greenthumbfoolery

i declare myself an environmental activist.

it is final. i have decided. when was that? a long time ago i think.

but of what use have i been to the earth?

park scene

after watching all sorts of disaster films, seeing my countrymen… men, women and children, an entire school… sink into a mass grave covered by mud from a mountain landslide, after watching the horrendous, ginormous tsunami engulf Aceh in Indonesia and the recent catastrophe in Jakarta…  after reading magazine articles on the destructive droughts in China and Russia, seeing the polar ice caps tumble en masse in the north and south poles in Al Gore’s documentary (An Inconvenient Truth) and learning that 70% of the earth’s freshwater is held in the antarctic ice sheet… hurricane Katrina, typhoon Ketsana (a.k.a. Ondoy), the yearly El Nino & La Nina… people in Africa suffering from drought and famine… outbreaks of diseases happening around the world… the ozone layer being depleted by roughly 4% every decade… the relatively recent rise in the rate of extinction of certain species… after personally experiencing the July 16, 1990 earthquake while studying in Baguio City, Philippines and witnessing the first major explosion of Mount Pinatubo the following year (June 1991) while working that summer in McDonald’s Dau… saw the magnificent houses in Cabalantian, Bacolor in the province of Pampanga buried in mud… with the old cathedral half buried as well… no words can describe how desolate it all seemed back then… was just there on a jeepney, passing through… headed somewhere else… tears rolled down my cheeks as i struggled to breathe.

how horrible it must have been to lose one’s only home… all the memories lost as the lahar covered everything in mud… with no regard to the heartbreak, indifferent to the screams of despair and loss… prayers unheard as the mountain rumbled after centuries of quietude…

the 4-hour drive from Baguio City to Pampanga seemed endless. one friend of mine hailed from Luisita, Tarlac, two were from Magalang, Pampanga and I (at that time) lived in Angeles City. Pangasinan seemed unusually silent as we passed it by. We could not sleep on the bus as we were wont to do.. we were too anxious, worried for the most part for our families. School just started a week before and there we were again, headed home. By the time Tarlac came into view, we saw the dust that covered the place… the pale spiritless atmosphere that seemed to pervade the entire length of the trip from there… we thought we had seen the worst till we caught a glimpse of Capas, Tarlac and then Bamban… the river was almost obliterated, the houses.. everything… it was like one massive cemetery. What was left of the houses looked like tombstones jutting out of an unkempt ancient burial site, no longer trodden by humans, left and abandoned… surrendered to the elements… “unsaveable”… incapable of redemption.

i remember lining up at the makeshift SSS offices and filing for a calamity loan (I’ve been a member since age 15) and looking around at the people… everything was stark grey… like we had just come out of hiding after a terrible civil war. i could not see a single soul dressed up… people had the same desperate, hopeless, miserable look on their faces… sometimes one person would sob for no apparent reason… there were no flaring tempers even with the long wait… everyone felt defeated… we all needed help.

oh yes i have seen enough. enough cruelty and loss. enough death and despair. sadness. misery. sickness. tragedy.

i have seen enough not to care about this planet we call our home. our only home.

but for others… these things around us seem unrelated. independent events that have nothing to do with one another… or at least, have nothing to do with you or me. so why should we care about children dying in Somalia? people ravaged by the earthquake in Haiti? why should it matter to me that some sea creatures are vanishing and that migratory birds seem to be as confused as the weather?

why do i need to segregate trash? why should i avoid using plastic and styrofoam? why should i get my leaking faucet fixed? why should i use energy efficient appliances? why should i learn to reuse certain resources and control my consumption? why shouldn’t i buy that 4WD with a really powerful engine just because it uses up too much petrol? i can afford it. why not?

who’s to tell me that not finishing my meals is bad? will those starving people live just because i have decided to finish every single meal that is served before me? why do i have to conserve water and electricity? i pay my bills and i have enough money to pay for more. why should i stop smoking? the rest of the world does, so what is one less puff worth?

my friends laugh at me when i keep plastic spoons, forks and knives to take home and wash, sanitize and reuse. i have carefully studied this and available info on plastic state that plastic is safe for reuse as long as the material remains pristine / undamaged even with just a small crack or graze (bacteria may enter and proliferate in those areas)… that is, good quality plastic. i try to keep a mug at work so as not to use plastic cups for my drinking water, even my coffee. i use glass containers for my lunch pack. i collect and reuse plastic bags from the supermarket. i bring my own eating utensils (plus my chopsticks), not because i’m scared of using what the cafeteria provides but to minimize my use of plastic utensils. and whatever i do use, i take home to sanitize and reuse. i don’t use a screensaver. i reuse newspaper and office paper… i keep loose buttons to be reused some time in the future. i pick up safety pins and paper clips i see lying around as long as they are still fit for use. i reuse tote bags / shoppings bags (we Filipinos are experts at this). i also use washable grocery bags and “green” shopping bags to carry my “work stuff.” i turn off the faucet while brushing or lathering my face. i turn off the shower tap when i am not actually rinsing yet or washing. i turn off all electrical outlets when i leave the room i live in. the air conditioner is turned on only from 8pm to 7am the next day during summer. during winter, the air conditioner is hardly ever used. as much as possible, i make use of mass transit (which is quite easy to do here since i don’t drive… 🙂

these things are small. seemingly insignificant. what i do. or try to do.

they are small. tiny. and we have such a big wide world to save.

and billions of lives to take care of.

do i care about the future generations? my children and their children’s children? and their children’s children’s children?

some people say, why take the trouble? i’d be long gone by then.

then end may not be so far if we remain as we are. on the wrong side of the track.

we think but fail to act. never act.

so many researches, so many articles… so many words, words, words.

i rest my case.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

Y E L L O W

Mommy’s favorite flower – the yellow chrysanthemum

 
I never used to like yellow. In fact, I kinda hated the color. At least I thought I did.

Just like how I sometimes thought (rather unwisely) I hated my mother…

Mommy… that’s how we called her.

Mommy loved yellow… she had a lot of dresses made in that color… different fabrics and prints… in her own favorite style… in various degrees of “yellowness”… from the really bright to the muted and subtle.

