Thursday, May 29, 2008

Stupid Questions

I honestly thought this would never happen again considering the grief we've put each other through at one time or another over the last few years.

Context: a common friend died ten years ago on 26 May. The foggy pink lenses of nostalgia may have colored my assessment of him, but I'll go ahead and say he was the best of us. 25 May 2008 had me sharing a ride with two people who swore on separate occasions that they would never speak to me again.

Yet here we were on the occasion of a friend's tenth death anniversary, speaking.

I am humbled and thankful by the grace that brought us back together even as I am mightily pissed off that it had to take two deaths for this to come to pass. Rey's, ten years ago (the excuse that brought us all to the same place), and mine (a symbolic death), last year.

No one really wants to sacrifice friends on the altars of their own fear or their own self-righteousness. No one truly wants to be the lamb, or goat-- the sin eater who has to die (exile himself). But it happens. It happens all the time.

I'm just one of the losers who perpetually seeks to understand, and perhaps one day, coopt and subvert the dynamics of this. Someone who bothers to talk about it outside the permitted occasions (beer with friends, funerals and bedside death watches) and put the findings on paper. Because seriously, it doesn't have to happen.

[Digression: I should have studied to be a thanatologist.]

From where I sit and type, all of this pain was needless. None of us had to go through our separate calvaries, swearing that our paths would never again cross, just to find each other after a year or two.

No need for the self-righteous posturing. No need to make public declarations that the other person is dirt when you know he isn't. No need for the greek choruses repeating and reinforcing your own bullshit. No need to form your defensive barriers against friendships that need to be repaired. No need to take those courses of action to their logical conclusion-- another useless goodbye and good riddance.

People who love should not be made to eat of this pile of hot steaming horse puckey.

Look, guys, I know I should be happy, and I am.

But this theme is simply too important to me. Without the meaning I seek I simply can't let this go.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Requiem for Rey Reyes

Attending a mass to celebrate the death of a friend ten years ago.

It'll be a cleansing experience. Another venue in which I can let go of more baggage. I've carried the "Kick Me, I was a Monster to My Ex" placard long enough, and God knows it's been a millstone 'round my neck.

I don't know what kind of miracle is supposed to happen, but I'm expecting one. Rey was a good friend to me. He was actually successful straddling the line between coolness and geekdom. He introduced us to the Sandman, the rest of the DC Comics Vertigo line, and Mobile Suit Gundam long before they became popular on the Islands. When he died he brought a bunch of us closer together.

Not holding my breath but I'm hoping for something similar this year.

I'll have to warn everyone, by the by, that my next few posts will be Dexterian in their emo content. I've a lot to say and precious little in the way of methods to say them in.


And they've struck again.

The neighbors rang the doorbell this morning and dolorously announced that someone had stolen the side mirrors of both the automobiles of my siblings.

Idiots couldn't even get a simple theft right-- they left a souvenir.

It's happened before, of course. No point in filing a report. It'd be a lot easier to just cruise Banawe Street for our stolen car parts later today. Banawe street is a short walk from where I write. It's a mecca for car enthusiasts who want cheap parts and accessories. Me, I call it Car Parts/Chop Shop Central. 

Considering the damage the thieves have likely wrought on the merchandise, they won't be getting any money for our side-mirrors Their junkie fix will have to wait.

Still, the motive could be territorial. My family's well-known in these parts and my siblings and I have likely been labeled as uppity snobs. One of us might have offended someone's sensibilities. Probably because we don't inflict A-kon or Soulja Boy on the neighborhood with the car speakers.

I didn't even have a music player in Hans, my borrowed Lancer. But he still lost a side mirror and got his windows tarred with only God knows what kind of gunk last Christmas morning.

See the pic? This is me no longer feeling violated. This is me being either being base-line pissed off or thinking "Hmmm. Curious."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Three Things

Three things can happen when you look into the depths of nothing. That is, when you use pure human reason to divine meaning from the world.

1. You go bonkers and you kill yourself. Because after you dig and dig and dig with your mind you will find out that there is no meaning, no purpose, no heaven. We're all alone and nothing really matters in the end. You can't stand the thought of it, and you think to yourself, now's a good time to punch exit. Nothing's worth anything anyway. So you take the nearest window on the high floors and fly one-way to your final destination.

2. You go bonkers and you take it out on someone else. You stare into the depths of the unfathomable and you are surprised because the nothing has eyes and stares back at you. If you ever reach this point and you are scared sh!tless, now would be a good time to turn back and run like all the armies of Hell were chasing you. (You might not be far off the mark there too.) Because if you hold your ground and you cannot endure then you will find meaning, and you will find god.

They're just not the meaning and the god your grandmama is comfortable with.

3. You accept that your mind cannot extract meaning from life beyond a certain point. That not everything can be brought under your tight-fisted control. A light goes off in your head, and you find God. Or you achieve the enlightenment and positive engagement of life that some Buddhists and Nietzscheans find. Then you move on to do your job and eat your dinner the way all enlightened luminous souls are expected to.

Guess where I am hovering now.

Celebrating Patient X

If you're seeing a shrink, chances are he's nuts. If you are seeing a shrink who is practcing psychiatry without a license (i.e. a friend) expect him to be nuts too.

Still, we work with the tools we have, no matter how poor. We can only pray for better ones we don't have to pay for.

So today I celebrate my friend and co-patient Patient X. Congratulations for staying on the wagon!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Yesterday I...

  1. ...found out my colleagues are generally good people, if possessed of the Filipino, nay, Asian caution when taking a stand. I've found out that I can more or less trust my bosses.
  2. ...found out I was right about the interconnectedness of everything. The bosses of my company and the bosses of my grandkid's company have met, pledged cooperation.
  3. bosses just found out just what kind of knife my old workplace handed them when it would not take me back. They know enough to wield me wisely, I hope.
  4. the jury's still out on yesterday's item 4.
  5. ...found out I could still swim
  6. ...found out I have a real reason to be working were I am. I'm just looking for a better one.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Today is...

  1. ...when I find out what kind of stuff my colleagues are made of.
  2. ...when I find out if my hunches about where we're all going (in the broad philosophical and physical location senses) are true.
  3. ...when I find out what kind of stuff I'm made of.
  4. ...when I find out just what kind of person I've pledged myself to.
  5. ...when I find out if I can still swim
  6. ...when I find out if I still have a real reason to be working were I am.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Eline won!

Her story, Doll Eyes, was an entry for the 2008 Romeo Forbes Children's Storywriting Competition.

Let's grab a quote from these guys:

"We ended up with a very strong set of entries in the final round, but in the end the judges (singer/actress Lea Salonga, Tin-Aw Art Gallery owner Dawn Atienza, and Associate Dean for Academic Affairs and Head of the Graduate Studies Office of UP's College of Arts and Letters Wendell Capili) were unanimous.

Congratulations to Ms. Eline Santos and to all the other finalists!"

Read the story, check out the other entries.


I remember walking into a holy place carrying my usual burdens-- among them the rent in the core of me that is at once the source of my writing and the filter through which I see the world.

I remember the many times I played in this scene: once in 1989, many more times in 1990. A few times in 1991 and 1992. I seriously thought that I would stop-- and I did, for four years. I would sporadically return when problems with the wife would threaten to overwhelm me, or when I would wake up to find that I had been overtaken by my own stupidity.

When the wife walked away in '05 the Almighty had been generous enough to let this happen when I was trying to run--and later try to save-- a company. It kept me busy. Kept me focused on something other than myself. I thought I'd found some respite after I returned from my first and only trip to Japan. I would still visit those same holy places with the usual vain hope. By the time I returned from my first and only conscious trip to Cebu, I was back in those places, seasoning my jasmine petal offerings with bile and snivel.

Flash forward to '07 and I'm in Baclaran: the same baggage wearing a different face. Like the people I studied in my anthorpology and sociology classes, I too, knocked on the plexiglass case. I, too, appealed to the Nazarene and dared to hope that my pig would fly.

I was back in those holy places throughout September, October, November, December of that year. I wept without shame until one day the glands simply quit.

In the time I spent walking from shop to shrine, I had retooled and rewritten the Novena of Confidence to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I simplified it, struck out the statements that insulted the intelligence of the reader (the ones that said "This Novena has never been known to fail") and replaced the requirements (make 81 copies and leave 9 at the shrine for each day you pray this novena) with something less ritualistic, less taxing and more reasonable for someone who wanted to level with God, and who expected God to level with him.

It worked, amazingly. I got my friend back sometime late December or early January. And for a short while I was as close to happy as when--
  • I realized I could truly care about another person regardless of what she was or what she did;
  • I realized that I truly loved and needed my friend in spite of myself;
  • I won first prize in that Talecraft competition in November
These days I don't go to those holy places as frequently as I did last year. This is partly out of disappointment. And partly out of an acceptance that I don't need to be there all the time, that He can hear me well enough regardless of where I am. I still feel the tug, though. The need to go there when the sunlight is slightly off in the mornings; when you feel a change you don't like or can't understand--manifested in the weird weather, or in how your body parts give out when they're not supposed to-- is happening even as you're helpless to do something about it.

When I finally went to the confessional I was able to resolve a few outstanding issues I had with my Maker. I somehow know that this latest snag is being handled by a higher power that means all of us well. I'm only asking that this time, once and for all, I be told that I can reasonably expect to end this labor when I push this rock up that hill once again.

Happy birthday, Tin.

Friday, May 09, 2008

The "Quickening"

Run Lola, Run

Jessica Zafra didn't like this movie. Lola (Franka Potente) predictably does a lot of running here. She has to run to save her life, to meet her boyfriend Manni's deadlines when the whole world is seemingly stacked against her. I liked it when I watched it on cable but I totally hated the local live version.

In the local adaptation, Lola feels compelled to run seemingly to save her psyche from the man who wrecked it. It's an intricate choreographed ballet where she hides behind her friends, changes bus routes and pounds the pavement. The result is always a stalemate between Lola and Manni: she flees to the safety of her apartment and a contrite Manni lamely wishes her good night at the gate. He does not tell her he loves her because it is the last thing she wants to hear.

Run Lolo Run

I've noticed that my own endurance has increased of late. I can run faster and farther than I used to, even when I was in martial arts training. Granted that my training did not involve running faster, but I did build some endurance, flexibility and muscle mass back then. I've ruined several pairs of shoes running to work the way I have, from the MRT station at Shaw Boulevard, up eleven flights of stairs everyday.

I've had to run for reasons less urgent than Lola's. I simply don't want to be late. And running up the stairwell is a good way for me to build wind.

I'm not training to run people down with a spear in a fit of blind frustration. But it's good to know I can conceivably better chase if I truly wanted to.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Importance of Being Earnest...and Ready

Her Other Name is Earnest

I was at my friend Carlo's place when they showed her in. She was a coy one, fresh out of community college and a bus from Albay. She was carrying several months of assembly line work in factories under her belt. She wanted to earn more and I was already uncaring of the reason: I'd heard variations of this story so many times I could rattle it off myself in my sleep. The gist of it was that Frances (not her real name) wanted to gain entry into a call center. Any call center.

I was somewhat a call center vet, and Carlo was once a team leader-- couldn't we help?

Yes we could, and yes we did. I'm biased towards women, and I just happen to have a pathological need to be a good samaritan.

Her Other Name isn't Ready

We looked at her sparse resume, concurred that the best way to make it better was to push her education and her willingness and ability to learn on the job. When we finished with it, that pristine single page was full of marker tracks. Put this section up here. Omit this. No need to give them your eye color and the color of your hair.

And then I had to interview her in English, backtrack, and give the same interview in Filipino.

...No, she wasn't ready.

I wound up giving her tips about putting up a brave front, putting her best foot forward and rolling with the crazy questions.

It made me think about my students: university graduates who couldn't get what they needed because of a damned language requirement. I thought of myself, too, and the people I share this work with. Long hours, crazy scheds, neural system meltdowns. Hearts too: broken, bleeding, listing-- lost and chasing pavement in the seemingly eternal night. (okay, cheesy, but it happens).

There must be something more that can be done to improve our collective lot.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

And this is how I know there is a God

...and that he has a sense of humor.

I put this thought experiment to a friend:

I'm going to lop off your arms and legs. I'll stick hot pokers in both your eyes. I'll soak you in napalm and then I'll set you on fire. I'll bribe some neurosurgeon fiddle with your brain so that you cannot turn off your pain receptors and neither can you take refuge in blacking out.

Now, tell me honestly if you can still claim that the happiness in your life depends solely on how sunny you choose it to be.

Then my mom sends me this video:

And I am laughing and shaking my head.

Allahu Akbar.

Monday, May 05, 2008


1. Wishing the Clavier Music School a happy birthday. I was supposed to be on-hand last Saturday to celebrate with Minette and the Clavier Alums. (I'll be around this week though, and I'll be bringing mudshakes or sommat similar). But I had to play superhero again. The stupid reflexes kicked in and I helped someone stave off insanity at the cost of more abdominal cramps and a possible developing ulcer for me.

God should stop making conflicted people with built-in messiah complexes. They're great fun to watch, but it's not fun when you're the conflicted person with the built-in messiah complex.

2. Wishing Arjayne a happy birthday, and congratulations too. Arjayne's been a little-sister figure to me since our time at our Japanese classes. We haven't seen each other since '05, but we've kept in touch. She's also finished high school, so warm congratulations are in order too.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Writers Suck

Because that's all they do.

When warm bodies are needed to stop the tanks, don't count on writers to be there with you. They'll be in their hotel rooms with their laptops and their notepads, writing. When you're busy making money the tried and tested way, yon writer will be busy wasting his time writing stories and filling his blogs: you're still saddled with the rent.

When someone is patently stealing your woman, writer, don't count on yourself showing up at their door and cracking skulls. You'll be at home, writing, adding one more neurosis to the ones you already have.

Cue the sound clip from America's Sweethearts. Hank Azaria's Spanish character turns to a really barely-holding-in-his-psychotic-temper John Cusack and refers to him, derisively, as--

"You puth-thy."

You'll also have the bonus of showing your unwary reader friend that the bedrock upon which he rests his sanity doesn't really exist. And then there'll be two of you f_cking up the world by making everyone uncomfortable with life as they know it. She was right who said it best:

Keep only cheerful friends; the grouches pull you down.

The world doesn't belong to contemplatives, besides. Writers in general never see the fruits of their labor. For every Stephen King and Neil Gaiman there are thousands of frustrated writers married to their own misery and (in my Mammon stories) at least one who is dating his misogyny.

You may be the next Nietzsche, the next Kafka, the next Rizal-- but look what happened to them.

Nietzsche: nuthouse, couple of strokes, death by tuberculosis.
Kafka: nuthouse, tuberculosis, death by starvation
Rizal: exile, death by firing squad

And if you luck out and do a Thoreau ... well, okay, he didn't suck. He lived a full life, though he was felled by tuberculosis at age 44.

The point is very few writers ever live to see their legacy; fewer writers ever get to have one.

What's greatness if you never get to see nor taste it? I'm altruistic enough to care about my fellow man, but I've read all the books and seen all the movies: writers end up with the girl and the happy ending only in the stories they write. And I'm sick of watching everyone else's happy ever after.