Sunday, January 08, 2006

Notes from the Year of the WoodCock

Was it a good year? Was it a bad year?
I don’t know. But throughout the year of the Wood Cock, things had a way of turning up.
The year started the morning I was dancing frantically in my room with no lights on. It ended with my blog at some downtown internet café towards the midnight that signaled the start of another year.

I WAS DANCING in my room at the start of the year (that was) while outside, Dad sat at the corner near the door, sketching a brigantine. The boys--Sean and Karl--were staying mostly in the kitchen, eating biscuits and watching Nickolodeon on cable TV, which was eventually cut off later in the year for our failure to pay the subscription fee.
I was dancing not because I was happy and excited but because I was afraid. I was wondering what the Year of the Cock would bring (to my boys) and dancing had a way of chasing away the bad spirits, keeping my heart open and my mind alert. I’ve been hearing things about the Cock even before that. “Isang kahig, isang tuka,” somebody warned. “One eats from whatever she can get from scratch,” went my very poor translation.
But how this creature, the Cock loved to crow and how cocky it can get, how flamboyant and how whimsical---and also how lucky! The Cock had a knack of finding anything wherever it scratched.
Indeed, it was the year I scratched everywhere like crazy. In the nearby city of Tagum, I documented a mining conference where the Mansakas, Mandaya and Dibabawun tribes were angry at what’s happening to their lands and because they can’t understand the paradoxical things the government was telling them about mining. Months later, I documented again the making of the “Tagum Indigenous Peoples’ Declaration on IP Education,” where I watched a Dibabawun balyan (a tribal priest) doing the ritual dance under the mango tree. Midway through his dance, the balyan stopped because the “abian” (spirit) was complaining about the altar. The balyan was using a four-legged wooden table somebody dragged from the workshop hall instead of the traditional “tambara” (altar). For atonement, the abian required the balyan to come back on the full moon, on the 16th day the following month to do another ritual dance.

ALL THOSE scratching yielded gems. Things that I loved simply turned up in the most unlikely places to cheer me up when I was about to lose hope. Bruce Chatwin’s “Songlines” selling at P35 at the NCCC Bookshop when my spirits were down. Or the Winter1993 issue of “The Paris Review” featuring Wang Meng’s fiction, “The Stubborn Porridge,” and Joanna Scott’s “You Must Relax!” and many others I never expected to find.
My dear friend Ava Vivian’s story on the Free Press, I chanced upon to read one afternoon when I entered the City Library while waiting for the rain to stop. Or, the email I got from Janis, the author of the Waray poetry whose lines had always made me cry, now telling me she had survived a year working for the Department of Labor and Employment!
Or Keith texting me from out of nowhere because he was going with us on our trip to Mamasapano, Maguindanao at the height of the rido conflict there when some other colleague had tried to scare me off from riding the helicopter.
Or, when I was running out of everything to give to the house help, Inquirer texted me to pick up an unexpected check for a story I wrote the previous year that the editors had picked up as the newspaper’s Best Feature for the month.
But most of all, the allure of working in our paperless news magazine which never ceased to make me feel both magically invisible and visible, at the same time.

On the first month of the year when I was reeling from friends’ betrayal, I unconsciously opened the old copy of “The Complete Handbook of Astrology,” left lying in my elder son’s room. On the left bottom of the page was a pen and ink drawing in sepia of a girl fainting and being helped by the dwarves. I read, Cancer Affinities, and discovered the archetypal Cancerian: Snow White, the innocent whose trust was betrayed but who found comfort and shelter in the bosom of her tiny family. I have never been a “Snow White,” I hated all the things she represented but the day that I discovered this “archetypal Cancerian” was the day I beamed with gratitude to those bosom friends in my life.

It was also a year of outrage and endless running away. Realizing that the battle I’ve been fighting in the kitchen (or the home, as a whole) was something that I could not win, I decided to run away from home. I took refuge in my sister’s house in Butuan and began thinking of endless possibilities. Loving the taste of freedom and the unbearable lightness of being freed from all weight of responsibilities, I kept dreaming of flight. But in the end I went back home to the kids, quietly cursing myself for having the mentality of a slave.

But things, indeed, had a way of turning up! On the day when we finally launched the maiden issue of Davao’s newest online magazine, I went home to hear the heartwarming news of Karl winning the editorial cartooning contest in the Davao city division elementary school press conference. Towards the end of the year, he would win in the region. But he’s still a boy. He hardly cleaned his room last year. He got me worrying 90 per cent of the time for always coming home late and staying too long in those internet cafes, playing games of Ragnarok, or whatever online game it was that caught his fancy. He found numerous exasperating ways to circumvent the rules we set at home. On the day that he won the division press conference, his campus paper adviser scolded him for coming to school late. On the day that he won the region, the only sign pen that he brought to the contest would not write. So, you see!

BUT STILL, the year ended with a happy note. Like magic.

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