Bar Review Log 3: The Grind

D-day minus 46: that’s today. Forty-six days before the first Sunday. Using a countdown for the next forty-six days seems to be more useful that just checking off days on a calendar. Now I marked D-day minus 36, 24, and 12, since I started final preparations on minus 48. Allocating 12 days for each of the four Sundays seemed to be the easiest way to distribute my time. Yet, the monotony is just like the bad news on TV: it’s inevitable. Many times I stop and ask myself after going through the whole bar coverage: “How the hell am I going to remember all this?” Eventually it comes to a point where I have no other choice but to trust in my training. It reminds me of running a steep downhill incline on a bike where one wrong move could mean broken bones or even death. “Trust your bike,” was the advice given to me.

Maybe I need to have a marching hymn – like some obscene rhyme in Full Metal Jacket. Sigh.

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Bar Review Log 2: Bar Boys

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SPOILER ALERT: Spoilers may be found in the following article.

Bar Boys: a film that follows one barkada, four young men, in their personal and collective struggles through law school and ultimately the bar exams. As shown from the poster above in clockwise order from the top left, the film focuses on the lives of Erik, Torran, Joshua, and Chris. First, we learn from the film that Erik’s struggles involve coming from a poor family, a poor grasp on English, an unreliable memory, and being unaffiliated (i.e. one without a fraternity). Second, we meet Torran, the apparent alpha in the barkada, with impeccable memory, a solid fraternity, and just the right smarts and connections to get him by law school without much difficulty. He encounters some moral conflict, however, when it comes to participating and reporting hazing excesses (he’s fine with just hazing) – which is as much conflict as he gets in the movie. Third: Joshua failed to pass the law school entrance exam and becomes a model. Throughout the film his character plays a foil of sorts to the self-enclosed realm of the three other men in law school: a reminder of things past and of the world outside. Lastly, Chris is the called the “conyo kid”  for his accented English and his roots from a wealthy family – a fact he literally says out loud near the end of the film, “dahil mayaman ako, hindi ibig sabihin na wala akong problema!” With great power comes great responsibility – thus, Chris’ father has high expectations and even required him to break up with his girlfriend to “avoid distractions.” While kind and caring in appearance, he has no qualms in showing his ruthless side when the time calls for it such as handing out failing grades to his classmates who got wrong answers and choosing to keep his honors over taking a lower grade to allow Erik to graduate on time.

The film had 110 minutes according to IMDB – quite a feat considering that those 110 minutes condensed 5 years of studying in law school and the bar exams. I have to admit that I was skeptical on how a film could condense all that – but Bar Boys managed it. According to a Bar Boys press conference I found on YouTube – the objective of the film was to show the deeply personal struggles behind the toil in the study of law: “underneath that exterior of aral-aral…may istorya yan eh – why they persist. And that’s what the film tries to uncover: ano ba ‘yung istorya mo underneath that exterior,” said the director. On that point, I could say that Bar Boys was rather successful. But as a movie, the problem with that objective is that it could well apply to anything. In other words, it was just too generic.

Every human being has a story. Every person has a past – a history – one with their own dreams and aspirations. And every struggle that involves human conflict eventually is an opportunity for personal revelation. If I could paraphrase Arendt: it is through speech and action that the actor is disclosed and revealed as a person. Why else would the Iliad have those grandiose, largely impractical speeches between two soldiers before they fight to the death? Why have poets and artists taken war as their subject throughout the centuries? Maybe they too saw that war was one way to distill the human condition. That being said, the movie ended up as a compilation of law school anecdotes. We see the challenges of poverty every day in the news as do we see the comforts of the rich or the power of the well-connected. Rich vs poor, strong vs. weak – we have seen it all. Pick any law school and there are bound to be a number of Erik’s, Torran’s, Chris’s, and Josh’s. What makes law school struggles different from med school struggles? What do those characters say about us? What does law school say about us? From Bar Boys: nothing new. It has been said that the truly great stories are those that manage to universalize some particular condition or event – one that cuts into who the particular characters in the story are (e.g. law students) to reveal some insight into who they (and, consequently, we) are as human persons.

To be fair, it was only when I was driving home from the movie that I felt it lacked depth. Some clips had their moment of entertainment. I could relate to many of the clips of recitations, readings, and professors, but that was about it. It was akin to being shown a photo album of the years past. But at the end there it was: it was just the other end of the cover – emptiness.

