Saturday, April 28, 2007

First Love

"Have you thought about it?" he anxiously asked.

"Yes," I answered slowly.

I can hear him fidgeting from the other end of the phone. "And?"

After a deep breath, I retorted, "I don't think I can do it. A relationship. Not with you, at least."

"Why not?" he said barely in a whisper.

"Because you represent everything I stand against," I quipped, trying to convince myself. "I cannot risk falling in love with you knowing that the chances of getting hurt far outweighs the chances that I won't."

At this point, I felt like banging my head against the brick wall of room. Voices in my head are ranting -- liar, liar, liar!

"But... but you never know until we try right?"

"Come on, how many girls have you been with? And out of those, how many were you in a relationship with?" was my lame challenge. Could've at least done better than that.

"Fine, you got me," he admitted. "Those were all in the past though. Can't a guy make some changes in his life?"

"Leopards rarely change their spots," I echoed my friends' bolleries during the past few days of my confusion.

"Fuck the leopards!" he exclaimed, his voice a mixture of resentment, anger and desperation. "Don't you get it? The main difference between those girls and you is that I'm falling in love with you."

I snorted. "Hah, yeah. And what would you know about that?"

He sighed.

"Not much. But all I know is that I've been with many girls before... but I want you to be the last."

But I wanted to be your first...

... as you are mine.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Reality-flavored Ambitions

To relentlessly pursue our dreams and aspirations is perhaps something we've all been encouraged to do at one point in our lives. After all, we hear it everywhere -- in the media plastered on billboards, or on inspirational TV ads, from self-help books, from shrinks and counselors, from our families and friends, name it! Even fortune cookies on most occassions! And many of us go through every single day of our lives either finding out ways to chase our dreams or simply dreaming about it. Bottomline, we each have one.. and basking in the glory of achieving our dreams is an experience we all wish to have one day. How we decide to get there is another story.

I, personally, have probably heard every cliche there is on adversity and resilience. And admittedly, I'm a big believer in ambition and faith -- which all points us towards the direction of chasing rainbows. I believe in sacrificing precious elements of my life in order to achieve a goal or in picking myself back up repeatedly if I get knocked back in attempting to reach for it. It's not a brand new concept and is actually quite simple. Unfortunately, very difficult to implement. Nonetheless, try and try until you die... that is what I say.

However, though that is what I say, every time I take on a chance that will bring me one step closer to my intent, there will always be a nagging voice at the back of my head going "Are you sure this is all worth it?" Intuition answers back a tad too quickly, "Of course it's worth it! It's my dream, it's my aspiration! It's absolutely worth it." But is it really?

Sure, numerous sacrifices are involved in pursuing a dream -- not rocket science, isn't it? We all have to work hard for something that we truly believe in. The question remains: Is it worth it?

Up to what extent is it allowable to push for an ambition before reality steps in to intervene?

Aaaah, reality. Where exactly does realism fit in when it comes to dreaming and aspiring? They say that dreaming has no bounds as it stretches beyond our wildest imaginations. I beg to differ -- I reckon that dreams only stretch as far as when reality stars to sets in.

In the ideal world, we go after our dreams, we toil hard, we sweat blood and tears... and eventually, with a bit of luck and prayer, we reach it. Unfortunately, in the real world, dreams and ambitions sometimes get traded for fulfilling obligations and responsibilities. Here in Asia, where success tends to be quantified, people may be given less opportunities to fulfill their aspirations because of their financial obligations to their family or otherwise. They are plagued by practicality and functionality.

For instance, in a typical family for five -- one set of parents plus three kids -- the eldest child, almost always, gets the extra pressure to help out and provide for the family. This usually entails acquiring a practical job that will yield financial gains and much success. Unless that child has always aspired for a practical job, he/she may have to put his/her dream on the backburner until a better time and opportunity arrives. To pursue a dream isn't exactly for free either. To dream of being a doctor can be one of the costliest ones to have. Sure, it's noble, and even practical to a certain degree... but to have the resources for it is another story. Again, back to our family of five, if the eldest child wishes to become a doctor to pull his/her family out of their dire situation, how much sacrifice would the whole family have to go through for that one child's dream?

In the ideal world, no one would have to give up anything for that one person to take his/her fighting chance to reach for that dream. But in the realistic world, is it worth the investment? To sacrifice four people's lives for the sake of one person's dream?

Passion -- something that is truly important in pursuing a dream, no? Coupled with the proper drive and discipline, it is already winning the first half of the battle. What about the second half where talent is concerned? What would you do if someone you love has the drive, ambition and passion for something that is not backed by talent and ability?

Let's say your daughter wants nothing more than to act and perform professionally. She pours her heart out in rehearsals, in training, in practicing. There's no question about it -- she indeed has passion. And though she has gotten better in time, you know deep inside that she neither has the talent nor the package to make it big. Gut feel, instinct -- after all, there's no real way of telling, right? How do you inject enough reality in her in order to cushion the blow of the harsh world?

Do we set ourselves up for disappointments when we set our hearts on something? When we want something so bad, feeling the pinch of failure is a hundred times the pain of trying to gain that success.

It's heart breaking when our dreams do not agree with our realities, for many reasons other than self-doubt and fear. There are ways around it though... after all, when the door closes, a window somewhere is opened, right? Perhaps the conflict of our dreams and realities is an indirect way of the universe telling us that we are meant for something bigger and better. Our destiny maybe? Disappointments will set initially and we mourn and dwell, but surely, it cannot be that way forever. We pick ourselves up and push forward again -- this time, for something else that suits us better. Life is a big game of trial and error. Just because we have cherry-picked a dream for ourselves doesn't mean it will work out.

The most important thing is that we have given it our best stab in acquiring that dream.

Adversity is for those who have constant hope and faith. However, the concept of reality can dangerously lean towards the fizzling out of hope and faith. It must be taken in ample doses... just enough to temper ambitions and risks. There is a fine line that distinguishes a pessimist from a realist. The difference is that a realist still has some sort of hope infused deep within whereas a pessimist has completely given up. And a realist is aware of boundaries and consequences -- and is simply taking measures to avoid it before moving forward.

Ambition must be tempered with a dash of reality... and a dollop of heart and soul.

"The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails." - William Arthur Ward

There's nothing wrong with a little practicality as long as it doesn't interfere with our passion, our drive and our motivation. After all, the wind is still there, we just have to set our sails so it would agree with our direction. Just the same with dreams. Dreams do not disappear... we just have to find the right ones for us... again and again.

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Good Game of Solitude

"Do you remember in high school when everyone would walk in packs or do everything with either someone else or ten other people?"

It was exactly seven years ago and I was on a long distance call with a friend. We were comparing notes on our respective college lives since we were attending universities on opposite coasts. We were also reflecting on how different our lives have managed to become -- only a mere several months fresh out of high school.

"Yeah, I know," I retorted. "I don't think I ever had to eat lunch alone or do anything alone for that matter... it was fun though."

"Yeah but It's different in college though," she said in a wistful manner. "Most people are usually alone. And it seems like they actually enjoy it that way."

Fast forward to the present, and that particular conversation still resonates in my head.

I was once that naive little girl who enshrouded herself with numerous friends in order to fill a void that she didn't quite understand. I was so afraid of being alone and what people thought of me that I made sure that I didn't run out of people to be with. And those instances where I was left with no choice but to be alone were the longest and most dreadful hours, even minutes, of my life.

See, I didn't understand back then that being alone didn't necessarily equate being lonely. Neither did I realize that it's entirely possible to be lonely amongst a crowd that one can easily get lost in. As a matter of fact, sometimes being surrounded by a thousand faces just reiterates loneliness and isolation. It took me years to figure out that being lonely and being alone are mutually exclusive -- and that there is nothing wrong with being either.

As I got older, I have learned to embrace the idea of myself -- including having myself as a companion and even as a friend. Unfortunately, it was through a series of bitter realizations and wake up calls that I have come to discover that sometimes, all you have is you to rely on. I have always been blessed with kind-hearted and genuine people surrounding me. It was only a matter of time that my trust acquire a certain shade of jadedness and weariness. However, the key was not to give up. Instead, it was about trusting yourself enough to know that you will indeed be okay.

Being alone is like getting stripped off all insecurities and pretentions that we often find ourselves hiding behind. It is like getting faced one-on-one with the naked truth and coming to terms with it. It is learning to be whole... with everything else serving as accoutrements designed to enhance and to complement. In a few words, it is oddly liberating.

Oftentimes, I am eager to spend time with myself though, don't get me wrong, I always appreciate the company of good friends and loved ones. However, it is in the simplest forms of pleasure do I derive much happiness from -- such as sitting on a bench armed with my iPod and ice cream whilst people-watching and creating their stories in my head. Or sitting down for a meal in the middle of a busy food court after a long day of (window) shopping and strolling around. Or even a soulful train ride away from the familiar and the unceremonious. A few years ago, this would have been taboo in my books but now, it is a privilege and a luxury that I look forward to from time to time.

Finding joy in myself was like finding home and being comfortably nestled amid the walls -- with the doors and windows wide open for the entry of friendship and love. However, solitude isn't merely a wall that we use to conceal ourselves from the harsh realities. Rather, it is the binding force that keeps us together in times of turbulence and discomfiture.

It is the lull that we need after a storm. It is survival, it is reward, and it is peace. And it is utmost satisfaction.

Paul Johannes Tillich (1854) once said, "Language has created the word LONELINESS to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word SOLITUDE to express the glory of being alone."

Can anything be truer than that?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Life And Nothing Like It

The recent bloodbath that took place in Virginia Tech a few days ago is affecting me more than I'd like it to. I can only think of 2 reasons why it is so: 1) either I feel deeply for these college kids who are now semi-deprived of a carefree, jocund college life that is essentially a source of memories to be regaled to the next few generations, or 2) that I suddenly realized how death can present itself to anyone, anywhere, any time and in any way -- no warning at all. It is quite disturbing, no?

I was also once a college student that aimlessly roamed the dormitory halls, classroom buildings, cafeterias and even the library (believe it or not) for 4 whole years -- 4 years of my life that was well-spent and eternally etched in my head. It never occurred to me that I might get into a fatal accident, more so get shot in the head by a repressed and enraged lunatic. It was only by sheer luck (though mathematicians can probably statistically disprove me on this) that those 4 years I spent in college were with relatively normal and mentally-balanced people. If there was one deranged person in my campus, thank heavens he or she didn't push through with an episode involving warfare.

I went to a pretty suburban college in Massachusetts within 10 minutes from Boston and with a cozy student population of about 5,000. We were all aspiring businessmen who were biding time in order to get that much-coveted piece of paper that will serve as our foot on the door to the nefarious corporate America. The decision for me to go to that particular business school was entirely my parents' only because a) they were paying for it through and through, and b) they were paying for it through and through *grin*. I got conned into taking up a business degree as I come from a business-oriented family -- no doctors, no lawyers, no teachers, no architects, nada at all. Not even an ounce of exaggeration there. I figured that maybe I can excel in the trade just like everyone else that I'm related to by blood. Whether or not I did is a story reserved for another time... *enigmatic smile*

See, I could've gone to other business schools but my mum was adamant that I stayed out of the city so my choices were narrowed. She reckoned that it would lower my chances of getting abducted, mugged, raped, murdered, robbed... (insert unfortunate here) . It made sense for a while -- up until a few days ago just after hearing about the VTech massacre. Without warning, it was as if there were no more places on earth that was deemed safe. From what I hear, VTech is located in the mountains of Virginia. It's an outstanding school that houses 25,000 of students from all over the world -- in the borders of redneckstan.

Now, tell me, would it still have made any difference if my parents sent me to a college in Queens, New York or Peach Tree, Georgia? Or even a college in Wyoming boasting a population of 500,000 in the entire state? Or Blacksburg, Virginia?

