film friday: the graduate

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"There is nothing better than discovering, to your own astonishment, what you're meant to do. It's like falling in love." -- Mike Nichols

Last scene from The Graduate, in honor of its brilliant filmmaker who passed away two days ago. If you haven't seen it yet, go watch this movie. It is perfect in every way.

Here's to you, Mr. Nichols.

for a traveler

by Jessica Greenbaum

I only have a moment so let me tell you the shortest story,
about arriving at a long loved place, the house of friends in Maine,
their lawn of wildflowers, their grandfather clock and candid
portraits, their gabled attic rooms, and woodstove in the kitchen,
all accessories of the genuine summer years before, when I was
their son’s girlfriend and tied an apron behind my neck, beneath
my braids, and took from their garden the harvest for a dinner
I would make alone and serve at their big table with the gladness
of the found, and loved. The eggplant shone like polished wood,
the tomatoes smelled like their furred collars, the dozen zucchini
lined up on the counter like placid troops with the onions, their
minions, and I even remember the garlic, each clove from its airmail
envelope brought to the cutting board, ready for my instruction.
And in this very slight story, a decade later, I came by myself,
having been dropped by the airport cab, and waited for the family
to arrive home from work. I walked into the lawn, waist-high
in the swaying, purple lupines, the subject of   June’s afternoon light
as I had never been addressed — a displaced young woman with
cropped hair, no place to which I wished to return, and no one
to gather me in his arms. That day the lupines received me,
and I was in love with them, because they were all I had left,
and in that same manner I have loved much of the world since then,
and who is to say there is more of a reason, or more to love?

Via Poetry Magazine (May 2014)

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Sometimes a poem comes to our lives, at exactly the right time, and speak to us 
in such a personal way, as if they understand exactly what we are going through. 
They gift us with a moment of clarity, a window to our hearts.

november and middlemarch

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I would not creep along the coast, but steer
Out in mid-sea, by guidance of the stars.

-- George Eliot, Middlemarch

I was cleaning out my "drafts" folder and found these photos, from years ago, taken with a disposable camera at Ocean Beach. If I remember correctly, the light was brighter then, though I actually don't mind these grainy images as they seem to reflect the pensive mood that I am in. Autumn always inspires introspection, and even more so lately, as I've experienced some personal setbacks that made me to slow down, and re-evaluate what is really important.

A few days ago, I read the last page of Middlemarch, after carrying it around for three weeks. I felt bereft, and yet elated. To have read it, especially at this time in my life, is like a quiet affirmation. And how does one make of a book like that? One that is so inherently human, so psychologically on point, it was sometimes difficult to recognize parts of yourself, with all your faults and expectations, reflected in its characters? I know I've yet to comprehend how much this book has touched me, but I feel like I am seeing the world through different eyes, partly because of it.

Has any of you read Middlemarch? I'd love to hear your thoughts. I was dying to discuss it with someone while I was reading it. In fact, it was one of those times when I wished I was a literature major in college, for I would've loved to have a long discussion about Middlemarch, and all it's complexities.

natsukashii (懐かしい)

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natsukashii (adj., Japanese) / Pronunciation: nahtzkah-SHEE
A small, ordinary thing that suddenly brings a fond memory flooding back to you. There is no direct English word for it, although it is often translated as "dear", "cherished", or "beloved".

----

Last month, I had to say goodbye to my little sanctuary by the sea. A beloved coffee shop had closed forever, and as I was sitting there on it's last day, trying to be calm and accepting, I saw the paper cranes I gave them, neatly lined up along the windowsill, and I couldn't help but feel so very sad about it all. So many memories, gorgeous sunsets, and lovely people I met through the years. Sunny afternoons spent reading, writing letters, gazing out towards the sea.

I wrote these lines, from a poem by Tomas Tranströmer, over and over again:

Suddenly it turned dark as in downpour.
I stood in a room that held every moment -
a butterfly museum. 

the way back

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I've been thinking about blogging lately, how it has changed, for me at least, and how difficult it is for me to blog now. I'm not really sure how it happened, or if I just prefer other social media platforms, like Instagram, but one thing is for sure, I do miss blogging.

I miss the freedom that blogging allows, to write about anything that moves and inspires me. I miss having a core group of blogs to read, and bloggers I interact with on a consistent basis. I miss the routine and comfort of this little space.

I guess what I'm trying to say is, I really hope to blog more again.

In the meantime, here are some things that inspire me lately:

Happy November, my friends.

ordinary excuses

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In a room measured by solitude / my heart / measured by love / I find ordinary excuses for its happiness. --Forugh Farrokhzad

boy and his yellow boat

boat, malcapuya island


I first met him in an island where my siblings and I had lunch, a young boy who was about 12 years old. He gave me directions to a small store, the only one in the island, and I remembered that his hair was almost blond, naturally lightened by the tropical sun.

A few hours later, I saw him again in another island, raking some fallen leaves near the shore. Visitors were only allowed to stay there until 4:30, and when it was time for us to leave, our guide waved and shouted goodbye to him from our boat.

It turned out that the boy's job was to make sure that visitors come and leave the islands on time, like a gatekeeper of sorts. My last glimpse of him, waving and smiling from his yellow boat, with the blue sky in the background, is an image that stayed with me for awhile now.

I wonder what his life is like, living in the islands, and taking care of those pristine beaches. I wonder if he goes to school, if he knows how to read or write, what his family is like, if he swam and raced with his friends. I wonder if he also wonders about people living in faraway places, and the world beyond.

Photo taken at Malcapuya Island, using a Fuji Instax Wide camera

morning, coron town


Early morning, we ate breakfast on a veranda overlooking the pier, and watched the small island town come to life. Our breakfast was always the same - fish and rice, eggs, fruits, coffee for me and my brother, hot chocolate for my sisters.

We talked about the islands we planned to visit, and made sure we had everything we needed for the full day ahead, things like snorkeling masks, a bottle of water, and sunscreen.

Then we were off to the sea, with backpacks over our shoulders.


Have a listen: The Boat Behind

hello, love.

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"There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings..."


-Robert Haas, Meditation at Lagunitas


It has been while, I know. I have stories that need to be told, though it's really hard for me to sit down and write these days.

I came back from my trip to the Philippines exactly a month ago, and some part of me is still wishing I were there, waking at six in the morning to swim, or catch the first light of the day, while floating on turquoise seas.

Soon, I hope, I will settle into a routine, and create a space for myself around here. My new place is up on a hill and has a lovely view of the city. On clear nights, I can count the stars from our back porch, and remember to dream again.

And to those of you who still read my blog, thank you. Much love to you. 

All photos taken by me, from the islands of Northern Palawan, Philippines.

life lately

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“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?”― Oscar Wilde

Tonight, the moon is full and beautiful. My fingers are tired and stiff, having written letters in the last couple of hours, letters that are now on their way to dear friends, both near and far.

I'm moving in three weeks, and it's also the end of our school year, so life couldn't be more hectic. But there's something about packing your personal belongings that is very solitary and cathartic, and despite this fear I have that I'll never be able to finish everything, there's also a quiet joy that comes from finding notes tucked in books, dresses I haven't worn in awhile, tickets from favorite shows, old Polaroid photos, almost 7 years worth of memories. And the realization that despite all its difficulties, my life is indeed filled with goodness, and wonderful people, and that I am free to do the things that I love.

And then, I am finally going home, to the Philippines, for two months. I can't be too excited yet since I still have so much to do before then, but TWO MONTHS!!! I haven't been home in years, so I think that deserves exclamation points. And I'm so looking forward to spending time with my family, and breathe the tropical sea breeze of the islands.

book thoughts: the goldfinch



I wrote this exactly two weeks ago, after I learned that Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In a way, this is the Side B to my previous post, the same book that I took with me to the park. I wanted to get my thoughts down on paper, because I've been missing its characters since I read it in January, and I was curious to know why I'm so attached to it.

Here's the transcript of what I wrote (may contain some plot spoilers):

Today 'The Goldfinch' won the Pulitzer. I don't even know why I love it so, it's not the kind of book that I often go crazy about. I think what really won me over about this novel is it's ability to take me to this fictional world and really live in it. I remembered feeling so bereft when I finished reading it - all 771 pages - and really missing the characters in a huge way. I missed Theo and Boris, I missed hanging out inside Hobbie's antique shop, I missed Amsterdam at Christmas, even if I've never been to Amsterdam. That's how 'real' the story was to me.

I know that if I look at it closely, there are some inconsistencies, and too many random coincidences that propelled the plot forward, but I honestly don't care about those things. Because in those two weeks that I lugged that heavy book around, reading it before I go to sleep, reading it in coffee shops and talking to strangers about it, I was completely swept away in Theo's world. I felt his heartache when his mom died, I fell in love with Boris and was drawn to his larger-than-life personality, the way Theo must have been drawn to him, and I wanted to be a part of their crazy (mis)adventures, no matter how messed up and unbelievable they are.

And isn't this the whole point of reading fiction? To be swept away in a make believe world and learn about one's self in the process? Reading 'The Goldfinch' felt like that to me, it was like falling in love with books for the first time, all over again, and being enchanted with worlds and stories between it's pages.


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I've been rereading some passages that I highlighted, and this one really stood out for me.

"And just as music is the space between notes, just as the stars are beautiful because of the space between them, just as the sun strikes raindrops at a certain angle and throws a prism of color across the sky - so the space where I exist, and want to keep existing, and to be quiet frank I hope I die in, is exactly this middle distance: where despair is struck pure otherness and created something sublime."

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Has any of you read The Goldfinch? I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

a windfall

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How I Would Paint Happiness

Something sudden, a windfall,
a meteor shower. No—
a flowering tree releasing
all its blossoms at once,
and the one standing beneath it
unexpectedly robed in bloom,
transformed into a stranger
too beautiful to touch.

by Lisel Mueller, from Imaginary Paintings

----

Today I briefly sat under this tree, the wind was blowing steadily, and I found a pink blossom that fell on the grass. I tucked it between the pages of a beloved book, and left because it was starting to get too cold. Then I went to a coffee shop nearby and had hot apple cider, while writing a letter to a friend who lives in Amsterdam.

Is it possible to miss a place you've never been? Because I feel that way about Amsterdam, and other cities I've known only through books. 

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Poem taken from The Paris Review, Issue No. 124, Fall 1992

capella

by Carl Philipps, The Kenyon Review

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I.

I miss the sea.

I miss the storms
that stopped there.

How much is luck, again opening,
and luck shutting itself down, what we
never expected, or only sort of did,
or should have?

The windfalls of my mistakes sweetly rot beneath me.

Two hawks lift—headed north—from my highest bough.


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II.

So he’s seen the blizzard that the future
looks like, and gotten lost,
a little. All the same— 

he gathers the honeysuckle in his arms,
as for a lover. Cloud of bees,
of yellow.

His chest, blurring bright with it.

Who’s to say brutality’s what he’ll be wearing,
when he goes?


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III.

There’s a light that estrangement,
more often than not, briefly
leaves behind it.

                         Then the dark—blue and damned,
erotic: here, where—done at last
with flashing like
power itself at first, then what power

comes to—the field
lays down its winded swords. —My head;
beside yours.


----

This poem is very special to me. It got me through those cold days in December when I was very sick and could only stay in bed, longing for the day when I will finally see the ocean again.

I took these photos with a disposable camera on New Year's Day. The tides were so huge, the light so luminous, you can't help but feel your heart expand to contain it all. 

Poem is taken from The Kenyon Review, Winter 2014, Volume XXXVI.

today's inpiration: the redwoods

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“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.”

--Emily Dickinson

sand dunes

Sand dunes

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sand dunes

sand dunes

Late Autumn, Winter, Early Spring

I've sat in this same spot through the years, watching the ocean, sometimes squinting at the sun, or shivering in the cold. Most of the time, I come here when I am overwhelmed, when the daily grind is too much to bear, I take my shoes off and dig my toes in the sand, leaving all my worries behind. My heart feels at home here, with the shifting sand dunes.

Have a listen to this lovely piece by The Cinematic Orchestra.

good days

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Uitwaaien is a Dutch word which means to take a brief break in the countryside to clear one's head. It literally translates as “to take a walk in the wind.” (Pronounced as out-vye-in)

I don't know about you guys but uitwaaien sounds really good right now. I had a terrible last few days, one that started with me crying at a train station in the rain, to spending Thursday evening inside a friend's car while we drove around a couple of blocks because it was too cold and I couldn't remember where I had parked my car.

I kept reminding myself to just let go, there will always be people who will treat others badly, and I can't do anything about that. To focus on gratitude and what brings me joy instead.

Spending time by the ocean, climbing up and down sand dunes, whilst watching the last of the sun disappear on the horizon. Hanging out next to a little greenhouse, thinking about my mom, and how much I miss her rooftop garden filled with all kinds of tropical plants. Taking inspiration from Jane Eyre, and these lines.

One of my best friends sending a hilarious photo of someone we both love, with a subject line that says: "To get through a sucky day, you just need to grasp at anything that can make you smile."

And some days, it works. 

this (writing) life

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Hello friends! It's been awhile, a lot has happened in-between, I feel like I'm barely keeping myself afloat these days. Sometimes I'm so overwhelmed all I could do is drive somewhere beautiful so I can take pictures and forget about the craziness, if only for moment (hence the frequent updates on my Instagram). Though it doesn't go away, it does help some. As do binge-watching Sherlock and The Hollow Crown, or running to my neighborhood bookstore at 9 in the evening to pick up a book, even if I have stacks of unread ones on my nightstand.

I guess the one good thing about all this is how desperately I've been clinging on to words, as if they are my lifeline. One night, I spent hours writing down a rough sketch of my manuscript, and demolished the first chapters that I worked so hard for months. When I finally came up with a beginning chapter that I was satisfied with, it felt like I had won a battle. Of course, it's not always like this, and life is so hectic that I barely even have time to write. But I do find myself reaching for passages from books that I love, reciting poetry I know by heart, even certain phrases from prayers I memorized when I was young.

Here is a poem that especially speaks to me now. It reminds me of the main characters of the story I'm writing, of myself, and life in general:


The Writer
by Richard Wilbur
(listen to audio)


In her room at the prow of the house
Where light breaks, and the windows are tossed with linden,
My daughter is writing a story.

I pause in the stairwell, hearing
From her shut door a commotion of typewriter-keys
Like a chain hauled over a gunwale.

Young as she is, the stuff
Of her life is a great cargo, and some of it heavy:
I wish her a lucky passage.

But now it is she who pauses,
As if to reject my thought and its easy figure.
A stillness greatens, in which

The whole house seems to be thinking,
And then she is at it again with a bunched clamor
Of strokes, and again is silent.

I remember the dazed starling
Which was trapped in that very room, two years ago;
How we stole in, lifted a sash

And retreated, not to affright it;
And how for a helpless hour, through the crack of the door,
We watched the sleek, wild, dark

And iridescent creature
Batter against the brilliance, drop like a glove
To the hard floor, or the desk-top,

And wait then, humped and bloody,
For the wits to try it again; and how our spirits
Rose when, suddenly sure,

It lifted off from a chair-back,
Beating a smooth course for the right window
And clearing the sill of the world.

It is always a matter, my darling,
Of life or death, as I had forgotten. I wish
What I wished you before, but harder.

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I really love the metaphor of the dazed starling in this poem, because that's how I often feel lately. But I'm also very hopeful that just like this starling, I too will find the right window, and 'clear the sill of the world'.

(Photo above is a screencap of Jo March, one of my favorite fictional characters, from the film adaptation of Little Women)

pale fire

Ah, how I love Ocean Beach.

