If you feel like there is something out there that you are supposed to be doing, if you have a passion for it, then stop wishing and just do it.
One of the most popular idiomatic phrases in Filipino is “ningas cogon” which literally means a fire that extinguishes quickly and is used to describe someone who is only doing well, in whatever it is that they’re doing, during the beginning. Ladies and gentlemen, that someone is me. Perhaps this is my fatal flaw—I start so many projects but I lose interest in a snap and I abandon them all like an unwanted lover. However, this time I created something that I truly want to commit to and I believe I got the one thing that will help me fix this fickle passion of mine, purpose.
I wish I was one of those writers who writes every single day. Sitting at my living room, the sun hitting my face and looking regal and serious as my pen takes control of me, that is how I envision myself when I think of writing. Sadly, most of my writing happen at 3:45 am, my brain drunk with a mix of misery and ideas and my hand dragging my pen. I wake up the next day unable to read my own words. Then one sleepless night while I was reading “The Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay something snapped within me. I rushed to my laptop and opened this blog after leaving it for a year to be devoured by internet termites. The desire to write again consumed me and so I did.
“The Bad Feminist” started as a place on the web where I dump all my mind’s ramblings. I posted random think pieces, short stories and photos and named it “girl with paper wings”. I did not give a care about who would read it and what they would think of me. Things changed when I pretended that I was a writer for Scarlet magazine, a fictional magazine in The Bold Type, a show I was binge watching. For a night I was a junior writer in New York, caffeinated with drive and ambition. I submitted “Why I read more books by women” to my imaginary editor and for the first time in a long time I was proud of something I have written. The next day I woke up to messages from friends and strangers telling me how my piece made them think about their reading choices. I was reminded of I why I have always wanted to become a writer, not only to share stories but also to write pieces that would push people to think and question. Ideas flowed from my head and they looked like a web of nonsense on paper but when I gave them a chance to reintroduce themselves to me I began to see what they wanted me to write: women and their stories.
Once you find the purpose of something you are working on everything else just follows, they might not fall immediately into place but knowing where you are going gives you courage. “The Bad Feminist” last month is my personal blog where I write book reviews to promote books by women. That remains to be true, but now I don’t want it to end just there. I aim to create a platform that will help budding female creatives. I intend to create a community where women can talk about issues that matter to us—a safe space of understanding and growth. That is not to say that men are not allowed. Feminism is not a female exclusive movement, as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says in her TED Talk, We Should All Be Feminists: “My own definition is a feminist is a man or a woman who says, yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better. All of us, women and men, must do better.”
I know that the words I will be writing here might be just a shout into the void but I do hope somehow this reaches anyone who needs it. I pray that it reaches you and it gives you the push to do that one thing you have always wanted to do.
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If you are a budding woman writer please feel free to send us your work for review at email@example.com
The first time a man told me that he does not read books written by women because he finds the writing to be too “feminine” and unrelatable I was appalled. I took a step back and gave myself time to think about it. All my life I have been conditioned to accept that books written by dead white men are the gold standard. I never questioned that even though I forced myself several times to finish Moby Dick (sorry still can’t finish it). I just accepted that these stories of angry and miserable men going to wars or having an existential crisis are the important stories. Not until a guy told me that he only read books by male authors did I start to question my very own reading choices.
That encounter was five year ago. I felt invincible when it comes to talking about literature because I devoured 70-100 books a year during my undergrad studies. I read almost everything that I came upon, the popular ones, the ones considered crucial, and I finished most of them no matter how bored and unengaged I was. I ate books without chewing. But that sentiment changed my reading habits. I was enraged. What makes a book too feminine? Why are feminine things considered inherently inferior? These were some of the thoughts in my head as our conversation went on.
After that chat I examined myself and dug deeper. I then started to realise that unfortunately I was a bad reader and a bad feminist. Is this why I don’t talk much about all the Chick Lit I have read because I unconsciously don’t want to be known as the heart-eyed woman who only reads romance novels? Is this also the same reason why when we talk about Jane Austen we often dismiss her as the old maid who wrote the best novels about courting and marriage that we tend to forget that she also made arguably the best commentary on the English middle class and elite? I almost fell into the trap of an inherently patriarchal and misogynistic literary thinking where domestic stories of women are regarded as less essential reading. I did not even question then how most male writers struggle to create complex and nuanced female characters. I had no idea about what the “male gaze” is all about. The male gaze as Margaret Atwood beautifully explains it in her book The Robber Bride: “Male fantasies, male fantasies, is everything run by male fantasies? Up on a pedestal or down on your knees, it’s all a male fantasy: that you’re strong enough to take what they dish out, or else too weak to do anything about it. Even pretending you aren’t catering to male fantasies is a male fantasy: pretending you’re unseen, pretending you have a life of your own, that you can wash your feet and comb your hair unconscious of the ever-present watcher peering through the keyhole, peering through the keyhole in your own head, if nowhere else. You are a woman with a man inside watching a woman. You are your own voyeur.”
I was determined to push off that man inside me.
Getting rid of that internal misogyny that was installed in each of us from birth is a complicated task especially when the literary world is full of it. But it was a challenge I was very much willing to take. I have decided to teach my younger self who loved YA novels how the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope is a tired and lousy trope. This was not that easy as I have spent a lot of my teenage years trying to mould myself into that archetype. I was an “I am not like other girls” girl. It even affected how approached dating when I first got into it. I unintentionally turned myself into the kind of woman who thinks she could change and save a man who in actuality needs a therapy. I had a lot of unlearning to do. I needed to admit that I had internal misogyny (probably the toughest part) in order to work on myself and be free from it. From then on I turned myself into a more critical vigorous reader. That night I have decided to actively seek out books written by women. I will no longer read anything just because it is popular. I promised to seek out stories from women of diverse backgrounds and from different parts of the world because these stories matter. And that is the one of the best decisions I made in my entire life.
I promised to seek out stories from women of diverse backgrounds and from different parts of the world because these stories matter.
I was taken aback by how invigorating it is to read about female characters who are not put into boxes. She is not just the dream girl, the patient wife, or the symbol of a man’s desire. She is a girl, a woman, and she can be anything. She can be messy, ugly, and she is not defined by how big and smooth her breasts are or how her lips feel when she is kissed, because in this world she is more than just a body. Her thoughts, journey and growth filled out the pages.
My new reading choices has not only opened my eyes to many realities but it also made me more empathic. It has also made me felt seen and validated. I have felt less lonely and more understood. Virginia Woolf in her long essay, A Room of One’s Own, made me see the struggles women writers have gone through the centuries. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s book, Americanah, helped me make sense of my own battles as I was adjusting to a new country. The book made the hardship and confusion of the diaspora experience easier for me to navigate. Margaret Atwood brought me to the incredible world of speculative fiction. Roxane Gay taught me about intersectional feminism and has inspired me to pursue this blogging journey. Arundhati Roy, Jumpa Lahiri, Bernardine Evaristo, Chingbee Cruz and many more women writers continue to produce writings that inspire and educate me.
Just recently I read an article written by MA Sieghart in The Guardian entitled: Why do so few men read books by women? The article provided some very alarming and disheartening statistics. I don’t want to bore you with numbers so let me quote a part of the article that somehow encapsulates it (I highly suggest that you read the whole thing: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2021/jul/09/why-do-so-few-men-read-books-by-women): “Women are prepared to read books by men, but many fewer men are prepared to read books by women. And the female author in the top 10 who had the biggest male readership – the thriller writer LJ Ross – uses her initials, so it’s possible the guys thought she was one of them. What does this tell us about how reluctant men are to accord equal authority – intellectual, artistic, cultural – to women and men?”
Now you might be thinking why am I so bothered by this? Why can’t I just let men read more about men. I honestly wished I do not care at all. But I do care about it because I believe in the importance of literature and how it can help anyone understand different experiences. When men refuse to read books by women they deny the opportunity to learn and understand women’s perspectives and experiences. MA Sieghart puts it well in her article previously mentioned:“If men don’t read books by and about women, they will fail to understand our psyches and our lived experience. They will continue to see the world through an almost entirely male lens, with the male experience as the default. And this narrow focus will affect our relationships with them, as colleagues, as friends and as partners. But it also impoverishes female writers, whose work is seen as niche rather than mainstream if it is consumed mainly by other women. They will earn less respect, less status and less money.”
When men refuse to read books by women they deny the opportunity to learn and understand women’s perspectives and experiences.
I still read books written by male authors of course, I am not doing this for some misplaced feminist anger. I choose to read good books and whether we accept it or not a lot of good literature today are penned by women. For centuries, women are made to feel the inferior sex and it is time for us to dismantle this patriarchal bullshit. In that note, I shall not stop writing to honour the women before me. I owe it to them to tell my story and I hope you tell yours too. Our stories matter.
If an alien abducts me today and tries to scan my brain, our otherworldly friend would definitely be disappointed because what it will see is a sole sentence written in fine print: YOU RUIN EVERYTHING, YOU STUPID BITCH! (Coincidentally, this is a song title in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, a great musical tv show with a hot mess as a main character—the representation we messy bitches need).
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to that shitshow that is my mental space. Last fortnight I have decided to revive this blog by writing a piece that ended in a hopeful note. I wanted this blog to be the opposite of what I am actually feeling most days. I even named her “girl with paper wings”, a name I gave myself five years ago when I was a doe-eyed girl with the belief that my hopes and dreams would be good enough to make me fly. Perhaps, this is my attempt of bringing my old self back. Sadly, it is not working.
Trust me, I have tried myriad ways to romanticise my life. I even started a YouTube channel (you can check it out and please subscribe lol) just to convince myself that I having the best life by going to lovely places and inserting poetry in my videos because I so badly wanted to channel the art hoe and cottage core aesthetics. Tragically, pretending to be some main character of a cringey YA novel just does not make your mental anguish disappear. And it took me two years to admit that moving to a foreign country where you do not know anyone will not magically transform you into a new polished person.
It is about time for me to accept that I am no girl with wings. I am an angry and sad potato. I have been obsessed with projecting a fairylike version of myself who goes on delightful afternoon walks, listen to morning affirmations and do nothing but read books. I am no self-help pixie. My real hobbies include binge eating junk foods, drinking mixed vodka and having both an existential crisis and a stomach ulcer attack at 2:30 am. I spend lots of my time nursing my resentment by lurking on social media posts of the people who have wronged me. My weekends are spent binge watching the same shows with antiheroines (i.e. Fleabag, Search Party and of course, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and when I am sick of watching the lives of these fucked up characters, I google the nearest ocean and think of Virginia Woolf and her suicide note. “I feel certain I am going mad again. I feel we can’t go through another of those terrible times. And I shan’t recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can’t concentrate.” Same, girl. Same. And before I could think of sticking my head into the oven (I don’t want to burn my flatmate with me, she’s a good person, sorry Sylvie) I call the Beyond Blue hotline and say to the voice on the other line that it is nice to hear a voice that isn’t mine.
Sarah, the lovely and kind counsellor who uses her precious time to talk to messed up people like me at 4:00 am, tells me I should go to a GP and get a referral to see a medical professional because I have signs of depression and anxiety. Yes, Sarah, I know. “I don’t have a GP and I don’t have Medicare but I will find a way somehow. Thank you so much for your time, Sarah. The world needs more people like you.” I lie to the likes of Sarah every time because I don’t have the heart to tell them that I am too broke to get therapy and I would rather pay rent and live in a semi-beautiful apartment in misery than pay someone $200 to talk about my childhood and adult traumas and live in a bunker bed or worse in the streets. I know it has been said before and been talked about a lot but I am going to just repeat and scream it out loud, THERAPY IS SO FUCKING EXPENSIVE!
Is it the pandemic that has made me feel this way? Yes and no. Yes, because ever since Miss Rona came all of my sense of stability has been thrown out the window. And no, because these dark emotions whatever you want to call it (demons are too dramatic tbh) has been there since I was ten (childhood trauma, ammirite?). I am aware that I am not the only one feeling this way. As a matter of fact, I am part of a generation that makes self-deprecating and depressing jokes on the internet as part of our personality because we don’t know how else to talk about it. Does this comfort me? Not really. I wish we could find a way to talk about our little miseries without feeling guilty because our parents had it worse. I wish there was a way to say, “I am not okay.” without adding ‘lol’ or a bunch of laughing emojis. Because why would we be? We just saw the ocean on fire and it was as if we opened a gateway to hell. We just lost loved ones to a virus that has also eaten our days. So, I guess it’s okay to be sad and angry. It’s okay to not know when we’ll be truly alright. Nobody knows the answer (not even the billionaires who are having a dick race towards the outer space).
I should just go to sleep and hope for things to be better when I wake up…it will be alright, right?
Writer’s note: Dearest reader, this piece was supposed to be my post for the end of June 2020. However, my unstable mental health could not handle the pressure of regular posting and writing last year. Now that I am back with a *better* brain and heart, I want to post it as the first blog for my reintroduction to this site. I hope you are still with me in this journey.
This is not a film review. I was trying to write one, I swear, but I ended up writing about myself.
When Netflix recommended this movie to me I was thrilled. A breakup movie that was inspired by the Marie Kondo movement of decluttering and led by the star of Bad Genius? Okay, I’m sold. So, I started the movie thinking this a breakup movie where the main character has to throw away the things her ex gave her and then she’ll have flashbacks of the happy days and she won’t be able to throw the mementos and she cries and I will cry with her. However, Jean (the main lead who is played by one of my favourite Thai actresses) subverted my expectations. She is a cold-hearted woman who decides to turn her family’s home into a minimalist house by throwing everything away.
I want to be like her. I want to have that ability to toss away the things that I simply do not need. I think of all the boxes of academic papers, essays, and school projects I stored under my bedroom back home. Now, they are home to spiders and cockroaches but to me they are reminders of the years where I felt that I was good at something. I think of all the movie tickets, MyBus tabs, and restaurant receipts, their prints slowly fading as they breathe and hold each other inside an ice cream tub that I turned into a memory box. Why do I still keep souvenirs from people who cannot even remember my name?
I watch as Jean puts everything she owns in black trash bags with a blank expression. It was exhilarating to see her put away things without any drama or remorse. I was proud of her and I bet the queen of decluttering, Marie Kondo would be too. But an incident (which involves a friend and a CD, and a brother and an old sweater- just watch the movie so you’ll know what I mean) compelled her to take a step back. She realizes that to trash to pieces of her history, to cut them loose is to lose parts of her autobiography, and to declutter is to delete. And so, begins Jean’s process of digging into her own past especially the unfinished episodes concerning her ex-boyfriend whom she dumped without any explanation when she went to Sweden, and her father who unceremoniously abandoned them when they were kids.
Now, dear reader, this is the part where I have to pause the movie and I have to admit to myself the main reason why I watched it. I just ended a relationship with the love of my life and I am looking for a good cry. I could write a whole other piece about this breakup but it is too fresh and I am still in my ugly crying face.
Another writer’s note: Dearest reader, I have failed to finish this article and I totally forgot about it. I came back to it after six months. Come December 2020, I was not crying on trains anymore.
In the last drawer in my new tiny new bedroom I hide all the love letters and special trinkets he gave me. I keep these things because sometimes I want to look back and hold on to the bittersweet feelings. I let go of the people but I cannot let go of the sentiments and what they represent to me. I gave myself six months to be restored and refurbished. Perhaps, after six months of hibernation, introspection, learning and decluttering in my heart, I will be able to create a version of myself someone would want to be with. But who am I kidding? No matter how many times I try to reinvent myself I will never be modern. I will always be part of someone else’s history as they were with mine.
Next year, I will be turning 25. I will continue to keep inside my body the remnants of the people whom I have loved and lost. Their lives will continue as they carry a piece of me. And I will continue to live, my body may be older but my heart is whole and complete.
Ever since this pandemic started and everyone around the world (except for the people on the frontlines) were forced to stay inside their houses, we have seen two major personas online:
“I sleep, eat and sleep again.”
“I am making the most out of this situation by learning a new skill/ working out.”
Of course, as someone who has prided herself in being a ‘productive’ human being I decided early on that I will be part of that second group. I took an online class in World Literature and got my certificate. I Marie-Kondo’d my room. I read books and wrote reviews. I took another online class on Sociology. I learned how to bake muffins. I worked out and went jogging. I started this blog.
For two months, I was successful in convincing myself that I am totally fine, that my unemployment does not bother me that much because I can do so many things in my free time. But alas! You cannot sway yourself for far too long. My bills did not care that I learned a new skill. It barged on my door like some uninvited neighbour. Then, a realization hit me. I am broke. Broke AF.
When you are rich person who lives in a mansion, this pandemic is a minor inconvenience. You cry a little bit inside thinking of those cancelled vacation plans. Then you see photos of clean streets, bluer skies, and you can’t help but think “Oh, the world is healing.” So, you post something stupid online like: This pandemic is a blessing in disguise.
I am not a rich person and most certainly I do not live in a mansion but I almost had the same epiphany. Every time I finish a book or a new TV show I think to myself, “I will not be able to do this on a normal workday.” I went out for a walk and saw our neighbour’s pretty flowers and the lovely autumn trees and I caught myself thinking, “Probably, this pandemic is really a blessing in disguise.”
I was appalled that I even thought of that. I was mad at celebrities for posting tone-deaf content. I talked about how to not let your privilege blind you on social media but here is my hypocritical brain tinkling like an ignorant Instagram influencer. All along I was wrapped in a privilege bubble.
Yes, I check the news a lot to keep myself updated. I get angry reading news about my home country and I post about wanting to join protests on social media but that’s about it. I turn my internet off, drink my tea and go back to my bubble… because to be honest even if I had the chance I probably would still not go out to march. And I hate myself for saying that.
Being in a rich country has blinded me. Now, I understand why it is easy for many OFWs to say that Filipinos back home are just lazy and do not know how to save money that’s why they are struggling during the lockdown. The comfort that a country like Australia can give will hug you tight like a blanket, so tight that you do not want to wake up to the reality. But you have to.
My bubble popped when I checked my bank account. It is scarier than a Stephen King book. My unemployment days no matter how productive they may be, they still hurt my finances. I will not be able to adhere to my annual financial pan. I am not able to pay bills and my tuition fees on time. I was such a clown for thinking this was a blessing in disguise. Only the ultra-rich are able to benefit from this (American billionaires got $434 billion richer during the pandemic).
As I was about to wallow in self-pity, I thought of how I am still much more fortunate than many of my fellow Filipinos who lost their jobs during the lockdown. I can cry about being broke inside my air-conditioned room and have a hot shower after. However, being broke in the Philippines does not give you the luxury to be this melodramatic. You have to get your job back as soon as possible even if it means walking for hours (because public transport is not allowed). Being broke in the Philippines means you can die from starvation and it is not because you did not work hard enough but it is because the system has failed you.
Nothing is certain for me after this lockdown. I do not know when I can be financially stable again. For weeks, I have tried looking for casual jobs on Indeed, Seek, and even on Craigslist. None of them has helped me get the money I need. I honestly do not know what to do. As of now, I will follow the number six advice of Psychology Today on ‘What to do when you don’t know what to do’: Sleep on it.
I will drink my Twinning’s Sleep tea and go to sleep.
When an interviewer tells you that your résumé is very impressive but they cannot give you the job because of your accent, you can’t help but ask yourself, “Is my English that bad?”
I never liked the way I speak English. I hate how my vowels are never as smooth as they sound in my head. My tongue sometimes does not know how to position itself in my mouth. I always clear my throat before I speak as if there is a solidified saliva stuck in my larynx. Six years of studying the English language and I still do not sound like a native speaker, not even close. I am aware of that. However, the truth hits differently when someone else throws it at you.
“I am sorry for my bad English.”
This is a sentence I have heard a lot of times when I was teaching in an ESL academy. It has become part of every ESL student’s introduction. I heard it a couple of times from my non-native classmates here in Sydney. They apologize when they stutter during their presentations, when they pause to reach for that English word trapped at the tip of their tongues. Yet, I have never heard the British guy in the class apologize when his talk was all fillers and when grammatical errors jumped out at every corner of his sentences.
“Sorry, my English is very poor.”
An old Chinese woman said these exact words as she called her daughter to help her understand the nurse’s directions. She smiled apologetically the whole time. When they went out of the clinic, another patient remarked, “Ugh. These old Chinese people, they keep on coming here in Australia not knowing how to speak basic English. The government should not let them get in that easily.” That statement would have horrified me but I have heard them a lot from old white men that my ears have learned how to filter them out. Then, I think of the old white expats in the Philippines drinking their black coffee in Ayala terraces. They have stayed in the country for years but they still manage to butcher Cebuano words and most of them do not have an interest in learning the language at all. No one expects them to speak Tagalog or Bisaya. No one thinks they should go back to their countries for knowing only their native language. I think of my friends and former ESL students who cried when they failed their first IELTS examination whilst Western backpackers in Thailand beg for money in the streets.
I am in love with the language that has been used by colonizers to oppress my ancestors for almost five decades. The same language that subconsciously made me believe that Western books, movies, and songs are inherently superior. I love the language that has instilled in me the feeling of inferiority.
The interviewer who told me that my English isn’t good enough offered me another job and I was in no position to say no. He said that I should study English in an Australian university. He said that I can learn more about Shakespeare and other classical authors if I enrol in their university. I did not tell him that I have spent the last six years studying about Western literature. I did not tell him that I spent most of my free time reading classic novels. I just smiled, nodded, and shook his hand.
“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.”
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Rigby, a song about lonely people, is one of my favorite songs from The Beatles. Now, I am reading a book about another lonely woman but with the same first name, Eleanor Oliphant.
Loneliness is a theme often present in books that I have loved. I take delight in reading about the eccentricities of people who have chosen to be obscure. However, the delight of reading about loneliness vanishes when you realize the familiarity of silent days, talking to the walls, talking to no one but your brain, reading a book out loud to hear your voice and to remind yourself that you still exist. The joy of reading about loneliness disappears when you realize that you yourself is one of those lonely people The Beatles sang about. This joy turns into a dash of sadness, that will later turn into a tad of confusion about how you lived your life, and finally into a question: ‘Why am I so lonely?’
Before I moved here to Australia, a lot of people had warned me about the solitariness of living in a foreign land. I just shrugged off all their comments for I have always considered myself a master of isolation. With all the goals and confidence I packed in my luggage I came to Sydney feeling better than ever. And yes, I was in bliss for the first few months. I had no social obligations. I went to grocery shops disheveled with no fear of meeting a high school classmate. I stayed in my room all day to read books on my free days and no one would tell me to get out. I was living my dream life.
Then the lonely days crept in.
On New Year’s Eve while everyone at home was busy preparing for their festivities, I was alone at my new house. I was skimming through Netflix titles and wishing that there was someone else with me who could choose a movie in a heartbeat. I wished I had somebody to hug me that night. I had forgotten what it’s like to touch another human being.
Three days after, I found myself crying on the morning of my birthday. I woke up early expecting to smell my mother’s cooking and my father’s voice but then I remembered that they are 3, 540 miles away. I spent the whole morning sobbing and hugging myself.
Loneliness is not romantic. It isn’t always an image of you drinking wine in a tub surrounded by scented candles. Most of the times loneliness is staring at the ceiling all night or scrolling through all your social media accounts for hours waiting for a friend’s message.
Perhaps, John Donne was right when he said that ‘no man is an island’. Yes, there is beauty in solitude but we need each other in order to live and not just exist. I learned that the hard way.
I am still lonely now at times, but I have learned how to reach out. I hope Eleanor Oliphant learns that too.