Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inventing Worlds

I'm cached away in my bedroom where the aircon has been burbling away all night and morning. Outside, it's mizzling into a thick, warm afternoon gray; all day long, it's been an oppressive waiting-for-rain, breath held kind of weather.

I collected a batch of essays from my American Literature survey yesterday so I have that stack of papers to grade. I set aside seven to go through today (my usual quota plus 2), read three of them, and then, after running into Beng at one of the University Co-op's crowded, hot, nearly all male computer dens (I was getting Lizzie a flash drive), I decided that I should not fail to keep my office hours on campus, even though I knew that no students would wander in to speak with me--especially after I've collected their essays and they've washed their metaphorical hands of me for at least two weeks.

So I got out the Ipod touch, queued up David Sedaris' "In the Waiting Room," and headed down the hill to campus.

On campus, I discovered that, ironically, I'd been guilty of Sedaris' sin (he doesn't really learn French, living in Paris, and decides that saying "d'accord," or "okay" to everything anyone says to him, will service--and of course pandimonium ensues). The truth is that I don't understand about 1/3 of what people say to me here. Yesterday, one of the American Literature students came up to me before class, handed me her paper, and said something like: "I couldn't do the five pages, ma'am, I tried, really, but bloobldee badda winky ka, and that would just be padding, so deedle dum dooby, eh?" She was speaking Taglish to me and didn't even know it, and I didn't have the heart to tell her, so I just nodded and smiled and told her that page limits weren't rules but suggestions.

After class, two men came up to me and introduced themselves. In the classroom's bad acoutistics, I interpreted their meaning more by hand gestures and smiles than by capturing real words. To tell the truth, at first I was mildly afraid that another set of Jehovah's Witnesses had managed to sniff me out. But then I started to get the gist.

"Ma'am, we're from a group on campus, the ------, and we're preparing for the Alternative Classroom ------- on August 20," said the more forward man of the pair, "and we'd like to get your permission to use your classroom to ----------, I think it's 310, right, from ----- to 2:30."

Huh? I pulled out my folder for the class I'd just finished and flipped through the stack of papers to the syllabus. August 20: I'd planned to cover Sylvia Plath and Allen Ginsberg. Could we skip those worthy poets? Not likely. "Sorry," I said. "I've got two poets scheduled for that day and I really can't give you the classroom."

The man smiled--in retrospect, he smiled in that small, tender way I might smile as I try to fish a popcorn hull out of my molar's gum with my tongue.

"What are you planning to do?" I said.

"Inventing w----ds, ma'am," he said.

"Inventing what, excuse me?" I said.

"Inventing Worlds," he said.

"Oh, that would be good for my fiction writing class," I said. "But we're supposed to be workshopping then," I continued, thinking aloud.

"I'm a creative writer, ma'am," the man smiled, a real one this time. "I'm a senior. This is my last year."

"Wonderful," I said. "I'm really sorry that I can't help you out. It's just that I have all this material to cover, and, well, good luck with it."

He and his friend nodded, said okay, smiled at me, and shuffled out of the classroom ahead of me. I was left to trail in their wake, certain that I'd made some sort of mistake.

As indeed I have. I went into the main office today and discovered that classes on Thursday afternoon, August 20, have been cancelled so that students can participate in a special program of Alternative Classroom Methods. So what that means is that the young creative writing gentleman was only being polite and letting me know that he'd be using the classroom on August 20--and of course I won't be in it.

And I'll have to figure out how to massage my syllabus so as not to exclude Sylvia and Allen.


I'm wistful about this language barrier. I feel as though 33.3% of my life disappears down a rabbit hole of confusion and misapprehension. I imagine that the poor kid went off shaking his head at my thickness, my apparent inability to figure out what he was saying to me.

I'm also a little lonely here without much adult company. At home I'm used to spending a good portion of my days with others--Dave, Lizzie, students, colleagues, neighbors, friends. Most of the time, if I get a yen for conversation, face to face, all I have to do is to leave my office door open, or wander down the hallways looking for another open door. In fact, it's sometimes too much of a good thing: I wonder if I'll ever have 5 minutes to myself.

Here, I've gotten to the point where I'm not afraid to pop the Ipod buds into my ears--damn the traffic and the need to seem vigilant--because I need to cocoon myself in a world of poetic sound, where familiar friends whisper and sigh into my ears, the old stories of connection, disconnection, and despair. On the way home today, as I wandered off the sidewalk into a drive, a Toyota Yaris nearly took my hip off as it slipped past me into the parking lot. Whoops, I thought, in a wistful, floating fashion, and kept on walking in the dreamy, step by step rhythm that music helps me to achieve.


I've been trying to think of a nice overnight getaway (in town) for us. I got the brilliant plan, sitting at my desk yesterday and feeling the pretzeled muscles in the small of my back bunch, that Lizzie and I could check into a swank downtown hotel and visit one of those super sweet spas for traditional Filipino massage, steam, and so forth. We could swim in the hotel pool, watch cable TV, shop in the attached mall(s). There's a really nice hotel in Makati City, the Shangrila EDSA, that costs P7000.00 a night (about 140 bucks) with a swank spa attached, where massages (2.5 hours!) run about P3000.00 (or 60 bucks).

After doing a little mouth watering research, I discovered that most spas won't allow kids under the age of 16 or 18. Dang.

Beng suggested that I get room service to work on us. Good idea--but then again, I'd like Lizzie to be able to experience that new-age music, little waterfall over smooth rocks, good smelling kind of spa space I'm craving.

Lili Rose, who I ran into in the hallways--a moment like home that made me even more wistful--thought I'd be able to convince the spa to make an exception. "No problem," she said. "Filipinos are like that. We like to make exceptions."

Maybe rules here are like the lines painted in the road, marking off lanes--ridiculous suggestions nearly always sacrificed to expedience: three lanes become five; a 12.75 year old girl becomes sixteen.

Then again, at the rate of at least 15,000 pesos per day, time might accelerate.


The afternoon's waning. Something approaching sun is peeking out from behind the gray. Lizzie will be home from school in an hour or so and I'll have to think about what to fix us for dinner.

So now I'm going to unplug, get out of this airconditioned box, and wander downstairs, load this onto the page, dream about ice cream, red wine, dark chocolate, and giggling in the kitchen, late, with my best girls.


... and of COURSE I can't get onto the internet down here. I get the connection symbol, the little green fan of joy down in the bottom righthand corner of the screen, and the little yellow dancing ball that tells me that the network's acquiring my address has stopped flitting back and forth, but freaking Firefox tells me that the "host server" of everything can't be found.

I'm no longer wistful. Now I'm FISTFUL, me and my permanently impacted anus. Grrr. Which means that I'm totally ready for the spa getaway.

(I purchased a little internet prepaid stick thing that you put into a USB port. It screams along at 3 mbps--yeehaw! Right now it's working, at its painful speed. But it's working. And that's how I'm circumventing the downstairs tangle. Bermuda tangle.)


  1. I don't know if I should laugh or cry reading your entry (ies) today...and how many more weeks do you have to go before the semester finishes? I guess writing down all your frustrations makes one feel so much better, doesn't least that's how I feel, even if it doesn't really change anything ;) have a good weekend and there are better places than EDSA Shang...but then you might not want to go back to UP...hahaha

  2. That was me, Allie K. E., in case you were wondering.