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.
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.
This month also marks the beginning of my journey teaching art and writing.
DRAWING: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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’m 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:
No matter how early you prepare for Christmas, it has its unfailing manner of sneaking up on you. Though the season has clearly made its presence known (especially when you live in the Philippines!), suddenly you wake up and there’s just four sleeps left. You wonder where the time has gone? Stolen by too many moments that weren’t really about Christmas at all!
It’s the yearly cycle of getting caught up in the busyness. The anticipation, annual traditions and the brightened eyes of those around you (Brightened mostly from receiving presents… Mostly from the mere thought… Mostly from the mere promise of the thought of receiving presents!)
And we, or I at least, often arrive at a moment, sometimes too late (a day after Christmas or later still), thinking: how quickly it all comes and goes! Was I present at Christmas? Or had I let it blow through me like the cyclical tropical storm?
I liken this diversion to what we often see these days: Take a special event (a wedding, birthday or show,) and people are caught up in taking photos of the moment, keepsakes for later, videos that may never be re-watched. The effort and attention go to the storing (for later sharing), and too little to the actual experience. Instead of keeping our senses open, we hold a camera up and make sure nothing gets in the way of our frame. How many Christmases have gone by with too much of it through a middleman frame? How many significant moments?
What better “thing” to get in the way of your frame, than purely, humanly, genuinely treasuring an experience? No matter how short! Eyes, ears, nose, tongue and touch – open!
I try this sometimes, storing mental pictures of things, mostly people.
I’ve clicked the shutter of my mind’s eye to save the way friends look back at me. After a long distance apart, while sharing good news, celebrating a milestone, across a table over a meal, or in the moments that we say goodbye before parting lives. The expression in their eyes, their body language – something honest that I can’t quite capture with a lens in between us. (Others can.) I take a few moments, breathe it all in, try to remember all I can, hoping my memory is awake.
If the visuals fail, I think about how civilizations survived without photographs or the internet, and all those people have lived and loved with seemingly unmatchable intensity through battles, victories and ruin. And without photographs, their passion, their stories have transcended generations! So sometimes I defer to words, describe the scene, my feelings, to myself. Some of my favorite stories have come from authored books, not reality TV or media feeds, but they are as vivid to me in memory as my own experiences.
On Sunday morning I had my own mini-battle of pure sensory experience vs digital stowage. At my church, there’s a tradition of the choir singing the Hallelujah Chorus on special occasions. The fourth Sunday of advent, right around the corner from Christmas eve, was one of those days. The choir invites members of the congregation to come up and join the choir onstage, with copies of the sheet music in hand. I’ve never gone up to sing, but I enjoy the tradition very much! It’s beautiful! A taste of Heaven! Since I sat quite close to the front today, I contemplated pulling out my phone and taking a video, even though I had heard the music multiple times before.
I had a discussion with myself –would I ever even watch the video again? The sound quality is never as good on a video! Why would I want to ruin the moment with a device in my hand? What if I wanted to sing along for a bit, I wouldn’t want my voice recorded over the choir’s? Haven’t they done this multiple times this year? There’ll be another time if you need it!
In the end, I decided I wanted to relish the moment in full analog style. (Not always the case these days…)
Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, touch and heart – open!
I almost cried just listening.
Today, it’s just a few days before Christmas and I am once again in the flurry of the season. I’ve spent a good part of the advent season worrying about a myriad of things, as always. And the worries always solve themselves in the end (without any help from the wasted hours of worrying!)
More than in previous years, I have cherished my quite moments in advent anticipation. And yet, I write in this moment still feeling like I have missed out on Christmas, that I have skimmed over the season in eagerness, and let another Christmas go! But I guess at this point in the day, it’s just a bit of fear.
Thankfully, I still have a few more days: To sit in the glow of the tree and the Cross. To listen to the angels singing. To let Christmas unfold first in my heart through the Light of the manger.
And then later, much later, and only as measly afterthoughts in the afterglow, to unfold in the unwrapping of presents and to swell in the wrapping of family and loved ones.
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.
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.
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.
Twenty four was a great year. Looking back at the adventures of the past twelve months, my gratitude just spills over. It was whirlwind of so many beautiful and challenging things.
As I write and reflect, one thing seems to stick out: I learned a lot this year.
Sounds like a pretty ordinary statement because isn’t all of life a journey of learning? (Yes!) But even so, this past year more than the years that have preceded it, has gifted me with some serious learning opportunities.
My explanation for this is that my learning came hand in hand with my sharing (of the learning). But the sharing has added all the value for me.
One of my favorite games as a kid was “Teacher Teacher.” Alone, with a friend, my stuffed toys, or imaginary students – I would pretend I was a teacher. I’d make a lesson plan, grading sheets, and then conduct a lesson, complete with the reprimanding of unruly students.
Sometime in just the past twelve months I remember considering: “I think I’m am finally a teacher.”
There is still so much left to learn and discover; but I believe it was this year, at 24 years old, that I considered with more intention than ever, my role as a mentor and teacher to those in my circle of influence.
From June to December last year, I was leading Likha, a Buhay Makulay program. Over the course of six months, we met with a group of 31 children from the urban poor sector. Most of them live under a bridge and are considered invisible and unrecognized in their city. We were mentoring these little ones through movement and visual arts. Play used as learning. On one particular Saturday I was teaching them about complementary and contrasting colors. At the end of the art making session I realized that they got it. They grasped these basic art concepts! Sure, these weren’t deeply-scientific, mind-blowing theories, but it felt like an achievement nonetheless. They may never use that piece of knowledge again, but it’s the process of discovery that we valued. Despite barriers of economic or social background + my weakness in the language, something made it through – and clicked!
