Choosing curves

He gave me a one-arm hug and whispered, “Dear, you gained some weight.”

“Really? Thanks!” Finally, I’m finally getting back the curves I lost.

“Uh, honey, I don’t mean it in that way…”

I looked into him and realized he’s not kidding. It’s really probably time to let him go.

Regrets of A Savage Writer

This post is a response to The Daily Post’s Shoulda Woulda Coulda.

I should have said this.
I should have said this.

When rereading my journal entries, I often find myself cringing. My recent entries are, ironically, screaming mediocre when compared to the ones I wrote as a young teenager.

The passages are too clipped and are, therefore, boring. The handwriting looks like it was for a rough first draft. Instead of saying you’re, I wrote your. There are a couple of spelling mistakes. The placements of some punctuation marks are dubious and some even exist when there should be none. Those eyesore run-on sentences that I used to despise are all over the pages. And worst of all, I failed on the subject-verb agreement of several sentences. The writing is in a very sorry state, obviously a product of cluttered thinking and distracted writing. Obviously an indicator that I have become a savage writer. My Grammar Nazi, sixteen-year-old self would have disowned me had she known. Yikes!

At times, when trying to climb out the deep and dark pit called writer’s block, I ask myself, Whatever happened to you? I used to be that girl who could instantly produce a written output on command and could pump out more than a hundred words a day. Now, a great day means having somehow squeezed at least thirty words. It seems that my brain has totally rewired — I can deliberately blurt out plants’ scientific names (something I never thought I would ever do — I thought it was too nerdy) but I can no longer give a name to what I am feeling, much less describe it.

So what happened? Oh, I think I know. It is partly because of one stupid decision I made as a fifteen-year-old — my biggest regret in life.

My biggest regret in life, contrary to what my mother believes, is not Pisay. Pisay is actually one of the best things that ever happened to me. Rather, my biggest regret is choosing not to sign up for journalism class in my third year in high school.

It was the first day of classes and it was a particularly exciting day for us juniors for we were finally allowed to choose an elective class. We could sign up for whatever elective we wanted to take. We were free.

If I remember correctly, there were five electives available for juniors at that time— Electronics (I’m not sure about this for we just used to call it “Electro”), Robotics, Microbiology, Popular Law, and Journalism. Electro and Robo were out of question. Physics and computer programming both require dexterity with numbers which I, a notorious clinging-by-the-fingernails type of math student, obviously lack. Pop Law, I was told, would require a lot of memorizing. Hell, no.

So that left me with Micro and Journ (pronounced as “jern”). It was a no-brainer for me then. The final answer was Journ. It is not that Micro does not seem interesting. It is just that by that time, I had already apprehended that I had plenty of time for it in college while Journ was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. So I made up my mind to take up Journalism as an elective subject. Until…

Until I caught a glimpse of who my classmates would be. Most of them were already writing for the student paper. All of them known to be good writers. In their presence I was stripped of the air of confidence I wore. Compared to them I felt like a nobody, a mere wannabe. So like a scared kitty surrounded by humans, I scampered off and immediately signed up for Micro.

Micro did not disappoint. I actually learned a lot. But just as I expected, everything was tackled again in college. In short, I wasted an opportunity to learn something new. I wasted an opportunity to be formally trained in writing. I wasted the opportunity to be tamed. And this realization is the reason why now, five years later, I am still mentally screaming at my younger self: Why did you chicken out?

Indeed, why?

Because I was afraid to be humiliated in front of all those kids who certainly knew better than I did. Because I did not want them to see right through me — a copycat who merely rewrites in much too pompous ways the things that were already written by published authors. Because I did not want to admit that I was far from flawless and badly needed help. Because I did not want to face the truth that I was not the only one who could do it. All reasons reflecting my younger self’s hamartia: arrogance.

Just because I had been getting compliments, I decided I was invincible. I thought I could do everything on my own. I was like Arachne who thought she could do without the help of the very being who gave her the gift of skill. Look at what this arrogance has brought me into. It eventually killed my art and left me swimming in what-ifs (I am quite surprised I have not turned into a spider — yet).

There is nothing more torturous than thinking about these what-ifs. The what-ifs are a result of the could-haves and are often satisfied by the acknowledgment of the would-haves. But if the would-haves fail and the what-ifs continue to haunt the person, then the could-haves are actually should-haves. Like they are now. Lately I have been repeatedly asking myself these same questions.

What if I chose to fight my fear of humiliation and signed up for Journ? Maybe I would not have been suffering from mediocrity now.

What if I managed to put on a brave face and actually tried out for the school paper? Maybe I would not have been so bitter now.

What if I faced the fact that I needed help? Maybe I would not have been the wild writer that I have become.

Now I know. I should have just signed up.

When “good morning” is not polite

Don't even pretend that is polite.
Don’t even pretend that is polite.

“Hi beh*, good morning.”

I ignored the man who called out to me — just as I do every time — but this time, he moved towards me, attempting to stop me in my tracks. Swiftly, I overtook him and pretended he did not exist while he and his friend (they are both security guards in a government office near my dorm) snickered. I gritted my teeth and clenched my fist as I walked on — that was the least I can do to contain my anger.

Being catcalled is a usual happening in my daily ten-minute walk to and from school. It has happened so frequently that before stepping out of the premises of my dorm, I always prepare myself to shift from my usual smiling face to a stoic expression so that I can ward off potential harassers. Sometimes, it works. Some men would immediately back off and give me an apologetic smile when I give them my well-practiced don’t-mess-with-me look. But still, there are those who never get the message and would shamelessly shout out to me, “Hoy, suplada! Nag-‘good morning’ lang naman. (Hey, snob! I just greeted you ‘good morning’)”

I just greeted you “good morning.”

That is what they always say. I find it absurd that they actually expect women to believe that. No woman is that stupid to believe that a ‘good morning’ from a complete stranger is a mere act of social grace. How can it be when he has that wicked gleam in his eyes that makes her feel unsafe? And does that stranger really greet every person (that is, men and women alike) he meets on the street that way? Definitely not. That “good morning” is reserved for women who are companionless, particularly those who they think are young and helpless like me. And obviously, they do not intend to be nice. They mean to assert their power over women.

Why do men do that? Thus I once complained to a male friend. He shrugged it off as if I were talking about makeup and replied, “Let it go. It’s just a compliment.” For a moment, I was speechless for I never looked at the matter that way. In fact, no woman would ever look at the matter like that. Not when it makes her feel publicly humiliated. Not when it makes her feel insecure. Not when it makes her feel oppressed. My friend’s answer made me feel dejected but at the time I said nothing further. Just as he advised, I let it go.

Now, more than a year after that conversation, I realized that women, despite our never-ending campaign for gender equality, remain unconsciously obedient to our “masters.” We always let it go. Growing up, I had observed older women being indifferent to catcalling. Therefore, when I started getting catcalled myself, I conditioned myself that it is a natural part of life. I let men have their errant ways while I make the adjustments by pretending that I see or hear nothing or by changing my route to school even when it is inconvenient.

Lately though, I realized that despite managing to stay composed amidst the hooting and unsolicited greetings, deep inside of me broods anger distress. It is just so unfair that we, women, have to put up with that kind of treatment by men who seriously believe that they are giving us a favor when they “compliment” us. But it is not a compliment nor is it a simple polite greeting. It is a derogatory comment on our existence — a mockery of our sex.

I wish I had told my friend, “That’s bullshit!” I wish I could not just let it go. I wish I have the courage to say, “Hey, you are not just being polite and I know that.” But I can’t because I know that for now it will not work. Even when we know it is not right and even when we try to speak up, we, women, end up losers in this game for catcalling has already been accepted as mere inconvenience, not a real problem. But I know that someday, if we continue to fight for our right to security, we will no longer be subjected to public humiliation masked in “compliments.” Someday, that “good morning” will be polite again.

*Beh is a contraction of the word baby. In Filipino culture, it is often used as an endearment among couples.

Time vs. Learning

Many people would claim that the workload given to college students in school is way too much for their bodies and brains to handle. To this, I disagree. As young adults, we are actually capable of doing heavy school tasks as we are stronger and healthier. Our strongest opponent is actually the clock. We can do so much but we have too little time.

I am a person who hates running after time so I panic when given just a week to master three chapters of a biology book. Biology, unlike chemistry and physics, is a heavily conceptual discipline so therefore, in order to fully understand it, one must take time to read and reread not only the lecture notes but also the books — the more textbooks you read, the better you grasp the concepts. So, needless to say, studying biology requires much time as it requires much effort. Sadly, time is a limited resource for us biology majors for we have only eight semesters to tackle the vast scope of the science of life and nature.

Most of times, when I read my book in preparation for an upcoming exam (likely, three to four days later), I get too engrossed with the things I am learning so I take time to digest the material properly, chewing slowly and savoring every bite. By the time I finish with one chapter, the exam will be in a few hours and I still have two to three chapters left. I often end up just swallowing those chapters, trying to get as much as I can without really having to focus and give much time. When exam results come, disappointment swallows me in return. I always get marks much lower than what I know I can get.

People will say that grades are just numbers and they do not define who you are. Sure, that is true. But for me, grades are important for they are indicators of how much one has learned. Every time I get low final mark, I become disappointed because I know I was not able to maximize learning. I think it is even better to have failed the subject. At least then, I can get a second chance to study it again.

For other biology students, good grades are important because these are one of the factors that may be able to secure them with admission to the best medical schools. I see my friends pulling all-nighters just to get at least an encircled 1.50 in their class cards. They need it for medical school, they say. So they go without sleep for days many times so that they can go to med school where they will be, again, chasing time. So, the vicious cycle repeats.

We are always reminded that the time pressure is necessary for us to achieve academic excellence. I see it oppositely. Time pressure implies cramming on the part of the students and, as we all know, it produces half-cooked work and limits us to little of the great knowledge that is available for us to explore. For me, time pressure jeopardizes our education. How can that achieve academic excellence?