Perfume came to my radar as another of my sister’s fascinating stories. She watched the 2006 film adaptation of the novel and spilled all the amusing details. In a short while, I’ve learned everything that is to learn about the story.
Then that was that. Until she possessed her own paperback from one of her crazy book-buying in Singapore. “Crazy” because in her total awe for the novels’ cheap prices, she bought a lot and we had to buy a big luggage bag to wheel all the books back in Cebu (she did’t want to risk losing the books if she were to sent it as a package).
Patrick Süskind’s novel is just one of the many unread books on our list. Through breaks in my night shift as a writer, I took it out. On the passenger seat beside the jeepney driver’s seat. Under the semi-dark corner across our office space, amidst the occasional elevator pinging and chitchat. I have managed to gradually read it.
As a huge fan of prose, there’ll be moments where I would place my bookmark and not continue. Not because I’m pressed on time, but because I want to savor the delicious delight Süskind’s prose has to offer. It’s a bit like my The Picture of Dorian Gray experience.
So, what where my personal takeaways for this novel?
Faith in self. Some people (especially young adults) lament not being able to find their purpose (yet). And while it is important to find one’s purpose, it is worth noting that such impatience may also show one’s lack of faith to oneself. Grenouille was different: he seems to supply himself a sustained amount of faith in his own talent.
“He had found the compass for his future life. And like all gifted abominations, for whom some external event make straight the way down into the chaotic vortex of their souls, Grenouille never again departed from what he believed was the direction fate had pointed him… He must become a creator of scents.” (46, Perfume)
Vision of who he will become. Like us, Grenouille sought to find what is it that he is really good at. And how it will mark his place in the world. It sounds cliché yet in his case it isn’t. His hard work and stubborn determination which took several years paid off:
“He would be the omnipotent god of scent, just as he had been in his fantasies, but this time in the real world and over real people. And he know that all this was within his power. For people could close their eyes for greatness, to horrors, to beauty, and their ears to melodies or deceiving words. But they could not escape scent… He who ruled scent ruled the hearts of men.” (161, Perfume)
Much is to be said or written about Süskind’s genius. Considering how many reviews of this book has been out there, perhaps, I’ll just have to supply one point. 🙂
The author used his reader’s perception about villains to help distinguish his character, Grenouille. And I think that that is always brilliant.
“There were no mad flashings of the eye, no lunatic grimace passed over his face. He was not out of his mind, which was so clear and buoyant that he asked himself why he wanted to do it at all. And he said to himself that he wanted to do it because he was evil, thoroughly evil. And he smiled as he said it and was content.” (161, Perfume)
Overall, Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume is more than a just murder story. It’s a journey that comes in full circle as Grenouille rediscovers his self.
“And though his perfume might allow him to appear before the world as a god — if he could not smell himself and thus never know who he was, to hell with it, with the world, with himself, with his perfume.” (260, Perfume)
A friend egged me to watch Arrival. I remember seeing it’s trailer but that’s it. He goes around to tell me I NEED to watch it. And try to offer the reasons why without giving away spoilers. Which is hard… but with his constant hand tapping, a gesture he does when he’s really excited, I knew I had to relent.
And so I watched it. Taking cues from my friend’s “warning” about some scenes that looked like memories, I had no choice but to eye everything suspiciously. The beginning felt very much familiar, the character’s having one hell of a tough day and as more scenes of a dying daughter come in view, a tug in this viewer’s heart gets pulled (let’s just say that grieving is also familiar). I think anyone would be easily pulled just as I had been if one fails to see how unfailingly isolated the scenes were, how the starting scenes gravitated towards her and her alone. No “condolences” from colleagues at work? It was like throwing a rock at a puddle and seeing no ripple. Now, something is off.
Fast forward: we get to the part where the big reveal is. And the denouement swiftly takes us where the real action is — her making for the run against time, changing people’s minds…
Post-movie feels and I’m walking my way to work. Waiting for the red light so I could cross. My mind reels back to the movie and I thought if I had a special ability, would I use it? In movies where there’s a conflict and that special ability is a requirement fitting to solve that conflict, it’s easy to say ‘yes.’ But at present, where I live and breathe as a plain mortal, I think I ought not to use it. Why? Because for me that same thing I can use to help, I can so easily use to harm others. It’s not difficult to say why or how; I’m a mere mortal, with no omniscience, no gift of foresight, I will never fully grasp the reason why, more so, act on it. This is what makes up for most hero- or origin-story: the conflict that arises from a mortal having immortal powers or special abilities. …
Film: Beauty and the Beast
There’s this scene in the movie Beauty and the Beast, wherever a rose’s petal fall, parts of the castle fall, too. Before I would think that those were just visual allusions to the story’s magical reality. Yet, now I guess I know better. During my father’s episode (he suffered stroke), new patterns of living came to manifest. We started to stay more at his bedside at the hospital. If not, I’d be at our office working and my sister at school. Our house became a silent refuge of fatigued bodies. Otherwise, it was empty. Then came the days were we’re all home, when his hospital stay was over. Bizarre things would happen. Our glass dining table broke into half. That glass was seriously thick and we didn’t do anything to break it. There was just that loud resounding crack. The glass table looked karate-chopped! Then our mint-colored refrigerator. It was one of the oldest appliances that we owned. And it would have been natural to see it break down if not for the dining table’s abrupt end.
So what I’m basically saying is, perhaps, not all visual allusions are definite forms of (exaggerated) effects. When the well-being of the inhabitants of a house start to go down, such gradual ruin could also manifest in the physical realm – outside of the inhabitant’s body. In the Beast’s case, his castle… while for my father’s, the glass dining table and mint-colored refrigerator.
For most working people, weekends are a lot of things. We may be lazing around, waking up on late mornings, stuffing our mouth with comfort food after comfort food. Sometimes, weekends are about meetups with friends and joining events. Three weeks ago, I got a combo: poetry readings slash meetups. And what could be hectic (if not crazy) is joining, not just one, but two poetry readings!
The first one was held in the 2nd basement of Robinsons Galleria, by the group MAD otherwise called, Mga Anak sa Dagang (Children of the Plume?). I totally forgot the theme* of this reading (I’m horrible with details), but I knew it was in celebration of International Women’s Month. In short, it was about women. Or was it just that? The various verses read and shared certainly showed that there was more. “For the fucking boys” was addressed to boys whose false perception of girls distorts some things (or every thing) — from respect to expectations. Pieces by local favorite Cora Almerino and international spoken word artist Sarah Kay were also shared, concocting a powerful shot of what it takes to be a girl and a woman within and outside the confines of the lover’s and the society’s reality (of the woman).
For my turn, I’ve read my first published work, “Kon Nganong Dili Mi Moadtog Lucky Plaza.” It was my first time reading it in front of an audience and just as I expected, it was a trippy read. Why? Well first, it was personal. I’ve written it, trying to capture how it felt — to become both witness and conspirator of something intangible yet gripping: discrimination against Pinays and women, in general. Second, it’s emotionally charged, which is risky. If you’ve watched quite a number of spoken word performances, you would seldom miss the challenges it involved. There’s that part of building up the momentum, only to fail in delivering a “good drop” — one that “seals the deal” with a denouement so convincing it gives you that strong “feels.” To address these two, I not only had to dig up the applicable insight; I also had to sustain the courage to execute. I played with its personal element, reading the poem the way it really sounds upon writing: full of angst, unapologetically pained. For that decent “drop,” I went for a slight but not exaggerated pause.
Kon Nganong Dili Mi Moadtog Lucky PlazaIgsakay sa bus o MRTmagyuko-yuko dayon milabi na kon makadungog og Tinagalogmagsalig mi kay sa among hitsura magduda ka:Malay o Pinay?Ug kon dili madalag yuko ug magkatinutokay gani,padayon lang gihapon og lakaw kay dili man gihapon matabok sa among mga mata ang distansya sa pagsabot nga angay para nimo,ninyo, kay kami gipaeskuylapara naa miy batobalani nga pangkolekta sa ilang pagtahod, gali langnagkadaghan na kining batoha,wala nay mahabilin para nimo,ninyo — bahalag mas puypoy ang pagpanglimpiyosugod sa ground floor hangtod third floorbahala’g usahay wala moy tarong katulog, kaon, pahuwayBAHALA MOug ayaw namog katingala ngamagtuyok-tuyok kining among lapalapa para lang dilimakadalikyat og agi anang Lucky Plaza kaydi mi ganahan makadungogsa inyong estorya o pangutanakon nakapadala na ba mo, ogasakit lang gihapon inyong bukobuko?Dili namo buot nga mabatian inyongbagutbot, kasakit, pagduhaduha ugpag-ambak dira sa paril sa inyung pagka babayeDILI.
Kay dili pod lalimang pagsulod sa bus o MRT,sugaton og mga mata nga ga-ingon:“kini, mupatol ni og Bangla.”
(Bisaya Magasin, June 2016)
Importantly, after my reading, I asked my friend, “How was it?” No matter how hyped up, it’s essential for us to settle down, get feedback and work on improving for the next reading. Right?
“Gabiing Dako.” That’s the theme for the second poetry/literature event. The first part was held inside UP-Cebu’s arts hall. Because of conflicting schedules between the two events, plus the time it took to travel from the first venue to the next, we came in late for the first part. And very hungry, too — that we had to get out and satisfy our palate. We enjoyed our liempo, tinola soup, and puso mixed with conversations over which is better: to know about that used-to-be-special someone’s romantic feelings for you after your wedding or to not know at all — a conversation which was catalyzed by an excerpt shared by a WILA (Women in Literary Arts) member at the arts hall. One friend said, it’s better not to know since you’re already married, the knowledge could only confuse you. Another said, it’ll be better to know as it could actually help you really move forward in your married life with less baggage. How about me? I said (in non verbatim) it doesn’t matter. Both could take their unfulfilled yearning for each other as a great lesson — one that teaches them to become a better lover for their new partner.
By the time we went back to the university, the first part has ended. And the arrangements were made for the second part of Gabiing Dako, to be held rightly so, under the light of the moon, on the university’s grounds. We took mats to sit and lie on. The shadows of trees and everything else cocooning us verse-stricken poets, listeners, Cebuanos. We read and shared through the light of an electric lamp, the mood was awesome, it made me miss school life so bad (aww…). In between readings is a brief Q&A session. One student (or alumni?) asked, how do you handle writer’s block? Or how does your creative process work? To which the professor-poet answered (again, in non verbatim): it depends on the type of difficulty you are experiencing. There’s this difficulty in executing — an issue about techniques. In this case, he’d patiently sit and work on his piece until he finds or masters the technique to execute and flesh it. Sometimes, it’s an issue of imagination, not quite knowing what to put together, the pieces of the piece aren’t there yet. For this one, the poet takes his time to work on something else. Working on another piece takes his mind off the first piece, eases his psyche that by the time he’s back on it, he can effectively resume, seeing clearly what was amiss, what needs to be done for the piece. This pattern of sharing tips and reading pieces wore on and on. I haven’t shared my tip in addressing writer’s block (as a lot had already been shared about it during the outdoor reading), but if I were to answer, what would it be?
For starters, I don’t really call it “writer’s block.” I don’t name it at all (I secretly believe that naming your demons is bad business; naming it could mean that you will constantly summon it to use your mortal exercise of making excuses). My tip for that difficult writing is this: don’t write it. Leave it in your head, leave it and risk the chance of forgetting it. If it’s not worth forgetting, it’s going to spill itself… At this rate, the essence of the two elements will come in play: the power of the words itself + your skill. I know, I’m making this sound so easy… but who ever said we write because it’s easy? And another point worth bringing out is that I didn’t come up with this personal concept overnight. I actually had to suffer weeks of constant self-questioning, then a more difficult period of acceptance and working for the inevitable: change. The reward of all these is this… a more organic creative process. Thinking and writing through this personal process became more natural for me that after finishing it, I’m mildly surprised with each resulting piece. Writing becomes more of an accident, it leaves me wounded yet cleansed. It’s also a release, probably of some suppressed truth which comes after me biting, scratching.
Back to the event, I came out the last one to read. The crowd became fewer; as the night deepens, each went to brave the Saturday traffic and get home. But the night breeze didn’t falter to comfort those who remained sitting on the grass. And I just had to brave this and share my voice one more time.