LAST YEAR’S BEST READS

chapters and pages

Writing about books in this pandemic might be a futile idea, a recap of my favorite ones last year feels like it happened a long time ago. It’s crazy how much things have changed in a span of a few months. Posting this contradicts the times we’re living in. I’m writing this intro to serve as a disclaimer that I know we’re in a bundled up mess right now, that we’re facing so much uncertainty as we go through our “new normal” (accepting this term is quire challenging too). I guess that’s what reading has been for me these days – a coping mechanism, something that has helped me maintain my sanity.

Aside from missing a few places on the outside world, talking face to face with my constant hoomans, I also missed writing about books. I browsed though my old journals, and saw that I constantly did this back in 2017. It helped me remember better what thoughts and feelings went through me as I go through novels. I’m hoping that I would be able to go back this year, so maybe this post is my restart button. I aimed to include five books on the list, but if we’re going to talk about books that I can rave about endlessly, these four made the cut.


THE LONELY CITY by Olivia Laing

This landed on my list after I read an article on Brain Pickings. A line struck me so much that it inspired me to create an artwork out of it, even before I was able to fully read the book. I sought a copy during the first months of my dorm life. The dedication page states, “If you’re lonely this one’s for you.” I guess I was (sometimes I still am). It was my first time to live with friends in the city. I was new to the system, despite my introvert hesitations, it was a better option compared to commuting back and forth for almost 7 hours a day. Being surrounded with people almost all the time made me seek refuge in any quiet corner I could find.

Drawn to the title because of this newness, I initially thought that it would be filled with Laing’s personal essays (it’s quite obvious that I didn’t read the blurb and just went ahead to buy it). Instead we went through the life stories of different artists, how the circumstances in the city has mixed with their lives, further shaping their works, and with each turn we see their loneliness mirroring our own. Some parts were so heartbreaking that I can’t help but pencil in sad faces in the margins.

If you’re into art, this might be an interesting read for you. Out of all the artists, I was most drawn to Edward Hopper’s artworks. I was already familiar with Nighthawks since this is usually used in various magazine and internet articles, but as I searched online I also found his other works, such as Morning Sun and Automat, that I suddenly felt connected to (although I can’t say the same for his character though). Laing also brought to light a lot of researches; people who are interested in the sciences might be interested to dive into this.

As I went through my underlined lines made me think that I should put this on my re-read list to fully digest it. Maybe we could say the same about loneliness too; to understand it you must fully accept it.


WALONG DIWATA NG PAGKAHULOG by Edgar Calabia Samar

After so many times of saying “I’ll come back for you”, I finally gave in and bought a copy of this new edition (I patiently waited because the Filipino version went out of stock for some time). This was recommended to me by first manager at work, a great advocate of local literature and has influenced me to explore the Filipiniana section. I’m guilty that I don’t have much local books, which made me decide to start building up and this novel was my starting point. Just like how I fell in love with Korea through KDramas, how I become fond of Japan because of anime, I thought that deepening my love for our own culture can also be done through reading Filipino Literature.

It’s weird to write a review in English while I read through my favorite lines in my native language. It’s like I’m shifting between two personalities. But I guess that’s the difference when you explore novels written in the language of the country you’re born it – it gives more depth to the words. This novel came to me when I also felt a bit lost in the path that I am in. Just like the protagonist (who happens to carry the same name with me) Daniel, I was crossing the line between reality and dreams (minus the mythical creatures). Most of the books I love give way to my frustrations with words, and how writing is like bleeding for me. Yet it’s another answer to why we still try to write, why we love the spine and pages that makes up a story we fall into over and over and over again.

If you’re looking for a good place to start reading Filipino novels, this is a great one. There’s an English translation available too, entitled Eight Muses of the Fall, but if you’re a Filipino I hope you would choose to read the one published in our mother tongue.


THE SHADOW OF THE WIND by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I was on my usual Booksale visit when I spotted this on the lower shelves. The author was familiar because a friend has mentioned it to me (we exchange list of books we’re searching for). I texted him to ask if he already has a copy of it, as it turns out he already found one the previous week, but he still encouraged me to buy it for myself with the promise that the story and author is actually great. Because I’m weak for books, I obliged. After all, a Zafon book priced at 50 pesos is such a steal (a brand new copy costs around 800 pesos, imagine that!) Thanks to this incident, another author has been added on my beloved list. As soon as I went out of the store, I started reading the first pages while I pass dinner time in the nearby fast food chain. After 7 pages I was already submerged in the world that Zafon has created.

