And the freak shall inherit the earth: Random Thoughts on Living on the Borders by Professor Tuting Hernandez
(Thank you Myra for reminding me that I am a walking freakshow)
In the previous striptease or baring-a-part-of-the-soul-for-a-friend note I wrote for Gathering Books last time, about fractured fairy tales and growing up queer in rural Philippines (entitled Done Kissing Frogs), I mentioned that as a kid my mom would often introduce me to her amigas as her weird son. I always thought it was her euphemism for gay and that may be so, but in retrospect she may also be just describing who and what I was as a kid. Here’s another striptease of the soul, baring perhaps another leg and another shoulder.
I think I am quite fortunate that I grew up before everything a kid sees on TV and the movies should bear a Parental Guidance rating. Back then, I watched anything and everything at the local theatres, listened to music that I liked (some I found out were about drugs, Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds just sounded visually arresting), and read the books that were available (Harold Robbins talking about pulsating members was interesting to say the least). However, the moment I knew I was different and that it felt all right to be different was when I was about four or five. I went to the theatres with my cousins and siblings to watch a zombie movie and since double feature was the rule back then, we stayed for the following movie. It was better than the zombie movie, it was life changing, it was the first time I recognized myself on screen. It was like I was one of the unconventional conventionalists mentioned in the movie. I was part of the movie, in it, and not just watching it. That little movie was called The Rocky Horror Picture Show. It was a weird experience, not totally understanding the songs and the dialogue and even the references in the movie but at the same time totally understanding the movie, travelling through space and time to that one fateful night when Brad and Janet were witnesses to the unveiling of Dr. Frank-n-Furter’s creation. It made such an impact that after two years of searching, I finally was able to get a copy of the cassette recording of the movie soundtrack. I played, rewound, re-played all my favourite songs. Singing them every chance I get, singing them aloud when nobody was noticing and singing them in my head when I was with adults or at church. So while kids my age were singing about a bridge in London that is falling down, I was singing about a sweet transvestite from Transsexual, Transylvania.
[Fanboy babbling starts in 3,2,1... I still adore the movie and have experienced other Rocky Horror moments, the best of which was being so close to Richard O’Brien, the film's creator and Riff Raff, in the unveiling of a Riff Raff statue and a performance in Hamilton, New Zealand. And I promise, I was not stalking him. I just happened to be there, on Victoria Street when the city unveiled his Riff Raff statue.
I was only a few feet away trying my best to grab one of the tassels off his jacket without being incarcerated. But that’s another story and I digress. Now back to a kid singing about a transvestite.]
Looking back, I think I was also fortunate to grow up in a huge family with extended family living nearby. I was also one of the younger kids in the generation and I had access to things older people watch, listen to and read. I read my brothers’ comic books, their Bradbury’s and Lovecraft’s (and my cousin’s Robbins’). I watched their twilight zones, aliens, zombies and creatures called thing (The Thing, The Swamp Thing, etc.) and listened to their Bowie’s and Zeppelin’s.
I naturally gravitated towards the weird, the different, the odd, the freak; I was drawn to stories and movies that were about me — about a boy who prefers to be alone (not necessarily doing the Time Warp every chance he gets), fascinated with life but equally intrigued by death, entranced by nature and captivated by the unnatural and the supernatural, refusing to be like any other boy in the neighbourhood and in school, refusing to be erased, proud to be different, proud to be an individual, a walking freak show and a creep show to some.
And since this is Gathering Books and not THE GATHERING, allow me to share some of the books I have recently read, revisited and enjoyed several times over in the past few months. When Ray Bradbury passed last year, I felt like we lost a master weaver of the mundane with the fantastic. Of his works, I have several favourites: who would have thought of a murderous infant on a killing spree in Bradbury’s Small Assassin, or the familiar faces in the crowd that decides who and when one dies during accidents in The Crowd (both appeared in October Country). However, one of my favourites is Bradbury’s The Homecoming. It makes me laugh and cry and makes me feel happy and melancholic. Every time I read it, it also makes me feel envious. Why isn’t my family like theirs?!? Why are my uncles so boring and stiff? Why are my aunts even more boring than my uncles? How come not one in the family is telekinetic, or clairvoyant, no one can even fly, the gift of flight was certainly not bestowed to my rather pathetic family, we did receive the gift of gas, now if only their gas can make them fly then it won’t be half bad. I want a new family. I want a Bradbury family. Well, come to think of it, we are as close to a Bradbury family as one can get, so I guess they will do.
