To my 26th year

On the eve of my 26th birthday, I am filled with infinite gratitude. Many of my friends and family have started extending their birthday greetings, and as those who came to my early birthday dinner last night raised their glasses in celebration of me, I deeply know that my birthday is not just a celebration of one. It is an occasion made possible by the people in my life who have taken care of me, challenged me, inspired me, encouraged me, and taught me how to dream throughout the years. It is another time in the year to thank my parents for the sacrifices they’ve made to place my needs and desires at the forefront.

From an energetic toddler with an tender grin, to a lighthearted and creative child, and now to a curious, determined adult, I am a product of my experiences and people I’ve encountered. Most notable are the experiences I have been afforded by people who took the time to be patient and believed in my capabilities. So to everyone in my life who have stood by me especially in times when I had been difficult, thank you. Today is a celebration of you. I consider myself a well-rounded, worldly woman because of each one of you.

Here’s to my 26th year, a year of excitement. I will be a year older, which means cakes and balloons are not to be expected anymore. Material gifts are replaced by well wishes and meaningful camaraderie. Small, delicate pieces of beauty in the form of a necklace or scarf are given in lieu of fancy gift-wrapped boxes whose value seem to be determined by its size.

To be honest, I have been anxious about being a year older for three main reasons: being farther from my carefree days of youth, physical aging, and the uncertainty of the future. Looking back, I realize there is no need to feel any anxiety. Being a year older doesn’t mean I have to relinquish the past 25 years nor do I have to give up being youthful– I’ll forever have my memories with me, and I am the sum of the experiences I’ve had in the previous years. Secondly, I only have to look at my mother and realize there is nothing to be scared of about aging. Thirdly, my fears of the uncertainty to the future are unfounded– I have the necessary toolkit to be self-sufficient, as well as the values and principles I hold dear that will guide me to the right direction.

Through the decades, my childhood was one filled with such fun, love and privilege. My teenage years were about restarting and adapting. My early twenties were marked by resilience, perseverance and a deeper understanding of my influence and what I’m capable of. Now, as I enter my late twenties, I know there will be more responsibilities, more challenges in life and work, more trials of character, and more opportunities to grow further. It is a period to embrace, another season to be bold. Another year for expression, creativity and experimentation. For relaxed diligence. For calm routines. For structured whimsy. For productive dreaming. For ambitions to be made real. For continuous learning. For new habits and innovative ways to think and grow.

If the next quarter was anything like the first, the future surely looks hopeful and bright 🙂

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Why we always find beauty in the least expected places

Why do artists have an affinity to gritty places and run-down towns? Many would think it’s a matter of the artist’s plight, that when an artist is in the early phase of his career, he is still honing his craft and the work he creates is still in developmental state, his faculties pre-mature of the ability to create a masterpiece. He is yet to make a real living as an artist of his own, and since artists tend to form communities (and “colonies” in more remote areas with a dense creative population), they occupy certain sections of a neighborhood. With low-rent prices and huge spaces with which the artist can do his art, you will find that artists don’t mind taking refuge in bad parts of town. For the serious artist, his living condition is less of a priority than his art. He is fine living in dim, stuffy buildings built a hundred years ago, if he can save some rent to buy some materials for his art– whether it be painting, music, dance or writing.

Sure, there are lots of artists who have made it and are now successful on their own, and they live in upscale parts of town, elbowing with celebrities, patrons and other people with power and money whom we call high-status. Yet these artists, after they’ve presented their reading and retired their gowns from the gala, make the trek to hidden parts of town, to obscure places crippled by local factors such as bad urban planning, inefficient systems, and everyday realities that far from beautiful. We rarely hear artists laying down on a luxury sofa in a Beverly Hills mansion creating pages of poetry. But we hear of poets living next door to towns deep in war, and they produce something beautiful. We hear of writers visiting ghost towns and come back with notebooks of material they can turn into soothing prose. We hear of dancers visiting remote vicinities with cultural oddities and they are refueled to develop more choreography.

It’s because intuitively, we are creatures drawn to beauty. Beauty is subjective when this qualifier is bestowed to an external object, hence “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but what is common among us is the feeling that the spell of what we consider beautiful creates within us. Creativity is the obsession with creating an experience that is lacking in the environment where it is created.

When we’re comfortable with our situation and things are going well, it’s hard to produce something artistic. Sure, the happiness and festivities can motivate us and we may write a few notes or pieces here and there, but we usually give that up quickly in favor of immersing ourselves in the experience of comfort. When darkness surrounds us, we look for what is beautiful, find there is none, and search for that within ourselves. In doing so, we travel through deep introspective journeys, some quick, while some take time, and all jarring. Our optimism makes us biased toward the rule of beauty. We want to recreate what is missing in a certain place. We take that beauty we’ve found, show it to the world, and it is art.

Many of us also notice that we find beauty in new places. This is because our senses are heightened in new environments, absorbing what is around us and recording it to memory. We do this to make the environment a bit more familiar. We scan the vicinity of a strange place, and everything looks so uncertain only because we don’t know the place yet. Then we obsess over finding something familiar, and because we are naturally drawn to things that evoke the feeling that beautiful things create in us, we end up finding something beautiful to us. It serves as an anchor of comfort and remembrance of what is familiar, and we consequently tack on to it and hope to keep it, or the memory of it, long enough in our minds so we can share it with the world.