Posts Tagged ‘life’

nancy milford: savage beauty

Nancy Milford’s Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Random House, New York: 2002)

Once in a while you stumble across a gem of a work so well-written and meticulously researched that you thank all your stars of fortune for such a book falling with serendipity into your grateful grasp.

Nancy Milford’s biography of American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay draws on previously unpublished family-preserved material – letters, photographs, drafts – to paint a realistic and highly detailed picture of her subject.

The trade paperback cover of Nancy Milford’s excellent biography of Millay. Sharing the spotlight is a Dancheron fountain pen. 

The title comes from Millay’s “Assault” (1921), portraying Beauty as a threat and menace, upsetting the usual convention of the poet paying tribute to it as a virtue.

Millay (b. 1892) was precocious, a genius; the muck of obscurity and poverty failed to conceal the blazing light of an intellectual beacon. Growing up unconventionally during the tail-end of Victorian times with a single parent (her mother, Cora, had sent her gentle but irresponsible father Henry away) and two sisters (Norma and Kathleen), “Vincent”, as she was called, entertained herself with books and writing. From her youth, her works regularly saw print in the children’s magazine St. Nicholas and in other publications; at twenty, her poem “Renascence” placed fourth in a literary contest and was included in an anthology, although many critics said her work should have won.

On the strength of the publicity of this occurrence, Vincent gained a scholarship to Vassar, and later settled into a life of writing poetry, plays, and prose. She was a free spirit, married to Eugen Boissevain until his death, but both of them openly engaged in affairs, she with lovers of both sexes. Her later life was marked by medical problems and addiction to alcohol and morphine.

Writing in 1929 to her lover, George Dillon, she begs him to visit her and Eugen at Steepletop, their home on a blueberry farm in New York state:

Sweetheart, what it means is: will you please come to visit me in my crazy, unfinished, half-finished, disorderly house, where there is a place for nothing, & nothing in its place, except the only important things in the world. – I want to show you the tiny pool we built, absurd, nothing at all, & the hut in the blueberry pasture where I wrote The King’s Henchman, I want to sit on the edge of your bed while you have your breakfast – I want to laugh with you, dress up in curtains, be incredibly silly, be incredibly happy, be like children, and I want to kiss you more than anything in the world.

Vincent lived life on her own terms, staying true to her core philosophy expressed in her “First Fig” (1918):

My candle burns at both ends; It will not last the night. But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—. It gives a lovely light!

Beyond the text, the book itself is of interest as an artifact. It has a story. It is pre-loved. I bought it a couple years ago from a poet, University of the Philippines creative writing professor Chingbee (Conchitina) Cruz, when she culled her library prior to leaving for New York to take up doctoral studies.

 The half-title page of the book bears her chop – a rubber-stamped “C” in sapphire ink, ornamented with scrolls and foliage.

She must have bought it second-hand too, or received it as a gift from someone else’s library, because the inside front cover bears a dedication from “Kate” to her “Mama”.

“Kate” lives in Los Angeles now, and gives the book to her “Mama” who might be living in Pennsylvania, where the “brown-gray” landscape is a “desolation.”

Too bad the dedication is not dated, but it must have been written between the publication date, 2002, and the date I acquired it from Chingbee, perhaps in 2010 or 2011.

This pre-owned copy has an interesting dedication written on the inside front cover. Once more the Dancheron makes an appearance.

The book as text and the book as artifact: I think Vincent, who spent her life writing, would have appreciated the many ramifications of presenting the written word.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S, edited with Snapseed.

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the flame of life

The red tealight burned in front of the triumvirate of Buddha statues in the temple’s sanctum. Its wax was nearly spent, its wick almost consumed; though it didn’t have much longer, the flame flickered on, bravely, giving off light till its inevitable end.

Live life the same way. When in despair,  do not give up; whatever it is, it shall pass. It all does, always. It shall pass.

Face the fear, the challenge, the problem, and let it go through you, and behind you, until it is gone, and only you are left, radiating the light of your spirit, warming the lives of those you touch.

Kindle inspiration in the young. Incite a conflagration of imagination in their minds; let them think, and think free.

Keep the fires burning in the hearts of those you love and care for with a kind word, a helping hand, a kiss, an embrace, the promise to stay no matter what – and keep that promise.

Above all, and through everything, until the end, let the flame of your soul burn on, an unquenchable fire.

Photo taken at Fo Guang Shan Mabuhay temple in Manila.

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pop goes the world: life keeps happening

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 9 September 2010, Thursday

Life Keeps Happening

Much has been written about the tragic Quirino Grandstand hostage-taking and its wide-ranging effects and massive impact not only in personal terms but those on a large scale – in politics, diplomacy, relations between nations.

In the aftermath, fingers are still being pointed here and there, with the authorities seeking to pin responsibility on those who made mistakes, while many of those being investigated evade culpability, artfully dodging the blame that may be laid at their door.

They say: “It’s not our fault.” And, “We were just doing our job.” And, “He told me to do it.” And, “We had poor equipment and inadequate training.”

Hey, that’s what my children tell me when they mess up.

Zambales congresswoman Mitos Magsaysay said it best at the recent hearing when she asked those under investigation: “Why can’t you be man enough?”- to admit fault and shoulder responsibility for the wrong choices made.

Zambales 1st district rep Mitos Magsaysay. Click here for image source.

Who was man enough?

President Noy, that’s who. He took responsibility for the incident because the buck stops with him, according to the chain of command.

But was he personally liable for the deaths of the hostages? No, because he wasn’t the one who pulled the trigger.

As for those who failed to rescue the hostages – they’ll have to live with their failure till the day they die, second-guessing themselves on the decisions they made.

When we all woke up that fateful morning, none of us knew what was in store that day, not even the hostage-taker. Incidents like these are unexpected and always unwanted. We have made our apologies to those concerned. The proper authorities must now make sure this does not happen again.

Meanwhile, what follows are some thoughts on negative situations in life, and some options on how we may face them.


The second half of the column is an expanded version of my previous blog post “Life – It Keeps Happening ’til You Die”. Click here to read the entire piece at MST Online.

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life. it keeps happening ’til you’re dead.

This is true. I found out using empirical methods.

First, things happen – they are earthshaking, life-changing, soul-transforming! You’re borne up on a wave of hope, washed to sea on a tide of fancy and fascination, drenched in a deluge of possibilities and potentials.

Then, something else happens to shift the situation to the left of the number line. Next thing you find, you’re left high and dry on a dirty beach with oil-slicked pelicans staring at you in puzzlement.  It’s the same old shit after all, mainly because you’re still hanging around the planet to experience it.

“Merde!” you say to yourself. “When is it going to stop raining human waste on my parade?”

The answer is “Dunno.”

Having no control over the cosmic sewage system, you should therefore take measures. No, not those kinds of measures. Put down the ruler. And the fragmentation grenade.

You can perform reactive measures – have a golf umbrella handy, stock up on toilet paper and wet wipes, and have a garden hose attached to a fire hydrant or an industrial-strength pressure sprayer nearby.

You can also choose to be proactive. Look back on your life. Pick out the recurrent patterns. After having one last cry about the mistakes and wrong choices and failed relationships and their after-effects, analyze what the probable causes could be. Learn to recognize the factors that bring about negative situations and shy away from them. Mainly this involves avoiding toilets, assholes, and other sources of waste matter. This is very difficult, by the way, easier said than done, because of habit, ignorance, and the risk of internal poisoning.

Rally from disappointments and find ways to turn the bad into good. For instance, make a diary of your life’s journey and use the narratives, the experiences, to inform your art, whatever it may be. Life is fodder for creativity. Heartbroken? Take all that emotion, handle it like clay, and turn it back outward onto your canvas or notebook or piano.  The resulting painting, story, or song will be brilliant in its sincerity and truth.

There is a third option – passivity. You can decide to just let life pass you by while you watch it from your ratty couch with coins, keys, and cookie crumbs trapped between the cushions, your feet propped up on the coffee table with the beer bottle rings. This is the cop-out choice. Do you really want to do this? Are you sure? You have a reclining two-seater La-Z-Boy with drink holder? In that case, scoot over and pass me the popcorn. And the remote.

Another empirical finding – call it karma, call it divine retribution, call it bilog ang mundo, there is a force in the universe that redresses the balance. “First, do no harm,” like that ancient Greek doctor guy said. Should others do unto you, let them. The wheel will turn. They will carry the burden of their behavior, not you. Understand this – you cannot control others’ actions, only your own. Take it from there.

Therefore, while on this planet, do good. Spread peace and love. Bake red velvet cupcakes.  Call it ‘luck’ or ‘random happenstance’, you will be surprised at the unexpected blessings you will receive.

Then again I could be wrong about all this.

This recliner sure is comfy.

“Some think it’s holding on that makes one strong; sometimes it’s letting go.” – Sylvia Robinson

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life. it just keeps on happening.

Ooookay. So Plan A didn’t work out as well as I hoped.

Alright, so it sucked. Big time.

This is me going over Plan A and seeing all the holes in it that I didn’t before. Duh. *smacks forehead, reaches for pint of choco-chip mint frozen yogurt*

Well, I am not your intrepid fixer-upper-of-messes for nothing – even messes that I didn’t create by myself. That’s my job description. Now we roll up our sleeves, do damage control, and get back on track.

Goals in life are essential to set the direction for the decisions and actions that we make. It’s one of those things everyone is supposed to know, like knowing that peanut butter goes between two pieces of bread and not on both sides of one piece of bread.

So we make plans and execute them. But real life is not hazard-free – on the contrary. Along the way obstacles appear to gang aft agley even the best-laid plans.

In that case, don’t panic. Sometimes we see the snags ahead of us on the road and can adjust before we hit them. Other times, we’re walloped with a huge branch to the cranium and  we didn’t see it coming because we had stars in our eyes or we didn’t have that one more cup of coffee before setting out on the next stage of the journey or because we thought, this time it’s going to be different, it’s going to be fine, it’s going to be better than it was before.

But that’s life – it happens. Just like shit.

I know I have a Plan B in here somewhere… *rummages in handbag*

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life. it happens.

It’s been a while since my last post – around six months – and much has happened since then. A reunion. A reconciliation. A realization. A dream rekindled, goals to strive for, a future to build.

At one of my favorite places on earth – the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. (5 July 2009)

Life happened. We’ll catch up on it soon.

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