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.
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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.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

When You Come To a Fork on the Road --- Take It!

Who knows, the next corner, you might find the spoon. :D

Recently, I have been thinking long and hard about what direction I ought to take with my life. I have harped on long enough about not knowing where to go, and I have committed so much energy to it that I failed to recognize the silver lining: well, doesn’t that just mean you can go anywhere???

Anywhere you choose, Olivia! Anything that sets your heart on fire, you could go there. All you have to do is to take a step, in any direction, and you’re there. For your whole life you have been preaching to your sister that God takes us where we are meant to go, but how much have you lived that precept? You only go when you understand where you’re meant to go, when you can see a path. But don’t you also like to talk about how sometimes you can’t see what’s ahead of you, and all you need is Faith? Are we all talk, and no real visible action now?

Inside the bathroom, where all my best ideas come from, I realized that instead of seeing the sudden lack of purpose as a problem, I ought to see it as an opportunity. My parents were tired; what if their deaths were their last gift to my sister and me? The way I saw it, I wanted to succeed in life because I wanted to give them respite from all the sacrifices they have given us. They’ve worked long and hard, postponing so many of their own dreams because they needed to send us to school and support our dreams. Never did they impose their own desires over our own. What if, at the end of their days, in their amazingly selfless hearts, they wanted my sister and I to have a chance to follow our aspirations without being tied down with concerns about paying hospital bills, and answering credit card summons and worrying where to get the next round of transportation allowance?

I know this sounds so self-involved, as if the world revolves around my sister and me. But if you knew my parents, you would know that to them, this is true. They would give their right arm to keep us away from heartbreak and sadness. In fact, they gave their whole lives to that mission. And here I am, wasting it by whining and giving in to desolation.

Olivia, there’s a fork in the road; it’s right in front of you: take it!

It is your parents’ last gift: Freedom to become the person you wanted to be.

I’ve held on to the myth of “Logical Sequence of Life” = that each step we make must be connected to the ones we meant to take next. I’ve held on to it for so long that when I can’t see the next stepping stone, or it eludes me, or it’s still kind of fuzzy, I don’t take any step at all. Meaning I’ve been standing here for ages now, and I’m wasting time!

The day I forgot that life is a gift is the day I failed myself. I cannot bear to fail anymore. Not after realizing what has been sacrificed so that I could lead my life --- a life that’s not always happy or comfortable, but a life engaged with living. A life learned from. A life worth writing about. And a life with a multitude of forks and spoons making music every time I take a step forward.