Quiet

 

“… I got the message that somehow my quiet and introverted style of being was not necessarily the right way to go, that I should be trying to pass as more of an extrovert.”
Susan Cain, author of Quiet

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If there’s a book that I keep returning to –
If there is one book that compels me to turn the next page –
If there is one book that turned on the tap –
If there is one book where it seems like the author is sitting beside me, describing me –
If there is one book that helped me to make sense of myself and my daughter –
If there is one book that I love, love, love …

… it is Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.

Published in 2012, I first heard about Quiet years ago at an online forum where mothers discussed social issues plaguing their children. The book was recommended as an insightful read. At that time, I filed it away in my wishlist … where it stayed until last December when I went Christmas shopping.

So what finally pushed me to buy it?

My daughter. The only girl in my brood of four, her being onion-skinned was getting on my nerves. The times when I needed to cuddle her and reassure her after an  innocent remark by her brothers had sent her crawling to the bedroom were getting to be more frequent. And. Short of showing my irritation, I knew I had to do something other than pray. And introspect. Was her sensitivity inherited?  I know I am overly sensitive to people and what they say (or not say) in words and in facial expressions – not so much to situation and things – but had I passed it on to her? She’s homeschooled and though I’ve asked her thousand of times whether she wants to go to school to have more friends, she’s content with her chickens.

Is she like me, an introvert who always has to mentally prepare oneself prior to meeting a roomful of people? I don’t sweat when meeting people I know but there is an uneasiness so that preparing questions beforehand is a must. “Are you vacationing back home?” sounds lame when it’s the only question you ask each time you meet someone.

In Asian cultures, there’s often a subtle way to get what you want. It’s not always aggressive, but it can be very determined and very skillful. In the end, much is achieved because of it. Aggressive power beats you up; soft power wins you over.”
                       Preston Ni, communications professor

In the book, Cain speaks of her dread of public speaking, a fear that one would never have guessed if one watched her TED Talk  prior to reading her story. Now that spoke to me.  There was a time when, driving to a party, I confided my trepidation at meeting people I barely know to my husband. He glanced at me briefly, took note of my made-up face, heels and attire, then blurted out “It sure doesn’t look like it.” If only he knew.

It’s a good thing the book is an excellent read, otherwise I would have felt let down after waiting that long. Still, it is not easy to digest, peppered as it is with  technical explanations of social research by the likes of developmental psychologist Jerry Kagan, psychologist Solomon Asch, neuroscientist Gregory Berns, neuroscientist/psychiatrist Janice Dorn, and many others.

What makes the book so interesting is Cain’s foray into self-help: she enrolled in a day-long class “Communications Success for Foreign-Born Professionals” and even participated in Tony Robbins’ $895 “Unleash the Power Within” in her quest to understand society’s extrovert ideal. The latter propelled her to investigate the link between extroversion and leadership, and how we humans are wired to equate extroversion with superior leadership performance.

Interspersed with Cain’s research into, among others, the link between brain chemistry and personality are profiles of introverts such as Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Professor Brian Little, and Eleanor Roosevelt. It seems there are many introverts out there who have been mistaken for extroverts because they have successfully faked it.

So. What, exactly, did I learn?

First, shyness does not equate to introversion. Not all introverts are shy. Most overcome their tendency to keep to themselves when working on something they are passionate about. “Shyness is fear of social judgment.

Second, leaders who are introverts deliver better results than extroverted leaders because they allow the ideas of people working under them to rise up and be applied. However, their performance is often overlooked because they are overshadowed by extroverted leaders who, alas, often make more noise. Recall the 2008 financial crisis?

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Third, introverts are more likely to open up digitally, according to Cain who spent ten years researching her book. Now this was something that posed a conflict for me. Truly. I love writing and yet, there have been times I stopped myself from writing because doing so exposed the Me that I hide from even close friends. Reading Cain’s finding was, thus, a relief. It was a comfort to know that I am not alone in opening up to strangers in a digital landscape.

There’s more but you’ll have to read Cain’s book to get them all.  With a TED talk and the book plus a sequel, Cain has – in her quiet way – revolutionized the way introverts are seen and hopefully, how organizations have adapted to either accommodate introversion among their employees or maximize the potential of introverts among their rank.

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As for me, Jerry Kagan’s finding that high-reactive babies grow up to be serious, sensitive individuals was a revelation. It explained my eldest’s transformation from being an infant who was aroused from sleep by the slightest noise to this quiet individual who prefers the company of only a few people. He’s not a gregarious person at all. When I think about it, introversion runs deeply in my children.

Thank you, Susan Cain, for sharing what you learned from your journey into understanding introverts. It provided telling glimpses into our psyche. 🙂

Verdict: ***** A Good Buy

Independence Day activity, 2017

So. It was the Philippines’ Independence Day yesterday. And. My friends and I engaged in some traditional Filipino past time of yesteryears. But first, a confession: I’m a city girl born and bred. That means my mother bought Filipino kakanin from a vendor in the palengke while we were growing up. My friends, however, had memories of their mothers preparing and steaming suman, otherwise known as Filipino rice cake in banana leaves. Thus, when the hankering becomes strong, we gather together and make it.

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My heart sank when I beheld this pile of banana leaves. Unlike in the Philippines, which receive rain, banana leaves here must be washed before it can be used as rice cake wraps.

It took a long time for the banana leaves to be singed and washed before we got to even draining coconut milk from the freshly grated coconuts we’d bought earlier. Thus, that it was past 4 pm when I finally arrived home, anxious to show the spoils of our fellowship to the hubby (who was due to leave at 5 pm).

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Don’t even try to make rice cakes with powdered coconut milk! Fresh is the only way to go. It took us three rounds of squeezing the grated flesh from five coconuts to get enough coconut milk for approximately five kilos of glutinous rice. 

After he left, I steamed the suman then hied off to bed, not bothering to remind the children that Philippines Independence Day equates to my independence from the kitchen and feeding them. The eldest complained about eating the sinaing na isda for the umpteenth time (it’s only now in my late forties that I finally get why it was a favorite of my mother’s during my teenage years). It being past iftar, I told him to order food.

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It takes Wonder Woman strength to mix glutinous rice as it is being cooked. My friend and I did not take turns – we both whisked and tossed at the same time.

And was reminded of the benefits of not having fast food in a desert town during their growing up period. “Subway is too expensive, a sandwich costs more than Dh20!

Me, lying in bed still. “Just order!

“Okay, I’ve ordered noodles.”

Someone, however, was in seventh heaven over the fresh taste of our suman. “Mom, these are the best ever!” my daughter exclaimed even before she finished her fourth.

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Needless to say, I learned a lot. It starts with a ball of hot, cooked, glutinous rice which you squash using the ends or sides of the banana leaves.

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Hmmm. Can I just mention that today, for breakfast, I burned the fried rice?

This week I’m reading …

My TBR book pile keeps on growing. Frankly, I don’t know when or if it will ever be reduced to a manageable stack. Sigh … it’s so hard to read several books at the same time. Anyway, right now, I am just so delighted that I’ve finally got my hands on the following after salivating over them for so long … in other words, after they languished in my wishlist for years, ha, ha …

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History of the Ancient World: From the Earliest Accounts to the Fall of Rome by Susan Wise Bauer

Teaching history to my kids has piqued my interest in knowing exactly what happened where and when. Textbooks share the same basic information: Sumer, Akkad, the Hittites, etc … rose in power then declined. But the human element remained missing despite such phrases such as so and so “conquered the city.” And I was always left bitin, wondering “How?” and “Why?”

Below: according to Bauer, Hoshea’s envoys most probably appealed to the “Delta king named Osorkon IV” prior to Shalmaneser V’s siege of Samaria.

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Not anymore. Bauer fleshes out the arc of history with her captivating narrative and by including maps, footnotes, diagrams, and “vivid attention to individual lives” in her page-turner of a book. In a sense, it’s just like Genevieve Foster’s books that present history horizontally to show how personalities from diverse lands intersected at certain points in history. Yet it’s so much more. To see what I mean, please look at the pages I have attached (no copyright violation intended, this is a review!)

Below, a map using the old names and a side-by-side king list to help one track the various leaders of the different nations that arose during ancient times

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Okay, I’ve yet to read all those history tomes put out by Oxford University Press (though I am sorely tempted to buy them all!) so I’ve no academic publication to compare Bauer’s book to … still, I feel like I’ve not wasted the money spent on it. Especially when you get a historian’s dry wit when Bauer opines about the transition from cuneiform to papyrus: “Thus, five thousand years ago, we have not only the first writing, but also the first technological advance to come back and bite mankind.

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Example of a footnote

They’re all here: the idiosyncratic twists and turns of humanity the consequences of which altered the course of history for better or for worse.

Verdict: Buy to have your own copy! *****

The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa and Asia – and How It Died by Philips Jenkins

I already own three books on the history of Christianity. But. They’re all geared towards the Western world. Thus, when I was introduced to Philip Jenkins work via a Christianity Today piece nine years ago (CT’s archives were still in the public domain then, now it’s open only to subscribers), I could not resist adding his book to my wishlist. And. What an enlightening read it has been. I believe that Christians of all denominations should read it if only to be warned that geography does not inoculate a people’s faith from being obliterated by force. As Jenkins himself says in one of the pages I have pasted below, “Our common mental maps of Christian history omit a thousands years of that story, and several million square miles of territory.

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Below are a few pages to show just how the churches of the East were active throughout much of the medieval period and how their history continues to be buried beneath a West-centric construct of ecclesiastic history by Western historians.

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Who was Timothy? Well, according to Jenkins, he was an overseer of 85 bishops and 19 metropolitans of the Church of the East during Charlemagne’s lifetime. By then, the church had spread to Arabia and Central Asia (see map below). As an aside, the ruins of a Nestorian church was excavated at Sir Bani Yas Island near our desert town.

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Frankly, the Palm Sunday explosion at two of Egypt’s Coptic churches drove me to consult Jenkins’ book. And since then, I’ve learned that the Copts’ current minority status was due to the centuries-long persecution of their kind. For being so informative, Jenkins is to be praised. However, as an Amazon reviewer said, he jumps around so much and – for me, at least – in the latter part analyzes too much. Well, all historians do it, I guess. Offer their opinion or interpretation of events.

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Verdict: Buy to have your own copy if you can’t borrow. ****

Hmm … it just occured to me that these two books deal with history. Does this mean I like history? Well, I’ve lately been having trouble getting into fiction. I mean – I have yet to dive into the Alexander McCall Smiths that have been sitting on my shelf for months. Like, fiction is so easy for me to put down. Like … they’re not real enough for me. But these two books stole big chunks of my homeschooling time. Maybe the past holds so much fascination because they actually happened whereas fiction resembles a fairy tale that could never happen in a thousand lifetimes? I. Seriously. Don’t know. 🙂

 

Duterte, again.

Note: Phrases in bold link to a webpage.

I have never met a Duterte supporter who does not believe that the end justifies the means. That, together with Elizabeth Kolbert’s Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, is the best explanation I can come up with for the continued popularity of a president who has publicly admitted to lying, murder and womanizing as well as redefined the rules of the game for politicians, journalists, criminals, and any Filipino with an opinion.

Admittedly, my world is very, very small. But. Being part of the Filipino diaspora, I do get to meet people from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao – more, I suspect, than if I had stayed home in Batangas.

Don’t get me wrong. I deeply admire the man. He has accomplished, despite repeated failures to fulfill promises by his own deadlines, what no other politician or public servant has pulled off since the Philippines became a republic. Consider these events that, taken singly, can be attributed to market forces but which, taken together, seem to have been caused by his acerbic tongue:

1   The peso depreciated to a ten-year low of P50.42 (March 2, 2017)  from P47.09 to the dollar on the day he was elected (May 9, 2016)

2   Two European companies left, bringing with them 4,ooo – 5,000 jobs

3   The PSEI is currently at 7,234.94 (March 2, 2017) after climbing to 8,102.30 on
July 21, 2016, the highest since the May elections.

4   Unemployment stands at 11.2 million, according to an SWS survey that extrapolated a nationwide survey of 1,500 adults. (One wonders how realistic this figure is but I know for a fact that low oil prices led to retrenchments last year)

5   Inflation rose to a 25-month high of 2.7% (March 2, 2017). We ought to brace ourselves for higher commodity prices; the forecast for April is 3.4-3.6%, although the BSP expects it  to “remain manageable at 3.3 percent this year.”

In any other situation or country, such  changes would have  driven  economists and businessmen to issue grave warnings regarding the direction of fiscal, monetary, and economic policies. But this is the Philippines where emotions reign over facts. (Jollibee’s marketing team acknowledged their recent viral ads came about after a commissioned survey showed Filipinos to be the most emotional people in the world.) Where cognitive dissonance, that theory of psychology that explains how a person can hold conflicting views, is applicable every corner you turn. Where facts are interpreted according to a political party’s colors instead of historical evidence. Where sexy dancers can reinvent themselves into credible journalists. As an aside, I find Mocha Uson’s evolution into a media personality uplifting: kung kaya niya maging credible sa mata ng marami, aba, e meron pa pala akong pag-asa … of course, my only problem is I was never a sexy dancer and can’t be one at my advanced age. Ha, ha.

Never, since I gained consciousness about Philippines politics, has a personality amassed   such a cult following. How else can one explain the adulation of a president whose minions have no difficulty convincing people to buy Malacanang’s version of history and events and, note this, modeling how to descend to below-the-belt punches and muckraking on social media. You don’t resort to attacking the messenger if the message is unpalatable unless reason has fled and emotion rules. Even if the message offends your sensibilities because it’s true and facts supports it. What does that say about us as Filipinos?

We should care for each other more than we care for ideas, or else we will end up killing each other.
                                                                Louis de Berniere, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

But this is not a political commentary. So let’s not discuss statistics or the legality of arrests or the posturings of  political neophytes who wish to gain pogi points from their constituents and fellow senators. And let’s not talk about why personalities behind bars, whose guilt have been established without doubt in court, have been set free.

Instead, let’s talk about the ongoing social transformation brought about by the 2016 election campaign and Duterte’s presidency. To date, the president has, with the help of the Internet as well as Armand Nocum and his paid trolls:

1   divided the citizenry into two camps, both of which are at each other throats over his actions, the intended meaning of his words, the interpretation of current events, the veracity of news, etc …

2   hoodwinked a nation of 100+ million into accepting the killing of more than 7,ooo citizens on the assumption that doing away with addicts (who are automatically presumed to be pushers) will deplete the supply of drugs.

3   endeared himself to millions of supporters with his conflicting statements about his (lack of) wealth, his desire to swamp Manila Bay with the cadavers of drug addicts, his fight against corruption, his insulting remarks against Obama and other leaders, not to mention his promises, etc …

I ask you, if Mar Roxas or Jejomar Binay or Miriam Santiago or Grace Poe had declared their intention to kill their enemies would the general population have lapped it up?

People do not seem to realize that their opinion of the world is also a confession of character.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

There’s a silver lining to every cloud and Duterte’s presidency plus the manner in which people have swallowed his flip-flopping statements have allowed me a glimpse into the worldviews of people I commune with. And. Shown me how secular humanism has invaded and pervades the church. Should we wonder, then, why so many evangelicals stood behind Trump prior to the US elections in November 2016?

It baffles me no end that people who profess to be recipients of a saving grace cannot extend the same grace to victims of drug lords who have earned millions by exploiting human weakness. They sincerely believe drug addicts are criminals who deserve no second chance at reforming their lives.

That, I believe, is why we cannot reach out and evangelize. How can we seek the lost when we, too, are lost, mired in the world’s humanistic belief system? How can we proclaim Christ’s redemptive work and His second coming when we have unknowingly become existentialists with a fervid individualism bolstered by our identity as children of the King? How can we be salt and light of the earth when our thoughts and deeds do not deviate from the world’s standards?

The result of Kierkegaard’s emergence in the middle of the twentieth century can be described as theological and philosophical diffusion. Thinking moved from the rational to the irrational; reason gave way to feeling. Final truth slipped away.
Dave Breese, 7 Men Who Rule the World from the Grave

We may not be relativists, holding on with righteous indignation to moral absolutes set forth in the bible, but where Scripture is silent, our words and actions betray a relativism that is shaped by popular culture and not by Someone who died for our sins. And so, we, too, are helpless to recognize when we are being duped by logical fallacies and deceptive philosophies that have caused  the deaths of millions elsewhere (think Russia and China). In the end, there’s not much to distinguish us from people who do not have the hope of heaven.

Leaders must not be chosen based on charisma, popularity or ease of communication, all of which are misleading and have little to do with the efficacy of a political leader.
                                                                                                   Veronica Roth, Divergent
                                                                                                   (“Erudite” Faction Manifesto)

And now I will confess: were not I a Christian, I would have voted Duterte, too, and support his political platform, even his party’s maneuvers to bring about change and attain his Hobbesian vision.

While it’s true that one does not need to be a Christian to oppose a politician (and may I point out that one can also oppose someone yet still support that person’s policies and interests), for me, at least, being a Christian precludes any possibility of supporting anyone – male or female, qualified or unqualified – who has deliberately lied uncountable times, planted evidence to win cases as a prosecutor, claims to dislike corruption but has freed corrupt politicians in jail, and who, according to a clinical psychologist, possesses “gross indifference to others’ needs and feelings, heightened by lack of capacity for remorse and guilt.” Support for gay rights is a politician’s prerogative. It can be repealed. Character cannot.

Morality aside, shouldn’t knowing Jesus force us to confront our feelings, thoughts, convictions, and ideals? (In my case, it compelled me to deconstruct my feminist self.) Shouldn’t our faith be the bedrock of our reason? Shouldn’t people who personally know the God of creation value life and uphold the dignity of man, who was created in His image and likeness? Yesterday, the President declared that “killing criminals is not a crime against humanity because they have no humanity.” One can lose his/her mind but how can anyone lose his/her humanity by doing wrong? If that were the case, we are setting aside the grace of God that allowed us to be saved without doing good works.

When freedom destroys order, the yearning for order destroys freedom.
                                                                                                                     Eric Hoffer

Don’t think I don’t get it. Believe me, I do. I ride the public transport whenever we’re in the Philippines, be it in Manila or Batangas. And if you say that people are so fed up with confronting drug addicts before they can be in the safety of their homes, well, let me tell you that I have had an encounter with a drug addict in broad daylight in Manila years and years ago. It was an experience I have never forgotten: I arrived at the office trembling, in tears, shocked at myself for breaking down so easily.

I, too, yearn for the day when the Philippines can be at par with the countries I have lived in: Singapore and the UAE (it is worth noting that both make an effort to promote tolerance between different races and nationalities).

Being fed up with an imperfect democracy and yearning for change, however, is not cause to give up our freedoms or throw out the rule of law for certain sectors of society. Let us not delude ourselves that violence will bring peace and progress. Or that replacing those who have held power for so long with outsiders will automatically bring positive change. If that were true, how can you explain the despotic rulers that most African nations have had since their independence from colonial masters? I, for one, do not believe that the surface changes, be it at the airport or elsewhere, will last.

True, transformational change does not occur without changing the fundamentals (basically what PNoy focused his energy on during his tenure and yes, PNoy had so many failings as a president). Otherwise, poverty, the lack of work opportunities, the weakening of familial bonds due to OFW deployment, our crab mentality, our celebrity- and entertainment-obsessed culture, the church’s declining influence, yearly natural calamities, our lack of food security, the under-the-table business culture, traffic-associated business losses, the cut-throat nature of international trade, the peso’s depreciation which automatically leads to higher commodity prices, etc … will derail any progress towards prosperity.

In the case of the individual, change happens from the inside. And. If you’re a Christian, change begins when one becomes “a new creation.”

The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
                                                                                                 Edmund Burke

In the meantime, I think of another ruler whose military feats and political acumen earned him the adulation of the masses so much so that they “appointed him dictator for life … regarding the monarchy as a respite from the evils of the civil wars.” (Plutarch 57:1) He, too, entertained and gave favors in the form of monthly rations of food to the common people. If you think about it, 2000 years do not change the nature of man. The Filipino who thinks that a strongman who condones the killing of drug addicts to rid society of a menace that they see up close and personal is no different from the Roman who looks at dictatorship as a necessary evil to bring peace to Rome. Both believe that the end justifies the means.

In a democracy … tyranny may well be apprehended on some favorable emergency.
                                                                                       James Madison, The Federalist 

And yet, history has shown time and time again that the maxim “The end justifies the means” to be the biggest lie that has enslaved revolutionaries and dictators alike. No less than Colombia’s ex president, Cesar Gaviria, declared that a heavy-handed approach to the drug problem is not the solution. Also, common sense tells us that no government has ever been successful in legislating behavior. Remember, the Prohibition eventually collapsed.

Then again, consider Robespierre, a name synonymous with the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror even though he never became the head of government. Just in case you think it’s far fetched to compare Duterte to Robespierre, consider their similarities: both were educated as lawyers and both led simple lives.

Robespierre, in fact, was known as “the Incorruptible” (whether the term can be applied to our dear president remains to be seen, he has yet to give the go signal for his bank account records to be publicized) for not exploiting his public position to advance himself. In working for “the peaceful enjoyment of liberty and equality,” however, Robespierre  found it expedient to send his critics to the guillotine.

And you know what else? Like Julius Caesar, whose excesses brought his own death at the hands of his fellow senators, Robespierre met his end  at the hand of his own party mates, the Jacobins.

You are confusing peace with terror.
                          Galen Erso to Orson Krennic, Rogue One

But let’s not dwell on the past. The present is contentious enough. Right now, many Filipinos are rejoicing that peace change has finally come, never mind that more than 7,000 souls did not have their time in court prior to their deaths. What of it, anyway, when their victims also never had a chance to file charges against them? Never mind that the rule of law is subverted by the court of public opinion. Had those deaths happened under PNoy’s watch, you think people would have rejoiced? No, they would have used it as another excuse to vilify him.

In the absence of justice, what is sovereignty but organized robbery?
                                                                                     Augustine of Hippo

Today, many articles and essays are coming out about the loss of freedoms and the rise of fascism in America under Donald Trump. I tell you, we have it worse in the Philippines. Trump won due to an electoral system that enabled a candidate to live in the White House despite having lesser votes than his opponent. We voted into office a politician whose antics and rhetoric has mesmerized the populace so much that they have voluntarily given up the freedom to think for themselves, preferring to digest sound bites of alternative news and views from individuals who were not known thinkers prior to the May 2016 elections on the pretext that the elite (Who exactly are they? The intellectuals, the oligarchy, or traditional media who holds to standards not held by the new media mavericks. I wonder if the common Duterte fan knows or can even rationalize his/her contempt for the elite.) cannot be credible and must be brought down.

Into thirty centuries born, 
At home in them all but the very last,
We meet ourselves at every turn
In the long country of the past.
                                     Edwin Muir, Into Thirty Centuries Born

We have it worse because 31 years after we brought down a dictator, we are at odds with each other over the creeping signs of authoritarian rule, the legacy of EDSA and the lack of respect for the rule of law. Haven’t we been here before? Yet without the old opposition stalwarts, we’re not aware of the climate of fear, impunity, brainwashing, and mind conditioning that is becoming prevalent on our watch. We even cheer when critics of Duterte and voices of dissent are attacked, never mind if charges against them were brought about due to technical loopholes in the legal system. I fear the hubris of a generation unshackled and empowered by social media could be the death of us.

In the year World War 2 began, a British poet wrote a six-line masterpiece after living in Berlin and watching Hitler’s rise to power. Isn’t it chilling that more than 75 years after it was written, his poem aptly summarizes what is happening in our country?

Perfection, of a kind, was what he was after,
And the poetry he invented was easy to understand;
He knew human folly like the back of his hand,
And was greatly interested in armies and fleets;
When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.
                                                    W.H. Auden, Epitaph on a Tyrant

Was Auden a prophet in foretelling Duterte’s drug war as “poetry he invented … easy to understand?” Perhaps. I don’t know. When I look at how Erdogan has reduced Turkey to a state of martial law without declaring martial law, I ask myself whether we should look outside the Philippines or inwards for hope that the Philippines will not go down the path of other countries with authoritarian regimes. And. I am compelled to conclude: I don’t know.

