Thursday, February 25, 2010

On Grammar, Photos and Memory: The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond

(In which I learned and remembered.)

I finished the book earlier than I was able to buy the next or have the tests and progress reports ready. I think I owed it to one sleepless night. But I don’t regret it. This is one of the books that you can’t just put down. It doesn’t have a very complicated plot not equally complicated characters in personality and in number. At first I find it a little boring since everything only revolves around sentences that go like “There is a girl. Here name is Emma. One moment she’s with me, and then she’s gone.” But then I found out that it is indeed the only thing that drives Abby Mason – the mystery of a child’s disappearance. And the search starts from that fateful day at Ocean Beach and it is also the same place she returns to after a failed search. My interest in the story builds up as she finds clues that will lead her to the missing child. All throughout the story she tries to unravel not only the secrets surrounding the incident but also her life and the mystery of the human memory.

The Year of Fog tells the story of a woman’s restless heart and incredible determination. When everybody else gave up and everything seemed to be useless, she always finds a way to get her closer to Emma. And even if she doubts her memory and realizes that it is a terrible traitor, she learns that there is nothing else she could rely on but her ability to recall the past. The search goes on and she later finds out that losing something may mean losing everything and possible reunions may lead to a painful departure.


Not only did this book enlighten me about memory; it has also challenged or should I say, reinforced, my knowledge in English grammar.

Here’s the situation: Abby Mason went to see a hypnotist to help her remember things that might have the clue as regards to Emma’s whereabouts. She’s looking for a detail, whatever form it may take, however little it is. All she needs is to find Emma and she is willing to do everything.

I sink into the recliner, feeling at an immediate disadvantage. Dr. Shannon is high up, in her hardback chair, while I’m down low with my knees in the air. “Before we begin, you should know a couple of things,” she says, staring at me with a disturbing intensity. “First, memory is a deep sea.”

I nod, mesmerized by her pantsuit, her whimsical ideas about color, wondering where she got the idea that orange is the new black.

“Second, one cannot conquer memory, just as one cannot conquer the sea. One may dive into it, explore, but one may not own it. Understand?”

I nod again.

“Third, one must always come up for air. That’s why I’m here. I’m going to help you dive in, then I’m going to lead you up for air.”


- The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond
Chapter 54, pages 245 - 246
I got mesmerized by the way Dr. Shannon makes Abby understands the complexity of this task. But I thought she should know a couple of things. So when I saw the word third, I came up for air; then submerged myself again into the words.

What? Three is a couple?

I was reading it while my student was answering an activity. I couldn’t contain my disbelief that I told him what I saw, which turned out to be a bad idea since he got more confused.

I ran an internet search and found out that “a couple of” could be used for more than one thing but not more than three. In that case, I’d rather use “a few” when it’s three and use “a couple of” when it’s two.



Four of the remaining kids left for home yesterday. And several times during my class with Judah, kids knocked on the door and asked us to write on their journal some farewell messages. I was never good at goodbyes and as expected, I pulled out the “Nice to meet you and take care” trick. It’s an overused message anyone writes on anyone else’s scrapbook.

Charlotte, Sandy’s friend, knocked on our door and displayed her digital camera once in our room. She asked me to pose and I did, just to get it over with. Then it’s Judah’s turn to smile to the blinding flash. He hesitated and the two argued in Korean.

“Aysh!” Jude protested and shoved the camera away.

“Why?” Charlotte asked, with her distinct childish East Asian accent.

“I don’t want,” Judah replied and thumbed his book. Charlotte was more persistent this time.

“I have to! You have to!”

“Why?” Judah nodded

“If not, I will forget!”

I swear that at that moment, I remembered Abby Mason.

Photographs represent our endless battle against time, our determination to preserve a moment. . . I have a hunch that our obsession with photography arises from an unspoken pessimism; it is our nature to believe that good things will not last.

We put such faith in this flimsy mnemonic device, a moment written in light. But photos provide a false sense of security. Like our own flawed memory, they are guaranteed to fade. Over time, the contrasts within a photo diminish, the contours soften, the details blur. We take photographs in order to remember, but it is in the nature of a photograph to forget.

- Chapter 15, page 157

Most of the people I know will tell me I have a good memory. But I don’t tell them that for them to retain their status in my memory bank, they either have to be positively or negatively special. My memory seldom tolerates those in between

The first time I met Alvin was when I bought this book. Before going home, we sat down and rested on an empty seat at the mall’s food court as we removed the price tags on the items we bought. That was less than a week before Christmas and we secured some gifts for people who matter. In my case, they are my newfound friends, my best friend and my family. In Alvin’s they are his nieces and nephews. Well, they were the ones for whom he bought the books.

While we were talking, it was plain that he is a comedic person. And I was an easy audience. I narrated and he made fun of Quasimodo. Then we talked about the poser from Radius. He told me about their conversation a week ago and I was able to remind him some parts of the story when his memory fell short.

He looked at me and grinned.

“Wow. You have a photogenic memory!” he said and motioned his index finger as if to say “You got it right!” then he smiled.

I shook my head, laughing. I told you I am an easy audience.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Loser Writes

(In which I don’t seem to do anything correctly.)
I have been running out of ideas worth blogging about lately. So this post is about how I have been screwing up in so many things.

Loser Issue #1: The Diary “Keeper”

I have decided to start keeping a diary for the sake of keeping records. (How lame is that?) And as what experience has taught me, I have also decided not to write personal things on that collection of thin and femininely colored sheets of paper which include my first crush and my first kiss and all the gossips around and my stand on those; because that kind of diary is never safe from my family’s curiosity. I never thought I mattered that much until I started keeping a diary. Now I know what to do if I want to feel some “love”.

And as always, the passion for writing with a pencil on that thick pink notebook only lasts for less than a week. I realized that a diary should contain juicy stuff anyway and keeping it safe means making the experience boring. And not writing on a regular basis will make it senseless. So far I have missed out on more than a couple of days.

Loser Issue #2: The Sleepless Reader with Very Little Progress

Those of you who have read my previous posts, (And I am sure you are not more than five) know that I have just finished reading The Master Butcher’s Singing Club and now I am on the last book on my shelf – The Year of Fog by Michelle Richmond. And guess what, after more than a week, I have finished reading forty-four pages! (I know that’s not a happy news.) Anyway, perhaps it’s because I don’t have any more books to read after I finish this, as if I can finish this soon considering that I am now considered a workaholic. And talking about the problem with the next book, I should be making my way to the bookstore soon, that is, if I have my motivation back and if my wallet can handle it.

Loser Issue #3: The Workaholic Teacher with Dissatisfied Students

Okay. The adjective that qualifies the word students has an invisible question mark. But not because it’s invisible means it’s not there. Here’s the thing: I have made a terrible mistake of forgetting to update the comments on one of my phone students’ comment box and followed the wrong page, which made me overlook that the book will be finished in less than two weeks. And the student’s mom has called and asked why I’m not reminding them that an order of the new book should be made to which I reasoned out that it’s not yet time, with the wrong page in mind.

So when I found out, I immediately made the request. However, we have already finished the book two days ago and now I am in a terrible state of covering up. I kept on telling her that the book has been ordered and that we can just review the old book while waiting for the new one for twenty minutes every day. It feels like talking about the same old topics you’ve been talking about the entire year since she doesn’t know how or like to handle a free talking session, which made me not to like it too.

And the responsible Judah has been exhibiting an unusual show of absenteeism lately. I know that he hates summer and considering that he came from a country with four seasons, it’s summer in the Philippines all year round. Well, I somehow feel guilty thinking that I have been usually late for our first class. And I was given this notion that either he’s getting even (which doesn’t sound like a good option since it’s his money he’s wasting) or he lost his interest in studying because of my terrible example. Oh for the love of God, somebody tell me it’s the first choice!

Now I am stuck in making a level up test for a grammar book which is so much worse than talking.

Loser Issue #4: The Great Pathetic Romantic Loser

Alvin kept on denying that he’s ignoring me but I’m nobody’s fool. My brain might betray me at times but my intuition will remain faithful. And it just so happened that I wanted to diminish the number of my friends on Radiusim from a senseless, whopping 400 to a reasonable 60+ with Alvin and his best buddy’s name out of the reasonable number. I did it. And I somehow felt light, happy even. But just lately I wondered what his status is. And now I’m thinking: should I delete his stupid number from my phonebook and his stupid profile from my Facebook?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Music and the 2010 Elections

(In which there’s a tune for the memory.)


Aside from the traditional battle for the walls, (I don’t know if it’s prohibited now.) campaign periods are also made more colorful by music. It is believed that a good campaign jingle helps a lot in a candidate’s victory. That’s why most of them were performed by famous singers and bands to attract more interest. As they believed, if these artists have hit the local charts, being hit with the masses won’t be a tough job.

