We know, from the troves of trivia we devour, that the firecrackers of New Year’s Eve first came about as a festive Chinese ritual for chasing away the old man-eating demon Nian, who is sensitive to noise and the color red, and is thus effectively banished from making foul of the coming year by the pyrotechnic combination of explosion and color. In a sense then, the celebration of New Year is all about two things: first, it marks a time for attaining closure, and second, it marks a hope for felicitous beginnings.
The start of any year thus comes to me as this double-edged sword that I must learn to wield well, if I must look forward to entertaining the notion of having balance in the coming 365 days. That we know of New Year as a traditional mark of a fresh start is nothing new for most of us. In fact, for many people this may be the sole allure of the whole holiday. With this, of course, come the now traditional expectations of renewal and resolutions. When we were younger and more optimistic (maybe, naïve?) we took stock of what had gone wrong in our lives in the past year, and then vowed—with the earnestness of having discovered second (or third, or fourth) wind—to stay steadfast to the “path” we know was true. But as adults, we have learned to scorn at such noble follies, having discovered the all-too-human tendency for failing our loftiest expectations of ourselves.
Perhaps as proof, a British psychologist by the name of Dr. Cliff Arnall has calculated that the fourth Monday after the New Year—it will be January 28th in 2008—is, for most of us, the most depressing day of the year. Arnall, a seasonal disorders specialist at the University of Cardiff in Wales, came up with a formula that crunches into mathematical certainty the variety of feelings that constitute our lowest point, and the model he has come up with is this:
[W + (D-d)] x TQ ------------------------ M x NA
where the variables are W for weather, D for debt, d for monthly salary, T for time since Christmas, Q for time since one has failed and quitted one’s grand designs for lofty resolutions, M for low motivational levels, and NA for the need to take action. In an interview with MSNBC’s Jennifer Carlile, he explained: “Following the initial thrill of New Year’s celebrations and changing over a new leaf, reality starts to sink in. The realization coincides with the dark clouds rolling in and the obligation to pay off Christmas credit card bills.”
Still, some of us are eternal optimists—I among them—and plot out, in numbered or bulleted sincerity, the do’s and don’ts for the coming year. The considerations are always invariably about weight loss, hard work, a change in attitude, and an increase in one’s bank balance. Some even trudge on to the nearest bookstore to buy new volumes of appointment journals, hoping to compartmentalize our newest wishes into workable days. I guess this exercise is a kind of rebellion against the base expectations of the darker sides of human nature—a hope for triumph against what is said to be eventual failure. If we must be existentialists, then things bode well for those for striving against all dark “inevitabilities.”
But what is not as universally acknowledged as the need for resolutions is the New Year’s other urging, which is to strive for conclusions. This one is perhaps much more difficult, because it calls—demands?—for a more concrete contribution from our part, instead of our rather abstract designs in compiling resolutions.
For me, the 31st of December is a ticking deadline to finish the unfinished, to settle old scores, and to put to a definite end the whirl of I-should-have-done-this-already’s that I know have polluted my old year. This is the very manifestation of the monster Nian, the growing ghost of aborted dreams that would only haunt us the moment we cross the threshold of New Year’s Eve, with most of them still unrealized. They are the very core of regret.
What do we usually regret? That we have not seized, and owned, the fleeting idea of the possibility of other lives, and not this one that we have come to know. It is sometimes a contraband dream, something we hope we have done with our lives, but nevertheless feared to pursue because we have long succumbed to the security blanket of our ordinary existences.
We often fantasize about the what-if’s of our lives—the kind we occasionally come to consider when we are given a hypothetical limit to our days. What would we have done with our remaining days? We would have gone to Sagada to taste the mountain air and the cold blast of morning water against skin. We would have finished writing that novel. We would have built that house beside the sea in Tambobo Bay and paint the days away. We would have learned to drive a car. We would have listened to our mother’s growing up story to the finish. We would have learned to bake. We would have read Proust in the original French. We would have finished the whole Woody Allen oeuvre. We would have traveled to see the moai in Easter Island, the pyramids in Giza, the steppes of Ulan Bator, the Van Gogh in the Netherlands, the kabuki in Tokyo, the flowers of Grasse, and the Pampas of Argentina. We would have communion with God in some silent mountain. We would have finished all that needed completion.
We would have learned to fly a kite.
Or catch fish.
Or told the persons that we love that we love them.
But we never get around to doing anything, perpetually putting everything off because of the so-called demands of daily living. “It is such a bad idea to do that now,” we tell ourselves, “we have bills to pay, we have meetings to attend.”
Bad, terrible ideas… This reminds me of one of my favorite movies, Under the Tuscan Sun, where the theme is put forth in the very beginning of the film: “Terrible ideas are like playground scapegoats. Given the right encouragement, they grow up to be geniuses.” In the movie, the terrible idea comes in leaving an old life for the uncertainties of a Italian sojourn. Acclaimed travel writer Frances Mayes (here largely fictionalized in an incandescent portrayal by Diane Lane) endures the indignity of an ugly divorce and slogs through the trying times by taking on the weight of daily living—teaching, reviewing other people’s books, commiserating on the unfairness of life. Her days become grey, her shaky anchor the daily grind she puts herself through. Soon her friends urge her to dump everything, and go on a romantic tour of Tuscany. She, of course, finds the idea ridiculous. A terrible idea, she says. But one of her friends insists: “You know when you come across one of those empty-shell people, and you think, ‘What the hell happened to you?’ Well, there came a time in each one of those lives where they were standing at a crossroads...”
“Crossroads,” Frances sighs. “God, that is so Oprah—”
“—Someplace where they had to decide to turn left or right,” the friend cuts in. “This is no time to be chicken shit, Frances.”
“I’m not being a chickenshit. I’m not.”
“Okay, just promise me you will think about it.”
“I’ll think about it.
She does go on that tour of Tuscany, and finds herself impulsively buying a villa. A terrible idea, she thinks, following other terrible ideas. What am I thinking? But by the end of the story, the terrible idea is the right one all along. And new life blooms under the Tuscan sunshine.
So here's a toast to terrible ideas for the New Year. And may we have the strength to pursue them!
P.S. And so it goes. In the name of completing the unfinished, I must stop blogging until the beginning of January. See you then, and have a blessed New Year!
We -- Mark and I -- went to my hometown of Bayawan over the weekend, to act as judges (together with lawyer Myrish Cadapan-Antonio and former Miss Silliman Stacy Alcantara) in their annual search for Miss Bayawan. My Vegan Prince has the story (and my pictures as well). What he doesn't tell you though is the saga of our very eventful ride to and from the southernmost city of Negros Oriental. Did I say saga? Let's just call it our purgatorial ride. See, we could have taken the Pajero, but opted instead for the Hyundai Accent -- bad choice. For each leg of the trip, we had to stop every 20 kilometers or so, because the car kept overheating, and we had to knock on every door throughout the Negrense countryside to ask for water, which the car guzzled just like that, 15 liters for every stop. It was the longest road trip in our lives. On the way back home, it rained hard, one of the car windows would not close, and we still had to make a couple of stops to quench the thirsty car -- in the middle of the rain. "Someday, we will laugh at all these," I told poor Mark, who was driving. "Yeah?" he said. "Well, I'm not laughing now."
But today, three days later, we snickered a little. Just a little. Moral lesson: take the Pajero for long trips. Insight: Filipinos may be the most hospitable and helpful people in the world. Every house we called on for help did not hesitate to give us all the aid we needed. It was a humbling experience. I will never forget all those people on the road.
The poet Marne Kilates has a new poetry blog-zine, Poet's Picture Book. He writes about his mission:
One thing I like about poetry in blogging is that the blogger (whom I assume to be a poet when he insists on putting poems in his blog) is compelled to search for images or pictures to accompany his poems. Compelled because that is the nature of the medium or venue (which one is it?)—it is a visual one. Even a poem in a blog must be treated visually. The web log or online journal is not a simple diary (written and hidden in a drawer), it is a letter to oneself that other people read instantaneously. The computer and/or Internet are/is firstly visual, thus meant to be seen. It is the illegitimate son of television but who is so talented that he is taking over the family business. Most of us Net users are even still a bit confused about what it is. Is it a medium or a venue? Is it a framed canvas, a cathode ray tube, a plasma LCD panel… or is it the keyboard and all those 'peripherals' too, that we use to manipulate it? It is a TV screen and yet we can control what we want to see or put in it. It is a writing pad as well as a typewriter and yet it 'publishes' and distributes what we write immediately. It is both a 'thing' and a 'place.' One creates a blog and another visits it. Author is also publisher, but also printing press and bookstore. Movie studio is movie house also. And so we are forever creating and entering the worlds we create—poems, novels, movies. The Imagined Reader has become, is also, the Imaginative Writer. The medium is no longer just McLuhan’s message, it is also the venue. Visit my book. Read my house. They’re all in my site. Sight. Kitakits!
And he wants your contribution. Read about it here.
There's nothing like gratuitous nudity to bring in the holiday spirit. Really. To start off, last night's noche buena was great as usual -- my mom bought a nice, crispy lechon straight from three towns away (there were no more roasted pigs to be had anywhere inside the city) -- but it was great that most of the family was there, mostly because this may be mom's last Christmas with us before she leaves for the U.S. Went home before the firecrackers cracked at midnight, and went straight to finishing my holiday cleaning. (It's a personal tradition.) Went to bed around 4 a.m., and woke up around noon, to find out that my torrent of Robert Schrock's musical revue, Naked Boys Singing!, has just finished downloading. Loved the bit with the song "Perky Little Porn Star" because the porn star comes from Skokie, Illinois, where my best buddy Tedo lives. You want a sample, don't you. Then see this PG-rated YouTube video of "The Naked Maid" here. What can I say, it gives new meaning to Christmas cheer.
Merry Christmas! (And go sing in the buff, if you want.)
Adrian E. Cristobal -- acclaimed essayist, fictionist, playwright, literary organizer, Marcos adviser -- died from lung cancer Saturday morning. He was 75. Lito Zulueta writes about him here. Some more writerly farewells from Manuel L. Quezon III (here), Conrado de Quiros (here), Krip Yuson (here), Kit Tatad (here), and National Artist F. Sionil Jose (here).
1. You know how it is about BitTorrent. You endure the many days you have to wait before something fully downloads -- often the case when the title is obscure and there are only a few seeds available -- and then you get lemons. I just finished downloading Woody Allen's Radio Days and Brian de Palma's Sisters after weeks and weeks of waiting. Excitedly played both one after the other, and what do you know ... both are dubbed in Spanish. Arrrrggh! How come it's so much easier and faster to empty your trash bin, than to download?
2. If you really want to know what Bill Murray whispered to Scarlett Johansson at the end of Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation, here is a digitally processed rendering of those lost words. If you want to retain the magic of not knowing, don't click on the link. For the love of God, don't click on the link.
My favorite Christmas songs—“Silent Night,” “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” and “The Christmas Song,” all of them sang in that meditative and beautifully poignant renditions a la Mel Torme or Karen Carpenter—have something in common: they are earnest in their soft rendering of the sentiments of the season, their musical registers approaching a beautiful placidity. I love them because they have taught me the beauty of silence. Sing them now, and perhaps you will also realize, as I have, that their melodies somehow draw you into a celebration of serenity. I sing these songs, and I am immediately transported into a fantasy of wintry wonderland where snow blankets everything into muteness, with only the clear skies and stars for company.
Peace on earth, so goes the slogan for the season. Peace, quiet, placidity, serenity, stillness—these synonyms consist of the virtual summary of my holiday longings, which is a respite from the vexations of an old year coming to a much-awaited close. These songs, in giving me a fantasy for silence, allow me room to breathe. I know I am not alone in this wish.
I haven’t had beautiful silence in a long time. I used to have it every single day, when I knew how to wake up in the early morning. Think about it: there is something soft and tender about the way we wake up on a beautiful day, in the early morning—the kind unaided by the shrill and sudden reminders of alarm clocks and ringing phones and the unbearable under-your-skin noise that make up so much of our everyday lives. To wake into stillness is a thing of beauty, one that is easily missed in the feverish rush we have made of living.
It has become a kind of rarity, this unbidden waking, when we slowly slip away from the landscape of dreams (or, more often, dreamlessness), our body easing into a soft tingling, gradually becoming aware of the dawn filtering into our windows. In our slow wakening, the soft light of the magic hour—that time of day when the sun has just peeked out of the horizon and bathes everything in radiant orange—becomes rosy with the promise that things have not started yet, and the city is still asleep.
The city is still asleep. I like Dumaguete in that all too quick changing of the light. When I used to do my morning jogs, the first pleasure of the day came in the immersion of our consciousness into the pervasive silence of the streets outside, the quiet grandness of which was ironically underscored by the occasional whirring of the lone and distant tricycle, or the sound of an A.M. radio from some nearby kitchen blaring out the day’s early news or comedy. Sometimes, there would be snippets of bacon frying; sometimes I would hear, from the pier, the tooting of a passenger boat’s horns, three times, signaling arrival. If I think hard about mornings past, I realize that most of these dawn sounds had rang through the air with a certain crispness to them. (I also realize that it has been a while since I last heard a boat’s horn in the early morning. Where have these old sounds gone to?)
When I would finally emerge from my house into the outside, my feet slowly going into jogging cadence, the blast of cool wind kissing my face would be the first thing that would make me smile. Into the still-dark city I would run, the dawn tinting everything with that bluish iridescence of sky. I would jog through Tubod and hear from around me the scrapings of walis tingting on soil as housewives go about the early tasks of housekeeping. I would jog through the Silliman University campus, around the bend that would take me past the dorms and past the Luce Auditorium, and then into the parabola of the amphitheater, towards the gate that opened into Alfonso Trese Street (I refuse to call it Perdices Street), and then into the Boulevard.
There would be kindred spirits there, each one keeping his or her own mark by running (or brisk walking) the entire length of the seaside promenade, one count for the fulfillment of each lap—with one’s regard for fitness doubling by our faith on our body’s possibility of keeping count by several laps. I would last for five or six. By then, the silence and the bluish tint of the early morning would give way to the sudden brightening in the horizon: sunrise would come, and another day would begin for Dumaguete. And then we all would go home, knowing there would be another tomorrow when we could commune again with the rituals of quiet mornings.
I am now nostalgic for such mornings because I have realized, as this year draws to a close, that I have not had one for a very long time, hostaged as I have become to late nights keeping up with the demands of our waking existence. Suddenly, early mornings have become a luxury I have almost willingly set to the wayside of priorities, in favor of snatching a few more snores before the day could begin.
Then again, it is never too late to reclaim these quiet mornings again. It is never too late to restore a little bit of serene moments into our cluttered lives. Because above all, all of us want a kind of stillness to counteract the kinetic chaos of our waking lives.
And so, this is what I wish for everybody this Christmas—stretches of beautiful, fulfilling stillness for every day of our coming days, a stillness such as the one on that blessed night two thousand years ago, when there was only the midnight clear to greet a certain baby born into a manger, with only the star of Bethlehem above left to its quiet humming.
Frozen Delight by Marguerite Alcarazen de Leon Logovore by Joseph Nacino A Jury of Her Peers by Susan Glaspell A Place I've Never Been by David Leavitt Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt
Over the past few weeks
The Pink Slip by Jan Paulo Bastareche Brandon’s Affair by Rodrigo Bolivar Dramas and the Intercession of Something Dim by Fred Jordan Carnice Waiting Days and Story Nights by Fred Jordan Carnice Group Study by Ian Rosales Casocot The Fish Connection by Michelle Eve De Guzman The Tragedy of the Overreaction by Robert Jed Malayang Fiesta Breakfast by Anthony Gerard Odtohan Sweet Mistakes by Marianne Catherine Tapales Katana’s Song by Lyde Gerard Villanueva Sweet Baby by Justine Megan Yu
The LitCritters is a reading and writing group based in Manila (moderated by Dean Francis Alfar) and Dumaguete. Every week, we read and discuss several pieces of short fiction from various genres from different writers with the goal of expanding our reading horizons, improving our ability to critique, and learning how to write from the good texts. In addition to speculative fiction, we read Philippine literature in English, as well as world literature. The Dumaguete Group meets every Saturday at 9:30 a.m. at the Silliman University President's Home.
This week, we bid farewell to Michelle who's going home to Naga after having graduated from Silliman University. We just gave her a farewell dinner tonight. She will be missed -- but her stories will still keep on coming.
One thing I like about the business of film criticism (or any sort of criticism for that matter) is its function in advocacy -- the championing of the obscure, the marginalized, and the previously unconsidered. Genius, it seems, does not easily manifest itself sometimes: critical recognition can take time, and a little bit of looking out of the box. Douglas Sirk, for example, was known as a maker of so-called "women's films," fluffy and oversaturated melodramas like All That Heaven Allows, Imitation of Life, and Magnificent Obsession that were considered, at the time of their release, as nothing more than brainless Hollywood chick flicks. Then the film critic Andrew Sarris came around, reevaluated his work, and placed Sirk in the pantheon of great filmmakers. Fred Camper calls him "the epistemologist of despair." (Read his article here.)
But this is not a post about Sirk, one of my favorite directors. This is a post about ... tada!Michael Bay. You read that right. Michael Bay, the director of such head-splitting, quick-cutting, special effects-heavy, Hollywood action extravaganzas such as The Rock, Pearl Harbor, The Island, and Armageddon. Mere mention of these titles is enough to make any serious cinephile froth at the mouth.
But now, here comes Criterion, and it has recently appointed Bay's Armageddon to stand alongside masterpieces of such acclaimed filmmakers as Akira Kurosawa, Robert Altman, Michaelangelo Antonioni, Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, and the like.
This is not a joke. And to underscore the importance of this new release, one must realize that Criterion is to film what Penguin is to literature. (Remember the hoopla the Philippine literary world gave when Rizal's Noli Me Tangere finally got into Penguin's list of classics?) Film critic Jeanine Basinger, writing for the Criterion DVD of the film, has this to say:
Despite what you may have heard, Armageddon is a work of art by a cutting-edge artist who is a master of movement, light, color, and shape—and also of chaos, razzle-dazzle, and explosion. (It was no surprise to me to learn that as a thirteen-year-old, director Michael Bay blew up his toy train set with firecrackers so he could photograph the result with his mom’s 8mm camera.) If he weren’t working in Hollywood, Bay would be the darling bad boy of the intelligentsia. As it is, he sometimes falls under suspicion for having been nominated for multiple MTV Awards, and for having won every accolade available to directors of commercials, including the Clio and the prestigious Director’s Guild of America “Commercial Director of the Year” title. Armageddon is only his third movie, but it came under fire from some critics who had praised his second, The Rock, and for its same characteristics: fast cutting, impressive special effects, and a minimum of exposition.
It is true that Armageddon, a perfect example of Bay’s work, illustrates his “take-no-prisoners” form of storytelling, in which he trusts an audience to figure things out. (One of its strengths is its minimum of dreadful exposition that over-explains the inevitable pseudoscience.) Yes, it gives audiences a lot to absorb. Yes, it cuts quickly from place to place, person to person, event to event. But it is never confusing, never boring, and never less than a brilliant mixture of what movies are supposed to do: tell a good story, depict characters through active events, invoke an emotional response, and entertain simply and directly, without pretense.
Armageddon is not for the faint-hearted, the slow-witted, or the dim-eyed. (Those who claim that it was hard to tell where characters were in relation to each other in the space should take another look.) Consider how the film explains what Harry Stamper’s (Bruce Willis) vacationing crew is doing when he sends out the word he needs them. In little more than one minute of screen time, five key characters are identified, established in a specific environment, shown relating to others, given distinct personalities, and defined in ways that indicate how they will behave on the later mission. (If that’s not screenwriting, what is?)
Is it time for a grand reevaluation of Bay's work? Is he now an auteur? Should I look at Transformers with a totally different eyes now? I'm still undecided, but right now I'm thinking ... The films of Tito, Vic, and Joey may be unacknowledged masterpieces of Filipino comedy. The unheralded Three Stooges from our shores...
Mark has an accounting (with pictures) of our Manila trip last week in his last two blog posts. I could post my own pictures in this blog, pero gitapulan ko. Above, that's the sky over Dumaguete, taken from my plane window on the way north.
The first two instances that I knew of John Barrowman, first it was with a grudging awe for his masterful rendition of Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Love Changes Everything," a song which we used to belt out when I was in college and we were doing West Side Story. That was the Broadway phase of my life, when I did that musical, then Godspell and The Sound of Music -- and nurtured a dream of becoming a stage actor. (Alas, that was not to be. My life has turned out to be something else, and in fact some people get surprised when I tell them I used to sing and act on stage.) Later, when John Barrowman sang Cole Porter's "Night and Day" in the movie DeLovely with Kevin Kline, I knew, in some part of subconsciousness, that he was it. The quintessential voice. But it took Gibbs Cadiz's embedding of John Barrowman's take on "Maria" for me to really plunge into the guy's genius.
It was about time. And suddenly, here I am, downloading many of his songs, and being rendered speechless by the way he goes from Broadway to pop without batting an eyelash. His take on Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" is wicked and sweet at the same time, and his version of Bryan Adams' "Heaven" is bittersweet and nostalgic, which of course gets the mushy guy inside of me.
I wrote this piece for the Philippine Center of International PEN's 50th Anniversary last weekend at the National Museum where I was part of the panel discussing "Literature Without Frontiers," together with Butch Dalisay, Jose Wendell Capili, and four other writers. I wrote this in three feverish hours late at night, with only a few hours to spare before our session had to start on the morning of the second day of the convention. I thought we would be given free rein with our time, the way the last two panels before us did -- but we were suddenly given a time limit of ten minutes each. I had to edit out a lot of what I intended to talk about, and even resorted to on-the-spot editing as our chair reminded me of the remaining time, by way of large cards with the minutes on countdown written on them. So here is the full talk...
The first thing that came into my head the moment I was told that I was to speak, briefly, on the matter of literature without frontiers, was an idea of a literary terrain without borders, without demarcations, enjoying a democracy of space and many possibilities. Because I am of the Google Generation, I was quick to marry this germinating notion with a medium of writing that has come to the forefront of ordinary living only in the past few years. We call this medium “blogging,” and for the uninitiated, a “blog” is simply a shortening of the combination of two words: web and log, a “weblog.” The web, of course, is the imaginative name given cyberspace or the Internet. A log, on the other hand, simply means what we know of the word: dated entries, like in a diary, or a journal.
It goes without saying that the spirit or the writerly mechanism that drives blogs is, for the most part, nothing new. Ever since man learned language and learned how to write, there has always been someone who has made it a habit to chronicle the intricacies of day-to-day living. We called it keeping a diary then, some would call it journaling. Blogging takes that act into the Internet Age, and bloggers today can be defined using the following parameters:
1. The blog writer or the blogger posts entries on a regular basis, with each entry coming in with a title and a date.
2. These entries are chronologically arranged on the webpage, with the latest one appearing first. All other entries are also archived in a weekly or monthly basis.
3. Each entry can be equipped with a mechanism for feedback in the form of comments.
4. And lastly, the blog is a public space, with all entries published with the blogger’s knowledge that all he has written can be read by the rest of the world.
Those last two parameters provide us with the main difference between blogging and diary-keeping. A diary can be kept under lock and key, and it often is primarily a form of writing meant for personal consumption, a diarist’s way of purging personal experience into the hallowed pages of a journal without the danger of the world coming in with scrutinizing curiosity. Blogging is different: while there are types of blogs that allow one to “lock” specific entries, and allow only a select few—mostly close friends—to read some others, for most bloggers privacy over what one has written often takes a backseat. Most of us blog knowing full well that we are writing for the world, that is, if the world can be bothered to take a look at our space in the Internet among millions of others.
I first ventured into blogging more than five years ago with something I called “The Secret Tango Dancer,” which I soon dropped after a year or so because somebody had broken my heart and I wanted to start anew with something I called “How to Live,” a blog title which betrayed my pathetic and too-dramatic attempt to console a broken heart. This blog soon became “Eating the Sun,” which also became “The Spy in the Sandwich.” You will take note that I had randomly abandoned one blog and then created another in the course of half a decade until I finally settled into this last one. Blogging then can be taken in as an evolution of an online personality—we evolve with it until the skin feels just right.
My reasons for starting blogging were, for the most part, entirely haphazard. I began my first blog because I hated to email, especially email that contains practically the same information we copy-and-paste for a variety of recipients. Blogging seemed to me like the perfect recourse to that tedious process of correspondence in the age of instant communication: with just one click of the “publish” button, we communicate with a network of friends and family almost instantly, and get feedback almost as instantly as well.
Perhaps that decision to first blog also sprang from a need to jump into the bandwagon since many of the writers I considered my contemporaries—Dean Francis Alfar, Nikki Alfar, Francezca Kwe, Isolde Amante, Carljoe Javier, May Tobias, Paolo Manalo, Luis Joaquin Katigbak, and Angelo Suarez among them—were getting accounts from various blogging services, including Blogger and LiveJournal. I only knew that I had things inside of me I wanted to talk about, and I wanted to share them with the rest of the world, whether the world wanted them or not. These things would range from mad rants to earnest cultural criticism, from poetic attempts to space fillers the blogging world calls memes—which are basically short and often silly questionnaires that are supposed to reveal the quirks and the depth of our cultivated blogging personas. It was the Internet Age’s equivalent of doing writerly kaingin. We just had to claim a space for ourselves in this new medium, and see where it would lead us.
A blog is, in a sense, a mirror of how we want the world to see us. It is also a virtual message in a bottle: you create one and you let it go adrift in the ocean of the Internet, complete with a kind of romantic self-mockery that surely nobody would ever stumble on what we have written. Often we are surprised when ultimately we meet someone who tells you, “I read what you wrote in your blog...”
But I don’t mean to make this short talk be about the intricate mechanism of what blogging is or is not. Some writers have already given better and more detailed discussions of blogging as a new communications medium, among them Dean Francis Alfar who has written a wonderful piece on the subject in the online magazine Our Own Voices a few months back.
What I hope to do today is open the topic on blogging in terms of exploding frontiers in the craft of writing. The question I hope to tango with today is this: Can blogging be rightfully considered an effective tool in creative writing? If so, how or why?
I ask this question because a prominent writer, an icon in local literary circles who will remain nameless, once suggested to me that I should not waste my time blogging, because blogging he says only takes away from the few hours we have for ourselves for what he calls “real” writing. I suppose he has good reasons to be concerned about blogging becoming a literary vampire of sort—but it soon occurred to me that the suggestion he posed smacked of one accusation: blogging as a worthless exercise in literary considerations, a “waste of time” basically, something that cannot be considered real writing at all.
And so I threw the question into the air, by text-messaging some of the writers I knew who kept blogs, hoping that they had a sense of knowing why they blog in the first place, and how it keeps them in tune with the fact of being active writers. Here are some of the replies:
John Bengan, a fictionist based in Davao, said: “Blogging helps. It keeps me writing and writing. Sometimes good ideas for a story or a poem come from blog entries.”
Artist and writer Andrew Drilon said: “It helps me practice typing, lightly exercising my ability with words, keeps me in touch with fellow writers, and gives me a small online stage to be creative with.”
Poet and essayist Mia Tijam [can't link her secret blog] said: “Blogging is daily practice for writing. It allows me to explore form and content in creative nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry. It helps my style and voice evolve, and keeps both dynamic and at the same time constant in its growth. It gives me encouragement in writing creative nonfiction, and allows me to know what should be written about given the comment/feedback mechanism. It allows me to demonstrate literary theory and criticism. It helps in adding inventory to my writing. And as a bonus, blogging helps share the creative and good writing vibes, and gets people to participate in a symbiosis of creativity.”
Poet Joel Toledo said: “Blogging has helped me a lot, especially in rediscovering creative nonfiction, and in more or less eliciting comments for new poems and points of views on poetry from friends and writers I respect.”
Playwright Glenn Sevilla Mas said: “Blogging made me write regularly knowing that there were people who were waiting for me to post entries. Ang galling nga, eh. Immediate kasi ang response. And I was in the U.S. then when I blogged actively, so it helped me cope with loneliness and homesickness.”
Fictionist Luis Joaquin Katigbak said: “Blogging breaks through certain barriers to writing: as an informal, off-the-cuff, intended-for-friends outlet, it enables one to write more often, and about one’s immediate interests and concerns. As such, it’s good practice, and later on, some blog posts can be retooled for one’s other writing.”
Children’s author and librarian Zarah Gagatiga said: “Blogging has helped me become natural and spontaneous with my writing. Then again, blogging is challenging because I just don’t write about what I want. I think about what to write, and I make it as interesting as possible—something that readers would find worth their time. My blogs are also my workbooks. It’s where I post future articles, poetry, and stories. A pre-writing journal of sorts.”
Essayist Martin Villanueva said: “I suppose it has helped, in a way. I guess adhering to whatever persona you have—whether a version of you or not—is a creative writing exercise in tone and maintaining a character.”
Poet Jose Wendell Capili said: “Blogging enabled me to capture spontaneous combustions of my everyday life without having to worry about length. It also allowed me to develop target audiences worldwide, and receive immediate reactions for my writing.”
Novelist and speculative fictionist Dean Francis Alfar said, in telegraphese: “Outlet for guerilla writing—vignettes. New publishing medium. Feedback mechanism. Point of contact with other writers.”
Fictionist Sharmaine Galve said: “It helped me make my writing voice stronger and more comfortable to work with. It has become my form of discipline. Because although it could just be a mental exercise, you’re conscious that somebody is reading.”
Poet Sid Gomez Hildawa said: “Blogging places my poems Out There, where friends and strangers can stumble upon them. Gives me a new way of regarding texts: as being landmines. Because they should explode when encountered, make an impact. Otherwise it becomes merely part of the data sludge that makes up most of the Internet.”
Fictionist Carljoe Javier said: “I blog as a means of purging. I think the majority of what we write isn’t great, yung mga bad feelings for the day, outlet yung blog. My example is the poso negro. When you start pumping, really filthy stuff will come out. That’s what goes into the blog. Also, the blog serves as the place where I flesh out ideas. And I get instant feedback.”
Overall, a positive take on the possibilities of blogging as a writing tool. The only response I got that seemed to indicate the otherwise, was from my good friend, the fictionist Kit Kwe, who guiltily admitted in her text message: “It has eaten up my writing time, actually.” This is understandable, given the addictive nature of many things in the online world. Blogging, one must know this, can become an addictive enterprise, if one allows it to take over most of our waking lives: the knowledge of having an audience who keeps coming back to read what you have to say day to day curiously pushes many bloggers to post entries simply to please and sate a perceived need. Often, when you succumb to much to it, blogging does take away from time better spent on crafting new stories, new poems, new essays, or finishing that novel. But to simply dwell on that particular dark side of blogging takes away from its possibilities as a medium to hone one’s writing craft. We can sum up the aforementioned writers’ take on blogging as a creative writing tool with these generalizations:
1. Blogging is a tool for practice and writing discipline. The act of having to post a daily or weekly missive oils our writing muscles. The knowledge that you have an audience that is possibly critical of what or how you write, spurs you to perfect your language. Blogging is a public arena with public consequences after all.
2. Blogging is a germ for future writing pieces. This is true. Some of my stories began as short fictional pieces and real-life observations that I post. Sometimes, I see the narrative potential of a post, and can that lead to a short story or an essay or a poem.
3. Blogging forges a community of writers. No one can say anymore that writing is largely an act one does alone. Blogging gives us an instant community of kindred spirits, and it allows one another to keep abreast with recent writing developments, including one’s personal efforts to write something, anything.
4. Blogging’s feedback mechanism enhances the development of a literary piece in progress. I know of an American author who maintains a blog where he posts recent developments in his research for a nonfiction book. His readers would comment and leave suggestions, which the author then uses in the completion of the book, to spectacular results. (His book became a bestseller, having forged a loyal following via the blog.)
5. Blogging can be a performance space, the “Out There” of Sid Hildawa’s comment. It affords the writer a ready space to be heard and the audience to hear what he has to say.
6. Blogging can be a psychological buffer and an emotional outlet. You can rant in your blog, and the world can rant with you. According to Carljoe Javier, “it purges you.” And sometimes the purging can become quite literary.
7. Blogging is an intimate way of understanding the writer’s personality.
8. Blogging can be a form of literary criticism. There is a perception in local literary circles that honest literary criticism may never take root in our country, because most writers know each other. Increasingly candid blogger reviews—helped by the anonymity of the writers—may change that. Recently, in the local blogging world, local writers and readers have taken to such issues as the Filipino-ness in our literature, the development and rise of local genre fiction, and the possibilities of a Filipino Nobel Prize winner for literature. One recent blogger going by the name of Kilawing Uwak last week wrote an impassioned piece about the “death of Pinoy lit,” and took Dr. Butch Dalisay to task. Sir Butch did the gentlemanly thing, and replied in the comments section—and soon both have extracted from each other a beer-drinking session.
What the writers don’t say, however, is that blogging can give one a significant monetary compensation via such online tools as Google Adsense. I know of two bloggers who have bought cars from the earnings they get from maintaining a blog. Popularity, of course, and a relentless drive to write several posts a day must be taken into consideration. But it is good to know that something like this can happen.
Blogging, too, has become a vibrant medium for marketing. Local theater groups such as the Writers Bloc and Tanghalang Pilipino stumbled on this recently when they started giving out free theater tickets to local bloggers after extracting the promise that they will write reviews—positive or not—of current productions. Bloggers get the word out there fast, the way they did with the Malu Fernandez issue. This type of marketing through blogs has proven to be cheap and effective, and also creates new audiences for theatrical productions, since many of the bloggers are first-time theater-goers. I wonder if the same technique can be used by our writers and publishers.
Of course, there is a negative side to all these. Lakambini Sitoy tells me she nurses a mistrust of the medium, because it makes it so easy for other people to plagiarize what you write by quick copy-pasting. And some magazines and publishers consider Internet publication of any kind as legitimate publication, and will not accept manuscripts for consideration on that basis.
You may take note that most of my respondents are young writers, which begs the question—is blogging a generational enterprise? The answer is: not at all. The sample is merely the easiest one to contact through the wonders of cellphone technology. Blogging knows no boundaries, even age, and cuts through many generations of writers.
Blogging, in the long run, seems to work in one or more ways for many of these writers. Blogging has somehow contributed then to the development of Philippine literature as it exists today, showing us there are no barriers indeed in how we choose to write.
[UPDATE: Butch Dalisay's latest column extends our talk on blogging and literary frontiers.]
It's not that I've been busy. I've just been traveling a lot lately, and I just wanted a little time away from everything. Like this blog. And other people. Been sick for the past two days as well. I took that as a chance for some much-needed mini-vacation, and it's been a bliss just staying in my pad, alone, with the television on 24-hours a day. So, hola.
Consider the marvelous fact that near the end of Jay Cayuca’s concert last December 1, there was dancing in the aisles of the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium. And much clapping, the kind that goes beyond a mere acknowledgment of genius: it was the very sound of an audience ambushed by a kind of music that infects a certain delirious madness.
On any other ordinary cultural event, that would have been frowned upon, this sudden gaiety in the house. Not typical for the well-heeled local crowd. Not for Dumaguete’s culturati—the ones who were there to hear a different kind of violin music on a night when, in another part of town, a certain popular singer by the name of Sarah Geronimo commandeered a larger venue and a larger crowd. (Says Manolet Teves of that event: “Sarah had to beg the crowd, ‘Palakpak naman kayo dyan.’” Ouch. But then again, Dumaguete is usually the testiest of audiences—this is the city, after all, that gave embarrassingly empty seats for Christian Bautista, threw tomatoes at the Eraserheads, sat unmoved by Kuh Ledesma, politely clapped for Gary Valenciano and Martin Nievera, and walked out in the middle of the performance of a singing boy group called Fusion Band. Observed one more friend, “The Dumaguete audience is the cruelest there is. We are not easily moved by trifle.” True.)
But for Jay Cayuca, the Luce crowd—and the segment of Dumaguete City that was there that hallowed night—had allowed itself to bow, and to jiggy, to the power of great music.
Mr. Cayuca’s repertoire that night was composed of choice cuts from his albums Moonlight Serenade and his first self-titled recording. He zinged through the Great American Songbook standards (“My Foolish Heart,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Fascination,” the theme from An Affair to Remember) and Filipino favorites (“Sino ang Baliw,” among others), and made us sing with renditions of popular Broadway fare. He tweaked the violin strings with his bow and produced the familiar strains of “The Music of the Night” from The Phantom of the Opera, and people began humming. He launched into another melody, this time from Fiddler on the Roof, and everybody began singing, “Sunrise… sunset!”
And all these he did with his signature stage moves: he lurched and danced as he produced melody after melody, a kinetic presence that made us readily believe that music had its own inertia and gravity, and not just some static thing. Critics have called his act “explosive.” One has noted that “this legendary … Filipino violin virtuoso promises more than precise and expressive notes on stage—he captivates the audience with his boundless energy, exceptionally superior talent and striking good looks. His passion for the instrument and performing is highly evident in his flawless strokes and up-to-beat bodily movements. No other violinist in the world matches his unique total showmanship.”
These are kinetic words, indeed, but not without basis.
Mr. Cayuca, of course, is already well-known to those who patronize his concerts at the Manila Peninsula. And he’s been here before, the last time in 1995—the true prodigal son of the city (his mother is a Dumagueteña). But from those who are uninitiated to his brand of music, the truest statement that can be made about his performance is that he has done what seemed to be unimaginable to the violin. Doody Garcia-Carre’s comment after the show may be the most apt description of what we saw that night: “I though he was going to take his clothes off and have his way with the violin!”
Perhaps all these praises spring largely from the fact that Mr. Cayuca has managed to convince us that there was another way to regard classical music without the requisite stuffiness most of us think when we actually bother to think about it. (One regular patron, for example, explained her absence from the concert with a too-typical reply: “I’m not really into violin music.” If only she had known this was not her grandmother’s kind of violin music at all.) Mr. Cayuca has somehow managed to create a fascinating fusion of pop and classical, a distinction that has earned him the accolade of being regarded as being the best rock violinist there is.
His musical training started when he was young. Born in Butuan in 1963, he forsook his ambitions for the saxophone because of a medical condition, took to the piano but found it limiting, and then finally settled on the violin. “I told my father I wanted to play a different instrument,” he once said. “One day, I caught Ronnie Rogoff on T.V. playing the violin for the first family at Malacañan Palace, and I said to my dad, ‘That’s the instrument for me’.” He soon trained under maestros Basilio Manalo, Leonidas Domingo, Luis Valencia, and some German trainers at the University of Santo Tomas, paid his dues in cruise ships and five-star hotels worldwide, and played for top orchestras, including the Philippine Philharmonic. The rest, as they say, is history—a multi-awarded one that includes an Awit Award for Best Instrumental Performance in 2004.
For this sophomore tour of Dumaguete City, Mr. Cayuca makes history once again by doing the unthinkable—he made the Dumaguete audience stand up and dance. And he didn’t even have to beg for it.
The concert is the second event in the current cultural season sponsored by the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee. Upcoming shows include a concert by tenor Ramon Ma. Acoymo on January 11, the Powerdance on January 26, Pinky Amador and Bart Guingona in the play Love Letters on February 23, and the U.P. Guitar Orchestra on March 1. Tickets are available at the College of Performing Arts Office and the Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520.
[UPDATE: From Augie Rivera's text message: "Nasa Sanctuarium sa Araneta cor. Quezon Ave. po ang labi ni Rene Villanueva. Pero sa umaga ng December 8 po sa U.P. Hardin ng mga Diwata po siya ibuburol." Thanks for the info, Augie.]
Popular fiction -- a category under which most of speculative fiction toils -- remains largely an ignored part in "mainstream" Philippine literature. But now here comes Butch Dalisay endorsing the development of popular fiction in his two-part blog post about the state of the novel in the country (read both parts here and here). An excerpt from the latest post:
Even before we dream of selling our books in New York or London, we Filipino authors in English have to sell more books in this country, and I’m coming around to thinking that the fault, dear Brutus, is no longer in our readership but in ourselves. True, books of almost any kind are expensive here. Also true, we may have focused on just producing what we think of as great art because there’s little money to be made, which isn’t so bad. But it’s also a fact that many Filipinos are buying books—and let’s face it, these book buyers are primarily middle-class—except that they’re not buying us. In other words, the market is there but we’ve given up on fighting for our share of it.
By this I mean that we’re not writing about the things that might prove interesting to our potential readers; we wouldn’t mind being popular, but we shun the popular. The crimes that pepper our tabloids hardly ever make it to our fiction. Clearly, we need to write more popular or genre fiction—novels that employ not only the fantastic, but also more crime, more sex, and more humor. They may not necessarily be great novels, but good ones—novels that can attract and develop a new class of readers, be serialized, be turned into movies, be talked about over Monday-morning coffee. We also need more professional translators who can turn the best of our novels in Filipino into internationally marketable manuscripts.
I should admit, as soon as I say this, that I’ve done very little myself to fill my own prescription. Younger writers like Felisa Batacan and Dean Alfar and his group of “speculative fiction” writers are doing much more by raising the profile of a kind of fiction that seems to resonate with younger readers and can acquire a substantial following.
Which is just about right. The foundations of great literature started out with popular fare -- the likes of William Shakespeare, Jane Austen, and Charles Dickens (and now Stephen King and Neil Gaiman), who wrote to entertain, to be enjoyed. They developed readers, and developed literary sophistication in the long run.
[UPDATE: A blogger by the name of Kilawing Uwak, somebody from UST, has some harsh words about Butch Dalisay and gives a no-holds-barred assessment on why Pinoy lit is dead, in a post titled "Insult to Injury." Sir Butch gives a gentleman's reply, of course. Via Philippine Genre Stories.]
A slew of new books should be slaking our Filipiniana thirst in the coming days, among them...
The all-new Ladlad 3: An Anthology of Philippine Gay Writing (Anvil), edited by Danton Remoto and J. Neil C. Garcia, which may or may not include my children's story "The Different Rabbit." (You read that right. A gay children's story, about a strange wabbit, hehehe.) Danton asked me for that story some months back, and I heard the editing of the whole book took some time. The launch was yesterday, December 1, at Bestseller's Bookstore at Robinson's Galleria, in Ortigas, Pasig City.
[UPDATE: It turns out that, yes, my story is indeed in it. The book also includes contributions from other writers such as Alex Gregorio, Honorio Bartolome de Dios, Ino Manalo, Michael Francis Andrada, R. Zamora Linmark, Paul del Rosario, Rolando Tolentino, Eugene Evasco, L. Lacambra Ypil, and many others. This is curious. I remember feeling awed and overwhelmed as a teenager when I got my copy of the first Ladlad. Those stories, essays, dramatic pieces, and poems that reflected the vast gamut of Filipino gay life seemed to reflect my own greatest personal hopes and fears. It was a book that changed my life ... and now I'm part of it. Thanks, Neil and Danton!]
The second book (to the right) is the Expeditions book featuring the winners of the First Philippine Graphic/Fiction Awards, which includes my story "A Strange Map of Time." Neil Gaiman writes the Foreword. The launch was last November 25. Buy the complete set from Fully-Booked in Bonifacio High Street in Serendra, and you will get one copy signed by Mr. Gaiman himself.
The third book is Children of the Ever-Changing Moon: Essays by Young Moro Writers (Anvil), edited by blogging buddy Teng Mangansakan II. It was launched last November 29 at National Bookstore in Davao City. This is a groundbreaking book from a people whose literature is mostly ignored by the common Filipino. According to the Anvil website, "this anthology presents new voices that offer a glimpse into the life of a people whose opinion, history, and circumstance have somehow been stifled, giving them an important, distinct place in our national imagination." Contributors include Ayesah Abubakar, Pearlsha Abubakar, Sarah Matalam-Alvarez, Mucha-Shim Quiling Arquiza, Nefertari Al-Raschid-Arsad, Allyson Banga-an, Ayesha Merdeka Alonto-Datu Ramos, Sittie Jamairah Disomimba, Samira Ali Gutoc, Sitti Djalia Turabin-Hataman, Loren Hallilah Lao, Zainudin Malang, Gutierrez Mangansakan II, Farida D. Mending, Gonaranao B. Musor, and Sahara Alia Jauhali Silongan.
The fourth book is Lara Saguisag's Children of Two Seasons: Poems for Young People (Anvil). Lara is a well-known children's author, and this collection of poems for young children is a step forward in the ever-vibrant world of Philippine children's literature.
The fifth book is the third volume of the Philippine Speculative Fiction Anthology series (Kestrel), edited by Dean Francis Alfar and Nikki Alfar. This includes my horror story, "The Flicker," and the speculative fiction of Apol Lejano-Massebieau, FH Batacan, Dominique Cimafranca, Sarge Lacuesta, Raymond G. Falgui, Mia Tijam, Andrew Drilon, Marianne Villanueva, Joseph F. Nacino, MRR Arcega, Joanna Paula L. Cailas, Luis Joaquin Katigbak, Yvette Natalie U. Tan, Alexander Marcos Osias, Rodello Santos, Elyss G. Punsalan, Timothy James M. Dimacali, Charles Tan, Alfred A. Yuson, and Marguerite Alcazaren de Leon. The launch will be on December 8 at 4 PM at Fully Booked Bonifacio High Street, at the basement theater.
The sixth book is Edgar Maranan's third book of poetry, Passage: Poems 1983-2006. It will have its Manila launch at the Conspiracy Garden Cafe, Visayas Avenue, Quezon City, on Tuesday, December 4, at 7 pm.
The seventh book is the newest fiction anthology from PEN Philippines. The last one was in 1962, and was edited by Francisco Arcellana, who introduced to the world the head-spinning fiction of Erwin E. Castillo, Wilfrido Nolledo, Wilfredo Sanchez, Cesar Ruiz Aquino, Alfred A, Yuson, and Jose Ayala. This latest one, A Different Voice: Fiction by Young Filipino Writers, is edited by Vicente Garcia Groyon III, and contains my story "The Last Days of Magic," as well as the stories of Dennis Andrew Aguinaldo, Douglas Candano, U Eliserio, Maria LM Fres-Felix, Pocholo Goitia, Ava Vivian Gonzales, Carljoe Javier, Kit Kwe, Sarge Lacuesta, Gabby Lee, Paolo Enrico Melendez, Timothy Montes, Des Parawan, Bj Patiño, Francis Paolo Quina, Anna Felicia Sanchez, Jonathan Jimena Siason, Lakambini Sitoy, and Joshua Lim So. The launch will be on December 8, 6 PM, at Barbara's Garden in Intramuros.
That's a lot of book launches in the coming days. And I seem to have contributed to most of them. Whoa. I usually don't keep track of which anthologies I've contributed to, but if this list is any indication, I had a good literary run this year. Thanks to LitCritters! Yey.
Violinist Jay Cayuca comes to Dumaguete for one night only this December 1, Saturday, at 8 p.m. Tickets are available at the Silliman University College of Performing Arts Office and the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium Office, and at the theater lobby before every show. For inquiries and ticket reservations, please call/contact Gang-gang at (035) 422-6002 loc. 520. This is the second show of the new season of the Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee.