Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Veronika Decides to Die - Book Version

In a world where everyone struggles to survive whatever the cost, how could one judge those people who decide to die?” – Veronika

     First of all, I would like to say how much I enjoy my World Literature class. I could write a million articles about poets, writers, and their masterpieces with a smile on my face. Anyway, this time, our class is tasked to write a critique about the book version of Veronika Decides to Die. For those, who have already read the book and have also seen the movie then the differences between the two should be obvious. In the book, Veronika works in the library but in the movie she works as an Account Executive and the doctor in the mental hospital is named Dr. Igor but in the movie, the doctor is named Dr. Blake. The setting in the book is in Slovenia but the movie is set in New York. However, these minor differences aren't really that important because both versions did convey the same message and that message is "Awareness of Life".

     Alright, so let me begin by stating a fact mentioned in the book. Veronika is a character that was taken from a real life person who is also named Veronika. Paulo Coelho heard about Veronika's story and pursued to know more about it. For those who already know the story, you know that Veronika decided to commit suicide but she failed to end her life and found herself in a mental hospital. In relation to that, Paulo's reason of wanting to know more about Veronika's story is because he had gone to a mental hospital himself three times, in 1965, 1966, and in 1967. He still found it unusual though as to why he was brought there by his parents. So the first part of the book is simply an introduction as to how the author came up with the whole concept of the book. Furthermore, Paulo also explained the two reasons why Veronika decided to die. The first reason is that everything in Veronika's life was the same and just like in the movie, she was very negative about how her life would turn out once her youth was gone. Second reason is that everything that was happening around her was wrong and she felt useless because she found no way of making things right.

     In the book, Veronika was living like any other normal human being. She lived in a rented room located in a convent and works as a librarian. She got sick of her mechanical ways of living and after taking a handful of pills, she found herself tightly strapped on a hospital bed. By then, she knew her plan of killing herself didn't work. She promised to herself that she would not leave Vilette alive. However, the doctors of the hospital broke the news brought about by the pills she took. Her heart was irreversibly damaged and soon it would just stop beating. It would only take a week at most before her heart would stop to function. In her stay in Vilette she met Zedka, Mari and Eduard, the guy whom she fell in love with. Eduard is schizophrenic in the book and expresses his own view of paradise through his painting. After meeting Eduard and showing interest in him, she realized then how much she could in her life, things she never thought she could do. After experiencing a shift in her view of life, she asked two favors from Dr. Igor. First was that she wanted to get an injection to prevent her from falling asleep and the second was she wanted to leave from Vilette and die outside. She mentioned all the things that she wanted to do once she steps outside and she wanted to do them one after the other despite the exhaustion covering her body. And just like in the movie, Dr. Igor didn't tell Veronika that she wasn't really going to die.

     Since the differences between the two aren't really that significant because it didn't affect the whole point of the story, I found both masterpieces an effective way of reminding people about how important it is to value life and to appreciate everything that's happening around them. The message of the book is "awareness of life" and was delivered by Dr. Igor through his decision not to tell Veronika the truth about her illness. Veronika also sent me a message through her former way of living. It reminds me of myself sometimes. I tend to assume what the future might bring and dwell on them for too long without realizing that I am already degrading the value of my life.

     Paulo Coelho's writing is impeccable and his way of narrating Veronika's story is purely creative. His choice of words and construction of sentences aren't too complicated making the book easy to understand. The message that was sent across by the book inspired me to live my life to the fullest. I believe that every single individual on earth should take a chance in reading Paulo Coelho's work because it will surely change their view of life, especially if they are living the kind of life that Veronika used to live into. I don't think that people would have a different take on this book since the reason why Paulo wrote this book is apparently to inspire his readers and remind them about the importance of life. I guess there's one thing mentioned in the book that I could relate with and that is the the assumption of negative things that could happen. Sometimes when we think logically, we can come up with possibilities of what could happen next in a particular situation. Like for example, imagine a pregnant 18 year old high school student who just dropped out from school. If we think about it, we can already build a future for that girl based on her present condition and that's what I do sometimes. I have a tendency to build my future through assumptions and believe that they would come true. Sometimes, I forget that my future is built through the actions I take in the present and how I respond to the challenges my life are throwing at me.

     To sum it up, this book is one of the best books ever written in the history of the human race and I recommend this to those who haven't read the book yet.

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

What makes you happy?

What makes a person happy? Will a box of chocolates do? Or a nice and a minute-long bear hug perhaps? We might have noticed that the longer we live here on earth, the more we seek for reasons to be happy, the more we yearn to get a hand on things that we believe will unlock the door to an infinite bliss. When we were kids, an action figure of our favorite superhero would send us jumping for joy, or a battery-operated toy car that runs on its own in just a press of a button would make us smiling from ear to ear. However, now that we’re all grown-ups, the way we used to look at the world changed. The ways we define happiness is no longer through an acquisition of a piece of toy with plastic wheels or a quick game of hide and seek with kids we don’t know. I used to define happiness as something tangible, something that I ask for and something that I wait to take place before my eyes. However, there’s something that happened during one seemingly ordinary day that made me realized that gaining happiness may not be as difficult as climbing a mountain. Sometimes, all it takes is to see what seems to be the unseen and feel what everybody doesn't seem to feel.

I was minutes away from ending the same old exhausting day from work. I was a Customer Service Representative back then and dealing with customer queries through email was my main job. I was sitting on my favorite chair that could do almost anything for my entertainment. It could spin me around endlessly and its ability to adjust its height would make it an instant elevator-like contraption. It was me and that chair that keeps my sanity in tack in my work place every day. While I was looking for the right words to put on the email I got from a guy somewhere in New York, I looked around and saw the same old tableau of thrilled employees, itching to go home. Ken, who usually positions himself so low that his butt was almost off the edge of his chair, was sitting up straight with his feet nailed on the ground. Rochelle, who was sitting next to Ken, had her bottled water hugged by her left arm and Glai who prefers to spend her eight hour shift with both her feet raised off the ground, was already on her feet. Then there I was, racing against time and trying to answer the last email I received before the clock strikes four. Before I knew it, it was passed 4 but it was a good thing that what I only had to do at that time was click send and I was ready to go. I made my way to my locker and I was walking like I had shackles around my feet. I was so tired that I could ever think of was my bed. I put on my blue jacket, got my bag on and went out straight to the jeep terminal.

I got off to Guadalupe where I would ride a bus to Paranaque. I like how the Guadalupe market looks like at around 4 in the morning. There are not too many sidewalk vendors, not too many people and despite the fishy stench of the wind that caresses my face, for some reason, it makes me happy. No, it wasn’t the foul stench of the wind in Guadalupe that shifted my definition of happiness. It was that guy I saw near a footbridge that made me stop my briskly walking. He was an old man, somewhere around his 60’s I guess, based on the apparent wrinkles highlighted by the streetlights of Guadalupe. He was wearing sun glasses. Now, who would wear sun glasses at around 4:30 in the morning when the sun rays hasn't even reached the horizon yet? Then I examined him and noticed that his right hand was holding a long gray stick. He was moving the stick in front of him, looking like he was checking anything that would cause him to trip. He was moving as slow as a mollusk that everybody walking from behind would overtake him while avoiding the stick that was swaying from right to left and vice versa in a rhythmic sort of way. I knew right then and there that he was a blind man, walking along the sidewalk of Guadalupe at 4:30 in the morning without anybody guiding his way. 

             For a couple of minutes, I stood still from where I was and observed the next events that unfolded before me. It was sad that nobody even cared to offer a hand to this poor old man. I felt nothing but pure pity. Does he have any relatives or friends maybe who would bother to accompany him at that time of the day? Why is he travelling alone? And why would anyone let him do such trouble-causing risk? With questions left unanswered, I approached the old man and with the nicest tone I could ever make, I asked him, “Hi sir, where are you heading?”. He stopped from walking and uttered an unfamiliar place. I didn't know how to get there but still I offered my hand and told him that I would take him there. I held his left hand and put it on my left shoulder and we started walking. I was clueless of where to go next but I thought of asking directions from a barker near us. The barker gave us clear directions and we went ahead and immediately followed it. While we were traversing the paths mentioned by the barker, the old blind man would occasionally trip and I had to look at him every time he would, to check if he was okay. I had this concern for him and that if anything happened to him, I felt like I would be the only one to blame. We started talking about me and what I do and then I asked him the questions I had in my head but I could no longer remember his answers. 

        However, what I could vividly remember is that I advised him to never get out of the house without any company. I told him that it’s dangerous for a blind man to walk around dark streets and I suggested that if in case he needed to, he should make sure he has someone to be with. I knew for sure that I sounded like I was his father and he would just say yes like he was my son. We finally got to the jeep terminal where he needed to take a ride. I wished I could be with him until he got to where he needed to go just to make sure he’s safe. I talked to the driver instead and told him that the old man was blind and he should make sure that his travel would be safe. I bid one more goodbye to the nice old man and told him to take care always. He said thanks and gave me a tap on my shoulder. The jeep sped away and I remained still until I could no longer see the jeep that he rode onto. 

         I walked back to where I was supposed to go but at that time, I wasn’t rushing anymore. I was walking slowly while trying to reminisce what I did. I felt this distinct happiness that I’ve never felt before in my life. It wasn’t the happiness I get when someone gives me a box of chocolates and it wasn’t the happiness I feel when someone gives me a hug. It was a unique happiness that I got when I acted on a situation where everybody pretended to be numb and blind. I chose to see when everybody chose to look away and chose to feel when everybody decided to ignore. I think that’s who I am as a person. I choose to be kind to people because I believe that it’s one of the easiest way to be the happiest man on earth. Adele’s album can’t be appreciated by a deaf or a collection of the Twilight Saga DVD can’t be appreciated by the blind but giving up your time and effort can be appreciated by anyone. Mark Twain, a prominent American author and humorist said it perfectly, “Kindness is the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Veronika Decides To Die

Everyone has dreams but only a few realizes them.” - Dr. Blake

The movie revolves around the life of Veronika Deklava and how her view of life changed when she attempted to commit suicide. When the sense of repetitiveness in her lifestyle made her feel dissatisfied and that her everyday routine seemed to kill her willingness to live, she decided to take the matters into her own hands by taking in several pieces of pills one by one. However, her attempt to end her life wasn't successful as she wanted it to be. She woke up in Vilette, a mental hospital in New York where she found out that she damaged her heart and that she only had weeks to live.  With permission from her parents, she was advised to stay in the facility until that day came. Backed up with her desperation and persistence to put a period into her existence, she tried once again by sneaking into a room where a cabinet filled with bottles of pills were. She was caught though before she even swallowed the pills. 

During her stay in the hospital, she met Edward, the reason why she wanted to make the most of her remaining days before she dies. Little did she know, Dr. Blake, who was trying to change her view of her own life had a secret that he kept from Veronika. Dr. Blake did plan to unravel this secret to her but Veronika already had a plan of her own. She and Edward ran away from the place they thought were keeping them from living the kind of life they preferred to live, the kind of life that was preventing them from making the most of every moment they got. They spent every second of the time together and based on the passed scenes of the movie, I've never seen them that much happy. Then Veronika’s time to bid goodbye was about to come. They were sitting on the bench of a platform near the beach on a cold breezy evening. Isn't it awful to find a person that makes you happy and know exactly what day you will lose that person? And the most heart-breaking part is you are only hours away from having to let go. Anyway, I want to tell you what happened at the end of the movie and the secret that Dr. Blake wanted to tell Veronika but some of you might not have watched the movie yet and so I will leave the story from where I finished.

The message that I got from this movie was what Dr. Blake said about “Awareness of Life”. Veronika found no reason to live and that the habit of history repeating itself managed to drain her energy to live another day. She looked at everything that she had and the people that surrounded her insignificant. She never found contentment and happiness despite having everything that a lot of women long to have. She had to go through such a painful wait just to be aware of how wonderful life can be if she decides to make it wonderful. The movie taught me that our life doesn't have its own mind. It doesn't create its own situations. The life that we have depends on how we shape it through the decisions we make, the actions we take and the way we view our life as a whole. I looked at Veronika’s life as a perfect life because she had almost everything but the way she viewed it made everything looked so dull and negative. Did she ever have a dream of travelling the world? Or having a family? Put up a business maybe? She seemed to have kept herself inside the box and never really dreamed big. She already had a picture of her future drawn in her mind but that picture she drew was all sad and depressing. She already assumed that her marriage would never work out and everything else would start to fall apart one by one. With that, the movie also taught me to look at bigger possibilities in life and never constraint myself with the boundaries the society dictates. The movie made me believe more that my future is molded by the decisions I make today, the way I look at my life and the actions I take every day.

I don’t really see any creative technique from the movie other than the way the message was conveyed. The message wasn’t given directly in the movie and you would really think what the movie was trying to say. Because of that, people can actually interpret their own understanding of the movie’s message. Furthermore, the message was sent in the right part of the movie and it did cause a lot of excitement for me. The message that the movie  communicated did inspire me a lot and reminded me of how I should live my life. I think most of the people who already watched the movie did get the same message that I got. Veronika’s initial attitude towards life showed what most of us look at our lives. Sometimes, we assume of what our future brings based on the life that we are living now and we tend to lose the confidence that we can change what our mind thinks of our future. 

In a nutshell, I really do like the movie as much as I like the book. The actors they selected fit very well with the characters they played. The actors did a really good job in making the characters of the book alive and they did send every emotion they needed to depict in every situation successfully. Some people might find this movie boring but for those who are into inspirational movies then they will surely like the way the book of Paulo Coelho was interpreted in a movie. Despite some changes made like the setting of the story and the occupation of Veronika, it didn't change the essence of the book. For me, the most important thing in turning this kind of book into a movie is retaining the message that the book is trying to relay. I believe that the movie was made in order to simply inspire us and remind us to live life to the fullest. 

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Saturday, February 2, 2013

An essay about failure

"Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure...than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat."  -Theodore Roosevelt

I've always known how competitions work, that sometimes I win and other times I lose. Nevertheless, I guess, it isn't enough to simply know what something means. Most of the time, you also need to have a profound understanding of what that something feels like and how you should cope with whatever that something brings. When I was in high school, I've always been at the bottom of the wheel and whenever I was near the peak, I would slide and plummet back down to the same desolating place where I was. I remember winning a couple of competitions, one is a debate competition and another is an essay writing competition, but second best was the highest I could ever be. Whenever I tried to go farther than that, I always failed. Whether it was a writing or a speaking competition, for some reason, I couldn't make my way on top. After realizing that I had become so sore about losing, I completely dropped my drive and lowered my goals. I lowered them down into what I thought was realistic and attainable. Being third or being second was already good enough for me and being first had turned to be an impossibility. In other words, I thought I wasn't good enough to do great things. With that in mind, I decided to dream small because I thought I was small. I thought that this big world that I live in had no place for a mediocre guy like me.

After graduating from high school, I've grown to believe that failing had made me numb. I was convinced, based on the numerous failures that I had been through in high school that there would be no failure that could make me shed another tear. I was ready to face the bigger world, I managed to utter in my mind while I tried to prepare myself for college. When I stepped into a known state university, I joined another debate competition and as normal as the sun rises and sets, I had once again found myself sprawling on the ground. It was nothing to me though. It didn't mean anything to me anymore. I felt bad about losing again but it didn't take awhile before I was able to get over it. In other words, I didn't take losing seriously because I led myself to believe that losing was something that I was good at. It might sound to have no sense at all but I was sadly happy that I labelled myself to be a guy who grew up to be very good at losing.

Not until I transferred to another school and joined a competition called Tagisan ng Talino. This time, I joined an essay writing competition. I was all giddy and shaky while the champion was seconds away from being introduced. For the very first time since I lost my drive to win something big, I felt a sudden urge to win. I guess, I got tired of beating myself down. I got tired of always cleaning the dirt off myself that I got from the ground. I wanted to win so bad. I thought it would be good for the rebuilding of my confidence. Then all of sudden my name was called and I felt like a choir of angels descended from heaven and started singing for me and for my victory. For the very first time in my entire existence, my talent was recognized and that someone had seen something in what I wrote and had put me on top. It was a very nice feeling being up there and for a first-timer like me, I wanted to tie myself up and never let anything or anyone take my away from where I was at that time. My climb to the top was a continuous process until I reached the National level and was declared the champion. I was the National Champion in essay writing. After that win, I knew that God had saved that moment just for me. I understand now what all those failures meant. Those failures that I had to endure was a preparation for that grandest win. All those losing and crying paved way to the highest achievement I have gotten so far. 

Just last night, the same competition came around. I wanted to defend my school's title. I wanted to win again so bad. There were a lot of people counting on me. They added to the pressure that I was carrying all throughout the competition but despite of it all, no pressure stopped me from going far and beyond. However, after all that's been said and done, once again, I found myself on the ground. From being tied up on top, I was back to the place where I lost all my confidence in myself. After losing the title and knowing that I will not be able to compete in the next level of the competition, everybody kept saying that it was alright, but nobody knew how desperately I wanted to win. It was very important for me to keep the title because I was still in the process of rebuilding my confidence and for that failure to come in so swiftly was heart-breaking. After congratulating everybody and telling them that I was fine. For the very first time, I cried. There's nothing in my history of losing that I cried once but I felt devastated that caused me to get rid of some tears that had been kept all my life because of losing. 

After the most difficult night of my life, I woke up with a sense of change. I felt like I knew a part of me that I never knew before. I thought I was going to go back to that depressing place where I would tend to underestimate myself. I woke up and have finally gotten over everything that happened last night. I guess, I am a brand new me  now with a new and profound understanding of failure and of myself. Last night, I learned that winning isn't everything and failing isn't my life's ending.

The most important thing that counts, whether you win or you lose is the experience that you gained along the way and the lessons you learned from the journey.

Mr. Migz asked me yesterday, "What will happen if you win?" and I answered him, "I'll be the happiest man on earth." and then he asked me another question, "What will happen if you lose?", and I said, "Then I'll be the saddest man on earth.".

I was wrong Mr. Migz when I said that I will be the saddest man on earth when I lose. I just realized that a man who loses in a competition, will be a stronger and wiser man in the long run.

Photo from: unsoundtransient of