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.

coffee to do

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?

Haiyan/Yolanda 004: Hope from a Ukelele & 130 Voices of Children Singing

I had my doubts about teaching 130 children a whole song in just a short bit of time.

We’d have just a few hours with the kids and the music was supposed to inspire a celebration, not a language lesson. Our message was hope, and we didn’t want it lost in translation.

The song was written in English, save for one key line written in their home language, Ilonggo. We were quite certain that the kids, all natives of Lawaan, Capiz, were fluent in Ilonggo and could more or less understand Tagalog. We were clueless about their understanding of English.

I speak Tagalog, with a meager understanding or Ilonggo. Milan, who wrote the song and would be leading the music, spoke neither Tagalog nor Ilonggo.

How exactly was this going to go?

It went spectacularly. Milan wrote the song especially for the children of Roxas, who had just two and a half months earlier, survived one of the strongest typhoons ever recorded in history. They lost their roof, their homes, their parent’s livelihood, a stable source of food or supplies.

What a privilege it was for us to spend an afternoon with this children. We were optimistic that they hadn’t lost their hope. If you watch this video, you’ll see that’s true.

See them clap their hands, stomp their feet, and sing out loud! Hope is not lost in this generation!

Thank you, 2012! You will be remembered.

2012 was an incredible year. It was a big year of  endings and new beginnings. Of fighting hard in order to finish strong, and working faithfully to begin things right. This was also the year I was blown away by God and His grace, over and over again.

I’m going to take some time to look back. I read 2011’s year in review according to me, and it made me even more excited to reflect on this year that has just passed. As I write, I am only left grateful. Here we go:

In January, I returned to Wheaton College in Massachusetts for my final semester of undergraduate career. I took only three classes for the semester- an art history class called Castles and Cathedrals, a Poetry class that opened up my writing again, and my senior seminar in Studio Art.

Just a few weeks after returning, in February, I performed in my final TRYBE gala,  aptly titled The End of the World. Couldn’t leave without a bang! [TRYBE is Wheaton’s hiphop and multicultural dance group.  I served two years on the Executive Board and had my choreography featured every year in each show – including variations to the Filipino tinikling and singkil. One of my pieces to Boom Boom Pow in my sophomore year, became a crowd favorite and our most performed dance that year.] Also in February, I agreed to helping my friend out with his short film (click to see it!), Floating in Space, for which I danced. It was later screened during our senior art show in April and won the department’s pick for best work in the show.


In March, I spent spring break with my good friend Kenya. We enjoyed two great weekends of partying in New York, but  traveled for the week to San Francisco  [Her first visit ever, and my first since my family visited in the Christmas of 1990! How proud we were to have survived the nine days without tiff or argument. She also got to meet my mom’s side of my family.] Later that month, Kenya and I collaborated on a line for the student fashion show. We named the collection Yana and had our friends model for us on the runway, aka the aisle of our famous chapel. In the same month, I performed at my only iSpeak show at Wheaton, a spoken word piece called “Sold.” Brought a bit of the grit from home into the comforts of a college campus.


In April, I became an aunt. My first niece, Hannah was born in Manila – earlier than expected, so Mom didn’t have to miss her birth to come visit me! I had my first appearance in an art gallery. Our senior art show of studio art majors opened on the 24th, entitled Ars Long Vita Brevis. It was the product of our class’ senior seminar that semester, but I had been working on drawing dancers since the spring of 2011. There were nineteen of us, each with our own medium and our own story. I was so grateful to have scored half of the front wall for the exhibition for my large drawings on canvas (each about 5×6′).


In May, I received a surprise award at Honors convocation, the Lillian Hellman Prize in Theater and Dance Studies. I performed at Weber Theater for the last time, in my final Dance Company show, called Sincerely. My senior solo involved a beautiful “homemade” swing, made just for me (Thank you Jeff Grapko for building it and Clinton O’Dell for all the scrap fabric you supplied me with!) and accompanied by some of my favorite cello music. (I danced my strongest in that show. I will never forget what it felt like to perform those last few nights and how during my senior solo, all I wanted to was pour all the gratitude I felt out of my heart. I wanted to stop the music, turn on the house lights and just shout thank you thank you thank you over and over again. In the audience each night were some of the most important people of my Wheaton life. Friends, professors and for the first time ever – my mom!) I was so privileged to have been co-captain of the Dance Company for two straight  years and to have had choreography in seven out of eight of my shows.


In May I also turned 23. Mom cooked a Filipino birthday dinner so I could celebrate with my friends. This is the first birthday I’ve celebrated with her since I turned 17. Mom also got to meet some of the most important people in my life at college. In May, the awful goodbyes also commenced. But on a sunny day in that same month, I also graduated magna cum laude from Wheaton College, and barefoot too!

In June, I enjoyed a slow summer. I traveled around the east coast, taking my time to say goodbye but also meeting my friend’s families. I slept in a new bed every couple of days, none of them my very own. When I wasn’t traveling, I sat a house with my good friend Erin, who was to be married just days before I flew out of the country. I ran regularly, in short spurts, and did yoga in the living room. I also sold my art for the first time, to a man who bought one of my senior pieces for his young daughter, also a dancer. I wrote lots of letters and mailed them, thank-you’s and goodbyes.


In July, I became a licensed Zumba instructor. I finished up my great summer of traveling that took me  across the states of Massachusetts, Pennsylvania  Rhode Island, Maine, New York and New Jersey. Specifically Providence, Swarthmore, Brunswick, Bath, Woolwich, Cumberland, New Brunswick, Wildswood, Revere, Carver, Newport, Naragansett, Harlem, Manhattan, Plymouth, Harvard Square, Cranes Beach, Brookline, Martha’s Vineyard, Sagamore Beach, and yes, good ol’ Norton, among other places. [Again, a HUGE thank you to everyone who opened their home to me, who drove me from here to there, who joined me for a meal, or shared a story with me. How rich you made my summer!] My dad got really sick while I was traveling, roughly a week before I left for home. A very very close call. Also that month, my student visa in the US officially expired and I moved back to the Philippines for the foreseeable future.


In August, I got hired at the Paper Project Inc. My brother got married and I gained a new sister! I also left  behind my old loved and treasured blog, and began this new one. This month too, I felt the weight of transitioning to a familiar but changed place, as an older and also changed me.

In September, we organized Buhay Makulay’s 6th annual children’s fair at San Lazaro Hospital Manila. It was a beautiful day with the children! I also began writing again, and took time to send poems to friends for critique. I revamped the room in the house that I’ve been using as a makeshift dance studio. I repainted the walls, moved all my art materials in there, but kept the floor for dancing too. I also began teaching 4th grade Sunday School!


In October, I missed autumn. Dad had a BIG NUMBER birthday and the big sister came for a visit. I choreographed and performed at UCM’s Got Talent. I taught Zumba at my biggest event yet – over 300 people!


In November, I performed spoken word at the International Justice Mission’s annual prayer gathering. I collaborated on a sermon on the grace of giving and got to dance during all three services at church. I began playing piano again and discovered that I could compose music, a little bit. Buhay Makulay hosted its first Young Women’s Fair at a local government shelter for girls. We collaborated with a corporate group for the first time too. This month I also took running more seriously.


In December, I ran a special two week advent program for our ladies at work. I felt in my element.  I also made my way back into the dance studio by way of the dance classes at PlanaForma! I put up the Christmas tree, almost completely on my own and for the first time ever, I did all the lights too (used to be the brother’s job!) It was our first Christmas without the older sister, but our first Christmas with baby Hannah. Our house finally got a new tree, and also new Christmas stockings! For everyone including baby Ellie, whom we still patiently await to be born.


Thank you, 2012 for teaching me many, many lessons. You challenged me, in more ways than expected – in my integrity, my loyalty, my faith, my leadership, my perseverance and the quality of my work. You have also challenged my artistry, my creativity, my writing, my dancing, my athleticism, my confidence.  This year, though at times I have felt sad, lost, weak or simply like I was floating along, I choose  to give greater value to the many times in which I felt loved, respected, cared for, acknowledged, rewarded, encouraged, honored and remembered. Thankfully, many were those moments. I’ve also had my share of mistakes and setbacks, but  I know I have learned from each one. And I am learning still.

2012 has brought into my heart so many lovely people – too many that I have had to leave, but so many whom I continue to cherish in my heart. 2012 has also brought me home to my family. Quite significantly this year, God has showed me how He is so graciously and lovingly writing my story. In the past twelve months, I have been overwhelmed by the abundance of opportunity that has come my way – despite my stubbornness and despite my weaknesses. I have been carried through another great year. Couldn’t have done it without You, God!  Thank you 2012, you will most certainly be remembered. You’re going to be a tough one to beat, but 2013 sure is going to try!