Rhythms of 2016 (with accompaniment of Joyce & Plath)

29 12 2016

“Your battles inspired me – not the obvious material battles but those that were fought and won behind your forehead.” —James Joyce

Phone calls from home (the Philippines) are my highly anticipated calls. Hearing my grandmother’s intimidating voice somehow shakes my core and reminds me… of something abstract, something obscure, which I could not quite explain. When she talks to me, I find myself internally nodding, as though a sense of purpose had been just rekindled, although she was only asking how I am doing, or what time it is.

She called me last night. After our phone call, I found myself lying on my bed, staring at the ceiling, but not really looking at it. I was in a daze, utterly reflective until I had to move and snatch my cell phone from my desk. I called a friend whom I can confide to in order to untwine some of my gossamer thoughts.

***

2016 had been like this. Constantly snapping out of the blue and coming to a realization. I, however, could not easily untangle my contemplations so easily by myself until I either write or verbalize them. So each time, I turn to something else as though I need (without letting the other know that I need) to be helped. Sometimes the other is philosophy, other times a friend or family; and even sometimes to a stranger bartender in a bar or a new counselor.

Last night, in particular, I realize that this year had been a rollercoaster of changes.
I decided to write some milestones in this year, in order to wrap up 2016 and make way, openly and cleanly, for 2017.

“Hold to the now, the here, through which all future plunges to the past…” —James Joyce

***

January. Early this year I found myself as a go-getter sending applications to various universities in California. I applied to eight, got accepted and got scholarship offers from all eight, and made an easy decision of accepting admission and scholarship offers from University of California, Berkeley.

It was an easy decision, I say, almost too easy that it was intuitive… I mean, look at it. So grand. So huge. So dreamy.

“July 1950 – I may never be happy, but tonight I am content. Nothing more than an empty house, the warm hazy weariness from a day spent…”—Sylvia Plath 

***

Late May. Three months after sending in applications (and accepting admissions), I graduated junior college with four associate degrees: Associates in Business Administration, Associates of Arts in Social and Behavioral Sciences, Associates of Arts in Letters and Sciences, and Associates of Arts in Organizational Sciences. During graduation day, I walked on the stage humbly, not having all those in mind (oh, and not to mention, I graduated Cum Laude in all those four AA degrees) but only walked the stage to humor my mom’s request. I could have stayed at home, be at ease, and just wait on my certificates to arrive in the mailbox. The walking on the stage part was my gift for my mom. She wanted to “seize the experience”, the “milestone” as she puts it. My dad only nodded as a congratulatory nod—which was more like an “okay”, as he wasn’t particularly convinced that this was an achievement. But anyways, my family and I celebrated at an Italian restaurant and got hammered—a rare event.

***

“She is something vital, an artist’s model, life. She can be rude, undependable, and she is more to me than all the pretty, well-to-do, artificial girls I could ever meet. Maybe it’s my ego. Maybe I crave someone who will never be my rival. But with her I can be honest.” —S. Plath 

Summer. A trip to Sacramento, for the first time. The Capitol. Lunch at a cruise. Improv stand-up comedy. Night club – with my sister and mom. Imagine my mother watching her daughters gulp in shots of patron and quickly sip margaritas and whiskey. To her surprise, her daughters sported not only wine and champagne, but adventurously, various cocktails and scotch on the rocks. A trip to Los Angeles, for the first time in a long time. Disneyland. Various Asian food finds. The unforgettable concert to see The Piano Guys, in VIP seats/parking/food/lounge. Visiting a couple of Air Force bases. A trip to random places all around the Bay. SF. Milpitas. San Jose. Hayward. Stockton? My USAF supervisor’s grand birthday celebration. I am the family’s event planner, contract reviewer, alternate driver, protective daughter… I think five, ten steps ahead. I am awesome. Or so I’d like to think.

Partied by a lot, drank freely, but also ran the distance. Oh yeah, and worked a lot. Drug demand reduction program assistant manager. Working behind the scenes in the medicine squadron.

***

“Today is the first of August. It is hot, steamy and wet. It is raining. I am tempted to write a poem.” —Sylvia Plath 

my feet dangles when I sit on a chair
ungrounded, chair’s too big
to fill. Branches dangling on a tree
it was meant to be there.
My feet dangles
as I sit
on top of this building, rightly

August. I woke up in a strange, freshly furnished room on the campus of UC Berkeley. Sun rays were creeping in from the window blinds. From the gaps, I can see the Sather Tower “Campanile” far out, and a research institution right outside on the immediate street across my room. I feel as though I won the jackpot: I now live in the campus dormitory in Berkeley—paid for by the scholarships, that I acknowledge, without which I could not afford waking up calmly this way.

From my room, I walk to the bathroom; I find other regent’s scholars on the same floor (ours was the top floor; informally called by residents as “the penthouse”). I brush my teeth and wash my face beside other scholars. I shower in a single stall beside further stalls with other students. My meals, from breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks in between, are all paid for by the scholarship as well. Something I could not have imagined or included in my wish for the bizarreness of it.

***

There are no curfews. I can stay in the library or the café—or wherever—as long or as late as I want without having the need to apologize to anybody.

Once, I came home at 2 am, swiped my keycard to get in the building, and saw a bunch of other students eating pizza and all saying “hey!” energetically like time did not matter.

***

Every morning, I cycle on my bike with music plugged in my ears, convinced that I have my own background music as if my life is movie-worthy. Imagine me smiling peacefully while cruising through the on rush of hustling and bustling on the huge campus. The freedom and privilege are both too real but I am constantly in awe; even by the end of the semester, I just don’t seem to get accustomed to all of it. The weather is always pleasant and it always puts me in a good mood. People here aren’t judgmental. I love the laissez-faire ambiance. I love, love, love the independence I have and the distance from the temptation to be dependent. The classrooms are daunting in size, has a great ambiance, and are different from the classrooms I have had in my approximately 15 years of schooling. No matter how difficult the tasked readings or how bombarded with work I am, I still feel light and grateful and lucky for the wonderful privilege of being here. Even when other students are crying because of the difficulty of our academic hurdles–even when that one day occurred when I used the philosophy conference room as a safe refuge for crying–I still feel blessed because, even the difficulties, I think, are a privilege to have.

***

“I love people. Everybody. I love them… Every story, every incident, every bit of conversation is raw material for me. My love’s not impersonal yet not wholly subjective either. I would like to be everyone… But I am not omniscient. I have to live my life, and it is the only one I’ll ever have. And you cannot regard your own life with objective curiosity all the time…” —S. Plath 

I’m not a big fan of privilege. Or maybe I just say that. My mother, by the way, is a phenomenal caregiver. Her work ethic is very impressive, and the word “impressive” is an understatement for it.

Her job includes (but is not limited to) driving her aged patients around their required places such as crowded malls, weekly salon visits, playful parks, sickly hospitals and intoxicating clinics, relative’s house, etcetera. But also, she cooks for them like they are her own parents, feeding them too, bathing them, medicating, cleaning for them, doing laundry for them, and many other things that boils to: “caring for” them older folks. Her patience is extremely outstanding. I admire it so much it makes me feel wanting of it. We’re not rich, by the way. My mom did not have health insurance for the longest time until my urging of her to get one. She could not put me to school. Had I relied on our sole financial means, I might not have been in the #1 public university in the world (hint hint: UC Berk).

But I guess it is not about what we have, but how hard we are willing to work and how open we are to hurdle the challenges, accept the opportunities, and embrace the blessings as they come. So, when I look at my mother’s wrinkles… when I look at the dryness of her hands… when I see her feeling tired and fighting through the feeling of weariness, and see her efforts to break out a smile… I realize that this is part of that vague, abstract feeling; I realize that I am so blessed and privileged simply because I have a mother who deserves so much care and more, which my empty pockets and limited abilities cannot be adequately sufficient as a consolation to give in return.

img_0419

So, I am a strong woman, in part, because a strong woman inspires me.

***

“With me, the present is forever, and forever is always shifting, flowing, melting. This second is life. And when it is gone it is dead. But you can’t start over with each new second. You have to judge by what is dead. It’s like quicksand… hopeless from the start. A story, a picture, can renew sensation a little, but not enough, not enough. Nothing is real except the present, and already, I feel the weight of centuries smothering me. Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I, too, will pass. The high moment, the burning flash, come and are gone, continuous quicksand.” —Sylvia Plath 

November. A tremendously exciting gift came up: my brothers are coming in the picture; they are immigrating here in California to reunite with us after a long long time. My two little brothers are some of my step siblings, technically speaking. But we have treated each other as though we are full-blood, biologically connected by the same Parents. They were really small boys when I was last with them, that in fact, I can remember carrying them and tugging them along like charming kids. I feel so much excitement seeing them again after a long time (about 15 years, mind you). I can’t wait to show them around and help them get acquainted in this wonderful country.

I remember an alienated, homesick, startled, lonely young Anna who barely spoke English back in 2012. She was small in height, simple in taste, a female Don Quixote whose favorite past time is dreaming and contemplating inwardly. Her hobbies includes reading a book in her mother’s walk-in closet, only coming out of it to get a snack and bringing it back in the closet; funny, you can call her a “recluse” because she often stays there all day until she finishes whatever she’s reading. She also fancied trains–train tracks, train rides, and all that imagination can fancy about wandering about doing all sorts of adventures. She watched movies, TV shows sometimes, walked to the neighboring Barnes and Nobles bookshop and read poetries in there while wearing pajamas because she has just woken up and that is what she would prefer for breakfast: a cup of coffee she’d bring in and a manuscript of Neruda’s poetry from the store. But she was, like I said, homesick. She logs on social media and misses her friends… feared the uncertainty of what is to become of her, if she continues spending her day willy-nilly like this months after months; she worried: where would life bring her, how well or badly would time pass her by?

She wanted to continue school but could not afford it here. She was 18-year old, naive, inexperienced, and have not had a job ever aside from being her grandmother’s payroll assistant to the family business’ employees or being a student council VP or taking up leadership roles in the university; aside from these, she did not have any honed marketable skills, so how, she wondered, could she afford the intimidating expense of attending the university here in a country, where people, systems, and currencies are so foreign to her? As I remember my younger self, I look at my brothers and I feel so protective of them.

I just want to relieve them of the loneliness and alienation I experienced if and as long as I can.

fam-img_0435

My “little” brothers (who deemed the utility of my high heels futile because they are still taller regardless)

“Some things are hard to write about. After something happens to you, you go to write it down, and either you over dramatize it or underplay it, exaggerate the wrong parts or ignore the important ones. At any rate, you never write it quite the way you want to. I’ve just got to put down what happened to me this afternoon.”—Sylvia Plath 

December. How should one end a year? I know. By writing, and reuniting with loved ones. And perhaps doing something new out of the blue.

“Think you’re escaping and run into yourself.
Longest way round is the shortest way home.” 
—James Joyce

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