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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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Sunday, June 05, 2011

entry arrow9:16 PM | The Moments in The Hours

I have been thinking a lot about Virginia Woolf lately, for some reason. But only in the most random of ways. I'd be listening to Cesar Ruiz Aquino talking about the modernists, for example, and he'd mention the Bloomsbury Group -- although apparently he does not think much about Woolf herself. I'd be reading a literary blog and I'd come across an argument about who was the better modernist writer, Woolf or James Joyce? I'd be walking one morning down a street in Dumaguete, and I'd see a woman with a bouquet of flowers in her arms, waiting for a tricycle, and I'd think: "How very Mrs. Dalloway." And then I'd remember those days in the late 1990s when I'd sit in the grass somewhere in Tokyo and I'd read the perplexing book about the minutiae of a day in a sad woman's life. (I miss and envy those days.) I'd skim through YouTube and stumble on Tilda Swinton playing the gender-bending title character of Orlando, based on Woolf's elaborate "love letter" of a novel to Vita Sackville-West. Sometimes, I'd go around the house and stumble on my copy of Michael Cunningham's The Hours -- and I would tell myself: I have not seen Stephen Daldry's 2002 film adaptation for almost a decade now. When it first came out, I remember that it left me cold -- and I wondered: after having lived the life I've lived since then, will it find new resonance in me?

Yesterday, finally, I found in Facebook a link to this article by Cunningham in The Guardian. It felt as if the universe was compelling me to do something about this.

Today, unlike Mrs. Dalloway, I woke up quite late. But thoughtful, conscious of the minutes. I still managed to wring out a good day out of this Sunday which involved the readings of essays by Octavio Paz and F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ralph Ellison and such. There were sudden encounters and talks with a couple of friends. There was a walk around town under the wicked June half moon. There was the "unveiling" of a new art installation of tamawos -- mythical elementals -- off the Boulevard. And then I went home to watch The Hours.

It moved me afresh, and I think I understand this film much more now, being able now to see the depths of each of these women's unhappiness without a center -- Nicole Kidman's Virginia Woolf, Julianne Moore's Laura Brown, and Meryl Streep's Clarissa Vaughan. Sometimes the years do that: they make you see things your own youth cannot comprehend. What is life after ordinary madness and adult compromises? How does one deal with the sorrows of being trapped in a place you have no wish to be in, even when it includes the love of so many people? How does one recognize happiness, or does that recognition only come in hindsight?

There is a scene in The Hours between Meryl Streep's Clarissa and Claire Danes' Julia Vaughan that underscores for me something that I have been trying to understand and come to terms with recently -- like a belated answer or explanation to some of the things I am doing, and yet have found no way to explain. In this scene, Clarissa is preparing for a dinner party for a great poet friend, and her encounter with him early in the day has left her devastated -- but also thoughtful. She has been crying since then, and then her daughter Julia enters, and asks her if she is all right. They retire to the bedroom and then they start to talk...



Clarissa Vaughan: ... If you say to me, "When were you happy...?"

Julia Vaughan: Mom...

Clarissa Vaughan: ... Tell me the moment you were happiest...

Julia Vaughan: I know ... I know, it was years ago.

Clarissa Vaughan: Yeah.

Julia Vaughan: All you're saying is, you were once young.

Clarissa Vaughan: (Smiles and laughs.) I remember one morning, getting up at dawn, there was such a sense of possibility. You know, that feeling? And I remember thinking to myself, so this is the beginning of happiness. This is where it starts. And of course there will always be more. (Both laugh.) Never occurred to me it wasn't the beginning, it was happiness. It was The Moment. Right then.

And I understood, and suddenly I so wished that when I was much younger someone had taken me by the shoulders, shook me, and told me: "Live every bit of these moments. You are young. When you're older, these things will define every bit of what you will remember to be happy." Then again, when we were younger, did we ever listen? Alas, no. Youth is too preoccupied with what it thinks is the singularity of its angst. "You don't understand," we all say. But of course we soon understand that they understood. Because we've all been there.

But I am thinking more about my mother, actually. She is in her mid-70s. She's in L.A., and because of her age, she can't really move around so much because she tires out easily even when she tries to be brave about it. And sometimes I ask myself: what made her wait for so long to see the world? When she was in her teens, she made tira-tira to sell just so she could escape the stifling smallness of Bayawan town, where she was born, and dared go to evil Cebu, where, she was warned by her spinster aunts, she was likely to be "devoured." But she did it. She was so brave then -- and then not much else. She married. She stopped the dream of becoming a nurse. She married, and she had children. Was it us? Was it the task of bringing up six boys? Was she happy?

Am I overreading The Hours?

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich





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