Twenty-seven

August 30th, 2012

“Right now I’m Ingrid Bergman’s Casablanca age — old enough not to give up everything, young enough to want to.”

An essay from The Awl pretty much sums up my current situation in life.



Something I will never get over

August 20th, 2012

Since my aunt’s boyfriend got me a Kindle, I’ve been rereading a lot of classic books. It’s not just because many of them are free — it helps, of course — but because I enjoyed reading books such as Little Women, The Secret Garden, Tom Sawyer, etc. as a kid. So I happily spent hours downloading and poring over childhood favorites the day I got my Kindle in the mail. Some things, like The Secret Garden, were shorter and simpler than I remembered. Then I got started on Little Women; halfway through, I stopped reading because it upset me more than I realized it would.

It’s that Jo-and-Laurie thing again. I cannot get over it.

I had always taken issue with how Louisa May Alcott married off Laurie, Jo’s best buddy, to her bratty sister Amy. Don’t try to convince me that Jo and Laurie were too fiery for each other — the book is a testament to a period when women were expected to conform to a particular ideal. Marmee discouraged a relationship with Laurie so that Jo’s temper could sweeten and make her a gentler woman, instead of the firebrand she would remain with Laurie.

Seriously?

And Amy, who burned Jo’s first novel, went to Europe in Jo’s place, and was generally a bratty social climber throughout the book, is married to Laurie. Amy! Amy, of all people. My blood boils.

I know that Alcott, a spinster herself, probably saw herself in Jo and wanted to justify her decisions through the character, but why marry her to a 40-something professor who was as “poor as a church mouse” if she wanted to go down that road?

I realize I’m being silly. But my first exposure to Little Women was piecemeal; I read an anthology of notable chapters from classic books, and the excerpts from it included the first Christmas scene and Jo and Laurie’s meeting. I loved Jo’s character — she climbed trees, didn’t care what people said, and was a voracious bookworm. Like thousands of kids everywhere, I thought of myself as Jo. So reading the entire book was a disappointment because Jo’s mellowed-down character hardly set her apart from the others. Of course, I’m reading it 150 years after it was published, and standards have changed since then.

But it didn’t lessen the disappointment of rereading it.

Update: A Facebook commenter summed it up perfectly: “Bratty social climbing is rewarded with a trip to Europe and marriage to the handsome, wealthy boy next door. Meanwhile, the intelligent, independent girl gets the penurious professor. It upsets me to this day.”



Pressure

August 10th, 2012

We needed a situational photo depicting a flight attendant a few years ago. That’s my suitcase. And my legs.

Half my close friends from Manila are either living or are about to be living abroad for work.

I don’t know how it is for most people, but I tend to gloss over status updates and photo albums of former classmates who’ve recently gotten engaged, married, or started having their own families. I think what they’re doing is cool, but so far from my own life, I never really felt pressure to start heading in that direction just yet.

On the other hand, friends who are moving abroad are entirely a different matter. I obsess over who’s moving to what city and what company they’ll be working for. Despedidas make me more nervous than pamanhikans (to non-Filipinos, that’s roughly translated as going-away parties and engagement parties), because I panic and wonder what’s in store for me.

At 27, a lot of high school and college classmates are busying themselves with wedding dresses and nurseries. Me? I still want to live in a few more countries. London would be nice, or maybe somewhere in the Mediterranean or South America. I want to learn a foreign language for real, and call a fourth (or even a fifth, sixth) city home. I want to experience all four seasons (or two, if that’s all there is) in another place.

When I finally get married and have kids, I want to tell them bedtime stories from a land that isn’t so “far, far away” because I would have lived there — even if it would’ve been a long, long time ago. This is a lot of wishful thinking, but that’s what those silly fairy tales are made of, anyway.



Not again

August 6th, 2012

Ever had floods of murky brown water pour through the windows of your house? If you haven’t, consider yourself lucky. Back in 2009, I stood in waist-deep flood waters inside my house, garbage bag in hand, aimlessly wandering through our first floor in search of salvageable possessions. My family had already done what we can: Pushed the piano up the stairs, brought up the couches, a few electronics. Some food. Our pets, save for a couple of hapless turtles swimming around the first floor.

The adjacent households had already abandoned all hope. Pots and pillows streamed out of open doors, while cars disappeared completely — sometimes floating down to other streets. Dad was holding his head in his hands, refusing to speak. Our dog barked madly at the rising water.

The rains stopped in the middle of the night, and the flood water, which thankfully didn’t reach the second floor, receded by midnight. All there was left to do was clear the house of mud — the sinks were full of damp soil — and pick up the pieces of our lives.

It turned out that the most important things in my life could either fit into one garbage bag, or couldn’t fit at all. My family and friends, diplomas accumulated throughout the years. Photos. Sentimental pieces of jewelry. My laptop, which contained all my work. Other than that, little was worth salvaging in a flooded house.

We were lucky. My family could afford to rebuild and start our lives with little more than memory scars. Many others died. The Philippines suffers through more deaths than it should during every storm, but this is no place to rage against corruption and the lives it claims.



Why the hell do you want to go to grad school?

August 3rd, 2012

I get emails and tweets like this on a fairly regular basis. People often ask how difficult it is to get into the Columbia J-School; what they never ask is how difficult it is during the school year, or how difficult things can be after.

My first question is always, “Why do you want to go?” I’ve heard a number of reasons from people: It’s the best J-School in the world (this is always a big debate, but at the very least, it’s the home of the Pulitzer Prize). “It was a childhood dream to go to Columbia.” To “improve my craft.”

I can’t blame them, having wanted to go to the Columbia J-School since 2008 — a year after I graduated from university. But I’ve been on multiple ups and downs in my journey to get to the school, to survive the school year, and to figure out what to do after graduation. Needless to say, I do not recommend it if you want to go to the J-School for the sake of putting that shiny Ivy League-decorated line on your resume. It is a waste of time and money.

Ah, money. First things first: It’s expensive. You’re paying more than $55,000 for 10 months of torture, and for most people, that’s a debt that will be paid over the course of 5-10 years. That does not include board and lodging, which can run up to about $25,000 more — and good luck finding an affordable place to live in New York. I cannot overstate the cost of studying here to potential international students, because salaries back home may not be good enough to pay off student loans acquired in the U.S.

So I got a scholarship. But that was after I deferred for a year and spent the time gathering more work experience and applying for scholarships. I spent even more money on association memberships (some scholarships require you to be part of their organization) and sending documents by FedEx. By some miracle, I got the Jack R. Howard fellowship from the Scripps foundation, which covered roughly 75 percent of the tuition. The rest of it was supplemented by my parents, and I used my savings to pay for food and rent (with generous help from family, again). I got the cheapest and most respectable apartment I could find on Craigslist — I found university housing a little steep — and hauled myself to New York City. The dean who was in charge of my scholarship told me that the J-School rarely gives out that much money to students, something that I heard from people who opted to go to NYU because Columbia didn’t give them substantial financial aid. So I was very, very lucky, and I will never forget that.

I do not recommend going to the J-School straight after university. I heard this echoed a lot around school, which is surprising because there were a lot of fresh grads. For one thing, you’ve barely recovered from four years of college — why dive into a very difficult, emotionally rough year of grad school? The Columbia J-School is on a pass/fail system, which has its pros and cons. It makes people focus on improving their work instead of improving their grades (you can make more mistakes and learn from them), but at the same time, it also makes it harder to stand out. Only a small handful of people can graduate with honors because of the more arbitrary grading system, although they do give out awards at the end of the year. I got a couple, but not without spending hours crying and questioning myself endlessly.

Some teachers will also tell you awards don’t mean anything. I believe that.

As if school weren’t difficult enough, you will also spend the year wondering what to do after graduation. You will be looking for jobs. You will be turned down or ignored many times. You will spend a lot of time licking your wounds, only to have your ego beaten raw repeatedly. If you’re an international student, a lot of your prior achievements will count for little to big news organizations in the U.S. You will start from scratch and be forced to swallow your pride.

Did I mention your performance in school probably won’t matter all that much to your employer, because all of it goes out the door the day you step into their newsroom and need to prove yourself?

The J-School is a foot in the door. I do not regret going to Columbia, and would do it all over again. But many starry-eyed reporter wannabes are blinded by illusion. If you have never worked in the media, don’t be fooled by TV shows. Life as a writer is nothing like Sex and the City. And life in New York isn’t going to be an episode of Girls, either. Or Gossip Girl.

I’m not going to tell you why you should go to the J-School. But I will tell you why I went all the way to New York, left a comfortable, high-profile job as a magazine editor, and put my relationship with my boyfriend on the line by going for long distance.

But maybe on another day.



Overhaul

July 26th, 2012

I’ve outgrown this site in so many ways but I do want to maintain it because for one thing, I pay for hosting, and because I still feel the occasional urge to blog. However, the design is nothing like me nowadays. I’ll be overhauling it in the coming days.



New York: My first anniversary

July 25th, 2012

I’m celebrating my first anniversary in New York today.

I flew in on a one-way ticket, not knowing how long I would stay, or how the year would turn out. Like many immigrants, I immediately got caught up in the energy and ambition of the city. Sometimes I love New York; sometimes, it drives me into fits of anxiety and depression. But mostly, I can’t imagine living anywhere else right now.

A friend sent me an excerpt from a classic E.B. White essay, “Here is New York.” I couldn’t have said things better myself.

“There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born there, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size, its turbulence as natural and inevitable.

Second, there is the New York of the commuter–the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night.

Third, there is New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something. Of these trembling cities the greatest is the last–the city of final destination, the city that is a goal. It is this third city that accounts for New York’s high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements.

Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness, natives give it solidity and continuity, but the settlers give it passion. And whether it is a farmer arriving from a small town in Mississippi to escape the indignity of being observed by her neighbors, or a boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart, it makes no difference: each embraces New York with the intense excitement of first love, each absorbs New York with the fresh eyes of an adventurer.”



The pros and cons of dating someone from Pisay

July 20th, 2012

J’s high school friend, Mark, sent me a Facebook message, urging me to write about my experience with dating a Pisay graduate (for anyone not in the know — that’s the Philippine Science High School). He requested it as a reply of sorts to another blog entry, “Date a Pisay girl.”

I had my reservations about writing an entry because it was written in the “Date a girl who reads” template, which in turn was a response to Thought Catalog’s “You should date an illiterate girl.“ Last year, exasperated by the spinoff blog posts, I wrote a spoof entry, “Date a girl who eats,” which became a lot more popular on Tumblr than I had wanted it to be because people didn’t know I wrote it as satire.

Plus, I initially thought our high school backgrounds were irrelevant; I met him at 22 — he was 25 — and we were both at the start of our careers as an editor and a pilot, respectively. I wondered, what would I have to say about being with from Pisay, the ivory tower of Philippine high school education, when I met him almost a decade after?

By the time I met him, he no longer wore thick glasses. He certainly didn’t look like a skinny nerd: he’s built like a jock, barrel-chested with muscular arms. There was little reason for him to show off his arithmetic skill, save for the times he helped out my siblings with their college homework at lightning speed. So what if he went to Pisay?

Then I realized that J’s educational background did matter. Here’s why:

The cons:

1. You’re dating a nerd

You need to accept that you’re seeing someone who is willing to debate — down to minute details — about the sustainability of life on earth after centuries of abandonment just because you watched ‘Wall-E’ together. Believe me, there will be some scientific trash-talking. It dooms you to a life of being kept on your toes during trivia night because his friends know the table of elements by heart. You will not always get their jokes.

2. You will be subjected to extreme scrutiny

You can bet your life that at one point or another, a high school buddy will scan through your Facebook page to pass judgment on your mental capabilities and pop culture references. So should you decide to date someone who attended Pisay at one point or another, you may want to consider deleting that “Math sux” update on your timeline.

3. You will hear about exes

I went to an all-girls Catholic school and dated guys from the all-boys Catholic school beside our campus. Pisay kids, to us, were altogether a different breed: non-secular (“What? You don’t carry a rosary in your pocket?”), overly immersed in math and science, and in their own special way, academically snotty. No one held soirees with Pisay students — they didn’t need soirees, it was a co-ed school. Consider this:

High school hormones + co-ed school = Checkered history of relationships long before you came into the picture.

So if you’re new to the group, be forewarned: There will be moments of awkwardness. Remember that every wedding you go to and every reunion you attend with your date will contain someone he/she’s locked lips with at one point or another.

4. Your future children could possibly be a mild disappointment if they don’t get in

I’m just hazarding a guess, because we’re not talking about children at this point. But if your future children aren’t academically inclined, old people will whisper and blame it on you — yes, you who didn’t go to the exclusive science high school.

The pros:

1. You’re dating a nerd

Even if you’re not mathematically savvy (I’m not — I graduated with two journalism degrees), your boyfriend/girlfriend will be used to being around smart people. I never felt small or stupid around my boyfriend, and even if we occupy entirely different spheres of intelligence, he always holds his own in a debate. Plus, he tolerates my own bouts of literary snootiness (“What, people really think Paolo Coehlo is a good writer?”)

I’ve met men who prefer dating vapid women who don’t challenge them. Chances of that happening with a Pisay grad aren’t impossible, but are considerably smaller.

2. They understand the importance of academic excellence

The academe isn’t everything. I’ve heard that often enough from flunkies who like thinking that schools held them back from reaching their potential. For some people, that’s true, but in many cases, it’s just an excuse. I once dated a musician who wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, and was constantly skipping classes or spelling “you’re” as “your.” I was too besotted to care at first, but I gradually couldn’t look past things as time went by. J wasn’t happy with the idea of a long-distance relationship, but knew why I badly wanted to go to Columbia. I spent his 28th birthday working on my J-School application. Not everyone would have been cool with that.

3. It’s easier to be yourself

In my experience, anyway. You don’t have to pretend to be cool and head out for a night on the town when you know your boyfriend/girlfriend is pals with people who enjoy a good night of playing “Magic: The Gathering” and marathon screenings of “Tron.” Chances are, they’ll be more understanding of your addiction to the Game of Thrones series and will not sneer when you turn up in khaleesi’s costume for Halloween.

If your idea of a good Friday night out is squeezing yourself into a dress two sizes too small for you, spending on overpriced drinks, and throwing up cheap vodka at the crack of dawn, run away. The Pisay graduate is not your demographic.