On Sound and Noise and Finding Something to Say

When I was ten years old, after having moved to Eastern Rizal, my brother, myself and our neighbor went around exploring the neighborhood.

Brookside Hills then was a neigbborhood of 14 enclaves of bungalows and split-levels connected together through snakelines of semi-asphalted roads. The enclaves were surrounded by rice fields. Linked to the rest of Metro Manila by Ortigas Avenue (still an avenue then because it was lined by trees and not just concrete posts now), we felt like we were in the probinsiya because of the mixed smells of rice fields, carabao dung, and dew in the morning.

Each one of us on bikes, we pedalled to an old abandoned, empty water tank up the hill. A flat cylinder four storeys tall and about a hundred feet in diameter, it looked like a huge red (because of the rusty iron wall) pill visible from Ortigas Avenue I would notice getting bigger during the (then) half hour jeepney commute from Lourdes School Mandaluyong where me and my brother studied to our bungalow at Berkshire Street in Brookside.

Getting inside the empty Red Pill, I was immediately drawn to throw a pebble at the rusty iron wall.


Gee, that was loud.

Looking back, I realize it was second nature on my part to fill an empty space with something. Even if it was just sound.

Growing up, there were things I wanted to say. I still remember wanting to speak to my Ninong in the US via long distance over the phone Christmas Day while the rest of us were in the house my mother and her sisters built in Sampaloc.

I just wanted to say "Mano po, Ninong" over the phone and "say Merry Christmas" to somehow bridge the gap of not seeing him for more than a decade after he and his family migrated to California. My dad would have followed suit with us in tow if it weren’t for my Lola who requested that he does not separate my mother from her. Our lives would have been different.

"E wala namang kwenta ang sasabihin niyan!" came a dismissive pre-emptive judgment from the one holding the phone.

Used to not showing my raw emotions, I might have just turned around and decided to forget it.

I had nothing to say. Maybe I just silenced it all.

In the years that followed, I discovered the Sony Walkman and how it filled up my head with sounds. To fill in the silence, I enjoyed every chance to fill up my head with music, audio books, the radio, and how I could physically feel the sound move from the left to the right, to the front and the back of my skull.

I had nothing to say, so I filled up my head with noise.

I enjoyed loud music, as loud as possible.

I was consuming words as well. Read each book in our book collection from end to end. Topics ranged from health, fiction, poetry, Great Books, science, geography, astronomy. We had encyclopedias. I knew which volume contained all about snakes, whales, manatees, dolphins. Where cetaceans were, where crustaceans were.

I had nothing to say. So I wanted to hear what others said instead.

Flash forward to me at 52. I find I now have something to say. However, the moments which allow me to hear my own thoughts are few and far in-between.

During Wednesday night when I attended a media welcome for millennial bloggers from Southeast Asia, I found myself feeling repulsive to the loud music by the (also) millennial band. Oblivious to the noise, the millennial bloggers spent a good half hour taking selfies, groupfies, the boodle fight table, the obligatory hold-the-sponsorproduct or pose-with-the-sponsorlogo, all the while seemingly having a good time while making sure their permed dos, matte makeup and hipster outfits are not ruinned, while they make reprises of their best pouts and duckfaces.

What can I say? They mastered the millennial formula to be famous with the thumb generation.

Yet I was reminded of how I was like at their age. Filling oneself with as much experience and stimuli as possible to have something to say. I waited decades to finally have the kapalmukha to have something to say and to believe that someone would find value in what I say.

But I must admit I admire how they are able to quickly distill days or hours of experience into a few phrases, few sentences, few photographs what would otherwise take me volumes to fully and painstakingly elucidate.

Or maybe what really matters is how big one’s reservoir of experience is.

The Red Pill / Empty Water Tank reverberated a pebble throw and transformed it into a resounding gong.

What mattered was that the tank wasn’t empty, it was huge. And it was filled with the best sound conductor–still air.

I no longer feel I need to put on headphones to fill my head with ideas. I now put on headphones to shut the world out, while listening to music that makes my soul move from left to right, from front to back.

Only then can I hear my thoughts.

Hopefully, you would like to listen to my thoughts, too.

#childhood #musings #anecdotes


The Pain of Painkillers (a.k.a. a study in contradictions and contraindications)

The Pain of Painkillers (a.k.a. a study in contradictions and contraindications)

Ever since my doctor prescribed a new drug, I had lived with my pain.

I thought I could get used to it. Sure, my body somehow develops a dull reaction to it. But my brain gets dull as well. I forget things. Simple things. Like forgetting my wallet in the car. Or forgetting to bring home my walking cane at the side of my work desk.

I don’t like taking painkillers because of the long-term damage they can do to my kidneys. They also contraindicate some of my current meds.

So I went through the previous working week without painkillers. Delivered two presentations to peers while summoning all my concentration to be the best while at the helm, and be as charming as possible.

Went well. Except I forgot to do other things by the wayside.

Pain dulls the brain.

I remember Patti’s Physiological Psychology class discussuion: something about the brain producing endorphins in response to pain. But not at a level to make one high, only to make the pain manageable until you can retreat to your safe place and sleep it off. Memory and other higher-functioning brain activity, like strategizing, planning, and communication are compromised.

When in pain, one just wants to retreat to a safe place.

At the end of Friday, two hours after quitting time, I was still at work sending out e-vites to media friends for an event. By the time I was done, I was in dire pain. And I told myself, there is a ton of work to do but work never ends, right?

Hey, even on the day we die, our inbox will still be full.

"I will do those early on Monday. While the office is quiet, while I can still hear myself think."

Little did I know.

Saturday. My gout which had plagued me all week despite my best efforts at keeping a sweet and smiley “I am okay” demeanor decided to rear more of its ugly head. What was a swelling on my left elbow was joined by a stiffness on my left ankle.

I couldn’t lift Stitch to give him a proper bath, something I do every Saturday.

Still, I decided, no painkillers. Just lots of water and juice.

Sunday. It became worse. I could not stand properly. I hobbled my way to the back room to retrieve the four-pronged walking cane.

Four-pronged walking cane. Nothing (aside from a walker) says "disabled and elderly" as much as that.

"I must be back at work Monday. I have no more applicable sick leaves and only one VL to go which I am saving for Stitch’s happy weekend at the beach."

I decided to bite the bullet, hobble in pain to the car and drive myself to the nearest drugstore to get painkillers.

After a full stomach from a reheated dinner, I pop 2 of the Cataflam pills and one Colchicine.

Then sleep. A restless sleep of waking up every few hours to poop. Excretion is how these pills get rid of the inflammation.

Woke Up at 5 am. I still cannot walk gracefully and painlessly.

Regretfully, I called in sick.

And, heck, after quickly feeding Stitch and the cats, tidying up their mess, and after breakfast, I pop more of those lovely pills in.

Jacqueline Susann called them “dolls” in her bestselling three-heroine freshman novel from the 60s.

I slept blissfully for I think more than 6 hours. thanks to these dolls.

Pain is much less now. I can move my elbow with full range of motion and now I can stand AND WALK unaided.

As for the consequences of my unfulfilled duties at work, I will face them tomorrow.

For now, I am just thankful for a day without pain. Well, relatively, anyway.

Thankful for so many things. Modern medicine among them.

And no. I am not heretofore calling them dolls.