Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Kulit Co. Wearing the sun

Posted: 10:58 PM (Manila Time) Feb. 20, 2004

THERE is something about the month of February that pulls me right into the thick of the new year. January in Paris ended with a four-day mosaic of rain, hail and snow, leaving me unable to stabilize my moods, which fluctuated daily with the indecisive weather. Warm, tropical, extremely sunny Manila welcomed me with open arms when I came for a three-week holiday. It was just what I needed.

I felt my life was on auto-pilot as I floated through the city, surrounded by all the things I considered home. This was especially important to me; the past five months had been quite overwhelming as I went through the process of what the wise like to call character-building. True independence surely is attractive, especially because nothing about it comes on a silver platter.

One bright yellow morning, after a grueling period of discovering the different aspects of living alone, a professor in one of my classes randomly mentioned the Stress Growth Dynamic. He must have been a mind-reader, and I might have been sending him some sort of quasi-negative energy from the middle row.

Essentially, the theory is: to be comfortable with what I discover about myself, I should go through a time of high stress. This refers to a period when I don't like what you are seeing, and I just can't take it.

The professor enumerated several steps in the process of shifting paradigms or perspectives: Moving offers the excitement of being transported to a new world. Next comes a phase where I drown in an odd state of mind, picking out things about a certain culture and hating them simply because they are unlike home.

This sounded so familiar. I had never been so afraid to face reality. I took comfort in being assured that people who underwent the most stress after moving to a new country, adapted best in the end. Adapting was hard, particularly because some people tried to convince me that the only way I could do it was to let go of the Philippines entirely. Nobody knows how long it takes to finally integrate with oneself, much less to a new environment. I realized that knowing where I'm from and making it a big part of who I am is liberating. I was freed by Pinay pride.

Paris has thus become more than just a nice place to live in, alone, at 18. In fact it is surreal. This is definitely a place that allows for the total absorption of art. I am proud to say that I have mastered the art of composing myself after sorting out the mail and finding a rather horrific envelope stamped by the French Government; and the art of regaining equilibrium after a tiny vacuum cleaner bursts into flames because the cheap transformer from a mysterious, unnamed store failed to work. Did I mention the art of kicking myself out of my old apartment, hoping to find another in two weeks? The best one yet is the art of living within a student budget, which, for amateurs like myself, may be a little tough at first. By the way, this leads to yet another form of art -- being broke and surviving.

I have experienced subsisting on tap water and hard bread as a result of costly irresponsibility-blowing the budget at three-storey music stores, on phone bills, papeteries, or furniture. Clearly (and sometimes literally), art can be worth a few cents or a couple of millions. I've been told that its value depends on the effect that it has on the person engaged in it. We've all heard the saying, "Charge it to experience." Well, this is one other subtle art I've been dabbling in. On my seventh month in the City of Light, and having learned quite a lot in such a short time, life has gotten sweeter.

Although the sunrise is such a typical cliché for a new beginning, new beginnings do count, and everybody craves it. As the band Aztec Camera says, everybody wants to see the sun, feel the bliss. I used to reject the saying, "No man is an island." Even the Bible would laugh at me for protesting! Three words: KC hits insanity. When I change, I take from others, often without realizing it. Whether or not we try, things shift; nothing stays the same. Life gets hard for everyone, and no matter what the obstacle is, it's good to pull through. It's cool to be humble, to know my strengths and accept that, at times, I'll just be plain, well, crap. Really. Then I will know what's so good about having the sun against my skin.

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