27 Club

In my pre-MBA days, I acquainted myself with misfits, bohemians and activists who did not subscribe to the consumer capitalist culture. I was surrounded by an amazing band of weirdos, artists, sculptors, poets and film directors; generally the non-conformists who are always grumbling about the status quo.

And then, life happened.

I don’t see my old friends as often anymore but I still try to pop up by unannounced to remind them of my existence.

“We thought you sold your soul already to Wall Street,” they chide. I feel like the occasional ghost who creep into their lives, just to let them know that I haven’t pulled a Faust just yet.

I was reunited with old company in a humble bar in the heart of Old Manila. I don’t know if it’s possible to feel nostalgic for a time that you never lived through, but that’s exactly what I felt upon entering. The bar walls are furnished with photographs pre-WWII. The old pictures were romantic black-and-white reminders when the city was once the Pearl of the Orient; a forgotten era when Manila was a magnificent city likened to London, Madrid, and Paris. Gustave Eiffel himself designed Quiapo’s San Sebastian Basilica as the first all-steel church in Asia.

Just as the old walls offered nostalgic comfort, it was just as endearing for me to see the old ghosts of my past right in front of me; doing the same thing we do best: talking–and then arguing–and then heated matches–on art history, philosophy & political ideologies.

There are some things that never change: e.g., we had to transfer bars because of the big abomination: their menu did not have Red Horse Beer!

Then there are some things that do change: I noticed their energies have mellowed down by age; and the radical minds are now tempered with some conservatism. Albeit still provocative in quoting Nietzsche or Chomsky or some dead philosopher; the radicals are already–for lack of a better phrase–‘picking their battles judiciously’.

Maybe it does come with age. The group was composed largely of individuals north of 30 to mid-40s. I reminded them that I am the youngest, still in my ‘experimental’ decade and nearing the end of it: I am still to turn 28 next month.

Victor, one of my artist friends who came back from the Netherlands, warned me to keep safe for the next month, ‘or I will be part of the 27 Club’.

“What is the 27 Club?” I asked curiously.

“You never heard of it?” Victor explained that the 27 Club is an urban legend, composed of popular celebrities, artists and musicians who died at the age of 27; exacerbated by the fact that they died of violent means such as drug overdose, alcohol abuse, suicide, homicide, etc. Some of the stars who died at age 27 included Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morison, Kurt Cobain, Amy Winehouse, and yes, Rico Yan.

The conversation led me to some introspection: 27 has been my toughest year in my life, bar none. It was 11 months of challenges, and then some.

Funny how one event can change you forever: I am not strong nor invincible after all!

Trauma, in a snap of a finger, erases your identity and triggers you to a deep pit of depression. I was battling depression silently and alone, 13,000 km away from home; dutifully covering it up with smiles on my photos and social media. Solitude triggers self-destructive thoughts and I did everything to deafen the devil on my shoulder: every sport, every hobby, every gig, every party, every activity I poured myself into. Any white space of my time I tried to fill with activities because I couldn’t bear coming to an empty apartment.

Selective amnesia can do so much in protecting yourself. Personally it worked like some magical teleportation device from Philly to Fili. I am suddenly whisked away from the snowy backdrop of Philadelphia back to warm and sunny Philippines (spoiler alert: it is NOT always sunny in Philadelphia. They lied.)

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So I came back with friends whispering, why’s she back? I seemed, after all, the type ‘to never back down from any challenge’; and directly quoting our yearbook, the type to ‘trail-blaze and take on gender-bending roles in the business world’.

Big words; but I am not invincible.

Maybe I’ll come back on the fighting ring at the right time. For now I had some fixing to do, re-establishing relationships and taking care of myself. Funny how life can teach you the lessons just when you needed it; to bring you down to humility and remind you of your mortality.

“You have to be careful, or you’ll be part of the 27 Club.” Victor repeated again.

“But, I’m not really famous anyway,” I responded.

“…Oh, true. You have a point. Okay then, you may continue your high-risk lifestyle.”

I’m not invincible, I repeated to myself. While I may be no famous rock star, I should stay away from doing pole tricks for the next month–just to be safe.

And maybe–just maybe–28 will be different.

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But I like my freckles!

“But I like my freckles!!!!!!”

I was in an argument with an old Singaporean man in a bus stop by Arab Street, Singapore. I could hardly understand what he’s saying with his thick accent, but he was pointing vehemently at my freckles, repeating the words ‘cream’ and ‘Chinatown’.

“You won’t get married with those—” he started again, pointing at my face. “I will not marry you if I’m still a young man—”

“Well I won’t marry you either,” I said, ending in a chuckle to indicate that all was said in good-humored nature.

I have a soft spot for seniors, being close to my own grandfather. I seem to instantaneously gain patience when with them; like the time has stopped conveniently for me and them. I normally get on conversations with them in buses and bus stops. They would look at me in a way that makes me feel like I’m their long-lost prodigal granddaughter and now I feel obliged to sit with them; or else they’ll chase me with a cane.

So I sat with him in the bus stop.

I couldn’t understand half of what he said–apparently he thinks I’m also Chinese. So when he laughs, I laugh. When he smiles, I smile. When he says something in a somber look, I nod obediently and say ‘yes, yes’. When he points at my face, I try to contain my laugh.

Yes, I promise to get rid of the freckles, old man. Old, Asian people always seem to have a problem with my freckles and tan skin. In Taipei, I remember being chased by the grandmother in the Airbnb because I forgot to bring an umbrella.

“It’s not raining,” I said, giving it back to her. It was 33 degrees with clear blue skies. She insisted, and I begrudgingly put it in my bag.

I later on realized that the umbrella wasn’t for rain, but for sun. Most of the Taiwanese put up their black umbrellas on the streets to cover themselves from the sunlight.

“I have four sons. No daughter. No daughter!” the old man in the bus stop shared, in a decibel that suggests that his hearing is also declining.

Good for you, I thought, realizing his lack of tact was because he didn’t have to deal with a teenaged daughter–of course. At 27, I’m already at a point in my life where I’m content with what I look like–freckles, battle scars and all. But the fourteen-year-old version of me felt punished for looking different: I felt that I was too tall, that my nose was too long, that my legs were too lanky, that my face was freckly. Freak. It feels absolutely horrible to be a 14-year-old teenaged girl.

Then there came a point where you realize that there are trade-offs: either live your life as a porcelain doll or have us much fun as you want under the sun.

For me it wasn’t a very difficult decision to make.

Now, every physical flaw tells a story: a battle scar proudly earned; an identity that makes you, you.

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“Where are your sons now?” I said in the same decibel as the old man’s. He raises his shoulders to indicate ‘I don’t know’.

I remember why I sat with him in the first place: it’s that same look of wanting just warmth and company. No expectations of returns, or value-add, or what we’re bringing to the table. Seniors have that easy energy and sense of contentment; having already lived their life–already past the young age of ambition; already past trying to impress people you don’t like in the first place.

The old man is content with sharing the present with another human. Even if we didn’t understand each other half the time. Even if he didn’t like the sight of my freckles.

It reminded me of the old and charming people I encounter on my travels on the road.

It reminded me of the old man I met in McSorley’s, Brooklyn .When I approached him, he cheekily said ‘Lady, where have you been all my life?’ He later told me that he’s a mean creature of habit: he’s been buying beers in the pub everyday for 40 years every four in the afternoon.

It reminded me of the Taiwanese couple who owned a small cafeteria near my Airbnb who were excited to meet someone they can practice their English with. On my end, one of the first Chinese phrases I learned were ‘I’m already full’, out of necessity; else the couple would not stop refilling my plates.

And it reminded me of my grandpa with his Japanese occupation stories that I already memorized on the dot, but the stories still made me smile with wonder every single time.

Third wheel duties

Being third wheel sucks.

I sometimes feel like a pet or an adopted child in dates with my couple friends. Sometimes I wonder if I’m just there to a., make me jealous; b. make me feel good about my single life, or c. to add spice to their dinner table.

This particular date, we were sat at the restaurant’s outdoor smoking area because her boyfriend forgot to make reservations. My girlfriend would normally freak, but she was extra nice this instance because she knew there was a looming fight going on.

To be extra safe, my friend even brought me to their date as a shield of support for their expected argument. This was about this afternoon’s Sephora shopping spree.

Fun.

My friend had spent the whole afternoon in Sephora to achieve the ‘no makeup look’. Her poor, ignorant boyfriend, asked why she needed to buy makeup products worth 400 USD to achieve a ‘no makeup look’.

The whole conversation was very funny until it reached the thirty minute mark. Sigh. There are times when I really wish I was in a real, long-term relationship. And then, my friends kindly remind me why it is great to be single–I don’t deal with problems like these.

My friend sharply called my name. “Rachel?!?!” she was trying to get some emotional backing and support.

“Huh? Sorry, what was that?” I responded. To be honest, I wasn’t listening–for the last thirty minutes I have already been eavesdropping the next table to our left, who judging by the awkward small talk the duo was still on their first date. So far, things have been doing well for that table. The guy shared that he’s a doctor. The girl shared that she knew a doctor. Looks like the stars have aligned for them.

But since my friend has called my attention, I would never know how the first date on the next table panned out. Ah, third wheel duties first.

And the art of being third wheel is not, ever, to take sides.

Your role is to make them shine as a couple. To remind them how cute they are together. You are not supposed to give them the idea that it’s sooo much better being single; even if it is. You need them to feel badly for you that you’re single and alone.

“You guys are so cute when you argue. You’re like an old married couple, at least you’re still not arguing about getting too many botox injections…” I said, trying to keep the mood light.

Ahh, it is certainly not my A-game as third wheeler tonight, but I tried. I knew there is some truth in my joke there. I sincerely think that my friend and her boyfriend would eventually get past this argument, get married, live happily ever after, and when their older, argue about botox expenditures.

When you’re genuinely interested in people–couples are just as (if not more than) interesting. How couples interact together–their energy, their chemistry, how they look at each other, how they talk about each other when the other is out of earshot–it’s an entirely new ball game.

This is mostly why I don’t mind being third–or fifth–or seventh wheel.In the first few minutes, you can already discern whether this couple is hit or miss; ‘ooohhh’ or ‘ughhh’; ‘honeymoon phase’ or ‘like-an-old-married-couple’ kind. The first thing I notice is their default attitude toward their other: the warmth, the energy, the tone of resentment, the look of dauntless admiration, the desperation of keeping things together…  How similar or how the same do they treat their mate compared to a new stranger?

It’s interesting how people can become so blind in love: how people whine about how ‘he/she doesn’t love me enough’, even when the other drives 12 km a day just to see them. Or how we don’t notice light-as-day red flags; or how we willingly make excuses for the other’s shortcomings.

“Look,” the boyfriend said. He has starting to panic because tears were welling up in her eyes. “My point is, you’re so beautiful with or without makeup.”

Inasmuch as I hated these petty arguments and check-ins that couples have to deal with, I admit it feels kinda nice to have shared that fuzzy feeling. Certainly beats secondhand smoking in the restaurant’s outdoor smoking area.

Surfers and MBA

I squinted my eyes towards the distance in the hopes of seeing an impending wave when I heard singing from afar. I looked east of me and found two local boys 100m away, bobbing up and down their respective boards.

“Slow day, huh?”  I shouted.

I was with my surfing guide, and we’ve been on our boards, bobbing up and down the West Philippine Sea (or South China Sea?) for a good thirty minutes in the hopes of catching a wave. I can feel the local boys on the same state of ennui.

The local boys paddled nearer my location and introduced themselves: one was called Miguel and the other called himself Janus. Shortly after we started exchanging stories.

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One of the boys shared that he just got a German girlfriend, a backpacker he met in surf school. The other boy just won his first local surf competition.

I told them I am currently in school and I was just five weeks into my MBA. I told them things I wouldn’t otherwise tell my family, or friends, or cohort-mates: that the normally cocky Rachel is having doubts of my aptitude, and whether or not I could survive business school.

Before I could go on in my litany of my frustrations, an impending wave approached us and the two boys caught it on time, while I was washed ashore.

“I’m done for the day,” I told my surfing guide.

I suggested we go have beer by the beach. The guys we met in the middle of the sea passed by, so we hollered them to join us–and they did. Soon after beer bottles were clinked, I didn’t lose time in continuing my tirade, taking advantage of my newfound friends’ curiosity.

“I feel like an oddball,” I shared. “I’m an island girl, and this whole corporate culture is completely alien to me. In the islands, there is no concept of time. My social circle is made up of artists, surfers and bohemians. Moving to Makati and going to business school–I don’t know about this,” I expressed my doubts openly.

“I wish things are easier. I wish I can just live by the beach and chase waves. I have no energy to rule the world.” I thought aloud, although I knew in my heart I lied. I was too bohemian for the city life, but too neurotic for the island life. Being too comfortable bored me to tears.

At 26, I had what felt like a quarter-life crisis. I felt stuck, like I’m not supposed to be part of this story. And so, I decided to go to business school (because that’s why everyone does their MBA, right?). After some eight weeks of GMAT self-study and a let’s-see-how-we-do attitude, I was suddenly whisked away from the island life to the corporate jungle of Makati.

Traded my surfboard for the keys to the boardroom

My arrogance thought I could just ‘wing it’, like I always do–I was wrong. I was completely stumped in business school. Everything was completely new to me. I was completely stumped, and would enviously look as my classmates breeze through Finance, Accounting and Business. The readings seem to me like they were written in Arabic.

I wanted some Rosetta stone to land on my lap and become magically fluent in this new, technical language. I was on the verge of giving up because my sheets just. won’t. balance.

The solo surf trips to the beach were what saved me from the point of neurosis. When the four walls of the case room started to shrink and close in, I treated chronic cabin fevers with a one-way bus ticket to San Juan, La Union so I can just stare at the endless horizon. Always worked for me.

The surfers were obviously completely clueless about everything I’ve been saying up to that point. One of them, Miguel, finally offered advice. “Hey, don’t worry. Everyone starts off as a beginner.” the other countered, “Even pro surfers look like awkward idiots when they first got on the board.” 

And just like that, we forgot about everything else.

rachel MBA life aim

That was the October of 2016; and I have since then graduated and got my MBA degree. Their words definitely saved me from my dark and doubtful place.

My new friends’ words were all I needed to come fighting back into the ring. I remember coming home relieved and ready to make mistakes. I was ready to stand on goofy; ready to be wiped out from my board.

The boys were right. Starting off a little behind everyone else can be discouraging. Most of us, after all, grew up where success, or being the best, is celebrated. We get brownie points from our parents when we excel, and school institutions reward the top students in academic excellence.

The problem with this mentality is that it can create an illogical fear for failure. The biggest victims are the overachievers. In high school, I equated my self-worth to my academic achievement–seeing my name on top of the list validated my being. Because of their anxiety in failing, overachievers tend to stick to their expertise and what they know best. This short-sightedness hinders their ability to broaden their skill set. They have scripted responses such as ‘I can’t dance’, ‘I’m bad at languages’, or ‘I have no sense of balance’ whenever they encounter something new. It’s always easier to say ‘that’s impossible’ rather than ‘that’s hard.’

I started to changing my mindset from being this anxious failure-phobic to learning for the sake of fun. Changing this mentality opened a whole new world for me: I learned to laugh at myself when my butt hit the floor, but I learned to dance. I learned to surf. I learned to speak another language. I learned to balance statements. I learned to do things I never imagined I could do before. Failure is part of life, so just enjoy the ride, and enjoy the learning process! 

My learning curve may have been longer than my MBA classmates. I might have studied harder and slept fewer hours, but my learning experience in business school was, I believe, more satisfying because of that.

In the end, it’s really not about getting the degree, it was all about the journey to getting to where I am now; and wondering how Miguel and Janus are doing now.

 

The multilingual Filipino

I finished my phone conversation with a silly grin on my face when I caught Nico* looking at me without disguising his curiosity.

“What language was that?” he asked.

The conversation was with my girlfriend from back home. We were sat having sandwiches outside the Fisher Fine Arts library in UPenn, where my friend and I normally studied. 

Visayan.” I said. “Why?”

“It didn’t sound like the same language you speak with Ryan.” he said, referring to another Filipino classmate of ours.

“That’s Tagalog.”

“But this language Cebuano–it must be your first language, yes?”

I confirmed, and he shot a grin back in triumph.

He said he knew because everyone always sound angrier in their own language. He said I certainly sounded angry, but knew I wasn’t, because I was laughing after every sentence.

“Unless, you laugh in anger in your culture,” he mused.

I thought about what he said for a while. He made a pretty good point. We are always nicer and more respectful in another language, saying everything in a more gentle, question manner, unsure of ourselves; like we become children conversing to adults once again.

Come to think of it, I do tend to take up different personalities in the different languages I speak. I feel more professional in English, more gentle in Tagalog and Hiligaynon, and I’m a foul-mouthed, warfreak, drunken sailor in Cebuano.

Being Filipino, I grew up to hearing different tongues–sometimes simultaneously–that it was the only kind of world I knew of. In my hometown, we spoke both Visayan, and our Muslim brothers Maranao; my father’s side spoke Hiligaynon, and my mother’s side Tagalog. You know my grandfather’s temper is on the upside when you hear cussing in Spanish, English is taught in our schools from prep to college, and French…simplyfrom dating a few of them.

Sounds impressive, but not really. This is not unusual in a typical Filipino household. The country, after all, has 7,000+ islands, 300+ dialects, with frequent movement and diaspora; long colonial Spanish history, and then raised by Hollywood and 80’s love ballads. With this hodge-podge history, it is already given for every Filipino-born to be multilingual (or bilingual at the least).

We don’t really think about the multilingual aptitude much. But when you go abroad and realize that most people speak only one language.

Some weren’t granted the opportunity or exposure to other foreign tongues and cultures. Some by choice and refuse to learn any other language. And some are just simply crippled by the convenience of being born spoilt into a culture that didn’t have the necessity (I’m looking at you, America).

Foreign peers compliment me at how ‘good my English is’, like I’m not supposed to get my v’s and f’s right. And then revel at how easily I can switch from one language to another. It’s kinda nice to show off once in a while, pretending it’s some sort of superpower.

The truth is, you don’t really need to be fluent in the languages–you just need to know enough. You only need to know ‘hi, nice to meet you’, ‘beer’ and ‘cheers’ in a dozen languages for them to look at you like black sorcery. Kanpai!

Nico, being European, was also multilingual.

And so I played around with the topic and shot back a question: “Nico, what language do you think?”

His blue eyes danced, like he had been expecting the discourse. “The German language is made perfectly for a thinking mind, I believe. The vocabulary is just so exact and concise, there’s little room for error.”

I shot back the question to myself. What language do I think? What language do I feel?

On formal and professional scenarios, English seemed the default. It was my rationalizing language. But in the social and emotional aspects, Cebuano is my preference. 

Especially when it came to bodily feelings, I feel I could better explain myself in my dialect. How can you translate gigil? Kilig? Binhod? Panuhot? Pasmo? Alimungawan? How do you translate them to English in one word, without giving people the context or comparison? The nuances of languages tell us how the people and culture are characteristically; and on this–it seems like Cebuanos are very attuned to their bodies and feelings.

Nothing is more satisfying than swearing in Cebuano. I would write some of my favorites down, but they might not make it out on print. Sometimes, the F-word just don’t cut it, you know? There’s just more meat in our dialect, it’s just so wrong , dirty and crude.Especially the B-words…

Ah, nothing beats the B-words.

Now that I think of it, when I need to make more rational and moral decisions, I should probably not process my thought processes in Cebuano.

To art is human

I could not take my eyes off the Ruscha.

Displayed in MoMA New York, I spent a good hour just staring at it; studying every detail of it– the static, the noise, the lull, the blandness; trying to find logical reason beyond my instant fondness of it.

It was like love at first sight.

My undergraduate is Fine Arts, and I still find solace in appreciating beauty. Art still comforts the soul and rouses the blood. And yet, for the longest time I was not able to find my medium of preference until years later, after graduation: not in the comfort of my brushes, but in letters.

Writing to me felt intuitive. Autopilot. Natural. Like breathing. Or flirting.

As I progressed to publishing a wider audience, I found myself in conflict about how I feel about it. Writing as a profession… didn’t make much sense to me. I derive too much pleasure from it. To get paid to meander–I don’t know, it sounds a bit too selfish.

I started writing for myself first, for therapy. I find that the ink is most potent when tinged with revenge or internal conflict; as I manufacture thousands of words in one sitting, with pain being the creative lubricant.

I recently heard in a podcast that da Vinci’s writings showed signs of psychological conflicts and how he had erratic mood swings. The presenter later noted that if Leonardo was born today, modern Western health care would diagnose him with bipolar disorder. Leo’s shrink would most likely put him on Adderall or some medication to neutralize his moods.

But if you think about it—bold artists and thinkers Frida, Beethoven, Munch and van Gogh would have their own diagnosed mental illnesses too, if they were born in today’s generation.

I don’t know what that implies; if human society should be thankful for modern medicine in providing wonder-drugs that make us more focused, more productive, more effective, more efficient… But at the same time, I also feel a little sad about the general acceptance of muting what makes humans essentially ‘human’.

I’m not subscribed to any prescription to neutralize emotions; and unfortunately, my emotions are messy, unruly—and like their owner, get intermittent cabin fever when they sit and fester inside for a long time.

And so I paint. I write. I dance. I create. I let myself have feels. Let the feels go on overdrive. Go in a trance, create, and hopefully, return safely back to the world of normalcy.

Art is a spiritual commune. It is no coincidence why human history’s first priests, the shamans, were also the first artists—they were dancers, singers and performers. The shamans sang chants, drew cave paintings and perform elaborate dances; coming into a trance-like state–to communicate to the gods for the hopes of a successful hunt or the absence of storms.

To participate in art is like coming to prayer: a commune between the human and the cosmos. Just like the prehistoric shaman performing chants and sacred dances in the bonfire; art still has that primitive effect on us: the pianist’s hands, the poet’s words, or, in my case, the silent impressions of the monochromatic Ruscha, The End, 1991.

The problem with writers

Writers are selfish creatures and master manipulators of the mind.

When you first meet them, they will hook you with their intense curiosity. Do not mistake interest for friendship. Or romantic interest.

They’ve been known to keep people and relationships in their lives longer than they should — just because they make interesting character understudies for their next book.

They will shower you with attention, and soak information like a sponge — what you do, what you wear, what you say, and the inner workings of your mind — your drive, motivations, your dreams, your soul. Why do you do what you do? What ticks you off? What makes you feel alive?

Oysters open completely during a full moon, and when a crab sees one it throws a stone or seaweed so it cannot close again and becomes the crab’s ready meal. Just like the oyster, be careful with the words you express when in company of a writer — they will hold on to every word you said and quote you on that, at that.

They will then decide to be brutally honest, or to be deceiving — or both. They will read between the lines, and if nonexistent and purely innocent, invent the words between the lines.

They will look at you with inquisitive eyes, boring into your soul, trying to figure out your place in the plot. Heck, they may even try to predict your future actions, or create and recreate plots and denouements.

They’ve got you all figured out in their heads. And if they’re wrong — isn’t that what the fiction genre is for?

You might find, in the middle of the date, the author paramour lost and elsewhere — sometimes lost in reverie; and sometimes, lost in the next table’s conversations. They are notorious eavesdroppers who take mental notes of interesting lines and plot lines.

They will study the neighbors in question: they will take note of the man’s sweaty palms, and the texture of the woman’s hair and when it’s been last washed, the gaze, the body language — and conclude whether it is the first, or the fifty-first date.

They will usually end up having their meals cold.

They will exaggerate for dramatic flair; and exclude unimportant details because they are boring. They will paint the day with descriptions — and can skillfully describe a cheeseburger like they would describe sex, and in turn describe sex like it is the last meal of their life.

And yet, oddly and selfishly, writers do not reciprocate.

They refuse to give back as much as they take in—fiercely private in protecting themselves, to keep control of their identities, to protect their stories. It is as if they cannot stomach being at the mercy of another storyteller’s liberties.

No other finds comfort in ambiguity than a writer–we live for the what-could-be’s and could-have-been’s…

The notion that there is no conclusion is very beautiful; it gives us hope that we can always rewrite a better ending in the future.

That’s how we feel a sense of control in our lives, how we make sense of the world, by tricking ourselves that we are in charge of the stories.

The Runaway Bride Stigma

‘If you’re so bold, jumping on cliffs without a flinch, why do you hesitate at love?’ 

That statement from a friend sounded more like a mocking dare. Like, ‘I bet you can’t do that!’

There’s nothing quite as painful as suppressing a much-needed eye roll. I know he means well, but with equal weight I also feel he deserves more like a punch in the face.

I wanted to be more mature and philosophical as I recalled Art of Stillness.

‘Look at the household cat. By the look of his constant look of boredom, he portrays to the humans a life of monotony; if not for the occasional betrayal of evidence in the form of mutilated bird and rodent corpses here and there that tells us of murders our feline friends in their daily lives.’

‘And—that’s why you never want to get married.’

I will always be the villain in their eyes. I’ll always have that runaway bride stigma carried with me. I don’t blame that it’s not so difficult for people to forget that time when, a month before the wedding day with all the preparations set, I did a 360. No wedding is going to happen.

Not my proudest moment. But my friends bring it up occasionally, just to make fun of me . I’ll always be that ‘runaway bride’, ‘girl who’s afraid of commitment’, ‘guarding her freedom like her life depended on it’.

And then there’s this urban legend about me bringing ‘bad wedding luck’ to couples.

Hmm. maybe that’s why despite all the wedding posts on Facebook, I never get an invite.

Ten years ago I was that annoying manic pixie dream girl with paint splatters in her clothes and rolls of film in her bag. You know, the type who used to poop fireworks and rainbows as well.

I was always in a relationship. Jumping from one long-term relationship to another; the kind that lasts for years and years that people start thinking we’re going to eventually end up together. And then I jump the gun and surprise everyone. At the last minute, I realize that it wasn’t really something I wanted. For some reason, when my relationships get close to marriage, I bail out. Queue in intense disappointment from family, friends and loved ones.

The caveat with labels and stigmas: Oh, she’s the straight-A’s stellar girl; that one’s the problem child and this one’s the alpha female. The problem with assigning people (or your own children) labels is that they will tend to live up to that label, until they fall short of your expectations and you assign them a new one.

And probably that’s also my issue with boyfriends and girlfriends: they assign you to their version of a ‘perfect mate’. But in the end, people don’t truly get to know their loved ones’ souls. They dream of ‘perfect’, but perfect is shallow. They have no interest in knowing your complexities, and they pay the price with heartache.

Look at Tom and Summer.

‘You overshadow me and don’t give me a chance at the spotlight‘, an ex said. What a big amount of bullshit. It’s been a recurring theme in my relationships, men make it out like it’s a sprint marathon; and their expectations are as lofty as their egos.

I remember years ago, I got into a bad fight with one of my exes. I got a business award and he surprised me with a large bouquet in the awarding ceremony. I thanked him, but was really busy talking to other people all day. When we got home, he went all out on me because I didn’t ‘thank him enough’. I think he wanted me to swoon and keel and maybe cry a little.

That was one of the early red flags that it wouldn’t work; but unfortunately I let it pass and it ended up to be a toxic three-year-relationship with constant validation and insecurities. It’s shocking to see he started as being supportive and encouraging at first but ended up with so much resentment.

Somehow, it still had to be about him. He assigned me his concept of what I should be–and frankly, I can’t just be benched to the supporting cast.

You outgrow people. People understand, but unfortunately most exes don’t.

It’s always hard to break up with someone, more so your long-term partners. I never break up with someone unless with good cause. You started pushing them to become better versions of themselves and years down the line you end up pulling most of the weight. Most of the time, you realize that you have outgrown this person you once thought would be your life partner.

The older you get, the shorter the relationships become because you finally realize what you need; and what you can and cannot tolerate.

Maybe there will come a time when we meet that person who doesn’t make it like a competition. A person that, as Pico Iyer put it, a companion that is strange and familiar all at once; with enough change to quicken my mind, and enough steadiness to give sanctuary to my heart. A soul who feels like home and adventure all at once. Someone who gets your impulsiveness and fosters your curious spirit; a partner-in-crime who is as steady as a rock and with the same brand of crazy.

Until then, the world has enough curiosities to keep me fascinated — and a four-year-old boy who made me feel what unconditional love feels like.

home and adventure in love.jpg

Love and dating in the Tinder era

I’m not friends with most exes, but proud to say that I formed strong friendships with a few, posthumous. A few months later and 10,000 km apart, I’m now giving an ex dating and relationship advice.

Sure, he would start with his usual spiel that I should come live in Paris instead. Then he would confide how difficult finding a real relationship is nowadays; despite the seemingly endless options and numerous matches on his smartphone.

This is coming from a 6-ft. doctor with washboard abs and a jawline that can cut things. and French.

I’m not exactly the best person to ask for dating advice. After coming from two half-decade relationships with no breathing space in between–and then single all of a sudden; I don’t know how to navigate the ‘modern dating scene’ anymore.

I am suddenly oriented on a spectrum of grays that were once just black-and-white: casual dating, ‘just hanging out’, laissez-faire, FWBs, Cuddle Buddies, hotline blings, one-sided relationships, on-again, off-again couples… definitely non-existent in my previous single lifetime.

Now that I’m back in the ocean, the waters we navigate now seem trickier, muddier, murkier. Suddenly it’s a numbers game, everyone is suddenly dispensable. Dating apps have made meeting others easier. It has made social networks wide and rich; but on superficial connections.

We all want the same, real thing. Everyone just pretends to not give a damn.

Modern dating is just like Game of Thrones. There’s just too many characters to keep track of, and you seriously can’t get attached to any of them, because you know nothing good would last long–fate or circumstance is bound to kill them before it even started.

I’m not saying finding love online or on apps is not possible; some people swear by it. Personally, it was an easy choice to disconnect. I needed that unpremeditated element. That real and rare connection. I need to see the madness in your eyes; to know if we’re the same brand of crazy.

Rachel the Chameleon

There is always that close friend whom you don’t need to see often to maintain that closeness. That friend knows everything happening in your life, despite the circumstances of missed time. In my case, it was Luke, who lives far away and thus we only get to meet once every two years.

Luke and I arranged to meet in Starbucks. He orders his usual americano, and my green tea soy latte. I was ready to find a table outside for the convenience of my friend, but he shook his head. He said he had already quit smoking. That’s new, I thought as he took out a pretentious vape from his pocket.

He knew me when I got engaged, and then as a cafe owner, and then a university professor, and then a mom, and then a travel writer, and now–a bum-by-choice.

Every time we met, he said, ‘I was always different and he was always the same’. He whines about working for the same corporation since graduation; but not the fact that he now has a high position and earns a monthly six-digit figure.

  1. A few weeks from now, I will be unemployed. This after eight full semesters, two summer semesters and 3,000 students. I felt that I have learned so much from my students than otherwise. I will miss the loud laughter from colleagues who made working together worthwhile, it never felt like work at all. Nor did it feel like four years.

Officially, I will be on “study leave.” But I’m not even sure if I wanted to finish my masters, or to finally start on my book or to climb Mt. Everest, or all of the above.

So, I pooled whatever liquid I had and booked a Euro trip adventure. In my head, it sounded like a rather logical decision to do at the time. Kinda like my habit of tipping buskers the last of my change and cheerfully hoping they don’t spend it on meth.

Luke teases me about my transient drifter phase, because he said I was supposed to be the ‘smarter one’.

“You are like a chameleon.” he mused.

“That’s an ironic way to describe me. Lizards are the only thing I am deathly afraid of.”