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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Monday, January 13, 2020

entry arrow2:53 PM | My 60 Favorite Films of 2019

Last year was the year I resolved not to watch movies on the grind, the way I did it in 2018, which exhausted me and temporarily turned me off anything cinema. But alas, the love for film proved stronger than any disdain, and so we were soon back at regular screenings but no longer with a compulsive need to watch everything. For this list, I refuse to limit my choices to just ten or 25, since every year there are more films to cherish, and lists like this should be a document on how much I've enjoyed a film year -- hence the word "favorite" instead of "top." I also didn't get to watch everything on my must-watch list given the usual vagaries of release dates and distributions, hence no 1917 (Sam Mendes, United States), Honey Boy (Alma Har'el, United States), or Waves (Trey Edward Shults, United States) -- but surprisingly, the no-watch list proved more livable than usual. I've also decided to complete forego Filipino films as a protest against its Manila-centric distribution, and I've also decided to forego the usual write-ups. So here goes...

The Best of the Lot

1. Little Women (Greta Gerwig, United States)
2. Parasite (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea)
3. Aquarela (Viktor Kossakovsky, United Kingdom, Germany, Denmark, and United States)
4. Marriage Story (Noah Baumbach, United States)
5. Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Céline Sciamma, France)
6. Asako I and II (Ryūsuke Hamaguchi, Japan)
7. Booksmart (Olivia Wilde, United States)
8. I Lost My Body (Jérémy Clapin, France)
9. Ad Astra (James Grey, United States)
10. 63 Up (Michael Apted, United Kingdom)

The Films That Blew My Mind or Moved Me

11. The Great Hack (Johanna Noujaim and Karim Amer, United States)
12. The Two Popes (Fernando Meirelles, United Kingdom, United States, Italy, and Argentina)
13. The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester, United States)
14. Uncut Gems (Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie, United States)
15. A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood (Marielle Heller, United States)
16. Midsommar (Ari Aster, United States, Sweden, and Hungary)
17. The Report (Scott Z. Burns, United States)
18. Varda par Agnes (Agnès Varda and Didier Rouget, France)
19. The Lighthouse (Robert Eggers, United States)
20. High Life (Claire Denis, France, Germany, United Kingdom, Poland, and United States)

The Films That Made Me Go Hmmm...

21. In Fabric (Peter Strickland, United States)
22. Gloria Bell (Sebastián Lelio, United States and Chile)
23. The Irishman (Martin Scorsese, United States)
24. Knives Out (Rian Johnson, United States)
25. Diane (Kent Jones, United States)
26. Bombshell (Jay Roach, United States)
27. Pain and Glory (Pedro Almodóvar, Spain)
28. Missing Link (Chris Butler, United States)
29. American Factory (Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert, United States)
30. Primal: Tales of Savagery (Genndy Tartakovsky, United States)

The Films That Weren’t Perfect But I Liked Nonetheless

31. Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, United States)
32. Truth and Justice (Tanel Toom, Hungary)
33. Transit (Christian Petzold, Germany)
34. Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood (Quentin Tarantino, United States)
35. Ford v. Ferrari (James Mangold, United States)
36. The Nightcrawlers (Alexander A. Mora, United States)
37. The Last Black Man in San Francisco (Joe Talbot, United States)
38. Fiddler: A Miracle of Miracles (Max Lewkowicz, United States)
39. Ready or Not (Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett, United States)
40. Jojo Rabbit (Taiki Waititi, United States)

The Films I Found Myself Surprisingly Enjoying

41. Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of the Skywalker (J.J. Abram, United States)
42. Apollo 11 (Todd Douglas Miller, United States)
43. Honeyland (Tamara Kotevska and Ljubo Stefanov, North Macedonia)
44. Climax (Gaspar Noé, Belgium and France)
45. Hail, Satan? (Penny Lane, United States)
46. Un Rubio [The Blonde One] (Marco Berger, Argentina)
47. Luce (Julius Onah, United States)
48. Amazing Grace (Sydney Pollack and Alan Elliott, United States)
49. Hustlers (Lorene Scafaria, United States)
50. Ghosts of Sugar Land (Bassam Tariq, United States)

The Films That Not Everybody Loved But I Genuinely Liked

51. Rocketman (Dexter Fletcher, United Kingdom and United States)
52. Atlantics (Mati Diop, Senegal)
53. Beanpole (Kantemir Balagov, Russia)
54. Alita: Battle Angel (Robert Rodriguez, United States)
55. Weathering with You (Makoto Shinkai, Japan)
56. Diamantino (Gabriel Abrantes and Daniel Schmidt, Portugal)
57. Crawl (Alexandre Aja, United States)
58. Piercing (Nicolas Pesce, United States)
59. Cats (Tom Hooper, United States)
60. Last Christmas (Paul Feig, United States)

RELATED: A Quick Portrait of a Film Year, 2019

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Sunday, January 12, 2020

entry arrow8:49 PM | Dangerous Beauty

In the apocalypse, our last second will probably be that of awe at the terrible beauty about to consume us.

[Photo of Taal Volcano eruption as seen from Nasugbu, Batangas by Domcar Lagto for ABS-CBN News]

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entry arrow7:16 PM | On Remakes

An American adaptation of Bong Joon Ho's Parasite [2019] has been announced, and people are going ape-shit about it. [See this Esquire piece that calls the entire enterprise "offensive."]

I don't mind.

I actually like the idea of "remakes," given of course two things: [1] audiences should always try to see the brilliant original, and [2] creators should always strive to produce new material instead of rehashing what already came before.

Still, remakes create a kind of synthesis of the inspiration and the inspired -- and sometimes when a different culture does a take on something, something entirely new can come out of it [e.g., Summertime, the 2001 South Korean film directed by Park Jae-ho, which is a remake of Peque Gallaga's Scorpio Nights, 1985].

Most remakes of course are terrible [e.g., George Sluizer's 1993 remake of his own 1988 The Vanishing]; some are misunderstood experiments in style [e.g., Gus Van Sant's 1998 reworking of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho, 1960]; some are better recreations by directors finally coming into their own [e.g., Leo McCarey's An Affair to Remember from 1957 is so much better than his own Love Affair from 1939]; some become equally great as the original but give a delightful tinge of difference [e.g., Sebastián Lelio's Gloria Bell from 2019, a remake of his own 2013 Gloria -- I honestly like the Julianne Moore version better]; and some are delightful experiments in cultural mirroring [e.g., the entire unlikely "franchise" of Perfect Strangers, the 2016 Italian film that has spawned remakes in Spain, South Korea, China, India, France, Turkey, Greece -- each one a virtual copy of the other, but each one nuanced by sharp cultural differences]. Without remakes or rehashes, Philippine cinema wouldn't have its parody of everything as diverse as James Bond [For Your Height Only, starring Weng Weng in 1981], Batman or Dracula [Batman Fights Dracula, 1967], and Three Men and a Baby [Rock-a-Bye Baby, Tatlo ang Daddy, 1988] -- all of which have since given us campy delight.

I guess the only criterion is to be a good film, or, echoing Ezra Pound, to make old things somehow "new."


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entry arrow2:48 AM | Romnick, My Heart

Romnick Sarmenta was the James Reid of my late 1980s childhood. He was inescapable; he was on every notebook cover. Every day in grade school, over recess or the school vegetable garden where we’d toil daily in the late afternoon, my classmates and I would go to war arguing who best deserved him in a love team: Jennifer Sevilla or Sheryl Cruz. I was pro-Jennifer for reasons I no longer remember [it was probably because I saw them together in Huwag Mong Buhayin ang Bangkay in 1987, which starred Jestoni Alarcon in his prime], and I burned with anger when somebody suggested otherwise. I’d brandish my trowel menacingly, and say, “Sheryl looks like a cat.

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Friday, January 10, 2020

entry arrow10:46 PM | Meow

Ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please. I went, I saw, and I liked Tom Hooper's adaptation of Cats, the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber based on the children's poetry by T.S. Eliot. Admittedly, the low expectations helped. Also being familiar with the story -- a simple compendium of various types of Jellicle Cats introducing themselves before going to a ball where one of them gets chosen to go to the Heaviside Layer -- allowed me to suspend logic and disbelief and just lean back and enjoy the sheer madness of the movie, the surreality of every creative choice, the bizarreness of the digital furs, the inexplicable horniness of it all. The film feels very much like Grizabella herself, the former glamour cat, now ostracized and seeking some sort of redemption while waxing nostalgia for the days when she was beautiful. When she sings "Memories," her torch song, I was genuinely moved. Like her, Cats has its heart in the right place. But I've always loved films that go where the timid dare not go. [I have a special place in my heart for Darren Aronofsky's mother!] This was sheer camp, a film ready-made to be misunderstood -- and guess what, it indeed was, and received such a fierce critical drubbing from almost everyone that I had to become suspicious of the lynch mob. It is not a great film, but it will become legendary: first for its excesses and camp, and maybe one day, finally for its heart.

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Thursday, January 09, 2020

entry arrow9:00 PM | An Emotional Day

I'm riding random waves of emotions today, and I don't know why. Everything is just so beautiful and so sad all at the same time. The mere thought of puppies and kittens will probably make me cry. And sad, contemplative songs have been breaking me all day.

This song, for example.

I've filed this under unexpected things that made me cry today. In "Batang Bata Ka Pa," Noel Cabangon takes an APO Hiking Society classic and in a duet with his son Gab lends this intergenerational dialogue in song about growing up and making mistakes more than a measure of pathos.

Here is a video of the Cabangons singing the song with the APO themselves...

I really don't mind being emotional today though. This is probably hormonal, but I feel strangely human.

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Wednesday, January 08, 2020

entry arrow10:00 AM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 2


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Saturday, January 04, 2020

entry arrow8:37 AM | Nostalgia for Minimik, 2005-2013

Hope Tinambacan's nostalgic posts about missing Minimik in Dumaguete has me in stitches. [For the young ones, Minimik was this alfresco bistro and beer garden in front of CocoGrande Hotel along Hibbard Avenue that was a beloved watering hole for Sillimanians, especially of the musical variety -- which was a given since it was operated by Diomar Abrio, a music professor at the university.]

It was a regular beehive, the place students would meet in after school, listen to music by Dumaguete bands, have foam parties, and develop a taste for Red Horse and Tanduay -- really the "national drinks" of Dumaguete.

Together with El Amigo and Hayahay, Minimik formed the unofficial triumvirate of watering holes in Dumaguete that proved formational for the growth of the local music scene, and operated throughout most of the 2000s until 2013. [If you wanted karaoke, you just crossed the street and rented a room in Country Gents, also gone.]

It wasn't all wild nights. It was also a wellspring of creativity: it was in this place that LitCritters, a writers group, was formed, and it was also here that the Belltower Project, a network of local musicians, also had its roots. God knows what else Minimik inspired.

From what I can remember, the owners of the property allegedly were so disturbed by the raucous nature of the place they resolved to take it back, and then soon after set up in its place a bistro of a very Christian variety called _______, a name with lofty Biblical significance that I can't remember. Crickets. Absolutely crickets. Nobody came to the Christian would-be watering hole. Now it's just this sad, empty, boarded up lot devoid of life, but full of misbegotten good intentions.

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Thursday, January 02, 2020

entry arrow2:40 AM | Quick Portrait of a Film Year, 2019

Film That I Would Die For as a Cinevore: Parasite and Portrait of a Lady on Fire and Varda by Agnes

Film That I Watched Again After I Finished: I Lost My Body

Film I Had to Pause Many Times Because It Left Me Breathless: Uncut Gems

Film That Tickled the Writer in Me: Little Women and Transit

Film That Made Me Horny: The Blonde One

Film That Made Me Horny and Now I Feel Disturbed: Climax

Film That Made Me Think: Hail, Satan?

Film That Made Me Laugh: Booksmart

Film That Made Go Awwww: The Biggest Little Farm

Film That Scared Me the Most: The Golden Glove and Don't F***k with Cats

Film That Unsettled Me: Midsommar and In the Absence

Film That Made Me Cry: A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

Film That Made Me Feel the Most: Asako I and II

Film That Made Me Angry: The Great Hack

Film That Made Me Want to Dance: Gloria Bell

Film That Made Me Want to Sing: Rocketman

Film That Had the Unlikeliest Musical Moment: Marriage Story

Film That Exasperated Me in the Beginning But Won Me by the End: Transit

Film That Contains the Most Exhilarating Breakthrough Performance: Luce

Film That is Most Divisive, But It "Went There": Jojo Rabbit

Film That is So Weird It Was Made for Me [a.k.a. Mother! Award]: In Fabric and The Lighthouse

Film That is Way Too Cracked It Made Me Smile: Piercing

Film That is Made for Heartbreak: Asako I & II

Film That Took My Breath Away for Sheer Beauty: Aquarela

Film That I Unexpectedly Like: Alita: Battle Angel and The Report and Dora and the Lost City of Gold

Film That Was Really Good Except For Certain Unwieldy Parts: The Two Popes

Film That I Wanted to Hate But Absolutely Liked: Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker and Ford v Ferrari and Uncut Gems

Film That I Wanted to Like But Absolutely Hated: The Farewell

Film That Made Great Use of Adapted Material: Little Women and Doctor Sleep

Film That is Destined to be a Cult Classic: Paradise Hills

Film That is Critically Acclaimed But I am Just Indifferent About: Us

Film That is Popular Now But is Destined to Confound People in the Future: Joker

Film That Knows Its Weight in Cinematic History: 63 Up and Varda by Agnes

Film That Disappointed Thoroughly: Aladdin

Film That is Astoundingly Pretentious: Long Day's Journey Into Night

Film That is Astoundingly Stupid and Doesn't Know It: Glass

Film That Was Good on Paper But Failed on Delivery: The Goldfinch

Film From an Acclaimed Director That Disappointed: The Dead Don't Die

Film From a Favorite Director That Disappointed: A Rainy Day in New York

Film That I Had to Finish After So Many Pauses and Starts Because It is "Important": The Irishman

Film That is Most Unnecessary: The Lion King and Men in Black International

Film I Forgot Was Actually Released in 2019: Captain Marvel

Film That is Equal Measure Silly and Earnest: Fast Color

Film That is an Unintended Remake of Something: Transit [of Casablanca]

Sequel That is Better Than the First Film: Frozen II and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil

Sequel That Should Make the Franchise Stop: Glass and How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World and Men in Black: International

Sequel That I Liked Which Everyone Else Hated: Terminator: Dark Fate

Remake I Was Looking Forward To But Ultimately Disappointed: Pet Sematary and Child's Play

Film I Will Try to Give a Second Chance to Grow on Me [But Probably Won’t]: The Souvenir and Her Smell

Film That Should be Burned From Existence: The Hustle


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Wednesday, January 01, 2020

entry arrow9:39 PM | Poetry Wednesday, No. 1


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entry arrow9:37 PM | Rediscovering 'Girl, Interrupted'

It occurred to me that it has been twenty years years since James Mangold's Girl, Interrupted (1999) was released. I was ambivalent about the film that year. ["Ambivalent" is an important word in the movie.] Screening it today, everything is different about it. I get it now. I feel its power, its intentions. And while Angelina Jolie -- who won an Oscar for the film -- has the showier performance, Winona Ryder's has subterfuges that spoke volumes. What is it about me now that made the film change for me? Perhaps I'm older. Perhaps I understand now the subdued pain of mental health disease more, having gone through anxiety and depression myself. And it occurs to me that the best art is like this: it is rediscovered to be embraced by a more understanding time.

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entry arrow3:11 PM | The First of January, 2020

It's fascinating to note how the weather could change from my window perch at Starbucks Dakong Balay: only an hour ago, the view of the sea was all blue and Wednesday mid-afternoon heat, and now it's the color of slate, the tiny acacia leaves on the street dancing frenetically in the gusts. There are suddenly raindrops on the window pane.


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Saturday, December 21, 2019

entry arrow3:48 PM | Remembering Comics Legend Gerry Alanguilan [1968-2019]

What news to wake up to, and I'm still reeling from the shock. Despite getting missives from people to pray for Gerry a day or two ago. And despite knowing that he has been sick for some time now -- but still at it relentlessly pursuing stories, even while in bed rest. But this is the thing about legends: we think they are invulnerable to time and expiration simply because what they have given us is so outsized, so beautiful, so indelible they should really be immortal. But once in a while, we get reminders that even the best of us leave us. But what they leave behind is legend, and a body of work that will remain testament to that legend. I've never met the writer and comics artist [and glorious meme] Gerry Alanguilan. Compared to many of my friends and contemporaries, I came late to his work, stumbling onto Wasted only in college in the late 1990s when a friend foisted a volume of that landmark work in my hands and I was instantly hooked. Since that time, I've followed his Komikero blog, became email and Facebook friends with him, rejoiced in his efforts to collect [and give honor] to Filipino comics legends, and was ecstatic when he was finalist for the Eisner Award for Elmer. In 2004, I even asked him to contribute a short comics for Sands and Coral -- and he did, and this will soon see print in Sands & Coral 2020, a little late perhaps but still. Every semester, I teach Wasted without fail in my Philippine literature class, happy to introduce him to every new generation of young Sillimanians who need to know there are galvanizing Filipino storytellers like him. One of my students even composed music inspired by the book -- and Gerry loved that immensely. I've always thought of him as a very generous artist, someone whose pursuit of the creative was unparalleled. He was always an inspiration. Gerry Alanguilan will be missed.

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Tuesday, November 26, 2019

entry arrow4:12 AM | Six Years Old, Noblefranca Street

Noblefranca Street in the midnight light feels short—although to be honest, it has always been a short street, a stretch that covers a mere two blocks of mostly unpromising structures you could begrudgingly call city buildings.

It forms a tributary that begins, in the east, at the Rizal Boulevard, and then all the way to a terminal point touching Perdices Street that feels like a premature end: reaching either ends feels always like a surprise for the pedestrian, as if Noblefranca promises a longer adventure, only to be shaded on each side by utter nondescriptness that contributes to its shortness, and to be eventually swallowed by the wider avenue of downtown.

Where it disappears into Perdices Street, you can see that it is blocked to the west by the imposing building called Ever, which has the garishness to call itself a mall. This building used to be a cinema of second-run movies, also called Ever, and which itself sprang from the ashes of an even older cinema called Main Theatre, which—the old folks love to recall this anecdote because it has the romance and tragedy of premonition—burned down in the late 1970s on the last night they were screening "The Towering Inferno."

Not many people actually know Noblefranca Street by name, which is telling. For the commuter, hailing a tricycle for a drop off along its stretch would entail naming one of its landmarks, which shift in the constant flow of changes we call Dumaguete: there is a bank and a European bistro called Casablanca at its eastern point, facing the sea that borders the city. Further on, and then around the part where Noblefranca crosses Calle Sta. Catalina de Alejandria—named after the patron saint of Dumaguete—it bears two or four restaurants and eateries of varying degrees of sophistication—Negrense Food Lab and Microbrewery, a Korean coffee shop that pains itself to be trendy, a Mediterranean food stand of no particular distinction, and a flashy carinderia called Food.Net that amply demonstrates a very democratic idea of popular culinary tastes.

Then there is a high school that caters to the richer Chinese families in the city called Holy Cross, which commands a campus that takes up a quarter of the block it sits on, distinctive for its bold choice of painting its building a blue that is the staple hue of countless nurseries.

Beyond that, there is a hodgepodge of sad-looking buildings and empty but fenced-off lots no one in Dumaguete really sees, except that occasionally—from the doldrums of the area's banality—certain generations of Dumaguetnons would see a ghost or two. Those who grew up in the 1970s would remember a cafe called Maricar's which sold the best cakes and pastries in town—gone now, although the building still remains, its handsomeness covered up by neglect and sheets of galvanized iron. Those who grew up in the 1990s would remember Taster's Delight, which sold the best cheeseburgers in town—also gone now, although the building also still remains, but boarded up like a jilted bride gone to seed because of heartbreak.

Noblefranca ends with a sprawling complex housing a McDonald's Cafe on one side—sleek and modern with all its glass and concrete surfaces—and then a towering but very old wooden building on the other side, one of such vintage that its wood are browned darkly with too much testament. The ground floor of this old building has been parceled into a cellphone shop, a store that ostensibly sells brass knick knacks from Mindanao, and a stand that sells fruits. Side by side, these two buildings are the very story of Dumaguete itself: the shine of modernity skirmishing with the insistent holding on to the past. Nothing wins, and out of this impasse is shaped the very heart of Dumaguete.

I think of these things as I traversed Noblefrance Street, taking in bits and pieces of it as the night deepens and my feet take me to a familiar spot down the road and forking left on Perdices to that corner between the 24-hour downtown lights of Chowking and Jollibee, where I knew I could easily catch a tricycle ride home this late in the midnight hours.

Everything about Noblefranca felt familiar, but also obscure like an abandoned memory.

I lived here once, in this neighbourhood, with my family. I must have been five or six. This was in the mid-1980s, a few years after we exiled ourselves from our haciendero days in Bayawan, into a stark poverty living hand to mouth in Dumaguete, an existence that must have proved shocking to my family, which had until then enjoyed the wealth of being landed. [I didn't know any better, which is the inured bliss of very young children.] All I knew was that we had become rent nomads, finding whatever cheap enough digs my mother could find, and that previous to Noblefranca we had once lived in an old area of Dumaguete past the tianggue, traversed by Calle Sta. Rosa, where I had fallen in love with an older girl named Kate, and where I once saw Dumaguete leveled by a gigantic conflagration, with fiery embers falling down from the night skies like a hellish version of rain. [The entire Dumaguete public market burned down in 1982. We lived in a wooden house two small blocks away from it.] When my family decamped from this wooden house of Tia Tansing along Sta. Rosa, to this new house nestled right in the heart of a block along Noblefranca, I cried, because I could not bear the thought of not seeing once more my darling Kate, who lived with her father in one of the apartments in Tia Tansing's house, which was next door to ours, and who, when I was six and she was ten, gave me the privilege of a brilliant first kiss. I had no words for whatever I felt then except that it was such a lovely torment. It would take me years to recognize this as the blossoming of first love.

This new apartment we were renting was accessible only by the narrowest of passages between two buildings along Noblefranca, which snaked here and there deep into the block until it led to the house of _______, a kindly old lady who was renting to us the upper floor of her house, which had its own entrance of a side staircase, which had three rooms good enough to house all of us, which had a sizeable dining room and kitchen that could fit the old family table we had dragged all the way from our old life in Bayawan, and which had—this was the best part —a balcony that overlooked the campus of Holy Cross High School.

Television was a rarity in Dumaguete in those days in the 1980s, and only the richest families could afford having a set installed in their houses, which meant a six-year-old kid like me, whose family could barely afford rent, had to be creative in the formulation of my own entertainment. In the ground floor of the apartment, the landlady had installed a small pond, which was teeming with all kinds of golden-looking fish. Their watery existence entertained me enough for most afternoons, and I delighted in bearing a stick and stirring the waters of the pond just so to make the fish in it scramble to and fro, their skin flickering in the sun. I imagined stories of shipwrecks and whale chases.

When I finally became native enough to the neighbourhood that I began to acquire friends of children my age, I managed to assemble a troop gleaned from the various houses that teemed inside that city block along Noblefranca, and we satisfied ourselves with playing the assorted outdoor games expected of us then—tago-tago, tayukok, siatong, Chinese garter, marbles—until one day we dared enough to launch a war game involving tirador. Slingshots of our own devising, assembled from a strong enough Y-shaped wood and scraps of rubber.

I must have been a good shot at six, because I had taken my slingshot, and managed to shoot with a stone one of my little friends, right smack on her forehead, like David to Goliath. This was a short-haired girl whose name I can't remember [let's call her Rita], but I do remember that she was always a quarrelsome sort given to a generosity of snots; so my targeting her—and succeeding so well—must have sprang from some inchoate and childish sense of bloody murder. When my stone found its mark on her forehead, I found her wailing so frightening that I immediately ran home, and hid under my bed, sure of my impending doom.

True enough, by nightfall, the girl and her mother had come up to our apartment. The mother was furious, and was demanding that my parents pay for whatever medicine was required to heal the deep wound on her girl's forehead. My mother has a way of placating vicious people, and when some civility was finally restored, I was ordered to face the tribunal gathered in the dining room. The girl was in her last heavings of crying, her mother was glowering at me, and my parents and brothers looked at me with such disappointment on their faces that it felt very much like the end of the world.

"Ian," my mother began. "Whatever occurred to you to shoot a stone straight at Rita's forehead!"

I began crying dramatically. "But we were just playing!" I protested between tears.

"But don't you know it's bad to throw stones at other people?"

"Rita was making fun of me! And she was sling-shooting stones at me, too!"

"And that's why you chose to shoot a stone at her?"


"But you're a Christian boy, Ian! Don't you know what the Bible says about this?"

My mother was a religious sort, but I didn't know what the Bible said at all about any of this, so I shook my head.

"The Bible says," my mother continued, "that if someone throws a stone at you, you have to throw back at them a piece of bread!"

That bewildered me. "But I didn't have any bread with me!" I cried.

Which made my mother laugh so hard, and I knew I was instantly forgiven.

Those days of my childhood along Noblefranca Street probably lasted a year until we had to find another apartment again, but the days rolled by so slowly. My friends and I made use of all that time chasing fishies, and chasing each other with newfangled play. But I was soon to realize that my biggest source of entertainment was easy enough to have: it was the scene from below my balcony, the very courtyard of Holy Cross High School, which teemed with uniformed kids I secretly aspired to become. They teemed during recess, they teemed during P.E. classes, they teemed during special events and shows, the school stage perfectly positioned for me from the vantage point of my balcony. I spied on all these, I made up stories about the school kids I saw, and I was entertained exceedingly, even by my lonesome.

One day, during a school recess, I spied a familiar-looking girl walking from one of the classrooms straight to the school canteen that was situated right below my balcony. It was Kate, my beloved!

"Kate! Kate! Kate!" I shouted with so much excitement from up above her. I hadn't seen her in months and months, and my heart swelled. She looked beautiful in her uniform of white collared top with blue trimmings and a blue skirt.

She heard her name called out, and when she looked up to find its source, she saw my face.

"Kate!" I shouted again.

I saw her do a double-take, I saw her frown, and then, clearly embarrassed, she hurried back to her classroom with her other friends.

My six-year-old heart stilled, Kate's name frozen on my lips—and for a brief moment that stretched like eternity, I felt like there was a rain of fire coming for me, I felt like gold-skinned fish being chased furiously with a stick, I felt like there were thousands of stones sling-shooting right through me, blistering me awake to the suddenly cruel, cruel world.

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Sunday, November 24, 2019

entry arrow11:27 PM | Twelve Things About Frozen 2

Things that went through my head while watching Frozen 2, with appropriate SPOILER warnings attached:

[1] Elsa is the new Avatar, and a water bender.
[2] She's also Leeloo's cousin.
[3] Kristoff is a bisexual furry who's also into BDSM and Queen music videos.
[4] Anna is into leather.
[5] Superman's Fortress of Solitude has nothing on Ahtohallan.
[6] Thanos's snap extends as far as Arendelle.
[7] The invention of photography apparently dates further back.
[8] Carrots in Arendelle have long shelf-lives.
[9] Charmander is a Disney character.
[10] You cannot deny the sexual tension between Elsa and Honeymaren, and Kristoff and Ryder.
[11] Turtles can breathe through their butts.
[12] Robert Lopez is obviously Pinoy the way Frozen songs are all about the birit.


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entry arrow7:20 PM | Watching The Crown

This is the first time I've actually finished all of The Crown in one go. [I don't remember going for Season 2 at all, not because it wasn't good -- I gather it was -- but I was much too busy.] But skipping right to Season 3, I'm finding that I'm loving it, if only for the subterfuges of emotion that goes on in Olivia Colman's face as the Queen -- subtle shifts that signal everything from pathos to viciousness. And some of the individual episodes strike a cord with their themes: showing empathy amidst horrific disaster in "Aberfan," recognizing what is important in "Bubbikins," finding your roots and fighting for it in "Tywysog Cymru," dealing with feelings of insignificance in "Moondust," and dealing with heartbreak in "Imbroglio." My favorite relationships in this series are often the ones where total opposites find themselves in common ground: the Queen with her Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, and Prince Charles and his nationalist Welsh tutor Edward Millward, and Princess Alice of Battenberg and her unlikely [and fictional] interviewer John Armstrong. I have no idea what this says about me.


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Monday, November 04, 2019

entry arrow11:49 PM | Spark and Accidental Beauty

Grace comes from the most unexpected places. I've been trying to climb out of a dark hole all week, and knew it was not enough to get up and face myself in the mirror and say, "Enough." There are no magic words for this sort of thing. So I went out for dinner today, to face just a bit the world I had not seen in days, wanting to read a little while I sated the hunger that had festered for hours. And while in the middle of reading an Emily Dickinson poem ["I measure every Grief I meet / With narrow, probing, eyes – / I wonder if It weighs like Mine – / Or has an Easier size"] over chicken wings [honey-glazed], a couple of guitar-bearing minstrels came inside the cafe I was in to sing songs for coin. They sang Spiral Starecase's "More Today Than Yesterday" first, and then The Carpenters's "I Won't Last a Day Without You" next, their voices a surprise, a blend of something almost marvelous. And I found myself tearing up a bit to recognise the elusive and familiar light, the elusive and familiar ease of breathing, and the elusive and familiar spark deep inside my brain. There is no formula for these things. The shadows come fast and go away slow, but when they go, I find that it is almost always at the instance of accidentally stumbled upon beauty, a kind of foundling grace.


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Tuesday, October 29, 2019

entry arrow3:58 AM | A Joke

Oh, I finally saw Joker [2019] last Saturday night in Manila. It was so meh to me, I even forgot I watched it. Such a forgettable movie. Hated its defanging of Joker's villainy -- a far cry from Heath Ledger's "I have no motivation, I just want the world to burn" fright fest. Its "society made me a psychopath" arc feels like the cares of a failed fictionist, and its Marxist stance feels like a garbled missive by a failed fighter for the proletariat. Loved its cinematography. Hated its unironic unoriginality, its cribbing from better movies. Loved Joaquin Phoenix's committed acting. Hated its depiction of mental health. Hated its smug violence. Hated its M. Night Shyamalan-type twist. I went straight to Malate after, where in Remedios Circle, a woman of a certain age was dancing without care to the sound of a nearby band playing covers. That was more entertaining to watch than Todd Phillips' exercise of cinematic vapidity.

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Monday, September 30, 2019

entry arrow6:17 PM | Call for Manuscripts to the 59th Silliman University National Writers Workshop

The Silliman University National Writers Workshop is now accepting applications for the 59th Silliman University National Writers Workshop to be held from 27 April to 8 May 2020 at the Silliman University Rose Lamb Sobrepeña Writers Village and the Silliman University campus.

This Writers Workshop is offering ten fellowships to promising writers in the Philippines who want to have a chance to hone their craft and refine their style. Fellows will be provided housing, a modest stipend, and a subsidy to partially defray costs of their transportation.

To be considered, applicants should submit manuscripts on or before 6 December 2019. (Extension to the deadline will not be made.) All manuscripts should comply with the instructions stated below. (Failure to do so will automatically eliminate their entries).

Applicants for Fiction and Creative Nonfiction fellowships should submit three to four (3-4) entries. Applicants for Poetry fellowships should submit a suite of seven to ten (7-10) poems. Applicants for Drama fellowships should submit at least one (1) One-Act Play. Each fiction, creative nonfiction, or drama manuscript should not be more than 20 pages, double-spaced. We encourage you to stay well below the 20 pages. Aside from manuscripts in Poetry, Fiction, Creative Nonfiction, and Drama that should be written in English, the Workshop will also be accepting manuscripts for Balak (poetry in Binisaya) and Sugilanon [short story in Binisaya]. Applicants should submit a suite of seven to ten (7-10) balak entries with their English translations, or three to four (3-4) sugilanon entries with their English translations.

Manuscripts should be submitted in five (5) hard copies. They should be computerized in MS Word, double-spaced, on 8.5 x 11 inches bond paper, with approximately one-inch margin on all sides. Please indicate the category (FICTION, CREATIVE NONFICTION, POETRY, ONE-ACT DRAMA, BALAK, or SUGILANON) immediately under the title. The page number must be typed consecutively (e.g., 1 of 30, 2 of 30, and so on) at the center of the bottom margin of each page. The font should be Book Antiqua or Palatino, and the font size should be 12.

The applicant’s real name and address must appear only in the official application form and the certification of originality of works, and must not appear on the manuscripts. Manuscripts should be accompanied by the official application form, a notarized certification of originality of works, and at least one letter of recommendation from a literature professor or an established writer. All requirements must be complete at the time of submission.

Send all applications or requests for information to the Department of English and Literature, attention Dr. Warlito Caturay Jr., Workshop Coordinator, 1/F Katipunan Hall, Silliman University, 6200 Dumaguete City. For inquiries, email us at nww@su.edu.ph or call 035-422-6002 loc. 350.


Application Form
Certification of Originality
Recommendation Form

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Tuesday, September 24, 2019

entry arrow7:14 PM | Kibun Tenkan on a Tuesday

I took it easy today, because I wanted to feel the world as it went by. Having just one class to meet made it feasible, of course. After completing two more work meetings, I decided to go to the Ariniego Art Gallery just to soak in the quiet of the cavernous building, and to admire the paintings of Federico Alcuaz, all by my lonesome. There was no one else there when I made my way in, and I must have stayed for an hour, looking at the paintings a little bit deeper than usual. Then I followed my feet, which took me to drop by the office of Elizabeth Susan Vista-Suarez, where we listened to someone play the piano, and while Ma’am Sue painted flowers we talked about the vagaries of love. Then I got a haircut. And now I’m having coffee in a cafe by the boulevard, convinced that Tuesdays were made for easing up on the restlessness of our days.

My friend Donna Sanchez tells me that the Japanese have a word this: they call it kibun tenkan, literally “change feeling,” which means “clear one’s head,” or “for a change,” which you apparently accomplish by doing exactly what I did—see some art, for example, or listen to music, or to get a haircut. “For all the stresses the Japanese experience day in and day out,” Donna tells me, “they need a specific phrase to remind them to take a breather and refresh themselves.

I feel I must have been Japanese in my past life.


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