On the Prolongation of Novelty

In slightly less than nine hours, I’ll be flying out to Boracay to tick off an item that’s been on my to-do list for years. As far as states of readiness are concerned, I’m not entirely satisfied with mine. I would have preferred having put in a lot more sleep and a lot more study beforehand, but just getting away from my life for an entire month required most of the time and energy I had between the moment I decided to go for the training and its actual commencement—which was all of two weeks.

And it’s not been an entirely bad thing. Stress from all the frantic scurrying aside, knowing that I was going to be away for a fairly significant amount of time created the urgency necessary to act on several items long procrastinated, including: finally completing the move out of my old apartment, finally settling the acquisition of the new one, and finally starting on the thesis for my Master’s degree in earnest. Nothing compels securing loose ends more urgently than the possibility of tying new knots.

And the knot I’m about to tie is an utterly foreign one to me. Going to Boracay, for a month, to study yoga, flies in the face of several things I know about myself, i.e., I don’t generally like beaches, I don’t particularly like Boracay, and I like intellectual activities (like studying) insofar as they oppose physical activities (like doing yoga). This is the farthest I’ve ever ventured from the existential tried and tested (beating teaching university students by a mile), and the good news is: I’m too fatigued to actually care.  

So this is it, the countdown’s already started, and I’m exhausted and excited all at the same time. It’s four months into 2011—and it’s only just begun.


On the Obstinacy of Traffic

For reasons unfathomable, the metropolis has turned—virtually overnight—into the world’s largest parking lot. From Pasig to Makati, from EDSA to Shaw, the entire road system is in total gridlock. I’m accustomed to Manila traffic—have written novels, composed symphonies, invented religions, cured cancer, brokered world peace and achieved extraterrestrial contact in the long stretches between points of departure and arrival—and I’ve still been flabbergasted by the vehicular constipation of the past two days.

It’s been, in a phrase, utterly baffling.

And it’s been pervasive too. Twice in the last few days I’ve veered off C5 out of sheer intimidation—and found all my alternative routes (i.e., Ortigas, Julia Vargas, Lanuza, Henry Javier, etc. ) to be just as bad. It doesn’t help that my impending month-long departure requires handling errands in at least four different cities (which may as well be four different countries given the length of time and amount of effort required for travel).

My only consolation on the road has been a stash of original Mariah Carey CDs lent by the father of a very good friend (don’t ask). While the expansion of her bust size has unfortunately correlated, in recent years, with the contraction of her vocal range, Ms. Carey was, during her peak, one of the best female artists of her time, and to this day, I can sing every single line of every single track of her Daydream album (albeit at two octaves lower than Ms. Carey’s renditions, and even then I have to do an occasional falsetto).

Still, listening to a favorite artist from bygone times can get just a tad bit old when you’ve heard the same CD five times straight, and the wall of traffic in front of you means you’ll get to listen to it five times more. All of which simply means that I’ll need to start digging for my Carpenters collection.

On the Trials of Moving

Writer’s block is what happens when you’ve spent the four most scorching hours of a summer day going to the flat you used to live in to remove the last and therefore most intractable belongings still remaining and find that you have to walk up five flights as the lift is under maintenance and learn—for the first time ever—how to sheathe a full-sized mattress with cling wrap (and how to do the same with the dismantled bed frame and the ergonomic chair) and load all of the preceding (and a work desk and a refrigerator and an airconditioning unit larger than the refrigerator) onto a trolley whose front wheels cannot possibly be described by the word “parallel” and go up and down the finally serviceable lift because one trip simply cannot be enough and manhandle all your reluctant furniture onto the back of a pick-up only to realize that you haven’t brought any rope and travel all the way to Makati in the dizzying heat and arrive at your brother’s condominium only to discover that its lift is broken and extricate your belongings one by one from their precarious perches at the back of the pick-up and heave your way up a flight of stairs and maneuver a narrow corridor possibly designed to emulate collapsed mine shaft conditions and pause to breath deeply because it really, truly, could very well be your last given the godforsaken heat and finally deposit the last of the miserable appliances in the spare bedroom and discover during your departure that the lock on the door has broken and that if the heat won’t kill you your brother will and invent a CREATIVE solution that you will simply not discuss on a forum as public as a blog because the issue involved is about SECURITY and you can NEVER be too careful and finally leave the condominium only to be flagged down twenty minutes later by a policeman for operating a smoke-belching vehicle that you borrowed for the day and spend fifteen minutes in the sweltering heat as he confiscates the license plate and finally drive off without further incident and with absolutely no thoughts remaining.

On the Details of Anatomy

So, I open my email this morning and find three long messages from the administrator of the yoga teacher training I’m attending in May. Each lists, in fairly minute detail, the anatomical and philosophical basics that I am expected to be thoroughly grounded in before the course begins.

Normally, this would be the part I love best. The theoretical underpinnings of a discipline are the easiest bits for me to master. It’s a daunting prospect though when one’s only got three days left and when most of those days are intended to be spent handling logistical details (i.e., how to make the three kilos my baggage is currently in excess of disappear without violating the law of the conservation of mass).

The good news is that a course I did on Indian philosophy a few years ago for my Masters degree has given me more than a passing familiarity with the cultural, intellectual and religious presuppositions of yoga. The bad news is that I’m starting completely from scratch where the human anatomy is concerned—and this part unfortunately comprises the majority of the hundred-plus items on the reading list.

(There is a reason why I did not become a doctor—despite the fact that a ridiculous number of people in my extended family are doctors—mostly having to do with the fact that I get uncharacteristically lightheaded in the presence or at the thought of blood. Besides that, I have a profound dislike for confronting the frailty of the human body, and medicine, for me, represents the systematic study of the things that can tax the limits of that frailty—which is pretty much everything.)

The only upside I can see to this downside is that I can be a bit more precise in the future about the occasional things that ail me (i.e., “The back of my leg hurts from straining my hamstring with an eccentric contraction.”). It won’t make an iota of difference for my masseuse, who pummels me anyway with a consistency that’s actually rather reassuring, but at least I can lean back under the blows with the smug satisfaction of knowing what it is exactly that may be turning black and blue.

On the Origins of Aggression (Part 2)

For precisely two to three days every month, my body becomes a conduit for all the suppressed rage in the universe. All the pent-up anger in the cosmos, from the very beginnings of its existence—from stars anguished by their increasing distance from their celestial fellows to dinosaurs enraged by the abrupt cessation of their terrestrial reign—find a focal point in unwitting me. Science insists on referring to this phenomenon by the rather innocuous and therefore utterly misleading label premenstrual syndrome.

Now, even at the best of times I’m not the most perky of personalities (a fact which has led people to refer to me as Wednesday Addams—and these are just my closest friends). Add a tempestuous mix of hormones and I turn into Wednesday Addams on steroids. Every single thing turns into an incipient trigger for hostility: nothing goes right, everything goes wrong, and I’m left with the overwhelming impression that the entire universe has marshaled its various resources—including idiotic drivers, derelict roads, offline ATMs and convenience stores missing the ONE salt- and fat-saturated item upon which my sanity depends—against me.*  

In short, it’s really not a very good time.

And what’s even worse is that all of it’s just the prequel.  


* On exceptionally bad days, all that stands between me and the world’s wholesale destruction are any of the following: Granny Goose’s Kornets (Original Flavor), Jack ‘n Jill’s Nova Chips (Country Cheddar Flavor), Jack ‘n Jill’s Roller Coaster Potato Rings (Original Flavor), Leslie’s Clover Chips (Barbecue Flavor), Nutritive Snack’s PeeWee Crunchy Snack (Barbecue Flavor), Oishi’s Marty’s Vegetable Cracklings (Hot and Spicy Flavor) and Oishi’s Ridges Natural Potato Chips (Onion and Garlic Flavor). I don’t know what the world would have looked like today if George W. Bush had only had his junk food fix.

On the Selectivity of Perception

Selective perception is defined by Wikipedia (otherwise known in this blog as the Modern Oracle) as an umbrella term for “any number of cognitive biases in psychology related to the way expectations affect perception.”

Said less abstractly, selective perception is what happens when I tell my friends that “I will be in Boracay for a month to attend a yoga teacher training.” With selective perception, this is what my friends hear: “I will be in Boracay for a month (BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP).”

For reasons that someone who grew up forty minutes away from a resort island cannot quite fathom, the word “Boracay” appears to have an uncanny way of reducing adjacent words to pure static. It doesn’t actually matter that I’ll be spending eight hours a day for five days a week in strenuous mental and physical activity, learning everything from contorting myself like a pretzel to teaching other people how to contort themselves like a pretzel in a tongue so ancient that not too many of its vowels seem to have survived. (So how does one pronounce the word parivrtta? My answer is: very very reluctantly.) As far as other people are concerned, I can just roll over and die NOW because I am going to be in Boracay—for a month.

And yes I know I’ll still have the weekends, but I’m very likely going to be spending those comatose, or, at the very least, resisting foraging for pork. (Yes, the diet is strictly vegetarian.)

So it’s not that I’m NOT excited about the training—few things have ever had me so keyed up. It’s just that I know it’s not going to be a walk in the park (or a stroll in the sand, or a wade in the water, whichever resort island metaphor works best). So if I come back weeks from now saying I need a vacation after a month-long stay in Boracay—just get it for what it is and suspend the selectivity of your perception.

On the Trials of Preparation

Two attempts in a row to wake up at 5:30 in the morning have failed rather spectacularly.

A modest failure would have been wakening promptly—if rather balefully—at the first sound of the alarm and then hitting the snooze button repeatedly until finally rousing two hours later. A spectacular failure would be failing to wake up to the first sound of the alarm entirely and then remaining comatose through its subsequent resurrections until finally getting up with the sickening realization that one may not have even set the alarm.

All of this is part of my rather belated attempt to condition my mind and body for the month-long yoga teacher training that lies ahead. And it all begins with the basics, i.e., waking up on time.

This very endeavor to pre-condition myself is itself new, and would never have been attempted if not, again, for the insistence of Abbey. I never, ever cram—except when it comes to the truly momentous things: like making life transitions.

For instance: when I moved from a very private, Catholic grade school to a very public, secular high school—and from the very public, secular high school to a very private, Catholic university—and from a tiny, intimate non-profit organization to a gigantic, impersonal multinational corporation—and from the gigantic, impersonal multinational corporation to a very private, Catholic university—and in the process switched and sandwiched degrees, cities, cultures and friends—I never spared a thought for actually preparing myself for the change ahead (shocking enough in one instance to cause an actual physical breakdown). I’ve always started cold turkey—I unfortunately seem unable to stop the habit in exactly the same way.

Part of it, I suppose, is the thrill I get from a headlong plunge into the unknown. And I don’t mean the mystery of things never possessed or actions never taken—but the enigma of completely novel ways of being in the world. For the nth  time in my life, I’m about to try something completely new.

And for once, I’m trying to go about it without risking killing myself in the process.