Sunday, March 30, 2008

Lowering the Bar

I'm of two minds of the recent decision to lower the passing grade of the 2007 Bar Exams. On the one hand, I thank God the Supreme Court saved all those people from the sadism of one or more of the examiners, but on the other hand, I wonder if they haven't done the profession a disservice in the process.

Of course, this is not the first time the bar grade has been lowered.

When he was alive, my grandfather never got tired of telling me how lucky he was to have passed the bar because the grade was lowered in order to accommodate a high profile examinee at the time (I will refrain from giving names). He told me he got something like a 73 or a 74 at a time when the passing grade was kicked down to 70.

That's just one other instance of grade-tweaking in the nearly 100 years of the bar exam, and from what I hear not the only one.

The thing is, I know how absolutely power-drunk and completely unreasonable some law school professors can be, giving students a hard time for no other reason than that they can, no matter what they might tell other people. A lot of bar examiners are cut from the same cloth, and unlike law professors, they cannot be approached after the exam is done and be begged for mercy or reconsideration.

All these things taken into account, yes, the Supreme Court did the right thing.

The question is, if next year, with a whole new batch of examiners, the un-'tweaked' results of the bar are still the same, will the decision to change things around still have been a good one?

And of those who benefitted from the adjustment, how many people actually deserved it?

None of these issues is of any real concern to me, but part of me can't help but wonder either way.

No More Excuses

I've been on moratorium from collecting toy cars for the last six months or so. The moratorium first came into force after I spent in excess of three thousand pesos, or over eighty US dollars, on a 1/18 scale toy version of the Ferrari F2007 that Kimi Raikkonen drove to victory. Since then I've been able to sneak in the occasional P100 Hot Wheels or Matchbox, and last month I managed a P250 purchase of a Shelby Mustang, but my expenses have yet to scale such towering heights again, and will not do so for a little while to come. As far as anything above P500 is concerned it's a big fat nyet.

Fortunately I had settled into "Holy Grail" mode, meaning, that I would save up for that next big push, in this case a 1/18 scale Audi R8 by Kyosho. I'm more than willing to bide my time on this one, because I know there aren't a whole lot of people willing to pony up that kind of money for this thing.

Oddly enough, I comforted myself with the thought that, even while saving up for this glorious coup, I would still be on the lookout for less pricey stuff, namely the Audi R8 and the Porsche 911 GT3, both rendered by Matchbox in gloriously affordable 1/64. I figured that the hunt for these would keep me nice and happy till the big day, whenever that may be.

Well, yesterday I found both Matchbox cars in one fell swoop, and in true fanboy/collector tradition, bought two of each; one to save and one to open.

I'm so deliriously happy with the way the GT3 was done that I even posted a product review of it over on my multiply page. I was of course happy to find the Audi R8, but found the paint job a little disappointing considering that the car has a somewhat patented look with one color for its body and another, highly contrasting color for the aluminum blades covering the massive cooling vents on either side of the car, for example, white body, blue blades, or blue body, silver blades. Matchbox eschewed any such color combinations and just colored the car a plain silver, even though the casting of the car itself is still topnotch for something so small.

I guess my 'problem' now is that I really have no excuse left from swearing off collecting and saving up for 'the big one.' Ah, well...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Metafiction...Sort of...

I've never had any bones about borrowing from my own personal experience/angst when writing short fiction. I did it a lot when I was younger, and I continue to do so to a more limited extent nowadays, and I'll probably keep on doing it in one form or another depending on the kind of story I'm writing.

But now is the first time I've tried to write with someone else, namely my recently deceased dear friend Jay Tan, as a template, and I've been repeatedly surprised by how hard a task it is proving to be.

Oddly enough, it's not because I'm concerned he might look bad. No, my concern is that he might come across as a two-dimensional, namby-pamby goody-two shoes whose sole cause of misery in life is that the author (me) wants to pile a whole series of misfortunes on him. No, what I hope to do is to borrow a little bit from Shakespeare and create a character who very much shapes his own destiny, in that when things go wrong he has himself to blame and when things go right...well, it's because he did something right. I don't want someone who just gets buffeted about by the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune because he's too nice a guy to do anything about it. To create such an insipid character out of such a wonderfully nuanced human being would be a supreme insult, almost as much as if I just made the guy a flat-out asshole.

Even though the character is only loosely based on Jay, and is so unlike him in many respects, (for example, he won't even talk like he did), I still find myself tortured by the thought of creating a pasteboard character one way or the other who doesn't deserve the fate I have in store for him at the end of the story (ah ah aaaahhh, you'll have to read it once it's

Consequently I've done the unthinkable; unable to fully fathom the depth's of Jay's mind, which is now lost to me for the rest of this lifetime, I've infused a little bit of my romantic history into the frustrations, my angst.

The original 'inspired by' template now feels a tad tainted, or at the very least diluted, but from where I stand it felt like a necessary evil because I felt like I was up against a creative brick wall.

I'm eleven pages into what I envision to be about a hundred-plus-page novella which I plan to break up into smaller installments to be published online, and I have yet to introduce the other lead character. I can't spend too much time dawdling on this one guy or I'll shoot myself in the foot for sure.

The result, as sick as this may sound, currently feels like a Jay Tan-Jim Arroyo inspired hybrid, or our love child, for those of you whose minds are perpetually in the gutter.

In the end, I'm not trying to create a character that everyone will love because he's such a nice guy or that everyone will hate because he's such an asshole, but someone who people will be able to understand and relate to, no matter how good or bad his actions may be. If I get this across, then I will have honored Jay through this creation.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Why I Stopped Collecting Comic Books

It's funny; I actually mentioned the reason why I stopped collecting in my multiply blog, but that was only incidental to a review I wrote of Arnold Arre's "The Mythology Class." Considering I've been a fairly regular comic book collector for over twenty years by now, though, I figure I could expound on the topic a little more than that.

There was a time when mainstream comics were a storytelling medium, and to be honest, it wasn't even that long ago. Marvel Comics put out a lot of good stories, such as both volumes of The Ultimates, Mark Millar's 12-issue run on Spider-Man, Joss Whedon's Astonishing X-Men, and about the first two years of J. Michael Straczynski's run on Amazing Spider-Man, to name a few. Sometime around 2004 or 2005, however, the mandate over at Marvel comics changed, and I can only say for the worse.

Events took precedence over actual storytelling, and suddenly the overriding concern at editorial appeared to be to either establish new status quos, or completely destroy long standing ones. There's nothing wrong with this, per se, except that in doing so, they basically destroyed a simple principle of storytelling that says that any story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

No, three major Marvel 'event' miniseries (and possibly more that I haven't really kept track of) basically followed the pattern of beginning-middle-total anticlimax. Civil War was unabashedly designed to 'change the face of the Marvel Universe' and in that it did its job, but ending on a rather unsatisfying note, with the now-dead Captain America basically copping out of the fight. Of course, this gave rise to several dozen "Civil War Aftermath" and "Civil War Initiative" books, only one of which I actually enjoyed (Dan Slott's Avengers: The Initiative, which I reviewed here). World War Hulk, which started with everyone's favorite green giant dishing out some much-deserved ass-kicking around the Marvel Universe, ended with a similar cop-out, that is, with some half-hearted explanation on how Hulk's misery wasn't really the fault of Marvel's 'heroes' Tony Stark, Reed Richards, Stephen Strange and Black Bolt.

Oh, and Hulk ultimately lost his 'world war,' mainly by default. Similarly, a plethora of new books were launched from the non-ending of this series as well.

Probably the most heinous example of a narrative anti-climax I've seen, however, has to be Neil Gaiman's take on the Eternals, a miniseries which is beautifully drawn and peppered with some lovely dialogue...but in which PRACTICALLY NOTHING HAPPENS. There's long been talk about a sequel/ongoing series to follow this story up, but it severely disappointed me that someone like Gaiman would even agree to write a story that would basically just "set up" the characters without actually having them DO anything. Thinking about it, Gaiman's name on the series was just one big marketing push for an obscure property that Marvel's been unable to sell for years. Eternals didn't have to be some big marketing push the way Marvel's other properties were, but it sure as hell read like one.

So in short, comic books of the last three years are no longer created with the intent of telling a story and keeping the fans entertained, but with ensuring that the stories are so open-ended and thoroughly unsatisfying that people will HAVE to come back for more. Well, I for one am getting off this particular bandwagon. Oh, wait, I already have.

Sure, there are a lot of comics out there that aren't guilty of this shameless ploy, like All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, which apparently tells stories in single or two-issue arcs and will do so until its twelfth issue hits stands sometime in 2010 (which is sad considering it started in 2005), or The Twelve by J. Michael Straczynski and Chris Weston, or even Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch's take on The Fantastic Four, but I'm not in any hurry to pick them up because I've really been worn down by all the stunts. The beauty about ASS is that the back issues aren't that hard to scrounge up, and well, as far as the two Marvel series are concerned, they'll probably look even better when collected.

Though I still sporadically collect toy cars, now I'm more into my blogs (including this one), my writing, and my multiply account. It's always nicer to create things rather than just consume goods, all things considered.

Monday, March 03, 2008

My New Favorite Place

I figured that I needed to write a post that would take me away from all of the grief, frustration and anger that has characterized my life for the last several months, a series of lows and lowers (as opposed to the usual highs and lows paradigm) that only just recently started to taper off.

I'd like to write about my new haven; the place where I go to on a regular basis to find inner peace: the Santa Cruz church.

