MARILYNNE Robinson's Housekeeping is a work of art. Every word, carefully chosen, reverberates in one's consciousness. Every punctuation matters. One does not sense the struggle in the writing process, if there ever was, because she makes it sound so effortless. Her prose reads like poetry—quiet, calm, soulful. Her language is masterful, often restrained, but so packed with the written and the unwritten that one should read it carefully, slowly, never in a rush, in full concentration, lest the story dissipate elsewhere. She deals away with clichés but makes use of the full armament of her vocabulary to illustrate something or make a point. The landscape she paints of the town of Fingerbone, Idaho, where much of life is built around the lake, takes the reader to its darkest, hidden corners.
Friday, September 26, 2014
Thursday, September 25, 2014
On "An Auto-Corrected Journal of Printing Properties: Selected Texts On A Contemporary, Art, and The So-called Elsewhere-Anywhere"
WHILE STUDYING for the Boards, I often hung out with Renan Laru-an, the founder and current director of DiscLab | Research and Criticism—he, working on a book to be launched in New York in the Fall; me, rereading my annotated textbooks. I felt so scholarly in the presence of a writer/editor.
Saturday, September 6, 2014
TWO DAYS before the Boards I trained myself to wake up at 4 am—not exactly a gargantuan task, since I'm pretty much a morning person. The exams would start at 8 am, but the call-time was set at 6:30, at the Manuel L. Quezon University in Quiapo—a dangerous place where snatchers abound, or so a friend told me. This friend related to me a story about someone she knew, a medical graduate ready to take the exam of her life, only to have her exam permit snatched away. That someone was disqualified from taking the test.
Before August 23 were three months of intense studying—not the most stressful period of my life, because reading and taking down notes and outlining are pleasurable for me, perhaps among the very few moments when I'm actually mum. (And, thankfully, preparing for the Medical Boards was not as discouraging as studying for the Bar Exam, where only one in five people passes). Finally I was making sense of concepts that were previously vague to me, things I always got wrong in tests, or sets of facts that didn't appeal to my academic interests but needed memorization anyway—like cancer staging. I remember, with regret, that in med school I had sailed my way through rounds by 15 minutes of cramming, or with the help of Medscape, the UP-PGH intern's most useful textbook app. What could I have done without it? There was hardly any time for rigorous personal study time then. So I welcomed the Boards as an "exclusive" opportunity to go back to my books, something my mother correctly said I should have done since Day One of med school. (She was reprimanding me for dwelling more time on my literary readings; mothers do know best.)
Friday, September 5, 2014
THIRTY MINUTES ago I woke up with a jolt, my eyes still adapting to the dark room, for I had already been asleep for some time. In a corner I saw my brother browsing his phone, then I heard him calling out to me, his voice pregnant with urgency: “Lance, Lance … you passed.”
I knew this time would come—I just didn't know when, or whether the results would make me jump for joy or seek a distant hideout. My first impulse was to thank the Lord for His goodness. What good thing can I do apart from Him, after all? In my heart of hearts, I knew I couldn't have done it without Him. He has seen me through med school; He has seen me through the Boards. All glory and honor to God Almighty!
Wednesday, August 20, 2014
OUR class president, Jonas Bico, for whom I have the highest respect, told us that he has been having difficulty sleeping these past few days. He thinks a lot about the upcoming Boards, a preoccupation many of us share, an incessant personal battle waged with feelings of dread and worry and hope. He sleeps in the wee hours of the morning, only to find himself waking up again to a day closer to August 23. Our diagnosis: PTSD.
Pre-traumatic Stress Disorder. That's not included in the DSM-V yet, but it will be in the sixth.
. . .
HIS reply, via SMS, when I told him I had written about him:
"Waaah, ilang tumbling na lang. #Listeria"
Monday, August 18, 2014
THE SIGHT of my classmate Al sitting in a zen-like state at the Student Lounge the entire day reminds me of how many of us are creatures of habit. We may hate routine, but there is a sense in which all of us have been programmed to follow a certain order of things. We have the suprachiasmatic nucleus in our brain, the part that dictates our body clock. We have habits we can't do away with easily, like coffee. Some can't move on with their lives without taking a dump first. We are, indeed, funny creatures of habit—a fascinating fact given that we often complain of the drudgery of our existence.
Al likes his spot; it doesn't make him sleepy. Meanwhile I study in the library because I like being surrounded by books. These past days, whenever I take bathroom breaks—and I do it a lot (diabetes insipidus, perhaps?)—I make it a point to say hi to him (his spot is very near the toilet), just to remind him that there's a world outside of books. He seems to like the routine, but like everyone else I've talked to, he wants the Boards to be over. I'm not sure I do.
Wednesday, August 13, 2014
I AM, in a sense, back to the old grind. I have exhausted my tolerance for coffee shops, my room, the kitchen, or my favorite Dunkin Donuts store that serves excellent coffee. I will probably miss the cold airconditioning or the funny waiters who already know my name or what I will order. But there is a comfort in being with like-minded friends opening similar books or discussing similar problems or sharing similar mnemonics (the weirder, the better). The Boards is just a few days away. I will find myself huddled in a quiet corner at the Med Library today, surrounded by journals and books written when I wasn't around yet—or better yet, by friends who, like me, have tons of materials waiting to be read and highlighted. The day is long. May God be our strength.
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
THE LAST story in Jhumpa Lahiri's collection, Interpreter of Maladies, is “The Third and Final Continent.” It's a befitting conclusion to an eloquent and honest piece of literary work, something that earned Lahiri the Pulitzer Prize, among other awards.
A man from India sails to London in 1964. He eventually decides to move to America after he scores a job in the processing department of an MIT library. At 36 years old (not a bad age), he gets married to someone named Mila, whom he hardly knows (not so bad, either). As with many marriages in India, theirs was arranged. Mila is still in India. She will be stepping on American soil in a few weeks.
Saturday, August 2, 2014
I READ Psalm 5 this morning. The first verse goes, “Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning.” I haven't been groaning exactly, but I've had my moments of doubt and anxiety, not just about my upcoming exams, but about what I'd do with my life. I've come up with a plan, of course, something I've shared with close family and friends. But what if my plans don't materialize? What then? I've realized that my anxieties are borne out of my forgetting that God's hand isn't too short, that He is in control, that He is powerful, that He is deeply involved in the personal affairs of His children. Anxiety exposes so much of how I distrust Him. Jesus cautions his disciples in Matthew 5, “Do not worry.” In a sense He is saying, “There's no point in worrying too much because I am in control.”
Friday, August 1, 2014
THE SHORT story being my favorite literary form, I picked Jhumpa Lahiri's Interpreter of Maladies just a few weeks before my licensure exams. As a reader I've realized these past years that, yes, the best stories for me are those that resonate with my personal experiences.
Sunday, July 27, 2014
DURING PRAYER TIME this morning, I talked to a college engineering freshman seated near me. We were prayer partners for 15 minutes. After saying our hellos (it was the first time I spoke to him), I asked that he pray for me as I prepare for the upcoming board exams. His prayer couldn't have been more appropriate. I smiled, grateful, as he prayed with eyes closed, “Lord, tulungan niyo po si Kuya Lance sa kanyang pag-rereview. Sana hindi po siya makatulog.” Thanks, Renzo. I was really encouraged.
DAVID ROBERTSON'S The Dawkins Letters: Challenging Atheist Myths has been an interesting read for me. I just finished it this morning. The book is a calculated, well thought-out, intelligent, and respectful collection of letters geared towards debunking the "myths" espoused by the renowned atheist Dr. Richard Dawkins. Robertson appeals to logic, not to emotion—but he, too, gets emotional, especially when he takes offense in atheism's misconstrued notion of God (or His existence). Towards the end of the book, Robertson wrote:
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
I LIKE history and how it mirrors many of our country's woes. I follow Ambeth Ocampo's Looking Back column with the interest of a showbusiness fanatic. I have a few friends who are history buffs, as well—for instance, Joseph Brazal who took me to the National Museum when we had nothing else to do in med school; and JP Asong, who, despite being a lawyer now, still has history as his first love.
Tuesday, July 22, 2014
David Robertson is a pastor of St. Peter's Free Church in Dundee, Scotland, who posted a comment on Dr. Richard Dawkins's website in the winter of 2006-2007. His comment was on the book, The God Delusion, written by Dawkins himself, who has gained quite a following, mostly from the academia and the so-called intellectual elite. It's also popular in the growing atheist movement in local Philippine universities, especially at the University of the Philippines, where I studied for 10 years. Pastor Robertson received many replies in that website, many of them scathing, insulting, personal attacks against Christianity and the people associated with it. In this short book, Robertson aims to present “one person's response to Dawkins and to do so from a wide and personal perspective.”
Monday, July 21, 2014
Thursday, July 17, 2014
INTERSPERSED with all the academic reading are novels, films, and TV series that have kept me sane and wonderfully entertained. I do not agree with people who burn themselves out studying—unless, of course, they want to top the exams, an ambition I do not share at all. Burning the midnight candles isn't just a fire hazard; it induces too much stress. And we know where stress leads to: premature aging and death and irritability. Why inflict that on yourself and the entire humanity? Besides, I tell myself, after five years of sleepless nights (no kidding), I should feel a sense of entitlement to undisturbed moments of sleep. This moment is short-lived. When I begin residency training, Lord-willing, it will be back to the same old 24-hour shift grind. The fact that I can sleep anytime and anywhere (but why prefer other places other than the bedroom?) is something I praise and thank God for.
Thursday, July 10, 2014
SOMETHING TO READ about reading: A Prisoner's Reading List by Alex Halberstadt, published at the New Yorker blog. It's a feature on Daniel Ganis who finished 1,046 books during his ten years in prison. Roughly 105 books a year, or nine books a month. He was charged with theft, which he did badly, according to the blog. Maybe that was why he was caught.
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Categories: watching + listening
Friday, July 4, 2014
WHEN studying elsewhere, say, in a restaurant, I'm picky about the people seated near my table. I avoid noisy teenagers at all cost. I don't feel comfortable sitting beside families with children playing with their tablets—I have the unfounded (well, maybe not) notion that kids who dwell too much on the iPad will end up dumb and socially inept. I also don't like sitting near glass walls, where I can see the smokers outside. I get distracted because I think about their lungs and how they will look like when they're dying of cancer. And I hope they don't—but medical literature is overwhelmingly unanimous. Smoking is a health hazard. It kills—and I've seen enough "dying moments" to realize it's not an easy death.
Tuesday, July 1, 2014
THE PRESIDENT, in a rare press interview I saw on TV around lunchtime, explained why he didn't make Nora Aunor a National Artist: she had a history of drug addiction. As if that should matter. Apparently it does, very much, for the President, who doesn't want to encourage kids to do drugs. Nora just won't do as a role model—and National Artists are role models, President Noynoy seemed to say. Never mind that she was a top choice of the NCCA, CCP Board plus the National Artists themselves. Never mind that Nora has set a standard against whom other actors are compared. Never mind that she was (and is) so good that my mother (a Vilma Santos fan, the only actress who can make her cry) still classifies her high school classmates as Noranian or Vilmanian. Me? I'm all for Eugene Domingo.