BreakAway


For months I’d been wrestling with a restlessness. I had a good job, was healthy and living a full-rounded life surrounded by friends and family, and had the unrelenting love of a wonderful man. But still… something stirred inside me.

I felt unfulfilled, uncreative and lonely in trying to understand what it was I was feeling. It wasn’t until I picked up my journals covered in dust and started reading. I went through my computer and clicked through everything I’d ever written, from things that made it into newspapers and articles, to things that I hope to God no other pair of human eyes ever sees. I’d stay up reading Rilke’s “Letters to a Young Poet” and re-read Joyce’s “Wasteland” to see if this time I’d actually understand it. I was hungry. My creative soul was wanting and it was only revived when it was nourished by moments like these.

I thought about where I was in life, 31, not married, no kids, and a professional track record to be proud of. I could feel myself at another crossroads and again- I had to make a choice. I could either spend the rest of my life in this restlessness or really and truly give my writing a fighting chance.

I decided to do the latter.

When I’d made my decision and made arrangements with my team, I quickly went to the task of writing a letter to the whole company. I wrote it fairly quickly and it sat in my Drafts for a week until I was ready to send it. And though it was tinged with sadness, I felt more joy, fulfillment and creativity in writing that letter than I had in a very long time.

After sending it out, I received very kind notes from people, expressing their shock, disbelief and for some, heartbreak. Some notes were very heartfelt and put me on the brink of tears. I think my favorite notes were from people who complimented the letter and said that I was truly gifted with words. What other sign could I possibly need from the universe?

Without further ado, here’s the letter:

… I want to thank everyone for making this an incredible time for me. In particular, I want to thank the Marketing Team and select individuals who have made this such a memorable experience.

This is a very different company compared to when I joined in 2012. But the one thing that hasn’t changed is the passion, that exists for the product and the mission; all of which couldn’t be possible without the amazing people who champion it. That culture is the very thing that has empowered me to build and grow our Social presence and it has fueled successful marketing campaigns and blitzes like Roominator, Marissa Mayer WFH ‘newsjacking’ and Making Webex your Ex. Going further back, I’ll always have fond memories of the ‘crazy’ marketing campaign that started it at all, Sh*t That Happens On Mute. The birth of these ideas on tops of beanbags, hotel rooms away at tradeshow, and from ping pong tables, allows me to believe that no idea is too crazy- not if you have the will, the talent, and a team that can grind it out.

Thank you for your support, guidance, and encouragement. Truly, it has been an honor.

Wishing you many years of putting passion to work.

Virginette
#V

And here I am now, with the amazing opportunity to put passion to work. I hope you’ll read on and stay with me on this journey! It’s going to be one hell of a ride.

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A Life Celebrated: Michelline Salgado-Prieto

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My name is Virginette Acacio and I’m here on behalf of a group of very old friends to the Salgado family called the Dirty Dozen. The Dirty Dozen originally started as a group of parents who loved to dance and play mahjong, while us their kids would run around, play and try to keep from getting in trouble. Apart from hanging out nearly every single weekend, we also did everything together: from camping trips, road trips to Canada and Mexico and grand vacations to the Caribbean. And though none of us are blood-related, I think we can all say with resounding pride that yes – we ARE family. And Ate Chin was the heart of that family.

Ate Chin was older than us kids of the group, so we didn’t consider her as one of us. She was our collective older sister. And like a good older sister, she watched over us and took care of us. When none of us could drive, she would pack us all in her car and take us on outings to San Francisco or to the mall and movies. And whenever we were in public with her, we’d do our best to embarrass her by acting immature by screaming and calling her “Mommy,” at the top of our lungs.

And as older sisters are, she was the classic snitch. She was the one who would report to the parents if one of the girls was dating someone new, or if one of the boys was hurting one of the other boys. When we were in high school, we got in trouble for drinking at a house party and not surprisingly, it got back to her. She ran to our parents in tears, crying and we all got in a lot of trouble for it. I remember being angry at her for doing that and thought, why would she cry about getting us in trouble? Thinking on it now, I realize she was heartbroken, she didn’t want to see her little brothers and sisters doing things like that at such a young age.

I used to think she was just always out to get us- but what she was really trying to do was to keep us in check. She wanted to do right by us. Like a mother hen, she wanted to always protect us and make sure we grew up right. I look around to the DD kids who are in this room now and they are still my very best friends – and some of the most kindhearted, compassionate and good people I know. I know that we were shaped by her and we are so much better for it. Chin, you did good. And all of us are eternally grateful.

About a week before she died, I finished reading a book called, “The Fault in Our Stars.” It’s a story about two young kids with cancer who fall in love. One of the things it talks about it is that when we think of someone who’s died, there’s a sense of finality – an end. And because that person is no longer here, we talk about him or her in the past tense. She WAS a good person or he WAS a good father. When I think of those phrases, I can’t think of a worse way to remember someone. For me, Chin doesn’t live in the past. She lives here now, in the present, in our collective memory and in our hearts, affecting every single moment, how we live and how we love.

She wasn’t Auntie Grace and Uncle Ed’s daughter. She IS Auntie Grace and Uncle Ed’s daughter. She IS Jay-R’s big sis. She IS Wesley’s love. And most importantly, she IS and always will be Yna and KaeKae’s beautiful and ageless mother.

She IS our friend, our cousin, our niece, our aunt, and for me my big sister. Ate Chin, goodbye for now. Thank you for watching over us as we grew up. I know that you will continue to watch over us from where you are. We love you – present tense.

10 Steps to Startup Survival

office-culture-in-startups1I’m fast approaching my 1 year at the startup I work for and I can now recount the successes and failures that have gotten me this far. Everyone wants to work at a startup: the free food, the games, the relaxed attitude and dress code are all very attractive. While all that is exists, it’s also a lot of hard work. Here are my humble two cents.  (Note: this is not a photo of my office, although it would be amazing to have a slide.)

1) Say Yes – No matter how big the project, how improbable the idea – always say yes. (Even if you no idea how the hell to do it.) Startup is all about trial by fire and making a lot of mistakes- it’s great because the culture allows for that. Google is your best friend, as are your colleagues. 9 times out of 10 I don’t know the answer to requests that my boss makes. But I’ve learned to get the answer.

2) Stay Hungry –  Complacency doesn’t cut it. Even if you’re making your goals, you have to go above and beyond. Startup is about disruption and keeping one step ahead of the competition. And in adopting that mentality, you have to constantly think about fresh, innovative ideas to throw in the mix. No idea is too crazy.

3) Rule of 70/30 – Our business can get very technical and the tech-speak goes way above my head. But, my boss has taught me the rule of 70/30. When I’m reading something, my goal is to grasp at least 70% of what the article/blog post is saying. I have to look at something and say, “Why the heck does this matter?” The other 30% is negligible.

4) Iteration- As a perfectionist, this was the hardest thing for me to learn. I always wanted to turn out perfect slides/reports for my boss – but this would of course take longer than he was willing to wait for them. There’s power in iteration – and it pushes creative collaboration between me and my boss. Completion is a team effort.

5) Agility – When there’s a way to newsjack and capitalize on the moment – you seize it! You have to constantly keep your eyes and ears open to industry and general news. When you execute, the masses will pay attention and will not only notice your snark/wit, but your ability to move quickly and respond. That’s really the heart of what startup is about.

6) Flexibility – I’ve been in a meeting and have had my boss text me to drop everything because Mashable is calling. My boss has asked me to pull together complex reports/slide decks and will ask for them in 10 minutes. I could be working on something for 2 hours and then someone decides to scrap it and we don’t need it all. Point is, you have to be ready for anything and everything.

7) Move On- Sometimes you get roadblocked on a project and can’t do anything on it or have a really bad day because of someone’s inane comment. You have approximately 30 seconds to grieve and then move on. Things move so quickly so you have to be able to pick yourself up just the same.

8) Stamina- Startup is not for the faint of heart. You work late, protracted hours and you’ll find yourself overly fatigued and caffeinated. You have to be a mind over matter kind of person and to keep the big picture in mind. When I’m tired, I think about what I’m building and I take pride in knowing that I can point to it one day and say, “I did that.”

9) Maintain Boundaries- Because you work a lot, you have to make boundaries to ensure you have a healthy work-life balance. When I open up my laptop at home, I set an alarm for 30 minutes and I’m not allowed to work more than that. It’s a bit extreme but it helps me to make the most of that time, prioritize accordingly and only do what is absolutely necessary.

10) Don’t Take it Personal – I love startup because everyone is blunt as f*ck. It’s great because there isn’t any bullshit to read through, because people will tell you exactly what they feel and what they need from you. That kind of feedback can be hard for an overly sensitive person. You just have to know that it’s not personal. Impassioned comments come from people who care about the business and the product. I’d rather have that fire, than people who don’t care at all.

A Change of View

D4046B9A-782F-11E1-9A28-D2AD052995DAWhen I had my one-on-one with my mentor, M. Evelina Galang at VONA, I was bout to piss my pants. My manuscript was scattered with no real plot or cohesion. The one story that did have promise was, “A Christmas Robbery,” the one thing I actually worked and re-worked (and re-worked) so that it won me that place in Tayo Lit Mag. I guess it shouldn’t be any surprise that the one piece that I actually spent the most time perfecting was the one that had the most potential.

She gave me some interesting feedback and asked me to write the story from the perspective of the mother. I had never thought to do it that way because I had always been so busy trying to capture it from my point view, the point of view of the little girl, because it’s the way the story has unfolded in my memory.

But Evelina taught me an important lesson in distancing myself from my work. I had been so invested in staying “true” to story that I had missed the potential in exploring the mother’s complexity. No, not my mom’s complexity, but the woman in the story. (Although, admittedly in writing it, I did begin to empathize with my mother during that difficult time in our lives.) In taking this step back I was able to find new paths in developing the character and the conflict that propels her forward through the plot… and I’m still not done yet! Here’s the revision of the story I made while I was in Miami.

I didn’t want to take her into the city, but I had to.  Her yaya fell ill and I had no one to take care of her.  Before the jeepney arrived I slowly bent down and told her, “Huwag mo bitawan yong kamay ko.” She obeyed and took my hand. Manila was dangerous so I pressed on, “If you let go of my hand, walang ka nang nanay.” Tears filed her inchik eyes.  She always did look like her father more than me.  I wanted to comfort her and apologize for my harshness.  She was only 4 years old, but I knew she had to learn.   If she let go, she would be lost.

It broke my heart to utter the words, but how much more if something should happen to her? She needed that fear to survive out there.

We moved quickly down the streets, her little feet struggling to keep up.  I had so many errands to run and I wanted to get her out of the city as quickly as possible.  We were stopped on the sidewalk and I looked down to check on her.  Her cute mouth agape, staring at a banana-q stand.  I wish I had a camera to snap a photo and send to her father.  I asked her if she wanted one but she shook her head.  Her eyes though, always betrayed her.  You could see and know everything by them. I was always at the hospital with J.R’s constant illnesses.  The Philippine pollution and heat were difficult on his fragile body.  Every month he would be in there for a new illness.  I’d have to leave her with the yaya every time.  During those difficult times I would ask her how she was doing and she would lie.  She was so small, but so brave.  She had learned to put on a face for me, while I tended to her brother.  I knew I had to do better by her.   I bought her two banana-q and promised we’d go to Magnolia ice cream shop before returning home.

Paroles brightly lit the streets and this gave me hope.  Soon, Virgil would be coming home to visit and stay for a couple of weeks.  A few months ago, the kids had a small recital at school where they learned “Row, Row, Row Your Boat.” It was their first English production.  Ginette vigorously rowed her arms just the way the teachers taught her.  Her sherbet colored sailor dress bobbed on the papier mache waves.  J.R. gallantly wore a miniature navy man’s uniform and sharply saluted the crowd.  His arms were covered in mosquito bites, ones that I tried to cover with makeup.  “Iwanan mo, mommy, they make me look like a real sailor!” I had never been so proud.  After the show I saw both moms and dads rushing to their children.  JR and Ginette could only run up to me.  I didn’t have enough arms to hold them.

Today was a special vigil for St. Anthony.  I had to light a candle for Virgil to assure a safe trip home.  The paperwork never seemed to end.  These 6-month stints were growing more difficult.  When would we truly be a family again?

I positioned my little girl in one of the middle pews.  She sat forward with her short legs hanging over the side of the pew.  The pew was so large, it enveloped this tiny girl.  I scanned the church to see only a few worshipers scattered throughout.  I didn’t want to leave her there but St. Anthony would grant our family special favor today for his feast day.  I needed to pray for us.  Reluctantly I handed her my purse and told her to wait there while I prayed.

The walk down the aisle didn’t seem as long the first time.  I could almost see Virgil at the altar, waiting for me.   I took a padded pew before St. Anthony.   I hated the idea that St. Anthony was the patron saint of the lost.  My husband was not missing, but in those agonizing months apart, I felt lost.  Could I be both mother and father? Was I enough? Ginette was 4 and JR only 2.  Would I lose my family even before we had had a chance to begin?

Hot tears cascaded down my rosary.  And then I felt a tug on my on sleeve.

“Mommy?”

Anakko! Are you ok?” I struggled to stand up and wipe my face with a pano.

She lowered her eyes and faintly whispered, “Kunin nila yong purse mo…”

My heart stopped.  I looked toward the empty pew.  I looked to her small empty hands.  And in the distance, I could hear a rapid click clack of footsteps against the marble floor.  I took her hand and we raced through the church, and out onto the street.

I raced to the Carriedo Fountain just in front of church and climbed onto the edge.  I paced the perimeter of the fountain, feverishly scouring the busy street, searching for anyone with the purse Virgil had given me.  I looked down to my little girl below, fighting back her tears.  What had I done?

I spotted a policeman nearby and explained what had happened, but he hadn’t seen a thing.  It hurt for me to beg for money but I had no other choice.  Somehow I had to find away to get us out of there.  We took the first jeepney to the nearest bank.

I explained the story to the tellers and tried to hide my shame for doing something so foolish.  How could I leave my daughter like that? How could I risk making her lost? Her head hung low all day.  She hadn’t said a word since we ran out of the church.   All the bank employees marveled at her bravery.  I did too.  They all offered her candy but she refused.  My child was needlessly hard on herself.  She needed something more.  I was going to make good on my promise.

We walked out of the bank and down a few blocks.  Ginette’s shoes were scuffed from our tear of the city.  It was much more of Manila than I wanted her to see.

I turned the corner and said to her, “Ah, dito na tayo.”

I pointed to the shop window and her cute mouth opened in awe.  Mango, macapuno, jackfruit, and her favorite, ube ice cream melting before her eyes.

Gusto mo ba?” I asked.

Tears filled her eyes and she couldn’t bring herself to look up at me.  I bent down to wipe them away and took her gently in my arms.

I pulled out pesos from the bank, “See? Wala lang.”

Lolo

old_young_hands

I’ve been terrible, I know, and haven’t posted since I got back from Miami (which btw- was an AMAZING experience that I will write about soon.) At the end of VONA, each participant had to do a reading of one of his/her pieces. I had originally picked something that I’d already written just to play it safe. But my mentor and residency leader, M. Evelina Galang, threw a wrench in my plans. On our last day of the program, we were invited to her home for lunch and a day of writing. It was lovely to sit outside in the Miami sun and have the singular mandate of writing. (Although, I was reprimanded for ‘liking’ my mentor’s pix on FB while i should have been writing..  what can i say – i’m a rebel and stubborn when it comes to my own good.)

She had us do an exercise where we closed our eyes and channeled our ancestors. While doing this, the one person I could think of was my Lolo on my dad’s side. When I sat down to write I started having a conversation with him and what spawned out of that conversation is the piece you see below.  When i shared it with my cohort, I was in tears, thinking about and loving and longing for a man whom i never knew. My cohort encouraged me to read this piece instead of the one I had planned b/c the feeling that brought it to life is the source of where my writing comes from. And so.. after the initial writing, I spent the whole afternoon editing it. And when I presented to all of VONA, my cohort was surprised that it was the same piece I had produced earlier. One of them commented, “You edited the shit out of that didn’t you?” Yes, yes I did.

Without further ado, I’d like to introduce you to Abraham De La Cruz Acacio.

I hate Werther’s caramel candy.  Whenever those commercials came on, I would quickly change the channel.  The child in the scene is unable to open a small piece of candy, and the grandfather gently undoes the gold foil and tenderly places it in his mouth.  Where was that person to unwrap my candy?

Everyone knew lolo or abuelo.  They celebrated mass, birthdays and Christmases with him.  I have no such memory, only a lingering feeling that something had been taken from me much too soon.

Lolo, how did you fall in love with lola? How did you comfort a widow who grieved the loss of her first husband? How do you take on a child who is not yours? How do you begin a chapter for this family by adding new life to it? How do you explain to the priest why all the host is gone even before Mass starts, and why your son, the altar server, can’t stop laughing in the back? How do you explain why you risked your life to save stacks of books from the public library, while Manila burned all around you?

All I know of you lolo, are a few stories, good stories.  Stories to help me paint who you are.  I see you with a chicken in one hand a machete in the other, ready to put dinner on the table for Inocencia and your three boys.  I see your hands calloused from corralling the pigs to and from market. The sweetness of smoke and tuba are your daily cologne.  Lola hates it when you smoke and drink but she’s still drawn into your kisses.

You wear the same white T shirt.  It was always clean because lola made sure of that, but the hole at the nape of your back grew bigger with each typhoon season.  Character, you’d call it.  Things needed to be worn in, like people.  If they didn’t have any holes in them, they’d be less interesting.  “This is where the stories are,” you would say. Lolo, I do know you. You and me, we are so like.  Because the holes in me, they make me long for you.