a good day and a bad one, all at once

It’s okay to feel grief at the passing of a loved one, and it’s okay to feel grief at the passing of someone or something that you might not have known on an actual hello-nice-to-meet-you level. I think that’s just the way human thoughts and emotions work. We become attached to things because they help us get through the dark days, or we become attached to things because they help us to find happy thoughts and good things, and in this case I’m talking about food and a quirky series of videos.

I learned today that Francis, the titular dog of the Web series Cooking With Dog, has died. (Got it from the official Web page, in this case the official Facebook page.) And as I’ve said elsewhere: it was always clear in the videos that Francis was not a puppy. It was always clear that Francis was kind of getting on in years, in terms of dog years anyway. Death was a nearer possibility on his particular horizon, and the official FB page says that he died at the ripe old age of 14. (In terms of human years, anyway. What that means in terms of dog years, I have no clear idea, since I’m not too sold on the idea of one human year = seven dog years.)

Still, I feel shocked and unpleasantly surprised, and I feel the grief that comes from losing a sort of distant kind of acquaintance, and an even more distant kind of “friend”. I’m putting that word in quotes because — hey, what does Francis know about me anyway? I’m just a fan of his videos. But those videos have gotten me through some tough times. They’ve helped keep me sane during some really bad nights and some really interminable work shifts. They’ve kept me hungry, and inspired me to try to eat and cook new things. Francis and Chef were — well, they were sources of smiles and laughter and inspiration, and now one of them is gone and it’s also been made clear that Chef really is getting on in terms of years. I wonder what will happen next — will the Web videos continue? Will Chef gracefully retire? Will there be a different cooking series? No idea.

But maybe we can remember Cooking With Dog and Francis the dog by cooking and eating and continuing to watch the videos, whether they keep going or stop at the latest installment.

Here’s a link to one of my favorite Cooking With Dog videos. This is in part because I love to eat this particular dish — it’s become sort of my point of judgement whenever I go to a Japanese restaurant, sort of how I know if the people in the kitchen know their stuff. And this is in part because this video made the process of making this dish so easy to understand.

Cooking With Dog – Katsudon (remastered)

And now, to end this entry on a more positive note.

As I write these words, it’s the 7th of November in my part of the world, and that might not mean much to some people but to me, and to the many other people who fell into the fandom centered on the video game franchise Mass Effect, it’s N7 Day: it’s the day when we commemorate the stories, music, characters, and pretty much everything about those games. It’s a day to play the music from the games, or maybe start another playthrough, or just anticipate the upcoming sequel. (Mass Effect: Andromeda might come out next year, delays and rewrites and retools notwithstanding.)

I actually can’t tell you the reasons why I just fell into the fandom. Maybe it’s got to do with the female version of the hero, Commander Shepard (of the original games, anyway) — she takes no shit and she saves the galaxy despite all the obstacles thrown in her way. Maybe it’s got to do with the way she interacts with her friends and family and crew. Maybe it’s the music or the moral choices. I certainly can’t play third-person shooters worth a damn but Mass Effect is just compelling to me. And that’s why I was happy to be reminded that today is N7 Day. I’m happy to be part of that group that got into the games, and maybe got to feel a lot of emotions because of the games and the stories and the characters.

So — raise a glass to Commander Shepard, whoever s/he might be, and raise another glass to his/her squad, and raise yet a third to the upcoming hero of Mass Effect: Andromeda, Ryder. May he and she take us through just as compelling a world and game universe.

 

back from another world…

…and I wish I were exaggerating, but really: I’ve just come back from my first trip to Singapore and it really is like coming back from another planet, or another reality, entirely.

Some impressions:

1 – The public transportation system. I will single out the public buses and the MRT in this case, as they were two of the three main means of transportation that we (meaning my family and I, who had gone en masse to Singapore) used to get from place to place. (The third means was Uber, so that doesn’t really count as public transportation.) The buses were universally comfortable whether one was sitting down or standing up, and they really were convenient as a means of getting to one place or another, and it was pretty cool to watch them navigate the twisting roads and slopes.

The MRT gets its own paragraph because — well, we’ll never get anything like that in the Philippines. Not in the next fifty years anyway. Efficient trains, safe platforms, announcements in multiple languages, and the sheer cool factor of the fact that you could watch all the cabins ahead of you “dance” on the winding tracks — it’s like a great show, at least for an absolute newcomer like me. Add in the fact that people had no problems with connecting to the Internet and making or receiving phone calls, plus the whole idea of the stations being designed to double as bomb shelters: wow. All of it. Just amazing.

I’m sure that had I had a longer stay I would have noticed things to dislike about the buses, or run into a delay in terms of the trains, or something. But I guess the double mystique of being a first-time visitor plus the good luck of having mostly good weather made things much easier, and contributed a lot to my ongoing case of starry eyes.

2 – Food! Shopping! Books! Let’s see: I made it to the Chinatown hawker center for a steaming bowl of bak kut teh, then ate mango pudding. My brother took us to a fancy restaurant for a grand meal of fish and seafood. (Oh my god, best fish and chips ever. Fish and chips.) The first meal I ate in Singapore was an airport snack of kaya toast and milk tea and I was in raptures because whenever I order a hot milk tea here in the Philippines, there always seems to be some kind of metallic taste to go with the tea? It’s rather off-putting. But the milk tea in Singapore: it was lovely, there was no metallic taste, and it was just the right kind of sweet (meaning, not too much sugar).

Before flying off my mom had been encouraging me to save part of my shopping budget for clothes and — I’m glad I listened to her. I bought frocks! And I haven’t worn those in years! Normally I’m a trousers kind of girl, and I still dream of buying a suit some day, but now I have casual frocks to wear for when I’m out and about. They fit me and they’re really easy to care for, but importantly, they’re easy to go walkabout in. I wished I could have bought shoes, too, but problem one: small feet and problem two: I didn’t find the styles I liked.

I still bought books anyway, especially since they were books that I was not likely going to find back here in the Philippines: I got The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley, and The View from the Cheap Seats by Neil Gaiman. I’m on a total nonfiction kick these days, don’t ask me why, but I feel that I need to read those books and so: I got them.

Oh, and I bought the fountain pen I’ve been looking for everywhere! I picked up a Lamy Vista with a broad nib. The body of the pen is made of clear plastic so you can see the inner workings of the whole thing. Fountain pen makers have been manufacturing demonstrator pens for many years and this was the last thing I wanted on my fountain pen list. I am a happy collector, and I will not be buying any pens for a while. (Now inks, well, that might be another matter entirely.)

3 – I actually had a reason to be in Singapore, and that was to celebrate the first birthday of my niece. My adorable niece who loves to blow raspberries at everyone and who is just itching to be able to walk on her own. My adorable niece who will probably warble along with lots of both English and Filipino nursery rhymes when she starts speaking. My niece! I have a one-year-old niece! I am such a proud auntie I can’t even.

4 – Brief as my Singapore trip was, it allowed me to touch base with two friends. One I’d only ever interacted with online: she’s a fandom friend and we’ve even collaborated on a couple of things — and on this trip, she whisked me off to Books Kinokuniya for the abovementioned books and fountain pen. I was glad to be able to demonstrate my fountain pens for her, incidentally.

The other friend I was able to see was someone dear to me from high school. He was more or less the first friend I made on the first day of HS freshman year. We’d had a brief run-in back here in the Philippines when he unfortunately had to come to town for the death of his father, but we promised each other we’d have time to spend together in Singapore. He was literally the last person I saw in Singapore, aside from my family, and he took the photograph of me that appears at the end of this post.

Do I want to go back to Singapore? Of course! There’s so much I haven’t seen yet!

Do I want to keep traveling? Yes! I want to go back to Hong Kong, the only other city I’ve ever visited, just to see what’s what. I want to go to Kyoto. I even dream about going to Barcelona, and setting foot in the one church in the world that I actually want to visit. (Yes, here I go again with my obsession with the Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família.)

Reasons to keep living. (She said, smiling.)

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On Haji Lane in Kampong Glam, in the heart of the Muslim quarter in Singapore. That famous mosque in the background is, of course, Masjid Sultan.

a starman, waiting in the sky….

