A sad, sad start to a week. My friend, the the Palanca-winning poet and visual artist, Sid Gomez Hildawa, passed away last night before midnight due to dengue complications. His wake will be at Don Bosco Makati after he is cremated. Here is a poem he wrote from his collection Building a House, which I think is appropriate to celebrate the kind of life he led...
How to be a Door
Hinge your life on something as steadfast as a jamb but know which way to swing. (Those who swing both ways belong between the dining hall and the kitchen.) Hold your breath when you are locked, inhale deeply with every knock that isn't answered with "come in." Be still when there is no reply from the innkeeper of all things. Your name is Portal so with your body keep out sickness and greed, and builders who do not know how to hammer a house with quiet words. Let sorrow pass, and youth, and the goldest giraffe who bends low to nibble from a lady's hand, that all may enter who have traveled worlds to be astonished, weary now of boulevards that look out to the sea but never wave, finally stepping in, leaving shoes outside and shaking hands with all they meet inside, all who have come before them, all who must dwell.
I finally know why this current generation of young filmmakers - Eli Roth of Hostel, James Wan and Leigh Whannell of Saw, John Stockwell of Turistas, Larry Cohen of Captivity, Rob Zombie of The Devil's Rejects, and their ilk -- seem hell-bent on unleashing torture porn on us.
What the heck are Murky and Lurky doing to Moonglow? Did our parents really know what we were watching on '80s Saturday morning TV? Oh, dear God... This perfectly explains why parts of my life have taken some turns to the delightfully perverse.
Let's chant like the Care Bears once did: "Goodness makes the badness go away... Goodness makes the badness go away... Goodness makes the badness go away..."
Award-winning fictionist Janet Villa just emailed me to try this little green experiment, and I'm passing on her message: "Let's turn off all our lights and appliances on March 29 for an hour -- between 8 PM to 9 PM. The more there are of us who'll do this worldwide project, we can help fight global warming. Besides, it will be a good time for us to sit down for elegant thought or talk, away from TV or the Internet. Read more about it here." It's a good idea.
I don't know whether to be horrified or to be tickled pink, but it seems as if the Edu Manzano-popularized "Papaya Dance" has become the new macarena. Over at Good Morning America, where Diane Sawyer holds court every morning in American television, the dance has the whole crew shaking and waving, and shaking and waving... Oh, dear Kapamilya.
(Kris never had this good when she was Game KNB queen, did she? Loser.)
Two points though: First, Ellen would probably do "Papaya" more dancing justice than Diane can. I'd like to see this tried on Ellen. You can imagine it now, can you... Second, with this and the other videos, plus the fact that we seem to be the only Asians who've made constant impact on American Idol (with Jasmine Trias, Camille Velasco, AJ Tabaldo, and now Ramiele Malubay) -- we've truly become the unsurpassed court jester, uhm, entertainer of the world.
Happy Easter, people!
[video swiped from mukamo, who doesn't want to share this video apparently: he has disabled embedding -- but thank god there's ripzor]
Three days ago, Arthur C. Clarke left for the stars. If you have read his brilliant short story "The Star," you will know that the story is a kind of shorthand for many of the themes in his fiction, particularly of the spiritual sort. "The Star" is about an astronaut/theologian who ventures off with a space crew deep into the cosmos to probe the remains of an exploded star. He soon stumbles on an extinguished civilization on one of the planets in that solar system, and discovers an faith-shattering evidence of Biblical resonance.
A star 7.5 billion light years away exploded, giving off the brightest gamma-ray burst afterglow ever seen.
[This is a strange, rare rant about world politics, and I might erase this post soon because I'm no political scientist -- but this is what you get when you watch too much CNN during Holy Week.]
Lately, I’ve been thinking about that neighbor of ours up north. I can’t help it: China hogs world headlines these days, and even here in the Philippines, the current political scandal that has made the acronym NBN-ZTE a household term has a Chinese side.
And I have somehow come to a conclusion that may have been festering inside me for the longest time, but never bothered to concretely form: I don't like China, or at least its current geopolitical reality. It has all the makings of a new neighborhood bully -- and when they say this sleeping giant is slowly stirring, it can mean that there may come a day that whatever China wants, China gets. What's to stop it from doing anything? Like crossing over to Palawan while we sleep and claiming it as the new Chinese province of 新的天堂? Sure, we can fight back -- but our hapless military against the Chinese Red Army with its current budget of $59 billion will not be a war of equals. There are portents that point to such possibility, however remote and fantastical. Recent history has shown China's tendency for power-grabbing, brutality, stubbornness, and shameless capacity for spin even in the wake of massive international pressure and condemnation. Nobody blinked when China effectively demolished Taiwan's sovereignty in the 1970s. (Now it exists in a geopolitical netherworld, an independent nation, and once recognized as such, in a community of nation that denies that independence.) We all howled when Tiananmen Square was splattered with blood in 1989 -- but China knows the ultimate lesson of history (something that Imelda Marcos knows by heart): people will always forget. And so it clamped down hard on those 1989 students protesters; the world, of course, showed its disgust and called for "something" to be done (but nothing was done); China didn't budge; and tired from all our shouting, we moved on... It will do exactly the same thing to Tibet, even as the region blazes under the gun as the headlines of Tibetan unrest grip the world today. China knows that we may huff and puff, but we also have a short attention span. Think of it: almost twenty years after the massacre in Tiananmen, we all gaily hopscotch towards China's doors upon invitation to its grand coming-out party, the Olympics. U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is right when she said this week that the situation in Tibet is a challenge to the "conscience of the world." It is a challenge because our conscience is always fleeting. It disappears readily like yesterday's headlines. Pelosi also said: “If freedom-loving people throughout the world do not speak out against China’s oppression in China and Tibet, we have lost all moral authority to speak on behalf of human rights anywhere in the world.” This post is my own contribution to the outrage.
What actually amazes me about China's rise to power is that it has largely benefited from the greatest of today's ironies: free market capitalism has actually made rich a staunchly communist would-be rogue. It seems that all that China-crazy businessmen today just see is the profit to be had from this giant -- never mind its record of human rights abuses, never mind its shape-shifting snake of a government. It's all in the numbers, really: 1,321,851,888 people. That's more than a sizable market, 'nuff said. Which all saddens me because it illustrates one more thing about the world: it never operates in a fair scale, especially when there's money to be made. For example, the Philippines may be chaotic and messy, but at least this country has deeply-rooted (and functional) democratic pretensions. And so where does the capital go? To a communist country -- where there's no democracy, where the same messiness occurs (and more often, bloody ones, too) ... it just happens to have "better" market potential. Think about this as well: every time some economic crises come to threaten the region (such as the Great Asian Crash of the mid-1990s), the Philippines always seem to be largely insulated from the worst effects, faring even better than the so-called economic tigers Thailand, Indonesia, and South Korea. But we always get the worst economic reviews, and foreign investors always threaten to pullout at the slightest hint of domestic turmoil, like carnage in a small island down, down south. What gives? I certainly don't believe we are really the most corrupt nation in the region. There's corruption in all levels of our government and business structure, yes, but are our neighbors really that saintly? Or is it just because our vibrantly free press readily fesses up to the charge and does not hesitate to put corruption stories in as front page news? The not-so-free press of the rest of the region ... well, they certainly don't. (Can you imagine Chinese newspapers pulling off a Philippine Daily Inquirer-style headline of ''most corrupt nation in region"? I don't think that will ever happen.) In a sense, we get unfairly crucified because we have the one thing capitalism is supposed to demand for a society: a working democracy, warts and all.
Every time I see all these television shows (or read endless newspaper and magazine articles) about the golden times to be had in China today, something twitches inside of me and I cannot help but think: What about all those poor souls who, in the spirit of anti-capitalist purging, died in the name of communism in the dark days of the Revolution, during the disastrous Great Leap Forward, and during the murderous Cultural Revolution? All these grandiose Olympic preparations, all these swanky new boulevards and skyscrapers in Beijing and Shanghai, all these shiny new wealth... they all come from blood money. I don't begrudge any nation its path to success, but you can't have a bloody history of anti-capitalism and then change our mind all of a sudden just because. Which may be why I don't trust any communist country at all, or any insurgencies of red stripes: in the name of the people, they somehow always become breeding grounds for tyranny and oppression (name one communist country in history that is truly a "people's republic") -- and then, once firmly entrenched on top with most of the populace reduced to robots, they start raking the dollars in.
... and now it's known as Top Blogs Philippines. In many ways, I'm glad it's back because, when it was up and running, it did provide a good profile of where Filipino blogging was going and how it was currently faring. But for a while there, when it shut down to fix the traffic problems, I was enjoying the relative "quiet" of the Pinoy blogosphere without that old and maddening jockeying for position in the "hierarchy," with so-called top bloggers forming cliques and blogging barkadas. That the site actually relaunched in the middle of the Holy Week torpor might mean they wanted to sneak this one on us, while most of us are either reciting the pasyon (naaahh...) or worshipping the sun in Boracay. Cute. But when this whole thing finally has everybody embedding the new tracking code, I'm sure Bryanboy and Rickey will get the top spots again. Maybe Brian Gorrell should add his blog as well...
Death these days seem too much eager for harvest, isn't he? We were still reeling from the shock and taking stock of Anthony Minghella's passing (which made me seek out an old copy of The Talented Mr. Ripley...) and then Arthur C. Clarke (which made me reread some of his old short stories, including "Rescue Party," his first one, which also is a blueprint for most of the themes in his later works). And now, the actor Paul Scofield, too? (The New York Times story here.) Most of you will probably not know him since the classically-trained actor chose his roles very sparingly. His last two films were involvements of various sorts in documentaries, and his last acting role was in The Crucible from 1997. But those who managed to see Robert Redford's Quiz Show (from 1994) will remember him playing Ralph Fiennes' character's father, the intellectual Mark Van Doren. That scene when son and father tries to talk to each other in the light of the controversies the film chronicles is a masterclass in acting in miniature. CNN writes: "Actor Richard Burton, once regarded as the natural heir to Laurence Olivier and John Gielgud at the summit of British theater, said it was Scofield who deserved that place. 'Of the 10 greatest moments in the theater, eight are Scofield's,' he said." (More here.) Much too sad that we will never get to see more of that talent... I have yet to see Mr. Scofield in his Oscar-winning performance in A Man For All Seasons, where he plays Sir Thomas More. I have a DVD copy somewhere in the shelf where all my old movies are. This is going to be a strange Holy Week. All alone at home, catching up on reading and the movies, all to bid farewell to ghosts.
Dusted off my DVD copy of Fred Zinnemann's A Man for All Seasons this afternoon and watched it as day turned to dusk -- and you're right, Ichi, Paul Scofield was brilliant. The historical Sir Thomas More was a man of principle, but also of complex compulsions: we know he isn't entirely the saint that playwright Robert Bolt painted him to be (he is said to have taken "excessively delight in torturing Lutherans and other heretics," as this recent appraisal of Scofield's legacy in The New York Times asserts) -- but as embodied by Scofield, the character was towering even without really trying. In that final scene where Scofield as More faces the charges of high treason and gives his final word, the camera curiously chooses to film Scofield from afar, from the distance of the spectators in the balcony: even then, Scofield's performance was overpowering. He dominated the film entirely. His Oscar win as Best Actor for the role is well-earned.
And barely have we considered one death today when here comes another -- another shock wave of mortality, another passing away of genius. What's with the Grim Reaper today? And what's with this tendency to take away our icons two at a time, the way he did with Antonioni and Bergman? This time, the news of passing comes from the world of literature, although Arthur C. Clarke -- like Anthony Minghella -- also dabbled in cinema, responsible as he was for HAL, man and machines, and the future that would be in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The one philosophy we learn from Clarke, the high priest of rigorously intelligent science fiction and fantasy, was that the any sufficiently advanced technology is veritably indistinguishable from magic, something that has deeply informed my own forays into science fiction writing. His short story, "The Star," was able to limn the intricate relationship of faith and science, and made me look with more vigorousness into matters of belief. It floored me, that story, the first I read it. When I wrote "The Pepe Report" a few years back, it was its structure that I aimed to emulate. It proved difficult. I happen to be reading Rendezvous With Rama these days, and I will be going back to the book with a little more urgency now. Gerald Jonas, writing for The New York Times, says: "His work was also prophetic: his detailed forecast of telecommunications satellites in 1945 came more than a decade before the first orbital rocket flight. Other early advocates of a space program argued that it would pay for itself by jump-starting new technology. Mr. Clarke set his sights higher. Borrowing a phrase from William James, he suggested that exploring the solar system could serve as the 'moral equivalent of war,' giving an outlet to energies that might otherwise lead to nuclear holocaust.Mr. Clarke’s influence on public attitudes toward space was acknowledged by American astronauts and Russian cosmonauts, by scientists like the astronomer Carl Sagan and by movie and television producers. Gene Roddenberry credited Mr. Clarke’s writings with giving him courage to pursue his Star Trek project in the face of indifference, even ridicule, from television executives." Mr. Clarke is now with his stars.
The New York Times' Edward Rothstein appraises Clarke's scientific and spiritual legacy -- ironic for a man who left instructions for his eventual death that "absolutely no religious rites of any kind, relating to any religious faith, should be associated with my funeral."
I should begin by confessing that when I saw Eli Roth's Hostel many, many months back, I swore never to watch a movie like that again. That split-second shot of a character's Achilles' tendon severed with a knife still fills me with dread until today, and the scene remains the single most compelling imagery for me to never buy a ticket to or a DVD of Saw or Captivity and their ilk. I don't find torture-porn scary at all, no matter how much they label these films as "horror movies." They just simply delight in being inhuman.
Grant me this at least: I am not a rabid censor against film violence. There is a place for that in cinema, and sometimes, like in films by Sam Peckinpah or Quentin Tarantino or John Woo or John Carpenter or Francis Ford Coppola or Stanley Kubrick, they can be handled well. Sure, violence is often packaged as a commodity for "entertainment" in these films, and sure, in many ways the happy endings we allow ourselves in films where the victim gets vengeance against violator is a self-righteous attempt to bring "meaning" to our secret bloodlust. I get this.
There will be cinephiles out there -- especially those who delight in their own "uniqueness" for knowing and embracing the obscure and the difficult -- who will probably find this post quite philistine. I don't care. You see, when I stumbled sometime ago into the stark world of Michael Haneke's cinema, I found a lot about Cache and The Piano Teacher (his two most popular films to date) utterly disturbing -- but ultimately they seemed to me to be very intelligent, if unsettling, explorations into human darkness and our own complicities in our fascination for violation. So I moved on to other Haneke films -- because, you know, I'm a film snob who just have to watch everything. I watched Le Temps du Loup. Then the original Funny Games. (An American remake has just hit theaters.) Then Benny's Video. Pause here. The last two were unbearably inhuman, and actually dared to cloak themselves as psychological theses, supposed slaps against generic Hollywood entertainment. Watching Funny Games was like watching Salo or Hostel all over again -- but this time Haneke's films has an added feel of being smug about being "intellectual" about it all. At least Roth is more honest: he just delights in making his sick cinematic violations. Mr. Haneke's protestations just ring false. I don't buy it, all his posturing.
The films made me I'm sick.
So yeah, Mr. Haneke, you're a self-aware genius. That remote control scene in Funny Games? Ohhhhh. You must have patted yourself in the back for that brilliant conception, eh? So yeah, we get that you're making a point about violence as commodity, and perversity as fascination. We get it. We get it when you let us linger over that scene in Benny's Video where the girl gets it, again and again, until she dies like the metaphorical pig you showed us. And to have the camera linger not on the act itself but via the television screen! With most of the violence occurring just out of the frame! Ohhhhh....
Utter b.s. Because there is a palpable suggestion of your own secret, perverse delight in your self-righteous rebuke of us all -- a careless illustration of having one's cake and eating it, too. Your films are just a prettied-up Hostel for film snobs. What a fraud.
Always, one of the saddest things about carrying on in life is the unexpected passing of the gifted, the genius, the truly talented. When they happen to be people you look up to, it becomes doubly astonishing. At least, with the death of Susan Sontag only a few years ago, we knew she had a terminal disease, and before she left, she made us ponder hard (and beautifully) about the metaphors we carry of illness. And I'm still mourning the death of Heath Ledger, Robert Altman, Michaelangelo Antonioni, and Ingmar Bergman. What to make of sudden passing? I was just refreshing the page I was browsing over at The New York Times when the newest headline caught my eye: film director Anthony Minghella is dead. What a shock. Because at 54, he is still much too young really, and he had only given us this much about his cinematic genius: the gripping Truly, Madly, Deeply from 1990, the luminous The English Patient from 1996, the scalding The Talented Mr. Ripley from 1999, the ambitious Cold Mountain from 2003, and the interesting failure of Breaking and Entering from 2007. Now, there's only The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to look forward to. He made beautiful adaptations of some of our most-beloved books, and it had seemed there would be few more years for us to get a full taste of what he was capable of. (Good thing there's his son Max, who was lovely and incandescent in Bee Season, to carry on the seed.) But still. Sad, sad, sad.
I get this every time I watch E! News and Ben Lyons comes up to give his two-cents' worth about the films opening over the weekend: the shivers. I mean, he's an okay-looking guy, and he sounds like a true movie maniac. But have you considered those eyes? Those dead black pools that reveal absolutely nothing? When he looks into the camera, I get nauseous and nervous. Like, there's nothing behind those eyes at all. Like there's nothing in there, only a black hole that will eat you.
The school term has just ended, and summer vacation beckons outside my window. I can smell the sand and the surf from kilometers away. Today, I've marked and graded the last exam and the last paper (on Dean Francis Alfar's Salamanca) from my Philippine literature classes, and while I'm pooped from the vigorous reading and my fumbling with the calculator (and dizzy, too, from the parade of caffeine that kept me awake), I feel that I have accomplished so much with this rigorous schedule I'm giving myself. Thing is, I promised myself in the beginning of the semester that I'd do away with the procrastinator in me, and so far I'm right on track. I'm almost done with all my grades, and I have just one more deadline tomorrow for my research writing classes. I should be submitting the grading sheets to the office very soon, and way ahead of the deadline, too -- the first time ever in memory.
There's also the prospect of not teaching this summer, the first time I'm getting a break since starting to teach years ago. (I begged off my nine-unit load.) But summer will not be all play. In fact, it will be all work -- but work to finish the things I've been wanting to finish. I have a grant to finish the incompletes for my MA courses, and another grant to finish that anthology of Silliman fictionists. There are also the other books that I have to finish editing, and the stories that I have to write for all these contests and what-not. And, of course, the U.P. National Writers Workshop in Baguio this April. It will be a very busy summer for me. But at least I'm not teaching!
So back to the mines for me. I'm quite excited though.
Woke up today still curiously consumed about the Brian Gorrell blog drama. It's morbid fascination that refuses to go away. I've been thinking about what many people are saying about the viciousness being heaped on these fashionistas, and all I can think about is the one comment Tim Yap made many moons ago, when he dared reveal what goes on in the consciousness of his ilk. Remember this? He said:
There is this mind-set, which I think is so passe, that says: ‘The country is in shambles and the country is having a hard time and you are out there partying.’ But this generation is guiltless when it comes to that.
I guess Tim Yap and all the rest of them began the process of their own crucifixion with that statement. Karma, if you will. And now here he comes with his whiny article about not being a saint: he never even refuted anything that Brian dished out about them, and his only defense is the frailness of his own humanity and that of his friends. And then we are told we "hate" them only because we are jealous of them? Ah, no, Tim. Not at all.
Last Saturday night, it proved quite difficult to applaud this play -- which was a series of monologues, fourteen in all, all culled from the Eve Ensler-edited book, A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant, and a Prayer. How does one clap after seeing and hearing one harrowing story after another, each one a tale of abuse and more abuse, each one a progression into horror without let-up? There was the Mexican woman dying in a suffocating container van, hoping to cross borders for a better life she will never have. There was the nun stationed in Africa, made to choose between the girls in her school which ones would have to join a rebel unit's children's army -- Sophie's Choice indeed. There was the cheerleader gangraped by fratmen. There was the corpse of a Muslim woman speaking about the brutality she had endured in life. The only respite was the opening act after the intermission, with the director herself essaying Maya Angelou's "Woman Work" in a comic rendering that showed us how the "gentle half" carries out more than a load of this world. But director Dessa Quesada-Palm did warn us in her director's notes, though: "To invite you to sit down and relax will be inappropriate and misleading. My prayer is for collective senses awakened, hearts stirred, spirits lifted, and plates for future action enlarged." Point well taken, but I left the theater feeling downcast, ravaged even. All in the name of social consciousness. The price we pay, perhaps, for doing something for the world.
This is an important play. But sometimes I do miss the light-hearted side of The Vagina Monologues, the original piece that started this all. I actually think TVM made its point more powerfully because it engaged us in all our human responses, from shock to laughter to outrage to anger to hysteria to bliss to laughter again. With The Good Body, and now this, I guess Eve Ensler has decided that the movement needs to go deeper into all the permutations of despair still left unchecked even after 10 years of VDay. The battle goes on, and as in any war, I guess we need to contend with the wounds and the scars.
Meanwhile, over at the Philippine Star, lair of some members of the Gucci Gang, Tim Yap finally offers a mea culpa of sorts. He writes, in part:
I will be the first one to tell you that I am no saint. And neither are my friends. We have our faults — we are far from perfect. But, who is? I urge people who read and continually indulge in this form of guilty pleasure to keep an open mind. It is the easiest thing to jump on the bandwagon and point fingers and judge others but as a Biblical verse says, “Judge not, lest you too be judged.” Or something to that effect. Even Someone Up There in all His infinite wisdom said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
I choose to throw bread at those who throw stones at my friends. I cannot stop people from judging and misjudging. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from being in this industry — it is about not being judgmental. I am the last to resort to name-calling because I myself have been called so many names — I actually find it funny, thank God. Being in this “light” makes us easy targets for prejudiced stereotypical mudslinging — but hey, even if you are an accountant or a librarian or a janitor or a blogger — there’s no escaping that. It is just part and parcel of human living. So instead of fighting it, let us learn to embrace life, with all its surprising twists and turns. In the end, the truth shall surface, and people will get what they deserve. The best revenge is success.
But I still believe in what Gibbs had to say earlier why Tim and his ilk had this crucificion coming.
In the meantime, Celine Lopez, well, she offers us a book report.
I guess that with this and the Malu Fernandez backlash, Philippine blogdom has officially announced it has muscle. And by God we're flexing it.
Today I know only mixture: it’s graduation day for Silliman University—and I am both happy and somehow sad. I talk in the capacity of college teacher, and the duality of how to feel about this Sunday first came to mind when Lycar Flores, an old student who is now finally graduating into the real world, greeted me during a meeting earlier last week and noted how ambiguous I seemed to be when I talked of things “commencement.”
She finally said, “You really like our batch, ‘di ba, sir?” And when I considered that, I had to admit what she said was true.
I am happy that her batch will be graduating, to soon contribute to a society that needs good people; yet I am also sad in the way a father wallows at the prospect of an empty nest. What can I say, they’re my favorite class of college students so far.
I do like her batch—this precocious class of 2008—because so many of them (when they were studying in my literature, research, or film classes) gave me more than a glimmer of hope for the future, despite the occasional murkiness that threaten to overwhelm. Best of all, these students also taught me that to teach well you must go beyond the mustiness of a lecture hall, and bring a different kind of vibe to the whole business of education. They have proven one adage not often banded about in a society increasingly fed on academic low expectations, spoon-feeding, rote learning, and an inflated sense of grade consciousness without merit: good students actually make good teachers.
Of course, when you become a teacher, the first thing you need to tell yourself if you want to stay objective and true to your vocation is that there must be no playing favorites among your students. But the classroom is not a static place: there are unseen dynamics that come to play every single day that you teach, and often there are some classes that inspire, and some that simply don’t. The class of 2008 was mostly inspiration.
Teachers are not made of stone, and more often than not the best of students bring out the best mentor in all of us. Imagine coming into a classroom with students willing enough to take up your challenge to learn something more about the world beyond the pages of textbooks. Their enthusiasm is infectious, and I actually liked the feeling of being on my toes every time I embarked on another lesson, knowing that there will be questions, knowing that some actually eat Hegel and Hemingway for breakfast.
In the years to come when they’re much older and are no longer your students, they sometimes email or text you to express some form of thanks. These are the rare rewards in an often underappreciated profession—to know that somehow, as teacher, you’ve made an impact on a young life.
I speak now of teaching in the most romantic sense. I have to admit, however, that there are many days when many of us in the profession just want to throw in the towel, sometimes because of the sheer overwork and underappreciation, and sometimes because burnout comes in quick cycles. There are days when nothing seems to work in the classroom, and students are still bringing in unimproved work despite one’s best efforts. A fellow teacher from another university—a multi-awarded writer of enormous renown—confided to me once about having trouble with a student/beauty queen who peppers her essays with safe inanities, and expects tumbling great grades. When she tells the student to revise, the teacher is only met with disdain and a raised eyebrow. Ouch. And how do you teach, for example, the protest literature from the Marcos years when somebody asks you, “Who’s Martial? And why does he have a law?” There are also those days when you give an announced exam, and the marked test papers become a harvest of eggs, and those days when you point out somebody’s plagiarized work, only to be repaid by drama and a chair thrown at you.
There are also days when you are told you are a “terror” teacher—not because you shout and rant in the classroom, but only because you demand quality work, on deadline. February, for example, was a strange month for me: in the Weekly Sillimanian, I had to give my two cents’ worth to a feature article about being a “terror” teacher in research writing, and a few weeks later, the same features pages declared me a runner-up in the paper’s search for favorite teachers, voted on by students. It was pure existentialist dilemma, and I had to ask Anthony Odtohan, the editor-in-chief and a former student, what all that meant, and he said, “… Only to those who don’t appreciate the fact that college life should be taken to its fullest extent. Don’t worry, sir, you’re a terror to those who aren’t exactly cut out for a college education.”
It’s a sad irony: in our typical boast for the kind of education we have, we flaunt one’s university having “quality education,” but don’t take heed the fact that achieving that actually takes hard work and discipline.
What I cannot understand is that by demanding excellence, one is willfully labeled a terrorist.
Then again, consider the deterioration of education in most of the country. We are behind many things, and the educated class now lives largely abroad, leaving us with the likes of Tim Yap. In the Philippines, there are many colleges that have simply vanished into the black hole of diploma milling. We used to boast of being an English-speaking country, but now there are reports of call centers closing down simply because the workforce can’t speak English to save their lives.
Watching the recent Bb. Pilipinas pageant, for example, I grappled with Bb. Pilipinas World Janina San Miguel’s reality as Mass Communication major in the University of the East, with her answer to a pageant question that went to the stratosphere of cluelessness, broadcast quickly via YouTube to the rest of the world: “Well, my family’s role for me is so important because there was the wa— their, they was the one whose… very … hahahaha … Oh, I’m so sorry, Ahhmm … My pamily … My family … Oh my God ... I’m … Okay, I’m so sorry… I … I told you that I’m so conpident … Eto, Ahhmm, Wait … Hahahaha! Ahmmm, Sorry guys because this was really my first pageant ever because I’m only 17 years old and … hahaha! … I … I did not expect that I came from, I came from one of the Top 10. Hmmm, so … but I said that my family is the most important persons in my life. Thank you.”
Thank God, I had mostly none of that from the class of 2008. And so—to Lycar Flores, Michelle Eve de Guzman, Robert Jed Malayang, Justine Yu, Rodrigo Bolivar, Christie Balansag, Aiken Quipot, Lyde Gerard Villanueva, Primy Joy Cane, Noel Valente, John Boaz Lee, Danielle Zamar, Anthony Odtohan, Romar Natividad, and the many others who made classroom life more interesting—thank you for making my teaching worthwhile.
Of course, formal occasions such as commencement ceremonies often tempts too many people—especially those given a space on the entablado—to offer placid and long-winded advise, bordering on bromides, on the metaphorical significance of graduation as “a portal” to our graduates’ soon-to-be-unspooling real lives.
In fact, the humorist Garry Trudeau jokes of that very nature of graduation exercises: “Commencement speeches were invented largely in the belief that outgoing college students should never be released into the world until they have been properly sedated.”
You may have heard it all. “Today is the first day of the rest of your lives.” “Commencement is a beginning, a starting point from which you can now finally claim a responsible stake for all of humanity.” “Each diploma is a lighted match, and each one of you is a fuse.” And from Tom Brokaw: “You are educated. Your certification is in your degree. You may think of it as the ticket to the good life. Let me ask you to think of an alternative. Think of it as your ticket to change the world.”
The familiar quotes about graduation go on and on—and while we know that the heart is, more or less, true for each one of them, we all still somehow seek a kind of unvarnished truth for why we choose to gather in a university lawn or an auditorium in the first place, to toast the graduates in a rite as old as Oxford University.
To attempt just that, I want to quote Joann C. Jones who once gave an insightful account about what it means to gain an education, and then taking it to use in the world: “During my second year of nursing school,” Ms. Jones wrote, “our professor gave us a quiz. I breezed through the questions until I read the last one: ‘What is the first name of the woman who cleans the school?’ Surely this was a joke. I had seen the cleaning woman several times, but how would I know her name? I handed in my paper, leaving the last question blank. Before the class ended, one student asked if the last question would count toward our grade. ‘Absolutely,’ the professor said. ‘In your careers, you will meet many people. All are significant. They deserve your attention and care, even if all you do is smile and say hello.’ I've never forgotten that lesson. I also learned the cleaning woman’s name was Dorothy.”
It is exactly this philosophy that we, as teachers, hope we have inculcated in all our students over the course of their studies here in Silliman University—or in any other school for that matter. It is something that we truly hope our students can take with them as the very core of “quality Christian education,” something that lays an inner foundation that holds students and keeps them resolute when they leave the portals of the school and its hallowed halls, “to roam the world o’er near and far,” as the Silliman Song goes.
I’d like to remind them not to forget that this foundation we talk of can only be the result of steadfast edification that comes from a barrage of learning that springs from classroom, from church, from community, from court, and from culture—the five C’s that make them unique as Sillimanians, and as citizens of the world. This is the very map of their Silliman education: theory and expressive debate within the four-walls of a lecture hall, spirituality and praise in the pews and under the spires, practice and a chance to give back in the backyards and winding roads of neighborhoods, sweat and brawn in the pool or the playing ground, and finally, music and the arts in the theaters of our imagination.
I am thinking of all these just as we hold Silliman’s graduation ceremonies in a new venue. We are in a place that is the perfect metaphor for the Silliman education I have just defined: we are in the middle of the amphitheater—the site of old Shakespeare plays from years past; surrounding us is the city that hum into our every day hearts, and also the classrooms tucked into these old nearby buildings which are testaments to Silliman’s evolution as a place of learning; and finally, before us is the Silliman Church, where, so the cornerstone proclaimed, “the foundation of God standeth sure.” The venue, indeed, as confluence.
The final analysis is that to graduate from Silliman University must and should be, for all togaed hopefuls for graduation, a towering achievement built on wholistic development, a total education that hones every student into individuals of supreme competence and impeccable character, both of which is bonded and made more pure and strong by a sheer consideration of faith in Jesus Christ.
Graduation day is a reckoning for them all, to remind these old students of how far they have come from that shy young freshman of four or five years ago. Graduation day is a day of change for them as well, but change they must learn embrace with heart, because it is the precursor for all growth.
And graduation day is the day they finally learn, before they are bidden success in each of their future endeavors, that the confluence of competence, character, and faith will become the measure of who they are in the world.
And like what Ms. Jones reminded us, all of that comes to play the moment they realize that their education will ultimately matter when they make significant the people from all walks of life they will meet in their journeys hereafter. Say hello, smile, know their names…
My name is Ian, by the way, and to all graduates, congratulations.
You already know he's back. Brian Gorrell is back with a vengeance ("I have not been paid!"), and the whole of gossip-hungry Philippines rejoices. So go for the continuation of the kill. Ilansang sa krus ang Gucci Gang! The whole thing is really unhealthy, even for those of us who are not even remotely involved (or even remotely familiar with the people involved) -- but why can't we look away? And for those who say they are "getting tired" from the whole high society fiasco, are you really? The drama continues...
Whatever change you were considering, Do not plant another tree in the garden. One tree means four seasons of sadness: What is going, What is coming, What will not come, What cannot go.
Here in bed, through the south window I can see the moon watching us both, Someone’s hand around its clump of light. Yours? I know you are sitting out there, Looking at silver bloom against black.
That drop from your cup on the night sky’s Lacquer you wipe away with your sleeve As if its pleated thickets were the wide space Between us, though you know as well as I do This autumn is no different from the last.
Kill the past, I tell you. I know now, as the old familiar music blares And my fingers trip to press exit To another song in the playlist, That there is hope, finally, For all broken hearts. Old songs Are recipes for gagging. Don't believe the old fools: Time does not heal wounds, Only close examination can. In my case, A year or two of seeing him around Made me constant in this study for what Made me ache when he left me. Look at his eyes anew, Look at his receding hairline, The old mouth that now farts off Indignities about a cruel life. You pined for that? You will see, in a slow motion to Finally understanding, how blind You were in your old sickening bliss. Take that song now, for instance, And wait for how it inspires new revulsion: A churning in the pits of you that sends Shivers down your spine As you realize life's too short To pine for first loves. What matters is love in the now.
David Hernandez is out, following the exit last week of the flamboyant, bad-ass Danny Noriega, who was very much Simon Cowell's foil. Rickey puts everything into perspective, queer-wise: "American Idol just eliminated 2 gay boys back-to-back." And they weren't even that bad, at least not Amanda "I'm Morticia Addams" Overmyer- or Carly "I'm Uncle Fester" Smithson-bad.
Should I still even watch this, uh, slightly homophobic show? Oh, wait. There's still Jason Castro and Michael Johns to root for. But who cares really. Yay, Ramiele Malubay. Underwhelm us some more, girl.
People are complaining that Australian Brian Gorrell/Shane's electrifying blog (that had half the Philippines hooked with its delicious dishing out about the so-called Gucci Gang) is gone. Oh, come on. This is the Internet. Nothing online is ever gone. Just use your coconut and a knowledge of how Google works. Everything's still there, hehehe. Everything.
Don't ask me how.
But to more sober things... What lesson can we learn from this? Gibbs Cadiz has some wise words to ponder:
The swarm of anonymous comments in the blog has pretty much gotten out of hand, with everyone dumping his or her vitriol on these society mainstays. Do they deserve it? The character assassinations, no. However, that's the price, I suppose, for consciously and actively hogging the spotlight. Especially in a country like ours, where the spotlight needs to shine on more urgent matters.
You preen like a sham potentate before a country so poor it has to send millions of its citizens to work in other lands, expect to be jeered out of town, whether out of envy or plain outrage at your insensitivity. The parvenus, arrivistes and nouveau riche of this country--they do deserve to be knocked down a perch or two, not only for their arrogance but also for their supreme bad taste.
No use entertaining illusions, though, that this new-found revulsion among many towards the excesses of our supposed Gilded Crowd will last. Like all controversies, this will prove to be a hiccup, a blip, a momentary jolt of excitement in our humdrum lives.
A country that allows the likes of Imelda Marcos to waltz away from her crimes--in fact, lionizes her presence and drools over her jewelry--is a country that deserves its Gucci Gang. Perfumed lowlifes know they can get away with most anything here; they may be alleged cokeheads and scammers, but they're good History students. They know us too well.
Somebody asked me just recently: "Why do you blog about all these cultural shows in Dumaguete?" And another one: "Why do you blog about Filipino writers ba?"
Simple answer: Who else will? This is what I know. And everyone else is writing about the Manila scene and naked men and showbiz chika and American Idol and what they ate for breakfast that made them sad. I don't get a lot of visitors, true, and my Google AdSense is a joke, but the ones who do pass through this blog -- they're the ones I dream of hanging around with.
So thanks to those who read this blog. Here's hanging around with you.
For a while there, when people talked about the “cultural scene” in Oriental Negros, it was mostly about one beauty pageant or another, with every town and every school bending over to crown all sorts of queens and kings. Indeed, a sad thing to note for a city that has produced two National Artists. There were bright spots, like the International Rondalla Festival and the Philippine Madrigal Singers visit, but for the most part, there was nothing much to crow about.
And so, when we said—back in the summer of 2007—that we were going to lead a “cultural renaissance” of sorts in Dumaguete City, we didn’t expect there would be an explosion of a response from the community. The response was in some ways quite competitive, but in many ways it was ultimately good for the cultural health of the city.
Just think of the many, many things that captured our imagination and our cultural aspirations in the months since May last year: that cultural season (defined, for the most part, by the schoolyear, since Dumaguete is a University Town) had been a kaleidoscope of exhibitions and performances, both popular and traditional, that tried to engage all of the arts—and perhaps we can now rightfully reclaim for Dumaguete its mantle of being the true cultural center of the South.
In Silliman, we had a plan. And a challenge. It all started from that. The plan—hatched under the leadership of Susan Vista-Suarez who took the reins of Silliman University’s Cultural Affairs Committee after being “absent” from the scene for a number of years—was audacious in its ambitions: we were going to reshape what it meant to bring culture to the community; we were upping the ante for the caliber of performance and exhibition that we were planning to showcase; we were going to professionalize the process; and we were going to make the endeavor truly collaborative, involving not just people from the university but also the community at large. I’ve always been an instant devotee for people with vision and a fearlessness that flouted confining convention, and so when the invitation came to join the effort, I gladly did so.
What we had to begin with was Dr. Ben Malayang III’s challenge when he became university president: to take the cultural status quo and make it matter. And so Ms. Vista-Suarez quickly gathered together a tight group of people that would constitute the working committee that would shape the new mandate.
And “work” we all definitely did: in the end, it was a year-long affair that taxed both our physical and imaginative exertions, but all for a cause that excited all of us. To be “excited” was de rigeur for all of us in the committee. One had to be willing to work, and one had to be passionate about matters of cultural efforts to understand why we were doing all of these pro bono. That had to be the case. Because how many times did many of us complain about the lack of an organic cultural climate in the city? I remember one fellow teacher from Silliman’s English Department who once told me: “There’s really nothing in Dumaguete to look forward to anymore.” Sure, shows of all sorts abounded, but there was none, she said, that caught the imagination. And sometimes, when something did, most people would miss it, hearing only of it much later, and then would complain: “How come we never heard that such and such were coming?” Dumaguete, for a place this small, can be a very difficult place to market culture in.
In many ways, that cultural powwow in the summer of 2007 was a chance to do something concrete, to actually find solutions for the complaints we nursed like a bad cold. This struck me as the truth of the matter: it is always easier to complain and suggest (and most of us know people who are capable of words and hot air, and nothing more); it is, however, harder to act and do something. With Ms. Vista-Suarez, we learned exactly what that meant.
We found ourselves virtually starting from scratch. We had to form the basic mechanics for everything, from a more effective marketing strategy to ingenious ticket-selling schemes that took care of our complicated sets of target audiences; from proper archiving to balanced programming; from audience development to technical considerations; from accommodations to finance (working on an annual budget that gave new face to challenge). Programming—the selection of shows for the season that balanced all the arts—was especially difficult. The committee, for the longest time since its inception in 1963, had always relied on a come-what-may process that had relative success, but which never really paved the way for an organic season. The old system involved approving and staging shows as proposals came in. In many ways, a cultural season—which called for ten shows every schoolyear—remained largely unformed and shifting. It somehow worked, but the process prevented a proper marketing scheme for a given season. When anybody, including would-be sponsors, would ask: “What’s in store for the season?,” the answer was always, “Well, we have two shows planned so far…” Ms. Vista-Suarez said we had to professionalize that, which meant putting into place a working and definite cultural calendar for the entire season. Ten shows planned from the beginning, with all requisite preparations mapped out for the entire year. It was a heady charge.
In the end, the cultural year in Silliman included these: the Second Open Dumaguete Biennial Terra Cotta Festival, folk singer Grace Nono, pianists Ingrid Santamaria and Reynaldo Reyes, guitarist Michael Dadap, violinist Jay Cayuca, tenor Ramon Ma. Acoymo, the Manila Symphony Orchestra (with pianist Cristine Coyiuto and conductor Helen Quach), the New Voice Company’s The Good Body (with Monique Wilson), Tanghalang Pilipino’s double-bill of Gee-gee at Waterina and Welcome to IntelStar, the Powerdance (with Douglas Nierras), Actor’s Actors’ Love Letters (with Pinky Amador and Bart Guingona), and the U.P. Guitar Orchestra; art exhibitions by Aloha Laviña, Samuel Molina, Bong Callao, Razceljan Salvarita, Mark Valenzuela, Amihan Jumalon, Donnie Luis Calseña, Uno, Jana Jumalon-Alano, Hemrod Duran, and Is Jumalon; talks by Johanna Poethig, Chris Brown, Jutze Pamate, Kitty Taniguchi, John Stevenson, and Myrna Peña-Reyes under the new Albert Faurot Lecture Series for Culture and the Arts; and a spirited OPM concert by many of Silliman’s singing and dancing talents, including the Kahayag Dance Troupe. There was also an assortment of events, cultural and otherwise: ABS-CBN staged its national journalism summit in the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, and there was also a sneak preview of Jade Castro’s endearing film Endo, which StarCinema brought in even before its regular nationwide theater run. In February, Mariyah Gallery celebrated the Arts Month with an exhibit featuring the works of Napoleon Abueva, Nelfa Querubin, Meri Anecin Pejoska, Entang Wiharso, Sid Gomez Hildawa, Raul Isidro, Peter Bevan, Charlie Co, Dennis Ascalon, Kitty Taniguchi, Estrella “Tala” Contreras, Karl Aguila, Maria Taniguchi, Ambie Abaño, Andita Purnama, Sari Adita, and Danni Sollesta. At the tail end of the season, Tokyo University sent in a corps of dancers from Japan, together with the Ramon Obusan Dance Company. Theater student Christie Angel Balansag also directed two plays, Sino Ba Sila?, a farce by Juan Cruz Balmaseda, and The Incredible Jungle Journey of Fenda Maria, a children’s play by Jack Stokes.
In the middle of all these, the rest of Dumaguete took note, and helped fill in the rest of the cultural slate. Foundation University, through the efforts of its alumni association, brought in De La Salle University’s acclaimed singing group Kundirana, and later brought in popular singer Nina. Other local groups brought in more mainstream fare with concerts by Sarah Geronimo, Sitti, and David Pomeranz.
The rush of cultural shows seem appropriate given that the structure iconic of local culture—the three-decades-old Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium—will soon be closing for a few months for much-needed repair and finishing refinement, courtesy of the Henry Luce Foundation. Among other things, the crumbling seats will be upgraded to international standards, the sound system will be enhanced, and the orchestra pit, unused since the Luce opened its doors in 1976, will finally be finished. Until July, its doors will be closed.
Which makes the March 1 concert by the University of the Philippines Guitar Orchestra a minor travesty of utter forgettableness.
This was, after all, the last show for the cultural season. It was a promise that did not hold. The concert they gave—titled “Bach to Gershwin”—proved perhaps that you can never really call a bunch of guitars banded together an “orchestra.” Because an orchestra, I know now, should mean a gathering together of varying sounds, all of which are stirred into a kind of organic, musical magic. What we had instead was a cacophony … of one sound. For example, Gershwin’s usually stirring “An American in Paris,” one of my eternal favorites, sounded mysteriously flat, its playful familiar cadence undistinguishable from one note to the next. This was a strange thing to observe since, when one has to nitpick through the performance, all the musicians played very well, with a virtuoso display admirable in a group so young, but the entire show was an inexplicable stretch into boredom. It was a sad mystery that night.
A few days later, the Sidlakang Negros Foundation presented the last play in the Luce for the season. Pinocchio, a children’s musical by Jim Eiler and Jeane Bargy from the book by Carlo Collodi, had a two-day rerun of sorts, after it played to appreciative local audiences two years ago. Still directed by Joanie Dy-Sycip and Rene M. Oliva Jr., with musical direction by Gina Raakin and choreography by Clarissa Reboton and Wilholm Ho (and set to colorful imagination by a lavish stage design by Jun Marcial Romano and Reuben Rubio), the play starred Crystal Esmero as Pinocchio (who was wonderful), Dominador de los Santos as Geppetto, Ted Atencio as Antonio the Storyteller, Elaine Maravilla-Tonogbanua as Angelina, Karma Dell Villarin as the Blue Fairy, Romar Natividad as The Coachman, Anthony Gerard Odtohan as Candlewick, Wilholm Ho as Gino, Jed Lozada as Senore Gato, and Rosbert Salvoro as Senore Volpone. I enjoyed the musicale immensely, if only because it was charming, and featured a very winning, talented cast. At the very least, with Pinocchio, the cast sang exceptionally well, displaying an acting gusto that seemed unbounded. This was community theater at its admirable best.
Finally, this March 14, the Dumaguete cultural season ends with Eve Ensler’s A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer—the newest VDay presentation after several years that have seen various incarnations of The Vagina Monologues, Usaping Puki, and The Good Body. What can I say, Dumaguete may be the most “vagina-friendly” city in the Philippines (read: a city of empowered women). We’ve been doing VDay for more than half a decade now, more than any other place in the country save for Manila. This year, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of VDay with a new play adapted from the book by Eve Ensler, as directed by Dessa Quesada-Palm. The show features pieces written by such luminaries as Dave Eggers, Susan Miller, Edward Albee, Edwidge Danticat, Michael Cunningham, and Maya Angelou, on an assortment of topics ranging from sexual abuse to Darfur to the rights of women and children, all essayed by community stalwarts Jacqueline Veloso-Antonio, Suzane Lu-Bascara, Glynda Descuatan, Michele Joan Valbuena, Sharon Dadang-Rafols, Nayna Malayang, Myrish Cadapan-Antonio, among many others.
Ms. Quesada-Palm writes of directing the play:
I agreed to read A Memory, A Monologue, A Rant and a Prayer before my final response [to the invitation to direct the show]. I feasted on Eve Ensler’s compilation of contributions from forty-nine remarkable writers. Each one exceptional, each one urgent. There were moments when I had to stop reading, the images too terrifying, the pain too real and gripping. And at the end, I knew these were stories that needed to be rendered visible, to be heard, to be transformed. I figured, I could use a bigger plate… A number of stories are from war-torn Africa. Some pieces can be emotionally exhausting, but imagine for a moment what the women and children who live these realities go through without much choice and respite. May this exhaustion turn to a yearning to turn things around, to end the complicity of silence, to dare and say stop to all forms of abuse…
And that may well define the kind of culture we’ve been trying to bring to Dumaguete in the past season: culture that ultimately edifies, and culture that—while also entertaining us—also tries to take measure of ourselves as human beings who are part of a larger world.
Still, the irony may be that it is not easy promoting art and culture in our University Town. True, there are many pockets of enthusiasm in places, but when push comes to shove, sometimes the need for cultural knowledge takes on an invisibility veil for many. One local elementary school administrator, asked why he doesn’t push for cultural education for his students, was reported to have said: “Makuha ra na nila sa cable TV,” which paints the distorted perspectives of people who should know better.
What that sad sack doesn’t know, for example, is that, according to a recent study conducted by the American for Art organization, young people who have been exposed to arts regularly are four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement, three times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools, four times more likely to participate in a math and science fair, three times more likely to win an award for school attendance, and four times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem. Other studies have shown that being active in art has a measurable impact on youth at risk in deterring delinquent behavior and truancy problems. The arts involvement also increases overall academic performance among those youth engaged in after-school and summer arts programs targeted toward delinquency prevention.
That you can’t get from cable TV.
You can get tickets for the March 14 show of A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant, and a Prayer at Sted's and the Department of Psychology in Silliman University. It will be staged at the new Negros Oriental Convention Center. Why not the Luce Auditorium where VDay had been traditionally held in? Simple: this weekend, the Luce closes its doors. Until July.
And starting that month, the next cultural season will feature Actor's Actors' Art, Repertory Philippines' Tuesdays With Morrie, Cinemalaya, Ballet Philippines' Pinocchio (not to be confused with the musical), the Manila Symphony Orchestra, and others. Till then...
Was very sick. And now still frenetically busy. Also terribly depressed by all the little things I shouldn't really care about, but do. Now that's a perfect combination. Excuse me while I hide under a rock for a while.
I almost forgot to share these photos from the LitCritters session the other Saturday, in our usual haunt: the garden/veranda of the Silliman President's campus home, which is increasingly becoming a gathering place of sorts among many Sillimanian students. (That's a good sign for the kind of presidency we have, eh?) Palanca-winning fictionist Lakambini Sitoy (one more first place finish, and she'll be in the Hall of Fame...) was around to answer the Dumaguete LitCritters' questions about the craft and the writing life. Bing has been home in Dumaguete for some time now, trying to finish a novel, and teaching on the side. (We sometimes go off for coffee together to complain about our students, hehehe...)
And the delicious cake is courtesy of Eliora, who was celebrating her birthday.
The Cebuano poet Larry Ypil on his use of English amidst all this call for a return to the native: "A tongue only becomes alien when we keep it at the gate, at the door. The stranger is only as strange as when we do not know his name, and he does not know ours. Perhaps the job of the writer is not really to master his language, but to make it his own. Not just to study its syntax and shape but to invite it into his home."
God, I still miss you. Your voice over the phone a few minutes ago was all of comfort that I could snatch and own for the moment, but it also tells me there is this distance between us that teases and torments. You're there, and I'm here: a lesson in simple geography I do not want and refuse to believe in. And so it goes, all these overtures to incompletion, to distance. All I have now is my slow music -- my media player is going through the N's in my playlist right now, and so there's Noel Cabangon singing ""Nag-iisa Wala Ka Na" and then on to Norah Jones singing "The Nearness of You." I quickly realize how this taunting music underlines everything about tonight. How utterly charming is this musical coincidence? Stupid, lovely songs serenading a night that slides by so slowly it seems now that tomorrow will take forever to come. Outside, the streets are also wet with the rain: how apt is that, the asphalt dark as the midnight it embraces, dark as this missing. It's the universe in sync with how I feel. So let me tell you one more time: I miss you. Come home.
Esquire -- that magazine of endless fascinating literary experimentations -- has just published a controversial piece of reported fiction by Lisa Taddeo titled "The Last Days of Heath Ledger," where she writes diary entries in Heath Ledger's voice about his, well, last days. I read it for its gimmicky, possibly exploitative, value -- but got blown away by the power of Taddeo's fiction. Here's how the story, which you can read in full here, begins:
It becomes theatrically important, after you die, what your last few days are like.
For me, it was just like any other weekend in my life. I didn't eat a last meal, I didn't jerk off any more or any less, I didn't climb a mountain or end up swinging from a noose with Mozart's Requiem in the background. But suddenly it's important exactly what I did, because they are the last few days, and what you do in the last few days, down to your last lunch, becomes a fairy tale.
If you force me to make my last weekend a microcosm of my existence, and what my existence means to you, then I'll tell you how it went and who I played. But first things first: It was an accident. I'm not some fucked-up star who couldn't deal. I could deal; I just couldn't sleep.
This is the type of fiction I seem to be digging these days, starting when I read Justine Yu's "Sweet Baby" a few months ago, and continuing on with my re-viewing of Gus Van Sant's double-bill of minimalist angst -- Elephant and Last Days. This is fiction that is precise and unvarnished slices of lives, told without bullshit, and with the self-aware poetry, momentum, and flavor of a day dripping with caffeine.
The New York Times has a story on the publication here.
Oh God, I miss you. My bones miss you. My skin misses you. My coffee-drunk brain and my droopy eyes from all these hours of not sleeping miss you. In the middle of my panic -- when a few more instances of a busy, harried existence threaten to engulf my very sanity -- the part of me that is sane and functional aches from missing you. I miss you. Come home. I miss you.
10:46 AM |
Things You Do While Trapped Under a Heap of Student Papers
Take a series of deep breaths, a prayer embedded in between. Listen to classical music, or some other form of relaxing muzak. Make coffee. Steal away a few minutes from checking all those papers, to blog.
The things you do to ward off madness...
Oh, wait. It's Thursday already? I have no conception of days this week, or the past week for that matter. This is, after all, the final week of school, with all its attendant madness. The final exams start next week, and guess what that means to the lives of every teacher on the face of the earth: gearing up to do battle with all sort of student papers and exams -- a heap of thankless work that rewards you with the occasional gems that take our breath away (always mitigated by this doubt: "I hope this is not plagiarized"), and ultimately breaks your soul down with the ubiquitous bombs that have us wailing between hysteria and exasperation. Right now, most of the research papers I am reading for all three sections I am handling are so inept, I'm actually angry: all that work I've done on these classes for the past semester, only to be given papers of utter cluelessness?
I used to be a one-night commando, piling up all papers to be checked with the "plan" to demolish them in two brave days and one sleepless night. But I always come away from that process very much demolished myself that it takes me at least two weeks to recover. This year, I've learned to space out the work over the entire semester, but I've since found out that the work, although significantly bearable now, is not any less hard -- the pain just becomes a more constant reality in one's life.
So do check up on me in a few more days. I'll be blogging more when this grading season passes. Till then, here's wishing you all happiness from my end of the zombie zone.
A confession: I used to be an Oprah-freak, and I admit I still do love her and her wildly philanthropic ways immensely. (Oprah may the only person in the world who is capable of making serious charity and giving away loads of money extreme entertainment.) Her Book Club -- while not perfect -- has some amazing choices, give or take a few bad titles. (Maya Angelou, anyone?) Last month's choice of The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett was inspired, if only because this was my favorite book when I was in high school. But now, why does she expect any of us to read this dreck from Eckhart Tolle titled A New Earth? Consider this passage from the book:
On our planet, and perhaps simultaneously in many parts of our galaxy and beyond, consciousness is awakening from the dream of form. This does not mean all forms (the world) are going to dissolve, although quite a few almost certainly will. It means consciousness can now begin to create form without losing itself in it. It can remain conscious of itself, even while it creates and experiences form.