Mastery (Robert Greene)

ROBERT GREENE (1)
If you ask what the one thing I’ve spent at least 10,000 hours doing with intense focus is, my answer would be nothing.

It’s not reading. Quantitatively, yes, but I can’t say the same as for quality. Truth is I am a sporadic, undisciplined reader. As humiliating as it is, I sometimes can’t follow the plot of a fiction novel without seeing the movie first. My brain is incapable of organizing information that I can’t understand a nonfiction material unless I read it at least twice. So it’s not reading.

It’s not cooking, too. Although I cook everyday and bake every week, I’ve only been doing so since I graduated from college and returned to my parents’ house. Let’s say I’ve been cooking for at least an hour (and most of the time it doesn’t take that long) for the last eight years. That’s just around 2,920 hours. So it’s not cooking.

It’s definitely not being a Catholic because I’ve just returned to the Church in 2015.

It’s not even living healthy because I wasn’t living healthy for most of my life.

I can’t even claim the existential “being myself” since I don’t even know myself and I’m just living in the sad state of conformity and distraction for all these years.

So the answer is nothing. I can live with that for now, knowing I’m not alone.

This sad realization (that I am a Jack of All Trades, Master of None) was brought about by the fascinating book by the infamous Robert Greene, Mastery (2012). It is basically a leadership book that aims to teach that everyone can rise to power through doing what you are meant to do.

At first, given that I am trying to be a Christian, doesn’t it seem so unlikely that I’m reading a book that teaches me how to attain power? Truth is, I’d be lying if I claim I don’t want power: I want to become the President of the Philippines. (Lying is against the ten words of life.) More importantly, I read this book because I want to discover that one thing I was brought forth into Earth to do. I’ve always known it’s in here. I just haven’t recognized it yet.

Here I quote my favorite:

“At your birth a seed is planted. That seed is your uniqueness. It wants to grow, transform itself, and flower to its full potential. It has a natural, assertive energy to it. Your Life’s Task is to bring that seed to flower, to express your uniqueness through your work. You have a destiny to fulfill. The stronger you feel and maintain it – as a force, a voice or in whatever form – the greater your chance of fulfilling this Life’s Task and achieving mastery.”

Like Greene’s first book that I read, The Art of Seduction, this book illustrates the lessons and strategies through a short yet in-depth (this seems contradictory but I can’t find a more suitable description) study of the lives of people considered to be masters of their fields: Leonardo, Mozart, Michael Faraday, Albert Einstein, Wilbur and Orville Wright, and Benjamin Franklin, as well as my newest personal heroes linguist Daniel Everett and fighter pilot Cesar Rodriguez, to name a few. First, we are given a snippet of the life of a master that corresponds to the theme of the chapter, and then this is followed by strategies that we can follow on our journey to mastery.

Here are the most important lessons I learned from this book:

  • Each of us has her own Life Task. That one Life Task – or purpose of living, as I prefer to call it – is unique for every person, as unique as our DNA. Therefore we must not pattern our quest for success from another person’s. We must not subscribe to anyone else’s idea of success, even if she be our parent, our teacher, or someone we look up to. We will find ours by examining our natural inclinations, as well as our strengths and perceived weaknesses.
  • What we perceive as our weaknesses may just be our strengths.
  • Mechanical knowledge is not a lesser form of intelligence. Having been immersed in a school system that places higher regard to abstract knowledge, I used to secretly look down at people who do things using their hands. But now I know I’m wrong. As Greene cited Thomas Jefferson, craftsmen make better citizens because they know how things work.
  • If we want to learn a skill, we cannot multitask. Francis and I had just been talking about this over lunch, over a very sexist conversation really. I told him I’m like a man: I’ve never been hardwired to do multiple things at once. From Mastery I learned that it is exactly what we must avoid: to believe that we can learn several skills at once. We need focus, and the word focus is singular.
  • Having said that, we want to expand our knowledge and skills. We do not want to be stuck doing one thing and one thing only. After achieving mastery on a skill, it is time to develop another skill, then another, then another – again, one at a time. This does not only expand the skills we have; we will soon find that the process of learning itself has become easier and faster. Do not be afraid if the skills do not seem related at a glance: our brain is hardwired to find connections.
  • It’s going to take a looooong time of intense focus to learn a skill. More or less 10,000 hours, actually.
  • It’s never too late to start the apprenticeship. Although most of the masters have started with their 10,000-hour apprenticeship at an early age, they did not have their first breakthrough until they were in their 40s or 50s. If the masters can wait, why can’t I? I’m 28 now. I’m not young anymore, but I can make time IF I WANT TO MAKE TIME.
  • Do not underestimate the importance of social skills. I’m not really a social person, but as in one of the illustrations in Mastery, disregarding social skills is going to be detrimental to making an impact, no matter how groundbreaking your idea is.
  • Gaining power is not the end goal. In fact, Greene says that looking at having power as our goal is detrimental to the achievement of mastery. Our goal is achieving mastery.

