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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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Thursday, October 11, 2007

entry arrow9:55 PM | The Spy in the What?

I am currently reading a story collection—a review of which will come out very soon—where time, in one particular story, becomes an object of literary scrutiny: in that story, time (and memories) can slow down, can run fast, can stand still, can be bought and bartered with—but not enough to alter the basic humanity of our individual stories. Over that, even time seems insignificant.

But why do I suddenly think profoundly of “time”? The fact of the matter is, I am amazed I have written so much for a StarLife Magazine column (also titled "The Spy in the Sandwich"): five years. (I started blogging around the same time, too, mostly to post these columns online. So that also dates my blogging history: five f---ing years.) That’s half a decade of filling that page near the back of that magazine (and this spot online). Five years of mouthing off on anything that catches my attention. Five years of beating (or trying to beat) the deadline. Five years of Allen del Carmen, my dear editor, texting me every week to remind that he has to put the paper to bed very soon, and must have my column now.

Was it five years ago when Allen approached me in a Dumaguete park during a game of softball on a golden Negrense afternoon, and invited me to jump aboard this new publication of his from Bacolod? I remember that I just had a run-in with another local publication that was not exactly professional in their dealings with me—and so an offer from Mr. Del Carmen seemed like a chance to start anew. What I did not expect is to have lasted this long. In those five years, I have bared my soul, I guess—the highlight of which came when my column was nominated for a 2003 Catholic Mass Media Award... in the Entertainment category. (I, of course, lost to Nestor U. Torre’s regular movie column in the Philippine Daily Inquirer—but my sole source of amusement lies in the fact that I never knew this column was of the Entertainment variety.)

The passing of time, and the remembrance of it, also makes for introspection. And so, I ask myself: what do I exactly write about in these columns? The straightest answer I can give is that I have pretensions for cultural writing, and sometimes I do rant, but the most obvious answer is that I really don’t know. I write what I feel like writing every week, week in and week out—running the gamut of my own existence, and pretending that there are people out there who’d like to read what I’m thinking about in a given moment.

So two hundred and fifty-eight columns later, and there I was going about the next one seriously contemplating The Spy in the Sandwich’s raison d’être, complete with the usual trappings of defining both purpose and content. The task might smack of being a little too late in the game, an idea equipped with the urgency of a lost and beleaguered messenger come too belatedly in delivering what is already antiquated news.

In the first place, I should have done that article five years ago when the timing and intent were virginal; but there’s something dangerously and adventurously romantic in getting to know one’s general direction while already cast adrift in some endless ocean. The cliché then holds—that it is better contemplating late than never at all. Besides, I fear that the need for such task diminishes as people get too used to the strange title adorning this page: a lot of people have been coming up to me demanding to know what being “the spy in the sandwich” means.

It means precisely what it reads: a purposely absurd combination of words meant to get anyone’s attention more than anything else. But, in hindsight, that explanation can be harsh. I can imagine a regular reader suddenly exclaiming, “What? That’s all? It’s about nothing? Like all of Seinfeld?” So let me offer a continuance... This column is a “spy” in a sense that it tries to observe, obliquely, at everything in our culture. It is in a “sandwich,” because the food item smacks for me as being iconic of the mundane and the ordinary. What does that make of the column? That it is an observer of and within the mundane of the everyday, hoping at least to render the ordinary in the twist of new light. Of course, I could have used something simpler yet catchy like “Jagged Little Pill,” but Alanis Morrisette beat me to it.

Sometimes, too, people accuse me of just parading around a column dressed up in high falutin' vocabulary. I don’t mind that observation: I am the language that I write in. And the language I write in is college English. In other words, I am a firm believer in this painful truism that also acts as a mirror: you are what your own vocabulary tells of you. (I still know of people my age who go around pronouncing “yacht” as “yaa—tch.” I also have students who come up to me, and ask, “Sir, who’s Martial? And why does he have a law?” No kidding.)

The Spy in the Sandwich for me is really a hodge podge of everything cultural—from food to books to movies to music to theater to television, to politics even. (As some wise man once said, “Everything is political.”) It hopes to amuse, and ultimately to inform... maybe. The Spy in the Sandwich is really a weekly slice of Jack Kerouac / Steven Spielberg / Red Hot Chili Pepper / Jane Austen for the ordinary reader who wants something else besides Boy Abunda and Kris Aquino. I am far from being the infallible cultural pundit, but writing about this topic for the common tao interests me—and besides, there are indeed barbarians at the gate who may need some enlightening. (Foremost of all, me. Yes, sometimes I write to educate myself as well.) The fictionist Timothy Montes was right in the controversial essay (“Cultural Illiteracy”) he wrote where he excoriated the “intellectual” life of ordinary people: that while culture, or the awareness of it, is not inherently necessary for one’s survival, “a broad grasp of vital ideas involved in the different academic disciplines” is only a necessary must for us who boast of having “the right kind of education,” like it was manna from heaven. Judging from Mr. Montes’ article, many people must be at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno. Is this column an antidote? Heavens, no. Not really. But it does chronicle my own craving to get out of the rut.

And what a common rut it is. Not too long ago, when I was still a student in Prof. Lionel Chiong’s inscrutable Earth Science course in the local university, the good professor was asking the class some questions regarding the sun and other heavenly bodies in the solar system. He asked a classmate of mine near the front row, “Will the sun shine forever?” There were general mutterings of “No, sir!” and the classmate in question slowly shook her head. “Why?” the professor asked. With such seriousness, the girl replied, “Because, sir, during the day, the sun will shine. During the night, it will no longer shine.” There were no thunderclaps or trumpet blares, only uncomfortable silence and finally an eruption of laughter. I remember wanting to hide beneath the chair and wait for the Apocalypse.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich