23 May 2011

Level Up!

Since it's official now, I guess I can post here that I've been promoted to assistant editor here at BusinessWorld Special Features. The previous assistant editor, Hannah--whose e-mail led me to apply to BusinessWorld in the first place--received a scholarship from an NGO and will be leaving Manila in a couple of months to study environmental journalism. Lucky! I wish her every happiness. :)

As for me, I'm going to see how to go about this without having to increase my caffeine intake. Whee!

15 May 2011

Judgment Day: 21 May 2011

Well, that's according to this religious group, anyway. I'm not inclined to believe it myself; I'm amillennialist, and the math's just weird to me. I'll stick to what Matthew had to say on the matter. But I suppose we'll all know our fates come next Saturday by being raptured--or not raptured, as the case may be.

I always thought that with the end of the world so near, I'd not go to work and spend all my money on a plane ticket home and/or a trip to the beach. But I also like the peaceful picture painted by Ray Bradbury in "The Last Night of the World," in which the end is simply thought of as "the closing of a book," and everybody just goes to bed at the end of the day, as if it were any other day. I can honestly say that if the world did end this Saturday, or in October, as the eBible Fellowship says it will, and I happened to be doing what I did every day, I wouldn't mind. The world will end sooner or later, whether by divine cataclysm or natural entropy, this Saturday or a billion years from now, and you either accept that or you don't.

Okay, all that said, I'd probably go to Martin's house, since he's my closest loved one in town, and we'd watch "Shrek" or "3 Idiots" or just read books together or something.

I think I'll do that anyway.

13 May 2011

Currently reading: "The World Without Us"

I've finally started reading--that is, gotten beyond the preface of a book I bought a few months ago: "The World Without Us," by Alan Weisman. As soon as I saw it on the shelf of the Fully Booked branch at Bonifacio High Street, I knew that it was something I had to read, and every visit to the store afterward would include a trip to the science section just to look at it, pick it up, think about buying it, decide that I couldn't afford it at that time of the month, and put it back with regret. This is the reason many interesting-seeming books escape me, because I tell myself that maybe I should wait till next time. For once, though, my dithering was rewarded with a sale at Powerbooks, where I managed to get the book for near-half price.

I'm even happier now that I've actually started reading it (kudos to you for getting this far in the entry, by the way, and not closing the tab after that long exposition), because it's turning out to be all I imagined, which is an exercise in imagination. "The World Without Us" is just that, a peek into the future of the planet should our race suddenly disappear:

"Picture a world from which we all suddenly vanished. Tomorrow.

"Unlikely, perhaps, but for the sake of argument, not impossible. Say a
Homo sapiens-specific virus--natural or diabolically nano-engineered--picks us off but leaves everything else intact. Or some misanthropic evil wizard somehow targets that unique 3.9 percent of DNA that makes us human beings and not chimpanzees, or perfects a way to sterilize our sperm, Or say that Jesus--more on Him later--or space aliens rapture us away, either to our heavenly glory or to a zoo somewhere across the galaxy.


"Could nature ever obliterate all our traces? How would it undo our monumental cities and public works, and reduce our myriad plastics and toxic synthetics back to benign, basic elements? Or are some so unnatural that they're indestructible?

"And what of our finest creations--our architecture, our art, our many manifestations of spirit? Are any truly timeless, at least enough so to last until the sun expands and toasts our Earth to a cinder?"

-- from the Prelude: A Monkey Koan

The first reason I was attracted to this book was that I was already trying to write something like it, though less a scientific projection and more, "What if a virus killed everyone, and Metro Manila existed only as a tribute simulation program run by anthropomorphic biocomputers, and none of the humans left over knew if they were real or just program code?" Yes, it is just as pulpy as it sounds, which is why I don't talk about it often.

Mostly, though, I'm attracted to the idea of ruins, particularly the idea of ruined cities. I like watching Metro Manila crumble around me, even as I'm in the middle of my morning commute. I like looking up at the underside of a flyover and seeing a patch of weeds that has sprouted 20 feet above the ground and in absence of deep soil. It's particularly gratifying to visit a retail and recreation center and see the cracks in the sidewalk, the grime gathering on the fake Hollywood-Mediterranean-Balinese facade, the paint on the fake concrete trees fading to a more turd-like color.

