Monday, December 12, 2011

Of High Risk Behaviors

Having spent most of my adult life in the company of artists (my first job was in an orchestra) where high risk behavior is the norm, almost a membership badge, it is rather quite a feat that I myself have not acquired their habits and indulgences.

Smoking is a default past time for most music people. They look to it as a biological need as essential as eating or more precisely, breathing. Smoking has been used for as many purposes from laxative to a ritual to ward off bad luck and everything else in between. Good thing I outgrown the habit. Clean lungs for years now.

Being acknowledged with perfect notes, timely tempo, & the end of a good run, were all occasions to celebrate and celebration meant drinking. Being stuck in the corps, playing badly, and the end of a bad run were reasons to commiserate and commiseration demanded drinking. In the orchestra, complaints about hang over, splitting headaches, and the possibility of fainting before the end of rehearsals were daily conversational fare during breaks. As were sexual conquests of the previous night. A running tally of the most cavalier among the boys was regularly updated. The girls had their own more discreet tally sheet as well.

Those who tried drugs were lost in that quicksand in no time fast.

I have lost friends to alcoholism, drugs, pregnancy, and even AIDS. On hindsight, a young man just arriving from the province, I was a likely candidate for high risk behavior. I wanted to belong. I was interested in all things new. I was up for any dare. What steered me away from high risk behavior was my profile. I believe now it is a combination of so many things, from my upbringing, my early education, and what I wanted.

If you grew up climbing trees, swimming in rivers, running against the wind, jumping off cliffs, fishing in the sea, you know there are other ways to feel better. To celebrate life. To appreciate yourself more.

On days when the sun wasn’t out and the rain was too cold to bathe in, there were the countless worlds inside books. Being alone wasn’t a problem. It was a chance for some quiet. Quietude wasn’t bad. Quietude was a blank page I can create worlds in. Silence and solitude were friends that even now I still seek out with mindful purpose.

And lastly, I wanted a life in the arts. Most of all I wanted to sing. Having wanted that all my life, it was clear to me what smoking was going to do to me. It dries up the throat, and a dry throat loses the brilliance of its sound. Add to that the stink of smoker’s breath. Alcohol binds with the water in your body for it to be released and of course resulted to dehydration. It does accumulating damage to one’s brain. And of course, there’s the uncomfortable hangover to look forward to the next day. Who needs that? If you’re happy, why end it so soon? If you feel bad, why make it worse? It’s one day wasted when you could be practicing. When you could be working on getting better at your art. A life in the arts is already one big risk. Come to to think of it, all of life really is. Just crossing the street is risk enough. And the excitement of getting across safely and being able to live another day to fight for your dreams, who needs more excitement than that? Another reason was that I was aware how my family was susceptible to substance abuse. My father was an incorrigible alcoholic even after an aneurysm and a stroke. He finally had to give up his love for the bottle on his 2nd fatal stroke which ended everything else for him. I have cousins who have had to be rushed to hospitals on drug overdose. Knowing that somewhere in our genes lurks that one renegade gene making us especially vulnerable to the hold of addiction, I knew that if I even dared to start, I’d be down the drain with one sip. I was 24 when I had my first beer. Before that I have flatly refused, secretly drained, or just subtly avoided every offered alcoholic drink. More than a few times, I have been tied down by friends who thought it would be fun to force alcohol on me and were treated to my impersonation of a whale spouting a fountain. My first drink was when I turned 24 and I was fully convinced of my strength to avoid things I wanted to avoid. It was a planned affair. I asked all the friends I could round up to be witnesses. It was an act of trust. I was finally trusting myself that I was clear enough of who I was. I wasn’t a drinker. My next drink would be a year later.  I can handle my alcohol. I handle it gingerly and not very often.

Now sex, sex is a different matter altogether. A big city makes experimentation so much easier. So many anonymous chances to take. As disposable as candies in a wrapper. Something a small town cannot afford you. The fear of being seen with some stranger in a town where you know everybody and everybody knows not only you but even those whom you know. The shame of being seen going inside a seedy motel. These are, to my thinking, better deterrents to promiscuity than even the threat of STDs. I cannot claim to have been untainted by this particular high risk behavior. Details would be out of taste. I have always insisted on safety though. Or as some friends of mine call, the illusion of safety that a condom offers. At this age though, I’ve come to see the truth in what some smart-aleck said about sex, that without affection, it’s just friction. It gets old.

High risk behavior is dancing on one’s grave. It’s tempting fate to cut you down in the middle of a party. It’s a coward’s ticket out of the great race. One’s grave isn’t the best place for dancing. Dancing is wonderful on a stage, with people looking on, knowing they cannot do half of what you are doing. Dancing is lovely on a beach, under the moon, with some one you love. But dancing is best in your living room, just flapping your arms and being silly with friends, with chips strewn all over and soda spraying on everybody. Why choose the risk to lose when there’s the risk of winning?

Friday, December 9, 2011

Of Kermit And A Strange Lesson

Enjoying the cold weather with this little frog.
He must have found the light and swallowed it.

Thanks Kermit, I learned how to seize the day:
by not following the light and give everything up
 but to engulf it and shine for others.


Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Of Virgin Suicides

I’m reading Jeffrey Euginedes’ The Virgin Suicides four days ago. I’ve always wanted to read it and was finally able to get a copy, when my sister and I went to a nearby bookstore as we were waiting for my other brothers to show up for our weekly dinner (which I actually looked forward to and enjoyed. I guess I really am growing up, haha). I’ve seen the movie three times, and each time, I remember feeling deeply affected when I get to the scene where Cecilia explains why she tried to kill herself (the first time): “Obviously doctor, you’ve never been a 13 year old girl.”

I remember being 12 and wishing with all my heart that I would grow up quickly. My male cousins are five or six years older than me, and I remember feeling left out when they were starting to talk about girls and stuff and all those things in the world of high school. My brothers were of no help, of course, largely because of the obvious fact that they were still boys in grade school, and I was caught in the middle. Of course, growing up, my problems were not as scandalous, they don’t warrant a tragedy like The Virgin Suicides. After all, the story’s context is US suburban life, but I remember a friend’s observation while we were having a heart to heart over beer: middle-class families in the Philippines are incredibly dysfunctional, and what’s worse is that on the surface, we like pretending that things are okay. I think this is partly why I don’t see myself every coming out with an honest-to-god compilation of creative nonfiction, I’d be too scared to talk about my family life. I’m not saying that we have a lot of problems, but we have some, like everyone else, and I wouldn’t want to say anything unintentionally hurtful, especially now that I’m supposed to be all grown up.

At dinner, my sister tells me, with a hint of incredulity: “Twenty-six ka na pala” I don’t know what she meant by that, exactly, She sounded so like mom when she was still alive. Bleh.

But yeah, if I step back and look at myself, I’m equally incredulous that I’m actually 26, and I don’t feel like growing up anymore. I wonder if Cecilia’s statement can be transposed to my current state: “Obviously doctor, you’ve never been a 26 year old queer boy.” (This is spot-on, as I have to schedule some check-ups in a few days, what with all these growing pains and some cancer). At 26, this is a short version of my to-do list: Short-term plan- get rid of this fockin' C. Long-term plan: I have no idea. Very Winona Ryder-ish, ala Reality Bites, don’t you think?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Of First Love And Then Some

So I’m going to talk about something tawdry. Like love. I probably have never had more offers to be in a relationship in my life than in the past few weeks. I’m sure I have never had more offers etc. I’d get carried away and agree it’s a good idea and then about 30 minutes later have second thoughts. I really don’t feel like rationalizing. I’ll just tell you of my first love. The pseudo-love-affair. That one was a hoot.

