Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My Thing With Money

One funny thing about the worldwide economic crisis (yes, I actually found one thing) is that I find I am as unruffled about it as, I imagine, Warren Buffett. And all because I occupy the opposite extreme of the material wealth spectrum: while Mr. Buffett floats high above the hullabaloo on account of his being the second richest man in the world (second to his close friend Bill Gates) with a net worth of $41 billion, I am swimming waaaay below the ugly debris on clear blue waters on account of my being the second poorest to—oh, I don’t know--the sewer rat?

It’s not something I’m particularly proud of, even if it may come off that way. But, you know, I am very careful to refrain from self-pitying thoughts because I do live in a very poor country. Which means that, much as I can’t afford certain things at the moment (like a Chai Latte at Coffee Bean), there are many, many people—millions, in this country--who can barely afford to feed their family. That picture in my head usually steers me away from the door marked This Way to Complete and Utter Despair.

That’s why I don’t. Despair, that is. I don’t despair the fact that I have no bank account, no savings, no insurance, no credit card, no regular income and that I’ve been mooching off my parents for the past year. In fact, I take an almost perverse pleasure and a weird sense of achievement that I am actually bereft of the things I supposedly cannot live without. My life has been pretty basic but I am very grateful that I do have what I need right now: I eat three meals a day, I have my own room, I have family to share things with and who by now know enough when to leave me alone, I can write in peace. 

Food, space, company, solitude, a form of expression—sounds good to me. I want to say I’m doing fine, that I’m actually quite content, but I’m almost sure no one is going to believe me (No credit card? Come on, how can you be content?) I’m thinking, If I were not me right now, I wouldn’t believe me, either. So I won’t even try to convince anyone here.

I just want to marvel at how I got to this point--the point where money has little to no say in the decisions of my life.

It’s not that I hate money or that I’m afraid of it, as a friend once assumed. I just suspected it was overrated, over-hyped, like sex with a Latino lover (not that I’ve had one—I promise to get back to you on that when I’ve had that experience. Oh, that would be so nice…). 

Anyway, like I said, it was just a suspicion. There was just something about how people tended to go on and on about how things weren’t possible without money—lots of it—that made me question its supposed overwhelming power. I know it’s important—I won’t take that away from money—but I felt that people were giving it way too much importance, assigning it such a central role in their lives that I just didn’t think it deserved. People were waiting for it—via a winning lotto ticket, a one-time-big-time deal, an “unexpected” windfall—with the ardor of the faithful awaiting the Second Coming of the Messiah, as if to deliver them from the “quiet desperation” and monotony of their lives. “As soon as I have the money…”, “Magkapera lang ako…” I hear people—smart, educated ones—say all the time, as if only by the arrival of The Money can their lives finally begin.

I couldn’t buy into that thinking because, for one, I was impatient to begin my life. I didn’t want to have to wait to become a millionaire to start writing my books, making my films, staging my plays, traveling to all those countries I wanted to visit. I wanted to start doing all those things NOW. Not later, not after I’ve worked my way up the corporate ladder or saved a sizable amount of money or raked in returns from investments. Now.

I was gripped by a sense of urgency, by a painful awareness of time’s passing, to bother so much with whether or not I had enough material resources. There was so much I wanted to do and I was aware that I was given exactly the same number of hours a day as everyone else. While I could negotiate or work harder and longer for more money, these strategies just didn’t work with time. There was just no way to make more of it. The only realistic thing, actually, was to make the most of it. It became pretty clear to me that between time and money, the former was just infinitely more valuable, if only for the fact that it was non-renewable—once it was gone, it was gone forever.

I decided early on that I was going make the most of this valuable time, to spend it only on things that mean something to me. Which meant that, if I could think of five other things I’d rather be doing, no matter how much I was getting paid to do whatever it was I was supposed to be doing at the moment, then I’d just drop the whole thing.
And so it seemed (or seems), to my friends and family, that I didn’t—or still don’t--care about money, that I dismiss it, that I am not realistic or grounded enough to bother with it. Which just isn’t true. I do know money is valuable—I mean, how else am I able to pay for my books, my travels, my movies, my tea, my, um, bikini wax? It’s just scary how people have confused it to be the most valuable thing, how they’ve ceded so much of their own personal power to it, driving themselves to the ground for it. 

I’ve seen how easy it is to be paralyzed by a lack of money, to believe that nothing worthwhile can be achieved without it—and it was an idea that I just couldn’t ram down my throat. My mind and my whole body strongly resisted this notion. I wanted to know for sure whether my suspicion about money’s overblown sense of importance was true, and the only way to know that was to go and live my life with it only on the sidelines, kicking it out of the way as much as I could.
Of course, I may have overdone it. (No bank account, no savings, no insurance, no credit card, no regular income…Ok, so I have overdone it.) But I just needed to make sure that money was in its proper place in my life, that it played a supporting role in it rather than the lead, that it wasn’t front and center. I needed to make sure I was calling the shots, telling it what it can do for me instead of the other way around. In that sense, I can say I was successful. Very, very successful. I had systematically removed myself from the complex financial network, where I felt like a fly trapped in a spider's web--left the world of the regular job and its regular pay, cut my credit card as soon as I paid off all my debts, stopped paying for my insurance altogether (never mind if everyone said it was sayang), closed my bank account. Financial crisis, you say? Shouldn’t one have finances, to begin with?

There is another thing, too: Sometimes, I think people use money as a scapegoat—a convenient thing to point a finger at when their courage fails them. They can hide behind “Kailangan kasi kumita, eh” for not doing the things they dream of doing. It seems more acceptable, I guess, than “Takot kasi ako’ng sumemplang, eh."

This is not to say I am above being driven by fear. My friend Cecilia, fond of trying to read people, declared to me once, after fixing me with the unsettling penetrating stare of a manghuhula, “You don’t have any fears.” She sounded awestruck. I said, “Everyone has fears, Cecilia” as my mind quickly ran through its “Fear” file. Then she gasped, and I could almost see the light bulb switch on above her head. “Money!” Her eyes grew large and questioning. “You’re afraid of…money? Why?”

I explained to her that it wasn’t money I was afraid of—that it was people’s perception of money that scared me. It was so potent, I worried it might infect me one day. Later that night, I dug deeper than that and realized that my real fear was the idea that, if I wasn’t vigilant enough, something—including money--could actually hold me back, could keep me from going after the things that I want. I was afraid of being weighed down, of feeling trapped in a certain kind of life the way I had seen it happen with other people just because they bought into the notion that they absolutely cannot live without certain things. And that fear was strong enough to make me hack away at potential shackles around my feet.

The first to go, as it happened, was money.  

