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One dream in the process of fulfillment!

Just recently I wrote a list of hopes and dreams that helped define what I wanted out of life. It made me realize that a huge part of what made me happy was appreciating and creating beauty, which was why photography made it into the list. Well, guess what? There must be some truth to the folk wisdom that says writing things down helps them become reality, because for the past month I’ve been busy learning and exploring my new Nikon D3100. It’s more fun than I ever expected it to be, and the sense of wistfulness I always feel whenever I experience something beautiful is lessened with a camera in my hands. If I can capture something in a photograph, then that moment will never be lost or forgotten, and I can take others inside my memory and share what I’ve seen. It’s an incredible thrill.

It’s also a challenge. I’ve never been a gadget enthusiast. I have a five-year-old ASUS netbook that still runs on Windows XP, a Nokia cellphone with a huge blot in the middle of the LCD, and a 500 gigabyte external hard drive that makes mysterious clicking noises every now and then. And I’m completely okay with these things, though more than one of my techie friends have given me looks of mingled horror and laughter upon seeing the ridiculous state of my electronics. But now that I’m getting into photography, I realized that my blend of ignorance and indifference might keep me terribly limited. A modern SLR camera is a complex piece of technology, and if I can’t maximize its potential, then I might as well have stayed with my little point-and-shoot. And then there are lenses, software, lighting equipment, and so on (I mean, who knew there are actually debates about which kind of memory card is the best? A memory card is a memory card to me: blue and plastic and annoyingly easy to forget that I’ve left it in the computer)…until I’m just about ready to take up painting instead. However, my utter lack of talent with a brush or even crayons compels me to pick up the camera manual once again, then put it down in exasperation, and turn to Google for an explanation written in real-person language, not the incomprehensible jargon that the good folks at Nikon would have me believe is English. Thank God for free online tutorials, is all I can say.

Aside from the technical aspect, I am sometimes intimidated by how far I still have to go. The thing about being a bookworm is that I tend to gobble up information as fast as I can get it on whatever subject I’m interested in, which sometimes leads to overload and the frustrating awareness of how very much I still have to learn. (The more I know, the more I know how little I actually know, if that makes sense.) Then there’s the pleasure/torment of looking at the works of photographers I admire and wondering if I’ll ever make it to that level of artistry. I shared this piece of insecurity to a friend who’s a really talented photographer, and he responded with this insight:

I realized that he’s right, and that I need to be patient with myself. Photography is like writing, where you have to gradually find your own voice, and though I’ve been writing for most of my life, I know the journey’s far from over. I’m simply enjoying the process when it comes to writing, so I’ll try to apply the same attitude to photography and take it one click at a time. As an amateur, I may not turn out the best photos the world has ever seen, but it’s all about experiencing beauty, and that doesn’t require credentials, a portfolio, or even the most cutting-edge technology. Just open eyes and a willingness to see the world in a new way. I have those in abundance, and I know it’s gonna be fun.

My first DSLR 🙂

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Idle thoughts and infinite worlds

Have you ever heard of the many-worlds theory? In 1957, a scientist named Hugh Everett III asked a question:

What if space and time are arranged so that every possible outcome exists somewhere?

Imagine. You flip a coin. While it is up in the air, two logical outcomes co-exist: heads or tails. The moment it lands, only one potential is fulfilled, say heads. What happens to the other potential?

Everett posits that the universe splits in two, creating a reality where the coin lands on tails, and takes it from there, building an alternate history where the only different thing, at first, is the outcome of a coin toss.

Just imagine. An infinite number of worlds where every possibility is realized, someplace, sometime.

This made me think about you (as if I needed an excuse to think about you).

In one universe, we never would have met. We would have  gone through our lives, perfectly content to not have each other, happy with whoever else is there.

In another, we would have broken each other’s hearts. You and I would’ve been granted a chance, until we lose it somehow.

And somewhere, in a magical corner of space and time, we would have found each other heart-whole before anyone else, and you would have been my first love, and I would have been yours, with no one to come between us.

Yet here I am, and here you are. In this world, we found each other with histories, with scars. We found each other at the end of a long road littered with mistakes, with faith severely shaken.

But the important thing is that we found each other. The important thing is that here you are, and here I am, and by some miracle of grace, we are together. No matter how broken this world is, no matter how imperfect, I will take it over any paradise that doesn’t include you. In any world in any universe, I bless the path that leads to you.

