Thursday, October 20, 2016


Thursdays have turned out to be one's much awaited point of the week during the past three months or so.  It's that day when one gets to pick up the two teens from school.  Both their classes are supposed to end sometime in the afternoon, and they often stay on for a while after that for their club meetings.  But the road trip for this part-time dad starts early in the morning.  That gives just enough time to pass by the mall, buy the regular pasalubong (a box of donuts), browse through those floor-to-ceiling shelves and the waist-level stacks at one's favorite secondhand bookstore, and have that cup of steaming cappuccino while going through the new reading routine: twenty pages per book per day (the reading list consisting of around two to three books).  And then the second phase of that road trip, which takes one to the girls' school a full hour or two before their dismissal.  In the school's parking lot, one patiently records details of expenses for the day - an old personal finance and budget management practice revived for this period of self-imposed freelancing.  Then another intense bout with the books.  Lately, one has also taken on the practice of jotting down full-page notes and reflections on the planner (as there hasn't been much meetings or appointments to schedule these past months since giving up that full-time job).

The long drive (no matter the state of the traffic), those minutes spent just sipping coffee and eating donuts and looking for new books to buy (as many as the new personal income flow would allow), and the quiet hours in the car taking in lines and whole paragraphs - all tranquil moments in these crazy times.  One also gets to talk to the kids, a few exchanges now and then, in the car and at their mother's place.  Or simply sharing the dining table with the youngest one, with laptops open - the daughter chatting with her friends, while one composes this blog entry.  Perhaps not really far from what Tom Robbins might consider as meditative and potentially satori-producing experiences.  That state of being beyond hoping and not hoping, beyond accepting and not accepting.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Finding the strength to keep on going

Rain pouring outside.  Not sure if it's just the monsoon rains, or a low pressure area that is about to turn into a typhoon in the coming days.  Here in the living room, thinking of starting a workshop design that was supposed to have been submitted two weeks ago.  A side of being which seems to resist taking on this kind of task now - one that would mean doing a presentation, facilitating a discussion, and talking to a lot of unfamiliar and quite opinionated people later.

My last job drained away whatever self-confidence that was left in this body.  Two years with hardly any affirming moment.  No time for reflection.  Just that daily grind of relating with people who are either too sure of themselves or who couldn't care less.  After all those cheerless days, the soul is reduced into this shabby state that shuns any form of human interaction save with family members and a few friends.  Longing to do a Steinbeck with a dog somewhere in the countryside.

Listening to Billy Joel's three-volume greatest hits album.  Playing right now from the television, via a USB stick.  Drowning anxieties from a fast-dwindling savings account, an uncertain income flow from current consultancies, and upcoming bills that need to be settled.  Resisting the urge to open Facebook and add another distraction.  Looked instead for the Wikipedia entry on "New York State of Mind" and learned that it was inspired by Joel's return trip to his home in the Big Apple.

This monkey-mind keeps on hurling disturbing thoughts about the current situation in the country - of the wanton killings, the fanaticism around the president and his irrational pronouncements, the disregard for life and democratic principles, the rehabilitation of a dead dictator's image.  Enough to make one swear to shut out such news and information from hereon, and simply focus on staying alive and "sucking the marrow" out of this existence.  But you know you just can't.

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Saved by a fairy tale

Was about to leave my favorite secondhand book shop, at peace with the fact that I won't be making any purchase, when my eyes happened to catch this slim volume inserted among those stacks of pocket books.  Turned out to be a 1974 Farrar, Straus and Giroux reprinting of Hermann Hesse's Strange News from Another Star, an early collection of eight short stories which initially appeared in 1919 as Mรคrchen or Fairy Tales.  Not very sure at first if I wanted to buy it.  I knew I already have one such collection of Hesse's short works at home, bought from another book sale at the university a few years back.  Made a quick scan of Strange News' contents - the titles did not ring any bells.  Decided to buy it (along with this graphic book adaptation of Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles - another lucky find, which could be the subject of a separate post here).

Eagerly devoured Hesse's first fairy tale, Augustus, with a rich, but lukewarm cup of my favorite cappuccino.  Basically a story that tried to answer the question: what if somebody receives this extraordinary gift of being loved and adored by every other human being on the planet?  How would his life turn out?  Not really that appealing, according to Hesse, with his main character becoming more callous and indifferent through the years, getting practically everything that he desired as favors willingly given by his hordes of fans and admirers.  Existence as one unceasing experience of luxury and pleasure, albeit almost meaningless.  Things began to unravel for our Augustus when he failed to win the affection of a young married woman whom he met in one of his travels.  Incompetent at handling rejection and frustration, he finally spiraled down into this unfathomable depression.

Until he met again his mysterious godfather who gave him one wish (as he had once bestowed it to Augustus' mother).  Augustus' wish proved to be an important turning point in his comfortable but drab existence.  Amidst the personal suffering that followed, he learned to bring forth and nurture an important facet of his humanity, one that led to his redemption.  Hesse's novels - Steppenwolf and Siddhartha - once similarly saved a young man from this life's dark episodes, bringing some understanding and experience of the numinous into those confusing times.  His fairy tale has done the same trick now - pulling this old spirit out from the mire of self-indulgent fear, doubt, hatred, and depression into which it had sunk these past few days.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Running and the thought train

Came from one of those weekend runs around the university's academic oval.  It was late in the morning, but many joggers and strollers were still doing their thing under the oval's dark green canopy of acacia leaves.  Telltale signs of summer's end in the Philippines: grasses, trees, and flowers thriving everywhere, drizzle or heavy rain in the afternoon becoming more regular and extending through the early evening, sometimes with loud and frightening thunder or lightning as prelude.  Not much sun this morning, which made running easy and pleasant.  Though I still had to walk after a few hundred meters to catch my breath and ease my heart's pounding.

One thing that caught my attention while doing my laps today was how running takes the mind away from the usual stream of thoughts that flows through consciousness.  Like what a former boss used to describe as "going into the balcony" and just observing all these ideas, and notions, and feelings parading "below", with all of their antics and noises.  Something like reading a good book or watching this movie, with moments of excitement to know what will come next and a determination to persevere and push on, and moments of simply giving up on the whole business altogether and being just this passive, disinterested (though not inattentive) observer.

This latter state often proves to be the more interesting one.  Physical exertion mixing with a certain level of detachment.  Yet the detachment is not complete - but awareness is here linked by a tenuous umbilical cord to being and existence.  And its focus broadens, or attains this new level altogether: not anymore concerned much with what has gone by or what is yet to come, but simply noting and letting go while nurturing insights into such mental materials and processes.  Insights too about the body, like how that sharp pain in the ankles or those shaky legs, or that tightness in the guts are so intimately connected to recent thoughts of inadequacy.

Reflections and thoughts along these lines are what I'm expecting to read from all those books and materials on zen and running.  Like this one title in my personal library that I have yet to open in the coming days.  Something to include in my daily To Do lists before the next weekend comes, before these feet carry me again through another meditative and self-reflexive journey around the campus.  And enjoy the unrelenting thought train from a distance.

Nirvana day

Today is Nirvana Day.  Spent most of the morning at home, on a gray couch, viewing Brett Morgen's "Cobain: Montage of Heck".  Finished downloading it a few days ago.  But only had time to watch the whole thing today.  Loved the film's dark moments - Cobain's teenage angst about his parents' divorce and that embarrassing sexual misadventure, those first rapturous forays into the rock band culture, his heroin addiction, his suspicions about his wife's infidelity - and how all these blended well with snippets of the cute, and the ordinary, and the happy.  Those crazy doodles and jottings from Cobain's mangled notebooks gave a rare peek to the the guy's tortured mental life, as well as to his creative (albeit chaotic) genius.  Horrific images of mutilated dolls, drawings of monstrous figures and gory scenes, those angry words and lines that have been violently covered with cross hatches, blasphemous and irreverent statements, are mixed in with the lyrics of famous Nirvana songs, old concert videos, audio recordings, and animations.

A few more things have to be said, noted about those animated sequences.  Never did like these kind of materials in the few movies that I've seen recently (such as in one installment of the film adaptation of this literary series about some teenage wizards and witches).  But this time, the animated portions of Montage of Heck really did a good job filling in for those undocumented episodes in the grunge hero's brief existence on the planet.  And artistically at that, with this one meditative, almost spiritual scene of a rainy night in the forest, accompanied by Cobain's restless guitar playing - a rain drop from the forest's canopy crushing what looked like a flower growing at the foot of this tree, the purple petals turning to black.

Then watched Nirvana's unplugged New York session in the evening.  It took me just a few hours to download a fairly decent version through Torrent.  Been listening to the album for decades now.  The magic has not faded a bit.  The video in fact heightens the whole experience even more.  You've seen videos of those wild performances, with the band members destroying their instruments and doing all these crazy stunts on stage, and then you are given this relaxed scene of Cobain and band mates amidst flowers and candles - Cobain's soul-baring and gut-wrenching singing providing this excruciating contrast.  And you find yourself transported to a different plane.  One of those very rare occasions when a rock performance is able to effect an enigmatic movement in one's inner experience.  My own favorite tracks are Jesus Doesn't Want Me for a Sunbeam, Lake of Fire, All Apologies, and Where Did You Sleep Last Night.  Each of which could probably inspire and provide enough materials for a full blog entry here in Red Planet.

So what's next after today?  Well, perhaps it's a Grunge Month.  I've already downloaded several iconic albums from the era.  Some creative energy starting to flow back through these old brain cells, made stagnant by the daily grind at the office and this most recent bout of depression and insecurities.  Mind, bathed in loud and sludgy music, urging the body to rock on.

(Image courtesy of Wikipedia)