Of Shoe Obsessions and Our Blasé Approach to ‘Stuff’

The Imelda Marcos Shoe Museum (foto c/o http://www.everydayminimalist.com)

The news of the ouster of the dictator, Ferdinand Marcos – who embezzled billions of development funding from the Philippines, did not cause nearly as much controversy as the image and resulting mythology of Imelda Marcos’ something-thousand shoes. In a flash, the 3,000 pairs of shoes became more than just a symbol of corruption, they exposed a shoe obsession that many women and men the world over happily participate in.

The event legitimized a level of excess and gave it caché, even influencing language with the introduction of the term ‘Imeldiffic’ into the Merriam Webster dictionary.  While I appreciate the lightheartedness in all this, the fact that Imelda’s shoes eclipsed such epic levels of corruption and embezzlement was a harbinger of society’s desensitization to excess and its overall blasé approach towards accumulation.  Twenty years later, we found ourselves in a society that celebrated largesse at all cost, so that Sex and the City’s Carrie could be late on her rent and still buy her Manolos and Mr. & Mrs. Joe Regular could buy a top-of-the-line Harley Davidson by getting a second mortgage or maxxing out all their credit cards.

The Bullets We Dodge

When I received my first holy communion in 1978 my great grandmother Abo Mon (Abuela Montserrat Viaplana) gave me an 18K gold scapular — on one side, the Virgin Mary; on the other, the Sacred Heart of Jesus. For years wearing that scapular on a chain around my neck made me feel bulletproof. Somehow, having Jesus that close to my heart gave me the sense that no harm would tarnish my newly blessed state of sinlessness. Looking back, I wonder what bullets a sheltered convent school girl needed to dodge. The biggest sins I imagine I committed had to do with untruths, lies of no real consequence, stealing a piece of candy or a sticker.

As flower girl, rendered bullet proof by the scapular I am wearing underneath the fancy gown

Eight years after, this sheltered convent school girl turned left-leaning chick in the ‘godless’ college she went to. Perhaps it was Abo Mon who needed to be bullet proof at that point as her great grand daughter left the sheltered proper world that contained her quite contentedly to forray into a less structured and far less rigid world beyond. At some point, a link in the chain broke perhaps ominously. I still have the scapular, I keep it treasured in a safe place. I just don’t think it’s enough to make me feel bulletproof anymore.

It is no longer about sin these days, it is about the glorious. It is about finding the light deep within and turning it on, on, on so I can see with compassion. It is about pursuing the purity of joy, so I can bring joy wherever I go. It is about unlocking the creativity, so I find that blissful spiritual place within me. It is about breaking rules that hold me back, so I can contribute to progress and advancement.

In search for my inner light, bulletproofing from within

The bullets, they are personal. They strike at the core, calling me and my kind words meant to take us down. What they cannot understand, they take apart in attempt to diminish. What they cannot tolerate, they segregate. Fortunately, I now know that I am as bulletproof as I need to be. The core is strong, the light shines bright and the tribe is steadfast. The naysayers are not plenty, at least not in the circles that compel me. In the end the bullets they launch ricochet right back to them, because all they do is reveal bigotry, small mindedness and unwarranted self-righteousness.

What’s the bigger sin, then — to see yourself holier than the rest of us, or to relentlessly pursue the divine in the glory of your humanity?

The Places We Find Love

Having lucked out by being very close to my family of birthand thoroughly enjoying their company and counsel, the family I would choose to have would still include many members of the family I was born into. We don’t just like each other, we enjoy hanging out too. Across generations. As a teen I spent two weeks of a summer vacation with Nana in our family’s vacation home up north in Baguio and loved it. These days, I email, skype, text, travel and socialize with family in ways that now involve three generations. And if Nana & Abuelo were still around it would involve four generations.

A family foto in progress, this is four generations of our brood at a family reunion in 2009

I was saddened when I realized this was not the case for every family. It made me wonder what wonderful quirk my family had that made this possible. What lucky star lights our skies. And the answer is as simple as it is profound. It is in our family that we first found love, and throughout each of our journeys we continue to find love in our family. Especially closest in, among my siblings it seems over time we keep finding places for more love and admiration.

With my brother and sister on a European road trip in 2000, yes we are hams and yes we love that

My sister and I have taken very different paths in life but our diverting journeys have only led to a convergence of hearts. We are even venturing into an online business together, but that’s the subject of future tales. Recently I had the great bonus of spending time in London through long business trips every two months. My brother lived there, he is ten years younger than me and through that time we spent together I got to know and respect the man that he has become. Now as adults, we have the strongest of connections and the best of times together. And even if we aren’t always in the same city, through the years these connections just deepen and strengthen. My cousins and I have always been close to each other, and now that we are all grown up and many have started families of their own this closeness and affection truly has leveled up.

Here comes the invasion of the next generation

As a new generation invades and warms up our family of friends, they are teaching us new places to find love. We have found it in places so deep, you’d swear it’s carried in the genes. And surely it is, but it gets better. Around four years ago the bright eyed Victor with a smile to melt the hardest heart came into our family and taught us all new places to find love. And wait, it gets even better. This Christmas, we are blessed with another angel who joins us to show us! My dear Stella, I loved you from the day you became my niece.

The heart grows and find places for love. In this family the heart certainly grows.

Why Do We Give Our Humanity Such a Bad Rap?

There was a progressive nun (yep, I said it) at my Catholic all girls’ school who offered that Jesus came to earth to show us how to be human. Au audacious offering from a person of the cloth, but I liked it then. A lot. Like it still 25+ years later. I don’t really get why we give our humanity such a bad rap. Surely, the dolphins celebrate their dolphinity just as anyone who has seen a falcon in flight knows how fully it possesses its own majesty.

Before the world of technology boomed as it has, the phrase ‘I’m only human’ was often the default to explain ones failings and mistakes. There is even a song from my days of youth that expounds on the subject…he tells her: I’m only human, of flesh and blood I’m made. Human, born to make mistakes…she responds to him: these tears I cry aren’t tears of pain, they’re only to hide my guilt and shame…while we were apart, I was human, too.”

When did all this start, this distrust of our human nature? What tyrant thought up this massively destructive second guessing? After we start distrusting ourselves, how are we ever going to trust each other? When we tune out our human instincts, we disconnect from our best nature.

How do we begin the undoing? How do we start seeing our humanity in a better light? How do we start seeing each other in a better light?

The Divinity of Our Beautiful Mortality

A priest once told me that one of the reasons we long for the coming of God is this: At the moment of our birth God shows a glimpse of his face to us, and from that point on our souls crave that beautiful godliness. The accuracy of this man made account is of less value to me than the uncharacteristic upbeatness it describes. Where I grew up, the Catholic practice was less about guilt and more about hope.

As I came to form my own fundamentals, taking from the Catholic teachings what worked for me and leaving the rest behind, it became clear that the divine possibility of man was to be found in the pursuit of one’s beautiful godliness. Spirit works so specifically in each one, and this pursuit varies from person to person. Picture a world of godliness in progress. Picture a space on the planet where everyone fully occupies our divine possibility. Picture louderarts Monday nights at the Bar 13 where spirit moves spirit and word illuminates man’s godliness. Picture steamy nights of salsa, when rhythm matches heartbeat and hipsways consecrate woman godly.

The big bonus of our mortality is that we are surrounded by opportunities for godliness. Perhaps the question we must all deal with is less about our own mortality, and more about the divinity of our beautiful humanity.

Is Intimacy About the Exclusive or the Inclusive?

Earlier today my ex-co workers and I found ourselves in an impromptu conference via yahoo messenger. We like to stay connected like this. I’ve always enjoyed exploring concepts and expanding my thinking through our discussions. We learn so much from each other. Our online and offline conferences cover a range of topics, and today we waxed intimacy.

Pepper Feraren at my 2007 leaving do in Manila. He's got a great mind even greater heart

With Eileen Borromeo in London, attempting a faux call to Pepper

Are we the keepers of intimacy or is intimacy the keepers of us? Is intimacy about fences that hold us in or an absence of fences that lets us be? Is intimacy exclusive? In other words, for intimacy to deepen does it need to be kept to a small tight circle? How tight must the circle be, how exclusive? Does introducing other people into the circle threaten intimacy? Or…Is intimacy inclusive? In other words, for intimacy to grow do individuals need expansive experiences that are just theirs? Do solo pursuits bring people closer or pull them apart? Does introducing individual experiences threaten a shared intimacy?

I don’t know about you, but I lean towards the inclusive end of the spectrum. The notion of barriers that lock people in and block others off makes me uncomfortable. It seems unnatural and overly controlled. On the other hand, the notion of wide open spaces piques my interest. It seems supportive and expansive. If I had to choose between two paths to intimacy, I’d opt for an inclusive, expansive one. Strongly believing that what is good for the individuals in any relationship is unquestionably good for the relationship, I know that enriching oneself can only enrich the relationship.

I have the good fortune of being in a loving relationship of mutual respect and advocacy. My beau and I advocate an inclusive approach that makes room for each one’s needs even when this takes us somewhere unfamiliar, even slightly uncomfortable. I find myself more audacious and open than I have ever been, because I know my partner has my back. I know I am loved with no conditions, I am accepted as I am and celebrated for all that I can be. It may not be for everyone, and it is not always easy to navigate (we are making it up as we go!) but it really works for us.

How do you approach intimacy in your life? Are you more about exclusion, or is it more of an inclusion thing for you and yours?