On the Hazards of Virtuality (Part 2)

So, after spending the entire day downloading multiple versions of the same antimalware program, executing multiple scans with an antirootkit utility, receiving multiple pieces of well-intentioned if unfortunately inapplicable advice, running multiple searches for an enigmatic program called “winnt32.exe,” learning an entirely new lexicon with entries as esoteric as the “Blue Screen of Death” (or BSoD for short), and reading online forum threads initiated by victims as hapless as (if not more florid than) yours truly, I achieved the stunning victory of disabling the rogue spyware program currently infesting my system.

The phrase “stunning victory” is an expression of resigned sarcasm, as disabling a rogue program is emphatically NOT the same as eliminating it entirely. Until I completely erase the bug from my system, it will simply regenerate every time I reboot my computer, assuming different identities upon each resurrection to evade my antimalware utility (which persistently informs me, to my amused despair, that “no infections have been detected”). The enemy, in short, is a bloody annoying piece of ingenuity.

(What makes it worse is my conspiracy-theory-triggered suspicion that these elegantly crafted bits of malevolence are spawned by the same companies peddling all the antimalware and antivirus programs—an application of the equally elegant economic truism that you can sell any product for as long as a demand exists.)

Partial victories notwithstanding, I’m inclined to celebrate. Because this time, I did not actually resort to my usual methods of: (1) bombarding my brother with profanity-ridden and panic-drenched text messages asking for help, and (2) bombarding my sister with the same when my brother is too busy to reply immediately. This time, I actually buckled down to the task of determining the nature of the enemy and independently exterminating it. While my efforts haven’t been entirely successful, I’ll simply put it down to baby steps.

At any rate, the option of reformatting still remains available.


On the Hazards of Virtuality (Part 1)

I had a bad scare today—the kind that happens when I get the impression that I’ve lost a massive amount of digital information, i.e., through a hard drive crash, a blocked email account or a malfunctioning blog. Although I back up my all my files fairly regularly (and on a minimum of three external drives, all of which are in separate physical locations), the nature of my work and life means that I can (and do) accrue vast amounts of data in fairly short spans of time. Hence losing just a week’s worth of digital information can be literally disastrous.

The scare happened today when a search for image files for content I was developing for a client inadvertently led to a rogue spyware program getting downloaded onto my laptop. My computer’s ensuing erratic behavior as well as the suspicious appearance of the program itself (at first I thought it was just my Windows Security Center as the logo looked similar enough) alerted me to the fact that I’d gotten a particularly bad bug. Before all internal hell broke loose, I managed to stop hyperventilating long enough to back up all my recent files—an action that was metaphorically the equivalent of sandbagging before the onslaught of a Category 5 typhoon.

The last time I’d seen something like this, I’d ended up reformatting both my hard drives altogether—a necessary if costly solution that had spelled no work getting done for at least two days (and my laptop never regained some of its functionalities too as I couldn’t locate and reinstall the necessary drivers).

Reformatting may be something I’ll have to do again if the removal programs I’m currently downloading don’t manage to eliminate this intruder from my system. So far it’s managed to evade all my attempts at rooting it out, shutting my computer system down at the faintest whiff of an enemy. Round 1 was using my current anti-virus program. Round 2 was trying to download another anti-virus program. Round 3 (which is what I’m trying now) consists of having a friend email me an anti-virus program installation file (which isn’t all that different from Round 2, I know, but this is the distinction spelled by desperation).

And because you’ll never know unless I tell you: my word processor shut down TWICE while I was writing this post.


On the Surrealism of Solitude

Hello? Is anyone out there?

These are the questions that have been percolating in my head over the last few weeks. Ever since I started to buckle down to the task of establishing a home-based career (or sets of careers, to be honest), I’ve felt as if the world has dwindled down from six billion people to just six.

That this fact has been nagging me takes me by surprise. I’ve always thought of myself as a born introvert (the extroversion was a belatedly learned behavior) and I usually find socializing in larger-than-intimate groups exhausting. I’m helpless when it comes to small talk, resent taxi drivers who won’t permit me to daydream, and enjoy the intimacies of correspondence precisely because it allows for lulls.

But perhaps even introverts, in this all-too-crowded age with its all-too-crowded cities, have become accustomed to the constant background radiation emitted by millions of fellow souls. As much as I enjoyed my past solitudes, I realize now upon looking back that it was a never an authentic loneliness. There was always a crowd around me, a constant stream of friends, relatives, acquaintances, peers, colleagues, mentors, bosses, subordinates, clients and students. I always needed an occasional retreat from the onslaught—a moment to inhale a suffocated breath—but the point is that there was something to retreat from.

Which is no longer the case now. After years of a synthetic solitude, I finally have the silence and stability I craved for so long.

Yet while it’s been welcome, it’s also been deeply unsettling. I feel as if I’ve dropped away from the world—that I’ve become faceless and voiceless and insubstantial even to myself (an indicator of how much of my “self” was molded by other people’s impressions—impressions they relayed back to me constantly through a million subtle signs and gestures). There are nights when I feel that my days are unreal, my reality unmoored by its lack of reference to a network of many others. Not surprisingly my recent dreams have been uncharacteristically vivid; the barriers between my waking and dreaming worlds have become increasingly permeable.

It’s likely of course that this is a temporary state of affairs—temporary not in the sense that my circumstances will change but in the sense that I’ll simply adapt. I’ve been through too many of these changes not to recognize the discomfort and the disorientation. The symptoms will persist, but not for much longer.

On the Fortunes amidst Calamities

Of course, I didn’t even know there was a typhoon coming until it actually hit.

I woke up to the sound of the wind howling, the trees whimpering and the chimes clattering. By the time I glanced out my window (at the predictable hour of 8:00 am), enough damage had occurred for me to come to the rapid conclusion that a storm was underway—and a severe one too.

(The last time I belatedly realized that a typhoon was in full swing, the warning had come in the form of an early morning call from the lobby guards of my previous flat:

“ . . . ‘lo . . . “

“Good morning, Ma’am. Si Bryan ‘to.”

“Yes, Mang B?”

“Ma’am, kelangan mong bumaba.”


“Lumulutang kotse mo e.”


“Seryoso ka?”

“Opo, Ma’am. Kelangan mong bumaba ngayon na.”

That typhoon was Ondoy, of course, and the subsequent damage to my car was nothing compared to the losses other people endured. Of course, the point of this little trip down memories-of-calamity-lane was to simply underscore how oblivious I was, even then, to events of very serious natures.)

As if to validate my already drawn conclusions, Abbey added later: “Classes have been suspended.” And if that confirmation wasn’t enough, the power promptly died.

“Brilliant,” I sighed. “Just when I thought I had an entire day to work.”

“Tell me about it,” Abbey replied. “At least you’ve got a laptop.”

One hour later, at the Starbucks ten minutes away, the barista asked me if I wanted to switch my warm Caramel Brulèe Latte to a Frappuccino version instead.

“It’s really hot with the air-conditioning down,” she explained.

“It’s okay,” I smiled. “Lamigin namen ako eh.

Two hours later, in the oddly sweltering heat (odd in the sense that just five feet away, through the wide open entrance, the rain was thoroughly gusting), I realized that the barista had been absolutely right.

“You’ll need to come get me,” I told Abbey via text. “I’m dizzy from the heat and from staring too long at my laptop.”

Fortunately enough when we returned, we’d gotten our power back.

Hopefully, our fortune extends to everyone else.

On the Hazards of Freedom

The boundaries of my life are disappearing.

The effacement began years ago, noticeably inaugurated by my departure from the corporate world and my re-entry into the academe. Corporate efficiency is premised on compartmentalization. There’s not just a place for everything but also a place for everyone—and even a place for everywhen. Space is structured, time is structured, relationships are structured, and one’s behavior is embedded in the geography and history and politics of the everyday.

(Cases in point: Sunday evening, seven o’clock, the living room of my high-rise apartment, in the company of my equally corporate-enslaved flatmates—it’s time to be depressed; Friday afternoon, four o’clock, the office water cooler, in the company of my multi-functional team: it’s time to be elated.)

The academe also has its compartments (they hit notorious levels the higher up you go; in especially esoteric branches of knowledge, you’ll get hundreds of species of pedantry with a single member each). At the same time, the silo effect tends to be limited to the realm of the intellectual enterprise. Elsewhere there’s a significant amount of fluidity, if not in space, at least in time (since you can teach in the evenings, or on the weekends, or even, God forbid, on the days of obligation). The notion of the functional competency is far more elastic too, as  academics in the Philippines are also expected to be accreditors, administators, teachers, formators, prize winners, researchers, writers and, yes, photocopiers.

But ever since I left the academe (a temporary and deliberate state of affairs engineered as part of a personal transition process), the boundaries have disappeared entirely. Space has collapsed (my home is now my galaxy), time has become an amorphous mass (Sundays may just as well be Mondays) and I’m learning to do all kinds of things by myself (me, a self-confessed member of the Cult of the Core Competency). Apart from a few enduring and necessary obligations, there is literally no place I have to be, no person I have to see, and no schedule I have to follow.

On the one hand, the freedom is absolutely refreshing; on the other hand it’s terribly unsettling. For without the guideposts of clock, calendar, custom and convention, and in the absence of the compartments provided by the notions of experts, professionals, offices, departments, holidays and seasons, how do I know what’s work and what’s play, what’s too much and what’s too little, what’s time to begin and what’s time to end?

I don’t know and I can’t know. In this brave new world of almost unlimited freedom, the only trails that I can follow are the ones I blaze myself.

What a terrifying thought.

On the Nostalgia for Nostalgia

Why all the recent nostalgia?

A better question: why not?

When I was a child, I lived inside my head. Most introspective people will tell you the same thing I’m about to say: the world inside our heads is far more real, far more vivid and infinitely more interesting than the world that lies outside. Before I ever learned what it meant to be a writer, I was already a wordsmith of sorts, spinning tales of serial lengths that only my brother ever heard.

(Years would pass before I re-discovered the art of creating stories again. But my exile from my inner landscape extracted a price—I can’t write fiction with the same facility I have in writing non-fiction, even if making stories was my earliest experience of shaping words.)

But my point is: when you live inside your head, recollection becomes an art form—as does the opposite skill of projection. There are infinite ways of looking at the past, besides the fact that it has infinite objects to be considered. Admittedly and understandably, I spent far more time as a child in constructing visions of the future rather than in reviewing images of the past.

It’s only now that I’m in the future (the future I used to assemble so wistfully as a child) that the past is beginning to exercise a more definitive allure. Things that I missed because I was too preoccupied with looking ahead are now just beginning to assert their previously ignored presence. And what I find startling is that I actually seem to remember—that the psychic fossils, imprints and traces are sufficient to regenerate not just the skeleton of an experience, but its muscles, its flesh, its texture and its complexion. I start by unearthing a single tusk, and then I suddenly uncover an entire woolly mammoth (and its hunter, and its hunter’s tribe, and so on and so forth).

That’s where all the recent posts on nostalgia have been coming from, and I doubt they’re going to end.

As usual, the only thing left for me to ask myself is: why did I start so young?

On the Nostalgia for Color

(CRAYOLA Crayons) Happiness in another box (picture found through Google).

I remember crayons.

I remember their fruity and waxy smell: the unmistakable scent left in rusting tins and the smudges of color left from exposed tips.

I remember their names: my earliest experience of language’s marvelous ability to create variety and also my earliest experience of the sheer musicality of words. (I remember savoring the sound of Apricot, Aquamarine, Cornflower, Mahogany, Maize, Periwinkle, Plum and Salmon—and relishing how exotic they seemed against the banal blues, greens, reds and yellows that I learned in nursery school. And of course, how can I ever forget that marvelous conjunction of words Burnt Sienna?)

I remember that we had favorites: the browns and blacks always got whittled down to stubs because my precocious appreciation for realism meant that all flesh and hair had to be colored in their appropriately Asian hues. (I remember the indignation I always felt that no shade of brown ever quite captured the color of my skin. Brown was just too brown. Apricot and Peach were just too light.)

I remember that our favorites included non-favorites: the shades that always remained unbroken and sharp and therefore a pleasure to wield because they were hardly ever used. How many opportunities do you get to use Silver? How many opportunities do you get to use Gold

I remember that they were always clumsy: given to straying beyond the fine lines etched on paper, because sharpening their tips excessively was deemed a waste by my always pragmatic parents. (A technique I developed was to use one side of a blunt tip excessively, then to “rotate” the exposed surface slowly until sheer use had molded an acceptable point. There was, however, no substituting the frank pleasure of a newly sharpened crayon.)

I remember forgetting crayons: outgrowing both memory and fondness for waxy smells, rusting tins, musical names, favorite shades, righteous indignations and frank pleasures to assume the sobriety of pencils, pens, palm-held digital assistants, mobile phones and laptops—tools of an adult world bereft too often of color though also frequently lamented as “never black and white.”.

At least now I remember crayons.