Reflections: Aphorism 1

(Here is the first installment of my attempt to write about my own intellectual journey. I take a quote from my Note of Aphorisms, explain its personal and intertextual background, how I’ve come to develop that thought in writing, and how this idea is related to my other ideas. This will hopefully help me in understanding my own poetics and help me see what I am as someone attempting to make art.)

“He who does not take care of his environment neglects himself.”

This aphorism, the first in my little Note of Aphorisms, is the oldest extant piece of writing I own. I was probably in third grade when I wrote it.

The line reveals my earliest political conviction: my environmentalism. Growing up in a house in lush Kidapawan with a spacious lawn and with wild nooks and crannies, I was close to nature from a very early age. Weeds, insects, and animals that grew, crawled, or nested in our house fascinated me.

I found particular fondness for plants very early, when my mother gave me a collection of exotic cacti, planted on little pots. My father had also always been an animal lover, and I grew up with dogs and other pets (including a clan of hamsters, an iguana, and a tank of various fishes).

My school, Notre Dame of Kidapawan College, also had a strong sense of wildlife in its grounds, and being the introvert that I was I often spent my free time exploring under the shade of the school’s mahoganies.

The specific origin of the conviction to take care of nature, however, eludes my memory. I can only speculate that the sight of animals succumbing to roadkill, or the indiscriminate uprooting of weeds I cherished, must have stirred me to take this stand.

This youthful conviction to take care of nature was more a result of my early experiences than any actual reading (the opinion probably predates my ability to read). It ought to be mentioned though that the first series of books I’ve read were Encyclopedia (which had much information about nature) and Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit series, which of course had anthropomorphisms. Constant watching of documentaries on the Discovery Channel, National Geographic, and elsewhere about nature also fed my fascination (there was a time when I was thoroughly obsessed with amphibians).

The attachment to nature has nevertheless affected my reading in general. At a young age I got quite considerable doses of what Timothy Montes calls “a sense of place,” and in all the books I read (from those little storybooks that came with the Nido milk packs to the Harry Potter series to even Cardcaptor Sakura) had an overwhelming sense of nature. It also made me pay close attention to what became of trees, herbs, insects, and animals in the story. To some extent environmental reading was the earliest literary theory I subscribed to!

But explicitly environmentalist exposure did not come as expected from the Captain Planet series (which I found boring at best) but much later, when I saw Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. I was already in High School then, and life had distracted me from this early conviction. Spirited Away reminded me that I’ve always cherished my environment, and I began returning to that conviction since. Readings I’ve had on this topic since include articles in the National Geographic, on the BBC website, and in other sources that will be too tedious to list down.

The earliest product of my memory is a reflection of this conviction (this fact makes me realize that I’ve always been ideological with my art, even at an early age). A superhero who was dedicated to plant, animal and insect care, was probably the first character I ever conceived. Unimaginatively, this character was named after the acronym of those words, PAIC. He was more a god-king than a superhero, presiding over a dominion of anthropomorphic plants and animals (my most distinct recollection of this cosmology was the Jellyfish Kingdom, with nobles through whose wet, slimy and gyrating tentacles I channeled my early Freudian aesthetic urges).

No text of PAIC and his early cosmology was actually written (although there were a few childish illustrations, none of which survive), but the cosmology would go on to influence my second attempt at world-building: Entara, a vast magical universe ruled by a God-emperor and his court of millions. Being aware of the origins of the world-building, I maintained the plant and animal domains in the Entara universe as two of its three Empires: the Empire of plants (the name of which now eludes my memory) and the Empire of animals and insects (it was named Morbia, largely inspired by the domain of Mukuro from Yuu Yuu Hakusho). I have yet to give up Entara, and I might someday revive it. I did not write anything about the two empires, but a large body of illustrations survives.

As in my reading, however, my writing has always been dominated by a sense of place, and I pay careful attention to the depiction of nature in my stories. This sense of nature comes out in other entries in the Note of Aphorisms (“Fire bows down to wind, wind to water, water to fire,” being a particularly evident example). But there are also other entries in the note that show my early and later concern for man’s relationship with his environment. “Respect what you need,” and the related “the sap of a tree is vital for it” show the early resource-based look at the environment and the bias for sustainability. It can be observed in later quotes, however, that I gave up the inherent value of nature (along with inherent value in general) somewhere along the way. “Worth is relative to gross system, and there is no Gross-system,” I write later on. But it is worth noting that with “Respect what you need,” environmentalism as a conviction survives for me even in spite of the coming of post-structuralism in the form of relativistic utility. There is no Gross-system, but in the system of human need the environment is still vital.

The stand, it cannot be denied, was also the beginning of my misanthropy. Having grown up with the less cultured children of our neighborhood I was exposed to how base human beings can go, and as a child I never found a fondness for humans. This conviction, it can be said, is a negative manifestation of this latent misanthropy, a subtle way of saying “humans are idiots for not taking care of their environment, something they need.” (this does not appear in the Aphorisms). This misanthropy would also surface in my early blaming of the victim and my disbelief in egalitarianism, but would be definitively manifested in the gory massacre stories I wrote in third year high school.

But it was really not until college that I attempted explicitly environmentalist writing again. A hint of this emerges in the short poem “In an old, raped forest/A tree screams as loggers murder her/Chainsaw’s noise,” which while mostly centered on transforming imagery nevertheless betrays my condemnation of logging. The short story “Pagbalik,” which got published in the Banaag Diwa in 2012, would also show explicit environmentalism. In the story, the narrator’s monologue expresses love for nature and condemnation of Kidapawan neglect for environment and heritage (a concept related to the environment in terms of sense of place). But the most explicitly environmentalist piece I’ve written so far is the short story “Kei by the Stream,” which got published in the Dagmay in 2011. I have never denied being influenced by Spirited Away in this story – the title itself was deliberately made to sound Ghibli-ish as an homage to Miyazaki.  I have not written anything of this ideology for some time now, the last being the poem “Nature-Nature? Na!”  which appeared in Dagmay and in Banaag Diwa in 2012 and 2013 respectively (and in that poem the ideology is not too explicit). But I continue to pay close attention to nature in my writing, and I continue to have a deep regard for the environment.

I have long recognized that life can make me tergiversate between ideologies, but this aphorism encapsulates one of my longest held convictions, and if anything it shows me that I can be consistent.

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