20180716

There was a time I was so enamored by the city that I would escape the confines of my room just to experience what I thought back then was beauty. It seemed obligatory, as a pretentious teenager, to go out and get lost as part of a quest to “find myself.” I used to be under the impression that everything would make more sense once I had a sense of self, but somewhere down the line, I figure maybe identity is not the end-all-be-all of life, because people are prone to change. There is nothing truly essential about a person anyway, so why force the issue?

It started out as solo walking tours around San Juan or Quezon City—I would meander after hours, tiring myself out before even considering navigating my way home. At some point, I would spend entire days out just exploring different areas. At nineteen, I was comfortable enough in Quezon City, San Juan, and Makati City to last a whole day on less than minimum wage at the time. Manila City, the portion north of the river, was necessarily disconcerting, but by the age of twenty-one, I got used to the feeling.

When I was fourteen, I had the opportunity to explore Mandaluyong in the summer; my friend who lived there would invite me to hang out, and so we did. That summer, I found out that I enjoyed photography and physical affection. I remember holding hands in the cinema during a particularly bland action movie. It was more fun to walk around and take photos of nothing in particular—I gravitated to geometric subjects. I did not yet have my own camera at the time. I just intuitively figured that photography was fun because of the skill involved.

For the most part, I would get lost on my own, with no clear goals in mind. I would go out and watch movies by myself; eat cheap food by myself; and think to myself. It was about stimulating myself on my own—part of finding out what I resonated with and what I did not. I resonated with sensory experiences. I did not resonate with grays. I resonated with urban decay. I did not resonate with stagnation. I resonated with lived experience. I did not resonate with death. The journey enlivened me; the city lived with me; and living meant activity, whether in solitude or with company.

It used to be rare that I would invite a friend to join me, but I find it has been easier for me to reach out these days. (It might be the loneliness.) Usually, it is Makati City at night, or Manila City in the daylight. Familiarity helps; it feels like I want to rehearse for tours, or mostly I am the tourist, rediscovering the city each day I get lost.

It has been a while since I got lost. I think by twenty-three, I had exhausted most of the areas I could get lost in. I lost the taste for the city; I think I felt I went through them all—the sweet secrets behind doors, the bitter crossings, and the soured memories revisited.

(How I learned language was thus: I listened to the ambient noise of the city, absorbing the phonologies of cacophony. Language does not roll so much as percuss—the stiff tongue strikes dent or palate. The lips purse and stretch almost arbitrarily, and air escapes the throat, sounding off stiff consonants and liquid vowels. The rhythm is exhilarating. Eventually, I would learn how gongs made sound, in a similar way. I learned language by eavesdropping on conversations to which I was outsider, stranger. I learned language by asking questions in words parroted from others. I learned language by listening—sometimes by listening to the subtleties of breath.)

Every other year, I would go with family to Dumaguete City. It was—and still is—not a city in the way that Quezon City is, but it did its best to emulate a platonic city. I tried getting lost, but I always ended up somewhere familiar—somewhere strangers still recognized me. I thought the whole point of getting lost was that people would not know me; I thought that I could get lost in a city I did not frequent. But they seemed to know me, with my alien tongue, percussing to a different tribe. They prefer it when I speak in English; I prefer it when I do not have to. It is a city of silence, in which words are stolen from strangers, never to be heard unless agreed upon.

I used to know my way around Diliman, but the memory fades. Everything changes, and I keep getting lost. There is a new cinema in the area, and I find myself attracted to the isolation of its location—the top floor of a building along a dimly lit highway. It screens mostly local films, and I feel I can get lost once more, even while at home.

When I was twenty-four, I went to Baguio City alone. It had changed since I was a child—even the air felt different. The cinemas were closed, but Session was alive at all hours, inviting me to coffee served in bars, and beers served in cafes. I rested that first night in the smoking area of a cafe; the heat of the sun and the whiff of reds woke me up. (The black coffee helped too.) They had to hide from the public eye; I had to remain a stranger so as not to accessorize the disorder.

There are parks in Baguio City that, at night, remind me of the cinemas in Quezon City. But the air is crisper, not as cold, not as damp. Maybe if the pine trees could grow in the darkness, the cinemas would be desiccated. There are movies about people who prefer trees over people, and there are movies about strangers getting lost. Sometimes there are movies about these movies, and I am perfectly satisfied to watch in the darkness of a cinema. Something about losing myself soothes me; I do not always have to be myself, and that provides solace, maybe.

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20180710

I was born in the city, and for majority of my life, was also raised in the city. One of my first memories, though, is from a time my family and I lived in the province. Not a province so much as a peri-urban town across the river from an accretion of cities. And not just one city, but they may as well have been the same with the logic founding the streets and the structures.

Up until the age of eight, I was ferried to school each day along a road that connected the peri-urban town through two cities to what was then a municipality. School was a private sectarian institution nestled just a block away from a major road. Passing through the road all this time, I noted how quickly the scene changes; what was there when I was a child no longer is now. Establishments came and went at such a rate that it is difficult to picture the road at any point in time; it becomes a blur of gray punctuated by traffic lights, painted pavement, and electrical posts.

The route changed when my parents moved us to Manila City, in an area straddling a district with distinct Spanish planning, and the American-era district lit at night with red light. We lived at the top of a five-storey apartment building nestled in the middle of a residential street hidden from the nearby highway by commercial establishments. I used to count the steps to the top of the staircase, and whenever I lost count, I knew that exhaustion was not far behind. Going down, I would take the stairs two at a time, noting the odd- and even-numbered flights until I hit the ground landing.

The garage was crammed with cars, and the metal barricades were tall. I could only see the street through the pedestrian gate, iron wrought into twisted bars like a baroque prison door. The noise was predictable from the time of day; what was less so but enlivened me were the yells of the balut merchant and the melody of the ice cream peddler. I think my father took in some stray dogs, allowing them to eat and rest in the garage; I would play with them when I went down to watch the street on which the dogs would later die.

Manila City was something of a rude awakening from living in Taytay. In Taytay, we had a quaint four-storey house with a heavy wooden door punctuating an off-white facade. The black-painted iron gate was not more intimidating than an open window. Growing up as a rambunctious nuisance, I knew every corner of the house, often violating unspoken boundaries in my boredom. I even went out to the patio out by the front door to watch past the black gate, the nearby playground.

Something about that gate was restrictive. I would often think about finding out about the rest of the neighborhood, but my parents kept me confined. They would allow me to go with the firstborn to keep an eye on me; the furthest I had gone was to the sari-sari store at the end of the road to buy sour gumballs with coins that I would find along the way. Other times, I would watch the flow of the nearby creek, never crossing the makeshift bamboo bridge to the other side.

I stopped threatening to run away when we moved to Manila City; maybe I grew out of it, or maybe I got used to the inconveniences. The incessant urge to wander picked at me, still, and at thirteen, I was given permission to leave school without a fetcher. When San Juan was declared a city, I would wander the backstreets on foot, trying to find out nothing in particular. I likely just needed a break from all the familiarity of home and school.

At twelve, my parents moved us to Quezon City. We were near another major road straddling the interface between Quezon City and San Juan. We lived in a four-storey split-level house in a subdivision; I remember the weather being mostly overcast for some reason—maybe because of how densely the houses occupied a concrete canopy. There was another wrought iron gate—this time painted green—to keep the city out and the citizens in. Our house was well within the subdivision, so going out entailed a ten-minute walk. Instead, I would wander the pavement of the subdivision.

My father said it was because of our landlord that we had to move again—I was fourteen when we moved to another subdivision. This time, the gate was white, and the subdivision spilled clearly out to a major road, the one separating Quezon City and San Juan. I managed to convince my parents to let me walk to school on my own in the mornings in the guise that it would be faster than taking a car. Some days, when I would wake up early enough, I would walk slowly and take in the concrete dust—a kilometer in thirty minutes. Most days it would take around fifteen minutes to straddle the cities and go to school, sweating profusely from humidity.

We moved again when I was twenty-two, deeper into Quezon City. The barred gates are now completely opaque and painted green. The other side of the block is a highway, but none of the noise makes it to this side. The constant roadworks in the area make the streets unpredictably impassable, but as long as I have my pedestriation, I should not mind. The lease will be up in a few days, but I think my parents will renew.

Sometimes a sense of home for me depends on the movement—I only ever feel at home if I could freely leave, and freely come back. There was a time I would explore the different cities, only to come back to this—a room in a house in a subdivision just off a major road in a city among cities. I wrote some pieces before about my daily walks, but reading them now tires me, as if reliving the walks also brings back the exhaustion. Sometimes I tire of cities.

20180628

Sometimes in the clutter of my mind, I forget what my voice sounds like, so I interject, mostly to myself, whatever stray syllables congeal upon my tongue. Usually, I am alone, but there are times when group conversations become so overwhelming that impulse takes over, and I can no longer measure sounds. Too loud, too soft, too much something, than what the context calls for. Words can be inappropriate, or gentle, or sharp, and mine are usually as abrasive as my opinions can be.

There are days when I do not speak aloud, so when I actually do, a hoarseness coats my vocal chords in hesitation. I find myself relearning words or chancing upon neglected ones. They come out shrill or otherwise unrehearsed, and I often falter. Language for me is in flux—a constant state of discovery of how to say what I mean, or how to mean what I say, and I find myself often saying things and meaning differently. My voice clarifies the disparity in words.

So I try to write in the hope that I can elucidate the gaunt mess of meaning.

I was ten when I joined a choir. I wanted to do something with my voice, and singing at the time made sense, with friends and family complimenting my singing voice. I started out with a mezzo soprano in my timidity, eventually reaching soprano notes at age twelve. It was an achievement for me because most of the songs that I ascribed meaning to were high-pitched. Not shrill, but light and airy. There was a song without words that I used to vocalize to—it spanned almost four octaves from mezzo soprano to soprano, and I remember reaching the crescendo notes during a car ride at age thirteen.

I could not reach the notes since, and I stopped joining choirs at age fourteen primarily out of the lack of will—I no longer had the motivation nor dedication to keep singing for an audience. It did not help that my voice kept breaking at the onset of puberty. Even now, over a decade later, I find my voice has not settled. I can occasionally reach mezzo soprano with my falsetto, or mid-baritone, but my range for the past years has been fluttering between alto and tenor. I no longer have a stable singing voice, and I try not to force myself. Whenever I feel I want to sing, it is usually when I feel alone—to emote, as I grasp at words that are not mine to express what I think could be.

Music used to figure so heavily to me back then, but now it has been relegated to mere interest—a way to keep conversations going. A topic to which I could relate, but no longer with which I could actively engage. Instead, I listen to music in the hopes that the clutter piles into semblances of sense—words that flow with some clarity.

I try to cultivate some sense of musicality when I write. Maybe that would be enough, but words fall short without melody. Rhythm, tempo, harmony, pitch, resonance. Something about music is so much more than the words and sounds; I can only hope to replicate the emotion that music allows with mere words. When words afford me clarity and precision, music allows ambiguity and an inarticulation that escapes me.

Music is something else when there are no words. Words are something else when there is no music. Another disparity. Attempt as I do, I cannot find the words in the clutter, nor the sounds in the voice.

Ever since I could remember, I would record words in my head, and they would play back whenever the occasion presented itself. Since I was eight, I have been collecting words and voices of the people around me, as if documenting sound and meaning. Eventually, maybe I would resonate with the words or the sounds. I used to find myself holding conversations with the voices, as if subjecting myself to the judgement of others in the safety of my solitude.

When I was twelve, in a period of crisis and selfishness, I remember being told to get over myself. Each word enunciated, stabbing, and effective. I played it back over the course of months until the words became echoes, and the echoes leaked. It became something of a mantra. The first couple of years of my teenage years, while I was still under the illusion of discovering myself, I would repeat it. Get over yourself. Until even now, it is a feature of my persona—the constant struggle to get over myself.

Even words not directed at me, I can retain. A past flame was told by a past mentor off for being a piece of work. I still struggle to understand why I was so affected—maybe because I, too, am a piece of work. Maybe it was in the delivery, ripe with spite and fueled by rage. I could feel the spite directed at me because here was someone I considered important being told off for something I could have easily done myself. I am a piece of work, an object with no useful contribution to the group. A piece of work just there to be seen, not to be heard, much less listened to.

I am of little consequence, and that is fine with me.

Even through the clutter, I am aware that the words can bridge what is in my mind and what manifests. Words spoken in kindness shape the world in kind. Words spoken in spite proliferate negativity, which in moderation can challenge the circumstances of the world, but I refrain. I try to measure the clutter and use words that I find easy to let go of. I have nothing of substance to shape reality to say, but I know that even simple words can mean a lot more than I think they should.

So I minimize, and try to get over the disparities between what I mean and what I say. When the words fall short, I try to get over it. When the words overwhelm, I try to get over it. They are just words; I rarely sing anymore anyway. My voice still breaks.

20180618

The world is a small place for billions of people, and life is long enough for repeated encounters with a few who make life that much more meaningful, if at least more tolerable. As a consequence of the perception of time as a linear progression, I used to imagine relationships as the lines of the lives of people intertwining, but I have always questioned such an image. Why is it that some relationships can pick up where they left off, as if there were no time in between? While others need time in between to cement a meaningful bond?

At twenty-one, I tried to define friendship and came to the conclusion that friendship is a state of affairs in which two individuals know enough about each other to pose a threat, but do not actively engage in conflict based on such knowledge. It could have been that, at the time, I was reading too much into epistemology and political theory. Such a definition seems to be based on historical materialism, and allows for friendship between individuals of different classes for as long as they do not weaponize their materials against the other. It also seems to assume that people are capable of knowing each other, without regard for how people come to know each other.

I reckon I was trying to contextualize the friendships I had with people based on mutual antagonism—teasing and banter based mostly on play, but without actively taking down the other. I think it could have been based on a mutual understanding that sarcasm and mock conflict could be a fun way to interact. It was. But the point is that mutually antagonistic friendships predicated on symbolic violence based on knowledge of the other, without the intention to hurt or slander. Friendships based on mutual antagonism predicated on face-to-face encounters, in which the friends could actually troubleshoot conflict if ever it should arise from the mismatch of intent and interpretation.

If someone in a friendship got hurt by an interaction, at least the conflict could be addressed with all parties involved in person. The conflict-averse side of me prefers to sweep a lot of things under the rug, to give others the benefit of the doubt that, maybe they did not intend to hurt me, even if I did feel hurt. Hurt is something I feel quite often, but it is also easy for me to brush off for as long as I temper it with the discipline of rational thinking.

The optimism in me is constantly challenging such a definition. Friendship is founded on mutuality—trust(!), interest(!), and understanding(!). Friendship gives meaning to life because humans are necessarily social beings with social needs that can be addressed by contact with others. The social world is founded on mutuality—undocumented social contracts that allow for some cohesion between individuals. People want to come together because everyone can benefit from friendship(!).

But just because people want to engage in social activities, does not mean that it will happen. Conflict is an ever-present threat, and yet I think people are willing to face it if the reward is friendship.

For the longest time, even until now, I have struggled with sentiment. Sometimes I put value on friendships that are based on affect rather than reason. To my own detriment, I get hurt more by conflict with friends who allow me to create more meaning than with strangers. A friend is supposed to know me, and so any conflict with a friend calls into question intent—they likely know how to hurt me, and they did. Did they intend to hurt me? I brush the thought aside. They have, in the past, done more for me than I could measure, so the least I could do is give them the benefit of the doubt. Again and again.

Sentiment convolutes friendships. There is rarely alignment between the sentiment of one person toward another and that of the other toward the one person. What I suppose happens is that some people pay far more attention to others than others do to them. I am no different, and I have felt hurt. But I brush it off.

I have been told that I am not a fun person. I tend to overthink things and spoil the fun for others. Group outing? Logistics. Simple joke? Political context. Chill? Sudden anxiety. The world is not a fun place for me, and I am not a fun person for the world. I seek fun in meaningful work, but get mocked for liking what I do. I feel hurt and brush it off. Maybe they just do not know. I ruin a lot of would-be fun things. That is not fun for me either, and I have been trying to work at being spontaneous(!) and sociable(!) and fun(!!!), to incremental success.

It makes sense that I do not have many friends. I am a difficult person to deal with, and I fully acknowledge the challenges befriending me poses. Sometimes I feel as though I inconvenience others with my mere presence. But it becomes easy to brush off the feeling when friends share their stories and try to have fun around me. It is something of a test for me, as well, just to watch others have fun without me ruining it for them. They may not have stories with me, but maybe I can say I was there—a support role in their fun.

Lately I have been trying to minimize my presence in social situations. I have no place in the stories of others, and I would much rather not be mentioned at all so that I know people will still have fun without me. I just make life more difficult for others, and that is something I can address by minimizing my involvement with others. I have very little to offer anyway. Take me or leave me—I am here when the times are tough, but maybe I should wear a shirt that reads killjoy just so people know what they get into when they talk to me.

People do not actually need me, and that is fine. My friends move on with their lives without me, and that is fine. I just want to continue doing something worthwhile with my own life. Friendship is nice, but I guess I have to settle with the feeling of friendship as a luxury. Or brush it off.

20180501

Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night with an acute sense of dread—I was alone, sweating myself in the coldness of my room, wondering why I was so keenly aware of my solitude. It could have been the dream I was having—surrounded by familiar faces but not knowing what they were doing around me. It could have been the estrangement from people around me in-real-life. Ever since I was twenty, I have been coming to terms with having to lose tethers—people leave, and there will not always be an explanation.

One persistent struggle for me is that of connection—people ground me to reality. Friends, moreso. Relationships allow me to find meaning in such profanity, and I am grounded by intimacy. Then, sometimes—inexplicably—the world changes when I feel I have lost someone. Or maybe, someone has to leave, and the world changes around me. I can never be too sure.

Leaving is a process, in which a person has to make certain decisions. Sometimes intentional, but for the most part not, in my experience. Circumstance forces people around me to make decisions that take them away from me, and I have had to grapple with that. My sentiments are precisely my own, and I can hold on to memories, but I cannot force someone to choose to be closer to me. I cannot allow myself to impose myself upon another—I am indebted to my friends, but it does not mean that they are to me. I learn from my friends, and when circumstance pushes them away, I just have to deal with it.

But I woke up not with the realization that people were leaving—it was with the awareness that I am alone, that the people around me are living their lives, and no matter how much they mean to me, I will never mean the same thing to them. I have been trying to let go of sentiment, of attachment to intimacy, but it has been difficult. I am not meant to live alone, but I find that living with self-assured and self-determined people can be lonely. As much as possible, I leave it up to my friends to give me their time; I cannot want what is theirs for myself, or else fall into envy. I can only accept what is given me, and if they have nothing to give, I have nothing to accept.

Instead, I can give them what I have—assurance that I can make time for them, assurance that they are still important to me no matter the circumstances. I can give my time and abilities to help them, much like a support character in their lives. But I cannot give them peace of mind, because I do not have it. I cannot give them the answers they need, because I do not know the words needed. I cannot give myself, because I know that they do not need me.

Maybe I can give them words, strung together into some semblance of cohesion, to help them understand what sort of person they would like to become. Maybe I can give them time, passing moments assembled into some reassuring narrative, that they can do things on their own.

Sometimes I feel like I am sitting behind the counter of an information booth. People should know where I am, and I help facilitate the activities of those around me, but I am bound to this spot. People come, and people go as they need; my only duty is to help them get what they need and then move on. I am a plot device in the narrative of others, and that is okay with me, because my story is about moving on. Maybe it is a cautionary tale.

It is difficult to live for myself, when I find meaning in living for others. Sometimes, when friends tell me what they want, I want that for them as well and find a way to fulfill that, for them. But I find it difficult to want for myself. I still have needs, but wanting feels strange to me, because the feeling is never satisfied.

I used to want to transfer schools, because I felt that I was not learning what I was interested in. That want was never fulfilled, and I find now a trace of regret—sentiment that does not belong, that ties me to a past possibility. I used to want to get married, because the idea of a long-term commitment sounded like a good step toward stability in life. The want comes and goes, but even without marriage, I am still able to make long-term commitments—it just becomes a matter of formalities.

The thing about wants is that they are not always fulfilled in an expected way. The simpler the want, the simpler the path to fulfill it, but more complicated wants are fulfilled not in themselves, but in a way that makes sense in the chaos of the world. If I wanted meaningful relationships, I can try to analyze what few bonds I share, but then I realize even short relationships can be meaningful. Even the few moments when a person approaches the information booth and asks a question can be an opportunity for meaningful exchange.

So when I want to be assured that I am not alone, I find that, even in solitude I can appreciate the feeling of connection—not just with other people, but with ideas. Looking back at times I felt lonely, it could have been because I could not understand my relationship with the circumstances around me. Loneliness was synonymous with helplessness, and I woke up not wanting not to be alone, but wanting not to be helpless.

In the blur of that morning, I think I sent a few messages reaching out to people, but I did not hear back from them. I fell asleep in a dismal state, only to wake up panicking about heavy traffic later in the morning. For the rest of the week, I grappled with the feeling of wanting to be left alone, but rarely finding that opportunity, because somehow, I was more aware of the presence of the people around me. Maybe they did not choose to stay with me—not consciously—but even if for a few moments, I could find meaning in sharing time.

2018 March 19

In the mornings before first period, I would wander around, occasionally joining the games that my peers would play—the likes of Cops and Robbers and Ice-Ice-Water. By first period, I would find myself preemptively worn down; the energy I expended on physical activity gave way to a sense of calm. Though I would find myself bored and restless for the first couple of hours of class before recess, by break time, I, at some point in primary school, had just enough energy for a couple of rounds of kooshball, monkey in the middle-style.

It was at the ripe age of ten that I would frequent the library. Whenever I had no more energy for physical activity, I would hole up in a quieter corner and pick up a book—any book—to read. The type of energy I need in order to read has been, still is, qualitatively different from that of physical activity. It takes a sense of calm, I figure, to peruse through written words and immerse in a world beyond the sense of sight. Reading, for me, is an exercise of the imagination and a skill in tuning out the physical world, if only for a little while.

By lunch time, I would find myself not wanting to engage in anything particularly physical, and my visits to the library were motivated, in part, by a wanting to get away—to escape, as it were, from the mundane of the day-to-day. Something about books—fiction in particular—offered respite from the challenges of reality. Which is not to say that reading did not offer any challenges, but that the challenge was markedly different from having to perform myself. Reading books allowed me to introspect when homework and childhood games were wanting in that regard.

At some point, I found myself relating more to fictional characters than I did with my peers. While friends around me were dealing with growing up, I already felt that I had, in a sense, grown up with fictional characters in books. At some point in high school, I would joke about fictional characters being real friends. There was a grain of truth in that, by immersing in the perspective of another person—no matter the fiction—I was able to consider my real-world experiences in terms of the experiences of fictional characters. Because fictional characters also had motivations for actions, I could ask myself about my own motivations for doing something.

My motivation for staying in the library for break times was to have a break. I wanted to learn more about myself through other people, and while my peers were playing games, I was reading fictions. Sometimes my readings would leak into conversations with friends, and we would compare opinions on characters, plots, and context. I suppose I was under the impression that only a few people read.

The few friends I had in primary liked to tell their own stories—it didn’t have to be personal accounts, but for the most part, their stories reflected some aspect of their lives, and embedded in the story was their perspective. I was thirteen when I came across more people with similar experiences of immersing in fictions and sharing their own stories. I grew up listening to their stories and learning about how they experience the world. I grew up incorporating my friends’ perspectives in sharing their stories into my own.

By the age of sixteen, I had an inkling that stories have never been simple nor linear. Stories are complex, with characters operating under different assumptions in a shared context. The drawback of stories told to younger audiences was that characters tended to be flat, and character development was reserved for the protagonist. Maybe that’s why I was under the impression that, as the protagonist of my own life, my character development took precedent. Whenever conflict erupted in my real life, I was the first to cast a spell. At the age of sixteen, I learned to reconsider this tactic.

Working as a cleric in the human resources department of a local firm, I was exposed to all sorts of people—each trying to develop their own characters. I would read job applications and cover letters in which people were, in earnest, trying to improve the conditions of their lives. Growth was, and still is, for good reason, a buzzword in job applications. Growth is important because character can only be developed through growth, the persistent questioning and rising to the challenge.

Part of my growth in that job was to update files on seemingly minor conflicts in the firm. My manager would not let me sit in any of the interviews, but gave me access to the documentation—from formal complaints, to testimonies, to action points or interventions. I had a glimpse of conflict resolution—the procedure of investigating the multiple perspectives and experiences within an issue in order to come to an agreeable compromise. I applied what I learned then to resolving conflicts in my personal life, but it turns out life is messy and complex, with too many characters stepping in and out, and no coherence.

So instead, I write. Not about specific conflicts, but about what I have learned from experiences with conflict. I try to form some semblance of coherence, but there are too many variables to consider. With human resource management, I am at least assured of a resolution, but my personal experiences with conflict constantly call that into question. Personal life is full of conflict, I figure, that rarely, if at all, reaches a resolution. The growth, then, does not hinge on the resolution, but on the ability to grow through the process—considering other perspectives and arriving at a solution that could possibly make sense.

I often find that it doesn’t, but I at least have hypotheses I can test out. I at least have a procedure for investigating conflicts. It was at age twenty that I realized that the best thing to do is listen to the stories of other people. Not intervene, but offer some solace in that their perspective matters, and that they are trying to come to a resolution for themselves. People are somewhat like characters in fictions in that they can be read. Sure, not everything they say will cohere like it would in a fiction, but that does not make their story any less important, any less worthy of learning something insightful from.

People who know me know that I have moments when I believe in people so wholeheartedly, and know also that I constantly question everyone—myself included. My latest hypothesis was formed when I was twenty-one—take what people say at face-value. I tend to read into things, and that doesn’t help me so much. At least with face-value, I am assured that people are trying to do something concrete. I am assured that there is a direction toward which to grow.

2018 February 13

A significant portion of my childhood was squandered on the question of who I am. Little did I know it back then, but I broke the question down into one of ontology—what I am, the question of a sense of identity, of the labels that I could slap on myself in order to recognize something comprehensible, predictable.

Over the years up until around the age of sixteen, I sought for myself a role—student, leader, confidant—that I could weave into a sensible narrative of my life. The roles were labels of purpose. I am a mentee, therefore I take advisement from my mentor; I am a child, therefore I follow the rules of my parents. Roles came with particular sets of duties and responsibilities that I had to fulfill, and my worth as Someone rested on my ability to fulfill those duties and handle those responsibilities.

At first it was an intrapersonal concern—aspirations, what I wanted to become and how to become that. The roles expanded into paths that I could take in life. I wanted to be a preacher, so I read the sacred texts; I wanted to be a scientist, so I messed around with toothpaste and corn starch. I rarely looked beyond my own ambitions, such that it was difficult to see what the roles all had in common. It was at age twelve that I realized the underlying goal of all the roles I wanted for myself—I wanted to help people, in some way, in some capacity.

It was an emotional night when my mother confronted me about my steadily declining grades. It turned out to be one of those hour-long arguments that I ended up blocking out for the most part, but I remember that it concluded with both of us in tears, embracing each other against the words “people are important to me” escaping with my voice. I carried that with me through the Who Am I and paradoxically built walls to protect my sense of self.

The goal was to help people, and I needed to take on roles that would affirm the importance of people. I wanted to be a doctor, so I asked people where it hurt; I wanted to be a journalist, so I asked people about their issues. My own growth hinged on my ability to fulfill a role that would help others. It was only later on—maybe I was twenty—that I confronted my neediness. I needed people so much that I lost focus on what I needed for myself. Validation for the Who Am I came from others, because if I looked inward, I was being selfish—at least, I thought so.

Even now, I struggle with emancipating validation for the Who Am I from the sense of self-worth I derive from helping others. Friends I hold to high regard often have to remind me to take care of myself, and even now, it barely registers. I suppose I have been keeping my eyes out for others so long I forget how to treat my own wounds. Even as a medic, I would pack medical supplies for others, refusing to use any of them on myself. I could take it even when my teammates could not, I reckon I figured. It was more important for me that other people were doing okay.

Looking back, I realize that maybe I was not doing okay myself. I have been neurotic for as long as I can remember, and my emotionality has given me strong experiences—in good flavors as in bad. At twenty-one, I chanced upon the thought that my emotions are often uncontrollable—I would laugh when I should have been crying, cry when I should have been yelling, and yelling when I should have been somber. Something about my emotions render feelings vague—anger, joy, and sadness are all rooted in the same source for me. It just becomes a matter of how strongly I feel them all together, or how little I feel of any.

Sometimes I think of myself as a mess of circuitry, electricity coursing through my being. Somewhere in the barrage of processors, my feelings and emotions were cross-wired, or otherwise irreparably entangled that I could no longer distinguish them from each other. If I were to cut or otherwise mess with any one of those wires, I would risk cutting off all emotion—possibly severing my ability to empathize. That would be bad; I do not want that.

The image of an electrical plug comes to mind—the three-pronged one. Two daggers complete the main circuit, and a round prong grounds any excess electricity. Whereas the daggers connect me to the world, the round prong grounds me should anything unforeseen or otherwise overpowering attempt to enter the circuitry.

I had inklings of what this grounding mechanism was in my life when I was thirteen, but it was only at eighteen that I was able to figure a name for it—support system, I called it. At first it was a select set of close friends on whom I could rely; they would effectively ground me whenever I was whelmed over my threshold. The Who Am I was complemented by their Who Are You To Me—sibling to sibling, confidant to confidant, fellow to fellow. Over time, the core set of friends has changed some, but the support is there.

Over time, my support system also came to include particular behavioral and thought patterns that got me through certain hells. In order to defend myself from personal attacks at work, I use professionalism as a shield; in order to deal with abandonment, I cut people out, preemptively.

I am not completely sure about defense mechanisms, but I am somewhat sure that I do employ them on occasion, often unknowingly. I often feel bad about having to subject my friends to this.

Every so often, I run away. Sometimes I fixate so much on the feelings that I forget the Who Am I and seek refuge in the Who Are You To Me. Whenever I run away, I make it a point to contact someone or to tell someone of my whereabouts, because if the support system is to work, it needs information. Sometimes the support system gives me a miracle, and I have somewhere directional to run to, but most of the time, the running is aimless—just away and never toward until the restlessness is out of my system.

I suppose the Who Am I is diminishing in its salience to me, whereas the emotions have the ability to overwhelm my sense of self, potentially revealing some hidden aspect of myself that I overlooked in the labeling of things. Sometimes the thought of not liking who I am comes to mind, but then such a thought is easily pushed aside by the idea that who I am does not matter, because how I feel will often shape how I understand myself.