Saturday, January 29, 2011

"To Map-making!"

There's a scene in Anthony Minghella's visually exquisite "The English Patient", based on Michael Ondaatje's book of the same title, that I can't forget.

Katherine, played by Kristin Scott Thomas, is with the crew of men made rugged and even cuter by the desert: the would-be patient played by Ralph Fiennes; her husband, played by Colin Firth; and a few others. They're all gathered by the campfire, wrapped in blankets to keep warm against the desert's nighttime chill, and passing the time with wine (or maybe whiskey) and telling each other stories. After some round of speculative fiction they come to tales of adventure and daring into unmapped territories — it may have been their jobs were to the map the North African region and its nearby deserts. This is all so hazy as its been a while since I'd seen that movie but I remember vividly that towards the end of that scene, they all make a toast: "To map-making!" someone says, raising a glass. And in the darkness, their faces glowing by the light of the campfire, the rest echo him, "To map-making!" and raise their glasses as well.

At a time and place when so much was to be discovered, and that the only thing you were guaranteed on any attempt to do so was that there would be danger, this strikes me as a beautiful and romantic statement to make. A seemingly throwaway toast with a world of pioneering adventure and history-in-the-making attached to it. I would have loved to be around that desert campfire somewhere in the North African Sahara, in the closing month of World War II, taking a break from literally mapping a place otherwise relatively unknown to the rest of the world.

I'm remembering it today because in two hours I'm going to make a different kind of map, one better suited to my life and times and circumstances: I am me, I live in a city, and these days most of my hourly challenges aren't about whether not a lion will leap at me from a bush (not that I ever really had to worry about that, even in the old days).

In two hours I'm going to make a map of the year ahead with two girls, Luz and Pinky, both of whom I deeply admire for their sense of daring and adventure. I can't share their stories because those are theirs to tell, but I will say this: they've dared travel far and wide, and dug deep wherever they went.

Instead of a desert we will be in the cool confines of a coffee shop in Burgos Circle, The Fort. And instead of campfire, maybe a little afternoon fondue. But there will be coffee and there will be tales to tale. And places and lives to be mapped out.

Another drawing/mapping/visualizing day. These are the things that make me really happy. Happy Saturday, world!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Another Night, Another Dream

Woke up several times in the night after what seemed like episodes of a dream.

At 3:30 I woke up from a somewhat stressful one — there had been an earthquake, a very strong one and long one, that started to bring down the buildings across the park. Then all of a sudden, the ceiling above me began to cave in. There were two sisters with me in the apartment, and I grabbed them both towards the balcony so we could escape. I pushed one out, but a slab of cement blocked me when I tried to make my exit. She then had to slip a hand through the crack so the other sister and I could emerge. When it was over, we were relieved to have survived, and saw that the earthquake had damaged only four floors — the 14th to the 19th — of one side of the building. The other side was not as lucky. While the skeleton still stood, everything had been gutted. It seemed like the aftermath of a fire more than an earthquake.

Then was another dream, a completely different one, and all I remember of it is one scene. I was drawing on a large table inside a warehouse and across me was a friend. She was busy doing something as well. Then in came through the large doors a person for whom I've been angry with for the better part of last year but for whom I'd been feeling a bit magnanimous towards lately, as though in my bones he's been forgiven. He came in and started to apologize; but the friend I was with started mouthing off a litany of his transgressions and calling him names. It was then that he started to back off and leave, and it was then that I started to suspect that if he hadn't been interrupted with a landslide of accusations, I would have been satisfied with the closing of that chapter. I stared wide-eyed at the friend who was still talking, half-wanting to yell, "Shut up now!"

I'm going to have to do something to keep up with all these dreams loaded with meaning. My subconscious seems to be working overtime, delivering messages to my conscious brain.

And there's the physical aspect. Before hitting the sack last night I was still reeling from overeating. Rissa treated me and R to a steak dinner at the Highlands Steakhouse in Mall of Asia. Rissa and I had halved a serving of a rib-eye, but still, with the soup, salad and side dishes, plus a bottle of beer, it was a bit too much. We had to have a round of coffee before going home and even then I felt stuffed to near-vomit point. This is really no way to eat and I was reluctant to sleep feeling that round. I dozed off close to midnight anyway and the dreams began.

It's common knowledge that stuffing your face bears down heavily on your liver and pancreas, and that lots of men starting in their thirties die of pancreatitis, their deaths chalked up as bangungot. And once in Siquijor, a faith healer/masseur named Junel told me that, judging from my muscles and joints, I had to pay more attention to my pancreas.

Warning bells? Note to self: heed them, please.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What Drives You?

More from the dream world:

Some nights ago I dreamt that I was driving a Hummer, or something that looked and felt like one, big and bulky and occupying too much space on the road. When it came time to park, I couldn't do it, simply because the hulk of metal couldn't fit into any of the available spaces. I tried and tried to find the spot where I could fit, to no success. And I felt frustrated; frustrated that my vehicle was too big and thus I couldn't finally stop and get on with my business.

My dream discussion partner was quick to google and report back with: driving a car or a vehicle in dreams is related to how much control you are able to exercise over the direction of your life.

Then last night I had another dream. This time it was my sister who announced that she was going to drive us somewhere, and I yelled, "Shotgun!" My brother, therefore, had to climb into the back. And I was surprised that my sister could drive confidently and with ease, deftly maneuvering the steering wheel as we backed out of a driveway. Suitably awed, I asked her with a small voice, "Is it scary to drive?" And she said, "No, as long as you know what you're doing."

Sige, interpret. Process. Kape.

Think Big

But of course, right? I've been advised many times by as many people to think big, imagine the larger picture, and to work with that frame of mind, but never has it been so concretely demonstrated as by the unlikely group of people I've been talking to lately.

I've been working on a writing project that requires me to sit and chat with a group of Chinese-Filipino businessmen all belonging to the same family on a regular basis. The subject of our interviews have little to do with business, but because they are all entrepreneurs, the codes the live by at work are the same that they keep to in general.

While the father's aura teems with the magnanimity and cheerfulness of having lived a full life, the two sons are rather soft-spoken and more circumspect but no less charming. All of them are incredibly successful entrepreneurs in their own right — and I say this not by the size of their enterprise (so vast it's crazy and I would not be surprised if they own the building where I live, and maybe the entire block, among many others), but by the way their employees regard them with googly eyes. The employees appear to all be half-in-love with their bosses, and every word said about the top honchos is uttered with fondness.

And here's one of the things all three of them keep repeating, along with "invest in the right people". Each of them has said with the same degree of conviction that the key to business success is to "think big", "see the flow of your work down line", "imagine how much it will grow and in what direction".

"It's the same effort you put in," said one son. "Work is work. You're going to throw yourself into your passion anyway you must as well go for the big thing. Otherwise you'll just be wasting your time." This, they tell me, should be the mentality of your gut.

You can start small but never downsize your ultimate goal. Sometimes, no matter how much I seem to run away from it, I am drawn to the entrepreneurial world, and the conduct of business strikes me as a dance, a kind of salsa, mixing calculated actions with instinctive moves.

It's one thing to read this dictum in books, it's quite another to hear it from those whose lives have been made even large by adhering to it. It's one way of being. I'm beginning to really get it now.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Confronting Monsters Part I: It's Starting

Sunday morning I woke up with the memory of dream still clear in my head.

I was in a church, and it seemed that there was a service going on because the pews were full, when in came flying sugbins, swirling overhead and making high-pitched screeching sounds, their mouths with small sharp and jagged teeth randomly snatching people by the head and throwing them away. I remember their burnt red and leathery skin, the long snout and the bat-like wings.

I was scared, but not too scared I think. I had time to run for cover. I folded myself onto one of the steps of stairs so that my back was parallel to one step — that way I didn't stick out and thus couldn't be snatched away by the head. Later on, the blood-curdling pandemonium died down, with the demon dogs having been put to sleep (for some reason, they were laid on the cold marble floor and they were snoring, while everyone tiptoed quietly around them).

So I googled this: demon dogs in dreams. Specifically, demon dogs in church in dreams. Remarkably, again, things came up. Apparently these symbolize fears and stresses, things that antagonize and wear you out. The fact that it happened in Church means that there's a moral dimension to these stresses, and that I've sought refuge in what I have faith in (congratulations, me, that's a call I really like).

My dreams are certainly becoming more and more interesting, but first to address the fears that are haunting me like evil rabid dogs. They are there, and I know what they are, though I've not studied them and their full nature. But I know what they are, which is probably why, in the dream, I was fearful but not completely frightened. I had time to think and hide.

So I decided to confront some of them, and taking R's advice to take on challenges in small manageable doses, I began to clean my home. Start with one thing, he says, or one corner. Good plan, yes?

Sunday night, 11.30 PM, with five cups of coffee in me I began cleaning the coffee table — more specifically, the heap of things that doubled as a coffee table. Then I moved to my closet and cleared more drawers Then I moved to the floor. Wiped it clean with disinfectant, the whole of it. I moved furniture. I cleaned the bed. Dusted off the balcony. Worked on the bathroom. Cleared the countertops of the kitchen. It was 5 AM, and only then, when I was finally confronted with the mountain that could make a molehill of what I had cleaned and organized so far — my notoriously disorganized files — did I stop to think: This can't be what he meant by small doses, could it?

I went to bed, happy that I had, at the very least, showed my inner sugbins some teeth. I slept a deep, dreamless sleep. And I woke up to a clean apartment, the cleanest it's ever been. Monsters: 0. Tara: 1. Yey!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Starting Out Cold

It’s been very cold the past few days that I’ve gone through four or five light scarves and must now resort to jackets. I’m not the sort of person who can think in terms of degrees Celsius (and that’s something to remedy, I know), so by cold I mean that I now sleep without air-conditioning, and on some nights, if you can believe this, without the fan.

I know from fifth grade science class that this is a Siberian wind, blowing across the planet and into the tropics. It’s not expected to last long and pretty soon, thanks to global warming, summer will be here with a vengeance. But there are conflicting reports: the local weather bureau predicts it will be a rainy summer although I’m hoping there will be some corner in this country that will be bright and sunny. There always is.

For now my alone times have been spent sitting and typing away on my balcony with scarf around my neck and a hot cup of coffee beside my computer. I keep trying to get started on the things I’ve been meaning to write, especially since last Saturday’s lunch with Paolo, during which he explained his dissertation to me. The first chapter deals with developing an autotelic personality (my apologies to Pao if I may have inadvertently miscomprehended some parts). From what I understood, people with autotelic personalities enjoy the process of doing more than the end result of their work. This is what I think I do understand on an instinctive or primal level but cannot seem to realize in my brain, which is hardwired to produce things following a certain schedule.

My head tells me that by middle of this year I should be done with my book, the one I’ve been meaning to complete for years. I've drawn up a plan, hammered out a schedule, and dug large dusty notebooks filled with notes and accumulated over the years. I have a habit of starting most pages with the date and place, and some reveal notebooks to be from as far back as ten years ago, written in random places such as...Davao...Boracay...Singapore.

But I’m too preoccupied with other things that I can’t even clear out space in my day, or in my mind, to get to work. And in the end: curled up on couch, feet with cold toes tucked under me, DVD. Is procrastination part of the process (because I’m super enjoying that), or is it just the mental breakdown of a brain that can see the goal but not the way to it?

Monday, January 17, 2011

Sunday Beside the Park

I live beside a small city park, 16 floors up. And about three weeks ago, after a year of living in this unit (coming to four years now in the same building) I finally cleaned up the balcony and set up a multi-purpose corner: for reading, writing, meditating. This morning it was for eating pasta and drinking coffee.

I've been walking around the neighborhood hunting for new pockets of neighborhood bliss—a nice restaurant, a quiet coffee shop with a wonderful ambiance, a new deli with foodie finds, a day spa, or some kooky little school and office supplies store (who doesn't love Little Town? Plastic envelopes! Generic receipts! Carbon paper! Dragon paste!).

And I've made some new and not-so-new discoveries. There's Upper East on Tordesillas St, a hop-skip from the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, the cutest restaurant on the block with weird operating hours. If I catch it open, will take photos and you'll see why. Then there's the FedEx along San Agustin St in a somewhat rundown building that screams Who Knew There Was a FedEx Here?! (this matters to people like me, who rarely mail out parcels but highly appreciate the idea of being near a place that can do it in the unlikely event that I may need to do it).

But the best discovery is the one that's been sitting under my nose this whole time. My amazing balcony. I haven't really hung out much in it so am making up for lost time. The only time I extracted my ass from the balcony chair was for about two hours towards the end of the day when I walked to Greenbelt, shopped at Watson's, then headed back.

I go to sleep now a happy girl from having had a nice Sunday beside the park, 16 floors up.

Goofy night to everyone!

And this is me signing off. Really.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Thanks, and Thanks Again

I've received a load of loving from the Universe these past few days, and I'm giggling and giddy from the crown of my head to the tips of my toes.

I'm pretty sure there are other little things I ought to be saying "Thanks" for but that I'm overlooking, but because the big things are truly big, let me clue you in on one of them.

Shall we play a round of Guess What? Here goes: Guess what...I'm going somewhere far in July. Like, Google-what-the-weather-would-be-like-there-in-July far.

And guess what? I'll be traveling with a good friend with whom I've been spending a lot of fun times lately. As in, drink-two-bottles-of-wine-and-laugh-your-head-off-in-the-balcony-until-five-am fun.

You don't get many opportunities like this one, travel to an intriguing destination and have someone there to process the paradigm-shift of a culture exposure with. So thanks, and thanks, and super thanks!

Oh and guess what...the trip? It's free. And from what I hear, it's going to be all style from arrival to departure.

Huuuuuggggs Universe!!!

Friday, January 7, 2011

I Heart Eddie Vedder

"Better Days"

I feel part of the universe open up to meet me
My emotion so submerged, broken down to kneel in
Once listening, the voices they came
Had to somehow greet myself, read myself
Heard vibrations within my cells, in my cells
Singing, "Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-la-ah-ah"

My love is safe for the universe
See me now, I'm bursting
On one planet, so many turns
Different worlds
Singing, "Ah-la-ah-ah, ah-ah-ah-ah, ah"

Fill my heart with discipline
Put there for the teaching
In my head see clouds of stairs
Help me as I'm reaching
The future's paved with better days

Not running from something
I'm running towards the day
Wide awake

Lyrics | Eddie Vedder - Better Days lyrics

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Restart, Reboot :)

I love New Year's. As much as anyone who might kneel in gratitude over a much-needed second chance and clean slate.

But I think I'm finally done with mental lists of resolutions I always just forget about three months in.

Instead, I'm looking forward to drawing and visualizing, although perhaps today not with my usual drawing partners, most of whom live elsewhere. Maya lives in Singapore but is in New Zealand for the holidays; Apol, Ms Provenciana, lives in the south of France with her hubby and little one-year-old tornado also known as Lilou. Will try to get a hold of Tony, who might be busy with holiday DJ duties.

Today I have my large sketchbook and colored pens and will plan to draw with R. I've never drawn with him, and sharing a first session with someone is always the most thrilling. You never know what people will draw, what they will reveal about themselves, or what they will choose to share about their aspirations, and am looking forward to being surprised.

As for myself I'm going to try to think harder about my drawing and see what should change. For the past several years, since Maya, Apol and I started this drawing tradition (at a corner table in 90 Proof along Emerald Avenue in Ortigas), I've been drawing the same elements representing beachside bliss, bounty in all areas of life, lots of travel, and chart-busting books to my name. There is also of course the figure of the beloved: years ago, the stick figure lounged on a beach chair with the name of his company stuck to his head (so the universe can make no mistake about it); then he started appearing on the balcony of my beach house. Let's see where he ends up in this year.

We've gotten much of what we've imagined we would receive, and for that I am truly grateful to the winking humor and the outright generosity of the universe. Today I am ready for more. Bring it, 2011!