A Letter to Berlin

En Route to Doha QR082

16:34, Tegel Airport, Berlin

After another round of travel anxiety (which has been frequent for the past few months), I’m finally sitting down and breathing better, and on my first flight home.

Dearest Berlin,

What an unforgettable summer it has been.

I’ve spent my summers always in Manila. In my younger years, they served as avenues for things I have developed interests in—art, music, books, the usual. In the late afternoons we’d go and play outside with our neighbors, doing relays of running, biking, and riding the scooter.

In college I stopped playing outside (obviously). I was glued to my computer as I started blogging, working, seeing more of what else I can do.

Of course in recent years I have been working all summer. It is the season where all the book and freelance projects used to be lined up for me—in the midst of the crazy heatwave in the city. I’d take quick beach trips and beat deadlines but overall it was too toxic for me.

That’s why I decided to see you. To see if I can spend summer in a city I hardly knew and found no interest in (at first). I have only kept myself in the context of visiting for the sake of attending an art residency program, which I now realize has changed me in ways I could not have imagined.

Back when I landed in Tegel last May, I was this naive young adult hoping to find all the answers in your city. I was that girl who felt like she had to experience more in order to feel alive. But coming from a place where I couldn’t be someone else but who I already was, I found it difficult adjusting. I can’t just change in a snap. I felt the pressure; it was so real I was about to give up.

You’ve seen it all: meltdowns on Monday mornings. Adjusting to anti-depressants. Discovering new art techniques. Questioning what I wanted out of my life and work. Having an emotional week full of tears that came out of nowhere. Doubting myself every damn time but learning to snap out of that bubble.

You’ve also been fundamental to lessons I picked up, and have eventually found growth in: being brave to stand up for myself, letting go of toxic people, realizing I am worth more than my job. Finding comfort in life-changing conversations from people you’ve just met and instantly felt connections with.

“You’ve lived in one city all your life?,” an acquaintance told me. Apparently, I have. And I accept that—because cities like you have shown me that I can be somewhere else and find home in it. And that’s a comforting thought.

“You’re 26, you’ve got to live your life!,” an ex-friend told me. She was right; I’ve got to live my life. (I’ve written this on a previous post but now the way I see it is different.) But I look back and ask myself, I think I’ve lived quite a life? In the career department, sure. And it’s because that’s what I’ve decided to focus on, and I realize I’m fine with that.

So for everything else apart from work, it was all that I found in this short time I was here. And that’s why I’m so grateful in many ways I could never repay you for.

I’ve learned so much in a summer. It’s quite unbelievable that this adventure turned out so much better than I expected—wait, I didn’t have any expectations, and that was what made it great. 

Danke schön, and I’ll see you again in the fall. And maybe in the spring, once I sort everything out.



All is Well (For Now)

July 6 | Saturday | IRE 4727 |Berlin Hbf to Hamburg Hbf

Most of the time, I consider my own life to be a film of some sort. Except, the catch is—I end up being the supporting actress, and not the main one. 

Some days it becomes a sitcom, rarely a romcom, usually drama, but generally, if I’d pick one genre, it’ll probably fall under indie coming of age with an analog style Super 8 filter embedded on the footage. Wow, so specific.

“I may as well be a Netflix Original, you know?” Something I’d always tell people when I start off with this whole “I think my life is a film” spiel from time to time. True enough, part of me feels like all of this is just fleeting. A scene, a moment, a particular point in time.

I’m currently on the train to Hamburg—after what felt like nine hours of agony waiting for the train to arrive. I took an Uber to the station at 7 in the morning (wow so extra but I felt that I needed it after this emotionally crazy week) only to find out the train has been rescheduled to 17 (5PM). The downside is I can’t change it because I bought cheap tickets (they were only 30EU) and it’s either I stay in Berlin and just cancel the trip altogether.

But I carried on. Happy to report that I managed to entertain myself without working (I left my laptop anyway) 

—Sorry that got cut short. Just like my trip. Oof!

July 9 | Tuesday | 8:53AM | Tram 12 to Pasedagplatz

I just received some good news back home, so I’m quite distracted. I also passed out last night after eating sushi, summer rolls, and a good plate of chicken curry (all less than 10eu!)  so it’s been quite eventful, to say the least.

I’ve been going to the studio early this week. Since I now live 30 minutes away, the travel time doesn’t feel like much if I am busy doing something (in this case, typing this entry on my phone). I’ve also been enjoying the quiet mornings where I get to be in the studio alone, making things. 

Needless to say, my trip to Hamburg went well. Apart from rushing the whole Sunday morning to get to all the places and managing to grab lunch and step inside the train earlier than expected, I sat down inside the train feeling at ease that I was going back to Berlin in one piece. I forgot my anxiety meds the day before, so I’ve been fumbling non-stop while waiting for the train. But these things happen, I realize.

It may seem like days have just passed by since July came in, but I’ve been in a roller coaster of thoughts, swamped in lots of decision making, and basically mentally exhausted by the end of each day. 

I haven’t ran since I moved to my new apartment, despite that I literally live next to a running track. The weather dropped this week so I’ve been in three layers of clothing as I head to the studio. 

But all is well. I think that’s something I’m trying to live with now, despite the constant worry of what’s next. If anything, I managed a creative breakthrough yesterday—as I worked on patterns and colors that I usually wouldn’t touch. I was in a trance, I’d like to think. I felt it, and I felt so alive after painting those thumbnails. It probably is a good sign.

It is my last month in Berlin for the summer. As I walked to my tram station this morning, it hit me—I still can’t believe this happened to me. A year ago, this city seemed to be just a mark in the map. I never even bothered. Who or what convinced me to go here doesn’t matter anymore. And now I’m here, about to spend the last three weeks maximizing my time in a city I learned to love voluntarily.

Was Manila forced? Not really. I still know the place I call home, but too much of home makes me worry. Too much of the unknown also does, but it’s where I’d rather be if I want to keep fighting for my freedom to make art the way I want it.

And the best part? I no longer run out of breath (except when I run after trains or trams). I no longer see myself as someone else. I’m starting to get a clearer sense of who I am and what I am doing with my life. I no longer have to wait for acceptance from people who do not have the same values as me. I can just be me and finally be OK with it.

What a relief.

Okay, my stop’s here. Tschuss!

Staying Afloat

July 5 | 11:10AM | Tram 12 to Pasedagplatz

Let me tell you a story.

I tried to learn to swim when I was four. But the coach threw me into the water and ever since, I’ve never considered the water a friend. I never swam in beaches, always kept myself cozy with a book and my journal while everyone else enjoys the water. I tried learning to swim again when I was sixteen, but to my surprise, once I started swimming underwater, a pang of anxiety hit me and I didn’t like the loneliness and helplessness it gave me.

At some point I still wish I was a good swimmer. I also wished I was good at running (which I’m working on now), and good at biking (I also fell downhill while riding a bike, so you get the gist).

But I never really knew how pivotal these experiences were to my life right now.

I went to the lake last Sunday. I finally got myself to buy a swimsuit last week (after 5 years—I was skinny back then). Once I got into the water, my face changed. I looked at where I was, what the people were doing. They enjoyed it! Why didn’t I? Did I turn away too much from this because I’ve been so anxious of things that no one gives a shit about? 

One of my directors from the institute pointed out this story when we were having an intense talk about what I wanted to do next with my career. Swimming felt apt; I’ve always stuck with the notion that as long as my feet can touch the surface, I’ll be fine and I’ll survive. I’ve never considered going past it because I know I’ll drown and eventually die.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not scared of dying. But it’s a possibility and at this point, I don’t think I’m ready for it.

So anyway, back to swimming. I’ve stayed comfortably in the box I’ve put myself in—no, made my way in—as I grew my career from a tiny seed to a thriving plant (wow, earth sign references right there). But like most plants, I have grown this way because I have stayed in an environment that I am adaptable in, that makes me grow. Fine, that seems good. But growth doesn’t seem to be enough if you want to get out and just do more than grow.

And that’s how I’m feeling now.

For years I’ve been trapped with so many insecurities. Sure, I’ve concentrated on work since I got into this career. I’ve considered a few people to comprise my very tiny (but amazing) social circle. I’m 26 but my mind functions like a 40 year old. I don’t like clubbing or being “cool” or drinking until I can’t walk. I am quite an introvert (like most artists). I dress pretty “clean” in the sense of cliches that artists have to have different colored hair, tattoos, piercings or whatnot. Generally when I make art, I don’t need to feel depressed or in total anger because I’m on autopilot mode and just focusing on the work. I am just not that person because I grew up in a place that did not entertain these things. But also maybe because I personally chose not to as well.

When I came here to Berlin, I thought I had wanted to change that. I tried. But now I realize that I don’t. I hold a lot of respect to my own values as a person, but sometimes other people’s decisions influence my way of thinking. I know I lack the confidence to trust myself, and maybe that’s really what’s bugging me at this point in time.

Something I worked on this week. Not my first color choice, a big canvas, and actually integrating Chinese characters? What on earth?

So far, this week: I moved apartments, started working on a huge painting that seems like just a bunch of patterns but actually depicts a multitude of my thoughts at this particular moment, experienced unnecessary feelings but a person has to feel so shit happens, had a 360 degree turn that led to this current crisis that I’m trying to solve.

I’ve been so afraid of being in a crisis mostly because I’ve had my worst share of it in New York. But this time I seem to be much better. I am coming to terms with it and maybe that’s just I should go about it, you know? See the changes unfold bit by bit and work my way from there.

No one told me to tread directly into deep waters. So my decision for now is to stay afloat for a bit, see where life takes me.

Also, highkey considering taking swimming lessons when I head home this August. We’ll see.

My stop’s here. Tschuss!

Why Worry?

June 27 | 20:09 | U6 to Hallesches Tor

In the several episodes I’ve had (in my own movie I call “my life”) of feeling like I don’t deserve the good things in the world, I find myself now in this position of feeling like maybe I did deserve to be here, right in this moment, in this part of the world, still filled with questions—but slowly finding answers.

Wow, the nerve, Abbey. *laughs*

But also: wow, who am I becoming.

My second month of residency started off rough. Apart from switching studios, I started to feel lost while working—constantly switching my attention from one thing to another. I haven’t touched my primed canvas from last week, nor have I done some lettering. I haven’t diligently updated my sketchbook because I’ve been thinking about its purpose in the long run.

I hate that I think and ask too much. Maybe it would be alright to just do the work, you know?

In other news, I’ve been preoccupied with the presence of friends visiting Berlin for the past couple of days. It’s always nice to be with people that remind me of home, or to be with people who generally understand me. Growing up I’ve always felt insecure about my lack of social skills; but my experience from New York last year (I made quite a lot of friends, I believe) made me think otherwise. 

Jessie was in town! She’s currently in Italy for masters and flew to Berlin on a whim, lol.
Brunch with Sara, one of my good friends from the previous block in BAI
My best friend Nicole was in town! Quick layover but definitely well spent! (Amazing how her flight attendant job brought her to Berlin aaah)
Went to Insel Berlin with Emily and Lei for an open air cinema screening of Call Me By Your Name. Weather was great 🙂

Because I’ve been out and about, yesterday’s spontaneous field trip left me hanging. I arrived early at the studio but realized I couldn’t work in the heat—took a nap, ate a bit, and stepped out instead.

Hydrangeas at Monbijoupark and a peek of the famed TV tower

I thought I would suffer (again) in my own company (I’ve had weird episodes since I started taking my anxiety medications last month) but I surprisingly enjoyed it. After all, the best way to survive in 35 degree weather is to grab a cold brew at a cafe and do some life planning, amirite? (This includes me impulsively buying a Leuchtturm for “important work and life stuff” for justification purposes)

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about many things (what’s new). This whole “I want to live abroad” has always been on the back of my mind since I turned 25, and I’m lucky to have had experiences in cities I’d only read in books.

But wow, Berlin was a pleasant surprise. The fact that I can see myself staying here for a year or two both excites and scares me. I can’t believe I’m actually experiencing what it’s like to live in a city that prioritizes the quality of life of people. Moreso, the high respect for art of all forms makes Berlin a suitable place for artists. And so the question is: am I meant to be in this city? 

And now here comes the worry.

But why am I so worried? It’s in times where I question myself that I am reminded of who I am and what I’m capable of. Sure, I still have inabilities I have yet to work on, but generally, I realize that I’m actually not bad? Why have I always assumed I am the worst version of myself? I really can’t figure this out.

Recently I have discovered a new “skill”, if that’s what it’s supposed to be called. I’ve been coaching some colleagues on social media and helping them with their websites. I also shoot photos if needed and have helped a friend compile her portfolio. I keep forgetting I came from a background that does all these things, and it all just clicked…especially now that I do social media work as part of my job.

What even?

Anyway, that’s for another blog post. And potential business idea, lol. Moving on…

Right now, I’m thinking about the next few weeks. There are three trips coming up, I have a week left in the residency, I proceed to apply for a visa. So many things I’m altering in my life—and for good reason.

Who knows, maybe it’s for the best?

Okay, I get off the U-bahn at the next stop. Until then, tschüßy!

Larger than Life

In the past week, I’ve experienced things that I think I’d only be able to have here in this city.

First off, I cut my hair. I finally did it after being such an insecure coward. “My cheeks are so big!” “My face shape doesn’t work for short hair!” But whatever. Stine cut off around 5 inches off my hair last week using Nicola’s spray bottle and scissors, and well, I’ve never been happier with my hair. Happy customer, obvs!

There’s a liberating feeling of having short hair. I feel like I’ve been hiding from the world with my long locks since I was a teenager. I always felt like it was a security blanket of sorts and now it was finally time to let it go. Also: as an adult, anything that gets me to save money (using lesser shampoo) and time (showering faster in the mornings) is always a yes in my dictionary.

This whole “larger than life” thing seems to be something I’ve been dwelling on for a while now. Nicola and I were walking along Tiergarten and I couldn’t believe how Berlin could have a garden this big right smack in the middle of the city. I also still can’t believe that it takes quite a journey to get from point A to point B—that’s how huge Berlin is. The streets are wide, the city itself is spacious (as I’m told, it’s because Berlin has been bombed several times), and the history is still evident in most districts. 

Last weekend, I went to the Buchstabenmuseum and apart from being in awe of seeing vintage type, what fascinated me more was realizing these were HUGE. Like, bigger than me (for scale: I’m only 64 inches tall). I’ve always visualized letters as tiny and tangible—especially since I work on paper and the computer. But seeing them in life-size actually made me feel small (in a good way).

I also finally got some film cameras! I bought a Yashica Super (SLR) and this Canon one (point and shoot) as well as some expired film. Of course, I am halfway through my first roll as we speak.

I went out with friends and one of them asked me, “Abbey, so, is Berlin a big city for you? I mean, I would imagine Manila would be bigger.” I responded with a shrug and said, “Berlin is huge. The fact that I can take proper public transport from end to end already fascinates me so much.” Sad to think of it that way, but such is life. At this point, I lowkey am wishing I could just stay behind and never go home (just kidding, #touristvisa problems).

But anyway, to sum things up, life’s been good.  It’s Thursday at 19:38 as I sum this up because I forgot my Apple pencil at the studio, so I am stuck with my phone for tonight’s commute. It’s been really warm and humid, very Manila-like. But the nights are the best—especially walking on empty streets past midnight.

(one last photo before I left)

This week was quite unproductive at the studio, since I had just moved to a new one. Also: watch below for a vlog of a day in the life of my residency featuring my first studio space.


So, I now have a huge wall to myself! It’s overwhelming. Earlier today we had an oil painting class and I painted a photo I took from Brera (Italy) last May. It was a weird process working on it—I am so used to drawing that painting became such a stranger to me. I also used impressionist colors—very Monet. I’m calling myself Claudine Monet from now on (Claudine is my second name).

I love these colors, tbh

I bought stuff for printmaking but decided to put it off first and maybe work on some oils. My new studiomate Cas lent me her oil painting tools and we stretched a canvas earlier, so I’m definitely looking forward to that. And I have a huge sheet of watercolor paper up for days that I’ve been ignoring…so maybe I’ll be on full-on painting mode tomorrow.

It’s funny, because most of these attempts to try new mediums come from colleagues who tell me to keep getting out of my comfort zone. Am I really that much of a coward? Apparently, I am. And I’m afraid that’s hindering me to see potentially greater things about myself, I now realize.

It’s going to be a busy weekend—some friends are in town and I will be out and about to visit my friends here as well. My best friend arrives on Monday. Did I also mention I have been eating vegetables now and running twice a week? Wow, who is she.

Everything seems to be going good, I’m quite in disbelief this is real life. I need to believe. It’s for the best.

My first month in Berlin

June 10, 2019


M13 to Albertinenstraße

So in the past week, I have found trust in people I met just a month ago, admitted my feelings for someone after six years of chickening out, unexpectedly reconnected with two old friends after two years and six months (respectively), and am suddenly learning to develop a proper relationship with none other than myself.

In short, I went peak vulnerable and whoa, just…whoa. Who am I becoming? WHO?

It’s been a wild couple of days, to say the least. As of this writing, I don’t want to drink alcohol for a few days and I’d rather brew a cup of coffee every morning for sanity’s sake. Because let’s be real, I’m still a Capricorn who needs to get her shit done. And earn money. And live her life.


There is an unexplainable comfort in being a city that does not know and judge me. Like what I said in my first month in New York last year, a lot can change in thirty days. I keep thinking of the right way to explain this, but I really find parts of myself in places I barely have familiarity with, and that in itself makes me more inclined to always travel, and to always take steps that go beyond what comfort means to me.

My first month at my art residency program gave me the go signal to reconnect with myself. We had a series of classes and lectures that helped shape my creative philosophy further, and moreover, have drastically shifted my thinking when it came to how I perceived my work. All this time, I have come to terms with knowing I draw pretty letters (which is true). I also know I like drawing about my travels (also true). But what I didn’t know what how important the latter one was in forming my identity as an artist until now.

Two of my good friends, Stine and Nicola

Before, I would always try to be in control of every detail in a drawing. Each window of a building had to be properly sketched with pencil, lined with ink, then painted over. Once I started leaving out the pencil part, everything changed. I started to loosen up, I started to enjoy the process more. I started to become free.

There was a point where I started to have a mindset of “I have to finish this travel spread so I could post it to Instagram today!” and you bet, I hated it. I also attended a plein air class in New York and the professor told me I was doing it all wrong. That hit me so hard. So I stopped for a while. It took a huge amount of effort to get back to it (also buying a Moleskine was a key motivator because it was expensive) and yet I was still struggling for a good chunk of 2018.

But now I have been drawing a full page a day and I think I am on my way to making it a part of my daily practice. We’ll see what happens. They say it takes 21 days to form a habit, so I’ll keep you posted.

I also started moving from small sized paper to bigger ones (with the urge from most of my colleagues). My sketchbook is now an A4 (it used to be A5), my papers at the studio are now big enough to be taped on the walls instead of laying flat on the table. Slowly, I have learned that I am learning to free myself from all these limits. And I’ve never felt happier.

My studiomates have also been pivotal with regards to honing my process. It’s nice, because they all see me work and give advice from time to time. It helps me gain new perspectives on how I could further improve my work in ways I would not have thought about doing. 

I always say that growing up in a city and an environment that didn’t value art was the reason that I have successfully worked within my limitations and built up this career. And is also the reason I applied for this residency and live in a city that is full of art and life. It’s true, but also, I realize, maybe it isn’t. Maybe, all this time, I am the reason I prohibit myself from growth. From freedom. I’ve been locking parts of myself away in the hopes that someday, I would make something out of them. But when will that someday be? Who gave me these regulations? 

I did. And it was about time I did something about it.

“Abbey, no offense but, you’re 26, you need to LIVE YOUR LIFE and experience things!” was what a friend told me. I couldn’t get it out of my head. I live in a 26 year old’s body but my life experiences don’t even match up to my age.

I spent the past years just working and proving to the world I am capable of being an artist. Everyone has been watching me paint pretty artworks, publish books, post regularly on Instagram—essentially, making a living out of something that seemed highly impossible back then.

I’m finally realizing that fuck, this is my life. I can do whatever I want with it. Social media should not affect this in any way. I deserve to give myself the love I am supposed to receive. I deserve to make art in the way that pleases me, without having to please everyone else. I deserve to see the world because it fuels me to keep going, and most of all, I deserve to be free. Free from everyone else’s expectations, free from what society told me I should be, free from all the self-hate and negativity I used to give myself.

Yesterday I finally put up my personal account on Instagram. Do you know how many years I’ve been wanting to do this? Four. Four freaking years. I’ve never been so happy. All this time, I’ve been trying to forget who Abigail Claudine Sy was. But what the heck, I like it when friends call me Abi, or Claudine, or just call me by the name they please. I like that I could just write in Filipino or put silly captions that don’t have to be too perfect “for the gram”. It’s just nice to not be a perfectionist in some aspects of my life.

I’ve lived most of my early adult years in the confines of avoiding failure. Of avoiding rejection. That’s why I’ve delayed most of my actions. But you know what? I should stop. I should just let things be because that’s how life has become for me right now. I’ve even went as far as thinking this whole life change happening since I got here is maybe a sign that a new me is evolving anytime soon.

So, will I finally cut my hair short? Impulsively get a tattoo? Finally fulfill my 10-year long dream of being Avril (Abbeyril) Lavigne? Apply for an artist visa? Move away from home? 

I don’t know. I’ll find out when it happens. I’m just relieved to know I don’t have to hide anything anymore. For now, at least. 

Okay, I’m one stop away from Pasedagplatz. I swear, I get a lot of drawing and writing done on the tram. It’s crazy but also, who’s to stop a productive Capricorn, amirite?

Tschüßy ciao ciao! (Something I learned from my friends. Hahahahaha.)

Finding Myself in a New City

written on June 1, 2019 | Berlin, Germany

I’m writing this as I take the tram home at 20:20, hoping I manage to get a few more things at the supermarket because everything is closed tomorrow (Sunday).

Of all places I had imagined to be, I never thought of Berlin. Ever. So obviously, a lot of impulsive decisions were made that led me here.

It’s just been two weeks or so since I arrived, and today is the first of June. For the first time in my life, I realized the importance of living life day by day and making each moment count. At least, that’s probably what this city (and my medication) has been doing to my system.

My summer in Manila was a blur. Apart from traveling extensively (Spain, then South Africa), I also relaunched the shop, filmed a lot of videos in advance, worked on pending deadlines, and finally finished fixing my website (which explains now why my blog is up again). The thing is, I’ve been in this cycle for four years now—and I think I’m about to reach a point where I really need to take a big turn and do something else…unless I end up quitting early, and I don’t want that to happen.

I had a couple of mental breakdowns since I got here. And no, it’s not because I hate it here—I LOVE it here that I can’t believe I’m in this moment, right now, surrounded by amazing people (in my program, more on that later), being in an environment that nurtures every part of me (waking up to the sound of chirping birds is quite nice, don’t you think?), and learning the beauty that is being free. Free from control, structure, and limits.

A week before I flew to Berlin, I went to a new psychiatrist (it’s my third). Finally I decided to undergo medication for my anxiety, and the first week was hell. I was taking so much tablets in a day (I have other hormonal problems) that I wanted to just give up. I no longer was the productive person I was and found no reason to live. I had no feelings for days, and would suddenly burst in tears a day after. My whole system was basically fucked up, leading to the day before my flight. Not only that, but I had to sort a last minute visa issue and rebook everything all in 24 hours…so I was a wreck when I arrived at Tegel last May 15th.

Happy to report that I am no longer a wreck, I can now cook proper food (gluten free and dairy free!), and have managed to reset my body clock to this timezone. Oh, and I found out I can still tolerate alcohol despite my medication, so that is *amazing* news.

In more amazing news, the residency program I am in has been changing the way I make art—in a good way. It’s just been two weeks but I’ve been learning so much from the people I am with, and I’ve been experimenting with my work constantly. It’s the first time I get to work in a space that isn’t my room, so I found out that it does make a huge difference. I’m learning the importance of separating myself and art but at the same time, maintaining a healthy relationship with it. It’s funny though, because I feel like still living a double life—I work at the studio from 10-5, head home, and work on my Manila responsibilities. Such is life right now, and so far I’m loving it that way.

The biggest struggle so far has been putting myself *in this moment* and really taking it all in. I only have two months here, and I’m not going to let it pass just like that. My energy now is not focused on worrying, but on being hopeful that everything I do will lead to something eventually. So far, process-wise, I find that I’ve been retracing my roots to the style I’m accustomed to when I was 14…but in a mature way, lol. I guess it’s true that some things never change.

If anything, I’m now thinking that maybe this blurry future is going to make me a better person. The only thing I worry about now is what I’ll be having for dinner. 

Will I find myself here? I don’t know. And it’s okay for now. Someday I’ll get my answers.

Ok, here’s my stop. Until then…Tschüß! 

2019 Journals So Far

I just realized I didn’t write about my 2019 Journaling System here. Oops. 

For context, you can watch the video below before I start putting out my thoughts on each journal I’ve used so far.

Every year is always an experiment for me, not just with life in general (lol) but also with the journals I use. It really makes a difference when I get to use notebooks that function best for my needs (omg, this is peak geeky, but you get the point).

Last year, I shared about the journals I used in this post. Needless to say, these all didn’t turn out *exactly* as planned (pun intended, lol). I ended up using a bullet journaling system and it has drastically changed the way I plan my day to day schedules.

Fast forward to this year—I still adapt the same system, but on a different notebook (if you watched the video above, you would know I am using a Field Notes 56-Week Planner for my bujo and work tasks) and I still get the same benefits of having a properly laid out agenda for the coming week.

With regards to daily journaling, I have changed a lot. I used to think I had to journal every day but soon realized this system just wasn’t working for me. It was too forced and it felt like a chore at some point.

Buuuut I gotta say, my past self did manage to pull it off, by using Hobonichi and the ABC Daily Journal (which is available at the shop, btw). I think I did this for a year or so.

Eventually I *tried* to use a lengthwise format and realized it was best for travel journaling (the spreads are so meh, I don’t even have actual photos!). So I tried the Midori MD Diary (A6 size, blank) this year, and well, I liked it; but also didn’t. I didn’t know if I like the size because it’s been half a year and I’m already finished (which means…I have to buy another one).

The way I write now is much more different. From being so detailed about my day to day, I now learn how to filter everything and summarize my week in pages. Some days are just in passing—I had a hard time digesting my daily life knowing that all of it has to be recorded (I sound so paranoid, but I hope you get my point). So I found this *system* to be more efficient for me and my brain, lol.

Apart from my Midori I find my Let’s Be Explorers planner to be my go-to notebook for daily use (I pull this out of my drawer every few hours of the day, lol). It has a monthly overview (which you can see above), as well as a weekly and quarterly one. It’s been the most useful one for me because as much as there are templates and layouts, it’s not too limiting and I get to customize everything accordingly. So of course, mine has lots of stickers and every week I have a color scheme that I follow because #OC lol. The simple joys of journaling, really.

Commitment-wise, though, I’m proud to say that this lengthwise format is still a recurring size for my travel journaling—this is for collage work and scrapbook-style spreads (I still prefer my trusty A5 for sketches and travel illustrations). This size was based off of Traveler’s Factory notebooks for their regular sized fillers, and has been a mainstay in my journaling stash since.

I currently use the Sketchnotes brand because the paper quality is much thicker than TNs (and it’s cheaper!). I’m currently still fixing my Spain travel journal (it’s halfway done) but in case you missed it, I did share a “What’s in My Travel Journal?” video here and the corresponding blog post here.

Aaand before I forget, watch my full review on my 2019 Journals So Far below:

What journals have you used so far?


Why I Deleted Instagram On My Phone

…for a week!

It’s a Friday night as I’m typing this, and it’s my sixth day without Instagram on my phone (A MIRACLE!). I deleted the app on my flight back from Africa, when I landed in Changi Airport for a six-hour layover. I don’t know what went into me but I was getting too sick of it. *clicks X*

A little back story: as someone who’s spent most of her life online (I had been blogging since I was 13 years old), Instagram was a no-brainer when I decided to get on the app (around 2012). Back then, I had been building my Tumblr following and have been updating mostly about my daily life (in college) and travels. Years went on and people started to see my work on the platform, and eventually my following grew (no secret formula, promise—just consistency and ~quality content~). I changed careers, published books, made more art. As the saying goes, the rest is history.

During my “experimental years” (2015-2017), I used to diligently post every day and it made me worry a lot. Did people like what I was posting? Did I embarrass myself when I agreed to do sponsored posts for certain brands? Was I really projecting a version of myself that was real, or something that was just fit “for the gram”? I can’t believe I used to overthink each and every photo that made it to my Instagram feed. What kind of obsession was this? Eventually, I realized that I became desperate for validation through every like, comment, and story reply—from people I hardly knew.

Last September, while I was in New York, I had enough. I snapped, basically. Once I shared my whereabouts in Stories (during my first few days there), I was shocked. Every day I’d get 10+ replies from people commenting about how amazing it is that I’m in New York. “Wow, ang ganda!” “Wooooow inggit” “OMG” and my introverted self just couldn’t keep up. I would get e-mails from people asking what classes I’m taking, where I’m studying, how much budget I allotted for this. It was like invading my personal space, and of course I despised it. Posting felt like an obligation to put up this banner and say, “I’m in New York!”, when in fact, I craved for privacy during my time there, because it was my only way to get away from my life here in Manila. 

During that period, I shut down Instagram for two weeks—it was great. I felt that I really needed those days to fix myself and adjust to everything. I didn’t want to make it seem like just because I was there, I was happy. In fact, those four months were actually one of the lowest points of my entire life. So pausing for a bit helped me recover and recalibrate how I viewed myself (I have zero self-esteem and I used to hate myself so much that I never even looked at myself in the mirror—now I’ve changed) vs. how others viewed me.

In recent months, my relationship with Instagram has become better (I’d like to think). I started to post less. I didn’t feel the need to share about personal stuff, especially if it didn’t really matter to my audience. I started to distance myself from social media (I deleted Twitter and Facebook on my phone too) and focus on other things. My time limit became an hour a day, after seeing that 90% of my phone activity is actually browsing Instagram (wow). Every time I post something, I close the app and turn off my data or wi-fi. I didn’t want to base my happiness on how many people liked my post—particularly now that the algorithm has drastically changed the way our timelines are shown to us.


Anyway, back to the detox bit.

So, what did I do during my week of no Instagram? Here’s a list of the many things I did.

  • I became more focused with work.
  • I left my phone charging yesterday and just typed away for 3 hours on my computer, not even bothering to see if I got a DM on Instagram or someone viewed my story.
  • My Screen Time statistics reduced significantly. From 6H to 2H? YES PLEASE.
  • I read more informative articles. Now, Chrome is the most used app on my phone (apart from Messenger, where 90% of my friends are)
  • I got up and had breakfast instead of checking my phone. Nothing like starting the day gadget-free, amirite?
  • I enjoyed the present moment, without the urge to document it. My addiction to Instagram Stories made me want to document everything real time, and for once, it actually felt nice not having to do that. What for, right? I had the best time seeing friends, catching up, having another batch of tarot cards read, and got rid of my bleached hair (FINALLY). I didn’t have to share it real-time and it was a huge sigh of relief.
  • I finally started reading books again. Because my eyes were becoming sensitive from the screen, I picked up my analog friends and did a lot of reading after so long (it’s been 3 months since I read from a book!). Currently loving Rookie Yearbook Two.
  • I felt lesser anxiety because I didn’t have to check the app Instagram. My heart used to skip a beat when I see numbers popping out of the DMs icon (I hate numbers. I try to clean out notifications ASAP and yes, I have a problem). Now I didn’t even have to think about it!
  • I took less photos. This is a good thing for someone like me who has 10,000 photos yet to be sorted on my phone. I also have a tendency to take too much photos so yes, this was a good break from that. 
  • I became more productive. I used to scroll mindlessly during downtime at the gym, or when I’m waiting in line, or while stuck in traffic. I spent those idle times instead thinking more about work or what I needed to get done. Yay for productivity, I guess?
  • And lastly: I had MORE TIME. More time to work, sleep, work out, meet up with people, clean my room, watch series, and do activities that felt more necessary for my well-being and growth.

In short, the amount of focus I had increased, and my anxiety significantly decreased. And I couldn’t believe it. As I’m writing this, I’m not even 100% tempted to download the app again. 

I know what you’re thinking. So you’re not gonna be back on Instagram? What about your job? Yes, my job is partly related to Instagram, so of course I’ll be back. I’ve also been logging onto my shop account using my iPad (I only follow 10 people so it’s nothing, really) to update every few days but that’s basically it. 

When you see this post up, you’ll see that I’ve started to update again on Instagram. It’s because most of my work is time-bound, and I do need to share some updates on events and things. It’s funny, because now that I am less than two weeks away for another long trip, I am looking forward to do more spontaneous Insta-detoxes while I’m away. 

Ultimately, this experience has humbled me in the best way. You’d think being a public figure and having thousands of people view your stories daily and like your posts is pretty cool. Yes, it is—but it is also very scary. At some point, I felt so vulnerable knowing that I’m being “watched” by the world, and that all of their opinions mattered. Of course, who was I kidding—after all these years, I learned that the only opinion that mattered was mine, really. Heck, it’s my Instagram. I can do what I want with it. That’s a fact.

My (love-hate) relationship with Instagram is still a work in progress. But progress is better than nothing, so there’s that (for now).

I’m back. But who knows when I’ll delete the app again? *ponders*

Photo by Sophie Yu

My Last Two Weeks in NYC

Fact: I wrote a long post during my layover at Changi Airport last April 14 (I’m currently in Cape Town, South Africa as I type this out on a Saturday night), but my dumb self accidentally deleted it from my Notes app so yes, it is gone, and I have no way to recover it.

So instead of listing down how my last two weeks went, maybe keeping it short should do the trick (I mean, the longform one was deleted, anyway—might as well).

I’m going to be honest. I did a self-evaluation of sorts when I got back from NY—that short week I spent in Manila before heading to Russia—and overall this 4-month adventure was a 2/10. That’s so low, I know. But there were just several factors that I needed to put into consideration.

I went to New York with one goal: to study. My other goals were to get in ADC Young Guns (ha, I *wish*), attend a CreativeMornings event, or meet some of the artists I look up to (which I managed to—I met Adam and Fran!), oooor maybe get some work opportunities.

Obviously, nothing went as planned. The classes I took weren’t really at par with my expectations. I took 2 classes that were really just a waste of time and money (and ultimately a lesson in realizing my self-worth as an artist). I didn’t get in ADC Young Guns. I didn’t get jobs. I didn’t “live my dream” in New York City.

Then I realized that there were other dreams—that I really didn’t need to list down, because they were just there, and I just needed to take a closer look.

In my four months of living in New York I have experienced my lowest of lows. I have become vulnerable, and learned to accept it. But in the midst of my breakdowns, I found myself—in small doses. And learned to piece everything together as time passed. If anything, that in itself is the biggest takeaway I have from my 100 days in a new city.

I had spaced out the last two weeks to be mainly for friends and family—and mostly for myself. I went to places that made me happy: I got myself a Milk Bar soft serve (but of course), I had tea at my favorite, Argo, I walked around downtown Manhattan in the cold, braved a 3 degree Friday in East Village, went thrift shopping and graffiti hunting in Brooklyn, and cut class on a Monday to spend a whole day alone exploring Chelsea and West Village.

There were also peak touristy things I didn’t mind doing with friends, of course: from seeing Hokusai’s work at the MET, to watching Kodaline LIVE (I was alone but I met some friends! I also cried as if I really needed to type that, but yes I did cry my heart out while singing to “Brand New Day”), shopping at Strand, Madewell, and Uniqlo (the ush), partied like a true millennial for a friend’s birthday (we went home at 4AM, a first for me) and having one last round of visiting my all-time favorite museum, the MoMA (photo above by Steph!).

And of course, spent a whole afternoon working at the New York Public Library for the last time.

Every time I think about New York, I cringe a little. Has my mindset of a city I used to love so much changed me? I can’t say I love it *that* much anymore. My perception of the city has drastically transformed.

But I will say that if I were to go back in a few years, it’d be to see some of the lovely people I met along the way.

Spent my last two weeks with Angel, Amber, Pauline, Anne, Steph, Danica, and my cousins Maco and achi Michelle. People who remind me of home 🙂

By the second week of December, I was looking forward to go home and retreat to my bed in Manila. My last episode of anxiety came in while I was packing—I repacked five times. Five! I realized I had brought so much (and bought, no less) things that I needed to leave behind more than expected. It was devastating. I’ve learned my lesson.

This whole thing about ~anxiety~ only came into the picture while I was in New York. So I started going to therapy this 2019 sorting it out. It’s been hard, really. I never expected that my worry for things escalated so much, nor did I see this coming at all. It’s really been a hard process to work through my daily life with crippling fear and anxiety (it’s made my worry for the future 10000x worse). But I’m getting by. I hope I am.

I owe a lot of thanks to my NYC “parents” who “adopted” me for 100 days—uncle W and auntie A. I wouldn’t have been able to do this if it weren’t for auntie A’s persuasion (“sayang talent mo!” she told me). In fact, how this idea came to me is still really a blur. What was I thinking? Did I really wanted to leave home so bad? Turns out I did. But I guess it wasn’t time to leave, for good—not just yet. New York was definitely not the place.

I really thought I would cry at JFK. But I didn’t. I had no feelings. I was apathetic AF by all means and didn’t even bother sharing about it to anyone. What was the point, really? I just knew it was time to go.

But I did manage to have some tiny tears roll down my cheek as I opened the window to see the sun come through, as I landed in Manila at seven in the morning on a hot December day. I even watched two Filipino films on the way back, lol (proud Pinoy film fan here!).

There really is no place like home. Well, that’s what I’m saying now. Who knows where home will be in the next couple of years?

Thanks New York. Time to close this chapter and move on.

Vlog below:

You can watch more NYC videos here, and I’ll be updating that in a few months (obviously I still have a library of footage to edit).