Zu Ehrlich zu dir sein…

(Danke PostSecret!)

Ich bin mit Ihnen für Monate verknallt. Obwohl, in diesem Fall, möchte ich deinen Nägeln ergänzen; die Farbe Rot passt am besten zu Ihnen. Ich finde auch Ihrer Augen sehr wunderschön nicht nur aufgrund jeder trägt Masken jetzt. Sie gefallen wirklich mir.

Was für ein schlechte zufallig dann. Deutsch zu hören ist für mich gerade schwerig ohne Masken. Jetzt ist est nicht genau unmöglich sondern herausfordernder. Wie unglucklich!

(500) Days of German

Second Semester, Academic Year 2010-2011. Alternating between the modern classrooms of the College of Arts and Letters (colloquially: CAL New Building, CNB) and the depressing, dated, even claustrophobic (yet no less loved) haunts of the Department of European Languages in the Faculty Center, I took a relatively unknown GE subject. Perhaps what lead me there is equal parts curiosity and economics of GE classes in UP Diliman but, nonetheless, it would prove to be among the classes I would label as “mind blowing”, exactly the kind of experience universities are supposed to provide.

The class is deceptively (though maybe fatefully) coded European Languages 50 yet we did not even get to learn a single new word in a language that’s not Filipino or English. It was more like the instructor’s, Señor Wystan de la Peña, exploration of a thesis topic stretched out over a semester. My greatest takeaway from the class (of which there are many!) is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, the same concept utilized, if over-exaggerated, by the eerie plot of Arrival.

Simply put, Sapir-Whorf says that your language shapes your world view. “This is why,” Señor de la Peña would explain, as then-head of the DEL, “you cannot understand a culture without a certain competence in their language”.

It is a nifty framework with which to see the world, the kind that, at least I’d like to think, applies not just to linguistics and world views in general but also to more specific, more niche, aspects of life. Knowing Sapir-Whorf convinced me that, while being able to explain a concept to a five year old is still a landmark of understanding, there is necessity in jargon so long as we know to distinguish when to use analogies and when to use specific technical terms.

I am of the opinion that Sapir-Whorf should be part of higher education’s canon, much like the Theory of Evolution, Postmodernism, Calculus, and Relativity.

First Semester, Academic Year 2011-2012. I am taking Anthropology 10, less due to curiosity and more due to requirement; it counts as Philippine Studies, a GE track I am admittedly not too fond of. I lacked 3 units of it before I can graduate and Anthro 10 fit the bill perfectly.

Among UP’s problems then (and maybe even now) is the lack of experienced lecturers/instructors as well as aged facilities. Perhaps nothing of my UP experience exhibited this issue more than Anthro 10. Held in one of the iconically shabby classrooms of Palma Hall, it was also conducted by a fresh graduate. It was his first time teaching. Heck, it was his first semester teaching.

Not that these circumstances automatically translate to a poor experience; in fact a lot of my classes during my first year in UP was conducted by fresh grad instructors, two of which I can positively remember to this day as being thought-provoking and perspective-expanding. What marked my Anthro 10 experience was that the instructor was not a good public speaker at all. Perhaps he had a good syllabus, a thought-out lesson plan for each meeting, but unfortunately, all this fell short as he can’t deliver as a public speaker.

And this was before one of my classmates introduced herself as being raised in Bahrain, couldn’t speak a word of Filipino, so can we please hold the class in English?

The show went from bad to worse. I was so disappointed that in my Student Evaluation of Teachers (SET), I wrote a complaint so long I hit the limit of the textbox provided…so I continued my tirade in another textbox in the form. I wrote it in Filipino because to do otherwise felt hypocritical; I was, after all, airing grievance at the fact that we are Filipinos, in the Philippines, studying in the University of the Philippines, taking a class that credits under the Philippine Studies requirement, and yet the class had to be held in English to the general detriment of everyone’s experience, even to the visible discomfort of the instructor.

(Granted, English is an official language in the Philippines but this fact comes with a lot of colonial baggage that I am not going to talk about here. And let’s just say, it was EL50 which brought this baggage to my attention.)

All this because of one girl in our class of around thirty, who had eyes so alluring they could give Ann Perkins a run for her suitors, skin the perfect shade of caramel it reminded you of sun, sand, and sugar, but who could nonetheless speak not a single word of Filipino. Attraction and annoyance is an odd blend of emotions, needless to say.

Anthro 10 would also go on to discuss the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. In this unique configuration of circumstances I form a resolve that if I ever find myself living amongst people who had their own language, even if I could get by with English, I will not overstay my welcome and I would make an effort to learn their language.

September 2018. I receive a job offer from a game development company in Germany. Containing my excitement, I open the employment contract they sent me. The first thing I noticed was the odd two-column formatting.

Only the right-hand side made sense to me. The left side was in German because, surprise surprise, Germany speaks German.

A flood of memories overwhelm my excitement. Something about a foreign girl with lovely eyes and skin tone of a daughter of the desert. Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis. Señor Wystan de la Peña, then-head of the Department of European Languages. Promises I made to myself.

…in case of discrepancies, the German version prevails.

Looks like I would have to learn German.

When you learn a new language you get to feel like a child again. Slowly, the world around you starts making sense; there is a distinctly childlike wonder in finally deciphering your boxing instructor’s command “Komm zusammen im Kreis“, having only learned the word Kreis from Duolingo yesterday. You feel a distinct pride in being able to hold a conversation with someone speaking German, even if your side of the conversation was all made in English. ‘Cause who would’ve thunk, understanding a language is different from being able to speak a language.

Some people learn German, then go to Germany. The likes of me learn Java (or Python) first, then go to Germany, then learn German. Have I told you that story of when I learned how to swim already in the pool for the final exam? (Yes, yes I have, a thousand lifetimes ago.)

When you learn a new language all those seemingly-trivial exercises you had in elementary school suddenly make sense. There is, indeed, no better way to build-up vocabulary or ingrain grammar rules other than constant input. You will contrive to have a Word for the Day, not so different from the one you had in English class, Grade 3. You’ll be reading children’s books in the language you are learning because, it turns out, Mickey Mouse’s adventures is a great way to build up the basics of a language.

And I would just like to point out that my decision to build up my vocabulary first at some expense to grammar proved to be a good decision. With a large vocabulary I can play with the language in my head already. I can, if in laughably broken grammar, talk to myself in German, express my thoughts in German. Though this made it easy for me to express myself in this new language, the downside is that without being used to the rules of grammar, it was really difficult to figure out what native speakers were saying. It doesn’t help that with the multitude of rules for declensions and conjugations, German words tend to sound vastly different depending on the context. And have I told you about separable verbs?

When you learn a new language you realize that there is more to communication than just speaking. Body language is a language too. And it can get you surprisingly far.

I’ve had a 10-session beginner’s German lesson, courtesy of Goodgame, my current employer. The things that stuck out to me in that lesson was:

  • How the instructor, despite being able to understand English, just wouldn’t talk to us in English! This comes around to my point above about how learning a language is all about the input, so I guess the best way to maximize learning in any language course is to use the damn language as much as possible; I didn’t get ripped off there. Come to think of it, my English teachers, despite being Filipinos themselves, just made it a point to enforce use of English in the classroom with an almost fanatical zeal.
  • And also how, with a mixture of words that are common between English and German, words that varied slightly between English and German, as well as a lot of body language, gestures, and pop culture references, he was able to build up our vocabulary remarkably well.

When you learn a new language you notice the smallest details of conversation that you take for granted in your native tongue. One of the things I find hard in translating all my German training into lässig Unterhaltung is that real-life conversation is not as clean as Duolingo’s examples, as a YouTube instructional video, or heck even just in TV shows. In real-life, people stutter, nutzen vielen Füllworte, use phrases instead of sentences.

There’s also the fact that I am, dare I say, a grammar nazi when it comes to English, a long-lasting effect of my high school education, which makes me extremely self-conscious when using a new language, not to mention one with rules as austere as German.

When you learn a new language (and perhaps especially when said language is related to a language you already know anyway) it recontextualizes the language you already know. There’s a lot to be said about untranslatable words but, at the moment, I find a certain conviction in the word egal. You wouldn’t find a lot of people who would consider egal as not having an English equivalent precisely because it can translate to any number of standard English words/phrases like:

  • unimportant
  • inconsequential
  • does not matter

But notice how, in English, this concept is always expressed in terms of a negation. It feels liberating to express this concept in terms of its own, not just as the negation of something else. This is one word I wish would transition into standard English. “I find the issue egal,” sounds better, more powerful, than “I don’t care”.

At the Hamburger Kunsthalle

And of course, learning a language gives you the vocabulary to talk about your experience of a foreign land. Germany is, I realized, basically fairy-tale land (the Brothers Grimm are Germans, didn’t you know?), the perfect place for the concept of die Waldeinsamkeit to emerge; Germany basically produced among the most iconic and influential works of Romanticism. And despite being the second largest city in a European hub, I found Hamburg’s busy hours oddly rural. Most establishments close too early; the only Starbucks I know, stationed at the city center, closes at 7PM (or, should I say, 19:00). Learning the term Protestantische Arbeitsethik does not completely explain this to me, but helps me accept the way things are.

To an English speaker, German has a lot of rules. To a German speaker, English has a lot of exceptions.

Paraphrased or so from the film The Two Popes.

Anthropologically speaking, it makes sense for languages to evolve to facilitate efficient communication between members of the speaker-group. I have come to believe that German evolved to see who can follow more rules.

Deutsch hat das Wort die Schadenfreude, um ihre Gefühlt zu beschrieben, und das Wort die Lebensfreude, um Italianer zu beschrieben.


A Familiar Darkness

We find our way through the buzzing noise and the familiar darkness rather awkwardly, as if we’re here for the first time. We take a couple of empty seats for ourselves and sit in silence. I’ve never felt at ease in parties like this; it’s never been my element and I’m betting it never will be. I would guess you feel the same even if the years have taught you how to enjoy alcohol—another thing I will never get the hang of—and overall seem better adapted in situations like this.

“So, when are you leaving?” you ask to break the ice. It’s amusing how silence can exist between two people in a place where noise is just everywhere. Even more amusing is how this silence is broken.

We’ve never discussed my impending departure before and this question is the first acknowledgement between us. There was no blame in your voice, no worry, no disappointment; it was the most casual of questions you can ask between friends.

“Not for several months more,” I reply, knowing it’s an open secret now—it’s just as I wished it to be. I want to keep this bit of news strictly on a need-to-know basis and you are among the people I’d definitely want to know anyway.

“Have you said your goodbyes? To the pets?”

“I’ve been telling Embrr but I don’t think he understands what I’m saying. I think Luna does—she seems happy lately. I’ve been telling Newton too but he’s just too old now to care.”

“That’s good enough,” you pause to chuckle at the absurdity of pets understanding human language. “Will you bring your camera with you?”

“The A6000, definitely. And most of my lenses, I guess. But unfortunately I’d have to leave my original A35 here.”

“What about your telescope?”

“Nah, too bulky.”

The Koopman-Hevelius

We have cups of water on our table. Tonight you don’t feel like drinking. We observe the crowd illuminated by nothing but the glow of the neon signs from the bars across the street, flitting through the floor-to-ceiling glass panes of the office windows. I see someone I have, frankly, been avoiding the past few months because, reasons. She makes her way through the crowd, drawing closer to where we are seated.

There was a time when this company was so small we at least knew everyone else’s names and maybe at least a vague idea of their hobbies on top of that. Now, there’s enough of us to play petty office politics like this.

I guess only time will tell whether any given change was for better or worse. I am personally not even so sure if I’m making the right decisions. I do have good reasons to leave but, perhaps of more emphasis in my mind right now, was that I also have good reasons to stay.

Ironically, I knew that these people I count as my reasons to stay will be the ones most disappointed in me if I do so. Despite all that has changed, I am leaving not because I am running away, not because this place has become stranger; I am leaving because I am running towards something.

And I am grateful to you, my friends, that I can even run towards this. We saw each other go from debating board game rules to comparing mortgages. How very grown up of us, are we sure we know what we’re doing? And yet we still amuse ourselves with cats and dogs, kittens and puppies, movies and board games. That’s…not so very grown up isn’t it?

I guess some things change and some things don’t.

And now I have come to accept that you will change further without me and that I will likewise change without you. I find a certain poetic symmetry that among the last lessons reiterated in me before I left is how inability to change is invariably fatal. But it doesn’t matter. Among the things leaving has taught me is how home is what stays with you when you leave; it is not a place you go to but a weight you carry that defines you.

Kind of…like a turtle shell.

To all my friends with whom I am constantly in change with.

For all my friends with whom I am constantly in learn with


It was bittersweet finishing The Sandman.

Well, endings of all kinds tend to be bitter, regardless of whether it is happy, or sad, or cathartic. But even more so when what ended was something which made you smile, gave you good dreams, and was a welcome distraction from all the things you should actually be focusing on. Such was The Sandman to me. It did not help my poor emotions that it ended with The Wake–a volume so gorgeous it induces synesthesia. I dare you to read The Wake and not hear Morpheus’ funeral dirge playing as words are said about the deceased, or the song sung by the panels masterfully dictating the tempo of the story.

The final volume has transcended its designation as “graphic novel” into the realm of deep, epic elegy. A fitting one for the King of Dreams, consist of not just words but pictures. And boy don’t each picture tell a thousand stories?

I have a long history with The Sandman. My first encounter with it was as a grade school student, seeing it mentioned in a local otaku magazine due to Yoshitaka Amano’s (of Final Fantasy fame) eventual involvement in the form of The Dream Hunters. In a long chain of association, of one-thing-lead-to-another’s, I ended up finding myself spending late nights Wikipedia hopping, trying to piece out the story, to no avail. And with good reason. In The Sandman, Neil Gaiman makes full use of his medium; mere synopses could do no justice. That the term “graphic novel”, so attached to Sandman thanks to an anecdote told by Neil Gaiman, invokes the idea of a novel liberally illustrated is rather unfortunate as it sells the series short to potential readers1. Not that it needs any further endorsement. But The Sandman is indisputably comics, and it is so much better off for that.

In the process of slowly saving up to buy a copy of the canonical ten volumes of Sandman I ended up deciding what my “Sandman Library” would have. Aside from the aforementioned canon, I wanted a copy of The Dream Hunters, arguably the title that set me on this path, as well as Endless Nights. I also wanted Alisa Kwitney’s The Sandman: King of Dreams “coffee-table” book, mostly because of how cool it looked. And, to cap off the collection, I wanted Hy Bender’s The Sandman Companion.

I never really expected to complete my Library, so much so that for a time, I referred to it as my ideal Sandman Library. The ten volumes alone that forms the bulk of it are expensive and hard to come by. The rest are even rarer and pretty niche, making chances of reprints slim. However, thanks to some fortunate turn of events, my ideal turned into reality at least in quantity, if not in composition, just in my second year of college.

My Sandman Library

I got everything I wanted, save for The Sandman Companion, but in its place I got The Sandman Papers, a collection of academic articles discussing the series. Overall, I could not call myself disappointed with what I ended up with. I have, after all, read everything Neil Gaiman wrote about the Sandman.

Coming from a childhood saturated with Japanese animation, it was quite a jump going into The Sandman. Gothic, at stretches bordering on eldritch, the art was, admittedly, not what I was expecting, especially considering that my earliest exposure to Sandman, no matter how trivial, is because of Yoshitaka Amano.

It is maybe largely due to this discrepancy in expectation and reality that I did not enjoy the first five issues as much as they are praised. They definitely have their moments but overall they felt like just a series of books. Well-written no doubt, but as far as an overarching plot is concerned, there was not much. The Sandman compilations I have, as pictured above, feature a blurb that claims you can read the series either in sequence or as standalone books. That claim holds strong for the first five compilations.

But Fables and Reflections is an inflection point. It may be ironic to say this of a volume that is explicitly a short-story collection but it is an excellent one to set the tone of the second half of the series. Destruction and Orpheus feature after being mere foreshadows of allusions in the first half. The history between the Endless siblings is also hinted at, laying ground for the developments that occur in the next volumes.

I call volume six an inflection point because this is the part where I will beg anyone who would care to listen: do not read anything from volume six onwards out of order. Damn whatever the blurb says.