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

That Damn Vampire Movie

I’m perhaps one of two people in the world who hasn't read Twilight. (The other one being my dad). At least, that’s how it felt to me yesterday when he and I found ourselves in a theatre full of 12- and 13-year-old female fans of the book series, the first of which has been turned, ala Harry Potter, into a blockbuster movie. The girls were squealing, writhing in their seats and clutching one another in impossible-to-suppress kakiligan. My dad would laugh out loud every time they did that. These kids knew all the characters; they whispered their names in recognition the second a new character appeared onscreen. It was as if we had stumbled into a book club, except that the book was projected onscreen.

Much as I would have wanted to keep my been-there older-woman composure, it was hard not to be carried away by the highly charged youthful romantic energy in the darkened theatre. I was with girls who had probably not been kissed yet (although I wouldn’t really delude myself about that) or, at least, have not yet had their heart stomped on, kicked around and left in the dust by a heard of African elephants; their greatest loves—and the attendant greatest heartbreaks--were still ahead of them. They were still at that stage where everything is possible—yes, even the idea that they could be swept off their feet by a gorgeous, brooding vampire who would be heroic for them. Before I knew it, I was squealing along with the girls, clutching my dad’s arm whenever I got sooo kilig, aaaaaaah!--and he was laughing at me.

Throughout dinner last night, I couldn’t help dissolving into fits of kilig-induced girly giggles, causing the grown-ups (my dad, my mom, my sister) around the table to give me pointed looks. But even as my body was shaking with giggles and the grin on my face was beginning to make my face hurt, I was thinking, What’s going on? Have I perhaps lost it? I felt like…ah, shet. I felt like a fucking teenager.

In an attempt to shake off the excess romantic teenager vibe I seemed to have carried with me out of the cinema, I popped a “grown-up” DVD into the player—Then She Found Me, a movie written, directed and starred in by Helen Hunt, who plays a 39-year-old woman whose husband leaves her. I thought, OK, that should sober me up with a dose of reality.

But, no.

Soon after her husband (Matthew Broderick) leaves her, a stressed-out yet utterly adorable single dad (Colin Firth) comes into the picture. And so there I was again, screeching and writhing and kicking in my seat like a freak—Aaaaaaah, he’s so cuuuuute! I had no excuse this time. There were no more teenaged girls around me. I had to face the fact that, yup, all this silliness was just me now. All me.

I would have thought that after more than a decade of being in relationships and having my romantic notions knocked about by the daily reality of being with another person and trying to work it out, I would no longer feel this excited about the possibility of falling crazy in love again. I mean, shouldn’t my attitude about love and relationships by now be a flippant “Yeah, sure, OK, why not?” Haven’t I earned—and learned--such sobriety? Why do I still suspiciously sound like that high school girl who fell madly in love with the character of Kevin Costner in Dances With Wolves and said, “I want a man just like that”, and honestly believed someone exactly like that would saunter into her life? Why did I sit in that dark theater, cheering on Edward (the vampire) and Bella (the human) with the fervor of someone who felt personally invested in their love story? Why did I beam as Helen Hunt got her happy ending with Colin Firth as if it were my happy ending?

Surely, by now, I should have already outgrown all that teenaged optimism and romanticism, right? I’m not young and wide-eyed and innocent, anymore. I no longer have the excuse of youthful inexperience and ignorance to believe the cliché notions about luuuurve.

Having some kind of romantic crisis after watching a vampire movie was the last thing I had expected when my dad and I, the most film-crazed members of our family, left everyone at home and headed for the neighborhood mall’s cinema. But there I was, leaning back in my chair in the living room after I’d finished with the Helen Hunt DVD, pondering my situation, feeling a sensation that seemed like fear except that it was accompanied by something resembling…stubbornness

I was afraid that I had not changed at all, that I had not learned anything from my experience with being in relationships for the last fifteen years, and that I would throw myself at the next one with the same all-or-nothing (a.k.a. kamikaze) attitude. At the same time, I felt stronger—and in fact, more militant—about my mindset. Instead of experience tempering me, sobering me up, I felt emboldened by it even more. Sure, experience showed me that love and relationships can ask impossible things from you, but getting in the ring every time, slugging it out for all I’m worth also showed me that I can do the “impossible”.

“You can get good at what you need to to serve what you believe in,” wrote Po Bronson. And, man, do I believe in big things. Yeah, like loooove. ;) And I believe you don’t shrink it, you don't make it small and insignificant just to match what you think of as your current capacity—you have to expand your capacity to make more room for it, rise up to it, get good at it, do whatever it takes to be as big and bold as it is. We never really know what we’re made of until we’re tested, until we pull ourselves out of our comfort zones and throw ourselves into the deep end. Frankly, I don't know a lot of things that are worth all that trouble. 

As I sat there in my chair, absent-mindedly swirling my cranberry juice in a long-stemmed glass as if it were wine and listening to Dave Matthews serenade me with Joyful Girl, this truth rushed to me: I will always be that girl who skipped the prom in high school just because she had an idea in her head about what that night should be like for her—and if it couldn’t be that, then she’d rather have none of it. They can have their prom. I had not outgrown that girl at all…nor, I suspect, will I ever.

It was really nice to discover that, no matter how many legitimate reasons I have for being otherwise, I will always be that idealistic, romantic girl who would hold out for the real thing—for the thing that was real to her. Because she had decided long ago that nothing less is worth it.

I had to smile at Dave Matthews. His timing was perfect. “Would you prefer it the easy way?” he sang. I shook my head. “No? Well, OK, then, don’t cry…”

Funny what a seemingly harmless teen vampire movie can do to make someone like me feel hopeful and scared and strong and right all over again--like one of those wide-eyed, too-excited-to-keep-still 12- or 13-year-olds I sat with in the theater whose first kiss was still ahead of her.
But then, maybe I should just leave those blood-sucking creatures alone and admit that this may just be me. All me.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Do the Write Thing

Except for Conrado de Quiros, I usually am not able to muster the patience to read the local papers. So I took it as a weird sign that, as I was moving my parents’ Philippine Daily Inquirer out of my way on the breakfast table this morning, something on the front page actually caught my attention.

It was a call by Juan V. Sarmiento Jr. to readers to “let us know the measures you are taking to get you through the rough times. If we are together, we can tough it out. Send suggestions to”.

Oh, Juan V. Sarmiento Jr., are you sure you want to hear from me?

I’ve been down with the flu the past couple of days and everything—even reading a travel book in bed—felt like work. So I had two-days’ worth of pent up energy that was unleashed when I began hacking away at a letter to Mr. Sarmiento—putting forth the “measure” I am taking in these “rough times.”

This is how it came out (and I’m uploading it here in case Mr. Sarmiento feels I was just mouthing off in flu-induced delirium and decides to chuck out my letter):

Hello, Juan.

I am writing in response to your call for “measures you are taking to get you through the rough times.” My suggestion is not exactly what one might call “practical”—or one that yields instant, dramatic “voila!” results--but it’s always been the most effective tool in my arsenal—the one thing that has pulled me out of rough periods and one I strongly believe will help others: writing.

Allow me to expound.

The “rough times” that we are going through is, I believe, a direct and natural consequence of people’s relying too much on institutional or group thinking and not enough on individual thinking. It’s the result of our putting too much (blind) faith on institutions—the government, the financial institutions, the church, schools, and yes, even the family—and not enough faith on ourselves, forgetting that institutions are, in fact, made up of individuals. And that these institutions are only as strong, healthy and effective as the individuals that comprise them. 

Our ideas of what is “right” and “wrong” or “acceptable” and “unacceptable” come from what the institutions pronounce as “right” or “wrong”, “acceptable” and “unacceptable”. We’ve stopped questioning why things are a certain way and have lazily accepted many things as they are.

I think because of that, we’ve lost—or, at least, have been severed from—our ability to think for ourselves. We lack that honest, abiding and necessary trust in ourselves—in our instincts, in our intuition and in our capacity for critical thinking—that makes someone like Warren Buffett, second richest man in the world, when asked who he turns to for advice, quip, “Usually, I look in the mirror.”

No, we look too much outside—on what everybody else says is “right” or “true”--and not enough inside ourselves. Thus, the homogenized thinking that we have now, everybody thinking—or not thinking--the same thing. For instance, rather than encouraging one another to find and then follow our passion, we scramble, like a herd of sheep, towards the “lucrative” jobs/industries at the moment: nursing and working for call centers. This is not to say that there aren’t people who genuinely feel that their calling is in the nursing or call center profession, but I find it such a grave disservice to our young people that we push them to go for the “sure thing”, the quick buck, the instant gratification, discouraging them from taking risks, from experimenting, from making and then learning from their mistakes. And so we are producing a generation of cookie cutter people—people who think and act and do the same thing and tread the same safe path not unlike first-generation robots—and not real individuals with their own unique gifts and views and opinions and strengths.  

It’s a cynical, desperate way of being—one that completely disregards some of the best attributes about being human: our imagination, our creativity and ingenuity, our passion, our faith, our hope, our will. 

Our institutions have failed—our government and our financial institutions, in the most dramatic, resounding way—because the individuals within it have failed. We’ve failed by allowing our institutions to define us instead of us defining our institutions. We’ve failed by allowing our government to say what kind of country—and what kind of life we are to have in this country--rather than us demanding what kind of government we deserve. By allowing our religions to define what faith means instead of us bringing our own personal experiences, our own judgment to the table and defining our faith, and thus, our religions. By allowing the institution of marriage and family—and the way many others live it—to shape our idea of them instead of allowing our own personalities, our own history, our own sensibilities, our own aspirations to define what sort of union with another person and community we are going to have.

In short, our institutions, our society, have not evolved—have imploded--because its most basic unit, the individual, has not evolved. Our present collective consciousness—Filipinos lacking a healthy self-esteem, being content with mediocrity and “pwede na”, living in desperation and cynicism, taking only for themselves because of a belief in lack and the thinking that “there’s not enough to go around”, hailing as noble the subservient “pasan-ko-ang-daigdig” mentality, scarcely allowing themselves to hope for great things–is only a reflection of the individual consciousness.

Our circumstances will only change if we ourselves change. The “rough times” will not get better unless we get better. It’s very easy to blame outside forces—the government, the financial sector, the rich people, the poor people, our culture, our religion, our bosses, our families, our partners, etc.—for everything that’s wrong or not working well in our lives, and that is why we do it. It’s easy. But we can no longer afford to go down the easy road. The present times urgently call for us to do the difficult thing: to start taking personal responsibility and accountability, beginning with asking ourselves the tough questions and then finding our own answers. In short, we need to work on ourselves. As the Greek philosopher Plutarch wrote, “What we achieve inwardly changes outer reality.”

How do we begin to strive for that inward achievement?

The answers to that are as varied and unique as there are people in the world. For me, the answer has been…to write. And to write as honestly and as reasonably as I possibly can. 

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” So as much as I’d like to draw up more effective and progressive economic policies that don’t favor the very rich in this country too much—which has really caused the severe economic imbalance—or to institutionalize personal finance literacy classes into every high school and college curriculum, I’m simply not equipped to do that. It’s not what I do—at least, not at the moment.

I can, however, be honest and open about my struggle to find out what I believe, what I most value and how I've been trying to live from that knowledge in order to be a more authentic and useful member of every community I belong to and to the larger society.

What I’ve learned from being a professional writer for the last thirteen years--and a journal- or diary-writer for the past twenty-five—is that when you write or practice an art form (or do something that you truly enjoy on a regular basis) it is very difficult to remain a cynic. It is very difficult to continue thinking “That’s impossible” or “I can’t do that” or “It can never be done”. Because you’ll discover so much about yourself—the unflattering, sure, but also the many stellar attributes you do possess, not least of which are the utter belief and trust in those stellar attributes.

It’s taken me a while to figure out why I write (I’ve learned that not knowing why, but just having a feeling for something and doing it is an early step in the creative process), but now I can say this: I write because it puts me in touch with the best part of me. It connects me to the joyful, the imaginative, the hopeful, the bold, the brave, the strong parts of me. It helps me find surprisingly real and effective solutions to my problems that I wouldn’t otherwise have if I was running around in panic or asking a lot of people for their advice. During those solitary writing times, I can’t help but think that anything is possible and that I can summon the will, the strength and the fortitude to make it happen.

I write to remind myself of what I’ve learned the hard way: that we are not victims of our circumstances, that our lives are not meant to merely be imposed upon us, without our consent. Rather, our circumstances are there for us to rise above. They are there to take into our hands and to mold into the kind of life we envision for ourselves. I write with the hope that those reading my writings will want to choose to learn their lessons—because the hard-fought ones are the ones that stay with us and which we value the most. They’re the ones that shape our character. And character, as we’ve been told, is destiny.

Not everyone is meant to be a novelist or some other kind of professional writer, but I do believe that everyone is meant, as Po Bronson wrote in his book What Should I Do With My Life? (True Stories of People Who Answered the Ultimate Question) to find out “what we believe in and what we can do about it.”

Writing regularly in a journal, I’ve found, is one of the cheapest, most no-frills tool to do this. It is, as I’ve read somewhere, “one of the cheapest forms of therapy.” I believe in its ability to bring out the truth in us so much (remember, the thing that sets us free? From our fear, from our panic, from our cynicism and pessimism…)—as I’ve seen it work in my life in terms of keeping my sanity, my calm and optimism in tact, no matter what—that I’ve made it my job (in a word, nangareer) to encourage people to take up the practice.

Aside from my own blog (where I basically let it all hang), I’ve set up a blog ( that will guide the shy, inhibited or “walang budget” ones on their own writing projects, beginning with the personal essay.

But lest anyone--including myself--begins thinking this is purely altruistic, let me be honest here: it is also incredibly selfish—yes, that inherent trait of an individual, the one that our religions have all but demonized and what everybody advised us against being when we say we want to do something that makes us happy. “Don’t be selfish”--to our desire to make films instead of going to law school. “Don’t be selfish”--to our wanting to write or paint or experiment with our own restaurant instead of working for a multinational company. Well, selfishness is part of what drove me to do this—I wanted to do something that made me feel productive and useful, in my own terms. I wanted to do work that reflects who I am, that matters to me. One cannot afford to be genuinely altruistic—or authentically selfless—unless they first have a healthy self, to begin with—one that they nurture and protect; unless they are first, in other words, selfish. We cannot be a strong, healthy society—and we aren’t, that’s why we’re still in the Third World--unless we encourage everyone to be strong, healthy individuals. 

In these rough, chaotic times, the solution I propose isn’t “practical”—as we’ve come to view things that yield instant, dramatic “voila” results. But it will help us recover the most valuable things we’ve lost--our imagination, our creativity and ingenuity, our sense of independence and sense of community, our passion, our joy, our hope in ourselves and in others--in our pursuit of the things we don’t really need so much of—money and all things material, the good opinion of other people. It will help us recover all the things, in other words, that will pull us out of the dark.

It all begins with sitting still, taking stock of our situation, and developing some much-needed self-awareness. So pick up pen and paper (or open laptop or switch on desk top) and start doing the write thing.  

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The World Is Changing

I’ve not had the words for days now. I’m still so overwhelmed, letting it all sink in.

My friend Chi, all the way in Dubai, who reads my blogs regularly (“cracks the whip” is actually the more accurate description of what she does with me regarding this blog) demanded over Facebook last week: “Tweet Sering, where is this week’s?”

I promised I would upload a new one. But at that time, with the US election just days away, I couldn’t sit still long enough to organize my thoughts on my computer. I was too excited. And too scared, actually. What if—shudder--Obama doesn’t win? The idea was as horrific as Gotham City without Batman. Except with this, I couldn’t walk out of the darkness of the movie theatre afterwards—I’d still have to live in a world that was beginning to plunge ever deeper into hopelessness and chaos and darkness.

I’m still so buzzed. This has been an amazing week. My sister Jof, the new island girl (she’s now working in Boracay, lucky biyatch) texted me this the day after: “The world is changing! J I’m so excited. Obama rocks!”

Many people have wanted to “change the world”—and, in fact, many have been and still are changing the world. But the election to the highest office in the most powerful country in the world of an African American--the race that, only four decades ago, was fighting to rid itself of the last vestiges of slavery, was such a resounding, dramatic proof that the world is changing, that the human race is evolving--despite the wars and the poverty and the environmental degradation and the climate crisis that suggest otherwise. Yes, there is that. And it would be downright dangerous to even think that that part is getting better because it is, in fact, getting worse.

But what the Obama win showed was that the wars, the poverty, the environmental degradation and the climate crisis are not all that is left in the world. It’s not all hopelessness and cynicism and apathy. Obama’s triumph showed that there is still enough hope and passion and a sense of responsibility left; at least, that there are people who still have these in them enough to get him—the unlikeliest candidate, but the one with the strong message of hope and change—elected…by a landslide. There are still enough people fired up to, as Angelina Jolie put it, “roll up [their] sleeves and take on what [they] care about”. There are still a great number of people who, like John F. Kennedy, fervently believe that “our problems are man-made. Therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable—and we believe they can do it again.”

All together now: “Yes, we can!” J

I’ve been camping in front of the TV, hungry for more news and analyses on the historic event because, as with some of the most profound experiences—as this one definitely was—I have been at a loss for words. So I’ve been letting other people’s words—the CNN, BBC, Bloomberg and Al-Jazeera anchors and political analysts (what, no Fox News? Hehe), the columnists, Oprah on her website, my friends from all around the world with their giddy e-mails and Facebook posts—wash over me. I just wanted to take it all in and sit with it. About the most articulate thing that came out of my mouth the past days was “AAAAHHHHHHHH!!!”


Which, thankfully for me (Chi, eto na!), paved the way for the above entry.


Some of the words from other people that I sat with the longest and savored the most:

“As he looked out Tuesday night through the bulletproof glass, in a park named for a Civil War general, he had to see the truth on people’s faces. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for, he liked to say, but people were waiting for him, waiting for someone to finish what a King began.”– Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine, as quoted by Gayle King on

“I was sobered by his calmness when he came out. Because he didn’t walk out triumphant. He was humbled and steady.”--Oprah on

"The most important thing that Barack Obama brings to the presidency is his willingness to reason. He won his presidency not as a black American but as a reasoning American who happens to be black."--Amartya Sen, Nobel Prize-winning economist, in TIME magazine

"Early-voting lines in Atlanta were 10 hours long, and still people waited, as though their vote was their most precious and personal possession at a moment when everything else seemed to be losing its value."--Nancy Gibbs, TIME magazine

“Hope has to keep winning.”--David Gergen, CNN Senior Political Analyst on

"We felt we could have talked burgers--and places and books--with him all day. But you expect that of a politician, whose livelihood depends on winning hearts. The more remarkable thing, we both felt, was that this sparkling stranger was so much like the kind of people we meet in Paris, in Hong Kong, in the Middle East: difficult to place and connected to everywhere."--Pico Iyer, writing in TIME magazine about a chance encounter with then Sen. Barack Obama in Hawaii in late 2006, a week before the new President-elect joined the presidential race. Iyer was with traveler and writer Paul Theroux.

"Never will an American election have excited in the rest of the world a hope at once so crazy and so reasoned." -- Bernard-Henri Levy, French writer and philosopher in TIME magazine

"My brother is not supposed to accomplish even half of what he has. It's meant to be impossible. It makes you wonder. Is this some force at work, the dynamics of nature and life? Is it God? We divided the world after 9/11. And the world said no. And through my brother, we can all connect again." -- Malik Obama, Barack's Kenyan half-brother, TIME magazine

"I believe Mr. Obama exhibits many of the best characteristics of our species in terms of intelligence, sensitivity, resolve and a willingness to reason." -- Richard Leakey, Kenyan conservationist, TIME magazine

"Obama's election is not an event we can comprehend fully right now. It portends a shift whose magnitude will only be realized as my daughter's generation comes of age. But it will change, forever, our assumptions of who can become what in this world." -- Ellis Cose, Newsweek

Monday, October 20, 2008

Back to Zero

In Yoga, there is a concept called “going back to zero”, which means going back to a state of rest, of stillness. Yogis believe that this state is a way of wiping the slate clean, erasing past regrets and “mistakes” as well as fears and anxieties about the future; there is no yesterday nor “earlier”, no tomorrow nor “later”. There is only today, “now”, the present moment—also known in metaphysics as “the point of power” or the point at which we are able to make things happen.

Like a blank canvas, focusing on the present, in the “now” (as in, “What do I feel now? What do I think now? What would I like to do now? Who would I like to be with now?) or “zero”, is a necessary state for creation to begin—for something new and vital to emerge. Nay, more: it makes creation inevitable.

Put more simply: If we just STOP for a moment—you know, just stop whatever it is we’ve been feverishly pursuing, incessantly occupying our minds with (that promotion, that salary increase, the esteem of our colleagues, the girl or guy of our dreams, the attention of our spouses, the respect of our parents and children…), we might actually see that we’re just trying too damn hard and we may proceed or start up again in a more relaxed, more intelligent, less do-or-die fashion. As Salma Hayek once said, “The universe doesn’t operate on desperation.” (As the lead and producer of the difficult-to-make Frida, she would know.)

Last year, without realizing it, I went back to this zero in a big way: Tired (OK, exhausted) from years of trying to live my ideal of the strong, independent, self-sufficient woman, I finally decided to give the whole thing—and myself—a much-needed rest. At thirty-four, I gave up my independent single-girl life in the city and temporarily moved back with my parents in the suburban south of Metro Manila. At that time, I already had a feeling that this homecoming was different from all the other ones in the past, when I’d show up at my parents’ door, bags of clothes and boxes of books in tow, feeling every bit the way my brother had summed me up: “Para ka’ng OFW na di pumatok sa Saudi.” 


All the elements of the big production called Tweet’s Return were still there—the bags, the boxes, my brother’s pang-asar—except for one conspicuous thing: the huge Balikbayan-box sense of failure at not having made it out there that I also used to lug home on such occasions.

As soon as I moved back into my old room in November last year, I marveled at how different everything felt. Instead of feeling smothered and defensive, I was surprised at how right it felt to be at my parents’ house--the house I’d been forever plotting to leave, to escape from. Although I suspected something like this would happen the moment I decided to go home, it was still something of a shock to realize how truly happy I was to be at the place that, as Pico Iyer called it, I had “always longed to flee.”

I was hyper aware of how grateful I was that breakfast would be on the table when I woke up, that I had no rent and utilities to pay and to stress over, that a laundry woman comes to the house every Friday to wash our clothes, that I have family to sit with me at the table and who I know will be there, ready to join me for tea and boiled bananas, when I emerge from my room after a day of writing. It struck me as silly that I had spent most of my supposed adult years running away from my family, pulling myself free of their clutches because they had seemed to stand in the way of my pursuit of complete freedom. But I suppose that was necessary then. My family seemed to have changed a great deal. I no longer felt them encroaching on my space, of feeling entitled to my time or sucking out my energy.

But while I knew something had definitely changed, I didn’t have the words for it then.

It wasn’t until I had been back in my old room for five months that a whole new way of looking at zero—that it didn’t necessarily equate “loser”--was introduced in Yoga class and I realized that something of a miracle had taken place: My mind had changed. (Woooow.) And so I had changed. That was it! While the act of coming home was the same as all the other times in the past, I was no longer the same person. No longer the same person who walked in her parents’ door with the long face of someone who felt and acted as if she were there by no choice of hers. No longer the same person who lay in bed sighing heavily, feeling the walls close in on her as if she were a prisoner. No longer the same feeling-kawawz girl who spent her days wondering when and how she’d be able to leave her parents’ house again.

Somehow, my perspective had shifted so that instead of looking at my situation as the depressing dead-end it always had seemed to me and, thus, was always something I was desperately trying to get out of, I now saw it as a beginning, a starting point. Of what, I wasn’t so sure. I only knew that I wanted to approach my family and my role in it differently. I didn’t want the old drama playing in my head, anymore. It was definitely time for a new script. 

Hmm…what was it about this place that made me want to escape it so much? What was it about my family that stirred up such strong mixed emotions? Why did I have such a great need to prove my strength, independence and self-sufficiency? Was I not convinced of it?

 Soon, it became clearer to me why I really came home: I wanted to stop running—running away from people, circumstances and feelings I didn’t like, on one hand, and running towards my ideal, on the other. I wanted to just stop and catch my breath for a while. To learn to be happy just sitting still, enjoying the calm. But old habits do die hard and I complained about this a lot in my journal. In an August entry, for instance, I complained about an unwieldy tendency: “Sometimes I still find myself looking for something to do, as if I don’t have enough to do at the moment. As if I’m not in the middle of a project. We really do tend to seek out the obvious highs and lows, and are suspicious about cruising calmly along. Some people are lucky enough to trust the calm. I’ve wanted to be one of those people for some years now…” I found it both poetic and practical that I learn to do that in the one place I had, for the longest time, been trying to get away from because I just couldn’t be peaceful in it.

It turns out that by coming home, by “going back to zero”—a place and a state of being that many of us have learned to fear and try so hard to avoid--I was actually, if subconsciously, setting the stage for new things to happen to me. Nay, more: I had made myself a blank canvas on which the creation of a new and vital (a.k.a. more mature) life now seemed inevitable.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

The Personal Is Political

I’m feeling it. The November 4 US presidential election has got me nail-bitingly excited that I sometimes find myself having to walk off excess energy around the house, my mind swirling with fabulous images of an Obama presidency and all the amazing, ground-breaking effects that will have for the rest of the world.

It’s such an optimistic time. Even for someone like me from the Third World Philippines. For some reason, this election is very personal to me, especially when I began reading Obama’s book “The Audacity of Hope”. I had become quite intrigued with the charismatic African American who was giving my girl Hillary Clinton some stiff competition and I wanted to know more. (When Hillary announced her candidacy with the now famous line, “I’m IN to WIN!” I thought her nomination was in the bag.) Soon, I found out I had more in common with this man than even Hillary, whose struggle to break glass ceilings I’ve always admired and cheered on and tried to emulate. (Although I really, really think she should have left Bill; he’s the one that’s bringing her down).    

Before Barack Obama, the only other political figure I felt this personally connected to wasn’t even officially in politics yet—Eddie Villanueva, during his bid for the Philippine presidency in 2004.

As his campaign platform, Villanueva called for a “revolution of the heart”. And while many people rolled their eyes at this, wondering what the hell kind of sappy Hallmark Channel call-to-action this was, I remember a strange feeling coursing through me and ending in my brain with this thought: This guy is the real thingWe have a true leader here.

So for the first time in my voter’s life, I found a candidate who I would not only vote for but would actively campaign for. OK, maybe “actively” is being slightly off the mark here because the truth was that I was rabidly campaigning for the man. I became one of those annoying people who had discovered something “so astigtangina!” that they just couldn’t stop talking about it to anyone who’d listen—or to anyone who did not actually tell them point-blank to shut up.

And I wouldn’t shut up. I talked about Eddie Villanueva during meals, parties, gallery openings, and, when I mustered enough nerve, to some commuters on the MRT who probably thought I was some overworked yuppy who had experienced a meltdown and had gone mad. A friend and another Villanueva die-hard and I would hop in and out of MRT trains and stand outside bus terminals to hand out campaign flyers and brochures—all on our own dime. When we’d run out of campaign materials, we’d go to the Villanueva campaign office in Makati, get some more and efficiently walk out the door to continue our work. I even constructed a long impassioned letter, urging people to go to his website and read about him. I was sure that once they found out more about him, they’d feel exactly as I did.

The biggest stumbling block many people encountered about Eddie Villanueva was the fact that he was a pastor and the founder of a Catholic charismatic group, Jesus is Lord. I admit that my initial reaction to the news that a “Brother Eddie” was running for president was, What the hell--? Just when you think things couldn’t get any more bizarre in the Philippines…

But I also heard that this “Brother Eddie” accepted an invitation to a presidential debate organized by UP-Diliman and that he showed up alone as all the other candidates canceled their appearances. He could have left. And people were going to understand because he came for a debate, after all, yet there was no one to debate with. Instead of leaving, though, he bravely—and honestly, I heard—fielded questions from the notoriously cerebral, non-religious, skeptical UP student body until there were no more questions. Many in the audience were converted, I was told. (Not to the Jesus is Lord group or Christianity--let’s just make that clear--but to the idea of Eddie Villanueva as a real contender for the presidency.) One of them was my then boyfriend, an archaeologist and UP professor who was one of the biggest skeptics of organized religion—and politics--I’ve ever met. Yet when he came from that debate-turned-Q&A, it was clear the evangelist had made quite an impression on him. “Galing ‘yung Eddie Villanueva na ‘yun, ah,” I remember him saying in amazement. Which is what drove me to find out as much as I could about the man.

Obviously, what I discovered had me hooked. A former labor leader who resorted to armed struggle, he was on Marcos’ hit list, which drove him to the mountains. It was while he was in hiding that he began to question everything that he was fighting for, as well as the means by which he was trying to achieve them. Cliché as the following may sound (again, hello Hallmark Channel), but this is when he began to “turn to God” via the words of the Bible. He took those words to heart and because it was those words that “saved” him from his despair and sense of hopelessness, these were the words he wanted to save people with. And with the same energy that I imagine he must have shown when he tried to free laborers from oppressive labor practices, he went on and tried to free people from their own oppressive, limiting mindsets and their crippling fears. Indeed, as I once read, no one exhibits more zeal than the convert.

So when he spoke of the need for a “revolution of the heart”—or, as Gloria Steinem once put it, a “revolution from within”--these weren’t hollow words; they weren’t just a campaign strategy the way that most pronouncements during election time are nothing more than weightless words--I knew that he knew exactly what that meant. He had lived—and was living—those words. He embodied them.

Which is why I completely understood people’s skepticism about him—an overwhelming number of people who pepper their words with “God” or “Praise Jesus”  or “Amen” (sans irony) do not embody their words. They’re the ones at whom so-called “thinking” people roll their eyes exasperatedly. Their thoughts, words and actions have nothing at all to do with one another. They say one thing, mean another and do still yet another thing. The same goes for politicians--which is why nobody who isn’t on their payroll really trusts them. Eddie Villanueva’s running, then, seemed like a double-whammy.

Many of my friends and family questioned my choice of candidate, especially when there was another intellectual in the fray—the late Senator Raul Roco, a close friend and admirer of Eddie Villanueva. Both men took the same stance on most of the important issues (not that Philippine politics has ever been about issues; perhaps it was in the very very distant past, but certainly not when I was old enough to vote), but, at least, Roco was NOT an evangelist—and this last word was usually spat out, in disdain.

I’ve never seen the wisdom is separating my politics from my personal life. I believe that what you do in your daily life even when no one is looking is what you stand for, and what you stand for—that’s your politics. So when someone who shares what you stand for runs for public office, that’s who you should vote for. Not because of what the surveys or your religious affiliation or your family says. Michelle Obama, soon-to-be U.S. First Lady (please, Lord!) said in a magazine interview that “if folks don’t like what we stand for, then they shouldn’t vote for us.”

Between Roco and Villanueva, it was what the latter stood for that I loved and related to more. To my mind, electing him into office would bring to government everything I most value: decency, a healthy self-esteem, a belief in individuals—and individual growth and transformation--as the basis and driving force of any country’s growth and transformation, thoughtfulness and introspection, an openness to new and unprecedented things (a willingness to step outside convention and conventional thought), independent thought, a commitment to go out there and do what needs to be done, sacredness, living or practicing what you preach but never requiring anyone else to believe in what you believe.

This has once again affirmed to me that the ties that really bind people go deep. They go deeper than gender (I am a woman but I do not relate at all to our current woman president nor to the female vice presidential candidate of the US Republican party), than race (Barack Obama is African-American, so is Oprah Winfrey; Angelina Jolie, my girl, is white; yet I totally relate and connect to these people), than social and economic class (I’m middle-class and, obviously, the above three people are way out of my league in terms of economic status), than religious affiliation (I was raised Catholic, but the spiritual leader I most love, along with Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa, is His Holiness the Dalai Lama). It’s shared valueand dreams and vision that most holds us together.

Politics, I believe, should be as intensely personal as that. 


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Newest Member of A.B.E.R.

My youngest sister left yesterday morning to start her new job at a spa in Boracay--and, thereby, becoming an official member of A.B.E.R. (Asosasyon ng mga Babaeng um-Eskapo sa Realidad). At least, that is how my brother and his friends see it.

The unofficial group started when my brother and his guy friends noticed a pattern among their female friends: burned by a romantic relationship, the girls would flee to Boracay to recoup and would invariably quit their jobs (and their city life), find work in the island and relocate there. When enough girls from my brother's circle of friends had done this, the boys lumped the girls together and called them A.B.E.R. (pronounced ah-bear).  

I recently met one of the group's "pioneers" (the young woman that my brother's friend jokingly pinpointed as my sister's "recruiter") at a restaurant one evening when she had just returned from a trip to India for a Yoga teacher's training at an ashram. Tanned, toned and lithe, the A.B.E.R. grand dame glowed with a luminosity and vitality that I don't get to see very often. She had a lovely smile that she flashed generously, lighting up her pretty face so that my sister and I found ourselves naturally drawn to her like teenage girls to a Topshop store.

When she spoke of her India experience, her voice rang with barely contained excitement and her eyes twinkled (twinkled!) like those of a fairy tale princess talking about the prince she had met at the palace ball. My sister and I were transfixed. I thought, This girl don't look like no escapist to me. If anything, she looked like she went after something, brought it home with her, boiled it, chopped and pureed it, added some mint and honey and crushed ice and, I don't know, drank the stuff. She looked like somebody who was concocting her own life, her own "realidad", and deriving immense pleasure from it. She didn't just take it as it was--she was adding her own flair, making it into a palatable thing for her and was taking it all in, so that there she was in her thin-strapped dress and sandals, brimming with the effect of her own special concoction and inspiring at least two women at the table simply by being her fabulous self. My sister and I couldn't take our eyes off her. For my part, I wanted to fold her up, stuff her in my bag and prop her on my shelf at home.

People who are creating their own life in a way that makes it reflect who they are inside glow with an incandescent quality that stretches out and seems to switch on the light in others. I feel my own light switch on and grow brighter when I'm with such people, many of whom I'm lucky enough to call my friends. And that girl, with her wry humor and refreshing earnestness, did switch on some pretty bright lights in my sister and me that night at the restaurant so that we were glowing like...OK, a couple of scary Jack O' Lanterns. But still.  

If there were any lingering doubts in my sister's mind regarding her decision to step off the paved road of her burgeoning fashion design career and walk down one little dirt path just because it looked interesting, that night chatting with the Astigirl erased all of it.

There is always that kind of worry that is reserved for the youngest child who tries to strike out on her own, no matter how much self-sufficiency and level-headedness that child may exhibit. But perhaps because we're so much older now (that sister is 25, hardly a "child")--and my parents have gotten used to us doing what we will, anyway--the worry over my sister's move has been almost imperceptible. Still, it's there. So as an older sister, I'm glad to know she's in Boracay with that Astigirl and driven to the island by reasons that I suspect aren't that different from when the latter left the comfortable familiarity of her own city life years ago.

Perhaps people who up and leave a life that they are used to are escaping reality. But I think it's the "reality" of others--that is, other people's idea of what life is supposed to be and how it's supposed to be lived--that they are actually shedding, so that they can make space for the kind of life, a way of living, that takes into consideration the things that they most value. A life, in other words, that reflects who they really are.

I speak as a proud ate when I say I'm glad to see that my sister is making space for that kind of life now. ;)  

Friday, August 1, 2008

The List

Four years ago, in 2004, when my first novel came out, a surprising number of young women wrote me to say how much they related to the story, especially to a part in it that I call The List--a detailed, numbered rundown of qualities the heroine of the story wanted in a romantic partner.

A guy friend, who assumed that the list was actually mine, chided me about it, saying how exacting my standards were. I remember smiling and thinking, “Oh, you have nooo idea.” Because the fact was that, my real list, was actually longer—more exacting—than the one I lent my fiction.

I’ve been thinking about that list recently—the real one, because it was due for an update--and how anxious I was about sharing it with anyone for two reasons: one, I was afraid I would come off as, exactly like my friend said, too exacting (like, ang OA! Who the hell does she think she is?) and two, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to stick to it, anyway.

But after four serious relationships (lasting three years, five years, eight months, and three years, respectively), in which I routinely closed my eyes at many of my partner requirements (and even chucked out some of them after rationalizing that I was being “too idealistic”) in the name of making the relationship “work”—giving “flexibility” a whole new cartoon-like meaning--I do believe I’ve developed the kind of forgiving self-awareness and sturdy backbone that only hard-core experience makes, to say, “This is my list. I’ve earned it. I am no longer going to contort myself into impossible freakish poses just so I can be in a romantic relationship and continue to stay there.” It does not help anyone—not me nor the guy, who was always wonderful until I tried to make him do the same contortions I was making so that our relationship could fit the mold of my ideal. And I’m so lucky to have been blessed with really wonderful boyfriends who treated we well—or as well as they could given that there was a crazed love-addict contortionist in their midst.

But I know this now: If a guy doesn’t fit ALL the requirements—no matter how much you love his laugh or his little-boy grin—then he JUST. AIN’T. IT. Quit trying too hard already. Stick to your convictions. And leave the poor dear alone.

So, in the spirit of my new-found conviction to hold out for what I really, truly want (a conviction that gets stronger with the sad end of one more relationship), I’m putting out my real, unabridged, bahala-na-kung-ma-old-maid list here as a reminder to myself. With friends and family—and even strangers—as witnesses. I’ve done the whole “compromise” route, which really just means “I don’t think I’m worth the man of my dreams”—a cop-out mindset that women can only afford to nurture in their 20’s (and ok, early 30’s), but I think is one we all should be able to outgrow…at a certain point, preferably in this lifetime.

I think I may have reached that point. (Ay, thank God!)

Things I Really, Truly Want in a Partner (reinforced and updated, in no particular order)

1. Someone with a crazy sense of humor

2. Sweet and malambing, loves to touch and hold me all the time

3. Has a profound, very personal spirituality and sense of sacredness

4. Passionate about his work

5. Courageous enough to pursue his dreams

6. Doesn’t smoke

7. Loves to eat good and healthy food

8. A little boy at heart, has a child’s innate trust in the world and humanity

9. Sweet to his mother

10. Fits in well or tries to (but not too hard) with my family

11. Appreciates my friends

12. Someone I can talk to about a wide range of subjects

13. Well-read, loves books

14. Loves to travel with me and see the world

15. Smells good

16. Has original ideas and is not afraid to share them

17. Remembers things I say, even ones I’ve already forgotten I said

18. Knows how to talk to--or to just be with—children; nurturing

19. “Heroically romantic”

20. “Romantically heroic”

21. Loves to make love and knows how to connect sexually

22. Loves to give me backrubs and foot rubs

23. Socially and ecologically aware and mindful

24. Fiercely loyal and trustworthy

25. Cares a great deal about “making the world a better place”, beginning with himself

26. Has a great deal of respect for women

27. Someone who openly considers me his best friend

28. Secure and comfortable with himself, can feel at home in any environment

29. Always looks after my welfare

30. Open-minded and inclusive

31. Inspires me to be the best I can be

32. Values integrity, truth, learning, freedom, family, friendship, compassion

33. Has a strong moral core, but is not moralistic, self-righteous, judgmental and/or preachy

34. Gives me peace of mind just knowing he is there

35. Lives out the idea that “attention is the most basic form of love”

36. Cultivates and nurtures a healthy self-love (as opposed to narcissism)

37. Someone I can trust wholly and wholeheartedly

38. Someone who actively tries to live a kinder, saner, more grounded, balanced life

39. Someone who can take care of himself and doesn’t need me to take care of him

40. Someone who gets it

41. Someone I know for sure will love me progressively as we grow older and who I know for sure I will love progressively

42. Thinks me the girl of his dreams ;)

So there.

I know. Good luck to me…;)

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Last Sweet Roro

A dear cousin is going through a long-drawn-out break-up. I only realized how deep into it she still is when, after declaring, “That’s it, I’m done” in the way that 22-year-olds channeling wise, worldly 35-year-olds (yeah, that’s me) tend to do, she camps in front of her TV set with a bottle of red wine in the hopes of drowning out the shameful, shameful thing she just did earlier that evening: She was in her room, going through old scrapbooks when she came upon photos of her ex—the one she was supposedly “done” with—which brought back old memories. Which weren’t that bad, apparently, because they prompted her to send him—gasp!--a text message. And—bigger gasp!—he didn’t reply. Kapow!

Indeed, how does one recover from such a blow?

A few years ago, I would have told her that the only solution would be to “stay strong, stay firm, cut him out of your life, erase his name and all contact details from your directory, pack up everything he’s ever given you (unless it’s an iPod or a Sony Ericsson Walkman phone or a Zara cocktail dress) and stuff that reminds you of him and throw it out. Then take up kick-boxing. Or jujitsu.”

But when you’ve become a more mature, more balanced woman (yup, still me), you now know better. You now know that while the aforementioned method is still a personal favorite (because it uses rage—a lovely emotion that gives your cheeks a nice, healthy reddish tinge and, as a bonus, keeps out unwanted company), there are, in fact, a wide range of getting-over-him/it weapons at your disposal, with yet more in product development. All you have to do is ask a woman. The older she is, the more she will likely have in her arsenal. And you are most welcome to employ any or all of them.

For my heartbroken cousin, I shared one of my favorites—a wonderful and surprisingly effective tool: a story. My girlfriends and I have come to know this story as The Last Sweet Roro. Two years ago, as I was in the throes of my own long-running, di-pa-rin-ba-tapos-yan??? break-up saga, my friend Kat told this story to me, which was told to her (during Kat's own dark days) by the story’s main protagonist herself, another good friend of ours. Like a precious family heirloom, I’ve passed on this story to my sisters and girlfriends, hoping that they would derive the same comfort and magic and sense of hope that I felt when it was handed down to me.

Here goes:

Once upon a time, in the south of the Philippines, my girlfriend was in a long-term relationship with her high school sweetheart. Then she got accepted into her first-choice university, which happened to be in Manila, and so off she went. As a wide-eyed, impressionable freshman, she caught the eye of an upper classman. He was smart, sophisticated, older—and on his way to taking up law. The girl was, naturally, flattered and quite impressed. When he asked if she would like to be his girlfriend, she promptly broke it off with her boyfriend and took up with the future lawyer.

Alas, two weeks into this new relationship, the girl realized that she was, quite possibly, with the biggest narcissist in the metropolis—the kind of guy who hooks up with much younger girls because they were the easiest to brainwash into becoming adoring fans/groupies. The “relationship” was all about him. And the guy just couldn’t stop yakking about himself. TOTAL mistake.

The girl left him in mid-sentence, so to speak, packed a few things, hopped on a bus that rolled into a Sweet Roro ferry and practiced her I-made-a-mistake-please-take-me-back speech to her sweet, sensitive, thoughtful ex-boyfriend. But when she tried to deliver this heartfelt speech to him, he refused to hear it. In fact, he refused to speak to her and to see her.Kapow!

The girl was devastated, but not discouraged. She rationalized that she had brought this upon herself, and she was willing to do whatever it took to win back his affection. Every month or so, when she had scraped up enough of her student’s allowance to afford a ferry ticket, she sailed on the Sweet Roro from Luzon to Mindanao, hoping against hope that this time, on this trip, he would finally let her back in. I don’t recall who said this, but it’s awfully on the mark: “What men will only do for God and country, women have always done for men.”

She had a goal—and to her mind, it was a noble one: love. She was going to be worthy of it again, and if that meant packing her quivering heart in her suitcase every few weekends, offering it to her stony ex only to once again watch it being tied to the back of a truck and dragged mercilessly along the Mindanao highway like Lito Lapid, so be it. At the same time, she wondered just how long she could do this, how much more humiliation and rejection and heartache she could endure.

Perhaps because we’re the gender assigned to experience the necessary violent act called childbirth—not to mention the agonizing nine months prior--women tend to have a much higher threshold for pain than men. The kind of prolonged intense physical pain and suffering that earns men medals and hero status, women experience all the time, as a simple matter of fact, without fanfare. And so this girlfriend of mine, by the mere fact of having been born female, was genetically predisposed to let it rip.

Eventually, she—and her poor, battered but brave little heart—stopped thinking, became numb to the pain and just went on her business of taking the blows. Kapow! Kapow! Kapow!

One day, she took her place in the queue towards the entrance of the ferry bus, the way she had done for the past year. (Yes—YEAR!) As she planted her right foot on the first step of the bus, it dawned on her, clear as a sunny day--“I’m done.” Just like that. No bitterness, no anger, no remorse. Just a sense of finality and…relief. And gratitude. She did her time, and now she was free.

She stepped back from the crowds, calmly watched the activity before her. And she stayed long enough to watch the Sweet Roro sail away and disappear into the horizon.

I think I got to my feet and applauded when Kat was done telling me this story.

The truly genius thing about going--as my siblings and cousins put it--“all out” is that it guards against that silent monster--regret. The regret of not having done enough, the whole pwede-pa-sana school of thought--wishing you had done more and wondering what would have happened if you had—that haunts your waking and sleeping hours, as terrifying to some as seeing dead people. I suspect this is the reason women stay longer than they should in situations that make them miserable. They want to face down their monsters now, when they still have energy left, and not run away only to have these monsters lurk around in their supposed happy and content future. They don’t want to regret anything; they don’t want to think they had “given up too soon”. They want to be sure. They want to be able to walk away and never look back. So in the meantime, as my sisters say, “Go lang nang go!”

Certainly, there will be none of that regret for you when you board your own Sweet Roro, when you choose to just ride out the excruciating pain—and humiliation. Even those have expiry dates. You will have known that you did give it—that job, that friend, that dream, that relationship--everything you had and found out that it just wasn’t for you. At that point, no amount of pleading or negotiation or argumentation or guilt-trip or even bodily threat can reel you back in. You’re sooo DONE. You can peacefully let the damn thing go already.

There is no way to accurately describe the rush of relief, the odd sense of victory and liberation at finally arriving at your last Sweet Roro. You’ll watch it sail into the sunset—that relentless drama boat that rocked you to the core—with the giddy knowledge that, finally, you’re not on it, anymore. You’re on solid ground.