Home alone with myself

Sunday, July 22, 2007

From Sunday night till Wednesday evening last week, I had the house all to myself. My son Mio, the only companion I have here in Sydney, went on a skiing trip with his classmates. It is winter here, and I must admit that the idea of being alone in this cold, quiet house in the suburbs was not a thrilling prospect.

The night before I took him to school for the bus trip to Snowy Mountain, I was feeling quite stressed since it seemed that a few things were starting to go wrong for me. For one, the dishwasher door would not open, and trapped inside it were practically all of the plates and utensils we have at home. The only things left for me to use were my granddaughter Ananda’s pink Barbie plate and a small Captain Nemo saucer. As trivial as the inconvenience may seem, I was getting anxious about it. What if I couldn’t get those plates and utensils out in the next two or three days? How was I going to function? Here I was, alone and with little knowledge of how to feed myself, and this had to happen and make things more difficult. I was beginning to entertain worst-case scenarios.

With self-pity beginning to well up, I felt myself contracting somewhat. I was beginning to feel that I had enough reason to justify staying under my bed covers and feeling sorry for myself. But I reckoned that my choices actually boiled down to two: be miserable during the next freezing days ahead, or learn something productive for the time being, until Mio got back.

Life is like that. We all get kicked out of our comfort zones every so often and I might as well not resist it. I could either have a miserable time or I could seize this chance to discover new things.

So I made calls. A friend said he had a friend who would ring me back for the repair of the dishwasher, but he never did. After a few hours of waiting I called another friend and he suggested I check the Internet. Of course! I had forgotten that this country is quite orderly and so conveniently structured that one can find almost any service in cyberspace.

The next day, a dishwasher specialist I found on yellowpages.com.au came over and opened the stuck door. Thanks to him, my prospects for the next few days began to look better.

The following days, I experienced moments of intimate discovery about this house we live in and about myself. I took pains to sweep, vacuum and mop the floors, wipe the tables, arrange the magazines, know what strange uncooked stuff resided inside the freezer, get the lawnmower to work, and be smart enough to figure out that the reason why it stopped was because it needed petrol. I also watered the indoor plants, arranged the beds, cleaned the toilets, threw the garbage in their proper bins, and a whole lot more. And during moments of rest, I learned to stop stiffening and contorting my body to fight the cold but instead to relax and learn to cohabit with this winter season that’s been the coldest in Sydney in 20 years.

During moments of non-activity, I learned to live with the silence and be aware of the creaks and noises that the house makes in reaction to the heater when I turn it on. I also looked more intently outside my window, at the beautiful early sunsets of winter that Sydney treats its inhabitants with.

I was becoming an astute observer. Certain types of birds make their presence felt at specific times of the day. The one that hoots repeatedly does so around mid-morning while the chirpy ones appear in mid-afternoon.

I also learned to pay attention to my own thoughts. During house cleaning, I learned to appreciate the work of every household help I have ever had the privilege of employing. I also noticed that I have this great fascination with entropy, or the doctrine of inevitable decline and degeneration of all worldly matters, especially if left alone. This is the reason why houses and all things have to be constantly used and cared for. And I am also talking here of our physical bodies that need to be attended to regularly.

In many ways, my simple task of taking care of myself and keeping house is a noble one. It is no less important than holding up the sky and making sure this humble abode remains comfortable and sturdy for my family’s eventual return. It is, oddly enough, a counterstrike against entropy, the second rule of thermodynamics. In fact, all these simple things I did when I was alone amounted to the equivalent of death-defying acts!

With regard to cooking, I made the daunting choice of not always reheating food but cooking something special for most meals. On Monday night, after a few consultations with Lydia via text, I took chicken out of the refrigerator and made my first adobo dish. I know that, to most people, it may not be a big deal but for a novice like me, the idea of paying attention to the preparation of food, the actual cooking and the minor intuitive and often commonsensical decisions one must make (like how much salt or garlic to use, or how to compensate when one can’t find bay leaves) are a huge deal. It is an exciting and empowering experience to learn to prepare something that not only nurtures the body but is delicious as well.

I ate my first self-cooked adobo that night with such relish and glee. I laughed when I heard myself go “Mmmm” in genuine appreciation, with every bite I took of the crispy chicken adobo. The truth was, I could hardly contain myself.

There is something magical about taking a sabbatical. In my case, moments like these are like living the monastic life. All I have is myself, and the tasks that I need to do. When I am paying attention, I notice that the seeming “sparseness” is hardly sparse at all. There is so much going on, and all of it simultaneously. The interconnectedness of things unravels before me and I actually witness its divine mission.

Nightfall weaves its charm seamlessly. There is a rhythm to the way the wind rattles the canvas awning near my window and rustles the leaves of a nearby tree. And how wondrously the laws of physics show off when I dabble with heat while preparing food.

While we moderns may think that not having anything new or novel to do all the time, or the idea of being deprived of our usual entertainment make our lives boring and meaningless, I submit that actually plunging into quiet aloneness can be a rewarding — if different — experience. We learn that the self is largely undiscovered territory and there is so much to explore. Our fears, anxieties, our joys, our inner monologues reveal themselves, and when we listen to them instead of resisting, we get a better grasp of who the person that inhabits us may actually be.

We quickly realize that the best surprises are the ones we learn about ourselves.

* * *

I am announcing the 33rd run of “Tapping the Creative Universe” (TCU), a cutting-edge creativity workshop that will help transform you to the person you were meant to be — someone fully alive, joyful and more capable of doing anything you wish.

The six-day sessions will be held at 31 M. Jocson St. Loyola Heights, QC on August 6, 7, 8, 9, 11 and 13, from 7 to 9 p.m. Cost is P5,000 for the entire workshop.

To reserve a slot or ask for a syllabus, call 0916-8554303 and ask for Ollie, or call 426-5375 or write me at emailjimp@gmail.com.

19 thoughts on “Home alone with myself”

  1. Hi Mr. Jim. . . I think your adobo need a bit more sauce…Just kiddin’. I’m glad you’ve made your first adobo. . . God Bless

  2. Hi Jim… I enjoyed reading this blog entry. This reminds me why I love being here in Australia, away from the hustle and bustle of Manila. Simple things make me happy here… birds showing up in your backyard… rustling of the leaves… spending some quiet time with oneself. Its not unusual that you began feeling self-pity especially when you couldn’t open your dishwasher door. Ah, but someone always knows someone who can help but sometimes you don’t know when that’s gonna be so you find other means and ways. Jim, were you a boy scout when you were in school? If you were, I have no doubt that you’d be able to cope with living here in Oz. 🙂 I for one came here only 10 years ago, leaving a “comfortable” life in the Philippines and being the youngest in a family of 5, people considered me as a “spoilt” kid. But fate had something else in store for me and I guess at the same time I was game to face all the challenges that would come my way and so now, here I am – a once divorced working mom who seem to be able to balance work & family life quite comfortably 🙂 Anyway, I don’t want to bore you with my life story – that’s for me to put on a blog, not here. haha!
    Good luck with your next run of TCU – maybe you can incorporate cooking in the syllabus soon? hehe!!!

  3. hi mr. paredes, i cant imagine you being home alone…i bet you missed your wife more. hirap to do all the mommy works huh? Your chicken adobo looks yummy though…

  4. Hi Jim,

    Whilst the Adobo looks relatively nice the photography can always be better!!!

    I enjoy reading the hummings within your universe. It is a great thing that always causes me to reflect on the things I take very much for granted. I love the cold, because I appreciate the warmth so much more. I love the heat where I appreciate the cold and so on. I love challenging myself, and have sometimes found the “bite off more than you can chew, and chew like buggery” a liberating and sometimes frightening prospect. I have found so much inner peace and happiness in my universe but never accepting mediocrity. I always demand and get the best of myself and creatively for me the lens is a too I would seriously be lost without.

    Keep humming and cooking, perhaps one day I might actually share a meal and give you my verdict as well!!

    Warm regards

    Craig (Timeline Photography)

  5. Jim,

    Very funny. You sound exactly like
    Jack Kerouac from The Dharma Bums on his solitary life at Desolation Peak.

    Congratulations on the adobo–that one is Bacolod Adobo since it is dry. I’m a big fan of Adobo as mentioned, specially the Bacolod style. And you know what’s good to eat it with? Hard bolied eggs. Just make sure to take your high blood pills afterward-haha!

    Btw, the internet offers a lot of quick and easy recipes like in Yahoo-foods:


  6. That’s great Jim. Now you will make someone a wonderful wife!

    I bet Lydia will be suprised and happy to find a newly discovered you when she comes home.

  7. marlene–yes, I was a boy scout and it is quite easy for me to enjoy simple things. I also like solving things.

    rowena–she’s home now. YES!

    craig–Hi craig. I agree. My photo wasn’t the best. I hurriedly just took a pic because Lydia wanted to see it, and I ate it before it got cold. ha ha.

    Glad you are enjoying my blog. We still have to shoot together one of these days. Yes, dinner too.

    hey ray–hmm.. I will try it with egg. I’m not worried about cholesterol and all that. My numbers are good.

    I cooked her a meal the other night. Pasado daw! heh heh

  8. Master Jim,

    Hope you dont mind me calling you a master, to me you are worthy of the title, for I have learned so much from your writing.

    Reading Robert Frost’s collection of poem during winter time, helped me a great deal. His poems were mostly about nature/weather and his surroundings. Case and point his “Road Less Travelled” is my utmost favorite.

    Another thing you might consider to enjoy is snow falling, on your face with your mouth wide open, its absolute joy.

    Keep on writing and be an inspiration.

  9. when you start saying “reckon” instead of “thought”, and you start saying “ring” instead of “call”…you have either consciously or unconsciously embraced australia. whether this is a good thing or not, only you can tell.

    on another note, your adobo looks good:)

  10. bonding with oneself is always good. and you had a great time. must be so relieved that the other half is back though. i am happily reading ‘humming…..’ hope you got the cheque ok…regards. vicky

  11. anonymous–I love Robert Frost too and the exact same poem. I look at that poem as some sort of prose anthem of my life.

    Frankly, I am quite embarrassed that you call me ‘Master Jim’. To me a master is not one who can write about the things I write but one who can actually make other people be the masters that they really are. I am afraid I am a long way from there.

    May– the more I stay here, the greater appreciation I have of Aussie life.

    Vicky–Glad you are enjoying it.

  12. Gotta admit that the thought of you eating in your granddaughter’s plate was the highlight of this entry for me, Sir Jim! Haha.

    But perusing more on it, I realized how much I could relate to what you were saying. I daresay I know a bit about living alone in a foreign -not to mention impossibly cold land and having to figure out how the heck does all of the things we used to take for granted (thanks to the cushioned life that is Philippine living), work. All that and well, Adobo also happens to be the first meal I prepared for myself when I first got here. =D

    All the same, I hope you’re having a most wonderful winter.

  13. ces–I am enjoying the winter strangely enough. In this part of the world, we do not get snow. At most, your windshield gets frosted.

    Keye–PICC, August 10. It’s called Mga Kwento Ng APO.

  14. I’ve always dreamed of waking up to a white christmas morning when I was younger and I thought I’d get my chance when I came here -No. Haha. It didn’t snow and it’s been a domino effect weather-wise ever since.

    Spring was horribly cold, it hasn’t stopped raining since May, no sun has donned this summer and I’ll keep you posted if the leaves don’t do their thing come September. Hehe. Locals here claim this year to be the worst, weather-wise. Sad.

    Then again it’s always a hard thing I think, acclimating yourself to a foreign land especially if you’re used to a 24 degree temperature day and somehow you end up making the best out of your new negative 2 surrounding. =)

    Looking forward to reading your page more, Sir!

  15. Hey Jim, have you had a chance to explore the traditional Aussie bush poetry yet?

    Of all the things I am disillusioned about life in Aus, the traditional poetry here is still fantastic in my opinion.

    May I recommend as a starter:
    – How McDougal Topped The Score (Thomas E. Spencer)
    – Mulga Bill’s Bicycle (Banjo Patterson)
    – The Man form Ironbark (Banjo Patterson)

    100% tongue-in-cheek Aussie humour!


  16. Hi Jim,

    How serene and beautiful an experience.

    Stillness is a wonderful gift that is omnipresent, yet remain largely ignored. We only need to stop to feel it and enjoy it.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

    Now, I’ve gotta go and get some food… your Adobo made me hungry!

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