Friday, April 11, 2014

Nose knows

IF dogs surpass humans in perspicacity, credit goes to the fulcrum of this canine wisdom: the Nose.

A case in point is our family “aspin (“asong Pinoy”), Udo. I’ve observed many times His Noseness stick his muzzle into the air before doing anything.

With each twitch of the nose, Udo picks out crisscrossing strains, delicately separating each so he can decode each stream and decide on his appropriate response.

Stationed behind a door that has an aluminum partition that blocks his vision, he can still tell which cat is trying to sneak into the garden: if our reclusive tabby, he reserves a grudging growl; if interlopers, he launches into a full-scale maniacal frothing frantic scrabble to get at the upstarts.

Coming home this summer, I wondered why he was sniffing around and perpetually peeing into a corner of the wall we share with a neighbor. Then I heard barks from the other side.

Unable to muzzle-to-muzzle challenge The Other Dog, he just left enough piss to reinforce the impression who’s master on our side of the wall.

Listening to a pep talk some priest made before an auditorium stuffed to the rafters with hundreds of college graduates and their sweating but relieved families, I wondered why no one has ever dwelled on how a dog uses its nose to allay graduates’ fears before they are sent out to the unknown wilderness beyond academic civilization.

Commencement addresses invariably bracket the lofty and the abrasively self-promoting. Speakers, usually with a lot of titles or a resumé like a baby thesis, love to pepper their talk with proper nouns, such as Service and Honor, as well as pseudo poseurs, like Highest Percentage of Passers in Professional Licensure Exams and Eligibility Tests.

Such talk may allay those who want to get the best value from college tuition payments or gain a 40-year headstart for a Lifetime Achievement Award.

I wonder, though, how these speeches will inject pep into 90 percent of the graduating batch. Those who will print a hundred letters and resumés, receive a call or an SMS a year after the last letter has been sent, and wait for hours while their interviewer goes on a merry-go-round of meetings until he’s finally free to ask the applicant if he or she is willing to put in fieldwork for 12 hours a day, seven and a half days a week, with a motorcycle to be purchased with twelve monthly deductions from the paycheck after regularization.

Perhaps it is too much to ask a commencement speaker to probe the air delicately with flaring nostrils and demonstrate how the friendship between humans and canines is built on mutual respect. But even after decades of sitting through speeches first as a graduate, and then as a teacher, and now as a parent, I still dream of hearing nuggets of hard-earned wisdom dispensed in 10 minutes to prepare (let’s not even aspire for “inspire”) fresh graduates for what’s out there.

Speaking of “fresh,” I wonder why academic tradition requires the gravitas of years on the person behind the podium. Won’t young people benefit more after listening to someone of their generation, with all their attendant wiles, anxieties and risks? The game has changed so much, I hesitate to even give a pep talk to my own sons.

My first job was with a non-government organization (NGO). Thirty years ago, it seemed daring, altruistic and “alternative” to work for little pay and an overload of good intentions. Today, some NGOs are playing grounds for grand-scale plunder, malversation and corruption.

College taught me how to work with words but not how to negotiate with farmers. While pretesting a comics on land tenure in the uplands of Bohol, I got drunk for the first time because hesitant to insult my hosts when they offered “just a glass” of coconut wine, I ended up drinking in every household I visited.

Denying I was drunk and unable to find roadside guavas to stop the whirling inside my head, I crossed a stream and nearly drowned.

Or so I claimed. My co-worker said I seemed to be sniffing the stream before I plunged, nose first, into the trickle of water that drowned questionnaires, sample comics and the hem of my pants. Graduates, beyond school, expect a lifetime of learning.

( 09173226131)

* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 6, 2014 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday editorial-page column

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