Floored

When a reader becomes too critical and reads what I have written like a professor of literature or psychology, I begin to be more wary and careful with what I write. I choose my words correctly, pick my verbs with caution, and fastidiously revise the organization of my essays lest I’d be labelled mediocre, and, worse insecure.

This is the danger of having an identified reader in mind and if that reader in mind actually reads one’s work. That reader in mind used to be an abstract concept whose impression I need not manage too closely, but the moment he makes his presence concrete and actually voices his opinion, then the writing process becomes more challenging, scarier, albeit more sincere, open, raw, vulnerable.

I have no issues with my written works criticised. I have heard and read more scathing criticisms of them, but for my person to be judged based on my written words, it can be a little hurtful, but I’m taking it in strides. Perhaps I’m just trying to run away from these gnawing suspicion that my writings are indeed too full of myself. And that he’s brave enough to tell me this thing I know all along but was too proud to admit – this too much focus on the self as a reflection of my insecurities as a writer, my fear of going beyond the self because I do not believe in my capacity to write about other people because I am afraid to be told I am wrong.

I enjoy observing people, but these observations are always filtered by the lens of the self, as should be the case. But often times what I make are not observations but a long confession of my longings via the observation.

And it’s refreshing to have a reader as unabashedly honest and candid as this reader in mind.

He, holding his about to be extinguished cigarette in between his middle and index fingers, naked, looking at me straight in the eyes telling me that it wasn’t an essay about Juanma but about me, taught me a lot of things about writing and reading.

And for the first time in my life, that reader in mind has responded very articulately. And I am floored.

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There was a time before when all I needed in order to write were a piece of paper, a good pen, a constant supply of irony, and, of course, something intelligent to say. Much has changed since then. Nothing dessicates one’s spirit faster and more efficiently than work. Lest you misconstrue me a whiner and an ingrate, I love standing in front of my class and teach. I enjoy working with people  who like me also want to have their place under the sun. Yes, I hate the daily commute. How I curse with so much vitriol the routine. But they’re not the reasons I find work harder to bear each day.

It’s the virtual lack of justification for all these that sometimes gets me. Some call it mission, others refer to it as their vocation, the religious charism.

Much earlier in my life I had had completely abandoned the idea of a mission. I quietly declared it’s a mere construct, and that I did not want to fall into the trap where most I know had fallen into, like flies attracted by the promise of a sugary juice in the stomach of a pitcher plant, that trap of giving weight to one’s actions. Of seeing one’s life as an extension of God’s or whoever that supernatural being’s. Of changing the world.

They pursue their paths with full intention and meaning; at times, I envy them. What difference would it make to live one’s life every day knowing that everything he does is for a lofty purpose? For most, the answer is obvious, a lot. Some have easily figured out their purpose early in their lives. They’re the children of God. They belong to that group of elite individuals who do not need to struggle against life because everything’s cut out for them.

I know that knowing what all these are for, or at least coming up with a rationale for all these will make the daily struggle less of a drudgery and more of a worthy oblation.

But we are fooling who?

Writing requires more than a paper, a pen, and a bag full of irony.

Checking papers

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The most difficult part of checking students’ written works is knowing where to begin followed by when to begin. Yes, the task calls for me to be unemotional and maintain that unaffected stance, but there are a few instances when I get swayed by a swell of powerful emotions, often good ones. And in some rare cases, bewilderment and it close relatives. Choosing the best words, strong but non-abrasive, used to be a challenge. However, after having done this for quite a time now, I learned to stop thinking about how the language of my comments will affect my students. Like white wine, critiques are best served chilled.

I cannot say I will finish checking all these before the next meeting, but I can try.

Two questions: negative capability

From a rumination while drinking beer on a hot afternoon:

It often comes rather late to an artist, writer, or to anyone who sees himself to be either or both, that the decision to be any (or both) is a disconcerting choice. In the end, consumers of an artistic production matter less because the production of a piece of art or writing anchors less on what the reader thinks than the artist’s. After all, the reader has long considered him dead, so might as well return the favor and do a piece of art or write as if the reader is as dead.

This graphic story by Linda Barry aptly captures this problem.

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On old posts

I do not disown them, but as you reread old posts written three years ago, let me give you a disclaimer: they were my thoughts years ago. Then. Some are kept as they are aspects of my core that years gone by simply cannot erase; most, however, were a product of immature thinking. And who I am now, fortunately, is not exactly the same man who wrote those three years ago. Often I cringe while reading a couple of them. I had been careless logically, philosophically, grammatically. And it does not mean I have ceased committing similar mistakes, although I have been more aware of them now. Whereas before I generalized because I wanted the world to be neat and all the parts placed in their definite compartments, now I still generalize but without the contempt. I have been more forgiving, more reflective, and I care less about the unimportant (those vexations to the spirit).

I’ll still write.

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.

Cynic

My long absence from my blog allowed me time to reflect about the entire idea of cynicism, and why people in this part of the world are so adept at cloaking their mistrust of their fellows by feigning happiness and careless abandon. Now I have a clearer understanding why the guy seated next to me on a train straddles his backpack in front of him, choosing to look ridiculous than having his possession snatched from him by me or that guy with a suspect stare standing right in front of him, clutching the bacteria-strewn stainless bar.

My optimism about anything and everything that this city stands for has been totally demolished, confronting me with a cold reality of my insignificance and of everyone else’s who lives in this place. I want to spray sharp invectives at the first, second, third, and so on person I meet every time I leave my room darkened by the shadow of gloom of the building beside it.

It used to be easier to steer myself away from this cynicism before, but as I age, I found it more and more difficult to keep myself unconsumed by it, unscathed by it.

I’m back to writing now.

But I am not the same man.