It was not exactly a year ago that I left my home in San Pedro, Laguna to start my masters here in the EU. Although I started my masters in September, I mark my first mental-physical departure in May 2022, when I was invited to fly all the way to Stuttgart to participate in an art festival interestingly titled “Fragile Solidarity/Fragile Connections.” Ever since that month, I’ve been flying almost every month to a new country or city, which I would always say is an expected result of all the work I put in after, despite of, and in the process of many failures: the militarized pandemic in the Philippines and Zoom, broken laptop and meager income while on a shitty self-designed graduate program in UP, and the institutionalization of my artistic pursuits since 2020.

Failure is good, I always tell myself. It’s an opportunity to learn from and confront the extents of a life opposed to survival: the limits of the body, borders (psychic and otherwise), financial incapabilities, as well as incapacities under networked-capitalist living. Failure is a privilege I regrettably enjoy whenever there are moments of encounter, which many Astrology scholars might attribute to my sun sign’s stubborn nature and desire for a good challenge. However, this is not to say that I haven’t faced some worsts: for example, dropping my EU residence card and having to cross borders from Germany to Austria, paying for rent + deposit + buying groceries in my first week in Denmark, flying a 300EUR flight to Sarajevo (in a country I only discovered that day!) to do a 10-minute biometrics procedure for an Australian visa application deadline, self-doubt, and losing many long-time friendships.

Although it’s been a year and not exactly, I still struggle, and it’s difficult for me to admit. People often tell me, “I don’t know how you do it!” whenever they hear about my life as an Erasmus student, moving every semester, and even doing a million other things on the side to sustain survivability and some level of enjoyment. I never gave myself many chances to process and recover from exhaustion but I also need to accept eventually that this is precisely the nature of a life I never really chose. Of course, I bear the many responsibilities of my decisions, but I want to resist the temptation of defining the reasons why I ended up here. It’s a question of struggle. Wasn’t it Winnie the Pooh or Mark Fisher who said the famous line, “You’re exactly where you need to be”? I could be wrong.

As I write this while in transit on a Flixbus from Prague to Berlin, I wonder how helpful it is to recite some of my fondest memories?

In Bosnia and Herzegovina at an airbnb, I met a migrant Filipina who cooked fried dumplings with chili oil, perhaps the best food I ate during my first month in Europe. In San Francisco at a lunch, I sat next to a Nobel Prize Laureate who would eventually speak that there is a “lifting of fear” under the Marcos administration. I spent many days in Chicago just eating gummies with two special dads. I met two of my favorite theorists in New York, one showed me a park, and one practically crawled with me to the subway while drunk on champagne. My last day in Sydney, I met a friend from the Philippines coming for a wedding, and they gave me a brownie I would end up bringing all the way to Aalborg through Qatar and Amsterdam airport.

My trip to Melbourne, despite it being winter, was special because I met the most tender Vietnamese friends. I spent almost every night eating sashimi at a tasty Japanese restaurant in Chinatown where they actually make the Asian food right (side-eyeing Austria and Germany). I visited beautiful botanical gardens in Adelaide and Brisbane, where a college friend flew all the way from Perth to see me; and the latter with my college thesis adviser who in collaboration with me made my delayed uni life hell. In between, I attended a yoga class led by one of the members of the artist group that coined the term cyberfeminism.

I fell in love with São Paulo (and its people) immediately when I arrived, and witnessing samba moved me to tears. They have the best serviced massage ever, and going to Bangkok a month later made me greedy to get bookings three nights in a row; a painful regret. In Prague, I saw Ana Roxanne perform live inside a beautiful church—she didn’t sound too different, but I had the best banh mi after that concert. Amsterdam and Madrid had really nice parks in the spring, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur gave me the sunlight of home, and the capital of Costa Rica gave me everything about home: terrible traffic, endless rain, and remnants of Spanish colonization.

The morning after the midnight I arrived home in the Philippines last January, my grandfather died. My mom didn’t even bother to wake me up. At 2PM I ran as fast as I could to the crematorium, and my request to my mother that she not tell anyone that I was back was denied; we were, after all, complete during an important family event: photos will be uploaded on Facebook immediately. Those weeks I spent in the Philippines wasn’t as exciting as I’d hoped, and me leaving with this set of feelings (read: disappointment, grief, exhaustion) was what inspired me to come back to Europe with more determination that I will like it and I will do my best to not look back as I try to finish the remaining of my 2-year program.

For the first time a few weeks ago on a Tuesday night, I felt the restful feeling that was missing in the past months of my climate-changing, airport-hopping, diasporic-ass life. Ever since I moved to Austria for my first semester, I’d always been in a fight-or-flight-or-freeze mode to the point of stoic dissociation: there’s this feeling of unwelcome, whether because of language, or racism, or social insecurity, an itch in your brain telling you you can’t afford to relax. I was in Munich for a week when this feeling made its apparition: at a lover’s childhood home with beautiful cats and growing tomatoes and a big backyard. We spent a lot of time together, meeting lovely people, and more importantly, eating consistently good breakfast! I don’t know if it was because it was nearing my moving out anniversary that I finally felt that feeling, or because I was so well taken care of, or many other emotions that decided to culminate in one decisive blow.

I don’t know when this feeling will last. Although I am always confident about where I will head next and how I will face it (in terms of work, studies, career, whatever word is more appropriate), I’m considering whether this confidence and approach I’ve built is compatible with a mode of life that will actually bring me more of these restful feelings. I’ve met so many people, gained so much experience (shitty flatmates, for example), and got into many of my dream opportunities at the famous intersection of art and tech—but how come I still crave failure? Another significant question to ask, why am I even using this vocabulary? Perhaps my ultimate desire is the breaking down of a certain set of logics that I’ve been conditioned to adapt. An exacting logic, derived from twisted notions of value.

What would the world be if I saw it in musical terms? In an earlier blogpost, I wrote about the writer’s block as a first line of defense. Defense to what, I’m not sure; maybe the failure of language is a needed respite for other possibilities of thinking. In music, a phrase is not a bunch of words but instead a substantial musical thought. Musical phrasing can apply to relationships, especially to my current one and all its imperfections, in the way that it’s able to help me shape time, listen to my own tempo, and find beauty and meaning even in the most senseless rhythms. It is here that I suspect I may be able to find the restfulness that I need.

I don’t know what I will end up doing next year—should I live in Vienna, this humble and quaint city that has goulash and some of my most amazing friends? Do I live somewhere in Germany, where I’m close to many people, opportunities, and places like Berlin's Viktoria Park and Nusantara Restaurant? Can I go to Amsterdam where grass and mushrooms are legal but I risk of getting run over by a speeding bike? Maybe I go to a different city like Lisbon, London, São Paulo, or Barcelona? This blogpost was supposed to be a reflection with the intent of celebration, I’m glad I ended up here.

17 Sep 2023

Alert Level 3

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.

Quick plug: If you're a close friend and you want to chat over Discord, hit me up and join my personal server!

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.

Welcome to my blog!

24 Feb 2022