Sitting at the Children’s Table

Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.

—Glenn TurnerDisclaimer: I’m not saying that I will never have kids. I just prefer not to have them.

In our culture today, when a woman is past a certain age, she starts to get bombarded with disarming personal questions and (annoyingly) unsolicited advice not just from well-meaning family members and relatives, but also from complete strangers. As if it’s an affront to their delicate sensibilities that she opts to be single and childless. While mankind claims to have evolved to have higher forms of societal awareness and tolerance, most—if not all—still stick their noses in other people’s business by interjecting their own beliefs and opinions. Just as racism never really went away, some still cling to the archaic belief that the essence of a woman is the ability to conceive an offspring no matter the cost.

Now I’ve had my share of these gross intrusion into my personal space time and time again, and I’d like to say I handle them all with as much grace as I could muster. Still, I understand where they are coming from. Truly, I do. It’s something I think about in the middle of the night when my body is tired but my mind is still awake. When I doubt  my life decisions and double-think about settling just to get over the soul-crushing loneliness, I torture myself with those very questions. But I also know about failed marriages; women pawning their kids to their parents while they work to provide for them—albeit, barely scraping by—and being constantly on the brink of exhaustion, insanity, and bankruptcy. No sirree! I want no part of those statistics.

Before I jump into my reasoning, I just want to weigh in with my views about marriage. First of all, I am not opposed to them. I may have said once that I don’t believe in the “institution of marriage,” but that was uttered in jest and, more accurately, for shock value. Nothing would make me happier than finding someone I could spend the rest of my life with. However, I do have one weighty requirement—he must be willing to accept that I may never want to have children. This is nonnegotiable. Now I’m fully aware that it’s not at all fair to ask someone to give up this colossal milestone so I’m not expecting anyone to come knocking at my door anytime soon. Since no one in my immediate vicinity would willingly do so just to be with me, I may have to cast my net a little wider. Mind you, not that I’m going out of the way to catch fish! I feel like I’m this soft little light struggling to shine against the thick fog in the middle of a swamp, just waiting for someone brave (or desperate) enough to come to me for some shelter. Ugh, terrible analogy! But If by some miracle, I somehow find someone who can accept that without trying to change my mind in the long run, then I’d be the first to sprint up to the altar. Until then, I’m perfectly content with treading shallow waters on my own.

Now here is where my disclaimer comes in. I have 3 nieces and 3 nephews, and I love them all to bits! The first time I held my youngest nephew in my arms and he fell asleep to me singing him a lullaby, I fell instantly in love! But changing his diaper, looking after him, and taking care of him 24-7, not to mention the long and arduous road to parenting teens a little later, is something I don’t think I’ll be able to make. The reasons why are not purely selfish though. Not only am I not willing to pass on any of my health conditions and hereditary illnesses (asthma being at the top of the list), I am also not willing to bring another human being into this world without giving my child my absolute best, which I am nowhere near capable of right now. Should I ever be convinced otherwise, I want a hundred percent guarantee that he (or she) will grow up healthy, kind, wise, and well-adjusted. Since nobody can guarantee that—and the advancement of science capable of  achieving that feat is still not available in my remote corner of the world—then I have no desire to propagate overpopulation when living conditions and the overall quality of life in the entire planet are steadily deteriorating. Besides, if I do succumb to a life of regret and have a change of heart one day, there’s always the option of adoption, right?

That being said, I find myself in a precarious position. Because I don’t have the quintessential nuclear family, don’t own a car or a house, and don’t have millions saved in the bank, I feel like I am basically left out of grown-up conversations, like I have nothing to contribute. It can be isolating to think about not being taken as an adult. To be honest, I don’t mind it that much sometimes. I don’t have much insight about property taxes, loans, and amortizations. I don’t have to worry about checking car mileage and insurance, saving up for school fees and college funds, and paying off mountains of bills.

So call me a spinster, an old maid, or a prude any day—sticks and stones and all that—and I will just brush it off, as I’ve sadly learned to do over the years. People always find something to complain about or fulminate against other people. Singles are criticized for not being married. Couples are criticized for not having kids. Married people are criticized for not having more kids. This is the tragedy of humanity—man is never content. After all that, if you happen to see me walking down the street or feel the urge to message me, kindly think first before you open your mouth (or flex your fingers) and make sure to call me out for something else entirely new, not for the same old shtick I’ve heard a gazillion times before.

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Schadenfreude

Another’s misfortune tastes of honey.

—Japanese proverb

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Let’s talk real for a minute. I can understand how people use humor to deflect seeing the pain of others or hide behind an ill-timed joke because you don’t know how to respond to someone else’s misfortune. Still, I never thought that I would be in the receiving end of that unfortunate jape today.

While  I see evidence of the depravity of the human condition and the myriad, colorful ways  people can be cruel to one another,  I never thought I would endure the humiliation of getting punched in a gut by someone I least expected, kicked when I was already down on my knees, and laughed at while I was writhing in agony. . .

Okay, back up! No act of violence has been done to me recently, but it sure felt like it that since I am still reeling from the blow. I just had the indelible experience of being laughed in the face after I shared my family’s recent tango with adversity. I was venting out about having lost my faith in humanity, yet again, when a person I’ve known for a long time thought it would be funny to rub salt on a freshly opened wound by throwing a random comment in jest. Though I am a self-confessed pacifist, I think that if I was even the least bit athletic, I would have called out every person who ever offended me to a one-on-one, no-holds-barred battle royale. But, no, I’m just plain old me, an asthmatic wastrel armed only with a good chunk of vocabulary and the occasional knowledge of how to wield them effectively.

Then again, it made me think if I have done the same to someone else without meaning to. So in an attempt to understand where the would-be comedian’s apathy was coming from, I will dig deep and humbly say that I am truly sorry if I have ever said anything unwittingly offensive to anyone at one time or another. I know I can be obnoxious at times and a bit of a know-it-all, but that’s only because I am socially awkward. I use fancy words—my weapon of choice—to mask my inability to interact with most people.

That said, I have no problem with taking hits to my self-esteem. It is one thing entirely to laugh at myself, especially by my own fault “kay gadanghag lang akong agi (because I was being careless),” like that one time I had my phone stolen. But it is a different thing entirely if an offhand—nay, hurtful—comment was directed to or remotely alluding to my family. I can be the brunt of a joke, but not when it came at my family’s expense. I am fiercely protective of them, as I’m sure most family-centric communities are. So feel free to take a jab at me, crack a joke, or roast me to the point of tears, just leave my family out of it please.

Legacy: A Fictional Story

Of all the words of mice and men, the saddest are, “It might have been.”

—Kurt Vonnegut

 

An old man rolled his motorized wheelchair near a grave and deposited a bouquet of white roses. He spent some time staring out at the faded letters that once bore her favorite quote from a beloved author. Slowly, he lowered his head and rested his chin on his chest in deep prayer. Some moments passed and the old man’s caretaker standing some distance behind him was worried the man might have fallen asleep—or worse. But gingerly, the old man raised his head, and without so much as a word, he started to wheel himself back to the car, but not before plucking a single white rose and tucking it in the breast pocket of his tweed jacket.

The caretaker scratched his head and wondered if the old man finally lost it. But he waited patiently by the car until the man was safely inside. He then started the car and made their way back to the nursing home. Against the staff’s wishes at the old man’s delicate health, the caretaker reluctantly drove him to the cemetery an hour ago to have the man pay his respects as he had done over the past 20 years.

Safely back in his room, the old man carefully took out the white rose and laid it next to a red envelope by his nightstand. He opened the drawer and took out an ornately carved wooden box containing his most prized possession, letters written by a lost love. He placed the red envelope on top of the box and proceeded to write to his family. After finishing, he left the box sitting on his desk drawer with the red envelope on top of the box and put the note on top of the envelope. He then quietly laid down on bed to sleep, clutching the white rose close to his chest.

An hour later, the old man passed away with a knowing smile on his lips. His small withered hands still holding on to a single white rose. The nurses and staff said he died peacefully in his sleep and surmised that he may have been having a pleasant dream. Only the caretaker seemed to notice a small tear that made it’s way pass the man’s bony cheek to splat over the side of the pillow. He knew that tear was a happy one, full of hope and meaning. With as much reverence as he could muster, he closed his eyes and prayed silently for the old man he had come to respect.

***

My Dearest,

I am an old man now. Too old and too tired to find my lost love. My children are all grown up and my wife has long passed away. Very soon, I will fade from this world too. While I was happy and lived a full life, I can honestly say it wasn’t without some regrets. My biggest one is that I did not try hard enough to love you.

I want to lay my eternal rest next to you, as I was not able to do while you were still within my reach. But social conventions say a man should be buried next to his family. So with a heavy heart, I let my children and grandchildren bury me where they may with specific instructions to include this letter and the ones you wrote to me so many years ago. I’m sorry, my love. I couldn’t burn any of them as you told me to. I wanted the love you had for me to resonate for as long as I can make it last.

I have heard of your decades years ago. And to this day, I regret that I wasn’t there with you on your final days. I should very much liked to have held your hand as you took your last breath. There is so much that I wanted to say, so much I wanted to share with you. But as fate would have it, I’d lose my nerve every time I tried.  Something or someone always seem to get in the way, a common friend who wants to be your suitor or another so-called friend flirting with you. But I confess, it was mostly my pride that kept me apart from you.

I went to your funeral and waited in the shadows long after your family and friends have gone home to mourn you in private. I laid a dozen, long-stemmed white roses in your tombstone, which was engraved  with your favorite James Joyce quote, “I bore my chalice safely through a throng of foes.” I picked the blossoms myself because you have always remained pure and innocent in my eyes. I hope you approve. Every year, I visited your grave and left white roses on the day of our anniversary. Yes, I know you think I have forgotten it all those years ago. I should have because I chose someone else after all. But somehow, I couldn’t seem to forget that on one glorious day in the throes of our teenage years, you let me read your diary. That was the sweetest answer I’ve been longing for all year long. I know it was a lifetime ago, but that day is forever etched in my memory as vividly as if it was just yesterday.

My darling, I am so sorry to have caused you untold pain. I should have kissed you when you when you tried to send me away because you thought wrongly that you couldn’t make me happy.  Should’ve wrapped you in a tight embrace when you returned all the letters I once wrote to you. Should’ve whispered sweet nothings in your ear to make you believe how much I wanted to be beside you always.

I finally had my eyes opened when our friends told me how much you cared about me. Your bestfriend in high school gave me some of the letters left over from the ones that you failed to return  to me when we broke up.  She said I had no idea just what our relationship meant to you and the extent of the suffering you endured because of my indifference. Even my own bestfriend told me of the lifetime of tears you shed for me. If I knew then what I know now, I would have moved heaven and earth to get you in my arms again. My honey, my dearest, my sweet . . . you were the love of my life. I just wished I have had the courage to admit that then. I would’ve fought with every strength I possessed to have you back in my life.

I know these are just words thrown in the wind but I pray dearly that you know just how much I loved you. That I still love you until my last dying breath and beyond. My only consolation right now is that I hope I would see you again soon.  This time, please let me hold your hand and I promise you, I will never let it go.

Until then, I will remain yours eternally.

Always,

J

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REVIEW-O-RAMA 2

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Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Mel Gibson finally learned how to hide his bigotry and misogynistic tendencies behind a good script from the Tarantino School of How to Be a Successful Racist. That said, Hacksaw Ridge was a masterfully crafted movie with all-around good acting, great dialogues, gritty visuals, and gorgeous cinematography.

Verdict: Swearing off Tarantino-esque movies, but I wouldn’t mind seeing Andrew Garfield in a drama again.
Cringe-o-Meter: 50/50. Political correctness out the window. Good thing the superb acting makes up for the racially motivated script.

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Along with the Gods: The Two Worlds (2017)

Gyun-woo has done it again! Cha Tae-hyun has a knack for playing kind, decent everyman with strong moral values. His flawless comedic timing is balanced exquisitely with his dramatic chops. This movie is not only visually gorgeous and well-acted, the narrative is also spectacularly engaging. The aerial fights scenes alone are better than the Matrix movies. Everything in this film works: the top-notch visual effects, the wonderful script, the  balanced pacing, the exceptional acting, and much more. Prepare to cry a lot because the emotional scenes will punch you in the gut harder than a cheating ex, and you’ll be picking your jaw off the floor from the breathtaking special effects.

Verdict: South Korean cinema at its finest.
Cringe-o-Meter: Zero. Whether you are a K-Drama addict, an anime enthusiasts, hard-core fanboy/fangirl, or even your average family, you will find something to enjoy in this movie.

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Annihilation (2018)

A visually stunning but pretentious film that is obviously pandering to so-called intellectuals (film critics) and feminists. The largely female cast not only panders to the feminist movement, but also gives me Ghostbusters (2016) flashbacks. While people praise this movie for the it’s take on social commentary and the thought-provoking dialogue, the narrative is hardly original as it as takes a page from Games of Thrones by killing off  a kind, relatable character early on. It’s colorful palette and gorgeous  landscapes (those glass trees are exquisite) create a jarring contrast to the eerie tone. While I had a hard time believing Natalie Portman’s diminutive size playing a military role (she’s also a biologist), I was pleasantly surprise she that pulled it off.

However, there is one angle I analyzed to death. I’ve associated the main characters to the five stages of grief: 1) denial: Oscar Isaac’s character chose to go on a suicide mission instead of facing the situation that his wife is having an affair; 2) anger: one character suddenly becomes an angry, murdering psychopath for no apparent reason; 3) bargaining: Natalie’s character volunteers to go inside the Shimmer to find out what happened to her husband and find a cure for his illness so she can apologize to him for having an affair; 4) depression: tired of struggling with her addiction, Tessa Thompson’s character’s surrenders and becomes just another human topiary in the grassy meadow. 5) acceptance: the psychologist accepts the futility of her terminal disease and mankind’s struggles and succumbed to the “annihilation” and gets absorbed by aliens.

Verdict: Reminds me of Black Swan, and I am one of the few who didn’t like that movie.
Cringe-o-Meter: High. While it is not a bikini-clad female superhero, it still manages to shove feminism down our throats.

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A Face in the Crowd

December 15, 2003, 3F, end of the hall

And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire.

—Stephenie Meyer, New Moon

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I miss you, my dearest friend. I find myself searching the crowd for your familiar face. For even the tiniest semblance on them of you. But as always, I see nothing. For there could never be another one like you. A whisper, a glance, or even a slight nod would have sufficed to make me believe that people still know I exist. But none came.

Your departure left me in fragments and, more poignantly, in tears. How can I survive this place without you? Without the warmth of your bedimpled smile—which always held just a hint of naughtiness behind them—the rooms seem cold and unfriendly. Without the comfort of your presence, our school seems unforgiving and harsh.

As I reminisce about the times we spent here together (as I am wont to do every now and then), I hear your laughter once more, echoing loudly  as it bounced against the walls. I was so accustomed to seeing the cocky way you walk, sashaying up and down the narrow hallway like some glamorous movie star and beaming at everyone you pass by. But then you went away abruptly, had your baby, got married, and moved abroad. And I never saw you again.

From the moment you came up to me and asked me where the administration office was, I knew we would become fast friends. I know now that I will never be the same again. As your laughter fades from the halls and your scent disappears from the room we shared as penniless students, I wonder what life has in store for me. Will I survive graduating without you? Will I have to venture out into the real world alone?

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Tiny House Dreams

As you simplify your life, the laws of the universe will be simpler; solitude will not be solitude, poverty will not be poverty, nor weakness weakness.

—Henry David Thoreau

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“Four score and seven years ago,”—Okay, this isn’t the Gettysburg Address, but it was around seven years ago that I discovered the Tiny House Movement from a Jay Shafer video in YouTube. From that moment on, I was hooked!

I started dreaming of building my own tiny house. Of course, having neither land nor the money to actually do it, it has remained a pipe dream for now. In my research, I’ve looked at a hundred videos on YouTube about what I wanted my tiny house to look like. Recently, I settled on the design. Of course, of the three that I made, none of them is to scale. I never claimed to be a graphic artist or an architect.

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But it started with a simple floor plan. As someone who pees a lot in the middle of the night, it’s a pain to walk up and down the stairs. The problem with this layout is the lack of storage and very little closet space, if any at all.

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Still, I wanted a minimalist design. Lord knows if this is achievable with my current income. But hey, a girl can dream, right?

Disclaimer: Again, these floor plans are not to scale. I did account for 1 inch for 1 foot substitution (1 in = 1 ft) and the insulation for the borders/walls. But the furniture and appliances are drawn freestyle.

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I’m a Victim of Domestic Abuse

You should know this, Timothy, that in the last days there will be very difficult times. For people will love only themselves and their money. They will be boastful and proud, scoffing at God, disobedient to their parents, and ungrateful. They will consider nothing sacred. They will be unloving and unforgiving; they will slander others and have no self-control. They will be cruel and hate what is good. They will betray their friends, be reckless, be puffed up with pride, and love pleasure rather than God. They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!

—2 Timothy 3:1–5 (NLT)

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I’ve debated for some time whether I should take this story public or not. But first, I will preface this article by saying that my parents are two of the most wonderful, hardworking, loving, and kindest people I know. More importantly, they have never laid a finger on me. Begrudgingly, I’m talking about my baby sister.

For some context, my baby sister and I, born six years apart, were remarkably close before I offered to take her in while I was working in Cebu. At that time, I was championing for her against our family because most of them have been fed up with her constantly dropping out or switching majors in college. To ease the burden from my mom for a bit, who was paying for her very extended college education, I offered to have her join me in Cebu. We shared a room at first, but when another room opened up, I moved next door from her. After a few weeks, she started causing some ruckus in the house I was staying in, forcing my landlady talk to me about her. Embarrassed for what she has done because I never had problems in my nearly nine years of staying there, I moved her somewhere close to my workplace so I could pay her rent on my way to work. Apparently, she hated that setup because she was sharing her room with three other girls in bunk beds. At that time, she found “work” at a bookshop just right across the street from her dormitory, which we surmised to be just a volunteer gig offered by a church friend of hers who owned the bookstore. I made sure she was near enough that I could check on her from time to time and she can commute conveniently to any major mall or hangout spot. I carefully packed her stuff, bought a lock for her locker and baskets for her stuff, and gave her money for laundry. After several months, she decided to leave Cebu and flew back home. She eventually went back to school only to drop out again. One time I went home for the Christmas holidays, she was openly berating our mom for something. I stepped in to rebuke her then she turned and started attacking me with scathing words. A few days after that, she left for Davao. She didn’t even stay until after New Year’s. I found out later that she’s been telling my family that I kicked her out and threw her clothes outside the house. So that’s how it began. We clashed two times after that but it never escalated to something physical—until recently, that is.

Ever since I moved back home and she decided (yet again) to give up the pretense of going to school, we have been locking horns every so often. She continues to verbally abuse our parents despite me calling her out on it a couple of times. At first, I’d find my laundry thrown off the roof, my shirts torn, and my things disappearing one by one. One time, she even trashed my room. While I got some of my things back (Dad found my sporks in the garbage pile at the back of the house), she still held some hostage or she may have dumped them somewhere else.

Christmas Day last year, I was unaware that my family was tying to stage an intervention for her until it was about to happen. I’m sure she was thinking it was my idea in the first place. We all prayed for her and everything. It was scary. She acted like she was possessed or something. She went wild—kicking our dad, pulling my sister’s hair, and shoved me and our mom at one point—trying to escape. But after she calmed down some, we thought things are finally going to change. After we got home, she seemed mellow and back to her old self for a little while, though some of my stuff still ended up missing from my room and she continues to verbally abuse our mother. Little did I know what she had planned for my computer then (pouring water all over it). I guess our family intervention did not work after all.

So here we are in 2018, still at a loss on how to handle her angry, resentful, and vindictive behavior. I understand why our mother didn’t call the cops on her—because it will definitely put a permanent taint on her records—but if our prayers and pleas no longer appeal to her (my sister literally got down on her knees, crying and pleading with her), how else can we make her understand the pain she has caused and face the consequences of her actions?

Now I am not perfect. I gave our parents and siblings the same sort of grief at some point in my life. But ever since then, I tried so hard to make up for it by taking good care of the house, helping out with the bills, and serving our parents. I know the pain I’ve caused was unforgivable so that’s why making the decision to move back home was an easy one for me to make. Absolutely, without any measure of doubt or hesitation, I would sacrifice my life for my family. If that meant taking the brunt of this abuse, so be it. I’d wear that target on my back willingly because I know it’s not my baby sister I am fighting with, it’s the spirit of hatred, resentment, and vengeance inside her that we need to vanquish.

Some people might dissuade me from posting this, but having spent half my life being afraid of what the world thinks of me, I realize that if we don’t stand up for ourselves, who else would? While I fear for the people judging my family unfairly and questioning how us children were raised, I can no longer hide behind this like it’s some dirty, shameful secret in our family. It is not my intention to throw my baby sister under the bus or play the victim card at all. I simply want to raise awareness that violence—in any way, shape, or form—is completely unacceptable. When “fighting fire with fire” is counterproductive and “fighting fire with love” is ineffective, the only thing that remains to be done is offering this entire situation up in prayer and surrendering them to God. Vengeance is His, so I should no longer have to worry about this, right? I’ve suffered enough, my family has suffered enough. It’s out of our hands now, so help me God!

Disclaimer: As I write this, I am reminded that my plight is inconsequential compared to others. Over the holidays, I found out that a former classmate’s brother was in a coma from a motorcycle accident and a former work colleague and friend’s father was suffering from another health crisis. I find myself tremendously blessed to have both my parents still with us and in relatively good health. Not to mention, some of my stuff had been found and returned safely. Silver lining indeed!

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A fleeting glimpse at a madwoman’s universe of mental chaos…