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Happy Anniversary

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May 2010, Photo by Stephen Reed

We’ve been together for five years and married for four, as of today. We’ve been best friends for eight years.

If I can reduce what I feel into one essential thought, it would be this: he makes me a braver person. I can stand in a room with hundreds of people to deliver a speech and if I know he’s in the crowd, that’s all I need to know to get through with it. I can travel anywhere in the world if he’s by my side. I present my work better when he’s there. I take for granted how much he’s been a fixed point in my life with everything. With every example I can think off, a bunch of others mushroom too easily in its wake.

As he gets older, I feel so proud of the guy he’s turning out to be. I start my day seeing him bent over his bible and jotting down entries in his journal. I end it with him holding my hand in bed and saying a quick prayer. Over time I’m realizing that he anchors me so well because he tries very hard to be anchored as well.

I never thought I’d see the day where I would have marriage and babies lined up in my future. When he came along, it just became the most natural thing. We’ve had a good run as a twosome. And I know the courage he gives me will be enough for us to be a family very, very soon.

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8 Things to Do Before You Hit 30

Note: This was an article I wrote for a website that never made it to publication.
Rather than see my hard work disappear in my files, I’m posting it here.

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Photo from Global Pillage

I don’t know why I got fielded this topic. I just turned 29 in February and while I have assumed some of the external trappings of adult life, my husband and I still sleep on a mattress on a floor, do Kraft Mac & Cheese lunches, and struggle with the concept of an “emergency fund.”

At the same time, I will acknowledge that we’ve also hit some milestones that required big boy and big girl pants-wearing: clocking in almost 4 years of marriage, getting married with a budget under P150,000 (it’s still one of my prouder moments), being financially independent, living on our own, ditching stable corporate jobs to pursue our own business, and finally, planning for a terrifying bundle of joy due this September.

My husband and I also had a pretty extended adolescence during our 20s (read: life looked too much like a Judd Apatow production), so when we made the decision to “grow up,” we had a lot of catching up to do and the lessons to be had were often painful and difficult.

If you’re anything like us, we’re the type that lamented the first five years of our 20s then reached a breaking point where we wanted to go after the ideals and values that really meant something to us. This can look different to any person but the crazy thing is that there will be common threads among all of us trying to achieve this, and this is my attempt to break it all down.

Let’s begin.

1. Know Your Currency

This is another way of saying, “know your values, know what you want.” Usually they’re going to match things about yourself that already come naturally to you. In my case, I love my chosen career (design), I am devoted to anything that has to do with an inner life (empathy, spirituality, connectedness, what makes people tick), and I value relationships and experiences (over material gains and successes). This is my currency. It’s what I value and what I dispense the best. When I had that awareness, my life choices started centering themselves around these things.

It’s why I got married early, it’s why I work from home, and it’s why my yearly vacations are infrequent but ridiculously long (I like taking off for weeks, at least). Your currency may look a lot different from mine, but once you know what it is, you’d be surprised at how making decisions become a lot easier to you.

 

2. Figure Out Your Relationship Rhythm

Once you know what your currency is, then it also becomes easier figuring out who you are in relation to people and what your boundaries are. My husband is a great match for me because he’s emotional, sensitive, and a deep thinker. He also loves people, has an appalling sense of humor, and is a good traveller. He syncs well with my currencies and is enough of my opposite to keep things interesting (I fall on a different part of the spectrum: I have no filter, I’m confrontational, I don’t do hugs well, and I have a tendency to intellectualize my emotions).

The people who are incompatible with my currency have naturally slipped away over the years. You also become more secure in standing up for yourself when people are being pricks because you’re learning what you can and cannot put up with. On the plus side, you also have an awareness of the kinds of people you work with best and you learn to be more sensitive to the ones who don’t.

Which leads to my number 3:

 

3. Nail Conflict Resolution

Before you turn 30, it would be great if you have already mastered the proper way to process and vent your feelings (no more passive aggressive statuses on social media, please!) and the way to gracefully end things with people (whether it’s a break up with a boyfriend/girlfriend or a best friend, it’s no different).

It means being able to own up your responsibilities, to be clear about your feelings, and to avoid unnecessary drama. It means being able to see the humanity in people we tend to render in 2D – bosses, our parents, clients, coworkers, subordinates, helpers, etc. It’s learning how to disagree without being a jerk. It’s learning how to be honest and how to coexist with other people better. In short: This is the best time to stop being that asshole.

 

4. Up the Responsibility Game

I would suggest moving out the minute you graduate college (I myself wasn’t able to do it but my friends who did learned how to adult a lot quicker), because it would teach you so much about meeting obligations every month, relying on yourself, learning to ask for help, and budgeting your resources. But every circumstance is different and it doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to exercise the same muscles in other ways. Try starting your own business, traveling by yourself, volunteering your time to advocacies, or managing people in the work place. Nothing is more empowering than learning to stand on your own feet.

