Hello to a new year. It’s no new though, but it’s also weird thinking that a manmade construct gives us a new slate when the operational or academic or anything timeline doesn’t follow it either–but it’s a mindset thing as always, I guess.
There are weirdly vivid times that come into my head when I’m doing work at my computer and just stare at the timestamp in the corner. I move the cursor, hovering gently over the month (paying no mind to the seconds passing by), thumbing over the calendar months til I find dates with nothing on them (not hard to get to) if I happen to be on Windows, and just sitting there like a captive to the passing of something I feel so behind of. It’s pretentious: to be paralyzed, and suddenly lose all focus as if I’ve already lost the year and time itself when I could just simply continue. But it is never that simple.
I sit in that daze of the passing months, recall how fondly I remember the last Christmas. The last New Years’. How I actually remember nothing of those moments and how every year, they pass by the same–never excited for them, just dates that inconvenience me and where everyone thinks nothing of me. The same goes for Holy Week and my birthday; then I wander over to when school starts or started and how little I am going and how there is still so much to do.
There are times where I think: god, I have to let myself rest. I’m eighteen and killing myself–this being a statement that lots of people would laugh at. What does eighteen know? I do nothing for a few days in the name of mental security, my mind above anything else. The state of nothingness becomes a state of decay.
We passed that weird period of the holiday season where we never know what date it is. Between Christmas and the New Year, where I have to get up and say hello to people that I last saw around the same time the past year (that still feels like a yesterday, doesn’t it always) and we drift off, far again. I don’t remember what I did any of those days, but I remember wanting to make something more of it. It never happens. Not yet, at least. I flew back to the Philippines from my first semester of college in Connecticut, arriving on the very morning of Christmas Eve. It felt like nothing, and the tree and lights were gone just as fast.
This is the first time where I enter my home as a foreigner. My bedroom is no longer my bedroom, it’s prefixed with my childhood bedroom. I’ve been sleeping here for two weeks but it still feels like I am booked in a long-term hotel room, and my suitcases are still open, clothes flailed. I’ll probably be only packing properly a day before my flight, just as I did when I left for school in August–with a lot less of the rush. People treat me the same. I know less people. There is a mini tally going on in my head on whether I have acclimated and gained a flick of an American accent, and I take it as a victory whenever someone tells me that I’m still the same–because I’ve made it keenly clear that I hate it there. Not the culture or the experience, but the idea of living, merging, or losing my very self. It only takes a day for me to swap out everything in my wallet for Philippine bills, coins that I actually recognize, being disgusted at prices and living in relief of how much cheaper everything here is. Though everything is as it is, I feel that I am not truly welcome anymore; the place is no longer mine.
I am labeled as the girl who goes to school in America, and the only way people connect with me now is questions about it, of course. It’s often bullshit questions though, because honestly? Nobody cares anymore about the name of the school, and it’s like I’m not living a completely new life on my own across the world. They do not know how different it is from moving across the country and adjusting to the city of Manila. Maybe the move from Manila to the northeast isn’t that different anyway. Foolish and wishful thinking on my end for wanting conversation more than “oh my GOD, you have to do laundry! How do you even do laundry?” to “how are the boys there?” With these questions, I know that people still think I have no capacity to do anything at all in my life, and are unaware of the fact that for the past eighteen years of my life I have never been interested in discussing my love life. There is such a distance that it is barely discussed. I say hello to old friends and I barely speak words about the American dream; at most I talk about the pleasure of an easy access to Sephora. I’m near-confident that they hear the undertone in my words, my messages about it the past few months where I’m left with such distaste. My goal is to learn here, not to live. I live life here, in the Philippines.
There is a direct flight from JFK to Manila at around 1AM on the 23rd. These are the only times I get to hear people speak in Tagalog in person, for many months. Philippine Airlines arrivals and departures, their out-of-sync safety video that I’ve memorized every word to (not that I’ve had that much flights lately, but it’s a pretty memorable video), my general flying anxiety. There are so many people wearing college sweatshirts and some names I recognize that it is the first touch of home I have.
When I mistakenly pay up a baggage porter whose sole assistance is pushing my cart (balikbayan box atop) backwards across that steep ramp to the arrivals area and begin sweating insane amounts, I know wearing the hoodie was a mistake. I ride in a car that isn’t something hailed from Uber for the first time in months, we get trapped in the swells of traffic. It’s so picturesque that if it were a movie someone would request for us to go drive-through Jollibee, but it was never really a thing for me.
It’s a holiday blur, it always is. I plot my days with meetings and work deadlines and force myself to come up with at least half of my schedule for the next semester, but my body drifts into a familiar listlessness I experienced for most of the summer. I want to do nothing but become something, and there’s a big compromise to be found there. (Do I really want to do nothing? Or do I feel like what I am doing is amounting to nothing?) I miss nothing anymore the moment I step foot back. I make no checklists of places to go except for a handful list of restaurants that I’ve missed. My dog gives me the biggest hello. This time, I’m going to fold my anime body pillow sheet and bring it back to my dorm room.
There is a war going on and I am falling, for the past months I have tried to insert myself very closely into what’s happening in the Philippines. A heavy, pervasive sense of guilt clings to me about what happens, and I live with this heightened belief of assigned accountability given my position and “connections” with where I am. The little things. Drama, movements, shows, the memes. Being in another country gives me this uptight sense of security when I finally speak up against a select slew of things online. We’re in a perfect time where we must overcome hesitance and self-image, let this platform of discourse and debate we’ve made truly serve its purpose and advocate for what we believe in when others can’t–and watch the effect ripple.
Somehow, it works. A meeting sours when I am irritably irked by old high school friends’ comments about representation and diversity, everything spirals. The bullying case, taxes and TRAIN, Miss Universe, my high school, the men of the OPM scene, little victories and news snippets, rising startups and calls with people and figures to do anything I can to still feel like I’m there. Some of these are the most miniscule of things blown out of proportion–but if there’s anything one can do to lead these discussions to what are far more objectively critical and relevant but obscured issues, I do what I can.
I fill what I can with political meetings and pushes for myself to do work. If I spend any day this break riding out to Manila, I space out into the lowest point in my life not many months ago just slumped in a dorm room when I went to a last minute choice of searching up the world’s most influential photographs or something of that nature. Two hours in and I am crying at so many different things and have twenty-six tabs of Wikipedia open. Tank Man becomes my wallpaper for a while, the beauty of humanity and defiance and resistance. There I am again. We drive against Luneta, that fucking condominium in the background, people with selfie sticks in droves, running children and people beaten down in the heat of the world in the corners.
It’s some sort of survivor’s guilt. We’re putting everything we have into dollars. I want to be living in this heat, as the person I was, singing to Philippine Spotify rates and the terrible advice radio stations. There is a collapse in the country and I’m watching everyone around me grow more desensitized. Currently, I’m going through this state of paralysis–what can I do? Register to vote, tell people to vote for this guy, share words, speak. What power do I have as an F-1 student away from my home? Little to nothing.
There’s something in me that says I have to be there, however. At college, two of us explain the most basic Filipino slang. I’m a teenage girl in a ridiculously lucky, privileged place in life and there’s also having access to dozens of vacation homes over the country, never having to commute, and regularing every place in BGC as your sole love letters to home.
But I am no more Filipino because I know these words, or know of jokes and sleeper legends entrusted from the generations of high school and thousands of hours poured on MOBAs, nor is it because I say I was born in the slums, or spent some days grazing my wrists with the ridges of detergent soap. There’s a war going on everywhere and I deserve no praise for the person I am, only resentment and apathy because I don’t know what I’m doing and I wish I did. I wish I could be more than someone who interjects online with the fabled United States living situation. Be someone more than senatorial meetings who reads and reads but does not live through the experience. I don’t want to debate about what it means to be Filipino any longer, but I’m fearing that I don’t even see myself as fitting the bill. This is the most alienating and frightening thing that I have ever experienced. I gulp at my inflections and at how I can’t relate with how different my school system is from the ones that my friends experience. A deep longing to act has long lingered, but this time, as I drive by the same places I have sworn to change but have failed to, it’s explosive… its languidness is long left behind. There is a storm.
New Year (Explosions off in the distance)
It rains during New Years Eve as we drive through the curving, aching mountains of Batangas on the way to generic tourist beach spot Nasugbu (I wrote about being in Punta Fuego a long while ago, came to another area this year). The only mercy granted to us is the drive through Kaybiang Tunnel before the worst fog I’ve encountered keeps me gripping the side of the car in the backseat, my eyes wide open as if I have any influence on the drive with the near-zero visibility. It is the worst afternoon to start off something supposedly exciting.
Another thing that prevents me from enjoying the chosen choice for the holidays is how I absolutely hate doing anything that involves being serviced in a time most valued with family. It makes me feel so wretched that there is no pleasure in anything anymore: can’t eat out on Christmas (we did, I didn’t eat) or chant around a resort or hotel ball drop knowing some people are on sixteen hour shifts and on the verge of collapse. This is the first New Years that I sleep through. It gives me some edge of control, like I truly feel eighteen because I defied the expectation and the unnecessary screaming and avoided social media until people stopped posting about the new year. It is the worst time both offline and online.
On the first, light rains are scattered throughout the day and the clouds visibly skip over the beach; the atmosphere is so gloomy that it reminds me of the New England rain. Burns spread over my face, my cheeks blister red for days and I do not touch the ocean water–but I do look over it. The resort’s limits and swimming areas, the pay-per-ride banana boats and the closed henna ink booth against green mountains and log boats far out into the water. My mind thinks of nothing. I allow myself to think of nothing. This is the first and one of the only days of the year where I will so keenly reflect on everything: about the person I am, the person I want to be, the person the world wishes me to be. Rain on the beach isn’t that bad.
Today is January 6. I’m worrying more than usual about productivity and things to do with the remaining days I have here. I may not return for another year, should I choose to go on the usual Computer Science major route and intern during the summer. Leave something early because I get sick, rot in bed and decide to write weekly and force myself to think and revive this place and just let myself think because all I am is staring at screens and learning things that never come up but in writing. I had bad dreams about people I don’t talk to and then had some mild concerns about how many people I currently do talk to.
On the topic of usual things about awakening and change, there was a decent change in my life philosophy. For a while, I thought apathy was the way to go–this cruel, self-deprecating view of it where I was selfish in the twisted sense, that because I value myself so little perhaps others should think of me higher–that apathy at myself for the “greater good” would be choice. Like manipulation and toxicity but in a worldview sense. I just wanted to be a martyr and let my life be labeled around that for no particular reason.
In Call Me By Your Name’s most defining scene, Elio’s dad shares words reflecting his wisdom and thoughts about love and connection. It ends with this:
But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything—what a waste!
Twisted martyrdom being kind of a self-defense mechanism, I probably weirded a lot of people out when proclaiming that old philosophy. That my only pleasure was from helping the world, which is kind of noble but also lots of bullshit–because it’s entirely possible to fall in love with the world’s advancement as a whole, but the reason why we’re human and act as individuals is because we have the capacity to live a story that no other has lived, and share that experience to bring something richer to the collective beauty that is humanity in itself. Like I live for the sake of dying. I’m waiting for that very moment. Every person before me was meant to live and I was meant to end that all and live to die, the only value in me being from that very moment. Akin to the lieutenant in Forrest Gump or something. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I’ve wasted past moments, not to dwell on them but to figure out how I can do things in the future in ways I regret less and less and just do and do. A lot of these things were trying to make myself fit in ways that didn’t mean anything, appeal to people or my own emotions far too little or far too much, chase things that were never meant to last, or follow others too deeply that I never allowed myself to form my own route or being.
For the past year or so, I’ve been living with the strict sense of self that I was not allowed to love a thing for myself. It’s normally hard for me in the first place, but to dissuade myself from it at all was something incredibly stupid of me. Being ruled by emotions is expected of a teenager, but to be a teenage girl and to lose everything I could be is something I should have never let myself do. I want to be filled with excitement at things, say things with the same enthusiasm and not let myself be as secluded as I am. I want to shed myself of the unintentional (and intentional) elitism in my views and likes and interests, and let myself express the way I love things in the way I truly do love.
That is: the way I see the world, the way I believe in things and the things they deserve–letting other people see that, too. I want to forgive myself for not being textbook, and for being too textbook; I’ve accepted the fact that there are some things I will just never live through and that nobody has to compensate for those things, because better things will come. I’m facing dilemmas now about my personal morality and ethics and who I choose to work with in the development scene, and I think my teenage conflicts will be applicable in a sense even when I’m 19 and am actually receiving offers. I want to allow myself to be in control of my life, even a little bit, and let myself simply react and respond instead of being concrete and emotionless. I want to say sorry to myself as well, in scenarios where I should not have given up so much of myself in the pursuit of something I had assumed to be love, but was nothing close to it.
Love being in the sense of concern. Love being in the sense of priorities–with what is important to me comes things dwelling over everything I am and what I want to pour everything I can and dream of into. Importance is love in a sense, as I see it.
And when I love, I want to be able to respond better. With action, with sharing it, with making this an emotion that encourages people to live rather than something that people simply wait for. I want to be more understanding of the things people hold passions for and see more of the world in doing so. I want to understand why people could feel the things they have felt for me, too, in a world where all I can hear is the emptiness and relatives asking me how I can do my fucking laundry and blue lights blinking across screens in defence of not being intellectually stimulated 24/7 and where I still am trying not to be my own greatest enemy. Patience as well with the things I want people to love along with me that they still do not understand or remain silent about. The last thing we need is to feel or think things that could make a difference but not act on them at all.
I want to love being in New Haven as I do Manila, with the people in my university that I can’t find anything in common with and feel this rattling superiority/inferiority dichotomy (as if I’m any better, because they sure as hell are better academically), with all the emptiness of American politics and being asked how I speak English so well getting so tiring. I want people to love the person I am and recognize the growth that is occurring to me. Maybe it seems a bit counterintuitive to push the ideal that I am growing–maybe my insistence makes people reluctant to actually believe there is any, but I’m facing this weird scenario where I’m a foreigner that sometimes sounds like one now but knows nothing about how to do the most basic things to live.
For now, there are no resolutions. I can write a promise about how this year is a revolution, that I will make less mistakes and think more of myself, but this has never been something for one. Let me be asked questions that affirm how I matter rather than question it, and I’ll make myself quest for the same questions that would end worlds–or less dramatically, give me something real to die for until the end.
Maybe one day I will write a love letter to New Haven as I do Manila.