Suddenly, all the precautionary measures that my parents took and that I know of while we were choosing the ideal college were rendered invalid. What is the benchmark of "safe" now? How can anyone make a college psycho-proof without inviting a lawsuit for discrimation? Is home school in vogue these days?

Here's the thing: If it's our time, then it's our time -- no questions, no buts, no ifs. I had mixed feelings regarding that VTech student who was part of the unfortunate few who got robbed of their lives. He was only a few months away from receiving his doctorate. If God whispered to him a few years ago that he will die around 9 in the morning of April 16, 2007, would he have still pursued his PhD or would he have done something else? Would he have gone on a completely different path and gathered experiences that only one can imagine?

It really makes us think.

I'll be outright truthful -- if I know that I were only to live another year in my life, I will not be where I am right now. I have no idea where I'll be, but I know I will be busy sucking the juices out of life in gallons and truckloads. I've recently learned that I'm sidelined by risk aversion and that I tend to think too much of the future. I've only begun to make up for all the lost opportunities to make a difference and to really live. This includes bringing financial security and a successful career several notches down on the priority ladder. I used to obsess about those a few years back. I thought, "Hey, if I had those, then I can do about anything else I want. After all, money's a powerful ticket that can bring me anywhere I want."

Right. I think St. Peter will give me a negative score on how I played the game of life.

Here's the tricky part. I am highly aware that it's malapropros to be horribly reckless and irresponsible, but I also think that we all deserve to be happy and to skip out on the bitter realities derailing our true dreams and ambitions. A happy medium can be achieved, methinks, where we can still enjoy life without necessarily ruining it. As the Greeks have it: nothing in excess -- moderation, balance and self control. There is reason, and there is passion -- poignantly addressed by the battle between Apollo and Dionysos in ancient Greek mythology. Both can be blended together but keep it true in heart what matters the most. And that can only be decided by us and us alone. Not anyone, not society, not religion, not the government, and not our families. Nonetheless, as many would probably agree, it is easier said than done. And I know for a fact that this particular kink in life is where I struggle.

God never gave us a cheat sheet when He brought us all on earth. We're essentially on our own to scavenge for guidance and truth. However, I'm sure He meant for us to enjoy the journey. And until He decides when He wants to drop the axe, we shall continue living. It's just up to us whether or not we should live passionately, reasonably or a cocktail of both.

The question is: If there is a gun pointing directly at your face and you are literally given 2 seconds to think of how to get out of the situation (which you clearly won't be able to) -- would you be desperately begging for reprieve because you feel that you haven't fully lived life yet? That you haven't done half of the things that you've truly wanted to accomplish?

I say, take your checklist and start ticking now... and not tomorrow. I'm sure at least 32 people will vouch for that and will say "Trust me, I would too."

PS -- When was the last time that you did something for the first time?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Great Wall of the Heart

I don't speak for everyone when I say this -- though many may agree -- but I think I try to protect myself emotionally in a subconscious level by building walls around me. One of my greatest fears is not simply losing the people I love, but seeing those whom I love walk away from me without warning. That is enough to break a thousand people's hearts -- not to mention crush mine to an irreversible state.

I've heard somewhere that when the human body experiences some sort of trauma, the area that has been affected goes into a lapse of numbness in order to avoid the same unfortunate feeling again. Or something similar. I reckon it's exactly the same with emotions. Some of us can be stubborn enough to keep banging our heads against the wall knowing clearly how it's going to hurt us in the end. Those who have learned the hard way aren't quite so stupid. Rather, they turn towards the opposite end of the spectrum and avoid being put in a situation that may hurt them again. In other words, they shut down to the world -- and if lucky, maybe open a tiny crack on the window to let an itty-bitty ray of light to come in. Enough to survive, I can imagine.

Like kings and queens in our own worlds, we put up walls around our kingdoms. We protect ourselves from evil forces or any battles that may be waged against us. We decide to keep within ourselves and not bother to look out on the other side. It's like oblivion to the outside world. And we'd rather miss out than have to go through so much pain and misery all over again -- enough to kill an ox. The trauma is a recurring nightmare that plays in our heads and we end up doubting ourselves whether or not it's truly over.

However, I dare say that those walls may also be unknowingly put up in a bid to find out who will bother to knock it down and come through to our side. It is perhaps a method that will filter out those whom haven't given up on us yet -- regardless of the fact that we have fully put across that we've given up on ourselves; more so, them.

It is one of the special instances that we indulge ourselves in narcissistic and self-absorbed attitudes and completely wallow in self-pity. We put ourselves in darkness to discover who will shine the light on us and help us out. Unfortunately, many fail the test and continue to walk out on us without ever turning back. But there are the golden few who have done otherwise and persisted to knock down our walls amid bleeding hands.

If you get one person to do that -- to fight for you -- then you have probably done something right.

It may be hard to believe sometimes, but we are truly never alone. The thing is, we might not exactly get the attention and compassion of those people we are hoping would contribute them, but there will always be someone else who is willing to do so. We simply have to open our eyes and minds to them because we may choose those whom we want to love, but it's no longer within our control who decides to love us.

So yes, you may put up that wall, but permit others to break it down. After all, we all need knights in shining armors right?

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Roll With The Punches

"All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces. Bright and early for their daily races, going nowhere, going nowhere." -- Tears for Fears, Mad World

Office politics is one unfortunate game that we all have to participate in at least once in our lives -- and I've learned over the past few years that the size of the organization we're in isn't always directly proportional to the amount and degree of office politics present. As a matter of fact, sometimes it seems like it's inversely proportional that it's borderline ridiculous. It doesn't quite make sense.

The way I see it: the bigger the company, the more employees there are... therefore, there are more people doing the same job and cutting the time a job gets completed, thus giving people more time to muck around and to discuss sordid issues that generally make the workplace a living nightmare! However, it seems to be that no matter how busy we are and no matter how snowed under we are with work, we evidently will always have the time to make other people's lives much more difficult than it truly needs to be by playing the frivolous game of office politics.

Raise your hands if you think that theory needs to get posted on big billboards all over the world.

I liken it to a plague -- no one likes it but it's hard to get rid of. And even if we have a vague idea on how it began, there's really no way for us to confirm it. And ultimately, we all have to live with it even if it means we all know that we die in the end. I never understood why the educational system bothered to contain high school within 4 years when in truth, high school stretches to our professional lives just dubbed in more glamorous terms *cough* office politics *cough* We're all basically playing the same high school games just with better dress sense, more cash in our pockets and desks with these horrid little things called computers. However, we have no recess, no class breaks and no free pudding during lunch. So maybe in some aspects, high school life was a tad better than our professional life.

The thing with working is that we all do it for one thing: the money. Surely there are a few lucky sods who enjoy what they do (bless them!) but at the end of the day, we all have bills to pay. And it's bad enough that we have to endure working for at least 8 hours a day (*snort* 12 hours is the new 8 hours!), straining our physical senses and forming flat tushies from our not-very-ergonomic swivel chairs. The last thing we need are unnecessary obstacles that get in the way of us finishing our work and getting home while the sun is still up. For instance, attending pointless and long-winded meetings, brown-nosing with the higher-ups whom we have no idea how they got there in the first place, fending off bitches and assholes who don't understand that they're only making themselves look petty and childish by doing so (and not to mention giving us endless migraines), and avoiding more idiots who nourish their souls by playing god over others.

And the funny thing is -- those abovementioned people all have IQs the same size of their shoes (may it be in American, Italian or British standards). To make matters a little simpler, we're all essentially busy dodging the mentally-incapacitated people at work just so we can complete our jobs as efficiently and diligently as we could. And not to mention, so we can get the hell out of there before our brain cells get infested with maggots.

I mean, how insulting would it be to get corrected by someone who can't explain why the international date line exists? And by someone who doesn't realize that Europe isn't a country?

See, back in school, we're all placed in different ranks according to our grades and marks. The higher our grades are, the more we are revered and recognized. We get protected by those numbers and we knew that they speak of us quite accurately and fairly. Whereas at work, no matter how good our accomplishments are and no matter how hard we work, we will be with the dogs forever if we don't succumb to the filthy game of office politics. There are the good players and there are those who choose to take the high road. And there are the clever few who manage to do both. Saying that it's unfair isn't even the beginning of it.

Then again, remember, the plague! It doesn't discriminate whom it kills...

Honestly, there should be some sort of index on how well we handle office politics -- and it's also something that we should be able to put proudly on our resumes. I think that working is 30% doing the job and 70% surviving the workplace. It's really being able to get through shark-infested waters and emerging bright and shiny no matter how close we were to getting our hands and legs devoured.

The good thing with high school is that we graduate and we get to bigger and better places -- and the fact that it actually ends! However, with work and office politics, it just gets bigger... and worse!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Green-Eyed Monster vs. Schadenfraude

Food for thought -- Is it better to be unhappy because of someone else's happiness? Or to be happy because of someone else's unhappiness?

Truly, both situations have a hint of darkness injected in it but such is life... as no one's perfect and we sometimes succumb to eating the forbidden fruit. However, there are instances where it's a matter of picking the better of 2 evils. Is it more tolerable to have the green monster constantly residing inside you or to find euphoria in sadistic vileness -- or perhaps schadenfraude, to put it simply?

Envy -- one of the seven cardinal sins. It's a household name, isn't it? If it doesn't constantly haunt our lives, surely it has paid us a visit at least once in our lives. It's an emotion that leads us to feel even more emotions -- mostly those that we don't thoroughly enjoy feeling. It's the frustration of not being able to reach for what we want... and then seeing someone else possess what we desire, that's when situations turn sour. Even deadly.

It's almost normal to feel envious, isn't it? However, does it absolve us from committing a grave sin attributed to our passion for earthly matters?

Parrott (1991) managed to split a hair strand by distinguishing 2 kinds of envy: the non-malicious kind and the malicious. The former is a classic case. It simply denotes one's desire for something that another person has. "I wish I have what you have." Aren't we all guilty of having thoughts like that everyday? It's as habitual as having dinner as it's human nature. However, the latter kind involves wrath and an unhealthy amount of passion for something. "I wish you do not have what you have." It's almost as if it's continued by: only because I cannot have it. Not only is it envy on steroids, but it's also selfishness and abomination all rolled into one.

The difference is -- so you're envious, what are you going to do about it? That's when having options start becoming dangerous.

As for schadenfraude, it is the happiness in finding malice over someone else's mishap. The unfortunate mentality either stems from disdain felt towards someone or even from a general sense of envy -- perhaps with a dash of relief that it didn't happen to us. Nonetheless, it's still evil at work disguised as extreme joy, especially since it's entirely possible that schadenfraude could be the most sincere kind of happiness ever to exist. It's the sad truth.

However, the universe always finds a way to maintain some sort of equilibrium on earth. And for this particular matter, a spoonful of karma is prescribed by the doctor. Surely, finding happiness in someone else's sorrow isn't a difficult thing to do -- which means, that someone else finding happiness in your sorrow is also as easy as pie. No matter how secret our little schadenfraude moment is, it will always find a way to knock us back and sigh. We are asking for it -- and we know it.

Maybe Arthur Schopenhauer has given us an answer regarding my question up top: "To feel envy is human, to enjoy schadenfraude is devilish." To feel the emotion is perfectly okay, but reacting adversely towards it is what draws the line between human and inhuman.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Absence Schmabsence

I can defend the fact that I've been missing in action for while -- I've been busy working on my long overdue article and I've been travelling. My article just got published this month and here's the link:

My Article on Asiance Magazine (

I'll be back on my lair soon... and the writing will resume. I miss pouring my thoughts on paper and my head is swelling up right now. Unfortunately, no time to dump them all in an organized manner so it would have to wait.

Three cheers!