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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88 thoughts on “No distance left to run

  1. Alcyone says:

    Hits home. I’m an only child and I feel that I’ve always been pampered; now I’m craving for independence in another country as well. I’m scared, but eventually I know I have to do it to get out of this monotonous life. Plus, I need to know how to take care of myself first, before thinking of caring for (feeding!) other people. Thanks for this, Regina. Hopefully someday I will have the guts as well.

    Liked by 9 people

  2. Karen J says:

    Felt this at 23 when I moved to the UK for grad school. It’ll get better! In a year or two, you will cringe at the thought of how sheltered you were in Manila. In London I shared a house with 20 yr olds back then who seemed more like adults than I was. Also, for me (and I’ve met a lot of Filipina expats who now share this view as well), the effect of moving away and being independent was that when I rejoined the Manila dating scene (tried to moved back at 26), I couldn’t get myself to be attracted to supposedly eligible bachelors but who still got chauffeured around Makati, and their laundry still done by their mothers, even in their late 20s/early 30s. Glad I got the opportunity to work abroad, it’s hard to date in Manila if you’re attracted to independence.

    Liked by 7 people

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  5. Alessandra Cantini says:

    Only child, daddy’s girl, all the eyes on me. Yet my biggest luck was being given the possibility of the perfect escape when my parents bought a house in Monaco when I was 6. Growing up, there would be my escape from the boredom of such a provincial city as Livorno and the place to practice languages. As the years passed, it became more and more the place where I could find my true self each time I would look at the city shining up while going down the ills. Now I live there and I sense Livorno as a cage, a sort of hell I have to deal with when I have an urgency that bring me there. I still feel the sense of relief and safety every time I plunge from that ill into the varied life of Monaco. Anything can happen, escapes are the usual thing in different form, yet it’s the true me I am dealing with. Only there I could have the inspiration that led me to create my movement, a Female Union.

    Liked by 6 people

  6. Duke Miller says:

    Hi Regina,

    “Is there nothing more?” This is a question that one can build an entire life upon. Of course, most never bother to delve into the ideas of Plato or Goethe and examine their lives, make a vow. Your title is the essence of meditation and the Tao. Arriving at in the power of stillness is the trick. I sense you understand that to a certain extent. Congratulations! We are all ignorant of the sorts of things you discuss in your essay, but you are aware of them, again congrats. My own life was motivated by the idea of living along the extreme edges of the world. Someone once gave me that advice and I followed it. War, poverty, disasters, and refugees were an attraction. Since you are sick of Manila (nice town) I’d recommend you travel to a country at war and try to land a job with a refugee or displaced agency. Go to where the thin line is drawn on the map and work and live among the victims. If you can do this for a few years, your POV will change. You will feel more complete and confident in yourself. I guarantee it. Life is a series of steps and missteps, one after the other, and for some of us, this bumpy path is both exhilarating and revealing. Final thought, good luck follows good decisions. If you do as I say, take care of yourself. Never forget that. Your words were sound, reminded me of old, dear things. Good luck and thanks. Duke

    Liked by 9 people

  7. Right now I’m sitting in my apartment in Milan, a few months after I started studying here, still not sure what I want to do with my life. I’m 24 and I fell in love with this city and with the people I met here. Honestly, I would never believe I’ll find myself outside of my Homeland. I’ve already lived in and visited a couple European cities but this time it seems to me as if it’s something more. And you know, this time it might be better also because I’ve actually stopped running away from something. I’m not running away from myself – I’m creating myself again. I wish you to feel the same in Berlin and to have such an amazing experience there as I’m having in Milan. The thing is – I’m graduating this year and I feel like staying here for longer. As if I found my place in the most unexpected moment, a place which I actually didn’t even choose. Have a peaceful evening or a beautiful Sunday!

    Liked by 6 people

  8. Life can be such a cage, and often is. The problem is that we become addicted to our cages, although not satisfied, we’re uncomfortable exploring something new that we don’t know…as you said, the “unknown.” I always tell my son…”take baby steps,” try something new today, even if it’s just a new morning routine. Then change it again the next day. Once you do this over and over again, change becomes the “new normal” and you will soon find yourself uncomfortable with routine. Really enjoyed your post :)

    Liked by 5 people

  9. Every journey begins with a first step. I was stationed in West Germany back in the late 70’s early 80’s. It was a beautiful country. If I may give some advice? You can ignore it of course. But do not get so caught up in the noise and distractions at each stop along the way that you forget this IS a journey which means you will hopefully find your way to the end and a resolution. Being a follower of Jesus I can not help but pray that you find the Creator along the way. This advice you can ignore too. But, I will be praying that you finish your journey and find what you are looking for.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. whitec1971 says:

    Breaking out of a shell is hard. It’s like a baby bird coming into the world. I understand I was in the same situation years ago. I was going to grad school over a 1000 miles away. It was the first time for me to live alone. You are in good company with a lot of people. You will grow so much thru your travels. Good luck in your journey.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. The Dawn of Diamond Rose says:

    Beautifully written. I too am on a very similar journey, in a foriegn country that is much more peaceful than where I was a year ago.

    My story has a sad twist to it, though. I have pretty much lost all of my loved ones, my children and my grandchildren. They were my life, my children, my heart.

    Now I just share the love I used to share with them with some of the beautiful people I meet and the sweet children. I am 51 years old and I will play in the playground with the children. Children are the innocence of the world and they have a way of always cheering a person up.

    “Loving myself and the world around me.”

    That is all we can do.

    Bless you.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. Face it. One of the ways to conquer those feelings is, by confronting it. We might not succeed in changing the world at large, but we can succeed in individual revolution, personal change.

    Liked by 3 people

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  14. 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. – What a lovely idea. I have never thought of this. :)

    Liked by 3 people

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  17. Wow..!! Freedom is truly the ultimate luxury.
    We can explore ourselves more well when we are only fighting in the battle of life. Because at last we have to deal with our own thinking and way of life.
    I m about to graduate and don’t feel like an adult as I m in the cocoon with the family always…
    I have an urge to discover things and I do it… But people around me think that… That’s not the way..
    But…
    It’s never to late to begin in the journey of self discovery..
    Loved the post… 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  18. Maybe discovering yourself can only be done in a certain environment. Cacti thrive in deserts, cypress trees need swampy conditions, palms flourish in tropical heat. Perhaps you can survive anywhere, but the best of you may only appear under just the right conditions.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I could resonate with your feelings, not that I live by myself but a sense of freedom when you aren’t running in a race but just slowly becoming better, discovering yourself ..finding solace in a routine you choose for yourself .

    Liked by 3 people

  20. I feel a very strong urge to let you know that this piece of work has been acknowledged by me as I sit and read all the previous comments. I am a college student studying away from home and I too am learning the meandering path that is independence. Of course, there are many more things that are to come my way but for now, I too have been enjoying the power of stillness. Thank you for this.

    Liked by 3 people

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