Adam


I think Adam is to blame. It’s he who first felt something was amiss. He was supposed to be in paradise. I don’t understand why he should be missing something. Does that mean a man must have a woman because even paradise isn’t what it suggests itself to be – a land of eternal bliss – unless a woman is in it?

Well, if we have to go by the story, it has got to be that, otherwise there wouldn’t be a single woman standing today.

What a dreary world it would be, I imagine. So there, I just gave myself away. I’m man and I just said the world’s a far livelier place because there’s woman in it.

The implication of this? Every man needs to find his missing rib to feel complete, as Adam felt wanting even in paradise, and had to have a rib taken from him, from which Eve was fashioned.

I said that already in my previous column. So why should I repeat it now? I actually feel bothered by what I wrote. That’s why I’m making this encore.

I went to mass last Sunday with my daughter Sara who was celebrating her 6th birthday that day and I’m not sure if I was imagining things but the priest seemed to have read what I wrote because his homily was progressing in more or less a similar manner as my previous column.

Some men, like priests, chose to be single and celibate the rest of their lives. That’s a tall order, I suppose. And if it’s unnatural, should it then be stopped?

My brother is to be ordained a missionary priest this June and the question bothers me even more. I wrote sometime ago I wanted to be a monk at some point in my life, but admitted I couldn’t hack it. I can be like Josh Hartnett in 40 days, 40 nights.

It may not be for me, but I still felt inclined to find the answer. Maybe it’s just the big brother in me. I wanted to be able to say something when I need to say something although I trust my brother can handle it better than I. Also, I don’t want to be at the other end of a pointed accusing finger if priests are suddenly looking for their missing ribs or nuns for the man from whom they sprang (I have such a fertile imagination).

So, have I figured it out? I suppose for my own purpose, I have.

I understand to live a spiritual life, one must be free from all hankerings, from all desires, and that includes women (I’m talking for the men here). It can be very liberating, I suppose. That way, a man is freed from longing for a woman, from trying to get her approval.

How can God not be sufficient? Adam sure had everything he needed. Same with us modern day men. We should be able to see that.

Should a man not feel complete unless he finds his missing rib? Is that how it should be?

I once had a cute, little book by Anne Morrow Lindberg, wife of the legendary pilot who first flew across the Atlantic. She said every man and woman is an island. We need to be. But that does not mean we are alone. There are waves lapping on our shores, and we’re not completely apart.

One can be happy alone. Not everyman needs to seek his missing rib. God is sufficient. It’s Adam’s legacy that one feels incomplete just like his apple stuck in every man’s throat. One need not be like Adam. God is enough.

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Valentine Story


It was a moonlit night. The old house stood in the dark corner of the road. Its roof illumined by the moonlight. Even now, I can see the palms towering above it, swaying softly in the dark, blown by the cold wind.

Behind the iron fence, I imagined seeing a mestiza sangley tiptoeing to meet her lover who called to her in a hushed voice. Suddenly they heard footsteps. Someone was in the veranda carrying a lantern. They froze and, with bated breath, waited for the footsteps to fade away, signaling that whoever it was, had entered the house.

The love-struck lovers completed the tryst under the canopy of darkness. The streets were quiet. There was the occasional galloping of a horse in a distance, only to be swallowed by the night, and the lovers were all alone again to themselves in a little nook in the family garden.

The cold dawn breeze was chilling. I was standing across the street from Casa Gorodo and felt transported to 19th century Cebu. It was, of course, bishop Juan Gorordo’s house but most houses of that time must have looked liked it.

The scene I imagined could have been that of my ancestors, my great-great grandma Sayong and her lover Tinong at their house in Logarta St.

The sight of Casa Gorodo at night is gripping. It’s all that remains of the Old Parian plus a few other structures which are not as well preserved though. Their state of disrepair pains me. Not everyone gets personal about these things but for some reason I can’t quite explain, Parian makes me feel marooned, orphaned.

I didn’t plan to be in Parian that night. I just found myself there after my friend Bani told us we were going to eat in a Japanese restaurant. We rode in our friend Dodong‘s Toyota and got off in the heart of Parian, across Casa Gorordo. In an old house rented for commercial purposes is a carenderia, nothing spectacular, nondescript but full of ironies, enough to make your mind spin with speculations.

I was at a loss for words entering the carenderia. All I could manage to do was look around and comment on the huge old post made of tugas, before finally settling in on one of the chairs.

The viands were spread on the table. One just had to pick from an assortment of breaded food. There was breaded chicken, pork, cheesedog, and white marlin. It was the hot sauce that actually made the food distinctive. They also had burger steak in rich thick sauce with mushrooms, as well as lumpia filled with mongo shoots.

The food was interesting but so were the three people in the kitchen. Our curiosity not quite satisfied, we decided to order some of the ramen in the menu written on a blackboard. Actually, aside from raring to taste Japanese cusine, I wanted to see the cook in his element, chopping the spices, mixing the ingredients and cooking the noodles in a separate pot before mixing it with the soup afterwards.

The woman, I presume the wife, took our orders while their child slept in a rattan crib, occasionally waking up and letting go a loud wail probably disturbed by all the noise we were making.

Looking at the three, my mind drifted to early 20th century Cebu in the printing press of the Jewish businessman Leopold Falek. I wondered what could have brought that Jewish printer, and now this Japanese cook who could barely utter a word of Cebuano or English, into our shores.

I don’t know about Mr. Falek but the Japanese cook is obviously here for a good reason and one can see it in the smiling woman and child now fully awake, chewing her pacifier.

 

Love


Christianity came to our shores in the form of the Cross, which Magellan planted at the site of the present kiosk that commemorate it, and more successfully in the little statuette of the Holy Child, the Sto. Niño.

There is so much violence and love on the cross. I can imagine the original cross splattered with blood and bits of flesh probably from Jesus’ body, bloodied and wounded from lashing. He must have writhed in pain from fresh cuts as well as dried up ones. I think Mel Gibson was right in realistically depicting the violence on the cross.

It must have been so hard to endure such a sight for His loved ones, and much more for Him to withstand all that pain. And with a human body, He breathed His last on the cross, giving in to pain, exhaustion, violence.

Yet the cross, now we look at it, was overcome with so much love. All the ill will, hatred, conspiracy, envy that had Him crucified, were washed away (together with all the blood that dried) with His love for them who persecuted Him and for mankind. He lived as He preached. He turned the other cheek.

But apparently, it was easier for the Cebuano natives to embrace the new religion as symbolized by the God-Child. It’s hard for them to grasp why would Jesus, the Man-God be so seemingly powerless as to endure pain and death on the cross.

Like a child with less than remarkable parents, Christianity came crawling into our shores and tugged at our hearts. It doesn’t matter if men with dubious purposes carried the child on their shoulders.

The Sto Nino triumphed because we see the idea of the loving, forgiving God in the innocent child who holds no rancor and makes us genuinely happy.

Love is central to the message of Christianity. To love is to see the face of God (Les Miserables).

It’s not so hard to understand it. Love is like a flower blooming. It blossoms beautifully, quietly because it is. The birds fly because they do. The tide rushes to the shore and recedes back to the sea. It doesn’t need a reason why. It just does.

One loves. One just does. And lives like a palm swaying to the wind’s whisper. Or like the brook murmuring as it meanders down among the rocks.

It made us see Him in His creations and not worship them no matter how beautiful they are like the moon and the stars that illumine the night, or the sturdy tree that gives ample shade.

Let us just remember God didn’t stay a child. He grew up and was crucified on the cross. There is as much love on the cross as in the face of the smiling God-Child.

Marriage


One gets married and without knowing it, takes a break from the things one does that define us and our place in the world. One makes accommodations and compromises (I dislike that word) to care for the lives we are responsible for.

It’s especially true for women. But men are no exception. We get sidetracked without us noticing right away until we realize that after how many diaper changes, PTA meetings, appointments with the pediatrician, while at the same time doing our jobs, we feel time is passing us by. As much as we want to catch up, we feel we’re in a way, a few notches behind.

Then one day, we pick up where we left off. We look at ourselves in the mirror, and try to find the youthful exuberance, the fearless enthusiasm and optimism that once chiseled our face. Beneath the sagging skin and flab that refuse to go away, we try to remain the same. We keep our faith in ourselves, and smile and pat ourselves on the back, and with better understanding, start again where we left off, if we can.

Yes, if we can. For others, it’s never easy. But not impossible. It’s especially true with women. I think women have more to say on the matter than men. Or am I stereotyping?

One example is J.K. Rowling, author of the phenomenally successful Harry Potter series. A single mother, she picked up the pen and started writing after divorcing her husband and was left with an infant daughter to raise.

Even while staying married, like the character of Susan Sarandon in the movie, Banger Sisters who admitted to being once a Jim Morisson groupie before her startled husband and kids, parents can have lives other than being parents. And men especially are guilty of robbing women of their identities. Or vice versa.

I’ll be in my mid-thirties soon.  As Karen Carpenter sang, “We’ve only just begun to live.”

At mid-thirties, I’ve been nudged from sleep, and woke up renewed and rejuvenated. I guess, it’s never too late to start something: poetry, painting, photography, a college degree or post graduate studies.

There was once a time when I merely worked a few days a week, earning just a few bucks to fund my bohemian existence.

Then one day, I tried on the normal stiff collar of conformity, like any newly minted parent dreaming of a fancy house and car and private school for the kids. It was supposed to be a mere mask, but which became permanently etched on my face. Beneath, I’d like to imagine I remained light as a feather but actually, was soon like cotton soaked in water, dripping with heaviness.

Anyone may want to give up something to regain what it is that one feels he or she has lost. But one may lose too yet lose happily for the love gained. No one can turn one’s back on the truth about one’s self. It’s the truth that sets us free to pick up where we left off, and to cherish at the same time, what one gains by losing.

short


Three former radicals met and had a drink.

“Do you think we’re f___ed up?” John asked Tim while pouring beer on a glass.

“You can say that. Kinsa may di ba? No one leaves the movement unscathed with its materialist objective conception of history,” Tim replied.

John drank the beer then put the glass down.

“But western thought explores human goodness based on reason, will and the intellect, not on any religion,” he said.

“That’s true. Then it’s not just us who are f ____ up. A lot of people too, Tim chuckled.

Bert listening to them said, “The world’s changed. The West has a newfound irrationality and subjectivity. That’s why movies like Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings are a big hit.”

John poured the glass again with beer, and gave it to Bert.

“You mean there’s a subjective drift in the west?” he asked.

“Yes. The west looks back to its preChristian roots in the legend of Merlin the Magician and to the east, as well as to other cultures in search of something beyond cold rationality, Bert explained.

“Me, I’m weary of anything that tries to explain everything. Although I can say I was anchored in Marxism, but I’m no Marxist anymore,” John said.

“You’re being a typical postmodernist. But don’t you know not having a worldview is itself, a worldview?” Tim said looking at John.

“Yes, that’s right,” John agreed.

“Me, I’ve decided to be a Bisaya,”

The two turned to look at Bert.

“It comes handy as being born one, but unless one decides to be a Bisaya because in all actuality, he already is, he’ll never be one,” Bert went on.

John shook his head and said, “I don’t believe that. I don’t buy that. Seeing the world through a Visayan worldview?”

Tim said, “Let him be, John!”

Bert looked at John and said, “You, Marxist! You think it’s cool to be critical of everything and everyone, and not to believe in anything. You may shoot down everything but what do you believe? You believe in nothing!”

John got up and replied, “You can believe what you want to believe and delude yourself! Look what happened to Che Guevarra. Nahimo na lang fashion icon, so ubiquitous na. Ang hammer and sickle sa puwa nga t-shirt, cool na daw. Di na subversive. You wanna believe in something? Nobody gives a s___t anymore!”

Tim interrupted the exchange. He said, “ Wait a minute! Kinsa man tong tagay? Kahibaw mo, the problem is, you both think we’re each entitled to each other’s idea of truth. Do you want that? You can have your truth Bert. And you too John. O, tagsa lang mog baso. Iyahay lang ta og tagay. Nganong magtagay pa man ta?

John calmed down. “Wa na man niy bugnaw ang beer.” Gesturing to the waiter, he asked, “Bay, naa pa moy ice?”

“ Istorya na lang tag chicks,” Tim suggested.

“ Hey what happened to thar girl you were seeing?” Bert asked.

“ We decided to go our separate ways. Conformist ra kaayo.”

“Anarchist man god ka,” John kidded.

“ Di bay, romanticist na siya,“ Bert said. And the three broke into a boisterous laughter.

“This is all I can say bay. There’s truth. It’s not relative. There’s love, and it makes all the difference. But It’s a big world. Lets just feel free to find meaning for our lives and respect others’ own search and their right to it. If you find a kindred spirit, well and good.” Tim said.

“O, sige, toast na lang ta aning mga botelyang way sulod,” John said rattling the empty bottles.

Bert took a bottle and said, “Alang sa kasingkasing nga Bisaya!”

“Sa kasingkasing nga bisaya!” John and Tim

Kids


I have four kids. And every time I say that, I always get that quizzical look from my listener.You know, that expression on one’s face, as if saying, are you ok? Or, are you sure? Aren’t you scared?

One time I attended this function in Ayala during a launching of a book I designed, I bumped into an old acquaintance, and when I told her I have four kids, she couldn’t help stifling a laugh. She even added saying, “Grabeha sab nimo. Tagsa or duha ra man silang Radel, Adonis, Norman. Unya imo upat?”

Honestly, I can’t quite imagine myself, how we managed to raise them.

In a way, I guess, it helps to go through everything being carried by society on its shoulders. I mean, everything is a social act the moment you raise a family. The hospital helping their mother bring them to the world, the priest baptizing the kids, the school taking care of their education, the grandfolks, godparents, uncles and aunties pitching in at times.

I’m too much of a free spirit that I had to make quite an adjustment when the kids came. I tried to look and act like a regular bloke for a while.

At work, I attended those self-improvement seminars HR departments usually dish out to first time managers and supervisors as well as listened to talks by inspiring speakers. I tried to sound and look like a regular guy. I was adapting, conforming but deep within I tried to remain true to myself.

I can’t quite elaborate what I meant by that. But let me try. I used to struggle between living up to expectations and doing what I want to do. Then one day, I decided I would just be different. Even my family, I have a feeling, can’t quite figure me out. I’m extremely different from my lawyer and a soon to be priest brothers or my teacher sisters. But maybe we’re not that different.

I just can’t be conventional. I have accepted I’m simply not cut that way.

It’s tempting to just conform. Many go through life with inauthenticity or live what Thoreau calls ‘lives of quiet desperation’. I realize the times I got into trouble in my life were because I attempted to be something I’m not in order to be IN. And also when success got to my head.

Yet sometimes, who knows what compromises many of us unhappily make in order to make it in life. We make deals that estrange us from ourselves so that ironically, our lives or those of others become better.

Sometimes we may need also to transcend what society has made us accept, believe by default. We need to examine those beliefs, sift through them and see which are true and essential and which are but functional, practical only, yet, by years of unquestioned practice has taken on the semblance of gospel truth validity.

We can choose being aware, feeling and truly living, finding meaning. Or go through life clueless and comfortable, and like a palm sway wherever the wind blows.

It’s not easy meaning life and living it deliberately. It’s like being in the biting cold, caressed by the wind’s freezing embrace as when one stands on a damp seashore at dusk.

We are mostly control freaks and we are not being spontaneous, honest and authentic most of the time. We are afraid of being vulnerable. For to mean something is to risk failing, getting hurt or worse, being ridiculed.

So we’d rather play it safe. But to be truly happy, we have to mean something.

Sometimes we wish the problems of the world could vanish and we can sleep on a bed of flowers, but that’s not how life is. It’s living in the everyday failings, frustrations and yet remaining hopeful. We can only give life our best shot and like children try to have fun, get to play.

You can say, I learn a lot from my four kids.

Urban Fit


I used to walk a lot. My feet took me to rivers, hills, shores, rice paddies and marshlands. Then, life’s twists and turns made me stop those nature treks.

Recently, I took up walking again. But this time, I traveled two kilometers and never really got anywhere. I did sweat profusely though, something I’ve not done for quite sometime.

I walked for 30 minutes on a treadmill, and lost some 167 calories. I missed the green trees, the blue skies, the ever-changing pattern of clouds I associated with walking. But such is the paradox of modern urban lifestyle. There’s always a virtual equivalent to what we leisurely or meaningfully do in the suburbs or boondocks. It has the same effect though of reinvigorating your body but minus the being-one-with-nature part.

I’ve done mostly cardio exercises lately, some light weights to tone my arms, and crunches to rid myself of an unhealthy, not to mention unpleasant-looking belly.

The first time I worked out, I stared at my reflection in the mirror and with all honesty, saw myself for all my obese glory. I sort of denied I was getting fat, always compensating the unsightly bulge with the clothes that I wear.

I’m a newbie to all this getting fit business. Although I’ve always admired those with the discipline to keep their body fit.

I never really saw myself as health conscious. But when one gets older, you try to fight the inevitable aging process by exercising.

I was naturally fit before. The American writer Henry David Thoreau had such a profound effect on me that I did try on a Walden-like existence. That was some 14 years ago.

There was nothing much to mark that point in my life, except for some eastern influenced poetry, a journal and watercolor paintings of frogs, shores, sunsets, (most of which have long disappeared or have been given to friends) and unintentionally, a better though lanky physique and a nice tan from all those walking under the sun.

Fast forward into the present, at thirty-something, I’m walking inside a gym covering more than two kilometers and never getting anywhere. That seems to be a good metaphor for the lives most of us live.

Divorced from nature, catching my breath, shedding off excess fats I find myself the typical urbanite living a sedentary life and keeping fit by working out in a gym. There’s something quite unnatural to it. I wish I developed muscles from say, lifting nets or plowing the fields, a natural consequence of living and not an end all by itself.

But such is the reality of contemporary life. It’s exhilarating being one with nature but society’s warm caves offer comfort from the night’s biting cold.

Life’s a salad


I woke up lately feeling like an alien, an extra terrestrial.

I’m no fitness enthusiast, and for several years, I lived my life pushing myself to the limit, testing how much abuse my body can take. I have a secret fanstasy of being like the Bruce Willis character in the movie Unbreakable who no matter what he does, never gets sick.

For years, I slept for barely three to four hours, ate fatty and salty food or with high uric acid content, and stay strapped to my chair for hours staring at the computer monitor.

I love eating lechon sold at Bernadette in Minglanilla (they also have a branch near SM now, and it sells sea foods as well) I like most especially the part near the lechon’s belly where most of the spices are. At night, after work, with colleagues, we would often eat paklay made from goat innards in sikatuna st. or tapsilog at a diner across the office.

Then last week I ate only fish and veggies, and some chicken.

Salads at KFC became my favorite. They have Caesar salad peppered with slices of chicken and an oriental style salad (meaning, Chinese). I find the latter’s sauce too sweet.

Near the office is Kissbone restaurant where a lot of gourmet and healthy food are also available. I found myself ordering some Caesar salad there too.

I was surprised a mix of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, egg white slices can actually fill one’s hungry stomach and make one not feel hungry for hours. The food is so light I couldn’t believe it can take the place of the usual meat and rice that I eat.

At home, it’s Quaker oatmeal for breakfast (the one with an attractive red packaging).

I find everything really queer at first. Added to the diet change is my transfer to a day sked instead of the graveyard shift I’ve been used to for years. The timing is perfect. The paper’s “soft pages” have been redesigned and working days, instead of nights, has become a must for me.

I feel like a different person, like some good ghost has taken over. I feel light, healthier.

And that’s not all. I’m introduced to a new byword lately – stress management. I’m finding a new dimension to what pop shrinks have been saying, “being happy is a matter of choice.”

One can still be happy, even if the ideal eludes you. Life is like chopsuey or Caesar salad. It draws its impeccable taste from the mix of ingredients. Salad isn’t all lettuce, and chopsuey isn’t all cauliflower.

Heart blog


“The heart is a treacherous organ,” so my doctor said.

Well, any part of the body can be mutinous once you’re sick. I read Tolstoy’s Ivan Illyich in my teens and knew a time comes when one’s body parts may no longer take heed our natural inclination towards health.

I don’t wanna be talking Tolstoy now. I want Dostoevsky’s humour, writing about his own sickness in The Idiot.

I want to write creatively, to lend to a character my own thoughts and condition but this is a column and one can get away with fiction in a column only once in a while (as I sometimes do here) but not always.

I’ve been in a similar situation before but with a different condition. I’m familiar with the dark pall hanging over life and yet, quite ironically, seeing the beauty of living. One notices the golden sparkle of the sun’s morning rays as reflected in water, or feel the cold dawn breeze and the wetness of grass refreshed by the morning dew once one is sick.

Joe Black sure gives life its meaning.

Having gone through that experience opens one’s eyes to what is essential. We only pass this life once and we better live it deliberately and meaningfully so we can say we’re able to do what we’re set to do in our lifetime. If we make mistakes, better learn from them so they don’t stay a mistake but instead a lesson in life.

I always dreamt of flying. That’s what my life has been all about. Only that which is light can fly (supposedly) and I’ve always tried to travel light.

I’ve not always worked towards comfort in life but in being able to fly. The last time I made a choice in that direction sent me crashing to earth. And I’ve been struggling to take flight since then.

This is so Jonathan Livingston Seagull but I’ve always held that there’s more to life than feeding ourselves and others so we grow like other living beings. One has to see meaning and purpose in life without forgetting one still has a body to take care or as theologians put it, pass through matter.

I guess, that’s where I erred. I’ve not really taken cared of my body. Not that I was retiring as a hermit, but was instead fastened to a computer chair, sucked by cathode ray tube for almost ten years with a life of lightness and flying a distant memory and a fervent dream.

Writing is taking flight. Our imagination and passion for living unleashed from our earth-bound bodies. I’m finally taking flight once again albeit fledglingly.

I missed writing for a few weeks as I was taking tests for a dilated left ventricle. It’s symbolic when one’s heart is diseased – that very center of human emotion, the throbbing core of one’s being (others contend it’s the hypothalamus or the liver).

Friends warned me about it. So did my boss. Some say it’s due to the food but could also be an emotional baggage.

Mine is enlarged and heavy for it is unforgiving, expecting heavenly depth from fallible human hearts. We all make mistakes that’s why we are gifted with love so we’ll have a surfeit of opportunity to start anew, our past mistakes “though they maybe scarlet, shall be as white as snow, though red as crimson, shall be as wool.” I know one who never lets anyone down. And that’s enough

complic8d


I face the computer everyday. That may conjure the image of a computer whiz kid or a geek which I am far from or of someone who belongs to a whole new generation brought up and bred on the ubiquitous presence of the internet and other electronic wonders.

I am none of those. But neither am I a typewriter-hugging, sentimental, old world lifestyle lover. I’ll always be interested in things past, mine or that of my people. But the past will always be in the past no matter how many times you turn it over, flip it upside down, burn it sideways, do whatever you want with it. (Whew! For someone who’s so stuck in the past, that was refreshing!)

I face the computer every day and I write about historical stuff. That sure is quite an unlikely mix. But somehow things past and new complement each other. Just like writing and graphic design.

I do graphic design. It’s an art form that gives one a certain high quite different from writing. Just like in painting, one expresses oneself in graphic design through symbols, forms, and spaces.

If a modernist painter had to come up with abstract expressionism to reveal the unexpressed, intangible truths inside him, the graphic designer has only recourse to symbols in order to communicate. The content (as in publications) being the domain of the writer.

Western writing is unlike other forms of writing where symbols like pictographs are part of the writing process. There can be a whole lot of story why a stroke or symbol is applied to this or that kind of writing.

You don’t look at the alphabet and imagine what image they suggest. They simply have assigned meanings already.

One graphic designer made a breakthrough when he simply declared “print is dead,” and in its wake, numbers and the alphabet are freed from their function and assigned meanings. Suddenly a flipped number 3 can stand for letter E, or 5 for S. His name is David Carson.

With the popularity of text messaging nowadays, Carson seems prophetic with his repurposed graphic symbols. We type Gr8t when we mean great. That’s quite even more radical than what Carson first experimented.

What we’re seeing, I’d like to think, are more than lazy shortcuts but maybe of writing itself evolving. Language as recorded in writing is never static. It’s always dynamic.

There has always been a dichotomy between writing and meaning. We say so much when we mean so little. It’s like paying a stack of devalued paper bills for a t-shirt.

For the graphic designer, it’s both exciting and alarming. It’s like stealing fire from the gods or eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The medium is now the message. Modernist dichotomy is replaced with deconstruction’s chaos and primordial creativity (Carson’s work sometimes seem primordial with their originality). It’s either Carson simply broke down all the rules or really started quite something new.

This morning, I’m facing the computer as a writer. Tonight, I’ll face it as a graphic designer. I would want a synthesis myself. Life as it is, is complc8d enough.