I can think of two movies that might be fun to juxtapose with Bar Boys: Legally Blonde (2001) and The Paper Chase (1973). The latter was a movie recommended to me during my Constitutional Law 2 class with Prof. Pangalangan. Here’s a clip:

Among the themes in the movie was a law student’s relationship with grades. Grades: that touchy topic of law school that provokes a wide array of reactions among law students. We only get a glimpse of that in Bar Boys when Chris gives 5s to his erring classmates or the struggle of Erik to get a passing mark. The ending of the two movies likewise involves a revelation of sorts of one’s grades. In Bar Boys, Erik holds his final grade in a little brown envelope and gives it to Torran to open, who later misleads Erik into thinking he failed when in reality he passed. In The Paper Chase, we find as the camera hovers over the shoulder of the feared Mr. Kingsfield, the final blue exam booklet of Hart gets a 93 with big “A” written on the front. Later on, the scene cuts to a beach were Hart is sitting by a rock with his feet on the sand. He gets a letter with the words “GRADES ENCLOSED” in bold letters. He pauses, and he’s asked, “Aren’t you going to open your grades?” He thinks and then folds the unopened envelope into a paper plane. He climbs a rock and throws the plane into the sea.

Aside from grades, the juxtaposition of Professors Kingsfield and Hernandez is fertile soil for reflection. But I suppose that’s better left for another blog entry.

BRL 1: Where to study?

[after Van Helsing and Jonathan have returned from driving a stake through Lucy’s heart]

Dr. Steward: I don’t understand it! he’s covered in blood and there’s not a drop on you!

Van Helsing: I have been to many stakings – you have to know where to stand! You know, everything in life is location, location, location..

-from Dracula, Dead and Loving It (1995)

the trenches

Where to study? This is one of the many FAQs that bar reviewees fling to each other during the season. Oftentimes it comes down to some remote and barren Starbucks branch in a secluded or upscale mall not readily accessible by public transportation that charges fixed rate parking and opens late in the morning. I have often mulled over the thought of studying in Starbucks. In reality, however, all the times I found myself studying in Starbucks was just to kill time. I was always there in between events – sometimes during the time between when I would drop off Urie and pick her up after her OLA moot sessions, or simply to wait for the traffic to subside, or just to pass time off in the mall while Urie goes shopping. Rarely did I find myself going to Starbucks per se to study.

Those times I spent there, however, have changed my views on that strange establishment lately. Since as far back as I could remember, I have always looked with a certain disdain at Starbucks for charging exorbitant prices for mediocre coffee full of calories in outrages sizes. A few years ago I mulled over a joke I shared with Urie that the only drink I would order in Starbucks is a tall, black coffee (P105) and for food: a toasty bagel (P55). I did not take it seriously then, since the coffee tasted terrible. It was only years later that I found out that what I abhorred were really the blended drinks. As for the coffee, Starbucks changes its coffee blends regularly and some blends really do taste like shit. On the other hand, there are also some heavenly blends: Verona, House Blend, Guatemala Antigua, Pike Place, Ethiopia, and recently Africa Kitamu. It is always a delight to see them on the menu. What surprised me is that the description on that blend found in the bag is rather accurate. However, I have blacklisted some blends as well: Komodo Dragon, Sumatra, Kati-kati, Willow, Breakfast Blend. The worst! The only remedy is to ask for a french press because that’s money down the drain.

Recently I found out that black coffee is the only reason why I would consider spending some time at Starbucks. I also considered Bo’s but when the barista told me that they use some kind of arabica-robusta mix for their black coffees and charged me almost the same as Starbucks, I just walked out. I also discovered that my disdain for Starbucks is primarily directed to its overpriced blended drinks that are hardly coffee but (in the words of my bar lecturers when they refer to their books) “sell like hotcakes.” I will not be surprised, however, if those items are the ones that keep the establishment afloat. It’s a great business model: great enough to shield those cheapskates like me who spend 2-3 hours in the store with the cheapest product (actually the short brewed coffee is 95, but come on). I won’t be surprised if people like me are the reason why coffee shops go out of business. Think about it: I buy a cup of coffee for P105 and stay there for around three hours. For Starbucks, I’m a NPC (non-performing customer) – I’m always negative. Personally, however, I book it as P20 per hour and a coffee for P45. Considering that the air conditioning is quite good, with a large table, a view, comfortable chairs, and a restroom, P20 per hour is very reasonable. The P55 for the bagel is only when I get hungry.

So that’s the story for the times I’m waiting.

For the times I have to really study (read: dig in the trenches and study), nothing beats the quiet and comfort of a well-ordered table at home. Of course I have a bag of coffee beans as well on standby for those cravings. I bought a hand-grinder a few months ago and I find there is a therapeutic, if not metaphoric, sensation of grinding coffee for a minute or two while pondering bar questions. With some bar review lectures being purely online now, having a self-sustaining bar review environment at home is not only possible, but entirely feasible. Not only does it save me three hours of traffic and around P500 of expenses a day, but I get to spend time with my family. Win-win.

BRL 0: To begin at the beginning

BRL: Bar Review Log – the series of journal entries I will be writing as I study for the 2017 bar exam. Call it catharsis or just the need to reflect and recollect – a respite from the laborious studying of the same subjects I have been studying for the past four years.

***

The other day, 26 June 2017, was my college graduation. The day before that was the university graduation. I had always been cautious about graduation ceremonies in law school. The reason is that it all seems so conditional. The bar exam would be in around four months and that decides in the end whether I will be a lawyer. Yet that cold shroud of indifference had not fully enveloped me then. As the speaker asked the graduates to turn around and face the audience, I caught the smiles of my parents and those were enough reasons for me to be happy.

After the whole ceremony, I could still feel the tenacious clutch of law school on my sleeves. Four years is quite some time and no one leaves Malcolm unscathed. Triumphs, defeats, betrayals, displays of loyalty, integrity, baseness — I have seen all that there. My four years was as much a study of the law as it was a study of human nature and its frailty. Several times I found myself mildly scandalized by the opinions and values I encountered in law school. I eventually realized that it pays to espouse the fashionable opinions of the day which usually consist in abolishing old ways for new ones. That being the case, it follows that references to classical education and philosophy often yielded to rehashed formulations from the activist authors of the day. Cicero, Madison, Plato, anyone?

The image of the desert just dawned on me — how the Israelites wandered around the desert for 40 years looking for the promised land. For me it was the other way around: I left the promised land and was now wandering the desert for 40 years in search of slavery. Ah bon, c’est la vie, n’est-ce pas?

And while I sit here typing a blog that no one will probably read. While I sit, haunted by the phantom of Malcolm Hall, I prepare to begin the long road to the 2017 bar. To begin.

Sierra Madre revisited.

Screenshot 2017-05-29 07.53.43.pngSierra madre biking trail

The sun was barely on the horizon when we started biking. It was a quarter to six in the morning and the skies still had a steel-gray look to them. As we pushed off, there came a sudden realization that I had legs. Days, weeks, and months of being cooped up in a room writing papers and reading books for law school had taken their toll. I had legs! And they were shivering in fear under the shadow of the sleepy mountain.

There is a downward slope shortly after the start. It is a good way to warm up the legs and feel the cool air, although I know that all good downhill slopes are going to be uphill slopes on the way back and every bit of pleasure those slopes give, they will take back in piercing pain tenfold. But when I take that first glide downhill, I am always reminded why I love biking — if only to feel the cool wind brush against my face and the occasional sight of the peaks of mountains as they protrude upwards from a cloudy sea. The cool air surprised me the most that time since it was May and the summer heat never had any mercy for bikers. I remembered that it rained the night before and wondered if that was the reason.

Soon enough we came to the first of many uphill slopes that stretched here and there for over 20 kilometers. My odometer fell out of my bike and was hanging over the side by its cable. I had not taken much care to fix it back on its spot, that goes for the rest of the bike too. The sacrifices we make to study law. But then I thought it was quite a blessing, since I did not even dare to imagine what 20 kilometers of uphill biking would be. Here at the beginning I was already in my lowest gear and my legs were screaming. This first slope was a straight one — I eyeballed 500 meters of steady asphalted road ascending eastwards. The sun was still hiding behind the mountains but I could see its faint, piercing glow every time I would glance upward to check how much more road was there waiting to grind me to dust. I realized it was better to keep my head down and count one…two..three…four…one…two…three…four while I watch my front tire miraculously circle around the road and feel my legs push inch by inch those little gears at the back of my bike. One…two…three…four and the next thing I know I am on top of the slope and looking at a steady glide to the next slope. This would go on for the rest of the biking route.

