Former presidential speechwriter, still a musician; writes about urban gridlocks. Will work full time for the planet. Harvard Kennedy School ‘14 🇵🇭
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Photo by Wolfgang Hasselmann on Unsplash

In 2020, some of the smartest people I know were hard at work sorting out the COVID-19 crisis. From raising funds for frontline workers to physically volunteering at testing sites, they performed their civic duty our inept government could barely muster. Much as I wanted to help, I found myself the youngest and healthiest member of our household during the lockdown. I became an instant slave.

My big hairy audacious goals were suddenly eclipsed by one mission: to remain COVID-free. I bade farewell to finally paying off my student loans as soon as my sources of income left me. I resolved to keep making music without an audience. And to preserve my sanity, I finally let my mind run free and wrote about what piqued me. …

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Photo by Rodrigo Ruiz on Unsplash

“Music … stands quite apart from all the [other arts]. In it we do not recognize the copy, the repetition, of any Idea of the inner nature of the world. Yet it is such a great and exceedingly fine art, its effect on man’s innermost nature is so powerful, and it is so completely and profoundly understood by him in his innermost being as an entirely universal language, whose distinctness surpasses even that of the world of perception itself…We must attribute to music a far more serious and profound significance that refers to the innermost being of the world and of our own self. …

Books provided comfort in this long hard year.

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Just some of the books I read in 2020

We read to know we are not alone.

— from the movie on CS Lewis, Shadowlands

Thanks to the quarantine, 2020 was my year of fanatical reading. My secret dream of prison time so I could read all the books I have always wanted to read without doing time did come true.

I wasn’t about to blow it so I didn’t waste any time. I devoured my to-be-read pile like a maniac, reading 4 to 5 books at a time, 2–3 hours a day, sometimes even more. I would still wake up at 430AM so no one would interrupt reading time, listened to audiobooks when it was time to walk outdoors, and read on my phone while at the grocery where the lines were always long. …

It was hard but necessary

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Photo by Jeffery Erhunse on Unsplash

My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fati: that one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not backward, not in all eternity. Not merely bear what is necessary, still less conceal it…but love it. — Friedrich Nietzche

It is year-end assessment season, and the verdict is in: 2020 is the worst year ever.

This is true, especially for those who have lost their loved ones to COVID-19, or their homes in the one-two punch of a pandemic and a natural disaster. Footage of houses in ruins left behind by the forest fires that raged in Australia and the US, and super typhoon Goni here in the Philippines, left me dumbstruck: how do you wage an invisible war against COVID-19 with your foxhole gone? …

Crisis does pave the way for opportunity.

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Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

As a writer, I am always on the lookout for subject matter that I find genuinely interesting, and the corona crisis triggered deep reflective thinking that inspired most of my writing this year. How else do you make sense of the uncertainty but by reflecting on things that you think had gone wrong? How else but through writing can you atone for your sins?

But I am way past that now. I have finally concluded long bouts of grieving and soul searching. I am ready to live with the virus.

The Reality

I have fully accepted that I will be spending the next five years still hunkered down with my aging parents. One of them has Alzheimer’s disease, whose needs require vast reserves of patience that I cannot bring myself to outsource to hired help (in due time, perhaps, as I am not a professional caregiver). I have self-imposed limited mobility and public exposure to reduce the risk of infecting my family. I will not be traveling overseas unless absolutely necessary. I must retrofit my life according to my current realities and help ensure a hospitable living and working environment for me and my family. …

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Photo by Calum Lewis on Unsplash

Living in a crisis, as we all now know, is no mean feat.

When the reality of the pandemic lockdown hit me, it took me back to my despair the first time I was fired from my job, five years ago. It was one personal belonging, but when I lost it, I felt like I had lost everything.

I was suddenly alone in an apartment 8,000 miles away from my family and friends. The roof over my head was leaking due to months of heavy snow. It was the winter of my discontent — suddenly bereft of dreams and inconsolable in my grief. I was not really crying but mostly staring into space, thinking too much about spilled milk. …

Endless summer for nerds

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Photo by Praveen Gupta on Unsplash

I read Nelson Mandela’s epic memoirs Long Walk To Freedom 13 years ago.

At the time, I was co-authoring my first biography of Philippine civil society leaders thrust into civil service. The 625-page masterpiece wasn’t planned essential reading. It wasn’t even something I could dive into for long hours uninterrupted. But the book stands out, to this day, because of the memory of being strangely jealous of a man who was incarcerated and locked up for 27 years.

A man who had all the time in the world to read.

He voraciously read anything he could get his hands on, even before his…

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Photo courtesy of the author

Last April, I was supposed to travel with my all-girls crew to Bacolod for our annual summer sojourn. I had paid for a roundtrip flight via Philippine Airlines (PAL) as far back as January. But as we all now know, pushing through with travel plans slated after March 15 was not only impossible but dangerous.

My friends and I immediately reached out to each of our carriers to apply for a refund. I cannot submit a claim directly to PAL because I coursed my reservation through an external agent. …

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