Category: journal

personal drabbles, what would be my journal ?

Smaller and smaller questions

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Obsessing over being a better question asker seems to miss the point of the exercise; the exercise is always in people. Anyone I talk to who relentlessly seeks to find and filter for depth often misses it.

The answer to intensity is often to match around it then go a bit above or beyond. The only reason to cut someone off if their guard is so high or inane and there’s no sight of what is interesting – not because there isn’t something there – but because it’s not worth getting towards. Choosing who is worth diving for is the play at life, anyway. All I am is looking for a pool I’d like to swim in. All I am is choosing between murkier and clearer waters, where I can see the rewards in sight yet am always pleasantly surprised. People might just be pools. The feeling of drowning in the ocean is the closest I’ve ever gotten to replicating the feeling of truly knowing someone; if we write song and poem to capture the noise of falling in love then submergence is the equivalent of human complexity. Outside of my own head I forget that I am just one ripple of the water; but the human experience is cavernous and overlapping, sometimes I’m so stuck on finding people who have felt the same things as me, stuck on those who have grown up with the same traumas & stories, needing a sense of grounding familiarity because I don’t know what else is worth wading for.

Living in America has exposed me to so much diversity of background that depth-diving becomes a more relevant topic. I’m a person of storied history and every interaction is an attempt at finding what has come to bring us to this moment; how we can understand this moment together. That is: I’m afraid that everyone I meet today has far little time to know me than kids on holiday a decade ago, where life was simple and we couldn’t talk about much but the shape of the sky. Now I can’t just talk about the sky. I need to know where this has all begun. Why you talk the way you do as a consequence of what was unasked, what you did ask, what you had paved in this lifetime.

I like empty pleasantries in the street, but conversations in club bathrooms that lead to free drinks and leads to deeper places are even better, and emails over something that you thought no one else in the world but dead authors wanted to engage you on with mounds of context and open stories at the sleight of a search are even better. Depth-diving holds meaning both offline and offline as the only prerequisite is sustained engagement because the diving never truly happens in one session, where stakes are often determined in the foundation of this meeting and rarely adjusted until someone takes the leap. But there are certain questions that work well and make some better divers than others.

What I talk about when I’m talking about the weather is the foregrounding of all that is coming for the week – so I need you to know a bit more than the universal belief that warmth and sunshine is all it takes, because I like it when the rain pours particularly for the clearing where the benches at the park are wet and it’s empty and I can sit at the craggly rocks and I don’t care that my clothes are wrinkled or that my hair is damp because more than seeing I want to just feel everything. What I talk about when I’m talking about my favorite television show isn’t just interest in the last thing Paul Mescal was in, or a need to talk about the anime in season, or a need to see what the show everyone else is talking about for the sake of talking about it – I can only talk about something that has directly meant something to my life, because nothing is particularly empty so forgive me if this gets a lot deeper than we intended. When I go around in a circle and give off an answer to our favorite food I would rather kill myself because we’re calculating how to come off as quirky enough but not too offputting that we’re trying too hard with the quirk and that someone can come up to us with the answer after, and what I want to really tell you is a mundane answer like steak because I’ve cooked it a hundred times at this point and my family and I used to split a steak every Wednesday where they would douse it in soy sauce in a particular way and it is one of the only meals where I could ever truly feel the love in the house and I used to have it well-done all the time, even at the restaurant against the pressing of the server, because my public hospital worker parents in their underfunded institutions have only gotten out of it a fear of the reds in their food and so much exhaustion that they only know how to say I love you and nothing else. And also because I was on Reddit way too much as a teenager and had the humor of a white American boy with no understanding of what I was saying, and definitely had better grammar then when I was correcting other American boys but have now far regressed. I can’t tell you all this in a circle and go wind down those other paths. I can’t be that Asian talking about food again because you want to hear the easy story about tears and peeled fruit but in my house it was well-done steak doused in a mix of A1 Steak Sauce, Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce, and a regular bottle of Kikkoman for the steak with no garlic yet pooled enough juices to make the rice go black.

I’m only interested in the weather and the empty television and the show you put on blankly and your dog that looks like a hotdog once I know all of you. I love small talk because it never really is small. But I want to know more than how fucking ugly your dog looks after its last haircut because I honestly don’t give a shit about its picture and when I call it ugly I genuinely mean it – but I do want to see who you call when you’re on vacation and need someone to watch the stupid hotdog dog, the way you talk to it (and if it’s better or hopefully worse than the way you talk to other people), the way you love it as a signal for how you love yourself too. I want to know that the weather is one part and that your teeth are too sensitive to sip any cup with ice in it so you need a straw and even drink iced water with a straw at home. I want to tell you that I don’t care for the format of television but I did have four exhausted pencils scotch taped together to switch the channels or raise the volume on the box TV we had at home, and that the first sign of non-normalcy I found was in the way I determined what show should be on by channel number in relation to time of day and constructed a specific formula and TV watching guide for others in the household.

Empty questions suddenly mean everything once I know you, but I can’t use them to get to know you.

Forgive me if the first few questions are frightening, and forgive me if the task of ‘reading each other’ is fun even when I acknowledge its impossibility. There’s too much novelty in me, I self-confess, and my deepest fear is the ocean not just because we don’t know what’s in it but because I think it’s the easiest body that I am drawn to and have walked into far too much and I was surrounded by ocean growing up but lived in urban Manila where walking to the coast was a luxury comparable to owning a bathtub and shampooing your hair without sachet packets. And then I can tell you the drowning stories. And then I can tell you, right after the taste of saltwater, that at this point everyone (in our world) knows that the blobfish thing is no longer funny but incredibly tragic as it is a creature only known by its appearance in an extremely deformed, imploded state and that normally it just looks like any other stupid fish. And right after that I can tell you that I’ve researched the body in various states of decay after entering the water, and you can tell other people this because a friend who was writing a novel and wanted to know knew it, and I can tell someone else that this is all because I wanted to know what would happen to my body.

Where do I walk to find people who aren’t afraid of the ocean these days? If it’s the most common and cliche fear, like heights – but we all fawn over the sport of diving though don’t really seem to understand it, and in our heads dives have more turns and tumbles than they actually do a precise cut into the water. Someone one day needs to tell me what the body is like when it slices water in two, or the game you played of Moses and God in the shallow part of the swimming pool, or when you dove into the water to try and push your sister up and up after she started drowning and everyone got to pull her up and ended up nearly drowning you too.

The theory lately is that so much starts with proximity: after school campuses you’re left with your colleagues and friends of friends. Continued exposure means that the shallowness evolves into something else, but we can’t expect too much of each other too fast. But I don’t particularly know the stakes of being truthful about the days and how I don’t really care about the weather with you yet, but I can talk to you about something deeper. I don’t mind you knowing how I felt about the water when my best friends still don’t and we’re never seeing each other again. I don’t think people knowing has a set progression, of course, but I mean this more erratically – like I love it when someone knows the darkest parts before my name, and another only the name for the past 22 years of my life. Depth-diving is a human activity, so we lead each other into the water and collectively decide our own pace. I hold your hand and bring you down; I can’t do this for a crowd, not in the circles where we’re telling each other how we got into something or how we believed in something, because we’re all too busy holding our breaths and not diverging. We need to walk at the bottom of the sea. I need to see how you’re seeing.

There’s nothing I can offer about being a better question asker except that it’s fun to interrogate everything. The answer to the question matters less than how you choose to answer it — whether we’re still performing to one another, how much we’re letting go, waiting because this isn’t an interview and that when you love someone and the energy is high and we’re there until 4AM or god forbid — deep at 4PM while walking to the train station too — question asking stops being a game of who is more clever and if we get each other’s references and what we want to know about each other and all becomes an excuse to just know each other. This is what I love. If we can talk about the weather and what the sky looks like I will tell you my thoughts on clouds and my book on clouds and everything remotely relevant, and when you say they spelled the name on your iced latte wrong I will ask you if you feel like you yourself were named wrong. Or what your thoughts are on naming things yourself. Or what the last thing you named was. I hope I continue to meet people whom I ask about the weekend who instead offer the story of their life. I hope it’s fine when you ask me my go-to coffee order and I tell you why I lie. I hope I offer everything I love with the same reverence in comprehension; I hope I stick with people who love asking questions, empty or not, until we get to the nice part of the water where everything is temperate and still are able to confess that we both much rather prefer it when we’re deathly freezing.

Let me begin by asking you how the water feels.

On Ceilings

Reading Time: 9 minutes

I now understand that I’m in the very fortunate position of life where I can choose how high I want to go and end it at my choosing.

For a long while, I was frustrated that this route never seemed to get any easier. Before college I played the predictable game of my lackluster high school’s education system and won it. I left the country for Yale University with everyone thinking that I had made it while I had never been more anxious. For the past four years, I suffocated myself in in-betweens, destroying my body working insane hours to overcompensate from being detached from my home country. I was fueled, toxically yet steadily, by resentment for injustice: anything from this new life I was living I would bring back home. Then I learned, as I always do, to acclimate quickly to the conditions of American success while discarding pleasantries and experiences that I thought were useless. I swiped into my university dining hall about fourteen times total throughout my entire first year. After stumbling around startup & student VC circles, collectives working towards ill-defined definitions of intersectional justice, friendly circles of creators I had never met, and alone, for myself, in basements states away for music shows of tiny bands, I suddenly could become myself again. I lived in a shady Airbnb for a month at the beginning of my senior year where every night the man residing there would bang at my door in the middle of the night and flew to Chicago for a music festival to come back and learn that half my belongings were stolen, and all the belongings left at Yale in the year prior were somehow lost—nearly all of what I had, because I had little left in the Philippines—and hopped into an overpriced studio later in the month. It was frantic and misshapen, but I was in the position to ghost a Facebook recruiter after receiving an offer to work at a company I felt more ethically aligned with instead (even if it was imperfect), and had too much faith placed in me by professors who knew that I was doing great things despite never attending class. I speak about this too much and it’s hard to articulate until it happens to you, but being truthful and myself after a certain degree made it significantly easier to build the life I had wanted; what I had needed came to me with more clarity, the right people and experiences became self-selecting. Then I took a break at the start of 2022, my last semester of college where I took seven credits to graduate, and fit four years of experiences into a semester and the summer after that—until my lease expired. I filled 350 square feet with CDs and cassettes and objects of my making that reflected what I had loved in futile attempt to recover all that I lost, even if all its meaning was denounced when I couldn’t give interesting stories behind each one without a timepiece. After forgetting nearly everything about how I’ve grown up, in the middle of empty conversations my head rushes back to something small I experienced when I was younger. All my good memories are ones that I’ve made for myself. I haven’t stepped back in the Philippines in three years now.

In the middle of all this I’ve felt rushes of feeling this world was mine, because I was free and capable and independent, and then deep senses of purposelessness. I think purpose is of course, defined only by ourselves, and perhaps the hardest thing to seek — for those who can’t live life without it, like me. All this life was about other people and I had no one; and most of the time all this pro-bono work was killing me and getting me closer only to loose abstractions of care. I cried when I realized that I had no one to put as my emergency contact number, and when someone told me that I had no support system, which I still think about heavily until this day. I work a dream job and I’m not sure who it’s for. Many things I’ve wanted to do, mostly ones that relate to other people, never made it. Many things I made were built in a night. Many times I was never present, and whenever I was I never regretted it because I learned to easily walk away from things. All this glory that I was working towards was to serve some abstract ideal of myself that no one but myself was expecting. I think life is generally meaningless, still, and this independence is most freeing because I can choose to end it myself any day.

I also left for California in a rush and had friends who packed the remains of my room for days and nights. Now I live in another overpriced loft where I can’t reach the ceiling or the cabinets above my fridge.

At this point I’m thinking about ceilings. I’m thinking about how I can, again, climb and strain myself for the next tier — but am already living in a dream state. The problem about larger dreaming is that it is divorced from the people around you. Our floors here all relate to financial positioning, or movement to a dream location, or maybe most agreeably, what we spend our weekdays on. Many of these life decisions are improvements of the self and your direct family when we send paychecks back home, but few move you towards systems of communal care outside the structure of the nuclear family. I can temporarily believe in success built across our networks from distance, but I’ve worked these past years knowing nothing is the same as dedicating time to a community and building something from the ground up.

Everything beautiful in my life was a moment of my making, and the most beautiful were moments I made with friends. Many of these things were building experiences out of nothing, spaces for ourselves in areas of dearth.

After settling into this new life, I feel like I will be soon in a position to choose a ceiling within the commitments that we’re bound by in society; especially ones that my student visa here restricts me to. Whatever leveling in a company I choose to go for, I’m sure I can eventually work my ass off and reach, in an institution that aligns with my larger goal of making creation ubiquitous. This is not saying I’ll half-ass my work; I think design and computing, which might seem very contrary to the goals of closing distance and being face-to-face with people, can be reclaimed as purposeful agents to construct this ideal world. Again, there’s the tactic of rerouting and the preservation of my mental energy outside of work hours to build larger structures of care: ones more pertinent to the people I love, ones that will outlast me so greatly that I will make them and find myself no longer necessary. Creating systems that empower the people I love to continue building those systems is of main interest to me, amongst other things I want to do.

I can choose these ceilings because I’ve somehow fallen into a life that has shown me what distance and space mean; when they can be rendered relevant or irrelevant and how to do it. I’ve looked at so many and remember only the contours of the ceilings within the rooms I grew up in more than I do the colors of the walls, because it was likely the thing I looked at most with the computer screen second. In sterile environments I found spaces where people could come together, learn; I think the most purposeful extensions of myself I can build are the ones I put into what I create — because I’m reclusive and less often get to the part of knowing someone where they can read all this about me. I love the computer and design because it gave me freedom and agency, I love the suffering I’ve embedded myself in because it taught me how to radically retreat from repressive spaces — together, the tools to reshape them.

When I was in middle school I ripped out grid pages from our math notebooks, folded them and tore them apart, and constructed little cities made out of buildings and roads and mansions with fountains and farms. We colored and highlighted the houses and reassembled them, making up town names with every iteration and sometimes using pens & pencils as people going about their lives. I kept them all in a plastic envelope until it was so bulky that it would no longer close, so we divided the little grid buildings amongst ourselves. Tiny blueprints for a life.

I believe in other simple things: that because I’m 8,000 miles away from the people I love and have met so many wonderful people I truly care for that I unfortunately haven’t met in real life, systems of communication for when we are far apart matter just as much as the ways we convene in-person. I think the debate of authenticity and the duality of the online vs. offline self is skewed by people who have had overwhelmingly performative experiences with technology, which I cannot blame them for because technology must be reclaimed, for growing up it was only online that I began to discover myself and therefore know myself. It was seeds I learned from online networks of people who were open (maybe a bit too much) that enabled me to shift, for a moment, the way people around me thought. If we can design interfaces to be truthful & expressive, create spaces of our own so that we can begin interacting on these platforms with good faith, we could one day become no different from seeing our refracted, opposing self in a mirror. I believe in the computer because most of these ideas and revelations I have no one to tell, so I tell it to it, and it tells my story to someone else who finds this one day. All these ways I’ve preserved myself are under my control. My way of living this life splayed out open and visible is a nod to all the lives I read about that had formed me as I was growing up; I know there are others who choose to write and share this way, as their life’s default, and I continue it all because there are more ways than one to give yourself to others. What I choose to build is the essence of myself, and the essence of technology, like art and magic, is a promise of what we would like to see in the world. The story of screens is my story, at least a part of it, but certainly will be a huge part of how I am remembered. If I’m a redeemable object, so are the tools I use and extend to others.

Even if I lacked the luck of landing into technology in the ‘right way’ in a time where everything is tending towards it, my trait of obsessiveness and unapologetically leaning into that — whether there is some measurable or predictable or not, would carry me. Most of the people I admire very deeply share this same quality. This might be part of defining that ambiguous thing of purpose: what I care about is who I am, and because I care about it there is meaning towards it, especially if I guide this care and obsessiveness to the goal of improving the wellbeing of others.

The current goal is to find what is an appropriate ceiling to work towards and to immerse myself in local communities again. Living for local structures of care and building smaller, purposeful tools is important: while I believe in abundance, too many things are extended and scaled to the point of disconnection. Nihilism and isolation, which are clear things plaguing me from my writing and just reading me for a minute, are symptoms not just of the self but are pervasive byproducts from the world today. This is why the ceilings I was told to go for were individualistic, capital-oriented. A lot of this struggle is structural. It should not have been as hard as it was for me; much of the journey was an individual one.

One brick after another. A brick tossed. I’m laying the world I wanted, as I always have. I’m struggling with my imaginary against the complex interweaving of lives within insecure systems that my loved ones are stuck within. I’m imagining more than the ceiling, perhaps. Every space I’m in from now on, an open one; just as I built my life in this realm.

Work towards resilient, communal community structures and resources is radical and often disenfranchised by higher authorities. It’s also more interesting, unpredictable, and interconnected. Community fridges in the Philippines are often shut down and grassroots collectives often depowered & deplatformed for the highers’ fears of their resistance and criticism. Systems of care are fragile and fragmented; they are what truly need investment and maintenance. We live in spaces that discourage organizing and disconnect us so we cannot band together.
The corporate ladder, compared to longstanding cultural & community work–is a farce. It is the easy route, in truth. One is a newly-built monolith constantly destroying itself to sustain this goodness for a few; the other is how society has been sustained for thousands of years. It is easy to build a ‘good’ life for yourself. It’s much harder to build an interconnected one: a life that all the people you love can build towards together and find themselves around. It is simultaneously the easiest and most difficult thing to extend joy. There’s an in-between to all of this that doesn’t retreat to the “move to the middle of nowhere and start a coffee shop narrative”; this is where the random love letter to computing in the midst of the love letter to all else in life came in. I want the wonder in every moment I’ve made to be extended outwards, as the things of my own making have made myself. Why would I spend a single second working in a system I didn’t believe in? Why spend a moment working towards a structure that doesn’t serve the life you want to live and the people who you’d like to have in that life? How are you going to teach the people you love to continue building the world you wanted for them?

Without our choosing, we’re all subject to the ceilings that someone else has laid before us. All before me was all of humanity. All that I resent, desire, all that I am driven to move towards and change; reducible to human confluence and crossings and all our evolving self. The foundations and highs of the world I am in have been (not entirely, but close enough) worked at by man, and I suppose I can continue the act…

Stepping back, maybe it really doesn’t get easier. I find comfort in purpose. I want the challenge of building something beautiful and interconnected and extensible across the continents I have found home and love in. I used to say I wanted consistency and systems, and realize that this is the way of solving that. I want a home with a ceiling as high as we have collectively chosen, welcoming all the old and new and all who have yet to come under it.


this was written in one sitting and not proofread

October Blog Post

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Accept there are no more happy stories I can tell at this point.

  • I’ve moved to San Francisco and there is now a roof over my head. The late afternoon sunlight falls so serenely on the walls here… blanketing it in color with softness I thought I would never see again. On the way to Pier 80 last weekend I watched my shadow rise and fall on the wall of a warehouse, I saw the sky so pink and helpless.

    I’m resting against an enveloping warmth and this time only holding myself, and this time all I ever needed was to hold myself. When I cannot see the source of something, it might just be coming from me.
    • The sun colors the most mundane buildings in a most sacred way here.
      But is anything here abandoned, truly?
  • To obscure tenderness and neediness is the weakest thing we can do. I owe all of myself and all my being to another, for others to support me (as much as I hate that I want this) and for all my life to support humanity. If no one holds me I can hold them. If no one holds onto this world I can press it together.
Image
  • Looking at myself, I wish I had more good things to tell my friends. I always seem like I’m dying. Might as well…
  • For the next two weeks I’m engaging in the practice of drinking water to feel full.
  • At the end of the world, there was only me.
  • Thinking about many beautiful things that I want to make and follow-up on that I can’t really do right now… people, places, experiences, things from my own hands—when I can’t even take something from this body and put it out there I just end up withering. I sit at this desk to work for hours and I stand and my vision goes so white I almost black out.
  • When people build systems or structures to support more than themselves, to outlast themselves, to say: every brick you walk over I have tried to place, and every brick you might walk over next I directed them all; to say: I trust that this architecture be carried over by someone who might love you better; to say: I recognize all before that has brought us here from every tool that I lay down and every path you have chosen; to say: this is an extension of how I might carry you in this world. To say: this is a world I have loved for you, because I love you.
  • But is wording care and love this way too abstract and distant? In the way that the words seem empty and meaningless and you want to hear some more direct truths: I’ll spend time with you, I’ll do this with you this frequently. We like that more than I love you that has become an empty word. I for one, love empty promises. I love the ghosts of all the passing, and maybe even earnest, declarations of care that have never been followed through. I think every failure of humanity is poignant. I think what we haven’t followed through speaks more to ourselves than what we’ve made. In a life of millions of possibilities, what you’ve abandoned gives more context to you than what you have gone through.
  • This year I am again spending December alone—which I’ve done since 2019…
  • I outlive so many things,
  • so many things are going to outlive me.
  • Resenting so many things again about this body, about this life I have chosen, about all that I do that does not give enough to the world that it exists in.
  • So can I make something of my own and live in it?