David Bowie – Starman

At the end of the previous post I kind of got sidetracked into a discussion of the big playlist I carry around on my laptop, and the role that music plays in my daily life. Music to me is a coping mechanism, and it’s a source of occasional inspiration, and it’s also the cave where I go and hide when the world gets to be too much.

It might surprise you, but I came to David Bowie very late in life — as in just in the past five years. Growing up, sure, I was exposed to all the popular music of the ’90s and onwards. I still have good memories of listening to the Spice Girls, Boyzone, and the Eraserheads and Parokya ni Edgar. But the prevailing music at home was — surprise — techno, or what would now be recognized as something like electronic dance music. It sort of had to do with the work that my parents were doing at the time — they had collections of music that they could use at various kinds of events, so there were active-sounding techno mixes for outdoorsy events and mellower music for galas and dinners and things like that.

After that, well, I kind of started going my own way. I was and still am pretty shameless in listening to the anime music of the ’90s and ’00s. The opening and ending tracks to various classic anime series? Still my jam today. And I will still back “Yuzurenai Negai”, the first opening theme from the CLAMP manga/anime series Magic Knight Rayearth, against any and all comers (including Kanno Yoko, because I love the track that much).

I also have had a long-time yen for the scores and background music of various movies. I used to have the soundtrack of Amelie somewhere on one of my drives, and bits and pieces of things like the Pacific Rim OST and tracks from the new series of Doctor WhoFinal FantasyDragon Age, and assorted cuts from Mass Effect — they’re here, they’re part of my aural landscape, and they’re pretty handy for all kinds of writing, as it turns out.

The other thing I wanted to talk about in terms of my relationship with music is that music was a big thing between me and my ex. Working the graveyard shifts together, we’d send each other songs to help get through the night. He was most likely to have been the one to introduce me to David Bowie — we both enjoyed songs like “Heroes”. For a long time, whenever I thought of music I’d wind up thinking of him and the songs that we both liked.

You can imagine the profound surprise and relief that washed through me the first time I listened to what used to be one of our theme songs — “When You Say Nothing At All” — and only felt a sort of bittersweet pang for what that song used to mean.

Is it taking my songs back? My music? But the music was created by other people; I was only attaching some emotions to the words or to the melodies. Still, that’s the thing: the music, the playlist, that I used to half-identify with my past is something else now. It’s my present and the things I want to do now, the things that are now pretty much divorced from who and what I used to be at the beginning of this year.

(It’s still a little strange to think that I can think about getting over all those years of a relationship in just a few short months, but again: perhaps we were already falling to pieces for a long time, and I was given the chance to change and move on even while I was still clinging to what little there still was.)

Oh, and there’s some serendipity for you: as I wind up this blog entry, my playlist has just cued up one of my very favorite pieces of music. You’ve heard this tango before, if you’ve seen True Lies or, especially, Scent of a Woman: “Por una cabeza” (music by Carlos Gardel, lyrics by Alfredo Le Pera).

the twists and turns of recovery

Recovery: now there’s a word we all want to become more intimately familiar with. We want to recover from that which is currently pushing us down, or that which is currently holding us back. We want to recover from a broken leg, a sprained wrist, a hurting heart, a hole in the lungs. We want to recover from a long national nightmare of wtf are we doing to ourselves and to each other? We want to wake up and spend one day, one hour, free of the nagging voices and terrible whispers in the backs of our minds.

In my case, it’s pretty much a grab-bag of things. I’ve been laid low by what is now looking more and more like the flu, which is still lingering in the form of a nasty cough, which is only going to exacerbate the wound in my lungs, but that’s how it goes. I’ve been laid low by loneliness and the sense of having to take another day’s step forward, and then another, and then another. People talk about the healing power of touch, and they’re right, in the sense that I felt worse precisely because there was no one around to hold on to. (Not that I would have wanted that person to linger, for fear of catching what I had, but I personally know how helpful a brief hand-clasp might be.) I’ve been laid low by a sense of personal dejection, in the sense of I’m wondering if I’m just not losing my identity again because I’m functioning to help others and doing very precious little to assert my own self.

Last week, as it turns out, a senator in my country filed the Mental Health Bill. I suppose it contains provisions for helping out those who already have some kind of mental illness, and that it would provide for educational and support resources, and a lot of other necessary and needed things.

The problem is that no one in this country even wants to acknowledge the fact that there is mental illness all around. Or, if these people do know about mental illness, they think of it as — a joke or some kind of punchline, a cheap gag to drop in a cheap comedy act. People also think of mental illness as immediately equivalent to being socially different, in a culture where conformity is king and queen and the entire damned court. To be mentally ill is to be immediately labeled as violent, or aberrant, or disruptive, and I honestly don’t know which is worse: be a disruptive influence, or be invisible?

There are many days when I really can’t get up in terms of my mental health — so my body gets up, takes the stress, possibly gets sick or rebels or reacts in some other way, and then it’s back to the feeling despondent and feeling so tired I want to throw up or just not wake up any more.

But there are days, too, of wanting to get up and wanting to do things like cook and go to the movies and read a book. Most of the time, though, I just take it out in terms of listening to my music. I have a pretty big playlist — it’s at least four hours long, end to end, and it’s actually missing some of the other tracks I’ve collected over the years, so I have to get started on recovering those, too. The music is my companion when I’m working and when I’m trying to write, and some days, it’s also my outlet for my emotions. I should get into more detail about the playlist and its genesis and its very reason for being, maybe in the next entry.

But, hi. This is to say, I’m still alive, and I’m recovering, and there’re things in this world that need to be done and need to be enjoyed and need to be experienced, and — I’m doing my best.

…only to wake and hide your face

Bastille – Oblivion

It used to be a red-letter day
Until you used your words like needles and spears
And now all the red has gone from the date
And today is just another day.

I just want to sleep, and not spend my nights coughing and tossing and turning. I just want to sleep, in the hope of waking up to face a new day. One new hour after another to get through, or to make the most of, or to waste, maybe. One new moment after another to make my own.

Can’t look back. Must look forward.

I will try to put together a proper blog post one of these days — I just need to take a few moments to breathe.

If the pen were truly mightier than the sword….

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…do I have an arsenal or just a piddling handful of rusty weapons?

When I was in high school, my dad enlisted me to help a Korean maker of pen and paper products break into the local market. I attended a focus group discussion with a few other young people, and we talked about using gel pens, which were still somewhat new in terms of pen technology at the time.

Maybe that’s where my attitude towards pens with excessively fine points / nibs comes from, because, yeah, tiny handwriting looks pretty great with fine points, but I have never mastered that skill. So I’m not a big fan. I like my ball-point pens to lay down thick lines, thanks.

After they were successfully introduced into the Philippine market, colorful gel-ink pens became very popular at schools, for art projects, and even in offices where they could be used to organize notes and lists and similar things.

(Not even my mom is immune to the lure of colorful gel pens.)

As for the fountain pen thing…I guess I’ll just wind up blaming a combination of Wikipedia and my friends? All I know is, I wound up asking for a calligraphy pen for Christmas one year, and then after that, I felt like I’d started falling down that endless rabbit hole.

You can see my pens in the photo above. When I noticed that I had two or three fountain pens to carry around I decided to buy something more proper to place them in. The flat case I have is for paintbrushes and art supplies, but — hey, my pens fit in the slots, and it didn’t cost much, so win-win.

I favor medium to broad nibs in my fountain pens, which are on the left side in the photo. Like I said, I like pens that lay thicker lines. Even the gel pens on the right side in the photo have fairly thick points. I like their sparkly inks.

The leftmost pen in the photo is a Japanese fountain pen. Apparently people in Japan favor pens with very fine points or nibs, and that’s partly because of the paper that they write on, but primarily because of their various alphabets. I bought that one on a lark, and actually like the color of the ink. I might convert it into an eyedropper pen in the future.

One thing I’ve noticed is that I probably have very weird penmanship. I’m left-handed, but I have never used fountain pen nibs that are specially made for left-handers. But my pens write well in my hands, except for the occasional skip and scratch. I do have to deal with the traditional ink-stains on the side of my hand, though.

(Maybe I should try to write something down, and then take a picture of it and post it here, and then you’ll see what my handwriting looks like. That’s an idea for the future. I’ll put a pin in it.)

Yes, I’m planning to buy a fountain pen when I go to Singapore. I can’t pass up on the chance.

Why are fountain pens sorta pricey in my part of the world, I gotta ask….

Because commemorating Martial Law means mourning the dead and the living

I wrote this a few months ago, when I was angry at the news. (So what else is new. In the Philippines, and in the rest of the world.) Today, 21 September, is the anniversary of Ferdinand Marcos’s imposition of Martial Law in 1972, thereby plunging my country into a long and dark night from which there would be no waking up until around 1986. Some people will necessarily be happy about this date, because they think the Marcoses are not sinners.

I always feel like sackcloth and ashes on this date. 

“Martial Law is trivia.”

“Martial Law is history.”

“Martial Law is done and over with, so let’s move on.”

Well, let me tell you a thing: Martial Law — and its horrors and abuses and all the other things that are far too terrible to merely be subsumed under the farcical term shenanigans — is not trivia to me.

Trivia, they say, and who are they? Imelda Marcos. Imee Marcos. And the current arch-sinner, Bongbong Marcos, who whines about being cheated precisely because he thinks that what he says, goes. The Marcoses who stole billions from the country’s coffers and threw them away to buy art and real estate and atrocious displays of conspicuous consumption are the same Marcoses who are trying to get back into power — for what? So they can do it all over again!

And we are letting them do that, because we are bombarded on all sides by their own self-serving claims that Martial Law was good and beautiful and not, say, a howling wilderness of hunger and poverty, a blank bleak silence of the tortured and the maimed and the disappeared and the raped and the dead.

None of those things are trivia, by the way. Just the opposite. Imagine a student who dared to put his hand up at an open forum. He wanted Imee Marcos to answer a question. The student in question was — ahem –– dealt with in the parlance of the time, meaning, Imee Marcos only had to nod at her bodyguards and the student was picked up, assaulted, and killed. On the same day as he asked the question.

The name of that student — Archimedes Trajano — is not trivia.

Again: Imagine a sixteen-year-old boy. He would have had his whole life ahead of him — he would have still been around today — had he not been the son of a man who had had enough of the Marcoses’ terrible deeds, the son of a man who stole away from the regime and wrote a book whose title has since passed into common parlance. Ever heard the phrase “conjugal dictatorship”? Then you know the title of the tell-all book that Primitivo Mijares wrote.

And that means you know why Primitivo’s son was abducted and tortured. Boyet Mijares got his skull bashed in, got his hands smashed to bits, got turned into bloody dead pulp –and for good measure his corpse was thrown out of a military helicopter.

The names of those two people — Primitivo Mijares, and his son Boyet — are not trivia.

I’m hammering at the topic of Martial Law being promoted as trivia and being written about as not trivia because the entire idea was introduced to me as, yep, you guessed it, trivia. Specifically, as facts and figures that I needed to remember, because I was going to be competing in a nationally televised quiz show.

And now I feel like some of you are going to look at me funny and go, OMG, you were on Battle of the Brains?

Yes. Yes, I was. I competed in two separate seasons, actually. And every time I got ready for the competition I studied the hell out of the quiz topics. David Celdran had all these questions to ask on Science, Mathematics, History, General Information, and Arts/Literature, and those of us on the team had to be on our mettle every time. We needed to have all these facts and figures and answers.

We competed on the show some time after 1995 and that meant that people were actually still talking about Martial Law, because in that year ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation had released through its film and TV production arm Star Cinema a movie called Eskapo: a dramatization of the company’s fortunes during the Martial Law era. The title in this case refers to Eugenio Lopez, Jr., at that time the media network’s head, and to Sergio Osmena III, currently Senator Osmena III — who were political prisoners under the Marcos regime and who broke out of prison in a daring escape.

If nothing else, the movie had a point to make: that it was a true story, that most of the people being portrayed by the show business stars of the day were actual real and living people, and that these people had emerged from the horrors of events that were well within the idea of recent. After all, 1995 was less than a decade removed from 1986 and People Power. It was possible to find those who survived, or the families of those who didn’t, and it was possible to remember some of the terrible deeds that were committed under the aegis of the “Bagong Lipunan”.

And the point is this: it is still possible to find those who survived, and it is still possible to find the families of those who didn’t. It is 2016, thirty years after the EDSA Revolution, and to these people Martial Law is not trivia, and it will never be: for Martial Law is stamped upon them, more indelible than the ink we get on our hands when we go to the polls.

Martial Law is not trivia to me: it started out that way, with having to memorize when it began and when it ended, with having to memorize the perpetrators and the heroes and the living and the dead.

But knowing the dates and the names, knowing the faces, led to –- and still leads to -– talking about the horrors. To discovering what else was done. There are books upon books devoted to these dark deeds that were done in the name of staying in power. Trivia? I say no: this is history, this is our own history, this is the history that has shaped and scarred the Philippines for the past thirty years and more.

I’ve been reading about Martial Law for a long time. And I can in no way claim to be an expert. There is still too much to learn. There is far, far too much to understand. And understand is a conditional thing, because: how can you wrap your head around a family so obsessed with money and riches and worldly goods and reputation that they had so many thousands of lives so casually snuffed out?

Is it possible to say that the victims of Martial Law are items of trivia?

Is it even rational to say that Martial Law is something to move on from?

You tell me, after you’ve been confronted by the testimony from the living and the dead and from the perpetrators. Not trivia, but evidence. Specifically, evidence against those who are even now seeking to revise history, to deny that Martial Law ever happened.

Martial Law is not trivia. And it should never be.

About me

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Out of darkness, yet shall I follow a path of greater darkness. From the mountain crest, far-off moon, give me light.

(和泉式部
izumi shikibu, 978?-)

My name is PJ. I’m in my mid-thirties and I’m from the Philippines. I was previously a PR agency writer and an English teacher. Now I spend my time doing what freelancing work comes my way.

I have a mental illness. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in the first quarter of 2015. I went to therapy. I was put on a course of medications. (I can still tell you what the generic names of those meds are.) At present, I’m off the meds, and I’m not seeing my therapist.

I was, or I guess I should say I still am, married. I loved my husband for the 13 years before we got married, and I loved my husband for the better part of about four more years after we got married, and then, well, there was a sudden breakup.

Or maybe it wasn’t that sudden. Maybe things had been heading towards the precipice, and over it, for a long time. He loved other women, and never stopped looking for other women to love, and for a while I let myself become a willing accomplice and enabler for his needs. For a while I gave up all of my own wants and needs for the sake of staying together with him.

All of this is in the past tense now, except for the fact that I am technically still married.

I saw my husband today. I had braced myself to feel like a wreck after seeing him. I had been getting ready to console myself. I had expected to have to stop and take a moment so that I could focus on the rest of the day.

Today, I looked briefly into his face, into his eyes, and realized that there was nothing left of “us”.

I’m a little surprised that all the feelings that I used to have are gone, and it’s only been six months since we broke up.

I’m surprised and relieved.

Which doesn’t mean that I’ve stopped feeling lonely and sorry for myself. But those things are not exclusive to a breakup. Those things are part of my depression, and always have been. They have been my constant companions through the years, so — well, literally speaking, what else is new?

I’m not new to the blogging thing. And I’m not new to the journaling thing either.

Here I’ll write about myself, and my mental illness, and the things that affect me and make me think. Maybe I’m doing this in the faint hope that someone out there might find some kind of help in what I have to say. Maybe I’m doing this to remind myself of what I need to do and what I have already been through.

(Which means I’m really going to need to put some kind of organization on this blog. Tags or something. But even when I’m writing for myself I only ever pay lip service to the idea of outlines and organizations and things like that….)

(Can I possibly trick myself into thinking that organizing my thoughts here might also help me to organize the rest of my life?)

If you read this and got all the way to the end, thank you. If you read this and decide to follow me and my blog, thank you. If you read this and decide I’m a little bit full of it, well, thanks for reading anyway.

Here I am. And here is my road to that elusive place called Recovery — which is just another step to the promised land called Happiness.