Happiness is Exhausting

My Symphony: Take Me Somewhere Nice by Mogwai

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The ghosts in the photograph never lied to me. I’d be all of that – a false memory. (Mogwai)

Tonight is one of those nights. Those many nights…

Let me begin by saying that I sincerely find happiness a rather exhausting state of mind. One would think that it is something that resembles a reward of some sort – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. I think that generally, happiness (whatever it means to people) is a rare thing. But contrary to the stigmatized notion of it, happiness is actually not a destination. It is not something that you work hard for in order to achieve in the end. I mean, it’s not even something that’s achievable, nor is it something that necessarily comes in the end. Instead, it is the tiny bits in between the everyday hustles and bustles of life that are pirouetting within one’s self in totally random moments, and for a brief amount of time. Happiness is not the trophy one gets for finishing first, or second, or third in the rat race; it is instead a penny, or a letter in the alphabet, or a piece of a jigsaw puzzle – something of a really small size and value that has the potential to become magnificent when joined with all the other really small pieces, creating a larger-than-life picture.

When I was in first grade, we were asked in English class to write about our “Happiest Moment In Life”. I’ll be completely honest: I do not remember what I wrote at all. But I don’t blame myself. Perhaps the content of my essay was greatly insignificant that even my seven-year old self knew it wasn’t worth remembering. Poor kids we all were in Ms. Gemma’s class. We were so young and we were already introduced to the concept of happiness as this one human experience that beats out all the other experiences; this concept of the “most unforgettable experience” as a merit for having lived one bold, outrageous day in your life. If the school wanted us to be prepared for the real world, they should’ve made us write on “A Happy Moment In My Life” and “An Unforgettable Moment In My Life”. Not these overwhelming titles with superlative adjectives that only blow everything out of proportion. If I could rewrite that essay on a happy moment in my life, it would go like this:

A happy moment in my life was when I woke up really sick and didn’t want to go to school. My dad just finished reading his morning news, and he seemed to be in a bad mood. He picked me up from my bed so quickly that he hurt my right arm. He then said to me, “You’re going to school no matter what.” I cried, and I cried because the way that he said those words was cruel. He’s always like that. He always thinks that I am faking it. Moments later, as I was sadly sitting in front of breakfast looking like a pale donkey, Mom held my hand, and then she hugged me. She said, “You don’t have to go to school today if you’re not feeling well baby.” Then she smiled at me.

If there is one thing I learned in the first year of my 20’s, it’s that life is not simple. And the newest trends in the Internet are making it even more complicated for humanity to breathe and really be itself. I don’t know where this came from or who started it, but these days, it’s almost like a disease to be unhappy. Nobody seems to be allowed to get sad or depressed anymore without getting looks of pity and, believe it or not, disgust. We live in a world where one’s heartaches and problems are considered as weaknesses and, according to the obnoxiously sarcastic Internet users, boring shit which ain’t nobody got time fo’. Everything right now is all about having fun, living because you only live once and attracting nothing and nothing else other than good vibes. Anyone who dares to rain on people’s parades is immediately dismissed as an outcast, a loner, a weirdo and worst of all, a loser. A poisonous loser.

Everywhere I go, every turn I take, I keep on encountering people who implicitly claim that they are allergic to sadness, that they find the idea of depression very unattractive. We’ve all heard it. It’s all over social media, it’s all over the news, it’s all over television. People like Miley Cyrus broadcasting their very exclusive views on life and the way that they want to live it. “That’s not really me (‘new Miley’ referring to ‘old Miley’). I’m just all about fun, and that’s, that’s who I am” <insert loud applause of hundreds of fans in the live audience>. The entertainment industry, in all its forms, has successfully glamorized life and romanticized living.

Stop. For crying out loud, just fucking stop it. Not the media (it’s a little too late for that anyway), but you. You reading this right now, you with the heart, you with the soul. Stop being a slave of society’s sugar-coated tyranny.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with sadness.

I’m sick and tired of these hipsters walking around acting like they rule the world for basically not giving a fuck. I’m sick of these optimists feeling the need to be positive all the fucking time. I’m sick of these pretty girls who think that they just cannot fart in public, and these ripped guys who force themselves to not get attached and be emotional. I’m sick of all those highly inappropriate grade school essay topics, and I’m sick of the teachers who think it’s okay to suggest happiness to kids in a single, superlative light. And I’m just sick of everybody who is quote-unquote allergic to sadness. Fuck you. I hope that your life is filled with pure fun and nothing else. Just that. Just pure fun until the day that you die. Maybe then you’ll be happy, but I strongly doubt that.

It’s just all too much. Too much make-up. Too many masks. Too many pretensions.

I swear to god the next time I hear someone say things like “I don’t do drama. I’m all about fun”, I will punch that bitch right in the throat and tell her, “Look, honey, it actually goes both ways”.

It does.

Life is not a one-way street, and people need to understand that. Just embrace the fact that sadness and happiness don’t have to be two opposing forces. Learn to relish in the joy and the misery of being alive in this planet. Otherwise, you’re making it hard on people like me, who actually see happiness as a very separate concept from fun, and who look at sadness not as a sickness but as a mere reality. A reality no one should be ashamed of.

Happiness alone is exhausting. It is only meaningful and desirable when it has randomly jolted out of pain (or nothingness).

Addressing Ares and Constantine

My Symphonies: Hold On When You Get Love and Let Go When You Give It by Stars 
Open by Rhye

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“You smile and the world goes away.” –  Cliff, The Woolgatherer 

For those of you who do not know (which I guess is pretty much everybody), I have two imaginary friends. Well, they aren’t exactly my friends, but they’re more like my alter egos. And in line of my being a Gemini, I’ve always treated these two as twins, mainly because they look very alike in my head anyway. One is basically the evil twin, and the other one is the cherub. And as I went through all those processes of self-search and self-creation, I found that I am in fact the sum of both characters. It is almost like I am both Ares (the abrasive, vindictive twin) and Constantine (the gentle, more open twin), and as I keep on reading the two of them, it’s starting to sound like I am talking to myself – my full self; my conscious self. We are looking at two very dissimilar beings here. One, the dreamer who has chosen to make love to his imagination and fantasy, in what is non-existent, because he has lost faith in reality, and the other, the realist who acts tough but also knows in his guts that he is lonely and is also in need of love—a real one. However, in all their differences comes this one thing I am sure is common about the two of them: they’ve both been hurt big time. It’s just that one grew miserable and desperate and the other grew cold and bitter. I find it very interesting, how these two characters within me throw sentiments of love and grief at each other but at the same time conceal what it is that they both seem to really want. It is undeniable, the dramatic amount of intellectual tension and emotional desire between them throughout this entire existence so far. And today, I have decided to actually talk to the twins in my head in a form of a letter.

First, for my old friend Ares…

Dear Ares,

I dream. I know it’s probably quite bizarre. Kenn has dreams? Yes, I can feel the skepticism from you right there. But seriously, I do have dreams. I have always dreamed of actually being in university (specifically Yale), getting a degree in Literature, getting a job as a junior editor for a Lifestyle magazine right after graduation while working on my first novel, and then working my way up the social ladder, finally achieving my secret dream of becoming a best-selling author. You know, the “right path”, as they say. But everything turned out very differently now. None of those things were even close to happening on the first place. And so I guess it’s safe to say that those “dreams” have drastically turned into fantasies—the hardcore ones—the ones I know deep in my guts I will never ever get the chance to experience in reality. However, this hasn’t stopped me from dreaming once and for all. No, I haven’t achieved any of those things in the “right path”, but I don’t blame anybody for that. It was a choice—my choice. And so I continue to dream every time I travel for long hours across the country. As the sun’s warm rays hit the train’s glass windows every morning, and as the fresh breeze of air brush through my hair and into every corner of the vehicle’s interior, and as flocks of birds grace the skies in all their free glory as they disappear from my point of view, I begin to fantasize about having the most romantic dinner date of my life—the one I’ve been dreaming of since I started admiring people, which was probably when I was nine or ten. See, I dream of an epic moment on a yacht on a warm Saturday afternoon, just as the sun begins to set. And I have organized everything for this perfect moment to actually turn out perfect. There is a dinner table set for two, an ice sculpture that says “Kenn+whatever the lucky guy’s name is”, an acoustic local band I hired to play songs by Angus Stone, Radiohead and Edwin McCain, and a cute little kitten that wears a locket that contains a picture of me and ‘the lucky guy’ around its neck. And the only dominant colors are white and red, except for my suit, which is black, and except for the kitten which is beach blond, and except for the guy who plays the harmonica, who wears a beige sort of vest and a blue tie, and except for the sun, whose orangeness has touched the ocean’s innocent shade of gray and dark blue, as its rays caress the still water, creating an illusion of glittering, shining bubbles and sparkles which, after a moment, begin to appear like countless of golden floating lanterns spread generously all over the massive body of water upon which the yacht floats. And then there’s this familiar sound: the sound of Calvin Klein leather shoes nearing, and then a blurry image of a guy in a red-and-white suit appears. And then I look away for a second and a half to see the sunset at its most colourful, and then I look at the image again and it is now clear: the boy I love, in his most beautiful, and me, in my most romantic. The two of us sit beside each other, looking into the sea, as dinner is being prepared and as the band serenades us. I sit right next to him, with my hand on his knee, as we fall in love all over again.

See? I dream. And I know that I told you before that I don’t believe in commitment? Well, that hasn’t changed. I just said I dream of that perfect date, with someone I love. And it can last longer or it can end the very second after the band played Creep by Radiohead. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I love. And even if I lose, so what? It’s better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

And now, for the loving Constantine – the less of the two evils…

Dear Constantine,

You’ve always been there. Even on those times when I built walls around my heart, you were there. You chose to sit against those brick walls and patiently wait for them to crumble. You’ve just always wanted to be free, to just get everything over with so you can dance in the air like you dreamed of. But dear, what does being free mean? What does it really mean? I live in a world where there are limits, boundaries, rules. How can I ever be free? No matter how hipster-ass I try to be, there will always be that stinging gut feeling that I haven’t done everything I wanted to do in life. That something is lacking. And then I realize: it’s love. It’s the factor that’s lacking in all of my freedom-filled life. I think that love is what will set me free. And I know that I’ve been quite skeptical about the notion of true love, but that’s only because I’ve been hurt too! I’ve had my heart broken just like everybody else. I just can’t believe he wouldn’t stop bitching about how he could bleed to death if he got cut. Hell, I’ve been cut and I’m still living. Because I still have hope that someday, somehow, someone out there will find me. And we will find each other. And the moment we do, we won’t lose each other ever again. And we don’t have to possess each other. We just have to love. Freely. The way that you love birds, and his sweaters, and the way we love the sunset, and the long drive along the coast, and the way we love the sky, and the ocean, and the breeze of fresh air. And we don’t even have to be together forever. Forever doesn’t exist. But this moment does. This very second. And that’s what matters. A reason to trust in love again.

Hugs, kisses and axe kicks to you both,
From your master

We’re Fine

My Symphony: The Greatest by Cat Power

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They’re real. The suffering, the sickness and the catastrophe– they exist. These things are felt and experienced by people, and although they don’t always happen to everyone everywhere everytime, they eventually will.

“I’m fine”. This is one of the most often-said two-word sentences human beings say. We’re fine. And that’s great; however, what do we do with these times when we are fine? What do we do with these moments when we’re not suffering from a gum inflammation, or tonsillitis, or a broken leg, or constipation? How do we spend these days when we are free to speak, to write, to see, to feel? How much love do we give now that we are still alive?

The obvious truth is that we are all just so blessed no matter what our circumstances are. The fact that you are reading this right now should already be enough for you to be grateful about something– you are there, you are breathing, and you are a part of the universe. Every breath you take is a reason to say “Thank You”.

A day will come when you, or life, or the earth itself, is no longer as lively and as vivid as you see it right now. I’m not the most well-informed person in the field of Science, but I do know that Physics itself tells us that everything in this world will fail us eventually. The universe is undergoing a process of entropy. All matter seems to start to fade, soften, melt or collapse. And even if none of this information is completely credible, I am convinced we as the human race need no scientific proof. The proof is everywhere; it is all around us. And no, it is not scientific. It is simply real.

The surrounding chaos and brittleness amidst life’s twenty-four-hour fragments are as palpable as they can get. Each discomfort we feel is a product of the world we built and the kind of society that we constructed. Is there an escape? Nobody knows.

So today, smile. You are there. You are fine. Spend these fine moments wisely.

Always,
Kenn

The Day of the Astute Examination

My Symphony: Notes In Constellations by Chiodos 

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The August Twenty-Fourth Personality

Those born on August 24 have the urge to untangle mysteries that capture their interest. All the dark, misunderstood or uncharted areas of human knowledge attract them. Not only students of the human condition, those born on this day often pursue objective knowledge for its own sake.

Unraveling complexity is something that comes naturally to August 24 people. Puzzles of all types, paradoxes and riddles are their forte. But though those born on this day may be difficult to pin down or understand, they themselves rarely feel lost.

Unfortunately, August 24 people are often unaware that they, in fact, are just as complex as the demands of their work, areas of investigation or creations; they generally see themselves as simple and direct.

In order to uncover the truth, it is possible that an August 24 person will not only dig into books and human character. On vacation, most August 24 people like nothing better than to explore something completely new to them. Their hobbies and perhaps their careers reflect this desire for discovery.

August 24 people can make good parents, so great is the interest they show in their children’s development. They must make an effort, however, to allow for the privacy and living space that every individual needs.

August 24 people would do well to simplify their own lives as much as possible, and avoid much of the endless complexity which they not only discover but so often themselves create.

(Source: The Secret Language of Birthdays by Gary Goldschneider)

Though I was never a hardcore believer of horoscopes, I started reading Astrology books at an early age because the mystery and the ambiguity of it all interested me. Now I wouldn’t say my beliefs have completely shifted, but all those years of immersing myself in zodiac signs and birthday languages have surely caused me to appreciate and understand a huge portion of the subject.

If I were to thank a non-living thing for somehow pulling me in to the phantasmagorical world of the written word, it would be my aunt’s antique bookshelf in her room. It is the place where I first spent hours and hours just reading on my own, getting to know the world one page at a time. And that bookshelf contained all of the areas of knowledge I needed to be exposed to as a child – fine arts, general science, photography, Tagalog short stories, dictionaries, encyclopedias, atlases, history, sociology, thriller and mystery. And then one day, I found this book called The Secret Language of Birthdays. At the time I thought that finding the book amid those other “more important” areas of Humanities was just a bonus, but as I grew up this book began to communicate with me, like a bestfriend I never had. When asked what superpowers they would like to possess, you know how people say, “I’d love to have telepathy! It’d be super dope if I could like talk to someone and know what’s on his mind without actually talking to him!”? Well The Secret Language of Birthdays has sort of given me that ability.

