On the Genesis of PMS (Part 5: On the Fourth Meditation)

The fourth essay of PMS: Meditations on the Post-Modern Syndrome chronicles an obsession that began innocently enough—as all obsessions do—in my early twenties. I was home in Cebu on Christmas holiday and defragmenting—as always—by frantically spring-cleaning. An idle rummage through the dining room cupboards revealed a treasure trove: my photo albums, dating all the way back to when I was barely sentient.

With characteristic single-mindedness, I harassed my parents into bringing me to the nearest Makro where I promptly bought nearly two dozen matching (of course) photo albums (their entire stock). Then I dragged them with me to National Book Store where I bought a Dymo LetraTAG plus several rolls of the device’s requisite tape.

And that was the last my parents saw of me for the two weeks that remained of my vacation, because when we got home, I locked myself in my room and set about transforming the eclectic photo archives of my whole life into a uniform data set. The finished product: a row of gleaming albums with matching labels on the spine indicating THE CHILDHOOD YEARS, THE GRADE SCHOOL YEARS, THE HIGH SCHOOL YEARS, THE COLLEGE YEARS, and THE WORKING YEARS. If I’d been older and the number of albums subsequently larger, I would have started using the Dewey Decimal system.

And that was the easy part. Subsequent Christmas holidays were spent reorganizing my digital files—hundreds of which were unlabeled. Later on when I purchased my Canon EOS dSLR, this number ballooned to the thousands. Attacking this mass has been my life’s great, unfinished task, and one of my fondest aspirations is to see the day when everything I’ve ever captured or created has been neatly filed, labeled, stored, and of course, backed-up.

(I require at least three of these back-ups: two on portable hard drives and one on DVDs. The paranoia is a result of a bad desktop PC crash in my teens where I lost most of the fruits of my adolescent labor—I grieved for days at the thought that somewhere in there was an unfinished Nobel-Prize-winning work. None of us will ever know.)

This year was the year I intended to see my fondest aspiration realized, but the possibility grows more and more remote. With every single human being on the planet wielding at least two phones and a camera, and taking shots between every other breath, there’s not just my stuff to catalogue, but an entire universe’s as well.

It’s almost enough to make me pray for a crash. 


On the Genesis of PMS (Part 4: On the Third Meditation)

The third essay of PMS: Meditations on the Post-Modern Syndrome was written largely in the mood of exasperation that used to come up for me when people asked questions about my “love life.”

Until very recently, I considered romantic relationships as investments that, at best, break even, and at worst, leave one bankrupt in every conceivable way. One trades one’s freedom (guaranteed) for security (uninsured), one’s convenience (fixed) for intimacy (variable), one’s identity (granted) for belongingness (earned).

And in cases where one can find security, intimacy and belongingness in the arenas of career, friendship and family, romantic relationships offer not a single unique benefit to offset their very generic costs—which was why I found it puzzling that they were such a prized commodity. Friends bemoaned their singleness, declared this year or the next as “THE year/the YES year/the year IT’S GOING TO HAPPEN,” and promptly asked me to maintain a perpetual vigil for Mr./Ms. Right.*

I always gave the same wearied response: Get in line.

You’ll change your mind when you’re older, an ex once warned me. Being free’s not fun at fifty—maybe it’s not even fun at forty.

I’ll take my chances, I told him drily. Besides, who has fun in their forties, let alone their fifties?**

Recent events have led me to alter my views about relationships . . . somewhat, but I still hold fast to my belief that love is a reckless venture, an impractical affair and, at bottom, a vastly unnecessary gamble. If people can get that—can get its superfluity and its improbability and let go of all hope and all expectation—and still (still!) want it, then by all means, they deserve not just getting in line, but cutting it altogether.

* “Right,” in this case, is defined as the satisfaction of the following basic criteria: not married and attracted to the relevant gender. These days, it’s the second criterion that’s proving increasingly tricky.

** Forgive me. I was very, very young then.

On the Genesis of PMS (Part 3: On the Second Meditation)

The second essay of PMS: Meditations on the Post-Modern Syndrome chronicles one of the most painful challenges of my twenties, which has been learning how to invest enough of myself in a place so that it feels like home, without putting too much in and subsequently suffering the grief of the inevitable relocation. Not all of the measures I’ve resorted to have been successful; some have been downright laughable (the refusal to buy an iron being one)—all have been dead earnest.

People aware of my passion for travel find my obsession with home puzzling. How can someone so fascinated by space be so fixated on shelter? My answer is: the two manias are merely the opposite faces of the same coin.

I travel extensively, yes, but when I’m at home and not traveling, I rarely venture beyond the confines of a five mile radius. My whole life I’ve lived almost adjacent to where I’ve had to study, work, shop, relax and pray. Everything I’ve needed to live my daily life has been near to hand; I cannot bear the frictions of distance on a regular basis. The regularity and uniformity of my days and the intimacy and familiarity of my environs—all these things that I designate with the singular concept home–are what allow me to roam the world, to risk the strange, to brave the unknown. At the end of the day, knowing that I have sanctuary, somewhere, permits me to explore the abyss.

The challenge of contemporary life, however, is that the distinctions between what constitutes home and what constitutes being away are rapidly being effaced. If you live abroad, and even more to the point, if you have lived in many places abroad, then you are both at home and away—and then you are neither at home nor away.

But to return to the essay On Home, the only solution I’ve found—which is barely a solution at all—is to maintain a perpetual awareness that the present is all we ever truly have. And this means relating to whichever place we happen to be in as home, without holding anything back. There will be grief, yes, when the day of departure arrives, but grief is inevitable. There is no point in sacrificing the joys of the present in the attempt (always illusory) to dull the sufferings of the future.

On the Genesis of PMS (Part 2: On the First Meditation)

The first essay of PMS: Meditations on the Post-Modern Syndrome was inspired by someone who has, quite arguably, done more to change my life than any other person I’ve met.

I first met Abbey in May 2009 when she was still a permanent resident of Germany visiting Manila briefly. Our friendship, however, didn’t begin in earnest until June 2010 when she returned to the Philippines for an ostensibly longer stay. At that time, she saw herself staying in the country until January 2011. Hence, the opening lines of the essay: She tells me she is leaving for Germany in January . . .

That deadline, stated so emphatically at the very beginning of a friendship, scraped what was still—and likely will remain—a very raw chord. For all that I’ve lived nearly three decades, precious few of my affections date back longer than one. None of my childhood friendships, either at the primary or secondary school level, have endured. I formed a few lasting friendships during my university days, and several from my various careers and interests, but none of these constitute intimacies woven into the daily fabric of my life. I see these friends perhaps once a month, and more typically once a quarter. They live on in the occasional text, in the sporadic email, in the occasional “poke,” in the infrequent invite.

The closest I ever had to a stable, everyday matrix of friends was when I lived in Singapore. There, far away from the support of family and the familiarity of home, I found people who eventually became both family and home. We lived mere blocks away from each other, and frequently stayed over at each other’s flats to cook, eat, drink, gossip, watch TV, read magazines, play the Wii, sing using the magic mike, celebrate birthdays, celebrate holidays, plan vacations, plan vendettas, commiserate over tragedies and make lists of what to get in Manila the next time someone had a business trip (i.e., Ariel, Safeguard, Boy Bawang, Chippy . . . ). For all that the years in Singapore constituted the most frenetic of my life, they were also some of the happiestand leaving those friendships behind when I returned to the Philippines left an enduring scar.

Hence the first essay of the PMS series, entitled On Friendship, examines the anatomy of that scar. But while that examination is its primary intention, it has another one, less explicit but no less emphatic, which is to acknowledge the people who’ve made the scar worth bearing. St. Teresa of Avila spoke of the wound of loveit’s the only one we should pray should never heal.

On the Genesis of PMS (Part 1: On All Six Meditations)

Yesterday, I posted the link to a series of essays I’d written for the online journal Kritika Kultura. Today’s post says a little about their genesis:

I began writing these essays in September 2010, in response to a suggestion by a very good friend of mine, Jeline de Dios, that I submit a piece to the first literary anthology of Kritika Kultura. It had been a while since I’d written anything remotely creative, and having a definite target for a finished piece was all the incentive I needed. I didn’t have anything specifically in mind, but once I began the first line of the first essay, the pieces literally wrote themselves.

The essays express things that had percolated in my mind for years. As a whole, they articulate the broad spectrum of pain, bitterness, desperation, grief, irony, wistfulness and bravado that have accompanied me throughout my twenties. People often wonder: Why pain? Why bitterness? Why desperation? Why grief? Why such melancholy from one so abundantly blessed?

I don’t quite know the answer. The most I can say is it’s a temperamental inclination. I’ve felt, perhaps more keenly than most, the freedom offered by the times we live in as a burden. To be given so much—to be granted so much—yet to have to suffer the constant dislocation and disorientation of migratory friendships, transitory homes, ephemeral desires, fluctuating identities and relative absolutes: sometimes I would trade all the choice I have in my life now for the simplicity of the given. In a journal entry dated November 2008, I wrote: At twenty-seven . . . I just want peace—from the constant second-guessing, anxiety and regret. Peace. That’s it.

Many things have changed for me since September 2010—more so since November 2008. The despair that’s been part of my internal landscape for as far as I can remember still remains, still surfaces in moments of joy, but it grips me less. I doubt it will ever go away, but perhaps growing older is less about exorcising demons than it is about embracing them. These essays are about me acknowledging my demons, naming them, and perhaps in this way, being free.

On PMS: Meditations on the Post Modern Syndrome

It’s been nearly three months to the day when I first got word from the editors of the online journal Kritika Kultura that my submission to their first literary anthology had been accepted.

And now, here it is in all its portable-document-formatted glory:


And for those of you who should be so inclined, you can explore the rest of the contents of the anthology (there are numerous gems) at the following link:


A final word:

This series of essays is dedicated to Abbey, who inspired it and countless others. Thank YOU for being the genesis of all things to which I can only (mostly) pay silent tribute. 🙂

On Bangkok and Destitution

(THAILAND, Bangkok) A lotus flower at the Wat Phra Kaew. (Photo taken by the author.)

It is the 8th of May, 2003, and my friend Mia and I are in Bangkok. I am 21 years old; Mia is 24. It is the first time either of us have been sent abroad on a business trip and, despite having been in the city for nearly a week, both of us have remained giddy to the point of embarrassment.

We have, by this point, dutifully and systematically explored the majority of the city’s principal attractions (most of them involving assorted Buddhas in diverse positions).  One more remains on our list though, and when evening falls, we set out for the most notorious of Bangkok’s districts.

It takes us thirty minutes of aimless wandering before a local sidles up to Mia and asks her if want to see a “ping pong” show. Both of us are clear that this is not an athletic contest involving a table and two paddles. We look at each other for a moment, then turn to the man and nod.

He leads us through a series of grim and grimy streets before finally stopping in front of an establishment with a sign proclaiming it as the S-per P-ssy. (They service the Justice League, our friend Celine would tell us later on.)

The carpeted blue steps leading up to the second floor look positively venereal. I briefly consider throwing my sneakers away when the trip is over. And the first thing we see when we enter the upper hall is a naked stage with a naked pole and next to the naked pole an utterly naked woman. It is the first time in my adult life that I am confronted so suddenly and directly by nudity. The shock of the encounter leaves me dazed for the rest of the evening.

It takes only five minutes before Mia determines the hierarchy amongst the performers. The younger, fairer, prettier girls cater to the needs of the male foreigners (Mia and I are given our Cokes and then perfunctorily abandoned). The older, darker, plainer girls strip on stage and alternate between desultory gyrations and acrobatic feats.

(Mia and I witness a mind-numbing number of these stunts, including but not limited to: pulling out a ribbon; pulling out a ribbon with flowers attached; pulling out a ribbon with needles attached; pulling out a ribbon with razors attached; blowing a whistle; blowing a horn; blowing a dart gun; using the dart gun to explode a couple of balloons—the evening’s performer misses only one; gripping a cigarette; smoking the cigarette; gripping a pen; using the pen to write a “Welcome to Patpong” sign; gripping a sparkler; unscrewing a beer bottle; gripping a pair of chop sticks; using the chop sticks to pick up hoops on the floor and drop them around the neck of the opened bottle; and, the coup de grâce, shooting out a couple of ping pong balls—I am almost hit by one.)

Mia and I pass the evening alternating between shock and awe. What has us finally conclude the evening, on a decidedly pensive note, is the tragic air of one of the girls on stage. She had none of the brazen defiance of her colleagues and had carried on with a sad dignity completely at odds with her profession. After watching her cover herself hurriedly after yet another trick, Mia and I decide to call it a night.

It’s only 3 a.m. on the 9th of May, 2003, and barely 24 hours have elapsed since our previous day began. But the time that’s passed feels infinitely longer.