Thursday, February 24, 2005

la vie boheme

'Reading Charles Bukowski’s Tales of Ordinary Madness, which I borrowed from Louis Thévenin, my erstwhile French teacher. Now here’s a maverick in his own time. His language burns with vulgarity. It’s sexually explicit and shockingly violent (sucking cocks, licking cunts, steamy asses, rape, physical abuse, child molestation, genital mutilation here and there). No regard for political correctness at all. 'Trashed formal structure altogether. His aliterary style had, no doubt, shocked the conservative American literary circle. You would either love him or hate him. I chose the former.

I like the way he blurs the line between fiction and non-fiction (which reminds me of Truman Capote; I need to buy one of his books). I like how he strips the language of its literary pretensions and lays it bare and raw, almost mutilated on the chopping block. Like, this is the language ordinary New York bummers and junkies would speak. This is real life. No glossed over, sugarcoated shit that gets stuck in your throat. No preachy, quasi-philosophical babble that you won’t understand in a million years. Just plain, street slang.

The Left even claimed that they have a natural affinity to his stories, a claim which Bukowski vehemently denied. He maintained that he had no political connections with any organization whatsoever.

At first, his work totally took me aback. And I thought nothing could shock me anymore! But upon closer reading, I figured this writer was not putting lurid details of sex and violence just to shock his readers. It was more of an indictment of our hypocritical society. It was an unabashedly bold take on how high we thought we have become after garbing ourselves with social graces. A visceral, carnal, id-based literary point of view is always welcome in my staple literary reading list. At times, though, I find him too self-absorbed or even self-indulgent, but then again, that is always a writer’s prerogative.

Somehow Bukowski reminds me of my New Voice workshop days; don’t ask me why, he just does. He brings me back to that trance-like part of my life when all I cared about was art and being an artist (even though I lacked the talent to be one); when working for a capitalist system was, for me, tantamount to prostitution; when my anthem was Jonathan Larsen’s La Vie Bohème (from Rent); when my main goal was to be different from everyone else, and just be myself.

“To days of inspiration, playing hookey
Making something out of nothing
The need to express, to communicate
To going against the grain, going insane, going mad.
To loving tension, no pension
To more than one dimension
To starving for attention, hating convention, hating pretension
Not to mention, of course, hating dear old mom and dad”

We would sing our hearts out to celebrate our quasi-bohemian existence inside Marga’s car, on our way to Starbucks, from acting workshop. Our nights were always suffused with crazy discussions on philosophy, sex, art, and Erica’s depression. Over bottles of beer and cigarette smoke as thick as a winter blanket, we would laugh and cry together (well, ok, it was just Erica who did all the crying).

Marga used to get over-excited whenever I would talk about agnosticism or whenever I would encourage her to go date other girls so she won’t die a virgin. Go bask in lesbian love, and love it, I used to say.

“To being an ‘us’ for once instead of a ‘them’
Bisexuals, transexuals, homo sapiens,
Carcinogen, hallucinogen, men
Peewee Herman, German wine, turpentine,
Gertrudestein, Atonioni Bertulluci,
Kurosawa, Carmina Burana
To apathy, to atropy, to entropy, ecstasy
Vaclav Havel, the Sex Pistols, 8BC…
To marijuana!
To sodomy, it’s between god and me,
To S & M
La vie bohème”

Erica would swing from sexually suggestive language to highly poetic, philosophical discourse in one breath. And then she would just hug you and cry. I don’t know how she does that. And, while waiting at the Steps Studio, she would sit on the floor even if there were empty comfy couches around. Sitting on the ground humbles you down, she reasoned out, it reminds you of your roots. Or something to that effect.

“To handcrafted beers made in local breweries
To yoga, to yogurt, to rice and beans and cheese
To leather, to dildos….huevos rancheros,
To Maya Angelou
Emotion, devotion,
To causing a commotion,
Creation, vacation,
Mucho masturbation”

I had no direction, no career to speak of, no dream to make huge bucks. But I was satisfied. I didn’t give a damn if the world ended right before my eyes. I would probably just get a beer and watch the free spectacle.

Life was art; and art had to be life. I was sick and tired of conformity. I craved for individuality, at the same time, plurality of meanings. I trashed revered institutions and created my own truths. I longed for intellectual masturbations without anyone telling me what to think or how to think. I wanted to be with people who were not dim-witted enough to talk to me about jobs, making money, family, god, or any of those societal crap that we, in our presumptuous egotistical collective consciousness, wore on our bodies like strap-on dicks. I loved freedom.

“To passion, compassion,
To fashion when it’s new
To Sontag, to Sondheim,
To anything taboo.
Ginsberg, Dylan, Cunningham and Cage
Lenny Bruce, Langston Hughes
To the stage, to Utah, to Buddha,
Pablo Neruda too…
Let he among us without sin be the first to condemn,
La vie bohème”

Somewhere along the way, pragmatism crept in. The hangover stayed only for a few minutes, and then left hurriedly through the backdoor, without even saying goodbye. Benny Coffin III making offers to poor artists? Perhaps. And me, compromising. Probably.

After the cigarette smoke had dissipated, reality caught up with me, in much the same way death caught up with Jonathan Larsen months before Rent successfully opened on Broadway, leaving him eternally clueless as to how his La vie bohème stoked the hearts of thousands of artists.

He died of AIDS.

Marga, too, died about two years ago. She was shot in the leg by a holdupper in Quezon City. Her driver survived the bullets. She didn’t.

I needed to see her inside her casket to convince myself that she was really gone. And when I finally did, I felt no sadness. I was incensed, enraged at how senseless this world can be. Life would never be fair, I thought. Friends, who are hard to come by these days, can die just like that. And the murderer is still out there, probably drinking his ass off in some smoky joint.

Marga, my bro (that's what we used to call each other), was, indeed, like my older sister, or brother. It's hard to digest the fact that I actually saw her in a coffin, harder still was the fact that, gasp, she's wearing a dress and pounds of make-up! She used to joke that she wouldn't want to be caught dead wearing a pink taffeta dress. Well, at least, bro, they didn't dress you in pink. Before she died, I had been planning to gather the old gang for a get-together in a cafe or something. My greatest regret is that I didn't even get to talk to Marga before she passed away. I don't even know if she died a virgin.

God, I miss her.

With her death, my life as a wannabe artist ended. But I know, somewhere down the mud and muck, Marga’s still humming our little anthem.

Viva la vie bohème!



At 2:04 PM, Blogger Saint Eroica said...

Thank you for writing this... although much delayed, i read it with my soul seeping thru you and marga... i miss "us"...


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