Saturday, June 28, 2008

Indelible Rhythm

It’s like I peered back through the binoculars of time.

This afternoon, when I was walking to school with one of my classmates, I happened to bump into my former music teacher. My knee-jerk impulse was to shriek. I pushed my way through the wall of souls desperately hurrying to catch the second bell for their first period classes, and for some time I and my teacher giddily exchanged long-time-no-see palavers and questions—like what old friends would do.
Our conversation didn’t last for even five minutes, but it’s like my four-year memories with him streamed forth in my head.

Mr. Augusto Baldoz has been my music teacher for four high school years. My high school stood in the nest of the shadowed streets of Tondo. And Tondo it was—encircled by abandoned slaughterhouses and frequented by weird-looking hoodlums and red-eyed street urchins. I chose to study there for no apparent reason at all, but I never regretted being enrolled there. One of the reasons why this was so was the Indonesian folk band I joined there, conducted by Mr. Baldoz.

The band plays Indonesian ‘gamelan’ instruments called angklung. Being a part of such a group, I was thought how to read musical notes, how to compete with other ensemble the same as ours and how to maintain discipline at all times. Our band gained little recognition at first, but we took baby steps into the limelight.
Rehearsals were held everyday after classes. Oftentimes, our practice dismissal comes at seven-thirty in the evening, but there were still some times when have to stay in school until midnight.
One of those times was when we were to perform in the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP). We would only serve as the musical accompaniment of our school’s apparently district-famous Sining Lahi Dance troupe, but it was an honor all the same to be the part of such a performance.

We, the angklung players,—who still were on the ledge of hopping into our second teen year—were feeling lightheaded. We were but small creatures ploughed out from a small school in the crime-infested Tondo, and a concert in front of large audiences was quite dreamy.

Rehearsals in the center lasted up to a week. And, take it from me, it was a hell of a week. At the time you were on stage, you wouldn’t be treated like a child. Age didn’t seem to exist, and slowness equals a mouthful of sermon from some bearded stranger backstage. Committing mistakes would receive castigations, and being a young person wouldn’t be an excuse. We were surrounded by adult performers who from time to time would blab out some peculiar stage term, plus the director and production stuff throwing commands that we small people weren’t aware of fully.

Each group participating in the cultural concert would have one-hour rehearsal. We were scheduled somewhere near the last hour of individual practice, so often times we kill time ambling above rooftops where we could have the panoramic view of the Star City, or we would just take forty winks backstage after wiping wax to our bamboo-bodied musical instruments. We laugh all we could and talk all we could as much as possible, for when it came to rehearsals, such childishness were banned already.
Tearful dress rehearsal and general rehearsal came and passed, and it was finally our moment of truth.
The feeling was incomparable.
The lights were off at first of course and at that time my heart was drumming against my rib cage. It’s like I want to shrink. I feel very weak-kneed, but somewhere behind the nervousness was the blooming excitement.
An eternity seemed to pass before seemingly hundreds of blinding lights blasted open, drowning the vast stage. I squinted, but my sight couldn’t pierce through the glow. It was surreal. Since the lights were aimed at us, we couldn’t see the audience. Right before our eyes were just lights and more lights—our conductor wasn’t even onstage. We have to keep our aching smiles plastered to our faces no matter how we want to grimace or frown in deep jumpiness. I remember my teeth chattering while I pleaded for the scene to be fast-forwarded and at the same time to be slowed a little more. The sensation was nondescript altogether.

When our performance ended, the lights exploded to a total darkness, and we broke into our fastest moves to reach backstage. Emotions poured unlimitedly there. Soon the whole concert came to an end, and the whole cast would have to take the final bow. You couldn’t simply imagine how breathless I was when all the lights were opened to reveal how big the audiences were.
It was almost 1 A.M. when we got to return to our school. Tired but definitely happy, we bid farewells and goodnights as each of us write an indelible page of a once in a lifetime experience in our hearts.

Our CCP concert wasn’t the sole large performance we have. We also have been given the opportunity to play the national anthem during the flag-raising ceremony in Malacanang in the Independence Day of 2006; to play in the Sea Bees Navy base to welcome American officers; to give entertainment a cultural show in Olongapo City; to play Christmas carols along the streets of Tondo, and to annually play in Luneta park for four straight years—all with small or no compensation at all.

All of these rolled back into my head. It was sort of nostalgic that I longed to see my former band-mates again or at least take a stroll in the streets of Tondo. I peeled the superficial fact that it was a very dangerous zone. It feels like home, actually—where I would be safe.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Pitch-black Somethings

I’ve had my life in a clean, new slate.
I cannot afford to mess it up like what I did the last time.
But never did I say that I’m going to shrink into a boring little mouse in a corner. I’ll go in the most adventurous paths, in an effort to print the most memorable indelible pages in the story of the life of this street urchin-like creature. It’s not going to be in vain. I know it.

Well, my sophomore year started out good enough. The original forty-people class depleted into an eight-student cluster…not a wholly new set of professors, but quite interesting batch of course subjects…a gang of senior “mature” males smirking around my little group of still-giddy females, a friendly seatmate in Philippine Literature class who seemed to have got a volume of Satanism encyclopedia locked up in her head, an ulcer-inducing schedule…among other things. Effortlessly, I can make this semester unforgettable.

The first week seemed a bit long enough to learn a bunch of things. First, I’ve learned that I still have a LONG way to go before I could reach my destination. Second, I learned that it isn’t easy to adjust from a juvenile world into an adult-dominated one. And lastly, repeating mistakes is sometimes a bit too easy to do especially when we let our minds go half-floating. Hmm. Don’t get me wrong. There’s just no way that I’ll be relenting at this stage of the game.

*sigh* I feel like I need some sort of a sister figure to guide me through my college life. Not that I’m saying that my parents and sisters are not helping me. My motts’ there for moral help, potts’ for the financial slice, my younger sister…well, she’s there to sip out a little pressure with sometimes too off-colour jokes. My older half-sister is there to join my younger sis, of course. (Gaah. Mentioning my half-sis here, I cannot help but to remember how unique she is. She have me wearing a two-inch thick Eskimo jacket of sorts in a sunny afternoon, have me eat raw clam from the bar-chow leftovers of the drunkards in the alley, and—I just narrowly escaped it—have her hair dyed a bright green. Anyway, she re-colored it black after some time.)

Back to our school-underworld stuff, yes, I feel the need for an older figure to whom I can run into whenever I have problems in school. Each of us in the family has our own things that we deal with personally. Well, I cannot surely run into my father to accompany me to buy a secondhand book in Recto while he crams to finish his report due thirty-minutes later or ask my younger sister her views about Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s head-spinning holiday economics. *sigh*

In our regular group (Mamu, Debbie, Eliza, Jedidiah and me), we’re more or less coeval, and we have our own personal problems as well. I just really hope that I can have someone who will try to listen to my pitch-black….somethings. For some time I will need someone who I can ask about how she did her research paper back in her college years, if she felt unnerved when she first stepped into a room crowded with adult people, or if she like feminine-looking boys too.

Right now, what I have are these three creatures: me, myself, and I. Accompanied with murmured pushes to myself to go on and guidance from above, I think I can survive. Even though my friends and family cannot help me fully, I know they are there to help me in the best way they can when I ask for it.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Lessons Before Re-School-rection

The drowned staccato chorus of the stray brown birds was what actually woke me up that Saturday. It was a wonderful thing, I realized, for such nice pieces of music to shake you from your bed for you to see how the sun paints the canvas of the sky with a distant, subdued pink at daybreak. Sometimes, it’s sickening to continually hear the mechanical resonance of my celfone’s alarm clock or to feel the impatient tugging of my mother at my feet to yet again rise to a seemingly chaotic underworld called the college…

Don’t get me wrong, I love the school. It’s just I’m a little saddened that this is last Saturday of my first vacation as a college student. But I must admit, I’ve learned a lot this summer alone and I’m grateful for it. Here’s the breakdown of what these “lessons” are:

Learn Not to look at the Wrong ends of Binoculars

It’s exhausting to live in the past. Some people simply don’t know how to leave the past. They happen to unconsciously scatter fragments of these to tangle with the present. More often than not, from these time morsels crawl out a creature that swallow the ones who look back with pessimism. Personally, I believe that at some point, all of us tried to hold on to our past—the variation is only how long we stay trapped on the same ground. A lot of factors affect these differences in our when’s: God, family, friends. The people involved reach out to help us and God—as always—lends a helping hand. That’s when the wheel will be driven out of the gutter and we race into the roads of our lives again.

We must learn to move forward and leave—though not forget—our yesterdays. They still are a source of life’s lessons, how our flaws make a seed of refreshed hope to straighten our mistakes and not repeat them. In the recesses of my memory, I remember reading a quote written on the plastic sachet of a hazelnut-flavored coffee that goes like,“Not repeating mistakes is a form of progress.” Very true. Young crops like me need to grow up after some series of grave misbehavior and a chiding from life’s greatest teacher—experience. Don’t just grow old—grow up.

Be Proud of Yourself

That’s right, folks—“No matter who you are or what your circumstances may be, you must live in a way that you can be proud of yourself.” I got his quote from a fictional forty-man Arab private army, the Maganac Corps, who, despite being gestated in test-tubes, lives proudly as if they are born naturally. I strongly agree with their ideals—after all, we are all sculpted by our Creator as His most valuable gems in his treasure chest
Sometimes we are clobbered by our own rebuking that we have got no right to be somebody to rise in the limelight or to just plainly show that we are proud to be alive. One of the reasons that mushroom includes their status in life. But do we really have to underscore that we are just poor or something worse? As South African first black president Nelson Mandela said, “We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be. You are a child of God and your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others will not feel insecure around you. We are born to manifest the glory of God that is within. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give people the permission to do the same. And as we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates the others.”

For my last words: There’s just no reason to sit in a corner and sulk about how small you are. Because in truth you never are small.


A selfless spirit is barely existent in our world nowadays. Even so, the roots of selflessness haven’t died yet in every human heart. We can give—we are just bashed by the notion of our well-being’s status if we let our clenched fists go loose: “If I give this away, what will happen to me? If I give this away, will I ever have it again sometime?”

Let’s have this analogy: in baseball, a catcher only has one glove. Why? Because at some point we still have to have something to throw back. In life, too much receiving is unhealthy. Even in the smallest possible way, we must have to give something back.

Bouncing back to the subconsciousness that is all-too-concerned with ourselves, one reason why this very thing dominates our system is that we choose to ignore the smaller but truthful voice sprouting from everyone’s hearts—telling us that if we give, we receive something greater in return. It’s only a matter of choice.

Live as your heart tells you.

For more than one occasion, whenever I am doing something that makes me happy, someone (yes, there is that permanent someone) will ask me, “What are you doing that for?”, “Is that important?” or “Will you get something from doing that?”

Yeah, like what all I’m doing would only end up flying to the wastebasket. And if they do end up that way, well, so what? Practical people tend to overlook the simple joys of life. They believe that doing something without compensation is martyrdom, amateurism or plain ignorance. I live my life as my emotions tell me: I do something that I feel is right, something that can put smile on my face. Is it feckless—who cares? I’m happy doing it and I don’t regret—I never regret—something that makes me happy, no matter how good-for-nothing it may be. This is my choice. This is how I wanted my life to be. After all, it is a matter of choice on how you will view things. Take the path through life with rose-colored spectacles, go. View something good as bad, be it. Practicality is never a bad thing, but we don’t have to let it shellac our deep desires to be happy.

Defy the stereotype

Admittedly, I am a rocker by heart. I love rock music—be it pop or horror punk, emotional hardcore, alternative, Christian or—come to think of it—J-rock. Only, what I don’t understand about these genres and the people attached to them is that why should there be “rules”?

Some sorts of ‘rockers’ (or whatever they may call themselves) have “rules” like, “I should be a rebel, I should clip safety pins and needles on my face so I can be considered a punk” or “I should be heartbroken, I should slit my wrists so I can be called an emo.” Like hell they should.

I’ve encountered lots of people squeezing themselves into one genre and haughtily announce that they are finally a member. And personally, these people make me sick.

This may be considered a grave confession but it doesn’t matter now. I do used to cut myself out of depression and “craps” (sorry for the term; can’t find any better ones) about my family and personal relationships but never did I do this for the sake of being called an emo. I started writing with blade back when I’m in second year high school and by that time I still don’t know what an ‘emo’ is. Of course right now, I’ve already graduated from that…that barbaric stage in my life but it’s the cause why I was tagged an emo up until now. And admittedly yet again, I must say I accepted being one, probably because my former childish self thought that there are MANY emo’s—that there are a lot of people who experienced the same pain I felt. You know, that sort of I’m-not-alone-in-the-feeling thing. I even took a liking to its Valentino Garavani-tinged sense of fashion and of course, the music.

It’s just there are those people who mar the genre’s image. Slit this and cut that, bleed here and weep there—exposing themselves as icons of pathos. Meeting such people makes my intestines tangle with each other.

So maybe, I thought to myself, I could defy the stereotype. An emo who loves life? Sure thing. It is not posing by any means, it’s telling the world that there’s no single person alive who is heartbroken all the time. And sure I’m still an emo—I said I don’t live in the past, but I don’t forget who I had become in my past. It is still me, and the name carries on.

And I must say I should be defying all the other threadbare traditions of those street urchin rockers ( I coined the term—for those kind of rockers who have ‘rules’). I don’t have to have piercing. I don’t have to spit out dirty phrases in each and every time I get a chance to, throwing out “sh*t” or “f*ck” even if the situation doesn’t call for it. I don’t have to have tattoo, I don’t have to drink or to smoke so I can call myself cool.
This is only an example of standing out among worn-out creatures. You can do the same in any other aspects in life. As a giddy woman said in a local iced tea commercial, “It’s cool to be different”.

Whew! So I can say that this summer is worth cherishing. Actually, the vacation only served as a time for me to reflect all my past years as an adolescent. It feels good, really, to learn something and apply it to our lives. Uh..well, hours from now I should be rummaging in my drawers to find my uniform and all my other old school stuff. Intramuros is a sort of a black hole—the primordial walls and the cobblestones, the intimidating pen battles loom to devour everything. But one thing is for sure: there are lessons that I’ve already engraved in my heart and they will never be wiped out even by the strongest of time warps.