Where to Next?

(bits and pieces of the past two months because I’m so far behind with blogging)

If there’s one thing I’ve learned about myself so far this year, it’s that I’m super restless. I have a chronic need to always have a plan, to learn things, to make things, to have a purpose. And so I immerse myself in pretty much anything that sparks my interest. Which is probably how I end up places, wondering how on earth I’ve gotten here.

That’s pretty much how this year has gone so far.

Oh, and most of it is recorded in this really nifty planner which I have turned into a visual journal.

Where to Next?

(As a side note: It’s obvious that this photo was taken on a really stressful day. There are very few occasions in which I’m willing to buy both dark chocolate and a cappuccino to calm my spirits.)

“Where to Next?” I like that. It implies a sense of completion and, at the same time, excitedly moving forward to the next new thing.  Oh, and the great thing about this planner is that the pages are, for the most part, unlined. So I had a bit of fun documenting my life in small doodles inspired by the work of @naomi_zz_kuwa.

A Visual Journal Page

Sketching stuff I’ve eaten, and memories of a twice-a-week zumba dancing session I’ve been going to. It’s been a long, long time since I’ve really danced but it’s always nice to get the feel of your own body.
A Visual Journal Page

We spent the Holy Week at my father’s home town. So one day we went out to visit some relatives and they didn’t say we would be going to the beach afterwards. So I didn’t bring any beach stuff and so, instead, sketched the beach people.

A Visual Journal Page

Some more things I’ve eaten, running at Pelaez Sports Center, a Calligraphy workshop (which we’ll get into in a bit), and brush pens I bought on impulse after a tip from a fellow art supply addict.


I’ve also taken to sticking receipts, labels and movie tickets in the pages. Just so I know what I’ve done that day. Here, I bought a pair of sunglasses because of the goddamn summer heat.

And also: vandalizing unapologetically on the photo pages with a white ink pen. I am so in love with white ink right now.

White ink on a photo pages of the Where To Next Planner. White ink on a photo pages of the Where To Next Planner.

(Poem credit to Nayyirah Waheed, who writes the shortest but most heartfelt poems I have ever seen.)

By the way, this one is a travel planner from Where to Next? which my boyfriend gave me (after claiming that he was keeping it for himself.) Admittedly, most of it is still blank because sometimes I’m too preoccupied with things to spare time for a doodle. (Or, more accurately, I tend to doodle pretty much everywhere and I forget to doodle on this one.)

So, those calligraphy classes I mentioned? Now, I must admit first that my writing has always been horrid. I was THAT kid in class whose papers got sent home with a footnote to “please improve your handwriting” much to the dismay of my mother, whose handwriting is pristine.

After a workshop by @sheilaleng, however, I’m convinced that if they had taught us to write with dip pens back in elementary school, my writing would be gorgeous af.

Calligraphy Workshop in CDO

Nobody ever said that calligraphy was so addicting, but I couldn’t stop for a while until I ran out of paper.

Calligraphy Workshop in CDO Calligraphy Workshop in CDO

Calligraphy Workshop in CDOI’m hoping I can snag a slot in a brush pen workshop during the summer, too.

Earlier this month, I also got a chance to be a Fellow at the first Cagayan de Oro Writer’s Workshop, which was so refreshing and eye-opening that it deserves an entire blog post of its own. Maybe soon. (Although do note that I have a habit of promising blog posts about something or another, and then forgetting about them.)

The First Cagayan de Oro Writer's Workshop

All that is just the tip of the iceberg of what happened in the past two months. I hardly believe it’s only been two months myself!

OK, so the reason behind this seemingly random, patchwork blog post is that I just wanted to get caught up with blogging. There are so many things I still need to write about but I figure I needed to kickstart it a bit.

Hopefully, I’ll be posting more frequent and more organized entries in the next few months. There are so many new, exciting things happening and I can’t wait to tell you all about them.

In the meantime here’s a photo of my dog to distract you from the fact that I’m not sure how to end:



Things I Learned from #NaNoWriMo2015

I consider myself a writer not because I love writing.  After all, writing some things can be just about as pleasurable as hitting your head against a brick wall.  I consider myself a writer because, for me, it is the form of communication and expression that flows most naturally.

Which is why for the last half of the year, it has been frustrating not to be able to write a lot of personal work, even if only blog posts. There hasn’t been a lot of art either. And for those of you who understand, you know this is very unhealthy for passion, patience and imagination.

So in November, I challenged myself to take on National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo. NaNoWriMo is a yearly challenge to write a 50,000 word novel.

I did not win (i.e. reach 50k) this year, either, but I did manage to write a complete story. Which I think is OK considering it’s a Holmes-inspired mystery story and Holmes stories aren’t that long to begin with. (I even wrote parts of the prequel and the sequel to pad up the novel.) Here’s what I learned:

  1. Work in sprints. Word sprints were challenges in which you set your timer to a set number of minutes (could be as short as five, or as much as thirty). And then you type like crazy, your word speed sometimes exceeding your thought speed sometimes with comical results. Had I gone on word sprints every day, I would have gone past 50k words. (But unfortunately, a few out-of-town activities kind-of ruined that.) The value in sprints is that it forces you to think on the paper (or computer screen). Thoughts are nice. Thoughts are good. But they will remain thoughts forever until you make them tangible. Once they are concrete words in front of you, then you become free to revise, to correct, to expound, to explain, to rephrase, to rearrange. But at the very beginning of any creative process, the most important thing is to simply let it all flow.* Sprints are something that I want to apply to my everyday life.
  2. I am a planner. As opposed to the pantsers, who just wing it all through November. (I tried pantsing on my first NaNo and… my novel just became confused.) Which is probably why I’m chronically cranky at things that are poorly planned. (This has something to do with hospital training where, even if someone suddenly and unexpectedly drops dead in front of you, everything you do and the location of everything you need has been preordained.) It’s always handy to know your own working style. That’s not to say that you’re going to be entirely inflexible, though. It’s just that your working style is the one that will usually require the least effort, and is less likely to make you tired and give up in the middle of it.
  3. Always carry a notebook (or at least something to write on). My best ideas usually come at inopportune moments. In the bathroom. On public transportation. When I’ve woken up at three in the morning. In the middle of a meeting. There never has to be an excuse not to jot that idea down, even if it’s only a quick note in my phone or a doodle on a piece of paper. Granted, I don’t use every single idea I come up with. But writing it down also makes it concrete enough for me to determine its usefulness. As opposed to agonizing over forgetting a fantastic idea that in reality wasn’t going to make it in the novel anyway.
  4. Lots of self-care. Get enough sleep. Eat healthy and eat delicious. Drink lots of water. Freshen up with a bath. Brush your teeth. Floss. Take a walk. Phone a friend. Drink lots of coffee. Although this may also require a bit of self awareness. Personally, I can do anything on an empty stomach but if I’ve lost just an hour of sleep my concentration goes down the drain. (Admittedly, one of the reasons why I didn’t do any more sprints by the third week was that I had lost a lot of sleep to the aforementioned out-of-town trips.)
  5. “Problems of output are problems of input.” I posted a link to this post by Austin Kleon on my facebook during NaNo. It’s a short read, but very enlightening. Basically: “In other words: all writers are readers first. When I stall out, it’s time to start taking things in again: read more, re-read, watch movies, listen to music, go to art museums, travel, take people to lunch, etc. Just being open and alert and on the lookout for That Thing that will get me going again. Getting out the jumper cables and hunting down a battery.” So guess what? Being busy with NaNo wasn’t an excuse not to curl up to a good old mystery novel after all.

* Although for goodness’ sake, this does not mean that you are allowed to submit this first draft to your editor just because it’s “something”. As someone who edits, I cannot express the amount of energy it takes not to strangle everyone who submits me their incoherent first draft and expect ME to make it work.

When skills become like roadkill on a rainy day

Right after I graduated from college, I would sometimes read stuff that I wrote as a student. Some of them were even published. And I’d be like: was I really such a horrible writer? How did crap like this even get published?

Today, I stumbled upon story drafts wrote a couple of years ago but never finished. And I can’t help but be like: damn, this is SO gooood. Too good, in fact.

And then I look at the stuff I write now and I’m like: What happened? Did my skills actually degrade? What happened to getting better over time? Can I PLEASE have that me back? You know, just until I finish a book or two (or three or four)?

Dear Hazel:

Spoiler alert: the future is awesome.

If you could see yourself right now, you’d be pretty damn proud. You have helped heal the sick. You have helped change the world. You are able to draw and paint anything you please. You talk to people, and then write their stories. You’ve been to places you’ve never even imagined. You’ve done things you thought you could never do before. All in all as I said: awesome.

I am telling you this so you know that life does get better. Perhaps it does not feel that way. But you know what? Your struggles and your pains are not yours alone to bear. All over the world, thousands of people feel the same fears, insecurities and uncertainty as you do. You are not alone.

I know exactly the advice you need to get through it:

First, do not be ashamed of your love of solitude. Do not make excuses for it. It’s OK to want to be alone. The things you do in your solitude will define you and mold you.

Just be yourself, cliché as it may sound. Every single person has their own opinion of what everyone else should be. They will want you to be fatter or thinner, or smarter or stupider, or passive or assertive, or more silent or more talkative. Do not give a damn. Only by being you can you give your own unique contribution to the world. Being different is OK. Embrace it.

Instead of trying to please others, understand them. Everyone is going through a struggle. Everyone has a story. Someone once said: “There isn’t anyone you couldn’t learn to love, once you‘ve heard their story.” Don’t be afraid to love people this way. And stories will make you understand where you’ve come from and where you’re going. Only in listening to the stories of others will you discover your own.

Finally, always make time for your art. If needed, just drop everything else to do it. Art is your voice. Your work is your soul. Creation is your identity. Remember that. If you do not have time for your creative work, you neither have the time nor the ability for anything else at all.

And while I wait for you in this moment where I am right now, I find comfort in knowing that whether you follow my advice or not I know that you will still be fine.

See you soon.

Much love,

Your older self

Dear Me is a Youtube campaign for Women’s Day (March 8) 2015. I do not have an active Youtube channel, but I figured I’d like to write to my younger self anyway. 🙂

Once a nurse…

It’s confusing and slightly offensive when people introduce me as a “nurse who is no longer a nurse”. I often don’t counter it out of politeness. But that last one was one too many. (Oh, and the wording was annoying.)

I don’t directly work in health care at the moment, but I am quietly determining whether the state of your skin is because of kidney problems or dehydration. Or looking for clues to confirm my suspicion that you have diabetes because I noticed that your breath smelled fruity a bit earlier. (Although I never mention it because it would seem out of place in the middle of a meeting or an interview.) Or that I’m still using slightly modified nursing tools for the job, because nothing comes close in efficiency and effectiveness. Or that I took an online course on health and society in between working hours. (Because when all is said and done, studying strategies in increasing life expectancy is still way more interesting than writing reports about places I never see anymore.)

Really, since when did anyone’s job decide what they are or what they are not?