We left Tagaytay the same morning we received the alert from NDRRMC that there were “phreatomagmatic bursts” reported in Taal. I had spent about nine days in an Airbnb at the center of the city, all-expenses paid by an international fellowship I’m a part of: supposedly so I had the space and time to focus for a virtual program on leadership. All while the volcano in full view from my balcony was brewing an eruption, a possible repeat of the devastating events in 2020.
Two years later, I’ve become a more fearful person. And so it’s been weird seeing how the Philippines is only beginning to feel like it’s finally recovering from COVID-19: I see my friends going out to gigs, beaches, and Leni Robredo rallies. At the backdrop, of course, are the rising gas prices, red-tagging of bookstores, and continuing state of unrest. Reductress said it best when they featured me in their latest headline: Woman Waiting for Evidence That World Will Still Exist in 2050 Before She Starts Working Toward Goals.
This was precisely one of the concerns highlighted in my week-long leadership program: how were leaders supposed to adapt to these kinds of circumstances? Some Harvard Business Review answers here and there, but most of what I remember from the program were actually emotions rather than ideas: feeling inspired by co-fellows covering human rights in Afghanistan, protecting refugees in Japan, and helping transwomen in Pakistan become financially-dependent, among others. Some bits of lines I’ve held onto from the program: focus on your strengths, be intentional with your actions, surround yourself with good people, and observe emotions but allow them to drift away.
I wanted to write this blogpost because briefly nourishing experiences sort of lose their magic when they’re not memorialized, something I notice with my neurotic, forgetful brain. Throughout the program, I’ve been given lots of support and positive feedback by my fellows (and friends who came to visit), and I’ve also learned to find value in expressing praise and encouragement to my peers. There was a journal prompt we were asked to answer, about a time when we felt a powerful state of ‘flow’—it’s funny because my peak self is whenever I’m extremely detached, but it’s only in the year 2022 that I’ve finally decided on this desire to be more in touch with my e-word.
Part of that short stay was also an opportunity for me to practice living alone. This year was a long time coming from all the stuff I’ve been working on since 2021, and I’m expecting to fly to three wholeass continents in May, October, and November (possibly more), which has been a source of debilitating anxiety. I can imagine how my chest almost resonates with the volcano’s present state, interactions between magma and water producing smoke that appears like clouds from afar. A reminder to self: allow them to drift away.
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27 Mar 2022
Writing for pleasure
I've been thinking about how funny it is that writing recommendation letters feels like writing obituaries.
I never really considered myself a writer, but I suppose it was something that people thought I was. After all, in the months following my graduation I was offered jobs to do annual reports, research, reviews, and even scripts for comics. Most of the time I would say yes, and many times I would fail at finding the motivation to start and finish the work that I'm contractually obligated to do. What happens is that I become so anxious that I put them off until the deadline, or way past it, absorb all the negative energy that I could possibly absorb from that derailment, and then deus ex machina, I finish the write-up in less than two hours (or never). Obviously, I am writing this tonight because I have another deadline I've missed.
But when the year began, I was actually determined that I wanted to pursue more writing. I wanted a firmer grasp on thinking and memory, I told myself, because my poor pandemic brain accustomed to algorithms designed for forgetfulness struggled to hold a thought. I created this webpage in January as a dump for writing exercises, but it was only today that I finally decided on what I wanted to write about for my first post. I was hesitant about doing a Y2K-ish introduction post where I list favorite movies and my Myers-Briggs personality type (I'm trying to become a more 'serious' writer!), but truth be told, even if I wanted to, ever since COVID happened I've forgotten any sense of self I could easily perform for an audience that I wanted to be my friend.
A few weeks ago, I was shortlisted for the Chevening Award, a prestigious scholarship that would give me a fully-funded opportunity to study in the UK. I've come a long way since Typhoon Rolly in 2020, a nightmare era when I was in my second semester in Zoom University, I was broke, and I barely had money to repair a Macbook that I needed to do literally everything, including leading an organization about, well, accessing the Internet, among other things. After surviving that traumatic period and getting my laptop fixed, I discovered applying to residencies, fellowships, and grants, that would earn me a living; and ever since then writing has become a regular activity for me without realizing it.
Part of the application process for the scholarships I've been applying to is requesting for recommendation letters from previous professors and mentors. The cute thing about recommendation letters is that they're meant to describe your best self: you want to be palatable to a faceless jury. Because your professors and mentors are usually busy and don't actually know every aspect of your 'career', they sometimes ask you to draft it. Not so different from applying to fellowships, really. You create these narrativized versions of your curriculum vitae sprinkled with phrases and pure delusions like "friendly personality" and "creative innovator." By marketing yourself you're reduced into a derivative, and you wonder how this is far from anything that feels like a life you've lived: every sentence, a death notice. I was always bad with remembering things, but I've recently accepted that I can write recommendation letters so fast, I only need to spend a braincell.
Which is to say that, my trouble with writing continues. Questions about complicity (Solmaz Sharif) and privilege (Conchitina Cruz) hound me. I wonder why writing would be so appealing in the first place. The writing I aspire for is obviously different from the writing I've gotten used to in the past two years: I write artist statements and curatorial proposals, essays about leadership and university choices, long and short bios, all supposedly beneficial to a 'self' I've been building, one that I honestly have a hard time relating to. Neferti Tadiar, in a Zoom-hosted talk about Fredric Jameson asked, "How might we think about the political unconscious in an era when representation and critique are just so much content to maintain channels of flow for social networks and capitalist platforms?"
In this desire to resist, not only against the clutches of Mark Zuckerberg, but also the forces that come with existing in present political realities (continuing globalization, a possible Marcos presidency, precarity and loss of life, etc.), I lose sight of what's left that could ever be pleasurable. What forms of writing and language, occupations of time and space and memory, are appropriate (and pleasurable) for our times? How do we burn down systems that force us to write in the ways we do? I'm beginning to suspect that the writer's block is a first line of defense. Or at least, a temporary state in which I would be susceptible to whatever energies that will lead me to answers. For now, what's truly certain is that I really want to go to the beach.