Bleak


If you've watched the dystopic I am Legend, you'll find Margaret Atwood's Oryx and Crake familiar, but not less entertaining.

It's a story of a post-apocalytpic world where everything has crumbled. Weeds grow on asphalt roads; vines cover what used to be windows; and skulls of dead people lie scattered everywhere. All these because the entire human race has been wiped out by a deadly virus.

In the midst of the chaos, one human has survived: Snowman. His recollections of the past form the backbone of the novel. Here, Margaret Atwood excels in weaving episodes that hop from different time periods, giving the reader bits and pieces of information that sow seeds of curiosity—this she does for the first 11 chapters. Right after that, she ties all the answers to those questions, and this is where the novel gets really gripping. Everything falls into place.

The general theme is not unlike The Handmaid's Tale, the first Atwood novel I've read: the future looks hopeless. If she truly believes in what she writes (regardless if it's fiction), then she may not be a very optimistic person. The book is depressing, the supreme quality that makes it a page-turner. Who' d say it's not depressing to be alone—literally—in a world where genetically modified creatures prowl around, waiting to devour you? Atwood makes it sufficiently clear that the greatest curse in being alone is that you cannot escape your thoughts—those stories of previous loves, friendships, and family.

They haunt you.

The book indirectly discusses present-day problems we can't overlook. Atwood accomplishes this by way of exaggeration. Among these issues include the ethics of genetic engineering, internet pornography, and child trafficking. It's amazing how these things reinforce one's notion of the human condition. That of depravity.

Happy birthday, Tatay

My father

Today my father celebrates his birthday. Honestly, I've lost count how old he is, but I just know he's getting older. Whenever I get back home on Christmas, I'd notice more wrinkles, graying hair, and gradually sagging skin when I'd clutch his arms. But he has always had that smile, and that voice, and that unmistakable laugh.

I remember getting really furious at him one time; this was in first grade. He left me in the barber shop because he was doing groceries. I always hated it when he told me, "Just wait for me, Bon, I'll be back in a while," because he said that often. When he came back to fetch me, I was all teary-eyed because that barber ravaged my hair, cut it an inch shorter that what it was normally, leaving me looking like someone who'd just undergone chemo. And the worst feeling was that, I was all alone there, looking at that monstrosity happen, and I couldn't find the right words to speak because I was so young.

So as we were walking, I refused to clutch his little finger. And he sensed a lot of anger brewing within me. I've never felt so angry in my life. He didn't kneel down and look at me in the eye and say sorry. No, that wasn't Tatay's style. He simply rubbed my hair off, called me bald, and laughed a great deal.

And that laugh—oh, that unmistakable laugh—made me forget I was angry with him in the first place.

The weirdest names are in Class 2014

Just weird 

  • Rich King. I voted him as class treasurer because his name seemed appropriate. I didn't know him personally then—but guess what, he's doing a swell job extorting collecting money from us. So my vote was justified, after all.
  • Karl Babe Tagomata. I make sure I don't call him "Babe" in public because other people might misinterpret it. "Let's have lunch, Babe" just doesn't sound nice if taken out of context.
  • Joan Joseph Castillo. He insists we call him Casti, but isn't it more exciting to call a tall, macho man Jo-an? People who haven't met him might suspect a real, living hermaphrodite actually exists.
  • Jamaica Noblezada. I don't know if she was born there, but it sure is interesting to name someone after a country. To talk her, you should greet her thus, "Jamaican me crazy!" For those who don't know, she was the official beauty title holder of Miss Caloocan some two years ago. No kidding.

Nicknames that stick
  • Potpot. Godfrey Josef Torres. Don't even mistake him for a skinny guy you could bully around because this dude is muscular and can trash you any minute with his strong biceps if he wishes.
  • Apol. Apolinario Esquivel III. Really, he's a big guy—not some shrieking, girly teenager.
  • Bossing. Joseph Brazal. He's not just the boss because of his rather advanced age. He's the boss because he owns the world when he walks. And don't mess with him: he can pierce your skull with his signature long, black umbrella.
  • Ching. Just because her name is Elizabeth Ching. Even her mother calls her Ching. 
  • Mau. Just because his name is Mark Jerome Mauricio. If not for him, I wouldn't have entertained the possibility of people calling me "Cat" because I'm a Catedral.

