Week 42: Wait for the sun

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The uncool thing about this fibromyalgia is that, for me, at least, the depression it brings hits without warning sometimes. It creeps up on feet in socks, expertly, so that it doesn’t rustle even a hair on my head. Then it envelopes me, engulfs me until there’s nothing left for me to do but let it.

It’s difficult for people without fibromyalgia to understand this, coupled with all its other symptoms. Even I sometimes can’t get it. How can there be pain when I don’t even smoke, or join triathlons? How can I be depressed when there are two kids in the next room, talking to each other with minion voices? How can I be so out of breath when all I’m doing is sitting and reading a book about Snoopy?

Until some years ago, doctors thought fibromyalgia was a figment of a hypochondriac imagination. I remember about 15 years ago, I went from doctor to doctor to doctor and after 57 trillion tests, not one could tell me why I was so tired all the time. Someone suggested I take more calcium; his patronizing associate told me to eat more fruits and vegetables because they’re easier to process; another one said I should exercise more; but the wisest of them all said it was all in my head. He said I was just imagining the pain and the breathlessness.

Turns out, I wasn’t. Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that affects the nerves, causes a glitch in pain signals to the brain, lowers oxygen levels in red blood cells, causes over-all fatigue, depression, and a host of other symptoms. Intensity may vary from person to person but the bottom line is, everyone with fibromyalgia has to learn to live with it because medication mostly deals with only the symptoms.

I prefer to not use meds because I don’t like the side effects. And I’m grateful that my symptoms are not too intense that I have to rely on daily medication to function properly. Dropping the drugs has taught me to listen to my body more carefully. There’s always a sign when the pain is about to come: a twinge in the back, a hand that starts feeling heavy, a leg that becomes lazy. Then you brace yourself for the onslaught and try to distract yourself until the pain runs its course which, sometimes, takes days.

What always catches me off-guard, though, is the depression. It steals in at any time of the day, at any occasion. And it removes all logic. You tell yourself that there’s really no reason to feel down, but all words (even those said with the best of intentions) just bounce off a white wall; heard but unacknowledged. The grayness paints you into a corner and you’re too confused, too lost to crawl away even after the paint has chipped off.

And the thing to do, when that happens, is to wait for the sun to come out, because it always does. This is me waiting.

Week 41: Trek at high noon

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That would probably be a non-issue if I did it in a country with a cooler climate, where eggs don’t fry on the pavement in the summer, and where the sun is at least 90 million miles away instead of just next door.

But I climbed this (small) mountain in the Philippines, which is a breathtakingly beautiful country, but also where, in the summer, the sun likes to match the islands’ beauty point by point in heat. Nevertheless, we forged on. We were on the island of Sibale, in Romblon province, at the heart of the Philippines.

Based on how our group had to stop and catch our breath after climbing about 15 steps to get to the forest trail, I placed our collective fitness level at .2 percent. But there was a ray of hope: beside me was a local man in jeans. I figured things were looking good and easy if this guy thought jeans would be the appropriate outfit for the day. So I walked on, encouraged.

We reached the end of the cemented path and went on into the forest trail. All throughout, we had to scramble over huge rocks and duck under low tree branches that decided to cross over to the other side of the path. Our chattering and jokes gradually faded away until the only sounds I could hear were crickets and the crunch of dead leaves under our feet. Being surrounded by nature does that to people, I’ve observed. Trees and mountains, oceans and rivers have a way of working themselves into your soul and the only choice you have is to quiet down and listen.

Some parts of the way were awash with the noon sun. Walking through those hot patches that stretched about 10 feet at a time became increasingly difficult as the path wore on. At several points, I was so close to saying, “You guys go ahead. I’ll just wait for you here.” What kept me going was the shame of bowing out ahead of the guy in jeans. I thought, if he can defy the heat in his denims, I can, too.

Sweat dripped from me as if I were standing under a shower. It even dripped from my fingertips, which had never happened before. It was briefly fascinating. The only thing that stayed sweat-free was my black dry-fit t-shirt. (So they do work.)

Finally, we reached the end of the trail. Approaching it, I could see the rich aquamarine sea through the trees. It was sparkling, as if calling out, “Jump in, jump in!” There was nothing I could do but stare at its majesty. That was all anyone could do.

At the tip of the trail-end was a grotto bearing a statue of the Virgin Mary. It faced out to the sea. The locals built it that way, they explained, so that Mary would protect the island from all coming danger, and also to greet visitors and send off travelers with a shower of blessings.

I like to think that I fell under that shower. See, in usual cases, the same amount of effort that I put in on that trek would have landed me in bed for at least half a day, gasping for breath. But on that day, there was none of that. Sure, I was tired. But I wasn’t close-to-death tired, which I would sometimes get in the city.

So that night, I drank to the beauty of life, the wonder of the unknown, and the power of faith.

At the end of the trail. Sibale, Romblon.

At the end of the trail. Sibale, Romblon.

Week 40: Appreciate art

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To end last weekend, The Hub, The One with the Toilet Humor, The Manipulator, and I spent a couple of hours at an art fair, aptly dubbedArt Fair Philippines 2014. It was The Hub’s and my attempt to get the kids to grow up with an appreciation of culture running through their veins.

It was ingenious how the organizers did it–they converted the top two floors of a parking lot in Makati’s business district into an air-conditioned gallery. Twenty-eight art galleries–many from the Philippines but also some from other parts of Southeast Asia–participated in this four-day fair, bringing in loads of contemporary art pieces created by Filipino artists.

In the elevator going up, I had a little talk with the kids: “We don’t touch any of the art. Anything that’s not the floor or a moving person, we don’t touch, okay?”

My rule fell on deaf ears, however. The first thing The Manipulator did when we got to the entrance was to poke one of the canvas bags that was part of a wall installation. In the process of doing this, he and The One with the Toilet Humor discovered that there were rocks inside the bags. I caught The One with the Toilet Humor, who has a fascination with rocks, sneaking out one of the rocks to add to her collection. (But otherwise, they’re really good kids. Except they have the attention span of a fingernail.)

The second thing that caught their attention was a group of brightly-painted ping-pong tables by artist Louie Cordero. Some people were playing table tennis on the tables, which were cordoned off, for some reason. When The One with the Toilet Humor and The Manipulator realized they were too short to play ping-pong, they moved on to the next exhibit.

Looking at the art in some of the spaces, I zoomed back to my first job. It was at an art gallery. I remember walking through the gallery during slow afternoons, looking at the pieces, wondering desperately if I was stupid or if the paintings really did nothing for anyone. I would stare at a modern sculpture for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what it meant. More often than not, I’d walk away without a clue.

I found myself doing the same thing at the art fair. There was this striking piece–it was a black wooden armchair with the seat and the back taken out. In their place were plastic utensils in bright red, stuck together. What did it all mean? I had no idea.

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor

Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor


This pink bird was part of a menagerie that included a stuffed human with a horse’s head, and what looked like Death in a green robe with visible orange mending. This space was one of the most colorful, which made it one of the kids’ favorite spots. But I had to ask again, what did it all mean? Why were they created?

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.

Sculpture by Daniel dela Cruz. Photo by The One with the Toilet Humor.


I found my favorite spot in a quiet corner. It featured intricate sculptures of scenes from Alice in Wonderland, by sculptor Daniel dela Cruz. The pieces were so meticulously crafted that you could almost hear the white rabbit say, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!”

A few steps away were the fluid glass sculptures of famed glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. In emerald green and aqua blue, Orlina’s pieces didn’t grab you. Instead, they caressed your hands and held them so that you could feel waves of cold saltwater dancing around your fingers.

Another turn, and there was a neat pile of books, spines facing the wall, holding up one end of a shelf. On it were framed pages–the last pages of about 50 classic books. It didn’t matter what they said, as long as they ended with the same two words: The End. This installation was so weird but, somehow, also strangely comforting to me.

The piece de resistance for The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor was, unfortunately, an installation that included real orange macarons. (“Come back at closing time and they’ll give away the macarons,” someone whispered to me.) The kids didn’t think this octopus-like thing was included in my Golden Rule of Not Touching because it was made partly of food.

I was standing a few feet away, distracted by some other art piece, when I spied The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor slowly trying to squeeze two macarons away from the rest of the octopus tentacles. At that moment, I felt like I was in a dream, moving in slow-mo, arms extended, face contorted, screaming, “Noooooooooo,” but knowing that I would be too late.

But I did manage to stop them from shaming our family eternally in the eyes of the art community.

And just like that, it was time to go.

I asked the kids, “How did the art make you feel?”

“It made me feel bored,” The One with the Toilet Humor said.

“It made me feel hungry and sleepy,” The Manipulator said.

