Great Man theory: José Rizal, Superman

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Today is José Rizal’s birthday and the day I got to watch “Man of Steel.” Two heroes with a universe of a difference—one real, one imaginary, yet both permanently etched in history as beacons of hope in mankind’s inherent goodness.

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I had planned for this to be a tribute post for Rizal, hence the subtle nod to the way he dressed. He was quite the dapper gentleman, sharp and handsome in his coats and jackets.

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But writing about one’s hero can be a challenging task. How do you tell the story of someone whom everybody on this side of the world is familiar with? As for the things about him that are not widely familiar, how do you condense everything you know and admire about someone you’ve looked up to your whole life, into a few paragraphs?

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Rizal is one of the first national heroes that Filipino children encounter, in their one-peso coins and school books. We all know his life and death story. We all know of his famous novels and his equally famous loves. We know that there are monuments and parks and museums and streets and establishments named after him. What else? Well, he is a polymath—excellent in many fields, and a polyglot—conversant in 22 languages. If he were alive today, he’d be receiving awards left and right for his interdisciplinary achievements: educated in Ateneo and UST, attended universities in Europe. He practiced medicine, trained in mixed martial arts, dabbled in visual arts (painting, sketching, sculpting, woodcarving, and get this: comics making). He wrote poetry, essays, novels and papers in various topics and using various languages. He was one of the first proponents of non-violence, perhaps even before Gandhi. He was a visionary: his literary works and his words are just as relevant (if not more so) today as it was during his time.

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I have always been awed by him. His greatness inspires and frustrates me at the same time—the hope that if Rizal could be all of these things, so could I, and the awareness that few are destined for his kind of greatness. This afternoon, I sat down and tried to articulate it all but drew a blank. Giving up, I went out with my mom to see “Man of Steel” for inspiration. By now I’m sure most of you have watched this movie. I’ve read some comics spanning different universes and seen past movies, and while I’m not about to delve into how this particular reboot inevitably veered away from some well-established Superman canon, I will say that I for one appreciate the efforts to ground it more on reality and plausibility. Unfavorable reviews notwithstanding, I enjoyed the film. (Plus, Henry Cavill is smoking hot. Hee.) It underscores how being good and making a difference in the world is not so much reliant on some pre-determined path laid out for us, as on our own choices.

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After the movie, I remembered a Vsauce video I watched this morning about honor, the Great Man theory (that mankind’s history is impacted by only a few men whose destiny it is to be great) and the Accumulation of Advantage (that given the right advantages and circumstances, anyone has an opportunity to be great). The latter is a criticism of the former, but I believe the two are intertwined. I thought that for my Rizal tribute I’d also touch on Kal-el—ordinary in Krypton, and on Earth raised on an ordinary farm by ordinary folk, who just happened to be stronger and faster and more powerful than humans but is a good man with or without superpowers. How Rizal, born to a wealthy family with access to the best education that schools and world travel can give, made use of his gifts for the good of his people. And then I remembered the cover of my History textbook in Ateneo.

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It’s one of my favorite books by one of the foremost experts on anything and everything Rizal: Sir Ambeth has dedicated his life and career to discovering the person behind the legends and myths. The ordinary individual with his foibles and human failings, the funny anecdotes, the contexts of his actions and words. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this image of Rizal as Superman came to mind on the same day I encountered them both and also happened to see the video. It is all a reminder of the importance of heroic imagination—to borrow from Vsauce, “thinking socio-centrically, not ego-centrically. Most heroes are everyday people who emerge as heroes in particular situations.” Here’s to the hope that when our chance comes, we would. •

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Outfit details: Mango tailored jacket, Paper Dolls button-down blouse, Marithe+Francois Girbaud jeans, Cole Haan Lunar Grand wingtips, Dooney & Bourke bag, Guess wristwatch, SM Accessories necklace and bangle.

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Grass is greener

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Worn on a lovely Saturday out with my mom. Shot on a wide open field just outside our village, near a small plaza that houses our favorite homey café and restaurant. I’ve been based in Pampanga since December, the longest I’ve ever stayed here ever since moving to Manila for college many years ago. When I was younger and San Fernando was not yet the bustling and progressive city that it is today, I dreamt of going to Ateneo and getting a job and living in Manila. I thought of it as this place where you have access to everything: the good malls and restaurants, the good theme parks, the good hospitals, the TV stations and magazines and advertising agencies where I wanted to end up working.

