I'm putting this out here, for its contents have been scuttling about in the indoors of my mind for far too long. They need airing. They need to be known and seen. Serendipities have been triggered by much less.
It's all for my art. Which in the past few days has been stirring, finally, into deep sleep. And finally rediscovering itself. And healing. And recovering hope.
Mostly I need the materials to keep on going. I'll take care of making the time.
Multiples of the same type will not be a problem because I will use them all up! Even more than one fountain pen will mean I can ink in different colours at a time, and have on hand a mobile inky palette.
I woke up from a dream with two story-lines that criss-crossed and threw me about from one to the other.
One is about a pregnant woman who was not really pregnant but who was actually a sorceress of some kind. She had a perfect husband who seemed to be enthralled by her. She was also supposed to be someone I did not get along with, since she often bullied me in small subtle ways, and often used her unsuspecting husband to do it. But one day she was suddenly friendly, and then imploring, almost begging me to help her. There was something wrong with her baby, she said. She needed me, she said. Then I found myself, her, and her husband (who at this point looked a bit like Song Seung-heon) in my old bedroom in the apartment where I grew up. She was lying on my bed, in great discomfort, yet at the same time she had shed all pretence at being a normal person and was re-arranging the room by magic -- strange artefacts appeared on the walls, my old things transformed into her things. She also bossed her husband about, who seemed to be beginning to resist her enchantment. While he still obeyed her when she was looking, he undid her orders when she was not. He had also begun to ask me about what had been happening for he could not remember much before the enchantment weakened. I told him I didn't really know, for she was cruel to me and I avoided her as much as I could, and that he had been hers for quite a while (and I refrained from saying that it was such a disappointment). Then the woman began to cry out from inside the room and we rushed in to find her stomach wide open, and instead of a baby there were small bundles of objects wrapped up in either cloth or paper and tied up with ribbons. She was trying to find something and was in despair that she could not. The objects were the spells she had cast to get her way with anything but it seemed they were not enough. She wailed, no longer concerned that we had found out what she was and what a lie she had been. The husband, meanwhile, looked for the spell that bound him to her. He unknotted the ribbons and unwrapped the spell and then he was free. The witch was beyond caring. She wasn't dying, she was simply in pain for that which she could not find. I stood there, watching her, uncertain what to do, thinking how the room could not possibly still be habitable after this, and partly wondering if the husband was now truly free and if he would remember me.
The other story is myself back in high school, except it was a distorted fantastical version of my real high school. The school was on stilts and built near the ocean. I was there as myself now, but I was also in my younger body, which meant I was at my most awkward, insecure, and unattractive. My only saving grace was my mind which then carried the experience of many years. I found myself in a history class, taught by a terror of a teacher notorious for her verbal humiliations, odd whims, and playing favourites. There was a graded recitation. She started with the first seat out front and was going with the recitation one by one. I was on the last seat at the very last row. I tried to listen to the questions and answers, hoping to get a clue on what I was supposed to know. To my utter dismay, the history she was teaching had nothing to do with history as I knew it. She was teaching some kind of alternative and obscure history of which I knew nothing about. She was speaking of names, places, and events that were unrecognisable, not to mention impossible. There was an aspect of the supernatural in her version of truths. Many of my classmates were unable to answer her correctly, and for that she scolded them loudly with the utmost denigration and insults. The girl sitting in front of me was panicking, asking me if I knew any of the answers. I told her I did not, and it irritated me that my years of experience and gained wisdom would not count here. Meanwhile, one classmate did not seem to be bothered by all this, and was sitting back on his chair on the opposite end of my row. He was a favourite, and he was exempted from the graded recitation. He looked sometimes like Tomohisa Yamashita, and sometimes like Lee Min-ho. He was not even paying attention to the class, and would occasionally step out of the classroom without asking for permission. Then my turn came, and I was asked a question about a school in the mountains. The question was something like, "What is the true name of that school?" And I said I didn't know, and braced myself for the scolding, and was also ready to answer back. But instead the teacher said, "Since you are a new transfer you are excused. But please study next time. You have to catch up or you'll get left behind. I suggest extra library hours, even on holidays." Then I was in the library, alone, in the evening, and it was beginning to feel like the beginning of a horror story so I went to the door. Then I was by the ocean, and the beach was so vast. The sky was grey and cloudy. It was not a tropical beach. Then I was in the classroom again and I could feel the teacher was starting to lose patience with me because I was not learning fast enough. I thought, wait a minute, I don't have to be here. I don't have to sit through this. So I stood up in the middle of a class project and I walked out. As soon as I stepped out of the room it was the beach, and I looked back, and that classmate who was a favourite was following me. I let him approach and he said, "I wondered how long it would take you to figure it out." And then he took my hand.
I actually have a bit of a headache, and I am feeling peculiarly tired from my sleep. I have often remembered my night dreams, and they have often flowed with a strange coherence that allowed me to record them in writing. Most of the time I get lazy and just forget them within the course of a morning. But I think I should really use them as practice for storytelling. They are also rich in creative seeds -- I have the first few chapters of a novel tucked in somewhere that came from one dream, something about a scientist who secretly transforms into a fox, and who was also secretly a lord and prince of a hidden country.
I am going to have to put in some dayjob work hours today. I have a report to finish that is due for submission by next week. I hate to cram so I have spaced the hours and periods of work across the week in the least painful way. The remaining hours of my day I will pour into reading, writing, and some experimental painting. Tomorrow is a holiday but I will still need to work, just to be on the safe side of the deadlines.
In a previous post I have written about how I had misused and abused my art in my impatience to escape certain realities of my life, and because I was expecting it to be the absolute cure-all for all the ailments of my heart and soul.
Now my art-making, and my creative journey itself, are on recovery. I have not yet gone back to painting as I used to although I have been doing small experiments, and I have been feeding on nonstop inspiration. But now that I have given it proper attention and consideration, I am aghast at the state of wear and tear on my creative spirit. (I have been writing A LOT though - stories, poems, journals - so at least that part of my creativity is safe and sustained.)
Hence my art is going into a kind of hibernation for a while, but it does not mean being inactive. It only means I won't be doing art work other than the art work that my heart tells me to. I am relieving my art work from any form of pressure to perform -- whether to sell, to deliver on paid customised pieces, to pass a gallery's criteria, or even to gain more followers on my page or website. I will go back into exploration, nurturing, and giving free rein to imagination and magic. I'll still share my process and my finished work but nothing will be for sale at the moment. (Perhaps a few selected sketchbook pieces might be uploaded in my Society6 or Redbubble to keep the shops current but otherwise, the original pieces which shall be the more important pieces of my work will remain protected from profit-related concerns for quite a while.) I am bringing back the focus on the Stories rather than the Selling.
This year I have submitted an art portfolio to two places : one is Art In The Park which had informed me that they prioritise group submissions but that they'll give my submission a look, and Prism Gallery which a friend and patron had recommended. I have little to no expectations from both, knowing the state of art politics and culture here in this country. But of course, there is always hope. I would really like an opportunity to show and share my work with more people outside of my immediate circles. But I realise that this is something that needs to ripen, and also that my vision now extends outside this country. I have plans to find ways to be visible in places like Singapore, Korea, Thailand, and Japan.
As 2016 comes to a close, the holiday season looms ahead. Everyone with anything to offer have begun to cash in on the holiday mood. While I advocate simpler living with less shopping, I am not averse to offering my artwork as a soulful option for gifting, not to mention the set of values that accompany making the choice to support independent artists or entrepreneurs over corporations and too-big businesses.
So this is my last selling hurrah before I let it go for a while. You can simply click on "SHOP" at the upper right hand corner of this site, or you can browse below for links to specific recommended items. Please feel free to share. :)
REDBUBBLE offers prints and products of my artwork. I recommend shopping her for SCARVES, DRAWSTRING BAGS, SPIRAL NOTEBOOKS, HARDCOVER JOURNALS, TRAVEL MUGS, METAL PRINTS, and my first ever CALENDAR.
SOCIETY6 offers prints and products of my artwork. I recommend shopping here for FRAMED ART PRINTS, POUCHES, TOTE BAGS, DUVET COVERS and COMFORTERS, THROW PILLOWS, SHOWER CURTAINS, LEGGINGS, WALL TAPESTRIES, THROW BLANKETS, RUGS, and TOWELS.
Lastly, you have the option to buy some of the ORIGINAL ART itself through ETSY. (I'll be adding a few more pieces this week so visit back on the weekend.)