 

5. Manage Your Money

I don’t know about you, but this is where I’m still a hot mess and I imagine I would have a better grasp of my finances if I started way earlier. There’s a whole universe about financial wellness on the internet but if you want to hear it from my mouth, do it because there is so much freedom in monetary stability, no matter what anyone says. It’s learning to anticipate Future You’s needs and making sure Future You won’t make a scene and end up a weepy pile of tears whenever she’s unprepared for emergencies and mishaps.

It’s so that you stop being a leech. It’s so that you learn to amass good credit and be able to take out loans and secure funding for your future endeavors. It’s so that you can actually devote your energy to things you really care about. Start with tracking your daily expenses, paying yourself first (make “savings” a bill you pay every month), and figuring out what financial milestones you want to be hitting (property, insurance, stock portfolio, vacations, tuition payments, etc.). For freelancers, I suggest outsourcing as much of the clerical tasks as you can (especially the accounting), it’s the best thing we did for our peace of mind.

 

6. Break Your Cycles

The post-college years are perfect for messing up and finding out what you’re all about. When you find yourself running out of steam, this is where your life usually plateaus into a routine. If it’s a routine you like, then great! More often than not though, the routines for a lot of us always end up being that place where you find yourself feeling unsatisfied with the choices you’ve made.

It could be that you want to shift into a different field with your career. Maybe you’re noticing that you always find yourself in abusive relationships. Maybe you’re noticing that your group of friends is composed of aging party girls and that you don’t care much for the lifestyle anymore.

Whatever it is, the space before you turn 30 is still a lot more flexible than the years that are going to come. You still have enough optimism and you still have a lot of energy to run away from your comfort zones. Life will keep hurling many of these plateau seasons and if you can get yourself used to change early on, it will become an instinct that will guide you through surviving midlife crisis, parenting (your own spawn or your parents), moving to different places, or enduring moments of loss and grief.

 

7. Work with What You’ve Got

At the same time, don’t get suckered into the idea that a person, place, job, or thing will be the answer to your problems. Dysfunction is combination of many aspects of your life and it’s an exercise in futility if you try to fix it by addressing all the externals without dealing with the internal stuff. It’s the idea of a person who sucks at photography and addresses it by getting a more expensive camera. It’s the idea that we think we can get away with “upgrading” without dealing with our demons.

And here’s something Tina Fey mentioned in Bossypants that would’ve saved so many of us from heartache: “talent isn’t sexually transmitted.”

 

8. Learn to Make Your Comfort Food

I’m just tossing this one in here because I don’t think we can safely make it to adulthood if we’re incapable of whipping up the little things that bring joy to our lives when we’re sad. We can take this literally and mean learning to make a good grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup or figuratively and mean the times you learn to open a bottle of beer and drink it in your balcony after a long day. I recently did an exercise with one of my clients that involved taking apart the definition of luxury.

We all came to the conclusion that rather than the bells and whistles, luxury really refers to the experience of being pampered and attended to. If we run with that idea, that experience can be replicated in any scenario, no matter what kind of budget you have. It could be a jar of cookie butter in your office drawer or a once a month spa day. Growing up doesn’t always have to be so painful.

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Teppei Teranishi

Joel and I have the deepest conversations whenever we drive out for long stretches. We were coming back from Tagaytay yesterday and somehow got to talking about how we were doing with decluttering our social media feeds.

As folks who spend a lot of time working from home (with me clocking it in at 90% of my days), the internet is both a refuge and huge stress factor in our lives. It’s too easy for us to launch into a round of “Who/what pissed us off in the internet lately?” and frankly, we’re trying to wean ourselves off the habit. It’s not productive and it only serves to put us up in high horses.

We delved into internet envy instead and our discussion shifted to “Who makes us feel bad in the internet?” It allowed us to discuss things that tend to weather our self-esteeem and as a result it also revealed what our insecurities and hangups were.

Enter Teppei Teranishi! Teppei used to be the guitarist of the band Thrice, a band I loved in college. The band parted ways some years back (I don’t know the details and I don’t know if there have been reunion efforts), and Teppei packed up his wife and three boys and moved to an island off the coast of Seattle.

He picked leather work while the band went on their tours. He’d be in the back of the back of their bus making wallets during down time. Leather working is one of those crafts that are very portable. It was one of the reasons he brought it with him on the road.

Photos Courtesy of Freunde Von Freunden

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Joel and I follow his studio on Instagram and we always groan whenever he posts pictures of the nature their family is surrounded by, the fresh seafood they catch, and their ferry trips to the city. Both of us romanticize people who work with their hands. It such a foreign concept for us because we make our living using technology and interacting with people. Even our hobbies aren’t very tactile these days; we just read books and watch our TV shows. Sometimes Joel will tinker with his model planes and I will get my fix from cooking pasta sauces.

We also have these intense discussions of wanting to move out of the city — Joel once lived in Palawan for six months and he gets a starry-eyed look to him whenever he reminisces about waking up to huge, blue mountains in the distance and getting his produce fresh from the wet market. Joel also spent a lot of his childhood being surrounded by nature (slopping hills and ancient trees in Pennsylvannia) and wilderness (Nigeria).

I, on the other hand, am a city girl through and through, but after being cooped up in an apartment for the last three years, I’ve been craving for sunshine and fresh air. What makes Teppei’s lifestyle even more enthralling is the fact that he’s thrown family life into the balance. Even with my urban leanings, Joel and I love the idea of raising children in a “frontier” environment. We’re big on instilling a sense of wonder for kids and in our current setup, we really have to get creative with family fun in malls and sidewalks if we’re in the city. Both of us have fantasies of raising our own vegetable garden (his) and spending our days preparing fresh, healthy meals (mine).

I guess this will just remain as our pipe dream in the meantine. Sometimes we’ll talk about spending two months in Palawan every year and making our businesses mobile while we’re there (our design studio and his teaching). But I don’t know. It’s all just talk. It’s really fun to dream.

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Losses & Gains

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Photo by Joel Darwin

I really had huge dreams for this blog. I even jotted down in one of my notebooks all the interviews I wanted to do, apartments/couples/places I wanted to feature, and the recipes I wanted to shoot. I didn’t realize that pregnancy would put me in this sort of stasis. It’s like incubating a little human being also placed me in my own incubation. It’s all I think about and with my energy being so depleted these last couple of months, my outlets have ended up being naps, dinners with my friends, and walks in my neighborhood.

I initially wanted this blog to produce content my late-20’s, childless self would enjoy perusing. At the time that I started, I wanted to talk about things that mirrored my lifestyle. Now all that’s swimming in my head are things like looking at baby furniture for small spaces, parenting a feminist child, and feeling like shit when I cave in to my fast-food cravings. Does this mean that my blog will be a parenting/mommy blog now? I don’t know! I haven’t even adjusted to this role yet! My creativity has stalled and it’s due to the fact that I’m still in denial of this new identity I’m shaping into.

A big reason for this stall is also because of how I was clamoring for role models and guidebooks. I have none in my life and I’m in the process of accepting that and building the confidence I’ll be needing to become the mother I want to be. I’m thinking if I finally just come out and acknowledge this new shift instead of fighting it, then maybe I’ll have my voice back.

This is what my old identity is perceiving to be losing:

  1. My “Career”
    I was in the process of figuring out how to grow my business, not scale it down! I wanted to spend 2015 dolling up my graphic design practice. I wanted to unroll a huge Natural Selection Design Co. parade filled with confetti with me as the band leader! Then I had to hit the breaks on my career fantasies when I started spending my evenings peeing endlessly and spending the day recovering lost sleep. I can barely juggle my current job description right now and the thought of adding more to it stresses me out. I’m going to have to stay small for a while more. Maybe I’ll still be able to do all of this in the future, but my ambition is weeping.
  2. My family of 2
    This is my biggest heartache. Joel and I are a gross, clingy couple. We love the Joel and Marla universe so much that I feel like a total asshole for fearing that my little bundle of joy will be our new little bundle of unwanted intrusion. Say it with me again, “ASSHOLE!” Hey, but that’s what I’m feeling! I’m a bratty kid stubbornly clinging to the skirts of our movie dates, trips, and veg out weekends.
  3. My social life
    I already struggle so much seeing my friends. For all the alone time and holing up I do, I also happen to love spending time with people. I’m currently six months into this pregnancy with a sizeable bump, but the highlight of my weekend was watching wrestling (Shout out to PWR!) and chanting “YOU SUCK DICK! YOU SUCK DICK!” with my gang. My friends have been wonderful with their support and encouragement that’s why the idea of sitting out on the things we like to do together hurts me even more.
  4. Bible Study
    Most of our friends belong to a Saturday night bible study we facilitate. The evenings we spend together integrating politics, memes, philosophy, jokes, and our stories into the verses we discuss have been some of the most fascinating and enriching times of my life thus far. I don’t know what will happen to the dynamics of the group once baby Darwin is thrown into the mix and it scares me.
  5. Our little luxuries
    The money that we usually use for our vacations, dinners out, and clothes shopping are going to be relegated to baby things now. I’m trying to cut down on our future monthly costs by committing to exclusively breastfeeding and using cloth diapers, but an impulse Cebu Pacific promo fare purchase will still have to give way to a stroller or the baby’s education fund. I know these are beautiful, selfless things that we’ll be doing in the name of parental love, but I still need a moment to kick, scream, and cry.

