The day after Christmas and the urgent gift we must offer our world

My books from my childhood and adolescence now boast the smell I love so much — the toasty, musty scent of old books. On Christmas day, standing in the bedroom I grew up in, I scanned my shelf looking for a good book to re-read as a Christmas treat. I pulled out Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which I hadn’t opened in over ten years.

Even as a young reader, I already knew this book was one I would have to revisit as an adult. When the movie came out not too long ago, I purposefully missed it, remembering the promise I had made when my copy of the book still smelled clean and bookstore-fresh.

So on this Christmas Day, to satisfy the hope of my younger self, I opened up the pages, already browning and spotted with a bit of age. This hope was that as I grew up and grew older, I would continue to open my heart to precious stories like these; that I would revisit their chapters and let their wisdom reveal something new with each reading.

The incredible thing is that the moment I finished the book this time, soon after waking this morning, I ached to read it over. It is a perfectly-timed read, as I continue to wrestle with the polarizing impressions of the daily news — safety and violence, injustice and the eager Christmas spirit.

In The Giver, Lois Lowry brings us to a version of our world that lives in Sameness. It is a safer, more organized world where people feel no pain, where everyone has their duty and place in society at any given time. Those that do not, due to weakness at birth or old age, or because of disobedience of the rules, were released from the community.

It was a secure society, where people shared their feelings, offered and accepted verbal apologies when wrong was committed, and never found themselves wanting.

While all of that made for a peaceful “life,” these people could not see colors, had never heard music, and more painfully to consider, had never known love. Could we still call this living? They had no knowledge of sunshine, of snow, of flowers or of birds. They had unknowingly traded the splendor of these simple, lovely things, for the absence of any discomfort, ache or inadequacy.

Only one member of their community held all memory and history — really he was the only one that knew of and lived with the beauty, pleasure, sorrow and pain that ever existed. That person was the Receiver of Memory. Jonas, our twelve-year old protagonist, was selected to be the new Receiver, by the former one, now known as the Giver.

And right in the pages of this book sits a beautiful memory of Christmas:

“Jonas felt the joy of it as soon as the memory began. Sometimes it took a while for him to get his bearings, to find his place. But this time he fit right in and felt the happiness that pervaded the memory.

He was in a room filled with people, and it was warm, with firelight glowing on a hearth. He could see through a window that outside it was night, and snowing. There were colored lights: red and green and yellow, twinkling from a tree which was, oddly, inside the room. On a table, lighted candles stood in a polished golden holder and cast a soft, flickering glow. He could smell things cooking, and he heard soft laughter. A golden-haired dog lay sleeping on the floor.

On the floor there were packages wrapped in brightly colored paper and tied with gleaming ribbons. As Jonas watched, a small child began to pick up the packages and pass them around the room…. While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another….

Jonas opened his eyes and lay contentedly on the bed, still luxuriating in the warm and comforting memory. It had all been there, all the things he had learned to treasure.

“What did you perceive,” The Giver asked.

“Warmth,” Jonas replied, “and happiness. And — let me think. Family.”*

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On this stormy day after Christmas, I think of all those around the world who are not surrounded by the ideal Christmas or holiday. There are many among us who sit in evacuation centers, crowd in refugee camps, cower in the fear or aftermath of violence, run breathless in search for peace, shrink in hunger, or face their grief alone. Even as many of us have joyfully celebrated in the company of loved ones this Christmas, safe by a glowing fire, bathed in sweet sunlight, or in the embrace of joy, there are too many in the world that live the exact opposite of this story.

Though we raise our banners of generosity and cheer this holiday season, there is no denying the hatred, suffering, and overwhelming grief that runs in the bloodstream of humanity. It seems our love is not enough to heal the wounds, to ease the torment, or to undo the wrongs that have been committed in our generation alone. I fear our own hypocrisy.

And yet, I find myself still clinging to hope, even with the deafening noise and discouragement of reality. I cling to the true Gift of this season — the Love that heals, the Love that saves. The Hope in Whom Christmas began.

Because we are human, we will continue to carry the weight of anguish and heartache, but with it, the lightness of love and compassion. In a time when justice can feel like a sad, mocking idea to the suffering multitudes around the world, I insist that there is still a fighting army of us who can love, forgive and heal. Help me prove that this is true. These are the days when we must courageously show up in defense, in solidarity, out of love for others.

“… Jonas, the community will be left with no one to help them. They’ll be thrown into chaos. They’ll destroy themselves. I can’t go.

“Giver,” Jonas suggested, “you and I don’t need to care about the rest of them.”

The Giver looked at him with a questioning smile. Jonas hung his head. Of course they needed to care. It was the meaning of everything.”*

As I closed the pages of The Giver, I held on to these words. It is simple, but far from easy place to begin.

We start by caring. Truly caring for one another. We may not live in the Sameness of Jonas’ community, but the need for us to care is even greater today. It is so important that we reflect on how we are tangibly called to do this today and that we act on it with purpose and urgency.

May we never let our colors mute to gray, our music unravel into silence, our dancing slow down to stillness, our love disfigure into hatred, or our sense of justice crumble into indifference.

Merry Christmas!

[*Quotes in italics are from the novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, published in 1993, by Bantam Doubleday Dell Books for Young Readers in New York.]

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february artist happenings: postcards, workshops and an installation

This month I get to share my art.

This is exciting and terrifying, in the best and happiest sense. If you are around Manila, I hope you will consider checking out of a few of the things I am up to this month:

You, in Particular

On Sundays of February, a limited run of new artist postcards will be released at Local Edition, a coffee shop on Perea Street, Makati. My work, You, in Particular, is part of their 3//8 Print Series, featuring three local artists. Each artist uses a series of 8 postcards to create a larger work of art. Mine is a mix of drawing and poetry. We launched the series last week, and here’s a peak at my first two pieces. Postcards are on sale while they last, for P160 each.

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what wakes you

The main project I’m currently working on is an art installation that opens on February 20th! The work is called what wakes you, and is made up of poetry and paintings. I begin installing the work tomorrow, and will slowly develop the work from day to day, until it’s final launch on the following Saturday at 4pm. This will also be at Local Edition.

Drop by while it’s in progress or at the opening reception! And if you miss the opening, the work will be up through March 2016.

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workshops

This month also marks the beginning of my journey teaching art and writing.

charcoalDRAWING: If you’re interested in visual art, I’m teaching a drawing workshop that doesn’t require any drawing experience! It’ll be both dynamic and therapeutic as we play with charcoal and pastels. Email prismgalleryph@gmail.com to sign up! Fee is P1,800 including materials and snacks.
February 17, Wednesday, 6-9pm.
at Prism Gallery, Island Tower, Salcedo Street, Makati.

 

 

WRITING: If you’re interested in writing, I’mplaying with words.jpg teaching a creative writing workshop for writers and non-writers who are feeling a little stuck. We’ll play with rhythm and repetition in your writing. Using the pattern of poetic forms like the villanelle and the pantoum as building blocks, we’ll discover new ways to keep writing fun and fresh. No writing experience necessary! Workshop fee: P850 with materials and a free regular drink of your choice at the cafe.

February 20, Saturday, 10am-12nn. at Local Edition Coffee & Tea on Perea Street. 

 

Here are some links if you’d like to keep up with my artist adventures:

website // facebook page // instagram feed

2015, thank you for the surprises

The celebration of Chinese New Year is the perfect excuse to share my long overdue personal review of 2015. I scribbled this list in my sketchbook while on vacation last month and never got around to typing it up. But here it is finally:

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2015 was a standout.

I put up my first solo art show at a local cafe, if the ground moves, a collection of poetry and paintings. I nicknamed it my exercise in vulnerability. On opening night, I held a reading and friends played music. At first I was frightened, then overwhelmed, then grateful – for all good reasons.
I traveled. For a wedding. For Buhay Makulay. For myself.
I paid more bills.
I wrote more checks.
I met a boy.
I taught a lot of fitness classes.
I lost my phone. And flipped my room over trying to look for it.
I got my first nephew.
I started a daily writing project as creative exercise and called it #StoriesOnSquares. I have yet to get back into it again.
I continued to cut my own hair, about once a month in my bathroom. Except once when I decided it might be good to clean up the cut professionally. The haircut I paid for ended up to be nothing special.
I had many sleepovers. And a couple picnics.
I worked on my artist website and shared my work online.
I made plans. Changed some.
I cooked a lot, but mostly for just me.
I ran my first “race.” 10k.
I began to read my Bible. Really read it.
I bought two pairs of shoes. (Only two!) One for work and one for the run.
I watched many sunsets.
I sat in countless meetings. I led many of them.
I went back to communities that Buhay Makulay had traveled to in 2014. Mom and I facilitated free training for teachers, community leaders, volunteers and even teenagers – a crash course child-centered and creative programming. These trips kept life in perspective.
I made time to read books. And finally finished my fasting challenge from the previous year – to abstain from any book purchases until I had read ten books already gathering dust on my own shelf.
I drew in my journal.
I painted by the mountains. I painted by the beach. I painted by my window.
I turned 26.
I led our operations team through some unforgettable challenges at the Paper Project. By the end of the year, I was keenly aware and grateful for the trust and respect given to me by the people I manage. Their openness to my leadership and mentoring despite being the (almost) youngest in the group humbled and inspired me.
I moved to a new apartment.
I sold a few paintings – my first sale of personal work since college.
I cried every now and then. At a few movies. In the middle of two different books.
After two and a half years of teaching fitness, I finished a contract and decided to take a break.
I relaunched Thread & Vine in partnership with my mom.
I started a Bible study group with women in my neighborhood.
I went out dancing.
I witnessed how much time it can take for an idea to sink in. After three years of working at The Paper Project, a few seeds planted when I started working there finally bore some fruit in others. It was wonderful to see.
I got very tense over travel visa applications.
I took a lot of Uber rides. I was stuck in a lot of traffic.
I walked a lot, but not enough.
I ate a lot of memorable meals.
I visited our fish farm and got to witness a harvest after many years.
I drank a lot of coffee.
I spoke at my church’s Youth lock-in about how our God does not change.
I didn’t dance enough.
I tried muay thai and loved it. Even the bruises.
I learned how to use a vintage letterpress machine.
I made the smoke alarm go off on my floor and panicked. It was just chicken in the toaster.
I traveled to Europe for the first time.
I went to Spain and got my luggage lost on the way. I fell in love with their ham and the tradition of the sobremesa.

I closed off the year in Rome, of all unexpected cities. I bid 2015 goodbye in the middle of the street by the famous Coliseum. And in the warm embrace of friends I hadn’t seen in almost eight years (and cheap wine), I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude for another year full of great stories.

Those final moments of 2015 are hard to forget because Rome and that whimsical reunion hadn’t even been part of the plan. In fact it was only made possible because other plans hadn’t worked out. (An emerging trend of that year.) That new year’s eve was a great reminder to allow life to happen without holding on too tightly for control. Despite anxiety and impatience, things turned out just as they should have, and beautifully.

From one year of surprises to the next, may I carry that patience and sense of adventure this year. 2016, I dare you to be incredible.

 

 

 

Life Lately is a Long List

Life lately is a long list.

The list is made up of things to do, to remember, to start, to finish; things that seem eternally in progress. On most days, I can only tick off a few items out of the lengthy roll.

It’s the important things we often forget to put down. They get pushed out by misleadingly pressing items – your grocery list, bills to pay, broken appliances that need fixing, chores, errands, and a train of things you dread doing. The mundane but unavoidable tasks exhaust brain space and patience. They easily win a spot on your list. But not the essentials.

We rely on the idea that the important things, those critical for survival and integral to our existence, are naturally remembered. Like breathing. Having a meal. Taking a dump. Or even having your morning coffee. It would be crazy to forget anything so simple and necessary. And yet we do.

Over time some of the significant stuff gets overlooked.

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First, it’s the non-essential essentials that go. The things that can wait once a deadline looms ahead or when a financial responsibility stands over your shoulder.

Play. Daydreaming. Listening to your favorite song. Your sport. Writing in your journal. Calling up an old friend you haven’t spoken to in a while. Stargazing, cloud watching, or sun spying. A strong drink at the end of a long day. Whatever gives you a refreshing time out.

Anything that can wait another day will wait another day. (And another, and another…Who needs fresh air, right?)

Once those are edged out of your schedule, the pressure begins to cook.

To focus on just one thing at a time soon becomes a luxury that you mock. You decide that multitasking your way through the day works just fine.

Then it’s the non-negotiables that are neglected.

You shave an hour off your daily log of sleep. You barely sit down to enjoy a meal. Everything is eaten on the go, or in between one thing and another. An hour does not exist without glancing at a gadget, screen or checking one of your five active social media accounts. You drop your weekend hobby. You forget about quiet time. You never have a conversation that doesn’t have an agenda, a list of tangible outcomes, or a connected social media post. You forget to pray.

Then we’re at a rolling boil.

You shave two to three hours off your daily log of sleep. You replace each hour with a shot of espresso, or two. Or with your poison of choice.

The invisible, but fundamentally important, list grows longer, (who needs sleep, proper meals and long showers anyway?) and you remain fixated on your list of things to do.

You wonder why the to-do list never runs out, and feel certain that the solar system has been taunting you by shortening the days. coffee to do 2

It’s the trivial things that we usually put first on the list and dare not to overlook. The more difficult items stay a while, because it takes us so long to get to them. The meaningful items are compelled into the list when friends call us out on abandoning the pack, when we’ve forgotten a birthday (even with the help of Facebook notifications or your Google calendar), or when we chance upon the list of dreams we wrote in adolescence (read: must achieve this before 30, or 40 or 50 years of age!)

Now maybe you don’t keep a written list of anything. Not a calendar. Not an agenda. No to do list in sight. No reminders. And yes, I may write in exaggerated theory. But take a look at your busy day, and I’m almost certain you will find that there is something wobbling dangerously close to the edge. A friendship. A childhood dream. An unpaid bill.

There are threads in your life that will naturally fray and come loose. But there are also threads that we must fight to keep in the loom, threads that we must keep untangled, and weave in with the rest.

Time to rewrite my to-do list. How’s yours?

Walk with me through my 2014.

Thank you for all your ridiculousness, your storms, your breakthroughs. One last look, but actually, 2014, I’m quite over you.

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I made new friends.
I traveled to see people. I traveled with Buhay Makulay. I traveled alone.
I stood in front of thousands of little children, from the poorest communities I know, trying my best to shape life into the word hope by telling stories and painting murals.
I was welcomed into the makeshift houses of families that lost theirs.
I saw the impact of history’s strongest storm and the brokenness, amidst powerful healing, that persisted months after.
I was reminded of God’s faithfulness.
I was left in awe of people living with less wanting. People living with less.
I turned 25.
I met heartbreak. The dream shattering, paradigm shifting, inky, moonless kind of heartbreak.
I paid a lot of bills.
I sold back my first car to my brother after an expensive year of maintaining it, and bought a smaller, more fuel-efficient new one in the same color.
I still didn’t gather enough courage to drive.
I went on adventures. I wandered.
I met healing. The joy mending, light pouring into your dusky musty cave, dewy, liberating kind of healing.
I picked up my pen again and wrote poetry.
I moved out of my family’s house and got my own place.
I received visitors. Friends with noise and laughter.
I learned how to teach four more classes at PlanaForma.
I was challenged.
I tried hard to make time for my sketchbook and blank canvases.
I made a lot of challenging decisions as a manager running operations at The Paper Project.
I listened to my gut.
I stood in front of the work of some of my favorite artists like Sebastiao Salgado and Mark Rothko.
I got to spend time with friends who live far away.
I wrote out checks.
I fell for coffee.
I cried more this year (almost certainly) than my whole lifetime of crying after the age of five.
I met hope, again and again.
I made a lot of messy, but valuable mistakes.
I was embraced by community. The spirit resuscitating kind of community.
I started to skip the trips to the salon. I cut my own hair.
I danced. But not enough.
I prayed. But also not enough.
I ate a lot of good food. A lot.
I laughed. Hopefully more than I ate good food, or at least just as much.
I dreamed new dreams.
I claimed big visions for the new year.

You were one for the books, 2014. Now, please pleasantly get out of my way.
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