I am here because today is the 24th day of August. No, it’s not my birthday but yes, it sure is somebody else’s. In fact, there’s three people I personally know in real life who are turning a year wiser today. So I guess, before anything else, I would like to greet them here in my humble cyber abode. Happy birthday!

Now, here’s the thing: August 24 has always reminded me so much of Virgos. Well obviously, people who were born on this day are all Virgos, but there’s more to it than that. What I’m trying to say is that to me, August 24 people seem to be the epitome of the overall Virgo personality. Observant, investigative, thorough; overanalytical, stifling, obscure. These are the people who are generally organized, disciplined and loyal, and the same people who prefer to keep their emotions veiled, making them seem cold and critical. I can go on and on with this, but I don’t think I need to. There are already hundreds of thousands of books out there that will tell you exactly what you want to know more about people under this sign.

What interests me more, however, is the way a Virgo (e.g. my college bestfriend Rean) and a Gemini (e.g. me) take in one another. I mean, I personally think there’s probably nothing more complex than a relationship between a Virgo and a Gemini, and this is mainly due to both signs being opposites in extremes. At first look, we both seem to like the same things, talk about the same topics, listen to the same music and mingle with the same groups of people, but this is where the stealthy devil comes in – we are different from each other on a deeper level. A soul level. That can mean a lot of things, but for now let’s allow this excerpt from another Astrology book to fill us in:

The attraction of Virgo to Gemini will probably be that of giving the appearance of being solid and dependable, which represents security, and the willingness to do anything for the loved one. Virgo can provide a scope for the Gemini intelligence, as well as mental stimulation. However, with the passage of time, the Gemini will likely become restless due to the Virgo inability of going along with Gemini’s rather unorthodox ideas and the Virgo’s sensible approach to matters may well prove to be a deep-seated cause of rebellion in Gemini.

In addition, the somewhat petty attitude of Virgo regarding finances will also become irritating and may breed a good deal of resentment on the part of Gemini toward the Virgo. The critical attitude of Virgo may be another bone of contention, which will invariably cause some distress to the Virgo, particularly since those governed by this sign seldom recognize this trait in themselves. Due to the Gemini lack of being constant in most things, Virgo will certainly come to doubt the Gemini’s ability for anything but self-love. This could result in a claustrophobic reaction from Gemini to the Virgo’s insecurities and could bring about violent actions on the part of Gemini. Initially, the physical attraction between these two will be strong, but when Gemini feels that his or her ego is threatened, then it is easy for the Gemini to turn off desire for the person perceived to have given the offense.

While this is unlikely to bother the Virgo, Gemini may go in search of love elsewhere. Crucial to the survival of the Virgo-Gemini relationship is that each individual take time to learn about the other’s approach to life and love, and to remember that the attitudes of both are worth understanding. It is in the Gemini nature to see both sides of any given story, but there is a tendency to vacillate between two courses of action and on occasion, the Gemini native does seem to possess a split personality. This match will be greatly strengthened when steady Virgo can provide one aspect of the Gemini character with a firm and emotional anchor, while allowing the other aspect of the Gemini personality to flit about at will. However, Virgo may be a little too serious and demanding for Gemini especially if this occurs early in the relationship, before Gemini has fully committed. If the Virgo partner can just give it some time, there is a good chance that things will smooth out. Nonetheless, the approaches to life are vastly different here and mutual acceptance can be difficult to come by particularly since Virgo tends to be so critical and exacting. The Gemini is sure to strain against Virgo’s ultra-practical stance in the world and the Virgo will certainly tire quickly of Gemini’s flighty ways.

So there you go. I’ve read approximately a hundred different excerpts about the Virgo-Gemini compatibility (or lack thereof) that sound ninety-nine percent similar to the one I just quoted. But this is why I am here today, writing this rather unexpected expression of examination. Yes, Virgo is an earth sign and Gemini is an air sign. The Virgin and The Twins. The Stable and The Flighty. Things couldn’t possibly go any more opposite. But despite all that, I can never seem to not like Virgos. I love them, and I hate them, and I don’t get them, and I am irked by them, and I am intrigued by them. And sometimes I just want to be anywhere but around them.

But I always (always) like them.

P.S. My grandma is one of those three August 24 people I was talking about. HAPPY 79th, mama Au! Love you lots!

Hugs and kisses,

Gemini

Rat’s Blood and an Open Book

My Symphony: Secrets by One Republic

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What if I told you all of my secrets? All of it – the quirky ones, the funny ones, the disturbing ones, the fatal ones. What if I were standing right in front of you, completely naked – the darker parts of me showing?

What if I placed a toy soldier on the palm of your hand and told you it’s what I had always masturbated to? And what if I was sick – really sick? A dozen fucking holes in my brain. Lonely. Depressed. Suicidal. Just waiting for a goddamned stray bullet to pin my mad soul down.

What if I never really were smart, or cute, or funny, or attractive? What if all of that was merely a huge, huge pail of lies – masks that were there to cover up something crooked and ugly? What if I really was three foot three inches short? Blind, deaf, mute. Untalented. Unambitious. Untouched.

