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

Monday, September 09, 2013

Still Dreaming of the Rainforest

Sunday in Upper B'la

Memories of Kampung Ensika

Did anyone ever remember me in Sarawak? Did anyone ever think of me once in a while in the Iban Kampung of Ensika, where I once braved crossing the mighty Sadong Jaya river and another smaller river filled with crocodiles, to fall in love with a community of people, whose women so jolly and so warm, had guarded me against the terrible consequences of the tuak (pronounced tua) handed to me by their men. "Not too much, that's enough," I hear them whisper to each other in their own language, a language I could not understand, as the indigenous sweet wine was being poured into the glass. Their hands in a protective gesture, the look of genuine concern on their faces, those Malaysian women were enough to make me feel so safe and warm. In contrast, a woman in a Christian household back in Kuching, wanted me to drown under her tuak, offering me glass after glass of it, I had a hard time refusing her. A tuak is a gesture of hospitality among the Ibans, refusing it was supposed to be considered rude; but remembering the Iban community whose women had protected me, I took the courage to refuse. Now, I still think of those women, their brown faces smiling at me, saying things I don't understand, eternally amused by whatever I do in their village. Where could they be now? What could they be doing in the kampung, so far away from the city, accessible only by boat during high tide? I may have forgotten their names, which were so strange and very difficult to pronounce, but I could not possibly forget their faces. Good memories of them I carry with me whereever I go.

Sunset at the Kuching Waterfront

Yes, that’s the Harbor View Hotel, when the sun’s last rays strike its rectangular shape before finally setting in the west to rest. I used to watch the sunset here, while the crowd of people saunter into the waterfront, taking advantage of the evening breeze. I would be thinking of home, as I watch the light hit that side of the building, giving it a radiant glow before slowly fading away, and then, dying, dying in the onset of night. My heart would ache for Karl and Sean as strollers, teenagers and twenty-somethings pour into the waterfront, walking on the brick pathways under the trees. I'd stay for a while, listening to their laughter, before walking around the street corner, where the Anglican Guest House, rises from a slopy, elevated ground, almost like the image of Christ after the resurrection. Curiously, the compound sits opposite the quaint Tua Pek Kong temple, whose smokes coming from numerous incense rise up to the heavens at all hours of the day. I almost forgot the name of the guesthouse where I used to stay but here suddenly it pops up again--St. Thomas! Thanks, I remember you, St. Thomas Guesthouse, once my home inside the Anglican church compound just a few paces away from the waterfront. Once home for girls of a century-ago who studied there under the tutelage of the nuns. What happened to them afterwards? I remember climbing up the wooden stairway, my feet making creaking sounds at their every step. I could still see the shiny, wooden flooring, and the quaint smell of old sweat, body heat and old cigarettes. Ignoring the Caucasian backpackers, I would continue walking the dim interior of the bare living room and walk straight to my room. They still used this stick, skeletal old-fashioned keys which I had trouble inserting into the keyhole. I can still see the common baths and how it smelled of freshly-opened soap. Why is it that sometimes, in my memory, I sense that I was not alone in that room? That somehow, Sean or Karl, or even Ja were actually with me? Why didn’t I ever get the sense that I was alone? But I was alone in that room. I did not have a companion except for my thoughts and my cellphone. I would smell the dry odor of ancient cigarettes that refused to leave the linen no matter how many times those linens must have been washed. It was the Chinese professor in a university in Kajang, north of KL who told me about the place: very cheap, over a century year old wooden guesthouse full of ghosts from the previous century, rooms so tiny and homely, with sheets that smelled of old cigarettes. Surely, it would be within your budget. In the morning, I used to wake up to the strange calls of an Asian fowl, that resemble the chanting of monks somewhere in Bangkok.

It's been a long time since I've been to my garden

Friday, September 06, 2013

Ah, Doris Lessing!

a photo grabbed from NewYorkTimes, October 11, 2007 issue. So, what did the journalists do after they all crowded around you the day it was announced you won the Nobel Prize for Literature and Associated Press photographer Lefteris Pistarakis took this photo? Did you talk about Art and Literature? Did they ask you about Life? Or did they ask you about Art? Did you dismiss them all after you stood up from being slumped in your doorway like that, sitting on the steps, surprised and yet not surprised at all for winning the Nobel, after having been in the shortlist for about two decades? What else did they ask you? Did you return to them after you took the calls and the phone finally stopped ringing upstairs or did you just dismissed them right away just like how other people dismissed doves straying into their balconies? Did you invite them in for coffee, dinner or tea? Mother may not have heard of you but in the different corners of her house, were strewn pieces of your writings, carefully wrapped in plastics to protect against the dust. Over the weekend, I found an old copy of Women&Fiction, and started reading your story, "To Room Nineteen," feeling all over again it was my story you were writing.
Somewhere in some forgotten corners, your autobiography, "Under my Skin," and your other books, "The Golden Notebook," "The Grass is Singing" and several others, exist like some quiet creatures in an existential universe, waiting to be discovered. When I think about them, I think of this picture of yours, the day the announcement came. Slumped on your doorstep, reporters crowding around you, you showed what a writer ought to feel towards society's approval of ones art. You hardly cared at all. It was not the Nobel that propelled your writings.

That Old Letter

I could no longer find that goddamned letter. No matter how I tried or cried, I could no longer find it. The last time I saw it, I was either in that state university where I first saw you strumming the guitar, walking in from the rain, water droplets in your hair; or, maybe, I was home in B'la, and that letter was in a box. I said, the letter could never get lost here, the box was my only possession and I hid it from Mother, and since there was no place in the house that Mother could not see, I was secretly hoping that Mother would not open it. She should not because it was mine. The box contained the only things a girl could possess in the world, some notebooks and foolish writings, memorabilias from the barricade line and being such a small, humble, unassuming box, it was very easy to rummage, no letter could ever get lost there. So, I placed the letter in one of the pages of my old notebook, thinking I would go over it again and again, I will never get tired of reading it, especially when I was alone and Mother was not looking, and Nani, my cordon sanitaire, was not around, tucked away conveniently from my life. I said, I got to read that letter. I got to savor the feeling of being adored by those amazing pair of eyes and feel the blood tingling in my veins. It was not everyday that I felt my blood tingle. But I was still young and thin and lean and innocent and in love for the first time and too naive to know that the letter, being made of paper, could also get lost in a corner or get blown away by the wind as I was whisked away from there to places I've never been to; far away, very far away from you.