Nuance – Random Midnight Thoughts

Who are we, really, to judge trauma—what it is and does, who it affects? And who are we to reduce experience into blades of lexicon wielded in aggressive defense?

Who are we, truly, to decide for a person their victimhood and strength?

In the middle of the night, I keep wondering: have we forgotten the nuance of listening? Why did that stop being enough?

When did triumph need to be nothing but victory?

On Going Back to Sleep

Yesterday, I posted a status message on Facebook. It says “Follow your dreams. Go back to sleep.” I thought it was pretty funny and it got a lot of positive reactions.

ReadinginBetween_Sleeping Cat

Of course, there is a nugget of truth to that declaration. I think we’re required to be awake for far too long these days. I think we’re expected to be present in the present at all times and, more often than not, our own presence in the moment is not for our own benefit.

Often, when we are asked  to show up, it’s so we can do things for other people.

Don’t get me wrong. Service is a wonderful thing. One of the things I learned about myself over the past year and a half is that I like delivering good work because I want to actually be helpful. It can be super fulfilling and, much besides, wouldn’t we dissolve into some terrible anarchic post-apocalyptic disaster if we refused to give a damn about other people?

But back to the point: service is all well and good, but every person can only give so much. Eventually, they start feeling empty. They can’t tap into their hidden reserves anymore because they’ve already been tapping into it for, like, the last 8 months. They haven’t had time to work on the work they want to do because something else needed to be done.

Also, they haven’t slept properly for about 3 months.

For some reason, most of us grow up thinking that going to sleep and being awake for ourselves is selfish. How dare we, when other people need us? How dare we, when we’re more useful in this capacity than that capacity?

Biggest clincher: How dare we, when we’re being paid to do it?

Here is the lesson I think I need to learn: it’s not “either-or”. It’s “and also”. The key is moderation and the choice to give within reason.

I still don’t know how to help people without going overboard. But at least I understand that helping others and gunning for my dreams don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

And at least I know that to be even remotely effective at either, I need time to sleep.

You probably need it too.

In the Moment, In the Bones

I’ve been reading “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. In many of her essays, she stresses the importance of capturing moments as you write, catching details as a spiderweb would an insect. I’m given the impression that, for many writers, this is as much an act of self-care as it is an act of creativity.

I haven’t finished reading this book. By all accounts, I should have by now; I’m generally a fast reader, and I had Friday (as well as Saturday and Sunday) off. But of course, life has its ways, other interests come up, and your mother insists that you go out shopping.

The shopping was expensive, but at least my sister and I now have amazing articles of clothing that we can mix and match and share between us (provided neither of us gain weight; and let’s face it, the weight gain will be mine). Much besides, what is so wrong with discovering a pair of pants that somehow make you look tall? I say some clothes are just as magical as words.

In case it hasn’t become all that obvious, this is an attempt to capture the moments in my mind. I have a timer on a tab and I’m typing this right now; I’ll probably fix typos and nothing more afterwards before publishing. I’m trying to burrow into my bones and make sense of my marrow because, because, these days I am lost.

ReadinginBetween_Stones Underwater

Yesterday, when Jie and I met at a bookstore so we can head to our romantic steak dinner together, he had to remove my office ID from my neck. I’d forgotten it was there; and I am now wondering how much I have let myself identify with my employers.

How much of me relies on them? How much of me is only valuable because of them? I wasn’t thinking about this while Jie and I were cutting into our 250-gram steaks, while he was complaining about the stupid things the hacker girl in the new McGyver TV show did. But I’m thinking about it now, and I’ve thought about it before.

In this moment my head is bent sideways as I try to stretch a crick on my neck away and I’m wondering why it’s not so easy to stretch as a person. Is it just me? Am I simply too calcified; am I made of bones with few joints? Am I devoid of the muscle of character?

Or is it because I have too much character? Am I impeding my own success with ethics, just as extreme bodybuilders impede a measure of movement with their bodacious biceps?

My mother certainly thinks so; she once mentioned that we are too nice to be truly great at business.

I don’t want to believe that, but at this moment I wonder how I would do without the direction an employer could give me and I draw a blank.

Or rather: I draw a scene with rhyme and rhythm and a pulsing at my wrists and feed a creeping terror that I am meant for poetry and that no one really buys poetry unless they are sap or angst or shoehorned into melody (none of which I’m good at).

A Little Doubt

I’ve been having trouble with my poetry, this month of all months; the worst time to have trouble writing poems.

Oh, it’s not that I haven’t been writing. I have. They’re just not very good. That’s a curse people like me have to deal with (or so I’m told): you know what good looks like, so it really thoroughly sucks when you know your work looks nothing like that at all.

We have so many beginnings. So many little lines. But none of them work together; and each breath between becomes a little doubt, sharp and invisible between a fifth and sixth rib. Every syllable a stumble-stutter over teeth, no rolling rhythm themes thrumming through the tunnels of our veins.

So instead we stop trying, for hours at a time, feeding every little doubt with a passage from this writer, with color from that artist. We deliver other people’s dreams like doctors in a theater, our own children forgotten in favor of satisfaction at a job well done.

But are they really so bad, these blasted little doubts, when they cause the overconfident to calm? After all…there is no art without doubt cast by craft.


We Are Made Up of Each Other

ReadinginBetween_We Are Made Up of Each Other

The train rides home are stressful at best and infuriating at worst; here in the Philippines we often deal with ever-failing systems and questionable characters on a standard commute. It’s not uncommon for us to experience having someone lined up behind you attempt to overtake as the car doors open, breaking away, shoving, contorting into odd shapes, and I think…

We are made up of each other.


ReadinginBetween_We Are Made Up of Each Other

I’m not thinking about genetics (even though family does make up more of us than strangers do). I’m thinking about how we all form each other, fine fractals of action shaping a person, building a movement, reinforcing identity. I’m thinking about how our experiences are experienced by the world, which feeds back to us.

I’m thinking about how boundaries are and are not. I’m thinking about how we believe that no one should be in our spaces while asserting our existence in theirs.

I’m thinking that we’re all made up of each other.

As I curve my torso over my things and attempt to fold into a space-saving singularity, I think about the middle-aged woman with her elbow at my back, muttering profanities at a mother who refused to let her cut in. I remember some all-too-human teachers, all-powerful in classrooms, passing judgement and feeding ego in one blow—this woman is like them, I think.

Or I think she is because they have come before her like insects in my ears, unforgettable buzzing that enrages me. Their hum has become part of my bones, and as I shift, her marrow subtly shakes.

I pass judgement at her with a look, and I become part of her; the impertinent younger woman. The teachers become part of her, righteous and proud in the face of my anonymous disapproval.

No matter what we do, I think, we are made up of each other.

Even disembarking doesn’t stop these thoughts; I watch an old man shuffle out the special section of the train. His steps are small and painful, but he persists. I watch him reach the platform bench before I do, exhaling in admiration. He makes me think of my grandfather, human and legend, whom I never see anymore.

I think it’s because we are too alike; stubborn and proud, unconsciously inflicting ourselves on the world while being the good metaphorical soldiers we are.

I sit beside him to finish reading a paragraph in my Kindle; he almost leaves his wallet. I call out and I become part of him, proof of decency in the world. His gratitude becomes part of my grandfather, and I briefly entertain the thought of writing a letter.

But I need to get home and the words get lost in the folds of my mind. I wouldn’t know what to say, so I say nothing.

The turnstile spins as I leave the station; without thinking, I start sewing patches of strange people onto the fabric of my life.

Instead, I think: we are made up of each other, such exquisite corpses.