For Lack of Words

Sometimes nothing can be written or said to express what's in your heart.  Maybe we're all just astronauts floating through space, looking back at what is now beyond our reach. [youtube]





Silly Little Woman

As my high school reunion draws near (it falls on my birthday of all days!), a little nostalgia hit me.  I busted out my yearbook from my senior year and flipped through its pages.  It was interesting to read what people had signed: there's a sea of keep in touches, take cares, and it was good to know yous--all good natured, but hardly personal statements.  Then every once in a while: a gem.  Something personal and heartfelt. I got a glimpse of the person I was and how I was perceived then through adult eyes.  I regret having taken myself for granted when I was younger.  I took stock of the person I was 10 years ago and almost wish I could be her again.  Not want for the "freedom" of youth and carefree days (that didn't really exist for me then, anyway) but my attitude, my certainty and self-assuredness that I up until recently have I squandered and lost in adulthood.

The old me: the Esses with one "ess" wasn't concerned with fitting in or being popular. She thrived on being different and made no apologies.  She was vocal about her cynicism (and everything else).  She dressed funny. A non-conformist, feminist and a (tad) elitist.  Highly opinionated and not afraid to let you know what she thought.  A little lost but above all: Passionate.

On the edge created by the pages of my yearbook I affectionately wrote my self-imposed nickname, "The Silly Little Goirl".  Back then I thought that people should pursue happiness and not dollars, that the end didn't justify the means, that individuality was sacred and conformity was akin to death, to never give in to or trust the "man".  Like the wise words of MTV's Daria, my teenage hero, I thought the world was my oyster, I was just too bored to open it.

In my yearbook, I gave my future self advice (it's on the right of the picture above).  I wish I revisited this sooner:

I realize now, I wasn't a "Silly Little Girl"--I've been a Silly Little Woman for having had lost my way for so long.

I'm glad to have "met" myself again--there's a lot I can learn about "us".  It's good to know that I'm just as stubborn and opinionated as I've always been.  And I certainly still look funny.

Of all the generic yearbook sentiments, there's one to take to heart: Never change.

There are qualities in each of us that should be carried with pride and valued, that have never changed.  And never should.


Ask Esses

Forget Dear Abby and ask Esses instead!

I'll be your virtual life coach, disapproving mother, voice of reason, devil's advocate, fee-free therapist or bad influence.  Just think of me as your (unqualified) expert on all matters!

Why should I ask you for advice, you wonder?  There's no good reason. Maybe you'll get a good laugh.

What I can tell you is that you can ask anything  and it's completely anonymous.  I'll answer questions with honesty (and maybe a bit of sarcasm and a dash of humor).

Ask and you shall receive:

[contact-form subject="DOS ESSES Ask Esses" to=""] [contact-field label="Question, Dilemma, or Predicament (real or imagined):" type="textarea" required="true" /] [contact-field label="Nickname" type="text" required="true" /] [/contact-form]

Hair Story

Growing up I had only one style option: Long.  So long that I sat on it.  So long that it wrapped around the bolts of those uncomfortable plastic chairs in elementary schools. So long that getting my hair brushed at the end of the night was cruel and unusual punishment. So long that I hated it.

It stayed long until I turned 13, when my parents moved to the Philippines and I entered a “rebellious” phase when I did crazy things like paint my nails (gasp!), had friends who were male (the horror!), wore shorts that were (slightly) above the knee, and got an “A-” on my report card for the first time. Cutting my hair was the ultimate pièce de résistance of said rebellion.  It was cut into the most unflattering bob by a lady with a fluffy mullet at JC Penney.  It wasn't cute, age appropriate, or anything that a 13-year old girl would want--but it wasn't long so I LOVED it.

