Tag Archives: Nonfiction

Paid forward by a Stranger

The French existentialist Jean-Paul Satre was a cynic when it came to the milk of human kindness. He smirked by saying that generosity was more or less a feelgood giveaway of the doer in the self-contentment of magnanimity. The intention is ego-driven, not altruistic. Satre may be a brilliant intellectual in the post-modernistic world, but he was essentially missing something, obviously not knowing it for the following reasons. 

I still remember a lecture given by a religious sister whose spirituality bloomed in her charity and intelligence about the practice of charity in our daily lives, rather than doing it as a penance after a guilt-ridden confession. For you never know, the one benefitted from your kindness might be an angel in disguise (the mysterious shopper!) or even Christ himself (the Lord of Lords!) So, how will I interpret an act of generosity when a total stranger paid for my sandwich at Subway?

It was a rather gloomy afternoon today because of the disappointment with the general members of humanity that I felt most acutely painful to my glass heart. The things deemed trivial or insignificant matter to me, stay in there until I burn them with candlelight under moonlit tranquility of the mind. Samuel Johnson is right in saying that you cannot will away the unpleasant feelings in full force at once. That is why we object to despotic edicts of stoic austerity to quell the perturbed state of mind. The Sun was high, but the spirit was low, and I could not pretend to be cheerful and optimistic as if there was no word for Unpleasantness in my dictionary.

So when I was in a nearby Subway store during lunchtime, I felt wretched and wished that the time would go fast so that I could go home with the alacrity of departure. But no, the reality bit when a store clerk asked me if I wanted my bread to be toasted. No, I said politely and proceeded to the counter for payment, when the register guy told me that the man before me paid forward my sandwich. Really so? But I didn’t know him. There were two men, seemingly office workers from nearby, coming for some quick bites like me. And I still don’t know which man paid for mine, but what does it matter when both of them are total strangers anyway? Then I checked my reflections on the outside building’s crystal-clear glass windows and saw a woman decently presentable looking in thin figure clothed in a DKNY tweed jacket and Michael Kors jeans, which disqualified me for being a hobo woman. So why did he pay forward for my Tuna sandwich?

Whether he was a confessional penitent doing penance or an angelic agent is still a mystery, but then something is better to remain as it is, I think. The unexpected surprise from the stranger put my emotions on the continuum of low arousal on one hand and high pleasantness, on the other hand, creating satisfaction that my life could be likable and ultimately livable. It’s a small pleasure that keeps my sailing endurable and doable in a wide ocean alone against monsters, thunder and lightning, and doldrums. No wonder the sandwich tasted sweet.

‘Your Movie Sucks’, by Roger Ebert- review

Your Movie SucksYour Movie Sucks by Roger Ebert

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Criticism of any kind is never a pleasantry. It stings the heart and swells in there until the natural amnesia of time heals the wound. Also, criticism is never an easy task, either. Abraham Lincoln defined a professional critic as one who has “a right to criticize, who has the heart to help.” Therefore, being a critic is a daunting profession that can fall out of favor with the public and the criticized. Yet doing it good and right is even more challenging and requires a wealth of erudition and insight to observe all things and all beings in the world without supercilious prejudice. I can think of any such critic no other than the late Roger Ebert, whose brilliantly witty anthology of unfavorable movies Your Movie Sucks discerns constructive criticism from malicious cynicism that most of his peers love to delve.

It’s a collection of movies that Ebert finds distasteful to the taste and reason. Ebert opines that filmmakers and the performers tend to patronize with their selective elements, usually senseless violence, gratuitous nudity, and infantile comedy under the pretext of the screen reflection of the realities. But to miss Ebert as an ultra-conservative white curmudgeon movie critic does a great injustice to his bona fide intention and judicious reasoning of why he thinks the movies suck, most notably, ‘Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo,’ ‘Chaos,’ and ‘the Pearl Harbor.” The plots, characters, and narratives of these movies ignore the taste and reason universal in all human creatures regarding the principles of sense and judgment common to all humankind. They are either devoid of artistic sensibilities or willfully negligent of the humanity that refuses to cease even in the desolate wilderness of calamities, artificial or natural. Ebert seems to seek in movies a common thread that every one of us, regardless of class, race, and gender, can be bound together to understand what it means to live, ultimately.

