When I was around 13 a fortune teller came to our home and told my parents that I would run away with a tall, handsome stranger when I turned 16. My 13-year-old self was furious with this prediction and walked out of the room, calling bullshit and feeling strangely embarrassed, not because of my future elopement - I would actually be that impulsive to run away with a stranger - but because she told my parents on me. More than a decade later, no tall, handsome strangers have seduced and/or secretly married me, but that damn fortune teller and her slimy little face and her now-false prediction are still seared into my memory.
Before I left for New York, my grandmother and I went to a Chinese temple to ask - I’m terrible at this, the gods? Buddha? Some fact checking is required - how my life would be like abroad. She asked me when my birthday was, oh she knew it was in September, but she’d forgotten the day, had it written down in her address book somewhere, she was sure, and ran her hand along a wooden shelf filled with sheets of thin parchment arranged by birth date and year. She took a slip out and read it intently, slowly shaking her head, Tsk, ay ah, naku, and looked up to peer at me solemnly through her glasses. I was half expecting to be dead by March or something. You will be strangled by a tall, handsome stranger.
“‘Life will be good for you,’” she translated.
I certainly did not expect that.
"But before that, it says, there will be a long, long time where it will be very hard," she continued. "And you will want to give up. But there is a light at the end."
Well, I thought, that was definitely a waste of a day schlepping all the way to Ongpin in the Manila heat, because I already totally knew that.
My family have always been cautious believers of a mix of deities - fortune tellers, psychic nuns, Chinese temples, feng shui masters. The other week, my mother cautioned against me moving into my new apartment in Harlem because August was ghost month, an unlucky month filled with a lot of bad energy and, I assume, ghosts. I’ve never taken any of these things seriously, and even when the fortune teller made the elopement prediction, I already knew it wouldn’t come true. (And I was right - later, my mother told me the fortune teller tried to sell them a 10,000 peso candle that would guard me against this charming, seductive stranger who would’ve had to go through overprotective parents and my even more overprotective all-girls school ID security system just to be able to talk to me.)
These days, though, I cling to the temple’s little fortune for me. All the women who went in that temple, who pulled that sliver of parchment out of that shelf, and I hope that it’s especially true, especially potent, for me. If Buddha or whoever it was who was up late painstakingly writing all of those fortunes by hand says there is a light, then it must be so.
you could be rich and happy
I was never good at managing my finances, and my parents have been pestering me to make some sort of accounting chart every time we Skype. I made this last week (so simple! so straightforward! who needs charts even) when I was overwhelmed by a surprising amount of freelancing money that I couldn’t keep track of because: numbers, plus I wanted to see if I could afford a Kindle Fire (It was that damn Amazon Local $50 off coupon’s fault) or if I could move out of my crazy apartment. (Former yes, latter no.)
Growing up in a Chinese household, my brothers and I were always lectured on saving money and how owning a business was the only way you could retire rich and happy (“You’d be your own boss! No set hours! No dress codes!”). The latter was never in the stars for me - let’s face it, I’d hoard all the goods for myself and my friends and charge all my shopping to the company - but the former still has me in its iron fist. When my family ate out, we always defaulted to the cheapest things on the menu and ordering drinks was an indulgence. My dad is in love - and I’m not using the word lightly - with Groupon and buys about ten thousand restaurant deals in advance and, on special occasions, presents us with options.
"Let’s eat out on your birthday! Okay, you can choose between Elias, Burgoo or Melo’s. No, sorry, not Melo’s, we’re saving that for your brother’s birthday."
Now that the coffers are filled and refilled on a semi-regular basis, I find that I can indulge on things more and only feel sort of guilty. Nadja and I have plum wine with our ramen (gasp!) and I got comfy shoes not from Forever 21 (quellehorreur!). I drew the line when that inner voice got overconfident and started yammering on about a PS3 and a new TV and these gorgeous $99 Cole Haan patent leather nude flats. I’m not completely out of control. It’s still just plum wine with ramen for now.
Why do you want an #AmtrakResidency? In 1000 characters or less (including spaces)
While on a scholarship in Europe I rode the OBB from Venice to Vienna and watched the Italian countryside go by with four other people in my car. Jacob from Ireland commented on the weather. Alyssa, hungover from a party at the hostel the other night, sunglasses slipping down her nose, turned over in her sleep. A couple from London, who were by the window, were making their own sandwiches, and the smell of prosciutto rose up like a snake from the open packet to burrow in the folds of my t-shirt, the corners of the leather seats, the strands of Alyssa’s hair. I didn’t write anything that long, long afternoon, but someday I would like a car of my own, nothing but glass and steel between me and the hurtling countryside, no permeating smell of dry-cured ham. Only myself, the tracks, the train, the click of the keyboard, a story, some time.
Mr and Mrs Reyes and the Polka-Dotted Sofa
Mrs. Reyes had picked out the new bathroom tiles herself, powder blue with a streak of cerulean. Their old bathroom was yellowing white tile, spare and ordinary under the harsh fluorescent light.
Mrs. Reyes peels off the starchy blouse already sticking to her skin and kicks off her black heels. She is about to step into the shower, but she catches sight of herself in the mirror and can’t help but stare.
When Bell was younger, around nine or ten, Mrs. Reyes used to catch her dancing in front of the old antique mirror, belting out Right Said Fred’s ‘I’m Too Sexy’ with Mr. Reyes’ deodorant as her mic. Bell gyrated her hips and tossed her head back when she did her turn on the catwalk, Mrs. Reyes peering from behind the bathroom door, fingers caught on the wood. When Bell finally caught sight of her—when was too sexy for her car, too sexy for her car—Mrs. Reyes had started badly and nearly banged her head on the closet. She half-expected to hear the music stop and the awkward silence hang in the room like a physical thing, but what she didn’t expect was Bell’s tiny hand on her wrist, offering her another mic (Mr. Reyes’ gel bottle) for a duet.
The corner of Mrs. Reyes’ mouth turns up a little from the memory, and the corners of her reflection’s eyes wrinkle, deepen into creases.
"Love’s going to leave me," she murmurs, "And I’m too sexy for this song."
Our boss Hava has been firing people left and right recently. Only a couple days ago, Colin the Irish guy got sacked because he turned on all three switches on the coffeemaker when he was only supposed to turn on one, the leftmost one marked ‘steam.’
"Why did you do this?" Hava gestured threateningly at the offending coffeemaker. "Who taught you to do this?"
Colin the Irish guy shrugged, most likely wondering if there was any possible way he could get out of this with sanity and job intact.
The day after I graduated from journalism school in December, I flew to Tacloban on my first big assignment, which eventually ended up in the New York Times. I knew going in the city that I’d be interviewing children and so I went from orphanage to orphanage, shelter to shelter, looking for orphans.
There were, thankfully, not as many of them as I thought. The children were taken from the city and put on planes, on boats, and brought to Manila, to Cebu, one to Bataan, to be reunited with far-flung relatives. Second cousins, sisters of distant aunts and uncles, all ready to absorb the orphan child of the storm into already-large families. The ties that bind Filipino families are interminable; we are born and we die bound in obligations of blood.
It is in the beginning when she is born, when the stars are giants in the sky and the clouds so near the earth that there is no need for flight to reach out and touch them.
When she is born it is during the second month of the monsoon season. At her first breath droplets stop midway through the air and the rivers pause from their flow, waves craning towards the tribe’s settlement.
Her mother laughs at this, delighted; it is as if even nature has regarded her birth. She takes her first breath without crying, calmly and evenly, as if she knows it is only the first of too many.
These feet weren’t built to stay too long And I’ll go there on my own, But you’ll miss me when you’re home
It’s dark because you are trying too hard. Lightly child, lightly. Learn to do everything lightly. Yes, feel lightly even though you’re feeling deeply. Just lightly let things happen and lightly cope with them. I was so preposterously serious in those days…Lightly, lightly—it’s the best advice ever given me. So throw away your baggage and go forward. There are quicksands all about you, sucking at your feet, trying to suck you down into fear and self-pity and despair. That’s why you must walk so lightly. Lightly, my darling.
Gone is the humor from her voice. She is reminiscent of a favorite eccentric grandmother one moment, with her high, airy cackle and her eclectic fashion sense, and then the next she looks at you over her thin, wire-framed glasses with such a searing, calculated intelligence that you can only trip over yourself trying to give a decent answer.
The worst thing about the holidays is how I always fall back into weird extreme night owl sleeping patterns. I’m sure I’m not the only one—I love sleeping at sunrise, but I’ve surrounded myself with friends who are even worse at this whole sleeping business than I am. I’ve worked with a whole office full of them once, actually. I was part of a team outsourced for a Canadian company and we kept up with Eastern Standard Time. My favorite part is when we all go out for merienda and a smoke at 4 in the morning, similar to its afternoon counterpart in its lazy, two-more-hours-to-fucking-go feel, but darker, quieter and cooler (both in fashionably attractive sense and lack of Manila heat sense).
Just a few weeks ago, I found myself startled awake at 4 in the afternoon on a Friday after sleeping at 8 in the morning, almost completely missing my only window of opportunity to claim my grad school transcript for a fellowship application due that same night. Still groggy and in my pajamas (effectively hidden under my huge coat), it was only when I transferred to the E train on the subway that I realized it was actually 5:15 in the afternoon—I didn’t almost completely miss my window, I’d already completely missed it.
I beat myself up over it the whole way home (20 minutes, and in the cold, too) and felt so guilty about the entire affair that I resolved to change my sleeping patterns and woke up at nine the next day. (Yes, it was that one time.)
In Denmark, a group of Extreme Night Owls formed a group called the B-Society, named for the 15-25% of the human population who fall into the night owl chronotype category. “We’re calling for an uprising against the tyranny of early rising!” its manifesto screams. (Not really, but can’t you just picture two thousand people banging their coffee cups or lobbing them at the nearest morning lark in lobbing distance?) As for me, I love mornings. I love greeting the daylight streaming in my window and promptly falling back to my pillow, immediately asleep.
There’s a reason for the long hiatus in posts, aside from work, from laziness, or from the incapability of sustaining any form of long-term writing, particularly a blog. On an interview for an editorial position at a glittery teen magazine I must admit I wanted in some small way, I was asked by the interviewer, also the editor-at-large, to pull up the blog I had oversold as a fashion/styling/mishmash of whatever.
"Juliet has a gun," I told her as she started typing the address, and I was already preparing to say "like the perfume" with a small self-conscious laugh in case she misheard or raised an eyebrow or did other glamorous editor-at-largey things, at the same time I started regretting saying the name out loud or that I had a blog at all.
When my page loaded on the (completely foreign) screen (not mine) and she started scrolling and browsing through the entries and humming her approval (?) it felt like this:
And for a long time afterwards I couldn’t open the thing because I kept thinking about what it looked like on someone else’s browser (well she was using Firefox, for one), in someone else’s office being read by someone I didn’t know. A completely belated and useless realization, considering I’d made no attempts at privacy and the nature of blogging being the nature of blogging and so on, but it was still something that jarred me for a while, mostly because tumblogging felt like me talking to myself and a couple other friends.
But anyway. Hello world! Hello, editor-at-large (if by some freak accident you come back here). Felt like something from Drive for a moment there.
To say things! To know how to say things! To know how to exist through the written voice and the intellectual image! That’s what life is about: the rest is just about men and women, imagined loves and fictitious vanities, excuses born of poor digestion and forgetting, people squirming beneath the great abstract boulder of a meaningless blue sky, the way insects do when you life a stone.
Fernando Pessoa | The Book of DIsquiet | pg. 258 (via evoketheforms)
Street look of the day : Gorgeous colors on Jacquelin Dianne. Way to wear a galaxy print bodysuit!
The Art of Gardening
To her delight, her husband has taken up gardening. Their neighbor Dave gave him the packets to get him started, and everyday she watches him plant seeds in neat, orderly rows. There will be patches of beautiful sunflowers there, split peas and melons, squash and cabbages; she’s already imagining the sight it’ll be in spring.
What she doesn’t expect though, is to find them all in bloom one morning. Shocked, she goes out to her husband on the lawn, who’s standing with a curiously large walnut in hand.
“Honey, get back inside,” he calls out determinedly. “The zombies are coming.”