Trust me, in the long run, workshops certainly do not constitute a workable leadership style.
Of course, there are many ways to lead a people, not all of them always successful. The truism goes that there never is any one formula for great leadership -- that what would work for a Margaret Thatcher or a Ramon Magsaysay would probably not work for a Tony Blair or a Joseph Estrada. Circumstances will never always be the same, and the nuances of personality certainly lend a lot to whether a particular style can lead to mayhem, or maturity. For every soft dictatorship of a Lee Kuan Yew, for example, there is always the polar opposite of the mindless totalitarian terror of Stalin or Pol Pot. And for every democratic graces of a Nelson Mandela, there will always be the flip-flopping softness of a Corazon Aquino. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, in the beginning, was bent on continuing the leadership style of her president-father, but now would seem dangerously close to emulating the mistakes of the person who unseated her father from Malacanan -- Ferdinand Marcos.
Leadership, it seems to us, has nothing to do with personal morals or history even. Fidel Ramos was an architect of the Martial Law, yet he managed to usher in, even if only for a very short time, an economic turn-around for the Philippines. Some of the best American presidents -- Franklin Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, and Bill Clinton among them -- flaunted mistresses in the public eye, while Bible-reading do-gooder Jimmy Carter was considered for the most part as a fumbling chief executive who was a lameduck throughout most of his presidency.
Then there is the feedback from those who are led: all of us have certain leadership styles we respond to. I, for one, like being under the wings of someone who can manage to inflame my imagination with a show of measured ambition. But I wilt under the slow grind of consensus: it reminds me of a time in Tokyo when the dormitory leadership I was subjected to took care to rein in the tiniest bit of opinion from all forty members of the house...over such ingratiating details such as whether to buy a blue mop, or a red mop. (It took thirty minutes to settle on a brown one.) I also like a non-patronizing pat on the back, which is always a fuel for any member of an organization. But I also know a lot of friends who respond favorably in complete opposite ways -- and they thrive in those styles as well.
Consider a yearbook editorial staff I once joined in college under the leadership of a young classmate who was, let us just say, eager to please everybody. Hers was a leadership style I found familiar in many local organizations: it was a kind of consensus-building taken to such uber-democratic extremes it virtually became a tyranny of the nonsensical. Do you remember the maxim, "A camel is a horse designed by a committee"? It felt that way. Our young editor was too eager to take in everybody's advice that the yearbook we eventually produced became a mad combination of a cookbook and a fashion spread, with cartoon characters -- among them a cow, a hen, and a cook -- sprinkled all over the pages giving gossip and sage advice. It was a veritable disaster.
What my former editor really lacked was a personal and concrete vision she should have fought for, a singular aesthetic principle she should have with which to rally the staff over to create a product pulsating with organic unity. And because she landed a job without a clear vision of what she wanted, she fell for a mutant kind of consensus that resulted to a half-baked job. Alfred Hitchcock, the acclaimed film director, is a paragon of somebody with uncompromising foresight. He created each of his movies with a thorough vision, assembling the necessary elements to create an effective whole. From his oeuvre come some of the best films ever made, including Psycho, Vertigo, North by Northwest, and Rear Window.
The same characteristic can be found in many of our most effective leaders. It thrills us when Microsoft's Bill Gates sets a deadline date for a revolutionary new software to be launched and shipped, even though the barest outlines of a design have yet to reach the drawing boards. It thrills us when Oprah Winfrey envisions a "Wildest Dreams" extravaganza, luring in television viewers with her quest for the happy life. It thrills us when Abraham Lincoln sets out to abolish slavery in a country teeming with the practice, resulting finally to a cleansing Civil War that would change forever American history.
This illustrates a grand definition of leadership, taking seriously the metaphor of being a captain of the ship, steering everybody to a destination one sees ahead.
The Indian hero Mohandas Gandhi had vision, something so steadfast he died for it. He wanted a political and religious independence for India from the British, where there would be equality between Hindu and Muslim, and between people of different castes. With his vision came enablement, empowerment, and energy. He walked the talk -- Gandhi was the program he advocated. He fasted. He used his charisma, his disregard for self, and his words to effect change. They worked. And everything started, of course, with vision. From that vision sprang India.
The sad thing is that "vision" is what is most especially lost in Dumaguete City.
We had a mayor once who had vision: he wanted a future Metro Dumaguete that considered a steady realignment of population, traffic, and sectoral centers. He wanted our main street to become a pedestrian walkway patterned after the best cities in the world, and even hired an architect of American renown to blueprint what would have been the future. He wanted a marina that would have been the capstone to a grander version of a Dumaguete Boulevard. He wanted a new city center that would have shifted progress and expansion to an underdeveloped part of the city, so that Dumaguete could grow out more evenly instead of just having everything concentrated on three thoroughways.
People got scared, softened as they were by the false illusions of old-time gentility.
It is a damning reflection of the political maturity of Dumaguetenos when this visionary was voted out of office, to be replaced by somebody whose most decisive act of late was to ban The Da Vinci Code from movie theaters.
Because, one could ask: What is the vision for Dumaguete City? Today, one looks at the local headlines to finally see how our previous fears and illusions of gentility and living in the past have overtaken our circumstances. A fellow blogger Dominique Cimafranca, somebody who takes to heart the development of Dumaguete, talked about this before in these pages.
And how did Dumaguete fare [in city competitiveness]? Let's just say that we could have done much better. We didn't make it into the top ten list of the small cities category, a distinction enjoyed by nearby Tagbilaran.
How did this state of affairs come about? Why, despite our vaunted position as university town and BPO destination, did we rank below our close neighbor? It was with questions like these that I and several other members of the Dumaguete community from academe, business, government, media, and civil society attended the PCCRP workshop held at Silliman University... Some of the findings pointed to things we already know about, in fact, are issues the citizens have been raising for the past several years: unreliable and costly electricity, poor interconnection between [telephone companies], heavy traffic, and the growing incidence of crime. Some...were also eye-openers: that Dumaguete, comparatively, is an expensive place to do business in, that our local inflation rate is high, and that correspondingly, the prices of our basket goods also becomes high. Some findings were also alarming: the types of graduates we are producing do not match the needs of the local economy, ostensibly because our best and brightest students have their eyes set to opportunities outside of the city.
Some findings, on the surface, seemed contradictory unless one knows the peculiarities of the city. According to the study, we have a good road network and an acceptable vehicular density; however, our traffic management is poor. Of course, that's because of the pecularities of the stop-and-go traffic and whimsical habits of our tricycle drivers. According to the study, we have a good ratio of policemen to the population; at the same time, the incidence of crime and resolved murders is high. Draw your own conclusions.
My conclusion: poor and clueless city leadership backed by a politically immature population.
In the final analysis, nobody -- certainly not me -- is asking anybody to be a Superhero. We ask only for a leader with a vision, and a populace who knows how to elect one. We need somebody who is beyond saying, "I don't have the monopoly on ideas," and then proceed to suggest...another workshop.
I will end with a quote from Mick Yates, a globe-trotting CEO who also runs the international organization LeaderValues:
Leadership starts with having a vision, then developing a plan to achieve it. It is based both on data assessment and intuition, hope and fear. It is a noble challenge. A vision of the future is the key to getting started as a leader. Without one, go back to square one.
Dumaguete has enough of always being in square one. Please, let's up the ante, and embrace the future.
It was not a completely successful revision. In the end, I lacked the time to do something more drastic that would give me an ounce of editing satisfaction, but the slightly trimmed version of "A Strange Map of Time" has been sent to the publisher for inclusion in the Fully Booked anthology of the winning stories in the Neil Gaiman Awards. I took some elements I considered not important to the plot, and for an agonizing hour or so, also seriously considered putting in a more concrete or "scientific" basis for the time travel part of the story.
I thought about it, but the whole time travel paradox kept me from doing so. I remembered a decision I made a long time ago when I was writing the story that I had to render the time travel element in terms of the fantastic and not the scientific because that was the only "plausible" way of exploiting it. Inserting clean scientific explanations would seriously mar that fantastic element. I think I was channeling Gabriel Garcia Marquez or Dean Francis Alfar more than I was channeling Poul Anderson. Like magic, the sense of wonder is better gained when one does not know the exact mechanism of the illusion.
And that ends this chapter of my life. We move on.
The Independent Spirit Awards -- the prestigious award-giving body for independent films in the U.S. known for its star-studded but dressed-down awards show -- has just releases its list of nominations, and Ang Pagdadalaga ni Maximo Oliveros made the cut for Best Foreign Language Film!
The other nominees in the same category are 12:08 East of Bucharest (Romania), Chronicle of an Escape (Argentina), Days of Glory (France, Morocco, Algeria, and Belgium), and The Lives of Others (Germany).
12:50 PM |
Getting Serious About Dumaguete's Future
The op-ed pages of the last issue of MetroPost has already listed down the so-called "mayorables" for Dumaguete City -- and among the usual suspects, we have a dance diva with provincial connections, a restaurant chain magnate with an eye on tourism, and an environmentalist hankering for family values. Only one or two of them seem perfectly suited for a city in a crossroad transition, but that's a debate that will have to be deliberated in the coming days. In a sense, however, the list has unofficially opened the local political season that will culminate in next year's elections.
That the article ends with a caveat for the "probability" of their running for office is particularly troubling, however, leaving me no choice but to diagnose Dumaguete politics as an arena for cowards. God help us all.
In the next few random posts, I will be taking a break from my usual cultural haunts to explore in a pseudo-haphazard manner a very important pre-election question: Where will Dumaguete be in the next few years with the mandate we will be giving the newly elected city officials in 2007?
The cynical might say, "Nowhere." For many, local politics, even with a change of administration, is just the same merry-go-round in the increasingly unlovely quagmire we call our city. A friend has already remarked, voice dripping with the disappointed tone of one who has lived here for many years (and is itching to go somewhere else): "Dumaguete naman thrives on maintaining the status quo, no matter how stupefying that status quo can be. Really. It is a city feeding on a fear for change. No, I take that back. It is a city bred on having no vision, and no originality whatsoever. What it calls progress are just mom-and-pop operations -- it used to be Internet cafes, now it is the cellphone shop and massage parlor and vehicle emission testing centers -- that are more trendy and gaya-gaya than anything else, only to fall away months later because wala'y proper foundation." One could only say, in return, "Ouch."
We need not look further to see a ready symbolism for the way Dumaguete has come to be in the last few years. Our own narrow streets, clogged with tricycle traffic, seem to be the perfect metaphor for us all: in Dumaguete, there is this embedded incapacity to cope with the times, creating a humming havoc that leaves us only with so much frustration and dismay.
Yet we go on with our lives, invariably thinking that who wins the city leadership does not really matter for most of us. What accounts for this growing lack of faith? City Hall has remained to this day shrouded with mysterious processes and bureaucratic mess, with local events often overtaking it to unmask its basic incompetence.
For many of us voters and concerned Dumaguetenos, 2007 beckons with a promise of change. In the political landscape now slowly unfurling before our eyes, we see those with political ambitions to grind realigning themselves to prepare for the political battles ahead. The undertows of political maneuvering have been set to motion, and there really is no getting away from this machinery. But what we ordinary citizens only have is our vote, and our fervent wishes for Dumaguete.
My wishes are simple: for our city to finally develop a sense of political maturity, because the truth of the matter is that the city's future is locked with the political. Who we vote into office in 2007 is a crucial question, one that can make or break us.
I wish we can learn from history and from current events. I wish we can learn to put to task our so-called public servants, and make them answerable for the issues at hand. I remember a headline story in a local newspaper many years ago, when the current mayor was just elected anew into his old post. In that story, he said he was "shocked" by what he found in Dumaguete's outlying communities when he went on his reelection campaign. The crushing poverty! he said with the drama of a political old hand. Which, of course, made me pause. Only now does he know that? But who was Dumaguete mayor for what seemed like forever? Today, I can still go to the same outlying communities, and still see the same damning indifference to poverty he so eloquently promised to change.
Two weeks after the elections of 2004, we predictably settled to a characteristic deadening placidity that disguises itself as Dumagueteno gentility -- an illusion that banishes the reality of inherent infrastructural instability (traffic! non-existent building codes!), unchecked population increase (the city's becoming a bit crowded, isn't it?), lack of economic vision, and now, unsolved crime.
Now, more than ever, we need to ask our questions of our city: Where is Dumaguete next taking us? What has it got to offer us now beyond the old temptations of a laid-back, gentle life, where everything seems to be stamped with convenience's name?
Dumaguete needs change. Now.
It is sad to note however that -- if we are to believe the same MetroPost columnist -- our current "mayorables" seem bent on staying out of the race, if the incumbent chooses not to seek for a higher office. For them, that may signify some kind of political loyalty -- all of them are friends after all, and are members of the same ruling elite in Dumaguete.
But for many of us, that wishy-washiness smacks of patronage politics and ultimate cowardice, and they will become no better than the trapos that is the death of Philippine governance. It begs this situation, after all: that in an intelligent population of a so-called University Town, no one is qualified at all, or brave enough, to take our city into the future.
10:08 PM |
Goodbye to the Philippine Literature Website
In just one click (well, that's too dramatic: maybe three or five), I deleted the entire A Critical Survey of Philippine Literature website.
Why? Because I needed to. Because I wanted to start anew, from scratch. Because it was getting too huge, and I needed to do this properly the second time around. It startled me when I heaved a big sigh the moment everything went poof! Truth be told, I haven't even been to that website in more than two years, disillusioned by the fact that I can't even utilize it because of too much traffic. So I decided to delete it, because I want to right things.
The one thing I don't like about living far, far from Manila is the way it completely removes me from so many things I consider important. Like friends. Like bookstores. Like first-run movie theaters and good restaurants. Like being part of the cultural grind. Like getting things first-hand. Like being part of the PEN Conference this year, for example. I was supposed to be part of the panel on "Literature and the New Media" with Lito Zulueta, Dean Alfar, Khavn de la Cruz, Marjorie Evasco, Vim Nadera, Ambeth Ocampo, and Charlson Ong. But circumstances barring me from attending were just a little too overwhelming, compounded of course by the distance.
[My pretty boy poet Ned Parfan has some pictures...]
But I swear, this is going to be the last opportunity I will be passing up. From here on, I will be a little bit more discerning with things...
I have yet to see his last film, A Prairie Home Companion but I find it strange that in the last month, I've been inexplicably drawn to his films, watching old favorites such as Short Cuts and Gosford Park and The Company and McCabe and Mrs. Miller and The Player (and even the much-spanned Pret-a-Porter).* Today, Mr. Altman is dead at 81 from complications of cancer. I find myself seriously grieving. (The last time I grieved like this for a cultural icon, it was for Susan Sontag.) Earlier this year, while receiving his honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement (he's been nominated for Best Director five times, but never won one -- a travesty of epic proportions), Mr. Altman broke his silence about a heart transplant he had a few years ago. Yet he continued working, churning out a slate of films in recent years that would constitute a "comeback" of sorts. He was truly an amazing director, defining the very word "maverick."
At the moment, signs of his influence are everywhere: in the overlapping dialogue and interlocking scenes of a television show like The Wire, for example, or in the multiple narratives drawn together around a theme or a location, in films like Babel, Bobby, Crash and Fast Food Nation. And in the last year of his life, the Hollywood establishment, which had often treated Mr. Altman like a crazy old uncle, hailed him as a patriarch, presenting an honorary Academy Award as compensation for the half-dozen he should already have had. He accepted it with his usual wry, brusque grace, after allowing himself to be upstaged by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep, whose tribute -- one talking over the other, no sentences finished or thoughts completed, all of it perfectly timed -- was funnier and more moving than any Oscar moment had any right to be.
Here's the clip from the 2006 Oscar telecast with Altman muses Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep giving an introduction to the director in the trademark Altman style of "overlapping dialogue":
This is the trailer to what critics claim to be his finest film, Nashville:
This is from 3 Women:
YouTube has the whole Brewster McCloud movie. This is the opening credits:
This is from The Long Goodbye:
This is from California Split:
This is from Popeye:
This is the magnificent opening shot of The Player:
This is from The Company:
This is from A Prairie Home Companion:
This is a clip of Altman being interviewed about the making of M*A*S*H, his second film, but the one that made his reputation:
According to a new study titled "Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies" published in the Journal of Religion and Society, there is actually an inverse relationship between religiosity and public health and social stability.
"In general," the author Gregory Paul writes, "higher rates of belief in and worship of a creator correlate with higher rates of homicide, juvenile and early adult mortality, STD infection rates, teen pregnancy and abortion in the prosperous democracies."