Ebert’s credo is the arts of films, paintings, music, and books as a consolation to the hearts that need to relive the yokes of daily lives. Therefore, the artists are to look into people’s realities from all walks of life and illustrate each life’s values, however insignificant it might be, by elevating the ordinariness into arts of life to neutralize the vicissitudes of life that we all experience. In this regard, Ebert agrees with French painter Jean-Francoise Millet’s timeless adage: “It is treating the commonplace with the feeling of the profound is what gives to art its power.”

I always like Ebert’s films’ reviews because they are easy to read and intelligently passionate and witty despite his knowledge of various subjects. There is no hint of malice in the guise of intellectual sarcasm. His views on the world are agreeable to mine, regarded as outdated forseysm in today’s amazingly political world. Maybe we might belong to a previous era where our perspectives of the world would meet with more consensus and fewer disapprovals. In fact, I liken the person of Ebert to that of Samuel Johnson, the great English writer, thinker, and author of A Dictionary of the English Language for their similarities in appearance, weltanschauungs, and styles of writing that thrill the heart and pique the mind with a touch of humanity that is so rare to be found among the contemporary writers. So, if you are a like-minded appreciator of arts in general and curious about what movies someone like Ebert finds distasteful, take heart and read this book. The words leap from pages with wit and wisdom as the time entertains you like you never know. This book may also serve you as a textual trailer of a movie that you might have fallen into the mistake of paying it to watch.



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Samuel Johnson Rambles on Dictatorship over Feelings

VFS109729 Dr. Johnson (1709-84) at Cave’s the Publisher, 1854 (oil on canvas); by Wallis, Henry (1830-1916); 49.5×59.7 cm; Private Collection; English, out of copyright

Temperance is not an abnegation of sensuous pleasure that is innate to our human nature. It is one’s willingness and ability to rein in his or her horse of impulsive id under moderation lest the driver of the mind chariot lose the control and fall by the wayside of life’s journey and leave it in the lurch of spiritual anomy. Yet, to obliterate the pleasure of the taste that our sense requires for nourishing the body and soul will only produce counterintuitive consequences, leading to noogenic neurosis, chronic depression, or existential frustration that life is nothing but a vast vacant lot. That is what Samuel Johnson, one of the great writers of the English language and a trailblazer of the English dictionary, discerned in his brilliantly unbridled and witty essay ‘The Rambler, No. 32, written on Saturday, July 7th, 1750.

Johnson was an intellectual of the best kind: erudite in the scope of knowledge drawn on his wealth of reading, artless in expressing his views on the Pooterish lettered caste that prided themselves on the florid display of arcane words and difficult syntax, and charitable in recognition of the vicissitudes of human life without prejudice. Perhaps, such admirable traits contributed to creating a dictionary of the English language, which required the universal understanding of humanity to comprehend the origins and meanings of a language of any kind. According to Johnson, Stoicism seemed too puffed up with its lofty philosophical principles of restraining feelings that would only beget misapprehension of the old school of thought for denying the most natural human emotions.

Emotions measure changes on a continuum of arousal on the one hand and the pleasantness and unpleasantness on the other. For example, High Arousal and High Unpleasantness produce Fear, whereas High Arousal and High Pleasantness equal to Ecstasy. Low Arousal and High Unpleasantness beget Misery, but Low Arousal and High Pleasantness lead to Satisfaction, which is a positive emotion. It is this physiological state of feeling that Johnson deemed it desirable in the face of existential frustration. One in despair can not eradicate the low tide of an emotional wave but can divert it in a direction that gives a fresh viewpoint on the heart’s malady, thus making life worthwhile to continue with every new try. It is logical reasoning because consciousness predicts the world we live in, a constant revolving hypothesis of reality triggered by neurons in the visual cortex. Since the brain does not have a function to think of itself, it uses a template of emotional scripts based on experience. Thus, instead of willing away unpleasant emotions, one can translate it on a different emotional template, measuring it on the arousal continuum for positive emotional affects. 

