Snapshots of my days of bliss

The photos below are from a recent trip I had with my siblings and cousins. We went to the island of Coron in the Philippines, and spent four days swimming and snorkeling in the clearest waters, lounging on hammocks by the most gorgeous beaches, eating the best food and singing karaoke at a local bar.

A line from a song by Green River Ordinance kept coming to mind while I was sitting on the bangka in the middle of the sea. It goes, “Meet me down on Cannery River. Set your heart free for awhile.”

And I did. And it was the best feeling ever.

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Genie isn’t “free”

Let me start out by saying that I love Robin Williams. Always have, always will. I was only a couple of years old when I first saw Hook and since then, he was a constant source of color in my life – from his funny films like Aladdin, Mrs. Doubtfire, Jumanji  and Flubber, to the bittersweet and melancholic ones like Patch Adams, Jakob the Liar and World’s Greatest Dad.

The news of his untimely death hit me the same way it hit everyone else  – like a huge avalanche swallowing me up. Then I found out that his death was the result of a suicide, and then it felt like the avalanche turned into this gigantic boulder that had just fallen on top of me.

And then someone I follow on Twitter retweeted this:

IMG_4081This tweet was retweeted over 320,000 times and was liked by over 220,000 users. What’s even more striking is that various websites and blogs have described the tweet as “beautiful” and “perfect”.

I debated with myself for a long time on whether or not I should share my own thoughts. I didn’t want to speak up at the wrong time and come out as tactless and insensitive. But ultimately, I realized that I’d rather come out as tactless and insensitive than choose to keep my mouth shut on this one.

So here it goes…

To me, that tweet is neither beautiful nor perfect. It wasn’t touching or sentimental, and it did not make me feel all warm inside. You know what it made me feel? Anger. You know why? Because to me, that tweet is dangerous. And careless. And stupid.

I’m not condemning Robin Williams for committing suicide. I’m not here to say he should have known better. I’m not here to say he shouldn’t have done what he did. Who am I to judge him when I know absolutely nothing about what he was going through?

No, I’m condemning the idea of suicide “freeing” you.

For those of you who’ve been following my blog for some time now, you’d know about my best friend who tried to commit suicide more than a year ago. When I read that tweet, I immediately imagined my best friend in the state she was in at that time reading the very same thing, and it terrifies me to my very core. And I swear I could just punch the person who posted that tweet for all the world to see.

It’s just… it makes me so mad, knowing that if that tweet existed 17 months ago and my best friend saw it, there’s a possibility that she might not be here anymore. Because that’s just what that careless tweet might have resulted in. It tempts us. It tickles a bone in our body that’s a sucker for the grand and beautiful downfall.

I admit I’ve never been depressed so I may be talking about something I don’t fully understand. But honestly, when it comes to people I love, I don’t feel the need to understand things first as much as I feel the need to say what needs to be said and, more importantly, what needs to be heard. I need them to know there is hope, that life is worth it no matter how shitty it gets, that giving up is the easiest thing to do but that we are made for so much more than just the easiest things.

One thing I’m damn well certain of is that the last thing people who are battling with depression need to hear is that suicide frees them, like they’re birds that have been given a chance to escape. That’s bullshit.

Life isn’t a cage we should be freed from. Life is the sky.

I just feel that the tweet was done more for the sake of artistry and its ‘special effects’ than as a means to honor Robin Williams. If you’re going to honor the passing of a beloved, celebrate their life. Don’t romanticize their death. Because this isn’t a Disney film anymore. This is real life.

Because if we’re being completely honest here, Genie isn’t free. Genie is dead. And there is no freedom in that kind of death, there is only an end to a life that could’ve had a thousand beginnings.

Dear Twin,

I remember, not too long ago, you asked me if I missed you. At the time, we haven’t seen each other in months and we haven’t talked in long while. Some time during our conversation, you asked me jokingly if I missed you.

I answered no. Because we like to insult one another and make fun of each other. Because we don’t get sentimental about things like that.

And because, honestly, I really didn’t miss you.

We’ve always had a peculiar relationship, you and I. We’re twins but we were never really twins, not the usual kind anyway. Aside from the fact that we look nothing like each other, we also couldn’t have been any more different in terms of personality and interests.

We grew up in the same house, but we never grew up together. Our late-night conversations, secret whispers and knowing glances have always been about other people. We rarely talked about our fears, our dreams and our feelings. You have your own friends, and I have mine. We share most of our fun moments, not because we experienced them together, but because we told each other about them afterward. We’ve always led separate lives. The only difference you moving to California made is that I’d see you even less than I already did.

But I want to tell you that I miss you now. You’ll be coming home tomorrow. And now more than ever, I miss you.

Though we rarely shared the same experiences or even the same wavelength, we’ve always found comfort in knowing that we will always be connected to one another. And I’ve always found comfort in my firm belief that I’m the one person who knows you better than anyone else.

You wear your heart on your sleeve, my dear sister. You’re not afraid to show what you feel, to say what you think, to be the first one to laugh out loud. You’re hot-tempered and impatient. You cry when you’re furious and you can’t understand sarcasm. You love making chocolate souffle for us, and then you hover around us every time we eat it, and expect us to say it’s the best chocolate souffle ever. But most of all – and I have envied you for this – you’ve always known what it is you want in life and you’ve always gone after it.

Right now, hours before seeing you again, I’m beginning to realize just how much I miss being around you and having that twin connection tangible by your presence. Above all, I find myself genuinely excited to get to know the person you’ve become in the past year or so.

I hope you’re still awesome. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long two weeks ahead.

Seriously though, I can’t wait for you to come home.

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Twin and I, 1995

A list of truths we ought to learn in our twenties: Part 2

Part 1 here.

#4: That age doesn’t grant me entitlement to anything I haven’t worked for

I must admit, it took months for me to get this. For the longest time, I thought that after graduating college, I can just sit comfortably in my room while all the opportunities in the world come knocking on my door. I’m young and so full of potential; surely an adventure is just right around the corner, heading straight toward me.

I couldn’t have been any more mistaken. I used to see nothing but my target goal – to travel the world. I failed to see the many zigzags I have to go through in order to actually get there because, contrary to what most travel bloggers say, it sometimes isn’t as easy as simply packing your stuff and booking a flight. You work… and you work hard. You plan and you have to take risks in order to execute that plan. You can’t just expect things to fall into place.

And it isn’t just feeling entitled to fulfillment of personal goals and aspirations. I noticed how a lot of my peers have become more impatient and unconsciously rude as they get older. Some of us demand respect before we’re even willing to give it. I see this in little things like refusing to give way in traffic or complaining to the waiter about the food being cold after spending ten minutes trying to take an Instagram-worthy photo of it. Some of us demand attention before even paying attention, or we demand true love but reject compromise.

We want to receive great things more than we want to actually do great things. The truth is, when our main objective in life is to have great things happen to us, we completely miss out on all the great things that can happen through us.

#5: That Thought Catalog is not a textbook for life

I have nothing against Though Catalog or any similar blogs and websites. I enjoy reading their articles from time to time because they give me a variety of interesting perspectives. And because the people behind these blogs are usually our age, I totally understand why we find encouragement, inspiration and a sense of connection to those who read and write their posts.

I used to visit these sites every day without fail for a couple of weeks. But then gradually, I began to notice how every single post I clicked – even the ones that had nothing to do with me – affected me deeply without me really being conscious of it. I remember reading a post about a list of things I supposedly should have done before reaching my twenties and then feeling substandard afterward because I couldn’t cross out most of the things that were on there.

Maybe it’s because it’s in our nature to find comfort in the similarities we share with others, or maybe it’s because it’s also in our nature to anticipate conflict in our differences, but I found that the posts I read usually made me feel either of two extremes – extremely satisfied or extremely discouraged.

Sometimes, without even meaning to, we fall in love with ideas, thoughts, beliefs and experiences of people who, no matter how much they assert to be true, could never really know what it’s like to be in our shoes – the same way I could never know what it’s like to be you. We all write from our own personal reality; the authors of Thought Catalog and BuzzFeed are no different. Going into it, I’m pretty sure we know that. But still, when we come across a list of ten things that would supposedly prove we’ve found our true love, it’s hard to look at our current love and give a small, depressed sigh when we discover that we only have six things in common with the list.

Often, we take our own ideas and experiences for granted when we come across someone else’s that seems to outshine ours. We judge our life unfairly by setting other people’s lives – or rather, what they portray to be their lives – as the standard.

But the truth is this: there is no freaking formula for life. The best that we can do for ourselves is to do the things that are right for us, believe in the things that we can actually have complete faith in, and love ourselves regardless of how much social media tells us how uncool we are. If we’re going to read Thought Catalog, let’s read it for what it is – a fun read, not something we can use to pressure ourselves into becoming someone we’ve read about in the Internet.

#6: That our twenties is more about discovering what we really want and less about doing everything we want the moment we want it

People say that our twenties is the perfect time to do everything and anything we want, and I guess it’s true. We’re old enough to do the things we were too young to do before, but we’re also young enough to not be judged when we choose to do what we want to do instead of doing what we’re supposed to do.

What is it that people always say? That it’s better to just go ahead and do something crazy or bold instead of forever regretting not doing it and wondering what if. But regret doesn’t just come from not doing something. Regret also comes when we become so fixated on doing everything we think we want instead of finding out what is it we really truly want. I learned that a lot of times doing everything we want the moment we want it can lead to regretting it later.

I don’t know about you but I have a very long list of things I thought I wanted to do and goals I thought I wanted to achieve that have since been discarded in a trash bin labeled as “just a phase” – tattoos, a flashy career, marriage at 25, the list goes on and on. I also have quite the list of things I thought I wanted to do, ended up doing, and later regretted – things that until now I still wish I could change. And I’m only 23! I’m pretty sure these lists will get longer as the years go by.

I guess my point is: why spend our twenties being preoccupied with doing every single thing that gives us, at best, temporary gratification, when we can spend it seeking that which can ultimately give us a lifetime of happiness?

A list of truths we ought to learn in our twenties: Part 1

#1: That just because nothing BIG! is happening in my life doesn’t mean that nothing is happening in my life

People talk about our twenties being the years of exciting adventures and new experiences. We can do anything and everything we want without being judged too young or too old, too immature or too irresponsible. They paint a picture that’s filled with bright neon colors,  and right in the middle of it is us in our twenty-something-year-old glory.

What doesn’t get talked about, however, are the days when being in our twenties feels no more special than how we felt during our teens, when we just go about our days doing what we’ve been doing for the past sixty days and what we’ll probably still be doing for sixty more.

At first, the sudden realization that my life hasn’t exactly turned out to be the adventure I expected it would be bummed me out just a bit. And then gradually, after seeing friends and strangers living the life on the Internet, a feeling of longing set in. And then discontentment. Before I knew it, there was a deep, dark hole in my soul that constantly kept sucking the life out of me. And it was all because I wanted to be on my way to see the world, not on my way to a job I neither love nor hate.

But the absence of some grand spectacular event in our life doesn’t make our life any less of value. Our life only stops being significant the moment we resign ourselves to that flawed perception. Life doesn’t demand us to stack up amazing experiences or fantastic stories on a score sheet in order to be deemed worthy of it. Life only demands that we love it unconditionally throughout the highs, lows and the in-betweens.

What I learned, and what I keep reminding myself every so often, is that when we keep looking for the extraordinary, we fail to see all things beautiful in the ordinary. And more importantly, that life in our twenties – and maybe life in general – can sometimes be a great adventure-in-waiting. For the longest time, I was foolishly thinking that the value of my life depended on how many big experiences I had and how many good stories I can tell; when in reality, the in-between moments define me as much as, if not more than, the big moments.

#2: That I have to be better where I am first before I can be better anywhere else

I recently read one of my favorite books and I came across a line that was a direct hit to my heart. In Markus Zusak’s I Am the Messenger, the character Ed finally musters up the courage to stand up to his mother, saying, “It’s the person, Ma, not the place. If you left here, you’d have been the same anywhere else… If I ever leave this place, I’ll make sure I’m better here first.”

I used to think I needed an escape. I sometimes still do. It’s not because I think my life isn’t good here or because I’m unhappy – I’m not. It’s because I think this place keeps me from becoming the person I want to be. I look around me and I think, I could sure do better way over there. And I see the same thought in a lot of people my age. We like to think we’d be better off there because we feel we’re stuck here. And I guess that isn’t surprising. It’s easy to blame our unhappiness and discontentment on the place where we feel the unhappiness and discontentment.

In reality though, the only thing hindering me from becoming a better person is me. The same way the only thing hindering you is you. Where we are has very little to do with it.

Imagine, if we’re better right where we are first, how awesome we will be when we finally get to where we want to be.

#3: That  I need to make an effort to understand before I can expect to be understood

It’s embarrassing for me to admit this but I spent the majority of my teens either feeling sorry for myself or being frustrated with everyone else because I often felt that I was never fully understood by anyone, especially by my family. I used to have a lot of opinions about a lot of things. And because I expected everyone else to understand my point of view, I never bothered to try to understand theirs.

It’s a good thing then that growing up does seem to knock some sense into us. It’s easy to feel like everything revolves around us while we’re in our teens. Fortunately, the wonderful thing about being in our twenties is that false notion gets stripped away – gradually if we’re willing, and forcefully if we’re not.

There’s a lot of division in the world right now. It’s kind of like a war zone of opinions and beliefs, and I’m watching it take place every time I watch TV, browse the Internet or overhear a conversation. It actually reminds me of my relationship with my mom when it was all messed up and ugly. But it also reminds me how the smallest effort to understand each other can go a long way. My mom and I still don’t see eye to eye in a lot of things, but we don’t fight about it anymore. She tells me this, I tell her that, we look at each other to see if either of us is going to give, and if neither of us are going to, we shrug and talk about something else.

I notice how most of the time, the ones who keep complaining they’re misunderstood are usually the ones who refuses to understand others. But people don’t want to understand someone who demands to be understood; they want to understand someone who actually shows he deserves it.

A list of truths we ought to learn in our twenties: Introduction

“Your twenties will be the best years of your life.”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told that, I’d have an extra grand in my savings account (because that’s what I would do – save it!). Honestly, I wish people would stop saying that, not because I disagree with the statement – although I feel that the best years of my life shouldn’t just be limited to my twenties – but because all the hype it brings kind of messes with my mind.

During the past few months, I’d have these bouts of unexplained restlessness and unhappiness. I began to fill my head with exaggerated daydreams just to get through the hours, only to realize at the end of the day that I felt worse because of those daydreams – because those daydreams are still just daydreams. But then I’d do the same thing all over again the next day because impending sadness always seemed more bearable to me than ongoing lethargy.

I was going through life with that mantra – my twenties being the best years of my life – hanging over my soul until I reached a point where my soul couldn’t bear the weight of it any longer.

Deep down, I knew all along I was running on low fuel. I guess I was just too stubborn to deal with it until I reached empty. The good thing, though, about reaching empty is that I had no other choice but to get my lazy ass up and do something about it.

And so I did. After days and weeks filled with afternoons of deep reflection and evenings of honest-to-God prayers, I realized how I was going at my twenties all misguided by my own preconceived notions.

Little by little, with help from a tear or two, my vision began to clear. And right in front of me was a bunch of truths I desperately needed to learn. So I learned. But every now and then, I tend to forget them and I’d have to learn it all over again, so I’ve listed them all down (I really did, in my notebook). And I thought it would be nice to share the list with you because maybe you might be able to relate to it or, better yet, you might be able to add something to it. But that’s for another time – soon.

For now, I leave you with one simple truth that basically sums up the entire list: Our twenties can be the best years of our life, but it can also we our worst. It kind of depends on us.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately…

And I’ve been writing a lot less.

The last month has been the roughest one so far, but it’s not because of bad experiences, unpleasant people or unfortunate circumstances.

I think the struggle is more internal than anything else which is even worse, to be honest. If the problem lies somewhere around me, it’s easy to deal with it once I figure out where it’s coming from. But what am I supposed to do when the problem lies inside of me?

I’ve come to realize the answer to that is to change. Change a thought. Change my perspective. Change my direction. Change an expectation.

But change is never easy, especially when I don’t know which one to change and what exactly I should change it to.

So for the past couple of weeks, I spent a lot of my time thinking about it.

And thinking brought me to a place of… I guess the most accurate term is understanding and, more importantly an acceptance of that understanding.

I’ve been writing about it these past two days, and I’m looking forward to sharing it with you once I’m finished.

Until then, know that life is good.

Difficult.

But good.