A Leap of Faith

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Any creative person is by nature a perfectionist. But perfectionists are more fearful of failure than exploring the possibility of triumph. But successful creative people have to be one part talented and the other part brazen. They look at the ‘What if?’ and say ‘So, what?’

Leap and the net will appear

– Zen saying

Cris and I were out on a lovely walk of downtown when we stumbled on a plaza that neither of us had ever noticed.  It small and had a unusual fountain in the middle of it with three long pools of water just behind it.  While we talked, I climbed onto the edge of the first pool.  When I got to end of it, I contemplated the space between it and the next pool.

“Jump!” He said.

“No, I can’t.”

“Why not?”

“It’s too far,” I said.

“I think you can, if you had a good running start,” Cris said.

We talked for good awhile about the dimensions of the gap and logistics of it all.  The gap was 6 feet across and 3 feet high.  I am barely 5 feet tall, how was I supposed to do that? At the moment I was content with being cute and made Cris carry and place me safely on the other side.

Then a large heavyset woman in a motorized wheelchair pulled up to us.

“What are you guys doing?” she demanded.

I thought she was being very familiar, as if we were her kids, jumping naughtily on the bed.

“We’re trying to see if she can jump the gap,” Cris pointed.

She glanced at the gap and said, “Oh yea, you can make that easily.”

“No way!” I exclaimed.  I could feel my knees shaking, already thinking about the blood that would spew from them if I tried to make the leap.

“Why not?” she insisted.  Wasn’t I just having this conversation with Cris?

“Well, I’m short and I just think it’s too far.  I wouldn’t be able to clear it.”

“Who says?” she shot back.

I opened my mouth and shook my head and shrugged.  I had no words.   Who was this stranger telling me what to do? She could sense my uneasiness.  Or maybe it was something more like fear.

“Look, if you got a running start, a really good running start, you can do it.  You’d have to take off your flip flops, but you can definitely make it.”

“But what if I fall? Scrape or bang up my knee?”

“You won’t.  Look, he’s right there to catch you,” she motioned to Cris.  “All you gotta do is try.”

I shook my head vigorously.

She tried again, “All you gotta do is believe that you can.  That’s all it is.  Whatever’s telling you that you can’t.  You need to stop that now.  You gotta break through.”

A moment of silence passed.  I looked at this stranger. On her wheelchair was everything she owned, bags of clothes, newspapers, and books.  She was at least 200 pounds.  In her right hand, she held a cracked, plastic magnifying glass to help her read her magazine.  Her left leg was gone, and her left arm, no more than a stump.  She was smiling.

Here I was, 29 years old, all my limbs intact,  healthy and able-bodied, declaring to her the disbelief in the power and ability of my own body.  I didn’t really want to attempt the jump, and it wasn’t about the fear of falling anymore.  I knew that if I didn’t at least try, I was doing this stranger wrong.  If she believed so steadfastly in me, I only wondered what great trials she’d overcome and what kind of belief it took her to triumph over them.  Now it was my turn.

I looked toward the gorge and slowly walked backwards.  Every couple feet or so, I stopped and gauged the distance – was this enough for a good, hard and fast run? I backed up even further, sliding my flip-flops off and hooking them onto my fingers.  Finally, I came to just below half of the pool.  It was time to let go.  My heart was racing but I couldn’t back out on this now.  They were both watching.  More importantly, she was watching! Why did I care about she thought? But right at that moment, that’s all that mattered.  If she believed in me, why couldn’t I?

I bent down and solemnly folded up the bottom of my jeans.  I tied my hair back in a loose bun.  You would think I was preparing for the Olympic long jump.  Like a bull peering ahead to its matador, I picked my left foot and my then my right foot, scuffing the cement.  This was it.  Now or never.

I took a deep breath and ran as fast as I could.  Wind in my hair, and the world whizzing past, I hurled myself forward over the divide.  I stumbled and bumped my knee but to my amazement, I had made it to the other side.

“YEAH!!” Cris exclaimed.

“You did it!” The stranger shouted.  “See- I told you!”

I turned around to look at my own Grand Canyon, it didn’t seem so big now.  “Yea, I can’t believe it… ”

“You see, you stumbled there at the end.  Why?” she asked.

“Well, because I panicked a bit.  I didn’t think I was going to clear it.”

“Aha! But you did! If you had straightened your back when you landed, you would’ve been standing just perfect.  Your feet were already there, but you doubted yourself and you came down on your knee.”

“She’s right! You had already made it!” Cris said.

“Yea… I think I remember feeling my feet on the cement.”  I was still in disbelief.

She could see the shock in my eyes and asked, “Why is it so hard for you to believe that you can do that? Why you can do anything?”

I shrugged with my eyes downcast and said nothing.  In my silence my head filled with the voices of teachers, my parents, friends, loved ones, all telling me I couldn’t do something.  I couldn’t sing because I was off-key.  I couldn’t play a sport because I wasn’t athletic.  I couldn’t write because it wouldn’t make a living.  After awhile, I started to believe I just simply couldn’t.  The chasm and the doubt had penetrated me too deeply.

This stranger studied me and inched her wheelchair closer to me.  Her eyes, warm and aglow with a light that came from somewhere else.

“Whatever they told you, you break that thinking now.  You believe in whatever you want and with everything you got, and miracles can happen.” She smiled gently. “You just have to jump.”

She pulled a joystick back, reversed her wheelchair and left us.  As spontaneously and serendipitously as she came, she was gone.  My own guardian angel, motored fearlessly into the distance.

I looked to Cris, “Did you really think I could make the jump?”

“Of course.  The only problem is, you didn’t.”

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Fragments

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This was a fun poetry exercise. We took fragments of others’ poetry and spliced it with our own work to make an entirely new poem. It was a great opportunity to force experimentation and stretch our creative sensibilities. Some of these lines are so cutting and graphic, I wish I could tell you who wrote them and properly acknowledge these talented poets. But I can tell you clearly which lines are mine! This whole thing is emo, so I’ve identified my lines in blue.

Masochistic Melancholy

I watch the purple-gray day suffocate in the quilt of night
Like a newly-formed tooth piercing through the tender flesh of a baby’s gum
It feels like shards of stained glass have pierced my eye
The day ends, but now my journey begins
In waking I sleep, but through dreams I live
To rape your mind…
I am Aphrodite- condemned on her scarred knees
Craving words like a shiver does sun
Underpaid in love, starving for compassion,
Like a siren, you sing to me in the sweet notes of a minor key, calling me in tempting treble
Waiting with indulgent glee to become the most beautiful of butterflies
Eager to steal my breath in one long, life-giving, passionate kiss and then-
For a moment our eyes caught, and you gazed at me as we shared the loudest silence

Last scraps of light slip from celestial bodies
You coax me to down the drunken apothecary’s ground-stirred-foaming concoction
Filling me with the ashes of You.
For you I bleed, for you I climb,
The sweet I sought, the bitter I find.

TIME

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I wrote this after a break-up as I impatiently waited for the pain to pass. It was a gentle but firm reminder to appreciate the moment for what it was and not what I longed for it to be.

TIME. The word itself in all its capital glory is ominous. There’s never enough of it, and we are in agony when there’s just too much of it.  At 7.5 years old I was no longer a mere 7 years resident on this earth, I was clearly halfway to being 8. And what eager 20 year old is not already making plans for a monumental 21st birthday? We’re always in a rush to get somewhere else.

We never enjoy where we already are. Sometimes the moment itself is so painful and difficult to climb from, so we launch our thoughts, our actions forward and away, catapulting us and pulling us from the misery.  But why should the passing of time be agonizing to begin with? After all, what is a moment but a collection of minutes? A year, but a collection of months? And time, but a construct of the weary mind? Why should time be so long?

Icarus

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I’ve always had a fascination with the Myth of Icarus. I submitted this piece for a magazine and it unfortunately didn’t make the cut. Some may call that a failure but I believe Icarus would feel differently. Here’s a snippet of that flight.

… Now, more than ever, I think about my fascination with the Myth of Icarus.  It’s so strange because even as a kid, I felt drawn to the story and to the image of this boy flying into the clouds and plummeting into the sea. Later in middle school, my teacher showed us the painting of Henri Matisse’s Fall of Icarus. Again this image of this single body falling from the sky greatly affected me. I never understood why until I read Portrait of the Artist by James Joyce, in high school. We had to scrutinize the work for all the different allusions to previous works, one of them pointing to the Myth of Icarus.

I remember thinking what a strange coincidence. I was already enjoying the book because it was chronicling the genesis and evolution of a writer, much like I had imagined I would write about my life. The more I read, the more it hit closer to home.  The protagonist, Stephen Daedalus is torn between appeasing his family by going into a ‘regular’ job, or following his dream to be a writer. His entire life is about his struggle, this ebb and flow between what he wants and what he has to do.

My last and most powerful encounter with this myth was quite recently.  I was staying at a friend’s for the weekend and was paging through a book of artwork by Filipino artists.  I came across the sketches of Fernando Zobel, one of them entitled Icaro.  I stared at it for a long while.  To anyone it could look like scribble, but again, something drew me to it.

Icarus’ father, Daedalus, fashioned the wings from wax for Icarus to help them escape from prison. Daedalus instructed his son not to fly too low, or the water would wet his wings, and not too high, or the sun would melt it away.  Icarus had to fly just at the right height, lest he fall.  But how did Icarus decide to take that flight?

Enthralled by the thrill of flight, he went higher and higher, closer and closer to the sun.  His desire, to go beyond what others could see, was his ultimate downfall.  I long to write, but if I do dedicate myself to this, will I suffer the same fate as poor Icarus? Will the desire to follow my passion melt all sensibility and have me fall away? I look at this story every which way and can see it as nothing but a tragedy. But what would Icarus say?

I’d only ask Icarus one thing, “Was it worth it?” I’d like to think he’d smile and say yes. His story is immortalized as tragedy, and that is how history remembers that flight.  But how would Icarus recount his own journey? I imagine and can only hope that he’d look back on it as a victory. He did what no one would dare to do.  And in doing so, he got to fly through the clouds and see the world like no one else would.

I believe that one moment of freedom could outweigh a lifetime of imprisonment. I believe that one moment of being who you are, could easily outweigh a lifetime of pretending who you aren’t. If all I have is one flight, one moment- let it be this. Let it be every single moment after this. Icarus has made himself known to me ever since I was a child, the image of his flight forever emblazoned on my mind. I’ve spent a lifetime denying who I am, my passions, my beliefs, the only tragedy is not that I plummet into the ocean like Icarus. The tragedy is that I never realize who I am and I never even take that leap of faith.

No one remembers a lifetime. People only remember moments, little spaces of time that change the entire course of their lives. If I can only have this moment to change, let it be this.

Perfection

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I wrote this after I did something very stupid one weekend and was consumed in remorse. Though the event prompted this journal entry, it’s a sentiment that I’ve long struggled with.

‘Even a halo is something to keep clean.’

What does it mean to be perfect? I’ve been searching for the answer to this for a couple days now, but I realize that this has been more of a lifelong query. With my Catholic upbringing it has always been difficult to adhere to the highest standards of morality and integrity.

I think about how I was raised in a rather strict Filipino home. I had to serve as the consummate example for my younger brother. The grades had to be the best, because our family was always the best. You are not to have a boyfriend before college or you will get pregnant and ruin your life. You are to watch over your brother because he looks up to you. Someone was always watching, and judging and I felt I could never just be. And mid-way through college, when it came time to cement my major and my future, I abandoned my love of writing for a more respectable major.

They never once asked me to make that shift, but I didn’t want to let my parents down. They had sacrificed for me and my brother that I didn’t want to let them down but relying solely on an art. How could I re-pay my parents back by putting my thoughts on paper?

My relationships were no better. I had no idea what it meant to be a ‘perfect’ girlfriend. It was like sand through my fingers, the more I held tightly to the ideal of perfection, the more they would slip from me.

Perhaps perfection is a mere ideal that we work towards but never completely achieve. It is something to strive towards that makes us better in our pursuit of it. But intention and execution are two very different things. Maybe that’s why we need things outside of ourselves to help us achieve that near-perfectness. God, art, love – these are things that are pure in and of themselves – but are transformed into something greater through human imperfection.

It is in our complexities and our short-sightedness that transforms these obscure things, into something real and tangible.

What is love without forgiveness? And would art be beautiful, if it were not borne from pain? And why would we need God, if not to acknowledge our own frailty?

I am tired of trying to be perfect. I want to be me, in all its glorious imperfection. I want to be the most perfect version of my imperfect self.

Love Song

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Poetry was one of the classes I dreaded in college. It’s just one of those things that never came naturally to me. This however was a really fun assignment; we had to model T.S. Eliot’s, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.’ I look back on it and it seems schizophrenic. I was getting over a guy and simultaneously falling for another one.

The Love Song of Virginette Acacio

Let us go then, you and I,
To that empty practice room at the end of the hall
At the piano, I harmonize with my left and scribble relentlessly with my right
Eagerly I play, eagerly I write
Transforming the two of us into immortal song

In the recital hall people come and go
Talking of Miss Acacio

In the darkness of my mind, I blindly grasp for things past
Remembering that one time when you and I-
Suddenly-
it comes.
The memory- that vision like a vortex, drowning me with reckless abandon
A wave of nausea crashes into me and I grab hold of the keyboard and pen
No- NO… not again.
Inspiration slipping, the demon persisting
I am submerged into the nightmare, my breath held captive by the memory

“Ssh- my soul- ssh… think of him no more.”

And so I pick up the pen and carefully place my hand on the keys
Closing my eyes and breathing deep
I inhale the intoxicating scent of my love’s mystique
But in that breath the music fades as the demon roars once more
Heaving, I smell the bitterness of my tears and I wail,
“Please… let me go.”

So how should I presume?
With my new love as inspiration, I continue…

Eyes ablaze under the adagio, lost in the tempo
I sing and I write:
A resounding top note for my love’s arresting height
A trill for the shivers his gaze commands
A smooth legato line from beginning to end, for the promise in his eyes and the kisses he sends
A slight staccato for the laughter we share
A cadence for his passion, that leaves me without breath
A minute change to minor, for the sorrow in our miles apart
It is a sweet melody, a lullaby, for the way he cradles my heart

In the recital hall people come and go
Talking of Miss Acacio

Today I finish, today I win
I’ve slain the dragon of past desire
But there will be a time…
There will be a time when my will will surrender to my heart’s beckoning

Till then do I dare? Do I dare let that merciless ghost haunt the rest of my days?
To penetrate and poison my music, my love, my life?
Condemning my every happiness to undying night?

No…
For too long I have measured my life with melodies of misery
No… NO – I will not sing for thee

I have lingered too long in the depths of sorrow
Deafened to happiness’ sweet sound
Till one day love’s voice woke me and- I finally let you drown.

The Addiction

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This is the last of my submission to Miami VONA. This may be too revealing but I believe in telling the truth.

I got down on my knees and reached for the stash of pills underneath my bed.  This nightly ritual had become my prayer.  I genuflect before you Prozac, I hope you hear my penance and my prayer.  I rummaged through the buffet of happiness and wondered what my selection would be that evening.  Paxil or Zoloft? I looked at the clock on my wall and it ticked one notch after 2:30 A.M.   It’s so late, do you really want have to take one? It’s been 2 months.  You can do it, you don’t really need it, do you? You’ve been doing so well lately. 

I flipped through the packets and saw one pill at the bottom of the bag without a plastic casing.  I reached for it and examined the small purple pill.  It had a jagged “x” etched onto its side.  Unlike the anti-depressants and anti-anxiety pills, this one was specifically designed for a purpose higher than that.  It was meant to skyrocket you into the upper echelon, up to the K2 of happiness.  It was meant for Xtacy.  But after you hit that moment of extreme happiness, all you’ll want to do is leap off that mountain without a parachute.

This was a pill I had meant to throw away.  In the last few months of our relationship John and I would take frequent trips up this mountain.  This was our escape.  If our relationship was falling apart, at least we were numbing ourselves to the pain.  It would happen almost every weekend.  We never went to the same dealer twice.  But in the end in didn’t matter because this wasn’t an addiction.  This was a way for both of us to stay up and talk endlessly into the night; the X filled our minds and our mouths with something to talk about, now that we had nothing left to say.

Sex was more like vengeance.  There was no joy.  It was quite literally putting a square peg in a round hole.  I didn’t want to do it.   It had become mechanical for me,  and maniacal for him.  X made me forget that.  And after the high, we’d spend whole weekends in bed, attempting to recover.  The whole weekend, lost to one little pill.

I realized that taking these anti-depressants now was no different than when I was taking the X with John.  I was still leaning.  I was still using something else to make me happy, to make me forget.   I held up the blue Prozac in one hand and the purple X in the other.  I looked at the clock again and it spun faster towards morning.  I grabbed the stash and a pair of scissors.  I went to the bathroom and closed the door behind me and slid down against it.  I stared at the X and the pair of scissors and wondered for a moment what it would feel like to hurt myself.  Would the X play tricks on me and tell me it would feel good to have blood spilling from my wrists? The idea was tempting but X had lied to me before.  John had abandoned me.  No pill could change that now.

I sat up on my knees staring at the open toilet bowl.  I spoke to it.

“Sorry to have to do this to you.  But you’re gonna have to take this whole bag down.  Do you think you can handle that?”

It said nothing.

“Well, it’s one big bag full of happiness.  It shouldn’t be too difficult to swallow.”

I cut open each casing and dumped each of the pills one by one into the toilet.  I wrapped all the casings in a paper towel and stuffed it deep into the trashcan.  I pulled out the X for last.

“Bye ecstasy.  It was nice knowing you.”

I flushed the toilet and watched the rainbow of pills swirl into the septic abyss.   I got up slowly, one knee at a time and reached for the light switch as I walked out.  I looked back at the toilet and spoke again.

“Bye, John.”

I went back to my room and looked for another kind of medicine underneath my bed.  Throughout this whole mess, my journals lay untouched.  It had been months since I’d written.  I picked up my pen and began again.