I like Hiromi Tango. As naive as she may seem when asked to describe her work of “building communities” by asking people to contribute to these crazy piles of yarn and soft stuff that her installations consist of, I admire the optimism that creates it, and that it produces in turn. And she’s adorable, so that always helps. Anyway…
I think what I was trying to talk about earlier was how much easier it is to claim to live for someone than for something. Today is Thursday, and it hasn’t stopped raining since Saturday. I haven’t been to work since last Friday, which was when I gave my students a midterm with an essay portion that would be due in a week. I got the first set of submissions today, and while I didn’t specify a word count, the answers range from one paragraph to four pages in length. Some of them are now using terms like “material culture” with an ease that I couldn’t conjure up at their age (because I didn’t have myself as a professor, self-five! Self-five?)–or maybe I could, but admitting it would mean stepping off this cloud of unreliable indicators of success brought about by an admitted lack of prior experience in the field I accidentally landed in.
It can’t be an accident anymore though because I’ve been teaching for four years, and that’s one batch in and enough time to correct previous mistakes. Prior to this I worked in retail; during my first semester, teaching, I was also competing for a post as a DJ for the only radio station worth listening to, in this country. I was just taking whatever I could get, not because I had no idea where I wanted to go, but because I had underestimated how easy it was to get there.
At the risk of sounding like an asshole, let me explain: When I was in college, I made clothes. I’d been playing with my grandmother’s sewing machine ever since she taught me how to use it, and by the time I was a sophomore at the University of the Philippines, I’d learned how to convert playtime into an actual business–which still functioned under the heading of playtime. It was called Womyn in the Kitchyn, as a jab at the fact of my belonging to the College of Home Economics, which I resented. Thankfully, no one seemed to know what it meant, and my teachers were oddly forgiving of my visible disdain. I dozed off during lectures and was late when I wasn’t absent; I did not cultivate healthy relationships with my peers, and spent more time on classes I was auditing than I did on my majors. I was, to put it bluntly, an asshole of a student, and I recognize vestiges of that self (which hasn’t even completely come to pass) in some of my current students. And I have to laugh knowing that everything will be okay (unless someone gets hurt, in which case, no).
A common misconception about fashion and apparel design students is that we all want to become designers. I wasn’t sure I wanted it, but it was a meaningful distraction at the time. I made stuff, delivered, then went and watched gigs. That was what I really liked – watching gigs. I just didn’t know how to get paid to do it or if I could handle the implications of turning it into a job.
Nevertheless, it worked its way into my goals–which never included things like “my own clothing line!” I wanted…to watch The Flaming Lips. And see my name in print somewhere.
Seeing my name in print came when I was 20, at an underwhelming little event called the Philippine Lifestyle Journalism Awards, held by the Philippine Star at one of the cinemas in Greenbelt. For that I got cash, the equivalent amount in gift cheques, a piece published in a nationally circulated broadsheet, and a media ID which never materialized. And as with everything else: I cared until I didn’t. Or I cared until I got a job that required me to write for money. Then I crashed my car, and had to join a contest that would trade writing for money. The point is, I got the by-lines, and of course it wasn’t enough because I was still alive after that, and still on the lookout for other meaningful distractions.
Graduation came and went while I was working a shitty job, making a little money and trying to begin a life with my boyfriend. The realization that this was not happening came in little bursts at first, then waves, then just kind of collected there along with my savings from said shitty job, which I used to buy a ticket to see The Flaming Lips.
That wasn’t a career either, and now that I have one–a career, I mean–I’m wondering what the fuck I was doing setting my life goals at having a by-line and watching Wayne Coyne roll over a crowd in a plastic ball.
Nothing and everything I guess, because that’s what life goals are for, you live them and make new ones…I guess. So what is it now, besides living and riding out a tenure-track job? When it comes to what living looks like: I spend a lot on gasoline: that’s what my credit card bill says. I have a credit card, two credit cards. My limit is low, but it’s too high for someone earning what I earn. The first thing I bought with this credit card: I can’t remember. It was probably gasoline or groceries, which by now are all burned or used up or turned to poop.
My friend Wanggo interviewed me the other week for Bia Catbagan’s documentary on whiny millenials (I’m a whiny millenial!) called Letters to the Future, and one of the questions to which I could only sputter out a vague answer was, “Would you consider yourself successful?”
I can’t even remember if it was phrased that way, because there’s a mile of difference between “would” and “do”. Do I consider myself successful? I think what I’ve been most successful at is ditching future plans in favor of actually doing the shit that it takes to get there. I’m finally living away from my parents, meat-free in a vegetarian-friendly neighborhood (which is rare in the Philippines). The by-line has been replaced by two standing offers to contribute to two separate volumes of a fucking encyclopedia, and a deal to write a book for high school kids who want to learn about Filipino artists. I’m in no danger of starving to death, the flights for vacations to be taken in the not-so-distant future are all booked, and I have fucking health insurance. I have fucking health insurance! And I pay for it! I’m free to get sick and not feel like a burden to my family or anyone, plus whenever I come home, two tiny kittens snuggle into my lap while I read, and one of them even gives massages!
So yes, I guess I have been successful in turning my life into my own, but I haven’t been as successful with maintaining the enchantment that comes with living it–and that’s terrible, because last I checked, the pictures in my facebook albums look like this:
I mean, shit, get the wow, right, yay, that’s a rainbow, right? That’s a rainbow with David Longstreth’s face in one corner, and that was just from this year, and this year isn’t even over. It says, “YES!” all over it, with a subtext of “Yes to being too broke to do anything else!” But what else is there?
Plenty. There’s plenty to do, like solve world hunger and end wars and make trade fair (which could all add up to the same thing, right Miss America?), but I can’t even deal with other people’s children. And that’s okay, because I still have that book to write and that encyclopedia to add words to, and these are the jobs that came of getting things like hearing “Do You Realize?” played live and writing until I could afford to say no to it.
What I wasn’t prepared for is that after working the big things out (especially if you’re kind of shallow, like me), you’re left with the logistics and the mundane details that are really kind of boring and sometimes take forever to get through (especially if you’re very impatient, like me). No matter how much you talk about the magic of travel, things like waiting in airport terminals (especially Philippine airport terminals) are fucking boring as hell. Also, beer in airport bars is expensive and you’re not allowed to bring your own. Raising kids, although I have no plans to, probably gets boring, but even this depends on who you ask. We keep talking about the miracle of life but are at a loss when it comes to describing the drudgery of our own.
The big things however resulted from honestly admitting what I wanted at the time – a job I enjoyed, my own place, a vacation, on top of the writing gigs and…The Flaming Lips, live. The last thing I got was my own place, and by the time it came around, it came with all these other extra things, like Berlin and museum work and My Bloody Valentine, as well as the unforeseen consequences like becoming single and a lot of cats (HAHA, right?!). Now the only thing I want is my MA and a flat tummy, and it turns out that both of those come with a disproportionately hefty side dish of boredom–especially the abs. But the MA, which comes with disillusion and the inability to write short sentences and talk to people, other than myself, is the real gift that keeps on giving.
So given these two future prospects, “Would I consider myself successful?” Yes and yes. I do not know a lot of people with double degrees in apparel design and curatorial studies–who have abs.
“Do I consider myself successful?” I’ve had a bad cough for a week, and I feel sad that I can’t get excited about watching bands anymore; but there is such a thing as Claritin and Allegra and I have a home! That means a lot when somewhere, everywhere, people are getting stranded in the middle of floods and don’t have anything dry to come home to.