The Adventure of the Open Road (part 1)

20 Jun

I’m back! After telling myself in 2013 that I would start this blog as a way to flex my creative writing muscles, I ended up not publishing anything anymore after a few handy blog posts. But I’ve most recently gone on a road trip across ten states (i.e.  Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Connecticut, Washington DC., and Delaware) and I would like to share my Kerouac-like experience two months ago. First of all, I guess it would help to know that I am in a long distance relationship, and have been for almost two years. It’s never easy to have the person you love living on the opposite side of the globe, but we’ve been making it work and we’re stronger than we have ever been. We’ve taken our trips to see each other; he went to see me last December, and I flew out to see him last April.

Josh and Cams in Bacolod

In Bacolod with Josh, December 2014

Traveling to Silay City, December 2014

Traveling to Silay City, December 2014

At the Ayala Lights Show, December 2014

At the Ayala Lights Show, December 2014

Beach Time at Palm Beach Resort, Batangas

Time to bask in the year-long summer sunshine at Palm Beach Resort, Batangas, December 2014

We both even have our Countdown apps on our iPhones, just to remind us that our time apart is only temporary. So you can imagine that with four months in between, we were anxious for the time we’d get to see each other again. Once I bought my plane ticket in February, my thoughtful boyfriend started researching and booking trips, hotels, and tours that we could enjoy once I made my way Stateside.

The ANA flight heading to DC

The ANA flight heading to DC

I suppose the one thing that I will never get used to is how long the plane ride is. All Nippon Airways is my airline of choice, right up there with Korean Air, but the long, dragging hours can sap the energy out of me. Especially since I never sleep on planes (unless you count dozing off for ten minutes and being jolted out of a ‘peaceful’ reverie every single time). But as the hours ticked by, I became even more excited with the prospect of seeing him. Once I got into Dulles, I slung my five-pound backpack over my shoulders and prepared for our reunion. As my sleep-deprived brain tried to absorb the information on the screens (proceed to Baggage Carousel 2), I walked the long stretch of the terminal and found Josh running to see me. You know how in those movies, the most romantic scenes take place in the airport? Josh and I know exactly how that feels. He rushed to meet me, and I forgot about the hours of non-sleep and the fatigue welling up in my body. He was there, and I was there, and for two people in a long distance relationship, that’s all that matters. He even bought me a balloon and a rose. There is a certain joy that one feels when you realize you’re exactly where you’re supposed to be. I’m happy to say that that feeling has not waned at all with him. After we grabbed my suitcase and hauled them into his car’s trunk, Josh drove us to Shirlington House, where he prepared my dinner. The dinner that I so sorely missed!

Cheers for Chipotle!

Cheers for Chipotle!

He even got nachos for me, and I lovingly dipped them into the guacamole and did not fetter away at the calories I was consuming in my first two hours. I ate with reckless abandon, which is how you’re supposed to enjoy the trip, anyway. The first destination on our itinerary was his hometown in Wakefield, VA. We were going to attend Josh’s friends’ wedding in Surry, so after sleeping peacefully for one night, we packed our bags and got on the road. Unfortunately, since I just came in the night before, I was absolutely sleep-deprived. “Would you mind if I slept?” I asked Josh as we settled into the interstate, my eyes straining to keep awake. Being the good sport that he was, he assured me that it was okay for me to nap as many times as I could during the road trip. I would need all the energy that I could get, after all, especially since we had miles and miles to go. We reached Surry in a little over two hours, and I was happy to meet Josh’s friends from 4-H Camp. He worked there almost all throughout college, and he’s made lifelong friends there. I’m glad I got to meet them, as they were all delightful. I listened and joined in on their conversations, and learned about their camp anecdotes, and of course, their 4H nicknames (Josh’s is Beatz).

Kevin and Kim, his friends who were married that gorgeous day, were beaming with happiness. Kim looked beautiful in her wedding dress, her long hair flowing past her shoulders as she walked to meet her husband down the aisle. They had their reception at a barn, and it was decked out in warm lighting and rustic decor. We filled our plates with cheese and crackers, and ate some grapes while Josh introduced me to some friends from Surry. I was thrilled that I had defied my body’s sense of time! Just less than 24 hours ago I’d been on a plane, and there I was, in my heels and having fun (not yet ready for alcohol though) and not sleepy at all!

After spending some time at the wedding, Josh and I went back to Wakefield to have dinner with his parents. Jim and Tish are always such lovely people; they have always been very hospitable, warm, and friendly to me and I’m happy to spend time with them. They cooked up a hearty meal for when Josh and I got to Old Wakefield Drive, and we just visited on old times when Josh was a kid, and all the tricks he had up his sleeve. I’ve seen videos of five-year-old Josh, and they’re really endearing! “He had a lot of energy,” Jim had told me before, mentioning those times when Josh would do pranks on him. Thanks to his boatload of books at home, with Dr. Seuss and everything, he also had a playful imagination. Josh once experimented putting a Coke bottle in the freezer, and a while after removing it, of course it explodes. Or the time he accidentally broke one of Tish’s plates on the top shelf, and in its place, he put a paper plate with a boy crying. Or well, the many times he’d play pranks on his brother, too. You’ve got to hand it to Josh — he’s pretty creative.

With the Bordens

Easter with the Bordens, April 2015

Spending some time in Josh's hometown

Spending some time in Josh’s hometown

With Zach and Katelyn, April 2015

With Zach and Katelyn, April 2015

The next day was Easter, and we all celebrated together by going to church and having lunch at Virginia Diner. We met up with Josh’s brother Zach and his girlfriend Katelyn at the church. It was great to see them again after so long! As per their yearly tradition, the brothers usually pose in front of the cross outside the church. That’s exactly what we did again, this time with the girlfriends in tow. We bid our temporary goodbyes after that, as Zachlyn (I don’t think anyone calls them this, but it has the makings of a good hashtag) was off to see Katelyn’s family.

So it was just me, Josh, Jim, and Tish, who ate at the Diner. I have to say, that if you’re ever around Wakefield, you can’t not stop by the Diner and eat their fried chicken. It’s simply lip-smacking. I had gone back for seconds at the buffet, and topped off a delicious meal with some pie. Another thing I usually do at the Diner is grab some peanuts for pasalubong, or gifts to take home to Manila for my family. With Jim’s suggestion, I bought the double dipped chocolate peanuts and some regular salted ones. “You know if I buy these chocolate peanuts, I’ll end up eating them and finishing them,” I told Josh as I scrutinized the can. You can say it was an informed guess, or just intuition, but yes, I was the one who ended up emptying that can.

After our lunch, we went back to Old Wakefield Road and rested before our sojourn back to Northern Virginia. It was a Sunday, and we expected traffic jams on the interstate. Thinking that perhaps the traffic won’t be that bad at 5, we left, and to our dismay, encountered really heavy traffic. To keep us from getting bored, Josh and I would sing to the top of our lungs, with our water bottles as our microphones.

Be it Billy Joel, Destiny’s Child, or Elton John, we got it covered. I even filmed Josh whilst he sang his heart out in Piano Man. We watched the clouds shed their blues and wear their pink and purple hues, until the night became a blanket of stars. We sang, we danced, and we enjoyed ourselves, even when we were waiting, stuck on 95.

Josh is always like magic. The dreary and the annoying can become peaceful and fun. And all of that was just the beginning of our trip.

If there’s one thing that a long distance relationship has taught me in those first few days back, it’s cherishing the present. We never take for granted the time we have with each other, whether we have dates on FaceTime, or we have dates at the 9:30 Club. We know what it’s like to live a day like it’s our last. And it is because of that, that as we sat in the car in the packed interstate, our sunsets burn brighter, Billy Joel more romantic than ever, Pringles are tastier, and kisses are sweeter. Because we are in the moment, and we are together. And in more ways than one, it’s the most peaceful feeling in the world.

Back Home in Shirlington

Back Home in Shirlington

Aside 8 Nov

ImageI have come to realize, as graduate school is drawing to a close very quickly, that my trips for conferences with my professors have been akin to seeing a shrink.

“You should be braver,” scribbled my philosophy professor onto my paper about Hilary Putnam, John Locke, and Gottlob Frege. I mean, I don’t think my professors in statistics or biology in years past have ever written a note that has struck a cord with me as did those four monumental words. I arched my eyebrows when I got my paper back, but I am hardly surprised anymore by how my professors seem to understand so much about my character in the way I write.

“You’re scared,” my Shakespeare professor told me in our seminar last spring. “You hide behind all these scholars and give them all the credit for what you see. But you should lead with your own argument. Lead with your own voice.”

My editors from previous jobs have already taken away my penchant for using the passive voice in sentences. Weakness and passivity should be combated by me, they say. I should take the reins and commandeer my words, and not have my words be commandeered by me. It makes all the difference.

If there’s one thing that I never really thought about when I was writing academic papers in undergrad, it’s that writing styles say so much about a person. Is he able to stay within the parameters of the assignment? Is he able to flesh out a good and sensible argument? Has he listened to what other scholars in the discourse have said before him? Is he just full of cheap sophistry, all fluff and no meaning? Is he brave enough to formulate his own thesis? Is he humble enough to give credit to where it’s due? Is he patient enough to let the thoughts sit and percolate, and then give a coherent and organized paper?

There’s so much that goes on in writing. You sit there in front of your computer, you have all your notes, your cup of Joe, and all you really need is that discipline. Your mind is raging with all these great ideas, but how do you make them intelligible to someone else? (Sometimes, it’s a matter of how you make them intelligible to yourself).

Graduate school is tiring, and it’s trying, and it’s like a mental boot camp. Cerebral Olympics if you count Rousseau and Wittgenstein. But every time anyone goes through anything challenging, it’s always best to just realize that it’s making you better. I already know that I am leaps and bounds different with handling school papers than I was last year.

It can only get better from here.

 

Quote

A little girl o…

5 Nov

A little girl once said something in front of me that I just loved. She had misbehaved and her mother was scolding her, saying, But put yourself in other people’s position! And the little girl answered, But if I put myself in their position, where do they go? I have often thought of that since I started writing these kinds of “nonfiction” books, the rules and moral imperatives of which I was starting to become acquainted with. I don’t think you can put yourself in other people’s positions. Nor should you. All you can do is occupy your own, as fully as possible, and say that you are trying to imagine what it’s like to be someone else, but say it’s you who’s imagining it, and that’s all.

– Emmanuel Carrere, The Art of Nonfiction No.5, The Paris Review

Are we right to want our “art” do something for us?

30 Apr

This afternoon, the Pulitzer-winning author Junot Diaz stopped by Marymount University to talk about his novel, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. I had all these sorts of questions I’d practiced to ask him, but of course I completely forgot about the fact that there would be so many people in that auditorium that even finding a crevice of space to stand/sit in would be a challenge in itself. Much less get a question in edgewise.

Image

But there was one question that stood out, especially for me. It was a common question to any writer, but how Diaz replied was not a response I’d thought I would hear. 

“What do you have to say to those kids who want to be writers, but encounter people who tell them that they should want something more [economically] lucrative?” Came the question from the packed room. 

My ears perked up at this. Would he answer it with a cliched “follow your dreams” or a “do what your heart tells you, and you’ll never work a day in your life”? Surely it had to fall somewhere between the grey areas of these two. 

“Well the thing is, there’s a difference between my generation and yours,” he starts, as he paces back and forth. “In my generation, the definition of art was a complete rejection of the profession. While we did our ‘art’, we had to find something else to sustain us.” He then talks about how education in general has become so “instrumentalized”. Our degrees are just instruments to get us jobs in real life — but is that really what education should be? Doesn’t that suck the joy, the fulfillment in learning?

“When you want your art to do things for you, it disfigures your art,” he says emphatically. 

He had hit it right on the head when he said this. Because I’m graduating this December (and have spent a gargantuan amount of money in graduate school), I have been creating plans as to what to do after this. Should I go back and do what I was doing before in publishing? It’s what I absolutely love. Writing, or editing for that matter, are the waking dreams that got me out of bed and into work. It’s that dream that’s pushed me to wake up at three in the morning and take the China town bus to New York to get to my class at 11 am. It’s the dream that made me stay up late, lose weekends, or even maybe on occasion (I’d like to call it channeling my inner Hemingway) — drunk. It’s all sorts of things for me, but that’s all right because I love it. Is it an economically feasible dream to keep having in the long run? No. Did I care? Not the least bit. 

I’m not alone in this, though. Even Elle Magazine recently released an interesting read on how we sometimes feel like we have to choose between doing what we believe is our “art” and doing something that pays the bills (and those vacations, that wardrobe, etc).

But what Diaz was saying is that it’s not entirely fair for us to let our art — whatever it is may it be writing, painting, sculpting — pay these aforementioned bills. The term “artist”, he even says, has become synonymous with “dentist”. People can be full-time artists these days, he says, when that was just next to impossible decades back. 

It’s another conversation entirely to ask what the term “artist” should even mean — do we go the bohemian route and say it’s just a sort of asceticism that rejects being called that professionally? Or do we lift it to something more in touch with the world today? There’s nothing wrong after all, to want to be a full-time artist, and who’s to say you can’t make a living out of doing something you love? 

But I guess the heart of Diaz’s advice is that you shouldn’t place all your bets in what you believe is your art to sustain you. Finding something you love and are good at is a beautiful thing. It’s even better if people are willing to pay you for your vision, of course, but that doesn’t happen all the time. Art is supposed to speak your soul, after all. In that sense, we can agree. But art does not necessarily have to buy your groceries or that ticket to the Bahamas. Once you’ve gotten it into your head that all you want to be is a painter and it doesn’t pan out, you end up blaming your art for not putting food on your table. But you shouldn’t. Because that’s not what your art — your gift — is primarily for. And too often, we forget it.

So to wrap up on his advice, Diaz said that the best inspiration or wise words he could give to an aspiring writer (or any artist) is to go out into the world. Go out there, and experience life. Whatever it is you find, bring back that “news of the world” that you’ve found and say it with conviction. 

“All you really need,” he says, “is less fear, and more life.”

 

Do one thing everyday that scares you. And yes, that includes public speaking.

10 Apr

Do one thing everyday that scares you. – Eleanor Roosevelt

 

April has been beyond amazing. It’s only been 10 days, but the sudden avalanche of work that needs accomplishing has been both stressful and fulfilling at the same time. To start off, the Scholarship Luncheon was hosted on April 3rd at the Washington Golf and Country Club right next to the university. 

Image

 

It was great to have met so many amazing people who are doing such wonderful things with their lives. I’ve heard stories from different scholars who are smart, driven, and ambitious to see the change that they want for the world, one tiny step at a time. I met people from different sides of the spectrum, from fashion to nursing, and it’s thrilling to hear about what moves them; why they do what they do. 

Just today, I conquered one of my greatest fears: public speaking. I tend to babble, stammer, break into ‘uh’s’ and ‘um’s’ and be generally incoherent. I knew submitting a paper to the annual student conference would eventually lead to this, but because I told myself 2013 is all about change and transformation, I decided to go on with it. What’s even better is that I had such great support from friends and my teachers as well. And what do you know? I won an Honorable Mention for the abstract that I submitted and did not stammer (as much) during my entire presentation!

Image

 

This picture is pretty much a good summary of what happened today. This morning, I woke up, resolved to deliver a clear, concise, and interesting presentation on Katherine Anne Porter. Of course, nerves got to me obviously after I’d had caffeine, but later on I’d just felt so much better. 

Image

So yes, this wasn’t me jumping off from a plane, or from a 10-storey cliff, or anything too extreme — this was just me standing for some 10-15 minutes in front of a room filled with tons of people (most of whom know so much more about my chosen author than myself), reading aloud a paper that I’ve taken such great pains to write, and sharing it with them. My knees were shaking the whole time, and my heart was ready to leap out of my chest, but I kept my cool and reminded myself: everything will be all right. 

And it truly is one of the most rewarding things I’ve experienced so far this year. To put it more eloquently, when A Song of Ice and Fire’s Ned Stark talk to his son about bravery, he succinctly says that it’s all right be scared. Why? Well, it’s because it’s the only time you can ever be brave.

Aside 7 Apr

It’s never a great thing to still be up at 2 in the morning on a week day — or any day, for that matter — and still be tossing and turning in bed. Sleep has managed to escape me for almost a week now. Whether it’s my next-door neighbor who sees it fit to place his home theater on the second floor opposite my bedroom and watch action movies well into the night, or the thoughts that seem to race through my mind, jerking me awake, I can’t exactly pinpoint the culprit. Is it my phone on my nightstand that lights up every now and then from emails? Is it my considerably healthy coffee intake of just one cup a day (no cream)? Or my lack of proper exercise? Whatever it is, I was hoping that heading back into the gym and swapping coffee for green tea would do the trick. It hasn’t.

I wake up groggy, my brain tired, and my mood generally down. I’m fighting through it, though, and try to take a walk or jog either on the treadmill or outside, just to clear my head. Also because it’s scientifically proven that exercise helps you sleep better. 

I suddenly really, really miss my hot yoga. When I was doing it, I didn’t need coffee to wake me up anymore because let’s face it, 90 minutes in a hot room with intensely challenging poses will wake you up. My sleeping habits were also exceptional — I slept at 11 pm, and woke up at 7:30 am. I was more productive, and I felt so much more healthier. But the economies of such exercise don’t permit me to partake in such for the moment. I’m now struggling with running instead. I’ve never been a runner for long distances. Sprinter, yes, when I was grade school probably. But it could be because of my seasonal asthma too (meh, excuses, excuses).

But this insomnia will not win me over. I’m running out today, regardless. Or brisk walk. Or… walk.

It’s a beautiful day out, and you bet I’m basking in the sunshine.
 Image

 

 

 

Quote

“They say that …

4 Apr

“They say that everything in the universe, the planets, all the galaxies, everything—the entire universe—came originally from something the size of a grain of rice that exploded and formed what we have now, the sun, stars, earth, seas, everything there is, including what I felt for you. That morning on Hudson Street, sitting there in the sunlight, feet up, fulfilled and knowing it, talking, in love with one another—I knew I had everything life would ever offer.”

Bangkok, Written by James Salter