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Grass really is greener on the other side—as soon as I got to Manila, I found myself always wanting to go home! I was overwhelmed by the intense traffic, the faster pace of everything, and the way people my age seemed worldlier, socially savvier and more wais about certain things than I was. I started to appreciate the simplicity and mellowness of life in Pampanga. Makes me think how we can take for granted the things we grow up with, keep longing for that which we do not have. When we finally have a taste of it, yes, it is wonderful and amazing, but often turns out to be not exactly what we had imagined. We discover that like anything in this world, there are trade-offs and downsides to every perk and upside. And then we realize that what we’ve always had is what we’ve always wanted in the first place, or at the very least, that it wasn’t so bad after all.

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Every time a new school year starts, I think of all the freshies out there and wish them well—especially those on a scholarship like I was, because it means additional expectations and challenges. As the first one in my family to leave town, I know how it can take a while to get adjusted to everything in Manila, to develop and polish everything from the way you dress to the way you relate to people and the way you speak and present yourself, while still retaining your values and identity. Above all, to learn to be strong through trials and temptations that will come your way while your family and support system are miles away.

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Of course, it helps a lot that my house is just an hour or so away from Quezon City and that whatever is there is also here now. Still, it wasn’t always the case, and it took me quite a while to get the hang of things, and there was a lot of hard learning that had to happen (there still are, actually). I always say that in my years in college, I learned infinitely more from life outside those classrooms than inside. I’m glad I got to experience both sides of the grass—only here, grass might literally be greener. Heh.

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Changed my hair because we were planning to shoot a song there and the wind was blowing my waves all over the place. I do a decent French braid, but my mom’s is definitely loads better, don’t you think?

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Anyway, we tried to do a couple of takes but there were a lot of welcome distractions: the sound of birds, dogs barking and children having picnics and playing around. We ended up making friends with them instead!

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The girl holding my ukulele, Angelica (same name as my mom’s), was the first one to run to us. She sat down beside my mom and quietly watched me sing and play. Soon, her sister and friends followed and we had a fun chat with them. They told us they live nearby, at a car muffler shop, and they often come to the fields to have lunch under the trees. A great idea that I can’t wait to try with my family when we’re all home.

So I ended up doing the song in our basement, where I also did this and this. 🙂 “On The Side Of Me” is by Corrinne May, a Christian musician from Singapore. I’ve always loved this song, and I decided to sing it as thank you to my family, friends and blog readers—the words are so real for me I wish I wrote them myself. Hope you like it! I don’t have much yet, but you can watch my other silly videos and subscribe to my channel here.

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Outfit details: Binkydoodles dress, Ziggy & Zooey shoes, Fab Manila bag, SM Accessories bracelet and ring.

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His and hers

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Doing a different kind of matchy for Father’s Day! I waited for my dad to get dressed and then patterned my outfit to his.

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Yes, my penchant for themed outfits stems from childhood. On special occasions, or just whenever we feel like being corny, my family would go out dressed in matching colors or a motif of some sort. It’s a good thing my dad has a lot of pink and light blue shirts. Haha.

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Favorite colors aside, my dad and I have a lot of things in common. People say I got my quirky laughter and witty humor from him, which I always take as a huge compliment because my dad can really work up a crowd. I’ve never heard of a seminar he spoke at where people weren’t held captive by his stories, spontaneous jokes and occasional bursts of song-and-dance. He’s a quick study, able to do a little bit of everything and has a seemingly bottomless arsenal of general knowledge, and I hope I’m a little bit like that too.

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One of the things my mom loves about my dad is how his eyes sparkle with intelligence. I agree; my mom was the one who mostly taught me English, Humanities and creativity while my dad was the one who taught me Maths, Sciences and analytical thinking. I remember him teaching me two-digit division when I was five! I hated it at the time, but now I wish I paid more attention. Haha. My books back then were filled with circled words: whenever we came across a term I wasn’t familiar with, he would encircle them with a pencil and scribble its definition. It wasn’t all left-brained for him though. He’s a compelling storyteller, a darn good cook and a sweet nurse: I grew up practically living in a hospital due to weak lungs, and even though there were many things I wasn’t allowed to eat or do (e.g. watching cartoons would make me laugh, and laughter would set off an asthma attack), I never felt like I had a deprived childhood, because Papa was always there singing for me, reading to me, carrying me, bringing me everywhere. Then until now, there’s always something to be learned just hanging around him: you would drive by a city and he would tell you a building’s history. You would listen to music and he would tell you trivia about the artists of that genre. You would eat at a restaurant and he would tell you how a particular dish is prepared depending on the region. Sometimes I would doubt the veracity of his stories or assume it to be one of his poker-faced jokes, but then I research about it and they turn out to be true. Long before National Geographic and Discovery Channel, we’ve had our own live version.

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The one quality of my dad that I aspire most though is his remarkable resilience. Looking at him now, one probably wouldn’t be able to guess what he’s been through. Think of some telenovela plots you can remember and then mix them up: riches-to-rags childhood, growing up with an absentee father at the care of relatives in Iloilo while his mom worked as a labandera (laundrywoman) in Forbes Park, working as an ice candy vendor in the marketplaces of Caloocan and then as a construction worker in Merville among many other odd jobs while paying his way through school. His career is just as storied: he’s held high positions in the banking, foreign service, business and power industries and has had more economic ups-and-downs than a Ferris wheel, but he plowed through and bounced back each time. He’s been mistaken for a CPA, lawyer, professor, restaurateur, and an engineer of all sorts, because even if he is none of the above, he displays unparalleled excellence in any field he gets into. I may sound like I’m a gushing daddy’s girl, but if you meet him, you’d know what I mean. He has his own version of “Bloom where you are planted” that I often share in my own talks: “Ang diyamante, kahit ihalo mo sa buhangin, kikinang at kikinang pag nasinagan ng araw.” (A true gem, even when hidden in the sand, shines brightest under the sunlight.) He teaches us by words and example that though you can’t always control your circumstances, you can always control your attitude and make the best of any situation.

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Despite knowing all these, many times in the recent past I’ve found it easier to give in to emotions or laziness or self-doubt. When confronted with daunting situations, I would forget to stop and ask myself, “What would Papa do?” and go on to act however I felt like acting. But I take comfort in another thing my dad likes to tell me: “You can only be who you’re not for so long. You won’t be able to sustain it, and sooner or later you’ll be forced by circumstance to go back to your core.”

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I’d like to think I’ve been on my way back to being who I’ve always been supposed to be. After all, I am his daughter, and he is my dad.

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Outfit details: Lee Cooper sleeveless button down, Betty flap shorts, Crocs strappy slip-ons, SM Accessories bag.

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I’d love to hear your stories too, so go ahead and leave a comment below.
Happy Father’s Day to all dads out there!

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Independence

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Philippine Independence Day, June 12th, has drawn to a close. I originally planned on precluding myself from writing about it, as I can be quite impassioned when delving into nationalistic topics. Instead, last night, I chose to wear love-of-country, titled it “Flagged,” completely veered away from touching on anything historically relevant, and promptly proceeded to give a rather vapid and unnecessary description of how the styling was a lighthearted tribute to our nation’s colors.

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I figured that at best, chances are everyone’s news feeds have been inundated with reflections on the current state of the country and how nothing has really changed much from the times we were under rule, reflections and sentiments that are bound to last only until the 19th (Jose Rizal’s birthday). At worst, chances are it was just another holiday for many, a one-day respite from the rigors of every day life. Would it make a difference to try and stir up fervor in many a jaded heart?

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But today I remembered Rizal’s words: “I die without seeing dawn’s light shining on my country… You, who will see it, welcome it for me. Don’t forget those who fell during the nighttime.” Like an itch you can’t help but scratch, I couldn’t shake off the unease that I seemed to be doing a disservice to a national holiday (barely) observed once a year. So I rewrite this in honor of those brave heroes, famed and unsung, who fought so hard to give the Philippines at least a semblance of freedom that day in 1898.

