Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The Grand Alumni Homecoming

(In which a decade almost did nothing.)

***
Last Saturday was scheduled for a Grand Alumni Homecoming of the Angono Regional Pilot School for the Arts. (If you haven’t heard of it, that’s fine.) All students from all the batches were invited as the school reached its tenth year. The arts program started in 2000. The first graduates were batch 2004 and that’s us. Anyway, I looked forward to that event.

I was conditioned that reunions are just another season where people earn extra bragging rights about their life achievements. But since we’re just recent college graduates, I abandoned the idea and dreamt of what’s going to happen instead. I expected to see my old high school friends who, by now, must be moving their way up the corporate ladder to achieve their goals. They’re going to tell me stories of how they got there and I’ll be happy for them. I also expected those who I don’t really have a warm relationship with ever since high school to be friendlier for the gathering’s sake. And of course I expect the Sorority to be pretty and intimidating as ever.

After running an errand for my father that Saturday afternoon, I had to really rush to get to the venue at seven in the evening. But unfortunately, I arrived late – about half past eight – and was totally embarrassed to be unpunctual. The embarrassment turned to a gaping expression of surprise when I saw how “many” people were already there. Imagine around eight large round tables in a wide multi-purpose high school gym. Now picture three or four tables with people. No, I didn’t say fully occupied tables.

So I looked for people I know. I spotted four female classmates and sat with them. Then they continued sitting there as though not a soul has entered the circle. But they managed to get their cameras out of their cases and snapped a shot. I was included in the picture but I felt that I might as well vanish. An acquaintance from our batch sat next to me and greeted the girls. After a lukewarm response he queried, “Hey, was I never missed?” I admired his audacity. I never dared to pose that question, especially to people who don’t seem to care. After a couple of minutes, the girls started to stand to get to the receptionist’s table behind us – one by one, without a single word – and we were left there, a pair of losers in the midst of prima donnas.

We spotted a couple of our batch mates in a corner and approached them. At last, we had a conversation. After we got bored from sitting and talking, we took some pictures, sat back and simply waited for two more hours. The supposed-to-be-set-at-seven engagement was now expected to start at eleven or later, which accentuates not only the unpunctuality of some people but their inexplicable penchant for late-night celebrations as well. And then the start of the program was marked by the arrival of the food. (sigh)

Now on more disappointing things.

We were informed to wear semi formal dresses fashioned in 2010. So I was expecting a semi-formal occasion. You know, it’s a reunion of artists so I thought they will occasionally be playing classical music. (I didn’t say that they should make classical music the theme of the celebration. Drowning everyone with Bach or Mozart in this time of the evening isn’t a very good idea.) But not only do some people showed defiance over the dress code, the people behind the program defied balance when they mixed round tables covered with white cloth and topped by a floral centerpiece (They even sprinkled rose petals around the center piece. Well, I actually liked how classy the design was.) and semi formal dress code with a remix of rock, hiphop, country and RnB. Oh and have I already mentioned the neon light and disco ball around the stage versus the candles in crystal glasses on the classy tables? Wait, they also have a couple of bands who played rock! Actually, I can deal with that. I wasn’t expecting a royal banquet. But what I was just looking for was something to match the dress code and the tables as well the celebration for a decade of artistry. Is that too much?

I have been used to the fact that the Sorority is a popular cohesive group in our campus. (No, they weren’t tagged that way. It was a term I coined for my own consumption.) Wherever they are, they exude this aura of eternal friendship mixed with a subtle arrogance. And no, they weren’t all girls. But since the group was dominated by females, I don’t want to bother how to label the males. Anyway, so they have this aura that’s enough for everyone – okay, me – to feel intimidated. But just like other people, they shine with verve when together with other Sorority members and quiet when with others. But they are as equally intimidating. (Or maybe because I just have low self-esteem. Whatever.) The reason why I include them in this sad list is because I never felt that the reunion was made for everyone. Just like what a friend said, it appears as though the presence of other people weren’t warmly acknowledged. It’s like non-members do not belong. And for that reason, we preferred to stay in a distant corner, albeit being surrounded by youngsters from the most recent batches.

To give you a better idea, here’s an example: I saw a classmate from the Sorority in the buffet area whom I knew was sick from a Facebook comment thread. So I asked her if she feels better now. But she didn’t respond. Though embarrassed, I just thought that she might not have heard me. I thought that’s the end of her ignoring act. But during the closing part of the program, where the girls’ picture was taken, I sat next to her since there isn’t any more seat. I was the last in the row and on her left was her friend followed by another friend. When the paparazzis signaled that they were about to snap a shot, she tilted her head to the left and turned her back on me as if she’s the last person in the line! How inimical can one be! Not to mention rude! And the appalling thing is, she never even apologized nor realized that she just gave someone the cold shoulder to be captured in a photograph! It was as though she never recognized nor knew me. That actually makes me feel worse than an unwelcome, random soul.

There.

The party wasn’t a total disaster actually. There are some things I really felt happy for and I will always remember them. I admire the people who were never my classmates and the male members of the Sorority who approached us and smiled at us and asked how we were getting along with the other people while desperately waiting; or thanked us for attending and for appreciating their performance and promised a better one next time. Those people helped us see the beautiful things in the party and appreciate their value. The warm welcome of these acquaintances is better than all the other things in that reunion combined.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Intellectual Hiatus

(In which I wonder why I am so uncoordinated lately.)

***

Way back in college, I was used to handling class reports when the reporters were either unprepared or absent. And even to my own surprise, I was able to share facts (as well as my own profound opinion) fluently. It was as if all the thoughts from my head flowed straight to my mouth and my lips and tongue presented the words in an incredibly smart fashion.

Contemplating on what I’ve become now only fills me with utmost bewilderment. What happened?!

I tend to forget complex words that I’ve already encountered.


I stutter stupidly.

I’ve got no idea where my next sentence will be coming from.

Sounds like a severe abnormality? It sure does to me. But I don’t see any reason to be like this. My job’s totally not a no-brainer. (Teaching English grammar and writing isn’t a no-brainer!) I read. (That’s obvious unless it’s the first time you have read my writings.) And I write (Unless you haven’t heard – or I haven’t told you – I’m blogging!) so why in the world is my brain – or rather my mouth – is acting stupidly? Is it the food I eat? Wait, I’ve been eating better since I got a job! And I’ve got a job for almost two years now! Although I cannot assure you that my diet is the kind of diet that nutritionists will approve of, they’re not always fast food.

(Contemplates once more.)

To at least have a better idea as to what led me towards this terrible situation, (other than the idea that I’m just a plain stupid fella) let’s apply the rule of thumb – i.e., to backtrack.

(Contemplates some more.)

When I first started working, I speak terribly fast and my questions were more often inferential than literal that I am a frequent visitor in the Manager’s Office. Apparently, my students complained that they were having a hard time catching up to my speed let alone answering my questions. So I compromised. I slowed down my speech to 80% then had another meeting with the manager and dropped it down to an incredibly low speed of 60%. But wait there’s more! I cut out the profound and scholarly way of asking questions and came out with “What did you do yesterday?” “What’s the cat doing?” and “In your opinion, what caused the characters to do those things?” Wait. That’s complex. Let’s rephrase. “Why did they do that?”

Whoah! Wait! Put your eyebrows down! I’m not saying that these people are nitwits. Most of them even have higher IQs that I do. (But that’s another story.) What I’m saying is perhaps I got too comfortable simplifying things that I stopped practicing what I learned. Another thing, have I told you I’m asocial? Then perhaps I need to enhance my socializing skills (if there is any) or maybe I should stop talking to myself (from within) and start talking to myself aloud. Just kidding.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Center of the World by Andreas Steinhöfel: The Review


(In which I list the reasons why I can’t get enough of this book.)

***

I have been spouting portions of this book for the last two consecutive entries in this blog. And there’s a reason. This book was just amazing. I think so because:

1. It deals about an unusual family.

Phil’s homosexuality has been known to his family since he was nine after he passed the fairy test and they accept and love him for he is. It actually reminds me of a Glee episode.


Phil himself doesn’t care of how other people will see him, which is a good manifestation of self-acceptance. The novel describes in detail how Phil deals with his unusual family – he’s never known his father, his mother was the town whore, his sister was perceived as an animal whisperer and a botany enthusiast which translates to being a complete freak and they’ve got two lesbian lovers as closes friends – and how he loves all of them all the same.

The unusualness lies in the presentation of a somehow normally complex social unit. There isn’t a perfect or a normal family – the one without issues. Or maybe I’m the only one who thinks so because I have a complicated clan as well. But this type of characters brings the story a closer-to-life feel.

2. It has other forms of complexities.

Aside from the basic character backgrounds, the story is also filled with psychological and philosophical episodes. Each character is presented through the lenses of Phil and the development occurs with the help of his memory and his connection with every important aspect in his life – both living and inanimate. One striking factor is his conversation with his doll, Paleiko and the usual dose of philosophical advices and lectures from Mr. Handel.

3. It’s about one of the most cliché topics in fiction – love.

The story revolves around human relationships and Phil’s love for the people who matter – his mother Glass, his twin sister Dianne, their closest friends Tereza and Pascal, his bestfriend Kat and his boyfriend Nicholas. But it’s not just a story about love. Juxtaposed with it is the realization of one’s self as well as defiance and betrayal.

4. I love the center of Phil’s world.

We all have different centers of our world. A person’s world might compose of just a thing, a person or a group of people. It might be a place. If one’s too obsessed the place or thing might also be positioned in the center of something, say, a house. Okay, that’s weird.

But the center of Phil’s world is worth the title. And I share the same thoughts as his.

Sometimes it was easy to escape from reality. I could totally cut it our for days, sometimes for weeks on end. The books I borrowed transported me into adventures that were as vivid and different form one another as the tales of the Thousand and One Nights, and always had the same effect: they enveloped me like a protective cloak and hid me from the Little People, from the world out there. This was the reason I loved the library. For me it was the center of the world.

– page 134


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Monday, May 17, 2010

On Longing For Youth: 100 Years by Five for Fighting


(In which we could never go back.)

***

It seems that no one wanted to stay young when they were. We all chased time and wished to get older, perhaps envious of the advantages of being a grownup and therefore taking our youth and its fleeting excitement for granted. Then upon growing up, we wonder why time seems to be racing forward; each day comes and goes in a seemingly rapid succession, leaving us bewildered at why so little progress were made, so many things were left undone and so many times were just let to pass.

I was reminded of these thoughts after listening to a song on the radio. The voice of the singer was so high that some of the lyrics were lost to my ears. I could not stop and just focus on the words for listening and enjoying his voice. Then I thought of having the song recorded and then I searched for some of the lyrics to find out the title of the song. When I finally got my own digital copy, I listened to it over and over. The media player on my PC might have gotten tired of playing it on replay.

The official music video was just as captivating as the song itself. It shows how time passes and how life progresses. We grow old from the innocent youngster we once were. It shows how verve was replaced by weakness. But until our final days the innocent youngster in us never dies. So is the desire to bring back time and being the innocent child. Perhaps we never had the understanding to enjoy the years that were supposed to be enjoyed. Maybe we enjoyed it too much that we neglect the responsibility that goes with the coming of age. Maybe we were just nostalgic. Or perhaps it’s because we’re just downright selfish and discontented.


100 Years by Five for Fighting

***

“Why didn’t you give me longer?” I barked at him as soon as I stood in front of him. “Why just two hours?”

“Two hours, two days, two years . . .it’s never long enough,” replied Gable . . .
***

Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost

Nature's first green is gold
Her hardest hue to hold.
Her early leaf's a flower;
But only so an hour.
Then leaf subsides to leaf.
So Eden sank to grief,
So dawn goes down to day.
Nothing gold can stay.

Friday, May 14, 2010

On Dating: The Center of the World by Andreas Steinhöfel

(In which I can’t believe I’m taking Glass’ advice.)

***
“Right. Well, I’ll give you a mother’s tip – in fact, I’ll give you three if you promise to leave me alone after that.”
“Cross my heart,” I say hurriedly. My eyes gradually get used to the dark. I see Glass gesticulating. Her hands are two vague, faintly shimmering blobs, huge moths fluttering about wearily.

“First, on no account let him know he’s the first date you’ve ever had. That’ll make him just as nervous as you, and if a sexually aroused man is too nervous – “

“Glass, no one’s talking about sexual arousal here!”

“Second, never ask him if he loves you.”

“Why not?”

“If he says no, you’ll wish you’d never asked. If he says yes, you can’t be certain whether he’s just doing so to avoid an ugly scene. In both cases, you’ll be devastated.”

“But he might say yes and mean it.”

“How old is he?”

“Not as old as Michael.” It’s too dark to see if or how Glass reacts to this little sideswipe. “About eighteen.”

“Then he may still tell the truth.”

The floorboards creak as I shift my weight from one foot to the other. “And number three?”


“Wash under your armpits.”

“Very funny, Mom!”

“Good night, and see you at breakfast.”

“Stupid witch.”

“I love you too, darling.”
One of the biggest reasons why I enjoy reading this book is the balance between humor and drama. Steinhöfel’s description of characters and experiences plays between sarcasm and emotionality, thus creating an experience of a rollercoaster ride at every flip of the pages.

The confusion of the main character, Phil, in almost every aspect tries to reach out to the reader. It makes me feel as if I’m reading a part of my own story. Anyway, who’s never – in the slightest bit – confused with matters concerning romantic relationships?

I’m no dating expert and I’m not a dating newbie either. But I still screw up regardless of the fact that I’m not completely inexperienced. These three tips were useful. Seriously. But they’re difficult to follow, to say the least. I mean the first two because it’s hard to deny the truth and to suppress the questions that have been for a while fighting for an orifice in your psyche.

Okay. So whether you’re a Phil or a Glass, dating requires more than experience. It’s about control.

And in case you were wondering, Michael is Glass’ current boyfriend and he’s in his fifties.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Funandfearless’ Countdown of Most Hated Songs


(In which I finally had the audacity to pose as a semi-nostalgic VJ.)

***

My posts about the dreadful man who broke my heart years ago were already buried deep in this blog. Unfortunately, this dreadful man has his ears for music and I once desired to blog about the music that had him LSS and me brokenhearted but I decided not to for the sake of moving on and for sparing this blog another bitter post. But what reminded me to blog about music that made it to my Most Hated list was actually a teacher who sang one of the songs. Then I thought, “Hey! That’s not a bad idea! Okay, I’ll blog about it.”

Although it might not show, I have already adjusted myself well to the pain of being dumped by someone who is too immature to understand and too ethnocentric to be humble. These songs used to be my favorites. Then long ago, they were notorious and banned from my playlist. But though I can now sing them without hearing an internal crack that only I could hear, they still belong to my Most Hated. I can’t think of any title to go with my list. If you can suggest a better title, I might change my mind.

So here goes, coming in at number five is a song that his friend recommended and since then he played it on his MP3 on replay. Thank goodness to the complex array of consonants and rhythm of the chorus, he was unable to sing it properly.

5. Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love for You by George Benson

The fourth spot was actually a toss between Aladdin and The Lion King. But he couldn’t get over the cuteness of Simba and Nala more than Aladdin and Jasmine’s romantic kiss on the terrace and it went on for days. That actually earned this video a spot in my list. Look! Aren’t they just adorable?

Halfway in my list of Most Hated songs is a Korean classic that he sang one evening. After checking out the actual song on Youtube, I found out that he was both offbeat and off-key when he sang it.

Coming in at number two is one of James Ingram’s hits. He was so crazy about this song that he even printed a copy and asked me to teach him the tune so we could sing it together. For the last whole year I wanted to blast every radio station that plays it on air. Too bad, DJs love playing this song every midnight and weekends. Things antique, how do we love thee?

2. Just Once by James Ingram

I bet the Most Hated Song in my list belongs to his own Most Hated songs list as well. His rendition was such a disaster that it could fill Howie, Brian, A.J., Kevin and Nick with outrage and humiliation as much as it fills himself with shame. He doesn’t even want to remember that he ever sang this song.

Without further ado, (Whoa! So emcee!) here’s my most hated song.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Chunkster Challenge 2010


(In which the newly-born reader in me wants to live up to my pseudonym.)

***

I have brought some friends with me while I was buying books. Once, a friend asked my why I chose a thick and big book over thin and small ones.

“Because they cost the same,” I explained.

“But it will take you longer to finish the thick ones,” she reasoned out, waving her hands as she tried to make a point.

“Well, that’s exactly the point. If I pick up a shorter book then I’ll finish it earlier. And the fact that they have the same prices makes the choice easier,” I replied. I grabbed two books with the same price tag. “Look, this thicker one has Times New Roman size ten, I guess, and single spaced. This thinner one has Times New Roman, size twelve. Wait, is the space for this one 1.5?”

“So you’re grabbing books to the cashier because they are thick?” she probed.

“No,” I put down the thinner book and hugged the other. “I like the blurb for this one.”

***

Once, I slept over BF’s house the day before our trip with officemates to Laguna. I leafed through her Anne Rice book and had to part the pages a little more forcefully so as to read the words near the margin. When she entered the room, she uttered a gasp, grabbed the book from my hands and looked at me, gaping in disbelief.

“Oh my! I don’t read my book that way.”

“Then how do you read your book?” I asked, bewildered by her sudden mood.

“Like this,” she opened the book slightly and peered into the pages. “Now, look at the spine!”

I saw her rubbing the long scratch that ran the whole length of the spine, as if rubbing it would smoothen the surface.

“Oh no! I’m so sorry,” I uttered, remembering how expensive her book was.

That’s just another reason why I prefer larger books. I don’t need to be extra careful with them. They put up with my force.

***

Now, I stumbled upon the Chunkster Challenge on a book blog and found the challenge interesting to say the least.

It is a challenge for readers who like reading chunksters. What are chunksters?
– A chunkster is 450 pages or more of ADULT literature (fiction or nonfiction) ... A chunkster should be a challenge.

– If you read large type books your book will need to be 525 pages or more ... The average large type book is 10-15% longer or more so I think that was a fair estimate.

The Rules of the challenge are as follows:

– No Audio books in the chunkster. It just doesn't seem right. Words on paper for this one folks.

– No e-Books allowed - we are reading traditional, fat books for this challenge.

– Short Stories and Essay collections will not be counted.

– Books may crossover with other challenges.

– Anyone may join. If you don't have a blog, just leave a comment on the Chunkster Challenge post with your progress.

– You don't need to list your books ahead of time.

– Once you pick a level, that's it...you're committed to that level!

The challenge is quite flexible since it has several categories to choose from.

The Chubby Chunkster – this option is for the reader who has a couple of large tomes on their TBR list, but really doesn't want to commit to much more than that. 3 books is all you need to finish this challenge.

Do These Books Make my Butt Look Big? – this option is for the slightly heavier reader who wants to commit to 4 Chunksters over the next twelve months.

Mor-book-ly Obese – this is for the truly out of control chunkster. For this level of challenge you must commit to 6 or more chunksters OR three tomes of 750 pages or more.

Since this is my first reading challenge, I choose The Chubby Chunkster. Good luck to me!

Friday, May 7, 2010

On Revisiting the Past: Last Voyage of the Valentina by Santa Montefiore

(In which the truth will indeed set one free.)

***

“What’s with people and their obsession with the past?”

***

For most books, I have to get past through the first chapters before I can get into the novel. With Santa Montefiore’s novel, Last Voyage of the Valentina, it took me almost half the book to totally get a better feeling. I found the protagonist – Alba Arbuckle – complicated but somehow understandable. She never knew her mother, Valentina, and no one in the family wants to talk about her. She sought comfort in the arms of different men. She led a promiscuous life out of boredom. She hated her father and stepmother for depriving her of her mother’s memories. She hated them for making her feel that she doesn’t belong and that no one wants to talk about her past so she intended to find the truth that they’ve been hiding from her on her own. And with the discovery came the realization of a dark past and the understanding of why no one wants to bring it back.

Reading the first half of the book is a long journey. Yet after the difficult part, the mystery of a failed romance set in the picturesque shores of Incantellaria during WW2 was enough to keep a reader hanging. The middle part of the story was written patiently; each element of the mystery slowly coming into view along with the memories. However, the main aspect of Valentina’s death was unclear to me: How did it happen? The account of her death was left missing. It would have been better if all angles were made clear to the reader. Not fully knowing how incidents took place gave this novel a feel of incompleteness, and worse, it seemed that the last part of the book was rushed. It seemed like the writer was just anxious to let Alba know and “solve” the mystery of her mother’s death.

After finding out the truth, Alba realized that she has to change. And she did. This part of the novel made me remember the clichés found in soap operas. But, it’s better than having Alba wallowing in the darkness she has discovered and continue to live in her decadent lifestyle or live in abhorrence. At least she understood that she needs to let go and start anew.

The ending wasn’t something I expected. I am not sure whether it’s good or bad but it made me smile. The way it was written was reminiscent as if there was a cycle to be fulfilled. However, because of the change in Alba I believe her story won’t end the way Valentina’s did.


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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

I’m Not Good at Goodbyes So…

(In which I confess as an asocial drama princess with an insouciant façade.)

***

I’m not good at goodbyes so I smile.

Two weeks before Judah left, we talked about exciting things he should look forward to when he comes home – his best friend who’s coming from his military service, his reunion with his family, drinking sessions with his buddies and more time with his pets. We spent more time laughing at crazy photos and F.R.I.E.N.D.S. episodes than actually studying grammar and discussing where his indentions are.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I become speechless. When I managed to speak, I do so stupidly.

I am an English teacher. And what I actually taught him was conversation and writing. Yet when another teacher focused a video camera on me for a message for Judah, I ran out of sensible things to say. Instead, what came out of my mouth were clichés – the kind of stuff you write on a school grader’s slum book.

I’m not good at goodbyes so my tear glands work extra.

I wasn’t saying dramatic things during the video recording but something lumpy got stuck in my throat and my vision blurred. It couldn’t be a chunk of pork and the spicy food since I’m sure I gulped lots of water. The next thing I knew was that a male student was running his fingers down both his cheeks which told me I already looked foolish.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I refer less eye contact.

This is related to my sensitive tear glands. I tried not to look at his face but I listen to what he’s saying. I knew he talked about himself most of the time. I knew he preferred beer over soju. I knew he and his girlfriend plan to have their honeymoon in the Philippines. I knew he appreciates Teacher Chin’s singing talent and Teacher Rachel’s good heart. You see, I pay attention.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I become distant.

He cried. Prior to that he gave verbal warnings about how alcohol might contribute to his display of emotional vulnerability. But since it is time to go home, I chose not to tolerate my own emotional weakness. We’re all exhausted after an hour each of singing, dining, drinking and talking and good walks in between. We all have our curfews to keep. The least relaxing activity would be a tear-jerking moment in a celebration that was held for happiness’ sake. So when the inevitable came, I chose to be strong and relaxed.

He apologized for crying and for failing to withhold his tears. We talked while waiting for a Binangonan or Antipolo-bound vehicle that never came. In the end, I accepted his offer to walk us to the terminal.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I hate it.

He questioned the existence of parting and thought that if there is a God then He’s a mean god. I reasoned out that the making of goodbyes isn’t good news but God created hellos anyway.

I remembered how two seeds were planted distantly from the other so they could maximize the space and grow into sturdy trees. Then one day, their strong branches will reach out to the other tree, making the distance closer.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I don’t say it.

If I do, it’s for conversation’s sake – the same way you say goodbye to a person who you know will come back the next day. I chose to talk about things off topic just to avoid talking about farewell. We talked of silly things from the samgyeopsal meat which tasted marinated though it doesn’t look like it was to people walking by.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I sulk on my own, in quiet moments when no one’s looking. I thought of the funny and the awkward moments as well as for the things I didn’t and couldn’t express. But regret wasn’t there. I need not talk. I knew he understood. And we will meet again. He promised to attend my wedding as well as Teacher Rachel’s and Chin’s.

I’m not good at goodbyes so I wrote the draft of this post using all the different-colored pens he gave me as a gift, amazed that he knew the colors I like. Then I laughed as I looked at how colorful my notebook has become.