Wednesday, September 30

thoughts on ondoy

The lady who goes up to our building selling books at discount price came with an armload of new books some two weeks ago. I immediately noticed one and bought "The Story of Natural Disasters". I thought, great, this should complete Gabby's series, as he already has The Story of Dinosaurs and something else I can't recall. Gabby is an avid follower of shows in Discovery Channel. He likes watching Mega Disasters, Air Crash Investigation, Gone in Seconds, stuff like that, and though the images can be quite graphic, there is still a very logical approach as to why things go amiss and how people could  prevent it from happening in the future, so I leave him be.

Gabby, who has a not-so secret ambition of becoming a fighter jet pilot (cough, cough!),  has to be coaxed into reading books too, apart from watching tv because, I tell him, that's basically how people learn stuff and go on to become what they want---like a fighter jet pilot. Of course, he believed me. My son however has a new-fangled habit of taking interest in new things for exactly 24 hours, on the dot, and dropping them to the pit of certain oblivion the next. So I decided to put off taking the new book home and shoved it in my office drawer. At one time, i scanned a few pages and came to these facts about Hurricanes:
 "The thousands of islands facing the Pacific Ocean to the east and the South China to the west are particularly at risk (from giant hurricanes). They experience typhoons from June to December, corresponding with the region's rainy season. In the Philippines, in 1984, two major typhoons sank 11 ships and caused more than 1,600 deaths".
 I thought whoa, so we bear the curse of being geographically located along the typhoon belt, and that is something we've all had to live with. Well, unless some future technology makes it feasible for us to be transported to planet Mars and abandon Philippines, then there's a glimmer of hope, we can leave and start life anew there. I shoved the book back to my drawer and shrugged at my silly thought.

Two weeks passed, and one Saturday, I wake up to ominous clouds. I could feel the ground spew out heat, and I angrily cursed the weather for acting up. I had wanted to go to Divisoria, or get some photos of my daughter in the sun-drenched garden of the city hall. The storm came, and there was nothing much to do except wait it out, curl up in bed and read an old book. I even washed my clothes. It was a storm alright, but we have already been used to it around these months, and it was just something you weather, so to speak. I was miffed that my husband even took his sweet time lounging around and not doing his usual grocery shopping. For me, it was nothing more than another storm, and life should absolutely go on as usual.

And then Sunday, I woke up to the din of frantic news reports on TV, and Kris Aquino's non-stop babbling and self-praising. And then, looking closely at the footages and images on TV,  I recalled that little trivia I read from the book and momentarily forgot about Kris.

It was as if a rug has been swept from beneath me, shocking me to my core, suspending me in a disbelief that all these happened in a mere twelve hours that I was being a bitch about the bad weather. Twelve hours, and everything has become so dissonant---cars and houses getting swept in currents, children losing grip of their parents' hands and getting lost in murky waters, people shivering in the cold and getting hungry, people crying for help and getting none, people marooned in roofs and trees and electric wires, fear and dread eating them up slowly as they wait for something to intervene them from being killed or killing themselves, people who suddenly become just an anatomy of helpless bones and muscles and weak flesh, pliant to the strong winds and the wrath of mother-fucking-nature. And I sit here at home, warm and dry, hot coffee cup dangling on my fingers, watching the scenes being retold as if I'm from another world, fear gripping me. It runs in my head, this fear, this shame, that ALL THIS so close to home, and yet I could do nothing but bawl my eyes out crying.....

And so, is this how easily we become statistics in Discovery Channel, mere numbers or footnotes in the Story of Natural Disasters?

The world is screwed, and I am utterly useless.

PS....After picking my brains up, I decided not to be so useless. The world can do away with one less fucked up person, so I am doing my little share in helping the victims of Ondoy. I hope everyone of us should, in whatever little way we can.


Thursday, August 20

Remembering Ninoy

Pusila! Pusila!

Those are the only words that lingered in my mind while marathon surfing about Ninoy Aquino on you tube today. Being Ilonggo, it's bloodcurling to hear it. Pusila is Visayan word for barilin (in English, an order to shoot someone). This was uttered I believe by one of the soldiers who escorted Ninoy out of the plane on the fateful day of August 21, 1983. "Pusila! Pusila!" This was shouted at Rolando Galman while he was down at the tarmac waiting for Ninoy to step out of the plane. But because Galman was clueless as to what "top" mission he was going into, until that very moment, it was quite evident that he was taken aback at the gruesome murder he was about to commit, at someone very popular and loved nonetheless, and hesitated to do it. Then one of the soldiers said, "Ako na, ako na"....and shots were fired. Galman was shot. At the very same instant, a hero falls.

Tomorrow I'll offer a moment of silence to the memory of the person who bought us freedom with the price of his life.

Thursday, August 6

Life's Heroes

Many are still in the state of euphoria I guess over President Cory Aquino’s burial yesterday. It was an event reminiscent of Ninoy’s burial back in 1983, when everyone was boiling over with nationalistic ardor and passion. Everyone has his own moment or experience to savor, now that the same things seem to unfold again, reminding us jarringly of what we once were as a nation, and that somehow we have already come full circle.

I was only twelve when Ninoy was assasinated. I didn’t take much stock of what was happening to places outside of my hometown, and owing to my poor memory, I can only remember my grandfather one night, knocking on doors of our neighbors and telling my uncles and aunts what had happened in Manila. It seems at that time, there were only two simple truths: either you were a Marcos loyalist, or a Ninoy lover. I found it rather strange why my grandfather would be overzealous when no one else seemed to share his reactions. Apparently, majority of the families in our family compound were for Marcos. We were the odd ones out. But like anything else that didn’t really interest me, these things passed before my eyes like snippets of an insignificant dream.

My more vivid memory of Cory therefore, was in 1986, three years after Ninoy passed away. My mother was traveling to Manila to receive her cobalt treatments, and I was a 15- year old kid, who processed events in my mind still no more differently than I did when I was twelve. Simply put, politics were beyond me. I was just happy doing teenage things in a partly obscure place like Sum-ag. But in the months leading up to People Power, I had suddenly began hearing more frequently, things like oust, revolution, snap election, leftists, activists, summary killing, church and state unification. It just felt like something imminent was coming. I just didn’t know what.

Back in Bacolod, I was suddenly thrown into a whirl of events that I am just recalling now with faint amusement, because I felt like it was just the most spontaneous thing to be in. I was a middling character even back then and was never destined to have any voice about anything. Besides, blogs were not in fashion yet so even if I had wanted to write about it, the effort would have proved futile and easily forgotten. Doy Laurel was running for president against Marcos, under the Nationalista Party, but people were keener on having Cory run. What I understood was that Doy gave way and would run as her Vice-President. The reason why Doy Laurel came to mind is because his wife Celia Diaz-Laurel happens to be my grandfather’s first cousin. And one of the Diaz grandchildren was my good friend and classmate in St. Scho. I used to come over to their big ancestral home in Lacson Street. As a caveat though, I didn’t intend to speak of these people as though I have a direct affinity to them. I maybe a distant cousin, but if we had any relationship at all, I was definitely that proverbial poor relation. Moving on….

The hub of Doy’s campaign in Bacolod is in that house in Lacson, so you probably get the picture of how busy things got there. This was one of the many occasions that I was invited to come around, and since they always treated me well, I tried to make myself useful in the process. Rizza and I, together with her young cousins, were tasked to go around the city in a pickup van to place Doy stickers on virtually everything we could legally get our hands on. Later on, more cousins and relatives began to volunteer. Our new job was simple. We just needed to put stickers with Vice-President over Doy’s posters that says for President. There were hundreds and thousands of those posters, but I never questioned anyone of the change. I was just there happy being in the middle of all that flurry, excited to be of help, and elated at the chance to be in the same room with Senator Doy Laurel, and one of the sons, Cocoy who was fond of singing all the time. No one was probably aware of my existence there in that small capsule of time, and there was definitely no life-changing paradigm shift taking place inside of me, but yeah, it’s an amusing memory altogether.

In February, my mother and father were still in Manila, and then the People Power happened. Mother called long distance to tell us, not about her treatment, but that she was in the Edsa rally, taking part in the historic event. It was great to imagine her exhilaration although I still didn’t fully comprehend why it was such a big deal. Now in my adult mind, 1986 becomes a year of importance—a year we had our first woman president, a year the Philippines was catapulted into global consciousness, a year my mother finally lost her battle to cancer. And probably also a year I emotionally grew up.

So, where is Cory in all of these? Well, after Cory was proclaimed president, life went back to its normal state. I was motherless, and the price of commodities inflated sky-high. All of a sudden, everyone was skimping on food, foregoing vacations, feeling utterly poor. Nothing much changed for us. If at all, life turned for the worse. It’s not because of her administration; it was just my state of things at that time.

Fast forward to 2009, I am a mother to two children who have little peculiar quirks as I do. I still cringe at the thought of discoursing politics with anyone, let alone myself. I am just not born with an astute mind to analyze, or an acerbic tongue to critique, or an ample amount of confidence to speak up and be in the know of things intelligently in that general scale. I leave that to the experts. I am content to be one of the nameless millions who make up the productive sector of our society and that is good enough for me. I feel that my role is to live a life with benevolence and compassion towards everyone, to pay my taxes dutifully and obey traffic rules, to buy groceries and bring my own brown paper bag so that I don’t in essence cut more trees, to be a conscientious mother who makes sure that my children do not grow up delinquent and freeloaders so that more taxpayer money is wasted on unsustainable causes because I should know I am a taxpayer myself, to give to charities whenever I have the means, to donate or recycle old things so that I don’t have to keep buying new ones, to try not to watch pirated DVDs which is a hard habit to break but absolutely feasible. My role is to be a good person in very minute, even traditional, ways. And that is okay for me. My reason is that if millions of us do these things every single day, only in realistic proportions, and not in a sweeping radical sense that is good only as our fifteen minutes of fame and media mileage, then certainly we do not have to be overwhelmed like children and join the anarchy in the streets for the right passions but the wrong reasons.

But I veer farther away from Cory. Now there is a woman, who accepted the burden of steering millions of people to the right path even if she was only a housewife, who stayed the course of her presidency with utmost decency and integrity in her character, who esteems her country more than she does her life, who for the many adulation she is given remains to be humble and distant from the trappings of materialism, who believed that everyone has equal chance at everything, who until the very final chapter of her life wanted nothing much but tangible human resolve to be better and do better, whose name Corazon (heart) is simply the embodiment of what she really was in her life. Her heart was bigger than life itself. That was her role in life--to be herself and inspire. Her son said that for all the praises about his mother and father, being heroes of our life, the fact remains that they are just human and ordinary like everyone else, that they were just thrown into extraordinary circumstances, and did the right thing. In this entry, I will label them "angels".

In life we encounter people who have done illustrious things and possess characteristics that we can only draw inspiration from. They are the brand of people we’d like to look up to as our personal heroes. But, we should also not forget that within us is an innate goodness that we need to tap—that quality that makes us ourselves little heroes in our own right.

Wednesday, July 22

Ex Libris...

If I were very rich, I would build a really humongous badass library full of great books. I'll have every single book its own smug Ex Libris label: From the library of XXX, collector extraordinaire. But it's not very likely I'll be, so, I'd settle on getting them bit by bit, probably even second-hand. That was just me dreaming a tad late in the day. Anyways, these are the titles I'd like to get my hands on, pronto, in no particular order of importance or literary value:

Diary of a Wimpy Kid Series- Jeff Kinney
Witches of Eastwick
Widows of Eastwick- John Updike
HP 6 The Deathly Hallows- JK Rowling
The Mysterious Benedict Society- Trenton Lee Steward

I happened to watch this feature of JK Rowling in the Biography Channel one day, and was impressed about her rags to riches life story. Not one without its twists and turns, there was a point when she was living on her social security checks, she was suffering from depression after her first marriage crumbled, and was close to committing suicide. Yet, shy as she was, she was also an avid lover of literature and was able to channel all of her life experiences to create a story that now, without question, goes down in history. The first of Harry Potter series (The Philosopher's Stone a.k.a The Sorcerer's Stone) started out as an idea during a long train journey, and whose manuscript she typed on a very old typewriter. It was not a very smooth ride before she got published, but many already saw the big potential in her writing. From obscurity, she would soon rise to fame and become one of the best loved writers of children's books.

She said that Harry Potter is representative of her, although characters like Hermione Granger are also loosely based on her from when she was a younger. I suppose then horrid things like the Dementors need not be explained further. When she sold the rights of her first book to a movie outfit, it made her an instant millionaire. And it follows that she broke publishing records by selling milllions of copies of the rest of her seven books, the last installment of which she finished and published in 2007. It sold overwhelmingly, hotter than hotcakes, not only in the UK, but all over the world. Even the cheapskate that I am got five of her books and am now willing to cut a limb, if it would cost me that much, to have the two remaining books.

In the feature, A Year in the Life, the story revolves around JK Rowling working on the last of her HP books, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Snippets of her life are shown--- she hies off in a secret hotel room to slog on her manuscript, also a brief look at her house in Scotland, and a few miles away, her old tiny apartment (or what they call flat in the UK ). I am quite blown away at her real fortune----a castle-like home, great family and husband, and a very peaceful life. But it also showed a part of her tearing up at the recollection of her less than perfect childhood, and her life as a single mother. She visits her old flat in Edinburgh and looks back at a time when it (the HP idea) all started and where her life finally took a big turn. She largely remains a private person, and is often seen to be an aloof media personality. But she explains that the fame thing is something she still constantly struggles and is never comfortable with. Presently, she is someone who probably never has to worry about her finances for as long as she lives. But also because of that, she has focused a part of her fortune to philanthrophic causes, being an advocate in helping women and children cope with situations in single-parent homes. Great story, ain't it?

All that can be said though, why Harry Potter is such a hit, is that it simply made children (and even adults like us, admit it!) find love for reading anew. And on that alone, I think Joanne Rowling deserves whatever fortune has come her way.

Thursday, July 16

Don't Be Hatin'!

These past few days, I have been trying to analyze a person’s actuations---the long face, the sudden silence, a defiant silence that says “leave me alone, people”. It’s very easy to understand that, the wanting to be alone part, except that nobody knows where it’s coming from, and how unexpectedly. The awkward feeling is really unwarranted, especially in a place where only a handful of familiar faces deal with each other everyday. I mean, sure there are no catfights and open animosity to worry about. But pretending that everyone is collectively okay about it, for days going, while the other person marches in and about as if she’s on a global strike, well isn’t it easier to just join the picket line and boycott her the same way?
But I wouldn’t want to. I want to understand how the other person is feeling. Have we done anything wrong? Was it a slight? PMS maybe? Or just plain bad mood? Well, it’s easy to assume things, especially if the person is not so keen to keep her body language in check. So do I go up to her and talk about it? But how, when she suddenly storms out of the room at the first opportunity, avoiding everyone like a plague? I probably have had enough of this sour face that I’m really close to losing my top, and tempted to rant about it in the open. I guess I won’t.
Thank goodness for blogs where I can vent out all of these maddening thoughts, and yeah, expose my vulnerability in the process. But who cares. Isn’t this a better option, than ruminate a fight plan and eventually get myself into an epic verbal scuffle with a person? So, blogging is the answer. I promise, the moment I get over into my last sentence, I’ll feel better. I just needed to get this off my shoulders. I hope though that the bone of my contention realizes what an emotional aggravation this whole thing is to me, and to the rest of the clueless world….
It’s funny that as we grow older, the harder it becomes to open up and be forthright with our feelings towards other people. There are such things as a heart-to-heart talk, but I believe with people our age, it’s more of the head that does the dealing. Often, we hesitate to lay down all our cards, and only in a tiny moment of vulnerability will we reveal more of what’s inside us. But we would withdraw once again, with such alacrity, because it always seems imperative to be in control of the game and be poker-faced about it.
Children are different. They are brutal with truth, but once they say what’s in their hearts, there is no emotional baggage or excesses that’s carried over. They'll leave, move on with life lightly, and without apprehensions. It is only around their growing up years that they learn to fib and distort the truth. It’s a rite of passage, a milestone that sadly marks their entry into the corrupt world of adults.
If I were to be a child again this very moment—blunt and honest--- all I can say about this whole commotion is:
It’s just jealousy, honey.
Get over it.
And don’t be hatin’!

Monday, July 13

Mourning for Michael

Can you sincerely cry over the death of someone you do not personally know? Can emotions really be evoked in you, seemingly out of nowhere, when you learn of a person who unexpectely crossed to the other side? If it was someone who had an imperfect past, was caught in moral crossfires, was famous in different but opposing contexts, who only sang and danced his heart out and did many wonderful things, but has faced eternal public persecution for the things he may have not, would you have the same level of sympathy for him , like you would for a person related to you by blood?

As one who has invariably professed sadness and trepidation over the passing of people she knows and loves, I think my only true emotions of sadness lie in the fact that the sudden demise of a person, regardless of who he was, would affect the people he left behind, in a way that will leave them painfully empty and out of touch from anything real for a while, numb to say the least, until they are able to allow proper emotions to well up in them, and make them come to terms with what had happened.

Much like the millions of others, I was shocked with the news of Michael Jackson’s death. When the memorial for him aired live on CNN, my husband and I stayed up until the wee hours of the morning. I believe I cried a bucket, going through similar emotions that gripped the millions of people who watched the proceedings that day (or night from my side of the globe). But I cried, also because a lot of things were stoked up in me. It wasn’t until much later that I found myself really thinking about his death, unconsciously rummaging for explanations that baffle my ordinary mind, and what it was that got me involved in this sort of emotional upheaval that had every other man talking about, both in public and in private.

I think it is because I am a mother like Katherine (Jackson), a parent who derives intense pleasure in knowing that my children are safe in my arms and that this shocking loss is something I have not prepared myself for. Also, I am a daughter (like Michael’s children), who do not know what to make of my parent’s passing, at a time when I least expected it, because there was so much promise of tomorrow, of the years that we could share together, of the experiences that would imprint in me emotionally, as I slip into adulthood, but was suddenly cut short because the one person I leaned on to isn’t there anymore.

The death of Michael Jackson has brought out a flood of differing opinions from people of all walks of life--people who feel they are authorities to his life, people who wax philosophical about what he really was and why he was what he was, and people who are quick to dismiss his death with ridicule and contempt, because they say so. Sadly, in life and in death, Michael Jackson had to suffer for his art....

I have no useful opinion of Michael Jackson’s history and life, or the intricacies of it, as I believe I am one of those segment of society who prefer to stay in the periphery of things, whose social mediocrity and lack of strong estimation of who he was is eclipsed only by my simple appreciation of his music, the music which lulled and still lulls my heart and fences it within, every time Childhood plays, the groove
I get into with the infectious beat of Billy Jean, the awe I hold in the majestic simplicity of his moonwalk, and many things else that encompass what I know of him, as an artist---not the distortion of a persona who wore surgical masks and who was believed to sleep in a hyperbaric chamber, or was an extra-terrestrial. He could have been a wasp in another dimension, for all I care.

I won’t even allow myself now to use the word “iconic”, which begs yet another question as to why in spite of many choosing him an icon, someone who is supposed to rise out and above the din of society’s woes and frailties, many others still found pleasure in ripping him apart and depriving him of basic human respect.I am tempted to say, leave him alone, now that he is gone, as his brothers begged---but I think people would not yet relent, not until they probably prove themselves right. Not until they have torn up every shred of his poor soul. At least, not for a while.

Because of his music, I only saw Michael Jackson as a distant star, an idiot like Prince Myshkin in Dostoevsky’s book, who was the quintessence of both humility and greatness. His naive belief that people would appreciate and love him, simply for himself and his music, had instead come down to earth to suffer, without reason, a taste of human bigotry in all its ridiculous proportions, throughout the major part of his creative life. It’s a Michael who wanted to do good and positive things, but was thrown in the pits of derision and isolation, because of the fallacy that surrounded him, fallacies that rose out of prejudice in human eyes, eyes that claimed they knew good from evil.

My heart rains for his soul...

Friday, June 19

Photography-Things I Learned

I am tenacious, in the same way that I can be a drifter, yet learning my way through photography is something that I can proudly say of as my own. Scouring the web for anything that might prove useful in getting the whole concept of "a picture", I had gone to so many websites where I study beautiful photos, to forums where others share their tips and tricks in editing, while some others are just too uppity to express their mild aversion to post-processing.

However, some of the best photographers I have come to admire admit that they process and proof a hundred percent of their photos before these even get to see the light outside of their digital darkroom, and on to their sites. So, that's probably saying a lot. I have tried many fancy stuff myself in Photoshop, and hell, I even get to keep a small notebook with me where I chronicle my constantly evolving workflow, hoping that one day I can shout my eureka to the world, and settle on the very most perfect kick-ass workflow ever, and be the next Annie Leibovitz of the 21st century. But well, one has to be grounded and wake up to the real world. As always, I would go into my lengthy and tedious mini-speech before I even get to my main beef.

So, anyway, this entry is a sort of amalgamation of all photography-type things I have learned, technically on my own, but with the aid of many sites where people are just too happy to share what they know. Even if I sort of sound like one of those counter-productive asses who complain about things but shamelessly filch company work hours to do personal stuff, seriously, this is something I'd also like to share with whoever is interested, in keeping with my pay-it-forward project:

* Nothing beats learning your camera first before you even get out there and expect for it to do the work for you. Too often, we start out with wrong settings, or without understanding the basic functions of our camera, and blame it for our blah photos. Of course it helps if you own a first-rate gadget, but it's only as good as you know it.

* Proper exposure equals great colors, shadows and highlights right on. If you made a mistake firsthand, there is still hope, a way to salvage a photograph. When post processing, always look at the histogram of your photo before you do anything else. Correct levels is synonymous to appropriate exposure, which almost eliminates the need to sharpen images after post-processing. If your camera is capable of RAW, so much the better. But let us assume, for the sake of argument, that you are using a middle range point and shoot or dslr, and that you were just too eager beaver to take your shots. Then don't fret.Your next best bet: editing.

*ISO-I always wonder how others achieve those creamy photographs. The secret: use the lowest possible ISO setting you can get, and never bump it up unless necessary.

*Composition-something I am still working on, even as I speak, but this is probably the key to all beautiful photographs you see and drool on. You just have to try and try, until you get the hang of it. It doesn't matter if you get one good shot out of a hundred crappy ones. Everyone starts there. I am still there. Try all techniques in the book, and then through your own eyes or perspective, until you learn that creative approach, such that you are able to bring images into a unique visual form, something that will differentiate a photo from your usual snapshot.

*Much as I appreciate originality, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong about admiring other artists, whose work inspire you to try out their techniques until you are able to fetch ideas of your own. If at all, it is a serious form of flattery. The more fickle you are with your style, the more likely you will be able to understand what you really finally want. And, remember there is no rule that says you can't change your style. I wouldn't want to get stuck in one, and realize too late that I could have done better. There are two photographers that I really admire so much, Wynona for her very clean, evocative images, and Beth Jansen for her amazing colors and unique, bold style (links coming up). Both photographers are mothers like me, who also started when they had their first child, and who were self-taught. It's a fact that gives me quite a headstart, that one is never too old, or obscure to learn things. Copying blatantly or stealing images from these people who worked so hard on their images, however, is another thing. As the beautiful Anna Scott said, "Rufus, you belong in jail"..... Eeek.

*I found that to get tack-sharp images, you have to tinker with your camera's f-stops. Sometimes we misunderstand, because it's not necessarily the lowest (widest aperture) in our camera that gives us the most pointed photos. For instance, my kit lens give me very good results at f5.6 or f8. Or, I heard, that a lens with 1.8 max aperture is in its sharpest at 2.0 or 2.2. So, it's all relative. Maybe, we should all get a pair bionic eyes to determine that.

* 85% of the time, my subjects are my children. The 15% are self-portraits, my other family members, and things in my surroundings. You know how children can be uncooperative when you take photos of them sometimes, I mean most times? Yes. The more your force them into your frame, the more disinclined they will be at posing for you. But although, they are some of the most difficult subjects to photograph, they can also give you some of the most delightful photos you'll ever have. You'll just have to be very patient with them. And then of course it helps if you're always ready to aim at those special moments when they're not really looking, but they are there. For me, that is a lot of hard work, but there is where I find my joy.

That's it for now. I'll try to give this topic another whirl when I find myself here again. These are my observations as a beginner though, and I'm sure a lot of seasoned photographers who happen to get lost here would find themselves raising a hairy brow at some things I said. This is no bible truth, totally, and one is welcome to challenge or even correct me, but let me be the first to say I am a perennial work in progress, so next time, I might just possibly disown my words here.

Tuesday, June 9

On Gratitude

Not so long ago, I signed up with a photo sharing site Flickr, and met some virtual friends who shared a mutual interest in photography. From their photostreams, I would find an overwhelming amount of inspiration and knowledge--in the way they perceive things, their techniques with the camera, their processing workflow, and more than anything, a slice of their personal lives...what they do, where they go to, who they are with. Where I stood, I had absolutely nothing much to show to my small newfound circle of friends, except photos of me and my family, especially that of my two little children. The camera I was using then was a 6megapixel point and shoot that my husband got me one Christmas. But in Flickr, it wasn't about your camera or your gear. It's first and foremost about the story you want to share. Then, it's about the people you share that story with.

You see, I had always thought there are certain things that polarize us human beings, that give us that explicit, glaring distinction from one another-- like good and evil, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly---and that sometimes, we are caught up in that grey area in between those two extremes, where we can't really point out where we belong. That's why we can be confused, or worst, delusional. But I also think that there are things that even us out, balance us, or to put it bluntly, equalize us, regardless of who we are and where we are at in our lives. And that is where Flickr comes to mind, as all other user-generated sites do, where everyone, and I mean everyone, can say and has a say.

A year into joining Flickr, I had made friends with a very kind couple who, from the little that I've gathered about them, are very artistic and are living a quiet albeit very successful life in Europe. They are also Pinoys who have ventured far, and simply put, are just blessed with everything, probably brought about by being both born with silver spoons. C is an artist, a painter, sculptor, singer--a beautiful woman with an even more beautiful spirit. I say this because I have once met her in person and I was just truly overwhelmed at the fact that she welcomed me with so much sincerity and warmth, that it was almost a little silly of me to act coy towards her, when she was trying to reach out like she'd known me for a long time. But you know, you get a little star struck with people whose personalities are just like the sun, you want to bask in their warmth, and yet they are too huge for you to take in suddenly? I wish my daughter, who I brought along with me when I met C, have already had the sense to know what a great experience she got into---because for me, that was something I would like for her to remember in a long, long time and when she grows up.

The other half of this couple is R, and he is the big reason why I continue on to try better at my photography. He was my very first friend, I suppose, in Flickr, and probably the most consistent one to rally me on to keep uploading my photos---and even my writing. Intelligent, artistic, on the same creative pursuits as his wife, and like all the other people who comment in my photostream, he says the kindest things, and appreciates the candidness conveyed especially by the images of my daughter Sophia. There is a great empathy in what he does, and though I am one to express my gratitude a little too sweepingly sometimes, I had never wished for more than just being able to relish the pleasant words being exchanged in the affable Flickr circle I was in--- a small circle of people from different parts of the earth, brought together and equalized by the same love of photography, looking through but beyond cultural differences, financial status, and skin color.

So it was indeed a tad too....what's the proper word.....well, I'd say humbling, yes that's how it felt really, humbling-- that one day, I'd get an email asking how I would like to have a DSLR. A digital single lens reflex camera? from a stranger friend? I mean, they're not strange people at all, but to be offered something like that from someone you'd never met---- and it’s certainly not just a box of chocolates, although a box of chocolates would have been prized just the same, it’s an expensive camera, darn it!---well don't things get a little too much twilight-zonish strange??? And do I say yes, or no? To be honest, it was a little embarrassing at first. I had to check whether I had insinuated about wanting to get a new camera, somewhere in my photo stream or blog, and probably yes I had, but I had wished it aloud, to myself, and no, I had not wanted to impose that wish on anyone, outside of myself. But again, if a person had very magnanimously offered you something he owns, because he felt that he had learned much from it and would like to pass it on to you so you can benefit from it the same way, and simply because he believes you got a chance at something, do you refuse? out of tact, or pride, or sheer embarrassment? I had to struggle with it all for a while. I just realized though, that refusing the offer, would have meant a lot more--- letting a good person down, letting myself down, letting my dreams down. And it was something I thought I would hate to regret about someday. And yes...., I said yes.

Far from suddenly owning a precious object, absolutely free of charge, what was even more humbling was the value of a person’s trust and friendship that comes with it. That even though the selfless act of giving was something I l had long convinced myself of as entirely real, there is a definitive part of me that feels I have the responsibility to emulate this kindness in the everyday things that I do. Not that I’ve never been kind. I believe that I had done my fair share in the compassion department, without heralding those few things. But when luck falls on your lap, as big and as overwhelming as this one, you can’t help but feel that you must be accountable to take care of it and make it grow, and love it with all your might, and spread it far and wide, so that others will also sow and eventually reap the same seed of kindness. A little act indeed maybe for people like Clarissa and Ramon.......but I just had to have grand illusions about it.

And again, it is never too late, or out of fashion, to say THANK YOU.

Tuesday, May 12

This blog is my catch-22, only because I am such a bipolar kind of blogger. That means I am always stuck in a writing dilemma---either I have too much to talk about, or absolutely nothing to talk about. Either way, I get frustrated. So do the handful of people who stumble here. As they say about rolling stones....well, they gather no moss. Sounds like me. I am going to attempt another style—talk about my life at random, by way of bullet points. Maybe I’ll achieve some sort of cohesion with my thoughts if I try to go small, pigeonhole events or ideas in my head, mainly to avoid the spate of emotions that comes with suddenly being able to uncork that sort of mental block I had thought would never ever let loose. My challenge now is to sustain my middle ground and stay on an even keel:

. I am still frustrated that I am not able to buy my nifty glass. But I am debating whether to wait for a bit more and get the 1.4 which would render me 15k pesos poorer, not that I have that amount to dispose already. As it is, my photography is put on hold, except for random shots that I have little time to go over and process. I think that I put too much pressure on myself  to come up with better shots---but I am itching, itching to know how crucial a change my prime glass could bring to my photography. I have made up my mind to stick to portraiture.

. Google sounds like ogle---and that’s what I do. Everyday of my working life, I try to find that window of opportunity to read up on different things that can help me understand better. Books, music, news, opinions, photography, cooking, shopping, sewing---very motherly things if I may say so. But also, I lurk in gossip and fashion blogs, you tube, kid channels, and (probably the only sports I read up on)….boxing. Needless to say, it’s all about Manny Pacquiao.

 . Random facts about my kids, besides physically growing at an exponential rate:


Favorite TV shows: Phinneas and Ferb, Chowder, The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, Clone Wars, How Stuff Works, Myth Busters, Smash Lab

Food fix of the moment: kfc famous bowl; fried sharksfin and green rice

Favorite wear: old tattered shirts and board shorts

Current catchphrase: oh boy!, hindi kaya?

Peeves: his sister, the humid weather, pop music

On his wishlist: a ginormous LEGO hovercraft, which costs shitload of pesos 



Favorite TV shows: Spongebob, Animal Mechanicals, Dibo, Word World

Food fix: chocolate pretzels

Favorite wear: dresses and a faux tiara; also my black office pumps

Current catchphrase: Barbie girls!

Peeves: her thin feathery hair, her things out of place (some daughter I have!)

On her wishlist: Ariel’s thingamabobs, a pink bike or scooter

 . I spent the few remaining weeks of April reading the four Twilight saga books. I saw the movie, and read the books again, and again (make that the third time) including the leaked copy of Midnight Sun. I must admit now that I am hooked on all the twilight gossip, and am short of saying that I am bowled over with the british hunk Robert Pattinson. Well, big deal. He is not after all my first brit obsession, taking into consideration the major crushes I’ve had for years running for these dudes--Hugh Grant, Colin Firth,  Jude Law….and shucks, even Clive Owen. And, just to illustrate my little point, not that anyone has to contend with it:

See what I mean???

Is Edward Norton british, by the way? 

But, well it doesn't matter, I am sure he is the one exception..... 

I had wanted to write something about Gratitude but...go small remember? I mean, let's just say I just unexpectedly had gone off-tangent... because. 

So, I’ll save that up for next time.

Tuesday, March 17

Two Lovers

I love tales of reclusive dreamers who look for chance meetings, thinking it would somehow change the course of their lives. I myself for one, am a dreamer, who often, and deliberately, draw emotions from the things that I watch by, at a safe and concealed distance. I know it reeks of timidity, but it is probably the dreariness of everyday life that makes me alienate myself a tad bit from the happenings of the real, tangible world, and position myself from a vantage point. By allowing myself to watch the world go by before my eyes, there is a kind of simplistic but dispassionate approach to believing I am a part of the great scheme of things. I would like to think that there is spontaneity in feeling happy when I see people happy ; or sad when it is raining or when I see a lonely man retire in a park bench---but it is because they are unaware of the intensity of feeling their actions bring to me. It is probably the only way I can fully see my real self and fathom the deepest of human emotions, and how inexorably I am involved in all of it. It is this kind of personality that I was aware of having-- growing up as a teenager, with no family or established friends, and which never really deserted me--- introspective and emotional, to the point of being dark and moody. But although there is a particular sadness rooted deeply to everything that I feel or do, I am sure that there is, too, an enormous sympathy for everyone, and everything.

In this blog, I have been told by a few, and heck, even by myself, that I have the tendency to be verbose and probably over-sentimental, admitting to a lot of drama-queen moments. But I guess it is a fact that I am trying to exorcise myself out of it, of the emotions that I cannot otherwise articulate in spoken words to other people. I am not the most eloquent talker you would meet, you know, and certainly not half as lucid, but I am capable of being in normal relationships, and of functioning as a rational human being. Even as a wife or mother, I try to be practical and level-headed, although I still always thrive to be more disposed to my roles. But, I find there isn’t enough balance to how I feel. Somehow the other side of me still leans more heavily to the force of depression, in the same way that I am conditioned to read stories with sad endings, or to see the outcome of things with a degree of disappointment---thus, the sometimes brutal honesty with which I express myself. I will for instance, prefer to read my old, deteriorating copy of Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar, or Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, over my husband's shiny motivational bestsellers---It would be unlikely of me to pander to my half-truths and pretend I am happy.

Of course I admit that I’d sometimes like to be happy. Or maybe always. I believe too, that true happiness emerges from having a healthy spiritual life, and it would be liberating to feel that level of optimism in many things, to be awash with love and joyfulness and the feeling that the world is in absolute agreement with you, so that you can shout it out at the top of your lungs, at the risk of appearing manic---but nevertheless happy, happy, happy!

Yet there is something profound about suffering and misery that keeps me sane and whole. It leaves me with genuine and valid respect for the people who have the power to describe in words the moments of human consciousness when it hits rock bottom, of being in pitch dark, devoid of rationality and hope—a place where others dare not follow, but are curious of. Think Dostoevsky, Woolf, Hemingway, all the dark writers and suicides! I am not too proud of the way I am, because I always seem like I am ready to dive head on to the murky waters of my own self-recriminations and failings. But I am not planning on suicide. Much as people think those who commit suicide are cowards, I see them as very brave ones who only ceased to find rationality in their existence, but were not afraid to stagger through their darkest tunnels and confront their most frightful demons. The irony is they did not live to tell their tales. What they left is a chasm, an ocean of emotional confusion and moral misjudgment which would live on for years and years.

This movie I just saw brought all this introspection into meaning. " TWO LOVERS is a classic romantic drama, with Joaquin Phoenix giving a raw and vulnerable performance as Leonard, a charismatic but troubled young man who moves back into his childhood home following a recent heartbreak. While recovering under the watchful eyes of his parents (Isabella Rossellini/Moni Monoshov), Leonard meets two women in quick succession: Michelle (Gwyneth Paltrow), a mysterious beautiful neighbor who is exotic and out-of-place in Leonard’s staid world; and Sandra, the lovely and caring daughter of a businessman who is buying out his family’s dry-cleaning business. Leonard becomes deeply infatuated by Michelle, who seems poised to fall for him, but is having a self-destructive affair with a married man. At the same time, mounting pressure from his family pushes him towards committing to Sandra. Leonard if forced to make an impossible decision-between the impetuousness of desire, and the comfort of love---or risk falling back into the darkness that nearly killed him..."

In human relationships, there is a proverbial question: Would you rather be with someone you love, or with someone who loves you? Well, we all certainly are inclined to build love castles in the air, empty and far from reality, in the same way that we can suffer needlessly for things and people that cannot understand our motives for doing so. Have you ever found yourself in a situation of feeling what is called unrequited love? Or of the experience of being cared for by another human being, but that it is impossible to draw the same emotions or even to estimate the value of such love to you, so that you can then respond to it fittingly? In the movie, this is how the character of Joaquin Phoenix was torn in between.He was a depressed man to begin with, and I should assume that whatever was going to happen to him shortly after his failed suicide attempt, would hold heavily in his heart, a childlike heart worn down by repressed emotions, and the pain of contradiction he has in his life, mainly because of his broken engagement, and of wanting to please the parents who love him unconditionally. But also it was a heart, so honest in its form, that it exalted even the most undeserving of people. Two situations presented to him —to settle comfortably and continue the family legacy, ensconced in the safe world of familiar faces and a caring girl, or to step out of his home, take charge of his life with a self-destructive woman he is obsessed with, face the uncertain future, but nevertheless experience love’s highs. Can you imagine that he chose both, in succession as well? Is it even possible that life can give you multiple choices, and that you set your whole heart in one, and can then choose the next best answer should the first one fail, say in a series of events not even one hour past of the other? Darn, I don’t think it’s realistic, but well, there’s Hollywood for you.

It is amazing though, how love---between a man and a woman, can alter us, can turn us into something beyond ourselves, ennobling us to be selfless enough and realize that it is better to care for another human being, than be at the receiving end of it.

But also, love is such a terrible human flaw that can destroy us and our whole life, when we lose grip of it and subject ourselves to its torment and destruction. It makes us distrust humanity and ourselves, it makes us escape from the world of reason and compassion, it alienates us from the rest of humanity while we lick our wounds in silence, at least for a while. But in a more permanent sense, it leaves us with an infirmity, a kind of neuroses or pain that we have to endure and live with, in every relationship we get in and out of.

Wednesday, March 11

The Glass Menagerie

One of my favorite things in life is reading. I had always thought to myself that if I could never be a good writer, then I could at least be a good reader—someone who enjoys books immensely and keeps an open mind for them. Over the years, I had picked out books here and there, mostly classic literature, and spent many hours walking around bookstores to skim through them, or to add them to my collection. In all those times that I was to be found in this sort of dreary ritual--sitting quietly alone on inconspicuous corners----books had provided me an ideal company, a shield for unwanted advances, a good reason to stay put when I was financially down and out, just generally a good way to feed a constantly hungry soul. Used to be that in one day, I could devour no less than a couple of books. And I still wasn’t sated over.

Now that I am a working mother, however, sneaking a book into my routine is an indulgence, and has to be dealt with a lot of patience, and delayed gratification. Delayed meaning, one book could take up a week, or a month, to finish. But, no complaints hey. So, apart from my oft-repeated outbursts about the harassment of motherhood, I wanted to talk again about the book I just recently finished reading: THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Typically, I would say that I am probably better off twittering about my children, or how I am trying not to appear too self-absorbed by making small attempts to talk about them, but really, it’s the diminutive things that kill me, those little things that go on in our household everyday that I would want to pick anecdotes from and share in my blog.  But having a shitty, pathetically substandard memory, I will not even attempt that. Suffice it to say, that I suck in the story-telling department. So, again, bear with my incoherent ramblings. .

THE GLASS MENAGERIE is a play written by Tennessee Williams. It is about the Wingfields- Amanda, her children, Tom and Laura—a family struggling through the difficulties of their life, from the fact that the father had left them and never had returned. Amanda is the mother who lives in the memories of her past glories as a child of a genteel family, a southern belle who married a telephone man, but was left to wage a solitary battle in raising two unusual children. Laura, her daughter , is a cripple who is painfully shy and confines herself to her world of little glass ornaments of animals-what her mother calls her glass menagerie. Her mother worries that Laura will spend her days as an old maid and would have no one to take care of her. Tom is a dreamer who hates his job in the shoe warehouse. He is constantly annoyed of the pressure his mother puts on him to become financially successful so he could look out for his sister, and he turns to literature and movies and drinking to allay his frustrations. He secretly dreams of running away to join the Marines. But before he did, he obliged his mother to find a gentleman caller for Laura. Jim Connor was invited over to the Wingfields for a dinner elaborately prepared by Amanda. It wasn’t shortly after they discovered that Jim Connor was engaged to be married—shattering all their dreams, like he accidentally broke Laura’s glass unicorn. Tom finally gets to step out of the house and run away. The play ends with Tom narrating how he had followed in his father’s footsteps and had travelled many places, but that many times something had pulled him back, and reminded him of his sister Laura. As he exclaimed “ Oh Laura, Laura , I tried to leave you behind me, but I am more faithful than I intended to be…..for nowadays the world is lit by lightning! Blow out your candles, Laura---and so goodbye…..”

How tragic, I can just weep all day about it. Sometimes, it’s hard to tell the difference, reading something like this, then you begin to realize how circumstances of your life resonate with what you read in print, or when you dismiss and say it’s just pure fiction. It gives you an eerie feeling that the author might guess your emotions at precisely the same moment it is being played out in the book, to convince you of its veracity. It must be fluke, too, knowing that this book was written way back before I was even a dot in the face of cosmos, and surely I wasn’t yet involved in the great scheme of anything for the writer to guess someone in a remote part of the earth would be able to come across his work . But very cunningly, real life is reflected in the words and situations presented here, that it feels politically correct to say how true it is of my life, as if it was written just for me, thereby I affirm the aphorism Life Imitates art….?

Well, my thoughts on this are …. I think it is human and universal for everyone to be in a point of their lives when they feel some degree of helplessness, of being stuck, of feeling disappointment over unrealized dreams. Some of us tend to censure the harsh everyday realities by turning into illusory objects of diversion—books, music, liquor, drugs, even retail therapy (read: compulsive shopping). Still others, not being able to communicate this frustration openly, rely on the grasp of old memories and the vestiges of their past—a form of escape and coping mechanism from the dysfunction that incessantly rage within them, or us. We endeavor to do or achieve things that make us feel fulfilled, or useful, and for years and years, there is almost a sense of undisrupted normalcy, of a feeling that we are alright with the world. But reality has a way of rearing its ugly head, a peculiar way of making itself felt, time and again. We can’t just ignore the fact that problems and feeling of inadequacy arise at different stages in our lives-whether we are of school age, adults, or in our last breathing moments. Such is the tragic beauty of our existence.

It is how strong our personalities are, how tough and conditioned we are to take its blows. As someone who was born and lives in the third world, I can say I have seen and been through a lot. We are not in a fortunate enough place to do what we really want to do, but that is by no means an impediment to dream sky-high, or should take the joy out of our imaginings. If anything, having limited resources makes our struggles and the fulfillment of our dreams all the more bittersweet. We learn to be more resilient, to appreciate the little we have, and come to terms with what cannot be ours.

Tennessee Williams also portrays the familial association we are inevitably drawn to towards our loved ones- mother, father, child, sister, brother. In the same thread, they are emblematic of the fact that our connection to them means there is no real escape in this world. We may physically abandon them from our life in search of a different situation; we may, with strong decisive will, run away from our present struggle and disappear from the face of the earth, but they will never be completely out of the way, nor are we able to edit out our feelings for them, not while we have the “unrelenting power of memory”, that will pursue us endlessly and haunt us, in the form of things we will eventually come across---a waft of music, a particular scent, taste of food, the changing weather, faces of people, etc.

Like any other person, I feel there is no end to these entire human struggles- the ups and downs and the suffocating realities of life. I think that we are able to overcome that no matter how. What I am just concerned about is the constant bout man has with his stronger and more vicious enemy that can ultimately defeat him---- himself, or his inner turmoil--- my inner turmoil, the possibility that I will one day become stagnant, and like Laura, live in a world of my glass menagerie, immovable lifeless things, that while pretty and interesting to look at, are fragile and are really just illusory and not lasting. I wouldn’t like to be the kind who would crumble and wallow in the memories of my former glories, and then find out that I can be nothing more than the shadow of my distant past. What are the chances that I will live in total dependence to others, useless to myself or to my environment, and as Amanda quite accurately put it, stay home and watch the parades go by, live upon the grudging patronage of folks, and eat the crust of humility for the rest of my pitiful life? Will I ever allow myself to get to that? “Is that the future we’ve mapped out for ourselves?”

But we fight to find our dreams, to make enough difference in our lives and the lives of others so that there is a purpose to our being, so that we can emancipate ourselves from our mental prison walls. Being different from others, being mythical unicorns in the sea of horses, should not snuff out our inner candles. I know that it is lonely to be different, but don’t we already know that each of us has felt lonely and stuck all along, and that no matter where we go to escape, we would someday converge in the same path of this realization anyway? Well, such is the beauty of life and the struggle to see it through the end….

Friday, February 27

The Reader

Catching up on the Oscars fever, last night I saw the movie The Reader. It is a post-War drama based on the best-selling novel by Bernhard Schlink. I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book, but watching the film, I was left drenched in many questions about love and humanity, as opposed to the morality and justice expected to be followed in our society- something we call Ethics. I have probably pondered these questions a time too many here in this blog, from the books that I’ve come across or movies that I’ve seen in the past. And well, it presented itself again.

I don’t want to explore the historical angle of the film, although briefly, it is about the time of the cataclysmic Holocaust where the character of Kate Winslet figured in a crime against the Polish Jews in Auchwitz. She was held accountable for the death of hundreds of men, women, and children, after allowing them to perish in the fire while working as a guard in Hitler’s concentration camp.

In 1958 Germany, Hanna Schmitz (Kate Winslet) was a middle-aged tram worker who came across a fifteen-year old Michael while she was walking home one rainy day and saw him retching near her apartment building. She helped him get home where he was diagnosed with scarlet fever. A few months after he recovered, Michael visited Hannah to thank her. The boy develops an almost immediate sexual curiosity about Hannah, although she was twice his age, and calls him "kid". Hannah was an unsmiling woman, gruff and stubborn. But an affair developed between them in no time. Despite her obstinate front, and a vast reserve of unspoken sadness, they seemed to fall into a sensuous sexual relationship. During their liaisons, Hannah would order Michael to read his schoolbooks to her after they make love. Together they explored the literature of Anton Chekov, and the Odyssey.

One day, she was told by her workmate that she had been promoted and would no longer be working in the tram, but inside the office. She didn’t take this news kindly, and she suddenly disappeared, leaving nothing behind but a confused and broken-hearted Michael.

Almost a decade later, when Michael is a law student, he comes across Hannah again He was observing a Nazi war crime trial, where she was a defendant, along with a few others who worked as guards in the concentration camp. She was singled out as having been responsible for drafting a report that put hundreds of Jews to a gut-wrenching tragedy. Michael was torn in the discovery of a horrific truth that the woman he once loved was guilty of a crime against humanity, and of personally betraying him. But in the course of trial, he also discovered Hannah’s most important secret, when he had brief flashes of memory---that she was illiterate, and could never read books nor write her name, and was visibly not capable of writing a damning report. So that he was suddenly caught up in the convolutions of being a man of law and upholding justice, and on the other hand having the power to speak out what he now knows, thereby helping Hannah reduce her prison sentence. He almost spoke of it, to his law professor, who quite perceptively suggested that what people feel or think isn't nearly as important as what they do.

As Michael's character is so layered---inflexible and deeply hurting at the same time, and probably even too young to see beyond the fact that he was shameful of his affair with Hannah and its unknown implications, he ended up keeping his secret and putting Hannah to life imprisonment. In fact, it can be drawn that he never talked about this dark part of his life to anyone, until very much later. After the court sentence was read, he sits on a train home devastated, retreating in the shadows of a dark corner.

The next second we see the same figure emerge from the shadows, but this time he is the middle-aged Michael (Ralph Fiennes) bearing sad eyes, and a face that mirrors years of emotional paralysis and the weight of guilt. He was divorced, and left his daughter to the care of his old mother. Alone in his new home, he goes through his old things, and makes voice recordings of a few books he used to read to Hannah. He sends them to her in prison. She fumbles with the player at first, but soon begins to enjoy listening to the stories, just like the old times. This started a new ritual between them, he was to send her many tapes afterwards, and Hannah, a stickler for cleanliness and order, would stack them neatly on the wall of her tiny prison cell.

Hannah, who was by now an aging woman, got up from the prison grounds one day and walked over nervously to the library to ask for a book, The Lady with a Dog by Chekov. She began to slowly decode the words that Michael was saying from the tape, and marked them on the book, initially encircling all of the “the”. Thus, began her self-education. Later she sends one-sentence letters to Michael, asking for more stories of adventure and romance. Michael never answered the letters. But he would continue to send tapes in parcels, for which she would eventually complete her education in reading and writing.

One day, Michael got a call from the prison ward telling him that Hannah was to be set free after 21 years because of her unblemished behavior in prison. He was the only known contact that they are aware of, as indeed there was no other character in the movie that was akin to her, nor was it a part of her that was explored in the story. Michael reluctantly visits her for the first time in prison after so many years. Their meeting was odd; he was perfunctory in his arrangement to get her a job and a place to stay. He was clearly mortified by seeing her again and thinking that he is thrown in the position where he is responsible for her amalgamation back to society, and back to his life. By this time, Hannah was a literate, and was reading a lot. She perceived the uneasiness in him, although once again, she was obstinate enough to not talk about it with him.

Later that week, she killed herself in her prison cell.

When Michael returned to get her, he discovered about her death. He was led to her cell and was given a tin box that contained a sum of money that Hannah had saved, and left instructions for him to hand it to the daughter of one of the holocaust victims. He also discovered writing on her wall, the first words she ever learned to write that were from the opening pages of Chekhov’s novel The Lady with a Dog.

He tried to redeem himself by visiting the woman in America, who wrote a book about their death march to Auschwitz. For the first time, he talked about his relationship with Hannah to her and how we was trying to make amends for all his guilt. With Hannah’s money, he proposed to set up a fund in her memory, to help fight illiteracy among the Nazi survivors. The movie ends back in Germany, with Michael and his daughter visiting Hannah’s grave, as he walks away with her, talking about the story that all started that rainy day in 1958.

The fact that the reader has characters that are deeply troubled, and are solely accountable for their failures, it is probably best to reason that man do reckon with their conscience many times in their lifetime, but the circumstances in their lives make them do things differently from what they believe in or feel. They run afoul of the behavior that is expected of them, thus putting their social or moral ethics in question, but it can’t necessarily mean they are evil.

The nuances of this film are too raw for me, there is nothing melodramatic, especially in the way Kate Winslet portrayed her character that was tough, and is perpetually troubled by something. You can see that she is not easy to be with; her face was fraught with sadness, a frown in the corners of her mouth, and almost a kind of physical fatigue that she’s had to deal with all her waking life. Yet, she is very strong and seems to be the commander of her life. She is not easily intimidated by emotions, but peels off a layer of herself once in while to make us construe that she is after all human. Forget about the fact that she was nude in many scenes, which reminds me that is how a married woman’s body is supposed to look like although she makes no bones about hiding it in any guise, and that is why I think that Kate Winslet is a gem.

But indeed, can one be part android and part human at the same time? Human in that she nursed a stranger in the streets and took him safely home, android in that she willingly gave her body away to a sexually charged fifteen year old boy with not much of a word. Human in that when she heard choir music, she was reduced to tears of joy, or was rapt in the story of the Odyssey. Android in that she unceremoniously left everything behind her one day, simply because she couldn’t be found dead in her dark secret, thus negating anything emotional that had been born out of her relationship with Michael. Human in that she was said to have been unusually kind to prisoners and had gathered a group Jewish women in prison every night to ask them to read out loud to her. But android, in that she sent the very same women to death row, because that was what she was ordered and paid to do.

She was living a life of contradiction, she sent herself to life in prison, and only because she was too proud and scared to be discovered an illiterate. Even towards the end of the film, she was caught up in her ambiguity, hanging herself in the cell because she could not stand having to inflict her unsolicited presence in Michael’s life. Once, while in the trial stand, she was questioned about her work as a prison guard. She reasoned that a new group of prisoners would come every time, and that there was barely enough room for everyone, so that they were given orders to send people to death camp in batches. A judge asked her why she even allowed this human atrocity to happen, there was a long awkward silence, and in her seemingly pure countenance, she answered “What would you have done”? To which, another long moment of silence ensued.

Yes, what would we have done indeed, when we are powerless to do something outside our abilities, when doing otherwise could have meant disrupting our little lives and standing up against people who are bigger than we are and who can take us over with malign abuses of their authority, mainly because they know they can do something that we can’t? Of course today, that is not a question anymore. But back then, she was illiterate, many were probably illiterate, and despite appearing to have no moral core, her question made a lot of sense. It leaves a question, too, how love in its unsullied form could be the same reason for people to betray, hurt, abandon, scar and shake up each other, just to be proper and ethical----while we all secretly come to grips with our collective guilt for something that we shouldn’t have done, but did; something we could have done, but did not---and how we can finally and completely learn to forgive everything.

Friday, February 13

My little princess is now three years old.
There are lots to say about her, but for now
A photo will have to do...

Friday, February 6

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

The swiftness with which the days have gone by is out of my grasp lately that it is no longer possible to sit down and process the everyday things. Time just seems to come and fleet by, that before I even have the moment to reflect on something important and understand the underlying significance of that reflection so that I can then write about it at length, all is gone and suddenly it’s February of 2009. Sometimes, however, I feel that time is in a standstill, that no matter how I try to delude myself out it, I seem to be warped in it for a very long time and I am locked up in that peculiar capsule forever, that when I awake, all my efforts of trying to get on with the times and accomplish useful things as a human being turns out to be an absolutely thwarted endeavor.

Anyway, the upside of being warped into time, at least these past weeks, is that I had been able to finish reading a couple of books. One was The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho, a gift given to me by my officemate last Christmas; and the other one which I just put down, is a very old book I picked up from Booksale many moons ago and has sat gathering dust on the shelf, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, by Carson McCullers. I would like to talk a bit about the latter. A caveat though, by a bit I mean that I might be inclined to go off-track with my thoughts again, seeing that I am notoriously known to start off with crystal-clear head and wind up with various random inane things that I just mentally disintegrate into a drunken stupor.

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is a study of the lives of five different people, a deaf-mute John Singer, a strange girl Mick Kelly who is faced with the predicament of growing up and taking responsibilities early on while obsessively nursing a passion for music and its magnitude to which her whole young existence lies; a crass but well-read alcoholic Jake Blount, an idealistic black doctor Benedict Copeland who struggles to be respected in the white world and is frustrated by the helplessness and blind ignorance of his own people; and Biff Brannon, a restaurateur who has lost his love for his wife, but chooses to feel compassion for the deformed.

Although the novel focuses on John Singer and the effect he has on the other central characters, it was mostly through the girl Mick Kelly that the story is viewed and unfolds. These five characters lead lives that are often mired by feelings of isolation and loneliness, an inner torment to be understood and accepted for who they are and what they think, and the apparent lack of reciprocity for how they feel towards the people nearest to them, thus worsening their silent agony.

