27 December 2020

The orderly mind

Why am I so bad at taking photos?

Except for The Under Dog and The Sittaford Mystery, which came into my possession earlier, these were at 29-peso each at a book sale, so I bought them all — back in 2011. As with any book haul, these Agatha Christie mysteries were mostly left unread. I eagerly devoured And then there were none, being one of her most famous works, then Curtain, since it's Hercule Poirot's last case.

We re-engage with forgotten objects of intrigue during the quarantine and Agatha Christie has been keeping me company since March. There's a relaxing quality about her storytelling rhythm. It's an easy read, in a way that knots are being untangled for you by careful and caring hands.

Maybe that's why I gravitate towards these books in this pandemic. Locked at home, I feel like I have more time in my hands yet I am also bothered by how this phenomenon is affecting the years ahead, already re-arranging what I have yet to plan.

Am now on my fifth title, Poirot loses a client. The swift flow of logic in these pages calms me down. Am like Hastings who do not understand anything at all, finding so many side issues. To whom Poirot would say, "Naturally there are side issues. To separate the main issue from the side issues is the first task of the orderly mind."

16 December 2020

The birthday of the infanta

One of my favorite stories to read, or at least remember during Christmas is The Birthday of the Infanta by Oscar Wilde. In this post I noted how the Dwarf's first gaze at the mirror is one dramatic image I won't forget.

Last week I reread it and, as they say, you know it's a good story when it feels like you're reading it for the first time even if you already know what's going to happen.

This week on my podcast, I further explained why I associate this rather sad story with Christmas. I also tucked in my little holiday wish for those who are thoughtful enough to read and listen to me. Let me share some modified excerpts.


I wouldn't exactly call it a "children's" story, but the main characters are children.

Which is one reason that I think about it during Christmas. You know, they say this season if for children or the child at heart. So definitely there's an element of innocence, and also the cruelty of that innocence. Because when you're a child you don’t have yet that sense of justice and politeness, civility.

So it was the birthday of the Infanta. There were lots of activities to please her. Lots of entertainment. One of the entertainers was a dwarf. The Infanta and her friends loved the dwarf, in a sense that they loved laughing at him.

Why do I go back to this story during Christmas? Because (unlike the dwarf) we are aware that this season is a fantasy.


Listen to the minicast, then tell me what your favorite Christmas story is.

10 December 2020

The D-Word

Art is continuous with life, and choreographer PJ Rebullida's mind weaved through the many facets of life as he talked about dance on the latest episode of The Stunner. With the world under a pandemic, he touched on death, as well. The detailed portion of his account didn't make it to the final cut. Though he allowed it to be on-record, I made an editorial decision to let the persons named, along with their stories, remain hidden.

PJ was making a case for not only accepting but celebrating death. To which I concurred, "it's not defeat," referencing Dan Shcneider's poem, The Faggot and the line "Death is just death, not defeat."

Of course, it is hard to say that in these times, feeling like we've been defeated by our government and long-established systems. Death, when it's truly ours, can't be warmed by wise words. I am aware of that and so is PJ.

Hear more of the lessons he has learned about dance and life, in the past and in the terrifying present. He also answered a question I asked National Artist for Dance Alice Reyes: How is dance, especially choreography preserved for posterity?

02 December 2020

Memories and games

My first memories of playing games were with my cousins. They were older than me and everything they did was new and cool. Whether it was pigeon racing or betting on basketball. We would go to their house on weekends and spend entire days enjoying card games, board games, and video games — all of which were given to them by their father, my uncle, who was working abroad.

Their house was small, tiny, they're far from rich. Close to poor was how I had always thought of them. But their home was crammed with imported branded toys.

Sometimes I play with them and sometimes I watch them play, because the game's either too complicated or, when it comes to video games, too scary for me. Yes I get scared during boss fights with all those evil-looking characters and haunting background music.

We rarely see each other now and my interest in games has tempered. At times I must admit to suppressing it. I'm well aware that games, especially video games are designed to be addictive. And I have actually deleted all the gaming apps on my phone because once I open them, there's no closing it. 2048 kept me awake for weeks.

Recently I discovered Random Levels, a gaming podcast that brings back all the things I loved about, well, games — problem solving, making friends, forgetting about the world while learning about it at the same time.

It's created by one of my friends, Ren Alcantara in the month that I started my own podcast. He's hosting the show with his wife (who's also a gamer) and two other friends. In each episode they select a topic and discuss how it's represented in video and board games. At first I thought I'd feel alienated because of my level of gaming knowledge, but instead it felt like I was eavesdropping on a really fun and informative conversation. I felt like I was back to watching my older cousins beat the boss, while I sit back, relax and learn.


Of course I grabbed the chance to interview my fellow-podcaster friend. Here's how our conversation went.

27 November 2020

Stevens and banter

There's one important theme that I didn't talk about in my post on The Remains of the Day: Banter. On my podcast, I reflected briefly about it, and below are some slightly modified excerpts.


A quick check on my English-Tagalog dictionary confirms my knowledge. Banter translates as biro, tukso, and kantiyaw in Tagalog. There is an aspect of playfulness to it, nothing malicious or damaging.

The Tagalog word is sort of one-way, though. One person teases another, as in, My friend is teasing me about putting on too much makeup and wearing my best dress because my crush will be at the party.

Whereas banter seems to be a two-way game. In both cases, however, there is an intimacy involved. Because you talk about or banter about personal things, perhaps a hidden sentiment, like the example about my crush.

So if you engage in banter, depending on which side you are on, you are either allowing a piece of yourself to be exposed, or you are poking in a sensitive part of a person. And so if you're not careful, it could end in hurt feelings; but if all goes well, there's a tenderness that forms between you and whoever your are bantering with.

In my experience, I hated it most of the time because I'm super sensitive and people aren't always charming and good with words and reading other people. Or maybe I’m just really super sensitive.

And so, I've always thought of bantering as something you do when you've already created a friendship with another person. Once there's a certain comfort level, then you can banter, you can tease.


What is happening with Stevens and Mr Farraday in the novel is the opposite of what I've grown to believe as the purpose of playful teasing. For me, it is somewhere on top of the hierarchy of the things you do when you’re close to someone. A measure of intimacy. But for Stevens and Mr Farraday, and apparently the strangers around Stevens, banter can be the beginning of a close relationship.


Listen to the seven-minute minicast:

People, podcasting, promotion

On the pilot episode of The Stunner, I talked about the similarities between podcast and free verse. To extend the analogy, like writing a poem, you never really finish a podcast episode, you simply abandon it. I can record a spiel a million times and still find something wrong, whether it's my pronunciation, intonation, tone, word choice, background noises.

There's the trailer that sets expectations, the pilot with all the pleasant explanations, but here's the truth.

This podcast is my way of socializing in a controlled environment. And by that I mean I am in control. It's no secret that I get exhausted by people easily, which doesn't mean that I hate them completely; but, I need to be in the right mental space before I engage with anyone. Being caught off-guard stresses me out. Worse, it can make me resent others or beat myself up — for saying the wrong thing, for reacting wrongly, for being anything other than perfect.

Podcasting is exhausting, too, and not without unpredictability, but here I have a greater degree of control.

And like writing, I crave the pleasure of an audience. Today I've created a Twitter, Instagram and Facebook accounts to promote the show and connect with kindred souls. If by some measure you enjoy my blog, please do give my podcast a chance.

01 November 2020

On forgetting (the deliberate kind)

Let's forget about it. Forgive and forget. Kalimutan mo na iyon. Kalimutan mo na siya.

Always a prescription, to forget. I find it especially curious, the expression, I can forgive but I won't forget. As if forgiveness isn't total. One bestows pardon but the crime is recorded somewhere for reference; for purposes we've yet to predict.

Is it nobler to accept a person with full awareness of their wrongdoings, because in this regard you are merciful and pragmatic, headstrong despite the ways of the world, that is, everyone will sooner or later disappoint you.

Or must we prefer true oblivion, because even the smallest resentment can shake a good night's sleep and, if we're not careful, create a tear in future relationships. A tear that can grow bigger and bigger, no matter how careful we may be.


Ishiguro, Kazuo. The Buried Giant. Vintage Books, 2015.

"Who knows what will come when quick-tongued men make ancient grievances rhyme with fresh desire for land and conquest?" (Ishiguro, 348)


A Japanese trainee noted that we must remember our history, except for the wars and tragedies. The latter, according to him, we should forget. He's far from articulate when speaking in English, so he may mean other things when he said forget.

In The Buried Giant by Kashuo Ishiguro, an entire land is swept by a literal forgetfulness. Histories, personal and communal are incomplete. Bits and pieces of a hazy past nag them from time to time, but nothing to rob them of their peace.

If there is a magic potion for forgetting, I'd take it. Is it weakness? A betrayal of Justice? Maybe.

I'd take it.


Who are we if not our memories? Even what we do now becomes history the next second. There is our (individual) history, and there is someone else's history of us. Who's to say which of these we should live by.

Forgive and forget. Is our love greater if we choose to bury memories of a cheating partner? Do we become less of a human being if we hold on to a hurt?

23 October 2020

Pilot episode

1) I'm so spoiled with blogs, how it gives you the luxury to change your mind every second. A comma now, semicolon later, then back to comma whenever you please. When I was working for a newspaper, I always dread reading the actual print, because of all the typos and grammatical errors that I might see. My first experience in producing a podcast is recreating that dread, even tops it. At least with print media, you will just have to accept the blunder. That you can reproduce a podcast, meaning re-record, makes it so tempting to actually do it. In other words, it's so tempting to subject yourself to torment.

2) The Stunner podcast is now available on six podcast streaming services, including Spotify.

3) Here is the transcript of the pilot episode, where I explain the whole motivation behind this endeavor:


Who/What is The Stunner?

A podcast is like free verse poetry. There's a lot of freedom in it. If it sounds like a nice thing, it's not. In both cases, freedom is the burden of creating your own form. What I'm trying to say is I don't exactly know what I'm doing, but I'm very excited.


I've worked for five years for a national newspaper and before and after that, I've been writing freelance for magazines, websites — publication in its many forms, really. I've done advertorials, lots of it, SEO, feature stories.

When people ask me, especially my previous colleagues if I'd be willing to work again in that kind of environment, I give a quick no. It's wonderful, yes, but it's also extremely fast-paced, and I'm a very chill person.

What I miss most however, and what I think made me enjoy and endure those years, is doing profiles. Interviewing people.

I'm an introvert. Like I said in the trailer of this podcast, I'm one of those who would say, "I hate people". And maybe I do, maybe a little. But I am also very intrigued by people. And working in the media, it gave me a chance to entertain that curiosity.

When I think about it, recalling all those times, it's either I meet interesting people, or I have done a good enough job, to dig deep enough to find what's interesting about them.

That's an experience that I want to replicate again and again. And that is the whole motivation for this podcast. When I attend events and do interviews, I become sociable and, to my surprise, fall in love with people! Of course we were in carefully organized events, putting our best food forward; but, yes, that’s what I like. An environment designed to keep you on your toes but eventually let your guard down.


The Stunner — noun — is everyone, who is given the time of day to show who they really are. It's me building on that notion that we all have something interesting to say. The Stunner is also that moment or idea that stops us in our tracks. That thing which stuns.


It's mostly a lie when writers say, "I'm writing this person or that person's story". Most likely the writer is not telling anyone's story but their own. The subject is exactly that: subject for a desired narrative.

When you go to an interview as an interviewer for a publication, you carry with you a frame. Which can be both a good and bad thing. Good because you'll have focus, direction. And bad because — and I think this is a mistake all writers make — we force a story into a shape that doesn't serve either the subject or the reader.

Like I said earlier, the podcast is like free verse. Because there's no structure to guide you, you can either be happy about it or be lost. We understand how important structure is in communication. But we have to admit that having lots of room to play is a welcome advantage of the podcast.

If all goes well, I'd be talking to different people about the things that stir their mind. The idea is really less on what people do, and more on what they think. And again if I do it right, I'd let them tell their stories in their own voice. Yet be responsible, still, for the listener. That each episode will be crafted with purpose and clarity in mind.


My background is literature, I write poetry. I maintain a personal blog with a literary and artistic bent. In a way, The Stunner is an extension of that practice, as a space for the unforgettable characters that I've read in books, or seen onscreen. I would like to chronicle here my impressions of people, real or imagined.

The concept for this programme's been brewing in my head for a couple of years now and it's funny — well I'm laughing at myself — because it takes being quarantined to push me to finally do it. Being forced to stay away from each other made me realize how crucial human interaction is.

So, in short, The Stunner is my way of connecting with people.

20 October 2020

The Stunner

The Stunner. A podcast by Razel Estrella.

It's around 2018 when I declared an interest in running a podcast. But I declare lots of things. Here's also where I'll admit that internal motivation rarely works for me, or works too slowly even by my standards. So it's thanks to friends who've started their own podcasts (spoiler alert) while stuck in quarantine that I find the motivation to start mine.

"Don't wait till the conditions are perfect, otherwise you'll get nothing done." Perhaps it's my perfect excuse for all the flaws in this podcast in its initial stage. If I wait till all the dogs and roosters in the neighbor fall asleep, then there's no way I'd be able to record anything. Neither am I going out, spending cash to acquire high-end gears.

This is a new medium for me (does practice in TikTok count?), though already a dear one. Ladies and gentlemen, The Stunner is now live. I ask you to check it out and listen with a forgiving ear.

09 October 2020


Glück, Louise. Vita Nova. Harper Collins, 1999.

Things that came to my mind after learning that Louise Glück was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature:

1. Wow, they gave it to a poet everyone I know loves. It must be an encouragement, a sign that I should carry on writing poetry.

2. Awards are BS. It has a resume purpose. Determining who or what is good, better, and best is a task for consumers. Indeed I would pay attention to the award-winning section of the book store. One way of narrowing down choices on a lazy day. For every book standing there, I am missing out on undiscovered gems.

3. I don't like her. She is great at giving her words the effect of weight rather than actual weight. "It's evening, time for lying." Come on.

4. I haven't completely moved on from my destroyed books. My muscle reflexes had me walking towards my book shelf to browse through Glück's collections, to confirm Statement 3's validity. Except these collections along with works of other writers are now gone. Eaten by termites. What's left is Vita Nova. Another sign, perhaps. I would stare at the shelf and feel poor for all I've lost; but I would just have to believe that the universe has made space for even more glorious readings.

28 September 2020

Wanting more and wanting less

I don't talk a lot about myself and if I do, it probably has something to do with my apartment. I've dedicated an entire label to it.

A recent epiphany had me loving what I have made mine. Cooped up in my old bedroom, I would pine for magazine cover-worthy houses — dog and enviable lifestyle included. Things happen fast in my head, my reality can't catch up with my desires. What I fail to see is that slowly I accumulate the pretty little things I dream of.

My fantasies, upon re-examination, aren't perfect either. Even in that imagined space, something is missing or the elements don't add up. This chrome electric fan is glorious, but it clashes with the wooden shelf.

These thoughts flood my head after reading this Rebecca Watts poem.

The Studio

little lady little man
little pot little pan
little table little chair
little cupboard little stair
little plant little leaves
little rooftop little eaves
little cake little pie
little naptime lullaby
little blanket little book
little corner little nook
little cushion little frame
little thing without a name
little statue little bell
little bauble little shell
little lamp little pin
little box to put it in
little apron little jug
little window little rug
little postcard little rock
little candle little clock
little broom little door
little greedy wanting more

—Rebecca Watts
And immediately I am reminded of this Kay Ryan poem, which I featured earlier in this blog. It's worth reposting here as seeing the two poems side-by-side makes me smile; I can relate to both in equal measure.
That Will to Divest

Action creates
a taste for itself.
Meaning: once
you've swept
the shelves
of spoons
and plates
you kept
for guests,
it gets harder
not to also
simplify the larder,
not to dismiss
rooms, not to
divest yourself
of all the chairs
but one, not
to test what
singleness can bear,
once you've begun.

—Kay Ryan
Am I living in my dream house now? Which is to ask, Am I now living the life that I want? Can we ever answer yes? Maybe in brief moments.

Muscle memory

Telling the Sky III

Sun-streaks. Music in solid state.


Afternoon above. Draped sheets
of blue and Afghan red.


Walking home and towards the moon.
Arriving at neither.

—Razel Estrella

At some point in my adult life I've realized how numb we can be. We laugh at the fast-food crew member who, in sticking to their script, asks questions we have just answered; but we are no less guilty of the same mechanical existence.

Consider the evening I clocked out of my Manila office then found myself, as if magically, at home. I wasn't exactly tired. It was simply another day at work. Retracing my steps, I figured that I hopped on an FX shuttle service, hopped off, crossed the street, walked towards my village, took several left and right turns, reached for my keys, opened the gate to the townhouse, climbed up three flights of stairs, unlocked the door to my apartment. All this done unconsciously, a single extended muscle reflex.

Home, however, is in constant state of defamiliarization. While there's nothing more I look forward to than going home after a forgettable shift, I fear it as well. Elswehwere I've talked about my bad feelings about my family and they often resurface once the house gets closer. My body weakens. I rush, if I could I would fly to my bed, so I'd get the anger over with.

When I pay attention, meaning if I slow down, I'm rewarded by clarity of thought and a clear view of the night sky.

20 September 2020

Thoughts on 'Sining Sigla'

Those of us going through this pandemic in the comforts of our homes can easily forget how difficult living day-to-day must be for those who didn't have our good fortune. My four-year-old niece, for example, started taking online classes this month, an event that reminded me that not every child has access to a stable internet connection, let alone the gadgets and environment to make e-learning a possibility.

It is in this temperament that I regard Cultural Center of the Philippines' efforts to bring the arts to the masses during these times. Pre-COVID19, the company brought art to cities like Antique, Bulacan, and Iloilo through its Office the President Outreach Program.

Now, CCP–OP has launched its virtual counterpart, called Sining Sigla. High-quality, educational, Philippine culture-focused art content is promised free of charge to the public — at least to those who have the right technology.

This isn't a criticism of the program but rather an expression of sadness for the state we're in. Looking on the bright side, artists are soldiering on, and here's an opportunity for us to (safely) engage with art. Spread the word, especially to families with kids. There's something great for them here.

Sining Sigla Schedule (From the CCP–OP presser)

MALA (Movies Adapted from Literary Arts): A series of fun short videos that aim to educate, inculcate good values, and make the young appreciate the arts further. The first two installments are adaptations of Ibong Adarna (October 2020) and Florante at Laura (November 2020). Director: Xian Lim; scriptwriter: Ony Carcamo; production designer: Aina Ramolete.

Jazz Stay At Home (September – October 2020): A jazz festival featuring Baihana (vocal trio), Nicole Asensio, Lorna and Pipo Cifra, Simon Tan Trio, and Michael Guevarra.

Jose Corazon De Jesus retrospective (November 2020): "Pagbabalik-tanaw sa Unang Hari Ng Balagtasan." The show stars John Arcilla, Lara Maigue, and Ony Carcamo. Director: Ricky Davao; scriptwriter, assistant director, and production designer: Ohm David.

Pamaskong Handog ng PPO: A Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra Christmas concert.

Catch these specials via the Cultural Center of the Philippines Office of the President Facebook Page.

Flying like children

Our summer in September

Here's a wonderful story told within this story, and that which heightens my awareness of my growing fondness for my niece:

When I was a girl I lived in a little city on the side of a mountain. There was snow on top and a green river at the bottom... Strangers who came there called it a city of birds. How true. Of an evening, when it was almost dark, they flew in clouds, and sometimes it was not possible to see the moon rise: never have there been so many birds. But in winter it was bad, mornings so cold we could not break the ice to wash our faces. And on those mornings you would see a sad thing: sheets of feathers where the birds had fallen frozen: believe me. It was my father's job to sweep them up, like old leaves; then they were put into a fire. But a few he would bring home. Mama, all of us, we nursed them until they were strong and could fly away. They would fly away just when we loved them most. Oh, like children! (Capote, Truman. Summer Crossing. Penguin Classis, 2006, pp 87 – 88.)

09 September 2020

It was never dark there: Notes on 'Summer Crossing'

Capote, Truman. Summer Crossing. Penguin Classis, 2006.

Summer Crossing is said to be "the lost novel that inspired Breakfast at Tiffany's." I'm only at the book's beginning and already I've noted a conspicuous prose-poetry style — enjoyable in small doses, chafing when too much — which is later on refined to simply poetic (to perfection in my opinion) in BAT and In Cold Blood.

It is also making me pine for city chaos and, especially in Chapter 2, the theatre:

Broadway is a street; it is also a neighborhood, an atmosphere. From the time she was thirteen, and during all those winters at Miss Risdale's classes, Grady had made, even if it meant skipping school, as it often did, secret and weekly expeditions into this atmosphere, the attraction at first being band-shows at the Paramount, the Strand, curious movies that never played the theaters east of Fifth or in Stamford and Greenwich. In the last year, however, she had liked only to walk around or stand on street-corners with crowds moving about her. She would stay all afternoon and sometimes until it was dark. But it was never dark there (emphasis mine): the lights that had been running all day grew yellow at dusk, white at night, and the faces, those dream-trapped faces, revealed their most to her then. Anonymity was part of the pleasure, but while she was no longer Grady McNeil, she did not know who it was that replaced her, and the tallest fires of her excitement burned with a fuel she could not name. (pp 24 – 25)

It was never dark there. I bet none of us imagined places like Broadway would ever be dark or mute, but here we are.

04 September 2020

Let's be friends

HELLO! I've been checking my stats and I notice that I have some regular readers from different parts of the world. You have no idea how happy that makes me.

If it's okay with you, I'd very much like to know you. Please leave a comment, maybe with your name and social media account, so I coult stalk you hahaha. (All my socials are in the side bar, if you're interested.)

Anyway, I wish you a good day ahead and I'll do my best to be a better writer and person.

23 August 2020

Telling the Sky – II

Telling the Sky II

Cloudsunk sun.


What becomes of coal after burning
becomes this sky.


Wind flirts, a whistle. My feet

—Razel Estrella

Here is the second installment of my Telling the Sky series. The lines were originally drafted in 2009, and I tried to bring more energy, a certain luminescence about them in my current revisions.

20 August 2020

'I learn by going where I have to go'

The Waking

I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.

We think by feeling. What is there to know?
I hear my being dance from ear to ear.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Of those so close beside me, which are you?
God bless the Ground! I shall walk softly there,
And learn by going where I have to go.

Light takes the Tree; but who can tell us how?
The lowly worm climbs up a winding stair;
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.

Great Nature has another thing to do
To you and me; so take the lively air,
And, lovely, learn by going where to go.

This shaking keeps me steady. I should know.
What falls away is always. And is near.
I wake to sleep, and take my waking slow.
I learn by going where I have to go.

—Theodore Roethke
A friend shared this poem and I think it's worth a reshare. It's been my ambition to write a villanelle. The song-like form makes it instantly pleasurable to read. This one by Roethke captures my early morning mood, whenever I watch the sun rise.


I learn by going where I have to go. On a related but rather mundane note, I have turned my TikTok into a sort of creative writing minivlog. I just started filming one afternoon some thoughts about writing, which I always had but didn't get around to expressing.

Notes on writing: Messy desk

♬ original sound - Razel Estrella
So far it's fun and sustainable. My initial idea (two years ago) was to run a podcast. Doing profiles and interviewing people was the only task I truly enjoyed during my publication stint. It gave me a sense of fulfilment. I thought I'd continue it in a podcast. But alas, I got sidetracked.

Am not doing interviews on the minivlog, especially not now in this pandemic. So it's a dialogue between me and myself in the meantime. Also, it's nowhere near perfect. In fact, I don't know yet what my real purpose is for doing this (other than passing time); and I'm still figuring out the sixty-second vlog form.

What's important is I feel that sense of excitement and fulfilment again. I learn by going where I have to go.

10 August 2020

Ode to the Japanese oven toaster

Home-made bread
My favorite thing to make in my no-temperature-setting "oven toaster": bread.

I grew up calling it an "oven toaster". When I decided to buy a new one for myself, my online research kept telling me that it's a "toaster oven". Thanks to my Japanese trainees (and some helpful netizens), I learned that it's a Japanese thing — the name and the machine.

If you know, you know. You probably have or had it at home, too. That small box that calls itself both oven and toaster, and kind of does neither. There's no temperature setting, only source of heat options. The timer never works. But it works.

It's complicated and beautiful and has changed my life, so here's me singing my oven toaster praises by way of an ode (I don't think I've ever written one before).

Ode to the Japanese oven toaster


Precision is none of your business.
A second more yields the blackest bread;
A second less and breakfast's a pale mess.

Half toaster, half oven, one's a fool
To seek perfection in either.
The critics laugh. Yes I am mad.


Stripped of haute pretenses,
I learned to tame you. In time
We pulled off a knockout roast,
Baked sweet potatoes, pies,
A cake to pass an entire Sunday's
Worth of loneliness. Friends tease
Out my bachelorette life,
But you're the real mystery,
My kitchenette's box of surprise.
You make me dare, you make me bold.
Is it the tool that makes the master?


The year is 2020. My, a machine
Made in Japan is keeping me company!

We shall stay at home
As long as diseases spread 'round

The world and leaders can't be trusted
With the numbers.

I wake up to find your metal skin
Gleaming by the window

Where I choose to see a future brightened
By feast and fair labor. And me,

Cooking in a changed country with you
Who assumes so little a space in my dream.

—Razel Estrella (August 2020)

02 August 2020

Lessons with my niece

My niece. Photo taken in June 2020.

Is it so wrong of me to crave adoration from my niece whenever I untangle her slinky or teach her a new trick? That I ask this betrays my guilt.

Yesterday we were playing chefs. With her toy spatula, she tried to remove a half-slice of miniature watermelon from a miniature frying pan but ended up pushing so hard that the fruit flew and landed on the floor. I suggested dividing the task into two parts: (1) lifting the edge of the watermelon with the edge of the spatula; then (2) sliding the latter to the bottom of the former as gently as possible.

We did it. There was me, an effective teacher and her, a bright student.

The moment felt like a reward I didn't work for, because I was having fun. Looking back, however, changes my perspective, or rather creates this desire in me for her to remember everything as I do — with awareness of how and why our time together was perfect. Is that so wrong?


This poem is for my niece, with much inspiration from A Little Tooth by Thomas Lux.

Lessons with my niece

You were four when I taught you how to flip plastic eggs
With a plastic spatula. The look of wonder
On your face is frozen in my head.

Soon we learned to read time and got the months
In order. You were six and dared to run
Downstairs on your own.

When you’re old enough for things like patience
Or sensible arguments, I will ask, How much of us
Do you remember?

Maybe then the world has already trained you to lie
To placate a woman desperate
For a few hours more of play.

—Razel Estrella (August 2020)

30 July 2020

Charli teaches me to dance

Charli teaches me to dance

First acknowledge gravity.
The desire to free
Oneself from Earth's constant pull
Is everyday affair.
Hold balance, lift
Until all is air. If you do
It right, a flick of fear
Might show in the eye;
But never look down
Else everyone will.

Trade sorrow for grandeur
Of ascent. From the tip of your toe
The world suspends —
Hearts break and made
Whole again — while we
Catch our breath.
In a split-second of doubt,
Don't think of falling, forget
The ground and its noble burden
To wait for you to land.

— Razel Estrella (2020)

If you don't know it yet, I'm a closet dancer (sort of) and I'm low-key obsessed (oxymoron?) with Charli D'Amelio. Whenever she shows up on my feed, it's like someone is giving me my happy pill. Is it because she exudes fun and freedom on top of being beautiful and talented? No, because so many others are!

Okay, stay with me. Another addiction of mine is Gordon Ramsay. When I was still fantasizing about learning to cook, I came across his video where he boiled potatoes for seven minutes, then sautéed them. It's the simplest thing in the world and yet he was the only one who managed to make me get up, go out, buy some potatoes and actually cook.

"That looks amazing. And wait, that looks like something I could do, too. And yes, I want to do that." I could say that about both Charli and Ramsay. Beyond accessibility, they have this gift to inspire.

Speaking of inspiration, Charli is obviously the muse in this poem.

But I had long been thinking about dance as the most beautiful way to fly. For so long I've been in love with the idea of resisting gravity — the very thing that holds us together. The way we work with and against our limitations a dance in itself.

20 July 2020

Telling the sky

My friend, Cherry tells me that she's enjoying my recent and frequent sky posts on social media. The influx of material (ie, photos) is a result of the quarantine.

Like I said here, the practice is new to me. Then I remember that way back in the past (ie, 10 or so years ago), I was already an avid sky watcher. And even wrote about what I saw — tweeted them.

Twitter was a different beast back then, a gentle, playful one. I owned a Palm Treo and willingly paid P15 to tweet via text. Imagine the value of words and the cost of being heard. I would report the state of skies.
Telling the Sky I

Morning, birds are heading west
where colors abandon their clouds.


A pearl suspended in felt.
The moon too close, too real to pluck.


Morning, pale blue all over.
East an early arson.

—Razel Estrella (2009)

Back then, the commute to and from work was a form of respite. I got to look up and long enough, whether from a vehicle window or while walking on empty streets.

There must be several factors that explain why I stopped, but there's no point in investigating them. What I want to do is make a compilation à la Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, and in the process keep the habit of looking.

Notes on 'Ecce Homo'

A friend advised that instead of self-help books, read the philosophers. Makes sense. The self-help articles and videos I consume reference the great thinkers anyway.

Why the need for self help? I've always believed that I am mentally healthy. Which means I could manage intrusive thoughts and extreme emotions. I've also made a temple out of solitude.

Until this pandemic shakes everything, including my mental temple. Doubts arise and loom ever so persistently. By managing my head I may have meant creating distractions or utilizing the imagination to build a fantasy land to escape to. There's also this new reality that I don't have access to things that make me happy: theater, concerts, being out there.

Nietzsche, Friedrich. Ecce Homo. Oxford, 2007.

So I look at my book shelf and pick Nietszche's slim autobiography, Ecce Homo. I remember the excitement I felt when I bought it eight years ago. I'm only midway through, but I'd like to spend more time pondering on some sections. For now, I'll share quotes (even if feels wrong, given that their context is so important):
I don't want to be mistaken for anyone — so I mustn't mistake myself. (p36)

Ultimately no one can hear in things — books included — more than he already knows. If you have no access to something from experience, you will have no ear for it... Those who thought they understand me have turned me into something else, in their own image. (p37)

You have to be sure of yourself, you have to be standing bravely on your own two feet otherwise you cannot love. (p42)

06 July 2020

Finger exercise: The graveyard shift

I'm only starting to feel whatever form of anxiety one should be feeling during this pandemic. In terms of life being delayed, and the rest of our years to be spent on catching up. Making up for everything we've lost and failed to do.

In my late twenties, that's when I figured that I'm a late bloomer. Of course I only had my peers as reference. It's not that I was lazy or didn't have the same opportunities as they had, but my mind was simply elsewhere. I didn't value what they valued — having sex, getting a boyfriend (yeah, in that order, kidding), joining workshops, publishing a book, driving a car, travelling, et cetera.

What kept me busy then? I can't seem to recall. Daydreaming, I think. Gaining work experience. To be completely honest — and this might sound weird to those who know me as a carefree artsy person — I enjoyed the corporate life. That was one of my actual dreams-come-true.

I wasn't the "You can't tie me down in an office desk" type of person. Getting my first job is still something I'm proud of. It was in a prestigious country club in the communications department and a fellow candidate was a former high school mate. She was a top student in my class and I felt insecure, but hey, I was the one who got the job!

Now, I've changed. I want to do more writing and less office work. I work for the bare minimum. And now, already a hundred or so days into quarantine, I have this regret of not achieving my current lifestyle a bit earlier in my life; and by earlier I meant in my twenties.

But oh well.
The graveyard shift

Closed curtains to shield
the home office from neighborhood noises.
As if that will work.

Birds’ twitter gets into my head.
Dogs bark and bark and who knows who else
is joining the meeting?

The sky must turn now
from black to pink, and I will miss the show.
Instead I will dream in the afternoon

of buying everything back,
lost and taken, with the sum I receive
on a Friday paycheck.

—Razel Estrella, July 2020

15 June 2020

Admit loneliness: An exercise on enjambment

I thought about measuring the length of loneliness, how it stretches in every direction and connects every closed door (surely influenced by this specific kind of loneliness brought on by the pandemic). The image or any play on those words didn't make it to this poem.

