Vacuum laboratories

The opening scenes of Jonathan Lethem’s The Empty Room felt familiar—certainly one of those browser tabs I relegated to Unread status some years ago. But its especially abrupt ending, and its portrayal of a family, read like one of the stories I’ve always wanted to write in those years when I dabbled in college-era Writerhood, complete with the carefree girlfriend who smoked joints and ingested psychedelic shrooms, the imperious father with idiosyncrasies and monologues, and the ever-attentive and scarcely mentioned mother. (It's also best when read with Elliott Smith songs in the background.)

Then there’s the titular Empty Room, of which in the story the father was generous enough to provide a figurative layer. It was his idea after all:

“The lung could be seen to be the empty room of the human body, not mere negative space. By filling and emptying with the stuff of the world it stands as the most aspirational ­organ, in a literal sense.”

Maybe the explanation is telling, but it seemed that Lethem intended to write about the room in figurative terms, subsumed under the father's voice, to address the theories of the close reader: “The empty room, being a tabula rasa, bore aspects of total corruptibility, a potential we’d in childish obedience overlooked until now.” In the story, the empty room is unlike a book-lined attic or a storage room-cum-cupboard: its charm lies in its being an empty, neutral territory; there are no rules, and “there’s nothing you can’t do there." It’s an incubator of sorts, “a vacuum laboratory” that automatically suits to your needs. (At least in that aspect, it bears a semblance to “The Room of Requirement” in the Harry Potter series.)

Despite the father's authoritarian figure, the rules bowed down to his whims. The list of exceptions grew. The rules are bypassed, supplanted: in its formative years, sign-in sheets are posted at the door; it became a buffer zone for the tension between their parents; at one point, it even had a no-clothes-allowed policy—a defining moment on how the story ended, as the empty room became a sort of crucible for the characters to confront maturity/adulthood (or in their father's case, his sanity), only to be cut short by the abrupt ending.

The last sentence spelled out a question that's been under our noses ever since the entire concept of an Empty Room had been formed: a question about its own limits. ("What's it for?" "Can we play here?" "Can we eat in there?")

“Haven’t you ever wondered,” I asked my sister then, "how much stuff we could fit in here, if we tried?” 

The room is boundless, without walls and windows; after all, it doesn't just pertain to a literal space as it is a psychological one, a place engineered to cater to their ever-evolving wants and needs. Clearly, they could fit as much stuff in the room, but what stuff? It’s a rhetorical question made pregnant by its lack of answer—that, or the answer is just too obvious.


Why am I writing? is a question that's been bothering me ever since I graduated from college. Bereft of inspiration and guidance from colleagues and professors, I found myself not knowing what to make out of writing. I still want to write, but there's no project behind it (i.e. no grand, overarching theme of sorts) which makes the act so easy to dismiss as sad-kid blogging--which I used to do some eight years ago. But I'll tell you, when two nights ago along the sidewalks of Lopez Ave. I found this woman sitting on her knees, scooping out fighting fish from a bigger container to individual, water-filled plastic containers (reminds me of the ice-tubig of yore) I knew I had to write about it. I knew it could depict the way I see life: as a random, good-for-nothing accident that turned into an event of sorts, a festival of meaning-making. To see someone embarrassed and harried at 11PM, doing that outside her pet shop, with that awkward, caught-in-the-act look her eyes made towards my stare, is something worth writing for, not because it's a special night (it isn't, to be honest) or that I found the entire scene oddly entertaining, but because it made me think of all the right reasons to enjoy life. So there's still that part of me who wants to write about people who, instead of using fork, use their hands to take out the seeds of a calamansi; or about the MRT passengers who sing along to the songs they had on their earphones; or about the bus passengers who snore; or the few people who read during their daily commutes. These instances are proof that every single one of us are doing something unique, something a bit different from the rest.

The gaping hole at the heart of EDSA-Ortigas

A handful of distressed old men and women ask for help about the basics.

An old woman, distressed by her smartphone: "Why wouldn't all my Notes sync? It said 16 when I have 38!"

The technician sulked as he was trying to assist an old couple in adding people on Facebook. The woman was bewildered when, searching for someone, two people bearing the same names popped up. "How could I be sure that this was my friend?"

A woman: "Just who in their right mind would manage to check the left speaker and forgot about the right one? Can I talk to your supervisor?"

Another woman: "Can't we just create a new ID? Would it erase it all?"

A mother with a baby: "Restore? How? This is from my mother in law, she's senile and I'm sure there's no way for her to remember the secret answer to the secret question."

Weeks ago, my three year-old son made a password he himself couldn't remember. Oh, kids. "And there's virtually no way to retrieve the photos? All those selfies he accidentally made--gone forever? And what about the files stored in your old laptop?"

I asked my wife: "Where would it go when we sell it?"

How To Stop Writing Fiction

Yamashita Sakurajima

In every new job, in every day and month and year are promises, big and small, on accomplishing things: Duolingo tutorials; Coursera classes on Kant and Rousseau; books about memory, about Armenia; articles pinned on browsers, or saved on Instapaper; short story ideas that have yet to be written. The heft of all these came from equal parts of wanting to become an autodidact, of trying to seize the day, of dreaming about living every day with a feeling of progress, of unwritten achievements.

Joseph Yoakum

Life is not about completion as it is about attempts. 

Adolf Wölfli
What I think is enchanting about history is its seemingly complete narrative--only it is an illusion borne out of the human penchant to make sense of the unfinished, to piece together fragments and treat them as an organic whole. 

No Other Noises

...only the sound of Perry tinkering with the LED flashlight; the crumpled sound of basil leaves as my fingers pick them off of the stems; the distant snapping of fishbones as the stray cat munched on its dinner; the sound of cicadas giving the night a certain eerie mood.

A while ago Perry touched a tomato and remarked at its hollow part; I told him it's a tomato'a belly button, that which connects it to the plant. He liked the similarity.