The Voice

When I was in college, I joined a prestigious choral group that gave me an opportunity to travel around the world. I was 19 years old when I went on my first international tour and took a leave of absence from the university for one semester. We were sponsored by Filipino communities in the United States and by local families in Europe. This meant staying with our hosts and we were part of their families for the short period that we were in their homes. A lot of the families I stayed with in the US were second generation immigrants. Their parents went to America in the hopes of  building better lives.

When I got back home, I asked my mom if she ever thought of migrating to the US when we were young. Young meant the 80’s when the American Dream was selling like hotcakes. She said, “No. Only rich people did that.”

That conversation left me with so much regret at the thought that we missed out on a big opportunity. I could have been an American citizen now. I could be holding one of the most powerful passports in the world and did not have to apply for a visa every time I wanted to travel to Europe. The conversation happened almost two decades ago. Things have certainly changed and I myself did not pursue the American dream. A lot of my friends have moved to different parts of the world and here I am still very much grounded in the Philippines. I still think about the possibility of moving, but with travel now so much easier, I just see other places as temporary homes. I go and immerse and I come back to my beloved, comfortable, familiar homeland, the Philippines.

I sometimes ask myself if I’m crazy to not have this drive to go abroad and find a new life. But then, what is crazy about living in the land where you were born and raised? What is crazy about not wanting to be too far away from family? What is it about the comfortable and familiar that makes us want to stay? Maybe it is precisely because it is what it is. Comfortable and familiar means it is less scary. After all, fear always accompanies the unknown.

About two years ago, I had a rather horrible experience at work. It was a situation where I feel I never stood a chance of getting accepted no matter what I did. Still, I weathered it out, but it made me sit down and start thinking about a hiatus. I worked out a list of my current financial obligations and what cost it would take to be free for a year. That list was originally on paper, but it eventually became a working spreadsheet. The situation at work eased up a bit for a few months, but it turned into boredom. This was when I had time to google “prawns vs shrimps” – a phrase my friends now use when they want to say they are bored. LOL. Eased up, however, did not mean happiness nor peace. I still did not stand a chance, but I guess I just accepted that I have to live in misery until one of us gives up and leaves.

The universe decided to humor me. One fine day in August, I was told I was losing my job in three months. I was prepared to go through the different stages of grief, but that did not really pan out since I got a new post two days later. I still had the option to leave and make my hiatus dream come true, but I knew I was not ready financially. I took the job and finally, all of us can stay and at the same time be away from each other.

It’s been a year since I took that new job. The people surrounding me have been great and I could not be more grateful. But…the seed that was planted two years ago took root and it was only a few months ago that I realized it has grown.

I am not surprised. I have always been curious about life outside the corporate world. I have friends who are freelance musicians, writers, make up artists and business owners. They are all living great lives. I have always wondered what it would be like to try and be part of that non-corporate world. It’s all rose-colored glasses until I think about the income stability that my current job provides.

My current job provides me a steady source of income. It is an enabler to so many things I currently enjoy in my life, including getting to travel often. This job creates for me a predictable day to day life and suggests there is an upward career path for me if I just play my cards right. I learn a lot; not just about the world we live in but also about myself and the people that I get to interact with everyday. Sounds to me like a dream job. The thing is, it is probably someone else’s dream job now. I have known myself to be highly driven and always had eyes on that vertical career path.

One day, I caught myself looking elsewhere. At first, I thought I was just tired. It will pass. In the meantime, let me take on a hobby other than going to the gym and singing. What else do I like doing? Oh, I like looking at jewellery and coloured gemstones. Art deco jewellery particularly fascinates me. And so the reading and the research began. The more I learned, the more glued I became. I started learning the business side of it and I eventually opened my own Instagram jewellery blog. A little voice started telling me this is what I should be doing.

At first, the thought shocked me. Am I crazy? This is just nuts to be thinking about myself as a business woman. Maybe I am just burned out and really need a break. Yup, ignore the voice.

How timely is it that one of my friends has just left the corporate world to start her own yoga studio? As I follow her amazing journey, that little voice became louder too. It became so persistent I had to stop and listen. The voice said, “Why not? Remember when you were 8 years old and had this little candy store by your bedroom window? Remember how you felt when someone actually bought a candy and you receive their coin and put it in a little coin bowl?” Coincidentally, I also sang at radio station contests about the same age, so I also earned money on the side for these gigs. It made me laugh to think that after a long and winding road, I would end up the adult version of that little girl in retail and singing at events. I laughed, but my heart was bursting with the possibility.

I think I have finally befriended that little voice. When I did, I told my good friend about it and she laughed and introduced me to a book called “When To Jump”. She said, “You are describing exactly what other “jumpers” have experienced in their journey towards a life of their dreams.”

The next day, off to the bookstore I went. There was one copy left, tucked between other books, it could easily be missed. This one book was meant for me. I just started reading it, but it has helped me a lot to recognize that what I feel and want to do is not that crazy. A lot of other people have done it and made it. If they can, I probably can too.

I will end this post with a quote from Jeff Arch’s story in the book and so far my favorite. Jeff Arch went from being an English teacher and Karate school owner to being nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for writing “Sleepless in Seattle.”

“…when you know how to listen and know when your heart is really speaking and know when your heart is telling you that the ground you’re standing on just isn’t enough – then the only thing left to do is jump.”

💙

CH

The Gravity

Six months later…

2017 seems like a galaxy far far away. The storm of a broken heart has passed and all is right in the world again. The potential long distance romance with NG has been destroyed by the death star. Here I am, alone again. Naturally. Call me CG Solo.

The past six months hasn’t been a walk in the park. I got sick. I suffered from chronic stiff neck which started on the left side in November. In mid January, this moved to the right side and I had to go through twenty-two sessions of physical therapy before I could be somewhat restored. I was not cleared by my doctor until early May. Her remarks were, “You may go back to the gym but you are no longer allowed to lift more than 3 kg. in Body Pump. May the force be with you.”

And now here we are in June. My favorite month! I turned 38 a few weeks ago. I feel like it’s an accomplishment I should bask in. Not all get to do it after all. On the other hand, it’s as if a secret passage opened up and I am being ushered into it, whether I like it or not. Getting older is like a bullet you can’t dodge. For starters, I see some hair color transformation – black brown to white. If my future goal is to be brown-skinned with ash blonde hair, then I am on the right track. But, I am not ready for that yet so I am detouring to some fancy color like ash brown or something. My teenage years seem to have caught on as well. My lack of acne then surfaced in my late thirty’s. I was forced to consult a dermatologist and it only turned out my already oily face cannot take the virgin coconut oil I so generously slathered on every night before sleep. The doctor said I only need a good sunblock and mild cleanser to get my acne-free face back. I highly recommend Cetaphil and Heliocare. Just note that eyebags are an entirely different battle. Something I try to avoid looking in the eye. Haha, punny.

Now, on to the less important stuff; the things people don’t see. The things that keep me awake until dawn. Those. Apart from Netflix.

Something happened to me after my birthday. I got older, but I became a child again, questioning a lot of things. Asking a lot of why’s.

Why am I doing what I am doing now? Why am I in this job?

Why am I friends with this person? Why do I hate the things I hate and like the things I like?

Why do I unintentionally kill plants? Why am I the worst brokenhearted person I know? A friend said this, but I think she’s right.

Why do I love rice so much? It’s not helping my quest for the best and fittest bod of a forty year old.

It’s like my brain has suddenly decided to have its own brainstorming activity and I am there to listen because I have no choice.

In the midst of all the chatter and the clutter, many truths are revealed. It’s a lot like Darth Vader telling Luke “I am your father.” A truth that left Luke changed forever.

Truth is, I would be happier doing something else. Travel, study gems and jewelry and sing. What I do now is an enabler, so I can’t complain.

Truth is, I understand and know in my heart why I keep some of the friendships I have. I wonder about others. Maybe it’s part of growing up and realizing principles and non-negotiables.

Truth is, I do not know why I kill plants. I love them. I water and follow care instructions.

Truth is, I also don’t know why I am the worst brokenhearted person I know. I do know I’m a fighter and will continue to be one.

Truth is, I love rice because…I’m Asian…?😂

What would Master Yoda say if I was a Jedi? “Go to the center of gravity and find your planet you will?”

