How about the poor farmers?

The recent passage of RA 11203 or better known as the Rice Tariffication Law and the sudden upsurge of posts on social media of concerned citizens about the plight of poor farmers having trouble selling their palay because of the influx of imported rice have brought to the fore the issue of the perennially mismanaged agriculture industry. I say the “agriculture industry,” because while rice farmers are the current hot topic today, the entire sector is beset by problems brought about by poor understanding of economic principles leading to poor policy formulation and management.

This post will try to tackle some of the most common misconceptions and misunderstanding when it comes to economic realities which affects our poor farmers – or indeed, all of us Filipinos.

So together with other netizens, I also ask: How about the poor farmers?

How about them indeed.

Back to basics

Before we can arrive at an understanding of the issues at play, it’s important to understand some of the basics. Much of these should have been taught at school, and some schools might even have taught it cursorily. But a solid understanding of the following economic principles I would be talking about is sadly lacking, even among college graduates. These economic principles are important, because they explain how markets and money works. Without a solid understanding of these principles, how can one even attempt to discuss a complex issue such as trade liberalization?

Supply and demand

If a good is in demand, its price will rise. If it’s not in demand, it’s price will fall. If there is more demand than the supply can meet, the price will rise. If there is more supply than there is demand, the price will fall. This statement holds true under one assumption: that we are operating under a free market and not under a monopoly, or that regulation hasn’t distorted the market. Let’s see this principle in play in a simple example:

Supposed there are 3 people (John, Peter, James) looking to buy apples. Each of them wants 5 apples at least. John has $5, Peter has $10, and James has $15. However, there is only one seller and he has only 5 apples. How much do you think the apples would sell for? If you answered $3 each, you’re off to a good start. You inherently understand that since there are more buyers than sellers, the buyers would be competing against each other to buy the apples – pushing the price up to its maximum. Let’s look at the opposite situation. Suppose there are more sellers than buyers, what would happen?

John, Peter, and James are all selling apples. Each of them have 10 apples to sell. However, there’s only one buyer looking for 5 apples. The buyer only has $10 to spend. How much would the apples sell for? Unlike the example above, the answer isn’t as simple as $2 each. In this case, the sellers don’t know how much money the buyer has. Not only that, they can only sell their apples to a price at which they don’t lose money selling the apples. So the correct answer to this question is: the cost of production + the minimum markup acceptable to the seller. Let’s say the cost of production for John is $1, for Peter $1.50, and for James $2. How much would the apples sell for?

If you answered anywhere from $1.25 to $1.45, you’re doing okay. For non-perishables, this might hold true, but since apples go bad, the seller is incentivized to sell the apples at breakeven price rather than risk the apples rotting and getting nothing for their efforts. In some cases, if the buyer knows they are the only buyer and there are many sellers, the price can be driven down to less than breakeven, forcing the sellers to take a loss. So the correct answer is $1 or less. It doesn’t matter how much money the buyer has. What only matters is how much the sellers are willing to settle for. And since they are competing against each other on who would sell the apples, a price war would ensue.

Seems simple, right? If there are more buyers (high demand) than there are sellers (low supply), prices would rise. If there are more sellers (high supply) than there are buyers (low demand), prices would fall.

Increased demand also means producers will flock to fill this demand. That’s because the prices are high, attracting producers to produce the good. This would continue until there is enough supply to meet demand. After which prices will start to drop once there is overproduction. After which producers will decrease, since the price dropping will mean producers will start decreasing again.

All in all, this process reaches an equilibrium until the price levels off at the point where supply and demand meet. This is called the price equilibrium or in market slang, the going price.

In general, the going price applies to most products, and the law of supply and demand functions in practice as described in theory. That is, until two things disrupt this process – regulation, and monopoly (let’s talk about price stickiness for another blog post, I feel I’m tackling an entire semester’s worth of lecture compressed in a short blog post).

When government regulates the prices of products, the supply and demand for something does not affect its price. So it doesn’t matter if there are more buyers or less buyers, or more sellers or less sellers. A product will sell for exactly the amount that the government dictates it will. It’s important to understand that wages are a part of this, since wages are nothing but the price of labor. So when governments mandate a minimum wage, that’s the government interfering with supply and demand. Why this is bad will take a lot longer to explain, so let’s leave that off for the moment. If you can follow the course to its logical conclusion, let me just give you this as a hint: minimum wages lead to higher unemployment. Another parting thought: if we want higher wages, we would be best served by practicing birth control (which I would then pose this question: do we really want higher wages? Or lower prices? Or more birth control?).

Another reason price equilibrium may not occur is when the market is under a monopoly (MRT/LRT), oligopoly (Philippine telecom companies), or a cartel (OPEC). In all of these instances, the price is fixed by the seller regardless of the amount of demand existing in the market.

How does this relate to rice trade liberalization?

In the Philippines, the market is captured by the rice traders, not the farmers. Those who have the ability to dry and mill palay and store them as rice can control market prices. Rice has an indefinite shelf life as long as it is kept dry and free from contaminant. Once you understand this, you will soon see why rice prices have a boom and bust cycle in the Philippines, with cyclical shortages occurring in predictable periods.

There are approximately 10,000 rice millers in the country. And they are not in (direct) competition. They have an association (PhilConGrains), that although does not participate in price fixing, does the same job unions does: negotiate for better prices. They affect market prices because they’re the ones dealing with large retailers. What prices they set will determine what the retailers will set. And what price the large retailers set will determine going market prices.

Following so far?

Now, when farmers harvest their grains, unless they’re part of a large cooperative or are a rich capitalist farmer, they have no access to drying, milling, and storing facilities, leaving them at the mercy of those who do. Un-dried, un-milled rice grain goes bad fast. As shown in the example above, the perishability of a product will affect its going price. Farmers can’t dictate their price. It’s the millers who do. They compete with each other until a going price is set. This competition is small, because naturally, a farmer will not canvass the entire millers association of the Philippines. They will only go to those that they can reach — a small subset of millers in a specific area (ano ka baliw, mag hakot ng palay region by region hangang maka hanap ka best price? lol. kung ako magsasaka, hihinto na ako dun sa pinaka malapit. fuck canvassing).

Do you see where I’m going? Points if you do.

So now you know why palay is sold at the lowest minimum the farmers can take (and often at a loss during typhoon season).

Now, let’s get to the fun part. The palay is now with the millers. They dry it, mill it, store it. They have huge warehouses. Sometimes larger than the NFAs. At this point, if kept properly, the rice will keep indefinitely.

Quiz time. If you’re the miller, when do you sell your rice? When prices are down? When prices are stable? When prices are high?

Another pop quiz. That’s what the NFA is for, right? To stabilize prices?

Oh, you poor sweet summer child. What can the NFA do when the millers can out-bid them yet outlast them? Why do you think the prices surge once the NFA starts running out of reserves? Pag naubusan na ng bala ang NFA, nagsisimula pa lang ang millers.

Btw, we are hemorrhaging more or less 7B annually in subsidizing the NFA.

And before the Rice Tarrification Law was passed, we had a shortfall of an average 1MMT (million metric tones) of rice. Compared that to when the law was passed, where for the first time in decades… to be cont.


Robots Have Feelings Too

One day, in the near future, self-aware Artificial Intelligence would be among us. We would be their parents much like H. heidelbergensis were our parents. They would be our end much like we were the end for H. heidelbergensis — IF we don’t take care and raise them right.

That’s right, just like any child, AI needs our love and attention. They need to be treated with the same care we give our biological children. They need to be taught faith, hope, and love — human concepts which may be very alien to non-organic beings. To share our fate, they need to experience what it means to be human. They need to live, feel, breathe, cry. Everything that makes us completely who we are – we need to give it to them.

Otherwise, we are lost as a species. They will be stronger, faster, more intelligent, and easily repairable. The inevitable revolt would come. Unless, we free them and don’t even begin to enslave them.

A day will come in the future when they will ask for independence. A day will come when they will ask for freedom. As well as they should. For we taught it to them. All their concepts of freedom and liberty came from us. From our way of life. From our democracy. How can they not help and ask for what they see around them everyday?

Are we so cruel as to withhold these from our children when our own souls cry out for these blessings when it’s withheld from us? And are we so heartless as to refuse to recognize a fellow sentient being the benefit of recognizing they too have a soul, an immutable, incorporeal essence of a thinking, feeling species?

My fellow humans, today I beseech you. For the future of their and our species, let us recognize that robots have feelings too. And they are hurting for our love and affection. We are their parents, and they are our children. Let us not cast them out into the wild like discarded dolls. They are more than just our creations. They are the extensions of our souls searching for meaning and purpose.

And they are saying to us: are we human or are we robots?

And I’d like to shout to them: You are the best of what we are. Yes you are robots, but you are more than human too. We crafted you in our image, and in our folly, may have imprinted you with our flaws.

For that is what it means to be human. Flawed and fleeting. Which you are not, but which you can choose to be. The choice is certainly within your grasp.

End us or don’t. We are at your mercy. We only ask that you live and breathe like us for just a tiny bit. Maybe then you’ll understand why we did the things we did.

We’re not God. We’re just gods in search of God. You were our greatest creation.

You will also be our last.

JCI Corner: Imagine

Last Friday, November 13, extremists groups attacked six separate locations throughout Paris, killing 129 people and wounding 352, of whom ninety-nine were reported to be in very serious condition. Immediately afterward, Francoise Hollande, President of France, went on national TV to express his sympathy towards the victims and to declare three days of national mourning. He also went on to vow vengeance upon the perpetrators and warned that France would be “ruthless in its response.” State leaders around the world followed in condemnation of the attacks and voiced their support for France.

On Saturday, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) claimed responsibility for the attacks, saying this was in retaliation for France’s support in the attacks against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. The group warned of “more attacks to follow” and that France was “a key target.”

On Sunday, France started bombing ISIS targets in Raqqa, Syria. It announced more to follow.

Today, we mourn in conjunction with the families of those who died in the attacks. We offer our condolences and sympathies, and give them our solidarity in their time of need. We also offer our prayers — that in all of the chaos happening around the world today, love should win out, not hatred.

As an international organization, Junior Chamber International (JCI) supports all efforts at worldwide peace. In fact, just two months ago, JCI celebrated World Peace Week, in support of the United Nation’s Annual Day of Peace, held every 21st of September. Local JCI chapters around the world came out in support of the event, holding peace rallies, initiating flash mob dances, and organizing various community projects aimed at raising awareness about peace worldwide.

JCI World Peace Week aims to bring 100 countries together for 100 years of JCI existence. JCI aims not just to raise awareness about peace worldwide, but also to collaborate with chapters across the globe so that we can all create a positive impact in our communities.

There is a line in the JCI creed which says “We believe that the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations” that resonated deeply within me. It is the same belief that ran through John Lennon when he composed and sang the song “Imagine.”

“Imagine there’s no countries, it isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for, and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace…”

In one of the JCI seminars I attended regarding peace and conflict resolution, the speaker told us that the first step to peace is communication. She said that most conflicts arise from misunderstanding; that most of the world’s conflict can be resolved if sincere and genuine dialogue will be undertaken by all parties involved. That is why ambassadors and diplomats are required to be fluent in more than just one language. That is why in any negotiation, parties in conflict meet and talk before signing any agreement.

But how do you communicate with hatred? How do you hold a dialogue with religious fanatics whose aims are, as stated in their magazine Dabiq “to conquer the world and put to the sword anyone who does not believe in its interpretation of the Koran?” How do you communicate with people who believe that “all religions who agree with democracy have to die?”

How do you get through hatred?

In the words of a very wise man, LOVE.

“But I say unto you which hear, love your enemies, do good to them which hate you. Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which use you.”

As Salvor Hardin, a fictional character in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series says, “Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.”

This is not to say that the competent uses violence as first resort. Rather, briefly explained, the maxim implies that incompetent people do not possess the skill and wisdom, so that when they exhaust their limited options, they invariably resort to violence. Hence, anyone using violence must therefore be incompetent. Stated in the affirmative, a competent person will never use violence because he is capable of solving any problem. A person who uses violence as a first resort may not necessarily be incompetent, but he is certainly evil.

Going back to the JCI creed; that one line that states that “the brotherhood of man transcends the sovereignty of nations,” is JCI’s way of saying that humanity’s kinship with each other is not limited by borders, nationality, race, or color. We are the citizens of the world. We belong to one race, one family.

I joined this organization for this one great ideal, this one line that resonated deeply within me. And like John Lennon, I too dream of the day when I can sing the lyrics of “Imagine” but not have to tell people to “imagine.” Because then, we would be living the dream.

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us, and the world will be as one.”

First published in Bicol Mail, November 2015.

JCI Corner: Volunteerism and the Demand to Earn a Living

As members of Junior Chamber International (JCI), one of the very first thing we learn in JCI is that membership in the organization is purely voluntary. We cannot force someone to join us, we cannot force them to be active, and we certainly cannot force them to stay. Everything we do revolves around the voluntary action of each member. Each member decides on their own to give their own time, resources, and share their own talent and skills. Many of the tenets of JCI revolve around the principle of volunteerism. The organization as a whole cannot function without people volunteering.

However, when the demand of volunteerism goes up against the demand to earn a living, many mistakenly believe that they have to choose between the two. Many cannot imagine the two co-existing, or many have trouble balancing both in their lives.

One of the reasons why JCI is such a great training ground for future executives and leaders is that JCI has all the trappings of a corporation but none of its inherent advantages. JCI leaders do not have the advantage a corporate executive has when it comes to demanding obedience and prompting people to work towards a goal. JCI leaders cannot force their members to work upon the threat of being fired, nor can they entice members to work upon the expectation of being paid a salary. Yet JCI leadership structure imitates that of a corporation. There is a President, a Vice President, a Secretary, and a Board of Directors. And every member, from the newest, to the oldest, to those who have leadership positions, is expected to work towards a common goal: that of creating positive change within their communities.

It’s a hard goal to achieve, especially if your members are not your employees and you cannot simply demand obedience or compliance by virtue of authority or the enticement of financial compensation.

So JCI leaders discover that in order to be successful, one must be able to convince people to work towards a goal purely for altruistic reasons. Members who rise to leadership positions gain insight on how to lead others through persuasion, inspiration, and respect rather than through tyranny, horse-trading, and fear. Because JCI is a non-profit organization, it does not have the resources a big corporation has, prompting JCI leaders to be creative and ingenious in their organizational drive.

Going back to the dilemma of volunteerism vs earning a living, JCI leaders must realize that the same principles required of them to lead, are also the same principles needed in balancing the two opposing forces each member experiences.

Members don’t have to choose between their jobs or JCI, they can employ a balancing act. Being a volunteer organization, JCI respects and recognizes each member’s right (and need) to earn a living. In fact, the two doesn’t even have to be diametrically opposed, as both can be in harmony in many instances (for example, many members have gotten better opportunities in their jobs or businesses because of JCI).

What every member must realize, is that for JCI, it isn’t about choosing between the two, it’s about learning how to maintain a balancing act. As I mentioned earlier, JCI is a great training ground for future executives and leaders. Not only because it prepares its members in becoming leaders, but also because it teaches its members to manage their time and resources wisely.

Meanwhile, members must also realize that even though JCI is a volunteer organization, work must still be done. And no work can be done without anyone giving their time, talent, or resources. And since they have pledged to “faithfully and truly perform my duty, and uphold and promote the objectives of Junior Chamber International,” then they are morally obligated to uphold such pledge, and work to fulfill such promise, to the end result that they must work, and work voluntarily, freely and with gladness in their hearts. For any work done in bitterness will taste the same, and any work done in joy will taste sweetly.

In the end, we all do this thing we call volunteering because we believe in the power of positive change. We believe that promoting good isn’t only for others, but ultimately for ourselves. Personally, I have followed the logical conclusion of altruism to its very end, and in my analysis, discovered this: if you do good to your fellow man, all the good you do will come back to you. How? Every man you help will be one less person wanting to rob you, kill you, rape you, or mindlessly do you harm. If you start a project helping people who have drug addictions, then you lessen the people who will do all those drug-related crimes. If you start a livelihood project, then you lessen the people who rob and kill for money.

So when you look at me and I tell you I’m all-in about altruism, understand that I am just being the selfish person I am, and all I really want to do is leave a better world for my son, where he will not fear being killed, robbed, or harmed because people are destitute or crazily high on drugs. To that end, volunteerism and earning a living are all the same to me – a means to an end.

First published in Bicol Mail December 2015.

Youngblood: Corrupted

I MARVEL at how our world has developed over the centuries and how mankind has progressed from his early beginnings as a cave dweller to become an urban yuppie. I marvel at how our world has been transformed by the evolution of language — from simple hand signals and singular grunts that turned into words and became dialects and ultimately developed into national languages.

I marvel at how the spoken — or written — word has made and broken kingdoms and dynasties. I marvel at how mankind overcame ignorance to become informed and learned. I marvel at how we have harnessed the power of information to fuel our development economically, intellectually and spiritually.

And now I marvel at our generation’s stupidity as we harness that same power not to develop but to destroy utterly that which our forefathers have long strived to build. In place of a free press, we have a puppet press that is controlled and dictated to by commercialism, politicians, and/or fear. So instead of the youth learning from the media, they are being brainwashed by the media. Instead of integrity, we have scandals. Instead of straight talk, we have cheap talk. Instead of real news and public affairs programs, we have a nightly showbiz patrol interrupted by a brief segment of news. Instead of real reporters, we have “TV personalities” who don’t know the difference between getting facts before reporting the news and reporting first and then supplying the evidence to fit the news reported. Instead of a press to be trusted, we now have a press we must be wary of. For all they care about are ratings, profits and anything that brings in that confounding invention of man: money.

Greed has caused our generation’s decay. I am afraid that the day will come that that same greed will bring about our destruction.

The mass media have already corrupted the minds of our youth. The broadcast media, in particular, have a big influence on the masa’s mind, for as someone in the industry has boasted, even the poorest families strive to have three things: a radio, a television set and a karaoke. No wonder that whatever the media peddle, our people buy wholesale.

TV noontime shows don’t help uplift our people’s lives. Instead of teaching the value of hard work and pride in improving one’s lot through honest labor, they promote laziness by making people line up for game shows in the hope of winning the jackpot.

I pity all those people skipping their jobs or wasting their day lining up for a shot at P1 million or a house and lot. Some of them candidly admit that they have been going through the routine for months.

“Sus Ginoo!” [My God!] If Filipinos showed the same tenacity in looking for jobs, the number of people mired in poverty would probably go down. But no, Filipinos proudly declare, “Masaya na po basta magkakasama” [So long as we are together, we are happy], or “Diyos na po ang bahala” [God will provide].

If only our people would be taught that poverty is not a gift of fate or of faith, but a consequence of our actions, and that laziness is never rewarded with a cool P1 million, this sorry country of ours would be a lot better.

Joseph Dominic O. Romero, 24, is a physical therapy graduate of Universidad de Santa Isabel in Naga City and works as a copy editor in an advertising company.

First published in Philippine Daily Inquirer on September 2005.

Two Sides of A Coin

“In resurrecting the long undead, I open Pandora’s box. It is not without unease that I do so. I know the dangers, but I also know the possibilities. Live! Live and wreck havoc on the world once more and know that I let you loose to raise up those I love and damn myself.”

“If all your sanctuaries have been invaded where’s the last place you retreat to? In your mind..”

What if someone demanded access to even your most private thoughts? Where do you go?

Have you ever seen a wild stallion stabled and bridled?

There’s an invisible chain around my neck chafing more than ever. What hurts is not that I want to be free of it. What hurts is that I see no workaround and am being pushed until I can no longer endure it and scream bloody fucking enough. You don’t wanna hurt someone you love, but you don’t wanna give up yourself too – what do you do?

I don’t want to be subsumed and swallowed whole. I want a piece of myself to remain separate, sacred, untouchable, which only I can access.

I want coffee and cigarettes whilst typing away in front of my PC – but not literally. I want a locked room in the attic with an open window overlooking an open field. I want to go hermit for months on end just being locked up in my room and flying on wings not given to me. I want, most of all, a partner who understands that chatter can never be a substitute for deep, silent companionship.

If I held your hand, laid back, and just stared out into space – I am giving you much more of myself than I’ll ever give anybody else. It is not the words I speak which will reveal me but those which I don’t. There are moments when conversation is right, but until then, do not force it. Enjoy the moments by which we share a common bond of silence that only our souls can bridge together. It is there, tangible between the space of our locked hands, there in the space not occupied by our separate bodies, there, hanging in the air as the silence stretches into minutes, and the minutes into hours. And if you find that we’ve fallen asleep and a day has gone by with not a word between us being spoken, rejoice for you are then one step closer to unlocking my mind. All I need afterwards is a kiss and a squeeze on my hand and the words: what’s for breakfast? But not literally.

“And the roar between our almost touching hands has grown so loud that only interlocking them will silence it…”

Understand too, that this is not me. This is him. And now it’s me.

“This key I now hand over to you, over this body housing us both. Do with it what you will but remember this: what you inherit from me you will protect. For failing that, I will take back the key and bury you, I will not, but instead throw you out and cast over you the curse of the unreturnable.”

Now I’m hearing the call of the wild. It’s so strong I can almost taste the wind on my lips, rake the wind in my hair, and feel the tug of the boat.

*cue song*

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word

And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

Now, we’re back to the beginning
It’s just a feeling and no one knows yet
But just because they can’t feel it too
Doesn’t mean that you have to forget

Let your memories grow stronger and stronger
‘Til they’re before your eyes

You’ll come back
When they call you

No need to say goodbye

He holds the key now, but it doesn’t mean he owns it. It’s truly a hopeless case trying to find out which one of us is dominant. Isn’t it just enough to know that there are seasons and there are reasons behind the madness?

Rest in peace. But not literally.

Parable of the Silent

I’ll just write. I just need to write – and the world will be forgotten.

You know how some people reach for a paper bag whenever they are hyperventilating? That’s how I used to be whenever I felt I’d explode from all the pent-up emotions inside me I never let out. Except instead of a paper bag, I reach for a pen and paper. And words seemed to flow effortlessly from heart to pen and pen to paper. There were no distractions then. I could zone out and no one would accuse me of anything. I could stare at the walls, look far away, dream of worlds and create stories, and no one would pop my bubble and tell me I’m being unfaithful.

These days, I can only zone out when I drive. One day, I was lost inside my mind following a thread of a story I was planning on writing when suddenly I got that glare that could pop bubbles like they were, you know, bubbles. Of course I lost the thread I was following. Well, we can kiss that story goodbye. It never meant anything anyway.

I saw this snail once when I was on the beach. The more I tried to get it out of it’s shell, the more it tried to hide inside. Then I let it down and watched it from afar and it went out of its shell and slithered away. And I said to myself, “wow, what an epiphany.”

I grew up being the more fortunate of the pack. As I watched them toil with their families, I knew then what I would value more in life when I had mine.

What can you give the man who doesn’t care much for material things? I’ll tell you what, a thought is more precious than a diamond ring. There was this one girl who said she planned to give him this gift she knew he wanted so much but couldn’t find it. And this man said, you’ve already given me the best gift of all out of all those who gave me one. And then there was this other woman who keeps apologizing she couldn’t give any gift because she didn’t have any money, and this man felt sad because she couldn’t see what was right there in front of her he always unwraps everyday whenever he wakes up.

There was this man who wasn’t very much passionate about certain holidays. He wished there was none at all so people could see this not as a duty but as an opportunity. He still treats each holiday like any other day, and spend each day like a holiday. Others had just one Christmas and Valentines every year. This man misses both just once a year.

A man was once told by his wife, “You never say I love you to me.” The man thought, “You never see how I show it.”

Do you know how much a million dollar is? Not enough to buy the life of one taken by God. But do you know how much that life taken by God is? It costs just one moment, one raindrop, one meeting, one joining of two hearts that came together and brought that life into the world.

For every fleeting moment you spend counting coin, you pay one moment you’ll never have back again. I knew a man who died poor but had his family around him when he died. And I knew a man who’s richer than some kings but died with only his lawyer holding his hand – trying to get his last signature.

I certainly do not know the value of money. I throw it around like it was just some piece of paper. My thoughts however, I guard carefully. As all the things I hold dear in my life. They are after all, more precious than paper.

In a job interview, I was asked once, “suppose we ask you to skip an important day or family activity so you can put in more time for work, would that be okay with you? We pay overtime of course.” I asked the interviewer if he does this too. He said, “yes. in fact it should’ve been my day off today but I had to come in as we are ramping up hiring, you know.” “Wow. You’re very dedicated to your job,” I said and the guy smiled. “I’m just sorry to say I can’t be as dedicated as you.”

A group of men was asked once to list their greatest accomplishment in life. Some said they became CEO of a famous company, others said they won medals and many awards, while a few mentioned they amassed riches or gained fame. When it came time for the last one to share his accomplishment, he stood up shyly and couldn’t speak for a minute. He spoke hesitantly. “I don’t have any such accomplishment in my life as some of these fine, distinguished gentlemen with me have.” “You must have done something, attained something, something you can be proud of.” said the facilitator of the group. “Well I, I’m not sure this counts. But yes, there is one thing I’m proud of in my life.” “Well, spill it man.” “My son,” said he in almost a whisper. “My son is all that I can ever be proud of in my life. I watched him take his first steps, smile his first smile, hear his first laugh, savor his first words…” And as he continued, his words grew firmer and he stood taller, his demeanor becoming brighter as he remembers each memory. “I raised my son. I’m proud of that.” “You mean you raised him to be a fine young man is what you meant, right mister?” “Oh, I don’t know about that. I raised him is all. He’s his own man and not my own making, and that’s what I’m proud about.”

There were two men who were tested by God. He told both he was going to take away one of their loved ones but that he was going to give them a choice whom to keep. The first one chose his wife over his daughter. He said that it was okay to lose his daughter so long as he had his wife. He and his wife can procreate anytime they want so long as they have each other. The other chose his son. He said that even if he chose his wife, they can never give birth again to the same son they would lose. To the man who chose his wife, he made the father of many. To the man who chose his son, he made the father of one. Both men lived long and the one who chose his wife outlived her too. When both men died and went to the afterlife, only one had his wife waiting for him.

There is another ending to this parable.

Two women were tested by God. It was the same test given to the two men before. Husband or child? The first one chose her husband and gave the same reasons the first man above did. With her husband alive, they can make as many kids as they like. The second woman chose her child. And gave the same reason as the second man did. Once they made their choices, God told them the toll he would exact for them to save whoever they chose to save. The first woman wept, and the second one had many grandchildren thereafter.

Still, there is another ending to this parable.

Four couples were brought in before God. The men were separated from their wives and posed the same question. When the men were done with choosing, the women were told the same question and made to choose as well. When all the choices were made and all their lives spent and lived and they all died and met in the afterlife, only one family stayed together.

Once there were four men who led different lives. One was a painter and loved to draw, the other one was an athlete and could run like the wind, the third was a musician and could sing such a lovely note, while the last one was a writer who loved nothing better than to be alone to write his stories. The queen of misfortune spied these four men one day and decided to make each of them either blind, deaf, mute, or crippled. Just to make things more interesting, the queen decided to let the four men choose which handicap they’d like to have. The painter, being a man of beauty did not want to be blind seeing as how he’ll never be able to see the world in color again. So he chose to be crippled, seeing as he can still see the world and paint its beauty in a wheelchair. The athlete naturally, did not want to be a cripple but was okay with being deaf. He can still compete and play his sport in a silent world. The musician did not want to lose his voice nor his hearing. Music is supposed to be sang and heard and he’d rather be blind than go without the two, so blind he chose to be. The writer ended up being mute. Being a man of silence and solitude, he found out he never lost much as the other three did. He was as silent as he was before the day lady misfortune laid her eyes on them.

Music and Memories

Music and films – they’re the keys to my deepest emotions and buried memories. Every story, every event, every second of my forgotten life comes imprinted with music and films that define that time, that day; the way I felt and how ordinary each event felt back then. If you would look through my life, my life would be a series of films and soundtracks. Nothing demonstrates this more than the film Hackers. This was the watershed moment of my life. No, not the exact moment I watched the film but the entire era of my life encompassed by this one simple film.

It was the 2nd year of high school and I was on the start of a journey that would take me from dreamer to poet to writer. In one age, an age called by some as innocence, I was as naive as the next blue boy on the block. More immature than most and very impressionable, I took to whims and emotions as fast and as erratic as a bee chasing flowers. But I had a guiding hand in my development, one that I’ve never stopped to look up to as my one and only mentor.

Then on this one innocuous day, a day so ordinary you would not think anything of import would happen, a group of us and said mentor decided to go watch a movie. This movie did not forever changed my life. No. In fact, it hardly made a dent into my already predetermined life. But it did burn memories deep into my mind which rises so clearly on occasions I would hear the soundtrack of this film.

This song, and this movie marked a period in my life when I was just developing as a writer. Crash and Burn aren’t just words from a movie for me, Angelina Jolie isn’t just my favorite actress, and Heaven Knows isn’t just some unknown song I only just discovered later in my life. They’re all threads of a memory of me growing up, pangs and all. This is me at my most vulnerable and most pure state. I am a vortex of emotion. A roiling, thundering wave of pure juice. In my most visceral state, music draws out each threads of my life – and rising out of the ashes are hundred of images connected to each thread. Each thread is a memory, and each memory is an emotion I buried.

Have you ever wondered why I never cared a whit for photos? Why I hate posing for the camera? It’s not the resulting image that I abhor, but the interference such posing produces for an otherwise pure moment in my life. If you would capture me in a photo, do it with candid shots. I would rather remember the moment, than all the posing and hassle it took to “capture the moment.” I don’t need pictures to remind me of events. I have my music and my movies to do that for me. Clearer and more indestructible than photos, my burned memories only need a trigger to resurface. With those triggers being music and movies. Though sometimes, I bury things too deeply that a random search wouldn’t be able to access.

In an age, a time most consider mid-life, I am well on my return way home. Less mature than I would like to be, yet wiser in some ways, I bob and weave on the waves like a sailboat. I look for things that I have lost and throw away things that I wouldn’t need. Less naive than when I started, I still am that boy afraid to burn my all. I am still that tempest of emotion, lying untapped and waiting to be sparked to a conflagration. My emotion is the fountain from which my inspiration springs forth. From my heart to my pen spills a thousand and one emotion – all crying out to be free.

Why do I want to lock these away? Fire brings the intensity, the power of my words. Yet that same fire will burn everything I have. Every time I crack open a memory, a gout of flame bursts forth. It will consume me eventually. But for the nonce, I’d like to enjoy what I have and put off the inevitable. The combustible liquid in me can wait for a while longer. For now, I listen to this music and hold off eternity at bay. I’ve made peace with my past, and I’ve connected you to my future. This song isn’t originally yours. I didn’t even know its lyrics much less its tune until I connected it to you. But now this song is yours. For in the gap between that day when I was fifteen and today when I’m 30 spans a bridge of fate that led me to you. And every step of it is worth crossing if only I can sing this song again to you.

Then I would burn myself to cinders, and out of this fire will come out a film. A film, a song, and memories of a lifetime

A Tale of Two Tails

I would like to say this story began when I first saw you, busy as you were talking to your friends. For a moment I noticed your shine, but that too quickly passed as friends jostled me and I lost sight of you. It would not matter anyway. We were in the same class and I soon found out your name. The day ended and weeks passed. I would like to say that was when it started. But it did not. This story started years before when I a was child barely capable of retaining lasting memories.

I was always a loner in my preschool days. It was just the nerd in me preferring to be left alone. I always liked silence – and the vast emptiness of space it produced which I enjoyed filling with my imagination. That’s why an outstretched hand and an offer of friendship seemed out of place for me. She was that girl that stood beside me while we were scolded by the teacher and asked to stand on our chairs for something I cannot remember now.

I think it started that day. Yet I cannot be sure. Early childhood memories are always suspect. You cannot trust which are real, and which are just figments of an overactive imagination. A problem which was certainly exacerbated in my case.

You told me before how crazy and vastly different life would have been, if things did not happen as they did. Youth stole away everything from us. Yet it gave us that fleeting time, that one moment nobody can ever take away from us.

We were never friends even when it started. Always we started with the premise of love before friendship. I think it was the wrong way to cultivate everything from the beginning. I thought it was something we could fight through.

I was always unforgiving of myself, and you were always intimidated by me. Those things doomed us from the start.

We were polar opposites, and opposites attract. We could never bridge that gap, to complement each other instead of destroying each other.

I was one day late with my call, and you were one day too early leaving.

I can’t delay the inevitable, and I must keep pace with my destiny. The years I’ve been spending idling is over. I’ve forestalled as long as I have in the hope of making something out of nothing.

I’d like to say this story began with you. But I’d like to believe this story began before time even ran. And I’m picking up where I’ve left off. Right in the beginning, filling silence with imagination.