MADNESS, MIRTH: Life These Days

POLITICIANS mouth the same promises, over and over. What if instead of promising stuff, they’d say: "Like you, I was once an asshole but I think I’m cool now—that’s why you voted me. And since I’m your leader, whether you like it or not—let’s work things out. If I fail, kick me out. Deal?"

LONELINESS and isolation have become so real in this age of computer technology than years ago—when emails, cellphones, Facebooks, and Twitters were all sci-fi fodders. In here, we can gather 100 “friends” in 24 hours but how many real friendships are actually forged in a year’s time? We share so much of ourselves online thinking that we’d connect better, which is good—but how many simply want glance at humanity on a peeping hole? Scared to extend a real beating heart—fears of rejection? So we hide behind blinking computer screens…

NEW YEAR’s resolutions are cheesy but it’s one of those silly life’s rituals that most people enjoy getting into. It’s like a 5-year old kid, vowing: “This year, I’ll be good so Santa will give me more presents on Christmas…” For me, mostly—it’s like waking up at 5 on a Monday morning, and promising myself: “This week, I’ll definitely work on my week’s checklist and get things done…” That’s exactly my New Year’s resolution today: Accomplish what I listed on my week’s checklist.

THESE days, “loneliness” is defined as physical need, temporary sexual gratification—like heating on winter, cold douse on heatwave. Hence, sex is treated like a pill, a few-hours respite. We negate what really matters in human connection. Paranoia takes the place of reassurance. We anticipate relationships failing… We convince ourselves that dogs and cats could duplicate human warmth and belonging. We see many people live alone, die alone—or expire in cold isolation or self-imposed detachment.

ACTIVISM is not comfortable… We can’t be activists and stay nice all the time. Expect to get ruffled and crushed… But we must have a vantage view of a realizable purpose. We don’t protest just because we have the freedom to do so. Just because it’s cool to be “aware”? We protest with a clear view of success. We must be smarter than lawyers, more sly than politicians, more brave than soldiers—ready to sleep under battering rain, and wily enough to outsmart the bullet’s journey into flesh.

IT IS both sweet and scary how we reinvent humanity within the confines of the internet. Technology should speed up and simplify human links—but the more we “connect,” the more we “disconnect.” We are now scared of interacting beyond these e-walls, afraid of the real, breathing world out there.

HERE and then: Freedom, independence, political-correctness… Here: Kids text at dinnertime, responds to elders via one-liner quips, car drives to a CVS 50 meters away, “BJ is not sex”… at 13, I read Nin, Marx-Engels, and Toffler after church and I thought I was so bad… Tsk, times are a-changin’…

THE SHEER sight of books gives me a kind of unexplained high. The smell of books, the urgent swishing of pages as I leaf through, the printed word… I’m not a dude who values clothes or jewelries or shoes, or even house implements. Books, books must accompany me in my dying days.

I MAYBE am primitive—but it’s not bad. A book is a set of papers, not an electronic screen; music is fingers on piano keys or guitar fretboard, not programmed gizmos; painting are hands moving on canvas, not iPad scrawls; communication are minds speaking face to face, not hi-tech bleeps and blurbs.

OUR DIFFERENCES are worlds apart but cool diversity sustains the intriguing fascination that meld us together. Having fun outside the box doesn’t mean I’m an outcast. Since the day I took the road less traveled, I’ve never been lost than when I relied on Mapquest or GPS. I just keep on arriving.

CARS are claustrophobic. I love public transports: buses, subways, trains, Greyhounds. Or walking, especially when I see lots of people walking, too—like in Asia and Europe. That way, I’m attached to the world without being tied to it—a “detachment” that touches the soul of humanity.

LIFE has changed a lot… Church-attendance was reassurance of family respect not a blind allegiance to religion. These days, adults are castigated by society for allegedly “controlling” their kids’ beliefs when they require them to hear mass… Whenever my dad scolded me, all that I could mutter was a meek “I am sorry.” How life changed. These days, when parents excise discipline to kids, this is mostly viewed as “control” and “abuse.”

YEARS AGO, when my romantic recklessness figured in “mishaps”—and co-produced 4 beautiful kids—I thought, “Man, this is tough!” But I labored on to raise them, “died” and lived through a dictatorship and surgery… My kids have grown—in wisdom and brilliance. This time, my life takes the porch, as they ride the wind.

FACEBOOK is cool… Family and friends (all or most live oceans away) can now “see” me on an instant (no expensive long distance phone calls or lengthy emails): what’d I look like, food that I eat, where I live, new work, update of my life etc… I don’t need to divulge all of me, yet we know what’s going on—and that makes us at peace… Bonus is—I get to “meet” new friends from all over the planet, share my work, somehow make some people’s moments worth a smile. And we are able to track down friends and relatives that we haven’t seen in decades! Last night, I just chatted with my high school bestfriend and compadre in Manila that I haven’t talked with for 20 years.          

THINGS have changed a lot. I don’t even know if I’d debate the issue or let stuff slide… There’s so much freedom in the words “individual character,” and then community fervor is gone; cultural diversity clashes with political correctness etc. Our amazing desire to be apt and correct seems unreal.

SINCE I traveled a lot in my life, friends think that I can’t let things be in one place. Not true… I am a homebody: I love housework, gardening, cooking, tending to kids and pets, watching movies in my room, reading/writing on the porch. Social life takes a lot of time and energy.

SOMETIMES, I’d like to be a dog or a cat. As long as humans don’t poke me much or exhibit like how Paris Hilton dangles her Chihuahua like a bling bling—I’m cool. I will have simple cravings and wants: food don’t need to be organic, music doesn’t need to be Top 40 (although Schubert would be awesome on a quiet day), toys could be just a bone or Goodwill stuffed raccoon—not Apple gadgets at all, doesn’t need to flirt to have some nice friends I’d hand out with, and most of all—I don’t need to have lofty ambitions and huge expectations of the world to make sense out of my existence.

LAUGHING over “The Office,” sharing really-bad Dunkin Donuts, pushing the grocery cart as she shops for foodstuff, massaging her foot after a day’s work, placing garden flower on her work desk, preparing her packed lunch… These are the moments that make me more connected with the woman that I love—not really the heavy stuff like intellectual banter over a Klimt painting or political discussion over Washington’s foreign policy or New Age stuff and carbon footprints… Those conversations are indeed cool but mostly, they end up in insane, egocentric arguments. I am corny, really—I like to crack jokes, share dinner, and kiss… Why mess these lovely moments over an intense discussion about free-trade coffee or Barack Obama?

I DOFF my hat to those who get out of their way—squeeze quality time and effort beyond personal attachments and responsibilities—to forward or influence the world and community about what they strongly believe in. Feminism, environmental activism, same sex advocacy, animal rights, immigration issues, homelessness, world hunger. Blog, organize, write, create, produce, gather. Whether I agree with them or not, I still admire them—than those who choose to disagree and not do something about what they stand for but argue and then stay cool within their shells.

THE KIDS have grown up. Now, we look at ourselves on the mirror: What do we see beyond crooked lines on beaten flesh and those wearied eyes? We don’t really see the past… We only see NOW and TOMORROW. We can’t slip and slide anymore. The romantic adventurism and reckless bravado have all seeped through the cracks of ancient history. We realize we can’t juggle sexual delirium and emotional hooks in a pool of mirth and mystery anymore; we can’t falter on the last remaining few miles to a dream that we triumphantly but carelessly built before—before all the beautiful and tragic distractions of life and love came dancing and crashing before us… This is the last lap to redemption, reverence and rest.

WE ARE global critters that emit fancy words off our diverse mouths—and get so confused… Like, the word “love” or the phrase “I love you.” On TV, a heavyweight boxer, with tears on his eyes, hugged his manager: “I love you, you are my man!” I mean, you know… And then, I heard of a Japanese dude who lost his love, a cute blonde from Bristol TN, the moment he proposed. He swooned: “I rab yu!” (NOTE: “l” is “r” in Japan.) The flabbergasted lady was shocked: “You robbed me?!?” One time, I was asked by a lovely Korean woman in an LA bar: “Do you like lomans?” (NOTE: “r” is “l” in Korea.) I answered graciously: “Yes, I like lo mein. Wanna go out and have some lo mein?” She smiled: “Oh yes, I like lomans—let’s go have lomans in my house!”

WHEN I was young, I viewed church-attendance as reassurance of family respect, not blind allegiance to religion—although I never called myself religious. These days, adults are castigated for allegedly “controlling” their kids’ beliefs when they require them to hear mass… How life changed. These days, when parents push discipline, it is mostly viewed as “control” and “abuse.” And so, we let kids explore their independence, their individuality—from fashion sense to educational choices, from spiritual ambivalence to sexual freedom… It’s interesting that, after all these years—no matter how I rebelled and defied family and Church when I was young—I don’t regret being “controlled” at all. In fact, I am grateful that a voice once told me, “Don’t!”

WE drink oil that is spiked with corporate poison... It’s easier to erect skyscrapers and condominiums than pedestrian walks and bike lanes; spend money on new cars than backyard garden; tear down playgrounds to build parking lots; allot financial support to computerize buildings instead of upgrading public bus systems. We motivate people to recycle yet we never stop manufacturing materials as we wallow on consumerism; we tell people not to use paper because it messes up the environment as though our gluttony for more electronic products that we trash on staggering frequency isn’t adding to nature’s death… We always complain about how business murdered our souls, yet we never stopped paying allegiance to it.

AH, BEAUTIFUL world! Butterflies dancing with the breeze, specks of snow kissing the moist earth, the quiet serenity of a full moon sky… children in boisterous frolic under a fresh downpour of summer rain, dogs and cats on playful coexistence in a clearing of proud sunflowers and musing grass… the sweet sound of music, the quiet enlightenment of art, the healing feel of poetry. Appreciation of these gifts of life have no meanings at all—unless these pleasures are shared. What is the point of seeing beauty if we can’t share them? What is the sense of witnessing calm by the blue sea, and experiencing peace in meditation with ruminating trees in the woods—if we can’t or unable—or wouldn’t—share someone or humanity how beautiful life is…

EASTER, Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, St Patrick’s Day, Halloween. Holidays are about family (re)bonding, friendship reassurances, hugs among longtime friends and hellos between new acquaintances. When I was growing up, a holiday isn’t a holiday if it wasn’t spent with the entire family—parents, grandparents, children, immediate relatives, friends, pets. Food, gifts, games. It’s sad to know that some of these holidays are mostly celebrated with a flood of alcohol. When intoxications get into the joyful gathering, we lose the transcendent fervor and familial sublimity of these days…

SOME relationship rituals mystify me or totally confuse my inquisitive brain cells… The more I try my best to make sense out of these, the more I get confused. Marriages that are forged overnight, at a Las Vegas drive-through, and/or officiated by a Vietnamese Elvis; engagements that are proclaimed with a $1500 diamond ring and then broken so easily; “closure” dates to purportedly officially close relationships that are already closed—and then slides to either casual sex and/or re-stoking of wounds that are still gaping… Maybe I am the odd dude out with twisted points of view?

THE INTERNET is like the freeway or interstate highway. Facebook or iPhones/Blackberrys—like TVs and radios—are automobiles or vehicles… If you’re scared of driving on freeways because of arrogant motorists, avoid free/highways and take the side roads. If you are fearful of losing privacy, then trash your laptop, don’t email, chuck online banking, don’t google words like “paranoia”—go out and meet people eyeballs and alive voices. We live in a world—or society like US of A—where all these are in front of our faces 24/7, can’t run away from them. It’s all interconnected to life and living… Now, if you really want to be pure and undistracted by all these “nuisances,” that could be worked out. Fly to an island somewhere in the Pacific—you will be an island yourself. Undistracted but alone. There’s no Krispy Kremes or organic beers or weed there, you know.

IT IS always a painstaking endeavor to venture beyond cultural comfort zones. Language is a major barrier, nuances and reflex convey mixed signals, music or arts may deliver contradictory, unpleasant messages when these happen to touch sensitive tribal mores and stuff… Literature is the same. I tried to shake hands with my poems but it’s always a hit and miss situation. However, the only human gift that has more chances at bridging communication gaps and filling cultural vacuums is FOOD. Everybody eats…

UNIVERSAL truths cut across cultures, creeds, colors... However, there is no such thing as dominant cultures or “correct” ways of life. Civilizations thrived thousands of years ago even before, for example, the United States of America or the Philippines came about. God worship commanded respect from adherents many years before the advent of traditional religions. Hence, it is a travesty to humanity to judge “unpopular” cultures beyond our comfort zones as backward, unhappy, or “uncivilized.”

YOU feel old—when you start acting bitchy upon knowing that Madonna and Bruce Springsteen bred an in-vitro transformer named Lady Gaga, when you spend hours mourning how come Shakespeare turned into a Kindle and Schubert is now a tiny gadget that the dogs just ate, when the safest dinner is hummus and tofu and everything is toxic, when all your friends can only be found in Facebook and conversations are all called Tweets and talking means texting… and, yes, you feel old when you suddenly realize Dad was right, after all…

I MISS those days when typewriters keep me focused on deadlines, barber shop banter and tea on the porch meant community, and “snail mails” assure me letters are signed, sealed, delivered. We have been surging ahead from smoke signals to Blackberry upgrades, believing that it’d be easier to interact that way... Last night, my laptop froze. It both terrified and mystified me that suddenly, I felt so alone and isolated. But that’s also the moment, the beautiful moment, when the presence of a human being or two beside me—matters so much, so deeply.

I HAD lesser difficulty gathering people back then, during the prehistoric age than these days, esp. in the advent of computer technology. We didn’t have cellphones or laptops, of course. Public phones were like 1 for 1,000… But converging people was pretty easy: When meetings are set, come typhoon flood or winter blizzard, people come together. These days, people got 10 reasons to cancel out (ie rain is bad, front tire blew up, relationship spat etc)—and we are reminded multiple times in 2 hours that they couldn’t go: email, cell text, Blackberry voice message, Twitter, Facebook etc etc. Such gargantuan disconnect in an e-connected humanity!

THE ATTACHMENT to the people’s sorrow is unmistakable, unerring. Your ears are pierced by the howling long after the storm has muted them; the bleeding agony cuts through the marrow. But to be able to extend help and healing—we need to DETACH ourselves from the pain and numb our senses. We are only allowed to weep ten minutes the most. The rest of the way—we let the rage go and stand up as leaders. Some crazy, breathing, steely-resolved lump of singular humanity has got to stand up amongst the tempest and slug it out with adversity. Sadness weakens, grief derails decision…

I BELIEVE, it is unnaturally human not to get hooked on something, anything. Everybody’s got an “addiction.” If we are not collecting memorabilia trinkets or Dollar Tree Halloween masks or Fabio paperback covers, we are avidly glued on “Big Love” or “Dancing with the Stars,” or closely following the concert tracks of Justin Bieber, or frantically tweeting and Facebooking, chowing down Krispy Kremes. Makes us less bored, I guess... Drinking problem, alcoholism—you go to AA. Hooked on drugs, substance-abuse. Compulsive vacuuming—hire a vacuum shrink. Too much sex, Tiger Woods gig, done! Some people are even addicted with talking about other people… I think, the only person who doesn’t have compulsive/obsessive kick to anything is a corpse…

LOTS of reasons to get upset on a daily basis. Relationship spat over love’s messages that don’t connect, governmental miscues that messed up election expectations, cable bills and bank statements that don’t balance with personal accounting… Even silliness like Kim Kardashian and Snooki, and the heavy-accented dude at Home Depot who couldn’t shut his pie hole piss us off… So how do we balance sanity with all these irritations? I wallow on my li’l guilty pleasures. Shoot pools over PBRs and spicy wings, engage babedawgs and koolcats to intelligent banters, whip out some culinary delights for dinner, dance to some disco oldies and sweat the blues out… Easy.

COMFORT ZONES, based on ethnicity—we choose not to complicate or muddle our existence by intermingling with other ethnic neighborhoods and/or mainstream community. The crevice between cultural groupings and religious/ideological beliefs is so wide that many simply don’t exert any effort to connect racial lines and hurdle sociopolitical boundaries. From food to art, sex to marriages, language to rituals—we are so different. It takes a lot of guts and grit to cross that border and share smiles and spirits. Lots of risks, but then, if we don’t break that barrier and try to build bridges, no matter how many times we fail, how could we nurture and nourish peace? 

ACTIVISM is not comfortable—we can’t be activists and stay nice all the time. Expect to get ruffled… But we must have a vantage view of a realizable purpose. We don’t protest just because we have the freedom to do so. Just because it’s cool to be “aware”? We protest with a clear view of success… I don’t get the point of protesting naked, for example—since it diverts the public’s attention to real issues at hand. Or over-dramatizing grievances in symbolic theatrics. Activism isn’t a show. We must be smarter than lawyers, more sly than politicians, more brave than soldiers—ready to sleep under battering rain, and wily enough to outsmart the bullet’s journey into flesh.

INFORMATION overload and media procurement get muddled due to onrush of internet facts and fictions… Consumerism heightens. We just’ve to learn to moderate and take in/take out but it’s impossible to totally reject all these. Current reality is like traffic in an LA freeway—we may avoid the jam 6 days a week, but one way or the other, we’ll cross I-405/10 to get things done. No matter how we try our best to be the “way we were,” we are here today not yesterday…