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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, March 24, 2014

entry arrow12:44 AM | Zen Pencil's Alan Watts

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[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Saturday, March 22, 2014

entry arrow1:53 PM | The Season of Goodbyes

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye to this city as hundreds do every March. To say goodbye while your plane taxis down Sibulan’s runway and finally flies from the familiar greens of Dumaguete; or while your boat eases off those familiar moorings you call the Rizal Boulevard, the city’s streetlamps edging slowly away until they become pinpricks of light soon to be swallowed by the darkness of sea and sky.

And then you behold the certainty that Dumaguete is finally gone, that life finally ended.

How does that feel like?

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye, that is, with the tacit knowledge that one might not ever return. Or maybe to return, some day, but with the knowledge, buried deep in the denial of the sly turning of days, that one never comes back to the same place again. All places are rivers in time, you see, and like how the popular saying goes, you can never step into the same spot of water twice.

I wonder what that must be like, to say goodbye.

Every year, in the middle of March, I become witness to a ritual they call a “beginning of things.” A commencement. I teach. I have been teaching for more than a decade now. And what has become constant in this life of the classroom is the fact that I have been allowed to bear witness to the growth of young men and women, to see their various comings and goings. I always remember how they first come in, perhaps four or five years ago (perhaps more), stout with the innocence and gullibility and the cocky self-assurance of youth. You see soon how they fare with the succeeding years, most of them increasingly cognizant of the one certainty of growing up: that the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know anything. College can be such a humbling experience. And for those who know how to navigate it well—learning, for example, that grades are not all that matter, and that having a life that takes in the vast promises of experience is equal to a good mark—they will come off the whole experience of tertiary learning becoming better human beings. If they allow it to, of course.

And when all is said and done, here comes one final March day where all that scrambling for grades, and all that experimenting with life, comes to some form of an end. The celebration comes complete with the uniforms of ritual—black robes, black caps, golden tassels—and the occasion is taken to a solemnity that commemorates those who have weathered the academic rigors. With that, of coure, comes a feathery hope that some future opens up, perhaps concretized by the diploma. There’s also relief, of course, because the weeks past have been backbreaking, the nights sleepless, the running around to complete things brutal. This day—this commencement—tells you you have reached the finish line, that it was worth all that pain and all that heartache.

But also this day soon becomes, tentatively at first, an occasion for farewells. College has been the grand experiment in becoming who one could possibly be, and graduation is the time for goodbyes to those who have helped shape that possibility. Goodbyes are heartbreaking things.

For this year, I know many who have been my students, and many who have become my friends. I can only hope that I have helped shape the course of their lives for the better—the way I know that they have shaped mine in places they had no idea made sizable impacts. There’s Andrew Alvarez, there’s Ron Jacob Calumpang, there’s Arvin Tarroza, there’s Kim Cabahug. There’s Jocille Morito, there’s Zara Dy, there’s Bethel Abigail Almirol, there’s Natalie Curran. Bright young kids, and good friends, too. There are more, of course. What makes me happy is how, with them, I have managed to extend the limiting experience of the classroom to other adventures that called for the creative. I’ve made plays with these people, I’ve made books with these people, I’ve done an assortment of projects with these people. They weren’t just names in my record book; they became colleagues as well. And I have learned a lot from them. And they are not the only ones. Every year, I say goodbye to a similar batch I have also come to know as friends. And if you ask me, I may be glad that they are graduating—for all that commencement stands for—but a part of me begrudges the farewells. But you learn to live with these things. In Dumaguete, a university town, goodbyes are the dynamics with which we have learned to breathe by.

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye, with finality, to all that.

I have also left before—and often for long stretches of time, too—but it has always been with the knowledge that my departure is temporary. I have enjoyed long spells in other places where there is snow, in places where skyscrapers dwarfed you in canyons of concrete and traffic, in places where they know the colors of autumn, in places where the vastness of the land—stretching like a brown empire of soil and spice—imperil your idea of green dots of islands as home. But I have always somehow come back to Dumaguete, to its familiar small streets, and little shops, and a seaside boulevard that overlooks a horizon that seems to promise both the spokes of a golden cage and a passport to the lands unseen beyond dip of that blue line where sky and sea meet. Many of my friends will venture out to those borderlands, and some I will never see again.

After graduation, summer time begins, and with it a new beginning. I like that time in the summer day at dusk when I’m in some outdoor café near the Rizal Boulevard drinking coffee, and the sky outside does its ballet of changing light. For a moment, there are swaths of purple and red and traces of yellow—but often it is just an overwhelming blue, various shades of it. I like how the horizon becomes all shades of blue at dusk, and then, right before evening comes with its velvet darkness, just a deep deep blue that recalls the purest of sadness.

All sunsets are distillations of the goodbyes I have known. Watching one such sunset, with a cup of coffee on hand, while I stare out at the horizon from my little café, I think I have learned to say goodbye fully to the light. But it comes with knowing full well that another summer day comes again soon.

For now, what I see waning is the remains of a good light, wavering goodbye, and I will always be glad to have known it.

