Much apologies for an extremely late post. I turned off both my phone and the wifi connection all Christmas break, and when January kicked in, I was flooded with work, extra curricular activities, and more grad school stuff.
So here’s what I finished last December – a very bloody and criminal set, if I may describe them – from robbery to mob wars to drug wars to civil wars.
The first book I finished this month is Mario Puzo’s “The Godfather”. I have seen the first movie, but as every bibliophile know, there’s nothing like reading the book.
As I type this, the much publicized President Duterte’s “War on Drugs” is going on in the Philippines, and the crackdown on the druglords has intensified ever since The Punisherhas risen to power (More on druglords later, I guess, coz the third book on my reading list this month is Mark Bowden’s “Killing Pablo”). He even has a diagram of the hierarchy of drug personalities involved. How is this connected to “The Godfather”? Two words – ORGANIZED CRIME. Perhaps another set just as apt, that got the story rolling- NARCOTICS.
This is what has once more challenged the peaceful and organized rule of Don Vito Corleone. An upcoming underboss named Virgil Sollozo has offered the Don financial rewards in exchange for protection in his new drug business. The Don politely declined, saying “… if I were a part of it, could damage my other interests.” He also quoted his friends from high places. “They would not be so friendly if my business were narcotics instead of gambling. They think gambling is something like liquor, a harmless vice, and they think narcotics is dirty business. No, don’t protest. I’m telling you their thoughts, not mine. How a man makes his living is not my concern.”And we all know what happens next: he makes an attempt at the Don’s life; murders Luca Brasi and other buttons. Michael Corleone retaliates and a full scale war known as the Five Families War of 1946 ensues (and we learn Sicilian idioms like “go to the mattresses”and “sleep on the bottom of the ocean”). Soon, Don Vito’s era as the boss ends, and Michael takes over the family business, and does his best to make the family legal.
Here are my favorite bits from the book:
On family. “A man who doesn’t spend time with his family, can never be a real man.”
On goodness.“He helped them all, Not only that, he helped them with goodwill, with encouraging words to take the bitter sting out of the charity he gave them.” But let me just note that Vito is also a businessman, and he knows himself. “[ all that he does] of course was not pure Christian charity. Not his best friends would have called Don Corleone a saint from heaven. There was some self-interest in this generosity.”
On power and responsibility. Michael, the next Don, said the following words in an exchange with his future wife Kay Adams: “My father is a businessman trying to provide for his wife and children and those friends he might need someday in time of trouble. He doesn’t accept the rules of society we live in because those rules would’ve condemned him to a life not suitable to a man like himself, a man of extraordinary force and character… But his ultimate aim is to enter that society with a certain power..”
Everything is personal. Yep. Damn straight. Stop saying it’s only business, not personal (Walang personalan, trabaho lang. Heeeeeeeey is this the literal translation of the famous quote??) Michael said the following when they were planning to execute Sollozo: “Tom, don’t let anybody kid you. It’s all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit a man has to eat everyday of his life is personal. They call it business, OK. But it’s personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don.My old Man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That’s what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of the sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right? And you know something? Accidents don’t happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult.” (Phew, that was loooooong!)
Hoping to get ahold of Puzo’s The Sicillian!
Meanwhile, time for me to go watch the rest of the trilogy! 😀
I resolved to read one book per week sometime around four years ago. I don’t know exactly why. But I guess the decision was inspired when I heard Oprah confess that her dad strictly imposed the one book per week rule . Not that I aspire to be like Oprah (though money and power doesn’t sound bad at all. Wait, hold that thought.Why ever not?), but the rule must be good, having turned out the way she did.
But I was only able to act on the resolution this year. I also read a lot in the past years but now I strictly monitor the titles that I have read, and force myself to pick up a book, focus and stay on track. My undergraduate thesis is also about recreational reading, so I learned a lot about the art of reading. I can finish a maximum of three books in a week, but only when I’m not neck-deep in chores and pressure.
Those who can read at least a book per week are called ludic readers (Nell, 1998). They also go by a variety of terms: recreational readers, voluntary readers, extensive readers, informal readers, independent readers, avid readers, aesthetic readers, etc. A ludic reader has to read at read at least 52 books a year; lest, the reader falls into another category: seldom reader (<5 book/yr), moderate reader (6-20 books/yr), constant reader (20-51 books/yr).
BTW, here’s a favorite picture of mine. Painted by Karl Spitzweg, “DerBeucherwurm”(The Bookworm).
Anyway, much has been studied and written about the benefits of reading so am not gonna add them here. I guess, I’m writing about the experience because I have surpassed the quota this year (yey!). The titles I have previously enjoyed were a mixed bunch, there are classics, YA, romance. Most of them are on ebooks, some were borrowed, or stolen. Kidding! HAHAHA! Am currently on my 53rd book, it’s Arturo Perez-Reverte’s The Painter of Battles.
I heard Stephen King’s wife can read more than 16 novels per week, so she advises her husband on what works (yay). That means she can consume at least 832 books per year (double yay!). Well, wish me luck, hope to get to u hundred by 31st December!
(This short story appeared in The Paulinian Magazine, official publication of St. Paul University-Iloilo)
Lito climbed on the bus at 8:30pm just as he had every night for the past year. He squirmed his way in the crowd for a spot, careful not to drop his plastic bag, and leaned on the steel bar. His last meal was eight hours ago and he felt a twinge of hunger as the freshly cooked Pancit he bought from a nearby eatery emitted a palatable smell. Depleted with energy, his body ached from a long day of classes and running errands for a law office. And as he settled in quite nicely, the bus roared noisily amidst the road, flanked by a stretch of sugarcane plantation, now brown and bare from harvest, in time for the milling season.
The next municipality where he resides is again another stretch of sugarcane plantation, where his family has served as sakadas for three generations. Three generations, he thought; a century and a score of tilling and harvesting the land that they do not own. Looking around the huddled masses that gently collide at each start, turn and stop of the bus he thought of the other families as well, just like his own, laboring on the land they don’t posses. His thoughts brought him as far as twenty years before, when sakadas young as him fought for a piece of that land. Sure, they have served their landed masters for over a hundred years but their families have been living on that domain long before the hacienderos arrived, the rebels reasoned. He remembered their shrill battle cry at night, when they met in an obscure section of the plantation carefully planning their actions; he recalled the protests as they picketed outside the olden country mansion, only to be driven away violently by hired goons; he thought of how the families mourned and grieved when one of these rebels disappeared, some turned up dead in an irrigation nearby, some never found.
Stepping out of the bus, he felt the stony earth beneath his dusty shoes. The wind chilled the sweat on his skin, and its howls seemed like distant cries of a ground that demanded tears and blood. The twigs of the trees dancing in the eerie song of the air jutted forward like fingers of the lost souls, imploring for salvation.
He quickened his pace, and soon he reached the yard of a dimly lighted shanty, awashed with many voices from inside.
“Mano po, Nay.”
“Kaawaan ka ng Diyos, anak.”
“I bought Pancit for everyone, here, help yourselves” He motioned for guests to partake of the food, as he poured the contents of the plastic into a clean tupperware.
“It’s your father’s second pa-siyam, yet it feels like he’s just out there with his drinking buddies,” his mother began.
Lito looked at her. Asyang’s eyes were sad with wanting. She had been beautiful in her youth, petite and kayumanggi. Lito remembered how her eyes lightened when she laughed, but now grief had sunk her eyes, and the lines on her face seemed more prominent. The rattan chair creaked lightly with every utterance.
“He died waiting for your brother.”
The sala fell quiet. His mother stared blankly across the wall, eyes watering from the memory.
“Your manong fought for what originally belonged to us, and he never came back!” Asyang wailed loudly, overcame by emotions and knowledge of what may have befell on her eldest son.
A desaperacido, Lito thought. He remembered it clearly. He was five then, his manong was among the young men who picketed and protested against the landowners. One night, he left to meet up with his comrades, carrying his bolo and a revolver bulged in his wrinkled polo. Asyang tried to dissuade him, saying that he should think about his family who constantly worries over him. Her words fell on deaf ears, and the newfound principles proved more powerful than a mother’s love. This is for our family, he curtly explained. Then he ran off into the night without looking back… and hasn’t returned since.
Some of the guests tried to calm Asyang; one embraced her, another fanned an abaniko.
“This is the government’s fault!” Old Tasyo exclaimed. Tasyo was unschooled but is an avid listener of radio commentary programs, thus considered knowledgeable by his neighbors.
“How so, ‘lo Tasyo?”
“The president back then promised a land reform. Her husband gave up acres of his land for distribution, but she refused to give up her own family’s estate!” Old Tasyo shook his head in disgust. “Scholars said the reform was vital for the country’s progress. It was supposed to make all of us, hacienderos and sakadas, socially equal, among the other benefits.”
“How about the landowners in our region, ‘lo Tasyo?”
“They are also the very people who were elected as law-makers, unfortunately. One particular politician from three municipalities away, likened the distribution of her land to having her clothes mercilessly torn from her body.”
“She feels robbed when we have nothing but the very clothes on our back!” retorted another elderly lady.
“This failure on land distribution pushed many of our young men to join the ranks of the rebels. That included your manong.”
Lito looked at Old Tasyo. “You remember him ‘lo?”
“Of course, I do. He studied in a university in the city. Very intelligent indeed, although he had to stop schooling because of poverty. He constantly spoke of tilling his own land, so that your tatay and nanay may enjoy their old age. A very passionate young man. But it’s the same youthful passion that led him to an accursed fate!” The howls now seemed louder and the trees outside swayed violently. A branch abruptly hit the pitched bamboo and shut the window close, causing the guests to squeal with fright.
“Sounds like a heavy rain is about to fall.”
“We have to get going.”
“Asyang, Lito, thank you for the supper.”
“Will you be fine, Asyang?”
“Yes, thank you Nita.”
“We shall be back on the last pa-siyam.”
“Yes, please do, I shall prepare Valenciana next time, and of course, Lito will bring Pancit.”
Little by little the hut emptied of welcomed guests, their voices slowly disappearing in the length of the path.
“You’re still young. Learn from your manong, Lito. Remember, passion without wisdom is poison-“ Lito nods in agreement with old Tasyo.
“But wisdom without passion to act- just like all the educated and those in power who do nothing to change this nation’s ill- is worthless.”
Lito took Old Tasyo’s words to heart. He went on to clean the mess, and got ready for the night’s slumber.
As he lay awoke on his bed, he thought of his beloved manong, his kind old father, and the grieving mother he has to take care of. The night passed unruffled, its serenity masking the quiet desperation within. But winds howled like cries of unforgotten errant warriors whose blood tainted the placid grounds of the sugarcane plantation. He stared at the ceiling and in the most unholy hours, his mind wandered and wondered whether all these would change- the government, their poverty- just as he, his brother, his father, and his forefathers before him did in the years past.
I became more desperate as Micah’s condition worsened. She mustn’t die, that’s the mantra I repeated in my mind.
I paced the floor half-mad, unwilling to entertain the possibility that my wonderful friend, an almost seven-year-old mixed breed, can expire any minute. But each passing day that she refuses to eat, hope slips through my fingers like a fine sand.
The problem is you can’t let go. She’s not even yours.
Damn if she’s not! I protested. I love her and I’m not letting her go!
Then a vista came to me. I was sitting in a hut, students passing by, sun outpouring his blinding rays over the clear blue sky. What’s in your world that you can’t let anyone in? My teacher asks.
What’s in my world? I echoed. The question rang in my head.
Dead People. Dead Animals. Dead Aspirations. Things that I refuse to let go.
Like my dead father. He died waiting for me, but I never came around. Like this godfather who took care of me and my mother when family life becomes too complex. Like this man who cared for me during my childhood, I still regret walking away the last time I saw him alive.
We have unfinished businesses, they can’t leave yet.
It’s a fucking catacomb, reeking of fetid rotting flesh. I can continue the tour, if you like, Welcome to my World.
I can’t let anyone in because it’s dark in there, and smells worse than bog. It has been filled with dead things that there’s no space left for the living.
After a study of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism or PCIJ concluded that the Filipinos are a nation of non-readers, I subsequently came across Jessica Zafra (in Twisted 9) and Arlene Babst-Vokey (an article, Manila Chronicles circa 1987) ranting about the Filipino’s lack of book reading habits.
In fairness to the Filipinos, this decline in literary reading is actually a global phenomenon. A few examples: National Endowment for the Arts showed that there’s a decline in book reading among all age groups in America- the greatest decrease in the range of 18-24, 25-34, and 35-44; in a newspaper, a Hindu intellectual lamented on his countrymen’s waning reading habit; the National Centre for Research on Public Opinion study on “Cultural attitudes and consumption of cultural products in Bulgaria” showed that the national leisure is watching television, 57% against 8% of book reading; in Netherlands, the decline of leisure reading trends was documented by Wim Knulst and Gerbert Kraaykamp.
Therefore, we are one with the rest of the world? Uh-huh, in a manner worthy of a dirge. Then what is amiss?
It’s too easy to blame technology, and there’s nothing we can do about it because whether we like it or not, technology is here to stay. And lately, we’ve been employing the “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join-them” attitude by utilizing technology to promote reading, i.e. film showing. This panacea seem to be convenient, as classic literature such as Jane Eyre, Les Miserables, and Wuthering Heights are now available in motion pictures. But then again, the film must act as a stimulant to read, not a substitute for it.
It’s easy to blame everything else- the parents, for not providing reading materials; the government, for depriving us of “good” libraries; it’s even easy to blame the student, for not wanting to read at all.
John McRae, however, a Special Professor of Language in Literature, says that this behavior implies more. Students don’t read because they don’t know HOW to read, WHY they need to read at all, and WHAT reading can contribute to their lives. Furthermore, students refuse to learn how to read properly, which is by the way, an ability not easily acquired, for their conventional perception of reading is equal to studying. This examination-oriented attitude towards reading takes the students no further than- yes you guessed right-the examinations day.
Now the most obvious and easiest scapegoat of all, the subject itself, literature-and the way it’s been taught.
The crisis of literature as a subject boils down to its tedium. That’s easy to understand. In school, the greatest literary figures of the past are being “studied” rather than “read”- analyze, deconstruct, write, and prepare the students for examination. It’s also a sin I’m guilty of, without the teacher having to prod me into “studying” them. As an avid reader, I’m not contented with just reading a book; I deconstruct it with every possible criticism available in my arsenal, identify its literary period, and examine it as if it’s a specimen in a Petri dish. My only difference is I bask in the process- text and all the tedium of study. Now I realize that my manner and style of reading may not be applicable to others- a very important learning indeed.
Now that is not to say that the academic study of literature spoils the pleasure of reading. But it’s totally unnecessary for a reading material to be pressed with study. So if we go back to the question, “What is amiss?”
The key, as I see it, was once succinctly uttered by the great intellectual B.F. Skinner. “We shouldn’t teach great books; we should teach a love of reading.”
In the school context, teachers shouldn’t be obsessed with reading the text in its entirety; instead the text must be cautiously chosen, careful study of what the text is for, reason for its existence and its significance in present times, and most importantly, communication with the teacher. This communication is comprised of communication between teacher and text, text and student, and teacher and student. This relationship will inevitably show a text’s (or a book’s) artistic, social, philosophical, etc. values that are meant to help us become better individuals, and ultimately become better citizens of the world.
With all those increments, who cannot risk to love reading?
Out of boredom, a friend once challenged me to come up with a popular word that starts from F- and ends with –K. As an English major, I enumerated at least twelve while avoiding the commonest of obscenities: fork, freak, flick, flak, flask, folk, frisk, frock, frank, flank, flunk, funk. Add Facebook to that, now that it has officially become a noun. Take the –K and more words come to mind. In this month, and as the 17th draws nigh, one F- word stands out, father. And in the strictest sense of the word, we find that nobody can claim the right to be called a “father” without an offspring. But children without fathers? Plenty.
Let’s take a moment and single out a group whose label again begins in F- fatherless. Much has been said about them, a few examples: a study made by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 1993, found that fatherless children are at greater risk of drug and alcohol abuse, poor educational performance, sexual abuse, teen pregnancy and criminality; a longitudinal study of urban elementary school students in the U.S. in 1995 found that there is a greater level of aggression among boys in mother-only households; and in Virginia a study found that children from one-parent households are more prone to depression and are less successful in relationships. In a nutshell, the fatherless youngsters have a greater tendency to be another F- word: failure.
Failure. A government liability. Underachiever. Shunned. Now doesn’t that make any of us wonder how many of those who are cramped in prison cells grew up without a father? How many of the drop-outs, the expelled, the flunked outs came from fatherless homes?
Before despair gets the better of us, let us remember we have an F-word to hang our hopes on: Freewill. All the researches and investigations have ever shown us about the fatherless children are tendencies. Just because you are a fatherless child does not automatically mean you will inevitably become a societal pariah. Tendencies are mere inclinations, possibilities, trends; not destiny, which is incidentally, a synonym of another F-word, fate: a little something that has a lot to do with our choices.
I am reminded of a 2011 documentary on the hardcore punk rock musicians of the 80s and 90s and their experiences on an F-word, fatherhood. The movers of this subculture were children in the Cold War Era, and their first images of the government authority were Vietnam War and the Watergate Scandal. With anarchism and nihilism as ruling ideologies, the punk rock subculture started out as a form of subversion against the system; subscribers were often mohawked and leather-clad, and the scene was always characterized by considerable violence.
The documentary reported on the changes of these punksters in the face of fatherhood. Some altered from “living fast and dying young” to “living fast and dying a little older”; they also dealt with the conflict of screaming profanities during their live shows, singing the anthem Fuck Authorities while being a role model and an authority figure at home; some reminisced on how their own fathers were- some good, while others walked out on their responsibilities. One in particular noted the society’s low expectations on them as parents because of a rockstar’s stereotypical lifestyle. But it was quite astonishing, honestly, to see them vulnerable, relating (tearfully for some) their experiences of fatherhood such as spending quality time with their kids, or dealing with a son’s death, or taking their kids to school, knowing the sexual perversions, drug, and alcohol history of these artists.
So you see?
An F-word may be ten thousand different things: from the obscenity to the patriarch. This 17th, think about your father. If he has raised you properly, congratulate him for a job well done. Otherwise, learn from his mistakes, and remember an F-word that’s good for your soul, forgiveness.