The following are some campaign ads that have been on television. There are more than four presidential candidates but so far, these are the ones whose musical strategies are somehow making it big.

Check out the campaign ad of Manny Villar that had tons of people suffer from LSS and flood Facebook and Youtube with spoofs and comments. It even has a Japanese version and oh, one of the academy’s students has learned to sing it, too. Who knows if he owes topping the survey to this song?

It’s catchy, alright. I just hope that when this Villar gets to be the President, these kids won’t have to “bathe in a sea of garbage” or “spend Christmas in the streets” or sing for a campaign ad for some cash anymore.
Now here’s one with a really mellow approach, and with the Asia’s songbird as the singer. In one of his ads, he swore, by the legacy of his parents, that he will never, ever steal. To which my parents just replied with a chuckle.

This one has a fresh strategy for an ad, with the new Rivermaya performing. It's a new jingle since Gibo Teodoro stopped using the one which obviously sounds like Rico Blanco’s song “Posible” after the latter asked the politician to. Actually, this new song has a good beat – very Pinoy.
The first time I heard this, I didn’t think it was a campaign jingle. I thought it has a nationalistic, apolitical message of moving the Filipinos to have initiative and motivation for a better nation because I wasn’t looking at the TV screen. But when I read the signature lines, I was fooled no more. But anyway, Gloc9 did a good job with the song. When everyone just edited the lyrics of songs and retained the melody just for the sake of coming up with a jingle, Gloc9 and others composed. And when asked why he accepted this politician’s offer despite so many others offered higher, he answered that he believed in the person. Talking about artistry and truthfulness to one’s self.

Music really has its own way of making things and people memorable. But when the future of a nation is in question, it takes more than a good video or a famous or a talented musician to be bases of good judgment. I hope that as much as Filipinos love music, they wouldn’t be so easy to fall for false promises and images presented with staves and guitar chords.

Friday, February 12, 2010

On Time, Love and Valentine’s Day

(In which I thought of changing and celebrating.)


Time has never failed to amaze me. I have always known that it moves like a thief – silent, unknown and surprising. Yet every time there is an uncommon scent or feeling in the wind, I would realize that time has indeed ran past me again. When I was left in solitude and was unproductive, I thought it stopped, only to find out that it has moved faster, and when I knew it, I was still alone and futile. And I will be left wondering. And then I will want to chase it, as if I would be able to catch it, and make it stop.

But I know how useless it is, catching time. So I decided that I will walk with it, or run with it. And do my best so it won’t surprise me anymore. Living a moment at a time and living it well. Living and loving freedom and doing the things that make me and others happy. Perhaps it isn’t Time who’s my nemesis but myself; for time has always been consistent and I have always been ungrateful, slow and unproductive. And then I always blame time for being insufficient.

My sister once asked me about the time after turning off her phone and was impatiently looking at me as I started calculating.


“Look, I have adjusted my phone clock twenty minutes ahead of the company clock. Wait.”

“For what? The adjustment, I mean.”

“To avoid being late.”

Ate, you are so weird. Time has always been constant. You don’t make Time adjust to you. You should adjust yourself to Time.”


A while ago, a man asked me how I was. And I replied that I was fine. It seemed that my response has been so commonly safe that it just made him feel that I’m being unreal and asked again.

“How’s your love life?”

The question didn’t come as a shock since the season has given it an absolute right to be talked and asked about. My one-word response using the mathematical symbol for nothingness has yielded an even higher level of curiosity in him. And I knew the inevitable will be next.

“Really? Ever since he – “

He couldn’t finish the question since it was plain and clear to me what it is. The completion of it won’t injure me though. I want to believe I was over that.

“Well, yes. But I was just busy.”

Surprisingly, it ended just like any other conversation. I did not remember him nor feel shredded. I didn’t think of everything that endeared him to me. That’s a good sign. Perhaps I was really over. And that may mean I can take the mechanical pencil and the other useful stuff I was now glad he gave me out of the dusty box.


Two days before the restaurants and hotels get filled with couples with or without a bouquet of flowers whose price suddenly soared up perhaps a week ago in anticipation for the season, I found myself browsing the net for some travel tips to Manila. I was planning a trip with a special person who I have neglected for several Valentine’s Days already. I guess it was about time that I give her a short break from motherhood and show her some love.

And in case the trip to Manila doesn’t work, and I mean situations when some unusual reasons suddenly emerged from nowhere, there are always coffee shops and our favorite street food. We have planned in advance to give each other gifts since we aren’t expecting a male hand offering us one as suggested by my actual and her theoretical singleness. I take the chocolates, she takes the flowers. Sounds like a fair deal.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Falling Slowly by Glen Hansard and Kris Allen

(In which I can somehow find a precious piece.)


The first time I knew about this music was when Judah mentioned it when I asked him about his favorite English song. As I expected, he was rather surprised to find out that I didn’t know the song completely, as most students often mistake a teacher for an encyclopedia. He kept on convincing me that I knew it, sometimes singing the lines he knew well and sometimes humming, to which all I can give was an honest “It’s sounds really familiar but I don’t know where I’ve heard it or when.”

Yesterday, he handed me the other end of an earpiece connected to his iPod Touch.

“Listen, Teacher. This is the song I told you about.”

I listened to the introductory duet of the piano and the guitar and paused at the surge of the familiarity of the rhythm; I was almost convinced that I really knew the song and was only careless to forget it. The blending of the female and male voice was softening to the heart. The strong baritone of the singer as well as the wide instrumentation worked together in beautiful harmony. It was simple and clean. I felt my heart as well as the space around me grow wider with every dramatic crescendo. And when everything’s quiet and still and the voice was soft, it seems as though time stood still. I felt my head slowly swaying in common time, four beats in a measure.

“It’s beautiful,” Judah said with a satisfied grin.

“It is.”

I found out that there was a recent version of this song and listened to it too. It was a beautiful rendition for me. Compared to the original, it only has a piano and a guitar, which makes the singer’s voice prominent all throughout. The subtle female voice blended well with his though not as compelling as the original. If the goal is to replace the original song’s classical air with a modern one without taking away its bittersweet rhythm and feel, this version is successful, as far as the humble opinion of this average listener which is totally devoid of the quality of the criticisms of a real critic, is concerned.

I cannot choose one over the other though. They’re both artistically beautiful. I get the same feeling when I listen to them. It’s like being wrapped by a soothing air and all the tensions and barriers slowly slip away and all that was left was comfort.

I suddenly felt as if I was a musician again. How strange it is to feel that you could produce music by listening to it but that’s how I felt nonetheless. As I feel my body slowly swaying to the beat, I felt the good feeling I had when I was one of those people who make good music together and was known for it. I could feel it. Everything. From the exhausting catching up to complicated succession of notes in an overture and the loud and fast heartbeat as the drums were rolled to the sensitive and exclusive soli - and then the triumph of reaching the music end. Maybe it’s one of the reasons why this melody is familiar. It has the power to make me leap through time as if to remind that I have never lost the musician in me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich

(In which the lonesome and kind-hearted deserve refuge.)

I have been reading this book before Christmas and another season is already approaching yet I haven’t even finished half of it for lack of time. It is about the daughter of a drunkard and a romantically unfortunate (at least for now) Delphine Watzka and the German butcher Fidelis. When Delphine met Eva, Fidelis’ wife, she was overwhelmed with admiration for everything she does and she loved Eva as a dear friend. She stayed with her until she finally died and so her children went under the agonizing supervision of Tante, Fidelis’ sister – a pious Lutheran who despised Eva being a Catholic.
What made Delphine’s “married life” (for she has only made a self proclamation that they were married and even bought a ring to save her from utter shame) miserable began right after she discovered her husband Cyprian’s homosexuality one afternoon on a park bench. The proverb “The truth will set you free” seems appropriate as they came to understand each other more after the truth was out. Delphine realized that Cyprian loved her with a love for a sister. And now she has lost Eva and was somehow bound to take care of everything that she has left which includes her sons and Fidelis. And then she has her own life to fix.

I wonder how it is to be there to take care of people yet no one’s there to look after you. And I was in a state of sheer disbelief when she still took Cyprian in her arms and home right after he came from another man’s lap without any questions asked. And then there’s the doubt if she really loved him and until when she can put up with the nights they spent sexually together which happen very rarely and only out of obligation and not will. And how about the days when he travel? She is no dummy not to know what he does but she still hangs on to every moment she has with Cyprian as if they were true manifestations of the self-same love she has for him.

What I have in my mind right now as I continue to flip the pages was the hope that Delphine marry Fidelis someday and have a normal life. Besides, they were two lonely souls. Well, it’s too early to tell, I know.

Currently Reading:
The Master Butchers Singing Club by Louise Erdrich