In Pursuit of Happiness, #6: Appointment Television, Healthy Living, and Writing Letters

Appointment Television: At a certain point in my early adolescence, my parents cut the cable to our family room TV. Given that the overall cable viewing schedule of the household was limited to news, educational programs, and family-friendly TV shows, I didn’t really miss it. My classmates would fill me in on what was currently happening on TV anyway when we should have been conjugating irregular French verbs or solving for X, so I never really felt like I was missing out to the point of being culturally irrelevant.

I really got into British programming during university thanks to my parents finally re-entering the current century by installing a dish as well as online streaming services like Netflix, but as a working full-time double major undergrad I didn’t have much time to really expand my TV schedule beyond the few tried and tested classics of my youth and the new shows I really got into in between semesters.

And even now, as a two-job working stiff of a gymrat, I don’t have a whole lot more free time for TV – which is more problematic now than it used to be because missing out on all the new shows and not having a regular time slot for friends to catch me up means I actually do run the risk of being culturally irrelevant insofar as television is concerned.

Praise the Lord, then, for Appointment Television. It’s a podcast all about the TV you should be making time for, and because it’s produced by a trio of hardcore television watchers (my lovely friend Margaret H. Willison and her co-hosts, Katherine van Arendonk and Andrew Cunningham) it means that it’s a trustworthy source of a variety of recommendations, information about TV I really should know more about, and explanations as to why some shows really are as important for society as their fandoms say they are.

Take the segment “TV vs TV” for example, in which two shows of similar premise, style, and production are put head-to-head on trial to determine which is the better production. In fact, the first episode of Appointment Television included this segment and put Star Trek: The Next Generation against Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Now, I would have kept listening simply because Margaret is on this podcast but the fact that Andrew and Katherine were able to succinctly explain the differences between two separate series of a complex universe with a hot-blooded fandom in a way that I, a staunch non-Trekkie, was able to kind of get why any iteration of Star Trek has cultural relevance is what really got me hooked from the get-go.

The other segment I really love is “TV Book Club,” which has broadened my viewing scope because I just don’t want to be left out of anything these guys think is cool to watch. After experiencing Terriers and Black Mirror because of Appointment TV (in retro-listen, as I jumped on the bandwagon after the podcast was already well on its way) I’m now current with the podcast itself as well as with the current TV Book Club series, Bunheads.

Go check out Appointment Television now. Seriously. You’ll thank me later.

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Healthy Living: After the holidays it’s always tough to get back into the routines of everyday life, but I’m so glad that I’m finally resettled into my usual rhythm of working out, eating clean, and giving it all 100% to continue my transformation.

I’ve written at length about why this new lifestyle is so important to me and if you follow me on Instagram you’ll know that I’m one of “those” people who post workout selfies, food photos, and hashtag the holy crap out of words and phrases like transformation, girlsworkouttoo, legday, cardio, workout, girlswholift, gettingfit, eatclean, homemade…and so on and so forth.

After years of constantly making unhealthy choices (physically and nutritionally as well as emotionally and spiritually), I stand here in 2016 as somebody who is done with toxic living on all those levels. I’m so much happier, stronger, and wiser now than I ever have been before – and especially than I was this time last year.

My daily hour at the gym is one of the few I have on any given day that’s entirely all to myself that doesn’t involve sleeping, so I tend to try and make the most out of it.  I’m actually getting to a point in my journey where I can legitimately start pointing out all my “gains” – namely those “booty gains” (I’m telling you now, women who look good in yoga pants do more lifting than yoga) – and where people I’ve known for a while  are pointing them out to me.

2016 is already shaping up to be full of new fitness challenges and goals, and new milestones to work towards every day.  I’m so grateful that I had the opportunity and the means to take control of my health and wellness when I did because now I can’t imagine having ever made it through the last year with the self-empowerment I’ve gained and all the support my gym family gave me.

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Writing Letters: Those of you who drop by on a regular basis will know that another part of my 2016 Resolutions involved writing letters to anyone and everyone who would ask me for one. The first person to officially take me up on this offer was one of my friends from Job2, Frederique. She and I were hired at Job2 in the same group back in 2011, and she’s never been anything but an awesome friend. I’m so glad that the first piece of mail in my letter campaign was for her; she was my first real friend at the store when we got hired and she is such a joy to know.

I’ve got a few more letters on the way to other people who have given me their addresses and I hope each envelope contains in it as much joy for those recipients as the one I sent to Frederique. Handwritten letters are one of the greatest little pleasures of my life. Whether it’s writing them or receiving them, I love how letters are tangible evidence of the connections between two people and two places. I write these letters in the hope that something I have to say could touch a life, and therefore make two lives all the more better for the sharing of one talent.

My offers to send you handwritten letters still stands and will continue to stand into the foreseeable future, so please don’t be shy to let me know if you’d like one!

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That’s all for this week’s instalment of “In Pursuit of Happiness.”  Keep on finding the happiness in the little things around you, and I’ll be back soon with a proper post – I promise!

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

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

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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.

Should auld acquaintance be forgot 

Part of me feels like I should be writing something profound and moving on the last night of 2015.

The bigger part of me feels like I don’t have to if the right words won’t come — and I’m okay with that.

There’s not much I can say about 2015 that I haven’t already written about, so all I’ll say here are the five things my father believed every child should be taught to say in complete sincerity.

To everyone in my life, and to those who have left it but might still come back here to visit…if you know me well, you know what I mean to say to you with each one of these.

Please.

Thank you.

I’m sorry.

I forgive you.

I give you my word.

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Happy New Year.

The Art of Moving On 

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  When we fall, we have to get up at some point – especially when we fall for somebody who belongs to someone else.

It hasn’t been an easy year for my heart.  In all honesty, this year I’ve probably cried more than I ever have before and I’m ready for a fresh start.  But I don’t want to wait until the New Year — it falls in the same category as Valentine’s Day for me, in that I don’t understand why we have to set aside one day in particular to do something that we can do any day of the year.  Whether it be showing our significant others that we truly love them or making resolutions to truly change ourselves, do big things really have to wait for one designated day of the year for us to actually buckle down and do what needs to be done?  After all, there’s no time like the present.

Moving on with life after any kind of rejection is hard, especially when the person in question is a good friend and there’s no other reason for you to walk the other way for a while.  It’s especially hard when the rejection happens not because of dislike or spite but for the well-being of both parties in question, and when walking away from what could have been entails also walking away from what was already there —  a confidant you could trust with more than you ever thought you’d tell another person; a friend who was always there when you needed them to get you through anything; a person you connected with on so many different levels that it’ll be hard to find somebody else who gets you so easily and speaks so fluently to your truest self.

Moving on and getting over somebody is no small task and is a form of art unto itself, because getting up the next day after losing so much and functioning properly in the world without letting anyone see what’s wrong is one of the greatest performances we can ever put on.  We orate to our friends over drinks and soliloquize to ourselves in front of our mirrors about how we’re okay and doing just fine when the truth is, we’re barely able to keep ourselves from falling apart all over again. We craft an outward image that’s polished and immaculately put together to disguise the broken mess we really are, and hope that the smiles we put on reach our eyes and fool everyone into thinking they’re not just a mask we’ve put on for the day.  We rehearse our lines in the dark and quiet stillness of the night after we’re done crying until we can almost convince even ourselves that we’re doing just fine.

But we can’t keep this up all day long, let alone forever, and so in time we find others to confide in.  There has to be at least one person  who knows what’s going on behind the scenes, and eventually they help us pare down our costumes and our lines until we’re playing our true selves and saying what we really think again, and truly able to smile and say we’re okay.

It’s one of the greatest performances any of us can ever put on.  It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single person in possession of a good but broken heart must find a way to mend it and move on, and what better way to do it than remembering that the world is a stage and we, merely players?  It’s okay to hide behind a carefully-crafted dramatis persona until you’re put back together again, and it’s okay to find something new to love when an old love fails.  It’s okay to walk away to get over a friend you’ve fallen for if your friendship stands a better chance of surviving past a separation instead of a constant one-way stream of feelings.  It’s okay to do whatever it takes for you to be happy again and to be whole again.

That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

Unmasked, unguarded – and somehow, still safe

We all have secrets and guilty pleasures. It’s a broad spectrum, but we all fall somewhere on it. We think that keeping secrets is a way of holding on to the things that make us authentically individual – truly ourselves – but of course there are secrets we never tell because we’re afraid of them taking over our lives by permanently altering the way others perceive us.

But regardless of what our secrets are and why we choose to keep them, we do so to the point where we hide a huge part of who we are from even the people who know us best.

In my particular case, my nature is so introverted and then further encased in a shell that it’s inherently difficult for me to open up to anyone. This means that when I do confide in somebody it’s because I feel safe with them, and I don’t expect to be hurt by the person in whom I confide the secrets that hurt enough already.

People constantly surprise us and the ritual of confiding in others is a prime opportunity for us to be reminded of this fact. Exhibit A: you tell the same thing to two different people in more or less the same fashion, but they’re both going to react differently – and that will tell you a lot about who they are and maybe even what you are to them.

I once told an ex about the particularly harrowing nature of one of my previous relationships. I trusted him, loved him more than any other person I knew, and wanted him to really know me, and I wanted to demonstrate all that by opening up and telling him things I had never told anyone else. Eventually, instead of bringing us closer together it pushed us apart. My story – and some of the most defining moments of my life that it included – of who I was before him became, I think, fodder for his insecurity, jealousy, and minor prejudices. It got to a point where I did not feel whole standing in front of him; instead, I felt torn apart, over and over again whenever he asked me for reassurances on the subject, and eventually felt incomplete – like I was less of a person for having made mistakes in my past, and now had to tilt at windmills to prove I was worthy.

A couple of weeks ago, I told the same story again to another person – a good friend this time – during a particularly rough and emotional day. It was one of those situations where things just came out and I realized at the end of it that I had pretty much emotionally exploded all over somebody and told them a secret that I had sworn to never tell anyone ever again. It had cost me one close connection and for a few minutes I was utterly terrified that my unintentional and unfiltered blurting had just cost me another one. (Oh, and did I mention I did this over text? Way to go, right…)

“And now I have the horrible feeling that if I was standing in front of you right now, you’d be looking at me in an entirely different way, and I’m hating myself for that,” I said quickly, as it had been a minute or two of text-silence.

“I don’t see you differently. We’re two friends who are telling each other things and being open. It would take a lot to change my opinion of you,” came the response.

I suppose my friend really meant that, as we’re still talking as we’ve always done, and maybe even perhaps on slightly more familiar terms now.

One story, two different people – and two different reactions whose juxtaposition made me realize that I’m too hard on myself and think too much about what people might be thinking.  And that realization caused me to see that not letting anyone in might protect my heart from pain, but it also prevents my heart from experiencing joy.

Anyone who’s had this kind of experience – this unexpected acceptance by one person when the same situation resulted in rejection by another – will tell you that it’s difficult to say how it feels to know that despite revealing something so deeply hidden, you are still cared for and still seen as a whole person worthy of time and attention.  You feel a kind of unexpected joy at the equally unexpected relief of not being the only one who knows something that weighs so heavily on you.  You feel like a person again because another human has accepted you, warts and all, and will still be there for you.

I’ll probably always be guarded. I’ll probably always need my shell, and I’ll probably always be very cautious about opening myself up to another person. But it’s nice to know that I don’t always have to hide – that I can be safe enough in somebody else’s presence so as to be vulnerably open and totally myself with them. It’s nice to know that in at least one friendship I don’t have to wear masks or pretend I’m a little less flawed, that I am accepted entirely and can therefore be exactly who I am and express exactly how I feel.

After all, while the truth sets you free – “this above all: to thine own self be true.”  And by being open and honest, I am being more of who I really am, and I have once again been surprised by joy.

An open letter to CS Lewis 

“We read to know that we are not alone.”
— CS Lewis

Oh, Professor – how many times have I run, heart wounded and despairing, to your works in search of a quote as though you were an apothecary and your words my balm of Gilead? How often in these last few months alone have I sat at your feet to commit to heart your lessons about the Four Loves? How many hours have I spent in the presence of God with your words guiding my conversations with Him?

I long to be surprised by joy again – to look up through tears and see something that compels me to rise once more to my own two feet even before those tears have dried. I long to find the peace of purpose; wherever it might lie on the road ahead, I long to stumble upon whatever it is that makes my life meaningful in the midst of all the other lives around me.

I fancy myself a writer, though compared to the literary heights to which I aspire the title of “scribbler” seems more appropriate…and perhaps it always will be better suited to me than its nobler counterpart.

Will I ever lead anyone through a wardrobe as you and Lucy led me? Will any of my nighttime thoughts, furtively whispered out loud to empty darkness or feverishly scribbled into a notebook by lamplight, ever be printed so that they may touch another life as yours have done mine? Will I ever have full mastery of this skill with which I have apparently been blessed, so that I may use it to its full potential as God intended?

These are the questions I would ask you if I could sit with awhile with you in one of your old haunts. As a child I imagined you as an uncle who would patiently listen to my incessant chatter about Narnia, answering the questions I had about that wonderful world. As an adolescent I would have debated with you about Screwtape and Wormwood, for I too was an inept youth in desperate need of goodly avuncular guidance. But now I am grown up and the imaginary conversations I have with you know about my haplessness and helplessness would be best suited to brandy in a study, or perhaps even once in a while to The Eagle and Child – though there I would be a most enchanted fly on the wall instead of a demanding pupil.

But how childish and droning my questions seem to be – even to the melodramatic pupil who posits them to you! Maybe it’s better that I bring them to my beloved books instead of to the man who wrote them, for as grown-up as I fancy myself to be I am still childish enough to be totally incapable of gracefully bearing any reproach, no matter how lovingly critical, from one I love so dearly.

So instead I write to your memory, searching for the answers in your written legacy. You are right, dearest Professor – when I read your words, I do not feel so very alone.

Seeing through the rain

Walking home in the rain from the cinema last night, I was waiting to cross the boulevard and thinking about how much life has changed in the last year.

I realised I’ve found more of my adult self in this last year than I have in all of the years combined since my twenty-first birthday, and a lot of that is down to having learned how to love and live for another person.  I’m not talking about living for somebody else in the sense of depending on them for validation and worth and purpose, but rather in the sense of being able to unite your own dreams and plans and goals with those of another person…simply because you share a love with them that is genuine and runs deep.  You open yourself up to a whole world of good and bad when you love somebody that way, but if it’s all meant to work out with them all of the good makes up tenfold for everything bad you have to experience.    You love them enough to want them to be happy, and trust that they see the same thing when they look at you.

Seeing him smile and hearing him laugh made me feel happy because it meant he was happy.  But what made me even happier was waking up every day of our relationship and knowing that I was one day further along in human plans that finally seemed to line up with God’s plans…that I was making a choice of my own discernment and will to fulfill a call to a relationship heading towards marriage and family.

I told him more than once that I love God more than him – for no other reason other than because it’s the truth.  What made me happiest about the relationship we shared was the fact that it fit into what I knew God wants for me, which meant my personal happiness was finally firmly rooted in someone eternally constant and loving.  The human heart is fickle, as we see over and over again whenever we love and lose, but God is love.

The catalyst to the breakup was a decision made in his part that caused confidence and trust to fall out on mine, thus causing the worst kind of pain initially:  a selfish one that’s rooted in pride and a false sense of betrayal.  I say it’s the worst kind of pain because its root makes it hurt even more than it should, because it makes us blind to anything else but how it makes us feel.  This kind of pain demands angrily of the human love, “How could you do this to me, after all I have endured for you?”  and, equally angry, of God, “I was doing as You commanded then, so why must I suffer now?”

While we can never truly know why people do what they end up doing, deep down inside my heart I know that what he chose to do was not fuelled by anger or spite or a desire to cause pain.  What made me feel his intentions as painful actions was the fact that loving him made me want to love God less so that I wouldn’t lose my relationship.  I was deeply unhappy and struggled in trying to reconcile the two – in trying to have both even though the more I tried, the more unsettled I felt.  But when I saw how this same conflict was beginning to manifest itself in our relationship, I felt a different pain.  It was the kind that comes not out of feeling betrayed, but rather out of knowing that what you’re asking of the person you love can’t be given to you without it being detrimental to their own pursuit of fulfilment, peace, and happiness.

To those two infuriated demands I mentioned above, I never really got an answer to the human question – though I did get an answer to the divine one through a long and difficult discernment.  I asked God why, and He replied, “Because I have commanded you to love others as I have loved you.  Because I am Love, and made you in that image.”

I am still fighting through both kinds of pain.  The first pain slows down the healing, which strangely enough motivates me to take the second kind of pain and offer it to God in the hope and trust that He can tend to all of my wounds.  I have that hope and trust in Him because through all the worst storms of my voyage so far, He offered me His hand to help steer my ship towards safe harbors.  Through every difficult and painful experience, I have come to see God’s hand in my life, and until last night I never knew how to explain that revelation in human terms.

But today I finally can, because the analogy came to me last night as I stood in the rain at the intersection of that windy boulevard.  In the same way that I can see the shape of the wind as it blows through the raindrops right before they hit the pavement, I can see the shape of God’s hand in how my life experiences sculpt me into the daughter He envisioned long before I began to take on human form.  I was made in His image, not He in mine, and if choosing to learn how to love sacrificially — as He did, on the wood of the Cross — is how I may better reflect that image, then may He heal me so that one day I may again try loving another person as He has loved me.