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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, February 13, 2006

entry arrow12:14 AM | Love for the Lonesome

"That's the way love goes."
-- Janet Jackson

One of my favorite lines from a poem comes from Danton Remoto's elegantly sad "The Way We Live." It is not a love poem, but a poetically-rendered chart of modern living. So why am I writing about it just in time for Valentine's Day? It defines for me, perhaps, what drives people to seek comfort in other people's arms.

Opening first to stanzas exploring the various ways with which we set tempo to our modern, cosmopolitan lives, the poem leads to this epiphany:

Of listening to stories at Cine Cafe:
the first eye-contact,
conversations glowing
in the night,
lips and fingers touching,
groping for each other's loneliness.

That last line -- about "groping for each other's loneliness" -- somehow always gets me, and not usually because I am a regular sentimental schmuck who sees poetic distillation of pathos and bursts to knowing tears. It gets me, because it somehow refines to naked essence the formula with which we have trapped ourselves in trying to connect with other people in what can be described as an Age of Disconnection. I always tell my literature classes when we come around to discussing Danton's poem, that one of the saddest pictures indicative of the sorry state we live in is when I once saw a couple of college friends seated opposite each other around a cafe table, the drone of traffic about them, both of them wrapped up in silence and with the marvelous dexterity of their fingers on cellphone keys -- busy texting each other.

Consider that picture, and consider the "connections" we so long want to foster through the blind, bottle-in-the-ocean means of mIRC chatting, Internet personals, blogging, Friendster and Downelink, etcetera. This is increasingly an Age of Disconnection, chiefly made up of loneliness, its symptoms still in the margins but rising steadily as cities grow, as cosmopolitan alienation mounts, as technology becomes even more sophisticated to a degree wherein nobody has to leave their own houses, or rooms, any more. (Japan, the most densely populated country in the world and also the most technologically-advanced, there is now a phenomenon called hikikomori where increasing numbers of young men and women have retreated to their apartments or bedrooms for years, to come out only once every few months to buy new CDs to download to their iPODs.)

That gets me: how we "grope" -- such a powerful verb that denotes longing and furtiveness -- to find connection, if only to fill-in our unsaid, unacknowledged loneliness: basically two emptinesses defying the negative space to make up even just a shred of fulfillment.

But you might say this is a harsh way of viewing the world. "Love still exists and abounds," you can very well retort. I do not doubt you that. In fact, if there is any comfort at all in this observation, Valentine's Day in the Philippines is fast becoming an industry, a regular sell-out celebration of all those roses and cards and hotel rooms and tickets to dinners at the swankiest restaurants all over every city. Love abounds -- but disconnection also seems to be keeping even strides to it as well. Sometimes, when I am out on a Valentine dinner myself and I happen to scan the candle-lit room, I see that there are just too many couples becoming the very illustration of Remoto's line. Sometimes that saddens me.

And sometimes, the very same thing shatters me.

I still remember, after all these days, Ang Lee's Brokeback Mountain -- the perfect Valentine's Day film date if you can ever have one. Bring a box of Kleenex because, while it is a movie about the transcendence of love, it is also about the tragic consequences of loneliness and disconnection, and how often we choose to forego of love because society often cruelly dictates that some connections are just "not right" at all. Everywhere in the world, the film has sparked much debate, loathing, and loving -- more often because it breaks ground in the fact that it is a gay cowboy movie, and the first one of its kind to be a serious contender for moviedom's top prize: the Oscar. (It has also become a surprise hit, becoming the heart-tugging favorite of the unlikeliest demographic: straight women, the same crowd who made Titanic the most-watched film of all time.)

Like I've said before in this blog, I saw Brokeback Mountain more than a week ago. Finishing it, I found the weight of its tragedy and love story, as well as its cinematic silences, too heavy to bear. It made me almost catatonic. I stopped whatever it was I was doing. I did not write. I did not go out much. I replayed and replayed the DVD, to the point where I could almost smell the snow-capped mountains of Wyoming themselves.

I had no idea how to exactly articulate what I felt. I felt mute. What to say, after all, about the best-reviewed film of 2005? Based on a short story by Pulitzer-winning author Annie Proulx, the story charts the lives of two young cowboys Ennis del Mar (Heath Ledger) and Jack Twist (Jake Gyllenhaal) who meet one summer herding sheep in the beautiful mountains of Wyoming. One fateful night of discovery changes their lives -- even after coming down from the mountains, and even after their respective marriages to other people, and even after the silence of the years since then. When they finally meet up once more, they are surprised to find there is still that consuming passion between them. And yet, given the moral restrictions of both time and geography (Wyoming, after all, is where Matthew Shepard was murdered in the 1990s for being gay), they chose to keep the relationship a secret -- without success, because contraband secrets always have a way of spilling over our lives and disrupting everything in it.

The film is what you would call a typical doomed love story fashioned out of Romeo and Juliet, this time with a gay twist and the Marlboro man put in to upset that longtime icon of American maleness. But how exactly did a small movie about love-torn cowboys manage to become the most-talked about film of the year? And why did it render me silent? If you remember, the film critic Erik Lundegaard provided me with the answer.

Be careful with Brokeback Mountain. It can consume you. It will certainly become a landmark of sorts in your mind's geography, and you will wonder how one small and quiet cowboy film can render you meditative, and silent, and envying how people can love with such passion, and how people can grapple heroically, and with tragic consequences, with loneliness and despair.

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