Thursday, December 3, 2020
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Expanding the center from Kilometer Zero

Stories would always come from something, from someone; it is an impossibility to just appear on a piece of paper, on a laptop screen, at the back of a receipt, or as a book. A deity of words has surely conjured it from his mind before it manifests as an independent entity. And for Wilfredo Pascual, it starts from the center, the self, the “I”, with which all beings once confined themselves, but which some decided to battle.

Pascual has spread his wings beyond the national territory. After his essays gained recognition from the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature and Philippine Free Press Literary Awards, he won the 2015 Curt Johnson Prize for Nonfiction, a Runner-up in the 2016 Steinberg Essay Prize, 2016 Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net Nominee, 2016 Notable Essay Citation in the Best American Essay Series, and the 2016 Plaridel Award of the Philippine American Press Club. Furthermore, he also received a Creative Nonfiction scholarship to the Breadloaf Writers Conference, and attended the Squaw Valley’s Community of Writers Worship and the New York University’s Summer Intensive Creative Writing Program.

In his book Kilometer Zero, he proves that human experience is complex; that though some things are unnoticed for quite some time, it shall express itself in various forms—be it as an inaudible sound, at least for humans, or as a collective experience while watching the television.

And then like Marcel Proust he reminisced, “I always remember that night when we killed the bats because that is how I came to realize why some stories would never be silenced. Humans don’t hear well enough. But that’s not the point. Each waking moment, a voice screams, sometimes whispers and a story bounces back against a landscape, a political event, and the whole of humanity and what it fails and aspires to be, all these echo back to the source, year after year—amidst typhoon, migrations, fiestas, death, revolution, and romance—and it is all that matters.”

Starting with this rich portrait of a family experience, Pascual puts his reader in a theater where he can personally see how each person, place, sexuality, emotion, sound, and sight comes to life—from his mother armed with a long- handled plastic dustpan, his sister with a rolled newspaper, his brother with a ruler on hand, himself with rubber sandals; all of them ready to hit the leather-winged creatures that intruded into their house. And as the moon and stars minimize the darkness of the night, Pascual’s light radiates till the edge of consciousness by offering you a meal with some drops of personal anecdotes.

“We ate with our fingers, our bodies and faces covered with mud. JB turned to me and offered the transgendered tilapia. Our eyes met. I did not even look at the fish as I tore a piece of its steaming flesh and tested it. It was delicate, soft and moist, flecked with rock salt and burnt scales. It melted in my mouth. Meanwhile the waters rose. JB and I were still eyeing each other. Nabokov once said that only one letter divides the comic from the cosmic. This is it, I thought. I am going to die; desire and disaster in one bite, my transition marked by the reversal of the laws of nature, the waters obliterating all borders, turning females into males and men into ghosts of their former fish selves.”

Though his essays stand on the concept of identity as personal, the Filipino psyche has never been left out. Carefully, Pascual was able to juxtapose Plaza Azucena Grande, which specializes in dog meat, with the superstitious tendencies of its citizens.

“During those desperate months when my father was losing hope in finding a cure, the caretaker referred my father to a faith healer. The cure recommended by that faith healer, involved a ritual. A stray dog will be captured and wounded with a small cut on its leg. Blood shall trickle and only then would they let the dog go. The evil spirit that caused my father’s suffering would be attracted to the dog’s trail of blood and follow him and leave my father alone.” Though this sounds encouraging for a faith-driven person to regain hope, Pascual injected a remark on the antinomy of the condition: “What struck me was what the faith healer said about the dog. ‘There will be no healing,’ he said, ‘until the wounded dog returned home.’”

Pascual’s palette is full of luminous colors that elegantly mix themselves while he utters every word of creation. Stylistically splendid prose coupled with fascinating photos make up some of the reasons to spoil your eyes on the vivid rendering of his personal history that might be akin to yours.

Without concealing the subject, Pascual discursively presents gay life without isolation from reality. Realizing that nothing exists in a vacuum, this book boldly shows every curve of the story situated in the midst of human condition. G

 

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