Readings for January

Of late I admit that I’ve set reading books aside. Like most Gen Y-ers, I am also as susceptible to attention deficit disorder, or something akin to it. I could not focus on just one thing. Before I realize it, my mind already starts to wander and think of another thing. And this has taken a serious toll on my reading habit. I barely finished two books in a month, and there were months this year when I finished nothing.

To correct things, I only have one resolution for next year, and that is to read a least ten books, regardless of thickness and difficulty, every month, discounting those required for my class at the university.

This afternoon, I went to National Bookstore and a used-books outlet to complete my reading list. Most of these are for leisure, neither heavy nor dense. Here’s my list of readings for the first month of 2010:

1. Wolf Totem (Jiang Rong) Searching for spirituality in the 1960s China durng the Cultural Revolution, Beijing intellectual Chen Zhen travels to the pristine grasslands of Inner Mongolia to live among the nomadic Mongols—descendants of the Mongol hordes who once terrorized the world. At the core of their beliefs is the notion of a triangular balance between earth, man, and the fierce, otherworldly Mongolian wolf whose fates are all intricately linked. The few wolves that remain haunt the steppes locked with the nomads in a profoundly spiritual battle for survival.

2. A Man of the People (Chinua Achebe) A young man caught in the tricky politics of an Africa country, redeemed himself, and rose above the chaos and frustration. I’ve read Things Fall Apart by the same author, and based on this novel, Achebe’s use of the English language, devoid of any spectacle and ‘prose fireworks’, will make A Man of the People an easy but profound reading.

3. The Discovery of Heaven (Harry Mulisch) This book, considered the magnum opus of the Dutch author Mulisch abounds in philosophical, psychological, and theological inquiries of the rich twentieth century trauma that focuses on diverse themes like friendship, loyalty, family, art, technology, religion, fate, and good and evil.

4. The Name of the Rose (Umberto Eco) I got intrigued in this book when the story was hinted by my professor in her Comparative Literature class. I thought I’ll try it and see if I am a good-enough reader to survive the dead-boring first 100 pages, which according to my professor is a method employed by Eco to sort his readers. Those who give up in the initial pages are not worthy of the riveting, fascinating, ingenious, and dazzling narrative. Page 101 until the last sentence of the final page, she said were written so well that the hurdle of the first 100 was all worth the effort.

5. The Places in Between (Rory Stewart) In January 2002 Rory Stewart walked across Afghanistan—surviving by his wits, his knowledge of Persian dialects and Muslim customs, and the kindheartedness of strangers. By day he passed through mountains covered in nine feet of snow, hamlets burned and emptied by the Taliban, and communities thriving amid the remains of medieval civilization. By night he slept on villager’s floors, shared their meals, and listened to their stories of the recent and ancient past. Along the way Stewart met heroes and rogues, tribal elders and teenage soldiers, Taliban commanders and foreign-aid workers. He was also adopted by an unexpected companion—a retired fighting mastiff he named Babur in honor of Afghanistan’s first Mughal emperor.

Through these encounters—by turns touching, confounding, surprising, and funny, Stewart makes tangible the forces of tradition, ideology, and allegiance that shape life in the map’s countless places in between.

6. The Unbearable Lightness of Being (Milan Kundera) A young woman in love with a man torn between his love for her and his incorrigible womanizing; one of his mistresses and his humbly faithful lover. In a world in which lives are shaped by irrevocable choices and fortuitous events, a world in which every thing occurs but once, existence seems to lose its substance, its weight. Hence, we feel the ‘unbearable lightness of being’ not only as the consequence of our pristine actions but also in the public sphere, and the two inevitably intertwine.

7. Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man (Joseph Heller) This sort of the author’s autobiographical novel is a story of a modern-day cultural icon Eugene Pota who became a legend in his lifetime because of his first novel. Subsequent work never achieved the critical acclaim to match what was garnered by his first novel. Portrait of an Artist as an Old Man is a poignant exploration of the pain and frustration that this caused.

8. New Writing from the Caribbean Selections from the Caribbean Writer (Erika J. Waters, Ed.) The stories ranged widely over the relationships between men and women, parents and their children, and the condition of exile. The contributors are drawn from Caribbean countries of Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, Montserrat, the Virgin Islands, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago.

9. Heart of Darkness (Joseph Conrad) This is my third copy of the book with the best looking cover page and paper quality. I have already read the short novel twice, and I confess that it was not an easy read. This is my third, and hopefully the last attempt to penetrate the dark jungle of Conrad’s mind.

10. Touch and Go (Eugene Stein) From Belize to New York, Brussels to Los Angeles, Stein evokes strange—yet strangely familiar—worlds, feelings you did not know were there, flavors aplenty. Into the dark corners of your heart and mind he shines a unique light on love, life, and desire—illuminating and brilliant. This is unfair, but I will see how Stein fares if I pit him against David Sedaris, a favorite in this genre.

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Merry Christmas

To those who are with their families enjoying the warmth of togetherness, those who are traveling in the middle of the ocean to destinations not in the direction of home, those who are in foreign places working as if it’s an ordinary day in the office, and those who are alone whose only company is solitude,

Overused as it may sound, this continues to be the most truthful and human of all greetings–Merry Christmas

Abolishing Christmas

MEMORANDUM No. 465371799199121

SUBJECT: Abolition of Christmas and declaring it a null celebration

ORIGIN: The Holy Office of the Holiest

23rd December 2009

______________________________________________________________________

After a thorough discussion with all the concerned departments within the tiers of the Holy Government of Heaven, I hereby formally dissolve Christmas from the list of sanctioned celebration. This goes without saying that everything that has to do with it will also be erased from mankind’s collective memory.

Any complaints or appeals may be forwarded to the College of Saints, but to set everyone’s expectation, the ruling is final and executory. The appeal may be opened for further assessment; however, this universal law has already been set to place and will be effective on the eve of 25th of December of this year. And whatever question it will raise is moot and academic as the college will again convene two centuries from now.

We already anticipated that some sector, the minority I gathered, will ask for an explanation to this hasty pronouncement. Below are justifications:

1. Christmas is outdated, outmoded, a vestige of the past. The Government of Heaven is projecting an image of modernity, or postmodernity if you want to call it this way. Being stuck in this half-pagan exercise is contradictory to the path this Government is heading.

2. It is nothing but sheer garb. And materialism is something this Government frowns upon. Therefore Christmas must go.

3. Although it is not our responsibility to meddle with mankind’s banal concerns, Christmas is disruptive to the normal flow of trade. It is an anomaly that creates artificial needs, supply, and demand. Like materialism, artificiality is also a hated enemy of the Government. Notice the absence of plastic vegetation in the Holy Office of the Holiest. Except for the stuffed rubber elephant in the south section, everything is real.

4. The color motifs of the celebration, red and green, have the worst possible combination in the color wheel that when mixed result to black. Black, as we are all aware, is the color associated to the enemy, the devil, Lucifer.

5. And finally, Christmas is a sham. Therefore, it inevitably makes sham out of the human species. They forgive their enemies, love one another, and maintain a semblance of uneasy peace because it’s Christmas. Come on! You expect my esteemed office to believe this scam?

Effective 24th of December, no Christmas or any of its derivative may be celebrated. So ordered.

Cc:

College of Saints

Space Police

American Psycho Association

AA

All mankind concerned

Ang mga regalong natanggap ko sa mga nakaraang Pasko

Di gaya no’ng nasa grade two pa ako, hindi na ako masyadong nasasabik tuwing nalalapit nang sumapit ang Pasko. Maliban kasi sa bonus na natatanggap, na madali namang nauubos, naisip kong ito’y sadyang ginawa lang para sa mga bata. Nagsimula yata akong mawalan ng gana sa Pasko nong mga taong hindi na ako nakakauwi sa probinsya para ipagdiwang ito dahil sa dami ng ginagawa ko sa kolehiyo o halimbawa’y masyadong maiksi ang bakasyon na hindi ko rin naman malulubos ang pagsasama naming magkapamilya.

Subalit dahil hindi ito ang panahon upang magkwento tungkol sa mga malulungkot na bagay. Naisip kong isa-isahin ang mga regalong natanggap ko simula nang akoy’ mag-aral. May mga patlang dahil hindi naman ganoon kagaling ang aking memorya, subalit susubukin kong alalahanin nag mga bagay na nakuha ko mula sa pinakasasabikan kong exchange gift.

Grade one. Hindi pa uso noon ang pagbubunutan ilang araw bago ang party, kumbaga, impromptu kaming bubunot ng numero katumbas nga mga bilang sa regalo sa mismong araw ng Christmas party. Siyempre excited ako noon. Pinagluto ako ng aking ate na nasa grade three noon ng adobong sitaw at tsaka chorizo pambaon. Bente pesos lang ang halaga ng aming mga regalo. Isang pakete ng chicharon ang nakuha ko. Hindi ko na tinanong sa kaklase kong nagdala noon kung bente nga talaga ang presyo ng kanyang regalo. Masaya. Pero parang maiiyak ako sa loob-loob ko. Bakit chicharon lang? Pinananghalian ko na lang ang nakuha kong regalong chicharon.

Grade two. De-numero pa rin ang mga regalo. Pinagdarasal ko noon na makuha ang dalang alkansya ng klasmayt kong babae. May alkansya na ako noon sa bahay na gawa sa kawayan, pero iba pa rin talaga ang babasagin. Sabi pa ng kaklase kong iyon, medyo napamahal raw siya ng bili dahil ang aming napagkasunduang halaga ay bente pa rin pero nabili niya ang alkansya ng sisenta. Lahat kami ay nakatutok sa kanyang alkansya. Sa huli, nabunot ko ang isang set ng tooth brush, panyo, at tatlong pirasong Snow Bear na kendi. ‘I love you’ raw ang ibig sabihin ng tatlong kendi.

Grade three. Ako ang nakatanggap ng pinakamalaking kahon ng regalo noon. Nag-aantay ang lahat na mabuksan ko ito. Tumambad sa amin ang isang dilaw na trak-trakan at iba’t ibang kendi, may Stork, White Rabbit (ito iyong nakakain pa ang pambalot na papel at wala pa itong halong melamine), at siyempre ang maanghang at malamig sa lalamunan na Snow Bear. Lubhang nahumaling ang mga kaklase kong lalaki sa aking trak-trakan. Pagsapit ng uwian, nawawala na ang isang gulong nito.

Grade five. Masalimuot ang Christmas party na iyon dahil napagkasunduan naming huwag na lang magdala ng regalo. Masyado kaming nauna sa aming panahon dahil iniisip na namin noon ang mga ‘social ramifications’ ng sobrang pagbibigay halaga sa mga material na bagay. Labing-isang taong gulang kami noon. Sa huli’y natuloy rin kami sa pagkakaroon ng exchange gift. Bola ang ibinigay sa akin ng aking SP (hindi ko alam kung ano ang buong ispeling nito, dinig ko’y ‘special prend’ daw). Dahil hindi naman ako naglalaro ng basketbol, ipinagpalit ko ito sa regalo ng isang kaibigan ko. Hindi ko na maalala kong ano iyon.

Grade six. Nakakatawa dahil noong mga panahong iyon nabalik na naman sa uso ang mga alkansya. Bumili ako nga napakalaking alkansya na hugis at kulay dalandan upang ipang-regalo. Yong tipong sa sobrang laki, aabutin ka ng isang dekada para mapuno. Pagdating sa school, anim kaming may pare-parehong regalong alkansya. At dahil sa pag-akyat ng probability, alkansya rin ang natanggap ko. Hugis kamatis nga lang. Nang basagin ko ito paglipas ng dalawang buwan, nakakuha ako ng dalawang daang piso. Hindi na masama.

First year sa haiskul. Nang mga panahong iyon, nag-uumisa na akong magkagusto sa isa kong kaklaseng babae. Dahil dito’y hindi ko na inisip kong ano ang ipangreregalo kundi kung anong isusuot para mapansin niya ako. Binigyan kami ng aming nanay ng parang operational budget, lahat kasali na rito. T-shirt, pantalon, sapatos, at panregalo. Isanglibo at limangdaan. Pagkabili ko ng unang tatlo, kwarenta pesos na lang ang natira sa pera ko. E tig-sitenta dapat ang halaga ng regalo namin. Ang ginawa ko’y bumili ako ng lalagyang ng pera na saktong kwarenta (nasa sale ito noon kaya mas mahal ang orihinal nitong halaga), idinikit ko na lang ang original price tag nito na nobenta. Nakarma siguro ako, muli, nakatanggap ako ng isang set ng tooth brush, mumurahing toothpaste, at dalawang pirasong Good Morning face towel.

Second year sa haiskul. Ah, nakatanggap ako ng parang mga flush cards ng mga poems ni Maya Angelou. Awang-awa ang mga klasmayts ko sa nakuha kong regalo dahil parang hindi ganoon ka-may silbi ang mga kwadradong karton. Subalit hindi nila alam na dito ako sa mga maiikling verses kumukuha ng inspirasyon upang isulat ang mga liham para sa kaklase kong naging nobya ko sa huling taon ng haiskul.

Third year sa haiskul. Napansin kong ang mga regalo sa nga exchange gift at na-iimpluwensyahan din ng kung ano ang uso. Halong katlong bahagi ng aming klase noon ay kandila ang regalo. Hindi ko maisip kong paano magagamit ng isang kinse anyos na binatilyo o dalaga ang mga aromatikong kandila. At sa probinsya namin, hindi naman ganoon ka-stressed ang mga tao para magpausok sa tabi gamit ang kandilang amoy lavender, chamomile, jasmine o durian. At gaya ng inaasahan, kandila nga ang natanggap ko kasama ang kandelabrang gawa sa salamin. Hindi natapos ang hapon, basag na ang kandelabra at ang naiwan ay mga maliliit na kandila na hanggang sa ngayon, pagkalipas ng walong taon, ay hindi pa rin nasisindihan.

Fourth year sa haiskul. Hindi na ako sumali sa Christmas party namin. Nagsawa na rin ako siguro sa mga paulit-ulit at nakababagot na programa sa skul.

First year sa kolehiyo. Nasa Davao City ako para sa isang conference ng mga tibak sa UP, nagkokober ng balita. Sa kasamaang palad, nagtae ako, nadehydrate, isinugod sa ospital at nakaubos ng sampung dextrose bags. Ang regalo sa akin ng aking nanay na sumugod doon galing pang Polomolok ay mga adult diapers.

Second year sa kolehiyo. Binigyan ako ng aking kapatid na babae ng photo album. Lagyan ko raw ng mga pictures ng mga pinupuntahan kong mga lugar. Hanggang ngayon, ay hindi ko pa rin ito nalagyan ni isa mang larawan ng mga napuntahan ko.

Third year sa kolehiyo. Nakatanggap ako ng isang koleksyon ng mga maiikling insights ni Kahlil Gibran galing sa isa kong matalik na kaibigan. Sabi niya’y:

‘For the guy who thinks with depth, here’s something even deeper. Merry Christmas, Fev.’

Binigyan ba naman ako ng pagkaka-abalahan sa Pasko. Pero seryoso, marami akong natutunan sa librong iyon. Kalahati ata ng pilosopiya ko sa buhay na hinahanapan ko nga tumpak na pagsasadiwa ay nabasa ko sa mga pahina ng maliit na librong iyon.

Fourth year sa kolehiyo. Huling taon ko sa pamantasan. Binigyan ako ng kaibigan ko ng librong nagbigay sa akin ng perspiktiba sa akung ano ako ngayon. Dahil sa librong iyon, natanggap kong malaki na ang pinagkaiba ko simula nang una akong sumali ng Christmas party no’ng grade one ako at tumanggap ng chicharon bilang regalo.

Hanoi, Vietnam. Taglamig noon. Naglalaba ako ng aking mga damit sa banyo ng aking kwarto. Nagpaalam na ang kaibigan kong aakyat na siya sa kanyang kwarto at matutulog. Nang isasara ko na ang pinto, nakita kong may naiwan siya: makapal na medyas at gwantes na panlamig kasama ang sulat.

Dear John,

I was so surprised to find u in Vietnam as I didn’t find u in Philippines, where u should have been. However, Vietnam must be a lovely place, and I hope u enjoy ur stay here.

Be a good boy as ever, I give you this gift, hope it will give u a warm Christmas.

Merry Christmas!!!

Santa Claus.

Litany of a drunken guy

I’m drunk this time while writing this.

For one, I want to test whether I still can have clear thoughts to be able to write decently; not that I normally have clear thoughts when I write. And two, the verisimilitude of this activity to realism, portraying the rawness of thoughts when the mind does not edit itself is tempting.

Nothing compares to the feeling of being drunk every once in a while. The artificial sense of freedom and slackening of one’s inhibition are enough reasons to make drinking and going wasted afterward so popular among people in their twenties. I seldom party and dance the night out. And during these rare cases when I do I can go totally wild. At least wild as I define it. And during these rare opportunities do I become and act like my age.

And since I am lucky enough not to work on days like these, I have all the spare time to go out and drown myself in the not-so-dark abyss of abandonment. I consume a substantial amount of alcohol enough to cloud my better judgment.

I become a rabid animal on a prowl ready to hunt for the next prey. I move as if all the muscles in my body are on an attack mode, ready to contract and hurl my 6-foot self to whoever is foolish enough to challenge the supremacy of my rule.

And so I drink even more, fearful that the time spent resting and not gulping alcohol will return me to my senses, and transform me back to my docile, contemplative, and quiet self. I want this feeling to last until I reach a point when all I can do is to gnarl because of pleasure, puke my gut out until I pass out, lie on the floor, and let the person beside me worry about what to do with the pathetic fellow choking in his entrails and snoring as if he’s the happiest man in the world.

But I can’t. I suffer from hyperacidity.

There’s something about Melanie

After two years of being away, the first time I entered JD Bake shop again on E. Lopez Street, I immediately looked for that familiar face behind the cash register.

http://exploreiloilo.com

I first saw her, in that same place, behind the cash register, six years ago when I was still a college freshman visiting my sister who was then studying in the city. My sister brought me to the place to have lunch as it was one of the least expensive places to eat for students like us. That moment I saw her I knew that there is something exceptional about her.

There is nothing special about her appearance. She looks unremarkable, if not altogether plain, if she stands side by side younger and prettier girls who are also working at JD as waitresses.

In an ordinary day, there are, at most, ten women who stand behind the counter, serve food, and wait for the customers at JD. These ten women are divided into two groups, those assigned in the ground floor and the level above it. She is assigned, in the upper floor. Most of these girls are unmarried, in their mid- or late twenties. They flirt around, walk a bit seductively, and give their male customers meaningful smiles. But not Melanie.

http://www.simondinnerstein.com

She seemed to be uninterested in this mundane pursuit for flings. I suspect she is married but I could not gather even a slight courage to inquire about her personal life. Although she looks like a caricature of an overwhelmed, overworked-underpaid Filipino worker, there is that air of dignity in her character, that sense of pride that will send anyone pitying her for the boring work she has, to shame.

She doesn’t look in the eyes when she asks for two-peso loose coins in exchange of giving you a 20-peso bill for your change. She doesn’t smile. And whenever she speaks, she makes use of her flat, monotone, unaccented, but slightly nasal Hiligaynon.

As it appears, she’s the oldest and the most experienced of the girls. At times, I heard her giving tips to the younger waitresses how to do things faster and more efficiently.

I know that I do not figure in her universe. Although I regularly eat at the place, I’ve never seen her, not even once, looking to my direction, or unwittingly looking at me in the eyes. Our paths never converged except for those brief moments when I stand in front of her to hand her my money, and she asking for loose two-peso coins so she could give me a twenty-peso bill for my change.

But she seems to play a role in my life more than being a cashier of the diner I always go to. Soon I’ll find out. There are people who touch our lives without them being aware of it. There are those who silently do what they are supposed to do but inadvertently doing more. Melanie is one of those.

The next time you happen to pass by JD on E.Lopez Street in Lapaz, look for a girl whose name is Melanie. Who knows, she’ll make you see things differently this time?

******

I saw this in the net, and love it. It’s entitled ‘Procrastination’. Speaks for me.

Waking up alone on a Tuesday morning

Being alone on the holidays is not that bad after all. I’d rather have moments of contemplation and silence in exchange of the long travel to reach home and then realizing that I do not have time to be with all the members of my family because each also want to catch up with friends and people they left behind.

Since my room does not have windows or ventilation, I rubbed my eyes several times to get a complete image of the room in the absence of morning light. Not to mention gasp for oxygen every once in a while. I dreamed I was home, but of course I am inside a small room in this small city. Using my bed sheet, I scraped away the excess oil on my face, headed for the lavatory, washed my face and brushed my teeth. I hated waking up with an oily face, but I soon learned to live with it. Now, having an oversupply of sebum is the least of my worries.

http://www.chiekonishi.com

As a habit, I turned on my computer, played my favorite song, and hum with its slow tempo. I flipped a few pages of an anthology of Kafka’s short stories my friend lent to me yesterday and began reading in a disorderly manner. I kept on skipping pages, running my eyes on the drab leaves, but eventually gave up. The guy is not meant to be read that way; I thought I was disrespecting him. I set the paperback aside, stood up and did some stretching and abs exercises.

Boredom has long ceased to be my enemy just like the sebaceous face. As I grow older, I less easily get bored. But this does not mean I can sustain interest in a thing for longer time. There are lots of changes that come with getting older and we all know that. What used to be something we cannot leave without turns out to be nothing but rubbish we die to get rid of. And what used to be non-material to our existence becomes the reason why we exist.

I went out, ate my breakfast of sausage and eggs at a small deli in the corner, and headed back to my room, this time more confident that a full stomach will allow me to digest Kafka’s thought with less difficulty.

And so I began reading only to fall asleep and wake up again four hours later to write this.