Ang Nagdaan

Ang Nagdaan
Edgar Calabia Samar

Ayaw kong magpahuli
Tinalon ko ang bakod.
Maysa-pusa akong lumapag
sa lupa. Nagkakahugis na
ang braso ko sa dilim.

“Huwag ka nang babalik!”
Huling hiyaw ng Tatay noon
bago namaalam ang kalahati
ng kaniyang katawan. Tahimik
na tahimik kahit ang kuliglig.

Suwail nga ako. Suminsay
ako’t hinirap siya, natakanghod
sa bakuran, puro kalmot
ang bisig. Tumitig siya sa akin,
ngunit di na ako nakilala

Huli na ito.
Wala na ang nakaraan.

Relevant, in many levels.

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DENKEN & DANKEN II: D

 

A moment to mark this simple, lovely quiet moment before it is swallowed by the noise, the absurd, and the ultimately meaningless. May this memory tide me over the next flurries.

Yesterday,
Warm afternoon at home,
Electric fan buzz and breeze,
Me: chopping carrots and singing the Strumbellas

* * * * *

I’m working on a new piece; it’s coming along well. I hope to have it out before I move away from the space where it’s the central insight.  It’s called the slow march to progress and it speaks of growing up as a slow unfolding that often surprises us. As usual, I have too many ideas and I need to prune it.

* * * * *

Life has been kind and well. I was at home with my folks for the last couple of days. Somewhere in this experience is a meditation on how our rhythmic return to home (to places, to people) is never really mundane, but drives us into deeper community with ourselves and the world. We gather a better sense of self in these meetings with people who love us, who have kept safe whatever of us they could catch. We remember and see ourselves through them and their memories.

For many years, I was irritated at my mother for being insufferably disorganized and hyper (accusations that could veritably be leveled on me now!). But this weekend, I saw it in different light. Maybe it’s because we’ve all gotten older and understood more of the world.

Before she retired, my mother took charge of the annual Christmas decorations in her office. Every year, she comes up these creatively themed DIY’s to the delight of her office mates. I have vague and sparse memories through the years of me trying to dip into her nighttime projects and her wild assortments of knick-knacks and baubles (personalized jars, paper birds, ribbons, little flowers with their wire stems, little paper-clay baskets with fruits, etc).

It wouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve developed a deep liking for crafts and working with my hands, a predilection discovered by a colleague when I took charge of decorating a room for my boss’s surprise baby shower.

She asked me for help in decorating some office spaces for Christmas. I felt the string of familial affinity strummed. I thought it a good project for her, she must have missed decorating for Christmas as she has been retired for the last couple of years. So I asked for her help. So she did help. That isn’t really the surprising part.

What surprised me this weekend is really her relentlessness. There is no other word to describe her stamina and energy. You’d think she’s this frail little 66-year-old with her right-leg hobble. Getting up before 7 , she moves from (physical) task to task with nary a break. She cooked and cleaned after breakfast, lunch, and dinner (with an assortment of respectable dishes); repaired my brother’s shorts; made some salsa from scratch; rallied the troops (grandkids) into the car; drove to a nearby shopping mall; shopped and bargained; conceptualized a design and strung together twigs into these pretty boughs and wreaths; and, managed to nag everyone to do what they’re supposed to do . All within a day. How? Most of the time, I found myself edging to bed because it was so damn exhausting just trying to keep up with her. That she only went to take a break at 6 pm–frankly, that was awe-inspiring.

I recognize the same impulse to do something, to create anything, everything. But here I am– the whiny, chronic over-thinker, who’s always in my bed. Here I am, trying to hold myself against measured beats, but always failing.

But this. But here it is, a possible version of myself if I refuse to be held down by my ambition regular cadences. It’s a chance, it’s a door, it’s a possibility. And if she could do that all in a day, what’s a blog post after work?

From my mother, (on top of an infinite of things), I learn relentlessness and stamina and another possible version of myself.

 

Luck and Choices

choices

We can look at life in this very simplified way: there are two major forces that shape one’s life: luck and choices. This is nothing groundbreaking. It’s true that our luck and our choices affect each other, but that would be an altogether different (but very interesting) discussion. For the purposes of this post, let’s stick to a slim distinction between the two.

Luck, simply put, are things we did not choose. Sometimes luck takes form as the irreversible truths of our history: our genes, where and when we were born and raised; who our parents were and how they have raised us; the culture, the politics, and the conflicts of our age. The consequences of these will last us until the end of our days.

We know that life’s playing field is not equal and it’s simply because we never start at the same place. The easiest way to demonstrate this is economically. A child raised by elite parents will likely become an elite adult himself. As he grows up, he gets the best nutrition to aid his forming brain. He is schooled in the best institutions in the country. He has all the time to study because he doesn’t have to till the fields or anything. He will be smart and know many things. His friends are the elite children of his country– people who will eventually occupy critical positions of power. He is influenced by his social spheres’ “successful” tastes, perspectives, and attitudes. The ‘success’ or the ‘correctness’ of these dispositions seem to be evidenced by the attendant economic plenitude of those who hold them. He is set up for “success.”

A child raised by poor parents aren’t as likely to become as rich as the first child. It’s not necessary to spell out the analog. Not to say that poorer people don’t have the chance, but that their chances are significantly slimmer.

Sometimes, luck also manifests in the gears that shift around us, without our consent or participation. They affect us nevertheless: we chance upon this book, movie, or stray kitten; we find each other, in the many senses of finding; we lose each other, in the many senses of losing; and examples like these, to infinity.

This we know. This we all know. Our history and our facts are something we have to make peace with, at the very least. The hope is that we go beyond that acceptance. Hopefully, we learn how to love this particular spot of grass whence we witness the stars.

 

choices-2

Then, there are our choices.

It’s been six years since college ended, and it’s been ten since high school.  My peers and I have entered into our mid-to-late twenties and now that we have traveled farther apart in time and in choices we see begin to see differences very clearly. From a TED talk I watched a few months ago, I note this beautiful metaphor:

Twentysomethings are like airplanes just leaving LAX, bound for somewhere west. Right after takeoff, a slight change in course is the difference between landing in Alaska or Fiji. – Meg Jay

Classmates and old friends are really fantastic groups for comparison. It’s because, somehow, you leave from the same airport. There is no stronger reference group than the people with whom you shared a significant and formative era of your lives. At one point, they weren’t too far from you. There were enough significant similarities that have allowed life to lump you together (same age, geographic location, socioeconomic status, etc).

This is where the cruelty of Facebook starts: because you are given easy access and reminders of the apparent successes of your peers, you see achievements and lifestyles which you think could have been yours if you weren’t so goddamn (insert insecurity here) or if you had (insert lacking resource here).

I’ve always been fascinated about growing up and aging, and even some of my writings when I was twenty was about how people will change in a few years. I’ve pay attention to how things have changed, and how they stay the same, how we repeat our patterns, how we decay, and how we are able to push through. Recently, the distances have stretched so far it incontrovertible and possible even in-convertible. What really fascinates me now is how far these trajectories have taken all of us. There were people who, at one point in time and space, shared a slow and sleepy Wednesday afternoon listening to Filipino poetry. Now we have exploded all over the world.

How we have spent our time. How we have taken on the world. How we have nourished ourselves and others. With whom have we spent our time. These are the habits and the decisions we make everyday, these are how we style our lives. It spells the difference between gaining or losing twenty pounds, the state of your skin, the people who stay, your work, your creative life, your attitude, the speed of your thoughts. It is is the distance between Bangkok and Calgary. Our lives is the payment for the choices that we make.

