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


Monday, July 21, 2014

entry arrow12:05 PM | Everything About This Girl

Everything About This Girl is Jana Jumalon-Alano’s first solo exhibit in Dumaguete. Its eclectic selection of styles mirrors the artist’s predilection of collecting random objects and photographs of whatever catches her eye. One such notable series of works in the exhibit – Mirrors, she tags them – makes use of her fascination for the forms of old, found objects by incorporating them to the work, establishing new relationships for them, and infusing them with life long after the objects have been discarded by its previous owners.

Other representative works include self-portraits and portraits of children. Her female forms evoke masculine strength and her paintings of children suggest an overwhelming empathy where her subjects’ emotions are powerful enough to warp the reality around them.

In Everything About This Girl, all of Jana Jumalon-Alano’s travels and passions, her ups and downs have built up to a collection of works where we get a glimpse of mortality with all its scars and triumphs.

Jana Jumalon-Alano (b. 1980) is a visual artist and a singer-songwriter. She was born and raised in Zamboanga City where she finished AB Communications. In 2001, she launched her solo music concert at the Ateneo de Zamboanga University. She has also been consistently active as a visual artist and has been awarded as one of the Top 10 Finalists for Visayas in the 2011 Philippine Art Awards. Her works have been featured in several international and local exhibitions, the most recent ones being Bae Mindanaw (Italy, 2011), Habagatan (Altromondo Gallery, 2012), All Together Now (Yuchengco Museum, 2012), and 50 Ilonggo Artists (Ayala Museum, 2013). With the support of Ateneo de Zamboanga University, she is currently writing the songs for an all-Chavacano musical to be launched this year. Jana Jumalon-Alano lives in Dumaguete City.

Jana belongs to the Jumalon family of artists and has been a part of many family exhibits in Zamboanga City, Baguio, Metro Manila, Dumaguete, Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, Davao, and Dipolog. She moved to Dumaguete eight years ago—a city which has witnessed her various passions in painting, terra cotta artmaking, and music.

The exhibit, slated to open today, JULY 21, Monday at 5:30 PM at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Foyer Gallery, runs until August 15. It is sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. It is open for free to the public.

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Friday, July 18, 2014

entry arrow10:21 PM | The Second Literatura Festival: A Writers' Summit on July 26!

Eight years have passed since the first Literatura Festival was held in Dumaguete City. Originally staged in May 2006 at Silliman University, the literary fest—which featured visiting writers Dean Francis Alfar, Susan S. Lara, Marjorie Evasco, DM Reyes, among others—was meant to showcase Filipino writers for the benefit of local students, and to introduce them to the best of Philippine literature.

The literary fest is back, this time presented by the Edilberto and Edith Tiempo Creative Writing Center and the American Studies Resource Center of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library. It is slated to unfold with a series of talks and panels on 26 July 2014, starting at 10 AM, at the American Corner of the Silliman Library.

Dubbed as the “Writers’ Summit,” it features acclaimed Filipino-American writers Lara Stapleton, Ricco Siasoco, Sarah Gambito, R.A. Villanueva, M. Evelina Galang, Fidelito Cortes, and Nerissa Balce. It also features Cebu-based writer Lawrence Ypil, and Dumaguete-based writers Ian Rosales Casocot, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, and Myrna Peña-Reyes.

The Second Literature Festival officially opens on July 25, Friday at 7 PM at Byblos in Oriental Hall, with a poetry reading by Sillimanian students and a concert of Ian Gue’s The Heartbreak Symphony.

The festival is co-presented by Silliman University’s Department of English and Literature and Cultural Affairs Committee, MetroPost, and N4 Van Services.


Opening Ceremony

July 25, Friday. Starts at 7 PM, Byblos at Oriental Hall, Silliman University

With readings by campus personalities Niña Sung, Zairo Lapore, Renz Christian Torres, Elana Bartlett, Hanz Denzil Villahermosa, Bella Piccioli, Malka Shaver, Nikko Paolo Calledo, Edgar Allan Ocampo, Alfonso Alvarez, and Veronica Vega. Featuring "The Heartbreak Symphony," composed and conducted by Ian Gue.

The Summit

July 26, Saturday. Starts at 10 AM, American Studies Resource Center of the Robert and Metta Silliman Library.

10:00 AM
Opening Prayer | Ronelaine Picardal

10:15 AM
Welcome Remarks | Festival Director Ian Rosales Casocot

10:15 AM—11:00 AM
“Inspiration and the Writer’s Life” | Keynote Lecture by Fidelito Cortes

11:15 AM—12:00 NN
Moderated Conversation I: Reading as a Village. Can the reading group become a model for fostering a love of literature in the community? This panel explores reading groups in Dumaguete City and the passion it takes to run—and attend—them. Panelists: Simon Stack, Bron Teves, Paulina Española, Joanna Bulova, Annabelle Lee-Adriano, Aaron James Jalalon, Leo Mamicpic. Moderated by Joel Llaban.

12:00 NN—1:30 PM
Lunch Break

1:30 PM—2:15 PM
Moderated Conversation II: The Writing Craft. This panel explores writing with the influence of Philippine languages both in the Philippines and in the diaspora, landscape, memory, developing character, the influence of culture on writers’ works. Panelists: Myrna Peña-Reyes, Ricco Siasoco, Sarah Gambito, R.A. Villanueva, Evelina Galang. Moderated by Nerissa Balce.

2:30 PM—3:15 PM
Moderated Conversation III: The Young and the Restless. This panel explores the expectations and practices of budding writers in Dumaguete, and what they take to make literature interesting to young people. Panelists: Anna Katrina Espino, RV Escatron, Christian Renz Torres, Arkay Timonera, Michael Aaron Gomez, Sonia SyGaco. Moderated by Alana Cabrera-Narciso.

3:30 PM—4:15 PM
“From the Highest Hiding Place” | A talk/reading by Lawrence Ypil

4:30 PM—5:15 PM
Moderated Conversation IV: What’s Going On? This panel explores the local and the Filipino-American literary scene. What are writers excited about? What are the various scenes? What are the current challenges that writers face? How can Filipino and Filipino-American writers continue to connect? Panelists: Lara Stapleton, Ian Rosales Casocot, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Fidelito Cortes, Lawrence Ypil. Moderated by Lady Flor Partosa.

5:15 PM—5:30 PM
Closing Remarks | Deputy Festival Director Warlito Caturay Jr.

7:00 PM
Dinner and Reading Salon at the University House

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Sunday, July 13, 2014

entry arrow5:14 PM | Exhibiting Badong's Stage Designs

In 2003 and for the first time in the history of the awards, the National Artist Award was given in the field of theater design, and, fittingly, it was presented to Salvador F. Bernal, not because he pioneered theater design in the country, but because he was the first to develop it as a profession and to elevate it to the level of an art form. Born in 1945 to a family that ran a terno shop, Bernal was exposed to the rudiments of fabric, cut, and silhouette early in life. At the Ateneo de Manila (BS 1966), he honed his talent as a poet and philosopher, acquiring the ability to read a text and imagine its theme as a visual conceit. At the Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois (MFA 1972), he studied, practiced, and handled courses in the art and craft of theater design. After his return in 1973, Bernal taught briefly at the Ateneo and the University of the Philippines, but soon plunged headlong and full-time into a life of design, which until then was largely unchartered territory.

In the beginning it was difficult to earn a living from design, since the production budgets of most performing arts companies were often just barely sufficient and sometimes even less than adequate. But with his discipline, resourcefulness, and industry, Bernal’s exceptional talent began to be noticed. After a decade, he was acclaimed as the foremost theater designer of the country and directors were lining up for his services. After four decades of intense work, he had designed more than 250 productions in ballet, opera, theater, and film, mentored two generations of production designers, trained a pool of artisans (seamstresses, carpenters, metal workers, painters, among others), initiated and supervised the building of the country’s first Production Design Center at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP), and founded the first and only professional organization of production designers in the Philippines. For all this, Bernal has earned the title “Father of Theater Design in the Philippines.”


The art of theater design remains largely unknown or unappreciated because most people are unaware of what it is, what it requires, and how crucial it is to a theater production. The exhibit aims to introduce and explain this rising art form through some of the most expressive and impressive works of Salvador F. Bernal.

In the four main alcoves of the gallery, seventeen maquettes and fifteen photos illustrate the four major aspects in Bernal’s process of design: under SYMBOL, the selection of the key metaphor that crystallized the director’s interpretation of the dance or theater production; under SOURCES, the range of sources from which Bernal drew his design concepts and styles; under SURFACES, the local and inexpensive materials that Bernal discovered and developed for the stage; under SPACE, Bernal’s successful experimentation with theater space and successful solution to stage limitations.

Opposite these four alcoves are four sections under the title SILHOUETTES, where extant Bernal costumes are displayed. Opposite the alcove on SPACE are the costumes of The Magic Flute, whose budget allowed Bernal’s imagination free rein. Opposite the alcove on SURFACES are the attires from Orosman at Zafira, which used indigenous materials as costume décor. Opposite the alcove on SOURCES are the Asian-inspired ensembles created for Realizing Rama. Opposite the alcove on SYMBOL are the ternos with fish-motif designed for Sa Bunganga ng Pating. Outside the gallery, a timeline traces the patterns of Bernal’s creativity on one wall, while the opposite wall showcases the sketches he himself made for selected productions.

Ang Pagpapatay Kay Luna, Set and Costume Design, 2001, Musical, Nonon Padilla (Director), Tanghalang Pilipino. Photo from the CCP Collection.

Realizing Rama, Set and Costume Design, 1998-2001, Ballet, Denisa Reyes (Choreographer), ASEAN COCI Project. Photo from the Salvador Bernal Collection.

Engkantada, Set and Costume Design, 1992, Ballet, Agnes Locsin (Choreographer), Ballet Philippines. Photo from the CCP Collection.

Scale model of Paglipas ng Dilim, CCP Collection. Photo by Ricardo Cruz.

Scene from the Court of Rajah Humabon. From Lapu-Lapu, Set and Costume Design, 1997, Musical, Behn Cervantes (Director), Dimitri Productions. Photo from the Salvador Bernal Collection.

[Text from the exhibit catalogue]

The exhibit Badong: Salvador Bernal Designs the Stage opens on 18 JULY 2014, Friday at 5 PM. It will run until August 6. The exhibit is brought to Silliman University by the Cultural Center of the Philippines, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, and 2Go.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

entry arrow5:22 PM | Rose

It was all too sudden. We were still reeling from the news that Silliman alumna Ross Camara, publisher of Aria Editions, had passed on when we got another unfortunate missive. Last Thursday afternoon, I got a text message from Silliman University’s Alumni Affairs Officer Ruben Bokingo, informing me that Rose Lamb Sobrepeña—writer, philanthropist, and wife of Atty. Enrique Sobrepeña Jr.—had also died. Mrs. Sobrepeña, especially for many recent fellows of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop, is known in Dumaguete as the generous spirit behind the Writers Village at Camp Lookout, Valencia. For that, and for many services she has given her Alma Mater, the Writers Village, established in 2008, has been named in her honor.

And so, last Monday finally found me and English Department Chairperson Warlito Caturay Jr. in Manila. Her funeral service was being held at Heritage Park in Taguig City, and we went there to pay our final respects to one whose generosity has helped much of creative writing in Silliman today.

The memorial program that Monday afternoon was organized by La Hermandad Zamboangueña (led by its past president, the beautiful Gloria Pichel Mara, who is better known to all of us as Loli Mara) and Silliman University. And we were all there, “because for the loving memory of our beloved Rose,” Ms. Mara said in behalf of all of us.

Indeed, Ma’am Rose was that beloved—and the emotional and often funny outpouring from friends who gave testimony were a clear indication of just how much she was held in high esteem in the many circles she ran in, including the United Church of Christ in the Philippines community.

There were several Sillimanian alumni that day at Chapel 6 of Heritage Park, which included former Silliman President and recently declared National Scientist Dr. Angel C. Alcala. Also present were the University Board of Trustees’ Ambassador Antonio Villamor and Atty. Grace Sumalpong, Silliman Alumni Association Manila Chapter President Edna Mijares, National Writers Workshop Director Susan S. Lara, as well as Melba Adraincem, Chatty Realiza, Gloria Belarmino, Radi Apostol, Mel Morales, Diane Morales, Dolly Felicitas, Bishop Norman Marigza, Joselito Asiniero, Bobby Cafe, among many others. We went together as members of a larger Sillimanian family to give honor to one of our own. And in our own half of the memorial service, Atty. Sumalpong spoke in behalf of the university, and in particular BOT Chair Leonor Magtolis Briones, Vice President for Academic Affairs Betsy Joy Tan, and President Ben S. Malayang III. Among many Filipino writers—especially those who have been through the beautiful rigors of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop, founded by Edilberto Tiempo and National Artist for Literature Edith Lopez Tiempo—the name Rose Lamb Sobrepeña is synonymous to three things: home away from home, comfort, and a beautiful camaraderie. And that is because those are the things that perfectly describe the looks and the experience of the Writers Village back home, which is named of course after our beautiful benefactor.

I have met Mrs. Sobrepeña only once, in Dumaguete, when she came to visit the Writers Village named after her, and to launch her latest collection of writings. And my impression has always been that of an indomitable woman who was also kind hearted and who was also a writer to reckon with. She was peerless in her devotion to literature and creative writing, and in fact, her love story of how she met and fell in love with Sir Ike is one legend we keep repeating in the telling back in Silliman.

Thank you, Ma’am Rose, for your life and your gift.

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Friday, July 04, 2014

entry arrow11:51 PM | Originality is a Bad Word

I started writing because I was desperately in love with the words of Nick Joaquin. I was a college sophomore, and my Philippine literature teacher—the fictionist Timothy Montes—just made me read “May Day Eve,” and I was enthralled. Later that day, I went straight home and made my own story, taking care to carry over many of the things I fell in love with in Mr. Joaquin’s prose: the breathless lyricism (that long swirly sentence of a first paragraph! which gets echoed, in tone and style, by the last paragraph!), the melodramatic characters, and the seamless shifts in time frames which seem to be signaled by sheer fiction sorcery. When we follow the beautiful and headstrong young Agueda, for example, as she heads her way to the mirror to disprove Anastasia’s claim of midnight magical prophecies, we see her closing her eyes and mouthing the strange incantation. And when Mr. Joaquin finally describes the act of Agueda finally opening her eyes to behold her reflection on the mirror, our minds race to think: what did she see? As if to read our minds and our anticipation, Mr. Joaquin pens down the exact same question in the next line—but this time as the opening dialogue by some other character in another scene and in another time. And just like that, seamlessly, time shifts.

I was enthralled.

I wanted to do the exact same magic in a story I thought I could write. And write I did—but to my estimation now, it was a complete amateurish disaster. But so be it. That story, cribbed from the stylistics of Nick Joaquin, made me the writer I am today.

Years later, the poet Cesar Ruiz Aquino, another one of writing mentors, casually remarked of the stories I wrote: “You’re so Joaquinesque.” Which I perfectly understood. And for me, it was an observation of influence. Not to say I was being unoriginal, of course. Because I would like to believe there is no such thing as “original,” anyway.

When you swim in the world of creatives—if you are a visual artist, for example, or a designer, a musician, a writer, a performer—being called an “original” comes to you as a stamp of utmost approval, an implicit acknowledgment that you may be unique in an overwhelming ocean of mediocrity and the dogtired. We castigate “sameness,” sport an upturned nose on “derivative,” and congratulate the “individual effort” that sings for the beholder a different tune from the rest. We think of that individuality, that uniqueness as the be-all and end-all of what you do as creative.

But I’ve always felt that there is an allure to the word “original” which we mistake for virtue—a confusion that is fuzzy and misunderstood. And so let me just make my point clear: I do not believe in the “original.” There is no such thing. When I am asked questions seeking to ascertain whether we have enough fresh, new, and yes, “unique” ideas to continue to push the boundaries of literature and music and film, I get a little uneasy.

Because ideas are not a finite thing, like a well that dries up. It’s not fossil fuel—although it is a different kind of fuel that feeds a machine that embraces all. And the true answer to that question is this: if you take a closer look at history itself, and the way that life unfolds, the fact that we are still astounded by things that crop up every single day is testament to the fact that ideas—fresh and new—will always be there. People have been complaining about the death of the novel for ages, for example. The death of the novel has been declared for a few hundred years now. And yet it’s still around, it has evolved with the times. I believe boundaries exist to be pushed further.

I am also asked: Is everything derivative then? But I like “derivative.” Although I prefer a better term for this: “remix” is better—and has a jazzy sound to it. Is originality something altogether unattainable in this day and age? I am also asked, sometimes. And I think that’s looking at a green apple and complaining that it’s not red. It’s still an apple.

I’m going to say arguing for originality like as if it is some sacred thing, like a literary holy grail every writer must try to wrest in some crusade, is old hat. Any literature teacher worth her salt would tell you that there is no such thing as an original story. If you believe certain literary sources, there are only seven, or three, or 20, or 36 plots in the world, depending on whose account you are listening to.

Arguing for originality that is yours alone, unique in the whole unfolding creative history of mankind is a little too selfish, too grandiose, and always impossible: it denies the whole dynamism that we are human beings who create because we are inspired, because we are able to react, because we have the gift to transform. What for me becomes original is the way writers are able to manipulate so-called old stories into something fresh, new.

This is the transformation that is the heart of every art. Take for instance the recent Hollywood blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow, which stars Tom Cruise. It is the story of a military man—who is more a PR person than a soldier trained for combat—who is sent against his will to battle aliens. And something happens to him in the battlefield that enables him to relive the same day each time he gets killed in that battle. Which is really Groundhog Day meets Starship Troopers meets the journey of the hero archetype proposed by Joseph Campbell. Nothing original about the story at all—but it was a very engaging movie, which enthralled critics and audiences alike. And what seemed fresh about it was not the hoary storyline it hitches itself to. It was how the director—and probably also the screenwriter—shaped or crafted that whole storyline that made it more immediate, scintillating, powerful.

