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?

Mid-Year Moment of Gratitude

Happy July 1st! Where did the first half of the year go?

Here are a few things I am thankful for today, the midpoint of 2014.

1. Work.

Whenever I am tired and feeling overworked, I try to remember how difficult it is for too many others to find a livelihood. I am blessed to have two jobs that are stable, safe, challenging, and engaging. I continue to love what I do.

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2. Ideas.

I feel the love of God when He plants a seed of an idea in my mind, and allows me to discover it. These are ideas for things to do – whether personal, professional or in between – Buhay Makulay activities, independent projects, creative initiatives, process improvement, troubleshooting, an interesting perspective, ways to mentor my staff, new ways to approach the classes I teach, or new adventures to go on. These are all gifts from above.

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3. Hope after the storm.

In the wake of devastating SuperTyphoon in November last year, and in celebration of the 8th year of the annual Fairs – we’ve taken our Buhay Makulay Children’s Fair on the road. The children and their communities continue to teach me about hope.

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4. Travel

Because of the #3, I’ve been able to travel the Philippines a bit more this year than most years. We’ve played with children from Capiz, Cebu and Leyte. Hopefully Iloilo and Negros in the coming months too. And I finally made my return to Singapore to visit my older sister – a plan six years in the making.

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5. Art

#3 has allowed me to do some community art. But in the past few months, I’ve been craving personal art-making time. I cannot always fit it into my schedule, but since reading a beautiful novel about Claude Monet, going on a painting afternoon, purchasing a sturdy & easy-to-carry sketchbook while in Singapore – I’ve picked up my drawing pen again and vowed to restore art to its rightful place in my life. I also want to start dancing again – and by dancing I mean, not Zumba..

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My pen portrait from a couple Sundays ago.

 

 

Speak soon,

T