bright lights

Yesterday, the 1993 rape-slay of Eileen Sarmenta was all over the headlines. It was reported that Antonio Sanchez—the ex-mayor convicted of her rape and homicide, and sentenced to nine terms of reclusion perpetua in 1995—is set for possible release within two months. He has spent a total of 24 years in prison—336 years short of his sentence.

The details of his crime are gruesome. After raping Eileen, he handed her over to six other men to be raped again. The amount of semen collected from her body could fill a can of sardines. Eileen was shot in the face with a baby ArmaLite; her boyfriend, Allan Gomez, was tortured and also shot to death. Two years prior, Antonio Sanchez also masterminded the murders of Nelson and Rickson Peñalosa, allies of his political rival.

His crimes didn't end there. In prison, he smuggled P1.5 million worth of meth hidden inside a Virgin Mary statue. Claiming to be a devout Catholic, his prison cell is covered in religious paraphernalia—but it did nothing to conceal his flat-screen TV, air conditioner, and refrigerator when they raided Bilibid in 2015. There are rumors that he's been sighted out of prison for months. The Sanchez clan still benefit from a modicum of political power in Laguna.

The living rot is set to be released in two months' time for “good behavior,” because of a law that further reduces prison confinement based on an inmate's good conduct. Law good, application bad. It gets worse: Some senators are exploiting the controversy to justify the death penalty bill.

I activated my Twitter account to peruse the public discussion. Naturally, that only made my headache worse. The Amazon is on fire for fuck's sake, and Bolsonaro is pinning the blame on NGOs. A kid in Catanduanes is suffering from a fractured skull caused by bullies. Duterte wants to increase his intelligence fund by 2 fucking billion. The Hong Kong protests. Incompetent senators are pro-ROTC and anti-SOGIE.

It's too much. I've been crying on and off yesterday and today.

I know the world's authoritarians have been known to inundate citizens with vitriol, to divert the heat away from their more sinister moves, but these aren't even cover-ups anymore. These are just major fuck-ups, one after another. How does one build up emotional stamina for too much?

One history lecture, one stage play, one coffee workshop, and one grant proposal writing course⁠; my last payout has afforded me these out-of-apartment activities that I'm hoping will inspire something other than myopic introspection. If I'm lucky, I could end up embarrassing myself in front of some industry hotshot and have plenty of material to cannibalize here on my blog.

There's one more interesting activity from Meetup.com, but I'm still undecided on whether I should participate. Rappelling off a 700-foot mountain sounds exciting, but doing it for the first time with perfect strangers might be two notches too dangerous. I can invite friends, but how do I even broach the subject? “Hey girl! 😆 Wanna forfeit your life? 😜👻”

But first things first: I should sign up at a rock climbing gym to check if I'm even cut out for this kind of bondage sport. I really want to go rappelling, to be honest. Everything else I signed up for are too city-bound, too potentially superficial; too much consumption and too little action.

But who knows? I could be wrong or I could end up embarrassing myself.

You can tell a lot about a person by their bookshelf. What's embarrassing about mine is that I never finished reading 83 of the books in it.

Spreadsheet of unread books

That's all of them. The spreadsheet is both a sobering reality check and a reading plan. The idea is to read through it one row at a time, left to right, one title a week. The genres are spread out so it's a different experience per book as much as possible. Breadth over depth.

At first I thought of going deep with books that would complement my interest in social development. This was a short-sighted solution considering how my interests and the way I interpret them are always changing. Each one of these books topped my priority list at one point or another because of things that came and went in my life. I want to read all of them. Besides, I'm not going to last on the depth plan — one serious book after another would be too repressing. I'm already repressed in more ways than one.

Assuming everything goes well, I'll finish the spreadsheet by March 2021. It's sobering to know it'll take me a year and a half to read all the paperbacks I've hoarded, but that's not what woke me up. It was the precarious piles on my work desk. The pell mell on my divan (a storage divan that also has books inside it). The random books I have to sleep next to on my bed. The amount I own is oppressive in a micro-apartment.

I've always known I had a lot, but now I have the weight of 83 unfinished books on my mind. 83 is not a lot, it's excessive.

Now on to The Power Broker.

Stephen Fry. I recently came across a Graham Norton clip, where Stephen Fry's anecdote was about a surprise New Year's visit from Prince Charles and Princess Diana. He just had some friends over, his house was messy, and he mentioned Hugh Laurie had to hoover his place.

House? Hugh Laurie? Hoover? I consulted Google. I suppose all the Brits knew Fry and Laurie were a cute comedy duo back in the day. (To hoover means to vacuum!)

Every time I encounter Stephen Fry, he's doing something different. He's writing a book about Greek gods here, acting in Love and Friendship there, he's delivering a statement against political correctness elsewhere. Hear him out:

He also said this:

We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.

Maybe it's the freedom-lover in me, but I admire people who follow through on everything they're interested in. These people are smart, interesting, not bound by generic assumptions, willing to be wrong. I love all that in human beings—and I romanticize the hell out of them. I would invite Oliver Sacks, too, if he were still around.

#36questions

My writing's been so stiff lately, I get cramps reading it.

It's natural to recognize mistakes in the text while re-read⁠ing—that's what editing is for. I also consume a lot of Emily Nussbaum, Megan Garber, etc., so I have a general idea where my frustrations on quality are coming from.

But none of that changes the fact that I neglected writing regularly for so long. All because I suffer from a condition where attempts at writing summon the “ghost” of the elusive perfect piece. It's an illusion that tells me I should achieve perfection, but everything I do will be less than. The ghost renders me too spooked to function.

On good days, the paralysis is surmountable and I remember the whole point of writing is to find a way out of not-knowing. There's comfort, too, in knowing nobody has ever said exposition is easy.

The difficulty is part of what pulls me out of my navel-gazing trances. I'm forced to slow down when I write. My ideas make perfect sense inside my own head because they're attached to context forged by my personal experiences. But when they're out of range, on a computer screen, they have to stand on their own and make sense to other people.

I usually catch my pretensions and faulty reasoning on a published post precisely because it's a detached space. Thank god for the edit button.

My 29th birthday came and went without much internalized fanfare. A far cry from all the agony of my early 20s, when I thought parties, trips, gifts were directly proportional to a person's worth. It was stupid to diminish myself just because my family didn't have the luxury to observe these traditions, but that's exactly what I did.

I refused to celebrate my birthday for years. It started around the time my dad slipped up and told me he only remembered to greet me when his phone notified him. My neurons immediately fired the words at my greatest insecurity: being an unplanned birth. He said it exactly once, but the words struck a nerve so violently I still remember it over a decade later.

In retrospect, “because I'm an unwanted kid,” was how I rationalized most of my folks' imperfect parenting. My so-called independence was born from a demon—one that felt like a metal ball chained to somebody's ankle.

But here I am, at an age where my old definition of birthdays and worthiness have lost their grip on me. Though every now and then I still catch myself making patchwork out of whats and whys that have nothing to do with each other—an occupational hazard. My current state of mind tells me meanings and rationalizations are almost always created after the fact; they don't come soldered together.

What I contemplate and plan for these days is the annual contract-signing for my apartment. It overlapped with my birthday this year and I was forced reconsider my priorities. I think acquiring the freedom I have now has been my greatest investment and achievement so far. I love my so-called independence.

But being born was pretty good, too.

Take a snapshot and your brain will delegate the task of remembering to the camera. The act of taking a picture is an anti-memory.

Lately, I've only been half-remembering my days and it's not because I'm suddenly into photography—I will never be into photography. I just haven't been present enough to remember. Working in physical isolation means I rarely have to explain myself to anyone, but now I don't even bother explaining myself to myself. My mind is littered with half-remembered thoughts, lingered on but never fully understood.

I need new illusions; the old ones must be captured and wrestled onto a page. I need to break reality out of the patterns I've imagined, over and over again. I know I've done it before because I've forgotten. Writing has always been my anti-memory.

It's no exaggeration to say that I've been thinking of what to write here for a whole month. Pushing out one personal post in a long time feels like passing a kidney stone the size of a golf ball. The buildup has to be removed by surgery.

There's no doctor, but I am paying for the service. Nothing motivates me more than having bills to pay.

It's my first post and I offer no epiphanies; only a stone.