While Stoicism advocates the puritanical governance of the sense and taste for Reason’s eminence, humanity’s natural law revolts against the unnaturally philosophical dictatorship under the disguise of decency and propriety. Stoicism is a school of philosophy that distinguishes the cult from “the sensibilities of unenlightened mortals.” Johnson was right in saying that repressed feelings about pain could only lead to a dormant sense of guilt in a denial of physical reality and later erupt into violent tantrums or perverted forms of debauchery. Pain is part of life, and the way to relieve its severity is by way of finding its riddle with fortitude through doing things that channel the concentration on the pain to something meaningfully pleasant, creating a sense of fulfillment. This concept is also parallel to Viktor E. Frankl’s Logotherapy, a school of psychotherapy about willingness to meaning in life as a result of responding genuinely and humanly to life’s challenges. Both Johnson and Frankl denied no tactile sense of pain, emotional or physical, and prescribed a palliative solution for mitigating a malady of heart.

Johnson’s essay on criticism on Stoicism agrees with my idea of expressing genuine feelings about sadness to effectively communicate to listeners’ hearts in a compassionately empathic way so that pains will be less burdened, griefs shared in halves, and loneliness complemented in companionship. Likewise, I believe that suicidal feelings arise from that utterly helpless loneliness alienated from the world. They are usually concealed by the actor’s self-made barriers, where the emotions are despotically imprisoned. And I believe that Johnson would have agreed with me.

‘The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind’, by Claude Lecouteux – review

The Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan MindThe Return of the Dead: Ghosts, Ancestors, and the Transparent Veil of the Pagan Mind by Claude Lecouteux

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Salman Rushdie spoke of ghosts as the souls of the dead tending unfinished businesses on earth. Be it everlasting phantasmal whistling from the desolate fields of the buried or flickering of lights with sounds of footsteps in manmade abodes, but mind you that sometimes they come back. It is not about the fashionable New Age enlightenment advocating the veracity of paranormal activities involving ghost hunters, would-be, or self-proclaimed practitioners of occultic practice. It is academically certifiable, according to the eminent French Medieval Studies scholar Claude Lecouteux in his treaties on the formidable return of the souls departed.

The belief systems that the souls of the dead will and can come back to where they have left are universal in all cultures, including the dominant Christianity. Christianity, especially the Church of Rome, has drowned upon syncretism of pre-existing uniform pagan beliefs that paying due respect to the dead by offering food on their anniversary of death is an obligation and prevention of malice thrown upon the living. Lecouteux affirms in the discourse of the truth of revenants by the ecclesiastical records of Pope Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Augustus. Even the ancient pagan luminaries, such as Ovid, Pliny the Elder, and the Younger, and Plato, corroborated the Wondering Souls’ existence roaming among the mortals. These great benefactors of humanity averred that sometimes, by the mysterious will of God, the dead are not entirely gone to the world beyond or occasionally permitted to manifest in reality. Therefore, it is worth giving such notions a preferential credit over the sensational testimony of ghost hunters, psychics, or gypsies.

Lecouteux illustrates peculiar funereal practices, especially of the Northern Europeans, such as putting the deceased’s head between the legs, sealing the roofs, windows, or any openings of a house of the dead lest the departed remain in the place of the living. After a breath of life leaves the corporeal temple, it ceases to exist and is, therefore, doesn’t belong in this world. Lecouteux’s treatise becomes a historical narrative of the deceased’s whys and wherefores in a confused state of spiritual anomy, refusing to cut a tie to the terrestrial world that they don’t belong any longer.

