on ‘documentaries’ and ‘sweet misery’

There is a scene in Jean Pierre Jenuet’s Amelie in which Audrey Tautou is sitting on her red bed, in front of her green television, watching what appears to be an imaginary documentary about her own sad death. She weeps as it showed footages of crowds attending the funeral procession, as the documentary paid tribute to the noble causes she has supported in life: feeding the poor, tending the sick, etc.

We know of course that Amelie is merely depressed, and this is her way of “letting it all out.” Moments earlier in the film, she is grating cheese for her dinner pasta when she stops suddenly, looks out the window, sees her recluse neighbor having the same exact meal she’s preparing, and decides her fate is sealed.

Why is drowning in misery so cathartic—that momentary tightening of the chest as one imagines a successful suicide, that split-second when your head is clear and you recognize truths you have so far otherwise ignored?

It’s a situation I’m not entirely unfamiliar with. The other night, I lay in bed admiring my bedroom ceiling, dead tired after having a rough day of making myself busy with tedious chores just so I could avoid checking my phone every few minutes for a missed call or an unread text message.

I wanted then to see right away if there are any more furniture undersides left for me to dust, dim light bulbs to replace, or dining table stains to scrub. But the pull of the alternative is simply irresistible. I searched instead through my memory for my own “TV documentary.”

While mine does not involve funeral parades or soup kitchens, I have perfected it by diligently cutting out some of the more awful scenes and adding in some good ones. Of course, in the end, it’s no longer a documentary but a set of disparate short films. Considering the advanced level of despair I had at the time, I picked two of my favorite short films and “played” them.

The first one is set in a rather expensive restaurant—the waiters are dressed in tailored suits and the crystal looked real. Nothing really happens, except I am closely watching two people on the other table. The other is set in a hospital room and I am afflicted with a rare skin disease caused by some unknown strain of virus.

And then my phone beeped and I scrambled for the wretched thing in the dark. When I finally discovered it beneath one of the pillows, I found out that it’s just an automated alert, reminding me I have enough reward points to subscribe to some unlimited texting promos. I threw the phone away and went to sleep.

In the morning, as I woke up, I decided to become a good person with nice thoughts. At least until today when I once again remembered the ingenious Amelie and her indispensable TV. ▣


anxiety versus physics*

He has not called or texted me for two days now. Yep. And rather than be sucked into a miserable blackhole, I decided that tonight, at least, I will try to find out how quantum mechanics can offer me solace a logical explanation for what might be going on.

First, there’s this guy Hugh Everett III whose death was probably caused by obesity, smoking, and alcoholism. He claims that for each possible outcome to an action, the world splits into copies of itself.

You see, it’s like a choose-your-own-adventure book–only you don’t choose between either jumping into the rabbit-hole or going back to reading your book by the river, because the universe splits in two so that both actions are taken.

This means that in an alternate reality, he did call or text me. It no longer matters that I happen to exist in this one reality where he did not call or text me. Because he actually did. In an alternate reality. His own choice isn’t important, because at that precise moment when he could have called or texted me, the world has already split in two.

And then there’s this Niels Bohr guy who says that “particles” exist in all states at once and that it is only forced to assume a definite state when we try to observe it. Which is another way of saying the proverbial tree in the forest has fallen only when we try to find out if it did.

This means that as long as I do not try to find out why he has not called or texted me, there would be equal probabilities to all reasons why he has not called or texted me yet. As long as I wait patiently, all of these reasons would coexist truthfully and I would not have to confront the real reason just yet.

So: he has not called or texted me in two days. No big deal. It’s nothing. Really. Now I will go publish this bullshit and be perfectly pleased with myself. Thank you, Hugh. Thank you, Niels.

* first published as “Bien Venido” at “Chairport

the great migrations of the earth

The great migrations of the earthtell me that I have nothing to fear. It is not destiny that guides birds in their first journey and return across the skies. They are swept by a wind stronger than their hollow bones, their young hearts.

Which is to say memory is not only the things we have done, the places we have seen, the people we have become. I think of you andI remember a bedroom you will paint white and green, the breakfasts we will skip, the leaky faucet we will have to fix. I remember the weight of your arm at night, the warmth of your breath in the morning, the streaks of gray in your hair.

I do not know the future, its roads of cloud and mist. I remember it.

on the reproductive health bill

Several weeks ago, I was talking with Marat Safran Foer when the conversation somehow managed to snare us into a trap. You know that sort which involves God and a socially relevant topic? Yes, that sort of trap. The RH Bill trap, specifically.

I know I could never have won that row because I have not read the full text of the bill and Marat knew that I was merely parroting “party-line” arguments the whole time. It embarrasses me now the way poor Krip Yuson must have felt when he admitted to petty plagiarism.

Luckily, I am not Krip Yuson and I can make up for my sheer lack of originality. I read the full text of the final consolidated House Bill 4244. Then I gave myself time to think about it and realized that the bill is truly more than just contraceptives and the word of… God.

If ever I find myself again in the middle of a blood-boiling debate about why I support the passing of the RH Bill, I think I would be ready to do better. Here’s why:

The RH Bill addresses the lack of adequate public reproductive health services. According to a 2008 survey, less than half of births in the Philippines occur in health facilities. The same survey also reveals that 36 percent of births are assisted by a traditional attendant or ‘hilot.’ (I am not terribly good at Math, but I do know 36 percent means around “1 out of 3.”)

Under the RH bill, the Department of Health will assist local government units (LGUs) in employing an adequate number of midwives to achieve a minimum ratio of at least one skilled attendant for every 150 deliveries per year (Section 5). Also, LGUs shall establish or upgrade hospitals with adequate and skilled personnel, equipment, and supplies for emergency obstetric care (Section 6).

Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that complications occur in 15 percent of pregnancies, while 11 women die of childbirth every day. The availability of more skilled medical professionals and wider public access to medical facilities and services will surely be a step toward addressing this reality.

The RH Bill upholds the sanctity of life. Pardon the religious cliché, but according to the 2008 National Demographic and Health (NDH) Survey, those who do not use contraceptives make up 68 percent of unintended pregnancies. By providing access to family planning methods, the RH Bill hopes to ultimately curb the number of abortions.

Also, family planning methods will help parents to decide the right time for them to have another child. According to the WHO, at least two years should pass between births to reduce the risk of infant deaths.

The RH Bill will educate and prepare the youth. Section 16 of the bill requires that appropriate reproductive health and sex education be integrated in all relevant subjects from Grade Five to Fourth Year High School.

I remember that when I was in Grade Five my science teacher did a little lesson on teenage pregnancies. I am sure now that it was not in the prescribed lesson plan, but she must have done the right thing, because none of my classmates then got knocked up before college. I might be grossly mistaken but an incident like that would not have escaped Facebook. You know what I mean.

The RH Bill promotes gender and social equity. According to the 2006 Family Planning Survey, 2.6 million Filipino women would like to plan their families but they lack in information and access to do so. The same survey also shows that 44 percent of births among the poor are unwanted.

In the 2006 Family Income and Expenditure Survey, the poorest families spend only 1.7 percent of the household income on medical care, while the richest families spend 4.0 percent.

Under the RH Bill, poorer couples will have a better opportunity and means to decide how many children they want and can raise. Women would also have more opportunities to advance their education and more time for productive work, since they would be able to plan when they will have children.

Finally, the RH Bill reinforces the right to know and the right to choose. Given adequate and accurate information, we can make sensible decisions that are best for us. By providing access to information and a set of viable options, the RH Bill would let us freely exercise this capacity to know the alternatives and choose wisely and—for devout Catholics—with a clear conscience.

That seems fair enough. And that definitely does not sound bad at all either, does it?

ten-second bytes

1. I am not safe in your beauty; in the arms of your words, laughs, sighs, dreams; in the comfort of the corners in your mind. I am not safe, but I have no desire to be somewhere else.

2. What can I tell you about you? That you have undone my poetry and my fiction. And I must write now these truths. Here. And also, here, beneath my hand, where the walls are not made of paper.

3. Time forks, unceasing, into endless futures. In one of them, I am your lover. In another, I am someone you barely remember.

the doors of durin

dt’s stupdo, tcn wmy tcn lnhhpckjn omjbhns ey tcn lcmrbnr lkro arki tcn pkwnr kuthnt up kj tcn wmhh ka tcn mpmrtinjt. ms da dt’s ckhodjb kjtk dts hmst ernmtc, rnmoy tk en erkubct tk hdan mt tcn ahmp ka m iktc’s wdjb. d wkjonr da, matnr mhh, tcn pckjn wmjts tk en arnno hkksn, da dt jnnos tk en ormdjno ka mhh njnrby.

d cmtn tcn wmy ckw dt lmsts fust m inrn ehur ka m scmokw mbmdjst tcn pmhn wmhhs, ckw dt’s jkt nmsy akr dt tk hnmvn m imrg ka dts prnsnjln enlmusn tcn hdbct ds tkk erdbct.

d cmtn tcn wmy tcn mpmrtinjt rnsniehns m lnhh dj m smjmtkrdui. tcn spmrtmj eno. iy lhdjdlmh ehmlg mjo wcdtn lhktcns lhdjbdjb donjtdlmhhy kjtk phmstdl cmjbnrs.

tcn sdjbuhmr sinhh ka iy kwj sgdj, ujdakri mlrkss tcn rkki, trmppno ey lurtmdjs. d cmtn tcn ikvdn phmydjb kj tcn hmptkp. ckw nvnry armin djsdsts tk nvkgn dimbns ka ykur amln, ykur mris, ykur sckuhonrs. jnvnr tcn tnxturn ka ykur ykur cmdr, jnvnr tcn sikktc sgdj mrkujo ykur nyns, jnvnr tcn idjutn rdobns ka ykur pmhi mbmdjst iy lcnng, jnvnr tcn erusc ka ykur ckt ernmtc.

d cmtn tcn wmy d jnnono tk wrdtn mekut yku. ckw d wmjt tk tnhh yku tcmt d mhrnmoy hkvn yku. onspdtn nvnrytcdjb. onspdtn jktcdjb.

Celebrimbor drew these signs here.

to ‘incieve’

I remember few of my dreams. I wake up with only flashes of colours, like swift water slipping through my fingers, only to find my fists clenched, my own breath strange.

In dreams that I do remember, I recall lucidly the moment a bullet lodges itself in my head, or the second that an arrow pierces my arm, or the muted instant a mine explodes somewhere around me. Then I suddenly realise that I am dreaming and I cannot be destroyed. I pick the bullet from my brain. I pluck the arrow from my flesh. I reconstruct my bones.

Once I remember we held a naked blade together and I could feel blood warm and thick. But I woke up, only to find my hands empty, and my eyes blind in the dark, the wounds real and open to the night air.