(Teaching this group of children was an entirely different experience from teaching my Sunday schoolers who came from some of the grade schools in the country and were completely used to well-equipped classrooms, the routine of a rigorous school day of reading, writing, learning, and communicating with others.)
It’s been a few years since I discovered how much I enjoy facilitating small to medium sized group activities/workshops, handling group dynamics both serious and silly (which by the way I would have never pictured, as the shy little girl I was). And now I feel I have grown even more. I’m learning to teach the way I first understood teachers as a child – in a classroom setting.
Every day is a learning day for me.
“I think I’m am finally a teacher.”
I was led here by many different but sustained “sharing” experiences of my year 24:
I was teaching Sunday School to 4th graders every Sunday at 10:30 am. Two Saturday mornings of each month I was facilitating art/life lessons with children from our city slums through Likha, a program of the Buhay Makulay Children’s Project Inc. To get that program running, I mentored a group of teenagers from similar backgrounds, who now served as volunteers and youth leaders in Likha. I was teaching roughly 15 (muscle-burning!) fitness classes a week at PlanaFORMA to folks (mostly women) of all ages. I was teaching Zumba regularly at the same studios, but also with lovely senior citizens at my church, two Wednesdays of each month. I was mentoring and managing our full-time staff at The Paper Project. More recently, I’ve gone on the road with Buhay Makulay, traveling to communities affected by the typhoon last year to share a vision of hope with children.
Over and over again, I am grateful for these windows to serve, learn and be given inspiration by the people around me. Aren’t we all just students of life?
When it began to rain hard this afternoon, I was inside one of the bedrooms with the blinds shut to keep the bright heat out. A deep, long-grunting thunder was nature’s alarm.In just a few minutes, the afternoon shifted completely, from a tortured heat to clouds weeping. The sky was white outside, still bright, though dulled slightly by the weighted clouds. The drops were heavy, made to echo even more forcefully under the roof of our old house. Oh how we’ve needed the rain!
I was busy reading, but the rain was loud and called me to walk outside to a roofed but open part of the house. I sat down a few inches away from the rain, the concrete underneath me still pinching hot. I watched the rain and felt the temperature’s soft drop around me. I recalled the last time I remember walking deliberately into rainfall. It hasn’t happened very often in recent years.
I sat there for a while. Happy for the fresh air that arrived with the downpour. But it wasn’t enough to just sit there and watch.
I couldn’t help myself and decided to step out into the rain.
I found my dad by our front door, enjoying the cool of the rain, without having to be in it. He watched me walk into the raindrops. I was smiling. He was trying to convince me I was under acid rain.
I spread my arms out and just walked around our yard, considering how strong the drops of water beat down. I cupped my hands together, wondering how long it would take me to collect rain in the palms of my hand.
Later, I finished the book I began reading last night. I had made an informal pact with myself that to unwind this weekend, I would first turn to a book rather than my weekly episodes of The Voice. I hate that I’ve had very little time to read, or that I’ve made very little time to read. I haven’t read a book in months, and the last one was similar to watching a romantic comedy, but it took longer. (At the very least, I was entertained.)
On my way to a meeting yesterday afternoon, I conveniently ducked into a nearby second-hand bookstore right before arriving at a pedestrian walk. The cause of the detour was to avoid the awkward situation of arriving at a crosswalk when you feel like it’s about to go red for pedestrians but you can’t really tell – so you kind of make motions to move – but then you hesitate – then you realize you look stupid because you can still make the cross – but then you’re afraid you’ll embarrass yourself by being the person that walks across and is eventually honked at halfway there because the traffic light just went green — and you’re still in the middle of the road.
Yeah, I think about that stuff.
Even as I was in there for the lamest of reasons, I thought to myself, there must be a reason why I’m in here. Well another reason why I’m in here, not just escaping potential shame. So I looked at the first book that I found interesting, speed read the first few pages and a few random paragraphs from later chapters too. Less than five minutes after I walked in, I was crossing the road with new old book in hand (in perfect timing, I might add), determined I would spend a bit of the weekend getting lost in it. I was also determined to make that bookstore experience matter. It couldn’t have been just me cowardly running away from an awkward public situation that probably isn’t really that awkward to begin with.
I didn’t get lost in the book, I found myself in it.
Have you read Donald Miller’s, “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”? I more than recommend it and I will most likely read it again, continuing to respond to it for weeks. And for months more, I’ll wish that I had written this book myself.
Here’s a quick excerpt, among many thought-provoking and action-enticing excerpts that I could have put forward:
“We get robbed of the glory of life because we aren’t capable of remembering how we got here. When you are born, you wake up slowly to everything. Your brain doesn’t stop growing until you turn twenty-six, so from birth to twenty-six, God is slowly turning the light on, and you’re groggy and pointing at things saying circle and blue and car and then sex and job and health care. The experience is so slow you could easily come to believe life isn’t that big of a deal, that life isn’t staggering. What I’m saying is I think life is staggering and we’re just used to it. We are all are like spoiled children no longer impressed with the gifts we’re given – it’s just another sunset, just another rainstorm moving in over the mountain, just another child being born, just another funeral…
If I have a hope, it’s that God sat over the dark nothing and worte you and me, specifically, into the story and put us in with the sunset and the rainstorm as though to say, Enjoy your place in my story. The beauty of it means you matter, and you can create within it even as I have created you.”
I guess it’s no wonder then that a few hours after I read those lines, I stepped out into the rain, and thanked God for such a beautiful day.