• The Book Thief

    The Book Thief is a story of street games children play, of neighbors, families, wives with caustic reputations, smoking husbands, proud mothers, fathers, and sons. Here and there, it is a story about death, of bombs and sirens, of people running for cover in shelters as they await for what--for death, for the air raid to stop? In the broad daylight and in camps, it is a story of countless nameless faceless...

  • Music and Sincerity

    The story tells of how beautiful art like music and poetry can come out of any given situation by people who love their art. And how through allowing the little artists in us express ourselves, happiness then becomes a little more within our reach.

  • I Know I'll Never Lose Affection

    It’s about how we would casually end up together for no reason at all but for some reason, there was always someone who had a guitar who played it well and there was always someone who knew how to sing well while the rest sang along. It is about the distinctively undoubtedly 100% Pinoy tambay lifestyle we experienced at some early point in our lives that ended too soon.

  • To the Faithful

    Rather a common dream and a continued struggle transform us in increments to become better individuals and a more learned citizenry. More often than not, the solution is just a matter of direction, of patience, of vigilance, of a continued dream and struggle to achieve a common good. This strong belief in the power of the human spirit to choose the moral path is where my faith in the Filipino lies.

  • Conversations with a Physicist over Dinner

    It seemed like it was the simplest, irreducible answer that satisfied the mind's innate yearning for meaning. It seemed verging on the divine too. But when I think about highly ordered systems like ourselves, always the same questions resurface: How does life arise from jostling molecules and how does mind arise from gray matter? How do thoughts, emotions and the sense of good and bad come out stardusts like you and me?

  • On the Road Looking for a Home (Part 5: Back in Munich)

    ...there are worlds to be gained by actively choosing to learn, to struggle, to be alone in an entirely new place whose language you don't even speak. You kind of develop your sense of self even more. You become aware of who you are and who you're not, what you can and cannot do. You realize the most important things to you that it becomes easier to throw away the things that don't matter. Then it all becomes ever simpler. You are at peace at night knowing that everything you ever needed and will need is really already with you. The rest is just noise.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Dancing for Home

Posted by Angel on Friday, January 27, 2017 4:52 PM with No comments
I just got home from my jazz and ballet classes. For a boyish girl who held a male-dominated job for many years and who is more likely to take up martial arts as in the past, I sometimes ask myself: How did I end up here? There's never a day when I ask myself, what I am doing here. I’m just embarrassing myself. I don't belong here. Against the backdrop of blond young beautiful girls who sweep the studio with elegantly arched feet like they were born with them, I feel like a klutz.



But here I am showing up class after class after class. Because I know when I lie on the floor, eyes closed breathing in deeply then exhaling heavily; I know when I start the warm-up with only the sound of slow piano accompaniment filling the room, letting it run through my veins, soothing my cares so that only the moment matters and the rest fades away; I know when songs with an attitude eventually play and I move with the beat deliberately, I know I am home, if only temporarily.

Our instructor gathers us to say that outside the studio, society always dictates us and tells us what we can and cannot do, oftentimes what we cannot do. They tell us who we are and if we are not careful, we become it. But we are in the studio, of our own free will, dancing our own story. So we should dance like we believe in our full capacity to breathe our own individuality into the art and make it come alive in the way that only we can.

Without reservations but only true yearning inside, my heart cries out. In all my 3 years in this adopted city 6 thousand miles away from the home country I uprooted myself from, in this place whose language I still don’t speak perfectly, where I struggle to find a sense of identity but moreso belongingness, every so often is a looming feeling of strangeness and coldness, of unspoken loneliness and otherness. But only now am I defiant.

So I dance like nobody's judging, never minding spectators, making mistakes turn after turn. I tell myself to avoid glancing at the mirror and see how awkward and unnatural my steps looked. But instead to feel the music in heartbeats and wish away my self-consciousness. Breathe my story into the art, however confused and broken, owning it as it comes out the way it does. Because it’s beautiful in all its boldness and earnestness within.

For a girl from the tropics who would stay under the blankets the whole day during winter’s grey skies, too afraid to get exposed to the cold, too anxious of outsiders’ perception, yet too tired to yield to societal expectations, dancing makes me get up from my warm, comfortable bed to walk 20 minutes to the studio and back home in snow and ice, in minus C degrees and early darkness. While it may not look grand and congratulatory to the casual observer, I know I came a long way.

A few months ago, I finally woke up from the slumber with the realisation that much of our happiness as a married couple depends both on our shared and distinct separate experiences where we are. So I decided to be home where I am and know I have to find my way through independently. While there is the immense support of my husband and his family, the warmth and welcoming kindness they extend, in the day-to-day acts of simply living, there’s nobody who can make me feel truly home in my adopted place but myself.

So I went on to the business of building a life in a foreign place. For the time being, I had set out a life that is defined not in terms of the classic goals of our productivity-obsessed, achievement-pursuing generation that bring conventional outwardly success. Not that it’s a bad predictable choice. I acknowledge the rarity of not having the urgency to toil for the monthly rent and am thankful for it. But I’ve also had a decade of fulfilling career, as well as the prestige and success that came with it.

Ultimately there comes a point when the call to that unique but neglected humanity inside grows. It stops adults from becoming old before they are actually old, conforming, world-weary and all-knowing. To not be afraid to be a child again, defiantly trying out new things, wild-eyed questioning and living out the answers, uncovering beauty in a wide range of encounters and shared humanity.


I combed through opportunities and experiences the city offers. It revealed a wealth of events and I found myself out for activities and workshops, then at fitness halls for sports, and then again in dance studios, in pre-arranged dinners with strangers from online groups—activities I would personally discover parts and parcels of the enormous city with my own eyes and maybe somehow my place in it.

I did more of the things I liked and met people but never friends. I don't feel pressured to make and keep friends. It’s more liberating that way. People are so transient, juggling jobs and families and most importantly creating their destinies. I cheer for friends and acquaintances who find the courage to leave. This, I understand much to the level of my overarching dream then to leave everything behind to start something new and different, that path which led me here.

I welcomed strangers and their shy authentic smiles, who may also have journeyed a long way and are only stopping by. I came across individuals who were born in the country but moved from city to city for jobs, settled in and shared the same feeling of strangeness, otherness and friendlessness. This surprised and moved me. I developed compassion from my real or perceived otherness.



But in all grown-up composure, they who don’t claim to suffer from a culture of detachment discussed the issue in hushed tones and condensed phrases separated by uncomfortable silence. That it seems to be a topic only meant for closed door appointments with life coaches and therapists. This tendency to brush off vulnerability among adults, I became acutely aware of.

Over a couple of months, I saw the endeavour for what it can be, an amazing opportunity to explore the city and a chance interaction with a few of its diverse inhabitants. Having seen only the academic side after 2 years of serious study, I can enjoy the freedom to watch the city’s arts and exhibition scenes, peer at the start-up business arena, feel the sports vibe, take up on a new hobby, rediscover playing solitary piano music and writing in silent spaces. I became grateful.

I recognised that there are pockets of happiness in the actual doing of activities and in transient meetings with strangers in workshops and seminars, dance studios and fitness halls, in the sharing of that instant, in the moment, fleeting but present and real.

When my sister flew halfway across the world to visit me for the holidays, I had to briefly interrupt my newfound routine to travel with her. I know the pause will break the momentum I had built, even as my life depended on it. But we had a marvellous time traveling to nearby historical cities and traditional Christmas markets, spending an intimate Christmas with my husband’s family. We cooked, baked, went to the cinema, watched a series at home, and went out for a stroll.

During her stay, I didn’t lounge too long in bed that my husband took notice. I was always up, preparing in the kitchen, or cleaning about. One curious person asked how it was like to be siblings to each other. We told stories about making play houses out of blankets as children, of singing invented tunes from children’s poems and how I scared her to death about a card game with monsters coming to life on a full moon that earned me an admonishing from our father.



When we drove her back to the airport and I came home with my husband, I was arranging the apartment and saw my old winter jacket which I lent to my sister for the holidays. I wanted to put it away for dry cleaning and as I reached out for it, I felt an overwhelming sadness that stunned me. I held the jacket and paused to gain some level of objectivity.

And there it was, this inevitable feeling of loss, of being back to being alone with this cold strangeness, without anyone whom I’ve had a real shared lifetime familiarity or childhood connection with, this lack of identity and belongingness along with a treasure trove of memories, this feeling I fought so hard to conquer as I committed myself in earlier months to "be home" where I am by discovering the city and hopefully my place in it.

I let myself mourn momentarily. The words of my dance instructor comforted me: “This is a beautiful learning process. Don’t stop.” So I stood up, went back to my routine and regained my momentum. As I went on, I recognised the semblance of home in small everyday things.

It is in the cashier lady’s wrinkled smile up to me in the supermarket I am a regular at. It is in the quiet understanding among kindred spirits I meet who also uprooted themselves from their own native landscapes. It is there in my husband’s support each step of the way so I can take time carving my way through. Finally, there is home with my newfound family and while it’s not a lifetime of shared familiarity, it is the beginning of it.

So now here I am again, back from the dance studio. Against the backdrop of mostly graceful flowing moves, adept with each knowing step, I danced my little secret story, embracing my clumsy otherness in all my defiant glory.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Accidental Universe: A Review (Part 2)

Posted by Angel on Tuesday, March 3, 2015 3:03 AM with No comments
The Symmetrical Universe

This is a personal favorite among the 7 chapters of The Accidental Universe because the subject is close to home. Being exposed to the study of physical sciences for so many years, symmetry unfolded itself naturally in principles, equations, geometry, code, and form. But symmetry is not exclusive to the physical sciences. It's everywhere. It is math. It is art. It is architecture. It is poetry.

Since I was an undergraduate, I found elegance in symmetry. We are compelled to seek symmetry, formulate it and recreate it. But why? There seems to be an unspoken assurance to it. Somehow, symmetry is intuitive and simple but offers profound implications.

Here, Lightman begins with the story of "Higgs boson" and the synthesis of the forces of nature. He ties symmetry with natural selection, the "energy principle", geometry. I enjoyed the story of the perfectly hexagonal honeycombs which I would tell later on to my father-in-law who is fond of bees in his golf course. I realize that for the longest time, I had not relished a story with such childlike fascination as I was reading this chapter.


"Perhaps in asking why the pervasive symmetries in nature are found appealing to the human mind and imitated in our human-made constructions, we are making an erroneous distinction between our minds and the remainder of nature. Perhaps we are all the same stuff. After all, our minds are made of the same atoms and molecules as everything else in nature." 
"Viewed in this way, our human aesthetic is necessarily the aesthetic of nature. Viewed in this way, is nonsensical to ask why we find nature beautiful. Beauty and symmetry and minimum principles are not qualities we ascribe to the cosmos and then marvel at their perfection. They are simply what is, just like the particular arrangement of atoms that make up our minds. We are not observers on the outside looking in. We are on the inside too."

The Gargantuan Universe

Lightman tells that the history of human civilization is measured in terms of the scale of maps produced from an illustration of a plot of land in a clay tablet to distances probed by modern telescopes in deep space. Lightman attempts to paint a picture of the incredible vastness of the observable universe, which to humans seems emotionally remote, even detached. Lightman briefly becomes philosophic as he muses on man's apparent insignificance in the face of infinity.

"...we can conclude that the fraction of stuff in the visible universe that exist in living form is something like ... one-millionth of one-billionth of 1 percent. If some cosmic intelligence created the universe, life would seem to be only an afterthought. And if life emerged by random processes, vast amounts of lifeless material were needed for each particle of life. Such findings cannot help but bear upon the question of our significance in the universe."


The Lawful Universe

Lightman writes about the deterministic universe contrasting against unpredictable human affairs. The laws of nature governing the physical universe freed humans from the capriciousness of gods during Lucretius' era, satisfying in Lightman's words, a deep emotional need for order and reason. But humans are part and parcel of the physical universe and therefore must be governed by the same laws. While that is so, human behavior is not something that can be calculated to analytically exact or to machine precision like electron spins. Interspersing science with philosophy, the chapter finally drives home the message of human's deep emotional need for freedom.

"I believe that it is bracing and vital to live in a world in which we do not know all the answers. I believe that we are inspired and goaded on by what we don't understand. And I hope that there will always be an edge between the known and the unknown, beyond which lies strangeness and unpredictability and life."

The Disembodied Universe

This last chapter seemed out of place. The rest of the chapters, except for The Spiritual Universe, make the universe the central character and humanity only secondary to the extent of its subjection and reaction to the former, to the extent of how humans grappled with a universe that is accidental, temporal, symmetric and gargantuan. This last chapter is about humans shaping their own personal universes. It is about humans of the information age living disembodied, digitized lives brought about by modern technology.


It's a different theme altogether, I think. A life of relentless media and communications grabbing our attention, disconnecting us from our actual physical surroundings calls for being more present in the moment, to live each transient and serendipitous fluttering of a butterfly's wings. But maybe that is the author's message. Around us is this invisible digital force made of bytes and packets that connects us in an instant but disconnects us in another way and somehow we must learn to live authentic lives, not in spite of, but all the more because of this.

Related reads:

  

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Accidental Universe: A Review (Part 1)

Posted by Angel on Monday, March 2, 2015 6:00 PM with No comments
I read the The Accidental Universe by Alan Lightman last year and it was such an insightful read. It is helpful to read the book slowly, not because of scientific jargon as all the relevant science are explained thoroughly. But read the book slowly to let the thoughts simmer in your head and marvel at the universe and our place in it. A similar narrative, that is both instructive and introspective, but has more volume and science involved is the Fire in the Mind by George Johnson.

Throughout the book, Alan Lightman populates each chapter with various schools of thought supporting and contradicting discussions therein. As anyone familiar with Lightman's beautifully written Einstein's Dreams, after finishing the book, the reader is left with a feeling of awe over the richness of the accidental universe.


The Accidental Universe

Here, Lightman provides a very readable historical background of the universe. He examines the nature of the universe, touches on Alan Guth's inflationary Big Bang theory, and the idea of multiverse. He explores Intelligent Design, anthropic principle, fine tuning, dark energy, and string theory.

He builds up the narrative to ask the eternal compelling question about how the random jostling of molecules led to consciousness, that is on one end quantum fluctuations and on the other, life capable of asking questions like:
"...why do these fundamental parameters happen to lie within the range needed for life? Does the universe care about life?"
The Temporary Universe

This chapter reminds me of the cosmological and psychological arrows of time. Lightman begins by telling the story of his daughter's wedding and how he yearns for the past when she was much younger. This brief encounter with nostalgia allowed him to humanize the second law of thermodynamics.

"Physicists call it the second law of thermodynamics. It is also called the arrow of time. Oblivious to our human yearnings for permanence, the universe is relentlessly wearing down, falling apart, driving itself toward a condition of maximum disorder."

Here, Lightman, the theoretical physicist and writer, is not afraid to be wistful. He is vulnerable, and sentimental when he admits he is not immune to long for the immutable, for immortality despite nature's transient behavior. He verges on the spiritual and ends with a thoughtful note.

"Even though we struggle and howl against the brief flash of our lives, might we find something majestic in that brevity? Could there be preciousness and value to existence stemming from the very fact of its temporal duration?"


The Spiritual Universe

This chapter is more philosophical. Lightman allows the reader to get a glimpse of his group monthly meetings in MIT with scientists, actors, playwrights. He tells about the persistence of the topic of religion in these meetings despite starting the discussion with something totally random. He explained a working definition of God and quoted summaries of the religious beliefs of some devoutly religious scientists in his circle.

I find it very interesting to see the diversity of notable scientists' religious convictions. Some scientists are expectedly inclined to believe in a Supreme Being that respects the laws of the physical universe, and therefore does not meddle in day-to-day affairs. Whereas, some scientists are perfectly comfortable in a Being performing miracles here and there, disrupting these same immutable laws.

I find myself agreeing very much to Lightman calling out Dawkins for nullifying religion and religious sensibilities. This has been my beef against most of the self-proclaimed atheists I encounter wherein some of my musing spilled over here. While I'm not an atheist like Lightman and know the terrors that took place in the name of religion, I acknowledge the full spectrum of consequences that religion brings which include consolation, grand works of art, great human feats shaped by an unwavering faith in religion, and to use Lightman's words personal transcendent experiences.

At this point, Lightman tells of his transcendent experience with a family of ospreys. He recognizes that science is not exempt from believing without proof on the central doctrine of science. Finally, he ends the chapter leaving the reader with an understanding of his religion and the underlying motivation, the need for distinction between the two realms of universes. But what I like best in this chapter is how he described faith beautifully.

"Faith, in its broadest sense, is about far more than belief in the existence of God or the disregard of scientific evidence. Faith is the willingness to give ourselves over, at times, to things we do not fully understand. Faith is the belief in things larger than ourselves. Faith is the ability to honor stillness at some moments and at others to ride the passion and exuberance that is the artistic impulse, the flight of the imagination, the full engagement with this strange and shimmering world."



Related reads:

Monday, February 23, 2015

A Reaction to My Feeds: "That Thing Called Tadhana" movie

Posted by Angel on Monday, February 23, 2015 3:07 AM with No comments
I caught the bug all the way in Munich.

It's been all over my feeds that I got curious about it. I have no way to watch it over here. In any case, what got me intrigued is the issue with people pirating the movie and even tagging the actress in social media, and her response.

I would draw the line here. If the film is still showing, it is distasteful to watch a downloaded copy of it, much less tag the actor/s to parade the deed. I don't know if there is an enduring cure to piracy but maybe the problem persists just because there's no better option. And in this particular case, maybe it's the whole local movie-going experience that could not cope with the changing times particularly having the same content available online.

Disclaimer:

I may have gone too far from movie curiosity and actors lashing out at pirates but someday I would like to see the movie experience redesigned. I think we are heading towards an era (if we're not already there) where access to (digital) content gets more and more instant and ubiquitous and thus ordinary. There's Netflix, there's iTunes, there's Hulu, there are DVDs, there's youtube among others. Wait it out a little bit and the movie appears in these, if not there are always torrents.

That should be enough motivation for the local cinema industry to think about how to offer better alternatives. Forget advertisements, that's the reason why people download or in a related way, why people subscribe to Netflix instead of cable. Provide alternatives that will make people toss their pyjamas to put something more appropriate in public because the viewing experience is far better there than watching at home (being lazy mindlessly taking screenshots only to brag in social media and tag the poor actors of the movie). Moviegoers will pay for this experience the way people save up for a coveted new release of iPhone.

What if movie experience in theaters could be improved to make people say it's worth queueing long lines, finding parking spaces in crowded parking areas and braving the traffic for? I have lived in Manila all my life and I would always forgo a 2-hour movie event/date if it means commuting hell afterwards.

But aren't movie theaters around long enough (a century?) to know what should work for the evolving film-goer? Besides providing Dolby surround sound system and 3D glasses, shouldn't they compete with providing the comfy experience of watching a movie in one's home theaters (whether that involves only a computer or the whole spectrum of fancy acoustic walls) in one's pyjamas munching on microwaved popcorns while snuggled up with loved ones.

Ultimately, I think it's the movie experience that they should sell. What if they can tailor the atmosphere so that it's more conducive to the movie's theme? Something that they won't get out of home theaters. How can moviegoers walk away with a feeling of satisfaction for the time and money they paid to see a movie? Can the industry rethink the way they issue film licenses for public viewing?

Or maybe it's another market altogether. Instead of the usual giant malls in the country housing cinemas that exclusively show the films, allow smaller movie theaters to operate, even ad-hoc ones. Limiting audience numbers give out a feel of exclusivity, plus shorter queues. Maybe it's a stretch but allow for reservations and design flexibility so seats can be rearranged accordingly to guests (as a group or couple). Because there must be a social component to the experience otherwise we would prefer watching it separately in our homes.

Offering better snack options other than popcorn and nachos could be a bit more involved especially if it's just a small cinema but still would be a plus. Or make the movie going experience more engaging. I am reminded of a museum in Oahu where short documentaries are shown in parallel with others in smaller rooms but the main shows have their own big special room.

Providing film goers more autonomy for which movie trailers to preview would be nice. This would be like having smaller walk-in stand-only rooms dedicated to trailers of upcoming movies based on genres instead of showing the whole mass of people the same set of 10-minute trailers of coming soon and next attractions. The moviegoer can select according to taste or skip the previews altogether and quietly wait at the big screen until showtime.

And if current movies are not palatable enough, what if the whole small cinema can be booked for on-demand public film showing, provided of course they get enough audience. So whlie at that, like conference rooms, make cinema dimensions resizable to accommodate different audience participation and scenarios. The problem with this though is efficient sound-proofing but maybe headphones are a small price to pay for the moment.

On another note, actors in pirated movies should not despair because if people really loved their movies and their performance, there's no stopping fans and enthusiasts buying DVDs of the actors' movies and future ones and/or watching it in the big screen. They will be talked about a lot in social media increasing the movie's popularity and fanbase and it will spread like wildfire just like how this news got to me. Case in point here.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

A tribute to music back home

Posted by Angel on Saturday, January 31, 2015 10:39 PM with No comments
In our Munich wedding celebration last September, the present our families and friends gave to us was funds for a piano represented by a pretty heart-shaped red cardboard with a toy piano and the newly wedded couple dolls, brought to us by my brother-in-law and his family. Everybody thought it was sweet and very cute.



We looked through music stores around town and decided on a Yamaha Clavinova which I played right away after delivery. My experience tells me so because I had a Yamaha Clavinova in my home in Manila which was great. I sold it to a friend when I moved here. I'm not a professional musician obviously. I just had a history of learning and playing when I was a small girl. Over time, I stopped taking lessons and just played by ear.

I loved the recording capability the new Clavinova bought so I can hear again the things I played off of my head (in Tagalog, "kapa") without remaking it from the hazy memory of that moment when a burst of inspiration would send me off scurrying to do some elementary arrangement.



This recording was inspired by a nostalgia for OPM. It reminds me of quiet tropical nights in the province with kuliglig in the background and the soothing strumming of an acoustic guitar. The cover photo of the recording below was taken by my colleague where we had the Filipino-themed wedding. I called it Lullaby, well because it sounds like something you could sleep with on rainy nights.





Finally, because of the impending Manila wedding last month which gave me the excuse to look for strings quartet to hire to play for the event, I thought I'd improvise a heartfelt OPM song. Please excuse that it was not perfectly done. I had several pauses and whatnot.



I hope to remember how to play the things I used to play by ear and maybe, just maybe I can record them. Which brings me to experimenting with score sheets creation such as MuseScore. It's promising and the issue that I am dealing with is splitting the staff but that's a detail.