Good afternoon. Every year I feel this immense wave of anxiety when I realize that the year is starting over again. These timepieces are so important for me, forcing reflection when other times it’s difficult or even something I abandon completely.
I am hoping all the people I love are surrounded by love and the right people and thoughts that bring them fulfillment. Our lives are getting notably shorter and shorter, not only because of time but the state of the world we’re all in.
Even if things are fleeting, I’m glad to be here for whatever time I have. Here are some promises and reflection.
Content warning: This piece contains explicit discussion on suicide, self-harm, and other mental health topics.
Three promises or thoughts on loving, however difficult it may be.
- Be more vocal about love and gratitude.
I preach authenticity and rawness, yet haven’t made a conscious effort to share that with others beyond this blog. The majority of media I’ve loved were not products of self-discovery or recommendation from friends; they were steps and comments circled around the internet. In an age where it’s difficult to find genuine truths and talk about impact outside of moments of outrage, YouTube video comment sections, and reddit threads, the simple act of saying thank you or how something moved me gets lost in everything.
It’s probably me realizing that I’ve been influenced by random things more than I had ever thought, as well as actualizing the internet as a space where so much can flourish–as if my voice can stand in the middle and be heard, as fresh in my anonymity just as with the weight of my history and presentation. Also, I can count on one hand the amount of times people have ever complimented me for my passion work. One hand. And for every comment and type of support, I remember why I do what I do. And today, I still am here.
Moreover, never have I seen people so excited to produce. All shitty games, thoughts, music, podcasts, drabbles, all of it: creation is a radical act, and if I love something then there needs to be more of that in this world.
- Work harder!
Hopefully this doesn’t come off as toxic work mentalities galore, but truly – do I have to work harder each day. In life I chose to be alone, independent, and change the course of my life at seventeen. I will spend the rest of my life building on this decision, exploring new paths and figuring out the person that I could become, but this will never be fully realized if I do not start putting my entire soul and being into things.
Work is also believing in my successes. Manifesting that I too, am a person worthy.
- Be intentional about loving the world and what I may bring into it.
I often fail to realize my part. I sometimes am so terrified (aptly so) about Developh’s core principle: that we are in a time where those with access and tools, widely distributed across certain sections of the world, have the power to change history and influence billions without movement.
But it’s a burden that is far from mine alone. It’s the weight that I and my peers carry–of creation near-synonymous with self-destruction. It is morbidly fascinating, it is utterly terrifying. I wouldn’t look away from an end that revolves around this, unfettered. In the meantime I can create with conviction, love what is good and continue to learn about what must be loved and what must be forgiven. Bring more of myself into everything.
Oftentimes I never stop and truly think about how I’m going through life. Everything continues as a series of reactive flow; I am influenced far more than I would like to be, and concerned so much more about image and view long after people have started caring. Never do I really stop and think about what to say except for when I try to bring something to conversation that nine times out of ten ends up more fucked than I imagine. Not once in my life have I ever pictured myself with the people I wanted to be with. It’s easy for me to stumble out of control; there is so, so much rage that the sum total of my being that never will I be worthy to hold.
This fall semester, I spent many days wondering whether I had actually worked to get where I was. My privilege is a gift of more luck than it is any worth. I took in dozens of pieces about self-betterment bluntly yet never stopped and inquired to see whether they were really made for me: to take opportunities that probed my weaknesses rather than just fit my strengths–I dangled and half-assed something I knew I would be bad at, pressed for time and pressured to see existing successes in a time where I should have let myself fall. I took chances to stop and push for what I believed was right, yet the moment I was pushed back on I felt myself becoming a victim again–letting things ride over me when I knew it wasn’t only me who would be getting damaged. I laid in bed for hours even if I knew very well that I would never feel like getting up, that no one does, and twisted my approaches on healthy rest. Even the shitty rhetoric from alt-right figureheads was winning over me.
Overall, what has been the most inspiring trick to self-improvement that let me end up here? The hard part is, I don’t really know. It’s why these resolutions are just as vague as anything else. It would be easier for me to promise to write something here once a week, or to tell you about a set of interactions and anecdotes that has moved me to understand that there are chunks of my life that are artificial and not worth moving past.
But I am a teenage girl. I cannot shut things out completely, nor do I have the voracity of self to close down doors or let myself venture into the things that I only love. That’s simply not what life was put in front of me, especially now that I’m in America. The more that my past resolutions caved into these idealisms and thinkings that they preach in TED talks and long Twitter threads did I recognize that I was kind of setting myself up for failure.
The months after getting into the college of my dreams, I wrote a lot about this feeling of unease inside of me, questioning happiness and motivations. The last big fight I had with my parents before going abroad I remember exchanging something about the reality of happiness: that for some people, you were just not meant to have it. Walking outside of Old Campus in August, in a body that I hated and in fear and listening to voices stenched to sound more American, they got so, so angry at me for cuts that I gave myself over two years ago. Late.
Tech culture gives us a fun debate over hustle culture. Can we ever be successful if not working past 5:30PM, if not working weekends, if not overworking ourselves to death? The story of giants is also one of accidents: Of white men in dorm rooms getting drunk and ranking girls or white men maintaining control and being the only breed allowed to be simultaneously a genius and a douchebag. Are we all lowlifes screaming on Twitter and leaning further left just because we’re not putting in enough effort in our jobs or in school to be able to wear the same mouthpiece and tell people below us that they’re not working hard enough to get what they want? Is it fair that I turn to some of my friends who are living life just as I was back in high school, back when everyone walked the same path and ended up in the same schools and would generally maintain the financial level and wellbeing of their families and live into these same circles for the years to come–and then turn and see friends clawing themselves out, burnt out in the first year of college in this chaotic, fetishistic haze of value?
When I go home, people ask me what I do in school. I pause as I did when I was fifteen and had no idea what the hell I wanted, but this time because there is so much. Where do I fit in that I’m working three jobs before dropping the gist about my computer science classes, the four organizations I’m leading executively and the others I’m supporting, then these side projects and awards without seeming out of mind? However I say it, they continue treating me the same. There is no fanfare for my service, it’s just how life is.
What is my hustle porn to the lives of millions of Filipinos on the streets in the beating sun, to my parents working so much that they could never see me, to the staff at Yale who shovel the snow at 4AM so the elite can make their way to a class they never do the readings for? What about the people who have worked nights and weekends and holidays since their childhood that will never be able to move up the socioeconomic ladder? Where in our resolutions do we allow ourselves to take care as we are, without some toxic grind or vision that becomes impossible to become when we cannot even salvage care for the individual we are today?
Beyond all this, I’m still leaving “work harder” in. I will never be able to be where I want to be in life, or even live, without these clauses in. Life is disparagingly unequal. I may never be the one to be happy.
But if these resolutions implore me to be more grateful for the opportunities I have to work my ass off and be unhappy, then let it be. Let me be most earnest in understanding a path I am privileged to walk on. I don’t have answers for all these inequalities. Nor do I have the heart to sometimes think about them beyond the systemic level. I am well-aware that life is unfair, nor is it easy, or that happiness is something that might be reasonably desirably beyond career wins or survival. I can continue to dream, do, and create while knowing that happiness will never come; I can continue to solve Leetcode problems, analyze case studies, and overoutput while shifting barriers and trying to understand how much I can assert myself in the most complex dynamics I have yet (here, I fear angering the kid of some fucking magnate).
Will I become another elite graduate who worked my entire life into a sustainable career arguing against the shithole of a system? I’m fearful about how much I’ve already given to just be here when I know that I will never reach happiness. I wonder if that will pay off. For now, I can just hope; which is something that I truly wish won’t be written off or taken for me. I can hope that circumstances change and that no one else has to think this way. I hope so. I really do.
It truly wasn’t a phase
Also known as the realization we’re all collectively sharing.
My Chemical Romance defining my early teen years and coming back for my twenties has to be some sort of sick, twisted blessing of timing. I remember first opening the Welcome to the Black Parade music video somewhere in middle school, back when I hated myself without knowing why and was first discovering who I was. Later, it was my entry to a culture that I still can’t quite articulate the magic of; but was so potent and shared that you had to be there to understand it.
The theatrics of The Black Parade is Dead! in its two-hour entirety that I watched over and over across summers to shape me; theorizing about cancer and meaning and drugs and how artists could produce something so beautiful from hurt. Even the disgusting parts: the sexual tension and obsession and wanting to mold me myself. Then, having them return in the loneliest period of my life knocked out in a hotel room in downtown New Haven; my company in the form of a Twitch livestream of a livestream on Instagram live — it was like seeing them for the first time once again.
Words can’t begin to explain how infinitely rejuvenating it was to see them there, alive again, in states of being much better than they previously were. Returning is the hardest thing.
I remembered the performative nature of these emo trinity bands decked out in full costume, known for eras and strange shifts in musical culture and how listening to them meant non-conformity in the most hypocritical of ways. But it was them in their forties, Mikey Way in shirt that dates back over a decade and a half ago, Ray Toro smiling and together again and the same drummer from their last tour and all of them perhaps the best they have ever been that was a testament to how pauses are just as critical as anything. The introduction to Sleep being choppy and half-gutted while Gerard placed his hand on his heart, screaming as if they were 20 and fresh from New Jersey again. My dream back then was to be like them and in America. I’m half-way there, but god — I want to be renewed and evolve and come back from something; and they’re here and reminding me of that and vividly so. Gerard singing S/C/A/R/E/C/R/O/W as clean and pretty as when it first came out nearly a decade ago: a song that I would dream of dancing to, the first one I played when they announced that they were breaking up, would be the one to cut me offguard and bring me into so many fucking tears
The most beautiful thing about returns is how each song takes on new meanings. The song I promised to one day kill myself to is played live by artists smiling who have gone through hell and back to share this sorrow with us, reclaiming and reliving it. Los Angeles teenagers (and let’s be real, people from all over the world) sing along to it, phones up and all, in more pleasure than anguish. The music I chose to dictate my life, in hopes that everyone who had lived alongside me would understand me deeper.
At fifteen, I was confident that I was cooler than everyone while also knowing that I would be filled with regret for all of this. In short family trips to America I would stare at 2-for-20 shirt deals in Hot Topic and their pretty cashiers in that period of absence. At home, I tapped on one of the most popular releases of 2005 hoping someone would notice and maybe love me for it, or at the very least think I was a very cool teenager. But I was wrong about many things, this included. I have no regrets. There are no phases. These are the things that become who we are.
I feel happy with the choice of following in this music’s footsteps. I’m not perfect, but I am so much more than everyone else.
In the middle of the show, Gerard Way asks the audience how many of them are seeing My Chemical Romance for the first time and nearly everyone in the crowd raises their hands.
Butterfree, The Cave of Dragonflies
My blog posts used to be another level of excessively verbose. I would go on tangents while discussing a moment of a trip or moment of stress as some sort of substitute for authenticity. (Not that they aren’t unnecessarily verbose now, but sixteen-year-old Chia would sit down and write a piece about having a shitty piano lesson and not consider it finished until the word count hovered around 8,000.)
Much of this was probably picked up from one of my favorite (and honestly, one of the best and only remaining ones) Pokemon fansites – The Cave of Dragonflies. Butterfree, the webmaster, has an About Page that is about 2,400 words long. Her Page Pitfalls was my holy grail for website building and is about 6,500 words — which is about thirteen Medium paywall articles worth of material today. My goal in life was to meet her affiliation requirements; which was the term most Pokemon fansites used to justify 88×31 (or 88×32?… god) buttons and friendship. Essentially, a more selective form of webrings. After all: these were teenagers dictating standards of quality, requesting for paragraphs of phrase to be emailed to one another as a precursor to friendship. This was perhaps, the most vindictive social challenge that was set in front of me at this age.
Whenever someone looks back at their time on the early web, it’s always the same exchange of nostalgia, could-have-beens, and a wishful vision for what our landscape could be like if we had the creativity and individuality we had then.
Butterfree first learned English through television shows and videogames, which was fantastic since I learned English through colonization. She self-describes interests across psychology, ethics, genetics, etc. and studied computer science: interests that are wholly reflected on the content on her website — such as an extensive piece of fanfiction with a premise built on drunk scientists tackling everything from religious mania and gene splicing. (The fanfiction is written almost entirely like her articles.) In her About Me, she continues to unsurprisingly writes of her enjoyment of Breaking Bad and magic. When she mentioned newfound interests in Penn & Teller skits and Mystery Science Theater 3000, I tried so, so hard to find interest in it but gave up as I did the Rocky Horror Picture Show.
In these times, I remember these personalities and people more than I remembered myself. I felt like a blank slate of a girl.
After all, I had just come out of phases where I wanted to redeem myself as not like other girls. I made my first Reddit account when I was eleven, and the moment I turned thirteen I was excited to come into conversations on putting together PC parts, built my sense of humor out of The Oatmeal comics, and over 5,000 pictures of memes curated from Imgur and other assorted accounts that I would stare at over and over on my iPod during long Manila car rides. When we went to National Bookstore, my younger sister would pick up standard YA fiction or YouTuber autobiographies while I remember my parents grossed out about asking for a book that featured over a thousand hilarious clean jokes to tell; potentially the whitest book I had ever forced myself to read and enjoy, seconded only by Little Women.
The other night I dreamed that I had died and gone to Heaven. At the Pearly Gates I was met by Saint Peter who told me if I wanted to enter the gates of Heaven I must climb that ladder one rung at a time.
On each rung I must write a sin that I committed during my life while on earth. He then gave me a piece of chalk. I started, writing, climbing, writing, climbing; hanging on with one hand and writing with the other is a difficult task for someone who does not like heights.
All of a sudden, something was crushing the fingers of my holding hand. I looked up, and there, much to my amazement, was my boss coming down the ladder for more chalk.
Sometime after reading this book, I decided that I couldn’t rely on templates and white people online to dictate my personality any longer. It took years of unlearning to distance myself from what was surely the weird alt-right pull of the internet that I still am fearful of venturing close towards. (I was reading /r/incels, in belief of the fact that I was doomed to be alone forever and a solid 3/10 based on that photo chart. Other days I would wonder which parts of myself to shed, try harder to get into sci-fi and all the things that I should be into.)
The special thing about looking forward to this strange, immaterial goal was that there are few other spaces in the internet that drove me to actually better myself.
It was strange, but from her I wrote. I wrote and scrutinized every article I put out–would sit down and spill out an unfiltered volume of words in a single session. For a middle school freeform writing assignment, I wrote 30 pages–more than what I could spew out in an entire semester’s worth of college literature classes–of some indistinct plotline ripped out of some Terry Goodkind and Jack Kerouac novel mended together. But beyond that, this was key to my being. It was this unintentional mess of pressured teen writing that taught me about the world. This is the type of shit that modern day technologists swear by: keep writing, keep writing, write thousands and thousands of words a day–when technology back then was just as on individuality and the production of content beyond mechanics.
Looking back, I’m beginning to remember how these distinctive inspirations that set my goals and ways of thinking. I never would have started writing or thinking the way I do if it wasn’t her, albeit through a weird push for validation. For all my life, I’ll likely be crediting my writing style to a Pokemon webmaster who rose to prominence in the mid-2000s.
Of Lady Bird
Over the past two years, I’ve probably watched Greta Gerwig’s masterpiece over ten times. It blends as seamlessly into the background as The Devil Wears Prada (that I’ve probably watched over 20 times for some reason) and 2001: A Space Odyssey does. I’m still trying to figure out why.
I feel like Lady Bird represents a lot of what my subconscious had wanted in high school. She complains about a perfectly wonderful town (have I complained about living in the only city people people outside the Philippines know about beyond Cebu?) and easily makes friends across different social groups. The religious visuals and montage at the beginning of the film have spoken to me more than any other coming-of-age as I continue to work towards examining the oddities and hidden fuckups of going to Catholic school (and can you believe, not even a bad Catholic school) for years. She has dyed hair and speaks with such forwardness that felt so vivid, yet real; the movie isn’t afraid to also explore the selfish parts of herself, centering solely on the girl who actually gets boyfriends and disregards the best friend living in a poorer home life situation who probably deserved more than Lady Bird in the first place. The scene of Saoirse Ronan and Beanie Feldstein with their legs up while eating a jar of “unconsecrated” communion wafers, giggling and talking about how Lady Bird masturbates with a shower head is probably one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema history. I wish my high school had unguarded jars of communion bread instead of weird morning worship rituals where people pretended to be possessed.
Lady Bird is a wonderful coming-of-age because along Christine’s growth, we see that of her mother’s. Ms. McPherson bursts into tears, turning back to SMF while tearing up as her husband gathers her in his arms, trying to calm her with an, “She’ll be back.” Throughout the movie, you can tell that she will. Lady Bird constantly speaks of nostalgia, of missing, of wanting to experience culture and of anything, really; she fails to realize that all this beauty is right underneath her. There is so much to be cherished about Sacramento; there is so much intent and care, themes that are constantly prodded in the film and tokenized as a term for affection. All her conflicts are deeply real. I spent much of my high school life also fantasizing about getting a boyfriend and crying deeply, which is why now I’m stuck with casual encounters that I at minimum just try not to regret. When Lady Bird asks her mother for the number it cost for her mother to raise her so she can earn it all back and disengage from her forever and is replied with more snide remarks, I watched in disbelief–as if the exact same fight I had with my own parents was replayed in front of me by Saoirse Ronan. (In another fight a year or two later, it would be me bringing up the fact that I would never be happy.)
But Lady Bird is also so many things I wish I was. She goes ahead and approaches my favorite Timothee Chalamet character to date, a non-conforming indie guy who plays bass in lowkey indie pop bands and heavily scrutinizes wars, that I either am or want to date. Her friends stretch across social barriers, she says whatever the fuck she wants while making it seem so normal, and when the world around her is crashing she still remains to be so beautiful and the center of everything. There are so many dramatic moments of high school that I’ve lived through that the film just glazes over for those who know.
And I’ve never felt so special knowing that these bytes of my life also mean things.
I’m writing this to you as I spent the holidays cooped up in a hotel room in Downtown New Haven, very, very far away from anyone I know or love.
This is the tone for the rest of my life. See you again soon.