Earlier drafts had three parts, each consisting of quatrains that begin and end in complete sentences. Visually I wanted the verses to look like a series of small blocks — a resolute, even predictable knock. But it came off too stiff for the idea of loneliness seeping through our lives, even in moments of genuine happiness.
Admit Loneliness

Someone's knocking on the door,
Spoils the rest between a kiss
In a dream and your first glimpse
Of sunlight. Its rapping reverberates,

Takes on the rhythm
Your hands make as you knead
The dough that would become bread.
So you knock harder 'til the noise yields

To your daughter's smart talk,
Your book's swooshing pages, ding
Of mobile phone — "We miss you" —
Tender smacks from real kisses.

Someone's knocking on the door.
Will you love me this way in this hour?
It asks with no preamble, then proceeds
To hail a memory:

The word on hold in fear
Of futures wrong. Sentences
Written with care
In shut notebooks. Happiness

Is the loyalty of routine and the surprise
Born because of it. Look at the sunset.
Now feel your heart
Throb with joy or sadness.

Someone's knocking on the door,
Hear a sound that you can tame
Into silence or wake into song
Once greeted by its name.

—Razel Estrella (June 2020)

24 May 2020

Good morning

I've taken to sky-watching during the quarantine and I learned a couple of things.

First, that I'm lucky to have a roof above my head, more so privileged to have a roof deck that brings me closer to the heavens.

Then, that I should make a habit of watching the sun rise. Nothing is as calming as witnessing the sky turn from dark to light to blinding bright, until your eyes can't take the sun no more.

The sky looking like animal skin

28 April 2020

Murmur: Relearning poetry and conversations

They say that all poetry is an ars poetica. Well, I've drafted my first poem in years this morning. And while I have several concepts, lines and verses in my notebook, I only got around to sitting down and following through one of them today. Guess what, it's a blatant ars poetica.

I forgot what it was like to talk
Like we used to in school-day recess
The words intersecting endlessly
No beginnings in sight.

I forgot how to write a poem
Though surely this looks like one.
In its heart is fear of telling
You what it thinks it knows and wants.

I want to remember what we talked about
On the bench in between the ringing bells
The space filled with murmurs and giggles,
Our stomachs with juice, our heads, love.

How did we do it without knowing
The rules or making them?
What to say, when to pause,
Who must speak with whom?

How did I learn to write a poem
Without knowing what it meant?

—Razel Estrella (2020)

17 April 2020

TikTok thoughts

Dropping by to share a couple of things:

1) I'm alive and coping rather well.

2) I miss going to the theater and concerts and then talking — BLOGGING — about it!

3) I downloaded TikTok start of March because I love watching people dance; it's another way for me to discover music; and the memes are gold. But it's also a medium where I can easily create fun videos. (The user is called a 'creator', which is telling of the community it wants to build.)

My first post was a tacky collage of my photos from the Matilda opening night, set to When I grow up, thinking that the platform could be an extension of my literature and performing arts storytelling. But since the video was so bad and the rest of 2020 events are basically cancelled due to COVID-19, I deleted it and just went on exploring and experimenting with the app.

By the way, I learned that it's the app formerly known as musical.ly, which I also downloaded and enjoyed in the past — as a viewer. Now it makes sense why I'm addicted to TikTok. A criticism against it is repetition or lack of original content. For me, we learn through imitation anyway, and creativity is often sparked by seeing something we love and then seeing how we can make it better.

If you have a TikTok, please let me know! I'd like to see some familiar faces there.

Leaving you with a post that's a bit more creative and on brand, haha!


##books ##bookclub ##lonelychair

♬ Here's Where the Story Ends - The Sundays

27 March 2020


There's a chapter in my life — maybe let's not call it a chapter as it's more of a swirl: brief, sudden, significant; or a fragment connected to other fragments of a similar hue, as you may have already figured out, life's like that: all over the place.

I'm talking about my enrollment at a music conservatory. Yes. In my early to mid-20s, when I started earning my own money, I intermittently took run-of-the-mill piano lessons near my work-place, during the course of which, a certain tutor encouraged me to go to the next level. And encouraged, I was.

Emboldened, in fact. I applied and, with the help of my tutor's glowing recommendation, got accepted at the conservatory.

Let's start from the end. I didn't graduate. Things came up, such as the opportunity to write for a national publication. Then I also realized that I was in the wrong program. Now I should be providing further explanation but it would sound — not just to you but to me — as if I'm making excuses. Better that we save this backstory for later, for coffee, after the quarantine. (If you're reading this from the far future, check the post date. We are in the midst of a pandemic. COVID-19 must ring a bell.)

Anyway, the hard part. Writing what I have to share. A vital information in this little story is my age at the time. Twenty six. Legit adult. I've held several jobs, as well as high positions. Yet I was reduced to a crying baby by my piano teacher. I had never cried ever in school!

For a clearer picture, this is the one-on-one practical lessons, where the instructor is seated beside you as you practice. The routine thus: I play; she insults my playing. No audience was present to witness the ordeal, but perhaps it would be better if there were. Because at least a single soul might've offered me some comfort.

The only person I confided in was my professor friend. I remember specifically asking him if my situation merited filing a grievance report. I didn't cry in front of her, by the way. I also didn't report her. She seemed to have that reputation, however. Though she was still there, thriving. Was I too sensitive? Was I a terrible pianist and couldn't just admit it? Ah, I was so angry and embarrassed.

You're probably drawing a terror teacher caricature in your head, and I will guess that you have it right. She is old, bespectacled, spinster-like, and dresses well. Fair-skinned, beautiful even. I won't be surprised if she's from a well-off conservative family.

Wow this story is longer than I imagined. Don't worry, we're nearing the point.

She has a sister. A nun who teaches sociology in the same college. I was in that class to fulfill a unit requirement.

The name has escaped me, and I can't recall what led us to that small talk, but the nun-professor told me that her evil-piano-teacher sister says that I'm good.

"Magaling ka raw."

Those words are clear enough in my memory.

WTF right? Part of me couldn't completely celebrate the second-hand compliment. Another part of me was suspicious, since Evil Piano Teacher's actions didn't match Nun Professor's message. Surely something big had been lost in translation.

I am all for discipline and rigor, values which, for me, aren't discordant with compassion. Have a heart, for chrissakes.

Though I hated that teacher, she didn't make me hate music. She made me hate the callous and fear that I might become one myself. Whenever I think of her, which is every time I play the piano, I try to be kind. There's a reason for her behavior. I also think of all the times I've heard nice things said about me by way of other people.

Why can't we look each other in the eye and tell the beautiful things that we see? It's a promise I want to keep. To let you know at once how you fascinate me.


Practising the theme from Love Affair by Ennio Morricone. Recorded on March 24th, a week into the Luzon Lockdown.

09 March 2020

Matilda's profound, lingering magic

Dahl, Roald. Matilda. Puffin books, 2004.

She couldn't possibly keep a gigantic secret like that bottled up inside her. What she needed was just one person, one wise and sympathetic grown-up, who could help her to understand the meaning of this extraordinary happening.
. . .
Matilda decided that the one person she would like to confide in was Miss Honey. (p 164)

What has so far been a light, fun read turns into poignant literature after that passage. Like Matilda, I, too, have secrets I can't keep bottled up inside me. And though I need only one person to confide in, finding them is hard.

Maybe it's my age, but I reckon that Roald Dahl's Matilda is the story of Miss Honey. Granted, the two ladies fulfill each other's hunger for family; yet Miss Honey undergoes the bigger changes: first in her attitude (from docile to emboldened), then her lot (from poor to rich), all thanks to Matilda, who's pretty much a superhero, not once showing any signs of vulnerability.

The friendship between Miss Honey and Matilda — signifying equality between children and adults, the value of thoughtful listening, and the humility to seek and accept help — makes the book special to me.

In the Tim Minchin and Dennis Kelly musical adaptation, this friendship is almost a given; and the focus shifts to putting things right, more specifically, rewriting your pre-existing narrative.

Despite the profusion of books ontsage (Matilda uses a stack of it as her constant chair), the musical isn't making an argument for reading. Rather, it reminds us that books are more than just treasured possessions of socially inept losers. Bookworms are neither goody-goodies nor pushovers.

Take the case of Matilda. She personifies a revolting spirit from the get-go, in her opening solo, Naughty, where she also displays her critical thinking skills by reviewing the stories she's read:

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water, so they say,
Their subsequent fall was inevitable.
They never stood a chance; they were written that way.
Innocent victims of their story.

Like Romeo and Juliet.
T'was written in the stars before they even met.
That love and fate, and a touch of stupidity
Would rob them of their hope of living happily.
The endings are often a little bit gory.
I wonder why they didn't just change their story?

Her age and height notwithstanding, Matilda stands up to adult bullies fixed in their unfair ways. What's great is that she doesn't come off as an annoying woke police (as even she endorses a bit of mischief).

For all its sleight of hand, drawing out myriad emotions from its audience must be the most clever trick the musical has pulled off. Matilda is written with youthful idealism tempered by a knowingness earned by those who have had a taste of life's bitter pill.

The show is able to duplicate the lightness and poignancy of the novel, and gets infinitely better in the second act. Here, children sing of things they'll do when they grow up, which they equate to being invincible. If you're an adult, the whole number becomes a mirror where your younger self looks back at you (different from nostalgia, a mere sentimentality). Watching kids ride a swing and fly paper airplanes has never been so heart-shattering.

Another noteworthy number is Quiet (a personal favorite), where a feeling we may associate with anger, confusion, or displacement is articulated using every possible theatrical tool — music, lyrics, choreography, lights. The result is a clear and resonant expression of an ineffable childhood experience.

This is a musical that refuses to coast on charm. Words are demanded to be heard. Structurally, I admire the decision to have Matilda tell Miss Honey's backstory in installments, as it reinforces the joys of storytelling, as well as the titular character's powerful imagination, while making us pay close attention.

When I replay it in my head, Matilda the Musical proceeds with a feel-good simplicity, though it's far from feel-good and simple. Its cries of courage ring with meaning because of a pointed awareness of reality. Happy ending aside, we all are Miss Honey still singing When I grow up…, still unsure of how to write our story.

11 February 2020

Aiding a fantasy: Notes on 'Stage Kiss'

Playwright Sarah Ruhl sneaks a mini commentary on theater's superiority over film somewhere into her 2014 comedy, Stage Kiss. Lead male character, He posits that onstage kissing signifies "an idea of beauty completing itself". We watch the act as an aid towards a consummate image in our heads, all along conscious of the other minds around us. That's why, according to him, anything more than a kiss and anything less than good-looking people doing it is repulsive. Whereas in film we may relish watching the act itself in private. "Theater is less like masturbation," concludes He.

He is, of course, speaking of an ideal as well, of theater's potential to be a self-aware, because society-aware art form. There is no hiding in a play, no pauses. An audience's immediate response is checked against fellow audiences. Continuous with the show on hand is an implicit, quiet dialogue among viewers and performers.

Missy Maramara and Tarek El Tayech are She and He in Repertory Philippines' production of Stage Kiss. (Press photo)

In Stage Kiss — currently having its local run with Repertory Philippines under the direction of Carlos Siguion-Reyna — the dialogue homes in on the melding of fantasy and reality; while the entire production behaves like an experiment in how much we can tolerate in our lives, including our choice of entertainment.

At its center is rusty actor She (Missy Maramara), who finds herself reunited with ex-lover He (Tarek El Tayech) when the two are cast as the romantic pair in The Last Kiss, a cliché-ridden 1930's drama. Despite being married with a teenage daughter, She falls in love again with He, no thanks to the nature of her job.

Heavily pronounced in the beginning are the discomforts of the said job: having to kiss an ex, kiss another actor with gross mannerisms, kiss a stranger — in short kissing someone you'd rather not, or just too much fucking kissing. Meanwhile on the other side of the proscenium are the audience members who have to witness — and depending on their humor, endure or enjoy — all this.

As Stage Kiss progresses, She and He confuse their individual selves with their make-believe personas. So do the audience. In Act II, they get another gig as a couple in I Loved You Before I Killed You, or: Blurry. This time, She takes on the role of a whore and He, a brute. Somehow, She has also turned from charming to tacky, and He from charming to scary over intermission.

Stage Kiss by Sarah Ruhl runs until March 1 at Onstage – Greenbelt, Makati. (Press photo)

Getting caught up in these blurred lines appears intentional, but for us to appreciate the conundrum, we need a clear picture of the lines. Except for a brief, desperate monologue by She regarding her past with He, the play proceeds like fiction through and through. There isn't enough of She and He's reality; something that shows that they are human. Who are they when they aren't actors in rehearsal anymore?

Though richly layered in themes, Stage Kiss is emotionally thin. There is a tenderness that wants to but can't quite break through the gags. And while the bulk of the fun rests on the main characters' erratic, chameleon-like romance, the play privileges stability, symbolized by Harrison (Robbie Guevara), the banker husband of She.

During a twisted denouement we learn that the husband orchestrated his wife and her lover's break-up by financing I Loved You Before I Killed You and pulling strings to have She and He hired as leads. Knowing how highly impressionable the two are, they are bound to end up like their characters — mad. Well done to the banker for making his own fantasy a reality.

Stage Kiss doesn't exactly answer that often-asked question about kissing for a job: How does it feel? Rather it lays bare the dreariness of actions done out of duty instead of desire. The show also foregrounds the potency of imagination, the directions it might go into if left uncontrolled, and where it might take us with discipline. And in theater, imagination is a shared power. It is an ideal space to pose hard questions and tackle delicate subjects. Because here the act of creation is urgent and communal; we are forced to look at each other's face; we think with others even as we think for ourselves. You are not a voyeur here.

04 February 2020

Je n'en sais rien

Es-tu brune ou blonde ?
Sont-ils noirs ou bleus,
Tes yeux ?
Je n'en sais rien, mais j'aime leur clarté profonde,
Mais j'adore le désordre de tes cheveux.

Es-tu douce ou dure ?
Est-il sensible ou moqueur,
Ton cœur ?
Je n'en sais rien, mais je rends grâce à la nature
D'avoir fait de ton cœur mon maître et mon vainqueur.

Fidèle, infidèle ?
Qu'est-ce que ça fait.
Au fait ?
Puisque, toujours disposé à couronner mon zèle
Ta beauté sert de gage à mon plus cher souhait.

—Paul Verlaine

I have an eight-hundred-fifty-seven-day streak on Duolingo and I guess it's paying off. While scrolling through Instagram, I came across this Paul Verlaine poem and was somewhere between kilig and amazed that I actually understood it — eighty percent of, more or less.

Three beautiful phrases I've picked up from the post:

Mais j'adore le désordre de tes cheveux. "But I love the disorder of your hair." (My translation, hah!) Has to be my favorite line.

Que l'on se dise sincèrement les choses, sans les retenir... "That we say things to each other sincerely, without holding back." (Still my translation, double hah!) Part of the commentary from the French journalist who posted the poem. She's reminding me of my lifelong desire to gift people with words that are kind and true.

Je n'en sais rien. I would read this as "I know nothing of that". But taken in context, the refrain comes after a series of related questions. For example: "Are you brunette or blonde? / Are they black or blue, / Your eyes?" To which the poet answers, Je n'en sais rien, and "I know nothing of that" doesn't quite fit. As the sentiment is more of "I have no idea" or "I can't tell" or a resigned yet forceful, "I don't know".

Somewhere in the past I've accused Stephen Mitchell of ruining Rilke for me. While everyone was celebrating his poems — mostly Mitchell's translations — I was underwhelmed. Until I found this Randall Jarrell translation — then woah, Rilke is a master! (Search for Mitchell's version and be the judge.)

Still way back in the past, I thought of learning Japanese to make sense of haikus, because surely the English translations we study in school aren't doing the form justice. Or at least that's my impression. But I've given up on my Japanese — I need to learn a whole new writing system! Anyway, I'm happy with my progress in French. The rest of the day shall be spent close-reading Verlaine.

27 January 2020

All the world's a stadium

How does a sport look?

It looks and looks
and looking finds its way
to one of many scores
its weary truth.

. . . .

Is a sport a record?

Always the body needs
to muscle limits
as predators learn
to outrun for food.

. . . .

Is a sport an art?

Perfecting a difficult pattern
is nothing but an exciting

—Excerpts from What Is a Sport? by Alex Gregorio ("The Rosegun", 2004)

Tears, mine, flow as I read reports on the death of Kobe Bryant. I have to wonder why as I don't care about the guy, and these news — celebrity deaths, tragedies and its casualties — rarely affect me. At most I respond with short-lived shock, which mellows into empathy before fading back into indifference.

Perhaps the reason is he's become real to me through the people I know. And being a sportsman, I find him a symbol of vitality.

This event has also made me realize the stronger kinship I feel towards athletes more than artists. When I think of the Olympic motto, Faster, Higher, Stronger, I think, What meaningless pursuit! Yet I practice the same straightforward principle. All this fixation on records, difficulty, and repetitions that aim at but never reach mastery.

01 January 2020

Reading and writing, what else?

The last book I read in 2019. As in finished it on New Year's Eve.

Tokarczuk, Olga. Flights. Translated by Jennifer Croft, Riverhead Books, 2018.

1. Places
The internet is a fraud. It promises so much — that it will execute your every command, that it will find you what you're looking for; execution, fulfillment, reward. But in essence that promise is a kind of bait, because you immediately fall into a trance into hypnosis. The paths quickly diverge, double and multiply, and you go down them, still chasing an aim that will now get blurry and undergo some transformations. You lose the ground beneath your feet, the place where you started from just gets forgotten, and your aim finally vanishes from sight, disappears in the passage of more and more pages... You feel like spreading out your arms and plunging into it, into that abyss, but there is nothing more deceptive: the landscape turns out to be a wallpaper, you can't go any farther. (pp 343 – 344)
We've moved our photo albums online and mine, collected as with others on Instagram, shows adventures at concert halls, the theater, and various dining tables. The occasional trips outside the city and, rarer, outside the country. And then the profusion of books; because, as corny as it sounds, it's an easy way to travel with higher rewards.

Somehow the public nature of social media has allowed, better yet nudged us to visit strangers' homes, pluck their photo albums from the lowest shelves of their libraries, and imagine perfect lives from the images before our eyes. Lives that neither we nor these strangers own.

It's cruel that the internet provides a universe of information every minute yet I don't expand with it. Rather the exact opposite happens. I shrink.

With books and its resolve to have a beginning and an end, literally and conceptually; a sense of integrity no matter how amorphous its parts, I gain a satisfaction akin to eating a full course meal. Within me is nourishment I needed, at least for the time being.

2. Faces
Don't be shy, I think to the rest, all waiting for our gate to open — take your notbebooks out, too, and write. For in fact there are lots of us who write things down. We don't let on we're looking at each other; we don't take our eyes off our shoes. We simply write each other down, which is the safest form of communication and of transit; we will reciprocally transform each other into letters and initial, immortalize each other, plastinate each other, submerge each other in formaldehyde phrases and pages. (p 401)
People will charm me, then leave — not me, though me being left behind is a side effect of their having to go. This is painful to accept. Seeing your friends already prove to be a challenge, but the acquaintances whom you crave to know deeper — how to keep them close?

Some of my saddest days are right after talking to a stranger who has to be on a different part of the world. Their beauty is like an aftertaste, revealing itself as soon as you say good-bye, when you take another look at their calling card, or replay the party in your head before sleep.

We admit to a fear of missing out. I don't care about climbing K2 or diving the Great Barrier Reef. How many wonderful human beings have I not met whenever I choose to stay locked in my apartment?

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