“We all need someone to look at us.
We can be divided into four categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under.
The first category longs for the look of an infinite number of anonymous eyes, in other words, for the look of the public.
The second category is made up of people who have a vital need to be looked at by many known eyes. They are the tireless hosts of cocktail parties and dinners. They are happier than the people in the first category, who, when they lose their public, have the feeling that the lights have gone out in the room of their lives. This happens to nearly all of them sooner or later. People in the second category, on the other hand, can always come up with the eyes they need.
Then there is the third category, the category of people who need to be constantly before the eyes of the person they love. Their situation is as dangerous as the situation of people in the first category. One day the eyes of their beloved will close, and the room will go dark.
And finally there is the fourth category, the rarest, the category of people who live in the imaginary eyes of those who are not present.
They are the dreamers.”
— from “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera
It’s very difficult to forget books that move and change us. They seep through our pores, travel under our skin, live in the different fissures and crevices of our consciousness, and never leave. They reside in the sacred corners,the flaps and folds, and hidden spaces of our memories, our identities. They find their way into who we are, right at the very core of what matters most. The most complex of characters become our best friends, and their experiences and emotions become so palpable, so real, the thought of turning the very last page feels like a heart-wrenching goodbye.
I read Kundera’s seminal work, “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” at a very young, impressionable age. I will never forget Tereza’s neurosis and heavy desperation; Tomas’ lightness and inherent bastard tendencies; and who can forget Sabina’s strength, sensuality, ambivalence, detachment and kitsch. I hung out with these characters for years and being around them molded so many of the warped ideas I have about love, relationships; what it means to be a woman, as a young woman.
The idea of having an audience to perform for, to have look at you so that you could feel and know love, to be visible, to be seen — that’s what I am remembering now. How those lines up there struck a chord when I read them for the very first time. That no matter where I went, I felt eyes on my every move; and I found comfort in this. Even if I was exhausted, at least I was not invisible. I totally understood what Kundera was talking about when he outlined the “categories according to the kind of look we wish to live under,” and for a long time, I was in the third category. I moved, breathed, performed and did everything that I did to be seen by a beloved. Break up upon break up, I remember wondering what Ry or Ge or A or Do or Ga or Ke would think about this accomplishment or that mistake way after we said our goodbyes. If after I achieved this or let go of that, they’d approve and like a piece of great literature, come back and never leave. It was a very difficult way to live. In the end, I ceased to be me and could only identify with the performance. I no longer knew where I began and where the performance ended. It was only when I re-met G and started hanging out with Him that all of that changed. Even if all the tickets have been sold, the show isn’t going on. He simply told me that being with Him meant I never have to perform for anyone ever again. That His wonderful gaze was enough. In many ways, both literally and figuratively, G saved me.
Even the very idea of the kind of audience we write for, and it was Joey Tandem who eloquently pointed this out to me, evolves. I used to write in a way that alienated my audience because I didn’t want the secrets of this secret place to be exposed. I didn’t want to be accessible because doing that was the gateway drug to my veins. I wanted to write and publish, not risk anything, and use language in a beautiful but incomprehensible way. That brought the ante down a notch. I figured if people didn’t understand me, then they couldn’t hurt or bet against me. It was the same way being cryptic and vague allowed me to write and “put it out there” but still be able to somehow “take it all back” if I needed to.
But that was then, this is now.
Today, it is a totally different narrative, different perspective, different reason for making ideas traverse from thought to paper. Today, I write because I can; because it is a gift I have no right or arrogance to waste and because I believe I’ve found my story.
I want my/these story/ies to be clear, to be heard, to be out there with conviction because that’s the only way it’ll count. To go all the way and not be half assed about it. That despite the fear of falling, today, I want to clearly, coherently and uniquely utter the verse, articulate what’s painful and humbly document what’s sublime and inspiring. Because right now, for me, that’s what it means to be alive, to be an authentic part of humanity, to be free, to be a dreamer.
grateful slice: Books we can’t and won’t forget and G’s fixed gaze on me
- Let’s talk about being strong.
- I always thought I was strong. I figured I must have been since I have survived many things. HeartacheS. HeartbreakS. Loss. Abandonment. Disappointment. Betrayal. Worry. Fear. Over-analysis. Stress. Career change. Cancer. Having gone through all that and back, I assumed I must have developed thicker skin or something, right? But up until I sat beside this chocolate-sharing lady on a plane on my way back from a Cebu trip exactly two years ago, I realized maybe I had it all wrong.