If Walong Diwata ng Pagkahulog encouraged me to push through my attempts in writing, The Shadow of the Wind embraced me with reassurance that despite the digital shift, it would always be worth it to stick on loving physical books. This is actually the second book in the trilogy, but as my friend puts it the characters are in the same universe but each book can stand on its own. I’ll let Zafon speak more for this one, “I could try to tell you the story, but it would be like describing a cathedral by saying it’s a pile of stones ending in a spine…In my schoolboy reveries, we were always two fugitives riding in the spine of a book, eager to escape into worlds of fiction and secondhand dreams.”

If you ever come across this novel on second hand bookstores, please don’t hesitate to buy it and give it a home. Let its magic unfold before you; don’t let it go down the cemetery of forgotten books.


THE MOMENT by Douglas Kennedy

Someone I deeply admire (who happens to be a KPop idol) has unexpectedly put this on my list. It’s another rabbit hole that I gladly fell into, once he posted on his instagram story that this book gave him tears, which made me even more curious. I’ve been seeing Kennedy’s books every now and then on Booksale. One or two titles would sprout out from the stack, I usually take that as a sign that sooner or later a copy of my desired title would come, so I waited patiently. Those who frequent second hand bookstores know the thrill of finding books you’ve been searching for a long time, or the surprise of finding copies of the ones on your long to-be-read-list, it’s a definite cheap thrill for book lovers. I know they would get me when I almost squealed out loud when I saw this one (the last time this happened was when a copy of Atonement finally showed up). I don’t know what to expect out of this one, since there’s no hint of familiarity with the author’s work and it’s mainly a result of my fangurling feels. But it landed on this list because it’s surprisingly great (sorry, I need to find new adjectives soon).

The love story might be the usual trap for hopeless romantics, but Kennedy’s words paint it in an unusual way. He was also able to capture the existential crisis that still haunts me sometimes, and the sad part of my soul I’ve been carrying with me, while perfectly putting in a dialogue how this sadness is necessary for artists to face the blank canvas. I’ve come to accept life’s heaviness in a new light. This novel might have a different impact to those who have witnessed the history of Berlin wall, those who have visited the place and have walked its street. While those who have gone through divorce (their own or their parents), and those who have dealt with their own childhood trauma will have a sense of familiarity to the pain that Kennedy talks about through his characters.

Once again, I am introduced to a new author I’ve come to love, and maybe this will be my own moment would be with me long after I’ve outgrown KPop (if that would ever happen). Long after I’ve moved on from my admiration from him.

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I hope I was able to give justice to these books even just a bit. If you’ve ever read this books (or will do in the future), I’ll be a glad listener of your thoughts! Stay safe and let’s continue to live through this.

TINY STORY NO.5: TAKING THE LEAP

in my life, tiny stories
Spoiler alert: If you’re planning on watching Into the Spider-Verse movie, just skip this blog entry for now.

Miles: You gotta go home man.

Peter: How do I know I’m not gonna mess it up again?

Miles: You won’t.

Peter: Right. It’s a leap of faith.

After watching the movie, this scene struck me the most. I can’t help but ask myself: what if the world I’m living in is the alternate universe that got messed up? Not really the most faithful thought but I’m banking on raw feelings as I write these thoughts. When Peter was willing to sacrifice his own life just because it seems that the universe he’s in is too messed up already, I felt that. Lately, it keeps on replaying in my head.

It’s probably because I’m starting to become active in some areas of my life again. Areas where I’ve already encountered failure before. The scars run deep than I expected. Slight changes in the weight I take in my hands tend to tip the anxiety scale and make me think, what if I mess up again? I ask the same question that Peter asks, How do I know I’m not gonna mess it up again?

Yet the answer remains the same, there’s no way to know but to do it. I won’t tell you that I suddenly gained courage overnight; I am still scared. But I’m leaping in faith anyway.

LA DOLCE VITA

film diaries, in my life

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“To see if the dreams dissolve when you become one of the characters, once you’re not just passing through.” -Kylie Flavell

Lately, I’ve been engrossed in watching travel vlogs, videos, or documentaries (if we are to formally call it). For someone who is quite short in budget, this is the cheapest form of escape — through the eyes and stories of other people.

More than ever I find myself wanting to leave. To live in another place aside from this hometown. Maybe it’s the summer heat. Maybe it’s the routinary days. Maybe it’s the lack of space. Home became too familiar, until it doesn’t feel like home anymore. I often find myself homesick for a place I have yet to call home.

