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.

in the mood for blowing water


One rainy morning, in the common room of the 8th floor of Hall G, a girl I shared the washroom with asked me if she could join me at the table for tea. She said her name was R., that she was from Pakistan, that she was also in her first year of MPhil studies, researching on the social psychology of driving behaviors. This, I have long noted, is de rigueur for introductions by research postgraduate students: Name, Research Topic, Institution, maybe Country of Origin, though some tend to state their research topics first. Finally she asked, How have you been adjusting to life in Hong Kong? I said, Just fine, and you? And she talked about being culture-shocked: the weather, the language, the food, the customs, the people are alien to her. Isn’t it so for you?

Cantonese is an incomprehensible tongue, but signage is written in English too. While I do not eat pork, so common in Chinese cuisines, dimsum and noodles are familiar to me. Like Hong Kongers, I bathe and wash my hair at least once a day and do not throw tissue paper into the toilet. Hot, humid weather and strong typhoons are part of our lifeworld in my country that’s one of the most vulnerable to climate change. I’d already made a few local friends before coming to live here, since I studied for a short while at this university before. What I am not quite adjusting to, but simply accepting: the searing heat, the briskness and efficiency and orderliness of Hong Kong people, their careful attention to and observance of rules that actually make sense (there’s effective governmentality for you). In Hong Kong, I wouldn’t think of jaywalking, or eating in the bus or the train. I celebrate the convenience afforded by the Octopus card, though I rue the difficulty of finding scented rubbing alcohol (70% isopropyl, with tea tree extract and moisturizer), sweet crunchy peanut butter, a French press.


My parents decided to fly with me to HK and stay here for a few days. They wanted to see my university, do some sightseeing around Central, a little shopping in Mong Kok. We spent a day in Tuen Mun, an evening in Tsim Sha Tsui, an afternoon in Ocean Park. I wanted to take them to Victoria Peak, but then Typhoon Hato struck. We spent more time watching TV and ordering room service in the hotel than going around. And that was fine, they said, because what they wanted more than to go around was to spend time with me. As they left, my father handed me a couple of hundred-dollar bills. Make sure you go home in December, he said. He knows too well my penchant for leaving, for being away. But as I grow older, I wonder if I weren’t catching a quaint yearning for home—not just a headquarters, or a base camp, but a fixed, certain state or place, a compass of meaning, a stable point of return—to a house perhaps, or to a person or persons. I am getting older, my parents are aging too fast, I will likely die alone.


Don’t think of moving to Hong Kong as departure, a friend said to me. Think of it as transferring to another city, like Makati, from QC. After all, Hong Kong is just a little over two hours away from Manila. Baguio is even farther in terms of travel time.

But I like to think of it as departure, actually, to have a greater sense of narrative leap, of plot or character development, between departure and return. I have been getting so very bored.

What I watched, stuck in a room during the height of Hato, when T10 was hoisted in Hong Kong for the first time since 2012: Wong Kar-Wai’s Chungking Express (1994) and In the Mood for Love (2000). They’re the kind of films that are so well-composed and visually stunning (cinematography by Christopher Doyle), I wanted to screenshot every frame. I didn’t manage that, but here are a few stills:

















I’d write a meditation on love, betrayal, missed chances, and time, but I’ve been avoiding thinking about such poignant fancies (as I am, as you know, wont to do). Maybe the briskness of this place is ideal for me; even when watching In the Mood for Love, I do not feel like indulging in melancholy.