Retropost: So now what are we to do, keep this fire alive inside

From a journal entry written on July 7, 2014:

It’s the last day of classes tomorrow. I’ll miss the Eng1 kids. I have a really good class this midyear sem. They’re bright but not complacent or self-satisfied, and they seem eager to learn, to question, and to engage with the readings and with each other during class discussions. I always feel happy and grateful when I get a class like this.

Two weeks ago, I happened to ride a Philcoa-bound jeep with one of my students, who talked about how she woke up early each day to go to Manila from Antipolo to train with the UP volleyball team, then traveled to Diliman for afternoon classes, and back to Manila to train again in the evenings before she went home and worked on her assignments (this made me feel kinda guilty because I realized that my course requirements could be taxing, especially with the hectic pace of the midyear sem—two readings per session, a daily journal entry, workshops, etc.). I was astonished by her burdensome daily commute, so I asked her why she didn’t just opt to forego classes this midyear sem so she could have some rest, and she said, “But I like going to class and listening to the discussions. I play volleyball so I could go to class.”

That struck me. With the shifting demographics of UP (thanks a lot, TOFI) and my experiences with some students who felt entitled to high grades just because, sometimes I lose faith in my conviction that these kids take their education very seriously, that they’re here not just for grades that will qualify them for a diploma that will land them cushy jobs, but, more importantly, they’re here to learn. They strive for this privilege (which should be a right) to hone their skills, expand their minds, challenge themselves and the world they live in.

I must try to keep this in mind whenever I step into a classroom (or feel like not stepping into a classroom because I’m tired or ill or not in the mood or whatever). I entered the academe largely for selfish reasons: I love learning, I live to learn, I enjoy having nerdy discussions with people and writing about ideas I encounter, and I thought it would be nice to be paid to do those things. But engaging with these kids and their writings everyday impresses upon me the significance of this task of teaching, a task that I don’t always feel up to.

If I stopped often to think much about it, I’m sure I’d feel overwhelmed by its implications—for instance, some of the most influential persons in my life, who’ve shaped who I am today, were my teachers, and I handle like a hundred students every regular sem! I always try to do my best (but you know what they say about one’s “best”—sometimes it’s not good enough) and strive to learn from past mistakes to get better, but I doubt that I’d ever really feel ready and worthy to be a teacher. But I can keep evolving, and dedicate myself to the work of helping cultivate these individuals whose minds I have the privilege and the responsibility to plumb and prod.

Notes on training in the exercise of solitude

1.

From a Facebook status update posted on January 11, 2015:

image

I went on a guideship climb with Trail Adventours in Mt. Batulao yesterday. Since our group had a number of first-time hikers, the other guides and I paid close attention to participants who needed more assistance. There was one girl whom I stayed with a lot–during ascents and descents, she seemed so scared that she couldn’t stand upright and walk, and just slid her butt along the ground, so I carried her bag and held her hand throughout much of the climb. I held her hand high so she wouldn’t try to bend over to touch the ground or blades of grass and lose her balance, and gave her tips on footing and what to do when she’s starting to slip. It struck me, though, that by the end of the climb, she still clung to my hand. Obviously, feeling secure about footing doesn’t happen in the course of one climb, but the girl got me thinking about this holding-hands thing and its relation to my own “issues.”

As we descended the mountain, I thought about how one must learn to stand on one’s own feet and walk alone, because people won’t always be there to walk with you or hold your hand. This is a truism, yet it amazes me to know so many people who can’t be alone, who always feel the need for other people to walk with, talk with, eat with, who feel lonely and incomplete without another’s company and attention. I do not understand these people, or, rather, I do not wish to understand, and therefore empathize, with these people, because to do so would destabilize my fundamental acceptance of existential loneliness. We live alone and we die alone, and to say that we can share our lives with other people is not to say that they can live our lives, too. No, we think our own thoughts and tread our own paths and process our own lessons from living.

This existential loneliness pushes us to sociality, but it is what we return to every night, locked in our own heads, in our dreams. All company is fleeting, all sense of unity with another being or a social entity, a necessary myth we willfully suspend disbelief to be comforted by, to derive a sense of value from.

That said, sometimes loneliness makes me want to believe that this were not so, that one day, somebody would live my life with me. There are moments that bring this truth to the fore along with a desire to rail against it: getting off a plane from a long trip and wishing that somebody’s at arrivals, waiting for me; walking home alone at 3 AM from a night of working in a cafe; sitting at a table in a crowded restaurant, facing a plate of good food that’s too much for me to finish. I respond to this longing by planning another solo trip, or thumbing the whistle around my neck and securing my bag in case of an attack, or dividing the food on the plate into two and asking the waiter to have the other half wrapped. I breathe deeply and think that desired company is a gift, but I can do stuff on my own.

2.

It’s a tradition for me to do something creative for Valentine’s Day, especially when I’ve no romantic partner to pass this Hallmark Holiday of Mass Hysteria over with. This year, I made a Relationship Venn Diagram to print, mark, and give to those who pry about the state of my heart:

image

My heart’s still pumping blood through the circuits of my body, thankyouverymuch, and I’ve been trying to raise my cardiovascular fitness by running.

Actually, I think I’ll do more running in the coming weeks to strengthen my heart, since I got the damn organ in a state of anaphylactic shock yesterday by pushing someone to more sharply articulate his rejection of my affection, so that I might finally jump from the intersection of “umaasa pa, i.e. tatanga-tanga” and “busy” to simply “busy” (the ultimate goal is, of course, to enter the “halaman” sphere of no desire but for gentle flourishing, drawing energy from the earth, rain, sunlight. Because fuck longing in its unsatiable behind). It was a selfish move, and I believe it pained him to say he could not love me, but I needed to hear it, I needed to kill all traces of the hope that’s infected me for several months, so it could stop producing toxins to our friendship. The treatment hurts, of course, but not as much as I thought it would–there’s something to be said for frequently indulging in pain that’s merely thought into existence, as a kind of pre-emptive measure against the onset of pain with more concrete causes.

So, that’s it, I prefer to think, I’m through. I’m setting arrested affect free to roam and starve and die–so I might grow.

EDIT (March 2015): That is not it, I am not through, this is more difficult than I thought it would be, are there no shortcuts to being halaman?