The Lefthanded SnakePosted: July 11, 2012
After giving a lecture organized by the Society of Ateneo Literature and English Majors (SALEM) in 2010 (then under the leadership of Glyd Arañes), sir Dom Cimafranca looked for me among the participating students. I and sir Dom were still not acquainted then, but I had several works published in the Dagmay already, and we thus had a regular email correspondence about how my submissions could be improved. He called for “Karlo,” but at that time there were two Karlo’s in SALEM (there are always 2 Karlo’s, it’s a SALEM tradition), and both I and Karlo Casas responded.
“Oh, I mean the Lefthanded snake” sir Dom said, referring to my email address. As I approached him, I realized how distinct my nom de plume was.
I came up with “Lefthanded snake” when I was 16, while in fourth year High School. It was a year before that, while in third year, that I decided to make writing a central part of my life. The stories I wrote were ripe with the mushy romance anyone would set on ink if they were that age, but they still reflected that deviant idiosyncrasy that is so ingrained in my very identity. But if one were to observe in retrospect these stories in chronological order, a gradual shift to the macabre and the hopeless is observable, for the deviant idiosyncrasy had, for much of my third year in High School, alienated me from my peers and pushed me towards involuntary isolation, and writing became an outlet for the brewing depression.
On the summer before fourth year high school, I fancied drowning away the angst by reading. This fed my store of knowledge, and by the time classes were about to begin, classmates found, in the place of the recluse weirdo they knew, an absurdist, social darwinist and atheist who was not afraid to be antagonistic to the outdated hypocrisies of the Catholic private school.
And this new found polemic erudition also brought about a change in my writing. One will observe, from stories of gory disembowelment, a sudden shift to stories (and mostly essays) glorifying the inequality of society, mocking the hypocrisy of religious people, satirizing the favoritism of teachers, decrying the inhumanity in bullying, pointing out the pointlessness of life. I was a full fledged polemicist, and the Powers of that World (a term I often used back then) where unsettled, because I was also an honour student.
Like anyone opposing established ideas, I suffered ostracism and ridicule. I was labeled, among other things, bitter, arrogant, freak, evil and antichrist. “My opinions are wrong,” I was told. Von Quezon found it an amusing habit to ask me if I still believed there was no god whenever I passed him by.
It was understandably a horrible experience. But in a strange, almost perverted way it was also gratifying, to be condemned as a heretic. Far more than higher resolution to defend freedom of expression, Courage, to some extent, springs from the primal delight at being victim to an aberration of justice.
And because this gratified courage is largely subconscious, it was also subconsciously that I came up with a moniker to encapsulate my unpopular polemics. This was not the first time I was criticized for a part of my identity: for as long as I could remember I was mocked for my poor penmanship, caused by this lefthandedness that prioritized jotting down thought over making pretty periods. Also, when people began demonizing me for my disquieting ideas, the image of the snake – always a negative image in this land where “Mucalinda” sounds like a dance and “Naga” is all about Bicol and has nothing to do with bodhi – came to mind. Those who are lefthanded are considered deviant, I thought, and snakes are culturally despised. What could be worse than a Lefthanded snake!
And I would wear the name like a medal for pissing people off for the next five years.
I would not realize the post-structuralist implications of the name until college. “Lefthanded snake,” I realized, is logically impossible: snakes do not have hands, how can they be lefthanded? But strangely enough, that does not prevent one from perceiving the singular negative connotation surrounding the name. This is because the component concepts of lefthandedness and the snake both play negative roles in a closed system where value is assigned relationally and to some extent arbitrarily. True to my mission of pointing out the senselessness of believing in value, the nom de plume demonstrates how the negativity of lefthandedness and snakes – and consequently the negativity of things in general – are mere figments of the human imagination. There is nothing negative about a “lefthanded snake,” just as there is nothing negative about my ideas.
I first used the name on my email address (Lefthandedsnake@yahoo.com). Later, I began using it online as an account name. I ended up keeping it, largely out of sheer fondness, and partly because of the lack of an alternative. The email address was what I used to submit entries to Dagmay, and it was the email address sir Dom first came to know me by . It was the clear choice for pseudonym when I was accepted as fellow to the Iyas Creative Writing Workshop in 2011. Earlier this year, I created this blog, with the nom as its title. It will be five years this year since I first used it, and I have no intention of abandoning it.
I have been, and continue to be, the Lefthanded Snake!