Thursday, December 31, 2009

happy new year, everyone!

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Today I woke up to the loud tooting of toy horns. What's that ruckus about, I asked myself. Then it suddenly dawned on me that it's new year's eve.

Happy New Year, everyone!


What do you think 2010 holds in store for us?

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Cambodia Chronicles Two: Fried Insects

Sunday, December 27, 2009



It was such a delight when at a bus stop on our way to Siem Reap we saw some fried insects being sold along with eggs and a variety of fresh fruits .



Here's what looks like crickets


And spiders

And beetles

and insect larvae.


Don't they look delicious?

Friday, December 25, 2009

Cambodia Chronicles One: Contemplating Eternity

Friday, December 25, 2009

The place was inundated with visitors, yet I felt the sweep of the centuries roll over me as we traipsed through the labyrinth of crumbling walls, ethereal bas reliefs, delicately carved apsaras and the inscrutable stone faces of the Bayon. In the middle of a monument built in the 12th century, I can’t help but contemplate eternity. In these times when nothing seems to last, the Angkor monuments attest that some things do endure.



Nothing I’ve read prepared me from actually witnessing the overgrown ruins of Ta Phrom, a temple slowly being devoured by centuries old trees. The tangle of dense undergrowth and seemingly endless roots of towering silk cotton trees have so seamlessly merged with the temple’s sandstone slabs, that they look as if they’ve been part of each other forever.



Following rigorous rules of order and symmetry, heavy with symbolism that honor both Buddhist and Hindu divinities and tradition, and “comparable to the most impressive of history’s architectural composition,” the Angkor monuments--the Angkor Wat in particular--“are a work of power, unity and style.” What puzzles me, however, is the reason behind the abandonment of Angkor. Is it really because of the Thai invasion, or is it something else? For a work of such colossal effort, what made the Khmer abandon it? While absorbing hundreds of years of history, I tried to find answers from the beauty and ruined grandeur surrounding me but ended up with more questions - questions that are devoid of answers.




"Khmer art is a concept in search for a form. The artist does not inspire himself from nature, does not compel himself to represent movement and life in order to create a 'work of art'. Without abstraction, he seeks real expression, but through the eyes of a visionary in accordance with the principle of static form so endeared by his race. His work is an act of faith--more collective than individual--where each can find his own emotion, and the masterpiece born from the intensity of the internal flame that inspires him, from his spiritual communion with the divinity." (Maurice Glaize, The Monuments of the Angkor Group, 1944)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

if, before every action

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It was my fault, she sobbed, and it was true, no one could deny it, but it is also true, if this brings her any consolation, that if, before every action, we were to begin by weighing up the consequences, thinking about them in earnest, first the immediate consequences, then the probable, then the possible, then the imaginable ones, we should never move beyond the point where our first thought brought us to a halt. The good and the evil resulting from our words and deeds go on apportioning themselves, one assumes in a reasonably uniformed and balanced way, throughout all the days to follow, including those endless days, when we shall not be here to find out, to congratulate ourselves or ask for pardon, indeed there are those who claim that this is the much-talked-of immortality...

~ Jose Saramago, Blindness, 1997

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

What's Christmas Like?

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Merry Christmas, greets everyone. Merry Christmas! I greet back without really knowing what Christmas, or a happy Christmas, is. Beyond the gifts and the glitter—things I admit I enjoy—that come with this special day, what is Christmas really like? For somebody like me who has never known or celebrated it, Christmas is just another ordinary day.

When asked how I will spend the holidays, I think of coming up with lies so I won’t have to explain myself and my beliefs (or the lack of them). It is hard to make people understand when you know that your views are so different from theirs and when you know that it is better to just keep your mouth shut.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Vietnam Chronicles Two: Rice Paper Paintings at the Ben Tanh Market

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

They say that a trip to Ho Chi Minh City is never complete without a visit to its famous Ben Tanh Market located at the intersection of Le Loi, Ham Nghi, Tran Hung Dao and Le Lai Streets in District 1. Originally built by the French in 1859, the market had been moved to its new building in 1912.


From the hodgepodge of items sold in the market, we found--and bought--these water color paintings on rice paper:


Sunday, December 20, 2009

why should it be?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

People see us, and they assume things so far from the truth that I can't but laugh or, at times, scream at the top of my lungs. No he is not my father; he is my significant other, my life partner, the love of my life. Is that too hard to comprehend?

If the age difference isn't an issue between us, why should it be to other people?

Friday, December 18, 2009

Vietnam Chronicles One: Surrounded with the Unfamiliar

Friday, December 18, 2009

From somewhere, above, below, all around, came the babel of unfamiliar phrases. Letting my eyes roam, I saw sign boards lettered with words I cannot pronounce let alone understand. The sight of motorbikes of a multitude I’ve never seen--nor imagined possible—before amazed me so much that I could have spent a day just watching them manage their way without hitting somebody or bumping into each other.

Fronting food stalls lined up along sidewalks, both locals and tourists sit on small stools savoring a banh mi sandwich, a steaming bowl of pho, a mug of iced coffee or a tall glass of freshly squeezed sugarcane juice.

Used to a place where sprawling structures are the norm, I found beauty and grace in the rows of slim, multi-storeyed, French-inspired buildings that can be seen all over the city. Everything felt, looked, tasted and sounded different.

Surrounded with the unfamiliar in the middle of Phan Ngu Lao, Saigon’s backpackers’ district, I felt a sense of ineffable joy surge through me.

Surrounded with things I don’t understand, I realized that I don’t have to. We don’t really have to understand something to take pleasure in it, do we?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

beneath all the laughter

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

While chatting over dinner with classmates from high school whom we are not really close with, even before, we feel something that we know we shouldn’t be feeling. The Germans have the perfect word for it: schadenfreude. The enjoyment we get from the troubles of others. Dripping with condescension, we outwardly sympathize yet innerly laugh when we hear that a former classmate is living an attenuated and less than perfect life; we judge a person, calling her hopeless, when we do not even know what’s going on in her life; with dismissive scorn, we continue to hate those we secretly envy, and we convince ourselves that we are better off than they are.

Is this the devil inside of us battling to be let loose? Or is it purely an inexorable part of human nature?

In reunions we never get to show who we have become. It always sounds as if we are bragging, even if we’re not. Others always perceive us as the bumbling fools we were before and not who we are now. We thought we’ve changed, but with them we act out the parts previously assigned to us; we are limited to reminiscing about follies of the past, because we’re afraid that without them we might not have anything common to talk about.

Beneath all the laughter is a gaping void.

Monday, December 14, 2009

We Travel to Become Young Fools Again

Monday, December 14, 2009

Back from a wonderful whirlwind trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I am glad to return to my old routine yet raring to travel once again.


We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves. We travel to open our hearts and eyes and learn more about the world than our newspapers will accommodate. We travel to bring what little we can, in our ignorance and knowledge, to those parts of the globe whose riches are differently dispersed. And we travel, in essence, to become young fools again—to slow time down and get taken in, and fall in love once more.
(Pico Iyer, Why We Travel, 2009)

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Vacation!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Meaningless


Philip thought of the countless millions to whom life is no more than unending labour, neither beautiful nor ugly, but just to be accepted in the same spirit as one accepts the changes of the seasons. Fury seized him because it all seemed useless. He could not reconcile himself to the belief that life had no meaning and yet everything he saw, all his thoughts, added to the force of his conviction. But though fury seized him it was a joyful fury. Life was not so horrible if it was meaningless, and he faced it with a strange sense of power.

~ W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, 1915

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Park Wherever and However You Want

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

It has become my habit to look out the window every now and then to seek respite from the tediousness of staring at the computer screen. Last week as I am having my ‘break’ something peculiar caught my eye. The usually vacant private parking lot not far from our building was crammed with vehicles. The open air parking lot can hold more than 70 vehicles, but there we just too many cars, some parked haphazardly, that they even occupied one entire lane of the boulevard. This went on for several days.

It was only for half a block, so what’s the big deal, right? Yes, they only made use of one lane of the road for half a block for a few hours, but in those hours I saw how terribly tangled traffic got. It’s like those people can park wherever and however they want without thinking of its effect on others. And because the police outpost is just in front of the parking lot, it makes you wonder how they got away with it. Simple. The property owner has extra special privileges. He might even become the next president of the Philippines.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Small Talk

Monday, November 23, 2009

Small talk. Don’t you just hate it? Face-to-face, inane chitchat is often unbearable. While some have the gift for coming up with the most charming yet empty conversation, I—wracking my brains for a tactful response--often get tongue-tied. What is more infuriating is when, out of nowhere, somebody buzzes you up to start an online barrage of small talk: asking about this and that and making you wonder what the whole point of the conversation is. The other person may not realize it - he is not only boring you with jejune chatter but also taxing your bandwidth.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

2012 and Beyond

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Last Saturday I let my younger sister drag me into watching what I presumed to be a drag of a movie: 2012. Telling myself not to roll my eyes the whole two hours and forty-five minutes of it while munching on the wilted fries on my lap, I allowed my mind to roam beyond the mind-numbing sound effects and digitally mastered images on the screen.

I asked my sister, “Bakit kasi hindi na lang nila tanggapin na mamatay silang lahat?” (Why can’t they just accept that they are all going to die?) She replied, “at least they tried.” What’s the entire struggle for when eventually we will all come to an end? The answer to that I have yet to discover.

Watching the film made me think of how we all fear the finality of death. And because of this we yearn for transcendence--through made-in-china ultramodern arks, the metaphysics of karma, heaven, and the afterlife. But what if there is nothing beyond death – no other state of existence, no Cape of Good Hope, heaven, hell, or purgatory to go to? What then?

Monday, November 16, 2009

the most delightful habit in the world

Monday, November 16, 2009

He forgot the life about him. He had to be called two or three times before he would come to his dinner. Insensibly he formed the most delightful habit in the world, the habit of reading: he did not know that thus he was providing himself with a refuge from all the distress of life; he did not know either that he was creating for himself an unreal world which would make the real world of every day a source of bitter disappointment.

~ W. Somerset Maugham, Of Human Bondage, 1915

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Stop Calling Me

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How do you tell a guy who calls you in the middle of the night from some island in the Pacific to move on with his life? If a simple stop calling me does not do it, what will? If after almost three years and he still cannot comprehend that he is out of your life for good, there’s really no point in making him understand, is there?

Monday, November 9, 2009

picture-perfect, flab-free body

Monday, November 9, 2009

Come February, my friends and I are planning to spend the weekend of Valentine at the beach. The plane tickets and hotel accommodations have all been taken care of. The only thing missing are the picture-perfect, flab-free bodies that would go well with the sun and the pearly white sand of Boracay.

The pressure is on. We all need to lose weight.

Hell-bent on getting me those washboard abs, I almost enrolled at a nearby gym but thought better of it. It is definitely a luxury I can do without, so I stuck to my stairs workout. Starving myself free of some extra pounds also crossed my mind, but I immediately dismissed it. By now I think I have learned the futility of depriving myself of food at the expense of my mental and physical well-being.

I decided not to do anything. Why would I stress over a bulging tummy and unsightly stretch marks when I know that my friends wouldn’t mind seeing them on me (and vice versa)? We’re going there to have fun, and fun--I’m certain—we’ll have with or without perfect bodies.

Friday, November 6, 2009

chopping it all off

Friday, November 6, 2009

My unruly hair has been stressing me out for the past several days. Chopping it all off felt really good.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Who else but the Beatles?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

I got this from WitsandNuts.

Simple rule: using only song names from one artist, cleverly answer these questions. Pass it on to 20 people. Try not to repeat a song title. It’s actually a lot harder than you think.

Pick your artist: THE BEATLES

1. Are you male or female? Woman
2. Describe yourself: Devil in Her Heart
3. Describe your significant other: A Taste of Honey
4. How do you feel about yourself? Blackbird
5. Describe where you currently live: Octopus’s Garden
6. If you could be anywhere, where would you be? Magical Mystery Tour
7. Your favorite form of transportation: Yellow Submarine
8. Your best friend is: Ain’t She Sweet
9. Your favorite color is: Here Comes the Sun
10. What’s the weather like? Helter Skelter
11. Favorite time of day: Golden Slumbers
12. What is life to you? Fixing a Hole
13. What is the best advice you have to give? Act Naturally
14. If you could change your name, what would it be? Sexy Sadie
15. Your favorite food is: Come and Get It
16. Thought for the day: Why Don’t We Do It in the Road?
17. How would I like to die: Carnival of Light
18. My soul’s present condition: Free as a Bird
19. The faults I can bear: Day Tripper
20. My motto: Let It Be

Well, I didn't find it difficult at all. It's really fun. Try it!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

away

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

It felt great to be away from the computer for several days. During those days I had no idea what was happening ‘out there’, but it didn’t feel like I was missing anything. I was so happy in the company of my family that I didn’t really care. Away from the unrelenting cacophony of the online world—the tumult of status updates and live feeds and the overwhelming pull of endless messages, blogs and websites that grab and keep our attention away from everything else--I learned the meaning of “ignorance is bliss”.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

it's all fine to say...

Thursday, October 29, 2009

It’s all fine to say, “Time will heal everything, this too shall pass away. People will forget”—and things like that when you are not involved, but when you are there is no passage of time, people do not forget and you are in the middle of something that does not change.

~ John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, 1935

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

What's in your bag?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

They say that a woman’s handbag not only contains the items that are essential to her on a daily basis but also tells a lot about her - her quirks, her disposition, her priorities in life.

Here’s what’s inside mine: a couple of spiral notebooks, a pen, an umbrella, sunglasses, a paperback, a handkerchief, lipstick, my house keys, iPod, a USB flash drive, and my company ID card – things that I can’t do without. I bet others have more interesting stuff in their bags than these things in mine.

People always give me that nonplused look when I tell them that I don’t bring my cell phone or my wallet when I go to work. It gives me a reason not to buy anything on impulse and an excuse for not responding to text messages I don’t want to respond to or to take calls I don’t want to take. By now everyone who knows me has learned to send me an email, and not an SMS, when they want to contact me. It’s like setting boundaries and saying, you can only reach me when I want to be reached.

So what's in your bag?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

concomitants of failure

Sunday, October 25, 2009

“It has always seemed strange to me,” said Doc. “The things we admire in men, kindness and generosity, openness, honesty, understanding and feeling are the concomitants of failure in our system. And those traits we detest, sharpness, greed, acquisitiveness, meanness, egotism and self-interest are the traits of success. And while men love the quality of the first they love the produce of the second.”

~ John Steinbeck, Cannery Row, 1945

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Classroom Management

Thursday, October 22, 2009

I've been tasked to develop an evaluation tool for one our products, a classroom management software. As I tried to understand how its features work, I realized how different classes are managed nowadays compared to the way it was before. When I was in grade school the piercing look of the teacher would have frozen us to attention; now it takes a computer software to remove distractions and compel students to focus and pay attention. It’s a far cry, too, from how our classes were handled in college and graduate school. Who needed computers when our classes were conducted under the trees or by the pond--without the usual classroom hierarchy, with both teacher and students sitting Indian style on the grass and freely exchanging ideas, and where distractions become a source of intellectual stimulation? A software that monitors and records every move a student makes in the classroom seems to be incongruous with a system where the only requirement is to write several papers and pass the final exam and attendance is not even an issue. Or so I thought. Programs like this would not have been developed if people don’t have a need for it.

It’s utterly antediluvian I know, but why do we seem to have this tendency to “applaud the past and lament the present”?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

a typical morning

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

As the weather cools toward the end of the year, I find myself waking up refreshed and invigorated. A typical morning for me involves getting up at half past six in the morning to the sound of my cell phone’s alarm and immediately turning on the computer to check my email and my friends’ status updates on Facebook; then I prepare a quick breakfast, which I eat while chatting with D if he’s not busy working out. By 8:25, I’m showered, made-up, dressed and ready to go to work. And after a five-minute walk, I’m in the office with a big mugful of coffee, all set for the day’s toil.

What’s a typical morning for you like?

Friday, October 16, 2009

Forgiving

Friday, October 16, 2009

Last night as I was staring at my face in the mirror I noticed the unsightly pockmarks, the faint lines around my mouth and the dark smudges under my eyes that no amount of makeup can conceal. Surprisingly, it did not freak me out as it would have a few years back. I just shrugged it off as an inescapable part of life and went to sleep.

They say that maturity is delayed gratification. I see it as the ability to forgive ourselves, our faults and the overall pell-mell of our lives. As I advanced into my fourth decade in this world, I became more forgiving of my own as well as others’ inadequacies and vulnerabilities; painfully discovering that life is fluid and inchoate, I have learned to accept the ephemerality of objects, people and relationships. The I-can-do-anything-I-can-change-the-world exuberance of my youth has been replaced with irreverence and Sisyphean angst. Chastened to accept the futility and puerility of tilting at windmills, I slowly understood that there are things that we simply cannot do anything about.

Younger, I believed that I only had an outline of a life yet to be filled in. Now older, I realized that it was never filled in, because my life’s details had totally diverged from its original outline. The faint swells of regret suppressed, I now forgive myself for that life not lead.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

their hearts were bowled along

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

...The hand of Fate had snatched all their souls; and by the stirring perils of the previous day; the rack of the past night's suspense; the fixed, unfearing, blind, reckless way in which their wild craft went plunging towards its flying mark; by all these things, their hearts were bowled along. The wind that made great bellies of their sails, and rushed the vessel on by arms invisible as irresistible; this seemed the symbol of that unseen agency which so enslaved them to the race...
~ Herman Melvilee, Moby Dick, 1851

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Shame

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The ineffable tragedies that had recently struck countless people’s lives have rendered me speechless, too ashamed to write about the trivialities of my own little world. How inconsequential my daily crises, my petty troubles are compared to theirs. There is no reason to pick at scabs when there are thousands out there with gaping wounds.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Booking a Tour

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

One would think that credit cards and the Internet make it easier to book a tour. In our case, they don’t.

We are trying to book a package tour with the travel agency, The Sinh Tourist (formerly known as Sinh CafĂ©) located in Ho Chi Minh City, but they don’t take credit cards. They require the entire amount to be wired to them, which, to me, is a bit risky. The tour is supposed to cover parts of the Mekong Delta Region (Cai Be, Vinh Long, Long Xuyen, Chau Doc), Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, but when I asked the travel agent about the details, she mentioned names of hotels that are definitely not in any of those places. After several email exchanges, I’m certain there’s been something lost in translation. Despite the risk that the tour could be fully booked by then, perhaps we should just make the reservation when we get to Ho Chi Minh instead of doing it online or through a bank. Or maybe we can just do away with the tour altogether and simply travel by ourselves.

Suggestions, anyone?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Once Again

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Hunched over my desk against the inaudible hum of workaday existence—supposedly reviewing modules while actually staring at our itinerary and imagining what fun we’d have in those places--I felt that delicious sensation of excitement diffuse through me. Glancing every now and then at the calendar, I—though acutely certain of its impossibility--willed the days to move a little bit faster.

In less than two months D and I will go on another vacation, something we’ve planned and looked forward to since we came back from Thailand early this year. There is something sweet in knowing that after spending an awful amount of time mired in the prosaic back and forth of every day, I will be with the love of my life once again.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Acts of God

Friday, October 2, 2009

Act of God. It is such a curious term, isn’t it? It’s been mentioned a lot these past few days as certain parts of the world continue to suffer from the onslaught of natural disasters. Defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, an act of God is “an extraordinary interruption by a natural cause (as a flood or earthquake) of the usual course of events that experience, prescience or care cannot reasonably foresee or prevent.” As a legal term--and for insurance purposes--it is defined as “an event which is caused solely by the effect of nature or natural causes and without any interference by humans whatsoever.” Thus, no one can be held responsible. Even God, I suppose.

Countless lives, livelihoods, homes were lost because of these inevitable “acts of God”, and no one could—or should--be held responsible. I hear people thanking God for sparing their lives, but, unable to keep blasphemous thoughts from intruding into my mind, I wonder why He, who they say is merciful, let these things happen in the first place. What are they for? Why do they occur? Are they mere products, or even instruments, of evolution? What have we done to have provoked nature’s wrath? I cannot understand. Since there seems to be no logic behind it, is it just a matter of acceptance then? Can somebody, please, make me understand?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

O hushed October morning mild

Thursday, October 1, 2009

October
By Robert Frost

O hushed October morning mild,
Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
To-morrow's wind, if it be wild,
Should waste them all.
The crows above the forest call;
To-morrow they may form and go.
O hushed October morning mild,
Begin the hours of this day slow,
Make the day seem to us less brief.
Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know;
Release one leaf at break of day;
At noon release another leaf;
One from our trees, one far away;
Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst.
Slow, slow!
For the grapes' sake, if they were all,
Whose leaves already are burnt with frost,
Whose clustered fruit must else be lost--
For the grapes' sake along the wall.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

hopelessly holding up hope

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

There, then, he sat, holding up that imbecile candle in the heart of that almighty forlornness. There, then, he sat, the sign and symbol of a man without faith, hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.

- Herman Melville, Moby Dick, 1851

Monday, September 28, 2009

Self-righteous

Monday, September 28, 2009

What happened last weekend was truly horrifying; but what horrifies me more is the proliferation of self-righteous status updates, posts and tweets on the Internet. This is not really a good time for finger-pointing and moralizing, is it? Nobody deserved what happened, but, sadly, all of us are at fault.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Devouring Passion to Cold Indifference

Friday, September 25, 2009

I wonder how some people could move from devouring passion to cold indifference in just the blink of an eye. They are so into you one moment then treat you like a stranger the next. They lavish you with attention then suddenly forget that you exist. Is this the key to easily get over a person?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

an earlier, passionately earnest self

Thursday, September 24, 2009

This reminds me so much of myself:
The apartment was entirely, was only, for her: a wall of books, both read and unread, all of them dear to her not only in themselves, their tender spines, but in the moments or periods they evoked. She had kept some books since college that she acquired for courses but never read--Friedrich Jameson, for example, and Kant's Critique of Judgment--but which suggested to her that she was, or might be, a person of seriousness, a thinker in some seeping, ubiquitous way; and she had kept, too, a handful of children's books taken from her now-dismantled girlhood room, like Charlotte's Web and the Harriet the Spy novels, that conjured for her an earlier, passionately earnest self, the sober child who read constantly in the back of her parents' Buick, oblivious to her brother punching her knee, oblivious to her parents' squabbling, oblivious to the traffic and landscapes pressing upon her from outside the window.

- Claire Messud, The Emperor's Children, 2006

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Would you vote for him?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

To indulge my curiosity, I began a presumptuous inquiry on how people around me--friends, family and colleagues--perceive one of the country’s presidential aspirants, Senator Noynoy Aquino, the one person who supposedly could bring renewed hope for the nation. I asked whether or not they would vote for him and why. Surprisingly, most said that they won’t for various reasons: his mediocre performance as a senator and his inexperience in governance; his feudalistic heritage highlighted by the Hacienda Luisita issue--the albatross around his neck--that has tainted him despite his good intention, sound platform and what they say as his capability to unite the nation; that he is merely a passing fancy made fashionable by the weight of his parents’ name and the showbiz glitz of his kid sister; his “messianic posturing” and “indecisiveness”, gleaned from his need to go on a weeklong retreat to seek divine guidance on whether or not to run for the presidency.

I, too, am not yet convinced. They say that the 2010 elections would be a battle between Good and Evil. It would probably be more like choosing the least of several evils.

the annihilation of all you know


Does overwhelming change, the annihilation of all you know, create an intensity of memory that would not have existed otherwise? When all you know is lost and gone forever, does it become sweeter in the mind? Does it make you want to let go or hold on even tighter?

- Charles Frazier, Thirteen Moons, 2006

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Sting, Stink and Disarray

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The lusty wind blasting from the bus's windows, which stung her eyes and whipped her hair to disarray, carried the salty tang of the bay. Inhaling softly, she welcomed the sting, the stink and the disarray. This is what life is all about, she told herself.

As the bus plodded along the congested highway--stopping every few minutes to allow passengers in and out—she realized that the entire trip was an exercise in concentration. She focused, as much as she could, on the book she’s reading, relishing the narrative and letting it fill her with pleasure as books always do. Keeping to this simple joy, she endured the cacophony of horns and screeching tires, the indecipherable dialogue blaring from the overhead television set, the swelter of the vehicle packed with people jostling towards the exit or for that vacant seat. She knew not to let awful things consume her let alone distract her from enjoying life.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

one grand hooded phantom

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and tow there flooded into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like snow hill in the air.

- Herman Melville, Moby-Dick, 1851

Monday, September 14, 2009

Habit of Prayer

Monday, September 14, 2009

During that twilight stage between wakefulness and sleep I catch myself uttering the first few words to a prayer. Always vigilant of these lapses, my mind rudely jolts me to consciousness. Stop. You do not do that anymore, it says. Long untethered from any religious entanglement, I still find myself--without my logic’s permission--going back to this lifelong habit of prayer during my most unguarded moments. Is it out of pure habit? I ask myself. Or is it out of a deep desire, a lingering belief that my prayer would somehow be answered?

Thursday, September 10, 2009

As long as they're happy

Thursday, September 10, 2009

She must be very busy. Though hurt, we readily make excuses for friends who seem to ignore all our efforts to keep in touch. Oh, you know her work. She probably doesn’t have time to check her e-mail or return our calls. We shrug our shoulders and keep silent, with only a sigh of disappointment escaping our lips. We try to understand, and we learn to accept that things aren’t as they were before. Our lives have gone towards different directions—and against our wishes--making the friendship almost a thing of the past.

Stress, depression, preoccupation, disinterest - whatever the reason is, it is okay. As long as they’re happy, it is perfectly all right even if we rarely hear from them. As long as they're happy, we are willing to be ignored and forgotten for a while.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Luxuriating in Solitude

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

As soon as I heard the announcement of another long weekend, I felt a wave of joy surge through my body. Three days in complete solitude and idleness - what a luxury, I thought. The forecast of incessant rains that would undoubtedly accompany the weekend did not dampen my spirit as the promise of an extra day of quiescence glimmered in the leaden sky.

Much has been said about the sadness that lurks at the edges of a single person’s life, and what lies at its center is often taken for granted. The luxury of solitude. The utter freedom that goes with living alone. 31, single and independent, I can be who I want; I can do what I want and when I want it. I can spend my days in idleness and boredom or in extreme preoccupation and overcaffeinated enthusiasm, whichever way I want it, without having to worry about anything or anybody else.

Everywhere I hear whispered, yet still disparaging, allusions to the emptiness of a life spent alone. Society’s assiduous concern with motherhood and marriage as the true essence of womanhood is, sadly, anachronistic and limiting. Seen as an incomplete person waiting to be made whole by that one person out there, am I just a fragment of who I am? Why can’t people stop asking me when am I going to get married? Does it make me a lesser person if I do not ache to hold an infant in my arms? Apart from the glint of a wedding ring on my finger or the presence of a stroller in my house, there are other things that give substance to my existence.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A passion that strong, that early

Monday, September 7, 2009

Most people have never felt a passion that strong, that early. If so, they remember it with a smile, dismiss it as a crush that shriveled in time and on time. It’s hard to think of it any other way when real life shows up with its list of other people, its swarm of other thoughts…. One thing is true—it bears watching, if you can stand to look at it. Heed and Christine were the kind of children who can’t take back love, or park it. When that’s the case, separation cuts to the bone. And if the breakup is plundered, too, squeezed for a glimpse of blood, shed for the child’s own good, then it can ruin a mind. And if, on top of that, they are made to hate each other, it can kill a life before it tries to live.

By Toni Morrison, Love, 2003

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Acceleration of Life

Thursday, September 3, 2009

September has come and my desolation had passed. As I sense that crisp chill sneak into the air, I felt a sudden acceleration of life. With Mondays leaping to Fridays, it will not be long until the start of a new year, a new hope, a new life. A delicious thrill coursed through me, and I wondered where it came from. I then realized that it came from within.

A Ritualized Mating Dance


I’ve danced this dance so many times that I’ve memorized each step without a clue to how the dance would end:

While talking of another Brooklyn laureate, Walt Whitman, I found it easy not to pay perfect attention to what Leslie was saying. At college and elsewhere I had played out this solemn cultural charade too many times to be unaware that it was a prelude, a preliminary feeling-out of mental sensibilities in which the substance of what one said was less important than the putative authority with which one’s words were spoken. In reality a ritualized mating dance, it allowed one’s mind to wander…to a perception of what was being uttered in the background.

- William Styron, Sophie’s Choice, 1976

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I need help

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

I have a theory: the more I spend time in the pool, the easier I will learn how to swim. After five consecutive nights of willing my body to float, I realized that it is not as easy as I thought it would be. Clearly, I am not the plankton I thought I was. The other unit owners must have been bemused at the nightly sight of that lone young lady treading water in an unheated pool, who cannot even dare to let go of the rails for fear of drowning in chest-deep water.

I realized that unlike other skills that I can learn on my own, swimming is something that I desperately need help on. The more I analyze what I should do and how I should do it, the more my body refuses to do the things it has to do.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

To Swim

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Last night I started to learn how to swim. To conquer my fear of water, I convinced myself that looking good in a two-piece bikini is ridiculous when you don’t know how to swim. It’s almost five pm now, and I can’t wait to go home, hit the pool and take another dip.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

John Thomas and Lady Jane

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the poignant story of “a lonely woman trapped in a sterile marriage and her growing love for the robust gamekeeper of her husband’s estate.” It is, as some would say, an affirmation of D.H. Lawrence’s vision of “individual regeneration through sexual love.” The story ended with these lines:

“But a great deal of us is together, and we can but abide by it, and steer our courses to meet soon. John Thomas says goodnight to Lady Jane, a little droopingly, but with a hopeful heart.”

As I reached the story’s end, I can’t help but wonder what happens next. What is the story beyond this story? Would the lovers live happily ever after? Maybe, but I doubt it. Like the love story of Sonia and Raskolnikov, the novel ended with a sense of hope, making us believe that their love would somehow last; but sadly, the passionate love affair of Mellors and Constance Chatterley could be doomed to a tragic ending as that of Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky. Alienated and dissatisfied by the purely intellectual nature of her physically and emotionally paralyzed husband, could Lady Chatterley live with passion and sensuality alone, the very things embodied by her lover? What would happen when the blaze between John Thomas and Lady Jane burns down into a flickering flame then eventually burns out?

It’s crazy to infer from the lives of fictional characters in literature, but don’t they offer a vivid mirroring of life’s surfaces, a perfect simulacrum of reality?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

How could he have helped loving her?

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

She was a total stranger living in obscurity and blogging from the other side of the world when, out of sheer chance, he stumbled across her site and instantly fell in love with her writing. That’s what started it all. Her words, an articulation of who she is and what she holds dear, exhumed the suppressed longing that has long been buried in his head and in his heart. Resigned to the inevitability of living the rest of his life alone and with dreams left unassuaged, he began to hope, to feel, that it won’t be so. All because of her.

How could he have helped loving her? How could she have helped loving him back?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Five Open Supersecrets about Bloggers

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

“What has been written without effort is generally read without pleasure.”

I read that from an
n+1 book review several months ago. The review, which cited a list of open supersecrets about bloggers, made me question—and somehow alter--my online habits. I am so guilty of what it says that I felt myself shrink in embarrassment.

Here’s Lee Siegel’s list of five open supersecrets about bloggers:

1. Not everyone has something valuable to say.
2. Few people have anything original to say.
3. Only a handful of people know how to write well.
4. Most people will do almost anything to be liked.
5. "Customers" are always right, but "people" aren't.


The list may be severely candid, cutting and cruel, but there’s some truth to it, right? "The proliferation of writing, often done in a hurry, may be driving out the opportunity and motivation for creating carefully honed text."

What do you think?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I carry your heart with me

Thursday, August 13, 2009

i carry your heart with me
by e. e. cummings


i carry your heart with me (i carry it in
my heart) i am never without it (anywhere
i go you go, my dear; and whatever is done
by only me is your doing, my darling)
i fear
no fate (for you are my fate, my sweet) i want
no world (for beautiful you are my world, my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart (i carry it in my heart)


Happy birthday, honey.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

All or Nothing

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Several of my friends have gone back to school. I wonder how they do it. Already a wife, a mother, an employee, how can each manage to become a student, too? It astonishes me how, in pursuing their dreams, they were able to push beyond their limits. How have they mastered the art of diffused focus that they can handle life’s innumerable perplexities with poise and dexterity?

I miss school. I miss it so much that I want to be a student again, just like them. I want to go back to law school, or take up some writing course, or earn a doctorate. But can I do it? Can I muster that all-consuming, single-minded energy I devoted to my studies before? Can I once again reduce myself within the impenetrable walls of the academe with its relentless emphasis on cerebral struggle and constant achievement? I know myself. If I can’t give my all, then I’d rather not give anything at all.

I’m afraid that while in the middle of my futile attempt to comprehend a terribly abstruse reading assignment, I’d just throw up my hands in exasperation and say, do I really have to do this? Why am I doing this when I can be sleeping, or bumming around with my siblings or island hopping in Batanes, or gabbing with my friends over coffee or enjoying an afternoon stroll with my boyfriend? I know that when I go back to school I won’t have time to do all the things that I love doing. So utterly stressed out, I can turn into that kind of person whose querulousness makes her utterances sound like a perpetual whine.

Perhaps it shouldn’t be all or nothing. There must be a balance between the two – a certain balance I have yet to learn.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Can I write anything beyond these?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Why is it that words flow smoothly when I’m down in the dumps or dissing somebody but feel contrived when I’m neither? Sentences fashioned from pain and anger, phrases that mirror the sadness that lurks at the edges of my life, words drawn from deep wells of feeling – can I write anything beyond these?

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Healthy Irreverence

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Leafing through an old journal, I can’t help but chuckle over the things I wrote twelve years ago.

16 March 2007, 2:45 am. I think there is a need for some healthy irreverence, nowadays. We are given the freedom to think for ourselves. To determine what’s right from wrong. So why should we always show honor and respect just because we are told to? Why should we always bow to authorities? Deference to authority, sometimes, dehumanizes man. How can we recognize and attain our full potential if we always say “yes, sir” or “yes, professor”? Culture dictates that we should obey our parents at all times, at all costs. I fully disagree. We should let our parents guide us, but we shouldn’t let them control our lives in the process. I don’t think that obedience is a virtue. Obedience only becomes a virtue when before obeying something you know for sure that you are willing to do it, have thought about it, and know its consequences. We shouldn’t let anybody tell us what to do. We have minds. We can think for ourselves. So it’s better to commit a mistake of which you’re fully responsible for than do something right because somebody told you that it’s the better thing to do. I know my reasoning sounds faulty, but this is my belief and I know I’m entitled to one. Convictions are what make a person a person. I stand firm with my beliefs and that’s that.

It sounds like me, all right, but I wonder what made me write this. What was I thinking?

Friday, August 7, 2009

Silence Hums

Friday, August 7, 2009

There is, of course, a place for noise, as there is for daily lives. There is a place for roaring, for the shouting exultation of a baseball game, for hymns and spoken prayers, for orchestras and cries of pleasure. Silence, like all the best things, is best appreciated in its absence: if noise is the signature tune of he world, silence is the music of the other world, the closest thing we know to the harmony of the spheres. But the greatest charm of noise is when it ceases. In silence, suddenly, it seems as if all the windows of the world are thrown open and everything is as clear as on a morning after rain. Silence, ideally, hums. It charges the air. In Tibet, where the silence has a tragic cause, it is still quickened by the fluttering of prayer flags, the tolling of temple bells, the roar of wind across the plains, the memory of chant.

Silence, then, could be said to be the ultimate province of trust: it is the place where we trust ourselves to be alone; where we trust others to understand the things we do not say; where we trust a higher harmony to assert itself. We all know how treacherous are words, and how often we use them to paper over embarrassment, or emptiness, or fear of the larger spaces that silence brings. "Words, words, words" commit us to positions we do not really hold, the imperatives of chatter; words are what we use for lies, false promises and gossip. We babble with strangers; with intimates we can be silent. We "make conversation" when we are at a loss; we unmake it when we are alone, or with those so close to us that we can afford to be alone with them.

In love, we are speechless; in awe, we say, words fail us.


- Pico Iyer, The Eloquent Sounds of Silence, 24 June 2001

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Time-Out

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

They were facing east. From my 29th floor window, I spied two men leaning against the balustrade of the helipad atop the high-rise across ours. The air alive, their white shirts were billowing behind them. They seemed to be immersed in the bliss of the moment, with their faces lifted to the sprawl of the city stretching as far as their eyes could see. What could they be talking about? I wondered. Silence would have been nice, too, I thought.

How light, how tranquil the image they make. Like most of us, those two must have needed some time-out from the demands of the day; a refuge from the cacophony of ringing telephones, clicking heels, rattling keyboards and overlapping chatter; a haven from routine and boredom, disorder and confusion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

X looking at Y

Monday, August 3, 2009

At the risk of being a curmudgeonly old school shrew, I can’t help but notice--and write about--how different my younger colleagues’ approach toward work is. It’s in the way they dress, the way they write and the way they talk.

They way they dress. I believe in being perfectly well-dressed all the time, not to attract attention or show off but to achieve, in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s words, “a feeling of inward tranquility.” Though working in place where the dress code is a bit laid-back, I still cringe whenever I see our younger associates dressed in their idea of corporate attire: mid-calf leggings paired with flip-flops, bustiers in garish colors, metallic four-inch stilettos they can get away with only if they're in a club dancing the night away. When choosing what clothes to wear, they seem to forget that they’re going to the workplace and not the mall.

The way they write. I wonder why they can’t even be bothered with the formalities of business writing: You don’t address a person by his or her nickname unless he or she allows you to do so; unlike chatting and sending SMS or instant messages where you don’t have to trouble yourself with salutations, opening and closing lines, grammar and style, spelling and punctuation, in business letters and formal email, you just need to. They have not realized that scorning business writing protocol does not make them cool.

They way they talk. The art of talking in a polite, coherent and convincing manner without showing your ignorance or sounding shrill is something our younger colleagues have not learned. They have this annoying mannerism of interrupting a person talking and, worse yet, butting into conversations they’re not supposed to take part in. Yes, we know they’re bursting with brilliant and creative ideas, but can’t they reign in their impatience until the person finishes? Graduating from college only a few years back, could they have forgotten Wittgenstein’s words: “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof must be silent.” All their whining gets into my nerves, too. Like pampered babies crying for milk, they act as if everything is to be handed to them. Before they complain, why can’t they help themselves first? Or better yet, shut up and suck it all up.

The age difference is not that wide, less than a decade or so, but why does it feel as if we are generations apart? Yet again, who am I to criticize? I must be exactly like them when I was their age.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dark August

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Dark August
By Derek Walcott

So much rain, so much life like the swollen sky
of this black August. My sister, the sun,
broods in her yellow room and won't come out.

Everything goes to hell; the mountains fume
like a kettle, rivers overrun; still,
she will not rise and turn off the rain.

She is in her room, fondling old things,
my poems, turning her album. Even if thunder falls
like a crash of plates from the sky,

she does not come out.
Don't you know I love you but am hopeless
at fixing the rain ? But I am learning slowly

to love the dark days, the steaming hills,
the air with gossiping mosquitoes,
and to sip the medicine of bitterness,

so that when you emerge, my sister,
parting the beads of the rain,
with your forehead of flowers and eyes of forgiveness,

all with not be as it was, but it will be true
(you see they will not let me love
as I want), because, my sister, then

I would have learnt to love black days like bright ones,
The black rain, the white hills, when once
I loved only my happiness and you.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ten Hours

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

When you just came from a grueling bus ride that is supposed to take only six hours but took more than ten because of snarled traffic caused by heavy flooding in several parts of Metro Manila that resulted from poorly constructed drainage systems whose budget was diverted to somebody’s pocket and further congested by the accumulated debris of poverty and you see her smiling on TV, won't it feel so good to wipe that smug look off her face? Her carefully chosen statistics and eloquent speech merely gave an appearance of solidity to pure wind, sheer humbug and absolute hubris. Six extended to ten exhausting hours spent in the dark, stuck deep in a flood of disarray and frustration, without any idea where the Hades you are or where the bus is taking you, and not knowing if it will ever end. Doesn’t it sound like the years the country has had under her?

Kill all your darlings


Taking inspiration from Unstranger’s advice below, I quote from an interview with the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, David McCullough:

Writing is thinking. That is what it is. And that’s why it’s so damn hard. Writing forces you to think, to bear down on the subject, makes you think as nothing else does. It’s why writing ought to be stressed far more in schools. It’s a way of working out problems, working out thoughts, and arriving at insights, conclusions, revelations, that you never could have obtained otherwise. That’s really the reward of it.

Don’t strive for literary effect. Don’t write what you think as writing. Say it so it’s clear. Say it so it’s to the point. Don’t give away everything up front. Be very careful about those lines you think are such raging moments of high artistic achievement on your part. You know Faulkner’s old line: “Kill all your darlings.”

Remember, your reader is as intelligent as you are, and is probably a step or two ahead of you. They’re getting it.

Go back when you’re finished and cut out all the lumber; cut out all the extraneous things. Obviously, look carefully at al those adverbs and see if you really need them. I cut and cut and condense again and again.


(From Conversation with David McCullough by Ronald Kovach, The Writer’s Handbook 2003, originally published in the Writer Magazine)

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Home

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

That first chilly morning, I lay in bed swathed in a thick blanket and watched sleepily through my eyelashes as daylight seeped into my old room and bathed it with a soft radiance. Letting my eyes roam, I was struck with delight when I saw the small burnay I bought from Vigan still filled with coins as I left it, several moldy notebooks scribbled with my youthfully inexperienced views on life, the medals I used to take for granted but had always been a source of parental pride, the closet packed with antiquated clothes that reminded me of my hopelessly dowdy, cluelessly unfashionable self. Everything I fixed my eyes on was clothed in bittersweet poignancy. Through my haze of nostalgia it slowly dawned on me that that room has become a reliquary of the detritus of my childhood, of countless memories both sacred and profane. There it lingered the life I left behind.

I heard the familiar chirping of birds, the faint sound of vehicles passing by and nothing else. Everything was still. But lying dormant beneath that morning’s stillness, I sensed a wonderful acceleration of life. When I opened the windows, the mildewed indoor smell pushed out and blended with the scent of pine trees that filled the air outside. I felt the cold rush in like a welcome greeting - settling me, telling me that all is well: I am home. Even for just a few days.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ruins

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Saltwater was in the air in a way that is both foreign and fresh to my nostrils, and I slowly inhaled, feeling a sense of vitality seeping back. The waters sparkled and purled their way to the shore, embracing the sand and kissing my bare feet. Its coldness gripped me, and I began to look around. Behind me are the remains of what appears to be a place of grandeur, rotting under the afternoon sun. The dimming sunlight illuminated the darkness of crumbling walls, fractured windows, disintegrating stucco and forgotten pavilions surrounded by a penumbra of decay.

As we traipsed along the shore we saw signs of neglect, collapse, age, indifference, ruin. Deserted, the resort--as well the ones adjacent to it--was devoid of even the slightest hint of occupancy except for a few locals silently sidling past. Ignored, abandoned and wearied in spirits, the place has lost its radiance and fallen into ruin. Only the ebb and flow of the tides keep it alive.

From age to age, throughout his lonely bounds
The crash of ruin fitfully resounds;
Appalling havoc! but serene his brow
Where daylight lingers on perpetual snow;
Glitter the stars above, and all is black below.

(William Wordsworth, 1854)

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Miserable Childhood

Tuesday, July 21, 2009
When I look back on my childhood I wonder how I survived at all. It was, of course, a miserable childhood: the happy childhood is hardly worth your while. Worse than the ordinary miserable childhood is the miserable Irish childhood, and worse yet is the miserable Irish Catholic childhood.

People everywhere brag and whimper about the woes of their early years, but nothing can compare with the Irish version: the poverty; the shiftless loquacious father; the pious defeated mother moaning by the fire; pompous priests; bullying schoolmasters; the English and the terrible things they did to us for eight hundred long years.
- Frank McCourt, Angela's Ashes: A Memoir, 1996

Monday, July 20, 2009

In the middle of a meeting

Monday, July 20, 2009

I sat there trying to convince myself that my being in that meeting doesn’t entail high opportunity costs. It’s difficult though, especially when the person who wanted me to finish something that very day arrives late and his lateness translates to wasted time for all of us. As the overpowering scent that typically announces his presence hit my nostrils, it hit me that the time I spent waiting for him could have been spent working on that thing that I’m doing for him. There are persons who simply do not have any respect for other people’s time. Withholding a sigh that may reveal how irritated I was, I sat back. And watched. And listened.

While listening, I can’t help but recall—and marvel at the precision of--David Foster Wallace’s words:

“…You can be in the middle of a creative meeting at your job or something, and enough material can rush through your head just in the little silences when people are looking over their notes and waiting for the next presentation that it would take exponentially longer than the whole meeting just to try to put a few seconds' silence's flood of thoughts into words. This is another paradox, that many of the most important impressions and thoughts in a person's life are ones that flash through your head so fast that fast isn't even the right word…”
(Oblivion, 2004)
While trying to quell my annoyance and listen to what’s being said, implied and alluded to, I wondered why that person was talking in that squeaky-disjointed kind of way, got distracted whenever the person to my right unconsciously thumps her hand on the table, noticed that the sparse eyebrows of the person in front of me are filled in with a brown eyebrow pencil, made a mental outline on how I could accomplish all of my tasks on time, pretended to look sober and attentive, realized that the meeting was not going anywhere and wished for it to end. All these thoughts and we were just a few of minutes into the meeting.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

You are UP because...

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Lest we forget,
“…To be a UP student, faculty member, and alumnus is to be burdened but also ennobled by a unique mission—not just the mission of serving the people, which is in itself not unique, and which is also reflected, for example, in the Atenean concept of being a “man for others.” Rather, to my mind, our mission is to lead and to be led by reason—by independent, scientific, and secular reason, rather than by politicians, priests, shamans, bankers, or generals.

You are UP because you can think and speak for yourselves, by your own wits and on your own two feet, and you can do so no matter what the rest of the people in the room may be thinking. You are UP because no one can tell you to shut up, if you have something sensible and vital to say. You are UP because you dread not the poverty of material comforts but the poverty of the mind. And you are UP because you care about something as abstract and sometimes as treacherous as the idea of “nation”, even if it kills you.

Sometimes, long after UP, we forget these things and become just like everybody else; I certainly have. Even so, I suspect that that forgetfulness is laced with guilt—the guilt of knowing that you were, and could yet become, somebody better….”
-An excerpt from Butch Dalisay’s Address to the Graduating Class of the University of the Philippines Baguio, April 23, 2005

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Splinters in the Heart

Wednesday, July 15, 2009
Splinters in the heart, invisibly and erratically painful: this is how Fern has thought of her accumulating sorrows. Impossible to expel or withdraw, if you're lucky, they slip out on their own. But perhaps they are more like the seeds inside a brightly patterned gourd, beyond germination but essential to the wholeness of the gourd itself. Without breaking its durable, ossified skin, you cannot remove them; sometimes they will clatter about and make themselves known. It's just the nature of things.
- Julia Glass, Three Junes, 2002

Monday, July 13, 2009

Somber, Elegiac Notes

Monday, July 13, 2009

It was the morning of Sunday. Propelled by the chilly remnants of the previous night’s storm, the wind blew with vindictive force, making the curtains dance and bathing the entire room with a startling freshness. I sat down to breathe it all in, but it felt as if something’s missing. Music, I told myself. The soulful sound produced by the silky strings of the cello would complete it.

As I listened to Mstislav Rostropovich’s rendition of J. S. Bach’s Cello Suites, the wind seemed to hum and sigh with the cello’s deep, melancholic tone. Like a fierce storm sweeping through, its somber, elegiac notes pervaded the room and suffused me with pure joy. My moment of clarity finally arrived. I have never felt that peaceful for quite a long time.

Friday, July 10, 2009

If We Care Enough

Friday, July 10, 2009

Flouting prudish sensibilities and oblivious to the curious looks that must be thrown our way, I sat down beside him, the stranger who once gave me flowers and hangs out regularly at the newsstand near my place. Common wisdom dictates that one shouldn’t talk to strangers--particularly old, white men who smile at you whenever you pass by—but I paid it no heed and relied on pure instinct, instead. I talked to him. And while we were exchanging thoughts about seemingly benign topics, I saw a glimpse of the person beneath the stranger--a man who loves life and understands its terms. While others must have written him off as a lubricious, old man running after a younger girl, the quintessential Western expatriate exercising his seigneurial privilege over Asian women, my talking to him proved otherwise.

Time-crunched, self-absorbed professionals we have so become that we tend take for granted people who apparently have no value to us. If only we take time to listen and give our undivided attention to somebody we used to ignore, we would discover how rich and complex his or her character is and how getting to know that person would enrich our lives. If we care enough to forget about ourselves and focus on others instead, we would realize that we don’t have a monopoly on suffering and pain; that we all ache with minor laments, unabashed hopes, acrimonious thoughts, and unappeased dreams.

Everyone has a story to tell. That is, if we care enough to listen.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Courtship Games

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

People get amazed when I tell them that I was already 23 years old when I first went out on a date with a guy. Dumbfounded, some look at me with that are-you-crazy look on their faces; some give me those full of pity, were-you-that-ugly glances. How do I tell them that I simply didn’t want to be bothered with the usual bullshit that typically goes with courtship as practiced here in the Philippines? The clumsy ways guys make their intentions known to girls made me want to roll my eyes; the flirty evasiveness mastered by girls to make boys drool made me laugh. I was verging on what many perceive as the sad age of spinsterhood when I came across a guy who dared to do without the courtship games and, surprisingly, did not get intimidated with a girl who detested the politics of dating and veered away from the conventions that ineluctably go with it.

Cecille Lopez Lilles gives a succinct description of the “traditional female codes of conduct that have been reinforced through successive generations”:

Acceptable female behavior within the domain of Filipino courtship dictates that women play “hard to get” and remain passive, always waiting for the man to make the first move. They must allow enough time to elapse between the period of pursuit and acceptance — a period that has considerably shortened over the years. What used to be a mandatory cease-and-desist on amatory activities lasting several months or even a year is now reduced to several weeks. Apparently, women still view the requisite several-dates-of-withholding-affection period ideal. In the meantime they are encouraged to “mislead” the men: leave them clueless as to their stand in the game, thereby pushing them to work harder for that coveted spot in their lives. It is believed that the more invested a man is in a prospective relationship, in terms of time, money and effort, the more he will value what he is set to reap. (The Politics of Dating, The Philippine Star, 3 October 2007)
If I have to put up with such crap, I’d rather not enter the dating scene was how I looked at it. The courtship games that men and women have to go through for that elusive, you-have-to-work-really-hard-for-it “YES” that heralds the “legitimacy” of a relationship, I find completely pointless. Can we not dispense with the games and the tedious process of pursuing then dodging, persisting then relenting, and just rely on candor and sincerity? If you like me and I like you, why waste time with all the bullshit?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Faraway

Monday, July 6, 2009

She has that faraway look in her eyes again—a look that makes you wonder if she’s really there, and not someplace else; or that she’s there but hoping not to be. Retreating into a place where only memories exist, she relives the brilliance of particular moments, lest she forgets; lest it all fades away. She tries to recapture the ferociousness of emotions that once overwhelmed her—because of the immense pleasure it gives her and, coming from a deep place within, the fear that she might lose it all.

Being in long-distance relationship for quite some time now, you would think it has become easier for her, but it has not. She yearns to be with him, yet what she has right now are but happy reminiscences of the time they spent together. When will their brief, hardly sufficient online talks become face-to-face conversations? When will the reminiscing end, and when will the actual experience and enjoyment begin? She can’t help but ask.

Soon, he tells her. Soon, she repeats with a smile that replaces that faraway look. Soon!

Friday, July 3, 2009

An Hour More

Friday, July 3, 2009

Just an hour more and I can finally go home, harvest my cabbages, chat with my boyfriend, and spend the rest of the evening with Henry James.

Happy weekend, everyone!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Dress Addiction

Thursday, July 2, 2009

I don’t know what got into me. I think I overshopped for clothes last month. Four dresses and two blouses – all bought on sale at different times and in different places last month – are now hanging in my closet. I haven’t even worn most of them.




I ask myself, why do we buy things we don’t really need just because they are on sale? It’s like our mental faculties go zero once we see those blaringly glaring, willpower-testing and consumption-inducing numbers: 50-70% off.

I now vow not to step inside the mall for the next few months.
 
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