Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Last Station: Leo Tolstoy's Last Days

I can't claim to have impeccable taste in movies. I have paid to watch films like Karate Kid 2 (oh-my-gawd) and Going the Distance, after all. But once in a while, I stumble unto something intelligent AND watchable --- a feat increasingly rare in today's films.

You will not have learned of this movie. It didn't even show here in the country. Sige, aaminin ko, the only reason I even bought this film is because James McAvoy is in it. And maybe because Helen Mirren was nominated in this year's Oscar's for Best Actress. I'm thankful for this 2 very shallow reasons though because it led me to finding a movie that, in my opinion, competently portrayed the conflicted life of the famed Leo Tolstoy.

As a litgeek, of course I know who Leo Tolstoy is. I could name his novels and essays, and maybe, perhaps, infer on a couple of reasons why he was such a big man in Russia. But the truth is, I haven't read War and Peace. It makes for such an excellent doorstopper that I haven't had the heart to rid it of it's only purpose at home. This movie though lent me a new perspective on his writings. It wasn't all about telling a story. It was also about changing the world. Tolstoy suffered through a crisis of fate, and he emerged with an ideology that most of the Church's precepts are just plain verbiage and snook. Of course, he got excommunicated by the Catholic Church for his efforts (of course). But it didn't stop him from writing. His message was simple: All religions have one truth in them, and only one. The word for that truth is LOVE. Ambitious. And yet it earned him a congregation. The movie chronicles Leo Tolstoy's last days: his quarrels with his wife Countess Sofya, his inevitable signing over of the copyright of his works to the public, and his death at a train station. Hence, the title of the movie.

But aside from the politics of the Tolstoyan movement, it also tells the story of 2 love stories: One that has run its course for 48 years and suffering a breakdown, and another at the beggining, at the cusp of something beautiful just about to bloom. It re-awakened in me my long dormant fascination with the Russians --- something that started with my Romanov fever back in high school. It also helps that the film featured the best actors at the peak of their performances: Christopher Plummer, Helen Mirren, c'mon! Not to mention, Paul Giammati, James McAvoy and his wife, Anne-Marie Duff. This is what I will hold as my standard from now on when I read or hear the words "Stellar Cast".

I hope someday, when you have the time enough to be truly engaged in a complex story line, you'll also sit down and pop this into the DVD. It doesn't have things blowing up in it, or people having torrid torrid sex (well, a few love scenes), but like a song, it is lyrical and soft and pure.

Helen Mirren and Anne-Marie Duff as the women in Tolstoy's life

Paul Giammati can play the anti-hero, now it proves.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Celebrating the Yummy @ Celsius Gastrolounge

The good thing about having foodie friends is that it isn't hard to invite them for gastronomical explorations. The bad thing is, well, if you're on a diet. Good thing I know my priorities. Kaya, kainan na!!!

Sem and Eman (an avid fan of Awesome Planet) have heard of Celsius Gastrolounge in Tomas Morato (walking distance from my workplace). I'm in the mood for an adventure, so I decided that I could sacrifice my scheduled cereals-and-milk dinner for a more filling one with them. Besides, who am I to say no to free food, eh? Celsius is named after the temperature gauge often used for cooking. The unique thing about this place is that they feature student chefs from the International School for Culinary Arts and Home Management (ICAHMS) in Katipunan. As it happens, they are also the group behind Aubergine which I keep hearing about but haven't had the chance to try due to budget reasons.

If there'se one thing Sem and I have in common, it's the awful habit of restraining everyone from touching the food BEFORE we've taken pictures of it. To honor our common bad habit, I am featuring her food photos in this particular entry. They are so much better than mine anyway. Thanks Sem for the pics. :D

I was late, so when I got to Celsius this interesting looking Chorizo Lettuce Wrap was already waiting for me. There was also a free appetizer with good garlic dip which was perfect because I was hungry. Nowadays, I'm always hungry.

I got to this dish quite cold already so the integrity of the flavour may have already been compromised. But my initial call --- underwhelming. Maybe I still have a holdover longing for peking duck lettuce wrap (one of my faves I could not indulge in often because it's dang expensive). But I suppose, it's a good jumpstarter for tastebuds that haven't tasted animal fat for 3 days.

It's a good thing that the Best parts were still to come. We were looking for something healthy (due to the fault of yours truly), so we decided to order the Grilled Seafod Platter which boasts of shrimps, scallops, tuna, mahimahi, and calamari served with steamed asparagus, fried spinach and shrimp essense rissotto. Oh joy!

I rarely wax poetic about vegetables, but the asparagus was beyond far-out in freshness. The risotto, which Eman jokingly referred to as champorado, was a little bland for my tastes but it somehow works to neautralize the seafood fare it came with. Sem raved about the calamari because it was by far the best she has tasted (I agree). But my personal favorite is the grilled tuna because it was grilled medium rare and you get the full flavor of fish without the icky "lansa" taste. It's like having the best of sashimi and grilled food in one. Love it.

Our other dish is the Grilled Porkchop on top of creamy slaw. The pork was a little tough to cut with a knife, but just the right consistency inside the mouth. It was also quite good.

Girls of a Certain Taste (Sem and I both loved the Tamarind Iced Tea)

Even if we only ordered 3 dishes and there were 3 of us, we still werent able to finish everything off because the servings are that BIG. We really missed having Ian around. Half of both our main courses were packed to go and lovingly given to Raffi Domingo so she could get a taste of Eman's libre. :D

It was a little on the expensive side, but I have to say... yeah, if they could maintain that kind of cooking, I could close my eyes and pay for it too (like Eman did this time around). Good food, and oh-so-temptingly close to my office. Boy, am I in some big trouble. If you plan to eat here again, you WILL need help. Don't hesitate to call me when you do. :D

Friday, October 08, 2010

On my 29th Birthday

4 months from now I'll be celebrating my last birthday in the 20s range. I know, I sound ancient.

10 years back, I thought 28 is like, an established age already. Obviously, it isn't. And going back to my Life Checklist, well, let's just say I underestimated Father Time and the many things that Life surprises you with.

But if there's one thing I want to do on my 29th birthday, it's this: Fit into a really pretty dress and rock it, like, totally.

If it means eating nothing but cereals for the next 3 months of my life, I will. I just want one photo of me where I am totally drop-dead gorgeous --- Just one photo that I can hold on to as I cross over to 30. Someday, when I have little David and Sophie rummaging through my stuff, I want them to find that picture and say, "Mommy, you're so beautiful!"

And then I'll go, "Ah, yes, I was young and pretty once."

And it'll all be worth it.

Eat Pray Love and Snooze

Oh dear, and to think I waited 3 whole months to watch this film.

These days, I get to watch a lot of movies. A lot of them are crap, but at least, they were enjoyable crap. I happen to like the book Eat Pray Love, even if it was bordering on becoming an annoying chronicle of an entitled woman and her soliluquys on self-induced pathos. The thing about the whole Liz Gilbert thing is that she has a few worthy words of wisdom to share. The problem with the movie is that it tried to stretch out those few nuggets and squeezed every tear and blood and life out of it. I'm sorry, I'll say it straight out: I got bored watching this flick.

Me, who adores Julia Roberts to her very last incisor teeth.

I could say it was because they tried to fit one whole year into a 2-hour film. But no. I couldn't say Julia Roberts is losing her touch because she was just luminous and believable as Liz, even if I know Liz really exists and I know how she really looks like. The book was a minefield of witty commentaries, but somehow that didn't make it into the film. The book, as always, had more heart than the film. Sayang.

I did have favorite moments though like when Liz argues with her soon to be ex-husband and she told him that it's okay to dream but to just choose one --- then Steve exclaims, "Okay, I choose one. I choose you!" It takes a lot of chutzpah to deliver a line like that. I almost felt like standing up and clapping my hands to give Billy Cruddup props because he delivered it flawlessly and believably. Bravo!

I felt the slightest pang of envy when they showed that scene where she was eating gelato in Italy, then pizza in Naples, then the scenes where she was trying to fit into her jeans (so relatable since it's an everyday debacle on my part) --- I want that someday! The movie, I have to admit is eye-candy for creatures of the wanderlust like me.

And then two words --- Javier Bardem. I don't know what's with this guy. He's not even that handsome, his hair is graying and he speaks weird --- but something about him makes me raise an eyebrow and murmur, "Yum!" Ooops, wait, sorry Ib. You're yummier, of course. Even if Javier Bardem professes his undying devotion to me right now, I will, ehrm --- to borrow the debatably cheesiest line in the whole film --- I choose you.

Anyways, back to the point --- there were 2 characters aside from Liz who took the limelight and ran away with it. Richard Jenkins was phenomenal. He is about the only real character for me in the whole film. He shares this distinction with Ketut (the Balinese healer). A man with no teeth is amusing enough. But whoever that actor is, he portrayed the child-like innocence and honesty necessary for Ketut to be believable. Sometimes, too believable--- he made me smile just looking at him. Smile with my liver, you could even say.

