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花樣年華

Photos by Gee Garcia.

Today’s the anniversary of the Surprise Me demo tape being finished. I’m writing this when I should be sleeping, strung out on the beautiful blog by Rachel Yupangco, my ex-officemate, and BTS’s new release, EUPHORIA, off of their coming album, LOVE YOURSELF: WONDER.

I don’t have enough energy to put the ocean of feelings I’m swimming in into words. I’m sure you guys have noticed that I’ve been more than a little unstable since late 2017, and I’m grateful for your continued patience and understanding. Turning 25 isn’t a HUGE deal in the grand scheme of things, but I had a map and then I lost it and now this year just feels like one giant unknown. And I hate not knowing.

Two years (and a few months) ago, I thought I was set for life. I thought I knew what I would be doing for the rest of my time here. I had a band. We had an EP that had JUST been reviewed by ABS-CBN. Gigs would come. Labels would come. We would be rockers, young forever, coasting on the power of music. I had brothers in arms, a family in which I thought I was both “mother” and sister. These were going to be the most beautiful years of my life.

Except they weren’t. Now, I am twenty-five, a solo act (if you can even call me that), floundering in conservatory, with one good song and the fear that I don’t have another left in me. It’s a pattern of mine, after all—one good book, one good poem, one great love. I used to want to achieve everything young. Now I worry that my youth is behind me, my “flowery years” gone, with the band and the dreams and the brothers, now just strangers who maybe still know my name.

I used to think that the only time you could ever make your dreams happen was in your youth. My youth is slipping away. I will never be as young and as beautiful as I was in those last two band years. I will never have that magic again. But here is what I think I might have, at nearly 4AM on a weeknight: the renewed understanding that seasons change. Eras come and go. You can never go back, no matter how many photographs you thumb through, impassioned screams into the void you cry. And that’s okay. Those years still existed. There are still beautiful moments to freeze and look at, even if I cannot live there any more.

At 25, perhaps my flowery years are over. Maybe the blinding, super-saturated energy of youth is gone. But here, where I am, maybe I can still bloom.

At any rate, I am trying to love this mess, where it is. Where I am.

~aRT~

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An open letter to any new potential friends.

Dear new friend(s),

I am writing this warning label because I think I should have ages ago. At least, I should have in college; maybe then my entire freshman block and 65% of the entire batch wouldn’t have ended up hating me (no lie).

So here goes.

New friend(s), I am…a strange animal. I mean, I know I’m a cat, but sometimes I also act like the abandoned street puppy that follows you home. I will slobber on you. I will howl at inappropriate hours. I will jump up on you and demand we play fetch. Sometimes, I bite (well, I guess that’s when my cat side shows up.). 

I realize that this exuberance can be too much, and trust me when I say in hindsight I get very embarrassed by it. I try to control myself, I do, but most of the time I can’t help it. I am so happy to see you. I am so happy to know you because, before you, I hadn’t really “belonged” anywhere before. I was a misfit in gradeschool. A desperate and sad little loner in highschool (I remember leaving a class outing in tears because someone told me to go away as I’d just be ‘OP’ in the discussion). And, well, I mentioned above what college was like.

I have longed to belong so much that sometimes my excitement at someone being nice to me can be…too much.

I’m older now. More distant. A little colder. I’ve learned not to trust first impressions, initial appearances of “acceptance.” I have been left behind by too many, that my first instinct has become coldness. I might have been an introvert all my life (though having misguidedly pretended to be extroverted during the first 3/4ths of it), but my antisocial nature has been conditioned: I am scared that people will get upset, frustrated with me, and leave, so I wall myself away from anyone new. But if you manage to break through, do not fear the initial heat and warmth. That has only been held in, held back all this time, and it rushes out like heat from an oven door. Eventually the temperature normalizes, the room returns to homeostasis. 

So will our friendship, if you stick around, eventually find its normal.

Until then, though, please bear with me if I’m excited to see you. If my voice is too loud and I constantly try to catch your attention. If I look a little in love with you, but in the most platonic way. It’s because I am. I’m in love with the feeling of being treated like I’m worth liking. I’m in love with the security of knowing that, to you, I belong.

Finally, thank you so much for taking a chance on me. As I’ve said to every employer I’ve interviewed for: I don’t promise to be easy, but I promise to be worth it.

Your friend and cactus,

A roaming Tsinay.

[travelogue] Coming Out of My Cage (And It Feels Just Fine)

A/N: Submitted this as an entry to World Nomads’ travel scholarship competition. I didn’t win, but it felt like a piece of travel writing worth sharing.

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It’s June.  The night is humid, glowing amber in the lights of Armenian Street.  I’m twenty-three, and girls much younger than me have done this before—wandered off at night in search of adventure—but I’d always been the “tame” one.  At home, they call me tita (aunty), lola (grandma). The girl whose idea of partying is having tea in bed after work.

Certainly not the girl who’d be rounding the corner of a graffiti-covered alley at half-ten at night, the remnants of a sangria buzzing in her blood.  But it was my last day in Singapore, and I’d found myself wanting to live a little.

Emphasis on a little.  There would be no shared drinks with strangers.  Instead, I was looking for new music, and Timbre at The Substation was supposedly the best place to find it.

Back home in Manila, I balanced a responsible, serious job as an agency strat planner with a self-proclaimed “career”—profitability be hanged—as a singer/songwriter for a rock band.  When my bandmates heard I was traveling to Singapore, they’d filled my head with stories of underground gigs with inspiring acts.  It was this promise that got me to wander a foreign city at the oddest hours of night.  I’d tried to find it in Clarke Quay, but the bands there sounded professional when I was looking for raw.  A quick Google search for “indie music gigs Singapore” pointed me in the direction of Timbre.  

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Several attempts at a cab ride later, I’m elbowing my way into the dark, open-air club, dodging a bunch of finance-looking bros nursing beers.  I grab a stool near the bar and, just as I catch my balance, there’s that familiar screech of an electric guitar being sound-checked.  Then, the mics crackle to life as a raspy mezzo-soprano (just like me) launches into the familiar first line of The Killers’ hit, Mr. Brightside.

Soon, it’s midnight. Though the sangria’s worn off, I might as well be drunk. I’m dancing in my seat, shout-singing along with those finance bros through a series of pop-rock hits. Later, I’ll notice my phone battery is dead.  Later, I’ll catch my first ever bus.  Later, I’ll huddle, scared, at a deserted taxi stand in a different part of town (How did I get here?!) until an off-duty cab takes pity on me and brings me back to my hotel.  

Later, I’ll wonder what possessed me to wander around at night, in an unfamiliar city. But, with rock music blasting from crackling amplifiers, later hardly matters.

For the first time, I’m coming out of my cage, and right now, it feels fine.

~aRT~