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#Blog Diary of a New Novel: Re-examining the European and American Underpinnings of My Identity and Consciousness as a Filipino-American Writer

I’m dreaming a new dream. Its passage is through a novel. This novel is a passage, because I’m hoping it will pave the way to realizing my ultimate new dream. I’m dreaming this new dream because I can, and because I reject the notion that past a certain age, one should be content with whatever she or he has achieved in life.

I do not know this word, contentment. I guess I never have—specifically as it pertains to the way most people inaccurately associate or even confuse it with being peaceful. I don’t accept that absence of one necessarily excludes the other. One can still be peaceful while continuing to dream new dreams. It’s a peaceful restlessness I have. A sublime and necessary restlessness. Necessary, because once a person ceases to dream, he or she ceases to hope. And the loss of hope, I believe, is tantamount to losing one’s life. I refuse to die while I still live.

One can’t be a writer—not a good one, at least, unless one has a genuine understanding of the world, human nature, and, most of all, one’s self. In order for the world created by the writer to come off as true, the writer first of all has to be true to himself or herself. And to be true to one’s self requires self-knowledge. That’s the hardest part. As a writer, I’m confronted in every step of my writing process by the question, “Is this really true, or am I only BS-ing the reader? Is this what I really mean, or am I just resorting to convenient stereotypes?” Good writing demands that I mean what I say and say what I mean. To do so, I have to examine the rationality of my thoughts and the authenticity of my feelings about what I’m writing—which, in the end, can’t be done unless I answer the bigger question, “Who am I?” Ha! There’s the rub. For it’s the ultimate question asked by all philosophers, religious thinkers, poets, and artists from the beginning of time—that is, from the first time a human being glanced up at the night sky and saw its myriad stars, felt the consequent smallness of himself or herself, and thereupon generated the first conscious human thought which was birthed by the question, “Who am I in relation with all of these?”

Our understanding of ourselves is almost always relational—whether it be in connection with other human beings or the universe around us. It’s as if we cannot conceive of ourselves outside of a relationship with something else. We define ourselves in relatedness with others because the ego could only perceive itself as an entity separate from the other. Therefore, in order to establish the delineation between our self and others, we need an understanding of the world, of which we’re both an integral part and an individuation of, at the same time. Our understanding of the world thus becomes our reference point, our basis for understanding ourselves.

In embarking upon my new writing project, I discovered a basic gap in my understanding of the world and, therefore, likewise, of my self. It has something to do with my Philippine heritage. I’ve always prided myself in being a Filipino-American writer, in creating characters and worlds inspired by the land, history, and culture of my native country and people. After much study and reflection, however, I’ve concluded that my understanding of my native country’s and people’s history and culture is sadly at best, incomplete; at the worst, tainted.

I realized this in the process of confronting the demon of writer’s block that besieged me for a time. It wasn’t so much a blockage of creative ideas and energy; rather, it was fear. And this fear prevented me from mining what otherwise was a rich source of ideas for new works and useful tools for creating more nuanced characters. In order to overcome this fear, I had to name it, and to name it, I had to go all the way back to its source: my education. While I am thankful for the excellent world-class education I was privileged to enjoy, I also have to humbly acknowledge that such education was flawed by a lack of balance as regards examining my native country’s colonial history and culture.

In the university environment of the late 70’s where my formation into an educated human being progressed, we were still riding the wave that gave rise to an acute nationalism made necessary by the need to develop and promote a national identity and consciousness to unite hundreds of separate tribes and cultures in the more than seven thousand two hundred islands that were artificially and arbitrarily imagined by the Spaniards as Las Islas Filipinas, and then by the Americans, after granting it political independence post World War II, as the Republic of the Philippines. The aftermath of political independence however saw the separate tribes and micro-nations—which, till then, peacefully co-existed largely due to the singular unifying force of one colonial master—reignite their basic lack of trust, jealousies, and power struggles against each other. The need to unify under one national identity to prevent failure of statehood was so great that we tried to achieve it essentially by two means: first, we ignored the underlying fragmented nature of our proposed nation, especially the distinct cultural identity of the Muslim south. We chose to believe in the fiction imposed upon us by our former colonial masters—that we were one, inseparable, integrated nation. Secondly, we conveniently re-united under the banner of the battle against our common historical enemy—our former colonial masters.

This nationalist drive saw itself planted in an educational program that demanded rightful skepticism in how we viewed our colonial history with the Spaniards and Americans; indeed, our relationships with all foreign powers and entities. However, this skepticism evolved into an almost mandatory derision of anything and everything that could be traced to our colonial masters and to only uplift and promote what was proposed as indigenous to our culture, ignoring that there was not one cultural trait or practice that could be identified as truly indigenous to the country as a whole. Where any were cited as indigenous to the Filipino, they really were only indigenous to specific tribes, regional micro-nations, even pre-colonial Spanish kingdoms. There wasn’t even a true national language—there were only the disparate languages of the Tagalogs (arbitrarily instituted as the official language of the Philippines), the Capapampangans, the Ilocanos, the Visayans, and other micro-nations and tribes. Furthermore, any attempt to point out any positive contributions of Spain, other European countries, and the United States to our culture and the goal of nationhood was shot down as shameful manifestation of colonial mentality. With the blood of our revolutionary heroes, we righteously washed over the fact that it was significantly—for better or worse—our colonial history with the Spaniards and Americans that ironically suggested to us the notion that we could be a nation at all. Thus, we unconditionally rejected any proposition that began with the premise that it was possible that we as a people were enriched by our colonial experience, at the same time as we suffered immensely by it. In so doing, we blinded ourselves. We put on new blinders on top of the old ones that we inherited from our former colonial masters. I, in particular, proved no better, for the young student that I was unconditionally obeyed this manner of viewing our culture and history, believing myself a good soldier who was an integral part of her people’s struggle for independence from their colonial past.

How did this affect me as a Filipino writer in America, decades hence? I was surprised to discover that I still retained my instinctive negative predisposition against the European and American influences in my culture and my self. I basically avoided writing what could be perceived as a mark of colonial mentality, such as the mere suggestion of celebrating as positive anything that could be traced to our Spanish and American colonial heritage. In so doing, I had rendered myself both blind and lame as a writer for I had failed to consider, accept, and adopt all the aspects and elements—both the negative and positive—of my cultural and historical heritage.

Realizing this blew my mind. It reminded me to be always vigilant against my own lies to my self. It cautioned me to check my blinders—for we all have one, no matter how free we think we may be. Thus, I have resolved to liberate myself from the fear of fully embracing the European and American influences in my native culture and history. I will fearlessly create characters who unashamedly acknowledge they are both brown and white, who are proud of this wonderful melting pot of race and cultures that is their soul. I free myself of the fear of being criticized by my old mentors in the Philippines and my other Filipino brothers and sisters who choose to remain blind adherents of an uber kind of nationalism that seems to fancy itself as a pure, indigenous culture entitled to protection at all cost against syncretistic amalgamation with the cultures of other races and nations. To me, this is not unlike the kind of extreme nationalism we see in conflict pockets all around the world today which, while originally meant to protect oppressed former colonized peoples, eventually turns on itself and becomes a new oppressive tyranny that only serves to divide its people and all of humankind at a time when we should be uniting to fight for our ultimate common cause—our survival as a civilized species in a sustainable, healthy planet that is home to all of us, regardless of our race and national political and cultural identities.

I’ll start with this fearless premise in creating new literary works. And then see what happens.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog #TravelBlog The Brothels of Pompeii

As a woman, I have mixed feelings about the lupenari of Pompeii: on the one hand, they are yet another in-your-face exhibit of the eternal sexual exploitation of women; on the other hand, I’m also invited to think about the sex trade in a pragmatic way, as long as the women have voluntarily signed up for its labor ranks (I’m unequivocally against white slavery in particular).

I can already hear my extremist feminist sisters already yelling, “Do you honestly think any woman would freely sign up for this kind of work?!” And they would have a point here, to which I have a rebuttal: “Do you think anyone is truly free to do what she likes in this life—and I mean freedom in the absolute sense?” No. That kind of freedom only exists in a utopian’s mind, an ideal we strive toward through our various fights for social justice, but may never completely achieve. And in the meantime, we are confronted by the harsh realities of thousands of women—and men—who hardly have other assets to invest in by which to make a living except through their bodies, forced to resort to this line of work to survive due to the socio-economic injustices that society has imposed on them. It’s a vicious cycle of problems that require addressing their roots (systems that perpetuate womens’ and other minorities’ lack of political and economic power), rather than the manifestations of those causes (I.e., prostitution). And then there are also countless women who proudly proclaim they rather enjoy this kind of work—especially the perks they get from it that are are otherwise impossible to them. Men have treated women’s bodies as commodities for thousands of years; why shouldn’t women then be able to dictate the fair terms of that trade?

Don’t get me wrong: I do not advocate for prostitution. What I advocate for are legal and health protections for sex workers, for whether we like it or not, they’ll continue to exist for as long as humans have sexual and power-hungry appetites, just as the brothels of Pompeii demonstrate so vividly on their still vibrantly painted walls. When we criminalize something, especially when it’s a natural manifestation of human nature, we bury it deeper underground, and the ones who suffer the most are its frontline workers—the women and men who are thereby rendered helpless to protect themselves from exploitation, outright assaults, and sexually transmitted diseases.

It disgusts me whenever I hear anyone propose the same old boring moralistic and religious arguments to keep prostitution under our criminal laws. Or of the dangers of the sex industry to the unity of the family. If your spouse can’t remain sexually faithful to you, then you’ve got bigger problems closer to home than the red light district. Besides, you should check out my blog about the history of marriage. Marriage was founded on the patriarchal invention by which a man could claim the exclusive right to own a woman’s body and the children that are birthed by that body, then bolstered this gruesome concept with beautifully sounding religious scripture and mindless romantic literature. When legal systems especially do not allow divorce to wives while enabling their husbands to have both wives and mistresses within the double standard morality of patriarchal social systems, marriage becomes especially oppressive to women. In this sense, one might see marriage as nothing more than legally and religiously sanctioned prostitution.

Pompeii teaches us that some aspects of human nature are what they are and perhaps always will be. Like the age-old philosophers ask, I ask: What then is the best perspective from which to approach society’s problems: to address the problem from “what it is” or “what ought to be”? I say you can’t see your way to the “what ought to be” without first seeing the problem at its current state.
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#Blog #TravelBlog The Ghosts of Pompeii

I did not know what to make of Pompeii when I first arrived. What struck me was its sense of overwhelming emptiness. This, despite our tour guide having kept our senses busy by pointing out countless vestiges of a rich and vigorous city that would have been loud with the sounds and colors of human trades and passions and the rhythms of ordinary and privileged lives. There, death proved yet again to be the great equalizer. And yet no ghosts, if there were any, made their presences felt. That is, until I saw the forms.

More than all the ruins and skeletons of Pompeii’s buildings and other structures, more than all of the found artifacts in that ghost city, haunting were the shells of human bodies and a dog. The forms were said to have been preserved through the foresight of the archeologists who, upon noticing the beginnings of collapse of whatever remained of the bodies entombed within their casts of volcanic ash, resourcefully injected plaster therein to preserve the bodies’ shapes. One has to be made of stone to not feel moved by the angst of impending death recorded in the poses of the various bodies, young and old, including that of the dog whose writhing form suggested it was tragically chained and was therefore struggling to free itself in vain at the time of Vesuvius’ wrath.

It was hard not to feel the sacred despite the irreverently forensic exhibition of those human and canine fossils. One could even imagine that the souls of what were once alive were still trapped in those forms, begging for proper release. In the end, Pompeii did get to me.
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1 month ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

Aspirational! Someday, I hope to have my own "Bramasole" through my writing... Thank you, Frances Mayes, for the inspiration! ... See MoreSee Less

Aspirational! Someday, I hope to have my own Bramasole through my writing... Thank you, Frances Mayes, for the inspiration!

1 month ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

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1 month ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

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1 month ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

In this photo, you can still see traces of my extreme allergic reaction from two shots of limoncello from the night before! Lol! Earlier that morning, I looked like a beaten up boxer with inflamed, puffy eyes, nose, and lips, and my body was covered with red spots (hives)! But I was determined to not let it prevent me from showing up on this special night of my and my husband’s silver anniversary dinner celebration in Venice! And I suppose this was the result of some positive thinking. Lol! ... See MoreSee Less

In this photo, you can still see traces of my extreme allergic reaction from two shots of limoncello from the night before! Lol! Earlier that morning, I looked like a beaten up boxer with inflamed, puffy eyes, nose, and lips, and my body was covered with red spots (hives)! But I was determined to not let it prevent me from showing up on this special night of my and my husband’s silver anniversary dinner celebration in Venice! And I suppose this was the result of some positive thinking. Lol!

Comment on Facebook

Didn't even noticed if you haven't stated it in this post. You are always beautiful sis. Yes, you're right your positive aura is manifested in your sweet smile.

I do see your eyes are “different” here. Scary experience specially when traveling..

A little dark eyeshadow sana but you look great!

#Blog Beyond Tribal

I’m writing this fresh from our monumental tour of Italy in celebration of our silver wedding anniversary. I feel challenged to describe the effect this trip has had on me. To say it’s “life-changing” would seem to diminish it, as this word has oft been abused by a pop culture that tends to exaggerate its experience for want of accurate vocabulary or for petty bid for social media attention. Instead of life-changing, I’d say it’s life-defining. Due to earlier true life-changing events, I’ve been set on a specific life path for sometime now, and what I’d needed at this point was clarity on the way to move forward. This trip thus has been instrumental in refocusing my creative life, helping me to define my priorities for the next twenty-five years. What creative goals do I want to accomplish? What kind of lifestyle would best promote such goals? And what environment would be most conducive to such lifestyle? As I try to answer these questions, which are fast forming on a daily basis, I feel as if I’m on fire, about to combust into an explosive level of creative energy. Meanwhile, I reflect on some insights that came to me during the trip.

At tour’s launch, our guide asked each of us to introduce ourselves to the seven other people in our group, and while at it, urged us to answer the question, “What do I hope to gain from this trip?” It seemed like an easy enough question, but I got anxious because it forced me to think beyond giving our usual reply, “to celebrate our silver anniversary.” To honor the milestone in my marriage was one thing, but I knew there’s always been this irresistible yet amorphous pull for me to travel that I couldn’t always heed during the years I was raising our young children, who’d now flown the coop. Now, I just have to name it.

As my goodwill gesture to the group, I embarked on answering what essentially was a very personal question to me as candidly as I could. After all, potentially great friendships initially rest on one party allowing herself to be vulnerable enough in order to test the temperature of the waters into which one is about to plunge. Thus, when came my turn, I replied in something of the following (that is, I’m paraphrasing here because I think I babbled more than elucidated at the time): “I’ve never felt I truly belonged anywhere, not even in my native country, which I know sounds strange but true—except when I traveled. Meaning—no country, no culture felt completely home to me, save in my status as a traveler. I guess this is because my being seen by others as a mere passerby, someone who’s just passing through their lives—this somehow liberates most people to suspend their preconceptions about me long enough to accept me as I am come to them, which then somehow predisposes all of us to a generous sharing spirit that allows us to experience a powerful human connection from our encounter that doesn’t seem possible otherwise. I realize that whenever I’d felt the greatest connection with others, it was not by identifying with the tribal identity of their race, culture, or country, but on the contrary, with the tribeless aspects of their humanity—the things that unite us as humans, such as our universal love for family, good food, great art, and the ineffable beauty of nature. So I suppose I travel largely because I enjoy the experience of feeling in harmony and unity with my fellow human beings—regardless of the differences of our race, culture, or creed. In this sense, traveling is indeed an escapist adventure for me—a chance to sign off of the harsh realities of our twenty-first century civic life which sadly has become less civil and more polarized so that we fail to identify with the common human aspirations of our fellow human beings due to this fashionable focus on our differences.”

Here, thus, I touched on one of travel’s great, if not its greatest virtue: its power to educate and remind us of our common humanity. U.S. President Eisenhower understood this, and so in the aftermath of the Second World War, he initiated the People-to-People Program, which aimed to promote peace through understanding via an international travel program for American middle school and high school students. This program still exists today, and my own children had availed of it in their time. Eisenhower believed that if young minds could be educated about how much different peoples and cultures actually have in common with each other, then perhaps we would distrust each other less and this would avert another world war from happening. The former president must be turning in his grave now since his youth program proved inadequate to stop the recent occurrences of young Caucasian American men marching our streets, wielding tiki torches in brazen display of their continued dogmatic belief in the primacy and purity of their race—a conviction that, when promoted with the otherwise benign-sounding principles of “patriotism” and “nationalism”, make for the same ideology that led us all toward the last world war.

The essayist and intellectual Martha Nussbaum wrote a very interesting relevant article. In her 1994 essay, “Patriotism and Cosmopolitanism”, recently republished on-line by the Boston Review (bostonreview.net/martha-nussbaum-patriotism-and-cosmopolitanism), Nussbaum proposes that “emphasis on patriotic pride is both morally dangerous and, ultimately, subversive of some of the worthy goals patriotism sets out to serve—for example, the goal of national unity in devotion to worthy moral ideals of justice and equality. These goals, I … argue, would be better served by an ideal that is … more adequate to our situation in the contemporary world, namely the very old ideal of the cosmopolitan, the person whose primary allegiance is to the community of human beings in the entire world.” I encourage everyone to read Nussbaum’s essay, as the latter delves into a detailed yet easy to follow logical exposition that clearly points the way toward the next philosophical leap humankind has to achieve if we are to avoid the catastrophe that is the inevitable end of current worldwide populist movements’ revival of the old dangerous war games built on grudges based on race, gender, sexuality, and religion.

In my paper, “The Question of Philippine Sovereignty in the RP-US Military Bases Agreement: Some Reflections on the Viability of the Concept of Sovereignty in Evaluating a Contemporary Problem in International Law” (which garnered second place in the 1985 Philippine Law Journal board examinations at the University of the Philippines College of Law and thereby won me the Vice-Chair of the law review), I argue a parallel theory to Nussbaum’s arguments: The principle of sovereignty ultimately presents a weakness to the enforcement of international human rights law when confronting a government that cares not for the human rights of its citizens and relies upon this doctrine to defeat attempts by the international community or any other nation to intervene in its domestic affairs in the name of human rights protection. The grim human rights record of the then Marcos dictatorship conveniently proved my point.

Now I realize why I’ve never felt at home in any country or culture: I always saw myself as a citizen of the world more than as a citizen of any one nation. I drew my identity from being a human being more than being a Filipino or American. Thus, in my poem, Pilgrim I (first published in 1996 in Michigan Law School’s Dicta Journal, and republished in my poetry collection, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey”, available from VictoriaGSmith.com), a poem I wrote in reaction to the indignities I felt subjected to while undergoing the U.S. citizenship application process, I lament:

“….

I feel beholden not to any sovereign,
save none but humanity itself.
I am a citizen of the world,
a child of humankind:
Do they not recognize their own?

When will they wake up to the truth—that
people are no longer to be separated:
by color or creed,
by sexual orientation,
by laws and jurisdictions?

The divisions among us
are illusory as darkness,
So we continue to walk the earth
as wandering strangers,
Till we find ourselves home
at each other’s hearth.”

Perhaps I’m cursed indeed to be a wandering stranger, for I feel more comfortable in my skin as a traveler than as a citizen of any country as long as the doctrines of patriotism and sovereignty are used to override human rights in the moral and legal codes of nation-states. These canons have served their purposes to promote the right of self-determination of peoples in the aftermath of world wars that blew up the artificial geopolitical borders drawn by the colonial powers, and surely such principles remain relevant to many pockets of conflict around the world where tribal groups still fight against annexation with dominant and often oppressive larger tribes. However, studying the workings of this process through the decades since the last two world wars demonstrates the ultimately nihilistic path of these principles. They are useful philosophical tools to gain freedom with, but this very same freedom that is often hard-won implodes when the same doctrines are used to ultimately deny the human rights of another group of people. One tribe’s human rights do not override another’s—it is only in recognizing we all have a common stake in ensuring equal protection of these rights on a global scale that we ensure each other’s peace and security.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog The Myth of “Finding One’s Passion”

Some years ago, when I was a part-time college instructor at the largest community college in Iowa, the sight of my young adult students, many of them fresh out of high school, arriving at our first class session looking indifferent, bored, stressed, or even depressed greatly disturbed me. I wondered why, with all their youth, health, and beauty—indeed, their whole life still ahead of them in the great United States of America, a country for which many immigrants and refugees risked death to reach—they looked so miserable.

Thus, I did all I could to make our classes both entertaining and challenging. I strove to give them a first class university experience—just as I’d benefited from the excellent universities (from the Philippines and United States) I’d attended, from which I received my three graduate and post-graduate degrees. I worked very hard at this such that a fellow instructor, witnessing it, appeared to have felt threatened enough to tell me to stop going beyond what our pay required of us. But I couldn’t help myself. What my fellow teacher failed to appreciate was the non-monetary compensation I received from doing what I did. When the term ended, I received the reward I desired most of all, which was not so much the five-star instructor rating most of my students gave me, but seeing how some of them changed into engaged human beings, at least semi-ready and somewhat excited for what’s next in their lives.

Many who know me might say I’m a naturally passionate person, and perhaps they are right. The sight of a defeated young person especially haunts me, because I think of what I could still achieve if only I were that young again! I feel sorry for the girl or boy, compelled to understand what leads young people to such states of desperation. Thus, I’ve given this much thought and reflection. Part of the problem, I think, is that the youth have so many life choices now, especially in a first world country like the United States. This may sound surprising, as conventional wisdom suggests that the more choices we have, the more fulfilling our lives would be, and therefore the happier we must be. On the contrary, recent studies suggest that our condition as members of a contemporary, wealthy, democratic society who have to navigate through countless choices to ensure we’re making the “right choice”—whether this be in terms of professions, vocations, or products—actually contributes to us being miserable. I understand this.

I remember my first visit to a grocery store when I immigrated to America. I stood frozen, stalled mid-aisle, confounded by the impossible number and variety of fresh produce and packaged products that presented themselves to me. I didn’t know what to choose! This dilemma was exacerbated by two faults of mine: I was part lazy and part afraid. Lazy, because I didn’t want to have to read the product descriptions and warnings in order to choose properly. Afraid, because I was afraid of making mistakes in my purchases. To this day, I dislike grocery shopping. Lucky for me my husband doesn’t mind it at all. I am amused at how he seems to find a good excuse to drive to the nearest grocery store almost everyday. I suspect he likes hunting the daily bargains. Ha! Men and hunting—what more need I say? But back to mistakes. That’s the key to the riddle of our desperate youths. If I was afraid to make simple mistakes in my choice of goods while grocery shopping, how much more daunting is it for young people to have to make crucial decisions about career and life paths? Oh, the burden of having to decide at their tender teenage years what they want to do or become for the rest of their lives—long before their brains and personalities are fully developed! And add to that the hefty burden of paying for a college education these days. There is something to be said about the merits of providing free public college education to those who want and deserve it.

Wherever there are human problems, there abound self-help gurus who claim to have the answer. And the answer they came up with for the problem of making choices when there are too many choices? Find your passion. Passion! Hmph. There should be a rule against further abuse of this word. I suspect some people call what they do as their “passion” to glamorize it and make it sound more important or mysterious than it really is. What insufferable pretentiousness! And sometimes, what others call passion is in fact an unhealthy obsession that comes from a compulsion to fill in some insatiable need or emptiness in their lives. Yet with all their so-called passion, they remain incomplete human beings.

I actually feel some anger now whenever I hear some adult preach to the young about “finding one’s passion” in order to become successful in life. Why? Because above all, I think it’s cruel to mislead the young to think that unless they are passionate in what they’re doing, they will never be successful—in addition to imposing the unnecessary burden on them to find a passion. But what if they never find one? What if they’re perfectly content to be mildly interested in their occupation or vocation, enough to earn a modest living? Does that mean they’re failures? I bet this is exactly what most young people fear—to feel or be perceived as failures. Thus the misery, desperation, depression. And the tragedy! Because this so-called recipe for success is nothing more than another false product someone sold us that we unwittingly bought hook, line and sinker because it sounded good—without us actually having read the product details. For if we are to examine what really goes on in “finding one’s passion”, we’ll discover it’s less of an absolute ideal than the pragmatic compromise it truly is. Most successes in life are achieved through trial and error. Who says that a course of action or study or life direction chosen when one was young couldn’t be changed later, as circumstances or one’s desires required? Nothing in life is written in stone. Nothing—unless we will it. Life indeed is what we make it, with a little help from luck.

“Now,” some of you might protest, “aren’t you being pretentious yourself when you announced not too long ago how writing was your passion?” Yes. Mea culpa. I admit I too I fell into that trap of trying to delude myself and others that I’m one of the lucky ones who’s found my passion and living it. Although perhaps that’s true now, it’s also true that despite my passionate personality, nothing I ever did in my life happened or became successful because I was instantly passionate about it. Under whatever circumstances I found myself in, I simply proceeded to do what I had guessed (and yes, this is another real life secret: much of life is guesswork!) I might like doing more than other activities or tasks that were available to me at the time, discovered I was good at doing one thing versus another, which added to the pleasure I experienced in doing such activity or task, which in turn inspired me to continue engaging in it, until I practiced it often enough that I had achieved some mastery of it, which in the end led to my success in such occupation. That’s it—that’s all it really is! Some people might call this finding my passion. I simply call it doing what I like. Everyone, in reality, is largely clueless and making things up as he or she trudges along this road called life. But that’s the key to living a joyful, creative life—just making things up. It doesn’t matter what you do—just do it if you like it, and see what happens. All the greatest artists will attest to this creative process. I consider myself passionate only in one thing: doing my best in whatever I choose to do, whether I like it or not—meaning, whether I’m doing it for pleasure or out of duty or necessity. My husband, having retired from an Information Technology (IT) career a few years ago, always said it was no more than a job that fortunately allowed him to provide a comfortable life for his family. But he was still considered a great success by many of his superiors, peers, and subordinates, and he’s got a Top 100 CIO Award to show for it. I believe his success also came from giving nothing less than his best to whatever project he was involved in. He didn’t need IT to be his passion to be successful. He only needed to be good at it, and it helped that he proved better at it than other people.

I have no doubt that some successful individuals really do feel passionate about what they do, which inspired them to become better at doing it than other people were, which ultimately led to their success and happiness. They’re lucky that way. But for most of us, we have to work extra hard to “get lucky”, which means trying to just survive the work day in order to get us through to the evening or weekend when we could finally do what we like better than our day jobs. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with living this way. Many people live lives of relative mediocrity in jobs they merely tolerate in order to keep body and soul together, so that perhaps someday they can finally do what they like doing more often than what they don’t like. Is this happiness? Is this success? I would ask instead: Did it facilitate a life that enabled them to enjoy loving and being loved? Because if it did, then I call that a life well lived. That, to me, is the definition of success.

Happiness, furthermore, isn’t a static thing. It’s fluid. Like water, it runs into all aspects of our life. One may feel happy now, but not so next day. Does that mean you’re not a happy person? No. Because happiness is a quality or state of being, not an emotion. You can’t take the joy out of another person unless that person permits it. You might make that person feel sad by doing things to hurt that person in separate, particular moments. But that person will rise above them because his or her state of being belongs to him or her alone. That’s why we say a person’s dignity can’t be taken away by anyone unless the subject of the attack agrees it’s been taken from him or her. One could read Victor E. Frankl’s book, “Man’s Search For Meaning”, further on this.

If we examine humanity’s problems, we might trace many of them to our relentless pursuit of the absolute—absolute answers in black and white that are easy to preach, yet fall apart upon the first grays in the cloudy horizons of life. Why settle for black and white in a colorful world? I’m reminded of what the young main character in one of Rabindranath Tagore’s short stories stated: “I don’t need to find the meaning of life. I only want to experience it.” And there it is, young people—the secret of a happy, successful life! So simple, it eludes many of us. Just live your life the best way you can, giving it the best you have, while striving simply to love and be loved in return. Yep—just like the old Nat King Cole song goes. And what a newer song sings: Don’t worry; be happy!

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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From your definition, I will consider myself happy then, Sis! Love your blog! 😍

I love reading your Blog Victoria Smith...sharing!

3 months ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

So proud and grateful to have these millennial fans of my book! ... See MoreSee Less

So proud and grateful to have these millennial fans of my book!

#Blog
June is traditionally associated with weddings. I honor it through this—

Letter to a Young Bride

Dear Young Bride,

And so you believed in the fairy tale—didn’t you? I hope, for your sake and humanity’s, you did not. And yet still married him. Or her.

Despite this seemingly antipathetic sounding greeting, I sincerely wish you the best in your new life with your spouse—who, you must know, no matter how handsome or beautiful, sexy, smart, strong, intelligent, and perfect he or she seems to be now, is not a knight in shining armor. Truth is, no one is—except you. Only you are your own knight in shining armor. So keep yourself polished. And wise. Grounded, yet resolutely aiming for the stars. Always.

You ask—is this possible? Yes. Take it from me—divorced once; “happily” married the second time around—and this, even after fourteen major moves across three countries and a couple of major home renovations. Studies indicate three primary causes of divorce. One: acute differences in parenting styles; two: financial problems; and three: stresses borne out of a traumatic event, as for instance, the death of a child, infidelity, physical abuse, or a major relocation or home renovations. And yet I remain married and dreamful with my husband of twenty-five years, with whom I happen to be embarking on a third major home remodeling. But let me not mislead you. This is no fairy tale I’m living. The iconic phrase “happily ever after” was not meant to be literal in fairy tales, just as fairy tales are merely fictional. Or are they? Sometimes, fiction does get the truth across better than facts. The trick is in differentiating what is fictional from true in fiction. Let me put it another way: Consider “happily” as a figure of speech. And like most figures, it has its twists and turns, ups and downs. Marriage, my dear, is a veritable rollercoaster ride. So hang onto your garters!

Don’t fret. Despite my seemingly raining down on your bridal parade, I am with you and for you: your interests, your stakes in this all-important life commitment you have made, which is second only to having children. Yes, the latter takes precedence. For these days, you can undo a marriage, but you can never undo having a child, though you could end up contributing to its life’s undoing. So, be afraid—be very afraid, and try to be the best parent you can be. Never let your guard down. You are a parent for life. But as regards marriage, chin up. If you find you’ve made the very human mistake in your choice of a spouse, don’t despair. There is life after divorce.

But enough of this gloom and doom and onto the task at hand: constructively preparing you for this thing called marriage, which is entirely different from the wedding—an event that only lasts in the blink of an eye, a glossy muddle of a memory that recalls a dress, flowers, and cake. Therefore, I also hope you did not marry anyone just to wear THE dress! Otherwise, I would have suggested that you simply hold a debut party instead, which would have been entirely devoted to the celebration of—well, none other than wonderful, gorgeous you. This is the underlying wisdom behind that ancient yet still practiced tradition of stuffy circles in the southern United States, and good old merry England, including some Hispanic or Latin-influenced cultures, particularly wealthy Filipinos in the Philippines of honoring their daughters in a coming of age ritual by introducing them to society through a lavish ball that involves dancing and yes—wearing THE dress. A ball gown, to be exact—no, not a prom gown. It’s much more than that. Think of it as a wedding gown—only, not in white. So, if this is your main goal—to be seen in THE dress, then have a ball, literally! Every woman needs a celebrated memory of the peak of her beauty, her magnificence. So just get the darned dress already and wear it to a worthy occasion, and if you’ve not been invited to one—then create it! You don’t have to go all the way marrying the guy. Or the gal. Believe me—the gown and the ball are going to cost you much less than the wedding in the long run.

A young girlfriend I’m especially fond of, who’s been married only a few years, had need of special support and advice from me lately. She had arrived at the crossroad between divorce and sticking it out with her husband. I was aware that she looked up to me as an elder and supposedly wiser sister, and as such, I feared whatever I told her could spell the difference between her taking one road versus the other. I felt the terrible weight of such responsibility, and prayed for the right thing to say. Should I take on the usual pal’s role as cheerleader and give her the same old romantic BS about staying steadfast in love and faithful to marital duty? No, that all sounded hollow to me. Then, a voice from somewhere in my head, my heart, or both—I’m not sure which—urgently and repeatedly said: “The best help you can give your friend is to tell her the truth—the awful, gritty truth about marriage. And then let her decide for herself.” And so, dear Young Bride, I do no less for you.

First, a history lesson: The institution of marriage was born in infamy. It originated as a financial or political transaction dressed up in religious ceremony to seal man’s invented right to own a woman, by which the woman—or more accurately a girl—passed on exclusively from her father’s possession to another man’s. It is no wonder that human society developed rites of marriage and established it as an institution along with the development of trade, commerce, and religion, and the increased powers of a patriarchal church over a secular social order. Thus, under the original concept of marriage, the idea of a love match as the basis for marriage was completely anathema, until the advent of the romantics through works of subversive poets, troubadours, and writers, which titillated the imaginations of otherwise trapped brides and their lovers with the notion that it might be possible to marry for love. Thus, the invention of the fairy tale—which unfortunately perpetuated another set of myths upon the young, brainwashing them with the belief that as long as one marries for love, one is guaranteed happy ever after.

I thought it prudent, however, not to impose this Sociology 101 lecture regarding the evolution of the institution of marriage upon my friend. I went straight to a more personal point: that she and only she can decide what’s right for herself, and that in this plane of choices, there is neither a right or wrong answer—only either a path that promises a happier and easier life, or a less happy and easy existence. And that whichever path she chooses, no one could or should judge her for it—least of all, I. I also noted that in every marriage, spouses consciously or unconsciously decide their respective “make” or “break” issues—the threshold beyond which they can no longer remain married to each other. There are no absolute rules here. Only personal, subjective ones. But I implore you, dear Young Bride, to make a conscious choice about them because they’re too important to leave to the tyranny of the visceral. Mine is physical abuse. You cross that line and that’s it for me. Another friend’s is infidelity, for to her, that kind of treachery is an indelible stain on the marriage. But between physical abuse and infidelity is a wide range of possible other sources of serious conflicts between spouses. Addiction, for example, whatever it is, whether it be to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or sex, presents its own unique, possibly insurmountable challenges. And then there is that shape-shifting monster called emotional and verbal abuse, which could be just as hurtful and damaging as physical abuse. Does one decide to forgive it, relying on that seemingly nonchalant chant, “sticks and stones could break my bones, yet words will never hurt me”? You’ll be amazed, dear Young Bride, at what you will be capable of tolerating and forgiving when you love someone enough. Then, you’ll understand what unconditional love means.

Thus I come to my final point—what I hope you’ll come to know about marriage, above all: that it is a gritty, daily exercise in forgiveness; a constant reminder of our humanity, which, despite its inauspicious institutional origins, makes it worth preserving. We see how it can truly become a sacrament of, and conduit for grace, for we are both humbled and blessed by it. It’s a cliché but true that a good marriage is heaven on earth, while a bad one is a living hell. I believe any country or legal system that does not allow for divorce is in violation of human rights, for to require human beings to stay beholden to bad marriages is either slavery or torture or both. Humans are imperfect beings who make imperfect choices; therefore, their laws should make humane allowances for human imperfections. We are not static individuals either. We change as we age—sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. Here’s a personal insight hard-won from being an obsessive student of human nature for over half a century: Whatever the good and bad traits of a person, those traits will likely magnify as that person ages. Thus, observe the less than desirable traits of your partner, then imagine them worse by at least twice or thrice when he or she is older. Those are the challenges you’ll face in your marriage in years to come. The question you’ll have to ask yourself then is: Will you be able to live with that?

In the end, it all boils down to what we could live with, or without. Again—it’s deciding what makes or breaks a marriage, understanding that the lines in the sand we draw today could very well move tomorrow. But whichever direction they move, dear Young Bride, you can be sure you always possess the power of choice. And that you will surprise yourself, most of all. I wish you a life full of delightful surprises.

Yours truly,
Your older and wiser Self

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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As usual, you put your thoughts and insights beautifully and perfectly in words!!! I always knew you have this gift!

What a wise real life picture for young brides, Atche! Will share ok? 😍

This is so on point! Thanks for sharing Angeli!

Super agree ako kay Mam Marilyn. I love reading your works Marivic. Galing2 talaga.

#Blog Mother’s Day Reflections From A Mom’s Moving Sale

Having recently sold our home, and to save on moving costs, my husband and I conducted a garage sale—something we hadn’t done in years and should have held sooner, in paced multiples, not the crazy one day seven hour marathon sale we’ve just had. I knew this day would come when we’d have to completely move out of our Midwest home to make way for our new life on the Puget Sound, but I held back until the last minute. It was foolish, I know, and there was no reason for it other than plain cowardice. Daunted by the prospect of facing the accumulation of twenty-five years of marriage and family life—a veritable mountain of redundancies and unnecessaries, I chickened out.

It’s not the first time I’ve done this, so I knew the greatest challenge here was not the tedious, hard work of editing and clearing away of the material stuff—it’s the stuff of the heart and soul that are the heavy weights. Fourteen years ago, after another big move, I wrote the following lines in my poem, “Old Letters”, that appears in my poetry collection, Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey:

“Another move, another house,
not yet a home. All around me:
the scraps and souvenirs of a life
stuffed in boxes.

How does one measure how far
we’ve gone on this journey?
Or depth of being?
Or success or failure?

First there were two hundred, then
four hundred. Now eight hundred?
A thousand, perhaps? A thousand
boxes—the accumulation of years!

Projects begun but never finished,
vacation snapshots, milestones reached;
The turning at the crossroads,
where the fork stared us in the eye:

Did we choose the road less traveled—
the one that made all the difference?
Or did we, like many, pick the safer path,
rode the bandwagon of mediocrity?

Is this what it all amounts to—
this counting of boxes as proof
of our lives? Are we simply
the sum of a mover’s list?

….”

Presently, we faced the special challenge of having to sort through all the childhood stuff of our children who’d long flown the coop. Having been a mother who could never let go of anything connected with her children, there was a lot to contend with, to say the least—and much of it, the children themselves said they didn’t care to hang onto. So why did I feel I had to? Plowing through boxes and boxes of my children’s things from when they were babies till their high school years was not only physically painful; it was emotionally and philosophically draining. What to keep, what to throw away? One could design a whole spiritual retreat out of this exercise!

It’s been oft stated that we are who we are because of our memories, that we only live as long as someone remembers us. So perhaps I was hanging onto my children’s things because I no longer trusted my memory? Things took the place of remembrance—proofs of events, monuments to extraordinary feats of ordinary life. But these monuments have become monumental occupants of precious real estate! And they, along with the merely ornamental, were proving to be stones tied around our necks, holding us down. It was time to go full Marie Kondo.

But to achieve this, I had to challenge the notion that our memories create who we are. Similar to the faulty belief that we are what we do for a living, the idea that we are only what we remember of ourselves presents a fundamental flaw in our understanding of ourselves. True, it was touching to be reminded of what I did with my children when they were five years old, or even fifteen. But does the loss of a souvenir from that time take away the fact of its occurrence? Forgetting the specifics of the good things I did as a parent—does this make me less than the good parent I was and still am? If it does, then perhaps I have a problem of identity more than of memory.

No one lives forever. No matter how many remember us, in the end, they all die out. And do we need to be reminded that monuments are a risky proposition to keeping latter generations apprised of our self-importance? Just remember what happened to Confederate Civil War monuments in recent years. There is knowledge, after all, that goes beyond physical proof. Only the ego needs supporting evidence for its illusions. Do we really need to be remembered beyond our lifetime, when only maggots draw sustenance from whatever remains of us? And why even attract maggots? I’ve made clear in my will that I am to be cremated.

Truth is, who we really are is not changed by fleeting memory. For myself, I find I don’t need proof I was and still am a good mother beyond the living proofs that are my children. It is with this thought that I bid my daughter’s dollhouse farewell when my husband carries it off to goodwill. I hope another mother and daughter will create beautiful new memories with it that will last them—well, at least a lifetime.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog In Praise of Middlemarch

Recently, I’ve had the luxury of binging on the BBC series, “Middlemarch”, based on George Eliot’s classic novel. Thus, while April is National Poetry Month, I begin this month’s column with praise for the poetry of this literary masterpiece, brought to new life on film.

In the preface of my poetry collection, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey”, I expound on the value of poetry for everyday human life—which to me, in essence, is poetry’s power to distill the extraordinary from the ordinary, providing both inspiration and meaning to life. Middlemarch is precisely that story of otherwise ordinary people attempting the extraordinary in their everyday lives, although achieving in the end what appear merely to be mediocre results. To me, it is not the quality of the product of one’s striving that determines one’s success in life—but the quality of the very striving itself. This is perhaps why I literally bawled my eyes out when I heard the following line spoken by one of the story’s main characters, Dorothea: “I used to despise women for not shaping their lives more. I was so fond of doing as I liked. Two years ago, I had no notion of the way that trouble comes and ties our hands and makes us silent when we long to speak.” Honestly, has anyone been touched by a better distillation of the tragedy of the human condition—let alone, the condition of women?

Many of us begin our lives being proud idealists, judging how things ought to be, reveling in our Monday morning quarterbacking. And then life happens to us, and we begin to understand that things aren’t that simple, and neither are people especially. They are complex human beings who are not completely good or bad, and who, for the most part, try to do the best they can with what they have at the time they had it. It’s easy to have 20/20 hindsight, forgetting that in order to even reach the aftermath of the “behind” with all its potential wisdom, we had to cross the “before” period that the allowed us to gain any foresight at all. It’s in how we cross the bridge when we get there that interests me as a writer, not whether we reached the other side—in other words, my personal restatement of the saying, it’s not the destination but the journey that’s important.

This perspective helped me arrive at my own formulation for what a successful poem looks like, which hints at my formulation of what a successful life is, described no less in poetry through my poem, “Note to (Writer) Self:”. I humbly share that this poem’s maiden publication in the 2015 Summer Edition of Westward Quarterly elicited the following comment by poet and artist, Margaret Been: “When I read ‘Note to (Writer) Self:’, I actually responded bodily–with chills and goosebumps! That is — in my estimation — immortally great poetry…. Incredibly incredible!”

Therefore, in celebration of National Poetry Month, I am happy to republish herein my poem—

Note to (Writer) Self:

Give me no words that bend
to fickle moment, nor imagery
fawning to senses alone,
shocking nerves for attention.

Rather, give me truth
distilled from slow reckoning
of the wonder that lies beneath
skin, carved in flesh and bone:
riddle of air in lungs,
liver’s absolutions,
discord and harmonies of heart
beating to rhythm of ordinary life,
eyes privy to the extraordinary
mystery of all things.

Describe to me each slice of pain
from the thousand paper cuts
of the living—not blasting of brains
triggered by bigoted mind
nor addictions of spent spirit.

Tell me the common story
of blood that travels quietly
in human veins, not clotted
treachery of iron will,
the coward’s tyranny by division—
blighting all beauty to extinction.

Show me not brilliance that blinds
but steady glow of leading stars,
then play to me the heavens’ opus
in the basso of planets,
treble of the moon.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog My #MeToo Statement in honor of International Women's Day:

Women, Their Anger, and the Me Too Movement

March hosts International Women’s Day. It’s both a celebration of our gains and a reminder of how much more needs to be done in the fight for women’s rights and freedoms. One could argue that devoting one day to such cause isn’t enough. While it’s true we’ve made significant strides in the last century toward improving women’s conditions all over the world, there are pockets of hold-out countries and communities that still treat their women as second class citizens, not much more than men’s chattels and possessions they were in Medieval times.

In the United States, we still struggle to expose and shame many companies, some of them our more iconic corporate institutions, that do not give their women employees equal pay for equal work in comparison with their male counterparts. It’s one thing to give lip service to the right of equality of pay; the practice of it, quite another. It’s also shocking how even the most outwardly progressive institutions are later exposed to have tolerated or allowed their male bosses to have practiced the most outrageous acts of sexual harassment against their women subordinates for many decades. It’s even more unconscionable that the country had elected as president a man who admits to there being allowable circumstances where it’s acceptable to grab women by their genitals or, at the least, brag about his right to do so as part of the perks of his self-declared celebrity status.

In rape and other sexual assault cases, lack of consent appears to remain a highly variable and subjective concept wherein the simple word “no” does not seem to register with assailants. It’s likewise abominable that it is still considered a fair question to ask victims of sexual abuse if somehow they did not invite or, worse, deserve the alleged attack by the way they had dressed or flirted with their attacker, or by the simple reason that the women allowed themselves to look too attractive to resist. I think it a comic tragedy that in some cultures, men are absolved of their personal responsibility for their own actions in failing to contain their lust for a woman whose only fault lay in being beautiful or who neglects to make herself invisible by failing to cover her hair, face, feet—heck, her whole body from head to toe! It’s as if the legal, social, and religious systems in which these transgressions against women are allowed to persist admit that their men are mere animals indeed who can’t be held responsible for their own lack of self control and morals, and therefore women have to carry the burden of serving as sacrificial lambs in the altar of men’s basic instincts in addition to their already oppressive responsibilities as men’s domestic and sexual slaves.

Is it any wonder then why women are still angry?

In the advent of the Me Too movement that fights for absolute zero intolerance of sexual harassment and sexual assault against women in the workplace or in any institutional setting whereby women become easy targets for sexual exploitation, there have been concerns expressed by both male and female talking heads that mere allegations of improper conduct now have the power to cause the abrupt end of the accused’s otherwise stellar career or reputation. True, an extrajudicial system of justice whereby the accused is treated as guilty before such guilt is judicially proven breeds its own demons. In reality, however, most women would not lodge a baseless complaint for something like this. Overwhelming research shows that most women do not report sexual attacks against them for fear of the humiliation and persecution they’d have to endure in going public with their complaint for sexual assault or harassment, especially within a legal justice system that is institutionally biased against them because it assumes they are the guilty ones until they could prove their attackers guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. Thus, most acts of sexual assault and harassment against women go unpunished. The Me Too movement is therefore an attempt by women to balance such grave imbalance of institutional power. Truth, after all, in both its glaring and subtle aspects, could be seen without requiring proof beyond reasonable doubt. Even the law recognizes it in the concept of preponderance of evidence. Here certainly is where the saying “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” applies, without saying that mere smoke should be enough to incarcerate the accused behind bars, for which a higher burden of proof applies. Women have become astute to the realization that there are other and more poetic ways of exacting justice within a patriarchal society that requires them to jump impossible hoops before they could be heard.

This is where women’s anger is useful, where anger itself becomes poetry when directed toward a worthy goal. Contrary to misconceptions propagated by misogynists about the “angry woman”, a true angry woman is not a mindless hysteric. She is awfully focused; her acts, well considered and pragmatic, so that altogether they become nothing less than a rational program of action. Hell indeed has no fury compared to a woman scorned, and hell will freeze first before the truly angry woman gives up.

As a poet, I offer the following fighting words—my own #MeToo statement—for my righteously angry sisters:

“If I speak for those who live
in the shadows, the invisibles,
the living dead among us,
I must give up the wings of
my intellect and embrace
this animal of my body.

I must speak in a voice
they could hear, the poem
no one wants to write because
it talks plainly and wears its heart
on the page, breathes not
the rarefied air of ivory towers but
dust of common life, soot from
the rubbles of war, stench of
landfills of corpses and the mountains
of garbage where they feed.

If I speak for them, I must live
as they live—on the edges
of life and death, plying the margins
of survival, unblind to the horrors—
eyes stinging from the fumes of insanity,

like the woman who picks herself up
after she’s raped, sheds
the rent and bloodied garments
of her defilement, and walks
naked through the corridors
of her existence: a ghost
in search of its body….”
(Excerpts from my poem-in-progress, “Advocate’s Prayer”)

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog Just in time for Valentine's week...

Um, What Exactly Is Love—Again, Please?

An ancient question—as old as the species that ask it. And who am I to propose an answer? What’s worth restating here that countless others have pondered already?

This year, my husband and I will be celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary. No small feat, many might say. By having lived a love this long, I’ve learned, and like to think I’ve earned the right to say something about it, humbly aware that twenty-five years is nothing compared with those married or who’ve been together for much longer, such as an aunt and uncle who are celebrating their fiftieth anniversary this March.

February celebrates romantic love. But could a feeling—induced by raging hormones, or the need to procreate or, to be blunt, copulate, or an addictive chemical body high that comes from being the center of another person’s attention, combined with the imprinting process (which is what I suspect is behind the creation of the illusion of having “found” one’s soul-mate) brought about by shared aesthetic standards (concepts of beauty), values, activities, and goals (which later prove to be variable)—be truly called “love”? Nature plays sneaky tricks on us to enable itself to re-create, replicate, and expand. Much has been said about this and in much better ways by qualified experts, supported by scientific data and all. So I won’t say more.

Here’s what interests me: the idea that love isn’t love, unless it’s a matter of choice. Ergo, the dictum: Love is not a feeling; it’s a decision. I never understood this in my youth. Now, at middle age, I finally know.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s Sonnet 43 is often cited as a classic ode to romantic love:

“How do I love thee?
Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

My heart beat races, and a heat rises from my chest to the top of my head—not from feelings of passion inspired by this poem, but by imperishable feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment I still experience as I remember having to memorize and recite this poem before a summer speech class consisting of adolescent girls and boys, among who was a boy with whom I had a hopeless crush. Hopeless is the operative word. For after I’d finished performing this poem with all the pretentious passion I could muster at my then bosom-less (literal and metaphorical) twelve years of age, I realized that that boy was completely oblivious of me, given that he was, like all the boys there, apparently only interested in my pretty, well-endowed, and therefore “hot” sixteen-year old cousin, who also happened to attend that class. There should be a rule against anyone performing this poem who hasn’t lived a life and been at least partly devastated by it. Goodness, I was then merely someone described in my native language as, “may gatas pa sa labi”! (Translation: “one who still has milk on her lips”)

Browning’s poem is much more than an ode to romantic love. Note the enigmatic line, “I love thee with a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints.” What could Browning possibly mean? Saints are embodiments of our ideal concepts of goodness in human beings, endowing the latter with superhuman powers to facilitate miracles. To lose one’s saint suggests losing one’s illusion of perfection in one’s idol, to see the stains and cracks in the latter’s armor—in other words, to see the object of one’s adulation in all of his or her ugly yet very human imperfections. To see the truth: that no one is a saint. We are all damaged creatures, after all. Along with this painful realization come the greater danger and pain of losing our sense of the miraculous.

Yet Browning says she still loves the object of her affection with “a love I seemed to lose with my lost saints”. “Seemed” is the crucial word here. It only seems she has lost the love that went with losing her saints, but in fact she has not. The saint may no longer be there, but her love for the person who used to be that saint still lives, albeit probably evolved. This is what is meant by love being a matter of choice, rather than a feeling. To decide to love a person despite the latter’s now apparent faults, despite such imperfections breaking one’s most cherished illusions about that person and the resulting pain to the lover, is the highest form of love, for it is absolutely voluntary and selfless. Voluntary, because one is not compelled by irresistible forces, chemical or otherwise, to love another; instead, one consciously chooses to love that “other”. Selfless, because it is the antithesis of self-preservation for the purpose of preserving “the other”, and in so doing, preserves both the lover and the loved by saving them both. What results is nothing short of a miracle.

Who knew that the perfect miracle of love is achieved precisely by our unconditional acceptance of an imperfect other? I didn’t know this when I was a child, in my teens, or even in my twenties. Now, I am truly an adult because I am done with the childish things.

Happy loving, everyone!

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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After 46 years of being married, yes this is very true. And Browning's poem, you can see and feel the struggles of finding out the meaningful experiences of togetherness - good and bad, colorful and dull, thought-level and feeling-level. Complicated? Mysterious? Laborious? Yes dear, it is. Just enjoy and survive!

Beautiful piece

#Blog

Start Over, Then Back Again

Farida Pacha begins her documentary film, “My Name is Salt”, with a quote from Albert Camus’s “The Myth of Sisyphus”: “The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart.”

It is a perfectly apt introduction for a film that portrays the Sisyphean toil of no less than forty thousand people in the Gujerat desert of India to literally coax salt out of the briny desert through the work of their mostly bare hands and feet. The process spans eight months of hard labor that begins at the end of the monsoon season and lasts until before the next rains flood the desert again, turning the baked, cracked earth into a sea that washes away the salt miner’s carefully sculpted salt beds, which then have to be carved out of the muddy earth again when the next salt-making season begins.

After watching this film, I couldn’t move from my seat. I must have sat still for at least fifteen minutes until I tasted salt on my lips, realizing it was my tears. My heart was filled with compassion, sadness, and pity for those human beings—young and old alike, who have to endure such back-breaking work in the scorching, blinding desert, living in make-shift tents and crudely-made shacks during those seemingly endless eight months in the salt fields—merely to survive. I vowed never to take salt for granted again, to never waste even a crystal of it, if I could help it. Those people are the true salt of the earth. From now on, I shall consume salt with reverence, out of respect for the nobility of human labor that brought it to my table.

To feel compassion is a good thing. But sadness and pity? Some part of me immediately questioned my motive for such condescending attitude. Surely, I thought, Pacha’s decision to begin her film with the Camus quote meant more than to elicit compassion, sadness, or pity for the salt miners. One does not have to read Camus’s essay to understand that the filmmaker is asking a philosophical question: Is our life worth living when we know our toil will be endless and our goals unattainable?

I bet many of us would say living the salt miners’ life would be like a living hell. And yet, surprisingly, that is not what I saw in the way the salt miners and their families appeared to live their lives. Everyday, they worked without complaint, even when the salt trader, by paying them pittance for their priceless labor, effectively washed away any profit they had hoped to gain. They did not break down into hopelessness when their precious water pump broke down, threatening to completely shut down their operations and thus, their livelihood. Instead, they calmly used their heads to figure out a rational way, through their crude tools and elementary knowledge of mechanical engineering, to rig out a repair of the pump. They did not whine when their bodies ached at the end of a long day; instead, they took turns massaging each other’s sore limbs and muscles. And they took time for joy, to celebrate with their neighbors—washing, shaving, and donning their best clothes and adornments—to attend a simple season-end’s fair. And when it was all over, they quietly packed up their meager possessions and buried their tools deep in the earth, knowing they’d have to dig them up again—crust, rust, and all—come next season.

But how could they do it all over again, I asked myself. How could they bear to live such a seemingly meaningless and hopeless existence? A loaded question for all of us, indeed, at this start of yet another year of our lives. It is here where actually reading Camus’s essay could be instructive.

Camus tells the the story of Sisyphus, who was cursed by the gods to push a huge and heavy rock up a mountain, only for the rock to roll down from the summit so that Sisyphus has to push it back up again—for eternity. Yet it isn’t so much Sisyphus’s seemingly futile toil that interests Camus—it is the point where, at the peak of the mountain, Sisyphus realizes his fate. Camus states, in almost perfect poetry:

“…. That hour like a breathing-space which returns as surely as his suffering, that is the hour of consciousness. At each of those moments when he leaves the heights and gradually sinks toward the lairs of the gods, he is superior to his fate. He is stronger than his rock.

If this myth is tragic, that is because its hero is conscious. Where would his torture be, indeed, if at every step the hope of succeeding upheld him? The workman of today works everyday in his life at the same tasks, and his fate is no less absurd. But it is tragic only at the rare moments when it becomes conscious. Sisyphus, proletarian of the gods, powerless and rebellious, knows the whole extent of his wretched condition: it is what he thinks of during his descent. The lucidity that was to constitute his torture at the same time crowns his victory. There is no fate that cannot be surmounted by scorn.

If the descent is thus sometimes performed in sorrow, it can also take place in joy….

…. At that subtle moment when man glances backward over his life, Sisyphus returning toward his rock, in that slight pivoting he contemplates that series of unrelated actions which become his fate, created by him, combined under his memory's eye and soon sealed by his death. Thus, convinced of the wholly human origin of all that is human, a blind man eager to see who knows that the night has no end, he is still on the go. The rock is still rolling.

I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain! One always finds one's burden again. But Sisyphus teaches the higher fidelity that negates the gods and raises rocks. He too concludes that all is well. This universe henceforth without a master seems to him neither sterile nor futile. Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.” (dbanach.com/sisyphus.htm)

In other words, Camus proposes that despite our absurd existence—absurd, because of the conflict between our desire for meaning and order in our lives and what life actually delivers—we still have the power to choose to give meaning to life and accept our fate, and by such surrender, triumph over it.

In the end, it thus appears, it is not the seemingly wretched salt miners of Gujerat who deserve pity but I, for compared with the former, I, whose idea of a meaningful life is still limited by parameters dictated by other human beings, have not yet learned to surrender to the inherent absurdity of life. I am not yet fully myself because I do not yet have the courage to completely break free of humanity’s bandwagon definitions of success, and therefore have not yet become a fully conscious human being. So this is my new year’s resolution: to simply be a mindful witness to my life, and by this singular act of consciousness, triumph over the gods of fate and thereby imbue my life with indestructible meaning and purpose. I wish you all, dear readers, a mindful new year!

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2019 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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From my heart to yours, deep thanksgiving, dearest Ma’am Marilyn Gueco and Sis Vicky Anupol! ❤️❤️🙏🏼🙏🏼!

A very thought-provoking article! You picked my interest in watching that documentary now. I say to myself, how can one someone so successful,blessed and beautiful like you be so sensitive to these things ? Thank you for sharing this and yes, a toast to a more conscious and mindful new year, Sis! 👍😍🥂

Thank you for this!!!

Happy New Year Sis!♥️

#Blog Dear Readers and Friends, sharing my December 2018 VIA Times Column, just in time for some holiday reflections on what it might mean in our daily lives "to be reborn", upon which this season's story of the Christ's birth inspires us to meditate....

Becoming Mossback

A couple of months ago, still plagued by jet lag from an extended trip to the Philippines, I was channel surfing late night TV programs when I came across a show about the history of the Pacific Northwest and learned the meaning of a new word, “mossback.” And it hit me: Oh, no—I am becoming that!

Now, if you consult most dictionaries (Merriam-Webster; Collins; The Free Dictionary; Vocabulary.com), you will get the traditional definitions of the term, all amply covered by the following: “a turtle or an old fish that, because of its age, has a growth of algae on its back” or “a very conservative or reactionary person, especially one with old-fashioned views” (Wiktionary). Or, “a person living in the backwoods; rustic” (Dictionary.com). Given these definitions and their unflattering connotations, you might wonder why I admitted recognizing myself in that label. True, I am getting old, and my husband and I now live in rustic woodlands, but no one who knows me would agree I’m conservative or old-fashioned. Indeed, the story of my life is the story of how I’d mostly shocked people due to my non-conformist mindset. Anyone who knew me in high school, college, or even now might also add I’m really quite a bit of a misfit because I’ve never really fit neatly in any group or box, donning an unconventional worldview and rebellious personality that forced some of my peers, perhaps even my own parents, to disown me a few times, I’m sure. Why, I seem to even shock my own children sometimes! I was amused when my daughter recently described me to her new friend as a “flaming liberal”, and I’m always taken aback when my son asks me to cease talk about a subject in a restaurant, concerned I might be overheard by and thus offend some lurking conservatives. It’s amazing to me to see how millennials can sometimes prove to be more fogy than the British queen!

Well now, that show I mentioned—Crosscut’s Mossback Northwest, through its columnist, Knute Berger, explained that against the backdrop of the usual dictionary definitions of “mossback”, the term had come to have a very special meaning among the early and later settlers of the Pacific Northwest. It evolved to refer to any person who’s allowed the land and its climate in this special part of the world to mold and shape him. Now, this meaning—I liked! For more than anything, it gave me an understanding and insight, and therefore peace, about what’s been happening to me in the twelve months since my husband and I moved to an island off the coast of Washington State.

First came the dream—the dream of living closer to the ocean with more romantic views of sea and land bending to, and curving around each other. We had lived in a beautiful California home prior to this that boasted of panoramic, albeit distant ocean and valley views, until, as human nature would have it, these were no longer enough. A visit to the San Juan Islands turned out to be a revelation of what kingdom could be had in both acreage and water views, plus stunning vistas of layered islands and mountain ranges without having to pay a king’s ransom, in contrast to what California offered. Readers of this column might recall how I’d gushed poetic about the paradisiacal new home environment we’d found in the Puget Sound in the summer of 2017.

But after the exhilaration of idyllic summer came the cold, sobering winds and rain of fall and winter. Living in California had spoiled us. Too many sunny days in a climate that was at least ten degrees higher all-year round than where we now resided became a sweet potion of forgetting that elsewhere in the world, nature and the weather did change with the seasons.

Then there was the shocking realization that Costco shopping was a day trip! Yes, one has to take a 50-minute ferry ride followed by an hour and a half’s drive to the closest Costco. That made for a round-trip of five hours, exclusive of the hours it took to shop at Costco and Target (for goods one can’t consume in bulk). I turned nostalgic for the years when I could just send off my husband for a thirty-minute to an hour’s grocery errand. But man oh man—the views! Be careful of what you wish for—and the unintended consequences of getting it. I’d posted pictures of our ferry ride on such a day while complaining of how long such an errand took, and some of my friends were kind to console me by commenting that their Costco run consisted mostly of views of other cars’ behinds. Still, being the night owl I am, I did not appreciate having to be up at four-thirty or five in the morning to be on time for the six-thirty ferry (for one had to be in line at least forty-five minutes before loading)!

Then there was our unpleasant discovery that when you live on an island and need home services (such as house cleaning, plumbing, electrical, and home building contractors), it’s a challenge getting the requisite services on time and within budget. Here, we see how the law of supply and demand wields its unmoving hand to exacting standard. Since housing is scarcer and therefore costlier than on the mainland, there are fewer workers who could afford to live here year-round, which equates with less labor supply. Combine low labor supply with high labor demand—you get the mathematics of the economics here. Getting in a handyman’s work schedule calls for dogged persistence and dramatic actor’s skill in pleading one’s need is more urgent than those of your fellow islanders. Oscar-worthy performances notwithstanding, our small band of house service providers march only to the beat of their drums—which of course are set to island time. For an ex-mainlander like me, this could be excruciatingly snaillike.

And don’t even get me started about the trash and mail! We live in an area that is indeed splendid for the solitude it offers—which also means we’re outside the usual garbage pick-up and postal delivery service areas. Thus, we have to bring our garbage to the trash and recycling center, and pick up our mail from the post office. That we live in the boondocks was confirmed by our need to sign up for both helicopter and airplane ambulance services when came time to enroll in a new health insurance program. Long-timers assured us it’s all just part of island living, and not to worry for emergency transport services were reliable. But I was haunted by visions of Black Hawk Down.

And heels! The non-human kind, that is. Have I mentioned I own a fine collection of high-heeled shoes, albeit no contest with that of the infamous Imelda Marcos? My husband teases me it must be a Filipino thing. I tell him, no—it’s a fashionista lady thing. Outside our tourist-trodden, charming little town, the landscape turns wild and rugged, with graveled roads and rocky trails to farms and forests—in other words, this is no country for high heels! When I open my closet, my lovely sets of dress shoes sadly stare back at me like forgotten ladies-in-waiting.

And the house! It usually doesn’t take me long to figure how to decorate a new house because I’m mostly attracted to French, English, or Old World architecture and therefore chose homes that lent themselves well to be furnished in the same design styles. But our island home is an enigma wrapped in the riddle of its mixed Asian, American, and European elements. It’s a mutt—like me. And like me, it’s hard to peg. I suppose this is because it’s the first house in which I’ve allowed myself to stray away from my usual style preferences, and I’m confused. Houses usually speak to me—they tell me what they want, and I do as they bid. But this one is a stranger challenging me to know it deeper than its skin of timber, tile, and paint. It’s mostly mute, dangling a carrot of a clue now and then as if to tease me, but not yet letting me in on all its secrets. Strange that I’d never been inclined towards Asian style, although I come from that heritage. It’s as if this house is forcing me to see myself in the mirror of itself it’s held up to my face, asking me who I really am. And for the first time in a long time, I’m rattled, and it’s very disconcerting.

Fazed by the challenges of our new island life and home, I’d begun to question the wisdom of our move here. We came for paradise and discovered that paradise had impish dimensions. I was overwhelmed by a sinking feeling we may have made a mistake—something I’d not experienced before in a house purchase. I usually know what I want, and when I see it, I go for it, and supported by my husband, I never second-guess my decision. And so why this nagging doubt now—on the most important real estate investment in our lives? What added to my confusion was that such seeming signals of error were promptly opposed by signs of predestination assuring me that despite my fears and doubts, this was all meant to be. I felt in limbo, and it’s been very unsettling.

In recent weeks, however, I’ve noticed a pattern where I’d chance upon someone or something (usually something I’ve read or a show I’ve watched) that would seem to throw back at me the same advice I used to offer family and friends dealing with life challenges—trite, old adages that now feel too real and personal for comfort, such as “change is the only constant in life” or “you are being forced out of your comfort zone in order to compel you to change and evolve into your higher self”. It feels ironic I’m now at the receiving end of my own therapy, and resisting it. Before long, I’d get another spoonful of my own medicine: “Do not resist. Accept everything happening now without reservation. Accept and see what happens, how the world will open anew to you. Peace comes only with acceptance.”

Watching that late night show about the Northwest mossbacks told me what a bore and brat I’d become, complaining of the superficial inconveniences of our otherwise wonderful new island life. Something in the way it described the mossbacks of the Northwest as people who surrendered themselves to being molded by the land and climate where they lived struck close to my experience. Perhaps this was what I needed to become. It occurred to me that my discomfort arose mainly from being forced to shape up to the new environment I’m in and that any inconvenience I’m experiencing came from my own refusal to accept I now lived in a different territory that called for a different way of doing things. I realized that in order to make this work, I had to make some lifestyle changes—changes that were in fact good not only for myself but also for the environment. For instance, I was forced to be aware of how much garbage we produced, because the more of it we generated as a by-product of our lifestyle, the more trips to the trash and recycling center we had to make and the more we paid in terms of dumping fees. This also compelled us to remember to bring our reusable grocery bags when we went shopping so as to cut down on our consumption of brown paper and plastic bags. If I didn’t have a reusable shopping bag with me, I refused the merchant’s offer of a disposable shopping bag if I could just put the product in my handbag or even just held it in my arms until I reached our car.

And how about having to get up early to catch the ferry to the mainland? What a spoiled brat indeed I’d become in complaining of having to do what, after all, most of mankind has to do daily to survive—getting up at dawn (and for many, additionally, withstanding hours of standstill traffic and pollution) to get to work. And I didn’t even have to do this everyday! Waking up early once a month for a Costco and Target run isn’t all that bad considering my daily perk: I get to live in paradise—to actually reside where others could only vacation or hope to visit! And during the times we have to go to Seattle to be with our children? How lucky we are as a family to be now within driving distance of each other in order to be together! I remember the years the four of us had resided in three different states, when seeing each other for the holidays and other family occasions required major trip planning. I’ve also recently noticed that these early risings seemed to have resulted in resetting my biological clock. I wake up early enough nowadays to enjoy a cup of coffee with my husband, even breakfast. I am rewarded not only with more quality time with the love of my life, but with gorgeous sunrise views! Nature and nurture are displayed in full splendor here for me. What more could I ask for?

And the shoes? Let’s say I’ve been given very good reason to expand on a new collection of sneakers, boots, and booties, and I’m loving the ruggedly chic look I’m creating for myself. After all, footwear dictates one’s wardrobe literally from the ground up, right? Consequently, the current holiday sales on sweaters have been very useful to me. It’s been liberating getting rid of possessions that no longer serve me, and reinvigorating, this adventure reimagining my personal style and image. I’ve half the mind now to write a book entitled, “The Mossback Wears Prada”. All in all, what I wear now surrenders to the dictates of comfort and simplicity—and haven’t I always said that we moved here to simplify and live a more authentic life?

And how about the house and the services it needs? As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat them, join them. Everyone seems to live to the beat of island time anyway, and so instead of getting frustrated, I’ve learned to accept this as an invitation to also slow down and learn the virtues and blessings of patience. Here, the customer isn’t always right; rather, it’s right to be accommodating to each other’s human limitations because in the end, no one is an island on this island. Interdependent, we all need each other in our tightly knit socio-ecosystem. Likewise, our new home is teaching me balance and the importance of honoring all aspects of myself. The Asian in me is telling me it has as much right to be expressed in our house as the French style I had preferred. I am gradually achieving the right combination of Asian, American, and European elements in my home-making. As a result, our love nest in our neck of the woods is becoming a more genuine reflection of my and my husband’s cultural heritages.

And how about the cold winds and rains when idyllic summer is gone? Don’t I always say that rainy days only mean more cozy writing days for me? I expect to be a more productive writer out here. And those cold winds and rains (at thirty per cent less than Seattle’s) will be shaping me just as surely as the ancient sculptor had carved the ethereal Venus di Milo out of raw marble. They’re a humbling reminder that I’m human, largely subject to nature’s power, but also a recipient of nature’s daily gifts of beauty and inspiration, compelling me to be even more mindful of my responsibility with my fellow human beings for the care and preservation of our natural environment. Our move to this part of the United States has truly been a retreat into the sanctuary of unspoilt nature, conducive to a return to the proverbial Garden of Eden of our uncorrupted souls and bodies. The latter certainly get a good dose of healthy exercise from our many walks in the woods with our dogs and great nourishment from the organic, farm-to-table produce our island is known for. Ultimately, I hope that by living harmoniously with this land cloaked by mystical forests and bucolic valleys that change beautifully with the four seasons, watched over by majestic mountains and the calm waters of the Sound, I am indeed becoming a very becoming mossback, a Venus di Terra e Mare sculpted by the land and sea around me, and by this process, am evolving into a higher version of myself—reborn, just as the story of Christmas inspires us to be.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2018 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog Dear Readers, sharing my November 2018 VIA Times Column:

Be the Noise

One of my favorite pre-bedtime rituals especially at the end of a grueling day is reading poetry. Poetry could ground you to what’s essential, reminding you of what’s most important to you, thus bringing you back to yourself. And that, in the midst of a world full of distractions and illusions, anchors me, thereby relaxing me. Moreover, poetry could be a form of prayer. And what better way to pray when one’s spirit is exhausted than to turn to a master of the human soul to provide the words of spirit for us?

One of my go-to poets in this regard is Rumi. Recently, I came across this verse of his:

There is a community of the spirit.
Join it, and feel the delight
of walking in the noisy street,
and being the noise.
….
(“A Community of the Spirit” by Rumi, page 3, The Essential Rumi: New Expanded Edition, Coleman Banks [Trans.], Harper Collins, 2004)

This recalled for me the numerous resistance marches and protests staged by Americans since the inception of the Trump administration, expressing grave concern with the seriously retrogressive direction toward which the current President and his followers appear to be taking the country on almost all aspects of social, political, economic, security, and environmental issues. If you haven’t experienced a protest march, demonstration, or street rally to express and signify your united stand with like-minded human beings on the most important issues of our time, I highly recommend joining one. It could be life affirming and life changing both for you and your fellow human being who’s marching side by side with you. The atmosphere is nothing short of electric, for it’s a heady feeling one gets being in the midst of all that delightful noise and, like Rumi urged, BEING yourself the noise—the thunderous noise of change a-coming, of being one with the rest of humanity advocating for what the spirit moves us to fight for. Contrary to what cynics say that nothing real or practical is achieved by engaging in such activity, it is very empowering. And when one feels empowered, one is motivated to engage in further actions in support of the desired objectives. Multiply such actions by the thousands, expanded into millions, into the tens of millions, and you can see how this process becomes a chain reaction that could lead to real change—to revolutions, even. One could imagine how the French Revolution might have started with the simple act of some peasant farmer deciding one day to use his pick fork—not to farm, but to rattle against the gilded gates of Versailles and to demand, not cake, but simple, hearty bread.

On this eve of the 2018 U.S. midterm elections, let’s hope that all that noise in the streets of America in the past two years will resound through the ballot page and culminate into real, roaring change in Washington D.C. and the whole country thereafter.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2018 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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Author Victoria G. Smith

#Feature1 So gratifying to find out my local bookstore on the island carries my book and wants to talk about an author event for me next spring! ... See MoreSee Less

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Congrats!

Thank you, dear Sis Vicky Anupol and Danilo Iyo Lanceta Billanes! 😘😘

Yesss!! 😊👌

#Blog Question everything and everyone. Especially yourself. Your thoughts, opinions, beliefs. Your doubts and questions are as legitimate as all the answers ever proposed by anyone in all the world from the beginning of time. Do not leave any stone unturned in your search for truth, especially about yourself. Be fierce in facing your demons. Those monsters jealously guard their most precious secrets in the deep, dark places of their black hearts. Aim your lance straight at the target. Now you see what once was impossible is now possible. What once was sacred is fodder for exploration. And learning. Break everything. Then create something new out of the old. Accept that mending does not necessarily mean going back to the way things were. Just because the pieces don’t fit perfectly along their jagged edges doesn’t mean they can no longer be useful. Wood is that way. The glue you use to repair a piece of wooden furniture makes the broken part stronger than its former self. ... See MoreSee Less

#Blog Dear Readers & Friends, thank you for your thoughtfulness and greetings on my recent birthday. Here's sharing my birthday month October 2018 VIA Times column:

When You Are Old

I’m writing this column on the eve of my 57th birthday. And my God, I do feel old! How fitting then to seek solace in Yeats’ poem:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
(W.B. Yeats, 1893)

I must admit I rediscovered this poem by simply googling “poems about aging” (yes, this is a confession of the deficiencies of my literary memory!), compelled by an urgent need for inspiration that could help me see the good from getting old. For what, if not this terrible state of senescence, is symptomized by increasing joint pains, forgetfulness of where I’d put things away or why I’m even in a particular room in my house, and—the surest sign of obsolescence: my alarming expanding ignorance of who apparently are otherwise considered famous pop stars and celebrities?

I was struck that Yeats had used the phrase, “pilgrim soul” because, oddly enough, the title of my first poetry collection is, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey”. When I decided to entitle my poetry collection as such, I swear I wasn’t remembering Yeats’ poem, or at least I wasn’t consciously thinking of it (I’d read the poem in high school, which since receded to the fuzzy folds of my brain), and perhaps I’d accessed what Jung called, “the Collective Unconscious”. Wikipedia defines this as “a term coined by Carl Jung (that) refers to structures of the unconscious mind which are shared among beings of the same species”. How flattering to think I’m a “being of the same species” as the great master poet! And how shamelessly vain of me to even consider that Yeats anticipated someone like me when he wrote his poem, until of course I realized he was likely thinking of his muse—the beautiful actress, Maud Gonne, who’d declined his many marriage proposals yet remained a lifelong friend to him.

I believe we are all pilgrim souls, and that is why the poem resonates in many of us. Such designation suggests pilgrimage, reminding me that for all the triteness of the saying, life is indeed a journey and aging is only another stage of our adventure. Belonging to an older generation need not mean degeneration or irrelevance. In our society’s forever-young bias, however, it’s hard not to feel irrelevant sometimes.

Let’s remember though that “relevance” is a relational term. In other words, relevant to whom? The young may not think much of the old, but only the old could make themselves feel old and irrelevant to themselves. And this happens, I suspect, when one loses one’s childlike innocence and enthusiasm, against which the La Dolce Vita Sylvia-channeling character, Katherine, often warns Diane Lane’s heroine, Frances, in one of my favorite books-turned-into-movies, “Under the Tuscan Sun”.

I chanced upon the film while aimlessly and listlessly channel-surfing during my recent annual pre-birthday descent into depression. And wasn’t this just the pick-me-upper that I needed? I literally sobbed myself into cheerfulness! To me, the movie’s most sobering scene came in this exchange between Sandra Oh’s hilarious character, Patti, with her best friend, Frances:

“Patti: I think you're in danger.

Frances: Of?

Patti: Of never recovering. You know when you come across one of those empty-shell people? And you think, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they were at a crossroads.

Frances: Crossroads. God, that is so ‘Oprah.’

Patti: Someplace where they had to decide to turn left or right. This is no time to be a chickenshit, Frances.”

So now, when I notice a new wrinkle on my face or another grey strand on my head, or my left knee fails me and I can’t get up for an embarrassing eternal moment, or I’m asking what else is left for me in life, I tell myself, “This is no time to be a chickenshit, Victoria!” It also occurs to me that the lover in Yeats’ poem that declares, “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, /And loved the sorrows of your changing face….” should be none other than we to ourselves. What does it matter how many still love us when we’re old, if we continue to love ourselves despite our changing faces and bodies? Perhaps this is what is meant by growing old gracefully.

Happy birthday, indeed, to me!

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2018 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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Belated Happy Bday Vicky !!! I won't make any excuses why my Bday greetings for you was this late. But I can assure you that I always remember the Oct babies in my list, esp my special friends, & you're one of 'em ! Celebrated my special day while in Spain & Italy, in Amalfi Coast to be exact... That was Nikki & Doc Brian's bday treat for Mom !!! Needless to say, that was my best bday ever having "a time of my life" w/ my family. What makes it super memorable were all the spectacular places we visited like Ravello, Positano, Sorrento, Amalfi in the Amalfi Coast & Seville, Madrid in Spain. The kids generously paid for all the 1st class accomodations, good Michelin rated restaurants ( had 3 in the Amalfi Coast ), including airfares.... Feeling blessed, thankful, & grateful !!! Btw, I was posting this using my Zenaida Zapanta acct, & yet the new profile showing was the Zeny Z acct w/c became Dan's acct. Please send replies to Zenaida Z acct to make sure I can read your replies... Thank you & warm regards to you & yours....❤️💙💛💜💚❤️zz

Happy Birthday dear Victoria 💕

#Blog Dear Readers and Friends, sharing my September 2018 VIA Times column:

How Social Media Technology Sets Us Up to Be Pseudo-Gods

Now and then, I experience misgivings about my social media life that compel me to revisit that constantly nagging question whether I should close my personal Facebook and Instagram accounts in order to reclaim full authenticity and sanity in my world. I observe how a significant number of my so-called “friends” around the world over the years had used Facebook to ask me for money; questioned and doubted my friendship when I was not accessible to them at their convenience; and acted distant, even resentful, if I’d displayed a less than current and complete knowledge of, or keen interest in what was going on in their lives, or failed to register my “like” to their posts. It reminded me of what I’d learned about God in my religion class at the Catholic high school for girls I’d attended.

Our very strict German Benedictine nun religion teacher said that God has three absolute attributes—short of which, God is not god. They are the three big “O’s”: omnipotence (all-powerful); omnipresence (present everywhere); and omniscience (knows everything). King David, filled with wonder and awe of these mighty traits of God, was so inspired that he burst into a song called Psalm 139:

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely.
(Psalm 139:1-4)

Guess what? Technology, by enabling us to know practically anything and everything with a click of a finger, and by making everyone accessible and knowable to anyone and everybody in the world, has now effectively given us such god-like powers and along with them, the expected responsibilities. Thus, I can understand why some of my friends have high expectations of me. They see pictures of me living a good, almost seemingly perfect life (as I am not in the habit of washing my very human dirty laundry in public), and they hope to have a share of the bounty—a likewise very human aspiration. They perceive me as having plentiful resources, which means having much power. Thus, some of the requests for material, if not downright financial aid. They know whenever I’m online or have seen their posts or read their messages, and they expect a prompt reaction—aggravated by the present availability of a hierarchy of emoji responses: a mere “thumbs up” is no longer enough; we have to use the “heart” emoji in addition to posting an obsequious reply. The situation almost invariably evolves into a competition of who could post the most eloquently fawning response that then gets to be rewarded by the original post-er with the “besties” award label before all the other “friends”. It’s social media’s version of Brownie points. It tests even a poet’s capacity to come up with the right words. God forbid we be found lacking in our compliments, lest we be dealt with the silent treatment. Being ignored on social media is equivalent to digital death.

It occurs to me that were it not for social media and the smart phone, we might still be friends and family with some of those who’ve “un-friended” or “blocked-contact” us, and vice-versa. Due to the many misunderstandings and miscommunications, in addition to all the unreasonable expectations of us promoted by social media, many of us feel more isolated and alienated from each other than connected. How I yearn for the good old days when all that was required of us to maintain good, long-distance friendships were the seasonal holiday and birthday cards and the occasional brief calls. They had to be brief, lest we be charged with a hefty long-distance or overseas call fee—the perfect excuse! Gone is that excuse now with free Internet calling. Ah, those were the days when we were free to live a full, normal life apart from our friends!

But no—not today. We seem to be expected to be accessible and available 24/7, different time zones notwithstanding. In the first few years of my digital life, I especially felt the responsibility of meeting the expectations of family and friends, who, multiplied into the hundreds by social media, converted that into the burden of being expected to be everything to everyone, everytime. In other words, to be like God. I was especially sensitive to those who were vulnerable to low self-esteem or feelings of insecurity. I wanted to be exactly what they needed me to be, when they needed it. Alas, I fell short—many times. I felt guilt, disappointment in myself. Compassion overload was not an acceptable defense. Until I remembered I’m only human, and that it’s not humane to expect a human to be like a god to everyone in her life. These necessitated a change in me: I literally had to learn how to be “not so nice”—which was very difficult for me, being by nature a people pleaser. It was hard work, but I finally learned to say “no”, to temper my instinct for generosity, to withstand failure in the eyes of others without diminishing my self-worth. This empowered me to limit the use of social media for the tool it merely is: a convenient, cost-effective way to share photos and important information with family and friends across the globe.

Recently, I heard the old song, “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” as if for the first time. It struck me how wrong that message is. This is exactly how social media preys upon the weak. It tells you that you are only as good as the number of your “followers” or the frequency of “likes” on your posts. And its message is worse than that old song’s, for it is ultimately saying you’re only somebody if everybody loves you. The need to be popular has never been more urgent or critical.

But I say you only need to love yourself to be somebody. Then and only then could you truly love others like yourself. Oh, wait. Didn’t someone else already say that? God, for instance?

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2018 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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#Blog Dear Readers, sharing my August 2018 VIA Times column:

Lost Opportunity

When Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s statement calling “God” “stupid” earlier this year was followed by the expected litany of religious accusations and protestations of blasphemy and by Presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s excusing the president’s remarks as personal opinion arising from Duterte’s alleged suffering of sexual molestation as a child by a Catholic priest, a precious opportunity was lost: the opportunity to have a real, intelligent, philosophical conversation on the matter of God, religion, and the separation of Church and State.

For once, I almost lauded Duterte’s act. Never mind the utter absence of tact, grace, or diplomacy. We already know he is incapable of all that. But at last, I saw potential brilliance in the President’s move. He was challenging the very foundation of the Catholic Church’s power over the minds and hearts of the Filipino people. This was nothing if not revolutionary, just as Philippine national hero Jose Rizal’s masterpiece novels, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo”, challenged the Spanish colonial Catholic Church’s spiritual hypocrisy and political control over Las Islas Filipinas! And Duterte’s statements’ potential for enlarging and enlightening the mind of a whole nation held nothing less than the power of Nietzsche’s “God is dead” declaration in the history of philosophy. But the power of that moment was diminished by Duterte’s uncouthness as a messenger (that only prevented the messenger’s message from being heard) and by the President allowing his spokesman to excuse his statements as coming from “damaged goods”—meaning, someone who only has an axe to grind, a mere personal grudge against the Catholic Church—thus tainting and depriving Duterte’s argument of its otherwise inherent philosophical value. The Church was thus only too happy to exploit such weakness by wielding the staff of its doctrinal stand to herd its sheep back into the corral of its ancient territory: one does not call God stupid and survive politically.

But so far, Duterte is attempting to prove the Church wrong even in this. For Duterte’s cult of personality is one drug to which many Filipino voters are addicted past reason (the irony here is fully intended, as the Duterte administration continues its zero tolerance policy for drug addicts and dealers). So is religion, which Marx bravely and rightly called the opiate of the masses. The situation is no more than the case of the pot of one power structure calling the kettle of another power structure “black”. Neither one has moral or intellectual superiority over the other to redefine the awfully blurry boundaries of the separation of Church and State in the Philippines. On the one hand, Duterte failed to successfully carry the logic of his otherwise potentially sound argumentation toward disenchanting the religious faithful of the Church’s stranglehold over their voting minds; and the Church so far has failed to overthrow the irreverent political leader in the name of God. I call this a tie—a tie that happens to tragically continue to bind the Filipino nation to its age-old problems.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2018 by Victoria G. Smith. For updates on her author events & publications, go to VictoriaGSmith.com. "Like" her on Facebook at Author Victoria G. Smith. "Follow" her on Twitter @AuthorVGSmith)
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SMITHs & SMITH! My precious lunch with my fellow Orcas Island part-time resident who’s a Pulitzer Prize winning NYT journalist and author and Emmy-award winning producer & documentarian: Hedrick Smith—and his equally talented artist wife, Susan Zox Smith! ... See MoreSee Less

SMITHs & SMITH! My precious lunch with my fellow Orcas Island part-time resident who’s a Pulitzer Prize winning NYT journalist and author and Emmy-award winning producer & documentarian: Hedrick Smith—and his equally talented artist wife, Susan Zox Smith!

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