I've been working at my new job in Binondo for nearly two months now, but for some reason I've formed no real connection with the Binondo church, as beautifully ornate as it may be. With its aged and crumbly gray finish, the Binondo church should theoretically appeal more to me, a self-confessed fan of old churches (who practically went into orgasmic ecstasy two years ago when we, my family and I, did an extended tour of the north, which as everyone knows is the place to find old, Spanish era churches here in the Philippines).

The Sta. Cruz Church, however, does not appeal to the old church lover in me. Although the basic structure itself is over two hundred years old, it's pretty much been maintained and updated through the years. The current exterior finish is an arguably somewhat bland coat of white paint, while the roofing is, I think, green galvanized iron. Granted, rare is the church, even in the Ilocos, that still maintains the old tile roofing, but the combination of plaster, white paint and green roofing can make people forget that they're looking at a structure that's nearly a quarter of a millenium old, even despite the classical Spanish era facade with the bell tower and everything.

But that's not the point.

What I hands-down love about the church is the austerity of it. It's actually very bare inside, in an almost Zen-kind of way. The hallmark of many an old church, including some of my favorites, is the huge structure behind the altar which houses either a central icon like a miraculous image of the Virgin Mary or the Baby Jesus, or two hundred million saints. There's nothing like that in Sta. Cruz; just a mosaic of a lamb and a stream of water flowing down from it (no, it's not taking a leak), which ends on the tabernacle. It's so very simple and yet so powerful. There are a couple of statues in the side naves, sure, but nothing too ostentatious. Most of the images are found in little alcoves near the entrance to the church, and as a result the people who want to pay homage to them are free to visit their favorite saint while the casual churchgoer is free to sit in the pews and just pray without having his senses bombarded by this statue or that statue. Also, the paucity of plaster images means that the Sacred Host, which is set on the altar for display during most hours of the day, gets all of the attention.

I think what I love about the place is how much easier it is for me to commune with God there. The architecture, and the whole "look at me, I'm beautiful" aura that usually surrounds and even sometimes saturates old churches doesn't distract me from what's really important about setting foot in the house of the Lord.

My wife tells me she also used to like going there, many years ago, when she was teaching in a Chinese School in the area. There's a certain poetry in that, I think. Maybe some day we can renew our wedding vows there or something. Or we could have our next kid (assuming there is one) baptized there. And lunch or dinner or merienda sena will be at a nice Chinese restaurant nearby. Whatever.

The point is I love going to that Church to find inner peace. It's nice to have a "special place" and while I consider Bohol the most serene place I've been to, at least I don't have fly a thousand kilometers or so to get to the place that settles my mind and spirit.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Naked Grief

A few years ago comic-book writer J.M. DeMatteis put Spider-Man into a murderous rage against one of his long-time foes, the chameleon. He was basically fit to kill. At the end, however, Chameleon had some kind of nervous breakdown, and as a result Spider-Man couldn't push through with clobbering him with the huge tombstone he'd been about to use to bash the guy's head in. The rationale the writer gave was that 'such naked anguish is hard to look upon.' I don't know whether or not DeMatteis coined the phrase, but it left quite an impact on my mind, such that fourteen years after reading that comic book, I find myself revisiting, if not slightly altering it to describe the collective experience of mourning Jay Tan.

The outpouring of grief during his wake and funeral mass was unlike any I'd ever seen, and although I'm not what I'd call a regular at such events, I've been to more than my fair share. Of course, considering how dear Jay was to me it was fairly easily for me to be swept up in the tide of grief; though I had cried a fair bit in the first few nights of the wake, it turned out, a bit to my surprise, that I was basically just warming up for the grand finale on the day of his funeral. Even through my own tears I could see how many others were being shed for such a dear friend, a son, a brother, a cousin...a great person in general.

Grief does strange things to people; during the last night of his wake a large number of people ranging from his co-workers to his friends to his immediate family had quite a few stories to share and some of them would have been pretty embarrassing to the speakers themselves under any other circumstances, but it didn't really matter. This was the last hurrah, on this earth anyway, of someone whom everyone gathered had loved in one way or another.

DeMatteis' choice of words, i.e. 'naked' and a word equated to profound sorrow, just feels completely appropriate; other writers may have used 'stark' or 'pure' but 'naked' just works so much better because of the things associated with the word: vulnerability, shame, discomfort among other things. People (theoretically) get naked with and in front of someone with whom they feel an emotional bond.

There we were...a whole bunch of naked people. Some were less comfortable about it than others, but even those most determined not to show too much emotion found themselves crying. In one instance, I consoled a friend who had been hell-bent on keeping in the tears...but failed. I said, "it's all right; it's for Jay anyway."

Just as Jay would have wanted, we will get over him; the healing process has already begun. But it's certainly going to take awhile. I hardly think Jay will begrudge us that.