Sunset has always been my favorite time of day. As an early teenager, I got to sit on our sofa and watch the twilight create glitters of gold as it hits the shelf right above our television set. Before dusk, the metals, glasses and marbles come to life — my medals, trophies and plaques glimmer at the soft hint of light coming from the window. As I stare, scenes flash from the declamation contests, from the commencement rites, the inter-school drawing competitions, the badminton games, the international writing contests I have all been in. Even I get surprised by how much “bacon” I have managed to bring home. At times, looking at the bacon shelf worried me that one day it won’t be able to handle all the weight and it might, out of the blue, cave in and collapse on our television set.
Of course, that was a long time ago. Life, too, has a way of flipping circumstances the other way around. When I moved away from my parents and to the Philippines after high school, I had confidence to pull through, but never enough to sustain the same boldness I had to jump into new experiences. During the first tour around my dream university, I promised myself I’d join Heights, the official literary publication and organization of the Ateneo. I had so much enthusiasm while I unearthed the diverse interests of my fellow students, so much so that I wanted to join 10 organizations at a time. All those plans though, I later realized, did not amount to anything; I ended up not joining clubs or orgs anymore after my freshman year. Frankly, my stay in college was dry besides academics. The closest I could get to learning outside a classroom was being at home, reading or cooking.
Slowly but surely, my fear of that one bacon shelf caving in turned into fear of never being able to fill another. Not that it was uncommon; lingering among us, the supposedly cream of the crop of the community back home, was an unspoken unease. We knew that the best of any small town was nothing compared to the students back in the Philippines who have had more experiences against a greater competition. We hoarded insecurities, which got us into thinking that perhaps it was “okay” to let go of the extra-curricular activities this time because we had plenty of those back then. So we focused on studies to be, at the very least, assured we would finish the race, while in the meantime unknowingly sweeping aside our dreams and passions under the illusion of ‘we are doing this to be better, so we do not disappoint the people back home.’
Watching my college friends turn into leaders in their respective non-academic orgs made me feel guilty of not accepting opportunities that abound in the university, from seminars and workshops to simply just hanging out and widening my horizons, and of course, building my network in the process. To make myself feel better, my reaction to this has eventually become been-there-done-that. Frankly, I found being around my friends who were active in orgs quite uncomfortable, as it felt like they were a constant reminder of the things I was largely missing out on. Ironically, their constant complaints about the hassles of being in an org, which supposedly affirmed my decision of not joining any, have had an opposite effect on me. In hindsight, I know that the reason they nonetheless renew their membership year after year is that they love what they do no matter how inconvenient it is to have something competing for their time against collegiate academics. Deep down, I was envious of these people who got to do what they love despite being bombarded with academic requirements, while I go straight home after class to make sure I don’t fail a single course. Somehow it made me feel that I was flawed, that I was not capable, different from the students who completed things that mattered, who knew what commitment to work meant in practical application.
Insecurities—the one word that hits me hardest in the gut. I have doubted myself a lot and I largely owe it to the adjustment issues I was experiencing with regards to the new culture, lifestyle and environment I was re-planted in. Opportunities have been knocking in my face, presenting themselves openly. I get direct invitations to write for an org, sing for an event, join a choir— all of which I have done before at supposedly extensive levels and should give me nothing new to be afraid of. I say “nothing new” because putting a piece of myself out there has always been a terrifying thing; I knew this, but along with that knowledge, I already knew as well that it can be overcome. Yet, sadly, the thought of trying always got to me. More than anything, I have mastered the craft of making excuses to others and to myself. It feels right to point out, though, that behind every straight-up ‘no’ to an invitation was a struggle, a painful transition from can’t to won’t.
Thankfully, there were things I could simply not run away from. For instance, commuting. It took a long while before my love for exploring new places resurfaced. In fact, it was only when I learned to use the MRT for my internship that I started getting satisfaction from staying out of my house. New roads, different bystanders, unique cafés, uncharted landscapes and seascapes— and how distinct they look like at different times of the day— made me realize what I was missing by keeping to myself. Suddenly, preparing meals for my siblings turned out to be a responsibility I did not completely hate after rediscovering an imponderable delight in cooking. In this I have grown interested in trying out new recipes readily available online these days. It kept the chore from feeling like a chore; even grocery shopping got exciting. Towards the end of my stay in college, my boyfriend taught me how to drive and it felt like most fun thing I had done in years. Soon enough, learning new things flowed naturally like they always should have been, had I only known how to say yes. After graduation, I received a sunflower plant as a gift and spent my time reading about it, ensuring it gets all the love and care it needs. Also, I was re-unitied with my love for writing through the simple joys of blogging.
All these little things, these bits and pieces, gradually fueled my passion for doing things and accomplishing them, and more importantly, learning in the process— whether it’s finding an alternate commuting route going home from another city, or discovering how turning the car key to start the engine feels similar to igniting fire on the kitchen stove. In the summer after my graduation, I went back to Jeddah, the home of my bacon shelf. A month into my vacation, I was offered a short-term secretarial position at a hospital, which paid sufficiently well for a part time job. For the first time in a long time, I did not run away from making a commitment; I said yes. It felt like an adventure working in a hospital setting, which I thought would only remain as a dream ever since I started college studying information systems. Dealing with people of varying nationalities and peculiar personalities no less, getting used to medical jargons, and taking time to understand the handwriting of my boss, a very kind-hearted Egyptian doctor, were all surprisingly fun. It felt like stumbling into an old treasure chest I once owned.
Also during this time, whenever I got home from work, I would finish all the books I have never dared to start reading due to the thinking I would not finish them, one of which was Writing Is My Drink. This part-memoir by Theo Pauline Nestor contained tips and activities to hone writing skills. I worked on them, finally finding myself doing what I genuinely loved to do. I remember wanting to pursue a journalism degree, wanting to join Heights, wanting to publish my book as a teenager. After spending my days on writing, I realized that it was, and always will be, a horrible mistake to think that I already have had enough involvement within a certain period of my life that it is ever justified to stop trying gaining experience thereafter. Now I understand what it meant when they said that there’s never too much when it comes to the things we learn. We, humans, do not stop craving for knowledge, and it is such a natural and brilliant thing altogether, that going against this urge is self-deprecation. I learned this the hard way.
Looking back, I realized that life, while we might think of it as a monotonous routine, actually offers a fresh set of daily lessons we tend to overlook. In the very slim chance that we get no knocks from opportunities, then, as the saying goes, “build a door.” It takes constant hardwork to sustain learning, yet it is worth it, for we feed on knowledge. Undeniably, snapping out of defeatism has been quite a process for me. Now that I am back to my senses, writing this is my attempt to pick up from where I left off, my effort to take a step towards my long-overdue dream of publishing a book, and my way of “building a door” which I am finally ready to open.
In the end, the weight of the bacon shelf shrinks into the most trivial matter in comparison to the massive lessons I have had the privilege of harnessing from participating not just in school, but in life. Like seashells on a nightstand, trophies may be quite an eyeful, but they do nothing more than remind us of what marvelously endless horizons our sights have set upon during such a finite time.