Dear Mama

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You, more than anyone else, know that I communicate better with pen than with speech, and that even if my adeptness in the two were reversed, I would still prefer the pen because of the ease with which I can postpone the delivery of words to their intended recipient until they resemble a shape I actually like. So, this letter which serves as my greeting may not find you in time within this 24-hour window dedicated to women such as yourself who persisted through the pain of childbirth and endured the even trying course of rearing. I hope you agree that it is not so much the timing as the content that matters.

We both have the tendency to surrender words elicited in the heat of the moment in place of the ones we actually mean, but unlike me, you recompense this rashness with your hands battered by the everyday toil of motherhood. I perceive your affection in the meals you prepare, the clothes you launder and press with care, your effort to counterbalance my propensity to put things in disarray, your concern veiled as rebukes, your way of knowing what I need before the situation begs for it, and above all, your patience for the repetitiveness of it all.

You once expressed in anger and exasperation at one of my reckless decisions that you regret going through the entire phase of motherhood. Whether or not this is one of your rash words, I can only extend apologies for the instances I made you feel so and declare the promise that I will continue shaping up to be a human being you shouldn’t feel remorse for giving birth to.

Mama, here are three words I can never say enough: I love you.

Love,

Diding

Death is Here to Stay

death

Death is oft a topic left for somber-tinged conversations, satire, black comedy, and tragedy. As the entire mankind knows all too well, it is never associated with happiness. Relief, possibly, but never happiness. Although death is just as compulsory as life, it is never welcome when it crops up. Death does not get any less surprising, painful, and dreadful each time it arrives. In Preludes and Nocturnes, Dream recapitulates humanity’s outlook towards her sister Death as:

“I find myself wondering about humanity. Their attitude to my sister’s gift is so strange. Why do they fear the sunless lands? It is as natural to die as it is to be born. But they fear her. Dread her. Feebly they attempt to placate her. They do not love her.” – Dream, The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman (1988)

But death isn’t always so bad—“for some folks death is a release,” as Death herself puts it in Dream Country. In Facade (Dream Country), Element Girl (Urania Blackwell) seeks death as liberation from her meager existence as a forgotten and reluctant superhero. From our own universe, there’s Betsy Davis, a terminally ill artist with ALS who organized a “party” that culminated in her assisted suicide.

For many of us, however, death remains a “terrible thing”, mostly because it punctuates and seals lives with seeming finality, and it does so with emissaries, such as war, poverty, and genocide, things that are terrible in their own right. Whether it is a conclusion or merely a respite before the uncharted afterlife, we can only speculate. And even if there is life after death, the concept would probably do so little in changing our general attitude to death. We are surrounded with lives we hand-picked and some inescapably present beings we eventually learned to like, accept, or tolerate. Death ushering any one of these lives we value to a “proven” afterlife is no different from death obliterating them.

The people of Bhutan, a tiny country famous for being the happiest place on Earth, contemplate about death day in and day out. I had a taste of their dark secret to happiness on my last birthday, whose last three hours I was impelled to spend on a wake. The day did not end on a happy note, but it was the most grateful I have ever been for living another year.

Maybe we should stop treating death as an abrupt end and start regarding it as a process that occurs concurrently with life. As a pop song goes, we should live like we’re dying. After all, death is here to stay.

“When the first living thing existed, I was there, waiting. When the last living thing dies, my job will be finished. I’ll put the chairs on the tables, turn out the lights and lock the universe behind me when I leave.” – Death, The Sandman: Dream Country by Neil Gaiman (1991)

Dear Landbank

landbank

Were it not for the Metrobank savings account with a mascot that took the shape of a blue dolphin in a yellow background, you would have been my first bank. I was almost unable to identify it as my first because I intentionally blocked it out from my memory when Metrobank failed to give me a specialized birthday greeting on my first year with them. Forgetting about that savings account was a completely sensible decision back then to an expectant 10-year old unable to grasp any of its monetary aspect. However, you could still qualify as my first bank if we limit the discussion to the years I obtained enough mental acuity to actually maneuver an ATM without parental guidance.

Our rich history runs deep. You were there to attend to my stipend in high school and college, and much to my dissatisfaction, our affair even spilled over all my day jobs thus far, which only want  you—specifically, you—as the conduit for the compensation for my hard work. That is a whopping 11 years of handling the majority of my monetary transactions and of bearing witness to my frequent display of the cycle of jubilation and remorse each time I succumb to mortal materialism. In the past decade, I never really held you in high regard, and I am not even apologetic in saying that this is an opinion unlikely to falter anytime soon. Admittedly, I have my own shortcomings, like that time I waged a phone war when I falsely thought one of your ATMs devoured my card, which, as it turned out, quietly sat in my pencil case.

Spotting your branches is akin to finding Waldo in a sea of Waldo lookalikes. This problem is particularly apparent in the small community of UP Diliman, which is populated by employees and students that primarily depend on your ATM for sustenance. As though the 4 ATMs vs 493 hectare distribution is not alarming enough, you even uprooted the ATM in Vinzons Hall. I welcome traversing long distances just to access one of your ATMs. However, it’s just plain heartless to be presented with the grim revelation that, after a lengthy pilgrimage, all three of your ATMs in my vicinity are offline.

For many of us whose access to money is necessary and urgent, we instead find ourselves turning our attention to the machines not of your ilk, which is essentially equivalent to pouring 10 pesos down the drain. Repeat the situation 11 times, and I eventually lose the opportunity to purchase a Jollibee tuna pie trio. (I take Jollibee tuna pie and the purchasing power of my money seriously.) The other ugly side to this is losing a perfectly intact bill available for withdrawal to the 10-peso transaction fee. I am not very fond of being left with disfigured amounts inaccessible by 100-, 500-, or 1000-peso bills.

Let us also not forget the exceptionally bad design of your ATM card for scholars funded by the Department of Science and Technology. While DOST may also be at fault in this horrible compound of word art and Comic Sans, I still cannot wrap my head around why you approved it in the first place. I shudder at each instance of a debit transaction starting out with a saleslady pausing to incredulously stare at my card before sharing her disbelief with a fellow saleslady.

In conclusion, I am extremely eager to cut you out from my life.

With hatred and ill will,

Sarah

365 Days

Wasted twenty-nine days out of his thirty-day stay. Another three hundred sixty-five days to agonize over another shot at those thirty days.

In fifteen hours, my father is about to take off for Saudi Arabia, which is home to many OFWs like him. This time of the year has always been a witness to my plummeting mood, clogged sinus, and turgid eyelids. I wish I could bid him a safe and happy trip with a smile affixed on my face, but I cannot, not when I know it will take another year to see him again. The excitement and joy that fills me when the news of his annual homecoming surfaces is always immediately replaced with apprehension and restlessness as those thirty days present themselves as the itinerary to this inevitable moment.

The adage ‘Regret always comes too late’ feels like a series of continuous lashes on my back every time he takes off for work again. Of those twenty-nine days I wasted, how many could I have turned around had I known my hostile disposition towards my father would rile me like this? The cycle just repeats: regrets escalate and pile up, the ‘I should haves’ towards my father increase in number, and not a single action is taken to reverse the situation.

Most of my hostility to my father stems from my fear to be in a stiff and awkward situation with him. Sure, blood is thicker than water, but that does not entail being more candid and talkative around blood. My father and I have a lot of belated catching up to do— from our favorite dishes and personal beliefs to the years of our birth. Regrettably, none of us has even attempted to steer the wheel to those topics, because the journey always begins and ends with him preaching on a medley of subject matter. I always knew he only wanted to impart life lessons, but the usual route of our conversation has developed in me the default defense mechanism of simply just avoiding him.

How many times has he failed as a father? Never. How many times have I failed as a daughter? Innumerable. Should he give me a round of rebuke for any of my mistakes, I have already formulated around seven replies I can shoot him down with in my contingency plan. With the ultimate intention of hurting his stature as a father, these replies are bound by a single unifying theme of how he has missed most of my childhood by working abroad—a really detestable thought if we take into consideration my well-being as one of the obvious reasons why he has to work in a country in the Middle East.

I intensely dislike the pre-departure tension surrounding the household. What could be more dispiriting than seeing your parents and sisters suppress their tears? I never really understood why we always had to bottle up our sorrow. Wouldn’t he appreciate it more if we showed him he matters?

After his departure, the normal bustle in our home will return to normal. To be honest, I cannot imagine my father being physically present in my life all the time. For the record, he only stays here in the Philippines for a month every year ever since a few years before I was born. He has become a transient figure in my life. However, being physically together for less than two years does not change the fact that he is my father and I am his daughter. And I love him. I really do.

Will it be another thirty days to waste next year? I hope not. The countdown before we meet again starts tomorrow.

