quarter life

[poem] Today, I bought bread (after Rilke, by way of Sharon Creech)

Today, I bought bread.

Today, I bought bread
and too much coffee.

I wore my new pants,
and too much makeup,
and a coat the color
of unripe sunflowers.

Today, I said too much,
and hid too little,
and asked for time that wasn’t mine,
and spent it all crying–

because I didn’t spend enough time crying
all the days
before today.

Today was five rough days
crammed into one day,
that was itself just one day
in a series of rough days–

but hey.

At least we have words,
and Animal Crossing, and

today I bought bread,
and there are always dogs
and cats
and the world

has never been the same,
and will never ever be the same,

so we let it all happen:
the beauty and terror.

So we keep going;
no feeling is final.

Nothing is final.
Not rough days,
or bread,
or fear,
or the way things

change.

Last night at the movies in my mind.

Lately, I’ve been falling asleep to ambient ASMR.

They’re a genre of ASMR videos that replicate, in sound, places in time: coffeeshops on a rainy afternoon in a crowded city, tea rooms on a date night, a jazz dive at the end of the world.

In my dreams, I’m not on quarantine. I get out more. I do things I didn’t even do before “ECQ.” I was notorious, before quarantine, for turning down any invitation to “hang out” after work hours. In my dreams, I seize every opportunity.

I go on dates, mostly. Yes, the romantic kind. In my dreams there is a never-ending supply of suitable (and suitably faceless) male companions to meet for coffee or else take me out to dinner. With the ASMR ringing in my ears, I create a sort of low-cost San Junipero: Heaven is a place in my subconscious.

In my head, I’m a lot more confident and put together than I think I have any right to be. My red-lipped smile is always catlike over a cup of coffee or a cocktail. My literal dream-date is always enthralled. I spent loving minutes imagining the minutiae of the outfits I wear for these tête-à-tête: always something that actually exists in my current closet; lately things that would benefit from the corsetry I’ve taken to wearing regularly.

There’s this bar and record store along Ann Siang Road that I liked when I was last in Singapore. It’s called White Label. It serves spam fries and great mojitos and has Miles Davis records I’d buy if I was ever home long enough to get a record player (Yes, despite not “going out much” pre-quarantine, I was somehow rarely ever home).

In my dream, it is a Tuesday, because that’s when they play jazz and open decks. I wear a 1950s-inspired blouse and trousers, my corseted waist emerging temptingly tiny from the high waistband. My hair is a poor approximation of Veronica Lake, but I like it anyway.

It is raining. My date and I rush in under my umbrella. His eyes (though he is faceless, I somehow know he has eyes) widen as he sees the stacks of records. He has been in Singapore for longer than I, but somehow this is the first time he’s ever heard of this place. “It’s quieter than Timbre,” I say, watching his (nonexistent) face register mild confusion, “the Substation? Along Armenian Street? Alley beside the Peranakan Museum?”

I never dream about Manila. My mind turns to the countries I’d planned to see, whose visas (still valid) sit snugly in the pages of the passport it sometimes depresses me to look at. The day before quarantine started, I was notified I could claim my South Korean visa–supposedly for a trip that I’d planned for March 10 to 15) from Travelpros. When I opened it to check, the visa said multiple entry.

That night I fell asleep, crying, to an ASMR video of the Cheonggyecheon Stream. In my dreams, an instrumental of BTS’s Zero O’Clock was playing from someone’s far-off speakers as I slowly made my way through the cold Seoul night. The un-sung lyrics felt like a promise: And you’re going to be happy…

Last night, my date and I have Spam fries and mojitos. We talk about impact start-ups and conscious capitalism and our respective career choices. He asks me how I found this place, and I smile and say that wherever I go, either I find music or it finds me. I play him the first single from someone I met the last time I was in Singapore. I play him my last single. The conversation fades out, like a tape, before I can ask him about his odd hobbies.

I wake up in my bed in a suburb of Metro Manila, to a Google Calendar alarm reminding me of my first video-call of the day.

Post-quarantine, maybe I won’t care so much about my career. Maybe I’ll be a little more irresponsible, a little more like those girls I used to envy back in my agency days: the ones who seemed to fly out every other week to some seat sale destination, coming back with beautiful travel photos and souvenirs. The ones who were effortlessly beautiful, who never seemed to have to try when it came to looks or love or living.

I watch the sky through my window. My officemate reminds us that quarantine will eventually end, and things will change.

Post-quarantine, maybe I’ll be a little bit more like the me in the movies in my mind. I tell myself this in a whisper, hoping it’ll be enough to get me through today.

What’s Next?

I’ve been telling my friends that I plan to quit music school soon.

To be honest, I always knew I was going to drop out. A degree was never the objective. Instead, I enrolled because I wanted to learn…or at least, that’s the press release. The real answer needs deep introspection, and introspection needs time that’s probably better spent studying for Solfeggio or practicing Czerny.

Time. That’s probably one of the biggest reasons I’m planning to leave UST: music school takes up so much time. And I knew this, my piano teacher repeats to me when I show up to her studio looking run down the nth week in a row. And I did know this. I knew that school would take up time, effort, that I would lose Saturdays and sleep and a whole host of other things.

I also know what a parametric EQ does and how it works. But I still struggle to use it on Garageband.

There’s a lot of difference between knowing and knowing. The latter, I guess, you can only gain through experience. I’ve been in UST for nearly two full school years. If I stick to my plan—and I don’t know if I will—then I won’t last a third. I haven’t made up my mind to quit, but I’m nearly there. The only thing holding me back from definitively making that decision is that I am just as uncertain about why I should leave as I am about why I started in the first place.

I know why I should go. I should go because I keep turning down gigs for this. I should go because I don’t get to sleep much. I should go because there are ministry opportunities that I miss out on because I’m in school on Saturdays (and what nobler thing is there to leave the conservatory for than church?). I should go because, ironically, music is taking time away from music.

But is it really?

Someone asked me—I forget who; maybe it was a lot of someones—what I planned to do after I quit UST. I think the exact phrasing was, “What’s next?” At first, I found the question odd, but then I realise that I have always had something going on. I can’t remember the last time I had Saturdays free; probably back in university, but even then I’m convinced I was probably doing something. For an introvert homebody, I don’t like staying home: I always need to be doing. And, for at least six years and maybe more, that doing has had to do with music.

Back to the question of why I enrolled in music school to begin with. The easiest answer would be that I simply traded ST for UST. The band broke up the year I got in, and school conveniently took up all the hours I would spend rehearsing in Marikina, week after week. If I’m less kind to myself, maybe I’ll even admit that getting into the conservatory was me trying to prove a point: I got in on the strength of two songs I wrote and produced all on my own, no bandmates or audio engineers or “hitmakers.” In that last, horrible year, I remember constantly feeling like I had to prove I was worth the band staying together.

My ahia would say this sounds about right, but they don’t to me. I know they’re correct, somewhere, but like I said before there’s a difference between knowing and knowing. I know what I know isn’t quite it.
I plan to at least finish my four freshman AppMaj requirements (Solo, Duo, Trio, Quartet) and my piano minor before I go. If I go. When I go. To be honest, even now, with Saturday in just a few hours and my dread of it growing, I’m still not 100% sure if I should leave or if I should stay. My old university professor—also a musician, also a current music student—shared a post that went, “When you feel like stopping, think about why you started.”

But what if I don’t remember why I started? Or else, what if there’s nothing to remember? What if I never really had a reason, a real reason; I did this because it was a convenient “next,” because it felt like the logical thing to do, considering my “dreams.” I don’t even know what my dreams are anymore, but that’s something for another time. Or maybe it isn’t, because that’s why I’m writing this to begin with. Because I feel like I’ve lost my way, and now I don’t know where to go or what to do or why I’m even here.

Maybe the harshest truth is this: I knew what I was getting into, what I was going to give up. What I didn’t know then, that I might know now, is that maybe I wasn’t so willing to count that cost. The “self-care” and “self-love” posts on Facebook say that it’s okay to take time out for “mental health,” and I think they’re right, but when is it self-care and when is it just laziness? When is it me being soft on myself?

When do I face myself, look in the mirror and admit that maybe I just don’t have it in me?

I don’t know. All I know is that there are open mics I want to play, dance classes I want to join, ministry opportunities I want to take, and goals I still keep in view, even as I wonder if I’m ever going to hustle hard enough to reach them. There is a Google Keep account with an album’s worth of songs, and a constantly moving target for when I want to release them. There is a sound I keep chasing that I don’t ever know if I’ll be good enough to make.

There’s a weight in my chest I can’t shake, that keeps me awake even after my homework is done.

There’s a wish, faint but if I’m honest getting stronger by the day, to close my eyes and maybe never open them again.

There’s a difference between knowing and knowing. Perhaps that’s why I stay. Because for all of these things I know, I don’t know the answer what’s next.

And I don’t know if I ever will.