Monthly Archives: November 2013
I was in Cambodia when I first joined the Photowalk. I hope to be able to join the Photowalk here in Manila next year.
About a couple of weeks ago, I reconnected with a friend after 15 years. We met for coffee and tried to condense the last 15 years in 3 hours of catching up with each others’ lives. Prior to our meeting, I learned that he was doing some spring cleaning of his library and he had books to give away. I asked for some of the books and he brought it to our coffee date.
One of these books was “Call Me By Your Name” by André Aciman. The author was unfamiliar to me. I started reading it last Monday late at night after finishing watching my TV shows. I would’ve finished reading it in one sitting but the desire to sleep caught up with me so I reluctantly put the book down. Last night, I resumed reading it and didn’t stop until I finished, at about 3AM. But before turning in, I went back to my computer and typed the passages from various parts of the book that resonated to me. I knew I had to write about it later in the day.
When I was younger, a book on young love like this would fill me some kind of dread, which was mostly centered on my own fear of finding or not finding the love of my life. Through the stories I was able to live through the experience of finding, of losing, of living through such loss, and of moving on. This vicarious living was sort of a parallel life that existed alongside with my real adventures and mishaps in love and relationships.
The story of Elio and Oliver reminded me of the previous books on young love that I have read through the years. In particular, “Dream Boy” by Jim Grimsley. Religious fervor pervaded this book but the emotional connection between the two, much younger protagonists was similar in its intensity. Another book was “Like People in History” by Felice Picano, which covered the last 60 years of American gay life through the lives of two gay cousins. One character’s recollection of their youth was as touching as the recollection of the narrator Elio.
Elio was a precocious teenager in the story, and his version of his affair with Oliver was full of awkwardly funny and painful incidents wherein every word and gesture was exhaustively analyzed, down to whether Oliver is conveying secret messages in his choice of swimming trunks. His schemes and machinations reminded me of another precocious youth’s brazen modes of seduction in “A Boy’s Own Story” by Edmund White. While the pain that came with the protracted end of an affair and the confusion on how to cope with such a loss reminded me of “Nightswimmer” by Joseph Olshan, a book that also resonated with me when I read it many many years ago.
“Call Me By Your Name” was narrated by Elio, who had to give up his bedroom every summer for visiting academics who came to his parents’ house in the Italian Riviera as his father’s guest to spend six weeks working on their manuscripts before publication. Elio soon became infatuated with Oliver, the 24 year-old Heraclitus expert from the US. Elio would spend a good part of the summer pining and fawning over the handsome academic who seemed indifferent and aloof to his thinly veiled amorous advances. However, as autumn approached and Oliver’s return to the US drew near, their relationship intensified into something that transformed everything that followed hollowed and seemingly unreal.
Summer love was never this hot, this painful, this emotional, and this profoundly affecting. The narrator might be an adolescent, but his experience was universally relatable. Probably due to my age now, instead of filling me with the aforementioned dread, I found myself identifying with the narrator as he went through every excruciating stage of his passion for this other person. Memories of my awkward years surfaced and intensified my reading experience. The book effectively explored the vagaries of infatuation, the fears within impending starts and ends of a relationship, the sorrows of lost love, and the elusive peace that memories of the past years can bring.
The prose is flawless, haunted by Marcel Proust’s style, contemplative and blunt in the right places, tender and brutal as any experience of intimacy can be. The long, seemingly meandering sentences reminded me of the way I wrote when I was in my 20s and I found them a delight to read instead of being tiresome.
Many of the lines really struck me. Like this, taken from the part where Elio’s father spoke with him after Oliver left for the States, and Elio was feigining indifference to this separation, a pretense that his father, a revered academic, saw through. He said:
“… if there is pain, nurse it, and if there is a flame, don’t snuff it out, don’t be brutal with it. Withdrawal can be a terrible thing when it keeps us awake at night, and watching others forget us sooner than we’d want to be forgotten is no better. We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt at the age of thirty and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing so as not to feel anything–what a waste!”
Imagine hearing something like this from your own father after seeing you silently suffer from heartbreak. Even Oliver commented that Elio was lucky to have a father who felt like that, adding that is his own father learned of his affair with Elio, he’d have been institutionalized in a heartbeat. After so many years, Elio and Oliver finally meet again, under quieter circumstances. And Elio comes to a realization on what he had with Oliver. To me this paragraph would have sufficed as the ending of the book but the ending didn’t happen until a few pages after this paragraph. To me this summed up everything that Elio and Oliver went through:
“…. It would finally dawn on us both that he was more than me than I had ever been myself, because when he became me and I became him in bed so many years ago, he was and would forever remain, long after very forked road in life had done its work, my brother, my friend, my father, my son, my husband, my lover, myself. In the weeks we’d been thrown together that summer, our lives had scarcely touched, but we had crossed to the other bank, where time stops and heaven reaches down to earth and gives us that ration of what is from birth divinely ours. We looked the other way. We spoke about everything but. But we’ve always known, and not saying anything now confirmed it all the more. We had found the stars, you and I. And this is given once only.”
To find the stars in each other. If that isn’t total intimacy, then I don’t know what is.
Anyone who knows me knows that I dislike going out. I generally work from home so I only go out when I really really have to. I’ve been like this since coming back from Cambodia. I think the desire to live like a hermit is one of the last vestiges of clinical depression I have yet to shed.
As my luck would have it, I managed to get not one but two appointments over the weekend. Attendance to both events was not a requirement in the strictest sense of the word but I have made a commitment to attend so I have to show up, if only to protect my integrity.
My first appointment was on Saturday. I attended the orientation for a writing workshop that I recently got accepted to. In the orientation the ground rules were set by the workshop facilitator, which were very basic and manageable. Our facilitator is a popular media person, she writes a newspaper column and makes books out of them. I have an ex who is one of her rabid fans. I like her enough to follow her blog and I like to think I’m one of her regular “commenters” but this assumption is debatable. It was held in Makati in the afternoon and my biggest worry was getting a cab home. This somewhat distracted me from soaking in the spirit of the event. The coffee went cold before I could partake of it and it dampened my spirit further.
However, the books from the book swap and from joining a translation group gave me joy. They will give me hours of reading pleasure, I’m sure. I think, among the participants, that I’m the only person from Manila. By the time I managed to say good-bye, it was past 6PM and raining lightly. It took me about 40 minutes to get a cab and the resulting traffic from the rains added about 30 minutes to my trip home.
My next appointment was on Sunday. I went to a get-together with my co-fellows from the 1996 Dumaguete workshop. We reconnected back in 2011 with dinner and coffee and last year there was another that I failed to attend so this year I made sure I did. This time we planned a long, relaxed lunch in the home of one of our co-fellows. Her home is in Pasig and fortunately, I caught a ride from another co-fellow who lived somewhat close to my own home. It was also a potluck thing and I promised to bring some pasta salad. Seven of us originally confirmed attendance but only 4 of us actually made it. The 3 had to cancel because of work-related reasons. Thanks to technology, another co-fellow managed to join the lunch virtually, through the internet.
For lunch we shared my pasta salad, some roast chicken, paella negra, and an assortment of baked goods. Over coffee and then wine, we read out loud our latest writing projects/ outputs, discussing as if we were back in the workshop–only we were much nicer than our original panelists. Hehehe. At the end of the afternoon we did the last part of the reunion–the exchange of gifts. And I got a beautiful journal and a good book!
This past weekend was particularly tiring and stressful but looking at the rewards (not just the books but the chance to make new friends and/ or catch up with old ones) for my effort, well, what can I say except for… it’s all good! 🙂
One of the earliest writing advice that I got was to “write about what you know”. Another advice, this time on work goes like, “love what you do and it won’t feel like work.” In a recently seen TV show, one successful businessman got into the coffee business because he was passionate about drinking coffee. So, it really shouldn’t come as a surprise if I got into the business of producing and selling bags because I love bags!
It’s providential that I met my business partner in a workshop for writers. For a few months he and I wrote for separate TV shows in the country’s most popular TV network, and our realization that our writing hearts lie elsewhere happened consecutively. We kept in touch after leaving the TV shows and we discovered we had the same love of bags–tote and eco bags in particular, and soon after we decided to try making some.
After months of scouting and sourcing materials and labor, “Happy Totes” was born. We used high quality materials such as the canvas and the cotton twill straps. For the design, we chose old Philippine botanical prints. We didn’t want the bags to seem mass produced so we printed only a limited number for each design.
We sold our bags for the first time at a literary fair in UP Diliman, where we sold about half of our initial stock. Orders placed at our Facebook page comprised later purchases. A friend of mine made a bulk purchase; she will use the tote bags as Christmas gifts for her husband’s patients. Because of this warm reception, we are now in the process of producing the second batch of bags.
To those who have gotten themselves some “Happy”, we hope you enjoy using them. Watch out for the next designs. To those who haven’t, maybe it’s time to get some “Happy” as well.
As we say in our Facebook page, “Buy our bags. Think Happy Totes!”