Throughout all of those anxieties though, I began to realize that I haven’t put enough thought on the new things my identity as a parent can potentially gain. I’ve been so caught up with the terror of financial expenses and projectile pooping, I lost sight of why people decide on having kids in the first place.

Here are the things that are cheering me up:

  1. Being Unfiltered Mommy
    Joel and I, for all the manners we try to imbibe, simply cannot do away with our penchant for being blunt. I do try to watch myself around kids but I cannot resist opportunities for teaching life lessons. I was watching Blades of Glory with my 4 year old niece yesterday and I figured that since the scenes were slapstick and a lot of the vulgar dialogue was coated in layers of metaphors and slang, they would just go over my niece’s head. Boy, was I wrong. “Tita Marla! That boy just slept with that girl!”

    Guh. I don’t know if she already had linked “sleeping” as a euphemism for sex but I decided to stick to the actual plot. “No, Mariana. He didn’t sleep with the girl. The girl is his best friend’s girlfriend and good friends don’t do that to each other. He did the right thing.” “But he’s in his underwear!” “That doesn’t mean sleeping happened! People walk around in their underwear all the time!” And that was that. Then cut to the scene where Amy Poehler’s character was handcuffing Jimmy to the toilet and confirmed that no, Chaz did not sleep with Katie. “See, Mariana.”

    I discovered that her questions didn’t really fluster me and I imagine that it would come in handy someday. “Why is that boy wearing pink pants?” “Some boys like pink.” “Oh, ok! But not all boys, just some boys.” “That’s right, Mariana.”

  2. Being Feminist Mommy
    I’m a feminist wife married to a feminist husband, this only means that our values are going to cascade to being feminist parents. Take for example my refusal to divulge my baby’s sex. Initially I wanted the sex to be a surprise when I actually give birth, but the technician at my last ultrasound slipped. I got a pretty stoic doctor and boy, did her facial features start flaring up when she realized she made a booboo. Joel and I took it with a grain of salt (but we did tear up and were ecstatic at the news) and decided to stick to our guns and keep the sex a mystery still.

    We didn’t want people to box our baby into these gender expectations (ruffles and pink galore for girls and blues and sports for boys) and aesthetics-wise, I wanted to keep my house neutral-colored still. I’m also open to having a second baby and I’m hoping that the possible baby #2 would inherit its older sibling’s stuff.

    On a deeper level, I’m excited to introduce my baby to a world where LGTB rights are finally gaining ground, sexual fluidity has more awareness, and women in most parts of the world now have a strong confidence and voice that no moment in history has matched before.

  3. Being Creative Mommy
    I have crazy opportunity to show my child that we can challenge ideas and boundaries. Both Joel and I have unconventional jobs that allow us to be in control of our time. Because we’re not bound to a 9 to 5 schedule, we have lots of chances to spend time with our baby and to show it our world.

    I can apply the freelancer’s mindset to parenting and it’s opening up new ways of mentoring and modelling that I didn’t experience in my childhood. If my kid wanted to learn about graphic design, I can bring it to my meetings and visit my suppliers. If my kid is curious about a certain country, my husband actually has a chance to bring my kid to meet people of various nationalities because of his profession and missionary kid network. If my kid suddenly had an obsession with dinosaurs, we can download documentaries and simulate activities like dino digs. Our kind of access to information now opens up all sorts of possibilities.

  4. A Bigger Heart
    The last reason is something I don’t dare even speculate about because I really have no clue until I get there. I’ve been hearing from people that my heart will just magically expand and more room for the newest member of my family. I’m a huge romantic and the idea that I’ll be able to love someone even more than the love I currently have is just so mind-boggling. I’ll just have to wait and see, don’t I? There are so many new unknowns currently enveloping me right now but I have faith in love.
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I’ve been dying in this heat. I’m beyond thankful I’m on my second trimester. I can’t imagine dealing with this humidity while going through morning sickness or waddling around full term. It’s even more difficult remembering the times I used to commute to work in the summer. I’ll never get sick of rejoicing in working from home because it has spared me so many times from unbearable weather conditions.

This guide can’t even bother with beauty recommendations because my skin and hair can’t stand having anything on it. (I should get my hands on sunscreen though, eep) Apart from blasting the A/C  at night and taking frequent showers, these are some of the little treats that I’ve been indulging in to get through the day:

1 INSULATED WATER CONTAINER, KLEAN KANTEEN
I never leave the house without mine these days. Pregnancy has made me extra dehydrated so I wasted no time in shelling out for the nicest water container out there. I picked Klean Kanteen because it came in really cute colors. I do my refills at restaurants and coffee shops and it’s been saving me a lot of money. Plus, I never use disposable cups anymore.

2 LAVENDER SHAMPOO, JASON
My scalp has been very picky with shampoos lately so I tried using something that didn’t have harsh chemicals. What surprised me was the lovely lavender scent I chose and it became the highlight of my bath time.

3 STRIPED SHIRT DRESS, Uniqlo
Hohoho! There was no way I would ever give up my striped shirts and when the weather made it tougher to go out in pants, I just bought the dress version of my beloved closet staple.

4 WHITE SNEAKERS, CONVERSE
I bought my first pair of Jack Purcells! Pregnancy has made my feet swell from long periods of walking and I have to be extra picky with my shoes now. My sneakers are back in active rotation. All my other ones are dark colored and looking at them already made me feel sweaty, hence this fresh pair of white ones.

5 LEATHER SANDALS, JERUSALEM BAZAAR
An ex-boyfriend introduced me to them when he got me a pair as a present from a trip to Israel. My in-laws trek to the Holy Land every two years and I requested for a pair of these sandals during their last trip when my old one finally died after many years. They go with everything and the wide foot area accommodates my pregnant swelling feet so well.

6 WINTERMELON MILK TEA, SCHLURP
I always had a casual relationship with milk tea. I didn’t understand how my friends could get addicted to it. Cue in pregnancy and ridiculous cravings and my addiction finally got activated. Schlurp is a local brand that uses tea leaves and doesn’t have any preservatives — it always tastes so fresh with the right amount of sweetness. I’m going to step out and buy one after I write this entry. If you’re out there, Schlurp people, I’m willing to write and gush about you in exchange for boxes of your wintermelon milk tea.

7 GREEN SMOOTHIES
I learned how to make them and it’s been a staple for breakfast. The spinach-banana-mango combo I do tastes really good and it’s been helping me get the fiber and nutrient content that’s lacking in my diet.

8 ROOT BEER FLOATS
Friends have been asking if I have any strange food cravings. I haven’t been craving for any food item in particular but I have a debilitating hankering for sweet dairy products. I took it out on root beer floats for a while then Joel wised up and started keeping root beer and thick vanilla ice cream in our refrigerator.

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Mourning

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Jane Birkin with daughters Kate Barry and Charlotte Gainsbourg
(in which I can only dream that I make motherhood look as hot)
Photo courtesy of the Daily Mail

This has been lying in my drafts folder for a week. I was stressing about our current lease running out and having to scurry and find a new place to move into. Our families have also been telling us to consider buying something more permanent just so that we can get out of funnelling our money into thin air every month.

To cut the story short, Joel and I ended up extending our lease to buy ourselves more time. I could not cope with the pressure of leaving our apartment. I tried to put myself into the motions of mourning the years spent here — to quit looking back and to start moving ahead. It was so hard. I know we shouldn’t be “throwing away money” and I know we should be looking for bigger space but my insides kept kicking and screaming. Real estate hunting in our neighbourhood is an intense process that requires all the smarts and resources you have, and frankly, scaling from a studio to a big one bedroom or a moderately sized two bedroom is expensive if we want to stay where we are.

And I don’t want to leave. This is the first time that I’m proud of the life I’ve (we’ve) built. Our apartment, no matter how tiny it is, is my home. I get that in an ideal world, we should be scaling up. At the same time, Joel and I are first time, small time business owners with no inheritances or angel investors to speak of. Translation: no savings, no nest egg. It’s a choice that we would do all over again but it’s been hard recognizing that along with that choice means foregoing a lot of traditional milestones. Extending the lease has been the breath of fresh air that I needed and I’m learning to just stop it with all these unnecessary expectations that are being foisted on us (a lot of it is unintentional and people/culture do mean well though — a lot of these voices that chime in just don’t have any clue about our reality).

Because we’re now a growing family, we have to explore alternative ways to make this happen. We still don’t know how we’re going to fund the birthing. We have some vague idea about where to place the crib and all the baby things in our bedroom. As a whole though, I cannot say I have enjoyed the trappings of what a traditional pregnancy seems to look like.

There haven’t been spa days, babymoon plans, or endless baby showers. I’ve been forcing myself to fit into my current clothes and I refuse to buy a maternity wardrobe. The other day I tried to make an Excel sheet listing all the things we’ll be needing but I gave up because it was all too much and I needed to reflect on what an infant’s bare essentials really are.

I still also work late at night because we have to keep making money. I hate that I do — no, I despise it. I haven’t been putting my foot down because of my anxieties, but I will now. I haven’t allowed myself to think about caring and devoting my full attention to the baby because of this.

I’m so scared — scared that we’ll be so unprepared and unfunded, scared that I’ll be an asshole parent because of that, and scared that I won’t be able to handle all of this and will be wailing much louder than my child will.

I understand completely why some people opt out of parenthood. I really do. I waited three years after I got married to even consider children and I could’ve easily done another three, even another three after that.

I’m 5 months pregnant this week and I’m starting to feel the curious bubble popping sensation that suggests that the baby is moving and flailing in my belly. I don’t expect anyone to believe me, but sometimes this little person moving around and letting me know he/she exists washes everything away. I know I can be an idiot for thinking this way, but the small chance of raising someone who can do life/humanity better than I ever can is enough to keep me going.

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Help Me Help You

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Photo from Global Pillage

 I’ve been fantasizing about writing a post like this for ages. No, that’s a lie. I used to imagine having a lecture series in tandem with some of my favorite clients (one already said yes!) about maximizing client-supplier relationships. I don’t market myself as an authority on good design practices (but if you trust me, that’s awesome), but I have a grand total of 7 years of both employment and self-employment to yank a lot of insights from.

I really think everyone will be able to work together better if we kept these following ideas in mind whenever we sign new projects:

  1. You are not our only client
    Clients, I get it, I really do. In fact, I wish with all my heart, that it was only your project that I’m handling. In extremely rare circumstances, that may be the case, but it’s always wiser to think of yourself as the norm and not the exception. Whenever we tell you things like it will take a week to submit revisions, it doesn’t mean it really takes a week. We need a week because we also have other submissions to take care of and like any person in a creative field will tell you, 80% of our work is research and thinking things through and the remaining 20% is actual pixel time in front of our programs. Please also realize that we’re human too and during the week, we still have to squeeze in grocery trips, doctor’s appointments (especially in my case), bank errands, other client meetings, and sleep.
  2. We’ll be able to address your concerns more if the criticism is constructive
    There are times I wish I was a mind reader. Joel and I have pretty good intuition and we’re skilled at reading body language, but we have our limitations. So whenever you tell us things like, “I’m not feeling it” or “I feel like it needs to pop,” we expect those to be an opening line to a series of concrete suggestions. I’m not sure how it is in other industries, but working in design is tricky enough as it is (since we work with visual elements, it’s too easy to go subjective with our appraisals), and if we don’t ground ourselves with certain parameters, we’re always going to go around in circles trying to figure out things based on personal preferences that don’t necessarily match what we’re trying to achieve. For example, I forbid designs where I select colors just because I felt like it. Every time I utilize a color palette, I always cite color psychology as my platform so that there’s a guiding principle behind my choices.
  3. Police your own deadlines
    We draft timelines for all our projects and Joel always puts them down on Google Calendar. We’ll do our best to remind you of milestones we need to hit in order to make our deadlines, but if you don’t do your part, then the whole project collapses and we’re wasting each others’ time. We’re not perfect and ever since I got pregnant, we’re struggling more to turn over things as quick as I used to, but we respect deadlines. I rarely ever kill projects but the last time we did was over a client who would take weeks, or even months to get back to us regarding revisions, but would demand quick turnovers on our end. Joel and I, we’re just two people, and at the end of the day, business is business and when a check that was supposed to come in at a certain time doesn’t arrive, it screws us up in ways that debilitate our lives. Please be considerate of people’s time and it took me a while to understand that in some ways, it’s more valuable than anything else.
  4. Consolidate your feedback
    In design-speak, the term FA means “Final Artwork.” When I hand over FA files, these are files that are print and web ready. FA work isn’t something I fart out magically — when clients approve a design, I often take one whole day (sometimes two) rendering these files for production. When I had these files over, it’s me saying, “Yay, we’re done!” Imagine then, how we feel when we turn over these files, and you go, “Oh wait, I forgot to add something.” Design work entails a lot of commitment and decisiveness and that’s why we give our clients period of deliberation to figure out what will go to press. In our contracts, we only give clients 3 rounds of revisions (everything after that gets charged an additional fee) so that they will be mindful of the changes they want and squeeze into those three given revisions so we can meet our deadlines.
  5. “Here, educate yourself!”
    That’s my favorite line from Lilo & Stitch. We do our best to hold our clients hands every step of the way, but there are some information that we wish people will retain for future use. E.g., please do not send me your “high-res .jpeg logo” embedded in a MS Word document (the images lose their high-res qualities when we extract it to our other programs) or that for billboard sized graphics, we do not generate artwork in 300 dpi (all our computers will crash, including your printer’s). Imagine how sexy and knowledgable you’ll sound the next time you work with a new designer!

Ok, now it’s time to get off my high horse. I’d like to think though that these principles are useful for any work situation. I’m finally entering my second trimester and I’m crossing my fingers that the nights of vomiting and migraines are behind me but now I’m concerned about how to navigate my work situation when we finally welcome the little binker. I would still definitely work, but there is now an urgent need to streamline how we do things better than we used to.

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So Here We Are

sohereweare

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.
— Kurt Vonnegut

We just announced on social media that I’m 12 weeks pregnant (13 weeks tomorrow, actually) but we’ve been telling family and friends since week 6. Maybe some of you were already suspecting something was up in my last entry when I was talking about my trips to the hospital and my one week horror of horrors bout with sickness.

We didn’t think I’d be pregnant that minute we landed back in Manila. I tell my friends that I would laugh off my doctor’s proclamation that I will be pregnant after Christmas because I developed polycystic ovary syndrome last year and I was skeptical that the regimen she put me through would get me fertile right away. Well, what do you know, I got knocked up the instant I first ovulated again.

In spite of the constant discomfort I’m going through (heart burn, hyperacidity, never-ending nausea, more frequent migraine attacks, never-ending bathroom trips, insomnia, etc.), I’m still so surprised how healthy this pregnancy has been registering at every doctor’s visit we have. Even during the week where I threw up every single day, I was so shocked to discover that I still managed to gain 2 pounds. Gah! I’m still keeping my fingers crossed though.

I’m still in a state of shock. I nearly forgot that we also hit another important milestone at the start of the year. It’s been two years since I quit my day job and went on my own and I’ve been reflecting at how we’ve able to make it this far. Two years is infinitesimal but two years (give or take) has always been the longest duration of the jobs I liked the most. I have always suspected I have ADD and I guess working from home has been the best decision I’ve ever made because I see no signs of getting sick of it yet.

I remember telling my last boss that I wanted to start working from home because I wanted to be a work-at-home mom. There was also the idea of being in control of my time and my choice of clients (plus the potential to earn more!) that really motivated me, but the special reason was a family-based reason. At that time, Joel and I were in no position to be parents (and we’re still wrestling with that until now) but it was always a vision we had even before we got married.

It was part of our impetus for getting married. We love to work, to travel, and to hang out with friends — same as a lot of people that we know, but we are also idealistic mush balls that dreamed about having a family even while we were total drunken, irresponsible shits.

And now that parenthood is a mere 6 months away, we can’t believe that the choices we’ve been making has paved the way for all this to happen.

I’m still so, so scared though. I have cringed when people call me “mommy” and on many occasions, have wanted to lash out during the early years of my marriage when people kept touching my stomach and asking if there was anything in there yet. I’m also waging a private rebellion within myself to resist dasters and matrona-dom. I don’t romanticize motherhood at all and I worry that might become my undoing. Joel was the one tearing up at our ultrasounds while I was gaping and trying to study how the machine freaking worked.

Children frighten me and a lot of them are afraid of me too. But at the same time I remember moments like when I rocked my wailing infant niece to dreamland and when I used to assist teaching toddlers and they once crowded around me and a little girl rested her chin on my knee when I was reading them a storybook.

I just have to smile sometimes and know that this is how we’ve chosen to live out our lives. It’s been a constant dance number with risk but we really can’t have it any other way. It’s how we feel alive and feel bigger than ourselves. We always manage to figure it out, that I know.

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Provision

IMG_3145 IMG_3180Me, freezing my buns off at Chatham University, Pittsburgh, December 2014
Photos by Joel Darwin

It’s hard getting a momentum back, writing-wise. Since I discovered that I’m not the type that writes as she travels, it’s been an ordeal marching up to my WordPress dashboard to come up with something. I wrote something for the website 8list (8 Fonts Non-Designers Should Recognize) last week though and I’m thankful that I have another article with them lined up already. Deadlines always force me to stretch my muscles and I think I have enough energy in me to start posting weekly again.

It doesn’t help that I became really sick last week and I spent four days in my bed clutching my pillow begging to die. Even my design deadlines got stalled and it just became even more clear that week that if I can’t design, there’s no designer, and there’s no work. It got me thinking about life outside of design and I’m just so grateful that I have a husband who has his own earning capacity apart from our business (which isn’t Scrooge McDuck levels, but every bit helps).

The last two months in Manila have been very interesting, to say the least. We’re travellers that come home broke from every trip and usually we have a fat credit card bill waiting for us when we arrive. But this time, we also had to pay business registration fees and our quarterly VAT, plus unexpected hospital expenses when I had to have my blood work done (long story) when we got back. This all happened in January. I don’t know how we managed to pay all of it. It was horrifying examining all our bills.

This is where miracles came in. One, we forgot about Joel’s 13th month pay from his teaching job. We had money in our accounts when we got back, and we promptly used it to pay off whatever we could. Our VAT was totally unexpected and our accountant only told us how much we had to pay the night before it due! It was a huge amount. So two, a check from a U.S. client got wired at the exact perfect time to cover it.

Of course this meant we lived like paupers for a while, to the point of taking advantage of whatever privilege we still had with our parents (laundry, free meals, etc.). But it’s been insane how money people owed us just kept coming in when a bill needed to be paid. It happened many times during the course of these two months (including one time a client decided to pay in full before we started on a project, imagine that) and it’s been an amazing financial and spiritual life lesson for us.

We went through every rookie freelancer’s mistake when we first started out — that our spending increased as our income did. It’s a habit that we’re hoping to shake out of our system permanently but it’s hard because we’re stubborn and we can be such entitled assholes. We examined our 2014 spending last December (Joel diligently jots down our expenses everyday) and found out that we spent almost the same amount as our rent on EATING OUT. That money could’ve gone to savings! Or to airline tickets every month! Or a bigger apartment! Ugh. You get the idea.

That was our wake-up call and the big cautionary tale that kept looming over heads as we worked to whittle down all these brand new 2015 bills. Because money always came in the nick of time to cover a bill, we barely would have anything left over for us. It’s been weeks and weeks of learning the concept of “enough” and the weird thing to come out of all of this is that we’re the happiest we’ve been in a long time.

It could be because we’re having more meals at home and we team up to cook them together. A lot of it is also being forced to be creative with having fun that doesn’t entail a lot of spending — more walks and more talking. And just because we’re being frugal doesn’t mean we don’t see our friends anymore. People kept dropping in our apartment the minute we got back, and we love it! We also host our friends for Bible Study every Saturday night (we started in July last year and it’s still going strong) and I was still able to have a balls out birthday party even when we couldn’t afford the barbecue pit this year (our annual tradition). We have friends at church that we see every Sunday. Life’s just been so good.

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Rules of Engagement for Your 30’s

global-pillage-07

Photo from Global Pillage

I’m turning 29 in a few days and if reexamining my 2014 wasn’t enough, I’m getting around to examining my 20’s as a whole. It’s hard to believe that this crazy, disjointed decade is about to close and apart from figuring out what I wanted to be doing with my life, this whole episode has also been characterized by the friendships and romantic relationships that I created or destroyed.

I didn’t have a very sophisticated algorithm for attraction. Ten years ago, I felt like I earned a bright friendship badge every time I met someone who liked the same music as I did, liked the same books, drank as much alcohol, and hated the same people. Such stellar standards! I’m still friends with some of my peoples from the college and post-college years, but that’s all because of good conflict resolution skills and empathy. Most of those relationships though have faded into the background or got spectacularly sabotaged by my or their assholery.

It’s tricky finding what you have in common with people when the things that used to don’t come into play anymore. Pop culture know-how still ranks high in my attraction algorithm, but not as high as emotional wholeness. I don’t drink or leave a trail of destruction when I go out anymore (maybe once a year!) and my favorite conversations these days are the sober ones over brunch. It seems that our time gets more finite as we get older and it would be nice to make sure that it goes to the people who will appreciate it the most.

Here are the red flags I’ve learned to call out on others and on myself:

  1. When they make their insecurities your problem
    Everyone’s insecure. It becomes as issue though when it gets projected to the people you allegedly love and care for. This is a passive aggressive way someone expresses resentment and a good gauge of how to sniff it out is when you find yourself not wanting to share so much about your life because you’re afraid of how it will make the other person feel. Another gauge is when you try to share and you get parroted replies in return and the conversation doesn’t grow. Another is when you find yourself spending so much time trying to make your friends feel better about themselves.

    Think this is you? Suggested reflection: I am not in competition with anybody but myself. I need to stop categorizing people in hierarchies because it’s that same hierarchy system that feeds my self-loathing.

  2. When they have victim/guilt complexes
    These are people who have a hard time being honest with themselves and who have cultivated years of playing innocent to avoid responsibility and owning up to their mistakes. This is a wide spectrum and sometimes you’ll encounter the types who will acknowledge their faults but will fast forward to the resolution part so that they can still avoid the uncomfortable process of guilt and remorse. Many of them are the types that insist on cultivating a curated persona and revert to this behavior when cracks form on the surface. This tends to go hand in hand with vulnerability issues.

    Think this is you? Suggested reflection: I am not perfect and no one expects me to be. Confrontation and reconciliation are really painful things but only in the short-term. Barricading myself emotionally again and again will only get in the way in fostering healthy relationships and will most likely draw in only superficial ones — this is an exhausting and lonely way to live.

  3. When they have sensitivity chips missing
    These are people who either don’t care or unaware they hurt their friends’ feelings when they get carried away with their teasing or ideological diatribes. These are people who give you shit for quitting alcohol/drugs or wanting to go home early. These are people who can’t put their gadgets down when you’re trying to talk to them. These are people who have never uttered a sincere “How are you?” in their whole lives. These things are so fundamental and yet so many people still put up with it.

    Think this is you? Suggested reflection: Compassion is not weakness. We live in a relational world and it would be great to check on others instead of myself all the time.

And that’s it! It’s not a guarantee but these three things are huge and have helped me figure out coexisting. I complain about people almost as much as I want to spend time with them again. Relationships make our world and the world’s a nicer place when we’re more honest and more empathic.

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