Missed missive (2) and other midnight musings

I was sorting through my Evernote archive, attempting to order hundreds of untitled fragments and unclassified notes, when I found the draft of a letter that I wrote for someone’s birthday, but that I suppose I’ll never send now. I forget so much, so that often, I scramble to pin down in words a passing moment, to still and frame the fleeting duration of a thought or impression. I started writing a letter months before I could give it, not realizing then how much I trusted that what I wished to say would not change, that the characters in my narrative would follow a familiar plot, that their bantering would go on, that they would want more of the same. Who gets blindsided? The naively structuralist over-read.

What to do with this fossil of a feeling? I could, I suppose, read the letter as if I wrote it for myself as a locus of my own affection — for if the radiance of attention is what tends love, then surely one can beam this light reflexively?

Missed missive (2):

Dear K,

In Tagalog, the word “giliw” and its adjectival and nominal iterations (“magiliw,” “kagiliw-giliw,” “kinagigiliwan”) denote tenderness and regard, gleam and grace, dearness and delight. I wish you the brightest of days, Giliw, who are one of the kindest, funniest, finest persons I know. This world, I find, seems lighter, more kagiliw-giliw, because you are.


(Alas, this will not do, for I cannot with any sincerity address this message to the self I know, haha. Guess I’ll just throw it away.)


Thought bubble while grooming my eyebrows one cold January morning and reflecting on a recent conversation and a line from Brenda Shaughnessy: It is in the nature of things to change (to move, to end, to die), and perhaps feelings are most mercurial and evanescent of all (a prime lesson of A Midsummer Night’s Dream!), but that doesn’t mean we are powerless to exert a stabilizing force on what is in flux (consider: promises and plans, codes of belief, customary practices, social institutions, dams that shore up rivers, the idea of a house and a family as home). When I say “I love…” I am not just expressing a feeling, I am making a commitment — that my statement of fact retains a claim to truth, because I am someone who likes to think I speak truths.


Dear one, not everyone tries to be so earnest.


Lately, I have taken to sitting in the dark as evening approaches midnight, gazing out the wall of glass in our 8th-floor hostel common room, searching the lit-up windows of surrounding residential towers (Siu Hong, Beneville, Fu Tai) for signs of life obscured by distance, laundry, and drapery.

A dressed-up memory of a conversation recorded one night four months past:

I say, in Hong Kong condominium lights replace stars.

I say, sometimes at night I sit by the window and watch other windows. I watch the movements of silhouettes. In one room, somebody is hanging washed underwear. In another, somebody is drawing the curtains close. Once, I think I saw the shadow of a man dancing. I watch how, one by one, the windows in the towers turn black, while a few stay lit through the night.

He says, it’s like art, isn’t it, this collection of figures living in boxes. When you look at them from afar.


Some nights, I am visited by old anxieties I try no longer to sit down and talk with, because the world’s problems are manifold and dire, I tend too much toward the comforts of solipsism, and I should rather be writing research-related thoughts. Fortunately, in the structures of my previous pieces I may rehearse the processing of stale sentiments, such as this, from four years ago: there is no need for longing.

Romance is rare and thus so rarefied, in the way we speak of it and act on it and think and think and think about it. We cling to it. I clung to it … and I am sick of it, its high highs and low lows, its lightness and weight, its bondage to the other. There is a gentler and more constant love that rises from self-regard, from the affection of family and friends, from consideration of the sky and trees and rocks and wind and sea, from the defense of beliefs and the pursuit of passions, from the appreciation of what is. This love is more grounded and free. And it is enough. I am saying it is enough, for me, now. There is no need for longing.

no need.jpg


Dear one, when will you acknowledge, in your heart of hearts, the banality of romance?

Ah, but that something is commonplace does not mean it has no value. We need air to live, don’t we?

Yes, but need is different from want, and I try to temper my desires, I disregard anyone who doesn’t want me.


Lately, I have taken to sitting in the dark as evening approaches midnight, gazing out the wall of glass in our 8th-floor hostel common room, singing lachrymose love songs in my mother tongue. I sing for no one (and I stop singing when somebody comes), only it pleases me to sail smoothly through refrains, hitting high notes without my voice breaking.

Your language is too neat, too poised, too polished, I’ve been told by literary editors and in writing workshops. I write the way I put on makeup: more artfully when I feel like shit.

Or: these days, when I meet a wild, messy, intractable feeling, especially when it is my own, I prefer not to hug or shake hands with it, but to mannerly move away.

move mannerly.jpg


Dear one, I’m afraid you are forgetting a lesson: that the articulation of feeling is not a demand or admission of weakness, but of the courage to accept vulnerability as a condition of strength.

Fine, but why rush into risk? “Having loved enough and lost enough, I am no longer searching, just opening, no longer trying to make sense of pain, but being a soft and sturdy home in which real things can land.” 

And you know what? The real things… the things that last… they wait for you. Sometimes that’s the only way I can tell if something’s real or not. I go real slow, and if it stays with me, I know it’s for real.

A toast, then! To the ceaseless striving for a cute and drama-free inner life! History already is too much with us; whatever it is of experience that may be isolated from history (and I do like to believe there is some part of our being that transcends the historical — call it spirit or soul, I’m a humanist at heart), one must take care also to isolate from needless pain. And so one learns — to discriminate between what is worth bruising for and what is not, to determine when to hold on and to let go.


Matapos basahin ang isang tula ni Richard Siken

Anong ninanasa? Pagsintang may lalim, lawak, lawig, at gaan, sapat para hikapin ang kalooban, lumangoy papalapit at papalayo, magbalik nang alam na may babalikan, at lumutang sa mga tingin at ngiti nang may kumpiyansang hindi pababayaang malunod.
May mga gabing bumabaling ang aking pansin sa aking pulso, at nadarama ko muli ang sakit ng ilang taon.
Isang araw aking nabatid na sa aming dalawa, ako lang ang kumakapit, kumapit, nang may pagtangi at pag-asa, sa kabila ng lahat ng pagod at lungkot, ilang beses mang mangawit. Bakit? Hindi kailangang parusahan ang sarili nang ganito. Isang araw, may masasakyang pag-ibig na maglalaan ng upuan, at hindi ako hahayaang sumabit lang.
Kung ako ay kanyang minahal, hindi ko alam.
Hanggang kailan ako magsusulat nang ganito?
Lagi kang mag-iisa, tapos ikaw ay mamamatay.” Ganoon lang ba ang buhay?
Kaginhawaan: paulit-ulit na uliting, “Ang lahat ay lumilipas, ang lahat ay may hangganan.”
Patawarin ang sariling labis na nagmahal. Patawarin siyang hinayaan kang magpatuloy nang ganito sa mahabang panahon. Damhin ang sakit nang hindi iniisip na ikaw lang ang nasasaktan, o na walang puwang para sa iyong kalungkutan sa mundong ito, kung saan nag-uumapaw ang hinagpis, walang kabuluhang dalamhati.
Pagbitaw bilang paglaya. Pag-iyak bilang paglaya. Maniwalang ang kinabukasan ay magdadala ng saya at hinahon.
Masyadong madamdamin ang tunog nitong mga pangungusap sa tabas ng sariling wika.

Wasn’t the point of moving out to move on?

… I wrote in one of my Tinyletters, dated 9 September 2015. The last Tinyletter I wrote, I mailed in May 2016, after which I vowed not again to make my writing an exercise in brooding and wallowing. The result has been, for me, a general withdrawal from rumination, which might explain why I have not been very sad for very long this past year, and why I hardly have been writing, if not for research. But I’m in a reflective mood tonight, for I recently moved out of the place I had called home for two years, and spent a few nights in the old house I had lived in and left before that.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend asked me why I moved so often, when I usually moved from place to place within a five-kilometer radius. Didn’t it tire me to never settle down? In the past seven years since I left my parents’, I have lived in five places, one in Manila and the rest in QC. I have never stayed in a place long enough to know my neighbors by name and not by their faces or by whatever bit roles they played in the mundane narrative of my daily life. Every year or so, I tend to move from one rented room to another in houses and dorms and apartment units around the university. Every move was of course self-determined, though not always thought through — some moves where dictated more by whim than any practical contingency. I think now that often what I wanted was not so much to be in one place rather than the other, but simply to move, and thereby feel, or delude myself into feeling, unattached, unaffected, in control. I told my friend, Well, life happened, and it just turned out that way.

From a Tinyletter I wrote, dated 31 August 2015:

I am sitting among empty shelves and drawers, and boxes and bags packed full. I am writing this in the big, airy room in the old house that for more than two years I have called headquarters, sometimes home. Two years is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere since I left my parents’ five years ago. In two days, I am leaving this place.

When the only thing I hear is the electric fan whirring, and the lights are all out like this, it is easy to think and rethink and damn my decision. Depending on how I look at it, what reasons I cite, I made the decision to move either three days or four months ago. I am still not convinced of its rightness or necessity, but when everything’s already in place — the books and clothes boxed, the ex-landlady and the new housemates notified, the car for the move secured, the final rent paid — there is no use second-guessing, there is only follow-through. I well know this, and yet I do second-guess, because I am moving out of fear, and knowing this, I feel like a quitter or a coward.

Generally, I fear stagnation, premature stunting, in this place that reeks of old age and disrepair, that echoes old times, old conversations, and the old’s fears. In this place I feel like I have been living many decades and know only languor. I can no longer accomplish work in my room, which I have come to associate with only dreaming, pining, crying, sleep.

Less generally, I fear that if I stay here longer, I will never unlove the boy who lives next door, not before he leaves me, not before he leaves me for somebody else, by which event I will be wrecked, as I know I will, if our strange friendship comes to that. I have given him so much of my time, my words, my hopes, my tears, my life. I am terrified by the certitude of my love and my desire to be with him as much as I am terrified by the uncertainty of what I really mean to him.

See, I do not like this sense of being stranded. I don’t like not knowing which way we’re headed. If I leave, at least I know which direction I’m going, even if I don’t yet know if I will like it there.

In a month, I will be moving again, this time to another country, where I will study for two years. When I visited my old landlady last week, she asked me why I was leaving, if I’d really thought it through. She asked me if I were not only escaping. Escaping from what, I asked, and she said, you know, alam mo na yan. It hurts, doesn’t it, she said. You’re afraid, aren’t you, she said. I don’t know what she suspects or knows, but in the two years I spent crying in that house, that day was the first time I shed a tear in the kitchen in front of her.

This time I am not leaving somewhere, but moving towards something, that I am sure of. What this something consists in may be another life — a different country, a different language, a different field of study, new friends, new habits, new thoughts and dreams — or perhaps simply a logical extension of the life I have built up to now. I am moving not out of fear, but excitement, an eagerness for the turn of the page. I am moving not to forget, but to remember, to always remember, and to learn.

I like to think that in the past two years, I have grown not only older — that I have also grown up.