It is the moon. No, my first love wasn’t the moon. It’s the moon that’s got me thinking about my first love. He was in med school. I was just starting at work. And because of his schedule, I would refrain from disturbing him even if I wanted so badly to be with him. Especially during full moons. It’s when I get loony. It’s when I want to sing about how much I like him. When I want to dance circles around him. When I want to shoot the ceiling from being so happy to have found him. I couldn’t. Med school can’t let you do that schedule to the moon’s waxing and waning. I would walk all the way from my building to his apartment. Walking through dark streets. All the while singing all the romantic songs I know. Along the way, I’d cross a bridge spanning a river. Not a very romantic bridge. It’s just ugly. And the river’s all littered with garbage. But in the moonlight, the garbage glimmered. Like the river was sprinkled with diamonds. I’d always bring a coin to throw into the water. Never wishing for anything. I wished for other people. That they would find as much happiness as I had. Then I’d go back to singing. I would only stop singing when I was nearing his place. I’d sit on a side street some ways away from his doorstep and watch his silhouette by the window. Hunched over a book. I’d stay there for a few minutes just being delirious to watch that shadow turning pages of a book and making writing gestures. Then I’d head back for home. Singing again. I remember there would be people looking out their windows, almost waiting for me every night. Nobody shushed me or made fun of me. Nobody shouted for me to shut up. Just a slow opening of the shutters and people sitting by the window. At first they would try to peek which made me try to sing softer. After a while, they just left the windows open. I would only see curtains moving quietly. By the time I got home, I only had enough energy to wash my feet and drop on my bed. The next day, I’d be too tired to wake up for work. We’ll stop now.

So there. I’ve done my time with crazy. With love. With creepy behavior because of being in love. Sadly, it was not reciprocated. But it's love, still. I guess.

I miss that. I miss that elation. I miss that craziness. I miss all that corn. I miss wishing other people the same happiness. I miss having something to sing for. Not just because I love singing.

There is someone I want to sing for. There. Isn’t that a surprise? With cancer and all, I can still manage to make landi. I met him last month at my weekly therapy. He's a doctor that oddly looks like McSteamy. (What's with the medical field that knocks me off? Jeez!) But I can’t drum up the courage to ask him. Me. I’m such a coward. And a hypocrite. Telling myself that I'm still busy getting well. I should probably ask him out to a movie or something. Or something sounds more… Fun.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

Of A Much Needed Change

I’m thinking of overhauling this blog, or deleting it completely.

When I started blogging in college, I loved the anonymity and the odd pleasure of making online friends (and meeting them in real life!), reading journal entries written by strangers from all over the world, and leaving nice notes on their guestbooks.  I can still do those things now, heck I bet it’s even easier now that the internet has become more accessible (although it is of course not true that everyone has access and that one can change the world through the internet).  I started blogging again last year because I had the time, and maybe because I was a lonely kid. But most of all, I started blogging again because I wanted to write frequently, while knowing that some people out there actually read what I wrote.  I was writing for strangers, really, they were my target audience. Not family, friends, or acquaintances.

The problem is that I tend to blog, mostly, about personal issues. Blogs are (or used to be) online journals, after all. I’d like to think of myself as an introspective person, and I did share a shitload of juvenile rants before. The difference in what and how I blog now is a matter of restraint–because even though I don’t have illusions that a lot of people read this blog, there is always that nagging idea that a family member or a friend of a friend might stumble upon this archive. So I am consciously editing, consciously deleting specifics that might give away too much. In other words, I don’t think the nature of this blog as (primarily) an online journal is helping me become a better writer. I feel that my writing, here at least, has become vague and safe. A few years from today, if I try to go through what I’ve posted in the past year, I might not even understand my own writing.

There is always that option to create a screen name and a new personal blog that’s more “private.”  And I’m considering that option, too. But what’s funny is that while I am longing for that imagined anonymity, in a way, I also want to declare my identity. I also want to say Hey, if you like what you’re reading, this is me, Caloy, nice to meet you! The internet makes you want to do that, maybe because of the notion of online “publishing.”

Anyway, while I’m still undecided, I’ve decided to go back to old school journal writing. Last week, I bought myself a new leather notebook (not a moleskine because I think those are sinfully expensive). I have  other notebooks that are gathering dust in my drawers, but I purchased a new one as an incentive (for myself, who else hahaha). It’s covered with black leather and has reasonably lined off-white pages, and it’s got this nice page-marker–I don’t know the technical word for the marker, but it’s that thin strip of cloth often found in daily planners. I made the mistake of using a dull grayish pen for my first entry, but now I’m using a sign pen which makes writing clearer, literally, and in the sense that it’s easier to review what I’ve already written.

I wrote my first entry one night, when I was fuming mad at something that happened at home. I wrote because I was angry, and I couldn’t articulate my anger. And I felt better after doing that, a kind of satisfaction I no longer get from blogging. Since then, I’ve been filling it up constantly, although I don’t write on it everyday. It’s not the frequency that matters, after all, it’s the personal significance of what is documented.

So... There will be less personal shit on this blog, maybe more creative shit, haha. Or maybe I’ll come up with a theme, like a 365-days-challenge or some other focus, which will still allow me to share ideas online, just not too much.

Take care kids!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Of Motivations And Writing Needs

Long before any of my artistic pursuits, there was writing. Of course, reading came before writing, as arguably listening comes before singing, or looking before painting and sculpting but these earlier acts are acts of receiving and not of creating, hence, not generally considered artistic acts. And, if I ever was anything, I was a bibliovore. No, there is no such word but bibliophile seems too tame a name for the animal I was about books. I practically lived on them, foregoing all other natural acts like eating(until I’m faint), or defecating (until my head was full of ammonia), or sleeping (until my head ached like I had a day with a dentist who ran out anesthesia). It is only but natural that all that voracious reading should make me try my hand at writing. And tried I have. The results may have been less than spectacular but more than things to read, they were things I HAD to write. All that intake of words must naturally result to an outward release. The parallelism towards eating and the opposite action may be less palatable than it is proper.

I’ve said it before that I am more able to write in times of despair. Eloquence lends itself well to tortuous run-on sentences. I often feel relieved after writing about my personal little tragedies. Again, we can bring up the earlier cited natural act of bowel movement but lest this brings to mind steamy, foul-smelling, piles of feces, we shall instead attribute the relief to the order writing brings to the mess that all of life is. In a piece of writing, there is an imaginary beginning and an as-much-imagined ending. If only because there is the first word and the period at the end. When in truth, all of life is but one continuous tangle of choices and consequences.

And so I write. I write now not because it is a dark time. There have been darker times. Crows in the sky no more but a crossing of a meadow to listen to larks. No harbinger but a salve. Something to calm a throbbing portion of my soul.

The past year has been… What adjective can sum it all up? Which adjectives can be strung together to even approach how the past year felt?

This is why I feel the need to write more often. How to remember the feeling of each singular moment the past year has brought? How to remember the joys, the sadness, and more importantly, the lessons.

Yet, like an unused muscle, my writing voice is sluggish. Like a pen with dried up ink on its tip, I start and occasionally stop to shake my head to loosen the flow of my thoughts. It is still there, my writing voice. Slow to start, rusty, but serviceable.

Have an inspiring morning everyone!

Monday, November 7, 2011

Of Night Birds And Isolation

It’s 1 am.

A lone night bird sings below. I’m on the viewdeck of our house here in Laguna. The viewdeck is perched high on a mountainside and I can see the whole of Makiling from where I’m sitting.

I’m isolated on this mountain. The nearest person would be some 20 meters away fast asleep. So even if I sung my lungs out, I wouldn’t be disturbing anyone. Well, there are the birds. It’s the lone night bird’s fault. It’s singing so beautifully somewhere in the forest. It was singing a haunting song. To my mind, it’s a call to be found. A mating call. And in my imagination, there’s no one there to hear it. It is the last of its kind and it is calling vainly. Of course, it’s not. It’s seeming loneliness may be because female birds do not often answer. Nor can they most of the time. In most species of birds, females don’t have a song. Only the males need it to attract females. If it’s not a song, then it’s bright colored plumage. Not very different from humans, don’t you think? If it’s not ability manifested by achievements, wealth, or acquisitions, it’s looks. Well, that bird was singing. And something about his singing caught at something in my chest. It tugged at it and loosened some dam I didn’t know was filling up unnoticed. Maybe it’s the fragility of its song. Or the seeming futility of it. It’s stopped now. Maybe it’s found a mate. Or several.

So now I’m singing. I’m trying to find the same fragility in that bird’s song. I’m imagining being perched on a branch. The leaves have fallen off from the intense rain beforehand. The breezes uninterrupted by the bare branches are chilly. I am calling. Somebody hear my song. Somebody come. Somebody find me. And only the breeze comes. Mute. Cold. Empty.

I liked the sound of that. But there’s no one else to hear it.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Of Survival And Defense Mechanisms

I am still alive.

Cancer remission has been confirmed. I have been treated with chemotherapy for nearly a year now.

My current treatment is an experimental infusion that lasts 15 days each month. Almost immediately, I experience a nearly imperceptible ebbing of my physical stamina and soon I prefer to walk rather than run, take an escalator instead of the stairs, sit down rather than stand. My life moves into slow motion. I gradually witness a change in my personality and the way I react to people and situations. What makes this experience so difficult and frightening is the loss of control that takes place--a transformation from a fully active and vital person into someone who can barely sit up and function effectively, which is overwhelming and disheartening.

Somewhere inside the deepest part of me, my truest self hides out under cover, and tells me that all of this is temporary and that I must just wait out these drug-induced episodes. This kind voice, along with my unwavering faith in God, enables me to conquer and think somehow I will be able to see my way into the clearing. And so I go on.

1. I try to live day to day. I focus my thoughts in the present tense and try to deal with matters close at hand.

2. I make myself stupid and I try not to think too much about the implications of what it means to have advanced cancer. Instead, I concentrate on concrete and practical things.

3. I try as best I can to compartmentalize the illness and not give it free reign over my existence. I perceive it as unwelcome and boring.

4. I live in a constant state of denial and keep my mind off the disease as much as possible.

5. I surround myself mostly with people and situations that bear no relationship to the illness.

6. I avoid reading or listening to too much about cancer or involving myself with people who are also fighting the disease. Although I am aware they can be beneficial and therapeutic, I avoid support groups in order to prevent myself from allowing any new fears and anxieties about the illness to enter my consciousness.

7. I internalize a belief system that everything I am going through is temporary and will come to an end: I say to myself that in spite of everything, everything will be all right.

8. I stand up to death with a courage I myself do not comprehend, and I do not permit myself to give in to a fear of dying.

9. I acknowledge that it is impossible for anyone to feel like a normal person after living with this illness for about a year, and accept the fact that it's okay to feel crazy and alienated some of the time--or even much of the time.

10. I remind myself that no one knows when their last day will be and that, so far, I have lived longer than many people predicted. I then think that maybe I'm doing something right after all and decide to continue to follow my prescription for coping.

The doomsday scenarios I conjure up during stressful waiting periods are usually far worse than reality. Thank God for Angry Birds and Stieg Larsson for making me sane.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Of Spines, Surgeries And The Big C

Well here it goes… I can finally talk about it in complete detail. Everything here is too chaotic to make up and should I be lying about anything in this note, God will smite me in a most excruciating manner.

In October, 2009 I started to have these back pains. Nothing important, or so I thought at the time. As the months progressed, they started to get worse. In about late May to early June, 2010, the back pains became so severe that I couldn’t even move without feeling that sharp, agonizing torture. To describe the feeling, did you see the movie X-Men: Origins? The part when sabretooth grabs the teleporting guys spine? Yeah that’s what it felt like every day.

I finally went to the doctor. You know what he said? He took an x-ray and said that I had gas. So I took some meds but the pain was still there. I went back and the doc then said that I was constipated. So I cleaned out my system. It didn’t work so I went back and this time the doc sent me to ER to get an MRI. The doc at the ER said that he didn’t think I needed to go through an MRI. He said that I had a torn abdominal muscle and gave me some Advil to relieve the pain until it heals.

I then went off on a lonely trip back to Iloilo last December since my mom passed away. I don't wanna talk about that since I think I posted something before about that particular heartache. Well anyways while I was out there the pain never went away. It actually seemed to get worse as each day passed. I couldn’t even sleep in a bed. I would just curl up on the chair or push the chair to the side of the bed and try to sleep that way. Pain killers were my bestfriends, so to speak.

And then I had fever. I thought I had dengue or something since the symptoms for it were manifesting. I went to the nearby clinic to check Unfortunately the doctor was out and I was referred to a hospital. One doctor asked questions, you know, the protocol to know my history. During this interview session, the pain that I usually feel before rushed in, as if the fever was not enough.. He said that something must really be wrong for the pain to still be there at that intensity. He then asked a doctor at the radiology department to help him out so I could undergo a CT Scan. When I went in for the scan, I couldn’t even lie down, let alone keep still with the IV tube for the contrast stuck in my hand. I stayed still as long as I possibly could. The scan wasn’t finished but I just couldn’t stay still anymore. I started to sit up, pulling the IV tube out, and bled on the table. From the scans that they were able to take, it turns out that I had a spinal tumor on the thoracic 10 vertebrae. The technical report sounded like this: Patient underwent a CT Scan and a destructive osseous lesion involving the thoracic 10 vertebrae and is suspicious for malignancy with an infectious process less likely.

After the scan I was immediately sent back to Manila for further testing. While I was there in the hospital a needle biopsy was done. At first the sample of the tumor that was taken was diagnosed as a hyperparathyroidism induced “brown tumor”, which turned out to be another misdiagnosis. It was recommended that I be sent off to another hospital for further evaluation and surgery with a neurosurgeon.

I was scheduled for an explorative operation of some sort (that's what they call it) to know what I'm sick of. During the surgery, as the surgeon cut into the tumor, I bled on the table. It was then that they discovered that the tumor had developed its own circulatory system and latched itself onto mine. As this happened I went into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead for 2 minutes. The surgeon had no choice but to seal the tumor and reconstruct my spine. I was in surgery for a total of about 18 hours. Only less than 30% of the tumor was removed.

I'll be having some surgeries this coming weeks and if I survived that, I'll be having a series of radiation therapy sessions, all the while going through intense physical and occupational therapy, to try to shrink the goddamn tumor.

Yes, I have the big C, ladies and gentlemen. I have cancer.

I was told by my neurosurgeon that I might never going to be able to walk again after completing the series of operations that I will be having. I spent a lot of time coming to the conclusion that I would never have the life I had, that things would never be the same again. I also found out that the correct diagnosis of the tumor was a “giant cell tumor”, technical term “osteoclastoma”. These tumors are common but only in elbows, knees, fingers, ankles, and toes, not in someone’s spine. I guess mine was unique.

I came back to my place, tumor and all, to try to find some sense of normalcy. When I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the one that I love thought I was some kind of a fairytale that didn't exist.. So I lost my career, my love, and probably my legs in the future. What more could I lose? How much time? Does it really matter? All I want to say is to shut up and stop complaining about how your life sucks, there are people out there who have it exponentially worse than you. As for me? I’m not complaining, I’m merely giving you a reason to stop complaining about your problems.

I’ve experienced every kind of suffering imaginable, whether physically, mentally, or emotionally. I know for a fact now on what to expect if I should ever be condemned to hell. The only thing I hope for when my time comes can be summed up as:

I was alive... I didn't merely exist...

I miss you. 
I am scared, I was, and still not prepared for this.
We will talk.
You deserve to hear everything, 
I just didn't know how.
But I gathered enough strength to let you know.
After all, I love you.