Cookies for a Cause

Father’s Day is coming up this Sunday over on my side of the world and, as has been the case since 2012, it’s another occasion in the year for me to remember my father and reflect upon his legacy.

This year, though, there’s the added element of my favourite first brother now also being a father – so of course the question of my father’s legacy and what we, his children, inherited from him is rather in the forefront of my mind. These are the thoughts and ideals and pieces of wisdom we’re supposed to pass on to our children, after all.  And while I don’t have children of my own I am an aunt (twice over now) and that, perish the thought, means at some point in the future my niece will be following in her older cousin’s footsteps and asking me questions.

I’m very close to my nephew, and maybe that’s why when I consider what my father left behind I immediately look over at my sister and brother-in-law, and then at this twelve-year-old boy. This kid came into our lives twelve years ago on our dad’s forty-ninth birthday and though his memories of his beloved “Grampy” are of a child, it’s up to him to give his younger cousin (hopefully that’ll be plural someday) the grandchild’s view of the man who raised their adults, filling in the gaps of the grown-ups’ memories with his own.

And although his time with Grampy – to us older folk, Poppie – was short indeed, my dad’s legacy of faith, hope, and love was passed down to this kid through my sister and her husband. I’ve always been aware of this because I’ve witnessed my nephew’s big heart in action before, but this week just how much of that heart is like Poppie’s hit me in full force.

My nephew has decided to take a stab at summer entrepreneurship, but he’s foregoing the lemonade stand in favour of chocolate chip cookies sold to raise funds not for more NERF Guns but rather for Parkinson’s research. I think chocolate chip cookies are a suitable choice, as my father loved sweets and would never say no to anything we’d make for him.

This is the disease that affected Poppie’s life for the better part of fourteen years, creating the conditions in which the entire family’s strength of faith, hope, and love was constantly tested. This is the disease that robbed Poppie of his motor functions and slowed down his ability to speak, but in turn gave him more time to sit still, ponder the wisdom he could give to his children, spouse, and friends, and learn to use his daily struggle greater purpose of teaching compassion, understanding, and fortitude to others, as well as to teach those around him the value of every human life.

It’s a disease that doesn’t get much attention compared to cancer or diabetes, but affects life for all involved in profound ways just the same. It’s a disease whose slow but steady progress in research has now, four years after my father’s passing, only just started producing better, more focused, and more grounded forms of treatment and management for those diagnosed.  There is still a long way to go before Parkinson’s is conquered and those physicians charged with treating it are able to give their patients a course of treatment that truly does give them back a normal standard of living, but without big hearts willing to do small things like baking cookies or selling flowers or running miles to raise funds, I don’t think even my father’s difficult journey would have been anywhere half as manageable as it would have been.

If you are in the greater Cincinnati area and would like to part with a few dollars for some amazing cookies for a worthy cause, please send an email to the address listed below. I don’t know yet if my nephew will be taking out-of-region orders, which has been suggested by many family friends on social media, but in the meantime if you would like to find out more about Parkinson’s and even donate, I invite you to check out the links below.

 


 

The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – “Dedicated to ensuring the development of a cure for Parkinson’s Disease within this decade”

Parkinson Canada – “Support and Hope to Canadians with Parkinson’s Disease”

National Parkinson Foundation and Understanding Parkinson’s

 

Trusting the journey

One of the constants in my life has been, and I hope always will be, the lovely cacophony of different languages spoken by my nearest and dearest. Even though English is my mother tongue and that of my parents, I still grew up to the almost sing-song quality of the Tagalog my parents, older sisters, and extended older family spoke.

Going to school in English and French alongside a myriad of foreign exchange students and being a young pioneer of internet music forums added new sounds and writing systems to this wonderful confusion: English from the United Kingdom and Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand have mixed with Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Spanish, German, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, and Bulgarian in my ears over the years.  And they’ve all been interwoven with my own English, French, and (albeit limited) Tagalog in my mind into a warm blanket for my heart.

Being exposed to so many different cultures through these friendships, along with all the books I ravenously devoured in my spare time, awakened my sense of wanderlust at a young age and I’ve been longing to travel ever since. And finally, after more than a decade of such yearning, I’m finally able to do something about it.  The problem is that there are too many places to go to – a good problem to have, I know – especially with a Canadian passport, but at some point plane ticket prices start creeping even higher.

Choices needed to be made, and I’ve finally made them…and come September my well-worn boots will stir up the dust of older lands when I set foot in Sweden and Ireland. More than a decade after first messaging them on online music forums, I’ll finally be able to bother some of the humans I love best in this world right to their faces.  (Sorry in advance, guys.)

In all seriousness though, life is all about the journeys we make. Internal or external, it’s more than just about getting from Point A to Point B.  It’s about experiencing to the fullest what’s in between Point A and Point B, and if you have to take some detours along the way that’s not always a bad thing.  The scenic route always leaves lasting memories, after all.  As long as we keep making our away, eventually we’ll arrive precisely when we mean to and as the people we were meant to be when we get there.

The current leg of the adventure of my life has been a long one. It’s lasted a few years and the last two have been particularly fraught with uncertainty and worry, life-changing events and realizations, and daily struggles with my personal sense of identity.  In the last few months, I’ve had to throw a lot of things out the window, especially particular opinions, prejudices, and beliefs whose origins I could not discern.  Did these views come from me, or from others?  Were these things my true views, or did I adopt them in order to be accepted?  How authentic was I really, and how much of my identity was made for me by someone else?

Doing my internal spring cleaning has led to new discoveries about what I’m really made of and therefore who I really am. As a friend of mine told me once, “Trust the journey.”  And to me, the first step on that journey was learning to trust myself enough to start over from scratch.

I am a free spirit. To be happy, I need to know that the final decisions of my life come from within me and are made under circumstances where I feel totally informed and totally free to choose in the first place.  With this comes a personal need for openness to curiosity and exploration, to informing and educating myself about the world beyond my social bubbles, and to forging my best self out of what I have learned in this process.  I know my foundation intimately – what it is made of and where I stand on it – and I know it is sturdy enough to build a new self upon.

I also came to realize that I am made with a wild heart. A wild heart takes in and learns to cherish every experience.  A wild heart loves passionately and lives exuberantly.  A wild heart cuts all of the strings that would keep it flying in circles but still carries what’s necessary for the journey.  And a wild heart can’t be broken.

Transitions. Changes.  Growth.  A better version of myself, discerned from looking and listening inwards, that can stand firmly upon any physical ground because the internal foundation is strong and well-made.  The road rises up to meet me, and I am on my way.

 

 

Breaking Free

Winter came late to Montreal, but it’s felt like it’s lasted forever just as it does every year. Having finally hit my stride with regular outdoor running last fall, it’s been torturous these last few weeks to wait for winter to blow past my city entirely. Much like Hobbits take second breakfast, some areas of Canada get second winter and I happen to live in one of them.

Easter Sunday was bright and beautiful, and though it started off with a bit of a nippy breeze by the time I got home from my mother’s nest it was a lovely 13 Celsius and I couldn’t help myself. I had to run. After all, as I had said to my longtime Swedish friend just a few days before —

 

And it’s true. For me running is about the sun and the air and the wind; for him it’s the smell of fresh damp earth. But whatever gets us going when our respective frozen northland homes finally begin to thaw out, I know for me there’s something else that pulls me out of my apartment and towards those paths and trails I’ve come to know so well. It’s the fact that whenever I run outside, for however long I’m out there I’m free. There’s nothing but myself and the hybrid environment of urban and natural surroundings; nothing to stop me from stretching my legs out as far as they can stride; nothing to make me forget I’m alive.

In fact, running makes me remember I’m alive. It’s funny – depending on how far and how fast I go, I end up feeling like I might die! But there’s something about a racing heart and quickened breath and sore limbs at the end of the run that gives me a sense of strength and self-assuredness that I haven’t felt for a long time.

But this yearning, this longing to stretch and grow — it’s more than just wanting to break out of the indoors and be outside again after a long winter.  I was born a free spirit; my heart is wild and my soul has wings. But through a series of various events, when I turned twenty-five I looked at my life with fresh eyes and unexpectedly found myself in a cage of expectations, responsibilities, obligations, and limitations.

And I don’t like that one bit.

I know that growing up and “adulting” involves buckling down and taking on things that make you a contributing and productive member of society. But is the conventional way of becoming a contributing and productive adult really the way we all have to do it? It takes all kinds of people to make the world go round, after all, so what are the free spirits of the world supposed to do about growing up?

Something that doesn’t sit well with me is the fact that somewhere along the way somebody – I can’t remember who exactly, or maybe the reality is that it was actually several individuals – told me that the free-spirited, wild-hearted creativity I possessed would not serve me in good stead when it came to “real life” – that these traits were better left for hobbies and personal pleasures, and that my best chance at being a success in life was to go to university, get a degree, find a job in some big corporation, and work hard. And that while all this was going on, I’d be an even bigger success at life if I found a nice man, married him, procreated with him, and raised my offspring to be educated, hardworking specimens who would also perpetuate our race. Oh, and I can’t forget to use everything I’ve been given in the service of others and for the glory of God because that’s the bottom line of human existence.

Well, I’ve completed part one of that plan, and I came pretty close to having the second part as well. But it didn’t work out with that guy, and that made me re-evaluate a lot of things in my life that I had grown up thinking were “what I’m supposed to do.” And then I look at what I do on a daily basis and then at the talents with which I was blessed, and I get really uncomfortable because it’s revealed to me that part three is barely present at all. I don’t see how I’m serving man or God to the best of my potential – because the things I’m really good at are, apparently, only good enough for hobbies and personal pleasures.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m grateful to be employed twice over at two amazing companies; I’m blessed and I’m fortunate in these circumstances to have a means of supporting myself. I was raised on many principles including the one that states than any decent, honest job is worthy of respect, and I believe that whole-heartedly.

And that might be why it’s never sat well with me, this idea society seems to have that if you’re a non-celebrity pursuing a career of creativity and expression there might be something wrong with you, and the ensuing pressure that gets put on us to live conventional lives.

It still takes a hell of a lot of hard, honest work and blood, sweat, and tears to make natural creativity and curiosity into something useful for humanity. You still need to be responsible and make sure you have a means of supporting yourself and of getting back on your own two feet whenever you fall. You don’t have to be famous to be a successful creative person, but we seem to make fame and celebrity our benchmark for success in creativity and so we’re told to leave the creative pursuits to people who are already famous for them.

Which baffles me because if fame and celebrity is how we measure success in unconventional careers, can you tell me what’s so creatively meaningful and hugely important about certain celebrities that society worships – or, as my mother put it, “Who are the Kardashians and why do I need to keep up with them?”

Now can you tell me the name of the designer who brought us the POÄNG chair or the BILLY bookcase?

And now, who has a more direct impact on your comfort and quality of life?

If presented with two career options that require me to put in the same amount of effort, willpower, and time to serve humanity, I would much rather choose the one that gives more than ten percent of that back to society and the one that gives me more joy and more pleasure in putting in that kind of work in the first place. I don’t have to end up being famous for it. If the work I could do to turn creative vision and free-spirited dreams into something useful and improve somebody else’s quality of life, that’s enough and that should be our benchmark for what makes the pursuit of a creative career successful. I’m not saying I want an unconventional and creative career for the sake of being famous: I want it for the sake of improving the human condition by contributing my vision to those of others who break the mold for this same purpose.

So, what are you supposed to do when you realize that you’re an ill-fitting cog in a vast machine that takes all the work you put into its running and gives only ten percent of it to the people you’re apparently meant to be helping? What are you supposed to do when you wake up every morning feeling like there’s something else you could be doing with the time you’ve been given on this Earth to make it a better place for humanity? What are you supposed to do when you realize that people were wrong about you and about your talents being good enough only for yourself and for your nearest and dearest?

What do you do when you realize you’re in a cage when you’re really meant to fly beyond the horizon – to leap across the gaps between people – to run like hell on wild ground?

You can either stay where you are, which is the safe option.

Or you can be the daring, brave, and free spirit you were always meant to be, and just do it. Because you’ll never be able to help others and improve the human condition if you can’t even do that for yourself.

With mirth and laughter, let me continue being surprised by joy

When I look back on my life between 2003 and sometime in mid-2015, I realize that I lived through and survived through a hell of a lot as a teenager and young adult – and that while those experiences made me grow up, they made me grow up rather too quickly and also grow a shell that’s perhaps a little too hard and rigid.  I can’t say I didn’t have a happy childhood because in the grander scheme of things I really did, but somewhere along the way between then and now I lost the child-like ability to love easily, trust unquestioningly, and live joyfully.

Towards the end of 2015 I wrote a post about how one particular friendship I have in my life has been teaching me how to open myself up and be vulnerable again directly in front of a person in real time. Since I came to full realization of this dynamic in that one friendship (which in real time was a little while before I wrote and published the post in question), I’ve tentatively explored inklings of that same dynamic in my other best friendships. Being somebody who proudly proclaims that she has a small handful of best friends, as opposed to many acquaintances and only a few good friends, I felt that the only way I could really make these relationships live up to that status was to figure out how I could truly open up to be myself and truly give the best of me to the people I love best.

One of the things I’ve learned since then is that being completely open and honest with my best friends isn’t just about being able to talk (and sometimes cry) about the Tough Stuff. It’s also about melting in warmth of their camaraderie and learning to laugh again, and by doing so finally experience some of the joy I missed out on when I grew up too fast for my own good.

I’d be remiss talking about best friends without mentioning Gacia, my partner in crime for eating sushi, folding laundry, and outlet shopping (and yes, sometimes we manage to do all three on the same day). We’ve gone through a lot together but no matter how tough things have gotten we’ve always been able to laugh together at the end of a long day. She’s the magician behind this moment:

 

Then there was that one time in Ottawa when Elizabeth, Sam, and I spent the better part of an evening trying to balance a bag of gourds on Elizabeth’s dining room table in between asking Google what the difference between gourds and squashes were, if you can eat gourds, and why you can’t eat gourds.

 

There’s also any time that Louis lets me play my music when I’m riding shotgun –and doesn’t make me stop when I rock out on air instruments and headbang along to the very best of 80s cheese…even on a two-hour roadtrip up North in the middle of winter, during which I serenaded a Timbit. And let’s not forget any time we watch old episodes of Mythbusters over some quality take-out and still manage to discover something new about the beloved show that brought us together and cemented our friendship. Yes, we still laugh out loud when Adam Savage asks if he’s missing an eyebrow and yes, we still groan-chuckle over all the jokes and puns in the blueprint voiceovers.

There’s another friend who brings out my inner child through various means – most recently through a fantastic bottle of blended red but mainly by somehow getting me to open up about past failed relationships through the scope of frank, wry humor.  He is also rather adept at capturing my silly side when food is involved.

 

Marianne and I will fangirl over our favourite movie and comic book villains in between stories of “do you remember when –” with Mario and Amanda at our favourite pub downtown. And then the jokes will carry over onto Facebook, where we share and tag each other in videos, photos, and gifs that remind us of one another.

My closest friend from Job1 has also really brought a lot of laugher into my life.  Her documentation of her kitten in a onesie is a youthful foil to my constant jokes about my cat’s obesity issue, but she’s also got a heart of gold that has embraced a lot of my pain and treated it with frank wisdom and loving humour.  There were some days in 2015 when the only thing that could make me smile was something she said, and when I learned how to laugh again her jokes were among the first that I tried it out on.

And even though I don’t get to see this friend very often, he’s one of my favourite people living inside my phone because he makes me literally laugh out loud a lot more than I think he actually realizes. Sometimes it’s because we troll each other half to death in good fun, and sometimes it’s because he says things that I’m pretty sure he means quite seriously but end up coming off as hilarious. And sometimes it’s because he’s one of those friends who gets me and supports me rather fiercely, regardless of how ridiculous I can be around him – case in point:

 

These are the people I love the best in the world outside of my blood relations, and these are the people who teach me a little more about myself every day. My best jokes and my best laughs are credited to them and the joy their friendships bring to my life, and the best parts of me reflect what I love so much in each of them.  When I became an adult I did forget how to feel child-like exuberance in life’s little joys, but I am blessed with friends who can teach me how to feel them once more.

 

“But song, no wealth can buy.”

Something that tends to surprise new people in my life is that I was an award-winning musician in my youth. I played and sang in just about every iteration of musical ensembles in my high school, performed and ranked at high-profile national and international festivals, and took theory so that I could arrange and eventually compose my own music. I can read and play music in any clef and key signature, tell the difference by ear between classical composers, and see all the different parts of any song in sheet music form scrolling through my head if I shut my eyes and listen closely.

While performing music has, regrettably, fallen to the wayside in my adult life, none of this would have transpired if as an adolescent I hadn’t been a diehard metalhead with two bossy older brothers and very few friends.

I was actually sort of voluntold to take up the bass, as my brothers were already shredding away on their Jacksons (a midnight-blue Warrior named Layla and a black Randy Rhoads V dubbed Freya) and I was informed that if I wanted to jam with them I had to learn something that wasn’t lead or rhythm guitar. Our days as the Patridge Family Gone Metal were short-lived and we only ever did rock the high school gym, but as far as first steps go I’m pretty happy with where this particular instance of being bossed brought me.

The first bass line I ever learned by heart was from “Bed of Razors” by Children of Bodom. Using Guitar Pro 2.0 on an ancient laptop and the top four strings of my oldest brother’s abandoned five-and-dime six-string, I holed myself up in my room for hours on end until I could play along in real time to the song itself.

When I finally bought my first bass – a black LTD B-50 that I named Henkka after my COB idol and would later customize with ever-changing homemade decals of skulls, runes, Celtic knots, and grim reapers – I moved from the woodwinds to the rhythm section in concert band and joined the jazz band as well. I was encouraged to try the upright bass, known to some of you as a double bass or contrabass, and fell in love all over again with my instrument of choice. I loved that antique upright with its rosy finish and real band of ebony (exposed by a horrific chip from the time the tuba player clipped it with the U-bend of his brass noisemaker), its age and craftsmanship explained by the “Made in Czechoslovakia” stamp just discernible through the sound holes. And by the time I graduated in 2008, I played on three basses, having acquired a black-and-white Fender Jazz as well for the purpose of having an electric bass whose sound was more suited to jazz band and jazz combo than my so-called “axe” of a B-50.

Metal was my first love on the bass and it always will be, but learning to read a new clef and being exposed to all kinds of music really expanded my knowledge and skills as a young musician and, if anything, made it easier for me to play metal well. Whenever my short-lived career in music comes up around the dinner table, my mother always says that my fingers flew all over my instrument and that I seemed to unconsciously dance to the music. Those fingers played for so many hours daily that until now there are no prints left on the tips of my picking digits, and I still unconsciously move to music I really enjoy, even when on the first listen.

But I’m writing about all of this to tell you more than just the story of how I was a musician, once upon a time.

My dedication to music in my adolescence was born of an anger at an adolescent environment that rejected me, and an endless craving and need to be recognized as good at something so I throw myself defiantly back at whoever said I wasn’t good, thin, pretty, cute, or cool enough to be accepted.

If I was better at playing music than they were at playing sports, then I could walk into school every day with my head a little higher than it would have been without music. If I could say, “I can read and write English, French, and music,” then I wouldn’t get hurt as much by the other smart people in class who always teased and made fun of me if I got even one point less than them on a Math or Science test. If I had the best strings, straps, and amps that I could afford on my own dime it didn’t matter that my parents couldn’t afford name-brand clothing for me to wear to school. And from early-morning jazz rehearsals to concert band and music theory on alternating school days to nonstop activity on heavy metal internet forums, every way in which I encountered music in my adolescence helped me build myself up as an individual while also building up a small handful of friendships with other musicians which have lasted to this day.

