remembering our deeper selves

Montalut Jan-Apr 2016 (3)

I opened an old journal the other day and read open-hearted entries on love written by 28-year-old me.  I cried. I didn’t realize I felt so deeply once upon a time.  I’d forgotten.

The pain was not in reminiscing the pain, but in realizing how much I’ve possibly missed out on because I’ve held back since then.  I haven’t been in that open, vulnerable, wide-eyed and wide-hearted space for years, and who knows what gains I passed on because I closed myself off.

I sat with a friend and talked about our fears of being vulnerable and getting hurt again, and I found myself articulating advice which I also needed to hear:

Stop the fantasy of promise.  When there’s someone before you, let go of forever, the long haul, next month or tomorrow.  There is never a guarantee you’ll get there.  But now, here you are.  Enjoy it.  It is enough.

Stop trying so hard.  We are intense people.  We wear our hearts on our sleeves and give our all, right away, in total surrender.  Why?  Is it because we believe that we are loving the person best when we are intense?  Maybe this, in reality, is a vain exercise, an imposition of who we are, without enough regard for who the other is.  And maybe it is an example of why it is easier to give than to receive.

The best relationships, everyone says, are based on friendships.  Friendships flow.  There is no outright agenda among friends, no trying so hard, no future to move towards.  What’s there is a respectful witnessing of each other’s individual agenda.  No pressure to impress the other, to be our best selves, to keep up an ideal.  A friendship is relaxed and forgiving.  It is not possessive, obsessive, addictive.

It’s been seven years since I lost or muted the capacity to feel so deeply, and what a gift to be reminded of and befriend my past self as I enter a new 7-year cycle this year.   Can’t say it enough– I’m very excited for what’s to come!


Thank you and goodbye, 2014.

How was your 2014?

In August, I did a mid-year review for the widening that was New York, and wow, looking through those doodles now, I wonder how things could’ve taken a turn so bad after a moment of wonderment like that.  I didn’t know it then, but I needed that refilling of the well to get through the -ber months that were waiting for me in Manila.

I drew and doodled and painted less after August, but managed enough to squeeze out the below review for the tailend of 2014.  If you look carefully between the drawn lines, you will see the struggle to keep seeing the glass as half-full, up until the point of despair.  I always say that no news is good news, but it doesn’t apply to creative output. No art is definitely bad news.

This is one of those times when I can declare loudly and clearly that I am so glad for endings.  Thank you and goodbye, 2014:

Montalut Doodles 2014 (1)

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Still thankful for the year in its entirety.  Everything is preparation:
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BIG HUGS for the new year!

when choices become a non-choice: dating in Manila

Doodles from New York 2014 (16)
I wrote this a month ago. My circumstances have changed since then (aha!), but it continues to amaze me how things can make a 180 degree turn in an instant.  Everyday, anything (and everything) can happen.

So much to be thankful for, friends. Let’s be blessed. 🙂


I remember a rule I learned in sales early on–make the choice for your customer. When you flood a client with options, it is easy to overwhelm him or her into paralysis, and you end up with no sale.

I’m single, in my thirties, and I live in Manila.

Since March I’ve been engaging the wonderful world of online dating, and in just a few months I’ve turned around years of drought or selective raindrops in my love life, to a downpour. The floodgates have opened, mightily, and I am grateful for the abundance. I’ve had to learn to embrace the idea of dating multiple men at the same time, of investing time and energy and opening up authentically to each match but without getting attached.  Every new encounter was also an encounter with myself–I got to know things I liked and didn’t like.  My online profile was written and rewritten countless times, and checking in on new matches became my everyday past time.

It was fun and genuinely surprising to meet interesting men. Initially even just the validation that they do exist–above-decent, desirable men!–was enough cause for celebration, but eventually it helped to get friends on the dating boat as well.  Exchanging stories on our latest dates fed our drive to keep on going.

It came to the point that I found myself being careful though, about getting caught up in the choices. I am a geek, and when I get started on any research, I do not get satisfied until I do a comprehensive swipe.  We’ve been brainwashed since childhood that it’s good to “collect and select”, but I didn’t want this to come to the point of chasing after the idea of dating, because I haven’t collected enough.  What is enough to begin with?

Because dating has become borderless, there is now an inexhaustible supply of single men, and the temptation to try every jellybean flavor is real and actionable. Choices that were close to none before are now waiting in line, and I’m not sure that’s a good thing.  You have a match! was a sculpture I did right when I began online dating, and even then, I was already asking, “does it enable or disable relationships?”

It’s a great time to be reassessing this now.

A week ago I decided to delete my online profiles. I feel strangely empowered by having nipped in the bud this fascination with all the fishes in the sea, not because I finally got myself a prize catch, but because I’m done fishing.  I’ve seen what’s out there, or more precisely, what it’s like out there, to be actively seeking, and now I want to go back to land and maybe graze for a while. I want to slow down, to the permanence of a solid foundation, a real investment for the long haul. There is something about old school wooing and dating that I still find charming, as in handwritten love letters and chance encounters.  I was taken with the promise of efficiency of filtered dates and the broad range of matches outside the geographic confines of Manila, but at the end of the day, I succumb to the hope for a real man, within reach.

No more previews, please.

Doodles May 2014 (1)

I never liked watching trailers. And no movie, restaurant, book reviews for me either, please. They preempt the experience.

I get a high out of experiencing things raw, with no bias, no inkling of what’s to come. No one likes spoilers, but even previews are a no-no for me. I’d rather take the risk of sitting through a bad movie than being influenced by a friend’s takeaway from it.

But it’s not just the high that draws me in. It’s the mindset of taking things as they come. It’s another way of being present.

A pre-view is an initial look. A peep. Is there value in steering clear of this peeping?

When we don’t make room for previews, we let ourselves be completely open to engage what’s before us. Instead of anticipating the cute, sappy moments in a plot or expecting the climax or anti-climax, we just suspend everything and meet the experience face-to-face.  How exhilarating it is to know that we don’t know!

The same applies to life situations.

It’s become overused these days to “live in the now.” What does it really mean?

I’ve been preaching it (to myself) for so long, but it’s not as easy to practice it.

Last month I had a life-defining trip that made me decide to move to New York. I gave myself a year to tie loose ends in Manila before I would (and could) jump into the great unknown. Pursuing a creative life in NYC is as cliche as it gets, but it means much more than that to me.  Life in the raw streets, daily interactions with people so different (and also indifferent), having no social, emotional, professional/career crutches — this is what awaits me.  Put in there the possibility of finding a life partner (how can I omit this?), and voila — it’s enough to make one drop everything and jump right in. Or maybe do the exact opposite: to run the other way, fast.

In truth I have no guarantee of what is waiting for me there — does anything really wait for us anyway? — but what I know without a doubt is what I am leaving behind: friends and family and the warmth of shared everydays. To uproot myself and start from scratch in my 30s — that is scary as hell and it’s been taunting me since I got back.

Is this what it means to prepare? To anticipate? I got a preview of what’s out there, and now I feel as if I’ve been living my life on spectator mode: going through the motions of what needs to be done, to make straight the path. I get together with friends and in my heart, I’m already mourning the loss of intimate moments with them once I leave. I sit through dinner with my family and get nostalgic about conversations as we have them. I feel like I’m one step ahead, but not really.

I can’t keep living this way. Not for another year. It’s detached, like living in a catch-22.  It’s frustrating to be always pining for what’s nearly there but not yet, all the while missing out on what’s already in front of me. This is no way to prepare.

So how do I engage this preparation year?

I don’t know.  No more previews, please, at the very least.  And in this case, no advanced nostalgia either.

closing 2013: a visual diary

***Warning : long and self-indulgent post.  Sharing for you, friends, to bear witness.  To those that do, thank you.***

The new year always starts early for me.  I mark it on my birthday, the 15th of December.

Yolanda has made it a struggle to welcome the coming year with joy, and on top of that, am so feeling the birthday blues.

Today, twenty days before the next turn, I followed an inner prodding to re-collect the past year.

Here’s to closing 2013 in understanding and healing:

Backtrack for context: September 2012 I moved into a new home that took me two years to build. Much, much love went into that house and it was my intent to start planting seeds of all kinds there.

Montalut Doodles 2012 (1)

December 2012 saw me more settled in, but already braving new questions, among them, “What now?”
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It was an exercise in trusting that I was exactly where I needed to be:
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A new home meant new energy, and many days were spent welcoming friends and family into that space.
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With the stress of homebuilding behind me, I could also relax more.
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There were silly days…
Montalut Doodles 2013 (19) Continue reading “closing 2013: a visual diary”


Far far away

A friend says I feel unhappy.
Sees and feels it.
Bitter cloud over my head.

When was the last time I was happy?

When I think happy thoughts I see my family. Big smiles, dancing, drinking, hugging, jumping up and down to be exact. New Year’s Eve 2011 in Boracay. Solid happy moment.
Despite our everyday squabbles, these people are home to me.

Where are friends in the picture though?
Have been running low on happy thoughts with friends.
Solid dis-connect.


no birthday blues this year

he who waits for us is just like us
“He who waits for us is just like us.”
Acrylic on Paper, December 2010

Happy to say there are no birthday blues this year, I’ve crossed out about 22 items on my 30 before 30 list, and am really in a good place now. The sadness in the heart, so poignant a year ago, has passed:

Written on December 10, 2009, and sent into the future (now the present) through

Dear FutureMe,

bday blues again, this time the blues are more glaring, the cut is deeper..
been texting friends how this kind of sadness is new to me–i feel fear again, or for the first time..a lonely, emptying fear..
is this what love lost does to you?

i have bold plans to be in new york by may.. wonder where that yellow brick road will lead me.. openness, a healthy sense of self-identity, and a decisiveness to say no to things that have less relevance… am i ready for battle? i feel so sensitive, bagong skin, baby skin..tender to the touch and even to light…
what am i shying away from? love? pain? they go together right?

happy birthday jo, be well, be happy. you’ll be 30 soon. check your 30 before 30 list… !

oh some sadness in the heart!

New York went by and well, went by.  Palawan also went by, and is still lingering.  Maybe for a much longer time.  Who’s to say?  Possibilities are endless. 🙂

All in all, such a blessing 2010 has been, for all its joys and pains.

Holding a BIG THANK YOU show on my birthday, and the work above is one of the few that have come out since Palawan.  Deep breaths and maybe chugs of beer as my works go on their first ever public display in 3 days…!

Will post pics of the rest after. 🙂

on living alone

drawing - self-portrait,photo reference
Self-portrait, Pencil on paper, May 2010

DISCLAIMER: vanity post

I’ve always looked at living alone in Manila as an experiment, a litmus test for a life on my own terms, whether I could stand by what I thought was important, or whether my ideas of “the good life” were just one big white elephant–always perfect in my head but not executable in real life.

This year–2010–has been my big living alone project. The point was to freely explore possibilities that would open up in the process, to have no other agenda but to clear the path. Five months into it, I’ve been asked by at least two good friends for output, an honest concern as to whether I was getting somewhere, or anywhere for that matter. Without second thought, I gave an exuberant YES to their questions, but in complete honesty, I can only claim this– that my life has become lighter, I have lighter everydays, and although it has its gains, it has also come at a cost.

Insights so far:
– On sleep: One consistent “habit” has been sleep–let to wake and sleep on its own, my body claims 8 full hours of sleep everyday, regardless of what time I go to bed. On one hand, I don’t enjoy being grumpy from lacking a full night’s sleep, but on the other hand, I just have to ask whether there is laziness, or indulgence involved. I know the value of sleep–it’s when we converse with the angels!–but when I wake up feeling guilty in the morning (or afternoon, wah!), I know I lingered too long in bed.

– On a sense of time: With no real schedule to follow, I have no need for a clock. I like relying on the sunshine to give me an idea of what time it is. With a well-curtained bedroom though, this plan is a major FAIL. I find using an alarm clock disruptive and very abrasive, but for a body lacking in discipline, I think it’s necessary. Urgency is another issue. I have no deadlines to meet, no ringing phones to answer…which is a gift, really, and what I’ve been wanting for so long. But but but, how much of an output is necessary to justify this flexibility? Is there a need to justify it?

– On cleaning: I used to cherish neatness and wiping my floor with tissue paper just to see that it was squeaky clean. Now I don’t even bother scrubbing the bathroom tiles. What’s happened? I’ve grown into living with no helpers, and household chores have shown their true nature– hardy, time-consuming, and persistent. They just never stop coming. And I’ve relented– I need a better system for these peripherals so I can focus on what matters!

– On cooking: Gone too is the fascination with the kitchen, and with tidying up my eating habits. After experimenting with diets and marketing for one, I’ve concluded that: I can live without a microwave, I don’t like handling meat (it’s oily, smelly, and heavy in the stomach), I can’t have salads everyday, I can eat six bananas a day, I drink LOTS of water, I like fried fresh canton with caramelized onions, I need my chocolate fix, I don’t look for eggs. I need cold beer in the ref.

– On eating out: Not something I look for. I find it sad that the default gathering is dining out or drinking–to have to eat in a restaurant just so I have a place for quality time (one-on-one) with a friend! It’s very limiting, and disabling, but is the state of things, boo. We have no real social spaces that invite soulful but effortless interaction, like parks, open fields, picnic grounds, lakes or forests (asa pa!). If only I could really invite everyone I found interesting into my home, or if only there could be public “homes” out there! As in tambayan, places where conversations–not coffee, food, music, theater or drinks–hold center stage.

– On socials: How much of it is necessary? In principle, I can go on one full week without social contact, but maybe the longest I’ve actually gone without a text, email, phone call or face-to-face conversation with another person is two days… In any case, I realized that I can live without facebook, I only need ten minutes (9 on average) of internet time everyday–the rest is incidental, or pang-aliw. I never liked having a cellphone even before I lived alone, so it’s even more of a relief to be “phoneless” here, where signal is poor!

– On music: I now have at least 20 playlists, the most played of which is “be happy” and “quieting”. I’ve finally sorted through songs I’ve shelved (6 days worth of playing time!), and I like happy music. I’m not a fan of hiphop, classical, jazz, ballads. I don’t like Lani Misalucha, but I acknowledge that she sings well. When I need to think, write, or read, I like the quiet. No music please. Driving is best without music too.

– On writing: I’ve found that I have very little to say really, and that I write to purge thoughts from my mind. Not so much as to assemble or make sense of them on paper, as to leave room for new thoughts to come in, or for persistent ones to remain. And these persistent ones, when distilled, come out to be shared. Necessarily.

– on painting: I like making cards to give away. I still don’t like painting with intent–I haven’t gotten over the habit of seeing “composition” as a killer of spontaneity. I’ve been drawing though, which I like. And which I hope will marry the two–sketching or drafting as a preliminary step for painting. I hope this will help me manage my issue with commissioned works, and with putting a price tag on my works.

– On money: It is not the enemy. Something I still have to really believe in.

So there it is, my SONA as of July 2010. In six months, clarity will have worked its wonders, and then payback time begins.

Cheers to fighting for the everydays that matter 🙂

dead stars


Gouache on paper, March 2010

In New York  I came face-to-face with my own dead stars.  Dreams I found strength in, because they were distant, and pedestaled: anything is possible, yes, there’s nothing you can’t do in New York.

But once there, right in the center of those dreams, I found them hollow.  I found myself just standing, neither upset nor inspired.  I was just there.  It was like the place of nothingness, the forest of in-between-worlds in Narnia, and I knew it wasn’t the kind of stillness that had meaning, or brought forth life.  I could stay there, in a haze, and go on pursuing what I thought was my dream–the thing I’ve always wanted my whole life–but for what reason? My heart wasn’t with me there, and any effort or movement would still lead to that haze of nothingness.

I understand now what a friend’s been telling me all this time — to stop looking outside of myself for answers, and look inside.   The answer is within, not without.

Do you have dead stars?

What illumines your path, what do you hold highly, maybe even reverently, that gives you hope, and the strength to do what you have to do?  And how do you know if your shining star is dead or alive?

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Dead Stars is a short story by Paz Marquez Benitez. Read the full story here.