I started this blog just over two years ago. Like many others seeking meaning during this time, I went back to the basics and thought about joy. When I think of what brings me joy, I think of play—the kind of play we have as children—unbothered, glittering with curiosity and free from the weight of tough lessons. So I committed myself to play. I played, learning to let go expectations, allowing myself to make mistakes, finding amusement in the nonsensical, seeing magic in the mundane.
It hasn’t been easy these last couple of years. Again, like many, I lost loved ones, grieved with friends and family as they battled serious health conditions, grappled with being unstable, felt my safety threatened, worked through my own chronic health issues, and even had my heart broken. But I also faced past traumas head on, learned how to set and enforce boundaries, comfort and hold my inner child, learn to love the parts of me that aren’t perfect, found the courage to choose myself, and I even met joy many times along the way. Renewed and free, I feel ready for what’s ahead and to experience it all with a truly open mind and heart.
I’m feeling a little bit wiser, a little bit tougher, a little bit softer, and very ready to see what 2023 has ahead.
We live in a world of funny juxtapositions. From oxymorons like jumbo shrimp, to the acceptance and melancholy that comes with all things bittersweet. Whatever side there is, there is always the other side, and all of what’s in between. Often, I find that it’s what’s in the middle of two extremes that’s the most surprising.
I haven’t had much time to dedicate to crafting in months, but my office hosted a pumpkin decorating event last week and I jumped at the opportunity to join. It brought me so much joy to play and paint this spooky scene:
The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to make time for play.
A couple of people close to me and who I love deeply tested positive for COVID. While my initial reaction was concern and a desire to be supportive, my concern pivoted to frustration and anger when I’d realized that they had been out and about in public during their COVID-positive state. I can’t remember the last time I’d been this furious, and not only that, but I felt a profound sense of betrayal, foolishness, and confusion.
I’m trying to find it in me to remember that concern I’d initially felt. I know it’s still there. I know we are all exhausted. I know the messaging from public health agencies have been confusing, not to mention the harm that public people have expressed over their disregard for taking COVID seriously. With monkeypox on the rise and the damaging and downright incorrect rhetoric that it’s a disease of gay people, I can’t help but feel a tremendous sense of disappointment and disillusionment.
Yet, I remain hopeful. I’m not by any means a religious person, but I don’t know what else to call it but faith. I can continue to do my part, and that’s all I can do.
The last couple of years for me has been a practice of control—i.e., letting it go, while harvesting and honing what is within my own personal power.
I don’t have a clean ending to this post. But because this feels good, here’s a cute photo I recently took of my cat George.
It’s Monday night and I’m packing up for a weeklong work-cation—i.e., a trip consisting mostly of work, with feeble attempts at trying to enjoy an environment that isn’t home. From Los Angeles, a flight to San Francisco never breaks an hour and a half, and while it’s a trip I used to take every two weeks, I’m a total wreck. I’ve spent all day stressing out about it, double, triple checking if I have enough clothes, if I packed enough underwear (does anyone else always pack extra, just in case?), and whether I packed too many tops with stripes on them (I did). It’s the first time I’ve hopped on a plane in almost three years. I’m nervous. I’m nervous about COVID. And for the first time in a long while, I’m nervous about being away from home.
I’ve never been nervous about being away from home. Well, not since we left the Philippines for good. After that move, we moved every year for several years, and home eventually took on an abstract concept rather than a physical space. In short, I grew up detached—mostly out of necessity but also out of fear. It becomes hard to yearn for something when history shows you it will not stay.
This home I am in now is the first home I’ve ever created for myself, and I put it together as I was making my way out of incredible heartbreak. In essence, it is my metaphorical and literal safe space. Is that why I’m afraid to leave it, even for a short while? Am I afraid that it won’t be as I remembered when I come back?
I’d been in a funk for several weeks. I was grateful for the success I’ve experienced with work, yet on the other side, overwhelmed with a sense of responsibility paired with a profound unknowingness. I felt paralyzed, both emotionally and physically, often straining to get out of bed. I woke up with the news today that there may be another Zika outbreak, which was followed by the impending doom to follow if we don’t figure out the climate crisis, which was then followed by economists weighing in on why my generation is financially screwed. I clicked off and decided I’d spend my energy on only one crisis today.
I’d forced myself back into a routine the last couple of weeks. I cut out junk and forced my body to move. I told friends I wouldn’t be available, as I needed space to process what I was feeling. They understood, of course. They are full of love in that way.
I went back into my garden, tending to my rose bush that bloomed with an even greater abundance after I’d pruned it liberally in an attempt to rid it of aphids. My dwarf banana tree sprouted a pup, which I repotted. My baby avocado tree stood up proudly. My sampaguita are taking to their ladder, two vines climbing up in parallel in a double helix. The heirloom tomato seeds I planted months ago have grown tall and are in need of a new trellis.
As I worked in my garden, the neighborhood toddlers would pay me a visit. They would come to see George, my cat, who they’d grown fond of. Months ago, it was just one. Now I have three toddlers playing in my yard. They came every day, and soon, my afternoons and early evenings at home were spent laughing with them, playing pretend, about Everything and Everywhere All At Once.
I saw that film this evening. I walked out after the credits, tears streaming down my cheeks. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was exactly what I needed. “Don’t look at me!” I scowled at my friend as we left the theater. “I look ugly.” We laughed and parted with a hearty embrace.
I drove to Beverly Hills to my friend’s place. We had plans to carpool to the Getty for our monthly afternoon of sketching. “Hi, I’m here!” I was running late and I knew our ticket window to head in was closing. Already figuratively out of breath from rushing over, I felt my face turn red when she kindly reminded me that our tickets were for tomorrow.
I took my consequential embarrassment as a cue from the universe to slow down. I’d started to feel so much pressure heading into my 36th birthday, checking off now seemingly arbitrary boxes and scrutinizing what was left on my lists of to-dos without taking the time to breathe. I took my sketchbook and headed to a local cafe to sketch outside in between bites.
I sat under an umbrella as the sun beamed a very welcome warmth. A soft breeze rattled leaves in the trees. Birds chirped and skipped alongside my table. If I closed my eyes, I could pretend that this pandemic was over.
A jazzy version of “You Are My Sunshine” played over the loudspeaker. I’d always loved this song, and every time it plays, I’m reminded of my grandma singing it to me, holding me close to her while she combed through my hair.