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.
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.
I’ve been drinking coffee longer than I can remember. I don’t say that to brag—I really can’t remember exactly when I started drinking coffee. If I had to guess, I was probably three years old.
Back then, I lived in the Philippines with my mom and extended family. My grandparents lived there too, and I spent every morning with my grandma. We all called her Mama.
Every morning, Mama would stir a few spoons of freeze-dried Folgers into her cup of hot water, topped with powdered creamer and a few spoons of sugar. She’d bring out a roll of pan de sal and lay it on a platito, periodically dipping the roll into her coffee before taking a bite and washing it down with a slow sip.
I adored Mama and loved to spend mornings with her, after my mom had already left for work and before I went to nursery. I wanted to be a part of her morning as she was mine, and I started sneaking sips of this glorious kape that she drank every morning without fail. Eventually, she caught on, scolding me for drinking something for grown-ups, while stirring me a cup of my own. This was our special routine every morning until my mom and I moved to the US.
I think of my Mama every morning as I make my own brew; she continues to be a part of my morning to this day. Except these days, I make the coffee for both us.