In Between States

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Photo source: ours80s.com

In school, we were taught that there are three states of matter – solid, liquid and gas. The most prominent characteristic that differentiates each state is the compactness of their molecules, solid being the most compact.

(If you’re going to be really particular, yes, there’s another state of matter – plasma – but for the purposes of this post, let’s just stick to the first three for the metaphors.)

We were also taught that a material can change from one state to another. The most classic example is ice (solid) that turns to water (liquid) and then water vapor (gas).

I was reminiscing these lessons as I waited for a jeepney at a police outpost near my alma mater. At the time, I had just finished requesting for some documents I needed for something I was planning to do in the near future. Something that would dictate my life for the next few years.

You could say that I was worried. That day was a day of setting things in motion. I was actively trying to get a move on with my life and disrupt the routine I had learned to live with for almost eight months. Everything beneath my feet was shaking with the idea that from there on out, anything was possible and I was in-charge.

As cars continued to pass me by, I found myself dwelling on the changes that happened to me in a span of a year and how I got to where I am. More often than not, each change brought some sort of discomfort that I had to overcome. And at the time, when I was slowly being overcome by changes and worries, I needed to have a metaphor to anchor my sanity to.

I was in a state of confusion. I only had a general idea of where I wanted my life to go, but who was I kidding? I felt like I had no direction and that I was just making up plans for the sake of having plans. The best way I could describe it was being in between states, like being whatever it is that’s no longer water but not yet vapor.

Solid to Liquid

I graduated college feeling like life finally proved me wrong about not being good enough.

You see, though I excelled in school during elementary and high school, I never really believed like I could do great things. I was surrounded by people who were better than me and I always felt like I had to catch up or else I’ll fall off the roster.

But in college, I ended up fulfilling a wish of mine, which was to deliver the valedictory speech at the end of four years. Though my aim was only to inspire my batch mates with a speech (just like how our HS valedictorian inspired me), I found that after the four years in college, I became a solid person that can be proud of herself and can dream of better things.

I wasn’t complete as a person yet, but I felt concrete. I felt like I existed and I knew who I was.

But, when I was thrown into the corporate world, I found myself blending in to try to adopt. I wanted to do my best, and being blinded by the need to adjust, I mindlessly gave too much of myself.

Here’s a hard truth: I was too obsessed about finding a job and doing what was expected of me that I forgot how to define my life, that I lost parts of myself I didn’t need to lose.

For a short while, I was proud of myself for being able to survive in Manila all by myself, for accomplishing tasks I thought were impossible, for putting myself out there and for enduring challenges alone.

But I lived in the now. I just wore myself down as I tried to get by. Because I allowed the system to swallow me, I wasn’t accomplishing anything meaningful.

Liquid to Gas

Just because I realized that something was going wrong doesn’t mean that I was able to do something about it immediately. I was stuck in a situation and the next steps were vague, if not invisible.

I endured. That meant I was aware of how toxic my routine had become but I was unable to take action. Everything proceeded as it did before but I got unhappier as the days passed.

Those were dark days. What got me through was the thought of going home to Lipa. I counted the hours and I had to actively find motivation to do anything.

It was like being in Limbo while yearning for what it would feel like to be in a better place.

Slowly, I was feeling stagnant and, I don’t know, I was just really down.

Gas to Solid

In the state of being lost, I found a flicker of hope. It started out as a crazy idea at first but at least it was something. I used that fantasy to build myself up, to be busy about something for myself. It wasn’t much, but it was a plan that made me smile.

It was only in desperation that I accepted that idea, to be honest. But it gave me myself back and even if it doesn’t go through, I’ll feel really thankful for it. (It was also thanks to thing thing that I was able to confirm what I feel like is my mission in life.)

It wasn’t easy to force my life to change, to take charge of my life. From being confused about who I’ve become to trying to become someone better, I had to silence my worries and trust my gut about most things. I had to exhaust all options and keep an open mind to where certain opportunities would lead.

It took everything in me to become someone I recognized once again.

I’m currently at this state now. I’m still trying to be a solid person again. I’ve made choices. I’ve committed to purposeful things. I’m moving forward.

As the days pass, I’m getting closer and closer to the person I want to be. I’m regaining confidence in myself. (The funny thing is, things aren’t going according to plan but they’re becoming better.)

Nothing’s set in stone yet but for the first time in a long while, I’m feeling excited about something meaningful again.

(Hello Pollen. It’s been a while.)

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16 Lessons of 2016

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2016 Highlights

Living through 2016 felt like riding Anchors Away. I was always on the edge of my seat, stomach churning, head spinning, half-regretting why I rode the ride in the first place but then remembering that I don’t have much choice but to wait until it stops.

I’ve been through what I thought was unthinkable this year. A lot has changed for me, the way I live and who I am as a person, and adjusting  hadn’t been as easy as a flick of the remote. (Do you know how hard it was to change mindsets?)

There were a lot of firsts, goodbyes and what ifs. And honestly, I felt like majority of the year I’ve just been wandering mindlessly, bumping into poles once in a while.

That being said, ending the year felt like a relief more than anything. I learned a lot, I’ll give it that, but I’m just thankful that I’m still standing after it all.

Here are the 16 lessons of 2016 that I earned through all the challenges of the year that was:

  1. Allow yourself to have glory days. – I find it difficult to give myself credit for the good things I do because I often do not know how to accept compliments. But this year, I’ve learned to appreciate the feats I’ve accomplished and the obstacles I’ve overcome. (I can be an awesome potato, if I try to be one.) Once I knew how to do that, it became easier to appreciate myself and forgive myself of the misses and fails I did.
  2. You can make/find multiple sanctuaries in this world. – It takes a lot before I feel comfortable and before 2016, I used to believe that I could only be truly comfortable at home or with the people I consider as home. But once I was left to fend for myself (lol exaggerated), I was forced to make places my home. Though it started as something I had to do, it ended up as a mindset that helped me a lot in Manila. I learned that wherever I go, I should have a space to breathe, to laugh and to be weird.
  3. Always go home to people. – I loved Lipa more this year, not because it’s familiar and safe, but because most of the people I truly care for are here. 2016 helped me appreciate that.
  4. At the end of the day, the day always ends. – This was a statement my dad told me and it’s gotten me through really tough days. // I’m a worrier and I obsessively worry about stuff to the point that my body can feel the negative impact of my worries. But gosh, if I did that for every little obstacle, I believe I wouldn’t stay sane. I just have to let go sometimes and focus on one thing at a time so that I can power through it. It will end too.
  5. Family is important. – Damn. This is the main thing this year. 2016 showed me that family will always be there no matter what. I admit, I haven’t been really open to them before and I used to turn to friends first before them, but this year allowed me to anchor my everything in them.
  6. There’s no use dwelling in the past. – There are moments I can relive in my head but not in real life, I know that. Rather than wishing I was where I was, I learned to use the feelings they gave me to move forward. (I still cringe occasionally at my regrets tho.)
  7. Don’t make money decisions using feelings (at least not all the time). – Refer to Christmas 2016. Haha. For real though, I know I decide using feelings most of the time but when it comes to money, I learned to get my head in the game.
  8. Find a way to let go of your negativity. – An outlet is helpful, but having even just one person to depend on to listen to your shit is amazing. 2016 showed me that apparently, I have a ton of those. I just need to open up.
  9. The fear of not knowing can be conquered by admitting ignorance and asking. – This is my ultimate fear. I just have to keep learning.
  10. Getting lost is an experience. – Direction-wise, this is self-explanatory. 🙂 But in life, getting lost can be taxing. It’s up to me though to change my mindset and enjoy the journey (which is harder than I’m making it sound).
  11. Never let people tell you who you are. – It took a lot before I grew into the Pauline I am now. It took forever getting to know me and deciding who I wanted to be and what are the values I can’t be without. So excuse me if I won’t let people define me and belittle the woman I’ve become. (I’m not going down without a fight. Not anymore.)
  12. Find/keep people you can be weird with. – Amidst all the pretentiousness of this world, you have to stay true once in a while. Haha. Do that with people. // Also, potate-ing isn’t shameful. There are people out there who’d be more willing to potate with you.
  13. Work on relationships.– I’m lazy with staying touch but 2016 challenged me. It taught me that if I wanted to keep people, I have to communicate. (And hey, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.) I sort of forgot how it felt to live off stories of other people’s days and how kilig it is to have inside jokes, because I was busy denying that I needed anyone. But yeah, now that I’m adulting, I learned to put extra effort on this.
  14. Love yourself to be your own person. – Be a potato or a solider if you want to. Once you forget who you are, that’s when your world will crumble. Hold on to your person. // This also goes with not having to force yourself into a relationship just so you could feel wanted. Want yourself. You don’t need anyone to make you feel special. You are special. Independence is empowering. (Ayyy. This is for you, Pollen.)
  15. Anchor everything on the Lord. He’s listening. – Wow, it’s humbling to realize that God does take the time of the day to pay attention to your prayers. Maybe it’s because I’m finally paying attention but it’s 2016 when I truly saw His hands working in my life. God’s just been so present and been so forgiving of me this year.
  16. Hang onto your dreams and work on them. – I’m a writer, not because I professionally practice the craft but because it’s a part of who I am. That means, no matter what life throws at me, I will continue to write. 2016 tested me, teased me for not writing enough, but if there’s one thing it made me sure of, it’s that my soul will not rest if it’s not finished my story. Come what may, I’ll get it done and the world will know of it. // Dreams are not lists you make or stuff you stick on boards for display. Dreams are things you accomplish. (Go 2017 Pollen!)

My First Book Fair (37th Manila International Book Fair)

My body was sore when I woke up in the morning, and I’ll admit, it was pretty tempting to sleep in for a while longer despite the temptation of books that await me at the SMX Convention Center. Thankfully, I wasn’t that tired and insane to bail out on my friend, Gianne and so I rushed to meet her at McDo Buendia after a very slow morning prep session.

The mood had been different the day before. It was on Friday when I was filled with a primal craving for the printed word. I just couldn’t stop myself from smiling during random times of the day at the thought of being surrounded by books. I wanted to swim in them. (I just really, really, love books.)

The feeling was slow to creep back in that Saturday and it only really became real when we were on a multicab ride to MOA. Suddenly, my pulse sounded louder and I felt my true self surfacing. I was a writer, going to a book fair with tons and tons of books and awesome writers. This was home base.

When Gianne and I entered SMX, we kind of fumbled about for a bit. We went in at one entrance then we got out then in another before finally lining up for registration. To be fair, there were tons of people and we were too excited.

When we got in, I didn’t have a chance to have my first thought or reaction. It wasn’t a sea of books or a big library, and I wasn’t expecting it to be like that since I already saw photos, and still I was a bit overwhelmed with how big the publishing industry was. There were so many booths to visit, granted that they weren’t all fiction or my type but they were still books and I love the physicality and smell of them.

Trying to go about this smartly, Gianne and I came up with a game plan. The original game plan was to actually introduce Milktea Fiction, a publishing thing that Gianne and I came up with (milkteafiction.wordpress.com) while being our bookworm-selves. But, since I failed to print out le cards, we just decided to enjoy the fair and buy books.

In the morning, we planned to go around, take note of the stuff we want and then eat lunch to rationalize our would-be decisions. Then, in the afternoon, we’d splurge. Easy enough.

The morning was, well, overwhelming. Half of my mind was floating, reeling at the experience, while the other half was just so energized and excited that my body couldn’t keep up. With a mix of both, I was like a caffeinated zombie that my body, at times, was hesitating to function (haha).

Like I said earlier, it wasn’t all a sea of fiction books (which was the kind of books that first comes to my mind at the mention of a book) but it was really interesting to get a feel of the publishing scene in the Philippines. We’re a mix of educational, religious, mainstream and indie publishing. Romance was there, self-help too and some were even very cultural and with a distinct feel of Filipino.

There were also all sorts of readers in the market, I realized and the whole book fair was just really a reflection of their (our) needs. The publishers there exist and thrive, no matter how different their books are, because there are people looking for their kind of content. (This is valueable market intel for me and Gianne since, you know, we’re aspiring to be published and taken seriously.)

One of the best parts was chatting up with people at the Indie Publishing booth. (I could be there all they, chummy-ing them up if only I wasn’t too potato.) Shoutout to Sir RR of Lira and Ms. Mina V. Esguerra of Romance Class. You guys showed me that stories can come from anywhere.

If anything, it made me feel like there’s a solid chance for my dream to be a legit writer. At least I know that this industry, though it’s not exactly as I hoped for, is alive and that people really do come from all sorts of places just to buy books and read.

Aside from that writer-ish epiphany, I also had an enlightening experience as a marketer. I work for Fiera de Manila, Inc. and we specialize in events. Since I already have a bit of a background on tradeshows and conventions, I also saw MIBF from an organizer’s perspective – the booths, the layout, the suppliers, the programs and everything. It was a nice feeling to be so familiar of things like that.

When afternoon came, Gianne and I were prepared to make bad decisions. (Read: We were totally screwed.) We both set ceiling spend amounts and listed the things we planned to buy.

Having reasons to spoil myself a.k.a. having September as my birth month, I allowed myself to go over-budget. (Read: I lost self-control.) I ended up with 10 books, though three of them were for free.

  1. How Sound Becomes A Name by Marc Gaba (Indie Publishing) – This was the first book I bought and it’s a collection of poems. I got it because I felt a connection to the title. It felt like this guy wrote through the senses just like me.
  2. LÁMANG edited by Edgar Calabia Samar (Indie Publishing) – I got this for free and I was like, aw. You could tell that they were not only for the sale but also for getting their content out there. That’s the heart of indie, folks.
  3. Aninaw edited by Ronaldo Carcamo (Indie Publishing) – Second free book! Are these people awesome or what? (They are people from LIRA and they write Filipino poems, which honestly, I’ve been hesitant to tackle before they gave me the idea.)
  4. Pag-aabang sa Kundiman: Isang Talambuhay by Edgar Calabia Samar (Indie Publishing) – The author was there when I bought this so I got it signed. Ugh, he seemed so cool and I wanted to ask for his card but I hesitated. I couldn’t tell him that I knew him because I didn’t… yet. Anyway, I’m looking forward to read his collection of Filipino poems (and to stalk him… este, know more about him online.)
  5. Rurok edited by Enrico Torralba (Indie Publishing) – It’s another Filipino poetry book for free!
  6. Paper Planes Back Home by Tara Frejas (Indie Publishing) – This one stood out from the Romance Class side of the booth. Other than being blue, I bought it because it didn’t feel like the usual contemporary books I used to buy. This one had a solid synopsis, almost poetic and I wanted to see how that fits into the whole publishing world. (Let’s see how I’ll fit in too.)
  7. The Looking-Glass Tree by Cycan Abad-Jugo (Anvil Publishing / National Bookstore) – Okay, shoutout to JC Galang because his illustration was the one that convinced me. It was so haunting and simple and the lines were beautiful. It felt so Filipino and mystical and I haven’t been promised that before. I’m really looking forward to this.
  8. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo (Fully Booked) – Anything with a blue cover, the word ‘magic’ and a distinctness to it could win me over. Gianne also told me that the author wrote with a kind of innocence and I wanted to feel that. (In the first place, I wanted to write like that too.)
  9. M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman (Fully Booked) – It’s obvious why I bought this. Plus, Neil Gaiman is awesome. I thank Gianne for speaking so highly of him that I was persuaded to read his works.

Just a quick segway before I list down the last book. The Fully Booked journey had been a battle. Gianne and I had to line up for 15-20 minutes in a crowd of energized sweaty booklovers (I understand the passion) before we got to the cashier. We only got two books because we didn’t understand the concept of how the sale worked. (Read: We thought the full price was already the discounted price.)

  1. Moving Onwards and Upwards (Adarna) – The cover was, you guessed it, blue and it had pretty typography and art alongside the story. This was a feel good buy, despite it going over budget.

In the end, I spent a lot, exhausted my feet and shared the same air with more people that I could imagine. But, I’m happy with my haul (they were mostly blue) and I loved the alive-ness I felt inside MIBF. The memory was the best part and I’ll keep that forever. (Thanks, Gi.)

Here’s more shoutouts to Tahanan, Rex Bookstore, Summit Media and the Filipino-feeling booths got to visit at MIBF! Thank you also to the organizers for doing this every year. I’ll be back for the 38th.

(The lesson was this: keep the dream alive. You’ll get there.)

The significance of comfort things

 

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There’s a reason why it’s red.

 

When asked about dreams and

limits, she resorted to

the cage inside her head

and the

shackles that bound her

to the darkness she tried to reign.

 

It was in a milk tea shop.

 

To think she could be

anything, only if

she believed in fairies again

and tried to

fix the way the puzzles fit

like building

blocks in her muddled brain.

 

Pillows, in plural.

 

She finds that it is easier to

fool the self

to perform the impossible with

things you buy in a store

that you

develop an attachment to.

 

Give me spaghetti in September.

 

In truth, the mind dictates

the possible and

accepts what it is that can be,

and can be

learned, for faith is a matter

of acceptance.

 

There’s a reason why it’s blue too.

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.

Why did I give you up?

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When I was in my first year in college, my publications adviser encouraged me to participate in a prestigious writing contest for our country – the Carlos Palanca Awards. At that time, I didn’t understand the gravity of his suggestion so I took it lightly. I did join that year for the short story category but I only ever got to finishing my work a few days before the deadline because I kept putting it off. He never even got to read my work to suggest ideas. I lost, of course.

I tried again during my second year. Again, at my adviser’s recommendation. I can’t even remember what happened that time, probably because I don’t want to remember how I failed him again.

After that, all I remember was finding it hard to trust my writing. And, when I found out how big of a deal the Palanca really was, I detested my carelessness even more. I felt like I disappointed him. He probably saw something in me and trusted me to make the most out of an opportunity and I failed him. That notion stuck. I was a failure. I never expected anything for myself and it hurt because he did and I didn’t deliver. I’ve been beating myself up for that for years.

Whenever I think of the Palanca awards, I associate it with that feeling and because of that, I rarely ever thought about that contest. It became glued to my head, that I would never be a writer good enough for that kind of standard, and soon, the idea became good enough for me to just move on.

It was only recently that I started believing in my writing again (as in really believing in it and not nodding mindlessly at compliments I received because of it). I’ve been guided well by the people around me, I’ve learned a lot from working at my school publication and I’ve found my distinct voice. I know that a lot has happened.

Because of my new-found confidence, I had a different experience when I encountered the Carlos Palanca website whilst surfing the internet. Instead of shying away from it like I used to do, I was stuck looking at the contest regulations.

I thought to myself: Why did I ever give you up? I didn’t have to.

I didn’t have to stop trying. I didn’t have to be so afraid of failing. I didn’t have to let go of that dream because of my fears. He didn’t ask me to. No one did.

Winning a Palanca has been my secret dream, not because I wanted the title but because I wanted to show my adviser that he was right to choose me, that there was in fact something in me that he saw. (He’s passed on now and that’s sad but he isn’t the kind of person that would like to see me succumb to my insecurities even if he’s gone.)

I’ve been so caught up with dread, with my own thoughts against myself that I’ve actually inhibited my growth as a writer. But, I’ve been through a long journey, right? Maybe I can trust myself this time, right?

I don’t want to feel like I’ve killed a part of me because of my uncertainties ever again. I hope I won’t have to kill any more of my lights. I might fail and I might disappoint a ton more of people but I want to fight for my dreams.

No one asked me to give my dreams up.