Pandemic

One day, we were doing pretty much what we’d do in a normal day. Wake up. Go to work (in that order for me, because I work from home now mostly). Maybe have coffee or eat breakfast after the day’s first task is done. Put on some news on the TV. You hear of some new virus spreading around the world, something that feels far away. Then, suddenly, in a span of days, it’s here, spreading like a wildfire.

Suddenly, we’re advised to stay home, for our own safety.

Weekdays are pretty easy. I never really get to do anything interesting after work on weeknights anyway, maybe a bike ride once or twice a week, depending on how the weather turns out; shoot the night sky when it’s clear enough.

It’s the weekends that are tougher to deal with.

I’d normally try to hit the nearby state or national parks when able. There’s just something about the great outdoors that rejuvenates. Watching the beauty unfold outside heals what the workweek grind takes away.

That was more than a month ago. We’re at almost 60 days in, and it’s wearing on me.

It’s wearing on me not to have that healing. It’s almost like I’m carrying 60 days worth of frustrations, negativity and angst, and this shit is just heavy and wears on you. It crushes. I feel like dying a little each day.

That and sports going away – this fucking kills.

Staying in does offer alternatives – movies, shows, video games and drinking – but life indoors easily interferes with that, and drinking without interaction with others is, well, truthfully – just drinking. Anyway, more important matters of consequence take precedence, which is very easy for those who choose to live their lives worrying about those matters.

Anyway, I hope this shit ends soon.

Before it ends me.

Happenstance

I was having trouble sleeping one night, so I decided to put on my earphones and create a playlist. It’s been a while since I had a so-called ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ playlist, filled with songs on the not-so-sunny side; songs that cuts you and makes you bleed a little, even if you are far from being on that side emotionally anymore.

Making that playlist made me realize I haven’t listened to Rachael Yamagata in a long while, around 12 or so years. I did a quick search on Apple Music and quickly added the ones that I really liked from Happenstance (Reason Why, Wore Me Down, Be Be Your Love) and found that there was an Acoustic Happenstance record in Apple’s catalog. So I listened to it, at almost 2 a.m. and I was floored. It had a raw (not in the sense of quality, but in the way the songs were reduced to core elements – voice and instrument) feel to it, in a very awesome way. The songs felt fresher out of the musician’s heart. Rachael’s voice felt a little more seasoned in the way she sang the songs, eliminating the vocal stylings that were popular when she burst into the scene, but added a new character and dimension to it – like someone returning to a familiar place, a little older, a little wiser, like some sort of retracing of steps. It was like finding a little bit of musical nostalgic trip in the dead of night, right beside my lightly snoring ladies.

That search result list lingered on my phone’s music for a while more as I checked out which songs she’s come out with since Happenstance, whether was there any growth or change to her sound or vibe and not surprisingly, she did come out with a few more records that pretty much told similar stories with much more oomph lyrically and musically, and coincidentally, something that probably did not hit me as much as Happenstance did as things quickly changed for me in life. As I listened, I realized her later material would have probably hit me much more harder than Happenstance did if the 2005-2007 me listened to them. So I kept adding.

For some reason, something in me decided to check if she was heading anywhere close to Oakland. By a stroke of luck, she was heading our way, a small, intimate venue in San Francisco. I decided to go alone, because it wasn’t like our little one can be left to other people at her current age (a clingy thirteen months), and the wife did not really listen to her material all that much.

So I went, and maybe a hundred or so people showed up. Mostly couples, some older, and a lot of Asians.

The show was opened by one of her band mates, Zach Djanikian. He was great, a voice that I would classify under country-pop, with excellent guitar work. His style of original songs remind me of Jack Johnson – laid back feel, but with a more storyteller appeal. I love that he ended his set with a finely done cover of Tom Petty’s “The Waiting”.

Then it was time – Rachael came on-stage and I found it amusing that she started off the show by asking “so who of y’all came here for the dark stuff?”. I almost instantly raised my hand. Later on, she’d ask the audience what material should she come up with for her next record, happy stuff or sad songs.

SAD STUFF, predominantly. (non-official count – I could have been biased)

What I love most about small venue shows is how you can subtly interact with the performer on-stage. She looks at you from the stage and gauging from your reaction at how she sings the words to the song, she seems to know if this song hits you as hard as she thinks it did her when she was writing it.

She did maybe 15 or so songs in all, around 4 from Happenstance, a couple from Elephants, quite a bit from Chesapeake (which she felt was wrongly panned) and a few more from the recent ones. They came back on-stage after wrapping up with “Let Me Be Your Girl” to close with a cover of “Landslide” by Fleetwood Mac and “Reason Why” by herself from Happenstance.

After the show, she announced that she’ll hang out for a bit by the merchandise table and sign stuff. I immediately made a bee-line for the Acoustic Happenstance CD, and I was pleased that there were just roughly 20 or so who decided to stick around, and I was maybe 5th or 6th in line.

When my turn came, she told me “I know you!” – probably from that moment that we caught each other’s eyes during “Worn Me Down”. I told her that I purely lucked into knowing about that night’s show and was stoked to meet her after listening to her songs during those darker years, and hope that her other tour stops would go well, especially her upcoming Asia tour. She gave me a big hug and posed for a photo.

I went into a deep hangover over this night, because this was something I never thought was possible all those years back, when I was in drowning in debt, single and can’t really get anyone to like me as is where is – that I’m here in another part of the world, able to watch those who wrote music to get me through those times, raising a beautiful family, surviving in a relatively comfortable manner and to some extent, quite grown up far from the ‘loser’ I thought I was back then.

It was because of this night that I realized that if you really wanted to, you can turn your life around, and sometimes you have to do things that you’re not really comfortable with at first, before you find out that you were actually made to do these things.

And it all started when I decided to just “head out alone, and hope for the best”.

Crater Lake National Park

Most parents say that taking a vacation with your baby is merely taking care of it in another place.

Sure, it was, but it does not mean you will not enjoy what you see.

We drove from the San Francisco Bay Area to Klamath Falls in Oregon. It took three or so stops, and spent around the whole day from 8:30am to around 5-ish in the afternoon. We stopped over at Redding to see the Sundial Bridge. A few more hours up the road and we saw Lake Siskiyou by Mt. Shasta City. Also, Vienna Teng was right in her song “Shasta” – Mt. Shasta explodes into your windshield view driving up the I-5, so we tried to find a good vista point to take photos. I wanted to stop over at Weed, CA, but I was the only one who really wanted to, so we trudged ahead. I saw a little bit of Castle Crags and wanted to stop too, but there was one single vista point and exit towards the state park, so once we missed it it was tough to try and go back to add another at least half hour to the drive, which can be a big difference when you have a year-old toddler in the back seat.

We went up to Crater Lake the following day. Mostly clear, it was a beautiful sight. I liked the view from The Watchman – the cascades over to the right of the view point, Wizard Island front and center. The lake’s waters weren’t still enough (boat tours caused the ripples on the water) to create perfect mirror images of the sky, but it was enough to see the clouds and the rim ridges form silhouettes on the water.

This trip is worth taking. The many, beautiful stops and views will provide the value of driving up all the way to Oregon to see this awesome national park that houses the deepest freshwater lake in the US. If you can stay till a clear, dimly moonlit summer night to see the stars and the galaxy do so. It can change your perspective about light and darkness.

a tale of two cities

i live in neither of them; i think i live in the suburbs, because i think it feels like i’m in the suburbs.

i used to dream of living in them big cities, believing i was built for them, at least some part of me believed it. but when i got here, i guess i realized that i am older than how i feel.

then i realize, there may be two persons living within me – one made for the suburbs, while the other yearns to be in a big city, who has two more persons living within him – one who feels like he’s “The City” guy, while the other who’s work ethic and grit and hustle fits “The Town” more.

then i snap back into reality, and realize i’m happy where i am. happy to be just visiting, just driving by and soaking up the sights.

and the two cities are none the better for it, and not surprisingly, not for the worse for it.

fighting

i used to think i knew sadness, that it’d be simply crying tears or the absence of happiness.

it’s going to be a year later soon, but somehow, no matter how much i try to fight this dark cloud, the victory lap seems getting shorter and shorter.

+++

We all want to help one another. Human beings are like that. We want to live by each other’s happiness – not by each other’s misery. We don’t want to hate and despise one another. In this world there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone.

To those who can hear me, I say – do not despair. The misery that is now upon us is but the passing of greed – the bitterness of men who fear the way of human progress. The hate of men will pass, and dictators die, and the power they took from the people will return to the people.

“the Kingdom of God is within man” – not one man nor a group of men, but in all men! In you! You, the people have the power – the power to create machines. The power to create happiness! You, the people, have the power to make this life free and beautiful, to make this life a wonderful adventure.

twenty years later, i still suck at wearing sunscreen.

my sister was a humongous fan of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and loved it from the time it came out, but it was a couple of years later that i ran into “Everybody’s Free (To Wear Sunscreen)” – not aware that it had been in the soundtrack all along. i had been through what i felt was rock bottom not too long before i heard it, and when i did, i thought it had a pretty good bead on life till that point.

here i am, twenty years later, re-acquainting myself with the ‘speech‘, all because i spent a few minutes on the tube (YT) looking for that “Spectacular, Spectacular” scene in Moulin Rouge! to tape as part of my IG story, and later on that bit by Harold Zidler on investing.

reading that ‘speech’ made me sort of evaluate where i am now. it looks like i’ve lived the last twenty years mostly the way the writer advised in her essay, with a few exceptions. this is pretty much a point by point evaluation i’ve put into my own life, based on the advice she left on her speech.

  • there was no beauty in my youth. maybe when i was three, up until the age when i lost my two front teeth in an unfortunate bicycle spill. i never looked fabulous, and how i long for that age where eating did not seem to have any consequence.
  • i worry about the future only because i want to stay here. once that is settled, i probably would not worry about it as much, once all the pieces are set. which i worry about. who am i kidding? this won’t work. ok. i do worry about the future. but it doesn’t keep me awake at night.
  • it’s been a while since i did something that scares me. it’ll be harder now that i have a family to think of. maybe the small, low-risk things i’m scared of. but the ones where you put your life on the line. maybe when Hannah’s all grown up.
  • i sing like crazy. in the car, while in traffic, mostly. sometimes, when i feel like to. sometimes, to simply entertain Hannah, while she still can’t tell me that i’m out of tune.
  • i’ve tried to treat other people’s hearts as kindly as i can, at times, to the detriment of my own. i think my heart’s worst enemy is myself. when we are reckless with our own hearts, we can’t be trusted with anyone else’s.
  • while i’ve grown to appreciate what benefits flossing gives, i just can’t do it with floss. i like water flossing better. DenTek floss picks when i feel like it.
  • jealousy – been there, done that. the pain makes it easier to write stuff, or find a profoundness you never thought you have. it’s a dangerous place – envy, pain, jealousy. i understand now why being brilliant can leave one in such a vulnerable and fragile place.
  • i don’t remember everything, compliments or insults. i guess, sometimes that is the stuff consistency is made of. you remember enough compliments to keep doing the right things, and enough insults to drive you to become better.
  • love letters are mostly gone. some digital backups left over somewhere, i should probably re-read them, though i’ve lost a lot of cheesiness in me over the years to do that.
  • i still forget to stretch.
  • at 20, i had no idea what i really wanted, except to get my diploma. i never figured i’d be here where i am. at almost 40, i know i wanna do what i’m doing now, until it is relevant. when i retire, i just want to live in a van and discover the rest of the world that i can. with the wife, of course. Hannah can come, but that depends if she’s figured out what she wants to do in life.
  • i’m bad at drinking milk. except when they’re in lattes that i make at home. i think i’m gonna regret it down the road. i hope not.
  • i’m lucky that the half-chance choices i made got me out winning. but then again, i’ve lost a lot, maybe it was just the universe making things even. but yes, we’ve been blessed, and we are thankful for it and do not take it for granted.
  • i enjoyed my body when it was younger. or at least i tried. slowly, i think i lost my way taking care of it. i hope it doesn’t bite back when it really counts.
  • i still can’t dance. 20 years of trying isn’t going to probably make it better.
  • i read directions. i follow them. mostly. the ones i didn’t, well, i hope the stuff holds up.
  • never had to read beauty/men’s magazines. i’ve learned that sometimes if you can’t look good, being actually good can make a significant difference, as long as you don’t overdo it and end up in the friend zone, and quoting Guinan in Star Trek: Generations, “it is a place that i have tried very, very hard to forget.”
  • i’ve put a lot of friendships on pause. it’s still a wonder how human relationships can subsist on being on pause for a long time, and the author was spot on in saying that as we go through life, we need the people who knew us when we were young more.
  • it was a long shot dream of mine to be able to actually live in Northern California. some days, i still can’t believe it. it’s darn expensive, but i know i haven’t softened up yet because i can still rough it a bit when i went home to Manila early last year. i may never know about living in NYC, but who knows? now i’m living here, pretty much anything’s possible. it’s gonna be expensive as hell, but yeah, possible.
  • there are days where i wonder whether i’ll remember just how much i straddled the line between standing up for me and disrespecting my elders. i hope i do remember, because at some point, Hannah will come to that line and i hope i can recognize her actions with the line based on what i remember what i did with it.
  • i’ve always treated advice as things you put in your back pocket. i’ll always want to make my mistakes and learn from them. we’ll always want control. sometimes, the best way we’ll ever learn is to ask what not to do and do it anyway if your gut tells you. there’ll always be a time and place for remembering which ones we should’ve taken and which ones we shouldn’t have bothered with.
  • i can never consistently wear sunscreen. i thought it’d be much better here in America, but sunscreen feels like sunscreen, whether you’re in the third world or the first world.

 

looking back

sometimes, i still can’t believe that we are where we are right now.

this wasn’t where i saw myself 21 years ago, because at that time, i was essentially a bum. i was wasting money i had no business wasting. no degree. no job. i was drinking, smoking, and spending my days playing collectible card games, chatting on IRC, replaying Fallout 1 or 2 depending on my mood, maybe chess, maybe a little basketball when we could muster up enough players on a half-court and if there was anything remotely interesting on TV, watch a movie or read a book when i could find something worth reading. i had no idea what my future might bring, but i wasn’t optimistic. i had no idea what i wanted to do. heck, i had no idea what i could do.

i got so much flak from my family then – they knew about my vices, and my seeming inability to get off that downward spiral. i never told them the truth about my getting kicked out of school for both academic and disciplinary reasons (they only knew about the academics, because if they found out my old school would never issue a certificate of good moral character, they’d probably hate me even more) and that made it even tougher for me to face the prospect of never finding a school that would accept me without such a certification.

i reached that point. i don’t remember when i hit rock bottom – it probably wasn’t for other people’s standards, but for my life, i knew i somewhat hit it. i wasn’t good for anything, and essentially was just free loading. somehow, i knew this wasn’t what i wanted for the rest of my life. i didn’t want to end up finding some way to further fuck up this mess i made of the chances i had.

i chanced upon the ad for Asia Pacific College on our newspaper. i called them and i got the requirements together to fill up an application for admission. i asked my mom for money to pay for the application and she probably thought i was scamming her but she took the chance. i took the entrance exam and i got in, but what i feared the most came to fruition – when i sent in my transcripts from my old school, the new school was puzzled why the old school won’t give me a certification for my good moral character. the dean set up a one on one with me to find out from me first-hand what’s up with that and i told her the whole story; she probably knew it already if she had talked to the old school about it, i guess i just rolled the dice that my honesty (the same honesty i used to admit to my wrongdoings at the old school, rolling the dice in the hope that being honest and up front would at least get me a shot of getting a good moral character certification) would sway her to forego the requirement of the certification on my character and banked on my determination to return to college to get a degree. if i remember correctly, i offered to put myself on disciplinary probation to start so that i’d be able to motivate myself to keep myself out of trouble to prove that by taking a chance with me, i’d make it worth their time.

the next four years was a blur. i made the dean’s list. i got to become an academic scholar. i learned from industry trained professors, and in my opinion, the coolest set of mentors a student could ever have. i met my lifelong friends there. i had help of course, starting from the dean that gave me a shot, to the registrar who credited a lot of my basic completed subjects that allowed me to finish my degree a full year early and gave me a lot of flexibility with enrolling and scheduling to maximize my first year back from being out of school for more than a year.

nothing was given though. i had to earn my family’s trust back. i had a limited allowance to rein in the temptation to blow off classes. i had to move in with my aunt, who was strict about my schedule, who i had to work for to earn my keep, and comply with her house rules. they were skeptical about my sincerity to finish my education until i ended up in the dean’s list all year for that first year back, earning me an academic scholarship that whittled down my tuition to just 40% of its original cost, which was a big help since my college fund was running low.

i chose a commerce course because i was trying to be safe, with a major on information systems management. enough technology classes to probably prepare me for an IT job, but probably not enough to make it attractive for top tier companies at that point in time like Chevron, IBM, P&G or Accenture, but i didn’t care. all i wanted was a shot to be able to start somewhere. APC gave me an educational foundation that made me ready more than in terms of skill – a mindset that what you learn here isn’t the end of the learning – it prepares you for the industry, but it is in the industry where the actual shaping of who you want to be in your career happens, and a lot of it lies in what you do with what you learned.

five months after my last day in school, and three months into my first job, i was finally able to make it on-stage to receive my diploma.

there is a whole lot more between then and now, but during this reflection, i realize that i could have easily given up. i could have easily despaired. i could have easily chosen the easy way – to be a burden, to be fearful that i can never be acceptable to other people’s standards, to be afraid not to be accepted as a worthy employee, family member or lover. i could have easily fallen prey for the darkness within that is our worst enemy. i could have easily forgotten what hope was. i could have given in to the desire to end it all because i didn’t feel i had any worth. so many i could haves.

all i can say is this – if you believe in hope, use that belief to do something you know you want. when the fear of failing hits you, hit back with the hope of success, and then back it up with tremendous effort. that way, if failure happens, you know you gave it your absolute best. of course winning in live isn’t about just hoping. we need to do something. find that something you want to do, and do all it takes to be successful in it.

finally, it is we who define our own limits. our limits are bounded by fear. when we stop believing in dreams because of our fear they may never come true, we lose hope. just believe in what you can do, and put everything into it. at some point, when we are challenged, doubts creep in, and that’s natural. just don’t let doubt consume you or your belief in yourself.

so if you are down in the dumps, feeling like a failure and worthless and not worth a damn in this life, do not despair. fight the darkness. find the light. see the hope. open your mind to learning. reject not, especially if you do not want to be rejected. appreciate the value of a different mindset. do small things that make you happy. learn something new. list down your goals. fight the obstacles. pray for your dreams, because we need all the help we can get, and God knows we can’t do it just by ourselves.