Difficulties with Self, and Calvino’s Adam

My body, along with my mind, hasn’t gotten used to my new schedule.

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. I am thankful for the mornings-off, which is the immediate advantage to having a part-time job, even if the financial side isn’t as bright as it used to be. It’s still decent, however, so I know where my gratitude lies. The real problem for me is that I can’t quite shape my productivity curve around coming home a little past dinner time and waking up two hours before noon.

The struggle is really in being a creature of habit. These days I wrestle with my body: late nights and late mornings, work in the afternoon till evening, productivity down to so little I have to convince myself I actually accomplished anything.

But I’m working my way around it. Through it. I think that might be important.

Speaking of which:

Pursuing new endeavors has led me, curiously, back to old habits. These days when I have to take more rides from public transportation, a stored value card for the MRT isn’t enough. I must have coins with me, as plenty as possible, and to count them out quickly over the counter, lest the person in line behind me pushes me out of the way. Rush hour does that to people, turns them rabid.

Coin purse as necessity.

Coin purse as necessity.

In any case, this is an interesting time for me. I’m sorry in a not-sorry kind of way to have to say that, I truly am. But I haven’t taken such important steps in a long time, and while I’m also reading new kinds of books and trying to look at things a new way, I’m also learning that the best object of study (slathered in subjectivity, of course), is myself.

*

Which brings me to the second installment of my musings on Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves.

“Adam, One Afternoon” is the first story in my Harvest Book copy of this short story collection. I was enthusiastic about my first Calvino story, so even if the first few sentences failed to reel me in, I kept going.

The new gardener’s boy had long hair kept in place by a piece of cloth tied around his head with a little bow. He was walking along the path with his watering can filled to the brim and his other arm stretched out to balance the load. Slowly, carefully, he watered the nasturtiums as if pouring out coffee and milk, until the earth at the foot of each plant dissolved into a soft black patch; when it was large and moist enough he lifted the watering can and passed on to the next plant.

To be honest, it’s probably my aversion to long descriptions of natural life that quickly turned me off. Sea creatures, I can stand much better, although I’m quickly bored by that, too. This story was just that much more difficult because it’s about the young gardener, Libreso, showing Maria-nunziata, the kitchen girl, around. He keeps telling her that he has something for her and, though she always hesitates at first, her curiosity always gets the best of her.

But when the surprise is over, again and again she shrieks at the gifts that are gold to a gardener’s son: a toad, a lizard, a snail, a snake, a lonely goldfish, a colony of ants.

All of Libreso’s gifts are, on the surface, difficult to love.

Then again, not everything in the world was created to be easily appreciated. Not even those that are written down.

I get bored by long descriptions of rivers and lakes and how the valley stretches over the horizon, can’t even tell a creek from a stream at gunpoint, but I long for time away from the city. Anywhere green, or blue, away from all the concrete. Anywhere pretty.

But can anything deeper than the visual be loved?

The answer, of course, is yes. But it takes a gardener’s boy, on paper, to tell me that. If the story cannot interest me in his gifts, it can at least remind me of simpler days when, like Maria-nunziata, I would have followed anyone anywhere, to escape dimness, dullness, the utter null of younger days when nothing seems to happen you.

And really, what is more difficult to come to terms with but which you long most to return to, if not your childhood?

Especially when, these days, you are uncertain about where you’re going.

 

 

The First of Many Difficult Loves

It’s been a tough two weeks. No, months. Two months. Fun, full of learning, happiness, and self. But still tough.

One down.

One down.

I wanted to begin my series of reflections on Italo Calvino with a story I like, but I realized that it doesn’t suit my current  mindset. Maybe it’s just because I believe that there are some things that should never be easy, even though I can’t name them yet.

But that’s another essay for another time.

Of course, it’s not that no one has ever heard the name Italo Calvino before. I’d read about him, in passing, or heard people mention his literature. I’m certain that I have nothing original that I have to say about his writing style, or whatever truths he might offer in his works.

Like I said before, I’m never a steady reader of short story collections. I find it tedious to leave one short adventure for another. At every tale’s end I feel as though the rug’s being pulled out from under my feet. But (or so) this time, for Italo Calvino’s Difficult Loves, I find that perhaps it’s best to decompartmentalize.

