Soul Food for Introverts

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I am an introvert. I identify as an INFP. Looking back, I have always been introverted since I was a kid. My love for alone time, getting lost in a book and with my own runaway thoughts, plus moments of melancholy would have clued me in had I known and understood what introversion was before.

But there were times during my growing up years that I got lost. In my desire to belong and be just like everyone else, I second-guessed myself. I worked so hard to keep up with my peers, and growing up in an exclusive all-girls school just reinforced the pressure to go with the flow and be in with the majority.

If I were suddenly face-to-face with my acne and insecurity-riddled 13-year-old self, I’d tell her it’s going to be okay. That all she’ll need to make it in life is to be true to her self even if the consequences are losing friends, being betrayed, getting hurt and disappointed, learning lessons the hard way. I’d tell her writing and reading more would be her salvation. That humor, true friends, and the inescapable longing to experience being infinite, being in the here and now, will always keep her going.

And dear reader, if you are a fellow introvert needing a little bit of comfort and validation, know that you are awesome the way you are. Know that you are not alone. Know that someone understands exactly how you feel, knows what you’re going through, would hit like in a heartbeat if you post about the intricacies of your introvertedness on social media. We may be the minority, and our comrades may be hard to find especially in the midst of the daily grind, but we’re scattered everywhere, basking in our own pockets of peace and quiet whenever and wherever we do get them.

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Chasing the light

solitary-light-chaserYou can never know with finality how your life is going to be like. How it pans out through the years, what you’re given to deal with. You can never truly know if you’ll ever meet the love of your life, get that toe-curling kiss you’ve dreamed of since your teenage crush on Daniel Day-Lewis, make love with the windows open like there’s no tomorrow, get married in a small quiet chapel on the highlands, raise children with your lioness courage and his precious heart. You grew up with your head stuffed with romantic bollocks but you know better now. You’re a realist romantic.

You’ll never know if you’d get another shot at studying and mastering something you should’ve chosen when you were filling out college application papers, make a living out of your passion when they tell you that’s not a real job, do work that you love, be your own boss and not tie yourself down until retirement years to a life of modern serfdom and secret despair.

You’ll never know if you’d get to travel one enchanting place at a time, meet strangers whose kindness will be etched in memory, bask in solitude and togetherness, discover old things new to you, get lost and secretly dance a jig because more than anything you love finding your own way to your destination and back home again.

You’ll never know if you’d get to read all those books in your list and your library in your lifetime, get to write every story inside you, every idea that pops into your head while in the shower, sweeping, cooking, doing laundry, all the while believing that yes, you are a writer and your words have worth.

You’ll never know if you’ll win the lottery and be stinking rich you can finally put up more public parks, museums, and libraries in your city, rebuild the crumbling local post office in this godforsaken country run over by bullies, pot bellies, and misogynists who call themselves public servants.

You’ll never know if you’d still have your one true friend with you in the next ten years, if you’d still have her unconditional love and support through all your “reality bites” moments. But one thing is for sure. You still exist. You are here right now–mind, body, and soul. You can choose to look at what you’ve got and find happiness with your blessings, to forgive, to make it to the deadline so you can pay the damn bills, to laugh off mishaps and negative people, to bake your favorite shortbread cookies and savor it like you would a rare orgasm, to write another fledgeling story in your head, to love despite all past disappointments and hurts, to smile at random strangers again. If tomorrow comes, and thank God when it does, you have another day to live life on your own terms.

 

 

Be a sweetheart to yourself

I have been on a writing slump lately, and I know exactly why. The mind is such a terrible thing sometimes especially when it latches onto self-destructive mode with thoughts like, “I could never be as good of a writer as J.K. Rowling, Emily Dickinson, Natalie Goldberg, or this random cool lady whose blog I’m obsessively stalking right now. When I go down that rabbit hole of self-doubt, the more I feel inadequate and insignificant as a writer. My voice is but a whisper amongst the chorus of bold and brilliant voices.

But when you fall, you’ll reach the bottom eventually and when you do, the instinct to pick yourself up and climb back to the light again to get yourself out of the pity hole you’ve gotten yourself into is stronger than any pull to stay huddled in the dark and host your own pity party. Pity parties are no fun. I’d rather break my back in multiple escape attempts to see and feel the light again than channel Bridget Jones and lip synch “All By Myself” at a pity party.

This is when I recover from writer’s amnesia and remember that I am not J.K. Rowling, Emily Dickinson, or Natalie Goldberg. I am Lea. I am myself. I am a writer. I am a writer because I write and will not do or be anything else. I am a writer because as cheesy as it sounds, I have given my heart and soul into the world of words. I am a writer because I can feel it in my bones. If Ladybird gave herself her own name and speaks of it with pride and dripping with juvenile defiance, I give myself the title of writer and own my words–all of it. The beautiful and the ugly, the subtle and deliberate, the naive and risqué, the sensual and the crazed.

I have my own unique voice. It doesn’t sound exactly like anyone else, and nobody else sounds exactly like me. I will keep on writing, swimming in the sea of all these writers’ voices whom I admire and feel kindred connections. Their voices will buoy me up to the surface and I’ll be Venus on a clam shell riding the waves, my words taking off on their own. I won’t look even a hint of similar, but I’ll feel that way.

Not everything I write will captivate, be killed with praises, or get likes. Some won’t sit well with hardened sensibilities and versions of me they’ve been intimate with. And a massive chunk won’t even see the light of day, an iceberg of words hidden beneath the water. But none of that matters just as long as I still have the yearning to write. I don’t need an audience to write. I write for myself first, for my soul to continue to thrive. And finally, I can be kinder to myself in a world where an artist’s worth is constantly measured and judged. I can be my own sweetheart.

The Language of Thorns: Tales for Women Brave Enough to Stir the Pot

The Language of Thorns_The Witch of Duva cover

(Warning: A few spoilers ahead.)

I have a confession to make. I am in my 30s and I still read fairy tales. The only difference is that I’ve moved on from my Hans Christian Andersen, Andrew Lang, and The Brothers Grimm collections to darker, more complex, and mature re-tellings of classic fairy tales, like Angela Carter’s fairy tales. Call it fairy tales for adults, if you like.

I am drawn to fairy tales because they’re like a complete, satisfying meal that keeps you full for hours–there’s action, romance, comedy, drama, lots of gore (looking at you, Brothers Grimm!), and neatly tied-up endings. I could devour them in small doses. My fascination especially for the morbid tales of The Brothers Grimm since I was a kid probably peeled away delicate sensibilities (if ever I had them at all in the first place) and prepared me for the darker reads I’ve encountered in my adulthood.

I am constantly on the look-out for my next fairy tale fix, so when I first saw The Language of Thorns on Amazon and then found it on National Bookstore, I bought it without hesitation. It was the day after my birthday too, and I felt like I deserve it because I haven’t bought myself anything for my birthday (because I promised myself no more new books until I’ve read and let go at least 10 from my library, which is a promise now broken), so it was my post-birthday birthday gift to myself…sort of. I digress.

Anyway, if you like dark fairy tales, folk tales, and mythology fashioned with unexpected twists, lush storytelling, and a feminist flavor, I think it’s safe to say you will like The Language of Thorns. It’s a collection of six stand-alone short stories set in The Grishaverse. I’ll admit that I haven’t read any book in this series yet, but you definitely don’t need to have read The Grishaverse books beforehand to appreciate The Language of Thorns. While I only have 3 favorite stories among the 6, there isn’t a story that I strongly disliked. Each has its own merit and is cleverly crafted.

It’s a beautiful book inside and out. The cover art by Natalie Sousa and Ellen Duda is gorgeous. The illustrations by Sara Kipin are intricate and enhance the reading experience. And if you don’t like all six stories, at least a few of them will stand out for you. Here’s what I think of them.

Ayama and the Thorn Wood

“She had not been much to look at in her youth, and she knew well that only courage is required for an adventure.”

I call Ayama and the Thorn Wood a halo-halo tale. (If you don’t know what a halo-halo is, I feel sorry for you. You’re missing out on one of the most brilliant human creations.) Halo-halo because it has combined elements of familiar fairy tales and myths: a little bit of Cinderella mixed in with A Thousand and One Nights, a generous sprinkling of Beauty & the Beast (and even Shrek), plus a dash of Greek mythology for good measure. I love Beauty & the Beast, Greek myths, and a brave Scheherazade-like storyteller, so I was excited to delve into this. I was not disappointed. It’s probably the only story in the book with a highly satisfying ending for the heroine. Unexpected, but still satisfying.

I am going to take a page from Ayama’s book and “speak truth” especially when it comes to my writing. Even when the truth hurts.

The Too-Clever Fox

“The trap is loneliness, and none of us escapes it. Not even me.” 

This wasn’t one of my favorites, but it doesn’t mean that this was a subpar story. Quite the opposite, in fact. It is a fable, and like all fables, has a moral at the end. Though in my opinion, I would rather call it an insight or a point of awareness instead of a moral.

The Too-Clever Fox kept me hooked until the end, and like the titular fox in the story, I was caught unawares, thinking that the villain was the obvious and expected one when it wasn’t. What I like about it is the deception and how it flipped ingrained expectations of how men and women are portrayed in traditional stories. I admit that I was stumped and guilty of conventional perceptions, which I realize is a good thing because now that I am aware of it, I can choose to be more open.

And what was this insight/point of awareness I got in the end? It’s a reaffirmation that women are anything but predictable. That men do not have the monopoly on being Machiavellian. Women can be unapologetic and have mercurial hearts too. And that being so does not automatically make us “evil” because it can be a part our nature too.

The Witch of Duva

“There was a time when the woods near Duva ate girls.”

The Witch of Duva is my favorite of all 6 tales. At first read, it seems like a spin on the classic Hansel and Gretel fairy tale, which I’m sure most of us are familiar with. With that thought in mind, I was lulled into a false sense of security that this story will have a saccharine ending–the wicked witch will die, Nadya (Gretel) will get back home to her dear dad, whole and uneaten, father and daughter will be happy and daughter will forget that her father was a wuss who couldn’t stand up to the stepmother’s cruel treatment of her, and the stepmother will just have to deal with this happy reunion unfortunately. But no. Instead, this is the kind of story that makes me marvel at the prowess of Leigh Bardugo as a storyteller because of its fearlessness in portraying a kind of monster we have all heard of in the modern world–a serial killer. (Isn’t it obvious I’ve watched too many CSI & Criminal Minds episodes in my lifetime?)

Yes, it is dark and morbid, and some might think Bardugo has no business at all tackling such dark, almost taboo subject matter in a “fairy tale” package. But I was blown away by the unmasking of the real monster. This is where the story is at its scariest for me because the monster is so unexpected, and because it is the stuff some real life abduction, abuse, and assault stories are made of. And on that note, I am not gonna say anything more for fear of spoiling the reveal. It is a story best plumbed on your own, but it is not for the faint of heart. You’ve been warned.

Little Knife

“Papa,” Yeva said to the duke, desperate to stand beneath an open sky again. “Why must I be the one to hide?”

Again, this was not a favorite with me, although I think the ending was inevitable and just right. It feels like an allegory type of story that got a little bit preachy at the end. The flow of the story is not as compelling as the others, but the subtle feminist undertone is a good thing, probably the only thing that redeemed this story for me. A woman who frees herself from a world that holds her back, and chooses to forge her own fate instead of surrendering her individuality, independence, and voice to the patriarchal system will always be a redeeming factor in my book.

I like that the raging river is female, having the power to support life or destroy it. It reminded me of the Hindu goddess Shiva, believed to have the power to create, preserve, destroy, and transform. And it is the river that paved the way for Yeva to finally find her voice and the courage to leave her prison and rebuild her own life after the chaos wrought.

The Soldier Prince

“I know who I am without anyone there to tell me.”

I read somewhere that The Velveteen Rabbit was one of Bardugo’s influences in writing this story. I haven’t read that yet, so I only recognized hints of The Nutcracker and Pinocchio. From the start, I can tell this wasn’t going to be a feel-good tale with a satisfying ending. It seems as if that’s a running theme with these stories.

The are many flawed and unlikable characters in The Soldier Prince, who all want their own desires and wants fulfilled. Things don’t go so well for them, and they all have to deal with it, but that only makes them more human. The ending though, is like a frustrating B-horror movie ending, where the once-defeated evil entity is still lurking in the corner, biding its time to wreak havoc again. The evil survives.

It is not one of my favorites, but I give it points for being unpredictable, and daring to include sexual diversity.

When Water Sang Fire

“Magic doesn’t require beauty,” she said. “Easy magic is pretty. Great magic asks that you trouble the waters. It requires a disruption, something new.”

This, for me, is the crown jewel of this collection, the pièce de résistance. When Water Sang Fire is written more like an origin story of Ursula in The Little Mermaid, than a rehash of The Little Mermaid story.

This is the piece that Bardugo has invested the most on character-building and world-building, and it paid off. It is also the longest, most emotionally-charged story in the collection.

Never did I imagine that I would be sympathetic to a character that has been originally written as a ruthless villain. You might think she’s all “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” but it’s more than that. Her very dignity has been trampled on, and sometimes when you’re at your lowest, the more desperate you get to do anything to survive.

When Water Sang Fire explores the goodness and possibilities that come from a selfless, loving heart, and also its flip side–the darkness that consumes and destroys when love has been betrayed and bartered for something less. Until then when revenge has been wrought, would your heart decompress and you can breathe easy again. This is a story that will take you through turbulent waters. I still find myself wondering what Ulla could be up to after this tale ended. It seems like she will live on after every one else has been forgotten.

~~~

It is in peeling away the layers and revealing the inner workings of female characters that Bardugo shines. In showing women who are complex, mercurial, and courageous under terrible circumstances, she has spoken truth. That women brave enough to stir the pot and forge their own fates will be rewarded, in due time, not exactly with what it is they want, but what they need in order to thrive.

The tales in The Language of Thorns are not paltry re-tellings of well-known fairy tales. Nor are they for those looking to be satisfied with a safe “all is well” ending. They are original tales with their own powerful force and seductive voice. They will take you through the heart of the dark, forbidden woods where you will have to fend for yourself and emerge a changeling. These stories will stay with me for years to come. And this book is a treasure in my library.

Thank you, Leigh Bardugo. I hope when my time comes, I can stir the pot.

Title: The Language of Thorns

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Imprint (2017)

F-bombing in style

I just binge-watched (and finished) The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel last weekend. It’s a mind-blowing show. For the first time since Gilmore Girls, finally, I have a new Amy Sherman-Palladino show to watch that’s original, witty, and exciting every time. They deserve their Golden Globe and Critics Choice wins. But more on what I love about this show later.

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For now I want to talk about wanting to talk like Mrs. Maisel. Not the posh, 1950s New York slang that comes out of Rachel Brosnahan’s pretty mouth, and oh, what a pretty mouth it is. But it’s not that either. I’m talking about explosive expletives here. The f-word set out like a bomb on an unsuspecting audience.

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But who am I kidding? I’m not really like that. I couldn’t even speak without shaking like a leaf in public. But I think it’d be handy to talk like that for intimidation purposes like telling off the rude busybody who cut through my line on election day, or to ward off suspected would-be muggers in the UV Express on my way home. That would’ve been really useful, but might not be effective, given that swearing in Tagalog has more impact on ordinary commuters and muggers alike where I’m from.

At the moment, expletives are reserved when talking to myself or having a conversation in my head that goes like, “So, do I give an effing f— about what this person really thinks of me? No? Then I’ll just stay at home and read a book instead, or watch North and South on YouTube for the tenth time. Problem solved and crisis averted”.

So, yeah, I’m good with it. At not talking in expletives. I’ll leave the actual f-bombing to Mrs. Maisel instead. She’s the only one I know who can insert the f-word in every sentence that comes out of her mouth and still look classy.

Poetry is for you

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Poems are made for outsiders,

foreigners in their own skin

looking for a home

strangers from the outside

looking in.

Poems are for the heartbroken,

drunk on love

full of longing

the disappointed, those still

waiting for their time.

Poems are for dreamers,

digging for jewels within

travelers to their inner worlds,

chasers of the light

writing their way to clarity.

Poem to Eros is published!

One of five poems I submitted got published on the erotic poetry anthology of NY Literary Mag. It feels great and inspiring seeing my words and name in print.

I hope this is only the beginning of more writing jewels to share with the world. Cheers, and thank you, Muse!

Poem to Eros in NY Lit Mag FLAMES Poetry Contest

Get the digital poetry magazine issue on Amazon Kindle. Or read it for free on Issuu or Scribd.