A few months ago I outlined an interest in starting a music publication, and a bit earlier a press. I was hesitant to move on the two of them (in the midst of graduating with a seven class final semester) while reconsidering my personal capacity to publish, the relationships I had then, and my resources. I’ve now graduated and spent the month mostly idle, reading, and building for myself; I’ve been focusing a lot on exploring art and experience-making on the web (now that I see it as a potentially viable path in my future), publishing almost everything under my own name or under random pseudonyms. This is far different from how I’ve operated under the past few years, often engaging under collectives (like Developh) or school organizations. Now, I think I’ve demarcated what I want to engage in personally and what I would like to engage in collectively.
his also connects with how I’ve spent the past two seasons spending a lot of time thinking about my relationship to community and creation. Offline or online, I can’t remember a time where I wasn’t pursuing something that happened to gather people around me. I don’t like to say it and was often bad at recognizing it, but so much of my organic means of inhabiting space naturally invites people and calls for co-creation. Much of it stems from personal & inwards thoughts but is deeply interconnected—which is what makes the work feel natural, authentic (if you have issues with that), and unlike work at all. This was always about gathering people together and creating. It’s inseparable from not only how I produce, but how I engage and look at the world.
Now, I’m interested in the politics of printing, distribution, execution. I think envisioning something and realizing it into this world is one of the things I’m particularly good at and have been doing for a long time. Maybe it’s even what I’m meant to do here.
These are some thoughts on what I think about community, distribution, and creation. Afterwards, some projects I’ve been thinking about at various stages of execution.
Community is political, distribution is political. Just as what we choose to present and share of our own making is a conscious act; augmenting the work of others is a powerful, political act. Backing provided by a community, especially, suggests a co-signing and identity that is shared—the propulsion of belief systems not only from a single actor, but a diverse group of minds that have converged or at least believed enough in one idea to co-sign it and put it out into the world. Distribution of course occurs internally within communities, as ideas and projects are fertilized with a unique back-and-forth and discourse that operates under a general set of shared values, beliefs, or goals. Letting people operate & co-create with (ideally) best intentions of one another in mind as they operate under the same sphere, embedding ideas and material with one another’s views… these are the conditions that bring me the most optimism and awareness on the potency of creation. Surrounded by people, reimagining the world as a shared activity, engaged and discursive in this world to form the next one.
I think about community politics in the generation of material outputs, since that’s what most communities I’ve been in have led towards. Thinking about politics in terms of tangible outputs raises the question of power and curation: how can communities be designed to truly be participatory and reflect collective voices? How does a community decide what is published, what is therefore representative of their beliefs? Community politics of course, also applies to communities that don’t necessarily have a definable output rather than the connection with one another. (Though I’d argue that this less tangible ‘connection’ is an output that is immeasurable in itself and often takes longer spans of time to witness the effects of.) The distribution and reallocation of resources to one another, attention and awareness, communal care, and how these standards of care are shared and defined are part of the process. What reaches people and how people communicate is distribution: what is shared imagination, what ideas and efforts are worth exchanging and co-creating with one another, what of the shared imagination is made into a material reality, and how material realities & created language shape outward cultures and belief systems. What is cherished within and propagated in communities is of signified importance not only to one individual, but to all its followers. The publics that we choose to engage with and speak towards when entrenched in communities, endogenous and exogenous, are key spaces that I’ve been thinking about. How we perform ourselves to the outside world and how we perform internally within the rooms where the publishing and production happens become unquestionable politics that we must engage with.
In the context of technology and publishing, I’m thinking about how to band communities together to curate and govern their spaces and their subsequent outputs: what ideal modes of participation look like, how to design the structures and facilitate the act of creation, the act of co-dreaming and co-building. I want a shared world of human flourishing so that the act of imagining never feels wasted—imagination just becomes a part of living.
Community is distribution in space. I can recite a hundred arguments and spaces that push people towards physical reconnection (which is invaluable, yes), and I have many feelings about digital spaces that solely recreate physical environments (and how disappointing of a use of technology this is). While the internet is far more territorial than it seems (and is built upon massive structures of invisible labor and borders), the majority of you reading likely have the technical know-how to bypass geographic limitations and explore the web to its full potential. You might know how to use a VPN, or simply be someone who can visit most websites freely unlike many in the global south who live with restricted browsing access through Facebook Lite or restrictive cellular plans.
I still believe in decentralization and remote connection, even going as far as to say that unique modes of intimacy and connection can only be fostered by the internet. I personally grew up in a place where the digital realm was the only space where I could be my authentic self, dealing with a repressive environment that was dangerous (and still is dangerous today) for people of marginalized, queer identities and backgrounds. Right amount of caution at my side, communities and online subcultures offered my space to even begin to identify and understand my identity—and I’m confident that the person I am today would be far more different without this type of support system to lean towards. While I’ve yet to personally articulate the circumstances and conditions that made this type of relationship-building possible, I continuously find wonder and inspiration in the encounters I have online — most with people I may never cross with in-person, yet talk to continuously and with more depth than most of the people I’ve met through college. (And I like to think that I’ve made it through college and maintained optimistic about the good parts of the United State from picking out people on the web who happened to align alongside me; and feel a shared sorrow for all the people I’ve missed out on here and in university because of how I’ve filtered for ‘people’, but also one that remains optimistic since the nature of the space gives us so many more opportunities to meet and connect again and again.) Staying up for hours, ranting over a specific topic, the wonder of hearing someone’s voice, never having a dearth of things to talk about, feeling a tangible, shared language develop, measures and signals for presence. There’s a unique joy in finding people who come with genuine graciousness and sincerity, formed of initial binding connections and all the surprising overlaps that happen thereafter.
Connection reliant on physical meeting points are now outdated as the web offers more modes of proximity and intimacy. The advent of the internet has allowed us to filter (for better or for worse) people and let us signal ourselves in ways we desire. Some of my most meaningful friendships have formed themselves from niche intersections in deep subreddits or forums, especially ones propelled by shared creativity & theorization. These seemingly cursory and ephemeral intersections aren’t too distant from say, the university space, especially for people who can go deep into these interests (and only have space for them in the digital realm). Global voices and influences (when cultivated intentionally), a natural openness to adapt to remote tooling, and potential for flexible forms of collaboration and co-working turn distributed networks into inimitable tools for gathering.
I think back to the concept of Community Memory which Mike Tully wrote wonderfully on in the Are.na Annual. The 1970s project aimed to provide people with access to a computer to exchange information within their communities, inspired by a technological approach to community organizing. While rendered obsolete in the next decades as personal computing outshone the project’s terminals housed in laundromats and co-ops, there’s much to learn about the relationship we should have with our technological tools and the benefits they can bring with gathering (offline and online) and preservation. I wonder if it is time to re-embrace the project in a time of surveillance and digital hostility—returning back to local spaces and informal exchange where a resistance of the centralized cloud and web brings about the resurgence of community care and trust. While this project was reliant on the present of physical machines (and oftentimes, peers to guide new technologists to the use of these terminals), these same principles can be brought about on a global scale on alternative peer-to-peer networks or likewise. What would a contemporary Community Memory project look like?
Reliance on digital software changes how communication and distribution looks. Reading through Annalisa Pelizza’s Communities at a Crossroads has helped influence a lot of my thinking about ‘technosocial assemblage’ There’s more to distribution and community-building afforded by the internet than ‘communication and information is more accessible than ever’. There are questions of how (and if) humans were even meant to process instantaneous information transfer; a common mistake (that I’m also making here) is also writing off all digital communities as operating under similar systems and constraints when the platform of choice embeds so much layer to socialization. Biases and constructs inscribed by software become part of or are just as important (depending on how you look at it) as organic rituals, as technology dictates what rituals are possible. Much of this flourishing is dependent on accessibility and visibility, which is also configurable. This is why I’m fascinated by tools, their potential, and the role they play in shaping systems and placemaking as we consider their access and distribution: it radically transforms entire ecologies. The space we are allowed to occupy on the internet is infinite and one all at once.
Community is preservation. A transition motivated from the ‘Community Memory’ project, of course. This statement stems a lot from my personal relationship with the web: I trust in it because it is a form of witnessing of myself and for myself. When I am moved to produce, write, and code, I am creating the space in which I want to exist, document, and present myself as. In my personal space and servers on the internet, I hold my memory in control. I transfer these documents to a flash drive, holding physical media that might outlast the digital. I erase what I would like to have erased. Still, it is the most powerful record I have of myself—powerful not because it is lasting, but because I have control over it. My personal memory is incredibly hazy; I find myself recollecting things only through the last artifacts I’ve left online of that era. I don’t have anyone else to tell me what happened.
Witnessing fragile institutional memory in college organizations didn’t give me much faith, either. The internet doesn’t offer a safehaven against decaying memory and is designed that way, which is part of why I’m careful to emphasize the internet as an archive we could have agency over than something that is permanent. (If you want, you can consider permanence and immutability on the blockchain. That’s not something I want to talk about right now, though.)
But a community is a group of individuals working to form culture by preserving the instances most meaningful to itself in time. It is sustained through community belief and action, ideally acting as an evolving mirror of shared meaning.
I like thinking about the information role of cities. In A City Is Not A Computer, Shannon Mattern examines and critiques the Sidewalks Lab-ification of urban spaces—the tired promise of ‘smart cities’ and all their failures. The circuit board looks like a city, but so do the veins of the leaf. I want to hold onto the importance of storage and information ecology when shaped not by a select few or left in the hands of those in power imposing a surveillance state; I want to know what communal memory and information storage looks like if the writing of history and its preservation is equally accessible to every citizen—which I believe can be enabled by technology and distanced from the centuries-long issue of history preservation. Mattern considers physical city sites like universities, laboratories, hospitals, etc. as all having distinct orientations towards urban intelligence. Living in New Haven with a storied history of exploitation from Yale and firsthand witnessing the callousness of these students and the death of any form of accountability is just one example of how traditional structures of intelligence and consciousness have failed. In my early learning about archival and library sciences, I made the mistake of conflating archives and libraries (and there’s an ongoing war on the lines between the two, anyway). In my personal life, I’m attempting to preserve my own self and cursorily creating records of sounds and ambient matter around New Haven. I exchange handmade cassette tapes with these recordings to friends in the Philippines, trading their birdsong and commute clatter for coffee shop mornings and routine garbage collection trucks. What does memory look like when everyone’s narrative is preserved? What does a true picture of a city look like? Can we eventually live so that I know not just whatever laws or major events happened in a year, but what one family felt in a fall morning as the light poured through their blinds?
“City-making is always, simultaneously, an enactment of city-knowing — which cannot be reduced to computation,” Mattern finishes her wonderful article with this. Communities are made and preserved by simple virtue of shared knowing and witnessing; people stay in communities because they feel they are witnessed and are there to witness. I could’ve written about the conditions in which archives and documentation are generated, but it is obvious, just as this observation on how preservation presumes witnessing. Any community that grows together writes, watches, and witnesses the growing, and I’m hopeful for a time where we can build upon the proper tools and foundations to facilitate this collective witnessing and memory-making.
(And this is all about never feeling alone, and watching one another, and what technologies might bring us there…)
Community is the generation and distribution of culture. The best example of this and what is still my most important (& ongoing) work is Developh—particularly in its position interrogating the western technology canon in its application to the global south. Since our founding in 2016, we’ve evolved into what we like to call a ‘critical’ technology institute in the Philippines, now removed from our coding bootcamp-esque roots that focused on accessibility and education without a more holistic understanding of the pipeline we were encouraging people to partake in. Our most consistent work is teaching (where we host 50+ events annually, though have been taking a bit of a break this year; consider us as a more extreme Index Space that doesn’t receive any funding) with focus on platforming marginalized & less visible spaces in technology and the creation of social activations and campaigns (from political projects, fellowships, archives, and more). I continue to run Developh with growing engagement from the Filipino diaspora because the question of responsibility by Filipino technologists, the role we play in maintaining and dismantling technology structures, etc. continues to be more and more relevant. As systems that exploit Filipino labor conditions, capital-driven trends that prey on misunderstanding of the field (Filipinos rank #1 in NFT ownership according to some reports; while I’ve been much averse to web3 I do see some practical uses — but can’t help but wonder why this is the case when under the common read of its reliance on greater fool theory), and disinformation that led to the re-election of previously ousted fascist dictators thrive, we fight. We commit ourselves to growing a ‘radical technology movement’. This takes form in the arts & culture, such as promoting creative code; promoting what it means to develop more poetic software in an industry filled with bootcamps, IDEO-brand design thinking, and solely service-level pipelines to design/development careers in everything from student organizations to art school education; uplifting the application of technologies for explicitly leftist, progressive movements and ideals by reclaiming software. Leaning into art and cultural institutions that have upheld local activist movements, we recognize that the production of technology is also the production of culture—it is not a solely commercial or career act (as it is formally treated) and has far more potential to shape Philippine society.
Culture is inherently tied to groups and institutions, and thus propagated by them. The technology that Developh concerns itself with (that is, digital technologies which power the communities and modes of publishing I’m interested in; though publishing/books itself are of course, also technologies) is essential to its culture-building, particularly because it operates under a culture that has been destabilized by its misuse. As we Filipinos are especially subject to many of technology’s adverse effects, our culture has been irreversibly shifted and formed under its authority. Then, it is also our interest to reclaim it and shape it with the same tool that has impaired our country. To do so, we’re presently interested in and heavily engaged with reforming cultural attitudes and norms around our interactions with technology. This begins with student and industry sectors we have long been collaborating with, and in our growing level of collaborations with art and activist stakeholders. In shifting national thinking about technology, we embark on the task of contesting the harmful culture it has presented. (More specific thoughts on Developh’s role in culture-building to come in our manifesto!)
Outside Developh, it’s obvious that culture is the result of shared beliefs, practices, and customs. It’s possible that culture is especially resonant only in that community space, and that this resonance—if hard to find elsewhere—becomes invaluable where it can thrive. If not only present when participating in the community, I think about how much of myself has been made as products of participation in even the most fleeting of my time in spaces because I witnessed what beliefs and selfhood emerged in their spaces.
Community is connection. I think the most important thing is for people to feel interconnected and acknowledge interdependence. In a world of nihilism and often facile forms of communication that only breed loneliness, there is already so much value in ensuring that others, feel loved and very present with one another.
I want to see people and be there for them. More than that, I want to connect people to one another. I love to make spaces and then leave them. Seeing what people leave with, most often leaving with less than they have gained, makes me feel most satisfied. My disclaimer to all of this is that nothing needs to be permanent; I’m not forming the space for people to settle down, but I’m interested in forming spaces that provide specific emotional and creative value where sustained care hasn’t historically been found. Navigating this era of loneliness is interesting when you consider the technologies around us. In theory, there is so much around us that could facilitate communication
I’ve most felt meaningful when I felt small and insignificant, but wanted nevertheless. Maybe this is a cruel wording of it. I’m thinking of when I sit in a forest clearing, surrounded by the echoes and song of birds that I can’t see but must be all around me, where my skin is touched by scattering sunlight running from the canopy. Basking in awe, there is no conclusion for me to come to other than belief in the human tendency to create meaning out of nothing and share it with one another—as unnecessary as it is, how intuitive it is to be a part of this life. I feel safest in communities that welcome me and bring about these idyllic positions for immersion while also being transparent about the roughness of the world it operates in, if that makes sense or might also be me projecting self-destructive tendencies. I like it when I can bring myself into a system and help bring it structure, knowing that what I am part of is a collective set of values & beliefs that I can transfer fragments of myself unto without being contingent on taking my whole self. Optionality is meaningful in social spaces like this because it reinforces the continuous commitment of staying and providing and listening as ones we have complete agency over.
Now repositioned as a ‘critical technology institute’ to better carry ourselves and frame our work from hereon, Developh is my life’s work and one of the many things that connects me strongly to home. I’m continuing to work on Developh, figure out the ideal system to maintain it and welcome contributors & more initiatives, be more assertive about our ways of ‘reclaiming’ technology and our relationship with a tumultuous political landscape, and of course — make it more sustainable.
The organization has been in standstill for the past few months as we ended our Fellowship program (many thanks to Bianca and Nikki for co-running it with me and for being amazing facilitators). My latest project for it has been developing the Martial Law Index. What differentiates this from other projects is active conversations with researchers, cultural workers, activist, and art groups. We’ve often operated in a silo or only in partnership with the technology industry, which has always been frustrating because these institutions often have us make many ethical compromises, have us withhold full acting power, or are just boring to work with.
I’m spending these months rebranding the organization, preparing us for a season of new events, and working across exciting projects with focus on publishing and profiling our community.
Before I leave New Haven (and the northeast, potentially) I want to host cute little ‘social engagement’ type events like I used to do in high school under Developh. Dinner party vibes but with a special interest or focus intertwined.
I’m challenging myself to set something up every 2.5 weeks: a HTML writing picnic on Cross Campus with cheese boards, Wikipedia page writing and a little fundraiser of prints for the foundation, ambient music and zinemaking at a coffee shop, burn your own CD and make a mixtape. Paired with little invitations and ephemera that people can take home. I hope to document these events to make them reproducible, and hope that I can leave something special for the few who do choose to make it.
If you’re around New Haven this summer and are interested, stay tuned or text me for details. (Email me or DM me anywhere I am if you don’t have my number yet.) If you want to co-organize or have an idea for a gathering, that would be so exciting.
Label & Press
I want to start a global label & press, because I want to experiment with our relationship to the internet, media formats, & memory, look into what collaboration and creativity means when shaped interculturally, and release not only music or zines solely, but curate, facilitate, and release experiences.
(By global I likely mean the Philippines and United States for now, which is where the people I love tend to be spread around—)
Listening experiences on streaming are vastly different from when we flip a record on our turntable. Archival labels are a form of preservation and re-presentation, but what material accompanies them? I’m a sucker for ARGs and intentional release efforts. I want to put things together from myself and friends that present more cohesive and intentional forms of engaging with ephemeral media, facilitate collaboration, and of course, learn from the entire process of conceptualizing to releasing material
On media: I’ve been personally experimenting with very limited physical releases of material on tape and CD. They’re accessible, reproducible, and the right amount of esoteric & quirked up that interests me. I like to be able to be in control of circulation, and ever since lying about loving Stan Brakhage in my ‘Intro to Visual Thinking’ class I realized I actually really do fucking love Stan Brakhage and wrote 20,000 words on him and Bill Morrison’s Light is Calling that played with degradation of the medium. I’m figuring out what should exist on physical vs digital storage mediums, the ephemerality of the web, and control. I started putting flowers into tape loops after spending hours making silly little tape loops and bending them across surfaces.
I placed my thesis on floppy discs (yes, I bought a reader), flash drives, and CDs. It lives on the internet, but is bundled with different materials on these physical mediums. Changing a tracklisting or accompanying material is a simple way of playing with how material should be engaged with on its area of presentation, but already more interesting than one that just collates a roster and puts things out on a webstore. Curation and distribution can be made far more interesting.
I obviously am not the go-to place for the next bedroom Alex G clone, but I’m interested in the experimental, sound art, and deeply personal/intimate material. This would be positioned as a weird, artsy label that releases material of many kinds. Metalabel has been propagating this type of thinking about ‘releases’ lately, where Mschf is a strong example. Small labels like Room40 (in its release of artist books and interesting collaborations) and morsels.website (especially the parish council ‘boring conversation’ release that is accompanied by boringconversation.chat) also speak to this.
I’ve been brewing a field recording project that collects sounds from the Philippines and United States, mailing and exchanging sounds and tiny artifacts as ways to preserve a moment. I’m making ambient music for the purpose of (right now, poorly) preserving a feeling when the recording of an environment alone isn’t enough to capture my engagement with the world around me. I’m wondering what these field recording experiments would look like online: places that you can walk to and feel inhabited on the web that soon degrade; journal entries and clippings attached to limited releases of material—control over how things circulate. Crafting experiences that engage on a level more than the listening of a record, the flipping of a book, play intentionally with scarcity, etc. cement even the most mundane narratives into our psyche with a special type of beauty; it becomes an act of preservation that works across mediums to most effectively transcend them.
If you’re interested in these ideas and might want to work with me on a release label (of music, printed matter, games, etc.) or give me advice because I don’t know anything, let me know: email@example.com
Tiny Publishing Projects & Archives
I have other seasonal publishing projects brewing with Developh and independently (for now).
Aside from philippine.design, Developh has been interested in better understanding the Filipino relationship to technology by dissecting our personal histories with the web and computing through Kakakompyuter Mo Yan (a riff off a common Tagalog complaint on kids who are extremely online, which is anyone). I’m also intent on getting Filipino technologists to just read more and draw from local contexts, politics, and histories better (rather than the tech formula that focuses on zeroing in on some niche field that provides little to no cultural value) through Technology.ph, which hosts essays from me and Bianca. Both projects hope to present digital journals in the next months and hopefully culminate in print issues before the end of the year.
Outside of the Philippine technology sphere, I’ve been thinking a lot about the nature of authenticity on the internet (very original, I’m aware) and what digital intimacy means. Close.events is an online zine (that I wanted to put together during the semester and am hoping to revisit) engaged in interventions, facilities, software, and art that explores internet presence.
Printing out Chia’s teenage journal
I’m compiling entries from this blog and private, password-protected ones in an artists’ book. I’ve written over a million words as a teenager and they’re all weirdly depressing, naive, and pitiful. This is another attempt at self-preservation and a big one towards my fascination at sharing my entire life to an audience of no one in particular.
Journal entries, film stills, tiny software pieces, unfinished games, half-baked assets from over the years… edited together in pastel and crayon illustrations made over the past decade, or something like that. I’m not sure if anyone but myself would be interested in this, but it’s definitely going to jump up in value a little once I die.
This is for my friends, the people who love me, and most of all, for me.
If you know me, I’ve been having a difficult time thinking about who I am, what I want to do, and the life I want to shape. I’ve been alone and lonely, wandering listlessly between states where I am bursting with love and then emaciated from it. I’ve been figuring out what I want to do for the rest of my life and what I want to do with the present. Trying to understand how much of the world around me is mine to keep, how much of it I must give in service, and who I am in the middle.
This piece is scattered, unedited, and reads more like a series of journal entries (because that’s how it had come to be).
a long, autobiographical personal reflection and recollection on creation. what making has meant to me, paracosms, people, tmi snippets of childhood, love, my biggest influence, god, or: a personal history with worldmaking. or: a love letter and vow to co-creation, communally shaped futures, and faith in the things human beings can imagine, the beauty of having faith in one another, and what we can will into existence
I have always been making worlds. They’ve existed within the one we live in today, one no truer than the other. When I was a child, I would be infuriated with every single television show in existence. Painful obliviousness in the congested Filipino dubs of Dora, nonsensical plotlines in Barney and the fact that there was no Filipino girl there (later, I found out that Pia Manalo is Filipino, surname telling enough, but was written to be Chinese), dissatisfaction with the interior design of homes in Rolie Polie Olie. Like many kids, television would be the last thing I’d indulge in before bed; in my young mind, it was thus the perfect time to watch things that would make myself feel irrationally angry by choice. I used to share my criticisms with my parents if they were awake at all. More often than not, they were exhausted from hospital rounds, coming into the bedroom we all slept in to collapse into bed, the precious 30-minutes or so of their waking time with me spent on checking if I had done homework or if I had eaten. So on the mattress on the floor, eyes level with the television, volume turned down low enough, I would let all this fury riot in my mind. Cartoon Network and all its grave sins, Animax and its unforgivable overdubs––how nothing was enough to satisfy me until it was mine. I’d close my eyes and relive the scenes that had just taken place and rewrite them. New plot, cast, self-insert, crossover. The worlds on television would blur into mine.
Later on, I’d tell stories. My sister and I would sneak over to the living room-dining room-office room hybrid we had to take a handful of Letter sheets, constantly depleting our printer reams. I taught myself how to make zines before I knew what zines were: fold eight times to get the most economical use out of it, make a careful cut in the center, begin drawing. My subjects were vast: how my day went, Naruto fancomics, ambiguous fantasy tales (not inspired by Harry Potter at the very least, because I could not get into it), blueprints for fictional cities and malls (mostly malls, because that was all we knew). One particular masterpiece was this cross-section of a particularly tall office building that I would build on by laying pieces of paper atop one another. A floor was dedicated to staples and another four were dedicated to all the clothes in the world, and I loved drawing the squiggling coils of landlines in the arms of little anime pencil pushers and concocting the world’s most inefficient elevator placements. After coming home one day, I found out that the tiny pile was tossed into the trash and was told that I should stop wasting so much paper. I still wonder how many reams worth of worlds I had made by then. During family gatherings, I was voluntary entertainment: proud herald of a new world’s news. I’d flip cheap, flimsy saddle-stitch notebooks with laminate piecing them together, blue-red-blue lines meekly standing in as a backdrop to wars, rituals, and incantations. I used to make excessive hand motions when I spoke and let out the biggest grins, and then I became hyperaware and invisible so started covering my mouth. These tactics were especially useful years later when I had no one left to talk to and had to sway people through the raw forms of the story alone with no accompaniment. As you grow up, people become less interested in your performance and art in general.
When I was in fourth grade I was in the ‘weird’ group of kids. (This statement is also true for the entirety of my education up to the tertiary level.) My primary interests were ballet, anime, Warcraft III, and buying notebooks to fill a quarter of the pages with some stories or encyclopedic collections about little fantasy worlds, then to shelve it and never pick it up again. I brought the Letter sheets of paper to school and arranged them into a landscape 2×2 grid, telling my friends that we should draw maps together. One paper would be dedicated to a free-range farm with crude illustrations of cows and bees, the other a modernist concrete cabin assembled almost entirely out of 45-degree angles. On the corner, a name for each expansive homestead we’d create. We’d scribble on these in the middle of class then reconnect them when we could get the chance. Flip it over, and we would zoom out to the proto-map connecting each of our letter paper grids and the neighborhoods, cities, and all the terrible transportation systems ten-year-olds could conceive.
During mass or other dull school activities, we would always sit by alphabetical order in the school theater or on bleachers. I was lucky enough to sit next to one of these friends, a young boy who really liked World War history and Hetalia. We would conceive of intricate timelines behind the worlds we drew on the map, and I soon found out that he had a world of his own. He detailed political systems and economies to me, and in return I would tell him about the magic systems and new leaders that had risen in mine. After receiving the Eucharist, we’d kneel and then talk about what forms ‘belief’ took in our worlds, and then the one we were present in. After the two-hour car ride home, I would dig through the Bible, reading through creation myths and highlighting the most interesting parts of how this God had razed cities and then salvaged them and therefore humanity. Neopets was also a big inspiration: I’d take the retrospectively crudely named Faerieland and its Hidden Tower, transposing a near-identical replica unto my crude copy of the Guiting-Guiting ranges. My stories, people, and places now strung together in a loose multiverse, simmering in my head and borrowed from everything I knew about the world, ever-evolving.
Is this all something about being forever high-functioning and mourning the worlds I had made? I was told to look up maladaptive daydreaming when I tweeted about this at age 19 and 21. Rereading its definition on Wikipedia over and over, I can’t pinpoint a single experience of mine that precisely *clicks* with it; this is surprising, since usually I read a page acutely describing conditions that I had thought were completely normal and click out finding I have four new issues to think about. Maladaptive daydreaming is just when one excessively daydreams that it interrupts with daily life. A child is absorbed in fantasy, the TikToker quirkily gives a rundown on the chaos in their mind over the worst English dub of Neon Genesis Evangelion you’ve ever heard, you’re out eating lunch and hear the next group of girls over talking about how they love making up fake scenarios at 2AM while listening to Spotify. Specifically, many escape into these worlds to conjure something brighter, to make themselves beloved. Phoebe Bridgers sings about dissociation, and so this truth is universal. The image constructed is addicting, almost euphoric when it occurs. Those drowning in it further detach, waiting for the next time their headspace consumes the world around them.
I don’t know if this was my precise condition, or I might be so deluded to think that I have the willpower, the means of control to determine whether my head was in this reality or not. This world of mine was not a retreat. My relationship to it was more of a project; the world was an exercise in storytelling, art, systems, then collage, code, animation, digital video. I would never mention it to the people around me, or if I really had to, framed it in a “this would be a really fun D&D set-up to use” kind of way. Not that fantasy and escapism is ridiculous: I was surrounded by a loving group of friends who enjoyed Homestuck fan animations and conjured a dozen fake personas to place themselves in online when I would always just use my same old name. There was a very definitive link I had with the world and reality, a then-unspoken contract to the knowledge transfer of this world unto mine. There was the place where I lived, and another where I was a distant god.
Maybe it was a question of fortitude, or how this model of distance was easy to grasp because it wasn’t familiar from the one present in Catholicism. There was however, this weird recurring dream I’d have about the zombie apocalypse and how I had always been physically turned, but had the mental fortitude to resist whatever brain-warping, soulsucking force was turning people lifeless. I’d be stuck in hordes of zombies, the fall of society, but would still be me inside. In some dreams I would find the cure or be the voice and reverse humanity, and in other dreams I would watch helplessly as everyone turned with the earth paradoxically hollow with flowers beginning to sprout from the pavement––but never me.
And for so many years I believed that I had this willpower. I had a special strength in me whenever I made, whenever I closed my eyes and believed, whenever my hands would fasten themselves around something or write code or organize truths that would turn into fiction in reality. For as long as I was alive, whatever would be fastened around my hands would never die. It was almost like I was imparting a part of my own being and fibers into the things I could construct, but so forth the existence of these things would drive me further.
I looked up how my friends have been doing lately. Two of them, including Hetalia guy, are thriving in the Philippine’s most prestigious medical school program, the other is an architect. That year we were classmates wasn’t our only encounter. In high school, I dragged them down more rabbitholes and created apps and games with them––when pen and paper weren’t sustainable. I wonder if they know how I’m doing.
Sometimes I feel like there exists histories worth of context needed for people to really, really understand me. Meaning: I grew up extremely online, in the age of the internet, which is in itself a world of its own with the provisional universal language of memes and extremist rabbitholes. Socially, college has been an exhausting experience as I would have to introduce myself repeatedly, unsuccessful in the art of tactfully choosing how to explain what you do / who you are / what you desire because I was stubborn in my method and desired outcome. The internet was a more welcome respite from the real world’s tricks and codes, toughened by how there were a million more dimensions and variables to analyze too. Maybe it’s my mental gymnastics, or maybe I believe that the fragments of myself I let peer through are far more deep and ‘true’ to what my actual being is. Writing has become my means to understand myself, but more fundamentally, to even know what I think. When someone requires slow, cherrypicked doses of myself I get bored––I have worlds to make.
‘Unhinged’ comes to mean ‘sincere’ in-person. My most meaningful interactions with people came when we were fully unashamed of our interests, our desires, what we wanted, so desperate to tell each other stories and craving ones that we could make on our own. Whenever people resolve to return to the awe they had in their childhood, I wonder if this is what they are truly craving for: the unfiltered self they spend the rest of their lives uncovering.
Still in the fourth grade, my parents didn’t come home one night. My sister and I received a call from a family friend who told us that both of them had to work overtime. There was this weird, deep gnawing in the pit of my stomach after I put the phone down. It wasn’t infrequent for them to not go home, but the delivery was peculiar and the voice disquieting. There was something gravely wrong about the call on a random weekday in July, the timing of it all. My feet suddenly felt like they were levitating, stinging, blistering all at once. The necks on my hair were prickling and then suddenly not there, and the hum of the air conditioner became this cruel cooing. I turned it off in the 34 degree weather and didn’t notice how much I was sweating until I touched my palms on the table. I opened Facebook on the family computer and saw condolences strewn on the feed. My grandfather had died.
The next day, we skipped breakfast and school as our parents came in the morning to pick us up and drive to the province. I heard the car horn and watched my father walk up the stairs first: Visibly trembling, looking as if he was figuring out how to tell us the news. I met him halfway down and told him that we already knew. I was ten years old. My mother followed ten minutes after. Rustling downstairs. I didn’t know it then, but she had spent the past day next to her dad’s hospital bed after rushing down from work hours away in Manila after she received word of the accident. Everything happened in just a few hours. Instead of greeting us, she held her head down and walked straight into our spare room––the guest room with nothing but a bare mattress on frame––and wailed. It was the most painful, agonizing sound I had ever heard though it happened a decade ago. (For a few years I watched leaked videos of people dying to try and erase that sound from my head; there is nothing as guttural than hearing the rawest pang from someone you love.) I didn’t go to school for the next two weeks.
Lolo was incredibly loved. His vigil lasted for what felt like centuries, just like the life he had lived, yet it was still barely enough.
I slept on the floor of my mother’s childhood bedroom upstairs with half a dozen of my other cousins and our cousins’ cousins, and some nights I wouldn’t sleep at all. It was dusty, painfully summery, and never a moment of silence. Everyone in our extended family paused everything in their lives to return to his home and celebrate the memory of him. The cousins, titos, and titas with American citizenship that hadn’t been to the Philippines in decades, his surviving brothers and his wives’ surviving sisters, all the people I had ever seen at church including the priests and nuns themselves, his biker friends, the garbage collectors and the gravekeepers that would then lay him down, unlikely combinations of family friends who would text us photos of themselves coincidentally on the same PAL flight back to Manila, the homeless who he would invite into his dinner table to eat with him… what seemed like the entire municipality of 300,000. A life of giving. His city.
There’s a Filipino custom called ‘abuloy’ where people bring pockets of white envelopes filled with cash to ease the financial burden on the grieving family. Instead, all these people came in, were fed, and then returned the most miraculous tellings about his life. Adobo, rice, and fish were prepared in deep buckets that we’d eat with paper plates and plastic utensils. When the plastic utensils ran out and droves went out to buy more, we would palm the rice with our hands. All I remember feeling was immensely bloated all the time, eyes puffing nonstop. One of my relatives told me that it looked like it came in waves: My knees and lower legs stained red from picking up crimson pigment from the floor glaze, grooves and indentations depressed bumps from the pebble tile spacers. My soggy plate on the monobloc, chewing slowly, and my chest suddenly heaving, tears falling down my face and onto the plate. Then I would go on normally, chewing, and then a swallow. I stopped being able to tell when I was crying.
His casket was laid out on the corner of the living room, next to a well-sized statue of the Virgin Mary and Jesus. There would be a mass held every night, such that a lectern was even brought in. Every other hour, the faces in the room would shuffle in and out as they jointly prayed the rosary. Women with webbed hands and powdered faces, all the doors open so that everyone in the house could join in on prayer. I was missing around midterms period, so had a rapidly accumulating nest of work that awaited me. My teachers emailed me homework and handouts that I’d answer in the corner of the bedroom. The internet connection in the home didn’t reach upstairs, so I would bring my bulky laptop up and down to load the next worksheet or reference page. It took me ages to get through a sea of people to greet, hug, kiss each time––passing through the living room, waiting for service to pass. People who haven’t stepped foot in years gathered again, from all around the country and world. The home was blessed with stories, unruly and unbelievable, vividly retold as if he was still fresh in their minds. Thousands of lives and moments that intersected with this one man. You could barely swallow the tremendousness of his life, if we were even meant to at all. Slowly, the stories would then turn to ones about ourselves. The past decade of history, what we have been doing lately, how the business has been going, when the babies are coming, commentary on bits of the house that had changed, the last renovations made topical. A childhood home that had turned into a space of new life. How many relationships had begun here? How many people were not only returning home to a place, but to each other? I often think about what it would be like if he were in the room on any of those nights. How holy he treasured every life around him; he would avidly listen to every single voice and impart on them a particular kindness and sense of understanding for the world that would have one leave the conversation brimming with ideas on the world––how they could be a better person themselves. His story was not going to end in this room. A handful of people even ended up abandoning their lives in America to return home to the Philippines, a fact you could sense coming the moment everyone started to make plans to go to brunches together for after the burial date. There was sorrow and a deep renascence in this endless web he had spun. The wake almost felt like a beginning.
Monobloc chairs were scattered in the garden, the garage, dining room, every inch of the space beyond the bedroom hallways to attend to growing attendees and passersby. Each chair had our initials carved at the back––for which stacks of it were already ready whenever he’d open his doors, testament to how many he constantly welcomed into his home. More stacks of chairs came in as more people and returnees showed up to join us each day. Two small parishes had sent over chairs for us to borrow. I witnessed reunions every hour. Everyone’s mouth smelled of eggs and the sun in the morning, turning into cigarettes and Tanduay at night. They told countless stories about the way he lived and loved in English, Tagalog, Bisaya, and then a dozen other languages that I couldn’t understand. They slurred, wailed, and laughed. Sometimes, someone would just burst into laughter and recall a memory they shared with him and others would join on. Groups of family, friends, and strangers flickered between these emotions until they couldn’t breathe anymore. From another room, I heard someone say “sasabog na ata ako, pero di ko alam kung dahil sa mata, dibdib, o puso ko.” I feel like I’m going to burst, but I’m not sure if it’s because of my eyes, chest, or heart.
Whether I was sitting on the floor, sunken into the couch, sneaking by the recitation of the fourth decade of the rosary, or peering from the upstairs, I could feel so viscerally this unique oneness that I felt with every person who stepped into our home. We all were loved by him and we all loved him.
On our first day there, my dad asked me if I wanted to go up to the casket. I nodded, because it seemed like the right thing to do. Take one last look to see the image of my grandfather embalmed, at peace, maybe with a few less wrinkles on his forehead––the funerary home’s idea of what he looked like before the accident. I knew it would not be an accurate portrayal, just another tribute. I knew what his hand felt like, still. I knew that there was a sharp image of him in my mind that I would never lose and this moment would never be representative of how I had known him.
Right before I walked up, my dad gripped my hand and asked me if I really wanted to do this. I gave a weaker nod.
I tipped my toes, brushed against the white lace, and felt the sharpest pain I had ever felt in my life as I had tilted for the slightest glance. Suddenly everything was searing. Heavy. Something was stabbing my body. I felt like I was about to vomit and tasted orange & iron. All in a split second. To any outsider, it had looked like I probably just went up and walked out, right away, stunned. I briskly walked back up to my mother’s childhood bedroom, thankfully empty in the midday, and I mirrored her cry.
I used to spend entire summers in my grandparents’ home. Unlike our house in Metro Manila where all you could really do was stay inside, they had an expansive lot––actual yards, places to walk, people, trees, flowerbeds, grass! The adults would drink beer and gossip in the garden, and I would roll around tiny elevations and hills, assemble little structures with loose twigs and rocks I found, and craft treasure hunts with trails of Letter paper notes for the others to embark on. There was a pool that I couldn’t take more than two strides beyond the steps in because I didn’t know how to swim, so they bought me the same floaties I would use for the next five years. My grandfather taught me how to play chess and then lived through the variants I would make up, let me sit beside him as he played Solitaire or typed up work documents at an excruciatingly slow pace, lent me his golfing clubs, snuck me and my sister out of mass so we could sip on vanilla sundaes with chocolate syrup at the restaurant across while listening to our stories, and printed & framed my drawings of flower fields & castles off MSPaint.
He was the only other person I ever told about the world in my head. I would show him my report card, tell him a story about my classmates, and then ask him if he wanted to know about a new monarch that had risen to power in my ‘magic world’ since we last spoke. Obliging, I would relay the events to him and then he would respond by telling me his own stories and experiences supporting his city, seeing it grow. He took my ideas seriously and challenged them. He liked the urban planning maps I did and my constructions of how exchanging ‘magic powers’ in the world could look like. Proud of my process, I showed him websites and what I was learning on Photoshop torrent. We took a tricycle to his office and then he showed me around the city building, said hello to every single person who passed by, and made sure to introduce me as I grinned and said hello back.
Lots of these worlds were contained in my laptop. I was an early connoisseur of found footage, repurposing stock images, stolen YouTube videos, and licensed Kevin MacLeod tunes to tell stories. I absolutely loathed when anyone came near my work but him, so much that the UrbanDictionary definition that my cousins wrote still is up:
Drawing from television, I told him about this commercial I saw of a group of kids bringing planks of wood, blankets, and pillows to a loose frame of a cabin overlooking the ocean. I told him I wanted to have something like that, a little playhouse in a place where I could have grass to run around and bring in pillows and draw on the walls. Under this roof, things would be different: I would read and tell stories and everyone would be a part of writing something new. I showed him blueprints (hand drawn by me) of the ‘ideal’ house planted on an empty lot, and my conjured version for my world, where every town in this country would have the equivalent of the American suburb with this building copy-pasted a hundredfold instead.
A few weeks and some visits later, I came to the garden and saw planks and buckets of pink and yellow paint. He had arranged to build this tiny little house, but with a swiveling door and an open window. It was even smaller than the size of a plastic outdoor playhouse you’d see on Walmart; it fit the vision in my head, atop the fictitious cliffs I detailed him, myth come reality. I sat inside with my sister and just stared at the roof that he had put over my head, my heart swelling for what he had constructed from me, what was once an idea and something in my hand. He peered inside and asked me if it was like what I had imagined, and I told him it was even better. It is the greatest thing someone ever has and will ever gift me.
AFTER JULY 2010
After, I was in some form of slow, dysthymic suffering that I still feel like I mostly mentally imparted on myself––which I want to believe, is a generally reasonable feeling from any ten-year-old dealing with immense loss for the first time. In my head or perhaps truly so, everyone else also understood that there was this special connection my grandfather had with me. There was the kind attentiveness any grandparent pays to their grandchildren coupled with the unspoken history of him and my grandmother being my substitute parents (i.e. the ones who would show up at school award ceremonies), and the tangible artifacts of what he had left for me. A week after I had returned to Manila and school, I dreamt that I was in the garden and saw a butterfly circling me. I stayed still and swore I could hear his voice. I relayed it to my mother, who relayed it to her siblings and my grandmother, who relayed it to the entire extended family. The next time we returned to the province, they drank a bit more than usual and had extra ashtrays out. When I circled the table to greet everyone, they stopped me and exclaimed, “we can’t believe you saw him.”
After the funeral, I found it harder to find time to think about the imaginary world I had made. When I lost one of the only adult voices who ever took me seriously about it, I had just assumed a part of it died, too.
There was this dullness inside of me that was the mortifying part, not the sadness. My life was filled with models for grief and anger, but what frightened me most was apathy. There was this insensitivity inside of me, completely new for someone who had only been familiar with anxiety and the laughter that came afterwards. I didn’t know what to do with my hands for a brief period of time. I was mortified of dreaming again and tossed aside the dream journals I had, only letting myself go to sleep once I deemed myself as exhausted as my parents. I needed to make things that I would never have to touch again.
I focused on being present in this world. I started performing harder in school and began consuming things more intentionally, reconsidering what inputs I had (or: what I am hyperfixated over). At school, my identity was one engrossed in places of fiction not in consumption, but in creation. I was the stupid kind of teenager who proudly stated that I never read anything in the age of the YA-turned-mediocre blockbuster movie part of the 2010s, though others genuinely couldn’t tell since it seems like I always had something to say–and more believably, had something made out of whatever was of interest to me. There were a lot of similar people in practice that I found like this over the internet, but fewer so in-person. It was strange, because I couldn’t discuss popular culture (and even intentionally made Twitter accounts to scroll through generic @Dory accounts to know what jokes were trending) but was edified in ways of making. I talked to people less and focused more on screens, because it remembered the things about me and never chastised my failures by taking something away, depriving me of my chance to refashion something. Awkward, sensitive, and painfully introverted, I was simply focused on creating. I didn’t know it, but I was stirring things that would late come back to serve me, something I couldn’t articulate then. Because I’m an imperfect kid, whatever rebellious popular media existed in America was directly imported to the Philippines and I loved all of it. Cliche mall radio emo music, the extensive global plots on Neopets, every variant of Battle Royale ripoff (this mostly means Dangan Ronpa). I was lucky enough to skip the entire John Green, YA fiction, JK Rowling frenzy and instead had a healthy elitism about the Lord of the Rings––the only actual fantasy book series I had ever consumed as a child. My friends and I always met up in the cafe of one of three bookstore chains that existed in the nation, and as they would go up and recommend the Diary of an Oxygen Thief to one another I would tap through the shelves til I could find a book free of plastic, and open it to see if it contained any maps. When they asked me what I was reading, I shrugged and always replied nothing, I don’t really read.
An easy and cheap way of experiencing alternative realities without imagining them on your own is getting into the art of fandom. Structural foundation properly set, power balances and narratives generally more comprehensible than what I could conjure, and a healthy base of insufferable people to talk about it with if you knew where to look. You didn’t really have to think at the same scale unlike when constructing something on your own; an imperfect world existed that you could tread in. For once I found myself in a familiar place, like when I stared into the television as a kid, mildly altering the plotlines of corporate success childrens’ show reruns that could be looped without question. For me, a cheap way of finding a world worth immersing oneself in.
Like many other troubled preteens with uninhibited access to the internet, I exploited Tumblr and fansite webrings to substitute for the mental complexities of developing an internal world. I wrote careful analyses of the dialogue lines from a visual novel that then had been translated to English on three separate links in the known internet, painfully did comedic roleplays over ancient online variants of Mafia, and made graphics until I was a niche microcelebrity in this sphere. My absolute favorite thing was the generation of content. It made me feel incredibly useful. I put together simple resource posts editing out the pixel heads of video game characters next to Windows cursors and added code snippets so people could implement them on their blogs, cropped a collection of 500 icons of this one character that I still get download requests for until this day (sadly lost), and made textures out of other peoples’ textures that no one but my friends would use. I liked being able to make things constructed out of the imagined needs of others. I put texture resource packs on DeviantArt, cropped the PNGs, made website templates, and told my friends that I was helping other people fashion together new worlds. This was worthy enough replacement from working on what was festering inside of me; I was doing a form of service now.
From ages 8 onwards, I made a series of websites where I would publish writing, graphic design, graphic design resources, and my flash games that were too terrible to make it through Newgrounds screenings. (Newgrounds, a site for usermade flashgames, popularly school shooting simulators and stick figure battles, screens new content through a peer voting system. Material is immediately deleted or ‘BLAMMED’ if people think it’s too shit to exist, and I think I made about ten things that never saw the light of day. Today I read that material is deleted if they have more than 50 1.0 votes, but I want to believe that my dress-up games weren’t bad enough to get the scorn of 50 and that the system was different long ago.) There was this weird dynamic that existed: most things I made were not very useful, were more focused on generating a consistent stream of output than meaning, and there was a tight social sphere I was bound to. Other preteens and young adults with the same demure desires to produce one-off things that would only ever serve ourselves and each other.
First tied by mutual interests and discovered through seas of link clicking, you would leave a chat message on a dwindling cbox to say hello, investigate one’s activity and their affiliate requirements, and send an email to see if someone was interested in the content you produced. With crude contracts were wholesome internet relationships bound on the principles of reciprocity: making things for each other. One material from the webring would be the basis of a series of 100×100 Photoshop icons from the other; there were no usage statistics, but we could see that when one created, it spurred movement from the rest of friends. It was the unspoken core of the exchange. Beyond shared love for the fourth generation of Pokemon games, one person makes, and the others challenge themselves to make with it, too. It was a series of acts for one another.
At thirteen, I had successfully started a tiny cult of web designers in my Catholic school. Finding delight in the prospect of being useful, I introduced this world of making to my friends in real life. By then, I had been making websites on and off for a few years and had a grasp of how I could also teach others to make them. There were even tutorials I had written that I proudly passed onto them, rehashed with the best intentions from the dozen of other source codes and websites that I myself had perused, proud at how I had now become instructor. There was this conscious coordination to help one another improve, even if it only existed in this minor subrealm of the internet. My friends joined in as the ones who introduced me to the games and shows I liked then, liked it when we could make new things together, and mostly, because they loved me and wanted to be around me. We had gravitated to one another with our own sour stories, forming the spaces for like-minded outcasts not so different from when I placed paper into grids atop classroom desks.
This kind of gathering took place again and again. My laptop’s lifespan was always cut short as I ran the Minecraft server and the twelve LogMeIn Hamachi instances needed to support a rotation of friends from school and all their friends of friends that followed; there was a period of time where I had somehow risen up the ranks of a Roblox military group and awkwardly listened in on Skype calls with the American teenagers who ran it 12 hours behind me; for a good chunk of middle school and high school, I played League of Legends with the same group of friends and knew so much about these peripheral parts of their lives but never really them; my hands ran through a journal that a dozen others have touched, the worst illustrator in my friend group instead writing love letters in black glitter pen in a journal that I would then pass back. One of the first Minecraft towns I had ‘founded’ was named Riverside, and we rebuilt it nearly every single time we played the game for the next decade.
Around this time, my fights with my parents became more and more frequent, where I saw myself as immensely stubborn and firm in what I desired, and them likely seeing me as crazy and ungrateful. Something was very different about me. The few minutes of facetime we would get were bottled with tension; I was simultaneously quiet but confrontational, academically excellent but rude, too busy and dismissive. I don’t think they were too wrong in their assessment. I had forgotten what most of these fights were about. I was valedictorian or a few steps behind each year and never smiled when they walked up with me on stage to receive medals. The only time we ate together was dining in the living room-dining room-office room hybrid after Sunday mass. There were never conversations about how our days went, what we were thinking about, who our friends were, or even what we wanted to do for college or where we would go. One day, I realized that I had truly became exhausted in some form like them––staying at school until 9PM nearly every day to work on clubs, eating a single meal a day, filling every second I could working. We became strangers living under the same roof. My mom would call me a monster, so I turned it into a beautiful word in my head and made all the monsters in my worlds misunderstood, redeemable beings. (Years later I revisited this, everyone is redeemable.)
As this went on, I continued to think of myself as a very solitary person, completely different from the beckoning child who would once unfold stories in the middle of crowded restaurants and rowdy tables. Physically, all of these new engagements were performed in front of my computer––and therefore were not truly ‘real’. At my house, I didn’t talk much to family members and focused on school, and on the weekends this play. (I was banned from using the laptop for ‘fun’ on weekdays.) I learned to type ridiculously fast (120WPM at thirteen, and now can consistently do 170 if the words are given to me) because I was scolded whenever there were noises heard from my room, and never spoke on voice calls until I entered college on the other side of the world.
My eloquence came in the form of the computer, which I believed was the only vessel that I could keep what I loved in. Nothing I made on it could be destroyed or taken away, except by me. I no longer came home, my head pounding and heart palpitating, in search for scraps that contained the worlds I had missing or gone. Thinking about how I could have things and just not find them often made me feel most insane, and I was already astutely aware of how––if not presented through something packaged and conforming to something on fantasy shelves––the world I had held that was slowly unraveling itself again was something ridiculous. In a body that drew from the digital realm of existence, this was more forgivable. I had been internet native for a long time and understood its code. It was an opportunity for me to think about the ideas and worlds brewing my head, but this time I could translate it into something that still existed beyond it, making it real in some form. Processing concepts and events became far easier. This was important for me. Interestingly, reconciling an area where I could safely investigate and create something completely meaningless to everyone but me helped me become a lot more healthily skeptical about the world. My household, the hypocrisy of my religion and my school, the government.
In the sixth grade, we had a creative writing assignment where we were to pass in 5–7 pages on anything we wanted, given that some form of the plot mountain was in action. I wrote a short story that I had then unconsciously plagiarized from my younger self: one of the same narratives I wrote on one of my old notebooks, drawn from the world in my head. There was something about a sea, a twin, church, and morality. It was 37 pages long and opened with a map I drew on GIMP.
Slowly but surely, the imagined world was resurfacing. It had always been brewing, a careful presence that would mature with me, expanding and dynamic, whether I thought about it or not. What was most valuable, and what I like to believe he saw in me, was the healthy distinction between fantasy and reality. Specifically, the perceptiveness developed when one realizes what bounds the current world holds: its limitations, injustices, and crudeness. How could we imagine our present world to be more beautiful, healthier? After I dreamt of him as a butterfly, I decided that if there was ever a form that people take after death and some place they go, he must be in a world not unlike ours––he must be in the body of a small, beautiful thing, of which there are infinitely many. Another important distinction was how even the most derivative of worlds helped me question the foundations of our own. Growing up atypically (to put it lightly), I found myself constantly having to challenge things that were ingrained in me as ‘normal’. For instance, it was not normal to not be able to talk to your closest family members about how your day went and for them to not know anything about your life but grades, and the Philippines was in the precursory period of a cruel, authoritative government.
I used to love loading long /r/AskReddit threads before the daily two-hour ride to school. The usual and repetitive topics about biggest regrets, relationships, and strange hypotheticals were most fascinating to me. I never interacted with anything since most of my facetime with the app was offline, but one day a thread popped up that I had saved to get back to on my computer.
OP, 10 years ago: I talk to myself in my head. Have my own world. 23 years of it. I can’t not do it . Am I mentally Ill?
Me, 10 years ago: I’m not sure if it means you’re mentally ill, but you are certainly not alone.
I have a universe of my own. Characters, history, economies, magic stuff, lands, maps, legends, ruined and fallen kingdoms, and lots of other things I can think about. :/
I don’t really think about it too much, but I’ve had this wonderful universe for years, and lots of things have been thought of, drawn, dreamt, imagined about this world.
I really want to write a book about this someday, because I really want to write down countless stories I have about this universe.
OP, write it down, like others are suggesting. 🙂 You are very creative and I’m sure we’d like to see what you would write.
Edit: Added some stuff to become actually relevant.
In my junior year of high school, I started an illegal club and used these (invented) privileges to sneak into the computer lab in the basement every break (I would never really eat), regardless of whether there were people there or not. If a random teacher walked in, I would tell them that I was leading a club and working on something for it. The latter statement was more true than the former. Friends always showed up. If not for the whole time, they’d come around at the end and walk back up to the classroom with me. I would always be making something on the computer if not scrolling through AlienBlue on my iPhone 4.
The initial idea was to have a group of people who could make games together. Our logo was a classic joypad whose base I ripped off from Google Images. There were about 30 people who showed up to our meetings after school, and a more tight-knit group of about a dozen who would do the weird stuff for it for me. (This included shooting a promotional video for the club, full acting and all, to Naruto Shippuden’s 16th opening.) At this point, I had become obsessed with the realms that play unlocked for me as all my main influences and media were the classic sandbox and narrative games; I had a slight personality complex because I enjoyed Papers, Please and the Stanley Parable––but my computer wasn’t good enough to play multiplayer on Portal 2, so I just watched videos on that. I didn’t realize it then, but this convening to make games where people could gather again, or at the very least tell and exchange stories made life a lot more palatable, and was something that I had always been doing.
On a blog post I wrote sometime towards the end of high school, a prompt asked “what’s your biggest high school accomplishment?”
i do an insane amount of things with the people i love and because i love them. i love every single activity i do. every single one.
When I ended up in college across the other side of the world, I knew little about the implications it would have on my entire life’s trajectory. We idealized the prospect of me now rearing out the American dream. My mother often told me that her biggest regret was not giving birth to us in America for citizenship, a tactic her siblings employed for their kids to give them this gift by birthright. I had a need-based scholarship and an entire household to somehow bring.
Like many who go through drastic cultural and life changes, I was ill-prepared for the plastic, transactional nature that seemed to dominate western conversation. There was a different warmth and familiarity back in Manila, even if I spent most of high school feeling secluded and turning feelings into websites, art, and poetry. I think it was because it was innately easy to gather lost people with the same curiosities about the places ahead of them, urban nightmare and Catholic trauma as an additional adhesive agent helpful as well. So even if I felt alone in my assessment of it at times I was inarguably surrounded by people, making things with them, perhaps even touching them––if I really wanted to believe in myself.
At Yale, there was a distinctive line between work and play, a boundary that I had been gracefully blessed to not worry about since I happened to love what would end up as my field of work. People held different personas, or sometimes their work/academic self which seemed like a front really was their entire self. I joined every CS club, getting into the ones mildly ‘competitive’ by application, and quit nearly all of them because people were dreadful and I was easily bored. There was an abundance of 18-year-olds who liked to get drunk in a way that showed that it was really their first time ever getting drunk, and a smaller group who smoked––mostly because other people smoked (a rare concept to me, because why would you do so socially instead of because you want to genuinely do it?). It felt like it was supposedly more embarrassing to light something alone, so I stopped stubbing it off in front of other people when I walked back home at night. I stopped attending class and still got pretty good grades, opting instead to spend most days in my dorm making things, often for my home. I was a new kind of resentful now––or perhaps dispirited is a better word––with a more carefully-designed sense of conscientiousness in a space that was a lot more binary than I had imagined.
There was a clear formula for success in tech, at least that’s how I understood it. It felt weird discovering this on my own, learning a language revealed to me by Medium, Twitter threads, and careful stalking––but it wasn’t too different of an experience from figuring out the entire US college application experience from Reddit in a repressive Catholic school that never really sent one abroad. To my understanding, you could get lucky and get a freshman-level internship and continuously make return offers at tech companies, or wait until junior year to get something decent. There was the additional safety net of being at an Ivy League that cancelled out my constant anxieties from being an international student. I became increasingly jaded and familiar with what worked or not, a relationship that was often at odds with how I had long presented myself online, true to who I was and what I liked doing: dumps of the little things I make, projects removed from the western context, making things for the fun of it, or for the purpose of serving others. Everything I enjoyed doing I found hard to explain; partly because it wasn’t what was traditionally incorporated into the tech pathway resume, part of what others did, and mostly because I never had the opportunity to be able to learn how to talk about what I liked in-person to new people.
During the summer before my senior year, I was working a dream job at a dream company remotely from Seattle. My friend worked at Amazon and frequently was out, and we shared an apartment that was too expensive and also too nice, and I seared my body in a heatwave that felt so close to home. A year before, I was homeless until I had been able to beg my school, through a series of pained emails, to let me stay in the dorms. Life was objectively a lot better, but I never felt so insipid, ugly, and meaningless. Most nights, I would sit on the balcony inebriated, and write. The apartment overlooked the parking lot of a Safeway, highways, mountains. Some nights I was so desperate to feel something that I climbed up onto the chair, then the ledge, letting the air hit me, wondering if anyone could see me. A few months later, I received and accepted a job offer at another dream company. It seems like I had everything, climbed the ladder, and then I felt this incapacitating numbness.
Something scribbled in my notes from recent: I want to be surrounded by people who make things. This was easier to achieve on the internet, where sharing ideas and projects in auspicious corners of game development forums and Twitter that offered me refuge from the weird performance that would occur when passing by people in classes. In my head, this was weird and things were supposed to work out the opposite way: people on the internet were warning of the fragmented personas this new age has wrought. No, the issue wasn’t just that existing online was merely one part of a multidimensional self, it wasn’t a reflection of it at all. People were cherrypicking, compulsive liars, desperate for validation in numbers. I thought there was something broken with me because I was more faithful to my thoughts on the web, and I started searching for this fraudulent part of me.
Astonishment used to fuel me, desire as well. I’d most strongly attribute it to people. I was making things for a country that I could not physically feel, and desperately needed to be inspired by another person’s voice. The internet was nice, but when I went out and learned that the buildings with acid poured on them to make them look centuries older than they actually were, I wondered how alike the people around me were to the white lies dispersed on my campus. I even dared myself to take a chance at the one trick that had always worked for me: I would invent the very spaces where people could gather. But nothing would click. The design club I put together because there was nothing else mostly attracted attention when we talked about how to get jobs. I was terrible at replying to people and easily bored, probably one of the most uninviting, weird people that made it. Sometimes I even scathed when looking at certain groups, the kinds of kids who were far more privileged and with decades of advantage on me on the etiquette and norms of the Valley that I had to teach myself (and still am teaching myself), when they would ask me questions about internships. The only classes I would go to were my art classes, where for five hours a week I would struggle to stay awake, absorbing more of the means in which these people were talked rather than the substance of their arguments. That is, the part of art school teaching you not how to critique, but how you should sound when critiquing. Sometimes I put my heart into things and then would hear others laugh at how everything they’ve brought in was some loose assemblage that they bullshitted the explanation for. Another branch of learning: how to become like them, how to be palatable in your language, how to invent a new way of speaking for yourself to fit into another world. I knew then what the bulk of this education was going to look like.
Going to the place where grief made the most sense meant that I had to lay down my tools. Total surrender. Something inside of me knew that this was going against everything I ever knew––but I needed for a moment to believe that I was a thing separate from what I always tried to shape, that I understood what was making me was distinct from me.
This was the worst thing to feel and realize in my senior year. I have a wonderful job doing something I genuinely love lined up in San Francisco, but I had nearly a whole year away before I could get out of this place.
I had this distressing fear that I had not lived a life, as if I had made a wrong step somewhere, and that I was not supposed to be this disillusioned. I had a non-existent support system that was fragmented between friends back home in the Philippines who in my head, seemed irritated at every single thing I would share and never reached out first. I had virtually no friends at Yale because I spent most of my time working on things for a Philippines that was forgetting me no matter how hard I tried to still serve it. I hadn’t felt a touch out of care in years. The pandemic depriving me of essentially half of a normal college experience also intensified these feelings of isolation and longing. Oftentimes and still, I imagined what it would be like to had stayed in the motherland, living with all of my friends on the simple path that had been dictated from birth––and now I was so stressed that I hadn’t gotten my period in nearly two years. A decade of immense working propelled this deep dissatisfaction at my potential, myself, how there was no longer anything tethering me. Much of this longing centered around a place that never truly existed: I was serving, but not really fulfilling any role, and there was no grand bildungsroman to come––I likely would have found a way to be as sad as I am now. I began withdrawing from everyone and everything. I quit my jobs because I had thought that more time for myself could mean that I would fix this, fall in love, but also because I stopped being capable of performing. I went on dates and then became afraid of being touched because I genuinely couldn’t feel my body or tell what was coming out of my mouth. Something was amiss in my head. I thought I needed somebody to put into it the thought that I was loved, or at least an object capable of being loved. Days were blurring into one another.
im making things and i know who i want to see them. mostly they are for myself
It’s easy to treat your body of work like an organism. You can start with this: something is living if it can die. These worlds that were once made for the people I love were teeming with life, even if they were only temporary. It must have been the natural order of things for the seeds I sprouted to exist forever, moreso with the distance I continue to create between myself and everything I make and care about. I thought that if somehow, I could hold the hundreds of hours that have been shared with me again, then maybe I could get out of this headspace––and then I remembered that I am stubborn and have long been a believer in things that could only be imagined. One of my most successful friends on paper has raised millions of dollars and frequently tells me to turn the community I made into something profitable (I still run the work I started in my high school’s basement to this day). Every year I continue to lose money on it.
This wasn’t the solve. When I felt most loved, it wasn’t because of words or numbers. There was an exchange, a facilitated agreement, a knowing that one moving hand takes another and shapes something never seen before––this is the thing I longed for. Part of me thinks it’s the physical distance that makes it less fulfilling, and part of me knows that it’s my head distorting everything. I keep thinking about the rooms I found myself in. I held an eight-hour-long anime movie screening in a friends’ basement and 60 people showed up, the computer lab I stayed in for breaks where I built things and then ended them, when I put together thousands of words about the thoughts in my head in an hour because someone I loved was on the other side, unspoken artistic exchange with friends, the scene in my grandfathers’ home. Perhaps my experience now has been closely mirroring what life for me was like in my childhood bedroom: in front of a screen, machinic, unabated in focus unto one thing after another because I couldn’t think of any other way to live. Someone could tell me I mattered and the insidious part of my soul spun all the times it felt like I was purposeless––a pain when creation is your love language, and all you know about desire come from the things you’ve shaped yourself.
The problem with being a creator is that you most value your own opinions on what you tend. Meaning, there was nothing that could save me this time but myself.
I started feeling like being with someone could solve the unexplainable tightness in my head, and of course the very clear loneliness. Utilitarian and selfish in objective. Something about desiring to be witnessed, seen, even if I hadn’t really made anything. Pay heed to how this plan neglects the fact that I made a terrible job nourishing any form of connection with other human beings in college, and how I was neglecting myself and letting all this anxiety rot within whatever was left of me. Terrible plan aside, I don’t think it would have hurt for someone to know me, or be witness to me. I candidly believe that I’m not a good person, but I don’t believe that I am someone atrocious enough to be around, for the most part.
I hadn’t thought about it much since it ended, but I started thinking about my first relationship. It lasted a while––I wish I remembered how many months exactly, or even remember the dates it started or ended. Sometime in the middle of high school, it must’ve been part of my life for at least two years, or almost that. We never publicly did anything romantic outside of school, we probably went out three times at most. But we made so many things. The best thing I remember was the parts where we were making things together. There was a videogame we were making together and a game development journal still up for it somewhere on Tumblr with gifs of the characters we have made and previews of the 4-color tilesets we conceptualized. We jointly did commissions on a random Neopets ripoff site we were fixated on for a bit: he was in charge of music with a modest, lush Soundcloud collection and listened to a lot of C418, and I would make websites, graphic design bits, and rudimentary design systems. His guitar is still in my bedroom.
One night we gave ourselves an hour or so to make a little interactive fiction piece, swapping it afterwards to play so we could “better understand one another.” I wrote this hypothetical story about the aftermath of a suicide, incredibly painful to read (in the cringey way, and because it was clearly drawing from my own feelings). There was always this lingering sadness inside of me that I was obsessed with learning how to describe, articulate, feel out, and maybe push it away someday. I surrounded myself with people who also felt this way, and thought that this must be the normal state of human beings. Everyone must be obsessed with what might happen when they die, the grand and sometimes vengeful recollection of their being.
Then, I learned how to bottle a lot of grief, but wasn’t sure why it was working so well or why I had been successful for so long. I wrote verbose handwritten letters and poems, and made art that copied landscapes from Ghibli films and then secretly the ones held in my head and showed it to him. He was witty, selfless, introverted, and quiet; many times we mirrored the best parts of each other until we started turning into each other into worse people. We had formed this strange language as lost, forgotten kids with only art and each other to turn to. Many things I’ve made only he has ever seen.
Unbeknownst to me, it was one of many times I learned that creation can also take form between two people: a new language, shared understanding, a builder lending their tools to another springing something that could have never existed with just one part, the sprouting of something completely new––foreign to everyone but you two. This far less lonely form of making, still true to its principles, so mundane and straightforward in concept. It was violently inspiring: to live aware of the throes and certain heedlessness the universe held, and to actively create another world within it in which we knew we cared and were cared for without needing words.
Celebrating people for their stay is a holy act.
For Thanksgiving break, I vowed to wake myself up from my stupor. On the first three days, I moved myself to make with my hands, and made two things about how sad I was and another about how I might be slightly interesting if you cared about any of the boring media I spent the past few years consuming. The issue is that without further context, listing a Sion Sono film as one of your favorites just makes you seem like an insufferable asshole. “Filipino living is Filipino suffering,” one piece of commentary I wrote on Norte, Hangganan ng Kasaysayan reads. Like many other family dramas from our country, it is so ordinary in its brutish injustice towards the common familyman. I laugh at how ridiculous and painful and true it all is: every success story we exchange tells of some distance, erasure, pain, sacrifice. It must have been embedded in us the moment people sailed over with weapons to have us begin believing in a man crucified, or a dictator who promised to cure us of our suffering with more suffering. The Catholic belief that pain refutes another pain, that love must take the form of destruction. I printed my heartache and then folded it up.
My sister stayed with me at my apartment in New Haven for the remainder of the week. It was her first year in college, joining me in America, too. I cooked meals for two for the first time and we talked about art atop the implicit weight of generations of sacrifice that had led us to be spending a holiday we neither celebrate in a studio apartment alone, together. Suddenly I was saving the best pieces for her, feeling an unmistakable tenderness in my chest afternoon and night, asking her what she hasn’t tasted in a long while. We sat down on my floor with plates full (I have no dining table), she pours milk, and I ask her how the semester has been so far.
When she readies to leave back to her campus two hours away from mine, I ask her how her head is feeling and tell her about mine. I feel like what has been inside me for a long time isn’t normal; she has all the context necessary to understand it––our parents, young and foolish, doctors who don’t really believe in anything that concerns the head unless it is bleeding, but her familiarity with me creates distance between us. Back then, I must have self-diagnosed as some form of dysthymia in the dangerous Tumblr-era. Meaning, “my head is fucked up, but not that fucked up.” In truth, I left out all the convenient bits about the past semester from her: self-destructive behavior now that I had been fully aware of my agency, now that I wanted to abandon my body, now that I wanted to abandon everything. High-functioning is the next word I find on my tongue after it took all in me to wrestle the confession out; this is how everyone has always perceived me. Stubborn, diligent, unrelenting in what I do with my hands even if my body can’t keep up. There’s a part of me that knows that she resents me because I go to Yale, which now casts a shadow that she’ll continuously have to stand under. I have always been making worlds, tucking them cleanly into the ones we live in.
Before we walk to the car, I show her my thesis hanging up in the art gallery. I am almost graduating. I gave her a copy of the zine I made from the start of the week. I was still bottling my grief in creation, but this time it was difficult to hold it in. The dead thing was inside of me.
if i make things for myself, will i still be loved? so much of my journey has been unlearning the misguided notion that what we produce alone can save people but i feel like i need to save myself… p. 16
I wandered into the graveyard on Grove Street at 5AM. It is a straight walk from my apartment door, almost cunningly malicious in how it beckoned out to me. An 18 acre cemetery in the middle of campus that I had never stepped into until my final year at Yale––there was a need for me to be there. Before the sun had risen, I traced the grave markers and ignored the sharpness in my chest. I wrote myself a note.
i was put in this life to create. i was put in this life to magnify what others create around me. what they think. what they shape. what they craft. what they believe in. not to be created for or with necessarily, or represent some new movement. (and how stupid is it to think that every life has the same pull of every other.) the act of human creation necessitates a deeper longing for what our world could be, and the deepest understanding of what it currently is.
i need to lean into this which brings me joy / meaning / which i am actually good at. if i could find traces of my influence on others for the next decades to come then i would have done my job — an invisible hand that has built up some foundation for others to express themselves, their love for one another and this world, and what they resent and long to change most. i want to live through every tiny beam of creation that comes. and my being part of the way people love and have that love come visible (which feels like our eternal challenge…) is all i want.
if i build the tools in which we may love, then i shape how we love too. if i can do this for one person then i would have done it all
Are.na Founder Charles Broskoski had this particular realization about toolsmaking and the arts that spoke to me:
Before when I was working on my solo show, I was thinking about what it means to be generous as an artist. At the time, I thought it was about being really personal or really open. Like to the point of being diaristic, or sharing images of me and my family.
Towards the end of making that show, I decided, “No, it’s actually about tools. It’s actually removing myself entirely and making things for other people to do stuff.” I decided making tools is the nicest thing you can do as an artist. So Are.na still feels like a natural extension of where I was going as an artist.
I felt that I was in an opposing situation. When thinking about it, or trying to talk to the few friends that asked me how I’ve been, or coming into my only extracurricular group for the semester –– I realized that I had no idea how to talk about my day. To present myself or be me. To tell people about how I was existing, unless it took shape in a form of service or offering that I could provide them; so much of my life had been spent figuring out how to gratify people to justify my own existence that I began losing sight of my own identity and form. Depressing, but also dangerous––to service people when you don’t know what your true intentions are except to ‘do good’––vacuous, ambiguous. Generosity in this sense was killing me. I had forgotten how to build my internal self, foundations that I could hold onto.
I organize things very simply. On my desktop, Drive, whatever, there is a folder named ‘for you’ and next to it one named ‘for me’. Everything is subdivided between these two. My art, writing, and to some extent, the things I consume for pleasure, are all arranged this way. (I finish what’s difficult for me to get through if it’s fundamental to a friend.)
Over the break, I looked at everything I’ve assembled over the past decade and rearranged my files. Nearly everything in ‘For me’ was moved to the appropriate folder next to it, a long-gone blip in my head about servitude, and a somber recognition of how little I make things for myself today, and how it was all I died when I was starting out as a child. I continued to look through everything. The thoughts I had when I was 16 that were misguided but also not wrong in their identification of my core fears (the moment when my hands alone would no longer be able to sanctify me); the way my ‘gifts’ were collections of curated trinkets and objects and pieces of media with notes attached to them, until I realized the people I was surrounding myself then were the type to not really give gifts or say anything about them; the way I could no longer recall any truly happy moments I had growing up beyond the ones shared with my grandfather; a redesign for a Yale group who briefly mentioned that the currently malfunctioning page they were working on was commissioned for a few thousand dollars and then offered me nothing; bits of music, projects, and stories I would start with my friends that would all live and end with me; hundreds of images and notes from when I would lose sleep to teach to a handful of people, and then talk to thousands, and then feeling nothing afterwards.
I’m handpicking the worst of it. Callously browsing, intent on hurting myself by interpreting things in the worst of ways. This succeeded in making me feel gravely alone in my futile attempts at production for the past decade. I still believed that somehow, it could save me and make me feel a little less lonely. My primary objectives with creation were still true to myself. I was inventing things because I loved it, for the people I loved; but all these things were constantly dying. With the worst and darkest of my head, alone over the holidays, I began attempting to grasp the incalculable impossibility of my own necessity. How meaningful is one human, really?
I found myself pathetic and little and unable to even cry. It felt so desolate, more painful than being tender and exhumed of tears. It felt like nothing and all the things that come after death. I was already dead.
If all I am is a person who makes, what good is it when I’ve been tending a world that nobody would like to go to?
Everyone knows that I haven’t believed in god in a long time. It’s one of the many unspoken tensions I have with my family, amidst many others. I was one of the earliest to stop believing. Back in middle school, while we were watching a production of the Little Shop of Horrors, I leaned over to my friend and asked––”Wait, do you really believe in all of this stuff?” as I pointed to the statue of the Cross in the corner and on the ceiling, looming over a growing backdrop of frenzied plants. “No right?”
I first came to this understanding when assessing (very lately) that it was physically impossible for all of the animals to fit on the Ark, and that someone who claimed to love a world so much would not constantly threaten death and famine if the things they’ve made with their own hands did not believe in them. Religion became an object of fascination for me; every story of god so wicked, how he cut the lifespans of humanity, punished Jesus continuously, how we drink a symbolic blood. How, whenever hands were raised against me, I was told that He would forget me and that I would be doomed to hell. ‘God-fearing’ was a word that meant less about reverence and obedience, but a genuine source of detachment and endless agitation. Parables were always fascinating to me, and I always knew them to be more metaphorical even if our dated school still was earnest in its literal take, refusing to hear anything less. We once had a teacher who made us pile together chairs in a row, telling us to imagine it as a sea of flames that we would have to jump over.
After Christmas day, I wondered if the broken thing inside of me was caused because I never believed. Or stopped believing. God too, was a creator, even if he was a violent one. I understood the appeal of the narrative because I once prayed every night, believing that saying these words over and over would save my soul––until I learned how others who weren’t ever exposed to the religion were to be condemned to the same punitive hellfire that I would be sent to if I wasn’t obedient enough––because they were never cleansed of sin. Because humans to Him are evil things by nature. I thought I was evil and so I went to mass at St. Mary’s on Hillhouse, one of the most beautiful avenues I have ever walked. The first time I have attended it in years, and the first time I ever attended by choice. A family ahead opened the door for me, I genuflected and sat at the back, and I found myself familiar with all the words. In my last two years of high school, I had stopped getting up to receive Communion and spent our religious retreats sleeping at the back of the chapel. This time, however, I took in the consecrated bread. I knelt after Communion. I texted my parents and told them the most unbelievable thing I just did.
There must have been a glimmering spark of love in this idea of god. As long as there existed some path to redemption, no matter how lopsided and prejudiced, there was a way back into His heart. He must have created the world out of love, even if He has largely left it, and all under must be desperate for this kind of love.
Maybe belief is a benign thing and that is in human nature to will a place for ourselves. Catholics imagine salvation and by participation, attach a reward system for their goodness, and become good people by practice. I think everyone at the funeral knew that the man was going to heaven if there was one, and for those who had difficulty finding a world or place to believe in, the ritualistic incantations and tender crossing of hands was the god that they were looking for. Every religion, every belief system is about putting people and things towards a place. That must be it. That must be why people pray, and why people will continue to pray even if they say they’ve left religions, even if they’re not born into it, why conversion and convents and the most beautiful pieces of artistry come from it. Why children are baptized, why forced indoctrination must come from some core, well-intentioned heart of all with the savior complex. Human faith, perhaps even optimism, and its ability to create a reality and thus will it into existence.
Yes, actually. Being with someone could solve all of this. I need the presence of people, I need communal making, I need to find a place where I can scream at the forgotten places of this world and breathe new life to them. Without it, I might as well just be this anhedonic machine. There is a need for me to listen to the needs I myself bear here before the healing can come. More poignantly, Nelson Goodman says “worldmaking as we know it always starts from worlds already on hand; the making is a remaking.”
I’ve figured out that I have to better understand people who compartmentalize themselves and slip in between different realities. Similar, but different to me.
A decade or so of self-commodification. Wishing to be useful, desired. Needing to be needed. The plainness of understanding that the daily treatment of myself, the shoving of worlds, the diminishing of my own beliefs––has made it so that any grand gesture or thing that I make can no longer save me. How many parts of myself have I buried? Beautiful, true things can come out of a mouth, and we can still believe the speaker to be insane.
Paracosms are invented for children to orient themselves in reality, according to child developmental psychologist Marjorie Taylor. Unfortunately for me, the same paragraph describes that this behavior is mostly present in under-sevens. However luckily, the emergence of virtual worlds and the metaverse has brought a new resurgence of interest in lore, worlding, and other things that previously only sci-fi fans, D&D players, and Five Nights at Freddy lore enthusiasts had indulged in (with much scrutiny).
I’ve been trying to understand why my favorite things in it have always been the fake ecosystems, maps, and encyclopedias detailing the weather, health conditions, and timelines of world history than the presumed central point of invention––telling a story. I didn’t have anything particularly interesting to draw from in my life (I didn’t even have a self-insert!), considered myself a very boring and sheltered person, and instead liked to look up one thing and another then make building blocks for someone who could be a better writer. I think framing again: unlike popular use, this was never a place that couldn’t offer me connection or soothe how remote I felt from others; I didn’t make up people to talk to, have characters that were substitutes or even reflections from the people in my reality. it was always a tool, a vehicle, in which to understand the world. So much of my life has been on inventing new spaces for my friends to congregate around under the needs of theirs that I’ve understood, or on bloodying a part of my own sanity to serve a disconnected audience. What if I had spent time creating a space for myself, for once? What if I let myself sink into something?
The most beautiful thing anyone has ever done for me was actualizing a part of my imagined world. It was a way to say that even what I had dreamed about and desired was not only valid, but meaningful enough to bring into existence. The accumulation of all my internal cognitions and interest was a thing that should have a body, a form. Or: What I believed in, they believed in, and it was worth making tangible so others could believe, too.
I often forget that the world is something we can make just as easily as we live in it.
When I put this newfound awareness together with my need for community, I slowly started to recognize what truly made me happy. Interdependency, two or more people or things connected to one another, a better world when people are unafraid to say “I love you––you have made a part of me.” Laying the brickwork and foundations for something greater; unspoken compassion when we bring something out into this world, the oftentimes rebellious optimism it takes when rejecting all the disbelief; how immensely lucky I am to have a passion that is also my career, and the challenge of next grappling with it as it exists between expression and service; defining how I’ve lived for the sake of my dwindling memory, and also because I genuinely believe it to be testament to how the most unexpected digital spaces can be a haven for poetics and intimacy. In people and in the things I adore, I see myself, even if it is only there briefly. The artifacts I create are ephemeral, be it paper, pixels, or pushed lines of code. The way one person’s life springs a million amount of new permutations and possibilities is unfathomable, special, and precious to me; the way one lesson imparts a new lifetime of potential in another. There is a grand cosmic infrastructure in which I, as lonely as I may feel, am undeniably affiliated with. It is only human to long to hear it.
When I excitably showed one of the only people I felt myself around the grand revelation I made at the graveyard, he looked at me, perplexed. “You’ve been saying the same thing forever.”
In the very blog post before this, literally published a day before with my shameless third attempt at a tech fellowship, it asks: “What impact do you have on the world and why?” –– my answers from the past three years incessantly repeat the same thing.
In essence: to create radical, poetic things with and for the communities and people I love.This […] is what I want to dedicate my life to––creating radical things for creators and communities, so they may too, unravel what is radical for them. In short: to create radical things.I like to believe I was born to create and move, as large as that sounds. But especially to create with others, for others.
Same thing, over and over and over.
Something is living if it can die, and I remember the feeling of my own pulse, how desperate I have been to carry things within me and pass them on somehow. I have been afraid to die.
I have made so much of my life because I wanted to see something real. I continue to create because it gave me love, because love is an infinite thing we can choose to give and take, because it is where I can find the room with all of the people I love when we don’t know where to go, because faith in humans has propelled all of history and will shape all of the history we make, because the world needs reinvention that we partake in everyday, because I want to live in a world where my children can imagine too, because my friends and loved ones need a place to go, because it is the language of my love. I breathe slowly and I still am inventing the place where I can exist wholly.
Sometimes it takes the form of an imagined place, an intransigent realm with everything I love and have. Sometimes it’s the shape of Manila, sleeping and fighting and talking in cars and malls. Sometimes it is the things I hold in my hands. Sometimes it is a house where I can barely fit inside.
Searching for tangible, public documents about my grandfather is difficult. It’s funny how robust technology tracks and remembers everyone in the west, and how a man who had lived a life of public service barely is traced by the web. His work, beliefs, and the process in which he loved still shine brightly upon his city and all he cherished, now flung across the globe and cradling new places as home.
While scraping for the ways in which others remembered him, I found one comment left behind.
Sobrang nalungkot po ako nung malaman ko po ang balitang ito… I have met him once with his family… I can say that he is a good man who loves not just his family but all the citymen… With his helping hand ready to help in every possible way.. My heartfelt condolence to his bereaved family.. Pray na lang po tayo for his eternal repose.. I know his happy now kapiling ang Dakilang Lumikha….
( I was so sad when I heard about the news… I have met him once with his family… I can say that he is a good man who loves not just his family but all the citymen… With his helping hand ready to help in every possible way.. My heartfelt condolence to his bereaved family.. Let’s pray for his eternal repose.. I know he is happy now with the Great Creator…)
Blind faith in Western “prestige signals” serves exploiters, not nation-builders.
I write this article not because I want drama and takedowns. I write this in response to the years of witnessing the overglorification of tech saviors bringing their experience from Stanford to the Manila, more often than not inculcating the worst parts of their Paul Graham-infused thought in a colonized nation that needs healing, not speed and recklessness.
Silicon Valley means frontiers and innovation. Google offices on my Facebook feed make Makati towers look like corporate dread; the just as charming and in-reach vision of Richard Hendricks and friends in an overpriced hotspot in somewhere, Palo Alto is far better than the image of being in your parent’s home until your mid-twenties. Silicon Valley is synonymous with the picturesque image of founders in a garage, turning the banal and suffocating into foundations for the next Big Tech giant. ABC is to FAANG, execution is everything, and it’s a time to build. It is everything that the Philippines is not: all the taciturn bureaucrats turned into angel investors and good company always eager to hear the next thing you build. Charm in the right spots of America mirrors the best of Filipino hospitality.
Garage mythologies are all birthed from some semblance of truth, yet is always delivered with the convenient details grayed out. Google was started in a garage, but by Ph.D. students at Stanford University — yes. Facebook’s origins as Facemash, even if covered on the big screen in The Social Network, are now ignored. Note that this was also a product of friends in a Harvard dorm room, one of the world’s most ‘prestigious’ universities. However, Silicon Valley has also paved the way for immigrant founders who look more like us. The best example is perhaps Dado Banatao, son of a rice farmer and housekeeper that had taken on the opportunity to study at Stanford and literally be a part of the logic and chips that Silicon Valley takes its namesake from –– of course, far removed from much of the software-driven hype that now surrounds Silicon Valley sentiment.
Rags to riches stories are classic Filipino breakfast. We are a nation built on gameshows and televised competitions that double as sympathy contests for tragic backstories. We learn to perform our trauma, centering our identities and worth over it until a better laurel can be claimed. Pacquiao had suffered due to poverty, risen to boxing, and with little credentials, the Senate — now eyeing the presidency. He will always be forgiven because of his story, no matter how much his comments endanger the LGBTQ population or enable a fascist dictator to maintain control over his seat. A line on his Wikipedia page is even dedicated to his own vision of angels and God. This is why it’s understandable that Silicon Valley is a dream to chase. From (almost) nothing come world leaders and visionaries that transform day-to-day life as we know it. Moreover, it’s a palatable, tangible dream that isn’t too removed from our lives today — as it’s no longer a place, but a mindset.
Your next investor is a tweet away. Angkas commutes and marketing have transformed transportation options for the tech-savvy middle-class. The promise of working with high-energy, creative minds beyond a land of outsourcing and the drone of multinational corporate drones is infectious. All of Silicon Valley waits on your computer, presumably.
But it’s not as easy as that. First, you assume that one has the privilege of a functioning laptop, decent wifi in a nation bestowed with one of the world’s worst internet infrastructure, and time at all to immerse yourself in the coded complexities of thinking like the ideal technopreneur. Pandemic aside, most engineers and tech workers have little time for self-growth amidst commutes and workplace chaos that optimizes Filipinos for output and craft over solemnity, space for thought or original movement. Graduates of prestigious universities are given more legroom in the corporate networking game. Balikbayans who huddle back to BGC are given all the benefit of the doubt on their work history — what matters is that they now hold the torch of innovation. They are here to save the Philippines.
I often wonder how much venture capital funding goes to startups founded by Filipinos, of Filipino citizenship and descent.
We have more “quick and easy, get rich”-esque how-tos and guides written for expatriates and white founders seeking to bring out their patriarchal and colonist ideals to the Philippines than we do guides for actual Filipinos. An e27 article points out how most founders get their bachelor’s at local universities before pursuing some form of higher education at Harvard, NYU, the London School of Economics, or even Santa Clara University––where bringing any Western degree (or maybe even a certificate from a one-week Summer conference hosted by the local business club) is virtuous enough and more mighty than the less sexy state school names. Most founders profiled by e27 solving ‘Filipino’ problems tout degrees from abroad. When it comes to the next Ignite or panel discussion, you can expect that they’re introduced by these credentials: ex-Stanford, ex-VC-backed, ex-Silicon Valley––whatever that means. Before solving the issues of the nation, you need the credentials to back it up. In a nation of idolatry and spectacle, this is where degrees (or again, one-week program certifications) come helpful: enter a Harvard conference and drag it over De La Salle University on your LinkedIn’s education section.
One informal stomping ground of the Philippine tech scene is the 38,000 member Startup PH Facebook group. After the launch of Christian San Jose’s UX+ University and Avion School’s 2020 success for software engineers, a new school focused on iOS development popped up. Seemed fine.
Earlier today, I received an email in my inbox from a familiar founder sharing more on what they’re building, and I write this verbatim, “the Apple of EdTech Platforms,” giving me a closer opportunity to understand the up-and-coming platform. They kindly outlined how they were bringing the American dream home, leveraging experience as an ex-Apple (in actuality, Apple’s Developer Academy Program with a curriculum in Swift–not any formal work experience — though they describe it as work experience) and ex-Chief Designer at a “Stanford University-founded startup”. Of the approximately 7,000 undergraduates enrolled at Stanford, I wonder how legitimate this is as a signal of prestige. (I go to Yale, and I can introduce you to several ‘Ivy League-founded startups’ that are shitty Tinder-like clones built off “Create React App” starters that exist solely to help the founders get laid.)
The startup’s domain now leads to a dead link.
Several times in the email did the founder reiterate that the company was ‘American-founded’, because presumably, this is better than being Filipino-founded. From two years of education in an American State School will this twenty-something founder bring to the “3rd world” Philippines world-class Swift education and connections at Apple.
Showcased on Wix is a curriculum that consists of Coding, <em>Design</em>, and <u>Business</u> is a disorderly curricula that isn’t self-assured in labeling potential career paths. For instance, Zero cost launch is listed under “Design”, and “iOS Engineer” is blacked out while nothing in the <u>Business</u> section is. The school charges Php80,000 upfront so you can learn from this founder’s ex-Apple (again, a free Apple Developer Course) background or pay through an income-sharing agreement. It’s as if we haven’t learned that Lambda-likebootcampsarepredatory (three separate tweets for you to digest here)––especially when they assuage the uncertainty in dropping your entire life to learn from non-existent instructors through the lofty promise of Silicon Valley-style practices and employment. (The founder started validating the idea in March, and the bootcamp opens up in June. Who is going to be teaching aside from them?)
Heading to the founder’s Twitter, I’m not sure if this is some sort of sick, twisted joke to see how much marketing speak and bulleted talking points it takes to get buy-in from a group with no idea on what you’re doing. The screenshot above, begging for Php1,000 so that they can use “pre-seed funding from Angel investors on Twitter” on a press release should say it all. (All likes and retweets are from the founder’s own accounts.)
This isn’t meant as a diss to the Apple of EdTech. Do we want the Philippines to be the home of more Elizabeth Holmes-types, literally mimicking the look and language of Jobs and the giants, deepening her voice to velvet falsehoods outfitted in black high-neck sweaters to buy her way into the seats of funds, scamming their way towards a $9 billion dollar valuation? Is this not just the spectacle of politics that local entrepreneurs claim our ecosystem to be distanced from, only outfitted differently? It’s Jordan Peterson instead of Duterte, Paul Graham instead of Miriam Santiago. As it is now, we’re falling into the same traps of our politics. Everything is personality politics once more. No true Filipino ideals will come out of this.
It’s all a weary sigh at how Filipinos feel the need to reach for international titles, often at the expense of actual work done/to show for, and how Western idolatry is opening up avenues of exploitation. Php80,000/$1,600USD, nearly 4–5 months of income for top university graduates in the Philippines is nothing to scoff at — especially when Filipinos scrounge up the money to pay for this in expectation of connections and job opportunities that don’t really exist. If they’re not there for the founder, less so will they be for any students. Borrowed from the “move fast and break things” culture are the press release-first founders building with confidence before thought, never altering the nation’s broken systems, only reinforcing it with white supremacy and pathways that we are far from reclaiming. Silicon Valley celebrates the technical over the social, and when we bring this into a nation that has long been plagued careful political ploys to transfer power to the already-mighty, we fall victim and never see any true form of change or disruption, contrary to the dream that many of us had foresaw.
In title, Silicon Valley means nothing. What we can learn from, however, are the roots in technology research and education that enabled it to foster the richness of mind, creative thought, and ways of collaboration that have transformed the way we look at the field forever. As the Valley disperses into hundreds of hubs worldwide, we look at the way energy is shared, communicated, and most of all — the faith that placed in founders. Once we treat every engineer, technologist, designer, or entrepreneur with the same kindness (or at the very least, a more balanced sense of criticality), we can enable opportunity not only for the expatriate or exploiter carrying fraudulent titles, but for the genuine founder creating for the Philippines he has long witnessed and been a part of.
Full disclosure: Again, I am someone now part of the “American dream” that this founder and many others chase. I go to university in America, and because of it, receive more kindness and good faith than I deserve. Before I even took a leap into the Philippine startup ecosystem in high school, I know that I’ve been making space to help other technologists and designers enter the industry tactfully with ethics and rationality behind the hard skills and craft — and will also continue doing so for the rest of my life. I believe that this kind of thinking is what the Philippines needs. Intentionally ensuring that I absorb as much as what I can of the good, “hard” skills and “soft” skills (debatable, but the latter is far more important in my head) to practices at home, but first trusting myself in founders and students that know the issues that I’ve intentionally chosen to draw myself away from physically. Investment in education instead of blind faith in the saviorism that often permeates founders who have often left America for a reason, causing more harm than good in their rapid pace.
More than just a jab at some kid trying to follow in Austen Allred’s legacy is a larger question about the values and principles we look for in our emerging ecosystem — most of all, how we undervalue and underinvest in local education. Instead of praising extension school graduates or wealthy silver spoon families who can throw thousands of dollars into summer Ivy League Programs, when will we spend time uplifting local founders who have the lived experienced necessary to actually disrupt education? What can international connections bring to our larger society, if not false promise and elitism? Have we studied what bootcamps can look like when connected with local educational institutions and employers instead of entrusting it all into Slack messages exchanged between YC Alumni? When will quick and dirty change actually lead into a systematic upheaval? Will it ever, and has it ever?
The savior of the Philippines will come from the Philippines, and the ‘savior’ not any one person, but result from a participatory revolution that listens to the people before them and now working to better the Philippines in the incremental yet radical ways that have long been enforced. This will not happen when we choose to listen to people who first have to craft persona in the likelihood of Naval or Patrick Collison before we decide that they have ideas worth hearing (often, they don’t). We are already a marginalized and colonized people. Do we want slick and shiny Stanford startups that seem to stand ground more because of the “Stanford” part than the actual issue they’re solving? Must the entrepreneurs tack on useless vocabulary exchanged around Clubhouse to be heard? Will we let Holmes-like founders exploit Filipinos out of hundreds of thousands of pesos, life-changing sums of money in our nation?
Our nation is rife with leaders, educators, thinkers, and students that are far more involved than the girl or boy who has optimized their whole life for the degree. It’s time we carve out space for them.