Insights that would never make it on print

“In Manila, you have everything except money.” Anyone who has been cut off since graduation and is stuck in a job that never seems to pay enough would agree with this insight from a restaurant owner I met in Bukidnon. My fellow officemate from Davao, Karla, supported this statement saying that 8k is enough to support yourself in the province. The 15k we make is already a lot down south–but here? Paratin g kulang. “You step out into the city, and you’re already spending.” The restaurant owner elaborated. This hard but constant truth made me realize how meaningless spending in the city can get. We’re always desperately budgeting because shopping malls and restaurants are endlessly built. Sure businesses mean jobs, but does our money really go into things worth spending so much for? We do fall into the lure of advertising, thinking we ‘need’ some new gadget that makes life even more convenient. But how convenient do we really want things? Whatever happened to the fulfilling effort of waiting for something worth spending on or simply being content with the life we’ve already achieved?

It’s amazing what two days and one morning in the province has done to me. Not that I’m completely changed–but I am seriously considering leaving the city in my older/latter life for literally greener and cleaner pastures. Life doesn’t have to be complicated. There are more meaningful experiences that are worth chasing after.

Once upon a (more recent) time

I silently prayed and hoped to see the beauty of the English countryside, as seen in the movie adaptations of Atonement and Never Let Me Go.

I got something better–the best, even: Bukidnon. Upon entering the curving roads to the mountain province, I instantly felt like a donor being driven around on her last days. In a good way, of course. Don’t we want to see the best of the world before we die?

And I did see the best landscapes the world could offer. All around, 360-degrees in total: a never ending green, and clear white clouds that seemed closer than I could ever imagine. Even in the rain, the entire settings looked peaceful, as if it were simply taking a rest.

Never Letting Ishiguro Go

After stealing time during supposed sleeping hours and not making plans to go out simply to finish Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro, I got around to finishing his heartbreakingly beautiful novel just yesterday. And as I hung on to the last few described mannerisms, conversations, and emotions, I came to screeching halt to the last page, almost in tears. The tears, if they decided to flow then, would have been out of remorse for the conclusion and the fact I could no longer have Ishiguro’s words flooding my mind.

Never Let Me Go recounts the story of Kathy, a student of the exclusive school Halisham. Kathy has spent her entire childhood and adolescence in Halisham, along with two of her best friends, Tommy and Ruth. The book begins with Kathy at 31 years old. She’s about to end her stint as a carer, and would like to remember what had passed in previous life as a student and as a friend to her childhood classmates Ruth and Tommy.

I’ll have to stop there. If I go into any more plot details, I’ll spoil the story itself and maybe even the pace at which you’ll read it (which you must, please. I insist, this early in my review!). The story sounds simple enough, but are novels ever as spelled out as their back cover blurbs (well, maybe except chick lit ones, haha)? As Kathy uncovers the smallest details to the most memorable parts of her Halisham past, she slowly understands her place in the world and what events, emotions, and decisions brought her future. What pulls the sequence of events together is Kathy’s tone. Ishiguro instantly keeps you on her side, without blatantly telling you how wonderful she is of a person. As her memories unfold, so does Kathy and her endearing simplicity. She’s a character you root for, but not in that “F YEAH!” way one would defend Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series or Midori of Norweigan Wood. Kathy reminds you of that one friend who’s always been there when you needed someone, most especially when everyone else looked the other way.

The power of Ishiguro’s language is subtle. It doesn’t quite hit you at first, somewhat like the Korean alcohol drink soju. I kept drinking in every word, hoping to uncover the mysterious hints Kathy drops once in a while. Then as time passed, I realized how precious the details of each part of her life were. I finally felt Kathy’s nostalgia for her past, and have no intention of ever letting any of it go (every title pun intended, obviously). Eventually, it came to a point where I was drunk with Ishiguro’s poetic prose and felt a heaviness in my heart for Kathy, Tommy, and Ruth’s struggles. It only hit me after putting the book down once in a while, how intense and gripping their story really was. The novel isn’t non-stop page-turning like a crime novel or an overhyped Dan Brown novel. It’s the complete opposite: the literary elements of a novel are what kept me holding on. Ishiguro’s language is like an untouched river that spans an entire country: it carries a multitude of meaning with focus and with flow. The characters, their developing story, and the beautiful, absolutely pristine language these are all spoken in transported me to Kathy H’s desires, confusions, etc. and even the English countryside.

I would actually forget where I was and felt like I was actually listening to Kathy. As if I were her carer and she decided to leave her story to me, so in some way, it would last and be told to a world that can’t seem to wrap its head around itself. Don’t get why I wrote the last sentence? Read it, then. It is a book one shouldn’t quickly give away and can only be recommended for the rest to understand the power of Never Let Me Go.

Choices and Fate

“That is the remarkable fact, how much we accept what fate has given us.” -Kazuo Ishiguro

Choice, usually comes as an after thought, as much as we don’t like to admit it. It was not our choice to come into this world; it was our parents’ (and had they been using birth control, then that would have been chance, not choice). We have the choice, however, on how to lead our lives with the decisions we make. It is not our choice to slip into a puddle of water and have our knees dislocated. We cannot choose our genetic makeup: upon conception, we are either blessed with less than one history of family disease or more than five heart, bone, and weight problem. We cannot choose our parents, siblings, and relatives. Again, the choices lie in how we deal with the matters and problems at hand.

Do we run away from the inevitable? Do we choose to face it head on, without looking back on what could have been? Do we move one step at a time, carefully forging our path–slowly and somewhat more surely, than taking a dive-like risk.

I could escape, but the consequences will eventually chase me, and grow in an amount not fathomable in weight or volume.

That must be what Mr. Ishiguro meant by accepting our fate. To escape, in reality, is too complicated in the long run. But what we can do is accept reality and see if it’s worth keeping.

Our decisions make us who we become, but fate–accidents, chance, coincidence, serendipity–sets the stage.

Whelmed

My sister is leaving for the States in three days. She’s coming back in June, but the lack of a partner-in-crim(inal minds)e, kindred spirit, and bestest ever friend for four months is devastating. You see, we have our own language. It’s not well-developed like Klingon, but when we’re both trying to figure something out, and we have that a-ha! moment at the same time, we both just know we’re thinking the same thing by just saying “YUNG ANO!” It’s almost psychic. We also have numerous private jokes, various pet names, and many more TV shows to watch together.

It hasn’t quite sunk in yet. Maybe it will hit me like train when we drop her off at the airport. Or when the silence in my house becomes unbearable. Or when our favorite celebrity tweets and I realize it would be 14 hours until she reads my e-mail insisting we laugh at what he said. Or when I’m trying to figure out something, with no Internet at hand, and there’s no one to have that a-ha! moment with me.

All I know is, I can’t wait till June. And right now, I think I’m in denial. Thus this blog, to somewhat acknowledge this heartbreaking reality.

You can never have too many books (like shoes)

I remember waking up one Christmas morning and ‘Santa’ had left a box of Roald Dahl’s novels in front of my room. I was overwhelmed and ecstatic by the sheer number of books. If kids today have JK Rowling and Rick Riordan, I had Mr. Dahl. What fascinated me the most about his work was the magic of his worlds. From the innocence of a big friendly giant, to the delicious but slightly disgusting peach of James–the possibilities of a child’s imagination seemed endless. Nothing was ever too small or big for Dahl to bring to life through words.

I guess you could say until today, I am building my personal assortment of Christmas Morning book collections. That and the fact this post is inspired by the Fully Booked sale and my friends stumbling onto a book that I never seem to find when I look for it (You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers)…but I had them buy it for me anyway. I had almost lost hope, not seeing any copy of that Eggers book in Fully Booked Greenbelt. Who would have thought, an hour later, Johna and Jabin would be in another bookstore of another nearby mall that had the one copy I was looking for. My grown up version of that morning came in the beauty of chance, two of the bestest book friends anyone can have and the reality that my booklist never seems to have a final count. Plus, of course, the irresistible power of a book sale. I can now continue my love affair with Kazuo Ishiguro with my new purchase of When We Were Orphans.
Back in college, I sometimes felt like studying got in the way of my reading. But now, I have weekends and moments of waiting in between commutes and outings to vanish into another world built by my favorite authors. Nothing suffers, (well maybe my bank account, but that’s always manageable with a little extra work)—plus my words seem to flow more freely when I write after reading—as if my vocabulary, style, and syntax are hung over from the fluidity and beauty of that author’s prose. An inspired aspiration perhaps, to one day reach that level and gift the world with literary beauty.
Waiting for the next sale and holding back from buying for the sake of food, water, and transportation is not as wonderful as waking up to that Roald Dahl Christmas morning. I have grown up since then, seeking worlds more like the one around me. I’ve gone from seeking new worlds to gaining new insights about the crazy one we live in. Once in a while, I return to the boundless imagination of magic and mythical gods, thanks to the talents of Rowling and Riordan. The passion, and unquenchable want for a written world—whether realistic or fantastic—has and will stay with me, whether I’m trying to recapture a child-like book collection or fulfilling a more adult version of book lust.

Of Zodiac Signs and Personalities

According to one of the world’s most reliable news sources, our Zodiac signs haven’t changed.

“When [astrologers] say that the sun is in Pisces, it’s really not in Pisces,” noted Parke Kunkle, a member of the group’s board. Your astrological sign is determined by the position of the sun on the day you were born, so that means everything you thought you knew about your horoscope is wrong.
It turns out that astrology has had issues from its inception. (Aside from the fact that it tries to link personality traits with positions of the stars.) Ancient Babylonians had 13 constellations, but wanted only 12, so threw out Ophuchicus, the snake holder. Libra didn’t even enter the picture until the era of Julius Caesar.

It seems as if everyone’s world has been rocked. We’ve lived our whole lives believing that some part of our mannerisms, qualities, and personalities fall under a common denominator through our birthdays. But according to recent science and history research, we’ve got our stars all wrong.

I’m slightly frazzled, of course. Once in a while, it’s fun to check my horoscope and convince myself that this random website has the coming year predicted correctly. Also, I am was honored to be a Capricorn, as being practical (the sign’s supposed number one trait) has usually determined my actions.

But is the sudden update of astrological information enough to change the entire course of our lives? We seek out astrology’s explanation to better understand ourselves. But we also find other ways to figure out our doubts and to better comprehend why we act in specific ways. We claim we are like certain TV personalities. We diagnose ourselves with psychiatric disorders (obsessive compulsive disorder is a LOT different from being ‘OC about things). We do all this with a certain understanding of who we are. Astrology, personal-diagnosis-psychology, random Internet quizzes, and the like, are all just there to confirm what we already know. We grow up, reflect on what has past, and each day, we live to better ourselves and move forward with time. The media simply provides outlets for us to reassure these decisions and actions.

If you’re still stumped about your Zodiac, why not just go closer to home and look up your Chinese Zodiac instead? February’s just a few weeks away after all.


Weak in the… Wallet

Come January 14th until the 16th, Fully Booked will be going on sale. I have a Saigon trip less than a month away, plus weekly living expenses in between, so the sacrifice of saving more (and spending less) should be prioritized. Had I hit the financial/gene jackpot and my parents raised me the way they did, then I’d spend my trust fund only on books (and place the rest in the bank). But the inevitability of the Philippine economy (and its colonialism, classicism, etc.) continue to teach me that life is harder for some, and luckier for the few.

So instead of saving more, I decided to earn more. For the sake of books: The Walking Dead, Book I, Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and You Shall Know Our Velocity! by Dave Eggers. I’ll be clocking in two nights of freelance work all for the love of page turning and literary word travel.

I would add more to the must buy list, but my 300 peso copy of Saturday by Ian McEwan is waiting in line.

The Movie-Book/The TV-Book Challenge: Dexter Season One vs Darkly Dreaming Dexter

Dexter Morgan played by Michael C. Hall

I have an unhealthy fascination with serial killer themed shows. Or at least, any drama involving murders. It began with CSI, I took a hiatus, and eventually I was drawn to CBS’ Criminal Minds and Showtime’s Dexter. Unlike FBI/CSI/CIA-centered shows, Dexter speaks from the opposite perspective: from that of a ‘vigilante’ serial killer.

Dexter Morgan is Miami PD’s resident blood spatter analyst. He is well accepted by his peers, save for the ever hostile Agent Doakes. Working with him in the department is his sister Deb, the complete opposite of Dexter but a complementary partner when it comes to crime-solving. His girlfriend is Rita, a dough-eyed mother of two recovering from a history of physical abuse and rape from her ex-husband. Rita’s kids have a special spot in Dexter’s heart. Dexter, by all accounts, appears to be a normal, functioning member of society. Decent job. Good girlfriend. A steady set of friends and respect from his workmates.

Appearances. The most intelligent human beings know how to keep them up consistently and manipulate them into an accepted reality. Serial killers are some of the best at doing this. And underneath his facade of ‘being normal’, Dexter hides an unresponsiveness to human emotion and a growing desire to kill.

But Dexter’s victimology doesn’t involve women, children, or random individuals. He’s a serial killer who gets rid of other serial killers or murderers who’ve never been convicted. For some, this end may not justify the means, but Dexter Morgan’s serial kills certainly make you question how strong you believe in this principle.

Dexter is adapted from Jeff Lindsay’s book trilogy: Darkly Dreaming Dexter, Dearly Devoted Dexter, and Dexter in the Dark. The show’s first season draws from Dexter’s dark dreaming–both on screen and in print, as he finds himself with fascinated with Miami’s very own ‘Ice Truck Killer.’ The Ice Truck Killer murders prostitutes, drains the blood off their bodies, cuts up their body parts and leaves them in public places. Unlike other murderers, he doesn’t want to kill this one; in fact, he wants to meet him since he feels a connection when studying the case and any of its victims.

Whether or not you’ve seen the TV adaptation, Darkly Dreaming Dexter is a book you can’t put down. It’s an exciting murder mystery that not only delves into solving who the Ice Truck Killer is, but also into who Dexter is as a ‘human being’. Why does he kill? Was there a trauma from his past that led to him being a cold blooded murderer? Does he struggle in keeping up a ‘normal’ appearance? How well does he cover up and how long until he gets caught? Do his killing acts make him any less of a ‘person’ as society so strictly defines?

The TV series stays faithful to Lindsay’s work, fleshing out the characters with the right casting and cinematography. Michael C. Hall does a superb job playing Dexter, with his perfect-for-narrative voice matching the book’s first person point of view. Jennifer Carpenter’s tough girl accent and unparalleled gorgeousness (I cannot name another TV actress who is just as beautiful, to be honest) are the perfect combination to bringing Deb Morgan to life.

Unfortunately, reading the book before seeing the show is not a practical idea. Anyone who hasn’t seen the show may have a hard time imagining the characters themselves while reading the book. Lindsay’s book focuses primarily on Dexter, and leaves out room for the reader to understand the supporting characters. The TV series actually provides a more complete picture, giving his officemates Doakes, Batista, Masuka, and his girlfriend Rita more significant roles in Dexter’s life. In the book, Rita only shows up for the first half of the book then is mentioned at the end as an after thought. Angel and Masuka only show up for a few paragraphs. It would be hard for someone who read the book first before seeing the series to get a clearer picture of all the characters and the dark, crime-infested world they live in.

The timeline for a TV series may be longer than a book, giving more opportunities for viewers to sympathize and embrace all of Dexter‘s characters. Having seen the series first, I felt shortchanged and expected more from his work. Unfortunately, Lindsay doesn’t use the novel medium to do this. His background as a playwright is obvious, since his book is dialogue heavy. And although his conversations did a lot of showing (rather than telling) about the characters’ traits, quirks, strengths, and weaknesses, the story still didn’t feel as complete as the series. Towards the end, it felt rushed and there were too many ‘deus ex machina’ moments written for the sake of a conclusion. I don’t want to spoil interested TV series watchers, but I’ll guarantee you this: the show’s writers improved on a lot, given Lindsay’s written ending.

Overall, Lindsay’s work wasn’t a waste of time. It was interesting to see where the show got it roots from and I could tell why the producers saw potential in his work. I intend on finishing both the books and the series, but I don’t want to heighten my expectations for the former. Nonetheless, I’m still excited to read both and see how Dexter’s strange story unfolds

From 2010 to 2011

Mathematically, momentum is equals to an object’s mass times its velocity. College physics (and my major chemistry subjects) only managed to keep my attention when the concepts discussed could be discussed poetically. Momentum was one of them. In less ‘nerd-y’/’nosebleed’ speak, it is an object’s ability to stay in motion. An object with a larger mass and velocity would be harder to stop once it starts moving.

In life’s metaphorical sense, we want to keep our momentum in the new goals and attitudes we hope to achieve in the year’s beginning. Quit smoking. Exercise more. Save more, spend less. Have a more positive attitude. But we also know how difficult it is to keep these resolutions, what with the unexpected temptations and challenges the world throws at us as the months change. Resolution, fortitude, and determination are concepts lost in the blur of our new responsibilities and those problems that never seem to get any easier.

Looking back on 2010–my sister’s accident, struggling through finances, career disappointments, job challenges, unspoken family problems, personal insecurities, couple fights–all those things I fail to mention over cheerful holiday talk; I have no excuse to lose momentum this year. I’ve shed the tears and earned strength and self-respect no easy life could ever teach me. The hard decisions, the painful aftermaths, and the never ending (and unchanging) disappointments were and are here to make me a better person, and I have to prove that to myself that I can be someone this year.

There are more challenges up ahead: my sister leaving for five months (then a few months after she comes back) and the possibility of my mom working in the US in September. I may be left alone here, while my family is on the other side of the world. I could also be moving to our flat in Manila in the next month. There’s also the crossroads I’ve been in with my career, and whether or not I will push through with graduate studies in the year. And the stories I told myself I’d write. Oh, and my solo trip to a city where motorcycles are kings of the road.

So many questions, and I have yet to find the answers. From what I’ve learned in 2010, I cannot expect the conclusion to come in an instant. The universe will show the signs and I should take advanced action to prepare as much as I can. Then I can move as fast as I can, and not be afraid to stop and lose that momentum. As for the bumps along the way, I shouldn’t be afraid. Strength has been constantly taught to me. Sometimes it was forced fed to me, but at least I’ve got it in my system.