A Premature Evaluation of The Year That Was

Berlin, 2015
Berlin, 2015

I remember a really long question being asked in Spanish that had to do with the intersections between patriarchy and capitalism and Marcuse, which was then translated into a really long question in English which, even then, I only partially understood. This was yesterday, as the conference on Critical Cartography in Barcelona was wrapping up. Mapping is obviously an urgent topic: We want to know where we are.

As for where I am, or where I am taking this, I still hesitate when the question comes up. I know and I don’t know, or I don’t want to know. Here, you get a certificate that does not only say you attended or participated or presented, you get a number of hours credited as “teaching load”.

“Well, I guess I did teach people something,” said the geographer sitting beside me. The certificates weren’t handed to us in some grand display with photographers present. They were what they were: an acknowledgement of work accomplished in a world where everyone does some kind of work. As for me, I have the privilege of choice when it comes to what I do: I was born middle class and could afford to work for “experience” and “exposure”, because I knew that no matter how much or how little I was paid, I was not going to starve to death. I can afford to enter the academe or the art world precisely because my family always had the means to value culture alongside everything else.

I remember waking up to a strip of blue interrupting the grey skies of West Berlin and hoping for good weather. I remember not being disappointed as we filed into the bus (I was about to say “piled”, but Germans do not “pile”) and rode through a city steeped in history and dressed in the warm colors of autumn. I was in Berlin to listen in on discussions about how people are housed against the architecture of dispossession, the proposition here being that housing makes the violence and inequality fostered by neoliberal capitalism not only visible, but inhabitable. Of course I cannot discount the fact of being in Berlin (and now Barcelona) because the German government could afford to pay for everything I needed.

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As always, at these things, I was often silent, insecure about my contributions, unsteady atop the awkward foundations my own education had laid. I felt like the go-to person for shooting the shit about everything besides the subject at hand. Having to digest the question of unequal means amid universal needs over and over again was difficult to take in and even before we broke into smaller groups for the workshops, I was already exhausted. I wanted to talk about my pets and go dancing. I wanted drinks after hours and a lot of hugs.

More than any other year, 2015 highlights all these moments where my conflicted feelings and thoughts about work, a public, and a dignified way of life come to a head. 2015 has been too many short-term engagements, none of which lead to anything certain: I started as an invigilator then made exhibitions then moved on to these conferences and summer schools and fieldtrips, and I can’t ignore how unbelievably fortunate I am to have the opportunity to experience this kind of continuous movement.

But it’s also exhausting and I know I will have to stop somewhere. Barcelona is a flat city with mild weather. Even as winter approaches, coats and gloves are still optional. The long walks from Christian and Rosa’s apartment to anywhere in the city have allowed me to clear my head with every step, making room for this undeniable fact:

I can’t hear anything.

Barcelona and Antwerp, and Berlin to an extent, have all confronted me with a wall of language. Despite discussions of living in a post-racial world (haha, whatever) already being on the table, there is still this one, massive obstacle to belonging, in that I literally cannot hear what people are saying and in many cases cannot make myself heard. “It’s easy, learn the language.” But why should I do that, when I don’t have to speak it when I get home?

That’s where the real anxieties come in though: maybe it’s not a question of language or learning, but of home and what that actually means when you can’t find any satisfying work in the place where you live. I cannot ignore how deeply unsatisfied I have been with the opportunities Manila presents and the obstacles that have come with the seemingly simple task of talking to people.

I have no interest in being a hero or being seen as one. I don’t even need the money. But I am looking for a simpler way to live, while doing what I find meaning in without having to be part of the bizarre machinery constructed by and within Philippine art and academia.

A Love Letter

I’m at an airport cafe in Abu Dhabi, en route to Berlin. I’ve effectively and apparently convinced myself that there’s nothing unusual about entering the same country for third time in the span of three months, without ever actually having set foot in it. In the past three months, I’ve filled a book, beginning every entry with the date and my age (I guess this should explain why it’s been so quiet in these parts), rationalizing that by starting with the most superficial yet most basic aspects of being, I can arrive at something more fundamental.

Isn’t this exercise in living publicly all about self-awareness anyway?

So here it is, after filling in so many pages with words only I’ll get to read, I’ve arrived at the recurring and therefore consistent heart of the matter that I am, indeed, in love. Unfortunately.

Unfortunate because it has to coexist with a restlessness that’s come of a dissatisfaction with my career–or lack thereof; unfortunate because I also feel I have no business being dissatisfied when I’m getting on a plane to Germany in less than an hour for work-related reasons, despite being (for the most part) unemployed.

Unfortunate because there’s one little truth I like turning in my hands, and it is this: while I enjoy the traveling, I am always terrified of leaving. I am always afraid of the uncertainty that comes to replace my absence because this thing I’ve mired myself in–the very reason for being in love in the first place–is a simple truth caught in the middle of a big lie. I know that one day the two will trade places, with the big lie in the middle of the simple truth I mean, but I’m not quite sure how that will look. I may already know how it will feel. I’m pretty sure it’s not too far off from how I’ve been feeling everyday: this mix of restlessness and acceptance, which is different from simply tolerating what’s so wrong with even being in love. What is wrong here though is that the whole “being in love” part gets in the way of knowing–and being able to say–what it is I want.

Today is October 19, 2015. I am 30 years old. It’s 5:25 am in Manila, 1:25 in Abu Dhabi, and 11:25 in Berlin. Today is a day for existing in three different places simultaneously while trying desperately to remain rooted in one thing: to stay.