“The Cui klan is quiet, but strong,” my tita (aunt) said to me.
Up until now, I hadn’t ever considered that my personality traits had to do with a family unit as a whole, and not just me, as an individual. This quiet confidence I have, that embodies my introverted nature, embodies my family heritage too? Who would have known. I didn’t realize such a thing could be a familial trait. But it’s true. My family here are small, quiet people. But strong. Just like my family has a handful of talented artists, so too do I.
This “quiet confidence” that I have that everything will work out? It’s embedded in generations. I like that. It makes me smile, and nod like the rolling of the hills.
In America, it’s so easy to forget where you came from. Not only is it a young, “melting pot” nation, it is also built on a model of Independence because of it. American’s rugged independence is so embedded in my world view that going back to my roots, to Asia, has got me so surprised to realize I am a part of something. I am a part of the Cui klan, and the Cui klan is strong. I am strong. It makes me proud to think that I am made up of a collective family tree, ancestry and heritage. It sounds so silly to write that as if it’s some big revelation, but I really do forget sometimes, so far removed from this place. Never mind the fact that half of my family history is a complete mystery to me. I never met my biological dad.
The Philippines is both foreign and familiar to me all at once. The dialect is familiar but foreign, as I still grasp hard to understand the language and my surroundings. I am slowly picking up words and what I call communicating in “three-year-old sentences”. I had a full on, legitimately Filipino conversation with a neighbor boy on Facebook for about 10 minutes and was proud of myself that if I couldn’t form sentences out of my mouth, where my brain synapses are still much too slow, at least I could type them out. I’m learning and that’s all that matters.
Being a part of the Cui Klan in a foreign culture, yet, my culture, is confusing at best. I blend in too easily here. I’m not a Westerner, or a Foreigner, but legitimately a Filipina. People assume I speak the Cebuano dialect and then I am found out when they realize I don’t. They assume I am Catholic and so I say a little prayer and make the sign of the cross like a good little Catholic girl should. Everything about it is foreign, including the religion. It’s equal parts sad as it is fascinating to me. Sometimes, I wish I could be that good little Catholic girl, but I know my spirituality is better off beyond boxes and statues and communions and churches.
I have a quiet confidence, and I got it from my family. I have an artistic touch and I got it from my family. It’s all here, in plain site. My family, like me, no longer practice their art in the traditional way, but they have transferred their creativity in other ways. Through cooking amazing meals, and through starting their own hair salon. And, through writing. A quiet confidence that things will happen naturally when they’re meant to, and meant to be.
Life is a process of becoming, a combination of states we have to go through. Where people fail is that they wish to elect a state and remain in it. This is a kind of death. – Anais Nin
Anais Nin helped me in my process of becoming. My epiphany moment happened at a time after reading a simple quote. “And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” Just like that, I knew I had to change my life and live it the way I wanted to, needed to. For myself this time, and not some lover.
I’m proud to be collaborating with Matt from Life Without Pants. Since the recording of my video, before going to India and then moving to the Philippines, I have had a few more epiphanies, so to say.
While working with the slum school kids in India, I had a rush of feeling and emotion come over me. It’s been over a week since I last graced that land and I still haven’t found the words to describe it. How do I even begin to approach such a topic and do it justice? Even as a writer, it’s hard to find the words.
India was the first time I experienced a moment of clarity while teaching. I felt like I could truly be a mother someday, and that I want to be. It was an indescribable feeling of awe in myself and my faith, and I just knew. The same way I knew I would see Metallica and that I would travel the Philippines alone. With that quiet determinism that I have once I make up my mind on something, I just knew.
While the topic of being a mother has always spinned my mind, especially as I get older, I’ve always been either/or on it up until now. I never felt so strongly about it until I worked with the slum kids. Yet, the thought of settling still makes me anxious. When my friends in the Philippines get envious of my lifestyle of “travel and adventure”, but then ask me where I’d like to live, and they mean where I’d like to settle down in, I have absolutely no clue. Even other fellow travelers I’ve met in India have told me they want to settle down and all I can think of is that that’s the death of me. Yet, somewhere in my being, I must want the same if I want to raise kids? The concept is backwards to me.
Before going out in complete panic, I remind myself that I’m here, now, in the present and I should stay here because the future does not exist. It is merely a concept to fill our heads with worry and anxiety. With quiet determinism, I know I will raise a kid and I know that it might not be the most traditional way (because lets face it, I am far from traditional), but it will work.
These moments of clarity are worth living for, and I hope to have more throughout my year, and my life.
Photo by Jessica Caisse By the time you read this entry, I will be in India volunteering at an orphanage in New Delhi. If you’re here through LiLu’s TMI Thursday, Hi, Hello. This story is a personal journey. It is a vulnerable one. And I will be back on February 8th to let you know how my journey to India went; blogging from a new place in Asia. The rest of 2010 will be spent in the Philippines. Hope you’ll stick around to read my accounts in different cultures.
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These scars measure me. Define me. Give me wings like I am reborn or stones to drown me.
I’d like to say they have some amazing story behind them, but not really. I was nine years old when I got the chicken pox, and I itched the itchy spots. I was compulsive. I was impulsive. Whatever. It just itched. And no one told me I shouldn’t scratch.
When I realized the three most sensitive spots became permanent I was mortified. One on my chest, one on my left shoulder, and the biggest one on my upper back. Countless times I recounted in my notebook journals. Me, age 11. No one will ever love me! I wrote. God, how can anyone love someone so ugly? God, if you’re there, why me!?
Such is the melodrama of prepubescent growing pains.
My parents encouraged me to get them removed. A particularly mortifying visit to the doctor told me otherwise. No way was I going to trust the doc. No way in hell. He took one look at me, one look at them, and said “yeah, they’re ugly”.
