My journal entry for the months of January, February & March 2015
In my bedroom I look at the mess that is my life. My clothes are all over the place, my desktop full of raws from multiple shoots to color, and I know it’s almost sinful but I can’t stop thinking about dropping out of school yet again. It feels so much like the last day of last year except now I’m a different person. I shake any wandering thoughts away but I feel a need to make the last day of the year beautiful. But while I have no grand plan nor any crazy close friends to sneak away with on a random road trip to anywhere, I start to write what I realize was going to be a short film by nighttime.
I pitch my idea to some friends I think are perfect for the film — for the girl and the boy in my story, my high school best friend Arielle and her boyfriend who is staying over to visit, and then David whom I’d known as an amazing cinematographer back in my first and last year in college. I write like it is all that matters to me. Come midnight, my story is whole. I write on top — STRANGERS. My first short film. I smile the biggest grin when fireworks start to blow like they’re for me. I run to our veranda and watch the glittering explosions in the sky but my head is elsewhere. I wonder where this year would take me. I’m clueless. But I feel fire within me. Like I am ready for whatever the Universe will throw my way. My family and I sing karaoke songs to let time pass and our bellies start to ache from the silliness of it all. I have forgotten how my own voice sounds but I get a high in hitting the right notes and winning the singing competition alongside my mom. It’s 3am and I can’t sleep because I’m stoked, so I write on my journal.
I wouldn’t have had a more perfect January 1st. In the morning I drive to Arielle’s place and when I hug her, I feel like I haven’t seen her in forever. Here she is now with a new love Angel and they’d jokingly tease each other and kiss when they felt like it and inside I am happy for my best friend. They tell me stories of Arielle’s surprise visit in Amsterdam and how they felt when they met each other in person for the first time. They feed me sweets and pastries they bought around their travels across Europe and I help them prepare their outfits for the film. In the car we play old songs and head to the city. From the back I take photographs of their sneaky kisses and their fingers intertwined. When we meet David at a coffee shop, I tell them my vision and when the sun is at its lowest we start to shoot.
Everything feels like a blur. When I am doing something out of love, my life feels whole. At that very moment, my camera feels like an extension of my body. A part of who I am as a human being. So here we are — two boys and two girls running around the city, eating ice cream and standing by pretty walls or sitting across each other. All the while, David and I are working magic with our cameras. Every once in a while, we huddle in the car to record dubs and make adjustments with the plot. I am at awe on how my story is growing. I realize that multiple perspectives are better than one.
It’s 2AM and we’re down to our last scene. “A rooftop, we need a rooftop,” I tell them. We sneak into a condominium where some of David and my friends used to live. We slip past guard after guard and climb up a number of fire exits before we find one open. It’s pitch black in what seems to be a garden lounge enclosed by glass, but in the dark the wind is the only thing I’m sure of. Far off are glittering lights so we walk towards it. Excitement fills me. When we slide ourselves into the glass door, we are 30 floors above the ground and overlooking the city.
This feeling. THIS feeling. When we are done, I don’t stop saying thank you. My heart is overflowing with gratitude.
We’re all giggly by 4am at McDonald’s, talking about good things over nuggets and sipping on hot chocolate for over an hour. When we’re ready, we exchange hugs and thank yous and say our goodbyes. The night drive home is bliss and I head to bed, sunlight seeping through my windows, with zero energy but a full heart.
School starts for my classmates again, but as for me, I reunite with my favorite badass teacher called life. I leave because my heart is telling me to. And we all know better than to defy a heart that’s pounding and screaming to be heard. When I look back, those six months are still six months of good memories but being in school has held me back from the growth I’ve always found more substantial in the real world. I wasn’t going to waste anymore time. Just like that I am out of school forever. I feel inconceivably free.
At home, I start to build on the life that I really want for myself. For days I sit and write. Prayers upon prayers, list after list of goals and dreams, weaknesses to overcome, blessings never to overlook. When I think of it, I grow because I write. And although I don’t know yet where my love and passion will take me, I look ahead with grand positivity. It works miracles.
In between the haze of my messily busy January days, I hear screaming and laughter echoing from the entrance of our home. I giggle because I know what that noise means — my crazy family from America has arrived. My mom tells me on a night drive back home that my grandmother, the only Mama I ever met and love so dearly has to stay longer to fix some more papers and they’ve talked about how I could fly to the States with her. Without a thought I say “Why not? I’ll do it.” and scenes of flying away from Manila and living in the sunny summery California I’ve always known dance around my head for weeks— of streets lined with palm-trees, silly family I love and backyards full of bunnies. I talk to my mom and my dad and discuss with them my plans. After California, I can live with my family across the East and West Coast for about a month each and work as a photographer anywhere. Just as I’ve always dreamed.
The reality of everything almost choked me. In a month or two I was leaving and there are yet so many things undone, so many things and people to leave behind. I space out a lot in between good moments wondering how I can bear to leave the life I’ve known for 18 years. And then came the possibilities of things falling into place and having to stay longer, even worse, for years. My dreams are closer and realer than ever before now, and yet somehow it just doesn’t feel right.
I start booking more work, receiving e-mails from strangers who want their portraits taken, shop owners who need lookbooks done and restaurants having their menus updated. l like that there aren’t enough hours in a day and I’d sleep only if I really have to. This is my photography career slowly blossoming. I can’t be picky just yet and accept any kind of work, but to me it hardly matters. Any excuse to hold my camera is more than enough.
And then I learn to let people in my life. I fight my will to be independent, to be free of pride and self-reliance when B and I get real close. It’s hard but it feels good to find a real friend I can be with and be unapologetically silly and true. Who would have thought. Years back we are nothing but enemies fighting over whatever we can. It’s true we don’t agree on anything and we’re worlds and opinions apart but we share yesterday memories over milk tea, embarrass ourselves in public almost one hundred percent of the time, and he listens to my dreams like they’re real and valid, I can’t help but feel warmth when I’m with him. We eat disturbingly huge sushis we bug my sister to pay for, talk about the randomest little brow-wrinkling things and then every once in a while he’d slap me on the head when I say something inappropriate, I find it painfully sweet. Sometimes we’d joke around and talk about how perfect it would be to grow old single together. It’s all silly made-up plans but I don’t mind if all of it comes true.
We are on the tiniest plane headed towards the northernmost part of the the Philippines one early morning. I’m usually the most excited about trips but it’s weird because I don’t feel like leaving this time. In my head is all work so I shut my windows close and ignore the skies I’ve always loved watching to color photographs on my macbook. Three hours later, I open my window and I’m in a different world. When I first catch sight of Batanes from above I am dumbfounded. How can I forget who I really am?
It feels unusual to still be home but feel like I am elsewhere. Life here reminds me of the rawness of the Earth and how simple life should really be. I love the messiness of the city, but if it were always this peaceful in the first place I wouldn’t have looked for anything else. In this world, the good seems to always win. All around is God’s creation so unreal sometimes I think I’m in a dream. I’ve never tasted food as fresh as this, met people as practically skilled as the townsmen in here. I wonder when working in a corporate scene became more dignified than a man feeding his family with his own hard-caught fish and rice personally sowed. While I’m here I’d secretly think of living this kind of life someday. If only it were possible.
Our tour guide Mang Rodgers tells the others to wait so he can take me to a spot where I can take the most beautiful photographs. He tells me he doesn’t bring anybody else here unless he believed they can take all of it in. I feel privileged. When we reach what seems to be the cliff of a mountain, I grab my camera to take photographs. But he tells me to look further down and when he points at where he wants to take me, I feel breathless. It’s a steep downhill slope and it looks impossible. The wind is so strong and I feel fear overtaking my body. Mang Rodgers tells me he will take care of me and I trust him with my entire being. I exhale all of the fear as I go barefoot and grip his hand tight, my camera slung safely on my shoulder wrapped toward my waist. We descend down the mountain. The winds are hitting me hard. My heart is flying the entire time. I’ve never been so damn scared to lose my life but I’ve never felt as alive as this. I can’t let the moment slip. So I take as much photographs but when it’s more than enough I stop and just stare. There I was, living. Really, really, being alive. Mang Rodgers constantly asks if I want to take more photographs until I give him a reply. I tell him I’m doing exactly just that in my head. He laughs and sits beside me as we watch the majestic scene for minutes.
Beautiful scene upon an even more beautiful scene, moment after moment, silly card games late at night and breezy night walks around the neighborhood. All too soon it’s time to go home. I throw an oath to the mountains. That I’ll be back and next time for longer. When I am settled back in my room in the city, I don’t ever touch the photographs I took.
My life is simple. It has never been an exciting series of grand events and epic affairs. When I look at the life that I live, it’s all about the little things. Those fleeting moments and nothing days that I make the most out of. If anything, maybe that constant decision is what sets me apart from many. The drive to keep making the most out of everything. My time, my love, all my passion. Investing them in all the right people and pursuits. February is all about that. For work I shoot portraits of Kat in a beautiful otherworldly museum up in Antipolo, style and shoot food for Artists Haven’s menu overhaul for three days straight and then for myself, an impulsive adventure shoot with Amalie. All other days are for ministry, for dinner dates with friends and family that I love, little trips down south, and for an entire week I’m in an interior design class, learning new things as I promised to constantly do this year.
By the end of February, I am decided to stay. I set aside my dreams of living in the US to focus on all the work I already have now. And when March comes, I find myself starting over again. The photographs I share about are of trips to the beach, people I spend time with, food I cook for my parents’ 26th anniversary but behind the filtered moments is my real life. These are the days I sit and seriously think about how I’m living my life — planning, prioritizing, preparing for the life I’m willing to create for myself no matter how difficult. Piecing little details together, analyzing my whys and dreams of dreams, finishing work I’ve been stalling over the years, getting rid of all the unnecessary load in my life and relearning how it’s like to be an amateur again. To feel like I’m not good enough in all the positive ways so I can work even harder. This is what happens behind the scenes. The reason for my being. The secret to my growth. The workings of the Chiara I am today.
It gets so overwhelmingly tough inside sometimes I feel like a ball of muddle and chaos. Some days out of sadness I lock myself in my room, quiet the entire day, staring into the sky and talking to Jehovah. I understand that things may not make sense right now but soon enough if I just don’t stop doing my best it will. And I swear, I swear, it gets better. It’s way too easy to say but it’s also too true not to declare: with love, gratitude and positivity in your heart comes only good. I don’t know why I was ever scared in the first place. I’m telling you now there’s no need to be afraid.
So much blessings follow. Out of over 200 hopefuls, alongside 25 other amazing artists I am chosen to be part of the team of a local newspaper insert called YoungStar. My soul sister Phoebe and I start to extensively work on building our birth documentation studio Benigne Studios. I begin to co-run Artists Haven as a part-time job, spending a lot of my days staying in the haven with Marci as we plan internal improvements and monthly workshops. I grow in my love for the ministry, Jehovah, my family and the people I have in my life. When I look at myself in the mirror, I start to see the beauty I haven’t seen in me in years. And I start to love myself even more, in all healthy ways I have forgotten to give priority to. There are so much other blessings sometimes too small for me to even notice but I feel my life unfurling in all the beautiful ways it should as with anybody.