Petite Big Love

I didn’t take nap time seriously when I was a kid. I pretended to nap as I planned my escape with my eyes closed. When the coast was clear, I’d get up as quietly as a movie spy and make my way to my Legos or continue my adventures with the current book I was reading. When I was at Nanang’s, I’d check if any other cousin was awake who I could turn into my partner in crime. Since we knew Nanang was in nap mode and couldn’t hear well, and we had no one else at home to answer to, we’d sneak out the kitchen door (always careful to cushion it back into place to avoid alerting anyone of our escape) and into freedom, off exploring secret short cuts, picking siniguelas from the tree, knocking on Auntie Emmy’s door to buy ice candy or halo-halo and see if cousin Jam is up for playing taguan.

Photo credit: A.J.L. (2017)

I grew up hearing jokes about how I didn’t grow tall because “hindi matakaw sa tulog” or “kulang sa siesta”. But I never consciously thought of being limited by my size. If anything, it only fired me up to be larger than life, to go beyond people telling me that I’m too small–I couldn’t be this, I couldn’t do that–and just think of solutions to get what I wanted to reach both literally and figuratively. When I needed to get something from a shelf that was out of my reach, no biggie. I’d just pull out the humble wooden bangko dad made especially for me, or any chair I could stand on, and go for it. I wasn’t afraid to climb solid furniture and countertops either when no one else was around. When my mom caught me standing on my tiptoes on the kitchen counter one time, about to grab something from the cupboard even she couldn’t get to, she freaked out and shouted at me, “Ay, bumaba ka diyan!” Dangerous yes, but I was a stubbornly independent kid who insisted on doing things for herself. A tall friend needs a hug? Sure–I’d just get on my tippy-toes, hold it, and stretch my arms out to them. Height was never an issue when things seemingly out of my reach became challenges both tempting and fascinating for me.

When teachers would ask us to line up shortest to tallest, I automatically assumed the front of the line. In class and photos, I was always in the front row. There was a comfort in knowing I had a fixed spot like a star–something I could rely on that I was always sure of–and embracing it. From that constant spot, I reached for the stars in my own way.

Now, I’m what’s considered as petite. It’s a nicer way of saying tiny. And it’s just a label. It doesn’t define me nor diminish my worth. I’ve learned along the way the joys and surprises of being open to discovering a person’s infinite beauty–of going beyond the externals to see who they are inside once you get to know them, and the depths they can achieve. When overcoming doubts and perceived limitations, I summon the courage to go back to that fixed spot where I have always known and felt that I love with a huge heart and a larger than life spirit that continues to shine amongst the stars.

Working with shadows to find the light

There was a time when I was a lost follower to the point that I got comfortable drowning in a sea of expectations and voices other than my own. Those expectations, wants, and desires were like separate pieces of Play-Doh figures I mashed up all together into a single round of marbled clay–I couldn’t point out anymore which bits came from me, from parents, from friends and peers, from society. I wanted to do things that impress and be someone accepted and welcomed by everyone.

Finding myself again and reclaiming my wholeness meant unfollowing some and withdrawing from participating, and I would do it all over again even if it means I won’t be looked at and treated the same way again, even if it means some spaces will be awkward and unwelcoming indefinitely. Being true to myself also means honoring the need to remove myself from spaces where I don’t feel respected and safe. Boundaries work to shield you from taking in more of anything that’s harmful to your health. Setting boundaries is a necessary act of love. I don’t need to try to immerse myself in an environment where fitting in means stifling my light and packing my fairy wings away in a dustbag. I don’t need to stay amongst those who don’t honor my authenticity. I am treading paths not everyone would dare stray into, exploring detours meant only for me even if I wanted a bit of company. I do not expect everyone around me to understand, to exchange the same courtesy of respect I hold for them despite the differences. Some people fear what it is they don’t understand, anything that doesn’t fit into their scope of rationality. And if they don’t consciously make the effort to go beyond the walls of fear, how would they know to treat the unknown with kindness and compassion? It’s not my job to make people understand. But it is my responsibility to continue to honor my authenticity, to be intimate with my shadows to understand how I can continue to cultivate my light. To explore my own answers to questions and sometimes, to let the questions unravel on their own.✨

Ultimately, it is also my responsibility to love myself unconditionally, radically, through my journey with all of its detours and discoveries, triumphs and challenges. 💖

Priestess

The crickets and the clock and the humming of the fan cannot compete with the crashing waves. I appeal instead to bleeding guitars, hoping to ease my distress. I feel like dancing under a babaylan moon, going back to my ancient roots. I am Eve who took the apple and finally knew. 🍎

September

I’ve been wanting to dance lately, mostly in my room and whenever I bake late at night and have the kitchen and living room all to myself. Heaven for an introvert who hasn’t had a day alone at home in over a year. I play my “Happy Day Playlist” and somehow, my cakes turn out the best ever when I dance (and sing) while baking. No kidding.

But it’s not rocket science. Dancing is one of those things that makes me happy and instantly raises my vibration. And when good vibes + good juju abound, anything is possible. My instant happy dance song is “September” by Earth, Wind & Fire. Whenever it’s on, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing (even when I’m in the middle of a grocery run), I can’t help but bop my head, tap my feet, and sway my hips–trying to be a bit discreet at the same time, to contain the rhythm and joy bubbling from within, but it never lasts long. It is pure electric energy that needs to be expressed in movement.

September always unlocks happy memories. The best one in 1999, the last year of my golden ’90s childhood–hearing this song being played over and over again from a boombox in the school podium, juniors in their P.E. class dancing the swing. I was a freshman passing by, and to me, they looked like they were all having fun. I wanted to dance too, and not just any dance. I wanted to dance the swing to September. When I heard their music play, I would pull a friend aside and tell her, “Tara, sayaw tayo!” Kudos to her for indulging me even though we looked clumsy mimicking the steps. I was always the more enthusiastic one. I remember being so excited for the time to come when I can finally learn the swing. But third year came and we got folk dance instead. My group got Chinese fan dance. As with everything I did back then, I gave it my best–all-smiles in my red cheongsam top, waving my fan to a rhythm in foreign language. But the truth was, I was disappointed I didn’t get to dance what I wanted.

Then college came and on the very first term as a freshman, I got Social Dance for my P.E. class. We didn’t just learn how to dance the swing, we got the whole package–boogie, cha-cha, waltz. It was a wish fulfillment for this frustrated dancer. We didn’t dance to September, but we did to another Disco Fiasco song on my playlist–Alicia Bridges’ “I Love the Nightlife”. I was secretly happy I wasn’t partnered with any of the guys in class because my dance partner was just what I needed. She was sweet and patient and made me feel at ease. She never laughed or got annoyed at me when I made mistakes or couldn’t keep up. Her palms weren’t sweaty. And most important of all, we were almost the same height. We didn’t have to worry about adjusting to each other’s level. I felt safe to feel the rhythm and just dance with less self-consciousness and inhibitions. I wanted to get it all right even if I didn’t look like a natural dancer, so whenever everyone else was out of the dorm or cooped up in their own rooms, I would practice by the shower rooms where the mirrors were so I could see myself dancing. It was precious alone time savoring something that made me happy.

On practical exam day, we danced an entire medley of all the dances we learned including modern, and passed with flying colors. I was never so blissfully happy getting a 4.0 in a subject that wasn’t academic. And I learned not just 1 but 4 dances! That more than made up for my junior high school self’s yearning to dance the swing to September. To this day, I still remember the basic steps. And I still dance just like that classic Billy Idol song goes…

“When there’s nothing to lose and there’s nothing to prove,
well I’m dancing with myself”

What is your happy dance song? What makes your heart want to dance–what makes you happy regardless of what everyone else says or everything else going around you? I hope you can find the time to dance–to let your heart just dance and do things that make you happy, whatever they are. 💃

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4th post in the series: Music / Film + Writing Heals 💖

Bittersweet Symphony

Life is too short to hold on to anger, regrets, and what ifs.
Life is too precious to keep your fist closed around a wounded heart.
Life is not meant to be lived in darkness and fear.
Forgiveness doesn’t taste like caramel, but it’s a bittersweet gift only you can give to yourself.
We are not gods in this world, and sometimes we forget that we cannot control every element, every outcome, every little thing we want to happen.
The best we can do is to move through life like a butterfly–kissing flowers with freedom and joy, with every ounce of delight in our being,
unburdened by desires and devoid of expectations.
Living the best way we can for now,
savoring pockets of peace and happiness, finding little things we are grateful for every day.
If there is anything to hold on to, have faith and trust that everything that has happened in your life is guiding you to flow into the river of your dreams, to move through the fog and leave the darkness behind.

Hope and love intertwined are the anchors of your soul.