11 year old impressionable psyche. My face burned a deep red. I had my back toward him and I could feel his eyes digging into my skin. My eyes filled to tears. I just cried and cried. You might as well have told a fat girl “yeah, you’re fat.” I mean, do you have to tell me the obvious?
Watch your manners, Floreta, Mom would say. Don’t use those words.
I didn’t get them removed because frankly, I’m a big wuss. I knew they involved painful cortisone shots to the scar tissue itself and I hated needles. The things I learned about these scars-these foreign invaders on my body-were that there were no guarantees of removing them successfully. They could actually get worse with treatment. No way was I going to risk something like that. No way in hell.
Somewhere in the back of my head, I guess I felt that this was my body, and I should learn to live with it. I mean, they happened for a reason, right? Everything happens for a reason… As tough as I knew it would be, I was going to love myself. I had to. There’s no turning back what happened. I was going to love myself and someone will love me too. I had to believe that. 13 year old psyche. I had to believe I was still lovable. God, how could I go on if I wasn’t? How could I be so shallow; how could anyone? And if they are, they don’t deserve me.
My parents kept telling me to get them “taken care of”. Did they not love me? Did they not accept me? Did they deserve me?
I cried some more. Cried for the perfect skin I will never have. Cried for the demons of self-acceptance that I couldn’t quite grasp.
I went all through high-school without dating. It was very hard for me to be so vulnerable to anyone, let alone naked. I grew very self-conscious. Never wearing sleeveless shirts, bathing suits, or anything strapless. I still don’t really. But I’m the closest to accepting myself as I’ll ever be.
My first boyfriend dumped me the day after he saw me naked and I had given him my first blow job. Perfect timing. And by perfect, I mean fucking lousy.
I cried for months. We only dated for 6 months and it took me that long or longer to get over him. He didn’t deserve my tears.
Being naked in front of men was a struggle for me. I was never comfortable or confident. By the time I settled into a long-term relationship-the one I’d be in for five years-I felt more at ease but still, I would try hard never to face my back to him. I was always conscious of where I was in proximity to where he was in proximity to where they were; my scars. I began to slowly accept them as part of me, yet I still had that mentality.
See, I decided back in middle school that these scars would be a test. A test for myself and a test for my lovers. I knew that while I didn’t feel strong now, it would help me become stronger later. If I wasn’t comfortable, then they weren’t right for me, and I wasn’t “ready” to love another because I still had work to do. And if they didn’t accept me? Of course they weren’t right for me. These scars were a physical measure of what everyone goes through: acceptance, love, comfort, finding “the one”. I’m not sure if I believe in “the one”, but I’m sure I believe in settling down with one. I convinced myself it’d be a good thing, because I would be that much more aware of an incongruous situation, and of how far I have come to be comfortable in my own skin.
As I get older, I continue to grow more comfortable in my own skin. I don’t know what it is, or how I got here. I’m by no means perfect, and my scars tell me so. But all I know is that each new lover feels more and more comfortable. The last man to see me naked, a month ago, was the most comfortable I’ve ever felt. I don’t know if it’s me. Or him. Or me and him combined. But I felt beautiful. And comfortable with my back turned towards him on the bed, and my sleepy eyes drifting to sleep with a slight smile on my face. That doesn’t mean he’s “the one”, or even one (I’m not jumping to bold conclusions), but it means I’m closer to truly accepting myself and my imperfections.
Today, my scars do not sink me; they give me wings like I am reborn. I choose to fly. Everything I do is because I want to be better. I want to respect myself, believe in myself, and most importantly, love myself. My scars aren’t something separate from me, they are a part of me. They grow and change as I grow and change. They mold to who I am. They tell stories of learning to love, and travail. And I am stronger because of it.
Five years ago, I would never have posed topless to photograph my scars, but at the tail end of 2009, I did. I am proud of how far I’ve come. And I’m sharing it with you now.
Today, I am the closest to ever loving myself since, well, ever. And I continue to journey into self-acceptance. I am a work in progress, we all are, but I am closer to finding “the one”; and she’s not something outside of me, but within my own self.
Some of my favoritebloggers have “life lists” that they share. Honestly, I never even gave my bucket list a thought, even after the movie came out. The idea that doing fantastic things before you keel over and die seems like a mostly egoic endeavor to me. I mean, do I really want to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro, or run a marathon, or is it just because I want to cross it off some list and give myself a proverbial pat on the back; as if that makes me that much more accomplished? What’s the purpose anyway? Live life to the fullest or some crap like that? And why is “living life to the fullest” often associated with physical feats?
The bucket list has been an inner conflict with me; between ego and egolessness and being remarkable versus being ordinary. Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a lot about it, especially as I am about to embark on a major life changing adventure to Asia; volunteering in India and moving abroad to the Philippines (countdown: three days).
Ok, so I realize bucket lists are by nature, a bit selfish and self-centered, but so what? Lately, I’m a firm believer in taking care of the self (selfishly), as a whole, before you can give your whole self (selflessly) to a life partner or philanthropic endeavor. And what better way to accomplish this than the bucket list?
My bucket list hasn’t ever materialized in actual writing, but it’s certainly been floating around in the back of my head. Frankly, I’m not sure that I’m ready to write my complete bucket list, but I’m sure it will be ever changing and ever evolving. This year, I will embrace my bucket list. And start my “rough draft”.
The immediate bucket list for Asia 2010
(Ideas I want to start implementing this year)
Learn Filipino Martial Arts: Eskrima (this is a weapons sport using sticks and knives)
Go rock climbing – I’ve only done it once, at a rock climbing gym
Learn how to swim
Learn how to cook – Filipino cuisine!
Start my own business – Pursue travel writing, web design and photography! (AKA: Take the Philippine tourism industry by storm)