It is also at this point where The Sandman had a curious effect on me. This is one of those anecdotes which might have a “mystical” air about it especially since we are talking about the King of Dreams here. But it happened, and you can make what you want of it. Back then, I would read a chapter (an issue) of Sandman just before I get whatever formal sleep I can. And that sleep would be refreshing. Sometimes, it would even end with the pleasant memory of a dream but overall, I just remember them to be good sleep, waking up feeling some kind of catharsis.

Lastly, I would say that Fables and Reflections marked the part where the series’ art style took a turn to my taste. I used to think that this is an effect of technology: that Sandman ran for so long that the evolution of comics printing is evident across its run. I used to think that it was largely thanks to technology that, by volume six, the art more closely–though ever so slightly–resembled the Japanese animation I am accustomed to. But lately I’ve come to learn just how much of it might actually be a creative decision on Gaiman’s part.

Or, maybe, it was still more of a creative constraint than decision. It’s just that Neil Gaiman knew his medium well and so played into its strengths and danced to its limits.

When I first took an interest in Sandman I remember foolishly wanting to collect the series on a per-issue basis. Call it naivete: the closest I even got to this was finding one issue–I no longer remember which–in a thrift sale in a shop2 in my local mall which sold an assortment of geeky items. Items I could not afford back then, relying on the mercy of my parent’s purse, but which I certainly returned to when, in adulthood, I found myself well-funded for my hobbies and sundry. Money does not change people, I guess.

Maybe today, if I ever come across another solo issue of the canon Sandman, I would buy it and then keep it in its case, never to be opened, preserved for posterity, and wait until the price for such things sky rockets so I could cash out.

Or maybe, nostalgia will get the better of me, and I will tear it open (after, of course, washing my hands very thoroughly) to breathe in comics fumes from the 90s, see the ads, and compare the original as published with its counterpart in the compilations.

My naive desire to own Sandman in its original serialization was somehow fulfilled a few years ago when Neil Gaiman decided to revisit this particular universe and wrote a prequel, Sandman Overture. Now, buying Overture on a per-issue basis (as opposed to waiting for the compilation that will surely come) was more than a matter of repressed-wish fulfillment. It was also a matter of logistics: my bookshelf, full as it is, could not accommodate another volume of Sandman. It could, however, fit individual issues in between the compiled volumes already housed.

Books before they were crowded

Still, in some strange way, I got something I have already given up on.

But it does not stop there. By the magical convenience of the internet and of public-key cryptography–the combination of which allows online shopping to be a thing–I have, recently, found myself in possession of the missing volume in my Sandman Library: Hy Bender’s The Sandman Companion.

My ideal Sandman Library has been realized in full. And more.

A person’s life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture.

~ Italo Calvino in Mr. Palomar (?)

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

~ C.P. Cavafy, Ithaka

Like a stereotypical book maniac, I’ve always taken pride in owning “rare” books. Although over time I have come to realize I’m small fry, more like a kid calling trash and trinkets his treasure than a rich eccentric European Lucas Corso would have loved to plunder. My “rare” books are not exactly what book catalogs would list as rare or valuable; they are better termed as niche and maybe expensive, at least relative to my economic well-being at the time of acquisition. A first edition hard bound copy of Deathly Hallows, an omnibus of C. S. Lewis’ nonfiction, two volumes of Borges’ complete works, one for poetry and one for prose–you get the idea3.

Getting a credit card gave my hubris something else to feed on. Books that are maybe not as expensive, though so niche as to be not distributed locally: Templar by Jordan Mechner, of Prince of Persia fame, a comics (“graphic novel”) about a heist perpetuated by members of the eponymous knight order; The Carpet Makers by Andreas Eschbach, a German sci-fi author who, as of this writing has not had much of his work translated into English; the complete Memoirs of Lady Trent by Marie Brennan, a beautiful (aesthetically and literarily) sci-fi series written as a pseudo-Victorian memoir. Maybe, just maybe, I could lay claim to having the only copy of these books for miles around, if not in the whole country4.

That includes The Sandman Companion. Secondhand but in good condition and a first edition too5. I would have loved to complete my Sandman Library sooner, maybe around the time I actually got the bulk of the canon, but I guess you can’t rush the universe’s schedule.

I no longer remember what I expected to get out of reading The Sandman Companion. But as I finally laid my hands on my own copy, the anticipation was stale, my expectations almost nonexistent. This was, to me, just a round of honor, just for the sake of completion. At this point I felt like I have read almost everything about The Sandman‘s canon: from interviews of Neil Gaiman, to his blog posts, to The Sandman Papers, and even King of Dreams. Maybe, it would be a shallow kind of debriefing, one where I’m told this is what this activity was going for (like it was not plain to see), this is what happened (like it did not happen to me), and thank you very much (I’d thank you too, out of courtesy).

I could not be more wrong. This Ithaka is not a resting place after all that I’ve encountered. It is more akin to a final adventure, the last one to give the whole escapade its form before I, maybe, really close off this library.

In format, The Sandman Companion is the odd one out in my collection. The bulk of the book is a transcript of Hy Bender’s interview with Neil Gaiman. The content is formatted in a way that is a bit reminiscent of magazines although maybe that should not be so surprising given the nature of the content. What is more unusual are the boxed insets of text that litter the interview transcripts: tidbits of information that is tangential to the topic at hand but was not directly brought up in the transcribed conversation. It reminds me of a common layout element in computer books for end users6.

Reading the Companion is like re-experiencing the whole series in completely prosaic form. The discussion on each volume starts with a summary of the volume concerned but where this differs from my early Wikipedia-hopping is that Bender does not try to tell a story but, rather, explain the inner workings of Neil Gaiman’s creation7. That the story is told in some way nevertheless is a mere side-effect of the process. Fittingly called, The Sandman Companion is like a pleasant tour guide in a beautiful country, pointing you to the wonders you shouldn’t miss without getting in the way of you establishing a personal connection with the place. Alas, the guide is only as good as the country.

Finishing the companion is like finishing the series a second time around. No less bittersweet, it is like a reunion with old friends concluded: we’ve caught up and reminisced, now it’s time to get up and go back into the world. But this time–and I would concede that this feeling might be unique to my circumstances as a reader and a Sandman fan–the conclusion comes with a sense of closure.

“[T]hat man would be scorned by all the others: by the king, by the conceited man, by the tippler, by the businessman. Nevertheless he is the only one of them all who does not seem to me ridiculous. Perhaps that is because he is thinking of something else besides himself.”

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

Reading the Sandman today is a completely different experience from reading it just as the series progressed. Today, it is unavoidable to be spoiled by statements about the series: how it is about change, that Morpheus dies in the end. Heck, it is not inconceivable that “spoilers” like these could be someone’s gateway into the series. It’s just that the Sandman canon will no longer be the terra incognita it was for those who were lucky to be able to follow along.

Although, as I could attest, spoilers are not necessarily a bad thing.

Perhaps ironically, what I envy those people is in how Sandman came in trickles for them. An issue a month, I feel, is just the right pace for the intricacy of Gaiman’s story to settle. Repeatedly reading Gaiman summarize his two-thousand-page opus as a story about change, and how the King of Dreams’ inability to deal with this causes his demise, made me take this message for granted that by the end of my first reading of Sandman I am unable to definitively illustrate how it is about change, and how this inability to accept change ultimately kills Morpheus. Shame for such a self-proclaimed Sandman fan.

What I realized from reading the Companion is that beneath the huge ensemble of artistic talent behind the series, beneath the prestige it has accumulated, the Sandman is actually more similar to St. Exupéry’s The Little Prince. It is about change, yes, but it is also about dreams and hearts8–the things that make us human. Morpheus–like the grown-ups the titular prince encounters in St. Exupéry’s work–is too concerned with his function that he loses sight of how he and his function relates with everyone else. Despite being the anthropomorphic personification of dreams, there is nothing human in Morpheus’ core. And this inability to be human is what he cannot accept that he orchestrates his doom to give way to a new Dream. This time, a Dream that is human in form and humane in the execution of his duties.

I used to admire Morpheus’ approach in life for its stoicism. Perhaps I still do. In the celebrated special, The Song of Orpheus, Morpheus tells his son, the mythological poet who lends his name to the title, the lover of Eurydice:

You are mortal: it is the mortal way. You attend the funeral, you bid the dead farewell. You grieve. Then you continue with your life.

And at times the fact of her absence will hit you like a blow to the chest, and you will weep. But this will happen less and less as time goes on.

She is dead. You are alive.

So live.

Solid advice, even echoed by Morpheus’ down-to-earth (and, oddly, much more humane) sister, Death. When Orpheus visits her, she tells him

It was her time to go, Orpheus. People die. It’s okay. It happens.

Go on with your own life. You have many things to do: many songs to play and sing.

But what differentiates the results of Morpheus’ conversation with that of Death is their further reaction to Orpheus’ grief. Where Morpheus is dismissive and will not hear any more of Orpheus’ laments, Death is understanding and sympathetic to Orpheus’ plight. Ultimately, it may have served Orpheus better had Death not considered Orpheus’ plan to petition his case before the gods of the underworld. But what Death understood and Dream did not is that what mortals want above all is choice, a say in the matter. What Death’s boon gave Orpheus is some semblance of control over his plight. Losing Eurydice to a snake bite on their wedding night, Orpheus is a victim of fate. Looking back at Eurydice’s shadow just as he is about to step out of Hades’ is his own choice, his own failure. Hades’ may have been cruel, less than fair in the deal he struck with Orpheus. But alas, this misfortune is a direct result of Orpheus’ choices. His grief is, finally, his own.

I wanted to go a step further on this final storyline…and so started lobbying for DC to publish directly from Michael (Zulli)’s pencils.

Michael used to send me his pencilled pages, and they’d be breathtaking; and then they’d come back after being inked, and there would inevitably be some loss of detail… Inking came about because it’s easier to reproduce dark lines than feathery pencil work but by 1995, I felt that technology was at a point where anything could be scanned in, even pencils.

DC was very doubtful, so Michael drew a test page of Death with an eagle…the page that resulted was absolutely gorgeous, with no loss of detail… DC ultimately acceded to the idea and let Michael do issues 70 through 73 in pencils only, with no inker.

~ Neil Gaiman on the art style of the first half of The Wake as transcribed in an interview with Hy Bender in The Sandman Companion.

Among The Sandman‘s accolades is a World Fantasy Award for short fiction in 1991 courtesy of the issue A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Back then, this caused such a controversy that future editions of the World Fantasy Awards explicitly banned mere comics from being nominated9. This had the curious effect that, to date, A Midsummer Night’s Dream bears the distinction of being the only comic to win the said award, let alone being nominated.

I have been told that a hallmark of good art is in how it changes with its audience. Something read in your teenage years could take on an entirely new meaning when re-read in your mid-20s. This is definitely true of The Sandman.

The debate about what is and what is not art will rage on, maybe until Death has put the chairs on the tables, turned the lights out, and locked the universe. But meanwhile, I imagine them–ideas, realized and repressed alike–going about their merry existence in some platonic realm, maybe Dream’s. Happy to be whatever they are, be that a comics series or a children’s book about wizards attending school. The vanity of labels does not concern them.

Dream and Death

Life, after all, is but a dream.

  1. Ironically, my gateway to Sandman, Yoshitaka Amano’s The Dream Hunters, fits this connotation of the term “graphic novel” down to a T. []
  2. Which was called Skybucks for some reason. Not to be confused with a certain coffee cafe chain so well-known nowadays. []
  3. I am so sorry. I can’t seem to write about The Sandman in this blog without bragging off in some way or another. What a show-off! []
  4. Dear me, there I go again. I should really get this topic moving now, to prevent showing off. []
  5. I promise this will be the last time I brag off in this post. []
  6. Which, again, comes as no surprise once you learn that Hy Bender authored a bunch of For Dummies books. What a leap. This info was hidden in the back flap of the dust jacket of my copy, which meant that this was actually the last thing I learned from the book. []
  7. And hence, I call it a re-experiencing, not a re-reading. []
  8. In the chapter for The Doll’s House in The Sandman Companion, Neil Gaiman notes that, “If you leaf through the series you’ll find either an image of a heart or the word heart in virtually every issue. Hearts are a major part of what Sandman is about.” I am currently re-reading the series in search of these hearts. []
  9. Or, rather, reiterated the rule that comics are not eligible for the said category. True to a recurring theme in The Sandman, the story of what really happened depends on who you ask. []

