Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Reading Year!

2013 left while I was absorbed in the world of books: cleaning the shelves that have not been touched for years, discovering the titles, some of them still unopened since the day I bought them (a silent catastrophe!), dusting, covering the new ones, changing the covers of the old ones, fingering their pages, studying the moths, the fungi that had settled, leaving specks of browns on the pages; turning them over to find the traces of time or simply to note the scratching, or marks or writings someone left on the pages. But most of all, reading! Flitting from Annie Proulx’s "Accordion Crimes" to Alice Munro’s "Moons of Jupiter," to David Berlinski’s "A Tour of the Calculus," to James McPherson’s "Abraham Lincoln and the Second American Revolution," to Susan Sontag’s “Where the Stress Falls,” I could never get enough of them, I could not get over them; could never forget them, could never leave them alone, could never stop myself from going back to them over and over and again and again, couldn’t stop myself from talking about them, from exclaiming, from laughing, from crying, from quoting passages from them, from ejaculating, from dreaming, from thinking. I know I could never completely free myself of them, they become a regular part of myself; and so, as 2014 comes, I promise never to neglect myself completely as to deprive myself of them. I look forward to another year of secret, sneaky, passionate reading!

Musings under the Pagan Tree

I used to tell myself, if I had the money, I wouldn’t waste it on some huge, extravagant Christmas tree such as this, with all of its stars and pendant balls flashing gold and silver all over, trying to attract all kinds of luck and money and fake friendships and greed. This year, I told my sister, who said she faithfully kept such a Christmas tree in her home, “Why don’t you want to make a political statement? Rebel against the established tradition? Make a Christmas tree that totally overhauls their concept of a Christmas tree, something that will disturb them, something that will shock and awe, or blow them away, something that will completely demolish their idea of a Tree?” She listened to me, as if, to consider. “How?” She asked. But we were in a hurry then and instead of waiting for my reply, she began telling me me how, year after year, she had faithfully stuck to the tradition of the luxurious Christmas tree, so huge, it looms over you larger than life; its golden balls and golden stars so resplendent and decadent they never ceased to amaze the neighbors and all the guests who came to her house, year after year. "They were unerringly attractive," she said, as she mused over her own version of the talk-of-the-town-tree for years. So, I gleaned from her gestures, she could not easily give up that idea of a tree, it was the tree that served her purpose, it was what she considered the right tree for her, looming over her and over everyone who beheld it to stand for what it was supposed to stand. But I wanted another kind of tree and I knew it would take an extraordinary amount of courage, another grit of spirit, and another perspective, to put up a Tree that will overturn this concept of the tree, to crush and challenge commonly-held beliefs and assumptions and turn the world upside down. It would take another kind of bravery to come up even with an idea of such a tree, and then, to turn the idea into flesh!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Spanish Lessons

At the Bookshop, I caught sight of Herman Hesse’s “Gertrude,” (a translation, at a dirtcheap price of P70), grabbed it, put it on top of the bantam-sized, unabridged copy of DH Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” [[the 1981 and 1993 film versions of which I just watched very recently, deep in the night, while Ja and Sean snored only a few feet away from me]]. Tucking both books safely in my arms, I cast my eyes upon the rummage bin and caught sight again of Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything that Rises Must Converge,” another irresistible sight I pretended not to see, as I kept turning some more books, inspecting their covers, and unwittingly unearthed Marguerite Duras’s “Four Novels,” and “Colette, Una Vida,” a Spanish translation of Herbert Lottman’s “Colette, A Life,” a book I suddenly desperately wanted to buy more because of my obsession with Spanish than because of my obsession with the writings of the French author Gabrielle Sidonie Colette. I remember Sengthong and Prateehba years ago, laughing, when I arrived at the Esteban Abada dorm, showing my loot of cheap Spanish books I bought on sale at the Instituto de Cervantes, complete with stems of red American roses I gave to the girl at the nearby shoe repair shop because I can’t bear to bring them on my long ride back to the dorm, where Seng, astonished to see all the Spanish books bought at dirt cheap prices, asked, “So, you read Spanish?” and me, correcting him, “I want to read Spanish, that’s why, I bought them.” Prateesh laughed as Seng, shocked, retreated to his room to read about the American Founding Fathers. After that, I started reading my basic Spanish, once in a while. Even without my six units in Basic and Advanced Spanish Lessons back in college, I thought Spanish was quite an easy language to learn for Filipinos like me, because, except for a few consonants and some subtle vowel sounds, you could not really be far too wrong about its pronunciation. Yet, I never really had enough time to keep at it, I live in what has always been a tough and tumble kind of world, always on the run, night and day, sometimes, even in my sleep, I feel I'm still running, chasing the news; so, I never had the chance to stop, think, ruminate, and learn Spanish. Years ago, when my Spanish obsession started, Ja asked, and he has been asking ever since, what kind of madness has driven me to suddenly want to learn Spanish, when it used to be the most hated subject back in college, discarded from the regular curriculum in later years because people thought it was useless? I decided my yearning to learn the language had something to do with all those Spanish authors who had some original works in Spanish, whether it be Rizal, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Octavio Paz or Jorge Luis Borges. They were never really “useless” to me. I came up with quite a lot more reasons: The original edicts to the colony were once written in Spanish, remember? Our early oppression had been in Spanish. Perhaps, my yearning also had something to do with my desire to know what happened. Or does it have something to do with a penchant to break the images in the mirror: how can you break them if you have never seen them intact?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Ode to the Fallen YlangYlang

They call the YlangYlang the perfume tree because of the fragrance its flowers exude in the rainforest. They extract the fragrant oil as an ingredient in the making of expensive perfumes, among them, the famous Channel 5, concocted by the designer Coco Channel in the early 20s. The tree’s fragrance is known to blend well with quite a number of floral scents. Environmentalists call the tree’s penchant to attract insects, rather heroic, because it saves precious crops from the damage. YlangYlang is known to thrive naturally in the Philippines and Indonesia, and an environmentalist friend told me, they’re using this tree to rehabilitate riverbanks. These, I only learned later, after my first encounter with the tree. I already had this heavy and oppressed feeling when I think of the rainforest in that place that people call Upper. The last time I went there, I was surprised to see a whole tree, perhaps more than 50 years old, lying along the stretch of the river bank, like a corpse of an unknown person no one cared about. “Who fell that old tree?” I asked the workhand named Jimmy, upon whose hands Pa had entrusted the care of his farm. “Why is it left lying there?” J said it was a “useless” tree, totally of “no consequence, at all,” since its trunk would crack at the touch of the chainsaw. How could you measure the worth of a tree on how hard or how soft it could take the teeth of a chainsaw? I was about to ask. He said he had mistaken the tree for another tree he wanted cut for the wood he needed to build an extension to the pugon, the oven where he cook the coconut meat into copra. He also admitted he knew nothing about trees at all and couldn’t recognize one from the other, except perhaps, the hard timber trees he fell one after another to sell to somebody I did not know. “That’s criminal,” I said, “You took this tree for another tree and now, you leave it rotting on the banks.” I failed to point out to him that his admission was contradictory. How could he say the tree was a “useless” tree when he even hardly knew the tree? The idiot even stopped me from going near what remained of the fallen tree, which we can only view from an embankment overlooking Bal’wanan River. He said it was too steep to go down, I might fall; and the other way was too long and too roundabout, a too tiresome way to go. But I went, anyway. I literally crawled down the embankment, trying to keep my balance. I didn’t look at the tree because I knew I wouldn’t recognize it. Just like the idiot, I was also ignorant about trees; but unlike him, I did not think any tree was a useless tree. I was boiling mad because no one planted that tree, it was a natural flora in that rainforest; it survived the era of the logging and it had stood bravely and fiercely on its own in the forest for years. But then a complete idiot and a madman came down to fall it. He kept saying to me it was just an YlangYlang, a totally “useless” tree and this infuriating statement keeps ringing in my ears ever since, with alarm and urgency!

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Book Lust

Just like any other healthy tree, my bookpile is growing very fast everyday, but no one is reading them yet. At least, officially: don't call my sneak-reading any legitimate form of reading because they're not supposed to be counted. I am still so busy getting my life back on track, trying to cover stories to get me back in circulation; cooking meals to test the limits of my herbs to Ja and Sean's discriminating tastes; running to the kanto, pretending to buy something at the corner grocery store and secretly hoping to lose some weight; sorting and re-arranging the clutter on my table, marking all my reporter's notebooks with dates and subjects of coverage, recording and remembering dreams, thinking about the rainforest in B'la, conjuring things. There will always be sometime at night when everyone is asleep and I turn on the lamp on my table, open the pages of Edith Wharton's Buccaneer and I will be transported back to another time, another place. Then, I will cease to be myself. I will be transformed into someone else I hardly know.

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Running and Reading

I ran after the last page of Colette’s "Cheri and The Last of Cheri," because Ja pushed me out of doors. This was a Sunday in October 2013, a day after I ran in the morning of Saturday, when it was already too late, the sun was up and very hot, and I did not know whether I was sweating because of the exertion or because of the heat. I would have turned back home but Ja wanted me to run to buy pandesal, so, I ran under the hot seven o’clock sun and fulfilled my mission; I brought home 10 pieces of pandesal for Ja and Sean, who did not like to eat pandesal anyway. That Sunday, I spent the entire day reading Colette; and when I got to the last page of the sad, sad story [[which meant that Colette was a serious writer]] it was already dark and I reminded myself I was supposed to run and when Ja heard me, he pushed me out of doors because running, he said, is a lonely enterprise, I got to face the fact all on my own. So, when I was running I started thinking of myself and the classes that occupied much of my time that semester and how, I was facing the prospect of not getting paid (I got paid, anyway) because I failed to process my papers because I had so many things to do and did not have enough time to do them. I also felt the students, most of them, were taking my classes for granted and suddenly, I was sick and tired of all the papers I had to check, I wanted to give up because I needed to get my writing back on track. I said I should strive to get my writing back on track by lining down all the stories I needed to write.

Getting back on my feet

Just like those houses that lay devastated after the typhoon, I will pick up the pieces again, one by one, taking care to mend those which can still be mended and throwing out all those pieces which had to be discarded. I should sort out and pay attention only to the most important things in my life and avoid wasting time with certain types of people.

Morning in Upper B'la

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Memories of Tacloban

Remembering Tacloban is not really pleasant thing to me: I accompanied the Dork, who had to cover his face and body with an old blanket all the way from Cebu, because he had the chicken pox all over his body. He couldn’t bear the treatment at the boarding house, perhaps, he felt a little betrayed and aghast at all his friends avoiding him; so, he decided to go home to Tacloban. But running a high fever and with such a bad headache, he decided he might find it hard to take the trip alone so he asked me to go with him. Yes, I was the last remaining friend of the Dork at his moment of distress. One of the most valuable lessons I learned from my student activist years, still very recent at this time on my first trip to Tacloban, was never to leave a friend in distress; though, I wrongly applied it on the Dork. He appeared grateful at that time, of course! Who would not be? He should have thanked the students’ movement, instead! We traveled all the way from Cebu to Tacloban, the Dork, wearing a jacket; and eventually wrapping his head and face with a blanket, while strangers on the boat, and at the bus line, stared at him, turning away in disgust when they caught a glimpse of all the blisters on his face. Yet, we managed to find our way and reached the gate in Tacloban. A seasoned writer usually knew she had to stop writing exactly at the point where she was supposed to stop. I did not have this wisdom at that time. I should have left the Dork at his doorstep, hurried back to Cebu as fast as I can, and went on with my life as usual. But I did not. The Dork made a speech about gratitude, respect, and such abstract and motherhood things, persuaded me to stay when what I really wanted was to run away. I was too boneless to say no, however. The moment they opened the gate, and took both of us inside, everything went wrong. Very wrong, indeed!

What is happening to me?

I was walking with Tu Nguyen Ngoc along San Pedro street last Friday when I told her we were about to pass by a good bookshop I have not visited for a long time. She said she wanted to go. So, walking past the security guards who poked into our bags as if we were hiding something, we entered one of the shops of Lachmi, a (pseudo)mall along San Pedro, and entered the lone bookshop whose titles on the shelves engrossed us as soon as we arrived: the first books that caught my eyes were on climate change and changes in the weather, before I strayed again and caught a glimpse of Sidonie Gabrielle Colette’s “Gigi,” a translation from French, of course. Tu and I were so absorbed with the books before us when suddenly, we felt one or two teenagers arriving, scattering some of the books in the bin. Then, just as suddenly, the whole place was already swarmed by noisy teenagers looking for something. Do you have a title by Shin-Shinwa, what’s his name, Shinwa Abebie? One of them asked the bookstore owner. “Chinua Achebe?” I asked, looking up from Donald Hall’s “Eagle Pond,” “Yes, yes, that’s it,” the girl said, turning to me, “Have you seen it, Ma’m?” “'The Man of the People,’ Mam?” “How about the book by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ma’m?” Another one asked, so, I replied, “I saw the Scarlet Letter, somewhere over there,” pointing to the shelves where a mix of classics, contemporary and even business and economics titles were displayed. “But I’m looking for "The House of Seven Gables, Ma’m.” “I haven’t seen the House of Seven Gables, so far,” I said. “What is it about, Ma’m?” she asked, as another one said, “I’m looking for ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame,’ Ma’m, have you seen it?” “The novel by Victor Hugo?” I asked, wondering about whose translation, and if high school students were already made to tell the difference of one translation from another. “Yes, yes! By Victor Hugo, how come you knew, Ma’m?” “Are you a teacher, Ma’m?” “How come you knew all these things?” I was taken aback.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Required Reading

But before this, I still have some unpleasant things to do: Enter the university gate and find the way to the Library. Face up to what I failed to do 17 years ago. Chat. Go down to the ground floor, finding the way to the bookstore. Ask whatever questions needed asking. What are the latest books they have? Go back and find the way to the CR. It wouldn't be too far. Find out whatever it is you need to find out. Swallow the bitter pill. It couldn't kill. You simply needed to swallow something to cure the pain or the itchiness or the scalp problems. It won't last a minute, anyway, and it wouldn't be that bad. After that, the pain will be gone. It would work out fine, you'd be better for it, I promise. So, take it, take it, you, reluctant self! You'd be okay!

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Life Moves On Very Fast

It's now the start of another semester but I can't yet return to ruminate about life in the university because I am simply assailed by quite a number of writing assignments and other things I need to do before the end of the year. After November came with the news of typhoon Yolanda, life simply moved on very fast I really had some trouble catching up. A day or two after Yolanda (international codename Haiyan), German journalist Martina Merten, who used to be my Health Journalism teacher at ADMU, emailed, asking for some news about the typhoon's impact in the Visayas because she said, they were only getting almost the "same kind of stories" in Germany. I wonder what she meant by the "same kind of stories" they were getting, and I never had the chance to ask her where in Germany was she reporting from. I merely provided her links to some coverage by journalists who actually covered the disaster because I was only here in Davao, and it took a long while before the stories from the typhoon's survivors came flowing in.

The Saddam of Sitio Calinogan

Over a hundred people hid under this Saddam truck at the height of Supertyphoon Pablo (international codename Bopha) in this hinterland sitio Calinogan, barangay Casosoon in Monkayo town of Compostela Valley after the typhoon made its landfall in Baganga, Davao Oriental. I did not believe it at first: over a hundred people squeezed themselves together under this truck? I asked again after they told me. “Yes,” said one or two women, while the men nodded. “There were whole families there, children, women, everyone! We can’t find any stronger structure around, the wind was very strong, threatening to blow away our houses. Some of us who were near the cliff, squeezed our bodies against the cliff wall so that we won’t get blown by the wind,” said the villagers who have lived in the area for so long but had never experienced being buffeted by a typhoon.
Pablo came upon this elevated sitio (how many thousand feet?) overlooking Nabunturan. The Dibabawuns live here for centuries. At five to six in the morning of December 4, 2012, they said, it was so dark (or white?), they could not see anything, they can only feel the very strong wind. I listened to their heart-breaking story of the storm: the houses that were blown away, the desperate search for food and water, the hand to mouth existence while they waited for their livelihood to recover. When I saw the devastation of Tacloban in the aftermath of Supertyphoon Yolanda (international codename Haiyan), I remember this community and their Saddam truck. How long can our people recover now that we are being buffeted by typhoons and other disasters, year after year?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Thank You, Reader!

I'm about to surpass the highest number of posts I've ever done in the history of this blog.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Remembering Doris Lessing

When I told them at the breakfast table the sad news that Doris Lessing has passed away, Sean suddenly looked up, asked me what it was that she wrote that he was familiar with? I started. “You? Familiar with Doris Lessing?” He said, yes, nodding his head. “She is very familiar, what was it that she wrote?” So, I thought: What was it that she wrote that a 12-year-old must have heard? She wrote The Golden Notebook, which I did not finish reading, so, it wasn't very likely that a 12-year-old could be familiar with it; or Martha Quest, which I kept hidden among my books at home; or, was it, The Grass is Singing? But it was a woman's story, how could a boy be familiar with it? Or was it Under my Skin? which was an autobiography? Or, some of the African Stories? No, I never shared anything about Africa with him, I could not understand Africa so well; besides, there were a lot of strange names that he might have found funny when the stories were quite serious. “The Grass is Singing?” I asked. “No,” he said, “Something you kept talking about. Something you never could stop talking.” Aaaaaaah, I said, finally remembering. “Briefing for a Descent into Hell!”

The Story of Kialeg

Years ago, in the course of researching the town of Magsaysay for a Canadian-funded book project focused on Mindanao's five poorest towns, I came upon the story of Kialeg. He was a B'laan warrior-hero whose legendary exploits his people remembered well. I reveled at this discovery because I knew the old name of Magsaysay used to be Kialeg; and despite the government's attempt to replace the town's name with that of a Philippine president who died in a plane crash, people never stopped calling the place Kialeg. I thought that in a place like Magsaysay, the government may have imposed another history upon the people, but in the people's heart, Kialeg lives. I could no longer remember whether I heard about what Kialeg did for his people that his name continued to stick. But a river running its course somewhere in town was also named after him. In fact, some town officials who never knew anything about Kialeg, the B'laan hero, thought that the old town was named after a river. But I had a discovery when I visited Pa's farm in Upper B'la last Sunday: The creek, we previously thought as dead because it was often dry most months of the year; the creek that cuts across Pa's piece of land, is actually Kialeg on his way downtown! Nice meeting you, warrior hero!

Friday, November 08, 2013

Carried Away

Sometime in 1992, when I made a total mess of myself, I half-expected, even fervently wished, my family would bail me out from a monster called Fax Elorde. Of course, you could never expect such a thing so, I suffered the agony in silence. Mirisi. I did not say that to myself, though. I was still too young to understand I was in a real big trouble for life. I put up a brave face, invented stories, pretended everything was all right although Fax Elorde was a total asshole, so stuffy, so full of himself, so full of hot air. It’s only much, much later when his son would describe him as “just a practical guy, totally devoid of talent” that I enjoyed a hearty laugh; but at that time, I particularly wished I had a rich Uncle to kick him out the door, turn him upside down, cover his whole body with catshit, tell him to go to hell and get lost forever. I toiled from eight o’clock until midnight and walked the deserted street home, tense, anxious, worried and always went to bed totally exhausted.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Some personal resolves

I have told myself I should clean up my room now that the semester is over. But first, I have this resolution to make: I promise to read the newspaper editorial every day, all the columns and the day’s banner headline, no matter what. Though, I don’t know how to do this without glancing at the growing book pile on the floor, on the top shelves, on the table. I really have to clear everything up. I made this promise the other day, but two days later, I already broke it. I was yanked out of my workplace and my daily routine by an emergency in my hometown—my mother in the hospital, whose daughter would not miss a column of a newspaper when a mother is sick?

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Lancelot By the River

Pa asked, "Why do you nurse such stupid dream of following a river? Of tracing where it came from, and then, following its path as it snakes around mountains, through ridges and ravines and meanders when it reaches the plains before it joins another river it meets along the way and form a bigger, stronger, and perhaps, noisier river, crisscrossing wide flat lands, sometimes, losing direction, forgetting its journey as it spreads itself too thin in some landscape and then, gathering momentum as it reaches some purposeful ravines that rushes onward towards the sea? Following rivers!" Pa exclaimed, "Isn't that a useless enterprise?"

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Jomgao's Salog

In Jomgao, people call the river “salog,” (sa-log), pronouncing saaa with a drawl before dropping fast the “log.” Saaaaalog, not salog, the Visayan word for floor, which you pronounce by dropping the two syllables very fast, one after the other. As a five-year-old arriving in my mother’s hometown for the first time, I was met by the sight of an enchanting white rock, partly covered by clinging green vines, hovering over the river. An older boy cousin, excited over our arrival, pointed to me the river, told me it was the saaaaa—log. But I was enchanted by the white limestone rock hovering over it. I had never seen anything like it. It was a rock the color of old cathedrals. Its sheer beauty stuck to my mind, populated my dreams. Salog, for me was not the river but that white limestone rock hovering over it, a sight so enchanting, I could never, never get over it. So, every time I go home to Jomgao and get lost on my way to the Aunts, I’d ask people where the salog was, hoping to recover my bearing. They would point the river—any river—to me. But no—I meant the salog, the real salog, that part of the river in Jomgao, where an enchanting white promontory hovered above, where I imagined Mangao and his wife Maria Cacao discreetly passing by on a stormy night, aboard an obscurely small boat full of chocolate bars.

Promises to be Broken

I promise to read the news first thing in the morning, I promise to read the editorials, the columns before everything else. I promise not to glance at the part of the room where my book pile is growing. I promise not to open the page of Van Gogh letters, where he described the scenes where he drew his paintings, I promise not to read nor open the pages of Hanif Kureishi nor of VS Naipaul nor Sheilfa's Flannery O'Connor. I promise to read NEWS only, nothing more. I promise to run everyday. I promise, I promise.

Semestral break, at last!

It's time for me to clear my desk of all the clutter, separate my reporter's notebooks from my journals; sort out the newspaper files, burn the documents I don't need, read the Granta, run, write and re-write my syllabus and come up with a whole new booklet; keep abreast with the breaking news, water the plants, mourn for the peppermint that died of neglect. Throw up.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Because my world is your world, too

I wrote my story on Maribojoc, Bohol in my mother's hospital bed. Nobody knew it. It was a very crammed ward, marked private, with only my mother and my father in it. I did it sitting on her bed, which was so small, I can hardly move my elbows. There was no electricity and no water when I arrived and it was very hot. My father sat forlornly on a bench across the bed."Were you pissed off, Pa, that your daughter took very long to arrive?" I asked, partly to strike a conversation and partly to ease my guilt. My father smiled. It took too long for me to come down because I could not extricate myself from my obligations. I was running out of cash and I knew how helpless I would be inside a hospital without cash. I was in panic as I interviewed people for my story, knowing that my mother was in the hospital, very sick. When the interviews were over, I brought the rest of my work to the hospital, trying very hard to summon all my energy to keep my mind in focus because the smell of dried sweat mingling with the smell of dust and medicine interfered. My sister arrived on a four o'clock bus from Butuan, asked me to meet her at the gate, but I was already fast asleep, I only read her message in the morning, when I awoke to find her talking to my mother, who was sick. I did not know how I finished my story. I sat there thinking about mothers and daughters and sisters and how they manage to survive.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Argao, my real hometown

The rest were merely places where I was born, and where I grew up, or places where I spent the elementary years or high school years, maybe, college years or graduate school years; places where I saw the man with the guitar and totally lost my voice, or places where I fell in love with Jorge Luis Borges, or places where I learned to eat pan de coco while reading the Neo-Classicists, or places where I broke my heart inside an ancient building full of lost, ignorant souls; places where I fell in love with newborns, all my own; places where I struggled to earn my keeps, places where I cried over some happy movies, thinking of the laundry; places where I saw the shadow of Henry the VIII, King of England; places where I talked to a Caucasian named Angela, who kept shaking her head because of the really shocking gap between the rich and the poor in the Philippines, unlike in Africa where, she said, the gap was not that big because they were all poor; places where I heard about the unbearable news of the four girls gobbled up by mud and couldn't forgive myself for hearing it, places where I fell in love with a priest, places where I fell in love with a general, or places where I fell in love with a rebel; places where I worked and places where I used to sing inside a locked room so that no one can hear me; places where I danced alone. But all of them were merely places I passed by on my way to my hometown, where the Aunt talks about the names of strangers whose bones are carefully laid neatly inside the crypt.

Santo Nino Basilica before the Broken Belfry

Friday, October 18, 2013

Coins and Good Luck

Once, in one of our most precarious moments, Ja and I decided to take lunch at a carinderia whose food we deemed cheap, tasty and clean. I was about to take my seat when one of the five-peso coins I was holding sneakily fell out of my hands and silently crept into a corner. I heard its sound as it moved away. It was like a child complaining. It had some issues against me. So I began searching for it inside that busy carinderia, attracting the attention of the sales staffs. But the more I searched for it, the more it eluded me and the more that I needed it to court my luck. So, I did not give up. Instead, I relaxed and concentrated all my desire on finding it. Luckily enough, the coin appeared just when we were about to leave the place. It was just waiting for me to find it under the table.

Monday, October 14, 2013


I can’t write because I’m bothered by a thought—a sad thought and a bad thought—and so, I spent the day re-reading Paul Theroux’s “The Stranger at the Palazzo D’Oro,” hoping to recover my focus. I was surprised because I already read the book before but I felt I was reading it for the first time. I remember nothing about the story except for its opening, where this young American student desired the life of a man he saw at a bar at an Italian Palazzo (a desire which had a way of coming true with the full impact of irony) and the scene where the narrator met the American student named Myra, on her way to Syracuse to see some paintings. But I felt strange because I used to recognize scenes I already read before but now, reading the book for the second time, I felt like I was plodding new territory. After I drifted off to sleep and awoke to finish the book, I read all my old New Yorker and did not move the whole day, so that when Ja and Sean arrived at dusk, seeing me sprawled on the floor with all the magazines, they asked why I was so depressed, I did not join them on the beach. Ja asked, too, if I wanted to sing again in a videoke but I said, no, I’d better stay home. “Are you really struck that hard, that you’re so devastated and depressed?” he asked. “Yes, of course,” I said and felt relieved. “I’m bleeding, can't you see?” I really had a hard time dealing with it. “Why can’t you just put it aside and have fun?” Ja asked again. I said, “Shhhhh.” Ja did not say a word. I kept telling myself I should not be sad. After all, Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year. I prefer her to Haruki. I needed to face my demons. I found pleasure in hunting for all those photography books I have accumulated through the years now languishing in abandoned corners of my room.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Friends and Fever

Cold compress—on his forehead, his neck, his armpits, his body. “Your friend, he met me at the canteen,” I told him, “He told me about you and then, another one came from another room, three or four of them, said you had such a fever, another one said you never ate anything for lunch, you must have already been very weak; and then, there were so many more; you had a battalion of friends so concerned about you, how come you are so popular?” “Most of them are fakes!” he said, in between breaths, struggling to keep his eyes open, “You don’t even know some of them were bullying me. Plastic!" "But they seemed so concerned." "How come you don’t know a fake from the real?" he breathed and hissed. "They were only there for their curiosity. Just like Allied Bank, remember? The heist where there were so many dead and people came to see? They were there for almost the same purpose. They didn’t actually care about me! How come you can’t recognize a real friend from a fake?” I was stomped.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Maybe this is how they kill you

Please don’t send in anything that will crush me. I won’t be able to deal with it. I would die. I took the jeepney to Ecoland and went straight to the newsroom, bringing with me facts for stories. But I have trouble dealing with the facts of life. It’s a hard feeling. You feel the rock in your stomach. You feel the world come to a standstill. You keep seeing the faces of your boys: two pairs of lovely expectant eyes; wondering, waiting, you had to dig deep inside your soul for the last ounce of courage to tell them, wait a little while, son, it’s coming. But you know quite well it’s not. Nothing is coming. Not even Christ. Lesson learned: Never take documentation works anymore. It sounds easy but it’s not. It will take away your momentum to write; and it’s hard, janitorial work. I did it the past month and I haven’t gotten over it. They made me do it over and over again, so I had to set aside other jobs, I ended up not writing my stories, and now I face the prospect of not getting paid. It never happened to me before—to be made to repeat and rewrite over and over again—I feel dumb and stupid. I should not—should not do it again. I’m still reeling from shock. I can’t shake it off my system. I found myself watching, listening toBob, over and over again, until I was numb and dumb. But I went home drunk with all of Dylan’s philosophy and all of Dylan’s music. Maybe, this is how they kill you. I got to be prepared.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Game Over!

He used to say, the easiest to beat here at home is Dad; and the hardest to beat is Kuya Karl. I did not ask him what he thought about his Mother—is she easy to beat? I used to fake losing to him, closing my eyes or pretending to look the other way when his Bishop was about to capture my Queen. While waiting for his moves, stifling a yawn, I used to preoccupy myself with the characters on the chessboard. I used to say, “What are all your lazy pawns doing, leaving all your officers to do all the work? You better fire them.” Or, the "Bishops and Queen are so busy defending the King while all the pawns are sitting pretty." Sometimes, I’d say, “What’s that White Queen doing, flirting with my Black Bishop?” Then, I’d offer him some practical chessboard advice, “On the chessboard, as it is in Life, your best defense is offence. So, when you’re being attacked, don’t retreat. Relax, breathe deeply, and find an attack move to get out of the rut you are in.” But then, recently, I discovered I was straining myself more and more; and he is getting more and more pleasure toward the end games. This morning, I discovered I was no longer pretending to lose. I was checkmated twice by his Rook and Queen, working together to trap my King. The next time we will do it, I should target his Queen and Rook early in the game so that he will be crippled in the end game. Can he trap me with only two Bishops? I should target his Bishops, too. How about the Knight? Was that his Queen flirting with my Knight? Or, maybe, I should stop following all his Queen's salacious affairs and concentrate on the game, itself!

Reading Harper's

Harper’s threaten to dislodge The NewYorker as my favourite magazine. Drifting away from my usual course, I entered Victoria Plaza’s second floor Bookshop the other day and discovered an old Harper’s issue on its shelves, marked P20.00. When I opened the plastic-wrapped copy after I paid, the cover page immediately detached from its main body, and the pen scratches that I thought was only on its plastic cover, were actually scribbled on its cover, right on top of the caricature of William Finnegan’s title essay on the “Economics of Empire.” I threw the cashier a puzzled, and then, an accusatory look. The cashier pretended not to notice. Feeling very much cheated and duped, I was about to open my mouth to complain. But realizing that the cashier did not really valued or cared for what I valued, anyway, I decided to keep quiet.
At home, with the help of a scotch tape, scissors and all the love I could muster, I restored the old Harper’s back to its old glory and respectability. I still glanced with pain and grave irritation at the pen scribbling on its cover, but reading its pages, I began to delight on its highly-critical essays, which are ironic and iconoclastic at their best. But what I really appreciated were the artworks on its pages, announcing exhibits of certain artists on certain dates somewhere. I was particularly drawn by Keith Carter's art photo, “Conversation with an Owl,” and kept returning to it over and over again, marveling at the owl, a small object depicted in sharp focus, in contrast to the blurred figure of a man, crouching before it.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Eons ago, five months ago

On March 24, 2013, I had a very difficult time navigating my life. My table, as usual, was in a state of disarray. I could hardly touch anything. I was bothered by my pile of books gathering dust on top of that table. They included the upturned copy of Mark Twain’s "Letters from the Earth," which I promised to return back to Sheilfa’s pile at the Inquirer; "Soldedad’s Sister," which I reread again after an (almost) violent argument with Tyrone, who was furious that Butch Dalisay wrote about some disillusioned activist in his earlier book “Killing Time in a Warm Place,” when there were lots of activists who were not disillusioned; D’s copies of Paulynn Sicam’s "Heart and Mind" and Newsbreak’s "The Seven Deadly Deals," to read while we’re finishing our book, "State of Fear" and D was about to deliver a son; Lexa Rosean’s "Tarot Power," which served as my amulet against bad energy and souring friendships; Sheilfa’s Willa Cather’s "The Pioneer," on top of Ninotchka Rosca’s "State of War" on top of Ann Perry’s "The Street" on top of "The Joy of Yoga," which Prateesh and me bought in a bookstore somewhere near the SM North Edsa’s in 2009, the year Prateesh told me her Ma loved yoga but she could never take to it; DM Tomas' "Alexander Solzhenitsyn," someone's "Media Law," and "Stop the Killings in the Philippines" at the bottom. They were all gathering dust because I can’t touch them yet; I was still in the midst of Doris Lessing's "Briefing for a Descent into Hell" and Thomas Hardy’s biography written by his wife Florence, but which, University of Kent professor Michael Irwin said Thomas Hardy must have written himself.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Reading Sheilfa's Granta During the Lenten Break


I keep posting nonsense here because the trip that would have brought me to see dear old Prateesh in Penang, Malaysia, got canceled and it really, really, really broke my heart.

The Beasts I Love

Danger once opened my eyes to the beauty of the horse in the mountains of Tudaya. Its body moving with mathematical precision against the precarious ravines, as if it had an intimate understanding of gravity, the force of nature that took centuries for scientists to understand. Once, I also learned a lesson from the Bagobo horseman: "Allow the horse freedom to make decisions. The beast is familiar with the trail and knows what to do better than you do. Keep the rein just to keep it from jumping off the cliff but reining it in most of the time will limit its freedom of movement, impeding its progress, hence, you should really give the beast some leeway to get to where you are going." I love horses. I should find more time to spend along with them.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Old Jolly Good Fellows

Well. The one doing the tally said our group is getting to be male and older. Except for one (me) who happened to earn a master’s in journalism (only because of a scholarship targeting poor, indigent journalists from the Third World), almost everyone had courses other than journalism: there was an accountant, a civil engineer, a business administration graduate, a marine biologist. Most dabbled with radio and the local newspapers; the oldest, 65, Tatay Charlie, covers the Cotabato, Maguindanao and Sultan Kudarat area: fair, shiny white hair brushed off to one side, fairly elongated, slightly aquiline nose, fairly well-groomed and looking good despite the years, fond of wearing black, body hugging cotton shirt; the youngest, 26, could be Karlos, whom I have to nickname the wild, wild horse because he works for numerous media outlets at the same time, he’s still out in Vietnam, lugging his camera, just as he did when he waited on the path of the killer typhoon Pablo in December. So, he wasn’t around when the editors from Makati came. He couldn't make it to this bureau meeting, someone said, sayang, the food is flooding all over the place. But if you talk about age, Frinston looked much younger because he, Frinston, is smaller; shorter than average and thin, too, which was more noticeable because of his skinhead; one Manila editor asked, what have we got here, are you still in the elementary school, boy? Frins mumbled something, rolled his eyes. Some more bits of demographics: 13 men against three women. I wonder why women could not last in this kind of job? Cecille and Ayan used to be active for a while but they went somewhere else, to a much more financially-rewarding NGO work because this work could not make ends meet, they wanted more to be able to raise their children, have a decent life, a home and a car, maybe, a vacation in Europe, once in a while. Perhaps, they feel they don’t have time for ego-tripping. Which made me really feel very, very guilty for staying because—look at my boys, how are they, trying to survive in the mediocrity of their elementary years on their own because I don’t have enough money to pay for the private school tuition. And yet, what a delight to be with the group. Singing the Beegees' How Can You Mend a Broken Heart, all eyes on the lyrics of someone’s iphone: Dennis, the fair-looking guy holding the microphone, has become stouter, lumbering the past years; Rich, who came all the way from Iligan, slightly-stretched upper lip exuding an air of contentment; and Frinston, dancing to the tune, trying to catch up with the rhythm; while Mr. X, watched from a distance, listening, eyeing them. He’s a quiet, sober type of fellow and a disciplinarian, at that. Health-conscious, never smoke nor drink, he delights in his muscled arms and the strength and leanness of his body. He doesn’t overeat, unlike most of us; me, especially when I’m angry. I wondered if X already survived all the threats for his life. He narrowly escaped Ampatuan, I remember with a shudder. I don’t want to think about it, don’t want to mention it; no, not anymore. C, the tall guy wearing a cap, walking to and fro and around the singing trio, just arrived from Qatar, where he worked to earn more money than what he was getting as a correspondent. “It would suit you here, Day, because we’re writing fiction, here, it’s your genre, Day, creative writing, because there’s no freedom of the press here, so, we have to be creative,” he wrote to me, once, while still in Qatar. I was surprised to see him. When I arrived, he was already taking lunch, mumbling about his Indian editors and their Arab financiers; the Arabs, who got money, knew no English, so they leave everything to the Indians, who knew almost nothing about newspapering, but still felt in control because of their close friendship with the Arabs. “I don’t want to work with the Indians, Day, they think we, Filipinos, are their slaves.” I did not tell him I got dandruff and boils all over my body for thinking so hard for stories that will bring in the next pay.

The Mirror and Me

They don't mean to be rude, okay?

Maybe, nobody taught them manners here. One of them came up to me, asked if I had scheduled something for class that day because they have their exams for Media Law. “Exams?! I was surprised. “But this is our class meeting. Your Media Law exams fall on our class hours?” “No,” she corrected. “We’re having an exam tomorrow, that’s why we need to go home to study.” “Ahh,” I said, nodding. “So, we won’t be having class today so you can finally go home and study for your other class' exams?” Another one suddenly popped up on my Facebook to ask something about a systems analyst. I thought it had something to do with computers. She said something about journalists being systems analyst, and I said, haaah? So, I asked, “Is this an assignment for your other class?” “Yes, Ma’m. I was just a bit confused that’s why I decided to ask you, Ma’m.” "Why don't you discuss that with your teacher?" But worst of all, tonight. Shortly after I arrived in class, someone said, “Ma’m, we have to take shots of the candlelighting on the ground floor, it’s our assignment.” It was already 6 pm, the start of our Wednesday class hour. “We have to go down to the activity level and photograph the candlelighting, Ma’m,” one of them said. “What for?” I asked. “We have an assignment for our Journ class, Ma’m.” “So, you’re doing your assignment for the other class during my class?” I looked at their faces, and get the sense, they didn’t really mean to be rude or insulting. Not at all. It's just that, they merely didn't know, they were already being rude and insulting. Who can blame them if they still had to learn their manners?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013