Willing to be Illuminated and Pierced

Archive for the ‘From the Inkload’ Category

Catching Dragonflies

I don’t know if most kids still know how to catch dragonflies nowadays. I doubt if any of them still do, especially those who live in cities where trees and plants are almost non-existent. It seems they have settled their childhood on iPads and YouTube, leaving me with the impression my childhood days were better than theirs.

Childhood for me was simple and bliss, peppered with memories of Gummy Worms, colored gum, matchbox cars and Japanese anime series. I never owned a game console even though I had drooled for my cousin’s Nintendo, which was filled with Mario or Sonic the Hedgehog. Instead, I had loads of playtimes at school. Huge old, mango trees gave us shade when we played touch ball and sipa. The green, growing grass that had brushed our socks and newly, shined leather shoes became home to curious little creatures like the dragonfly.

I don’t know the origin of dragonfly catching. It appears to be buried in the subconsciousness of every active kid born with sunshine and fresh air. My mom told me they also used to catch dragonflies when they were children. Now, it was my turn to catch a few of them. 

These little creatures were quick. While one dragonfly would brush its face with its front feet, I’d slowly and quietly sneak behind it. I’d usually spot them sitting on blades of grass. Snatching it by its wings, I’d then feed it with pieces pf grass. Once it stops eating, I’d let it go. Then, I’d catch another one out of thrill.

Green dragonflies were the most common ones. It would be an honor for anyone who could catch a blue one because it was rarer and quicker. Anyone who catches a red one would be the master of drangonfly hunting. It’s like winning a jackpot and the awe of your classmates when you catch the reddest of them all.

But I’d usually beat the others by catching more dragonflies quickly. One schoolmate once asked for my handful of dragonflies in exchange of chocolate candies I was asking from her (which I obliged for the sake of chocolate). But it was a horror for me to find some kids picking off this insect’s wings one-by-one. I’d never do that to a harmless creature. So, it seemed to be a waste for some kids at school that I would always let go of the dragonflies I have collected at the end of the day. 

These days, I’d only see dragonflies when I go on a hike. Unlike before, I would never dare to touch one because there might only be a few of them living in this sanctuary. But seeing one would always make me excited because it would always be a part of my simple and blissful childhood that might never be experienced by the next generation.

​Vacation Forever

My seatmate kept me awake on the bus by loudly talking on her phone. Smartly dressed in a light brown office coat, she assured authority as she kept on instructing her colleague to close an order because she was getting late to the office. She was almost slumped sadly on her seat while her young, tired face starred at the window longingly. She made a number of calls to her boss, clients and other VIPs. Her tone, which shifted from being demanding to apologetic to friendly and then strained, revealed that she was vexed out in her job. Her stressful aura made me think about my hierarchy in the office world. The first thing that popped up in my head was never go up the ladder. I did not want to become like her.
I never desired to be on top of the career niche all throughout the ten years I’ve been working. All I wanted was a decent job and a good pay. I had this fear that when I get to the executive position, I’d loose my freedom, my social life, and my sanity. 

I only had this ambition to get into heights when I took a job in a media company. I did get a high-end job as a segment producer in a huge media outlet. This was my chance to become a popular reporter! In the end, I was not able to handle the toxicity of this job. 

Every time I feel bored or jaded in a job, my initial thinking was to resign and leave this toxicity behind. I’d change gear in my life plans, believing I’d be able to survive by becoming a missionary, a YouTube star, a philanthropist, an artist, or a hobo. I envisioned myself living daily under a grove of coconut trees while drinking cocktails before a clear, blue sea in the Bahamas. I breathe the air of freedom every time I resign, waving my arms like a freed slave from a maximum institution. However, this season of paradise is being slapped down by the reality of being financially empty. 

I was struggling during the first time I’ve resigned. I tried venturing into agriculture but was not successful in culturing earthworms. I tried doing freelance jobs but I was too scared to face foreign clients. I thought of becoming a missionary but there was no confirmed calling. Being a bum made me a bit depressed for a while. My savings were almost gone. I had realized reality at its finest. I need to look for a real job.

This is a dilemma for most millennials like me. Unlike the former working class, our minds are not wired to survive in one industry alone. We have multiple choices to choose from and we want to try all of them. When we are forced into hard labor, we give up. There is a gap between the older workaholic bosses whose excessive hardwork was able to build empires and the young freedom-loving yuppies whose existence is fueled by an unrelentless sense of exploration, passion, and entitlement.

My mother always remind me, “A rolling stone cannot gather moss.” Perhaps we need consider well before taking an offer. We need to switch off our dreamy selves before we embark into a decision. We need to learn how to be patient, to persevere, to find joy in every circumstances. One day, we have to pass down every valuable legacy to the next generation. If we keep on escaping every defiance in life, the next generation would learn nothing but escape and the underestimation of reality. Life is not made of holidays and sandy beaches. I had learned this the hard way. I have learned that I would be able to pursue my dreams when I have the right resources and I am focused with an orderly life goal. But I hope every industry, every executive and every boss would learn how to value their own workers by not pushing them into toxicity. Besides, we don’t need pushy bosses and loads of work to prove our worth. We, human beings, are more valuable than the services or the products we could produce and deliver for this rueful world. 

​Cultural Immersion: Baguio Weddings – A Kiss, A Gong, and A Dance

The sound of gongs is strongly infusing the festive atmosphere. The bride and the groom were greeting well-wishers who had attended their wedding ceremony earlier. Looking closer at the floor near the stage, a group of men playing gongs were formed in a circle. Old men in baseball caps, traditionally dressed elderly women wearing colored beads, young men in tuxedos, and ladies in satin gowns took turns in dancing traditional dances to the beat. In such a wedding feast in Baguio, no modernity can hinder the rhythmic culture their generations have embraced. 

In the definitive Filipino culture, weddings are held as a community event. Almost – if not everyone – in the community are invited to celebrate. The bayanihan system (a classic Filipino attitude where the whole bayan or community helps one another) becomes alive in such occasions. Neighbors would voluntarily help to cook, arrange, and even organize the wedding. While this tradition is slowly dying because more couples are relying on professional wedding coordinators, this concept is still being kept in many rural provinces and cities, including Baguio.

An example of the bayanihan system – locals form a line to pass food to one another in this large gathering at my friend’s wedding.

Every Filipino loves Baguio for its cool climate, strawberries, and many popular tourist sites. I love Baguio for its meek and courteous people. Some of them have become my friends and I have the privilege to taste their culture and their way of living.

I had two friends who have recently married at Baguio. Just like how the quaint townspeople of Bulacan would hold their weddings, they similarly hold their matrimony with a community celebration. My province, Bulacan, would have videoke as a form of entertainment while Baguio people would celebrate this occasion with dances and gongs. 

Gongs are considered an ancient instrument by city people like me. I am impressed that these people would not use them for production numbers alone. Both elders and youths would join together and strike musical rhythms on it. They are accompanied with traditional dances that love and courtship to mark the occasion. 

Food being served to the community at my friend’s wedding.

Usually, they would hold their celebrations the whole day, even up to the wee hours of the morning the next day. There is an abundant flow of food, mostly made of pork and chicken, rice, and pansit (a type of Filipino noodles) which the whole community would partake. Locals are not shy to share their talents while everybody would show their appreciation to them. Celebrations would continue at the house of the bride and the groom. Old men at night would chant to call the spirit of the anito (traditional deity) to bless the gathering. As the music and dancing continues, the bride and the groom danced along with everyone. And of course, the visitors are not exempted from joining in the fun.
For the first time, I played the gong. It was heavy for me, but the hypnotic rhythm of the instrument made me enjoy every moment I danced to its tune. I just think I look awkward while dancing. My Instagram post just proves that (sorry I can’t upload the video on this blog. So please click the link to find out. I am the lady in the white dress and black blazer in the video).

Baguio people are proud of their artful heritage, as they wear woven Kalinga skirts or intermarry these designs with modern fashion. They love their culture so much the rhythm of the gongs pulse through their veins, willingly dancing along every clanging beat without hesitation. Through the sound of their instrument they become one, bringing into awareness the legacy they carry as Igorots.

Celebrations would continue at my friend’s house the whole night

Manila, a fascinating city of sights, color, sounds, is nothing as unique as this. The mixture of various cultures has turned this central city of Luzon into a melting pot of obscurity. We have become more in tuned with modernity and Western civilization, losing into consciousness the beautiful, old songs that have been passed down to us through school. Looks like Madonna’s Crazy For You has become the local fixture in videoke sessions. 
I keep on learning so much from other cultures in my own country. With all regions having their own differences, it just proves that we are a diverse society. I’m glad we have Filipinos who still carry the pride of their heritage. The Igorots are teaching us that traditional hertages are not a myth but they are living, breathing, and are worth to be celebrated for their uniqueness.

You can check out the videos on my Instagram account @rhemapenaflor. Thanks for visiting! 🙂

​Keeping Real Friends

I was on a mission to sort out my list of friends on my Facebook account to remove clutter: the non-existing account, the one-time friends and the total stranger. I was surprised to find over a thousand names linked to my account. Most of them were colleagues, former colleagues, relatives and former classmates (including that crush and that bully). Truth is, I could only count my closest friends with my fingers. But I was hesitant to remove most of those in my list because I’ve had acquaintances with them in the past.

When Facebook was first introduced, I hoarded tons and tons of “friends”. Social media became a platform to connect and reconnect. But it also became a tool to make us feel “closer” to our secret crushes (too bad if your crush only posts once a year). 

Because the longing to make friends is an inborn quality in young millennials, we easily add to Facebook anyone – just anyone – we meet for the first time. That kind of friendship, I realized, is platonic because they vanish overtime.

Even without meeting them personally, some people kept on adding to their list anyone who’s connected to a mutual friend or who belong to the same affiliation as theirs. At first, I accept their friend request out of courtesy. But I realized later that might not be helpful.

My former colleague told me once she would always accept a total stranger’s friend request because her purpose is to inspire. I argued back then it would be too risky to accept them because I don’t know who I would be dealing with. Now, there’s more risk at accepting friend requests of unknown and sporadic characters. They might be spies to the Dark Force *Wears 3D glasses. Eats popcorn. Star Wars theme blasts in movie house.*

But most of all, they could be assets to the gossip world, especially when they read posts such as this.

“Monday. Office drag day. Only your smile can turn it into a happy day.” Forward ko ito kay boss para di sya pumasok. Haha!

“Jeepney makes a wrong turn to Shaw Blvd. I need a detour to go to your heart.” Tse! Lalagyan ko ng barricade at barbwire ang dadaanan mo para di mo ko makita (as if ikaw yun…)

And worst yet…

“I only have 100 left in my wallet. But I have a thousand more reasons to love you.” Pare, may pangmaryenda na tayo! Aabangan natin sa kanto!

Ok, that sounds too exaggerated but sometimes, stalkers are really born out of social media. 

Having a thousand friends on social media does not mean you are the universe’s Ms. or Mr. Congeniality. Sometimes, they are just there to taunt you (because of a bitter feud you’ve had with that person), to make business with you (“open-minded ka ba? Kasi ako hindi harhar!”), or to linger in your memory. As I grow older, I realize my truest friends don’t go beyond a thousand…even a hundred. A few of them don’t even have Facebook accounts. The rest can only like and comment with flattering words but those who really matter are willing to go out of the social media world to see you face-to-face.

Social media has created a universe that is different from the real world we belong. It gives us the capacity to become perfect in everybody’s eyes by acting like a star on this virtual universe. But only real friends know you for who you are. They follow you not because you’re an internet sensation but because they love you are you are. That’s why I need to clear up clutter because I only like to keep those who matter to me. Besides, Facebook was originally meant to connect with friends, so why not just keep the real friends that you have?

The Wrong Gift

My eyebrows were twitching with horror as I glared at the huge box before me. By the looks of it, it did not contain the book I had asked for in my Christmas wish list. The moment I ripped open the green, Christmas wrapper around it, I was even more horrified.

I had received a pair of sandals in our office Kriskringle.

“WHAT’S THIS?!” I cried in dismay, my voice ringing around the office. “I DID NOT ASK FOR A PAIR OF SANDALS THIS CHRISTMAS!”

I realized my embarrassment when a bespectacled guy approached me. He was the one who had picked my name. He explained he could not find the one I was wishing for so he looked for anything that’s connected to my interest. He thought the sandals would be good for my hiking trips, but I am sorry they could not help my feet maintain balance on assaults. I’d rather have highly-expensive shoes to ensure footing on such trips.

He offered to replace the gift since I did not like it. 

I meekly and guiltily returned the box to him. Such was the episode of receiving the wrong gift.

But that was not the first time I had received disappointments on such occasions.

For the past two consecutive Christmas parties at another company, I had never – as in, never – had the privilege of receiving any of the three gifts I had listed on our Kriskingle wish list. The guy who had picked up my name gave me disappointing gifts. He explained he had lost the list…and lost it again the next year because he was the same guy who had picked up my name. He seems to be at the habit of losing wish lists.

My friend warned me that men usually don’t take the time and effort to look for what was listed in the wish list of their monito or monita. But I am careful not to do that to keep from ruining the Christmas spirit of my monito or monita.

I took so much time and effort to find what my monita really wanted. It was harrowing and stressful, especially copies of the book she wanted were sold out in the midst of panic buyers. I was ready to give up and resolve to another gift until a text message came to me at the last minute, reserving the book she wanted under my name. 

Praise God for the timing. I guess this is the reason I was not buying another gift or asking an accomplice if she wanted another book of the same author. When she unwrapped the present, she was bursting with glee and she ran away with the most perfect Christmas present she had received in her life.

She was total stranger to me. But deep inside I was glad to make her happy by fulfilling her wish (but hey, I’m no genie). Somehow, that’s my mission. And I want to ensure that the receiver would not be disappointed. 

Somehow, I believe some people would give just anything because tradition obligates them to do so. But giving gifts is not an obligation. It is an act of appreciation, friendship, love, and respect. 

It’s fulfilling when the person receiving your gift smiles because all your effort and sacrifice searching for it has been paid. I would never forget when my monito, a seious guy who would occasionally give charming half smiles, brightened up when he received the pair of boxers he wanted. That smile made me forget the great embarrassment of going to the men’s section to buy a pair of boxers (where I asked my mom to accompany me on buying such a pair because I had no idea about boxers). As much as possible, I follow what’s in a person’s wish list because it’s also an act of valuing that person. In turn, receiving the gift I really wanted gives me the impression that the giver values me well. 

All my disappointment had washed away when my closest friends gave me the most wonderful gifts later that day. I saw they were all attributed to my personality and needs. By what I had received, I could see their effort and the love they had poured into their sleepless search across every mall and specialty store. It’s fun receiving them but it was even more fulfilling to know how much I am loved.

I just hope my Secret Santa next year would value me just as I value my monito or monita. And before this year ends, I’ll make a follow up on my not-so-secret Santa about the right and perfect gift I had been waiting for all my life…

Leaving Neverland

 The deep voice of Uncle Ben resonates from nowhere, “Where there’s power comes great responsibility.”

I turn away from the door to run back to my bed that is now running away from me. I try to spin some spider webs while the ground gives way into the deep abyss. I scream but no voice comes out of my open throat. The alarm goes off.

BANG!

My head spins as it hits the roof of the double decker bed while I reach for my phone. I was in my boarding house. I am on my own.

Welcome to the independent life. A life without Mom and her cooking. A life without my comfy bed and my hugging companion, Eeyore. A life where I have to stand alone and make my own decisions.

For the first time in my 31 years of existence, I have decided to move away from home.

Sounds ordinary, but it’s one of the dilemma of those who belong to the so-called Peter Pan generation. Going independent is a leap of faith to the likes of us.

Being in the Peter Pan generation sounds funny to some. According to social scientists, this is the new “adultescent” generation. We are the 25 to 40 year old age bracket people who are afraid to grow up. We change from one job to another. We don’t marry early. We don’t want to have children of our own. And we live with our parents.

Changing all that would mean bigger responsibilities. 

I don’t really have a solid conclusion on how this Peter Pan generation came up to be. Living with parents until one gets old is embedded in the Asian culture. But it has gone way beyond exaggerated as most of us have become dependent on our loving parents whose hands were not made of iron just as their predecessors were. 

I wonder if we have been too pampered by the generation ahead of us. If you would look back at the generation living in the 1950s (ever seen some flicks from Sampaguita Pictures, anyone?), parents are stricter and harsher. Some of them don’t give entitlements or even choices to their children. They have the authoritarian mindset which came straight from our Spanish predecessors. They got strict daily timelines and opposing them would mean punishment. Some parents would not prioritize their children’s education, more so their dreams. Yet, my Mom, living with such parents herself, would yearn for the simplicity of those ages. Radio and television were considered luxury. A short black and white episode of the Road Runner was enough to keep her entertained when she was in elementary. They didn’t have preservatives to worry about. Children could have nature as their playground. People can stroll safely under the moonlit night without fear of muggers (unless they were overly fed with a diet of aswang and capre stories). Choices in life were not so complicated and men lived in grand contentment. 

Then come 1970s and 1980s. This is the generation who have been opened to more choices, more opportunities, and greater prospects of prosperity. This is the generation who did not want their children to experience the harshness and the poverty they have endured during their youthfulness. They have built more movie houses and added color to popular Darna flicks. The human palette wanted a boarder menu that’s why they added burger and fries to their diet. They wanted their children to play more dynamic toys by introducing Nintendo and G.I. Joe action figures. This is the generation who wanted to see grander horizons. This is the OFW generation. And that almost faded picture of your mustached dad wearing oddly-sized bellbottom pants and Ray Ban shades while proudly grinning in the middle of the empty, sandy background in Saudi Arabia is living proof of this generation.  

Then the millennials were born.

If the OFW generation were given more choices, these choices doubled for the millennials. From schools, toys, malls, restaurants, movies, activities, and more stuff, our eyes ogled as we confuse ourselves by choosing which is the best for us (which would still depend on the budget). We are living in a world that has suddenly become fast paced, right after our OFW dads and moms have brought in the luxuries and competitiveness of the global market. We wanted to achieve more, that’s why we multitask (like watching TV with a burger in mouth while putting clothes in a running washing machine). We tend to move faster because we think everything is urgent (except for EDSA). And because of the vast list of choices given to us, we have a lifetime to choose which would match our passion, capability and needs. This is the reason we can’t settle down. And yet most of us are afraid of the more essential responsibilities in life. 

I don’t mean this generation is lazy. In fact, we are active, sociable and passionate. By the time we reach 30, we continue to explore ourselves by travelling, learning new hobbies, or showcasing discovered talents. But we are afraid of deeper connections, higher promotions, or breaking off from the comfort zone. When one gets married, here comes bigger responsibility. When one becomes the boss of a company, here comes bigger responsibility. When one owns his own house and lives alone, here comes bigger responsibility. We are afraid of making mistakes. We are afraid of judgement when we screw up in our responsibilities. That’s why we’d shy away from them. 

But that should not last forever.

One day, Peter Pan has to leave Neverland. The magic of childish freedom and fairy dreams did not keep Wendy and the Lost Boys in the island forever. Soon enough, the boy in green tights will realize that their wooden swords were nothing compared to an opponent bigger than Captain Hook – and its name is responsibility.

It’s not an enemy. It’s a friend. But most of us – the so-called Peter Pan generation – believe we are not worthy of it. We are afraid of failing. We are afraid it would turn against us and kill us completely if we don’t meet its criteria. 

Wrong. It’s the mindset of perfectionism, which we don’t admit, that’s killing us.

Even Dr. Strange himself, a brilliant man, thought he has to be ready before taking up a bigger responsibility. Talking with the Ancient One for the last time, she told him she does not see his future but she sees in him a purpose.

“But I am not ready.” He admits.

“No one is ever ready.” She answers.

It does not take one to be ready to grow up. It does not take one to be ready to become more responsible. It just takes courage. Deciding to jump into it is death defying. Getting there is fulfillment. 

And yes, I feel fulfilled when I could handle my own budget, do my own shopping, and finish washing my clothes. Getting into a whole new scenario in life is a leap of faith for me. Deciding to live alone is just one step into bigger destinies. And I have to take them one step at a time. 

But still, I can’t wait for Saturday. No matter how I prepare food for myself, nothing beats Mom’s friend rice, hotdogs and eggs for breakfast.

​For the Love of Coffee

One cup for warmth

Two cups for friendship

My cup of coffee always honored at my presence

Without you, I’d be desolate at my office table

The living savior of my mundane hours
Coffee, coffee, you make my nerves alive

A little sip would brighten my weary eyes

Silencing my thoughts during the dead of the night

Lulling me to sleep in a rainy day
Coffee, coffee you will forever be

Whether instant, brewed, with cream or more cream

From Vietnam, Korea, or in the heart of Dublin

You will always be my steaming cup of coffee

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