As I wait for the break of dawn, I let my cup of coffee sit still on the table. A few more minutes, I tell myself, knowing too well that to drink it too soon would be to burn my tongue. I listen to the birds chirping instead and follow their call.
A FRIEND once pointed out to me that the next time I embark on a gigantic, life-changing decision, I should rather keep it to myself than have all the people in the world know what I’m about to do. The most apparent culprit for this, of course, is Facebook, this tempting beast of an online platform where our most personal frustrations, those well-deserved triumphs, or even our most mundane moments such as the well-garnished lunch we had or this multi-flavored frappe we downed with our friends in a franchised hip coffee shop somewhere in the city are exhibited in the open, curated by our well- or ill-discerning standards of taste in which ‘critical’ assessment comes in the form of emoticons or a ‘well-thought-out’ review in the comments section below the post in question.
The last time I did, it was a text message I received congratulating me for being hired for a Vietnamese company from a prospective recruiter who, at the time, was hiring English teachers to work in Hanoi, which I posted on my timeline, because, as much as I hate to admit it, I wanted instant recognition. Minutes after I screen-captured the text message and posted the delightful news on my wall, my notifications soared to a ridiculous high number of congratulatory comments, and each time I hit them back with a trite Thanks, the feeling of elation swelled inside me, like when you’re in a car running 60km per hour and suddenly the road curves down, and that split second when your heart seems to come off, you feel a woozy, ticklish feeling of high that you want to do it again and again.
Of course, she’s right. That proved to be a huge mistake. And in retrospect, a kind of blunder, I must say. Because months later, I’d still be in the Philippines. And when people asked me, surprised to see me gallivanting around, “I thought you’d be in Vietnam by now?” I’d give them this nonchalant, unperturbed look and say, “Plans change, don’t they?” One night, my friend even posted a picture of us at a bar, when we were out celebrating for our other friend’s arrival after a month or so of being away-there were five of us-in which he captioned the photo “Welcome back Yannick, and goodbye Aaron #leavingforVietnammaybein2019”. It was funny. But deep down, fuck.
Fuck, no matter how unabashedly banal and unapologetic it sounds, seems to sum up the whole experience entirely. That proved to be my first, gut-wrenching lesson on 50 Ways on How Not to Use Facebook. It also made me critical about the things I should post there. But more importantly, it gave me a glimpse of my naïve and pompous 26-year-old self: at the core of this is an underlying lesson to be had.
In a letter written by Cheryl Strayed in response to an anonymous 22-year-old penned Seeking Wisdom who asked the 40ish-year-old writer, “What would you tell your twentysomething self if you could talk to her now?” Strayed’s first response was arrestingly simple: Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit?
It was her rhetorical question that made me close the book, pause for a minute and stare at the wall for a few more goddamn minutes. Who gives a shit?
Because I guess in the long run, we’ll always find ourselves confronted with this ridiculously yet surprisingly wise question. In my case, now that I’m a year older, I still do. Or better yet, I have to. It’s a bittersweet, face-smacking wake-up call that puts your tail back between your legs. It keeps you at bay of all of your baseless, puffed-up assumptions about yourself. It keeps you grounded.
Or that’s how it was-and still is-for me. Who gives a shit?
A year ago, I asked a few friends what life was like for them at 25. The idea of the project was to ask 25 friends who’ve gone past 25 one specific moment in that period of their life, “a quarter of a century lived” as Fred said, which became strikingly deep and unforgettable. This is an unfinished project.
Jade, Darna at 25
“I was nursing a broken heart. I just got out of a really really bad relationship. And I almost died at twenty four, so I was living my second life at twenty five. I didn’t have a job then because I was finishing my Master’s. I was Darna at twenty five on Holloween.”
“I had no commitments but to explore. To know what’s out there. Throughout that period, that’s when I realized the difference between ambition and purpose, wherein ambition is just something from within. What you would’ve done for yourself. While purpose is something that was meant for you. Purpose doesn’t just have to be one thing. It can be many things. I’m still finding them out.
“I was working for a local newspaper and was editor-in-chief. I found myself smoking a lot because, you know, journalists are supposed to smoke. I remember editing one Friday, and I felt so fidgety. “Oh my God, I have to smoke.” So I went out of the office looking for a vendor selling cigarettes. I was about twenty meters away, and I just stopped. I told myself, “”Wait a second. This is wrong. I shouldn’t be looking for smokes. I should stop.” So I went back to the office. I think that’s why I never became a real smoker.
Hedi, The Year of Dancing
“I had a lot of girlfriends and we always had fun. During that time, we did a lot of jamming sessions – dancing and just having fun. Lovers? I can’t remember any, but there were always a lot of friends I could hang out with.”
Raz, Out of One’s Mold
“It was a transition phase for me. I was fresh from doing activism work. I conquered the fear of really taking myself out of the mould that I have molded myself into. And that was going to Bali to join a UN conference. I didn’t know anyone there. It was an intermix of people, mostly not in my generation.”
“I got married when I was twenty five. I met him at twenty five some time in September, and we got married in December. That was the very first time I’ve met someone who could actually memorize Paradise Lost. He recited it to me on our first night date, and that was it. I was hooked.”
Fred, The Summer of ’71
“At the end of my twenty fifth year, my first marriage was over. It was one quarter of my century lived. It was a milestone, so it was bittersweet. Marriage on the rocks. Business doing well at the expense of marriage. Definitely pain. One thing that milestone brought out is that I’m responsible for my choices in life.”