Each of Wong Kar Wai’s films require multiple viewings to appreciate deeply. I didn’t even enjoy In the Mood for Love (2000) completely the first time around. However, I convinced myself to try it again, and now it’s one of my favorite films, each successive viewing yielding new insights or new favorite shots. One stylistic feature of WKW’s films is his mastery of pacing; WKW’s films are long, but deliberately so. With each successive viewing, the impression that everything seems completely necessary becomes stronger, and attention is focused especially on slow shots that indicate not only an emphasis, but a lingering upon the subject, which wonderfully tie in with WKW’s thematic obsessions, including the transience of time and the subsequent persistence of memory.

vlcsnap-2014-11-02-08h52m40s160

The Grandmaster (2013) would be your standard WKW package if it didn’t heavily rely on its historical background to enhance its effect and set it apart from his earlier films. While history often makes its presence felt in WKW’s other films (the mise-en-scene and even the quality of the image contribute to the impression that In the Mood for Love is much older than it really is), the history of Ip Man serves as the overarching frame of WKW’s latest foray, beginning with Ip Man’s rise to power over the martial arts schools of China to his final years as a teacher in Hong Kong. At the same time, the film avoids the trope of most bio-films by zeroing in on Ip Man’s passion for kung fu and how that passion is affected both by the tides of change and Ip Man’s personal ambitions, an approach similar to that of David Fincher’s The Social Network (2010) which I favor.

The film attempts to color the telling of Ip Man’s (Tony Leung) journey through contrast the other characters’ stories, most notably achieved through Gong-Er (Zhang Ziyi).1 I was surprised to discover that Gong-Er was WKW’s own invention, considering that Gong-Er’s story dominates the film. Her quest for revenge against Ma San (Zhang Jin) and the reclamation of her family’s honor is set against Ip Man’s relatively quiet life. While Gong sets out to overcome her personal challenges, falling to decline and eventual death in the process, Ip is unable to overcome being separated from his family despite his survival of the wars and revolutions. Setting these contexts up against their meeting and conversation in the latter part of the film renders the dialogue rich and full of tension and double-meaning, for which WKW is stylistically famous. Gong and Ip’s respective foils, Ma San and The Razor (Chang Chen), figure into the film by presenting how the two characters might have turned out had they continued through their lives without certain key qualities. Ma San is Gong Er with too great an ambition and too little the discipline and integrity to achieve it. The Razor is simply Ip Man in different circumstances; he is just as skilled as Ip and heralds his ultimate fate except that he has been exiled to Hong Kong much earlier, before he can expend his potential. The dynamics between these characters draw out themes of possibility and yet the inevitability of fate to overtake the desires inspired by the realm of possibility. At the beginning of his challenge to Ip Man, Gong Yutian (Wang Qingxiang) suggests the role of fate in their meeting. This is echoed in Gong-Er’s final meeting with Ip, where he suggests after Gong reveals her regret over her unrequited feelings for Ip that her regret cannot be a result of choice but their diverging fates.

The contrast between the concepts of fate and possibility are consistent with many other contrasts thrown out into the film. The very start of the film features Ip Man describing the phrase ‘kung fu’ as the combination of two contrasting characters: horizontal and vertical, the former referring to the fatal mistake and the latter referring to the victor. What arises is the utilization of kung fu as an extended metaphor for life itself with victory and defeat being echoed the fates of the characters presented. Gong Er’s many personal victories culminate into regret and the deterioration of both her person and her skill, and she ends the film ultimately accepting her defeat. Ip’s foresight is careful and allows him to survive, but at a great cost. He too realizes the sacrifices that Old China will have to make in order for kung fu to survive, but he is the only one who actually carries it through to Hong Kong. Ip lives out the principles of kung fu even in a mundane aspect. Many descriptions of kung fu and turns-of-phrase are applied to Ip’s gestures and minimal interactions. One particular allusion sticks to mind, beginning with the description of kung fu as being “all about precision”. Later Ip Man is offered a cigarette, and extreme close-ups are made on the hands of each man before presenting a fantastically precise tableau of two men lighting a cigarette.

vlcsnap-2014-11-02-08h50m44s46

Of course, while the film contains loads upon loads of thematic clashes, the other great contrast presented in the film also serves as its commentary on the culture of kung fu: the struggle between the regret of the older generations against the promise of the newer ones. While the film begins with the hope that Ip and his contemporaries will take kung fu beyond the Chinese borders (as Ip expresses in his reply to Gong Yutian), it ends with that same sense of hope that the new generation will be responsible for taking kung fu far, realizing that despite all their skill and power, Ip’s contemporaries have not done much to achieve the goals they set out to do to expand kung fu’s influence. Many images throughout the film suggest that this is a matter of reflecting upon what the older generations have done to contribute and what the new generations ought to do, given their passage. The characters reflect upon the ruins of their cities and even the links that their traditions create to the past. It should come as no surprise that the greatest link to the past suggested by the film is kung fu itself. At the end of the film, Ip recalls Gong telling him: “… all encounters in the world are a kind of reunion.” A montage follows of Ip’s later life, teaching new students in Hong Kong. As he watches them practice, he pensively recalls the life that has passed him by and the China that no longer is. The final shots mirror Gong Er’s memorial of her father, and the shadows of statues on the wall form the literal spectre of the past that looms over Ip as he passes on the tradition to a new generation.

vlcsnap-2014-11-02-08h55m50s42


1. I must admit here that while I was able to appreciate the film more on this viewing, I still found myself relying on this extra-textual source, which collates interview answers by WKW, to inform my reading.

Advertisements

The word-of-the-day is ‘catharsis.’ I’ve always had a fascination with the hills of Cebu. They’re very removed from the city, which in itself is a far cry from the hustle and bustle of even bigger cities like Metro Manila. You encounter nothing but nature and scenes of rural life for miles and miles. The drive to our impromptu destination for today even took us a good thirty minutes from our Lola’s house at the start of the hill.