I've never looked back since then.  The longest it’s been since I cut it 15 years ago is shoulder length.  My hair has been every color imagineable, from fire-engine red to the most vile shade of vomit green.  I’ve had the once ubiquitous Jennifer Aniston cut, a “Fashion-Mullet”, the A-Line, the Bob, the Pixie, the Sasoonie, the Betty Page, the Faux-Hawk and now, even the Curl-Hawk.  I’ve had every asshole indie haircut under the sun and then some.  But I’ve had one constant, one faithful friend I will never, ever abandon: Bangs.  No matter what form they come in, they’ve been there for every fantastic haircut I’ve ever had and have been my saving grace for the not-so-spectacular ones, too.

I’ve never been scared of changing my hair, of taking risks, of doing something different.  I like the danger of sitting in the stylist’s chair with my glasses off, blind as a bat while scissors, razors or clippers made their way around my head.  Whatever the result, I always feel transformed and new.  There have certainly been styles that have been less flattering than others and some that have been outright hideous.  But nothing has ever really gotten me down, even when my hair fell out en masse after trying to retouch the roots of my platinum blonde hair. C’est la vie.

If there were life lessons to be learned from my ever-evolving hair they would be:

1.     Embrace change and try new things.

2.     Accept that you can’t control everything and work with what you’ve got.

3.     There’s always opportunity to reinvent yourself.

4.     The right attitude is everything.

5.     Shit happens.  Laugh about it.




American Ghost

I wrote this about a year ago when my grandmother died:

            After the passing of my grandmother two days ago, I’m officially American despite having been born and lived in California for almost 27 years. It’s all burgers and French fries from here on out.  I’ve been cut loose from my Filipino ties, from the notion of a “home” that I’ve never thought of as my own. No longer do I have a bridge to a history, of wholly Filipino roots that tied me to another place and another time. If I ever visit again, I won’t be a Balik-bayan, someone returning to their homeland, I’ll be a tourist in my own grandmother’s native country. Not only have I lost my grandma, I’ve lost a sense of identity. The hurt is deep, as if someone has carved a piece of me out and I will never be whole again.  And I don’t think I ever will be.

Growing up for me meant moving from household to household.  While some can think fondly of their childhood home—the smell, the way their room was arranged, some tree fort in a back yard—I have to think of several places, each move punctuated by some painful familial disaster.  I found myself living in different apartments, staying in some bad parts of town with a distant relative I had never met prior, staying with one aunt and then another.  I felt like an orphan bouncing from house to house.  Most often, I found myself at grandma and grandpa’s house—other than the feeling of uncertainty, it was the only constant in my life at that time.  It was the most familiar.

I remember standing slouched against a cool, white kitchen counter.  I stared blankly at the graying grout between each white tile, my eyes scanning the linoleum floor up to a hobbled wooden table covered by a vinyl tablecloth with nauseating flowers.  I wanted to be anywhere but in that kitchen.  Next to me, my grandma asked if I was paying attention.  Of course I wasn’t.  “You should watch me, so you can learn.”  I looked at the floor again.  I didn’t want to watch her; I wanted to watch MTV.  So as my grandmother cut up garlic, and poured soy sauce, vinegar and black peppercorns onto chicken, I stood distracted by a blue clock on the kitchen wall, by the painting of peaches and berries in a basket on a white canvas with peach colored lace glued to its sides.  I regret nothing more than not learning to cook adobo that day.  I remember everything about that kitchen, every detail, every overstuffed cabinet with ancient boxes of cereal, and the exact spot where my grandfather’s instant coffee stood on a shelf.  I remember everything but how to cook adobo the way my grandmother did.

Almost every memory I have of my grandmother, occurred in the kitchen.  At the table she told me about teaching English in Mapandan and smacking students hands with rulers when their penmanship was sloppy, about her college days, and about the Japanese occupation and the brutal things they did.  It was also at that kitchen table she would tell me to sit straight, and suggested I made a habit of pushing my fingers across the space between my upper lip and nose so that my overbite would be corrected.  I remember the irony of my grandmother telling me to finish my plate because there were kids who didn’t get to eat in the Philippines, and then later that evening telling me that I should exercise more while she bended at the waist showing me what to do.  Next to that kitchen table she tied my “waist” with a ribbon so that eventually I would really have one.  Another day, she sat at the table with a discerning eye, as I walked from one end to another with a book carefully perched on my head.  And there she would cook, and I would be oblivious.

They say smell is the most powerful trigger for memory.  I can remember the smell of ginger wafting through the air as we all sat eager at the table to eat arroz-caldo, the comfort of the porridge-like rice and tender chicken.  My grandmother knew I didn’t like biting into the sharp bitterness of the ginger, so the slices were coin sized instead of being minced.  “So you can pick them out,” I remember her saying.  I remember the sweet smells of bitsu-bitsu, bibingka, and cassava.  I can still smell and taste real coconut, it’s sweetness and tenderness imprinted on my mind, unlike the dried and shredded versions most people think of when they tell you they don’t like coconut.  I remember the lingering smell of cooking oil after a batch of lumpia was cooked. I can close my eyes and think of the smells that came from the kitchen, and I can remember my grandma.

Right now, I’d like nothing more than to smell candles burning.  Here in my own house, on a suburban street half a world away from my grandmother’s body lying in wake, I could get up and light a few—but that would be beside the point.  In the Philippines, they say that when you smell candles burning when they aren’t, your loved ones are visiting from the other side.  I’ve smelled and smelled the air around me since I got the news, but still no burning candles.

I mourn the loss of my grandmother, of both my grandparents really.  I mourn the distance between where their graves lay and where I lay my head to rest every night.  I mourn the distance between my Filipino roots and me.  They were what was Filipino about me, and now they’re gone.  They taught me “Lupang Hinirang,” the Filipino national anthem. I can hear my grandmother softly singing and my grandfather joining, singing passionately the way he did when he would sing “Blue Spanish Eyes.”  They were the only attendees when I received my “Gintong Lahi” award for outstanding Filipino youth. But no longer will I hear my grandfather call me “hija” or my grandmother call me “annako”.  I’ve lost them, and now I’m American.

With the mourning of their loss, I mourn for my own childhood, for the remnants of my family that never talk, for the heartbreak of a family who will never be the same, for any hope that a family could be reunited.  I bear the pain of living like an orphan--although I have living relatives, I have no family.  I mourn the Filipino food that tastes empty, cooked without the love of my grandmother.  I pick at arroz-caldo with hidden bits of ginger that I bite into.  I eat bibingka, sad that it doesn’t taste the way my grandmother made it. I buy Manila mangoes from Mexico. I frown at my own attempts to cook my grandmother’s steak and onions—sad that I don’t even know the real name for the dish.  It’s not the same; it’ll never be the same.

As I sit here, reflecting on all the things I’ve lost—I just want to smell candles burning.  I close my eyes and slowly inhale, but nothing.  I’m worried that now that I’m American, Filipino ghosts won’t find me.  And I’m a ghost without them.

I love you Grandma and Grandpa, I’m not the same without you.

The end is the beginning.

In order to live life fully, I challenge you to work backwards.  Accept the inevitable. Confront death and you will be liberated to be the person you want to be--the person you were meant to be. If we appreciate that we will die, that life is limited, that there is no permanence, no certainty of what lies beyond, we should value every day and create our purpose.

Only one thing is certain about life: it'll end.  So stop waxing philosophical, stop crying in the corner with grief and regret, and get out there and make the most of every moment.  Be the best person you can be every millisecond of the day. Do everything that you've ever wanted to do. Be everything you've ever wanted to be. Live without regret.

Time is ticking.

"And indeed there will be time To wonder, "Do I dare?" and, "Do I dare?" Time to turn back and descend the stair, With a bald spot in the middle of my hair— [They will say: "How his hair is growing thin!"] My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin, My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin— [They will say: "But how his arms and legs are thin!"] Do I dare Disturb the universe? In a minute there is time For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."

Eliot says, "Don't be a Prufrock."

Forgive. Love. Create. Dream. Do.