Monday, April 18, 2011

Essay flashback: A piercing look is never enough

This is the first humor article I ever wrote. I didn't want to post it for a few reasons, the main reason being that I don't write this way anymore. At least I don't think I do. For one thing, I try to avoid using Filipino to reach a wider audience, except of course when the funny does not translate well.

I also don't write this way anymore because I think I am much happier now than in 2000. When I wrote this I was a very sarcastic, cynical hag who enjoyed making snide comments to anyone who would care to listen (and Tiger Woods still had a clean image, which would explain the dated reference). A few of my initial essays had the same tone, and when I read them again, I felt like a stranger wrote them. Today, I try to avoid writing very negative or critical pieces.

In any case, here it is again, just very slightly edited without changing its original bitchy tone. (I'm sorry.)


A piercing look is never enough
August 2000

“I don't get mad, I get even. Actually, I don't get even, I usually get mad. Okay, really, I just get depressed and mope for a while. Then, eventually, after much pain and consideration, I get over it.” – Kevin Morris

To say that I have a pimple problem is like saying Tiger Woods plays golf.

During my uneventful adolescence, while most of my peers were complaining of acne outbreaks, I usually had just one or two blemishes, which (much to my friends' consternation) cleared up after a few days sans any dermatologic intervention. I suppose I was extremely spoiled by this pattern of pimple appearance-disappearance, because when I started to have acne in my mid-twenties (!), not a tinge of worry crossed my mind.

I suspect that the root of my problems is hormonal, or I was born with a bad combination of genes. However, I cannot stop toiling over what I could have done differently. MAYBE I should have been more aggressive in treating my then-obvious skin problem, MAYBE I shouldn't have waited until my cystic infections started turning into ugly dark splotches on my face, MAYBE I should have dismissed the neurotic voice inside me saying "Dermatologists are for vain people."

In a parallel universe, I would've been just another face. Just another scar-free face, that is. However, in this particular world, I have to bear the full consequences of my non-actions.

As if looking into the mirror everyday and spending obscene amounts for treatment are not enough punishment, I've discovered, in the worst possible way, that my country of birth is hell for people with physical imperfections.

I used to be baffled at the way my American cousins would be so scandalized by their Filipino relatives who told them if they'd lost or gained weight since the last visit. I shrugged it off as the elders trying to make trite conversation. Now, with a ton of evidence to prove it, I have come to accept that Pinoys can be downright r-u-d-e.

I will not pretend to know how this particular Filipino peculiarity evolved. I have no doubt that these words are uttered out of genuine concern and nothing but pure intentions, and yet ... has it ever occurred to anyone that people actually know when their bodies change? To the alarmingly common "Tumataba ka yata," I have never heard anyone counter "Why, thank you for telling me I've put on a few pounds. I was wondering why my torso turns blue each time I forcibly zip up my jeans."

Sometime ago, I was talking with a group of people and, for reasons unknown to man, the topic segued to the subject of my facial potholes. "Matatanggal ba yan? Sayang kasi eh, ang ganda mo pa naman sana. OK ka siguro kung wala yan." “What was I supposed to say? "Yes, at this moment I am a substandard person who's better off dead. Let's all join hands and pray that this wretched curse be lifted from me, lest I not be 'OK' to anyone unfortunate enough to lay eyes on my sorry face."

One morning I was walking down our street when a long-time neighbor motioned for me to come over. "O! Anong nangyari sa mukha mo?" "Pimples, ho." (I would have started my Discovery-channel spiel on the wonderful world of acne to her, but I was rushing off to work.) To this lame reply, she responded with "Ay nako. Nung bata ka, ang ganda-ganda mo eh, tapos ngayon ...."

I can't win.

This is why my passive-aggressive personality (with help from a few empathic friends) has come up with a number of retorts I would love to say to all the verbal oppressors out there. Some of these I have actually used, believe it or not.

In response to the simple and direct "What's thaaat?" and its lesser-known, equally thoughtless variations (yes, some people actually waste muscle energy to ask inane questions), here are my suggestions, apart from the obvious answer:

1. The penny-for-my-thoughts reply --- "I cannot believe you asked me that." 
2. The denial approach --- "What? What? Where? What do you see???" 
3. Clarification --- "Did you want to start a conversation with me, or were you just being mean?" 
4. The self-pity wisecrack --- "Oh I'm sorry. Let me walk a few steps behind so you won't have to be seen with me." 
5. Sarcasm --- "I was getting bored with a plain face so I had the doctor surgically alter it so people like you can have something to talk about." 
6. The pagan response --- "I forgot to mention that in my new cult, we inflict ourselves with facial wounds at the crack of dawn every Tuesday... right before the ritual sacrifice of tactless idiots to our vengeful gods." 
7. Subclinical psychosis --- "Look! Over there! It's my ego floating away on a breeze." 
8. The bitchy attack/changing-the-topic technique (depends on inflection and/or how dense the recipient is) --- "Ang ganda mo." 
9. The bitchy attack version 2 --- (after "Awwww. What happened?") "Don't ask me what happened. I don't know what happened. Don't ask me things I don't know the answer to!" 
10. The self-help retort --- "Thank you for affirming my sense of self-worth today. You have indeed boosted my morale with your insensitive comment. My years of low self-esteem have now been compounded by your astute observation."

It should be obvious by now that part of me has irreversibly turned into a total crab as a result of all this pimple business. I have only myself to blame.

On the good side, thinking of snappy comebacks has been a stimulating form of mental exercise and, I must admit, having a daily source of amusement keeps my sense of humor alive and bitchin'. Furthermore, I'm not exactly in the mood to transform the entire Filipino psyche today. Ask me again tomorrow. Maybe by then, I can give you more than just a dagger look and a dry comment.


Monday, April 04, 2011

Thank you, acne and friends

I think that I am 97.33% satisfied with my imperfect body. I used to hate almost every body part (thanks to friends, foes and strangers who have so helpfully pointed out my flaws to me) but now I believe I am almost completely at peace with what I have. Adulthood does strange things to people.

I accept my skinny, crooked feet and oversized bony fingers. I accept my high waist and absent derrière. I accept my flat nose that rejects most types of eyewear. I accept my bigger-than-normal gums that betray me and make me look more primate-like than ladylike when I'm at my happiest. I accept my massive, cellulite-laden thighs because they remind me of good times with dessert (and Martina seems to love them). I accept my womanly chest (I'll never hear the end of that phrase) that I almost always try to hide (but fail) because it's always bigger than my stomach and makes me look proportional even after a buffet meal. I accept my brown skin because many pale people on the other side of the world are paying good money just to be darker.

(If you are still thinking about the second to the last sentence of that previous paragraph, then you're definitely straight. And also, STOP IT.)

The one thing that is still quite hard for me to accept is my propensity for acne. Every morning, after I snicker at the status of my hair, I see my facial scars. There's probably some technology out there today that can make them less obvious, but I'm pretty sure it won't come cheap. I'm not (yet?) that vain. To this day, I catch myself looking longingly at faces with poreless, scar-free, smooth cheeks and wish I had brought myself to a derma at the peak of my pimple outbreaks in med school.

But then again, if I didn't have acne and the scars that followed, I wouldn't be blogging today.

I don't remember where I had that fateful conversation with Awi, a friend from med school days. I'm pretty sure it was the year 2000 and I was sick and tired of the lack of tact, respect and subtlety in society. In other words, I was sick of people telling me I had less-than-perfect skin. I told Awi about my dream retorts to fight all my verbal oppressors. In a flash of genius (or maybe he just wanted me to shut up), Awi told me to just write everything down and submit it to a magazine.

So I wrote my first humor essay. It was about acne and how I wanted to reply to every rude person who has ever told me I could've been pretty if it weren't for my scars. I showed Awi my essay ... and he laughed. He laughed hard. 

That was when I realized that Awi was certifiably crazy. Oh and that I could make people laugh by just writing what was normally in my head. Most importantly, I realized that making people laugh with me felt absolutely wonderful. It felt like I had done a bit of good in the world.

Although I earn my living as a writer of serious medical things, I don't think I will ever be comfortable calling myself a writer. My grammar leaves much to be desired, my vocabulary is elementary, my spelling skills give me nightmares and punctuation often gives me pain (although I have an ongoing romantic relationship with parentheses). In spite of all these technical flaws, I know that for as long as there is something funny in my head, I will write about it and hope someone out there laughs with me (or stifles a laugh for fear of being caught at work reading senseless blogs) (you know who you are).

So to all my friends who have liked my stories, thank you. And thank you for telling me about it. 

And if you want to start a fund for my future laser skin resurfacing, I wouldn't mind it a whole lot either.

Pet-owner for a day

Newsflash: I'm not a pet person.

Before I receive the wrath of animal lovers, I want to clarify that I'm not exactly cold towards all animals. I appreciate zoos (I may have been to too many) and funny animal pics and heartwarming animal stories and talking Disney animals (maybe that doesn't count). Sure, I like my friends' well-behaved and clean dogs but I never really longed for a pet of my own. I blame the neighbor's giant dog that pinned me down when I was a child and gave me dog phobia for life. To this day, when I think of dogs, I have flashbacks of saliva dripping from canine teeth a couple of inches from my face.

In college, a friend gave me a small green turtle (I forget why), which I put on my side table. We stared at each other a few times and I let it scramble across my bed once or twice. I did my best to keep it alive by feeding it with pellets and making sure his (her?) enclosure was clean. For the most part, though, I think the turtle and I were just both very confused as to why we were in each other's life. When that turtle met his (her?) violent death at the hands of a killer rat (I promise you this was an accident), I felt a decent amount of shock and requisite sadness. My family replaced the turtle (I really should've told people that I don't care much for turtles) and if I remember correctly, that second one escaped its home and died a lonely death under the dusty computer table.

The one and only 'pet' I loved was a teeny tiny kitten that literally strayed into my life many years ago. I thought of him (her? I should check these things) when I saw this image on the Daily Squee. This is a spitting image of my former 'pet'.

Find the hidden kitten. Clue: it's under a bear knee. 

It all began one ordinary morning. I was in our living room with some friends when, from out of nowhere, the tiniest orange kitten casually strolled into our midst. No doors were open so it's still a mystery to me how it got inside our house – for a minute, I thought I was imagining it. After shedding a few tears at the cuteness (Am I the only one who cries at cute things?), I picked it up and found the shaking baby was barely bigger than my hand. The kitten looked a bit lost and hungry, so I tried to feed it with water and whatever milk we had in the ref. I was at it the whole day and night without much success. I don't think I did much else that day but wipe my tears and feed.

When I woke up the next day, the kitten was nowhere to be found (I'm pretty sure the killer rat didn't get to it). Like the broken-hearted idiot that I was, I cried silently in my room and prayed that the kitten found his (her? OK I'll stop) mommy.

And that's the rather boring and humorless story about my one-day pet. I think I just needed an excuse to repost the kitten-under-the-teddy-bear pic. My heartfelt apologies. 

(But really, it's a cute kitten pic, right? *silent tears*) 

The blogger is still alive, just FYI

Here's a quick recap of my weekend with the ever-logical Martina (who will turn 5 this June, hhnnoooo!):

Martina: What part of me do you like hugging?
Me: I like hugging all of you!
Martina: I like hugging your legs. They're so tough.
(I'm so flattered.)
Me: Martina, are you so cute?
Martina: No, I'm famous.
Me: Why are you famous?
Martina: I'm just famous.
(Can't argue there. My blog is exhibit A.)

Later that day, before I helped her shower:
Martina: Can I use the bowl (she was referring to the 'basin') in the shower?
Me: I don't think you can fit. You're too big now.
Martina: Maybe when I'm a baby again? I'll be 2 then 1 then a baby.
Me: Marteens, I'm so sorry but you'll never be a baby again.
Martina: Really?
Me: Yes, you're growing up.
Martina: I'll be a teenage boy?
Me: I don't think you're going to be a boy.
Martina: My cousin is a teenager.
Me: Really? How old is he?
Martina: He's 52.
The scary thing is that she always makes perfect sense to me.


Epilogue: When Martina's mommy read this entry, she told me that this morning, Martina told her she liked hugging my legs because they're "so big and fat". I think I'll stick with "tough". Thanks, guys.