Where do we insert “newness” in storytelling then? Storytelling is old as mankind—but if you think about it, the stories and the ways we tell them have always been shaped by the available technology prevalent at the time. Think of the caveman and his urge to tell the story of a bison hunt—his technology of cave wall, pitch, and clay would soon produce those beautiful cave paintings. Before writing was invented, the Bard used an oral means of transmitting his tale, which required specific techniques necessary for him or her to be able to retell an entire epic from memory: the repetition of certain motifs, the musicality of the narrative, the flatness of characters. You needed such mnemonic devices to be able to recite an epic. The technology of writing completely eradicated that technique: there was no more need to memorize—and soon a specific of writing emerged: more complex characters, less dependency on sound devices, restraint from the overuse of motifs. We were still telling the same stories, but we were telling them differently.

In the Age of the Internet, where short attention span and a mobile media platform dominate, we need to fit our old stories now to these new media to cope with the times.

I’m going to mention the New York writer Teju Cole, who has been taking to Twitter to write his short stories, the form of which is completely influenced by the medium: very short and concise, with the characteristic of social share-ability. There’s also “Hawk Funn,” a Facebook experiment in storytelling that we are now beginning to call the “social story.” And most of all, I’d like to mention Humans of New York, which is basically a photography blog and Facebook page—but I think it sets a good example of what storytelling is like in the social media age. You first get from HONY a striking picture of ordinary denizens of a city, and we get a caption that thoroughly humanizes the photo because of the story these denizens tell of themselves. The first time I encountered HONY, I was struck by the fact that these little stories managed to excite my imagination, that nerve center in my brain that responds to good narrative. And they were short—which is appropriate for our age. And they were easily shared. And people were responding to them in droves. If each like or comment to each of these HONY posts was the equivalent of a subscription to a literary magazine, you could say literature is alive and well and kicking in the Age of Social Media.

This is the new literature. The stories are old, but the media is new. That’s where the originality lies.

I’ve been reading a book titled Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. For him, an artist is a collector, not a hoarder—meaning to say he collects selectively the things that he loves. Artists collect ideas, and writers do this by reading. Kleon recounted stumbling on a technique of “doing poetry” by clipping out newspaper articles he likes, and then emphasizing certain words he finds fascinating, and then blacking out with a marker the rest of the article—leaving a clipping with only certain words standing out from the blackness. The words, of course, strung together read out like some found poetry.

He found later on, however, that this technique of doing poetry was not unique. A guy named Tom Phillips was doing something like this before. And the more he researched, the more he found out there was a tradition of doing something exactly like this. He uncovered William Burroughs, and then uncovered Brion Gysin before Burroughs, and then uncovered Tristan Tzara before Gysin, and then uncovered Caleb Whitefoord before Tzara—which accounted for a 250 year old tradition of black out poetry.

And he came to this conclusion: nothing is original. All creative works build on what came before, and the best we can do is not to call this “derivative” work, but to call it a “remix,” a “mash-up.” It is mash-up because we take the best of what already existed before, and then giving it our own take. According to Klein, we need to become “creative kleptomaniacs.”

Given the question of originality, it pays to be reminded about what some of the best creatives in history has said about the issue. Pablo Picasso once said, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal.” David Bowie once described himself as a “tasteful thief.” T.S. Eliot once said that great poets steal, but they turn what they have stolen into something better.

That’s transformation. That’s remixing. That’s mash-up.

PHOTO CREDITS: Photo of Nick Joaquin by Neal Oshima, for Rogue Magazine. Photo of Austin Kleon by Ryan Essmaker for The Great Discontent.

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Thursday, July 03, 2014

entry arrow12:00 AM | We Need to Try

Failures are heartbreaking, but they can be beautiful. There is a point in Frank Pavich's Jodorowsky's Dune (2013) -- his marvelous documentary on Alejandro Jodorowsky's aborted effort to film the iconic sci-fi novel by Frank Herbert in the mid-1970s -- where the irrepressible Mexican filmmaker suddenly shows great and angry emotion about the circumstances that finally led to the shutting down of production. Jodorowsky had already done an elaborate pre-production on the project, having gathered together the best talents he could find to flesh out his vision (he called them "spiritual warriors"), and the producer needed $5 million more from Hollywood executives just to see the film's completion. But Hollywood, while impressed, finally said no. And the greatest film that never was grounded to a halt. Apparently, the suits found all the preparation perfect, but Hollywood found the director's vision frightening. Filmmaker Nicolas Winding Refn recounts: "I believe that the reason they didn't do this film is because they were afraid of him. They were afraid of his imagination, they were afraid of his mind, and they were afraid of what it was going to do to them. And that's the real reason they didn't do this film: they were scared." It is by this point in the film that Jodorowsky finally explodes, and you see a man protective of his vision remembering old disappointments: "Movies have heart! They have mind! They have power! They have ambition! I wanted to do something like that! ... And why not?" And then he suddenly goes into contemplative quiet, a sadness over the memory etched into his face, his voice. But the film, even when unmade, went on to influence many of the films of the genre that came soon after, from Star Wars to Raiders of the Lost Ark, from Blade Runner to The Matrix, from Terminator to Flash Gordon to Alien. And what the documentary finally tells us is that not all failures are bad: unfulfilled creativity can live on, and have its imprint somewhere else. "For me to fail is only to change the way... If you fail, is not important," Jodorowsky finally says. "We need to try."

I shall always remember this.

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Tuesday, July 01, 2014

entry arrow10:07 PM | This is Dr. Potenciano Baccay.

Was Dr. Potenciano Baccay. He was one of Marcos' personal physicians and was Vice President of the National Kidney Foundation. But he made the mistake of revealing to the foreign press that the late strongman had kidney transplants in 1983 and 1984, fueling speculations that Marcos was seriously ill. He was later found stabbed to death, shortly after he spoke to The Pittsburgh Press. Police later said he was kidnaped and slain by communist rebels. A spokesman for Marcos later called the report "sheer fantasy." [Adapted slightly from The New York Times report.]

#DontReviseOurHistory #NeverAgain


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entry arrow9:33 PM | This is Archimedes Trajano.

Was Archimedes Tajano. Trajano, then a 21-year-old student at the Mapua Institute of Technology, once stood up in an open forum on August 1977 to question Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, on her capability to lead the youth. The nation was then under Martial Law, and Imee Marcos headed the national youth organization Kabataang Barangay and was at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila where she addressed thousands of students. Trajano told Marcos that she would not have assumed the leadership position if she was not the presidential daughter. He also questioned her on her father's role in human rights violations. On 2 September 1977, the bloodied body of Trajano was found on the streets of Manila. The student’s parents were told he got into a dormitory fight. Witnesses later came forward to testify that Trajano was last seen being forcibly removed from the university forum by Marcos’ security escorts. It is believed Trajano was tortured for 12 to 36 hours before he died. His mother sued Marcos before the US district court in Honolulu, Hawaii, on 20 March 1986, barely a month after the Marcos family fled the country following the EDSA people power that year. In 1991, the US court awarded $4.4 million to the Trajano family. [Adapted slightly from the GMA News Online report.] 

#DontReviseOurHistory #NeverAgain


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Thursday, June 12, 2014

entry arrow2:16 PM | Falling for Jake Ryan

"Happy birthday, Samantha. Make a wish."

"It already came true."

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

entry arrow5:21 PM | This Article is a Metaphor

Now that the film has become a massive hit (and thereby fair game for potshots), I've noticed a certain thread in the general reception of Josh Boone's adaptation of John Green's popular YA novel The Fault in Our Stars that seem to regard its reputation as a "weepie" as something to scorn about. It even prompted one misguided Salon writer to reprimand adults who love to read YA novels as being, more or less, stunted in their reading preferences. "Read more literary fiction, more adult books," the writer wagged her finger reproachfully.

Then again, reviews are reviews, and it is foolhardy to think that there is a way to just about pleasing everyone. We do need good criticism in a landscape overrun with so much cultural production, but criticism is always a tricky thing to bottle: what can be considered great at the moment may become utterly forgettable in a few years' time -- and then there are things like Joey Gosiengfiao's Temptation Island, or Jim Sheridan's The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Branded as "baduy"/trash cinema when both premiered, they have since attained lofty status among cineasts as films of the best possible camp sensibilities. Taste, I guess, is relative, and only time is the best arbiter for what passes for good.

Yet I think many (certainly not all) people's adverse reactions to The Fault in Our Stars as essentially springing from a never-ending and quite pervasive sense that anything "sentimental" is weak or bad. It is "too female," and does not make for great literature or movies. There may in fact be a widespread allergy to the "sentimental" in popular culture. Unless it's a meme featuring adorable cats.

It is much the same way most people deride "romantic comedies." You can go over the unbelievable critical drubbings the late Nora Ephron used to get for her films like Sleepless in Seattle or You've Got Mail -- but let a man direct her screenplay for When Harry Met Sally... and see them practically fall all over themselves to regard it as an instant classic of its genre.

