Monday, May 30, 2016

FUNK (or depression). The Foreign Transplant.

I WANTED to use the word “alien” but that may conjure a slew of sub-meanings from legal/immigration perspective to extra-terrestrial plane. So I will just simplify the subject as foreigners in America, or those who live here (irrelevant of their legal status) but who grew up or got “older” in their country of birth. Like me. Like Neil, a Taiwanese who is a US citizen. Like Mario, a Mexican who is an undocumented illegal. Whatever details are embedded on their visa or passport or maybe they don't an ID at all—the commonality of their truth is, their spirit is rooted to oceans or borders away.

          I am always asked, “Do foreigners like you get depressed like we do in America?” Let me rephrase that and ask myself instead, “Do foreigners like me believe in the existence of depression?” Of course we do. I do. “Depression” is defined, textbook-wise as, “A state of feeling sad” or “A serious medical condition in which a person feels very sad, hopeless, and unimportant and often is unable to live in a normal way.” Depression or funk (in case you choose to call it that) is also a fact of life back home although it is not widely seen as a “medical condition.” Why is that?
          First, sadness and hopelessness are usually brought forth by very physical misery in the islands where I came from. Natural calamities. Huge typhoons, widespread flooding, landslides etc that spawn other torments like sickness, hunger, homelessness, crime etc. Typhoons happen many times a year in a such a way that we become used to it, or immuned to the pain. Sort of. So usually there is no time to figure things out, psychology-wise, why we are sad. It's pretty obvious. There's no such thing as “therapy” or counselling or shrinks. These are not part of the sociocultural conditioning. Instead, friends talk with friends, families gravitate as communities. It is a natural progression of existence. It is kind of weird to be licking your wounds in a shut room. People pull you out because there's some more problems to attend to. During and after typhoons, there are matters to deal with other than dramatic outbursts or crying nonstop.

          “Medical conditions” are usually confined to obvious ailments like severe diarrhea, tuberculosis, hepatitis, heart conditions, diabetes etc. Little aggravations like headaches, slight fever, dislocated shoulders, strained knee or allergies are usually shrugged off. The village herbolario (herbalist) will take care of that or mom will devise some healing brew from boiled guava leaves or something in the backyard. These things and remedies work, after all.
          In a way, it is also economics. Second, it's a cultural truth. Although workers and employees usually have health insurance and there are free/public hospitals, people are not conditioned to go to the doctor on “mere” allergy or stuffed nose. Herbs, right food and a people's fatalism that says, “Back spasm? Let's go play basketball!” Depressed? “I have a joke, this is funny!” or “Let's serenade this beautiful lady.”

THEN suddenly, we are in America. We are not clobbered by typhoons five months a year anymore. No more nonstop monsoon rains that last for days or weeks. Meantime, I don't need to enumerate the polar extremes of scarcity and plenty. I sit in the quiet comfort of a living room Facebooking and watching Game of Thrones, and there's always a lot of food in the freezer and cupboard. And a lot more than make a typical Filipino parallel America with Heaven or Paradise.
          So you may ask, I should be happy. So why should I feel depression? Why be sad? Back home, it's a lot harder. But then I ask myself, is it really hard back home? Or am I, in fact, saddened by other stuff and things? In a way I tackled it in my poem, “Seeking home.” Below.

Seeking Home

I see fragments of home fall like broken
stars from an immaculate winter sky,
like tears or blood
or sweat, that spread through
the night and reflect faded
photographs of war and poverty
on weeping windowpanes;
home is lost in the din
of freeway skids, thud of subway
concrete, hallow of $.50 7-Eleven coffee
canisters, wail of Grayhound ticket
stubs. The smell of monsoon is gone.
The stench of fowl entrails strewn
with bamboo sticks on coal beds
are gone. Foot trails to river shacks
are blurred by interstate smog;
Christmas carols have been muted
by incessant grumblings of washer-dryers
gnawing at guts like rubber
ulcers. All these tap at my heart
like hammerheads on tincan
roofs, emaciated flesh cut
on credit card gallows:
sharp, hallow, loud, intent, sure.
Winter storms have washed away
directions home; I seek comfort in
many open doors that remain close
even as I am freely welcomed in.
Love fails to communicate
in a borrowed language
that seems to grow more strange
in each mumbling of sorrow
or joy; words that bounce back
like ten-minute autumn rain
that dry down like cheap vodka
on chapped lips, hot clinches stolen
in between hours-rendered,
dollars-paid; oh pain, that familiar
pain is nowhere to be felt
within this tiny cubicle in heaven
where the agony of homesickness
translates to warmth—
warmth that speaks of
a vagrant truth that have long
sentenced my soul in exile.

--Pasckie Pascua
14 December 2009; 11:52 PM

          Despite my facility of the English language, it is never easy for me to accentuate a message in a way that I can be understood fully just like the other dude beside me. Even simple gestures of caring or intense espousal of frutration are read on usually different context. It is not how I word the word or constructed my sentence or how the accent went. I am usually read on a totally different context. It's weird sometimes but I usually shrug it off.
          When I speak my mind (about my observation of the culture), which I usually do, I judged as condescending and rude. If I don't say a thing, I am stereotyped as clueless or I may not even understand an English word other than yes or no. So I needed to explain gestures of kindness, appreciation, admiration or even frustration, disagreement or protest. I struggle in explaining myself—and still, I end up oblique, shady and absurd.

         I digress though. All I am saying is, this blankness or emptiness—of not having to fully explain myself, or the stigma of rejection from being told “It's time to stop, we got other things to do” drives me back to my shell out of frustration—evolves into a kind of depression. Loneliness, isolation. I can read a poem in front of a crowd and get all the nice handshakes and good words, yet I still head home alone. I feel like I am a novelty. A new gadget off the rack, a strange new product from some planet. And if that gadget seems too complex to figure out—then I am dismissed for the meantime. Wait for my next show, maybe I'll have another magic. Did you see it? Oh man, you are so complicated, dude! Uh huh.
          You may ask, do I really feel that way? Yes, I do.
          Is that depression at all? A kind of aloneness that I still believe can never be healed by pills or all the scholarly psychological treatises. It can only be healed by people in front of me. Just like in the islands. Typhoons pummel, wars rage, poverty slams—but we got people in and around the unease and discomfort. People get angry, people are sweet, people are rude, people are nice. But we belong. Aloneness is never a given. It is physical—hence it is seen. I want to be “seen” before I am “felt.” But it seems I am invisible, I am so out-of-there that no matter how I am appreciated, I am still negated. I am attached but I am largely detached.
          So no matter how many poems I write and how many words come out of me, I still belong to somewhere. Those poems are like neons on a marquee as you drive by. Flash gone. Did you get it or was it a pitch to sell something, a handshake, a hello? It's gone. That's it. Yet what we do is what we are. I wrote to breathe back home, I write to breathe in America. I will write and write and write in the quiet isolation of my world and then one day, I am sure, the flickers on the screen will reveal a human form, a physical shape that could read me because I am there, beating like atoms on flesh. Not a poem. And then maybe, maybe when my pains glow alongside my joys, I will belong—because I just successfully projected my humanity. Broken but beating, empty but warm. Then healing, by way of belonging, shall come.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Control. Surrender. Compromise. Negotiation.

I WAS born into and grew old in a culture where the woman is the boss, generally. She is called Kumander and that is widely accepted. She controls practically every aspect of the relationship and family matters—and maintains final decision/s from tonight's dinner to where the kids should enroll in college. A deliberation happens but expect the wife to excise a more upperhand tact. Meanwhile, salary remittance of overseas workers linked with department of labor can only be withdrawn by the wife or common law wife or mom of common kids. Truth is, this is rooted to a cultural truth: a father's earning goes to the mom 100 percent and the woman takes care of budgeting (in consult with the hubby) and bank transactions.

          When partners live together irrelevant of marriage, still the man surrenders all money to girlfriend. Traditionally the woman is the head of the household and the strongest pillar of the family. Men don't have problem/s with a “controlling” woman if we define “control” that way. A woman's job is not that easy—I mean financially managing a house, especially with monthly money that can't actually keep up with the basics. I don't have a problem with that either.
         But I have a problem with how the man/woman is tackled in the context of compromise/negotiation and control/surrender issue. The sexual politics of it freaks me out. Many times it's no brainer to me. Man works to give provision to family, woman works to keep the house. You may tilt or reverse that depends on situations and circumstances. There are many househusbands back home including some of my own kin (woman supervises farm/business, man does the laundry and housework, cook, tutor kids etc) or there are many women who simply stay home and raise kids while hubby works. In my time, husbands/fathers go abroad as OFWs (overseas Filipino Workers) while the wife/mom takes care of the family and house.
         If a relationship fails, I believe it is because it failed. It's an individual issue. Synergy is ideal but we simply need a partnership that works. Sometimes we idealize relationship so much to the point that when see/feel “hints” of control and surrender on either side we give up—instead of working things out on the basis of practical reasons vis a vis romantic ideation. I mean, when you suggest Bee Gees to a partner who listens to Rising Appalachia all day is called control then why the hell we need to skirmish or meld our expostulating atoms and sensibility and sensitivity with another human being anyways. Being single seems more plausible and peaceful.

ALL these “what should and what shouldn't be” that we talk about in regards relationships are ideal. It's easier said than done. When partners try and things didn't work out, we'd say, "Ah well, I knew where I did wrong but it's over. " You know. Thing is, as long as we have the humility and surrender to accept that it was a two-way street, that we are not pointing fingers and it's not her and not me--that it's the attempt that didn't work out, then there is hope. There is always hope. Humans aren't robots. We evolve, we learn. We try again. As long as we don't close doors to our heart, it's all good. Emotional maturity isn't easy. Many times rationales and reasons get in the way. But we are elastic, resilient. And it's always fun to be reintroducing truths to a new person. That's the fun of relationship. When it's loose yet serious, freefalling yet calculated. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Pasckie The Dude talks about what they're talking about

NOTICE this. Whether it is a photo of a college prom queen in green thong underwear or a cat napping on top of a Labrador—it doesn't really matter. Or what about a slew of whiny drama about a constantly famished heart or a sweet row of delectable gluten-free culinary delights? These will elicit dozens of likes for sure, and some may even post very encouraging comments and funny retorts. That feedback loop of generally positive reinforcement is the most addictive element of social media. This keeps us coming back... Zeynep Tufekci, a professor of sociology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, says the vast amplification of the potential audience a single person can reach has raised the stakes for all online activity. She parallels this to graffiti, “it's performative.” 
Part of our increasing looseness with what we post on the Web has to do with the realization that one raunchy photo is just a single data point among hundreds. But Coye Cheshire, a professor of information sciences at the University of California, Berkeley, who studies how we interact online, thinks there might be something more complex at play. In his research, he has highlighted the power of social approval. Interesting, isn't it? I just hope that this is all virtual—and one day, we'd take the initiative to come out of this box and at least say hello over latte or beer...

THE baby market is essentially a commodity market... In this business, the challenge is persuading parents that a product has a unique feature worthy of a price premium. A glance at the shelves indicates just how narrowly baby-product companies have divided parents into subgroups. Some will pay extra for conveniences like a light, easy-to-fold stroller; others want aesthetic luxuries, like leather trim. Many respond to fear (is my child safer in Baby Trend’s Inertia car seat for $179.99 or with Safety 1st’s Air Protect+ system, which costs $189.99?) Viviana Zelizer, a Princeton sociologist, infers in “Pricing the Priceless Child,” that parents' response to the baby commodity market comes along with “an increasingly sentimentalized view of children.” For the first time in human history, having a child in the United States is a net financial cost for a parent. This, of course, has been a huge boon to child-product manufacturers. Companies profit from people's sentiment with extraneous features. The whole process is prone to produce absurdities like the $4,495 Roddler custom stroller... Well, why not spend more time with your kids instead—in the woods, beside a river, or at home? Your child needs your warmth, up front and close—is all.

ARE you old enough (like me) but who isn't that senile and absent-minded to remember simpler things at work—like when you were talking, whether in person or on the phone, was the main way to communicate? Then suddenly, in the 1990s, when e-mails came, things were never the same. Besides delivering a serious blow to the sellers of those pieces of paper, e-mail made communicating with people incredibly and delightfully — easy. Really? An article in The Ergonomics says, electronic communication tools can demand constant switching, which contributes to a feeling of “discontinuity” in the workplace. On the other hand, people sometimes deliberately introduce interruptions into their day as a way to reduce boredom and to socialize, the article said. We’re only beginning to understand the workplace impact of new communication tools. The use of such technology in the office is “less rational than we would like to think,” said Steve Whittaker a professor at the Univ of California, Santa Cruz. Or is it what Alvin Toffler defined as Future Shock? “Too much change in too short a period of time.”

THIS is what we already know: China's combination of strength and aggressiveness, plus the economic stagnation in Europe and America is making the West increasingly bothered. While China is not taking over the world militarily, it seems to be steadily taking it over commercially. Of late, Chinese companies and investors have sought to buy two Western companies, Smithfield Foods, the American pork producer, and Club Med, the French resort company. Europeans and Americans tend to fret over Beijing’s assertiveness in the South China Sea, its territorial disputes with Japan, and cyberattacks on Western firms, but all of this is much less important than a phenomenon that is less visible but more disturbing: the aggressive worldwide push of Chinese state capitalism. 
By buying companies, exploiting natural resources, building infrastructure and giving loans all over the world, China is pursuing a soft but unstoppable form of economic domination. Beijing’s essentially unlimited financial resources allow the country to be a game-changing force in both the developed and developing world, one that threatens to obliterate the competitive edge of the West, kill jobs in Europe and America and blunt criticism of human rights abuses in China.
But do we have to whine and heap blames on China, instead of working things out our way? You see, Spain, France and Britain marched to global mercantilism many generations ago, with a sword and cross afront their ships and forced the “savages” and “indios” to submit... The Chinese did not. They sold us shit and we bought them, while we allowed the 1 percent capitalist to hook up with them, while we are so busy finding ways to disengage us from the collective, community or comradeship due to obsession with privacy and techno-madnesses.

THE United States has the world’s best basketball players, fighter jets, lakeside camps, and dreadlocked ladies. But hardly anyone would ever boast that the US has the world’s best retirement system. Fifty-eight percent of American workers are not even in a pension or 401(k) plan. The Social Security system faces the threat of a huge shortfall. One-third of America’s retirees get at least 90 percent of their retirement income from Social Security, with annual benefits averaging a modest $15,000 for an individual. In Australia, there is nearly universal participation among workers in a 401(k)-type retirement plan. In the Netherlands, pension laws require that workers’ 401(k)-like plans be converted into lifetime annuities to ensure they do not spend down all their savings before they turn 70. In Britain, the government has pressed retirement fund managers to keep administrative fees on many plans to less than half the average in the US. A recent report by the Australian Center for Financial Services, gives the US a C rating on retirement systems, worse than the A received by Denmark and the B-plus given to the Netherlands and Australia.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

And more stuff to rant about

DURING the December 2011 Occupy protests in Portland, someone projected the Batman "bat signal" over the crowds onto a building downtown. Then, one night, the signal was replaced by slogans such as "End the Federal Reserve!" and "The revolution will not be privatized!" Like the protests themselves, the messages didn't originate from any one central source. The only clue was that they came from anonymous protesters who were using a revolutionary new social network called Celly... Okay, it was “revolutionary,” that is—if we'd define the word, as Merriam-Webster puts it, “(adj.) constituting or bringing about a major or fundamental change.” Founded in April 2011 in Portland by Greg Passmore and Russell Okamoto, Celly builds mobile social networks of all sizes, both public and private, that can be accessed by any cell phone with SMS and via a web browser, e-mail and the company's iPhone and Android apps. 
But “revolutionary” in the mold of “(adj.) radically new or innovative; outside or beyond established procedure, principles etc” that was pursued by Che Guevara, Ho Chi Minh and Augusto César Sandino? No. Celly's “revolutionizing bat signal” was as temporal and fleeting as a viral video—an “insurrection” that “occupies” a moment in time of Internet sharing and email. Meantime, the kick-ass slogan, “The revolution will not be privatized!" has been swallowed by info highway's caldera of volcanic “war chants” (complete with obligatory drum circles) and then muted away by one-click reflex, slipped and slid away as naturally as it came out. The “bat” has long assumed a Che Che NY beret dancing to Gangnam, the “revolution of 2011” of our discontent has been upstaged by a funny cat video and North West tweets. I wouldn't be surprised if, one of these days, Celly's “bat signal” beams all over MGM Macau's humongous wall, screaming: “The revolution starts with a Dragon Dance at the Pâtisserie. Please occupy a seat...” Yup, we have redefined the word, “revolution.” It now addresses a certain market demographics. 

SOMETIMES I am confused—what's in a name. I've always been puzzled and fascinated with names. Long short super long maxi short names. Long time ago, band names were pretty long like Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, The Flying Burrito Brothers, Buffalo Springfield, Grand Funk Railroad etc etc. These days? No. I just glanced at last week's Top 40 Albums and I saw short names like J Cole, Wale, Joe, and Skillet. More hip hop acts also prefer to economize on names: Jay-Z, Jin, Eve, Big Boi, Hi-Tek, DMX, RZA, and all the Lil's: Lil B, Lil Durk, Lil Flip, Lil Jon, Lil Keke, Lil Kim, Lil Phat, Lil Twist, Lil Wayne, Lil Wyte, and my LA friend Lil Lol. Names of people (in different countries) are also either long like those from Iceland: Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir, Eilífr Goðrúnarson, Dagur Bergþóruson Eggertsson, and Jóhanna Sigurðardóttir. Meantime, Thais got long names, too: Chakrabongse Bhuvanath, Mongkol Na Songkhla, Plaek Pibulsongkram, and my college buddy, Nandanasukdhi Ratanapol. 
Yes, across the border, the Laotian are so thrifty with names: Vong, Dao, and Lao. An ex-UN Sec Gen was U Thant. They had a marathon runner named Tan Nan, and when I went to Laos, my guides were brothers U Mu and U Tu. Fascinating... I also don't understand why some parents name their kids really long names like my grade school pal, Ari. His full name is Aristotle Aristophanes Uy. I remember those pitiful afternoons when our teacher made him write his name over and over on the blackboard till he got it right. We'd walk together going home and I'd pacify my tearful friend with, “No problem, buddy... From now on, I'll call you Ari.”

I STILL couldn't grasp the rationale behind too much passion heaped on franchise vs local, giant food manufacturers vs organic/whole foods “indie” companies etc... Trader Joe's, for example, is very popular among health-food advocates, especially in California where it is headquartered. Among the store's most popular products are: Organic Hummus Dip, Charmingly Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Milk Chocolate Covered Potato Chips, and sparkling wines. Trader Joe's is owned by the German family trust Markus-Stiftung, or essentially the Albrecht family, same owners of Aldi—which specialises in staple items, such as food, beverages, toilet paper, sanitary articles, and other inexpensive household items—which are “not really healthy.” 
Those include Fusia Sweet & Sour Honey Chicken, Warm Water Lobster Tails, Cattlemen's Ranch Black Angus Patties, Parkview Premium Beef Franks, Clancy's Honey Nutor Bold Party Mix, and Kraft Mayonnaise. I go to Aldi and I also go to Trader Joe's (when I was living in LA). It doesn't matter... It's all economics to me, plus my very gut-level standard of choosing my foods or food ingredients. I don't buy the bullshit that a packaged “organic” product is a lot better than whatever is sold at Ingles or Walmart's shelves. Why? Both products are mass-produced and flown to an average of 5 countries before these meat or veggies etc land on our dinner table. My logic? Both products are sold by the same company... It's not poison. It's just the same product, different marketing hook. If I'd like to be really safe about my food, I'd raise and grow them all... But obviously, I don't own a farm or even a tiny piece of land. So to lessen my funk about, damn—will Dwight Howard be able to win a title for the Rockets—I just chill and enjoy my chow. Or yes, I should worry more if the box that I shipped to my kids—containing “cheap” Dollar Tree wares and secondhand books—will arrive there on time, before I send another one for Christmas...

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Breaking Up or Carrying On

IN my life, I have been witness to relationships that have gone past individual flaws and faults, weaknesses and limitations and carried onto decades of marital bliss or synergetic joy. Two people change for the better, realize their potentials—and evolve into beautiful human beings inside and out. Two people are able to kick and let go irksome habits and/or grave vices—from snoring, hygiene issues, indolence etc to control freakiness, alcoholism, sexual distance (or addiction) etc—to ways and deeds that reshape them into much better individuals to themselves and each other, their family and community at large.

          HOWEVER, the one thing that is almost impossible to fix, more often than not, is unfaithfulness. May it be random, “unintentional” flirting or consenting adult games—cheating is a disease (or cancer) that brings otherwise rational people down deep in the murk of human indecency and self-disrespect. More so, in unfaithfulness—we are dealing with not just one person, but two sets of energies. We may be able to forgive a partner after he/she quit the indiscretion but what if the other energy refuses to—or what if the lover stops but yours doesn't? Also, in this area of “interjection,” two people—no matter how “wrong” it could be—are involved in an emotional engagement and physical tryst. Hurt is imminent, mental abuse is present, and one gets pregnant and/or contracts ailments that could jeopardize as well the legal/real partner. And it's doubly costly to sustain two valentines as well, you reckon? LOL!
          WE cannot just say, “I am sorry, I don't want to see you again...” like we just given up “The Walking Dead” midstream of Season Two, and expect the other person to feel the same “I don't care” attitude after the fact. We are filling one's vacuum, although as a “kept woman/man” or just a “friend,” and so when we leave the “adventure,” that vacuum will bleed. There is already a violation of human emotional vulnerability. Our heart is not a video game or basketball, it is a heart that palpitates, alive... If the real partner couldn't fill up the emptiness of the other, whether it is emotional or sexual or financial, and it drives someone to seek solace in the other willing individual's arms (and other private parts), then formally/officially leave the one that is left waiting. Let the person seek his/her own joy while you pursue yours. Love doesn't hinge on convenience or ease, it wades and works around inconvenience and unease that ensue when a relationship is on its birthing/challenging phase. But if a person isn't going to fix troubles with the one he/she's with and instead seeks comfort somewhere else, leave that person. Let go.
          IN my life, I have let go of ex'es whom I felt were “double-thinking” and that indecision (to choose whom to be with) stayed delayed. Or I decided to break up in the case another man seemed filling the vacuums of my partner. Or if we both gave up fixing our own flaws and faults, and fought that we didn't really need to change, which is plain and simple, narcissism—then a mutual turn to quit happened. People break up and make up for a reason—not just because we said “I love you” or “I am sorry” 15 or 25 times a day.

          VULNERABILITIES are common in life and relationships—it's humanity. Material frivolities and silly fits—from hoarding Batman knick-knacks in the house to high-volume Bee Gees music all day, from over-shopping polka dot jammies to belching like Khaleesi's dragon, from monopolizing TV remote to intermittent road rages, from bad breath due to too much intake of beef jerkies to vodka addiction and annoying, expensive weed consumption etc etcetera. These things, we can always fix those—but when a partner gives more time and attention, or just drift to/with someone who could crack a joke better, earn better, kiss better, “understands” better, dances better, roll a joint better, cooks pho and padthai better... Well, better think harder and decide quick.
          LOVE is not a casino gambling chip or nickle slot machine. No matter how much you play, pennies or 100s, you are playing with human hearts, sensitivity and sensibility. You can't commodify that blessing to feel and give love. Don't lead an energy on and/or don't be led on by an energy—if you believe love is only with your real partner, wife/husband or boyfriend/girlfriend 100 percent. Don't flirt, don't falter, don't fuck up. Otherwise, if we cannot give up our freedom and independence that we so enjoy as a single person, then by all means--stay single. In a relationship, we compromise our ways and negotiate our truths and interface them under one roof or bedroom for common pleasure. We cannot ever wade on two rivers or eat two cakes with one mouth at the same time. It's common sense. Don't sink, don't choke.
          LOVE the one you're with. Then make love always.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

What's up, Filipinos?

"God help the Filipino people." [--Mike, a New York-based American friend married to a Filipina]

GOD has been helping the Filipino people—especially in the last few decades following the demise of the dictatorship (in late 80s). The Philippines is not a poor Third World nation anymore. Life has improved a lot. The government has even donated money to the IMF few years ago. Weird I know, for a “poor” nation to be handing out money to an organization that is controlled by essentially First World countries. Anyhow, that accentuates the fact that my country of birth isn't impoverished anymore. A Newly Industrialized Country INC), the Philippine economy has been successfully transitioning from one based upon agriculture to an economy with more emphasis upon services and manufacturing.

         There are so many benefits and blessings to enjoy. What we read online and on Facebook are usually the “negative” aspects of a country, mostly spoken by their own people. Irony, isn't it? Sadly we love to project ills and wrongdongs than good ones. It's like a journalism blurb years ago. “Bad news is good news.” Yet being a journalist myself, I maintain that the “bad news” that we pursued and wrote were triple-checked as facts. At least, it wasn't easy to earn a bylined news story at that time. But in these days of one-click media, news has taken a totally different definition. It could be a joke. I could be true. Who knows?
         Meantime, let me clear about this. I didn't vote for Rodrigo Duterte. Personally I don't “like” him. He is actually a relative of the side of my dad's mom (kin by way of marriage). We had many politician relatives back home—but that doesn't entirely impose on our choices for a leader. My immediate family voted for 3 or 4 different candidates, yet no one voted for Duterte. That's what I know. Maybe I am wrong. I don't like him but not probably due to reasons that most of his detractors are saying. Or I just don't know him that much. I don't follow Philippine politics as deep and involved as when I was very active as a journalist/editor back home and in the US. Last time that I pored over a presidential election in the Philippines was in 2007-09 when I took over as Southern California bureau chief of a nationally-distributed Filipino-American newspaper in Los Angeles. Hence, this ie the time to know this new colorful president, of course—because he is now in power.
         I feel though that he isn't as bad as what his critics are saying. This guy served 7 terms, totalling more than 22 years, as a Mayor of a city that is constantly threatened by internal strife between government troops, Muslim secessionists and Communist guerrillas. The identification with Adolf Hitler or even with Donald Trump is simply way off left field. More than 40 million Filipinos voted him, he won by a landslide. If this guy is that bad, why was he voted as a head of a nation? Filipinos struggled through unbelievable misery in the past. Would they just consign their life again to an “advocate of mass murder,” as one daily describes him? I'd rather give him a chance to prove his worth than diss him before the Fact.
          Bottomline, people—here in the US and in my home country--are upset due to polar extremes between the rich and poor. Economies seem good in the Philippines but still, the poor remain poor and the rich are richer. Some lives have improved but still Filipinos want a President that is unblemished and less controlled by the corporate world and foreign interests. Change is a long process that requires astronomical patience. Economic growth or rise in GDP so called doesn't necessarily mean the average people are doing fine—unless we are operating in the sociopolitical context of a socialist society (but that'd be another discussion). I have basis of comparison between poverty when I was young or when my kids were little vis a vis the current times and lives—so I will say, “Take it easy” and see how things unfold. I don't think Duterte is that stupid to be commanding a Gestapo or SS to mow down people for merely voicing their disagreement with him. C'mon now. Let us not frighten ourselves.

         Life back home is no different with poor Americans these days—they are tired of promises. In fact, I can say it's worse here in the US than back home. There are so many millionaires in the US yet college grads struggle to find a job to pay their $40k student loans. Young people with degrees get by waiting tables for tips! The poor couldn't pay rent or pay mortgage on time. People are fed up. When people are fed up and couldn't really speak what's in their heart, they long for a person who will deliver their voice out there. That's where Duterte and Trump emerged from. It was a campaign kick based on popular sentiment.
         After Marcos, Filipinos are known to kick Presidents and leaders' ass out of power and put them to jail. Meanwhile, those 40 million citizens who voted the dude and those who did not vote for him have to be one to kick the new Chief Executive out if he misbehaves. Hitler is a Fact, Duterte and Trump are probabilities which are yet to happen (as leaders of state/s). So I don't see the sense in comparing them. We just have to give new leaders a chance. And then move on with life. It's only election. It's not war. And God doesn't need to get involved. It's all a human issue. I say that on a light tone.    

Monday, May 9, 2016

Why do I watch sports a lot?

PLAIN and simple, entertainment. Leisure, pastime, escape, respite, fun, chill out. People usually lead a life in earnest or seriousness—eight hour job, organizational commitment, family lives. So to balance the so-called equilibrium, we loosen up tight fibers off my brain faculties and relax. It is a need more than a necessity... If I couldn't play sports, I'll be the spectator. When I was younger and could still run the length of an oval, I was both. So these days, I just want to be entertained and find some “retreat” from life's mundane obligatories.

          Some people rock out in a rock concert, boogie in a dance hall, or drink a few mojitos in a bar. Yet some spend a few bucks at Fenway Park to relish a Red Sox homerun or at The Oracle to marvel at Steph Curry's unbelievable three-pointers. It'd be weird if I spend ranting about import liberalization or immigration rights all day, or sulked in a corner drowning my broken valentine with Jose Cuervo. I gotta cool out, right?
          So these days, I try not to root for a favorite team the fanatical way anymore. I used to. I was a Los Angeles Lakers diehard when I was young. Now I am just a 55-year old grumpy old dude wanting a good, bated-breath glee watching a sports event. That is why I feel for sports followers who vibe with me on this regard, who had to pay hard-earned money hoping to watch an enjoyable event, and then feel cheated or shortchanged. Like those people who paid $100 pay-per-view fee to watch the Floyd Mayweather Jr vs Manny Pacquiao boxing duel two years ago, a supposed gargantuan match-up that we've been waiting for for years. Such a contest is not easy on the pocket. People didn't spend money just to watch a brilliant sports exhibition, or learn what boxing really is. People want to be entertained.
          People want entertainment like Muhammad Ali swirling around like a butterfly and stinging like a bee or Sugar Ray Leonard trapsing his awesome footwork like James Brown. Entertainment. Showtime. That is why it is called professional sports—these athletes are paid to entertain the crowd. That is their job. That is why they earn millions--because people pay to watch them and big business pamper them with lucrative endorsement deals. Hence Mayweather earned $120+ million and Pacquiao got $80+ million. And Kobe Bryant takes home $26 million and Ronaldinho encashes more, etc etcetera.
          Pro sports is not the Olympics where a victory, no matter how fundamentally boring it is, means pride to one's people. It's a victory. Pro sports is plain and simple circus time. Now, time to focus on current NBA playoffs... This time, I just don't want a clinically smart victory. I want some highlight reel jams and nifty, no-look passes, and last-second game-winners. I want some good shit even though I don't need to fork hard-earned moolah for such a fancy distraction. Otherwise there is Netflix and staring at starry, starry night sky. Dig?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Old Age Limbo Rock

SOMETHING about aging and communicating facts to the young these days. Ideally, the so-called Truth is what must be passed to the young by the old—but it's not that easy, as it sounds. There are no Truths if these aren't backed up by Facts. So you talk about facts first. Facts, historical and cultural facts, that you gathered following years and years and years of experiential journey/s. Am I being too profound? Okay... What I'm trying to say is, when you get older with so many stuff and things to share, facts and infos that are actually wisdom but sound like hilarious BS to the young, it all boils down to two extremes. You either shut your mouth and savor quiet. Or you talk and talk and talk and talk—till you get exhausted. Why is that?

          When you are 50+ years old, for example, most likely you've gone through 4 or 5 or 6 changes of government leadership, fashion trends, economic lives, music industry upheavals, scientific/technological advances, global sociopolitical alignments etc. In regards your personal life, you've probably survived an acute ailment, changed religions or faith or paradigms, traveled to a number of cultural terrains, married and divorced, dated a few women, and probably raised kids. Which means, when a discussion kicks in about a certain subject, most likely you got a lot to say. You can't just say, “Oh yeah, that's it.” You are coaxed or moved to explain more, painstakingly drawing parallels and presenting differences between generations based on experiential truths—so you'd be able to support a conclusion. But then, it's never enough, never sufficient to just explain all these in one sitting... 
          So you get disappointed. You are told that you are being oblique, you are being self-righteous. People younger than you may debate you on the basis of what they read or what their professors said or what are advocated to them on their own/current time. You've gone through all these processes of education and knowing. But you can't say, “I've been there, you didn't—you are just in the process of knowing.” So in exasperation, you shut your mouth and try to listen, especially when you are told the young needs to be listened to as well. Most likely your passion and intensity are consigned as midlife crisis or old dude narcissism. So you decide to just listen—but you can't just listen and try not to... You know what I'm saying. You just have to say something. You've been there, you gotta say that you've been there. But then you gotta stop pushing it. So most likely you just keep quiet. And hope that you'd meet and talk with someone who have also gone through five decades of life, or someone who is willing to take the words in and save them in their memory bank, to review later—as they head to their own journey...

          Not many young people behave like that these days though. The young in this high-technology, one-click universe create their own media, write their own independent interpretation of historical facts, formulate their own system of faith or spirituality, draw out their politically-correct definition of human reflex and response irrelevant of sociocultural background or the past. They create their own Truths from the here and now. You simply belong in the past and the young have long sailed away. The bridge has been burned or burning.
         Ergo, when you see an old man quietly ruminating in a corner, that is okay. Maybe he's trying to navigate his memory and then write a book. Many times, old people simply want to write a book, as a personal journal to heal wounds from the past or simply to document the journey. Put everything in writing then leave those words out there for humanity to peruse, accept, reject or just utilize as tools to review and assess life later. Talking and talking and talking don't really help. It's frustrating. It's mentally draining. Such energy should be saved somehow in traversing the memory, where materials abound--composite truths that end up in your book. Just write `em. It is almost impossible to hand over truths on a text message or cafe chat these days. That is why I am all over Facebook and now staring at more than a dozen book projects to finish before I turn older and older and older... Write the damn book.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Spams, hook-up culture, expectant moms, stuff

EVER wondered why you suddenly have spam emails about dating or food recipes? Or whatever? It's because you are single and you are a foodie. You are being watched online or whatever you're clicking and typing on your smartphone, that's why... In fact, even retailers are watching your social media persona... Or even your inbox? For example, Nordstrom wanted to learn more about its customers — how many came through the doors, how many were repeat visitors — the kind of information that e-commerce sites like Amazon have in spades. So last fall the company started testing new technology that allowed it to track customers’ movements by following the Wi-Fi signals from their smartphones. Nordstrom’s “experiment” is part of a movement by retailers to gather data about in-store shoppers’ behavior and moods, using video surveillance and signals from their cellphones and apps to learn information as varied as their sex, how many minutes they spend in the candy aisle and how long they look at merchandise before buying it. All sorts of retailers — including national chains, like Family Dollar, Cabela’s and Mothercare, a British company, and specialty stores like Benetton and Warby Parker — are testing these technologies and using them to decide on matters like changing store layouts and offering customized coupons.

HOOK-UP culture, who's taking the lead? Some experts say, now it's ladies' choice. Hanna Rosin, in her book, “The End of Men,” writes that hooking up is a functional strategy for today’s hard-charging and ambitious young women, allowing them to have enjoyable sex lives while focusing most of their energy on academic and professional goals. Although others, like Susan Patton, the Princeton alumna and mother who in March wrote a letter to The Daily Princetonian urging female undergraduates not to squander the chance to hunt for a husband on campus, say that de-emphasizing relationships in college works against women. “For most of you, the cornerstone of your future and happiness will be inextricably linked to the man you marry, and you will never again have this concentration of men who are worthy of you,” advised Ms. Patton, who has two sons, one a Princeton graduate and the other a current student. In many places, Ms. Patton was derided for wanting to return to the days of the “Mrs. degree,” though a few female writers, noting how hard it can be for women to find mates in their 30s, suggested that she might have a point. Majority of my current friends and Facebook readers are females, so what do you think?

WHEN people speak wistfully of the past, they typically become more optimistic and inspired about the future. I agree... “Nostalgia makes us a bit more human,” says a group of psychologists at University of Southampton. They consider the first great nostalgist to be Odysseus, an itinerant who used memories of his family and home to get through hard times, but the shrinks emphasize that nostalgia is not the same as homesickness. It’s not just for those away from home, and it’s not a sickness, despite its historical reputation. However, nostalgia does have its painful side — it’s a bittersweet emotion — but the net effect is to make life seem more meaningful and death less frightening. Nostalgia is common around the world, including in children as young as 7 (who look back fondly on birthdays and vacations). I guess, I do reminisce a lot about my childhood and memories of home...

ARE you an expectant mom? Stockpiling diapers and choosing car seats—or are you struggling with bigger purchases? Heard of birthing tub as epidural anesthesia? According to a NY Times research, cost of maternity care these days range from $4,000 to $45,000. An ultrasound for $935, and a $256 bill to a radiologist to read the scan? Plenty of other pregnant women are getting sticker shock in the United States, where charges for delivery have about tripled since 1996, according to an analysis done by Truven Health Analytics. Childbirth in the United States is uniquely expensive, and maternity and newborn care constitute the single biggest category of hospital payouts for most commercial insurers and state Medicaid programs. The cumulative costs of approximately four million annual births is well over $50 billion. And though maternity care costs far less in other developed countries than it does in the United States, studies show that their citizens do not have less access to care or to high-tech care during pregnancy than Americans. But then, do we really need those “high-tech care”?

RECENT studies suggest that Americans are buying fewer cars, driving less and getting fewer licenses as each year goes by. Okay. Has America passed peak driving? The United States, with its broad expanses and suburban ideals, had long been one of the world’s prime car cultures. America’s love affair with its vehicles seems to be cooling? When adjusted for population growth, the number of miles driven in the United States peaked in 2005 and dropped steadily thereafter, according to an analysis by Doug Short of Advisor Perspectives, an investment research company.  As of April 2013, the number of miles driven per person was nearly 9 percent below the peak and equal to where the country was in January 1995. Part of the explanation certainly lies in the recession, because cash-strapped Americans could not afford new cars, and the unemployed weren’t going to work anyway. But by many measures the decrease in driving preceded the downturn and appears to be persisting now that recovery is under way. The next few years will be telling. So let's wait and see... Meantime, I need to score a bag of sugar at a store a mile away. 

Monday, May 2, 2016

Religion, isms and stuff

I AM not a religious person—although I was born in the Philippines, Asia's only Christian country (besides tiny East Timor) and raised by a conservative Catholic family that goes to church every Sunday morning and say graces before and after meals. I spent summers in a seminary, was an altar boy, and preached the Bible in high school. Yet that time I never called myself a religious person.

          As I entered college, and Martial Law gripped the country, I slid past the Faith and embraced Maoist-styled Communism—as I pursued a journalism career. During those years, I also created many friends who were Hindus, Muslims and Buddhists (not converted in a foreign land but believers in their own countries of birth) as assignments took me on the road. A Hindu factory worker in Madras taught me meditation lessons and how to cook awesome curry dishes; I played music and collaborated on community projects with Muslims in the south of the Philippines; a Buddhist monk in Kashmir influenced most of my ruminative writings and art etc etcetera.
          We hold on to our respective beliefs—non-denominational or apolitical, something that we keep in us, something that makes us happier and peaceful. Adherents to traditional faith (Christianity, Taoism, Islam etc) also find peace and happiness in their church—in fact they've been here for many, many years even before mass communication, market economy, and “I am spiritual, not religious” was cool.
          Hence, I wonder why some of us openly ridicule other people's gods in the internet and elsewhere. Yes, every faith has their own bigots—as in any ideology has its own fanatical hypocrites. This is the world where we live in—it's messy, it's imperfect but we can at least try to chill a bit and dance to the Bee Gees with our Christian neighbors or play chess with a Mennonite or Cherokee. Dorito's bombards us with annoying ads as well as Verizon and Nissan Sentra. Some Jesus Christ followers irk us, as do our passive-aggressive BFFs and Charter telemarketers. We ourselves can also be super-annoying. Best that we can do is, IGNORE what we reject inside and leave them alone, let us respect other people's “madnesses.” Unless they slap us in the face without provocation, let them be. We can judge and irk and diss them anyway we desire, I don't think it's that easy to pull them out of their beliefs. So let's cool out and have some chai.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

ALL THESE WORDS, After All These Years

FOR some deeply personal reasons, I left almost all of my work back home in the Philippines when I flew to New York City on my 38th birthday in 1998. Poems, fiction, essays, newspaper/magazine articles and reviews/criticism and column pieces, TV scripts and sequence treatments, stage plays, grant project drafts, screenplays and storyboards, drawings and illustrations, ad copies and thoughts, art photography, paintings (acrylic and mixed media), publications that I edited/published, organizational brainstorms, comics and graphic novel sketchbooks, political platform germs, songs and lyrics, letters and correspondences, community program proposals designed for legislation, book ideas etc. Boxes and folders of manuscripts, notebooks, wads of bond papers. Mostly written in English although some of my literary output were in Filipino/Tagalog language (a few in Spanish and Ilocano provincial dialect).

          I started writing by the time I stepped in First Grade and professionally writing as newspaper reporter at age 14. Then, it was non-stop. When I eventually decided to settle here in the US when I “discovered” Asheville (North Carolina) few years later, I never made an effort to retrieve my past work—I simply continued churning out more words and (creative) work.
          My past bodies of work (before I "crashlanded" in America) were distributed among friends and ex-relationships, family house closets, file cabinets of organizations that I belonged, media offices, friends in the countryside, even random people that I met while working as journalist, community organizer, concert producer, traveling cultural worker/researcher and artist/musician. Those were the “unplugged/unwired” years. There were IBM computers, floppy discs and tape recorders and 16mm and 35mm movie cameras—but saving or stocking up work in several devices wasn't a general psyche. It's all hard copies and master tapes. Also, I wasn't very conscious about filing up my work or my mind was so busy creating more work and heeding 3 or 4 “day jobs” and loads of community and/or activism commitments so that a consistent, sustained file system didn't have room in my busy, erratic, gungho, cramped up head...
          A good friend from my theater days in Manila, Joey B., mentioned that he kept a copy of my one-act play, “Maputla ang Ulap sa Laot” (“Clouds are Pale Out in the Sea”). I am sure it was about life in tiny fishing villages where I spent time as writer/researcher and grassroots communications teacher when I was in my early 20s or late-teens. A French friend maintains that I left in her care a crate of writings—handwritten and typed (on typewriter) or printed via those “ancient” noisy IBM machines. She reminded me that she has a copy of a collection of poems, “The Rainbow is Bleeding," plus an anthology of essays with an intriguing title, “Not Valid for Public Consumption, and other words that I shouldn't have said or written.” Some friends (and ex'es), who are scattered all over the globe, also informed me that I left them notebooks of doodles and/or verses, sheaves of handwritten words on loose bond papers and musty notebooks, prose on personalized cards, lead sheets on music pads, paintings (acrylic and ink), cassette tapes of demos, words and words on fancy scrapbooks etc etcetera. I also had this practice of writing a few words (poetry, prose) on whatever piece of paper that I could grab and then handing it to whoever was around for keepsake, like a gift. I am glad that some of those beautiful people kept some of those little yarns... I write everyday like it's breathing—I produce work like it's all I do, if I don't do it, I die. So from NYC/summer of 1998 to this very moment, you could imagine the volume of hard copies and megabytes of computer space juices and dirt that I already produced or accumulated—out of my crazy, crazy mind.
          I am a poor fellow at age 55 with five grown-up kids treading their own paths. I am not sure if I'd be able to leave my kids something on the line of inheritance or trust, in the form of bank accounts and properties/assets—although I am still trying. Maybe a grandfather actually left me a cattle farm somewhere in the Pacific, LOL! Anyhow, all I got are my work. Work that hopefully will amount to many books, movies, projects, stuff and whatever they could be used for.

          MEANTIME, I just want to keep on writing and writing and writing--whether these get published or not. Years ago, I used to pursue most of these while sharing ideas with colleagues, friends and strangers—in small inner city cafes and barrio farm fields or oceansides, or workers picketlines, commuter bus, terminals. My writing process was always part of my steady, sustained interaction with people. Sadly, I don't have that “luxury” anymore, around my circumstances and situation in the US. We are inside this little gizmo called computers and fiddling around in social media circles. I wish it is easy these days to just sit down and discuss a screenplay's progression or a poem's birthing from a coffeecup without sounding rude, condescending, politically-incorrect, provocateur, or just talky and boring. Every word that comes out of our mouths is a target for a kind of in-depth scrutiny for its sense or sensitivity, although this reflex and response happen at a quicksilver pace. Confused. Attached yet detached; connected yet disconnected.
          I always say that it was easier to write and create before because it was easier to be human and alive in those days, almost instinctive—no matter how physically unpleasing or mentally/emotionally harsh the times when I produced volumes of work. More importantly, it was easier to be recognized or validated and confirmed with whatever I wrote—the work is right there on their hands. These days, I can write 15 poems in 3 days, but once I saved that on my hard drive, it's almost forgotten since more words are going to inhabit and crowd my hard drive and thumb drives, anyway, in the next 12 hours--all funneled in the internet well. One post is a blink because I will be posting more in the next minute. But then many years ago, as I loosely and nonchalantly handed out my work to people, or left them somewhere, they kept and treasured them. Hence, my soul is saved, my spirit exists. No Apple app or the most expensive computer gadget could ever do that. The surest depository or undying bank of human thoughts is the human heart. It never forgets. That is the only way how to live forever as a writer--or as a human being.