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Today Is The Last Day Of Summer

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hopeToday, I look back just like I would at the end of each year, enumerating year-end (or in this case, season-end) realizatons, both significant and trivial. Autumn feels like a new beginning, much like a brand new year, when most activities center on getting kids ready for the new school year. New notebooks, new clothes, new pencils, new classmates, new teachers… everything just feels so fresh.

We’re only a little over halfway through the year, but I can’t help but feel that it’s about time 2009 bids us all that much awaited adieu. Of course, it may be different for you, but if there’s one thing that stood out for me this year, it was death.

Sure, people die each year, but death seems so much more provocative this year. It could’ve been heavily influenced by the media, but I was left shocked and speechless from one obituary to the next, which rarely happens to me.

Deaths this year, from Michael Jackson to Adam Goldstein to young film critics Alexis Tioseco and Nika Bohinc, and just recently, the Eguids, just seemed so… hasty. Unceremonious. Inappropriate.

Do you also feel that? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m being melodramatic. Of course deaths are supposed to be sudden. Well, not in my book. Not in that way, at least. Not because of possible foul play, suicide, and worst of all, murder.

It’s officially autumn tomorrow, and from its seeds of newness, I wish to cultivate the fruit of second chances. Of hope. Of life. I’m not running away from the shittiness of yesterday. I would still look back disconsolately but from now on, without letting it bog down my spirit. Here’s to autumn. Here’s to new life.

Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/sha_junglii/2553986142/

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Written by Karla Mercado

September 22, 2009 at 2:26 am

Sure, I’ll Take No For An Answer!

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!@#$%I used to be the kind of person who will never take no for an answer, especially when it comes to pursuing my personal dreams and aspirations. It did me well, sure, but it did me pretty shitty at times, too. Some people would call it assertiveness, which is actually healthy, right? Well, I thought so, too. But there was a point when I realized that I was not just being assertive — I was just being downright stubborn. Some people still think this is a healthy attitude, but I don’t think so. I learned that it just sets me up for traps that eventually stress me out, lower my self-esteem, and overall make me feel completely insecure.

Once upon a time, my prayerful Catholic mother would often tell me that there are usually three answers to prayer: yes, no, and not right now. I would shrug and say, okay mom, thanks, but still go on living as if the only answer I truly deserved was yes and nothing else.

And like I said, it did me well. I was a go-getter, I was, again, assertive, I was confident (sometimes overconfident but hey, take it or leave it, right?), and I always got what I wanted. Or so I thought, until the trend collapsed and I found myself face to face with my very first unachieved goal.

I was furious.

The anger and disappointment and anxiety escalated until I hit rock bottom — I just straight out chose to quit believing in myself. I had convinced myself that I was being punished, living a life that I didn’t want in the first place.

But for some reason, I managed to step out of the rut and start from scratch — but this time, with a completely different attitude.

I tried taking my mother’s words of wisdom and act on it without sounding too religious or spiritual or whatever — that wasn’t my style anyway. But since I had always believed that mother knows best, I decided to give it a shot.

First, learn how to pray. Again, I’m not one to be all Hail Mary’s about it. So I tried refocusing my idea of a prayer. I tried turning it into a lifestyle. Prayer, to me, means to make a goal and work for it; and to work for it not to the point of being over-assertive and stubborn about it, but to just work with what you have. You save yourself a great amount of stress when you do so.

Now, when the answer is yes, be thankful. Do not be overzealous, arrogant, or complacent about it. Just be grateful for the opportunity, and for actually seeing all your hard work pay off. It simply means it’s meant to be, and that’s great. Make the most out of this gift and go on with your life with both feet planted, always.

When the answer is no, cry if you need to. Punch a pillow if that’s what you feel like doing. Rant to your husband or girlfriend or journal until the load seems lighter. Then, accept. Accept that it just wasn’t meant to be. Do not blame yourself for not working hard enough — you did. You know you did everything you could, and that is already more than enough. Know that if it’s not this, it’d be something else. Continue living the life of prayer, let go and move on, and prepare yourself for the gift that was truly designed and meant especially for you.

Finally, when the answer is not right now, be hopeful. Do not lose sight of your goal. Live your life and continue preparing yourself for the pursuit, simply because ‘not right now’ means you probably aren’t ready for it yet. Be patient and continue living your life the best way you can, as this is the only way you can prepare for absolutely anything.

Good luck, and namaste.

Written by Karla Mercado

September 11, 2009 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Introspection

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The Identity Hunt

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Subjectivation – a philosophical term coined by Michel Foucault wherein people define for us who we are, and in turn, allowing ourselves to be defined.

What if, all along, I let other people define who I am?

Not too long ago, I had a painful realization. It started over a very small argument with someone that progressed into a deep wound and, inevitably, an actual panic attack. I had to leave my cubicle and excuse myself from work that morning. I couldn’t push myself to be productive knowing that I, someone who claimed to be living and breathing individuality, actually didn’t have an identity at all.

I woud’ve continued to wallow and let myself recoil in defeat, and with that I mean the most absolute, final defeat, but then I thought — what if perhaps everyone, every single human being here on earth, doesn’t have an identity either?

My own definition of identity is boxed into the overused word, ‘label.’ And again, for someone who’s supposed to be ‘unique’ and ‘individual’, I practically lived my entire life in the quest to attain one, just like everyone else.

To me, a label was something that will not only give you individuality and uniqueness. It also gives absolute direction. And who wouldn’t want direction — a clear and precise roadmap that explains to you the significance of your past, dictates to you your present, and guarantees a future?

People spend their entire lives killing for that kind of user manual. For answers. For purpose. For clarity. Because the end goal, the destination, will define his entire person. It would make him an essence. It will provide fulfillment.

And all these, through the achievement of an identity, which can only be born out of a label.

Where did labels come from? People. And what gave these labels enough street cred to actually be called a ‘label’ — a word that is so precise, so clear-cut?

Society makes the word ‘label’ as highfalutin and necessary as the concept is often deemed. Societies with authorities perpetually passing on what past generations believed was the ‘right’ way to live a life. Societies with parents and families and teachers and peers who stamp upon the searching youth’s mind that fulfilling all the prerequisites to the identity curriculum is a matter of life and death — because without an identity, you are practically nonexistent.

No wonder so many kids end up taking their own lives, tired and exhausted and resigned from the fact that they just can’t achieve that which makes them Real. Alive. Existing.

What if the concept of an identity is just an illusion? What if our purpose as real, alive, and existing human beings with a beating heart, a working brain, and sharp senses, is to keep searching without expecting to find something?

What if we are supposed to willingly and proudly admit — “I don’t have an identity!” — and not yearn and pine and live our lives courting, wooing and chasing after the answer, simply because the answer is already there, in our quest to find one?

One shouldn’t focus on the end too much lest he ceases from acknowledging how much he’s learning and gaining right now — from the process, from the trip.

Foucault’s response is to treat our own lives as a work of art, and we ourselves are the artists, rather than allowing others to sculpt us. He says that there is no such thing as an ‘authentic self’, that if our mode of life is that of searching for ourselves or discovering ourselves, we end up frustrated becuase there is no self to find. Rather, there is only a self to be made… and re-made.

To me, it’s ultimately this: You work to become the best goddamn writer, doctor, actor, musician, student, teacher, parent, sibling, friend, priest, counselor, CEO, whathaveyou, and when you reach the point where you finally realize that things aren’t exactly working as it should be, you triumphantly cry out upon your arrival to either one of the ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ fork road destinations, “Wow, what an awesome trip. Now it’s time to thumb my way to a brand new ride.”

Written by Karla Mercado

August 18, 2009 at 5:40 am

That Ain’t My America

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The American Dream?“When success is equated with excess, the ambition for excess wrecks us.”

Growing up, I have seen countless people around me, including my own family, move to the United States to seek a better life. “Better” can mean anything, from finding a more stable job to being able to live in a decent neighborhood to raise their kids. To my mom, who left an awesome job, her friends, immediate family and native land many years ago, a “better” life meant giving her kids the choice to move to the “Free World” should they wish to do so when they’re old enough to make such decisions on their own. To my brother, who’s now a college sophomore at Fordham, it meant fulfilling his dream to pursue an American education. That being said, I think it’s safe to say — at least for the purpose of this post — that a “better life” for us basically meant pursuing the American Dream.

I can still remember my very first impression of America, way before I decided to move here. From what I had then gathered from books, newspapers, magazines and television, I thought of America as a country where the gap between the rich and the poor was almost nonexistent. It was a land of equal opportunity for all, where prejudice was just a fad of the past, not only when it comes to race, but more so on social standing. It was a place where farmers, construction workers and janitors were given the same esteem as businessmen, executives and doctors.

James Truslow Adams once said that everyone should recognize and fulfill their right to achieve a “better, richer and happier life.” But through the years, the concept of the American Dream only made people do precisely that — dream — causing towering expectations for the majority that were hardly met, if not at all. Historically, this phenomenon hasn’t exactly helped the minority and lower class citizens gain what the dream had once promised — social equality.

In the 1990s to the 2000s, an increasing number of people confessed to have lost faith in the American Dream, perhaps precisely because of these unfulfilled expectations. George Carlin once joked that “it’s called the American Dream ’cause you have to be asleep to believe it.” A number of writers, poets and musicians have expressed how dangerous it was for people to keep holding on to the American Dream, where the pursuit of happiness is somehow equated with the pursuit of greater material wealth.

I’m not educated enough to make an objective critique on the American Dream, but I do have a thing or two to say about it, based on my own experience. When I had that first impression of America, when I once thought that it was a near-perfect land of milk and honey, people said I was too ignorant and naive for saying such things, for having such faith in a country that clearly only cared about being a Superpower and maintaining that position by trampling over everyone else along the way. Now, I would surely risk being called ignorant and naive yet again for what I’m about to say, but I’ll say it nonetheless: I refuse to lose faith in my American Dream.

My family has been here for decades, and being here myself, I can’t help but be grateful. Sure, I would occasionally encounter racial slurs directed at me, or sometimes even feel like a “second class citizen”, but this place gives me hope. It really does. Why? Because to me, the American Dream is ultimately what you make of it.

In the Declaration of Independence, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” are considered inalienable rights, and basically, the stuff that make up this so-called American Dream. To me, Life means being able to wake up each morning in a place so huge that there’s always room for opportunity and second chances; Liberty means being able to make the decision to live here on my own, to start anew if I need to, and be absolutely anything I wish to be; and Happiness means not the pursuit of material wealth, but wealth that comes in knowledge, skill, experience and wisdom that one can only acquire in a place so advanced, so foreign, and so new.

So if the American Dream is, ultimately, what you make of it, then golly gee willikers, absolutely anything can be what you make of it!

“Like a puppet on a monetary string, maybe we’ve been caught singing: red, white, blue and green. But that ain’t my America. That ain’t my American Dream.”

(Italicized words from Switchfoot’s “American Dream”)

Written by Karla Mercado

August 13, 2009 at 4:16 am

The Proust Questionnaire

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Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871 - November 18, 1922)

Marcel Proust (July 10, 1871 - November 18, 1922)

Ever wonder if your favorite thinkers would even consider answering silly blog questionnaires? I found this interesting piece from one of my friends’ notes on Facebook, and I thought it was such a fun way to answer yet another blog-type questionnaire because you get to compare your answers (or not) with Marcel Proust no less. These are from the two questionnaires he filled out at the ages of 13 and 20. Quoting my friend Eduardo, “Yes, it’s elementary school / junior high all over again, except now, it’s validated by the participation of a renowned French intellectual!” That, and, I personally think the questions are pretty brilliant.

Let’s begin.

13 ans

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?
Proust: To be separated from Mama.
Your answer: Being stuck in an intellectual and emotional rut. Being in a place or disposition that prevents myself from reaching my full potential, or from satisfying my curiosities.

Where would you like to live?
Proust: To live in contact with those I love, with the beauties of nature, with a quantity of books and music, and to have, within easy distance, a French theater.
Your answer: At this point in my life, I honestly don’t want to be in just one place for a very long time. I want to move around, experience different places and meet different people. But right now, I would like to see what it’s like living (temporarily) in New York.

To what faults do you feel most indulgent?
Proust: To a life deprived of the works of genius.
Your answer: Fear.

Who are your favorite heroes of fiction?
Proust: Those of romance and poetry, those who are the expression of an ideal rather than an imitation of the real.
Your answer: Atticus Finch, Howard Roark, and Holden Caulfield (because to me, antiheroism can be quite heroic in a weird way sometimes, and Holden’s that exception!)

Who are your favorite characters in history?
Proust: A mixture of Socrates, Pericles, Mahomet, Pliny the Younger and Augustin Thierry.
Your answer: Thoreau, Austen, and Rand.

Who are your favorite heroines in real life?
Proust: A woman of genius leading an ordinary life.
Your answer: My mother and grandmother.

Who are your favorite heroines of fiction?
Proust: Those who are more than women without ceasing to be womanly; everything that is tender, poetic, pure and in every way beautiful
Your answer: Elizabeth Bennet, Jo March, Dominique Francon, and “Moi.” 🙂

Your favorite painter?
Proust: Meissonier.
Your answer: I’m not gonna lie. I’m not a big follower of this line of art, so I really can’t choose without sounding pretentious.

Your favorite musician?
Proust: Mozart.
Your answer: It’s almost impossible to choose one, but if I must, it’s got to be Freddie Mercury.

The quality you most admire in a man?
Proust: Intelligence, moral sense.
Your answer: Talent, responsibility, independence.

The quality you most admire in a woman?
Proust: Gentleness, naturalness, intelligence
Your answer: Effortless elegance, quiet confidence, patience.

Your favorite virtue?
Proust: All virtues that are not limited to a sect: the universal virtues
Your answer: Courage / Fortitude.

Your favorite occupation?
Proust: Reading, dreaming, and writing verse
Your answer: Exactly as how Proust said it, except that I write more prose than verse.

Who would you have liked to be?
Proust: Since the question does not arise, I prefer not to answer it. All the same, I should very much have liked to be Pliny the Younger.
Your answer: Elizabeth Bennet.

20 ans

Your most marked characteristic?
Proust: A craving to be loved, or, to be more precise, to be caressed and spoiled rather than to be admired
Your answer: Right at the top of my head… my long legs. Ha!

What do you most value in your friends?
Proust: Tenderness – provided they possess a physical charm which makes their tenderness worth having
Your answer: Kindness, laughter, simplicity.

What is your principal defect?
Proust: Lack of understanding; weakness of will
Your answer: Tendency to recoil in defeatism. 😦

What to your mind would be the greatest of misfortunes?
Proust: Never to have known my mother or my grandmother
Your answer: Memory loss.

What would you like to be?
Proust: Myself – as those whom I admire would like me to be
Your answer: A woman of grace, resilience, moral sense, compassion and never ending gratitude.

What is your favorite color?
Proust: Beauty lies not in colors but in their harmony
Your answer: Er, pink?

What is your favorite flower?
Proust: Hers – but apart from that, all
Your answer: (Side comment: “Hers?” Oh, Proust, you naughty, naughty boy, you… wait a minute, weren’t you gay?) I like roses.

What is your favorite bird?
Proust: The swallow
Your answer: The hummingbird.

Who are your favorite prose writers?
Proust: At the moment, Anatole France and Pierre Loti
Your answer: Conrado De Quiros, Jessica Zafra, and Jason Mraz.

Who are your favorite poets?
Proust: Baudelaire and Alfred de Vigny
Your answer: Sylvia Plath and Lord Byron.

Who are your heroes in real life?
Proust: Monsieur Darlu, Monsieur Boutroux (professors)
Your answer: Christopher Johnson McCandless.

Who are your favorite heroines of history?
Proust: Cleopatra
Your answer: Jane Austen

What are your favorite names?
Proust: I only have one at a time.
Your answer: Men’s names – Joseph, Silas, Ephraim; Women’s names: Scout, Vendetta (I know, weird, but I just think it’s mysteriously beautiful), Clarke.

What historical figures do you most despise?
Proust: I am not sufficiently educated to say.
Your answer: I do not despise any historical figure at all, because without the participation of even the nastiest folks in history, there never would’ve been a grand story to tell… and the world would be such a boring, unchallenging place to be. There would be no causes to fight for.

What event in military history do you most admire?
Proust: My own enlistment as a volunteer!
Your answer: None.

What natural gift would you most like to possess?
Proust: Will power and irresistible charm
Your answer: Agility, endurance and artistic intelligence.

How would you like to die?
Proust: A better man than I am, and much beloved
Your answer: A loving great-great-great grandmother. In other words, after many, many, many years.

What is your present state of mind?
Proust: Annoyance at having to think about myself in order to answer these questions
Your answer: Impatience. When are we getting to that much awaited final question?

Final question: (yes!) What is your motto?
Proust: I prefer not to say, for fear it might bring me bad luck.
Your answer: (Looks up at Proust’s answer) Hmm. Ok, I shall resign myself to superstition for now.

Written by Karla Mercado

August 10, 2009 at 8:02 pm

Posted in Etcetera, Introspection

Long Live the Moth

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There’s an interesting discussion up at Brazen‘s LOST Fans group (created by Benjamin) asking which LOST character you can most relate to. I didn’t even think twice and immediately answered Charlie.

Charlie first tells his story in Season 1’s The Moth (Episode 7). This was also the episode when Charlie first kicked his drug habit. In an unforgettable scene in the jungle, Locke shows Charlie a cocoon hanging onto the edge of a branch. Locke explains:

That’s a moth cocoon. It’s ironic — butterflies get all the attention, but moths, they spin silk. They’re stronger. They’re faster. You see this little hole? This moth’s just about to emerge. It’s in there, right now, struggling. It’s digging its way through the thick hide of the cocoon. I could help it — take my knife, gently widen the opening, and the moth would be free — but it would be too weak to survive. Struggle is nature’s way of strengthening it.

It’s very relatable, isn’t it? You’ve probably already heard a similar metaphor saying that patience is a virtue, there’s beauty in waiting, etc. But have you genuinely paid attention to such a profound life lesson? After much reflection, I admit that I haven’t.

There’s so much more wisdom and virtue in patience than it’s given credit for. I know that life’s struggles act like episodes or chapters, each being presented with a beginning and an end, and that it’s ultimately about being able to deal with the in-between. But I’m only human — I can’t help but dwell on when this problem is gonna f-ing end!

Dealing with the in-between then becomes either rushing to put an end to the problem, or turning your back on it altogether. When I hasten solving the problem, I usually just end up acting on impulse, which leads me back to where I started. And when I completely ignore the problem, well, let’s face it — taking on challenges like a coward never really helped anyone.

Patience takes a lot of courage. I know, it’s easier said than done, but I found that I am only making it harder on myself if I let that knife widen the opening of my life’s many cocoons. I’d be set free, that’s true, but only to find my wings undeveloped, unable to keep me up in the air, until I find myself even more injured as I hit the ground.

Like a moth in a cocoon, Charlie breaks free from the underground cave where Jack was trapped due to an avalanche of rocks. Screenshot courtesy of lost-media.com

Like a moth in a cocoon, Charlie breaks free from the underground cave where he was trying to save Jack who was trapped in an avalanche of rocks. Screen shot courtesy of lost-media.com

Take wisdom from the resilience of a moth when you find yourself struggling to break free from life’s struggles, may it be short lived chapters of everyday challenges you encounter at home, school or work, or painfully overextended episodes like drug addiction, posttraumatic stress, or grief from a recent (or not-so-recent) loss. Stay in that cocoon, deal with its suffocating constriction and fight the temptation to rip apart that tiny dot of light leading to freedom. Let your struggles strengthen you, face them with courage and eventually bounce back until it’s time to bounce back from these setbacks. Learn to do this and only then will your life’s battles be won.

Written by Karla Mercado

August 8, 2009 at 3:11 am

Live long and prosper

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No, I’m not here to talk about Vulcans. Sorry, fellow geeks. Perhaps another time.

Someone wise once said, “The first key to happiness tells us that by being aware of your body, you are connecting to the underlying field of infinite possibilities.”

I know this one-liner to be completely true in my own life. Growing up, I was a sickly child, and my parents spent most of their time checking me in and out of the hospital. I am still quite fragile to this day, but through education and experience, I learned how to work on my health by constantly trying to improve my lifestyle.

By getting to know your own body, you acknowledge what you physically need to be the fit and healthy person you ought to be. First, reflect on what you should strive to achieve; set goals for yourself. Are you underweight and wish to put on a few more pounds? Or do you need to lose some of it? Do you find yourself struggling to lift ordinary objects like basic furniture and know that you need to be physically stronger? Or do you wish to complete a full marathon and need to work on your endurance?

Remember not to set goals based on what you see on TV or read from fashion magazines — you’re doing it for health and not vanity’s sake. Most importantly, you are doing this for yourself (and perhaps also for your immediate family, if your current condition affects them), and not to compare yourself with anyone else.

If you ask me, the ultimate goal everyone should strive to achieve is to live long. Sounds pretty basic, right? But notice that it covers all the bases — you live long by being physically, mentally and emotionally healthy. And all you have to do is precisely that — to simply be aware of your body.

Here are some activities and lifestyle changes I had made (and plan to make) that I am 100% sure would help anyone live long and prosper:

Yoga, Budokon and other Eastern exercises
I admit that I favor Eastern exercises because I found that Eastern exercises tend to target more health needs than other forms of workout. Eastern exercises don’t just focus on the physical, but they work on mental and sometimes, emotional health as well. Yoga can be physically grueling, but I actually find its breathing exercises to be so much more challenging than its bone-cracking (figuratively, of course) positions. It requires a lot of mental endurance to concentrate on something we barely notice. Another insanely challenging activity — physically, mentally, and yes, even emotionally — is budokon, which is a combination of yoga, martial arts and meditation. Through its martial arts exercises, you are trained to discipline yourself and set aside your emotions in order to focus on the task at hand, just like the Eastern warriors of old.

Vegetarianism
I became vegetarian for eight months not too long ago. This is a really big lifestyle change, so big that I wasn’t able to go beyond those eight months, sadly, due to current circumstances (although I do plan on getting back to it when time, opportunity and finances allow). Being vegetarian has taught me so much, I don’t even know where to begin! So it would be best for you to back-read my journal a bit, and click on this entry: Back to Basics. In sum, it’s all about learning to be self-sufficient human beings.

Quit smoking
This, to me, was even harder to achieve than quitting meat. I never truly understood addiction until I found myself struggling to eradicate this habit. But when I decided to quit meat, it became automatic for me to quit smoking as well. More than it being both a logical and sentimental thing (i.e., I shouldn’t taint my body with nicotine while it’s trying to purify itself with all this goddamn tofu), it was more a medical thing. I learned that smoking is the most common root of almost any sickness or physical shortcoming you can think of — almost every kind of cancer, asthma, dry skin, migraines, bad breath, and even infertility.  I never thought such a common habit could cause so much chaos and difficulty in a person’s life, and even the people around him (i.e., secondhand smoking has been proven to be much worse than firsthand smoking).

A balance of time with other people and time alone
I am a social being, but I found that being an island every once in a while has helped me tremendously as well. Happiness may be most real and best felt when shared, but you will only truly know how to share your happiness to others when you know how to be happy on your own.

Gratitude. Lots of it.
I had only recently learned to be thankful for both the small and big things happening in my life. Sometimes, I even find myself being grateful for the tough, painful realizations and encounters! Marc and Angel once wrote, “Remember to be grateful for all the things you do have.” When you realize that the mere fact that you’re alive is something to be so grateful for, striving to keep being alive doesn’t only become a habit, but a devotion.

Written by Karla Mercado

August 5, 2009 at 9:01 pm

Posted in Introspection, Self-sufficiency

Tagged with ,