2015: The Reading List

Making this year’s reading list was a bit tough, if only because our reading lives somehow mirror our real lives. So many things have happened this year that, once again, hitting the books became necessary to cope up with the mad plot lines of the real world.

This year yielded around 83 books, and choosing ten of the best of them this year is to somewhat do an injustice to a lot of them. Of special note is the 80-volume Penguin Little Black Classics, which should make for an amazing gift this season for any book lover (although a lot of them are things a book lover probably already read). Plus, it’s a really beautiful thing to look at.


So without further ado, here are the ten best things I’ve read this year.


Dear Xavier Kid Who Bagged Groceries

In the interest of “sober perspectives” – which again is ironic considering the nature of the word “sober” and my often incoherent rambling – please read this article from The Philippine Daily Inquirer.

You’re a very fortunate kid, and I don’t mean that in the stereotypical and undeserved “rich kids of Xavier School” sense.  I mean it in the sense that you had an opportunity many of us – admittedly – never had, and that’s to spend four days being a grocery bagger at SM.  I’m pretty sure that years from now, everyone who read your article will hold you accountable for whatever promises you made for blue-collar workers.

Many people have criticized you over the past few days, many people had more than a few things to say to you.  And – admittedly – at first I was irked by the lessons you learned in that stint bagging groceries.  Perhaps what irked me the most was the innocence of it, or maybe the naïveté of it.  I’m old, maybe a bit jaded, had one too many groceries bagged over the years that I tend to forget the importance and value of these people in my life.

I thought about it, and I had a change of heart.  Maybe I don’t agree with the entire idea of immersion entirely, or perhaps with the lessons you learned.  But I’m glad you learned a lot from immersion, but there’s also that other place we need to be immersed in: life.  I don’t claim to hold a monopoly on the right way to view it, or the proper way to see it.  But hear me out for a bit, if you will: I’d like to share in your lesson, too.


Invisible Hand

“Economics,” from what we were told and taught, comes from the Greek word oikonomia: “to manage a house.”  For a class as big as ours in fourth year high school, to manage a house of learning was no easy feat.  I would guess that it would be all the more difficult if you taught introductory economics.

Demand and supply curves are things we don’t often plot about in advertising and marketing.  The sum of our work is more or less the subject of big ideas predicated by manifestos, more at home with the humanities and design than with hard and fast economics.  Yet when target markets are phrased it’s almost always impossible to divorce yourself from the economics of things.  We are, after all, in the business of generating demand.

It requires great teachers to inculcate even the tiniest bit of that mindset to students while they’re young.  To be a bit more curious and caring towards the house they’re living in, and the people they’re living with.

The subject was not just economics, but hard and fast oikonomia: that the house being managed may be built on material foundations, but is built on a bedrock of values.

It takes great teachers, and I had a great one.


For Every Mother

This is for every mother this coming Mother’s Day.

You see her leave the house not to socialize or party, or to bask under the gleam of flash bulbs and spotlights.  You see her leaving the house for a trip to the grocery store or the market, haggling the cost of a kilo of pork, or ticking away non-essentials in a grocery list.  There won’t be new shoes or high heels for her feet today: that money went for new bedsheets or a stock of soap and shampoo.  She won’t get them free, most definitely, but she would get them on the best deal.  Not on the Groupon clone that she could spend hours on if she knew how, but the hours she spends in the store.  She basks under the gleam of her children’s smile.

Her look?  Nothing too fancy, nothing too stylish.  Her wardrobe is sparse, Spartan, utilitarian; the nicest clothes reserved for the wedding of her eldest, the graduation of her youngest.  Nothing too fancy either: probably the inexpensive ones from the department store or the rummage sale.  No thousand-peso jeans, no dress worth tens of thousands of pesos.  No splurges in the wardrobe, or the makeup department.  You never saw her put really expensive makeup on her face; she won’t have much use for that when she’s off to buy foundation for the eldest, or lipstick for the youngest.  Nothing too fancy, nothing too stylish.

Her most beautiful feature?  Her hands, most definitely.  The callouses, the rough palms, the very hands that do laundry, cleaning, cooking, and all sorts of things that come with motherhood.  The hands that feed children, discipline them, and teach them the right way that there is to life.  The same hands that wiped tears from eyes that see failing marks on class cards.  The same hands that comforted the shoulders of the weary, the tired, and even the brokenhearted.  Her hands are beauty, for in many ways, those hands have created life.

This is for every mother who wouldn’t have expensive make-up kits or thousand-peso dresses for Mother’s Day.  This is for every mother who saves for the daily grocery list, and not for the world’s most popular gadget.

This is for every mother whose comfort is sleep, perhaps even when awakened by the sounds of crying infants or the screams of pain for 20, or perhaps even 30 years.

This is for every mother who gave up on the caprices of the lives of ladies and took on motherhood, all out of the joy of comes with keeping life alive and well.

This is for every mother whose passion is in motherhood: that there is peace in the chaos of raising boys to be men, and girls to be women.

This is for every mother whose sanity is in family; where we men would often grow weak in the knees with just one diaper change to our credit, they do so and so many other things without fail.  And they do so out of love.

This is for every mother this coming Mother’s Day.  We, your sons, may find it so hard to say this just once, even on days dedicated to you, but we love you.

In Memory, Ding Gagelonia

When we write, we are called to something higher than making opinions or insights; we are asked to be chroniclers of history.  Whether we’re journalists, bloggers, PR practicioners, advertisers, or just people with a pen in hand, we add to the tome of history whenever we write.  We are outlived by the text; in a way, words possess a certain power far stronger than the body that commits them into relative permanence.

A few days ago, the Filipino blogging community lost a blogger.  The media lost a journalist, the industry lost a PR practicioner.  The Gagelonia family lost a father, a brother, a husband.  A few days ago, I lost a friend in Fernando “Ding” Gagelonia.



My grandmother always enjoyed oranges.  Her room smelled like orange peelings, the segments of dried-out fruit littered the wide plastic table that was her nightstand.  As long as her arthritic hands were willing to, she always peeled her oranges herself.  She dug her aged thumbnail into the center of the fruit as she peeled off the skin.  The tangy, tart fruit brought a quiet smile to her face.  It was as if the fruits were a calming presence in her life.

Well into her seventies, Lola was still very strong and able.  She was 73 when I was born, and her quaint figure was instrumental in raising me.  When my parents worked, she assumed a lot of roles: she cooked our food, she cleaned up after us, and kept us clean and healthy.  Well into high school she made sure we hit the books, steered us far and away from trouble, and into her eighties, even tucked me in from the top bunk that is my bed.  Carefully, at that: the two blankets and the comforter had to be perfectly aligned before she trudged out of the room, and into hers.


When I Was Young, I Knew Everything*

When I was young, I knew everything.

When I was young, I argued with theories.  I thought that my intelligence was the weight of the argument.  There was the compulsion to drop name after name, theoretical concept after theoretical concept.  I argued with the contempt and impunity that can only come from someone not old enough to be proven wrong.  I was on a mission to prove to the world that I am right, and everything in it is wrong, stupid, and idiotic.  Big words, too; words that, from the perspective of a youthful version of me, can summarize – and solve – the problems of the national Gessellschaft.

Then I grew old enough to take up a job.  After three or so years of writing copy and etching a name for myself in the glass walls of multinationals and transnationals – from newspapers to BPO to advertising – I realized that I only “knew everything” when I was young.  In the brave new world, beyond the shelter of the Geisteswissenschaften and the arguments of privilege that came with a chair in the classroom and a book from the library, there are some things I realized.


Wall Boy

A size-36 waistline and a beer belly should be enough reason for anyone – yes, including myself – to take up a sport.

Fritz and Eloisa suggested wall-climbing, which me and my girlfriend Jam were more than eager to take.  She’s much more fit than I am (if you take up vice, you’re anything but “physically fit” no matter how many exercises you take up), and she took up climbing lessons before, so I was pretty much the group’s beginner.  With a pair of uncomfortable climbing shoes, I was all set.

“We really don’t have any need for wall-climbing in modern society,” I told Jam.

“Just think of it as a way for you to lose weight,” Jam replied.

There began my journey into physical fitness… or at least, the wall that stood between me and the rest of the afternoon.



Choose life.  Choose sports.  Choose a reasonable distance.  Choose a comfortable pair of running shoes.  Choose a singlet, cap, running shorts loose enough to wick away moisture but tight enough to keep you from chafing.  Choose a number.  Choose the dramatic angle by which you cross the finish line.  Choose amber-colored sunglasses to keep the sun from fucking up your vision.  Choose brand placement and advertising on every miserable line of the race course.  Choose marathons, sprints, jogging, off-road trails.  Choose sport pedometers.  Choose Velcro arm-straps for your iPod.  Choose running.  Choose life.

Why would I want to do a thing like that?