Thursday, March 31, 2005

Just the stirring in my soul

I wrote this essay more than two months ago, soon after some personal, erm, "distractions." It came out in the Youngblood section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer today. I originally entitled it "Quarter-life Crisis," but the editors changed it, apparently because that phrase has been used to death by countless souls like me determined to put a label on what we're going through.

Might as well post it here.

Unending Quest
Posted 00:59am (Mla time) Mar 31, 2005
By Paul John Caña
Inquirer News Service

WHO was it that said youth is wasted on the young? It's hard to disagree with him.

I turned 25 a few weeks ago and, for the life of me, I don't know what to answer if I'm asked what is the biggest achievement of my life so far. I suppose I can say that I graduated from college a couple of years earlier than most people and I now work in the news department of one of the biggest media companies in the country, and, yes, I write articles from time to time for a top music magazine. But somehow I have never really felt that these qualify as a "huge" accomplishment. To put it another way, I can't really say I'm living my life "to the fullest," whatever that means.

I would love to say that at this point I'm close to finding out what it is I am meant to do-and to be-for the rest of my life. But the truth is, I'm not. (Or maybe I am, but I'm not ready to knowledge it yet and let it course through my veins.)

Whether or not they care to admit it, I believe most people my age have no idea either. Many of us wander aimlessly about in the vast wasteland after college (for those of us lucky enough to even get to college), living on our never-high-enough salaries from our never-good-enough jobs. I'm sure there is a tiny percentage of young people out there who seem to have it all: a clear understanding of their place in the world and all the material blessings needed to achieve their goals. But for the rest of us, the search for meaning and purpose continues.

In the movie "Dead Poets Society," maverick English professor John Keating (played by Robin Williams) implores his students: "Carpe diem." That oft-repeated phrase and cursory advice given to young people by their elders, who most likely had never been able to "seize the day" themselves and merely want to impart stock wisdom on impressionable minds, is also one of the easiest to digest and to dismiss. All too often, young people live as though they would be young forever and procrastination becomes a habit. Before we know it, our 20s have passed us by and we tell ourselves, "Hey, this isn't so bad. I could do a lot worse with my life." Thus, the dream of finally doing what we want to do (as opposed to doing what essentially amounts to a "meantime" thing) remains a dream.

The problem sometimes isn't so much our willingness to finally start living the lives we want as trying to find the balance between what is attainable and what is simply beyond our capabilities.

In the same movie, a fellow professor, quoting Tennyson, tells Keating: "Show me the heart unfettered by foolish dreams, and I'll show you a happy man." To which Keating replies, "But it is only in their dreams can men be truly free. T'was always thus and always thus will be."

The kind of person we are, and possibly, who and what we turn out to be, depends on which of these two concepts more closely defines our attitude toward our deepest aspirations. Realists, by nature, are confident of their own abilities and very much aware of their limitations. These people are only as ambitious as they are pragmatic and so they are rarely disappointed.

On the other hand, those who subscribe to the Keating school of thought are bound only by their imagination and limited only by what they dare to dream. They are undaunted by the possibility of failure and are not afraid to take on any challenge. Life is the canvas on which they can paint any picture.

Whichever way we lean, the bottom line is that we all are working toward the same goal: happiness and personal satisfaction. But it doesn't have to end there. In fact, I don't think our struggle to find happiness should ever end, even after we get whatever it is we want in life. Personal fulfillment (of whatever kind) should be an unending quest. I've never believed that "people should be satisfied with what they have." That's like saying those who have nothing should just abandon the desire to improve their lives and simply accept their fate. Similarly, it shouldn't keep people who have achieved what may seem to be enough for others from setting new goals and continuing to work on improving themselves. Contentment should never be confused with complacency.

At this point in my life, while I may not be 100-percent certain of what I really want to do, what my purpose in life is and what I hope to achieve, it helps to be aware of that fact rather than blindly trudging on, without giving any thought to workable objectives and visible goals. At the very least, I'm trying to iron out the kinks in my life and starting to establish closer personal relationships with the people who mean much to me. I would like to think I have learned from the mistakes of the past, but as with many others, I anticipate making more of them in the days ahead. I have also noticed that I'm becoming much more vocal about my feelings, my need to let out how I feel taking precedence over my concern over how others will react. I realize that this can be a bad thing, but hey, carpe diem, right?

Paul John Caña, 25, works as a newsdesk administrator in one of the country's top broadcast networks.

Not-so-Holy Week

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Every year, I do the same thing during Holy Week. I go home to our house in Cavite and lounge around doing nothing but sleep, watch TV and stuff myself silly with my mom's cooking (so much for fasting and penance). This year was no different, except I've added "play with my pamangkins" to the list of activities. That is a pretty big deal, considering I have recently discovered that, but for a few notable exceptions, I am no great fan of small children. There. I've said it. People can officially hate me now. I am an evil person. If not liking little devilish creatures who whine and wail a lot and disrupt my sleep and hours of rest constitute being a horrible and nasty person, well, that's me. But I'd rather that than pretend to be all googly-eyed and cooing whenever some random infant is presented to me.

Now where was I? Oh yeah, Holy Week with the family. Like I said, there are a few notable exceptions to my disliking babies rule. Like my friend Ayen's baby, Kiro, who happens to be my godson. And my own niece and nephew. You'd fall in love with them too, if you ever get to see them. My nephew - unbelievably cute, in my opinion. Everybody, down to the relative I hardly know, says he looks a lot like me when I was a baby. Which doesn't mean I think I'm cute. Not at all. He's way cuter, trust me. And my niece - whoa. Impossibly gorgeous. I'm not exaggerating. She's so pretty, I can't wait to see her when she's all grown up. That kid is gonna break not a few hearts, I'm pretty sure of it.

So yeah, I played with them, but only when their guard was down. I don't get to spend a whole lot of time with them, so whenever I do, they act all guarded and wide-eyed. They probably think I'm some goon out to kidnap them or something. But there are times when I think they're slowly, finally recognizing their "Tito." Especially my nephew. He's almost three and he doesn't hesitate to give me a kiss on the cheek when I ask him to. Aww, I miss him already…Was I just being sappy there? Oh well, I do have my moments…

This year, the cable was out in our village, so what'd we turn to? DVDs, of course. Our friendly neighborhood pirated DVD store was just a five-minute walk away from our house, so between breakfasts and lunches and meriendas and dinners, we all couched in front of the TV. Let's see, we saw…"National Treasure," "The Bourne Identity" (apparently, my brother hasn't seen it yet, despite the countless reruns on HBO) and "The Bourne Supremacy" (2-in-1 disc, for the low low price of just P100!), "Taking Lives," "The Incredibles" and six or sixteen episodes of Smallville, Season 3. During breaks, I snuck in a few viewings of the Goo Goo Dolls Live in Buffalo concert and Travis Live in Glasgow DVDs.

Oh, and yeah, I almost forgot, we also saw "Trainspotting." Now that was torture. Ever try watching a movie filled with sex-starved heroin junkies with your parents and brother and sister? (The kids were asleep) Nah, didn't think so. And I don't recommend it. Every time Ts&As (tits and asses, as if you didn't know) came on, I wanted to crawl beneath the sofa. About halfway through the movie, after Renton and Diane's sex scene, all my mom could say was, "Puro kabastusan naman yan." Sheesh.

Monday, March 21, 2005

My beef with Safeguard

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Down with Safeguard!

Every time I see a commercial for Safeguard on, I make a face that’s somewhere between wanting to throw up or finding somebody to strangle. Out of all the crappy consumer products on thousands of shelves in countless groceries and mini-marts across the country, Safeguard has to be the one I loathe the most.

For one thing, their campaign is shitty and outdated. You know the one I’m talking about because the Procter and Gamble people (makers of Safeguard, in case you have to ask) have been using the same shitty campaign since…forever. Mom sees her son with a scraped knee because of a bicycle accident, or her teenaged daughter hiding out in her room because of a humongous zit on her face or her own husband taking his shirt off and then getting a whiff of his deadly B.O. (that’s body odor, stupid). Then her “conscience” tells her that to prevent such life-threatening domestic problems in her family, she should use (what else?) Safeguard. Then cut to professional-looking old lady wearing glasses and a lab coat for the sound bite on the wonders of using Safeguard, with matching lab test results on what is purportedly a comparative analysis of the number of germs Safeguard claims to eliminate (as if you didn’t know, it’s 99.9%) as opposed to regular soap. Mom of course, goes with her conscience (after all, who among us would deliberately go against the wishes of our own “conscience” right?) And presto, just like that, just by using this miracle soap, everything is fixed: the son gets to ride his bike another day, the teenage daughter finally musters up the confidence to “face” her crush, pimple-free and all, and the husband sweeps the Mom off her feet smelling all fresh and clean. Everybody’s happy. Bring out the bucket, I’m gonna go puke now.

Since I was a kid, it’s ALWAYS been like that, or a variation thereof. You know what’s changed over the years? Only the talents in the commercials. Everything else: the concept, the execution, it’s the same shit. The P&G people are apparently a superstitious lot, because they probably think that just because they’ve been the number one selling germicidal soap for years they can keep their hold on that number one spot if they keep showing all the same story outlines over and over again over the years.

Well, sure, if the numbers and figures are any indication, the P&G people must think they’re doing something right. Thing is, that doesn’t say much about the creativity of the advertising firms they hire. I find it hard to believe that for all of these years, their creative people can’t brainstorm their way out of the same old tired plotlines and stories. But really, that’s just secondary to what gets me pissed off.

The thing that really gets my goat about Safeguard is that they have the gall to claim that theirs is the ONLY soap you should use if you want you and your family protected from all sorts of horrible germs and (consequently) diseases. Think about this: how can a soap that claims to be powerful enough to eradicate practically all the germs and bacteria on your body (99.9% right?) can also be mild enough to use on the sensitive skin on your face? Better yet, visualize this: the soap that Daddy uses on his armpit, that Junior applies to treat flesh wounds on his leg, that Mom uses after using the toilet, is the same soap Teenage Daughter will use to wash her face. Altogether now: Eew.

There was even one TVC (that’s television commercial, stupid stupid) where the voiceover warns: Isang araw lang hindi gumamit ng Safeguard, hihina agad ang immune system or some shit like that (the quote, obviously, isn’t exact). And so I go, what the hell are these people thinking? Who are they kidding? So the rest of us who DON’T use their soap for one day, will end up leaving our bodies vulnerable to all sorts of diseases and infection? What a big load of crap. Frankly, I’m amazed so many people fall for that idiotic claim. But then, I realize how popular the songs of Lito Camo are and then I get it: people are just that dumb.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

Norah on my mind

I almost didn't watch her show. For a time after I found out she was coming here to Manila, I was indifferent. I was no big fan of hers; I don't even have her CD (though I do have one live show courtesy of Reena). But a few days before the show, I suddenly realized I didn't want to miss seeing somebody as talented as her sing and play live. That's exactly how I felt about Alicia Keys; wasn't a big fan of hers either. I like some of her songs and that was it. But after watching Alicia sing up a storm at the Grammy's I suddenly regretted not going to see her when she was here. Besides, Norah Jones was Norah Jones. It wasn't like there was a chance she would disappoint. Well, yeah there probably was, but based on everything I've seen and heard about her, the odds were she was worth the admission price.

And boy was she worth every cent.

But before I get to her show, I just have to say 15,000++ peso for front row seats, no matter who the artist is…I think that's fucking obscene. No way am I going to shell out that much to get seats front and center. Not even for John Mayer. (Well, not in principle, but…we'll see).

At a few minutes past 8pm, the voice over announcer introduced Norah Jones and the Handsome Band. Just like that. Without any kind of pre-show gimmick or theatrics. The fact that there weren't any other distractions, or even a front act, pretty much sealed the deal that the night was going to be about Norah and her music, nothing else. And based on the thunderous applause the audience gave her, I think most everyone there was thinking the same thing, too.

Earlier in the day, I had listened to both her CDs (which my housemate owned) to at least familiarize myself with her songs. Of course, aside from the mainstream hits, the best song in the album for me had to be "Turn Me On." I was pleasantly surprised that she started with that song. After that, it just kept getting better and better. You know that feeling you get when you watch an artist sing one of his or her own songs live and you get a little bit nervous and antsy, and eventually, disappointed because no matter how hard the artist tries, it's never really as good as you want it to be, or at least, as it is on the record? Well, it wasn't like that at all. Norah's voice was clear and impeccable; and to quote that mobile phone company catchphrase, simply amazing. It was smooth and silky, almost sensual. Every song was so perfectly delivered; it was almost too good to be true. Almost. Because she was right there, and I knew whatever talent she had, it was all natural and didn't need to be heightened up by glossy production numbers or onstage histrionics.

And she was funny, too. A little. Right after singing the monster hit "Don't Know Why," she told the audience about the time she sang that song on Sesame Street. Elmo asked her why she was feeling sad and she told him she was supposed to go out on a date with the letter Y, only "Y" didn't show up, so she was singing "don't know Y, he didn't come." I'm not sure if it was still part of the original Sesame Street script, but when someone in the audience shouted out "Why?" she said, because "Y was with his X." Haha.

Then there was the episode with the mosquito. Right before singing "The Nearness of You," she noticed one buzzing around her. Unlike most of us natives, she obviously wasn't used to being in the presence of a blood-sucking insect; she kept ducking around the pesky thing all throughout the song. Oh well. As my friend Grace said, "Welcome to Asia, Norah." Still, shame on Araneta. It's supposed to be a world-class venue. It won't do any of us any good to have artists and performers talk about mosquitoes hovering on stage with them during the show.

But, all's good. It was an excellent show and I'm glad I went with my instinct at the last minute and watched it. Norah and her band (who by the way is an amazingly talented group of musicians, especially the drummer) came back for three more songs after what they said was their last. As expected, the audience gave them a standing ovation. I still don't consider myself a huge fan, but I am definitely in awe of her. After all, it's not everyday you get to watch - and enjoy - a genuine talent at work.

Now I wonder when Mr. Mayer will make an appearance round these parts…

MRI ay ay...

It was the longest hour of my life. Literally. Anyone who’s ever had to undergo an MRI exam would agree.

But first, a little backgrounder. My right arm’s been bothering me for a while now ever since I dislocated my shoulder over a year ago. How that happened, well, you’re gonna have to get to know me so I could tell you the story, because depending on how you look at it, whether you find it funny or tragic, it’s just pathetic really. The doctors warned me a recurrence of the dislocation was not only possible, it was likely. And so it did happen again, not just once, but four more times. I’ve gotten so used to it I can put the bones and joints back to normal myself, kinda like what Mel Gibson did in that movie. The last time was just last weekend on my way to Puerto Galera. So as soon as I got back to Manila, I made an appointment to see an orthopedic surgeon. Doc said I should get an MRI exam so he could tell exactly what was wrong with my shoulder.

A couple of things you should know about getting an MRI. First, it’s frickin’ expensive. I’m not sure if it was just because I had it in St. Luke’s but they charged me more than 12,000 big ones for it. Shit. Thank god I’ve got insurance, else I’d never have gone through with it. No way am I going to shell out that much for one lousy exam (then again, I paid over P40,000 for my appendectomy at Capitol three years ago).

The second thing you have to know is how unpleasant the actual process of getting an MRI is. They scheduled my exam at 8am on a Thursday. (It’s a pretty rare occurrence when I wake up before noon, so the fact that I got there on time was nothing short of a miracle). This nurse or attendant then led me to a small changing room where he tells me to take my clothes off, except for my underwear, and put on a hospital gown. He then asks me if I had a metal implant anywhere in my body because, apparently, that would fuck up their whole system. (As if I was blind enough to miss all the enormous yellow warning signs scattered all around the MRI department). Of course I told him no, I didn’t have one (it was obvious though that I had braces on my teeth, but those didn’t count, or so he said). He then proceeds to remind me to leave all my stuff in the locker, especially my keys and credit cards. At that point I didn’t know if I should laugh or punch this guy in the face. He asks me to strip to my underwear and then reminds me not to carry my credit card to the exam room. Why the hell would I want to bring my credit card with me? And for that matter, where on earth was I going to put it? Inside my ass? Jeez.

So I finally go inside the exam room. If you’ve ever seen those movies where they have the actors lying down and slowly rolled inside the huge cylinder, well, it’s exactly like that. Only they never quite illustrate how uncomfortable it is. The nurse put some headphones on my ear (for the noise, he says) and tells me to lie still and not move too much as he rolls me inside, my nose practically just inches away from the roof of the cylinder. I’m telling you, claustrophobics will find this whole thing disconcerting, if not downright impossible. I felt like I was being buried alive in a cold vault.

And then the wait.

So there I was, just lying there, not permitted to move (well, I couldn’t have moved much anyway, even if I tried, considering how cramped it was inside). I couldn’t open my eyes because there was nothing to see except a bright enamel arc right in front of my face; I felt like it would close down on me any second. I couldn’t sleep either, because of the noise of the machine. First I heard a tapping right beneath me, which I imagined sounded like a zombie from the next grave trying to make contact. Then a loud buzzing sound, which I guessed was the electro-magnet itself doing its work. It was like that for a full hour. I was suspended in a state of near-hysteria the whole time. The attendant placed a buzzer on my left hand and there were a couple of times when I was tempted to press it, get the doctors rushing in asking what was wrong and just walk out of there. I swear there were times when I felt like I would lose it.

I have no idea how I lasted the hour, but I did. I cannot describe how relieved I was the ordeal was finally over. Maybe that was how some prisoners feel when they’re finally set free. I made my way back to the locker room and changed back into my clothes. Although they gave me the plates as soon as I got back out to the reception area; they told me the results wouldn’t be available for another four hours. That was fine. I told them I’d come back for it later. I just wanted to get out of there.

(PS. Turns out they didn’t find any tear in the ligament in my shoulder. Only that the joints already ARE a bit loose. Big surprise. My doctor said he’s scheduled me for arthroscopic surgery in a month. In the meantime, he’s recommended I undergo physical therapy. Again. Whee.)

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

How was YOUR weekend?

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Sunset in Galera

Took a trip to Puerto Galera over the weekend. Ryan and the troops went there Saturday morning, and even though I really wanted to go and join them, I wasn't really planning to. There's this little thing called work, see. But Saturday afternoon, his buddy texted me and asked if I wanted to follow them down there (on a side note, I know the word "text" hasn't officially entered the lexicon as a verb, but seeing as how ubiquitous SMS is now and hereabouts, I'm risking it. Besides, it's much more convenient to say somebody "texted" you than to say "he sent me a text message."). So like the typical kaladkarin that I am, I said yes. It was my third time there in less than two years.

Galera is no Boracay, not by a long shot, but for a quick trip to get away from the stress of the city to see sun, sand and surf, it'll do. For a moment when we got there (around 8am Sunday), it looked as if Mother Nature had other plans. The wind was howling and the temperature wasn't what I would call "beach weather." But later after a quick nap and lunch (pork sinigang and steamed shrimp), the sun finally broke free of the clouds and sent its dangerous UV rays down to us. The water was still a little chilly, but that didn't stop us from spending practically the entire day swimming and lounging around by the beach, getting a tan while sipping our fruit shakes.

The night was spent at the bars, where else? Whoever said alcohol doesn't help drown out your sorrows obviously hasn't had a Mindoro sling. A pitcher of that baby and you're set for the night. My friends and I had 2, plus a pitcher of their version of the blue drink Sub Zero, so we pretty much drank enough to fill our alcohol needs for the rest of the week. I remember there was dancing, some acrobatics by the beach and a few cheesy, melodramatic moments which I won't get into here. Good thing we managed to drag ourselves back to our room without further incident and head out to dreamland.

The next day I had a few minutes to myself while everybody was getting ready to leave. Our room was in the second floor and had a gorgeous view of the ocean. I just sat in one of the plastic chairs, put my feet up on the balcony and stared past the beachfront activities and into the horizon. The world is a fucked-up place, no question, but sometimes you just gotta learn to shut up, quit whining and just look at the beauty that's right there in front of you. Notwithstanding the less-than-smooth sailing we had to go through on our way back to Batangas pier (let's just say a few lunches ended up on the boat floor or in the ocean), it wasn't a bad way to spend a weekend. Life's a beach - I've known that all along. But it's good to be reminded of it once in a while.

Friday, March 04, 2005


I’m currently reading my seventh Peter Mayle book. (But if you have to be technical about it, it’s actually just my sixth, since I’m still in the middle of “A Dog’s Life.” I don’t know, I usually finish one book before starting another, but for some reason, I just had to open up “A Good Life,” which, by the way, I got off Jasper’s site.). I just read something there a few minutes ago that made me stop and think. This character dispenses advice to his nephew that goes, “Better to die on your feet than live on your knees.” I know some people live their lives like zombies, scraping just enough to barely get by. I can’t blame them though. It’s one thing to acknowledge, and agree on, an abstract concept and quite another to concretize it by going ahead and actually following what it says. Now I’m just rambling. But it’s pretty good advice, one that’ll probably get stuck in my head for the next few weeks, or until I read the next interesting aphorism.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

baguio blues 2

in a nutshell, Baguio was an unexpected treat. just so i can say i've been there, i visited all the usual tourist places - mine's view park...burnham park...SM City Baguio. yes, i would proffer that Henry Sy's life work has proclaimed itself quite strongly as a must-see and must-visit in the summer capital, despite being somewhat of an out-of-place monstrosity. because of its strategic position, though, one could get a breathtaking view of the city. i pretty much just soaked in the sights for over an hour, sipping my cappuccino in one of those overpriced cafes at the topmost floor.

something happened then and there that i cannot discuss at length here. suffice to say that, under the circumstances, it was just what i needed.

lunch (on both days i was there) was at "cafe by the ruins," a quaint local restaurant i first heard about from one of my idol howie severino's packaged reports. i wasn't disappointed; the stuffed chicken was sumptuous, the green salad, fresh and mouth-watering.

my journey back home was not unlike the trip going up there, uneventful for the most part, except for this girl who sat beside me and who asked to use my cellphone so she could text someone. i didn't have a problem with that, i was happy to lend her my phone, except that she asked to use it more than than 3 times, which annoyed me a bit because i was trying to get some sleep in. i didn't appreciate her interrupting my snooze to ask if the person she texted had texted her back. (i felt a little guilty after i found out later she barely had any money left and that she hadn't eaten lunch yet. no wonder she asked me how much the burger i was scarfing down cost during one of our rest stops).

so went my first trip to the city up north. if you ever have the chance, i highly recommend going on a trip alone. the most unexpected things can happen. who knows? they might even do you some good.