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

From your definition, I will consider myself happy then, Sis! Love your blog! 😍

4 days 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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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!!!

From my heart to yours, deep thanksgiving, dearest Ma’am Marilyn Gueco and Sis Vicky Anupol! ❤️❤️🙏🏼🙏🏼!

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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9 months ago

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!

#Blog

A Disturbing Philippine Déjà Vu: Development—For Whom?

I noticed it during my first Philippine homecoming in 2008, fourteen years after I’d immigrated to the U.S.: a building frenzy everywhere, with no apparent rhyme or reason, as it was impossible to deduce any sort of rational urban planning standards enforced from the way shanties coexisted side by side with decrepit-looking albeit new structures, held up only, it seemed, by omnipresent Gordian knots of electric, cable, and telephone wires that banded streets likewise choked by Gordian knots of vehicular traffic in all urban centers. I’d barely recognized my own hometown, Angeles City, two hours north of Manila. I remember how I wept then as I wept now—mourning the passing of the beauty of the cities I’d loved in my youth, for what I’d seen during my Philippine visit in the last couple of months is nothing compared to what had struck me sullen in 2008. I was overcome by grief that inspired this recent blog post on my author Facebook page:

“GHOSTS OF MANILA PAST. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, awakened after a hundred years in the city of my youth, only to find the old playgrounds and playmates are gone, and in their place lie strange dominions manned by the new guard—a millennial people who’ve taken the art of worldly shopping to otherworldly heights, reframed the art of living by the windows of cars forever stalled in traffic, and I have thus become, like the ghosts of my past, a multo that haunts the soul of this city crying, ‘Where have you gone, my Love?’”

For there’s an even bigger building frenzy now, pushed on by the Duterte administration’s simplistic economic plan summed up by posters all over Metro Manila that screamed, “Build! Build! Build!”, as if competing for attention with the noise and chaos of gigantic billboards, honking horns, and wailing sirens. And this—in the grim wake of the recent forced closure of the whole island of Boracay due to dangerous levels of water and land contamination—so much so that swimming in the waters off of Boracay’s otherwise enviable powder-white beaches could be a death sentence. It appeared that in all the years Filipinos celebrated and partook of Boracay’s investiture among the most beautiful islands and beaches of the world, the Philippine government and private sector alike had allowed the island to be literally used as one giant toilet for the tourist industry. Sewage was shamelessly drained straight into the ocean or into the ground, thus polluting not only the sea but also well water. I felt ashamed in remembering how our family had gone twice to Boracay in previous Philippine visits—and therefore, complicit in bringing about this environmental disaster. But how could we have known? In a civilized and modern society, one must be able to assume environmental standards were followed in developing beach resorts. The lawyer in me asked what happened to all those strict environmental law and regulations that our professors made us memorize in law school. The political science student in me replied with the usual, “What do you expect from a typical corrupt Third World Country?”

But was the Philippines still really a typical “Third World” country? One wouldn’t think so—what with the almost diabolical sizes and number of shopping malls that have proliferated not only in the country’s capital, but also in other urban centers all over the country. In an age when shopping malls and brick and mortar stores are a dying breed in the U.S., shopping malls are not only alive and well in the Philippines, but thriving! They’re building many more of them—and these aren’t the run-of-the mill shopping malls of America either. They’re as luxurious as any First World metropolis could build them, carrying the most upscale world-renowned designer brands; enough for any First World economy to salivate over.

To walk within these mansions of luxury shopping, one was bound to ask, “But who could possibly afford to buy such things?” I—a Filipino American with American dollars the value of which rose daily against the Philippine peso while I was there—was embarrassed to discover that I, too, could not afford them! There was certainly no bargain for luxury goods here —they came as pricey as they came in the shopping Meccas of America! A Cartier, Alexander McQueen, or Jimmy Choo was priced same as it was on Rodeo Drive.

A local friend suggested that luxury brand stores weren’t really there to sell their wares, that they were mere marketing outlets—the equivalent of advertising pages in a glossy magazine. Or, in other words, a business presence in the form of a billboard pretending to be a store; a very beneficial corporate tax deduction, thus. This made sense to me. But it still didn’t account for the number of people who flocked to the malls in the thousands—and not only on weekends. A Tuesday night required a reservation in popular mall restaurants. That was my first clue. It led me to realize that what most people actually bought in the malls was food, food, and more food! There’s been a foodie explosion in recent years that’s still popping on the Philippine gastronomic scene. This was generally good news for culinary entrepreneurs. If your food isn’t good enough to the exacting Filipino palate, your restaurant or food stall was dead on opening day. You knew at once, which enabled you to cut your losses. On the other hand, if you succeeded, you succeeded big time. Eating out and eating well with family and friends were absolutely an expense item Filipinos were always willing to splurge upon, even beyond their budgets, helped on by the increased availability of plastic financing to most income earners. I wondered whether the Philippines wasn’t already on the list of credit card bubble economies that would sooner than later implode. But that’s not the whole story, though, because global food chains—not necessarily gourmet class, but easier on the budget—do very well, too. A McDonald’s can hold its own side by side with a Jollibee. And even if it were only for the price of a Starbucks coffee, people went to the malls. Which led me to the ultimate realization: Filipinos frequented the malls as a necessary respite from the tropical heat and humidity outside. Who knew that the malls of Manila were thriving because of global warming?

