Ago 29, 2002


Life can turn out to be a big joke sometimes. But often, I forget to laugh.

I sometimes wonder why people would like to live it eternally. Or again and again in unending cycles. It's like saying I'd like to eat rice forever although the more exoticized parts of my stomach revolt at the thought! It's just that rice is the only thing we serve around here. And somewhere, sometime long ago, we developed the idea that projecting an eternal paradise of unending rice in our collective mind will somehow make it more tasteful.

But I guess people have to give life value or else the choice to not live will be much too attractive for comfort. When that happens, no one will be left living to pay tithes, provide captive audience to the speeches of the "important," strengthen the republic, and tell multi-colored lies to.

There won't be anyone left to imagine Nations, write newspaper articles and theses to justify actions of the absentee elite for the inarticulate masses, and generate GNP or GDP at the expense of remaining biosystems. Now that would be the easiest way to imagine utopia, a world without homo sapiens.

And I won't have to commit any wrongdoing. I don't have to feel any guilt when I do and when the people close to me suffer my karma for me. There won't be me, other people, or closeness. And I don't have to go on forever imagining soul-mates and forever-flames or whatever because I am truly and concretely nothing. Not a statistic,Tax ID number, a passbook, or 15-minuter which is just being virtually nothing.

I won't be any good to anybody either too but who would care? Ripples don't make sense without the sea anyway. And even with the sea, ripples don't matter.

A thinker said that what we have here is not really existence but just the non-existence of non-existence. I don't see much difference where even existence could be nothing but a preface, afterthought, and taste of non-existence. And he should be mighty glad non-existence didn't exist else no one will publish him and shell out pennies for his thoughts.

So there I have it, my yesterdays, todays, and tomorrows framed in the context of "nothing-anyway." But here I have the sun, it's high in the sky, telling me it's certainly noon in my place in-the-world, and my stomach tells me that I must have my lunch.

Here, I have friends. Maybe I'll spend an evening at Jol's. He might say "yeah-whatever" when he reads my mind and launch a dirtier (and infinitely more entertaining version) of everything I've just thought. Nathan will tell me that I must get myself a god or better yet, the God. And I'll get another taste of the classic Nathan-Jol debates discussing if I should-call-on-God or if it goes the-other-way-around. We all drink our spirits but, as usual, I get drunk before anybody else does because they're shooting their mouths off and I'm not. The rest of the gang will probably come in too late to change the topic to something more showbiz.

Here, I have family. Monica might come in, read my mind, and make me forget everything I've just thought. Or if I'm home, Dad might call me anytime now and ask why I'm home again and not working my butt off somewhere. Ma might call too and ask the same thing and I'll have to explain my schedule for the nth time. With a smile of course.

I think I'll have to wear it in perpetua.

Ate, Mae, and JR might come in anytime and asking where's-the-food? Thereupon I'll rub my stomach with a silly grin and that will irk them. But I'll say:

"Pipe down people! I'll have some rice cooking in a minute..."

And pretty soon, I'll be eating with kubyertos or bare hands, deep in the small talk that would take forever unless someone gets the bright idea of turning on the boob tube with gameshows featuring SexBomb Girls interspersed with newsflashes featuring GloMac. And I might get a taste of another one of those classic debates on who looks and sounds better.

I'll forget work, classes, and whatever problem or reason that got me all existential and nihilistic in the first place. Whatever this is I'm living, there's probably much more of it left to live.

Life can turn out to be a big joke sometimes. But often, oh so very often, I forget to laugh.

Ago 22, 2002

Doctor in the House

You made it Ate. You have the license now and we can finally call you doctor. You can now choose to preface your name with a "Dr." or end it with an "M.D." Any case, everybody will call you "doktora."

We're all swelling with pride right now. Our parents are happy and Ma is burning phone lines, calling up relatives. And I'm really glad you did good by them.

I remember you four years ago. You were teary-eyed because you passed the entrance exams to UP-PGH but the family didn't have the resources to send you. It was a decision they had to take and it would affect all of us. You were the stubborn one but you didn't force your will on them. You knew where you stood. You would compromise us all.

We had two younger siblings and they had futures too. Through Grace and the familial will, we all made it through. And now, you cap our parents' great effort with your name.


It is not my habit to look hopefully into the future. You had your rose-colored eyeglasses always trained forward while I had darker lens looking back.

But I see it dear sister. For you, the best is yet to come.

Ago 19, 2002

On Spurious Solidarity

This day is dedicated to Quezon, the recognized "Ama ng Wika" or father of the Filipino language. I remember this because back in my elementary days, we had "Linggo ng Wika," a whole week with essay-writing contests, declamation jousts, and morning assembly speeches by Filipino teachers. Most of all, the fines were suspended and we could speak in Tagalog, my beloved mother tongue, without paying a peso for every word we didn't deliver in English.

Although, I don't want to dedicate this piece to Quezon, I'd love to write more about language. I hope my readers will forgive a few more meta discussions, more writing about writing.

The previous article notwithstanding, I confess I've trimmed down on the use of the theoretical "Man." Sometimes, the tendency of presenting and encountering the construct is the feel of abstractness, of imagining the collective embodied as an individual, homogenous throughout its parts.

Using "she" as the pronoun at least removes the phallus from the embodiment or repopulates the embodiment with the identities of the marginalized genders. One could see that it is also more faithful since the population is quantitatively more female.

But I still find the theoretical man construct a bit intrusive to the process of stimulating critical thought. Upon viewing the embodiment floating above us, sometimes our minds also fly with it and leave on the ground the diversities and contradictions inherent in humanity.

After my thesis, I've found that I lean more on the use of "we," "us," and "ours" and (since the the work was entirely in Filipino) "tayo," "atin," and "natin." At least here, the reader is free to check if the statement really applies to her and her own experience.

The guiding text for the thesis was Norman Fairclough's seminal work entitled "Language and Power." Here, he encourages the researcher and writer to put themselves in their work. I agree that the scientists' traditional omission of the "I" in their technical ouevres is questionable. I don't think they need to gloss over the fact that there was a human being behind their empirical presentations for the sake of appearing more "objective."

Nope. I'd like to see more of those I-me-mines, especially so that the accent on responsibility for findings could be more audible. I believe this is especially necessary in the social sciences where the readers must be made aware of where the author is coming from.

After warning the reader that he will write in the first person, Fariclough proceeds to discuss his use of "we." Here's a clipping from his note on style:
"...I have operated with an image of the reader as not just someone to whom I am telling things (though sometimes I am!), but also as a partner in a collaborative venture. This is why I have sometimes used the pronoun 'we' inclusively, to refer to the reader and myself. But... this use of 'we' can be manipulative; it can claim spurious solidarity, for instance when a politician uses it to convince people that she is 'one of them'. I hope that readers will not feel similarly dragooned into partnership: obviously, some readers will not see themselves as partners... but... I have found it easier to write as if they did."
I guess that's a mouthful. In typing that, an eyebrow reflexively cocked with Fairclough's use of 'she' as a pronoun for the theoretical politician. Then, remembering recent speeches especially of the state-of-the-nation variety, a naughty grin followed.

Not Elsewhere

Tinig's volumes 17 and 18 are out. I've got SONA articles left and right, but I'm thinking of submitting literary pieces for a change. Jol, I never thought I'd say this but I miss the Adarna workshops.

I miss too, the man behind the finer points of my thesis, Prof. Monico Atienza. I make sure not too mention him too much because I dread to disgrace his legacy. But that stricture can't be allowed here because he lent me his Fairclough and Mao. Also, I want to direct friends to his poem in the same way that Alex tipped me in the forums.

Thank you Sir Monico, for believing in my work and still signing the recommendation to the Asian Center despite every inconvenience. It is my honor that you peruse of my thesis to instruct your classes, while all errata there reflected my stubborn affront to your diligence in evaluating it. Someday, maybe, I will catch up with it and teach in my own fashion.

Still Not Elsewhere

Well, workers, students, and inhabitants of Quezon City, have a nice day! I'm going there this afternoon to claim some loose pages I had bound at the university shopping center. And of course, I'll meet my angas team mates there to gather around the birthday kantogirl!

Ago 14, 2002

Gendered Word

The makers of websites, online journals, and internet articles are writers in their own right. Some are even stylists. Whatever the case, we all have our linguistic preferences as individuals. These surface in our written idiolect.

Since the latter half of my college work, I have taken to some habits when writing in English. One of them is my default pronoun for the theoretical all inclusive "Man." I use "she," "her,", and "hers," rather than the mainstream "he," "him," and "his." I also prefer this to the forms "he/she" and "s/he" which are fine except these are awkward and intrusive to flow. For example, in my essays, one is likely to find something that reads like:

Man is condemned to be free. But according to Sartre, it doesn't end there. The total freedom of the individual doesn't mean that morals can't be based on anything. Rather, by her particular choice of a course of action in a specific situation, an individual actually prescribes what any man ought to do should she find herself in her place.

I got this practice in a book on pedagogy, "Of Maps and Leapfrogs: Popular Education and Other Disruptions," by Robert Francis Garcia of the UP CSWCD and PEPE. I found it more convenient and sensible as an advanced alternative.

I do not claim a very radical language though. For example, except in my private journals, I still don't use "She" to refer to God. When I write about God anyway, I usually mean the predominant Roman Catholic construct in the Philippines. I cannot attribute to this any characteristic that users and reusers of the construct think foreign (if not absolutely anathema) to "Him."

I can be a bit meticulous about how things are put down in words. Maybe it's freakish, but it's not totally useless since language is the vehicle of thought. Of course, with Sapir-Whorf-related theory, it also gives form to our thoughts. If one comes to think of it, she could very well play a chicken-or-the-egg debate with what came first, thought or word.

I am of the persuasion that our word deserves some thought.

Ago 11, 2002

Both Ways

Take care of the preschool children Teacher Nikki. They're in that tender, precious age. Yes, I know they're in good hands (with soft, tapered fingers, I must add) and I love how your eyes sparkle when you speak of them.

I delight in your stories. But I cannot help it, freak that I am, I hear - beneath their mischief and laughter - the danger. The awareness of this peril drove you from one school to another with a practice you better prefer. It lies behind that serious diligence in your additional Education classes. It is exactly why you naturally live to teach and not the other way around.

Sometimes, I muse how much easier it would all be if only I were in perfect agreement with a curious statement from George Orwell:

What can England of 1940 have in common with England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except you happen to be the same person.

He has a point. But I don't share it. Maybe because I don't think it applies to me. You may say, in your offhanded nonchalance, that you know how it is, how one always thinks he's the exception to the rule. Which would be fine, except that everybody else thinks so too.

With you, of course, I cannot disagree. Still - hear me out - what if I still have too much of that five-year-old in me?

I remember how when he was a bit younger, he cried whenever his mother left to teach her own schoolchildren. I remember how, one morning at breakfast, he suddenly knew death, how it was possible and very real and that someday it would take everybody away. He was so angry then, as if the whole world was based on a glaring unfairness.

I know him still you see, how he never walked with certainty, always with his eyes on the road, afraid maybe that he might lose his way or forget the directions when crossing the street.

Always look both ways.

I remember how he once did, on his way home from preschool, when he tried crossing the nearby tributary of Pasig river and got caught in an unintelligible maze of bridges. He never forgot how it was to be truly alone, with no one to blame but himself.

A few years later, the grader would sometimes leave his companions and sit out his lunches alone, at one side of the basketball courts. He never plays the game. He just sits there, throwing his gaze across the courts, outward, passing the gates and fences, and even the forbidden streets. He was looking into the future, wondering what will become of himself.

He wanted to be something better you know? So he did something serious. He conjured a future self, a self ten or twenty years hence, and threw everything at him, all his dreams. How he didn't want where he was. But also, how he never wants to get lost again.

I'm surprised how much I'm still holding his gaze, those empty but hoping eyes. It's exacting you know, quietly maddening at times. Sometimes, I feel his stare burning like the plain accusations of an innocent. It's wrenching, really, being told you're not any better. And I try to escape by denying that I am his ten to twenty years hence. Denial is futile though. There's this long extended gut between us.

So there? Do I qualify as your true-blue exception?

Of course now, I deal with more convoluted labyrinths. And I would not care about getting lost except for the fact that you walk my paths with me. From where I see it, I've not really aged with much grace, completely artless, I sometimes feel.

Sometimes though, everything seems to make sense. This plot of a life thickens by the minute, with twist and turns that are wonderfully haphazard. But maybe it wouldn't really count for much in the megalithic bookstores of our world.

Do you recall when I gave you my little volume of Edgar Allan Poe poems in that little program our college friends set up? He was my first major influence, I told you. The tehnical precision of "The Raven" told me how far I was from whatever it was I wanted to achieve. So I told you to please take with the volume my every insecurity. Dreams, of course, the stuff that define how we live, those count as insecurities, visions that whip us from any contentment with harvested laurels.

I'll take your soft, tapered fingers because for some reason entirely alien to me, you've given me the privilege. As it stands, you know your way better than I know my paths. We don't know how everything will add up, what it will ever add up to, and if all of that would really be worth it.

You have taught me life, my dear one. And as you've said, just let me tell that kid how I've got someone lovely by my side. Let me tell you something. For all intents and purposes, for whatever it's worth, you'll always have the respectful eye of that old child and the loving hand of this young man.