Monday, June 26, 2006

From Rapture To Rupture

If you've got the temerity for a tightrope pirouette and the gall to imagine yourself a contender for the reality show Fear Factor, it wouldn’t be too farfetched to see a camel entering the eye of the needle. Or, the hole of a wedding ring.

Long before Sun.Star Cebu sent shivers down the spines of singletons with its recent three-part series called “Going Solo” — proving there’s an epidemic of unhappiness in the city enough to make annulment lawyers grinning their way to the banks— a whole galaxy of words has coalesced into a common fact: Marriage is a matter of courage.

Forget the flair of the wedding planner who, having read too much romance novels or seen her immodest share of Hollywood potboilers, will have the prospective couple believe that everything in the glossy magazine or in her favorite teleserye is true. Ah, the mirage of two minds admitting no impediment to the pleasure principle in this era of advertising.

Truth be told, no wedding planner takes care about what happens next because it’s really up to the couple concerned to make a sense of rhythm and order, a cosmos out of the chaos theory so true to the frowns of feminists and the caution of the commitment-phobic.

“It is the most challenging relationship any of us attempt in our lives, and an increasing number of us seem to fail,” goes the blurb of Elizabeth John Howard’s book Marriage, titled simply thus as if to leave no room for further complications. It’s one of the gifts my wife and I received when we agreed to go headlong into our common adventure against the unknown four years ago.

It’s a jungle out there after the wedding photographer finds another client for a funeral, probably of someone who succumbed to the sweet hereafter in the wake of sleeping with snakes or swimming together with piranhas. Or so agree with a cuss “practically one couple every 24 hours” who kick themselves to Splitsville, as cited in the special report.

When one writer defined courage as a “conquest of fear,” he might as well have described marriage as a mind-over-matter engagement with reality at the risk of losing one’s head. Or, against the slings and arrows of domestic fortune, ducking under the matrimonial bed. If you don’t have the mind—or the moxie— for it, you could tear out your hair about psychological incapacity, like 95 per cent of the petitioner for annulments in the city.

From someone who came short of murdering her husband, erasing him from her existence the legal way out, it struck me that my friend C. still has the grace to wax hopeful for me and my wife, writing a dedication on the book’s flyleaf: “All the best.” Not for better or for worse, mind you. Something that I wished for her, too, when she opted not let the failure of her first marriage be a closure for finding and fulfilling herself.

Cautionary tales about lovebirds turning targets for slingshots, she got a first-hand account. But that hasn’t stopped her from daring to take a second chance. Hopefully this time, her second husband is someone she could hum an ode with against all odds. And, in the process of partaking the gifts of their individuality, may they become sentinels of each other’s solitude.

To rage is fine, true. But nothing beats the basic or the residual verities of clichés: Faith, hope, love. That, plus the creative spunk and, yes, the courage to chuckle against one’s cynical heart.

In closing, here’s a bit from Howard’s book that singletons might consider for a second look. “There is no greater risk, perhaps than matrimony,” averred Benjamin Disraeli, from a letter to a lady on her engagement. “But there is nothing happier than a happy marriage.”


Howard's anthology is a treasure trove of extracts from novels, short stories, poems-- all illustrating the changing moods of marriage, from joy to despair. Her choices are eclectic and refreshingly unexpected, ranging from Anton Chekov, C.S. Lewis, Jane Austen, Michel de Montaigne, Erich Maria Remarque, Robert Graves, Oscar Wilde, Franz Kafka, Thomas Hardy, Virginia Woolf, Gustave Flaubert, William Shakespeare, James Thurber, Evelyn Waugh, George Eliot, George Bernard Shaw, Benjamin Disraeli, etc.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

A Runaway Wise Piece Of Advice

WHO says one has to grit one's teeth and be aggressive to wear courage on one's sleeve? Give yourself a break, man. Or kick yourself if you deem it beneath you, as graceless as losing face, to hold your ground when the going gets rough.

Being tough is tritely macho. Or so avers Mr. Somchai, an Aikido master, at the recent 1st Fukakusa Shihan Aikido and Weapons International Seminar in Cebu. There's more to bravery than meets a black eye.

"Running away is the best form of self-defense," stresses Mr. Chomsai after he demonstrated a move to escape from several aggressors and exited as if nothing happened. “The Aikido philosophy is of peace, harmony and unit,” Mr. Somchai explained. “If you are trapped, defend yourself but if you can still run, then run.” Weaseling away from a fight is not a cowardly act, agrees Giovanni Capannelli, an Italian fouth dan aikikai and senior economist of the Asian Development Bank.

You bet, I'm on my feet.

Friday, June 16, 2006

In Praise Of All Fathers (And Their Mothers, Too!)

TO CELEBRATE Father's Day, here's a reprint of my column in Sun.Star Cebu (February 11, 2003) which I wrote six days after the birth of my eldest son, Gabriel Ollivan:


On the day I was to be baptized, my mother had to whisk me out the window. My father was dead drunk at the door, that’s why. It’s one story I wish to hear straight from my father’s mouth, as though getting the long and short of it were my birthright.

If he saw the film Road to Perdition, my father would have deemed Paul Newman a saint. Amen, thus he could have sworn to what seemed to him a gospel truth after Newman’s character intoned: “Sons are put on earth to trouble their fathers.”

Short of committing parricide, my father and I have done everything in the book to break the tie that binds us. Osmosis is a process easier to understand if the precision with which we break each other’s hearts were a mutual experiment. Yes, being a pain in each other’s neck is a science we’ve raised to the level of art.

How my father lives up to his name, Severiano. It’s overkill to go into details. Suffice it to say that what my father and I do exceptionally well is run of the mill. The movies and the novels have wrung the topic of father-and-son conflict dry, certainly. Look, the slim copy of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons still groans on my shelf, so plump with its dog-ears.

Suffice it to say that as long we’re together, there’s no need to bother about news of an impending global war. There’s always a booby trap in each other’s way, and our silences can be so companionable as though we were the only ones left walking in the ruins of a bombed city.

If there’s anything good at being my father’s son, it is in the way he has inspired me to be ruthless in steering out of his shadow and toeing along the lines of a character in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man who said, “Be your own father.” Along the way, I’ve learned to swallow more than Ellison’s words. Yes, even though nothing is harder to take than softening one’s heart for the sticky stuff called tenderness.

Or something like forgiveness. This, I now know, must be fierce— a lesson I took time learning from my mother who’ve loved and endured without apologies such a man I thought only my grandmother can. If goodness prevails over all things gone awry, these two women in my father’s life can swear.

When my wife underwent a caesarian operation last week, my father stayed outside the hospital. So typical of him, so I thought until my mother told me nearly a week after my child’s birth that it was my father who rushed to the nursery, even risking one of the nurse’s ire when he went beyond the sterile area in his excitement to get a closer look at his grandson. He was relieved, so swore my mother, to see my firstborn safe after my wife’s ordeal at the operating room.

Stories, so I wish to tell my son Gabriel Ollivan soon, must leave a lot of room for revision.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Poem For Papa and For My Sons


Summoning the metaphor of stone, his name.
It stuns my tongue to utter it, my teeth
gritting syllables of gravel. So sovereign
it is as his shout calling me back, and I’m
suddenly a child again, mouth agape and gasping
for breath as if father were a word hurled
farther away that I must run after, hurtling me
through hurts unmapped, across estranged acres
traced by trajectories of rage, and gauged by
velocities of loss. Yet the sparks of a stone-rubbed
heart strangely kindles love’s belated
light; its warmth burning this intimate wrath
until it thaws, and smoke unseethes our ancestry
of aches— our common tree— where ire, rock-
rooting, was sired. Once in a dream, I stumbled
on Grandpa’s grave, and I clawed, digging
for his bones, its heft no more than a fistful
of pebbles. Wakeful now, I’m all ears to
the absence of his voice. It roars, swearing
I’m just a chip off the old block: a stowaway
towed by a wayward streak not even the most
severe of beatings could break. Consider then
the river and its heritage of boulders.
Imagine me as the bridge over it where you,
children all forthcoming, shall meet.
Go down the water. Wash your feet.

* SEVERIANO was first published in the Philippine Panorama magazine (April 13, 1997) and later anthologized in the Likhaan: Best of Philippine Poetry and Fiction 1997 (UP Press)

Poem For Papa


A static in the heart.

We’re mute, mutual as we are
with blindfolds. We’ve seen no evil
or heard while our fingers concatenate
like accidents on the switch.

Whichever channel we turn, the shift-
shape of images eludes us, deluding
the split-seconds of David Koresh, babytalk
on soaps and shampoos, Michael Jackson’s
moonwalk, the CNN war dispatch
and a teaser of a wrestling match.

Wordless, the world is
loud enough in this room
cramped but larger than death.
We’ll be one with the late-night news.
Or else, who will reveal the slaying
of the murderer, breathless
and bitter between us?

We’ll have rest at last.

* INTER NOS was first published in Home Life magazine in 1996 where it won in its Annual Poetry Competition. It’s also anthologized in In Time Passing: The Best of Home Life as well in Little Workshop, Little Critique (both books edited by Leoncio Deriada)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Oh, My Oompa!

EVER WONDERED what sort of animal you might have been in your past life? Thus Tickle Tests ( piqued me curious. After answering a few questions, here's the discovery:

"Myke, you're a Monkey! Don't go bananas — in your former life you were a tiny monkey named Oompa. Here's what we know about you: Adorably sweet demeanor and sharp as a tack, you found success working with a street performer named Juan, who worshipped you and treated you like his own child. He bought you a gold satin jumpsuit with royal blue ruffles, a matching top hat, and a sequined bag for donations. He would play your favorite disco tunes on his accordion, prompting you to dance around and flirt with the crowd while you collected spare change and picked pockets. Everybody loved you. And you loved everybody. You and Juan took your gig around the country and raked in the riches. You were one happy little monkey."

Come to think of it, that's no so awful for someone born under the Year of the Monkey (1968). Could have been bad or worse if I were a rat with delusions of being a bat.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Once Upon a Midnight Run

HINDSIGHT has a way of kicking itself smack between the eyes. And I swear it always occur the morning after, while one’s hangover makes a haze of sunrise.

Early last week, I woke up with my legs’ muscles and my soles screaming for a massage. My
buddy Jeremiah and I might as well have rushed headlong to hell, throwing caution to the wind after sousing up at our hangout (our beer bottles sloshing as we whooped up the DVD of a concert in tribute of Burt Bacharach’s music).

Let’s see how far your story holds, or so he challenged me behind his steering wheel en route to where he was supposed to drop me off so I could take the jeepney homeward. That I fancied myself a long-distance runner way back in high school sounded like a tall tale to him, considering my present sedentary demeanor in stark contrast to his manic knack for athletics (particularly basketball).

Outrun each other through the Marcelo Fernan Bridge (spanning the cities of Mandaue and Lapu-Lapu), we agreed. In the middle of the night, for Cerberus' sake!

And so I took off my shoes and my socks so I could dash away like I used to, raring to prove him bluffing isn’t my bottle of beer. He sprinted off ahead of me as soon as he got down the car— and who cared if he was still wearing his office uniform?-- and I followed suit, barefoot and basking in the velocity that could have been the bats’ joy at such ungodly hour. Around us, the darkness was no match to our breathless bravado against the halogen lamps at the bridge ahead of us.

What were we up to, I could only imagine the motorists wondering as they wheeled by. What were we running after? And what if a police patrol or a gang of cutthroats happened to see us?

Though Jeremiah had to concede my lungs can still take an extra mile (and he had to drive me home as a payoff of sorts), he called me the day after and we agreed it was crazy of us to risk cardiac arrest. My wife, of course, was not amused when I told her. Not even if I had to hang my tongue out to the devil by stressing that running was swell. And never mind if I had to swear, with my feet on my mouth and my hand raring to raise another bottle of beer.

Friday, June 09, 2006

If My Life Were A Poem...

IT'S ALL because of these, out of the grace of Divine Providence, for whom I am home and forever wordless with gratitude and wonder.