Finding Clarity in Collage (+ free kit download)

If there’s one thing that I’m deeply finding interest in this quarantine (TBH from where I am I think this will last more than three months from now, so), it’s making collages. I first stumbled upon collage kits from Practical Magic’s tarot deck, which were made out of Rookie’s collage kits. I downloaded them one by one and filled my Dropbox with all sorts of images that inspired my creativity to flourish in ways I don’t think it would been able to if I stuck with lettering or journaling.

Frankly, collage reminds me so much of grade school, when our teachers would ask us to bring old newspapers and magazines to school for craft projects. I was one of the kids with the not so attractive magazines. Growing up, I’ve also always felt like I wasn’t “creative” enough—but again, that self-deprecation thing is for another story I’m never going to talk about.

Anyway, the whole point is, I’ve found a new and refreshing avenue for creative expression. And it’s something I deeply love and want to explore more of. Here are some I made over the course of this quarantine.

One of the early ones I made, this is a little dissection into my adjustment into lockdown—painting my nails to feel sane, reading tarot cards, working on multiple projects and feeling a sense of “productivity” just to get by.

A collage dedicated to Earth Day. Like the true earth sign that I am, I picked out elements that reminded me of the vast landscapes we have in this place we call home. Also was inspired by my trip to the wild in South Africa last summer.

A contemplative collage, thinking about suffering indoors but also the perceived suffering of art being part of my work when it used to just be for fun and without pressure. I really just miss the outdoors and even if the heat means suffering under the sun, well at least I get some Vitamin D amirite? (I also miss the beach and I hate swimming.)

An homage to Berlin last summer. I used a lot of my personal ephemera for this—featuring a photo of Eberwalder Strasse (my usual commute route) and my monthly ticket for tram, U-bahn and S-bahn commute. Summer was different last year. It was freeing.

I had applied for a visa abroad earlier this summer, so the concept of home always haunted me. Does it mean comfort? Or does it just mean having a roof above your head? In the greater scheme of things, when you travel constantly to find yourself, does the concept of home even matter? These are questions I would often ask myself. Also made a process video of this (you can watch it below).

Today was very off for me—actually, most days are when I’m not swamped with work. Usually I’d whip out my Dropbox folder of collages and play around with Photoshop. But today was different, because I dug up some old photos and graphics from my past projects to come up with these collage kits.

This is a collage kit from my Japan trips—random film photos, trips to the museum, a snap of Shimokitazawa (fave neighborhood), and basically missing my artventures abroad. (Side note: my Tokyo, Documented zine is now available here!)

An homage to summer somewhere in time. Photos from my La Union self-care trip three summers ago, plus some extra graphics from my books and artworks.

Download the high resolution files here. Don’t forget to tag me @abbeysy when you share your creations on Instagram!

I’m still thinking if I can sell these as printed collage stickers or make it available as a digital download instead. Either way, this is the start of something new and I’m excited to share more in the future.

Always Be Creating,

Abbey

Film Diary: Suspended in Time

I never really took my travels for granted. But I don’t think I’ve ever felt so much of a withdrawal from it until in recent months. With the restrictions to meet people IRL ongoing since the start of summer, it feels so different looking back at film photos this time last year, when I was out and about the whole time in a completely foreign city, to say the least. I’m thinking about the friends I made on the other side of the world, how they’re doing, and when I’ll be able to see them again (maybe next year? the initial plan was this year).

Weekends used to be spent outdoors, taking the U-bahn to another neighborhood, soaking in the sun. Now, weekends are just excuses to binge more on Netflix episodes and carve out more time for myself after a busy work week staring at laptop and tablet screens until the wee hours of the morning.

Thinking about brunch with Sara, talking about the most mundane things—life, art, the intersection of both, the bigger picture. The things that I never talk about back home. Thinking about my Umma Hyon and her art studio where I used to frequent during the cold November with her preparing a cup of pourover every time I knock on the door.

Missing meaningful conversations with Lei and Emily, who are both in different parts of Germany right now. That peach scene we can’t stop talking about from Call Me By Your Name. Important discussions on race, our futures, the lives we aspire to have. Thinking about late nights out and laughing about things like “why does the bartender take so much time picking out a mint leaf to garnish our drink?!?” and until now, I don’t know the answer to that.

Remembering that day when it was thirty nine degrees and we commuted to Schlachtensee and I was terrified AF of the water or getting caught changing clothes at the back of a tree trunk (there were no public toilets).

Fast forward to October with a quick escape to Singapore (the usual), binge watching RuPaul’s Drag Race, coffee runs with Christie, and movie nights that ended up making us sleep like a baby just in time for Sunday.

Finding comfort in knowing that for a time, hanging out in coffee shops was still a thing. Ordering from a counter, waiting for your coffee to be served in a bustling cafe right smack in the middle of a quiet street in SG.

Throwback to the first weeks in the office, where Sophie and I made do of filming with limited equipment and set ups, back when there was no Internet yet and we barely knew that our last meeting for the year (so far) would also be a filming day.

Honestly feels like I’ve forgotten what it’s like to live outside of my home. For months, it has been an ongoing battle between wanting to be somewhere else instead of here. But let’s face it—reality trumps fantasy, and it won’t be easy to get into the new normal (gosh, I hate that phrase, really). I try to think that I could travel back in time in my memories or maybe take a look at the mirror of Erised—which obviously will show a different Abbey speaking Deutsch and basking in the summer heat on the other side of the world, maybe taking a side trip to Florence so she could finally explore the city unlike her first encounter in 2015.

But that’s not what’s possible for now. Everything feels suspended in time; and maybe that’s what’s the universe is trying to tell us now. To right the wrongs. To fix the errors. To carve out time for self-healing.

Until then.

Photos taken using my film camera (which is currently rotting at home), 2019-2020—Berlin, Singapore, Manila

En Route: A 2019 Photo Diary

What used to be a regular routine of me writing in transit has lost its fire. And while things have transpired in the course of what my blog column had become over the years, I found myself organizing my travel photos from this year—something I rarely do, considering I have quite a backlog of images to review from the life-changing trips I’ve had this 2019. Photography has always been a go-to creative outlet—for me it’s more than just hitting the shutter button. My eyes look at things that establish itself in the shots I create; at some point my brain already knows what images are going to come out. Some snapshots were captured on film, some on digital, but nevertheless, they are one in the same a moment preserved in time.

So, in true Tumblr fashion, below is a visual diary of my 2019, summarized in cities I’ve explored, people I’ve met, experiences I’ve had, and memories I’ve created.

Related post: A Year Summarized in Cities

A Year Summarized in Cities

This year is probably the most traveled one, if I could recount the numerous flights I took to and from Manila, as I searched far and wide for cities that would feel like home.

For me, travel used to be a foreign concept; I thought I was supposed to just stay in one place for the rest of my life. In the years that passed, I grown to love it as a way to discover not only myself, but the world around me—how things work, how systems are formed, how people thrive in different parts of the world.

Visiting Barcelona in the springtime was a visual feast. Gaudi’s masterpieces on every corner, Spanish fare spoiling us every single day, and the chance to experience a city’s vibrant atmosphere was unforgettable. Our flight to Cape Town took me by surprise—from the European architecture, to staying over at Babylonstoren in Franschhoek, you best believe it was life-changing. I never knew I could be in a place that felt so surreal and beautiful and majestic, all at one. Como tied in second, despite the long transit time that led us to this gem in Northern Italy. Milan reminded me of my first trip to Italy (which I barely remembered), but seeing it with fresh eyes made me love Brera, a neighborhood brimming with beautiful buildings and flowers branching out on every balcony. Berlin in the summer was the best: long hours of daylight, major realizations about art and life, meeting like-minded people, and falling in love with a city that was never on my go-to list. There was never a “why am I here” moment, but there was always a “I can’t believe I’m here” that I’ve probably lost count of how many times I’ve said it, really. Munich was a dream—a little R&R that I needed before flying back home. Geneva was a nice surprise, after which I ended up going to Blausee during the fall. Singapore and Malaysia were always the usuals, and there’s nothing like feeling comfort in places you feel like you’ve known forever. The fall trip to Berlin was short but sweet, but needless to say, it was the clarity I needed to be able to sit still and type this right now in Japan. I’ve been in Tokyo since last week, and next week I leave for Osaka for my last trip of the year.

But is it just me, or I don’t know. The more I travel, the more the foreign becomes familiar. I no longer look for the tourist spots, the places people line up for to eat. I settle for the ordinary, the mundane, the cheap thrills in the convenience store. I no longer spend a full day out and about, and it’s in the little things that make me appreciate cities more than the big things. Maybe I’ve learned to look at it in a different way—and, well, I guess different is good.

All my travels are filed under #ABCEnRoute on Instagram.

Stationery Shopping in Malaysia

While the main reason for my visit to Malaysia last September was to teach workshops, I decided to visit a few stationery shops and check out the extensive lineup of stationery Malaysia has to offer.

And what I realized was—if your budget does not permit for a trip to Japan, then Malaysia is definitely your best option. The prices aren’t too marked up (it’s actually similar to the Japan prices), the variety of Japanese brands they carry are A LOT (you name it, they have it), and the materials are not only for journaling, but also for painting, collage work, decoupage, etc.

Cziplee

Location: Bangsar

For me, entering Cziplee felt like entering Blick and Michael’s when I was living in New York—from scrapbooking, stamping, painting (they carry a lot of brands!), children’s books, journaling, to lettering (and more), this is the ideal store you should visit. They have three floors—first floor for pens (LOTS of them) and stationery (notebooks, stickers, postcards, pencil cases, etc), second floor for art materials (paint, paper, and all art-related materials), and third floor for children’s books. Sophie and I spent two hours here, lol. That explains it. 

Also: if you are looking for Jibun Techo planners, they carry it here! 

Follow them on Instagram.

Loka Made

Location: Central Market, Kuala Lumpur

Loka Made was a new discovery—I’ve been seeing the same designs on most bookstores (explains why all the postcards I sent were designed by Loka Made) but I was happy to stumble upon their store located in Central Market. I love how Malay culture is illustrated and designed. I’m very picky with country-themed paper products and they definitely nailed it.

Apart from getting the postcards, I couldn’t help it—I also got sticker flakes and an A5 clear folder. I can’t wait to start journaling with these local goodies!

Follow them on Instagram.

Kinokuniya

Location: Suria KLCC, Kuala Lumpur

Being the Japan fan that I am, of course we had to check out Kinokuniya if they had new titles out (not all books that I like end up being sold in Manila). I got a new book—Daily Rituals of Women, a follow up to Daily Rituals (which I own). I also got a set of Art Genius playing cards and a few stickers from Mossery.

And of course, their Art & Graphic Design section is quite extensive. Always so happy to see my books, too! Here I am happily holding them up. 

Follow them on Instagram.

Stickerrific

Location: Jaya One, Petaling Jaya

When I first found out about Stickerrific a few years ago, I told myself I definitely NEED to visit here someday. Well, that time finally happened, folks—and the best excuse as well is because I am teaching. The worst part? Two days being here meant non-stop wandering around the store to look for new stationery items to take home.

Szetoo (owner of Stickerrific) is quite the girlboss—she tells me they are only 3 full-time employees of the store, and their selection of stationery is my favorite. It’s curated properly, and there’s something for everyone. What I love most as well is that the staff helps you pick out what you need based on your level (beginner, advanced, etc) and preferences. Best customer service!

Plus points for Luke, Leia and Chewie—their “entertainment team”, as Szetoo calls it. You’ll find these “Stickerrific cats” making their way around each part of the store.

Follow them on Instagram.

Want to see more of these stationery stores? Check out my video below featuring my haul!

How to get to these places:

We used Grab because these places are far from each other. KL has trains but Bangsar and Petaling Jaya are only for taxis and local transport.

Take note:

All establishments accept credit card except for Loka Made.

Have you been to Malaysia before? Let me know what stationery stores I should still check out on my next visit!

Back to Berlin: An Essay

“Don’t panic; act cool” I told myself as I faced the immigration officer on the 16th of May, 2019, as I scrambled my way to the airport after a last minute turnaround of events. Are you on vacation? Who stays for this long in Berlin? I was afraid to get asked these. Instead the officer asked, “What are you doing in Berlin?” and I replied with a swift “I’m doing an artist residency program” and in less than a second, I heard the sound of the stamp as it landed on my passport—the page opposite my Schengen Visa.

I was here. Finally.

Six months later, in the same airport, I’m no longer panicking as I checked in my suitcase and made my way through immigration smoothly—I’m on my way home, geographically—for now.

Berlin, like I always said, was an afterthought. It was a “what if” when I went to Germany last year. Again, this country was never on my list too. But it came when I least expected it—the realization that I could call this city a temporary home both scared and excited me in many ways I cannot even begin to explain particularly why. 

I suppose it was the efficient transportation system. No, wait—it’s the gluten-free and dairy-free options at the local grocery to satisfy my health concerns. Wait, it was also the duck curry at the nearby Asian restaurant. Or was it the several coffee shops, bars, and never-ending conversations created in those places with old and newfound friends? It could also be the long summers, short winters, the changing of the seasons. Or the hours spent making something out of nothing in an actual studio. 

It was everything. And it still blew me away how I can find myself in a city this big. 

There were lots of questions I asked myself before saying “yes” to this. First, there was, “Are you out of your mind?”, and then there was also “Maybe New York isn’t the place—and Berlin would be the place.” There were also lots of what-ifs I don’t intend to disclose (I now know the answers and I’m fine with that), but those were reasonable enough to make me book a flight and look for an apartment.

The first attempt at apartment hunting terrified me so much that I was so close to getting cold feet. A lady instantly responded to my ad, sent me her information (a passport immediately?), a contract, and the whole shebang (but did not want to Skype / show her face to me) and after a friend told me it was fake (catfishing), I froze. I settled for an airbnb, prayed for a miracle, and sealed the deal. 

Looking back, I realize the name of the street I lived in was Liebenwalder Straße. Lieben means love in German. Well, that’s a start.

What’s more coincidental is the last month was spent in the same street, just a few blocks away—my friend sub-let me her extra room and it all worked out in the end. I still found myself in the same neighborhood, but me in May versus me in November was a big change, to say the least.

2019 was an inconsistent year for me, work-wise. I traveled a lot: for work, for personal reasons, for family trips. If I count until December, almost half of the year was in another city and in another timezone. I remember telling a friend last year that my goal for 2019 is to take at least half a year off—which I think I did (I saved enough to not work for months). All in all, it was meaningful. It was a lot of decision-making which is something I’m always anxious about.

My anxiety attack started when I found out about the 90/180 rule the day before my first Berlin flight. Since I went to Barcelona early in the year (15 days), according to this rule it was unlikely that I could still do 90 days in the EU during the same period. Hence, I had to reduce my stay to exactly 75 days.*

*By November, this has reset since six months have already passed (I was also able to make a side trip to Switzerland, so that was nice). 

My second anxiety attack was the most unforgettable one. I woke up at 4AM on the 20th of May, crying for four hours until I finally asked a friend if he could meet me for dinner so I could compose what had happened. It was my second week of anti-depressants and the effects were taking its toll on me. I had gotten myself in this situation and had suddenly felt the urge to go back home not out of lack of courage, but because I didn’t know if the medicine was enough to calm myself down and not be anxious about every single thing.

My third anxiety attack was pivotal, and it happened the same week: we ran from the city center to Como’s central station, headed back to Milan. We sprinted for 10 minutes (with our luggage), and I was out of breath for half an hour on the train. I couldn’t look at anything properly and the silence was making me more anxious. I was frantic and instead of staring into space, I picked up my pen and started drawing. 

That was the exact moment I knew one thing: art always saves me. It’s also the reason I’m still here tonight, typing this out at Tegel Airport.

Growing up, I felt a lot of distance with several aspects of myself. Later did I realize (upon my visit to my current psychiatrist) that me putting myself in the third person POV has limited my way of thinking. Maybe it’s why meeting new people fascinates me; or reading about other artists or people before our time that have influenced and shaped the world we are in now have an impact on my worldview. Maybe it’s also why I get so curious looking up on current events, things that are usually out of the picture that for me, mean something more than the surface. 

But these questions and points of curiosity, as important as they are, led me farther from myself. Life back home prohibited me to go out and see life the way I wanted to see it. It was all from a screen, and yet I was hungry for more. And it’s always the reason why I book a trip as often as I can. I can choose to sit and dream in my room—of all the places I could go, people I could meet, things I could do—but I’m never one to sit and wait. I’m always that person who takes action and goes for it, all in (even if I get scared sometimes).

Earlier today as we were discussing about having other jobs apart from a creative one, a friend asked me, “So what made you decide to resign from your Advertising job?” and I sat there for a few seconds actually thinking of a proper answer. I always said it was because of the book deal. But really, it’s like I knew that I was headed to where I am now anyway—I just didn’t know it yet.

Every day for the past thirty days felt so new. Each day I had to worry about different things—which route to take to the studio, what type of work do I have to accomplish for that week, who I’m meeting for dinner, which friend I am meeting for the upcoming weekend, whether or not I had a fresh pair of socks the day after tomorrow, or if I did enough laundry for the next seven days.

And it’s in these daily, mundane things that I learned so much about myself. I also learned so much from a place that used to be so foreign to me. Small advancements included knowing that “w” sounds as “v” in Deutsch, and knowing how to translate restaurant menus. Laktosefrei meant I could consume that particular food item, and Fahrt ende hier meant the train ended at that stop. I found out that you’re not allowed to jaywalk (well, not as much as I used to do in New York) or your life might be at stake. I learned that I wouldn’t get a hangover the next day if I got myself a döner by midnight, and that I still get home in one piece thanks to the night buses that run after midnight on U-bahns.

Choosing to leave everything behind isn’t easy. It often startles me how drastic I can seem to shift from one thing to another; but what can I say? I’ve never been a creature of habit. If anything, knowing I have a reason to leave has always kept me on my feet; and I’ll probably be in that area for the years to come.

Danke schön for everything, Berlin! Tschüß for now.

Visiting the Caran d’Ache Factory in Geneva, Switzerland

Let me start off by saying this trip was the most spontaneous one I’ve had in a while.

After several back and forth attempts to renew my Schengen visa (I thought I had maxed out my 90 days from Berlin—or so I thought) and my anxiety in getting regular phone calls from the Swiss embassy (I really *hate* answering phone calls!), I finally confirmed my trip to Switzerland albeit a week before my flight.

By the time I was packing on Monday morning, it obviously hadn’t dawned on me that I was flying halfway across the world and back to Europe. *Oh well* as per usual, I watched two films in-flight (The Hows of Us and To Love Some Buddy, both Pinoy films; both heart-breaking lol), spent a good four hours of ideation and brainstorming during my layover in Doha, and finally arrived in Geneva.

My vague memory of Switzerland was in Lucerne, and I wasn’t *feeling* it. I love traveling during the warmer season, so it was nice to walk around the area I stayed in (near the Old Town) before settling in.

Long walks in a city always makes it more real. Does that make sense? I’m not the type who favors exploring a city fast—I like taking my time to see all the little streets, the architecture, the vibe.

After downing 3 cups of coffee in total before arriving, I was well-adjusted. LOL.

The next day we headed to the Caran d’Ache factory which was around half an hour from the city center. One step inside the office and you’ll immediately be drawn to the pencils display and the vintage posters (of course!).

Fun fact: Caran d’Ache was founded in 1915, and means “pencil” in Russian. It was also the “artist name” of the famous French caricaturist / cartoonist Emmanuel Poiré, whose signature was also the initial logo of the brand.

The factory was built in 1974, and so far has produced 400 different colors using 100 pigments.

We were instructed to wear these shoes to enter the factory. They’re quite comfy and on brand—red and black!

Annelies and I geeking over *all the things*. I actually follow Annalies on Instagram for a while now and when I found out she was part of this trip, I fangirled!

Inside the factory, we were shown the process of how Caran d’Ache makes pencils—from choosing the right type of wood, picking out the right colors (imagine how many combinations they make, considering they have over 400 colors?!), testing each material’s durability, up to packing each and every product in its box, ready to ship out.

Caran d’Ache is quite a premium brand, but it comes with the quality that is definitely worth its price tag. Each set of Luminance colored pencils are packed by hand by their personnel. I also loved that they hire disabled people to help them with work, as it also helps enrich their livelihood and keep them productive. 🙂

As an artist, my favorite part is the process, of course—especially from start to finish. Above are some Neocolor II wax pastels and Pablo colored pencils being left to dry before they are packaged and shipped out to stores worldwide.

Prior to this trip, I have only been knowledgeable about Caran d’Ache’s Studio Gouache—which has been my go-to set of paints for my watercolor lettering work. I’ve only ever dabbled in watercolor pencils for my illustrations, which is why it was great that Pete instructed us in the afternoon on how to use Caran d’Ache’s different materials. My personal favorite? The Pablo pencils, which is named after Pablo Picasso (he used Caran d’Ache!).

My favorite technique was mixing permanent colored pencils and water soluble pencils to create this mask effect I did on the “make things” quote.

Here I am with Catherine (from Caran d’Ache), Annelies from Korea / Netherland, Crystal and Ray from Taiwan, and Steven from Hong Kong. Thank you, Art Bar Philippines and Caran d’Ache for choosing me to represent the Philippines!

If it isn’t any obvious, I’m actually wearning a terno top from Anthill Fabric. I wanted to wear something a bit Filipino and since I went to Artefino the week before, I got myself this top. It’s a Yakan weave and I love it so much!

On our last day, we took a tour around the city—had chocolate fondue, walked around the Old Town, and got to know more about the city. Thanks Juliane of Local Flavours Tours for taking us around.

You can check out more about my trip on my vlog below:

Selected photos by Igor Laski for Caran d’Ache

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.

Sincerely,

Abbey

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! 

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).