One lesson I never forgot was a Great Books class on the Inferno.  In Dante’s Inferno, the particular fate of the souls in hell are not arbitrary punishments meted by an accountant God. It is the full realization of their choices, their sin. The lovers in the second circle of hell are perpetually besieged by winds, which is truly the torrents of lust and passion. Deeper in Inferno are the ones who have committed suicide. They have found ‘incarnation’ as trees while their human corpses hung from the branches. They could never return to they bodies which they rejected in their self-destruction.  Satan, half-frozen in the deepest circle of hell, is devouring three sinners. It’s really a poetic way of showing selfishness. Everything revolves around you, and there is no one else bit you.

Which brings us to point: there is no need for a retributive eschatology. We need not wait for our reward or punishment after we die. Our lives are the payment for the choices that we make.

I’ve grown to admire people who endure and persist in their choices. Their silent efforts are beginning to bloom in sight. Our doctors and our lawyers are freshly born into our workforce. A shy sometime-friend in high school is now a semi-famous Cosplayer, with a lot of cool pictures to boot. And how can we forget to mention the people who plunged fiercely into a healthy lifestyle.

A highschool batchmate published a book of short stories (so jealous, but I haven’t even written anything in years). Some former classmates have entered into the academe. They weren’t the geniuses in class. They have silently kept on digging to find themselves at admirable depths.

In a conversation with my friend S., she stressed the importance of commitment to what you are doing, to your choices. Mag-taya, she said. That means giving your all to something even if it sometimes feels frustrating or pointless. It is with the same courage that you examine the value of your something. If it is truly pointless, summon the courage so say no to it. Quit it so you can say yes to something else.

From Sartre, ever unremitting in his call for authenticity, we learn that we must not shirk from the responsibility cast upon us by our freedom. Authenticity consists in knowing that our lives are as we have molded them. To be authentic is not to dwell on dreams but in actions; it is not to hide behind excuses but to own up to the disappointing parts of ourselves. It is not because our parents have failed to raise us the way we ought to be raised; it is not because the world has failed to love us the way we ought to be loved.

I always thought that this philosophy is too harsh and unrealistic; especially because there are matters in our lives that are really beyond our control (see section above). For instance, it’s unreasonable to hold a child entirely accountable for how his life goes. A ten-year old can blame his parents for ‘fucking up my life’ but when you’re pushing forty and still singing the same tune…

Sartre’s sentiments ring truer as we get older.  We’re getting older.

What I learned recently is this: our choices don’t invalidate what is ours because of luck. But they tip the playing field to make it a little more even. And, really, they are all we can be proud of.

Denken & Danken I: V

Today, the sun was warm and the sky was bright. There was some studying, some reading, some napping, and some loose writing. There was a tuna melt sandwich in the middle of those somes. Now there is some writing and maybe later there will be some light exercise. It’s a calm, wonderful, and solitary day.

I haven’t been diligent in writing, yes. I had a misplaced desire some months ago about wanting to polish the writing I put up here. These requirements really backfired on me. I just kept on adding bullets to my list of things to write, but I didn’t get any real writing done. Writing, especially polished and structured writing, takes time and I’m always daunted by the prospect of squeezing it in between noisier, more demanding tasks.

So today, I cross off one of those items. In honor of this calm and clear day, I wanted to write something cheery and joyful. But, heck, most of my reveries are bleak meditations on human life and its intended punchlines are lessons I ought to drill into my head… I really ought to lighten up sometimes.

Here’s a happy post, a beginning of something good.

* * * * *

Marcus Aurelius started his Meditations with a homage to the people from whom he had learned many admirable things. I’ve read that book nearly ten years ago (!) I’ve always wanted to do a similar list. So this will be similar to my serial Brief Letters to Unnamed People.

One of the people I admire the most is my friend V. She is the strongest and one of the most genuinely selfless people I know. We’re part of a group of friends reaching back when we were ten. We weathered silly childhood squabbles, insecurities, and crushes. Together, our group pulled through those unbearably awkward inchoate years of puberty.

Since she was a child, she has always been generous. She treats people. She gives away things and food: candies, popsicles, stationary, Sailor Moon novelty things. In later years, she took to baking and she makes these luxurious cupcakes. She’d go to her medschool and handout her cupcakes. She’d drop by her friends’ houses to give them bags of candy during Christmas. She knew the names of the streetchildren near her undergrand university.

Her attunement to the needs of others went farther than the superficial little things. She was the brave one who asked our sophomore advisers if we could spend the money we won as a class to fund our classmate’s father’s operation (Our advisers seemed to dislike the idea; they wanted (and we eventually did) go to Enchanted Kingdom instead.) She was the brave one who sent a birthday present to an acquaintance who, some months prior, wrote a note on Facebook about having no one remember his birthday. She was brave enough not to send an anonymous gift.

When we were fourteen, I was full of angst and thought I thought farther than anyone else because of a startling book I read and believed in. I asked her one of the points raised in that book: how do you know you’re really being generous or if you’re doing it for the fuzzy feeling that you get when you give? The question didn’t occur to her and it baffled her. To her, that didn’t really seem like a problem. Concerns like that never really stopped her from being her.

Some months ago, M, V, & I were catching up over dinner. She was relating her frustrations about being a doctor, especially when her patients die. M and I advised her that she ought to detach herself from her patients otherwise she will always be heartbroken. She said no. She said, it helps her do her best when she’s attached to her patients. She said, if the patient was her father, she wouldn’t want the doctor to give up too fast. She takes to heart that her patients are someone’s beloved. Imagine if someone lost a beloved because the doctor didn’t want to care too much?

She told us a story.

She had a patient, a teenager who was in a coma. There were complications in her case and she needed to undergo an operation to clean out her system (I don’t quite get the medical details). Without the operation, she would certainly die but even if they pushed through with it, there was no assurance that she will ever wake up.

Patient’s family was poor. V didn’t want to give up on her, so she paid for the operation herself.

The point of V’s story was her frustration regarding the family’s doctor who gave up. He advised against the operation because there’s no assurance that their daughter will ever regain consciousness anyway. The family followed this doctor’s advice and the girl eventually died. But who knows whether she would have woken up a day, a week, a month hence?

M and I asked the bit she left out, Did they pay you back the money? They didn’t know I paid for it, she said. She went back to talking about the doctor.

What surprised me wasn’t just her story, it was the way that she told her story. She didn’t omit her kindness neither did she draw attention to it. She was a footnote in her own story. It wasn’t a circumvented story designed to leave us an impression of her generosity and martyrdom, it was a story about a girl in a coma who shouldn’t have died too soon.

Later that night, I figured out the answer to the question I asked her when we were fourteen.

From V, I learn about true generosity. I learned that selflessness is a matter of unselfconscious presence. It is not a denial or omission of oneself but a forgetting of oneself.

wpid-img_20150402_204050.jpgSince I have a pretty new theme. I have to put pictures on the posts now! That’s M, V, and I in Cebu nearly a year ago. It would have been cool to post our photos with the Butandings if those photos weren’t the most goddamn unflattering set I’ve ever seen in my life.

The New Year

from wikipedia

Janus

In ancient Roman religion and myth, Janus (/ˈdʒeɪnəs/; Latin: Ianus, pronounced [ˈjaː.nus]) is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past.

The turn of the new year saw me making batches of the garlic bread. Inside the oven, my mother’s lasagna slowly browns. My father is sleeping. My niece and nephew are outside; they are screaming with all the other savage children in the street. The new year din began with the desperate whining of the trumpets until they were overtaken by the chattering booms and cracks of firecrackers. The noise reached crescendo by midnight. We greet new years with smoke and debris strewn on streets.

We end our midnight meal with leche flan and persimmons. The dishes are quietly put away. The noise has died down and the last greetings have been said.

 

Back

I’ve learned a lot in the past year. If there were was a theme to these lessons, it would be in keeping with the very same book that opened my 2014: David Foster Wallace’s Brief Interviews with Hideous Men. I didn’t get to finish the book. Somewhere on my way back to my regular life in the city, I’ve lost track of it. My notes are turning a year old, yet they still ring:

“The people described in the book are hideous. They’re all manners of screw-ups who screw people over. They don’t do it overtly; they do it silently and deceive themselves along the way. In short, it’s the human way people usually screw people over.  And in the inevitable return of attention and focus unto the self, the reader (me, you, humanity) is brought to question the very disgust that these characters evoke… The easy reaction is that of self-righteousness and disgust. The more reflective aftertaste asks the reader (me, you, humanity) if I have, at any point, acted or felt similarly….”
It would be easy to read the book as a manual of what not to be, and as lessons on how not to be an asshole. This particular way of reading owes to the kind of literature we read as children. The stories we read usually featured someone performing some misdeed only to meet some swift and just retribution. The story ends with a moral. These texts were designed to instruct children on the proper ways of conducting themselves.

Growing up we learn, things are all gray. Wallace’s book is an adult book; it offers no consolation of the infantile wish for redemption. It is. It is the way it is. There is no divine or fatal retribution to those who we perceive have wronged us. There is no retribution aside from those we effect ourselves; and the effect our own wrongdoings goes as far as our acknowledgement of them and our willingness to let them gnaw at us. (Self-righteousness is a mighty shield, indeed.)

In fact, if you depart from that tiny bubble you will find that things are hazier and the truth elusive. The best you can offer is to acknowledge certain judgments as perceptions and trace the behavior that invite them. The truth is bigger than what we see; bigger than the hurts we nurse.

It is the way it is. People will always be messy, self-deceiving, self-preserving, inconsistent. (This adds more weight to my thesis question, which is how is it possible for an ethical self to emerge in this rubble).

But at the end of the day, these are just symptoms for the desire and need for love and acceptance. I’ve seen how rejection and the absence of love from the world (as Alain de Botton would put it) could drive someone to go so bat-shit crazy, they don’t even recognize their insanity. The way we hurt ourselves and the way we hurt others are just our stupid, blind ways to look for somewhere we belong. It’s either that or we want to say, a little too loudly, we don’t need your love, we don’t need your love.

In my workstation, a whiteboard is filled with quotes. Each one means something to me; they are reminders of how I should conduct myself. Until I’ve ingrained it, the quote remains. There is an excerpt from Tolstoy, “One who understands all, forgives all.”

I can’t erase it yet.

 

Forward:

I’m making my resolutions, as I’ve done every year of my conscious life.  I’m not naive, I know I can’t keep all these resolutions; especially because I’ve always been too ambitious and too optimistic about my estimates. I know that sometime during the next twelve months, I will cycle through extreme enthusiasm for life and through dark apathy for everything. Some promises to myself will be dropped. I know that those millions of articles in the internet are correct: today is just another day and the turn of the clock does not magically wipe our slates clean. The sun rises and sinks heedless of our aspirations and our despair, I know.

And yet there’s always that exciting new freshness of a new year. Each morning is a new opportunity, yes; but there’s nothing like the new year to remind you that the world is still full of possibilities. There is still the chance for redemption, improvements, change. I celebrate the whole theme because it resonates with a part of myself who unceasingly hopes for the better.

I’m not a happy person. I just happen to be funny when I’m with other people, but I am and always have been a touch too serious for my own good; and I’m always dissatisfied about something. Being still and being grateful- these things do not come naturally to me. But I do have that one redemptive bright spot– that optimism that things can turn for the good, and that things can be better. I can learn to manage things better. Here I am, a little more aware of how things work in the world.

My hope is still, in reality, a desire for better self-preservation. Someday, I wish my hope to be similar to Marcel’s I hope in thee for us. I haven’t stilled myself enough for that kind of openness. Here I am, still tottering and reeling in a world I’m still learning.

My heart could be elsewhere, I know.

For stumbleupons

rosemaryandpansies

There are changes in this space; I did some deciding, cleaning, and setting of boundaries. A lot of posts that used to belong here (published, drafts, privates) were migrated to another space, an old blog I’ve been using concurrently with this one. That particular place has always housed the messy flux of daily life: thoughts, feelings, resolutions, and references to texts that have touched me in some way. It’s messy, a lot of entries are raw and unfinished.

The exact difference between these two blogs has always been unclear. Should I trace reason for this duplicity, I find that the existence of these two spaces is symptomatic of two distinct desires. The first is the desire to share, and the second is to document. The former requires care and attention to an audience; the later is merely for myself and the things I need for sanity and remembrance. Necessarily, one is public and the other one private. In practice, these two spaces have been muddled primarily because I haven’t really clarified the difference until now.

I’ve thought about what I wanted to do with the spaces I’ve carved out, and whatever changes you see here are in keeping with those decisions.

I want a space where I can calmly and skillfully gather and develop insights and thoughts. In short, I want to try writing more polished pieces that intentionally depart from the come-what-may writing I’ve usually done here. It will be about the things I discover along the way.

Elsewhere, I continue the come-what-may work. Journaling is tremendously important. In the course of porting entries, I realized that if I had only remembered to write and read them more often, I wouldn’t repeat the same things (insights, resolutions, predicaments) and perhaps I would have convinced myself sooner of things I already knew. Let that mess proliferate elsewhere. Here I’ll try gather and fix the scraps.

Nothing in what I say is inherently valuable or worthy of attention, especially amid the billions of other sources of meaning and information. But perhaps something I say  can be of use and interest to someone out there. I’ve always liked the idea of my present self talking to my children in far future, they themselves around the same age as me now. It’s time-travel and the possibility of a brief moment of impossible kinship. This is here simply to allow for happenupons and stumbleupons.

 

 

On the way back

Hello,

I hope you’re well. I had some growing up and growing older to do; I wish I could have seen you more.

I’m getting older, I feel it– the way my body caves into fatigue, the way it begins to resist certain substances, the way it demands sleep and rest. I feel my skin tingle with age as I study in coffee shops, which are always crammed with students cramming. The way my college memories have begun to yellow and fade at the edges. The way I’m startled when I look for the people I’ve known and I see their walking figures melt into the horizon; wasn’t it just yesterday when we conversed about such and so?

(I wish I could have given you a hug, or a deeper smile had I known it was the last time we would see each other again. If only I had known that the extent of our presence in each other’s lives is brief, maybe I would have been less fearful of showing you who I am.)

My life as I’ve lived it has been predicated on doing better ‘next time.’ (I”ll read this book, watch this movie, hang out with a friend, paint, create, travel… next time).   More than anything, growing older is about shedding this postponement and understanding that some books will never be read, some doors will be left closed forever, and that some people are here just for a very brief time. Everything is shown in new light as my first and final rehearsal.

It’s a sobering thought. Nothing is free, and to pursue one thing is always at the cost of a million other things. I’m starting to make peace with the fact that I must choose only a few things. It’s what Doc G always says, “You must consent to necessity. You must say yes to the no.” Where may I find the grace and joyful acceptance that a person can only stretch so much? Where may I find the courage to decide?

I feel like I’ve come such a long way, that so many things have happened, and that so many things have failed to happen. But at the same time, I feel like I’ve never moved an inch. I periodically forget some old truths about myself: that I need to create and to learn, that I need to read and to write. But these truths surface again in critical junctions. When I need to decide on what I keep, I revert back to the things I’ve known to be necessary to my functioning. There’s nothing like reading to make me feel alive– there’s nothing like how the written word taps into my network and makes everything reverberate and glow. Nothing like it bursts my seams and asks me to spill the excess excitement onto paper. Because there are just so many things to be said. This is how patterns appear; this is how the world makes sense to me. But I have to choose it.

It costs a million other things; and I must choose to pay the cost. The currency is possibilities.

It’s funny how in my search for an anchor, I return to something I’ve done all my life. I took a huge journey only to remember what I’m looking for has always been at home.

Bit by bit, I’ll publish all the half-written entries I’ve scattered in draft folders all around. I hope these thoughts could be of use to someone.

 

See you,