It makes me question myself: Am I simply envious? Am I not content? How do I make the most out of what’s been given to me? Will I get to leave? Or do I only stay? Who knows, who knows, only time can tell. I have to keep on reminding myself that life is as sweet as we make it to be. I am teaching myself to be present, to appreciate the here and now.

Maybe it’s just another round of positive thinking, but whatever works to get me out of this longing can do me good. For now, we are here. The places won’t be going anywhere, we are. We’ll get there someday.

I wrote this over a year ago, in a journal I entitled named “Mine, For Now” (until my heart is ready to share them with any one, any soul). This was the first narrative that leapt from those pages to the screen.

The questions remain, maybe they will leave on the same day that I do.

 

ADJOURN 2017

in my life

It’s already February. But it has become a habit to write a note of goodbye to the year that was in this little space of mine. I know that a lot of people have posted welcome entries, but one of the things that 2017 taught me is that I can go by my own pace. There are races to run, but maybe blogging or writing aren’t things meant to be rushed.

I went through journals, instagram posts, prayers, highs and lows, just to fully digest how 2017 was for me. I did not try instagram’s best nine though, I know that it will just show my most liked art journal entries but not really the significant events that happened. So if I were to truly choose nine posts, this would be it.

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I. “Your art will continue to bring praises to the Lord. Always use it for His glory!” ❤
Art is a two-way street. We write, paint, or perform to express ourselves but not for our own glory, but for His; to the Creator himself. Just like what Ms. Carla said yesterday, “Kahit isa lang magbasa. Okay lang kahit si Jesus lang ang magbasa.” I’ve learned over the years that the praises people say is just an added bonus. But that doesn’t mean we appreciate it any less. Art is a two-way street. Sometimes you inspire people create, sometimes the people inspire you to keep on creating. We keep each other afloat in a sea of doubts. Art is a two-way street. May this way leads us closer and closer to him.

II. For the waves. “Ready. Stronger leg. Push up. Stand. And then, balance!” Five simple words that were supposed to get me through this lesson. But 15 minutes after and all I can think of was the lyrics to the songs we sing, the words of poetry etched in our hearts, and the metaphors that symbolizes the waves. What they contain were all true. Sinking Deep, In Over My Head, Oceans. You never realize its depth until you experience it in your life. Drowning, breathing, the waves hitting you over and over again just like the pain or the memories that were too much for you to contain. Because they say saltwater can be a cure, you brace yourself for each impact. Only to realize that you’re not ready for it yet. For now, I find my comfort on the shore. But I shall learn to swim, then face the waves once again. Ready. Stronger leg (and heart). Push up. Stand. And then balance.

III. For the companions. There were no grand gestures. There were a loooot of time to sleep and short instagram breaks. But deep friendship seeped in through the laughter despite the ache, the vulnerability of conversations when you share both your hopes and fears. These were the simple things that matter in the end. I took this photo before we left and thought that the truest of true friends can be a lighthouse and map to you. Someone who will make sure that you do not get lost in wandering through the sea, someone who sheds light in your darkest nights, someone who helps you in finding the right direction and way through life.

IV.  For the place. We stayed for three days, but it felt like we were there for a week. Time works differently here. There’s no rush. No wonder why people have chosen to live here. We have found ourselves a healing place. A home away from home. And this is a promise as well for the genuine connections we call friends: I will always be your stego.

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V.  There’s a rush contained in the words “move on”. It’s like, scoot over. Quickly. Quickly you must do it. I like what my friend told me, and there were a lot of times that I keep on repeating these words: BE BETTER. BE BETTER. It’s another story. It’s like: feel the pain. Befriend it. Know it. And then take a step. No matter how small it is.

VI.  Dear February, we are always three days short (oh, except on leap years). There were still days when I feel listless or without the desire to get up from bed (umm…just like today because mah fave month is ending). But thank you for letting me bank a lot of good days. I hate to turn the calendar over, but we must keep moving. Three days short but He has given me more than I expect for. Two places that I can call home. And safe places that I could turn too. May we stay filled up for the remaining days.

 

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VII.  Runner. Conquered 16K last week, but I don’t know if I fit into that category. Maybe not just yet. My friend was wondering, and I asked the same question to myself, why am I running? Why am I joining these races? I’m nowhere near being a sporty girl. I disliked P.E. until college. It takes more than 100% willpower to workout and exercise. Physical activities aren’t my cup of tea. There goes reason number one: running makes me conquer myself. I am learning not to mind the pace of other people and be more focused on improving my own. One step at a time.

VIII. Self-love. There are times when you have to choose yourself, not out of selfishness but out of wanting to become a better person. Self-love can be self-care — giving yourself enough space to grow and breathe, or just be.

IX. The caption was supposed to be about walking on water…but my lungs are thankful that it can breathe a little better now. As the song goes…not swallowed in the sea.

I spilled so much of my thoughts in my captions during the first half of 2017. It was my way of coping with the pain I’ve felt during that time. There were a lot of messy times, but redemption came through. In this process, I have learned to love myself — not the selfish kind, but in a healthy way. His constant presence allowed me to heal.

Every time I look back at the start of the 2017, it feels like it happened a long time ago. The months seem to have stretched so far from one another. There were countless transitions, changes, and shared moments with people who are close to me. This year meant so much more than what I can put into words.

Behind the artworks were struggles with pain, doubt, anger, bitterness, and envy. The people who held me when I can’t barely put my own pieces back together know the true battles I’ve put up with (and for that I am eternally grateful for them). A lot of baggage were shed and I have learned to finally let go. Forgiveness, clarity, peace, and joy came. I jumped from one season to the next. No, it wasn’t easy. Yes, I was scared. But sometimes freedom comes when you give yourself the permission to leave.

Right now I’m glad that this year taught me how to be alone without being lonely. This was the year I came in broken, but I’m coming out whole. Scarred, but whole.

MOTHERHOOD MUSINGS, ETC.

in my life

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I was a substitute parent to my little brother for the past five days. Nanay was away on a planned trip, so I instantly became the mother-in-charge.  And I’d be lying if I told you that it wasn’t a challenge. Oftentimes I caught myself thinking, I’m never gonna be a parent. I’m not gonna be a parent anytime soon. How did Nanay manage to raise big brother and I while working? I can only fathom the horror of our teenage years.

There are a lot of moments when I hesitate to talk about family matters on social media or any other platform for that matter. You see, we’re not exactly the ideal type that you want to read or know about. We’re made up of too many cracks, and there are some parts of our lives that are yet to be rebuilt. We’ve seen a lot of walls crumble down over the years. Healing from the aftermath can take some time.  But the previous days brought in a different experience, so I took down notes. I’d like to look back someday and see how far we’ve actually come.

I became more grateful to Nanay, for all her efforts and sacrifices to raise us. I used to wonder why she would often exclaim that she doesn’t have enough time to do all the things she need or want to do. As I stepped into her shoes, I realized why. Waking up at 5:00 A.M to heat water, prepare food, and set clothes for another person; attending to the needs of my little brother before attending to her own needs. After that ordeal is over, she then prepares herself at work, bracing herself for a long day ahead as the bread winner of the family. You don’t get to fully understand these things until you do it yourself. I go about her routine, mumbling thank you with each step. There’s nothing simple about taking care of another human being. Motherhood is a selfless act through and through.

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To be a more patient and loving sister also became a goal. There are moments when I think that I got this sibling relationship all together, and then suddenly my little brother would test my limits. I found myself wanting to have a guide books for this. I wonder why aren’t there any books on how to become a better sister? I mean there is a lot of stuff out there about parenting; don’t you think being a sibling needs one too? (All the struggling sisters and brothers, maybe we should write one?) Or is there some secret club that I have yet to know about? Please tell me. Your healthy disciplinarian tips would be greatly appreciated. Being a by-the-book-person can be such a disadvantage sometimes. I guess we just learn on the go.  This relationship is teaching me to extend my patience. It’s reminding me how it is to be a child, and how adults can complicate simple things. How can I contribute or make a better home for him? Each of us plays a role in his growth. Each word can have a huge impact in the years to come. Every day is an act of prayer for wisdom and love to overflow. These thoughts quickly change my perspective when I’m at wits end.

We welcomed Nanay home yesterday, and I couldn’t help but express how grateful I am for her (plus acknowledging that’s its difficult to be a mother). In the end, I also became more appreciative for the season of singleness. As the famous saying goes, I am at the point of my life wherein I am happy to be single (and really mean it). Thank God for seasons that we can savor before we jump off into the unknown world of married life or parenthood. There’s no need to rush from one phase to another, because we’re meant to dive deep and learn from it instead. It’s like swimming through an ocean of preparation before we set off to another shore.



P.S. Here are some podcasts that helped me through some family stuff. They also shed a light on some of the things I’m going through (whether good or bad): Becoming Sons & and Daughters, Family Dynamics with Hayden Langemeier