the whisper they call inspiration

I want my art to show the world that we are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us.


to show you are loved

This whisper does not run out of breath. It is always speaking. (We don’t always listen.) It has a melody. It can flow clearly or indistinct – like a humble breeze, wordless. Gently, sometimes forcefully too, the whisper propels us forward.

Nobody else hears the whisper you hear. We’re not meant to. We can’t.

The whisper calls us by name, every time. We don’t notice because we think the whisper comes from our center, from the honest part that just can’t lie. But the whisper is not of us, not made from us. If it were, it would be made of filth.

It is a voice we know. Or think we know. Or think is ours.

It is not.

But it is a stirring from so deep within us, no two people can experience it in the same way. It is at times a jolting feeling. Not the kind that makes you jump in fright, but the sensation of faint electricity somewhere in the anatomy that biology can’t describe. The specific feel and touch of the whisper is different for each person- a tingling, a straining at the jaw, a tickle in your side, a half crescent of a smile, a coolness on your lower back, or valleys forming between your brows.

That moment that you will look back on as that flame of inspiration, that pivotal moment, that nanosecond of magic; that is the moment when our soul truly hears the whisper. We don’t know it as it occurs, though we might feel the clues. We understand only when the moment has passed,  when we have taken a step back to look at what has been formed, created, grown through us. It is also then that we doubt and simultaneously shrink back in awe. We feel alive in the most vulnerable, fiery, stumbling kind of way; because we allowed the whisper to speak not only to us, but through us and out into the world.

We can only afford to hear a whisper, because if we could hear the full voice in all its power and beauty, we would simply explode. There is no room in our human flesh to hold anything remotely as magnificent or significant.

I want my art to show the world that we are loved. Even if the art might speak of darkness. Even if the art might make you feel emotions you’d rather not feel. Especially when the art lifts you up. Even more if the art challenges who you are.

I want my art to make you understand that you are loved;

that though this world is fleeting, doomed to fail on its crowns, there is light that whispers through us. When we do what we love and when we love, we hear the whisper.

When we let the whisper speak through us, like a prism, we are given the opportunity to disperse light into the world.


A note on this piece: Yesterday afternoon, I launched my work, what wakes you, an art installation of paintings and poetry inspired by a stunning sunrise. At the close of the exhausting but beautiful day I was overcome with gratitude to God. I couldn’t do much else as I sat in awe, considering how He would allow us selfish little humans to experience art, creativity and inspiration — and  to walk as witness to His exquisite creation that we continuously choose to destruct. What a Creator! As I began to process it all, and the journey of bringing my art into public space, I began to write the words that turned into this piece. (See more updates on my art here or here.)


California: Five Things That Inspired During this Vacation

On the first day, I couldn’t even remember what it was supposed to feel like.

Slow mornings. No pressure to look at my inbox. A completely reconstructed to-do list (containing names of people to see and coffee shops to visit). Vacation.


I’ve been wanting to plan a creative sabbatical, a clean and generous slice of time just for my art. I’ve been dreaming of one for over a year now. My normal life schedule is full, one thing rolling into another, mornings of Paper Project spreadsheets into a train of Plana Forma classes to teach until closing time. Weekends for the kids of Buhay Makulay. The best I could do was an hour or two of ink drawing on the rare free Saturday.

But thanks to friends being wed, a vacation was set, and I think the creative sabbatical found me.

Here are five things that have been inspiring me creatively while on this trip:

1. Coffee, Tea, and Chocolate.
Flying Goat Coffee. Melange Market. Peet’s Coffee. Saint Frank Coffee. Coupa Cafe. Cafe by the Green Library. Alegio. Beacon Coffee and Pantry. Philz Coffee. Sightglass Coffee. Réveille Coffee Co. Station. Blue Bottle Coffee. And everything homemade in between. Yes, there’s been a lot of coffee shop time!


2. Wandering.
Magical moments come to you when you don’t try to look for them.


3. Being a student in a class, not a teacher.
It’s good to take a break from teaching – good for the soul, healthy for the ego.


4. Old friends / new friends.
Reconnecting with friends from years ago and dreams ago, help re-ignite dreams on pause. New friends remind you how much of the world you forgot you were longing to meet. I’ve had a great balance of both.


5. Different views, different air.
Sorry, Manila, I love you dearly, but a break from your stoplights, standstill traffic, scary swervers, humidity and heavy pollution was much needed for a short bit of time.


Hello, California. You’ve been good to me. And you’ve been good to my friends. Thank you for giving me room to be.

Truth Thursdays: What’s in Your Hand?

photo (6)_Fotor

And just in case you cannot read my handwriting:

What’s in Your Hand?

I’ve got a lot
of things on my mind.
But in my hand,
in the very palm of my hand,
I’ve just a few:

A pen. Some
sheets of loose paper.
A pulse.

Your hands are never
the first thing I notice.
But mine have allowed
me to tell my story.

They are not the heart
of my story,

they are my storytellers.

I like to write with
pen and paper.
Ideas get to move beyond
lines of type or
a page break. I make a map
similar to the way my thoughts
traverse my mind. I get
to draw.

And the things I
cannot write
or cannot draw,
these I dance.
First in my heart,

outward bound with pushing pulse,
with the movement of my hands, I

The most articulate in motion,
are these hands, more
than point of foot
or shrug of shoulder.
more than swirl of hip,
or lift of chest;
my fingers sweep a storyboard, they sweep
emotion. They cover your eyes,
and with their touch you still
see how I

-Tanya Aritao

More about Truth Thursdays? Or more about this prompt.

Truth Thursdays: I am Here

This month I’ve been teaching a beginner’s dance class on Tuesday nights. Towards the end of class, I teach a phrase of choreography. The movement begins with a closed stance, head down, hands hanging by your sides, feet together and bent. Then, with a quick roll of shoulders, one at a time, sharply the phrase begins. Hitting the second before the count, “And one!” In the same breath, but still separate, a flick of the head upward to the audience follows.

Then a slow expansion of the body takes place. As slow as two full counts can allow. The arms slide up to be raised at their widest, the head dramatically turns to the right, exposing the neck and jaw, and the right leg sweeps to open underneath. These last three movements, in that slow expansion, create a moment.

What follows this moment, are a tumble of many other moments, and you’re thrown into the dance. If you’re not mindful of your breath, you’ll find yourself winded in the process.


To my students, I emphasized the importance of the first movement. You may just be rolling your shoulders back, but you’ve got to make an impact even with this exaggerated shrug. Don’t make it look like a mistake. You’re not responding to a fly buzzing in your shoulder, you are announcing your arrival, the beginning of something. It isn’t a question. You are inviting your audience to pay attention. Demanding they be held captive.

And that slow expansion that I spoke of? Those two full counts that describe your presence on stage, that is you saying, “I am here. I have arrived.”

Take your time, I tell them, enjoy it. Don’t be worried about the quick shuffle of steps that follow, how quickly the music is pushing you to move, or how nervous you are to be trying something new. Fulfill the movement. Show the audience who you are, and in that moment, simply fill the room. That is the movement’s purpose.

At the end of next month, it will be a year since I moved back to the Philippines. Although it has been many months, the move back is still on my mind. And I am often reminded that I was not always around here – through conversations with friends, the many inquiries about whether I am here to stay, the memories with friends from miles away that still fill my mind. I am reminded too that although a new departure is not in line of sight, it is never simply out of the question.

I wonder, in what part of my choreographic phrase of transition do I find myself today? For much time, I may have stood in the beginning stance, closed and cautious, although already breathing to the beat of the music. My very blood pulsing to a new song.

Later, I began to really move. I began to remember my need to make an impact, no matter how slight.

Today, I am certain that I have arrived. This is not a mistake. It is not a question. Pay attention.

And there is no lack of movement, no blank stares. I am juggling a number of jobs, managing a handful of community service initiatives, as well as caring for a few personal dreams that I have planted. I’ve been growing into community. I’ve been taking on challenges. I’ve been trying new things. I am here.


The movement of the slow expansion is still my favorite. In my improvisational movement of living, I punctuate my sprightly dancing with moments such as those. Making a simple moment matter, making it everything that matters for a breath. Or two. Doing it with integrity. Filling the space. And I too, being filled.

I am taking my time. I am fulfilling my movement.

I’ve thrown myself into the dance. How can I not?

I am here.


(Images in these post are photographs from a piece I choreographed in the fall of 2011, for the Wheaton College Dance Company. I can’t recall its title at the moment, but it was a piece centered around a lightbulb, and more personally spoke towards my process and decision to move home to the Philippines in the following year. In this moment, this is where the light leads. I am here.)


To find out more about Truth Thursdays, click here.

For more on this specific prompt, click here.

Dance Films that Move Me

Words cannot explain how entranced I have been the past few days with Iron and Wine’s music video for Boy With a Coin.

The first time I looked up the song on YouTube, I didn’t even bother watching the video and just listened to the song as I worked on a separate tab on my browser. A few plays later, after falling in love with the music, I finally decided to watch the video, made curious by the sound of people ascending stairs at the beginning of the song.

As a dancer, I gravitate towards music videos heavy with dance. This video captivated me so. It even got me dancing around my dining room late into the night.

Boy With a Coin. By Iron and Wine.

Elegance and intensity. But elegance made richer by authenticity. And intensity made powerful by subtlety. I may have watched this video ten million times in the past two days.


While I’m at it, off the top of my head, here are a few of my all time favorite dance-inspired videos/short films. In order of appearance in my life.

I hope one day to direct one of my own.


Slow Dancing in a Burning Room. John Mayer. Choreographed by Wade Robson.

So raw. So beautiful. Thank you Wade Robson for choreographing this. I love the simplicity and honesty of the filming and dancing.

Ariel. By Stateless.

This video will always remind me of the summer I spent in DC, when I first found the video. I played it loudly in my room when my roommate were gone. Over and over again. It may be the least dance-intense videos on my list, but sometimes when I dance, the imagery and electricity captured in this video is what inspires me when I move. I want people to see that when I dance, but without the need for special effects.

Thought of You. By the Weepies. Animation by Ryan Woodward. 

Right here, ladies and gentlemen, is the marriage of two things I love – dance and animation. The animation has so effortlessly and precisely communicated emotion through movement. Even more than that, it’s just such great storytelling.

Valtari. By Sigur Ros. From the Valtari Mystery Film Experiment.

Not only was this my favorite song from their recent album, but when I first saw this film I was left speechless. Time to watch it, people!