I had a really long meeting today and was so exhausted when I left work but as soon as I stepped out of our building, I saw the gorgeous sky in the distance, and reminded myself that the ocean is just 20-some blocks away, I could still drive there and catch the last light. And I did.

I only stayed for a little while but it was enough to give me a space to breathe. Just a few minutes, in a place that you love, is all. Took a photograph for you, because it was too lovely, and I wish you could have seen it.

And here is another inspiration for the day: Nabokov's words, a gorgeous facsimile from a poem in Pale Fire. I haven't read this novel yet but I've always found comfort in his prose, and this one is no exception. I love the part about his eyes taking photographs because that is what I aspire to do as a writer -- take mental pictures of a moment, and later, try to recreate it with words, as truthfully as possible.

from pale fire, nabokov

Transcript:

All colors made me happy: even gray.
My eyes were such that literally they
Took photographs. Whenever I'd permit,
Or, with a silent shiver, order it,
Whatever in my field of vision dwelt--
An indoor scene, hickory leaves, the svelte
Stilettos of a frozen stillicide--
Was printed on my eyelids' nether side
Where it would tarry for an hour or two,
And while this lasted all I had to do
Was close my eyes...


-- Vladimir Nabokov, from "Pale Fire: A Poem in Four Cantos by John Shade"

rain light

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Last Saturday, it rained for the first time in weeks. It wasn't the heavy rain we had longed for, to counter California's lingering drought, but it was much welcomed nonetheless. I met up with an old friend, a fellow Capricorn, whom I haven't seen in a long time, and we had coffee and brunch to celebrate our birthdays. We also went to one of my favorite places in the city, the backyard garden at the General Store, and its lovely little greenhouse.

This greenhouse just makes me so happy. But it was especially magical that morning, surrounded with twinkling fairy lights and misty rain on the windowpanes. If I wasn't feeling cold, I could have stayed there longer, just watching the rain.

I decided to treat myself for my birthday and spent a long time mulling over which item to buy, since I pretty much want everything in the General Store. In the end, I picked a beautiful hand painted mug by LA-based artists Kat and Roger (you can see photos of their pieces here). It may have been a bit of a splurge but it is also something that I will take delight in using everyday, when I drink my coffee or tea, and a reminder to surround myself with the things that I love.

I always pick a poem to welcome the new year, and for the past week I've been gathering some pieces, but none of them felt right. Then I read this poem and I instantly knew it is the one. I love its quiet sureness, how simple and profound it is at the same time. The first four lines really touched me to the core. (You can listen to the audio here).

Rain Light

All day the stars watch from long ago
my mother said I am going now
when you are alone you will be all right
whether or not you know you will know
look at the old house in the dawn rain
all the flowers are forms of water
the sun reminds them through a white cloud
touches the patchwork spread on the hill
the washed colors of the afterlife
that lived there long before you were born
see how they wake without a question
even though the whole world is burning


-- W.S. Merwin, from The Shadow of Sirius

I was first introduced to W.S. Merwin through reading his translations of Pablo Neruda's poetry when I was still in college. Although he won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice (1971 and 2009),  he is one of the lesser read poets of our generation. I'm really looking forward to reading and sharing his poetry this year.  Also, I found out from his interview for The Kenyon Review, that every line in Rain Light is composed of nine syllables. Isn't that amazing?

first days

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“Let us dream of evanescence, and linger in the beautiful foolishness of things.”

― Kakuzō Okakura, The Book of Tea

On the first day of 2014, I wrote a postcard to myself from Half Moon Bay. I simply wrote how I felt in that moment, how luminous the light was, how the ocean was so majestic, it seemed as though it contained everything that is good and true in this world. I wanted to remember that day and remind myself to be present, and to always hold dear those that are important to me.

I didn't make any resolutions but my main wish for this new year is: to take better care of myself. I tend to do so many things all at once, and try to be there for everyone, I often forget that my body needs to rest, too. (Most especially, sleep!)

So yes, here's to a year of being kinder to ourselves, in all ways that matter.