When I was little I loved accompanying my dad to the office. He was a lawyer, and from this I gathered that lawyers were very privileged people, not because of the work they did, but because they were the kinds of people who got to have 6-foot-tall massage chairs in their parlor sized suites and refrigerators with relatively constant supplies of candy and beer. My dad saw it another way. I whiled the day away at his office pestering the secretaries, making tissue loogies in the bathroom, and depleting the candy supply in the office pantry. He always claimed to having spent the day staring out the window. At least his partners were generous enough to let him have a room with a window.
It’s only now that I realized how that is possible because I chose to spend this summer at work. In a setting that’s simultaneously alien and yet familiar, comfortable even. Next to department stores, offices are probably the most homogenized places in the modern world. Any representation of an office is instantly recognizable as such, with the endless cubicles and masses of nameless office drones. I have never had more trouble remembering people’s names. For the first couple of weeks, all I knew was the anonymous office mass.
I’ll be the first to admit to choosing an office setting to spend my last decent summer vacation in because it guaranteed money and a much needed ego boost for my resume. This is not another entry where I relentlessly bitch about office life. Yes, I’m bored out of my mind and it’s only been three weeks. I already couldn’t care less about what happens to me here because I already knows that in a few weeks it will all be over anyway. The thing is I already can’t wait for it to end so that I can swear it off. Forever. This will hopefully be the first and last time I spend my days as an office lackey. I know I’m lucky to have a paying job and even luckier to have gotten a paying job before even paying my dues as an intern, let alone a graduate. But the fact is (at the risk of sounding spoiled) I don’t have the patience or the resiliency to make it in this kind of setting. The fact is the only thing I learned from this experience is that I never want to repeat it.
to make you less than you are, as if by merely seeing a thing some part of yourself will be taken away from you. Often, you will feel it will be dangerous to look, and there is a tendency to avert your eyes, or even to shut them. Because of that, it is easy to get confused, to be unsure that you are really seeing that thing you think you are looking at.
You see how complicated it is. It is not enough simply to look and say to yourself, “I am looking at that thing.” For it is one thing to do this when the object before your eyes is a pencil, say, or a crust of bread. But what happens when you find yourself looking at a dead child, at a little girl lying in the street without any clothes on, her head crushed and covered in blood? What do you say to yourself then? It is not a simple matter, you see, to state flatly and without equivocation: “I am looking at a dead child.” Your mind seems to balk at forming the words, you simply cannot bring yourself to do it.
For the thing before your eyes is not something you can very easily separate from yourself. That is what I mean by being wounded: you cannot merely see, for each thing somehow belongs to you, is part of the story unfolding inside you.
– Paul Auster, In the Country of Last Things
“This is not just an elevator; it is a metaphor for life. Everyday people ride the elevator to move between levels of a building. But elevators are designed with the status of the people intended to use the elevator in mind. The extremes range from extravagant parlor-like compartments for the rich, to shabby almost forgotten platforms for the poor. With this installation, it is the intent of the artist to draw out the black and whites.
Society has placed a border around the so-called separation between the have and the have not. It is our duty as a people to question this imposed rule of thumb; to ask ourselves is it right for us to accept this permeable doctrine as truth. We are expected to not notice, to let it slide, after all it is only a ride in an elevator.”
I remember an article written in defense of plastic surgery where a woman defends her implants by saying “They’re just breasts! It’s not like I’m having surgery on my soul!”
This hits a sensitive spot, considering the largest billboards where I live are dedicated to the glories of larger breasts, aquiline noses, porcelain skin, and high fashion. A billboard–especially one on Edsa–is a very public space. Unlike a magazine ad or a TV ad, it can’t choose its spectators, especially in a city that depends on millions of everyday, necessary journeys from end to end. I hate looking at the ridiculous amounts of space devoted to the Belo group, I hate looking at larger than life images of Celine Lopez and thinking that this is the backdrop for Metro Manila, that this in some aspect creates a context for where I live.
It’s too simple to say something is terribly wrong just by looking at things on a semiotic level. It’s one thing to say we’re fucked just because dichotomies exist between what’s on the ground and what looms overhead, and quite another to do something about it. But I can’t help but bring this back to thinking about how space has been utilized in this city because it’s the clearest example of how little we know about where we want to go. Some cities shoot straight up, eliminating their pasts with a wrecking ball while others fan out and brood over their history until they rot. The Manila skyline dips and rockets and plateaus yet never wholly reshapes itself.
So what does this have to do with elevators? Elevators are only really useful in tall buildings. We have lots of those but last year, after visiting my tita in one of them I thought it would be fun to use the stairs and trek down from the 14th floor all the way to the basement. When we got to the parking lot, the guard stopped us because he thought we had stolen something. Maybe I’m assuming too much, but it just goes to show who elevators are really meant for.
(Untitled  Ralph Eugene Meatyard)
I’d like to be painfully obsessed with something, to have something that I could compare with breathing (besides breathing itself).
I’m no Buddhist. I’d want my heart to break if certain things are taken away from me, material or otherwise. Really break. It changes the way you see things, the way you live life, the ease or unease that bears itself upon you each day. I’d like something purposeful to invest in. I used to think it was dance, then it became music, then photography; then i realized it was nothing, really. And that’s what broke my heart. All these things in which I find so much purpose are so fleeting, their value so arbitrary and forgettable. I didn’t like the idea of being anal-retentive and undisciplined with a short attention span.
But that’s why we record things, because they’re bound to leave us at some point. My dad had a thick photo album specially made for him by his parents when he was in college. It was bound in blue leather and had his name embossed on the cover. When my dad would see me leafing through it, he’d make sure to tell me flat out that what I was looking at weren’t photos or report cards or certificates, it was all (in his words) “Your Papa’s bullshit,” which is a pretty nasty thing to say to a 7-year-old, it’s not right to encourage unhealthy levels of cynicism for small, naive and impressionable people.
It took a while before I realized how wonderful it was that someone else thought my dad’s records were worth preserving, that it was worth it to dignify his memories with bound leather and layers of parchment, before it all turned into “bullshit”.
The Hungarian word for “photograph” directly translates into “to make it last forever,” a verb.
So I guess if I were Hungarian, I could say I’m taking a photograph, and in the same breath say I’m adding substance to memory, or simply, remembering.