Thursday, December 30, 2021

Hearkening back to an earlier time of self-expression and community

Tom Coates of PlasticBag.org on his excuses for not blogging, and his reasons for coming back after seven years of silence.
And hence the second answer to the question, why have I started again? Well, first up, I don’t know that I have. This could be the only new post I ever put up here. But if it is, it won’t be because I’m writing lots elsewhere. We live in a new time of isolation and fear. Twitter feels too urgent and anxious and tense right now. There’s no space to think or breathe. Facebook is filled with all the angst and pain and fury people are feeling. It’s overwhelming. Instagram is filled with people performing a perfect family lockdown experience interspersed with adverts for masks.

And suddenly, I find myself hearkening back to an earlier time of self-expression and community. The crowds have gone. There are no hordes of people waiting outside for a new post to emerge. There’s little to no pressure. Everyone’s not looking. It’s just the relics from an earlier era, posting periodically. And suddenly, maybe just for this one moment in time, that community is who I need. That community is who I miss. And talking to them in this kind of way feels right.

Spot on, especially the lines, "There's little to no pressure. Everyone's not looking. It's just relics from an earlier, era, posting periodically." I picture in my head stars from billions of light years ago, their light traversing the quiet universe, showing their presence only now. Do I make sense? 

My high school classmates were intrigued that I'm not active on social media. I told them I've discovered the joy of missing out. I should've added, "But I have a blog!" (which is hardly visited and read now, perhaps just the way I like it.)

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Kabacan

Kabacan 2021

Spent the night in Kabacan, Cotabato Province (not "North" Cotabato, as I was corrected) to visit Kuya John's family. It's a university town whose heart is the University of Southern Mindanao. Students will return for limited in-person classes on January. When we passed through, we only saw gardeners, farmers, and security guards in campus. 

This is, I'm ashamed to admit, the first time I'm setting foot in North Cotabato. You'd think that North and South Cotabato (which decided to break off from the Cotabato Empire in 1966) would be beside each other, but they are not. 

It's no small grace to catch up with Kuya John, now based in Sydney, and Ate Gladys, their parents, and Ate Gladys' kids. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Revisiting old haunts

With some free time for myself this Christmas season, I revisited blogs I used to subscribe to. These websites flourished in the days when the internet was kinder. Most of them are now dead or dying.

I was in college when I started blogging. The year was 2004. The place was an internet café past the parking lot of the UP Diliman Shopping Center. I did not own a personal computer. At 16 years old, I had many ideas. I wanted to tell the world about them. I was an English major, fresh out of high school from a quiet town most people in the big city never heard of. Realizing I could never start a newspaper column for national syndication, owning a small patch of land in the Web thrilled me. The design and coding, the posting, the linking to other websites fascinated me that I did them all for free. The process was the reward.

That seems like ages ago. This blog is now 17 years old—older than my inaanaks. I am now a doctor, more mature in my faith and thinking, more circumspect in my posts. I write this from my own laptop, connected to my own internet connection. I don't remember that last time I’d been to internet cafés. I suppose they, too, are things of the past.

Two days ago, I sent a link to my Christmas post to a colleague from the faculty. She asked me what Bottled Brain was. I said, “It’s my personal website. Nobody knows about it, except for close family and friends.” That remains true. I do not completely know what my personal blog is about. A workable definition is that it is an online journal where I write about my daily life, my meditations on God and Christianity, my books, my patient encounters, my fountain pens and inks, and many other things besides.

In 2021 I did not feel like writing at all, but force of habit kept me going. I pray I do better in 2022.

Jason Kottke wrote that the decline of the Blog should not be a cause for lament. But I grieve for the disappearance of my old haunts, in the same way I am saddened by the closure of a favorite restaurant or the burning down of an old building. Nevertheless, the old has gone—but not completely. And if you, dear Friend, have been dropping by my small patch of land in the vast, chaotic, noisy Web for the past years, I suppose you realize that, too. Blogging is not dead and will likely live on quietly, to give us joy and company for the years to come.

Sunday, December 26, 2021

My Reading Year 2021

Year in Books 2021



Did a lot of reading this year. Expected a higher number in my “Read” books in Goodreads, the Facebook for readers. Turns out I only finished eight books for 2021. Must be because of my reading pattern: a little bit of this and that. On a given day, have various books in rotation, mostly short story collections.
Tita Mavis Gallant’s words are comforting and instructive:
Stories are not chapters of novels. They should not be read one after another, as if they were meant to follow along. Read one. Shut the book. Read something else. Come back later. Stories can wait.
Maybe a “currently reading” list will be more appropriate. Hope to finish two or three of these next year. Ticking them off in Goodreads helps me keep track.
  • Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans by Robert Elmer. Perfect for days when I don’t feel like praying. For isn’t it true that, overwhelmed with the cares of this world, we must look on to Jesus. A beautiful line from a song keeps playing in my head, “And the things of earth will grow strangely dim / In the light of His glory and grace.” The Puritans had a lofty view of God’s glory and majesty. Robert Elmer rewrites the prayers in modern English. Tim Challies recommended this
  • What Am I Doing Here? by Bruce Chatwin. Non-fiction and travel. Exquisite writing. Book lying in the shelves for a long time. 
  • The Collected Stories by Isaac Bashevis Singer. The series, Shtisel, encouraged me to read this. 
  • Forty Stories by Anton Chekhov. A reading year isn’t quite complete without the Russians. Chekhov is supposedly a master of the short story form, and now I’m beginning to understand why. 
  • The Collected Stories of Elizabeth Bowen. Masterful storytelling. Love Tita Lizzie’s precision and tone. No wonder Tita Mavis raved about her. 
  • Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami. Heard about “Drive My Car,” the film, based on Tito Haruki’s story in this collection. Naturally, got myself a copy of the book. Tito Haruki writes like no other. Sentences are simple, but a page of his writing sucks me into a blackhole: I am trapped, happily. 
  • Why We Drive: Toward a Philosophy of the Open Road by Matthew Crawford. Been driving for about a year now. Reading helps me make sense of the world. This book contains philosophy, science, and pure joy. 
  • The Heart is Strange by John Berryman. Rediscovering the pleasures of poems this year. 
  • The Eye of the World (Wheel of Time No. 1) by Robert Jordan. Learned of this book because Keth and Kuya Jordan read this in Yakal Dorm many years ago. Thought then of fantasy with disdain: one of my immature mistakes. Now, in my mid-thirties, I have a newfound love and fascination for otherworldly things—sci-fi and fantasy. They are great books. For WoT, I first saw the Amazon series (meh, but Rosamund Pike is who I’d imagine to play Moiraine Sedai). Couldn’t resist the urge to learn more about the Two Rivers, and Rand, Mat, Egwene, Perrin, Nynaeve, Moiraine and Lan. Now in the chapter where they head to Caemlyn. Thrilling! 
  • The Language of God by Francis S. Collins. A book I turn to once in a while. Dr. Collins retires as head of the US National Institutes of Health. I’m inspired how he weaves his Christian faith into his biomedical work. Year in Books 2021

Saturday, December 25, 2021

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Waking up to Christmas morning

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Waking early on this cool Christmas morning, I had the living room all to myself. I looked out the window and saw our overfed, charming dog Paul sleeping on the cold tiled floor on the porch, just beside the potted cacti. On the dining table were sourdough chocolate chip cookies and unfinished layers of cakes, to be served for dessert later, for when my mother’s side of the family arrives. Manong Ralph and my cousin-chef Em have been hard at work in the kitchen since four days ago, checking the handwritten menu tacked on the fridge—meticulously crafted to impress and discover. How will our uncles and aunts—farm-folk, many of them, with orthodox, almost dogmatic notions of food—react to mango-turmeric chiffon cake, bibingka cheesecake à la Wildflour, coconut-basil and honey-lavender homemade ice cream? Hearing them ask for seconds, asking “Ano ini? Kanamit!” will be reward enough for our family cooks, sending them to bookstores and Amazon looking for recipe books.

Yesterday, after lunch, Sean and fiancée Hannah cooked pato tim over slow heat; this method involves at least six hours of boiling duck meat with a concoction of herbs and the intermittent shooing of Paul away from the charcoal fire. The meat is thus rendered so soft that it falls off the bone. Always the understated dish, it almost always emerges as the surprise centerpiece, upstaging even the lechon.

Our home smells of vanilla, cinnamon, fresh bread, ham, and warm rice, admixed with the earthy, organic stench of Paul’s excrement in the garden and the strong wafts of antiseptic that my mother uses to clean all the surfaces she could reach. Later this morning, our cleaning lady Neneng will arrive to help with the party preparations. Her tasks have nothing to do with food but with cleaning—rearranging the books, filing the cluttered paper lying everywhere, scrubbing the floors, and disinfecting the bathrooms.

As Sean so often reminds me, I am utterly useless in the kitchen. My saving grace is driving. To keep me from disrupting their tasks, my family asks me to drive to the store or mall or market to buy, say, bottles of wine. I might also pick up cousin Hannah from the airport; she is arriving from Manila without the need for quarantine.

Before the day’s festivities began, I meditated on Isaiah 9:6–7, and read the poetry and prayer from The Advent Project of Biola University Center for Christianity, Culture & Arts.

For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

Christmas displays the exceeding wisdom of a loving and just God to wretched sinners like me. Why would the God of heaven humiliate himself by being one of us? Yet, Jesus did so, choosing to be born on a manger, dying on the cross, forever interceding for us. The truth is outstanding and glorious.

Have you listened to the song, “Mary, Did You Know?” My favorite is the line, "Has come to make you new," for Jesus has made all things new. The old has gone, the new has come—Mary knew this in her heart and acknowledged her need for a Savior. The good news is that Jesus breathes new life into us when we renounce our self-righteousness, having faith only in Him and nothing else.
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would one day walk on water?
Mary, did you know that your baby boy
Would save our sons and daughters?
Did you know that your baby boy
Has come to make you new?
This child that you delivered, will soon deliver you



I treated myself to my Everyman’s Library edition of Alice Munro’s Carried Away: A Personal Selection of Stories. The book arrived by mail yesterday. I did not expect a concise explanation of Christian theology in this book, but Canadian writer Margaret Atwood, reflecting on Munro’s writing, wrote, as an aside, a summary of the theology of incarnation.
The central exclusive Christian tenet is that two disparate and mutually exclusive elements—divinity and humanity—got jammed together in Christ, neither annihiliating the other. The result was not a demi-god, or a God in disguise: God became totally a human being while remaining at the same time totally divine.
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I am not sure of Atwood’s religious convictions, but she is pretty spot on. 

God became man to save us from our sins. May Jesus Christ be front and center of our celebrations. Merry Christmas, dear friends!

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

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Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely

Something came in the mail today, a book of poetry sent by a favorite poet-friend, Prof. Marj Evasco. Simeon Dumdum, Jr.'s Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely And Why The World Goes On As It Does (Milflores Publishing) is a wonderful addition to my growing collection of poetry. I love the title and I looked for the immediately. I love it, too. Of course, I remember the photo of Keanu Reeves and the memes it launched.

To read Prof. Marj's clean and beautiful handwriting is another source of joy. 

Thank you so much, Prof. Marj! And that you, Mr. Dumdum, for your words! 

Why Keanu Reeves Is Lonely And Why The World Goes On As It Does by Simeon Dumdum, Jr

Keanu Reeves

Monday, December 13, 2021

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Sunday interruption

Phone in pocket buzzed in the middle of the preaching. A call from the emergency room. Excused myself quietly and answered it in the parking lot. The patient, whom I hadn't seen before, was a 20-something man who had a massive tumor in his thigh. Had a feeling this wasn't a simple case from the get-go. BP was palpatory, breathing was labored, body was cachectic. Decided to see him in the afternoon, after church, but via phone call added strong antibiotics and urgent instructions to the doctor on duty. 

Normally, Sunday drives relax me. The roads are empty. The afternoon shadows cast by trees that line the highway are a thing of beauty. But that Sunday, the ER call felt like an interruption. Been looking forward to rest, you see, as if I deserved it—an afternoon nap, a quiet time with a book, a steady anticipation of my brother's announcement to the household that the cookies are ready. Asked the Lord for forgiveness at my selfishness as I drove for an hour, praying for this yet-unknown patient's healing. The patient's mother was grateful for my arrival. Despite the N95 and the stifling PPE and the sweat, spoke with the patient, then, away from the young man, with the family who knew they might lose him soon. What to tell his mother, brother, and sister on this time of desperation? That the man was critical. We'd do our best to help him, with no promises of sure recovery. Drove back to Marbel with a heavy heart. It was almost 3:30. The day was winding down. Pain and suffering abound in the world. Remembered the preaching that morning—the Emmanuel, God with us. In our sorrow and grief, dying for our sins to satisfy His Father's justice, so we may live. 

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Carolers

December in Marbel means cooler nights in the porch after dinner. The neighborhood is lit, almost festive. Two carolers—middle-aged women from a far barangay—sang O Come All Ye Faithful (I don’t remember it, exactly) yesterday, by the red gate. Paul, refusing to bark, looked on with disinterest. Nanay asked them if caroling is allowed without permits. She gave them a generous tip. Err on the side of generosity, Tim Keller said. Be radically generous. The women seemed desperate.

Time flies, I tell friends. They realize it when they can’t remember if something happened in 2020 or 2021. Memories merge and blend into homogenous months. Thankful I keep a journal, but must do so more consistently. Markedly fewer blog posts this year, but I don't have much to say. 

Sunday, December 5, 2021

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Faith in the face of death

Pastor Tim Keller, whose sermons I listen to on the way to work, has been diagnosed with stage IV pancreatic cancer. His essay, Growing My Faith in the Face of Death, published in the Atlantic, testifies to God's peace that surpasses all understanding. 

When I got my cancer diagnosis, I had to look not only at my professed beliefs, which align with historical Protestant orthodoxy, but also at my actual understanding of God. Had it been shaped by my culture? Had I been slipping unconsciously into the supposition that God lived for me rather than I for him, that life should go well for me, that I knew better than God does how things should go? The answer was yes—to some degree. I found that to embrace God’s greatness, to say “Thy will be done,” was painful at first and then, perhaps counterintuitively, profoundly liberating. To assume that God is as small and finite as we are may feel freeing—but it offers no remedy for anger.

Sorrow and rejoicing as I read this poignant line. 

Most particularly for me as a Christian, Jesus’s costly love, death, and resurrection had become not just something I believed and filed away, but a hope that sustained me all day. I pray this prayer daily. Occasionally it electrifies, but ultimately it always calms: 
And as I lay down in sleep and rose this morning only by your grace, keep me in the joyful, lively remembrance that whatever happens, I will someday know my final rising, because Jesus Christ lay down in death for me, and rose for my justification.

December update

Woke up with discomfort at 2 am: borderline fever, a vague sense of fatigue, and some throat dryness. Side effects of Pfizer booster, 48 hours later. Queue was short in the hospital last Friday. When it was my turn, nurse Karen asked if I’d like my photo taken. I said, “Sure, as long as we’re in it together.” Dragged other people into the frame, so my small arm wouldn’t get all the attention.

Can’t remember my dream tonight, but it was comforting, not apocalyptic. Turned on the lights in the kitchen to make some coffee to warm my stomach. Should do me a bit of good. Fired up my old MacAir to write this in the dining table, my workspace these days. Might do some light reading to lull myself to sleep again, in time for Sunday worship later.

Paul still asleep in the porch outside. Paul, who has brought much joy and laughter to the house these past seven days. Paul, who sleeps, belly on the cold floor, most of the time. Paul, who now comes to us when we call his name—a derivative of the Hiligyanon, kumpol, because his tail is short. Still clueless what his breed his. Sean thinks he’s an aspin. Uncle Glenn and Auntie Net, who gave him to us, suspect he might have some German shepherd lineage. A friend from Gensan gave Paul to them. With three dogs already in the household, a fourth would be hard work. So Paul is with us now, the first canine we’ve adopted in so many years. 

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Thursday, December 2, 2021

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