15 November 2010

alternative, that elusive myth

It seems like as this year continues to unfold and gets nearer and nearer towards the end, I get more and more conflicting/fleeting/exhilarating/enraging/redeeming/inebriating thoughts, all in one go. All in one go. All. In. One. Go.

You know how my mind works. Often have I complained, especially in this space, that I so need an off-switch for my brain sometimes, so I could just be, just be, you know what I mean? Just be. If anyone out there knows
where this switch could be bought or how it could be built, then please direct me towards it and I will be your slave forever. I'm all ears.

But all these thoughts seem to have one common theme,
as I reflected earlier upon reading a book a new friend just gave me. I was planning to call it a night about an hour ago, decided to just browse this book to see its contents as I have been curious about it since it came out last July and I didn't stick around the venue where it was going to be launched that time, even if I was already there because of the ongoing festivities which I was involved in. I completely forgot about it until tonight, until it was handed to me ever so sweetly by this sweet soul, and I am grateful.

I am grateful because I realized now this one common theme that has been hovering above me this year, and that is the concept of the "alternative."

What is alternative? How do we define it? But more importan
tly, how do we utilize it in our lives? And I think the most important question surfaces: If one practices the alternative so much, doesn't it become anti-alternative, but the norm? So if the alternative becomes the norm, what now is the "new" alternative?

No, I'm not yanking some philosophical bullshit chain here just to sound so important, so academic, or so profound -- things I hate to be sometimes. Yes, important, academic, and profound. But alas, most people tag that of me, always. Arroganc
e aside, they do, yes, they do. But that's another blog post.

Going back, here is how Merriam Webster defines alternative:
1 : alternate
2 : offering or expressing a choice
3 : different from the usual or conventional:
a : existing or functioning outside the established cultural, social, or economic system [an alternative newspaper, alternative lifestyles]
b : of, relating to, or being rock music that is regarded as an alternative to conventional rock and is typically influenced by punk rock, hard rock, hip-hop, or folk music
c : of or relating to alternative medicine [alternative therapies]

Alternative. We are attracted to it because we find the mainstream repulsive.

Alternative. Since we populated the planet a little too late, we strive to find our own little niche in a world that could engulf us anytime. Any given time.

Alternative. We want to have another choice other than the one being presented to us over the years, over the decades, things shoved down our throats since time immemorial. It's about choice.

Alternative. Since the wheel cannot be reinvented, might as well invent another tool to make t
hings work. But little do we realize that sometimes, it might just be a matter of discovering newer paths, different paths, where we could push that darned wheel to, in order to discover whatever new thing/s we want to discover.

In short, we might be buying into the wrong kind of alternative. At least in some cases.

I am one to talk about being alternative, huh. After being in the mainstreamed realm of sexualities, I traded the comfort of the heterosexual privilege to rally with those in the fringes, the so-called marginalized. But even sexualities has its own kind of othering, privileging, and mainstreaming, to the point where newer forms of the alternative to the alternative are being fashioned, but are actually being rejected by others in the so-called alternative. Still with me? Let's say you identify as a lesbian in the Philippines, you will still be asked if you are butch or femme. As I wrote in my downelink profile, "I am neither; I'm just queer, c'est tout." But alas, even now, we are having different and differing definitions of what it is to be a lesbian. I'll just discuss that some other time.

My point about alternative vis-a-vis sexualities is this: you choose to be who you are, but does the community have to approve it? Here in the Philippines, sadly, they do. They are judgmental like that. I was once judgmental like that myself, until I found myself questioning the alternative structures I enjoyed joining in the beginning. I often complain to friends these past few years that I might be in the wrong city or country to be queer since the country has its own sets of definitions one has to "live by." If you're not this, you're probably that. That's how it works here. Neither nor. Ni ha, ni ho as we say in Filipino, something which the father of Philippine independent filmmaking said in the book. Neither this nor that. Neither East nor West. That is how he summed up our culture. And he is right. So right.

Neither this nor that. So if you are neither this nor that, what are you, then? Neither mainstream nor alternative? Then where are you at?

That got me thinking about not just film but how what he said applies to life as well, and the different nuances of its functioning. Sexualities, for one. Alternative lifestyle like how the dictionary defined it. How come even in the alternative, we have to have norms? I thought the bottomline of being alternative is there are different things to go by, and not having something prescriptive. I already wrote about that once, that homonormativity thing, but see, years after I wrote that, nothing has changed, at least here in the Philippines. And the sadder thing is, it seems to be getting worse. Just look at the population populating the Pride Marches, and the ones that opt to remain excluded out of the marches. I rest my case.

And as that song said, maybe, just maybe, the only way is out. Out of here, out of the city, out of the country?

Yes, that's another kind of buying into an alternative that might just work or not work. Depends on you.

Early this year, I was able to spend a couple of months basking in the full western glory that is America, where the aim of many Filipinos is to live there and work. It might be a sad thing to admit this now, but now I understand why that sentiment is there, that desire even, that longing, that most times comes with persevering, striving--at all costs, even betrayal--to be there. And I get it. It's so easy to opt for an alternative to a life that's far much better than the one you have here. Never mind if you're going to be a second class citizen in a country that didn't respect your people or your land centuries ago, buying you from another colonizing master. But alas, we are still willing subjects of the colonizing master. And while it's scary to admit that I feel for these sub
jects, it's even scarier to admit that I might even be willing to take the blue pill myself, and forget all about this matrix called Manila. Be a willing subject. Shivering now? I was, then. Still am, now. But ah, look at the government. Is it so new? I rest my case.

