‘I open at the close’: 2013 recap, 2014 resolutions

2013 Recap

There are many words to describe 2013, depending on what part of the world you live in and what language you speak and how old you are and what the goddamn weather must be like over there. I’m going to choose “humbling.”

2013 was first and foremost humbling for me because it was the year I got lost–really, truly, spiritually lost. I think that’s what standing at the intersection of a bazillion roads for the first time in your life will do to you. When all of your flaws stare right back at you in the mirror, and worse, in the very work you do (like how, after all this time, I still struggle with such a little thing as time management). I could not have gotten through it without the help of family, friends, my boyfriend, the act of writing, and Zen Pencils.

It was also the year I experienced some intense disappointments. Not getting to march with my boyfriend on graduation day. Not getting to go to Tacloban on assignment, after all. The slowness of government response with regard to disaster relief efforts, as well as the giant circus following the Pork Barrel scandal. That for all the power to change the world my school told us we possessed upon graduating, there was so very little any of us could do in those first few days after the super typhoon. Those are the only things I can think of at the top of my head at the moment, what with all the things I have to be grateful for, but I know there was much more.

There were also plenty of rejections, both of my work and of me in general, and far too much writing advice–most of it unhelpful, most of it disillusioning.

People walked in and out of my life, as well. But thankfully, those who walked in far outnumbered those who walked out. And those who walked out eventually helped me to see that my life is like bonsai tree–some branches need to be cut in order for it to thrive.

I think I got more cynical about the world this year, too, having discovered that much of it is run by idiots and psychopaths.

But it was also the year that I began to embody what I had realized sometime during my stint in college: out there, in reality, you have to build everything from the ground up. From sheer scratch, because no one is going to lift you on their shoulders every step of the way.

So I started this blog and sent out a few stories for publication and got into journalism as my first-ever job because I figured that if I can’t travel the world trying to learn things just yet, then journalism is the closest I’ll get.

I started taking Zumba classes at work because for the longest time, I used to dream of being able to dance without being afraid of people laughing at me, plus I wanted to comfortably fit in some of my old clothes again. (And it’s working!)

I finished my thesis of one novella and five short stories, and thus graduated. I met a ton of new people and thus saw new perspectives–and I daresay made a few friends out of some of them.

I finally got to visit Mindanao for the first time ever, specifically Davao and Iligan, and met up with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while.

And while there were plenty of rejections and too much unhelpful writing advice, I think I’m finally figuring out how to tune all that out.

Made my first-ever professional sale (coming out next year!), and other writing-related triumphs that came to me at the close of the year, like Ann and Jeff VanderMeer retweeting my review of Wonderbook (eeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!)–proving that 2013 for me is like the resurrection stone opening up for Harry in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Honed new habits and tried to get back into old hobbies (I don’t remember the last time I colored a drawing or held a violin).

And learned that, while the fools are in power, so many others who make up the foundations of that power are incredibly kind. These are the people who understand that it is the differences that make each person unique and that it is the similarities that bind us together. The world needs more people like those people, preferably also in the seat of government. It occurred to me in 2013 that perhaps it is the duty of such people to be no-nonsense against all the ignorance and hate in this world, to be the opposing force of something that perhaps has become the default for all humanity.

The point is, 2013 taught me that you learn to take in the disappointment and pain with the successes, and somehow move on with that mix. But you never, ever forget how it feels. I think that’s where art begins.

2014 Resolutions

Okay, so 2014 and I got off on the wrong foot. I went to bed at 3 a.m. and officially woke up at around 8 a.m. because my poor dogs were cowering in the room I share with my sister and I also had to go to work at 1 p.m. But I happened to have taken away from 2013 the fact that the wrong foot can always be corrected, whether that means putting down the other foot and adapting to the new direction or pausing for a few moments to get the timing and steps right.

So here are 14 resolutions I can muster enough hope for in my groggy state, ranging from writing to organization to health (and a few things out of place here and there). I figured I ought to make one solely about writing, but Chuck Wendig’s 2013 resolution and the 2014 edition are already good enough guidelines to remember.

  • Lose the belly fat. 
  • Read at least 25 books.
  • Finish a short story every month and send them out.
  • Review movies immediately after watching them. 
  • Write about things that scare me or make me cringe. 
  • Marathon the Lord of the Rings trilogy without doing something else at the same time.
  • Travel to some place in the Philippines with my own money.
  • Finish editing articles in an hour.
  • Hug my family more.
  • Learn driving again.
  • Eat less junk food.
  • Put some money separate from my savings away.
  • Dust and re-arrange the books on my shelf.
  • Blog more.

Happy New Year, one and all!

Letters from the end of the storm

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The other day, I was drowning in work. Every time I finished one task, one of the higher ups had something else to do for me to do. It appeared as if my to-do list wasn’t going to shrink any time soon.

To make things worse, a friend of mine who is doing her graduate studies in Creative Writing in the UK contacted me and asked me what my post-graduate plans were. After I filled her in, she began to give me some very realistic advice—of course, realistic usually translates to “depressing.” I was up at 3am looking for more grad school options; even though that talk made me even sadder, I was unhindered by talk of competitiveness.

And then something happened the following day that reminded me that the universe has a funny way of laying down signs for you. For the first time in forever, I received snail mail: one was a postcard from that same friend who spoke to me about grad school, sent from Prague. The other was an information packet from one of my grad school options, sent all the way from the US, which I’d forgotten I ever sent for.

There is something very comforting and exciting about seeing a strong desire of yours take on a physical form, even in the shape of a rather large information packet. If I went nuts over reading it, imagine how I’d be when it’s something like an acceptance letter between my hands.

I don’t have to go to grad school next year, or even the year after that. But somehow I’ve shown myself the extent I’m determined to go. So go I shall, someday.

Sometimes, all you need is something to look forward to.

A poem, a speech, a haze of doubt, and the importance of darkness

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and thought long and hard.

It took me six months to realize that all the changes, all the fear and sadness I’d unknowingly tried to deny to myself—all of it were symptoms of growing pains, of adjustment pains.

While it derailed me from what I thought were fool-proof writing plans, I wouldn’t take back these months for the world. I’ve met a handful of very interesting people, got rid off some that I didn’t need in my life, read some books I’ve put off reading for two years (such as Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing), and I’ve begun at and continue to adjust to my first job ever.

So all right, I go home at 10pm for four days a week and I have to file a leave for any holidays I wanna take. I sit for eight or nine hours in front of a Samsung LCD screen whose brightness I have yet to learn how to lower. But I also get to watch movies and plays, read books, and attend cool events for free, just so long as I write about them afterward.

And best of all, when I’m in between editing articles, I can browse the internet for inspiring comics and speeches. In fact, that’s all I’ve been reading of late (that isn’t for work, anyway), and it’s this sort of thing that helped get me through really rough times.

I’d like to highlight this illustrated version of “The Winds of Fate” by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite poets), and the part in J.K. Rowling’s speech about having worked for Amnesty International for her first job.

What “The Winds of Fate” is getting at is that it is one’s inner strength that determines one’s path in life, in spite of and not because of the obstacles one encounters. I love rereading this every once in a while, when I feel as if the new arrangements in my life are threatening to crush me and turn me into the overly-cautious, impervious-to-amazement adult I loathe and would loathe to become. I’ll get back to this poem later, but here’s my favorite part of it.

‘Tis the set of the soul
That sets its goal
And not the calm or the strife.

One of the best parts of J.K. Rowling’s speech was the part talking about her experiences at Amnesty International, just before she hit rock-bottom in her life. It struck several cords in me: the part about life experience and human nature and the part about hitting rock-bottom.

Okay, this part’s going to sound completely contradictory to my first couple of paragraphs, but bare with me here. See, I’m in my early twenties and I’ve just begun my grown-up life, but I’m already afraid of going to such a dark place even though I’ve already been to dark places—I think I might be afraid that that sort of dark place will be different from the darkness I know, and worse, I won’t be able to get out. (But that’s where “The Winds of Fate” come in, right?)

My mom said that if I am already thinking about that, then perhaps the job I’ve got isn’t the job for me. Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but I am sticking with it for the time being because journalism seems to be the fastest way to gain life experience, of which I think I have too little of (and which is the key to good literature, even if it is in the vein of the fantastic, and the writing of which is the underlying shade behind all my decisions). That’s how Neil Gaiman worked his way around the publishing industry, after all.

My only other option regarding life experience is to travel (like, town to town and country to country kind of travel), but I need to save maybe a shitload of money for that on top of my grad school dreams. That does not mean I’ve completely put it out of my mind, however.

How do some people do it? How do they decide to just up and leave all that is safe, all that is known, and with what seems like enough money to burn, for dreams that may trip them up at every step? I truthfully cannot even say to myself that I will one day do just that without a few uncertain hiccups. Maybe everyone who has ever thought of that kind of life has been through this haze of doubt I am almost blind in.

But back to Rowling. What her speech is telling me is that there must be hardship before a victory, and there must always be hardship while continuing to bag one victory after the other. There must be glimpses (sometimes more than a glimpse) of the deepest horrors and highest joys of human nature before you can pull a glinting something out of the jumbled melting pot in your soul and lay it bare on the blank page.

There must be darkness before light. Sometimes that’s difficult to remember, but it’s as good a bedrock as any on which to build my life.

In the beginning, there was only darkness. God looked upon it and decided there would be light—maybe not now, maybe not tomorrow, but there will be light.

There will be light.