Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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What we were - Quentin Coldwater and I

Maybe I should start with the easy things first.

The other night I finished The Magician’s Land, Lev Grossman’s concluding volume to his Magicians Trilogy. Before that, I blasted through The Magician King, reading even during a challenging fieldtrip and an emotional, impromptu visit home. I’d been very vocal about how I felt about the first book, The Magicians, and its lead protagonist Quentin Coldwater. By all accounts, I was perfectly fine abandoning the series. Then L and I came across it on a list of the best fantasy novels of all time. It wasn't so much that it was mentioned or even that it was quite near the top, but the reviewer said that people who gave up after the first book were missing out. Had I been wrong? Intrigued, I went about quietly acquiring the sequels.

I was impressed with the writing in The Magician King. I remembered vaguely the same about The Magicians, but the feeling had been eclipsed by how much I loathed Quentin. While reading The Magician King, I began to worry that maybe I hated Quentin because I identified with him.

This is where it gets sticky.

I won’t get into what Grossman was trying to do with fantasy tropes, his attempt to write "Harry Potter for adults." Many have written about it at length and more eloquently than I could ever do. Instead, I want to talk about how Grossman's development of Quentin and friends made me reflect on my own growth.

So, what to make of Quentin? In The Magicians, he comes off as an entitled, whiny douche who only ever thinks about himself. He has the gift of magic but cannot appreciate it, even having room to brood. Young Quentin wants to be a hero because that’s how it is in the stories but he is not noble or brave, makes stupid choices, and hurts the people he loves. However, by the end of this first book, Quentin has lost much and learned difficult truths. In The Magician King, Quentin is finally a king of the magical land of Fillory and the bastard is bored. He is living the life but cannot shake the feeling that there should be something more. He, along with Julia, goes on a quest and we catch a glimpse of the man he could be. He still doubts himself, but has grown a pair. In The Magician’s Land, Quentin has finally come into his own. He is far from perfect but he knows himself and finds purpose.

I had always known I wanted to Make a Difference. I and many of my generation were led to believe that we are unique, talented individuals capable of such. At school, my peers and I were herded into groups distinguished for academic excellence, leadership or whatever above-average competence. So it was, believing in my own power (sometimes known as "feeling infinite"), that I stepped out, eyes bright, heart aflame, into the real world. But very much like Quentin and his friends, I quickly found out that reality did not often conform to our fantasies. I wanted to change the world but Life was not sticking to the plan. It had the audacity to be unfair. I’d overthink myself into inaction or wallow needlessly about what I thought, at the time, were grave issues. I traveled but almost always missed the point. I would not stay very long in jobs – a year at most – because I would get an itch that would eventually grow into a rash of dissatisfaction. I couldn’t be happy wherever I lived: my hometown Baguio was claustrophobic while Metro Manila was inhospitable. My mind would yearn for greater heights, but I would feel empty when I got there. I could not be satisfied. I would not be still. Quentin was a mirror and I wanted to punch him, defensive mode on.

In The Magician’s Land, Quentin and his student Plum have a conversation about why we have magic:

“What do you think magic is for? [...] I used to think about this a lot,” Quentin said. “I mean, it’s not obvious like it is in books. It’s trickier. In books there’s always somebody standing by ready to say hey, the world’s in danger, evil’s on the rise, but if you’re really quick and take this ring and put it in that volcano over there everything will be fine

“But in real life that guy never turns up. He’s never there. He’s busy handing out advice in the next universe over. In our world no one ever knows what to do, and everyone’s just as clueless and full of crap as everyone else, and you have to figure it all out by yourself. And even after you’ve figured it out and done it, you’ll never know whether you were right or wrong. You’ll never know if you put the ring in the right volcano, or if things might have gone better if you hadn’t. There’s no answers in the back of the book.”

“I still have no idea what magic is for. Maybe you just have to decide for yourself. But you definitely have to decide. It’s not for sitting on my ass, which I know because I’ve tried that. Am I making any sense?”

Lev Grossman’s books are about bright people who don’t have a Voldemort to fight: “It’s a struggle to figure out what magic is for, when it’s not obvious.” I remember walking home from a party once, semi-drunk, talking with a friend about how our generation doesn't have a Big Bad the way our parents’ had martial law. Ours is a faceless, nameless enemy - a slow, chronic affliction rather than an acute attack. Where do we land our punches? To whom do we direct our barbs?

We are always privy to Quentin's self-doubt in the first two books, but this is not the case in the third. Here, Quentin just does things sans the paralyzing internal monologue. The transformation occurs gradually over a 10-year timeline of hits and, sometimes very tragic, misses. Quentin stops being that douche teenager and becomes someone we genuinely like. We are rewarded for sticking it out with him when Grossman shows us how the others actually see him. Here is High King Eliot wishing he could confide in his best friend Quentin. There is the student Plum wanting to do magic like her experienced, able teacher Quentin.

The Magicians Trilogy is filled with many wonders, both pleasurable and demented. Many of the moments of real joy have to do with the magic and spells (Quentin and Plum travel to Antarctica) but some of them are actually when the characters are putting in honest labor to achieve something (Julia studying in Murs, Quentin and his research). And the language is stellar. In The Magician King, Quentin’s chapters seem tame and structured in contrast to Julia’s unruly and defiant ones. The disparity is intentional - we are thrust from Quentin's ordered life into Julia's experiences where she has to claw her way, ghetto style, through a rough magical education.

I didn't quite struggle so much as flounder around in my 20s. I understood that I needed to do something, but it wasn't always clear to me what that was. Not knowing made me thrash around in my head, indulging my demons.

In a year, I will be Quentin's age in The Magician's Land. But unlike the mature, tempered magician, I don’t think I’ve quite arrived. I like to think I've become better at just being, that I've shed some of that compulsive dissatisfaction. But I still suffer bouts of crippling insecurity – a hazard of working in the academe? I still do things because it’s what's expected of me, though I've been trying to be better at being honest with other people and myself.

Some have called the Magicians Trilogy derivative, pilfering elements of this and that beloved fantasy classic under the guise of deconstruction. Whether these literary calisthenics have succeeded or not is beside the point. Grossman has written a riveting study about personal growth, about being a hero in an age where we don't really know what that means anymore. Even now, his books are still burning a hole in my head. I think about who Quentin discovered himself to be in the end and wonder when I too will finally come into my best self.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

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The Sunday Currently #3

I am currently...

READING this and that. I'm working on Roland Barthes' Camera Lucida because I recently read Mourning Diary (which I'd obsessively tracked after a reading of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking). I'm sampling Levels of Life by Julian Barnes because I just finished The Sense of an Ending. I'd attempted the latter early this year but had fallen into that post-holiday slump and gave up. I picked it up again following an enthusiastic recommendation from a young friend. It turned out to be quite the ruminative experience.

LISTENING to somebody's door chimes tinkling in the wind. There's a reason it's called The Calm Before the Storm. It's unnaturally quiet and our primal senses are tingling. We are unnerved because we sense the menace beneath the stillness.

WATCHING How to Get Away with Murder. I just did catch-upsies this afternoon. HOARY SHIT. I'm loving The Flash (Barry is golden; Iris has to go) but during the crossovers this week, I found myself on Ollie's team. And, as always, Supernatural. When I watch it these days, I imagine a seasoned veteran doing their thing, just going with what works. Which is pretty much what Sam and Dean are doing. I started watching this show in 2006 and have stayed loyal even through brunette Ruby and, ugh, the leviathans. It's been a few weeks, but Episode 200 was a nostalgic mo-fo, a love-letter to the fans. It really got me in the soft spots. In response, I watched the pilot and a few other favorites to get some real reminiscing on. Behold, "A Single Man Tear"!

WRITING stuff for work. What of the thesis, you say? It's nearly there. After all the urgency the past few months, I've puttered out a little. I suppose I could have pushed harder. That's all I'll say on the matter because I'm pretending I don't have any crippling issues about not making it this semester. Something about trying not to feel like a failure so I can function.

THINKING about doing some laundry.

SMELLING lemon juice and cilantro.

LOVING my brother. I was home to visit him recently - we ate veggies and tacos, talked about our folks (ha-ha), watched Guardians of the Galaxy on DVD, and basically had a smashing good time. Recent logistical arrangements have been challenging but he's just been taking it on the chin. I could learn something from him.

HOPING everyone is safe.

WANTING to finish school.

WISHING my soul was a little lighter and brighter.

WEARING a shirt with a bunch of cheeky owls printed on.

FEELING like I could use a joke.

The Sunday Currently is a weekly series hosted by Lauren at siddathornton. Write your own post (because lists are therapeutic) and link back at siddathornton to keep the love flowing. Have a fantastic week, wombats.


Sunday, June 1, 2014

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The Sunday Currently #2

I am currently...

READING One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I was telling my friend Joyce that Gabo's writing has been especially appealing while I've been writing my thesis. It may be some left-over feelings from reading Love in the Time of Cholera, which was such a pleasant surprise. For years, I'd been under the impression that it was sad and I usually put off sad things. And then Gabo died. So I read it and found that it was funny and loving and epic (but not in an exhausting way). I've also taken Jane Eyre down from its place on my shelf because I keep being led back to it. So, this and that while I climb my mountain.

LISTENING to Casualties of Cool by Casualties of Cool. It's making me feel things. I'll get back to you when I figure out what they are. Also, some Pharrell Williams and Iggy Azalea. There's also been a lot of The Drums in my ears because Jonny Pierce at Wanderland 2014.

WATCHING Showtime's Penny Dreadful. I'm compelled to watch anything featuring Eva Green even if she's just too powerful and unsettling a performer that, sometimes, I want to gouge out my eyes (Episode 2, I'm looking at you). The show itself is breathtaking: gorgeous shots, wonderful actors, jaw-dropping reveals. Plus, all that sex and gore. You can't go wrong. I finished the first season of CW's Reign a couple of weeks ago. I watched it mostly for Adelaide Kane whom I wished there was more of on Teen Wolf. The background history is also very interesting, but that's out the window in this 16th century Gossip Girl. There was one episode in which an instrumental version of Royals by Lorde was playing during a ball. Yes, I know, it obviously needed to be done. Let us be comforted by their small nods to actual historical events (e.g. the wooden splinter fatally lodged in King Henry's eye).

WRITING my thesis. It occupies most of my time these days. Contrary to prevailing belief, I have a desired endpoint in mind. However, things aren't going as smoothly or as quickly as I want and/ or need. It was disconcerting to wake up this morning and realize it's already June when I originally imagined myself defending in May. I guess I'm blogging now out of nowhere to try and calm down and reassure myself that I can write a decent sentence.

THINKING about my thesis. There's a corner of my brain permanently devoted to my unfinished manuscript.

SMELLING chocolate. I just obliterated a bar of hazelnut milk schokolade. I am reminded of the scene in X-Men: First Class where Kevin Bacon's Sebastian Shaw offers some to the young Erik Lehnsherr before threatening to shoot his mother. (Hey, have you seen Days of Future Past? More McFassy, I say. Also, was it really about Mystique? Or JLaw? Haha.)

WISHING I wasn't so distractible.

WANTING to finish my thesis. To write faster. To take more photos. To save more. To read more.

HOPING I get through June without buying a book. I'm on a book-buying moratorium (again) this month to minimize expenses. It's evolved into a sort of bet with friends at work. If I cave, I have to buy them grilled burgers for lunch. If I manage to control myself for a month, they buy me, well, a book. I don't know how this is going to work, you guys. Instant Gratification is my middle name.

LOVING iOS photography apps. I recently rejoined Instagram, mostly to take pictures of books and Dog, but I've been having a blast with camera and post-editing apps. I also inherited a sweet little Lumix so we'll see how that goes. These beautiful things have been soothing in this generally trying time.

WEARING my headset. Trying to cultivate peace in my otherwise unstable headspace.

NEEDING to get my shit together.

FEELING good about this week.

The Sunday Currently is a weekly series hosted by Lauren at siddathornton. Write your own post (because lists are therapeutic) and link back at siddathornton to keep the love flowing. Have a fantastic week, wombats.


Friday, January 10, 2014

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My 2013 in reading

I spent a lot of 2013 working and trying to get my thesis off the ground. There were months when things got so tight, it was a wonder I got any reading done at all. I would read a chapter or two before falling asleep or immediately upon waking up; I would read on jeeps, in airplanes, or in line to pay the bills; basically during any stolen quiet moment. I turned in some serious reading while waiting at the airport. On a field trip to Bantayan Island in Cebu, I took a chunk off the tome that is The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss. Now, I associate travel to the island with certain chapters of that book.

This year, I stopped worrying about the number of books I could finish. I took on books that challenged me (in terms of both scope and scale) and was rewarded for it.

Read the rest of my year-end review on The Exchange, which has been resurrected over at Wordpress. 

Thursday, January 2, 2014

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Reading Goals 2014

Happy New Year, multiverse! In an attempt to bring some semblance of control over my life (*cough, thesis*), I've decided to sign up for a couple of reading challenges this year.

A random photo of one of my shelves, which I organized last summer, also as an attempt to regain some control in the academic chaos.

My reading habits aren't generally very stiff - I read whatever I'm in the mood for. But the motivation for this year's rigor is to keep my obsessive book hoarding (a major obstacle to a financial happy-ever-after) in check, and to put a dent in the ridiculous to-read pile (I'm slightly ashamed of how many books I amassed last year).

The 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish is the umbrella challenge for which I shall strive to focus my energy on books acquired in 2013 or earlier. I've committed to reading 31-40 books (36 at the moment). A few of the titles may change depending on where my reading takes me, but I'll make sure to only replace them with books that have similarly been gathering dust on my shelves.

The books in the TBR Challenge overlap with most of my books for the 2014 Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, which is hosted over at Escape with Dollycas; and those for the New Author Challenge at Literary Escapism, in which I'll be trying for 15 new authors.

On Goodreads (add me up!), I've challenged myself to the standard 52 (one book for each week of the year), so the 35 or so titles covered in my three reading challenges should fit in nicely. It also leaves me some room to read outside of my TBR pile. Guys, come on. We all know I'll eventually find my way to a bookstore. Baby steps.

If you're doing your own reading challenges this year, let me know in Comments!

Sunday, November 24, 2013

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The Sunday Currently #1

I am currently...

READING The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. I finished The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt last night and, I don't know, I'm still deciding what I think about it. The prose was so pure, like clean stream water slipping through my fingers. I enjoyed the ruminations about art and fate, the loving characterization, those foggy tripped out scenes. But later, I became baffled and then unmoved by Theo Decker. My feelings for the main character undermined what the book was trying to tell me. ANYWAY. Finishing The Goldfinch has somehow restored my confidence to tackle more challenging novels, so Kavalier and Clay. I'm also dipping into Drown, the only book of Junot Diaz's I haven't yet read. I recently acquired a paperback of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell so I've also been re-reading favorite parts when the blues catch hold of me (which has been often in the past few days).

LISTENING to mostly old playlists, although Royals by Lorde has been stuck in my head for days now. Lem and I are constantly singing "You can call me queen bee" at each other. Curse that catchy song.

WATCHING The Day of the Doctor. (I KNOW!)

WRITING my thesis. (Sigh. I know.)

THINKING about the scientist as communicator.

SMELLING freshly laundered socks.

WEARING cardigans. I'm totally digging the cold mornings in Quezon City. They feel like a prelude for when I'm happily back in the mountains, in harsher, more familiar, temperatures.

WANTING to run more. Last Monday, I attempted to revive my running, which was all but forgotten during the slog that was September and October. I took it easy, knowing my body has once again become used to a stationary way of life. There was more walking than running, but it felt good to be outdoors and upright. After all the places I'd been and everything I'd done in the last two months, the neighborhood still looks pretty much the same and that is comforting.

NEEDING to be less morose about things.

FEELING that I'm between and betwixt.

The Sunday Currently is a weekly series hosted by Lauren at siddathornton. Write your own post (because lists are therapeutic) and link back at siddathornton to keep the love flowing. Have a fantastic week, wombats.


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

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Getting to Villamor Airbase (for the commuting volunteer)

A commuter's guide for dummies (me), Quezon City to Villamor Airbase edition

I'm a Baguio girl whose rather narrow home range in Metro Manila is Quezon City; everywhere else requires a map. My knowledge of Pasay City is more or less that it contains NAIA, and I've gotten there mostly by taxi or hired van that I didn't have to pay for myself, hehe.

I've seen numerous posts about the need for Yolanda relief volunteers at the Villamor Airbase, but not too many about how to get there. A Google search yields a couple of forums with cryptic instructions about riding anything from Magallanes labeled FTI (apparently, Food Terminal Incorporated) and getting off at the Villamor interchange. They didn't say where to find these mysterious vehicles or where to go exactly once arriving at the Villamor interchange. It is any lost soul's guess.

So! Since taking a cab from Quezon City to Pasay would cost you your left kidney and wouldn't be as eventful anyway, here is a not-so-cryptic guide for public transport to get you to the relief stations inside Villamor Airbase:

Take the MRT 3 southbound and get off at the Magallanes Station (Fare is PHP15 if coming from North Ave). Cross EDSA to Alphaland Southgate Mall. From the mall, walk south towards Chino Roces Ave. You can also pass through the mall, which has an exit to Chino Roces (it's the one with the Booksale, haha). Keep walking southwards to the SLEX West Service Road. You will need to walk the length of an overpass (or underpass, if you look at it from the Skyway).

At the West Service Road, ride a public utility jeepney (PUJ) bound for FTI (cryptic instructions work after all!) and get off at the Villamor interchange (PHP8). You should be able to see the entrance to the Villamor Golf Course on your right. There is an unloading area, so don't panic when you come upon the ridiculous, pedestrian-unfriendly knot of flyovers and loops (because I totally did). From SLEX, walk right following the roundabout and into Sales Road, which skirts the wall of the golf course. You should see a line of PUJs for Nichols Ikot a little past the gate.

  • Villamor Airbase Gate 4: Riding a Nichols Ikot PUJ (PHP8) will take you to Gate 4 at the corner of Sales Road and Andrews Ave (Resorts World on your right and NAIA Terminal 3 already visible on your left). Tell the driver you are getting off at Gate 4. Just inside the gate, to your right will be the Philippine Air Force Museum. You can take a shuttle there to either the Repacking Station (where it stops first) or the Grandstand (where it stops next).
If you know of an easier way to get to Villamor Airbase via public transportation, let me know in Comments. :)
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