Hun 10, 2004

I have discovered that I cannot burn the candle at one end and write a book with the other.

Katherine Mansfield
Diary entry
June 10, 1919

Or, How PoMoPrometheus Rodinthinks on Coming Classes While Waiting for Bigbreakfast

1 Convoluted Can-openers

Ma shook me from the formulation of next semester's writing class to open a couple of cornedbeefcans for the bigbreakfast. While I sped through them with the opener, I remember the more complex can-opener that I broke to pieces last month. I didn't do that on purpose, mind you. I might as well have though; it bugged the hell out of me. Nice, sharp discs and some well-placed spokes and gears. And the damned thing breaks down at the instant of my grip. Pinions loosed. Down discs, down gears! Something so sophisticated yet inutile!

It reminds me of me, a goodfornothing, intricately convoluted head. I can't say there's supposed to be pride in all this muddle. 'Intricate' and 'convoluted' just fancyterms confusion, addleheadedness, scatterbrainedeadness. It sounds more sophisticated, that's true. Pretty at times, well, pretty if you can consider the network of Les Miserables sewers lovely.

Useless, really. Oh, and I can't even open a can with a knife. Actually, I can, but not in the usual, smooth way most other people do it. I pound the forsaken knife in, round every inch of the way. Thank goodness for this simple blade and lever construction Ma handed me. I consider it somewhat like a kiddie bike with those two wheels on the side so you can get from pt.A to pt.B without falling over.

It got those cans open, didn't it? Why mull over the more complicated construction or the simpler one, neither of which helped the cause of bigbreakfast at the moment? One way's as good as the other, you might dismiss. That's true too, with them clearriverrunsthroughit minds. I admire them minds too, happyhappyjoyjoy binaryoppositionary AisnotBneitherisC systems. Still, I don't have the luxury of fantasizing; I must work with what I have. All I've got are these ratfecesinfestedpipeshit for brains. And I have another semester to teach! Oh boy.

Let me spill what I'm going through right now.

2 On Contradiction

I'm not your usual progressive thinker.

Hell, most other progressives will disown me if I were an ounce worth disowning! I don't have that ounce so I'll drop 'progressive'. Out with 'thinker' too, just in case it's in the way. I'm not 'your' anything unless you want me to (and I can't go around assuming you want me to be anything, can I?), so I'll trim that off as well. How do we begin then?

I'm not usual.

For me, later does not mean better. Everyday in every way, it's getting better and better, they croon to the next generation of beautifulbeautifulbeautifulbeautiful boys. These things have to be said, I know, expressions of faith in hope. However, when I'm downdirty trying to begin something, such tidbits of autosuggestivedeceit won't cut it.

Whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger, hesaid, and I profess belief. Although stronger doesn't always mean better, I respond, trying my best to unlearn him. The next semester will not necessarily be a better sem. At least, it won't be, just because it's the 'next'. And I can't make it any good with merely the plain belief that it will be.

I won't necessarily be a better teacher. They're a differentriver, and I'm a differentriver. And you can't predict the sameriver on the basis of two differentrivers converging. Still I must take stock and make measures. Movement is the only way to articulate hope.

Hope belongs to the realm of the future, and a friend of Lu Hsun told him that one cannot ever contradict hope. It is impossible to refute something that hasn't happened yet. It makes sense too, I figure. In my narrowview, if you can still contradict anything at the moment, then there are still remaining possibilities. In those spaces, one can find hope. Or generate it.

3 Desktop Deserts

I smell the mightymeaty bigbreakfast coming; I wonder how this outpouring will churn out with such wonderful morning odors and themusicwhodied's Imagine demanding my senses. To focus, I must digress from the sensual to the sensible (for now). The desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world, another hesaid. Was that 'a dangerous' or 'the most dangerous'?

Well, from this desk in Makati, I view their Los Banos desks as these would appear on Monday and hence. What do I see? Danger, naturally. One cannot expect much from desks rooted to the establishment, eh? Someone with desktop visions out front, now there oughtta be some friction, right? Not when the desktop visionary will keep everything on the surface of immobile desks. Then, there'd only be entertainment.

This is a case among my cases. I desire for the first module of my writing class a discourse on space (time would come second, and I might share this later). I went wild first, letting ideas and selections swim their way into a tumormass that's been clogging my system since Monday.

I dream of teaching stories of Borgesian infinite and Calvinoesque infinitesimal space. The guiding principle would be a space as labyrinth and combinatoria as language. Something like this would pique hmmminteresting curiosities at the least and explode vavavoomGarciaMarqueztornado wonder at the most.

Of course, in such a space, here is there and everywhere is nowhere all at once. That's dangerous stuff right there. Such visions can induce sweet paralysis, and without movement, there won't be hope where I desire hope. Immobility is the curse of dealing with the language of God, the combinatoria where, in the alphaomega, everything and nothing are synonyms.

This is where dialogue comes in, and I hope to seduce them back to the world where languages (if not literature) could be of some use. Dialogue should be fair, so I'm not allowed to use silvertongue. I must speak the words of the earth and spew ragsratsandfeces saliva about balloondrowned seals and hungerconsumed men. If this has ceased to appeal to them, then I'll be damned. I'll give them the writing skills they need for the callcenters, multinationals, massmediamoguls and othercountries that they expected in the first place. Then I end with the gladiatorquestion, are ye not entertainedtainedtained? If they weren't, then I failed, handsdown; if they were, then at least there's room reserved for wonder. That room is more conducive than any cubicleearphonescreendesk to hope.

However, if the undergroundvoice still appeals to them, then we meet halfway; the elitetranscendentseraphs come down, and I give them the badnews. Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains, another hesaid. I continue the discussion.

"You have one semester with me, and I'm inching toward a discourse that is more involved and open than what I can now offer. To get there, I need your help. The postulate of the coursediscourse is that we aren't free. If you agree, then welcome to the classdesert of the real. If you think you are free and thatsthat, then go back to the heavenorjungle you came from because dialogue won't be possible. Try getting out of the university first, let's see that freedom, shall we? If you think you are free but believe my maybeyouarenot is worth looking into, let's communicate.

"And I mean speakwith not talkto."

4 Find Fire with Fire

Preach, preacher! I rapped to myself to keep my gut in place, and ignore the calls and the setting of the bigbreakfast.

The study of space begins with light. Let there be light another he said, or rather the first. And whether that was the first thing he invented or the seas and the earth and the firmaments (or even humans), it wouldn't matter. To us, it will always be the light first. That's how we came about seeing it, an eyelightmindcoordination. Therefore, a study of space is necessarily a study of optics and senses, how the inner space approaches and apprehends the outer. We need light. Fire.

If they think I'm going to give them fire, they're in for a surprise! I'm giving nothing. Fire freely given will be effectively extinguished. I'm not even giving the conditions for fire, no, no driedleavestwigscoalsliquefiedpetrogas, no nada. I'll ask them for fire. If they say they have it, we go and examine each other's combustion in each other's light. If they say they don't have it, I'll ask what they know of it (because they might have it after all, without realizing it). I'll lend mine in the meanwhile, while they look for it. When they do, see if it's any better. If it's not, we'll work on it. When it's much better than mine, they'll extinguish me. Obsolescence is the purest dream of the teacher, if you ask me.

Let's illuminate our spaces then, our writing desks, our living areas, railways, our private musicalballerinaboxes, our classrooms, our cafes, carinderias, shops, sukingtindahans, dojos, chapels, where we defecate, where we throw our trash away.

This is my problem. I can risk myself all I want. I've been taughttaut enough for such adventures. Let me take one concrete plan among my manifold objectives to discuss this problem. In my heart, I want to throw them into the greatshittingbowl itself, the great Payatas. I'll allow distance. The smell of it first, the feel of the feet on heat-infested ground next. I won't allow them on top of it, don't worry. Not close to the people working there, not yet. Don't worry.

It is I who worry, Mrbigtalknospine. What if something happens? I learned the field. I know the issues and the mishaps even with a mere sanitized fieldtrip. One mentor once failed to control a disastrous trip of amateurs. The best way, I fathom, is to bring them there in small groups in plainclothes, in nocellphones and nohandsanitizers mode.

Still there are too many risks, too much to list here in detail. Therefore I immerse myself in the process of examining my own space.

Where I am, I believe in expanding the hermeneutic horizon (the interpretative background, a perspectiveworldviewstandpoint, if you may) by putting it in danger. This involves risks. Without it, there is no further knowledge of the qualitative sort. Without approaching a state of fear, uncertainty, and definite anxiety; we will not write beyond harlequinhorizons and millsandboonsbounds.

I call such a place of risk as an event horizon between illumination and depth. This is such the threshold I'm in, a liminal phase, an upping of the ante. Now though, I will not merely put myself in potential danger, I will involve my charges. And I must strip them of false securities to reap the perceptual benefits of dread. Fear makes the eye keen, see?

I must consider this. More difficult than that, I must consider this with them.

I am afraid.

Pedagogy Peddler

Ma already left for her elementary school tasks. The food is covered. I eliminate the sound. I sing my sales pitch still. Teach, teacher!

I am not free. If you ask me to read the spaces, that would be what I'd yield. I'll see aluminum soda cans, plastic palm trees, frowning passersby, lovers with four arms and four legs, two spines and two heads. One of the hands holds the other's nape. If you ask me, you aren't free either.

Is freedom an ideal? If you ask me, that's not something you ask in front of a desk, the erudite poses on tv, or from the inscrutable English of the American on the other end of the callcenterline complaining, denying he payperviewedporno. Maybe nobody should ask me either because here it's just a fancyterm. Yet I'll prick my ears if I'm promised true dialogue. Because then it'd be a meaning we can decide.

I'm not saying that dialogue is the only venue for emancipation. But it is a venue with its own unique dimensions. This is the only venue that I can introduce to the traditional classroom, and this too, only on the sly. The powersthatbe shouldn't see.

Freedom, from where I stand, from where I see you and the allcluttered space between you and me, draws from dialogue something basic. We've abused this word and many are already allergic to it. Awareness.

The best substitute for freedom is an illusion of it. Only awareness will indicate freedom. Awareness (believe me, I know) is painful. Softened by the illusory in a spectacleworld, our thresholds for pain are nothing to be proud of. So we sit, comfortably in couchpotatocertainties and watch the world go by with the choice between hungrywrithingEthiopian and syphiliticlovemakingKrisAquino a matter of pushbutton numbers. Tv, the first thing to be learned, is the undisputed center of the living room. Is it worthy of this pedestal? There, liberation is merely an image. We've trapped it inside a celluloid dove for further reference.

The last and major point of the class is this, maybe freedom is not discovered. It is achieved. It is generated in the space between you and me (where our arms end, where our noses begin). It is furthered by a redefinition of space, or at least a liberation of the eyes that see the space. The function of freedom is to free others, another poor somebody said. Few listened, everybody else was enslaved by the thought that function and freedom precluded each other. Yet in the class, let's see where such an onerous word as 'freedom' can take us.

The class could start from desks, but the dream is that it doesn't end there. I must have breakfast. The gut says so. At this moment, before I surrender the dream to scrutiny, I must say that the gut itself is a labyrinth, a tortuous smellysewerpath to each other. With active compassion, its coils could extend through all the world, penetrating and encompassing all its peoplepotentialities. Pain and satiation transcend the illusoryindividual.

You will know, this way, that everything (even and especially freedom) must begin with everybody else's breakfast.