A Companion Named Desire

In the space of a few seconds–a handful of heartbeats, a few hundred meters covered, some hundreds of revolutions of an engine–the rumbling gray clouds made good on their promise of heavy rain. Even in that tranqulity induced by driving at cruising speed on spacious roads, the transition is difficult to miss: just roughly half an hour ago I marveled at how my car, just less than six months old, can’t be kept completely cool against an overbearing afternoon sun by its air conditioning. Now a sudden downpour drastically lessens the visibility and makes me turn my aircon down by a notch.

The rain puts me in an odd feeling of being neither here nor there. Earlier that day I was at UP, and I am currently in transit through a heavy downpour with Jason Mraz for a background music. The circumstances remind me strongly of a particular summer spent studying physics and yet…I am so far from being that student anymore. A car now is no longer an element of a kinematics word problem but is something I can name among my earthly possessions. And driving…heh, driving isn’t even something I wanted to learn back then.

The lookback is even more interesting once you consider the blog. I’ve been blogging far earlier than the summer mentioned in the last paragraph and I know I made a couple of posts during the summer concerned; posts about a budding photographer, beginning his observations of light and its drama, attending debut parties with the hefty University Physics for a date. But those posts are, unfortunately, among those I axed when I turned this blog over to WordPress. So I can’t link them.

I have vague recollections of the time I decided which posts stay, and which don’t. Up until then, the blog has been through a couple of (technical, not literary) rewrites where I painstakingly migrated each and every post. The decision to prune was, as far as I remember, based on the fact that the posts axed no longer reflect my views. And also to spare my blushes for my blunder years, where I tried to sound knowledgeable of the world–mostly by using long words like “knowledgeable” where vowels and consonants do not merely alternate–when I was, in fact, writing something worthy of Buzzfeed, minus the GIFs.

If I had to characterize the posts I hid from the public it would be that they are too emotional. “I write,” I would say back then, “to exorcise my demons”, all the while feeling like a tortured genius who has found reprieve and salvation through his muse, through his art. Maybe, a hundred years after my inevitable yet all the same tragic demise, that particular quote would find itself adorning a planner given for free by some book store, after a minimum-value purchase during the holiday season. And that’s if I’m lucky. If I’m really lucky it will even be attributed to me.

Because after all that, I have realized that the hardest part of talking about feelings isn’t about finding the courage to even be open about it. In some ways, that is the easy part. Human. What’s difficult when talking about feelings is in coming out with the maturity to handle them in all their nuance, and to not end up with a piece Buzzfeed would gladly put on their front page.

Or Thought Catalog. No one wants a mopey twenty something. Not even a mopey twenty something.

Which is maybe why projects like PostSecret and The Strangers Project move me so. Whereas tortured-genius Chad would overgeneralize and sweep his adolescent neural firings under a blanket of over optimism and flashes of wordplay, these revelations from people I have no idea who achieve authenticity despite their anonymity1. Raw and unfinished, you would not find them spouting a forced positive angle because sometimes, sometimes, there is just no good ending, at least not yet, and you could just barely keep it together.

Yet sometimes, life is not just good but also beautiful; a good ending would be unfortunate because, no matter how good, it is still the end of something as warm as hope.



(At this point, it all ends rather abruptly, as this has been gathering dust for months inside my drafts. Back when I started this whole rambling, I guess I had a plan, an outline, of how and where this all leads to. But not anymore. It gets published by virtue of the fact that it has, nonetheless, achieved its primary purpose, which is to get things off my chest, regardless of whether or not it ends up read by the intended eyes. I guess, after all that’s said and written, I remain the same, seeing words as some sort of magic to trap demons with. Some things change and some things don’t. Thank you very much for reading through and I hope you have a good one.)

  1. PostSecret founder Frank Warren was once asked whether he worries that the secrets he receives are fabricated. To which he replies that the secret is not necessarily true for the person who wrote it; it is true for the person who reacts to it. []