- I remember weeping. A weeping so inconsolable, you could sense the despair in my sobs and feel the incredible sadness oozing from my pores. At that time though, I thought they were tears of joy. Really. I had convinced myself that I did really well that week. That helping him move there was the best thing. For both of us. It wasn’t goodbye, I thought. It was just something we needed to do. And I had been so strong all of the days during that trip. Contained all my emotions and feelings inside myself. I didn’t cry or flinch in front of him. I didn’t cling. I didn’t say anything to betray what was really going on inside of me. I focused on how much this move was going to make him happy. Finally.
- In hindsight, what I should have asked myself then was why the hell I was crying like someone really close to me died? Why was I crying so hard, my chair shook. This lady beside me, bless her soul, she had tissue enough for an army. Which was a good thing because I didn’t have any. I could feel her watching me as I blew my nose and as I tried my best to sob silently, facing the window, looking at the clouds covering the afternoon sky; my puffy, scrunched up face reflected back to me. This wasn’t goodbye, I thought. It was just a temporary thing. We would survive the distance, the time away, whatever temptation. Our commitment was strong. We survived London. And this was Cebu, just an hour away and in the same time zone. Right?
- Anyway, after what seemed like a lifetime, the tears ran dry and I finally stopped. I was feeling pretty proud at that point, thinking that what mattered most was I held it together in front of him, that it also felt good to finally let it out right then, that it didn’t matter that the nice lady beside me was looking at me with pity. I tried to return her pack of Kleenex when she handed me a fun size Snickers bar and told me I could keep her tissue.
- Then she said, “You know, you remind me of my daughter. She used to be like you. Scared, worried, weak. But you’ll see, it always get better. Whatever it is you are going through, everything works out. God will take care of you. You should see her now, so strong and self assured.”
- I smiled and asked what her daughter’s name was, what she did for a living, where she lived. But what I really wanted to tell her as she showed me photos of her kids, was that she had no idea what she was talking about, that I wasn’t sad at all, that just because I was crying didn’t mean I wasn’t strong and that she had it and me all wrong. I would have explained this all to her too but I was too exhausted.
- It took my articulating this story as a funny anecdote to a couple of my girlfriends back home to realize that that lady had more of a clue than I did. She was right. I wasn’t strong; that whimpering me in my seat, feeling as small as I did wasn’t strength at all. That pretending everything was alright in front of my (now ex) boyfriend (we broke up a couple of months later) wasn’t a sign of power; that my idea of strength was in fact, fragile, tenuous and misguided. I was so desperate to keep things together but was actually fraying rapidly at the seams. The lady saw right through it of course, and at that time I had no idea that I didn’t have enough fingers to plug the many holes on a dam that was about to break.
- So I am convinced today that that lady was some kind of angel or something. I still have the fun size Snickers bar she gave me. Here it is. It’s been in my fridge for awhile. I never ate it. I don’t intend to.
- Which brings me to my point. I didn’t know strength until I knew how truly weak I was. Until I knew I needed help. Until I had a stranger/lady on a plane tell me like it is. Until I knew I didn’t know anything at all.
- After everything that’s been said and done, it’s not having survived all of those things that makes me strong. It’s knowing G and what he’s done for me that builds my spiritual muscle and what keeps my capillaries going and my arteries unclogged. It’s the fact that he is strong that allows me to be strong and to have a chance at a heart that’s whole, like Caleb. G makes me believe that no Jericho is big enough to beat and win over.
- I have a ways to go, that I am sure of, but I can bet with anyone I won’t be weeping in any more planes any time soon. Thanks again, G.
grateful slice: real strength and knowing where it really comes from (Oh and snickers bars)
I found this old draft buried in my Drafts folder …
I thought guilt was the culprit all this time, especially being born and raised Catholic. For years, after having discovered who I thought I wanted to be outside of my mom’s religion, discovered my “power” as a woman, my “strength” in discourse and identity in my sexuality, I found some sort of tenuous voice to assert and articulate the many misguided things I thought I believed in. So when I woke up from my feminist slumber….I said, piss on guilt. Guilt oppresses. It kills. It stunts and suffocates. It makes you feel, well, dirty. Until you say screw it. That (religion) is just about control, colonization and fallen priests who have set their sights on unassuming (guilty) choir boys. Ha! Piss on guilt, I said. Thinking that it was guilt that made me feel, well, bad and exhausted.
Recently though, I have decided that it’s not about guilt but shame. Shame is worse than guilt because there is nobody to blame; there’s no god to point a finger at when it comes to avoiding icky feelings. No one to look at but the worried, sleep deprived, tired reflection on the mirror. I believe though, that we are not born ashamed. We are taught to be that along the way. We learn to keep secrets and hide the best parts about us. We learn to settle, to choose poorly, live with pain and consequences and in quiet desperation. We learn to embrace the selves that resemble the tiniest versions of who we are.
OMG. What the heck was I talking about? going through? thinking about? I honestly can’t remember anymore. I tried, racked my brain, dug deep….but nothing. I can’t remember wth.
And today, I am grateful for that
because I am a new creation.
[So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away–look, what is new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17) ]
I am agog at the thought that I already go by a different voice, a different truth, a different narrative. Thanks, G.
grateful slice: forgetting guilt AND shame that make us cling to the tiniest versions of ourselves
It’s day four and it’s also back to work for us. I was expecting a difficult day. I mean, I knew I would be surrounded by a lot of people most of the time, surrounded by food and a lot of ways to rationalize how I need to “replenish” my energy through other means beyond taking in liquids. It’s easy to fast when you are alone and just at home amusing yourself with work or blogging. So I braced myself. I woke up extra early and made sure I had quality quiet time. Which was good because turns out, it wasn’t so bad. I stuck to the plan somehow and aside from feeling a little sleepy from time to time, I survived the first day back in school unscathed. It’s amazing actually, even after realizing just how much work there is to be done week by week by April 5, I remained calm and composed. I thought by this time I would be delirious and well, ravenous. But no, it’s been the total opposite.
O’ me of little faith. 🙂 Thanks, G. You are enough.
But boy, did I miss the kids. Seeing all of them also made me feel full in so many ways too. They really are an extraordinary bunch. I can’t wait to read their Who am I? essays. 🙂 (an entry on that later.)
Okay, so day four. I had to go to the 9th day thing of Kuya Bong yesterday and an aunt asked me why I was fasting. She asked if I was asking G for something. And I said, no, just doing it to get to know Him more; to increase my faith, aggressively deepen my walk with Him and listen to his good, pleasing and perfect will more closely. I hope I answered her question. Anyway, it’s not the hunger that preoccupies me anymore actually. It’s this question:
Where to, G?
Where do you want me to go next next year? And what’s the next clear step to make sure I am deciding according to your will? Where do you want me to go?
Hhmm…come to think of it, I guess that is in a way, asking Him for something, right? An answer to a bunch of questions. Where to, G?
grateful slice: thinking aloud, making cuento and questions we willingly ask
I am getting used to the hollow feeling in my belly. It’s like a companion now, the ache of not having anything in there. There is a silence in place of the growling. When I drink water, I feel the cold go through the empty cavity that is my tummy, feel the chilly liquid in my bones like contrast dye during an MRI. I still think of food, especially Kookoo’s Nest pizza, but no longer crave it. I am also no longer afraid of losing energy; no longer paranoid that I will get a hunger headache because I haven’t. I woke up this morning thinking the worst is over. My mouth is still dry for some reason, no matter how much water I drink. My spirit though is drenched from the well-spring of being full from something else.
Be strong and courageous. That’s the message today. There’s nothing to be afraid of because I am not alone and it is the year of stability, capability and force; the way to be and what it means to be strong. And in that strength is freedom, favor and fullness. Things I am believing G for. A part of me humbly wishes that my name be changed too. From Jacob to Israel and from Hoshea to Joshua. I am clinging to the vine.
grateful slice: powerful messages
Your eyes can’t focus but when you try hard enough, you can still blog or mark students’ papers for some reason.
Your stomach is at the mercy of your choice and it is freaking pissed off.
Tears come very easily and so does the cold. Bring a jacket to the meeting tonight.
Your jaw hurts as you clench your teeth and swirl your saliva around your mouth every other second. You brush your teeth four times more often in a day.
You drink water all day but your throat is parched and your gums dry.
Your bladder is wondering WTH and your ADHD is having a heyday. Can’t.Seem.To.Concentrate. Took you awhile to write this entry.
your heart is glad, that you are doing this. It is not sure why right now exactly, but it remains glad. He said be aggressive about the fast this year…so your heart blindly obeyed. And what will be revealed, will be revealed. You can hardly wait.
grateful slice: distractions and discernment
Yup, he was the goat in the story.
And I was both the greedy and impatient prodigal daughter and the envious and self-righteous son.
it ends happily doesn’t it?
I get to come home safe and sound.
And once I accept and truly realize my Father’s values, He stays with me and I inherit everything He has.
The goat? Well, he remains a goat, and I am spared from needing to make sure it knows where to get grass. The burden to care for it’s fragile ego and to interpret its bleating is no longer mine to bear.
So, I’ve arrived to the fatted calf, the robe, the ring and the sandals.
We celebrate my homecoming!
The other half, I am still working on.
I’m almost there.
I have chosen the relationship over the resources.
Many things at work to make it all happen.
It is just a matter of time.
grateful slice: happy endings