Saturday, July 16, 2005

Murder They Wrote

I have discovered the gruesome world of crime fiction.

I admit I stumbled into the genre rather late, considering that I started my reading career devouring Nancy Drew novels at the rate of two a day. I was a huge fan of "New Detectives" and "Crime Night" on Discovery Channel long before knowing about forensic pathology became fashionable thanks to CSI. Once upon a time, I even toyed with the idea of going into forensic pathology myself until the sight and smell of my first live autopsy forced me to can the idea.

But lately, I've been feeding my pulp fiction appetite with who-done-its by Patricial Cornwell and Kathy Reichs, novels featuring strong career women pathologists bent on getting into the heart of a mystery armed with no more than their brains and their guts.

Fascinated as I am with their heroines' investigative prowess, I can't help but be as equally astonished by the macabre imaginations that gave these stories birth. How must these authors feel as they describe these murders in detail, typing away at their keyboards in the middle of the night? It's creepy enough dwelling inside a killer's as a captive reader - how many times creepier it must be to have to think as one in order to give texture to your story. It's amazing that anyone even allows themselves to thinking these thoughts at all.

Or is thinking of murder really all that uncommon? I can't help but wonder if at some point in every person's life, one has already thought of killing someone, even in passing. Is it within each one of us to be capable of killing? Given the right circumstances, the answer would probably be yes. But is it within each one of us to be mad enough to plan cold-blooded murder? It is the answer to that question that is still up in the air. Maybe the reason why crime fiction is a genre that continues to sell is because these paper villains keep ordinary people from crossing the line to madness by acting out our madness for us.
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Monday, June 27, 2005

Coming Home

It's four days to our 10-year high school reunion.

A part of me is looking forward to seeing my old friends again, some of whom I have not seen since our high school graduation. I know a good number of them have gone abroad and come home, gotten married, had children, and basically have done what they said they were going to do with their lives. I wonder if, when we see each other, we will still be able to see the same girls whom we went to school with back then behind the women we have grown up to be. And although a reunion is time for nostalgia, a part of me wonders if perhaps the past is all most of us will ever have in common.

We have, inevitably, become very different people over the past ten years.

Although biologically I am pushing thirty, I think that about 70% of me is still somewhere in between 8 and 18 years old. It's hard not to remain stuck in that limbo between true adulthood and adolescence when you've spent most of your life in school. Thanks to my parents' overwhelming support, I have yet to know what it's like to worry about where I'm going to get the next month's rent, how I'm going to pay for my utility bills, and what the heck I'm going to do once my credit card bill comes in. Compared to my classmates who have gotten married, become mothers, left home, started their own companies... it feels like I have not grown up very much. It feels like I haven't really taken my life in hand and done anything particularly brave with it.

Much as I look forward to coming home, I cannot help but dread it. Amidst the laughter and the genuine affection, there is a spectre of sadness, a dying of old dreams, because reliving the past makes you realize how different reality is from what you expected it to become when you were 18 and knew you could do anything. It's a celebration of life that is tinged by a hint of tears, a mourning for whom you used to be and whom you wish you could become again.
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Monday, February 14, 2005

Motor Therapy

Everything they said about driving in Manila is true.

In a city where there are too many vehicles in horribly crowded streets, getting behind the wheel is like descending into your own little corner of hell. Traffic rules are mere suggestions, and the only rule that operates for real is the one that says, "Kill or be road kill." The streets of Manila do not respect anyone who drives like a wuss.

I have recently joined the mass of idiots crowding our congested city streets, and, at the grand old age of 27, have finally started driving myself. (Before this, I had mostly gotten around via our crazy public transport system and the good grace of my friends.) And despite the fact that I am a novice driver and on occasion admit that my driving is anything but respectable - I am actually finding myself enjoying the experience.

Yes. Hard as it is to believe... I like to drive.

Of course my enjoyment of the experience does not extend to being stuck on EDSA in rush hour traffic, my foot permanently glued to my clutch as I painstakingly crawl towards home, afraid that the next reckless bus is just waiting for an opportunity to cut me and drive me into the Pasig River.

But there's something about being behind the wheel with no one but the purr of my engine and my thoughts for company as I sit in the darkened cab, driving on nearly empty streets during odd hours of the day. I don't speed - I can't go beyond 80 kph, even on the highways - but there is a certain comfort I get from simply driving around. It's a soothing, healing kind of quiet that I can't get even when I'm alone elsewhere - probably because I have to concentrate on driving so much (because I'm new at it) that I have to empty my mind of nearly everything else. It's like... therapy without a therapist. (But with fuel prices being what they are, it's almost as expensive as seeing a therapist.)

Unfortunately, all journeys, aimless or not, have to end somewhere. Then I have to park my car... and that's another piece of hell on earth that almost negates all the good feelings I got from driving. But that's another story. Click here to read the rest of this post.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pipe Dreams

On more frustrating days, I wonder what my life would have turned out to be if I hadn't chickened out at the sight of the bright studio lights when I was 4 years old.

I was just about to burst into the Philippine TV scene as Nova Villa and Freddie Webb's precocious daughter on Chicks to Chicks, thanks to my aunt's showbiz connections. I was smart, I was confident, and my mother and my aunt had practiced me at being cute till I could do it on demand. I was all set and raring to go.Until I saw those lights.

It was the end of my showbiz career.

On other days, I toy around with the idea of giving up my current career to spend the rest of my days as a freelance fluff piece writer/romance novelist/lounge singer. This would be more realistic than trying to break into showbiz at my current age of 27, and thus less of a pipe dream.

On really bad days, I can actually imagine myself doing this for real despite the fact that romance novels in the Philippines are published in Filipino. I cannot string together a respectable essay in my own language that doesn't sound like a complete joke. Given that particular handicap, how am I supposed to write dialogue for my characters that might pass for a romantic conversation without making them sound like they were possessed by a bunch of colegilialas?

Last night, my friend Honey railroaded me into singing a number on stage at this open mic acoustic bar... and I realized that while I may have the voice of a potentially good lounge singer, I am definitely not blessed with the vampy, confident personality that marks any good solo performer. I was too shy to look my audience in the eye. It was like being 4 years old again, with those huge studio lights flashing in my eyes. I love to sing, and in certain circumstances I like to perform, but I don't think I have the gumption to make it a for-the-rest-of-my-life thing.

Despite these roadblocks to my potential escape routes, I keep these pipe dreams alive just to keep my sanity on those days I feel I can't go on. And there are glimmers of hope.After all, they do publish local chick fic in English now. And maybe, just maybe, one of these days I might gain enough confidence to be that vampy, smoky voiced singer I've always secretly wanted to be.

On the other hand, maybe those hard days are all set to come fewer and farther in between - and I will finally be able to kiss my pipe dreams goodbye. But maybe that's the biggest pipe dream of all. Click here to read the rest of this post.

My Manila Sky

I have always been in love with the Manila skies. All this despite the fact that most of the time all the smog and the smoke manage to blot out all those constellations I love but have yet to learn to name. On rare clear nights, I used to find myself pausing in the middle of my short walk home, compelled to stand still like a fool in the middle of the darkened parking lot with my books and my bags hanging off me, as I tried to find the few star patterns I've already learned to recognize.

A friend recently reminded me of this forgotten love, one of the few I managed to carry over despite having been thrust into the urban drabness that is the heart of Manila. She was sure that in my current funk I'd stopped looking for those clear night skies I used to long for so much. And she was right, I had forgotten. These days, getting home from the hospital to recharge my emotionally and physically depleted batteries has become such a single-minded goal that I don't even bother to look up anymore. Who has the time or the energy to stand in the parking lot, with the blinking red and blue lights of Rustan's and GoNuts Donuts irritating your eyes, to look for a clear sky that is very rarely there?

Last night, though, I was blessed with a wonderfully clear night, the first I've noticed in a long time. And, just like an old friend, there was the hunter Orion, one of the few constellations I know by sight, smiling down at me. So, like a fool, I stood there in the middle of the parking lot, my face lit up in a smile and heart lit up with a joy that I have not felt in a while. I cannot imagine how I could have forgotten how much joy I used to find in these Manila skies I used to love so much.

Perhaps that's really what has been missing in my life lately. I've allowed the worries and the pressures of my work to eat into those little joys that used to make my life worthwhile - and now I feel that there's something wrong with my work, rather than there being something wrong with me inherently. Perhaps it's a combination of both. A long time ago, when I was just about to start medical school, a wise friend of mine (who quit medicine to write her poetry) advised me never to lose myself so far into the books and the science and the demands of school to forget those little things that have always given me joy.

Maybe tonight it's going to be another clear night. I'm on my way out - studying be damned. Orion is waiting. Click here to read the rest of this post.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Old Barbers and Young Doctors

A consultant recently gave us an inspirational talk and opened his lecture with the following quote: "Two people you cannot trust - a old barber and a young doctor."

I'm in my first two months of residency training in one of the biggest teaching hospitals in the Philippines, and in those two months, I have discovered why they call this the PRACTICE of medicine.

It's true, I've been working in this hospital for the past 3 years. I've been through the grueling 24 hour to 36 hour shifts that never seem to end. I've experienced pushing stretchers, doing the most menial tasks, taking precious catnaps on benches or simply leaning against some wall or table. I've seen patients who don't know where to get their next dose of antibiotics get worse and die, patients with neck masses as big as their heads walk in when it's too late for any doctor to do anything about it. I thought that knowing all this, I knew what I was getting into.

But being a first year resident is nothing like being in medical school.

All at once, all the things you thought you knew recedes into the background and everything you know you don't know suddenly takes up center stage. Faced with a patient who hangs on your every word and takes everything you say as gospel just because you're finally wearing that white coat, all five years of learning the science of medicine is negated by everything you didn't learn about the practice of it.

And when you need the most to deliver, you are appalled by the thought that 80% of the time, you're bluffing your way through it and praying with all your might that what you did, what you thought, what you said was right.

Our seniors tell us that everyone went through this, that we all have to start out this way... because medicine is about practice and experience, and that the mistakes we make with our patients along the way ensures that we'll be able to make a difference in more patients' lives in the future.

Still, knowing this in my mind doesn't take away that awful feeling at the pit of my stomach when I realize that I may have sent someone home that I shouldn't have or that I forgot to stop a certain medication that I should have - and I have no way of calling them to give them further instructions. It doesn't stem the should-have-dones and could-have-dones that flood my mind at the oddest moments, and all but drive me crazy.

This is at the heart of my conflict - am I cut out for this kind of life? There are joys, I admit that. I can't deny that I still love the intellectual guesswork, the analysis, and the joy of clinching the diagnosis... but when I add the actual lives that hang on the balance of my thinking process, it terrifies me so much that I don't know if I want to go on doing this at all.

I will not always be a young doctor. And doctors only get better with time. Still, I can't help but wonder if my heart can endure the seasoning it will take to make me a good doctor... or even if it's what really want to be.

In the meantime, I'm taking it one day at a time... and trying my best to do right by my patients - who don't know about old barbers and are trusting enough or desperate enough to put their lives in my young, unseasoned hands. Click here to read the rest of this post.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Straight Roads

Is it possible to be walking down a straight, uncomplicated road only to suddenly find yourself wandering lost without ever getting off it?

After the blistering lecture I received from two of my best friends about figuring out where the hell I am going, I have turned back to the one thing that has always forced me into real introspection: my keyboard. Of course I know I can do this without having to resort to publishing my musings on-line, but my inner emotional exhibitionist couldn't resist the temptation of setting up a blog just for that.

This blog serves many purposes. One, it is meant to be a place of catharsis and perhaps somewhere I can finally interpret my inner compass and start going in the right direction. Two, it allows my friends to track my progress and also allows them to offer insights into my insanity that they manage to see along the way. Third, it forces me to organize my thoughts as a point of pride and flex my long atrophied writing muscles.

Not that I'm about to make a press release about the existence of this log to the world in general.

Anyway, I digress.

It's amazing that for a person who has walked the straight and narrow all my life, I now find myself hopelessly lost. Perhaps it's because I have spent most of my life walking down the straight and narrow that I find myself lost. I guess when you drive yourself towards a goal so single-mindedly, it's unlikely for you to notice the detours that were probably put there to lead you to the right destination. And when you suddenly find yourself there and you find it wasn't really where you thought you wanted to be... Well, it's probably like being stranded on a highway in a car that's out of gas and no gas station in sight.

Basically, you get... stuck.

So here I am, stuck and lost, in the middle of nowhere, and I can't figure out how to get out of here because at this point I have no idea where I want to go.

I'm hoping in time I will finally be able to figure at least that out. Click here to read the rest of this post.