Interlude #1 - July
So this entry is going to be a bit different. Different but not unprecedented, considering the pilot episode, but it is going to be a break from the way the last few episodes have gone. After all, the trajectory being what it is, I technically owe you another creation myth retelling, as is true to the ongoing unit. Or what I tend to think of as a unit. It might not technically be. I guess digital media doesn’t need to be divided up as neatly as a school curriculum. But hey, I was in school for a long time, some habits can’t be immediately unlearned.
I’m just dancing around the issue, though, aren’t I? The easiest way to handle this might be to go back to the origins of this podcast. From the beginning, this podcast was meant—like I’ve said many times before—to be documentation of my dive back into this previously neglected aspect of my identity. Which can be a super disjointed experience because, from my perspective, there isn’t a clear starting point.
Or maybe you think there is-slash-should have been. After all, I have a large familial network that’s Filipino, and most of them are in the Philippines. Wouldn’t it make sense to start with them or incorporate them in the process somehow? And I also mentioned that my grandfather was a storyteller, so shouldn’t I just start with those stories? With help from my family, of course?
Probably, but that isn’t going to work for me. With that being said, I don’t think you’re wrong in suggesting that because, yes, I agree that with the facts laid out as they are that it’s the most logical course of action. However, that is ignoring one important factor.
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I miss them madly, and that’s partially what I want to talk about in this episode.
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It’s a feeling I always carry, but in the last few weeks—those that constitute the month of July—it’s been a fairly loud whistle in the back of my mind. And it’s not because of this project and how it has kept the broader topic alive. This whistle, as it were, comes and goes with the seasons.
After saying that aloud, I’ve come to realize that this metaphor doesn’t feel like the best explanation. But really, it’s the best I could come up with. This difficulty is hard to explain. Or it can be. Because at times, it feels like I’m speaking a different language. And that statement is probably like three shades off of being a pun in this context. But in all seriousness, when I say I miss my family in the Philippines—my cousins, my aunts, my uncles, and my grandmother, I wonder how well people around me understand what I mean.
They might only see their relatives a couple times a year as well, but they don’t feel anything about it. At the very least, I don’t think they think about it as much as I do. Or it doesn’t look like it.
And when I was growing up, this observation made me wonder what it was that caused this shift. The part of my nature that tends to be more dismissive of my feelings loves to point out that by certain standards, our circumstances are the same. With the socio-economic forces of Arizona being what they are, many of the families who lived around me were transplanted before my friends were born or when they were very young. They weren’t raised around their extended family, and neither was I, so it’s not like I was nostalgic for days gone by. If a child is capable of nostalgia. And on the other hand, I certainly couldn’t mourn the loss of something I never had in the first place. And this isn’t left over unrest from the act of being uprooted and rerooted. Some of them had that, and I didn’t. And I’m a firm believer that not only does no one win the what-if game but everyone loses equally. Except somehow, I’ve lost more than everyone else.
So this is the impasse I found myself stuck in. These are feelings that I would say are born out of deprivation of some sort. And clearly I’m not explicitly deprived of something they weren’t. But this phantom pain remains. My soul is convinced that there is a limb or something of the sort missing, and its desperate pleas—neurological misfiring by another name—are what’s consuming my thoughts. Part of me has always been convinced that something was wrong, but the rational side of me can’t seem to put the pieces together.
Like I’ve said, this is something I have always felt in one way or another. In recent years, social media has softened the blow quite a bit, or so I suspect. Correlation doesn’t equal causation, but it certainly feels like such here. For all its flaws—and I’m not going to pretend there aren’t many—social media can momentarily make me feel like I’m with my family, or at least, that I’m connected enough to them to find some level of satisfaction. And maybe I can say that with such unrestricted enthusiasm because the algorithms that translate Tagalog into English aren’t the best, meaning my privacy is still largely intact. That’s not the point, though. Through these channels, I can call or chat with my family far easier than I could growing up with connections that are more plentiful but nowhere near as expensive. And going beyond that, there’s something deeply comforting about being able to see the many pictures they post of each day, each outing, or each celebration. There’s something deeply soothing about following the life that was never mine to live.
And still, this feeling—mental static might be the better term—I can usually ignore has been acting up again. It’s growing louder, demanding my attention, and honestly—after a quick glance at the calendar—I know why.
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I think a lot of Filipino children raised abroad—regardless of their exact ethnic makeup—had a similar calendar or travel schedule to what I did. On prosperous years—years when everything like finances and the wellbeing of those around you fell into place—you would go to the Philippines in December, and that would constitute pretty much all if not most of your travels for the year. Or at the very least, that would be the only time you’d see your family. Just Christmas and New Years. There’s no summer trips, no spring break, and obviously no going to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving.
With the sole exception being my grandfather’s death and burial, this is how my family did it, anyway.
However, I’m not talking about December here. I am talking about July, which is a month that has always had a weird feeling to it, so yeah, I do have something to say about it. For one, when I was in school—figuratively, I mostly mean when I was school age—July was the mid-section of my summer vacation, during which I’d be going through academic workbooks at the kitchen table under my guardian’s watchful eye. Essentially, I’d be doing schoolwork while not in school. That could be disconcerting in and of itself.
But at the same time, there was a more dominate feeling of isolation about it. Not literal isolation. I certainly wasn’t alone and could have seen my friends at any time. My mom was the queen of playdates, but as a whole, my conception of July was still very much an experience that felt entirely unique to me. Not only would my friends not be doing math problems or working on their penmanship… They’d likely be visiting their family who often lived in some other state back east. It wasn’t until we got older that such was done begrudgingly, but regardless, it was seemingly always done.
Now I normally don’t like sweeping generalizations—either hearing them or making them. I find that they undermine arguments. Because in a world so large and populated as this one, it’s very easy to find exceptions that chip away at something that wasn’t meant to be so large. They really just highlight our inability to properly handle nuance on both sides, but that’s a point for another day.
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Honestly, if there was ever a time to make an exception, it’s now.
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Everyone but me seemingly had this level of access to their extended family that I’d never know being that my mother’s side of the family was abroad and my father’s side was estranged to varying degrees. Sure, this level everyone else was on wasn’t perfect. You didn’t see this extended family all the time, but there were enough dates marked out on the calendar that demanding more genuinely seemed unreasonable. There was just a connection between you and them that would never run dry. After all, even if you weren’t with your family, you were never without their aura or some sort of ethereal presence. You were still in the window where you had the warmth of that last trip heating you and before that could fade the excitement of what was to come would be there to take over. You always knew that—in a short amount of time—your whole family would be together again or had just been, and in those moments, it would feel like you had never apart.
Because the threat of extended separation didn’t loom over your head. Not like it did mine.
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And then there was me. Like I mentioned in the first episode of the series, I grew up in a fairly homogenous community, where everyone looked the same and had similar stories. Grossly simplifying, of course. Where no child would think that a life like mine were all that possible, not that I could explain it to them being a child myself. Frankly, it’s not something I can do easily as an adult.
But sometimes when I went over to someone’s house, it was almost like I could see this—thing on the dining room table. This connection to not so farflung roots. This presence of people loved but not around but not an impossible distance away. No one else seemed to give it much thought. It was just part of the tacky centerpiece, I guess. Ignored but a handy statement of some kind.
It was always worse in July, the halfway point between my last trip and the next one, when I didn’t have the comfort of the last trip to sustain me or the excitement of the upcoming one to light a fire in me. Both were just too far away to be of any use.
Those were the years when I was lucky. We didn’t always get to go.
Like this year. I’m not going to be able to make it back this year due to some office drama and politicking at a job I otherwise love. And yes, I’ve had some terrible jobs in the past, so I have some pretty good frames of reference for my judgment.
I should be grateful, and I am. Really, I love this job, and these things I’m complaining about are only tangentially related issues. My inability to take this trip certainly can’t ruin my work set up. And I’m not claiming that it does.
It still hurts, though, to miss what is one of the few opportunities the entire family has to be together. It’s usually just the Christmas season that a Filipino family spread across the globe can come together. And I imagine that’s just one of the effects of the surge in number of Oversees Filipino Workers. The Christmas season is typically when this group of people chose to take their vacation. Everyone abroad tries to spend the Christmas season at home. Most succeed. Consequently, the wisest thing to do is to cram as many major events into that season as are possible, weddings and baptisms in particular.
And I’m the only one who will be missing that this year. It’s clear I can’t be there, but it’s not clear what I’ll be missing. Because yes, it’s a while away, but still in the horizon, just distant. And that’s just part of July to me. This feeling is what the word “July” actually refers to. A time in which an idea exists but can’t fully hold the weight of your grief.
It goes either way, past or future. July is the halfway point, and a time in which everyone around me is still taking the occasional break to reconnect with their families. A week or two at the most. But not nothing, just nothing I can easily do.
Sometimes I think—or I wonder—if part of my cultural identity isn’t just being displaced in physical space but also in time. I mean, I’m not in the Philippines and seldom are but never longer than a few weeks. But that soil feels like home if only because of what stands upon it. And it’s soil I can only have access to on a strict and unforgiving schedule watching everyone around me move about far more freely with far less thought to the calendar.
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Summer should be a free time. That’s what we are sold in advertising and the result of the way many countries have chosen to organize their school calendar. Not the Philippines, which just compounds this problem when I am actually able to talk to my cousins. But it’s not to me. It’s not a time of joy and sunshine. It’s a time of longing for other times of years, assuming those times are possible.
I’m not in school anymore. I hardly talk to the people I went to high school with. And I live in a different city. And this has lessened the problem to some degree. Families in this part of the country aren’t as spread out as they were back in Arizona, so get-togethers don’t happen with the same aura of excitement, but they still happen. I still have to cover for people who travel to meet them or for weddings where likely everyone will be in attendance. All the while, I’m thinking about a December that won’t come this year.
It’s not an earth shattering problem. And I know this. Pointing it out is just doubling down on the feelings of isolation I already feel from not experiencing time the same way everyone around me seems to. I don’t mean sharing the same experiences. That can’t happen, and I’m at peace with the impossibility.
No, what I’m describing goes a bit farther than that. It’s having to go through life on what feels like a parallel line, the result of having a different starting point from everyone else. The barrier between me and everyone else is a somewhat permeable one. I could pass through, I guess, for brief periods of time, but I always end up here. And this is a very lonely place.
Thanks for listening to this little ramble of mine. It’s been on my mind the entirety of this last month, and I wanted to throw it out there. We’ll be back on track next time.
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