killed it. I watched it fly above me. I studied its pattern. And then very, very carefully and with as much precision as I had in me, I positioned my palms and then WHACK! It was as if I had simultaneously carried out my mission and high-five'd myself. Two birds with one stone!

How could I let such a small creature get to me? How could something so seemingly inconspicuous bother me so much? 

The obvious answer of course is that, though small, I felt as if it was constantly there to bother me. I would see and sense it just when I'm trying to be still or enjoy something like a nice meal or a riveting show on television. I felt like it was perpetually hovering around me, mocking me, knowing that I'd never catch it.

I can't help but think that metaphorically, this fruit fly behaved much like certain thoughts I can't rid myself of, no matter how hard and how often I try to smash them; a voice that hovers to mock and undermine my efforts...

The voice that says I am fake and that I am not a writer and will never truly become one. I'm part of blogging groups where a lot of the other writers are published in print, or have been compensated for their writing. This hasn't really happened to me unless you count that time when I was 17 when a women's magazine in the Philippines published a love essay I submitted and actually sent me a check for it. Or those academic articles / researches that got published and for which I was naturally compensated. Do those count? I'm not so sure.

The voice that constantly whispers that there is nothing I can write about that hasn't already been said. Why make the effort? Why even try? The voice further says, "What makes you think your voice is any better than anyone who has already spoken, and that people would be interested to listen to your insipid point of view?"

The voice that further adds, "Are there even people listening, reading you, because you truly captured their attention and not just because they're your friends and feel sorry for you, or feel obligated? Heck, not even your own family reads you!" And then this is followed by an evil laugh, with a sigh of resignation.

These thoughts torment me. I can only wish they were as easy to squash, FOR GOOD, as the fruit fly. Sure, every now and then I'm able to silence the voice and give myself a well-deserved high-five. But only for it to come back a few days later and incapacitate me all over again.

If there are other writers out there reading this --- yes, humor me and allow me to pretend that such a thing can truly happen -- I'd like to know if you hear similar voices too. Better yet, maybe you can give me some advice as to how to catch this insidious pest and smash it for good. Maybe then I can really let out a resounding 'YESSSSSS!' and not care at all if my neighbors hear me.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Marry Someone You Can Dance With

My parents-in-law recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary and all their six children decided to throw them a big party to mark this major milestone. Five decades of marriage. 

Though admittedly, I've never been a fan of big, lavish parties, I do concede that being married to the same person for 50 years is indeed worth celebrating. It makes it even more of a big deal when you consider that my father-in-law is a stroke survivor and was severely ill, hospitalized, and almost did not make it back in 2012. Since then, his mobility and ability to care for himself have been affected, and to say that it has changed his life, as well as my mother-in-law's, is an understatement. 

In spite of all these challenges though, both of them clearly looked forward to renewing their vows in Church, and were more than game to put on their dancing shoes for the party that followed that evening. 

Original / Unedited Photo taken by my brother-in-law, James Manuel

It was a beautiful, fun party well attended by family and close friends. Good food, good music, heartfelt speeches by two of their sons and their grandchildren.

But to me, the highlight of the evening was when my father-in-law, or Big Dad as we fondly call him, requested that the DJ play the boogie. And this was after he and my mother-in-law (Big Mom) already danced to their song, Frank Sinatra's "The Nearness of You".

Big Dad could hardly move, walks with a cane, and sometimes has a really hard time breathing. And yet when he danced with Big Mom, you could see both faces beaming with joy and love. Most of all, it amazed me how, in spite of Big Dad's physical challenges, he still knew exactly where to place his hands to hold his wife, catch her turns and help her spin. It was undeniable that these two had a rhythm that each knows by heart.

It struck me that perhaps that's what happens when you love someone for a really long time and spend most of your life together. You get to know that person deeply, intimately, to a point where life turns into a graceful choreography that only the two of you can wonderfully execute. This knowledge of each other, this undeniable familiarity doesn't simply lead to a routine, but more importantly, to a rhythm

Routine implies a certain rigidity, predictability. You know exactly what's going to happen next and it's all about having an established pattern.

Rhythm on the other hand, implies some variation and necessitates an awareness of the other, an interdependence, and being sensitive to how the other is. Each person's steps may be imperfect and may vary from time to time, but the other still catches up, and both constantly choose to flow together. 

Marriages (or relationships) are never perfect. Missteps are bound to happen and a lot of the times, it's exhausting. But when you've found a partner who, for some miraculous reason, also hears the same music and beat as you do, it really makes it harder to just leave the dance floor and quit. 

Life spins us in so many different directions all the time. We trip, fall, bruise and bleed. And though we are strong enough to pull ourselves up, you can't deny that having that familiar hand to hold you, swing and sway with you, and help you keep your balance, makes a universe of difference. It's that one person that makes the spinning more bearable, the dance less tiring. When you know that the other person's hand is home, and that it's the only hand you want catching you when you fall, you know it's real and that you're dancing for keeps. Love like that is ALWAYS worth celebrating and you don't even need to wait before you reach your 50th anniversary.
Original / Unedited Photo taken by: Nel Bunag

Friday, October 17, 2014

Favors Working Moms Should Never Ask For From Their SAHM Friends

I'm so over mommy wars. I feel like it's been debated on to death, with every argument deconstructed and shredded to pieces. I'd like to think a lot of people are more enlightened now, knowing that parents make choices for their families and such choices just have to be respected and even supported. There really is no need to make each other's burdens even more unbearable by being overly critical or judgmental.

