the persistence of being earnest

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Sometimes I swear it is easy to just give up whenever the universe is sending me signals that it doesn’t care about what I’m trying my best to accomplish—machines breaking down halfway towards a deadline, people in public places moving at a glacial pace, the omnipresence of cigarettes despite a rather stern warning from a doctor and a desperate new year’s resolution.

Why do we insist so thoroughly on persevering despite the odds? Why do we even give a rat’s ass? According to very wise biologists, there is such a thing called “biological imperatives,” a neat term that refers to the needs of living organisms to perpetuate their existence and defend themselves from harm and death. Survival and the desire for a better quality of life are two of these biological imperatives.

It is an enlightening fact, really—considering even bacteria and other lower life forms practise this sort of behaviour. Take street cats for example. Theirs is a cruel world and they go through a lot of undeserved brutality—an unhealthy diet of sewer mice, madmen throwing them into the air by the tail for no logical reason other than a sadist source of entertainment, the ever-present danger of being rounded-up and slaughtered for dimsum.

Yet we don’t see them dwindling in numbers and we definitely do not hear them whining about feline troubles—they just sharpen their claws and prepare for the next encounter with a bored kid.

Scientists say we humans are no exception. Hard-wired for survival and drawing from an evolutionary experience of about 200,000 years, we try our best to raise the middle finger to the universe whenever faced with obstacles. And by “raise the middle finger,” they meant that it is natural for us to transcend the limits of our persistence—especially those artificial rules imposed by a social order perpetuated by so-called leaders of the pack.

There is a vast amount of empirical evidence to support this claim. Though we also go through a lot of terrible things that street cats would probably never consider trading places with us, there are many members of our own species who uphold not just the imperative of survival but also the biological need to improve life by working collectively.

They are farmers at Hacienda Luisita. They are union labourers. They are student activists. They are those who have taken up arms, because history tells us change is possible and necessary amidst crisis.

This high level of evolutionary adaptation is inspiring—so inspiring, in fact, that it makes me sick of myself whenever I am tempted to complain about my own often petty, bourgeois concerns. For once, I guess #YOLO might just make sense. “You only live once.” Why not fight until the last breath?

I think Darwin himself would have been proud. I have always thought the guy was awesome.

(First published in the Philippine Collegian, Issue 21)

on hipster arrogance, Harry Potter, seppuku, Zayn Malik, and JRR Tolkien

John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 3 January 1892 - 2 September 1973
“Their ‘magic’ is Art, delivered from many of its human limitations.” – The Silmarillion, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, 3 January 1892 – 2 September 1973

I proclaim myself shamelessly as a Tolkien hipster in the worst ways imaginable and at every possible opportunity which presents itself.

Throughout high school, I secretly scoffed at schoolmates who were still mooning over Harry Potter and who were yet blithely unaware of the many homages Rowling pays to Tolkien’s superior legendarium. By the time I reached college, and during my three-year stint at the call center pits, I have successfully nursed this arrogance into a full-fledged conceit which conveniently allowed me to entertain vile and altogether unfair thoughts about people who have so far failed to read The Lord of the Rings at least once during their teens. At a screening of the new adaptation of The Hobbit, I strained in the dark through my 3D glasses just to stare and, thereafter, sneer at the empty faces of people upon whom the sheer grandeur of Petersen’s loyalty is completely lost and wasted.

And then yesterday, I forgot that it was the birthday of no one but J. R. R. Tolkien himself—this person who had discovered an entire new world and history and then presented it to us in nothing less than the most exquisite detail and the most beautiful language so that we may write rambling praises in such awfully constructed sentences like this one, this person I have so prided myself on admiring so much, this person I hated to discuss with people whose idea of Elves remains as fake as the Cottingley fairies. I suddenly knew shame—shame and disgrace, such as many of those Japanese samurai who succumbed to seppuku. I have failed. I am a fraud. I am humbled.

If I were a hormonal teenaged girl who forgot Zayn Malik’s birthday, I would have worn a hoop of rope around my head and hung myself right here in my room in no time—though, of course, not before announcing it via Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. (“This here is a rough, cruel coil of rope in washed out tones of sepia. Good bye, life.”)

Luckily, I am not a hormonal teenaged girl who forgot some cute hot cute celebrity male’s birthday. Also, as the dwarf in another great fantasy series says so shrewdly, “Death is so boring—especially now with so much excitement in the world.”

So I spare my own worthless life and carry on being the hateful Tolkien fan that I have become. For today, though, I am all humility and remorse and dishonour, and I will let myself do something wise and proper by sharing some of the most breathtakingly beautiful lines ever penned by Tolkien. This serves as both an apology and a lame lame tribute to the man and nothing else would do but to admit that, despite my awful bourgeois hipster attitude, the greatest works of art would never fail to capture all minds and hearts with terrible wisdom and beauty.

  • “It is said by the Eldar that in water there lives yet the echo of the Music of the Ainur more than in any substance that is in this Earth; and many of the Children of Iluvatar hearken still unsated to the voices of the Sea, and yet know not for what they listen.” The Silmarillion, The Music of the Ainur
  • “Among the tales of sorrow and of ruin that came down to us from the darkness of those days there are yet some in which amid weeping there is joy and under the shadow of death light that endures. And of these histories most fair still in the ears of the Elves is the tale of Beren and Lúthien” The Silmarillion, Of Beren and Luthien
  • “‘I come from under the hill, and under the hills and over the hills my paths led. And through the air. I am he that walks unseen… I am the clue-finder, the web-cutter, the stinging fly. I was chosen for the lucky number… I am he that buries his friends alive and drown them and draws them alive again from the water. I came from the end of a bag, but no bag went over me… I am the friend of bears and the guest of eagles. I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer; and I am Barrel-rider.’” – Bilbo Baggins, The Hobbit, There: Smaug’s Lair
  • “A sudden understanding, a pity mixed with horror, welled up in Bilbo’s heart: a glimpse of endless unmarked days without light or hope of betterment, hard stone, cold fish, sneaking and whispering. All these thoughts passed in a flash of a second. He trembled. And then quite suddenly in another flash, as if lifted by a new strength and resolve, he leaped.”  The Hobbit, Riddles in the Dark
  • “Begone, foul dwimmerlaik, lord of carrion! Leave the dead in peace!” A cold voice answered: ‘Come not between the Nazgûl and his prey! Or he will not slay thee in thy turn. He will bear thee away to the houses of lamentation, beyond all darkness, where thy flesh shall be devoured, and thy shrivelled mind be left naked to the Lidless Eye.’ A sword rang as it was drawn. ‘Do what you will; but I will hinder it, if I may.’ ‘Hinder me? Thou fool. No living man may hinder me!’ Then Merry heard of all sounds in that hour the strangest. It seemed that Dernhelm laughed, and the clear voice was like the ring of steel. ‘But no living man am I!’ The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Battle of the Pelennor Fields
  • “’And now at last it comes. You will give me the Ring freely! In place of a Dark Lord you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the Earth. All shall love me and despair!'” – Galadriel to Frodo, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Mirror of Galadriel
  • “My name is growing all the time, and I’ve lived a very long, long time; so my name is like a story. Real names tell you the story of the things they belong to in my language, in the Old Entish as you might say. It is a lovely language, but it takes a very long time to say anything in it, because we do not say anything in it, unless it is worth taking a long time to say, and to listen to.” – Treebeard, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, Treebeard
  • “War must be, while we defend our lives against a destroyer who would devour all; but I do not love the bright sword for its sharpness, nor the arrow for its swiftness, nor the warrior for his glory. I love only that which they defend: the city of the Men of Númenor, and I would have her loved for her memory, her ancientry, her beauty, and her present wisdom. Not feared, save as men may fear the dignity of a man, old and wise.” – Faramir, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, The Window on the West