Sketches #2: Solitude

Exploration

For now, you are a satellite.

You place your hand on the white skin of the ship. You admire its rough, jagged texture, a surprisingly delightful quality, although you can only infer the surface’s character from the way the sharp sunlight casts shadows upon it. You take care not to put too much pressure against the vessel, because you don’t need your advanced grasp of physics to know that doing so will push you back more than you will push the vessel away, and you will have to spend precious micro-rocket fuel to secure your proximity to the ship.

You look above you (or should that be below?) and see what others before you have lovingly described as a blue marble. You admire the clouds, white and frayed, soft and seemingly still in a layer underneath the blue fringes of the planet’s atmosphere.

From where you are, the sun is an intimidating presence. It is a violently brilliant orb, and yet, in the emptiness of all that surrounds it, you can sense the clash between its intensity and the fragility of worlds. You look at the stars, and even them, their beautiful multitude, they cause you distress, because their lights will forever be only a dream beyond your reach.

You hear nothing but your own breathing, and the occasional beeping of the systems that keep your suit a habitable space. You listen carefully to this solitary sound. This, the voice of your body, is the only thing sparing you from the silence of space.

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Three films from Cinemalayà 2013

I started watching films from the Cinemalayà festival in earnest in 2010, catching around three films from each annual outing. I won’t deny that part of the motivation to attend the screenings is a not-so-subconscious desire to be identified as cultured—which, as a survey of blog posts and tweets and Facebook updates would indicate, is very much a desirable identity. I confess to enjoying every big-budget, mainstream production that comes out of Hollywood, so you can probably explain my Cinemalayà-watching as a simple curiosity to see a different kind of movie. But, in all honesty, there’s a part where I believe that these films are superior to most commercial movies; in that way, these so-called indie films matter.

The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013, with chandeliers and the word ‘cinemalayà’ in colored lights
The main lobby of the Cultural Center of the Philippines during Cinemalayà 2013

Instead of attempting an ambitious and amateurish essay on why the term/categorization ‘indie film’ is problematic, I would just share my opinions on the three movies I saw at Cinemalayà this year.

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Sketches

One

I want to live my life in saturated technicolor, until I die puking rainbows, broken emeralds and shards of sapphire. I want my reds to burn in anger; I want to drown in deep blue. I once grabbed a kid’s box of crayons and broke each one of the sixty-four sticks (and I was as cruel as I could be to the white crayon). I gave the child a set of metallic spray paints in psychedelic violets, telling him to never, ever put crayon on paper again. The colors are simply never happy enough.

Two

Before I post anything on Facebook, I think hard about it first. Actually, even before typing into the textbox, I would’ve mentally rehearsed and revised my paragraph about something totally interesting I saw on the streets in the day. I hear voices telling me, “That’s not worth it. You will get no Likes.” To which another voice, weaker but purer, would respond, “No, do it, trust in yourself. Dispel your social insecurities. Only few people ever get multitudes of Likes in every post they submit, and even then, they probably started out with a couple of unpopular status updates.” (This latter voice sounds like Obi-Wan with a hint of Yoda.) There is an all-powerful, ever-encompassing set of unwritten rules guiding what should and should not be posted in social media, that we all follow even if the rules differ from one person to another or between social circles. In this respect at least, there is a lot less differentiation between the real and the virtual—but this subject is worthy of a lengthy discussion on its own.

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Another look at traffic

I live in one of the northern cities of the National Capital Region. For a month last summer, I commuted every day to a commercial center in Muntinlupa right at the south corner of the capital region, and it was a 20-km or so affair, one-way. 20 kilometers is not a lot, but for Metro Manila, no distance is ever short enough to be a comfortable, predictable ride. The biggest problem was that I initially trusted EDSA to be a reliable enough route for getting to my destination. I endured the resulting three-hour ride for several days, until I was driven by exasperation to take the MRT, which I’ve always known to be a hellish place to be in during rush hour. And it was, but it is a tolerable kind of hell in the morning, as I found out. It is the evening ride home that is always torturous.

There was one part of that daily grind that I came to appreciate, however. To get from EDSA to Muntinlupa, and vice versa, I took a bus that plied the Skyway. Skyway is an interesting indicator of the state of Philippine traffic: when the highway more popularly known as South Luzon Expressway reached its capacity and traffic jams started bogging down the route, they built a second road supported directly above the old pathway. (It’s a ‘grade separated’ system, as the civil engineers call it.) But to enjoy the higher speed limit and protection from jams afforded by Skyway, you’ll have to pay more than the already steep toll fee of the lower road.

It’s not the prospect of a Speed-type scenario of buses jumping across (or falling from) raised highways that I appreciated while cruising on the expressway, however. It was the inexplicable, shallow joy of watching the city pass by at 60 kilometers per hour from a bus window. The specific vistas offered by the Skyway include an international airport’s runway, a fish cage-saturated lake with a decommissioned coal power plant on its equally-congested shores, and an endless urban sprawl featuring malls, condominiums, and townhouses, some in construction and some starting to show signs of desolation. It’s not exactly a beautiful sight, because a concrete jungle has no intrinsic aesthetic value. It was probably just the diffusion of warm and cool colors falling upon the scenery—more often than not, it was sunset when I passed the road on my way back home.

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Sail

At twilight on the day of the Offering, as Maya lifted her saltwater-soaked feet onto the boat, when it seemed like she would not turn and take another look, I repeated in my mind the words she whispered to me on the night before.

Even the constellations are not eternal.

They say she was born near midnight, at a clearing out in the woods before her mother could return to the village. When she came out she was feared dead because she was not crying, but when the mother looked at the child, she saw its eyes bright and dazed and fixed at the sky, its hand reaching out for the stars.

She would spend almost every night of her life observing the heavens. Outside of their hut, while weaving mats out of palm leaves whenever moonlight permitted it, she would just look up and gaze, allowing a meek smile every time she sees a bulalakaw. She would sometimes be seen at the fringes of village gatherings. She would not talk with anyone; as the elders recited the epics, she would watch the sky, as if she could see the old heroes’ adventures among the stars.

Two months ago, misfortune struck our community. Life left the sea, our source of living. The fishermen would set out at dawn and return at dusk without so much as a single, wriggling alumahan caught in their nets.

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