“Something’s always wrong”

Today when the train stopped at Taft Station, I felt guilty about thinking of pushing an old lady who was taking a long time getting out of the compartment. She was looking at her feet, where she’s standing. Minding the gap between the train and the old tiles of the platform like nobody’s business. Behind her was a  massive lump of impatient people scrambling to get out, me included. A big, sticky dam of people secretly clucking their tongues (for fear of violating the codes of proper public decorum.) The thing is,  I always feel a little flustered whenever the train stops at the last station, only to see a mob waiting to enter the compartment I’m about to exit.

So the old lady, she takes her time. And there’s a mother and a little boy before her who were also taking their time to best avoid the paparazzi-like congregation of would-be passengers waiting by the doors. As I was watching them luxuriantly step out of the compartment, I began feeling disgusted about myself. During my twenty-minute train ride, I re-read “This is Water”, a copy of which I found tucked inside my notebook.

That was when I understood how right DFW was about the “default setting” of human thought. Only minutes after reading a damn-good speech by a damn-good writer, whose main point was to refute the default setting of self-centered, arrogant thought, there I was, morbidly thinking of pushing an old lady out of my way because I wanted to get home and rest.

“And so do the rest of us,” a voice somewhere at the back of my head said, stopping me from mentally bitching about people who were moving too slow for my lofty, 2fast2furious standards. Like I was never late for school. Like I never walked at Taft Station thinking of the pro-slow cliche “stopping to smell the proverbial roses” when all I was really smelling was the sour stench of work-day sweat. That, my friends, is what you call hypocrisy. (I just admitted to the vile crime of being a hypocrite but aren’t you being a hypocrite too if you judged me as a hypocrite before reading this parentheses-ed confession?)

One of the greatest challenges faced by me and you, the person who is reading this right now, and everybody else, is to veer away from unconscious selfish thought by choosing what to think. Well, at least according to DFW, who, I noticed upon reading The Pale King–which I haven’t finished yet–liked to talk about human selfishness and how best to avoid it. See the passage I copied on my notebook:

***

(I wrote the ‘blog’ above a few weeks ago. Never got around to posting it, maybe because of the erratic WiFi connection we have at home. And so, I continue…)

The Philippines was recently ravaged by floods brought about by a destructive monsoon. As of today, 60 people have been reported dead. Thousands of families lost their homes, and so, had to be evacuated to safer places. My family was lucky not to have felt the adverse effects of the ‘habagat.’ The worst thing that happened was my father was only able to reach home at 6am, after leaving his workplace at 11:30pm. The traffic was terrible and the water rose fast. He stayed at the McDonald’s beside Starbucks until the flood in our subdivision subsided.

The rain was pounding hard outside but it didn’t bother us too much because we had plenty of food and a roof above our heads. It rarely floods where we live. The electricity never went out, hence, I was able to keep in touch with my friends on the internet. I don’t like  going on Facebook so I spend most of my time on Twitter, where it’s much easier to ‘people-watch’–you know, getting updates by just letting tweets appear on your homepage. It was nice when people tweeted or retweeted things that were helpful to the relief operations: finding missing persons, reporting families who needed rescue, informing others about relevant hotline numbers, etc. But it wasn’t so nice when someone tweeted about wanting to buy “butt tight fitting neon pants” or whatever when so many people were feeling hopeless about their lives because the flood took away all of their belongings with it. And how about that person who was worried about passing his exam and that person who was happy about the way her bank privileges was looking up?

There are reasons that you can’t physically help the people who were affected by the disaster, but you can do it some other way. Using social media to help out. Praying, as the pious love to suggest. However, if you’re not a particularly religious person, if you don’t believe in the so-called Power of Prayer, then the least you can do is to think about the victims’ situation. Put yourself in their shoes even for a little while. Choose what to think. Step away from your naturally programmed self-indulgence by caring. Sincerely caring.

I know I cannot live up to the whole point of this blog at all times, short-tempered person that I am. Sensitivity, the real kind, takes years to develop. It necessitates the occurrence of many mistakes. It requires lots of practice. It needs tons and tons of patience. So why don’t you start now?#

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Why eating alone isn’t always ‘social suicide’

Once, a friend I barely knew texted me to go to the cafeteria because she had no one to eat with. I remember thinking how queer that particular text message was.

It was an SOS. To me it read “Help me, I’m alone, let’s eat together.”

So I went. I had nothing else to do since all my classes were done. But now I think the real reason I went to eat with her was I couldn’t refuse something that sounded scared and lonely.

I walked to the cafeteria, past people who had eaten their lunch and people who hadn’t.

When I found her in the crowded cafeteria, I knew she was telling the truth. The seat beside her was empty, and so were the seats facing her. I sat across my friend and made small talk while she picked at her lunch. She looked happy to me. I thought agreeing to sit with her while she ate was a thing people always did.

It was expected–I saw it in the movies. I saw it on TV. I saw it around me, at that moment.

And then I thought, “Few people like eating alone.”

So how come sometimes, I don’t do anything to turn my Eating Alone situation into an Eating Together situation?

This was the time when I went to a Burger King and the only person I knew was Thom Yorke. I felt a little less alone.

I know few people like eating alone because it’s considered a social faux pas. As far as I’m concerned, eating alone doesn’t violate any prissy table etiquette so I don’t think it’s too bad.

I read an essay written by a woman who thought eating alone was a weird experience. Out of the ordinary. Not what she’s used to. Because when you eat alone, how should you conduct yourself? What goes where? The hands feel awkward when they leave fork and spoon to gesticulate during a conversation. But an animated conversation is impossible if you are alone.

It’s just you and your plate on the table.

I consider eating alone as an exercise on solitude and self-contemplation. It’s something that we need from time to time.

Say you’re having lunch alone in a fast food place. You feel queasy and a little bit embarrassed because people who are not eating alone, who are eating together, are watching you smother your burger and slurp your soda. But you’re never sure, your feelings are doubts and nothing more because just when you tilt your head to bite your burger, you fail to catch the stares of the people eating together.

Could be it’s all in your head. Paranoia. Big Brother complex.

Could be you’re plagued by self-consciousness. Like Cady Heron locking herself inside a bathroom stall before she was popular.

The thing is, you’re not really afraid to eat alone. No one is. Man puts food in his mouth, eats it, digests it, shits it down a toilet. What man is afraid of is to be seen eating alone in a public space.

People who are afraid to be seen eating alone, do they ever marvel at how much food tastes better when they’re not eating with someone? Because when you are eating by yourself, nothing can distract you from savoring every morsel of your food. Your taste buds have sweet, salty, sour and spicy down to a science. You appreciate the process that went into creating the stuff you’re stuffing your face with.

When you eat alone, you become the walls. You think people are watching you but the truth is, with no one to distract you, you can sit comfortably on your red plastic chair and discreetly eye everyone around you:

Like the busboy wiping chewed up muck from the table. The mom swatting her kid’s hand for picking a french fry on the floor. The bearded guy wearing a suit who has barely touched his chicken from reading today’s paper. The college boy and the college girl arguing about Jesus in voices loud enough for the whole room to hear.

And everybody else sitting on red plastic chairs with trays of food in front of them.

As you’re watching everybody else while eating your burger, just sitting there on your own, you begin to think it’s okay not to have someone sitting on the opposite seat.

Because it’s nice and quiet and your food tastes good.

 

 

(Watched ‘Mean Girls’ last night and  remembered I have this is in my Drafts.)

Somebody in a sideshow

From The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

He was the type of fellow I can’t stand. I’m five feet ten in my stocking feet, and when I am with little men I stoop over a bit and slouch my hips, one up and one down, so I’ll look shorter, and I feel gawky and morbid as somebody in a sideshow.

When I was reading The Bell Jar, I thought of myself as Esther Greenwood, mainly because of what she looked like and how she aspired to become a writer. I was convinced I was Esther until she gradually fell into severe depression. I believed I was Esther until I forced myself to read the remaining chapters of the book because they were becoming very painful to read.

Reading about what Esther was going through was heavy–it was like diving into a pool with all your clothes on. But, as Franz Kafka once pointed out, “A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.”

People who have this “medical condition” (I refuse to believe that a state of mind can simply be dismissed as such) are discriminated for being weak, when in fact, they are struggling against feelings of loneliness and trauma and desperation. How can fighting those feelings be easy? I don’t think you can simply tell someone who is depressed “Stop moping and put a smile on your face.” There’s so much more to it than just sadness.

Everybody gets sad, but I often wonder if people who never experience falling into bouts of extreme sadness or extreme happiness are alive at all. I wonder if they deeply think about who they are, where they are and what they are becoming.

Countdown

You face your laptop and engage in a nonsensical staring contest with the cursor of your word processor. It blinks 24, 924 times per second; your eyes are watering from the effort of one, trying to keep awake whilst wondering why your coffee is beginning to taste like water and two, trying not to cry because you convinced yourself last night that this will be easy as pie. But ironically, the damn cursor wins and you lose. So you step out of your stuffy room, lean on a wall and smoke your imaginary cigarettes. You finish your whole pretend pack of Marlboro Lights and mentally curse yourself because your mind drifts off to the wrong kind of cancer. You think about that kid in a hospital in Pasay–a total stranger–who is lying on a hospital bed with a big countdown clock hanging over her head. Leukemia, the Big C, is her time bomb. You wonder what yours might be. And then you remember a Palahniuk quote which goes: “This is your life and it’s ending one minute at a time.” The words trigger something in your head so you go back to your room, still stuffy despite putting the electric fan on full-blast. You face your laptop again, crack your knuckles, and stretch your arms. This time, the cursor barely blinks.