It’s quite vain, isn’t it? I’m just recording my thoughts on every story (or every couple of stories), for some future recollection. God knows if there’s even any use to this. But I don’t deem things worthy of being done simply for their ease or usefulness, apparently.

*

“Big Fish, Little Fish” is like the first disappointment of the school year. Do you remember coming in for school, everything shiny and new, all your materials ready, thinking it’s going to be a great day? Then the teacher gives you homework and it’s not the kind of thing you can sink your teeth into at all: it’s dry and boring; or it seems interesting. Off the top of your head you can easily name five people who’ll take an interest in it, but none of them’s you.

But you know what, I like this story. What a plot twist, huh? Ah, but like a good, long story, this one is natural. It’s the kind of writing I long for: the fiction laid out, complete but slow in its undertaking, language precise yet so novel I can hardly imagine daring to use the same vocabulary for things I want to say.

The premise of the story? Simple, and the title enough to put me off. The elements, nothing special. A boy loves to fish, has talent with a spear gun. There’s a bigger fish in the story, but she’s a woman: large in flesh and emotion. And I think she is the story. Probably. Actually, I don’t know. The reason–the exact reason, the specific man, the actual heartbreak–behind this woman’s tears are never revealed. But there’s a nice contrast there, I think. Once I got past the rigorous reading, just pushing myself one word after another, the story’s not really difficult to like. It’s just difficult to get used to.

A sea bed seems beautiful the first time, when you discover it; but, as with all things, the really beautiful part comes later, when you learn everything, stroke by stroke. You feel as if you were drinking them in, the aquatic trails: you go on and on and never want to stop (Calvino 38).

(Whether or not that’s because I’m a city girl who hasn’t quite loved the sea as much as I want to, is something I’m not really sure of. Frankly, start describing sea creatures and instantly, you lose me.)

Then, the unexpected. Yes, I had thought that the character of Signora De Magistris had been added in for some color (though her introduction is so seamless I can hardly point out the knots), but what surprises is her embarrassment, and how, though near-death by octopus sounds funny enough outside a book, on paper, by Calvino, it seems as natural as a comma on a page. Or a boy out for fishing.

Today, a coincidence: I watched a security guard shining his shoes with the palm of his hand: otherwise perfectly shiny shoes, but I suppose that’s exactly why the merest dust or scratch or dirt can be so conspicuous. It was ridiculous but significant: most of us will think that security guards in our buildings are more formality than for safety; they hardly do more than stand around or open doors or ask for IDs. But when this man in uniform puts his foot up, one after the other, on a plant box to shine clean, stubbornly, whatever stain he sees on his shoes (and you wonder too, how many pairs he’s got, with what meticulous attention he must care for such shiny shoes, if day in day out he has to wear them to the same monotonous job), you begin to see what really matters, and for whom. It’s a little happy, but also a lot sad.

But last:

Funny, too, how these days when I think of conflict (brought about, no doubt, by endless fantasy novels and addictive television shows), I think of secret plots, undercover things, strange names. And here’s a story, plain as day, and it’s all the little anxieties I can’t explain, because they are as significant as they are minute.

Zeffirino  didn’t know quite what to think. Seeing a lady cry was a thing that made your heart ache. But how could anyone be sad in this enclosure of sea crammed with every variety of fish to fill the heart with desire and joy? And how could you dive into that greenness and pursue fish when there was a grown-up person nearby dissolved in tears? At the same moment, in the same place, two yearnings existed, opposed and unreconcilable, but Zeffirino could neither conceive of them together, nor surrender to the one or to the other (Calvino 41).

Eat, Drink, Trust

Yesterday I had a conversation with a good friend, one from childhood.

Many things have been hinging on trust lately.

It’s not that I don’t trust you, I’d said–

And then I proceeded to tell her things, as best as I could, which nearly is always a second-best version of myself sounding off. The moment the words came out of my mouth and hit my own ears, I heard them from the perspective of the person I’m speaking to, and I knew I sounded illogical. Unpersuasive.

But my friend understood me. Gradually, we arrived at the kink in the conversation and worked it out.

(Before that, I should probably mention, I met a new friend, someone my friend had known in college, and we sat down for milk tea with her and a third friend, one we had all known from before. Now this is important: normally, I would classify conversations as either accidental or necessary, and this one, stressed as I am lately, I had thought, would probably be the former. But as it is when you realize that encouragement comes in many forms, I ended up looking at the current conundrum, the one I had been stressing over in my mind, as an adventure. The milk tea nearly finished and our two companions off to do their own things,  and myself left with my childhood friend, I was pleased with the afterglow. None other than that discovery of how wonderful it is for someone to ease your own fears without difficulty on their part; how much of a sweet respite that is).

Trust is apparently not completely an outward matter after all; to trust someone, after all, is also to trust yourself to keep at that trust, until the other person gets there to either reinforce your trust in them, or break it.

*

That I could have talked of the value of conversations and storytelling, straight out, I have no doubt. But so vital was the conversation I had with my friend that I think it must have brought about the conversation(s) that followed at home.

After meeting my friend and catching up, I had a simple dinner with my parents at home. Nilagang upo, dilis at kamatis, kanin.

We talked of studies; of study habits; of my father walking to school; jeepney rides that cost a few centavos; walking home to save fare; difficulties in high school. My father as a man reminiscing being a student, without the sadness I had once associated with the past. All three of us eating with our hands

It was a delicious meal.

It may seem ridiculous to take a picture; but more ridiculous not to remember.

It may seem ridiculous to take a picture; but more ridiculous not to remember.

How to Begin

Having been at a loss for beginning things, I begin as is.

Flowers from home. Where we all begin.

Flowers from home. Where we all begin.

Most of the time, when I put pen to paper, or really, fingertips to keyboard, I run over the lines in my head again and again. I often reject expressing my feelings verbatim out of fear of sounding trite. But sometimes there is no escape. I think we’re raised in a culture that rejects cliches because cliches are automatically equated with mental laziness. But if you think about it, the relative ease with which cliches come to mind is not about lack of intellect, but instinct. Cliches are dismissed as crude because they are basic. That’s really what they are: basic human reactions to (in)human situations.

Sometimes, when words fail us, the best way to go is back to basics. If you can build from this foundation, go for it. It takes time to find words, it takes even longer to find the right silences. But cliches, if they are all you can manage at a particular moment in life, they’re all right.

I’ve been looking around the Internet lately, looking at different sources, different blogs, different websites, trying to see what people have been writing about themselves, what personal set of rules they have decided to follow, not merely (and this is important) for personal happiness, but for the sake of giving others a sense of peaceful sovereignty over their own lives as well: that quiet acknowledgement that we all have the desire to do and be better, but that, ultimately, it is a space which cannot be found on the Internet.

We spend our entire lives in intersections, and we learn, or hope to learn, where one line divides one side neatly from another, as well as which areas we can allow, for our happiness, to bleed into one another. Coming from 3rd world Philippines these days is a struggle. Not that it hasn’t ever been a struggle, but that it has become a struggle, vital signs all up, as a friend who is a nurse might say, in ways that are exhausting, these past months. Ideologically. Politically. Personally.

Lately, it has been a storm. I do not mean this as a clever metaphor or as a way to cheaply mention lives lost and on the line. I mean it to say that without awareness, with only the turmoil of the every day, our lives are directionless. Zero visibility, ground zero, let us not fool ourselves or other people. In such circumstances, there is no one clear way out. Human life is not just about survival. It is about direction. To tell someone that the worst is over because they survived is the most cruel and unjust lie of all.

But how does one come up with direction in her life? The Internet will offer you many ways. I will offer you more:

  • Self is all you have. All the time. The narrow-minded will read this and think: Being alone is not the way to live. But this is not so. You are never alone, in that you will always have that essential voice at the back of your head. If you choose scrolling down Facebook over working on your fiction, if you pointedly ignore a friend who is in distress, if you sacrifice what would have been the blessed hours of rare rest for your body in order to seem that you have the world perfectly balanced on the tip of your finger, you will know it, and it will give you no peace. Take care of this self, this essential you. Because when you take care of it, you are also better able to take care of people around you. You can take care of yourself without being selfish, because it is only in loving yourself that you can help others, period.
  • Fear works for you. It tells you, eight times out of ten, that there is something else you should be doing, and often it is outside the realm of routine, which makes it even more important. But learn to take stock. Fear is only an indicator, it is not the truth itself.
  • That tingling inside your mind when you concentrate on your passion work is important. It is also when distraction will become more tempting. Think of it as learning to breathe as you swim the strokes. A beginner will find it difficult not to panic: she must breathe in air only when she raises an arm up for a new stroke, and then breathe out bubbles as she plunges her head underwater. She must not lift her head too high when she breathes in, for that would throw off her position as she swims. She must not be too eager for breath but must instead get used to this new breathing pattern. So must you not only “Keep swimming”, but also get lost in doing, get lost in love.
  • People will be there for you (also: People will surprise you). In unexpected moments, you will find equally unexpected kindnesses, which will burn your retinas and warm your skin from the inside, out of embarrassment that you have forgotten the basic means of contact. It happens. The boundaries are allowed to stay. Some essential parts of ourselves would be lost without certain interstices to keep them in place. Learn to say and hear just enough. There is no method to this, just the endless groping between light and dark.
  • Be aware of every minute. Undeniably, there are moments when you will–and should–let yourself get lost in the moment. But being aware of this headiness is also a gift. Yes, today you really did have a good day. Yes, today you really did catch up with a friend, and discovered that the two of you have been running the same wavelengths for as much as distance has stretched between you physically. Yes, you really did laugh your heart out. And yes, your life is more than any social media post can make it out to be.
  • Conflict is inevitable. Resentment is not. Your ideas, what you believe in, for yourself and for this country, are important, and you need to get them out there in any medium that you can. The challenge is not in trying to sound intellectual. The challenge is in narrowing down. You have an opinion? Good. Be proud of it. Then ask yourself, but why is this my opinion? Do what you have to do to make it clear to yourself. Try to make it clear to others. If they agree with you, that’s nice. If they agree with you and teach you something else, even better. If they disagree with you, listen to them. If they stoop to childish antics to get their point across, you know where the exit is. You also know the meaning of the word finesse.
  • Love and kindness are important. The boundaries, you will have to set yourself.

“I’ve put up too much, too long, and now I’m just too intelligent, too powerful, too beautiful, too sure of who I am finally to deserve anything less.” — Sandra Cisneros

  • Yes, it is apparent that you will take longer than the rest. But that is all right, because the set of things you learn, in the pace you are learning them, and the wide-eyed innocence with which you view them, are priceless. Irreplaceable. Yours forever. No unit of success–measured as it may be against the rapid-pace success of others, will feel as good. As truly and uniquely yours.

I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, not because of the tendency to fail, but because I have found–like I’m sure others have–that change comes only when you truly want it; the possibility that this may happen at the beginning of another year, does not have to be of the same significance, but it can be a powerful symbolism. True change, however? It’s an alignment of your mental, physical, and spiritual wanting, combined with the reality of your goals.

Often, I don’t know where to start. Or even: where I am. I am not certain if anything which faintly resembles what I have in mind exists. But in that case, that only means I will have to carve it out myself.

I am running out of words now, and I think that’s important, too.

Quote from Jack Kerouac; art from Elena Georgiou at http://imanopenbookinstead.tumblr.com

Quote from Jack Kerouac; art from Elena Georgiou at http://imanopenbookinstead.tumblr.com

I Can Tell You Why (on Privilege and Rage)

A note about rage, because it is important not merely to be a critic, but also to be able to argue why.

We are not enraged with our leaders because they could not stop a typhoon. We are not enraged by their inability to bring back the dead. We are, however, enraged at their blunt denial of the truth.

At their contemptuous choice (because they are agents, we like to believe, and therefore are responsible for their own actions) to erase the line the personal from the political from the personal and then draw it again when it is convenient for them.

At their graceless, complacent, and rude attitude in the face of human loss (the most harrowing kind, and the guilt of surviving that can eat a person up from the inside).

At their indiscretions, choosing which losses to cater to the fastest.

This is not to say that a modus operandi at the local mall should not be any concern of the government.

This is, however, to point out that when the government prioritizes such incidents, but fails to even visit the site of a bus that fell from the Skyway, and when it is the same government that failed to act in the immediate aftermath of Yolanda:

We are enraged because this government has failed to use its resources (read: privilege) to help, resources which, in truth, so many of us clamor for but, in the face of daily duties as members of our class, we cannot use in order to help on the scale that only a national government can.

Take note, for instance, that a round trip flight to Tacloban would take just under P10,000.00 (the cheapest I could find online falls to P6,000.00). That is an amount which, especially in these difficult times, the average citizen would have to sacrifice a substantial amount from his/her salary in order to afford. There is also the matter of items that careful volunteers may want to spend on, or vaccines they  themselves might need.

What I mean to say is this: when we demand that only people who have been to ground zero be given the right to criticize this government, what we are actually doing is limiting freedom of speech (and responsibility for this freedom) to the privileged few, in the context of a country that has 25 million people living in poverty.

Even worse, when we defend our government for its failure to respond accordingly and immediately, we deny this truth:

Since we cannot insist that every Filipino citizen visit and give substantial relief to ground zero, then we should at least expect it immediately from those who have precisely the resources to do so.

By which we mean the national government.

Raging After the Storm

First, the admission that tragedy is difficult to discuss—more so when we are removed from the tragedy. As mere spectators, it is understandable why on some level our empathy seems suspect. Which is why, before I write anything else, we must acknowledge the limitations of language. We must admit that even our native tongue cannot plumb the depths of loss and trauma that the victims of super typhoon Yolanda (internationally named Haiyan) feel.

There is a limit to how much we can communicate using words, when the incomprehensible happens to the poorest of the poor, the weakest of the weak. There is a darkness that words cannot help or hope to communicate, and if we cannot speak it, then we must at least acknowledge it, full stop.

On Urgency

That being said, tragedy also calls us to action. Silence is sometimes a sign of respect and the acknowledgement of the powerlessness of speech, but it is not an endorsement of fence-sitting. I have held much in the last couple of days, but that in itself is nothing special. I do not need to recount here the outpouring of emotion that have been flooding the Internet and the news, the streets and countless office cubicles.

But I have waited long enough, and as such, this is a response to many events that have taken place since November 8, 2013, as well as to the many words that were thrown from one end of the world to the other, on social media and off.

My friends: there is no reason to believe that there is no space for saying what we feel about the government. An excellent argument has already been made about criticism, and for that reason I will no longer re-state it. But what I rage against is the belief that concrete action and critical thought are mutually exclusive of one another. Must I keep silent about the blatant lies that I see, while I extend my help? Is it physically impossible to provide aid while analyzing the loopholes of this tricky situation?

Ah, but no. Easy enough to enumerate what one has done in order to defend oneself, and I will not use my writing to list what actions I have done to help the victims.

I only know that it is possible to think critically, urge others to follow suit, and do concrete action where words fail us. And where we think it is not possible there is only one imperative: we must carve out space for both critical words and actions.

But what of the question of timing?

My friends, we are fooling ourselves if we believe that there is a right time for criticism. Here’s a timeline: on November 8, super typhoon Yolanda struck the Visayas. On November 8 and 9, following the events, media reported instances of looting in Leyte. From November 11 to 12, the process of identifying the dead commenced. Also on November 11, there was an outcry for the national government to oversee matters in Tacloban. It was only then, three days after Yolanda, that President Benigno Aquino III declared a national state of calamity.

In the unfolding of the tragedy, by November 12, at least 27 countries had pledged to give aid to the Philippines. As late as November 14-15, urgent calls for help in areas such as Lipayran Island (via Aaron John Mendoyos’ Facebook account on the 14th), and Marabut, Samar (on the 15th), were being sent out. Meanwhile, the person responsible for estimating a 10,000 casualty due to Yolanda, also the man who, as some have pointed out, was responsible for helping attract the attention of both local and international networks, chief superintendent Elmer Soria, was relieved from his post. As of today, the method for disposing the dead has been debated about, the death toll has been questioned, and news about the continued delay of relief, from people close to me who have volunteered in different operations, remind us of the substance of this tragedy.

So my question is: when is the right time to be critical?

How will I know the time has come? Must I wait for Malacañang to build an LED billboard along Edsa to declare that it is now open to receive criticism? Shall I wait for the death toll to be finalized? Shall I wait, day by day, as U.S. forensics dig out body after body, speaking of the possibility of people clinging to life under the rubble, while DILG Secretary Mar Roxas tells me that searching for survivors is not a priority?

No, my friends. There is no right time to be critical. I do not have to wait for another crude shot of a dead child or a sick infant to haunt my television screen. I do not have to wait for another shout out on social media for a loved one who is still missing. I do not have to hear about how the relief operations in the Philippines is “one of Asia’s biggest humanitarian efforts”. Now is the right time to be critical, don’t let anyone fool you into thinking otherwise.

The System and Its Privilege(s)

What’s more, to the argument that the President, Vice-President, DILG secretary or whosoever, cannot be criticized because not everyone in the government is responsible for the red tape that has been delaying relief: that is pure, unadulterated foolishness, my friends, because it is not the smallest people, the most hard working, low-ranking government employee that we call shame upon when we shed light on the ineptitude of this administration.

Rather, it is the system which we condemn, that same system which point blank will argue that the bodies lying on the ground are not the same bodies day after day after day, the same one that will insist that looting for food and water is a crime, even when the looters are faced with the dilemma of stealing or letting their children, their old parents, die from starvation. It is this system which lets another country lead the operations, and the same which insists that the local government units step up—this, after blaming the death and the delay on the same local government units.

But if there is point blank denial from above, what puzzles me more is the privileged anger of individual government employees on social media. Rage against misinformation, yes. Post links which clarify contested issues officially, of course. But this rudeness, this audacity to imply that every single person who wishes for more efficient relief, who questions the actions of the government—its strategies, and the speed at which it implements its relief operations—to suggest that every single person who has done this on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and various personal blogs, is an incompetent, irresponsible citizen, whose complaints only rise out of the sheer desire to join the bandwagon, is unacceptable, ignorant, and ultimately, rude.

Let me be clear that I know they exist: those people who will not bother to learn first what they are talking about (the rumors about the volunteers from Lufthansa, the chaos about the rumored taxes on donations). But to insist that this is the rule and not the exception is to use the double edge of the sword, the same one that, from the other side, says all government employees are corrupt to the core.

The wrong goes both ways, you see.

Moreover, I am puzzled at such graceless rage because it is tells us that a small but significant amount of the educated in government will stoop down and, instead of appease the people, stoke the fires of resentment, by insisting that these people are wrong and deserve to be shamed on social media. Tell me, as a government employee, one who is privileged to express yourself and the ideologies of your superiors, through official websites and announcements and press conferences, what do you stand to gain by targeting, one by one, every Facebook and Twitter post so that you may rub it in the faces of these people that they don’t know what they’re talking about?

Granted social media is public trench warfare, but there is something distasteful in this humiliation, shrouded in the name of informing others, and I tell you, it does nothing for your cause.

I do not deny the possibility of healthy dialogue with someone who works for the government. In fact it is only in having been able to participate in such a conversation that I am able to demand this of everyone—government employee or not. The capacity for logical and humane communication should not be bound by the nature of one’s work.

The Long Shadow of Debt

But there is one other thing that bothers me about this situation. For in relying on so much foreign aid, in failing in so many ways to provide for our own people, we put ourselves in a greater debt than anything that can be counted in currency. Imperialism has long arms and an even longer memory, and I fear what, politically, our archipelago will have to support in the actions of other countries (or perhaps just the one, should you understand what I mean) in the years to come.

And still I ask myself:

“Would you risk losing the help they are offering to your fellow Filipinos, in order to avoid falling into indebtedness?”

I cannot put my answer into words, but I am certain that the answer is not yes.

And Finally, to People Who Insist that This is Not War.

 I am sorry, but it is too late.

This has been war for the longest time, my friends. Ever since the first colonizer stepped foot in the Philippines in 1521, growing in range and ideology until the purchase of our country in the Treaty of Paris, exploding in blood in the World War II, and now, at this very moment, seeping so quietly that identifying it is like catching smoke with your hands, this war has been living it out in you and me.

That you refuse to see it as such is not just flat out denial. It is a reduction of all that has been happening since this nation became a colony, and then an imperial outpost, since our revolution faded, unfinished. It is a lie on which one can continually feed, in order to convince oneself that only a limited number of people can help, and that the ultimate human capacity to love, is limited only to a small circle of people—those unwilling to participate in both critical language and action. It is akin to spitting on the face of the dead in the aftermath of the storm, for it is an unwillingness to ensure that the likes of this disaster will not happen again. It is not a desire for a simple life, but a simplistic one.

For in that line of thought, it is not a life of peace that is being sought after, but a death darker and more real than those suffered by the casualties of any natural phenomenon, and from which, if one persists, there can be no salvation.

Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

Photo by Romeo Ranoco, Reuters

Seminal Notes on Privilege

Having chosen a teaching job of sorts, one that capitalizes on language, and taking on freelance writing jobs here and there (positions which, on paper sound fantastic, but both of which I do not disdain), I know, now more than I ever did as a middle class daughter growing up, or as a college student struggling with theory, that nuance defines words with more strength, vigor, and vicissitude than any dictionary can.

My relationship with the word “privilege”, my understanding of it, the way it rolls around in my mind and my tongue everyday, encompasses anything I’d ever learned about what it means to be bound by socio-economic position. Searched anywhere on the Internet from Google to Tumblr to The New Yorker or The Huffington Post, “privilege” will bring you, I can guess, perhaps everything from social commentary to personal rants that shed light to where the deepest, and most accepted forms of racism, have become the norm–all because of “privilege”.

But it is a word that does not deserve quotation marks. Because, as with all else that I have had to digest recently, I learned that words don’t mean anything until you start to see how they apply to you, and as a twenty-something, slowly tittering-on-the-edge of middle class Filipina with five and a half days of work and not enough freelance stints, I can pretty much write, with as much confidence as I can muster, that more than the concept or reality of the word, identifying and living with certain privileges, consist of the following:

  • The realization that ambitions are not a matter of simply go-getting then putting them up on your CV as fast as you can. But, more importantly, ambition and non-negotiables are entirely different. What we strive to achieve, how these goals are inherently related to what those closest to us expect of us, are not always necessary for survival. But what I need to keep breathing, after a grueling day at work, what I keep for myself, away from people’s eyes–and yes, to a great extent, the glare of the computer–is too private, too sensitive, to even keep in the same compartment as ambition.
  • The bitter disappointment at the disparity between what you tell yourself are necessities (the once-in-a-while splurge, the occasional lipstick, that one special book), and their de facto relationship to the system of mass production, the pressure to take photos and upload them, which often we bring unto ourselves as often as we simply want to share our happiness, with no clear delineation between.
  • The all too real question and subsequent, hard-hitting [self-]criticism that the abundance of sharing news and information on social networking sites too, is marred not just with the typical dangers of accessibility or audience gullibility, but also with the fact and stink of the bandwagon, of the startling but true need to prove oneself capable, sympathetic, involved.

And the question arises: when the need to prove yourself to an online audience tips the scale, where, then, do you find your Self?

  • The confusing haze of the price of education–yours and those of others, and what it means when credentials require that very thing you cannot wash from yourself (I, having gone to particular schools, even with the struggle that most students of the same institution did or do not have to deal with–and to think! That there are those who did and do suffer much more), that privilege which paints you but which also reminds you:

These are the opportunities you have been born into, and they are windows of opportunities as well as a sealed room with no doors, shut-in windows, smooth ceilings, reminding you precisely of the privileges you are not allowed to enjoy.

  • And that communication with people, too, is powered by privilege, not merely of having the economic means, but the ability to step out from that very privilege, and reach out to those who have been silent, because they long to be treasured, cared for, and told, that they are worth the identification and consequent stepping out from one’s own privilege so that the floodgates may open and the words that are found may say:

           How are you?