She was also a staunch supporter of the late Philippine President Cory Aquino, a simple housewife just like her, old school and a churchgoer. Mommy was a firm believer and supporter of the first Aquino administration, and happily noted that yellow was the official color of PDP – LABAN (LAkas ng BAyaN – the political party founded by newly elected President Noynoy Aquino’s father, the late Senator Benigno Aquino, in 1978 – merged with another political party PDP to form Cory’s political party coalition in the 1986 snap elections). After Ninoy Aquino was assassinated, Mommy’s eyes and ears were firmly glued to both the TV and radio (AM)… and I felt, had it not been for the fact that Daddy was abroad, Mommy would have left us to join at least one of Cory’s political rallies.

She tried to make up for her inability to physically show her confidence in Cory’s run for the presidency by being a vocal defender of Aquino against any form of verbal abuse or criticism made in her presence. Mommy had several yellow blouses she wore on a daily basis to more than make up for the hundreds of yellow banners she could have waved in many an Aquino-led demonstration or rally.

Whenever the Aquino administration called on the public for help in cash or in kind in times of (mostly) natural calamities, Mommy always responded in kind… our well-stocked grocery cabinets would not be emptied and the contents given as donations. Mommy would seriously shop for stuff to give away… and she made sure that whatever clothes we donated were clothes we would have worn ourselves, not hand-me-downs we had gotten tired of and worn out.

But why did I hate yellow? Mommy would usually allow me to pick the style of dress I wanted whenever we went shopping… but she would usually say that the one in yellow looked really good on me, so we’d end up buying yellow dresses. She said purple (which was my favorite color back then, aside from red) was just too dark or a bit gloomy for a little girl… and red, well, red didn’t really do well during summer if it was too red ‘coz it’s hot… nor did it do well during the rainy season ”coz it was… well… too red. As for yellow, she said it’s easy on the eyes and quite pleasant to look at as long as it is not that gaudy shade of yellow that kinda looks cheap. Maybe you know what she meant. I didn’t, back then… I just decided to dislike yellow.

I had yellow wallets, yellow headbands and yellow ribbons, sometimes a yellow bag… but it was usually the clothes that were yellow. Most everything else was my choice. But as I grew older, I demanded more and more of my stuff in a purple or lavender shade. Daddy accepted this and bought me stuff in the exact color I wanted. Even my flashlight was lavender, my hair brush, my rubber shoes… and I was quite satisfied. Even Mommy accepted that yellow just wasn’t my first color of choice.

Though I did learn that yellow symbolized “freedom” and I kept thinking… what if the guy one is with gives one yellow roses… does it mean he wants freedom? It wasn’t really a big deal back then… it just crossed my mind. I never had a boyfriend anyway… but I had my own childish daydreams, so I guess that’s why… it just crossed my mind.

In the song “Coward of the County”… I learnt that to be yellow means to be “cowardly”… and from Shakespeare, I found out that to be jaundiced meant the following:

Adj. 1: (archaic) showing or experiencing a state of disordered feeling or distorted judgment as through bitterness or melancholy; “all looks yellow to the jaundiced eye”-Alexander Pope [syn: yellow]

And I began to view yellow and all other colors as things that meant more than what seemed obvious to the all-seeing eye. Mommy never stopped liking yellow though… she was a woman who, if convinced that something or someone is good (or bad), it (he/she) must be good (or bad) all throughout. You’d have the greatest difficulty proving the contrary, ‘coz Mommy was nothing if not loyal… to the point of obstinacy… and usually, she was right.

It was Mommy who trained us to sleep early on weekdays (we went to bed at 8pm), and wake up early at 5am the next day to buy pandesal (a popular type of Filipino breakfast bread). She taught me and my brother to finish the food that’s on our plate. Forced us to eat healthy (back then, the only vegetables I ate with relish were long beans, eggplant and swamp cabbage… everything else would cause me to gag), be clean (no matter how lazy or tired we felt – we were not allowed to keep dirty dishes overnight), honest, meticulous (Mommy was a bit of an OC case), and responsible. If you want to keep a pet, you had better learn to look after it. My brother and I learned the hard way. We tried to have fish pets (twice), but weren’t able to care for them properly. The ones from the pet store died one by one, perhaps from overfeeding at first, and then widow(er)hood; and one unfortunate freshwater fish who seemed all plump and healthy when my brother brought her home eventually died from what we could only surmise to be loneliness and longing for her natural habitat.

Mommy let us help her out whenever she cooked something special… in fact, my love for cooking comes from her. She taught us to value food and be appreciative of what we had. She said that no matter how poor a person may get, as long as he has food on his table, things can’t be so bad. It’s overly simplistic on the surface, but it taught us to “waste not, want not” (how I wish I had mastered that). She usually bought food items that could be stocked in bulk, since buying in bulk was more economical than buying retail. We were not the kind of kids who’d be sent to the neighborhood sari-sari store to buy a peso of soy sauce, half a kilo of sugar or one head of garlic. I swear that no matter how bad things were in my country, we were usually well-stocked since Mommy made food her priority when it came to household expenses.

Mommy shared her passion for books and movies with us. Weekends were made for that. After her early morning visit to the wet market (at 4am no less), me and my brother would wake up at 9 or 10am… we’d have gone to mass the Saturday before Sunday so… all we had to do was get our daily share of taho (made of soybeans – softer than tofu, and mixed with boiled sago pearls and caramelized sugar)… then real breakfast. We then did our Sunday chores. I cleaned the living room and kitchen… and my brother did the bedrooms… or vice versa… depending on who was feeling lazier. Upstairs was usually for the one feeling less inclined to clean thoroughly since Mommy rarely checked on the one cleaning upstairs. And since I was firstborn, I was the one who usually decided, to my younger brother’s dismay. Then in the afternoon we might go for a movie or watch TV and have ice cream. If we didn’t go out, she’d read a book and we’d read ours and take a nap, no matter how much sleep we’d have had. Mommy always said “stay up late if you want to stunt your growth.”

Mommy, Daddy, Tong-Tong & Cleng-Cleng

Green – Mommy was…. she was green. Not with envy… but very responsible for the environment. Long before garbage segregation was introduced, we were already practicing it. And she never threw waste on the street nor inside vehicles. We always had a plastic bag on hand for our waste, especially when we traveled.

She never pressured us to become overachievers but we had a schedule for our homework. I did well in school but she rarely praised me. She would just cast me an appreciative glance when I would show her my report card. It was from her closest friends that I learned how proud she was of me… ‘coz when they see me, they would repeat everything Mommy had told them, and tell me to keep it up and keep making my Mommy proud.

