Rooting

“That’s me in the corner, that’s me in the spotlight – losing my religion, trying to keep up with you… oh no, I’ve said too much.”

R.E.M., Losing My Religion

I’d been needing a break since the past year turned out to be nothing but a blur of work and not much else. I felt burned out, run down, angry, frustrated, trapped, all the negative emotions that come to the fore when change – especially unasked for change – happens too fast and too hard and way too suddenly. I found myself being unable to do anything but whine and whimper and complain, to family, friends and on here, hating myself for every second of it. Rightly or wrongly, I felt complaining would make me sound tone deaf at best, and ungrateful at worst. How could I complain about having to work when so many people had lost their means of livelihood? How could I complain about not being able to go anywhere when so many others were bound to their hospital beds? So I fought it. It’s not cute to  keep bitching on here. You can delete  whatever you want to delete and curate however you want to curate, but the internet is forever. One never knows what’ll come back to bite you in the arse; lord knows I’ve already put my share of bullshit on here. So I fought it as hard as I could. I wasn’t always successful, but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

Unable to do anything more beyond complain, feeling completely uninspired and being  utterly *pause for dramatic effect* wretched, I decided if I couldn’t write anything nice, I may as well  write nothing at all. Which is fine. It’s not like I have anyone to impress, so who really cares whether I have output on here or not? But while some use therapy, some use booze, and some use weed, I tend to vent. It’s difficult for me to keep things bottled up. Expressing myself is how I self-medicate. Still, there is only so much venting one can do before feeling like a broken record. 

Moving away from Toronto was something we’d been discussing for the past couple of years. Le Hubs was slowly losing patience with living in the city, and I was open to going somewhere new. We’d been putting off making a decision, but all that changed last year. I may love Toronto, and I do miss living there, but it turned into a completely different city when COVID hit. There seemed to be no point in staying. If we were to be housebound, it made sense to have a larger space and more room to breathe. If we could do that and not have to pay more than we already were, then that was what we were going to do. And that is how we ended up in the “other” London.

I thought once the move was behind us I could sit down and bang out a few things. I’d given myself at least a couple of months to focus on not working. A reset of sorts. One would think someone who had a lot of time on her hands would find a few minutes to sit down and write something. One would think. I told myself I’d get to be more productive.   Instead, I found myself doing something I can only describe as… nesting.  I spent February and most of March playing housewife, cleaning every week, puttering around in the kitchen, making our new place feel familiar, like a  home. I now have two small house plants. Two! If you don’t know me, having so much as a plant is something because I can’t be trusted with anything that lives, so this is kind of a leap of faith. I have a sansevieria (the “snake” plant), and a dracaena. I chose them because they’re supposed to be hardy indoor house plants that “thrive on neglect.”   Still, the hubs has had to remind me that “neglect” doesn’t literally mean “neglect,” (so why even use the word?) and they’re still going to need occasional watering. I took a couple of snake plant leaves to propagate, and they’re starting to root very nicely – I’m hoping they’ll produce pups in the weeks to come. I can only hope to do as well as they are so far.  Did I just jinx them? Listen to me, talking about propagation. Knock on wood for me, will you? 

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For once the things that could be complained about (Ontario’s horrific mismanagement of the vaccination roll-out, the ridiculous lockdown hokey-pokey, outbreaks at Western U, etc.) don’t feel as heavy. Don’t get me wrong, they’re serious, but it feels a bit more of the same than a heavier load on already overburdened shoulders. Finally, sitting down to write this feels just a little like fun again too. And that’s always a good thing.

I Have Questions

Watch this. And wait for it.

First of all, what?

Also, what?

Finally, huh?

Or maybe I should just go with the classic “ha?!”

What? Huh? Ha?!

What, huh and ha are the questions I use most often. But seriously. Ha?!

I was thinking, sustainable energy. I was thinking, Electric batteries. Saving wildlife. Doctors without borders.

Instead, we got… I’m not sure what we got.

Why did I spend two minutes of my life that I’ll never get back for a commercial that doesn’t have a point?

Or is the point that they scored Chris Evans?

I believe that may be the point. They scored Chris Evans, they blew all the money on Chris Evans, who will never actually use the product – because seriously, in what universe is Chris Evans ever going to need this product? – so now that Chris Evans has all their money, they need your money to make up for the loss of all that money.

So that is the point. Chris Evans is the point.

Footnote: Chris Evans is America’s nice, round and very bouncy Ass. And we’re kissing it. Is this… gasp!… colonial mentality in action?

Further footnote: It’s probably not colonial mentality. It’s likely less colonial mentality and more – he is such a dreamboat, and he said yes. In which case, fair.

Smooth Like a Newborn

Eeeee! He’s back! Can you name any currently active male singer who is as unafraid to embrace the cheese of a nostalgic R&B vibe as Bruno Mars? Because I can’t. I thought Versace on the Floor was it and we’d never get anything as good or better, but this was an immediate jam for me. Even though the music certainly alludes to some clothes coming off a little later, no one gets unclothed in this video. It is perfection. After all the boobs and butts and twerking and stripper poles and gangsters and trap, it is so very nice to have a little Bruno Mars in our lives again. Adele once called him the best vocalist she’s ever heard, and the woman did not lie. With an equally mischievous Anderson .Paak – bringing the extra wink wink, nudge nudge in their new joint project, Silk Sonic – this, ladies and gentlemen, is foreplay for your ears. So smooth, so sexy and oh so naughty.

The End is the Beginning is the End

The End is the Beginning is the End

Dear Elly G,

Remember when you asked, and I said it hadn’t hit home yet? Well, it finally did. It happened right before we left. The apartment was wholly empty, everyone else was downstairs and I was sweeping up; I looked around at the empty space we’d lived in for almost a decade, at the bare walls and the empty shelves, and started to cry. I don’t know if it was the stress and the exhaustion that did it. We’d been happy there. We’d been unhappy there, too. It was our first place together, and it held a wealth of memories. It was home, and now we were leaving. Other than where I grew up, I don’t think I’ve ever lived for as long in one place as I did in that apartment.  I loved it so much, I stood there, clutching a broom with tears coursing down my face like I was Judy Ann Santos in Mara Clara. Moments in time! I know. Gross.  

A came up and we stood on the empty balcony, said goodbye to our view of the lakeshore (and a million condos + the tip of the CN Tower), then returned our keys and left. I cried when we drove away; I know it’s corny, but I don’t think I can bear to see our old building again. Not this soon, anyway. I miss that homely, basic little apartment and the comfort of the familiar. It will be a while before this new one will truly feel like home.

You’d think we were free and clear for that day, wouldn’t you? Nope. About an hour away from London, we got caught in a traffic jam; some trailer truck had smashed into a sedan not too far away, and the entire highway was closed off and we sat there for nearly 45 minutes before we could start moving again. I’m not complaining overmuch about this; it is infinitely better to be caught in a traffic jam than to be the cause of one. And we also got to see an absolutely gorgeous sunset on the drive back, where I indulged myself by pretending I was Forrest Gump for a minute.

Thus ends the saga of the flight from Toronto. In conclusion, when moving I have this to share:

– sell all your shit.
– hire professionals.
– choose a truck at least 2x larger than what U-haul says is adequate.
– sell all your shit.
– hire professionals.
– just sell all your shit.

 

Thank you for coming to my TED Talk. 

 

Yours in relief,
Nikka

ps. Congratulate me! Not a single thing was broken. Not a single picture frame, or tumbler, wine glass, computer monitor, or CPU. I packed the stuff, and I packed it well, and there was nothing holding them in place in the back of the truck. Yes, I know, the horror. One open box of frames had even fallen onto its side when we opened up U-haul # 2 the next day; but, everything was intact. Gloat.

What Books Did You Read in 2020?

What Books Did You Read in 2020?

“… we all see it. I didn’t tell you. You didn’t ask me. I never opened my mouth and you never opened yours. We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room… except we are together. We’re close. We’re having a meeting of the minds. We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy.”

Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

What is a book, but a snowflake frozen for all eternity? It’s a unique imprint of a memory, a dream, words that run together to form a story. Unlike the untenable ether of dreams, a book can be picked up at any time of the day or night, and suddenly you’re there, standing inside the writer’s mind, seeing, hearing, tasting, smelling. It’s magic. The best kind, because it is so willingly given and so generously shared, with so little being asked in return. 

If the year that’s gone by has given you nothing but more time to yourself, a book would’ve been one of the surest ways to stay sane. Here, I list all my reads of 2020. As always, my choice of reading material doesn’t follow rhyme or reason, although I do think I read a lot more memoirs this time around. When one’s life becomes rote, reading about other lives just seems that much more interesting!  The following may hopefully give you ideas for what to read next. About 95% were all read and available from Overdrive, through the generous auspices of the Toronto Public Library.

I also list my top five unforgettable books of the year. To get to them, scroll down to the standouts section, and feel free to share your own in the comments below.

Memoirs, Memories and Me
Born a Crime – Trevor Noah
The Most Beautiful – Mayte Garcia
Full Service – Scotty Bowers with Lionel Friedberg
The Outsider – Jimmy Connors
Home / Home Work – Julie Andrews
Inside Out – Demi Moore
Me – Elton John
Permanent Record – Edward Snowden
Open Book – Jessica Simpson
How to Make Love Like a Porn Star: A Cautionary Tale – Jenna Jameson

Baby It’s Real (So, So Real)
Helter Skelter – Vincent Bugliosi
Catch and Kill – Ronan Farrow
Bachelor Nation – Amy Kaufman
Uncanny Valley – Anna Weiner
No Filter: The Inside Story of Instagram – Sarah Frier

Books for Grown-Ups and Shit
All the Light We Cannot See – Anthony Doerr
Normal People – Sally Rooney
The Bone Clocks – David Mitchell
Less – Andrew Sean Greer
Bring Up the Bodies / The Mirror and the Light  – Hilary Mantel

Royal Pains and Other Reimaginings
The Last Empress / Becoming Madame Mao – Anchee Min
Daughters of the Winter Queen – Nancy Goldstone
The Queen’s Secret – Karen Harper
The Other Windsor Girl – Georgie Blalock
The Paris Wife – Paula McLain

Myths and Monsters
The Silence of the Girls – Pat Barker
The Children of Jocasta – Natalie Haynes
The Dragon Waiting – John M. Ford
The Library of Legends – Janie Chang

Gone Girls and Gone Boys
The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
Woman on the Edge – Samantha M. Bailey
The Butterfly Girl – Rene Denfield
The Marsh King’s Daughter – Karen Dionne
The Missing Millionaire – Katie Daubs

Atbp.
The Collected Stories of Jessica Zafra – Jessica Zafra
All My Puny Sorrows – Miriam Toews
Tidelands – Philippa Gregory
Gods of Jade and Shadow – Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Dune – Frank Herbert
The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Neil Gaiman
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles

.

The 2020 Standouts

The Child Finder – Rene Denfield
Starts off slow and a little predictable.  One can sense the twist from far away, but by the end all the tragic threads have been pulled together so tightly, it sings like a tightly corseted nightingale.  Read this if you want something in the tradition of The Lovely Bones and Room.

The Immortalists – Chloe Benjamin
Ugh I hate her so much. Chloe Benjamin writes so bloody well it makes me want to claw my eyes out. The Immortalists tackles the bonds between siblings, and their ways of coping with the loss of each other, which got me right in the feels. Read this if you love your siblings.

Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
I don’t obsessively follow best of, or must-read book lists; part of the fun is finding books that turn out to be amazing reads without giving in to the hype So when. Pachinko came out, to great fanfare in 2017, it sailed completely over my head. Mr. King’s analogy of writing as telepathy is wonderfully apt – you can pick up a good book and a good story at any particular time, and it will still speak to you. Pachinko is a multi-generational story of stoic strength in the face of exile and discrimination in a land that refuses to acknowledge the humanity of those they deem foreign-born. Clean, straightforward and neat of prose, Pachinko  still manages to hit you in the solar plexus with a devastatingly effective one-two punch. What a read.

Starlight Tour: The Last Lonely Night of Neil Stonechild – Susanne Reber and Robert Renaud
Structured more like a screenplay than a novel, this is bound to get optioned if it hasn’t been already.  Starlight Tour is a chilling, heartbreaking account of the abuses indigenous people of Canada endure. Compelling, bleak, an indictment of callousness and police brutality, it is a reminder that the mistreatment of a proud people – whose original claim to this land has been cruelly shoved into the recesses of Canadian memory – perpetuates to this day.  A must read, though the inclusion of a number of graphic police photos are not for the faint of heart. 

The Once and Future King – T.H. White
How have I passed on this for so long? I really shouldn’t have.  Guinevere is a lying, cheating harlot, Lancelot is a whiny little bitch, Mordred is truly the scum of the earth and a kingly, world-weary Arthur smiles benignly throughout the whole mess.  T.H. White’s re-imagining of the Arthurian legend has more than earned its place as a modern classic. I love this book and hate myself for only reading it now, but better late than never is my ninja way!

In Which I Look Up and a Year’s Gone By

You know what the year was like for me? A quickie. Barely any time to start, sputtering to a finish, then just lying there, gasping for breath. Yep, that sounds like 2020 to me.

I watched as we bragged about working from home, then complained about working from home, then broke out because working from home became too much. I watched as we made dalgona coffee and sourdough bread, watched as we succumbed to the acute mental illness that is Tik-Tok, watched as we started hawking homemade things, and watched as we blamed everyone from the highest echelons of government down to the barangay tanod for everything,

Toronto went from orange, to red, to orange, to red, to grey – and I couldn’t enjoy any of those zones at all, or even say they made a difference. After the virus struck and the city shut down, I lived the whole year as if I was in a round the clock grey zone. Dine-in restaurants? What are those? The number of times I actually ventured out to shop (groceries don’t count) can be counted on my fingertips. I didn’t enjoy having to wear a mask all the time, or having to shy away from people. I didn’t enjoy slathering on hand sanitizer every time I’d enter an establishment and every time I’d leave it (neither did my hands). I stopped seeing faces and bodies, and started seeing possibly virulent petri dishes with arms and legs. I don’t enjoy the paranoia that strikes at the sight of bare, flared nostrils over a face mask.

I was lucky to still have a job when everything else had either downsized or shut down, so I threw myself into work. What else was there? But all work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy; I worked too much, so much so that I felt myself beginning to fray at the edges. In this case, all work and no play gave Jack burn-out. It also gave Jack the possible beginnings of carpal tunnel. At the risk of beating this metaphor into the dirt, I am Jack.

Taylor Swift released not one, but two albums this year. I did diddly squat. I was (am?) the embodiment of Bruno Mars’ The Lazy Song. I’m gonna kick my feet up, then stare at the fan, turn the TV on, throw my hand in my pants… I barely wrote anything, not because I didn’t have time, but because there was nothing to inspire.

This time this year, I was supposed to have been back home in the Philippines, with my family. They may drive a body crazy, but at the end of the day, I like spending the holidays with them. I miss the traditions we have, the midnight dinners and the cornucopia of round fruits, that incessant Jose Mari Chan Christmas album. The smell of apples brings tears to my eyes, and so do oranges; the sight of a bag of Chippy can form a fist around my heart, squeezing hard enough to take the breath out of me. Don’t worry too much, though. Quite a lot of things can make me break down lately; this year I found myself crying during two separate Dr. Who finales and My Neighbor Totoro. I’m a mess. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, it’s been a heavy year.

I am not someone who is able to be optimistic at all times. I am a realist, and I realize things are probably going to get worse before they get better. I also realize that I took my hometown for granted, so much so that I up and left it, like an idiot who didn’t know better. I miss home. I miss it more than I ever have since I’ve moved. Worse than the enforced lockdowns and the job burn-out, the sensation of having my wings clipped is the one I found hardest to bear. But such is 2020. This isn’t the new normal anymore. It’s just new. Or is it normal? Only 2021 will tell.

Happy New Year, everyone. More than ever, here’s to your good health – physical, mental, emotional and everything in between. And remember…

Big moneyyyy!

It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to)

The day after 29

The last time I worked on my birthday, I was rescued by three of the loveliest girlfriends a girl could ask for. They showed up, whisked me off for aperitifs at Bo’s and peanut butter afters at Pan de Manila, talking till the sun came up. Yes, we were classy like that. It’s been a decade and a hell of a lot of life changes since that night, but it also feels like only yesterday; even if we don’t get to hang the way we used to, I will cherish them forever.

I like to think of myself as someone who has grit enough to face reality. This is apparently a lie and utter bullshit, because I have somehow turned into someone who runs away from her birthday by literally running away. But not this year. Not by the dictates of this, the year of our Lord, 2020, a hellscape designed to push everyone to very limits of sanity. Not with lockdowns, masks, nasal swabs, temp-checks, quarantine, self-isolation, all these brand spanking new ribbons of red tape strewn across the path of normal movement. So, in place of the usual, this year I have to work. Because of course. Of course. Why deviate from being a shitty year through and through? It’s November, we may as well see this whole thing through to December. And onward. Forever and ever, world without end, ad infinitum, amen.

I don’t normally do this.

Blog on a weekday.

Dig up memories mid-week.

Spend my birthday at work.

It’s been a while. I’ve come to realize taking birthdays off has not only spoiled me rotten, but has also been medication of sorts. It keeps me on an even keel, like my very own annual Rumspringa. So this year, since I have no idea what to do with myself, maybe it’s a good thing I’m working. At least I’m doing something. A very depressing something, but it’s something, which is better than nothing at all. What’s the alternative? Boxed wine and take-out? Crying in the shower?

Still, it’s by no means the worst birthday I’ve ever had. No, the worst birthday I ever had was when I ended up eating torta for three days straight because my mother had bought too much and no one showed up to the party. What a bunch of dicks. LOL. I don’t remember why no one showed up; had I saved the invite till the very the last minute? I think I may have. Did I do it on purpose so I could have all the torta to myself? Who knows? I was eight. The whole thing is a blur. All I remember is the torta. So good. All that sugar. In hindsight, I regret nothing.

Damnit, now I want torta.

The Best Values are Addams Family Values

The Best Values are Addams Family Values

Today being October the 31st, I rewatched Addams Family Values because I wanted to do a Debbie Jellinsky appreciation post. I ended up appreciating the whole movie instead. I couldn’t help it. I loved it then, and I love it now, and really, how could you not?

They know what they like (and say it) –

They know what they don’t like (and say it).

They face disappointment (like a dead, fully baked stripper in a cake) –

And move on with grace and humour.

They never lose sight of who they are –

And revel in it;

They sympathize…

… but not excessively,

and they’re honest.

Maybe a little too honest.

We could do worse than emulate the Addams Family and their values. Addams Family Values is a theatrical gem of the highest caliber. It’s also a searing treatise on societal norms, but that’s a post for another day. Happy Halloween, trick-or-treaters!

Rolling on the River

Rolling on the River

I spent the summer cooped up, trapped by a scorching summer that seemed to make it its goal to burn people alive, and a virus that wants to enter you every which way it can, like some horrible tentacle porn monster.  I had already moved all the way up north to escape the heat, so having a summer that felt just about as bad as it can and does get in the Philippines was a new and frustrating one for me. Fall couldn’t come fast enough.

Fall is my favourite time of the year. The trees are aflame, the weather is mild and the sun is gentle. I didn’t have any specific place in mind, but I knew I needed to escape. Somewhere I was near  water,  could bury my face in a book, watch the leaves turn, have grilled meat,  and avoid people. I found all that in spades in Bobcaygeon.

Bobcaygeon is the hub of the Kawarthas, about two and a half hours away from the GTA. It could be the timing of our visit, but it was refreshingly deserted; I assume it hums a lot more in the summer, when folk escape the city for the gleaming lakes and rivers Ontario is so blessed with.

I loved it up there. Le Hubs says he saw mostly older folks, and that’s okay with me. My zest for partying and clubbing has kind  of petered out, anyway.  I think I’m mentally psyching myself up for bingo halls and cribbage and whatever else it is that older people do for fun up in those parts. I’m kidding. I know what they do up in those parts. They fish. They fish a LOT. Everyone who’s anyone has a boat. And anyone who’s anyone who enjoys fishing knows that Bobcaygeon is the place to start.

I can’t say I fish, but I enjoy being by the water. It’s calming. Maybe there’s an intrinsic part of me, some basic building block that still remembers how good life was before deciding to crawl on dry land and adapt to oxygen. Maybe we all have it, I don’t know. Maybe it’s the nine months we spent swimming in amniotic soup. Whatever it is, when I’m feeling stressed I always feel the need to be around water.

It was only happy chance that led me to stumble upon Gordon’s River Bunkies. The selfish part of me doesn’t want to recommend it to anyone or even mention it, because I want it all for myself, but I don’t think it matters; whether or not I say anything about it, anyone else who’s been here is bound to share how beautiful the experience is. It’s just too pretty not to share.

How could anyone say no?

Picture a one-bedroom floating home on the Bobcaygeon River, close to the oldest lock on the Trent-Severn waterway. Moored on the marina, the river is right at your doorstep; slide the living room doors open, and it’s a hop, skip and a jump away.  Add an interior of pine and cedar, large windows that fill the little cabin with light, an electric fireplace for chilly nights, an upper bedroom with a roomy queen-size bed, one and a half bathrooms, a full-service kitchen with all the accoutrements, a small backyard with a grill, and you’ll get the river bunkie you never knew you wanted. It’s a fantastic engineering marvel, and I love it. It’s gorgeous.  I spent all my time watching the water, reading, and getting in a little bit of the French Open – because it came with a flatscreen and satellite television, for those who might miss the world beyond Bobcaygeon. (Doubtful, but it’s always better to be prepared.)

Grinning like a (very happy) maniac

It was everything I needed for a little bit of a breather, before heading back to the big bad city. I loved it so much, I actually felt like I could live there. Given the chance, I would (and Le Hubs agrees!). It feels like a nice retreat. And it’s perfect – not too many people, but still enough around for you not to feel like you’re on a deserted island.

I’ve never had a dream home before, but if you asked me now, I would tell you my dream home is  a cozy floating cabin on the banks of the Bobcaygeon River, the river rushing by, never still,  lights glimmering on it at night, like flickering candles. Oh Bobcaygeon. I miss it already!

Feat of Clay

Tennis is a solitary sport when you’re playing it. Watching it however, is a different story – whether you’re in the stadium or on your couch, there’s a feeling of camaraderie, of union when you see a packed stadium. Seeing players running around on Philippe Chatrier, a court made five times larger by the absence of people, throws a body slightly off-kilter. It’s weird. It’s lonely. There is no wall of sound. The communal gasps and cries of excitement and groans of exasperation are gone, replaced by the silent nods and occasional clapping of physios and coaches – the only ones allowed to watch – and masked ballboys and ballgirls, linesmen and the referee. It’s weird, and it’s sad, and it’s all my fault.

I jinxed Paris, because I broke my own rules.

I try never to tell anyone about my plans. At most I will be vague about it, because I believe aspirations can be ill-wished by a malevolent wind. You don’t have to tell me how batty that sounds, Le Hubs says it often enough. Still, I’m weirdly superstitious about some things, so I play my cards close to my chest, and only let on what I’m about when it’s all a fait accompli.

But early this year, I told Paulie I was going to France.

The words “I’ll be in Paris in May!” flew out of my wayward mouth. I couldn’t help myself, I was too excited. The airfare had been booked and paid for, Le Hubs had been suitably convinced it was a good idea to tag along with a tennis-mad, Rafael Nadal fangirl of a wife, and this was to be the year I would finally get to stalk see the Raging Bull on the terre battue of Roland Garros. Getting to meet with Paulie, who lives a stone’s throw away from Paris (Switzerland, but what’s one train ride) after a decade would’ve been the cherry on top.

So I blabbed about it. And the universe heard me.

The universe heard, the gates of hell opened, and in clopped the first donkey of the apocalypse, braying for all it was worth. Hello, Covid-19! I am an idiot.

And that was how I ended up in a Bobcaygeon river bunkie, watching the 2020 French Open on TSN.