31 January 2023

Poem 14


However meager
I was eager to earn
and spend money
on objects that fill
an emptiness.
A table for the sun
to drop light on.

Last night we talked
about legacies.
Leaving a good name,
so the children
who'll inherit
this funny earth
would know whom to adore.

I said why care
about what people say.
It's none of my business
to love the living
when I'm dead.
You filled the room
with laughter

and derision.
I almost quit
when our shouting matches
no longer gave the thrill
of winning,
that I might as well play
tennis with a wall.

But we've held on
to each other for years.
You putting concrete on dreams,
me disappearing into my own,
hugging the clichéd cup
of coffee with my palms,
at the table

I bought with my first paycheck.
Birds sing unseen
from where I sit.
From an office building
You are thinking of me.
A loveliness achieved
through a life's work.

—Razel Estrella

18 January 2023

The bookstore

A co-trainer once talked about losing her appetite for books — They don't hold the same magic for me anymore — which I thought was sad, if unimaginable. The opposite of death is desire, after all.

Somewhere between that conversation and a point in time I cannot locate, I, too, had a cooling off with books.

A feeling of betrayal grows. Like turning your back on someone who has given you so much. Even though these books owe me nothing.

Then you miss the self who glows at the sight of a rare copy, and being the first to read a new title.

We are allowed to change. Cut the cords of passion. It is the books themselves, though, that continue to assert their worth.

Bookstores have dwindled in number, and in those few standing, the actual book shelves have become fewer.

Meanwhile, I, force of habit, enter one whenever I'm nearby. There are still authors and series that I look for, though gone is the urgency to buy. To own and be possessive.

A couple of years back I made a conscious effort to read (at least) a book a month. Because we are what we practice (and what we pretend to be), and I want to be a life-long reader.

My collection's complete

Last year the fiction and poetry have been heavily replaced by music notations. I also want to be a life-long piano player, an ambition rekindled (as much as I hate to admit it) during the pandemic.

I am happy to be reading with thoughtfulness, proud that I make sacrifices to carve out hours for this discipline. Incidentally my excitement towards book-hunting returns. It started when I found two old editions ofMikrokosmos after visiting several stores.

Later on I ordered the missing volumes from a local music shop. They were only able to supply me with another two volumes, though both were brand new and from a good publisher.

My fantasy of owning the entire Béla Bartók collection came to fruition three days ago. I tagged along with my sister to a faraway mall in the North. There at the bookstore that shall not be named, I saw a single copy of Volume III, and then picked the least damaged copy of Volume V.

The trip felt familiar. Hope, giving up, managing expectations, digging through piles of paper, hunching over, squatting, efficient sales staff, ignorant sales staff.

Why not just go online-shopping?

Walking to and around a store and being heart-broken (at worst) gives me a rush; waiting for delivery to arrive stresses me out. So do the greater hassles of exchanges and returns.

More importatnly, I need to see if it fits. I need to touch it. Weigh it. Ensure a damage-free product. Ponder how much imperfection I am willing to embrace. What else? For me online shopping — call me conventional — is just less magical.

10 January 2023

The corner rack

When I mentioned my love for cooking to a trainee, he asked for advice: How can I fall in love with cooking?

Before we begin: I am no foodie. Neither am I adventurous, perhaps not even as open-minded about food as I wanted to be. The reason I got into the habit of cooking daily is I wanted to eat what I like, how I like it, and when I like it. As the proverb goes, "If you want good service, serve yourself."

I am no good cook. No way for me to tell, since I don't cook for others. My niece likes my pancake and sunny side up, while my sister eats my saucepan-boiled brown rice without complaint (nor praise). Those are the only feedback I receive.

My motivation has always been beauty, and that's how I framed my method to my trainee. Maybe start buying quality kitchen tools. Those that look and work so well they almost beg to be touched.

Marketing has become its own artform nowadays, and this post by Kinto summarizes what I've been trying to say:

A kitchen you want to spend time in⁠

Fill your kitchen with things that you love, one plate, one mug, one canister at a time. ⁠ ⁠

And voila, cooking becomes a pastime, not a chore.⁠

Thing is — and because it all seems a fairy tale (gather nice things, feel nice) — knowing what we love takes time. Your first pan is your test pan. You will eventually want to upgrade. How do people stay married with the same person their whole lives? Upon further reflection, I do continue to use the first and only set of dinner plates I bought for myself. Looking around, yes, a lot of things have stayed with me.

Because of financial limitations I learn to love objects for what they are, and when they are. The wine glasses, no matter how careful I am, will break. That said, I won't drink Merlot in a ceramic mug.

It goes without saying that the kitchenette is my favorite and therefore the busiest area in my apartment. And within that space, the corner where everyday ingredients are — spices, soy sauce, vinegar, olive oil, coffee, pasta, dietary supplements — is a sight to behold.

I don't own any paintings. Chalk it up to my ignorance. I am not equipped to appreciate them. But every day, my eyes are drawn to and are satiated by that corner rack. How it fits in the puzzle that is my home. It's my real-life still life. Except nothing about it is still. Each day it is new. The bottles are moved ever so slightly from yesterday's meal prep. The paper coffee filters, from a thick block of white is now thinning, and will soon need replacing. So does the jar of curry powder.

My trainee also mentioned how cook books and cooking shows deceive him. The 15-minute breakfast is in fact 40 minutes, and that excludes cleaning up — the task that all cooking fairy tales leave out.

Do my pretty plates make washing them a pleasure? No. Instead I've developed an acceptance towards these menial tasks. They keep me upright. My body moving. What do I save time and energy for anyway? Sometimes we're not aware that we are already living our dreams, because we fail to account for everything else. My ambition is to live in a beautiful space. This is a beautiful space, and keeping it so constitutes living.

The letter box

As soon as she read the inscription, my editor dropped the card in the bin. I was shocked by the act and nonchalance. How could a hand-written note be discarded without thought.

I expressed my horror, to which she replied with her own amused, What's wrong? Causing me to blurt out, Do you also throw away mine? Not our exact words, though, as this happened years ago.

What I remember and know for sure is that she is one of the most loving and loyal friends I have, despite her ruthless attitude towards Christmas cards.

I'm just slower than everybody else.

Discarding letters is something I forced myself to do when I moved to my own place. I held on for so long to long letters in yellow pads enclosed with photos from pen pals who remained strangers, to doodles from high school friends who turned into strangers, to my first love letter from a secret admirer.

That was a lot of paper. Private. I was beginning to see the wisdom of my editor. The more these sentimental objects linger, the more they accumulate, the harder they are to destroy. Do I burn them? Is burnt photo paper toxic waste? Should I buy a shredder? How much is a shredder?

Why do I hold on to them, anyway? It's not like I'm in the habit of rereading or making a conversation piece out of them. This genre of documentation seems like a cousin of FOMO. A fear of losing beautiful memories.

Last weekend I had to exorcise a box-full of letters again. For a different reason. Nowadays I'm more discriminating with what I keep. Whereas previously I wanted to exercise being free of the past, no matter how happy it was, and in more practical terms, to live in a clutter-free home; now it's about cutting ties.

Sorting through my smaller letter box brought the right kind of surprise.

Apparently I was exchanging letters with a former crush who moved to Japan. In my memory the whole affair was one-sided. But if these stamped envelopes and postcards were any proof, somehow we had an intimate connection.

I also realized that it's clever to have writer friends. Theirs are the letters I should memorialize. I like words; they are good at it. Oh the many eloquent, convincing ways I'm told I'm amazing!

Then the genuine emotions. There is sincerity in length, a pouring out of unfiltered feelings. There is kindness in brevity, sparing both giver and receiver the burden of feelings, which, for the moment, is best carried by white space.

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