Fairfax Digital's Emily Maguire reports: "A striking example of this is the US, which has the highest degrees of religious faith and the highest rates of homicide, abortion, STD infection and teenage pregnancy. The least religious countries -- Japan, France and Scandinavia -- have the lowest rates of violent crime, juvenile mortality and abortion."
Is this why everytime I see evangelicals congregating, I shiver like in an encounter with evil?
Last February, I submitted a prose poem of some sort to an anthology being edited by Mykel Andrada, Joi Barrios, and Rolando Tolentino, a compilation of protest literature against the high and mighty imp of the land. (If you know your politics, you will not ask who.) And then I promptly forgot about it.
Today, I received separate emails from Myke and Rolando, about news of a booklaunching. Which set me to scrambling. What did I submit? What was it all about? I googled the contents of my Gmail, and found I sent something called "Personal Politics." It is part of the volume now titled Subverso: Mga Tula at Kuwento Laban sa Pulitikal na Pandarahas.
From the introduction:
Tereyn ng Panitikan at Pang-uring Tunggalian By Mykel Andrada, Joi Barrios at Rolando B. Tolentino
Simula nang manungkulan si Gng. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo noong 2001, umaabot na sa halos 800 ang kaso ng mga pulitikal na pamamaslang sa bansa. Ayon pa sa KARAPATAN, isang alyansang nagsusulong ng karapatang pantao, simula 2001 hanggang Nobyembre 2006, humigit-kumulang 200 naman ang bilang ng desaparecidos o iyong mga biglang naglaho dahil sa pandurukot ng hinihinalang mga elemento rin ng militar at gobyerno. Ayon naman kay Purificacion Quisumbing, Tagapangulo ng Commission on Human Rights (CHR), ang limang-taong panunungkulan ni Arroyo ay nagluwal ng mas maraming kaso ng paglabag ng karapatang pantao kumpara sa 15-taong pinagsama-samang panunungkulan nina Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos at Joseph Estrada. Nangangahulugan lamang na ang maikling administrasyon ni Arroyo ang mas pasistang rehimen, kasama na ang diktadurya ni Marcos, sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas.
Ang kasaysayan ng bansa ay kasaysayan ng protesta't rebolusyon. Kasaysayan itong naiukit sa imahinasyong pampanitikan ng bansa. Mula sa tradisyong protesta ng Kilusang Propaganda noong panahon ng kolonyalismong Kastila sa bansa, sa rebolusyunaryong panulat ng Katipunan, sa dupluhan at balagtasan, sa panitikang andergrawnd, hanggang sa patuloy na pagyabong ng tradisyong radikal sa kasalukuyan. Ito ay kasaysayang isinulat at isinusulat. Ito ay kasaysayang isinasagawa. Sa ganitong lapit isinusulong ang ikaapat na serye ng Publikasyong Iglap, ang Subverso: Mga Tula at Kuwento Laban sa Pulitikal na Pandarahas. Ang koleksiyong ito ng mga tula at maikling kuwento ay tumutuligsa sa umiigting na paglabag ng administrasyong Arroyo sa karapatang-pantao, kabilang na ang tumataas pa ring bilang ng pulitikal na pamamaslang at dumaraming bilang ng desaparecidos.
The contributors include Bayani S. Abadilla, Aurelio S. Agcaoili, Mila D. Aguilar, Rio Alma, Mark Angeles, Monico M. Atienza, Romulo P. Baquiran, Don Belardo, Herminio S. Beltran, Jr., Kristoffer Berse, Ian Rosales Casocot, Dexter B. Cayanes, Piya Cruz Constantino, Gary Devilles, Iris Pagsanjan-Estrera, Tom Estrera III, Eugene Y. Evasco, Melecio Fabros, Jayson Fajarda, Edel E. Garcellano, German V. Gervacio, Genaro R. Gojo Cruz, Vladimeir B. Gonzales, Kenneth Roland Al. Guda, Lisa C. Ito, Estelito B. Jacob, Jose F. Lacaba, Bienvenido L. Lumbera, Cynthia Nograles Lumbera, Maricristh Magaling, Rogelio Ordonez, Will P. Ortiz, Roselle V. Pineda, Axel Pinpin, Nonilon V. Queano, Peye Rana, Alexander Martin Remollino, Elyrah Loyola Salanga, Romulo A. Sandoval, Ina Stuart Santiago, Lilia Quindoza Santiago, Soliman A. Santos, Prestoline Suyat, Tomasito T. Talledo, John Iremil E. Teodoro, Enrico C. Torralba, and Renato O. Villanueva.
The launch will be on 23 November 2006, Thursday, 2-5pm, Claro M. Recto Hall, Faculty Center, U.P. Diliman.
Apparently, according to some befangled algorithm, I'm a...
I belong to the Middle Authority Group, which means that 10 to 99 blogs have linked to mine in the last 6 months, acccording to Kineda's Blog. For somebody who has been blogging for the last three years, it's a dismal performance. But I do take my blogging vacations a little too seriously, eh?
There are two things that actually make me nervous in my life: the ringing of telephones, and the act of writing letters.
If every life can be explained in the Freudian sense -- that the child is father to the man -- I go about sometimes trying to search through what I remember of my childhood to explain the irrationality of my fears. Because they are irrational. Who can be scared of ringing phones and writing letters? Snakes, spiders, and great heights as sources of phobia are easily understandable -- but phones and letters?
If I am lying down right now in some shrink's couch, I would probably get this kind of psychoanalysis: that letters and phones being instruments of communication, I am thus inherently fearful of communicating. My fears have constructed me a perfect way of shutting off the entire world where no words and no one can reach me.
In my darkest hours, I try to understand where all these spring from. Was it because, when I was growing up and the family was still dirt poor, I had an absentee father whose silence was so great I never got to even comprehend the man? Was it because I had a mother who had to scrape through a living to feed six children, and every knock on the door could prove to be a solicitor asking for a debt to be paid?
One of my scariest memories is of an afternoon in Tubod where we lived before. I was a young boy, only in grade school. Our mother had just received some legal summons from the local distributor of a popular ladies' wear brand; in it, she was being accused of not being able to pay an outstanding debt. What I remember most was the fear in mother's face. It was the look of a stricken woman whose communication from the outside world was ready to bury her in. In my child's mind, it was a fear that registered a lot of scary possibilities: that she could go to prison, for example, and I would no longer have a mother to take care of me. Every knock on the door simply was a chance for a rude disruption from the real world. Perhaps then it would be better to seal off the whole world by not communicating.
But of course this is me trying to understand myself. Even I tell myself -- in monologues that border on the neurotic -- that maybe I am only rationalizing a certain laziness to communicate. Then again, what explains the palpitations I feel every time the phone rings, or when there is a knock on the door, or when there is anticipation that I am about to begin a letter? I get clammy hands, and my breathing becomes noticeably short. Like all cowards, I unconsciously choose to "run away." This year, for example, I had decided to cut off my landline telephone, opting only for the Internet access that had -- at least -- the buffering mechanism of not being too instantaneous as a telephone call. I still have the tendency even today to never answer calls received over my cellphone when no name registers, showing only a number that I do not recognize. Perhaps these are all my ways of shutting off the world that frankly scares me.
There is one more thing about letter-writing that scares me. It boils down to the fact that I have created this fiction of myself as a writer. And so, every time there is a need for me to write letters, there is this sword of expectation hanging above my head that forces me to consider writing letters worthy of my being a "writer." Hence, I write quite long ones, even almost "literary" ones. Just because. This tendency frankly exhausts me: there is no joy at all in this expectation. Luis Francia, a New York-based writer who is the only person in the world I have confided to regarding this problem of my aversion to letter-writing, once suggested helpfully: "You don't have to write beautiful literary letters. Simple ones will do. Even short emails are enough." Which is wisdom, really; and wisdom that I believe in as well. But still. Write short letters? My mind gets boggled.
My brothers Edwin and Rey insist that I break this fear, and I have assured them that I will. Maybe it is time for me to exorcise my demons, to break away from my fetters. I understand where both of them are coming from. I can imagine Rey in the metropolitan hellishness of Los Angeles and Edwin in the cold sway of Fribourg in Switzerland, hoping for some warmth of news from home. Any missive should be coming from me, the supposed journalist cum writer. That I do not do what is expected me smacks of irresponsibility, really.
Sometimes though, the reason is living itself. There are just not enough hours in the day to get me through the intricacies, the small and eternal emergencies, of life. Even the banal moments take time. How all things pile up! the insubstantial among the emergencies, all things in a merry glee that never ceases to hoodwink me into forgetting which is which. The divide between things becomes blurry. Where to begin? is the question I have bored myself asking. Even the journal I keep to keep track of my days is of no help. It has become a record of recriminations instead, of things left undone, and of things that loom in the immediate horizon, threatening to pull me in their gravity of work and expectations. At 31, I am the adult I have always feared I would become: shaped by schedules and things-to-do. There are days when I can feel my youth seeping out slowly -- my clock is ticking, for one thing, and I know I am no longer the young man I still feel in my head.
Then again, tomorrow is always another day, and with it always springs a kind of hope that things will always fall into place.
Almost done with all preparations for the new semester. Enjoying my classes, and my new schedule which allows me most mornings free. (It's nice to know you can start your working day at 3 p.m. For somebody who is not a morning person, that is good news.) More from this life later...
Some time ago, Lyde Villanueva -- a former student -- informed me that I was to give a kind of introduction to a little poetry reading one evening. That this was a poetry reading with a "queer" twist proved to be the main point of interest, and it got me thinking.
I took the opportunity to do a quick overview of literature by gay and lesbian writers in the country, a tradition of local literature that may have been relegated to the margins but which nevertheless continues to draw powerful interest. Gayness in the Philippines has a long "tradition," and queer theorist and poet J. Neil C. Garcia has in fact cited that the powerful, cross-dressing babaylanes of long ago could prove to be our native counterpart of what Oscar Wilde has wittily described as someone "who's love dare not speak its name."
That being gay and lesbian in our country has since then been dragged through the mud of prejudice in the ensuing years -- through the Spanish colonial period and the American colonial period -- is unforgivable, and poetry readings such as what we had and the like are instruments one can use to fight a tyranny of prejudice that do not belong to any person who thinks himself educated and enlightened.
Our early gay writers proved themselves equal to the task of overcoming the silence that they were banished to: Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero -- the father of Philippine drama -- wrote his highly autobiographical novel A Clash of Cymbals, Severino Montano wrote The Lion and the Faun, Orlando Nadres wrote the infamous play "Hanggang Dito Na Lamang...At Maraming Salamat," and Tony Perez wrote the novel Cubao 1980. They paved the way for our contemporary gay writers who now write without fear that they would be disowned by a disproving society. Today you have the powerful writings of Jaime An Lim, J. Neil C. Garcia, Danton Remoto, Ernesto Superal Yee, Bobby Flores-Villasis, and the gay and lesbian writers of Ladlad and Ladlad 2 and Tibok: Heartbeat of Filipino Lesbians -- anthologies that have surprised everyone in the Philippine literary world for their ability to sell more copies than anyone even imagined. And this in a country that is supposedly staid and conservative.
But what exactly is "gay literature"? How do we know when a poem or a short story is gay or lesbian? Is it just any text full of same-sex shenanigans? In his famous essay "Gay Lit 101", Garcia tries to grapple with the concept of queer reading when he was asked to present a class on "Queer Literature" as a literature elective in the University of the Philippines in 1994. He details the presumptions and tribulations he had to go through to teach the very controversial course, and in it, he dissects further two main issues: first, that there is a lack of universal agreement of what constitutes homosexuality; and second, that there is definitely a way to read and view gay literature.
Garcia asks, "Is homosexuality a mere question of roles? But think of the Latin American gay stories that tell of male characters who regularly engage in homosexual sex, and yet remain 'macho' simply because they look the part, as well as enact the role of the activo (penetrator) in the sexual act itself."
Is it a question then of dress and behavior? (No. Have you even seen Boys Don't Cry?) Is it a question of gender preference? (No. Have you seen Jeffrey? In that movie, one hears of the true-to-life case of a man who had gender reassignmemt surgery -- a red flag for gayness for many, many people -- but only because he wants to sleep with women, this time as a lesbian.) For the most part, drawing the line at specifics can be very difficult to ascertain. Accordingly, gayness is not so much a matter of how one looks anymore, as what one feels and does.
What then are the qualities that would distinguish gay literature from straight literature? Garcia comes up with two definitions of gay literature. There is self-conscious gay literature, which are writings by gays who know they are gay, and who write gay stories for gay audiences. Then there is unconscious gay literature, which are writings that can be read in a "gay way."
The last one is a more problematic category -- and more fun -- because it involves questioning the grounds upon which we are able to distinguish forms of desire. Because these are stories of menage a trios, where Lover A desires Woman C less because of her own intrinsic attributes than because he imagines Lover B to be desiring her as well (good examples in films would be The Talented Mr. Ripley or Enemy at the Gates). Because these are stories where one male character's hatred for another male character is both unmotivated and underexplained (for example, James Purdy's short story, "You May Safely Gaze," or the Biblical epic Ben-Hur, where two best friends suddenly turn against the other). Because these are stories that can include Sesame Street's Bert and Ernie (they always sleep in the same bedroom!), The Lion King's Timon and Pumba (they were both banished and shamed -- hakuna matata! -- for being different!), even Batman and Robin. (My favorite example has always been Mulan, about a girl who sings a song called "Reflection," where she asks questions about when her reflection will show who she really is inside -- and the next thing we know, she's in male drag.)
The final question should be: Taking all these into consideration, who isn't gay then? Garcia says: "Sexual desires are rather complex realities that all at once straddle both choice and accident, nature and nurture; they are also extremely malleable human attributes that have the potential to vary from culture to culture, and from history to history. Moreover, despite the fact that these stories may be gay (because they discuss conscious and/or unconscious gay experience, they nonetheless talk about things that are never so different from the experiences of non-gay readers that they cannot be understood from just anyone's own unique perspective."
I am going to finish by invoking a poem by a good friend of mine, the poet Ronald Baytan. It is entitled "Crossroads," and for me it encapsulates the very essence of queer consciousness in local literature.
With their steps two men magnify the desolation of the dark deserted street. The wind coaxes them to speak but they remain silent and separate, hesitant to touch each other's hand.
According to Garcia, one should give these men a reprieve from the silence. Thus we celebrate "difference" now by holding poetry readings such as the one my students had in Silliman.
I have this tendency to shrug away instances of superstition as a flaw of character, although in my quiet moments I believe there is a spiritual dimension to this world, a supernatural ether that surrounds us, affects us, although we do not have the eyes to see it.
Last night, I was haunted by nightmares again. My bed, if you must know, has a pull-out that has to be manipulated from one side, and the room -- blank wall to one side and a bookshelf wall to the other side perpendicular to the former -- is arranged in such a way that the bed's headboard must face the free space of the room's center. So we always sleep with our feet facing the walls. We have always slept this way, except on rare occasions when we feel bored and decide to shift positions with our feet against the headboard, and our heads near the walls. The walls are decorated with a flood of books on the shelves, some paintings and framed photographs, and what-not.
Last night, I was haunted by nightmares again. And always the same strange one. And always of me walking down this dark road, with only the moonlight to show me the way. You know how it is when things glow faintly in the moonlight? The road glowed, but only barely. Everything else was dark as the blackest sin, althought there was a trace of treetops in the distance to cut a jagged line against night sky. I walked slowly, towards the rock beside the road ahead of me. No, a boulder. It was huge, and dark.
And I knew, the way one knows from some gut instincts, that someone -- or something -- lurked behind it, waiting for me.
That was when I woke up, trembling -- and then a very strong epiphany came to me, unusual for a brain still half asleep. It's above you, something from the back of my head said. I nudged M. awake, and I asked him, "Remember when we were sleeping this way before, and you were in this spot where I am sleeping now? You had a bad dream of your teeth falling away." He nodded.
Another time, too, when I was in the same position on the bed, I had dreams of demons chasing me.
All my nightmares, it struck me, occurred when I was sleeping this way, on this spot. For any other sleeping position, I usually had the most inane of dreams -- nothing to be scared about, to wake with a start from, always sweating and with heart beating fast.
Why must we always have bad dreams once asleep in this same position, on the same spot?
That was when we decided to look up.
Hanging from the wall, right above my head, there was the small dreamcatcher Beth gave me a long time ago. When I took it off its peg, it was dusty and had a musty smell. In my hands, it felt damped, in the wet way mildew attacked. It felt evil.
I realized it was not catching my dreams at all; it was tormenting me and M. instead, dripping nighttime visions of gruesome things.
Before we went back to sleep, I hurriedly threw the dreamcatcher away. I slept away the rest of the early morning with the comfort of dreaming nothing.