All I know is that … less than a year ago, I was forced to make small talk with an American. She observed that the Philippines had a Donald Trump counterpart in Duterte. I replied that, unlike Trump, Duterte was politically experienced before he became president and proceeded to enumerate his accomplishments as mayor of Davao (which, one must concede, are impressive when compared to that of our mayor). All this to say … the experience left me gagging – I don’t like verbally defending a person whom I don’t support ideologically – and I vowed to avoid situations where I would be forced to do it again. This piece began out of that bitter taste in my mouth … as Raissa Robles says: never again.

Mr. Montag, you are looking at a coward. I saw the way things were going, a long time back. I said nothing. 
                                                                                                Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451

Book Review: Life After Life

Well. I’m flummoxed. Because. I can’t decide whether the problem is Me – seems like I can’t get into fiction nowadays – or Kate Atkinson’s novel that won the 2013 Costa Book Awards.

After finding it hard to turn the next page (I proceeded to the last 20 or so pages before reading midway through the book), I searched online and found that it was highly acclaimed for its inventive story structure that presents the possibilities of a life for a British girl, Ursula Todd, born in 1910 who lives through two world wars. Well, yeah. I suppose that explains why she keeps dying and the repeated chapter endings of “Darkness fell.”

life-after-life

Frankly, I was hooked by the tagline “What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?” but going in, it was difficult to make sense of the story because of the various life trajectories presented by the author for her protagonist. Did she die at birth or did she live? An Amazon reviewer has said the book “begs the question ‘What if?'” and that’s precisely what I felt its message was. What IF? Only problem is … I hate “What if?” questions maybe because I get them nearly everyday from my children.

So. I didn’t finish it even though the table of contents gives a chronological guide to the novel. Don’t get me wrong. Atkinson is a masterful scene painter and storyteller, not overly dramatic nor given to flourishing touches. But with a plot that loops back in time again and again before diverging into another tangent, I was put off.

Ultimately – for me, at least, and I know I’m going against the grain here – Life After Life is an unsatisfying and unsettling read. One is never quite sure which of the story strands is true. Which makes one wonder. Perhaps that is what Atkinson wants readers to do: settle on a version of reality that meets one’s own satisfaction. If so, she has achieved her objective magnificently – if the five-star reviews at Amazon and praise from fellow writers are anything to go by.

Note: I’ve read another 100 or so pages since beginning this review and my views remain the same. This, in fact, is the only book that I want to give away right after reading it. 

Christmas Eve 2016 book haul

I’ve still got an unfinished post about my book haul for 2016. But. I just couldn’t resist sharing about my Christmas Eve book haul.

Yup! Living in a desert town, it’s a treat whenever I get to wander inside a bookstore in the city. Mostly, we’re hurrying to get to medical/dental appointments on time and finding an eating spot to satisfy my sons’ hunger.

So. When a visit to the largest bookstore in the UAE occurred days before Christmas, ah! I was in seventh heaven. At least, I should have been – had my children not come with me. As it was, it was quite frustrating having to check on the whereabouts of my daughter and son while browsing books and – this episode always comes to mind whenever I feel frustrated at not having spent enough time inside a bookstore – I was reminded of a time in my singlehood when I invited an officemate to accompany me to National Bookstore. I’d just settled into a long and leisurely look at the shelves when he appeared and declared that he  was ready to exit (I thought he was a reader because he’d lent me Barbarians at the Gate). Ack! Frustration always gets me down.

Anyway, the first time I entered Kinokuniya, the hubby called after a few minutes to say that friends had arrived at our hotel room. I consoled myself by saying that there’s still time over the next two days to visit again. The second time, well … I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that my daughter might get lost or be picked up by a stranger inside the biggest bookstore inside the largest mall in the UAE … you know what I mean, right?

Sigh. It was tough, trying to decide what to buy and what not to purchase when a smorgasbord of books on your wishlist is spread before you. I wanted to buy The Illustrated Rumi so much but decided not to because … well, I was already over budget. Still, by keeping in mind that there are many classics that my kids have not yet been exposed to, I managed to pare down my basket. Below is my book haul for Christmas 2016.

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The Harry Potter book was requested by my second son while the Halo book was requested by my youngest son. David Walliams’ Gangster Granny is already on its way here but I could not resist buying his Mr. Stink after reading the storyline at the back of the book. Meanwhile, I enjoyed Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers so much, I could not help picking up his Blink even though I’d just bought his David and Goliath.