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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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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

entry arrow7:09 PM | What Comforts Us

A few nights ago, in the middle of doing something I can scarcely remember now, the constant dilemma occupying the uncharted grey regions of my waking moments gripped an instance of my consciousness. It goes about its business the way it always does -- subtly, like a terrible and sly underwater tremor that lets loose a tidal wave of existential despair. The way I express it is always in the form of a prayer, a short one. Not being particularly religious myself, I find some comfort in just uttering this as an address to the Divine. "Why, Lord," I remember asking suddenly that night, my head bowed, my dilemma circling me in the usual pattern. "Why me? Why do I still __________?"

You never really expect concrete answers to queries directed at the void like this. In a sense, I've always understood it as just your psyche trying to deal with the minute disorders that mar your inner tranquilities, with the air as your sounding board.

I did not expect then to have a tiny voice, right near the back of my head, whispering back to me an urgent reply. It was unpremeditated, unexpected. It felt like it was God talking right back to me. And what He said was, "Because I have plans for you, and this is not it."

I jumped at that. Where did it come from? Do I even trust it? Is it just my unconsciousness providing an answer I already know but cannot bring myself to accept? Who knows? But it was a comforting answer -- and suddenly, to fret about things that are not meant to be just doesn't seem too important anymore. There are other things, perhaps more important, that are there, just waiting for a chance to happen. And all these -- including the unconsolable quiet and the blankness that transcends this time of my life -- these are things that prepare me for the ultimate. What that is I don't know, but I await it like one does a gift. Is this what you call faith?

If so, it feels very much like comfort.

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entry arrow9:05 AM | The Dragon and the Lizard

The best friend, based in Australia, just released her first children's book The Dragon and the Lizard, a tale she first heard from her mother growing up in Cagayan de Oro. Check it out!

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Monday, November 07, 2011

entry arrow5:44 PM | Gatsby for the Young

Caitlin Macy’s The Fundamentals of Play updates F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby to New York in the 1980s, and infuses it with the charms and conceits that made Whit Stillman’s Metropolitan such sheer joy. Only this time, the recognizable yuppie-ish characters from a certain segment of high society are a little more lost, a little more existential, a little more hard-edged. It’s a comedy with a bite, and it comes fully dressed in Ralph Lauren. We soon recognize the mishmash of the people (and events) we know from Fitzgerald’s novel, but what Macy does is to turn all these on their heads and our expectations, and gives them a twist — and comes away with a winning novel that also delights because of the sheer beautiful language that graces every single page of this debut novel. This is the kind of novel I wish I have written. I’m not sure there is a real story here actually. There is only an evocation of an attitude and an atmosphere, but so engaging is the experiment that we don’t frankly mind the shallowness in the plot. Because it is certainly not a shallow novel, for some reason. This is a delight.

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entry arrow5:41 PM | Undone by Manners

The classics in literature seem to suffer something from their greatness: the sheer intimidation of their reputations most often propels us to keep them as graceful tokens in our bookshelves, often unread. (Every day I stare at my copies of James Joyce’s Ulysses and Vladimor Nabokov’s Lolita, to take two examples, and I repeat my mantra: “Someday, someday…”) I think it takes a certain kind of innocence to tackle the classics — which is probably why the great period of my own voracious reading of them (Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, Robert Louis Stevenson, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and even the more contemporary ones like John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway) was in my grade school years. Later on, we found that just because we were told they were “important” was enough reason to stay away.

I’ve had my copy of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence for a decade now. I was casually reading Anthony Lane’s Nobody’s Perfect, his erudite compilation of New Yorker articles, and one of the articles he included in his book was his review of Martin Scorsese’s adaptation, which I loved — and which he found beautiful, but deficient, but certainly better than the “failures” of The Last Temptation of Christ and Cape Fear, both of which I found exhilarating. I remember howling at this, and when I put down the book, somehow I found myself going to my shelves … and taking down my copy of Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize winner from 1921.

I began reading the first chapter, aiming only to skim it and to put it down after sleepiness would take over — but did sleep come? Noooo. I was hooked. I could not stop reading the travails of Newland Archer and his innocent “affair” with Countess Ellen Olenska, even as he tries to make a go with his engagement with May Welland under the eyes of 1870s New York society whose means to uphold strictures of form and manners was a violence of a totally different sort. It was violence, not without guile, but carried out with impeccable courtliness and subtlety — but violence nonetheless, which may be why Scorsese, he of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver, probably felt compelled to helm its film adaptation. I love the book, and I loved discovering how faithful to the source Scorsese was. But I found myself surprised that I found the “villainous” May Welland — she of the timid intellectuality but sharp regard for societal propriety — blameless. Didn’t she give Newland so many chances to escape their betrothal? And in the end, after their marriage, wasn’t she only fighting for what was rightfully hers? I found Archer completely like a fool, timid and arrogant and blind, sure only of his indecisions which he mistakes for gentlemanly striving for dignity.

I’m glad I gave this great work of literature a chance. It was an education, and now I’m thinking I will really have to make a go at that Nabokov…

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entry arrow5:37 PM | Ho-hum.

Remember when I was most fanboy-ish when I saw Public Speaking, Martin Scorsese’s HBO documentary about the wit and writer from New York, Fran Lebowitz? I was positively giddy, and I wrote something like: “By the end of this film, I’ve come to this foolish hope: that one day I’d be a companion around her dinner table, and just listen to her talk and talk and talk.” I still have not changed that opinion: it would certainly be such a different kind of theater to watch Ms. Lebowitz talk and talk and give opinion on God-knows-everything-including-the-brand-of-the-kitchen-sink — but when it came to reading the two seminal works of essays that have made her reputation as a funny woman who also happens to be an intellectual (these are Metropolitan Life from 1978 and Social Studies from 1981, combined to one volume called The Fran Lebowitz Reader), I found myself … bored. This was it? These are supposed to be funny essays? They try to be, and they stink of such striving for an Oscar Wilde kind of epigram-making. I like the Introduction where Ms. Lebowitz tries to detail, hour by hour, the non-events that litter her day, but I was soon exasperated by her tendencies for lists, for tables, for the tiresome glee of having pronounced herself anti-nature, anti-work, anti-whatever. I usually find stuff like these rib-tickling (God knows I treasure Woody Allen’s Without Feathers and Getting Even — two very funny books which Lebowitz’s own unconsciously seem to want to equal, but fails), but somehow not these ones. What a tiresome bore this volume was.

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entry arrow5:34 PM | The Summer of Desire

I was waiting for this book forever. I can’t remember exactly how I stumbled upon it. Probably some breathless mention in some blog, or some online article about literatures dissecting desire. But Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name hooked me sight unseen, and samples of its first few pages only whetted my appetite. But I would like to think I am blessed with good friends — even people I have not even met — and one of them is the Filipino-American writer Veronica Montes, who read my tweets about my wanting, like a huge chasm of hunger, to have this book. “I have this book,” she tweeted back. “I’ll send it to you as soon as I find it.” Was that four or five months ago? I don’t exactly remember now — but I knew it was coming. And when it did, about four days ago, I pounced on Aciman’s love story and finished it within the next six hours, from midnight till the bright hours of dawn. And all I can say is: How can someone know me so much, enough to tell my own story? What strange alchemy did Aciman master to give a thorough mapping out of desire and love and time and the games we play in the name of carnal attraction so profound it borders on the spiritual? For his story, about a 17-year-old boy named Elio who falls for the 23-year-old scholar on a six-week summer fellowship in his father’s Italian Riviera home, is muscular, lovely, sexy, and lyrical about its explorations of its themes without once resorting to cheap sentimentalism. This book is a love letter to love, and I am a better man — so much understanding now of my own self — for having read it.

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich