Uprooted vs. Branching Out

My family, the weekend they brought me back to Manila

This is a weird sense of change. After overthinking and internally panicking, I realize that I’m actually doing well. 

Uproot (v.) – to pull (a plant and its root) completely out of the ground; to remove (something) completely; to make someone leave home and move to a different place [Merriam-Webster]

Last week, I was silently bearing the weight of all the changes I had to suddenly adjust to. I knew, of course, that this was going to be my life at some point but being thrust upon the Manila jungle was no joke. Everything happened so fast.

I tried to set universals, my routine. I tried to find logic in whatever I was doing. It was to keep me sane. And, by acting independently, I somehow convinced myself that I was in control. (Spoiler: it didn’t feel as good as I imagined.)

Don’t be a potato, Pollen. I was getting increasingly confident with Makati and work, yes, but I always needed to put up a facade of strength and it was only when I went back to Lipa for the weekends that I realized how tiring that was. I was drained and even if people were nice to me back in the office and around generally, I dreaded going back.

Uprooted, that’s what I felt happened to me. I felt like I was unfairly plucked out of my serene carefree life. It made me helpless, tired and somehow, at the pit of my stomach, really angry at the unkown.

Branch out (v.) – to grow; to spread

Right now, I finally feel like this is where I’m supposed be right now. I’m growing increasingly sure of my steps and I talk a little louder. Everything is stil changing and the ropes would take time getting used to but strange as it is, in a span of three days, I have found comfort. 

It’s weird, I know. How can I say this so early? Aren’t I jinxing my luck?

Honestly, things have only gone wrong in my head. Nothing concrete has slapped me in the face yet. Things are good, not perfect but good. And it’s only the sense of impending doom is paralyzing me.

I just wish things would keep going up from here. I wish this isn’t a mistake to declare to the world that I’m okay. I wish I can keep learning like this, with my heart now calm and eager.

Branching out, I realize, is what I’m doing now. I’m exploring, shaking legs, sweaty hands and all; nonetheless, I’m getting somewhere. I may not know where I’ll get from here but my foot is out and I’m following the sun.

This change is weird, but it’s starting to feel good.

To belong to someone (a poem)

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Photo credits: images.fineartamerica.com 

Her footsteps are heavy, imprinted on
Sans; perhaps, she wore a cloak
of secrets; perhaps, she stared
at the burning
concrete for too long.
Wasting away until she, black under her
nails, stopped bothering; maybe it
was instinct, or maybe the
ancient need to
be heard somewhere.
But the collar, like a camping song around
fire, encased her neck; perhaps she
was a little desperate; perhaps it was
fear of actual contentment
that comfort
washed over her despite.
Her breath smells like soap, boxed until
needed; maybe that was the
system of change; maybe time hits
like motorcycle-wind
and the thrill of adventure.
Gazing at the blankness of tonight, she
sleeps; perhaps the signals meant
no harm in trying; perhaps
she knew
how to walk now.

F4 and FUNemployment

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The best part about being FUNemployed for a while was having some time to bond with my siblings. Together, we’re the F4.

We can’t trace exactly when we started calling ourselves that and why we chose that name in the first place. (Well, obviously, there are four of us, but whether it was a tribute to Meteor Garden or the Fantastic Four, we were never really sure.) We never talked about it elaborately. We just sort of had a mutual agreement.

We would excitedly announce “F4 unite” whenever we were left in a single room together or when our parents were away and we had the house to ourselves. We did this because when we unite, we all get on this weird level of weirdness that meshes so well. We can’t understand it ourselves.

— –

In college, I’ve been really busy. There were a lot of instances that I would not be at home for a week or when I have meetings even on weekends. Then, my internship also happened and I had to live in Manila for roughly three months.

During those days, I rarely got to bond with my family, to the point that I missed out on movie nights and dinners. Of course, at the time, I had reasons to help me justify things in my head. I was so busy.

And then everything slowed down after graduation. I had time for myself, time to help out for things that I’m really passionate about and time to just hang out and rest. And since their vacation was also extended due to the sudden calendar shift, they also had time to waste away with me.

During the first weeks of our so-called vacation, it wasn’t a big deal, or at least, it didn’t make me all mushy inside. I still had a bunch of commitments then so I was still going in and out, so our bonding came in form of meals outside; my treat, of course. By then, we also often had moments in the kitchen, just waiting for breakfast while mutually co-existing with our respective gadgets in hand. (#millennials)

Then came the days that I just had to stay at home. Even though I became often unproductive, those were great days. We’d just talk sometimes, mostly about the Sims 4 or about what happened during the day. Ish would talk to me about presswork and her poems. Kate would “force” me to listen to her anime stories or would compete with me in designing her posh Sims house and family. John Paul would open up to about his “Bi” and tell me about why he loves her in the first place.

Or, we’d just all be weird and talk in funny accents with funny faces and funny gestures. We were our own brand of comedy.

— –

I guess, it’s when you grow up that you actually become mature enough to appreciate the value of your sibling relationships.

When we were younger, I was the authoritarian first child that watched them, took care of them and reprimanded them. I was sort of their permanent nanny and they were often the reason why I always got scolded. Thus, I often viewed them as a big chunk of responsibility and of course, that got in the way of friendship.

Now, we’re all starting to be independent. We’re capable of being in-charge of ourselves. And since we’re becoming complete persons of our own, it’s become easier to get to know each other on a deeper level and to form a bond, not because we’re related but because we’re genuinely interested in each other.

In F4’s case, we may have a ton of similarities but we still have ideas of our own that’s interesting to put forward. And we have years to explore all our individualities and use them to keep growing together. I’m looking forward to that.

(That’s one part of my life that I wouldn’t want to fast forward. I want to be present for every milestone. F4 unite!)

In these foreign parts

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Taal at twilight

There are noises in the background. It’s a blank slate. The floor tiles are woven by the shadows lingering in my dreams.
Sometimes, I hear crying. The sweat trickling down my spine does not understand what is going on. Stars swim in my eyes, and the vision of the doorway grows weary.
“The number you dialed is out of coverage area,” said the phone.
We are a mix of red and blue. I imagine me being time, forever stretched but never as elastic. If you paid enough attention, you would have heard the buzzing. Glass only allows one to see through.
It is the end. My neck has twisted itself in an assortment of directions. The sky is no longer blue; instead, a variety of oranges and purples. The table I now sit on fits only one, and I am shivering.
“Medium or large,” asked the cashier. “Regular.”
Plumbing is unheard of in these parts. The strange thing is clowns no longer smile too. Unsoiled boots could only do so much.

The person I would want to be

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Photo credits: Buzzfeed.com

One of the activities during the TOSP formation program was envisioning who we wanted to be ten years from now. Now I know this is a common activity during many school events, but since it took place after graduation and at the point in my life when I should’ve already figured things out, it had a completely different effect on me.

So we were tasked to write in a little notebook for a certain amount of time. This is what I wrote:

She stood there, hair bobbing, white shoulder-cut loose blouse wrapping her upper torso like a cape, black sleek elephant pants swinging to the sound of red stilettos. She was confident.

It was around eight in the morning. You could tell that youth has not yet left her. Her breath smelled like coffee and sugar.

I sat down, a non-existent observer, sitting in one of the armchairs in her classroom. She’s a professor, trainer. I didn’t see whether it was students that she was teaching or professionals, but whoever they were, they were young too. She was driven to empower the youth.

Hers was an idealistic passion. Years working for media and corporations has watered her down, you could tell by her slouch, but it has also made her realistic to the point that she used loopholes in her dreams to create concrete plans.

And so she teaches.

The scene shifts. We’re at a veranda. She still doesn’t see me.

Her monochromatic boldness has faded into the background of daisies potted by the window still. No longer in heels, her feet are adorned with laces and floral patterns. Her light blue Sunday dress complements this.

Instead of coffee she comfortably sips on milk tea while lounging and waiting for one of her old friends.

It’s Sunday, eleven in the morning. The sunlight is comforting.

They start to arrive just as she finishes a poem in her head. And though it has not happened yet, I know that they’d waste away the afternoon with good stories and heated discussions. They are, after all, good writers with pens as swords and hearts on their sleeves.

Somewhere, someone is waiting for her to come home.

That’s me. That’s what I really want to be deep down. When it comes down to the truth, this is it.

Affirmation: TOSP SinagTala

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Open forum for the last night, we were our realest then

I never accepted the title of being a leader, because to me, the idea of true leadership was rose-colored. I thought that being a leader meant you know everything that has to be done and that you have the heart to do it. It also meant the acceptance of position, social relations and the spotlight, and I knew I just wasn’t cut out for that kind of stuff.

Leading, to me, came in form of forced volunteerism, when no one in my group stepped up for a graded project and fingers pointed at me. It materialized during activities where the teacher or adviser would appoint me for a certain role and I had to do this and that to get the task done. Every time, I rarely had a say in the matter, which, by the end of each experience, would make me question the genuineness of my efforts. I wasn’t sure if I was passionate about leading because I was just thrust into this lifestyle.

Rather than dwelling on what my position was, I’d try to concentrate on the work. Required or not, I knew that I always did my best in everything. Every output, project or event that I produced takes away a part of me and despite my motivations, or lack thereof, I’d willingly give it anyway.

But it bothered me, this resistance to the leadership title, every time I was sent to a conference, nominated for a leadership-related award or grouped with other school leaders for an activity, because I felt undeserving. I felt like a sham; I was doing good things, I knew that, but I wasn’t the type that’s getting elected and that’s actively campaigning for change. (I’d like to believe that I’m more of a background person, sowing seeds one at a time.)

Nearing the end of my college life, I managed to convince myself that I was a leader, or I was learning to accept it, at least. I have come far from a hesitant freshman and I have been a catalyst for good things to happen in organizations that I’ve dedicated myself to.

But you know, people graduate and they somehow think that the after life is a blank slate where you just have to prove yourself all over again. And so I reverted back to my sluggish insecure way of looking at myself.

By the time I was chosen for TOSP – Region IV-A, I was in the process of going to job interviews, and I felt like I was over that whole issue (basically because I thought I didn’t have to think of it anymore). Of course, I was wrong; I had to force that worry at the back of my head so that I won’t shrink myself when interacting with my fellow finalists. 

When I stepped in the San Sebastian Retreat House, I changed my mindset. I decided that I won’t make it a big deal, me feeling like I didn’t deserve to be among the finalists and me thinking that I wasn’t born a nation builder in the first place. I’d be casual, enjoying the formation, showing my true self despite whatever judgement I might elicit. I was going to let go a little and live a bit more.

For four days, I ‘envibed’ that within me and what a good decision that was. I was able to not only be more open about myself in a short span of time but also meet really amazing, driven and talented people whom I came to love and respect. (Kaway-kaway, Sinagtala!)

My first impression of my batch-mates was that they looked like adults, like real grown-up decision-making people. Sitting in a wooden lounge, we all looked pretty mature and that sort of allowed the thought of actually graduating to sink in.

At first, you’d notice the awkward distances between us. One of the facilitators even teased us for being too quiet and behaved (but of course, we were just warming up). Renzy was mostly the one to initiate conversations and introductions. Heaven knows, I was so thankful that he was there because he was my default person there and he helped me keep talking and laughing when I was tempted to fold.

Eventually people chipped in with the conversation, and even if it all started with the conventional small talk, we slowly came out of our own thought bubbles and into the group we were forming.

Once we got through the activities together, everyone loosened up. And, I don’t know, there was something about our individual circumstances and personalities and the way we all came together that made our bonding really special. Everyone was just so honest and so willing to make friends. I guess, we just gave our hearts to the whole process and that’s why we meshed so well together.

I’ll never forget the jeepney rides where, instead of falling asleep, I was wrecking my head for answers to simple brain teasers, the instant harana by the boys bursting into song, the scrumptious meals served in between sessions, the trying-not-to-move move every time I have to go to sleep because I didn’t want to wake my roomie and just my roomie really, the songs and lyrics that made us pour out our hears, the cutesy envelopes, especially mine that broke open even before I got it, the spoken word poem that became our batch response, the Mongolian Beef night inclusive of the screaming and shouting and just having fun, the singing for people we wanted to be happy, the blind fold and the everything about the amazing race and the open forum during the last night where I not only thanked my batch-mates, but also I  discovered how much they valued me.

(Sobrang dami pa talaga. Lahat naman talaga ay ‘di ko makakalimutan. Nakakakilig alalahanin, actually. Ugh. I miss them.)

Among all the things we did as Sinagtala, I would never ever ever forget the person they helped me become. They made me fearless, making me realize that I shouldn’t be as afraid as I was about how people will think of me and how I can mess up. They helped me explore my extroverted feeling self and taught me how to just be myself even without any assurance that others won’t understand my level of weirdness. Kasi naman. Kahit hindi nila ako sobrang kilala, pinapahalagahan nila ang mga iniisip ko at pinakikinggan nila ang mga sinasabi ko. Pinaramdam nila na mahalaga ako. Eeeee.

And all throughout the whole experience, we were guided by the alumni and that made the difference. They have experienced the formation in the past and have been finalists like us. Perhaps, that’s why they were more personal as facilitators and why they also bonded with us easily. That’s also the reason why it was easy to love the community that we were becoming a part of; seeing them work so hard, willingly sacrifice and volunteer was a reminder why people advocate a cause in the first place – because they love what they’re doing.

Because we also became close to the alumni we met during the formation, we got a view of the behind-the-scenes from time to time and it was reminiscent of some, if not most, of myself when I organize activities or do work for the organization I was a part of in college. Seeing them and helping out now and then was, to me, a great reminder that leadership isn’t really glamorous. Instead, it’s humbling.

I mean, sure, being a leader can have its perks like being the one to represent the school all the time but at the root of it all, it’s just about giving yourself even if sometimes, there is only so little to give. Kudos to all the alumni!

After the TOSP formation, after just four not long enough days of reflecting, bonding and transformation, there’s already so much that has changed about me. (For one, I learned that I can be mistaken for an extrovert when I open myself up to other people. And that people can actually recognize my thought-processes and they appreciate it.)

Because of the experience, I can now own the type of leadership that I practice and inspire. I am a leader because I have things I just can’t not fight for. I am a leader because I can be compassionate. I am a leader because people can help me become one. (I wrote this without cringing. Yey!) And since I am a leader, that means I am a catalyst for actual changes I want to see. This sort of acceptance that I have now, gives me relief and freedom to dream bigger and aspire more for people that I wish to help.

I know that I am barely a perfect example for anything, but action, change, doesn’t work when it’s romanticized and I understand that now. It only works when it’s real, when you not only believe in it but also embody it and put it into action. That also applies for patriotism, nationalism and heroism and all the other ideals; if all those loves are not translated into a love that you can concrete-ize in a level you understand, they will not materialize within you. (I’ll elaborate this in a separate post, maybe.)

Most importantly, after everything, this girl who felt like she was only fooling the world into recognizing her got the affirmation that told her, “Yes Pollen. You have done good because you really wanted to.”

(A/N: So much more I wish I could say. Thank you, CALABARZONOS and SINAGTALA!)