And to this day, there’s music for every single one of my moods and emotions, with the exception of 2015. Last year pretty much the only time I listened to music was at the gym, but every song I had on my workout playlist was chosen to keep me in an upbeat, hard-hitting, go-get-em attitude because that’s what I needed to do: stay upbeat, hit back hard when life punched me, and be proactive about getting what I wanted out of the time I’ve been given. I will still howl into a hairbrush along to Bon Jovi when I feel empowered. When I am frustrated and angry I will still plug into Children of Bodom to channel the raw emotions. When I miss my father more than usual the only thing that eases the pain is Brahms’ “Lullaby.” When a long Montreal winter gets me down, I will play Vivaldi’s “Spring” and “Summer” until I’m upbeat again. Hallowe’en is never Hallowe’en unless I play St-Saens’ “Dance Macabre” at least five times and Christmas is never Christmas until I’ve gone through my favourites by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The theme from Pacific Rim will always pump me up for a workout, Iron Maiden will always put me in a mood to read and daydream, and some songs will always make me remember the good times I shared with people who gave those songs more meaning for me. And whenever I find myself in a mood without appropriate music, well – as you know from the last two posts, there’s always a judgey-ass music nerd of a friend to help me out with that.

The Andrew Solomon quote I’ve chosen for this post’s featured image speaks to me on so many levels, and mainly because forging meaning and building identity is exactly how I survived high school, too. Instead of trying to create talents I did not have to be able to do activities I loathed simply because those were the popular past-times, I found meaning in developing the talents I was given in ways I enjoyed. And then I built an identity for myself that didn’t conform and couldn’t be hurt, an identity that kept me practicing through hours that my peers passed without me and then put me up on a stage where I was untouchable.

I was not meant to be a musician forever and I was not meant to find either my entire life’s meaning or my whole identity in being one. But for the time that I was in peak musical form, being a young musician gave me reasons to think big and dream bigger, and ways to make something of myself in an environment in which I was supposed to remain a nobody. A performing and award-winning musician I may no longer be, but music still means as much to me now as it did back then and who I was will always be a part of who I have become.

Everyone at high school graduation can throw their cap and say they did it, but I don’t think that everyone can say they survived. Doing it is still hard because it still comes with challenges that require a measure of strength to overcome – I’m not denying that and I’m not belittling the achievement. I know everyone has their own moments of difficulty and their own hardships to bear, but let me tell you from experience – as a teenager it’s hard to see that when you’re the one who’s always excluded.

So doing it, while hard in its own right, is very different from surviving it. Surviving means that in order to overcome your challenges, every day you have to find something worth getting up for, and then find enough strength and true grit in yourself somewhere to fight through the day. It means every morning brings with it the additional challenge of mustering up the courage to even start the day – especially after a sleepless night when you’ve been kept up by wondering if anyone would miss you the next day if you weren’t there.

I speak from experience – and because of music, I survived.

Holding on to what I’ve got

At various points in my life, I’ve felt like certain songs defined exactly what I was going through at that exact phase of my life. We’ve all experienced this phenomenon before and we all have a mixtape of songs that for one reason or another we felt were all about ourselves.  Now, I’m not entirely sure what song defined my life at the end of 2015, but I can tell you what happened and how I emerged in 2016 to be howling “Livin’ on a Prayer” into my hairbrush while powerstancing on my bed.

In the last few months of 2015, I actually went through a crisis of faith. Having already gone through similar experiences twice before, you’d think I would have figured out how to prevent them from happening again – especially with all the tools and formation I received from growing up in a devout Catholic household steeped long in theology, philosophy, and Catechism. Having faith was just as normal to us as breathing and the reminder to “just keep praying” was heard as often as “clean your room.”

But I was and still sometimes am a spoiled and rebellious child, and when things don’t go my way I get upset with God. And, depending on what didn’t turn out the way I wanted and how it didn’t turn out, I can get pretty temperamental and stubborn. Yes – right up to the point of throwing in the towel on my faith and going off to a dark corner to sulk and ignore God. “You gave me free will,” I once said in a Parthian shot to Him, “so I’m going to use it the way I want to.”

This last year in particular, on the two bookending occasions of 2015 that broke my heart, the pain I really encountered after abandoning my post at the Foot of the Cross was far greater than the pain I thought I’d had while abandoning myself to the Lord. During Advent, a season in the Liturgical year during which the rest of the Christian world is preparing to greet the Holy Child at Christmas, the hours I once spent on prayer were given over to weeping and gnashing of teeth.  (No, really — I think I cried more in 2015 than I ever have in all the other years of my life put together.) For the first time in many years I didn’t receive Communion at Christmas Mass or on New Year’s Day, and for the first time ever I found myself really considering just breaking off from Catholicism altogether and giving up entirely on religion.

But I couldn’t jump off that side of the ledge upon which I teetered for many weeks, because if there was one thing I learned from my human father it was that even if your faith is in shreds, if you can find a piece of it that’s still big enough to hold on to you really should. And if there was one thing I learned how to do in 2015, it was how to look at something for what it really was and discern if it really ought to be in my life – to use logic and rationale instead of just blind faith to figure stuff out.

I’m definitely no expert at it because hey, I kind of just started doing it, but I’m beginning to at least get enough of a handle on it to start using this skill more often in my life. And when I took that long, hard look at myself on Epiphany Sunday, I realized I was a little too good at letting go: too good, because up until now the rejection, betrayal, or pain from one person was enough to make me let go of everyone in my life – including God.

After all, pure logic would dictate that if I believed God put people into my life for some unknown but good reason, then I should believe He took some of them out of my life for an equally unknown but supposedly still good reason. Along that same line of thought, twisted logic would say that if I wasn’t happy with anything, including God, I should just chuck it all overboard. But that didn’t make sense to me when I thought about it, because in a way that was saying I believed in free will but only when it was convenient – in other words, only when good things happened – and that whenever one of my choices, even a good one, cut me to the core it wasn’t on my hands but on God’s.

Once I figured that out, I spent most of Epiphany Sunday this year in dialogue with myself about all of this. I moved through the day talking myself through all the reasons why I kept abandoning my Catholicism when relationships didn’t work out, when I lost meaningful and formative friendships, or when I didn’t succeed at something I set out to do. I tried to determine why failed relationships and soured friendships had the effect of pulling me away from God so much to the point where the inevitable crash-and-burn in these instances unfailingly results in me uprooting myself from my Catholicism and putting my relationship with God on hold while I try to deal on my own.

The answer, in a nutshell, was that my efforts for others were often fuelled by fear – of being left behind, inadequate, forgotten, or expendable; of being seen as imperfect or ordinary; of being perceived as too outspoken and needy. I bent over backwards for many people who, in retrospect, I can now see as people who took me for granted, overlooked me anyway, or didn’t appreciate my acts of love beyond seeing them as things that got done for them.

Now, this is not to say that every past experience was wholly negative. In every relationship and friendship I’ve had that’s now just a memory, there really are good times. But the pain of the bad times and my own selfishness prevented me from keeping what was good and finding solace in the blessings I had received in being with those people. And because I couldn’t see the blessings I’d been given, I could not see God’s goodness – and so I abandoned Him, too, when I abandoned those relationships.

Before evening Mass on Epiphany Sunday, I went to Confession for the first time in many months and, perhaps for the first time in many years, I made it a good and thorough one. (I apologise profusely to the rest of the line – but if they haven’t experienced this kind of Reconciliation before I hope one day they will, because such a Confession can be one of the most beautiful and liberating experiences in life.) After I did my Penance I remained in prayer, taking the time to be in conversation with the Father I had ignored for so long to ask him for the grace I needed to do three important things.

One To rebuild and strengthen the good relationships that had been damaged by conflict with and fallout from others, because these were the people who stuck by me when I was too selfish and too wrapped up in my own pain to see the gifts of comfort they were trying to give me.

Two To see which connections in my life were damaging and toxic to the good relationships I was trying to heal and repair, and to eliminate them from my immediate sphere of concern – but without malice and without anger.

Three: To learn how to recognize good people when they came into my life as people intended to enrich my experiences and bring out the best in me – people who would inspire me through their own ways of giving to give of my time, talent, and treasure to others not for my own security and assurance, but for the greater good and well-being of others.

My father taught me to believe and to have faith, but my life experiences have taught me to question and discern, and writing has taught me that the simplest questions lead you to the most complete answers. So if I still believe in God and still have faith, then what I have to do with it is ask myself: what has God given me, who has God given me, why these blessings have been put into my life, where I can use them to fix my life, and how I can use them to bring joy into the lives of others?

All three things have been going rather well since Epiphany Sunday, and I’m glad to say that the third in particular has already brought blessings into my life in the form of new friends who encourage me to bring forward what’s best about myself and inspire me to share my authentic self with them and the rest of the world. I’m really looking forward to connecting more often with them and to building up strong friendships with these incredible individuals. I truly do believe their paths crossed mine at this moment in time for good reasons, and I know that it’s up to me to make something good come out of these encounters and connections. Some of them believe in the same things I do and others believe in very different things, but I appreciate them and love them all the same because they each bring out the same good qualities and talents in me I’ve ignored or kept hidden until now.

So how does this all lead to me singing Bon Jovi into a hairbrush while standing in a powerstance on my bed, and why is “Livin’ on a Prayer” the song that defines my life of renewed faith, hope, and love?

Well, even though Bon Jovi didn’t mean it as a song of praise, it rather succinctly sums up how I’m moving forward with my life: holding on to what I’ve got, understanding that what I do have really is quite a lot, and remembering that inasmuch as I can and should take agency of my own life I do need my faith and keep praying. I can’t live on just a prayer indefinitely, but when everything else disappears there’s always a way to find it all again through keeping my faith.

“There is no greater agony than an untold story inside you.”

((Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings))

***  ***   ***

I had a crazy dream last night:  I was eaten up by a giant leather-bound book in a Hogwarts-like library.

Two interpretations surfaced over the course of the day.  Dame Margaret H. Willison thought it was a reminder about a “monstrously overdue library book,” while I wondered if perhaps my subconscious is telling me to start my novel already.

The thing is, I’ve never had an overdue charge on my library cards — so perhaps my subconscious is trying to get my started on my Giant Writing Project.

The thing is, in my family saying you can write is pretty much like saying you can breathe.  We all have our own unique way with words, but we can all write eloquently in the styles for which we have a knack. Add that to the inescapable fact that we are descended from the family of José Rizal – hero of the Philippines, father of nationalism in Southeast Asia, and the man who penned the novel that started the uprising against Spanish colonialism in the Philippines – and it’s probably easier to understand now why none of us has ever been able to actually write a book.

I mean, come on:  with that kind of legacy, you’re never quite up to snuff even if your magnum opus isn’t meant to be the catalyst to nation-wide insurrection.

In my furiously-scribbling family, I’m the free spirit narrator who’s trying to find the meaning in everyday occurrences (hence my tagline, “Chronicles of the Significant Human Experience”) because that’s where I believe the best stories lie.  I know there’s a novel somewhere inside me; I feel a twinge every once in a while that urges me to sit down and, as Derrick Jensen said:

“Tap a vein and let it bleed onto the page.”  

Considering the fact that Hemingway also shares a similar view on what a written work actually is (he’s the one who said that bit about how writing is just being able to bleed whilst seated at the typewriter, right?), it’s pretty easy to see that writing anything noteworthy is more complicated than knowing what words mean and how to string them together into a sentence.

Writing in order to capture something truly meaningful and significant is one thing, but writing in order to convince others that one’s perception is worth considering as truly meaningful and significant is a different beast altogether.

How do you write something that the world can relate to when you stand on the opposite side of so many boundaries?

How to you write a story that people will want to read when hardly anyone is even interested anymore in the real lives happening all around them outside of their iThings?

Hence, why I’ve been focusing on this blog lately more so than the novel I’ve been trying to write for years.  Truth might be stranger than fiction, but it is also immensely beautiful and always worth telling — and somewhere in all these lives I’m trying to share and connect, I’ll find the thread that will turn into the yarn of that blasted, elusive book hiding inside my soul.  And once I find it, I shall wrestle it into submission and give my blood to birng to life whatever characters it may cradle inside.