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

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Sunday, August 26, 2018

entry arrow9:00 AM | Coming to Silliman

It’s the trees first of all, three hundred sixteen of them, sprawled over 62-hectares of green campus—massive acacias of the kind of towering presence that catches the eye for the way they seem to add shape to the skyline, for the wizened look about them that gives you a distinct feeling they know history, for the abundance of foliage that abounds with birds. When you think of Silliman University in Dumaguete City, Negros Oriental, you begin always with the acacia trees.

Begin, for example, by walking down Hibbard Avenue from the university portals that face downtown Dumaguete. Just a few meters away, you stop and this is the sight that catches you: a field of green, rolling towards where the outlines of Mount Talinis are, terminates at the western end with the sight of the ornate Silliman Church, an American Gothic affair in white that stretches towards the sky. Embracing all of this are the acacia trees that line both sides of this quadrangle of green. And it all seems so postcard-perfect, this marriage of trees and field and architecture, framed by the cobalt blue of Visayan skies and the trace of Cuernos de Negros in the distance.

In the grassy expanse of the western quadrangle facing the church, when you are not dodging the young skateboarders trying to own the sidewalks that border it, you get how young Dumaguete really is by the sight of Frisbee players running around the green. Further on, before you get to the doors of the church itself, a recess in the grounds provides the perfect spot for the amphitheatre, which used to be the sight for the stagings of various Shakespearean plays in the first decades of Silliman’s history, but now mostly exists to provide seat and respite for the romantic trying to make sense of the world.

The world slows down in Dumaguete—none of Manila’s erratic and punishing rush here—and because of the sweltering humidity that comes by virtue of having a campus built right at the edge of the Visayan Sea, its denizens take deliberate slowness in pace, as well as in life; and most face life indeed with the uniform of tsinelas and the thinnest of shirts and the shortest of shorts, with time largely a suggestion demonstrated by a local expression regarding distance: “Everything in Dumaguete is ten minutes away.”

Informality with an island vibe is the way to be for most Sillimanians and Dumagueteños on general—but the lackadaiscal attitude can be deceptive, too: because beneath that impression is actually a fierceness that drives an overwhelmingly intellectual and cultural city. The campus demonstrates that. In the Robert and Metta Silliman Library, which can be found at the heart of the northern part of campus, we find a building and collection of books many people claim to be one of the biggest in Asia. In the glorious brutalist-style of the Claire Isabel Luce Auditorium beside the library—and also further on, the new Romeo Ariniego Art Gallery—we have what many culturati in the country have taken to calling the Cultural Center of the South, the throbbing center of the city’s vibrant art and culture scene.

Here and there, always ringed by acacia trees, are the dorms and the faculty houses and the college buildings both new and old, and the surprise of gardens in the nooks and the crannies. Some people call this campus one of the most beautiful in this part of the world. It has its moments, but of course I truly love it—if only because its beauty seems to come from no design at all, just everything falling into place in a strange confluence of history and circumstances, and then finding out that the merry mix have created a campus more than fit enough to Instagram.

Hibbard Avenue is the stretch of street—named after Silliman’s founders David and Laura Hibbard, Presbyterian missionaries who took the challenge of founding an industrial school for boys in 1901 in the new American colony in the Far East—that bisects the entire campus into its eastern and western parts, and it goes all the way north, about two kilometers away, to terminate at an extension of the campus in a barangay called Bantayan, where you get another sprawl that is rightly called a farm; this houses, of course, the College of Agriculture. Immediately besides this farm is the Silliman Beach, which is where we find one of the best marine biology institutions in the world, and the short stretch of sand and surf faces the east and the striking blue-green of Tañon Strait with its abundance of whales and dolphins and butandings.

There is deliberation in the detailing of this campus geography: because what other campus boasts of an eclectic mix of beach and farmland and cityscape and grand architecture and abundance of trees, all in one bundle of a place? That eclecticism alone is beauty.

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Saturday, August 25, 2018

entry arrow11:59 PM | In Electric Dreams

Reunion night, High School Class 1993.

Looking at them, it's hard to believe that these people I know -- all of us entering middle age now and many showing the girth and softness and other fabulous symptoms of wear -- used to be the young punks that made our high school hire a security guard after a bunch of us did away with the principal's car, or made the city impose a 10 PM curfew for minors [which is still in place] after a bunch of us partied a little too hard on the dance floor of Music Box in the early years of the 1990s. Truth to tell, we weren't exactly a wild bunch either -- just young people lucky or unlucky enough to do certain things at the most opportune moment to make some mark.

It has been 25 years since we graduated in 1993, and many of us have gone on to some measures of accomplishment and success. But tonight, on our silver anniversary reunion night, none of that really mattered: we all reverted back to our high school selves, like a switch flicking a time machine. The smart guys back then reverted back to being the smart guys in the room now. The wallflowers then became the wallflowers now. The cool kids are still the cool kids. Aileen was still Aileen, Rosewell was still Rosewell, and so was Salome, and Theresa, and Melissa, and Jo, and Eliel, and Gwyn, and Joy, and Sherwin, and Earl, and Rheina, and Fiametta, and Roy, and Nina, and PaEugene, and Vicente, and so on and so forth. A small jolt still hits you when you see your old high school crush, who now sports a potbelly. Still, a jolt is a jolt. Whatever reinvention we've made of our lives flew out the doors of the reception hall of old Santa Monica Beach Club, and it was back to us remaking connections through our old stories, our old escapades, whatever we could dredge from increasingly frail memories.

It wasn't nostalgia, at least I don't think so -- it was just living shorthand for connection between old friends. What is weird about being surrounded by high school friends is that instantaneous reflex to just relax and be "you," where you don't really need to explain who or how you are now to be part of this circle of friends. I mean, these are people I rarely talk with these days, and most of them I haven't seen in years, but in the scheme of reunion night, none of that seems to matter. You are just Ian from high school. And thus the comfort, the general lack of pretense, and the easy surrender to how we were 25 years ago.

As the night wore on and the hired DJ struggled mightily to play for us the soundtrack of our youth -- and not once succeeding -- we danced to music that at least brought out some body memory of moves. And on the dance floor, it amused me no end to find that we were subconsciously starting to form a huge dancing circle, the way we used to dance with each other back in the day. Old rhythms are forever?

The DJ started playing 1980s music, thinking perhaps that we were 80s kids -- wrong! -- and as I watched my old friends shimmy about, I found myself grinning at the sheer delight of watching people I came of age with still try so hard to recapture the movements of our nimble youth, never mind that most of us were easily running out of breath now, never mind if the knees were starting to get weak and couldn't swing as much.

"Do you realize that in this reunion we are at that last cusp of whatever remains of our youth?" I told Rosewell. "In our next reunion, five years from now, we will be talking about our medications and procedures."

The DJ started playing Philip Oakey and Giorgio Moroder's "Together in Electric Dreams," and while it was still not one of our generation's repertoire of hit songs, part of the song's lyrics hit deep, and everyone responded to it visibly: "We'll always be together," the song went as we sang and danced along, "However far it seems / We'll always be together / Together in electric dreams." And that is the story, really, of old friends and twenty-five years, and how we will always be together, especially in our electric dreams.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

entry arrow9:00 AM | All the Cricket Songs in the World

I can only wish the poet Carlos Angeles is right—what relief it would have been to be on the nose about things, the world becoming a lens for desolation; it would have been so much easier to behold a landscape of bleeding sunrise in knifed horizon, peacock stain upon sand, the wreck of air, the murdered rocks refuse to die. Sadness sings in a Carlos Angeles poem, and I envy its odd redemption of cricket sounds.

Do you know this poem? You should read this poem.

But it has been a beautiful day, so I gather. I am told by the dearest someone beside me that it has been a beautiful day, and I cannot disagree with him. Outside, much later, the Thursday mid-August night settles into an ordinary sort of rhythm you will recognize for Dumaguete calmness, in the way this town of a city always does: the screeches of tricycle tires on asphalt gradually softening, a kind of simmering inside the darkening houses punctuated by the blue of television glow, the hurried talk of the young as they catch what remains of gentle city traffic on the way to some party somewhere, Escano perhaps.

It is the last stretch of Mercury in retrograde, in the middle of the ghost month, and the days I am told are beautiful.

I see this.

Everything in its full lightness—and how I envy the easy joys of the people I see, how I envy their capacity for life. The sun shines, the half moon plays hide and seek with the night clouds, and if I find myself by the Rizal Boulevard to see what becomes of the horizon, I will see how the bright blue-green of the surf plays magnificently with tropical light. I see this. I just do not feel any of it. The day is a ghost, and I am in the throes of the deepest sadness I know.

Sadness brings its own version of clarity—a small and shifting and acrid stillness in your brain that is the only stable thing in a tumbling sea of shadows, and the shadow of shadows. You grasp at this small thing, this precarious balance, this bedeviled clarity, and you make it your crutch. Thus to the world, you appear calm, you walk in measured steps, and there are occasions you even laugh. You pay bills, do the moribund things like cleaning the house, like going to work, like enjoying the rib-eye steak at this digs in a new food park somewhere in the bowels of Claytown. You somehow exist, and for now that is enough.

But there is no use confiding to people—not many will understand, will dismiss things as mood swings you should be able to handle, their advise is “to snap out of it,” a judgment you accept because it takes too much energy to argue otherwise. Besides, you know this is the only vocabulary they have in this language of psychology they do not speak. You know the world would not bother to read the dead depths in your eyes. If they looked closer, they would have seen a gaping void where no light lives, where nothing makes sense, where everything disperses into the wreck of air. You wish for the fantasy and simplicity of snapping out of it.

The last happy year, as far as I can consider the vagaries of days and memory, was 2012—the year the world was supposed to end if the ancient Mayans were to have their way. It did not end. The calendar from those ancient days pointed to the conclusion of a b’ak’tun (a time period in the Mesoamerican Long Count calendar), which contemporary archaeologists had determined to be the 12th of December, 2012. That abrupt end simply did not account for a tomorrow, and how that made everyone go on a tizzy—do you remember?—but I was happy. I felt that my life by then had rounded all corners, had satisfied most of my dearest dreams. Life was full, and if it were to end in the name of the Maya, so be it. I remember my own anticipation of December 21 when it rolled into the calendar, to meet its dawn like it was probably the last, and to feel from the earth any signs of mysterious stirrings that were supposed to signal some catastrophe that would end everything. I waited till midnight. Except for reports of an earthquake somewhere else in the world, the world did not end.

Did the scientists read the calendar wrong? Or perhaps the Mayans were the first trolls, laughing from somewhere among the nine layers of their Place of Awe, their version of the hereafter, at our gullibility? Or did we just place too much of a superstitious emphasis on the meanings of relics we have scarcely come to understand? I doubt there are suitable answers to these questions, and I am not an archaeologist.

Some time ago, I read a tweet that posited another probability. Perhaps the world did end in 2012 in some otherworldly cataclysm our human brains simply cannot begin to comprehend, and we are now merely wraiths living in the shadows of that catastrophe we cannot see. Which is why the world is what it is, at the moment, a topsy-turvy purgatory. We are all dead—and the world right now is just the long sigh of the consciousness of our collective soul going into that cosmic bright light. Perhaps. I have never felt right since 2012, and a part of me is inclined to agree. As of this writing, in about three hours, I shall turn 43.

Somewhere where I cannot hear them crickets despair in ambushing me with their song.

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Wednesday, August 08, 2018

entry arrow10:17 PM | Trust

It just occurred to me that the reason why a significant number of my stories are of the confessional type -- quite autobiographical, I must admit -- is that I have never learned to properly open up to people without getting dashed by the disappointment that they don't quite believe my story. I get condescending responses like, "Are you sure about this? Maybe if..." and variations of the same, which I allow them to do, in the name of skepticism and all that. But inside, I'm like, "What the f--? Here I am doing this stupid confessional thing with you, and I rarely do this, and you doubt me?" I once had an altercation with a former good friend, and when I poured my feelings out to a common friend, I was pointedly and condescendingly told, "That's your version of the story." But the last laugh was mine, because a few years later, that former friend sued that common friend, and that common friend was hunted down like a common criminal by the police and landed in jail. Why am I posting this? I don't really know. I guess it's just a realization that, for the lack of somebody to trust, I turn to the next best thing in my need for a sounding board: my stories. They're really mostly my life, fictionalized. If you believe they happened, good for you. If you don't believe they happened, I could care less; they're fiction.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich