The Potential Project

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“So ephemeral is that will-o’-the-wisp, Success!” – “Half a Sheet of Paper”, August Strindberg (Photo taken during New Year’s Eve 2018)
Never enough.

​​In my unending mission to improve myself, I constantly pummel myself with this phrase: never enough.

There’s always something left to be done.

There’s always room to improve myself.

​There’s always a better way to do things.

 I’m my worst critic. I have a tendency to constantly review the things I’ve done, the words that I’ve said, and the way I have reacted to some things. ​I try my best–but despite this, I always feel that I fall short. 

Never enough.

It can be an unforgiving mantra. And I will admit that I can be very unforgiving towards myself, at times. I sometimes envy people who could laugh their mistakes off and think nothing of it. I see the smarter ones mull over their errors and charge it to experience.

I don’t. I often see failures as weaknesses of my character. I could’ve done better, but I didn’t–hence I failed.

I couldn’t learn fast enough.

I didn’t act quickly enough.

I didn’t do enough.

While the good thing is that it reminds me to never become complacent, telling myself all the time that it’s never enough can be very exhausting. And frankly, there are times when I just want to curl up in a ball and not do anything at all, paralyzed by this fear that I am setting myself up for a landslide of failures.

Sometimes I wonder how my mom did it. I remember this one night, while I was still young, when she told me: “Sometimes I feel weak too, you know?”

It was weird and somewhat disconcerting to see her that way. There was my mother, who always seemed to know what she was doing, admitting that she wasn’t as strong as I imagined her to be.

It’s easy to box people into certain facets that we see of them. I’ve always known my mom as this stern, impenetrable, invincible force that held the world together. She got shit done. That may have meant, at times, that she was emotionally inaccessible, but perhaps that was how she made things happen.

She had to be strong because people depended on her.  She was the stereotypical tiger mom.

I feel like I’ve emulated that attitude, maybe a bit to the extreme. Most moments, I would keep quiet as I try to lay out all the scenarios that could happen, planning my course of action for each possibility.

I want to be the best of what I can be. And to want this constantly is to assume that who I am is not exactly the best. The room for improvement is always ever-growing.

​I suppose the solution for this is to maintain a healthy discontentment.

The human experience is fraught with failures as well as successes, after all. Each failure is an opportunity to dust one’s self off and try again.

By not being enough, I can keep on trying. And that should be enough to make me kinder to myself.

The Immutable Laws of Silence & Distance

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Colored panels in Beijing 2018

Colored panels (Beijing, 2018)

What a strange feeling, to realize that you can never really touch anything.

I type this inside a speeding car, believing I am sitting comfortably, except my body doesn’t even truly touch the seat—instead, the electrons of this seat repel the electrons of my body, ensuring that I am only ever so near, but never really.

And it is the same for everything that we will ever encounter in life: even the longest, most heartfelt embrace between two lovers will remain to be, ever so slightly, distant.

How strange this is—this concept, and that the universe is really, mostly empty space: particles whizzing and buzzing in the lonely silence.

This emptiness is so immense that the whole of humanity could actually be compressed in a single sugar cube, if we had enough energy to compact all of us into that infinitesimal thing.

I think about the year that has gone, and I observe as many of my friends and family write what the year has meant for them: celebrations, reconnections, accidents, deaths.

Happiness, sadness, loss, grief.

Each event, a bookmark. A neon highlighter marking chunks of text on a thick gray book.

The year has been wonderful to me. The year has also been challenging for me. Unfamiliar cities and countries I’ve traveled to, a breakup that happened midyear, an unexpected eviction and a harrowing two months waiting for the new place to move into.

Loves lost. Love gained.

I remember everything. I feel everything. And I’d like to believe that this is what is means to be truly human—to remember and to feel. To continue to remember and feel. To never give up on experiencing and learning from all the happiness and pain, as overwhelming as they can both be, at times.

But, much as I am grateful for the dog-eared pages, I am also grateful for all the fillers, the flatline of ordinary life.

I will only skim just above the surface. I know that I will never truly understand everything fully. Perhaps even the greatest love and the greatest hurt will only be a semblance of what those feelings are. Perhaps everything I sense are mere shadows cast by the ideal, as if I watch them in the darkness of this cave.

There are only a few hours left until the end of 2018. I am not demanding for a plot twist, for a sudden change in direction. I am content with my discontentment of all the blank spaces and uncertainties.

Give me this silence—because in the silence, in the gaping maw, in the pause of the seconds, I imagine us coming closer, despite how there will always be this distance we cannot transgress.

I will look into that abyss ahead, yet unspeckled by light—and take it all in, smiling.

The Observer Effect

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​The other day, I was watching a video on Facebook about a group of filmmakers who were caught in a predicament: should they rescue the emperor penguins which were trapped in a ravine, or should they let nature run its course and uphold the documentarist’s code of non-intervention?   
I found the video interesting, considering that just recently, I had a talk one evening with someone I had dated in the past.

He had admitted that he was scared of confrontations, and I realized that it could’ve been the reason why he never really asked for a proper explanation when I said back then that we should stop dating.

I told him to be honest: was there anything that he wanted to ask that he had been, years back, afraid to?

He said that he had always wondered if I had feelings for him during the time we were dating, or if he was the only one who had felt that what we had was special.

I guess I was unfair at the time of the “breakup”. I told him then that we were better off as friends, and that I thought that he needed some time for himself.

Frankly, what I really wanted to say was that, I felt that our relationship was stopping him from growing.

Yes, the space we have created between us had provided a certain comfort. But I surmised that, at that point in his life, the comfort of our relationship was not what he needed. He needed to discover himself, and to be challenged to become better.

In my head, I thought that the only way he could only realize that better version of himself–career-, emotion-, and even health-wise–was having me out of the picture as a potential partner.

Being the intuitive person that he was, he told me that he somewhat felt that that was what I had wanted to happen by breaking up, although he never really confirmed it–until now.

But he also said that it wasn’t right for me to not have given him the opportunity to fully understand the reasons why I had terminated the relationship.

He made sense. I may have been wrong.

But in that moment though, I thought: by telling him the true reason behind the breakup, would I have forced him to grow as a person that he didn’t want to be or wasn’t ready to become? Would he have negotiated the relationship and promised to change, simply because I told him that he had so much unrealized potential and that our relationship was hindering him?

The thing is, I’ve always believed that it’s more sustainable for people to have changed because of a realization that they made on their own, rather than to have changed because someone else had twisted their arm into changing.

To paraphrase a popular quote: “When the student is ready, the lesson will appear.”

I didn’t want to force the lesson on him. I didn’t want to beat him with my frustration that he wasn’t growing as fast as I would want him to grow. I didn’t want to hold the relationship hostage and make it seem like I was turning him into my pet project.

I genuinely was fond of him for being the kind, wonderful soul that he was.

I also knew that I needed to step back and not intervene with his growth.

It’s funny because, had I chosen to intervene then, would things have fared well for us? Would we have become terrific partners?

I don’t know, honestly.

Maybe, with matters of the heart, we can never really not intervene. To participate in other people’s lives is to change their lives in a certain way. We cannot isolate parts of their lives into little fragments, and assess whether each fragment had been changed since we had become part of their lives.

At the end of that conversation, I told him that I truly wanted him to succeed in life. We may never have been boyfriends, but I sincerely am cheering him on at the sidelines as a real friend, hoping for the best.

I never had imagined before that it could be possible to root for someone without any agenda, until he came in my life.

So maybe I was the one who learnt an important lesson, after all.

Wherein, I Try to Capture a Feeling: A Week in Shanghai

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Terminal 2, Pudong Airport, Shanghai (2018)

There is a gap we do not talk about, the in-betweens. We always talk about point A’s to point B’s, one goalpost to another, the beginning and the end. 

​It’s the middle spaces that get lost in what we talk about: the gray, fuzzy areas that are undetermined and blurry.  
***
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Women talking at the marriage market in People’s Square, Shanghai (2018)

Just a few weeks ago, I was in Shanghai for a trip I had planned with an ex.

To celebrate, we had agreed months back to take this week-long break sandwiched in between our birthdays, and also coinciding with his close friend’s bridal shower. 

Along the way, things happened (a breakup, specifically)–and there we were: left with a looming trip.

Eventually, he decided not to go. He had tickets to the Sam Smith concert happening a day before we landed back in Manila, and chose to enjoy that instead. 

A few days before the pre-booked flight, I was still debating in my head if I should fly or not. 

While I had already applied for the visa together with my friend Francis (who graciously offered to keep me company during the trip), and though my ex’s friends (who had become good friends, by osmosis) were okay with me joining their Disneyland trip and dinners, a part of me still thought that it would be weird to pursue this trip, considering the original reason why I was making it in the first place. 

***
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A view of the buildings from the old Bund

I had been to Beijing in February, which I somewhat found to be an overwhelming experience of culture and history, what with its centuries-old temples and palaces. In contrast to that, Shanghai was a cross between a turn-of-the-century charm and a cosmopolitan energy.

The city pulled your senses towards different directions: to the gaudy and garish (the Oriental Pearl Tower looked like the villainous buildings you saw in futuristic Japanese animes), the imposing and frenetic (walking at the Bund and the East Nanjing Road during the week-long national holiday could be a trigger for agoraphobes), the peaceful, the modern, the past, the present, the future…all of these coalesced into this massive hyperbolic adventure.   

***
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Nanjing, at night

Maybe one really is never lost, when you think about it. There are only unfamiliar places and experiences at the start that you eventually get used to.

To be lost is to exist in a temporary unfamiliarity, in a moment that you do not understand, yet. With enough time, you will understand eventually. And then the feeling of lostness disappears.

Therefore, the distance between the losing and the finding is just time. 

But in between the cracks and crevices of that distance is the fear. You are afraid that you will never find the thing that you seek. You are scared that you will never be found. 

​Perhaps we document everything–with the photos we take, the words we write–because we wish to leave breadcrumbs along the way. 

***
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In the train, two children with their parent

I have a tendency to withdraw into my deepest thoughts at times.

During these moments, I imagine a star collapsing within itself, caving in the weight of its own gravity.

These trips I’ve taken these past few years have made me think: do I enjoy them for the purest pleasure of traveling, or do I interpret them into something more meaningful?

Should traveling be an exercise in personal growth? An expansion of the spirit? 

Or is that snobbery of some sort–a subtle assertion of privilege? Do I wish to display that I am a better person because I have and am able to distance myself from the banal, ordinary life that most will never escape?

During moments like these,  I remember Ate Belle. Before she died, I promised her that I would take her to Singapore. She laughed at the idea, but I felt that she secretly wanted it as well. 

​I wasn’t able to fulfill that promise.

***
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A shoeless man obliviously smoking, in Shanghai

What a strange thing it is, to imagine that the world will persevere even without a witness. 

What a strange feeling it is, to think that all the hurt and all the happiness we experience are fleeting and perhaps immaterial. 

And then you begin to wonder, to what end? What is the goal? Where do we go? 

But maybe, this is it. That we exist, not as a means to an end–like a plot device to a grand scheme of the universe–but to live in these gray, fuzzy areas. In the white noise of existence.  

When I think about it, there is a surreal, humbling sense of acceptance and of gratitude to that.  

I could’ve not been: but then, well here I am. Wherever that “here” may be.

A Necessary Fear

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“Laughing Men” by Yue Minjun (taken in Beijing, 2018)

This was a draft I began writing in August 2014. I am not sure why I didn’t get to finish this. I am publishing this now with some thoughts I’ve added, four years later.

Today I had an anxiety attack. 

It wasn’t the first, nor the worst, but it crept from behind and surprised me. I was having a pretty good day when it suddenly appeared. I was in the middle of a meeting when it popped out, almost paralyzing me.

​​One of the lessons I’ve been having a lot of difficulty mastering is learning how to drown out one’s own voice, or in my case voices. I won’t even dare claim to suffer any mental illness of some sort, since that would be offensive to anyone who’s truly suffering from a mental disease, but I think that any regular person would know how it feels to have a multitude of voices in their head contradicting each other, fighting with each other. 

We are barraged by nagging doubts, fears, and hesitations on a constant basis:  the fear that we’re incapable. Our doubts that we’ll never be good enough. The paralyzing hesitation to act on something because the idea overwhelms you. It seems you (and the world) will never run out of things to make you apologize for. 

And perhaps there is reason to say sorry for a lot of things. In hindsight, a lot of tremendously stupid mistakes are done haphazardly, by people who fail to assess the situation properly and calculate the risks involved. But the thing is, and what we can never avoid is that, there’s always a risk involved in every decision-making process. 

They say that regret over the things that were not done is far worse than going ahead and doing things. I say, it’s not always the case. Apologies cannot make up for the irreversibility of an act already done. 

Maybe this anxiety is simply the realization that I would always be limited. I could only form decisions from a myopic point of view. My experiences cannot fully account for the breadth and depth of the collective human experience. Much as I try to empathize (and believe me, I try so hard to do so), I will always have blind spots. 

The more we assume leadership over certain things, the more we fear that we will make a mistake. And frankly, yes, I think we should be more afraid. Maybe a nourishing fear is necessary, so that we don’t create more harm than good. 

Maybe we should be more careful, more rigorous, more sensitive. 

As much as we are our own cheerleaders, we should also be our great critics (Much like one of the core values we uphold in Taxumo: healthy discontentment.)

Four years since I started this post, I still feel anxious, every now and then. I am slowly growing to embrace that, and finding the balance I neednow, even more importantly so, as I add another year in my life. 

A Series of Incompetent Events

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​Let me tell you a story of mind-boggling incompetence.

​Hang on until the end–perhaps you could learn a lesson too. 

My ex and I bought a unit at The Ellis, a Megaworld property in Salcedo Village, around two years back. 

Everything was smooth-sailing, until we decided to transfer our payments to Paseo Heights, a development that had been built already, and still had a few units waiting to be bought and occupied. My ex and I reasoned that it would be wiser to live in a unit that had already been built, instead of paying for condo lease while also settling the payments for The Ellis.

(Backstory: my lease at my old condo was ending, and I was moving in the new condo.) 

This is where the horror began.

Below, you can see the letter we sent through our broker, Joy Garcia. (Note, the date above the letter which was discussed in our thread is wrong; this letter was sent around March 13.) 

We were frankly generous with the lead time. We had planned this more than a month before the lease of my condominium unit was about to end.

Perhaps, the mistake was the assumption that a few weeks is more than enough time for any decent company to make this happen. 

​Close to the end of April, we followed up again. We were still very polite, in spite of how we wanted to impress the gravity of the situation:

Can you guess what happened next? 
Nothing.
Still nothing.
Nope: nothing.

Fast forward to June–finally, feedback from Megaworld!

However, we decided to allocate the amount elsewhere, because we didn’t know when Megaworld would exactly get back at us.

I asked Joy if Megaworld could allow us an extension–much the same way that we have allowed them so much time to get back to us.

Cut to the next day. No mention of penalties. I guess our request has been granted? (Don’t forget this; this will come up again later.) 
The following day, the discussion was about dating the initial checks to June 15. (Still no mention of penalties.)
Nine days after, we were ready to issue the checks.

We should’ve been able to move in a few weeks after, right? 
Hmm. July 9. At least there’s a date now. 

Still, we clarified more things: 
You would’ve thought the story had ended there–that we were able to move in, and we all lived happily ever after.

​Nope.

Suddenly, the issue of the transfer of payments from the Ellis to Paseo Heights cropped up again–despite how this has been discussed months back. 

We had assumed that because we had released the checks for the downpayment and moving in fee, the transfer issue has been resolved. 

​Apparently, this is not the case. 

Suddenly, we are forced to accept that this is the process of the company. 

I will not bore you with other details (we have already been looped in a long email thread where Art Esplago of the marketing department was involved), but before I wrap up this long entry, let’s go back to the discussion of the penalty: 
All of a sudden, we are being held up with the demand of a penalty, despite how it was clearly Megaworld’s fault that there was a delay.

As much as this gives me a tremendous headache, I think there’s a lesson right here for all companies, big and small:

Stellar customer service cannot be overemphasized.

Months of delay, coupled with unfulfilled promises and overcommitments, is not a good way to make any customer happy.

Not everyone has the luxury of waiting. I was lucky: I have had the privilege to wait.

But what if I didn’t?

I would’ve just come across as an angry, demanding, and unempathetic customer.

The thing is, nobody really cares how much you brand yourself as good.

More than window dressing, what ultimately speaks of you is the work that you do.

In this case, Megaworld has failed us beyond logic, and I strongly advise everyone against purchasing a Megaworld property.

How We Begin

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A hotel room in Singapore, 2013
This is how we begin:
Inch by inch, slowly. Uncertain.
A space, made for one’s self, outside the world.
***
There is the you that faces everyone.
A semblance, perhaps.
A ghost, maybe.
A facade. 
Plywood walls of smiles and handshakes and embraces.
​You start with the fragile things. Then slowly, you put up the steel frames, the bricks.
​Until again, you have built a fortress.
​You are impenetrable.
***
But: leave a little door open.
Just a small crack.
Let the morning light come in.
Let it show you the way.
And when you are ready to begin, walk outside slowly.
​Then breathe.
​​Read Next: To Oppose the Pause