Friday, August 15, 2008

On turning 40

19 July 2008

I turn 40 in four months and three days. This impending milestone has left me a tad unsettled. I have taken to brooding and to bouts of melancholy. I have lost my zest for my work. I feel listless and rudderless. Far too many things annoy me, and I get annoyed too easily.

(People not used to this sort of behavior from me have started to notice. I sense that my mood unsettles them as well, but having read enough self-empowerment literature, I know now that how other people react to me is their choice and therefore beyond my control.)

I’m trying to recall how my other decade markers affected me. I don’t think turning 20 even registered with me as a breakthrough moment. I was too busy juggling my main concerns at the time—finishing college, staying involved in campus activism, and keeping a difficult, long-distance relationship afloat.

When I turned 30, it sort of crept up on me as well. I was in the throes of several major life changes. I had just ended a long-standing, on-again/off-again relationship. I was transitioning into a new job completely alien to my former engagements with non-profit work. I had started graduate studies. I was falling for someone who I knew in my heart loved me completely, but whose prior ties doomed our relationship to remaining incomplete. At 30, I was dealing with a number of complications that were enough to be getting on with. I had no time, energy or inclination to brood.

Now, it seems, all I can do is brood. There are still complications, dissatisfactions and distractions aplenty, to be sure. But there is no escaping 40. It’s an age that signifies something incredibly irreversible. When you hit 40, you know you’ve run out of excuses. It’s the end of an era, the end of all postponements and procrastinations. It’s time to get serious. (If only I were completely clear about what I need to get serious about! Then again, are we ever completely clear about these things?)

All evidence points to the importance and the inevitability of marking this milestone somehow. Marianne Williamson says this mid-point milestone calls for a rite of passage. It deserves to be celebrated, even as it demands sobriety and seriousness. A couple of ideas have dawned on me. The first is to pay homage to the wisdom and life experience of those women who have come before me, and the second is to share what life lessons I’ve learned with those for whom 40 is still a far-off number. I intend to write “fan mail” to 40 women I admire (most likely those who hit 40 before I did) to let them know while I can how they have influenced me. I intend to write a memo of sorts to the younger generation, to share 40 things I learned on the road to turning 40. Finally, I’d like to gather 40 women closest to my heart—be they older and wiser or younger and braver—to celebrate with me as I mark this momentous occasion. (I know it’s so Oprah, but she’s one of the 40 people I admire and it was on her show that I heard Marianne Williamson speak so eloquently about rites of passage, so give me this.)

I’ve heard it said that 40 is the age of acceptance, the age of surrender. I do not think they mean it in a defeatist sense. It’s not to say that you surrender all effort to change what needs to be overturned. I guess it’s what the prayer of serenity says so succinctly: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

It’s also the time to accept and acknowledge everything that has come to pass: every feat I’ve accomplished, every mistake from which I learned, every frailty that makes me fully vulnerable and fully human, every quirk that makes me unique.

More importantly, 40 is the time for me to get clear on the things that will matter 40 years onward, and what I still need to get done in the time I have left so that I spend it on things that mean the most to me.

Looking back, I must say it’s been a full plate, these past four decades. Not earthshaking or history changing, by any means, but not a complete waste of time and space either. I’ve shown some skill and I’ve been recognized for it. I’ve made my parents proud. I’ve been of service to those who needed a hand up. I’ve been published. I’ve helped to get farmers’ issues in the public agenda. I’ve been quoted by at least two writers I admired. I’ve been able to find work that gets me involved with the causes of children. I’ve pushed myself to serve children in need outside my country, even in difficult circumstances that tested my limits. I’ve traveled to places both beautiful and unfamiliar. I have loved earnestly, sincerely and completely; and I have been loved back, even if it did not last forever. I have known the happiness that comes with unconditional love. I have weathered the loss of both parents, and learned how to conduct my life from their example. I have known the heights of pleasure, and the depths of grief. I have known regret and remorse. I have committed cringe-worthy mistakes. I’ve lied to others, and to myself. I have caused others to hurt needlessly. I have faltered and failed. I have lived.

Still, there is much left to buckle down and do. There are still several items unticked on my life list, and I need to get cracking. But let me start with a meaningful celebration of my 40th year on this planet. It’s the right time to do it.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Oh, the places I've been...

Thanks to Boyong’s blog for the link to this cool site.

If only I was able to see more of these places. . .These were mainly work-related trips, so the time for sightseeing was severely limited.

My very first overseas trip was to Jakarta, Indonesia--and that was when Suharto was still in power. I think I was all of 20 years old then. Sheesh. I distinctly remember the Indonesian military security guy asking me about Gringo Honasan. This was probably shortly after the 1989 coup.

Since that first jaunt, I've been to around a dozen or so countries. Some countries are the usual suspects in overseas travel: the US, France, Thailand. A few might be considered "exotic" locales: Nepal, Turkey, Jordan. Still others would probably strike the average person as odd places to get your passport stamped: Cameroon, Pakistan.

I feel rather blessed to have had the chance to experience these other countries and cultures. I feel even more blessed to be able to go back home soon after I venture out--that I needn't endure the interminable hardships that millions of OFWs must have to go through in exchange for the chance to go abroad. The longest I've been away from good old Pinas is roughly two months--and those were probably the hardest two months of my life. Mabuhay talaga ang kabayanihan ng OFWs!

Friday, March 10, 2006

Mang Domeng

I only met Mang Domeng once—it was Joan Bondoc who introduced me to him, mischievously, as “a future daughter-in-law.” (That never came to pass, of course—but that’s another blog entry. :P)

He was working for Diario Filipino at the time. He struck me as a deeply reflective person; someone who took all that life gave him, mulled it over, and used it in his life’s work. I was particularly moved that--for one so accomplished and admired--he remained quiet and unassuming.

I only recently learned that he had passed away three years ago. (I was in Istanbul for a conference at the time he died.) I was never fortunate enough to have known him well, but the piece by Al Mendoza below provides a glimpse into his kindness, and gives me a fuller picture of his humanity.

Posted: 7:54 AM (Manila Time) Nov. 09, 2003
Inquirer News Service – from the “Spectator” column by Al Mendoza

IT IS in wakes that dear friends unseen for years resurface. It happened again during the "Parangal Kay Domeng" last week at Funeraria Oro in Sampaloc district, Manila. Friends I haven't seen for ages, they were there: poets Roger Mangahas, Jesus Manuel Santiago, Fidel Rillo and Vet Vitug, poet-fictionist-novelist-essayist-professor Domingo Landicho, fictionist-novelist-professor Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, poet-fictionist-professor Roger Ordonez, fictionist-novelist Jose Rey Munsayac, fictionist Ompong Desuasido, painter Danny Dalena, Ramon Magsaysay awardee for literature Bien Lumbera, poet-essayist Tala Isla, fictionist Levy Balgos dela Cruz, poet-fictionist-professor Bayani Abadilla and national artist for literature Rio Alma.

Also present was Dr. Dante Guevarra, vice president for administration of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where Domeng had taught from 1971 till the day he died on Oct. 31. With Ave Perez Jacob, whose flame-laden tongue matches only the razor-sharp prose in his fiction and novels, was the night's master of ceremonies that also saw Recah Trinidad, the poet masquerading as Inquirer sports columnist, deliver a poignant piece in defense of "the heroes of the written word" such as Domeng.

Elegies and eulogies enveloped the evening on behalf of the man who lived his life literally for the working class -- using only but his pen. His fiction, essays and novels all championed the cause of the toiling masses.

A little favor, please, but I just need to burden you with more about my association with Domeng; he was more than a brother to me. Today being a Sunday anyways, let's be forgiving?

Domeng is Dominador B. Mirasol. He was called invariably as DB, Domeng, Ka Domeng and -- courtesy of Ave Perez Jacob -- Mang Domeng. "I called him Mang Domeng as both a sign of affection and respect," said Ave.

I called him Domeng. But before that, I called him Sir. Domeng was my literature teacher in college.

The first day of our class, I made sure I'd shake his hand after his lecture.

"Sir, I feel very lucky to have you as my teacher," I said to him.

"Thank you," he said. "Do you write?"

"Yes, sir, I write." "Good," Domeng said. "Do that for the rest of your life."

We ended up drinking in that seamy bar at the kanto (corner) of Lepanto and Recto. Raising his first glass, Domeng said to me: "From now on, don't call me 'Sir'. Just call me 'Domeng."' I was stunned. Meekly, I replied: "I guess I can't do that, Sir." Domeng said: "You need to. Otherwise, there's no point drinking with you. I can't drink with people who are not my co-equal."

At first, I found it difficult to call him Domeng. He was not only my "Sir", he was also my idol. Only on our 11th, 12th bottle maybe of San Miguel beer, did I have the nerve to call him Domeng.

"Now you are learning," he said upon hearing me calling him Domeng. "Life is like that -- a never-ending process of learning."

I would soon find myself going to his house in Moonwalk on weekends; we'd drink beer till midnight, discussing what seemed like life's mere trivialities but were, on closer scrutiny later in life, actually all gems waiting to be woven into priceless mattresses of literature.

Domeng, whose sport was walking because "I hate owning a car," was the first of the literary giants in Tagalog/Filipino literature that I had come in contact with. Before we met, my literature had been done mainly in English, the reason being that I grew up in Pangasinan province. As in high school, I also became the literary editor of our college organ and, quite understandably, my section was mainly littered, at first, with poems, essays and fiction all written in English.

It was Domeng who opened my eyes to the beauty of Tagalog literature -- and Tagalog writing. It was also through Domeng that I have come to meet in the flesh the established writers in Filipino of our time, among them the eminent Edgardo M. Reyes, Efren Abueg and the late Rogelio Sicat (he did the introduction of my first book that was published in 1993). They scored the first major breakthrough in Tagalog fiction with their book, "Agos sa Disyerto," the bible of Filipino literature buffs. Not for long, they all became first-name basis to me. They called me their "baby."

When my first short story in Filipino won first prize in a school-wide competition (Sol Juvida was second, and Rogelio Nicolas third), it was Domeng who was the happiest, for he didn't know I joined the contest. "Let's have it published in the Asia-Philippines Leader," Domeng said to me. He accompanied me to Intramuros. It was there that I first met Pete Lacaba, the poet-essayist-scriptwriter nonpareil, who was the magazine's executive editor; Pete and I would become buddies in no time. The short story came out and, was I glad it became one of the magazine's best seven stories for the year, with Ave Perez Jacob's "Ang Pagdating ni Elias Plaridel" winning top honors as did Fanny Garcia's "Sandaang Damit."

Even in death, there is art. The gathering of literary luminaries at Oro on Nov. 3 did not only prove that Domeng was a literary hotshot. He was, more importantly, bigger than art.

How can I be his co-equal?

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Mt Nebo in Jordan, overlooking Jerusalem Posted by Picasa

Petra in Jordan.  Posted by Picasa

Monday, September 26, 2005

Alfredo Serrano Ochoa, 28 March 1928 – 18 April 2005

Alfredo Serrano Ochoa, 28 March 1928 – 18 April 2005

(Sharing this eulogy I wrote for Papa, read during the last mass for him at Loyola Chapels, Guadalupe.)

On behalf of the Ochoa family, thank you joining us over the past four days in celebrating our father’s life and in honoring his memory.

My father passed away due to complications from diabetes. There is an interesting theory about illness that relates disease (or dis-ease) to a person’s emotional state. If one subscribed to this theory, one might say that his diabetes could be linked to suppressed emotions—for the sweetness that we know was within him often went unexpressed. To put it another away, he openly loved sweets, true Kapampangan that he was; but he was rarely openly sweet to those he loved. The Papa we knew was quiet and withdrawn, and tended to be either stern or serious when he spoke to us. But there is little doubt among us, his children and grandchildren, that behind his quiet reserve, he loved us in his fashion and had only our best intentions at heart.

Papa also had a stubborn streak—he had a definite opinion about many things and, as is true for most of us, preferred to have things done his way. This streak often surfaced in his eating habits, and definitely contributed to his diabetes’ turn for the worse. But stubbornness can have positive aspects. Stubbornness can also mean sticking to your guns, even if it means not taking the easy path. And in his life—as a husband, father, employee, public servant and servant of God—Papa committed himself, even if this was not always an easy thing to do.

It is no easy feat to raise eight daughters and provide them with the best possible education on a mid-level manager’s salary, but this he did. Our parents insisted on providing us a solid Catholic foundation by sending us to a private elementary school. Sending even just one child to private school can be tough; multiply that by eight and you have a rough notion of what my parents did for us.

But Papa did not just fund our education; he modeled it for us. He was a true life-long learner who enjoyed a life of the mind. He and my mother filled our household with books, thereby stimulating our common love for reading. He loved mind-bending pastimes like crossword puzzles and chess, and was pretty good at them. Our parents shared a love for history and travel, and he would often come home with a balikbayan box of books. Even in his late 70s, his book-craziness never waned; he kept mail-order book clubs happy by keeping the orders coming, allowing all of us, even his grandkids, to share the pleasures of reading right along with him.

It is no easy feat to be a faithful and loving husband for nearly 50 years; but this he did. In fact, his rare moments of sweetness were often showered on our mother. Take a look at the inscription to her on his college ROTC photo we displayed here and you’ll get a general idea. When our mother died, I accompanied him to this same place as we assisted in preparing her body for the wake. I was so touched by how he never for a moment left her side, how he stroked her hair and face as he looked after her. With mama gone, he would often spend hours rereading their exchange of love letters from their college days and during his brief stints in Japan and Cebu. You could tell how he treasured these testaments to how they felt for each other. This love was real, and for us daughters, it affirmed his essential goodness as a man.

It is no easy feat to love and serve God in the best way one can, but this he did. From his encounters with Father Delaney at UP Diliman, Papa continued to honor his Creator through the Christian Family Movement and his service to St. Paul the Apostle Parish as a lay minister and Grand Knight of the Knights of Columbus. His faith in God and his will to live this faith by serving the Church was a constant in his life. Papa may have died unexpectedly, but we are certain that the life of service to God that he led on earth will be rewarded in heaven.

We thank you Papa, for the life you led, for the example you set, and the lessons you left behind. We know you would have wanted to live to your 90s, just like your Nanay, our Lola Meding. But we also know that you would be just as happy to join Mama and other loved ones who have gone before you to be with God. We thank God for allowing you a full life, and a peaceful death. We will honor your memory always.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

what's in your IPod?

any pinoy IPod freaks out there? isn't it the coolest thing ever? all the music that speaks to your soul packed into a nifty gadget that fits snugly in the palm of your hand.

so, what's in your ipod?

Thursday, November 25, 2004

and so it starts...

Trying my hand at this blog thing. Thought I'd start by sharing a poem I translated. Here goes:

Isinalin mula sa tula ni Cole Swensen

may hihilingin ako sa iyong
isang bagay.

huwag mo munang
paratingin ang bukas,
may isang sandali
na kailangan ko pang balikan

isang sandali na nabubuhay
sa patag na namamagitan
sa ating hininga
at sa ating paghinga.

sa bawat langhap natin ng hangin
nagpapadala ito ng isa pang telegrama
sa ating gunita
upang ipaalala
na naroroon ito
kung saan wala ito kahapon--

sa pagitan natin, may isang sandaling
pinamumugaran ng ibon
na may pakpak ng kinumutang kidlat
at nagmumula sa mga bayang
hindi pa natin napanggalingan

sa baligtad ng ating balat
at sa loob ng kakaibang unos
isang ulit pa, hinihiling ko sa iyo,
sa isang sandaling
nakabatay sa di-makitang ibon

dalhin mo sila sa akin
ilatag mo dito sa loob ko
lagi't lagi'y may isang sandali
na kailangan nating balikan
at ang lahat ng may pakpak
ay patungo dito.