There were times when my legs gave way and I would stop by the nearest rock under a tree to catch my breath. The last time I went up this trail had been nearly three years ago and my body reminded me of that. As I sat down under the shade, the sound of crickets, as if it were the steady purr of the mountainside, enveloped me. The mountain always takes what I could give it, and sometimes it gives me more than what I could take. It has the same slopes, same angles, same curves, same bends — and the only thing that changed was me. The gentle hum of the forest was only interrupted by that unmistakable ridiculous roar of motorcycles as they zipped past me. Rrrrroooooooooommmmmm! they sounded as they went like a horde in single file. Rrrrrooooooooooommmmmm!

As the hours go: seven turned to eight and eight turned to nine. Desperation neared when the shadows started to recede. Biking under the noonday sun would have been suicide, and I was already spent. But as anti-climactic endings go, I hitched a ride on my friend’s car on the way back. And by hitched a ride I meant that he had to drive a bit to pick me up on the trail. Yes, the mountain won this time, but I will be back.

***

sierra

Curtain call

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In one lechon-perfumed room in a (literally) dusty hall in U.P., my last class in law school ended with applause and the customary photo shoot with the professor. We were talking about quasi-delicts and how motorists were always at fault when hitting pedestrians and how hitting them with our car’s side-mirror could be our own way of urbanized revenge. This was a four hour make-up class but it was all lectures now since time was of the essence. The room was filled with only my professor’s voice – trying to hack its way to the end of the syllabus and wrap up this review class. Outside, the waxing moon hung under a clear, night sky peppered with its many stars. The walk to the car took a minute or two since I was parked in the annex, which I dubbed as ‘The Swamp’ since during the rainy season it does turn into a veritable swamp. The way was dark, serene and peaceful — a perfect opportunity for me to be mugged.

On the walk back, I thought about Room 307 and how I had my first class there during my freshman year. Ugh freshman year, I thought, how stupid of me. I remember classes in Persons and Family Relations and Legal History and Constitutional Law 1 and how I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. Many times, time just went by in flashes, like broad strokes in some post-impressionist, modern art painting indistinguishable from vomit: exams here, recits there, a head hunched over some papers under a lamp, empty cups of coffee by the side, the tune of jazz in the background, a rosary by the book stand, a stack of books, notes scribbled on loose sheets scattered on the floor, a jacket hanging on the back of the seat, hands aching from shrinking text to fit between the lines in the codal, memories of 5s and of 1s, victories like making it in the OPF and staying there, defeats like Oblicon, deus ex machinas like Oblicon and the 2013 bar results, wondering if I should join a frat, deciding not to, dates with Urie and our movies and dinners and chats – my sanity in this endless sea of unreason.

In hindsight, I could do with more walks in the oval now that school is over and only a few exams stand between me and graduation and then the bar and then I shall fade and diminish and sail over the sea to Valinor.

***

To friends who left ahead of me:

Eager eyes with hopes we had
when we set our roots to the earth;
a seed in the wind, dust from the wings of moths.
To grow we must at nature’s call:
a journey’s end, four years to come;
with faith and hazard our only friends.
True: in the rains do branches wear their leaves
so ripe and green — the shades above our heads
from dangers yet unknown, unseen
What story could they tell of an inferno — those that
have yet to feel its heat? August passes and April
comes with its thirsty glare. Up we gaze to see
no clouds but the sky: blue and bright with our
death — and some fall: brown and crisp to the earth.
And here we remain to see another May
until for need of lumber the axes come
and take for them those of us as they say.

 

the last LD

Nothing in OLA is ever simple. Waking up at 530am and waiting a whole day for a 10-minute meeting to soak up insults is something I could never get used to. We wait all day and she expects us to thank her for allowing walk-ins. I was never too good at kissing ass and have always mistrusted flatterers, sycophants, and bootlickers. What has OLA brought me other than anxiety, countless hours wasted, and money thrown away on that false altar? And for what? Two letter P’s – since that’s what we all get on our transcript. Nothing else matters.

But one song played in my head as I left that infernal office: