I set down in the previous chapters some of the Lessons Learned of the Philippines. But what have I learned about myself? And have I been able to convey some of what I have learned to my readers? Indeed, what hubris for me to think they would want to know what I had learned.
Travels with Myself
A Journal of Discovery and Transition
Doug Jordan, Author
One goal is output – not the ambitious thousand words a day, more like five hundred. In any event, a thousand words a day is pointless if it’s mostly crap. I think of Hemingway at his typewriter, tearing pages out of his carriage and filling his wastepaper basket, so much more visceral than modern hard drives. I’ve learned to be content with merely a decent paragraph, and just walk away.
And what do we learn from all this Trivia? That The Philippines is a country of contrasts, a curious combination of west and east, old and modern. Of tradition and of a rapidly changing society. And it gives me pause to consider aspects of my own life in Canada.
A big part of the reality of The Philippines are calamities, of which the Philippines experience a couple every year, and some years those calamities make world head-lines. The Filipinos mostly take these calamities in stride, but even for them, some of these are wrenching.
Travels With Myself has a different purpose than The Tagaytay Tribune;Travels is the account of my journey of self-discovery and transition in the twilight of my life. The journey to The Philippines was as much a vehicle for discovering myself, as it was for having a life experience.
My author friends said I would never be able to please all the readers all the time, especially family and closer friends. I needed to put their ego issues aside and consider who my ultimate audience was. But that was still not clear to me. What was the real reason for writing this book?
The thing she did comment on though, was how far we had to drive to see these many friends. Living in suburbia, your friends were scattered in their own distant suburbs, or downtown, and this meant much travel. At least the travel on relatively uncongested expressways was not the tremendous thief of time that commuting in The Philippines is. For this we cannot thank city planners for inventing suburbia, only for adequate infrastructure.
when Marlene died and I sold the house I had had enough of suburbia. I imagined myself instead moving to old house, in an historic town, Perth, and savouring life of a different sort, the life of an author, eccentric perhaps, within walking distance of the library and interesting pubs where I could study the various inhabitants of a life so different from suburbia. Or so went the fantasy. Instead I moved to a downsized, though substantial, three-story townhouse, in Kanata. There I languished for a year, confirming once again that a house is not a home.
I was surprised she was fearful of my dogs. Maybe it was the size – standard poodles are twice the size of the semi-feral mutts she was familiar with; maybe their eagerness was a little off-putting to a reluctant visitor – responding with enthusiasm if you gave them any sign at all.
Carmen often would claim to be my new medicine and the reason for me getting off my psycho-pharmaceuticals, and this was almost certainly true, to a degree. But maybe more importantly, her catalyzing me to get back to boxing was even more significant for my improving mental outlook. It suited my Ernest Hemmingway self-image as well.
And the more I learned, the more confused I became. Could I spend the rest of my days with this woman, so culturally and linguistically, educationally and experientially different from me? Time would tell, but I already suspected there was a lot more to this woman’s story and at the least I should discover it, maybe write the book.
I still have problems to solve and still need to find the courage to solve them. Chief among these are dealing with aging, living a more considered life (James Hollis), practicing virtue and dying (with dignity). Bundled with this is leaving a legacy to my children and grandchildren, memories they can be proud of.
[two things that have stayed with me] : ‘we never stop grieving, it just gets quieter.’ And, ‘[he] doesn’t believe in closure’. If there’s new information that explain things you didn’t understand before, that helps; but there is no closure. It’s not like closing the lid of a box, or a coffin.
Returning to the sun was not all sunshine and warmth. It seems transitioning is not a sudden turn but a gradual bend in current realities. I may have been regaining my mental health, and feeling energy returning, but many questions remained about what my new reality was.
After eight days in dreamland it was time for me to return to Canada. I promised Carmen that, like my namesake, I would return. Doubt occupied my mind throughout the Christmas break, but I rebooked tickets for Manila January 15 – 22. I had come to Philippines to discover if she could fill this huge void in my life. It seemed pretty unlikely that she could.
As I anticipated my trip to Manila to meet the Filipina Cupid, I fretted about being drawn away from my [renewed interest in writing and completing my ‘novel’]. Such is the mind of the writer when the writing bug is upon him, he doesn’t want to do anything else.
I retrieved my bags and worked my way through the exit and surveyed the throngs of greeters on the other side of a barrier, looking for a familiar face in a sea of faces. Hopeless. Carmen and I had talked about our Hollywood moment, locking eyes in the crowd and rushing into each other’s arms, and ‘the kiss’. I lingered at the exit looking for her but it looked as though our Hollywood moment wasn’t going to happen.
The progression of a relationship in on-line dating predictably follows the same pattern, it’s only the pace that varies. In my state of mind, the pace I set for myself – or was it set for me by my subconscious mind? – was hectic. Carpe diem, time is of the essence, and running out fast.
It may seem odd to think of anger as a sign of returning to mental health, and it wasn’t obvious to me at the time either, but instead of the nihilism of anger that I had been experiencing I was seeing something different. The anger was no longer directed at blaming and revenge, it was more generalized. I’m sure I offended some of my friends during this period, and for that I must apologize. I just hope they can see that this was part of my healing process.
In the months of my struggling to find a way out of the abyss I have almost no recollection of people and events, women I dated, promises I may have made, people I may have offended. Instead I relived and reworked the memories of Emily, the months of love and loss and might-have-beens. It was obsession of course, those persistent thoughts; I couldn’t just block her out of my mind. Probably I didn’t want to.
I had been dating for about three months and already beginning to feel discouraged. Rather than feel the excitement of the new, I felt only increasing cynicism. I may have been living as if my hair was on fire but my energy was being sapped. But I was compelled to carry on, and match.com kept sending me prospects.
I preferred ‘organic dating’ – going out with people I already knew, if only slightly, or be introduced to somebody – but I knew the name of the game in 2018 was on-line dating. Kinda like a lottery – if I wanted to win a prize I had to buy a ticket – and maybe just as soul-destroying. I took a deep breath and posted my bond and my profile on match.com.
After that dream, and all through that awful summer of Emily yo-yo-ing me I had considered hanging myself more than a few times from various staircases, but now, while visiting Marlene, I thought the branch of the tree reaching over her headstone would do nicely. I wondered where I had put my rope.
If I was to be a real author, not a closet pretender, I needed to sell a lot more of my books.
Despite my reservations, and fear, I wanted to get wider exposure. I wanted affirmation. Endless ego needs may have been at the base of all this, but if I wanted exposure, I had to promote my books. As any author, successful and otherwise, will attest, the better mousetrap gets no attention by itself.
My plunge into the abyss lasted four months. Maybe abyss is the wrong metaphor; it didn’t feel like falling into a black hole. It felt more like I was walking underwater, trudging, dragging my feet on a sandy bottom with an undertow holding me under. And maybe this agitated aimlessness lasted longer than four months. It wasn’t as if I suddenly woke up one day and felt well. But from August to December I have only fractured memory of what happened to me. Here’s a list of what I do remember.
I knew I was having an emotional episode, even though I had never experienced anything like this before. This is what is commonly called a ‘nervous breakdown’; though professional people don’t use the term anymore, it nevertheless feels apt if you are experiencing one.
I drove to the cemetery to consult with Marlene, but she had nothing to say to me. In the fog of my grief I had hoped Emily would be the answer to my next stage of life. Now I felt completely alone. I was a mess, an admixture of anger and anxiety, possessiveness and petulance.
And I already ‘knew’ about Grief, Empathy and Aging. But I didn’t really ‘know’. You cannot know these things until you have actually experienced the depth of feeling these can demand of you. But my year in the Fog brought whole new lessons.
All through that fall and winter I had been gently but steadily moving ahead with the task of downsizing my household. It was a painful but necessary step to me redefining my life following Marlene’s death. I now had too much house, and too much stuff for one man living alone.
As our relationship progressed, I began to ask myself what sort of relationship I really had with Emily. ‘You are too unstable for us to think about this relationship. It has only been a few months and you are grieving hard for Marlene. And so am I. We are not ready for a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship.’ Emily found lots of evidence of my instability. There were many signs:
At the Kingston station I noticed a young couple greeting each other with an excited kiss on the platform. I smiled at this public display of affection and then a dull yearning began in my chest. I suddenly had an impulse to text Emily. Was she available to have dinner with me that evening when I got back?
The fog of grief was real enough: I lost concentration, I had no plans, I was forgetful. I couldn’t sleep. I knew there were things I needed to do to start putting my life back together, but not today, maybe tomorrow. I went to grief counseling; I read many books about grief. I finally read The Emperor of all Maladies. All I wanted to do was escape all this grieving stuff.
And there she was.
Marlene’s condition gradually, inevitably, worsened. The tumour in her intestines may have been arrested but the damage had been done. Intestinal occlusion was the consequence.