Copies

I’m no painter. I’m a pretentious prick who hopes to understand a painting and the method of the painter by copying his work down to its minutest of details. I’ve done two so far: The Kiss and Femme au Béret et à la Robe Quadrillée (Marie-Thérèse Walter) both Picasso’s.

On a weekend, interspersed with eating and arguing about anything that catches our fancy, I take hold of paint brushes and a palette of cheap acrylics then dab the canvas in a tentative fashion, always tentative, hesitating.

Art thrives in mimesis. I do not aim to be original, only great ones are truly original. Most of us are merely attempting to be at least a good copy of something.

I study the lines, scrutinise each brush stroke, each idiosyncratic curve, imagined humps of random shades, odd color mixtures, and areas covered with thicker acrylic paint. I painstakingly copy each line as if every one of these lines was intentionally painted by the painter. It’s hard to imagine that they’re arbitrary and never deliberate.

Great art, I suppose, takes time to ferment. It should take him a long time to mentally deliberate whether that extra strand of hair on the left eyebrow will render his subject more masculine than he intended it to be.

More than the joy, however, of imagining what Picasso was thinking when he was making these works of art, I enjoy the quietude brought about by the making of these copies. They’re dowdy, sure. I’d give a condescending smile at anyone who pastes reproductions of Picasso’s works on the wall of his studio. I find them cheap, those reproductions, but I take exceptions this time; it is after all my place and I can do whatever I like with that blank space directly above the kitchen sink.

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A stray dog

We humans think in symbols (albeit unconsciously, and most of the time use symbols that are a part of the general repertoire of symbols so unoriginal and fully embedded in the language we fail to realize that they are in fact symbolic).

And we impose gravity on these objects that so happen to be there in the most opportune of moments and associate with them meanings both frivolous and profound. Often, we begin by using them as a metaphor, an all-purpose cliche to simplify thoughts, but which also has this very insidious effect of rendering our thoughts banal, even dead, if chosen haphazardly and in a way that is uninterrogated. (Which is almost always the case. As who has the time to examine one’s choice of metaphors in speech?)

But in some very rare instances, we strike at something novel, pure, original, and powerful that we get dumbstruck at how metaphors, if chosen correctly achieve the status of a true symbol, recurring and with multiple layers of meanings. And dangerous because they function as a frame by which look at the world.

This afternoon, on my way home, I saw this black Labrador. I used to see him last year with an older-looking Labrador who by the looks of it was in the twilight of his dog life. They were inseparable. Then this year, this guy has been seen plying Alvero Street every afternoon alone.

Cats fascinate me more than dogs. Cats seldom show emotions and feign independence. Dogs are rather predictable, unashamed of dependency. Dogs are sad creatures programmed to suffer from a tragic old-age. Cats expire in privacy that is of their own choosing, untheatrically. They don’t experience abandonment because they are no one’s pet to begin with. One doesn’t feel nostalgic towards things he doesn’t experience or believe to have experienced.

For dogs, it’s different. It’s heart rending to see an ageing canine walking on a street alone and abandoned. It’s sad because they had a taste of love and warmth but are deprived of it at a time in their lives when they need these the most. To be conditioned to feel love for one’s entire existence then to be divested of it is painful, and to witness one creature experience it is as painful to the observer.

When I was told that he’s called by someone in his past a stray dog I had nothing but pity and guilty empathy. I wanted to run my hand on his hair, look at him in the eyes, and tell him I will not abandon him, but I have nothing to prove that I will stay true to this promise. I barely know him. I don’t know his fear, his dreams, or the extent of evil he’s capable of doing. I only see what is good because that is what is allowed by our young relationship.

To declare that I will be loyal to him, to be with him, forever, will not make me any different from that person who promised the solitary Labrador that he will be with the dog until his dying days.

I, like any human being, am capable of leaving behind the things, pets, and people I care so much about.

And this is the folly of the human being. But it doesn’t mean that we stop making this promise, that we give up on attempting to stay true to this promise, that we don’t articulate this promise.

Because after all, everything begins with that promise. To have it is better than nothing at all. To experience love no matter how short is better than to not have experienced it at all. To hope that forever exists is a choice I shall make than to forever doubt its probability.

Delusional, sure.

But so what? This is what our brief existence allows–forever.

Stations of the cross at BGC

There’s something unsettling about the exercise. People move from one station to the next and do the suggested activities ranging from as simple as reflecting on a Gospel verse, inserting written ‘wails’ in crevices, to as back breaking as carrying a wooden cross (to simulate the carrying of the cross by Jesus as he’s being whipped by Roman guards and sneered at by the spectating public).

Each station is sponsored by a group of stores, an organization, or a commercial web page and all of these sponsors must have suggested to the organizers to tailor fit each according to the line of business of the sponsors.

The shadiest part of this Holy Week extravaganza at BGC is that people take every station very seriously, leaving behind their sense of the ridiculous on the pavement 50 meters away. 

It’s a commercial exercise whose sole purpose is to lure people into thinking that what they’re doing makes them close to God by taking part in His passion right before they hit Starbucks and after their dinner at nearby Cajun prawn bar, and while they take selfies to be posted on Instagram using hashtags that betray their self awareness. That the Holy Week isn’t about Jesus’s death and resurrection but about the celebration of the self.

I’m not close to getting it. BGC wants everything in. And the people willingly do their role in the performance. The business enterprise, without a sense of irony, coopts the betrayal of Jesus by Judas for thirty pieces of silver into a profit maximization bonanza and the people willingly dig in. 

I can feel gastric juice from my gut rush toward my throat.

Why have we become like this?

A friend of mine, a young woman of 26, asked me if she could leave before three today to join a protest rally on Katipunan, which if a critical mass is reached, will head to EDSA this evening. I indifferently said yes and told her to just make up for the lost hours next week. I on the other hand had to stay until 6 at the school to work on the evaluation of the French class students. I have papers to check this weekend, a class to prepare for, and cats to take care of. I also have to catch up on my workout as I haven’t gone to the gym for a week now because of work.

The people I see on the street, those my age, show that similar look of resignation, save for some undergraduates in their PE shirts or long tees who seem poised to change history tonight.

For all the rest, this protest on EDSA against the clandestine burying of the remains of Marcos is an annoyance, a cause of this monster traffic. The reason they’re stuck on buses on their way home to Fairview or Bacoor.

This is what has become of us. Work has made us unresponsive to events and happenings that would otherwise scandalize us had we been not rendered docile and satisfied but unthinking by work. I hate this feeling. This is what it means to be an adult; I hate that I am one.

I told myself a long time ago when I was much, much younger, that I would be part of history unfolding. That I will not stay home and let pass that rare opportunity to make a difference in this country. But look at me now. I’m scurrying to go home, cursing the traffic on EDSA just to catch some sleep.

And the saddest thing is that, passing by EDSA shrine, I saw a small crowd, hardly a critical mass enough to send the message that the people are indignant. There were several groups taking selfies while a member is holding a placard.

Everyone is tired. Everyone has gone tired. What with the unfulfilled promises of the past two People Power? The world goes on turning, with Marcos’s body finally subject to the actions of worms and vermins, after years of keeping it almost lifelike inside a tomb his family built for him.

But even rats and roaches won’t touch him. Who would want to gnaw on a dessicated body preserved in formaldehyde for almost three decades?

Life goes on.

And that is the tragedy of the Filipino, myself included, this general quiet and seeming indifference, this lack of rage at the direction this country is heading.

And my train goes to the direction of home, and I’m dying for sleep.

At the gym 

I was doing chest this evening at Gold’s Twin Oaks, doing the usual flat and incline bench presses, flyes, triceps dips, and some other routines whose names escape me now, when a trainer approached me and asked why I haven’t joined a competition yet, perhaps referring to a bodybuilding competition. I replied that I got “no time.” Really I don’t have, but I am more daunted by the fact of appearing in front of a crowd in thongs or board shorts with a body that is less than perfect. 

Haha. I’m kidding about the last sentence, but seriously who wouldn’t be? I’m an aging man whose present concerns do not include joining a bodybuilding contest.

I’m lifting heavy these days. The heaviest I can lift lying down is 230lbs. I can deadlift 300 but can only squat 140. I’m currently weighing 200 with a BMI of 22. My weight hovers between 198 to 202lbs. The heaviest I’ve gotten is 208lbs. That’s during the summer of this year when I did not have to stay up late to prepare for my classes and other work.  I’m doing cardio only when I remember, which means I don’t. My abs appear in the morning, but retract after lunch then reappear before I sleep at night, but they are not as defined as when I was in my early 20s. I know they’re there, only that they’re surrounded by a rather thick layer of adipose tissues that some lovingly call love handles. But I am working on this part, too. 

I’ve reached a point when I workout out of routine and nothing more, not even to look good, because I’m way past the point when I’d still care about what people think of how I look. I’m out of the dating scene for more than six years now. I’ve stopped hooking up, going out on a Saturday night, and checking myself out in mirrors. 

I go to gym in the same way a bald man runs his fingers on that space that used to be occupied by his now gone hair. 

Working out is the closest I can get to that really physical activity that has shaped the male’s anatomy for millennia. I’m sedentary most of the day except at night when I sweat it out, doing routines that do not serve any practical significance except exhaust the body so it can be as exhausted as the mind. 

Breakfast before workout

psx_20161101_094455As soon as I finished mopping the kitchen floor and the inside of the cabinet which had gotten flooded by water coming from the main pipe, I went downstairs to ask the personnel at the lobby to call a plumber to fix the leaking pipe. I thought of complimenting her for the bangs she’s sporting, but decided against it because I was not in the mood for small talks at that point. It was 7 in the morning. When the plumbers were done, advising me to buy a longer pipe, which I reckoned isn’t necessary, I had to face the ordeal of ridding the cupboard with plastic bags I have accumulated for months thinking I will have use for them to contain the poops of my cats among other things, without realizing I was becoming a hoarder.

I made myself a really heavy breakfast before I hit the gym today. It did not take much time to prepare. I sunny-side-upped two eggs, boiled two pork sausages, toasted a frozen bagel, spread on it my one-year-old guava jam which even the ants dared not touch, and completed the plate with a slice of cheese I got from a Sunday market on Pines Street. Of course, I had to make coffee, the three-in-one kind because my coffee maker broke last week, and I couldn’t find time to buy a replacement.

I guess this is where things lead for some, in being caught in the everyday and the quotidian. While everyone seems to be heading somewhere more important, doing stuff that will change the world, some choose to mop the floor, throw trash away, make breakfast, workout and be comforted by the belief that this is all there is to life.

 

Getting a second place

After a Sunday breakfast at Kanto in Mandaluyong, I thought of taking a mid-morning stroll (I’m gaining weight these days. The last time I measured I was 200lbs), so from Kapitolyo I walked down Sheridan and finally found myself on Pines street in front of the newly constructed Cityland building at the back of Flair Condominiums. I was there to check out the place and kill time. I asked to see their model unit to get some inspiration on how I will do the interior design of my unit in Cubao that is due for turnover in August. The studio looked okay. After asking some perfunctory questions and making the broker compute for my monthly amortization in the event I get that unit, I decided right there and then to get a unit on the 15th floor and give her my 10 per cent down payment this Wednesday after work. This is my second condominium investment. It is going to be financially heavy for me in the next five years or so, but I think that this is worth the risk.

For a man in his late twenties, I think it is but proper to prepare for retirement. I got a health insurance that will be good for the next ten years, purchased a mutual fund policy, got one condominium unit (now two), saved some money in the bank, and I make sure that I still am able to maintain a fairly comfortable and healthy life.

I am earning enough every month (It would be very difficult if I had my own family). I know that at some point ten years down the road, I will need to slowdown and take things at an easier stride because I cannot work my butt off until forever.

So while I know that it is cute to ruminate upon what the real essence of life is and ask questions like where did I come from, why am I here, where do all these lead to, I have to be a wise man in the latter part of his twenties. I am about to get past that sweet point in my life when my age gives me all the excuses to fuck things up.

Eventually, I realized, aging and the accompanying responsibilities seep in. True, I want to make my life a celebration of that youthful self who was not afraid to speak my mind and to “waste” time daydreaming about a perfect world where everyone does not have to worry about the future; on the side hidden, I am one very practical guy who knows too well what makes up this world. I need to secure the future regardless of how uncertain it will be. The sacrifices I am making now, I hope, will render it less unsure.

Someday, when I am fed up with all these, I will buy a farm in the province, settle there, plant vegetables and fruit trees, then finally begin writing a book.

Or I don’t know. Perhaps go to law school.