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Monday, March 17, 2014

entry arrow2:10 AM | Group Study

Fiction by Ian Rosales Casocot

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”
Dave Barry

When Mr. Salazar gave out the results of the midterm exam, we—as our favorite lumphead Antonia Geraldine would phrase it in her typically chirpy Bread of Life Church optimism— were “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
That was bobo speak for elementary fatalism, and this basically meant sitting down in the discomfort of our arm chairs, waiting for Judgment Day to claim us.
I was petrified, and was already visualizing the greater discomfort of being grounded for a month sans cell phone or cable TV. Imagining my mother’s irate face, which would betray paroxysms of Ate Vi dramatology, I couldn’t decide which meant more for me: chatting away my usual nights with a Manila textmate named Matutina (not her real name), or the latest season of Desperate Housewives (my secret guilty pleasure). That bridge, I sighed, is better crossed when I’d actually get there…
Most of the rest of Fourth Year Section Sampaguita—our barkada, for the most part—was in various stages of fright or denial. Mostly that meant dealing with the cowardly maneuver of averting our eyes from Mr. Salazar’s pointed stare, and then positively looking constipated. One took that as an excuse to actually let out a silent bomb, and when somebody from the back of the room finally stood up to open the windows to let in fresh air, my thoughts were on one thing only: the road to hell had a fecal whiff, and we were all in deep shit.
            That I knew words like “fecal” or “petrified” or “constipated” or “sans” proved nothing: Mr. Salazar’s class was not an English class, vocabulary would not become my savior, and our teacher certainly did not look happy.
Of course no one else had studied for last week’s exam—that much was clear. Save perhaps for the class overachiever in the front row, her hair tied to a tight bun. This was the great Maria Carmelita Isabel Bueno Mas. Consistent Full Scholar. Class President. Student Council Governor. Daughter of the PTA President. Girl Scout Patrol Leader. Math Olympiad Reigning Champion. Science Club President. Youth Choir Alto (on probation). Dance Club Member (on probation). The Merciful Flame Editor in Chief. Red Cross Youth Treasurer. City-Wide Spelling Bee Fourth Placer. Leonardo Da Vinci Club Muse. And reigning Miss WCHS 2007—a title she won by amassing the greatest number of pledges to the money contest, and promptly evolved right before our eyes from caterpillar to butterfly, her puffy pink gown notwithstanding. She was too easy to hate, given our barkada’s natural inability for ambition and world dominion—but she always repaid our cold regard by glancing at us with the brightest smile that a whole lifetime’s supply of teeth whiteners money could buy. Her father, of course, was the local dentist.
We derisively called her Miss Tapia, which betrayed our profound sense of insecurity.
“Miss Tapia,” we whispered at her behind her back—but that also proved ineffectual: she never heard our taunts, and was still brightening even in the middle of our current horror. While we were all slowly sinking into our seats, into our despairs, she sat up straight and could not wait to take our teacher’s usual commendations that were definitely her due.
It was also apparent that our scores were the very sources for the increasing scowls on Mr. Salazar’s face. We know that he’d been checking our papers the past few nights and the going could not possibly be good.
Sample question from the one hundred-item general knowledge test: Who was Edilberto Tiempo?
My answer, cribbed tight upon the blank line next to it: The owner of Tiempo Magazine.
What are the Palanca Awards? A reward given for best actors or actresses in the U.S.
Who was Barbra Streisand? She wrote hundreds of romance novels.
Who was Michelangelo? One of the Ninja Turtles.
            Genius. Because who the heck knows really? I was maybe absent that day. Or drunk. (Or both.)
            “You stooooooopid,” Antonia giggled when I told her right after we trooped out of the classroom into recess. We were all groaning. “If you must know, Tiempo is the Filipino writer,” Antonia said in her chirpy voice, “husband of Edith Tiempo the National Artist. You stooooooopid.”
            “Well, how did you do, Ton?”
            Antonia paused. “Well, how many islands does the Philippines actually have? Seven hundred something?”
            I grinned, then said: “Bobo ka talaga.”
Last week, Mr. Salazar’s face had been wrinkle-free: he famously has a cherub’s face and behind his back we called him Niño Muhlach. The former child actor in the adult version, of course. Which, if you really think about it, is quite a sad thing to be.
            “Who’s Niño Muhlach?” asked Antonia.
            “Don’t you have cable TV at home, Antonia?” we asked in return.
            We do, she said, nonchalantly flipping her hair. But it was mostly turned off. It was the devil’s box, her father had declared once.
“My mom insists we watch only The 700 Club,” she said.
            Somebody asked: “Is that a band?”
Day by day, we noticed that the lines on our teacher’s face were deepening. Sometimes we thought we were being overdramatic, and suggested other reasons for the vinegar look that made Mr. Salazar’s lips curve in a sad slit, and his eyes droop in a heart-wrenching blankness. “He didn’t win the lotto again,” Michael Adam said. “He misses his favorite teleserye,” Mariano said. “His wife doesn’t know how to cook and he’s been eating burned food since they got married,” Jordana said. “His wife’s not been giving him the goodies,” Justin said. “He’s tired of the missionary position,” Rodriga said. “He has caught his wife sleeping with his best friend,” Roberta Jedine said. “He wants to sleep with his best friend,” said Lydia.
            “Ayaw pud,” Antonia blushed, giggling, “Sir is not gay.”
            “I bet Sir is a bottom,” Lydia said.
            “No, he looks more like a top,” Antonia chirped in.
            “Antonia! How—”
            “What?” she giggled once more.
            Then we fall into silence again.
            “He’s tired of the missionary position,” Antonia finally said with a nonchalant flip of her long hair. And that was that.

But really, our grades were the matter, the crux of our teacher’s consternation.
There he was that early morning, Mr. Salazar, bathed in the sad blue of the early morning light, his back towards the door, his face to the blackboard which was scrubbed so thoroughly that no trace of chalk betrayed its pristine surface.
We trooped inside his classroom with the stealthy silence of the condemned, and slowly took to our seats. When he turned around, his face was a mask of utter disappointment. Murag si Christopher de Leon, overacting.
            “You … broke … my … heart,” was all he said. Then he sat down, and stared at the pile of papers in front of him.
            Drama, we all thought.
            And then, of course, we got our papers back.
Michael Adam got a 45.
Mariano, 52.
Jordana, an F.
Justin, another F.
Rodriga, a 45.
Roberta Jedine, a 46.
Lydia, a 55.
I only got a scrawled remark all over the top of my paper: “What’s this?” was all it said, in an urgent flourish that looked like chicken scratches. “Does this mean I passed?” I asked around. They shook their heads.
Antonia got a 59, the highest score among us buffoons. “Praise the Lord,” she later said with chirpacious delight during recess. We were eating our choice of junk: mine were two Jell-O doughnuts and a Choco Wacko Fruito Mix.
Sus! You still didn’t pass, Ton,” we said. “One more point na lang unta.”
“It’s the Lord’s way to keep me humble. But we shall overcome. God willing.”
In the meantime, there was the matter of a retake.
It will save you, Mr. Salazar had finally suggested, quietly, perhaps hoping for reprieve. We were expecting him to break down, a la Jaclyn Jose. No deal: he merely came off with a cheap Juliana Palermo imitation, which was disconcerting, given that all of these came out of a Niño Muhlach face.
The new exam, of course, was scheduled the very next day.
“What do we do?” Roberta Jedine said. “I’ve forgotten half the things we went through.”
“What is the capital of Cebu nga?”
“Well, for me, it’s quite simple,” Jordana said. “Together we stand, divided we fall.”
Char, Jordana,” Mariano said.
“But I’m serious, guys,” Jordana said.
“What do you exactly mean, Jordana?” Michael Adam said.
Jordana stood up and swallowed the last of her burger. “Simple lang. Group study.”

Justin said his house was available that night for group study. His mom, who worked nights at the call center at the edge of town, certainly wouldn’t mind, and wouldn’t know anyhow. “That’s how I bring home my boys,” he said, giggling like mad. “Now you know why I couldn’t study last week.”
            “Ang landi mo, Justin,” Rodriga said, “Tell me, what’s your secret ba?”
            “Ambot uy,” Justin said, “Axe DeoCologne dagway. They just run after me.”
            Rodriga said, “Well, I’ll bring the drinks—three bottles of Coke and a Mountain Dew.”
            “I’ll bring the chichirya,” Lydia said.
            “Me, too,” Roberta Jedine said.
            “Ako pud,” Mariano said.
            “No, you bring some chicharon, Mar,” I said. “I’ll bring the study materials. What about you, Justin?”
            “It’s my house, dumdum,” was all he said.
            I arrived first, my bag heavy with books and the class overachiever’s notebook, which I stole.
            The rest of the barkada soon came, and within the hour, the television was on, the DVD player was blinking with anticipation, the chips have been devoured, and somebody had ordered three boxes of pizza.
Soon we exhausted an hour or so to the various titillating gossips about our classmates’ love lives, and then segued to complaining about the elaborate mental tortures of the high school faculty. Among the things we learned that night: (1) the school hunk Gabriel Perez—also known as Gabito Dakog Halas—had deflowered most of the virgins in Section Macopa in the darkened backrooms of Building A; (2) our former classmate, the beautiful Samantha Arleta Montellano—who everybody thought would be the next Miss WCHS—had apparently stopped schooling because she was pregnant, and the father could either be Ramon Chua or Dexter Dy—“or any one of those chinito boys in Miss Santol’s class,” Antonia said with a fervent authority; (4) Miss Tapia—that is, Maria Carmelita Isabel, our class overachiever—was having torrid affairs with both Mr. Salazar and Mr. Cornito—that’s why she gets all the good grades; and that (5) Mrs. Lagdameo was once a man. “She has stubbles,” said Antonia. “And she has an Adam’s apple.”
“That doesn’t mean anything, Ton,” said Lydia.
“Yeah, I happen to know some women who have facial hair,” said Mariano. “Or Adam’s apples.”
“Name one,” Antonia said.
“Angel Locsin,” Mariano said.
Antonia quickly stood up.
“Take that back.”
“What? What did I say?” Mariano said.
“I said … take that back.
Antonia screamed at the top of her voice. “Angel Locsin! … Does not have! … An Adam’s apple!”
“All right, all right,” Mariano said, cowering a little bit, a puzzled look on his face. “Angel Locsin does not have an Adam’s apple. Jeeez.”
Antonia slowly sank back to her spot on the living room carpet, and smiled sheepishly to all of us. “Sorry haDi jud naku ma-stop sometimes. I get emotional when other people bash Angel Locsin.”
“I had no idea you were an Angel Locsin fan, Ton,” said Michael Adam, Jordana, and Justin in succession—all breathless with shock and amusement.
Medyo lang,” Antonia chirped happily. Her ability to go from foul mood to diabetic sweetness is legendary. “If you really think about it, she was very good man gud in Darna. I mean, really. Can you imagine porky little Judy Ann Santos in that role? Hideous. Kristala was a pig in a superhero suit.”
This time, it was I who stood up.
“Take. That. Back.”
“What?” Antonia turned to me.
“I said take that back!”
Once considerably placated, I allowed them all to nurse me back to my usual good-natured self by making them feed me Mr. Chips and the only glass of cold Coke left on the living room coffee table.
“Juday, I tell you guys, is an underappreciated actress,” I said. “Murag si Ate Shawi when she first started out as a Viva contract star. Now look where she is right now, a mega star with mega-wattage. Juday is the same. She is, for me, the icon of the Ordinary Person Made Good. Katong archetypal ba. Her triumphs on screen are our symbolic triumphs over the overwhelming mediocrity of our everyday lives. She is the symbol of all our infinite hopes. Someday she will get the respect she deserves.”
“Does she oink when she does all that?”
They all laugh, of course. Mga punyeta.
Sige, katawa ra mo,” I said in a huff. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. In the end, I will have the last laugh.”
“Care ko,” said Antonia.
“Angel Locsin has an Adam’s apple,” I said sharply.
“Judy Ann Santos is a pig,” Antonia retorted.
“Okay lang ang pig, kinakain naman. Masustansya.”
Puro cholesterol, hello? At ang apple, di kinakain?”
Ang apple, oo. Si Adam, hindi!
“Hoy, you two, shut up na,” Justin said. “At mind you, nakakain na rin ako nang isang Adam, noh.”
            “Hey, guys, we seriously need to dive into our notebooks now,” Roberta Jedine said.
            “Yeah…” was the dejected rejoinder from most of everyone.
            “I mean, seriously,” Roberta Jedine said. “Seriously! It’s been more than an hour since we began this session, and all we’ve done is gossip and quarrel over the stupidest things and watch TV.”
“Angel Locsin is not a stupid thing.”
“Get over that already, all right?” Roberta Jedine said. She sounded so masculine in that commanding tone, like Oprah Winfrey in heat. Roberta Jedine made us sit around her Indian-style, while she commandeered the sofa, like a queen before her court. “Okay then… Let’s go about it this way,” she said. “We read each section of our textbook on our own for ten minutes, and when time is up, someone will ask a question and point to the next person to answer. And then the next person will come up with his own question, and so on and so forth. Okay?”
Unsa daw?” said Antonia.
Bobo,” I said.
“Paminaw pud beh. Kapoy ug balik,” Roberta Jedine said.
“We read daw for ten minutes,” Jordana said.
“Then somebody asks a question,” said Michael Adam.
“Then points to somebody else to answer,” said Justin.
“Then, after answering, the next person asks the next question,” said Mariano.
“Gets ko,” said Antonia.
And so we began. We all read the first section of our textbook. It was long. Two pages in all. Something about the history and significance of Philippine national symbols. It was the longest ten minutes of my life. I kept thinking about Kristala’s costume in the teleserye. I mean, she wasn’t that fat naman. And television adds ten pounds on anybody, right?
When we were all through, Roberta Jedine spoke first, “So okay, that section was all about national symbols, and what they mean for the construction of the idea of a nation.”
“Really?” somebody said.
“Yes, really,” Roberta Jedine snapped back. “So okay, I’ll ask the first question—and whoever wants to answer it, okay lang. And then you ask the next question. Deal?”
“Lower!” said Antonia.
“Shut up, Ton. That’s not funny,” said Roberta Jedine.
“Okay, Banker, serious mode coming up,” Antonia said.
Roberta Jedine continued: “My question is: what was the ideology behind the change of our national bird, from maya to monkey-eating eagle?”
No one raised their hands.
“So okay, I’ll call on Jordana.”
“Why me?”
“Because I said so.”
“Okay, okay… Well, the maya is small. Size-wise, walang challenge. The Philippine eagle can easily tear a small maya to shreds. So Philippine eagle it is. Powerful man gud. Vote for the eagle!”
“Is that your final answer?”
Akala ko Deal or No Deal tayo. Who Wants to Become a Millionaire pala,” Antonia said.
“Shut up, Ton.”
“Is that your final answer, Jords?”
“Is there any other ba?”
“But you’re not going beyond the obvious!”
Ay, ambot. What do birds have to do, really, with the nation ba?”
“That’s it!” Roberta Jedine fumed. “Clearly, nobody here wants to get serious about group study. Am I the only one here who does not want to flunk Mr. Salazar’s make up exam tomorrow? Good luck to the rest of you. I’m going home.”
She stormed off, a little bit like a rampaging typhoon, and in her wake small pieces of Mr. Chips flew to the air.
“What was that all about?” Jordana said.
“It must be the monthly thing,” Antonia said. “She gets grouchy all the time when the monthly thing comes around.”
“Oh, don’t be so gross, Ton,” said Mariano.
“What’s so gross about menstruation?” Rodriga jumped in. “Just because you boys don’t get it does not make it gross.”
“Yeah!” said Antonia.
“Why do you take it so personally, Dirgs?” Mariano said.
“I’m a woman! I take offense with such sexist remarks by chauvinist pigs like you!”
“Oh, yeah? Who says you’re a woman?”
Rodriga slapped Mariano a la Cheri Gil, and stormed off after Roberta Jedine. More Mr. Chips flew into the air. After a few seconds of silence, we heard the front door slammed shut the second time that night.
“Great, just great, Mar,” said Lydia. “A perfect gentleman you really are.”
“Aw, shut up, Lydia,” Mariano said. “Just because you have lesbian feelings for Rodriga doesn’t mean you can gang up on me, too. I’m going home.”
And Mariano stormed off, and more Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Lesbian? Lesbian tendencies?” Lydia said, looking around. “Who says ba that I have lesbian tendencies?”
“Well, sometimes …” Michael Adam began.
“Sometimes what?!” Lydia screamed.
Jordana suddenly stood up. “I really can’t take all these screaming,” she said. “I’m going home, you guys.”
And Jordana stormed off, with Michael Adam sheepishly trailing after her. More Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air. “Sorry guys, I have to go after her,” Michael Adam said quietly, “She’s my ride man gud.”
We all watched them go out, and then Lydia turned to us once more, her face a mask of comic perfection. “Do all of you really think I’m a lesbian?” Lydia screamed.
“Well sometimes, you look at me funny,” Antonia said, “like you want to jump my bones.”
Lydia stood up. “Well, if there was one person in the whole wide world whose bones I’d want to jump on, it wouldn’t be you, Antonia. You have the sex appeal of Britney Spears, post-rehab!”
And Lydia stormed off, and more Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Well, at least she said Britney Spears, noh?” said Antonia. “That’s better than Jessica Simpson.”
“Or Angel Locsin,” I said.
Antonia turned to me sharply.
“Get this, you Judy Ann Santos-loving freak,” she said. “Judy Ann Santos is so fat the back of her neck looks like a pack of hotdogs,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat that her belly button makes an echo,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat she had to get baptized at Sea World,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat that when the whales saw her they started singing ‘We Are Family’!” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple!” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat she makes Free Willy look like a goldfish!” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple!” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat her legs are double your double chin!” she said.
That was when I found myself giving Antonia a punch to her nose. My fist came out of nowhere, and landed right on her nose like duck recognizing water. It felt really good, for a while at least.
Antonia, of course, stormed off with a terrified cry, clutching her nose in pain.
 “Oh my. You’re so butch,” said Justin.
“Shut up, Justin,” I said. I stormed off as well, simply astounded by what I had done.
And the last of the Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Oh, well, that’s that then,“ said Justin. “What a productive night,” and then he sat down on the sofa, the quiet of the night soon lulling him to sleep.

The next morning, we all patched up our unfortunate differences from the night before. There were apologies, and hugs, and tearful promises never to speak badly of each other again. We all knew that our steadfast friendship was the one thing we had that could carry us over any crisis—like final exams.
            Needless to say, I got an F in the make up exam—and Mr. Salazar, looking at us with such dejection, aged considerably, transforming from Niño Muhlach to Cachupoy seemingly overnight. It was almost sad, but not as sad as our new test scores.
You see, Michael Adam got another F.
Mariano, another F.
Jordana, another F.
Justin, another F.
Rodriga, another F.
Lydia, another F.
Roberta Jedine, a wonderfully surprising 58.
And Antonia got another 59. “Praise the Lord,” she said.
Group study.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Saturday, March 15, 2014

entry arrow4:45 PM | Return to Cosmos

I don't exactly remember how I came to read Carl Sagan, but I must have been very young. Perhaps in college, sometime during freshman year, and so perhaps it was in 1993. I think I must have stumbled on him in my freshman composition class with fictionist Timothy Montes, who made us read an essay by Sagan titled "The Nature of the Atom." In that essay, I was astounded by the glorious way he presented science to the layman. "If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch," Sagan wrote, "you must first invent the universe."

Later on in that essay, Sagan would write: "The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars. We are made of starstuff.” How do you not respond to that? How can you not feel that even though the universe is infinite and largely unknowable given our human limitations, every inch of us is related to every marvel in the stars?

In 1993, I think I was browsing through the selection of books at the Mango Avenue branch of National Bookstore in Cebu City -- my old, favourite haunt, from which I bought my issues of Premiere Magazine -- and I think it was around that time when I was trying to read every Michael Crichton book I could get my hands on. Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park was about to come out in the U.S. and the buzz was blinding. Before the film found itself in blockbuster territory, however, I had my mother buy me two things: the original John Williams soundtrack of the film, and the Crichton novel it was based on. Both I devoured before the film came out in Dumaguete screens, and made dinosaur fans out of all of us. The book's delightful meshing with science must have tickled my inner nerd because I soon sought out books on popular science right after that -- those by Stephen Jay Gould, Steven Pinker, Oliver Sacks, Loren Eiseley... My first pretentious purchase, of course, was Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which I pretended to finish to those who asked me what it was all about -- but frankly I couldn't quite get past Chapter 1. Around this time, however, I fell in love with Daniel Boorstin's The Discoverers, a thick volume of the history of man's discoveries, which I proceeded to read with such leisure I finished it only in 2011.

Among those science books I bought after 1993, there was Carl Sagan's The Dragons of Eden, the paperback's bright red cover quite an enticement for an impressionable boy. It proved to be a touchstone for me, and led me to other things like Broca's Brain, The Cosmic Connection, and The Varieties of Scientific Experience. Finally, there was his novel Contact, which was an inspiration for how I began my short story "A Strange Map of Time." Later on, I would catch snippets of Sagan's popular PBS series, Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, which aired in 1980. I knew of its influence, but in a pre-YouTube world, it was impossible to screen.

But now we finally have that show's follow-up, produced for Fox by Ann Druyan (Sagan's widow) and -- of all people -- Seth McFarland, which gives me additional reasons to love the inane genius of The Family Guy.

It's hosted and narrated by astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, and promises to be a worthwhile updating of Sagan's beloved series. I've seen the first episode, and I'm holding my breath for the twelve that're still coming.

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