Para sa Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR)

Sige, isantabi na natin ang katotohanan na hindi nagagamit sa tamang mga proyekto ang buwis na inyong nalilikom mula sa masang Pilipino, ngunit di ko pa rin maiwasang punahin ang inyong sistemang hitik sa butas at pagkukulang. Narito ang mga dahilan:

  1. Wala kayong pagtatangka na ayusin ang inyong information dissemination. Hindi naman po siguro mahirap magpaskil ng flowchart ukol sa pag-aayos ng bawat uri ng buwis. Pagmamalabis po ba kung hihingi kami ng handouts na naglalaman ng mga pasalitang kaalamang ipinamamahagi ninyo sa mga seminar? Mismong mga tauhan ninyo ay hindi alam ang kalakaran sa inyong ahensya. Tiyak na nakakapagod din para sa mga itinalaga ninyong “officer of the day” ang sagutin nang paulit-ulit ang mga tanong na makailang beses nang hinanapan ng sagot. Tila sinadya ninyo ang sistema upang mas maraming kayong makalap na penalty fees mula sa kawalan namin ng kaalaman.
  1. Wala kayong tiyak na pagtatakda sa ilang mga detalye ng proseso ng pagpapataw ng buwis at multa. Kung magkakamukha ang mga dokumentong aming ipinasa para sa pagpapasiya kung anong uri ng buwis ang babayaran namin, hindi ko maintindihan kung bakit magkakaiba ang kinalabasan ng mga assessment sa amin. Halimbawa na lang ang “withholding tax – expanded” na ipinataw sa akin, kahit hindi naman ako lisensyado o nangungupahan sa UP. Pakipaliwanag din kung bakit pabago-bago ang presyo ng penalties depende sa kung sino ang humahawak ng kaso. Tunay nga kayang napupunta sa kaban ng bayan ang mga perang nalilikom mula sa penalties?
  1. Walang humpay na red tape ang nakapulupot sa proseso ng pagsasaayos ng buwis. Nakakagalit na napakadali para sa ilang mambabatas na lumagda sa house bill na nagliligtas kay Pia Wurtzbach mula sa pagbabayad ng buwis, samantalang butas ng karayom ang pinagdadaanan ng karamihan sa amin para aregluhin ang aming mga dokumento. Sa dinami-rami ng pirmang kailangan namin para lang isang papel, napakalaking dagok ang dulot ng pagliban ng isa sa mga kawani ninyo. Para saan pa ang online filing system ninyo kung hindi pala naitatala ang mga sinusumite naming forms sa inyong database?

Naniniwala ako sa kahalagahan ng buwis sa pagpapaunlad ng bansa, kaya naman tumatalima ako sa bawat rekisito ninyo. Subalit, sana man lang kahit sa sistema ninyo, maramdaman namin yung buwis na kinakaltas sa pinaghihirapan naming sahod.

Unknowns of 2016

As a child reared in the 90s, I remember reading a lot about futuristic stories set in the 2020s. Flying cars, unimaginable gadgets, cybernetic organisms, meal-in-a-pill, jet packs, time travel, teleportation, and underwater cities were staple central accessories to these stories. And yet, here we are now, hours into 2016, with no prototypes of any of those. In the grand context of progress and discovery, we still know so little—no more than a nanometer than what we were aware of 15 years ago. It is easy to bask and be satisfied in what we know, but there’s also an intrinsic allure to the unknown. The uncertainty that comes with the unknown is what drives people to tackle the new year with excitement. And even though the new year is an arbitrarily set signifier of a complete earthly revolution, we look forward to it because it gives us a regular checkpoint to assess what we learned from an acceptable time frame as a means to bolster up for the ingress of the unknown. May you all have the audacity to tackle the unknowns of 2016!

Short Memoir

I.

His forehead was scrunched as he pored on a page of a book he had been borrowing for the last three months. In one rare occasion she caught the copy he was reading in its special location among the shelves of the library, she was almost overcome by the impulse to intrude in the unbroken procession of his name in the borrowing list. She withstood because his relentlessness in the search for fissures towards understanding game theory, a topic which she had come to associate with him, is an image where he faultlessly belongs. An interruption in his concentration and the slight tilt to his head led to their momentary, unanticipated connection that immediately reminded them their eyes ought to be on the respective books they were reading.

II.

Each movement of his left hand, each sift through the tips of her hair strands was gentle. Yet, how she disliked every moment of it, as all of her mental protests against some of his ways, was left unsaid. Had he asked if she didn’t mind, she would have stopped him, but she had expected he would have still kept on, perhaps under the assumption that she was merely playing the hard-to-get card. His presumptuousness was why they progressed and eventually stopped progressing from the emotional doldrums they encountered. She knew a lot about him, but he never even found out how much or why she hates being touched in the hair by non-family members.

III.

She used to be a landmine triggered by his presence. The explosions were latent, as indifference always struggled to pull ahead familiarity. Each of their interactions, which had been restricted to sporadic greetings for the longest time, including the last where they deliberately ignored each other, concluded with butterflies flocking in her stomach and melancholia sweeping her off her fighting stance. The disarmament has long since ended, but some of these days, she cannot read Neruda’s “Sonnet XX” without  feeling a slight anguish as she recalls the lengths she went through to swim against the steady stream of her emotions.