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I say semblance not to undermine any of their efforts, but because had certain things been done differently by the nation’s policymakers at the time, things might have also turned out differently: as we are taught in History class, the Filipino revolutionaries led by Emilio Aguinaldo made this declaration of independence from the Spanish colonial rule on June 12th in his ancestral home in what is now Kawit, Cavite. The flag made by Marcela and Lorenza Agoncillo, together with Rizal’s niece Delfina Herbosa, was unfurled, and Julian Felipe’s Marcha Filipina Magdalo (what would later on be given Jose Palma’s words and turned into the melody of Lupang Hinirang) was played. Despite much pomp and circumstance though, neither Spain nor the United States recognized this declaration: Spain ceded the Philippines to America for $20 million in the Treaty of Paris. It marked the end of the Spanish-American war, and the beginning of the Philippine-American war.

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In his El Fili, Rizal wrote that a man holds on to his independence when he retains his own way of thinking. My humble thoughts on this: I’m not a big fan of Aguinaldo. Heh. I’m writing this from memory and from discussions with my dad, and I will reserve the rest of my Aguinaldo stories for Bonifacio Day, but for June 12th, what I know is that after the Philippine revolution broke out in 1896, the Spanish entered into an agreement with the revolutionaries and Aguinaldo voluntarily went into exile in Hong Kong. He came back in May 1898 during the Spanish-American war after the defeat of Spain in the Battle of Manila Bay and enlisted a brilliant paralytic lawyer, Apolinario Mabini as his adviser. Mabini has said the declaration was premature and should involve the consensus of the majority. He was also against the fact that it placed the Philippines under American protection. But Aguinaldo insisted on establishing his “independent” dictatorial government, only to later on issue a statement accepting America’s sovereignty over the Philippines when he was captured. Centuries later and the stories still sound familiar, eh?

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I guess this is why I get impassioned when talking about this. This country and its people can become so much more, can enjoy so many possibilities, if only we recognized everything that we are and everything that we have. If only we learned from our past and resolved to do things differently. If only our politicians listened more to our intellectuals: our Rizals and our Mabinis, taking into careful consideration their analyses and educated opinions. If only the small people and the soldiers and those working behind the scenes—the Agoncillos and Herbosas, were given as much importance as the grandstanding generals and leaders. If only these leaders sincerely considered the welfare of the vast majority in making their decisions. If only we held our country in a higher regard, loved ourselves a little bit more, and worked harder to uphold our dignity. Then, we could truly be a people with independence.
   

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Outfit details: Weekender top, custom skirt, CMG platform wedges, Anne Klein purse, SM Accessories necklace, belt and earrings, Japanese Candy contact lenses.

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My mom, who among many other things is my photographer and hairstylist, helped me out with an updated version of your typical Filipiniana updo.

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Save for the hair, I avoided the updated-Filipiniana look because that’s pretty much always done. Let me know your thoughts—whether about the topic or the outfit. I’d also love to hear how you would style your own tribute.

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Sunshine and roses

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Worn on a day of interviews and meetings, in between which were dates with loved ones. I’ve found that squeezing in time for family and friends always makes stressful days seem brighter and more exciting.

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Can you believe that we’re halfway through the year already? It seems just like yesterday when we were filled with apprehensions (both realistic and Mayanistic, heh) about how 2012 would end. The past six months have brought so many welcome changes—way better than anything I could have ever expected back then.

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One of these is a solid and opportune semi-shift in career. I’d rather get into it when everything has been settled. What I can say for now is that I’ve always thought I had my career goals mapped out: I knew exactly what I wanted and how to get there. But sometimes, we come upon crossroads and unknowingly take a path that goes in circles. And when we think we’re being thrown off-track, it turns out that we’re simply being re-placed on the path we should’ve been on in the first place. Our steps become surer and things become clearer, and on the horizon, that which we’ve always aspired seems even closer.

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…And then we look back one last time, and it’s forward on from there. 🙂

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They say it’s not always sunshine and roses, but when you’re surrounded by happy and loving people, the storm can bring its thunderous gloom and heaviest downpour and your spirits will never be doused.

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Outfit details: Flights of Fancy top, Redhead bodycon skirt, Asian Vogue pumps, XOXO wristwatch, SM Accessories necklace and purse, Japanese Candy contact lenses. Hype this on Lookbook here, Chictopia here. Follow me @shailagarde on Twitter and Instagram!

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Impromptu one-take before bed. Yep, use it or lose it—rusty pipes from a few years of dormancy. Time to flex ‘em vocal muscles again. 🙂 Video requested by my brother Vince’s girlfriend, Winona. It’s their birthdays on June 18th.

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Groove Back

A hark back to circa 2009 when I was doing TV production full-time. Had this vest-over-tank top with wristband and sneakers thing going on, and would often be mistaken for someone who plays in a band—specifically bass, for some odd reason. 

Would it that I were. The only time I’ve ever been in a band was for a few weeks in senior high school, and only to fill in for a friend who got sick. Plus it was for vocals; I’m fine with YouTube covers but for legit performances, the only instrument I’d be comfortable enough to play would be air guitar. 

Band or no band, music has always been a profound part of my life. My mom still has cassette recordings of 3-year-old me singing everything from Whitney Houston to Francis M, as well as little snippets of my grade school “compositions” (i.e. some words strung together haphazardly mostly to make them end in rhymes, sung to a pretty generic melody). Every highlight of my life, every person that bears making a memory of, has their own OST. Strangely enough, in the past couple of years, I had stopped singing, even in private. I barely listened to music by my own choice or for its sheer pleasure. If you checked my iPhone then, there was, as Siri snootily observed, “nothing in your Music library, just… silence.” If you are what you listen to, I was… how shall we put it? Vacant.

I finally got out of that laughable atrocity and got my groove back this year. It feels fascinating to be reunited with the gallimaufry of beats that once occupied my playlists and my soul. I will not use the word “eclectic” for the same reason I avoid the word “bipolar,” and say instead that you’ll find Armstrong and Sinatra and Fitzgerald with their contemporaries from the swing band era along with the earnest riffs of Cash, Chapman and Mayer, the anthems of Marley, Queen and Journey (way, way, way before Glee, thanks to my dad) along with the happy comfort of Hillsong United, Manoling Francisco and Velvet Underground, and the sweeping symphonies of centuries-old Tchaikovsky, Bach and Beethoven along with movie soundtracks and Top 40 hits of recent billboard charts. I’ve started singing again. In the shower, while driving, at karaoke, in front of crowds, on YouTube. I’ve also gone back to self-learning basic music. Could girl-in-a-band turn from mistaken assumption into reality? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps

Outfit details: Landmark tank top, YRYS vest, Human skirt, SM Accessories cuff. 

Shulong sneakers.

Skull Candy headphones, Cam’s Case hand-painted personalized iPhone 5 case. Hype this on Lookbook here.

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On the bright side

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We all have those days when things just feel slightly off-kilter for no apparent reason. You wake up with a weird fluttering in your stomach, and it’s not caused by the previous night’s sushi nor the good morning text your crush just sent you. It’s a sinking feeling, the cause of which you can’t really pinpoint—or maybe you can, and it’s just these minor annoyances clumped up into a big stress ball. So how do you quash that feeling?

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You look on the bright side of things. Yes, it sounds patronizingly trite, but it’s also tried and true. One of my best friends, Joanne, would always tell me something to that effect whenever I would go to her for things that bothered me. “Life is beautiful, Shai! I won’t allow you to wallow when there is so much to be thankful for!” I used to feel bad at how she wouldn’t join me in my life’s lamentations. When we’re young, we tend to shrug off these things and be oh-so-dramatic about our woes instead of choosing to be positive.

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But then it occurred to me that she’s one of the happiest, perkiest persons in my life and thought I’d give her attitude of gratitude a sincere try. Whenever an imaginary dark cloud loomed, I would list down every single thing I’m thankful for. Not just the significant, mind-blowing, life-altering ones, but even the most mundane (the amount of milk I poured was just enough to finish my Koko Krunch, all the stoplights I passed today were green, the barista spelled my name right on the cup) and those we sometimes take for granted (I arrived at my day’s destination safely, the elevator didn’t get stuck while I was alone inside, the waiter brought me water without being asked).

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It’s one of those practices that are childishly basic and stupefyingly logical, yet a struggle to get the hang of. There are times when writing down all those thank you’s feels like the last thing I want to do. But cliches are nothing if not notorious tenets of simple wisdom: the more I rebel against it, the deeper I sink into a rut. The more I keep at it, the better everything starts to seem. These days more than ever, I’ve come to know that while we will always be besieged with trials, we will also never run out of things to brighten our days once we start looking.

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Outfit details: Binkydoodles midriff top, Flights of Fancy palazzo pants, CMG platforms, SM Accessories bag, Dickies sunnies. Contact lenses from Japanese Candy.

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