It’s Goodbye Before We Know It

It does not take brilliance or talent to discern that our society is in a sick state of crisis. Crisis is in our daily commute across the bustling Metro. It is in our everyday consumption of profit-hungry news, where the President’s sister’s latest haircut, or the recently evicted housemate of PBB, takes the headlines more often than those victimized by repression, violence, and neglect. Crisis is in our life as members of a university perpetually threatened by state abandonment, market-driven dreams, and corporatist orientations toward education. Also, it is found in our regular interactions with people—family, friends, classmates, and colleagues alike—where speed characterizes our communication and meaningfulness barely drives our relations.

We embody the things that fall apart. We are the ones that have fallen away. It has been convenient for us to turn our backs from the issues of the day and settle with the usual, as if no emergency needs to be answered, as if no time is being put to waste. To many of us this crisis feels distant, impersonal, and therefore, undeserving of one’s investments. A classmate who does not know what to make of his or her dire financial need is a face in the crowd we cannot relate to. Budget increase is a university issue that our parents’ secure income can easily take charge of. Protesters in front of AS Steps or Quezon Hall are a bunch of boisterous students who do not kill time the way we fashionably do. And the Philippine nation is a vague concept that does not warrant our urgent interest and attention. What do we miss out on in the judgments we make? And how do our judgments expose the limits and possibilities of our world?

At the end of this semester, as well as at the end of our stay at UP, what has propelled the history of our lives? To live and be alive in these material conditions of class inequity, social injustice, and gender discrimination is a constant process of resistance and reflection. Our everyday practices are made in crisis, and in being so, they, too, are intended to be struggled for. No matter how much we wish for it to be otherwise, we are sadly not meant for comfort. Only those who have become complacent with the order of things can claim that life, in these parts, can go business as usual. There is no an outside to this social crisis. We are outside in it. In other words, we are part of it—as victims, suspects, movers, and changers of the current state of affairs.

Let effective communication take a progressive and productive turn. Let it be our intervention to the speed of this crisis growing on us like second skin. Let communication work as patient time with others, as a revelatory moment of engagement with the unknown and the as-yet present. I once told you that hope and frustration are on the same side of a coin, so it’s also on this side of the Earth where crisis is already neck-deep that we may find our own ever-renewing visions of a meaningful future.

To see you giving yourself to others in a generous effort to intervene in the crisis of our collective lives is my heartfelt wish. And to see you succeed justly, through sheer determination and not at the expense of others, is my sincere, hopeful whisper to our universe of human pain and redemption.

Thank you for this most pleasant turn in this term of my often lonely academic life. To meet you all again, perhaps under more relaxed and less academic circumstances, is a sentiment I allow to linger in me for my heart to enjoy and accept.

Your one and only Comm 3 teacher,

Sir OJ

It’s Goodbye Before We Know It

We live a relatively convenient life at a very dangerous time. It is convenient because most of us have access to what we need and want: shelter, books, education, gadgets, clothing. We, too, have found a comfortable spot to stay: the classroom, our houses, our dormitories, our circle of friends, our organizations, our groups inside or outside the University. But it is also a dangerous time to live: so fast our lives have become that it is now a chore to talk to one another and think at the same time. More so, the pace of our everyday existence has transformed into something so mechanical that our bodies can only repeat what they have been used to doing and easily reject what’s considered different, strange, unsafe.

There is fear in this ironic combination of rapidity and stagnancy. We are taught to produce, and produce as quick and as many as we can, for maximum profit or performance or both. Ours has become a generation of outputs, rather of inputs, at the expense of processes in which we may learn a thing or two about patience and hard work. We demand things in our self-entitled ways; we talk with boredom; we look forward to endings, and wish to skip anything midway or intend to go past introductions as if they barely matter at all. There is speed in our context: a click of a mouse, a push of a button, a share, a like, a comment, a retweet, a regram, a repost. There is something circulated in these actions, but we must also ask ourselves: Is something moved? Is something acted upon? Does someone act, not only in the sense of body parts in kinetic motion, but also in terms of ideas in constant flux and revision?

Despite the rapid times into which we have been born, I think there is so much stagnancy going on. There’s so much waste in the drainage of our lives—imaginations, bodies, talents, capacities—that it alarms me to see people, especially UP students who have the opportunity to mobilize and be mobilized upon, barely doing anything about this sad, sad situation. Stagnancy is a state of crisis, fixity, rot; in this moment, movement is almost nonexistent, progress is close to nil, and those caught up in this immobility must urgently choose either to tolerate the status quo or to shake it up with discontent.

Unfortunately, ours is a generation of comfort zones. From the decisions we make, to the struggles we pursue, to the class subjects we take, to the issues we care about, and to the relationships we admit into our lives—safety and security are always top priority. And oftentimes, with this desire to be away from harm or to confront the unfamiliar comes hesitation to welcome new perspectives, or perhaps an unwillingness to consider other ways of thinking, seeing, experiencing ourselves, others, and our surroundings. All of these are only saddening, if not sickening, precisely because they hinder our human spirit to grow, our critical faculties to develop, and yes, our heart to love.

Now more than ever, there is no time to hold back or to shy away from the scenes of encounter. Our time is made for those who stand out and speak up. With the commotion of daily life and the abundance of information online and offline, to disappear and be disappeared in this sea of mess has become so easy.

But this is not the path to take, nor the reality to live out.

The Comm 3 classroom has taught us to communicate our thoughts and actions effectively, to participate in events actively. In other words, to be proactive citizens whose lives have sense and shape. To enjoy one’s freedom of speech irresponsibly is to waste a privilege that others cannot even afford. Silence must never be an option, but this does not mean that noise is the way to go. In the five months we spent inside the classroom, I can only hope that through our lessons and activities, we have come to know more about ourselves, and in the same breath, have gained more insights into the lives of others who may or may not be directly related to us. If only we could communicate with the desire to encounter the possibilities beyond our well-mastered selves, and therefore question the conveniences that sustain our almost always surefooted, calculated existence, then our generation would perhaps be less vain and timid and more critical and creative.

There’s so much to learn from this world, and so much to change about it too. And so I dare say: take risks, dear students, and take them well. Only in uncertainty do we make ourselves vulnerable to the untried and the untested, and more or less, to the prospects of change. May we allow the demands and gifts of effective communication to be our primary contact with the transformation we aspire for and of which we are willing to be part.

Thank you for a semester well-done and well-shared. The wish to see you again in another time and context remains and will remain in my heart.

Your one and only Comm 3 teacher,

Sir OJ

From Where We Take Off

There’s comfort in seeing my immediate family talking about labors, loves, and lives across places and times. On the first day of the year, we did this many times: over food, in between pillows, sheets, and blankets, in bed, at the dining area, in front of the TV, while attending to our virtual lives, before hitting the sack. Everything felt quiet and still: hours were allowed to slip by without notice, house chores were kept at bay, lunches and dinners were made on time, informal talks and long catching-ups were rendered important.

We found ourselves in one room, each positioned in a comfortable spot. Mama and papa caught up on sleep and rest for the most part, while my siblings and I continued with our own boring stuff online. In between our stupor and our senses, there were long conversations about food and family, recollections of plans, persons, and prospects, and collective sharing of aspirations for 2014. Mama fondly talked about her parents–Mama Linda and Papa Ding, who left us in this world more than a decade ago but who remain missed and dear especially on festive occasions like Christmas and New Year’s Day–and the kind of training she got from them. In between the topics of weight and age, she talked about her love for reading, the ups and downs of work in the province, her finances, her friends in Manila, Iligan, or Isabela, her ultimate dream of visiting the Holy Land (“One day, one day,” she said.). On the other, Papa inquired about our professional work even while insisting on the dreams he has for us then and now. My siblings and I listened only as much as we could, and in some parts, especially when necessary, directed if not nuanced the conversation with our own views and experiences. We’d disagree with our parents or agree to disagree with them from time to time, especially with issues regarding romantic relationships, marriage, having kids. We, the young ones, reacted with surprise if not disbelief when Papa, who used to be strict, especially with my sister, about dating, expressed (sometimes insisted on) his desire of having apos from us. It became discomfiting on my part when he turned to me and said “I’m already turning 50 in a few years, and I want an Oscar III in the family soon.” But this deserves a special blog post.

There were short disagreements, to be sure, in our brief and rare togetherness. There were moments I wanted time off from them, or to be somewhere I could calm down or regain my center from all the clutter and clatter of family members at home. But I believe we tempered these fits of misunderstanding well and tolerated one another effectively this time, perhaps in the spirit of New Year’s Day. I consciously held back my aggression and let certain situations pass, like the disorder my family brought about in my room in particular, so as not to spoil family time.

Instead of being the grouchy guy I am usually perceived to be, I served as the family’s official chef from the first to the last day of the holiday season. I did the grocery, cooked our meals, supervised every preparation there was, sometimes at the expense of my work responsibilities and schedule. But that was fine.

No matter how exhausting it was to prepare and assemble the whole menu for our Christmas or New Year’s eve celebration as well as the lunches and dinners after that, or to coordinate family members as regards our attires for Noche Buena or Media Noche, or just to keep things in the house smooth and whole amid the festivities and merrymaking, I still went on with a heart that only wished happiness and contentment in its willingness to do what had to be done. Nothing’s more rewarding than seeing a table of family members enjoying and feeling thankful for what I had served them.

There’s beauty in every possibility to gather one’s family every now and then. At a time when togetherness comes few and far between, to be with family is always a moving moment to receive and relish. When it happens and happens well, it surely is a blessing to be seized and savored. In my case, with the long distance that separates me and my sister from my parents and eldest brother, to find our lives aligned in one house or room is more than enough reason to overwhelm any day or night, as much as one’s troubled, troubling heart, with grace, gratitude, and generosity of spirit.

For the Record

In my mind, 2010 was the best year of my life. There was graduation, the best thesis nomination from my Department to our College, Silliman National Writers Workshop in the summer, a teaching post at the DSCTA, the company of first batch of students, the hurdles and triumphs in the Comm 3 classroom, admission into the M.A. CL program, and other nameless graces that could only be felt and remembered with fondness to this day. I was 21 then, fresh from college, new in the job, but nevertheless ready to be at home in a brave, uncharted world.

Everyone cared and wanted to care, thinking that an amateur like me needed assistance and protection. I was welcomed into groups I could only admire from afar in college, like the Department to which I now belong. I became part of events to which I previously could only aspire to be invited. The academe proved to be conducive for my type; it did not feel like work at all, but fun and play and discovery. Students expressed their enjoyment in my classes and went as far as recommending me to their friends. I enjoyed all of it.  Every step of the way was thrilling, to be honest,  because I felt it was about me, me,  and me.

2010 was the year where there was so much to give and receive in terms of skill, talent, capacity, learning. It was the year of adulthood, dreamy entitlement, earning on my own, meeting people, making friends, building contacts, widening horizons, and all the platitudes one gets to hear and learn after college graduation. It’s hard to top that list really, and despite the encounters I’ve come in contact with through time, all of which are memorable in their own right, there’s still something unbeatable about 2010, especially when I think of how positive and willing I was to face my fears and go with the flow at that time. I was bright-eyed, unfettered, and magiliw, to be sure,  because I derived so much  pleasure from my idealism and youth. Believing I could do everything in no time, without so much help from people, was an inviting disposition as it was an easy illusion.

The succeeding years are lessons in contradiction, predictably. I am no longer 21, and starting to realize how precious time is to be left unused. I am no longer the youngest faculty member in my department, so throwing some tantrums is no longer deemed cute or amusing. There are times when work dulls me, and I’d complain about it as if I were the most battered, most senior in the profession. On stressful days, I turn my back on the world and hole myself up in my office, thinking it’s the best way to evade tension with my peers. Almost always, I find myself staring at nowhere and realizing that despite myself, silence is indeed a friend.

These days, I no longer bother to please everyone–not my students, not my colleagues, not my teachers, not even my parents–and usually resign myself with the painful possibility of getting misunderstood anytime, anywhere, regardless of what I say and do.These days, I mull over what it means to be branded as too abrasive, upfront, or loud, and although I get to sense the context in which these speech acts are made, there are times when I get defensive or mad not at what are said per se, but mostly at how spot-on and true they can get.

These days, when every dream gets diminished by the speed of everyday life and any chance to relax gets deferred by expectations to produce and produce more, I don’t know anymore. I feel the gravity of adulthood and the restlessness that comes within. Independence is now an issue, and so is productivity, and so is financial status, and so is the insecurity that comes from a lack in all of the above.  On good days, I bank on fortitude and friendship to keep me going; otherwise, there will always be old, peculiar prayers to recall and say.

These days, I have come to terms with the fact that not all friends would stay as promised, and that at one point or another, some would prefer a path that is away from my shade and shadow. When that occasion comes, either with due announcement or surprise, you just have to assess with acceptance what has happened, to admit the right and the wrong, and to realize that no matter how dear friends are to you or you to them, you neither own nor control each other’s lives and liberties.

From 2010 to 2013, so many things happened: failures, successes, travels, conferences, lost, found and maintained friendships, former students growing by the number, semesters that came and went, expenditures here and there, plans made and did not materialize, broken and regained relationships, to name a few. There’s security in knowing the constants in your life, and in being able to keep track of who or what enters and exits. There’s vain delight in seeing your progress through time, and perhaps relief in knowing that your effort and hard work didn’t go unnoticed. Of course, it has to be made clear that the wish to know stems less from a conceit that marks people as one’s property and more from a desire to return the favor people have given you through these years of faithful friendship. By the same token, itemizing your achievements works more like an accountability report to yourself than a useless list of this and that you may arrogantly carry on your sleeves.

Although it’s far from perfect, like all the years and days of our lives, and despite not being 2010, 2013 has still proven itself generous and eventful. It’s the year of hotel escapades, out of town trips, being on the road, a summer of romance and friendship in three different beaches, sojourns in and out the country, fancy dinners and curious night-outs, late night chats and sexy conversations, goodbye speeches, emotional investments, short infidelities and petty infatuations, financial gains and losses, feelings of being center and left of center, two academic conferences, a handful of academic papers, my Singapore fellowship, intercultural dynamics, credit cards and credit limits, a pseudo-independent life abroad, activism and rallies, gelato, milk tea and coffee, a strong and steady relationship, museum visits, long walks in Manila, theme parks and big chocolate bars, spicy Singaporean food, laksa bowls and vegan meats, theatre productions and performances, gatherings and send-off parties, photographs of me and you,  movie dates and romantic dates, private talks, guilt tripping, jogging, Booksale, Fully Booked, Kinokuniya, bookshelves and more bookshelves, new books, secondhand books, donated books, shipped books, borrowed books,  among others. These gains, moments, and things, vacuous or mundane they seem to be, deserve emphasis and thanks, for they compose the outgoing year.

As 2013 draws to a close, let me reminisce what the Year of the Snake was to me. Here are montages of the highlights of the year that was and possible departures for the year that will be.

"I am made for the classroom" sounds a bit presumptuous to say. But like what I tell friends and workmates, I can't imagine myself doing something else. Like in the previous years, the classroom was a constant presence in 2013 and so was the company of all these students.

“I am made for the classroom” sounds a bit presumptuous to say. But like what I tell friends and workmates, I can’t imagine myself doing something else other than teaching. To be confined in the classroom may sound disastrous to some; but that’s me and I’m fine with it.  Certainly, like in the previous years, the classroom remains valued in 2013 and so is the company of all these students, wonderful or wacky or both.

People say I am too gregarious a person and operate on so many circles of friends. In my quiet moments, I always feel that I only have a few cherished ones. I value these friendships and mean them. There's so much to be thankful for when talking about these people. From giving me confidence, renewing my faith in what I do, pushing me to do good and more, making me evaluate my social skills and ideologies, to supporting me in whatever chance or crisis--they've been there.

People say I am too gregarious a person and operate on so many circles of friends. However, in my quiet moments, I feel that I only have a few cherished ones. I value these friendships and mean them. There’s so much to be thankful for, as regards these people. From giving me confidence, renewing my faith in what I do, pushing me to do good and more, making me evaluate my social skills and ideologies, to supporting me in whatever chance or crisis–they’ve been there.

No matter how imperfect it is, my Department remains a special place. I cannot claim that it's family to me in the strictest sense of the word; but  what I can admit is that it's the base in which I feel needed or  into which I intend to invest my professional     growth, time, and aspirations.

No matter how imperfect it is, my Department remains a special place. I cannot claim that it’s family to me in the strictest sense of the word; but what I can admit is that it’s the home base in which I feel needed or into which I intend to invest my professional growth, time, and aspirations. There are important people in this bunch, and you know who you are. To you I will be grateful, for the support and the love, for the trust and encouragement, for being the voice that tells me to go and just go.

The closest persons in my life: one for being a neighbor and the most unexpected friend, and the other for being a significant force in my life whose company and care give me strength and courage to quell any trepidation, full blown or in bloom or both, I have within. I can't imagine 2013 without talking about the two of you and the adventures we had had in and out of the Metro. I know of my shortcomings, which you always put up with  not without reprimand or complaint and which I will always be apologetic for. Better ways of extending my gratitude to you guys escape me now, so pardon the platitude that's no less sincere and heartfelt: you, in various means and manners, are my wall, my shoulder-to-cry-on,   loves of my life, people I treasure, my best buds and chums, and ones whom I will never hesitate to contact in triumphs and trials. There's no other statement to express: I love you both.

The closest persons in my life: one’s a neighbor and the most unexpected friend, and another’s a significant force in my life whose company and care give me strength and courage to quell any trepidation, full blown or in bloom or both, I have within. I can’t imagine 2013 without talking about the two of you and the adventures we have had in and out of the Metro. I know of my shortcomings, which you always put up with not without reprimand or complaint and for which I will always be apologetic. Better ways of extending my gratitude to you guys escape me now, so pardon the platitude that’s no less sincere and heartfelt: you, in various means and manners, are my wall, my shoulder-to-cry-on, loves of my life, people I treasure and intend to keep, my best buds and chums, and the ones whom I will never hesitate to contact in triumphs and trials. There’s no other statement to express in the here and now of this moment, this ending year: I love you both.

To travel away from the center of comfort is to be closer to oneself. My Singapore fellowship was the highlight of this year. In the Lion City and in this capacity at ARI, I was able to discover the joys of independence, of being far from home, of welcoming strangers as friends, of having a piece of the world that's apart from what I am used to, of getting to realize so many things about myself by being in and out of contact with certain duties and individuals. Singapore, I miss you each day, and to you I can only pledge a return with much more fondness and fervor.

To travel away from the center of comfort is to be closer to oneself. My Singapore fellowship was the highlight of this year. In the Lion City and in this capacity at ARI, I was able to discover the joys of independence, of being far from home, of welcoming strangers as friends, of having a piece of the world that’s apart from what I am used to, of getting to realize so many things about myself by being in and out of contact with certain duties and individuals. Singapore, to you I can only pledge a return that’s full of fondness and fervor.

There are times when going solo becomes a tempting idea, especially at an age and time when independence and self-identity are to be had and offer themselves as requisite components of growing up. I've always felt that I am the prodigal son as much as I am the achiever in the family. Our dynamics may not be the smoothest, what with my persistence to have it my way most of the time, my domineering attitude, and what's considered as my relatively unorthodox view of  things and tradition, especially those held dear by our family.  But we held and will hold on with each other, through thick and thin, miles apart or a few inches away, like how we believe family should be. To be clear, I still think of moving out of our house and oppose the idea of remaining as an extended family through and through; but if anything, I will stay with you, care for you, like what's expected of a son and a brother, like what I am truly willing to do.  Thank you for this year for the coming ones of being together, for sticking it out with me, for just being there without any clear-cut impositions, and for being the traces I at once follow and leave behind.

There are times when going solo becomes a tempting idea, especially at an age and time when independence and self-identity offer themselves as requisite components of growing up. I’ve always felt that I am the prodigal son as much as I am the achiever in the family. Our dynamics may not be the smoothest, what with my persistence to have it my way most of the time, my domineering attitude, and what’s considered as my relatively unorthodox view of things and tradition, especially those which are held dear by our family. But we held on together and will continue to do so, through thick and thin, miles apart or a few inches away, like how we believe family should be. To be clear, I still think of moving out of our house and oppose the idea of remaining as an extended family through and through; but if anything, I will stay with you and care for you, near or far, like what’s expected from a son or a brother, like what I am truly willing to do. Thank you for this year and for the coming ones of being together, of sticking it out with me, of just being there without any clear-cut impositions, and of being the traces I at once follow and leave behind.

A Report to Nobody

I’ve been teaching at UP for almost four years now, and each year never fails to incite insight or reveal a thing or two about what I can and cannot do in my chosen profession. In my first year, I tended to idealize the work I got into, thinking that I was doing it for the nation and for the sake of students who deserved what I thought was good education. I remember having long conversations with fellow junior faculty members about how fortunate we were to be absorbed into the DSCTA faculty without so much pressure or hassle. In my case, I got hired right after graduation, in the summer of 2010, which saved me from unemployment and the taxing process of scouting for jobs around the Metro. At that time, I never bothered about the amount of salary I received; as long as there was food in my tummy and new books on my shelves, I was fine. To demonstrate my enthusiasm, I never contented myself with the textbook my Department endorsed; instead, I borrowed books from the library, took down notes for my lectures, thinking that my students needed more than what was prescribed, and painstakingly structured and restructured my powerpoint presentations.

Even when discouraged by my home Department, I applied for and eventually got accepted into the M.A. Comparative Literature program at the DECL in the second semester of A.Y. 2010-2011. Fearing boredom and stillness, I wanted an atmosphere where I could listen to ideas apart from my own and be with people, professors and fellow grad students alike, who’d make me feel the need to be on my toes all the time.  The world was unfolding as I wanted it to be: in motion, brimming with events, according to a regulated plan.

In my second year, teaching became so much easier as I already had a semblance of class structure. I already knew how to manage my classes, deliver lessons in engaging ways, and balance life in and out of school. I’d like to think I was able to perform well as a teacher and as a student, as my comparatively good records and grades would show. Youth was on my side, I thought, and committing mistakes or falling short in tasks was natural and correctable. Pressures and demands did not get in the way, since I had a support group (of mid-level and junior faculty alike) in my Department, which helped me get by and go along well with classroom, grad school, and committee duties.

Academic year 2012-2013 made me more reflective as a teacher and a grad student. I already had my icons and idols in the academe, some of whom are my teachers in College or in grad school, my colleagues in the Department, College, or University, or the ones I read in books and listened to in various forums and functions I had attended. These people taught me, albeit indirectly and unwittingly, focus and passion as much as they inspired me to look at the world and the work I do critically, inquisitively, creatively. There was Sir P, my teacher in graduate class on Art Studies, who made me reconsider less mechanical ways of formulating the questions I’d raise. Or Ma’am J, who, in her English nuanced with French and her tone that reeked of discontent,  did not settle with any juvenile bullshit and thus, challenged me to think and ask more in our CL 301 class. There’s Sir R, who despite or maybe because of his stature as Dean, the numerous books he has put out, the network he has established through the years, and the range of his thinking on cinema, literature, politics, and society, remains sharp, unconventionally warm and welcoming, and admirable to many. There, too, were the old reliables: Sir W, for his generosity of spirit and overall kindness; Ma’am C, my favorite creative writing teacher, for her prose and poems that speak to me and to whom I want to speak back; Ma’am A, my undergrad thesis adviser, for her lessons that stick and linger and her grace that humbles me; A, for his drive for scholarship on theatre studies; V, my roommate and colleague, for her independence, strength, and progressiveness; and J, for the openness that can only register, to a newbie like me at least, as encouragement and inspiration.

These people’s influence works like a double-bladed sword. On the one hand, they inspire me to be more thoughtful of my actions, ideas, and relationships. Even without instruction, they drive me to depart from zones of comfort and convenience and to try out unpredictable, non-automatic ways of seeing and thinking. On the other, my contact with these people also pushes me to be more skeptical of surfaces, cliches, and givens, and thereby making me listless or doubtful of my placement in the the scheme of things. To be honest, I’d find myself stuck in cynicism or antagonism at times, which can be depressing if not self-destructive to oneself and to others. So in instances like this, I’d distance myself from the habits of the ordinary and make sense of the difference between what is and what should be, hoping emotions would get evened out and reason would come and settle.

2013-2014 has been the most unsettling for me. It’s when I had to be on special detail from UP for 2 1/2 months, for a fellowship in SG.  Although that was a wonderful experience, if not a perfect excuse to drop responsibilities for a while, it affected my class schedule, my connection with students, and definitely, my mindset with regard to teaching. Upon my return to UP last August, I remember telling students, on various days and in varying moods, of the disorientation I deliberately chose to put aside, of the uncertainties I had as regards establishing classroom rapport and emotional investments, of the hangups I hesitated to verbalize with liberty or ownership, of  the comparisons I made, in quiet or in public, between Singapore and the Philippines, NUS and UP, and of my belated realizations on being home and away.

Those were difficult times, I recall now, although I did not want to call them that at that time. Perhaps the difficulty came partly from the fact that I did not allow myself to reel from my Singapore experience properly and to confront the “shock” I got from returning not only to my actual reality in the Philippines but also to my function at UP. I felt there was so much work to do  and so little time when I came back, that to sit down and regale friends or family members with stories about my fellowship sounded unappealing or bothersome to do. I was also afraid of being accused of pride and indulgence, should I talk about Singapore and how privileged I was to be in the Lion City. Or maybe I was being too defensive and selfish after all this time? I don’t know.

Almost five months since my homecoming, rituals and routines have been normalizing quite well. I have decided to sustain the  goodbye letters I read to class at the end of every semester, a gesture meant to be less a spectacle than a gentle reminder; to approach work more professionally; and to concentrate on my research more as next year signals the beginning of M.A. thesis writing. There’s so much to look forward to in the coming year: same old work, self-initiated plans and projects, newfound connections, strong relationships with friends who care, stay, and matter, social causes to advance and participate in, my 25th birthday, among others.

The world is changing, and so is my link with the world, and nothing’s wrong with that. In one conversation I had with her, V, my roommate at the Faculty Center, said that my restlessness could be symptomatic or consequential of a maturation in which attitudes, behaviors, values, and relations formerly dealt with certitude are shaken  if not totally transformed into something else. She also assured me that that is fine and logical, and that there’s more to be worried about had this feeling not arrived.

And so I cling to those words of assurance, again and always, repeating them like a script for the troubled, in the privacy of my bedroom, in the middle of a boring meeting, during breaks, in the dark, under broad daylight,  on my way to wherever, when I’m about to begin or delay whatever. Such is life.

Variations of Goodbyes

Any goodbye carries a certain gravity, gives a lump in the throat, or maybe, at times when investment in the person, thing, place, or event to whom one is saying farewell is just too deep and solid, creates a mixed bag of emotions of hurt, angst, misery, bitterness, or nostalgia. No goodbye comes easy to anyone, I assume, as such eventuality more or less connotes severance, a breaking point, a lull in the order of things, a loss of contact, physical or otherwise, a reordering of relations or protocols between or among persons. Even in cases where goodbyes only signify the absence of physical proximity and do not totally mean a conclusion to one’s affinity for whom, what, or which is deemed dear, there remains a profound unease, if not emptiness, in the idea or gesture of letting go of attachments made in whatever condition or context.

Although one may seek comfort from the fact that saying goodbye happens only as part of the logic of the exploration-interaction-termination stages of a relationship, one that needs to happen eventually to pave more ways for new initiations and opportunities, if not to render futile any inclination toward fixity as regards interpersonal intimacies, there is no one way of softening the blow of any farewell. The hit remains hard as much as accepting the disappearance of the person who has moved on/out/away or the finality of things past remains a ritualistic chore than a welcome imperative.  I, for one one, always find myself in deep thought or at a loss for words on the occasion where all preparation as to how to compose myself after saying goodbye dissipates in thin air if not collapses on my very face.  No rehearsal or choreography can manage the consequent and constitutive quietude, restlessness, or hysteria that may come after bidding farewell to whoever and whatever. At the end of it all, one just has to surrender to the aftermaths of what’s been said and done. It’s like honoring the gap in between getting swamped by the grateful verve of cheery students on the last day of classes, in one moment, and finding oneself sitting on or standing in a favorite spot in the classroom without an audience to address or engage, in another.

This year, I have been to places and with people I consider meaningful and to whom I said goodbye with varying intensities and impacts. The effects change depending on circumstance, but nonetheless, they all remind me of my capacity to involve and invest a portion of my life in others even at the most unpredictable time and in ways I would have not previously imagined as part of my personality.

1. Singapore for 2 1/2 months

I spent 2 1/2 months of fellowship at the National University of Singapore, particularly at the Asia Research Institute. From May 15 to July 31, I worked to accomplish a paper on my research interest (migration and Philippine contemporary theatre) and be able to deliver the material in a conference at the tail end of my stay at NUS. I spent long hours in the library, poring over, scanning, and taking note of books and journal articles unavailable in the Philippines. I also found a perfect spot in the library’s computer area, which had fast Internet connection and in which I laboriously worked on my manuscript. On Mondays, together with my co-fellows from the Philippines and other parts of Asia, I attended workshop sessions at the ARI building, where we were taught to streamline our proposals, write our drafts, and prepare our presentations. Because of the scanners and printers made available for us at the ARI, it was also where we scanned, in stealth or in brazen shamelessness, countless books from the library. This horrified a handful of ARI senior research fellows, to be sure; but throughout our stay, it remained a common if not “tolerated” practice among us junior fellows.

Singapore was ideal for work and study. Everything was efficient and working, and when things would go wrong, we too would find ourselves in self-doubt about our competence with machines. It came to a point where the place’s efficiency and cleanliness freaked me out. There, too, was a time when saying “Ang ganda ng Singapore. Ang linis ng Singapore. Sana ganito din sa Pilipinas.” already sounded like a cliche from a B movie.

There were however attempts to hazard barbarities from my end, like peeing in the grass at night or having a bite of someone else’s chocolate in our dorm’s communal refrigerator. But conscience and civility told me to behave, for the most part. There were instances when I only wanted to drift away from the crowd, stay in a nook in the library to do my own stuff at my own pace, not fully minding time passing by, and personally disrupt the rigidly neat schedule of the fellowship. I found myself intermittently veering away from order, with the hope of having my own version of enjoyment and looseness; but after a while, I again would see myself succumbing to the rhythm of the everyday.

Back in the Philippines, I appreciate the Lion City all the more: the wide sidewalks, the absence of traffic jams, the security one feels and finds even in the thickness of the night, the certainty of time, the best laksa at The Deck, cold and fragrant libraries and functioning computers for all, my dorm room, the anonymity I got to enjoy, the rewarding experience of living all by myself, a semblance of independence, the unnerving need to be on my toes all the time, the possibilities of a clear horizon, the trees that perhaps know no fear of being cut or uprooted, the fellowship and its perks, my co-fellows and our confused and confusing intercultural dynamics, free bus rides on campus, elevators, long walks, washing machines and dryers, a theme park at one’s disposal, bookstores at one’s disposal, museums at one’s disposal, intersecting pathways, trails and manicured lawns, topiaries, artwork in the city, converging train routes and stops, architectures that lead to another, stinky scent of one’s racial discrimination, funky variation of English, errant wishful thinking, the prospects of promiscuity, the reminders of fidelity, among others.

There’s so much to be thankful for and so much to say goodbye to, in those months of being away from home. There’s so much to share and so much more to recall than what a piece of paper or a blog post like this can ever contain and depict. There’s so much feeling that words can hardly capture, and if they do, will only make everything sound prosaic or mushy or lacking in energy and range and complexity. There are personalities who remain eccentric, excessive, estranged in my mind, up to this day, for their sheer charm or craziness or crassness–some of whom I envy and look up to, others I choose to forget—and that is fine. There are spaces  I still wish to be in or claim as my own, marking their edges and centers and in-betweens with my name or my initials, like the true narcissist that I am. I think of my dorm room at Prince George Park Residences (PGPR) and its big glassed-windows overlooking other big glassed-windows of other rooms with other people, boys or girls or both, some of whom I watched or stared at, whenever I was bored or in need of a fantasy; or my perfect spot in the computer area of the NUS library, where I tended to become territorial of one desktop and chair and view, almost always thinking that they affected not only my patience at work but also my research and writing. I also think of my favorite laksa place at The Deck, a cafeteria located a few walks away from the library, in which I did not mind lining up for a bowl of Singapore goodness containing select ingredients of squidballs, crab sticks, hard-boiled eggs, noodles, coconut soup, vegetables, among others. Or maybe the vegan stall that served good alternatives to laksa and that had the jolly server Jenny, who didn’t want to be called auntie and who had notable rapport with Filipino scholars/customers.

I was not able to say my formal or silent goodbyes to these, because the final days of my fellowship were just too busy and too hectic with deadlines and events. I wanted to go around the campus and do it with the same awe I had the first time I set foot in NUS. But on my last day, I woke up late, had to pack my things, and had to checkout from the dormitory, all of which made impossible any wish to be touristy, nostalgic, and clingy for one last time. The moment I accomplished all the requisite rituals before I leave PGPR was also the same moment I had to hail a cab for my next destination: our hotel on Little India, where my family and I would stay for four days and three nights.

Months after the fellowship, Singpore stays special, a place on to which vivid memories and hopes are pinned and from whose sense some of the best experiences and encounters of 2013 are evoked. In me is a want to go back, not to make an unsaid goodbye finally materialize, nor to idealize interminable time, but perhaps to avail of the promise of a return that does not deny fresh starts nor poignant endings as much as it welcomes the continuities of what I consider the past and the possible.

Initiation

I have so much fear and hesitation in starting a blog like this and in finding the commitment and patience to sustain whatever I have decided to put my time, effort, and energy into.  My tendency to abandon every plan and project I have in mind and at work, in the face of my seemingly uncontrollable whims and wishes to do this and that, strongly tells me to delay any impulse to set forth yet again into another writing venture online.

However, in my desire to contradict myself from time to time, I am putting up this blog to frustrate any noncommittal decision to let life pass by without so much thought and action. As the year draws to a close and a new one is about to kick in (which reminds me that 2014 marks my 25th year on Earth), chronicling one’s life and keeping track of whatever’s happening in relation to it becomes more urgent. This I do to reflect on where I have been and where I am going more than to highlight and wallow in what’s amiss and lacking through these years.

Although my friends always kid me for being an Internet addict on the basis of my frequent updates and uploads on whichever online platform available at my disposal, I still feel the need, rather shamelessly, to create another space more for insights and ideas, objects and observations, the past and the possible than narcissistic blunders of the everyday. This time and on this site, I hope to be clearer and more sensible in giving judgments and assessments of people, places, prospects, and my profession in the academe.

And so I am saving this old blog site from oblivion and giving it new form. Originally called Express Parking to signify my attempts at literary and cultural criticism, this blog will now be referred to as Shadows of the Details, a phrase I got from Vicente Rafael’s book White Love and Other Events in Filipino History, to give perhaps a sketch, perhaps an evocation, perhaps a shade, or maybe an illusion, of my person and personality. Without so much profundity, the title points to the fact that while this blog contains pieces and fragments of me, it does and will not in any way capture the texture and complexity of who and what I am in the offline world.  It is an approximation of a documented life that remains almost always excessive and elusive of bedrock certainties and stereotypes.

In the meantime, let the shadow remain as is: a site of reflection, an object of scrutiny, an ephemeral and flexible image, a hint of what could be there.