Blogging in 2007

A blogger friend made a remark, which turned out to be the bitter truth a while ago about blogging back in the early days (or at least here in the Philippines, when all of us relied on dial-up connections and the ensuing modem sound). It's all fake--he said, referring to his blog--"like (mostly) everyone else's blogs."

Back then it felt like a crime, faking oneself, inventing a different person--an improved, Internet being. But who would know? Nobody would even care. In 2007, blogging in the Philippines is still peculiar, mostly unheard-of, and poorly understood both by bloggers and readers themselves. We initially viewed it as writing diaries online. During our computer lab classes in high school, almost all my classmates had no idea about blogging, save for the friend who introduced me to Friendster blogs during a birthday party. "It's fun," I remember her telling me. "You can write just about anything."

I was sixteen years old and in the middle of an emotional roller-coaster (just glamorizing teenage years with the phrase, but no, it's not that much to be a roller-coaster) and a penchant to write crappy Harry Potter-ish fiction with Kerguelen as setting (I'm not kidding), and the anecdote about writing "just about anything" is nothing short of promising. It's like being given unlimited amounts of Play-Doh, or a never-ending reel of five-minute porn clips and a room to masturbate with. At sixteen I was starting to seclude myself up in my bedroom, reading Les Miserables and The Good German while listening to now-awful bands. Funnily enough, I was doing all these while playing Sims (another conduit for self-invention). So I guess it was a totally new thing.

The first blog I made was on Friendster, but I heard about Blogger and its readership, its intuitive interface and the fact that it's not wired and viewable by classmates. So I signed up using my real name as a domain, on December of 2005. I didn't change my name simply because I know nobody would read it. I wrote blog posts which were overly confessional that it took so much energy to remember every single detail, from classmates and stuff. There was this assumption that you have to chronicle your life through your blog, as almost every blog I've ever read in those years were simply about themselves.

Blogging back then involves heady layouts and pop-up comment sections (Haloscan!) and a hodgepodge of virtually every sensory accompaniment known to man--from ambient and almost always lousy music for reading posts, to distracting marquee elements (which I think should be making a comeback real soon). We've gone far from cleaning up the clutter of this kind of blogging to admiring the minimal use of these.

Then there were unbelievably far-fetched snippets, including a house (which is supposedly ours) with a swimming pool and probably some recliners at the poolside as well. Blogging made me a prolific storyteller. The fact that you can write just about anything and get away with it is charming, even tempting. So I began writing fictional day-to-day scenes while holing up in my room. There was even a time when I wrote horrible caricatures of my teachers in high school, all of which are true; then I defamed a lot of people in my high school; a really long story, but it turned out that my teachers found about my blog and was aggravated, or at the very least, disappointed. Luckily, I graduated from high school.

I could say it's the angst of someone holed up in his room, but this must have traumatized a lot of my "fearless" writing (or ranting or bashing). Until now, whenever I want to write a blog post, I can't help but think of the search engines, the hackers, the readers who might just end up in this blog and recognize me, and the looming possibility that even my father can search a lot of things on Pinterest and asks "What is Tumblr for?" on a random day.

Blogging has become a censored public activity no matter how confessional and private your posts are.[1] It's not saddening, but it hampers a lot of activity and material for personal bloggers. Trust me, 8 out of 10 personal blogs we've been reading are personal only in the sense that they are paid by bakeries and restaurants and brands to whip up patronizing reviews and require them to put in sensational keywords as subtle as possible. I've been there when this kind of blogging (or monetizing) was about to blossom: attending free concerts wearing Red Horse shirts; going to food exhibits with the sole requirement of blogging about it. I mean, sure, it's fun! (Free food! Loot bags everywhere!) But after a while it wears off and I was left to wonder what happened with the cathartic feeling I've been yearning for after writing a blog post.

Due to the eventual censorship and surveillance conducted on the Internet, bloggers have been subject to self-censorship and hyperawareness (can I be sued for writing these; are there laws about it?) that writing novel and personal blog posts is anything but counter-productive--a waste of time. This is probably one reason why I don't like to discuss this blog--or even mention it--to my friends or colleagues. It's such an open window to myself that as a defensive mechanism, I try to monitor my writing, rarely mentioning names or addresses--and end up writing a generic sort of tone and label it as personal blogging. It's the closest I could get.

Recently I developed a newer take on blogging when I started writing fiction. I treated it as a sort of storage for files, documents, ephemera--an online cabinet, if you will, to lessen the clutter of my laptop. (The publish button helps: it releases the burden of my oftentimes bulky DRAFTS folder.) It's a little less romanticized (and probably a little less narcissistic) from chronicling our lives--only artists and authors on Twitter can do that. This blog is a sort of attic for every story I wanted to develop, but couldn't.

[1] I have to conclude that Livejournal is by far the safest and most inconspicuous blogging platform ever, with its private posts and the throng of Russian users which my Dad, among other people, would think of it as spam.

On satire

"Wise satirical practice requires the sensitivity and skill of a fugu chef at controlling toxicity, that is, knowing how long to suffer, and how gladly, and when to give in to rage, and the pleasure of assaulting at last the fools in question."

- Thomas Pynchon

OK Soda

There are days where you're just not conditioned to work. What more with perfect timing: I was cramped at the farthest part of the FX (the notorious UV Express). The sole window on my left has been blocked with sun deflectors.

Two weeks ago, I tried applying for two jobs. There was this competitive friend who was egging me on, asking me if I aced the interview. It's for a faculty position which she used to hold but left after three semesters, and she was very encouraging to the point of faking it. I didn't graduate with Latin honors and I've never been insecure about it, except these couple of weeks. She did have Latin honors. I didn't really care. We both had good grades, and that I know she's had a lot of issues with friendships because of her ultra-competitiveness.

All these issues I refuse to disclose here stem from my weaknesses, regrets, failures. There's no such thing as a new life right now. If there's an idea of jumpstarting a new career, I don't feel like doing it. I wanted to maximize my time, to just don't rest and do everything I can. I've tried polyphasic sleeping patterns, interstitial reading, French lessons during the commute (podcasts included), part-time writing jobs in between night-shift jobs, but I always forget that my life is not just about myself anymore. I have a son and a wife and I have to prioritize them too, but there's something wrong with the entire situation. I feel like I've jettisoned everything unnecessary to keep things my life afloat--jettisoned almost everything except books, writing, food, atheism, and my job. There are occasional meet-ups with friends. I've never listened to music that much, nor have I watched any film at all. I've abstained from alcohol and drugs for the longest time (but that's because I've just graduated from college, so this is purely circumstantial).

I ended up seeing these various OK Soda coincidences / testimonials, and I suddenly feel OK.

Was it April

The bookstore never opened. My wife and I have been intrigued by the idea: a bookstore at a not-so-prime spot, at the tail end of carinderias branching out from major thoroughfares of Raymundo and F.O. Santos. The spot became prime when a business venture selling chicken Inasal made good money. It was the first Inasal spot in Los Banos, after all. Eight pesos for a cup of rice! Everything grilled for student meals! Soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil on bottles. The place teemed with classmates, friends of friends, and from afar the smoke rose from the grill assembled outside, sans the chimney. Basically every car and every tricycle passing by the place slows down with the fog-like smoke coming from the grill. For college students tired from the day, it smelled heavenly. The restaurant was as shabby as it was when it relocated to another prime spot, across the Admin building and the Carabao Park and just beside the UP Gate.

The place was vacant as ever. Nobody dared to go past that area of Umali Subdivision, since it's all residential houses with small businesses: fruit stalls, barbecue stands, lugawan. Some vacant lots, some haunted houses, some robberies. Until we've seen a jeepney unloading tons of books at the place where the Inasal restaurant used to be. My wife was curious enough that one day, she arrived at our apartment bearing good news. It is a bookstore! It was owned by this really old couple from New York. She talked to them, got herself treated with a bottle of Coke. It was March, and the summer heat was getting unbearable. The old man was painting the first few letters of their bookshop. The old woman talked a lot, used to work in one of the museums in New York, or something art-related. The decision to come home wasn't easy for them, my wife said, but the wife (or the husband) had a stroke. Maybe it's time to go home, they said.

There were tons of books, she said, mostly art-related. From the looks of it, it would take them months to just sort at least five hundred boxes of books coming in from New York. Some carpenters were doing woodwork outside, making bookcases and built-in shelves. There were heaps inside the room, and it's just a mess. It looked like bales of hay straight from a scene from that Grimm fairytale, Rumpelstiltskin. When it was my turn to inquire about the place, the doors were already shut. The painting was unfinished. It was all hasty, but come the end of April, before I left for New York, I took a last glimpse of the bookstore that never was, and knew something happened.