Filipinos swear summers are getting warmer and longer; typhoons stronger and more frequent; and daily life inconceivable without air-conditioning, both at work and home. This made me even more thankful that in my U.S. Pacific Northwest island home, we didn’t need air-conditioning. In fact, most homes had none—which definitely played a role in our decision to move away from California, which has been experiencing more droughts and wildfires in recent years. I shivered in the Philippine heat imagining what would happen to masses of Filipinos in case of a power failure. Who could possibly sustainably live and work in THAT heat?

This in turn led me to ask how the Philippines was planning to energize all that “Build! Build! Build!” economic thrust. More buildings meant radical significant increases in the need for electrical power for air-conditioning, elevators, lights, technology, and machines. I knew that the Philippines has always been a big hydroelectric and geothermal power user—but I doubted there were significantly more sources for such energy since twenty-five years ago, unless the country was planning to go nuclear at last. A friend who happened to be in the know as regards the power grid revealed the sad truth: The Philippines, following China’s development design, likewise has turned to the same energy source fueling China’s economy: coal. The Philippines was in fact building more coal-powered plants, according to a lawyer friend overseeing some of the contracts. Now I knew the prime suspect for the cause of that tickle in my throat that refused to go away and made me cough during the entire two months I stayed in the Philippines. And I’m sure it was no coincidence the symptoms went away once I returned to the U.S.. I shivered again thinking how long before this all changed in the U.S. now that Trump pledged to bring back coal big time.

All these recalled to me the big question we university students asked the dictatorial Marcos regime as regards its development policy back in the 70’s and 80’s: “Development—for whom?” Bigger economies and bigger cities weren’t always better; quality of life has to be considered—most especially, the question of quality of life for whom. The Philippine building boom is all well and good for the Ayalas’, Lopez’s, Robinson’s, and SM real estate development companies—in other words, the traditional Spanish-Filipino and Chinese-Filipino ruling economic oligarchy. In contrast, it’s the poor that’s going to carry the brunt of that kind of development’s cost—not only in terms of higher living costs, but more critically, health risks due to environmental pollution. This is a déjà vu that is deeply troubling. The years have not brought us real progress—we just have more concrete in the cities and even worse traffic than before! The ordinary Filipino who goes to the mall to enjoy a few hours of air-conditioning is definitely paying for such simple comfort in much more than the price of a Starbucks cup of coffee, just as surely as Trump is costing Americans and America much more than the monthly fee of cable network reality TV.

Wordsworth’s poem, “The World is Too Much”, remains as relevant today as it was during the Industrial Age that inspired it:

“The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!”
(William Wordsworth, Poems in Two Volumes, 1807)

(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 and Friends, sharing with you my June 2018 VIA Times “Notes From the Sound” column:

“A Psalm For All Seasons; The Root of My Reasons

Last month, I wrote this column from my native country, the Philippines. I had attended a college reunion, and read, sold, and signed my books at my Manila debut book launch. Today, I am incredibly still where I was then. It feels like a lifetime ago when I was ensconced in the peace, quiet, and beauty of my Puget Sound island home. I find myself wandering in, and in wonder of the daily hustle and bustle of this maze of a concrete jungle I used to call home—now, a stranger to me. There is a strange beauty in all of this.

I’ve had to extend my stay a couple of times for a few reasons, mostly family-related. But I also feel something else is keeping me here—something that is not completely clear to me, yet is as compelling as the palpable reasons I tell myself and everyone on why I’m still here.

This atmosphere is familiar to me. And I don’t only mean the air—hot, humid, and I suspect, filled with allergens and pollutants that tickle my throat daily and make me cough and wheeze like I’ve not done in decades. Yet I breathe it hungrily.

I’ve been here before. Yes of course I have—but I don’t mean this in a physical, logistical sense. I mean, I’ve been HERE before: the mixed feelings of perturbation and excitement all at the same time; my inexplainable sense of security in the midst of uncertainty—the not knowing how this develops and ends.

All I can say for sure is that I’m meant to be exactly where I am—right here, right now. And I feel the pull of the same steady hand that guided me through a similar tunnel twenty-six years ago—now pulling me back to where I came from. I only have to trust it again, and I do. I don’t know where each day will take me. I just truly live for the moment, and somehow this brings me to where I’m supposed to be.

I’m reminded of my favorite poem from the Bible that I used to recite as a mantra during those dark, uncertain last years before I left for America. Yes—a poem. Many people don’t know that biblical psalms are actually poems. And here’s my favorite biblical poem: Psalm 23.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” (King James Version)

A couple of days ago, I was watching a local TV channel. A character in a show declared a saying in my native language that states, “Ang hindi marunong tumingin sa pinangalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” Translated, it means: One who fails to look back on one’s roots cannot hope to reach where she is going. I think I got my message: I’m here to rediscover my native country’s people, history, and culture—to see them with new eyes and feel them with a renewed heart, for it is with these new seeing eyes and renewed heart that I could write in a more powerful way. I’m here to become an eternal witness to my native country’s and people’s profound beauty and struggle.

(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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Beautiful!

I love that free yet discerning spirit in you, Sis! Go where life takes you! 😊😍

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

Coming Full Circle

As of this writing, I’m in the Philippines attending my 40th University of the Philippines batch reunion. I’m also slated to have my Philippine debut book launch of my prize-winning novella, “Faith Healer” and my critically acclaimed poetry collection, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey.” Such important events are naturally wrought with emotion—both good and bad, apart from the logistical physical challenges of navigating a city that has grown beyond familiarity, and along with this maze of physical paths—taking on the tricky trek of social relationships that have become murky from years of neglect or quagmired in the same old vicious cycles of adolescent style politics.

But I have never felt more confident or sure of myself in the midst of all of these otherwise doubt-provoking land mines buried in this landscape. I have been ready for some time now. It’s like coming full circle for me. I feel mostly gratitude for this privilege of being able to enjoy again the company of friends from my youth and likewise be able to introduce them to the world of imagination and reflection I have come to inhabit as a writer—a world that could challenge some of them to reimagine their own worlds and blaze new trails in their lives.

“I am the captain of my soul; I am the master of my fate” says the famous line from Walt Whitman’s “O Captain, My Captain”. I remember those lines well—for I memorized and performed that poem at ten years old and won as prize my first dictionary. I’d treasured and used that dictionary until its pages had shred into brittle fragments. I tried to learn a new word every day until that dictionary ran out of words to teach me. All my life, words came easy to me. But how to use the right word at the right time—that took some time to learn. I’d seen how a careless or angry word could reduce someone into an empty, bitter shell. Words have power. Words have magic. Words could save or destroy. Tomorrow, I will show my friends how I’ve learned to master my words so that others might be inspired to become masters of their own souls and fates.

You see, my words have the power to build bridges that otherwise had been burned decades ago, as my poem below alludes to. This was a homecoming whose time had come.

Homecoming

Come back with me to where
cicadas smother the dusk
with their mating song, rousing
Dama de Noche from sleep to soak
the night air with her seduction.

There, the stars shine like watchful
eyes in labyrinthine onyx sky,
and the warm breeze caresses
like a lover’s fevered hands.

Do you remember how
we listened to the ocean
inside Neptune’s ears?

How I long to see the moon—a gold
medallion etched with Madonna and
Child, rising to jubilant arms of
coconut trees waving and singing,
“Hallelujah! Hallelujah!”

There, I remember how the Goddess paints
a ribbon of magic upon gentle tides, paving
the shimmering path for sweethearts’ bancas
to kiss the waters with prayers of adoration.

I can hear the gitaras strumming
the melancholy notes of the haranas,
haunting the evening with serenades
of suitors forever yearning for lost loves.

How long before the exile returns
to the Birthland? Shall I live
the salmon’s fate—banished
to foreign waters, until death calls?

Alas, only time sweetened
by love’s memory has power
to build bridges burned
back to life.

(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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1 years ago

Author Victoria G. Smith

A meeting of minds and hearts: Two award-winning authors (National Book Awardee Filipino Author Felice Prudente Santa Maria and Filipino American Author Victoria Grageda-Smith) and their friend (Atty. Teresa R. Tam-Yap)! ... See MoreSee Less

#Blog GHOSTS OF MANILA PAST. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, awakened after a hundred years in the city of my youth, only to find the old playgrounds and playmates are gone, and in their place lie strange dominions manned by the new guard—a millennial people who’ve taken the art of worldly shopping to otherworldly heights, reframed the art of living by the windows of cars forever stalled in traffic, and I have thus become, like the ghosts of my past, a multo that haunts the soul of this city crying, “Where have you gone, my Love?” ... See MoreSee Less

#Blog GHOSTS OF MANILA PAST. I feel like Rip Van Winkle, awakened after a hundred years in the city of my youth, only to find the old playgrounds and playmates are gone, and in their place lie strange dominions manned by the new guard—a millennial people who’ve taken the art of worldly shopping to otherworldly heights, reframed the art of living by the windows of cars forever stalled in traffic, and I have thus become, like the ghosts of my past, a multo that haunts the soul of this city crying, “Where have you gone, my Love?”Image attachmentImage attachment

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Reminded me of Thomas Wolfe's 'You Can't Go Home Again'

Mumu!

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#Feature2

#Blog Dear Readers and Friends, sharing my April 2018 VIA Times column, "Notes from the Sound":

Of Gods and Humans

One could say that the goal of religion is to find, and be united with God. In this connection, some of the holiest days of humankind have recently been celebrated—Easter for Christians, the Passover for Jews. (If I’ve missed mentioning other religious celebrations, apologies, for this was not meant as a comprehensive list.) The Christian Easter message particularly preaches the hope that human beings could achieve resurrection, like Christ did, by believing in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior, and thereby be united with God in the afterlife. In my personal spiritual faith journey, however, I’ve evolved into the belief of the yogi that God is already inside each of us, and that any belief of separation between God and his creation, especially sentient beings like humans, is a false belief; thus, the path to salvation could be found in spiritual practices (like yoga and concentration through meditation) that help clear our minds and souls of this false belief, thereby learning the truth that God is truly in us, indeed, is none other than we—the Atman, also known as the underlying Reality or the Real Self. It is in experiencing this Reality, our Real Self, that we thereby experience union with God.

April being National Poetry Month, it is fitting to cite the following relevant poem of the great Hindu saint, Kabir:

I laugh when I hear the fish
in the water is thirsty.
You wander restlessly from forest
to forest while the Reality
is within your own dwelling.
The truth is here! Go where you will—
to Benares or Mathura;
until you have found God
in your own soul, the whole world
will seem meaningless to you.

To me, the message of above poem is no different from that of Christ in the following Biblical passage: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, ‘The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.’” (Luke 17: 20-21).

But what causes our false belief in our separation from God? The yogi believes that this is caused by our false identification with our ego-sense (our mind and senses). And that it is this false identification with our minds and senses that creates the “I” who is separate from God, which is the cause of all humankind’s misery. Therefore, the yogi’s goal is to unlearn this false identification of the ego-sense by mastering his or her mind and senses—to calm the mind by controlling one’s thought waves, and to free the senses by freeing one’s self of desire through the practice of detachment and non-attachment. It is in the state of perfect yoga—when we’ve stilled our thought waves and our minds are completely clear, that we come to know we are none other than the Atman, and it is in liberating ourselves completely of desire that we free ourselves of pain and of the compulsion of the senses to be driven toward the painful cycle of birth, death, and rebirth—the desire to return and plunge once more into the sense-experience. When we’ve achieved this complete liberation of the mind and senses, we thus enter into the eternal, unchanging peace and happiness of the Atman.

That all sounds very good, doesn’t it? Yes. But as humans—guess what? We have the freedom to choose to achieve or not achieve the state of perfect yoga. At this stage of my mortal life, I acknowledge I am not yet ready to completely liberate myself of all desire and passion. Why? Because I believe that my desires and passions, or more accurately, my compassion, are what motivate and energize me to continue fighting against the injustices of this world—to help make a better world for my fellow human beings through my power of creativity, so that they may be positioned, if they wished, to achieve their own perfect state of yoga and thus be freed from pain and suffering. While I know this kind of concentration without non-attachment on my part will fail to completely liberate me, thus retaining me in partial ignorance that will continue to bring me pain and suffering, I am consoled that such pain and suffering will also necessarily come with intervals of their opposing forces of ecstasy and joy—in other words, keep me completely human! And I confess I am intrigued and fascinated by the possibility that such a condition of intense concentration without detachment, as the Hindus believe, could bring one into the state of a “disincarnate god” and/or become merged with the forces of Nature, thereby making one a “ruler” of parts of the universe (page 47, “How to Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali” by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, Vedanta Press, 1981).

I think I could be content to live in such a state for a while. After all, I’ve already been called a “force of nature” a few times, and they certainly don’t call me “the Queen V” for nothing. (Hashtag “tongue-in-cheek” grin emoji.) Nirvana can wait.

(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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Reading good thoughts on a night when sleep eludes me.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding." - Proverbs 3:5

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