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

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Monday, April 26, 2010

entry arrow11:30 PM | Teaching Manuel Arguilla's Midsummer

Ram took a secret video of me teaching -- demonstrating with such gusto? -- Manuel Arguilla's classic short story "Midsummer" sometime this week. [I have never seen myself teach before. Now I know.] I love this story, as much for its local color as for the subtlety of its writing. A lot of people reading this piece are always convinced that nothing actually goes on in this story, just a matter of boy meeting girl in the middle of the hot Philippine countryside, and then somehow falling in love with each other. The end. But I always ask my students this: "Are you sure? Does nothing really happen in this story?" And then I proceed to peel the many layers of this tale -- and demonstrate once and for all why this is probably the most erotic story ever written by a Filipino. But a well-handled one, to the point that its eroticism becomes invisible, throbbing only for those with a trained eye, or for those keen to reading between the lines. I love most of all Ading, the female character in this story, and what she also represents: a feminist of the first-degree, somebody who knows what she wants, and proceeds to get what she wants.

So you ask: What? All of that? In this simple story where nothing happens?

Oh, but yes. Things do happen.

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entry arrow10:32 PM | Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas Talks About the Catalogue of Mementos in Edith Lopez Tiempo's 'Bonsai'

First we begin with "Bonsai," perhaps the best known and most-loved poem by the National Artist for Literature Edith Tiempo:

All that I love
I fold over once
And once again
And keep in a box
Or a slit in a hollow post
Or in my shoe.

All that I love?
Why, yes, but for the moment—
And for all time, both.
Something that folds and keeps easy,
Son’s note or Dad’s one gaudy tie,
A roto picture of a beauty queen,
A blue Indian shawl, even
A money bill.

It’s utter sublimation,
A feat, this heart’s control
Moment to moment
To scale all love down
To a cupped hand’s size,

Till seashells are broken pieces
From God’s own bright teeth,
And life and love are real
Things you can run and
Breathless hand over
To the merest child.

Rowena writes me today:

I just spent the afternoon with a scholar from DLSU [Bam Pe] who's doing a biography of Mom, and needed to interview her and me, as a part of her research. So I guess I'm still in that family-history groove even as I write this.

I glanced with interest at your exegesis of Mom's "Bonsai" -- which has turned out to be her best-known poem because of its emotional accessibility. As you, and other readers, have perhaps noted about Mom's work, much of her poetry -- especially the earlier stuff -- tended to be dense and cerebral. Among her poems in the first volume, "Tracks of Babylon," my personal favorite -- and that of the committee that chose her to be the first Elisabeth Luce Moore Distinguished Asian Professor -- was a poem whose lyricism was quite distinct from the other weightily intellected poems in that volume. I'm referring to "Mid-Morning for Sheba," which, if you and your students are not familiar with it, is well worth looking up and learning.

Following are some personal references embedded in the imagery of "Bonsai." It's absolutely not necessary to know "what Mom meant" when she chose those objects as signifiers of "all [I] love." Objects, really, that had meaning for her as mementoes of family joy and pain. (I note that in the analysis you quote from Myrna, there is some speculation about the personal importance of those objects.) Well, here is the background, straight from one who was right there when the poem was written:

... "son's note" refers to a letter full of anger and resentment that my brother had written to my parents, when he was being chastised from some misdeed he had committed, and Don set fire to my father's books, and wrote a letter to "the man in the red car" ... meaning Dad, who was identified with the red Ford Falcon that was our family sedan for years. As far as I know, that's the only letter my brother ever wrote our parents, growing up or after he'd left home.

... "Dad's one gaudy tie" is a necktie in loud colors that some of Dad's students had given him as a birthday present (and which Mom apparently had mixed feelings about; Dad never wore it).

... the "Indian shawl" was a gift brought to Mom from India, in blue-and-gold embroidery, by their old teacher from Iowa, Paul Engle, when he was on a Rockefeller tour of Asia and he stopped by Dumaguete to visit the Writers' Workshop across the world, which his students Ed and Edith had grown from the Iowa "seed corn" that they're brought to Silliman from the University of Iowa. It was a gift much treasured for its symbolic import, as well as for its inherent value.

... the "roto picture of a young queen" is ... yours truly, a reference to my salad days as Hara sa Lalawigan.

So there you have it, the inside story behind the objects in "Bonsai." And if anyone ever comes upon these facts and finds them useful in the literal understanding of this much-loved poem ... well, the story came from me.

One of my own life's greatest treasures is the time when Mom and I were asked to lecture at Ateneo. (I think it was there where I gave the very first version of "My Parents' Child.") When we were done, they asked her to recite or read a poem, and asked her to do "Bonsai." There was absolute silence in that large lecture hall as she opened the book and read it.

I looked around the fully-packed hall, where some of the students were overflowing into the hallway, sitting on the floor or looking in from the windows. (And this was before she was conferred as National Artist!)

As Mom was reading the poem aloud, all the lips of the audience were moving silently along with the words she was reading. All of them in the audience knew that poem by heart.

Thanks, Ma'am Wena, for sharing!

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Saturday, April 24, 2010

entry arrow1:26 PM | The People We Hang Out With


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Friday, April 23, 2010

entry arrow2:23 PM | Death by Potpot in a Sweaty Race for Earth

When I first heard about Race Across Dumaguete, it was through Facebook, and it was a little too late for me to do anything about it. There, plastered on my Facebook wall late last year, were pictures of many of my friends—Angeline Dy, Zara Dy, John Philip Uy, among others—in various poses of sweaty deliriousness, running like mad all over the streets of Dumaguete, in what was the first staging of our very own version of the Amazing Race.

Ram and I in Hayahay with our wind chimes made of Tanduay bottles.

And I thought: didn’t we always want to be part of something like this, a gripping test of physical endurance and mental work, in what is essentially a grown-up version of a treasure hunt? The versions we see played out in television promise adventure (bungee jumping! exotic places!)—but, in the final analysis, they also promise something else: a chance to gauge oneself in a series of trials. Finishing the test becomes a kind of affirmation akin to a rite of passage. Eons ago, the young of Sparta and other ancient societies were sent out to the wilderness where they must learn survival and fight off the encroachment of beasts and all manners of evil—and then they come back after the ordeal to be proclaimed adults worthy of a place in their world. These days, we don’t do that anymore: instead, we join beauty pageants, go to war, or take the board exam.

Or run races.

It had been Gelo de la Cruz’s idea to transfer the concept of the race to Dumaguete, and on 29 November 2009, the first ever Race Across Dumaguete was held, concentrated mainly around the downtown area. According to the official site, “ten teams signed up [and] seven teams showed up,” and by the end of the day the team of Aryan and Cris Carlo won.

Ram planting a tree in Valencia.

I was amazed, and immediately wanted to join the next event.

“When? When?” I pestered Angeline all throughout the new year, until finally, by February, she had gathered the necessary group of people together to organize an entirely new race, sans Gelo, who was by then working in Germany.

This time around, they built the event around Earth Day—with clues and tasks that had something to do with conservation, ecology, and what-not. And so, last Sunday, April 18, fifteen teams gathered around Ninoy Aquino’s bust in Freedom Park at around 8:30 in the morning, ready to race.

Relaxing for a bit in Hayahay during our lunch pit stop.

I partnered with friend and student Ramuel Reambonanza Jr., and we called ourselves The Hive—after the name of the group of friends that we shared. The rest that pumped thigh muscles with us on that starting line included the Koreans Hyunsung Kim and Yeong Ho Kim, Team Gammans Karl Raciene Coyoca and Marvin Luther Tan, Team Song Lawrence Nodado and Sarah Jane Sibala, Team Flowrsie Arsie Cris Duran and Flowr Therese Bana, Negros Tri Team Dennis Lagahit Jr. and Welbert Laurecio, Team Baka Baki Alf Campos and Anthro Kadipunan, Team Amagaeru Kemuel Lazalita and Cheri Mae Amistoso, Team Eco Warriors Felix Araula II and [son] Sean Philip Araula, Team Swallow Rex Oliver Tan and John Philip Sanchez, Team Bang Lyndon Lorence Borromeo and Lea Therese Marino, Team Diveworx Glenn John Carballo and [son] John Thomas Carballo, Team Tachycardia Chantal Mae Diao and Jerry Ortaliz, and Team Green Acers Michelle Alcantara and Eve Queennie May Balbon.

With a Lo-oc kid with a solved Rubik Cube puzzle.

We were told we could not bring wallets or coins or cellphones. We were told to bring a windbreaker or umbrella, just in case it would rain. We were told to bring our own drinking water or energy drinks, and some snacks, in case we got hungry before we could reach any of the checkpoints. We were told to bring a digital camera, a ball pen, some paper, and a hand sanitizer or alcohol—which soon proved essential. We were told to be in our most comfortable sportswear as we would be active throughout the day. We were told to put on sunblock. We were told to practice good sportsmanship, and told that we were not allowed to seek help from anyone, unless clearly specified.

And then, on that early Sunday morning, past 9 a.m., our grueling day began with that shout of “Go!” The moment I started running, the thought came to me: “Oh, dear God. This is for real.”

We went on an impromptu sack race across Freedom Park, then carefully counted 637 kernels of rice [miscounting meant doing the entire thing all over again], then raced on foot to the public market 3 kilometers away to find Manang Lolit’s stall in the middle of the market’s maze, then ate five big cubes of ice in less than 90 seconds [my mouth was soon numb, and the inside of my cheeks were bleeding…], then, given only P24, raced to Valencia town after haggling with a jeepney driver who was determined to wait for more passengers while we were determined to just go [which meant us going around, cajoling people to ride, now na!], then we planted a tree sapling in the mayor’s brother’s yard where we also collected non-biodegradable garbage in a black bag, then we took a quiz about composting, then we dug into a huge pot full of earthworms, then we solved another clue using cellphone codes which gave us instructions on where to go next, then we begged a habal-habal driver for a P24 ride to Hayahay [which is worth P100 on ordinary days], then we ate pizza for lunch, then we made wind chimes out of the Tanduay of bottles we gathered in Valencia, then we solved an intricate pictorial puzzle about garbage disposal, then we raced to Mercury Drug and then I ran [while Ram rode the potpot] for more than 10 kilometers to the city dumpsite while picking up garbage along the way [this could be said to be the leg of the race that was invented in Hell], then we threw said garbage to the city dumpsite, then we raced back to the city on the same backbreaking route, then we went shopping and haggled for P30-worth of children’s clothes at the ukay, then we ran another 3 kilometers to a specific basketball court in Lo-oc to give said ukay to a poor kid, then we were told to solve a Rubiks cube which contained the next clue, then we ran to the Boulevard, and then, for our final task, garnered twenty signed petitions from total strangers promising to do something good for the environment.

Ram and I learned to beg and haggle that day. We learned to knock on strangers’ doors that day, begging for a drink of cold water. We learned to go around the metro for the entire day with only P24 in our pockets. We learned strategy. We learned to go beyond body pain and the unfortunate instance of a potpot tumbling over along the highway.

We have never ran as much and walked as much from all our lives. But we did all these with humor and so much good will. We laughed a lot, and we had each other’s back. That’s what mattered most. And at the end of the day, our bodies were tired and broken and achy. We were red from the sun. But it was all worth it.

So, how was your day last Sunday?

Ram and I in Don Atilano after the race and a shower, red from the sun, bone-tired, but happy.

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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

entry arrow2:25 PM | Writing Fellows of the 49th Silliman University National Writers Workshop

National Writers Workshop Director-in-Residence Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and Silliman University are pleased to announce that the following young writers have been accepted as fellows for the 49th National Writers Workshop scheduled on 3-21 May 2010:

For Poetry

Gian Paolo Simeon Lao (Ateneo de Manila University)
Dominique Allison Santos (University of Santo Tomas)
Jacob Dominguez (University of Santo Tomas)
Oscar Serquina Jr. (University of the Philippines-Diliman)

For Fiction

Aaron James Jalalon (University of the Philippines–Mindanao)
Jenette Ethel Vizcocho (University of the Philippines-Diliman)
Gilda Ysobel Galang (Ateneo de Manila University)
Anne Carly Abad (Ateneo de Manila University)
Gino Francis Dizon (Ateneo de Manila University)
Jose Carlo Flordeliza (De La Salle University)
Ida Anita Del Mundo (De La Salle University)
Samantha Echavez (University of the Philippines-Diliman)

For Creative Non-Fiction

Kelly Marie Tulio Conlon (University of the Philippine–Mindanao)
Miro Frances Capili (University of the Philippines-Diliman)
Christina Mae del Rosario (Ateneo de Manila University)

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

entry arrow10:24 PM | A Race

Today, with good friend and partner Ramuel Benedicto Reambonanza, I went on a sack race in Freedom Park, counted 635 kernels of rice, raced to the public market 3km away to find Manang Lolit's stall in the middle of the market maze, ate five big cubes of ice in less than 90 seconds, raced to Valencia town after haggling with a jeepney, planted a tree in the mayor's brother's yard where he also collected non-biodegradable garbage, took a quiz about composting, dug into a huge pot full of earthworms, solved a clue using cellphone codes, then begged a habal-habal for a P24 ride to Hayahay [which is worth P100 on ordinary days], ate pizza for lunch, made wind chimes out of Tanduay bottles, solved a puzzle about garbage, raced to Mercury Drug and ran more than 10km to the city dumpsite while picking up garbage on the way [while Ram rode a potpot], threw said garbage to the city dumpsite, raced back to the city on the same backbreaking route, haggled for P30-worth of children's clothes at the ukay, ran 3km to Looc to give ukay to a poor kid, solved a Rubiks cube, ran to the Boulevard, and finally obtained 20 ecological petitions from total strangers.

So, how was your day?

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Thursday, April 15, 2010

entry arrow7:01 PM | Not All Labels Are Bad.

"What will you do in bed? Stare at each other? That is supposed to make her happy?"
~ Patrick Seagrove

I am beginning to believe that those who like to throw around, with such careless abandon, the much-abused phrase "I don't believe in labels" are actually lazy idiots who think they can get by in the world in spineless namelessness. For example: "I'm not gay. I'm not straight. I just believe in love. Why label love?" Fuck that. You're already naming that chemical reaction inside you as "love." That's labeling. You cannot get away from naming. It is a basic function of intelligence that has a link to the spiritual. "In the beginning was the Word" -- even the Bible says that. If you think hard about it, such abandon of refusing to name oneself actually most often produces unexpected hurt and pain, especially for the party that has been [or will ultimately be] fooled/hoodwinked. It's the philosophical equivalent of fence-sitting, the coward's cop out. Be gay. Be straight. Whatever. Just deal with it. Don't live in the world that is full of shadows and call it paradise.

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entry arrow4:59 PM | Taxing Day

Over lunch in Jutsz Cafe, where I have my favorite dish of garlic fish fillet with salad, I begin filling out the calculations for my red mixed income form from the Bureau of Internal Revenue, which came with the regular income tax return. Michael, our English Department secretary who knows his accounting stuff, had earlier done the complicated mathematics for me—all those numbers swimming in my eyes signifying nothing.

Already that morning, I had dutifully made my annual pilgrimage to City Hall to get my CTC, my cedula.

In my head, the route for the rest of the afternoon is well-laid. I’d stop over at the BIR main office near the Capitol to have my documents checked. Then I’d scoot over to the nearest bank and pay whatever penalties I am supposed to pay. I’ve done this ritual every April for so many years. The only hassle I have ever encountered was once forgetting the filing deadline in 2007, and I had to frantically do the required legwork precious minutes before the banks closed. Afterwards, I think, I’d go home, pick up my laptop, go straight to class, lecture on Contemporary Philippine Literature, go to the gym, go home and shower, go to Maoai Benitez’s birthday party, and then watch Broken Hearts Club with The Hive. Perfect.

The BIR office is friendly enough. Entering its premises, I find a gigantic poster of the BIR head commissioner in a pose gesturing welcome. I think it funny how our high officials find it always necessary to put their visages on such things.

Inside the BIR, I joke around with fellow Silliman University employees who are, like me, doing their filing at the 11th hour. The nice BIR office lady tells me everything in my documents seems in order, but tells me only to change my entries in my red form from pencil marks to ink. I say thank you, and I proceed to redo the form in ink.

“Where can I pay my mixed income tax?” I ask later.

She smiles and says, “Well, there’s Landbank, and there’s DBP.”

I think: DBP is just a little too far, near the Boulevard. Landbank, on the other hand, is only a stone’s throw away from the Capitol Area. So I go down from the BIR building to the highway—and there I realize that there is no tricycle headed in the direction of Landbank. The DPWH has closed the strip to do repairs on the road, and public transportation has been routed somewhere else. “Great,” I think of the public works being demonstrated right in front of me. “This is my tax pesos at work.”

I decide to walk the length between the Capitol Area and Landbank. It’s not too far, I think. Under the 1:30 sun, I walk and brown in the sweltering summer heat.

I arrive in Landbank. I ask the guard on duty, “Where do I file my income tax?”

He nods towards the teller, “Go straight over there.”

I go to the teller. “Is this where I file my income tax?”

She says, “Go to the BIR representative over there. He will first approve your documents.” She points at his direction with her lips formed into a snout.

The BIR representative stationed in Landbank turns out to be an overeager asshole who gives me an unnecessary hard time.

I give him my forms, the same forms the people in the BIR main office have already gone over.

“You need to change this red form to the blue form,” he says, in a tone of such bright overeagerness it borders on the infuriating know-it-all.

“But I’ve always used this red form for my mixed income.”

“No,” he insists, “you have to.”

I look over the new form. “But the calculations are not the same anymore then, and my accountant has already filled in the calculations. Do you expect me to recalculate all this?”

“It’s the same,” he insists.

“But I have always used this form.”

“If you insist on using the red form, you will be liable for a tax audit.”

A tax audit? On a fixed income?

I sit down and study the difference between the two forms.

I text Michael at the department and my friend Jacqueline at the Silliman Business and Finance. These people will know what to do, I think. They breathe these things. But they tell me to just follow the BIR rep’s suggestion.

I study the forms some more. “But the boxes for the amounts are no longer the same,” I tell the overeager BIR rep.

This goes on for more than ten minutes.

“But they are the same,” he says.

“They’re not.”

“They are.”

“They’re not.” I become exasperated. I sit down, and try to fill out the new blue form anyway. They are not the same.

I think: I can get out of the bank, and have Michael recalculate this. Or, or...

Or go to another bank.

I immediately stand up and get out of Landbank, planning on a quick transfer to DBP.

Thirty minutes have elapsed.

There are no tricycles headed that way. So I walk again, under the heat of the sun, from Landbank to the Boulevard Area. I tan with each ticking second.

I arrive at the DBP. It is past 2 pm. The guard stops me. I tell him I am there to file my taxes. He asks, “How many sets of payments?”

I blink. “What do you mean?”

He takes my forms and starts counting. “One...,” he intones, “two... three... You have to fill out these three individual payment forms.”

An older guard suddenly comes out of the bank’s doors. “Are you sure?” he asks the first guard. He, too, counts my forms. “He only needs one payment form to fill,” he says.

“Oh,” the first guard says. “Okay then.”

I take the new form.

“Here’s your number,” the first guard says. “They will call you with this number.”

My number is 82.

“Do you have a cellphone?” he asks.

“Yes,” I say. “Why?”

“Leave it here with me. You can’t bring it inside,” he says, and then gives me another number. It is a claim tag. It is numbered 8.

“Okay,” I say, giving him my cellphone. “Where do I go after this?”

“Fill out the payment form first, and then go to that BIR representative stationed over there,” he says.

Yes, another BIR representative.

“Okay,” I say.

I sit down at the nearest couch and fill out the new form. It is mercifully short.

Then I go to the BIR representative seated at her table. She looks over my forms, including the OLD red one I had refused to change, and then she tells me, “Everything is in order. Please wait for your number to be called.”

In my head, I am screaming: What? What? What? What exactly was the problem with that other BIR representative in Landbank? How can two BIR representatives disagree on procedure?

I sit down and wait for my return. It turns out to be a long, long, long wait. But the electronic call number above the tellers’ heads does not seem to be working, and the numbers they are calling out do not seem to make sense with my own number. I am 82. They are calling out digits immediately after 10. Surely I am not supposed to be here in the bank forever! I go back to the guard outside.

“Are you sure this is the right number?” I ask.

He looks down at his work station—and on top of it was a merry pile of other numbers. He picks out a smaller one. Now I am No. 38.

Such system! I laugh inside. I am slowly being torn to pieces by the madness of it all.

I go back to the air-conditioned interiors of the DBP, wanting only to laugh at the absurdity, at the randomness of everything. I feel like I am in a Kafka story.

The minutes drag. I fall asleep where I sit.

I must have been inside that bank for more or less two hours.

And then finally, a voice rings out. “Number 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40...” and so on and so forth.

I rush towards where the voice is, and the kind-looking teller takes my form. “Please wait to be called again, sir,” she says.

I wait for thirty more minutes.

And then finally, my name, ringing out from another teller’s mouth.

I pay my taxes.

Soon I drag my feet out of the bank. I claim my cellphone from the guard’s desk. I begin to send out cranky messages to the rest of the world. I look at my watch. It is past 3:30. I am late for my class. And I no longer have any plans for going, or partying later in the night. I am exhausted.

While I pause to take a breather right outside the bank, a motorcycle screeches to a stop outside the entrance. An old woman alights from the passenger’s side, and goes straight to the doors.

She knocks.

The bank guard peeks out. “Ma’am, sorry. The bank closes at 3 pm.”

“But,” she begins with a voice laced with worry, “I have to pay this. This is my BIR income tax form. If I don’t pay this today, I will have to pay the penalty.”

“Ma’am, sorry,” the guard insists. “The bank closes at 3 pm.”

I quickly walk away from the scene, hoping for a quick tricycle ride home.

Under the heat of the midafternoon sun, I melt.

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

entry arrow5:00 PM | Why Love is Like Raccoons in Burning Chimneys

"The thing to remember about love affairs," says Simone, "is that they are all like having raccoons in your chimney.... We have raccoons sometimes in our chimney.... And once we tried to smoke them out. We lit a fire, knowing they were there, but we hoped the smoke would cause them to scurry out the top and never come back. Instead, they caught on fire and came crashing down into our living room, all charred and in flames and running madly around until they dropped dead." Simone swallows some wine. "Love affairs are like that," she says. "They are all like that."

~ Lorrie Moore in "Dance in America"
From Birds of America

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Sunday, April 11, 2010

entry arrow5:46 PM | Sweet Suffering

"We are built to suffer terribly when love fails -- first to protest the departure and try to win the beloved back, and later, to give up utterly, dust ourselves off and redirect our energy to fall in love again."

~ Helen Fisher in "Dumped",
New Scientist (2004).

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Friday, April 09, 2010

entry arrow3:55 PM | A Quiet World

“Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes, and the grass grows by itself.”

I don’t know who it was who first told me that one sure way to calm yourself in the frenetic whirlwind of days is to stop and just look at a flower.

Imagine this. You command yourself to stare at the bloom, to feel all your undivided attention focus on the intricacies of its petals and the sure tuck of its sepals. See how it folds at some edges, and then how it flares just so at the others. See the creeping diffusion of hues. You soon feel its colors begin to pulsate, you feel the wonderful symmetry of its biology...

Almost always, perhaps because you will it so, the world begins to shrink away. And then there is only you and the flower, a quiet invisible cocoon shedding you from the cacophony of everything else. You. And a flower. And the bliss of a full flowing concentration.

Sometimes all we really want, in the best of days, is quiet.

In Muriel Barbery’s intelligent and deeply affecting novel The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which is about a trio of geniuses “in hiding” in some rich Parisian apartment building, we find that the precocious child genius Paloma Josse is always in search of a hiding place, away from the bourgeois “barbarians” who are her family and neighbors. She wants to get away from everyday disturbances to nurture quiet, which breeds what she calls “profound thoughts” about the “movements of the world.” She rarely gets it, but in the end she finds it in the loge of Mme. Renée Michel, their squat concierge, who fiercely hides a formidable intelligence by embodying for everybody else in the building the stereotype of an unthinking blue-collar worker. But perhaps Adlai Stevenson said it best, when he once declared: “In quiet places, reason abounds.”

This is true.

Not everybody can appreciate that kind of quiet, of course. They often mistake it for boredom. Perhaps this is because we have grown so used to increasing decibels as an everyday thing in all our lives. It has almost become the new make-up of the world.

My music mentor, the radiant Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez, once told me that she believed most of the world has gone increasingly deaf over the years. She has found that what were once perfectly acceptable (and hearable) levels of sound—especially during concerts at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium—have fallen on increasingly unhearing ears.

“It’s not even about the acoustics anymore,” she said. “People are just becoming hard of hearing these days.” She knows why. The world has become a playground of noise.

And I know this for sure in my life. You see, it has become a bit harder for me to hear sound in “normal” levels—the music that I play in my apartment, for example, nears maximum volume, but I play the denial game by convincing myself that my stereo’s volume dial is calibrated for soft sound, even at maximum.

It is the same for the sound coming from my television. And it is perfectly reflective of how I have become inured to noise that I cannot fall asleep without the television turned on. I nod off to its disembodied sounds. That and the flickering blue that it emits into the walls of my darkened bedroom becomes my kind of lullaby. I sleep to the sound of CNN anchors, to the silly chatter of MTV veejays, to the chatter of unseen adventurers of Discovery Channel.

It is as if we have come to truly believe that all the universe is made of this fabric of sonance—honking cars horns and screaming children and blaring televisions and puffing politicians and screeching car wheels navigating the asphalt jungles of our lives.

And so, when suddenly we find ourselves in the green solitude of mountains or at some secluded beach, we take to the quiet that pervades like it was an alien thing, which we can amuse ourselves with. It is something decidedly different for us that it borders what we make for novelty. “Quiet,” for a lack of a better description, has become quaint.

Over the Holy Week, as Dumaguete dissolved into the doldrums and I surfed the Internet to distract myself from watching too much television, I found people begin to make noise online with the same whine: “I’m bored.”

Over and over—in Facebook status updates, in Twitter shoutouts, in Tumblr posts—it was essentially the same thing and the same concern: “It’s too quiet. I’m bored.” There were Boracay wishes and invitations to escape the sweltering heat to the cooler enclaves of the mall or Baguio or Valencia town—such fuss because there was none of that comforting din people were used to. Outside, there were no tricycles trolling the streets. There was no rush of people. There was only quiet.

And then, once again, that whine: “I’m bored. It’s too quiet.”

Even I, child of noise, had to react to this tiresome litany. And so I wrote in my Facebook and my Twitter pages: “That’s not boredom, people. That’s a chance for rare quiet in this noisy world, and a chance to listen to what the depths of your heart can tell you.” It was a corny note, but I felt it was calculated enough to make some of the whining stop.

And for the most part, it did. At least for a few hours, anyway. That note miraculously snowballed into a chance of reflection among some of my friends. One eventually wrote back: “That made me rethink what I am exactly doing now. Thanks for the perspective shift.”

Later on, I too began to believe in my own mantra. I turned off my television, closed the laptop to break away from the “chatter” of the unceasing online world. I settled for a book, and in low volume, I played “Thy hand, Belinda; darkness shades me” from Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas. This, according to the fictional Mme. Michel, the heroine of Barbery’s world, is “the most beautiful music for the human voice on earth...”

Barbery continues in Mme. Michel’s voice: “It is beyond beautiful, it is sublime, because of the incredibly dense succession of sounds, as if each were linked to the next by an invisible force and, while each one remains distinct, they all melt into one another, at the edge of the human voice, verging on an animal cry. But there is beauty in these sounds that no animal cry can ever attain, a beauty born of the subversion of phonetic articulation and the transgression of the careful verbal language that ordinarily creates distinct sounds. Broken steps, melting sounds. Art is life, playing to other rhythms.”

Melting sounds. Life in rhythm. Things you can hear only when all else is quiet and you are in tune with how the universe hums without the distraction of the noises we make.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Thursday, April 08, 2010

entry arrow1:18 AM | The 60th Palanca Awards Now Accepting Entries

The Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature (more popularly known as the Palanca Awards) continues to live up to its reputation as the country’s most prestigious and longest-running literary contest as it officially opens its 60th year.

This year, the Carlos Palanca Foundation looks forward to more brilliant works to add to its trove of 1,954 winning literary gems it has gathered since it first handed out an award in 1951.

The regular categories under which participants can submit their entries are: English Division [Short Story, Short Story for Children, Essay, Poetry, One-act Play, and Full-length Play]; Filipino Division [Maikling Kuwento, Maikling Kuwentong Pambata, Sanaysay, Tula, Dulang May Isang Yugto, Dulang Ganap ang Haba, and Dulang Pampelikula]; Regional Languages Division [Short Story-Cebuano, Short Story-Hiligaynon, and Short Story-Iluko]. Each contestant may submit only one entry per category.

Much anticipated as well are entries to the competition’s relatively new categories: Poetry Written for Children in the English Division and Tulang Isinulat Para sa mga Bata in the Filipino division. The categories were launched last year to encourage the development of a body of poetry for young children ages 6-12.

Meanwhile, in the Kabataan Division, Palanca Awards’ special division for young writers below 18 years old, the Kabataan Essay theme in the English category is "What is it in the environment that I can protect?", and in the Filipino category, “Ano sa kalikasan ang aking kayang pangalagaan?”.

The literary contest is open to all Filipino (or former Filipino) citizens, except current officers and employees of its organizing body, the Carlos Palanca Foundation, Inc. Contest rules and official entry forms are available at Palanca Awards’ official website, www.palancaawards.com.ph.

Entries with complete requirements may be submitted to the Foundation’s office at the 6th Floor, One World Square Bldg., 10 Upper McKinley Road, McKinley Hill Town Center, Fort Bonifacio, Taguig City or may also be entered online through the Palanca Awards website or sent through email at cpawards@palancaawards.com.ph.

Deadline of submission of entries for this year’s awards is midnight of 30 April 2010. Winners will be announced on September 1, 2010.

For further information, you may call telephone number 856-0808.

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entry arrow1:03 AM | MotherLine

One of my bestest friends, the ever lovely and extremely talented writer Rica Bolipata-Santos, now blogs. I've been telling her to blog like since forever, because her brand of confessional nonfictional seems suited for it. And finally she has!

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Monday, April 05, 2010

entry arrow11:30 AM | Ombra mai fù

Ombra mai fù
di vegetabile,
cara ed amabile,
soave più.

Never has there been a shade
of a plant
more dear and lovely,
or more gentle.

[From Handel's Xerxes]

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Saturday, April 03, 2010

entry arrow3:09 PM | How It Is

A strange, queasy feeling suddenly descended on me yesterday when I was going about my way in the city paying the horrendously astronomical bills needed to make my life livable and functional—electricity, water, the cable television, the Internet, the credit card, and all that jazz. Growing up is all about these little receipts.

It felt like a mild form of horrible.

My friend, the eternally nonplussed Ren, merrily texted me back when I complained to him about the amount and the perplexities of adult responsibilities: “It’s masakit, right? Then again, life is boring without bills!” Give it to Renair Dy, Mr. Optimist in the Rainbow of His Days, to find gold in a room full of horse shit. (Whether he will enter that room at all, given his O.C.-ness, is another story.)

Ah, the problems and challenges of middle class living in the Philippines. Being bourgeois is affordable comfort for most of us lucky enough to thrive in this part of the social divide—but there’s also an unstable quality to this; how we desperately invest in sweat (or back pains, from stress), for example, just to get it. I once gloriously pronounced to my literature class, while dissecting Emmanuel Lacaba’s proletariat-in-the-ideological-journey-of-his-life poem “Open Letter to Filipino Artist,” that we were all comfortably burgis, conditioned to the core, that no other kind of life would seem feasible or right for us. “Can you do an Emman Lacaba and go to the mountains for a social belief?” No one raised his or her hand.

Of course, it’s infinitely better than out-and-out poverty, but it’s getting harder these days—so it seems—to stay comfortably middle class, and be sane at the same time. And the burdens on this class! Any economist worth his salt will tell you that one simple way of measuring the fiscal health of a nation is to measure the size of its middle class. Is it growing? Is it even existent?

Which makes me think: is there a Filipino middle-class ba? I once read somewhere that the problem with the Philippines, at least in terms of its struggle with economic potential, is that its middle-class largely lives abroad, leaving behind only the very elite and the very poor scrambling and in constant war for power, like cockroaches in a dung heap.

Ay naku, if that theory holds water, will there be any solution at all to our problems?

I thought of this while lining up in the bank (in what was positively the slowest line in the history of world), while waiting for my turn in NORECO, while shivering from the blast of air-conditioning in Globelines, while….

I paid my bills, and reflected on the world. It was one of those lovely summer mornings in Dumaguete, those rare days when the sun shines with a mild generosity—a bright day that does not bear down on you with a relentlessness of heat. I was attuned, you could say, to the stirrings of the world outside. It was easy enough to believe that all was well with the world. Through the open doors or the open windows of whatever cramped space I was in, I could look into the bright summer blue, and thought how great a day this could be.

On days such as this, if there wasn’t the fact of bills-paying to focus on, one could easily forget all his troubles, and it would become easy enough to disbelieve that there was a cancer growing out there in the world. But—people were dying, you knew, people were bombing each other in no-longer-so-obscure places in the world in the name of God and freedom. There were earthquakes and other natural disasters everywhere. And now, in the Philippines, there were people going about in sorties, in battle-ready composure, campaigning for their political survival, disrupting our existence with stupid jingles, with clichéd TV and radio ads trumpeting a showbiz-influenced kind of sensibility, with practiced smiles, and with even more practiced (and ingratiating) command of the local language. Such scrambling! I thought, Such hideous and naked ambitions for power!

It gives you pause sometimes, how people could will themselves to become the worst versions of themselves—corrupt and corrupting—just to secure a position in office in this, our glorious Republic of Shit. Politics must be so lucrative to the bottom line. This month and next month, I bet our very air will be polluted with the promises of politicians promising you the moon just for our vote. And everybody’s jumping into the circus, of course, quarreling with each other in Facebook, over dinner tables, and everywhere else over the intricacies of their political bets’ qualifications for office. I refuse to be ensnared so far into the debate, although I know the debate is necessary. It’s just that—I feel we’ve been through this circus so many times before, and yet nothing much has changed. What makes me angrier is that these people get into office with our supposed consent, and then get rich courtesy of our taxes. And yet, and yet…

Oh, what a circus. There’s a word for all of these: kakistocracy. This is government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens. Add that to your vocabulary, and draw the Filipino.

I remember filing my income tax return the other year. I remember how the taxable amount glared at me like a wart on paper. And I remember thinking to myself: I pay the government this much every year? It was highway robbery. I wanted a street named after me! I remember I was so riled up that I needed some cooling down after that. And so Mark took me out to squander the day away. We were doing our bit of leisurely strolling, something we used to do often before but didn’t do for the longest time... (I remember that I was busy salvaging stories and preparing for summer term that time, and he had been busy graduating from college and shooting TV shows. It was remarkable how so much clutter disguised as responsibilities made up our lives, we forget sometimes to actually live.)

In Lee Super Plaza, we did our regular route of browsing the second-hand books and magazines at the mezzanine, eating siomai (and sometimes the tacos) at the Food Court, then going on to the kitsch on display at the third floor knick-knacks department: all those figurines and picture frames and candles and lamps and fake flowers of astonishing bad taste, I wondered who would actually buy these things. We became more excited when we got to the kitchenware section, and the furniture section, and we wondered out loud: Why was that so? Had we become too domesticated together? Have we become the perfect picture of burgis bliss?

At the toy section, we suddenly reverted to being children. Suddenly, there were all these Spongebob stuffed toys, and toy cars, and funny dolls, and teddy bears, and mechanical snakes to occupy our fancy! Then I saw some board games with familiar names, the kind I used to play with as a kid, games that use to bring families and friends together in an increasingly rare social interaction: Pictionary, Trivial Pursuit, Scrabble, Bingo, Monopoly, Snake and Ladders, Clue… It struck me suddenly: I didn’t know anybody—kids or adults—who play board games these days.

That and taxes and bills, I decided, have made the world become all so much sadder. But that’s just how it is.


[2] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Friday, April 02, 2010

entry arrow1:55 PM | Deal Breaker on a Good Friday

Good Friday. Afternoon. Text conversation with some flirtatious young guy ...

He messages: "Busy?"

"Nope," I reply.

"What are you doing?"

"I'm reading a book and listening to music. What about you?"

"Oh. I'm just in the house, waiting to go to church. Are you going to church today?"



"I'm not Catholic."

"Oh. Unsa diay imo religion?"

I hesitate. I want to say, "I'm a humanist." But I want to be funny. So I text back:

"My religion?"


"The Simpsons." With a smiling face.

"What's that?"

I don't ever text back.

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