Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dear Extended Family

I used to squirm being in a room for extended periods of time with my relatives. Aunties who told me I was too skinny and should be eating more or that I was getting fat because I was eating too much. When dinners of roasted lechon and pots full of rice were an excuse to pry into your life. Who was courting you? Who was your boyprend? they would ask in that psuedo-american yet distinctly filipino accent. It made me anxious, bored, annoyed.

And then this kind of funny thing happens. 

You stop getting anxious, bored, annoyed. Because maybe you've been away for a while or maybe you've seen somebody without copious amounts of relatives or some other alternative universe that makes you appreciate the gifts you get for christmas that you will never use in a million years, or the way that only your relatives can get away with calling you by that name

Because it means you're part of this Family. And that one day, too, you might be that aunty giving identical pairs of t-shirts you got at a bargain price from K-Mart to all your nephews at Christmas. You could be that uncle that gets drunk and says inappropriate things at all the appropriate occasions. 

It grounds you and gives you roots. And having roots is essential. Otherwise you float away. Grounding in the form of your parents' parents who changed your nappies when you were a child and fed you and put you to sleep. Grounding in the form of cousins who know what you looked like when you were hitting puberty with craters of pimples between your eyes and all the dorky clothes you used to wear.

Relatives are like a living museum, a collection of memorabilia that remind you that you will always have a seat at a Christmas dinner, that there will always be a gift wrapped under the tree with your name on it, that you are not forgotten and will not be forgot. 

Family that looks like a fun-house mirror reflection of yourself. The way that you start off as that cute little baby that gets passed around and somehow transition into that kind-of-adult that's playing with the little kids and teaching them how to assemble lego models of cars or ambulances or trucks.

I somehow forgot how much I missed it all. The routines and the traditions and the belly-ache of too much food. The huge chaos of noise that is the sum of the movie the kids are trying to watch, the stories some aunt is always trying to tell, the comment some other aunt is trying to interrupt with and the murmurs of the men drinking beer and talking politics. Somewhere in the midst of all the noise is the soundtrack to years of family memories.

I guess after having two Christmases away from home, being back just felt good. 

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Value Of My Arts Degree

After five years, ten semesters and endless 9 am lectures missed and two hour classes spent staring at the ceiling - what have I learned? What is the value of my higher education, beyond the government-sponsored debt I have incurred?

Beyond meeting like-minded individuals, prolonged coffee breaks and deliciously cheap student discounted specials. Besides the common experience of all nighter essays, made up references, bluffing your way through presentations, readings about Foucault or Said, deconstructing Everything You've Ever Known. Beyond university parties and learning to scull beer, having your friends write your name on the role in classes you haven't attended, beyond spending hours at university just because you're rich in time. Beyond learning to sound pretentious, alternate, intellectually sound. What was it all for?

They say it teaches you How To Think. I'd argue that is also teaches you How To Learn. Learning for the sake of learning. Thinking for the sake of thinking. Because when else do you have time to question the colonial discourse around the term 'Yellow Fever' or understand the complicated web of events and people of The Past and how they've shaped everything to do with the Right Now? 

Unlike medical studies, business degrees, law qualifications or bachelors in engineering - Arts degrees are deliberately broad, vague. What can you do with it? What job will it get you? How much money will you make? The short answer is, not any job in a failing economy and not much money at all. The hidden truth is that you have to think and learn and analyse and deconstruct ideas, history, events that matter. You are forced to know, you are forced to think, and in short you are forced to care about understanding the worldBecause when you have people learning how to build buildings, how to make money, how to make new laws, you need people outside of this framework who are thinking about what the building and the money and the laws mean and amount to.

David Foster Wallace's commencement speech blew my mind. He argues that it's more about the choice we have of what to think about. He argues that the default setting we have is to think about ourselves, to think in terms of ourselves, from our own views, from our own experience - solipsism. But that it doesn't have to be this way, we can think outside of this.

He argues that it is the obvious that is the most important, that we have to continue to remind ourselves that we are not the centres of the universe, that life is more than the everyday. That we have the power to create meaning where and of what we will. And perhaps this is why I am always ranting here about what my friends like to call that kind of stuff meaning the stuff that sometimes makes you sigh and sometimes makes you cringe. But it's necessary, this writing and rewriting of the obvious and the inane questions.

The truth of his speech is that to think is to create. Create meaning, value, ideas, works. If we're creating without thinking, we are zombies, puppets. Without thinking about what we're doing, the value it's really worth, the way we are living or affecting other people - we become casualties of everyday life. Everybody can go through life in this default setting, not knowing 'This is water', this is life. The unexamined life is not worth living.

What I think he's really saying is that an Arts Degree can better equip you to think and consequently make choices that have everything to do with your own freedom. To make better choices, and life is a laundry line of choices strung together and hung out to dry. Each choice is something we put on, we wear day in and day out, it shapes us and makes us. And eventually somebody will look fleetingly at our choices, or maybe we'll look back at our own and either we'll be impressed, dismayed, ashamed, confused, proud...

Choose well. Choose better. Choose to make meaning, choose to add, instead of take away. Choose to worship something other than yourself. Choose to see a world beyond that which is immediately apparent to you.

'The real value of a real education has almost nothing to do with knowledge, and everything to do with simple awareness; awareness of what is so real and essential, so hidden in plain sight all around us, all the time, that we have to keep reminding ourselves over and over..'

'It is unimaginably hard to do this, to stay conscious and alive in the adult world day in and day out. Which means yet another grand cliche turns out to be true: your education really is the job of a lifetime'

Friday, December 7, 2012

In Good Company: A love letter to all my lady friends

Fear is a shaky hand you hide behind your back, a smile through gritted teeth and a nod of fake confidence you believe will mask it all. I've written before how nobody really knows what they're doing, but how everybody appears to. I've written a lot about my old bed-fellows fear and anxiety but not so much about the other side. The side of bravery that slices your life in two or the side of courage that looks a lot like fear unmasked. Funny that.

I'm surrounded by a group of incredible and brave young ladies on whom I have many a girl crush. This is a love letter to all of you, you know who you are because I've probably told you already but if I haven't this is my confession, my little serenading love song just for you.

Bravery looks a lot like fear, the difference is in the doing it anyway. And everyday I speak to or write to or think about these friends of mine who I adore and admire to the ends of the earth, it makes one side of my mouth go up and gape a little open in disbelief. The awesomeness of them borders on the fictitious.

There's my cousin who has known me since I was a baby, whom I look up to for countless reasons and the most recent of which is that she had the super-grande lady-balls to book a one way ticket out of a comfortable, safe and happy life in order to keep her future self from wondering, like a sad song on repeat, What if... What if... What if... 

There's my sister who is ambitious without being narrow-minded and who is a force of nature to be reckoned with. She is a hurricane of unapologetic demands of herself to be better, to do more, to learn and to know and to discover. She ignored our creased foreheads and pursed lips, quit university and decided instead to do what she wanted to do but didn't know if she could yet. She can and she has and she never looked back. 

There's my best friend who continues to roll with the punches, who is taking chances and allowing her five year plan to be re-written over and over, or to remain an ominous question mark when she used to want a detailed, paragraphed, five point plan. There is so much courage in forfeiting control of your life, to learn to silence the constant hum of What will happen next?

There are my countless lovely lady friends, new kindred spirits who make me realise just how normal and okay it is to be confused, to not know, to surrender to the what the fuck?-ness of it all. They challenge my ideas and my character over red wine or an apple pie cocktail. We plan holidays and hope, without tact or regard, that perhaps none of us will get real jobs just so we can continue living in this glorious unknown where the only certains are each other. We retreat earnestly into the way a cheeky drink and a good friend can take the edge off the sharp, angular questions the world asks of us and of which we refuse, stubbornly, to answer.

There's that spanish saying, which I have no idea if they actually say but I've read somewhere in a book, 'Dime con quien andas y te dire quien eres' or in the English version - 'You are the company you keep'. Without a doubt I am in love with you all, my lovely lady friends (all seediness of that expression intended). I adore your bravery, which you might mistake for weakness or doubt but which really is the secure courage of allowing yourself to be insecure and vulnerable. I admire, I adore, I love you all. That is all.

And now I have to run, because I'm meeting a few of you at a bar in about five minutes for apple pie cocktails.

Besos <3

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

"What the hell is water?"

Starting a public blog is kind of like a strip tease, you start off tentatively and unsure. Maybe nobody is even watching, you take this in confidence and begin to undress. You close your eyes and shake off the insecurity, who cares anyway? Bit by bit the clothing falls away somewhat unconsciously while your eyes remain shut. Somewhere between when you thought it would be a good idea and afterward when you're naked on stage and there's no time for any regret or self-possession to kick in, you feel dumb-struck by a dozen wandering eyes stuck on you. Fuck. Oh my.

A metaphorical strip tease, obviously. Because there really is nothing sexy about a blog. It's awkward and personal and most of the time an overshare. I write here because it's cathartic and it helps me air out the piles of messy brain explosions that occur on a day to day basis - while I'm sitting in traffic or eating granola for breakfast or clicking open a thousand tabs on my browser at 2am in the morning because I can't go to sleep. Does that ever happen to you?

And while I share my thoughts on my parents getting older, childhood friendships disappearing and new ones taking their place, on being young and all that that implies, on dissenting from the status quo or any number of otherwise standard thought processes, I don't share what helps me get through the day or what I'm looking at all day, or night. The links and the sites and the books and the documentaries, the recipes or obsessions or internet digging that turns up intellectually stimulating gold flecks amongst the heap of very distracting, colourful, yet largely meaningless, confetti. 

I'm going to do what everybody does but nobody asked anyone to do - let you inside my head. Just so you too, can share in the chaotic melt-down of that space between my ears.

Fittingly I'll leave you with one of my favourite graduation speeches, as I've finished university and await graduating myself. It's not inspirational, motivational or uplifting, nor will it fit on your wrist in cursive tattooed writing. It's challenging, long and somewhat bleak but like all those necessary truths it is terrible and real and will blow your mind, if you listen closely and let it all sink in.

The transcript to the entire speech is here.