This book is one of the most fascinating reads I’ve had so far. Although it is pegged as a leadership book, Mastery is not limited to being successful in business, science, politics, or arts. This is useful no matter what your definition of success is. I, for one, discovered the reason behind my life’s course while reading this book. Robert Greene’s Mastery is one book you don’t want to miss.

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Robert Greene’s “Mastery” may be bought at Fully Booked.

Essentialism: the Disciplined Pursuit of Less (Greg McKeown)

18451783_10210383203270502_4300204862066979574_oShe said I was the only librarian she knew who didn’t like books.

It was 2011.  I just weeded out ALL the old textbooks from the school library.  (Come on.  One title had like a gazillion copies rotting in perfectly usable shelves and nobody had read them in the past year.)  Then the principal claimed I didn’t like books.  In my bitchbrain, I Anton Ego-ed (my favorite character in “Ratatouille”), “I don’t like books; I love it.  If I don’t love it, I weed it.”  Then I told the kids, “That means she doesn’t know a lot of librarians.”

Because librarians take up selection and acquisition.

I wasn’t a good student in college but I guess UP trained me well in this area of librarianship because even in other aspects of my life, I am a selector.  I have a carefully crafted set of criteria that I (almost always) strictly follow.

Thus, you can call me an essentialist.

“Essentialism,” says Greg McKeown, “is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done. It doesn’t mean just doing less for the sake of less either. It is about making the wisest possible investment of your time and energy in order to operate at our highest point of contribution by doing only what is essential.”

“Essentialism,” Patti follows up, “is my new favorite book.”  In fact I’ve read it three consecutive times already.  Here’s three of what I learned:


1. Be Clear with Your Intent

Years ago, I had a book by the UP professor, TV host, comedian, and Internet action star Ramon Bautista.  It’s hard to believe a book that’s primarily meant as entertainment would teach me something I would apply for the rest of my life: halamanization.

From the root word “halaman”. ‘Yan ay ang pag-convert ng sarili mo para ikaw ay maging halaman: nilalang na walang feelings, walang emosyon at walang kalibog-libog sa katawan. Magcoconcentrate ka sa non-love aspects of life.

(“From the root word “halaman” (plant).  This means converting yourself to become a plant: a creature with no feelings, no emotions, and absolutely no lust in your body.  You concentrate on non-love aspects of life.”)

Thus halamanizing I did.  I decided at once that love – specifically romantic love – is not a life goal.  If God thinks I am for marriage, thank you.  If not, thank you too.  Either way I won’t lose sleep on that.  Thus I stopped reading romance and immersed myself in non-fiction.  I stopped watching sweet flicks.  I practically stopped being a fangirl.  You can ask the kids: Ericka even thought I didn’t have feelings.  Through time, I came up with a list of things I consider important in my life, in this particular order:

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Notice what’s missing?  Work.  Money.  Travel.  Marriage.  (God is NOT missing.  Father Peter said God should not be separated from any aspect of our life.)

These goals guided the course of my life for the past years.  I’m glad I explicitly made this list.  Everything I am now is because of this list.


2. There are Trade-offs

In the course of fulfilling my intent, I had to pass off opportunities – “even good ones,” as McKeown said – because they will cause me to stray off the path.  For example, to fulfill goals 2 (being a mom Inoo) and 3 (being a good daughter), I refused the invitation to become a nun.

It was a hard decision, mind you.  The thought that staying with Inoo and my parents meant I am choosing them over God was the most bitter pill to swallow.  In the end, though, I know that I am not going to be as happy if I left my loved ones and went to the convent half-heartedly.  I accepted that and now I have no doubt that I made the right decision.

On another note, loving myself entailed facing the list of things I hated about myself: my ptosis of the eyes, my weight, my skin, the dullness of my job, my fear of public speaking.  Then I made two more lists, and what I will do to solve them:

  1. Things I can’t change
    1. My ptosis of the eyes
      • How to Solve: None.  Just accept God’s design.
      • Trade-offs: None.
    2. The dullness of my job
      • How to Solve: Nothing.  That comes with the routine.
      • Trade-offs: None.
  2. Things I can change
    1. My weight
      • How to Solve: Change my eating habits (it helped I had become vegetarian at this point), exercise, drink lots of water, have enough sleep
      • Trade-offs: Have to say ‘no’ to my omnivore parents, have less time for other extra activities, can’t watch too much TV anymore
    2. My skin
      • How to Solve: Start using natural and organic products, change my eating habits, lose weight, drink lots of water, sleep
      • Trade-offs: Can’t eat food cooked by my omnivore parents, have less time for other extra activities, can’t watch too much TV anymore
    3. The dullness of my job
      • How to Solve: Find my priority (marketing and advocacy), collaborate with co-workers, love my clients
      • Trade-offs: Didn’t pay as much attention to technical work
    4. My fear of public speaking
      • How to Solve: Start talking, serve as a reader in church, accept hosting tasks at work
      • Trade-offs: None.  Except church service means less time for extra activities

In short, if I want something done, I have to accept that I have to let some opportunities to pass me by – especially opportunities that will delay me from reaching my goals.  For example, I opt out of conferences that are focused on the technical aspects of librarianship.  Instead, the training I choose are more on management.

And you know what?  Doing that is starting to pay off.


3. “Priority” is Originally Singular

This is probably the best lesson I’ve read my whole life.  Apparently, the term “priority” only became plural in the 1900s, as if, as McKeown puts it, by adding s we can change reality.  Truth is, we can’t have multiple priorities because that means we don’t have any priority.

Francis and I had been planning on going on a date to the National Museum Planetarium since April but we don’t seem to find time.  We’re both working 8 to 5 so of course weekdays are off the choices.  Sundays are not good too because we’re both serving at church.  (He now has six services on Sundays.)  He’s even joining the Knights of Columbus.  Even Saturdays are off-limits now since we’re both in the Neocatechumenal Way community.  Then we planned to do it on Saturday, May 20, and just excuse ourselves from the liturgical celebration.  But I remembered May 20 is the christening of my goddaughter Francine and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.  May 20 is also Francis’ mom’s birthday.

At first, I was really pissed off that the universe seems to conspire against our date.  But thinking about it, would I really have enjoyed being at the Planetarium and missing my goddaughter’s baptism?  And would Francis have fully enjoyed our date knowing he should be with his mom?  No.

It turns out my priority for May 20 is Francine.  Her baptism will happen only once.  His priority is his mother’s birthday.  Nothing else would be more important than that.  Reading this lesson made me realize that if I pursue things that are not the most important at the moment, I will not be happy.


I can write about this book and what I’ve learned from it for ages but I will stop here.  After all I also learned that I should know when enough is enough.

For the recommendation?  Five stars!

The Vegetarian (Han Kang)

Saturday, March 25, 3-something in the afternoon.  I don’t know what’s gone into him.  (I’m lying now.  I do.  Peace.)

Boy Scout: Let’s watch “Beauty and the Beast” tomorrow.  If we wait until next weekend (as originally planned), it mightn’t be showing anymore.

Girl Scout: Okay.

But this isn’t about Beauty and the Beast and our mutual admiration of Emma Watson’s breasts.  This is about The Vegetarian – the book, not the librarian who happens to be a vegetarian, not the librarian’s man who happens to be one as well.  This is about the three-part novella that tackles the subjugation of women and the power of a single act of rebellion to disturb the status quo.  (Or at least that’s how I found it.)

I had been longing to read The Vegetarian since I first saw it on the shelves of National Book Store in SM Cabanatuan last year – mainly because of the title and a bit because it posed itself as a horror story – but somehow I was always hesitant to buy it.  (Always didn’t have enough money.  There’s another book in my priority list.  And I haven’t heard of Han Kang before so I’m not sure about her style.)  I’ve been into Paulo Coelho lately, if you haven’t noticed, and to read another author might disturb the smooth flow.  But I don’t know.  With Boy Scout beside me after our first movie date I pushed all hesitations aside and decided if I didn’t get this one last copy I will regret it for the rest of my life.  (Note to Boy Scout: pretend you did not read this.)

And regret it I would have because The Vegetarian hit me on multiple levels.

(Spoiler alert!)

First, of course, the obvious: the protagonist is a vegetarian.

Told through the third person omniscient eyes of her husband Mr. Cheong (“The Vegetarian”), her brother-in-law (“Mongolian Mark”), and her sister In-hye (“Flaming Trees”), The Vegetarian is the story of Yeong-hye, a housewife in Seoul, who, because of her series of bloody nightmares involving cruelty, made the decision to stop eating animals and animal byproducts.

Second, the violent reactions over the decision.

Having been a vegetarian for five years – and the only one in my family at that – I relate to the violent reactions of the people around Yeong-hye on her conscious decision to renounce meat.  Unlike her, I didn’t get force fed by parents, but I remember them trying to taunt me with my former favorites: siningang na pata ng baboy (soured pork leg stew), relyenong bangus (flaked and stuffed milkfish), pancit, Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, double dutch ice cream.  I remember talks about nutrition and the insults hurled at me for being ugly.  I remember reciting this to their faces as my mantra: “I would rather die than not be vegetarian.”

Third, Yeong-hye’s suicide.

Yeong-hye’s attempt to kill herself reminded me of how I chose to cut myself from people who force me out of my principles.  Amidst years of frustration over their trying to push their eating choices on me, I have decided that one day I will move out and there will be no corpse in my kitchen.  (The sad reason I don’t call myself vegan.)  This could well be my act of rebellion.  And I realized that an act of rebellion, no matter how small, is liberating to the spirit.

Fourth, how Yeong-hye realized it isn’t the food.

I loved the novella’s second part “Mongolian Mark” primarily because this ended Yeong-hye’s sufferings.  Here, she discovers something inside her that stopped the nightmares and she became truly happy and truly free.

And fifth, Yeong-hye’s words, “Why, is it such a bad thing to die?”

I remember on our first date, on the way home, on his motorcycle, in between huge trucks and through a dangerous winding road, I said something to that sort to Boy Scout and he stopped me.  I understood.  Death is a repulsive topic for many people.  But truth is, I’m not afraid of death.  You see, I could be with Jesus.  And when I decay, I will become one with the earth.  Then, I will have a more meaningful role: being part of the continuation of life.  Isn’t that beautiful?

In the end, I realized that The Vegetarian is not the horror gore story I first thought it was.  It isn’t even about vegetarianism.  Instead, it is liberation.

Probably it is because I consider myself a feminist (a girly feminist at that), I saw The Vegetarian as a social protest.  In the beginning of this piece I said this is a novella of subjugation of women and the power of an act of rebellion to disturb the status quo.

It is.  And it is empowering.

By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept (Paulo Coelho)

“If pain must come, may it come quickly. Because I have a life to live, and I need to live it in the best way possible. If he has to make a choice, may he make it now. Then I will either wait for him or forget him.”

(Paulo Coelho, By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept)

Saturday morning.  He wanted me to read him another story.  I stood before the bookshelf that had the fiction collection.  I thought I’d read him Battle Royale.  A split-second smirk.  Then, as they usually do, my eyes flew to the portion lined with mother’s Paulo Coelhos and my index finger stopped at the upper end of the orange By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept.  I have a vague recollection of planning of reading this a couple of years ago but I don’t pick books: books pick me.

Saturday morning.  By the River Piedra picked me.  I had more or less four hours to spare before he came.  I had scheduled a me-time with a foot spa and manicure.  (I did plan to avail of the free full body massage as well but the nail polish took extra long to dry.)  By the time my feet were done, I had finished the book.

By the River Piedra, I Sat Down and Wept (1994) is a novel written in the voice of Pilar, a small town independent young woman, who after a decade was reunited with her childhood sweetheart.  Her friend, she discovered, had become an influential leader of a Catholic group that embraces the feminine side of God in the form of the Virgin Mary.

He was also a seminarian.

This, for sure, is the reason By the River Piedra chose me that Saturday morning: because Pilar loved a man who was going to be a priest.

Last Monday, I had an insightful lesson on the story of Abraham and how his life reflects ours.  In the beginning, there is the sadness, the search for elusive happiness.  Then, God enters into a covenant with us.  Then, obedience to His will.  Then, taking matters in your own hands.  Then, the famine.  Then, the promise comes true.  Then, the ultimate sacrifice: letting go of that very promise – that very source of your happiness.  Finally, promised land.

The priest, Father Nestor, asked us where we think we are in Abraham’s timeline.  I can honestly say, and I did, that I am in Isaac: there is nothing more I can ask for.  I have everything I’ve ever wanted.

And just when I discovered that – that this is the one love so beautiful and pure and strong it can only come from God – I have to give it up.

Unlike Pilar, who vowed to God she will fight for her love, I will not, for he doesn’t belong to me.  He belongs to God.  God merely let me borrow him for this moment because that is His promise: that I will find love.  And there is nothing else I can do than be grateful for this grace, for this undeserved gift of loving and being loved.  This is the ultimate sacrifice, the ultimate offering.

I did something last night.  I asked God for a word, a name, anything, to show me what to do.  I opened the Bible.

It was Nehemiah.

Comforted by Yahweh.

And that is everything I need right now.

The Missing Piece (Shel Silverstein)

A week ago, a friend asked if I’ve tried breaking up.  Yes, I have… five something years ago.  Back then, it felt crappy but I had to because Shel Silverstein found me.

He has a knack for finding librarians, you see, since the chance of us meeting in this universe of books is better than getting wet in the ocean.  This librarian he found tucked in her little corner of the world five something years ago.  She was unhappy.  He changed her.  Forever.

“The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” is the sequel to another Silverstein epic “The Missing Piece.”  It follows the story of the missing piece after it rolled away and left her.

The missing piece sat alone
waiting for someone
to come along
and take it somewhere.

It is the quest of the titular character the missing piece as she waits for the person with whom she perfectly fits.  (I, like Peacegal, identify the missing piece as a female.)  In her wait, she meets many wrong ones: those that “fit but could not roll,” those that “roll but did not fit,” one who “did not know anything about fitting,” one who “did not know anything about anything.”

At times, it seems both hilarious and scary how the ones that stumble upon the missing piece are like some ones that stumbled upon yours truly.  There’s one that “put it on a pedestal and left it there.”  There’s the one that has “too many pieces missing” and that one that has “too many pieces, period.”  And yes, like the missing piece, there are those creepy “hungry ones.”

If there is one story I read over and over again, even in my head, it has to be this.  Yes, I have read it years ago, and yes it is a children’s story.  And yes, it can be read in less than five minutes.  But the impact it left on me is unmistakable and so deep I could say this is the reason I am who I am.  I share the feelings of Dimitris Hall:

“Some books just meet your life like passing comets. You can’t possibly predict their coming or the respective impact they’re going to have on you, but there they go, shooting across the night-sky of your life. Spectacularly… It’s almost as if they become so important for you precisely because they come out of nowhere.”

So…  I’m not blaming Shel Silverstein but that’s why I had to leave.


Note: I got my copy of “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” from Fully Booked for P680.

The Witch of Portobello (Paulo Coelho)

I’m scared of Paulo Coelho.  He discomforts me.  He forces me to remember what I’d rather forget, what I’d rather not feel.  But from the Devil and Miss Prym to Eleven Minutes to Manuscript Found in Accra to The Witch of Portobello, Paulo Coelho opens my Pandora’s box so slowly yet so surely with his sharp-edged fingers.

I haven’t felt more uncomfortable than with The Witch.  Unlike Chantal and Maria, Athena did not enchant me: she is too eccentric for my taste.  I would go as far as say I dislike her: she is too free.  Her search is scary.  Her irresponsible fearlessness is scary.  Furthermore, the accuracy of how she reminds me of me is scary.  That girl who loved without rules, who loved without limits.  That girl who saw the soul in the eyes of the non-humans.  That girl who prayed to the Mother and who felt Her heartbeat in response as she treaded Earth barefoot.  That girl who wanted to teach the world what she didn’t know and who bitterly paid the price.  That girl who did as her heart desired, knowing by doing so God was happy, knowing God was inside her.  Or rather, she was god.  Or do I dislike her because I envy her?  Because she was free?  Because she was fearless?  Because she was me at a time I was brave to take the risks?  I’m scared of Paulo Coelho for the same reason I tremble at Confession.  It’s not so much a fear of judgment or condemnation.  Reading him I feel bare.  It’s like revealing to the world the secret door behind which lay the skeletons.  Furthermore, it’s like letting go of what I do not wish to let go – for the doubt, the blasphemy, and the turmoil anchor me to my person, my spirit, and my humanity.

Yet reading him also humbles me, for I realize I do not have the monopoly to inner struggles, for if one was able to write me, then he and the millions who relate to him must be having the same struggles.  Remembering the similar feelings invoked by story after story, from Kahlil Gibran to Shel Silverstein to the epistles in the New Testament, I realize I am just a drop of water in this vast ocean, experiencing the same experiences, feeling the same feelings, as everyone else.  I realize my problems have been problems of people who came before me, and millions or billions of people in this generation.  Therefore, there is no reason to lose hope.  There is no reason to feel alone: I am with every soul.  I am part of a world.  I am a woman.  I am human.  Through the writer’s hand, I feel understood.  I feel a sense of belongingness.  And this, for me, is the meaning of writing.

2016 in Books

2016 meant my first article published on a national broadsheet, two consecutive heartbreaks, a temporary relapse to eating animals, major political issues, and a dismal total of nine books.

Nine books.

For someone who claims she loves books, that is pure horror.  Not even one book per month.

But as much as I’d love to I can’t turn back time to read more, so here’s my dismal list of 2016 reads:

1. “Why Men Marry Bitches” (Sherry Argov)

I got this book because I wanted a certain guy to marry me.  So I tried every single principle in this book.  I played it cool.  Either he isn’t a man or my manipulation tactics were too obvious.  The bottomline: didn’t work.

2. “Outliers” (Malcolm Gladwell), 3. “The Tipping Point” (Malcolm Gladwell), 4. “Blink” (Malcolm Gladwell)

I wasn’t a fan of business/success books.  I thought that since I don’t consider myself an ambitious person, I won’t like these books.  But that changed because of our schools division superintendent.  She gets her Monday morning anecdotes from the books she has read in varied subjects.  More importantly, she is a genuine reading advocate.  I feel it.  I love her.  Moving on, she once told us a story from Malcolm Gladwell’s “The Tipping Point.”  When I next went to the bookstore, I found “Outliers.”  It was both hilarious and inspiring that I bought all the books.  I’ve read three of the five this year.

5. “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” (Fr. James Martin).

“Jesus Before Christianity” by Fr. Albert Nolan is the first book by a Roman Catholic priest I’ve read.  This is the second.  You can read my review here.

6. “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” (Shel Silverstein)

Shel Silverstein, author of the classic “The Giving Tree,”  turns out to be a popular choice for librarians.  I haven’t read “The Giving Tree” – I know right? Shame on me – but “The Missing Piece Meets the Big O” is the one book I’d read over and over again.  (Now tell me who I am, Francois Mauriac.)

I stumbled upon it for the first time four, five years ago.  I was to give library instruction to freshmen at the public high school I previously worked for and was looking for a motivation video.  (I’m not sure they’re formally called “motivation videos.”)  By some random twist of fate, I found this on Youtube.  And I cried.  The Missing Piece was everything I was at the time and what the Big O said was everything that changed my life.

As implied by my opener, 2016 isn’t my best year.  But it’s also in 2016 that I finally found a copy of my favorite story on Fully Booked.  I also bought one for our superintendent – the one person I want to be – in high hopes she’d like it as much as I do.

7. “Eleven Minutes” (Paulo Coelho)

I overstayed in a cafe reading “Eleven Minutes” over a large cup of iced matcha soya.  It was six days after I got humiliatingly dumped for the second time this year.  Maria helped me get over it.

I consider this my second Paulo Coelho.  Technically, “The Alchemist” is my first, but I was in high school and I didn’t understand any of it.  I consider “The Devil and Miss Prym,” read three or four years ago in a bus on the way home, as my first Paulo Coelho and is one of the stories that changed my life.  Someday, maybe, I’d write about that.

But let’s go back to “Eleven Minutes.” I felt Maria is a reflection of every woman’s heart.  I should believe so, or else I’d turn narcissistic claiming Paulo Coelho has been studying my heart without my consent.  It calms my soul knowing I’m not alone in my inner struggles.  Most importantly, it showed me that love should not be painful.  Nor should it humiliate.

Therefore, I conclude, that the heartbreak I just experienced was not love… but I knew that from the start, didn’t I?

8. “Lahat Tayo May Period at iba pang Punctuation Marks” (Rod Marmol)

Rod Marmol was my school mate at the CLSU Science High School and I’m very proud of him.  You can read my short review here, if you can understand Filipino.

Otherwise, here’s the pathetic translation:

“As I was reading this book written by the boy who once upon a time I was shipping to Perry, on a nauseating bus ride to San Jose from NE Pacific where I had pedicure instead of joining the brave anti-Marcos protesters in Luneta yesterday on the birthday of my favorite hero, the memories of the times I thought of suing Star Cinema for making a movie out of my autobiography without my consent came crashing like an avalanche.  I’d like to tell the writer, hey, are you stalking me?  Why did you write about me?  How dare you publish my heart and soul?  But that is the beauty of writers writing and me reading.  With this I know that I am not the only one who rode the love rollercoaster.  With this I know I’m not the only one with memories of things.  With this I know the stories of my past are not special and one of a kind.  With this I know that maybe there’s still hope.  Maybe there’s still hope I’ll have a story no one else has written before.”

9. “Manuscript Found in Accra” (Paulo Coelho)

I have a confession: I’m pretty selfish when it comes to books.  When I hold a book close to my heart, I would never let it go.  I would never recommend it to anyone because I want to keep it all to myself.

But it’s different with Paulo Coelho’s “Manuscript Found in Accra.”  For the first time, here is a book I wish I could buy a hundred million copies of and give one to every single Filipino.  Or seven billion and distribute them to everyone in the entire world.  Every single word resonates to every cell in my body – as if, finally, finally, all of my questions have been answered.  Maybe this is blasphemy, but I think if everyone reads this and lives every lesson in this book, God’s kingdom will come in this generation.

With this, I humbly end my 2016 reading list.  How did you do?

