Thursday, April 15, 2010

Between heaven and earth

My zodiac-obsessed pals are quick to remind me that Aquarius is an air sign and that we Aquarians, though water bearers, are more attuned to the space between the life we live and our observing mind, and less to our waves of emotion. But who gives a hoot? I certainly didn't until a recent trip to Boracay found me in my element.

I do love the beach, but I must say that wading in salt water has lost some of its magic for me. My sister Monique probably shares the same opinion; not once did she get her hair wet in Boracay. But while she may not have planned to take a dip, she did suggest that we go parasailing with my youngest nephew, Gabby.

At close to 2K, gliding through the air wearing a parachute while being towed by a motor boat may be a steep price to pay for 15 minutes of wind through your hair. Ah, but for those in our forties as my sister and I are, all thrills are justifiably cheap. Besides, when else would we muster the courage to try them again?

And so we took flight. Released like a kite to the sky, I noticed instantly how the sounds of the world receded to a silence that was broken only by our collective gasps, and how the stillness allowed us to better absorb the overwhelming view. From our vantage point, one could survey most everything and analyze how each pinpoint of the grand picture related to the next. Admittedly, looking directly below us was unpleasant, almost nauseating. But gazing into the far distance toward the island and noting how one could be part of the world yet remain separate, was for me a powerful moment.

The ancient symbol for Aquarius provides a clue as to why the sign refers to air and not to water--it is of Ouranos, the sky god who controlled the air, winds, and rain-bearing clouds, pouring urns of water from the heavens toward the earth below. The image represents one who views things from afar and takes charge from a distance. As such, Aquarians are seen to be detached and cool, remote and forever the aloof icon. They are said to talk their way through their feelings rather than bearing their full emotional weight.

I guess I will be the first to agree that there is some truth to how astrology describes me. But while I do not see myself converting into a disciple of Linda Goodman, at least I know I would rather develop wings than fins.

Monday, January 4, 2010

My three most important decisions in 2009

Not earth-shaking, these were. But life-defining, nonetheless.

Early in 2009, I gifted myself with a Nike+ system and began a crusade to run for my life. I used to jog quite regularly after college, but boredom crept into my routine, and as a result, hypertension was not far behind. Relaxation exercises and a stricter diet have since helped, but a guy like me who immerses himself in stressful situations and eats voraciously to calm his nerves will have to rely on other things to keep high blood pressure at bay.

I was not sure I could sustain the habit, and a foot injury plus an extended vacation broke my stride, but I managed to pull through thanks to Nike+. This year, I got to sneak in close to 400 kms (die hards know this is no great feat--but it is like 90 times the height of Mt. Everest), and discovered I could run 10K under an hour.

In October, I took the Nike 10K challenge being mounted globally, and astonishingly landed fourth in the Philippines--though I realize other faster runners, and there are way too many of them, don't own a Nike+. And while I have broken my October record twice, I guess my point is, in 2009, I decided to live longer. This morning, my blood pressure was a 103/61.

In early July, and with some prodding from my nephew who had just graduated from West Point, I decided to take some time off to visit my family in the U.S. It was exactly the respite I needed from the battles and mindless warfare at work; after all, no better comfort zone is there than home and family. Also, I was determined to fill my empty cup with whatever creative juices I could suck out from my adventure.

And so I crammed my itinerary in San Francisco, New York and Florida with visits to museums and national parks, trips to the theater and to concert halls, while planning as many food excursions in between. But more rewarding than the thrills these exploits brought was experiencing them in the company of those who matter most.

I am lucky that I get to see my two sisters in Manila quite regularly as we work in the same office, but there is only so much I can do to keep the links fresh with my sister, brother, and their kids in the U.S. Ironically, the overseas trip made me aware once more of a rootedness I take for granted here at home. Thanks to technology, I can somehow stay connected though miles away; but because I can't be physically wherever my family is, I vow to make myself emotionally available and felt from now on.

In 2009, I decided to keep my family closer.

Immediately after the trip, I began working on Bukas Palad's 14th studio album. A quiet but ambitious project, the CD was to contain 10 original chants covering a spectrum of musical genres. I was tasked to write two tracks and to arrange and produce five. It was tough accepting the assignment knowing how my schedule would be for the rest of the year, but it was more difficult to say no.

Writing music and arranging it doesn't always come easy, but I had the support of friends who reawakened my passion for this ministry. That and a lot of prayer kept me hard at work. Thus, the next six months saw me writing and rewriting scores, experimenting with new sounds, collaborating with musical geniuses, and maneuvering between musical styles alien to me. TO LOVE & SERVE: BUKAS PALAD CHANTS was launched last December 11.

Many people go through life unable to express who they are and what they stand for. I am blessed with a love for music that allows me to write the Lord's melodies so that I and others may sing of God's love. And I am blessed to have found a community of friends who, in the last 23 years, have believed in each other and in our combined gift. I will use my music to seek the Lord, and I will let no one deny me my right to sing.

In 2009, I decided to improve my craft, so to God I may draw nearer.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Like a fish out of water

Everytime I come home from a respite in the U.S., friends interrogate me about my newly acquired tan. "I went fishing," I say, eliciting raised eyebrows from my listeners, who conjure images of white fishing boats and nautical wear. "No," I correct them. "It's not as glamorous as you think."

My trips to Florida, where my brother Jig resides, are like a ritual. As soon as I've settled into his family's quaint bungalow, we proceed to plan our fishing excursions, untangling the nets, monitoring the tides, bringing out the sunblock. But our adventures are modest in scale. At dawn, we park Jig's van by some body of water, mostly parts of Tampa Bay, carry our gear through the sand, and immerse ourselves chest-deep into the warm pool.

What ensues is a progression of activities that resemble a spiritual dance. We tread stealthily through the water, careful not to create too many ripples that warn the fish of our approach; and where we sense a stirring beneath the water surface, we hurl our nets in the hopes of catching bait. After several attempts and now with pinfish in our buckets, we reach for the rods and hook the tiny helpless fish, then gracefully cast our lines to the whirring of the reels. Plop. We then wait in near silence as the first glow of sunlight greets us. At that moment and in that setting, it is so easy to feel total communion with the world.

When nothing nips, we repeat the process, and I am reminded of a mantra uttered in perfect cadence. Occasionally, a laughing gull or a tern would skim the water for food, or a dolphin would emerge briefly at a distance. Otherwise, everything remains still...until something bites, and a small struggle between angler and fish ensues. The pace picks up as we tug and reel in with our rods, our forearms flexing with the weight of the catch.

On this last fishing trip, it was Jig who was the successful angler, luring in a 50-lb black drum and a couple of decently-sized mullets. I nonetheless get to pose with the day's prize to immortalize the experience.

Fishing is not necessarily my sport of choice, but I cannot imagine a trip to Jig's without going through the motions. Without the experience, I would be a fish out of water or a step out of synch. Forget that we did not get to eat the black drum (Jig, who is a chef, filleted it and discovered parasites; but at least he got to smoke the mullets for dinner). What is important is that during those episodes in the glistening waters of Tampa Bay, not only am I one with nature; I am also in perfect consonance with a brother I see just once in three years.

This isn't how Jig and I go fishing in Florida.

The angler struggles with the weight of his catch.

Chef at work. But the black drum is no good.

Instead, the mullets are prepped for smoking.

The final product: a smoked fish dip for crackers and crudite.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Things I might miss while on vacation

All right. So I'm on a 3-week vacation in the U.S. Away from the daily grind in Manila. Now deep into leisure mode, I realize it's hard not to miss some things one lives with nearly every day--no matter how maddening they may be. So after 3 days here in San Francisco, here's a partial list of things I sort of miss:

1. The nasty drive to work. If not for my iPod, I would never survive traffic in Manila.

2. The tortured sound of coffee beans grinding in the machine. The gadget is right next to my desk. At least the aroma is deeply satisfying.

3. Some aimless meetings conducted by people without a clear agenda. Time to daydream.

4. Advertising briefs that read more like a product history. Go figure.

5. At lunchtime, security guards at the mall who constantly grope, pretending to be searching for something.

6. Attendants at the food stalls who insist on calling everyone: Ma'am/Sir (both in a single breath).

7. Back at work, the acrid building restrooms and the maintenance folk who scrimp on Lysol.

8. Late afternoon emails alerting you that the report due next week is due tonight instead.

9. The late night drive home (to avoid the traffic) and the unlit concrete barriers along the highway that one must dodge to escape tragedy.

10. Running at the rain. It's the only time I get, and the monsoons are getting frequent. But heck, I need the exercise.

Yeah, so I might miss some things in Manila though I do not necessarily pine for them. Besides, would I miss up on the chance to catch up with family and friends whom I have not seen in ages? Clearly not.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

In My Shoes

It was two weeks ago when dad texted me from Spain, triumphant that he was clasping in his hands a pair of shoes that he just knew belonged to me. "They're purple," read the last sentence of his SMS.

I don't think I realized how vibrant the hue was until I opened the motionless package atop my desk the other day. The shoes were practically iridescent. Screaming and not shy. Brash and unashamed.

For over 40 years, members of my family have been gifting me with the most animated articles of clothing they can find, assuring me that my personality can get away with such fashion. And so sometime in my life I've owned snake skin boat shoes, an aqua fanny pack, a wooden necktie, a belt of skull prints, polka-dotted socks...the list is endless.

I guess what surprises me is how I, the shiest member of the family, am perceived to have the most flamboyant sense of style. But they're absolutely right. I can strut the stuff they dish out to me without batting an eyelash, as if on a dare with the stakes so high. Trouble is, I don't know if I can still manage to carry the look in this day and age. After all, I'm no David Arquette.

But yesterday, I put on my spanking new shoes. And they felt quite good.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Back in The Running

After a 3-month hiatus due to a foot injury, I've decided to take that leap of faith and get back into running. So the other night, after the rains had died, I laced up my trusted Nikes and began to stretch my muscles (or lack thereof). I programmed my iPod for a 5km run; after all, I don't think I was ready for anything further. Besides, I was wary about that right foot failing on me once again.

And so I took off, careful not to slip on the wet asphalt lest I fall and injure myself more so in the process. It was a breezy late night and all seemed nice and calm throughout the first km--until the rains began to fall yet again. Heavens, I thought. Not only were the slopes of my usual route dangerously slippery, I feared pneumonia was not far behind, hot on my heels. But I dared not stop.

I ended my routine soaked to the bone. Ok, so my foot sensed no pain. But my pace slackened by a good 20secs/km. It was time for a hot shower and some ibuprofen. I've got some catching up to do.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Pain of Victory

Just a month ago, after my trip to Shanghai, I accomplished a feat which some friends my age would envy: I ran my first 10K and timed in at 57'21". The nike plus website puts me at #144 among the fastest males in the Philippines who have run that distance. And among the same set but within the 4o-44 age bracket, I am ranked #14 (in 5K, I am ranked #9 clocking in at 25'11"). I am hoping of course that there are at least over 20 Filipino males aged 40-44 with a Nike iPod, subscribing to that website!

But it seems the euphoria of running my first 10K dampened the performance of my succeeding runs. The next 2, which were 5Ks, were decent, but they lowered my average pace per km by some 5 or so seconds. Worse, on March 29, during an 8K jog, I hurt my right foot badly. By the 2nd km, I noticed a sharp pain between my 3rd and 4th toes; but not wanting to disrupt my routine, I instead endured the entire distance by shifting weight and applying less pressure on the troubled spot in my foot. I seemed fine after the run. The next morning, however, was a different story.

A dose of 120mg of Arcoxia for 3 days relieved the pain significantly, though a stabbing hint would persist the following weeks. Today, thankfully, I hardly feel a thing (except when I deliberately apply sustained pressure to the area). I'm counting on nature to heal me completely in the near future. That's because running has become a dear friend. And like those who go away for an extended length of time, I am missing this friend sorely.