Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Our Days Of Disquiet

FOR THE LIVING who are no better than those who rest in peace, here's my All Souls' Day column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:


If he were a ghost, his grimace seemed not enough to spook City Hall into action.

“I would like, at least, to have my complaints noted and my questions answered,” rues a certain Alvin John Osmeña who hopes for city officials’ attention so they can “address the recurring problem on noise.” All that sound—loud music played inside vehicles and highly sensitive car alarms—reportedly bothers him wherever he is.

Must he consign himself to wait until he’d be six feet under before he’d experience what it takes to be tranquil?

That his grievances have fallen on deaf ears is indication enough that City Hall ought to be reminded what Desiderata intoned so solemnly: “Remember what peace there may be in

But as its ears register nothing less than high frequency of the forthcoming Asean Summit, is City Hall up to the challenge for calm?

Isn’t its desperate need to live up to expectation or to prove that the city is no cemetery of progress a symptom of modern world’s neurosis?

It’s supposed to be a luxury, but taking things slow has become a liability. The go-getting mania has rendered it quaint to quell the cliché and, yes, smell the flowers. The quick and the dead, alas, have one thing in common: Too unconscious to find loveliness in their ornate funeral wreath.

Who has time to catch a whiff of grace as we reek of rage throughout our constant brush with rush hours, deadlines, quotas? Blessed are the departed, indeed, for having gone past the zone of discomfort Thoreau scoffed at: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Indeed, pity the taxpayer in dire need for an accessible refuge in the midst of the city’s hustle and bustle. Where are our public spaces with trees to sit under? Breezy does it, if you ask the dead in memorial parks from which real estate developers are literally making a killing.

Indeed, anguish is when we have to puncture our eardrums to the feet-stomping tune of “Let’s Get Loud” so that we get a kick out of the doldrums. Ah, doesn’t that explain our private emergencies to lull ourselves with our iPod so can we insulate our head and shut the hysterical world out of our ears?

Hear, too, the prognosis from the World Health Organization: Depression will soon be the second leading cause of disability in the world where suicide ranks as the third leading cause of death among dismally spirited adolescents.

“Quiet is going extinct,” says Gordon Hempton, an acoustic ecologist who’s espousing a campaign on behalf of American parks called “One Square Inch of Silence” meant to protect a tiny spot of serenity from man-made sound. “I wanted to find a quiet place and hang on to it and protect it.”

Man, he’d better be dead than find himself fuming from both ears here this side of purgatory. (31 October 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

Monday, October 30, 2006

To See Beyond The Surface

IT'S BEEN raining like crazy lately. And that might explain the certain dampness in my deadline-clouded view on such sunny matter as the Asean Summit in Cebu this December. Consider my recent column in the opinion page of Sun.Star Cebu:

Seeing Surgically

Facelift does it. Or so the City Governments of Cebu and Mandaue raise the stake for the self-esteem of both cities now in the craze for cosmetic tweaking.

So far, maddening has been the metro’s clockwork for extermination of all eyesores as the Asean Summit draws near.

Where have all the lunatics gone? Look, a monkey wrench has been flung at the idyllic lull of the city’s mountain barangays while City Hall goes on an overdrive to beguile the tourists and delegates who are set to come in droves for the December summit.

As reported recently in Sun.Star Superbalita, City Hall has been weeding out derelicts off the streets and dumping them at the city’s hinterlands. Some have been left to drift mindless through the farms and other deserted places, according to Sirao Barangay Captain Jesus Bontuyan who’s worried over any untoward tact his constituents might take against those wandering deranged in their midst.

What if the people, suspecting them either as burglars or ghouls, would gang up or hack them? “Motuo pa baya ang mga tawo diri sa amo anang mga ungo,” explains Bontuyan. “Mahadlok pud maglakaw-lakaw ang mga bata kon makakita anang mga buang.” (People here still believe in vampires and ghouls. The kids are scared to go out when they see the crazies.)

But for the summit’s host, nothing is more foolhardy than scaring our sightseers off their socks with the ghastly proofs of our Third World plight: the demented whose aimlessness might as well hold a mirror at the city’s desperate drive to wear the glamour of development on its tattered sleeve.

There’s something unhinged, indeed, about the obsessive slamming of doors against evidence of desolation while winking out the window for all the world to come over.

Pretty soon, in accordance with the suggestion of the president of the National Association of Travel Agencies, Cebu City Hall will deal with the beggars near the Magellan’s Cross “in a positive way” by letting the beggars wear original Cebuano costumes and putting up well-decorated horse-drawn carriages. Tourists who want to take photos will be asked to put some coins in a basket. “Even alms-giving can be given dignity,” he hoped.

Then again, would these frantic efforts to spruce up our surroundings be enough to make urban blight like water down the bridge?

Last we looked, the water crisis still screams while the flood threatens to get out of our garbage-clogged drainage in times of downpour. Roofs of squatters’ shanties in Sitio Paradise Island under the Mactan-Mandaue Bridge will soon be coated with green paint. But is this bright enough a prospect to wash away the fact of poverty staring in the face of tourists?

So far, criminality looks like it’s not letting up its mania to paint the town red despite the yellows layered on the city’s lampposts and sidewalk fences. And, sigh, it still takes a surreal imagination to daydream against the dearth of public museums or galleries and parks and spaces for promenade.

Unfortunately, no matter how earnest the energy to please our visitors, there’s no blinking away the myopia of our movers and shakers about urban planning and long-term agenda for progress. You bet, what our guests see is not what we get. (24 October 2006, Sun.Star Cebu)

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Raising My Bottles Of Beer To Mary Oliver

Got drunk recently, my head still reeling from the rhapsodies out of Mary Oliver's Blue Pastures, featuring 15 nourishing prose pieces "of nature, of writing, of herself and those around her." Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, Mary Oliver regards this book as "biased, opinionated; also it is joyful, and probably there's despair here too..." I can only burp.

On being ruthless with one's commitment to creativity:

"It is six A.M., and I am working. I am absent-minded, reckless, heedless of social obligations, etc. It is as it must be. The tire goes flat, the tooth falls out, there will be a hundred meals without mustard. The poem gets written. I have wrestled with the angel and I'm stained with light and I have no shame. Neither do I have guilt. My responsibility is not to the ordinary, or the timely. It does not include mustard, or teeth. It does not extend to the last button, or the beans in the pot. My loyalty is to the inner vision, whenever and howsoever it may arrive. If I have a meeting with you at three o'clock, rejoice If I am late. Rejoice even more if I do not arrive at all.

There is no other way work of artistic worth can be done. And the occasional success, to the striver, is worth everything. The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time."

On being voracious for the world's feast of paradox:

"... I have found the headless bodies of rabbits and blue jays, and known it was the great horned owl that did them in, taking the head only, for the owl has an insatiable craving for the taste of brains... I know this bird. If it could, it would eat the whole world... The world where the owl is endlessly hungry and endlessly on the hunt is the world in which I live too. There is only one world."

On the identity of the chosen:

Who are you? They called out, at the edge of the village.
I am one of you, the poet called back.
Though he was dressed like the wind, though he looked like
a waterfall

On the prerequisites of becoming a poem:

"The translation of experience into contemplation, and the placement of this contemplation within the formality of a certain kind of language, with no intent to make contact-- be it across whatever thin or wild a thread--with the spiritual condition of the reader, is not poetry. Archibald MacLeish: Here is the writer, and over there--there is "the mystery of the universe." The poem exists--indeed, gets itself written--in relation between the man and the world. The three ingredients of poetry: the mystery of the universe, spiritual curiosity, the energy of language."

On the in/significance of poetry:

"Now, of course, in the hives and dungeons of our cities, poetry cannot console, it carries no weight, for the pact between the natural world and the individual has been broken. There is no more working for harvest--only hunting, for profit. Lives are no longer exercises in pleasure and valor, but only the means to the amassment of worldy goods. If poetry is ever to become meaningful to such persons, they must take the first step-- away from the materially bound and self-interested lives, toward the trees, and the waterfall. It is not poetry's fault that it has so small and audience, so little effect upon the frightened, money-loving world. Poetry, after all, is not a miracle. It is an effort to formalize (ritualize) individual moments and the transcending effects of these moments into a music that all can use. It is the song of our species."

Are You Stupid, Too?

God must love the foolish so much he made more than we can grin and bear them. There may be mountains of Nobel prizes for acres of mental toil, but the headlines have been far more shaky with constant tremors of idiocy enough for us to bury our heads in the mud of our madness and shame. Here's a reprint from my latest opinion column in Sun.Star Cebu:

Damned by the dumb

Mindless and selfishly senseless. Or so goes the side of the aggrieved about the act of suicide.

When a barangay councilor in Alegria, Cordova thought it was a good time to die by drinking a bottle of cyanide last Friday morning, his family and friends must have deemed it unwise for him to prove his detractors correct. Reportedly, he was fed up by snide remarks from his fellow councilors and constituents. “Bogo” (dumb), they smirked. And now they have the last laugh as his state of mind now turns into a mere meal for worms.

If only his epitaph would be etched along the line of this piece of insight: “Seeing ourselves as
others see us would probably confirm our worst suspicions about them.”

If only he knew that stupidity is not solely his crown of thorns. He’s not alone, after all, where the dearth of discernment is concerned.

Last week, a barangay councilor in San Jose del Monte City would have been better off if he were drunk with cyanide. Yes, instead of cheap liquor with which he proved his intelligence by shocking the entire country, shooting to death a 12-year-old boy who probably fancied himself Spider-Man by climbing and playing atop an electrical transmission tower.

In fact, there’s a legion of them whose lack of intelligence, matched only by scarcity of conscience, has been flaunted as a factor for public consideration.

Then again, the self-negating act of the ill-fated councilor ought to be an example for many of our so-called leaders who are learned only in heaping their waste on their constituency’s heads. Consider how their intelligence has been proven only by their ingenuity in making mountains out of the molehills of their self-interests.

Indeed, if wisdom were a font so free-flowing here on these islands, we would have been spared from the sea of opportunities sucked back to our sewers.

Talk about one-upmanship, and there would be monuments rising everywhere out of our surplus of smart-alecks.

Who needs a superpower where supercilious self-consciousness is a tad larger than life?

Consider the cinematic revelation of a congressman from Oriental Negros who berated a Cebuano legislator: “Yawa, if he thinks he’s Batman, I’m Superman!” Never mind if he’s clueless that “a man begins cutting his wisdom teeth the first time he bites off more than he can chew.”

Nietzsche, bless his soul, could have been a comfort for the cyanide-thirsty councilor desperate for his head to stay above water of scorn. “Better to know nothing,” he sneered, “than to half-know many things.”