I’ve hiked up the hills of Busay twice before in my life, and both those hikes did well to purge feelings of loneliness, idleness, and general dreariness to boot. The more recent of these hikes I did all on my own, and it was one of the occasions when I learned firsthand the joys of being by yourself — I walked perhaps the longest distance I’ve ever walked in my life (and it took me an entire afternoon to make the round trip), and when I reached the cemetery at Tops, I felt like I had conquered a giant. Of course, I imagine that this is nothing compared to actual giants. I hear Osmeña Peak is its own experience, and I have yet to go up Sagada and Mt. Pulag in Luzon. But I think hiking up to Tops is something that you can be proud of already: it’s not as taxing as real mountain hiking and when you reach the top, you are rewarded with the panorama of Cebu City, which is beautiful in itself, especially if you are lucky enough to catch fireworks from one part of the city or another.

Today, I didn’t find myself going to Tops however. Some of my cousins from Manila are in town, and I decided that now was a better time than any to go up the hills again, as I promised myself I would over this sembreak. But seeing as we had a car now, I figured that it was worth it to be a little adventurous this time, and I got what I bargained for. We drove as far as we could reach, escaping any sense of urbanity and reaching the threshold of the sky. Our only limit was daylight, and we hoped to catch the sunset on our way back, as if to say goodnight to the good day that we were literally leaving behind.

We made our stop at a familiar site (though I personally wished we went a little further), which was the Adventure Cafe in Balamban, just along the side of the Transcentral Highway. This is super easy to find if you’re driving up the road that goes past Marco Polo Hotel. You literally just go straight for miles and look to your right after you pass the Balamban entry marker. If you happen to be in town and are looking for something that isn’t along the line of clubbing or foodtripping or shopping, you should probably check this place out as they offer alternative activities that you and your friends can easily enjoy. By alternative activities, I mean that you can do rock-climbing, zip-lining over the hills, and what turned out to be my favorite today, plate-tossing. Being a cafe, they serve food and drinks too, which you can munch on in between activities. My sister and I had some baconsilog and coffee, which is good for balancing out the cold weather of the heights. While we ate, some of my cousins went up to the roofdeck, where they have the ziplines set up and they arranged with the management to use it. From where my sister and I sat, this is what it looked like:

10744811_10152319442361793_788976367_n

As you may or may not see, you sign up for two ziplines, one going to the shed where the Adventure Cafe signage can be seen and another going back to the cafe proper. I myself don’t think I’ll ever hit up the zip-line because somehow only the power of Kryptonian flight has the capacity to shake my fear of heights and high speeds, somehow a lot more than a harness and attendants will ever do. Instead, I took part in the plate-throwing, an activity that encouraged further by the target wall, which has been designed to provoke your anger into Akhillean levels. Allow me to present it:

10743321_10152319442471793_1902501997_n

See what I mean? Thankfully, I had no real demons to exorcise when I threw my plate. Much to the confusion of my cousins, I yelled the words, “This is catharsis!” as I lobbed the thing, and much to my own surprise, I actually hit the center target without intending to do so. Such accuracy, much hit. The plates go for P25 a pop, and it’s okay to not feel bad about breaking those bad boys cause most of them are already chipped or still bearing the remnants of some last meal that deemed it worthy for obliteration. I do maintain however that there are other (better) ways to exercise your demons – reading literature being one of my favorites, duh – but this one does me a good change of pace and scene. Maybe some other time I’ll actually aim for something.

The ride back down at sunset is equally breathtaking. More than an achievement, you will earn a landscape shot worthy of all the likes it will get on Instagram:

10751734_10152319439756793_1731139831_n

In these parts, the clouds caress the curves of the hills, passing over each one before floating into its own reformation after the last hill is done. The wind here is just right against the default heat of the city. Not too cold, but not too bad either. If you happen to find yourself passing a vegetable market stall, treat yourself to some sweet corn, which they sell either cooked or uncooked, depending on where you want to eat it I guess. We were able to get seven ears at three kilos/P40 (someone tell me if this pricing was okay or if we were robbed), but whether we were robbed or not, the corn made up for it. The corn and the company, I guess.

Sometimes, you need days out of the house, out of the city, and generally out of your world. It’s like they say, “Adventure is out there!” Yes, it is, friends. Yes it is.

15811545

This is a book meant for people who have intimately known the joys of reading fiction. Somewhere in the start — and I can’t seem to find it now; perhaps the book is changing when I’m not looking or perhaps it came to me when I was dreaming about the book — Naoko seems to ponder the many possibilities of her diary actually being read by somebody and you know that she is already being read, not necessarily by you, but by Ruth, who stands for the author herself and at the same time for you as a reader. That’s what I mean about it being for a particular audience.

To some of my friends I described this novel as the thematic lovechild of Nicole Krauss’s The History of Love and Muriel Barbery’s The Elegance of the Hedgehog. Its tackling of the theme of suicide and especially its popularity among the younger generations of Japan is tackled in a manner similar to Barbery’s presentation via Paloma, who (likewise influenced by Japanese culture) understands suicide as something noble in itself and plans to commit it by the end of the novel. However, whereas Barbery’s novel attempts to counter it by emphasizing the beauty of life, Ozeki tackles it by first presenting seppuku in the context of fighting for a greater cause as in the final acts of kamikazee pilots in World War II and then turning it on its head by contrasting it against 9/11. Ultimately, her characters, influenced by both Eastern and Western philosophical thought, come to consider the lives that are at stake in acts like these and they transcend the traditional notions of honor and victory in death. The novel also considers the importance of the present time, intersecting once again with Barbery’s novel, albeit from the perspective of the principles of Buddhism.

On the other hand, the novel also presents what I can only describe now as nature’s capacity to connect human beings over great distances in space and time, as Krauss’s novel did. It is only fateful that Naoko’s diary washes up on the shore of Ruth’s neighborhood, and that she of all people is the one who finds it, just as it is fateful that Alma is setting out to find Leo Gursky. My impression of this theme so far is that it seems to suggest to the reader both the greatness of life and at the same time its smallness, and from a Catholic perspective, the mystery of other people in time and space. A year from now, where shall I be? Who will influence my life most strongly? Are they the same as the people who influence it now? We believe that God has a habit of timing things according to necessity and that part of the joy of life is trying to make sense of that mystery, of why certain things happen at certain times. Coming from my previous post on the blog, how was I to ever know that Lola would pass away on my birthday? I never could know until it happened, and now that it has, I have to make sense of what that means to me in the context of celebrating life. More succinctly, it’s what I might call the enigmatic sequence. In Ozeki’s novel, Naoko’s diary seems to come at exactly the right time for Ruth. It comes after a great number of things have happened: her mother’s death, the completion of her first novel, her marriage to Oliver… It is hard to imagine Naoko’s story striking all the right notes in Ruth had Ruth not experienced these things first. Then again, the novel continually returns to that theme of possibility, that anything can happen and that there is a possibility that somewhere out there, it is happening. The possibility of Naoko’s story reaching Ruth could have happened at any of these times or could have not happened at all. Ozeki suggests that while there is endless possibility, this is only in the context of anticipating the future. She suggests that with possibility there is also objective certainty because things that happen are observed and remembered. And when something has happened, it is precisely that already, for us, and can’t be anything else.

As I was reaching the end of the novel, I felt a bit depressed that I would be leaving the world of the book in just a few pages. What captures you in this book is not just a series of profound and intense reflections on certain historical and contemporary instances of Japanese culture, but also a sense of intimacy that the novel attempts to establish between the reader and the the novel’s primary narrators. Naoko introduces herself formally, and even tries to imagine the possibilities of her reader (both you and Ruth) from page one (possibility also being a dominant theme of the novel). Ruth meanwhile is struck by the accuracy of Naoko’s predictions, and for a while we almost feel that Naoko’s narrative is truly directed at Ruth instead of ourselves. But Ruth’s story paces Naoko’s at a proper speed and we digest Naoko’s perception of the world in relation to how Ruth’s reaction to it. Thus, it starts to feel as if we are reading Naoko’s story at the exact same time as Ruth and together we take breaks to look at each other and say, “How do you feel about that?” More often that not, how we feel is how Ruth feels, which is the way that every reader feels when they start to connect with the text.

10743404_10152313833326793_1743272869_n

We visited Lola Emi for the first time at the cemetery today. It felt like the end of a very long winding-up, like the last episode of a television series when they finally reveal what they were teasing all along at the very start: the end will come, but again and again. It’s worth noting that Lola passed away on my last year of college, the year that symbolically stands for passage into adulthood and responsibility, but also for the passage of time and things that must go.

I’ve known for a long time that I would be affected by Lola’s passing simply because I realized that among the people I have seen come and go, she was the only one so far with whom I formed a deep and intimate attachment, and grew a fondness for because she was so affectionate whenever my sister and I came around to visit. At first, when I figured out that it happened – a less effective but more apt term than ‘figure out’ would be cognize – I experienced a lot of the things that people say you will experience when you find out that someone passes away, albeit unconsciously. I was in denial, I was trying to process what was the most appropriate way to react, I realized that I was incapable of reacting appropriately, and then I came to realize that it had happened. She passed away the midnight of my birthday, was cremated later that same day, and was taken back home where she was buried the next day in the family plot where Lolo’s remains were buried too. It was all very fast.

In between that weekend and this one, I went through a number of things that mostly distracted me from trying to make sense of it all, trying to learn from it. The one thing I was sure of was that my life was now imbibed with a certain brand of maturity, and I had to come to accept the responsibility of being able to live knowing that Lola wasn’t going to be around on the weekends to play Rachmaninoff on the piano or speak Spanish to my dad and my tita or tell everyone that she was thankful and happy and in love with everyone, even if she wasn’t feeling her strongest. This is the responsibility of having to be less dependent on things that you’ve gotten used to, things that you expect to be there. I still think that I am in denial somewhat, that if I visit where Lola used to live in her last years, I’ll think that she isn’t around maybe because she’s out of town, visiting our relatives in the States perhaps. But perhaps that’s the wrong way to look at it. The whole moving on thing is a matter of detachment rather than denial, and my maturity will arise from becoming less dependent on the things that come and go. I will instead become a greater, braver soul when I realize that it is better to be dependent on that which never does go, and that’s the Catholic way of looking at it.

It’s also incidental that as I write this I am reaching the last quarter of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being, which largely deals with the acceptance of death and more importantly the awareness of now’s importance. I should emphasize that I’m still reading through it so that if you’ve read it, you won’t criticize me for misreading the thing. This is what I understand of it so far, and it will have its own review and discussion post when the time comes. In the novel, a writer also named Ruth discovers an old diary, some letters, and a watch, all washed up on the beaches of her reclusive, small-town home in Canada. In the diary, a young girl named Naoko attempts to explain her reasons for committing suicide (although at this point I stress again that I don’t know yet if she carries through with it) by relating her experience of meeting and getting close with her great-grandmother, Jiko, who is also a nun. I don’t know yet if Jiko dies too at the end of the novel or why Ruth connects so deeply with Naoko’s text, but even if Jiko were dead as soon as the novel begins, you don’t feel that way at all. You feel that she is alive, present, actively being in the events of the story. Perhaps I was deceived or misled into thinking that she was alive, but that escapes the point of her being alive when I read through her story. It’s very much like Schrödinger’s cat, now that I think of it, and I’m not sure, but I think the cat may have been mentioned earlier in the novel. Perhaps stories constitute one such way of detachment. You detach yourself from the dependency of making new memories by relying constantly on the newness of old stories when they are told over and over again after long intervals that make what is already familiar fresh. In the opening of Part III, Dogen Zenji is quoted: “Do not think that time simply flies away… If time simply flew away, a separation would exist between you and time… To grasp this truly, every being that exists in the entire world is linked together as moments in time, and at the same time they exist as individual moments of time. Because all moments are the time being, they are your time being.”

And that sounds just right to me. Now I like to think that aside from my divine connection with Lola, all that remains are the stories of her. These are stories where she remains alive, remains affectionate, loving, and happy to see everybody. Three moments come to my mind now, each special and intimate without being explicitly so in their own way, and I think as a way of creating a new story for Lola and me, I’ll mash those moments together now.

I enter Lola’s hospital room. It is 8:47, a little after dinner, which I haven’t taken yet. Lola is wide awake and the sound of the television is the first thing that answers the sound of the door opening. Next is the sound of Lola laughing. It’s chuckling really, but I know that Lola is really laughing. I can’t remember the last time I saw Lola watching a movie, and I’m not even sure if I’ve ever seen a movie with Lola, but if I haven’t, this is the first movie I will watch with her and the last. It feels right, or as we say much better in Tagalog, sakto na yan… tama na yan… tugma na yan, and perhaps it is because I am enjoying with Lola what I enjoy all the time. She is explaining to me what I have missed so far: the particulars of the characters, the plot that arises from the interactions, and the comedy that ensues from their errors. I am waiting also for Dad or Mom to call on FaceTime, so that they can see Lola, just as Dad and I planned while I was on my way to the hospital. Lola was alone that night; no one would be watching her, so it would be best if I went. Exactly when the movie is over, my phone rings. Mom and Dad and Sasa say hi to Lola and tell her that they miss her and love her, and she tells them the same, but she says it especially to Dad in Spanish, just like when they were no younger than I was before I visited her and no older than I was after I did. They have to go now for dinner, and tell me to keep Lola company for the night, which I have already decided to do. They hang up and I proceed to show Lola pictures from our recent trip to the Holy Land. I show her the churches, the statues, and sites of devotion, and she looks very happy to see them in the way she will look happy when she sees for real. Or perhaps she sees it with the wonder of a young child in a foreign country for the first time, which means that I understood exactly what she was feeling when she saw those pictures. I don’t ask her if she has ever been to the Holy Land. Despite the bombs of World War II, the fear and brutality of the Marcos regime, and the dissatisfaction of all that came after it, I think she has in her own little way. She has become happy and holy. She has survived, and, much more than that, she has lived. I sit on the couch and fall asleep. Lola says good night and I love you and she falls asleep.

Good night, Lola. I love you too.

 1012414_10152284219341793_5285568452009551699_n

10728563_10152310531836793_361593207_n

One of the things I love best about going home is that I get lots of time to work on my writing, and I’ve spent the last two days doing exactly that.

Yesterday, I decided to watch Revolutionary Road (I can’t seem to find a copy of the novel here but I expect to receive a copy of Yates’ collected stories when I get back to Manila next month) and read through some stories in the Raymond Carver collection I bought over the past semester because Dr. Dumol1 suggested that my style could very much turn out like theirs if I keep churning out stories like the one I recently published on this blog, “The Asshole.” I’m actually partial to that because I find myself enjoying especially Carver’s stories very much. Carver’s writing is largely minimalist; more things can be gleamed from the unsaid than the said, but at the same time you get the impression that Carver is very sensitive and economic with his words.

So far, my favorite story from the collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is still the first story “Why Don’t You Dance?”, which blew me away on the first reading. It’s about a young couple who stumble upon what appears to them a yard sale, and they become interested in purchasing the bedroom furniture for their new house. When they come across the owner of the furniture and the house, he invites them to stay around with him as he drinks and listens to records on his front lawn. It’s suggested that the man wants them to stay because their youth allures him and seems to remind him of something which he might have lost and is now yearning for again. Well, that’s my interpretation of his motives; his intentions are never explicitly stated, and by the end of the story, you have the woman from the young couple struggling to figure out what was going on, but ultimately putting the whole thing out of her mind. The story is rich with implication. Certain nuances and changes in decisions reveal deep details about each character, and you can’t help but feel like the young wife once you’re at the end. It becomes too obvious why this story opens the book once you finish it: because it gives you the idea that Carver is all about trying to second-guess what people are really up to and what they want to get out of things. He seems to admit that people are incapable of totally communicating their deepest selves, but he also demonstrates that the deepest self isn’t entirely obscure either. Rather, he stands by the adage that actions speak louder than words, and in the case of the reader, we are granted the privilege of looking directly into the minds and lives of others to observe their real choices, but without having to spoil the surprise essential to the experience of literature.

One of the two stories I am currently working on will be an exercise in this. I haven’t actually started it yet, but what it is about and how I want to do it is clear in my mind. It’s about a boy who time and time again runs away from his dormitory to try to catch a plane going home. I want it to be somewhat in the order of Nabokov’s “Signs and Symbols”, where you don’t actually see the boy and it ends with the parents being confronted with what could be the boy’s ultimate fate, but I also want to contrast the environment of the boy’s point A with that of his B. The other story, which is so far the most postmodern story I’ve written, is my own prosaic tribute to my favorite works on unrequited love, Paz Marquez Benitez’s “Dead Stars” and Wong Kar-Wai’s In the Mood for Love. This story takes place on the night of a young man’s bachelor party, where he bumps into his crush from long ago. The two spend the night together and that’s generally it, but it’s up to you to decide which of it is past, present, real, or fiction.

I’m so excited to share these stories with you guys. If you’ve read Carver or Yates before, let me know what you guys think and which stories to look out for in particular!


1. Dr. Dumol has a prominent presence on my blog, it seems.

She had called him, for no apparent reason, an asshole. The sound of that word crashed against his ears, cracked, boomed, what have you. Every time he replayed the moment in his mind’s eye, he would hear her voice a hundred times louder, the words rolling up: “… yooooooouuuuuuu aaaaSSSSSSHOOOOOOOOOOOLLLLEEEEEEE!”

Of course, shame was the cause of all this exaggeration. She had never actually shouted at Gab. Jane’s intention was to say it quietly enough so that he was the only person who could hear her in the whole airport, and she was more or less successful in this regard. It was the reality of that incident – the instant of his reduction into a source spewing nothing but excrement and his awareness of that moment’s reality – that made him feel as if the whole world had risen up against him in chorus.

What was it that he had said? What had he done? He admitted to himself that he merited at the very least a reprimand, explaining that she did not like that he tried to hold her hand. Perhaps a slap would have even been better. He could have at least survived that. But then again, she had already made her feelings clear when she jerked her away as soon as she felt his fingers make contact. Yes, she had called him an asshole later than that, once they were arguing, once he had already apologized for that misjudgment. So what was it then? What was so wrong in trying to strike up a conversation?

When he had first seen her there, she was standing with her back against the wall by the bathroom door he had been watching, not that he needed to go or anything. She had been standing there for quite some time, and it reminded him of the first time he ever saw her, all those years ago at the—

No, wait a minute… that was the first time he had ever seen her. When he saw her at the airport, it was raining and the habitual bursts of light and sound shook Gab out of his daydreaming and turned his gaze away from the windows that soaked and blurred the white shapes fading in and out of the evening. It was during one of these bursts that he turned his head to the gate of the terminal and saw her passing through the security checkpoint. He had left his bags behind without saying anything to the freshman who shared the cab with him from the dormitory, assuming that the boy would watch over his things anyway. He was an especially round, awkward boy who constantly looked at Gab as if he were a saint, not that Gab thought that this was true. Gab was neither handsome, nor rich, nor skillful. He had the inkling that the boy must have known him back in high school and admired him from a respectful distance. Forgetting him now, Gab left to pursue the girl.

It was the memory of their first and only real encounter that drew him to follow her now. They had met in their first year of college at the house party of a mutual friend, where he was convinced that out of all the people he knew from home, she was the one who struck that perfect balance between excitement and dryness. At most parties and especially at the airport, Gab usually bumped into his co-provincials, but they were typically people he couldn’t imagine himself enjoying the company of. If he ever found himself among them, he feigned small talk and quietly regretted being with them. How little they knew of his inner workings. When he recognized them, he registered their names as the names of strangers, no longer as friends, though in truth he would have been more welcome to real strangers than to them. The idea that strangers had never disappointed him was preferable to the history of upset that he had gone through in college.

Gab had formed flimsy alliances with his friends from home. Of course, at the time, they were friends by default, brought together by the uncertainty of new experiences. They practically clung together as they walked through the university gates, which towered over them like the entrance to a new world. A nearby sculpture of a friar on a horse, its distinct human features obscured into jagged angles by a now-famous Cubist, its hand raising what was probably a codex where a saber should have been, was their Lady Liberty. Gab in particular was more surprised by the sudden flood of attention he got from girls whose names were previously the only thing he kept of them. Seeing each other in one of the labyrinth hallways of their ages-old college, they called out to each other as if their special bond had placed them into a special sort of clique, which was something recognized by their peers from the big city. Gab was almost popular in that brief period. Or at least, he felt popular for once.

He found himself making promises with these new old friends that they would look out for each other (what were friends for after all?), and in all of two weeks these promises were completely forgotten. They were all sorted out into their respective blocks and getting to know people whose company seemed more inviting than Gab’s. Before long Gab would spot his comrades and ladies having lunches with Ben Sherman and Florsheim, kids whose cliques they had weaseled their way into with their stories of going to this party where they did this. Or going to Bora that one summer to do that. Or going abroad where they got so-and-so… Gab himself remained uninvited, having made of B.S. and Co. passive-aggressive acquaintances. He tried very much to integrate himself as well, wanting to impress them with his own stories, but of the affluence and carefree life that they had lived and continued to live, Gab found no share. The rest of what old friends he thought he had left simply forgot there was an alliance at all and remained at home, a safe distance from whatever dangers were awaiting them since the first day of college. Gab saw them as he walked around the dormitory, and he noticed that they looked miserable behind the iron grating of their dormitory windows. He wanted nothing of their present misery, and ran off in any direction as long as it didn’t lead him back to the others from home.

The weight of his isolation permeated into the moments when Gab had managed to forget them. Whenever Gab glossed over a photo of these schoolmates enjoying the white beaches of his hometown (and its neighboring islands) he knew very well that the best thing was to put it out of his mind. And whenever he was home, Gab found himself constantly seeking something more than what he had there, and was always having. While home did not share the dour quality of the dorm, it was also quiet… dull. Nothing ever happened back home, a space whose designated epicenter was his bedroom, whose limits were marked at the airport. The evening gatherings and parties lacked the appeal that they had when Gab was growing up in them. The friends who stayed behind had suddenly become mediocre. The feeling of watching home unfold in front of him was like the feeling of scrolling through old forgotten photos on Facebook and realizing the urgent need to get rid of them. Home, the city he grew up in, had been trapped in perpetual tastelessness. Whenever he went home, he longed once more for the freedom and promise of dorm life. But once he returned to the metro, rejection would keep him company all the while through. His mind would be stuck, imagining after all what they would be like if he did get along with the other kids.

It was at that party where he met her that he was beginning to develop the notion that a party was an awful place to spend a lifetime in. It had a quality of deception, often convincing people that it was temporally lax. At that party he was watching the doorway for faces that he knew. With the constant flow of comers and goers it was unlikely – the procession of people leaving with their sullen hopes, the parade of people entering with their bags of chips (or more likely, two bottles of whiskey) – unlikely that of the hundreds of kids that went out to parties every day in that city, Gab recognized none. But this time he was unlucky, and in the hope of some new experience, he attached himself to his friend Mike, who was a local. From afar, Gab spied her against the wall and they exchanged inviting glances before Mike brought them together.

She was never coy, and never sounded stupid. After exchanging names and handshakes with Gab, she launched right into conversation. She seemed to speak without need for breath, responding immediately to everything he said and laughing or vocalizing her immediate thoughts whenever he spoke. Most importantly, he never thought she was annoying. Though she talked and talked, she talked about things that allured him, particularly her knowledge of secret places around town that sounded like places worth visiting in the sprawling metropolis. Here was someone who enjoyed going to bars instead of clubs, who enjoyed actually listening to bands instead of dancing mindlessly to the deafening dullness of house music. Eventually, he found out that they were from the same hometown, and she shared his contempt for its continually wilting monotony. He enjoyed talking to her, and somehow, strangely to him, she seemed to enjoy talking to him too. She found him interesting.

From time to time they moved around the room, gradually shifting their positions until they found themselves on the couch and then they were by the drinks table and then by the window and then back to the drinks table and finally to one of the vacant rooms. Clutching their beers as they dangled their legs from the edge of the bed, Gab felt that they both had kissing on their minds despite the stories she suddenly unloaded on him, which he considered to be nothing more than the perfunctory details of her history. Her parents who had split the year before. Her relative freedom as an adolescent, able to go wherever she pleased without having to argue with her mother. Phases that she had experienced. Going through the motions in one of the bigger, older Catholic schools in the city. (“It’s weird that we’ve never met before,” Gab remarked, upon learning the name of the high school she went to, which was a casual haunt for him and his friends.) Though she told him that she wanted him to know her, she sped through her life’s details, going so quickly that he thought they couldn’t have possibly been the point. She ended with the story of her first kiss, which she shared with a much older boy at a party not unlike this one. They were alone together in one of the rooms. They were lying down together. And then it happened.

This last detail, Gab felt, was an indication. Whatever was going to happen, whatever it was, was definitely coming.

But the possibility had been shattered by the sudden appearance of the same friends that had brought them together. The party’s snack supply had somehow fully depleted, and a food run was being arranged. The two of them were volunteered by their friends. They sat next to each other in his friend’s car, heading to a burger joint on the corner of the street where he was living.  She reached out and put her hand over his as the car sped off into the night. He looked at her. She smiled. They said nothing. He looked away and from the direction of where she sat, he felt cold plastic lodge itself into his ear. He looked at her. The plastic twin was in her ear. It was a band he hadn’t heard of before, something like The Americans or The Nationals or something. Because the singer’s voice was so deep, Gab could barely make out a single word of the song. She leaned close to him at some point, and began to whisper along.

“Jean!” he called out.

She turned to look up at Gab. Her expression hardly marked surprise or recognition. She answered: “… It’s Jane.”

He tried to save face, an all too transparent effort: “Hindi ah! You’re lying… Just kidding!” Damn.

Since the last time he had seen her, she had put on a few pounds. She wore a navy blue tank top under a beige sweater, but the tank top seemed to have been worn in an attempt to make her look thin again, an effort that was clearly failing, though she was still attractive. The fact that she was wearing a large, almost-masculine pair of pants reminded him that she was in shorts when they met; he recalled the devilish pleasure of watching her legs find their way through the room when the crowd obscured his view. To the drinks table and back. To the bathroom and back. She brought along with her a roller bag and an oversized shoulder bag. She probably had a third, bigger bag checked-in on the plane. When Gab found her, her roller bag was open and she was hastily trying to stuff her clothes in between a pair of books and a big black rectangle that looked like a home appliance. It was as if she had packed everything she ever owned into that bag. Instead of laughing with him at his mistaking her name, she zipped up the bag and crossed her arms over her stomach, stretching her arms to her back so that it looked like she was hiding her belly, a gesture that Gab found so familiar that he almost laughed a little longer at it. For Gab, it was a subtle gesture of motherhood. Or rather, it reminded him of his mother, who used to cross her arms over her belly when she was pregnant.

“It’s okay,” she said, frowning. The area around her eyes was puffy and pinkish. “I get that a lot.” She then forced a smile at him, and then asked, “Going home?”

“Yup. You?”

“Where else would I go?”

“Yeah, you’re right. Stupid question… Can I sit with you?” he gestured to the vacant seat to her right. They were standing in front of an empty bench, which was remarkable given the crowd in the airport that night.

“… Okay.”

“Flying by yourself?” he asked as he took the seat. She said that she was, another stupid question, and they exchanged seat numbers, only to find that they were on different airlines. He should have figured that out by himself, considering that she had only just arrived. Gab in the meantime had arrived at the airport at 5. It was 8. If everything had gone as scheduled, he should have been home just an hour ago.

She sank into her seat, feigning exhaustion, her arms still crossed over her belly. Gab watched as she pulled her head back up, straightened herself, and looked back at him with sudden contempt, as if he were a stranger once again. She had changed either very much or not at all, and Gab was trying to decide which it was as all the things he could have said when he got her name wrong came to mind. “Mali ka jean!

“It’s been like four whole years, hasn’t it?” Gab asked to break the silence that now hung over them.

“Since when?”

“Since we last saw each other.”

“No, we saw each other last year.”

“Really?”

“What are you talking about? Of course we saw each other! Well, at least, I saw you. We were in Greenbelt and you passed me without looking at me.”

“I—” he couldn’t come up with a passable excuse in time. He had recognized her then.

“I followed you afterwards and you met up with your girlfriend or something. She was very skinny looking and had this really bored look in her eyes.”

“… She’s… not my girlfriend. Well, she used to be.”

“What happened?”

“She said she felt it was too one-sided.” Whether or not this was true, Gab could not tell. Whenever she complained, he did his best to make up. In time she would complain again and this went on until she decided it was enough. Their last fight ended after she told him she felt that he was trying to make her feel like she owed him. It’s not that he thought that this was true. Rather, he was disturbed by some misplaced courage she had summoned up to say something like that to him. “I was always trying to make her happy and she somehow felt it was all wrong.” He eventually realized that he was saying this to himself. She stopped paying attention as she pulled out a wrapped sandwich from one of her bags.

“Big whoop,” she said as she tore the sandwich free from its paper trappings. Gab took a sip from his Coke. “Point is, you passed by me without saying hi.”

“You didn’t say hi yourself.”

“I did! I waved at you.”

“Oh.”

“Yeah, I would have appreciated something like that. You walked right past me.”

“I’m sorry,” he finally said, and without her realizing it, Gab knew deep down that he was apologizing for much more. He had been apologizing for all the opportunities he had to say hi, but didn’t. Though she had eventually vanished into thin air the night of the party (Gab could not recall what happened to her; he only remembered that he never said good-bye or good night or told her that he had a good time with her), the truth was that Gab had made a secretive effort to see her more often. Just as at the airport, he had gotten her name wrong while looking her up on Facebook the day after they met. He kept typing Jean although he knew that there was something wrong about typing that name. He looked at name after name, profile pic after profile pic, and knew no one. It was only while seeking her out through his friend’s network that Gab managed to find her again. At first he checked her profile religiously, stopping by almost every day after class to see what she was up to. He never sent a request for them to be friends. He didn’t want to scare her off, which he thought would have been quickly accomplished by doing just that. If she wanted to be friends with him, she would have made the request herself. So he continued to check. He did not think he was stalking her as much as he thought he was trying to satisfy her lingering presence over him with something sensual. Every picture on her Facebook had been captured terribly, showing her as a blur in mid-action. His interest in her would waver, and he would check her out with diminishing frequency. Whenever he checked, it managed to confirm to him one thing: that he remembered her. But encountering her now at the airport, he realized he hadn’t seen a single picture of her in a long time. Maybe it had been months, sure. But it couldn’t have been more than a year.

“It’s okay,” she said, instantly absolving him. She seemed to hesitate for a moment, like she had been disappointed by his apology. How could that be? It was exactly what she wanted. She finally spoke up again. “At least you weren’t struck by lightning.”

“Why would I be struck by lightning?” Gab asked.

“It’s just an expression.”

“I’m not familiar with it.”

“Well, okay, it’s an expression I made up,” she stopped to gulp down her drink, “When I was a kid, I remember that one of our teachers, and she was a nun, she told us that if you said bad words, you’d get struck by lightning. She told us this story about how her brother used to shout a bad word, a really rotten one, all the time – probably the f-word or something – whenever he was outside the house. And then one day it happened. He was riding his bike in the rain and he got struck. I remember being really scared about that because I believed her. I was so little.”

“That’s cute.” From where he sat, Gab spotted a group of girls from school. They had just found another bench a few rows ahead of them. They were accompanied by an athlete whom he also recognized, but couldn’t place the name of. He wasn’t from the province.

“And then one day I heard one of my classmates say ‘damn’, and I was so surprised she never got hit or anything. And it was in my head all the time. Like I used to be mad and stuff, and it was weird just saying like a safety bad word like ‘gosh’ or ‘shish.’ We weren’t so little anymore, you know? So one day, I just went to like this really quiet corner of a hallway in school while nobody was around. I even told God I was sorry I was about to do it. And then I just whispered it. I whispered the four words I thought were really bad when I was a kid. I never got struck and I just found it so strange that I believed my teacher after all.”

“How about that.” The girls started throwing quick glances at Gab, talking quickly.

“But then…” she hesitated again. “I realized that in the nun’s story he didn’t get struck because he said the word once. He kept saying it, you know? So… so, he got struck.”

“Well it’s not like you did it again, did you?”

“I was such a big pottymouth in high school. When we met, I was throwing f-bombs all around the room.”

“No you weren’t!”

“Yes I was! I was so bad back then. Not just bad words, but, you know…”

He laughed. “Yeah…” he said without really thinking.

“I guess what I’m trying to say is,” she said, “I used to think that lightning would strike me, right? But now I think it doesn’t strike from outside. I don’t know how to really say it. It’s like… I’ve been saying bad words all my life, and for the first time I feel like I don’t have to say something bad anymore. It’s like… you strike yourself with lightning, but you don’t have to.”

He was thinking of a feeling he had once in class when they were asked to read ‘Spring in Fialta’, whose title had slipped his mind at this point. All he ever remembered were the feelings. He remembered his classmates hating the story because they could never get past the first few sentences. Because of this he was not much of a public reader and he was very quiet about his secret fondness for well-written romances. A moment of silence passed between them before he asked her: “Hey, have you ever read J.D. Salinger?”

“Yeah, why?”

“Right now, I feel the way I did when I first read that guy.”

She laughed. “What, you feel like a catcher in the rye?”

“Catcher in the—? No, wasn’t he the guy who wrote… the…” Embarrassment loomed over him. He stopped trying to think of the story and went back to the feeling. “Anyways, I got a good feeling after reading it. Like there was something that made me wanna read the story again. Like I knew that I missed something and so… I need to go back.”

“Okay.”

“Do you smell that?”

“What?”

“Nothing. Nevermind. It’s gone.”

“What was it?”

“I don’t know. It just smelled like somebody’s dog was passing by.”

“They only allow dogs until the check-in, and in their cages.”

“Okay. I was just saying that it smelled kinda gross.”

“Okay. I didn’t smell anything.”

“Okay.”

“Did I ever seem like a good person to you?” she asked, slouched. She kept moving her hands back and forth over her stomach, a gesture that Gab took to be something she was doing out of boredom. She then pulled out another sandwich and munched on it quickly, as if the sandwich from earlier had never happened.

“Of course,” Gab answered.

“But… but was I someone you would have wanted to be friends with?”

“Yeah.”

“So why didn’t you ever talk to me after?”

Gab remembered how everything had been ruined. At the burger joint, he realized he was short on cash and had to go home just to get a little extra change. When he returned, he found that she had gone home. He had just missed her.

“I really wanted to.”

By now she had thrown the last bite of the sandwich in her mouth. She reached for a napkin in a paper bag and wiped her mouth as she chewed. “You know… that’s the problem with you guys. You keep saying that you want to, but you really don’t, do you? If you really wanted to, you would have gone ahead and talked to me. You would have added me on Facebook at the very least.” She put her hands down on the bench, looking away.

Gab thought about saying sorry, but realized that it wasn’t something he could just say sorry to. An alternate universe unspooled in his mind, conjured memories of an unfulfilled relationship where they would have turned out differently. He noticed her hand on the bench, planted so close to him that it seemed to Gab that she was reaching out. It was an inch away from his thigh. He hesitated, and she was looking away so he couldn’t tell if it was the right thing to do. He gently hovered his palm over her hand and lowered it. The slightest contact made her jolt. “What the hell are you doing!” She pulled her hand away and faced the opposite direction. She clutched her hand and looked at Gab very sourly as if her hand were some idol that she thought Gab was trying to steal away. Gab had turned into a little cherry. She looked as if she was about to explode, to publically reproach him for something grave, like rape. Her eyebrows leaned in toward her nose. Her frown was fixed, speaking feelings of betrayal.

He pulled himself farther away from her on the bench. No one was looking at them, but Gab felt the need to run away now.

She tried very hard to control her voice and speak to him so that it wouldn’t be a spectacle for strangers. “Well,” she said. “I don’t blame you. I knew you were like the rest of them when you didn’t want to say hi to me. When you conveniently took out your phone and…” Her shoulders fell after another deep breath. Her face relaxed. “It sucks. I was counting on you, Gab. But I’m going to say no.”

“We can be friends now. Let’s hang out over the summer. Let me have your number.”

“You don’t understand. I can’t do that. I can’t do that anymore.”

“Why not?”

“Because of the way I am. I need to go home and I need to stay home and that’s it. I want to change, Gab. I am changing. That’s it. I’m going and I don’t want you to follow. I can’t let you follow.”

“But Jean—”

“My name isn’t Jean, damn it!”

“Sorry! I… You can talk to me. I’ll listen. What’s going on?”

She started to pick her bags up. “I have to go now. My plane’s boarding in a bit, and you’re making…” she said, her voice shaking as she trailed off. There hadn’t been any announcement over the PA in the past five minutes.

“Please, wait. You can trust me,” Gab reassured her as he took hold of her wrist, but this gesture provoked some other unexpected response. She retched all over the floor, the chunks of sandwich matter splattering a little over Gab’s feet. He jumped. She stood there, pale, looking at the scene she had just made. People turned their heads around and looked at them with displeasure. Nobody was standing up to help. They seemed to assume that Gab was in control of the situation. He was going to help her himself. Gab looked at her, ready to say something again, but she clearly didn’t want to have any of it anymore. So she said it. Picking up the last of her bags, she hurriedly walked away from him and disappeared when his eyes darted over the faces from one part of the pre-departure area and back to her. She had been heading in the direction of the bathrooms rather than any of the gates.

Instead of going after her, he let her go. He looked up at the monitor. No change. He let out a sigh, trying to get away from himself. He could not stand there much longer. Passersby continued to look at him, and he started to feel like he was standing over a body. Flushed, he averted his gaze, turning to a trash can or some other object. He didn’t want to look at the girls from the other bench and he prayed that they hadn’t seen his face earlier and recognized it. Someone sneezed and then the lights went out for a few seconds. Children either gasped or screamed, and the chatter became louder in that time, as if it would somehow bring back the lights.

When the power came back, he made the long walk across the hall back to where his things were. The freshman had disappeared. An elderly man seated across Gab’s things looked up and told him that the freshman had gone to the bathroom or somewhere, but he had taken his bags with him. Gab thanked him and sat down. He tried hard to put what had happened out of his mind. There was something in what she had said to him. She told him that she was changing, but as far as he could tell, she had already changed. She behaved strangely, and she was no better than a stranger whose name registered as that of a long lost friend.

When he felt like he had restored himself to his natural color, he turned his head to the bathroom door, as if looking for someone else.

How open are you allowed to be on a blog (or on the Internet in general)?

I’ll tell you right away that I’m leaning towards the position of ‘not very.’ I grant that there are some things you aren’t supposed to put out there. In my opinion, family secrets are under this category. As much as you want to be heard and read and known by your audience, you have to be prepared for the possibility that your parents, your siblings, whatever impressive/embarrassing relatives you might have, or even, in some infrequent cases, your grandparents might be sitting front row to the you show. (To test if this is true: Hi Mom!) A cousin of mine who has spent a considerable amount of time and effort into building a respectable online presence once told me about a site where contributors are allowed to submit material as long as they follow the basic set criteria, which includes: “Can your mom read it?”

The polar opposite position will hold that a blog is a highly personal space, and you shouldn’t be afraid of what costs there are to telling your story. One might even argue that this can extend to other media, generally any medium that can be used for communication. In the pre-blog days, Robert Lowell and the confessional poets made the poem a vehicle for their personal issues. It wasn’t so much trashing their parents and uncles and aunts, and pointing to them as the sources of their psychological problems as it was them getting their demons out there as a form of therapy – proving that you could fight your demons by getting past the first step which is to name them. And in fact, I grant that this is the reason that most people are unusually frank and candid on most social networks. More often than not, our experience is that when we get things off our chest, we are rewarded with the affirmation of our peers. And this is usually what we seek in each of our own personal communities, which don’t usually go beyond the friends or followers we have at the time. Our personal community is nowadays linked, if not identified, to our social network.

I would like to suggest that this is something we ought to remedy. Deciding an audience implies that you perceive an intimate relationship with that audience. By relating private details to someone close to you, you suggest to that person that he or she is close enough to you for you to reveal yourself. Conversely, by rendering private details public, one implies an intimacy that extends between oneself and the public, which doesn’t make very much sense. Which is more intimate: to shout a secret to a room full of people or to go to each person in the room and tell them the secret one by one? The former suggests that you are an exhibitionist of your inner world. Therefore you are unable to be authentically intimate with another person, therefore you will mistake strangers for your real friends, therefore so on and so on…

Should all personal details be a matter of intimacy then? The answer to this is a common-sense one. I raise once again the criterion of the site I mentioned earlier: “Can your mom read it?” There are stories that you can tell and ought to for a variety reasons. You could be telling a funny story or an unfortunate circumstance or putting out a notice meant for all. But you should never ever mistake matters of intimacy for laughing matters or matters of notice. There is a difference between your mom being able to read it and your mom being who ought to read it.

(I somehow meant this post to be an introduction to telling you guys about how this morning I texted Dr. Dumol to consult him about a long-overdue paper, which I have literally put off doing for an entire semester, only to be answered that he was boarding a plane to go abroad and I would be able to consult him once we both get back to school in November. Unfortunate, laughable circumstance indeed.)