Part of the letter I made for my favorite professor

Part of the tribute/letter I made for my favorite professor

“Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass,” this quote from Anton Chekhov stated perfectly the lessons I learned from Ma’am Roldan. She was a proponent of choosing words wisely, keeping in mind the value of nouns and verbs over adverbs and adjectives, and of defamiliarization, which is seeing things anew, like a child, like it is the first time the sunlight has ever kissed your skin! (As many have expressed it before and after me, including Arthur Rimbaud who said, “Genius is the recovery of childhood at will.” Picasso also said something along those lines.)

My professor redefined the way I saw art and writing, transformed my standards of aesthetics and hard work, and above all, inspired and believed in me and my abilities.

Sandra Nicole Roldan was my creative writing teacher and I hope that many more will find Great Souls like her in their journeys. She is a professor in UP Diliman and also a talented writer and teacher.

She also introduced me to Brain Pickings, which houses Maria Popova’s genius and labor of love.

another part of the tribute/letter I made for SNR


Filmmaker Jason Silva’s inspiring video montage on life’s transience

A close friend of mine shared this in the most popular social networking site in the world and I thought it was worth sharing!

I haven’t posted in months and this hasty post will hardly make up for it but I will write more soon and post more things. Life has caught up with me and some things need to be dealt with outside the realm of the internet.

I reacted to this video because I believe it is life’s very impermanence that makes it more meaningful. Struggle and beauty are not two things, but one!

I agree art is how we assert our humanity, both our transience and desire to overcome that temporary state.

As Eleanor Roosevelt wonderfully said, “Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art.”

What if art is not limited to the dance floor, the paper, the canvas, or the musical staff? What if it is also something as mundane as forgiveness and hugs?

I like the way this filmmaker thinks. I think I shall soon become a fan. If you like this stuff, watch his other videos in his channel. You will not be disappointed.

The Only Proof He Needed For The Existence Of God Was Music

Check out the original entry in Zen Pencils here:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph:
― Kurt Vonnegut

You’ll notice by now that I’m kind of in love with music. Aside from chocolates, bacon, cabbage and rice (not all of them together–YUCH!!!, but perhaps, in the same meal!), you can say my other addiction is music, which gave birth to my addiction to dancing.

Perhaps the reason I love quotes so much is the same with the reason, as Ray Bradbury said, we read: to find people like ourselves. To find someone who thinks like us. And the painter Agnes Martin said something that rang true with me about music.

Art is responded to with emotion … and the best art is music — that’s the highest form of art. It’s completely abstract, and we make about eight times as much response to music than any of the other arts.

My addiction has also been beautifully explained in this YouTube video by AsapScience. Apparently, music does work like drugs since it releases dopamine in our brains.

If you want to read more about music, Diane Ackerman wrote a whole section about the scientific wonder of hearing in her book, A Natural History of The Senses, which I have mentioned before in my latest Dessert For Your Ears volume.

For more musical drugs, check out the singer Bobby McFerrin’s beautiful art of James Brown’s song, I Got The Feelin’

Credits go to Maria Popova of again! Check out her complete post on Agnes Martin and The Science of How Music Enchants The Brain. Also, one of my newest internet haunts has been! Check it out for amazing art and inspiring words. But don’t worry ’cause I’ll probably posting more of the artist/owner Gavin’s stuff here as well.

The Whole vs. Its Parts

“The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” (Aristotle)


A still from the 2010 film adaptation of Flipped

I first read this quote in Wendelin Van Draanen‘s Young Adult fiction, “Flipped” when I was in elementary school. Flipped has garnered the honor of being one of my favorite books because of the complete innocence, purity and magic it possessed. It’s about childhood friends who go through the pits and hurdles of growing up but end up all the better for it. Covered in the glitter of good storytelling, based on the solid foundation of almost naive love and sprinkled with the spice of family, school, little chicks and hors d’oeuvres, it has remained a book I continue to recommend to friends.

One of the deciding factors in my declaration of love for this book had been the wisdom it contained along with its quirky and inspiring set of characters. My favorite part had been the conversation Juli had with her father (if I remember correctly. I confess I do not have the book, but I’ve been promised to be given a copy of it by a dear friend. We just both forgot about it, I guess.) about the “whole being greater than the sum of its parts”, which, I learned from Goodreads, was originally said by Aristotle.

In the book it went like this:

A painting is more than the sum of its parts,’ he would tell me, and then go on to explain how the cow by itself is just a cow, and the meadow by itself is just grass and flowers, and the sun peeking through the trees is just a beam of light, but put them all together and you’ve got magic.”  ― Wendelin Van DraanenFlipped

This little lesson has stayed with me ever since and I never really fully understood what it meant when I first read it but I felt that unmistakable chill on my skin that told me it would change my life. I’m still in the process of absorbing its full meaning! But I must say, the fragments I understand of it are intensely beautiful.

And that meaning was also shared wonderfully in this video of the filmmaker Ken Burns about how stories should be told.

“You know the common story is one plus one equals two, we get it. But all stories are really, the real genuine stories, are about one and one equaling three. That’s what I’m interested in.

We live in a rational world where absolutely we’re certain that one and one equals two, and it does. But the things that matter most to us, some people call it love, some people call it God, some people call it reason, is that other thing where the whole is greater than the some of its parts, and that’s the three.” – Ken Burns

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

You can read Brainpicker Maria Popova’s take on this video here.

Flipped has been adapted into a beautiful film by Rob Reiner on the year 2010. I recommend it as well.

Credits go to three of my cyberspace haunts

YouTube, Brain Pickings and Goodreads

Photosynthetic Humans

I was sitting my Biology 11, Basic Botany and Zoology, class and listening like the perfect little student I am. We were discussing things about the plant and animal cells. Mitochondria, chlorophyll, stroma, golgi apparatus, ribosomes and all those little things we have inside our bodies. Then a funny thought alighted on my mind. It asked me, “What if animal cells had chloroplasts?”. In other words, what if humans could photosynthesize and produce their own food?

Behold! The Plant Cell!

Behold! The Plant Cell!

Then I just ran away with this idea for a while and I ended up writing this.

What if human cells could steal chloroplasts? Apparently, a certain water creature is capable of this. When it eats some kind of fungus or plant, I forgot the specifics, it steals the chloroplasts of plants so it’s a photosynthetic animal.

If humans had chloroplasts, we would be green. Or we would have patches of green that would cover our skin where the sunlight hits us most: the ridges of our noses, the planes of our foreheads, the top of our arms and our shoulders. Would people walk around naked so they could photosynthesize more when they’re really hungry? Green people working out naked. Sounds like something different.

If we were all green, would racial discrimination still exist? Or would our prominent greenness something we would all overlook given the distinctiveness our different facial structures have?

If we were all green and don’t need to eat, would we miss the tantalizing curse of food? The succulent flavors of fruit juices and the fire of spices that we could once savor in our mouths? Or would we carry on eating just to satisfy the selfish cravings of our palates?

If we were all green and could produce our own food, would world hunger end? Would wars cease? Or would humans find another cause for war aside from resource scarcity? Would people stop working just to get money for food? Stop stealing to feed their families? Would jobs become less like work and instead, more closely reflect the passion every human being has since we could risk much more without the overbearing shadow of needing money for sustenance? Would photosynthesis make happiness and peace more easily grasped?

If we could all photosynthesize, would our excess starch mean we could produce enlarged body organs and parts that we could pluck off and give to a starving animal? Roots from our toes we could share, stems from our fingers we can give away. Literally pieces of ourselves we offer up to give sustenance to those who need it, or, maybe, just wants to taste a bit of it. Perhaps, we could grow our hearts and pluck it or portions of it from inside our chest so someone else can literally have our heart? Would that mean we could also give pieces of our brains away, so people can taste our thoughts or have pieces of our minds?

If our cells become totipotent, which is to have the ability to become any specialized cell that is demanded of it, like plant cells, would we have the ability to grow back the parts of ourselves we have given away and therefore, become as selfless as trees?

Would that mean we could be immortal or at least grow so old that we would get bored with the world and eventually offer ourselves up to be eaten away into oblivion by other creatures who cannot photosynthesize?

The Photosynthetic Slug

The Photosynthetic Slug

Is life meaningful?

from National Geographic Photograph by Marko Savic"In a hidden street I found this cafe. It looked like a scenography for some movie. I loved the atmosphere and the pictures on the wall. The lighting was really dramatic, and the man with the cigar was in just the right place."

from National Geographic, Photograph by Marko Savic
“In a hidden street I found this cafe. It looked like a scenography for some movie. I loved the atmosphere and the pictures on the wall. The lighting was really dramatic, and the man with the cigar was in just the right place.”

Here I am, sharing my exam answers in the blogosphere! I’m going to leave for Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte tonight, where there will be no access to internet, until the end of holy week. I didn’t want to end March without me posting at least one thing of relevance! Here is what I have come up with for the past busy month full of exams, papers and preparation for an awesome dance concert.

For our final exam in my Philosophy class, we were asked:

1. Is life meaningful? Defend.

            Before I answer this question, I must first do my best to define meaning and life.

Does this paper have meaning? To a three-year-old child who finds this in the quest for something to draw on, it is a canvas for his or her imagination. To a pet lover walking his or her dog around a village and finds this paper while the dog is performing acts of cleansing, this paper will serve as something to keep the streets free from dog litter. But hopefully, to Sir Caslib and others who will read the letters and words that have been printed on this paper, this paper holds a good argument to prove that life is meaningful.

The Oxford American Writer’s Thesaurus says meaning is synonymous with significance, sense, value, usefulness, and worth. Meaning is made and created. Meaning is not an intrinsic quality of any object, or even any person. Meaning is fluid and arbitrary, it is something people decide to give or act on. Meaning-making is a human activity. As such, individuals have the power to give or withdraw meaning to or from anything, which is why the meaning of this paper changes for each person who finds it.

Since life is trickier to capture, let me share this anecdote from David Foster Wallace’s Kenyon Commencement Address called “This Is Water”.

There are these two young fish swimming along and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes “What the hell is water?”[1]

This is water; this is life. In academic institutions, we often say schooling is preparation for real life. Is this not real enough for you? We get so caught up in the whirl of school and business we forget we are already living! We are in the midst of life. Life might just pass us by too quickly if we don’t take notice of it.

Like everything else in the entire universe, life, intrinsically, has no meaning.  But, since, as human beings, we have the unique ability and natural tendency to give things reasons to exist, to seek answers for all our whys, we are what make life meaningful. So is life meaningful? It is, if you decide to make it so. Joseph Campbell said, “Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.” Stephen Jay Gould, a science writer, agrees with John Campbell. He ruminates on life’s meaning through elaborating on the chances of having human life in the universe.

“The human species has inhabited this planet for only 250,000 years or so-roughly.0015 percent of the history of life, the last inch of the cosmic mile. The world fared perfectly well without us for all but the last moment of earthly time–and this fact makes our appearance look more like an accidental afterthought than the culmination of a prefigured plan.*

Moreover, the pathways that have led to our evolution are quirky, improbable, unrepeatable and utterly unpredictable. Human evolution is not random; it makes sense and can be explained after the fact. But wind back life’s tape to the dawn of time and let it play again–and you will never get humans a second time.

We are here because one odd group of fishes had a peculiar fin anatomy that could transform into legs for terrestrial creatures; because the earth never froze entirely during an ice age; because a small and tenuous species, arising in Africa a quarter of a million years ago, has managed, so far, to survive by hook and by crook. We may yearn for a ‘higher’ answer — but none exists. This explanation, though superficially troubling, if not terrifying, is ultimately liberating and exhilarating. We cannot read the meaning of life passively in the facts of nature. We must construct these answers ourselves — from our own wisdom and ethical sense. There is no other way.*[2]

            This begs the question, so, what is the meaning of life? The three Greek Philosophers, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, agree that virtue is something all humans should aim to have. They define virtue as excellence of function, this means fulfilling one’s purpose to one’s fullest capacity. Therefore, the meaning of life is living to one’s whole capacity. Being alive means being totally aware. Notice life, see the water, taste it, savor it, make love to it! Life is meant to be lived and to live fully means to have a full taste of all the facets of life. Aristotle also speaks about telos. the ultimate why or reason for being of an individual. He describes entelechy, which is the innate, natural drive in each individual to achieve telos. For humanity, that telos is eudaimonia. It is a full awareness of life by a fully functioning individual.

Henry Miller said much of the same thing in this beautiful and poetic quote.

“Strange as it may seem today to say, the aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.* In this state of god-like awareness one sings; in this realm the world exists as poem. No why or wherefore, no direction, no goal, no striving, no evolving. Like the enigmatic Chinaman one is rapt by the everchanging spectacle of passing phenomena. This is the sublime, the a-moral state of the artist, he who lives only in the moment, the visionary moment of utter, far-seeing lucidity. Such clear icy sanity that it seems like madness. By the force and power of the artist’s vision the static, synthetic whole which is called the world is destroyed. The artist gives back to us a vital, singing universe, alive in all is parts.*[3]

Living life gets hard to do. Sunday Morning Lyrics. Art by Janelle P.

Living life gets hard to do. Sunday Morning Lyrics. Art by Janelle P.

2. What makes love figure in the existential question of the meaning of life?

            I have just talked about eudaimonia and the meaning of life. If eudaimonia is a full awareness of life by a fully functioning individual, where does love figure in it? Let me clarify now that when I speak of love, I speak not only of eros, but of love for family and friends and love for a passion, dream or advocacy as well, because while some manifestations of these different kinds of love may be different, they are all united in their main purpose. Love seeks to unite two individuals, may they be things, ideas or people.

Here is a poem that perfectly encapsulates this quality of love.

“Wondrous the Merge”

by James Broughton

Wondrous Wondrous the merge
Wondrous the merge of soulmates
the surprises of recognition
Wondrous the flowerings of renewal
Wondrous the wings of the air
clapping their happy approval

* * *

I severed my respectabilities
and bought a yellow mobile home
in an unlikely neighborhood
He moved in his toaster his camera
and his eagerness to become
my courier seed-carrier and consort

Above all he brought the flying carpet
that upholsters his boundless embrace
Year after year he takes me soaring
out to the ecstasies of the cosmos
that await all beings in love

One day we shall not bother to return

Based on Sir Caslib’s lectures, I have gathered that, according to Plato, people love because we desire to possess what’s beautiful and we desire it to last forever. In other words, people want to become better. And in an act of loving, we do become better. We expand our consciousness; we think outside of ourselves. So initially, what started out as a selfish reason to possess something that is good and beautiful becomes selfless because we start doing things for somebody or something that we love; in effect, we broaden our perspective of the world and of life. Love is a selfish choice that enables selfless giving.

When we love a friend, we do favors for them, we share stories with them, and we connect with them. When we love a special person, we do the same and even more because the sense of oneness is actualized in an act of making love. When we love an idea or are passionate about something, we focus our attention on it and see things in light of that love and naturally want to protect that love, so we are moved towards action to make sure it is preserved. Honestly, you can interchange the things I just said. All three are really interconnected and so fluid in their characteristics.

This expansion of the self when loving was described beautifully in Carljoe Javier’s essay, “The Grammar of Love”, in Wagas.

“In an act of love time dilates and we are, through loving, able to expand the universe, making it seem as if this one moment were a moment that could be held and stretched across time.…*

Performing acts of love allows us to expand our hearts, our selves, and the entire universe.* The act of loving allows us to connect, to transcend physical barriers and emotional turmoil. And in this we create a space in the universe, wholly our own, and shared only with the person we share this creation with….”[4]

No matter what kind of love you have in your life, the most beautiful thing about love is how it is simply uniting two individual things or people. It is a unity, a merging, something almost Buddhist and Daoist about how everything is one and the same. And perhaps, that is the natural human state–connection, unity, belongingness, acceptance, embrace, universality–which is why, I believe, loving is the paradigmatic manifestation of being human.

Being fully alive and aware is actualized in the act of loving because when we love, we risk our entire self, our time, our effort, our minds, our well being in our act of expansion for the receiver of our love. One of my favorite professors in the university, Ma’am Liway Ruizo, writes in Wagas,

“This is where I shall dare venture into the dangerous waters of theorizing:

That true love is for the brave. *

It is not for the tentative, the sacred. It is for the bold, the heroic, and yes, the reckless. It is not for those who are constantly afraid of heartbreak, who by reflex, are protective of themselves. It is not for those who have the habit of folding when confronted with the risk of losing it all. Not for those who are more fearful of rejection, than the regret that comes with not trying….

We embrace despite the fear of wounding ourselves with the thorns that they put up. We take them and let them in, these people we love, fully aware of the danger that they might not choose to stay.* We welcome them into our homes, our lives, when they just might rob us of what little we have, and leave a gaping space where they once were. We dare to make them feel what we really want them to feel, even when it might not be reciprocated. We partly, or wholly, relinquish our conditions and checklists, for the sake of making them feel that we love them for who they are, and not for who we wish they’d be.”[5]

Loving is living life with arms outstretched like our legendary Oblation. Love strips you of all your facades and leaves you naked and vulnerable. Loving is the only way to live life fully! When we love, that is when we fully open ourselves up to life and experience all its sorrows, joys, disappointments, mundanities and silliness in their purest essence. And yes, it is terrifying, it can be boring, it can be exciting, and it will hurt, but as Ma’am Ruizo ends her essay, “…the only other thing more terrifying than truly loving, is the going without.”5

from Brandon, creator of Humans Of New York blog
“I do yoga to get energy from the air.”

[1] Wallace, David Foster. This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life. New York City: Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

[2] Popova, Maria. “Charles Bukowski, Arthur C. Clarke, Annie Dillard, John Cage, and Others on the Meaning of Life by Maria Popova.” Brain Pickings. 09 17, 2012. (accessed 2012).

[3] Popova, Maria. “Henry Miller on Creative Death.” Brain Pickings. 12 07, 2012. (accessed 12 2012).

[4] Javier, Carljoe. “The Grammar Of Love.” In Wagas and other tales, talks and takes on love, by Bernardo N. Caslib and Liway Czarina S. Ruizo, 90-91. Quezon City: Central Book Supply Inc., 2012.

[5] Ruizo, Liway Czarina S. “Terrified.” In Wagas and other tales, talks, and takes on love, by Bernardo N. Caslib and Liway Czarina S. Ruizo, 113-114. Quezon City: Central Book Supply Inc., 2012.

*bold and italics are all mine.