A good part of the area where I live now is packed with ruins--dilapidated old banks, hardware stores, and closed restaurants, with their windows broken or boarded up, and their overhangs shelter for no one but a dozen homeless families sleeping on flattened cardboard boxes. When I pass by these buildings on the way home, I think of something Geoff Dyer said in "Yoga For People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It," something along the lines of, ruins don't show us the past, but the future; ruins tell us that this is what the future looks like. This is what the future always ends up looking like.

So when I walk around the city, particularly in places like Cubao that--as my colleague's father said recently--were once the place to be but are now shells rotting from time and weather and neglect, I imagine that I'm in the future. And when I see some sign of us trying to fight entropy--these Manhattan Garden condos, and the New Frontier Cinema with its soon-to-rise-type sign announcing GATEWAY TOWER over its old name--it's just as easy for me to imagine dead and sagging concrete giants, rusting girders and cables, and empty, littered streets, as it is for the developers to imagine a gleaming new mixed-use development bustling with commercial activity.

And I have to say that half the work of imagining all this has been done for me by the huge degree of urbanization. Imagining an empty city gets easier the bigger that city gets. When you take the train from one end of EDSA to another, or a cab from one end of C5 to another, you don't always see the people who live and work in these thousands of tenements and high-rises and informal settlements and processing plants and schools; more often you just see these walls and window frames staring silently at one another and the road and you. Unless you're travelling with someone, you don't talk to people on the train or in the jeep; you might as well be riding alone. That's why it's easy for me to imagine that the people I do notice are the survivors of a 21st-century plague.

All that, in turn, is why I like Mr. Weisman's book so far (I'm still in the chapter where he's describing how nature will take over New York City--plenty of flooding and crumbling and invasive flora and fauna and even explosions involved; not too far from what we saw at the deepest dream level of "Inception"). It lends scientific likelihood to the things I imagine, explains the order, for instance, that certain species of trees will take during the reforestation of Manhattan.

Of course, that's just a really long way of saying, "This book is full of the kind of geeky details that appeal to a person who's maybe too affected by life in the city and should go lie down."

06 May 2011

Waiting in the Stepford Showroom

Perhaps it proves my point that some part of me is rebelling as I type this, but that part gets weaker the longer I go on. I really think that we've been set up for disappointment by everyone who raised us, regardless of how good their intentions were. My favorite shady advice columnist, coketalk, sums it up quite neatly in her post about special snowflake disease. She might as well be talking about me there.

In high school, I wanted to be a great writer, which to me meant becoming either a newspaper editor or a prolific novelist. I wanted to be the genius wordsmith whose name is published a hundred times before she turns 20, at which point she dies in a blaze of activist glory. She lives with her artist boyfriend, who naturally dies with her, and they don't have kids, and marriage can go suck an egg. This life, I believed, would make me blissfully happy.

Nearly ten years later, I am about to become a newspaper editor, but it's nothing like I thought it would be, and I'm still miles away from being able to call myself a genius wordsmith. I am somewhat acquainted with the girl who actually did become this person, and while she's great, I have no problem with having my life instead of hers. The novels that I have worked on are gathering their metaphorical cobwebs in a dark little corner of my yet-to-be-defragged hard drive. The closest I have come to recognition is my grandmother's scrapbook of my articles on mutual funds and SMEs, plus the proofreading I do for my more-"serious"-about-writing boyfriend--who is often happy to say that he is not an artist. We don't live together. I want a backyard wedding, kids, grandkids, and a long and kind of boring life. I am trying my best not to die in any sort of blaze, and I do this by carefully crossing the street on my way home. I'm in bed by 10. This life, at the moment, makes me happy.

What happened on the way? I guess I recovered--no, am in remission from special snowflake disease. There's always the possibility that it will flare up again, like when I listen to a cheesy song and start bawling about how I haven't done anything useful with my life, but that possibility seems to diminish with every year that I embrace my average-ness. Those novels--and the several short stories that share their space--may never see the light of day again, and that is okay with me. For one thing, the reasons I wrote some of them had come from a part of myself that I'd slowly excised, and to pick them up again where I'd left off would only deny what I've turned into since then. For another, I no longer have a deadline for myself and no longer worry about being left behind by my more dazzling peers. I just think of the man who won the Oscar for Best Screenplay this year, or the woman who won the Nobel for Literature in 2007. I have time.

What about seizing the day, someone might ask. Well, that's just it. I'm so much more interested right now in the everyday that I don't want to divert attention from it just to hole up with my laptop in a hot corner and wring out the endings to the stories I'm still kind of interested in telling. Right now, I'd rather teach myself about economic indicators. Right now, I'd rather mess around with origamic architecture. Right now, I'd rather think about what Martin and I will get to eat this weekend. Right now, I'd rather think about putting some of my savings in a UITF. Right now, I'd rather watch another episode of some ridiculous reality show they've got on loop at ETC. Right now, I'd rather think about my promotion, and how it'll get my life in line for at least a couple more years--I hope in line for more of this contentment with the everyday.

Sorry, special snowflake high school me. I think you did die at 20, at most at 23. You died, and I lived. I guess that's what coketalk meant about a healthy line of succession.

Is there nothing that gets me excited, someone else might ask. Nothing that has me burning with that other key-to-personal-success word, passion? Yes, but it's going to disappoint special snowflake high school me: what gets me excited is the idea that one day, I'll have a permanent address that isn't my parent's house, and it will have screaming kids, messy rooms, dinner to prep, laundry to fold, work brought home, and more files that have been put away for later, because I'm too busy--and happily so--with the everyday.

I'm sure someone out there will think I'm crazy, say that my free spirit too easily became a cog in the great and soulless machine that is the sad half of the human race, and point me out to their children as I go past in my blue-checked business dress and sensible shoes as the person to not become when they grow up--in fact, they shouldn't grow up--but that's okay. Perhaps I will have contributed something after all, by being one of the sheeple to scare some true great of this world on toward their tremendous success.

Or maybe another ten years from now, I'll be that pointing person, putting out groundbreaking work while siring the next Cory Doctorow or Adam David (and his name shall be Julian Renato Alexander Asteroid Kulog Synecdoche Villanueva, whose musical sculptures made of lesportsac knockoffs which you can only view from a certain angle while logged into a secret website with access codes that hop every seven seconds will make you weep opals from sheer joy).

Even if I don't, I know I'll still be happy.

05 May 2011

Maybe Next Time

It's Mother's Day this Sunday. There's a lot I'd like to be able to tell my mom or my lola, but time always gets in the way.

There's the time I spend away from them, long stretches of it here in Metro Manila while they go about their lives back home in South Cotabato. Then, there's the time we do get together, always so brief and bittersweet that I'd rather not say what I'd been waiting to say while waiting all that time to see them first.

For instance, it's Easter, or Christmas, and we are happy together, so I'd rather not ruin things by giving the real reason I've stopped going to church. So, I save the discussion for next time, hoping I'll have the balls to say something by then.

In "Atonement," by Ian McEwan, Cecilia Tallis is frustrated at how, no matter how much she feels she has changed in her time away, she reverts to her old role of daughter and sister when she is back among her family. They treat her and expect her to act the way they always have, but it's no conscious effort to hold her back; they simply weren't witness to all that change. How are they to know she's changed if she doesn't act differently? How is she to act differently if they seem so happy that she's still the same?

Martin has asked me to look at a captain's biography he's helped write, and the more I read, the more I want to know my lola's life story. I want to do the same thing for her: sit in her bedroom on the first floor, surrounded by all those old photos and books, turn on a recorder, and ask her all those questions so that I can work her story out of her answers--what was your childhood like? Who did you meet? Where did you go? Who did you love? What did you want? (Were you like me?) The lightness of her frame when I hugged her last, just last Saturdady, makes the task seem all the more pressing. I was supposed to do this last Christmas, when I had at least a week to bother her, but she was sick and needed rest. I guess it has to wait again till next time.