Category Archives: losing

Celest

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Celest is my babe’s guitar.  If you ask him about her, he’d mention things like the length of her neck, the tension of her strings, the acoustic wonder brought about by her sound holes, etc.

I’m a piano girl.  I don’t know about those things.  So let me just say that Celest is a shiny black beauty with deep tones and a teeny buzz.

I’ve always wanted to play the guitar.  Acoustic.  Nylon.  Steel is ok, I guess, but they hurt like hoot.  I love the acoustic guitar’s mellow and, compared to the piano, soft tones.  I love that you play it close to your body, as if embracing it and whispering to it secrets that you would only tell your diary or very best friend.

I was a freshman in college when my dad bought me my first guitar.  It wasn’t a good one since it was the cheapest he could get.  He believed my interest in it was a passing phase and ordered me to stick to piano.   But I badgered him and he relented.  I came home one day to find the very heavy, very painful steel stringed-guitar wrapped in paper in my room.  I appreciated my father even more for that cheap guitar because he got it for me even though he didn’t have to.  So I had to learn how to play.  I had to show him he was wrong about the passing phase thing.  It was summer so I had all the time to practice.  My fingers, and I’m not at all exaggerating here, would have  bled if it hadn’t been for the callouses that formed almost immediately to protect them.  My back, neck, and shoulders hurt.  I woke up in pain with my hands frozen like gnarled roots.  Again, I am not exaggerating.

Then summer ended and it was time again for school.  Piano was my concentration (which had more weight than a minor subject) and I was pretty serious about it, too.  But my teacher was shocked.  “What happened to your left hand?”  She said it was playing awkwardly and heavily.  She eyed it suspiciously and discovered the callouses at the tips.  “Aha!  You’ve been playing guitar!”  She said it like I committed a mortal sin.  She demanded that I stop playing guitar, “that is if you’re really serious about piano…”  So I made a choice.  I had to.  My left hand was never as good as my right but she put up a good fight and was getting there.  But guitar developed tension in her that made her pound the keys like a big bumbling buffoon.  The callouses made her fingers slip from the keys, and, worse, they made faint clacking sounds as she played.  So that evening I came home from piano lesson,  I told my dad I had to stop playing and propped my guitar against the wall until it gathered dust.

Then, after years of countless wonderful distractions, my piano started gathering dust as well.  I no longer practiced 7-12 hours a day.  In fact, 7-12 hours became my year’s worth of playing.  During this time, I rediscovered the guitar.  I had long given away my first guitar, the one with no name.  But a fellow I knew was looking to unload his barely-touched Yamaha C30, a beginners nylon acoustic guitar, and I bought it.  I call her Lizzie and I gave her a feather necklace to make her wholly mine.  She’s on her way to Georgia as I write.

I’m no rockstar who enjoys dangling his guitar while parading onstage.  I play the guitar as an introvert thing, almost a loner thing.  Give me an empty room, a guitar, and a little sunshine streaming in through the window, and I can stay there and play the whole day, or until my fingers bleed.

It takes me a while, though, to sing while playing the guitar.  Always, I start out singing ‘whisperingly’.  Hahaha.  Its soft strains embarrasses my voice and I always croak and choke, sputter like a car that’s been left alone for a long time.  I’ve gotten used to hiding behind my piano, physically and vocally, when I sing.  Singing with the guitar exposes my ears to vocal nuances and flaws I wouldn’t hear if I were singing with the piano.  My voice is more naked and, therefore, as embarrassed as a woman who realizes she’s been walking around the mall without a bra and walks on as if nothing’s missing to make the best of it.  I know the feeling from experience.

So, Celest.

She and I have gotten acquainted long before I met her.  In fact, I helped my babe choose a name for her after he bought her.  But our friendship started when I was online one day and miserably missing my piano.  Typing on the laptop keyboard reminded me of tinkering with Mildred’s keys (Oh, how I miss my clavinova!).  From the  other room, I could almost feel Celest say, “hey”.  Yes.  Nothing witty or wise.   Just… “hey”.   But she said it in a snazzy-friendly way, like cool and kindly stranger who takes pity on you because she notices you’re a bit sad.  So I trudged towards her and played the two songs I remembered from my short guitar venture.  Her strings really hurt and my fingertips doubled their size after a couple of minutes.  My back started aching after ten and my neck straining after 20.  But, boy-o-boy, was I happy.  I played those two songs all afternoon.

Actually, I’m getting a little tired of them.

It’s time to learn something new.

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Hello from Georgia

So here I am in my babe’s office hoping he’d drop by from his class so I can ask where the computer center is.

Waiting and listening to the goddess Tori, I decided to look inside the boxes of books I sent him from home.  Some of them were mine and I was pleased to see my Neil Gaiman collection safe and intact.  Among the random tomes, I found, to giddy pleasure, a book given to me by my Glee Club.  It was actually a bunch of letters and miscellaneous comic strips and drawings sturdily bound and covered in plastic.  It’s title: Pumpkin Patch.  The cover was done by the budding artist, Meggy, who drew a Tim Burtonesque jack-o-lantern watering little pumpkins in his patch.  I guess the long-legged Jack is supposed to be me and my girls, the pumpkins.   It was charmingly creepy (or creepily charming) done in black and white because for some reason they thought I was into goth.

Digression:  On one of my birthdays, my club officers asked the girls not to wear anything colorful (a.k.a. only black) because “Ms. Cabel won’t like it.  She’s into goth.”  The truth is, I didn’t NOT like goth but I wasn’t into it as much as they assumed.  I wore mostly black because 1) it was sort of a UP College of Music performers’ uniform.  2) black was easy to mix with … black.   And when you’re a full-time teacher, you don’t have time to mix and match pieces from your closet when dressing up.  But me in black in ICA, it became my thing.  It was a piece of the Ms. Cabel puzzle along with my toy cactus, Pablo, and my ability to swing from one mood to another.

Alright, enough of that.

It’s been a couple of years since I read Pumpkin Patch.  I read it only twice since I got it because, even in my own company, I get very embarrassed when people say nice things about me.  I just go all squirmy and shy, wishing to just explode — poof! — into a cloud so I could hover away.  I know how to react to nastiness but niceness, not always.

I miss my Glee Club.  Those two years of moderating were the most exhausting, most emotionally-draining, and most gratifying of my time as a teacher.  I get teary-eyed just thinking about it.

You see, I’m no longer a teacher.

Here in Georgia, USA, I am not a teacher.  I am not a musician.  Not a writer.  Not an actress.  I’m not despairing, though, because I like where I am now.  I’m finally with my best friend and love and there’s no place I’d rather be.  But everything I was back in the Philippines is a memory for now.   I’m waiting to be who I was meant to be in this new and strange place.

I am in a cocoon and I’m waiting for wings.

The Arki Files: The Fine Art of Losing

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Dear Choir,

Here’s the nitty-gritty of it: losing.  It sucks.

As kids, we were taught how to win, to keep our eyes on the prize we hope we will get in the end; but we were never taught how to deal with defeat or how to recover from loss.   This, the fine art of losing, is something that we teach ourselves as we go through life with defeat and loss.  It goes without saying, then, that our lives have been, are, and will be riddled with events that will drag us down the pits.  It’s an equalizer of sorts, defeat is, because no human being, no matter how powerful or rich, has never been rejected, let down, or beaten. 

Consider art and our approach to it.  If losing is an art then our proficiency for it can be honed and deepened as well.  We start out with tentative steps and build our confidence through practice. In the beginning, we depend on the people around us to keep us moving but eventually learn to operate on our own, without prodding or encouragement.  

This doesn’t mean, of course, that we must endeavor to lose.  On the contrary, we must always strive for excellence.  However, the possibility of failing never occurs when we’re inert or complacent.  It is present only when we reach for the stars above or jump hoping our feet will land on safe ground.  The reaching and the jumping are the stuff that builds character, not the stars nor the ground themselves.   

The journey is more significant than the destination.

The Fine Art of Losing (and feel free to add to it):

  • Howl at the moon and let the world know your pain – then be still and make your peace. Wounds fester when kept under wraps.
  • Don’t blame. Not yourself; not others. But if you can’t help it, do it. Let it all out then shut up and know that there are things beyond your control and you are human.
  • Things can be sometimes unfair. Do something about it instead of yakking.
  • Loss and defeat are opportunities to learn and grow.
  • Remember: Losing means that you fought, and it’s always better to have fought than not at all.

And we fought the good fight, didn’t we? 

We lost.  We didn’t place.  We could have been last, for all I know.  I howled, you heard me, and blamed myself as I usually did, but then you kept me from sinking into the mire of regret.  You patted my back and told me, “OK lang yan, Ma’am”.  I saw you laugh and tell people, “Hi there, we lost” with all smiles.  You called after I texted and howled along with me then texted hours later that you still couldn’t believe it.  You squeezed my arm and sat beside me while I pondered.  You told me you looked forward to singing in Haraya, already looking towards our future together.      

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Thank you.

I kept saying “3 weeks” but was recently corrected by my mother.  She was right: we only had 2 to learn 3 songs and sing them brilliantly, and jump over the hurdles of getting used to one another.  We did all that despite our rocky schedules and other responsibilities.  We are cut from the same cloth, you and I: as architects-to-be you don’t only have books to pore over when you’re through with classes.  You have plates to finish and models to construct, just as I have music to write and pieces to practice.   Isn’t it amazing that we were able to bond and sing together without asking world to stop turning until we accomplished our task?

I am proud of you: each and every one of you.  I will always thank the universe for leading me to you.   Let us keep making music together.  Let us continue fighting the good fight.   

Love,

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PS

For a personal account of the UP Lantern Parade and more on losing the Carolfest (lol), click “Hi! We Lost!”: Losing the University Carolfest 2007.