TW: Discussions of past self-harm, graphic descriptions of (religious!) violence
Over the past months, I’ve been grappling with a few simple questions:
1. What role do I take on as an author vs as a toolsmaker?
2. Who decides what stories are worth telling?
3. How do you talk about your day? or How do you tell a story?
4. Do I need grief to function?
(Apologies for the abundance of tweet embeds as of late; I’ve been dumping random thoughts there and returning to see how people respond / how I develop it afterwards. Hopefully I don’t have another identity crisis/massive revert back to using my real name in-username that triggers some massive link rot.)
This was sort of inspired by something I made late last year, a yes/no question simulator. Try it out: chia.design/everyday-i-believe
4. Do I need grief to function?
I have a weird relationship to pleasure. This is my way of lightly saying that it was rather unhealthy and fucked up.
Somewhere in between Catholicism and having to adhere to strict routines, I had adopted the mindset that every time I experience joy there must be suffering attached to it that I must be deeply aware of––or even inflict upon myself. It started with simple things: finish the food on your plate because there are kids out there who are starving. (This is made more tangible because of where I grow up, where ribs stick out on the streets and privilege, like in older days, is marked by how much fat is on your body.) Later on, I would barter time for play with time for work; time to go outside for homework; ability to go out for a birthday if I stayed silent for an entire holiday; until I had no more desire to step outside of my house but stare at a screen and absolve myself of this unerasable debt that I had somehow accrued from merely living.
Joy was taught to always come at someone’s expense. It started out as intangible others, and then the people around me who will soon die and then give me a million regrets to carry (for years I was incredibly afraid of death, and then embraced it myself), and then myself. Somewhere between teenhood and the future, I had come to believe that anytime something good happens to me, there must be something incredibly horrifying on the way. If I had accomplished something, it would be routine for me to hurt myself. Yes, the reason sometimes was that I thought I could do better and that the physical sensation could propel me to it, in the way that electric shock and interrogation supposedly worked from how I gleamed it on the television. Sometimes it was just that there was this spiritual, universal balance that required my pain for every accomplishment. Simply that it was routine. I cried when I graduated as high school valedictorian, out of grief and anger and a feeling that there was nothing to come, and I remember no words that I spoke on stage. I remember doing something terrible to myself that night.
Then there is also the actor Jesus. We never concretely studied the Bible past the second grade aside from memorizing facts about saints that I could still recite to you today––but I remember off days where they would play to us The Passion of Christ––its agonizingly long, torturous scenes of whipping and bleeding that had then imbued me as a sign of perfect pleasure and beauty. My grandmother used to share those posts on Facebook that would depict the ‘physical suffering of Jesus‘ in the form of illustrated diagrams or Now This-like video explainers.
The story of the saints that were recounted to me, after psychological abuse, would be physical. I heard about the first Filipino protomartyr Lorenzo Ruiz when I was breathing in & out so deeply that I couldn’t see straight. Lorenzo was running from Japanese soldiers that were persecuting Filipino Christians. Lorenzo was tortured and was told to renounce his Christianity but never did. Lorenzo was hung upside-down over a pit, and with the aid of medical knowledge, the extremes of what happens when the human body is suspended and bound over two days until its passing were also told to me when I was just in middle school. His narrative meant to say “this suffering is nothing compared to the suffering he felt”, and what I realized years later was also by extension, “this suffering I’m giving you is nothing compared to the suffering I felt.” I know so many people venerated because of how they died, and so little of the actual lives they lived. Children enter the chorus of heaven. Sacrifice, innocence, youth. Later, this makes me pray and wish that my life is short and fleeting.
All this to say that I don’t remember a time in my youth where I did things that weren’t providing an explicit ‘gathering space’ or ‘service’ for others; few things that were my own without utility expected. I never knew how to do nothing with people. So when I share moments of silence, quiet, and non-expectation with others where my mere presence is all necessary––it is the most precious and intimate thing to me.
3. How do you talk about your day? or How do you tell a story?
As a joke, and perhaps to hide the power that comes with it, I attribute my typing speed (which can sprint to ~180WPM and averages around ~150WPM) to fights on League of Legends chat and ancient forums. Realistically, it also comes from a need to be the first to say something –– otherwise I will never be heard.
This doesn’t translate very well to real life, as you might imagine. I’ve been waxing about how the loss of seemingly mundane, routine conversations like this in my youth has brought up a me that never know what to say. Does someone want a surface level “good, and you?” or do I actually spill about whatever thing is interesting to me? How much do I withhold out of fear of being ‘too much’?
Maybe that’s why I prefer writing out abstract recaps of my life, turning them into little vignettes. Taking piano lessons at age sixteen and writing as if it’s the most grand act of all time, facing weird relationships to housing and the descents and spirals that come with the uncertainty of a roof for the first time, a portrait of love I feel today that will transform itself tomorrow. Why I adore slow movies where nothing really happens: the pretentious kind of Frances Ha flicks that romanticize the lives of confused feminines in their 20s who still have nothing to say at the very end. I want these little things to be glorified. I want the mundanity of my everyday to be heard somehow, since I have no one else to witness it but me––because mundanity is tenderly temporal and sacred in its own sense. Nothing in this world is uninteresting.
Right now, I ‘talk about my day’ in this semi-public internet diary. I wonder if people today would call it ‘performance’ when it’s all I’ve ever known. It stays as a blog because I like how unprescribed it is and hate taking up space in people’s inboxes; knowing who follows me and the visibility of it. I would love to be completely transparent but also rarely digested––maybe this is what pulls me in as a creator, almost. Things for no one but myself or targeted messages to friends. I used to not understand why someone who makes something beautiful could be scared of the attention and fame, deleting things and pulling away the moment they receive the hit of virality that others spend their entire careers searching for. Now I get that.
The issue is that I still rely on myself sitting down and writing to process anything. Whenever I have space to just ‘think’ blankly, like on walks when my phone runs out of battery and there’s nothing else to fall back on (I can’t even just shower, I need to hear something), I default to what I should make out of this experience, or what I have to do next. I don’t think I default to how I actively feel or think about regular life events that happened. I must sit down and write to begin unraveling myself. If you asked me a question in-person about my intentions or latest experiences, I wouldn’t be able to answer very well or I would come up with some bullshit that I think sounds more normal than whatever I’d actually been doing. I think everything is interesting but everything I experience is the most dreadful thing ever. I fawn over the newfound love for ‘when someone gets so excited and passionate when talking about something they love’ but then can’t see myself really doing that well because I think I’m about to go on a very dreadful, painful ramble. Have I ever been comfortable enough with anyone but myself to be real about what I like and how I’ve been? Maybe I need to figure that need for security out before I start rehearsing how to say the same thing over and over to entertain. Though, I don’t know if I want to entertain either––I just want to literally be able to think about what I’ve been doing and what I like without jotting it all out on a piece of paper beforehand. I’m 21 and it’s embarrassing that this feels like the most impossible thing.
I lie compulsively when explaining my day. I am authentic with everything else.
2. Who decides what stories are worth telling?
Maybe part of why I make is because it’s the only way I know how to transform narratives that I believe deserve attention. Alone, especially if spoken through my mouth, they stand frail and untempting against everything else that competes to be noticed.
Been thinking a lot about biographies and the optimistic belief that everyone deserves one. I get most upset about my unhealthy/unstable relationships with family back home for many reasons––one of them being because they’re the best carriers of life back then in Manila: the EDSA Revolution, shifting relationships on class and materiality, hospitality and desire, growing and rotting in urbanization. No matter how many books I read or interviews I cry through, it doesn’t feel the same as what I might imagine hearing the stories told personally would be like. This is contradictory even, because having personal stake with someone would give them more reasons to lie than some random actor recounting their experiences. But it also gives me more context, without the numbers and metrics and the atrocities of the Marcos regime with hundreds of my people left to be known by a 10-point rating of how much they suffered, because I know their life outside the context of this terrible thing that may be a part of them and how they lived but never will be all of them. I know the rest of them, as distant and estranged; I have a better picture of it. And then I know how these pieces and places and happenings make a person, a life.
It would be a dream to sift through dozens of essays and messy retellings about what ‘ordinariness’ looked like then. And then I want to see how they lived.
Gauging ‘Notability‘ was a weird thing for me when I started to edit Wikipedia. (There was also a time in my teenage years where I said that it was my goal to have a Wikipedia page by the time I hit age 20, a goal I did not obviously accomplish––a goal that I set for myself because of a weird desire to be seen and in the same sphere as ‘social activist influencers’ who sell period products and general anti-war truisms to get famous.) Not saying that I think this online resource needs to be inundated with repetitive histories that have led to predictable results (my being)––obviously that should exist in some separate form. It’s one of those necessary, uncomfortable concepts. I suppose this is the point of Everipedia, which I also now conveniently learn is somehow blockchain-powered.
Anyway, example: It’s my worst fear to be one of those people who are only noteworthy in relation to an event. If I were killed in some freak accident today, I definitely wouldn’t be notable enough to have my own Wikipedia page. I will get a fine paragraph about where I was born and raised (which matters a lot to me), perhaps it will mention the professions of my parents, the schools I went to (which do not matter to me at all), and all the potential I had. And then they will talk about how the body was found. I think about all the children who have even yet to live a life, get a nice college name in the article about their killing. Perhaps the absence of one is enough to say they were loved but not enough, and the world was greater deprived of the love they had yet to give.
I like Wikipedia’s advice about writing biographies for people, though. It’s an interesting read. I think archiving both objective and non-objective (presenting how many people retell their relationships with X instesad of extrapolating some objective timeline, which would forever miss some of the most important bits of how they loved and were loved––and thusly how they lived) histories is an exciting and worthwhile thing, and I’m thinking about the best way to mend the two. The presentation of yourself as you’ve lived, the way other people have known about you, the objective facts and numbers. Everything.
Pulled apart from performance and So many acquaintances and friends have died over the past few years. Death has come so early and consistently that I don’t even fear it anymore.
It feels weak and cheap when I still can’t stomach looking through their profiles, seeing how quickly the language has shifted around them, even if it’s one of the best representations of how they felt and thought (assuming it’s like, a personal account and they’re authentic there and whatever). I think those memories of them need to be untouched.
Another means of storytelling is curation and archival, preservation as memorymaking. Thinking about how we tell stories not only as the we want to share them first, but in how they they’re passed for the centuries to come.
On the last thought–its something that I’ve never really thought about until I saw firsthand whom of my friends were going to be remembered. They have lived through too much to only be recalled as a prayer. As something yet to be realized. They were.
I’ve been writing a lot about how I am driven to create and how it becomes my own act of self-preservation. It’s far from my primary motive in making, but as my days began blurring together I came to be grateful for it. One of the most wonderful byproducts of the act. Putting things into this world––the more tangible and reaching (in depth more than audience) in its lifespan the more certain––I come to place myself in history.
And then I like to make tools that make it easier for other people to do this for themselves, and the spaces that drive people to do so. Amplification. Curation is also amplification: I send my friends links that scream ‘you’ and someone’s work suddenly exists between a new shared language that the creator is mostly unaware of. We become each other’s influences’ influences and then become better selves. I curate the stories and parts of myself that I tell to my friends, oftentimes badly, thinking there are select parts of myself that they might enjoy digesting the most. Then the retaliation from the people who truly love me: they want to know it––especially the things that I fear might drive them away from me or even resent me. They find it and if it is truly love, still find it wonderful.
Everything comes back to me. Much of my enjoyment, no––much of my ability to live within this world is because someone intentionally made a decision to plant something that would persist. When I was in middle school, I used to find it unbelievable that trees took thirty years to grow. Why do it when you have to wait so long? Why do so many people do it when they’d no longer be in that place, let alone be on this world? I didn’t fully understand the concept of how something can live on in another thing until someone close to me died. Then I started planting trees too.
Even outside of personal attachments, I think about the lists and articles and publications I comb through daily and the desks and stories and jaded writers that make one of my ways of learning of the world possible. But I fear for memorymaking in anything incentivized by profit, especially if it’s necessary to its survival. These things, I often feel, live unfaithfully to itself. At least admit that the truth you believe should be told comes from no place human.
Maybe this is why I like the early web. Small circles of curated exchange that weren’t hard to break into, people putting anything around, the typicality of RSS feeds. I wonder if it’s silly to Archive.org your own site. I don’t think anyone else is going to do it for me, so I might as well…
1. What role do I take on as an author vs as a toolsmaker?
In this one I wonder how many times I can write for myself, or whether I should just stick to providing a service for others.
Michael Rock essays changed me at the beginning of my undergraduate education, but I also don’t know how much I consciously thought about what designing and art meant to me aside from the fact that I wanted to do so much of it and did. (I still think about how prolific I was when I was a teenager. Strangely, it was my least visible work but I was so, so focused. I have 100+ blog posts that I’ve never publicized from then, each one 3000–15000 incoherent words.)
Designer as Author of course, correctly spoke to the ancient dilemma that I was experiencing: insecurity in design compared to art or writing because of no ‘origination’ and ‘agency’ in process. It became abundantly clear as I started making more and more things that the vessel in which something presents itself is perhaps the most urgent thing about it, even if it’s not necessarily the substance in truest form. But as much as I hate it, this is still a way of passing truth. So I started thinking harder about form and design as this vehicle for communication and expression, more challenging than art. But only imaginary constraints really ever stave off the desire to integrate art and words into design anyway, so I use them all.
I don’t think I have too much of a problem with creation as I thought. I create the world I want to live in and am living in it. I put out things as I wish (cool), never paying attention to my ‘audience’ and what more they want (questionable?). I learn to hate the reduction of ‘whim’ into ‘performance’. In my adulthood I go more days without speaking to anyone than otherwise, I’m pretty sure. From this, I gathered that I need little certainty from people other than myself. Some days creating becomes unfathomably difficult. Some days I treat it like a quota, but at the end of the day it resolves itself as just one of the millions of ways I measure myself and plant numbers in my head. One thing against the millions of other things I have produced, bodies of work established to myself yet ever-evolving that reflect evergreen beliefs and hopes. Sometimes I translate. Sometimes I gather. Sometimes I perform. Sometimes I make. Many times it is all of this at once.
Making tools is creation. I’m having a ridiculous time (positive) with my thesis and enjoying it more than I had thought I could. Tonight I called with my advisor for an hour and thought about the most absurd and arbitrary ways a tool can be anti-user friendly and draw heavily from my artistic arsenal while still ultimately being software that people create their own things from. This is a fancy way of saying: I’m making a game maker that is terrible on purpose. All my bad decisions are decisions. I am breaking every rule (and many rules around tools I’m aware of) but also, not really. What we’re doing is thinking about features, language, and tiny interaction details made with seemingly nonsensical decisions for the sake of chaos––but also, it really works. Things I want to do ‘for fun’ still come from desire; play and joy are hugely undervalued. Warioware and Resetti screaming at you suddenly make so much sense now. Bitching and nicheposting as my sense of humor is affirmed, albeit a bit toxically. I frustrate myself and someone else joins it with me. Design discourse has already evolved to ‘no defaults exist; neutrality is a fraud’ since forever, so I don’t know why it’s difficult to think that the process of embedding ‘delight’ into things isn’t a form of authorship itself. Translation. Direction. Even if it’s a shitty splash of confetti after submitting a Canvas assignment.
Making spaces is creation. I don’t know how many times I have to elaborate on this. All my life I want to gather people and see what comes of it.
Lately, I’ve been wondering why I’m most comfortable generally detached from the spaces and things I put out-–an observer. Moreso if I’m forgotten. Moreso how I have never wanted to attach my name to ‘larger’ things. I don’t have a perfect answer yet (or one that I can try to windingly articulate, which is what I do a lot on this blog), but perhaps it has something to do with even distance being a part of the process.
I have no doubt that I can live the rest of my life doing both. I don’t know how significant the ‘role’ I take on is, or what exactly it looks like, but I know I must play it.