Admittedly, I am not really a park person. Despite the fact that my parents used to take me and my brother to jog at the Luneta or ride bikes at the CCP Complex, I never really developed a strong liking for green lawns dotted with benches and the odd bit of statuary. However, there are days when a walk in the park seems to be the only logical solution to a severe case of writer's block or, more frequently, the pangs of [still to-be-admitted and] unrequited love.
I developed this particular habit way, way back in grade school. Benedictine Abbey, you see, was built on a hill and this resulted in a rather peculiar design for the school complex. While the high school building and surrounding grounds (specifically the track oval and covered court) were constructed along conventional lines, the grade school building was a split-level affair built into the side of a hill that sloped appealingly down to the pre-school buildings at its foot. The hillside was a verdant expanse that was mowed infrequently and there were a number of other plants growing haphazardly on it, specifically on the unusual rock formations that became "personal" spaces for a number of children at the time.
I would know; I was one of those kids. My little spot of solace was a jutting bit of rock that looked for all the world like a preacher's pulpit in an old-fashioned church. It was where I would sit and think when I felt that everyone was picking on me. I would just sit there; not crying for once, unusually silent. I would just stare at the foliage around me and take deep breaths of clean, fresh air. With the blahs out of my system, I would go back to class.
In college, trekking over to Harrison Plaza to pick up new David Eddings novels or audio cassettes (CDs being prohibitively expensive at the time and mp3 technology but a dream) between classes replaced those treks to my little "balcony" on the hill. Later still, getting acquainted with the different schools where the oratoricals I competed in kept me from getting too jittery before those nerve-wracking (and throat-drying) contests. (And, truth be told, if anyone told me then that most of the more significant people in my life would be Lasallites, I probably wouldn't have deliberately flunked the entrance exam. But that, my friends, is a story for another day...)
These days, I rarely ever get the chance to get out and take a walk. But, whenever I do, I make it a point to take deep breaths to clear my heads of the cobwebs that have gathered in it over time.
Ask me what I'd rather be doing right now - at this very moment - and I'll tell you off the bat that I would really rather be baking several dozen cookies right now. However, since I am miles away from my kitchen and oven, one needs to rethink that particular option and do something else.
Truth be told, I feel like the girl in today's pretty little piece of art from Catherine Campbell: I feel like I'm just quietly simmering, brewing, stewing, cooking something up in my brain and getting ready for something new. My mind is like a teabag soaking in hot water: a little patience, some waiting is required before you can enjoy whatever it is I have in mind.
So what does a girl do whilst her mind is simmering? From experience, there are actually ten things you can do to keep yourself from going crazy:
Brush up on your existing skills. Attend workshops on subjects that play to your strengths or read up on new developments in your existing field. In my case, this has involved writing workshops and poetry readings.
Pick up new ones. It always pays to learn something new.
Work out. Not only will you get a better body, but you'll also be able to keep your mind off your stresses.
Try something new. Whether it's a new hairstyle, a new food, or a new sport, new things always serve to broaden your horizons and improve your outlook.
Spend some time solo. You don't always have to be part of a crowd; in fact, you can probably get your best ideas whenever you take solitary walks or just curl up someplace and dream.
Keep reading. You'll never know what you'll be able to pick up.
Stay away from stressful people. Otherwise, you might end up becoming the unfortunate sponge that absorbs their negative energies. Run away while you can!
Keep your eyes open for new opportunities. If you aren't happy where you are, keep a keen eye out for those possibilities that will let you use your talents to the max.
Give hugs. Because everyone needs comfort, after all.
Pray. Because our Heavenly Father is the greatest source of comfort and will always be our rock and fortress.
A fomer colleague for whom I sometimes do the odd writing job or two got in touch with me earlier this week and wanted to talk about two things. One was a short-term writing project: the usual "do this for the client and make them happy" deal.
The other one was something we'd been planning for nearly a decade: our own original production. Everything - characters, scenarios, the whole world, for the love of everything sacred! - of our own creation.
It was a timely invitation. Of late, I've been falling ill quite frequently. The time of my daily commute has been lengthened by two full hours by the ongoing construction of the Skyway. Even if I wanted to come to work on time, the traffic would really get in the way. I'm tired out more by the commute than by the work which, alas, is getting to be more than a little hair-raising because of certain things - and people! - that are getting a tad too ornery for comfort. I've been trying to keep my health by fortifying myself with vitamins and vitamin drinks (like the one above) and my sanity by reading the Bible, graphic novels (that's Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis under the bottle), and writing.
As I was telling Ate Lara when we met up earlier, I am beginning to wonder if my current circumstances are still worth it.
So many things are changing. People are moving out and starting fresh elsewhere. The old guard is thinking of retirement while the young usurper and his cohorts are beginning to impose their skewed wills upon a hapless populace. My skills are changing along with my interests, but my most basic ones - writing, thinking, creating - are being sharpened yet again.
For what reason, I have no idea. At least, not just yet.
Wherever it is I'm supposed to go, however, I leave it all up to the Man Upstairs, to the Lord Almighty. And so, to quote Psalm 18:36:
You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.
Make the way safe for me, my Heavenly Father, and in your wisdom lead me to where I truly belong.
Of all the things in the fridge I could find to bring to work, there was a small microwavable container with three cinnamon rolls from a batch I made over the weekend and a few slices of the chocolate cake I made for my sister's birthday.
By the time I got to work today, I remembered something. These were the very things I baked on that May night last year.
I haven't seen the person for whom I baked in a while and I recently found out that he just resigned and will be moving on to new things. Good move for him, in my personal opinion; intelligent young men like him should be exploring every single option available to them.
I'm pretty sure that many of you will laugh when I say I shut myself up in my room and wept when I found out. I don't mind if you do - and that's a first coming from me.
I wept - and yes: I prayed.
I prayed that God in His goodness would guide him as he cuts a new path, as he goes wherever fate takes him. I asked the Lord not to forsake him no matter what may happen, that He will rest His mighty hand on that boy's shoulder.
For the first time in so many, many years, I actually felt as though a great weight had been lifted off me when I stopped crying. Normally, I would feel much worse and just curl up into myself in a spate of unreasonable grief.
He's a much better Christian than I am; I know now that God will take best care of him.
And, who knows? Perhaps the circumstances may finally let us be friends.
And really: if that's the best I can get out of this, then I can accept it with all my heart.
Artwork: Astrid's 13th Secret - Pieter Schoolwerth, date unknown
The year was 1992; the date was August 11th.
We were in the school chapel; not the little one on the second floor of the high school building but the main one whose cross then dominated the Alabang Hills skyline.
The day began grimly enough; the whole senior class turned out for the requiem Mass for Michael Hachiya of Section 45. Mike was supposed to be a batch ahead of us, but stopped school for a year to undergo dialysis. We all thought he was going to be okay; he had, after all, come back to school with our batch the previous June. Towards the end of July, however, he took a turn for the worse. And, sadly, that was that.
The day began grimly enough; but as if that weren't bad enough, a horror story began to be whispered amongst ourselves. The night before, one of the most well-liked guys in the batch shot himself in the head. At first, we all scoffed at the news. Fidel Castillo was a cheerful guy; what reason would there be for him to kill himself? But what we thought was a bad joke turned out to be the horrible truth when Fidel's coffin was wheeled into the chapel barely five minutes after we bade Mike goodbye for the last time.
The death of a young person by his or her own hand has long been the topic of many songs, poems, films, and television shows. My generation - specifically, my batch at Bene - knew this from watching Robert Sean Leonard's touching final scene in Dead Poets' Society, listening to Pearl Jam's Jeremy, and seeing Scott Scanlon play a tragic game of Russian roulette on Beverly Hills 90210. We just didn't think that such things were real, that it would never happen to us, to one of our own. Least of all Fidel, alas.
We were freshmen when he played the nefarious Mr. Smirnov in the school production of Anton Chekhov's The Boor - a role not normally given to freshman boys short of their thirteenth birthday. But it was a masterful performance, one that would not have been out of place in a professional theatre group. This would be followed by several prizewinning performances in various school plays from Delubyo to a deliciously comic turn as Tony in that perennial crowd-favorite A New Yorker in Tondo. He had a gift for mimicry and copied Mr. Ylarde, one of our favorite teachers, to the hilt one Teachers' Day to everyone's delight. I remember hearing our then-head of the English department say that Fidel had a future treading the proverbial boards.
He was a gentlemanly sort - rare even in those less debauched days. He'd carry girls' books and do the heavy lifting whenever necessary. He was always polite and I don't remember ever hearing him say anything harsh to me or to any other member of the fairer sex.
I remember him going in for COCC in our junior year, but also remember that he was never an officer. Rather he was a member of the militarily-oriented Spearhead Club. To us, this was unusual. Still, he definitely embodied the words "an officer and a gentleman".
I also remember a grim time in my freshman year when I stood at the balcony at the back of a third-floor classroom and wondered aloud what it would be like if I jumped and fell upon the spiky fence below. Fidel was there with JP Simbulan, one of our other classmates and a very good friend of his. They both told me that it wasn't worth it, that life was still worth it even if I felt that the world was too much with me and too soon. He was that sort of person.
Which is why we felt that it was impossible for him to kill himself.
Fidel has been gone for seventeen years, but most of us still don't know why he did it. Of course, there was a lot of gossip that came in the days following his death and even after he was buried - but does anyone know anything at all about the truth of what happened on the night of August tenth? A few do, but I'd rather not ask.
Currently being under treatment myself for bipolar disorder, I think I have a bit of an idea as to why.
I think Fidel felt that he was under a lot of pressure.
But pressure is something all high school seniors experience. It's the "make or break" year: there are colleges to apply to, courses to be considered. You're finally top dog after three years of being an underling - but now the faculty expects you to be on your best behavior, to be a good example for all the younger kids. You have terror-teachers issuing the grave threat "You will not graduate!"; and that's on top of one's parents' expectations that - somehow, some way - you'd come out of the ruckus shining and smelling of roses. You play-act the game of love with other inexperienced players, going into the game starry-eyed and coming out of it wondering if any of it was worth it.
We all felt the heat, but while it pushed many of us (myself included) to the brink of madness, we were pretty sure it wasn't going to kill us.
Or so we thought until Fidel killed himself.
I was thinking of Fidel today not only because we marked the seventeenth year of his passing yesterday, but because of the violent death of another batchmate's cousin the other day.
Not a suicide this time, but a murder.
Times like these, I drive myself half-mad trying to make sense of all the senselessness involved. Why them? Why that way? Always the eternal "why" that no one seems to ever have been able to answer. My mind shrinks from the violence of it all, the brutality that seems to have overcome any form of civilized behavior
Seventeen years on, my classmate's death still makes me sad. I wonder what he would have been like if he lived and went on to grow up with all the rest of us. What line of work would he have gone into? Would he be married now? Would he have kids? Would he have fulfilled Mrs. Grape's long-ago prophecy of him becoming a thespian, playing to audiences across the globe?
It grieves me to admit that, like those questions on why he chose to take his own life, those questions will remain unanswered.