Poems in FRiGG, Winter 2011

These poems are part of a manuscript tentatively called diffuse, which started out as an attempt to explore boundaries—love, culture, nature, art, logic, etc. That these turned out to be disjunctive, nonlinear, fluid was a positive consequence, I think. Previously, I’d held on to ideas that poems should make sense and be accessible because ideas should not be limited to specific audiences. Poetry—especially academic poetry—tends to be abstruse, so for many years, I fought the idea that poems should be something only a few can grasp. Well, in attempting to explore my own boundaries, I decided to leave the audience to fend for itself, to figure out how to grapple with these ideas, to make conclusions or connections only she/he/they can. I did, however, provide some structure in terms of form (ten lines), refrains, and themes. Still, people don’t know how to respond to these. A friend who’s an engineer read this manuscript recently. (She previously read another manuscript that was mostly narrative.) Her reaction to diffuse: “Picture me balled up in a corner, reaching for something in the air that doesn’t exist.”

–O. Ayes


Agents of Change

Last week during dinner, some childhood friends and I were updating each other on our lives. I was talking about my love, as well as some other friends who are educators, spiritualists, activists, artists, and one friend asked, “Why are your friends so deep?”

“Come again?”

“I mean, really…activists?”

Her inquiry caused me to think about the people with whom I surround myself. It served as a reminder that my immediate circle of friends are pretty incredible. But perhaps people just aren’t giving themselves enough credit. Maybe you volunteer at an orphanage. Maybe you organized a neighborhood potluck. Maybe, you give spare change to the war veteran standing with a sign at the corner. You may sing about your emergence from heartbreak. Maybe you created a visual representation of a recurring dream. Maybe you wrote a novel.

Being an agent of change simply means that you aren’t passively letting your current situation be reality. Because we oftentimes cannot easily get out of harsh personal situations, it’s difficult to see beyond ourselves and to transcend our tragedies and failures. We let our outlook on life affect how we interact with the world. We stop being kind. We stop believing in ourselves and each other.

Wherever life takes me, I’m certain that I will continue to help promote positivity and belief in humanity. Today, I may only be able to open the door for you or have a conversation about healing, but tomorrow there are infinite possibilities for more.

(Photography by BJWOK)

Students and “Mental Illness”


At campus #1, after showing a video from TED on the science of happiness (Nancy Etcoff), a student comes up to me after class.

“It’s funny that you showed that video because I’m clinically depressed and that’s why I haven’t been to class.”

I believe this student. She’s not the first brilliant overachieving student I’ve had who has encountered problems due to the overwhelming amount of work and expectations.

“How are you taking care of yourself? How are you coping with your courseload?”

“I’m going to the doctor next week, and I’m spending more time at home with my family.”

I nod my head in agreement. We exchange for a few minutes about ways to manage the rest of the semester. She thanks me for my understanding.

As she left, I reflected on other situations I’ve encountered recently. Earlier in the semester, a student (also brilliant and a singer), was institutionalized again. She came back to class on heavy prescriptions and could not function. She had to drop the course.

In the institute of medicine, the pharmacological/pharmaceutical agenda is pervasive. Sure, the pill is available if you’re feeling down, but how did you get to that point? What is in your life that is unaddressed that causes this cycle to continue? How can your support network help you with building the skills to cope with your stresses? How can you heal?

These are questions I wish were asked more often. Instead, we diagnose and leave it at that, as if these mental illnesses were always present in our lives. It’s developmental. It wasn’t always this way; therefore we can revert to (or progress to) wholeness.


We, as a society, are always planning our next move. We’re afraid to relax, lest we somehow fall off the network and be/have “less” than our cohort. (Western life, it seems, is permanent high school–who’s got what and who’s living better.) I haven’t been immune to the rush of the rat race. Since high school, I’ve plunged onward: undergrad, grad school, career in editing and college teaching.

I thought at the time that pursuing a fine arts degree was somehow more virtuous. After all, poetry is an avocation. It does not have monetary gain as an agenda. I was wrong. Poetry is a business, too, and the carrot dangling in front of me is prestige. Since receiving validation and acclaim in any artistic endeavor is nearly impossible, prestige that I sought needed a substitute: college teaching. It’s fulfilling, sure. As I’ve mentioned on this blog several times, I do find purpose in connecting with students by promoting critical thinking and cultural diversity. I’m in my element about 80% of the time. If academia wasn’t so bent on assessment and funding (and was sustainable), I’d continue to give it all of my energy. But as with anything, there are limitations.

Over the past year, I’d considered numerous life options after the semester ends. Relocation was priority. Where I’ll be going and what I’ll be doing was yet to be determined. I had planned to job search heavily in March and April to see if the universe could help in determining my next step. I considered the east coast. I considered teaching abroad. I also considered going home to the Philippines for some substantial amount of time to clear my head, relax, write, travel. Last summer, when I took a month off to travel around the US by train, I felt 100% in my element. I felt the same when I visited home, Thailand, and Vietnam last year. When I’m stuck in routine mode, I sometimes look at my blog posts and photos from then to recall that freedom. I don’t want to stray too far from it.

In the last month, the winds have pushed me toward home. The intent is to focus on writing. I have a couple of poetry manuscripts to finish, and I’d like to get some nonfiction projects under way. While I don’t plan on being an itinerant forever, I can’t imagine anything better at this time. I’ve informed my deans/department chairs that I won’t be available in the fall. They’ve been supportive and offered to hire me again if I return.

Traveling, which equals freedom, is always the reward. Why can’t it be the process?

(March 2010. Near home.)