Last March, Rem and I went on a cruise. A first for both of us, considering we both prefer road trips if we could help it.

We deviated from our usual habits because there was a promo. (Because of course there was. Two 30-ish people living on writers’ wages? We travel on promos. Write that down, travel people.)

View from one of the gates of Shuri Castle – Shuri Castle and Shureimon Gate was our first stop in Naha, Okinawa, Japan. (Overexposed photo, I know, but we disembarked at nearly noon.)

Reason two: The cruise will land us (me in particular) in Japan[1] and Taiwan. To better understand what pushed me to grab the chance, my first ever overseas trip was last year, to Singapore[2].

So yeah, we went, we saw, we got seasick.

We had all sorts of plans too. We plotted our steps from “once we land in Okinawa” to “buying a Nintendo Switch”, but somehow failed to properly prepare ourselves for the 6-day trip within a giant pitching, yawing, and bobbing tub.

It’s funny looking back now, how my mind marveled at how many vomiting idioms and words I could think of – while I was slumped on the cabin’s bathroom floor.[3]

Jing Tong Old Street and Train Station – tons of Miyazaki feels

While we knew it was going to be cold, we didn’t expect the freezing drizzle in Taiwan. We were only wearing jackets. As in the type of jacket you wear in say, Baguio in October. My hands were so cold I could barely take photos.

Unmitigated disasters aside, I really did enjoy the trip, though given a choice, I’d fly. Naha (Okinawa) and Jiufen (Taiwan) are beautiful places for different reasons, and I’d love to see more of both in the future.

1. Requires a visa.
2. and that was only to see Simona Halep run around a court and hit a fuzzy yellow ball around
3. Losing lunch, tossing cookies, barfing, tawag uwak (calling crows?), spewing, puking, hurling, upchucking, throwing up.


Happy Endings… and Beginnings

Happy Endings[1]

Tell us about something you’ve tried to quit. Did you go cold turkey, or for gradual change? Did it stick?

Caveat 1: It took so goddamn long to format this post, because apparently, WP likes the blockquote+alignright code so much it devours it.

Caveat 2: This writing prompt is from The Daily Post. I realize it was from Jan 4, which I hope you’ll forgive, random reader. I haven’t done this in a while.

One of the longest relationships I’ve ever had ended a few weeks ago.

An unequivocal truth: Breakups suck. Even that breakup with the boyfriend you didn’t really like all that much sucked in some way or form.

Like that job you hated with every fiber of your being. You will have emerged with a feeling akin to somebody drawing a “Get out of jail free” card, but in some ways, it will suck. You have left people – your people – behind. You’ve left something that seemed so good at the beginning, so promising, up until the point the fangs and the teeth, and the dick moves showed up.

And the more horrifying bit of every breakup is, it’ll stay with you long after you’ve accepted everything, long after the dust has settled and you’ve come miles away from the scorched earth you’ve left in your wake.

One of the longest relationships I’ve ever had ended a few weeks ago. I broke up with cigarettes.

I remember that first cigarette more than I remember my first kiss.

One chilly night in the middle of April[2], I stood with my fellow trainees outside an office in Eastwood. I had just finished my practical exam, the exam that would pretty much decide whether or not I get the blessing to work on the production floor, or get axed.

I was convinced that I was going to get the latter.[3] I watched my friends puff away as if cigarettes lent them a sort of Calm-Cool-As-A-Cucumber superpower that I sorely needed.

First puff, I sputtered. Of course I did.

Months later, I picked it up again. I associated it with breaks, with something I do while I am with friends and at ease. Fast forward to 10 or 11 years later, I am closing the 2-pack-a-day mark. Somewhere along the way, I’ve associated it with something I love: writing. I kept fooling myself that if I stopped smoking, maybe the writing will go away too. Maybe, just maybe, it did lend me a sort of superpower.

I smoked even during a bout of what I’ve come to call as the Acute URI Trifecta.[4]

One day last year, I woke up and knew I didn’t want it anymore. Have you had that feeling? A friend and colleague recently told me she woke up and realized she didn’t want to go to work. She quit the next day.

When I really think about it, it wasn’t an abrupt sort of realization. It was a long, drawn out epiphany, mired in healthcare plans and insurance policies. It was a decision brought forth by the idea of changing for the better, of ridding myself of things that don’t really do me any good. And let’s be honest, of not romanticizing things that are bad for me.

So those things in mind, I knew cold turkey simply  wouldn’t work for me, and I started asking around for alternatives. Vaping seemed like a very good idea. I won’t smell like a chimney, I won’t be slowly killing my dog (along with favorite people) with secondhand smoke, and I won’t have burn marks on my keyboard.

I know vaping isn’t quitting – quitting – but I do know that I haven’t touched a cigarette in six weeks. So yeah, that’s good enough for me.

And if you’re curious, the writing didn’t go away. Or it hasn’t gone away with the cigarettes. So big win all things considered, yeah?

1. Writing Prompt from The Daily Post
2. It was the middle of April, so no, not chilly at all, but I was shivering. Nerves tend to do that to me.
3. Because I couldn’t pronounce Kyrie, goddammit.
4. Upper Respiratory Track Infection, in my case, was a cough deciding to hang out with Laryngitis, Pharyngitis, and Bronchitis.

Moscow on the Hudson

So tonight, Remi and I watched Moscow on the Hudson. She said it was her favorite Robin Williams film and I hadn’t watched it. By the end of it, it made the top of my list too. It discusses a whole slew of issues, but the things that really hit me were the ones about misery and self-pity, dealing with rejection and crying it all out.

So Vladimir Ivanoff (Williams) and his friend, Lionel Witherspoon (Cleavant Derricks), were walking home from a jazz bar after Vlad, a saxophonist, played alongside his hero, Wild Bill Hawthorn.

Vlad: I got smoked man.
Lionel: You didn’t get smoked, man. What did you expect from the man?

Vlad sees some trashcans on the sidewalk, proceeds to kiss his saxophone case, and dumps it in. Lionel saves it and hurries to catch up with the despondent Vlad.

Vlad: Better to know who you are. That way you know your limits. You know who the hell you are.
Lionel, exasperated: All he said was practice and work on it.
Vlad: No, man. I am shit. (He flops onto a couch that had been discarded on the sidewalk.)
Lionel: Oh, you’re full of shit man. Full of shit.

Lionel proceeds to lecture him about soul, about how one can’t learn soul in a few months.

Lionel: Let me tell you something else, man. Self-pity ain’t gonna get you nowhere.
Vlad: The saddest thing in the world is life, man.
Lionel: You telling me? It gets so bad sometimes, I don’t think I’ll make it.

Vlad laughs ruefully at this, and Lionel tells him about his kid.

Lionel: When I think of that kid, I wanna cry.
Vlad: Why don’t you cry? It’s good for you.
Lionel: I don’t have to cry. I don’t need to cry.
Vlad: Lionel, when– when I was in Russia… (He edges closer.) I did not love my life. But I loved my misery. You know why? Because it was my misery. I could hold it. I could caress it. I loved my misery. You know, I have a whole family I will never, ever see again.

Lionel starts to cry and pulls his flask from his pocket.

Vlad: You see? Now you see. You know it. There it is. Now you know that the saddest thing in the world is life. Yeah, man. Now you see.

They start crying and laughing as they share the flask.

Vlad: Thank you for a wonderful night. (He stands up.) Boy, I feel great. Hey, take care, okay? I love you. (He laughs as he walks into his building.)
Lionel, as he staggers up from the couch as well: If that was wonderful, what happens when he hits deep depression?

On taking shots

I like taking photos, in the hobbyist sort of way, and I find that sometimes I enjoy it more than writing. That’s saying something, considering I write professionally.

Gloomy day today

It happens especially when words are slow – or are deposited in that special black hole where they go sometimes.

Gloomy and damp

Prized possession

Prized possession [1]

Describe an item you were incredibly attached to as a child. What became of it?

When I was 7 or 8, my mother took me with her to visit a friend of hers, who happened to be the mom of one of my classmates. During the visit, an orange bike was in the garage. One of its training wheels was missing and there were several hints of previous nasty falls. My mom told me to check it out, but because I was shy and embarrassed that I wanted the bike so much, it took several encouraging words before I actually went up to it.

After getting a snack and listening to the adults talk, my mom stood up and asked me if I liked the bike. I said yes. With a mischievous smile she said we’re taking it home because she had already bought it for me.

I loved that bike. It was both a ticket to freedom and a fun means to get from point A to point B. It was summer when I first got it and you could just imagine what sort of shenanigans and nasty falls I had gotten into. I remember pedaling furiously toward an incline [2], only to miss it by a few inches, hit the gutter, and fly over the bike and into the sidewalk.

I used it for my first ‘job’ delivering newspapers around the neighborhood.[3] I used it to flee from chasing dogs, from ornery old people, and from other real and imagined monsters.[4]

I don’t remember exactly what became of the bike – though I do remember that time when I tried to climb a sand mound using it.[5] I remember tightening the chain by myself, fixing the brakes, and taking the tires to the vulcanizing shop with my dad, among other things. I loved it, but I’m pretty sure it suffered the fate that happens to most childhood stuff: I outgrew it and moved on to a bigger bike.

Anyway, last Saturday, I bought a bike. My first bike in 15 or so years. I love it, but it doesn’t quite have the same magic as that first scratched up, one-training-wheel-less, orange wonder. It has its own magic though, as (I’d like to believe) all bikes do.

Mars Kingdom Freestyle Folding Bike
This, but in blue.

1. Writing prompt from The Daily Post.
2. I was fully intending to use it as a ramp, because, you know Excitebike.
3. This made me quite adept at riding a bike while steering with one hand and balancing a stack of newspapers on the other.
4. This, on the other hand, taught me how to ride really fast – and how to use slippers as emergency brakes.
5. IThis involved another flying incident, needless to say.

Sliced bread

Sliced bread [1]

Most of us have heard the saying, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread!” What do you think is actually the best thing since sliced bread?

There are tons of inventions that I thank the powers and minds that be for – indoor plumbing, the Internet, sandwiches, Wikipedia  [2], online banking/shopping/bills payment, the Automatic Transmission, and Mr. Muscle All-Around Cleaner, among other things. The best though? If I sit down and really think about it, the absolute best thing for me is Telecommuting. In my case, this is otherwise known as work-from-home, freelancing, working-in-my-rumpled-bed-clothes-and-my-hair-is-a-mess-contained-within-a-dirty-scrungie.

For reference, this is my home desk:

Foldable Den of Evil
Step into my office.

Back in 2009, I had just resigned from my office job and had taken the leap into the black hole that is freelancing. I thought I was prepared. With my back pay, I had bought a new desktop PC and had an Internet connection installed at home. A few months later, I realized that I was not prepared. Not prepared at all. I had made a terrible mistake in thinking that the work would come to me and not the other way around. I survived through the charity of friends, who pointed me toward paying gigs and other productive ventures. By 2010 though, I realized I was too fond of eating three times a day to ignore the unfortunate state of my finances. I went back to corpo. By 2011, I had had enough of it again. That time, however, I made sure I was prepared. /end flashback

So, telecommuting. I’ll walk you though my day. I wake up at around 2 PM-ish – 12, if I went to bed early because of day time errands. My commute involves walking to the kitchen, plugging in the router (it’s conveniently on the way), putting the electric kettle on, and fixing myself a cup of coffee – my own version of non-alcoholic jiggle juice courtesy of Kopiko.

I unfurl my desk, which I sometimes call my foldable Den of Evil, fire up my laptop, a big, black beast of a machine, and swirl my coffee while I check emails. I listen to music and sing at the top of my lungs when I’m alone and Remi’s at the office.

I start writing, really writing, at around midnight when the world around me is sound asleep. It’s lonely, yes. But that’s the price I pay for convenience, I guess. Writing, in itself, is a lonely sort of endeavor, the kind where it’s just you, a torch if you’re lucky, and a vast sea of trees that you somehow need to navigate in the dead of night. Still, I count myself lucky to have found something that I really like doing. You know, there’s a certain joy in liking what you do – or at least, liking what you do enough that you don’t want to kill yourself after work.

I find myself lucky too, that I found somebody who forgives my hours and my seemingly carefreelancer ways.

1. Writing prompt from The Daily Post.
2. Do you remember homework BEFORE Wikipedia? I do. Dewey Decimal system and all.

Ode to a playground

Ode to a playground [1]

A place from your past or childhood, one that you’re fond of, is destroyed. Write it a memorial.

According to a friend, I existed almost exclusively in the South – Southern Metro Manila, that is. Las Pinas was pretty much my playground, specifically a small subdivision called Sterling Life Homes. The subdivision itself is nestled in a clump of other subdivisions and whenever people asked me where I lived, I’d just rattle off the names of the surrounding places – Pamplona Park, Remarville, Philamlife Village, Patricia Homes – and they’d know the general location.

Las Pinas City, if you feel the need to imagine it, is a collection of villages and subdivisions – a passel, if you will, of girly-named communities (i.e. Pilar Village, Angela Village, and the aforementioned Patricia Homes). [2] It almost feels like it was overrun by a developer bent on subdividing an entire city at some point. Wait. Oh right, it totally was. It was the starting point of Camella’s and Manny Villar’s plans for world domination, one identical townhouse at a time.

Anyway, back to Sterling. Like all other suburbias at the time, Sterling was a quiet and homey place. Kids played in the streets, disappearing for lunch and siesta at noon, but still got tanned to a crisp. We walked, biked, ran everywhere on those streets. My father would pass by in his tricycle, bearing passengers in and out of the subdivision and he’d nod at me or hand me and kuya some coins for merienda. The basketball court, whenever the bigger kids were at school or elsewhere, was ours to play in. My memories of it mostly contain sections of the court where the concrete had buckled under the strain of giant burrowing roots, rusty swing sets under the giant trees, and the peeling paint on the wooden backboards.

I must admit, my most vivid and fondest memories of the old playground include punching a playmate’s nose (of course it bled but he never told on me, God bless him and his ideas of machismo) and throwing a rock at a little bully’s head (of course it bled and the little brat told on me, but my grandmother, God bless her, hid me and dealt with the wrath of his mom). They had it coming, if you asked that nine year old tomboy.

I’m sure the playground is still there, though some of the vacant lots we had used for hide and seek and langit-lupa have been turned into townhouses.

What isn’t there any more, or at least not as I remember it, is the house itself. A fire took it in the wee hours of the morning in the summer before I attended college. I don’t care to recount that depressing tale here, but if you’re curious, then you can find it here.

Anyway, I don’t exist exclusively in the South any more, but sometimes I miss those days of carefree adventures and afternoon games. I miss trying to sneak into the house using a small hole in the old sari-sari store we had. I have outgrown holes the size of bond papers (letter-sized) as well as sneaking into the house. Now it’s bills, dues, and assortments of fees. The side effect of adulthood, perhaps. Still, like that guy in the Twilight Zone episode Walking Distance, we have to learn to look ahead to find happiness in the places where we haven’t looked and once in a while, look back at the past with fondness.

1. Writing prompt from The Daily Post.
2. BF Resort, one of the bigger villages, despite not having a girly name named its streets after beauty queens.

From the Mixed-Up Files of a Writer-For-Hire