2009 vs. 2019

I didn’t plan these photos, but it seems apt to pull a 2009 photo from when I was living in Singapore, and a 2019 photo from when I visited Singapore earlier this year for a conference. I was 25 years old when the first photo was taken, and obviously after ten years, I think I can say some things about myself that I didn’t know back then. So I thought I’d write a letter to myself from ten years back, and update her of what life is like right now.

Dear Gabby,

I’m happy to report that after a string of bad decisions when it comes to men (especially the boy you’re currently with right now; we’ll talk about that later), you finally made the best decision of your (love) life. You’re now currently married to the best person for you – he’s sweet and kind-hearted and caring, and he matches your mind and your humor and your heart, and he is the most supportive and the most encouraging and most adorable person in the world. I’m sorry that you have to go through the valley of your current relationship, but I promise you, things will get better.

You see, I know that smile you put on. It’s that smile that we put on when we’re trying to show people that everything’s good on the outside, so they don’t get to see the crumbly, insecure mess that’s happening on the inside. You’re insecure about your relationship, you’re wondering if love is enough, and girl, I have to tell you that sometimes, love is really not enough. Not if the guy is selfish and stupid and only thinks for himself. Not if you have to sacrifice everything that is good and amazing about yourself in order to conform to some cookie-cutter version of a person that someone else has imagined for you. I’m sorry you have to learn the hard way, but you really have to love yourself first – bones and all – before you can love someone else in the most truthful way that you can.

I’m also happy to report that you’ll get into the English department in UP Diliman, but it won’t happen for a few years from where you are. Don’t worry, you still have a few life lessons to learn in Singapore – you’ll learn the importance of friendship and found family, and you will thank your lucky stars that you have earned some true friends in the city-state. You will enjoy a number of experiences, but you will also have your heart broken, and that is what will ultimately send you back home to Manila.

You will find that teaching suits you, that you enjoy creating and organizing classes. You will thank your lucky stars that you worked corporate jobs before becoming a teacher because of all the strange skills that you picked up along the way. You will realize that having a job in the world of online content creation will definitely help you find your feet as a teacher in the offline world, because the barriers between the two will thin and merge in ways you never imagined when you were creating content for Habbo. You will feel like this is the culmination of your professional skills because you will be a teacher, but also a cheerleader, and also a listener, and also a mentor, and so many other things that you will sometimes feel your imposter syndrome rise up and catch you by the throat and you ask yourself, “Holy shit, what the heck do I think I’m doing?”

You will find yourself growing and challenging yourself more and more as you move from your 20s to your 30s. Some friendships that you value right now will fall away as you get older, and you will mourn them, but that you will ultimately be all right. You will make new friendships, and figure out how to be an adult, along with many of your peers. You will find yourself attending more weddings, and then more baptisms, and your heart will always crack a little bit whenever you have to attend a funeral. You realize that ceremonies provide a milestone for human memory, because as the years accumulate, you also find many moments fading from your mind. It’s simply the way memory works, and you constantly struggle against the tide of time, and how it washes the edges of memory until they become smooth and pearlescent, preserved in your mind.

You will find yourself struggling with fear and anxiety more and more, and you will constantly struggle with finding your voice and your stance and your thoughts. You will sometimes fight against certain expectations, and other times you will acquiesce, simply because it seems easier. You will find yourself trying to anchor yourself to specific ideals and ideas that you wish you stood firmly about when you were younger, but that’s also okay. Not everyone discovers who they are in their twenties. You thought ten years from where you are was a long time away. Let me tell you: it’s not as far away as you think.

Let me tell you: the world is very different in 2019. It is more fractured and volatile, more fragile and unkind. The Internet, which you have always thought of as a source of good, is now a very different place from how you viewed it back then. You are no longer as invested in your social media presence now, as you were back then. People now weaponize words online, and the discourse has changed – mostly for the worse, but here and there, a bright line shines through. (Also, online dating is really different now. Super mainstream. Nobody’s surprised when you tell them you met your partner online. You would probably have enjoyed Tinder, but I guess OK Cupid is… okay.)

Let me comfort you also by saying that you are still a writer. You’ve published your first book of short stories, with a second book on the way. You’ve found yourself back in the warm arms of children’s stories, and you’ve even picked up an award along the way. Your fear of losing that writing voice inside you should never have been a fear (you should never listen to that boy you’re dating right now) – you may have suppressed it a bit while you’re in Singapore, but let me tell you, it comes back with a vengeance when you get back to Manila. Maybe all you needed was a little push in the right direction.

But overall, you’re doing okay. You’ve put on a few pounds (your relationship with food is both a positive but also a negative), and maybe you should have continued your water aerobics and running in a more disciplined fashion. But you’re doing okay.

Right now, I’m looking forward towards another great adventure – hopefully, with fingers crossed, and if all goes well – but in the meantime, it’s been an eventful ten years, and perhaps I’ll write myself another letter in ten years’ time. Whatever the case may be, I’m looking forward to hearing from myself again in the future.

Happy new year. Happy new decade. May the future be kinder to us than the present, which is already kinder to us than the past.

Love, Gabby

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