and on this night and in this light, I think


The other night, as I listened to a friend recount One Love Affair and its heady intensities, it occurred to me how vaguely I remembered mine, despite spending at least two years writing about little else but that, and brooding about him for four. I remember: how we met and when and where, what the weather was like, and what our first conversation was about; the first books we gave each other as birthday presents (Milton’s Paradise Lost; Kennedy’s The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers); the bottle of wine I brought with my first of three confessions, the street where we lived, the events leading up to the day I got the word for a Greek virtue tattooed in red around my left wrist. Everything else, the small particularities, the comfortable banal activities that build up to adoration, now form sedimented knowledge: I loved him because he is a good man, because he is interesting and intelligent, responsible and driven, because we walked together and had many fine conversations, and it didn’t tire me to spend time with him. My mind, as I’ve observed, is a funny thing: I can well remember the things I’ve read (which helps with intertextual thinking and other nerdy operations), but my autobiographical memory is sketchy — what I don’t put down, I don’t remember, which is why I record all the time, and forget. What a luxury it is, to forget, knowing I have volumes of personal history archived, if I wanted to remember a time and a place and a feeling, but, well, when it comes to him, I don’t; I am quite happy now with my blurry recollections of a past in pastel hues, all pain excised from the picture — even if this misted impression prompts no interesting story.


Several weeks ago, my friend J. asked me, What’s the most wonderful thing that’s happened to you? I thought for a while and answered, One morning, I woke up after eight days of diarrhea, and found that I no longer felt like crying for hours every day after nine straight months of going through just that.

Do you think your depression had to do with him? another friend asked the other night.

Who knows? I grew up depressive, but I seem to be better now — I’m generally careful to get enough sleep, to eat clean, to exercise every day, to walk among trees and soak in sunlight, to mind my thoughts, to never again let any one person take up so much heart- and mind-space as to threaten my precious sanity.


John Berger, in And our faces, my heart, brief as photos (1984)“Human happiness is rare. There are no happy periods, only happy moments. But happiness is precisely a generalized pleasure. And the state of happiness can be defined by an equation whereby, at that moment, the gift of one’s well-being equals the gift of the existent.”


I used to dread the future, the sense that I’m barreling into a space of essential uncertainty. Alternatively: I used to dread the future, the sense of certainty that I would never be bereft of my existential sadness (or of my tendency toward solipsism). But there’s no way around it — life is contingency. Now I am simply thankful for the passage of time, how it reaves the attachments I latch onto, how it teaches me what I can do without. I am learning to trust time and its processes of accumulation and loss, to be open to what comes, to cherish the good that stays (while it stays), to let go of what leaves me, to keep a space of quietness where I can gently breathe.


On this day three years ago, I created a Tinyletter account and “sent letters” to my friends (though they were all really written for myself), every day for maybe half a year. I never reread what I wrote there.




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.