Essays, Lost in the World

No distance left to run

When I can’t find the words or imagery to express how I feel, I turn to film stills. I have hundreds of them saved or screen-captured into a folder on my phone, and over the last year, I’ve watched them gradually turn from quotes about love and loss, to statements about self-discovery, to lines of dialogue about escape in some form or another. (Perhaps it’s a cycle: You lose something of great value to yourself, and there’s a part of you that’s left empty. You try to find something to fill in that void. And if you can’t find it in your existing surroundings, you set out for new ones to search there.)

The need to escape is something many of us feel keenly — an escape from the banality of day-to-day living, from bad company, from a difficult situation, from an uninspiring environment, from ourselves, from all of the above, from all that and more. Some will find that escape in music, or in books, or in binge-watching films and television series and losing themselves in those fictional worlds; checking out of one reality and into another. Some will find escape in creating their own alternate realities. Some will find escape in a bed or in a bottle.

And some will find escape by literally escaping.

“I didn’t know where I was going. I just had to get out of there,” says my screen grab from the 1950s film Sunset Boulevard, saying everything that needed saying about my feelings for Manila and my own life late last year. Many of us who are born and raised in Manila never leave, although there are parts of us that want to. Some don’t leave because they can’t. (Don’t listen to those “quit your job/life and travel” articles if it’s not financially viable. The sad truth is that what they’re selling is an impractical and utterly unrealistic dream if you need to earn a paycheck to survive.)

Some of those who can leave, however, choose not to. It becomes too comfortable; the cage is so gilded, you forget it’s a cage. You grow accustomed to the ease, ebb, and flow of the city and you don’t want to risk complicating something that’s already become predictable to you by striking into the unknown. You know how Manila and its inhabitants work. You know how to navigate it — figuratively and otherwise. You nestle content in Manila’s luxuries, and sometimes they are enough to drive the idea of spreading your wings from your mind.

But the thing about cages, no matter how big or beautiful they are, is that there is a limit to how much you can grow within them. There are those who can accept those limits. There are those who will find that those limits make a once comfortable cage seem smaller and smaller and smaller. Is this all there is? This can’t be all there is.

Is this all I am? This can’t be all I am.

I am one of those people who felt that the only way left to grow was to go. “You can travel the world over, but you still have to deal with yourself,” says a character named Annett in a TV series I’ve never seen called Deutschland 83. I get the feeling this quote is a warning, but not for me. It is precisely myself that I want to find, and funnily enough, I am writing this from Deutschland (Berlin, to be specific), two weeks into trying to do just that.

I don’t quite know how to do that, or what I even came here to do. All I know is that I loved this city when I was in it last year, and it felt like the right environment to lose myself in: open, vibrant, creative, respectful, with a darkness to it that suits me. I am here for the next few months under the guise of studying something I enjoy, but I get the feeling that at the end of this trip, I will have learned more about myself than about makeup application skills. I have never lived alone before, and I am doing it for the first time, halfway around the world from home. I can’t figure out the washing machine to save my life.

“It’s like I’m watching you pluck yourself out of here and plant yourself somewhere else, only to find out that it’s just better for you there, and you’re becoming better by being there,” my best friend writes from home. I am slowly learning the things I need to learn to survive. Apart from a mishap on my first day — locking myself out of my flat — it’s been a quiet life of getting from one day to the next. Setting roots first: turning this foreign, borrowed space into something that feels like home, something that’s mine. Filling my cupboards with things that will nourish, and throwing them together to create beautiful smells that warm my spirit as they fill my stomach.

I am someone who has never been independent, now living in a city that’s built for independence. I’m a stranger among other strangers, and that stranger can choose where she goes, who she talks to, what she eats, and what she does with her time. This far from the eyes of Manila, I need not worry that I’m being watched, that there are any expectations of me; I can choose my own pace, I can make my own decisions, and having the freedom to choose every single aspect of my life for the first time is making me a better and more self-sufficient person. I have never felt like an adult before now, and I am turning 29 in less than a month.

It is a strangely mundane life, quieter than I was expecting, and not as crazy as I thought it might be, but the stillness is a relief. The routine is a relief. There is no race to relevance here, nothing to live up to, and no ladders to climb — just a gentle shift from one day to another, and a train or two to catch to the next destination. Breathing room, and space to explore myself and everything that I love. The time and privacy to slowly discover what it is I can be, as I discover this new city.

An escape from everything I’m supposed to be, running towards everything I just am and can become, but also, somewhere to stop running and just exist. How many of us have ever actually done that?

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80 thoughts on “No distance left to run

  1. Every time I try to write my heart out and edit it, I get sleepy. I don’t know how I landed on this but this kept me up. Beautifully written!! This is exactly how I feel and just tried to express. I’m so ready to wake up in a place that “feels like home”. By that I mean the people, the places, as well as self expression and self acceptance. I want to be free of this “trapped” feeling. My creative heart and mind yearns for a place where I belong and feel comfortable without outside feelings clouding my head. Hope you enjoy your journey!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I love the value placed on giving yourself the time and space to slow down, remove some of the expectations placed on us (both by others and ourselves,) and allow yourself to grow.

    When a lot of people write about travel, it’s this break-neck paced adventure story filled with twists and turns, and there’s definitely value in that, but I think what you’re doing is where the real self-discovery happens. Looking forward to reading more about your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Marina says:

    I found this so well written, I have been in those shoes so many times and probably still am at the moment. Thank you for the bravery to share, it is inspiring me to clic publish as well!!!!!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve done this a number of times. I just set out on a nomadic adventure travel across the United States however I crave more. A different experience. I’m currently settled in Houston, TX. Starting over with my wife and it’s an experience. I guess I’m just ready to see outside of the United States. But for now I am appreciating the views and perspectives of this new place non the less.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I relate to this article on many levels. It wasn’t until I took a leap of faith and ventured into the unknown that I really began to discover who I am. I was finally free to express myself and pursue my own interests. Many of us spend way too long in a gilded cage and before we know it there’s no escape.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I relate so much to this, I love the fact that you have your film stills, that is a great way to escape. Mine is usually through classic movies 1940’s, 50’s etc.. also I wanted to say that your writing is beautiful, the way that you express yourself. you captured me Immediately and that says a lot.. this is just all around beautiful.. (the reality)

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Eleni says:

    Great post. I can relate to every word. I Left my home country Cyprus, a tiny island in the Mediterranean years ago and I’ve been living in Southampton UK since. It feels like home but as cage at the same time. But I find it hard to leave. Not just financially. Which is vital. Do not believe all the ‘quit your job and travel’. It’s not possible without money. But also psychological. It’s scary. Unknown it’s scary. I don’t know what I want to do as a career either, although I’m almost 32 years old. Good luck with everything dear. I love to follow your journey.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. This is my plan but I am 40!! You are so lucky to be able to have this opportunity at a young age! I would say it’s essential. I have been a mom since age 21 and in 8 years my babies will all be gone and I’m honestly prepping myself to get to know just ME at that point. I’m frightened but fear will drive me to prepare myself. I’m happy to read that you are doing well on your own ! I’m also very impressed that as an only child you are seeking independence. You should be very proud! Also, great writing!!

    Liked by 1 person

  9. welcome to adulthood, I too am turning 29 within the year, I too packed two suitcases and plucked myself out of Manila onto some foreign city when I was 24, never felt like an adult prior to that; but I’m back, and not on my own volition. make good memories in Berlin, walk the city, take a bus, take advantage of the immaculate transport system – something we Manila kids can only dream of; always..always look out the window, and please don’t stop telling your stories

    Liked by 1 person

  10. The way you expressed your thoughts and experience in words is very interesting.
    The first few lines my eyes made contact with attracted me into reading the whole write-up. Every sentence was interesting and captivating. kudos to you, Regina. ; )

    Liked by 1 person

  11. This is amazing, I have been doing the same thing-trying to find me, accept me, love me. Travelling and escaping the monotony and clutches of negative influences helps and shapes your view of your world. Acceptance once reached is a great wonder, there’s no more yearning or desperation for something bigger and better. I hope you find peace.

    Liked by 1 person

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