Unfortunately however, acceptance of another's choice doesn't necessarily mean fully understanding the implications of such choices. 

I'm a SAHM and I still find that though people have generally tired of questioning my choice, there are still some out there who are clueless about how my regular days look like. 

Yes, I'm talking to you, employed mom friend! We're actually not that close and yet somehow you assume a lot about me and are just too eager to fill my days with YOUR concerns.

Though I don't clock in and out like you do, my days are no less stressful. And though I may not deal with bosses and clients, I still have structured days, with a schedule I try to keep and a perpetually self-replenishing to-do list.

So, do me a favor (for a change!) and take this list to heart. For the sake of our budding friendship and my sanity, please stop asking me for these favors:

Image by: Donald Lee Pardue

1. Babysitting / Caregiving

Last time I checked, we are not related and I'm definitely not your kids' godmother. Therefore, please stop asking me to babysit for you or pick up your kids from school when you're running late. Worse, it's just not cool when you ask me to watch your kids when they're home sick. I'm sure the world won't end if you take time off of work. Better yet, hire a sitter or a nanny. I have my own kid to worry about and frankly, I don't need your kids' germs in my household.

2. Counselling 

Don't expect me to always be available for you when you call, in need of hour-long therapy sessions. I hate that you just assume I always have free time, just because I'm home. I will not drop everything I have scheduled for the day just so I can listen to your problems.

3. Receptionist Duties

I'm not a dog that does nothing but look out my window, so please don't ask me to adjust my schedule so I can spend my day looking out for the postman or the UPS & FedEx guy to receive your package. I'm sure they'll be fine and can wait for you when you finally get home.

4. Channeling Martha Stewart

When we're being our charitable and 'involved parent' selves by showing up for volunteer duties in our kids' school, don't patronize me and say, "Oh you're the SAHM! I'm sure you can head the project and create something crafty!" Stop begging me to choose the more complicated volunteer assignments just so you can always get away with simply donating store-bought supplies. Just because I'm a SAHM doesn't mean I'm Martha freakin' Stewart, capable of Pinterest-worthy projects. 

5. Fitness Training

I commend you for still wanting to exercise by the end of your work day. Bravo! But kindly leave me out if it, okay? I promise you I'm not the best gym or exercise buddy you can find. Besides, what makes you think I haven't already put in the time time earlier? More importantly, what makes you think I still have the energy after all the physical, mental and emotional labor I've put in all day taking care of my home and family? 

I wish you knew that not all of us SAHMs are domestic goddesses, highly maternal and kid-loving, social beings that can always be available for you. And most of all I wish you knew that frankly, we rarely have the time, nor the energy to spare. I know we're amazing (and so are you, by the way!). But let me make it clear that I'm not under your payroll and that real friends are always equals. 

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Would You Even Know It If You Met Happy?

My son recently decided that he wanted to be part of his school's Chorus group. He's been attending the after school practices for a couple of weeks now and though, admittedly, he's not the best singer there is, I must say that I'm proud of his obvious love for music and the dedication he has for it. 

Recently, he surprised me by suddenly singing (and clapping to) Pharrell Williams' 'Happy'. He would sometimes burst into song right before bath time, and sometimes while riding in the car. This past weekend, he did the same thing while our family was heading for our mini-vacation for fall break. Apparently, he learned the song, and some moves, from his Chorus practices.

What struck me most was when he sang the line, "Clap along if you know what happiness is to you". As soon as he finished singing, I couldn't help but ask, "So, Noah, what is happiness to you?"

I wanted to keep my expectations low and so I was prepared to hear something along the lines of "playing with my Legos, Xbox or eating Cheetos". But I'll be honest and admit that part of me was hoping for some profound, soulful response.  I think what I got was somewhere in between, simple and honest.

He said, "Happiness is being with Mama and Dada!"

Of course my heart melted. Of course I was brimming with joy just to hear him say that. But most of all, I was happy for my son for being so clear about what happiness is to him. There was no hesitation in his response; only certainty and clarity.

I felt somewhat ashamed that I couldn't answer as quickly as he did. For the rest of the drive (and it was a long drive), I asked myself quietly what happiness really meant for me, other than mimicking my son's answer. 

It's a given that I'm happy when I'm with my family and loved ones. But other than that, I knew that I owed it to myself to know what happiness looks like to me. Not knowing would be a complete waste of time on this earth.

I know that material things don't make me genuinely happy. And I know that happiness is different from 'comfort' or 'satisfaction'. To me, it's something deeper, more lasting, and holds more power in terms of making me feel that I'm being my authentic self or at least moving towards it.

I still don't have the complete answer although I admit that starting with thoughts of things that make me smile or make me feel fulfilled were very helpful starting points for me, and I hope they will be for you too. And once you name things (or people) that make you happy, even if only on a seemingly superficial level, ask yourself what experience this thing or person calls forth within you. This is because I believe that it's not the 'thing' per se that makes you happy, but the experience it allows you to have. 

For instance, I know that seeing carpet / vacuum lines makes me happy. It's because it gives me a sense of order, cleanliness and organization, and these make me happy. Knowing that things are in their rightful place, that life is going smooth and is being as predictable as possible, makes me happy. This is also why knowing that my loved ones are all healthy and safe makes me happy. 

Quiet time or solitude makes me happy. It's because it allows me to explore my thoughts more and connect to what is true inside.

Being and conversing with my closest, long-time friends makes me happy. It's because having an authentic sense of connection and an undeniable meeting of the minds invigorates me.

Writing and being able to publish blog posts make me happy. And getting published elsewhere makes me even happier. It's not because of vanity and the craving for attention. It makes me happy because creative self-expression is important to me, and having others appreciate what I put out is, in a way, a validation of who I am and how my mind works. 

I'm sure this list is bound to change as life goes on. But I'm glad to have been forced to face the question and dig deep for some answers. Now I know I'm a step closer to finding my personal truths about my personal happiness, and it mainly has to do with connection: simply being able to connect more deeply with others, as well as with who I truly am. Now I know I can 'clap along' knowing what happiness looks like, even though it might just be partial at this point. 

Can you clap along too? 

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Grief from 8,000 Miles Away

It was past 9:30 at night when my cellphone rang. No one ever really calls me that late, unless...Unless.

I looked at the caller I.D. and saw that it's an overseas call. It's my brother. 

"Hello? Bro?"

It took a while before I heard him speak, and when I did, I could hear his voice quivering, sounding lost and resigned. 

"Mommy Rita's gone", he said in Filipino.

I felt confused. I heard him and understood exactly what he meant, but everything in my body and half of my brain rejected his news and simply didn't understand. Or didn't want to understand.

Mommy Rita is, or was, my last surviving grandparent. She's the one I wrote about five years ago because I was trying to come to terms with her worsening dementia, and the same one I mentioned in my essay last week. A few days ago, mid-morning of September 30, she died. She was 88.

That I am heartbroken is not a secret; and that she died very peacefully and painlessly, though something my family and I are all very grateful for, doesn't change the fact that she left an emptiness that I know will linger on. 

But this is neither a eulogy, nor a public outpouring of my grief. Instead, this is to share my realization that, for migrants such as myself, the grieving process looks a little bit different and possibly more complicated compared to the grief of people who are in close proximity to their families.

For someone like me whose immediate family resides in another country, every late phone call can potentially stop you in your tracks and could make you utter every prayer imaginable even before you pick up the phone. You know that it can only be a real emergency, and the only questions left for you to ask are "Who is it now?" and "What happened?".

A family emergency for me will always spell out a dilemma and won't always be as straightforward as you might expect given 'normal' situations. For migrants like myself, it will always be a weighing of options as we ask ourselves, "Should I buy a plane ticket now and take the soonest flight out to go home?" And I'm not talking about a cheap, short flight either. In my situation, it would likely cost, on average, a thousand US dollars, for roughly a 22-hour flight. 

But to be honest, it's not so much the cost I'm worried about. It's the idea of being stuck in an airplane, most likely by myself (as it would be too complicated and expensive to expect my son and husband to drop everything and accompany me), and start the grieving in my head during that 22-hour flight.

So, really, it is not uncommon for migrants like me, who, for one reason or another, never make it back home to be with our loved ones and pay our last respects. We often miss out on the rituals needed that serve the purpose of easing the grieving process somehow. When a loved one dies, the living find comfort in the telling and re-telling of their memories of the deceased with those who they share common memories with. It is through this ritual that the living find comfort and acceptance that though our loved one will no longer be physically present, it is still up to us to keep them alive in more intimate ways. Engaging in the final rites for the dead, which also serves as a rite of passage and process of closure for the living, are things migrants like myself find ourselves doing away with, often times decided on rationally though not necessarily willingly. 

I did not write this so you would feel sorry for me. After all, to live so far away from 'home' is a choice I continue to make. 

I wrote this to give a voice to people like myself who often times suffer the stigma or judgement by others who assume that going home when a loved one dies is an easy and automatic decision; that failure to show up and pay our last respects are signs that we love less, feel less and that our decision is borne out of sheer selfishness. 

Grief is very personal and it is unfair to judge others' based on how you are acquainted with yours. We all do what we can with what we are given. Sometimes a long trip back home might be doable, but sometimes we might just have to make do with phone calls, letters and a long, quiet cry at night. Which ever one it is, our grief is ours alone, and by no means should one's outward expression of it be a measure of the depth of love and sense of loss felt for the one who has departed. 

Goodbye for now, Mommy Ritz. 'Till we see each other again...XOXO