I read in another writer-friend's blog how he is also mulling over the same thoughts, since as writers, we all tend to have one thought about being a "professional writer in the Philippines" -- that that fact between the quotes doesn't really exist. He just wrapped up his prestigious stint in a long-running writer's program in the US and he posted these same thoughts about his stay there -- thoughts that also haunted me when I was there myself, but not readily admitting to the fact that that fact also existed in me -- until now. Yeah, you can read me now. Firewall is down.

As I was sitting in a meeting earlier today, a conversation in New Jersey flashbacked to me. I was talking to someone who didn't finish college in Manila but who was able to make a decent living for herself in the land of milk and honey. "That's why America is really the land of opportunity. You just have to have opportunity, and the rest is up to you." She was trying so hard to convince me and her brother to try it out there. With our talent and background, she said, it's easy for us to make it out there. Hm, made me think. Made me damn think.

But I also agree with my sister, who already gave up her original nationality for an alternative one there in the US. She is actually willing to give up that nationality for another alternative, up in the neighboring country of her adopted homeland. Since last year, I've been agreeing with her, mostly out of spite since I was feeling bitter about certain circumstances in my professional life the past two years. "Yeah, Vancouver seems nice" is what I've been punctuating my blog posts several times before. And now that I saw in that meeting earlier that things were just, as the Thais would say, "same-same," my gut says that indeed, heading up north could just be the next best thing. The alternative. My alternative. Our alternative. Hm. My mother is already sold on the idea. I don't know...

Alternatives to the alternative. It boggles the mind.

And now that I read that book, I just have to laugh so hard. This young talent said he hates film schools. Both he and I are products of that same film school he is hating. And my only thought upon reading his thoughts was: what is your generation smoking? Because my generation and yours, hey, as the Americans say, we all drank from the same Kool-Aid. But how did you digest yours? And how did we digest ours? If it's giving you gas, do something. And yes, congratulations, you already did. But in my honest opinion, I don't think it's proper to just dis it all totally. I went back to the school because that was how I digested my Kool-Aid: I saw many gaps in our system, and I exposed myself and armed myself of things that one needs to survive outside, and I went back to hopefully teach the new drinkers about these gaps. I want to bridge gaps. I want to close gaps. But to dismiss its existence outright, I think that's creating newer forms of gaps. I don't think that's proper. And to tell you frankly, I got hurt. Really hurt.

Yes, we do encourage the new generations to think of alternatives to the alternatives. But that doesn't mean teaching them to sacrifice talent for ego. I beg to differ. But we were both reared at different times. And as a teacher--now that I am on the other side of the fence--I know that now. This got me thinking. What if I was 23 today, fresh out of film school, existing within the frameworks of the new indie scene. I wonder how I will absorb these things. Independent. Another disabused word, like alternative. Do you really all think we are independent? I have absolutely no idea. I have thoughts, but I'll reserve that for some other time.

They say it's difficult. Yes, stereotypical. Gotta be conventional. You can't be so radical. Remember those lines? It was a favorite song of my generation, penned by someone from our school. Sadly, it still rings true for the younger generations as well. Poignant, eh?

Let me remind us all:

What has life to offer me when I grow old?
What's there to look forward to beyond the biting cold
They say it's difficult, yes, stereotypical.

What's there beyond sleep, eat, work in this cruel life
Ain't there nothin' else 'round here but human strife
'Cause they say it's difficult, yes, stereotypical
Gotta be conventional, you can't be so radical.

So I sing this song to all of my age
For these are the questions we've got to face
For in this cycle that we call life
We are the ones who are next in line
We are next in line.

Alternative. I'm beginning to hate the word. But it works for us, most times. We don't want to be defined by it. But we want to live it. I dunno.

Off switch, where are you?


  1. interesting that i had a similar conversation with a gay friend 11/14. we were saying what is the new black on the gay scene. gays are transfixed in a lot of scenes already that it sorta feels normal. and surprisingly, am not liking it. odd really when 'been fighting for equality. but now that you get a taste of it somehow, it's not how i imagined it would taste. thus we went back comparing how twas better/happier years ago. it's like there's something missing or maybe we just didn't catch up with the current culture now. i dunno really.

    i recently went to US for work stuff (met a few friends too) and also felt some of your sentiments. twas my 1st time out of the country so was really an eye opener. and have seriously thought of more overseas travels if not work/live abroad. still tap dancing about that thought.

    good stuff you have here btw. :)

  2. thanks as usual firewomyn. yeah, those sentiments, i can't get over them still, 8 months after i've been back. so i guess it's not only me who feels like this. ah, what does that mean for our culture and our people, really, huh? makes me think some more of the bigger picture.

    my bff in ny was actually warning me that if i don't make a move soon, i might just retreat to complacency and settle for whatever here. she's so right but... i dunno. i don't really know what makes me stay. hm. oh well.

    i guess i had a lot of thoughts lately and so i just pour them out here hehe. and some on my downelink blog. so yeah, thanks for reading again. the comments really help. keep 'em coming :)

  3. is your ny bff kia? we wrote from the same section in our college campus paper. my bff is in la. and tells me am ripe to go there. but $ econ is not doing well, w/ china & russia ditching them. so. but you! i think you shd go. as in now na! err, after the pride march :D like give it 1-2yrs? i'll prolly go after i've conquered my (elusive) exec mba at aim and target travels in between.

  4. yep. she told me she knew you from way back.

    yeah i'm thinking along those timelines. 1-2. let's see where my phd will take me first :)