Am I not of this planet? I certainly feel like an alien these days.

But, you know what? The vast universe seems to listen to our hearts and know exactly when to knock and give signs. A friend popped out of my Facebook messenger earlier today to see how I’m doing. Then she asked if I had been progressing on my plans. I said, it has been keeping me awake these days. “Cast a wider net!”, she says. Clock is ticking!

She’s right. It’s time to find my gravity.

“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it.” – Master Yoda in the form of Paulo Coelho

Gotta go and find my planet. May the force be with me.

CG

The Afterglow

In every heart there is a room
A sanctuary safe and strong
To heal the wounds from lovers past
Until a new one comes along.

There’s a truth to these lines from Billy Joel’s song, isn’t it? Sometimes, the only way you truly move on from someone is when you find a new love. Too many songs written about love or lost love and they all speak the truth about us humans. Love can be beautiful, yet it can also be soul-crushingly painful.

A few weeks after cutting The Friend off from my life, I found myself wondering if I made the right decision. You see, I am not used to banishing people, even when they have wronged me. Doing this makes me feel very uncomfortable. Or it can mean I am a masochist. Thus, I need some sense knocked into me by people who truly love me. Fast forward to now, on New Year’s Eve before 2018, I am quite certain I did the right thing. No regrets. I no longer feel the loss nor the desire to be friends with him again.

Just like that, I am a changed woman. Magic. LOL. Honestly, it’s really Billy Joel and his song. A new one has come along. Kind of. The poor guy has no clue that he has come along.

Just a month after I got back from my Iceland and UK trip, I was surprised to find myself flying back to the UK for work. Before that, I was so tempted to decline traveling again so soon because I was dreading going back to freezing temperatures. As one friend put it, just going out to buy something from the supermarket is a major production number because you have to put on so many layers of clothing. Also, the thought of flying 18 hours again each way made me nauseous. But, it’s work and I needed to make sure I get first hand knowledge from that two-day workshop. I was also facing the prospect of a sad Christmas. The idea of another distraction is more than welcome even if it meant flying ten thousand miles just to get me closer to healing.

I did not know I was in for possibly one of the most movie-worthy surprises of my life. The healing that I was wishing so hard for turned out to require a return trip to England. Expensive and physically taxing. Good thing I was only responsible for the physical part.

Three years ago, I struck a friendship with a colleague from Singapore when she came to visit Manila with some of our other colleagues from the US and UK. Upon learning that I was the only single person in our group, she took it upon herself to think of a possible match. None came up until we were again on a business trip to the US a few months later. A familiar name came up. It was familiar because I had worked with this guy in 2012 when I was forming my new team. I had met him only once and in passing. I barely remember him, but the name stuck because it was an unusual name. A name that only exists in a particular country in Eastern Europe. Let’s call him NG. Let’s call my Singaporean friend AS because she is my Asian Sister from another motherland. AS was so convinced about the match and genuinely believed that I was already on board. I wasn’t.

To humor her, I checked if NG was on Facebook. I added him when I found his profile. I added him on LinkedIn as well. Soon, NG and I were “friends”, much to the delight of AS.

For the next two years, it was a really exciting one-sided matchmaking endeavor. My friend would check if he was still single, and when he confirms, she would let me know. Not that I cared. AS was just convinced I did. Poor NG had zero clue. The only person excited about this was our friend.

Last October, I suddenly received two photos from AS. I knew she was going to be in our UK office at that time and I also knew she will meet with NG. The photos were of AS and NG when they had lunch. Along with it, she sent a message saying, “I showed him that I sent you the photos. He was surprised but I told him we are good friends. He said you are friends on Facebook. I also told him that you’re single just like he is. He got the hint. He was laughing, but he did not say no. That is a good sign.” I thought, yes it’s a good sign that he is at least polite. LOL.

A few weeks later, it was my turn to go to the UK and Iceland for holiday. After the holiday, I was asked by my boss to extend for a two-day workshop in our UK office. AS was adamant that I get in touch with NG so we can catch up, have lunch or dinner or something. As if we were close friends. *Roll eyes*. Of course I did not get in touch. I did drop by to say hello at work but he turned out to be a home-based employee. The workshop got postponed and so I had to return when the new date was finally announced. It was two weeks before Christmas. When I relayed the news to AS, she again suggested that I let NG know so that he can set aside time for our catch up. We simply had to close that five-year gap. Oh dear. Again, no getting in touch of any kind was done.

The second day of workshop turned out to be the same day when the company Christmas party was going to be. Only, there were two separate parties for my old and new team. I was already set to go to the new team’s party of course. Since we will not get to be in the same party, I promised another colleague from the old team that I will drop by to say hello. He was also home-based and that was the only time I can see him. I promised I would go when we take a break for lunch.

When lunch time came, I took the stairs from the third going to the ground floor. Just as I was going down the last flight, I locked eyes with a man who looked familiar. He probably had the same thought as I did. “I think I know her…..” And then we both realized who the other was and both our eyes just widened in surprise and started laughing. NG and I finally meet again after five long years. He met me at the bottom of the stairs and I thought, what the hell…might as well give him a hug. This was five years in the making. I realized he has really nice blue eyes. The seed that AS planted in my head started to germinate. His first few sentences were, “What is with you and all these traveling? Do you do this just because? I always look at your Facebook posts because I don’t know where you’ll turn up next.” I see. We talked and caught up until I realized my break time was running out and I really had to see my other colleague. NG and I took a selfie and I sent it to AS. LOL. I am glad he really is polite.

That night, I ended up going to two parties. I went to the new team’s party in the center of town first. Then, I took a taxi and went to the old team’s party in an old castle in the middle of nowhere. Great decision I made since the old team’s party turned out to be more fun. It would have been, with or without NG. But, since I have decided this story is worthy to be posted on my blog, it means there’s more NG in it. I did not seek him out, but after playing pretend-black jack for about an hour, I ran into him at the bar.  That was our cue to start talking again. We talked about how he came to the UK from Hungary, his daughter from a previous marriage, archery, his family and why he was drinking coke and not beer. Our big boss joined us and when he made a comment about how much I have changed since he last saw me, NG was the one who said, “She’s been going to the gym. We’re Facebook friends you know.”

I ended up staying the night in that old castle. It was too late for a taxi. There was someone who did not make it to the party and I took his room. Everyone had breakfast together the next day. After, I decided to walk with NG and talk to him outside while he smoked and while I waited for another colleague who will drive me back to my hotel. While talking, NG suddenly said, “I’ll drive you back to your hotel.” That meant more time to get to know this guy who was no longer much of a stranger. I had possibly gained a new friend.

Oh, who am I kidding? Yes, he is a new friend. But then, there is also a germinating seed in my head. AS may not be that crazy after all. Power of suggestion sometimes sucks. Sometimes, yay!

Anyway, those two days made it to one of the best unexpected moments of my life. We parted ways with him this time giving me a hug and saying he hopes it does not take another five years for us to see each other again. Or maybe I will be back in two weeks. My response was, “You never know.”

In the same Billy Joel song, the next lines go:

I spoke to you in cautious tones
You answered me with no pretense
And still I feel I said too much
My silence is my self defense

It’s been three weeks since all of these happened but I still light up when I think about how I saw NG again after five years. We haven’t talked since then except for when we exchanged Christmas greetings, which I initiated. While I would be happy if we did keep in touch, I am also content if we don’t. There is a certain afterglow that I know will remain associated with those memories. At this point, I am just in awe at how the universe orchestrated something totally unexpected for the both of us. Cliche I know, but, I felt like the stars aligned to make just that particular event happen. It crushed whatever hurt I still felt about the past four months and the sadness just faded. However, I will choose silence after this. If something is meant to happen, it will. Some of the most beautiful things in life require no effort nor orchestration. They are just meant to be.

For now, I am just grateful that I am finally out of my rut. I am also sure that I have learned every lesson I needed to learn. I really am a changed woman. No magic. Just a lot of tragic experiences that are all in the past.

By the way, the song is called “And So It Goes”.

And this is why my eyes are closed
It’s just as well for all I’ve seen
And so it goes, and so it goes
And I’m the only one who knows

From now on, no one can have this heart to break. Not even NG.

Perhaps, the only role NG had was to get me out of my misery. To give me a glimpse of what I was wasting my tears on. Maybe he was an instrument in making me see how much more I truly deserve.

Someday, if NG reads this, I just want him to know that he was the Non-Grinch who stole my bad Christmas. And no matter what happens next in our story, this chapter will always leave me in afterglow. 💙

CG

The Turkey

I have not been sleeping well since I got back. It has been two weeks. Extended jet lag perhaps? Work stress since I am in a dual role indefinitely? Still nursing a broken heart? Worried about this whole fiasco about my apartment and my brother ditching me in the middle of everything? All of the above, I guess. The scene inside my head is really just ugly, I can imagine. Damn it. I don’t have to imagine. I am wide awake at 4 a.m. simmering in it.

Last Thursday, I woke up after banking only three hours of sleep so I could rush to the property developer and get documents for the apartment I am purchasing. I need to be The Flash and get them signed by my brother and sister-in-law so they can be out of responsibility for an investment we initially agreed on. Considering that my brother does not get home anytime soon, I am doomed to fail. Time is always money. Of course. This situation has been really hurtful and I feel like I have been betrayed. I know in my heart that if the situation were reversed, I would do anything for my brothers. I have tried so hard to make it a rule that money will never be an issue with my family. It is just not worth ruining relationships over finances. And so, I am struggling to be okay with what happened. I don’t want to go into detail anymore because even writing this now makes my stomach lurch. If, however, I will be honest about it, I feel very hurt. Angry even. But I will do my best to get out of it. Money can be earned again.

Still, I cannot help but feel like I have been duped twice. I am still trying to move on from The Friend. I have had my fill of people I care about just carelessly trampling on my feelings. To which a friend has said, I am too nice. That is for another story.

Also, I think that the daily stresses at work is starting to take a toll on me physically. I am always tired. I hope I don’t get burned out. Been there, please not again.

This is pretty much the hell that is not seen by other people’s naked eyes. My hell. A hell that eventhough I am so drained of energy of late, I am still determined to fight.

On the same Thursday as above, while walking home from the clinic, I suddenly realized it was Thanksgiving in the United States. It’s turkey-eating day! How ironic that I was ruminating on all my woes on the day that we are reminded that there is always something to be grateful for. Of course there is always something to be grateful about!

For starters, I am alive. I am still here and I have a fighting chance to make things right again.

I may need to spend a big amount to straighten things out over my home, but it is money that I earned already. I don’t have to worry where to get it. I would rather save it or share it with my family or help two of my friends who are sick with cancer, but if I have to let it go then I will. I still have a way to negotiate it and I will. I just have to learn to accept the outcome.

I am reminded that November would have been the month that I lose my old job and yet, I am still here. I only had two days to worry about it. Now, I have been granted a new one that has me doing what I love the most – building a new team. Okay, new jobs because I am handling way more than I should. But you know what? It’s fun! I am apalled by the backlog of emails, but I do my best. I swear on all the turkey stuffing.

I made my dream trips happen this year. I got to go to two new countries – Japan and Iceland. How many people are given the same chance in a lifetime?

I have my family still. Two parents and all my brothers alive and healthy. I have two beautiful nieces who I love with all my heart.

I have friends who I can turn to if I need them.

I am a little unhealthy, but I can still do something to get back on track. Only age matters in this corner but that’s nature and you cannot mess with that.

So yes, here I am at 4:30 a.m. realizing just how good life still is. God has been my silent warrior in all these.

The good always outweighs the bad. Movies are there to remind us so. There are just times when the bad is really bulky so it seems difficult to carry. The good is always light so we take it forgranted. It is also true that if people know you to be a strong person, you are often seen as someone who doesn’t need anything. How wrong they are. To me, a simple hello is equivalent to the biggest turkey on Thanksgiving. I will feel so full.

On Thanksgiving, I posted the saying, “The problem with being strong is no one bothers to ask if you’re okay.” Two days later, I get a surprise visit from my friends who live in Australia. Why is it a big deal? Because whenever they are here, I am the only one they always make time for. Always.

I feel like I really got the whole turkey for myself. Happy Thanksgiving!

CG