The book is my second read written by the French scholar following The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted, an excellent read in its multidisciplinary approach to validate the historical events of the fantastic phenomena in the narrative style conflated with Thucydidian objectivity and Herodotusian parataxis. Although this book retains the cracking narrative tradition of his, it is not as enthusiastically stimulating as the other book on the more popular noisy spirits for the sake of the subject itself. Perhaps, my being of the modern era accustomed to the sensory effects influenced by films and other visual aids may contribute to a rather unjust opinion on this book about revenants. Notwithstanding the preferential subject matters, this book will be a valuable textual source for historical, cultural, or social research about the universality of belief systems molded into a syncretism of the Church’s established religious doctrine. Or to put it simply, this book will pique anyone not easily succumbed to occult fad but equipped with a curious mind on the restless wandering souls, thus helping fortify his or her belief that sometimes they do come back.



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A Tale of a Cat in Tote

Finding a good vet is a challenging task

It may sound funny but finding a good veterinarian seems parallel to Perseus’s finding the Hesperides’ whereabouts, the nymphs holding the weapons for destroying Medusa, as instructed by goddess Athene. The half-god and half-human Perseus had divine help from the goddess to accomplish his terrific mission. Still, the whole human Me, left with my limited mortal device, had to embark alone on a daunting quest for a competently proficient veterinarian who could precisely ascertain the cause of my cat’s gastrointestinal malady with the utmost professionalism and most profound care for animals. So, I want to relate my journey to arrive at the mission accomplished to Hercules’s Twelve labors to fulfill his moral responsibility for the beloved he had slain.

Toro’s Arrival at the Hospital in Tote

No, not that I harmed my little sixteen-week old Toro. How despicable! But that he had been suffering from irregular bowel syndrome, aka constipation. Although well-potty trained, Toro had difficulty in releasing excrement completely with heartwrenching yowling, resulting in inappropriate elimination everywhere in my room. As his human caretaker/sister/mother, the onus of relieving him from the pain was naturally on me with an initial frustration of finding the panacea. In a new city with no acquaintance to recommend me an expert on cats, I looked up a list of veterinarians nearby on the Internet, mostly Yelps and Googles’ reviews. As a follower of Thuclyclides on hearsay’s integrity, not on the popularity of the subject from the masses, I eliminated the superfluously effusive complements of reviews suspected of blind bromides advertised by sponsored reviewers. I followed my instinct that led me to a particular veterinarian with less florid advertisements and more evidentiary results of curing cats, one of whom looked a lot like Toro. What can I say? It was more of my intuition, leading me to take Toro to the veterinarian of my choice.

Toro’s X-Ray reveals his inner world, including a microchip

The doctor listened to my plea for examining Toro thoroughly with his entire medical history obtained at his adoption from a shelter. He took Toro’s X-ray and explained that it was constipation and that he would inject enema to release due eliminations from his stomach. I was also given a bottle of lactulose solution to be administered to Toro orally three times a day. Besides, he gave me a bottle of Betagen topical spray for Toro’s infected buttocks due to the remnants of dried defecation, free of charge. It was certainly more than I expected of the care, now that the cause of the sickness had already been precisely diagnosed and adequately remedied.

What an adventure I had today!

Toro is now easily defecating in the letterbox. However, he seems to be a bit lethargic due to the oral solution that I have been injecting to him, which is a challenging task every time because of his apparent dislike. But Toro knows that he feels better now than before, so I guess he takes his medication as a daily ritual until the solution is finished. At the moment of writing, Toro is sleeping sweetly on the books shelved on my desk, and looking at him produces a phantasmagorical display of images of all things loving and caring and comforting I have seen from paintings and movies. Would this be the same kind of feeling when God sees his creatures made in love? It may be a bit of stretch, but I like the idea of it.