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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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#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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Comment on Facebook

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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#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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#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!

#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

#Blog Dear readers and friends, sharing my February 2018 "Notes From the Sound" Via Times column:

Life Maps

Have you experienced being in a situation where you felt continuously challenged by feelings of unease, despite having made the best decision you could have made under the circumstances you were in? Then you began to question whether you made the right decision? I’ve had a few of these in my life. And I’ve been in one recently. I have to tell you: If you’re in one of these situations right now, don’t quit! You’re merely going through the challenges that come with adapting to change—but change that’s meant to be, that’s necessary in your life. You’re outside your comfort zone. And that’s a good thing. Because that means you’re evolving—as you should.

It’s easy to get confused in a case like this. We’re often told to go with our gut, to let our instinct guide us when making an important decision. What they don’t tell you is that such “gut” and “instinct” are in fact informed more by facts than feelings—specifically, by life experiences that have shaped or transformed you. That’s why Ed Sheeran’s hit song, “I’m in Love With the Shape of You” means so much more to me than its obvious sexual undertones.

Don’t we all wish that life came with a map to lead us where we’re supposed to be? To show us where we’re going and what pitfalls to avoid? To avoid costly detours, and inversely, costly short cuts? To know what true happiness means, and therefore, to claim it? This is why I read great literature: they are my life maps. I explained this in the Preface to the First Edition of my poetry collection, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul: An Immigrant’s Journey”, as follows:

“All over the world, people in all walks of life continue to struggle to make sense of their lives—that age-old challenge—especially those driven from their homes and native countries in search of a better life. Having lost the anchor of their homeland and, along with that, much of what is familiar and dear to them, immigrants struggle to re-create and redefine their individual and social identities in their new environments, sometimes in the face of much persecution and discrimination. Their struggle is compounded by the immediate material necessity of establishing viable means of livelihood to provide for themselves and their families—literally to keep body and soul together. It is in the midst of such great suffering that many might question the purpose of their struggle, until they are reminded of the soulful aspect of their exile: their desire to support their loved ones, many of whom are still back home in the motherland, desperately relying on them for their most basic necessities. It is in moments similar to these dark nights of the soul that I rediscover the potent—and thus necessary!—power of poetry to soothe, heal, and enlighten. The literary masterpieces I enjoy most in this regard are those of writers and poets who seem to have succeeded in decoding some aspect of the great mystery of life and left their work as maps to help us navigate a meaningful path to a way of living and being that aims far beyond mere existence.”

Thus, whenever I’m tempted to bemoan the cold rains and strong winds of a Puget Sound winter, I remind myself: spring is just around the corner. I know—because Shelley said so!

“O Wind,
If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”
(from the poem, “Ode to the West Wind”, by Percy Bysshe Shelley, 1792-1822)

(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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Very helpful advice. Thank you Victoria.

#Blog Dear readers and friends, sharing the maiden publication of my new VIA Times monthly column (January 2018):

Notes From the Sound
By Maria Victoria A. Grageda-Smith

New Year, New Home, New Column

Welcome to the maiden edition of my new VIA Times column! Its name, “Notes From the Sound”, was inspired by my and my family’s recent move to a beautiful island in the Puget Sound, off the coast of Washington State. Our daughter organized a family vacation here last spring. Being an avid mountain hiker, she likewise organized a hike for us up Mt. Constitution in Moran State Park, which introduced us to some of the most gorgeous natural sceneries we’ve ever seen. Walking through lush pine and Madrona forests, our steps cushioned by pillow-soft moss, we passed small yet picturesque waterfalls trailed by bubbling brooks and shallow streams. I immediately imagined our family picnicking by the idyllic banks of those hospitable waters. Our hike culminated in magical views of the layered San Juan Islands peeking out of the calm, silvery-blue waters of the Puget Sound, which looked like a lake that wove around the islands, but was none other than the Pacific Ocean. In the background, majestic views of snow-capped Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier, and the Olympic Mountains framed this surreal setting. Need I say more to explain how our whole family became so enchanted as to immediately decide we were all moving to the area?

For myself, apart from the most joyful feeling I’ve ever experienced in hiking up that mystical mountain with my children and husband, I knew this was where I could write some of my best literary works. It also occurred to me what a great spot it was to write my love letters to you, dear readers! Yes—this, in a nutshell, is what this column is about: a monthly love letter that reflects upon our shared journey as human beings, inspired by beautiful nature and great literature.

While I am grateful for your kind reception these past six years of my old poetry column, “Warrior Heart, Pilgrim Soul”, I’ve been feeling in the last couple of years an urge—a call, you might even say, to evolve my column into its next life, just as I sensed the Puget Sound was the place where my final evolution as a human being might take place. I felt as if all my life was a pilgrimage toward arriving here. It’s quite a bit like coming home. Perhaps this is because the natural beauty of this place reminds me of the natural beauty of my native land. As many of you know, my beloved Philippines and people inspire much of my writing. Take this excerpt from my award-winning novella, “Faith Healer”. It describes a scene from Mt. Banahaw:

“They entered the mountain trail through Pintong Lihim—the Secret Door, past gigantic, moss-covered boulders and rows of ancient trees twisted and bent low, as if kneeling before goddess Mother Earth herself. Victor saw in the shadows the vigilant eyes and serene countenances of sages, the tormented faces of restless souls, and the monsters that forever bedeviled them. They followed him in the façade of rocks and stones that jutted out of the mountainside or peeked above the foliage of flirty ferns, swaying palms, pliant bamboo, and slithering vines. He heard the songs of nymphs in the flowing crystal waters of the mineral springs, whispering their secrets to him as he and his companions satisfied their thirst from the pebbled banks and washed themselves off of the prickly heat and humidity. He heard the cries of crows and maya birds call out to him, “Be worthy! Be worthy!” Then, at the crest of Santong Durungawan—the Holy Window—Victor felt he’d glimpsed heaven itself through the view of clear, blue, open sky. There, the air was cool and refreshing at last, as though one had reached a different clime altogether.”

Re-reading above paragraph of Chapter 8 of my novella, it was as if I was also describing my new home! No wonder I felt moving here was like coming home: it reminded me of my childhood land. I’m coming full circle in my life, as I’m arriving at my beginning.

(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 Sharing my November 2017 VIA Times column:

Elegy for a Housewife

When I am gone—
no songs shall be sung,
nor passionate speech extol
this solitary life
lived for others,
buried and forgotten
by all.

Poet’s Notes. We celebrate and remember our beloved dead at the beginning of November, and towards month’s end in the United States, at least, Thanksgiving. Thus, it seemed to me appropriate to hit these two birds with this one poem. How so, you might ask. While it’s obvious this morose little ditty is certainly about death, how is it connected with Thanksgiving?

I’m reading M.M. Kaye’s epic novel, “The Far Pavilions”, at this time, and came to this statement by the novel’s hero: “The years had gone so fast . . . so fast.” And there, for a while, I lingered, agreeing with, and compelled to reflect upon this otherwise overstated cliché, seeing it in the light of the nuances of my personal experience. I thought about how funny it was that when I was a child, a year, a month, a week, indeed—even a day, seemed so long. I had spent many a Christmas Day lamenting how next Christmas was an awfully long 365 days away! Contrast that now with how I, at middle age, lament how a year feels like a mere blink of an eye, and how my children grew too fast . . . too fast. I wish I could bring back those years when they were infants, toddlers, and schoolchildren so I could enjoy my children more fully—for those were years I’d regrettably spent focused, it felt like, on merely rushing from one chore to another: feeding, bathing, dressing them; driving them to, and picking them up from school, and in between: doing groceries and cooking; washing endless dishes and clothes; and cleaning as much of the house as I could, before I then had to pick up them up from school, only to drive them again to, and pick them up from an infinite variety of activities that ranged from arts and music lessons, sports games, birthday parties, playdates, and recitals. I remember those years now mostly as one, big blur—a fog that took away my children and my youth, and along with the latter, some of my dreams.

Thank God for Sear’s portraits—for they’re practically all that remain as indelible proofs of those years! I amaze myself in realizing that, in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of my life as a young mother and housewife, I apparently had enough wisdom, foresight, and discipline to pause our busy life as a family and corral husband and children to the nearest mall photo studio, while withstanding much whining—justified, I’m sure, on the part of the little ones who complained that their dress-up clothes were too scratchy, tight, loose, or uncomfortable and unacceptable in some other way, and often, during the freezing climates of November and December, just so we could double purpose those family photos as our holiday greeting cards.

It was during one of those years that I wrote above poem. At the time, my frustrations at what I saw as my inadequacies as a mother led me to think of my own mother, wondering how she did all that I was doing then and more—and not just for a couple of kids like I had, but for ten who’d ranged in age from infancy to the teens! Unlike me, my mother got married relatively young, at 24, barely out of college, before she gave birth to me the year after, and like clockwork, to a new baby every other year thereafter. (Yes, my parents were staunch, conservative Catholics.) She thus did not have any career apart from mother and housewife, nor did she have much of any kind of life outside the home. The poem above was my way, albeit by way of satire, of recognizing and thanking her for all her sacrifices as a housewife and mother. Now that she is gone, it remains my tribute to her, as I remember her on All Saints’ Day every November 1st.

While I’m also thankful that, unlike my mother, I’d at least experienced how it was to have a profession (as a lawyer) outside the home that enabled me to enjoy earning my own money (and some freedoms this gave me) before I got married, this gratitude did not stop me from regretting the fact that despite having trained and expended precious time and resources to achieve a profession outside the home, having kids did tie me down to the home eventually. And although it’s true I always say it was my choice to stay at home to raise my children, it’s also true that at that time there really was no other reasonable choice for me (based on our family circumstances and resources then)—if I were to be a good mom, that is, or so I thought.

I resented and railed against the myth propagated to us young women in the 80’s that a woman could have it all: a great career and a wonderful family at the same time. It wasn’t true then, and it isn’t true now. Something always has to give, and some heavy sacrifices have to be made—usually on the part of the woman—to have either one or the other. And some of those sacrifices were far too dear for one choice versus the other. Thus, like a good soldier, I fell in line and did my duty. This was what I did, and what my mother did, and what a sister who also trained for a career outside the home (as a physician) did. I thought about us and all the other women like us throughout human history. Are we Sisyphus—condemned to carrying mankind and the burdens of mankind for eternity, with no real relief, reward, or recompense from mankind for our self-denial? I’m told that my sister who had given up her career as a physician to raise her five kids burst into tears when she read above poem.

How many men can say they’ve experienced the pain of facing this dilemma that invariably yet inevitably strikes most women at some point in their lives? If not to take care of their kids, then it’s to take care of aging parents or some other ailing family member that many women have had to give up careers outside the home for. While many more men today attempt to carry this burden equally with their wives, sisters, or partners, much of the problem remains systemic in society. Isn’t it ridiculous that we’re still talking about this as an issue in the 21st century? It is gross injustice that any woman, indeed anyone, has to make such a choice or sacrifice. A human being is not complete unless he or she is able to attain the fullest freedom of self-expression. This, to me, is what Maslow’s Hierarchy of Values ultimately teaches us. How could we keep asking women to keep living as half human beings—to be Magdalen or Madonna, motherhood over other vocation, and vice versa?

Underlying all the social commentary on women’s choices is that word, “respect”. While social conservatives laud a woman’s choice to be a stay at home mom, romanticizing her supposed heroism and nobility as a mother, I, like some women who unapologetically lamented the fact that I gave up a career outside the home to be a mother, questioned it all. Did people truly respect women for choosing to stay at home to raise their kids? How does one then explain the repeated condescension I experienced from men and women alike when I told them I was a housewife and a stay at home mom—a far cry from how people reacted if I told them I was a lawyer? Likewise, there’s the attitude, mostly from misogynists and many full-time mothers who fancy themselves the gold standard of motherhood, that throws the unrivalled criticism and condescension upon women as being “not good enough moms” when the latter have the temerity to pursue careers outside the home while also choosing to become mothers. A woman, it seems to me, still can’t win: She’s damned if she does, damned if she doesn’t. I can hear Hillary Clinton agreeing wholeheartedly.

What then, my poem asks above, is the reward for a woman, like my mother, who’d spent most of her life taking care of others almost to the point of self-annihilation? I seem to be hearing voices again, for I’m here hearing well-meaning friends and family quickly responding with, “But Vicki, just look at how great your kids are! Isn’t this more than enough reward for choosing to stay home to raise your kids?” My answer: yes and no. While I agree there is no greater reward for a mother than seeing her children grow up into great human beings, I also believe it’s high time human society found a genuine and realistic way to support, compensate, and equalize the playing field for women who, by reason of their anatomy and biology, have been almost wholly bound to the sole function of being humanity’s life bearers, givers, and caretakers to the very end—so that women could have the real opportunity, perhaps not necessarily at having it all, but at the very least, having a reasonable chance of juggling it all, yet still be able to stand solidly on their own feet. The last criterion is crucial: Unless women are given the financial freedom to make their own choices, such choices aren’t truly free. Thus, the high cost of trustworthy childcare and senior care lays bare society’s lip service to women’s equality with men as just that: a facetious though romantic tribute to a principle practiced more by its denial than its realization.

This Thanksgiving, how about thanking, respecting, and honoring all women for the choices they’ve made and choose to make in their lives? And after that, how about we all work to compel Congress to pass legislation to ensure affordable child, senior, and health care, including equal wages for equal work, to liberate women to make genuinely free choices as complete human beings truly equal to any and all men?

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2017 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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So true...

Touched me here!!!

#Blog Sharing my October 2017 VIA Times column:

Actor

Man of a Thousand Faces they called
him—I wonder if he also had a thousand
feelings to go with them, or was he
merely a master of disguise?

Did his heart wear a mask—made him
laugh when he should have cried;
smiled when he should have frowned;
cursed when he loved
completely, though foolishly?

He wore the faces of all men,
and for a few cents an hour,
also bore their burdens for them.
And they adored him. For they saw
themselves in him and made
him an icon of an era.

He showed them what a man could
do to adapt to this world. And they
sang songs to human spirit after that.
They wept when he died with
their memories of themselves.

All actors since—they wear
many faces too. Mostly the mask
of happiness—urging the audience
to do the same: To smile though
your heart is breaking. Isn’t that
the way the song goes?

How many faces do we wear?
Which one are you wearing now?
We’ve become a nation of entertainers—
amusing ourselves with our selves,
never knowing which face is real;
which, false. The show must go
on, after all, no matter
what goes on backstage.

We’ve desensitized ourselves
by sensationalizing the trivial.
We’ve even invented games for that,
and made ourselves millionaires
for knowing little facts of little value
to the larger picture of living.

We’ve become a guessing nation, gambling
on the chance that behind some mask
is the true Man of a Thousand Faces.
To remind us of who we are.
So we can throw our burdens
upon him once more.

We’ve always needed scapegoats
for our baggage, a sacrifice to the altar
of our egos. We hate ourselves so much
we have to kill ourselves
through another.

And that’s why we had to have
the Christ.

Wasn’t he the original Lon Chaney?

Poet’s Notes. This being the Chicago Filipino Asian American Hall of Fame Awards month, I’d like to congratulate all the honorees and wish them more power in pursuing their respective passions and professions wherein they’ve distinguished themselves. I remain grateful for having had the honor of being the VIA Times Woman of the Year last year and the 2013 Outstanding Writer and Community Volunteer, for I couldn’t think of a more empowering way to be recognized and supported in one’s accomplishments and endeavors as an immigrant in this country. And so I say to this year’s awardees: Savor and enjoy!

At the time of this writing, I am attending the Orcas Film Festival. When this four-day weekend affair is over, I would have seen films from all over the world, such as those from the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Canada, Japan, and of course, the United States. Being mesmerized by the performances of the various actors in the featured films inspired me to republish above poem.

The value of art for me has always been how closely it imitates life or evokes its many shades of reality. Life is messy, and thus truth is complicated. Good art is particularly effective in imparting this insight. Indeed, nuance is something I am trying to master in my own writing. It isn’t easy to achieve, just as it isn’t easy to understand how opposites could coexist in one space, one time, one person.

A fairly recent film, “A Monster Calls”, has amazingly undertaken this task—amazing, since the film is a work of animation and thus presumably addresses a young audience. This is unlike any fairy tale we’ve been told, where people and events are usually depicted in clear, uncomplicated black and white, within the usual “good versus evil” theme. The film’s narrator tells the story of a handsome young prince who grabbed power by resorting to cunning and murder, yet ultimately became a great king who was good to his people and wise in judgment. Moral of the story? How no one perhaps is completely bad or absolutely good. The film was courageous because it trusted its young audience to grasp this complicated truth. I say, it’s about time—time to stop telling our children lies about what it means to live with each other as human beings, in the name of keeping and protecting our youth’s innocence.

Purity and innocence should never be confused with ignorance and naiveté. One could remain pure and innocent while being wise to the ways of the world. The most memorable heroes and heroines in the history of cinema have been those who had kept their purity while having had to wrestle their antagonists in the mud of life. And it is those actors who are able to depict such complex characters that are the most successful in holding our attention for the full two, sometimes three hours of a make believe world. Make believe. It occurs to me how powerful these words are!

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2017 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 Sharing my September 2017 VIA Times column:

Sculptor

He walks the shores for corpses
of trees seasoned by time, stripped bare
by salty fingers of the ocean—ghosts
of limbs, branches, and trunks
that whisper their true shapes to him.

He gathers them like lost children
crying “Pick me! Pick me!” desperate
to live again as dancers and lovers,
deer and dolphins, and eagles that
crave to soar toward the light
from the shadows of his mind.

His hands are delirious hands
of a lover: caressing and coaxing,
pushing, and pulling, chipping
away at the walls that imprison
the heart that throbs deep
in the wood, until it sings.

Elsewhere, kindred spirits work
their magic on clay, stone, and metal.
Their hands are refinisher’s fire
birthing forms which, till then, only
existed in the womb of the soul—
shaping, molding, polishing raw
contortion into fluid lines of Perfection.

Poet’s Notes. It’s only been three weeks since my family and I moved to an island in the Puget Sound, but it seems we’ve been here forever. That’s the magic of a home that was meant to be: you feel as if you’ve always belonged. It’s so beautiful here with the calm Pacific, so calm it looks like a lake weaving in and out of the surrounding islands, mirroring mountains lush with majestic pine forests and the curvy trunks and limbs of graceful Madronas that shed their brown barks to reveal a couple more underlayers of skin—first red, and then green.

While the beaches here are minimal strips of pebbled, even rocky, gray sand, and thus quite different from the marvelous miles of white, fine sand beaches in our former home area in the Monterey Peninsula, they, too, are beautiful in a mystical, intimate, almost haunting way, not only because of the stunning Zen-like stillness of the ocean here which I’d not before associated with the Pacific, but also because of the notable piles of driftwood upon the shores—the remains of trees shaped and seasoned by the ocean and bleached by the sun. These are some of the more splendid specimens of nature’s sculptures I’ve ever seen. And thus above poem, which I’d written many years ago, came to mind.

The theme of sculpting permeates my imagination as my family and I carve out a new life in our new home. Yes, “carve” is the right word. For in my experience, it isn’t so much that we “find” our place in the world. It’s rather we create it by carving our little niche under the sun, which, through the abiding comfort that comes with a deep sense of place, blesses us with lasting peace and joy, making it possible for the love within us to renew itself everyday: my formula for an infinitely beautiful life.

(All rights reserved. Copyright ©2017 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 Sharing My July VIA Times column:

Journey

The bus revs up, taking me
away from where I’ve been.

I have become a multo—ghost
haunting from the tinted window,

watching the world of the living:
cars, trucks, joggers, cyclists,

mothers with strollers, dogs with owners.
Everyone seems to be going somewhere,

impervious to my existence. Even nature is
complicit: birds fly away, leaves dance

with the wind, grass shimmers and sways,
squirrels skitter—climbing towers of dominion.

I am the lone still
life in this moving landscape.

Poet’s Notes. That I should choose above poem for this month’s column, considering its last line ("I am the lone still/ life in this moving landscape"), may strike one as ironic in the context of my family and I preparing to go on another big move. Yes, I move, but I feel I am standing still as a helpless observer to all the insanity now happening in the U.S., the Philippines, and the world. While I have written and spoken on all platforms, including all manner of social media—quite eloquently, many have kindly noted—about the issues of our time, I feel strongly that the time for talking is past.

Not one extra word from me or anyone else—no matter if they are more learned and more eloquent speakers and writers than I—seem to matter toward changing the minds and hearts of those who have elected the likes of Trump and Duterte into office, to awaken them into seeing that by such leaders’ short-sighted and self-absorbed words and actions and their followers’ maniacal blind following, the long-term viability itself of the human race and our planet is at stake.

What was I thinking, thinking my writing could make a difference?

Nothing appears to come through to those who stubbornly refuse to see how they may have committed a big mistake in voting such false leaders into power. Their prideful egos refuse to acknowledge this, preferring, they seem, to be willing to put us all in mortal danger of extinction rather than humbly admit they were wrong about certain critical choices they’ve made. It’s fine to say that one made the best choices with the information he or she had at the time, but truly, all the information we need to make informed and just choices today are at our fingertips. Yet many prefer to stay in a bubble of their own making, refusing to hear the other side. I could honestly say I’ve heard the other side as fully as humanly possible, and it doesn’t make much sense at all, considering all the information available both to that side and what I represent. All my listening only seems to confirm the other side’s ignorance, selfishness, bigotry, prejudice, and fear driving its self-annihilating choices—that, because they affect all of us, thus threaten all of us.

For this reason, I question why I even continue to write. A young friend challenged my assumptions here. “Yes,” she said, “you may not be able to convince those who are absolutely close-minded, but we who stand hopelessly mute to the outrageousness around us—you give us a voice. You express what we could not express well yet feel strongly in our hearts and minds. You rally us to continue fighting for what’s right.”

Really?

My Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages remain silent.

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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 Sharing my June VIA Times column:

Pilgrim II

The certificate arrived in the mail.
I’m now a child of Uncle Sam.
Many years of toil culminate in this:
the remains of dead trees.

I look at the badge of my new allegiance,
feeling strange lack for my betrayal.
I ask myself what
this paper has given.
The answer eludes me:
the ultimate irony.

Surely not freedom: it comes
with a price in this land;
Surely not equality: it applies
mostly to white men;
Surely not social security: there’s
hardly any, nowadays;
Surely not safety: these are dangerous
times for the U S of A;
Surely not the American Dream: many are
trapped in its nightmares;
And surely not the surety of keeping my beloved:
sometimes, love is not enough.

What, then, did I sacrifice loyalties for:
foregoing with patriotic schemes
in leaving the Motherland—and
with her, my childhood dreams?
What life have I bartered for hard
earned vocation forsaken?
What joys of the heart gained
in place of family abandoned?

Tell me, Uncle Sam.

For I’m the same as before:
No freer: true liberty comes
from freedom of the mind;
No more equal to any man: equality comes
from the human soul;
No more secure: this is the gift
of faith and hope;
No more the dreamer: my dreams transcend
political boundaries;
No less vulnerable to love’s loss: Love, alas,
is its own master—it comes
and goes as it pleases.

I’m a traveler in search of new frontiers,
and find:
The only ones left are those
in my mind.
Why bother with outer space?
Capitalism’s generals have rocket-
launched its schisms.
I wonder if anti-globalists see
their fight is quite obsolete?

And now, what’s this?
To spread democratic bliss?
Don’t you know you can’t make people
free, unless with their own
blood, they pay for it?

One of your sons said not to ask
what this country can do for us, but
what we can do for this country.
That was nice,
back then.

But today we say:
No more to human sacrifice
before altars of corporate gods and states!
No more to paying the king’s ransom;
ransom, rather, the people’s fate!

And oh, by the way,
I don’t mean it in the way
totalitarian Communism does.
Nor even Fascism, disguised
as moralism.
Nor radical religiosity—
that dark den of bigotry.
For they too have bared
their ugly heads to us:
They’re as frightful as
the monsters they seek to oust!

Call me left wing, right wing, reactionary—
as you please.
But I call the shots here—
here, in my mind.
I don’t have to submit
to an ideologue’s world.

Truth is: Peoples are real;
states are not.
Human life, priceless;
greed, insatiable.

Geographical lines are contrived
walls against our failure
to hug humanity as one.
So we continue to walk
the earth as wandering
strangers, never arriving home.

Nonetheless, I am
grateful, Uncle Sam:
For you’re one place in the world
I can say these things,
and still keep my head!

For better or worse, you are now
my home; and your
people—mine, too.
Though I first came to you for love
of a man, now I stay for love
of mankind.

In this fight for elusive dreams,
this arena, I guess, is
as good as it gets.
I may sound apologetic, yes,
but I tell you I will not rest,
till your borders will divest
themselves of old precincts,
and you truly become—

Land of the Free!

Poet’s Notes. I wrote above poem sixteen years ago, soon after I became a U.S. citizen. It’s eerie to me, after re-reading it, to feel that it could have been written today, relevant as it is for the America we currently live in as it was back then. The poem speaks for itself, as well as it speaks for the immigrant American in me.

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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 Sharing my May VIA Times column:

Prejudice

I cannot fathom your resolve
to keep away from flesh and blood.

Could it be that your fear is greater
than your hope, your pride greater
than your love, your hatred
for their mother—a bottomless pit?

If so, I pity you then.
For we shall not pass
your way again.

I shall charge the wheels of Fate
to rip the loom of karmic cycle.
So I and my children,
and my children’s children
shall not have to bear with
the delusions of your small mind
made smaller by your persistence
in your ignorance, your constant need
to occupy our universe with your wounds.

And we shall finally be free
of your prejudice, your toxic shadow,
your unbearably common heart.

You’ve no idea what you’re missing.
Or perhaps you do.
And still.

Poet’s Notes. Sad to state, I really didn’t know what prejudice based on race actually meant or felt until I came to the United States as an immigrant. Having been blessed with an intellect that allowed me to have the best education in my native country (the Philippines) through full-ride academic scholarships that in turn allowed me to be employed in some of the best firms and companies allowed me to rise above my socio-economic class. Thus, as an adult, I was mostly treated as belonging among the elite of my people, which in turn opened a lot of doors for me. In other words, I was counted among the privileged in my homeland.

But after twenty-three years now in the U.S., I have learned to read both the subtle and unsubtle signs that some people may be discriminating against you simply because of the color of your skin, the shape of your eyes, or by your accent. Now don’t get me wrong. I truly believe and feel that Americans are still by far one of the most tolerant and accepting peoples in the world as regards immigrants. However, gradual changes in the socio-political dynamic of this country I’ve observed over the last ten years have alerted me to possibility of the seemingly radical developments we are now witnessing: the return to power of an extremely conservative white working class that appears to see all who are different from it in terms of race, culture, and religious belief as a threat against its economic and socio-cultural well-being. Its rise has been institutionalized in the election of Donald Trump, as the latter is likewise institutionalizing the prejudices of the electorate that voted him into power.

I wrote above poem as my reaction to a completely surprising personal experience of prejudice. At that time I thought, oh, this is what Blacks and Latinos must feel when they are faced with racism and prejudice. Now Muslims and immigrants, too, seem to be fair game to this type of persecution.

There is yet hope in that the socio-political pendulum always seems to swing to extremes in cyclical precision in this country. Thus, I say to my fellow Americans so approving of Trump’s racist policies and acts now: You reap what you sow. Besides this, my poem above says the rest.

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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 Sharing my April VIA Times column:

After Dust Settles

I sit before my kitchen table, sipping
morning coffee as walls shake and floor
trembles, jackhammers at work already.
Dust covers everything—each surface,
nook, and cranny—filling nostrils,

filming beverage. I am breathing,
drinking this old house: my home
that was home to others before me—
ingesting the shadows of their lives?
I examine my skin, note the throb

on my wrist, feeling for sensation
of past lives swimming inside me.
This house is going to be the death
of me. The life of me. The mark of me.
I feel I have forever been chasing

a sense of being from a sense of place
buried deep inside me—a forgotten
memory that’s still etched in the folds
of my brain: a scar from some fight
with Fate that won’t fade? How can one

explain that brick, stone, and wood speak
—whispering secret designs of rebirth?
This house is renovating me as much
as I am it: we are, together, evolving
into each other. I walk around the rooms

and see what they were, what they are
becoming. I hear the sound of living
that dwelt in them and the sound
of music that will fill the air, instead
of dust, after dust settles. After dust settles,

I’m going to pick myself up where I dropped
myself off before this house possessed me.
After dust settles, I’m going to edit
the excesses of my life out of this home
and prevail over the dust of my life.

