169.0: Five stars.
It’s three in the morning. I’m still up. I’m tired but I’m not sleepy. I will have to make myself fall asleep soon, though. Even though I start work late, it will be a closing shift, so I will be at the store for eight hours. Naps are hard to come by.
I guess I’m up because my mind is racing with thoughts about choices that have to be made in the coming weeks. Many of those choices are beyond my reach — what I mean is, I put them in motion, but now I’m just waiting to see if what I’ve put out there will come back to me. Sorry if that sounds cryptic. I’m anxious, and superstitious. Besides those two words, here’s another good word: career.
Anyway, you will never guess what happened on Sunday. My church voted three new people into the leadership body. Guess who one of those three people is?
I can’t believe it, either. Imagine: me, on a team helping make important choices about our church. Fools! I hope they know what they’ve gotten themselves into.
I kid. But I still can’t believe it. That kind of trust is unbelievable to me. I just don’t think I’m capable of convincing anyone that I’m good enough to be on a leadership anything, let alone for a church. This isn’t just some side volunteer gig for me, Linc. I really believe that God is there — well, technically, God is everywhere. But I think God is especially at my church. I don’t know why He should be there more than in any other church. Our congregation is small. Honestly, the outlook is tenuous — were it not for how solidly we hold such present promise.
That night after service, I went home and polished a Yelp review of the church. It had been lying dormant because I could never quite find the right words to say. I must have hit backspace and delete a hundred times and canceled the posting several more times before I finally sent it through that night.
Here it is:
I’m kind of guy crazy. I see them on the bus and I think about how good they look in those jeans or how sexy that necktie is. I work with them and pay attention to the ones who make me laugh the most or who read the same books that I do, or who have the same tastes in TV and movies. When I was in my 20s, I liked to go out dancing with my friends just to be with other guys under the burn of pulsating strobe lights and sweat to the music of Beyonce and Britney. This year I will be 31, and while I was never that frequent of a clubber in the first place, I’m even less of one now, and I’ll be lucky if I can meet someone my age who hangs out at the older-skewing Yoshi’s, for example, or the library. (Let’s face it: my idea of a wild time these days is reading in the library until the 15-minute warning is announced over the loudspeakers.) Having lived in San Francisco for 13 years, I’m practically a native. Moving to San Francisco from suburban Maryland as soon as I graduated high school was natural and even inevitable: not only had I known that I was gay for a very long time, but I also considered myself an aspiring writer, even a tortured artist — ah, the conceits of youth.
That may not sound like the profile of a church-going Christian. I am a Filipino and, as many of you might guess, I was raised Catholic. I know that Catholicism is fraught with many serious issues, and in fact when I was a teen I did my share of rebellion. (Fun fact: I was never even confirmed. When I was 13, my mom tried to enroll me in confirmation class, but we got into an especially explosive argument and confirmation never happened.) But I’ve mellowed in my old age, and I respect, even revere, my Catholicism as part of my heritage and upbringing. All through high school, I thought that I was a Republican. It seemed like the right fit for a Catholic (albeit a Catholic in the closet). When I reached voting age, I backed Steve Forbes in the primary, and when the election ultimately came down to the ruling of the Supreme Court, I led a prayer circle for the election of George W. Bush.
The decade that followed was as revelatory for me as it surely is for anyone in their twenties. I left behind those Republican days, went Green for a while, and when I departed my twenties I had become something of a moderate. Now I believe that the important work that we do for ourselves, for our loved ones, for country and for humanity isn’t something that can be accomplished through extremes but through reason, reflection, and the unfolding of time itself. Was it Ecclesiastes that said there is a season for everything?
I’m telling you so much about myself to give you an idea of the kind of Christian I am and hopefully an idea of the kind of church this is. Picking a church, even admitting to yourself that you are the least bit interested in trying out a church, is an intense and an intensely subjective decision. There are many ideas floating around about what it means to be Christian, what it means to be religious, or spiritual, or neither one — to believe or not to believe, that is the question. Mission Bay Community Church isn’t here to give easy answers. Moving forward is never easy but progress and progressive thought are the guiding forces here. This church puts faith into action — ask them about this wildly successful thing they do called the Excelsior Community Food Pantry. This church is aware of the world — ask them about a recent sermon about human trafficking, for example, or talk to the pastor about how awesome and challenging it is to be a woman in her field. This church breaks the mold. That’s what I’ve learned since I dropped by in June 2011, and stuck around.
When I look at other church congregations, especially those so-called “megachurches,” I don’t see me. I’m a gay person of color who is itchy to start a family. I’m still an aspiring writer. I voted for Barack Obama, twice. My heroes are my dad, my mom, Hillary Clinton, and all the women and especially all the moms of this church. I’m a huge Trekkie, I think too much, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I believe that you should have cake on your birthday no matter how old you are, I don’t always open up when I should, and I think the Giants are the most magical baseball team this side of Dyersville. When you visit our church, you will most certainly meet me, but you will also see white people, black people, Asians, Latinos, hipsters, do-gooders, same-sex families, interfaith couples, newlyweds, and singletons like me who are always searching. The congregation is small, but growing, and insanely dedicated. We’re there for each other. We also lead our own lives: teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, musicians and, yes, writers. I see myself in this congregation. Maybe you might see yourself, too.
A lot of people find our church through Yelp. Sometimes they even stumble find us using Google. I like that. It shows how modern we are. Even I’m still taken aback when someone says they found us through Yelp. I’m still of the belief that churches are attended by dynasties or because it’s the only thing to do in the neighborhood on a Sunday.
I gave the church five stars.
During the regular season, I doubt you ever stay up this late — do you? I can only imagine what you must have done during this off-season. Did you go back to Hawaii? Or maybe you hit the slopes.
I should really stop pondering impossible answers, an act which I don’t think is necessarily a waste of energy, or talent, but maybe just misguided.
My review isn’t written under my name the way these letters are. I’ve always had mixed feelings about Yelp. You never know if someone is posting a review to get “elite” status, whatever that means; and I’ve come across too many unhelpful reviews that give little to no impression of the thing being reviewed at all. Professional critics don’t march into a restaurant announcing who they are. But Yelp is a fact of life. People have been complaining about television for a long time but there are many things about it that are useful. I wonder if Yelp will have the longevity of television.
What happened at church over the weekend got me thinking back to the summer that I first started going there. Even though this was only back in 2011, that is now a lifetime ago — and judging by how monumental each year seems to be, I seem to have lived quite a few lifetimes.
Here’s one letter I wrote that summer. When I read that never-to-be-sent, I am taken aback at how passionate I am toward a recipient who will never see it. Yet here I am, still writing.
Also, I’ve nearly forgotten about the road trip I took with Mary.
Did you hear about this nonsense with Kwame Harris? Not exactly the affirming picture of gay life that I have been hoping would emerge from a major American sports league.
174.0: Born this way.
There is nothing like the occasional outbreak of Tagalog to get me reminiscing about all the Filipino songs I used to like when I was a kid — and the “occasional” really is just that, as my Tagalog is rather terrible and as a result I try not to speak or write it very often. Once or twice I have dared to post entire Facebook status messages in what I know of Tagalog and my cousins in the Philippines have politely thanked me for trying despite the inaccurate grammar; I’ve taken that politeness to mean that I should just stop altogether, at least until I take a class to brush up.
This morning my buddy’s girlfriend posted something on her Facebook in Tagalog and maybe it was the caffeine from the coffee I was drinking, and caffeine tends to make me silly at times, but I was suddenly moved to respond in kind. She was writing in Tagalog about how there are things in life that still surprise her — she and my buddy both live back home in Maryland — and I responded that even though I have lived in San Francisco for a long time, there are things that still surprise me here, too.
Now, I would have to detail the entire conversation for you to know exactly what we were talking about, but even then I think something would be lost in translation. To know two languages is to have the natural ability to witness the loss of translation between literal meanings. To illustrate:
Her: kakagulat lang. iba talaga d2.
Translation: i’m just surprised, that’s all. things are really different here.
Me: mare, iba talaga dito rin. tagal nako dito pero maraming nakakagulat pa.
Translation: sister, it’s really different here, too. i’ve been here for a long time but there’s still a lot that shocks me.