It is also much the same way with so-called "women's films," most of which have been relegated to the wayside of critical attention contemporary to their release. Take the great films of Douglas Sirk and Ross Hunter -- All That Heaven Allows, for example, or Imitation of Life, or Written on the Wind, or Magnificent Obsession -- attacked upon their releases as "inconsequential melodrama" done up in Technicolor -- but we know what has happened since then: Sirk is now considered an auteur of the first rank, using the genre of the melodrama and a heightened cinematographic palette to slyly comment on the social mores of the stifling 1950s.

This recalls for me the early feminists' cultural fight against the overwhelmingly white/male literary canon, which they charged as basically excluding a lot of women's writings -- "lost" writings, these feminist literary critics called them -- because "they were not important." Because these writings sought to explore the female sphere of living -- and not war or politics or other manly concerns -- they were "not important."

Truth to tell, I like "sentimental." As a Filipino writer, it is hardwired into my literary DNA, considering that I have in my literary tradition the books of Jose Rizal, Zoilo Galang, and Pedro Paterno. This is tempered only by the strictures of American formalism that reward writing that is "muscular" and "restrained." Needless to say, we have been taught too well that "restraint" is what makes good fiction. We are told, and trained, to never wear our hearts on our sleeves when we write, unless, of course, you are Nick Joaquin. (And nobody else can be like the singular Nick Joaquin.) But sentimental, for me, is not the same as being mawkish or cloying. It can be, especially when it's being done by a hack like Stephenie Meyer, whose Twilight series of books limned the execrable in emotionality. Of course sentimental fiction can be done well, especially when they're made to sing. Read Andre Aciman's wonderful and heartbreaking chronicle of longing in Call Me By Your Name, and there you can see how sentimentality can indeed be elevated to art.

There's this line from John Green's novel, for example, that gets me every time. On the page, the charming Augustus Waters tells the more sarcastic Hazel Grace Lancaster: "My thoughts are stars I cannot fathom into constellations." Heightened, yes. Verbose, oh yes. But I think joyfully so. It's right up there with Pablo Neruda declaring in a poem, "Love is so short, forgetting is so long." And I certainly don't want to be part of that uninformed camp that cannot believe today's teenagers can actually talk like this. Have they met any of today's teenagers at all? If they do, they will find that many of them are so articulate, and witty, and knowing -- the perfect product of the Information Age they were born into.

In the Facebook comments of the post I made about these matters, the young writer Patty Verzo commented: "I also dislike how easily people dismiss anything teenage girls (and teenagers, in general) like as shallow and unimportant. These are their experiences; how could you say a person's interests and experiences are unimportant? That isn't fair." Exactly. Who is to say the story of a well-spoken cancer-stricken girl in love is invalid? Who is to say no such girls can be real? (Green's Hazel Grace is said to be partly based on a real-life, very articulate sixteen-year old American girl with cancer named Esther Grace who died in 2010.) Who is to say pathos has no place in teenage lives? And yet, given these, the naysayers seem to be singularly forgiving of authors who write only of the dark themes of adolescence, like the nihilistic middle-finger narrative of Holden Caulfield in J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye -- so nihilistic it spawned real-life murderers. It is a cynical book with a cynical view of the world -- of course critics ate it up. But give them a book that affirms life while not being dismissive of death, that embraces lightness and humour even in the throes of pain, that is, in fact, well-written, and you get scorn. How does one respond to that. I guess with a shrug that reads, "Oh, well."

In the end, I guess, it is a matter of taste. As another young writer remarked: “What about people who simply didn’t like it just because it didn’t appeal to them as much?” It is thus a question of appeal, but I always like to ask from what standpoint that appeal is shaped from. Why doesn’t it appeal to you? I detest action movies like the Transformers films, for example, because the endless action—all CG wizardry and often devoid of humanity—makes me sleepy as hell. I doze off. I find mindless macho demonstrations on film ultimately unappealing, because as a gay man, they have helped define what made me “less a man” growing up. I wasn’t sporty, or manly enough—and sometimes I got called names. My boredom of the same demonstrations, this time on celluloid, is how I repay the past. That’s where I come from.

In the end, I like stories where the emotional stakes are high for the human beings in it, and not because they are trapped in a Michael Bay movie. Perhaps I like films and books like TFIOS because, like what the late Roger Ebert once said, and I paraphrase—he likes to behold stories where good people try to be good and do good, despite the circumstances that surround them. Movies like that appealed to his humanity, and thus moved him. In the dramatic ending of Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society, the dismissed English professor’s former students stand up for their teacher by literally standing up, one by one, on their desks in the classroom, declaring “Oh Captain! My Captain!” When I first saw that scene, I got a lump in my throat.

Fine, I cried.

Mawkish, perhaps, for you? But I guess that says more about you than anything else. I saw that scene, and I wanted to become an English teacher.

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Friday, June 06, 2014

entry arrow10:58 PM | Cities of Literature

Each one of us has a crazy dream. To climb Mount Everest, for example, or to write a complicated symphony. Or to bake the world’s largest pizza, if that’s more your thing. In my quiet moments, when I ponder about the things I have written—or plan to write—I think about how wonderful it would be to write a good YA novel, in the vein of The Perks of Being a Wallflower or The Fault in Our Stars, but with a Filipino context and sensibility, something I have yet to really see from a Philippine author.

I have been writing for most of my life, and so it is not exactly out of left field for me to dream of big things that are literary. What is a little bit audacious, however, is an even bigger dream: to make Dumaguete a UNESCO City of Literature. This is part of UNESCO’s Creative Cities Network, which it launched in 2004, to answer what it perceived to be a need to foster appreciation for cultural diversity around the world. The aim is to “promote the social, economic and cultural development of cities in both the developed and the developing world,” through literature, music, film, media, gastronomy, crafts and folk art, and design.

To be approved as a City of Literature, cities must satisfy a number of criteria that mark its affinity to the written word, where literature must be seen to play an important role in city life: this includes the quality, quantity, and diversity of publishing in the city; the quality and quantity of educational programs focusing on domestic or foreign literature in schools at all levels; the hosting literary events and festivals which promote domestic and foreign literature; the existence of libraries, bookstores, and public or private cultural centers which preserve, promote, and disseminate domestic and foreign literature; the involvement by the publishing sector in translating literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature; and an active involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products. A tall order—but the benefits of being accorded the honor are huge.

To date, there are only seven Cities of Literature, which include Edinburgh, Scotland (2004), Melbourne, Australia (2008), Dublin, Ireland (2010), Reykjavík, Iceland (2011), Norwich, England (2012), and Kraków, Poland (2013).

In November 2008, Iowa City in Iowa, U.S.A. became the third city in the world to be declared by the UNESCO as an official City of Literature. Its Creative Cities Network program cites that “[s]ince 1955, graduates and faculty of the University of Iowa have won more than 25 Pulitzer Prizes in literature. Iowa City has been home to such acclaimed authors as Flannery O’Connor, Wallace Stegner, and Kurt Vonnegut Jr. And the world-famous Iowa Writers’ Workshop was the world’s first Master of Fine Arts degree program in creative writing...”

I am specific about my mention of Iowa City as a City of Literature, because halfway around the world, in the heart of the Visayas, Dumaguete is very much Iowa City’s literary twin. Its inclusion in the ranks of these literary cities could prove to be a portal with which we can lay claim to the same distinction.

The writer Rowena Tiempo-Torrevillas, a native of Dumaguete and a current resident of Iowa City once called the latter her “blonde Dumaguete.” Indeed, both share between them a wealth of literary developments that have lasted more than sixty years. “In 1946,” she once wrote, “my father [Edilberto K. Tiempo] was offered a scholarship by the Presbyterian Board of Missions, enabling him to do graduate work in the United States, at Stanford. He was readying himself for the scholarly regimen of the classics, and doing a refresher course in Latin, among his preparations, when my father was asked what area he wanted to specialize in at Stanford. ‘Creative writing,’ he said. ‘There are a number of novels I am going to write, and I need to know if I’m writing them effectively and well.’

“’Oh,’ the Presbyterian Board officer told him, ‘then there’s only one place for you to go. Iowa.’ Dad had to look up Iowa in the encyclopedia, and he was a bit puzzled at what he read. ‘Isn’t that where...they grow corn?’”

Iowa, right smack in the cornfields and silos of the American Midwest, indeed grew corn. But Dr. E.K. Tiempo was soon to learn there was a man there. It was a poet named Paul Engle, and he ran what was and still is considered the best creative writing workshop in the world: the Iowa Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa. “And that is how my Dad,” Rowena Torrevillas continued, “took a freighter across the Pacific, then a train halfway across the continent from San Francisco to Iowa City. And one morning, carrying his belongings in an Army-issue duffel bag, he crossed the Pentacrest on the campus to find the postwar temporary quarters in the Nissen huts, the quonset building where Paul Engle was holding the Writers’ Workshop.”

By 1947, Dr. E.K. Tiempo’s wife, Edith Lopez Tiempo, also joined to take part in the writing program in Iowa. When the Tiempos returned to the Philippines in 1951, Silliman University was already abuzz with creative writing. The campus was sprouting literary enthusiasts, among them Aida Rivera-Ford, Rodrigo and Dolores Feria, and Ricaredo Demetillo. The Tiempos made creative writing an area of concentration for English majors in the English Department—and soon that paved the way to preparations in 1961 to hold a workshop similar to the one they attended in Iowa. The following year, it became fully operational, and now it is known as the Silliman University National Writers Workshop.

In 1962, Engle himself visited Dumaguete, and met at the Silliman workshop two Asian writers, Ko Won and Wilfrido Nolledo. These two writers would soon form the nucleus of what was to be the Internatinal Writing Program, which Engle founded in 1967 with his wife, the Chinese writer Hualing Nieh Engle. Rowena Torrevillas, upon returning to Iowa City in the 1980s, would become part of the IWP staff, becoming its coordinator for many years, and editing with Paul Engle the 20th anniversary anthology of the IWP titled “The World Comes to Iowa.” By 2011, nineteen alumni and panelists of the Silliman University National Writers Workshop, would go to Iowa as fellows of the IWP, including Wilfrido Nolledo in 1967, Cirilo Bautista in 1968, Erwin Castillo in 1969, Ninotchka Rosca in 1977, Alfred Yuson in 1978, Rowena Tiempo Torrevillas in 1984, Edgardo Maranan in 1985, Fidelito Cortes in 1986, Marra PL. Lanot in 1986, Susan S. Lara in 1987, Rofel Brion in 1990, Ophelia Alcantara Dimalanta in 1990, Gemino H. Abad in 1991, Marjorie Evasco in 2002, Charlson Ong in 2002, Sarge Lacuesta in 2007, Vicente Garcia Groyon in 2009, yours truly in 2010, and Joel Toledo in 2011.

In 2005, writing fellows from the Nonfiction Writing Program at The University of Iowa, under Robin Hemley, also took part in the National Writers Workshop in Dumaguete, with Angela Balcita, Elizabeth Rae Cowan, Matthew Davis, Bernadette Esposito, Brian Goedde, Jynelle Gracia, Bonnie Rough, and Alex Sheshunoff. The program also sent visiting writers from Iowa to Dumaguete during the workshop’s 50th anniversary in 2011.

It has been a rich literary relationship between two cities. But does Dumaguete have what it takes to be City of Literature? Do we have diversity of publishing in the city? Not exactly, but that can be done, if only we can get visionaries to see the value of a city that publishes books. Do our educational programs focusing on domestic or foreign literature in schools at all levels? They do, but perhaps a sharper focus—with attendant assistance by those in the know—is in order. Do we host literary events and festivals which promote domestic and foreign literature? By God, yes, and plenty of that. Do we have libraries, bookstores, and public or private cultural centers which preserve, promote, and disseminate domestic and foreign literature? Our public library needs help, we can do more than just have National Bookstore in our midst, but we do have cultural centers that do a fine job of literary dissemination. Does the local publishing sector help in translating literary works from diverse national languages and foreign literature? None of that, as yet. Is there an active involvement of traditional and new media in promoting literature and strengthening the market for literary products? It can be done—but still a pipe dream.

It will take a while, but it can be done, if we really wanted to.

It will be an audacious undertaking necessitating a complete overhaul of how we think of this beloved city. But it can be done.

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Saturday, May 31, 2014

entry arrow5:34 PM | Sexton.

To say that I'm currently trying to find some strange comfort in Diane Wood Middlebrook's biography of Anne Sexton, while also reading her complete book of poems, is a little unsettling. But nonetheless. These days I find solace in her recognition of that "terrible energy."

I know that energy well.

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entry arrow2:00 PM | The Good Villain

I have this small exercise which I do for one of my literature classes where I try prove a crucial point over why I have made them run through the thick and often difficult gamut of formalism, feminism, Marxism, queer theory, post-colonialism, psychoanalysis, and other interpretative strategies in reading the texts we’ve taken up in class.

In this exercise, I make them take a closer look at the classroom they’re in. “Do you see yourself sitting in your chair?” I ask them. “Do you see those windows, those doors, that blackboard, that electric fan—things in this room already so familiar to you?” They nod, of course. “It is the same room you have been sitting in for the past few months now,” I say, quietly underlining the point for them to understand that what they see are things they have come to always see every time we meet for class, to the point of banality.

I ask them to stand up. Then I ask them to carefully climb on top of their chairs, which they do, gingerly, some balancing carefully more than the others. Then I ask them: “Do you still see the same room you have been seeing these past few months?” Of course, they nod yes. And then I finally ask them: “But how do you feel this time around, seeing them?”

The answer to that is the surprise they always get: because the things they see are still the same things they’ve been seeing—but this time around, everything is cloaked in the sheen of small surprises. Because they same exact things are being seen in the light of new angles, new perspectives. That window, that electric fan whirring from the ceiling, they’re still the same window and electric fan—but are now charged with a newness of being seen in a totally different way. “This is why we have these interpretative strategies in reading,” I finally tell them, “because they are windows to new meanings.”

Of course, I stole this whole bit from a very iconic scene in Peter Weir’s Dead Poets Society. But I have always believed in this exercise. It has come to encapsulate for me the validity of other viewpoints, of other interpretations, of other ways of telling the same story.

I think of this because I’m fascinated all of a sudden over traditional fairy tales and how they have always been the type of popular narrative that seems to give us even more with every “fracturing.” The earliest one I could think of that fascinated me was a politically correct version of “The Three Little Pigs,” this time told from the viewpoint of the Wolf, who reasons out in the end why he’s been seeking out the pigs in the first place: “It is my manifest destiny as a wolf to eat pigs!” Even as a child, I thought: He’s right. No one should fault a wolf for doing what wolves must. I can’t imagine a vegetarian wolf.

Years later, reading the short stories of Neil Gaiman in preparation for a dinner I was to have with him during a literary event in Manila in 2007, I came across a gem of a fractured fairy tale. “Snow, Glass, Apples” was Gaiman’s own version of the Snow White story, told from the perspective of the Queen, a benevolent figure who seems to have a rightful reason as to why she needed to have the fairy tale princess killed and her heart brought to her as evidence of the kill: Snow White was a murderous vampire, with that preternaturally white skin, those bloody red lips … those evil fangs. She had to die.

Needless to say, my fascination for all these prepared me very well for Walt Disney’s Maleficent, its retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story, this time told from the viewpoint of one of its iconic villains. Maleficent’s elegant villainy is, of course, already signaled to us by the portmanteau that is her name—magnificent malevolence all rolled into one. As played by Angelina Jolie, the humanized character, I thought, was the perfect project for this kind of retelling. No one else except Ms. Jolie could possibly pull of that demand for character—and still be likable. I went out of the movie theater satisfied by Disney’s exercise in giving internal complexity to a famous villain, in the vein of Elphaba’s turn in Wicked and the Snow Queen’s reimagining in Frozen.

I liked—if not loved—the movie, which fulfilled its promise of retelling a fairy tale. It has always announced this approach, which was why I questioned other people’s dismay over it: Maleficent was not malevolent enough, or that Disney “killed” everybody’s idea of a popular villain. But wasn’t that the objective? Didn’t they foreground this in the trailers?

I liked the new complexity promised by exercises like this. It’s giving ground to what I have always felt to be true about human nature: we think we’re the heroes in our lives’ narratives, but if we really think harder about it, we could always be the villains to someone else’s story. This way, it scales back much of my own rabid tendencies to see people whom I have disagreements with as complete villainous warts: if I think harder about it, they’re fighting their own secrets fights, too. Perhaps they do what they do because of some secret circumstances.

Why do people do bad things? It is one question I have always been fascinated with. Vulture, the New York Post’s famous culture blog, sees the trend as a double-edged sword, however: “So Disney’s recent move away from classic villains is, on some level, a good thing, in that it allows them to delve into some heretofore unexplored types of relationships, and to find psychological complexity where once there was none,” writes the Vulture blogger. “But I can’t help but feel like something has been lost as well. The Evil Queen, Maleficent, the Coachman, Shere-Khan. We didn’t spend a lot of time getting to know them. They were mysterious, elemental, totemic. And so, we could fill them with our own fears. They were charismatic enough that we brought our own complexity to them. These bad guys also put our heroes into sharper focus: Try to imagine Snow White without the Evil Queen, Peter Pan without Captain Hook.”

I get this, but as I told Job de Leon, the new complexity excites me more. To which Job replied: “But sometimes evil just is: you can’t explain it but you have to deal with it anyway. Different kind of storytelling with different assumptions for what makes a compelling story. I guess it’s like saying you don’t really need to humanize Sauron to improve The Lord of the Rings, nor do you need to give Game of Thrones characters more rigid different moral compasses. I don’t have an opinion now on which one is better than the other, but I can appreciate both.”

I appreciate both, too. And as history would like to remind us once and again, evil often can be so banal, already so human, there really is no explanation sometimes for the evil that men can do. But in stories, I guess I demand some complexity of character, if only because it is my last shred of hope in a humanity that seems too eager to lose its humaneness. It is my need to see how Anakin Skywalker become Darth Vader (although that exercise with George Lucas ultimately didn’t turn out so well), or how Trahald became Gollum.

As Tim Kreider once reminded us: “We don’t give other people credit for the same interior complexity we take for granted in ourselves. We can’t believe that anyone could be unkind to us and still be genuinely fond of us, although we do it all the time. Years ago a friend of mine had a dream about a strange invention; a staircase you could descend deep underground, in which you heard recordings of all the things anyone had ever said about you, both good and bad. The catch was, you had to pass through all the worst things people had said before you could get to the highest compliments at the very bottom. There is no way I would ever make it more than two and a half steps down such a staircase, but I understand its terrible logic: if we want the rewards of being loved we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”

So I like Maleficent. And I want Walt Disney’s Ursula next. Let’s see… She’s the beautiful wife of King Triton, and Ursula lives to sing—but the jealous sea god thinks she has been canoodling her conductor. And so Triton divorces and banishes her. Her golden voice is also taken away from her, and Ursula is cursed to become an octopus. Of course, if this happens to you, you’d get angry. You’d want justice. And of course you’d also get angry if your ex-husband immediately marries another mermaid who promptly bears him several daughters—including this Ariel, who somehow reminds Ursula of her younger self. That voice...

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Friday, May 30, 2014

entry arrow1:15 AM | Tango Cinema

I like it how dance can sometimes be used in film to telegraph drama. And for the movies, the tango seems to be the one type of dance to do exactly that. And it always seems to be "Por una Cabeza," the popular 1935 tango song with music by Carlos Gardel. There's something about this piece that seems to invite filmmakers to try to render their sense of drama and tension into the scene, man and woman battling it out on the dance floor.

The most popular example seems to be Al Pacino and Gabrielle Anwar's dance in Martin Brest's Scene of a Woman (1992), where the tango becomes a lesson in life.

In James Cameron's True Lies (1994), it becomes an introduction for deceit between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Tia Carrere, offset later on by the comical rendition between him and Jamie Lee Curtis who plays his wife...

But it doesn't always have to be "Por una Cabeza," as in this crazy love dance between Raul Julia and Anjelica Huston in Barry Sonnenfeld's Addams Family Values (1993)...

Or in Stephan Elliot's Easy Virtue (2008) where the tango, at least for Colin Firth and Jessica Biel, becomes a gesture of salvation for a woman's reputation...

And sometimes, it doesn't even have to be the tango. Sometimes there's also waltz to signify a blossoming love affair, and a descent into scandal, as Joe Wright skilfully shows it in a virtuoso scene between Keira Knightley and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in Anna Karenina (2012)...

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Monday, March 24, 2014

entry arrow12:44 AM | Zen Pencil's Alan Watts

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

entry arrow1:53 PM | The Season of Goodbyes

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye to this city as hundreds do every March. To say goodbye while your plane taxis down Sibulan’s runway and finally flies from the familiar greens of Dumaguete; or while your boat eases off those familiar moorings you call the Rizal Boulevard, the city’s streetlamps edging slowly away until they become pinpricks of light soon to be swallowed by the darkness of sea and sky.

And then you behold the certainty that Dumaguete is finally gone, that life finally ended.

How does that feel like?

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye, that is, with the tacit knowledge that one might not ever return. Or maybe to return, some day, but with the knowledge, buried deep in the denial of the sly turning of days, that one never comes back to the same place again. All places are rivers in time, you see, and like how the popular saying goes, you can never step into the same spot of water twice.

I wonder what that must be like, to say goodbye.

Every year, in the middle of March, I become witness to a ritual they call a “beginning of things.” A commencement. I teach. I have been teaching for more than a decade now. And what has become constant in this life of the classroom is the fact that I have been allowed to bear witness to the growth of young men and women, to see their various comings and goings. I always remember how they first come in, perhaps four or five years ago (perhaps more), stout with the innocence and gullibility and the cocky self-assurance of youth. You see soon how they fare with the succeeding years, most of them increasingly cognizant of the one certainty of growing up: that the more you know, the more you know that you don’t know anything. College can be such a humbling experience. And for those who know how to navigate it well—learning, for example, that grades are not all that matter, and that having a life that takes in the vast promises of experience is equal to a good mark—they will come off the whole experience of tertiary learning becoming better human beings. If they allow it to, of course.

And when all is said and done, here comes one final March day where all that scrambling for grades, and all that experimenting with life, comes to some form of an end. The celebration comes complete with the uniforms of ritual—black robes, black caps, golden tassels—and the occasion is taken to a solemnity that commemorates those who have weathered the academic rigors. With that, of coure, comes a feathery hope that some future opens up, perhaps concretized by the diploma. There’s also relief, of course, because the weeks past have been backbreaking, the nights sleepless, the running around to complete things brutal. This day—this commencement—tells you you have reached the finish line, that it was worth all that pain and all that heartache.

But also this day soon becomes, tentatively at first, an occasion for farewells. College has been the grand experiment in becoming who one could possibly be, and graduation is the time for goodbyes to those who have helped shape that possibility. Goodbyes are heartbreaking things.

For this year, I know many who have been my students, and many who have become my friends. I can only hope that I have helped shape the course of their lives for the better—the way I know that they have shaped mine in places they had no idea made sizable impacts. There’s Andrew Alvarez, there’s Ron Jacob Calumpang, there’s Arvin Tarroza, there’s Kim Cabahug. There’s Jocille Morito, there’s Zara Dy, there’s Bethel Abigail Almirol, there’s Natalie Curran. Bright young kids, and good friends, too. There are more, of course. What makes me happy is how, with them, I have managed to extend the limiting experience of the classroom to other adventures that called for the creative. I’ve made plays with these people, I’ve made books with these people, I’ve done an assortment of projects with these people. They weren’t just names in my record book; they became colleagues as well. And I have learned a lot from them. And they are not the only ones. Every year, I say goodbye to a similar batch I have also come to know as friends. And if you ask me, I may be glad that they are graduating—for all that commencement stands for—but a part of me begrudges the farewells. But you learn to live with these things. In Dumaguete, a university town, goodbyes are the dynamics with which we have learned to breathe by.

I wonder what it must be like to say goodbye, with finality, to all that.

I have also left before—and often for long stretches of time, too—but it has always been with the knowledge that my departure is temporary. I have enjoyed long spells in other places where there is snow, in places where skyscrapers dwarfed you in canyons of concrete and traffic, in places where they know the colors of autumn, in places where the vastness of the land—stretching like a brown empire of soil and spice—imperil your idea of green dots of islands as home. But I have always somehow come back to Dumaguete, to its familiar small streets, and little shops, and a seaside boulevard that overlooks a horizon that seems to promise both the spokes of a golden cage and a passport to the lands unseen beyond dip of that blue line where sky and sea meet. Many of my friends will venture out to those borderlands, and some I will never see again.

After graduation, summer time begins, and with it a new beginning. I like that time in the summer day at dusk when I’m in some outdoor café near the Rizal Boulevard drinking coffee, and the sky outside does its ballet of changing light. For a moment, there are swaths of purple and red and traces of yellow—but often it is just an overwhelming blue, various shades of it. I like how the horizon becomes all shades of blue at dusk, and then, right before evening comes with its velvet darkness, just a deep deep blue that recalls the purest of sadness.

All sunsets are distillations of the goodbyes I have known. Watching one such sunset, with a cup of coffee on hand, while I stare out at the horizon from my little café, I think I have learned to say goodbye fully to the light. But it comes with knowing full well that another summer day comes again soon.

For now, what I see waning is the remains of a good light, wavering goodbye, and I will always be glad to have known it.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

entry arrow2:10 AM | Group Study

Fiction by Ian Rosales Casocot

“Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention, but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”
Dave Barry

When Mr. Salazar gave out the results of the midterm exam, we—as our favorite lumphead Antonia Geraldine would phrase it in her typically chirpy Bread of Life Church optimism— were “hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.”
That was bobo speak for elementary fatalism, and this basically meant sitting down in the discomfort of our arm chairs, waiting for Judgment Day to claim us.
I was petrified, and was already visualizing the greater discomfort of being grounded for a month sans cell phone or cable TV. Imagining my mother’s irate face, which would betray paroxysms of Ate Vi dramatology, I couldn’t decide which meant more for me: chatting away my usual nights with a Manila textmate named Matutina (not her real name), or the latest season of Desperate Housewives (my secret guilty pleasure). That bridge, I sighed, is better crossed when I’d actually get there…
Most of the rest of Fourth Year Section Sampaguita—our barkada, for the most part—was in various stages of fright or denial. Mostly that meant dealing with the cowardly maneuver of averting our eyes from Mr. Salazar’s pointed stare, and then positively looking constipated. One took that as an excuse to actually let out a silent bomb, and when somebody from the back of the room finally stood up to open the windows to let in fresh air, my thoughts were on one thing only: the road to hell had a fecal whiff, and we were all in deep shit.
            That I knew words like “fecal” or “petrified” or “constipated” or “sans” proved nothing: Mr. Salazar’s class was not an English class, vocabulary would not become my savior, and our teacher certainly did not look happy.
Of course no one else had studied for last week’s exam—that much was clear. Save perhaps for the class overachiever in the front row, her hair tied to a tight bun. This was the great Maria Carmelita Isabel Bueno Mas. Consistent Full Scholar. Class President. Student Council Governor. Daughter of the PTA President. Girl Scout Patrol Leader. Math Olympiad Reigning Champion. Science Club President. Youth Choir Alto (on probation). Dance Club Member (on probation). The Merciful Flame Editor in Chief. Red Cross Youth Treasurer. City-Wide Spelling Bee Fourth Placer. Leonardo Da Vinci Club Muse. And reigning Miss WCHS 2007—a title she won by amassing the greatest number of pledges to the money contest, and promptly evolved right before our eyes from caterpillar to butterfly, her puffy pink gown notwithstanding. She was too easy to hate, given our barkada’s natural inability for ambition and world dominion—but she always repaid our cold regard by glancing at us with the brightest smile that a whole lifetime’s supply of teeth whiteners money could buy. Her father, of course, was the local dentist.
We derisively called her Miss Tapia, which betrayed our profound sense of insecurity.
“Miss Tapia,” we whispered at her behind her back—but that also proved ineffectual: she never heard our taunts, and was still brightening even in the middle of our current horror. While we were all slowly sinking into our seats, into our despairs, she sat up straight and could not wait to take our teacher’s usual commendations that were definitely her due.
It was also apparent that our scores were the very sources for the increasing scowls on Mr. Salazar’s face. We know that he’d been checking our papers the past few nights and the going could not possibly be good.
Sample question from the one hundred-item general knowledge test: Who was Edilberto Tiempo?
My answer, cribbed tight upon the blank line next to it: The owner of Tiempo Magazine.
What are the Palanca Awards? A reward given for best actors or actresses in the U.S.
Who was Barbra Streisand? She wrote hundreds of romance novels.
Who was Michelangelo? One of the Ninja Turtles.
            Genius. Because who the heck knows really? I was maybe absent that day. Or drunk. (Or both.)
            “You stooooooopid,” Antonia giggled when I told her right after we trooped out of the classroom into recess. We were all groaning. “If you must know, Tiempo is the Filipino writer,” Antonia said in her chirpy voice, “husband of Edith Tiempo the National Artist. You stooooooopid.”
            “Well, how did you do, Ton?”
            Antonia paused. “Well, how many islands does the Philippines actually have? Seven hundred something?”
            I grinned, then said: “Bobo ka talaga.”
Last week, Mr. Salazar’s face had been wrinkle-free: he famously has a cherub’s face and behind his back we called him Niño Muhlach. The former child actor in the adult version, of course. Which, if you really think about it, is quite a sad thing to be.
            “Who’s Niño Muhlach?” asked Antonia.
            “Don’t you have cable TV at home, Antonia?” we asked in return.
            We do, she said, nonchalantly flipping her hair. But it was mostly turned off. It was the devil’s box, her father had declared once.
“My mom insists we watch only The 700 Club,” she said.
            Somebody asked: “Is that a band?”
Day by day, we noticed that the lines on our teacher’s face were deepening. Sometimes we thought we were being overdramatic, and suggested other reasons for the vinegar look that made Mr. Salazar’s lips curve in a sad slit, and his eyes droop in a heart-wrenching blankness. “He didn’t win the lotto again,” Michael Adam said. “He misses his favorite teleserye,” Mariano said. “His wife doesn’t know how to cook and he’s been eating burned food since they got married,” Jordana said. “His wife’s not been giving him the goodies,” Justin said. “He’s tired of the missionary position,” Rodriga said. “He has caught his wife sleeping with his best friend,” Roberta Jedine said. “He wants to sleep with his best friend,” said Lydia.
            “Ayaw pud,” Antonia blushed, giggling, “Sir is not gay.”
            “I bet Sir is a bottom,” Lydia said.
            “No, he looks more like a top,” Antonia chirped in.
            “Antonia! How—”
            “What?” she giggled once more.
            Then we fall into silence again.
            “He’s tired of the missionary position,” Antonia finally said with a nonchalant flip of her long hair. And that was that.

But really, our grades were the matter, the crux of our teacher’s consternation.
There he was that early morning, Mr. Salazar, bathed in the sad blue of the early morning light, his back towards the door, his face to the blackboard which was scrubbed so thoroughly that no trace of chalk betrayed its pristine surface.
We trooped inside his classroom with the stealthy silence of the condemned, and slowly took to our seats. When he turned around, his face was a mask of utter disappointment. Murag si Christopher de Leon, overacting.
            “You … broke … my … heart,” was all he said. Then he sat down, and stared at the pile of papers in front of him.
            Drama, we all thought.
            And then, of course, we got our papers back.
Michael Adam got a 45.
Mariano, 52.
Jordana, an F.
Justin, another F.
Rodriga, a 45.
Roberta Jedine, a 46.
Lydia, a 55.
I only got a scrawled remark all over the top of my paper: “What’s this?” was all it said, in an urgent flourish that looked like chicken scratches. “Does this mean I passed?” I asked around. They shook their heads.
Antonia got a 59, the highest score among us buffoons. “Praise the Lord,” she later said with chirpacious delight during recess. We were eating our choice of junk: mine were two Jell-O doughnuts and a Choco Wacko Fruito Mix.
Sus! You still didn’t pass, Ton,” we said. “One more point na lang unta.”
“It’s the Lord’s way to keep me humble. But we shall overcome. God willing.”
In the meantime, there was the matter of a retake.
It will save you, Mr. Salazar had finally suggested, quietly, perhaps hoping for reprieve. We were expecting him to break down, a la Jaclyn Jose. No deal: he merely came off with a cheap Juliana Palermo imitation, which was disconcerting, given that all of these came out of a Niño Muhlach face.
The new exam, of course, was scheduled the very next day.
“What do we do?” Roberta Jedine said. “I’ve forgotten half the things we went through.”
“What is the capital of Cebu nga?”
“Well, for me, it’s quite simple,” Jordana said. “Together we stand, divided we fall.”
Char, Jordana,” Mariano said.
“But I’m serious, guys,” Jordana said.
“What do you exactly mean, Jordana?” Michael Adam said.
Jordana stood up and swallowed the last of her burger. “Simple lang. Group study.”

Justin said his house was available that night for group study. His mom, who worked nights at the call center at the edge of town, certainly wouldn’t mind, and wouldn’t know anyhow. “That’s how I bring home my boys,” he said, giggling like mad. “Now you know why I couldn’t study last week.”
            “Ang landi mo, Justin,” Rodriga said, “Tell me, what’s your secret ba?”
            “Ambot uy,” Justin said, “Axe DeoCologne dagway. They just run after me.”
            Rodriga said, “Well, I’ll bring the drinks—three bottles of Coke and a Mountain Dew.”
            “I’ll bring the chichirya,” Lydia said.
            “Me, too,” Roberta Jedine said.
            “Ako pud,” Mariano said.
            “No, you bring some chicharon, Mar,” I said. “I’ll bring the study materials. What about you, Justin?”
            “It’s my house, dumdum,” was all he said.
            I arrived first, my bag heavy with books and the class overachiever’s notebook, which I stole.
            The rest of the barkada soon came, and within the hour, the television was on, the DVD player was blinking with anticipation, the chips have been devoured, and somebody had ordered three boxes of pizza.
Soon we exhausted an hour or so to the various titillating gossips about our classmates’ love lives, and then segued to complaining about the elaborate mental tortures of the high school faculty. Among the things we learned that night: (1) the school hunk Gabriel Perez—also known as Gabito Dakog Halas—had deflowered most of the virgins in Section Macopa in the darkened backrooms of Building A; (2) our former classmate, the beautiful Samantha Arleta Montellano—who everybody thought would be the next Miss WCHS—had apparently stopped schooling because she was pregnant, and the father could either be Ramon Chua or Dexter Dy—“or any one of those chinito boys in Miss Santol’s class,” Antonia said with a fervent authority; (4) Miss Tapia—that is, Maria Carmelita Isabel, our class overachiever—was having torrid affairs with both Mr. Salazar and Mr. Cornito—that’s why she gets all the good grades; and that (5) Mrs. Lagdameo was once a man. “She has stubbles,” said Antonia. “And she has an Adam’s apple.”
“That doesn’t mean anything, Ton,” said Lydia.
“Yeah, I happen to know some women who have facial hair,” said Mariano. “Or Adam’s apples.”
“Name one,” Antonia said.
“Angel Locsin,” Mariano said.
Antonia quickly stood up.
“Take that back.”
“What? What did I say?” Mariano said.
“I said … take that back.
Antonia screamed at the top of her voice. “Angel Locsin! … Does not have! … An Adam’s apple!”
“All right, all right,” Mariano said, cowering a little bit, a puzzled look on his face. “Angel Locsin does not have an Adam’s apple. Jeeez.”
Antonia slowly sank back to her spot on the living room carpet, and smiled sheepishly to all of us. “Sorry haDi jud naku ma-stop sometimes. I get emotional when other people bash Angel Locsin.”
“I had no idea you were an Angel Locsin fan, Ton,” said Michael Adam, Jordana, and Justin in succession—all breathless with shock and amusement.
Medyo lang,” Antonia chirped happily. Her ability to go from foul mood to diabetic sweetness is legendary. “If you really think about it, she was very good man gud in Darna. I mean, really. Can you imagine porky little Judy Ann Santos in that role? Hideous. Kristala was a pig in a superhero suit.”
This time, it was I who stood up.
“Take. That. Back.”
“What?” Antonia turned to me.
“I said take that back!”
Once considerably placated, I allowed them all to nurse me back to my usual good-natured self by making them feed me Mr. Chips and the only glass of cold Coke left on the living room coffee table.
“Juday, I tell you guys, is an underappreciated actress,” I said. “Murag si Ate Shawi when she first started out as a Viva contract star. Now look where she is right now, a mega star with mega-wattage. Juday is the same. She is, for me, the icon of the Ordinary Person Made Good. Katong archetypal ba. Her triumphs on screen are our symbolic triumphs over the overwhelming mediocrity of our everyday lives. She is the symbol of all our infinite hopes. Someday she will get the respect she deserves.”
“Does she oink when she does all that?”
They all laugh, of course. Mga punyeta.
Sige, katawa ra mo,” I said in a huff. “You don’t know what you’re talking about. In the end, I will have the last laugh.”
“Care ko,” said Antonia.
“Angel Locsin has an Adam’s apple,” I said sharply.
“Judy Ann Santos is a pig,” Antonia retorted.
“Okay lang ang pig, kinakain naman. Masustansya.”
Puro cholesterol, hello? At ang apple, di kinakain?”
Ang apple, oo. Si Adam, hindi!
“Hoy, you two, shut up na,” Justin said. “At mind you, nakakain na rin ako nang isang Adam, noh.”
            “Hey, guys, we seriously need to dive into our notebooks now,” Roberta Jedine said.
            “Yeah…” was the dejected rejoinder from most of everyone.
            “I mean, seriously,” Roberta Jedine said. “Seriously! It’s been more than an hour since we began this session, and all we’ve done is gossip and quarrel over the stupidest things and watch TV.”
“Angel Locsin is not a stupid thing.”
“Get over that already, all right?” Roberta Jedine said. She sounded so masculine in that commanding tone, like Oprah Winfrey in heat. Roberta Jedine made us sit around her Indian-style, while she commandeered the sofa, like a queen before her court. “Okay then… Let’s go about it this way,” she said. “We read each section of our textbook on our own for ten minutes, and when time is up, someone will ask a question and point to the next person to answer. And then the next person will come up with his own question, and so on and so forth. Okay?”
Unsa daw?” said Antonia.
Bobo,” I said.
“Paminaw pud beh. Kapoy ug balik,” Roberta Jedine said.
“We read daw for ten minutes,” Jordana said.
“Then somebody asks a question,” said Michael Adam.
“Then points to somebody else to answer,” said Justin.
“Then, after answering, the next person asks the next question,” said Mariano.
“Gets ko,” said Antonia.
And so we began. We all read the first section of our textbook. It was long. Two pages in all. Something about the history and significance of Philippine national symbols. It was the longest ten minutes of my life. I kept thinking about Kristala’s costume in the teleserye. I mean, she wasn’t that fat naman. And television adds ten pounds on anybody, right?
When we were all through, Roberta Jedine spoke first, “So okay, that section was all about national symbols, and what they mean for the construction of the idea of a nation.”
“Really?” somebody said.
“Yes, really,” Roberta Jedine snapped back. “So okay, I’ll ask the first question—and whoever wants to answer it, okay lang. And then you ask the next question. Deal?”
“Lower!” said Antonia.
“Shut up, Ton. That’s not funny,” said Roberta Jedine.
“Okay, Banker, serious mode coming up,” Antonia said.
Roberta Jedine continued: “My question is: what was the ideology behind the change of our national bird, from maya to monkey-eating eagle?”
No one raised their hands.
“So okay, I’ll call on Jordana.”
“Why me?”
“Because I said so.”
“Okay, okay… Well, the maya is small. Size-wise, walang challenge. The Philippine eagle can easily tear a small maya to shreds. So Philippine eagle it is. Powerful man gud. Vote for the eagle!”
“Is that your final answer?”
Akala ko Deal or No Deal tayo. Who Wants to Become a Millionaire pala,” Antonia said.
“Shut up, Ton.”
“Is that your final answer, Jords?”
“Is there any other ba?”
“But you’re not going beyond the obvious!”
Ay, ambot. What do birds have to do, really, with the nation ba?”
“That’s it!” Roberta Jedine fumed. “Clearly, nobody here wants to get serious about group study. Am I the only one here who does not want to flunk Mr. Salazar’s make up exam tomorrow? Good luck to the rest of you. I’m going home.”
She stormed off, a little bit like a rampaging typhoon, and in her wake small pieces of Mr. Chips flew to the air.
“What was that all about?” Jordana said.
“It must be the monthly thing,” Antonia said. “She gets grouchy all the time when the monthly thing comes around.”
“Oh, don’t be so gross, Ton,” said Mariano.
“What’s so gross about menstruation?” Rodriga jumped in. “Just because you boys don’t get it does not make it gross.”
“Yeah!” said Antonia.
“Why do you take it so personally, Dirgs?” Mariano said.
“I’m a woman! I take offense with such sexist remarks by chauvinist pigs like you!”
“Oh, yeah? Who says you’re a woman?”
Rodriga slapped Mariano a la Cheri Gil, and stormed off after Roberta Jedine. More Mr. Chips flew into the air. After a few seconds of silence, we heard the front door slammed shut the second time that night.
“Great, just great, Mar,” said Lydia. “A perfect gentleman you really are.”
“Aw, shut up, Lydia,” Mariano said. “Just because you have lesbian feelings for Rodriga doesn’t mean you can gang up on me, too. I’m going home.”
And Mariano stormed off, and more Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Lesbian? Lesbian tendencies?” Lydia said, looking around. “Who says ba that I have lesbian tendencies?”
“Well, sometimes …” Michael Adam began.
“Sometimes what?!” Lydia screamed.
Jordana suddenly stood up. “I really can’t take all these screaming,” she said. “I’m going home, you guys.”
And Jordana stormed off, with Michael Adam sheepishly trailing after her. More Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air. “Sorry guys, I have to go after her,” Michael Adam said quietly, “She’s my ride man gud.”
We all watched them go out, and then Lydia turned to us once more, her face a mask of comic perfection. “Do all of you really think I’m a lesbian?” Lydia screamed.
“Well sometimes, you look at me funny,” Antonia said, “like you want to jump my bones.”
Lydia stood up. “Well, if there was one person in the whole wide world whose bones I’d want to jump on, it wouldn’t be you, Antonia. You have the sex appeal of Britney Spears, post-rehab!”
And Lydia stormed off, and more Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Well, at least she said Britney Spears, noh?” said Antonia. “That’s better than Jessica Simpson.”
“Or Angel Locsin,” I said.
Antonia turned to me sharply.
“Get this, you Judy Ann Santos-loving freak,” she said. “Judy Ann Santos is so fat the back of her neck looks like a pack of hotdogs,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat that her belly button makes an echo,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat she had to get baptized at Sea World,” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple,” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat that when the whales saw her they started singing ‘We Are Family’!” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple!” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat she makes Free Willy look like a goldfish!” she said.
“I don’t care. Angel Locsin still looks like a man with an Adam’s apple!” I said.
“Judy Ann Santos is so fat her legs are double your double chin!” she said.
That was when I found myself giving Antonia a punch to her nose. My fist came out of nowhere, and landed right on her nose like duck recognizing water. It felt really good, for a while at least.
Antonia, of course, stormed off with a terrified cry, clutching her nose in pain.
 “Oh my. You’re so butch,” said Justin.
“Shut up, Justin,” I said. I stormed off as well, simply astounded by what I had done.
And the last of the Mr. Chips flakes flew to the air.
“Oh, well, that’s that then,“ said Justin. “What a productive night,” and then he sat down on the sofa, the quiet of the night soon lulling him to sleep.

The next morning, we all patched up our unfortunate differences from the night before. There were apologies, and hugs, and tearful promises never to speak badly of each other again. We all knew that our steadfast friendship was the one thing we had that could carry us over any crisis—like final exams.
            Needless to say, I got an F in the make up exam—and Mr. Salazar, looking at us with such dejection, aged considerably, transforming from Niño Muhlach to Cachupoy seemingly overnight. It was almost sad, but not as sad as our new test scores.
You see, Michael Adam got another F.
Mariano, another F.
Jordana, another F.
Justin, another F.
Rodriga, another F.
Lydia, another F.
Roberta Jedine, a wonderfully surprising 58.
And Antonia got another 59. “Praise the Lord,” she said.
Group study.


[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich