Monday, July 14, 2008

The Sunshine Post #30: On Learning Something I Cannot Spell

Hello dears!

And so I am doing capoeira.

Oh dear.

I am doing capoeira. (I know, right? Another one? Sheesh. I guess I have to learn Portuguese now, too. Lech. And I haven’t even gotten my black belt in taekwondo yet. Talk about a jack-of-all-trades and master of none.) I couldn’t even pronounce this, let alone spell it, years ago.

I was in love the first class alone though – it was like the first time I did taekwondo in New York, or the time I fell in love with nunchucks and sai. In taekwondo, the first thing I thought when I saw all the black belts kicking was ,”Wow, that’s so cool!” But in capoeira, the sight of a couple dozen people doing synchronized gingas was just gorgeous. It’s a wonderfully balanced combination of kicking, striking, and rolling, with rhythm and song tying it all together. I also love how it makes a mockery of slavery, as capoeira was born from the slaves in Brazil. The happiest martial art of all!

After the first class, I welcomed the familiar feeling of being so sore and achy, with my feet black from the mat, and the undersides of my toes close to blistering. My whole body felt like it was made of lead, so much so that I skipped a parkour** class that weekend. Whee! I am home again! And finally, something that will develop my (non-existent) upper body strength! I can finally give up boxing, which I fear will smash my hands and render me incapable of sketching well.

** parkour – it’s this French thing that, as an exaggeration, involves you jumping from one building to the next. People who practice this (traceurs and traceuses) will tell you that it’s about efficiency.

I inwardly rejoice come kicking time, since squatting down for an hour makes me feel like my thighs disappeared. I am known by some as “the girl who does taekwondo” since the height of my kicks gave me away. Oh well. I guess the splits they made me do back then are so paying off now!

I will never give up taekwondo, though. I miss the resonating slap of a kick pad and the satisfying crack of a board breaking. It still comprises my roots and for God’s sake, I have bled for this sport! A lot of drama and angst and hard-earned cash went into my training and some of my teachers have seen me cry and that rarely happens. But I like having something to go back to where I don’t care about getting a belt; it’s just fun for me and I need to recreate that feeling of being so cleansed and spent without the 100 degree heat in yoga.

I think I am doing capoeira to force myself to socialize, as capoeira is a social art and we were told in the beginning that “no one is a stranger.” Yikes and whee, let’s get it on; I am losing this battle. Already my old habits are in place – I stand in the back corner and rarely speak to anyone. Hmm. I do not recall being in a bar voluntarily in my life, and I will make every single excuse not to attend press conferences, huge gatherings, and launch parties. Am I socially deficient or what? I have this feeling that they think me aloof – the pale girl from New York with the fancy handwriting (I was picked on during the first day when I had to sign my name.)

But where human beings are involved, I usually have a good first impression of martial artists. They’re usually more self-assured, respectful of people, and less obnoxious. It gives you a backbone without you realizing it. I think it explains my rather desperate answer to my father a couple days ago, when asked why I just HAD to go to class. I have to do it, Dad! Or else I get so mad at the world and then at myself. I’ve nearly thrown my cellphone on the floor three times the past week in exasperation. I need to get away, you guys, especially when I have this unstoppable urge to start breaking things.

One thing I’ve noticed consistently in martial arts is the apparent homogeneity of the initial mental states of the people who begin doing it. On one extreme, you get the people who are very competitive and want to be the best – the jock types who want to be cooler. On the other hand, you see those who are very problematic and who seem to be the types with self-esteem issues. I reckon that a number of them were picked on in school or at work, aren’t in love with their jobs, or are still seeking some life direction. A few months into it, it becomes quite beautiful to see their confidence boosted up, as though the simple act of hitting a kick pad did something to their heads. Each training day becomes something they can hang onto, to remind themselves that they can be something more than what they ever thought they could be. A few hours on the mat becomes their personal escape from the ordinariness of what has become the existence that is far removed from their childhood fantasies. They become more focused, feeling that if they can finally do a technique they were struggling with earlier, then they can do anything, including stand up for themselves or finally go for what they want.

One wonders whether the lone thing human beings need to trudge through life is a shot of affirmation.

Anyhoo, I am currently extremely jealous of the hosts of Fight Quest, a Discovery Channel documentary that chronicles the journey and training of two guys who go from one country to the next, learning their martial art. Whee! I am fascinated and in love and please, do you need a girl? Yes, you need a girl! And you need one from a different race and culture who is mixed and can speak a lot of languages! Three is a much better number than two and you need your comic relief. HIRE ME!!!!

Lots of love,

The Sunshine Post #29: Tae Kwon Do, Tae Kwon Don't

Hello dears!

So I’m taking another break in taekwondo. Tsk and sigh.

Is it just me, but as you go through your twenties, your body just isn’t the same anymore? I used to be high on adrenaline all the time; I got through the GREs on one hour of sleep (I was too excited. Yuck.), and for as long as I can remember, I have always been chasing deadlines. I never allowed insomnia, migraines, or PMS (yeah, I’m going there) affect me before, but now, they sweep me off my feet faster than a hero from a sappy romance novel. Oww.

Rahr. My black belt. So near. Yet. So. Flipping. Far. (I’ve three tests to go, yo.)

You know, there are times when I wonder why I even do this to begin with. I mean, I do not have the body of a martial artist by virtue of my hips alone. (They’re the only things that haven’t budged in my sudden and drastic weight loss. Carp.) Possessing these has made me incredibly grateful for celebrities like Jennifer Lopez who have equally, uhm, developed posteriors and have made them acceptable in modern society. (They run in the family. Maternal side. I am optimistic that childbirth will be a breeze.) The “taekwondo body,” as I have learned, is that of a tall and skinny person with no butt cheeks to speak of. In that case, I am so in the wrong sport.

But every time I ask this question, I always have the same answer: solitude. I’ve always seen martial arts as my way of zoning out the world. I think that we go through so many distractions every day that keeps us from realizing our potential in life, translating to a lot of bitterness and wasted time. It is also the one thing that has kept me grounded and allowed me to not take things way too seriously. I never liked team sports.

Even the choice of martial arts I’ve made is very telling. I like taekwondo because you use your legs to get attackers away from you, and my legs are quite long so I get great distance from humans. I love weapons, too, because they’re an extension of my body; yet more distance away from humans. I will never be caught dead doing jiu jitsu or judo or samba – arts that force you to be very near people, mixing with their sweat and bad breath and all. Eww.

I will always be grateful for the self-respect that I found while doing it. I think it makes you aware, every single day, of your dignity to the point that you will never let anyone take it away from you – they will have to take you down first and damn it, you are trained to be up to that challenge. It makes me impervious to pain and suffering.

I once read that doing things like yoga and martial arts releases creativity, which, considering the timeline of when I began them, completely makes me understand why my life has turned the way it has. I have no regrets, though. I LOVE being in the creative realm! I think I can finally look at my work from now on and know that I own it in its entirety, without feeling like a fraud because I keep having to check out what other people are doing.

These things serve a different purpose, too. For a writer, doing something physical is a metaphor for living. The board that I have to break in taekwondo is representative of the fear that prevents me from doing what I want. Twisting like a pretzel in yoga is analogous to my goal of pushing myself beyond what I thought I could do. I think it’s why I hate going to gyms despite my athletic lifestyle. Nothing like running like crazy on a treadmill and getting nowhere as a metaphor for life that might come true!

But I need to take it easy for a while, or at least find another time to do it and not at six in the morning. This isn’t an “adults-only” class with students who just want a release from work or school. People train here because they aim to compete, be it in a regional tournament or the Olympics. The vibe is completely different from the other martial arts classes I’ve had, where we all just go to let off steam. Here, you pretty much have to kill yourself. And I’m the ‘outsider’ in the class. Rahr. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when I was having my armor secured by the Skinny Jerk Who Keeps Calling Me ‘Heavy’ that I finally snapped and said to myself: That’s IT! I’m doing capoieraaaaa!!!!!

And so I cut one class. And then another. And finally, a whole month went by without me stepping on a mat. And then I had an idea.

(E-mail censored from here on out because this might bite me in the ass.)

Monday, July 7, 2008

J.K. Rowling's Commencement Speech at Harvard University

Copyright J.K. Rowling, 2008

President Faust, members of the Harvard Corporation and the Board of Overseers, members of the faculty, proud parents, and, above all, graduates,

The first thing I would like to say is 'thank you.' Not only has Harvard given me an extraordinary honor, but the weeks of fear and nausea I've experienced at the thought of giving this commencement address have made me lose weight. A win-win situation! Now all I have to do is take deep breaths, squint at the red banners and fool myself into believing I am at the world's best-educated Harry Potter convention.

Delivering a commencement address is a great responsibility; or so I thought until I cast my mind back to my own graduation. The commencement speaker that day was the distinguished British philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock. Reflecting on her speech has helped me enormously in writing this one, because it turns out that I can't remember a single word she said. This liberating discovery enables me to proceed without any fear that I might inadvertently influence you to abandon promising careers in business, law or politics for the giddy delights of becoming a gay wizard.

You see? If all you remember in years to come is the 'gay wizard' joke, I've still come out ahead of Baroness Mary Warnock. Achievable goals: the first step towards personal improvement.
Actually, I have wracked my mind and heart for what I ought to say to you today. I have asked myself what I wish I had known at my own graduation, and what important lessons I have learned in the 21 years that has expired between that day and this.

I have come up with two answers. On this wonderful day when we are gathered together to celebrate your academic success, I have decided to talk to you about the benefits of failure. And as you stand on the threshold of what is sometimes called 'real life', I want to extol the crucial importance of imagination.

These might seem quixotic or paradoxical choices, but please bear with me.

Looking back at the 21-year-old that I was at graduation, is a slightly uncomfortable experience for the 42-year-old that she has become. Half my lifetime ago, I was striking an uneasy balance between the ambition I had for myself, and what those closest to me expected of me.

I was convinced that the only thing I wanted to do, ever, was to write novels. However, my parents, both of whom came from impoverished backgrounds and neither of whom had been to college, took the view that my overactive imagination was an amusing personal quirk that could never pay a mortgage, or secure a pension.

They had hoped that I would take a vocational degree; I wanted to study English Literature. A compromise was reached that in retrospect satisfied nobody, and I went up to study Modern Languages. Hardly had my parents' car rounded the corner at the end of the road than I ditched German and scuttled off down the Classics corridor.

I cannot remember telling my parents that I was studying Classics; they might well have found out for the first time on graduation day. Of all subjects on this planet, I think they would have been hard put to name one less useful than Greek mythology when it came to securing the keys to an executive bathroom.

I would like to make it clear, in parenthesis, that I do not blame my parents for their point of view. There is an expiry date on blaming your parents for steering you in the wrong direction; the moment you are old enough to take the wheel, responsibility lies with you. What is more, I cannot criticize my parents for hoping that I would never experience poverty. They had been poor themselves, and I have since been poor, and I quite agree with them that it is not an ennobling experience. Poverty entails fear, and stress, and sometimes depression; it means a thousand petty humiliations and hardships. Climbing out of poverty by your own efforts, that is indeed something on which to pride yourself, but poverty itself is romanticized only by fools.

What I feared most for myself at your age was not poverty, but failure.

At your age, in spite of a distinct lack of motivation at university, where I had spent far too long in the coffee bar writing stories, and far too little time at lectures, I had a knack for passing examinations, and that, for years, had been the measure of success in my life and that of my peers.

I am not dull enough to suppose that because you are young, gifted and well-educated, you have never known hardship or heartbreak. Talent and intelligence never yet inoculated anyone against the caprice of the Fates, and I do not for a moment suppose that everyone here has enjoyed an existence of unruffled privilege and contentment.

However, the fact that you are graduating from Harvard suggests that you are not very well-acquainted with failure. You might be driven by a fear of failure quite as much as a desire for success. Indeed, your conception of failure might not be too far from the average person's idea of success, so high have you already flown academically.

Ultimately, we all have to decide for ourselves what constitutes failure, but the world is quite eager to give you a set of criteria if you let it. So I think it fair to say that by any conventional measure, a mere seven years after my graduation day, I had failed on an epic scale. An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, and I was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be in modern Britain, without being homeless. The fears my parents had had for me, and that I had had for myself, had both come to pass, and by every usual standard, I was the biggest failure I knew.

Now, I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution. I had no idea how far the tunnel extended, and for a long time, any light at the end of it was a hope rather than a reality.

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged. I was set free, because my greatest fear had already been realized, and I was still alive, and I still had a daughter whom I adored, and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.

You might never fail on the scale I did, but some failure in life is inevitable. It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.

Failure gave me an inner security that I had never attained by passing examinations. Failure taught me things about myself that I could have learned no other way. I discovered that I had a strong will, and more discipline than I had suspected; I also found out that I had friends whose value was truly above rubies.

The knowledge that you have emerged wiser and stronger from setbacks means that you are, ever after, secure in your ability to survive. You will never truly know yourself, or the strength of your relationships, until both have been tested by adversity. Such knowledge is a true gift, for all that it is painfully won, and it has been worth more to me than any qualification I ever earned.

Given a time machine or a Time Turner, I would tell my 21-year-old self that personal happiness lies in knowing that life is not a check-list of acquisition or achievement. Your qualifications, your CV, are not your life, though you will meet many people of my age and older who confuse the two. Life is difficult, and complicated, and beyond anyone's total control, and the humility to know that will enable you to survive its vicissitudes.

You might think that I chose my second theme, the importance of imagination, because of the part it played in rebuilding my life, but that is not wholly so. Though I will defend the value of bedtime stories to my last gasp, I have learned to value imagination in a much broader sense. Imagination is not only the uniquely human capacity to envision that which is not, and therefore the fount of all invention and innovation. In its arguably most transformative and revelatory capacity, it is the power that enables us to empathize with humans whose experiences we have never shared.

One of the greatest formative experiences of my life preceded Harry Potter, though it informed much of what I subsequently wrote in those books. This revelation came in the form of one of my earliest day jobs. Though I was sloping off to write stories during my lunch hours, I paid the rent in my early 20s by working in the research department at Amnesty International's headquarters in London.

There in my little office I read hastily scribbled letters smuggled out of totalitarian regimes by men and women who were risking imprisonment to inform the outside world of what was happening to them. I saw photographs of those who had disappeared without trace, sent to Amnesty by their desperate families and friends. I read the testimony of torture victims and saw pictures of their injuries. I opened handwritten, eye-witness accounts of summary trials and executions, of kidnappings and rapes.

Many of my co-workers were ex-political prisoners, people who had been displaced from their homes, or fled into exile, because they had the temerity to think independently of their government. Visitors to our office included those who had come to give information, or to try and find out what had happened to those they had been forced to leave behind.

I shall never forget the African torture victim, a young man no older than I was at the time, who had become mentally ill after all he had endured in his homeland. He trembled uncontrollably as he spoke into a video camera about the brutality inflicted upon him. He was a foot taller than I was, and seemed as fragile as a child. I was given the job of escorting him to the Underground Station afterwards, and this man whose life had been shattered by cruelty took my hand with exquisite courtesy, and wished me future happiness.

And as long as I live I shall remember walking along an empty corridor and suddenly hearing, from behind a closed door, a scream of pain and horror such as I have never heard since. The door opened, and the researcher poked out her head and told me to run and make a hot drink for the young man sitting with her. She had just given him the news that in retaliation for his own outspokenness against his country's regime, his mother had been seized and executed.

Every day of my working week in my early 20s I was reminded how incredibly fortunate I was, to live in a country with a democratically elected government, where legal representation and a public trial were the rights of everyone.

Every day, I saw more evidence about the evils humankind will inflict on their fellow humans, to gain or maintain power. I began to have nightmares, literal nightmares, about some of the things I saw, heard and read.

And yet I also learned more about human goodness at Amnesty International than I had ever known before.

Amnesty mobilizes thousands of people who have never been tortured or imprisoned for their beliefs to act on behalf of those who have. The power of human empathy, leading to collective action, saves lives, and frees prisoners. Ordinary people, whose personal well-being and security are assured, join together in huge numbers to save people they do not know, and will never meet. My small participation in that process was one of the most humbling and inspiring experiences of my life.

Unlike any other creature on this planet, humans can learn and understand, without having experienced. They can think themselves into other people's minds, imagine themselves into other people's places.

Of course, this is a power, like my brand of fictional magic, that is morally neutral. One might use such an ability to manipulate, or control, just as much as to understand or sympathize.

And many prefer not to exercise their imaginations at all. They choose to remain comfortably within the bounds of their own experience, never troubling to wonder how it would feel to have been born other than they are. They can refuse to hear screams or to peer inside cages; they can close their minds and hearts to any suffering that does not touch them personally; they can refuse to know.

I might be tempted to envy people who can live that way, except that I do not think they have any fewer nightmares than I do. Choosing to live in narrow spaces can lead to a form of mental agoraphobia, and that brings its own terrors. I think the willfully unimaginative see more monsters. They are often more afraid.

What is more, those who choose not to empathize may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.
One of the many things I learned at the end of that Classics corridor down which I ventured at the age of 18, in search of something I could not then define, was this, written by the Greek author Plutarch: What we achieve inwardly will change outer reality.

That is an astonishing statement and yet proven a thousand times every day of our lives. It expresses, in part, our inescapable connection with the outside world, the fact that we touch other people's lives simply by existing.

But how much more are you, Harvard graduates of 2008, likely to touch other people's lives? Your intelligence, your capacity for hard work, the education you have earned and received, give you unique status, and unique responsibilities. Even your nationality sets you apart. The great majority of you belong to the world's only remaining superpower. The way you vote, the way you live, the way you protest, the pressure you bring to bear on your government, has an impact way beyond your borders. That is your privilege, and your burden.

If you choose to use your status and influence to raise your voice on behalf of those who have no voice; if you choose to identify not only with the powerful, but with the powerless; if you retain the ability to imagine yourself into the lives of those who do not have your advantages, then it will not only be your proud families who celebrate your existence, but thousands and millions of people whose reality you have helped transform for the better. We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.

I am nearly finished. I have one last hope for you, which is something that I already had at 21. The friends with whom I sat on graduation day have been my friends for life. They are my children's godparents, the people to whom I've been able to turn in times of trouble, friends who have been kind enough not to sue me when I've used their names for Death Eaters. At our graduation we were bound by enormous affection, by our shared experience of a time that could never come again, and, of course, by the knowledge that we held certain photographic evidence that would be exceptionally valuable if any of us ran for Prime Minister.

So today, I can wish you nothing better than similar friendships. And tomorrow, I hope that even if you remember not a single word of mine, you remember those of Seneca, another of those old Romans I met when I fled down the Classics corridor, in retreat from career ladders, in search of ancient wisdom:

As is a tale, so is life: not how long it is, but how good it is, is what matters.

I wish you all very good lives.

Thank you very much.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Sunshine Post #28: Can Vegetarians Eat Marmite? And Other Times I Think I Slipped

Hello dears!

I turned vegetarian on November of 2006; a side effect of a martial arts retreat that I attended out of recommendation of one of my taekwondo teachers (I was stressed out and emo then. My brain cells were dying for the umpteenth time – not my brain; the rats'. Ugh.) Aside from being trained in knife fighting and kali, I also quit eating meat cold turkey (pun sort-of intended). I don't know, you guys … there's something about eating flesh that makes me queasy now. Even though I keep emphasizing that I do it for health reasons and not moral ones, it's hard not to put the "respect for life" factor in there at some point. I've decapitated way too many rats for a normal person; meat was serving as a gross reminder of what I once was: a grad student doing joyless drudgery.

The road to vegetarianism has its share of road kill, especially for one whose cultural heritages are notorious for eating anything and everything. To announce that I'm vegetarian has usually resulted in dismayed groans, and I've limited going to lunch with people, else to give me yet another nail to pound in my coffin of guilt for being such a burden. I'm very hard to feed.

I may be a gastronomic pariah, but there are excellent side effects to vegetarianism. Weight loss, great skin, great teeth (I just had the shortest dental appointment two weeks ago – I haven't had one in over a year and all she had to do was clean my teeth a bit. No meat, no cavities, yo! Woohoo!), and more energy. It's cheaper for me, too – when you've lost as much weight as I have, and when you can't eat anything that once had limbs, food stops becoming a tourist attraction to you. I feel so clean, which is timely for this stage in my life where I am hell-bent on cleaning out my life as much as possible.

Being relatively new to this dietary lifestyle, there were times when I wasn't as purely vegetarian as I thought. When desperate, for example, I would pluck out the meat from pizza and just eat the bread, or sip chicken stock when skipping a meal was the only other option. I've been slowly removing these little slip-ups, but sometimes, the world seems to be against me. Last week, while eating arugula salad at my favorite restaurant, I stopped short when I noticed something green moving among the leaves – a larvae! Eww. God knows how many of those I've already digested, since I'm always reading or writing while eating.

There are culinary discoveries that have made me wonder, as they don't seem to be meat, but they're not vegetables, fruits or grains either. To the Aussies and the Brits, is marmite vegetarian?* Are you sure? Hmm? I've had it and I don't think it's that bad – marmite/vegemite/black gold pizza is actually good. But it's from yeast, which moves and reproduces pretty quickly, as I've observed under a microscope. Yikes, yo! What have I done?

I had another dietary anomaly today. Out of curiosity and the need for WiFi, I ordered a shot of civet coffee. In my rather blunt and shameless way of describing things, I will define it as coffee beans that you pick from poop and then charge people a lot of money for. Here is the definition from the back of the really expensive jar: "Picked from the Philippine forest floors during coffee season, the Philippine Civet Coffee comes from the droppings of the palm civet, a nocturnal animal that chooses and gorges only the ripest and sweetest coffee cherries. These coffee cherries are fermented in the civet's digestive system and are dropped as whole beans. The beans are then washed, dried, and roasted, capturing the complex flavors for everyone to enjoy."

It was brought to me: hot, steamy, with the fascinating color of excrement. Ah! An expensive espresso shot. I took my first sip. And nearly choked. Whoa, yo! "Complex" is right. It's really strong and bitter; just two sips and I couldn't take any more. (Here's another thing with vegetarian yogis – we can't take as much caffeine as we used to.) "For everyone to enjoy," my ass. But back to my question – was this vegetarian or not? A show of hands, please. I mean, it went through some animal's intestines and went out its butt, for the love of God. Bleh. Regardless, I will never do it again; it's just too strong for me. Oh well. Now I know what it tastes like, I will never have to wonder anymore. It's my new thing for today – drink coffee from animal poop. (I have a daily habit of doing something new every single day. I might go racecar driving next week. We'll see. I will let you know.)

Ah. Just when I thought life was made simpler by exclusion, there are exceptions that I must consider. But to simplify everything, let's hear it for my new vegetarian rule (I might make a T-shirt out of this):

I don't eat anything that's greater than 15% homologous with my genome.

Lots of love,

* Edit: Yes, marmite/vegemite is vegetarian, since yeast is a sentient organism and belongs to the taxonomic kingdom of Fungi, where mushrooms also belong. Ah, portobello mushrooms! Without you we vegetarians will starve!

P.S. Humans share a 47, 63, 38, 15, and 20% homology with the fruit fly, the mouse, C. elegans, baker's yeast, and Arabidopsis, respectively.

P.P.S. Yes, Manila was stormy over the weekend, but I'm ok! As are all my family and friends. Thank you for the concerned e-mails. You guys are the sweetest!

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Sunshine Post #27: Bugged and Bothered

Hello dears!

Dang it, I’m mad.

I am infuriated! I am outraged!

I have been stood up by a record eleven people in four days on six different occasions. Eleven! Dear God. Do I look like someone who has a lot of idle time on her hands? Leche*. Argh, if there’s one thing I hate worse than being late, it’s not showing up at all. Tsk. Such an insult to my feminine charms, yo. Am I this cancelable?

*Leche: lĕ’-chĕ. Spanish for milk. I use it as a way to curse without really cursing. It has a nice sharp phonetic zing to it. Say it with me now! Leche! Leche! Lech lech lech!

A second source of irritation is the number of cockroaches I have been encountering. I have killed dozens in the past week or so. There are a lot of them, man, both in the office and at home. (It’s the weather; it’s an odd mixture of humid and rainy now. Ugh. What on earth is this? The Reaping?) Having to gut and decapitate rodents for a while (and therefore desensitized to pests) has made me the Go-to Girl when it comes to these buggers, and I have learned that killing them consists of two phases – Step, then Slide. The second is mandatory because many a roach has resurrected itself, leading to a lot of screaming women in the office.

I don’t know which is worse, wasting my time, or going to war with a bunch of bugs that can survive nuclear warfare.

Ok, deep breath. And release. Ahhhhhh. Off to yoga! No humans for a week! Or until they know what to do with a watch.

I’m a little peeved today, yes. I mean, I had to drink coffee to get free WiFi! And it wasn’t even decaf! Harumph.

Dang it, I’m mad!

And a little hormonal. Oweeee. Sniffle.

Lots of (indignant) love,

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Sunshine Post #26: Retroviral Reflections and the Wonders of 'Wawa'

Hello dears!

My unspoken vow of silence and isolation was broken this Saturday, when I had to speak the whole day for work. I know, right? For a “Director of Communications,” I’ve been pretty silent and anti-social, yo! But after years of listening to drivel, trust me, I’ve learned to pick the more efficient and lasting ways to communicate with people. I remember one class in grad school where everyone had to critique a paper. Everyone was just dissing the data for hours, while I had nothing to say because they all hated each other. I did, however, come up with a really long poem entitled “Vocabulary of a Poser.” Talk about a sign.

I slept at two in the morning the night before and awoke five hours later to give a workshop on HIV/AIDS. The gist was I had to give them a Powerpoint on how HIV works, how it is transmitted, why we’re interested in it, etc., and to get them to give an HIV speech. Ah, I had no idea how on earth this was going to go. I’ve never given a science talk to people who weren’t going to critique the work, ask me about experiments, and inquire which brand of Petri dish I used. The feeling was strangely pleasant – since transmission of information was the whole point, I was a lot more concerned with making sure they understood what I was saying, instead of trying to smoothly steer them away from the questionable numbers in my data. When competition and getting published are not an issue, the ability to educate and to inform is magnified a hundredfold.

I had hope after last May’s Blast-O-Cysted Summer Camp. (The word of the day, if you must know, was retrovirus.) A couple hours later, I was floored when Desiree used the words “retrovirus, “integrates” and “genome” in one sentence. I was shrieking with glee, bouncing up and down and clapping my hands. I nearly had tears in my eyes, yo. Whee! I can explain stuff without making people fall asleep! See, science isn’t that boring and hard!

Later that afternoon, I had to speak again, this time on how I came to do what I am doing now. (This is pretty much “the story” I say to everyone, so I didn’t have to prepare much.) From decapitating rodents to making vegan cupcakes and being among people who want to join the Cirque de Soleil -- I guess it does make for a rather unusual story for some people (although it makes perfect sense to me!). I’d like to think my audience recruitment and motivational skills weren’t too bad. I mean, how on earth can you go wrong with the theme “I-hated-humanity-before-coming-to-WYA-and-now-that-I’m-here-I-am-allergic-to-people-less-and-less,” right? I was under orders by the Directors here to tone down my personality (which was the hard part, but hell, I was a very proper Catholic schoolgirl with pigtails once upon a time).

As I was speaking, I noticed that many of the veteran members and former interns, Donna and Emily in particular, had these doe-eyed constipated “awwww” looks on their faces, which confounded me and almost made me lose my place, until I went out to dinner with the former at Cyma. Mein Gott, this is officially my Philippine-Greek equivalent of Gobo, although it’s not all vegetarian. I can eat their roka (arugula) salad every day forever. Finally! Something I can eat! Yum yum.

By some attack of misfortune, all of my friends cancelled their plans with me that day, which was annoying at first but I’m fine since it was a time for me to get to know these people more. Dinner with Donna that evening was … hmm, there is no word for this – let’s just say that imagining myself in her stories made me digest my dinner faster. Ah, the love these people have for this organization! Amazing. I am so happy to be here! But yow, you guys, I am glad for the more stoic, non-Filipino bloodline/s coursing through my veins – I don’t think I am built to be that emotional and weepy; I will likely have an aneurysm. I mean, I was exhausted just listening to her New York internship stories – so many sentimental tears! How… heh, I can’t believe I’m saying this word, but how wawa*.

* wawa (adj.) – Pronounced wáwâ. Say it with me now! Wawa. Wa. Wa. Wawa! Whee! A word that World Youth Alliance Asia Pacific members say a lot; I think we can trace it to Tams. It’s short for kawawa – Filipino for “pitiful.” Wawa is used in a loving way, especially when said with puppy-dog eyes in a voice that’s a few notes higher than normal. Example: Aww, a cockroach ran up your face? You’re so wawa. (Insert pout here.)

Whee! I am slowly building friendships here – a big relief to a lot of people, I know. As I write this, Peejay, a national committee member, just SMS-ed me to tell me that he loved the Bikram yoga class we just had. Yahoo! I will turn all of them into healthy focused yogis, one lechon**-eating person at a time. Trina, a former intern and my Gold Standard for Hyperactivity and Enthusiasm, sent me a message late one evening to tell me that Moleskines are still available in Manila in this particular bookstore. Thank God and aww, that was sweet. And Frank will teach me all about the stock market in exchange for web design instruction tomorrow. Yay!

** lechon – roasted suckling pig. Oh dear God. Donna told me about riding in a truck with her arm around one, with the oil dripping on her. I just blanched. Bleh.

All this sounds pathetic, I know. But I’ve been so alienated and alone for so long and only had mice and Chloe, my purple Carebear Cub, to keep me company at night for three years, that I think wanting to be with the people around me as opposed to feeling forced to socialize in meetings and parties, listening to drivel and engaging in inconsequential small talk all the time is actually big and bloggable. I may want to take on more challenges in the future, but please God, don’t let me go through the a repeat performance of feeling so agonized and sad, thinking that a minute more with the wrong people will make me slit my wrists, and not having anyone’s name to place on my Emergency Contact Person box. How unbelievably depressing. How perfectly dull. How incredibly dismal.

How very wawa.

Lots of love,


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Sunshine Post #25: Twenty-Five and Still Alive

Hello dears!

I’m 25.



Dalawampu’t lima. Er sher wu. Di tsah goh. Viente cinco. Vingt-cinq. Twenty five

Hmm. I’ve written this in all the languages I know but it still feels strangely new to me.

My birthday, for the first time, was uneventful. In fact, I did nothing to commemorate the day. I don’t know why; I wasn’t depressed or anything. But I’d like to think that I’m at that stage where I am finally on the right track and happy with everything I am doing that there’s no need for one big explosion of affirmation. I think that joy is the theme of my life, and that solitude happens to accompany it at this point although hopefully not forever. To be 25 seems to have some sort of finality – dang it, you’d better have learned SOMETHING at this point to make all this turmoil worthwhile!

Ah, but yes! What good is a blog without the necessary reflective post that I will cringe at years from now? Here are twenty-five points to commemorate twenty-five years:

Five Things I Will Do For a Long Time, if Not Forever
1. Create. If I cannot relate to the real world, then I shall make my own! Long live the power of the Whee!
2. Do yoga and martial arts. I refuse to be a Botoxed weakling when I am 40.
3. Learn new things and teach them to others. Passing knowledge on is my way of determining whether I really understood it or not.
4. Write. When the silence is deafening and my head is close to exploding, typing my thoughts on screen eases the migraines.
5. Attempt to make people happy, then bounce away! Doesn’t it make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Repeat.

Five Things I Will (Hopefully) Never Do Again
1. Do a Ph.D. I seriously think it stifles creativity. And I have neither the attention span nor the competitive urge for it.
2. Eat meat. I can’t eat anything that used to have beaks or boobs anymore, you guys. I can’t even look at rotisserie chickens without having the urge to puke.
3. Hold back when I really want to do something. I think everyone should have a Bucket List written down as early as possible, and go back to it as regularly as they can.
4. Be anyone’s doormat. Ha! That goes without saying.
5. Ghost write for anyone. Ever! (Yeah, that’s right! Everyone has to do their own speeches, love letters and articles from now on, yo. You are stomping on my dignity by taking my words without proper compensation! The world has enough drivel; let’s at least remove the anonymity and own up to your loggorhea!)

Five Things I Am Grateful For
1. Knowing what I am innately good at and what I really want to do, without peer and parental pressure, competition or nepotism. And knowing is half the battle!
2. Being healthy. Trust me, this yoga/taekwondo/healthy eating thing was waaaay out of my character three years ago.
3. Three years alone in New York City. They were painful and tumultuous (and next time I’m in a new city by myself again, remind me to make friends earlier) but I guess that was the point. I think everyone should break out of the mold eventually. I’m just happy it came earlier than later.
4. Making friends wherever I go. Because nomads need love, too!
5. My sarcasm. I think irony is something we can all grab onto when the chips are down, so we won’t ever take some things way too seriously.

Five Things I Regret
1. Not spending more time with interesting people I’ve met. There may be no goodbyes, but there are farewells to the type of person your friends are at this moment.
2. Making excuses. When someone asks you how far you want to go, you don’t give a number; you say “All the way!”
3. Learning these lessons only now. When you look at it, they seem a little ‘duh.’ Didn’t we learn all these in kindergarten?
4. Being resistant to change. Ah. I still am, sometimes.
5. Not going to trapeze school when I had the chance! *sob* I shall fly one day, you’ll see!

(At Least) Five Things I Will Do This Year
1. Climb ______.
2. Learn ______.
3. Earn my ______.
4. Attempt to ______.
5. Create ______.
These will, of course, be documented in the most fun way possible.

Hmm. Now that I think about it, one reason I didn’t feel like partying was that I felt this irrepressible sense of exhaustion. The racetrack I placed myself on turned into a roller coaster that seemed to go on forever, and now I am dizzy and badly need to hurl. Too many things keep happening that I feel glad to have written about them so I have some sort of proof. (These e-mails aren’t some random idea, by the way. Before The Sunshine Posts, there were 100 Chronicles of Paranoia e-mailed to 200 of my friends. My writing mentor wants me to turn those into a book, but yikes, I don’t think so. There are way more embarrassing and incriminating things there than I want strangers to know. And who on earth wants to pay for some chick’s neurotic drivel? I might turn it into a blog for posterity’s sake.)

But I digress. Now that I think about it, adventurousness and productive creativity are just my Freudian way of making sure I never have to be embarrassed about revealing my age. I never want to have to hide my age (or look my age for that matter, hence the facials), and feel like being asked that question is a violation of my person because I feel I hadn’t done enough. I think it’s why I want to experience everything as early as possible, even just once – the twenties are, after all, the years where we laugh, cry, love, and hate with the greatest force we have ever known.

When I was 21, I dreaded uncertainty, but now I think it is a blessing and a challenge to have to carve out my life with my own hands. If there’s one scenario I am glad not to be in right now, it’s to be in the corporate/medical/law/academic world, surrounded by the same type of people I grew up with, engaged to someone in one of my circles. I’m sure it’s a nice pleasant story with more or less a happy ending, but I’d rather see the world and know how beautiful, destructive, joyful, painful and limitless life can actually be before settling down on some preordained path. That’s the true measure of a life well-lived, I think – to extract from it happiness with substance, instead of happiness that’s too thin and trite, even Hallmark doesn’t want to make a greeting card about it. And as the great and renowned tour guide and performer Carlos C------ reassured me just a few weeks ago (and to everyone in their twenties, I propose we turn this into our battle cry):

“It’s all drama until you hit 30.”

Lots of love,