Friday, May 29, 2009

The Good Life Comes in Many Forms

Friday, May 29, 2009

Matthew Crawford made a compelling—yet romanticized—case for working with our hands in his essay published in the New York Times:

…Many of us do work that feels more surreal than real. Working in an office, you often find it difficult to see any tangible result from your efforts. What exactly have you accomplished at the end of any given day? Where the chain of cause and effect is opaque and responsibility diffuse, the experience of individual agency can be elusive...

…A gifted young person who chooses to become a mechanic rather than to accumulate academic credentials is viewed as eccentric, if not self-destructive. There is a pervasive anxiety among parents that there is only one track to success for their children. It runs through a series of gates controlled by prestigious institutions...

…A good job requires a field of action where you can put your best capacities to work and see an effect in the world. Academic credentials do not guarantee this...

His piece evokes nostalgia and verges on being overly sentimental but not quite going all the way there. Though not agreeing entirely with what he wrote, I find his arguments valid and substantial. It brought me back to my yearning for the quiescence of a bucolic life and reminded me of what D and I half-jestingly plan to do: start a farm and build our dream beach house with our bare hands.

The good life comes in a variety of forms. This variety has become difficult to see; our field of aspiration has narrowed into certain channels. But the current perplexity in the economy seems to be softening our gaze. Our peripheral vision is perhaps recovering, allowing us to consider the full range of lives worth choosing. For anyone who feels ill suited by disposition to spend his days sitting in an office, the question of what a good job looks like is now wide open.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Entering Into an Affair

Thursday, May 28, 2009

I realized that it is so easy to enter into an affair with another man. But just because it is easy or we can get away with it does not mean that we do it, right? We can give in or walk away. I realized, too, that there are certain forces—forces that vary for every one of us--that would prevent us from getting sucked into that endless spiral of desire, temptation, surrender, cover-up, confrontation, lies and more lies. The question is if we let those forces prevail or not. Some let them; some don’t. Ultimately, it still is our choice. It sounds trite yet still rings true, the kind of life that we have is a result of the choices that we make.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Self-doubt

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

For a girl who had been horizontally-challenged most of her adult life, I’ve always dreamed of wearing a two-piece bikini in public without cringing or feeling ashamed about it. The dream had been achieved, but the doubts lingered still. Instead of being flattered, I take umbrage whenever a guy gets interested in me because of my questionable “intellectual capabilities” and not my limited physical qualities. My attempts to expunge the self-destructing tendency to compare where I am now against where others have gone fail more often than not. Drawn from the deep wells of insecurity, such concerns—although superficial and unreasonable—are hard to overcome.

Your insecurities, I continually tell myself, are devoid of reason. Why let yourself be ruled by the irrational? Why compare yourself with others? Why let societal norms and convention define who you are? The internal tug-of-war persists. Often filled with self-doubt in this world that attaches a bottom line value to everything and where one always has to be good enough, I continue to question my self-worth.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Flowers from a Stranger

Friday, May 22, 2009
A girl receiving flowers from a stranger – that just happens in the movies, right? But it happened to me yesterday. As I was on my way to work, the American who usually hangs out by the corner news stand (whom I've written about here) handed me a bouquet of peach roses. He said, “I bought these for you because you have a beautiful smile. Keep smiling.” Taken aback, I didn’t know what to say. I merely smiled and said thank you.

My home is now adorned with such beautiful roses.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Departure from the Usual

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

I am so used to being in bed with a book by eight in the evening that a deviation from this daily routine feels like a grand shake-up. Coming home late last night from a colleague’s birthday party and waking up early this morning with only a few hours of sleep, I felt disoriented. I only had soda, but I woke up with a hangover.

After downing two huge mugs of coffee, I felt a sense of normalcy set in. A temporary departure from the usual is not bad after all. Being in the company of my colleagues and hearing their joyful banter is a welcome break from listening incessantly to my own thoughts.

What will drive you out of your soup-kettle?


From Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow (1978):
Now what sea is this you have crossed, exactly, and what sea is it you have plunged more than once to the bottom of, alerted, full of adrenalin, but caught really, buffaloed under the epistemologies of these threats that paranoid you so down and out, caught in this steel pot, softening to devitaminized mush inside the soup-stock of your own words, your waste submarine breath? It took the Dreyfus Affair to get the Zionists out and doing, finally: what will drive you out of your soup-kettle?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Emotional Anchor

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Often overwhelmed with frustration at the the elaborate futility of her life, she gains strength from his rocklike solidity. The feeling of hopelessness around her, she loses it only in his presence. He is her emotional anchor, her sanctuary. He gave her a sense of permanence and lifelong commitment. Enveloped in his love, her troubles cease to exist.

The more she knows him, the more she learns about herself. In his gentle, self-deprecating way, he made her realize that the conventional expressions of romance-–love expressed as clich├ęs, flimsy and predictable, sweet yet inane-–are less essential than its simple and more practical expressions - a lingering look, comforting gestures that are felt from miles away, actions that are more eloquent than what any language can convey.

Monday, May 18, 2009

No Frills

Monday, May 18, 2009

The smiling flight attendants directed us to the rear of the aircraft, all the way to the seats numbered X and Y whose backrests have stickers that say in big, bold letters, “NO FRILLS.” That’s were passengers with non-refundable, non-rebookable, non-endorsable, non-upgradable Philippine Airlines (PAL) EconoLight tickets are usually seated. We found out later that having an EconoLight ticket means more than where we were seated.

According to the PAL website:

The PAL EconoLight Class is the new "NO-FRILLS" product of PAL offered in all its regular domestic flights (excluding PAL Express) and selected international destinations. Priced lower than regular Economy Fiesta Class and designed with lesser amenities. PAL EconoLight is targeted to the budget-conscious segment of the traveling market.
By “Frills” PAL means meals, headsets, bassinets, special handling, seat reservations, lounge access, and mileage accrual. While the passengers in front of us were served complete meals, we were only given a small packet of peanuts with our choice of drink (coffee, water, juice or tea). With the delicious aroma of food engulfing our nostrils, “we’re being treated like paupers here," I said with gleeful laughter. Pillows and blankets are, thankfully, not considered frills as food and headsets were.

Having anticipated what the EconoLight class entails, we brought with us some snacks to munch on, cards to play with and a couple of books (The Human Genome for him and The Stone Diaries for me) to read during the three-and-a-half-hour flight to Thailand. For that short span of time aboard the plane, it wasn’t really that terrible. We paid 50 percent less of the amount paid by the passengers seating in the Economy Fiesta Class (the ones directly in front of us), almost four times less than that of the Business Restricted and nine times less than that of Business Unrestricted. It’s even 20 percent less than that of what the competing airline, Cebu Pacific, offers.

We were so excited about the trip that we didn’t mind the lack of amenities. And the money we saved from this cheap means of travel we spent on exploring the place we traveled to, instead.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

why begin something you can't finish?

Sunday, May 17, 2009

There's something missing here, I thought while staring at one of the walls in my apartment. My Water of Life cross-stitch, framed and all, should have been up there a long time ago. For reasons that can only be indexed under neglect and laziness, it still remains unfinished. Why begin something that you can't finish, I asked myself.


Filled with the sudden urge to see the Water of Life hanging on that blank wall, I brought out the pattern, the needle, the thread from where they were hidden and continued, yet again, with the project I started years ago.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Curlicued

Friday, May 15, 2009

Whenever I open my blog, that big round thing up there never fails to catch my attention. It looks like an eyeball, doesn’t it? A sleepy yet ever watchful Sauron, that’s what it reminds me of. Or can it be Big Brother? Or the invisible omniscience that holds supreme in the Panopticon? Or a one-eyed being from outer space? And the pink circles, don’t they look like fish eggs clinging to a stick? The small arrow in the footer area, why does it point down?

All these curlicues and geometric shapes, they must mean something. Or do they? Does everything have to have meaning? Or perhaps, like Rorschach inkblots, it’s not what is there but how it appears to us and why it appears to us that way.

My mind must be as curlicued as this template’s design to be thinking about all these things.


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Bereft of the people you used to wonder with

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is this what growing old is, when suddenly you realize that all vestiges of childhood have become disjointed memory fragments? Is it when the people who used to hold your life in balance – siblings you’ve endured hard times with, close friends who know you more than you know yourself – have all gone and built lives of their own, leaving you with that unsettling feeling that you’ve been left behind? Because of the distance, the thread that ties you to these people had been stretched so hard that you’re afraid, anytime, it might just snap. What are emails and instant messages when what you yearn for are the things that you used to share with them – the endless laughter; the long chats over coffee, hoping for change to come and wondering what the future will be like. You never thought that the future you were wondering about will be like this - bereft of the people you used to wonder with.

Is this what growing old is, when all you do is lament for and look back on what’s been lost, and not look forward to what may happen, still?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Looking for a Template

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

There are lots of easily downloadable blogger templates on the web but I can’t seem to find one that would be perfect for this blog. Muffled Solitude is in dire need of a makeover.

Suggestions, anyone?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don't you just...

Friday, May 8, 2009

Don’t you just love Facebook? It’s like eavesdropping on other people’s private conversations.

Don’t you just hate Nanay Dionisia? She brandishes her diamond-studded Rolex, unmindful of the hungry, unemployed Filipinos watching her and her son’s every move.

Don’t you just love the feeling of fallen tree leaves crackling under your feet as you step on them? Without looking up, it reminds me that there are still some trees that remain standing.

Don’t you just find the politicians with their political ads on TV ludicrous? Made presentable by sheer humbug, they wrap themselves in a semblance of substance to hide the pure wind lurking underneath.

Don’t’ you just love Manila’s weather today? The sky is blue, and the rain is gone.

Don’t you just look forward to the weekend? After days of continuous toil, we all deserve a couple of days free of meetings, deadlines and ringing telephones.

Don’t you just love it when the paintings you have saved for are now hanging (sort of) on your wall? They give you a reason to smile whenever you look at them.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

There are a lot of things that aren’t your fault. Or mine, either. Not the fault of the prophecies, or curses, or DNA, or absurdity. Not the fault of Structuralism or the Third Industrial Revolution. We all die and disappear, but that’s because the mechanism of the world itself is built on destruction and loss. Our lives are just shadows of that guiding principle. Say the wind blows. It can be a strong, violent wind or a gentle breeze. But eventually every kind of wind dies out and disappears. Wind doesn’t have form. It’s just movement of air. You should listen carefully, and then you’ll understand the metaphor.

- Haruku Murakami, Kafka on the Shore, 2005

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Community

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Finally, an urban retreat to help you manage life’s balancing act gracefully… a thoughtfully designed community where the elements of green, suburban open spaces and refreshing water elements conspire to bring you the pitch-perfect balance that you crave for your body, mind and spirit… an urban retreat where city conventions and suburban ideals are in perfect balance.”

That’s what’s written in a brochure showing some lush condominium building located in the middle of the country’s top busi
ness center. As I continued reading the text while glancing every so often at its accompanying picture of a woman wearing workout clothes and sitting in a lotus position on the newly manicured lawn—suggestively called the meditation garden--of the building, I felt something amiss. I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something that makes the whole thing off-putting. I reread the first paragraph and, as if leaping off the page, there it was, the phrase, a thoughtfully designed community, in that maddening passive voice.

By thoughtfully, somebody must have thought of the design, but it didn’t say who the designer is; or to whom it is designed for. Outside the realm of computer simulation games, the idea that a community can be designed at all is just plainly preposterous. More than the infrastructure or the physical space, a community is all about people– interactions, relationships, interrelationships, networks and linkages – with their commonalities and differences. The dynamic quality of communities can never be designed – whether thoughtfully or not.

I live in a condominium where community building is severely circumscribed and socializing is a rarity and whose impersonal air makes it difficult to develop friendly relations even with next-door neighbors. My sense of community is limited to the exchange of nods or smiles from familiar faces in the elevator; the obligatory “good morning, ma’am” from the building’s security guards; the ever-present taho vendor crouching beside the guardhouse, patiently waiting for customers every morning; the man with his push cart who sells fruits in season and carries a different, always top of the line, cell phone every time I buy from him; the brown-skinned woman expertly—and with such amazing strength—wielding the bolo to peel off the thick skin of the coconuts she’s selling; the ogling tricycle drivers with their relentless wolf-whistles; the elderly Caucasian, at all times impeccably dressed, sitting on a stool by the corner newsstand, who, when I pass by, is always in animated conversation with a local and never fails to greet me with a smile, “You look beautiful today.”

These are the familiar faces I see from day to day for several years now. They have become my people – the very people whose presence I have learned to count on everyday and whose existence brought a sense of balance to my life. We have become a community.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Pandan Bag

Monday, May 4, 2009

Just recently, I bought an eco-chic, bayong-looking handbag woven from pandan leaves. After several hours of use, I noticed that the bag’s contents--my handkerchief, umbrella, cell phone case, pencil, sunglasses case, and Corona notebook—all smelled of pandan. Its powerful scent gave the bag a more rustic feel.


Sunday, May 3, 2009

Opening Lines

Sunday, May 3, 2009

I was supposed to write a review of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, but I can’t for the life of me come up with an unbiased evaluation of anything related to marriage, the central concern of the novel. My own pride and prejudice hinder me from doing so.

Being the bookworm that I am, and still in line with the book review theme, I just decided to make a list of the books that I’ve read from January to April of this year, along with their opening lines:

Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels (John Updike)
“Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it.”

The Trial (Franz Kafka)
“Someone must have traduced Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.”

Play it as it Lays (Joan Didion)
“What makes Iago Evil? some people ask.”

The Widows of Eastwick (John Updike)
“Those of us acquainted with their sordid and scandalous story were not surprised to hear, by way of rumors from the various localities where the sorceresses had settled after fleeing our pleasant town of Eastwick, Rhode Island, that the husbands whom the three Godforsaken women had by their dark arts concocted for themselves did not prove durable.”

Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

We Were the Mulvaneys (Joyce Carol Oates)
“We were the Mulvaneys, remember us?

Bangkok 8(John Burdett)
“The African American marine in the gray Mercedes will soon die of bites from Naja siamensis, but we don’t know that yet, Pichai and I (the future is impenetrable, says the Buddha).

Angle of Repose (Wallace Stegner)
“Now I believe they will leave me alone.”

Walden; or Life in the Woods (Henry David Thoreau)
“When I wrote the following pages, or rather the bulk of them, I lived alone, in the woods, a mile from any neighbor, in a house which I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond, in Concord, Massachusetts, and earned my living by the labor of my hands only. I lived there two years and two months.”

The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
“My mother’s name was Mercy Stone Goodwill.”

Indignation (Philip Roth)
“About two and a half months after the well-trained divisions of North Korea, armed by the Soviets and Chinese communists, cross the 38th parallel into South Korea on June 25, 1950, and the agonies of the Korean War began, I entered Robert Treat, a small college in downtown Newark named for the city’s seventeenth century founder.”

The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins)
“The boy lay prone in the grass, his chin resting on his hands.”

Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories (John Updike)
“When they moved to Firetown, things were upset, displaced, rearranged.”

Operation Shylock: A Confession (Philip Roth)
“I learned about the other Philip Roth in January 1988, a few days after the New Year, when my cousin Apter telephoned me in New York to say that Israeli radio had reported that I was in Jerusalem attending the trial of John Demanjanjuk, the alleged to be the Ivan the Terrible of Treblinka.”

The Jungle (Upton Sinclair)
“It was four o’clock when the ceremony was over and the carriages began to arrive.”

Seize the Day (Saul Bellow)
“When it came to concealing his troubles, Tommy Wilhelm was not less capable than the next fellow.”

The Known World (Edward P. Jones)
“The evening his master died he worked again well after he ended the day for the other adults, his own wife among them, and sent them back with hunger and tiredness to their cabins.”

The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
“It was Wang Lung’s marriage day.”

Friday, May 1, 2009

Why We Travel

Friday, May 1, 2009

The following is from Pico Iyer’s lapidary essay, Why We Travel.

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.

…travel spins us round in two ways at once: It shows us the sights and values and issues that we might ordinarily ignore; but it also, and more deeply, shows us all the parts of ourselves that might otherwise grow rusty. For in traveling to a truly foreign place, we inevitably travel to moods and states of mind and hidden inward passages that we’d otherwise seldom have cause to visit.


Click here to read the entire essay.


 
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