My brother and I learned to speak English better than our contemporaries ‘coz Mommy didn’t allow us to watch Filipino movies at home save for comedy gag shows… we had no Filipino comic books except for Funny Komiks. And there were certain times in the day when we could only speak in English. We watched Sesame Street of course, Electric Company, Flying House, Super Book, Fairy Tale Theater and Villa Allegre… kid’s educational programs, and mostly English films, sitcoms and TV series. Mommy was a great fan of Little House on the Prairie, McGyver, Charlie’s Angels, Wonder Woman, The A-Team, The X-Files, Le Femme Nikita, Seinfeld, Millennium, Oprah, The Practice, ER, NYPD Blue, Boston Legal, Touched by an Angel, Buffy, Gilmore Girls, Friday the 13th and a host of other TV series that came and went through the years (sorry for my intentional non-use of quotation marks… there’d be too many). And eventhough she could not fathom why we liked Mr. Bean, Frasier, Friends, Ally McBeal and some of the cartoons (anime mostly) we watched, she left us to our own devices. She did learn to like Son Goku though, and the Ghostfighters. And if it was a fight between me with my brother against Daddy, that is, whether we should watch Sunday Fun Machine or basketball… Mommy usually took our side.

Long before the rise of the Lycans and Wolverine’s (hahaha) Van Helsing ;-)))) and Gary Oldman’s version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, my imagination was fed with thoughts of the supernatural since my Mommy would let me and my (scared) brother watch whatever horror movies she watched, in the afternoons (reruns of Christopher Lee’s Dracula movies) or during weekends, whether they were about zombies, ghosts, vampires, evil dwarves, warlocks, etc.

And when me and my kid brother watched Chinese movies on Sundays (dialogues were spoken in Mandarin, I think, and the subtitles were in whatever written translation – still in Chinese – corresponded to the verbal exchange)… then decided to use chopsticks in every meal, spoke our own version of Chinese (all nonsense ofcourse), christened ourselves in what seemed (to us) were Chinese or Japanese sounding names (we were also convinced that we were ninjas… sometimes it was a kung-fu fighter vs. a ninja, or a white ninja vs. a black ninja… we lived up to and sometimes broke all archetypes, hahaha 🙂  ) and made our own pretend Shaolin kung-fu moves and a variety of ninja weapons… she just let us have our own brand of fun.

She never questioned or criticized me whenever I cut out almost every single short story in the Women’s Journal magazines she bought, not to mention the hundreds of recipes, cutouts of MOD’s “I need friends because…”, “Adventures into the Unknown”… and so on and so forth. All she said was that by the time I grew up, I would need an extra room just for my paper stuff… and that if by some stroke of misfortune our house burned down… the first place to get puffed out completely would be my roomful of papers. She never threw them away no matter how much space they took up and how much dust they gathered.

She let me read Mills & Boon and Silhouette novels even when I was just a kid, and early on in high school… even The Red Dragon, The Far Pavilions and Salon Kitty… Reader’s Digest (especially the condensation features). Her library was my library. She did not censor my reading… and I am all the better for it.

Mommy believed me and my brother even when we were lying to our teeth… though, of course, the truth always came out and she would look at us dejectedly… it was better when she was her usual temperamental self… lashing out and punishing us, expressing her frustration… it was just sad when Mommy looked so disappointed and unhappy, and would just decide to keep silent.

There were times when I hated her for I was headstrong myself and very proud. As a child, I argued freely against my aunts or uncles, even my grandma Rosita (Mommy’s mom)… not so much with Lola Flor (Daddy’s mom) ‘coz I usually tried to be on my best behavior with her since I rarely got to see her. I would quarrel and physically fight my way to win, unmindful of the repercussions… although she always put me in my place and prove herself right. My arrogance during puberty did little to serve me since I had a sharp tongue. But Mommy’s was sharper. She had wisdom to back her up. It was hard to say “sorry” sometimes… but it was something I had to do, in words or deeds… Mommy was usually right about stuff. Okay, not usually. Always.

Come to think of  it… the biggest quarrels I had in my life were fights I had with her… my Mommy. I feared and respected her, but I always had to have my way. And now, now I have no one to fight with…

She was an excellent cook… or did I mention that before? It was she who taught me not to forcibly turn over a fish before it’s time… so as not to ruin the fish and end up eating flakes… not to taste the food one is cooking too often since it would usually end up getting too salty… she taught me that food to be kept in the fridge or freezer should always be placed in airtight containers… to keep food to be set aside as soon as the dish is cooked and not just keep leftovers (since this almost always leads to spoilage). Mommy always let us take the parts we liked… like in chicken or fish… and always kept food aside for Daddy the moment she finished cooking. We had napkins on our table, used place mats and coasters. We had our personalized mugs and plates… special chinaware, crystal ware and flatware were kept and taken out only during special events.

Our house was always spic & span (except on weekends coz my brother and I did the cleaning… ehehehe)… but she would always clean up whenever she wasn’t satisfied. She always said that sometimes, the best way to do something is to do it yourself rather than waiting for others to do it. Later in life we had house help, but she never left the cooking and house cleaning totally up to them… mostly just the laundry work and the ironing. But it was always she who ironed Daddy’s clothes.

When Daddy would come home from abroad… Mommy would divide up the chocolate (a family addiction) equally into four… but we almost always ended up eating ours PLUS her share.

Our very young parents 🙂

We were allowed to bring our friends home, in fact, Mommy encouraged it… and she always cooked something extra special when we had friends over. She trusted me enough to allow me to have male friends… aside from my usual gal pals. She let me go to sleepovers with my friends and come home late as long as it involved schoolwork.

When I joined rallies and demonstrations (usually pro-teacher or pro-student rallies, essentially anti-admin) in high school or college… Mommy never questioned my judgment… whether or not I had a scholarship at stake. She always just told me to be careful and make sure I knew what I was laying myself out for.

She wasn’t like those mothers who were always well-dressed while their husbands looked like family drivers and the kids look like some other unlucky person’s kids. Mommy made sure we were properly suited up for whatever outing we had, just as much as she was.

Mommy was also an excellent gardener and a lover of pets. She never fed our dogs or cats spoiled food… she groomed them and cared for them like they were members of our family… and we all grieved when we would lose any one of them, even our especially fattened up Babes. 🙂

My brother and I, on the whole, had a happy childhood. And if there ever was a time of want, we never really felt it. Sometimes I find myself thinking of Mommy and how she would lie down on the long chair in the living room and stare at the ceiling for hours. I now realize that those were the times when she was trying to find a solution to a financial problem… but back then, we weren’t bothered ‘coz Mommy was there, and she always found a way.

Like most things we treasure and people we love… Mommy left too soon.

I miss her.

I miss her. I miss her.

Christmas, New Year and the summertime are never really going to ever be the same without her.

The rainy days will be just as sad.

And as I look back, I know that she was the perfect mother for us… for me and my brother.

I would be happier for my kids if she were still around to look out for them while I am so far away.

Things would be so different with Mommy around. And in my old romantic brain, I always assume that things would definitely be better if only she were here.

Yellow. Mommy’s favorite color.

I too have yellow clothes now… in my closet. Just a few.

And although I don’t wear them that often, I have them there deliberately, in my wardrobe, as a reminder of how great my mother was… how wise she was… how much she loved us… how she always chose us over everything and everyone else…

Yellow.

Memories of my mother, our Mommy…. and how I can never say goodbye.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

beauty & madness

Aesthetics is a tricky thing.

THE NEED TO BE BEAUTIFUL

if you haven’t read the article THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING BEAUTIFUL by Sidney Katz, please do. all of my students in sociology had to read this in relation to our studies on social stratification. i wish i could provide a copy of the article itself, unfortunately, i cannot. you have to get the book edited by James Henslin called DOWN TO EARTH SOCIOLOGY. believe you me, do yourself a favor and get this book. it would be money well-spent.

EM3007

people like to believe… pretend… that there is a depth in their soul not immediately discernible to the human eye. we would like to think that we do not judge and should not be judged based on our looks alone. we want others to think that we are NOT superficial, that we ARE the type of people who look beyond the SURFACE of things, that we mock labels and would not be part of the shallow, ignorant majority that makes up society.

going back to the article, if you do get to read it… you will find out that the moment we are born, our looks define how others would see us, how they would act towards us, and, ultimately…  how we would see ourselves. what is called society in us… the “looking-glass”… a “cute, cuddly baby” would be held more often than the gaunt, sickly or less physically appealing counterpart… a lady coming in as “plain jane” would fail on the first interview… and miraculously get the job when she comes back  for the same job interview after a makeover. have you seen THE SWAN? see what lengths people would go through just to have a shot at success (or what defines it)… at work, in life, in their personal relationships…

sometimes we wonder about those “crazy American teenagers” who want to get a nose job at age 16 or 17… and why jenny went from a size 12 to a size 2… ballooned up to a 14 and is now a size zero… nothing, nada. who do you think jenny did it for? why? for herself? for a guy? for her to “fit in”? who’s to know. we’d all like to think she did it for herself. how about Korean celebrities, most of whom are notorious for going under knife to improve their appearance starting with surgery to get that elusive double-eyelid? sigh. is the epicanthic fold a fault now, or simply out of vogue?

and it is not just about the size or the weight… there’s age, hair color/texture/length/style, height, eye color, the plumpness of the lips, the nose ridge, etc., etc. the woman’s breast has to either be augmented or reduced, but definitely has to be lifted, same as the tummy, the face and the chin. everything has to rise upward. the collagen to plump up the lips, BOTOX® to smoothen the wrinkles… and these are among the mildest measures available. some people just drastically want to change their whole face/body.

JUDGING THE COVER

then there are those people who are born with “it”… the x-factor. now i am not saying that all good-looking people are dumb, not at all… but those who are dumb yet breathtakingly beautiful, attractive at the very least…  do seem to get away with it. they seem to have it easy. and sometimes, these beautiful creatures need not lift a finger… nor exert any effort to get things done their way… the commoners 🙂 simply react to the heavenly creatures life sends their way… unable to avert their gaze, reduced to servants at the sight of such beauty… captivated, hypnotized.

as life would have it, there are people who are pleasant to look at with the good manners to match, just as we know of certain angelic looking creatures masking the vilest of tempers and the greyest of dispositions. one way or another, there are times when a book may be judged by its cover. an impertinent looking person who is by all means rude… a rotund individual who is a bit of a glutton, a gaunt, miserly character who has enriched himself because of avarice.  then there are people we term as downright “ugly” possessing the kindest, most generous and affectionate of hearts. oh well, who are we to judge?

BEAUTY ACROSS TIME & ACROSS CULTURES

it has oft been quoted that “beauty is in the eyes of the beholder”… a statement that holds true as we take a quick tour across the centuries and across different societies asking the same question: what is beautiful?

during the corset’s heyday, women had waistlines as tiny as 18 inches (or less). it is no wonder fainting spells were common among women during that period… dizziness having been attributed as a highly feminine trait. the women spent hours and hours of pushing & squeezing in whatever fat their bodies possessed, binding themselves in the corset with laces and stays usually made of whalebone or metal and yards & yards of ribbons. the corset was actually used by both men and women, but has been more commonly associated with females since it kept the waistline to a minimum while overemphasizing the size of the bust and hips… thus creating the “hour glass figure” and a more desirable posture since  its binding effect would force the wearer’s shoulders back.

corset-back-front-drawing

in olden France, especially during the reign of Louis XIV well until Louis XVI, both men and women used cosmetics, high heeled shoes, wore beauty marks (shaped like stars or hearts) and clothes/accessories with ribbons, silk and lace. people glided like ballerinas and rules of proper behavior and decorum were strictly followed by ladies and gentlemen of the court. men “beautified” themselves as much as the women did, wearing powdered wigs, stockings and plenty of ruffles.

the painful ancient foot binding practice in China has always been a source of fascination for social scientists and for those who consider it a cultural curiosity. one explanation given for this tradition which began among the wealthiest of the upper class is that tiny feet (which usually did not allow the owner to walk unaided) were considered a mark of social standing and great wealth. poor womenfolk had to help out in the fields and undertake all kinds of manual labor, hence, may not have done this so for practical reasons.

bound feet 1

the upper class, on the other hand, saw the process of keeping the feet of their daughters tiny as a symbol of the lack of need for their girls to labor since they have been born into lives of privilege. their “golden lilies” were bound and this binding procedure involved breaking the arch of the foot, making them basically club-footed. it is said that the gentle swaying movement (called the Lotus Gait) brought about by the imbalanced footing attracted men sexually. in the novel THE GOOD EARTH, nobody wanted to marry O-lan because of her big “man feet”… apparently, the foot binding practice later permeated even the lower echelons of society. this practice was later banned and outlawed with the advent of communism.

4389639518_a8a56a73b3_z

using neck rings, on the other hand, is a practice most often associated with some African and Asian societies. among the Kayan tribe in the area bordering Myanmar and Thailand, the women begin to wear neck rings during childhood. as the girl grows older, additional brass rings are placed around her neck to elongate it — a symbol of beauty in their culture. the coils of brass push down the clavicle (collarbone) and the ribs causing some degree of trauma on the neck blood vessels and leading to the atrophy of the neck muscles that have become too dependent on the support of the brass rings.

in the Philippines, women who are described as “balbon” have very fine hair on their skin and are considered attractive by most, if not all. in other places such as the US and Middle East, women take great pains in keeping themselves relatively hairless, save for the scalp area. women undergo painful waxing procedures to keep up with this standard of beauty. the hot wax product that has to be sloshed onto the area and the sudden tearing off of hair from areas of tender  flesh will make even the boldest man recoil and scream in agony… but a lot of women go through this process almost as if it were an essential part of the mating ritual.

Sammy-Sosa-Skin-Bleaching

in Asia, some naturally tan women rub on whitening soap, whitening lotion and consume tablets of glutathione and vitamin C just to have fairer complexions. others take it to the extreme and go through bleaching procedures that render them immobile for hours, and a few get some physical evidence of their folly when they get scarred by the chemicals used. and mind you, a lot of “beauty” bleaching products contain carcinogenic ingredients. some Caucasian women, on the other hand, go to tanning salons or actually expose themselves to the sun to bronze their skin running the risk of getting skin cancer or melanoma.

overtanning

there are a million other ways of illustrating how different people define beauty in whatever way they can, and try to live up to the standards they set… even at the expense of their health and well-being.

JUDGING DAILY

every single day we find ourselves in different places and sizing up people (usually with them not knowing) even if it is just for amusement. we make judgments, form opinions… even come up with scenarios/stories whose sole basis (most of the time) is the appearance of the object of our scrutiny.

we are not always wrong… there are women who dress up in leather, lace, fishnet stockings and sequins who do turn out to be prostitutes… and there are men whose getup makes them seem like the gigolos they truly are. there are those women whose sole fashion style seems to belong to the 50s… dress dowdily or primly and you won’t find it a surprise that such women really are conservative. but where do you think that fantasy involving a prim & proper miss turning into a sexy vixen come from? hahaha…

it IS funny… but such fantasies and others like it stem from the recognition that sometimes… there really IS something beyond the façade of beauty or ugliness… and there are some things not seen with the naked eye… we accept that we can make errors of judgment, but the beauty… oh the beauty… we are all slaves to it one way or another.

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as for the babies… the babies… it doesn’t matter if your son or daughter inherited too much of the angular features of his/her side of the family… or the beaky (or broad, flat) nose… or the squinty eyes… or whatever feature(s)  you think will make others see your child as less than cute, handsome or pretty…  we should… must try to give them a good head start in life, even when faced with the insurmountable criteria of beauty and odds built by the society we are born into.

and for us, now,  who claim to be non-slaves to social and cultural conformity (yeah, right)… why do we dye our hair? pluck our eyebrows? shave our beards? secretly purchase those growth tablets being advertised on the Home TV Shopping channel? is it for our personal comfort? our health? or is it because we feel that doing this will make us look and feel better?

only you and i know the true answer.

tall/short, fair/dark, au naturel/hairless, blond/brunette, fat or thin…?

i don’t really care. but  pleeease… don’t make me shave my legs. 🙂 🙂 🙂

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

Pok-pok ka ba Kabayan?

Please pardon my words (although I am not really sorry).

THE PEOPLE IN THE AIRPLANE CLAPPED WHEN WE WERE ABOUT TO LAND… WHY?

Unlike a lot of people who’ve come to Dubai… with very high expectations… seeing the city as the answer to their dreams (reminds me of Dick Whittington dreaming of London and its streets paved with gold)… I had no such preconceived notions. I didn’t even want to come here in the first place, but I did come, since my dad suggested it would help me in preparing for the future… financially of course. I knew nothing of Dubai. I only heard of Abu Dhabi coz that’s where my aunts were… one of them has been in the UAE (Abu Dhabi) for about 27 years… and one after the other, members of our clan followed suit. But I was never curious enough to look it up or get to know anything about this country.

When I first arrived, I was scared of the mostly bearded men I saw in the airport, the strange noises, voices I could hear but could not comprehend. I was disoriented and frightened.  I kept remembering how my dad used to talk about the way of life in Saudi Arabia where it was so strict that he could not even bring pictures which showed some of us wearing sleeveless tops from the Philippines, even if they were just family pictures. So I was thinking, it can’t be so different here since the place is inhabited and owned by Arabs.

HARASSMENT AS A WAY OF LIFE

I stayed with my aunts in Abu Dhabi for a couple of months while waiting to get a job. And what shocked me out of my soon-to-be-proven-false ideas was the fact that although any kind of immorality is taboo (the same for most societies… although the definition of immorality is relative in different cultures) and, if proven true, heavily penalized, women could and men could, if they wanted to… they could do as they wished as long as they remained “discreet.” It’s like saying “to see is to believe”… you’ll be fine as long as you don’t get caught or put yourself in a compromising position that may lead to your exposure. I was even more shocked to know that there are actually prostitutes here and that women (& men) can and do get sexually harassed on a daily basis.

Case in point, I can’t recall how many times I have been harassed by taxi drivers while I was in Abu Dhabi. So there I was, a ‘normal’ friendly person… they make small talk… how are you? are you a kabayan? Segué No.1: I have never gotten used to saying this kabayan thing, don’t know why, but I have never completely gotten it into my system, coz honestly, I treat fellow Filipinos here the same way I do back home, with politeness, that is all… neither do I use the term “my friend” (friend is a much maligned word here) in addressing strangers who are non-Filipinos… anyway, I understood later that if you are a “kabayan,” it means you are a Filipino… Filibini they say… so, when thus  addressed, I say, yes I am. They usually only know about Manila or Cebu… don’t know why… maybe it’s because there’s a lot of them here? Simple observation would lead one to believe that Manileños and Cebuanos outnumber other Filipino ethnic groups, but I don’t have statistical info to confirm this. If they ask, I usually say I live in a place near Manila, that’s all.

So small talk is fine. Or so I thought. When I told my aunt, she said don’t talk to them at all… talking is considered a kind of propositioning. And yeah, I did get to know better. And it wasn’t just the taxi drivers. One time I was so late for my Arabic class that I ended up hitching a ride. I was waiting for a cab as usual, but there were hardly any, they didn’t stop coz they’d have a passenger already. And it was that time of day, around 2pm, when most people would be taking their afternoon break from work, including the cab drivers. Anyway, one car stopped and when this guy opened his window, I saw that he was a respectable looking Arab guy who seemed to be in his 40s. He offered me a ride. So I got in and there it was again, the small talk. Anyway, it was time for me to get off so I politely thanked him and said goodbye. Then he asked for my number. He must have thought, there I was, jobless & alone and maybe needed help… still, I said I have been told not to give my number to strangers. But I did hitch a ride he said. If I didn’t trust him, why did I get in his car in the first place. He was right. Not yet licensed 🙂 in giving fake numbers (but what they do sometimes is give a “miss call” to your face just to make sure… clever huh?!?), so I gave him my number. After that, he kept calling me. I didn’t answer. He got tired eventually.

One taxi driver just kept talking to me even when I stopped being polite. He was an old Pakistani chap… maybe in his late 40s or early 50s. Anyway, since I heard about women being harassed, even raped… I began to arm myself with a cutter. No fight without a struggle. I was just there staring ahead when he started to talk about the prostitutes there. He said Filibini expensive, but very very good. Filibini No. 1. Filibini very clean, smell good. Chinese ok 20 dirhams, then he turned around and said, come with me to my home 30 minutes only. I kept my cool. I shook my head and said, sir, I am late for my Arabic language class. My teacher is waiting for me. I don’t need to call my aunt and the police do I? Then he smiled and said, no problem. No problem.

My Mexican classmate wasn’t spared either. Married to a Lebanese-American guy, they had moved to Abu Dhabi since his work required it. That time, she still did not have a car and had to take cabs like I did. She told me of how one driver stared at her from his rearview mirror and tried to make small talk. She found herself pulling down her skirt to cover her knees and uncomfortably waiting to get to our school.

In Dubai, an old cab driver actually jacked off while I was inside the cab… God, what shit one has to go through… I was ready to cut that thing off… then I had to rethink my plan of action, I was still on visit visa and about to exit to Qeshm so I just had to make sure he took me to my other aunt’s place since she had my ticket. Thank God I did. But ugh, that was an awful, awful thing. And if my dad or any of my relatives are reading this, I am sorry I never told you. It’s a memory so humiliating and scary that I consciously tried to forget about it.

THE PINAY IN THE UAE

They say (who are “they”? I don’t really know) that the Filipina (usually) in Dubai needs five boyfriends: one to feed her, one to clothe her, one to give her telephone credit, one to give her money and one to have sex with. Ridiculous isn’t it? Isn’t it? Or is it?

I am ashamed to say that when my non-Filipino friends talk about this idiopathic stereotype of the Pinay, I couldn’t think of an argument strong enough to stolidly defend my “kabayans.” All I can say most of the time is that they don’t normally do that back home… must be money problems… it’s kinda like what Emile Durkheim says of anomie – when moral guidance / norms set by society seem absent or  the feeling of normlessness sets in… which is not difficult to imagine when men and women are uprooted (voluntarily or by force of circumstances) from their habitat, from their society, with all of its cultural norms and values… and are allowed to ‘run amok’ in another country where they are basically anonymous. Known unknowns, or is it unknown knowns? Yeah, there’s always the passport, visa and labor card for practical purposes… but that’s as far as it goes. You have all these ‘identity cards’ to prove who you are… but here, in a foreign country, people are free to reinvent who they are. And that is precisely what is happening. Married people become single overnight. A 40-year-old woman is now a decade younger. A bum back home is a kind and responsible prospective boyfriend. A woman who knows rudimentary English is relied on so much by her Arab boss who believes she is the best English speaker he has ever known.

The possibilities are endless.

POK-POK KA BA KABAYAN (KABAYAN, ARE YOU A HOOKER)???

The Pinay… tired, worn out and disillusioned that she would ever be able to save anything (because really, this place takes more than what it gives to most)… bravely scopes the dating scene hoping she’ll find the right guy. But is there a right guy? Or is it because she’s just the wrong girl? Frustration after frustration… she suddenly realizes, if they can… why can’t I? if a man can’t be serious, why should I be? Then she starts dating several guys at one time… a different guy for a different day of the week. Her frustration tolerance reaches new heights and her heart no longer gets torn into pieces every time a guy stops calling. She’s cool about dating now… she has learned to play the field.

Doesn’t justify how this would affect her morality. Doesn’t justify her not caring if people see her and the rest of her “kabayans” as some sort of bimbos… women with loose morals… and the men, oh the men… Filipino guys are usually seen as a pathetic lot. Mostly gays (who are at least productive) and straight guys who are losers.  Segué No. 2: The reason why other expats here think that Filipino men are losers is that most Filipino expats here are women, and this, combined with the reasoning that a man should provide, leads them to conclude that since the Filipino men cannot ‘bring home the bacon’ so to speak, their women have to go out of the country just to earn money, however which way.

Doesn’t justify her realizing that some guys do trade money for sex.  Doesn’t justify her thinking that money problems back home seem neverending.  Doesn’t justify the fact that she doesn’t always have sex with the guy. Doesn’t justify the fact that her day job pays her only two thousand dirhams or so.

Now she eats at these posh places, sometimes a guy would take her to a not-so-trendy place, but hey, she gets a free meal and the next guy might be better off. She just has to be more strict with her standards. It could be Neos the next time around… or Madinat Jumeirah or Club Cavalli

But hey, there are some women who do earn a decent living but still do this. Any extra cash is welcome. Someone I know has been so frustrated with men that she dates several at a time, not for the money or freebies… but to shield herself from further disappointment. She loses either way ofcourse. But that is her way of coping. And she is not alone.

And of course, there are the true victims who are forced into it.

Kabayan my foot. Some women get pushed into prostitution by their fellow “kabayans.”

They are promised jobs here, usually in sales, they sell their property and even get into debt back home paying for the placement and endless processing fees… and when they get here, their passport is taken away… and are taken directly to a hotel where a client is waiting to be ‘serviced.’ This form of human exploitation is one of the worst of evils.  And mind you, most of these women had white collar jobs back home and almost always are degree holders.

Tsk, tsk, tsk…

 THE LUCKY ONES

Of course there are a few Filipinas here who may be considered successful, in their careers or in their search for love, or both.

A career that gives a woman a great amount of financial freedom is a major accomplishment. Finding a guy who is a keeper is an even more major achievement. Having both is like… wow, the best of both worlds. These are the women who have a choice. They are the ones who, alone, can make or unmake their source of fulfillment.

And I have very little to say about them since they are a minority.

I am happy for them. That is all.

WHAT TO DO YANI?

Up until now, I am seen as easy. Every Pinay is seen as easy.

No woman is spared, whatever the nationality, from the leers, the stares… of the men who stop to look at us from head to foot, pausing somewhere in the middle… and slyly smiling. It doesn’t matter if you’re almost naked or wearing a shirt and jeans. We’re all the same to them. Just women. Just Filipinas.

Kumusta ka? Kumain ka na? Kabayan! It’s the other foreigners who say this to the Filipina.. thinking it might impress her or get her attention. It’s stupid and presumptuous, but sometimes it works.

A car would suddenly stop in front of you and the driver would say, can I be your friend? I will give everything you need. In the supermarkets… the same thing happens.

In fact, you can get propositioned anywhere.

It’s a crappy, crappy feeling to be seen as some kind of object… and I cringe at the thought that this guy knows I am a “kabayan” and that is why he is brazenly propositioning me…

I have been taught to value who I am and be proud of my lineage, my origins, my country.

I am not your kabayan. I am a Filipina.

And I know that I am better than you.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

getting over…

getting over… sounds suspicious…hahaha. do we ever get over / under anything or anyone? idiomatically speaking? as an idiomatic expression, we find the term “get over IT”

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GET OVER IT

This is used when you need to forget something. 1) Sample: I can see that he hurt your feelings. You shouldn’t hold it against him. You need to get over it. 2) Sample: You’ll never get even with him. You need to get over it. Other related idiomatic expressions. 1) What’s done is done. 2) It’s water under the bridge.

From: http://www.eslteachersboard.com/cgi-bin/english/index.pl?read=2127

i would cite print references but my books have been left pretty much to themselves back home in the philippines, gathering dust and being eaten away by god-knows-what creatures… sigh.

so how do you get over (or under) anything? especially a breakup? suicidal tendencies aside (background music: Michael Bolton singing “How am I Supposed to Live Without You”)… most people i know would jump into the next “relationship” (or one night stand) for rebound relief. so much can be said of the rebound guy or rebound girl… in sex & the city, one of the three other characters (except Charlotte, i think, who’s actually the target of the comment) says that “… you’re not supposed to marry the rebound guy.” and it would be so like Samantha who’d have said: “you’re just supposed to have fun (with him) and move on…” like the Olympic torch, you grieve, get the rebound guy, rid yourself of bitterness and regret while having fun… pass him on to the next disaster case, and then move on to real dating. sigh. if only it doesn’t ever backfire. like they say, about the best-laid plans… they can & do get awry. so maybe you should ask your friends who eventually did get serious with their “rebound person”… did things work out? are they still together? married perhaps? or did they discover that giving something that casual a go simply was a big mistake?

then we can all learn from Addison Montgomery (played by Kate Walsh) of Grey’s Anatomy fame… you put him / her in a tiny little box and put that box in your pocket. better yet, throw it away, hehehe (evil!) or stick it somewhere, some place that will be eventually forgotten. well, that’s what she did with her ex-husband Derek (Patrick Dempsey) when they got divorced, put him in a teeny weenie box which she put inside her pocket. in a way, that would be some kind of “compartmentalization.”

Noun 1. compartmentalization – a mild state of dissociation

Compartmentalization, disassociation, dissociation – a state in which some integrated part of a person’s life becomes separated from the rest of the personality and functions independently

2. compartmentalization – the act of distributing things into classes or categories of the same type classification, compartmentalisation, assortment, categorisation, categorization grouping – the activity of putting things together in groups indexing…

From: http://www.thefreedictionary.com/compartmentalization

so what some people do is to relegate the ex in a certain part / section / chapter of his / her existence, a drawer in his / her life if you will, and keep the memories there… both hurtful and happy. what used to be a his & hers drawer is back to being a purely his or hers. alone again with a drawer or a box that will remain closed, tightly locked up… unless decided upon otherwise by the owner.

No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole;

Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!

Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,

Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.

How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot!

The world forgetting, by the world forgot.

Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!

Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d;

Labour and rest, that equal periods keep…

– Alexander Pope (Eloisa to Abelard)

in the movie, Jim Carrey’s character Joel and Mary (Kirsten Dunst) go through a procedure to erase memories of a loved one, basically to purge their lives of the pain of having to re-establish their lives as single people after intensely happy / painful relationships with their exes… Joel’s being the free-spirited Clementine (Kate Winslet) and Mary’s being Dr. Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson), the married doctor of Lacuna, the medical facility offering this memory erasure service. ofcourse, the procedure involves targeting specific memories associated with the subject to be erased. and all sensations, recollections, associations… both pleasant and unhappy, affection, dislike, elation, despair, suffering and joy… anything felt for the other person, any event associated with him / her, any fabric, hue, scent, weather, scenery… any object, any thing… will be obliterated, eradicated… no thing will be left. not even ashes. nothing.

on the other hand, Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow) offered her friend Rachel (played by Jennifer Aniston) her own pearl of wisdom as Rachel struggled to get over Ross (David Schwimmer) being in london for his wedding (to Emily Waltham). Phoebe, pregnant with her brother’s triplets, asked Rachel to get a picture of Ross. she instructed Rachel to look at the photo intently…. immediately after which phoebe gave her a quick slap on the cheek, calling it aversion therapy so that Rachel would associate pain with images of Ross. hilarious huh?!?

but don’t some people do that? try focusing on the pain and all the bad memories… him being a major asshole… her being a pain in the ass, a bitch. super asshole and super bitch… going over and over those times the person was late or never turned up, didn’t even bother to call nor send a message, those times you would see the person online… wondering why on earth your boyfriend / girlfriend is online and you are clearly online but he / she has chosen to ignore you. totally. completely. how compromising pictures of him / her with another girl / guy turn up on the net and you are the last one to know. or when you find out he / she invited all of his / her friends to his / her parent’s anniversary… but not you. or if he /she does get you in… you’d be introduced as one of the guys… oh wow, that must hurt… after eight months… eight f***ing months… one of the guys my ass! You did his / her term paper for him / her first and got yours in late… you could be neck deep in shit, cramming for your exam, buried in debt… but every time he / she calls… you come running… every single f***ing time. what a cliché… but clichés become clichés coz they are all too real… and all too common.

some women i know tear up his stuff into shreds… make a puzzle out of his favorite jersey… some guys try to run over the new boyfriend, burn his car (like how George behaved irrationally in Desperate Housewives)… destructive behavior… sometimes harmful to others and sometimes to oneself…

others grieve quietly and stay away from the light… huddled in the dark and drowning in tears. while some stoically look into the distance and act like nothing happened, keeping everything and everyone at bay. cold and untouchable. silently brooding.

but the pain, the need to forget… no matter how much we try to delude ourselves… is pretty darn real. we get hurt, maimed, damaged… by the very people we set our hopes on. the people we made plans with. even just secretly, to ourselves.

even in dead end relationships— i call them relationships with an expiration date, whether long or short term ones… where there is simply little to no chance of you ending up together, ever. ever. the loving can so easily overtake all rationality… the passion, all-consuming… after setting everything on fire, eventually leaves everything in ashes. all hopes and dreams shattered into smithereens… gone. and you, once more, are devastated, shipwrecked and alone on an island of desolation & despair. how pathetic. but many have been there. the pain sears through the flesh and you can literally feel your heart aching & your throat closing as you choke back the tears.

and I don’t wonder why, in the film “Someone Like You,” Ashley Judd’s character Jane wanted to have her amygdala removed… so she won’t have to associate certain smells with Ray (Greg Kinnear), the guy who dumped her to get back together with his ex after convincing Jane to give up her old apartment and move in together with him in a new expensive place where he failed to turn up when he was supposed to. Jane, unknowingly, had been used by Ray as his rebound girl. anyway, Jane survived.

i have survived several breakups… each time i thought it was the end of the world… the end of my world. and what is ironic is this, whether or not you initiated the breakup, the hurt doesn’t just go away, it doesn’t get any less. and, sorry to my exes… I behave this way: i return stuff. anything he purchased for me, i have to return it. one time a guy refused to pick up the stuff I wanted to return to him… so i sent it over by courier. hey, i know it’s not at all the best kind of behavior… but it works for me. he can just throw it away i guess. i can’t bring myself to dump it in the garbage or burn it… so I have to return it. pictures have no side effects on me so i usually just keep them.

you’ll have your own way of surviving… of getting over. whatever works for you is fine, as long as it doesn’t ruin you or the other. bridges may be burned… it doesn’t matter. the baggage tends to get heavy as we go through life, and we sometimes have to let go so we can move on with our lives. continue life among the living… with family & friends.

we all do. we must.

have to.

life has to go on. our goals must still be set.

we can eat our sorrow for a while and gain a few kilos 🙂

then we have to get back on our feet again, take the next step and start moving forward.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

no merit

i commiserate with the people who suffer on a daily basis because of their jobs. no, not because of hard, forced labor… but because they have to work and pretend they have not known better. they have to work in a place where their talent is wasted. their time. their intelligence. their lives.

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it’s sad enough that we have to leave our family and our friends behind, and yet here we are, humiliated some more, subjected to discrimination, to ridicule… and from people who know less than we do. we say so not because we feel superior, but because we know who we are and what we are capable of.

i always struggle with this… keeping my identity. it is so easy to lose oneself in a place where they always need someone Western educated or a native English speaker for that someone to do well in a high-paying, high status job.

we pass ourselves over. we are passed over. for the buck. have we sold our souls to the devil  just like dr. faust? for the sake of earning more than we do back home?

sometimes I whisper to myself, I AM WHO I AM. i am somebody. i was somebody. back home.

here, I am just a faceless asian. unremarkable.  ignorant.  ordinary. invisible.

and so we see hundreds of thousands of us Filipinos scrambling all over to get that elusive American citizenship our forebears could have handed down to us, had we allowed ourselves to continue to be governed by the great USA  a long time ago, just like the state of Hawaii (ironically, most of the people in Hawaii who are non-natives come from Japan and the Philippines – this influx began when the demand for workers to cultivate the farmlands/plantations was high). then there’s  also Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the UK and many others.

i want to go to Luxembourg. hahaha.

in the workplace where we expire in an achingly slow, painful process… we see people getting ahead as they kiss the biggest asses with the biggest pieces of shit in that teeny weeny kingdom where others lord it over people who may be their intellectual superiors, but since they got there first… and never thought of moving (coz they’re so scared of not making it anywhere else after being there for the last 15 years, hahaha :-)) , they are the status quo, they are in power.

It’s not what you know. It’s who you know. add to this your skin color, or, at least, your citizenship… and you’ll probably get way ahead of the pack. latch on like a leech onto the big fat ass of your big fat boss, and you might actually live. bloodsucker.

when I watched THE DARK KNIGHT… i felt a little joker well up inside of me as I mulled over my predicament in this worn out, overdone, made up place they call a city. which city? hazard a guess.

© Lovely Claire Dangalan, 2010

 

Where did my first draft go?

well i started typing. tried to create an impression. tried to be witty. typed. typed. typed. enumerating as many hyperboles as i could. citing antithetical nouns and phrases. and my work was saved (autosaved to be exact). or so i thought. then i saw my post and used the compare setting. in my confusion, i think i made too many comparisons with myself. hahaha. didn’t knowwhat i was doing. no, not a clue. then before i knew it… my screen turned black and was told that the matrix has got me. o n e  l e t t e r  a t  a  t i m e . i promptly closed the window. so here i am again. square one. i’ll see what happens. i’m new here. humor me.