A sojourn

By now I should already be in my warm room in Cornell sipping hot coffee, maybe sleeping, compensating for my lack of sleep after more than a day of journeying from Manila to New York, or probably daydreaming about my talk on Sunday. Instead, I’m now in a deserted bus terminal in Syracuse, shivering, waiting for a 3:30 am trip to Rochester, or just waiting to be mugged like how it is in the movies. From Rochester, if I get very lucky reaching it, I shall wait until 8 in the morning later for a bus bound for Ithaca.

This is the most recent misfortune in a string of misfortunes.

I left Manila on February 27 on an Emirates flight going to Dubai that had to layover there for 8 hours (!). I did not realize before purchasing the ticket that I would be spending eight hours figuring out the best way to position myself in those narrow airport seats attempting to sleep knowing fully well that I can only sleep horizontally.

At least this decision to take the Dubai route was something I feel could do nothing about. Since it’s the cheapest among my three options that time.

But.

I forgot to bring my suit which I carefully ironed the night before I left. This means I shall look like a naked banana on Sunday. Thank God I remember to stash a necktie in my shoe.

From Dubai, I was asked, and gladly said yes, to give up my seat for a family of three that wanted to be on the same row, then only to be seated next to an elderly Indian couple who seemed to be fighting each other over everything.

Did I say I spilled hot coffee on my crotch? And since it was too much of a hassle to request the couple to stop fighting for a moment and let me pass, I endured the pain of the heat and the later uncomfortable feeling of the soaking sticky liquid that’s beginning to dry up and stain my gray jeans.

As I am getting off from a shuttle at Port Authority in Manhattan from JFK, just when the van was speeding off, I found out that my pair of wayfarer were missing.

And now. Caught in this cold Greyhound bus station in Syracuse, many miles away from my real destination, I have no idea how to get to the next bus that will take me to Cornell. But I am feeling these misfortunes will soon end.

It’s cold. But at least I got this for a view.

rochester-ny

Lecture

My professor extended her lecture until it felt to me staying in that room was beyond my ability to endure. She stretched her talk for 7 minutes. It was 8:07 in the evening. Every extra minute was an affront to decency. At that point, I wanted nothing but to go home, eat dinner, and sleep.

I’m tired.

Early spring

This is my first time in the US. So far, the biggest challenge I am facing is jet lag. My mind is actively working at night and I am sleepy during the day.

I have already begun my classes. Nothing extraordinary has happened since I arrived which is all that I want.

I have nothing to share for now. Except for these pictures.

Death of a grandmother

Much has been written about death — that it leaves a gaping hole, that a part of us is taken away into the pit with the dead body’s casket, that it’s inescapable, that it is something we all have to contend with. Despite the endless generalizations we tell ourselves in order to help dull the pain, the feeling of grief that goes with death remains one of the most excruciating emotions a human being will have to experience in his brief stint living. It’s hard to comprehend how an emotion that does not play any role in helping the human species succeed in the evolutionary sense linger and continue to cause us discomfort for a period.

My grandmother passed away (how I detest this cliche but it cannot be helped) more than a month ago. I was meaning to write something about her, probably shower her memories with platitudes, but I know she will never read this as she has already died, and granting spirits (if they exist) can read she would not be able to comprehend this post as this is in English. She could neither read nor write, except I think her name.

My father referred to her as a sinless woman. Indeed, he loves her so much. Was he exaggerating? I have reasons to take his position, not that I know readers will disagree with his statement. My grandmother remained uncorrupted until her dying days. What bothered her were things too fundamental most of do not think are worth bothering ourselves about — the need for food, the security of a roof above her head, and to be in the company of her children and grandchildren. She never considered existential issues that for the vainest of us constitute the main questions we ask ourselves whenever our death or a loved one’s looms at the doorstep.

Yes, she might have feared death as it is wired in all of us the moment we become aware we are alive, but her fear was not whether the afterlife exists as I know she was certain it does. It was her daughter who took care of her until her last breath and her young grandson (my aunt’s only child) not being able to deal with it when she is gone that caused her to wail in her deathbed.

I got nothing novel to say about death. No one can. We all have said or written everything that can be said or written about it that attempts at coming up with an original generalization can only mean one is either stupid or trying to be funny. Obviously, the humor is dry and bound to be missed.

Our experience with death is particular. For a moment, the grief enables the of vainest of us to think the whole universe revolves around him and the entire weight of the cosmos is held on that singular pin whose emery is his heart.

I am one of those vain individuals.

I miss my grandmother. I really do. But I do not want to execrate her memories by my platitudinous writing which no matter how hard I try not to will sound shallow and insincere.

First day

I woke up this morning seeing a squirrel from my window; the sight of it was dazzling. It was drizzling slightly. The sky overcast. Sleep the other night was shallow and sporadic. The alarm clock near my head sounded off at 3 in the morning; my room’s previous occupant might have forgotten to deactivate it. Then there was that cramps that left me shouting at around four. All in all, sleep was bad.

I am not feeling the inevitable jet lag, though.

The rest of the day will be spent finalizing some of the scheduled activities, orientations, and maybe, getting my student ID. And since days from now will not be as tough as my normal days back in the Philippines were, I shall have enough time to ruminate, like that gray squirrel nestled on the branch of a bald tree outside.

Hopefully, the quiet streets of Worcester will help me go back to writing effortlessly.

The sem is over at last

Endings, though most often are sad, are in reality sweet. The papers are in, the exams given, grades of students to be submitted Wednesday next week. I’m, in general, a free man. No more, at least in the next three weeks, worrying about what to say in a one-hour class period, about what to wear that will not cause the most modest of my students to blush, or about which of my repertoire of jokes to throw to keep my easily distracted students from sleeping or their thoughts giving in to their natural wanderlust.

I have been away from this blog for a time; I might, though I cannot promise, be able to at last find time to write more regularly again at least before the second begins.

For now, I am just relishing this wonderful feeling of being well-rested and lightness.

Stops and interruptions

I was holding a thick paperback of Borges’s collection of non-fictions on a train going to Boni, reading portions of some short articles when the ride is not too bumpy straining my eyes that have gone more fragile as the days go by, or during every stop. There is something about these short stops and interruptions that affects how I read a piece of literature. Because I very rarely find time to stay in one place for longer than an hour, except during my classes in grad school that stretch for three hours, I consider my time spent on these train coaches my only reading time. I take no heed of the population density inside these trains, have gone oblivious to the human stench, and have learned to keep my ears shut from trivial conversations that interest me no more.

To me, reading is an act of aggression, a war waged against a repressive environment that does its best to keep one from that intimate contact with the written language. I find it very ironic that while I teach reading Literature, I have always been at a lack of time to let the ideas I read simmer, reflect on their implications to my understanding, and in worst cases, read. And so, I have to set aside the limitations posed by my economics, academics, and the personal to somehow still find time to sit on a bench, or stand while one hand is holding a cold metal railing, and the other a book, and read as if books are as illicit as a cap of E. Assuming that the unlawfulness of books gives its reader a sense of power (diabolical or divine, it does not matter).

The stops and the interruptions at first functioned as wide, perilous voids I needed to cross in order to get  to the opposite end that promises understanding and multi-layered meanings, but, as in all other things that began as a debility, getting used to these stops and interruptions allowed me to use them to my advantage. Each of these I spend looking at the horizon, or at close-ups of people who are, like me, packed like sardines inside a nearly dilapidated train coach. These long shots and close-ups are observations, mental accounts of humanity in various contexts that are reflected, nuanced, critiqued, pitied, adored, laughed at, pilloried, worshipped, lambasted, but generally, celebrated in Literature, allowing me to get so close to what it’s like being human.

There is no such thing as a ‘perfect reading experience’, only experiences that give a book, that is, if it is truly great, as many intimations as the souls drinking it.