After dust settles.

Poet’s Notes. It’s hard to believe it’s been seven years since we bought this old house in Iowa that we’ve since made our home. And now we’re selling it. It’s said seven is a mystical number. Perhaps “mystical” inherently includes challenges because so far, this has only been a difficult time for me. It’s not easy for me to let go of this home. I’ve literally given it, including its landscaped gardens my heart and soul, having personally redesigned, furnished, and decorated them in three phases within a long and laborious three-year renovation period. There is no square inch of this home and its gardens I do not know intimately. Since their completion according to my vision, they have reigned as a much sought-after site that proudly hosted some of the more notable civic and charitable community events in our city in recent years. Those closely looking at our home and gardens’ features often express admiration for the meticulous attention to detail I’ve devoted to them.

But I have accepted and resigned myself to a new phase in our lives. It is time for my husband and I to execute our retirement plan: to simplify our lives and live essentially on what gives us the most joy in these golden years of our lives—to travel while we still can, and to retire in a place where no home could be grander or more beautiful than the natural environment it’s in. In other words, to hit our bucket travel list and live close to the beauty of nature which for us means moving to another state that could give us our long-desired majestic combination of sea, sky, and mountain. An elder woman friend of mine inspired us to get started on these dreams last year when she said, “I am proud to say that no house no longer owns me.” To be free of possessions that no longer serve our remaining life’s goals—that is our mission as a couple now.

I will miss this beautiful home that has changed me as I changed it during the renovation process. Now that it no longer serves my growth, it is time to let it go. As above poem has foretold, “After dust settles, / I’m going to pick myself up where I dropped/ myself off before this house possessed me. / After dust settles, I’m going to edit / the excesses of my life out of this home / and prevail over the dust of my life.” Sadly, the house itself has become an excess that I have to edit out of my life. But I am consoled by the thought that this house and I could never truly leave each other. I know my spirit will continue to live in it through the beauty of its structure and architectural details, and the flowers, plants, and trees in which I had thoughtfully framed it. Moreover, the house itself will continue to live in me through the precious memories we’ve created in it with beloved family and friends. If a house has a soul, this one is it. It will haunt me forever, as I will remain its resident ghost.

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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 Sharing my February 2017 VIA Times Column:

Old Letters

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?

The house is full, yet emptiness
echoes through its rooms. Until I see
them—the old shoeboxes. I hesitate.
Intent cowers before Pandora’s curse:
What does the accused plead?
Guilty! Guilty! My accuser screams.
The verdict lies within.

Old letters sing to me—some old,
forgotten melody. And one by one,
they tell my story in haunting
strains of raw symphony.

My mother reaches me across
the sea in the cherished slants
and loops of my youth.
I caress the writing as if it were
her hand, as if she were here.

I remember them dearly:
her love notes of instructions
to survive life away from home.
Reminders of family gatherings,
prayers for safety and blessings.

And then—those fateful ones she sent
post my exile to this foreign land.
It was no use, Mama.
There was nothing left for me there.

Half the story lies between
the lines; the other half, here.
Take courage! Keep faith!
Rejoice in second chances.

And from sisters, sweet sisters!
Diaries of parallel lives—
of college things and first loves,
invites for weddings I never witnessed.
So far away from home, so far away.
Can’t return home now. Can’t.
I wish it were otherwise,
but life’s a pretzel, my dears.

And then—the fabric of new life
in new friends and new places,
a new loving husband, and beautiful
young children. Life goes on.

Seasons marked by greeting cards,
hallmarks of celebration and strife.
And in between, the stuff of life:
lamentations on weather and the times.

Gratitude, anger, recrimination,
comic relief, momentous occasion,
plans, dreams, tedious rhythm of days,
hope and frustration, peace in resignation.

But look here,
yes, here.
Don’t you see?
There has always been,
always will be—love.
Precious boxes of life!

My accuser stands silent.

Poet’s Notes. I wrote above poem in 2005—more than a decade ago, during the thirteenth time we’d moved across North America in the then eleven years my husband and I had been married. These moves were compelled by my husband’s career, and like most immigrants, I did what was required of us to go where our livelihood dictated. Now, after two more moves (these times voluntary, as they were in conjunction with our blessed realization of our dream of living in not only one but two dream homes) and twenty-two years of marriage, we’re empty nesters—with our youngest in college and our eldest thriving on her own with her own career and independent life elsewhere. And we’re finally doing something what all parents should do in their golden years—saving our children this one tedious, potentially painful task when we’ve passed on from this life: cleaning and editing out the unnecessary stuff of our lives.

It’s amazing how much junk one accumulates through the years. If I were to give one advice to a younger wife and mother, it would be this: Do NOT buy anything unless you need it, and try to engage your whole family—especially your children—to commit to a yearly spring cleaning of each family member’s accumulated things. But like most mothers, I felt too busy and exhausted with the everyday management of our lives to make time for this major item of household management; and like most Americans, I fell into the trap of consumerism; and like most immigrants from a third world country, I was hesitant to throw anything away, thinking we were going to need something later, until that something multiplied into hundreds, even thousands of things that proved to be unneeded in all these years. Truly, possessions weigh you down in every sense of the term, and thus, my husband and I have made it the theme of these golden years of our lives to free ourselves of our possessions.

But this business of freeing ourselves of the stuff of our lives has also bore down on me the weight of the burden of the years and decades that have passed, and along with them, family and friends who are gone. For as I go through our things, I run across letters, cards, and photographs of such beloved people in my life, and I feel the acute loneliness they left behind by their seeming abandonment of me. It is indeed a time for feeling old. I have lived long enough to experience the passing of eras with the passing of beloved personalities. And as I encounter my children’s kids’ things—their toys and little dresses and sweaters, even left-over and now dried-out baby wipes, I struggle to remember them as little children. Where have those sweet years gone? They seem to have faded into the fog of rattled and harried confusion that to me sums up most of a young mother’s life as she struggled to cook, clean, shop for groceries and the kids’ needs, drive them to and from school, drive them to extracurricular activities such art and sports lessons, orchestra rehearsals, performances, and dance recitals, and the all important ingredient of their young social lives—play dates and friends’ birthday parties. Now that I am finally ready to enjoy maximum quality time with my children, they aren’t around anymore. It is indeed a brave thing to be—being a parent. It seems to be an unending journey into the brink of loss of that which we love. How does one hang onto what’s beloved to us and what’s important in order not to lose them?

These reflections prompted me to return and re-read above poem I wrote during the unpacking of our moving boxes in the great move of ’05 as I encountered letters and cards from my mother and siblings from the Philippines—which made me keenly homesick. The poem now strikes me as a message to me from the younger me. Ironically, the younger version of me appears wiser, as she gives me the answer to my question of how we hang onto the people and memories we love. She tells me that love truly never disappears—that it merely evolves, its energy remaining with us long after its mortal manifestation is gone.

Thus as I continue to face this gargantuan task of going through our accumulated things, I choose to see it all no longer as a burden, but a blessing—the blessing of having so much love to remember. This February, the month especially dedicated to celebrating romantic love, let us take time to celebrate the other kinds of love in our lives. And may they be plentiful for you all, too!

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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 Can't believe the new year is almost upon us. Seems eerie yet still relevant to share my January 2017 VIA Times column:

Family

I bless you, and you bless me:
this is as it should be.

Families aren’t made by accident
of birth, but by designs of the heart.

Were we transient passengers
in this journey, it would suffice

that we travel as ships passing each
other in the night, yet we’re a symphony

of souls—an orchestra of heartstrings
colliding in perfect harmony,

playing the music of the gods.

Poet’s Notes. It is yet again another new year. Our defeats and losses as honorable Americans, immigrants, and refugees stare us down as our new Congress’ first act was to attempt to demolish the independent congressional ethics committee charged with investigating their malfeasances. True, the president-elect tweeted against it, thus bringing pressure to bear down on such brazenly shameless move on the part of the Republican-led legislature, but one could not help but wonder how far this seeming show of integrity and leadership would go when Trump’s own interests are at stake, for his past actions and words likewise do not bode well for the country. It is the same for my native country as Duterte continues to prove he is just another macho-talking populist tyrant—the Philippine counterpart of Trump. My heart is rent with the thought of the deaths of almost six thousand of my people that have been brought about by the current Philippine president’s unenlightened policies.

Yet, I have resolved to cease to react to each and every feckless word and act of both my American and Philippine presidents (for they are far too many!), and have retreated into the attitude of resignation to what I cannot control, to focus on where I trust I still have some real influence. Not the least among the latter is my circle of family and friends. I invite all to do the same. Nurturing, educating, and counseling one another into being persons of integrity and principle not only for our self-interests but for the long-term greater good of humanity and our natural environment is our best weapon against the ignorant and dishonorable.

It takes courage to take a stand, especially among our intimate connections. Recently, I have had to reflect on how to communicate to a friend how I’ve been disappointed by her actions, or more accurately, her acts of omission. Her negligence. It takes courage to speak one’s truth, while choosing to offer unconditional love for the person who has wronged you—to resolve that if there’s a break in the friendship, it would not be because of you, but by how the other chooses to react to your act of integrity. In this, we see that our encounters could be either a blessing or curse to each of us. May we all choose to bless others with our presence in their lives. And may this count among our resolutions for 2017.

(All rights reserved. Copyright © 2017 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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