Without going into the finer details, these four people’s lives began to revolve around the deaf-mute John Singer, with whom they each had private interactions. John Singer is a kindly man who unselfishly shared his time to listen to each of them on their visits. His benevolence reached out beyond skin color at a time when colored Americans were discriminated against, as reflected by the black doctor Benedict Copeland who remembers him as the only white man who offered a light to his cigarette on a rainy night. The fact that he was deaf and therefore never learned to speak was overlooked by people, who were increasingly becoming curious of him, and on whom he unwittingly left an impression of being a mystic, someone short of a god who, while perpetually silent, harbors the strength and dignity they can trust their burdens on to. In him, they felt strangely comforted, and saw the chance to heal and liberate their souls, to speak freely of whatever was inside their convalescent hearts while being aware that he does not hear. It was if his silence was answer enough to all their questions.

The altruistic way with which he shared his friendship with them, however, concealed the fact that he was just an ordinary man, a man who misses a dear friend locked up in a mental asylum. He tried to visit him on a few occasions, at one time desperately thinking that he could turn his back from the friends he had begun to like and enjoy, if only to be able to live with Antonapolous in that odd sanctuary.

The dear friend he cared so truly about was in fact a slothy Greek deaf-mute he had lived with in a flat for ten years. At the beginning of the novel, everything seemed roses between them, two friends walking hand in hand, doing things together each single day, and getting by in the evenings with simple things like playing chess or going to the movies. Then Antonopoulos begins to act strangely after falling ill, often appearing dirty and disheveled, deliberately stealing food and things, hitting at people he didn’t like in the streets, and acting lewdly in public, that he was always to be found in the town court for the many infringements he had done. John Singer was always there to redeem him, even when his savings had been used up to settle and keep his friend out of jail. Eventually, against Singer’s wishes, Antonopoulos was committed to a mental asylum by a distant cousin.

It was the start of great distress and loneliness for Singer, who felt a void in his life when his friend had gone. But Antonopolous was never interested in giving back the kindness shown to him. However, because of his unremitting love for his friend, John Singer tried to ignore the bad things, and only remembered the good things in him, which were in truth, very few and far in between. The next time he tried to see Antonopoulos in the asylum, John Singer learned that his friend had died of an illness. He went home despondent, and killed himself.

His tragedy bore different circumstances on the friends he left behind. The black doctor had to give up his profession as he spent his remaining days suffering tuberculosis in the care of the very same people whose ignorance he abhorred, disillusioned of his failure to make a change. The alcoholic Blount left the town in hope to meet someone who would be willing to sit through his outbursts again, much like the deaf-mute did. Biff Brannon lost his wife to a fatal surgery , had slowly began to find himself, and get in touch with his unrealized passions, while remaining to be a quiet and astute observer of the things that go around his world, or at least his cafe. Mick Kelly finds a measure of peace and hope in that she is resolved to achieve things for herself and her family, keeping the music within her inner world, and sharing whatever was left of the selfless desire to be that was unsuspectingly imparted to her by the dead John Singer.

A peculiar fascination about human nature had lingered on me long after I put it down. I am concerned in the central theme that is about the desolation we each feel in our hearts, especially when we try to be understood and accepted, but are not. That others, even the ones we love the most, would not always share the same fervor we have in our hearts and that we are like square pegs to their circles. We trudge the earth, among a sea of souls who are themselves wandering far and wide, to be able to find, or hunt, for that familiarity we can clench close to our hearts and forever latch on to. Thus, the heart is a lonely hunter. But what if it's suddenly gone or taken away from us?

I believe this is when we turn to divine intervention. Silence becomes our earnest friend and companion, when words are not spoken to affirm what we think. Sometimes, it's a fallen leaf, or a whiff of air, or intimation of music, or a gentle smile from a little child that come to answer us in our deepest human longings. I was touched by the scene where Mick Kelly, hiding among the bushes in a neighbor’s yard one night, listened to the radio and heard Beethoven for the first time. Being a non-believer, she had an epiphany, suddenly convinced that indeed there is a God who can create such beauty that can well up her eyes with tears and melt her young, volatile heart.

Friday, January 23

My Baguio Chronicles - 1

645 am. Arrived Baguio.

The kids were able to sleep on the six hour bus trip but husband and I had hardly been able to relax, what with him trying to check on us every then and now, to my obvious annoyance, as he keeps getting up and walking the isle, asking if we were okay. Every time that he did, the other passengers would let out a dagger look, or something that sounded like a grunt…..or maybe it was just me getting too self-conscious. It would have done me much better if he had held on to one of the kids, because I was cramped in the two-seater with all bits and pieces of our luggage but both children physically cling on to me for dear life, as if all sense of safety is lost on them, were they with someone else, in these temporary but rough conditions. This was the first time that we will travel this far, and I being the mother, know how difficult it was for the kids to settle down where comfort is in short supply. However, it amazed me how easily and fast they could fall asleep. All I could manage to do after that is put Sam in front of me and try to catch a few minutes of rest, while she was beginning to fall deep into slumber and was now lording it over sleepyland with her loud snoring. That little girl, she terrifies me with her sound sometimes...

After a couple of stops, and leaning over to check where we were, six hours had gone by, and I caught the first light of morning. Marcos highway was covered in fog as our bus climbed uphill on the zigzag road. It felt like an endless trek, and the higher we went, the thicker the fog seemed to grow. In spite of the bus driver meandering the roads with such confidence, my fear started to seep in again, unfortunately at a time when I had wanted to use the last few minutes of our trip to catch some shuteye before we hurtle ourselves off the bus . I felt terribly tired from my daughter’s weight, but my mind was relentlessly creating scenarios of us falling of the cliff accidentally and me waking up to find out that I have lost a limb, or worse, a life or lives other than mine. So that in the course of all that horrible mental fumbling, I never had the opportunity to rest for a second more. It was such a relief however, that finally we reached a plateau, and a "Welcome to Baguio" sign told me that my worries were now pointless….

We arrived at the Teacher’s Camp. The lady I talked to on the phone a day earlier wasn’t available, so the night guy, offered to deposit our things at the reception, and told us that we could get some breakfast and come back in half an hour. It was drizzling outside, but the cool air, the log cabins, the fresh smell of pine trees, and the faint morning light was such to behold, that I could only remember it in one of those dreams I’ve had way back in years, and really it would be strange if I got carried away into a trance so early in the day, but I rather tried to soak in it and felt humbled at the beauty, unmindful of the fact that all this has cost me a precious night of sleep. My body wasn’t caving yet anyway, so why the fuss. I decided to take out my camera and do some snapping. I had made a mental reminder to myself back in Manila, that getting to Baguio would be a perfect time for me to hone my skills with my new DSLR, a gadget which I would like to proudly blabber about at a later time. When finally, I had enough photos to warn me that we still had two full days left for photographing, I stopped and we took the first cab down, or rather up, the street. One thing, I would most certainly promote about this place, is that the taxi drivers are the most respectful, honest, and cool drivers one could ever ask for. For a moment there, you stop being wary of being robbed off of your precious hundreds, and they can cruise you to your destination like a breeze. Anyway, we were told by our driver that we were lucky to be up there at such a time when it was the real “cold” season. He did not warn us, however, that it was going to be biting cold at night, and we would be literally freezing our asses off in bed. We were thrilled nonetheless at the fact that we had made a good decision to come here after the holidays and experience the real “cold”. Down south, it would have been nippy too, but not like this one, that stings your face and gives you the unqualified pleasure of knowing you’re way above the sea level, and pretty much on top of the world…..

To be continued….

Knock, knock!

Hey, it's me, do you still remember? It's been a long journey, and I had wanted to come back sooner. But I got sidetracked, by different things, at different times that I have somehow lost my way... But I tell you, what is important is I am home, well and alive, and it was all worth to get back here with much hope that I can begin to tell you all about it----the people I've met, the places I've been, the emotions I've experienced, and the lessons I've learned.

So sit back there, while I click my tongue and wink my eye....
and I'll be back shortly.
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