Memoir Writing Reflections #2: A Thousand Words A Day

Word counts and number of pages heavily influence my approach in writing. From Grade 4 onwards, in multiple classes from Language (English) class and Filipino class, we were required to fill pages upon pages of lined paper with paragraphs on certain topics. Some of them were comically dull, such as “what I did last summer” since for me, 70% of the time I was watching the store. I can cover that in just one paragraph. Since these essay worksheets have a defined number of pages and we students have learned that being suspiciously short lowers your grade, we learned to stretch and beat around the bush. Adding flowery words, extra couple of sentences, and extending simple statements with independent and dependent clauses are skills I’ve mastered well.

The page limit means just that – that there will be a point when I won’t be able to write any further. In my earlier years before I had access to a computer on a regular basis, this can be an agonizing experience. When I feel that I’m gaining momentum with the middle paragraphs of backstory and supporting points and then all of a sudden, I have less than half a page left, needing to hastily switch and make a concluding paragraph. It feels like walking into a hallway and getting smacked in the face with a glass door. It’s painfully abrupt. So, I’ve learned to “budget” the paper space ahead of time. As a university student here in Canada over a decade ago, I’m immensely grateful for Google Docs and Microsoft Word for this very reason. If I went overboard, I could trim the excess before submitting the final version.

For this memoir project, dealing with word counts and spitting out words is a whole new challenge. These days I rarely have limits on how long my write-ups should be, unless I have to submit them externally. As a volunteer columnist for the Alberta Filipino Journal for the past six years my word limit is simple, 650 – 700 words. Pretty easy to follow. When I wrote the historical essays for Edmonton Heritage Council’s historical initiative called Edmonton City As Museum Project, they had a maximum word limit, but writers get paid by the word. I tried my best to ensure I don’t unnecessarily inflate the piece while giving myself the flexibility to expand if needed. In both articles I had about 50 – 100 words left. With the CBC articles, where is also a word limit but the payment is a flat rate. It helped the editor with expanding a little bit more because they want to keep a well-written statement. Only the second piece went over the 600 word count.

Now that I had 40+ chapters to write about. I did some research on the average word count of a chapter for full-length books such as novels. I agonized on how many words I need to pump out in a day. With personal blogs such as the ones over here, there were many moments when I finished a post in a single sitting – usually about 1000 words. For some time, I wondered whether that’s a fluke or normal. This process of writing a lot – a whole lot more than usual – is an experiment on how many sentences I can spit out that are somehow coherent.

One of my husband’s creative people is J. Michael Straczynski, a filmaker who released their memoir/how-to book, Becoming Superman. What a remarkable and heartbreaking story of hardship in his younger years! It was also amazing to see how his artistic career blossomed. His is the first book where I read practical tips on advancing one’s journey as a writer. “Writer all the crap out and write all the time, and make sure that you submit before the deadline, because it’s amazing how many assholes don’t” is the essence of his friendly and utilitarian advice. I like it. It resonated with me and boosted my confidence. I’ve always completed my written work on time, sometimes early, so that the editor can have the time and breathing room to look it over before getting bombarded by everyone else’s on-time or almost late submissions.

This time around, I am the rule-maker. And the rules, the constraints, are actually helpful in getting focused. So with each chapter I gave myself a semi-flexible limit: minimum 1000 words that clearly narrate at least three scenes, threads of thought, ideally both. This resulted into chapters that are between two to five pages. When I see a chapter going beyond that, I find a natural spot to split the narrative, which prevented me from feeling guilty that one area looked too long. Instead, by giving myself permission to split the chapters, I managed to add a couple more paragraphs to help make that mini story feel complete.

My author mentor lent me a stack of books to help me learn various techniques about writing. She enthusiastically said over and over that numerous principles used in writing fiction are just as useful in writing creative nonfiction. This was especially useful and motivational for me since I am narrating a story – the story of my childhood as my younger self experienced it. One of the books is On Writing, by novelist Stephen King. Similar to Becoming Superman, it’s a memoir/how-to combination which I liked. Him sharing his schedule with numbers is the most striking piece of advice for me. He said he would write a thousand words a day in the morning, stay consistent, and complete a first draft of a novel in three months as a result. Well, guess who completed a memoir draft in three months – this lady! I was overjoyed when I read this. Will my works be as brilliant as his, who knows? It also didn’t matter too much – he had a lot of freedom and flexibility since he wrote fiction. I know I shouldn’t trap myself into stringent formulas, but a roadmap helps prevent the feeling of spiraling out of control. I also don’t write a thousand words every single day. But if a thousand words in 50 days in under three months is a workable formula for me, I’ll take it!

Memoir Writing Reflections #1: The Brain is a Marvel

by: Giselle General

This year, on top of everything else my husband and I drastically changed, I added one more to the list. I finally started working of my first memoir, my first full-length written work. The initial plan was to publish something right around my 30th birthday last year. That got derailed by two major things: COVID and running for public office during a pandemic.

This is to account my initial reflections on this journey and observing my mind, both how it works when it comes to motivation and getting organized, and from a mental health standpoint as far as memories and triggers.

I had to check my email history and digital calendar to confirm the timeline. When you don’t have a full time job, the pace of time feels so strangely elastic and oddly compact, depending on the time of day. In early September, I took a chance and applied for the Horizon’s Writing Circle, a writer mentorship program. I recall being so nervous outlining my bio as an artist, feeling like a fraud. I suppose I had a few essays and got paid for it. I’ve been blogging for a decade and been an ethnic paper columnist for five years. But will it be enough to deserve undivided attention from someone who actually published multiple books?

I applied for the program in early September and in early October I got the confirmation that I got in the program. How exciting! I arranged a meeting with the author mentor in mid-October. Just like the other mentorship programs I participated in, I had a very clear goal in mind and I needed their advice to make it successful. When I outlined my goal, the summary of the memoir and the tangible deliverable, my mentor was excited. But it didn’t hit home for me until I hear her utter the words “Yes, I’m very positive that by the end of our mentorship period, you will have a first manuscript.” That felt so real, so tangible. It’s remarkable.

This is a precious time and opportunity, I have to everything I can to make the most of it.

This sparked a flurry of motivation in my mind and my heart. I made an outline of all the different chapters and themes of my life using blank MS Word documents. In a few minutes I had 40 blank chapters. Whenever inspiration strikes as the cliche goes, I would open a file and either type the entire story right there, or write short phrases of the smaller stories to write about. As of right now, I’ve been doing this for just two months, and I’m halfway through, over 20 chapters that looked decent enough to be scrutinized. Done is better than perfect, I tell myself over and over. It frankly didn’t feel like much, but when I say to people out loud, their reactions remind me that 20 chapters in less than 60 days is noteworthy.

Some days when I write, my brain somehow forgets to tell my body to breathe. After the keyboard clatters for a few minutes as I tell a heartbreaking experience, I’d suddenly gasp for air. Only then do I clearly look at the words on the screen, and tears would roll down my face. I thought that being triggered would be more melodramatic and fiery than this. I guess I was wrong.

In early December I had a dream that I wasn’t happy about. In my dream, somehow my father became alive in my current life as an adult for just one day. I was frantically giving him a tour around my home and around Edmonton, filling him in on what he missed for the past 23 years. The day doesn’t end, I don’t know what rudely woke me up into reality. I laid in bed, my eyes angrily boring holes in the ceiling as the tears silently fell. I know that this is from my consciously digging up memories and putting them on paper, or in this case, the computer screen.

Damn it, brain! Why do you have to do this to me? This wore me out mentally more than the other times I got emotional while writing. I spent the next week not writing anything new, just updating the grammar of the earlier chapters I wrote.

While dedicating time and energy to write, I had to juggle other priorities as well. There’s truth to the saying looking for a job is a full-time job. Taking the time to diligently search for opportunities that fit my experience level and salary range and writing a thoughtful application, that takes effort and a mental toll. I try to switch it up during weekdays, a few hours on job searching, an hour or two on writing, then some time for chores and volunteering.

This is how I remind myself that being unemployed doesn’t mean I’m useless. That I’m still improving my skills, using the ones I have, and making a positive impact around me in different ways. Sometimes it looks like the homecooked meal I made and a clean kitchen sink. It can look like being present at a board meeting and being efficient in all the items we discussed. It can look like a piece of artwork I finished for the home and two memoir chapters done in a single day.

Activities not related to writing or career help me stay grounded and balanced. My husband actively finds video games that a very beginner-level person like me can handle, and he is very kind and diligent when we do levels together where he had to do about 70% of the work. It’s pretty sweet of him. Whenever he plays video games that he streams to his audience online, I hear him talk about me and share fun updates about ‘the wife’. I sometimes chime in on conversations and his audience seem to enjoy it. Our group of friends have organized a weekly movie night, just like what they did regularly a decade ago. My friend asked for my help with pet-sitting and it’s quite fun being a dog and cat auntie. It’s actually nice having a cat on your lap being cozy while reading one of the books my mentor author lent me about writing techniques.

My suicidal ideation has never left my mind, but I am able to keep it at bay for the most part. It’s not by feeling more optimistic about the world – there’s too much obvious evidence that people and systems are harmful and selfish and problematic. It’s by keeping a little bit of hope that what I do matters to a small extent and it affects people positively, whether it’s just myself, my immediate love ones, or those who gets affected by any of my community service work. And that’s enough for now.

The Female Duet that Changed my Preconceived Views

Closeup of two women singing a duet and holding a mic together

By: Giselle General

Earlier this month, a high school student volunteer and I were doing some community service work for my neighborhood. It’s a requirement for her Grade 12 Religion Class. She is a Filipino teenager who is relatively new to Canada and Edmonton, being here for just a few years with her experiences limited by having to attend school remotely.

She also volunteered for my neighborhood community league last July and August for her Grade 11 Religion Class during summer school. So we’ve spent some time with each other and have gotten comfortable chatting about various things. It’s been pretty fun!

During her most recent volunteer shift, she was helping me pick up litter along the public sidewalks in my neighborhood. It was tricky as snow has fallen over the past two days, hiding the pieces of trash I know were still stuck there for the past few weeks. We’d kick and shove the freshly fallen snow, pick up pieces of cardboard, plastic and the occasional pencil with our pickup stick and shove it into the trash bag I have open.

Feeling good about being outdoors in the cold for two hours and filling a large bag of trash, we went back into our community hall to clean up and warm up. By this time we’ve talked about many things that teens are likely to talk to an older cousin or cool aunt about – school, friends, crushes, Canadian culture and etiquette and my experiences with these as a Filipino newcomer teenager 15 years ago.

We switched to the topic of music and got into the conversation of beautiful duets we enjoyed listening to. That’s when I shared to her the very first time I heard a duet sang by two women (female voices) and how it changed my outlook on music. Until then, in my childhood years, I’d always thought of duets as something sang by a man and a woman as their vocal ranges are so different from each other. Until I was proven wrong.

It was in the early 2000’s and I was a second year high school student in a mining village in the Philippines. It was time for Intramural competition, and in my school, the performing arts and athletic competitions are equally intense. On the performing arts competitions there are solo singing, duet, individual and group dances.

The duet singing competition started. I remember being curious when two female students went on stage. They performed the song “Tell Him”. I got goosebumps hearing them both sing the chorus!

Tell him
Tell him that the sun and moon
Rise in his eyes
Reach out to him
And whisper
Tender words so soft and sweet
I’ll hold him close to feel his heart beat
Love will be the gift you give yourself

Their voices were both clearly feminine but were distinct from each other. On top of that, they were not acting like a couple singing those words to each other, which made them stand out even more than the other contestants. I remember the screams of amazement, the cheers and the standing ovation we gave as the audience right after the song. They were the clear winners for the category even before the official announcement happened a few days later in the award ceremony.

It wasn’t until years later when I thought of this performance again. I search the song online and watched the original performance by Celine Dion and Barbara Streisand. And as I listened to it, my awe and appreciation just all came back.

As I was telling this story to the student volunteer, I pull out my cellphone to show her the YouTube video of the original music video. She seemed just as astonished as I was 18 years ago that two women can sing together in such a contrasting and harmonizing way. I sang the first two lines of the chorus, both with the soprano and alto lines to show how different they sound individually, encouraging her to imagine how they sound when combined.

This song continues to be one of my absolute favourites because of how my schoolmates performed it, in the underground gymnasium of our high school. I don’t even remember the names of the students who performed, but I know that the community if people who lived in the village of Philex Mines is quite vast all over the world. If this post somehow reaches them I hope that it becomes an opportunity for lovely nostalgia of their high school years.

Book Review and Thank You Letter “The First Phone Call from Heaven” by Mitch Albom

By: Giselle General

It may sound silly but yes, I am writing a thank you letter to an object, which is the Little Free Library in a neighbourhood that was a 20 minute walk from my home. These are my thoughts after reading a book I got from it, “The First Phone Call From Heaven” by Mitch Albom.


August 15, 2022

Dear little Free Library. I think you’re pretty new, I haven’t seen you before the moment I saw this particular book that caught my attention. Overall, I’m a fan of this particular author, thinking back when I first saw a book written by him titles The Five People You Meet in Heaven.

I have also read another book by him titled Tuesdays with Morrie. So, I have an idea of what to expect in his books. There will be an overall theme of wholeheartedness and inspiration. There will be undertones of religion and spirituality. There will be themes about love and loss and death. And upon reading this book, I was not disappointed. That’s exactly what’s in it.

The premise of this book is about a pilot who is grieving the death of his wife, and missing opportunities to support his family since he was in prison due to criminal charges put forward from a plane crash. He returned to the small town where he grew up where a seemingly mysterious series of events started to occur. Several people in the small town started to receive what they claim were phone calls from dead loved ones claiming that they are from heaven. Alongside the struggles of this pilot, there was a journalist from out of town assigned to cover this story. As word of this seemingly miraculous and extraordinary event spread across the world, the town was whipped into a frenzy.

I will try not to give out too many spoilers, but all I can say is that answers were discovered behind how the phone calls were happening, and for many of the people affected, it resulted into profound effects that changed their outlook in life and family. It talks about how people’s lives are interconnected in numerous, often unexpected ways, and sometimes, people’s actions affect us in ways that we might never know, for better or worse.

For me personally, what affected me most about the book is not about the moral or the plot or the writing. I mean, it is pretty good, and I enjoyed reading it.

What I found moving and striking is an experience that is first for me, to have a character with my name in a fiction book. On top of that, for the character, Giselle, to be the dead wife that the protagonist is still grieving about! There’s no need to imagine or daydream this time in order to relate to a character – the book’s writing made it very direct, very explicit.

I am married to a man I love very much. I also struggle with suicidal ideation. While I haven’t actively done things to end my life in recent years, my heart continues to feel heavy with what is described as survivor’s guilt. Many a time I have daydreamed about what would happen when my life ends, if it ends soon. The fact that in just a few years, I’m reaching my mother’s age when she died, when she died saving me, is not helping matters.

But in this book, I was confronted with an experience I haven’t had before. Seeing the words of a grieving husband, who continued to say how much he loves and misses his wife, Giselle. The anger and pain of someone who missed her funeral because he was in prison, with undertones of helplessness and despair as he adjusts to the life of being a single parent for their little boy. This time around, there’s no need for me to wonder, ‘what would my own husband say or think, in the days, weeks or months just after my death?’ In many ways, words and thoughts could very much be his.

How has this affected my suicidal ideation? Words cannot express, but there is something that fundamentally shifted there.

After reading the book, I saw on the inside of the back cover, that there’s a sticker, one of those customized labels with people’s name and address so they can easily put it in outgoing mail. This book, at one point, was owned by a woman named Marilyn. The address is in Edmonton, but it is not in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood. Still on the west end, but a few neighbourhoods north.

Little Free Library by the end row of houses in the Patricia Heights neighbourhood: you have presented me with a unique experience and a profound gift. I’m still processing it, frankly speaking.

For now, all I can say is “thank you” and “wow”. The collection of Little Free Libraries for the neighbourhood is still growing, as well as all over the city. I wish that you continue to house and share books, knowledge and joy for years to come.

The Courage from Admitting Fear

Giselle thinking while resting her face on her hands

By: Giselle General

“That is a cool idea, my love. But I don’t feel comfortable initiating that at all. If we’re gonna do it, I need you to set it up, or at least do it along with me.”

When you are so used to being your own provider, advocate, and nurturer, when you are in survival mode for so long, being afraid can be devastating. Feeling fear means being vulnerable, which means being harmed, putting myself and the people I care about the most (which for most of my childhood would be my brother), at huge physical and emotional risk. The pain would be a double-whammy, from the situation and how our unmet practical needs are exposed, and from the heartache from realizing there is no one to rely on.

Being vulnerable enough to express discomfort is one of the biggest risks I’ve taken, and continue to take, in my adult life. The only setting where I’ve felt okay enough to do this, is the place that matters that most, my own home.

For me, admitting fear involves these different parts and with all of them together, has helped in addressing, confronting or putting things in perspective.

First, is giving myself permission to be concerned or afraid or threatened. Learning that ’emotions are information’ is the foundation of me being able to do this. I’ve learned to not immediately attach a moral assessment to my emotions, and that the concern or fear is related to something about how I perceive my environment. Since all emotions are valid, I’ve learned that it is okay for my mind and hear to express whatever I am feeling in that moment.

Second, is labeling, putting into words the type of fear, and saying it out loud. Anxious, uncomfortable, overwhelmed, unsafe, uncertain, confused, worried about being injured, are just some of the ways I now express my fear about something. Another important part is being able to assess and rate the level of fear. It can be 2 out of 10 level of worry about something in the near future. It can be a split second 5 out of 10 quick jump scare because a garden snake jumped out to our walking path. It could be a 4 out of 10 moment of anxiousness because of having to go door-knocking as a political candidate who is a visibly Asian woman. I realized that the more specific the descriptor and the number rating, the more capable I am in doing the next two steps.

Third, is reaching out to express it. This is also a work in progress. Even the mere act of saying, just to myself “hoo boy, I’m worried about this!” is a milestone in itself. A few times, I’ve come along with my husband and his running group that has meetups all year long, including winter at -30. During one of the winter runs during a milder day, I joined him and the route involved some trails along a side of a hill, doable in the summer but with ice and snow it’s a bit tricky. Allowing myself to even pause and look afraid for long enough for my husband to notice my apprehension, is a form of expression I wasn’t always able to do.

The final one, is to find solutions and asserting my boundaries. I eventually learned that it is okay, it is possible, to move away from the threat. There are a variety of solutions, whether it is just vent and let it go, or monitor the situation because I’m more informed and equipped these days, or let someone do the heavy lifting on my behalf. It sounds like a no-brainer, but I now feel okay saying “that will be physically or medically unsafe, so no thank you” or not be ashamed to tell myself that my financial security is more important at this point.

Two hands reaching out to hold each other

For so long, the definition of courage that I embraced is in enduring, persisting, putting a brave face. All of that is important, and all of that is out of necessity. My goodness though, it is nice to not to do that all the time. I want to close this post with the lyrices of a song that always resonates with me when thinking about this topic, “The Warrior is a Child” by Gary Valenciano.

Lately I’ve been winning battles left and right
But even winners can get wounded in the fight
People say that I’m amazing
I’m strong beyond my years
But they don’t see inside of me
I’m hiding all the tears

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while
‘Cause deep inside this armor
The warrior is a child

Unafraid because his armor is the best
But even soldiers need a quiet place to rest
People say that I’m amazing
I never face retreat
But they don’t see the enemies
That lay me at his feet

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and cry for just a while (I cry for just a while)
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

They don’t know that I come running home when I fall down
They don’t know who picks me up when no one is around
I drop my sword and look up for a smile
‘Cause deep inside this armor (deep inside)

Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
Deep inside this armor (deep inside this armor)
The warrior is a child

My “Turning Red” Story: When I Got My First Period

Scene from Disney Pixar Movie "Turning Red". Mei, as a red panda, looks at her reflection in her home's bathroom mirror.

In honour of the soon-to-end International Women’s Month, and in appreciation of the recent Disney Pixar movie Turning Red, I’d like to share the memorable and also a bit scary experience I had when I got my first period.

By the way, I got mine when I was in Grade 5, at 10 years old. So for those who argue that getting periods is not a topic for children, this is something that kids experience all the time!

As a storekeeper of a sari-sari store, I’m familiar with menstrual projects, which we nickname “napkins” in the Philippines. I noticed though that when kids come to our store to buy them, they always asked that it be wrapped in newspaper, or in an opaque plastic bag that conceals what is inside. When I ran out of newspaper, I’d use the cardboard from a 10-pack of cigarettes, or a bag from a wholesale pack of candy or bubble gum – those things are thick and brightly colored. During the movie, when Mei’s mother was putting different types of pads on the bathroom counter while describing them “regular, overnight, scented, wings…” it make me chuckle.

Just like most of my weekends, I was left alone watching over our little store in the mining village where I used to live at the time. Grandma (Lola Aleg) left for the day, to go to the city to get products for the store. Or is it for a while weekend or week? She’s gone so often I can’t keep track.

It was early in the weekend, when my mischievous self was tempted to sneak a chip bag from the store inventory as a snack for myself. It was 10 AM so the electricity for the whole village was shut off for a few hours already, an austerity measure that the mining company introduced a year ago. If I needed to go to the bathroom which is in the basement of our little store, I have to very carefully head down the ladder and do my business in a tiny room that is almost pitch black.

I went to the bathroom and in the faint light coming from the window, I saw something very wrong in my panties. I thought to myself, OMG! I can’t believed I pooped my pants without even knowing! This is what I get from sneaking too many snacks from the store display. It was sticky and brown, but surprisingly not as smelly as poop normally would. I hurriedly changed into clean underwear, fumbling in the dark where my underwear bag would be, worried that a customer would be calling from the storefront upstairs.

Then 4 PM comes around and electricity is back in the village. I went to the bathroom again to checked if there’s anything unusual in my underwear. This time around, there’s no mistaking it. It’s liquid, it’s sticky, it’s red – it’s a period! I hurried to try to wash both panties with water and bath soap, as I didn’t know how to clean blood off of fabric then. We learned that later in the school year.

I honestly can’t remember whether I told my grandma that weekend or sometime later. It wasn’t until six months later that I had my second menstrual cycle. This I wasn’t surprised about, as we learned about this in health class earlier in the school year. We also had a school assembly shortly before my first period, from one of the multinational companies that sell household items, including menstrual products.

What I do remember thought is that once I started having acne, lola told me many times on how I missed out on one of the most effective ways to combat acne. She said, I could have used the underwear when I had my first period, lightly wash off the blood but not completely clean if off with laundry soap, and with the part of the panty that had some light menstruation blood residue, to dab it off my face where pimples are popping up. The things was, she said, is that it needed to be from my first menstrual cycle. Looking back now, it sounds kinda nasty, but I understand that she grew up in a rural area in the 1930’s – 50’s. My brother and I weren’t spared from other old-fashioned methods to address various illnesses growing up.

Thinking back now, there were so many things that I wish I learned about how menstruation works. Dealing with cramps every month was a common experience, but I learned later on about how it can be debilitating for other people – as in blacking out or being nauseated in pain. I wished I learned earlier on how having sexual intercourse works during someone’s menstrual cycle. Turns out, it is messy, but doable and pretty satisfying – as long as you and your partner have prepared to clean up afterwards. I wished I got adequate information when I was exploring birth control methods, so I can better differentiate what is “expected spotting”, “usual menstrual cycle discharge” or “excessive bleeding” when I adjusted to having an IUD implanted in my uterus. It took one year for my frequent bleeding to stop and I’ve had an IUD in me for 11 years, that I might have a learning curve on how to put on pads again. Maybe I’ll just skip those altogether and go with a Diva Cup or those fancy new period panties.

Compared to years past, I think that available information about puberty life and other life milestones is getting better now, thanks to access to online information, being referenced in mainstream media, and professional content creators. I hope that for kids, teens and their families, that such experiences are something that is anticipated and informed about ahead of time.

Book Review And Thank You Letter: The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

A library shelf with various books, and in the middle displayed the front page of "The Midnight Library" by Matt Haig

By: Giselle General

My workplace organizes an opt-in Secret Santa every year, and I participate every year. This time, I received a book as a gift, which is perfect for the holiday break that we get from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Day, usually with an extra day or two. This is a Thank You Letter and a book review to my office Secret Santa, whose identity I still don’t know!


December 29, 2021

Dear work Secret Santa,

I don’t have investigative skills at all, so I will likely never know who you are. Also, over the past seven years at our workplace, I’ve only know for sure who my Secret Santa is just one time. The other time, I had a hunch but was never confirmed. All I know, given your handwritten  note on the card, is that you are either part of the office’s Book Club, or know someone who is.

I finished reading The Midnight Library by Matt Haig during the holiday break, over the course of a few days between Christmas Eve (our first day off from work) and Boxing Day.

Also, bonus points for wrapping the book using a Christmas themed fabric drawstring bag! I love it and I promise it will be re-used for many further occasions.

Anyways, back to the book. This is the first time I’ve read a book by this author, so I was going in blind. Aside from the short summary on the cover, I tried hard to not give myself spoilers from reading reviews online. The plot is really interesting, and very relevant to what I imagine is what a lot of people are feeling these days. The exhaustion and discouragement from feeling that one’s life have been full of regret or decisions will less-than-ideal outcomes. The resentment that might come up from one’s current circumstances, made worse by feeling trapped and unable to do enough to change things. Nora, the main character, decides to kill herself shortly after a neighbour tells her that her cat had died, after an already rough day from getting fired from her job and running into her old bandmate who tells Nora that her brother is unwell. Thinking and truly believing that “it is a good day to die” emphasizes disillusionment from feeling worthless and wanting the pain to end.

I am personally fond of libraries; they were literally a lifesaver for me growing up. So, the young Nora having fond memories of her school library was lovely, as well as her relationship with the librarian, Ms. Elm. Our own mind and memories work in interesting ways, so when the adult Nora overdoses on her medication and was taken to a mystical place where she can live different versions of her lives, it made sense to me that it looked like a library and that her “spiritual guide” was in the form of a familiar, kind person in her life, Ms. Elm.

The library has a “Book of Regrets” and countless books of different versions of lives to live. If Nora felt that she wanted to live that life permanently, she will be able to do so. But many times, feelings of discomfort, regret and discontent arises which would then take her back to the Midnight Library. As Nora went through various versions of what her life might have been, she slowly shakes off the feeling of needing to live the way that fulfills other people’s expectations. She also learned a harsh and true lesson, you can make choices, but you cannot predict outcomes.  This was a difficult one for Nora, because in some of the alternate lives she had chosen, either her friend, brother or someone else gets harmed and dies. In one of our alternate lives, she met a fellow “wanderer” who helped her understand the concept of what they are going through from a metaphysical standpoint.

Nora finally decides to return to her “root life”, the current life she was living in (and at the moment, her body is dying from the medical overdose), with a newfound sense of purpose, contentment, and determination to make some decision actions to make her present life better. I am particularly thrilled to learn that the actual Mrs. Elm was alive, and that the book ends with Nora and Mrs. Elm playing chess in the retirement home.

I know I took a break from the office book club, but if I re-join in the new year, maybe I’ll suggest this book. At least I already have a copy that I can lend to our co-workers!

Thank you again for the gift and for believing that this is a good choice for me. I do recommend others to read it also!  

Love Language Reflections: Learning About Love Maps

a man and a woman walking on a farm on a date

The consequence of not having solid role models of what a loving, caring, mutually equitable marriage looks like, is that I had absolutely no clue where to start. While I am lucky enough to have some memories of my parents until they died when I was eight years old, that is not enough time to learn, remember and apply it in my own relationships. One thing did stand out, and that is they treated each other well, so at least I know that this is a valuable principle that I want to have, and want to make happen, in my own marriage.

Luckily for me, I was book smart as a child and have retained some of the positive aspects of being one. That is, being resourceful and not feeling ashamed to do research, whether it is print or online resources, on how to do things. It’s something I’ve done for many years, including the awkward topics that I felt are just as important, such as learning about sex positions!

A YouTube channel I’ve started watching recently and really loved is Cinema Therapy. It’s an amazing Youtube channel that analyzes movies from a mental health standpoint, from a filmmaking standpoint, and hosted by two men (a registered psychologist and a film director) who are very open about their emotions while reviewing the movies. One of their videos talks about the 1990’s version of the Addams Family movie and how the main characters, Morticia and Gomez, showcase several key principles of a good marriage. In this video, the new concept I learned which I really like is the one of Love Maps.

A Love Map is the “part of your brain where you store all the relevant information about your partner’s life” as referenced in the book mentioned in the YouTube video, the Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work.

This is gonna sound cheesy again, but my husband, bless the man, has already been doing this without knowing the technical term for it. Many times in the past, when he learns something new that caused a strong reaction in me, both positive or negative, he makes an actual effort to remember them.

I’ve talked about the concept of Love Language before. I realized that the concepts of Love Language and Love Map go hand in hand, and I think it’s remarkable! Love Language focuses on categories that are very practical and tangible, while Love Maps can help find and apply specific observations or preferences.

So, using my husband as an example, the love languages he likes to receive are acts of service, quality time, and touch. Integrating the principle of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • He appreciates food being prepared for him whenever I am at home. It doesn’t matter at all whether it is 100% homemade, takeout, or simple processed food like a frozen meal or a can of soup. Having a plate or bowl of warm food and a drink placed in front of him is something he really loves.
  • He appreciates that I know how to repair clothes and re-purpose non-wearable clothes into other functional household items. The most recent one is the pair of pants I repaired so many times, and when it’s no longer salvageable, I turned it into a pillow. He describes them as “gift made with love”.
  • Spending time doing different things while in the same room is quality time.
  • He loves cuddles and hugs throughout the day, and bed cuddles during daytime hours can only last up to 30 minutes max, then he gets restless.

In my case, the love languages I really cherish are acts of service, touch, and words of affirmation. Integrating the principles of the Love Map here means the following examples:

  • While I like all various types of affirming words, my outward reactions to them vary. Hearing “you’ve my love” and “I love you” will have the most immediate and reciprocating response with me saying “I love you too!”. Compliments about my skills “you’re such a smart baby!” would make me feel nice inside, but my reaction is more muted, likely because I’m raised to be modest about my skills. Compliments about my appearance “you’re a sexy lady!” are also lovely for my self-esteem, and I need to work on responding to them still. It is nice to be reminded at least one person thinks my butt is cute!
  • Acts of service for me includes self-organization and self-care, not just actions done directly for me. So, paying the bills on time or emptying the dishwasher are amazing, as well as him taking a break from chores and playing video games so he can de-stress. There’s no need for him to iron my clothes or buy my preferred snacks from the Filipino convenience store.
  • I love all forms of touch! We hold hands in the car all the time. When we “bump” into each other in our home’s hallways there’s always a little kiss or butt grab! And cuddles for at least 15 minutes at bedtime before sleeping is an integral part of our bedtime routine.

Combining this with other things I’m trying to do for my own individual wellbeing, such as therapy and learning about mental health, I hope that we are able to continue to be there for each other. This upcoming year is a year of a lot of change, and I hope that we will be able to ride out all what is to come and have our relationship in one piece.

The Mindset of ‘Understanding, not Agreement’

A couple sitting on a yellow couch while arguing.

By: Giselle General

There’s no need for a rocket scientist to tell me, or anyone else, that people seem to be more divided than ever. There’s enough commentary around lamenting the increasing ‘us versus them’ mindset, amplified by social media, people speaking out against injustices they have suffered from for so long, and people feeling anxious about all social, economic, and political changes happening around them.

“This is a hill I’m willing to die on” is one of those euphemisms that I, as a English as Second Language speaker, try to wrap my mind around.

In a government advisory board I volunteer for, a long-time board member suggested the concept of ‘understanding, not agreement’.

I think this means, making an attempt to follow the thought process of someone’s argument or reasoning, without necessarily agreeing with this person’s position. It is something I haven’t heard before and it stuck with me ever since. I think that there is value to what he said, something I am discovering more and I expand the ways I volunteer in the community.

It gets tricky of course when the person’s perspective is inherently harmful or invalidating the suffering of others. I don’t have an answer right now on how to navigate this. I think that would be the necessary next stage as I try to get more involved in the community.

In one of my recent appointments with my therapist, we talked about getting backlash and criticisms and how to react to them. One piece of advice she gave was ‘find the nugget of truth’. I think there is something to that. Even if a racist person keeps on spewing out problematic commentary, if you dig just a little bit, there is something else beneath the hostility. It can be ignorance, it can be fear, it can be lack of belonging, or a little bit of each.

Someone who keeps on mentioning economic impact when it comes to policy decisions might not necessarily be a callous jerk who cares only about jobs. Perhaps their train of thought is that financial stability is a valuable foundation of a person’s wellbeing, and if that is not considered, it can be tough to convince people to do certain actions.

Someone who keeps on mentioning the number of people dying when it comes to policy decisions might not necessarily be a delusional person who thinks the government has unlimited money. Perhaps their train of thought is that every single life has value, and believes that if a person is dead because of government policy failing them, that is completely unacceptable.

Back in university, I remember reading an article about how conservative and liberal minded people can convince the other camp of their perspectives. The essence of the advice was to use the logic and mindset of the other party to frame the arguments towards the topic of discussion. For instance, it can be valuable to say that increased environmental protections through policy can help preserve and maintain the God-given nature, a precious resource and blessing that deserves care.

Given that COVID19 is still an issue, after almost two years, in an attempt to protect my mental health, to protect people around me from being subjected to my anger, and to keep my faith in humanity, I’m trying a bit harder to tell myself these days “understand what led a person to believe that way, even if in my own mind, it is completely nonsensical”. A book I read during a trip, Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely, also reminded me of the natural and human flaws of decision-making and belief.

As I browse through the different definitions of the word understand, I’m trying to learn how people behave and communicate, even if I am not convinced of their mentality.

to perceive the meaning of; grasp the idea of; comprehend

to perceive what is meant; grasp the information conveyed

to be thoroughly familiar with; apprehend clearly the character, nature, or subtleties of

to accept tolerantly or sympathetically

to assign a meaning to; interpret

to grasp the significance, implications, or importance of

And in the process, I can see more clearly why some people have views that are discriminatory or ignorant. Many beliefs and behaviours are harmful even towards oneself, but from the perspective of trauma or being in survival more, a clear path emerges.

How about confronting and addressing these mindsets that are problematic? That is a whole different conversation altogether.

End of the Journey of a First-Time Councillor Candidate: Repost from the Alberta Filipino Journal

Giselle outdoors in a neighbourhood holding her election flyer

By: Giselle General

Introduction: This is a re-posting of the articles I have written about my journey as an candidate for the 2021 Edmonton Municipal Elections. Politics and political participation in Edmonton will be a topic I would like to discuss on an ongoing basis, now that I had this experience. But since at this point, it has only been a month Election Day where I only got second place, I am still processing my emotions, compiling documents, and reflecting on everything I have observed and learned.

This was the third article, submitted on November 2021, but was written just two weeks after the election day. You can get a free copy of the paper, published monthly, from many Filipino-owned businesses in Edmonton. You can also everything digitally at: https://www.albertafilipinojournal.com/


The election is over for the municipal elections and I wasn’t successful in my campaign to be city councillor for the city. I came second place. Here is my preliminary reflection of the end of this journey.

Relief in safety and campaign principles

I was determined to run the campaign by following very important principles. These are: positivity, transparency, inclusiveness, collaboration, and care for community. As a result, some of the tasks in the campaign took extra time, such as properly preparing maps for volunteers, calculating fundraising numbers for the weekly social media posts, or adding subtitles to all videos for the benefit of people who are deaf. With that said, both during and after the elections, people have messaged me expressing their appreciation for my thoughtfulness. My actions made the election informative for the average person, and people from the disabled community appreciated that I went above and beyond to ensure they can access the digital content that I published.

Another key component in my campaign is safety, given the reality of COVID19 and additional risk due to Anti-Asian Racism. Many times, I played it safe by avoiding entering  homes with tall gates, not door-knocking alone, and being careful when walking through uneven landscaping and front steps. While other campaigns were door-knocking as early as March, but I waited and observed closely the COVID numbers and the impact of changes in the rules. Sure, it meant I didn’t go to as many homes, but I’m glad that throughout the campaign, I didn’t get seriously ill or injured.

Anguish at missing the goal and systemic hurdles

Just like most people in the world who are ambitious and competitive, not winning definitely hurts for me. On top of that, I felt the weight and pressure of my endeavour, as the only Filipino candidate in the entire city for any municipal seat, after the other candidate withdrew. I definitely would have been great if I achieved this important milestone for the community. My heartbreak at not winning is not just for me, it’s for the entire community.

The optimistic side of me dismissed the idea that money plays a huge role in campaigns, but seeing it firsthand gave me a wake-up call. While I’m confident that I did everything I could to have a well-run campaign, it came to a point where certain gaps can only be filled by additional funds or additional people helping. With this realization in mind, I know what I will advocate for moving forward to help those like me with passion and drive to make positive changes in government, and need just a bit more resources to be successful.

Marvel at the support, outcome, and generosity

Since I don’t have in-depth experience that seasoned politically-engaged people have, I don’t have context of the election outcome. All I know is I didn’t get enough votes and I lost. The cool thing is that many days after the election I received messages of kind words and

As it turns out, getting 5000+ votes is a remarkable accomplishment for a first time candidate, and for a budget that I have it is impressive. I am very grateful to those who have supported the campaign, from the donations, those who made time to volunteer consistently, those who gave advice.

Drive moving forward

One thing I want to make clear is that this is the end of the journey of being a first-time candidate, and not the end of the community involvement journey, and likely not the end of the political journey. If you think about it, if I run for public office, I will be a second-time candidate, with a better understanding of processes, and the unspoken rules of the political world. In the meantime, my focus is to resume all my community service activities that I am already doing to make our city better for everyone.