Tuesday, December 23, 2008
We were talking about going to Bali, among other things.
“I want to go to Bali some day and stay for a few months,” I said—in the tone of things that acknowledged the distance of hopefulness.
“What’s in Bali?” Kent asked.
“I don’t know,” I said, “but I hear it’s beautiful.”
And then I paused.
“But you know what?” I began again.
“What?” Kent said.
“I don’t want this Bali thing to be a mere pipe dream.”
“What’s a pipe dream?”
“You know, those fantasies we all have about doing this or that, or going to this place or that—but they all remain just that: talk. Empty words that don’t mean shit. And in the end, you really don’t do anything. You just succumb to the boredom of things comfortable, having done nothing at all.”
“So that’s what a pipe dream is.”
“You should get out of Dumaguete,” Kent said, after a beat.
“Everybody tells me that.”
And then we stare off into space, into the skies, onto the streets, whatever—both of us suddenly mentally cataloguing the pipe dreams we have. How sweet they all sound, how full of promise, how elusive and far away.
I have been having this conversation with assorted friends for many days now, all throughout this December, often in the company of other people—the artist Razceljan Salvarita chief among them, even with Dumaguete divas Arlene Delloso-Uypitching and Justine Colburn when they can be bothered to pause from their eternally fabulous lives; and sometimes we continue to talk at the height of things happening—a lunch date with Ceres Pioquinto at Gabby’s, a brief interlude between classes at Margie Udarbe’s, a late afternoon coffee date with Aivy Nicholas at Café Noriter’s, a triple birthday celebration at Sharon Dadang-Rafols’s, an early Christmas party at Susan Vista-Suarez’s, an exhibit opening at Wing del Prado’s, over rhum coke with Jean Claire Dy and Clee Andro Villasor in Hayahay… There have been occasions of conversation when the night has already verged into the next day, and I find myself with Kent sampling balut
from one of those mobile stands along the Boulevard, and there—before the midnight stretch of Tañon Strait—we would talk about this thing and that thing. We would talk, we would eat, we would talk some more and plan many things.
I don’t know what it is exactly about this December that has drawn me into a fuller sense of self, but for the first time in a long, long time, I made a conscious decision to be happy. It came from a guarded knowing that for some time now, I have felt the years pass me by like the flutter of wings, uncaptured, leaving me with that ominous, hallow sense of not having accomplished anything.
But no longer.
It has been a wonderfully busy December beyond the simple push of things Christmassy—it has been a season of people (a season of rekindling ties with old friends especially), and also a season of so much gleeful intoxication, a season of so much introspection, of looking back and looking forward, and learning from it all. Most of all, it has been a season of so much heartfelt conversations—and the unspoken heart of it all: the search, or the wish, for personal happiness.
I may have triggered the start of this unending discourse on the matter among our small band of merry conversationalists. Because sometime in the beginning of December, at the height of the long full moon, right after the celestial rarity of Venus and Jupiter forming a smile with the new moon, I shrugged off months
of utter bleakness and demoralization, and finally gained the courage to tell myself: “F***k it. I deserve to be happy.”
And just like that, the previous months of venal darkness fell away. I have said this before: sometimes happiness is all a matter of decisiveness. Many of you may be familiar with how the darkness looks like: an infinity of settling into the drone of ordinary things, and becoming afraid of the small stuff, afraid to say no or to stand up for what is right, afraid to take chances or risk, afraid of becoming unloved. You end up watching a lot of television, immobilizing yourself into a grouch of a couch potato, and then you soon find yourself willing your mind to go numb as it contemplates the gathering night. You end up eating a lot perhaps, and becoming utterly fat. You end up feeling lost.
Looking back, there were many excuses I built up to postpone meeting my demon—but the one thing I felt that pushed me to such severe flirting with despondency was the fact that I had somehow, foolishly, cultivated a distance from other people. Some years ago, I had willingly housebound myself and stopped going to events and what-not, even from dinner parties thrown by good friends. I would text them my string of excuses, and eventually I had successfully blended with the shadows. Consequently, I stopped having earnest and intelligent conversations with people of like minds, of people willing to engage you in banter, wit, or playful debate. I have always loved conversation. William Somerset Maugham called it one of life’s greatest pleasures. But I had forgotten what the philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset once said: “Conversation is the socializing instrument par excellence, and in its style one can see reflected the capacities of a race.”
But this December, I had suddenly felt the need to reconnect—and I did. Which led to a stretch of joy that surprised even me. Also to the surprise of many friends who had long since considered me a kind of zombie. I didn’t even know that they had coined a new verb to define my condition: “to do an Ian,” which meant to disappear from everything, and be sad. It was telling. And so, for the past month, I have become manic. I dove into all manner of events and conversations, and have dared the world in various ways in pursuit of fulfillment.
And from all these December conversations, I have since come to a conclusion: what binds all of humanity is an earnest quest for personal happiness. But what is surprising is that most people really don’t have a clear idea of what would make them truly happy. And often, when they do have a clear idea, they perplexingly set too many obstacles in their path to gain an inch towards that happiness. I heard this all the time: “I can’t do this or that, because (fill in the blanks).”
I want to hurl at them this cliché: life’s really
too short, and life led sadly is a life misspent. I quote another cliché: “If not now, when? If not here, where?”
When I ponder more about it, I think my December epiphany is the culmination of something that started a few months ago, after watching Chris Martinez’s wonderful film 100
, which was part of the Cinemalaya Film Festival in Dumaguete. Its protagonist was dying of cancer, and in true obsessive-compulsive fashion (so me!
), proceeded to map out—through the wonderfully visual device of yellow Post-Its—a road map of things-to-do, to attain the last shreds of happiness and a life well-lived before succumbing to death itself.
A few days after that screening, acknowledging my own unapologetic unoriginality, I compiled my own wishful Post-Its and posted them on my apartment’s door. I see them every day, these square-shaped stark reminders, before I go out to the world and begin a new day. They tell me that life and the attainment of happiness may just be a matter of identification and taking action. My own list is not long—going to Bali is one of them—but the items in it matter to me the most for some strange reason or other.
This December, I started things rolling for their realization, and I am happy, even for just that. Starting things rolling. No matter how far out those dreams may be.
Because I refuse to just have pipe dreams now.
Which may be my mantra for the New Year.
Hopefully it will be your mantra, too.
 This is Where You Bite the Sandwich
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