Funny that nowadays it is infinitely easier for me to claim being an artist (which, according to Julia Cameron, Lisa Congdon, and many other creative gurus, is one of the most difficult things to do in this modern world where the measures of success and sanity tend to blacklist the option of being an "artist") than to admit that I want to be in love, in a relationship, and in a happily ever after. It is harder to say I still believe in fairy tales (even if it is nuanced by the wisdom of Jane Austen as interpreted by Elizabeth Kantor and sobered up by a practical insight into romanticism by Alain de Botton), and that at this point of my life my heart still beats as if it had never been broken.
My whole system of belief about life and love is in itself a minefield, and hence I avoid delving into it except with very, very few trusted kindred spirits. Yet I am writing a little about it now because I will be writing a lot soon about my planned journeys for next year and love comes into it in a big way.
I am not particularly young in years (given the modern world's tendencies to over-glorify youth) but my hope and optimism are nearly as fresh as if I were born yesterday. Most would think this a disadvantage and possibly terribly impractical.
Despite my foray into the shadowy arts when I was just out of college, and went through a period of always being clad in black, and denouncing anything soft and light and brightly pretty, I am at the core an eternal optimist. It turns out that my true spirit burns with a bright colourful light and its form spills over to the fantastical.
Yet being a believer of fairy tales is not an assurance of wise decisions. I have been guilty of sabotaging my own chances, simply because I felt I did not deserve a fairy tale given my disadvantages within the context of the dominating social rules. I had often thought I should be happy and content with whatever I got, even if it meant settling for much less than I had dreamed or hoped. I thought I was being inconsiderate and unreasonable, immature and petty, for even trying to look out for what I needed and what made me happy.
I used to approach love and relationships from a position of lack. That the other was doing me a favour for even noticing me, if at all. I often initiated the expression of liking, which, based so far in the many Japanese stories I've watched, rarely resulted in a favourable outcome, because the leading male character would always go for the girl whom he had pursued, not the one who pursued him. In the movie He's Just not That Into You, Jennifer Connelly's character mentioned that she was the one who proposed to her husband, and at the end of the movie they had separated. I am not saying that it doesn't work when the woman initiates, but that there are inherent weaknesses in that particular formula, and I have had more than a decade of experience along those lines to know what I'm saying.
Here's the clincher. For all my history of so-called daring and bravado (I shall be writing about a few of them in future posts), at the heart of it all, I only recently realised that I didn't want it that way. That what I wanted were courtships and friendships blossoming from a soulful ritual of communication and engagement. I realised I believe less in the sudden inexplicable outburst of passionate attraction (that in stories lately almost always ended up in sex even way early from the first meeting), than in the restrained, careful dance of exploration and discoveries that is more prominent in Japanese and Korean dramas (true, I refer to stories often revolving around teens or young adults but my epiphany here was that I never really experienced that whole first love thing and thus have retained a rather intense curiosity for it, and that I have always been a bit of a prude).
I have been drawn to the stories that echo what I truly dream about, and looking through my books, movie, and TV series collections and viewing histories, I realised I had been living contrary to them. Again because I felt I did not qualify for what I hoped. Also, with the increasing normality and casualness of physical expressions of love and affection, I find myself being the very awkward fish in the pond. I have wished a number of times that I had been born in a slightly older time (I have my own views and beliefs about the whole concept of feminism which is often an argument against the older ways of the world, but I don't wish to provoke any discussion or debate. Let us simply respect and let be.)
My art-making, given life in 2012, I discovered, is all about my pent-up everything about love. I first made the mistake of mistaking it as a substitute for love and being in a relationship itself (and thus I went unconsciously through the process of halamanization, as my friend S put it), but that is not the way I am built at the core.
While art is my lifeline and the cauldron of my life's meanings and mythologies, it is not a person who is also my significant other or my soul mate, or whatever is the serious term for it nowadays. What art did for me, however, was to fill up the blanks in my own life so that I can become a person who is whole instead of one who is lacking. Making art made me, into someone who can now come forward as a deserving equal for an other, a whole who will complement rather than a brokenness hoping to be fixed or completed. Art continues to make me, to grow me, to evolve me, into even better versions of myself, into becoming the self that is according to my own hope for my self.
So late into this turbulent year I was shaken awake from my plant-like state (it was a longish period of dark depression layered over with heavy concerns about money, work, independence, freedom, loneliness, exhaustion, and the like). In that long painful process of clinging to the lip of the abyss, half-wishing I would fall asleep and never wake up, I was saved by a story. An absurd story I would not have paid attention to were I not in such a state of despair. And that story led to another, and another, and then a pattern of a clue began to emerge and make sense to the odd imaginings of my creative mind, as well as stirred the old, old, cast away longings in my heart.
Hence here I am, awoken into a new morning of my life, even while the season of it is closer to autumn than spring. I have risen from the earth of my impossible garden and become myself, and the impossible flowers have become my agents of hope, my symbols, my signs, my magic. I am an artist, and I want to love again, and I dream of a happily ever after.
Here in Metro Manila, the most reliable bookstore is Fully Booked, particularly the main branch at BGC. Recently it has expanded its offerings to include a special selection of art materials. I am a book person. I read A LOT, and I read across a number of genres. I read both paper and digital books, finding the argument on which is better irrelevant, although I do keep paper copies of my most favourite titles because I hate having to be dependent on battery life when I need to revisit a volume. At this moment I am actively reading about eight books, shifting from one to the other depending on how I feel I need to be inspired or nourished by what I'm reading. I take what I read seriously in varying degrees, and I am always ready for a lesson or a message caught up in a phrase (hence a highlighter is always at hand). I don't force myself to finish books I don't enjoy -- if it's not telling me anything or it's not moving me after the first 2-3 chapters I let it go.
On a good day I can spend as much as US$200 on books in a single purchase (which used to happen about twice a year). But since I have been on very tight budgets I eke out US$10-20 per purchase spaced out every few months. I often ask for books as gifts during Christmas and on my birthday, and I take time scouring second-hand book shops (there's one right inside the supermarket in the neighbourhood).
I'm close to meeting my reading target of 75 books this year on Goodreads. Next year I'll keep it the same since I'm planning to go back to regular work.
Today I made a deliberate decision to visit Fully Booked because they are on sale, 20% off all the books. My discount card only gives 10% so that's a big deal. I thought carefully about what I have to go without for the next couple of months so I can use the budget for some books. So no movie-watching (sorry Eddie Redmayne -- I'll just have to see you and your Fantastic Beasts in my dreams, and I'll have to endure not watching the Assassin's Creed movie). Also, cut down on everything else (which, honestly, are already distilled to the basics that I'll be scraping things almost raw).
I arrived at the bookstore at half past ten in the morning. I first secured the books that my sister had asked me to buy for her (she gave me money for them) before I browsed for my own. I went through every floor and almost every shelf, taking my time and occasionally taking a good deep breath to savour the scent of paper and ink. On the uppermost floor was the new art material section and there I also took my time touching the products and literally getting a feel of which I should have. My heart was hammering in my chest from all the excitement and anticipation.
By lunchtime I had made my choices, and my friend S was also due to arrive soon.
These are what I got:
S arrived in time for lunch and we went for ramen as I was craving either Japanese or Korean food. It was a most delicious and pleasant lunch over which we talked about the idiosyncrasies of family relationships, family values, and how strangely young we both feel despite the reality of our actual ages.
After lunch we walked the length of Bonifacio High Street and chanced upon a bazaar of handcrafted items. S bought gifts while I looked around. I have long been immune to the lure of shopping for life accessories (i.e. buying more of what I already have that are not essential to my daily life or the growth of my spirit) and using shopping as therapy, so I pay attention when something really calls out to me.
I bought a bracelet that had a plane and a heart charm on it, and which immediately evoked to me the trip I am planning and looking forward to next year. It perfectly captured the sentiment of the journey. Then I bought a tiny dreamcatcher which I attached to my wallet -- the dreamcatcher was a key item and symbol in one of the stories that is inspiring me now, and I have always had a strong affinity with the subject of dreams, especially when connected with Morpheus, Dream of the Endless, and now further layered with the mythology of the Greywaren.
We went back to the bookstore for another round of browsing and I ended up buying one more book. But oh, this one is really, really worth it. It's going to fertilise the creative seeds that are lightly sleeping inside me now.
S and I parted ways at five o'clock -- pockets lighter but with souls recharged, inspiration boosted, and hopes surging.
I just won this year's NaNoWriMo challenge, and logged in more than fifty-one thousand words for the draft of a novel that I had started way back in 2012. This new draft is way different from the old draft, so different that I think I have basically retained just the names of the characters, but everything that happened has changed. It was a full restart not just a mere revision. In 2012, I barely passed the 50,000-word mark and the novel was essentially complete with a beginning, a middle with a lot of plot holes, and an ending. This year I passed the target and yet the story had only begun. So I am still writing it.
The other thing that I am also writing is a real-life story for myself that is inspired by what I have done way back in 2000. It is a return to traveling, and in a way, also a return to relationships.
Next year I am going to go back to being employed, because it has become so clear to me now what I hope to accomplish -- not in terms of my career, for that is one of the certainties that remain, that I no longer wish to pursue "success" traditionally. What I mean is accomplishment in art and the re-enchantment of the soul. What I mean is a return to love -- through travel, learning, and a more active seeking and participation in the places and communities where the song of my spirit is echoed and reciprocated in joy and welcome.
The going back to employment is simply a means for money. It is easier for me to do this now that I have achieved a level of clarity in my true goals. It was harder before when my sole reason was to pay the bills. But now paying the bills is a mere background to the bigger things. Such as (for starters):
It is always difficult to explain about work. So many people tend to jump to assumptions and conclusions. They even tend to misunderstand the bit about money. They miss the nuance and the art of the whole decision to go back into employment. They simply nod their heads knowingly, thinking they know, thinking I was finally "getting it", when it fact, they were not getting me at all.
The art will not stop. It will not be "on the side". Let me get this straight. Even if I end up in a full-time job, the job is the sideline. I am first and foremost an artist, before I am whatever my title is on the job. I believe that is the crucial difference. And that difference plays into every thing that I do and choose, even the friendships I keep.
My many many thoughts and conversations with myself are all being poured in my journal for the past week. That is another thing that got revived after months of empty pages. Now I cannot keep from writing. I am writing the novel and I am writing in my journal a number of times in a day, and I am writing poems on the side as they spill from the edges of my everyday musings.
All because the old dreams are awake and somehow they are changed and have become new dreams that carry the precious innocence of their old forms while gaining the wisdom from their transformations. Because the old paths are found again and they have grown into new places that require a much more magical self than I used to be. Because I have finally begun to bloom despite the coming of winter.
For a brief period I thought it was. But the flower-marked came to my rescue, gripping my wrist and my heart to pull me out of the vortex of that deep dark despair.
The impossible garden stirs. There is a murmur amongst the flowers. The impossible insects return from their journeys, an invisible trail in their wake, an impossible test to lure the lost and the seekers. Already the messenger birds circle above, both certain and unsure, there is something to be found below. But what strange beautiful flowers there are. What fierce creatures protect it. What poison runs with the nectar along the veins of those thorny pretty blooms. So odd. So curious.
I stirred too. I woke from a long deep sleep woven with dreams and nightmares. I found myself having to dig my way out from the tight embrace of the earth, the roots of my own creations softly wrapped around my neck, over my mouth, straining my limbs.
It is autumn. But I am alive, and I will stay so throughout the winter ahead. My wrist and my heart are burning hot, for the flower-marked had left their own invisible trail. In the spring, there will be a journey, one way or another. And there will be a fated meeting. All is not lost, all is yet to be found.
I am a sleeping mountain, rumbling and seething, but my heart is far too deep and hidden to be heard or felt. My rivers of fire surface in places that seem to have nothing to do with me at all. Most of the time, people just think I'm dead. Besides, I am an old mountain, shrouded with too many superstitions and defined by too hard traditions. I have warning signs fenced by my feet, pushing away the curious and the adventurous. Only the foolish and the mad dare to venture into my borders. Faery-touched, not quite right in the head and the heart, they are so few nowadays.
The cities have grown away from me. I am left behind, fading into the past. The old roads are overgrown. No one can find me now unless they follow a trail of magic, the random impossible flower amidst the multitude of the ordinary, spread out and seeded in by the soldiers of a Queen nesting along the hidden pathways of my forests.
My sky is circled by ravens, waiting for their king, tracing a labyrinth in the air that is mirrored in the trees below, with hedges of thorns and dead ends that gather bones. The flower-marked hold the key that opens the walls where there are no doors.