Character Portraits, Day to Day Poetry, Epiphanies, poetry

Day to Day Poetry #3

Spent the weekend at a cottage down Tobermaury / and hiked for an hour to jump off cliffs down the Bruce Peninsula trail / was reminded of other trails like the one in Varadero / where we crossed paths with snakes, crabs the size of human heads, bats and wild dogs and the one in Quebrada Grande, Costa Rica / where we were strapped to each other by a single rope as we crossed waterfalls and eucalyptus trees so we can make a path in the rainforest / A crazy, beautiful life and yet /

Driving back to the city / and rejoining civilized life / am reminded of the fury / and isolation / in a place full of strangers and nameless friends./ When will I find reciprocation? / (If you stop looking for it) / When will I find adventure in my every day? / (If you continue working towards it) / When will I find peace free of envy and spite? / (If you release your ego and practice kindness despite how you feel)

What’s tricky about this disease / are the things it forces you to remember. / All I remember are the things I’ve lost, taken for granted and can’t have. / I forget the pleasure in the mundane, the rarity of unconditional love and the trill in absolute isolation./ It is a constant battle to remind myself that I have what I have always dreamed of since I was a dreaming child: / a best friend who loves me, the time to write endlessly, and the freedom to choose my own future.

Don’t get lost in materialism and societal expectations. / There is nothing manmade that have made gasp in awe and wonder as much as I do when I am surrounded by nature / Be grateful that love and adventure resides within you, / that you depend on yourself / and that you create worlds and realities within the tip of your fingers / because of your great capacity / to feel and fall in love with everything so deeply. /

Today I am grateful to be me / and if tomorrow I forget / I can go back to today and remind myself / of who I am / and continue to be.




Living in Transitory

lost child by vanamonster

lost child by vanamonster

I came to Canada when I was 14 years old. When I arrived in Toronto, it didn’t register that this would be my permanent home. To me,  it was a long extended vacation that I had to overcome in order to go back home, which was Manila, Philippines.

I always thought that by now I would have adjusted to seeing myself as Canadian. However, as much as I am starting to exhibit Canadian values and traits, it is only now that I’ve grown into adulthood 10 years later that I am starting to realize how incredibly non-Canadian I am, especially when I’m with a group of people who grew up together in Canada, talking about their childhood.

They forget that I didn’t grow up here as well, because from time to time they’d look at me for recognition — “Remember Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood?” No, in fact, I don’t — I didn’t grow up to Mr. Roger’s Neighbourhood. I grew up to BatibotBlue Blink and the Tagalog version of Bananas in Pyjamas (you must empathize me when I discovered that this show wasn’t, in fact, a Filipino original –  it felt very surreal when I discovered that I was merely watching the dubbed version of B1 and B2).

While on our walk yesterday, my boyfriend and I realized that what I thought was a twinkie was in fact, a strawberry flakie. He couldn’t understand how I didn’t know what a twinkie was; it’s apparently a staple treat while growing up. But those weren’t my treats — my treats were dirty meringues and bananas deep-fried and covered in melted sugary goodness.

These yummy meringue kisses are sold as street food in the Philippines.


Banana Cue – the yummy goodness that is future diabetes.

When my boyfriend and I first started going out 8 years ago, he made it his mission to introduce me to everything he enjoyed when he was a kid: from eating Kraft Dinner while in bed to enjoying every South Park episode ever made into existence, along with a Hungryman Dinner. I would try to explain to him the joy of sitting with your maids under mango trees and eating green mangoes with bagoong, while telling ghost stories about the monster capital in the Philippines: Capiz.

I would help him envision living  weekends by the ocean, and how I captured a squid and a starfish and put them in a cooler, hoping to take them home as pets. When I checked in on them later in the evening, I was horrified to see nothing but blackness on what was once clear water — and upon reaching in to pet my creatures, came up with mutilated bits and pieces of starfish instead.

Even talking about our old accidents makes us marvel at the stark differences of our origins. While his scars can be attributed from single accidents in playgrounds, mine varied by intensity and environment: a long and deep cut on the side of my thigh from falling from the top of a natural waterfall, drowning not once in my life, but once every summer, and that time I almost died drowning in miserable, thick goo made of mud, pig food, and pig feces.

While he talked to me about his bullies and the fires they set in the fields of New Brunswick, I’d tell him about the nipa huts I slept in during the times I spent with my aunt in her farm, while the chickens crooned underneath the bamboo floors.

Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 3.15.41 PM

Not the actual nipa hut I spent my summers in, but you get the idea.

He would tell me about the afternoons he spent with his babysitter; I would tell him about the afternoons I visited the slums in Taguig (called the squatter area) to visit relatives, who would pepper me with money and food they didn’t have, and how my mother would reprimand me about accepting these gifts — about how, for the longest time, I assumed everyone was the same, and that money and hierarchy didn’t matter because I saw, first hand, what it was like to be stricken with poverty — and how the lack of money and material things never had any significant effect to the happiness and content they still experienced in their every day.

An aerial view of the slums in Taguig, Metro Manila. Photography by Jason Doiy.

So when I sit with my friends and they talk about how they grew up wanting Swatches, and Tamagochis, I find myself not being able to relate. Because even though as a child, I had wanted the same things, it didn’t decide my childhood, nor mark it.

What I remember from my childhood is the environment, because that is what I cannot recapture: the warm, enveloping sun, the sounds of stray dogs barking, the smell of saltwater wafting in from the ocean, and that feeling of endless sand as soft as flour sifting through your fingers, embracing you deep into its melting arms.

I remember being grateful for the things I had, not constantly pining for the things I didn’t posses. I remember being perfectly happy by myself, because social connections did not define who I was. I remember having a sense of completion and progress, and having that knowledge nestled deep within me, because I didn’t feel the pressure of societal expectations.

I remember spending afternoons watching my dogs give birth, feeding my chickens, and climbing into people’s homes, pretending we were being chased by aswangs. I remember trying to convince my grandpa, my tatang, to stop giving me hundred peso bills, knowing he couldn’t afford it — so he built me a bamboo coin bank instead, so that I wouldn’t see the amount of money my relatives were giving me.

What I remember from my childhood is quite different from the childhood my friends remember in Canada, and I wonder if there is ever a time in my adulthood that I would be able to reconcile my childhood in the Philippines with the life I ended up living in Canada.

It just seems like the more that time pass, the more I feel disconnected from the country I made my second home, as I recall more and more vividly, the picturesque surreality of my old life, which I was too young and naive to understand and appreciate.


Absolute Certainty and Infinite Confidence

Creatures of literature by *BeatrizMartinVidal

Creatures of literature
by *BeatrizMartinVidal

When I was young, I used to fill notebooks with words.

When my mother found my secret stack (under the cupboard, inside a pile of garbage bags) she held them to the sunlight one by one and read each page with wide, disbelieving eyes. I stood there with clenched fists, watching her go through thousands upon thousands of words.

She cut my lunch allowance, which I was laundering to go towards my notebook addiction.

Not to worry: I learned how to use the computer instead. This is how I started typing over 80 words per minute.

Every day I felt this rising urge to achieve complete and utter bliss. I can only describe it as an overwhelming desire to write, and that full confidence that I could. I started out typing short stories copied from books. Lion King was the very first to be transcribed into MS-DOS. Eventually, I started typing out entire novels. As time progressed, I created my own.

Page after page of words. The only thing I remember from my childhood is sitting in the garden, writing words, and as I grew older, sitting alone in a room, in front of a computer screen typing out words.

I remember my friends yelling outside my window: “Ellise! When are you going to play?”

“Nope, gotta type,” was my reply.

When I was young I used to go through great lengths to quell my thirst for literature. I would sneak inside a library and try to borrow as many books as I could. I spent every lunchtime and recess in the library reading. I was the only person there. In retrospect I realize the librarian knew I had “borrowed” more books than I was allowed to because it was a very small library and I was its only customer. She smiled at me every time I left, even though I had books stuffed inside my shirt, inside my skirt, making me limp as I walked past.

I began selling my stories to get even more books. Eventually the teachers had to sit me down and told me I was in trouble for taking other students’ lunch money. I told them: “But they’re buying my stories.”

“Well, you’re not allowed to sell your stories.”

“So how am I supposed to buy books?” I asked, horrified.

“You’ll need to figure something else out.”

Now that I’m older, I’ve learned to quell this desire. Even though I thought of stories, I kept them inside, controlled, and had the patience to wait until after my commute to write them down. Of course, it never happened — by the time I got home, I’d be way too tired from work, that all I would want to do is sit down, watch TV, stories and ideas long forgotten.

Sometimes, I’d sit down, stare at my computer screen, forcefully will myself to write, only to be hindered by self-doubt and criticism: What’s the point? It’s too gimmicky. This is too much of a sell-out piece. Way to add to the cliche train. And before I knew it, I had paralyzed myself into immobilism, infinitely frozen into standstill, stories and ideas quelled and quenched by insecurity.

I find myself walking through bookstores and staring longingly at books I want to read. I devise a million reasons why it’s better I don’t read them all: full-time job, no time, no point. I try to make myself feel better that I did the right thing: you saved your money, now you can spend it on something else. Like phone bills. And rent.

And instead of feeling happiness inside bookstores, all I feel is loneliness, and that sinking realization that I will never have enough time to read all of these books, nor the mind to understand and remember them.

Ultimately, I think, I’d rather be the literature-addicted child who stopped at nothing to be transported into the world of words without any regard to the consequences that followed, instead of the responsible adult with a full-time job who walks into bookstores wistfully, hoping she could read all the books ever written and wanting so badly to participate and give back with words of her own some day.

The addiction is still there: the only thing that faded through time is certainty.


Of Fiction, Preambles and Explorations of The Abyss

The Abyss, the deep-sea epic renowned for its pioneering digital water effects and sophisticated underwater photography and sound recording, will be screened at a special 20th anniversary event by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Tuesday, June 23, at 7:30 p.m. at the Linwood Dunn Theater in Hollywood.  This screening will premiere a newly struck 35mm print from the Academy Film Archive.Pictured: A scene from THE ABYSS, 1989.

Pictured: A scene from THE ABYSS, 1989.

The Abyss.

IMDb states that this movie is about, “a civilian team enlisted to search for a lost nuclear submarine and face danger while encountering an aquatic species”.

Up until two weeks ago, I’ve never seen this film, which is strange considering I consider myself the rancor of all sci-fi: a collection of claws and fangs designed to devour every sci-fi material in existence.

My association with The Abyss, however, is unforgettable, and it goes back to my older sister.

My older sister was the absolute Queen of my childhood. Every word she spoke was sacred and holy. So much so that once, she convinced me worms were a delicacy in other countries, and only the rich and elite could eat them. In fact, eating them while they were still alive was considered a culinary experience in England.

“But won’t they get hurt?” I asked, panicking.

No. Worms are special in that they don’t have the skin that humans do. Therefore, they can’t feel.

Of course this led to an instant, uncontrollable urge to demolish as many worms as I could get my hands on. It wasn’t until my sister told me she was kidding, after seven sacrificial worms, did I even realize something was amiss.

With that preamble in hand, I can begin the story of The Abyss, which started when my sister went to our local Blockbuster by herself.

She returned with a smile on her face and The Abyss at the palm of her hand.

She claimed that an impossibly handsome guy (with glasses) came up to her to ask if she had seen the movie yet. A delightful, witty conversation then ensued. It was a short exchange, but enough to deliver the argument that my sister was beautiful and that somebody noticed.

For the rest of my life I would look at this anecdote with envy, making it the basis for every male encounter in the future. A charming, opening line—a delightful response emitted by I, ending with a common interest to jumpstart a relationship: a movie watched by both parties one cool evening, wrapped in blankets, legs curled on top of each other; dissecting and analyzing it to pieces, with characters they could relate to and plots that reflected each other’s lives.

As the years passed, the glory of my sister began to fade. We lived the rest of our lives as separate as two strangers who were once sisters, could live.

Until two weeks ago, when I decided to sit down in my apartment and watch The Abyss.

Halfway through the film, I realized my sister’s preamble for The Abyss was just that—a story: designed to awe and marvel—to delight an eight-year-old with spontaneous romance. And I, a willing audience member, succumbed to her fiction as gullibly as I devoured those worms.

Key point? Because I wanted to.

I guess the eight-year-old me knew it was better to adore someone unconditionally, than to lose faith in all your childhood heroes.


Scarborough Dreaming.

I grew up in Scarborough where
the only place to find isolation and comfort
were cemeteries;

And dazzling lights in the night sky comes
from a club drenched in yellow smoke where
girls in sweatpants and tight tops danced while
advertising a room for 40 bucks a night —
the seediest club called, Rumours beside a flying car called Caddy’s.

Where we built fires in Bluffers Park,
while Miss Deti walked with her breasts bare,
where the icy slope that lead past the haunted Inn
gave way to the sandy beach where
an angry dog woke Mister Mulligan in the midst of sleep —
its barking sending us both in separate, terrified directions towards
Miss Gilmour, who once climbed out of a bathroom window
to escape the lunacy of her ex lover —
the story she told while she held my hand tight as she wrote
on a used napkin with red lipstick
–“I promise”

Once Miss Peel walked the whole way home from Scarborough Town Centre
one immensely, drunken night,
the same mall where three girls once sat calmly before going to a movie
before a disembodied voice from a megaphone:
–“I know what you’re smoking, girls”
That led to the scattering of blonde and black
except for Miss Peel—
–who did not move, but bravely stayed.

If you head north on Brimley Road toward Dorcot,
you’ll hit Thomson Park,
the most popular bar for the underage,
the only place where you can drink
and feed goats in July.
This is where Mister Baird stayed outside, standing guard
and at first sight, did not hesitate—
–instead, he peeked his head inside the handicapped washroom
to voice out a warning: “COPS”.

Now head south on Brimley Road,
and turn right into Lawrence Avenue East–
and enter David and Mary Thomson,
where Miss O’neill scribbled notes
while sitting in a class that tried
to address all of the world’s desperate issues
in under fifty minutes.

Where Miss Heravi grieved with two rabbits and Caesar
and named a wild goose lost in a parking lot
despite her broken heart–
where Mister Tingling was crowned God of Counter-strike
and then used these skills to build his own, personal Nirvana
and where Mister Ip seriously contemplated about
vomiting in an empty pitcher
one night at Boston Pizza.

I grew up in Scarborough where
Miss Wu held her first lover’s hand,
as she sat on a log, under the stars
while the fire kept us warm–

where I learned self-confidence
through colouring my nails,

Generosity through
the husband and wife who
gave us free subway sandwiches
every Friday—

Kindness through
the man waiting in his yard
with two pears
on our last day of school,
smiling as he offered it to us,
and watching patiently as we
guiltily climbed down his fence—
As he said, “you don’t have to steal them this time,
I give them to you.”

And self-awareness through
recognizing the laughter in her eyes when
she tried to hold on to me as I slid
across the icy field in running shoes
while the wind blew my hair–
contrasted against the polite smile she gave,
swinging in an abandoned playground,
when I asked if
things were going to stay the same.