Conventions

I toggled the switch on and off a couple of times and pressed the "Connect" rubber button to make it appear I was having trouble connecting the bluetooth keyboard to the iPad. In reality, it was a simple connection process that took me all of ten seconds to figure out. But my Filipino officemate sat there talking, her face glued to the computer screen, as she went on a litany of what she had just emailed her son.

He's 29 years old, same age as I am, with no work, despite having graduated from an expensive school in Manila. Last December, he got married and for one month, my officemate had stepped back to let her son enjoy the honeymoon. But, as she said, honeymoon's over and there's married life to contend with. He can't be married and unemployed and still be dependent on her. When she would ask him what his plans were--to work or to study again--he would shrug his shoulders. He spends his days in their house here, playing computer games or trying out whatever is the latest craze in working out. Sometimes, he would email her, asking for money to buy a $100 Nike shoes. His credit bill, she said, is more than $600.

He's here because he has a green card and he has to stay here to maintain his status. His wife is in the Philippines and that's where they got married. But after the marriage and the honeymoon, everything receded back to normal, as though they weren't married at all.

"I'm simply asking him what he wants to do with his life," my officemate said. "I'm getting old. What happens when I retire? Walang ka-plano plano sa buhay eh. Parang walang asawa."

I pressed the settings icon of the iPad, went to the general options and chose Bluetooth. I swiped my hand back and forth to turn it off and on again; to repeat the process of connecting the wireless keyboard to the iPad. I realized I wasn't there simply to connect the keyboard to the iPad, but maybe to give her some insight of what goes on inside the head of a near-thirtysomething.

"Marami naman pong ganyan sa Pilipinas." It was all I could say, before repeating the process of reconnecting the keyboard to the iPad for the millionth time.



While driving home, I remembered the book Into The Wild, about a young man who gave up on life and hiked into the wilderness of Alaska, where he survived for a hundred days before dying. This was a man who had his entire life ahead of him, but abandoned it because he found the conventional constraints suffocating.

You go to school, you work, you get married, have kids and die. That's the sum total of life.

I knew early on that mine won't follow such a strict path. For one, I wasn't the model student, preferring to drink and smoke than go to classes. I was a squatter in college, staying for six years and being enrolled for the five summers in between school years. Second, I knew I won't get married. At least not in the conventional sense of being at the altar waiting for my blooming and blossoming bride to walk down the aisle with a wailing father beside her.

With marriage (and probably kids) out of the equation, there wasn't much left for me to do in the conventional sense, except perhaps stare at sunsets while waiting for death to claim me. My pronounced difference from the world's expectations made me question the conventions we live by. Does it have to be only that way?

There was a time in my reading life when I scoured memoirs and biographies of people who have lived a rather different life. From someone being raised in a commune to someone being raised by his mother's psychiatrist and a host of other strange but true stories that shattered my views about what constitutes life and living.

You don't need to get married at a certain age, just because everyone around you is walking down the aisle with a baby bump. You can be forty and flirty and be happy. You can be in a long-term, same-sex relationship and be happy. You can do a Vicky Cristina Barcelona and find some happiness in it. Happiness is not confined to the conventional trajectory of life.

What's missing to some is the necessity to think of what would make them happy. People go through the motions of living without thinking whether it's the kind of life they would want for themselves. They merely look over their shoulders and copy what everyone else is doing and having. That's what I thought (and what I wanted to say) while I was tinkering with my officemate's iPad. Or to put it more succinctly: why the fuck did he get married? His girlfriend wasn't even pregnant. Pinag-isipan nya man lang ba yun?

I know the difficulty and the pressure of being at my age, single and unmarried; of finding the balance in pleasing the world without losing yourself; of struggling to find the ways and means to reconcile your dreams and ambitions with what is safe and secure. Of defining your own happiness in a world that has already defined it for you. Find a girlfriend! It will make you happy! Stay in the US! It will give you more money! And it will make you happier!

Sometimes I am tempted to go into the wild. My middle finger to the world as I turn my back on it. Because it's not the easiest thing to have a life that makes you feel like an outsider. When your version of happiness is different from everyone, it's difficult to assert that against the growling voices of the self-righteous majority.

To firm myself up, I think of this: if I die today or tomorrow, none of this would matter. Their words and the pressure would be weightless. What would matter in my dying moments is the memory and feeling that I've been happy. The greatest disappointment lies not in being untrue to the world, but in being untrue to one's self.

Comments

  1. " someone being raised by his mother's psychiatrist"

    Augusten Burroughs?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup. :) Running with Scissors.

      Delete
    2. Your influences clearly show in this post. It's been a few hours but the realizations still resonate in my thoughts. :p

      Delete

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