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


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


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


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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