The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything (Fr. James Martin)

I don’t smoke. I don’t drink. I don’t do drugs. But if there is one thing I’m addicted to, that’s books. Every time I go practically anywhere, I have to find a bookstore and I have to buy a book. Or books.

And I have books everywhere: under my bed, under my pillows, in my closets, in my bookshelves, in my drawers, under my desk, in the kitchen. Everywhere. (I read in the bathroom, too, if anyone’s interested to know.) I swear: if you snatch my bag, there’s a 99.99% chance there’s a book. Or books.

So, is it any surprise that I turned out to be a professional librarian? Or that I give books for gifts?

Speaking of gifts, our former Junior Parochial Vicar is my latest victim. On his send-off, I gave him Between Heaven and Mirth, a book by the Jesuit priest Fr. James Martin. I have to confess now I almost didn’t give it to him: I really, really wanted to rip the wrapper off and consume it for myself.

That was my first encounter with the Jesuit priest, but even then the shelves in the bookstore were lined with Fr. James Martin’s books. By then, though, I didn’t have enough money to buy all three titles at once. (Not that I do now. I buy in installments. Hehe.) I decided to sacrifice my desire to read for one of my favorite priests.

So of all the Catholic publications out there, why a Jesuit book? Our former junior vicar, quite obviously, is a diocesan priest. He’s not Jesuit. So, why?

Nothing, really. I just thought the cover is cute and the paper and font are lovely.

As I said I wanted to read that book, too. But when I finally had the opportunity to buy it – on my father’s 59th birthday and my brother’s unscheduled hernia operation – Between Heaven and Mirth was out of stock! Imagine my sadness. I should’ve just bought two copies when I had the chance.

But Fr. Martin’s two other books were still on the shelves: Jesus: a Pilgrimage and The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything. I picked The Jesuit Guide for no particular reason. Or maybe because the cover is colorful. (Jesus: a Pilgrimage I bought one week later.)

And that’s how this beautiful book fell into my hands and crept its way into my spirit.

Listen, I’m not calling it beautiful because it was written by a Catholic priest. I’m calling it beautiful because it is.

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The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: a Spirituality for Real Life (2010) is Fr. Martin’s attempt to answer the most essential questions in life: Who is God? Why do we need religion? How do we pray? What does God want for us? How do we know what God’s will is? How do I become happy? I don’t know about other people but even when I was still a self-proclaimed SBNR* before it was fashionable, these were the questions that gnawed at my core. Unfortunately for me, these questions are not inescapable. At least for me, leaving them will lead to desolation.

The book doesn’t claim to have the rightest, bestest, or only answers. Instead, it presents the Jesuit perspective on spirituality – and how anyone can benefit from St. Ignatius de Loyola and the Society of Jesus – regardless of everything… belief included.

I’m not sure about publications by other religions and Christian denominations, but some Catholic authors tend to write quite exclusively for the faith community, thereby, “repelling” non-Catholic readers. Fr. Martin avoids that. In fact, Fr. Martin makes sure everyone can relate: believers, non-believers, Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, anyone. The Jesuit Guide is inclusive. And how does it achieve that? By being as human as possible.

It isn’t pushy. If anything, it’s prescriptive. It offers suggestions, not directions. It’s like saying, This is how we Jesuits look at it. If you want, you can try it, too. Let’s see if it works. Most of all, it’s practical. It really is a guide – a guide that I can imagine myself reading over and over again when the need arises.

But what I appreciate the most about The Jesuit Guide is that after finishing the book, I don’t feel judged. I don’t feel bad about my mistakes, the wrong choices I’ve made. Instead, I feel that it’s okay: my past has made me who I am. Without everything that happened before, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t be who I am. Maybe I wouldn’t have this belief in God and love for the Catholic Church. Everyone makes mistakes and God loves us just the same – that is, despite out imperfections. That knowledge alone is enough to make me happy.

One of these days, I’d write a reflection on The Jesuit Guide. But for now:

Ad majorem dei gloriam.

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*Spiritual But Not Religious. For a discussion, see p. 44.