Sunday, April 30, 2006

a word on egalitarianism.

“If I were in doubt as to the wisdom of one of my actions, I should not consult Flaubert or Dostoevsky. The opinion of Balzac or Dickens would carry little weight with me; were Stendhal to rebuke me, it would only convince me that I had done right; even in the judgment of Tolstoy I should not put complete confidence. But I should be seriously upset…I should worry for weeks and weeks, if I incurred the disapproval of Jane Austen.”

In short: Expect nothing but the best from the great Jane Austen.

There could not have been a better introduction, and a staggering one at that, to Pride and Prejudice than the words of Lord David Cecil in his Leslie Stephen Lecture at Cambridge University, when he paid homage to the English writer and esteemed her beyond the ranks of peers and fellow word masters in his stirring speech. Another article I’ve read years back described the author’s prowess as “needing no Spell check; every word is perfectly formulated and the syntax is impeccable.”

Thanks to endorsements like these, I already have a hunch as to what to expect even before encountering the novel’s initial line, another candidly mind-blowing sentence: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

The unbelievable frankness of this woman leaves me simply stunned.

Now that I have reached the opposite pole and concluded the final chapter, I must say Lord Cecil’s words cannot come any closer to being wrong than do saints approach the fires of hell. When all else is said and done, my opinion stands as finding the novel every inch intriguing and just as flawless in its exposition.

Strange thing is, upon first acquainting yourself with a summary of its 61 chapters, the concept of “pride and prejudice” just wouldn’t be the first to enter your mind. The plot is a swirling cycle of life’s upbeats and downbeats revolving around four main romances, and perhaps you might wonder whether what you are about to read is indeed the renowned magnum opus or merely another piece of romantic fodder.

It has often been said that the ability of a novelist can be measured in the way he/she is able to maintain the central idea without fail while conjuring up various caricatures at the same time. In this test of literary multitasking, Jane Austen earns herself flying colors. It struck me how she effectively made the whole idea of “pride and prejudice” echo throughout every nook and cranny of the book, well-hidden within descriptions of characters and settings, skillfully inserted within witty dialogues, always leaving behind a discomforting feel of the predominance of its evil.

Though she was clearly talking of 18th-19th century Great Britain, one can’t help believing she created her masterpiece as a reminder for humanity for as long as society exists. In this world, in this time, there will always be clamor for equality.

Some of the most common ones we see today are aptly addressed: favoritism among children, preference for the high and mighty, falsely construed interpretations and one-sided judgments. Her staunch belief in egalitarianism should ring well into the depths of a world where the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, where those with power and connections reserve the right to do magic tricks and where organisms with ultra-inflated egos thrive on the edge of reason.

Fortunately the heroine overcomes all adversities with her wit and charm, and as expected, gets her well-deserved happy ending. I hate to be so corny; but yes, love moves mountains. It tugs harder at the heartstrings than do pride and prejudice.

It conquers all.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


(This piece appeared in the Youngblood section, Opinion Page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last June 17, 2006. No greater joy is there for a writer than to see his own work get published, albeit in one of the nation’s biggest newspapers.)

It is a fact well-settled that some guys just can’t dance.

Unfortunately, I belong to this group of poor old chaps who could only sit by a corner, helplessly staring at the more gifted ones prancing away with prize partners in tow, wishing all the while that the phenomenon of switching shoes (and abilities) were possible. You’d probably think it way too ambitious for someone who hasn’t even tried and tested the grooves yet, but trust me when I say that I’ve tried just about as much and as hard as anybody else. The last time I publicly showed off my dancing talents onstage was during my junior year, and it ended up with one student approaching me afterwards to say in hushed, stiff tones that I resembled a bewildered robot skidding off course. Hands down, it was a bad enough experience; that’s when I finally decided it’s about time I give my clumsy old awkward self a well-deserved break from causing more humiliating fiascos, at least for the meantime.

However lousy I could get with steps and strides, I wasn’t exactly born having two left feet. You see, the art of dancing somehow goes well and good in the family: My parents could throw in a step or two, my siblings could also carry on with the beat, and as for one of my aunts – well, dancing IS her life. My precocious childhood even had its own share of the jiggling and the wiggling, carefully preserved in indelible photo frames and providing evidence to the whole story lest my current inflexible rod-of-a-body suggested otherwise. There I was at the forefront during kindergarten days, grinning and eagerly leading the class in mixed song-and-dance numbers. I suppose I can still do the singing part just as fine; but the dancing aspect seemed to have vanished altogether. What had happened in between?

Perhaps it would have something to do with how I prioritized things as I moved on to grade school. At that time, stakes were high for skills in speaking, singing, the visual arts and academics. Being the insufferable perfectionist that I was (and sometimes still am), I wasted no time in vigorously pursuing each of these disciplines, even attempting to excel in all of them. Dancing would be sometimes present but on fairly rare occasions, and since I didn’t see it as much of a necessity, it was shoved further and further out of the checklist as the years rolled by.

With the onset of high school, focus was thrust again on studies and on joining school organizations; and this meant even less of cha-chas and cartwheels. Only after some time did I realize that I was no longer the one performing – instead was reduced to the lowly spectator in the audience whenever shake-your-thing numbers entered the scene. I was headed for a typical non-dancing future.

Fast forward to college. Just when I thought nothing out of the blue was going to take place, along came first semester of second year that landed me in a social dancing PE class. Distraught and dreading the prospect of possibly flunking my first course (embarrassingly a presumed no-sweat one at that), you can readily bet that I was one of those who initially objected to the sheer idea of strutting your stuff for a grade – in vain. My only recourse left was to convince myself that it would be fun, that things wouldn’t be so bad after all.

Optimists often credit half of the learning process to a positive attitude. In much the same way, sufficient warm-up provides athletes with maximum power for a stellar performance. Though I am utterly sure I never did dance exquisitely enough to be considered “stellar”, what really fueled me and kept me striving to master the cha-cha, gain control over the slippery steps of the boogie and sway along with the swing was simply enjoying myself in what I am doing – part of internalizing the dance and harmonizing it with my emotions, or so our instructor said.

It didn’t take me long to see what she meant. Unexpected epiphanies helped me rediscover long lost delight on the dance floor. The more I progressed, the more I understood the parallelism of life and dance. It occurred to me that life itself constitutes some form of dance: You live it according to your own rhythm and require proper breathing, grace, flexibility, balance and focus in order to succeed. Moreover, you get a plus factor in communicating with your partner sans the burden of words. It is a pleasant feeling to know you are able to connect with someone else.

The funny thing right now is that months after reluctantly doing a bit of center stage stuff, I have been entertaining thoughts of finally qualifying to hit the ballroom, armed as I am with my newfound skill. However I believe the legacy of dancing goes more than just that. It’s about revisiting a world I had far left behind; of rekindling a thrill deep within, of looking at life face-to-face through a miniature model. Although I can claim to be (ahem) relatively adept at going through the basic routine, I confess I still can’t execute the more complex moves expertly and elegantly, much less effortlessly. Heck, I’m bound to end up worse than a robot; and at the moment can only content myself to sighing and having this envious admiration for the lucky guys who can do so.

Such green-eyed respect will sometimes drive a person to reach for the stars no matter what. Recently while channel-surfing, the idiot box showed a pair of Latino terpsichorean virtuosos giving it their all onscreen. It was an exhilarating sight, no doubt, and it made me realize that there’s certainly much to go before I catch up with the likes of these fabulous superstars. But I guess after all this ruckus of not knowing how to dance and eventually taking classes in it, what really matters is not how well you shake your bootie, but how well you make the most of whatever you can do with your bootie. What little dancing genes I have left, I’ll do away with splendidly. Which means I’ll be awaiting life’s greatest dance yet.

Monday, April 24, 2006

an inkling of iloilo.

There’s more to it than just meets the eye. This true-blue Ilonggo tries imparting the indulgence with a modest introduction.

At first glance, Iloilo strikes you as an urban enigma – humdrum yet delightful, unassuming yet elegant. It has neither the frenetic hassle of the metropolis nor the rustic charm of a mountain village but somewhat borders in between, a seamless intermingling of both worlds. Even for a seasoned Ilonggo who has practically spent all his life in the city, exactly how to classify it or maybe just comprehend a few of its elusive mysteries would prove to be a challenge.

But there are no intricate complexities, surprisingly. Take a casual stroll down any of its time-honored streets and you’re sure to hear omnipresent tones of renowned Hiligaynon, ever melodic and languid as if bearing testament to the unhurried pace of living in this city and the gentle character of its people. You’ll find that literally speaking, buildings have stood their ground for quite sometime, and to further preserve this historical significance the city government has recently enacted a law declaring any edifice over fifty years of age to be a cultural heritage site.

And why not? History has always been the city’s claim to fame, taking precedence over anything else. It’s the reason for the crowds of tourists annually flocking to its grandiose churches credited with their own unique styles, to the vintage mansions and enthralling plazas that number a dime a dozen, to its spirited festivals, and to Museo Iloilo, a foremost historical and archaeological haven in the region. We’re talking here of the second oldest city in the country (after Cebu) and to this Iloilo boasts of almost five hundred years of peaceful existence, becoming evident once one discovers that some structures – Tigbauan Church for instance – indeed attest to having been around that long, most of them juxtaposed in differing and oftentimes contrasting shades of baroque Spanish, definitive American and native Filipino tastes.

Not that all of this has gone unnoticed though. One such Christian pantheon, the Miag-ao Church with its ornate limestone carvings, has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site; and similarly presenting themselves as one of their kind are the sister cathedrals of Molo and Jaro that lord over their respective well-known districts, the former a repository of all-female saints, the latter strictly of male ones and serving as the seat of the Archdiocese as well.

It’s sights like these that await you as you alight from your plane at the Mandurriao airfield (soon to be replaced by another of international standards), after you spot the gigantic billboards that dot many a corner in the horizon, SM’s humongous welcome sign, and the spires of St. Anne’s Church solemnly looming at a distance. But then again in this city, there’s no such thing as “distance” as everything comes into view for at most 20 minutes, and to speak of one hour would mean taking you far off deep into the hinterlands, provided there’s no traffic – one of the growing plagues the city pays as a price for progress.

True enough, progress it is for this thriving regional center that lately grabbed the distinction of being one of the model cities in the country. Undergoing a dramatic facelift over the years, I am a personal witness to how acres of swampy farmland were cleared into malls and plush subdivisions and dirt roads paved into concrete highways. Add in the increasingly energetic nightlife and favorable business potential and you have a city continually wooing the call of advancement, attracting curious investors with the alacrity of a preppie. From the row of painted balustrades lining Muelle Loney to the brand new bridge spanning Iloilo River, hip Smallville and the shiny, gleaming Provincial Capitol, there’s always room for pleasant surprises. All the more for one who is now pursuing further studies in the big city and who never fails to come home seeing and experiencing something new.

Nevertheless as with any other city, you’ll agree that the pride of Iloilo perhaps rests on its greatest assets: its people. Blessed with a genial countenance, amiable mien and traditional southern hospitality, its denizens possess remarkable frugality and an unusual love for industry that has catapulted the city to where it is now: sizzling, vibrant and always on the move.

A visit to any obscure neighborhood will eventually prove this. Amid the flurry of piña and sinamay weaving in Arevalo and of creating gastronomical concoctions in the form of the famous La Paz Batchoy, Pancit Molo, top of the range seafood and the all-time favorite treats of Biscocho Haus that have marked the city as a gustatory paradise, its four hundred thousand inhabitants still manage to retain their relatively busy yet stress-free lifestyle, most preferring to hie off after school or work to the cool interiors of the many malls sprouting one by one, or to the numerous clubs and coffee shops that have arisen in sync to the tune of modernization. A decade before when these things practically sounded alien to Ilonggo ears, it would mean an escape to the tranquil recesses of Fort San Pedro and nearby Rotary Park (which sadly is now on the verge of ruin) and to the endless stretch of beaches that line just about any seaside town, offering hopes of an alternative respite to any jaded, worn-out city bum fed up with the crowded sands of Boracay.

But to talk of Boracay, that’s explicitly another story. Guimaras, visible downtown and just a five-minute boat ride away, would also need another spotlight of its own. Still it’s no meager feat to say you’ve breathed enough of the Iloilo air to have had truly gotten the whole picture. Most probably, it’s just another mere glimpse into the daily workings of the former Queen City of the South, fast gaining ground with everyone doing everything possible to snatch the title back. And I daresay there’s no doubting it will. After all, it has produced great patriots like Martin Delgado who initiated the first anti-Spanish resistance in the Visayas, able politicians in the form of the late Vice President Fernando Lopez and Senate President Franklin Drilon, and world-class performers like violinist Gil Lopez Kabayao. It’s a city that will forever leave its taste in your mouth, long after you have washed it down with a glass of water and gone on to other journeys, a familiar sensation almost akin to déjà vu.

You won’t know it then. Well, at least not after you step out of your cozy alcove and drink in the warm afternoon sun, passing hordes of flourishing textile and hardware establishments, noting the easygoing demeanor of the people and occasionally rubbing elbows with some, in between bites of a tasty Ilonggo homemade delicacy, your ears abuzz with the incessant drone of passing jeepneys and motorcycles. At any point in your life some fond reminiscence of Ilonggo origin might randomly occur to you inside your mind, and you’d readily acknowledge that once you had been there, and that somehow you’ll gradually find your way back again.

Trust me – it won’t be long.

Friday, April 21, 2006

luck is a four-lobed clover leaf.

I think I may have found what I just needed.

No, it’s not a four-lobed clover leaf (as evidenced by this title) or any other kind of leaf for that matter, but I simply chose to designate today’s entry as such because I believe it’s about time I address the long baffling issue regarding that most elusive thing we call luck.

The idea of four-leaved clovers as indicators of good fortune can be traced back to the European Middle Ages, when this botanical peculiarity, by way of an extra leaf, raised many an observant eyebrow. Not long after, people resorted to stuffing a few of these extraordinary biological creations in their pockets, just in case they really do work.

As time passes, so we gradually pitch in yellow butterflies, falling stars, and multi-seven digits, and the “lucky” cast is almost complete. You name it, the world has it.

I know this may all sound like a fanciful old wives’ tale, and indeed it is for there’s no sufficient scientific proof to sensibly support the claim of these objects’ being capable of turning poor old unlucky you into a brand new lucky someone. Then again, they say it’s all in the state of mind: I can only wonder in amazement how serendipitously finding such items can throw the supposedly lucky person into a fabulous floundering fit, even make him/her readily offer heaps upon heaps of praises to God.

Inasmuch as I would have liked to consider myself a rational person, I have to admit being fairly exposed to the wealth of zany beliefs and superstitions on the luck element surrounding me as I grew up. Like many children my age I too had my share of the wishing and the praying that one day or another these things would come my way, especially when the need arose for a lucky me (Nope, it’s not the noodles.) As I discerned more and shifted my mindset from fantasy to reality, it was only logical to gradually dismiss them as sheer inanity, except for one: RED SHIRTS. At present, I have quite a collection of these; and so to speak they have not failed to do the job during competitions and examinations. This summer, I have added something new for a change: a white shirt with the Chinese character for luck (“hok”) imprinted on it.

You might ask why wonder of wonders, I had to choose something so simple as a shirt, not even a red one, as a purportedly lucky symbol when all it can boast of is just that: the luck symbol displayed on its front. Opening our yearbook one time, it intrigued me to discover that one classmate’s slogan is “It is not enough for one to have the luck of talent; one must also have a talent for luck.” –Hair-raising declarations that at length caused me to examine myself for being possibly in want of a talent for luck. Perhaps if I really am, would the huge luck character on my shirt somehow rush to the rescue and get to duly drive away any negative vibes?

Quite a number of serious-minded people I know believe there is no such thing as luck, though. They brush it aside as a mere figment of the imagination, a byproduct of dawdling and daydreaming in the sun too hard and too often. We see how this is clearly concretized in the Filipinos’ time-honored “bahala na” of a fatalism as a rallying banner to eke one’s days out, and on that indolent Chinese farmer in the fable sleeping under a tree waiting for some lame rabbit to bump its head for an instant meal. Thing is, what if “bahala na” somehow lost its efficacy? What if that soon-to-be-dead-meat rabbit you’ve been waiting for all along never came?

The sages cite ample industry and right timing to compensate for, even attempt to explain, the workings of a convincing godsend. With proper faith, however, it would actually be a godsend; and more or less you have in your hands the straightforward formula for success. I know it because this is what my parents and some saner person around me would implant in my head whenever I peeved them with another exasperating episode on why I consider myself plain ill-fated. Almost in tart retaliation, their responses in the form of phrases like “You’re not giving it your all” or “You should strengthen your faith” would constantly zap me back to solid ground with the unfailing effect of a pail of ice-cold water.

Some days I still get the urge to hurl my usual endless tirade of lucklessness at no one in particular whenever I just had gone through a bad day. Heck, in moments like these the sight of the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button on the Google home page is even enough to make me cringe in derision. But I guess the sages were right. There’s no sense in catching yellow butterflies or looking for four-lobed clovers when they’re just not meant to be found, and similarly there’s no telling when joining the queue at the lotto or sitting it out in bingo games would earn you big bucks either. Still, we can always opt to choose alternatives more worthy of our time and energy. After all, it's a case of a half-empty glass or a half-full one - but I'm not wasting any more time on such trifling debates. If I can't get myself a bottle of Felix Felicis, I can always count on a little faith and a little effort to do the trick.

Wish me luck!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

bringing out the tutor in me.

(Almost a year has passed since INTARMED 2011 was offered the opportunity to tutor graders from a nearby public school. Little did we know then that what we took to be tedious pedagogy actually teemed with something much more than what it seemed, like a butterfly emerging from its cocoon.)

At first, it was nothing else but a whim. We have readily accepted a deal from our PI 100 professor that the final exams would be scrapped, provided we spend the rest of our five-week academic summer tutoring elementary public school kids. Which is not bad, I initially thought, doing the ABCs and 123s sans the teacher’s uniform. For three hours each week, you get to Aurora A. Quezon Elementary School, meet your tutee, engage yourself in an hour or so of droning (and sometimes even playing), leave promptly and afterwards feel free to strut your own stuff, period. What’s more is that you aren’t facing any genuine pressures: You are told to teach on specific learning areas, literacy in particular, and according to a specified manner, but that’s just about it. It’s really all up to you to play the game and you even get to do it at your own convenience. Plus, you skip the finals!

No sweat.

Inasmuch as everyone would have liked the entire duration of their tutorials to be like that – almost perfect and ultimately effortless – I must admit that the whole thing would have already turned mechanical in nature by then. Our tutees would have been like programmed machines, not normal children, whom we expect to absorb quickly and completely anything we teach them. But since this didn’t happen (it never happened!) and because teaching is never a smooth and hurdle-free process especially if one’s wards proved to be a challenge, tutoring time eventually brought out the teacher, nay, tutor, in each one of us.

When I first met 10-year old Renand LeAngelo “Gello” Manuel, I found myself wondering how I would fare in this meager test of mentorship. Fortunately I needn’t worry further for his positive attitude was all I needed to push myself off the diving board. Comparing him with the rest, he would have scarcely been a red mark if others were a pain in the neck, judging from the horrendous accounts of some of my classmates who seemed on the verge of giving up. We began our journey together through session after session of spelling quizzes, vocabulary enrichments, grammar lessons, letter-writing and storytelling; and before I knew it, I was connecting with him, establishing rapport and thoroughly enjoying myself as well.

Enjoyment perhaps stemmed from the fact that you get to become an enlightened person. You do not merely teach; you observe, you feel and you learn as well. For me, keenly observing my tutee while working on an assigned task allowed me to closely monitor his progress and spot any potential difficulties. What greater joy is there than seeing him fix his own errors, sometimes without any help at all? It is in cases like this that I’d applaud his feat and encourage him to do more.

I was also able to detect any possible areas of difficulty via observing his attitudes and reactions towards a certain topic, feeling his elation while beaming after a “Very Good” mark or his frustration while silently groaning over an extraordinarily mind-wrenching lesson. I once read that children do better when praises are heaped upon them, and I readily made sure I was generous in doing so. As for waterloos, I reckoned spending more time on the topic would suffice, coupled with the right teaching strategies, constant practice via exercises, and utmost determination.

But the road to comprehension also had its own share of bugbears. Many sacrifices had to be made on my part, like taking time out for one hour and a half appointments or so of tutorials when I could be comfortably ensconced at home reviewing my lessons. It also meant following strict priorities and studying at a pace twice faster so as to be able to tutor freely without dreading the premonition of failing a major exam hours later. More importantly, it required a really long patience. This translated to maintaining a great degree of self-control, keeping one’s cool and trying hard to calm down whenever you feel that enough explanations and examples have been given yet your tutee still seemed confused. Most of all, I was taught a thing or two about punctuality. My tutee definitely didn’t encounter this problem for he just lived blocks away from school. But me who had to come all the way from Binondo (okay, it’s not that far) had to try beating the usual morning jam, even getting red-faced one time when upon arriving, my tutee approached me and said that he thought “I wouldn’t be able to come” because he had already been waiting for almost half an hour! That, I guess, is another hard-earned lesson for good old tardy me.

Yet these are just some of the trivialities. On a much wider scale, tutoring opened my eyes to the more startling reality that is the educational system in public schools. Whereas we tutors naturally have free access to the place, we were sometimes forced to do our tutoring under the shade of some tree, or worse yet, under the scorching heat of the sun due to lack of available classrooms. Other facilities are just as deplorable: The absence of a canteen is decidedly obvious, poor ventilation marked the onslaught of furious fanning and odorous restrooms kept us from properly responding to nature’s call. But the worst situation would have to be education in itself. One classmate of mine was shocked out of her wits upon learning that her tutee, an incoming sixth grader, could hardly master the alphabet! This awakened me to the alarming truth that if we were to be tutors, then we really have to do some SERIOUS tutoring, albeit to the best of our capabilities, and make the most of our stint for the kids’ sake.

With this thought at hand, I believe the experience made me see life from a perspective that is totally brand new. It put into a different light my being fortunate for having had a stable educational background, going to good schools and sufficiently armed with knowledge for later life. Even more than that, it redefined the meaning of “carpe diem” – seizing the day – by making us realize that the best way to spend one’s day, or summer in this case, is through reaching out to others in need. I guess that instead of taking the PI finals, it was all tutoring could do to be a much worthy alternative because sure enough, and I say it once more, it brought out the teacher in me.

Hmm…I think I’ll have to make that “tutor”.

Postscript: Being one of the tutors of these children cannot make me any prouder than I am now. Two months after our encounter with these kids, we learned that freshly honed, they aced an aptitude exam given by the city government as a standard check on the quality of education in public schools. Ah, the wonders of teaching. I mean, tutoring.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

summer bummers and carpe diem.

Now, I’m officially a summer bum.

After regularly tromping to church during last week’s frenetic mishmash of Lenten hustle and bustle that culminated in colorful Easter fireworks, I’m once again back to my usual vacation self – sluggish, torpid, taking time to smell the flowers one day at a time, as languorous and unhurried as the pace of living in this city.

Perhaps it’s just the unbeatable heat taking its toll on me, or maybe it’s really my unknowingly switching to super-sloth mode that satisfactorily did the explaining on why it took me at least half an hour to lift my lazy frame off the bed and another additional hour to finish breakfast and hit the showers.

Pardon me. Some days can just go pretty nauseatingly slow.

For obvious reasons though, “slow” does present a much-welcomed change for someone who was previously stuck to a hype-and-hysteric lifestyle for three months, a payback period for worn-out med wannabes drained to the bones of vim and verve. Out of the corner of my mind’s eye there I was, all spent and stressed and anticipating a nice long respite as vehemently as a weary traveler yearning for an oasis. With these things coming to pass, I am bent on reminding myself that now is the time to reap the fruits one has sown, to replenish a long-gone sleep account temporarily remedied by loans in the form of bit-sized cat naps, extra helpings of go foods and trendy high energy drinks.

Still, that’s only looking at one side of the issue.

Before I find myself dangerously falling into the clasps of one of the seven capital sins and get myself severely chastised for it, I take heed to remember that summer is also the perfect time for living out “carpe diem”: for seizing the day and taking it as far as you can go; that is, out of bedroom confines and into the deepest recesses of this world.

For my part, I may not even come close to conquering Everest (Go RP Team!) or swan-diving into the benthic abyss of the Marianas Trench, but in my own little way, this translates to making do with whatever I could, whenever and wherever I could. Before the big break formally kicked in and restored our former spirits to properly kick ass in return, I had made a shortlist of things that I expected to accomplish during the period. With a bit of wishful thinking, I am expecting that by the onset of another grueling school year I could at least brag to have had given some justice to the concept of “carpe diem” in that I was able to aptly turn my two-month long sabbatical into a myriad assortment of worthwhile tasks, to wit:

  • Actively take part in Holy Week activities (Been there, done that)
  • Visit relatives and former teachers (These people really matter)
  • Take guitar lessons (The acoustic virus is just way too irresistible)
  • Spend more time at our store (It’s a family responsibility)
  • Hit the beach and the great outdoors (Hey, what’s summer for?)
  • Have another major class reunion (There’s nothing like reliving good old memories)
  • Read, read, read!!! (So far I am on my third book in two weeks)
  • Write, write, write!!! (This blog’s enough evidence, I guess)
  • Further explore cyberspace (We’re not called a world of push buttons for nothing)
  • Just relax (Need I explain?)
Well, so much for plans. As mentioned, I am keeping my fingers crossed right now in the hope that somehow they’d go a little farther than being mere Midsummer Night’s Dreams. But kidding dreams aside, I do believe the summer experience with the greatest “carpe diem” effect on me came from last year’s novel stint on tutoring public school children. Indeed it was an experience like no other, and I have treasured it so much I am saving my next post for a recollection of my thoughts and opinions on it as well as of the wonderful things it has taught me.

Now that’s what I call passing Summer 101 with flying colors.

Friday, April 14, 2006

a passion for lent.

Today, in church, I will be reading The Passion.

And I will try to read it with passion.

After all it is a celebration of the Lord’s Passion.

Therefore I call it a passion for the Passion.

It’s the first time the job of animatedly bringing to life the drama of Christ’s Passion comes to rest upon my shoulders (Think Atlas Shrugged) and already I feel the pressure mounting, that of not letting the faithful down – at least not on this hallowed day.

It’s no enormous or greatly challenging task, actually. I’ll be playing the part of the good old narrator (which is essentially no big deal), but this translates to a straight 11 pages of no-nonsense dialogues and nonstop babbling in front of a presumably bored congregation for fifteen minutes till your voice starts to croak and your mouth finally runs dry. Plus, the responsibility comes with implicit extras: The narrator controls the pacing, juxtaposes the lines with the background music, and makes sure a smooth transition is called for between changing moods and settings.

Whatever happens, there just had to be no room for flops and blunders. Not after how I patiently went through session after session of intense, rigorous practice without fail.

But then again I'm only too glad to do my part - with passion, of course.

At this point I know I'm already guilty of abusing and overusing the word "passion" - something countless people all over the world have had the passion to do. Partly blame it on the plethora of connotations it conjures up at the mere mention. Passion of Christ? Passion to succeed? Passion in bed?

Even at this time of year, folks have been more or less displaying their own unique interpretations of the passion concept. The more religious people I know have been answering their Christian passion with strict sacrifices, while the more hedonistic ones made sure their passion for a well-deserved summer escapade is amply satiated by a quick hop to Boracay. Me? I guess I'm into the whole passion thing too: Aside from a passion to give my all in The Passion, there's curtailing my carnivorous passion, nurturing a more profound passion for prayer, and getting involved in my family's yearly passion for the Vista Iglesia.

More importantly, on this day of great mercy, I'm completely overwhelmed by the sweeping passion for solemnity that I'm sure also pervaded everyone's hearts and minds. Save for echoing tunes of Mary Magdalene’s I Don’t Know How to Love Him which is typical of my passion for religious songs, things on Good Friday usually strike me as having the passion to be simple and somber. It’s a day of utmost self-introspection indeed – to examine our conscience and show our deep, abiding passion for the Lord.

The greatest human passion of them all.

Postscript: Unfortunately I had a migraine as I arrived in church at about half-past three in the afternoon. Fighting the biting temptation to bang my head against the nearest wall and have this over with, I stuck it out until the very last rite. After the mass our parish priests and several nuns congratulated my partner Charles and I for a job well done. Looks like all the passion's still worth it, after all.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

i, bibliophile.

I just finished Sheldon's 400-page Are You Afraid Of The Dark? in a record-breaking six hours.

Yeah, I know that's nothing for many people. Why, back in high school, I even had a classmate who could consume similar pages of Cartland in a heart-stopping two hours! (Yup, during Chinese class).

But all the same I'm mildly congratulating myself for having achieved this small feat, which equates to having had a faster reading rate: I finished The Da Vinci Code in about ten hours, Angels and Demons in about twelve. Not to say that it was the book's innate charm that kept me glued to the pages though; hell, no. I'd even go insofar as to say that my expectations were a bit downplayed; the great Sheldon seemed to have lost some of his former touch here - failing to match the astuteness of If Tomorrow Comes and the allure of Nothing Lasts Forever. But then again, count me out to discuss these books for I'm definitely no Sheldon aficionado - I'm just up for grabs at whatever's new and hot from the latest bookstands and then I try to see for myself later.

Like most toddlers I grew up with my usual dose of once-upon-a-times and happily-ever-afters, so much that I even experimented with my own versions of beginnings and endings just to break the pattern and keep myself amused. But don't get me wrong: There was, and there still is, magic in the air. Every word and phrase continues to be wonderfully transformed into a touch of fairy dust that comes live in my head.

Later, my childhood years saw me digging up basic encyclopedias and well-loved children's classics as Robinson Crusoe, Gulliver's Travels and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer as well as the detective Hardy Boys series, and with these tomes came a strong inclination for adventure and exploration. That was when I first developed a keen interest in travel (which, incidentally, also "infected" my brother), and in time I was helplessly drawn to inflight magazines featuring exotic and faraway places. I had also begun scanning major dailies for any interesting travel articles - that's how I started my daily news habit - and further along the road, I stumbled upon National Geographic and Reader's Digest which immediately piqued my youthful curiosity.

And the rest is history.

You might suppose that with all these ramblings about my reading "love affair", I'd be quite a connoisseur by now. Unfortunately, my bustling engagements with the printed word have to be cut short by more important matters in the academe. For one, I rarely read nowadays (except when you take into account the monster textbooks that are inevitably obligatory, then this statement is readily negated.) Much of my leisure reading is deferred to "breather" times as this, and even so I can't assure myself of quality hours of peace and quiet especially with my involvement in the flurry of activity going on.

Yet I do believe keeping this healthy love for reading indeed benefited me a thing or two, aside from the fact that I simply enjoyed myself in what I am doing. I found myself a rare gem of a book in the form of Amy Tan's The Joy Luck Club, which chronicled the account of Chinese-American families trying to survive the stumbling blocks of a dual identity. Hands down, an uncanny parallelism exists with what Chinese-Filipinos have experienced and are experiencing, and many a time I even found it slightly painful to read for I understood every inch what the characters are going through, knowing that my own heart goes out to them with the very same beat.

This Lenten season, I am having an intimate encounter with the most inspiring book of all, one that I know will nourish holistically - mind, heart and spirit. It is only fitting that this Holy Thursday, as the whole world falls on its knees to start the commemoration of one man's suffering, we try to keep in mind that amid all the books that have made us laugh and cry, one book towers above everything else, overflowing with the promise of eternal life.

If it be an eternal life of reading, let the reading go on.

(My favorite book list can be viewed in the profiles section.)

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

the real breakthrough to be happy.

"What's happiness?"

This is one question I have always pondered on during the few moments when my mind gets to be free from the usual clutter of everyday thoughts - that is, when I'm not engrossed in some busy banter or preoccupied with finding the most effective way to pass an exam while getting my daily shots of eight-hour zzz's. Other times it'd occur to me in the midst of devouring novels with sappy 'happiness' themes or while slouching on my seat watching silly no-brainer movies. Once I even came across a certain Archie comic edition where everybody at Riverdale High wore statement shirts emblazoned with eye-popping "Happiness is..." phrases, the ellipses filled in according to the wearer's notion of what happiness is. The whole thing sure caught my fancy, and I even remembered asking myself what particular shirt and message I'd end up telling the world if such was the case.

So what's the real score?

For one, happiness is not a thing to be searched for, they say; either you find it or it finds you. I had always been intrigued and fascinated by the fact that many people have given up lots of sacrifices, even risked their lives, just to be happy. Quite a crowd gave their all and still died unhappy. In the past (and even up to now) I had been stupid enough to believe that there is such a thing as "happiness as an expected end", that if only you were persistent and determined enough to pursue and keep your flickering hope alive in something until you have it in your hands, you're sure to be happy.

I couldn't have been more wrong.

It dawned on me that I was just another victim of the happiness game, another poor old chap who had fallen for an expected misunderstanding of the whole happiness thing. Not only did I wind up sorely frustrated, but I also found myself embarking on many more missions with the same empty promise of happiness: Do this, do that; think of this, think of that. What I had evidently failed to see was the vacuity of it all, the palpable folly of my actions. And it drove me to realize that all along, I had been too focused on my one-and-only "goal" to see the many other sights along the happiness highway and spot any alternative routes or even destinations in the process. On this dreary summer night I gathered up my wits and thought of possible "happiness" sources:
  • Getting 1.0's in all subjects (I came so close last time! Missed it by a hair's breadth of 0.03, damn Chem 14)
  • Winning a Palanca gold medal (I only settled for second place last time)
  • Having math back in my life (Boy, med school is a whole big world of sciences)
  • Being a future Nobel Prize for Medicine awardee (we'll see...)
Well, I guess you can readily classify me as a dreamer. You might even add to that "unrealistic". But then it hit me a second later: Why think of farfetched fantasies? Why ask for greater pomp and glamour when in fact, with the many things I have in my life right now, I can choose to be happy? Eventually the alarming truth forced me to believe that if I were to pick an Archie shirt, I'm bound to fail - unless I provide myself with a wardrobe of these, each printed with a different wish.

Yet come to think of it, what is happiness, simply put? Eventually the following list tallies:
  • A roof above my head
  • Three meals a day
  • Adequate sleep (Make that EIGHT HOURS. And I suppose it applies to this summer only.)
  • A loving set of parents and siblings
  • Good health
  • Making it to Intarmed Class 2011
  • Having your younger brother beat your record in the MTAP (and he beat Pisay too!!)
  • High school reunions and get-togethers
  • Writing
  • A close relationship with God
There, better. Now I'm sure if I were to wear an Archie shirt myself, it'd go on like this:

"Happiness is...CONTENTMENT."

You'd probably agree.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

at last. finally.

Finally, my own blog.

Suffice to say I've been wanting to do this for a long time ever since I came across similar hullabaloos of the kind. Only that I never got the time to do it until now.

You know that feeling? When you're inside the shower staring at the bathroom walls, or just plain idle lounging around counting cobwebs on the ceiling and then suddenly a barrage of ideas comes knocking at your mind's door. Problem is, you're trapped. Helpless. And you ask yourself, "What to do with all of them?"

In the past I'd usually try to keep my resolve to write down whatever I could for posterity's sake, but by the time I picked up the nearest pen and paper or got myself comfortably settled in front of a humongous MS Word screen, suddenly they just aren't there. And I realize, perhaps they will never be.

Funny, strange, philosophical, foolish even - but it's true.

Yet this blog will be more than just a granary for these ideas. It's a (somewhat) secluded area, a virtual extension of myself, another "hemisphere" of my cerebral hemispheres where I can freely rant and rave and go wild without anybody ever giving a damn.

I suppose to sum it all up without needlessly inserting any more superfluous detail would be to take a few lines from that good old Carpenters song:

“Inside my head wheels are turning,
Hey sometimes I’m not so wise.”

My mind has wheels.

May they keep on turning.