What if my real goal in life was to fuck everything over simply because I had this anger in my heart – this sort of solitude dressed as hatred that always fooled people? What if I had coffee with you one day and confessed that I never really honestly cared about school, career, and stuff like ethnic diversity, or “Stand Up To Bullying”, “Save the Whale”, et cetera? What if I never really were a people person? What if the real me – the really unadulterated version of me – was as simple as a male animal who refused any responsibility and just wanted to sit somewhere nostalgic and be sad and happy at the same time for the remainder of his aimless, pathetic, purposeless life?

What if I still pissed in my bed at twenty? What if I actually found rat’s blood sexually enticing? And what if I had AIDS simply due to being such a relentless man-whore?

What if I’d cheated, lied and stolen, and had moments where I was convinced none of it was a big deal? What if some days I just randomly gave a homeless guy two hundred bucks as long as I could have at least thirty-seven minutes of an absolutely real and meaningful conversation with him over a bottle of whiskey?

What if I was so sick of being in this so-called rat race? And what if I never really thought of being a part of it on the first place? What if I didn’t believe in money, or success, or all those other silly stuff?

What if at the end of the day, I really was just one of those fuck-ups who are in the brink of nothingness?

Would anybody still want me, love me, care for me, cheer for me? Would you still see me as the same son, the same brother, the same friend, the same lover, the same human being, that you saw before I took all of my fucking clothes off?

Would you still genuinely smile back at me and have a walk with me?

Death Conversations In the Woods

My Symphonies: 24 by Switchfoot | Sad and Beautiful World by Sparklehorse

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The time has come when we cannot simply treat death as an ugly, sad thing. Death, not just of humans but of every fucking thing in this universe, isn’t there so we can merely mourn about it, tweet about it, talk about it, feel so bad about it and just get back to living our earthly conventional touch-screen deep lives the next hour, or the next week, or the next decade. It’s not there so we can cry one minute and just move on at the right time. There is no right time for moving on. Us humans, we move on too much, too often and in too many places. We aren’t supposed to move on. We are supposed to always stay right where we fucking are and just listen. To our own breaths. To our own fears. To the air.

Yes, someone famous died. But so did that non-famous girl back in 1670. So will your pet tarantula. So will your loved ones. And so will you.

Death never meant a simple tragedy to me. It has always been a wake-up call– a message from the entire universe from way back in time. It is a poetic lesson. It is meant to bring us face to face with who we really are.

— (My Facebook status update, July 14th)

In my life, I have spent a lot of time walking. I love going on long walks, especially when there is something on my mind that I cannot make sense of in any other place. It is only on random roads that I get an adequate amount of peace of mind essential to the maintenance of my own version of a healthy living. But sometimes on those walks, the sun’s rays hit the sidewalk in a certain way and I just feel like crying. Sometimes the trees, the houses, the cars, the squirrels and the people around me appear in a certain way that just makes me tear up. And I can’t explain it. The way I feel in that moment starts to become bigger than anything else, and that’s my cue to suppress my emotions as fast as I can. Because I am scared of what will happen if I don’t force myself to unfeel what I feel on those walks – if I fully surrender to what the experience wants to tell me.

I look at myself today and I am baffled. I mean, when I was twelve I thought I would be a big success story by now. I strongly hoped and believed that by the time I turned twenty, life would be the way I always imagined it would be – busy, large and easy. I thought that by now, I would be someone famous in my own country; a young television journalist with an up and coming real estate business. I was going to bring honor to my family; all those medals and awards and trophies and kilograms after kilograms of bacon. I was supposed to be the good news in every town and the topic of pride in each birthday party, wedding, high school reunion and family gathering. I was gonna go big because the last thing I wanted was to go home.

Life has had a funny way of messing all that up, though. Now here I am – in a foreign land, unknown, unemployed, unsure. The funny part is that the older I get, the more uncertain I seem to be when it comes to things like career. Where did all my plans go? What happened to the path I so carefully constructed as an ambitious child? What would my twelve year-old self think of me now that I am living a life far from what he wanted?

Simple, really. Something happened along the way that profoundly changed me and everything I thought I knew about earth, mankind and this thing called society. The truth is, I stopped obsessing on success when I was fifteen. It was the end of my junior year in high school, and somehow things just slowly shone brighter and clearer to me. After all those doses of real-life experiences and lessons, I decided I wasn’t going to walk on any path anymore. I decided to walk through the woods instead. And today I am still in here. In the woods. And I am about to tell you something real; something larger than life; something potentially disturbing and also potentially magnificent. It is something I learned here in the woods.

July 19th, Friday

I was casually going over my Facebook news feed and some so-so videos in YouTube when my brother called me. I picked up the phone and I heard him let out a heavy breath – one which promised to give way to something dark and saddening. Before he even said something, I knew something was wrong. I knew he was going to give me a bad news.

