2018: The Year of Sunday Rest

If you make your way to the far side of the Toronto Necropolis, you will find a bench that bears a simple but deeply evocative inscription: “He was my Sunday rest.” It’s a sentiment that has so deeply resonated with me, and personally revealed much about the way I consider love and affection.

I am currently agnostic, but I was raised religious. The part of my family that raised my brother and I while our mother was working abroad was Pentecostal. For me, the term “Sunday rest” holds layers upon layers of meanings stacked together, like a mille crêpe, holding up my life’s deepest traumas and deepest joys. It has been quite the exhausting effort to reconcile these two, and so I only very occasionally take a close look at that part of my life. There is a harsh contrast between how much I valued my faith and church community when I was in my pre-teens up until my early twenties, and the sudden traumatic break from organised religion around the time that I moved to Canada. “Sunday rest” has many complicated nuances for me, as far as ideas go, but it also encompasses fond memories bathed in the warm glow of nostalgia: of my old church, bustling family meals during holidays, community events and celebrations.

Despite the trauma, I also still associate the feeling of “Sunday rest” with what is good and beautiful in life. I recently attended the book launch for Diasporic Intimacies: Queer Filipinos and Canadian Imaginaries, an anthology published and co-edited by three Filipino academics in Canada: Robert Diaz, Marissa Largo, and Fritz Pino. Robert is one of my supervisors, and of the experience of the launch, I told him, “it felt like going to church.” The space at 401 Richmond was celebratory and wonderfully supportive, and I was teary-eyed for most of it.

More recently in my adult life, though, “Sunday rest” has come to mean quiet time for myself, intended to be used as preparation for the coming week. As I get older, it has become more obvious that I am a person who thrives within routine: having a pattern in life allows me to keep my anxieties at bay enough for me to function, and hopefully function well. The importance of maintaining my Sundays as prep days, especially as I come into the last few months of my masters, cannot be overstated. Ideally, Sundays are when I organise myself into the person I aim to be at work, whilst nursing a giant mug of coffee or tea. Here are some of the things I always want to be able to do for myself on Sundays:

  • Planning: I absolutely adore the combination of a Monday-start weekly planner and a daily agenda. I prefer having calendars that begin on Mondays, as it lets me have a clear break from “plan day Sunday” to “begin the workweek Monday.” I am fully crediting Passion Planner’s Undated Monday Compact for sparking the realisation that this is how my brain functions optimally – thanks, guys! Towards the last quarter of 2017, I found myself gravitating towards and eventually exclusively using my giant collegiate notebooks to set up my weekly task lists. The right side is where I have all the to-dos by category, while the left side is for additional notes throughout the week. Recognising (rather belatedly in my academic career, hah!) that this is what works and that I should steer into it, I intend to keep using this system, at least until I finish this degree. To complement this, I downloaded the Business Calendar for Android on my LG G5, an app which allows me to (a) have the agenda view as a widget and (b) not have to carry the giant notebook everywhere I go.
20171230_082431
My giant collegiate notebook, which is serving me nicely as a planner!
  • Meal prep: I have been raised on the idea of meal prep from when I was a child! In the Philippines, almost everybody brings baon to school and work – baon is the Filipino word for “packed meal,” and it is so ubiquitous that food containers (Tupperware and the like), are called “baunan”, i.e., something you put your baon in. It is so satisfying to put away my baon for the week stacked neatly in the fridge, ready for me to pick it up and go. Last year I prepped a lot of simple roasted chicken thighs and steamed rice, but this year I need to incorporate more veg in there. Roasted asparagus is nice and easy, as are mushrooms and cauliflower.
  • Coffee: I have found my Contigo travel mug so useful that I bought two more and gave them away as Christmas presents. Mikaius bought me mine at Shoppers Drug Mart, but it is also available on Amazon! I was pretty skeptical when I first used it, thinking that my coffee couldn’t possibly stay hot for nine hours as is claimed on their description page. Imagine my shock (and pain) when I arrived at my 10am class after a two hour commute, popped the top open, took a sip, and promptly burned my tongue on near-boiling coffee. I have since learned to have “make coffee” be the first thing on my morning routine list as soon as I wake up and even before I shower, pour it into my travel mug as soon as it’s done, and leave the top open as I go about my daily prep. This way, my coffee is still hot when I get to class or to my office, but has cooled down enough to enjoy!

Together, meal prep and making my own coffee have allowed me to free up some wiggle room in my budget so that I can give to organisations I believe in and love. While I’m not donating life-changing amounts of money (let’s not forget that I’m a grad student with student loans looking at me from beyond my graduation day lol), I am able to save my coffee-and-lunch money and allocate it towards donations. Two that I’m currently giving to are Just A Story Pod through their Patreon, and Kapisanan Philippine Centre through the 13 for 13 #SupportK campaign. A burrito bowl at Sid’s Café is $11 (!!!) but if I shop at the local FreshCo or Price Chopper, that is about a week’s worth of hot lunches for me, if not more. Similarly, a coffee at Tim Horton’s or Second Cup goes for $2, but buying a pack of coffee is $7 at my local Winners and a carton of milk $4 at the grocery store, which lasts me for about an entire month.

  • Reading: I have really tried to incorporate reading into my personal calendar by doing the Stephen King reading challenge, a name which is turning out to be a misnomer as it is more of a “reading Stephen King’s books and watching the movies and miniseries inspired by those books” challenge. Maybe I should change the hashtag to #experiencingtheKing instead? More to consider as I head into the new year! I’m currently on the last story of Night Shift, which I was initially reading via an ebook until a friend gifted me a thrift store copy of the book for our annual Friendsmas! The copy he gave me is the paperback edition with the bandaged hand as a cover, which is one of my favourite tales in the collection. Thank you lots, A!
  • Art and culture: Over 2018, I want to indulge my love of museums and art galleries more often. For Christmas, I asked my family for memberships to the Royal Ontario Museum and to the Art Gallery of Ontario! I’m very excited to see where this goes, as both of these institutions are within walking distance of campus, and I have always loved spending time there – even after seven years of living in Toronto and many dates taking place at the AGO and the ROM, there’s always something new to discover.

Coming up now on 2018 and looking back, 2017 was rough. I was recovering from my *dad’s death, but had not quite come back from the abyss yet. I was in very wild depressive cycles, and my anxiety has never been so terrifying. But, 2017 was also filled with little triumphs and joys: I lived by myself, for the first time ever, and the experience taught me that I absolutely can take care of myself. It makes me feel better for future me, knowing that I can handle living alone and all the responsibility that entails.

I have also been sending out applications to fellowships and submitting my writing to various places, collecting rejections along the way rather like how some people string up Christmas cards over the mantel. I wasn’t too stringent about my submissions in 2017, and more than once whipped up an application two days before the submission date – which is not how my mind works at all and so I screwed myself in the process, ugh. I’d like to believe that I’m wiser now, for that experience, and will continue to work on my writing. I would like to submit not just more, but more polished.

Having said all that, I want 2018 to be my year of Sunday rest. I want to invest time in myself – to work on the skills that I want to be better at in order to get to the career that I want, to submit my work for publication, to actually build my portfolio (which I have, but, you know, it isn’t as clean and beautiful as I would like it to be), to take more photos, to learn to be comfortable in my skin. I think that most of all, I want to learn how to truly love myself, which is proving to be a difficult task. I have had to train my brain to understand that I don’t need to be perfect. The anxiety in the lead-up towards submissions and meetings when I am overwhelmed in obsessive thoughts has actually negatively impacted me and the work that I produce.

As a daily visual reminder, I put some stickers on my laptop that are imperfectly overlapping just to remind myself that it is okay, that it will be okay, that I am okay.

20171230_082147_HDR
Starkanine is actually killing me with the placement, but I want to remind myself that it’s okay to not have a perfectly planned layout for these stickers.

Being in my late 20s, I am especially cognisant of the fact that I am effectively already in my thirties, and so before time actually catches up with me, I need to be prepared. I want thirty-year-old me to look back at twenty-seven year old me and think, she did well. As this year ends, and as I interrogate more closely why I’m doing what I do, I want to look at myself in the mirror and have a clear vision of what I need to work on to be my best self. That’s rather abstract, I know, so I set myself five goals for this coming year, and I want to be able to tick off this list by the time December 2018 rolls around. Here are my resolutions:

(1) I want to collect rejections. I don’t mean to say that I will submit applications to be rejected, but I wanted a way to think about submitting grant applications and poetry and other things without the inevitable rejection letters being too hurtful. I want to take this year as an opportunity to learn how to write better applications, and how to be more effective at the many different kinds of writing that I had not tried my hand at before.

(2) I want to go to the Philippines, once, before I commit to a life as an immigrant. My family has something planned, but we’ve not had a good track record in committing to it – myself especially! I have been intending to go home for a few weeks since 2015, but then graduate school happened and I wasn’t able to leave. I think that I need to be home one more time before fully accepting that while I will always consider myself to be Bacolodnon, home as I know it is no longer there. I cannot plant roots where I am not.

(3) I want to decide if I am to pursue a PhD or not. I jumped into my masters straight from my undergrad, without a break, and knowing now what was to happen in 2015, I would have been much better off had I taken a year off. I was so absent my first year due to grief that I didn’t get to make friends or interact more with my colleagues, and I dearly regret that. I want to be certain that a PhD is what I want to commit my life to, before I write my applications.

(4) I want to learn how to make bread. I’m already starting this! I made a basic white bread last week and Mikaius really enjoyed it, so that was fantastic. It does feel good to be baking again, honestly, and bread is something I had always been slightly afraid of. What is the wizardry of yeast? Why are people so obsessed with bread? I don’t know, but I have a bunch of recipes lined up and I can’t wait to learn more about it!

(5) I would like to be more productive with this blog! Instead of writing when I feel like it, I have created a schedule, a calendars, and planned activities. From around October 2017 onwards I started jotting down ideas for 2018, and I now have a pretty good chunk of the next calendar year planned out. Blogging has been a constant for me since I was in high school, but I think 2018 will be a good year to see if I want to take it towards something more involved than memory-keeping.

And with that, thank you for hanging around and reading this. May your holidays be full of warmth and feel-good moments. See you next year!

IMG_7254

The Summer of 1999 and the Pixie Cut of 2017

(*Originally posted on Facebook, March 22, 2017)

I received such overwhelmingly positive reactions to my hair that I feel the need to speak about why I was moved to tears by those lovely comments, multiple times. If you’d like, come along and let me tell you why for the past few years, I have always cut my hair when it gets long enough to put up in a bun.

 

IMG_8919
Photo taken at Graffiti Alley. I found that bright yellow coat at my neighbourhood Value Village, and I love it so much!

 

The Summer of 1999, the Philippines:
My little family was on a ship bound for Bacolod City from Metro Manila, my mother, my brother, and I. I remember looking at Manila getting smaller as we sailed further out, wondering where my bioDad was and why he didn’t say goodbye that day. Many years later, I would hear conflicting things from my parents: my Mom says he knew what time we were leaving but he never showed up, my bioDad says he missed it because of the famed Manila traffic. I mean, hey, they’re both right. But as a little kid, all I remember is that he didn’t make it on time to say goodbye.

My family and I were in the ship’s economy class, which at the time consisted of a hall of bunk beds spaced a few feet apart on one of the ship’s upper decks. I remember loving those accommodations because you could see and hear the ocean constantly, and I could look down into the water and daydream. One of our fellow passengers told me that the patches of darker water that we occasionally spotted in the lighter green sea meant that those parts were deeper than others, and I could never make sense of that.

My hair on that trip was already long – from old photos, it looks as if it draped a few inches below my shoulders – and I was blissfully unaware that my arrival in the city I would eventually call home heralded a twelve-year period in my life when that hair would go uncut. Why would I be thinking of my hair back then, you know? I was nine, moving from Manila to a city located in Western Visayas, starting a new school that June. There were other things to think about, other things to be excited for.

It was hot but breezy, and the pier was chaotic and bustling. My family finally arrived at Bacolod City after a three-day trip by a passenger ship.

A few weeks later, when we were settled in at my aunt’s place, my Mom left for Hong Kong to continue her work as a nanny for a wealthy family, and my brother and I, ages 5 and 9 respectively, were left in the care of our aunt with the agreement that she would take care of us. In return, my Mom would send money to cover living expenses, tuition fees, and some extra leftover.

My tita and her family were religious, their lives deeply embedded in the fabric of the church. Their particular brand of Christianity is called Pentecostalism. For those of you who don’t know what that means, it’s a sect of Christianity where women are not allowed to cut their hair, amongst other restrictions, and Acts 2:38 was the defining Bible verse of the organization. I was never asked if I wanted to attend this church. I was made to, by dint of being young, and more importantly, because I was living under her roof – and so, by her and the church she worshipped at, my life was shaped and moulded.

::Please keep in mind that I am speaking to my own experience. Your encounter with religion might have been different – and I certainly know people who are happy in it, who find comfort in the community, and who are good people. I am not writing this to defame or criticize religious beliefs or practices, but to speak about how my upbringing has led to my complicated relationship with my hair.::

So for years, from when I was 9 to when I was 21, I was made to grow my hair out as a sign of obedience to God’s will. I often kept it pulled back in a bun. But as I got older, and began to read more, I began to notice that I was part of a community that didn’t encourage critical thinking beyond parsing what Bible stories meant, nor did the people in charge take critique easily. One of my favourite little anecdotes to illustrate this is how my pastor used “humans use 10% of their brain” in his preaching one Sunday, and when I went to speak to him after the service (I was a student nurse at the time) about how that’s just not true biologically, he shrugged it off and said, in a very lofty tone, “if we all used 100% of our brains, we would have accomplished more as a church.”

I need you to understand this from my perspective – for the entirety of my youth, I belonged to a church of fewer than 100 people. My life, both socially and spiritually, was caught up in a net of restrictions, of disapproval, of people who were distrustful of my love of books that weren’t biblical.

Simultaneously, for twelve years, I was in a household where the matriarch doled out emotional and psychological abuse almost on the daily. I was repeatedly told I would get pregnant early and never become successful, in a voice intentionally raised so that the next-door neighbours heard it. The situation exploded to the point that the church elders attempted to stage an intervention – and the pastor did not believe me when I expressed how bad my aunt was behind closed doors. Perhaps it had to do with the rumours she had spread amongst the congregation saying that I was a liar and not to be trusted. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that she and the pastor were close friends, and he was among the first people she would gift things to whenever my mother send home balikbayan boxes. But my aunt, dear reader, was manipulative in ways I can’t even begin to describe, and perhaps in ways I can’t really imagine. All I know is that I felt so alone and so helpless. I began to question how godly my pastor really was, and how genuine his relationship with God could be, if he couldn’t even tell that I was telling the truth.

This is not to say that there weren’t good people in that church. I know there were at least four to six people who believed me. But all of them were women – who did not really have positions of authority within that church’s hierarchy – and while some of them were willing to listen, none of them stood up for myself and my younger brother.

It was hell.

I hope you see where I’m going with this.

The Winter of 2017, Toronto:
When I turned twenty-three, I decided, this is it. I’m in Canada now, and I have no reason to keep this charade going. I am going to cut my hair. I am going to cut it, and it is going to feel so good. I am going to feel so free. And so I did. I cut it to shoulder length, having it cut shorter and shorter every few months until I finally took the plunge and got a super short pixie in March 2017.

There is a photo on my Instagram account somewhere that shows me with my head tilted to one side, my hair tied up in a bun. I’m in my McDonald’s crew uniform in that photo, and I took it while I was on break. It’s captioned, “This is the last week I’ll be wearing a bun.”

Hair, for me, is never just about my hair. My hair is a symbol: of a past life that I loved and lost, of emotional abuse by an authority figure, of being in a church where life was controlled in more ways than just spiritually. I tried living what was their biblical interpretation of an “acceptable” woman – non-confrontational, submissive, not too ambitious. It is a problematic environment when the highest position a man can aspire to is a pastor, and a woman, a pastor’s wife.

My twenties have been a whirlwind of self-discovery. It’s still happening. I’m still changing. For the better, I hope. But right now, as a young woman of twenty-six – I’ve made conscious decisions to change, drastically. I am ambitious, and as the people who know me will say, I am so fucking stubborn. I have a tendency to choose life paths I know are going to be difficult adventures. It’s been great fun, this whole figuring-out-who-I-am thing, especially with the love and guidance of friends and family.

And I will never wear a bun again.