Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fine, She Said

I must confess: I haven't read a book since new year. Which is rather odd, or downright appalling, especially since I typically finish a paperback in a day on a good day. On bad days, I usually have to burn two to seven days just to drag myself to mince through the pages of a decent novel. As for novels with drab narrative, or plot, whatever, I drop them immediately --- no, I bury them beside my neighbor's bones. I kid. I just leave them in some remote corner where I wouldn't be able to find them again. Like a bad memory I wish I can sacrifice before the great altar of amnesia, because some things in this world are better off completely forgotten, as if they never happened. If it's a sin to not read anything, my mortal coil would be begging for hellfire by now.

I can't remember now the last book I was able to read from cover to cover, and most of them do not even have covers. I'm sure it was neither Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children nor his The Enchantress of Florence. I was done with both since September last year, if I remember it right, and god knows how forgetful I can be sometimes. Or most of the time, because I have the propensity to choose what to remember. You should try it, but that's an aside, silly you. Going back, it's definitely not Junot Díaz's The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. It was anything but brief, though to say the least --- and to be fair because nothing in life is --- it was wondrous. Book titles rarely live up to their names these days, and exceptions often come under the radar. What about Murakami? Was it a Murakami that I read the last time? I guess not. I haven't read one since A Wild Sheep Chase, and that was around two years ago, which feels like as far back as a lifetime. The hours and days fly fast. Like a wild sheep chase. Ha!

The reason why I can't recall is that I left my books in the city. All of them. Piles of them. Which also means that I'm not in the city. I'm back in my home province, some five hundred lonely miles away, I suppose. I'm not good at guesstimates so I'll settle with five hundred. As for the lonely bit, well, it has been that way since I don't know when. I'm afraid I won't be able to explain it thoroughly, so I'll spare you the agony of having to extricate the explanation from lines of onscreen text that have nothing, absofuckinglutely nothing to do with the future of the planet. Or with that guy who recently got free facial reconstruction in a condominium unit somewhere in Taguig. Yes, that guy. What the fuck. I can't believe his fate is a matter of such transcendental importance, or of utmost national concern, that people are willing to devote their time debating online the fine I'll stop right here enough about he-who-wanted-to-get-laid-so-bad-what-an-absolute-dickhead.


So, about that book I can't recall. As I'm typing this, I'm trying my best to remember. I might pop a vein from squinting. It's not Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things. Not Charlson Ong's Men of the East and Other Stories. Not any one book in F. Sionil Jose's catalogue. Not Leo Tolstoy. Not Milan Kundera. Not John Updike. Neither Nikki Alfar nor Dean Francis Alfar, or any other Alfar for that matter.

I give up.

"Don't give up yet," I told her. "I'll help you remember."

"Fine," she said.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

A Letter to My Future Child

Hi Love,

The truth is, at least once in your life, you will have your heart broken. No one is invulnerable. But stop counting after the first. There is no point. It is one of the unwritten rules you may have to discover for yourself. Or you may read the rest of this letter and take things with a grain of salt.

Make no mistake: your first heartbreak will scar you. From time to time the bitterness will claw from your heart to your throat and settle there like an aftertaste of a bad meal, turning the minutes into days of melancholia before retreating, like lightning preparing to strike again. Trust me, it will always be there, deny as you might. You will carry it for the rest of your life. It will follow you like a shadow wherever there is light. So will the second, third, and so on, because they will essentially be similar as the first.

You will only have a few ways to get by. Punishing yourself should never be one of them. I admit: there is a time for weeping, as it should. My child, only those you hold dear deserve the tears that will wash your eyes so that you may see clearly again. You will like the clarity it will bring. There are days for despair, and then there are days for others. You will learn to make music, write poetry, draw. Art will be your refuge. But it will also be your tormentor. It will make you forget and it will make you remember, sometimes more than what you will expect. In any case, write. Or draw. Or sing. Persist.

Continue your art while you are moving on — especially while you are in that stage. Moving on is one of the most challenging phases in life, which is why you need to temper it with words, or songs, or sketches. Some call it distraction, which is a subtle way of saying preoccupation. Others call it outlet, which is essentially the same creature. But whatever name you give it, you will need it. Not simply because you need to survive but because sometimes all you need is the opportunity to listen to yourself the way your songs will sing to you, or your words will speak to you, or your sketches will show you who you have become and what else you could possibly be. Your ability to move on is contingent upon the question of finding yourself.

Rest but don't surrender. Give yourself the shot at happiness you rightfully deserve, not because you are the center of the universe but because there will come another moment when you will want someone so bad you can't help but worry. It may feel like the first time. Don't confuse yourself — it is impossible to love like that again. The subsequent ones can only be greater or lesser, and you will gauge each one according to the one it followed, which is normal, knowing that we are creatures bound by our own invention called logic. But uncertainty is certain, so each time you feel that feeling, love like it is your last. The song has a point: let the one you hold be the one you want. Judge the relationship not while you are there but when it is over. Almost all of them will have to end at some point.

Someday you will meet another someone. When that day arrives, don't just follow. To follow is to be perpetually left behind. Rather, chase. Once you find that person, do everything you can to be with her, or him, whichever you prefer. And when you are there, be clear with your intentions. Refrain from beating around the bush. Do so and you will lose yourself in the haze, only to end up trying to find it again.

If someone professes his or her love for you and you are unable to reciprocate the feeling, be gentle. Be gentle with the hearts you intend to break. Imagining yourself in their situation is the best way to realize the possible consequences of rejection. No one wants rejection. Not anyone, certainly not you my child. Be gentle but do not nurture any false hope. They will hate you for it but will love you all the same. In other words, false hope will confuse them. So never put people in limbo. Say yes or say no, never I don't know or give me time or I'll think about it, when the question is asked. To delay is to be impossible.

I am telling you these things not because it is imperative for a father to sow fear in his child's heart but because I wish that you may grow prepared for whatever life will throw against your way. This readiness I never had, so I took it upon myself to spare you the trouble of having to learn things too late. I learned the hard way. You will, too, but at least you now have an idea of what to expect. It may be true that the world is your oyster, young as you are, but don't believe it like gospel truth. What you already know betrays what you are yet to understand.

The most salient lessons in life are contradictions. For example: love like a child ahead of his time — carefree but not careless. This you will understand eventually.

I expect you to doubt one or some or all of the things I have told you in this letter. It is only natural. And because you do have doubts, take my final advice:

For your reference, ask your mom. She knows everything I told you. She's like the brain I wish I had. Everything about her is genius.



Saturday, January 18, 2014


If you were a page in a book, I'd be stuck there for the rest of my life. Lost in print. Wandering in your inked muteness. A piece of memory trying to fit itself in the grand scheme of things. Silence is your language, but my fingertips will sense you like a flurry of words gracing the paper. Like tattoo. As permanent as the sun.

You are a very strange page. For something so thin it carries the only story I will ever need. Words are heavy, people say. I can just imagine the real weight of a novel. But like the page that you are, I wonder how long you will be able to hold yourself together. Or apart. Sometimes I just want to tear you off, fold you, and keep you deep in my pocket so that wherever I go I will have you and you will have me. Even in sleep. Especially in sleep.

But you are neither a page nor a book. You are a woman. You are a woman and for the last several years I still can't read you even if you are the braille to my blindness.

Maybe I just want to nibble your earlobes. Yours look too beautiful sometimes I wonder if they contain your soul. I think it wouldn't hurt one bit if I kiss them and say My preciousssss...

I confess: I'm not good with excuses. I can imagine the day we'll meet again. You. Me. Walking. And in my vain attempt to parry the trembling in my knees I'll let go of your hand and point to the sky and say Wow look at that! and you will look up and I will look at you and I will tell you as fast as I can I will tell you I really will and it is this I missed you the way an amputee has been missing his left leg for so long and you'll say Sorry what was that again? and I'll smile and say Nothing, it was nothing. And I'll hold your hand again.

I'll confuse you --- no, I'll discombobulate you --- because I love the way the tip of your eyebrows almost sink just below the top of your nose bridge. They remind me of a song about a bridge in London about to fall down. Or just fall. No one falls up. I'm sure I didn't the day I fell.

To that, I can imagine you saying Segue. And I'll smile and say Smooth as an alibi.

I know the amputee metaphor doesn't sound right, but to my ears they're music, Bach and Beethoven rolled into one like sushi and neither one is complaining even if they understand fully well that they did not spend their lives mastering their music just to end up on somebody's dinner plate on a random evening. Comedy is tragic. I have a tendency to be mushy because in my life I've said too many lines with so much cheese in them I'd probably be able to feed all the hungry people in the world. Just by talking.

So let me talk to you and I swear from this day onward your heart will never be hungry again. I'll feed myself to it.