“Toh, napatay si–“

Before he finished that sentence, there was this split of a second between the word “napatay” (meaning died in English) and “si” (an indicator of a person’s name) when my heart literally stopped beating. I felt it. That was one of the most terrifying fifths of a second in my life. Being in that unknown space between knowing that somebody died and learning who it is was a tragedy in itself. Because I knew it could be anyone from back home. It could be anyone I know here, or somebody that I loved deeply, or someone that taught me how to read or how to ride a bike, or how to cook. It could’ve been you, reading this right now. But on that day, it was my cousin, Joseph Henry Aldueza.

He gave me a De La Salle 100 Years shirt and a black bracelet when I left Laguna back in June 2011. He told me never to forget them, and that we’ll meet again soon. We were still gonna go to Enchanted Kingdom again. We were still gonna go clubbing in Manila with our other cousins and nieces and nephews. We were going to. But not anymore. Because all of a sudden, that was the last time I get to see him.

My inner soul is shattered. Kuya Joseph was a lively one. He was the nice one, the happy one. He was everything his friends and family now say about him. All those after-death testimonials are valid, I’m pretty sure. But there is something about his death that affirmed something to me. I have always been very perceptive every time somebody I know dies. Even celebrities. The past few months, a couple other people passed away and their leaving has caused a great ache in people’s hearts. A guy by the name of Pj Solinap and a guy by the name of Cory Monteith. A small town guy known only by the locals of a small strip of land in the Philippines and a popular Hollywood actor admired and celebrated by millions all over the world. One died of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, the other one died of heroin-alcohol overdose. There were people who loved them, yes. People who hated them, yes. People who couldn’t care less about them, of course. But those people, those still alive and kicking, what are they doing now? This isn’t a rhetorical question. I am actually very curious as to where they are now and whether or not they learned something from the deaths that have been visiting our planet since the beginning of time. 

What is death? Is it just a mere tragedy, or is it something more?

At times, it seemed as though life contained an endless amount of days. When I was younger and had less brain cells, I thought this for sure. It didn’t matter to me how long I held a grudge, or how long I waited to do something I always wanted to do. It didn’t matter how many hours I spent boring myself because there were going to be some more hours and an unlimited supply of weeks, months and opportunities. At least that’s what I thought back then.

Maybe it’s a rite of passage from childhood to adulthood: the moment when you realize life happens now, and that’s all you’re guaranteed. It doesn’t really hit you when you merely know it intellectually, like you know your ABCs, state capitals, and other concrete facts. It hits you when somehow you feel it. Your health declines. You lose someone you love. A tragedy rocks your world. It isn’t until you realize that all life fades that you consider now a commodity and a scarce one at that. One day you’re doing okay and drinking beer and having fun. The other day you are faced with a bad news that this or that person is no more. One day, in a blink of an eye, life becomes real.

Life is short. We seem to think that we’ll live forever. We spend time and money as though we’ll always be here. We buy shiny things as though they matter and are worth the debt and stress of attachment. We put off the so-called “trip of a lifetime” for another year, because we all assume we have another year. We don’t tell the ones we love how much we love them often enough because we assume there’s always tomorrow. We condition ourselves to live a life dictated by society because we believe that there is a right time for absolute love, honesty and simplicity. And we fear. Oh, do we fear. We stick it out in miserable jobs and situations because we’re afraid of the risk of stepping out. We don’t reach high enough or far enough because we’re worried we’ll fail, forgetting – or never realizing – that it’s better to fail spectacularly while reaching for the stars than it is to succeed at something we never really wanted in the first place.

We think we have forever and that these concerns that weigh us down are so pressing. We worry about the trivial to the neglect of the most precious thing we have: moments we’ll never see again. We talk of killing time, passing time, and getting through the week, forgetting we’re wishing away the moments that comprise our lives. We say time is money when in fact the time we have is all we have. Money can be borrowed, time can’t. We fear taking risks, unaware that the biggest risk we run in playing it safe is in fact living as long as we hope and never doing the things we dreamed of. And then it’s too late. We watched our favorite TV shows, we fought a losing battle with our weight, we picked up the guitar once in a while and never quite finished the french language courses we wanted to do. We managed to get a large flatscreen and new cars once in a while, but the list of things we’d have done if we could really, truly could have done anything, kept growing. And we never did them.

People die in car accidents, they die of overdose, bullet shots, cancer and old age. The list goes on including murder and suicide. But at the end of the day, it’s all the same. It doesn’t really matter how someone died, because the point is they did. And all those things that you say about him after he’s gone will not matter anymore because he’s not there to know that. And this is my heartache: the fact that all of us are so scared of just loving each other. We are a sick species because of our own fears and pride. We hate and we kill and we compete against one another because we don’t want to feel weak by admitting to ourselves that we’re more than this. We’re more than brand new cars, and job promotions and shiny medals. We are more than money, more than power, more than discrimination. We are meant for things larger than life itself.

So maybe a long, successful life is irrelevant. Maybe living a meaningful, passionate life has nothing to do with its length and everything to do with its width.

