The world cannot tolerate the true individual

Sad Man

What do you think will be the biggest challenge you will face working for this company?

It was the human resource representative of the company I am working for now asking a generic question during my interview. I went on and answered using a canned response I’ve used in countless other interviews I’ve attended.

I could’ve answered that the most difficult part is to work in a company. But I know better. I needed the job and I could not jeopardize my chance by acting like a free spirited individual. I may impress him with the fearlessness of my rhetoric and my regard for individualism but it would mean I’m not getting the job. I went on and said, “Oh, how I love working in a team. I’ve always been a team player and a believer in the concept of synergy. Our team effort and accomplishments will be greater than the sum of our individual work.”

Rubbish! That’s the only way I could describe the things I said that time. For somebody who detests being with other people, it was clear to me that I was outright lying that time.

Indeed, everyone is doped to believe that this world celebrates the existence of the individual. We are made to believe that it thrives in the creativity of an individual to begin change, but look around and you’ll see that the opposite is true. This world cannot tolerate the true individual.

Either the concerns of this world are too shallow for the individual to comprehend. Or the concerns of the individual are too detached from reality that the world is unable to understand. Either way, the world and the individual are in constant opposition, like parallel lines – equal in all respect but are doomed never to meet.

Compromise is not part of the option, this I realized a long time ago. No team will allow individualism to take root without sacrificing the integrity of its structure inasmuch as no self respecting individual can allow himself to be influenced by the spirit of the crowd. A constant struggle ensues that often takes greater toll on the individual.

The individual can tolerate the world but not the other way around. The world will force the individual to fit into its mould resulting in robotic and neurotic minions silenced by success, poverty, money, crime, corporatism, pursuit for greater happiness.

So the individual shudders in silence camouflaging himself in the comfort of the diaphanous sound made by the crowd until eventually finding himself being eaten alive by its members. But the true individual persists and stubbornly resists the soothing humming of the machination of the world. He doesn’t sleep, doesn’t stop to think because if he does, the world will eat him alive.

This is also why he is constantly sad.

And tired.

What sets you apart?

John Atkins (Dealing with the Fear of Fear, Readings on Ernest Hemingway 1997 San Diego: Greenhaven Press)

Once a man loses the thing that sets him apart, the thing that forms his personality and creates individuality, he is lost. He sinks back into the herd and he will never excel in anything he puts his hand or mind to. Fear cannot be hidden, no matter how it decks itself; the bullfighter who was repulsed by the woman eventually lost her to a picador. His fear stood out and made him repulsive.

Poet friend


One of the most sexually charged poems I’ve read in the regional languages is a poem below written by a classmate of mine in UP who eventually became my best friend. Ms Victoria Solis who is now based in Laguna writes in Kiniray-a, a language in Panay island spoken in the province of Antique and some parts of Janiuay, Lambunao, and Calinog.

Binahit nga Lasaw

Pagtiraw mo kanakon, daw lasaw nga bag-ong bahit sa kawa.

Samtang naga-indakal pa, amo man nga duut-duut ka dila.

Pagbahin mo kanakon sa pasok nga surudlan ka tuba,

Ginhawa mo man kasalud hay basi maula.

Kar-on hay nahanginan takon kag naagahan,

Ay ahay, ang maragkut, nagsapra kag namarhan.

Kang nadura ang init, imo run ako pinabay-an,

Kundi nga nasubayan kag nalangawan.

Nagabalabag run gali ako sa imong tubug,

hay kon magpanaw ikaw, wara gid ba, bisan tandug.

Handum ko raad may kalayo ikaw dara kon mag-abot,

agud isin-ad ako, para liwan nga magrapuyot.

I was searching for this kind of poetry when I came across these poems, and what is more surprising is that these were works of somebody close to me. And it took me a time to realize that these pieces of poetry were the ones I assigned as required reading for my students in Philippine Literature class in UP.

Gumamela kag Gardenia

Kaanggid ako kang gumamela

manaya-naya sa idalum ka sirak kang adlaw.

Ugaring kon mag-abot ang sirum,

rugto timo sa gardenia hay indi run takon kit-anun.

Kon pinsarun, pareho lang man kami

nga may duga kon sasaun ka tarawis nga bato,

nagalaway pa tana gani akon duga…

Ay gali dya ang gardenia

may gapabilin gid nga kahamot

sa imong dughan.

Pagdalia Keanna!

Pagdalia Keanna, ikapti run ang mikropono

kag magkanta

para kar-on, mikropono ko ang ikaptan mo

rugto sa Room 12.

Pagdasiga Keanna, ipitik run ang balikawang

kag idungan sa imong kanta

hay kar-on maliki-liki man ikaw sa musika

nga kita lang makabati.

Tapusa run ria, para matapos man kita

hay basi may ginabibit run nga binangon

si Nancy sa balay!

It’s an odd feeling to have actually met and spent a portion of your life, four years in my case, with the poet because then you’ll have an idea of the kind of life she lived. Still I am amused to have read sensuality in her poems. Not that she lacks sensuality, in fact she might have been all those times. Aside from the fact that these poems are socially relevant that sought to give light on issues of the modern-day milieu that confronted and inspired the poet. Notwithstanding commentaries she expressed on the general state of the country through her poems, one can still sense the voice of the persona that is not at all detached from the personality of the poet. And that’s my friend.

Victoria Solis, or Vicky as I endearingly call her is one of the most fascinating women I have met. She is your traditional probinsyana with a little bang. I remember walking a kilometer every night to their apartment in the banwa of Miagao to have coffee with her in the local bakery or to have mundane conversations on the day that passed. I remember asking for her help in the paper I was writing on the Post Colonial critique. She was there to explain to me the words I did not understand or to suggest way of approaching the problem I posed using a novel perspective.

She is however one of the most shy persons I’ve ever met. In fact when I called her to ask permission if I can use her poems in my class, she even hesitated because she thought they were not good enough. That’s even after the great Leoncio Deriada declared that she has talent when he personally endorsed her for a slot in the Visayas Writing Workshop at UPV Tacloban.

So I’m posting them here. You may personally leave comments or email me for traslation.

Poetry 2

The conversations we make

Cheese burger.

Large fries. Large coke.

Is that all, sir?





Server error.

We’ll look into it.

Thanks. But please do it quick.

Conversations these days are either snippets or monosyllables that are supposed to mean something concrete to which according to their users allow them to maximize the use of their time and the other person’s. Time is money. Efficiency is everything. If you fall short based on the metrics, it’ll mean lower productivity. It’ll mean losing your job. Conversations are done hurriedly, mechanically, lacking any attempt on establishing close human contact, aside of course from accomplishing the object of sending the message across.

Sad, but most often, as is the case of most sad events, they’re true.

Portnoys Complaint

I’ve been reading the first few pages of Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth. The book which is lent to me by one of this blog’s readers is about a man named Alexander Portnoy having a conversation with his psychoanalyst, Dr. Spielvogelman recounting his experience while growing up in a Jewish family dominated by a strong mother and a voiceless, insurance agent of a father.

I can only spend a little time reading the book whenever I ride the train going to work or during break time that explains why I am still in the earlier chapters. Furthermore, it is a kind of book that does not lend itself to a leisurely reading not because it is a boring read but because it was written well and the images used are so crisp and true-to-life that you do not want to miss even a line.

Although the story is set in the earlier half of last century, one will notice the similarities between our time and the time the man lived as a growing up teenage boy in the U.S. This is a novel that delves on the subtle hegemony in the home that vicariously seeps into the child’s psyche. This ultimately decides his own conduct for the rest of his life. His mother, a domineering woman that goodness is imposing on people around her is reminiscent what is happening in our time.

Everyone seems to want to sound courteous and proper that his goodness imposes on us to respond in a certain fashion similar to the attitude of the sender of the message. We are made to believe that acting in accordance to one’s will is possible but this is only to feign liberty. In reality, there is only a single way of responding to this propriety and courtesy expressed in meaningless monosyllables.

If your response is not the anticipated reaction then you are either marked as snob, ill-mannered, unprofessional, or crazed.

But then again I shall remain unfazed amid this world wallowing in widespread fakery and acted out goodness.

* * * *

While on my way down to the fast food downstairs, I met in the elevator a former student of mine in UP Visayas. He’s on his way to their unit. But since he is a batch mate in college and a student in a Journalism class I taught, I cajoled him to spend a little of his time for some catching up. I notice he has gone even thinner than the last time I saw him. The life in the city must have taken toll on him.

We asked the usual questions—work mainly, length of stay in Manila, place of work—and some more personal ones. How we cope with our lives, how we deal with stress, plans for the future. It was a conversation I realized I have not had for a long time.

SONA 2009 redressed

Was it a sardonic statement or a reflection of the descent of the Philippine Daily Inquirer to accommodate the readers shallow taste? Interspersed with photos depicting the demonstrators who picketed in front of Batasan this afternoon that criticized the president in her State of the Nation’s Address and Mar Roxas in his soon-to-be classic wet and wild pictures  boycotting of the SONA to be with the rallyists are Hollywood-like shots of our congressmen and senators strutting in their colorful ternos and Filipiniana on the red carpet.

Philippines Arroyo

The photo montage reminded me of Marie Antoinette saying her “Give them cake.” while the people of France starved in front of her.

It must have been appalling to see your representative in the House looking like wannabe celebrity who thought that the SONA was an annual parade to showcase her taste in fashion. Even hard-liners, activists congresswomen like Liza Maza and Risa Hontiveros-Baraqueil did not let go of this opportunity to make a political statement to the effect that their gowns have meanings, that they were made from indigenous materials, and that they are symbols of protest.

Now I understand why as a nation we are not taken seriously by other nationalities, it’s because we’ve never taken ourselves seriously in the first place. It is this “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them” stance that is almost farcical if not absurd way of looking at our politics that makes us a subject of jokes. The same approach Sen. Pia Cayetano has been employing these years when she has constantly stolen attention with her statuesque figure and class. Or Jamby Madrigal’s old rich and subdued taste. Or a congresswoman from an unknown district who totes her couture gown she had made-pasadya only for this media-magnet event.

While Arroyo boasted about her accomplishments during the previous year, our vision was directed to her subliminally and sexually charged fuchsia gown. I may sound like a chauvinist pig here, but her choice of color spoke of both dominance and oozing sexuality. It was almost a good opportunity for the rest of the nation to validate whether her boob job was a success, or whether the leak made them less swollen.

Still she has failed to reflect in her SONA the real state of the nation. She boasted the GNP growth that is relatively higher than the rest of Southeast Asia but has never trickled down in the lives of ordinary Filipinos, or her non-committal statement of her stepping down the office next year, or the CARP programs that did not benefit its supposed recipients. Empty promises never kept, or if kept, remained illusory.

Arroyo did not bid a definite good bye, instead she left a looming fear in us that come 2010, she will hold on to her office as hardly as a scum.

Only her dress reflected her true motivations: power, dominance, and a libido that can only be described as “plenty”.

How it feels to be stuck while history happens

I’m working while history is being made outside. I’m stuck inside the concrete walls of my workplace while people outside harangued and protested against the glaring rottenness of this administration. I’m finding a living while I am supposed to be involved in this very important milestone in my country’s history. But what can I probably do? 

Such is the sad fate of most young people today. Yes, we know we are resp0onsible in deciding the direction this country is going but we are compelled to work, to be more pragmatic if not practical, to look after the more immediate needs of our family and ourselves. The rest of the population cannot accuse us of apathy because we are deeply involved. Only that we cannot afford to give up our jobs and participate.

So here I am making use of my precious free time in between work to write about something I may not have personally witnessed but which I personally feel strongly about. While demonstrators are picketing outside Batasan as the President Gloria Arroya is delivering her State of the Nation Address, what I can only do is read news and the content of her SONA and to make commentaries, as if these commentaries really matter. I can only make use of what technology provides. I may just be several meters away from Batasan but the distace between me and the place is magnified a million times by my responsibilities in my job.

As I am reading the trascript of her speech, I can sense nothing but lies and deceptions. It must have sounded even more blatantly untruthful while she was delivering her lines written for her by her best speech writers. But somebody need not be an expert in these affairs to know that she, the president, is lying. Her poker face barely hid them.

President Arroyo may not have categorically said she will step down from office come May 2010 in her SONA, but one thing I can only assure, I’ll do whatever I can to make sure she will leave the office when her term expires even if it means I’ll have to miss work.

My lola’s death

The prominence of the dark red veins running like chicken feet on my sclera is telling me that my body needs sleep. I’ve been awake for 25 straight hours save for some moments of semi-conscious naps.


I feel like I’m on drugs for the entire day. I couldn’t sleep. I went to V. Mapa this afternoon looking for a certain address on Silencio Street. What is wrong with the Philippine address system? When will somebody try to fix it and make an easier system that will save us precious time? I went in circle in a village that borders Manila and Mandaluyong looking for house number 1. Only after I drenched myself in the rain did I find the house whose owner did not bother to place at least a cardboard to signify that his house is #1.

The nerve of Manila’s middle class.

When does death become less painful? I received a message from my mother telling me that her grandmother, my affable lola Maria, passed away early this morning. She died of old age. It was a life well lived, a 97 years of a remarkable existence. She’s rested now. I remember her as a woman who held close to her life, who loved life so much that I mistook it as fear of death. Surrendering would be the last thing that entered her mind.

Her kind of death, however, is not something I would want for myself. It’s difficult to imagine dying as if your death is an anticipation, as if living is an anomaly. I do not want to die of old age.

When we are confronted with these events in our lives, we realize that we are not as invulnerable as we would want to believe, that a day will come when we’ll all have to take our final bow and be obliterated from the face of the Earth. I jokingly told a friend that if my time comes, I will make sure that it is as spectacular as I envision it to be. Jokes are half-meant, they say. I mean what I said.

It is odd receiving “condolences” from people. After the adverbs ‘actually’ and ‘basically’, ‘condolences’ is in the running for the next emptiest word in the English language. Somebody blurted ‘I’m sorry to hear that your grandmother just died.’ I have no intention to sound sarcastic, but please, spare me. I never blamed you for her death.

My body is aching for rest.