First of all, “d2” is clearly an internet abbreviation, making the translation trickier if you’re not familiar with Tagalog. But even if I were to describe the entirety of the conversation to you, Linc, the spirit would be lost. It just doesn’t mean the same in English as it does in Tagalog — even though it does, too.
You never talk much about your Filipinoness, Linc. I was unsurprised that you turned down the offer to represent the Philippines in the World Baseball Classic, but you don’t talk much about your heritage, either, aside from some pictures that I have sometimes seen floating around the internet of you standing with the Filipino side of your family. There was also of course that time you took the field with Manny Pacquiao. I can only assume the various factors involved with your distance: your feelings about your estranged mom, for one, as well as the career necessities demanded of a high-profile baseball player. Maybe you just want everyone to focus on baseball and not that you are Filipino, or anything else. That’s fine. I get it. I do.
I liked this song a lot when I was in the sixth grade. It’s about a woman who regrets not finding out sooner that her boyfriend loved someone else, because she wasted so much time waiting for him and now all her hopes and dreams and the plans she had for their future together are achingly crushed. The title translates to “If Only I Had Known,” which is one of the better translations between languages, but to me still feels lacking since I carry the bias of a native speaker. I have no idea why in the world a sixth grader would like this song so much. Certainly from my previous never-to-be-sents, you might assume that the things that Pop and Ma were going through at that time taught me at an early age about the yearnings and heartache of love — but really, the sixth grade? It is said that our Filipino culture tends to be deeply emotional, even melodramatic. But those are societal characteristics. To have felt the feelings that I did at such a young age may least indicate something cleverly biological, too.
Speaking on Martin Luther King, Jr., Day, Obama’s references to the slain black leader were oblique. His references to the continuing socioeconomic subjugation of much of the African-American community were nonexistent. That was largely in keeping with Obama’s first-term record. Solely by his rise to office, and by the shining example that he and his family have set in their personal conduct, the President obviously has made a historic contribution to breaking down racial stereotypes and bolstering self-belief in minority communities. But he rarely, if ever, confronts the legacy of slavery and racism. When he brings up the gender gap in wages, why doesn’t he talk about the racial gap, which is even larger, or the disparity in rates of life expectancy, incarceration, social mobility, and virtually every other indicator of success and well-being?
One of the reasons why I’m not especially moved to trumpet the President’s vocal blessing of gay rights.
Obviously, as an LGBTQ person, I am necessarily obligated to hail the presence of an ally in the oval office; and obviously, as an LGBTQ person of many other backgrounds (Filipino, Catholic, raised among African-Americans), there will never be a complete “victory” (for lack of a better word). Whereas the President initially campaigned on change, when the reality of that first term settled, we could only move on with life in the same manner that we always had long before him: not exactly with revolution, but the kind of guarded optimism that has always been better for pragmatic, long-term planning.
Also, part of supporting the President, as well as supporting any other elected leader for whom I have voted as a reflection and champion of my values, I have to constantly remind myself to distinguish ideals from politics. In the end, whatever Barack Obama does is as much about advancing the American people as it is an inevitable and necessarily selfish career choice. To employ a saying: it is what it is.
Instead, the message I prefer to take from the President’s second inauguration is that there is, indeed, a lot of work left to be done.
179.0: Beauty in all she is.
By the count of the two remaining pills left in this bottle of allergy medicine, it will almost have been a month since Pop and Ma were here for the holidays.
I have been unconsciously keeping track of the time since their departure and looking forward to some reunion so abstract it may as well be prophecy, but that will most likely happen when we reunite for Paris, a trip to which hasn’t yet been finalized in terms of our itinerary or lodging, though Ma assures me that she’ll get back to me no later than Tuesday. When the pill count got down to five, that was when I realized that I had been marking time. Ma had gotten me the allergy medicine while she was here.
It is a privilege of being an only child that Pop and Ma will forever regard me as a child to take care of. Had they given me siblings, at this age I would be expected to fend for myself full-time; as it is, I am a part-time grown-up supplemented in adulthood by how they help pay my rent, for example, or how they buy me odds and ends whenever we happen to reunite. For Christmas, they bought me a new pair of shoes, as well as body wash and facial moisturizer. You might say I’m spoiled. I might say that I am. But I didn’t go nuts — the shoes came from Ross, and the soap and lotion were Target-brand. Still, anything to save a few bucks.
For all of the sentimentality with which I have written about Pop and Ma, the romanticization of our familial relationship is balanced as expected by the stuff of life. Yesterday, despite a distance of 3000 miles and a 3-hour time difference, Ma somehow managed to synchronize my lunch break (which was actually at 5 in the afternoon — I’m nearing ready to exit retail) with a phone call that wasn’t just to catch up, say hello, and pester me for not saying “I love you” more often, but to talk about my weight.
“Anak, try not to eat so many sweets, okay?” she asked in her sweetest voice. “Go running again, too. You are good at that.”
I sighed. My entire life had been Ma giving me a mixture of the praise requisite of having only one child that happened to be a son, as well as criticism of all the ways that I could be better, mostly in terms of my appearance. The latter takes on a new kind of dimension when you are 30-years old, single, and perpetually tortured by the cold shoulders of men.
“All right,” I muttered.
But Ma was oblivious. Ready to end the call, she said, “I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
And then I took the plunge: “What brings that up?”
“The thing about eating sweets.”
Ma’s lack of hesitancy clearly indicated that there was no plunge-taking on her part, that for her this was just another picnic in the park (no fattening pun intended): “Oh, I was looking through our holiday pictures and saw that you had put on some weight, again.”
I thought but did not say out loud, You were with me for seven days. You needed pictures to see how fat I am?
I am too old for scenes, so I didn’t make one. At this age, I feel like if I will never be able to align my expectations with those of Pop and Ma, then at least I should be able to understand where they’re coming from. Which is why what she said at the end of the phone call neither surprised nor further annoyed me: “I just want you to be healthy.”
Oh, Linc. I know I’ve put on some weight. I do not deny this, at all. Last week, I went out clubbing with some lesbian friends of mine, and my chief concern was that I might get hit on because I had recently shaved my face, and when my face is shaved and when my man boobs stick out, I do kind of look like a butch lesbian. No offense to butch lesbians, who can actually be quite handsome.
I already have it in my mind to get back into running and, yes, to lose some weight. When I get on it, I would be doing so for me, not because society told me to, and not even because Ma told me to. I will do it soon, Linc. This is not some empty resolution. But when I do get to it, I will do it for me — and yet, still I sometimes think that even in a world where homosexuality were equal with heterosexuality, as someone who is neither blonde nor trim, I would not be an ideal significant other. And that even in this world, perhaps you wonder why these letters have to be written by a fat 30-year old dude.
199.2: I’m going to Paris.
I have to plan the next six months. I, literally, have to plan the next six months. And I hate that “literally” is used so often and so incorrectly, but this time I really am talking about the next six months from January to June.
I have to save money for two trips (three, if I count my annual pilgrimage to Comic Con). The first trip will be in May, which seems far now but, like Christmas, can be here and done faster than I thought.
Selma is getting married in May. She and her fiance live in Wisconsin but her fiance is from upstate New York. I admit that I have had some trepidation about going to Buffalo — it is not a name that elicits excitement, to be honest. But then I thought about the fact that it will be May, which is sometimes good, nearly summer-like weather on the east coast. I also thought about Buffalo’s proximity to Niagara Falls, which I have been to but I was too young to appreciate it (even though I do remember those waterfalls, which are epically enormous enough to be forever etched in my mind). As a tourist, this should be a fun trip. As one of Selma’s friends, my heart is outrageously overjoyed. I could cry. As usual.
I am thinking about what stories to tell about Selma. Our friendship is so internalized that I just don’t think anyone but either of us would get a kick out of reminiscing about tidbits like how we used to abbreviate “as usual” to AU in our instant messages — and also, there is the matter of how neither Selma nor I have ever met each other up until her wedding. Yeah, even now, Linc, I have known Selma since we were 12, and today is her big 3-0, but we have never met in person. Our entire friendship has been conducted online, virtually, via correspondence, whatever you want to call it and sometimes I did wonder if she were really a fat old perv or, perhaps, an algorithm. Perhaps she is one or both of those things. I would not be very surprised if I landed at BNIA and found a sentient kiosk looking for me in the Homeland Security-approved waiting area.
At first, Clara was going to be my plus one but then she backed out because of her budget. I said to her, “It’s okay. Selma’s my friend anyway. It’s not like if Spencer were getting married.”
“AHAHAHAHA,” I added quickly. “SPENCER GETTING MARRIED. AHAHAHAHA! AHAHAHAHA!!”
“AHAHAHAHA!!!” Clara echoed in delighted sarcasm.
Then we looked around the apartment and quit abruptly.
“Aw hell,” I said. “She’s not even here.”
This kind of cheap humor has recently served me well. Since Pop and Ma went back home to Maryland, I have been in a very severe funk. Until their visit I did not realize the profundity of this emptiness I have carried with me and manifested as never-to-be-sents, online dating profiles, and the occasional overindulgence of craft ice creams. I have not yet discovered any existing articulation of the loneliness that Pop and Ma have left in their wake; oddly, it is similar to the kind of sorrow found in R&B songs, of which I have been listening on my way to work.
Not too long ago I would have retreated into the kind of deep interior cultivated by the upbringing of a shy, writerly only child. But now I reach out to my friends for the smallest yet most meaningful moments, like teasing Spencer, who is three years older than us, and has shown little interest in the opposite sex (or any sex) even when she’s not around. Or teasing Spencer to her face, and getting pinched or slapped in return.
I have also thrown myself into Andrew Solomon’s enormous new tome. (In college, when I was trying to understand my feelings of depression, his book The Noonday Demon was a profound and defining literary experience for me.) For weeks since it arrived at the store, I had been flipping casually through the behemoth that is Far From the Tree but since Pop and Ma left I have fully zeroed in on reading that book from beginning to end, which is a project that may take a few weeks. Months.
I have always been envious of people who like reading fantasy books because they always get to have books the size of dictionaries to accompany them and be a kind of friend. I just can’t get into fantasy, Linc — elves, dragons, and shires. It’s not for me. Far From the Tree is the size of a fantasy book and I am treating it like the same kind of adventure. And you know what, Linc? Even though it is non-fiction and sometimes too clearly reflects the real world, I have found an utter fascination that could have only been fueled by Pop and Ma’s unexpectedly profound visit. I am reading Far From the Tree not just to fill a void but also as maybe a beacon lighting what it might be like for me to have my own kids. Here I am trying to sketch a first draft for life beyond these next six months.
Since Mary lives in Brooklyn anyway, I asked her if she would like to be my plus one. But these days she is back in school for nursing and the wedding will be at the tail-end of her semester, so as of right now it seems like I may be going to the wedding solo.
On Pop and Ma’s last night in San Francisco, we took the F-Market streetcar to Fisherman’s Wharf to take a final round of snapshots and have a nice meal. I had just come from a long day at work and was glad to be with my parents, and to have had being with them to look forward to. I miss that, Linc. I miss looking forward to seeing them after work.
The ride from their hotel to the wharf is a long one, especially when so many tourists board the streetcar and pepper the operator with all of their questions about where to go and how to get there. At one point, I yawned and then tumbled softly onto Ma’s shoulder.
“You’ve had a long day. Take a nap,” she said. I miss the gentle tone of motherly affection that I had known all my life before this journey of supposed and supposedly necessary adulthood.
Pop and Ma’s own day had been filled with hopscotching from one Filipino restaurant to another, enjoying the variety of motherland foods that are not as widely available in Maryland. I wish I could have spent that day with them.
“So, you know that we have to learn French before we go to Paris, right?” I said sleepily.
I felt Ma’s shoulder press into my cheek as she shrugged.
“Eh,” she said.
Somewhere around the Montgomery Street stop, I fell asleep.
“It’s easy to be sarcastic about religion. It’s much more difficult to take a stand.”— The Boondock Saints (via takemeasyoufoundmeorleavemetodie)
“The best way to use Twitter? I don’t wanna brag, but I do have 1.5 million Twitter followers so this is kind of my area of expertise. And in my...”
“I knew my husband for only four months before we got married. But I heard from others how protective, tender, and devoted he was to her. Because of...”