Crayons and Pens

When I was a kid, I loved to draw. You know those eight-year-old artistic prodigies, whose creative genius defies the limitations of their youth and blows society’s expectations right out of the water? Yeah, I wasn’t one of those. In fact, I was objectively terrible. Some of the other kids managed to color lightly and evenly, but I gripped those crayons tight and pushed them eagerly onto the paper as if the extra energy could make the colors brighter and prettier somehow. Mostly it just made things messier, but I didn’t mind. I was a child, and the wonderful thing about being a child is the ability to enjoy an activity whether or not you’re good at it. So I enjoyed the heck out of those crayons, filling notebook after notebook with drawings and scribbles. I had this hobby of keeping lists of favorite words, and some of the ones I liked the most I tried to illustrate, taking delight in capturing the nuances of “exquisite” with a lopsided yellow, pink, and green butterfly. I’d carry my notebook and crayons around with me, my favorite toys instead of the dolls and kitchen play sets that my little sister liked. Those clumsy drawings of beautiful words were my idea of fun, even though I never showed them to anyone.

Then I grew up, and the uncomplicated pleasure of drawing was forgotten when I learned how important it was to be excellent in whatever you choose to do. In high school, I had several classmates who were incredibly artistic, and I was content with admiring their talent while focusing on my own skills. I wrote more, realizing that it was something that came naturally to me, and drove myself to be better. The more I learned, the more I became aware of how very far I still have to go.

Most of the time, that awareness is a really good thing, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. However, since I realized that writing is something I’d like to do seriously, not just as a hobby, I’ve been racked with insecurity. Freelancing and ghostwriting jobs are fine, as they don’t really require personal vulnerability, but creative writing? The kind of writing I long to do won’t let me play it safe when it comes to emotional commitment. And I worry that even if I find the courage, my skill might not be up to the task of creating something worth publishing. Suddenly it’s not just about self-expression and storytelling, but about gaining the public’s approval. And it paralyzes me.

It’s wrong; I know it’s wrong. The best books I’ve ever read were those written honestly, bravely, with no thought to critics, awards, or sales. As a reader I know when courage and truth are on the page, and when gimmicks and crowd-pandering are used as substitutes. No matter how excellent the technique, the first fires me up while the second leaves me cold. I know which kind of writing I want to do.

I need inspiration. I need to remind myself of the simple pleasure of doing something and not thinking about how others might respond. Excellence is important, yes, and I will pursue it all my life. But it’s no substitute for heart. It’s no substitute for finding joy in creativity in itself without worrying that I’m not as talented as others are. No matter what I do, there will always be someone who can do it better. It doesn’t mean I should stop doing  what I love. I need to remember this.

So I think I should buy myself some crayons. I’ll get the biggest box with seven shades of every color, the nostalgic smell of wax, and memories of uncomplicated joy. I haven’t done this in years and I’m sure I’ll be as bad at drawing as ever, but who cares? I’ll go draw myself some words.

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List of Dreams

I need a little cheering up today, so I thought I’d update my list of dreams and desires. The last time I did this was seven years ago, when I was just starting this blog. Today, I feel the need to remind myself to hope. So here goes:

  • Learn to bake. I feel like it’s one of those things that indulges all the senses. With all the scents and textures and colors, the process itself seems like a feast for the senses even before the first bite of the finished cake.
  • Plant my dream garden. This is a crystal-clear vision that I’ve had all my life. Even in my grade school journals, there are pages and pages of drawings about how I want it to look. There will be big, shady trees with mossy trunks, wooden benches with ferns growing underneath, and lots of flowers that fill the air with scent. I want it to be lush, unruly, and magical.
  • Write a book about Cuyonon folktales and legends, before they’re forgotten. That means I need to become fluent in the language first so that I could talk with the island’s lolos and lolas who still remember the old stories. I also want to do the same for Pala’wan folklore.
  • Explore the Philippines. First on the list: Batanes in the far north. I’ve come to imagine it as my country’s own version of the Shire. After the Philippines, I want to see the rest of the world. There’s so much curiosity inside me.
  • Live in a bahay kubo-inspired house, with a stained glass window. I know those two architectural aesthetics don’t really go together, but the house should fit in naturally with the garden, and I have daydreams of lying on a couch with a book while the late afternoon sun throws patterns of colored light on the floor through the window.
  • Become a photographer. A really good one.  It’s a way to make fleeting moments of beauty last a little longer. It’s a way of remembering not to take them for granted.
  • Make writing my main job. This is actually terrifying. I don’t know if I’m good enough, or if I’ll earn enough, or get enough people to read me. There are so many risks, and I have so much yet to learn. Still, I can’t think of anything more satisfying than making a living by following my passion.
  • Start a library for kids. I want to fill it with books that made me fall in love with reading when I was a child. So many Filipino children never learn how wonderful books can be simply because they don’t have access to any, except for their textbooks (some public schools in impoverished areas don’t even have that). It’s heartbreaking. I don’t have money, connections, or expertise for such a big project, just a lot of desire. So much that I actually already have a list of titles I want to put on the shelves.
  • Build a tree house. I want one where I can spread a mat on the floor and listen to wind chimes, watch the sky changing colors with the sunset, and bask in the fragrance of orchids on the tree branches.

In making this list, I’m getting a clearer picture of my desires. I want a creative, risky life.  I want adventure, quiet moments, and an abundance of beauty around me. The world of nine-to-five jobs offers more security, but the more I try to make myself fit into it, the more I feel trapped and frustrated and inadequate. I don’t know how to do this. The life I planned for since I was in high school, the life my loved ones would be reassured to see me living, feels strange on my skin. It’s someone else’s life, and I keep failing in it. But I still don’t know if I’m ready to give up trying.

One of my “practice shots” which I took with a point-and-shoot mini digital camera. It was so much fun. Can’t wait to try this with a real one.

A snapshot in time

It was supposed to be a simple hello. Late afternoon, he was standing on the field of the Sunken Garden in UP Diliman, tall and dark and strong. I called his name, and he turned to me, giving that little half-smile that older guys seem to do so well. Not that he was that much older, though sometimes it felt like more than five years stood between us. Among our group of college friends from our hometown, he was the kuya and I, being a naïve freshman newly arrived in the city, was treated like everyone’s little sister.

But that afternoon, none of the others were there, and he stood alone under the windy sky. I walked towards him, meaning to give a warm hello, chat a little, maybe ask if our other friends were going to show up. But something changed as I came closer. The wind playing with my dress and tossing my hair as I walked, the afternoon light falling on his shoulders as he waited for me to approach, even the smell of newly mown grass made every step seem breathtaking. Significant.

He stretched out his arm, and I put my hand in his when I was near enough. He pulled me closer, slowly, and I lifted my face up to touch my cheek to his. It was just a friendly gesture, nothing more, a customary hello that I’d given to countless others.  But there was…something. A thrill, a current. Like for a moment we had stepped into a story, where we were different people in a different time.

Then we said hello, and the spell broke. Our friends came, we played frisbee, normality returned. In a movie, perhaps it would’ve been the start of a lovestory, with a soundtrack by Jason Mraz. But this was real life. We settled back into our roles, though sometimes I would look at him and wonder if that moment really happened. If he felt it, too, if he remembered. Because that memory stayed with me, and whenever his name pops up in my newsfeed, I remember him not as an old college friend, but as a man standing tall under the windswept sky, reaching out his hand to a girl.

As time went by, I realized that it wasn’t really about him, or me, or the two of us together. That memory had power because it reminded me that there are stories beneath our ordinary lives—possibilities—and now and then we’ll get a glimpse, but we still have to choose which ones we want to live. I had a glimpse of something and chose to leave it behind, but I don’t think it’s either happy or sad. It just is.

This post was a response the “face to face” Red Writing Hood prompt from Write on Edge.

It feels like it’s been standing there forever, watching over the world.

There’s this tree on top of a hill beside a road in a small town, and I miss it.

I was there only once, with a bunch of friends, but at odd moments during that windy, cloudy afternoon of laughing and picnicking and mad scrambling to get up on the branches, I sometimes felt like the tree and I were alone.

It reminded me of a place where I was happy as a child. Another hilltop, another small town, with friends I haven’t seen in a while, and one I never will again. But it wasn’t just nostalgia that drew me to that place. It was the tree itself.

It was beautiful. Standing on the horizon, it kept its solitary vigil over the hill and the road and the village, and the sea beyond it, keeping steady through the wind and rain and burning sun.  The world changed from dark to light and cold to warmth, yet still it stood. Constant, immovable, strong.

I want to be like that. I want to be steadfast and strong and constant, reaching higher while growing deeper as well. Sometimes, I feel like I’m too much at the mercy of the seasons, too small and fragile to do anything during the storms other than hide and hope I’m still here when it’s over. Too afraid. That’s not how  I want to live. That’s not how I’m meant to live.

It’s been windy and cloudy this past couple of days, and my thoughts are on that hilltop. I miss that tree.

I wonder if trees miss people, too.

A tribute to real men

Here’s to men who are worthy of the name. Men who move, who take responsibility, who refuse to be passive. Men who’d rather do it right than take the easy way out or play it safe.

Here’s to men who can fight courageously and give in gracefully, who can stand up for their rights and the rights of those who are weaker, and just as willingly say “I was wrong.”

Here’s to men who can live in the moment, yet also forego temporary gratification for the sake of something more important. Men who know what’s important.

Here’s to men who are strong, passionate, brave, and honorable, men whose hearts are alive.

There are boys, guys, dudes, and blokes, and then there are those who are MEN.

If you are one of them, you are rare.

You stand head and shoulders above the rest and you give me hope.

Here’s to you.