The longest names

I could imagine them in grade school, begging the teacher for some more time because they haven't finished writing their names yet, and the quiz has already begun.
  • Tristan Jegar Josef Frederic Catindig
  • Aeron Patrick Roy Dela Cruz
  • Jose Rene Bagani Cruz 
Epilogue

I guess they are named thus because they have really cool parents—or wacky classmates. Someday, you might go to some hospital and see one of these names there, but don't you worry, because I have a gut feeling they'll make really good doctors anyway.

Bad, bad child

Believe it or not, I was a bad child. Of evil proportions.

In kindergarten, I stabbed a girl with a blunt pencil. Her arm bled, and she cried hysterically. Arianne Taborete was asking me for help because she didn't know how to draw a face. I said, "Let me finish mine first; I'll get back to you." But she was so insistent. She was tugging my right arm, effectively distorting the image I was sketching on paper. I got really mad I gripped the no. 2 Mongol pencil and embedded it straight to her brachioradialis.  She has never bothered me since.

During summer vacations, my cousins and I would play at my Lola's house. The garden was wide, lavished with swings, see-saws, and the slide. Many times Kring and I would spend the afternoons there. One day, out of a childish whim, I decided to have the slide all to myself. Instead of climbing up through the ladder (which was how it should be done, really), I decided to climb through the slopey part of the slide itself—that part where the actual sliding was done. I don't know why I did that, but it sure did feel more satisfying.

Along came Kring who was just behind me, climbing in the same way that I was doing it. I told her sternly, "Get off the slide," just as I was about to each the peak. She didn't back off. So I kicked her, until she fell off, tumbling down to my grandmother's newly-mowed bermuda grass. Her eyes were all white. She was cold and clammy. And something medical had to be done to her. Hours later, when Kring was a whole lot better, Mama Titin (my aunt and Kring's mother, but that's how we used to call her) asked what happened.

With a stern look, I said, "It's all Kring's fault," concocting this web of lies that sounded like it was the truth. I was so convincing I even convinced my cousin Kring, who simply said, "Yes, Lance's right."

These things—and many more—I recalled as I answered Katrina Magallanes' how-well-do-you-know-me quiz in Facebook. I'm not a big fan of Facebook precisely because of these quizzes (I mean, do I really have to know how many Zombies you've killed?), but this was Katrina. I've known her since we were eight. So I answered it.

And among the questions there was:

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Let me tell you that the answer isn't A.

This started a rather interesting thread of comments from old friends.

John Mark Sunga wrote, "Talaga? Pinutol mo buhok ni Lance n'ung Grade 2? Hahaha."

Vanessa Gumban wrote, "KAT! I thought you stabbed Lance's hand with a pencil? Or was that someone else?" Well, that someone else is me.

To these Katrina replied, "Oo, I cut Lance's hair during Grade 2 kasi he was teasing me kay Romeo Nataya [one of our classmates.] I can never forget that kasi pinatawag ako ni Teacher Celie, and I also cried n'ung pinagalitan niya ako."

Believe it or not, I was a bad child. And all it took was Katrina's pair scissors to mellow me down. It's one thing to tease someone. It's another to actually cut someone's strand of hair. I felt really bad and defeated, but Kat knew her way. Well, on hindsight, it makes me feel better that she did have her share of crying, too.

Note on the door



A fit of nostalgia came upon me as I downloaded the files I had originally uploaded in Geocities, the first online file hosting site I used when I started this blog on 2004. For some reason, Yahoo decided to close it. I got the email notification to retrieve my files while I still could.

This was the note I posted at my door (Room B17) at Kalayaan Residence Hall. It's a quote from Galatians 2:20, handwritten by me. I took a photo of this using Myx's Nokia camera phone, the first few ones that had colored screens. I haven't seen my friends in a long while. I wonder where they are. I'm missing the good ol' days.

Getting all neurological

It's funny—no, amusing—how my things-to-do can accumulate so fast in so short a time. Ah, the unmistakable sign of a looming sembreak. I've just finished reviewing for two Wednesday exams, but I'm still up and about because I'm preparing for the neurological preceptorials later. From what I gather, the entire first year class will be meeting a neuro patient. And then, the assigned consultant (a very smart, usually old, experienced doctor) will each teach us how to do the proper techniques.

We'll ask nice, little questions—like real doctors. Behind the cloak of forced confidence, we're crossing our fingers that we don't forget our mnemonics. Imagine what a turn-off that would be if, in the middle of asking for the patient's medical history, there's going to be a two-minute lag time because—wait, what does "S" stand for again?

I don't know how things will turn out tomorrow. "Meeting patients actually scares me," said Jana a while ago, and I sort of agree with her. Let's hope we don't mess up with this one.

The after-exam meditation

After every exam, I look forward to going back to my apartment. I don't like staying out too much, especially after I've subjected my brain to what could only be described as a mental torture—or, almost always, an intricate guessing game. Peace and quiet and dreams make up my ideal detoxifying activity. Others prefer alcohol, some a thousand rounds of videoke, but nothing beats a good eight-hour sleep.

Usually my roommate would be out with his own set of friends, so I'd have the entire room to myself. I've long since realized the importance of having some quiet time alone—I hear my thoughts more clearly and see things in different ways. Which is to say that I do a lot of thinking as I rock myself to sleep.

So, yes, I've been thinking of many things lately.

Foremost of which is—am I ever going to be a doctor, and will I be a good one? I ask myself this because at the rate of how I'm learning things, the future seems bleak. I hardly retain anything, and, as my classmate Roger said, "It's all short-term." Casti told me that the first two years of med school was meant to be this way—information overload—and that the more exciting learning happens in the third year.

Despite my efforts to learn for the sake of learning, I'm often left with no choice but to study just to pass. A typical case of a willing spirit and a weak flesh, come to think of it. That's why I appreciate how Dr. Quintos, one of our lecturers, has constantly reminded the class to learn in order to understand, telling us that exam scores are hardly a manifestation of one's learning. They're simply a gauge of performance. The student probably knows a whole lot more than the answers to the exam questions. I can't agree with him more.

But lest I create the impression that I'm drowning in a sea of frustrations, let me tell you that I'm actually having fun. Slowly, I'm actually getting the hang of it. And the Lord—the faithful, merciful, gracious Lord—is my help. This semester, which is about to end in a couple of weeks, has led me to see the end of myself and to trust in Him alone.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to get some sleep now.

Doubt

Sister Aloysious Beauvier—some name, huh?—played by Meryl Streep is the principal of a church-run school. One of the teachers is Sister James (Amy Adams) who reports that a black student in her class came back with alcohol in his breath after a private meeting with Father Flynn (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), the parish priest. When Sister James confides this to Sister Aloysious, the principal is convinced that the priest abused the child—she just knew.

Father Flynn is confronted, of course, so he demands for further proof. But there isn't any, except for the deep-seated conviction of Sister Aloysious, who is, at that point, determined to remove the priest from the school.

When, in the middle of the movie, Father Flynn begins his sermon on gossip, mainly to refute the accusations against him, I knew I was going to enjoy Doubt.

In the pulpit, he tells of a story of a woman who came to a priest to confess because she spread malicious gossip against her neighbor. The priest advised her to go back to her house, cut her pillow, and throw the contents outside of her window. The feathers flew in all places, she told the priest when she came back to him. In the movie, this is the scene where the feathers fall like white snow in slow motion. The priest then told her that, for her to be forgiven, she had to gather each feather again. The woman said that it was impossible. Exactly my point, the priest said. That is gossip. You can't take back what you've said.

Sister James is torn, as she is unsure of what she saw. Father Flynn's story seemed reasonable enough, but she finds it hard to disagree with the principal, too. To whom will she take side on?

The movie illustrates how sowing doubt can destroy a person's credibility, and that people often act, not with the firm knowledge of the truth but with the fake semblance of it—a gut feeling, perhaps.

I enjoyed Doubt immensely. It's well-crafted and intelligent. Go see it.

The angriest photo I have so far

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My brother took this while we were in McDonald's Kalayaan to sap some WiFi. From the looks of it, I'm about to stab someone to death when the truth is, I'm just reading my email. You go tell your friends to take a snapshot of you when you least expect it, and you'll be surprised at the facial expressions you could sport. Once, I told a friend he could swallow a planet (or something to that effect) when he yawned in class. I think he only half-believed me because I didn't have photographic evidence.

I praise God for the swell time I've had this past week. Classes have been cancelled because of the typhoon. As a result, class schedules will be moved. That means sem break will no longer be two weeks but one. It's a bittersweet feeling.