I realized I was doing it wrong back then at my art gallery. Art doesn’t have to mean something absolute to everyone. All it has to do is make you feel something–even boredom and hunger. And it would have earned that spot on the wall, that space on the pedestal.

Week 39: Make a spontaneous decision

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I feel I owe you an explanation for disappearing for eight months. (You might say, “Oh, has it been eight months?” And I’d buy you a drink for your positivity. I refuse to acknowledge sarcasm.) See, I kept wanting to write here many times over that period, but I just couldn’t. I felt I’d outgrown this site.

For one, the site’s name is the worst name for a blog anyone could think of. In English, it roughly means “If I were a superhero, my power would be laziness.” Have you ever advertised yourself to, say, a potential employer or an interview subject by saying, “Yes, I have a blog. Please visit www dot if-I-were-a-superhero-my-power-would-be-laziness dot com?”

Another thing, the kids have outgrown their nicknames. The Tactless Child is un-diplomatic just 40 percent of the time now; it seems unfair to burden her with such a judgmental nickname. So I’ve decided to give her a different one: The One with the Toilet Humor.

The One Who Spits actually still lives up to his nickname. But in the spirit of starting fresh, I will give him a new nickname, too: The Manipulator.

(And just to complete the round-up, The Hub has, like me, changed bits and pieces in his life since eight months ago, but has largely been the same, very familiar presence. It grounds me.)

So anyway, you ask, what made me go ahead and actually write something here tonight? It’s because tonight, I revisited two old friends who I really feel I grew up with.

Yesterday, I picked up from the ever reliable Facebook that the Richard Linklater film, Before Midnight, would be showing in Manila for only two days. (And it opened two days ago.) I’ve been a fan of this trilogy from the first film, way before anyone knew that it would become a trilogy. At Before Sunrise, I was a college student, wondering what to do with her life. At Before Sunset, I’d become a writer who was drawn equally to morbidity and romance.

So you bet I would have jumped at the chance to have a rendezvous with Jesse and Celine and find out what happened to them after Paris.

The Hub was on his way home after a photography gig; I was thinking of what to feed The One with the Toilet Humor and The Manipulator for dinner. All of a sudden, like the “ding” of a front desk bell, I realized I might miss my chance to watch Before Midnight. And that was unacceptable.

A quick internet check showed that the last showing would be at 8:40 tonight. I found this out at 8:15, as The Hub was arriving home. In two minutes, I’d passed the babysitting reins to The Hub and I’d gotten ready (by putting on shoes and making sure that I was wearing a bra). Since I gave birth, decisions didn’t usually come to me this quickly. They were usually preceded by questions about whether meals were child-friendly, if there was quick access to a bathroom, and if the experience would “broaden children’s minds.” Making a decision that was 100 percent totally about me was new to me, at least since about eight years ago. It felt so exhilarating!

And it seemed like the universe also thought so. The Hub got home just in time, and I made it to the cinema in 12 minutes from my house because all the traffic lights were green!

I thought the cinema would only be half full (because after all, who wants to watch a movie where all the characters do is talk?) But it turned out that the only seats left were in the first two rows. I sat beside a couple on their date night. Twenty minutes into the movie, I heard soft snoring coming from my seatmate. It went on for a bit (because there were no explosions onscreen to wake up the snorer). Finally, I heard the wife or girlfriend nudge him awake.

She whispered, “Hoy nakakahiya. Baka isipin wala kang culture.” (You’re embarrassing me. People might think you’re uncivilized.)

He whispered back, “E nakakainip kasi. Usap lang nang usap.” (But it’s so boring. All they do is talk!)

She whispered back, “Basta huwag kang matutulog!” (Just shut up and don’t sleep!)

Poor guy. He fell asleep again about 10 minutes after that. They had another whispered discussion and left soon after, leaving me alone in our row.

Of all the films, I connected with this one, Before Midnight, the most. I knew many of Celine’s issues as my own, and I could recognize Jesse’s logic and reasoning in that of The Hub. It was reassuring to know that, judging by the applause and laughter from the audience, I wasn’t the only one who was making it up as I went along. Turns out, being often baffled by motherhood and marriage isn’t my sole ownership. It’s universal. And, selfish as it sounds, I was glad it was. Hanging out with mothers who seemed they had it all under control, while I kept having to remind The Manipulator to, “Swallow that spit!” was so tiring for my self esteem.

I left that cinema once again reaffirmed of the power of true love. It does sound naïve and idealistic. But in our society rife with negativity, love manages to consistently slice through the muck; like the first notes of a song cutting into the silence.

Week 38: Work from a cubicle

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Bet you thought I’d gone and joined the circus. While that thought is interesting and will merit an hour of reflection, let me quell the rumors and say, I’m still here.

That done, let me get on with Week 38. I’m writing this on an antiseptic white desk. I’m facing a glass partition on which hangs a small whiteboard that’s also clean. Beside my laptop is a desk phone with my name digitally emblazoned on the screen. Someone at another desk in another country did some things on his laptop and assigned the phone to me, only to me. My desk is eerily neat. To make it seem more like myself, I’ve scattered some sheets of paper beside my laptop. I snatched the paper from the photocopy machine to write my notes on, since I keep forgetting to bring my notebook from home. There’s a coffee mug beside my phone, filled with cold water because too much (free) coffee makes me palpitate. When I leave this disheveled cubicle this afternoon, it will magically adjust itself overnight and, come tomorrow morning, will be back to its squeaky clean state.

I will argue with you that what I did isn’t selling out, trading in bohemian serendipity for closed shoes and a salary. It’s actually something I’ve always wanted to go back to: working and earning. But this is worlds different from my other jobs.

While finishing my thesis, I worked at an art gallery. It was the first time that I lived away from home and I loved my freedom. In the mornings, I’d dress in my boots and gypsy skirts and walk on the cobbled streets to work. During the day, I would be surrounded by amazing paintings and prints, sculptures and sketches. At night, I’d either go out or stay in and devour a whole pack of dinner rolls and soup. Sometimes after work, my neighbors and I would drive two hours to the beach, eat and be silly, then go back home. It was priceless.

After receiving my degree, I had to look for another job. The one I eventually found in publishing gave me great friends, a precious network, and an iron-clad stomach. But from the outside, it didn’t look as appealing. The office sat in an old warehouse; my friends and I almost didn’t give in our applications because from the parking lot, the building looked like an insane asylum.

But then we did go in and do our interviews; and I got the job.

My desk in that office was an old wooden one painted a sick yellow shade. Because I was the newest member of the staff, my desk faced the “pantry,” which consisted of a tiled counter, a sink, a faucet, and a trash bin. When our office was transformed from an old warehouse, management forgot to send a memo to the resident cockroaches telling them to move out. So my first seatmates in that office were roaches.

We could wear anything, work any number of hours as long as we got the job done, and we could turn off the lights when we were working overtime and scare the senses out of each other. I loved it.

I stayed for about three years. When I finally mastered the art of taping a model’s breasts to make them appear bigger on camera (it was a men’s magazine, after all), I said I learned all I could from that job and went freelance. And from then until a week ago, I worked as a freelance writer and editor.

Until a week ago, my feet had become accustomed to wearing flipflops for entire days – or weeks. I’d learned how to cook dinner TV-chef style: explaining every step I did for my enthralled audience made up of The Tactless Child and The One Who Spits. I’d gotten used to the laughable treatment that writers have to take from many people. (I tell you, the arts scene in this part of the world will never fully take off if talent is consistently taken for granted by people who can afford to hire it. But that one’s for another post.)

Today, for the three days a week that I have to be at work (yes, just three, because freelance life is difficult to let go), I have to wear sensible shoes, ride an elevator to my office, struggle with “working mom’s guilt,” and remember names other than that of The Hub, The Tactless Child, and The One Who Spits. But I get to write almost every day now, I get to truly treat The Hub to dinner sometimes, and the kids get a break from me every once in a while. So it’s all good.

Week 37: Run

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The road and me. That was all there was for an hour this morning.

It started out as a typical Monday morning. Phone alarm. New typhoon news. Pancakes on teflon. Velcro on shoes. The One Who Spits making strange sense out of his random statements. Sandwiches in lunchboxes. School bus.

The noise eventually got to me and I needed quiet. I knew I needed to run, although the last time I ran was close to a decade ago. I didn’t really quiet down at the beginning. I ran on the road, see, and nothing is noisier than the road on the first day back at school and work after almost a week of flooded house arrest. Impatient car horns, persistent taho vendors, hostile chained dogs, gossiping grandfathers by their doorways. The cacophony just wouldn’t let up.

Then I found my rhythm. And everything else was muted. All I felt were my shoes on cement. All I heard was my heartbeat. All I did was breathe in, breathe out. All I saw was the road ahead.

The things inside me that needed clarity, the muddled goals that needed purpose, the ideas that needed words, the faith that needed courage — they crowded around and jostled for attention. But what I did was just put one foot in front of the other and run. And eventually, I found what I was looking for.

It felt magical to be quiet. Funny how people regard me as odd when I sit still and not talk. For some reason, they associate stillness and silence with unfriendliness, haughtiness, or dullness. They don’t hear the vastness of silence or the music in one’s veins.

The phone was ringing when I got home. And because I was able to step off the world for an hour while I ran, I didn’t dodge the call like I sometimes do. I’d made like Usain Bolt. And so I was, once again, ready to listen.

Week 36: Climb to the roof

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When it wasn’t raining every day and there were still no classes to belatedly suspend because of bad weather, we scaled a wall and climbed up to the roof of our house.

The Tactless Child had gotten it into her head that she was afraid of heights. I suspected that this phobia conveniently manifested itself after I told The Tactless Child that she was hereby in charge of feeding the fish, whose tank is on top of a book shelf. She would have to stand on a chair to feed our silent pets.

But just in case the fear was real and not a means to manipulate the ignorant mother, I thought back to an article I wrote about phobias. The doctor I interviewed said that the quickest way to remove a specific phobia is to gradually expose the person to the subject of his fear.

I don’t remember if I did it gradually, but I do remember feeling very smart when I thought of it: Why don’t we climb up to the roof of our house to show The Tactless Child that there’s nothing to be afraid of?

Turns out, there indeed was a bit to fear; beginning with The One Who Spits running up the ladder. There I was on the fourth rung, reaching up to hold The One Who Spits’ ankle and reaching down to pull up The Tactless Child. There was a brief moment, when I resembled a human letter T, that I realized the stupidity of my plan, but soon after, I’d cleared the ladder and pulled myself up to the roof.

We were on top of the big storage shed, a.k.a. bodega, behind the house. Right beside this shed grew an atis tree which was full of ripe fruits that balmy afternoon. The branches made a little cocoon of leaves over the roof, about four feet high. Sitting under the branches, it felt like we were inside a tent made of leaves. The One Who Spits immediately started harvesting atis – ripe, nearly ripe, and half-an-inch small, he picked them all. The Tactless Child forgot about her fear and got into harvesting, too. (The quickness in how her phobia left her made me realize that a six-year-old had finally succeeded in playing me for a fool.)

After harvest time, we explored the rest of the roof. The storage shed connects to the main house so covering the entire space was easy enough – for someone who didn’t have two young kids with her. Seeing the wide new space, The One Who Spits started quivering with joy. He didn’t know where to run to first: would he run to the street side of the roof first, where he could head-dive into hard cement, or would he dash to the part at the side of the house, where he could plunge into sharp tree branches? Oh, the choices!

When we had enough of the sun, we retreated to another part of the slanted roof where there was an overhang of santol branches. I had a snack of fruit (picked right from the tree!) while The One Who Spits massacred unsuspecting ants and The Tactless Child called down to our helper for a spoon, because her barbarian of a mother, who was eating santol with just her hands and teeth, didn’t think to bring spoons to eat fruits with.

We spent about a couple of hours on the roof, enough to extinguish all trace of one’s fear of heights. But it wasn’t long enough. Both kids thought the roof was a treasure trove and wouldn’t leave. Together, they found a rusty pair of tongs, a ballpen with no cap, a forlorn kite, and a spool of string. Our roof was apparently someone’s lost-and-found drawer.

Finally, we were ready to go. And then I learned the hard way that coming up a ladder is worlds different from going down it. It was a very good thing that our helper, who is used to my unexpected “plans”, was waiting at the foot of the ladder. The Tactless Child got down first without incident. Then I climbed down with The One Who Spits. I had him pinned against the ladder, supported by my arms and stomach. But somehow, he wormed his way out of my body cage and, with still six rungs to go, jumped off the ladder sideways. It was a fantastic catch by our helper, the savior of the day.

Since then, a trip up to the roof has gained status in our house. It’s now up there with Unlimited TV Time (which never happens) and Eating Chips Instead of Healthy Food (which happens from time to time, when I’m feeling guiltily rebellious). It’s something you don’t want to do because you know it’s just not a good idea. But you still do it because when you’re up on the roof, at least, you can reach up and pretend that you can touch the sun. And how glorious would it be if you actually could?