"It's close to midnight," I say, before Kitty and I burst into insatiable laughter. This goes on for another 30 minutes. We spent the last two hours comparing summer adventures and exchanging half-mad glances over all the things we have to get done within our last school year (hopefully ever).
You need these moments, and you need these people. Most importantly, you need someone who can understand why you have the urge to ugly cry when you're at the near summit of your potential career–and you need someone who will understand why you summit anyway. We say this often in medicine–to the average outsider, what we do makes absolutely no sense. To the insider, it makes even less sense. Still, we grit our teeth and trudge through. We bank on light at the end of the tunnel.
In the midst of all the work, however, I've learned that the moments I treasure are 2 AM emergency phone calls coming from and going out to friends who really should've been sleeping peacefully. I remember heading back from a cafe at 4 AM, having played card games through an exam night, as if to say: it is enough that we are whole. It is enough that we haven't broken.
I tell Kitty I have to finish my report, but we catch up on everything and nothing instead. It's past midnight, and past both our bedtimes. Everything and nothing has changed, and we don't say how much we'll miss tonight after the year is over.
I'm tired, and I feel bad about feeling tired–it's insanely messed up to think this statement through. Still, it's how the past few months have been going for me. The idea that I have no right to complain has popped into my head too often–it's what you hear people say: you don't have it as bad as we do. When did life become a competition of whose lot is worse?
Ah, well. A poem:
Name Me Ghost
Not quite alive, and
not quite dead—gone
through both, but the afterlife
is bullheaded, and
won’t accept it.
photo reel of all the Saturdays, the
laughter stored in our throat. Replay
loop all the stupid things I’ve said.
Migratory patterns leave
shadows for those left behind--
sometimes, it’s the fragrance
of missing me. Maybe they do.
Still, this is goodbye: it’s
the natural swing of things
to move along when the
cold begins to bite.
I've finally done it.
I've printed out my poems.
There is an order form.
I was told coming into my clinical year of medical school that I ought to find a way to keep myself human. So, I did. Over the past six months, I wrote these poems between surgeries, nap breaks, and seeing patients. I wrote about heartache, time, late mornings, fights, work. They are life poems(!) and they have become my lifeline. These poems are meant for the commute. the snack break. the morning coffee run. They are meant to read like a pick me up when don't have time.
I'm rambling. The point: there are days that do not feel like good days, and maybe writing these poems have helped me pull through. Reading them again, I am humbled at who I was a couple of months ago. It's a reminder not to take myself too seriously. And to keep writing.
another ping in the
pocket. then, a
pause. unseen message, or
when should we bother, or
be bothered about
becoming a bother? and
when should we
ivy branch reach out to
magnet attractive suns?
when do we get to call
strangers, and not think
about the way we might be
buzzing up their phones
these sort of things:
I turn to sleep on my
left side after a month
on the right. maybe the
uneasy chest feeling will
dislodge itself if I just
get through tonight.
I get back to work tomorrow after a long week off (during which I went through minor surgery and major introspection). Do I dread it? A little. Do I look forward to it? Not as much as I should, but I like the work.
At the beginning of medical school, I had a thought that has stayed with me: I am learning to suffer. Not something you really want to hear coming from an age that feeds on hedonism, but I had the thought and I've been carrying it with me, trying to figure out what it means.
What does it mean to endure life, for example? CS Lewis proposed in The Screwtape Letters that a long, peaceful, otherwise mundane life poses a greater threat to faith than a sudden instance of crisis. The more time I have to live, the more I understand this: at times the sheer weight of living makes me question whether God is real when I cannot see him, cannot feel him. It seems easier to believe in Him when I have a problem and need saving from it, and so difficult to see how equally I need him when life rolls ever on without obvious need for divine intervention. Thus, the necessary virtue of faith. And the necessary virtue of introspection.
In the same breath, the end of my medical training seems so far away. The current reality of my situation is bleak. There is little sleeping and little contact with the outside world. The suffering wears you down because you wonder: is this all there is? And everyone tells you it gets worse. Does it? Will I make it out in one piece?
There is no guarantee that anything gets better, but to endure is to take the daily burden of suffering and allow it to chip away at your character until you come out the sort of person you'd like to be. Will suffering properly mould me into the kind of person I wish I was? I certainly hope so.
I think of you
Here's a thought: there's an old riddle (arguably by George Berkeley) about a tree in the forest. If no one hears it fall, does it still make a sound? The short explanation: sound is, by definition, a perceived effect. If no one is around to perceive, then it doesn't matter if the tree objectively made noise. There is no sound. The argument seems ridiculous and too legalistic to take seriously, but I use it as a jumping point for my own tangential thought: we exist separately from how others see us, but we also exist to other people as certain versions of ourselves. Does that matter? Or is it, like the tree argument, something that sounds good legalistically, but doesn't do anyone any good in what we call "real life"?
I've been stuck on this poem by Jack Mueller for weeks–so, maybe it will stay with me for the rest of the year.
I resolve to update this blog a little more often. However often that may be!
It is the dawn of a new year and the end of my holiday. On my headboard, there are three poetry books lined up that I read in no particular order. Mueller, Doty and Ashbery are currently on rotation–my favorites, and my mentor's.
Two nights ago, I went out with some friends–it's an odd thing to catch up with people you've known for so long but whose current lives you know nothing about. It's meeting a stranger with a familiar face. Someone said that the older you are, the more people become shadows of other people you remember–sounds like someone else's voice, looks like someone else's ears, smells like someone else's cologne. Meeting someone after a long period of absence is something like that. You remember them as themselves, but have to piece together who you remember them as vis a vis who they presently are. It is a constant process.
A tangential thought to this: it's so easy to give up investing time into meeting up with people. Medical school is like a little circle in the Venn diagram that is convinced it doesn't need to intersect with anyone else's circle. It's so easy to be absorbed into this medical training bubble, and I think for the most part of my clerkship year, I've willingly participated in locking myself in the system. Then, I think of people I love and whether we'll have anything to talk about after years of me excusing myself from gatherings and parties. I think of how much compassion is necessary from those who love me in spite of my schedule.
at 74, Mueller bites it
no thanks to cancer.
at 65, Doty.
Some others, without
notice, no Wikipedia entry.
No consensus on
what became of them—some,
heaven, others, still here
watching over the stars as much
as we still do, just less communicating
(under the presumption that we
are still communicating.)
On that note:
I sit down, and
finally tune in-
to your favorite television series,
this pretense of connection
based on a common
I don’t enjoy it,
and fake interest because of
your interest. Would you call it
hypocritical, or would it
move you? would it
come to mind when I
bite it at the age of 62?
Breaths come in pairs, except at two times in our lives—the beginning and the end. At birth, we inhale for the first time; at death, we exhale for the last.
the beginning, and
in between the
end is a Shakespearean Act played
out—all the world is a stage, every
morning wake up
naked and out of character,
bare bones and back
breaking after a lifetime
so far of breaking
in these feet, and every morning,
dress our grins for the show, smile
lies at everyone we
meet—I am aware, there is
Venetian masquerade is not e
verybody, the way the worst
boys always quip “not all
men,” but we counter with: “enough
men to matter,” enough
piston weight pressure on slouching
shoulders for enough of us to
play the game anyway, count the
cards in our hand and bluff
all the way—jester, joker
smile though your heart is
breaking and you’re
tempted to take your
one last breath.
There’s a beginning, and there’s an
end; there are mornings you need a little
help seeing what waits around the
hope is an ocean inspired suitor, ebbing and
flowing, sometimes here, and when you need him:
disappearing. It is difficult
going through rain cloud seasons with feet
believing in prayers you
whisper when things were
going better. Understand: this
is what faith looks like—take a deep breath in,
and hold it steady. Everyone with me, exhale
slowly. Notice this
reflex arc handy: your lungs
take deep breaths again,
even when you anorexia starve it of
air, chest coup-de-tat fights you, doesn’t want this life to
end. And, maybe now is a semi-colon, a
pause in the story, see,
we all need a little
breather. We all get
hope will arrive
feet soaked through thick cotton
socks after all the pain and the
downpour rain, but meanwhile remember this
reflex: take a deep breath in and hold it
steady. Everyone with me, exhale
slowly. See, then
our lungs welcome the
sky again, we
breathe again, our sighs
out are reminders: this is not the end.
at ten years old, we
climbed skinny trees, and
scraped knobby knees, saw the city
bird’s eye, and listened to the rustling of
leaves, ten years later:
in place of trees,
we lego brick stack concrete
pancake layers: higher and
higher until we need elevators, and
then, maybe they fit the criteria for
skyscrapers. maybe, this time, we’ll find
what we’re looking for:
peer through the glass shoe
window on the top
floor, and won’t feel the need to axe
hack this cityscape down, won’t feel the
need to bring the sky closer to the
ground, to fill our hands with news
paper that says we’ve reached the clouds.
sixteen years ago, there were red winged
butterflies morning greeting
kisses before moving
onto someone else’s plant box—the
all organic liberal player, heart
breaker—we learn from their pollinating patterns
we are all thieves, mercilessly
taking nature’s nectar—let’s army knife carve out a space for
summer pavilions and
canopies, uproot these wide mango
trees and use them for
fire, their bodies are good for
keeping us warm, and this
Nara: sturdy for shelter, and it is human
nature, instinct to reach
peeking through the clouds, and we
soak it all up through bare
burn instead of tan. there are no
butterflies now, because there are no
an urban concrete lego-land on life support, the Pasig
river a clogged up IV line and we try to
scrape at the sides but don’t you
remember, we sent away the
guys who could do it
better on their last
payroll, now the land
rolls down the bank of the
river, where we put dams in place of
trees—as if we knew any better. and maybe I’m a
girl who wants to teach her future
daughter how to climb a tree. If I’m
lucky, she’ll learn to do ir better than me.
identified by drink more than by
name, and espresso caffeine isn’t the
only kind of morning
rush, it is saying my name like
brush strokes and getting
lost after swimming the wrong
stream, down, and no one ever expects to end
up in today’s version of
here, but here
you are: with a friend’s
dr pepper robitussin americano, and another’s
iced cappuccino, and still trying to coin
flip between two kinds of
beans, as if Jack really believed in all this
maybe it’s time we round our
backs, cat stretch
slouch, cave in-
I was sniper
centered on north pole
things. today is equator
different, all kinds of fireplace
warm and no blister
burns. and maybe
Jack was magic bean
right instead of asylum not right in other
places, and maybe it’s Apollo really
bright here, not just an Iris hallucination
lie. and, dr stranger mouths, “how
will you know if you never try”
-out, train for decathlon-like
death, it’s not caving
in if you’re expected to Pokemon
trainer put up a bloody good fight.
Back in high school, and throughout the first year of university, I had a brief (let's call it an intense) interest in Asian dramas and pop artists. It’s a bit out of character. I generally shy away from TV shows, celebrities, and the whole tinsel town experience. I’m usually the last to know when a personality gets into a scandal. I’m not even entirely sure I can get through an entire r&b song without changing the station. The scene is not something I’m attracted to. So, to have a brief history of watching rather predictable love stories, listening to Asian rap, and googling Asian names just to see what they were up to is something unexpected. In fact, it’s become a bit of an embarrassing joke for me.
Looking back, my attraction to the Asian scene had little to do with compelling Korean lyrics (I can’t understand Korean),or interesting plot lines (Taiwanese dramas are notorious for being predictable). Subconsciously, I think I was looking for someone to identify with, and I found that in Asian pop culture.
When I was younger, my favorite characters in TV shows, or comics, or movies would be the Asian girl. There weren’t many of them. Many articles suggest that children have a hard time delineating TV with reality, but I never felt like TV was real. No one looked like me, my family or my classmates. Everyone on screen had sharp noses and yellow hair. Everyone wore casual clothes to school. They went out to the mall after class hours. Everyone I knew had dark hair. And we all wore uniforms to school. We had to ask permission from our parents before going out even on a weekend. The culture was very different. But I think my longing for relatable figures extended beyond seeing non-Asians on screen. Even in the Philippines, my friends and I are considered exotic. Most of us have Chinese parents, and look extremely East Asian. I barely speak my mother’s Filipino tongue. In college, the most common question I got when meeting someone new was “so, where are you from?” or something along the lines of “you must speak fluent Chinese.” In many, many ways, I felt very other. I was unable to identify with local celebrities, and foreign celebrities. I was unable to identify with people outside the culture I grew up with.
Late into high school, suddenly, just as I was becoming an angsty teenager, my class got a young Chinese teacher who introduced us to modern songs, my dad took the family to Taiwan for the first time, and the k-pop scene boomed. All at once, I had so many things I could identify to. In a way, it felt like there was a subgroup I had an affinity to—a part of global society where people didn’t ask me if I was attracted to people outside my race, or a part of society where people also found it culturally uncomfortable to talk about sex or deep seeded feelings in general but completely comfortable to talk about diarrhea or some other “embarrassing” medical condition. I’m sure this isn’t the case across the board, but the point is the feeling of belonging to a sub group. Being exposed to different cultures is great, but when you’re always seen as the one from the exotic culture, it is nice to find a space where you don’t have to explain yourself.
And my experience with Asian pop culture has been overall enjoyable. In high school, we used to sing along to 光良’s 童話 after Chinese class. My cousin, a few years above me in school, first introduced me to Jay Chou. My Korean classmate and I bonded over K-pop back in the beginning of college. I’ve been back to Taiwan every year (sometimes more frequently) since I first went. If I remember correctly, Japanese anime heavily influenced the way I dressed throughout high school.
I think, in some ways, I fell out of the pop culture habit because, obviously, the experience of being Asian is not homogenous. As I grew older, I realized that I didn't identify with the Korean or the Japanese culture--mostly because I am neither Korean nor Japanese. But my stint with their pop cultures have, in some ways, given me a greater appreciation of the culture they hold. And, in some ways, I can see the overlap of my culture and their culture. If only for this purpose, I'm grateful for my short obsession with K-pop and Japanese anime. It's broadened my horizons, and helped me appreciate my own heritage so much more.
I also think there's value to obsessing over something closer to home. However odd that sounds. It makes you lean into your culture instead of away from it. I never felt ashamed of looking Chinese, or felt like I would be prettier if I had western features. I think part of that is because I was more enamored with Asian personalities than Western ones. If that makes any sense.
Earlier this year, an old friend sent me a link to Big Bang’s new song. The title was shamelessly suggestive—something unheard of in K-pop when we were in our late teens. It’s interesting, we both thought, how things have changed. Still, watching a pink haired young man sing about sex seems more identifiable than watching a blonde sing about an ex-lover. My friend and I have not talked since, but this is the way things go. You remember each other fondly, then allow the memory to stay in the past.
As a closing statement to my long ramble, I’d say I’m pretty much done with my K-pop and Japanese anime phase. My connection with it was, to be honest, on a rather superficial level rather than a deep, cultural one. I am still inclined to put on Jay Chou once in a while—and I mostly understand the lyrics now so I don’t have to feel so embarrassed. Now that I'm older, especially, I get touched by his song about filial piety. I think it’s important for anyone and everyone to feel like they can identify with what goes on in the media. I suppose it’s partly the point of entertainment—we’re supposed to feel a degree of fondness with personalities. The goal is to make us (the audience) feel something, and that draws heavily on how we were raised, what we value, what we aspire towards, etc. But at the same time, I think it’s important that minorities are represented. I think it’s important that our stories are told. It’s bad enough that we feel as though some people fetishize our culture. What’s worse is seeing its value diminished and its essence misrepresented just because there are people who aren’t better exposed.
For some reason, medical school is when I develop frequent sore throats. I'll call it what it is: my health is very poor, and I haven't been taking care of myself for the sake of my academics. Here are the consequences.
A professor once said that at one point in your medical education, you tend to think you have one of the diseases being described in the textbook. We just saw a kid with a bad cold the other day, so I'm now wondering if I've got what he's got.
I probably don't, but it makes for fun poetry.
grape cluster tonsils in the
admit it: we only mouth the
words to sound like we understand what it
means, and that starfish doesn’t look
like anything. it is all
tentacles and no stars. and
marks are just squiggles
someone else drew. nothing
more than temporary
tattoos. you and I—we are
real. these words are just brush
strokes, but we think it over
again, and laugh at everything.
this particular hobby of mine isn't meant to age well, but it's heaps of fun while I'm young and reckless.
these days turn
to rheumatic hinged
hips, and fibrous hanging knee
caps, and hindsight spikes we don’t
hearts with it.
win us all over.