2017

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Whenever Franco and I come home, people want to give us things.

A TV. A microwave. Something to make the food that will inevitably find its way to the microwave.

“I thought you were a pauper,” they say, after a brief mention of our incomes. “My apologies.”

When people from elsewhere visit, they make assumptions.

“Being in your 30s is quite old. Sorry, I know you don’t like to hear that,” she says, rubbing my shoulders.

Then there’s the universal: “One day he’ll ask you. Don’t you worry.”

At this point I lower my hands, which have been locked in prayer for who knows how long in a direct appeal to the gods of nuptials and fertility. I’m also kneeling for some reason.

“Golly gee I sure hope so,” say I, nodding extra hard. “After all, my sole purpose in life is to become a worthy partner to a mate so we can procreate with much gusto.”

Often this satisfies them enough that I’m allowed to retreat to my dark corner, where I’m always sipping a dirty martini—definitely with much gusto.

***

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I didn’t grow up with my mom.

This catches people off-guard when I tell them, but it’s just a fact of life. Here’s another fact: I had a very happy childhood. I had a father and aunt who cared for me, my brother and sister. We had many pets—cats, dogs, rabbits, hamsters, birds, chickens, and hermit crabs—a backyard to roam; a house with doors and running water, which in the Philippines was a big fucking deal. So maybe it wasn’t hot running water because we weren’t the Marcoses or anything, but running water nonetheless.

We had a nanny who loved us, too. She had lice. But having lice there was like having intestinal worms, a scar where the anti-tuberculosis needle pierced your skin, a family dog presumed dead after escaping the yard via jumping a fence and likely falling prey to the neighborhood uncles having many night caps and thus craving a pup-flavored snack, or, as we call it in Tagalog, “pulutan.” In other words, it was all totally normal, guys.

Like many overseas workers who were the backbone of the Philippine economy, my mom lived and worked elsewhere in the world and sent home much-needed funds. But unlike the hardworking overworked nannies and maids of the homeland, my mom had a prime gig as a registered nurse in the Bronx, with benefits and everything, and PTO that allowed her to come home in two-week spurts.

My dad likes to tell the story about how I hit her with my milk bottle when I was 3 because I didn’t recognize the strange woman hugging my dad. My mom doesn’t like that story very much.

But even at a very young age, I knew my mom was the reason my siblings and I went to really good schools, why we had a TV with a VCR (also a big fucking deal in those parts), and why we were the proud VHS owners of all the American musicals and the best animated films Disney made during its late ’80s, early ’90s renaissance.

Even then I knew my mom made the money. Therefore, she was a badass.

***

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Every girl, so the narrative goes, has been dreaming about The Big Day since they were 5.

After The Big Day come the house and the kid and the other kid and… I guess the story trails off after that because there’s nothing more to life, am I right?

My narrative, however, was always something else.

I decided I’d become a writer, see the world, and live in New York City. I’d meet the love of my life at some point, of course, and we’d have a pup and probably adorable offspring, but these would come in addition to the goals I’d set for myself—not at the expense of them.

After all, my mom was living her own badass existence. Why couldn’t I?

***

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When we’re young, we’re told we are the culmination of all the things we do, aspire to be, and become.

But there’s a cutoff.

At some point life just boils down to the paper you’ve yet to sign and the things that haven’t yet come out of your vagina—which frankly, as amazing as those feats are, is insulting.

I get it, though. Real narratives are hard to talk about in bullet form. They’re messy and depressing. They meander and don’t always make sense. They’re often unsatisfying.

If we were to have a real conversation about other notable things in our lives beyond the familiar topics of getting betrothed and procreating, we’d encounter uncomfortable truths about life and the people in it.

The stories would go a little something like this:

I’m 8. We’ve been in America a couple weeks. Two old men talk to my sister and me at a recycling center in the Bronx, and we ignore them. “They’re fresh off the boat,” they say to each other, laughing. “They can’t speak English.” We speak English, I think to myself, just not to strangers.

I’m a tween now, still not allowed to go outside because my dad thinks doing so would spell certain doom in the form of an irresistible urge to do drugs or get pregnant. I read and write a lot.

14 years old. I’m now a freshman at a high school in Virginia, where people wave Confederate flags at football games. A decade or so later, hundreds of students there will sign a petition to lift the ban on the good ol’ tradition, citing their heritage.

In college, I become editor of the student paper. “Maybe the first Filipino-American editor?” my dad says. I dismiss it. Who knows. Who cares.

21. I intern at a paper, where I talk about growing up in New York City and scoring in the top percentile of some standardized test (the reading portion, of course. My math was and always will be terrible). A staff photographer, a white dude in his 40s, surmises it’s probably because New York standards weren’t that challenging.

23. After interning at a paper for several months, eating ramen and developing a potassium deficiency while making minimum wage, I get hired as a full-time reporter at a time when few papers are hiring, much less hiring people like me. But not before one of the editors of a mostly white, Southern-born and bred newsroom asks, “Do you have trouble making friends?” When another staffer brings around her adopted Asian baby, she points to me and says, “Look. Sister.”

25-28. After getting laid off by the paper during The Great Recession, I move to New York jobless with less than $4,000 in the bank. I get a journalism job at a time when few people in journalism (or anywhere for that matter) are hiring, like, at. All. I kick ass, take names. I eventually get bored of struggling to buy groceries while paying rent (because journalism, am I right?) and decide to go back to school.

27. I ask a person of some authority from a former life for a letter of recommendation to a grad program. “This program is very hard to get into, you know,” he tells me in a way that means I shouldn’t bother. He drags his feet writing this letter, and when he does, a white girl’s name appears where mine should be. I get in anyway.

28-30. In grad school, professors joke about whether I can speak English. The class laughs. Many of them come from places that probably also waved Confederate flags at football games.

30. I graduate from grad school. I move back to New York. I freelance in a field where most writers are white dudes. I get paid an absurd amount of money to make puns.

31. A white dude of some authority, after barely having worked with me, says, “You don’t have to be the most talented person in the room as long as you show much enthusiasm and hard work. You could take out the trash at a place you really like to show your dedication, like I did.” He doesn’t seem to understand that if I took out the trash at a place where most people looked like him, they would just assume I really was the maid.

31. As Franco and I celebrate my new gig, a woman I barely know turns to me and says, “Now it’s your turn to support him.”

31-32. I continue to live and work in New York City. I still get paid an absurd amount of money to make puns. In my spare time I write, but it’s hard because life’s busy. There are all these weddings to go to.

I want to talk about all these things, how difficult it all is but hopefully it’s all worth it, and when do you know anyway, is there, like, a sign that says, “Hey doofus, you’ve freaking made it. Have a margarita.” Is there? Is there a sign? What do you think?

But the only thing they ask is: When are you getting married?

I kiss my index finger, point to the sky and say: “Any day now.”

***

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Not following The Narrative raises eyebrows.

If you’re past 30 and unmarried, it’s not your choice.

Not having a TV means you can’t afford it.

Freelancing means you can’t get a full-time job. Because everyone wants a full-time job. Everyone.

The man makes all the funds. He’s funding you, in fact. Never mind that you once lived independently in NYC before there was even a hint of you two ever dating. You are subservient.

Most importantly, you envy the people of The Narrative. They are the lucky ones. And one day, if you’re very lucky, you too will be one of them.

***

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According to The Narrative, success is defined by the paper you sign, the offspring you produce, and the fancy things your fancy job affords.

Nothing else matters.

Usually I find it best not to refute it. It comforts people. They’ll think what they want to think anyway.

But I’m finding that staying quiet is even worse than taking a stand on anything, no matter how dumb or erroneous. It too perpetuates lies, misinformation, and cowardice, and even elects buffoons—just without the conviction.

So this year I’m taking a stand, dagnabbit. Because, while I may not have control over how people will interpret the truth, the lack of diversity in creative fields, nor the median age of every newlywed in the world, I still can control how I present my truth.

In fact, my wish for 2017 is for everyone to be so bold as to start or keep pursuing their alternate narratives, and dare speak of them at family gatherings, friendly reunions, and random hookups with their most favorite bar persons, if that’s what they’re into, regardless of anyone’s fragile eyebrows.

I’ll go first:

I’m a writer in New York City. Sometimes I go weeks without a paycheck, but I’m an excellent saver. In my spare time, I travel not nearly enough and draw and play the ukulele because like me, it is very small. I live in sin with my boyfriend whom I love very much—with much gusto, some might say. We share a small apartment in Queens with not a lot of fancy things, because that’s how we like it. We may or may not get married one day.

We consider ourselves very lucky.

The Days So Far

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Been going through the archives and decided to share a few pictures from the last couple of months. No cohesive theme here. Just random moments.

I’ve been capturing things a bit differently now that Instagram has become my default channel. But this is still my favorite space for posting pictures.

It’s a lot quieter.

Which means, fewer people see what I post.

Which means, I feel more free.

Which means, this is really how I take pictures.

Funny how that works.

Let’s do dis.

IMG_6409 (1)Quite proud of this rug and its dust bunny friends.

IMG_6463One night Franco and I watched these guys change this sign to an identical, much cleaner sign. We were on our way to a distant bar in Brooklyn late one night to pick up the credit card I’d left behind a few days before (yes, I’m an adult). It was an hourlong slog. When we got there, the place was closed.

IMG_6476Whenever possible.

IMG_6541My super glamorous studio. See that mic stand over there? Swivels 360 degrees to and from your mouth. Patent pending.

IMG_6584A friend and I stumbled upon this cute little park right after this asinine dialogue courtesy of me:

Friend: What’s this?
Me: Ugh. Probably one of those rich-people parks you need a key to get into.
Nice old lady holding open the gate on her way out: Come right in, you cynical asshole.

Then we got chased by a chicken. It was glorious.

IMG_6609One day I dug up my cheapo watercoloring set that I’d bought about seven years ago and completely failed at but still lugged around through my many, many moves. I learned that when you’re bad at colors and coloring, you can get away with picking and choosing what to color.

IMG_6614Office permapup. Fully grown and pocket-sized. Want.

IMG_6699This is how Franco watches sports. You might think it’s really awkward to have a big ol’ window with no curtains. You would be right. But… we’re too lazy to ask the landlord if we can drill holes, so fish tank living room featuring a singing-dancing duo it is. You’re welcome, neighbors.

IMG_6762One of the first nice days of the year we decided to hang at Central Park at the last minute. That blanket is actually a plastic tablecloth from the dollar store.

IMG_6773A book about the joys of spinsterhood. Franco gets nervous whenever I read it around him.

IMG_6781Times Square After Midnight, one of my fave places in the city.

IMG_6785Another creep session. These guys had a synchronized routine. They marched to a spot, lifted some things, hammered some other things, and did it all over again.

IMG_6825Pretending to read the Times, but really we’re about to watch “Gossip Girl” while lunching.

IMG_6827One of those perfect days in the neighborhood.

IMG_6932Best wings in the biz and nicest people ever.

And with that,
~20 pics down, thousands more to go.
Until next time, friends.

A Mosh Pit Full of Fist Pumps Episode II

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2015 was such a whirlwind. A blur. A ride. An adventure. A spectacle. A blast. A rollercoaster. A peanut.

Crap, I lost it. Let’s just say, a lot of stuff happened.

In many ways it felt like I was wandering aimlessly on this new writing path. Last I wrote about it, I oh so dramatically outlined my reasons for peace-ing out on journalism (On a scale of 1-10 in breakups, I’d give it a 55. Necessary, sure, but awful as fuck. I enjoyed writing for newspapers for a time but didn’t quite have the temperament for the daily 300-word regurgitation of things you can Google elsewhere. Even as a reader, I much prefer longer narratives and pieces that take months and months to write. But I’d do it all over again, layoff and financial destitution and all. It was like being in a time capsule—a writing bootcamp that future generations won’t get to experience. Suck it, babies).

Unlike the well-worn and fading path of daily newspapering, this new one is much more nebulous.

And in 2015, it showed.

I was all over the place.

Chronologically,

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JAN:

I left a contract job in NYC so I could intern at a cool ad agency in Minneapolis for a couple months. Steeped in great copywriting tradition, this place was like rubbing shoulders with the ghosts of the greats and the rockstars of the current. I also got to see what an agency’s like when it debuts an ad baby on the night of the Holy Grail of admaking—the Super Bowl.

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MARCH:

I got back to New York, probably more unsure than ever of where to go next. Instead of immediately lining up an ad gig, I decided to use my savings to hole up and start drawing. And I kept drawing (more on that later).

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JUNE:

With a couple dozen comic strips under my belt and a revamped portfolio incorporating my doodles, it was time to look for another gig. I soon was faced with two choices: a stable position in Manhattan calling for a very specific skillset or a contract one in Jersey calling for anything and everything that was 1.5 hours by train and train and bus. I took the one in Jersey.

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SEPT:

Franco and I moved into our own space. One word: liberating. Hence, this current spate of posts.

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OCT:

When summer ended, so did the Jersey gig. Days into yet another stretch of holing up and drawing, I got a call for a monthlong project in Pittsburgh. (Pittsburgh, by the way, is an awesome town. In another lifetime in another universe, I would have loved it.)

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NOV/DEC:

Back in NYC, I closed out the year with another contract job in Manhattan. Because. Bookends.

***

Looking back now, I see there was one constant: experimentation.

Different ads and clients and cities and agencies and people—I wanted to try them all.

All throughout, I still wrote side projects for myself. Not in this space, because for a while I felt like everything I wanted to share didn’t belong here. They were meant to be short stories, maybe, or diary comics, or shitty tumblr posts or some other form I don’t really know yet.

I’ve grown more patient with them.

2015 made my writing goals much clearer. I’d share what they are but this space is much better in hindsight.

Because

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But I can speak in generalities.

I’ve found that to grow as a writer, you  have to grow as a human. That may include admitting things about yourself you may not like, purging a lot of things that are bad for you, and not being afraid of the changes you need to make to get to where you want to be. Just like anything in life, things may be crap for a while but time has a way of ironing things out.

I’ve found that just because you’re growing in a certain direction doesn’t mean the people you know are going to go with you. And that’s OK. Some people are right for us in spurts, not eternity.

In the same vein, pursuing your own path, especially one that doesn’t quite jibe with the status quo, can be quite lonely. It’s why surrounding yourself with awesome people isn’t just important—it’s pretty damn necessary. And because forging real bonds takes a lot of time and energy, we must be very cognizant of who we give that time and energy to.

Finally, #LIVINGTHEDREAM can change as you change. This time 10 years ago, I was a senior journalism major gearing up for a summer internship at a daily newspaper; was editing the college paper and would soon be running it by fall; and leaving it all behind by spring to live in Spain for a couple months. Shit. I was way cooler 10 years ago.

And that’s OK.

Because I didn’t know then what I know now.

That is, #LIVINGTHEDREAM may at times look a lot like wandering aimlessly, making questionable career moves, waking up in the middle of the night going: What the fuck am I doing? It’s talking to people about your dreams about writing and being flat out told: HA. So you want to be a writer? Not if you don’t write in a certain manner at this kind of place, slaving away every night and weekend FOR ALL OF ETERNITY you won’t!

In spite of it all, no, in the face of it all, you keep writing. Not just writing, mind you, but writing in the kind of way that excites you and sounds like you.

Because weirdly enough, this nonlinear path actually gets you much closer to #LIVINGTHEDREAM than the one that came with all the cool, fancy titles.

In my old writing life, I put my work with the capital W ahead of everything. That was necessary for that point in my life, but now… fuck. That. I’m convinced my best writing self comes from being the best human me.

Which means being in the city I love.

With the people I love.

To do the kind of writing I love.

It took a while to get here, but man am I glad I did.

Happy New Year, friends.

New Year’s Eve, Party of Two

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I’ve had my share of extravagant New Year’s Eves.

But this year was the craziest one yet.

There was booze and wild dance moves and fisticuffs and A ROUSING GAME OF SCRABBLE.

OK fine.

Franco and I stayed in because we’re old and that’s what old people do.

And you know what? It was awesome.

All you Olds out there know what I’m talkin’ about. As for you Youths, stay wild. Wear warm undies.

IMG_0877Franco wanted to try out the new cocktail toolset his brother and sister-in-law got us for Christmas. We got the table ready for some serious mixing.

IMG_0886Our go-tos:

IMG_0887IMG_0890IMG_0894IMG_0895IMG_0898IMG_0900IMG_0902IMG_0910Dirrrrrrty martinis!

IMG_0917IMG_0918IMG_0919IMG_0923IMG_0932And Manhattans.
Dental toothpicks included.

IMG_0945For dinner, we made another go-to:

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FANCY PASTA FROM A BOX!

IMG_0960IMG_0967IMG_0970IMG_0976IMG_0979With sauce fresh from the jar straight to our mouths.

IMG_0982Let’s get the party started, shall we?
By the way, why yes that’s an airbed in our living room. We had guests a couple weeks back and kind of just never put it away. Because, AMAZING.

IMG_0987Cracked open the Scrabble set also gifted by Franco’s brother and sister-and-law. It’s like they know us really well or something.

IMG_0995Though we’d played with Scrabble sets as kids, we’d never played a real game before. Shocker, I know.

IMG_1006Modeling our new toy, totally aware of just how fucking cutthroat we, er, I would soon become.

IMG_1013With tunes from the record player I got Franco for Christmas. My dad, by the way, was in awe of this thing. When Franco unwrapped it on Christmas, my dad went from shock (“They still make those?”) to skepticism (“That won’t work!”) to straight up kneeling on the floor to take out the manual from the box before Franco could even get to it. His verdict? “Sounds better than the one I had.”

IMG_1020Round Two.

IMG_1022IMG_1030Don’t let this calm scene fool you. At one point we had to stop the game after I lost my shit when Franco used the tiles I was gunning for. He said something about “You’re too competitive why can’t we just play a fun game of Scrabble wah wah wah.” Rude.

IMG_1034IMG_1046Times Square countdown times.

IMG_1051HAPPY NEW YEAR!!!!
Franco ended up winning 299 to 247.
Then he won 267 to 237.
After we both studied some two-letter words he again won 312 to 280.
Yes, we’re obsessed. And yes, I’m pissed. One day I’ll prevail.

IMG_1053IMG_1058Lauryn Hill sounds great as ever on vinyl. The only lame part is this version doesn’t have the hidden tracks. I mean, that was only like 90% of why we got it but whatever. Still good.

IMG_1061IMG_1062Texting loved ones is soooo hard.

IMG_1066The aftermath.

Pork Chops on Christmas

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Christmas came and went.

We ate deep-fried greasy everything and saw just how far we could sink into our respective couches. We stared or didn’t stare at the TV. At dinner we sat around the table fact-checking each other’s know-it-all claims about something or other, each refusing to give in because we were all equally right.

Then it happened.

It began just as any of my dad’s depressing-to-us-but-normal-to-him-tales typically do—out of context.

Just what we were laughing and chatting about I can’t remember. A mispronounced word perhaps? An errant booger?

Whatever it was, it went a little something like this:

Me: Pork chops, am I right? Man, do I love me some pork chops!

Dad: Speaking of pork chops… it was 1992, and it was time to enroll you three into your first American school.

[My sister, brother and I exchanged knowing looks, “Here he goes again.” Franco, an experienced awkward-moment provocateur, perked up.]

Dad: We’d arrived in the US just months before. Your mom and I decided to take you to a private Catholic school a couple blocks from our apartment. I remember talking to you in the principal’s office in Tagalog, and the lady at the front desk—

Older Sister: She was mean!

Me: What did she look like again?

Older Sister: A mean old lady!

Dad: She snapped at us and said, “We speak English here.”

[This led to my parents telling us to speak English at home so we could get rid of our accents as well as minimize the inevitable discrimination we’d experience elsewhere. This also led to us losing fluency in our native tongue… whoops.]

Me: I remember leaning on her desk as a little 8-year-old, 3-foot-nothing, and she said, “Before I begin, how about no elbows on my desk?” And I was like, bitch please….

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[Author’s note: That may or may not have happened.]

Dad: All the immigrants they’d previously admitted had trouble catching up and had to take remedial courses. The school even suggested we enroll you in public school instead. Imagine that, public school!

[Lest you think my dad was some kind of elitist snoot, remember that this was early ’90s NYC in Da Boogie Down Bronx. We eventually made friends with people who did go to public school, but they were noticeably less, um, geeky and lame than we were. In short, we totes would have gotten our faces punched.]

Dad: I was like, Nah, homies. I want them to go to school here. The school said, “They should take ESL (English As a Second Language) classes first.” They were held in these trailers parked in front of the school.

I told them you all could speak English! So you took a test to prove it. Then, when you passed, they came to me with another problem: “They’re older than the kids in their grade! They need to be in their proper age group, but I don’t think they’re ready for that.” So I told them, “Well, I suppose they could take summer school if they end up struggling.” The school begrudgingly let you three take an assessment quiz.

Older Sister: I remember it being really simple. They asked us to spell words like “cat” and “dog.”

Me: Meanwhile, in the Philippines, I was already spelling four-syllable words.

[Author’s Note: bowdown.gif]

Dad: Of course this was all reflected in your test scores, but the school came back and said, “We have another problem.”

“What now?” I said.

“Well,” they said, “it seems they’re actually quite advanced for their grade level. Would you  mind if they skipped a grade?”

“Wonderful,” I said. Then I thought, “What about letting them skip two grade levels?”

“Mr. Bolipata,” they said. “Now you’re pushing it.”

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***

Epilogue:

My mom, wanting to show up our doubters, incentivized us by promising to shower us with presents should we get first honors. This method proved way too effective—we asked for TVs, our first desktop computer and dial-up internet, a dedicated phone line, film cameras, video cameras, books. My mom soon dreaded report-card season, while the nerd monsters she’d created grew into even bigger nerd monsters.