Another book that spoke to me and made me feel nostalgic was Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, described as the Jungle Book but instead of talking and singing animals, you get some grumpy ghosts. Apart from Gaiman’s masterful storytelling and apart from the book being a great adventure, what really resonated with me were the ghosts in the Graveyard. I grew up in a house full of ghosts, and now I live in an apartment with three dogs and a couple of ghosts. Good thing they are not the malevolent kind. No poltergeists or anything like that. I’d like to think that like Gaiman’s ghost in the Graveyard Book, they are there to look after me and keep me company. I see them sometimes. I feel them sometimes. And one time, while I was half asleep, one even scratched my back for me when I couldn’t reach it.
Burton’s Oyster Boy is a brilliant creation. With minimal words, Burton navigated the breadth and depth of human emotion. It was a collection about finding love and building friendships and discovering dreams and passions and the self of misunderstood characters.
And one cannot talk about the odd without referencing Clive Barker’s books and characters. Whenever I open a Clive Barker book, I always prepare myself for a great ride, a ride to other worlds and universes. I fasten my seatbelt and pray I don’t get whiplashed from the speed and the rush when the senses are assaulted and overloaded with multiple stimuli of fantasy and fabulosity weaved together in line after line of his text. One does not read Imajica and remain the same person after. The Abarat series makes one want to live in Barker’s head for a little while, staying a minute longer risks one’s sanity.
My favourite however is Sacrament, a quiet novel, for Barker’s standards, that I felt was more introspective compared to his other works, and instead of exploring other universes, the story went inside inner space instead. Mr. Barker, May I call you Clive? Will you be my best friend?
Riggs’ Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an X-men-esque exploration of human nature and love. A man living on the outsides of societal preferences stumbles into a world in constant time warp populated by “wonderful” people escaping demise. These “wonderful” children are gifted with extraordinary abilities that allowed them to live in relative safety. One of the great things about the book was the use of old photos that are beautiful and at the same time strange, some are even macabre. The dialogue between the text and the photos is quite powerful that it easily facilitates the transportation of the reader from the pages of the books to another place and time. Any fan of X-men, Alphas, Misfits of Science or if you ever even tried to save the cheerleader once, then this book is a fine rendition of the life and love of the gifted/cursed characters that we all dream to be.
When I visited Helsinki last year, with the energizer bunny, Myra Garces-Bacsal, we found ourselves in a huge bookstore in downtown Helsinki where I was fortunate to come across a translation of a novel by Arto Paasilinna (translated to English by Will Hobson), a Finnish writer, entitled The Howling Miller. The story is classic. It tells of a stranger in a small town who initially was welcomed by the townsfolk with fondness for his industry and his very endearing talent of being able to mimic the sounds of different animals, until the townsfolk realized that he was a bit odd because he howls like a lone wolf every so often. He was then judged and treated like a pariah for being different, for loving to howl once in a while.
Society really most of the time is un-accepting of the different and often times afraid of the non-conformist. This unfortunately always leads to good people who are a little different to be discriminated upon, oppressed and in some cases executed. This is the burden of the different.
But without the different, without the deviants, the misfits, the freaks, boundaries will never be tested and pushed and minds will never be opened.
And finally, let me just say, in a flock of sheep, the black one always stands out.
I purposefully left out Shaun Tan’s beautiful, endearing and weird creatures (Hello, Eric!). He is featured in the blog and I think he deserves a piece on his own. Hail! Shaun Tan! Will you be our king?