Hay, sayang talaga. Of course I won't dissuade you to NOT watch it. People who haven't read the book will probably not appreciate it more. Gosh, people who DID watch the book didn't appreciate it either. So, you know, watch it if you want to. Just don't say I didn't warn you. Bring tonnage of Coca-Cola (or Thums Up) and hope it's enough sugar to keep you awake during the most excruciatingly long scenes of sheer talkativeness.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump’s Search for the Happiest Places in the World

When I was younger, I really, really, really wanted to be a journalist. They get to go to the most God-Awesome places in the world and look fabulous on TV. But my parents, who usually are the most supportive parents ever, had their doubts. They said I was TOO HAPPY to be a journalist (and of course, they said the field is too small and extremely competitive, but the other comment surprised me more). What does happiness have to do with journalism?

Back then, I suppose I did not fully grasp that as an annotator of real life, I would have to bear witness not only to royal weddings, peaceful elections and happy African children with their white, white teeth dazzling the cameras under the midday sun, but also war, famine, violence and human strife. It would just totally ruin my good vibes!

Case in point, much like how Eric Weiner’s life had been the past few years. Aside from having a last name that rhymes with whiner, he also has the task of working as a foreign correspondent for the National Public Radio. He had been to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan and Indonesia, which he claims to be unhappy places. He roamed the world telling the stories of people who are unhappy. We all know why, of course.

“The truth is that unhappy people, living in profoundly unhappy places, make for good stories. They tug at the heart strings and inspire pathos. They can also be a real bummer.”

Out of professional curiousity, he decided to travel the world for one year and search for the happiest places in the world. No, it’s not akin to a year-long vacation. He really wanted to understand why these places can be happy; he researched facts and figures which might support happiness in those particular countries.

“Places that possess, in spades, one or more of the ingredients that we consider essential to the hearty stew of happiness: money, pleasure, spirituality, family, and chocolate, among others. Around the world, dozens of what-ifs play themselves out every day. What if you lived in a country that was fabulously wealthy and no one paid taxes? What if you lived in a country where failure is an option? What if you lived in a country so democratic that you voted seven times a year? What if you lived in a country where excessive thinking is discouraged? Would you be happy then? (introduction, page 2)”

He went to the Netherlands where drugs and prostitution are legal and where the World Database of Happiness office is located, Switzerland where chocolates rule, Iceland where the more you fail the more you succeed, Qatar the land of Gold and More Gold and totally devoid of national culture, Bhutan where people speak with their hands as much as their lips, India where people are suffering but is the center of happiness for Julia Roberts’ Eat Pray Love character and countless others, then to sour places like Moldova, Thailand and Great Britain.

What I appreciated after reading this book is how it puts into perspective how we see and understand happiness. How, as a very objective word, it can preclude and include so many things, and all you have to do is decide which things matter. Everyone in the world wants to find even a little bit of happiness. The Philippines doesn’t really fare badly in the happiness meter. We are a relatively happier country than richer neighbours in Asia. Creating a happy culture is the sum total of history, discipline and motivation. Some of these factors you can’t change. Some depends on our choices today.

So yeah, maybe it’s the country where you live in. But in one way, maybe it’s also the country we make it to be.

I recommend reading this book if you want to ponder on the H world without falling into self-induced depression. The book is funny, insightful, without sounding privileged or haughty. It just details an average man's investigation on the world's most objective concept ever. Even a grump dreams of laughter, so it seems. And I'm willing to bet that Eric Weiner is a closet happy freak after all.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Mesa: Filipino Moderne

It’s a weekday -- it had been one heck of a day; almost original in its unoriginality. What do you do? Why, try something new of course!

Met up with my favourite boys from work (erm, ex-work?) and the fun thing about eating with boys is that absolutely nobody will tell you to watch your portions. And the only reason they will remind you that chicken skin is fattening is because they want it for themselves! It’s refreshing, I tell you.

Just like that, it was boy’s choice, and they decided on Mesa. I tend to doubt restaurants that claim they serve “modern” Filipino dishes, because to me that means, “something similar to what I ate the other day.” But I trust the boys’ instinct (especially if one of them is a self-disclaimed gourmand, yes that’s you Ian whether you admit to it or not). Oh, and must I say, their eating utensils rocks.

I let the boys choose what to order, which wasn’t very wise. We ended up with a slew of fried food and artery-blocking albeit incredibly delicious sisig rice. Now I know how it feels to be slain. Like a Christian losing consciousness during Sunday revival mass. Here are my fellow sinners:

And here’s the list of our sins:

For appetizers, I ordered baked tahong with cheese. It has become my favourite ever since I tasted Tita Eva’s (our former admin staff) homemade baked tahong. Nothing compares to her cooking, but this is a competent runner-up. The shells were on the smallish side, but I guess that’s fine, knowing red tide is up. I’d rather have them small and safe than humongous and fatal.

Service is quite fast for a non-fast food. We ordered sisig rice and that’s when I fell in love. With the rice. It’s good. A quiet came over me like a veil of grace. I haven’t eaten rice in 3 days and this --- this is a worthy transgression.

We also ordered Chicken in Honey Patis. And this time, Ian fell in love. With the Honey Patis. I thought they were gonna make out right there and then. He was even talking about introducing Honey Patis to his mom, a feat which none of his previous girlfriends have ever accomplished. And this Honey comes along, and he’s a goner. Begrudgingly, I sampled it and have to admit: Yummy. But the rice and the chicken didn’t really go well together, so it made me kind of bipolar during the meal. Ian and I are okay afterwards, although the word Honey Patis is thereby banned in any of our conversations in the near future. :))

J, on the other hand, did not wax poetic about any of the dishes, but J… doesn’t really wax poetic about anything except Manga. Such a quiet guy, but he looked happy communing with the boneless tilapia and the chicken as well. (Ok, that sounded too weird). The tilapia wasn’t as crunchy as we would have wanted it, but for the quantity and the 4 sauces that came with, it was good enough. Not incredible, but okay.

The stuffed squid (stuffed with pork and vegetables) was a good idea. It sounds like a good idea. My problem is, I am a purist when it comes to squid. I like them in their own ink, or I like them grilled with tomatoes. When I eat squid, I want to taste squid. Putting pork inside just kind of distracted me from what I was actually eating. It’s good, but not my kind of thing. Did you notice that all our viands look alike? Fried, all of 'em.

In under 45 minutes, the boys and I were swooning with high cholesterol. No one was complaining though and we were even pondering on desserts. We were saved from inducing ourselves into a stupor when the better part of angels told us to hold off from the sweets.

Looking back, I realized now I did have fun. Hear that, Ian? So, kelan ulit? And should we go to confession as a team? :D Because I certainly would need help explaining the indulgence.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Are there Girl Gundams? Or the Little Girl Lost Chronicles

I am a Nerd. Turn me around, upside down, and I'd have distinguishing marks of my true nerdhood. (i.e. callused writing fingers, wrists with early symptoms of carpal syndrome, not to mention the huuuuge butt that professes my sedentary lifestyle). I am also a Geek who likes trivia, mythology and magic. I adore Science although am wary about his brother Math. But both as a geek and a nerd, I never understood the mysterious pull of Robots.

When I was a kid, I NEVER watched Voltes V. I just never got the hook about five (were there five?) people inside machines that connect to make one giant robot. I never got the appeal of Masked Rider Black. And as I found out, there was even a show called Macros (tama ba?) which were the predecessors of the now famous Gundam Shirizu.

It's a serious dearth in my 80s and 90s education, I am aware. I just can't ride along when people wax nostalgic about Richard and Erika. Or the yellow panties of Annie in Shaider. So now that Gundam is unobtrusively but definitely inching into my life, I feel a little lost in the game. But the true character of the Geek is to never back down from an interesting challenge, so I find myself embracing the universe of Gundam Model Building, at least starting from the theoretical.

Have you ever tried buying a gundam model from toy or hobby stores? If you are uninitiated and raw as I was, believe me, just don't do it. Last Christmas, my head was within an inch from exploding trying to find the right Mobile Suit Gundam Wing Zero MG model. Yes, try reading that again. That mouthful actually mean something to Gundam enthusiasts. I went to five.... FIVE... stores trying to locate the right model. And it turned out there were a handful of Gundam Wing models and the slightest punctuation could spell the difference between right and wrong. It was stressful at first, but then I realized that I don't have to do it alone. I can ask for help from the shop attendants. The MALE shop attendants.

Women don't have a clue. Inside SM Fairview's Toy Kingdom, the saleslady actually said, "Mam, yan lang po ang mga robot-robot namin." Whereas the Men... Well, I suspect that there are men who have a secret trigger that activates upon hearing the "R" word and from polite, detached salespeople, they become Martin Luther Kings, Jr. One store owner in a secret (read: possibly illegal) shop along Taft Ave even took it to heart to explain to me the difference between the Wing and Wing Zero Models as well as showing me his Destiny series. I made a mental note that if the boy I'm buying it for fails to appreciate the effort, I can always thank him for pointing me towards the fact that Gundams make for an excellent pick-up line and conversation starter. Win-win!

But appreciate it he did, and I guess he somehow knew that his padawan is now ready to understand the art of hobby crafting. He couldn't have done it in a better time. I was ready. All he had to do was show me this picture :
and I was in awe.

I have no idea why I didn't see it before, but I now realize that much as I smirk at the thought of little boys playing with robots, I have to admit -- robot model crafting is ALSO an art. A painstaking one. I marveled at the reticulated fingers of the Perfect Grade models, the neat precise decals, and all the details which would just kill me --- it will kill me, i promise. He actually needs to use tweezers to put together some of the parts. I was surprised at how intricate and time-consuming the process was and also understood it takes a very, very, very patient person to commit to this kind of craft. Hearing him describe how he feels when he's building, made me see that it's exactly how I feel when I paint or write. I can't help but feel schooled and overclassed. Especially when I asked if there were Girl Gundams and got a patient answer with nary a smirk or haughtiness: "There are girl pilots... of gundams." Aaaah...

SO do I start making gundams? Ehrm... no. I'll give it to the person who won't go insane trying to put together parts smaller than mice teeth. What's important is I now understand why it will enthrall a person with the right kind of personality so much. And I welcome it to my life, like Resident Evil, molo soup and Gap shirts. It just makes life more interesting. But there is of course a caveat to this --- give me a heads up when you're going to hibernate with your robots, or else I'll go all evil drone on you.
Capish? Capish. :D

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Taste the Dream at O'sonho

I was pissed and I was hungry. I needed good food fast.

After a particularly boring seminar in Makati, I decided to pick up my sister in her office along Jupiter Street with full intention of drowning my malcontent in grub and fodder. At around 8 p.m. we walked along Jupiter towards the direction of the MRT and decided to choose a restaurant we haven’t tried before – Discovery Day for Sisters. All my sister knew was that there was interesting Portuguese place that starts with an O. It wasn’t hard to find. After passing Gerry’s Grill, we found O’Sonho.

O’Sonho turned out to be Portuguese for the Dream. In fact, that’s how they advertise their food : Dreamy. I am inclined to agree.

I admit I have difficulty distinguishing Portuguese cooking from the more common Spanish fare. But having eaten at O’sonho taught me that Portuguese love their spices, and they aren’t as tomato-based as most of Spanish dishes are. The menu offers fish, meat, salad and desserts. Price was not unreasonable. The All Meat Paella caught my eye immediately. I love a good paella and I realized I am dying for one. We placed an advanced order since it takes 15 minutes to prepare.

I wish I took better pictures that could better justify it’s excellent taste. It wasn’t as savory as Spanish Paella where the tomato adds richer taste. Portuguese Paella was all saffron and cumin, a combination I also love. The rice wasn’t as soaked in the juices of the meat as I would’ve preferred, but the selection of chicken, lamb, beef, Portuguese chorizo and bacon all grilled to perfection makes up for what’s missing.

Looking around the various newspaper clippings displayed near their front door, every each one of them praised the Chorizo sisg, so we made a decision to try that as well.

Honestly, I couldn’t distinguish it from pork sisig. But is it good? Heck yeah! It isn’t as oily as pork victuals, and it’s not as “nakakasuya”. I enjoyed it, and for the price of P 210, it’s not a bad additional viand. But I don’t know if it’s worth all that praise as newspapers make it out to be.

My sister’s favourite is the Peri Peri Chicken dish. We both had no idea what exactly Peri Peri sauce is like, so this one was a nice surprise. It turns out it’s a slightly spicy marinade, while the chicken is grilled. I don’t know how they made the skin slightly crunchy, but however they did it ---- it’s gooood.

I also liked the ambience. It’s simple, warm but no-nonsense. Wine bottles adorn the walls, and there is an impressive wine bar; if you’re into good wines that’s a definite plus.

It’s too bad the restaurant is far from the swarm of other places along Jupiter, can be hard to find for the less courageous and more directionally-impaired. But believe me you --- it’s worth finding.

Go try them now and have yourself some food from Magellan country. :D

The Wall of Fame
The Wine Bar

Our cushioned booth

It's right in front of Buendia Car Exchange.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Cafe Juanita: Kitschy and Kewl

Dates could get a tad bit routinary, I realized. But then again, nothing's wrong with routine as long as you know how to color it up a bit. So I have a plan that every month, my friend and I would hold a Discovery Day and visit restaurants I researched on the net. The first on the list is Cafe Juanita. The original restaurant is in Kapitolyo and I was told it was homey as it was Oriental-esque. The Cafe Juanita we went to is the one in Burgos Circle, The Fort.

My companion and I never even knew there were hidden gems in Burgos Circle. The restos up in Bonifacio High Street have been hogging all the fame. Parking was convenient (underground) and since we were early for the lunch crowd, we immediately found space to park. One short flight up (this was important to me and my friend), and we were on the right side of the circle and gustatory delights were at hand.

Upon entering the restaurant, one would be accosted by color -- LOTS of THEM. There are chandeliers with fabric hanging artfully from the spines, drapes and drapes of cloth, flowers and leaves growing from chairs and tables and walls. For a split moment, I was worried the place was too girly or date-y for my guy friend. But it helped that there was a family dining at the first table and the men looked comfortable enough. Fancy that. This is the view of the main entrance from where we were seated.

There were plenty of tables for two people --- right, we get it, it's a date place. I could only imagine the place at night, when the chandeliers are all lit. Here's our cozy space, near the books.

I loved this simple candle holder. Reminded me of Old Filipiniana pictures.
Someday, I want a picture taken of me holding this, and only this. :))

There were only two of us so we could only order two viands for fear of not being able to finish it; more importantly, we were also on a budget. We decided on a pork and fish viand plus dessert.
This is the Bagnet on top of Pinoy Salsa. Crunchy, just the right level of salty and made interesting by the weird green veggie on top. Have no idea what that is though. Maybe Kutchai? Sorry, I don't know my vegetables. Hehehe :D

Making a right contrast, we also sampled the Fish in Kare-Kare sauce. It's like taking the 2 best traits of 2 well-loved dishes: the peanut butter soup on steamed fish. I thought the serving was small, at first. But then I realized the fish meat was so packed that a normal serving would be only half the dish. Perfect for two. And did I mention it comes with really, really good bagoong? We actually requested for more because tit went well with everything.

Dessert put us in quite a quandary. Cassava Cake or Sticky Toffee Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream? We decided on the latter. And we weren't disappointed at all! I planned to share the dessert with my friend, but it was so good I finished it all before he could even taste a spoonful. So we ordered another one and still, I couldn't help but get one more spoon in. Hehe, May baon naman akong gamot eh.

The staff were also very courteous, offering a mini-stool for my bag and making sure our water glasses are always filled. They offered to clear the table, but refilled our drinks indicating that we aren't supposed to hurry up. It's a good place to just sit and talk and tell funny stories with tummies full and satiated.
The cost isn't that expensive, but would still need some saving up for, especially for beleaguered NGO workers like us. But it's worth it. I suggest that if you're on a date, don't make like us -- go at night. But just like us --- bring lots and lots of stories.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

The Birds and the Bees and the Stork

Book in Hand: The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Burbery
Song in Mind: Today Was a Fairytale by Taylor Swift

The other day, Sex Education for Children was mentioned in one of our office lunch conversations. It seems there's a disparity in opinions about what age should sex education be taught to children. Some say be as honest about it as early as the first time they ask about it (that could be as early as 4 years old when they ask how are babies made) or as late as 12 years old at the onset of puberty. Funny enough, the topic came up again during a ride home with a friend.

The discussions reminded me of my own childhood where sex and anything pertaining to carnal activity was screened by my parents with utmost vigilance. Yes, they were the type to cover my eyes when actors kiss on TV. They only bring me to movies advertised in posters with a minimum of 54 bright colours and always has some sort of fluffy animal or an adorable kid with freckles featured in it. I was always sent upstairs when guests start bringing up adult conversations.

My parents NEVER sat down with me to discuss the Birds and the Bees. I had to learn from what I can glean from misplaced videotapes, Judith McNaught books, watching Little Women and my classmates. One can see how a young child may be so grossly misinformed.

As a Looney Tunes kid, I actually believed in the Stork who carries bundles of joy in a sling with their beaks. That was until I chanced upon an interesting videotape inside an aunt's house when I was 8. It wasn't my fault it was between Rocketman and the Last Action Hero, was it? All I knew was when I opened the flap, there was a picture of a man and a women doing interesting things. But before I could scrutinize it any further, a panicked shriek ensued from my yaya, the thing was snatched away from me, and she started babbling about "Bastos yan, wag mo sasabihin sa mummy at daddy mo na nakita mo yun ha? Papaluin ka nila." I never told. But that was when I started suspecting adults know something they're not telling me about.

I only had to wait three years before an enlightened classmate whipped out a 2nd year Biology textbook during recess, and like a guru, proceeded to divulge to us the truth about the Human Anatomy. Using a number 2 pencil, she pointed out things of men that goes into stuff of women. Then like some kooky flashback, I remembered the video tape and it all became clear. I had no concept of porn yet, so I decided it was an instructional video for people who didn't know how to make babies (well, I was still kinda right, wasn't I?)

Entresvous the Movie. In my last days of innocence, it was my utmost conviction that kissing scenes done by 2 actors (who, I was aware weren't really husband and wife in real life) were actually mirror tricks. You don't get it? They were actors, right? So they acted like they were kissing someone and there's a mirror in between them. It must be some camera miracle to make it look like their lips were actually touching. All these wobbly justifications crashed and burned when I watched Winona Ryder in Little Women. If you watched this film, you will remember Jo and Teddy's kissing scene in the woods. The tongue and the mishmashing and the Saliva. That could NOT be a camera trick. That's real gross spit!

Then romance novels with titles like 'Whitney, My Love' and 'Windmills of the Gods' started making the rounds in school and that was the end of innocence. At this point, there was no doubt about the How anymore. Books like these just gave us a very skewed, hi-dry explanation about the Why. And then years later, as adults, you hang on to this hard-earned knowledge and go totally paranoid if nothing goes like the way it did in these movies and books.

So if you ask me, YES. Kids have ferocious imaginations and need guidance. Parents should find some time (and courage) to talk to their kids about Sex. It's their call if they will tell them the truth gradually as they grow up. But tell them. As much as possible, tell them straight, and avoid aphorisms like the Stork and Birds and Bees, and Flowers and Rain. I heard these make for very weird fetishes once people grow up, haha. I know we're Catholics, and that might limit our explanations a bit. But maybe we shouldn't make it out as some dirty secret that only the perverse engage in. Save them therapy years and years later by teaching them to make good decisions. But more than making good and doing right, let's tell them how they must be brave and be responsible for the decisions they make, even when, especially when, it leads them to paths unexpected.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Status Update Addicts Anonymous

Book in Hand: Whodunit? edited by Philip Pullman
Song in Mind: Love the Way You Lie - Rihanna

My name is Olivia and I am a Facebook Status Update addict.

They say that acceptance is the first step to overcoming any addiction; so here I am. How I came this far, I have no idea. It was only 3 years ago when I thought Facebook was for the social degenerates of society – attention whores and oversharers of information. Maybe my fall from grace was meant to happen --- I admit my point of view was a bit harsh and needed a bit of revision. Well, a lot of revision.

But I never meant to fall so hard. Not to the point of compulsively checking new status messages from people I’m connected to every ten minutes. Not to get to the point of no return where I start thinking in 420-character mode. Not when I annotate my life in 5 lines or less. Not the fact that those little red flags on top of the page excites me more than a smokin' hot photo of Paul Bettany.

Sure, brevity is a skill for writers, and sometimes, a gift to the people who have to read them. But it also takes out much of the flavour in writing. Not to mention limiting your tone to just one of the myriad possibilities: caustic, sarcastic, whiny, dreamy, happy, bored…. You get the idea.

Facebook killed thousands of bloggers worldwide. Why blog, when you can Tweet or SU, and get more and faster responses from people worldwide? The concept is exhilarating! You actually start thinking you have a fan base now; people who hang on to your every message… and yes, I mean you, Annabelle Rama (I mean, who cares what you Tweet?). I fell into the attention-whore trap, and only managed to snatch my soul from the claws of the Oversharer.

My rude awakening came when a couple of contacts started using their FB account as their online shrink. I admit, I have done my fair share of whining online and more than the usual number of “sad =’( “ statuses. But when I read their status, it just made me feel icky --- begging, begging for people they barely know to tell them they’re in the right, that they feel sorry for them, to be patronized and consoled --- even if they weren’t in the right and they weren’t guileless, at the very least.

FB has become a mechanism for perpetrating self-licking behaviour. In some ways, it helps you feel connected. But in a lot of ways, it infringes on the ability of people to tell truth from fiction because of course, self-propaganda reigns supreme.

And I fell for --- all of that. Damn shame.

So detox starts now. No more petty and trivial status messaging. No more useless “hahaha” or “lol” in other messages that aren’t really that funny at all. My SUs, if I do share it to Everybody, would be few but precious. Moderation is the Way. In the meantime, I return to the blog (and just import it to FB). Although it also poses the same risks of oversharing, it will take a couple more brain cells to express myself, a chance for common sense to catch up with thought, and edit if needed. Quite an effort, but I dare say it’s worth the prize of erudition.

My name’s Olivia and I am a Facebook Status Update Addict. It’s been 10 days since my last update. I plan to make it to 21 days to break the habit completely.

May God have mercy on my soul.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Queen of Solitude

The new people at work are starting to realize it. I'm actually a loner wearing the shell of an extrovert. I made no move to hide. I never misled anyone. I don't pretend to be hyper. I just have, within myself, the capacity to function as an extrovert. But at the end of the day, I always return to my loner self.

There are days I just need to be alone or to be with the people I can be quiet with. My family understands me. I hope some day, you will too. It is my fervent wish you will not tire or get bored while I get used to another life being led other than the way I live it. You said you're mostly quiet too... just be patient with me while I get used to our being silent together. I'm really looking forward to that. The kind of silence where words are not really necessary, accepting of the fact that we are different from each other but knowing of the fact that we have found something stronger than words to connect us. I hope we find it, that binding thing.

I hope someday, we look at each other and smile because without having spoken a word, we know we are the king and queen of our beautiful solitude.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Things I Will Never Have and It's Alright (2)

Continuation of yesterday's post....

4. A Yes-Friend / The Faithful Sidekick

Who doesn’t want to have a superbly faithful friend? That one person who you could run to and tell all your morbid secrets to and all she/he would say is, “it doesn’t matter, I love you anyway!” It can happen right? But I kind of overdid it, inside my head. Aside from faithful, I also wanted him / her to be blind to my mistakes, supportive to the point of suicide, domesticated more than docile. In short, I wanted a talking, walking shadow --- seen but ephemeral.

But instead of lap dogs, God gave me friends. My friends are the most sober, intelligent people you will ever meet. (Well, let’s re-think sober). They are GOOD. Not to mention practical. And sometimes, the imaginings of wild nights out and professions of undying friendship are nice. But again, not necessary.

It’s enough that they’re still here. It’s enough that they love chatty nights in coffee shops, and dinner in decent and wholesome places, and who disdain cigarettes as much as they do hairy men. It’s enough that I have good friends who knows where the word “frak” comes from and play game boards till the wee hours of morn. I have friends who can teach me how to properly pronounce ensemble, look up the word horny in the dictionary for me, tell me what clothes goes with pink tights (answer: nothing), how to resign from a job, and how to stay. I have friends who call me their little sister, and friends who will watch two movies with me in one night just because it means hanging out with me. I have beautiful friends. None of them says yes to me all the time. But when they say No, it’s usually for my own good. And I would be the word’s most incredible JarJar Binks if I do not feel supremely happy about that.

6. Prince William / Prince Charming

The Prince can kiss my J-Lo a*s.

I didn’t always think this of course. When I was much, much younger, I wasn’t a complete aberration to the female of the species. I also had The List. And on that List, I wrote down all the characteristics of The One. You realize it’s serious when someone capitalizes every other word in her sentence, right?

So this List of the One, expounds on how he’d look like: Tall (my friends snort with derision on this one), fair-skinned, intellectual (he’d have to have glasses), with a swimmer’s body. It describes what he’s good at: Math (first and foremost), proper English enunciation, people (all he needs to do is smile), and world trivia (geek seeks geek). He also has to be kind-hearted, not prone to anger, and given my quirks, he needs to be not easily fazed. He’s the type to send you flowers to show he’s thinking of you, who writes you long, lovely letters of undying affection, and totally committed. Understand this is not the complete list and yet you already know the man I describe does not EXIST. Prince Charming is a fairytale, and his modern counterpart, Prince William is marrying frakking Kate Middleton.

A girl must Revise according to Reality. Through the years, this List was pared down to the bare essentials. Practically all the physical characteristics were shot. Short guys are cute, you know. Smart doesn’t mean he can spout quantum mechanics or Keats in the same breath, and I couldn’t give a damn if you have a swimmer’s body or something more like a flotation device (all the more man for me to handle). The bare essentials have come to this: kind-hearted, smart (I am a firm believer of multiple intelligences), patient, and Decent (there goes the capitalization again). I don’t need violins or dates on yachts or rings with stones as large as a small porcupine (how tacky is that?), I just need assurance, simple affirmations of affection (surprise me) and time together (It doesn’t matter what we do).

I do not need Prince Charming. I deserve someone more real than that. I don’t need a mythic love story. I just need it to be True. And who knows, right? Maybe it could even be You.

To be continued tomorrow….

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Things I Will Never Have and It's Alright (1)

Happiness… it’s been weighing on my thoughts recently. After 28 years, I believe it’s time to understand that defining what makes you happy is, in one way or another, defining who you are. I’m not getting any younger, and I am tired, no, exhausted, of being at the mercy of trends or clich├ęs or tiny boxes inside people’s head. I have watched enough Hollywood movies and God knows how many thousand books to infiltrate my subconscious; perhaps most of them radically revising what is true to me and changed it to what is true to conformity instead.

Until now, I have so many frustrations in life --- the downside to a relentlessly overactive imagination. In some ways, what I have always considered as my greatest gift, has also been the biggest leech sucking life from, well… my Life.

And I’ve had enough. Watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception last night sealed the deal. I will not live my life in a dream within a dream within a dream. I will know what makes me Happy in this Life. And yet, I want to stay open to the surprises the Universe has for me. So I suppose, I could start by defining what will NOT make me happy, either because I really don’t want/need it even if I have convinced myself I do, or the time for it has passed and there’s no use mourning the train that already left.

1. Obscene Amount of Money

Growing up fairly cushioned is nice. Losing the cushion --- not so nice. Wanting the cushion back --- dementia-inducing mind-frak. We weren’t obscenely rich back then, but I grew up comfortably. And my life, right now, is so far from plush and comfy. It’s not half as bad, but it isn’t about having cars, and country homes, and multiple credit cards and shopping at Adora in GB5 every other night. In my head, I keep winning lottery tickets I never bought, inheriting money from aunts and uncles I never had, stumbling upon a windfall that will never come. If life was just as simple as playing The Sims where you just press Ctrl-Alt-Del then type motherlode and voila!

But do I need a motherlode? Nice but not necessary. I remember having a day where my salary was just enough to cover the groceries and bills and a little extra for a new book and I was content. I chalked it up as one heck of a successful day. So NO. Money I don’t need or require to find happiness. It helps me get there faster, but it will not keep me there.

2. A Supermodel’s Body

I have made my peace with this. I do not want Kate Moss’ body. I want Olivia’s. Except that I don’t know what Olivia’s body is. I grew up like this – fat. A slight incident of gene-splitting made me a bit taller than the average Pinay thus saving me from the fate of being a walking, talking teapot. But other than that --- I am fat.

Kids will always call out “Taba” to me when I walk down the street. Well-meaning busybodies will always tell me “Iha, Sayang ka.” Relatives will keep saying the only reason I am not married with four bratty, sniveling kids attached to my various limbs is because no man would want to marry a mini-van since they all want Corvettes. There may be grains of truth in their words (save for the one where I am “Sayang”), but --- please listen, I am HAPPY. My concern now is to be healthier and that includes losing some weight, but to aim for more than that is hokum for me. Being conventionally beautiful but miserable would greatly alter the Olivia you all know and claim to love. I am Big. I am Reubenesque, and I am just another version of Beautiful. Live with it. Because I can.

3. A Childhood Sweetheart

The first movie I was conscious of watching is My Girl, the one with Macaulay Culkin and Anna Clumsky. I was a bit like the girl protagonist in the movie -- tomboyish, unpretty, with a tendency to wax poetic about ice cream. In that movie, Clumsky finds a childhood sweetheart in Culkin’s character. And the idea of having my own childhood sweetheart was born. Except that the closest I got to childhood sweethearts are Michael J. Fox and a boy band member who turned out be gay (may he rest in peace).

Back when lonely nights were a reality – I sometimes find myself going back to this sore point. I have no sweetheart. No one will show up at my doorstep one day telling me he made a mistake, because we were so young (Liv, forgive me, we were 12!). No one will bump unto me one day in the grocery and introduce me, with a note of sadness in his voice, to his unlovely wife with unsightly facial hair on her chin and a Cabbage Patch looking kid wailing like Aerosmith’s Steve Tyler. And perhaps more bittersweet, is not having the memory of someone whom you shared chocolates, zits and Geometry with which could warm up cold, dark nights stretching endlessly before you.

Good thing, the better side of angels prevails after nights like these. True, I never had a childhood sweetheart. But I had a Childhood. And it was as golden and peach-flavored and rose-tinted as they could come. And some of us don’t have memories of puppy love because other types of Love were keeping your life full and hued. That’s why I have resolved that if I ever find myself being asked the question “Who was your childhood sweetheart?” my answer will be the truth.

“Everyone. And I was theirs.”

To be continued tomorrow….

Monday, June 28, 2010

Geek's Guide: Knight and Day

For the past 2 weeks, I have watched surprisingly entertaining movies (A-Team), to expectedly great films (Toy Story 3) and unfortunately, lackluster ones (Karate Kid). Yesterday, chalk one up for surprisingly disappointing.

Gosh, I feel like a traitor to Tom Cruise. He who I deem as one of Hollywood’s best actors, Scientologist and couch-jumping included. And Cameron, awww shucks, right? Adorable, slightly ditzy but incredibly hot and surprisingly smart Diaz who is just exactly the kind of girl I want to be. God, what happened?

First of all, I’d like to know why they bothered with the script at all. It was, by far, the most disjointed movie script Tom has ever done, and that’s including Vanilla Skies and Eyes Wide Shut. So it’s saying something. It must be written by somebody who has influence over the both of them, someone with chops in the maneuvering department. It’s like watching Sarah Geronimo perform for Loren Legarda. You just got to say – WTF? Why did she sell herself so short?

Okay, okay, I’m getting ahead of myself. In all fairness, the story line is interesting. It’s basically girl-next-door meets Ethan Hunt kind of story. I bet it would’ve been (or was) a fairly interesting Romance Suspense novel. But as a script, it lacked planning and failed at cohesiveness. It didn’t have enough romance in it (yeah, yeah, the chick in me is whining), and not enough suspense (we’ve seen you do that in Mission Impossible, Tom, show me something else). So what do you get? It’s just something mindlessly fun, something to enjoy with your girlfriends or with somebody who isn’t there for the film but for you. I bet you’ll need the distraction.

Don’t expect to be swept off your feet by Tom. Don’t expect to be charmed to chips by Cameron. Just sit there and turn off your brain and let it do some auto-piloting.

Friday, June 25, 2010

On Being Lost and Found

I have lost my purpose, yes.

I have bored my fair share of people and friends. I have served more than the customary number of parties as a wallflower. I have sucked out light like a black hole in some rare occassions. I have twinkled mostly dark than light, especially during the past years which I have candidly labeled "The Black Years."

But then unpredictable as star stuff, lately I find myself coming into my own with apparently no reason at all. It started with cleaning the house and throwing out all the baggages for the last 4 years. Then getting a new job. Then realizing I could handle relationships without hiding under the covers trembling. I still don't know where I'm going, but each step I take lands solidly on the ground. And best of it all is this silent blushing bloom of faith --- it is so much clearer now how God has supported me and gently led me even when I couldn't see because it was too pitch dark.

I have been too obssessed about finding a purpose. Now I realize, it was about not losing yourself when purpose can't be found. And the only person who can find you when you've lost your way, is yourself.

We learn any which way we can.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

5 Things I Learned About Life While Traveling

True, I have been extremely lucky with my first job because it took me to places in the country I never would have imagined visiting. The “tapon-anywhere” rule sat well with me and sated my wanderlust. I get to travel and be paid for it. And while learning the ropes of my job was mostly tricky (if not sometimes disastrous), learning the tricks to get the most out of my travels proved to be easier to learn.

Some projects would demand you travel alone, some in groups with you in charge, and sometimes you’re just along for the ride. The older I get and the longer I do it, the more I realize that traveling really is a succinct aphorism for life.

I am now of the opinion that if you master the following tricks, and find its appropriate counterpart in living a Life, you might just find that at the end of all things, you have journeyed well and far.

1. Finding (and Losing) Your Way

A sense of direction is not a must-have skill for travelers (because if it is, the number of people who travel will be cut in half, starting with a lot of my friends), but it does help you get to your destination more efficiently.

During happier days, my family would just jump in the car and drive any where we fancy. My assigned seat was just behind the driver’s chair and I would often lean forward acting as navigator for my father. Daddy always has this calm “aura of knowing” about him. Me, I always attributed it to his excellent sense of direction (and it really is excellent). Ask him anytime, anywhere, where North may be, and he’d know exactly which direction to point towards to (and he’s almost always right). When I asked him how he came to have his gift of direction, he answered, “It’s not a gift, it’s a prize.” He taught me that to have an excellent sense of direction, you must be prepared to get lost…a lot. Every time you get lost, you discover something new. It might take you back a few miles, but you’re better off for knowing. And the knowing in itself is the prize. After a while, the prize becomes your tool to finding better ways to reach more destinations.

So when asked, I can proudly answer: I have my father’s prize. I know how to find my way in strange places. But more importantly, I know how to be lost and find my way back.

2. Finding Nourishment

Ah… most of my trips are food trips. It doesn’t always start that way, but it most certainly always end that way. But in uncertain situations, the food I want to eat are not always available or safe. Case in point, trekking up a mountain in Ilocos Sur only to be served pinakbet for lunch (I didn’t eat any vegetables then), or getting hungry in the middle of an urban poor area in Malabon, surrounded by isaw and adidas which would most probably give me Hepa B.

You can switch to survivalist mode: bring your own food, bring your own utensils, bring your own water --- but where’s the fun in that? I prefer winging it --- what the heck, eat pinakbet (and it turned out to be the best pinakbet in the whole Philippines --- it is the sole reason why I started eating what few vegetables I now eat). You know what, try the street food --- newly fried fish ball (even if the oil is old) can be tolerable, just don’t dip it in the dubious sauce (or at least observe first if people only dip their sticks once—and only once). While you’re at it, make new friends with the children who are surely flocking to the stall.

When traveling, it’s not always about eating the best food, or eating at the right places. We find nourishment where we can. And sometimes, nourishment can take the form of unfamiliar things like a bowl full of fresh vegetables smothered in bagoong, or glorious, sticky dollops of dubious fishball sauce dripping from a child’s smiling, chatty mouth.

3. Finding a Toilet

Ooops, there goes that dreaded rumble in the tummy… and you just wish it were only butterflies in your stomach. But no, at one point during your traveling life, you will feel this thundering need akin to stampeding rhinos demanding to be let out of the fence. Or it could be that you desperately need to pee, and the sound of water trickling is pure torture, and you suddenly become conscious of every -s and –sh sound people make while they converse with you. The moment people mistake your weird walk as the hottest new dance step, for the love of God --- find a toilet, now!

But again, we don’t always get what we want. And sometimes, we can’t even get what we need. Travel has taught me --- get what release you can when you can. The saddest thing in traveling is to remember that clean, shiny bathroom 20 miles back when you thought you didn’t have to go. And now you’re hurtling in space at 60 kilometers per hour, clutching your butt cheeks a la supermodel, and chanting nonsensically in the vain effort to put yourself in a trance until the next restroom apparates.

As in life, find release when you can, however you can. Don’t hoard you piss or your shit --- let it go!

4. Choosing Your Souvenirs

Anywhere you go in the world, you’re surely to find a myriad of souvenir shops telling you that their product is the ONE ABSOLUTE MUST HAVE SOUVENIR of (fill-in-the-blank). And at the end of the day, you are drowning in a sea of cheap scarves and jingling key chains and reeking of that delicacy fruit you could only find in this place (and some other parts of the region).

Hey, I love to shop. I used to be the type of person who would buy all of my friends shirts, key chains and allstuff proudly bearing the name of the place I just visited. But the more I travel, the more it has become an expensive habit which is seriously taking a huge chunk off my budget. And seriously, how many key chains or statement shirts do my friends need? Now, I often just invest in foodstuff special to the region. You don’t have to buy what would probably end up as kitsch and crap, and you bring a taste of the place even if it’s just a tiny bite. And if nobody eats it, you could turn it into fertilizer and help Mother Earth.

I also used to have this fascination with picking up stones from wherever I travel. I will pick two or three pretty rocks which I tell myself would remind me of the (wonderful/ beautiful/ interesting/ hellish) place I have just experienced. At least, that’s what I tell myself. But honestly, I put the stones all in one bottle, and unless it was something extremely memorable (perhaps odd-looking), I can’t remember where I got all of it from. And now, they’re just a lot of stones, difficult to clean, collecting dust.

We accumulate baggage along the way. Life has a way of making us want to keep everything, treasure everything; if we could physically catalogue our memories we would. But sometimes, the very things we want to treasure are the things that hold us back. Choose your souvenirs wisely.

5. Doing What You Came To Do

Last but not least on this list is the veritable truth: Do what you have to do.

You went to Baguio to stuff yourself with peanut brittle. Do it. You went to Cagayan de Oro to white water raft. Don’t sissy out. If you went somewhere to work, or have fun, be sure to do it, and do it well.

While we’re alive, we only have one gargantuan task, and that is to live it well. Anything that detracts you from having the most of your living is crappy kitsch. Anything that holds you back from becoming the person God intends for you to become is baggage. We can’t always know our purpose, God knows it’s hard to find. But if we pursue trying to find out the reason why we exist, the better our chances of actually getting to do what we came here to do.

And in my opinion, a huge part of that purpose lies in the journeys we make.

Journey well.

The Mountains Within

We’ve heard it said, we have worlds within us, crevasses so deep, an ocean so vast. I personally like the ocean within us: impregnable, tempestuous, and indiscernible. But for every ocean that roils inside the human soul is a mountain that is equally unassailable and it towers over us virtually unreachable. I have spent years trying to understand my ocean. I figure it is now time to understand the mountains inside.

Tackling with the ocean within brings us closer to self-realization. It provides us a chance to break down the basic elements of our existence. Reflecting on the ocean helps us comprehend what lies deep within us. Contemplating about mountains on the other hand, is mostly visual, a panoramic view of your life, which hopefully brings us closer to the dreams we’ve always had, and the barriers standing in our way. In short, mountains help us comprehend what lies ahead of us. I needed this mountain vacation more than I thought I ever would.

Ever since I’ve sworn to move forward, I have been taking blind steps in whatever direction that presents itself. The feel of movement is glorious, thrilling and empowering. But I can’t keep walking blind for long. Gaining a higher perspective would help me get to where I’m going more effectively.

While pondering on steps forward and backward, in front of a newly dead bonfire, my breath came out in a mist that intermingles with the smoke of pine and cedar. I needed no more better proof that I am alive. My very soul is almost visible as I inhale and exhale the blistering cold air. Perhaps the air spelled it out for me. Maybe the foliage did. I suppose even the very skies and its nearness helped me gain the answer. The way forward is this: CHANGE.

Change in the way I handle relationships.
Change in what I do to sustain myself: body and soul.
Change in what I seek from other people.
Change in the way I treat myself.

I admit, I am relatively scared of change. I’m not always sure I can handle it. Not sure if I’m smart enough to dodge the harder blows. But now I realize, times like these, being smart is easy. Being brave, not as much. There will always be versions of Mt. Everest within us, and in the end, it is courage that carries us through.

So as I’ve said before, I take a step forward and another one, and then some more, to the music of spoons and forks. Having done that, now I believe it’s time to change the rhythm.

Sabi nga ni John Lloyd Cruz: Level up ka na!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Salad Brain

Oh geez. My brain feels like salad today --- maybe that’s what extreme house cleaning does to you. I realized I have absolutely nothing to talk about except swifters and wonder brooms. And believe me, I’d rather do hara kiri than bore you with that. I haven’t had time to play Plants vs. Zombies, haven’t decently finished anyone book for a week. All I had time for were select articles from back issues of People Magazine where I drool all over Chace Crawford and Johnny Depp. Aside form that, I was also forced to sit through hours and hours of telenovela since that’s all my balikbayan aunt and uncle want to watch. (Sometimes, I catch myself speaking like Agua perhaps because that show has rendered me brain dead).

No, it wasn’t a week for the cerebral, believe me you.

Have to do some mental calisthenics this weekend. I’ll somehow find a way to squeeze that in during this weekend’s paralegal training. I mean, if that doesn’t add some brain activity to my cerebellum, I don’t know what will.

Soundtrack of my 2010

Book in Hand: Graceling by Kristine Cashore
Song in Mind: I Belong To You by Muse

1. Halo - Beyonce
2. Therapy - Indira Arie
3. Supermassive Blackhole - Muse
4. Why Don't You and I - Chade Kroeger w/ Santana
5. Hush Hush - Pussycat Dolls
6. Too Lost in You - Sugababes
7. This is How You Remind Me - Nickelback
8. Mad World - Adam Lambert
9. All Star - Smashmouth
10. I Run To You - Lady Antebellum

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Learning Languages

While I was scrubbing my floor to death and dusting my books til the printed letters took cover, I kept my head busy by listening to an audio Spanish lesson (downloaded for me by kini). :D

?Que ora es?
?Que necessita usted?
Quiero unas baterias!
Necessito informacion, por favor!!

I don't know what it is about Spanish that I like so much. Maybe it's the roll of the Rs or the lisping of the Cs and THs which fascinates me so. Maybe it's because I imagine that one day I will travel to Spain and trace my roots in Madrid. There's even a province called Burgos in Spain and I imagine myself strolling down green lanes and fantstic gardens pretending it's all mine.

Back in college, French and Japanese language courses were all the rage. Frankly, I don't get it. One makes you sound as if you're choking on snails and the other makes you sound high and extremely angry. But before you attack me with forks and knives, I reiterate that love of a language is highly personal.

I love speaking Filipino --- it has delicate nuances and, more or less, straightforward pronunciation. I would die to learn any one Pinoy dialect; my Dad spoke 5, just for kicks, and I appreciated it too late. But if I were to choose a foreign language, Spanish is it. It has romance, a little bit haughtiness, maddening pronunciation (but not as worse as French), and a lot of rolling letters. It evokes scenes of mariachis and banderitas, and long, layered skirts and flowery fans. It reminds me of Desperado which made quite an impression on me at age 11. I think, it's the passion in the language which satisfies me the most.

I wouldn't mind being a polyglot, though I'll still stay clear of French and Japanese. Instead, I'll study the dying languages. Let's see:

Gaelic - Anamchara (soulmate), Graim thu (I love you)! (it sounds less cheesy, dun't it?No?) Well, yes, it does sound complicated, but doesn't it sound like winds rushing through crags and valleys? I love it.


Latin - just so I can quit saying Carpe Diem and say something new.


Aramaic - I mean, c'mon, wouldn't it be cool to greet Jesus using his native tongue when you finally bump unto him in heaven (supposing you make it to heaven)? "Bro... Shlomo Elaykoun!"(Peace be with you)

Sheesh. Teka, nag-short circuit na ata utak ko. Maybe I should just sleep this off. You can only exhaust one's limb and Broca's area in one day. If you know where I could learn these languages though, give me a point in the right direction. :D

Magandang umaga!

Friday, April 02, 2010

On Incompatibility

You make me want to be normal.

Except that I will never be. I have lived my life taking pleasure and pride in being adamantly "AB". I have taken circuituous roads and unknown short cuts just for the pure heck of not walking the road oft taken. I lived a life of irony and oxymorons --- and I take great comfort from it. And now, I am trying to fit myself into a mold which is obviously too incompatible with my girth or depth, in so many more ways than one.

I'm allergic to boxes. Or to be more specific, being inside a box. I have spent too much energy bursting out of them for me to suddenly want to crouch inside and pull down the flaps until all light is shut out. But if you are inside, logic fails, and I find myself enduring the cramp and the inky endless night just to be shut in with you. Inside the box, I cannot breathe, but then you smile and I ask myself, who needs air?

I wish I could bring you out of the box with me. I try sometimes, but the language is different and uninteresting for you. I've tried showing you the swirly clouds just before a storm, and the delicate inner workings of a flower, and I tried to explain sunlight, or the color of babies' laughter and you just look at me as if I am insane. Which of course I am. Would it be so wrong if you went insane too, just a little bit, just enough to see the second shadow beyond the surface of your glistening world?

There is a universe inside us. By closing my eyes and delving inside, I see moonlight and sunbursts, burning comets and the occasional blackhole. How can you put that inside a box? How can I ever be someone who lives inside a compartment in somebody's head?

I will never fit the mold you seek, that's clear. And you will never abandon your confinement, that too is certain. We're two very different creatures, air and earth, and although able to co-exist side by side, we can never really be the same element. In a moment of unhinged reasoning, I thought air and earth can mix to create beautiful glass sculptures of wind and sand. But for that to happen, we need fire, and something's telling me that's not something you'll do.

Not for me.

And here we must leave it be.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Plants vs. Zombies and the Obsessive/Addictive Personality

One thing I’m starting to suspect about myself is that behind my goody-two-shoes exterior is a competitive obsessive biyatch just lying dormant. I have actually analyzed the whole thing, and I suspect that much of my peaches and cream persona is actually a survival mechanism and not just a selfless desire for world peace. I have no real way of proving this because as it happens, I’m too close to the subject matter (me) and would never see it objectively. But once in a while, something comes along and strengthens my suspicion.

Like Plants vs. Zombies.

You know, I know, all my friends know, I hate Zombies. They are the foulest monsters ever imagined by the human imagination. I will take on hundred-headed hydrae and overlarge half-rats, half-mange creatures but God spare me from Zombies. Lately though, the world is overrun with a sudden interest and fascination for the unholy Re-animated. Movies, TV Shows, Books and Games all have different versions of these flesh eating, brain-feasting fiends. And it looks like it’ll be around for a while, looks like for a whole lifetime and beyond (I shudder at the thought). SO I figured, I might as well zap the phobia out by intense desensitization techniques. Ergo, watching Zombieland thrice (besides it gives good tips on how to survive a zombie-attack). Reading Pride, Prejudice and Zombies. And finally, playing Plants vs. Zombies (PVZ).

Playing PVZ is my inner biyatch’s sanctimonious playground. I have actual control over what kills ‘em or what kills me. It’s survival of the fittest, and I have a beating heart and brains in my head (not my stomach) so I like to think that’s me. Harmless, right? Except the effing zombies keep eating my brains! Arrrgh!

Nobody, nobody gets the best of me, (that’s probably not true but I can’t stand knowing it) and now, they’re everywhere. My finger itches when I’m not clicking on the mouse whacking a zombie. When I sleep, I even dream of planting sunflowers so I can harvest them effing sun and buy the firepower I need to kill those Gargantors. I even went as far as asking my best friend (who is now at 104 flags, gumdummit) to set up the necessary combination to survive the first 50 flags of Survival Endless (it took so much out of me knowing I could not survive beyond level 15 on my own). I have to kill ‘em zombies, and I have to kill ‘em all.

So yes, it’s fairly obvious. When allowed free rein, I am obsessive and addictive and warfreak-ish, and the world is lucky that my sub-conscious has installed self-preservation fail-stop mechanisms to deter me from blowing up random things and the undead. It is obvious now that my yellow-mellow-silly-dilly self chooses to dissociate from things that could get me all het up because when rankled I have a tendency to plant sunflowers and blast the offending party to kingdome come.

God forbid I get my drivers license (in the real world) because I absolutely hate the thought of sharing a cell with Jason Ivler.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Next Project: Critical 1,000 Books to Keep

It feels a little like brain surgery: how do you decide which parts are important and which parts are just meat?

And what if what you thought of as a useless fraction of brain mass now turn out to be the critical piece that controls a vital human function (read: ability to plan and significant points in the cerebral cortex) and you would have to live your whole life not being able to imagine a future just because at one point in time you thought, “oh well that part is dispensable anyway”?

I’m stuck. I’m stuck with over 3,000 books inside my teeny tiny house. Not all of it is mine, of course. About 700 or so belonged to my parents (management books, teaching aids, religious texts, reference materials for all possible branches of the social sciences). Approximately 45 belongs to my sister Ella (yeah, she loves to read, obviously). There was a point in time I would’ve felt boastful pride (redundancy intended) in the sheer number of literature available at my fingertips (because I sure as heck didn’t read them all just yet, especially not the “Joys of Statistics” textbook), but now, I just look at them and sigh. I need space. I need air. I just need to let go of some of my babies because I can’t give them the quality of life they deserve.

This Holy Week, my purging comes in the form of letting a portion of my precious horde go. I imagine by this time next week, at least a third of it will be dispensed of, donated or put up for adoption (for a minimal adoption fee). I have signed on to Book Mooch and opened an EBay account. I have even left books in random places for strangers to find. I like the idea that I’m making it cheaper for some people to read books. I’m doing everything necessary to find good homes for my beloved friends. It’s a win-win situation, they get read (hopefully) and by this time next week, my house would also be 60% less cluttered.

My geeky friends are of the idea one should never give away a book. I think that way too. But the difference between my geeky friends and me is the availability of funds to redecorate a whole section of the house just to put up wall-to-wall shelving. And besides, I need the trimming down. Less material things to worry about. At least in one aspect of my life, I’d actually feel lighter.

If you feel like helping me out, feel free to “adopt” a couple of my books. List will be out on Monday after Easter. :)D

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Of HOGs and Men

Have you ever played one of those Hidden Objects Games (HOGs)?

I’m currently playing one called Pahelika: The Lost Legends, and it’s quite difficult. So difficult that I have to cheat and download the strategy guide just to move to the next level. I have played dozens of HOGs, and I plow through them somehow without needing to cheat. In the earlier games, sooner or later, the puzzle unravels and you realize you’ve been staring at the answer all along. But this game just plain stumps me because of the utter lack of clues as to what’s next to be done. All you get is a generic exclamation about finding the next clue, and “oh-what-a-pretty-fairy-Garden” and then you are left to your own wits and defenses. The game so frustrates me that a friend told me if I was putting half of the energy it took to solve the befuddled mysteries into finding a boyfriend, I’ll be effing Venus de Milo.

It’s so obvious she has never played a HOG all her life.

The thing about finding hidden objects is it provides you mental exercise in preparation for the real thing. It’s all about finding the hidden treasures in the guise of the arcane. A rock is a rock is a rock, right? But what if it was actually part of some ancient pottery that provides you a map to unlocking the gates of Techewanawana-eske-tiralaralalir where the last of the Scrolls of Fate are buried. Finding this scroll will allow you to conjure up the portal entering Nirvana Phase 4, where waiting for you is a veritable treasure trove of unwritten JRR Tolkien stories and essays and a movie projector playing War of the Buttons 24 hours a day? Sigh. Heaven.

That beats boyfriend any old time. Then again. Maybe not. But they’re surely as hard to find as that damned old pottery.

But if Pahelika has taught me anything, it’s this: just keep clicking. Sooner or later something will shimmer and next thing you know it’s in your bag. I’ve broken my own heart twice, and the taste for love games sure lessens the more times you needed chocolate to recuperate. But then, if you stop believing that the next object you click at will be the piece that finally completes everything, the less chances you’ll probably find him. If only because, you stopped clicking.

You should also stop looking at things as what they are, but as what they could be. We have this obsession about defining things, the need to comprehend and make sense of what transpires in everyday life. But we keep forgetting that things are in constant flux and that “what is” may be just five seconds away from becoming “what was.” Careful about finishing your sentences way too early.

And lastly, when stumped, get yourself a strategy. It won’t get you the home run, but it’ll sure get you to the next level.

In the meantime though, I'll play the HOGs and leave the Men second-guessing.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Bag Ladies Beware the Boogeyman

Today we talk about that personal mobile black hole we call a purse.

Whether you like them big or small, with pockets or not, zippered or buttoned or clasped --- it’s an essential lady tool to carry our stuff around. What should be inside? Probably your wallet, Blackberry, Mp5 and kikay kit. Perhaps a pen and a small notebook and a thin tome of short stories to read while waiting for the bus/train/boyfriend to pick you up. Girls reading this are nodding their heads knowingly, albeit a little too hesitantly.

I know, I know.

That’s what SHOULD be inside. But what is actually inside that bag, honestly speaking?

Melted Maxx candies you’ve had since October last year. 5-centavo coins that spilled out when you forgot to zip up your coin purse that one time... (okay, okay, lotsa times). Enough bus tickets to fake your way from here to Bukidnon. Movie stubs from your last gimmick with friends. A pen with a missing cap and ink on the inside lining of your bags. Kleenex tissues which might have been or have not been used. A handkerchief. No, make that two hankies because you forgot to take out the old one this morning. And wait, what’s that brown gooey thing that’s stuck on your lipstick cover? Oh, a melted Hershey’s Kisses you forgot to eat last Monday.

Am I closer to the truth now?

Just last week, my sister turned sour on me for a whole friggin’ day because she noticed that I stained my Zara bag with ink probably from a pen left uncapped. The bad thing is it seeped to the leather outside, so my soft brown leather bag now has blue spots on it like a brown cow with meningitis. I did feel bad about it, for a whole minute I was actually frowning. But when I checked if the strap is ruined (no), and if it can still carry my stuff (yes, of course), I just shrugged and let it go. It’s my bag and I let it go. My sister though was so stuck she was still talking about it when we got home. You guessed it right, she’s a bag-a-holic. Me, I’m the bane of bag-a-holics. People from Bag-a-holics Anonymous refer to me as the Boogeyman.

Seriously, I’m the type of person nobody should gift with a Louis Vuitton or a Birkin. Unless of course you’re my soon-to-find millionaire boyfriend who do not care if his less than OC girlfriend has yet again ruined another thousand dollar bag. The primary reason is obvious: I can’t preserve the pristine condition of bags. And the next reason is: I just don’t care.

Bags are bags are bags. They’re accessories to carry stuff around, not to hang on your arm or used as a weapon of mass envy. I need them big, I need them with lots of pockets and I need them industrial strength. It has to carry my laptop, my wallet as big as a clutch, my various gadgetries, my wrist-thick books, my purple umbrella and my first aid kit. If I could fit in my rubber shoes in there and extra underwear, all the better. I need them so spacious that Bursitis is in my imminent future.

I never understood the need for those cute tiny totes, just big enough to hold a TicTac. I never understood why your bag has to be the same color as your shoes. I don’t get it when people buy those bags with handles so short you can’t sling it on your shoulder. Why in the world would you want to immobilize half of your body in these mugger-infested streets? And above all things, I am baffled by people who choose to carry two small bags (one on the shoulder and one as a briefcase) and complain they have too many things to carry. At least make the other one a sling-on or a messenger bag to give yourself better range of motion.

True, I am not a fashionista, and proudly, probably never will be. I will always choose Logic over Louis Vuitton. Practicality over Prada. Comfort over Coach. Bursitis over Burberry.

It’s my curse as the Boogeyman of all Bag ladies.

The Quest for the Acceptable Swimsuit

Summer is here. It’s time for the ubiquitous summer outings and gimmicks where everyone is encouraged to bare it all for the glaring Sun. Just last week, I accompanied my sister while she shopped for swim wear, which also happens to be my least favorite activity right after falling in line for a friggin’ useless sedula.

Being big in some parts of her body, (aherm), she just can’t shop anywhere. But Marks and Spencer’s have forgiving sizes and she found a dress she can wear over her old swimsuit. Warily, I eyed a black lace see-thru summer tunic which looks painfully warm for summer, but undoubtedly sexy. Maybe a little too much for me. Then it occurred to me that our summer outing is uncomfortably near, and I still use the flowery blue swimsuit my Dad bought for me in high school. Yes, the one that makes me look like a walking flower patch, or as Gabe once screamed in open water, a blue whale (it didn’t help that I was also wearing a blue snorkeling mask). Maybe it really was time to change the outfit, all things considered. So I started looking around for something that’ll fit me.

It might’ve been easier for me to attempt to cross the Potomac during an air raid in beshackled feet. Seriously, you’d think people who are size 16 and above completely hibernates during summer given the total lack of wardrobe calibrated for the big body beautiful. To be utterly clear, finding the right size isn’t the problem. It’s finding the right style that presents the bigger challenge.

Oh you know those dead sexy bikini tops with sweetheart necklines that would completely flatter your Fifi and Lala? Yeah, you better wear a sarong right after the bust line because your milky white bangus complexion protruding tummy will surely overshadow (and over-peak) your ladies. How about that one piece athletic swimwear with tummy control mechanism which would take you half a day to squeeze into? By the time you get yourself all swimmered up, the outing is almost over, or worse, you gotta pee. And forget about eating; not even one sliver of a Dorito or you’ll just combust. Wait, how about those bikini tops that have attached see-through cloth to cover tummies with? Yeah, those. They’re probably okay except you look like a walking window valance display. And I can only imagine swimming or snorkeling with a frilly top like that --- it’ll just irritate me every time it flaps and rides up in water.

And how about bottoms eh? Bikini is definitely out. I had to squint to see where the straps went after trying one on. There was also this one ridiculous piece that has frills around the leg holes, in the effort to hide more of your crotch. All I needed were yellow tights, a unicycle and a red ball and I’d be hired by PT Barnum in a hot new york minute.

My litany could go on and on, but people can only withstand so much pain. So, I will just declare that if you’re a big girl, try wearing a Lycra tank top and pair it with mini board shorts instead. No, it will not hide your flabby arms, nor will it be able to redistribute your love handles to your breasts, but hey, we can’t win ‘em all, right?

Besides, do what I do. When at the beach, the best thing to cover your body with would be the turquoise waters of the sea. Dip in and never resurface until you see people trying to call the Coast Guards. Believe me, you’ll have a better time than those who just went to flaunt it. But then I’m a closet loner, so don’t take my word for it.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

For Gen : How to Write

Trust the younger ones to ask the most difficult questions. This one is for Gen who taught me the finer points of Taylor Swift's music, and reminded me of the many reasons how writing can save a life from being mundane.

How to write well is a topic avoided by most writers because each and everyone hold a secret suspicion that their method is the least veritable way of doing it. I have read through countless manifestos stating that a certain process is best, but they'd be the first to justify that that there is no one way to write well. My take on it is that: all you need is a firm grasp on your language of choice, a topic, and a voice. Now, the first of the three can be learned (and you'd be surprised how many things somebody can teach you regardless of whether they've read LOTR or not). A topic can be given, chosen or decided upon. But it's the voice that takes forever to find and sometimes, even after finding it, you lose it and it takes another set of forever to regain it. I think I stumbled upon my voice about four years ago. I find that I write best when I'm being irreverent. When I'm connected to my topic, the words come in white heat and all I have to do is to allow myself to have fun with what I'm writing. But this is just me. Remember that I haven't taken any Literature or Creative Writing courses. I'm one of 'em home-schooled, shoot-from-the-hip ones who do not need to perfect an art, but to declare a passion.

Growing up, I have thought of taking Journalism or Comparative Literature. And I think in some other dimension, I might have had. But I decided to go another way to indulge another passion: travel. One of the earliest lessons I have learned is to write what you know and what moves you. But if you live your life inside a cardboard box, then you just don't limit your range of topics, you are also shortchanging yourself with a life unlived. So I decided to do something that will bring me in contact with the people I want to write about, a job that will open me up to new experiences, and help me understand the psychology of being human. That answers the question why I'm doing development work. It's just like how actors choose to live with melodrama --- to gain material for their acting. The way I see it, Life is my melodrama, my tragedy and comedy and everything in between, and everyday I'm enriching my material.

When Gen came to me to ask me these questions I would like to ask somebody more experienced than myself, I was actually a bit embarassed. I have no clear idea, Gen, and I am humbled by your generous words. If you are anything like me, you hesitate calling yourself a writer. Just the word in itself, it carries such a noble tone; and if used heedlessly, it takes on a colour of self-importance that is unflattering on anyone. But one of the lessons I learned too late is-- if you write, then you are. It barely matters if you have been published or not. It took me years before I got the courage to actually submit stuff and even then, only a few of them get published. It took even more time before I actually got paid for it. This makes me less published, but it doesn't make me less of a writer. Because I write everyday, and words come, everyday. So when you ask if you can be a writer, my answer is, you already are.

And to me, it doesn't even matter what you write of, because the realm of the imagination is a forgiving world. But when you do write, I hope it's about something you believe in and it's something which would make you a better person for writing it. I don't come up with smashing successes all the time. Actually, my batting average is pretty insubstantial compared to how much I have actually written. But once in a while, you stumble upon something that connects with people and those are the times you know you have made something authentic with your bare hands (or fingers). And I will leave you with my favorite words from one of my favorite (true-to-goodness, much published) author, Ursula Le Guin:

"Socrates said, "The misuse of language induces evil in the soul." He wasn’t talking about grammar. To misuse language is to use it the way politicians and advertisers do, for profit, without taking responsibility for what the words mean. Language used as a means to get power or make money goes wrong: it lies. Language used as an end in itself, to sing a poem or tell a story, goes right, goes towards the truth.

A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper."

Gen, just keep writing.