Taking reality into account, I know that I am just being too idealistic again. But if you have read this, I hope that you will one day feel what I feel on those long walks –  when the sun all of a sudden hits the pavement in a certain way that just makes me melancholic. It’s that sadness, that pain, that yearning for something bigger than this world, that makes me feel alive.

And even if I am not the big shot I thought I would be by now, I am so grateful and so happy that I am able to live my life the way I do. Because I know that all this matters. All this makes up who I am and what I believe is true. And when it is my turn to leave this place, I will be happy. Because I have come to know myself so deeply and so strongly that not even death can destroy me. Because I have felt, I have lived and mostly, I have loved.

I have loved. I am emphasizing that.

I’m going back into the woods now…

A Jeepney Ride to the Heart of the Philippines

My Symphony: 73 by Yolanda Moon

Philipines_Grungy_Flag_by_think0

June 12th, 2013 – The 115th Philippine Independence Day

Before anything else, I just want to say that I am in a state of a great bliss right now, and that I am writing this with a genuine smile on my face. I feel nothing but freedom, hope, love and happiness right at this hour. Moments like this feel surreal, but here I am. This is actually happening…

As a kid, a teenager, I had always been so attached to the idea of living a non-Filipino life in a non-Filipino world. I was maybe four when I started to develop a strong desire for all things foreign – movies, television, clothes, food, books, celebrities, music, language, even history itself. I found it so easy to be drawn into what was “not mine.” Well, I guess I couldn’t really blame myself that I preferred The OC to Hiram, Blink182 to Kamikazee, Orlando Bloom to Jericho Rosales, John Green to Angelo Lacuesta or Tommy Hilfiger to Penshoppe. I was psychologically Americanized in the little world I lived in. It was my destiny to live the early years of my life with a colonial mentality. I fought against it, and I fought hard. And today definitely marks the end of this battle. I now have seen, I now have grown and I now have learned.

I was born in a nation that suffered from a sort of an identity crisis. And this is exactly the problem. Filipinos wish to be someone other than a Filipino because of an inferiority complex. This is due to the fact that a Filipino nowadays has no sense of the great history of Filipinos and only looks at the beauty that others can offer. Also, Filipinos often criticize themselves as a result of accepting that they are inferior to other beings. And as they criticize other Filipinos, calling them names, or even getting mad at them, they don’t see that they are criticizing their own selves.

Everytime I skim through my Facebook news feed, I am deeply saddened to see hundreds, if not thousands, of posts that contain discrimination within my own people – insults from Filipinos aimed against fellow Filipinos. I’ve heard and seen it all. Homophobic slurs, ageist notions, harsh judgment and mockery based on one’s looks, skin color, financial status and social standing. What’s worse than this is the amount of people who think and believe that this is funny. It repulses me to learn that a lot of Filipinos today find “racism against one’s own race” a somewhat enjoyable pastime or an amusing source of humor. This is one of the greatest pains and fears I have in my life. The knowledge that somehow, we as a people never completely incubated, coalesced; that maybe we never really united, and it is anybody’s guess whether we ever will.

It is true that many Filipinos wish to be a part of another race. American, Japanese, European, name it and there’s sure to be a Filipino wanting to be part of it, as long as it’s not Filipino. I am actually shocked by foreigners who want to be Filipinos when Filipinos want to be foreigners. A foreigner to their own land. And as these words ring through my ears, I just wish that the words of former president Manuel Quezon reach us once again today:

Message to My People
by Manuel L. Quezon (former president of the Philippines, 1935 to 1944 and Father of the National Language)

My fellow citizens: there is one thought I want you always to bear in mind. And that is: that you are Filipinos. That the Philippines is your country, and the only country God has given you. That you must keep it for yourselves, for your children, and for your children’s children, until the world is no more. You must live for it, and die for it, if necessary.

Your country is a great country. It has a great past, and a great future. The Philippines of yesterday is consecrated by the sacrifices of lives and treasure of your patriots, martyrs, and soldiers. The Philippines of today is honored by the wholehearted devotion to its cause of unselfish and courageous statesmen. The Philippines of tomorrow will be the country of plenty, of happiness, and of freedom. A Philippines with her head raised in the midst of the West Pacific, mistress of her own destiny, holding in her hand the torch of freedom and democracy. A republic of virtuous and righteous men and women all working together for a better world than the one we have at present.

So today, let us ask ourselves these: What’s a Filipino? What defines us? And more important, what binds us? What dreams unite us? Now that we are scattered all over the world, born to a mix of races, into different cultures, speaking different languages, who are we and what do our roots remind us? What does it mean to be truly Filipino? Is it through being internationally competitive, world class? Is it living in the Philippines or coming back to the Philippines every once in a while? Is it giving back to the country whatever reward you get? Or is it simply enough that one calls himself a Filipino?

Growing old in a country one had not known as a child can be fraught with a lot of ambivalence. If one is still active upon migration to a strange land, there is the excitement of adventure, but there are also the challenges of surviving and adjusting in an environment that may be totally different from the milieu one had been accustomed to. One may get a good job, grow on it, accumulate assets, and succeed beyond what he or she had dreamed of. Or, one might get lost in the maze of kaleidoscopic hustles and bustles of life and end up in the gutter. For those who succeed in blending into the mainstream, there is the likelihood of becoming so complaisant that they risk losing the soul — that principle of being that defines the very essence of our humanness. Loneliness may set in. And this can turn into depression that can gnaw at one like a rodent slowly and painfully eating up the very core of one’s being. Unless one believes firmly in something he or she can fall back on– something that can wake one up into a realization of his or her true identity that he or she can take pride in, gain confidence from, and be energized by, in order to rise and be whole again.

To me, this thing I need to fall back on every time I falter in my decision-making, every time I stumble into error, and every time I slip into stupor is also the very thing that pricks me into an awakening, that forces me to rise again, urges me to face my indecision head-on, and to follow the path set forth by my forefathers: a path, thorny it may have been, but embedded in bravery, generosity, pride, beauty and continued growth. This is my Filipino heritage that encompasses my Christian upbringing and spiritual growth: what I constantly remind myself of as defining my true self no matter where I am; no matter what kind of environment I am submerged in; no matter what other kind of culture and language I may be immersed in; and, no matter who I must face in the great battles encountered daily in this foreign land. I am, after all, the product of my cultural heritage: its history, its values, its traditions, its customs, its music and dances, its literature, its myths, its rituals, and its ideals.

Family bonding, to me, is adhering to our traditional family gatherings in observance of our noche buena. This helps me re-live the faith of my childhood as strengthened by the traditions. In fact, the number one reason why I decided to come home on December is that I miss Christmas in the Philippines so much. Families snuggle even closer, friends step on another milestone, and the overall relationships find a common, deeper ground. Even the weeks or the few months leading to the midnight of December 24th are filled with an almost indescribable atmosphere of togetherness. The air feels different; it smells fresher. The streets are serenaded mostly by young kids singing Christmas songs. The city glows much, much brighter with all the Christmas lights gleaming red, blue, green, purple, white and yellow. People forgive each other, and sometimes even themselves. It is a season not just of oneness but of second chances, of forgetting about the pain and the hardship and soldiering on with open arms and open hearts. The entire nation is in a state of unselfishness, hospitality and kindness. Love.

 The rites and festivals–sources of every town’s history–each has a story to tell. The rites of the Canao, of the Tadtarin, the Moriones, the Ati-atihan, the Turumba, and the Fandango before Santa Clara—these are, to me, dances of life. The Santacruzan (ah, such vision of vestal beauties!), the Misa de gallo for Christmas and the salubong for Easter—these are my people’s most profound traditions of faith. There seems to be no end, in fact, to the breadth of the Filipino culture that speaks of the colorful lives of my people.

From their first encounter with the colonizers on March 16, 1521, my forefathers had already established their character as peace-loving people who, in their inherent sense of hospitality, welcomed visitors in their land with warmth and generosity.  Giving out the best– as demonstrated by their gifting their guests with gold and huge porcelain jars filled with rice grain–speaks of unselfishness and magnanimity practiced only by the civilized. This, to me, is a defining character, a legacy practiced to this day by a true Filipino: that of being human and humane. But the generosity of our ancestors, if and when taken advantage of, could turn into the ferocity of a lion. Witness the anger of Lapu-lapu who, with his band of warriors, slew the conquistadores headed by Magellan. This is a reminder to me that to fight the exploitative and the greedy is a consequence of being victimized. We are not aggressors, but we know how to assert ourselves as our Filipino heroes Lapulapu, Rizal, Mabini, Bonifacio, and so many others, had shown. Though we cherish peace and are inherently patient, we know how to fight back, because the love for justice runs in our blood.

No matter what other culture I may have been exposed to, it is my Filipino heritage that commands my daily behavior: the po and opo will always be music to my ears; the elderly will always be regarded with reverence, and parents taken care of in their old age. In the tradition of constancy and modesty, a spouse is part of oneself to love and be loyal to, the body a temple of God to be respected and not abused, and life as a whole to be cherished, enriched and refined to one’s best potential.

In sharing what my Filipino heritage means to me, is it too much to hope that others of the same roots as mine, including the next generations, cherish it as well?  In the tradition of our ancestors who emerged into a Jose Rizal, Andres Bonifacio, Claro Recto, Nick Joaquin, Wilfrido Nolledo,  and many others, may they all evolve into the human beings they are destined to become–the best of what they can be: unique, beautiful, integrated into an ever growing whole as they embraced their dynamic Filipino heritage. So, to them, I say: unfold like the butterfly and soar to heights of splendor, but be distinctly Filipino!

Distinctly Filipino, yet first and foremost a human being. For when you come down to it, the qualities of being a Filipino are the very qualities that define us all as human beings: After all, my Filipino heritage is my birthright to my integrated self, cultured to the best of what I can possibly be as a human being, polished by the complexity of shared beliefs and patterns of learned behavior governed by honor and dignity. To be Filipino is first to be human, to be endowed with the qualities of being human.

So today, I am so happy. Because I am a Filipino. And believe it or not, mga Kababayan, that should be a reason for you to smile today.