Routines

As a compulsive coffee drinker, the third or fourth cup of the day is sacrosanct. Preferably, a double espresso shot. Just warm not hot. The first few cups can be cheap sticks of black instant or brewed mediocre ones as long as they don’t reek of sewage scent or not from CBTL which serves the absolutely worst brewed coffee ever.

 

 

Corners and edges are comfort zones. People who watch movies with me have to settle with an aisle, rather than a center view of the screen. Prayer is impossible unless at a pew’s end. For the most part of the week. I wake up kneeling – embracing the foot of the bed, my legs folded or stretched on the floor. Marginal scribbles than in-line comments. I fly from one end of the blackboard to another and work towards the middle during lectures. Does being left-handed have anything to do with it?

 

 

EDM in the morning. Opera after lunch. Sacred polyphonies and Gregorian chants arouse me. I am a Lenten, rather than, a Christmas person.

 

 

I can never read books chronologically. I listen to songs not for their lyrics, beats, or artists. They have to remind me of a place, a memory, a person, a whisper, a quarrel, a dilemma. My playlists are re-incanted for every reincarnated lover/beloved. I need to have another another serving or half a serving of the main course after dessert – reality has to be restated in every dream sequence.

 

 

Adding a Hail Mary at the end of each decade of the Rosary is a painful reminder of how bad I am with counting. Except minutes, hours, seconds – when waiting. For appointments, I need to start learning the art of coming in, fashionably late. Always too eager. My conclusions are often premature. I tell myself that bowing at each mention of the name Jesus at Mass makes me a liturgical sophisticate when it fact it merely guarantees I do not doze off.

 

 

The first thing I pick up in the morning is a random book from those desperately strewn on the floor of every room I stay. When I’m not talking to anyone, night time is a sewing party. One sentence from this book, a word from this author, an emotion from a story, a melody from a poem, a mood from a song: fool proof recipe against writer’s block. While others fear nightmares and monsters, or ghosts, a blank screen at night is what makes me shudder.

 

 

Resonance

This morning I tried recording a podcast for my students last semester whom I owe a final lecture/make-up class to tie loose ends of my learning objectives in the curricular politics and governance course I teach at the Ateneo. I stopped after five minutes of previewing a 20-minute draft I recorded as I found my voice intolerably unlettered – the very opposite of how I thought I sound when pontificating in class. In my mind, I thought I sounded scholarly and learned. But the more I listened, images of my students cringing on the inside while hanging on to a pretend “I’m following what you’re saying” look – which is by the way a look I have learned to master and therefore detect in others – soaked whatever little self-confidence I possess.

 

***

 

People close to me know how my tongue is easily immobilized in small-group, intimate gatherings and conversations. Unlike most people I know, I find more comfort speaking from a podium facing a 200-people crowd than engaging another person in a sustained, spontaneous dialogue without an itemized agenda to discuss. The latter is just too painful for my intimacy-scared (or scarred) self. But my trial recording this morning is sure to cast a pall over my self-proclaimed oratorical and declamatory skill.

 

***

 

A couple of years ago, a student exposed me to the variations in my speaking voice. Apparently, I have a “Philippine politics discussion” voice, a “global politics discussion” voice, and a “religion and Church-State relations” voice. My Philippine politics discussion voice, she said, sounded like a congressman filibustering at the lower house, my global politics discussion voice – a contrived English as second language voice, and my religion and Church voice – a waxy, sappy, sentimentalizing voice. If Zadie Smith has a double voice, I supposedly have three or more sets of diction/accent which, if my student’s observation was correct, I deploy depending on the audience or the topic of my discussion.

 

***

 

When I first came to Manila for college, my diction, rather than my provincialesque or my obese body, caused me bouts of anxiety attacks. While I’ve spent high school mastering my English teachers’ injunction to “think in English” including imagining how talking in English would sound like, I was ill-prepared for the cosmopolitan and urbane diction of my college peers. More than lack of insight or mediocre study habits, the thought of how my voice or my diction would sound compared to them and how that voice would betray my supposedly learned and intelligent composure paralyzed me during small group discussions. Over the years, I repeatedly rehearsed the acceptable vocal tone and diction that I felt sounded within the range of my aspired for and projected image.

 

Part of the process was hating the Bicolano diction – the abrasive “uragon” sound – and replacing it with a more caressing or at least, neutral Tagalog diction.

 

I’ve always hated that Bicol sound. It was the sound of confrontations in the family household. It was the sound of the pulpit. It was the sound of grade school bullies laughing at how I cannot run as fast as everyone else. It was the sound of a repressed personal history that I am still trying to reconcile with.

 

I write this reflection now from a corner in Starbucks Naga where I am presently surrounded by a coarse crescendo so natural to this volcanic region.

 

And the repressed is trying to burst out of me.

Resilience

A month ago, my best friend raised a brutally frank question while we were in the midst of a drunken stupor: “don’t you ever feel like time has overtaken your moment of glory?” (“hindi mo ba minsan nararamdaman na napag-iwanan ka na ng panahon?”)

To understand why the question jolted me out of the alcohol-induced euphoria of that night spent hopping from one bar to another is to understand the kind of conversations my best friend and I usually engage in: they were never about us. Well, at some point, it would reach a moment when the conversation would draw nearer and nearer to almost being about our individual lives. But it has never really reached that brutally bare and raw moment of confrontation that we found ourselves contemplating (although I must admit we slipped out of it soon enough) that night.

In college, we would spent countless hours on the phone talking about the Church, politics, the sex lives of our common friends, the sex lives of politicians, the sex lives of priests we know. You know, best friend stuff. For us, it seemed like talking about these things delay or at least, hold at bay, conversations that would expose our weakness and struggles to each other. Of course there was always that lingering feeling that one or the other was not feeling alright at some particular point. But we almost had a silent understanding to never appear to each other, other than strong and perfectly happy. Whatever we needed to say or do in order to make that appearance is not just understandable but more imperatively, encouraged.

But at thirty (he’s twenty nine), we allowed ourselves the luxury of vulnerability that night. For some good thirty minutes.

“I do”, I admitted, after some bit of hesitation.

Now to understand that admission is to understand me.

Widely expected by friends and mentors to make it big right after college, I disappointed many by failing to bag doctoral scholarships in foreign universities I applied in. I have repeatedly refused to study in the Philippines because of sheer stubborn pride. The trauma dragged my academic career. Instead of research and publishing, I found solace in student organizing and student formation. But even as I devoted energy and time to students, my lack of academic qualifications and prestige drove them seeking more famous and more widely accepted mentors.

I eventually found myself excluded from the circles I built.

Last May, I decided to quit the academe – bosom of my dreams, land of my promise.

I write about this now while “ruinating” (see previous post) on the storm that has just very recently passed through the Philippines. Every time a typhoon passes the country and wrecks havoc on communities, Filipinos are often described by the media as a highly resilient people. In recent years, however, that notion of resilience has come under fire.

For some, resilience is a poor excuse and a powerful justification for status quo conditions of ill-preparedness, lack of facilities, slow response to recovery and relief, and snail paced rehabilitation.

There is truth in this lamentation.

But I guess, resilience is also a virtue. And it is most especially the virtue of those who have not given up on their dreams. Only scaling them down and adapting to the demands of one’s own relationships.
Like me, my best friend was also once hailed by our peers as a rising figure to watch out for. He was in fact one of the top students of an elite pre-med course in the University of the Philippines. In college we had plans to conquer the fields of politics and medicine and reign like the Pope of Rome on the one end and the Patriarch of Constantinople on the other end.

We were however, sidelined by the limits of our own circumstances. Both are very private issues that I prefer not to write about.

What I can safely claim, however, is that we have come to a beautiful acceptance of where we are at the moment and why we are in this particular stage of our lives and career.

Resilience, now that I think about it, is no other than the creative energy released by the ruins.

Resilience is the ruins performing itself qua itself.

I also write about this because I am at the moment reading on disaster resilience literature for a policy paper I intend to write soon. Most of the studies in this set of literature construct resilience as an act of hardening, of protection, of defense.

But there is also another way, I guess, through which we can view resilience outside the purview of some future or prospective strengthening and instead, write it instead from the critical vantage point of the weak.

Of the postcolony’s turbulent historical self and self-construction.

Remnants

Last Saturday, I participated in a seminar convened by my friend and academic/life mentor, Dr. Jason Jacobo at the Ateneo de Manila University. The seminar, provocatively entitled “Cata/strophe” gathered a group of young poets, writers, and literary critics for an afternoon of what Dr. Jacobo called “ruinations” – an afternoon of thinking through (and not just about) the ruins of the catastrophic Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda that devastated the central Philippines in November 2013.

 

Dr. Jacobo opened the seminar with an exposition on three passages from Walter Benjamin’s “The Origin of German Tragic Drama” (see photo), worked through a philological discussion of the terms “catastrophe”, “calamity”, “crisis”, “flood”, “storm” etc… in English, Spanish, and Visayan, and then examined essays written by Filipino literati on the Haiyan/Yolanda tragedy before culminating with an intricate reading of poetry selections thematizing catastrophic phenomena. I’ll reserve my summary and discussion of Dr. Jacobo’s text for a later post.

 

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But from the passages on Benjamin and Jacobo’s subsequent commentary, I gathered three words: remnants, allegory, and melancholy. Jacobo’s leitmotif in the exposition was the theme of the “remainder” in the wake of the catastrophic, that is, the “subtraction” that marks the event of the catastrophic and extends it beyond the singularity of the moment. This extension releases the moment of the catastrophe from its spatial limits and relocates it towards the sphere of the temporal. In this melancholic phenomenologization of the remnant, Jacobo invokes the Benjaminian privileging of the Baroque allegory as way of critically comprehending and articulating the loss that attends catastrophes.

 

At the onset, I found myself reflecting on how Baroque, in fact, how melancholic my own participation in the seminar was, bringing the ruins of my own academic, political, and intellectual interventions into critical self-reflection: failed pursuits for that elusive PhD scholarship grant, unfinished manuscripts haunted by multiple other layers of crisis of the spirit and of the flesh, organizations that have slipped out of my intellectual influence, individuals who have resisted my mentorship, and authorities that have refused to recognize potentialities. There I was, listening to my friend’s riveting Baroque exposition on the Baroque in Benjamin, exposed to my own ruins, confronting the ruins of self-construction, of the self as a always already ruined.

 

Jacobo’s exposition on Benjamin ended by contemplating on the “faithless leap” towards the resurrection expressed in the last cited passage from the text. While Jacobo – a literary and cultural critic – speaks at the end of his own Trauerspiel of Benjamin’s mild negativity in contrast to the negativity of Theodore Adorno in order to draw from its hopelessness the distance of the experience and its permanent unfamiliarity as a wellspring of new aesthetic creations via poetry or various other modes of representation, my own ruination via Benjamin culminated in the possibility of hope which comes not in the certainty of an eschatological resurrection or neither from its uncertainty but rather from the futility by which the catastrophic must be finally rendered and apprehended in order for it to escape the ever increasing powers of forms of the secular sovereign and the sovereign secular to mobilize bodies of catastrophe – including its texts –  and to rebuild history or to drive and even channel a new historical flow.

 

I speak of the seminar here as a fragment, a remnant, a ruination since I have in the past few months been out of the vitality of academic ruination itself and will most likely be off the academic loop in the next few years to embark on the dead subject matter of the sovereign dispositif (go figure).

 

 

But this is where my temporal (dis)location will be (dis)placed. For now.

Of what remains.

And I hope that my return will once again bring ruins and catastrophes.