Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Clearing Clutter

A friend of mine recently told me that the clutter we live in our physical space is a reflection of our inner lives. I tend to agree with her.

Despite my obsessive-compulsive tendencies, neatness and organization have never been my strong suit. It doesn't help that I've always been something of a pack rat, and it almost causes me physical pain to throw anything away. The other reason why is probably because I have a high tolerance for living in clutter.

I've always wondered if my ability to live in what can only be called a mess is a reflection of how my resistance to change has allowed me to exist in the mess that was my life for so very long.

I recently took stock of the state of my personal living space - and I was dismayed to find that it looked like something had exploded in it. Tour brochures, illegible study notes, unopened letters, unsorted receipts littered my single bookcase, which was the focal point of disorder in a really messy room. My suitcases were still beside my bed, gathering dust and making it impossible to draw the curtains. The top of my wardrobe was home to empty boxes and plastic bags. Despite being only here for 6 months (yes, already!), I was obviously building up an impressive store of useless things at an awesome rate.

On that realization, I resolved to put some order into my room - partly because it was driving me crazy to see my shelves every time I'd come into the room, but mostly because I, the lover of metaphors, thought it was an apt thing to do at the end of an old year to prepare for the new one.

So, after a shopping spree involving storage boxes and organizers, I rolled up my sleeves and started sorting, putting things in order - and, yes, throwing things away. The end result was, as you can see above, something to be proud of. (I was planning on taking a "before" picture so you'd know what I was talking about, but I was so eager to get started plowing through the mess that I forgot.)

It would be so nice if I could clear out the useless ideas and concepts in my head as easily as I can put my physical space in order. Life would be a cinch to fix. I can make a list of inaccurate "truths" and limiting concepts that I need to rethink, re-frame, and even outright throw out, but of course knowing always doesn't translate into actual doing. Change - specially inner change - takes energy and entails all sorts of risk. To be honest, I sometimes think that it's easier to live with all these faulty ideas that I know than take a chance on something that is completely unfamiliar.

The good news is, if there's anything this year has taught me it is that it's possible to let go of what no longer works in order to embrace the something new. It's possible to throw out ideas that stifle me and uselessly take up space in order to make room for new, more positive ones.

And while I must admit that I'm still living in an inner world that is still very cluttered and very crowded with all sorts of negative thoughts, I've made some headway into putting things in order. And just enough so that all that much needed fresh air has finally manged to blow in some and some sunshine has managed to shine into it and brighten just that much more.

Isn't clearing up clutter a great way to end the year?

Have a happy and safe New Year's Eve everyone! May the end of the old year and the coming of a new one mark your letting go of at least one bit of personal "clutter" you've been putting off throwing away. Be happy, be loved, and always, always be blessed.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Somebody Stop Me!

photo by james m

I think it's pretty obvious by now - I'm a chockful of bad habits and addictions. Ranging from the trivial (i.e. nail biting and a love of diet soft drinks) to the life-altering (i.e. negative thinking and frequent self-flagellation), I am often conquered by these compulsions more often than I care to admit. And since I got my car, I'm coming to realize that I'm on my way to developing yet another one - as if I didn't have enough of them.

It's giving into the siren song of the fast food drive thru.

Yes, despite my resolve to turn over a new leaf and eat healthy to complement my new sporty lifestyle, my new wheels have made it even easier to indulge in my craving for the quick, tasty, and greasy joy of eating fast food. I don't even want to count the number of times I've driven the five minutes down the road for a burger from McDonald's (which is open 24 hours, much to my conscience's dismay), hot-and-spicy chicken from KFC, or a chicken roll from Red Rooster.

My absolute lack of emotional quotient is appalling. What can I say? When I'm diving into hot food that I didn't have to cook myself, I temporarily lose my sanity. But it's hard to resist the call of a Big Mac at the end of a long, harrowing evening call when I can safely drive to the store in my car, pick up a burger, and be home just ten minutes than I planned to be.

Okay, okay - the yogurt and fruit for dinner daily was definitely much more positive than habitually committing this cardinal sin against healthy living. I'm going to have to double - even triple - my time at the gym just to make up for my lack of willpower... and we all know how realistic that really is!

The reason I'm writing about this here is just so people know about my budding addiction and hold me accountable. After having had a McDonald's burger two nights in a row via the Drive Thru (curse the 24 hour service - shouldn't everything be closed in Perth by 5pm?), I am willing to admit I have a problem.

Is there such a thing a Fast Food Addicts Anonymous? Sign me up, quick!

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Proud of Me

It's been almost exactly a year to the day that I wrote about my decision to defy gravity. I remember the terror of standing in front of the gaping Unknown and gathering whatever courage I could muster to prepare for that unprecedented leap.

It's a huge leap for anyone to make. But for someone who is as resistant to change, security-loving, and approval-seeking as I am, doing this in defiance of all that was sensible and practical and SAFE... it's beyond describing.

It's only on hindsight that I realize just what a leap of faith I took. Not only did I get off the safe and straight road I wasn't sure I still wanted to be on, but I traded the security of home and family for life on my own in a city where I knew no one, to which I came with literally only the clothes in my suitcases and a lot of hopes and prayers.

I guess I didn't recognize just how trapped and unhappy I was in my life back home - even if I had almost everything I needed and my life seemed to be on the right track - until I found the gumption to just make that change.

I was right. Having made one brave choice in defiance of what is expected, everything else has followed.

So here I am. I'm not just surviving - I think I can say I'm thriving. And I can say with certainty that, despite my being away from all that is familiar, despite still not having a plan, despite still not knowing how far I still have to fall - I am most definitely so much happier.

Over the past few weeks, I've had several conversations with good friends who have known me for years, heard me complain about the rut I'd stuck myself in, and encouraged me to take the drastic steps I needed to get out of it. And in as many conversations, they've all told me the same thing - that they're proud of me. Not just of what I've done so far, but because I'm making an effort to open up my life to even more possibilities.

It's heartening and touching to know that they see a change, continue to believe in me, and are totally behind what I'm doing - even if I really have no idea just what it is I'm doing at the moment. Their belief and encouragement help firm up my conviction that, hey, I guess I should be proud of me, too.

Because a year later, I'm still flying. And at this point? I can't see any end in sight.

I can feel it. It's going to be another great year.

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Out of the Box

In spite of my efforts to be positive about my first Christmas away from home, it was still difficult not to feel homesick and lonely and just a little bit sorry for myself as I ate my lonely Noche Buena of chili-flavored cream cheese, crackers, and hospital-issue minestrone soup in the doctors' office on Christmas eve. I realized that even our past Christmases at work did not prepare me for the impact of spending Christmas so alone, so very far away.

I decided to work through the holidays simply because I didn't really have any plans with other people - and I figured being alone on Christmas at work beat a microwaved meal passing for Christmas eve feasting at home.

Despite being at work, as I ate my meager repast, I couldn't help but imagine what I was missing. The raucous, cheerful atmosphere around the table at home at the same moment, with aunts, uncles, cousins, and my immediate family, feasting over Mom's kare-kare, Dad's dinuguan, and all sorts of gastronomic goodies Filipino and continental; the
mayhem of family sitting in front of the tree, exchanging gifts and tearing open packages. I've always been a bit of a Christmas scrooge, but being far away has heightened my appreciation of the family rituals surrounding it.

The long distance phone call my family placed from my Aunt's house where the clan was gathered for Noche Buena (which was inevitably cut off mid-call) and hearing everyone's good wishes were pale substitutes for actually being there.

I didn't really set out to spend the holidays alone, but it would have been too complicated to shuffle my schedule to accommodate an out-of-town trip to visit family and friends across the continent despite the sincere invites I'd gotten from them months in advance. Besidses, all of my Perth friends have opted to spend the holidays over east, and most of my family in Melbourne have flown off to spend Christmas in Manila. As I sat alone in the doctors' office through the night, waiting for admissions and referrals and fighting off a monster headache due to working three nights in a row, I thought I should have made an effort of get time off instead of braving my first Christmas alone, but it was too late to do anything about it but make do.

After I realized I had missed morning Mass (the only one for the day in my small parish), I came home from work this morning hoping that I was exhausted enough to sleep through the day. But I was awake by early afternoon, and all alone in a very quiet house because my other housemates probably had plans to spend the days with their friends and family. For late Christmas lunch, I microwaved a portion of roast Chicken I had bought a few days ago with a generous dollop of spicy Mang Tomas lechon sauce to remind me of home, which I ate at the table with my landlady's cat for company.

Determined to shake off my funk with an endorphin high, I decided to head off for the beach and go for a run. It was the best choice I made all day, as the summer sunshine and the brisk breeze off the beautiful, green Indian ocean melted a good portion of my blues away. It was a good reminder that while there are things to be homesick about, being here has definitely had some great rewards - and being able to run along the coast I loved on a whim was one of them.

I topped off my strange, solitary Christmas day with
more comfort food in the form of Lucky Me instant pancit canton reserved for special occasions like this one, as I finished off the opened bottle of bubbly in the fridge. The best part of the late evening, though, was long-distance conversations with well-missed friends whose voices I was so glad to hear. And as my night wound down, I realized that the day hadn't been quite so bad after all.

Yes, I survived my solitary Christmas out of the box. Still, nothing beats being able to spend Christmas at home - and, God-willing, I'm hoping that's just where I will be this same time next year, even if it takes some schedule juggling.

So I'm sending special wishes to everyone out there like me spending this holiday season far away from home, making do with friends, surrogate families, and long-distance phone calls in lieu of being with their loved ones. Merry Christmas and all the best to you - and may the love and warmth of family and friends reach out to embrace you even if they are oceans away, no matter where you are.
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Monday, December 22, 2008


I'll be working through Christmas once more in order to distract myself from the fact that I am going to be seriously alone for the holidays for the first time in my life.

Despite this and the notched down level of Christmas spirit over here (as compared to the rabid, frenetic holiday madness that descends upon Manila as early as September), I look back on the year that was and find that, in this season of gifts, I've been given so many gifts to be thankful for.

So instead of coming with a wish list of what I want for Christmas, I'm making a top ten list of what I've been most grateful for over the past year (both material and otherwise) as a way of saying thanks to the great, loving Someone who has never stopped looking out for me.

1. my current job - which was less a job than an amazing opportunity to jump off the edge of my safety zone and give me all this room to grow.

2. a supportive family - who, despite not quite agreeing with my plans (or lack thereof), were all-out in helping me get to where I am once they knew I'd pretty much made up my mind about things.

3. cheap airline tickets and cheap baggage fares coming over!

4. finding the perfect place to live so close to work, with an awesome landlady and some pretty interesting housemates.

5. real friends among my new co-workers.

6. real friends born from friends of friends, who warmly welcomed me into their circle and have adopted me as part of their surrogate family.

7. my car - which I bought on a shoestring budget but is absolutely great for what it is, a ten-year-old runabout without power steering.

8. finding myself loving to live in this beautiful, sleepy city on the water.

9. learning to embrace and savor being without a definite plan.

10. learning, for the first time in my life, to love being who I am and where I am at a given moment.

So, what's on your thanksgiving list?

Merry Christmas, everyone!

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Monday, December 15, 2008

Expanding my Territory

People who have been following my blog for a while know that driving has always been one of my favorite metaphors for life. Being the wanderlust that I am at heart, it's difficult not to see life as one long drive on a meandering network of roads and choices, leading to landmarks and destinations, being almost constantly in motion one day after another.

It's also hard not to keep coming back to driving as a metaphor these days when it's the current everyday skill that I am currently trying to figure out. And it's hard not to compare this experience with how my life out here is shaping up to be.

I've been driving regularly on the wrong side of the road for about a week now, learning to understand the road rules, getting the hang of crossing wide highways without the protection of a traffic light, becoming comfortable with speed, trying to familiarize myself with the roads that I've been so used to only walking.

Most of my drives so far have been short and to places pretty close to home - to work, to the shops, to the occasional fast food chain drive-thru. I've even chanced a few long drives under supervision of friends crossing the city to the coast and back. And every day, I try to do a little more, drive a route that I'd been afraid to try the day before, and go just a little farther afield.

Coming over here was a pretty drastic way to jumpstart my life. By finding the gumption to travel further from home and choosing to wander into the unfamiliar, I have been rewarded many times over. And I find that every day, I am able to do learn a little more, change a little more, and grow just a little further - in the way I see the world, in my willingness to embrace experiences, and in the way I see myself.

There's still so much to see, so much to discover in this wonderful journey of life -and this new place I have chosen to meander in. But I love knowing that I am, without a doubt, constantly expanding my territory.

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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Like Starting from Scratch

After months of vacillating, I finally went out and bought myself a cheap little run-around car last Friday. The crazy thing is, while I have had it for two days, it's just been sitting in my driveway and I have been making one excuse after another not to take it out.

Okay, I admit it. I am terrified of taking it out. I live less than 2 kilometers from work, a distance which I walk every day, but I have yet to find the courage in my lily-livered heart to finally drive it by myself.

Having been a proficient commuter all my life, I'd never felt particularly motivated to learn how to drive - which is why I didn't really start driving back home until I was in my mid-twenties. Once I'd gotten the hang of it, though, I quickly fell in love with being behind the wheel - traffic mishaps, meandering journeys, and all. Driving was just such a great way to tune out and enjoy my own company in the comfort of my own car, going to where I wanted to go at my own pace. But, of course, getting to that comfort level was a long time in coming.

Unfortunately for me, I happened to choose a country where people drive on the other side of the road and where they have some pretty definite speed limits. For someone who has, under normal circumstances, always had a case of slight right-left confusion and is used to taking her sweet time in everything, this is something out of a nightmare.

It hasn't helped that my friends from back home and family all have such a huge level of confidence about my driving that they never fail to warn me in dire tones that driving here is very different and much more difficult - and to ask me if I was absolutely sure I could handle it.

No wonder I'm having tension headaches at the thought of having to take out my little hatch (with no power steering and manual transmission) anywhere on my own.

The last time I felt this twitchy about getting behind the wheel was at my first driving lesson back home. I've taken a few driving lessons here in a manual car, but I felt a lot more secure because there was someone beside me watching what I was doing and had his own set of pedals. The idea of driving alone to anywhere over here feels like I'm being shoved off the deep end of a pool, not knowing how to swim.

But if I don't start now, I'll end up putting it off and putting it off until it's time for me to go home.

Still all I've had the gumption to do by myself has been to park it into the driveway, back up into the road, and take it for a spin around the block - with my heart in my throat the whole time. And one of the first new lessons I've learned in my new car is that without power steering, I don't have to go to the gym to get a good upper body work up - all I have to do is maneuver into a parking spot.

I can do this. I've been driving for four years, for cripes' sake.

Now if I could only believe my own pep talk, I just might be able to take my car those two kilometers down to work tomorrow - even if I'll be driving on the other side of the road.

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Monday, December 08, 2008


Going into the sixth month since I took my flying leap into the unknown, it appears I am finally getting the semblance of a real life over here. A life that, despite my current state of limbo, I am very much enjoying.

What's not to enjoy? I'm making new connections, finding new interests, and discovering myself in this city that feels less like a stranger and now more like a friend each day I live in it. Sleepy Perth on the water may not have the cosmopolitan feel of Sydney or Melbourne, but I'm still quite surprised at how well we suit. I'm still surprised at how I love the laid-back, outdoorsy lifestyle and the absence of the maddening crowd I'd grown up with in busy Manila. I'm still surprised at how the simple beauty of the city still packs a punch even as the novelty of being here has begun to wear off.

I'm still surprised at how it's beginning to feel less like other and a little bit more like home.

Finding new friends has been a big factor in helping me ease into this life. While having had this time alone has taught me much about myself, being around new friends has taught me even more by giving me fresh perspectives. I've been blessed enough to have found people outside of work to intrude upon this forced solitude and alter the once solitary pattern of my days. And it's great knowing that there are now actually people who care for and worry about me within a hundred kilometer radius.

I still can't quite believe that the year I had originally planned to stay here is almost half done. I'm still flailing in the chasm of the unknown, but I'm having a great ride while I'm at it. While I still can't quite picture where I will be even just six months from now, I am savoring my uncomplicated state of simply living in the now.

Maybe, just maybe, I really am settling in. And that's definitely something to drink to.

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