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'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?
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.
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.
Happy 4th of July from here in the US of A!
My summer is nearly over, so my muse is once again restless. Thus, more poetry. Hurrah! Anyway, a word on the land of the free: America, to me, has always represented equity, and opportunity, and hard work, and freedom, and (extended) family. Despite the current political climate, I still believe that there can be hope and there can be peace–the thing people migrated to America for years and years ago. Spending the 4th of July here is interesting. It's made me believe in all the "naive" hopes and dreams I once had when I was seven.
Maybe that's a good thing?
4th of July: we are crazy
dancing, feet instinct
moving to live band
In the horizon the sky is
neuron synapsing: hand grazing mine
electric, cliff diving
lips pressed against mine.
One day. The hope of it.
lips curled up to your eyes.
There are film reels of me
dancing to jazzy
And the horizon: gentle
pixie dust fall—wonderful,
awestruck, believing in fairies
again. And forgiveness
again. And grace
She just turned twenty-two on this lunar year March 6th
Just about to throw away her textbook and see the world
But, she realized there’s much trouble she needs to face
Sometimes she wishes she could return to when she was twelve
When her only responsibilities were going to school, simple, without worries
She’s like a flower bud full of hope
The days between January 29 seem to draw closer together, and filling them in with a series of nothings seems easier—these blue skies meld in and out of each other too fast for me to follow. This is what writers mean when they say life is short: life in itself is a series of long drawn out days that converge into a single moment, gone before anyone ever acknowledged its existence.
I’ve been thinking of Paul Kalanithi’s words: A sigh, and the earth continued to rotate back toward the sun. In some ways, the fact of my own mortality hangs above my head. I am reminded of it daily—my medical books are elaborate descriptions of ways to delay death, my patients are flesh and blood reminders of how debilitating disease can be, my classmate(who was faithful, kind, and God-fearing)’s very recent passing is a painful reminder of the unpredictability and brevity of life.
Am I more like Grindelwald? Shall I die just a little as the days crawl past? Shall I feel my youth wane and my joints grow heavy? Shall I feel my skin sag and smile helpless as my (eventual) grandchildren toy with my chicken wing arms? Perhaps I shall. Even this slow wasting seems like a brief moment in the greater scheme of things.
We know this: humanity has lived long enough to become aware of our ephemeral existence. Still, we press on and attempt to carve out something substantial out from our numbered days. Still, we get up. We get dressed. We eat. We live. We read. We write.
I am not anxious about dying, or dying in pain. These may well be my end. I fear wasting the days before my demise. I fear blinking, and opening my eyes to another year gone without having improved myself, my relations, the world in the time span. And though I’ve been told (indirectly) that faith is not something desirable to have, I fear losing my faith. I fear watching it wane until it becomes ghostly and irrelevant to me. I fear my God turning away from me. I fear myself aiming for the earth again, and losing heaven in the process.
So, may this be the year I get up. Get dressed. Read. Write. Live. Act. Do. Resolve. Believe.
Perhaps, then I shall come into the next year satisfied with all my hands have done, and all my eyes have seen.
Send me skyward, to parts unknown, to paths feet have yet wandered, to prayers I have muttered. Send me onward. Though my shoes long to stay cement glued to the ground, send me forward. Away, to countrysides and skylines, to parched lands and endless seas, to scorching heat and biting cold.
I will follow: open armed, eagle spread willing. I will go: backpack ready, shoes on when I sleep. I’ve learned what it looks like to stay static, always fighting time and space and God. I’ve learned what it looks like to play with fire, taunting flames until one of us gets burned. Most often, the victim is me. I’ve learned what stars look like from the wrong side of the earth. I’ve learned reckless hymns, sung to justify my wrongs. I’ve learned the path of least resistance. I’ve learned contempt.
Send me forward, and I’ll learn to want better things: the steady turning of gears, a well oiled machine. Send me onward, and I’ll learn how to steer past pirate ships. I’ll learn how to keep dreams in my pocket, tend them quietly until they grow into realities. Send me patients, and I’ll learn how to love them. Send me typewriters, and I’ll learn to write again. Send me more, God, and teach me to have more faith again.
Send me skyward, and I’ll grow wings again. I’ll learn all the flying I’ve forgotten.
Excerpt from letters I've been writing to strangers about friends I once knew, and the people they could have been.
Five thousand steps from where I lay, there’s a boy with blistered feet. His shoes two sizes too big, passed down one year too soon. On Mondays, he walks east, and we meet—peripherally. Incidentally. The way seagulls note the presence of fishermen as both parties attempt to catch fish.
On Mondays, his feet blister from shoes he tries too hard to fill in an attempt to pacify beasts in his chest fed by the cloud heavy lie of his head: “Never enough, Never enough,”
Soundless noise whispers in his ears. It is so loud he misses my greeting, so distracting he misses me entirely.
Two thousand steps from where I lay, he steps on beds of sands in shoes that fit. Size ten.
On Tuesdays, he shakes of his beast, and he is himself again—feet nimble and quick, Meleager besting Atalanta. Without the tricks.
On Wednesdays, his burden presses against his breast, and his shoulders sag beneath the weight again. He feeds the beast lies, believes them to be true in the process, and when made aware of their falsehood, continues to believe them anyway.
From where I lay, I pray to God for telescope vision, or needlepoint fingers to pry the monster from his frame. From where I lay, he is no longer visible: feet too weary to prop legs up, legs too heavy to stand.
He does not hear me when I ask him: whisper your secrets so I may Atlas-carry your burden. My shoulders tuck neatly beneath your arm for you to crutch-lean upon me for support, but still he pushes up at burdens. Pushes me away. Like I said, we meet peripherally—Winter and Spring, our feet never bringing us close enough.
I've been on hiatus–nothing you couldn't have deduce from my archive history–for a couple of months in pursuit of my education. The short of it: I am learning to suffer. The long of it I shall attempt to type out soon.
On another completely unrelated note: hence forth, consider my title capitalisation literary blasphemy or a reference to E. E. Cummings decapitalisation of i's. Truth be told, the sharp edges of title capitalisation bothers me. I have no idea why. Perhaps I am compensating for... something... Clinical psychiatry may answer that question... Or I'm simply rambling and all this is a distraction.
Well, go on, poem down below.
The clicking of typewriter keys
have faded, and the ledger scribbling
ceased, and the sound of laughter
muted by heavy textbooks and headphones
tuning the rest of the world out lest I
decide this isn’t worth pursuing anymore.
This is my life now: stethoscope
amplifying your heartbeat while
tuning out what makes your heart beat
I am trying,
convincing myself, spitting
theories of delayed gratification, consoling
my weary heart
wants out, wants
anything but this, but
the heart is treacherous if it is consulted
for anything but its beating.
This is my life now: white coat wrap
dreams from reality’s biting cold, orphan
leave them on empty doorsteps, and ring the bell.
Someday, I will be back for you
when you have grown
aware of your worth, reject the birthright of my
arms when I finally have enough strength to hold you.
You have the right to.
I haven't been around lately, but there's a good reason for that! I'm nearly through with my first year of medical education. *Cheers!*
It’s been a surreal year. Medical school has always been one of my castles in the clouds, so to say I’m on the last leg of my first year after countless years of pre-empting excited relatives by saying “I might not even go to medical school” is amazing. It does feel a bit like an out of body experience. I’m still trying to comprehend what I’ve gotten myself into.
To be honest, I felt like throwing in the towel about two months into it. (My uncle talked me out of it after a phone call, fortunately, so I'm still in the rat race!) I have never studied this much in my entire life—and I wasn’t even studying as much as my classmates. I wasn’t used to putting so much effort into something and simultaneously failing to get the results I so wanted. I’m not being modest. My grades are quite unspectacular, and no matter what anyone says to cheer me up I can’t bring myself to believe them otherwise.
But somehow, I’ve gotten through to the last two sets of exams relatively unscathed. In fact, if we don’t count the damage medical school has done to my intellectual pride, I’d say I’m in a pretty good place.
I can already feel the lure of the summer—the guilt-free pleasure of sleeping eight hours a night, the liberty to wear anything but that restricting white blouse and pencil skirt, the privilege of reading at my own leisure. It’s very tempting to watch movies and read novels instead of putting in the effort for the last leg of the school year.
But as a future physician, that’s just not the way to do it. To become the woman I’ve been reading about and praying about, I know I have to do two things: press on & finish strong.
Recently, I’ve been actively following Megan Rapinoe, and devouring her presence on social media. For those who are unaware, she’s a professional football player—the soccer kind. She plays as midfielder of the US Women’s National Team, and she’s a bit of a maverick in the best way. She’s amazing on the field. Her cleverness manifests itself in the way she plays. She plays her opponents, and I think she’s wonderful if you haven’t already guessed from me writing this mini-fanatic paragraph.
She’s had two separate ACL injuries that have caused her to miss the 2007 Women’s World Cup as well as the 2008 Beijing Olympics—both extremely important football tournaments. I imagine it’s a difficult thing to work so hard for the great big fight only to find yourself incapable of participating. You’ve worked so hard for it!
It’s odd that she motivates me so much at the moment, but she does. So much. It takes discipline to get back up your feet. It takes discipline to approach an injury without whining and to say from the start “what do I need to do to get to where I want to be?” Here I am feeling incapacitated, and there she was recovering from her ACL injury to go on to play in the 2011 World Cup and the 2012 Olympics. It’s a mindset, and you have to want to get to where you want to be.
To me, she’s the perfect example of pressing on. She’s the example of Philippians 3:14 that I’ve been striving to embody—you fix your eyes on the prize, and you fix your eyes on what you were called to do. In my case, it’s becoming an A plus physician. That’s the goal. I’ve prayed about this. I’ve journeyed through so many road blocks to get here, and now that I’m here, am I still pressing on? Am I still putting in the effort? I should be. I want to be.
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
At the same time, I realise more and more the reason to be resilience—to never waving the white flag—to finishing strong. In my case, I want to do my best out of love for my God, and love for the kind of being He is. He values my hard work, and If I really valued Him and His opinion, would I be putting in any less than all my effort? If I love this profession, would I really be looking for ways to simply get by instead of persevering until the very end?
This is what it means to run the race—it means you’ve found something worth enduring for. It means you ought to endure. It means it’s going to be a long five years. It means there will be struggle. It means you will falter. It means you will fall sometimes, but you can choose to get back up. It means there’s light at the end of the tunnel. It means lean on Christ, and lean on your friends. It means through hard work, prayer, and nothing short of a miracle, you’ll get there someday—just as others have done before you.
It means press on. Finish what you started. Finish strong.
It is, once again, exam week. How I've been surviving medical school with my dismal study habits is beyond me, but here I somehow am!
I'm thoroughly excited for exams to end, of course, primarily because I'm a terrible test taker and secondarily because The Icarus Connection is launching on March 23rd!
This is my brain child.
If you've never heard of Icarus, he's the son of the great craftsman Daedalus. The father son duo were stuck on an island called Crete, and in an attempt to escape Daedalus fashioned wings for Icarus... Made of wax. When he got too close to the sun, the wings melted and Icarus was no more.
Most people find this a sort of tragic warning story against ambition. I find it the opposite. Some passions are meant to consume us. Some passions are worth burning for. Granted, it isn't very pleasant but somehow the greatest people of history have been refined by iron and fire.
This is what me and my friends at The Icarus Connection stands for––the value of pursuing passions worth burning for, particularly through expression in the performing arts of poetry and music.
We're holding our launch event March 23rd, in Blue Rocket Cafe + Kitchen. Our website is over at icarusconnect.tumblr.com, and we have a Facebook page if you find the need to visit it. It doesn’t look like much at the moment, but we’ll be updating it as we go along.
So there you have it. Hopefully, things go smoothly for me––both in my exams and in our launch event.
Maybe I'll see you there, yes?
I've been performing this piece a lot lately. (To be exact: twice) Or at least, as much as my medical school schedule will allow.
Today, I had the most wonderful opportunity to perform this poem in the opening of Pinto Art Gallery's new wing for the Academy of Arts and Sciences. (I hope I got that right, I'm a bit dazed at the moment but I do believe I got that right.)
This poem is about growing with people and out of people.
Video shall follow soon, so do stay in tune for that.
Much love, etc.
Matter cannot be created nor destroyed, so
we deconstruct to reconstruct,
abide by the laws of conservation.
anatomy ones in my case—try
to piece together the parts
that make us human.
haven’t quite figured it out yet, but
we are all too willing to try
with every person who comes our way.
See, I did the math—or
I let Google do the math.
We have a candlestick life expectancy
of about 78 years.
With each sun’s cycle, we
are likely to interact with 3
new people in our sky rise cities.
80,000 in each lifetime—80,000 potential subjects
in our effort to decipher ourselves. They arrive
with hedge clippers to trim us down to size, or sometimes
we trim them.
There are people
who aim to leave black hole traces—tattoos
that serve as living proof of their existence.
trace the laughter lines around your eyes, translate
your wrinkles into poetry.
If you’re lucky, you’ll meet people like him.
If you’re lucky, he
will leave his fingerprints on your skin without
will fill your life with
until he is everywhere your wandering gaze leads back to.
will make you feel ten feet taller, like the
world is too small for your hobbit feet—and if you are lucky, he
will give you the world—no, better—he
will cheer you on as you take it
by storm, be your shield when you
are wielding your sword.
He will deconstruct himself
before you, reconstruct himself
until you forget the days without him
and you’ll love it.
are treading on lego pieces, positioned to hurt yourself
when your path diverges and he
are constantly reinventing ourselves, we
were never meant to stay static.
We were made
with feet, meant to move with.
We were made
with dreams meant to grow
wings with, meant to fly with.
We have grown together, we have grown
out of each other,
See, you are my infinity—constructed to resurrect
from the ashes of memories I’d burned, programmed
as a constant form of energy, shapeshifting…
Brighter stars are said to eclipse their brothers—some suns
are never discovered because they’re not bright
enough to see, and I’m giving up believing
that people like you are still looking for people like me.
And I’ve given up
parts of myself to fit into your galaxy.
You have the tendency
to deconstruct parts of history, stitch together
the patches you like. Conserve
photoshopped perfection but sweep
the process of progression under the rug.
As for me,
I’ve been trying to conserve
photograph memories—these moments
in time—the fabric
of your red shirt as you clung to me
for positive energy, the sound
of your voice when you wouldn’t talk
to anyone but me--
I write them down in ink
on raw skin before I forget—before I reconstruct
images in marble, lose
the frailty of flesh in translation,
before my candlewick life blows over too.
Mine is a finite set from point A to B, and
it won’t matter if it contained
an impossible amount of little infinities—my set
is bounded, and one day, the curtains
will close, my cup run dry,
will be lost in translation:
Everyone’s memory of me
will be a scratchy darkroom photo, plucked out
seconds too soon, fading white
from the bright light drawn back windows let in.
Even then, I will be deconstructed—reconstructed to fit
into someone’s perception of the dead.
And even then, out of my 80,000 encounters,
It will be my greatest pleasure
to be inaccurately conserved by you.
Every year on the date mother went into labor to bring me into this world, I pretend to be wiser than I am and write myself a letter for the year to come.
If that seems weird, you should meet me in person. I'm just peachy. =]
As much as I'd love to gift myself this, it's a transatlantic plane ride away. Oh well, this letter will suffice...